Oy To The World: Jeff Looks at the 12/19 Books (Part 1 of 2)

I mean this in the least Chicken Little-ish way possible, but Good Lord, this marketplace is glutted. I'm not sure how big or small a week retailers would consider this to be, but there are 80+ items that came into CE this week under the classification of "comic book" (and an additional 35+ items under books, mags & stuff). No wonder Hibbs talks in his latest Tilting about his newfound "I see dead trades" superpowers and how to best use them for the good of his store. The big two have their furnaces open wide and are shoveling terrifying levels of product onto the market, which may be fine for them--in the non-returnable market, they're at least making their money back--but I would think it would get harder and harder for retailers to make what could be considered profit. I mean, I'm not a retailer (and I'm not at all good with money, in fact) but how is a retailer supposed to take home any cash when each invoice grows bigger than the last? It's tough because the titles I like from the big two are frequently considered marginal titles (like Blue Beetle) to say nothing of all those lovely reprints they're putting out, but I find the situation as a whole is troubling.

Or maybe I hide my grumbling about how many comics I have to review in the guise of worrying about the direct marekt. I dunno.

ARMY @ LOVE #10: Veitch's pacing is top-notch; he's moving his characters along on their personal arcs at a decent clip; really, the only complaint is that now that he's put forward his themes of how warfare and entertainment are dovetailing, and how the corrupt boomers and the self-absorbed Gen X and Y'ers are each responsible for it, I'm not sure if he knows where to go with it. For a work of satire, it doesn't seem angry or outraged or, despite the every issue's naked boob, particularly titillated. It's GOOD work but I feel it's missing the potential to become something greater, to take the sort of risks a more impassioned--and less mature--artist might make.

BATMAN & THE OUTSIDERS #3: I can kinda/sorta see the rationale for the issue--two of the more prominent members of the old Outsiders team are now in the Justice League so have them show up here for some insta-conflict--but the results are the standard "we're going to talk/now we're going to fight/well, we're back to talking, we're all on the same side, aren't we?" set of scenes that make me think all superhero comic book writers grew up with alcoholic parents. Julian Lopez's art is pretty (and keeps the cheesecake out of the fight scenes, which is a plus) although the characters' acting is a bit broad. I guess if you can swallow the conceit of the issue--which I couldn't, frankly--you could go with a low OK. Me, I'll take the EH road.

BIRDS OF PREY #113: Apart from the last three pages where Superman acts like a judgmental dick for no good reason, I liked this: I can't really tell if Nicola Scott can do action scenes yet, but her characters look great and "act" well, and McKeever has all the main characters' voices down. The ending was overwrought, and a re-read shows that maybe the page-turns were a little forced, but I'd go highly OK for this, despite the ending. I'd like to see next ish.

CAPTAIN AMERICA CHOSEN #5: I feel sorry for David Morrell here--whatever reason he had for this mini, it seems utterly moot in light of the current Cap storyline. The whole thing looks and feels like something that was supposed to come out in the John Ney Rieber/Cassaday "relevant" era (if you can eight months an era). Although, honestly, I wouldn't have liked it then, either. I'll go sub-EH out of pity (and respect for a guy who's written some bitchin' action novels) but it's not good at all.

CATWOMAN #74: That cover hurts my neck just to look at it. Seriously, Adam Hughes, if you're going to put Audrey Hepburn's head on Pamela Anderson's body, at least pretend there's a spine connecting them. Inside, the action scenes alternated between dynamic and a bit confusing, the plot has a few bits I can't buy, and Calculator's whole "if I'm not back at my computers in an hour, the city will lose power!" scheme for protecting himself is pretty lame (and plot-convenient). I wasn't crazy about the ending either, so I think I'm going with a high EH on this one. It had its moments, though.

COUNTDOWN ARENA #3: That bit where bald Superman grabs the heat vision of Dark Knight Superman and Red Son Superman and uses it to clonk their heads together (because the heat vision is still coming out of their eyes) is such a dramatic misunderstanding of how a particular power works--it's like if you read a Fantastic Four book and The Thing pulled rocks off his body and threw them at people--I was rendered giddy at the dopiness of it all. Most of this train wreck isn't nearly as entertaining (although there is one panel where one Wonder Woman appears to put her foot through another Wonder Woman's uterus), just mindless and messy in an AWFUL early 90s Image book kind of way. However, I hold out hope that next issue someone will grab the speed lines coming off the Flash and garrote somebody else with them.

COUNTDOWN RAY PALMER SUPERWOMAN BATWOMAN #1: A story so intricately constructed it needed two writers, four pencilers, and six inkers: The Challengers go to a planet where everyone's gender is reversed and Wonder Man and his army of amazons get their asses kicked for twenty pages. That's it. And while refreshingly free of cheesecake, isn't that the only thing that would've made this interesting? There's something dishonest about making a planet where all the DC Heroes are Heroines and not then fucking with a fanboy's complex internal relationship with his or her favorite superhero (I'll admit I thought female Aquaman was really hot, for what it's worth). I mean, what's the point otherwise? To point out how ragingly sexist the power line-up of the DCU actually is?

To be fair, there was something almost Silver Age about this issue's execution--it finds each new iteration of reversed gender fascinating for its own sake, the way a Mort Weisinger book would--and that's kinda charming. But because this book exists for absolutely no other reason than to bilk money from the Countdown completist, it's really just a cynical cash grab which is an AWFUL thing to be.

COUNTDOWN TO FINAL CRISIS 19: I gotta give it up for colorist Pete Pantazis--he assigns a pallette to each set of characters which makes it easy for the reader to follow the scene changes quickly. Also, I think the reason I initially thought the art was the best in this issue I'd seen was the extra little touches in the scenes with Piper and Trickster (Piper's glowing eyes, the light reflected in the water). Apart from that, the only thing that struck me about this issue is that maybe Paul Dini's secret goal on Countdown is to make the second season of Lost look tightly constructed by comparison. Certainly, I cared for the characters in Lost for a lot longer than any of the characters here. Mr. Pantazis brings this up to a proper EH.

DETECTIVE COMICS #839: In most of the panels, Batman looks like his lower jaw is unhinging so he can swallow a field mouse. Also, there's a great few panels where Rolbin and Nightwing are up on a cliff watching Batman fight and Nightwing says, "Everyone's concentrating on Bruce and Damian, but those monks need help, too. Alfred...?" And the next panel is Alfred with a "what the fuck am I doing here?" face beating on a Ninja and saying, "Say no more, Master Dick!" Comedy. Gold. I can only wait for future crossovers where everyone sits back and has the hired help do everything. ("Hey, Alfred, we wouldn't Bane to make off with the Star of Carpinthia, would we?" "Say no more, Master Dick!") I'm sorry, but I thought this was AWFUL.

EX MACHINA #33: I gave up on this title quite some time ago so I have no idea if every issue is as crazed as Mayor Hundred receiving an exorcism from the Pope even as Russians are trying to force him (the Mayor, not the Pope) to commit murder. But if so, I'm picking up the back trades pronto. And that double-paged spread of Hundred's religious vision bumps this issue up to a high GOOD all on its own. I worry that maybe Vaughan's lost control of his book's tone, but considering I found that tone pretty dull, who cares?

EXILES #100: Although very, very, very cheap, there's something kind of clever about having the last issue of Exiles reprint the first issue of Exiles, which ends on a cliffhanger so the dutiful reader can then pick up the second issue of Exiles, and keep the wheel of comic book nerd turning and turning...As for Claremont's story in the front of the book, it does pretty much what you'd expect and writes out all of the original characters (except Morph) so he can regale us with cross-omniversal slash fanfic featuring all his favorite characters. I'm going with AWFUL, because Claremont's story was a mess and the reprint is actually a punishment to the faithful reader/collector who's been following the book since the beginning. Sad.

FOOLKILLER #3: Foolkiller takes place in on Earth Max, a world exactly like ours in every detail except people have no bones whatsoever, and a guy with a sword as thin as a riding crop can slice off a man's arm with no exertion whatsoever. You know this book is going to end up in a quarter bin somewhere and eventually end up being read by an impressionable eight year old and scarring them for life but, apart from that, this book serves no good end whatsoever. CRAP.

IMMORTAL IRON FIST #11: Continues to blow my mind with its mix of clever dialogue, quality characterization, crazy-ass ideas and gorgeous art. VERY GOOD stuff and I hope the team stays on this book for as long as possible.

INCREDIBLE HULK #112: As you probably know if you've been following me through December, I missed World War Hulk altogether, and based on this issue, I'm sorry I did: I liked the characters of Amadeus Cho and Hercules (although Herc looked great but sounded like Keanu Reeves in a few too many places); thought the mix of classic mythology and modern continuity was pretty keen; and the art was just really damn lovely. But there's another element to this issue that makes me wonder about WWH--the big ol' bait and switch. I mean, this issue is not a Hulk comic at all, unless (and, frankly, even if) you count the presence of a supporting character that's been in the title for less than a year.

Weirdly, although I've never given two shits about comic book completists, those guys who shell out money to have every issue of a book's run no matter whether they read it or not, I feel they're being horribly mistreated by the direct market as it stands. Their reward for their character's recent popularity (and Greg Pak's reward for steering the character so well) is to have to buy issues of the book that have nothing to do with the character they're collecting, while Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness relaunch the character in another title that they'll also have to buy.

Anyway, it's a GOOD issue, but it's a crap way to treat customers and retailers, and sooner or later they're going to stop sticking around for it.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #16: The first story is a big lead-in to another book you have to buy for this book to make any sense, and the back-up story has no impact unless you remember two Teen Titans stories and is a lead-in to another book you have to buy. See what I mean about mistreating customers and retailers? At least the book allowed me to coin a new term: the "done in none" where one issue is self-contained but serves no purpose other than to sell you other books. AWFUL in that regard, but EH overall.

Okay, that's the first part. I'll be back tomorrow (or sooner) with the second.