How I Won The War (And Lost The Universe): Jeff's Reviews of 2/21 Books

I'm being so damned slow Graeme's already posted his other reviews since I started this entry, so lemme just dive in (although if everything works out, you should see Dick Hates Your Blog over there in our blogroll): 52 WEEK #42: For a storyline I didn't care about, I thought this was a Good issue with some strong art by Darick Robertson--it's good to see Ralph look like an ectomorph again, if nothing else. I'll leave it to the rest of you who actually cared about Ralph's storyline to make the call on whether it actually worked or not, but I thought it was worth picking up on art and readability alone.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #538: Both Hibbs and Graeme thought I was higher than a kite for liking this, but I thought Straczynski did a pretty good job milking all of his non-reveals: they felt fun, and knowingly funny, and did a better job with the self-commentary (for me, it was worth the anachronism to have JJJ solemnly ponder his possible spoilerific headlines, although I wonder if JMS feels more like that lonely dude in the hotel room waiting for the authority to take his shot) than Millar's stuff in Civil War #7. Of course, next issue may well make me regret saying anything nice at all, but this was OK to me. Please be warned that you may very vehemently disagree.

BIRDS OF PREY #103: I would've preferred a much smoother work-up to the new Spy-Smasher's connection to Oracle--it suffered a bit from Hush-itis, where the dramatic situation hinges too heavily on how much you can buy into a suddenly prominent (but previously unmentioned) character from the protagonist's backstory (arguably a little harder to excuse here since Simone's been on the book for a while)--and I just didn't buy the last page (of course, I've never bought that Barbara would hide her secret identity from her father so I'm at a disadvantage going in). So it's I guess the usual BOP-itis for me again, where there's enough interesting stuff going on and talented people at work that I pick the book up, but somehow not enough that I actually enjoy myself. Eh.

BRAVE AND THE BOLD #1: I was expecting this Waid & Perez book to feel stuffy and self-important, but damned if this didn't read just like a Haney/Aparo issue of Brave & The Bold, except done by Waid and Perez--which means enjoyable amounts of OCDish attention to tiny details even while the overall storytelling gets played fast & loose. (At one point during a fight, Batman says he's out of weapons while he's in the Batcave. Wha-huh?) But you've got Batman, Green Lantern, space aliens, old supervillains, Bruce Wayne in a tux and Hal Jordan in a flight jacket, with Las Vegas thrown in to boot. It was a Very Good chunk of superhero fun, and I enjoyed it.

CIVIL WAR #7: Listening to Hibbs make all his points in-store yesterday (I didn't read his or Graeme's review because I hadn't yet read the book) was pretty exciting, and I could almost imagine his ideas working--Marvel's universe gets its shit together, most of the supervillains disappear, work begins on making a better world and then slowly, everything starts to unravel and fall apart and we end up in a new (but rougher) version of the original Marvel Universe, one that even feels a little more like our own... I could really see it.

But could I see Marvel doing it? Oh, please.

In fact, it may be true or not, but these days I think of DC as having the editorial infrastructure to get everyone on board (but having nowhere to go) and Marvel as being the place with lots of really big ideas (and absolutely no idea how to get everyone--or anyone, really--to get there, so howzabout a nice three page "Dear Sue" montage instead?) Maybe they'll prove me wrong, but considering The New Avengers launched with dozens of supervillains escaping The Raft and all Marvel wrung from that was one paltry miniseries and the Avengers shaking down some dude in front of a French restaurant, I find myself far from hopeful. (And let's face it, can you imagine Brian's dream of an exciting new status quo being done in any satisfying way from the guys who published Civil War: The Return? I can't.)

Weirdly, it was Marvel--good ol' Nu-Marvel back at the end of the '90s--that got me to finally let go of my fanboyish near-deathgrip on continuity. In the early Jemas/Quesada days, they were mostly avoiding crossovers, editors apparently weren't coordinating, and you could have major shit going down in Grant Morrison's New X-Men without being told you had to pick up Busiek & Perez's Avengers to see why they didn't, for example, show up to help pick up Genosha. It was annoying at first, but it quickly became a relief: as long as I was reading a good story, who cared if the Wolverine I was reading in one book had only the faintest similarity to the Wolverine in the other?

So it's with no small sense of irony that I watch Marvel swing heavily into its new golden age of heavily cross-referenced continuity. It was, after all, that very lesson I learned from Nu-Marvel (and, of course, Hibbs being generous enough to let me out of books I'd committed to buying) that allowed me to drop Civil War in mid-storyline, leaving those first few issues orphaned in my collection. In order to win the Civil War (and save myself at least twelve bucks), I finally gave up on the Marvel Universe, and that's really probably for the best. I'll ignore the Civil War stuff until it goes away, keep looking for the books that do what I want them to do, and pray too many good books don't get railroaded into following editorially mandated storylines along the way.

Oh, and as for the book itself, it felt rushed (full page panels that felt like one half of a double-page spread, pages with no dialogue apart from hollered taglines), bloated and exhausted. Props to Jake W. (for linking to it in our comments), Brandi at Scans Daily (for posting it) and whoever was actually responsible for this, because, although obvious, it really is the more honest and satisfying ending to Civil War (and Wanted, really). If Hibbs had made me buy the books I signed up for, this would've been Crap, but since I more-or-less escaped, Eh.

EX MACHINA INSIDE THE MACHINE VOL 1: A behind-the-scenes puff piece that focuses mainly on the transition from script to art, and Tony Harris's working methods. If it was a freebie, it'd be fucking fantastic, because both Vaughan and Harris come off as intelligent and passionate about their book. But at $2.99, the only way I can justify that price is if I pretend it's an issue of Wizard where they left out the price guide and poop jokes. Eh, but maybe DC/Wildstorm will reprint the sucker as a FCBD freebie or an insert to send to libraries or something...

HELLBLAZER #229: Some strong understated work by John Paul Leon makes this one-off from Mike Carey seem better than it is. Don't get me wrong, it's highly OK but the way the story's constructed, it'd benefit from more Mad Ideas: Carey only works himself up to Unsettling Concepts. But his dialogue and, again, Leon's art are strong enough to cover for that.

HELLSTORM SON OF SATAN #5: It's a shame this was so solidly Eh: I thought Irvine's take on Egyptian myth was solid, and his thoughts about the gods and religion had a bit more sophistication than we normally get with this sort of thing. But swap out the trident and the tattoos and the annoying cellphone, and swap in a trenchcoat, some silk cuts and the occasional "Cor, Blimey!" and this could be just another Constantine story. And while maybe that's the point as far as the writer and editorial are concerned, it's pretty underwhelming.

IMMORTAL IRON FIST #3: It's a gorgeous looking book (the first flashback artist didn't really do it for me, but between David Aja and Russ Heath, I was in nerd heaven) but I know I can't be the only one who thinks it's reading very, very slow. Frubaker's script and some thought in it, the dialogue is witty, and the art is buttery smooth, but I'm worried nobody's going to be reading it by issue #8 except me and Arune if it doesn't get to the point where the ass meets the kicking in a pretty big way. Good, but I'm worried. (Although, admittedly, I'm a worrier.)

NEW AVENGERS ILLUMINATI #2: This is nine different kinds of boned, I'm afraid. Putting aside the pain caused by unnecessary retcons and possible present and future story fucking (I hope this whole infinity gem thing gets returned to again because if you expect me to believe that major players of the Civil War had gems and didn't use them, you're sadly mistaken) this is just a badly paced done-in-one issue. At the plotting stage, it must've looked like a classic Marvel comic (heroes meet and discuss the problem, heroes split up and face separate challenges, reunite to find out they've just exacerbated the problem, barely escape by the skin of their teeth) but by the time Bendis and Reed have their chatty Cathy way with the script, it ends up a both draggy and truncated, graceless and artless, meaningless unless you know the characters involved and unbeliebable if you do. Some expressive work from artist Jim Cheung keeps this from me rating it lower than Eh, although I should.

POWERS #23: Meanwhile, back at What-Bendis-Does-Best-Ville, this story had a dialogue-heavy confrontation where a possible revelation suddenly pops up and ends with a cliffhanger that "could change everything." And yet, what keeps you reading are the little character beats and payoffs from things put in motion dozens of issues ago. Very Good stuff, and although I can't fault Bendis for continuing to stretch himself, and write superhero team continuity books because of being a big ol' fanboy at heart, I'm amazed he continues to focus on work so far from his strengths.

PUNISHER WAR JOURNAL #4: A very odd issue, in that Fraction seems spend most of it making excellent subtextual arguments against the ending he then proceeds to use anyway. While I think that pays excellent dividends this issue--along with Deodato's increasingly dark artwork, it creates a palpable sense of tension that grows in the last several pages--the returns could diminish pretty rapidly if the protagonist goes on to become the despoiler of everything the writer like. (Or, I dunno, maybe like some weird superhero version of The Sopranos, PWJ could turn into a deeply compelling denunciation of the lead character's values. Or, hmmm, something else, maybe? [Yeah, this review has gotten itself lost in the weeds, hasn't it?]) Good, but yeah, very odd.

SPIRIT #3: Lovely, lovely art with simply astonishing color (why'd it remind me of early DC romance comics? Was there some Sekowsky influence someone was trying to work in there or something?) helps me forgive a less-than minor flaw in the storytelling--if you're gonna switch storytelling perspectives every page, you can't decide to do that six pages into the story, just like you can't run your title credits sequence thirty minutes into your movie. It's a Good issue, and the potential continues to grow, but it's not there yet.

SUPERMAN #659: I guess from reading those Superman Showcases I was immediately aware as to how this had such a Silver-Age hook--an elderly religious woman assumes Superman is an angel--and such a non-Silver-Age execution: in the Silver Age version, the tension would've come from Superman continually trying more extravagant ways to prove that he's not an angel while fate or oversight foul things up ("Groan! The lighthouse beacon is bouncing off the silver nitrate I seeded those rain clouds with earlier! Now it looks like a heavenly light is shining down on me from above!") In the non-Silver Age version, Superman continues to save the increasingly adventurous religous woman until he ends up too busy (fighting an alien made out of radio waves at the South Pole) to keep someone from busting a cap in her ass. Admittedly, this was a unique situation--a fill-in issue published ahead of schedule because of other delays--but I think I would've preferred the Silver Age version: by the time I got to page four or five I guessed the rest of the issue (well, except for the alien made out of radio waves). Highly OK--particularly given the circumstances--but I was lefting wanting more.

PICK OF THE WEEK: BRAVE AND THE BOLD #1, which kinda blows my mind. Who'd a thunk?

PICK OF THE WEAK: NEW AVENGERS ILLUMINATI #2, because Bendis and Reed handle a continuity changing superhero team book with all the skill of those burglars from Home Alone.

TRADE PICK: KAMANDI ARCHIVES VOL. 2, DRIFTING CLASSROOM VOL. 4, GOLGO 13 VOL. 7, and MONSTER VOL. 7. I hope to have reviews of that stuff and other trades in the next week or so.

And you?