All-Star Fawning: Graeme's reviews of the 11/16 books

Apparently Thanksgiving is coming up, which is always strange for me, being non-American and all. Oh, sure, I know what Thanksgiving is meant to be about, but I still get kind of freaked out by the whole “Macy’s Parade means that Christmas has officially started” part of the whole deal. Not that I’m not thankful for the time off work to spend reading comics and catching up on TiVo, mind you, so I guess I’m getting close to the spirit in some way. Still, happy Thanksgiving, if I don’t end up saying it closer to the time. What’s that, you say? You want reviews?

ALL-STAR SUPERMAN #1: Yes, Lester got here first and wasn’t as impressed with this as I was. But still, there are far too many things that I loved about this book. The opening three pages, which condense the usual backstory into eight words in four panels on one page – because it’s Superman, for God’s sake, and everyone who’s interested in Superman already knows the basic set-up – before giving us a wordless double page spread of the character looking not angry or angst-ridden or weepy, but concerned and determined. The way that Grant Morrison seems determined to try and make the dialogue for each character not only seem in character, but also introduce the character (Lois’s “I always write the Superman headlines before they happen, Steve,” for example, or the difference between the way that Clark speaks and Superman speaks). Frank Quitely’s stunning artwork, with the layouts giving the book it’s own special pacing, and moments like Clark’s accident-prone entrance to Perry White’s office, or the off-panel accident that Clark saves the passer-by from at the end of the book. The “DC” rating for the book in the credits (“Pulse-pounding, rip-roaring action to be enjoyed by all”). The over-the-top new character, Leo Quintum (“Only nothing is impossible, Flora.”). A million miles away from what the regular Superman books are full of, this version of the character isn’t full of self-doubt or about to be mindcontrolled and sent to beat Batman up (and I think that this is being created as an alternative to the regular books, and as such is meant for people who don't read Superman right now, which is why I don’t have some of the same problems that Jeff does), the lack of moral ambiguity from anyone should probably make it feel like a much more childish book, but it’s all done with such abandon that it all just feels right. It’s very much what you’d expect from Morrison and Quitely: Optimistic, imaginative and human. I loved it, in case you can’t tell. Taken on its own terms, this was Excellent.

(One of the reasons why I loved the book so much may have been because it has the same take on the characters, in a way, as the Tom DeHaven novel I just finished earlier this week. If I get more time on my hands, I might try and write more about that at some point, instead of just mentioning it in passing like I normally do. Still, between ASS, the DeHaven novel and the Superman Returns teaser trailer, it's been a bit of a Superman week, hasn't it? Even Smallville did the Zod thing, finally.)

BIRDS OF PREY #88: Meanwhile, back in the regular DC Universe, I can’t work out if Gail Simone is meaning to point out where these versions of the characters have gone wrong or not. I mean, the bad guys are supposed to believe that the Justice League have sold out and are working for the mob now? Is that some kind of comment on the general “the heroes have lost their way” thing from Infinite Crisis, or just very dumb bad guys? There are still enough nice moments in here – Gail really should be writing an ongoing Black Canary book, if you ask me – to make the whole thing an OK read, but, like Jeff, I feel like the series is missing a main plot right now, and playing for time until everyone gets to jump One Year Later at the start of next year.

BOOKS OF DOOM #1: If there’s one thing that Ed Brubaker can do, it’s origin story monologues. Sleeper was full of them, perverse little short stories that explained how the bad guys got their powers and why they’re bad guys. Maybe it was all of those that made Marvel’s head honchoes look to Brubaker when they wanted someone to do Victor Von Doom’s life story. He doesn’t really disappoint here, even giving Dr. Doom a voice somewhere between his traditional over-the-top melodrama and Brubaker’s more realistic dialogue, although the issue suffers from “first issue syndrome” – Doom is telling someone his life story (they even reply at one point), but I doubt we’ll find out who it is until the final issue, and I’m not sure what’s going on with the other viewpoints apparently presented via videotape – and an overabundance of continuity retrofitting that stretches credibility these days. Artist Pablo Raimondi does a fine if occasionally flat job, but the cover is the art star of the book – Paolo Rivera doing the best looking Doctor Doom in years. Overall, it’s a Good start to what could’ve been a very bad idea.

LOCAL #1: So, I already said in my review of DMZ last week that this is the kind of Brian Wood book that I prefer: it’s quieter and feels more honest than the explosions and bombast of DMZ. It was Demo that made me realize that Wood was a much better writer than I’d been giving him credit for, and I think that Local is going to turn out to be a better book than that one, based upon this first issue. It’s using a similar framework of one-off stories that feel like scenes from a much larger story, but – this issue, at least – without the occasional disconnection for the reader that Demo’s stories suffered from; Using a fragmented series of (imaginary) scenes that play out the same scenario in different ways, Wood sneaks in all you need to know about the main character to give the end of the story its weight (The main character from this issue is, according to the text piece from Wood, going to be a recurring character in the entire series, with each issue taking place roughly a year after the previous one. That may also give each story more of a context than the Demo pieces). Ryan Kelly provides art that’s not unlike a more mainstream Paul Pope at times, but maintains its own flavor. Great.

MARVEL KNIGHTS SPIDER-MAN #20: Actually, not just this issue – Part 5 of “The Other – Evolve or Die” crossover – but all of the crossover so far (which means FRIENDLY NEIGHBORHOOD SPIDER-MAN #1 & 2, MK SPIDER-MAN #19, and AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #525 as well), which I read in one sitting to know what’s supposed to be happening. I haven’t really paid attention to a Spider-Man book in a long time, so I figured that I might as well try to have something resembling an informed opinion. Imagine my surprise when I found out that this feels like Spider-Man’s own House of M: A long-winded excuse for some editorial retooling of the character and concept, with the previews of upcoming issues talking about evolution beginning, the foundations of the Spider-Man mythos being shaken for years to come, and the character being redefined. So far, all we know is that Spidey is apparently dying, except, you know, obviously he’s not going to. Five issues of false jeopardy, then, with the only apparent point seeing how the writers have the characters – who don’t know that (a) Spider-Man is Marvel’s biggest licensing earner, and (b) their mythos are going to have their foundations shaken, redefined and evolved for years to come – are reacting to the news of an apparent possibly death. The answer to that seems to be ridiculously. How ridiculous, you ask? “Aunt May and Mary Jane in Iron Man’s old armors, using Doctor Doom’s time machine to go back and look at Peter Parker as a kid” ridiculous, I reply.

Yes, that ridiculous.

Still, at least the writers are having fun. Reginald Hudlin, the poor bastard who gets to write the dull middle chapters of the crossover where nothing happens, seems to be having a ball, throwing guest stars galore into his issues and having Aunt May make odd-sounding jokes about how Iron Man armor helps her get up and down stairs. As a result, the crossover feels both pointless – we’ve all heard the “Nothing will ever be the same again!” line too many times before to believe it this time – but kind of fun, as if the writers know that and have decided to make jokes about Doctor Strange getting his mystical artifacts at Sharper Image instead. I’m sure it’ll get much more self-conscious and serious when JMS takes over for the last three issues, but for now, it’s pretty much Eh.

SUPERGIRL #4: Infinite Crisis is still here! Who knew? Yes, dear readers, it’s Supergirl, which continues the Infinite Crisis trend of metacriticism of other DC books. This time, Outsiders gets called out as dumb and full of characters hooking up with each other all the time. Which is kind of fair. Not that Supergirl is any less dumb, as the plot of this issue seems to revolve around Lex Luthor beating Supergirl up and making comments about the size of her breasts. Well, a comment, but still. Earlier on in the book, a character points out that Supergirl’s only fifteen years old, so it’s still something that stands out as “Jeph Loeb, please don’t say things like that, even if it is through the mouth of a supposed evil mastermind.” Oh, and at the end of the issue, Supergirl dies and then comes back in a black costume and is pissed off. I really enjoy Loeb’s Superman/Batman – don’t hate me - but reading this, I completely understand why he’s got the reputation he does. Awful.

X-MEN #177: Okay, who is this person pretending to be Peter Milligan? I remember Peter Milligan – He wrote things like Strange Days and Johnny Nemo and Skreemer and Shade the Changing Man and Enigma and even Human Target fairly recently. Apparently he’s either been in a terrible accident that’s left his writing abilities paralysed, or he’s been killed and replaced by Chuck Austen wearing his skin and using his name, because I have no idea who this Peter Milligan who writes exchanges like “Logan! Y’all be careful!” “Too late for that, darlin’” is. Also, going by this issue, Marvel’s heavily-hyped “new status quo” for the X-books seems to be “Remember the X-Men books from the late ‘80s? So do we!”. Some Sentinels are fought, onetime government liason Val Cooper returns, and there’s a lot of internal angst and shitty dialogue. It’s as if Grant Morrison never existed. Or even Joss Whedon, for that matter. Really, really Crap.

PICK OF THE WEEK is easily All-Star Superman #1, with PICK OF THE WEAK being X-Men #177, particularly because Peter Milligan should know better. You wrote Hewligan’s Haircut, Peter! You helped make Deadline great for years! What happened?TRADE OF THE WEEK is the first trade of Mark Waid and Barry Kitson’s LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES reboot, TEENAGE REVOLUTION. Yes, the title is more than a little embarrassing – A book called “Teenage Revolution” should be drawn by someone more (a) teenaged and (b) revolutionary than Barry Kitson, for one – but I’m a massive fan of the latest version of DC’s super-team of the future, mostly due to Waid’s writing, which balances nostalgia for the original version of the characters with humor, plot driven by characterisation and pacing that feels like a good TV show: each issue offers a story with a beginning, middle and end while still moving the overall plot forward. That, and I’m a sucker for the name Cosmic Boy.