The Pull List for February 24th

It’s that time again: comics!

Wonder Woman #41: Mostly just an excuse for Wonder Woman and Power Girl to have a little throwdown, but it works pretty well. In typical superhero fashion, this leads to an inevitable team-up. Simone’s dialogue sparkles as usual, and the characterization between the two is swell. The way Wonder Woman defeats the Crows (those obnoxious, mind-manipulating little bastards who are causing all the trouble) is fairly novel, too, the gag about Wonder Woman needing Power Girl to tie her up is amusing, and seeing Power Girl use something other than her fists and her cleavage to accomplish something is nice, too. Could have probably done without the hot dog bit, though.

Batman and Robin #9: This issue wraps up Cameron Stewart’s three-issue run on the title, and damn it was a fun ride. Morrison throws several crazy ideas at us, from Batwoman letting herself die and trusting Batman to bring her back, to using Knight and Squire effectively (seriously, how come we only see these guys in Morrison-penned comics?), to the battle between the fake Batman and Robin & Alfred; everything just really worked. We even get a bit of justification for Dick Grayson’s apparent inconsistency with regards to using the Lazarus Pit to revive Bruce Wayne, even if it doesn’t quite fully explain things. Overall, a solid issue.

Deadpool #20: A definite improvement over the previous issue, though it still felt pretty weak (especially compared to the whacked-out zaniness of the previous storyline). Some of the bits between Deadpool and Spider-Man were pretty good (and the dress was a fantastically left field thing to throw in), but the continued use of Hit-Monkey kind of drags the proceedings down quite a bit. We’ll see if this story justifies its existence next issue.

As far as trades go, I picked up the Immortal Weapons TPB, a collection of one-shots featuring the immortal weapons of the 7 Cities of Heaven from Immortal Iron Fist. Haven’t gotten very far into it yet, but the Fat Cobra story was pretty decent, and I heard good things about most (if not all) of the stories in this collection, so huzzah.

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Brilliant, What Ho!

This is quite possibly the most brilliant thing I’ve read in quite some time. I’m just sayin’.

Kitchen Adventures

Not to break the world down into gender-based dichotomies or anything, but I absolutely suck at cooking. It’s not ’cause I’m a man or anything like that, and my wife isn’t great at cooking ’cause she’s a woman (though she is great at cooking; seriously, getting home-cooked meals made by her several nights a week is just this side of paradise.

Okay, it’s not that I can’t cook, just that I’m not particularly good at coming up with interesting food. For instance, the wife asked me once to make chicken and rice, so I gave her some pan-fried chicken tenders with a side of minute rice. She just gave me a weird look.

Mmm, mac and cheese, fresh from the oven!
But there are a couple of things I do pretty well when it comes to cooking: I do alright at baking and I make a nice baked mac and cheese. So tonight, I decided to go ahead and fix dinner, just for the hell of it. I’m pretty pleased with the results, which you can see here.

Anyway, yeah, I cooked tonight. I am impressed with myself.

Comics to Heal the Soul

C’mon, get happy! It’s new comics time! Possible spoilers (but only if you haven’t been paying any attention to interviews from the writers or, well, the internet), so you’ve been warned!

Incredible Hercules #141: I’m sad this is the last issue of this title. Sure, I only started reading it in single issues at the start of the current Assault on New Olympus storyline, but I’d read everything else (except the apparently awesome Incredible Thorcules story) in trades and felt this was a title worth following monthly. And it was. We get some interesting twists here (the new chief deity of the Olympians makes sense, but she turns out to be just as cruel and calculating – more so, really – than Hera ever was), a couple of deaths that were telegraphed from quite a ways back (Van Lente and Pak have been telling us that a certain Prince of Power would die). There are a couple of choice bits that were interesting: finding out who was really behind, well, essentially everything that’s ever happened in Hercules’s life, Amadeus Cho’s resigned acceptance of his new role, a couple of nice sound effects. However, Herc’s defeat of the big baddie doesn’t make a whole lot of sense (I mean, the Aegis plate bounces the kinetic energy of his attack back at him the first time, but doesn’t three pages later? Seems a little off to me, fellas). This isn’t the end for these characters (there’s a two-part Fall of an Avenger thing coming out in the next couple of months, which will lead into a new title, Prince of Power, staring everyone’s favorite self-proclaimed “Seventh Smartest Person in the World”), so it’s good to know there’ll be more from this creative team with these characters. The Agents of Atlas backup feature was decent, too, and the ending to that had a decent little twist, too, and tied things back into the original miniseries (what with Venus’s assumptions about her identity) rather nicely.

Joe the Barbarian #2: The pace really picks up in this issue and we’re thrust right into the action. Deathcoats are hot on our hallucinating hero’s trail, he’s joined by a samurai rat name Chakk (actually Joe’s pet rat, Jack), and Captain Pickard gives him a pretty useless phaser (well, seems useless so far. This is Grant Morrison we’re talking about here, so you have to assume everything was done for a reason). Sean Murphy’s art is beautiful, and with the able assistance of Dave Stewart on colors and Todd Klein on letters, this is one of the best possible creative teams you could hope for in a comic. Loved Joe’s interaction with Lord Arc, whose “The journey – arduous, companions on the way, et cetera! Traditional rules apply!” had me laughing out loud. Morrison is using something of a stock fantasy plot here – young man falls into a world not his own and must make a journey to save the world and get himself home – but it’s the twist of this just being the kid’s hallucination (or is it? Again, it’s Morrison, so who knows what’s really happening just yet) that adds an interesting dimension to an otherwise standard plot. Morrison’s always playing around with storytelling conventions and metafiction, always tweaking little things and playing with the basic notions of narrative, so I’m interested to see where he takes this.

Deadpool #19: This issue felt kinda flat, and not just because of its use of Hit Monkey as a plot device. No, it was the characterization of Spider-Man; things just felt off, and Peter Parker seemed to have way too much anger and not nearly enough snark in him. And Deadpool just didn’t bring the crazy funny in this issue. There’s a chance for hijinks next issue, sure, but as the opening issue of a story, this just didn’t draw me in.

Atomic Robo: Revenge of the Vampire Dimension #1: Hot damn, new Atomic Robo! Any week that features Atomic Robo is a good week. In this case, we get to see one of the current Tesladyne’s employees on his first day, which also happens to be the same day a dimension full of “vampires” break through into Tesladyne and Robo and his team have to contain them. Well, I say “Robo and his team,” but it’s really all about the force of nature that is Jenkins. Brian Clevinger throws in some great lines (“Action geology.” Heh), and Scott Wegener’s art is fantastic as always. This issue was essentially done in one, which leads me to wonder what they’ll do with the other three issues in this mini, but I trust in Clevinger and Wegener to steer us right. They haven’t let me down so far.

Trade this week was the second volume of J. Michael Straczynski’s run on Thor. There’s some decent stuff going on in this title, between the machinations of Loki (and the revelation about Loki’s female body is a nice twist) and the trick to kick Thor out of Asgard. I’m actually really interested now to see what Matt Fraction does when he takes over the title post-Siege.

Snow Madness: A Delayed Reaction to Jeph Loeb’s Superman/Batman Run

I’ve been snowed in for the better part of the past week or two, which means I’ve been reading a lot. It also means I’ve kinda run out of new things to read, so I’ve been going back and re-reading stuff I already have.

For some reason, one of the things I have sitting on my shelf is the four-trade run of Superman/Batman by Jeph Loeb. Now, these aren’t horrible comics (though he’s definitely capable of creating those, as anyone who took a look at Ultimatum knows), but I’m certainly not proud they’re on my shelf. I bought these when I first started getting into comics a few years ago and I’d read The Long Halloween (which actually is quite good, though I think it has more to do with Tim Sale’s art than Loeb’s writing) and thought, “Hey, more stuff by Jeph Loeb? That’s probably pretty good!” Yes, Past Chuck was kinda stupid. By the time the fourth book, Vengeance, came out, I bought it mostly for the sake of completion than out of any desire to actually read the story he was putting together.

So let’s take a look, book by book, at what worked and what didn’t. Spoilers for those of you who haven’t and (for whatever weird reason) might want to read these books.

The first story, Public Enemies, is a basically an excuse to have Batman and Superman go up against a bunch of different heroes and villains. Oh, and to have a giant mecha punch a Kryptonite asteroid. Loeb, as those who follow his work well know, is great at developing stories that fit the artist he’s got; in this case, he’s got Ed McGuinness, who does big, kinetic action scenes great. McGuinness’s blocky, bulky character designs are great for this stuff, and it’s clear this is supposed to be a fun book. And it is, in a mindless, summer blockbuster sort of way. As a popcorn action flick of a comic, it works pretty well.

That isn’t to say the book is without problems; there are a couple of glaring ones, to my mind. First, Batman and Superman team up to find out whether or not John Corben, AKA the villain Metallo, was the man who shot Bruce Wayne’s parents. There’s evidence in the S.T.A.R. Labs’ databanks that Corben was the man who shot the Waynes, and both Superman and Batman suspect the information may have been planted to mess with Batman. But it’s never clear why Luthor (who was, at the time, President of the United States) did this, since he doesn’t know Batman is Bruce Wayne. Why would he think information on the Waynes’ murder mess with Batman if he didn’t know Batman and Bruce Wayne were one and the same? It’s a minor plot hole, since that was just the impetus for the two heroes to get together and things quickly move on to the giant asteroid on a collision course with earth, but it bugged me nonetheless.

The other big problem is what I like to call the dueling text boxes. We get both Superman’s and Batman’s innermost thoughts throughout the series in yellow (for Superman) and blue (for Batman) text boxes. They often contain parallel text, establishing the emotional and psychological state of our heroes. But…well, there’s just so many of them, first of all. It’s like reading a Silver Age comic with all the thought balloons, except they’re text boxes instead of thought balloons. They’re serving the same purpose. Rather than letting the characters’ respect for each other and admiration for each others’ abilities come out through the story or through bits of dialogue, we have to have all these text boxes. And it’s not like they’re telling us anything particularly interesting or important: We get a recap of each hero’s origin story, their sense of conflict about the Corben mystery, their frustration with Luthor and his machinations to blame the asteroid on Superman, and their rather overt bromantic relationship (yeah, I said “bromantic”).

Story #2, Supergirl, is about exactly that: the reintroduction of Supergirl to the DC Universe. We’re talking about Kara Zor-El, Superman’s cousin, here, a character last seen during Crisis on Infinite Earths back in the mid-80s. The biggest surprise here is that it took DC 20 years to bring the character back. Loeb is joined here by Michael Turner, best known for his drawings of women with impossibly-long torsos and very skimpy clothing. Thankfully (?), Loeb gives him plenty of scantily-clad jailbait and lots of Amazonians to draw. And the Female Furies on Apokolips. Again, Loeb seems to tailor the story to the artist’s skills and preferences, giving Turner lots of pin-up style poses to draw and plenty of women.

We’ve also got the dueling text boxes again, though this time they’re mostly concerned with how Batman doesn’t trust Superman or Kara and how Superman finally doesn’t feel alone anymore. There’s a lot of noise about accepting people and trust and family, but it all feels pretty flat. We also get Batman threatening to blow up the entire planet of Apokolips, which is kinda cool, I guess, but seems somewhat out-of-character. What really hurts in this particular story, though, is the dialogue. There’s a particularly bad exchange during the climactic battle between Superman and Darkseid after Darkseid’s used the Omega Beams on Kara (though not really. She was teleported out of harm’s way at the last second, but it does beg the question: what was incinerated by the Omega Beams if not Kara? They wouldn’t have just stopped, since their original target was Superman anyway and I’d think they’d have just kept going until they hit him) where Superman rattles off a laundry list of the things Kara will never get to do now that she’s dead (though not really. And another thing: after the battle, it’s indicated that Superman was in on the whole thing the whole time and knew Kara wasn’t dead, so why the hell was pretending she was? To trick Darkseid, whom he ends up shoving into the Source Wall and effectively imprisoning indefinitely? What’s the point?). It’s pretty pathetic. He talks about her smile, not getting a first kiss, blah blah blah, oh wah, generic teenagery stuff. And then there’s the final scene of the book, where he introduces Supergirl to a bunch of heroes like the JLA, the JSA, and the Outsiders, and she’s all excited about getting to meet them and they’re all excited about getting to work with Supergirl (whom they’ve just met, I hasten to remind you). It’s pretty cornball.

Story the third is called Absolute Power, and it poses a fairly interesting question: what if Superman and Batman were shifted from their paths at very key points and groomed to become despots instead of heroes? What if they ruled the world with an iron fist? It’s a clever idea, but sadly it devolves into random, “Hey, let’s visit other alternate DC earths! Look, it’s Kamandi! And the DC western characters, only in the modern day! Wow!” And then the whole thing breaks down into a by-the-numbers restore the timeline and rescue all of reality to reset the status quo story. It’s the best of the storylines in Loeb’s run, but that’s like being the fastest snail in a snail race.

The art this time is handled by Carlos Pacheco, who does an excellent job of rendering the heroes in an iconic fashion. His art isn’t anything spectacular, but his grasp of design and storytelling is solid and he does a good job with what he’s got.

Loeb’s big twists here – having to rely on Darkseid to help them reset the timeline, the villains from the Legion of Super-Heroes future being responsible, having to bounce around in time and space as the timeline attempts to correct itself, and Batman unmaking himself by saving his parents’ lives – are interesting but don’t really make for a coherent or even engaging story. It seems like he came up with a bunch of “Wouldn’t it be cool if?” moments and then threw them all together and hoped something stuck.

The final story, Vengeance, teams Loeb up with Ed McGuinness again. It’s easily the worst of the stories. It’s spiteful, cluttered, and relies heavily on Loeb’s run on Superman (collected as the Emperor Joker story) for one of its key plot points. The gist of it all is that the Joker retains some power from when he stole the powers of Mr. Mxyzptlk, and Mxy’s trying to get it back with a game. Superman and Batman – while still under the influence of Saturn Queen, Cosmic King, and Lightning Lord from the Absolute Power arc – swoop into an alternate dimension and kill a hero called Skyscraper because he killed Lois Lane. Except..well, he really didn’t, since Lois is alive and well and this was all made up by the Joker and Mxy for the game. Skyscraper was part of a team called the Maximums (Loeb’s thinly-veiled Avengers analogs; the Captain America proxy, Soldier, had a sidekick/son called “Lucky” who is essentially the only hero who never gets to come back to life, even though the afterlife seems to have a revolving door in this universe), and his death sets up a conflict between the Maximums (guided by a disguised Mxyzptlk) and Superman and Batman.

One of my biggest problems with this story – aside from its incoherence and utter disregard for decent storytelling – is its use of Bizarro. Bizarro is one of those characters people either love or hate. I hate ’em, probably because he’s so rarely used well (and the whole “Opposite Day” way of speaking just gets annoying and unnecessarily convoluted). I think the only use of Bizarro that I’ve actually liked was Grant Morrison’s use in All-Star Superman, but as discussed earlier, that’s one of the best comic books ever made, so…

Back to this comic. Loeb ends up creating another giant blockbuster-esque series of fight scenes for McGuinness to draw (and he does draw the hell out of ’em, you have to give him that), complete with no less than five Supergirls, a Superwoman, a Batwoman, a Tim Drake in the Batman Beyond uniform, and a whole host of Batmen and Supermen from across time and the multiverse.

But ultimately, how do we judge these comics? Loeb clearly wasn’t setting out to create a definitive story about Batman and Superman, but rather a fun, fairly mindless series of tights ‘n’ fights. While there’s nothing wrong with that (I mean, I enjoy a mindless action movie or comic), it doesn’t even always succeed at doing that. There’s plotholes, bad storytelling, and cringe-inducing dialogue. The art is usually pretty good (though Turner’s stuff is an acquired taste and McGuinness’s stuff is very cartoony), but the writing – especially those damn dueling text boxes – leave something to be desired. Would I recommend these books? Not so much. They rely on some fairly obscure continuity, so they’re not exactly new-reader friendly (especially Vengeance), and long-time fans of either character may become annoyed with some of the characterization. And, like I said, dialogue and plotting were pretty weak. The art’s pretty, though.

Snow Won’t Stop New Comics!

Despite the several feet of snow on the ground here in Northern Virginia, I managed to get out yesterday to the comic book store and pick up my books for the week. Pretty light haul, but what it lacked in quantity it made up in quality!

Batman and Robin #8: Cameron Stewart’s art continues to dazzle in its clarity and pure awesomeness, and Grant Morrison writes a story that’s clever and full of crazy ideas. Plus, he draws on stuff from Final Crisis and his earlier run on Batman to pull out a crazy twist with the body of “Bruce Wayne” that’s pretty cool. This series is awesome, plain and simple.

Secret Six #18: The final part of the Six’s Blackest Night tie-in does everything right. I didn’t even mind that it’s a tie-in to an event I’m not even following. We get the resolution of the fight between the Six and the Suicide Squad, some great lines from Ragdoll (finding out along the way the one thing in the world that can actually disgust him), and a nice little twist reveal at the end that sets up (I hope) some future stories and conflicts. If you’re not following Gail Simone’s Secret Six, shame on you!

I also picked up volume 2 of All-Star Superman. It’s easily one of the best comic books – and hands-down the best Superman story – I’ve ever read. Everything about it is pitch-perfect, from the tone of the stories to the brilliant art by Frank Quitely to the touching moments that show us the “man” is just as important as the “super.” Oh, and giving Clark Kent the headline? Absolute perfection. If you haven’t read this comic, there’s a giant gaping hole where your soul should be.

On Snow Days

We’ve been laid up under a rather thick blanket of snow for the past several days here in Northern Virginia. As I type, there’s more snow falling. We’re supposed to get somewhere between 10 and 20 inches of snow tonight and tomorrow.

Now, as a teacher, this basically means I haven’t been at work since Thursday, and that’s not likely to change anytime this week. We’ve actually been out of school more since the new quarter started (way back last Monday) than we’ve been in class. Admittedly, I’m okay with having extra days off, we are going to have to make up a bunch of these days. We’re definitely losing our Presidents’ Day break, and we’ll probably lose our teacher work days in April and June as well.

My deepest fear is that they’ll take away Spring Break. I’ve got plans, man. This stupid Snowpocalypse is driving me nuts.

Weekend Reading

Haven't we already been through this once this winter?This is the view out the back door of my townhouse at 10:00 AM this morning. The view from the front is much the same. We’re snowed in, baby, so it’s a weekend of reading and enjoying the warmth of our townhouse until the power cuts out and we’re left to huddle together under blankets for warmth. So what, exactly, am I reading? Well…

Runaways, Volume 1: I’ve read these before, but I felt this would be a great time to sit down and re-read the three digest-sized trades of Brian K. Vaughn’s first Runaways story. The second volume was alright, and I haven’t had a chance to read anyone else’s stuff with the characters, but this first 18-issue arc was fantastic. It’s nice to see kids portrayed in a way that isn’t condescending or makes them seem like they’re just adults with acne. And the anime/managa-influenced art is pretty solid, though the characters’ mouths open tremendously wide sometimes. Like, freakishly so.

Booster Gold, Vol. 3 – Reality Lost: I rather dug the Booster Gold stuff Geoff Johns wrote in the first two trades of this title, so went ahead and picked up the third trade yesterday before Snowpocalypse 2: Electric Boogaloo got underway. It’s not bad; not nearly as good as the stuff in the first two trades, but the art (by Booster Gold creator Dan Jurgens) is still top-notch, and there’s some neat little ideas running around in it. Can’t wait for Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis to get ahold of the title in the coming months.

No Hero: I’m a big Warren Ellis fan, and this is supposed to be classic Ellis: over-the-top violence, weird concepts, snarky dialogue, the works. Can’t wait to dig into it.

The Starman Omnibus, Volume 1: I’ve heard phenomenal things about this, James Robinson’s opus, and picked up the first volume of the set to see what I think. It’s pretty awesome so far. I’ll definitely be picking up the rest of the set as they come out (they’re up to number 4 of 6 so far, right?).

John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty and Utilitarianism: What, I’m not allowed to read something deep and intellectual? I’m not all fights and tights, folks. There’s hidden depths here. Plus, I just really like a philosophy built around the idea of “if it doesn’t hurt someone else, you should be able to do it.” And yes, that’s an oversimplification, but it’s early still and I haven’t had breakfast yet.

Snow Day Means Comics!

Snow day, school was closed, so I got to get my comics today instead of the weekend! Let’s jump right in, shall we?

Invincible Iron Man #23: Actually a rather disappointing issue, as it turns out. Not much of anything really happens; Fraction just gets players into place for the final issue of the Stark Disassembled storyline. The art also isn’t all that great; Stark’s face isn’t consistent from panel to panel, and he and Dr. Strange look way too similar. There is a nice bit between Pepper Potts and Maria Hill that’ll make for an interesting little confrontation when Stark does finally wake up next issue (’cause, c’mon, we know that’s what’s gonna happen here), but this really just feels like a setup for the finale.

Doom Patrol #7: Not a bad issue, per se, but also pretty underwhelming. We see the aftermath of the Black Laterns’ attack from a couple of issues ago, an old character gets dredged up from Grant Morrison’s run, and a new story is set in motion with what looks to be competing Doom Patrols. This could have a nice payoff later, but I’m just not seeing it yet. The issue also featured the final Metal Men co-feature, and I was pretty underwhelmed by that as well. The art was great as always, but the humor seemed forced and the ending just didn’t do anything for me. It feels rather like they were expecting to have longer to work with this than they did, but that’s merely idle speculation on my part.

Also picked up the first J. Michael Straczynski Thor trade, just to give it a go. We’ll see how that goes. I’ve heard good and bad, and the fact that it’s set in my native Oklahoma has me a little concerned (rarely is my home state portrayed well in popular culture; I mean, not that Oklahoma often does much to be proud of, but not everyone there is a bumpkin named Cletus).