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Sean William Scott

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Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Sundry Comics 

I haven't really reviewed any monthly comics in about two months. Even I'm not insane enough to try and talk about each one that came out in that time. And there are quite a few that, frankly, I don't have anything to say about at all. Oh sure, I could say that Young Avengers and Runaways are pretty good, if somewhat mediocre, and the high praise they receive should be taken as a sign of just how bad everything else Marvel publishes is, and that the new City of Heroes comic from Image is terrible and misses the appeal of the game entirely, but I'd rather focus on things that I thought were interesting, entertaining, or felt I had something to say about.

Batman: Dark Detective: An almost deliberately retro and nostalgic comic which has been shipped and solicited in such a fashion as to suggest that DC would just as soon get it out into the market because they've already paid for it and don't know quite what to do with it. The first issue opens strongly, with perhaps one of the better Joker stories in years, but the tone and quality of the series after that varies greatly. Devoting an entire issue to the fate of Harvey Dent's clone may have sounded like a good idea at the time, but the execution left much to be desired. The over-all impression is something of a disappointment that this is only a good Batman story, spoiled somewhat by the inclusion of too many villains to be truly outstanding.

I Can't Believe It's Not The Justice League, in JLA: Classified: Here's an unpopular statement for you; the Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League hasn't aged terribly well, nor was it ever really as good as so many people seem to remember it being. It certainly wasn't the broad farce it has descended to in this most recent series. There's a disturbing notion I've seen voiced by many fans, that DC is apparently "out to get" Giffen, as evidenced by things that have happened in recent titles from other writers to characters he wrote about twenty years ago. It's a very strange notion, that corporate owned characters must remain true to the vision of one particular creator, who was not actually the creator of the character in question. One wonders why, if the Blue Beetle and Sue Dibny were so universally beloved and popular, they weren't the stars of the best selling comic of all time. Perhaps it is yet another case of that old super-hero fan standby, the resistance to even the illusion of change, that insists that the characters must remain in stasis forever. That they must always be exactly like they were when the currently dominant fan-base first started reading those characters. That being said, the series itself was good, with beautiful art, if the humor does tend to be over-broad. I'm just slightly annoyed that comic fans feel that the interpretations of the characters in question must be limited to this kind of story.

Last Hero Standing: An unpretentious, unapologetically "old school" super-hero adventure, virtually ignored by comic book fans. It's a throwback, almost deliberately so, to the kinds of "fun" super-hero comics that fans say they want, but nevertheless ignore when actually presented to them. I'm the last person who expects to say that they get more enjoyment out of Spider-Girl than almost anything else Marvel publishes, but yet that's the case.

City of Tomorrow: It's Chaykin being Chaykin, so your enjoyment of this may very with how well you can cope with that. It's probably the least interesting of his more recent efforts, but that still makes it far more engaging than most other comics on the stands right now. If it has a serious flaw, it is that the complex web of betrayals and counter-betrayals is not clearly defined or explained.

Ultimates 2 #6: The infamous "Defenders" issue. I can't decide if this is Millar giving characters he doesn't like the kind of treatment he thinks they deserve and giving fanboys a sick little thrill in the process, or if he intends any kind of larger point to the story. If it's the former, especially in light of Wanted, it's hard not to see this as another of Millar's expressions of contempt for his audience. But the interesting thing I see here is that Millar actually manages to improve the comic immensely with this issue by focusing on Hank Pym. By dispensing with the shock value for the sake of shock value antics of earlier issues and his "Millar-verse" titles, Millar actually manages to create a compelling character study here. If there is a larger theme to this second volume of the title, this issue, in light of the earlier "Trial of the Hulk" arc, it appears to be the redemption of Hank Pym, which is certainly a more interesting approach to the title than the "big fights and explosions" style that's become so trendy.

Punisher: The Cell: So Garth Ennis has now written "Punisher: The End" twice now. It's probably best to view this story as being not strictly in continuity for the character. It's Ennis' best work on the character since the initial twelve-issue Marvel Knights mini, but the way it comes full-circle for the origin of the character makes it work best as a kind of coda for Frank Castle.

Manhunter: This is a title that becomes very hard to talk about on a regular basis, because so much of the story continues on from issue to issue, with no clear conclusion to any one story thread, and because the over-all quality is so good. Like the rest of the better DC titles now, it's building on past stories, but taking them in new directions. It is not allowing, at this point, the character to remain in stasis. That can be a minor flaw at times, as the identity of the Manhunter killer is clearly going to require some knowledge of past Manhunter titles.

Firestorm and Catwoman: Both titles get new creators this month. And both immediately work to establish a new direction for the characters. With Firestorm the change is more extensive; a new costume, a new location, a new supporting cast. In Catwoman, it is simply a refocusing on the criminal aspects of the character, away from the "defender of the East End" characterization that has defined so much of this relaunch. Both comics are very good, and enjoyable super-hero stories. Quality disposable entertainments, in other words.

Desolation Jones: Warren Ellis is always far more interesting as a writer when he's not tinkering with corporate trademarks. He can tell interesting and engaging super-hero stories, but they always feel slight. Here, he's giving in to his impulses, crafting the kind of story that he wants to read. It's full of sick jokes, passing mentions of contemporary cultural theory, and a serious attempt to exploit the possibilities of the comics form. It's also beautifully illustrated by J.H. Williams.

Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere: This book quite possibly only exists so that there can be a trade paper-back collection sold in book-stores. It has good Glenn Fabry art, that is faithful to the source material, even if that leaves it feeling somewhat stiff. Mike Carey's adaptation has the same sort of being faithful to the source material, a necessity in a project like this, it leaves him with very little room to really make the project work as a comic in its own merit.

Stardust Kid: This was well-written and amazingly well-drawn, but it's also the kind of first issue that I find very frustrating. It's almost all prologue to the real story, and features very little actual action or character, consisting mostly of exposition and foreshadowing. As part of a larger story, that can be an effective way to begin. But given the subject matter of a comic like this, it's hard to be certain that the title will last long enough for any of that exposition or foreshadowing to pay off.

Astro City: The Dark Age: It's interesting to note that, in this current time when many super-hero comics are going for a more mature approach to storytelling, with a greater reliance on continuity and a presupposition of a readership familiar with the characters, that this comic which pays homage to the last period when this occurred, the seventies, be released. Many of the best remembered comics of the seventies were very self-consciously attempting to elevate the medium beyond the "hero battles villain, villian goes to jail, status quo maintained ad infinitum" storytelling that had so strongly defined the previous generation of comics. It's an interesting contrast, as while those stories feel quaint today, as Busiek drives home in this story they must have felt very dark and strange and out of place to the dedicated readers of the day.

Solo #5: The all Darwyn Cooke issue is enjoyable, but there are times when Cooke's adherence to the aesthetic of a particular era feels almost fetishistic. The Question story, in particular, has a strange wish-fulfillment fantasy element to it, as filtered through Ayn Rand, that doesn't quite feel like a match for the art. The end result is a package that's far more successful than almost all of the other issues of Solo, but lacks the cohesive feel that the Howard Chaykin issue did, which is still the best so far. In fact, it is the singularity of creative vision in this issue and the Chaykin issue that makes them the most successful issues so far.

Albion: I would probably have enjoyed this more if I'd had any idea who any of these characters are, or which back-ground details are important and why. The theme suggested by this issue, of heroes being relegated to "fictional" status because they are an embarrassment to the powers that be has potential, and it's a concern running through much of Moore's recent work. But without the background necessary to understand what the hell's going on, it reads like fan fiction.

Planetary: Always worth the wait. There are a few false notes in this issue (notably that much commented on Simpsons reference), focusing on how the Drummer was brought into the Planetary fold. There's also an incremental movement in the meta-plot, as Ambrose Chase is further revealed to be an integral character to the final story. It's also worth noting that Cassaday's art looks much better than it does on Astonishing X-Men. It could simply be because Ellis gives him more interesting things to draw than sexy evil female robots.

Many of these reviews seem overly negative or harsh to me, which is interesting because everything I mention here I actually enjoyed and thought was worthwhile. It may just be a result of me trying purposefully to think more critically about them after my last post, which makes it rather hard to be satisfied with saying "Wow, this was really good, you should check it out."
It's also worth noting that I don't talk about the Seven Soldiers line or any of the DC titles that tie-in to the larger Infinite Crisis story-line. I'm saving up those for a later discussion of them as a whole.


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