Pre-ordering is my friend: A lesson learned through reviews of 2/15 books.

The drawback of being sick this week – besides, you know, that whole being sick part of the whole deal – is that by the time I got to the store this week to pick up things to read and review, the two books that I’d really been looking forward to (Brian Wood’s new one, SUPERMARKET, and Paul Pope’s BATMAN YEAR 100) were sold out already, or at least invisible to my eyes. I know, I know; if I’d preordered them then all would’ve been fine, but it’s not like I’ve ever been good at planning ahead at any point in my life up to now. I get anxious about thinking about the future, you see. I’m always convinced that, if I tell Bri that I really want Showcase Presents Superman Volume 2 in May, then I’ll somehow manage to die in April, and when I come back as the latest Spectre, I’d have to find some way to find $16.99 in ectoplasmic dollars anyway. Anyway, no Supermarket or Batman Year 100 for me this week. Sorry. (The good thing about being sick this week? Watching Gilmore Girls on ABC Family and feeling no shame, because you’re supposed to watch shitty TV when you can’t think straight, right? Gilmore Girls has become my new guilty TV pleasure, now that Veronica Mars and The OC are both off-air right now.)

ACTION COMICS #836: Okay, I have no idea what’s supposed to be going on here (Yes, I know it’s part two of a three-parter; I didn’t read part one, I admit). It’s like the story of Superman’s past, with everything fluxing between John Byrne’s version of the character, Geoff Johns’ version of Earth-2 Superman and the Mark Waid Birthright version, with history being rewritten randomly, and some Superman (the Earth-2 self-righteous one, I think) narrating everything. I think it’s “What If Superman was a pompous dick?” but there’s nothing resembling an explanation of why this is happening or what it all means (Someone who enjoyed Joe Kelly’s previous Superman and JLA work much less than me might make a “Joe Kelly writes a confusing story? No!” joke here, but I am a finer man, above such cracks). For readers who aren’t familiar with Superman or DC comics over the past twenty years, a lot of this story will mean nothing at all to them; it’s complete fanboy continuity porn, everything that’s bad about Infinite Crisis without any of the good things (like a story in and of itself, outside of any retcons or fixes). Art for this book is split between seven million artists from editor Eddie Berganza’s tenure on the Superman books, including a cover from onetime Man of Steel writer Mark Schultz. Parts are nice – Doug Mahnke and Lee Bermejo are always nice to see – but it’s far too disjointed in terms of quality for a story that’s already pretty hard to understand… It feels like filler, like so many of the main DC titles in the last few months as they kill time before the whole One Year Later jump. It’s weird, the amount of positive buzz that DC are getting for their superhero books right now, considering how crappy those books have been recently. Awful, really.

ANGRY YOUTH COMIX #10: Hi, I’m very very old. I realized that when looking through Johnny Ryan’s latest, and thinking that it’s probably very funny and controversial and great if you have the mentality of a twelve year old, but for me, not so good. For those who haven’t seen this book, imagine really shitty unfunny New Yorker cartoons with lots of dick, fart and rape jokes. Don’t get me wrong; I have no problem with dick, fart and rape jokes – Well, maybe rape jokes – but unfunny jokes? Yeah, that’s not so okay in my book. Sadly, I’m not one of those people who thinks that pissing or farting are inherently funny things in and of themselves, so most of this book falls horrendously flat for me. That’s not to say that there aren’t any funny jokes in here (The Moby Dick one, I loved, which kind of goes any claims of highbrow or snob I may have going for me), but holy fucking Christ, please come up with some actual jokes before you try and do another “Special All Gag Issue,” Johnny. Because this one? Crap.

DAREDEVIL #82: Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark take over the Book Without Fear, and find themselves picking up on Bendis’s jail-happy conclusion: Matt Murdock is behind bars, Foggy Nelson has hooked up with obscure 80s detective Dakota North, and someone else has started dressing up as Daredevil to protect Hell’s Kitchen. Bru hits the ground running here, with what seems to me his strongest writing since Sleeper – Maybe he just works best for me in this kind of hopeless situation populated by morally conflicted characters – and Lark’s art is as good as ever, although the coloring by Frank D’Armata overwhelms it with some crazy over-rendering in places. I’m cautiously optimistic about this – this issue is Very Good, but I thought the same about the first few issues of Brubaker’s Captain America before that seemed to become bogged down in itself before it was a year old.

FIRESTORM #22: So, to recap: In Infinite Crisis #4, Firestorm died. In Infinite Crisis #5, he comes back to life. In between, there are two issues of Firestorm’s own title to fill, and this is the second one. If you’re expecting to see the reborn Firestorm by the end of this issue, though, you’re out of luck, as one of the characters admits in the last panel: “Firestorm’s back! Finally!” Stuart Moore writes this thankless task as best as he can, using the time to explain what the new version of Firestorm will be able to do when he finally comes back, but yet again, it’s obvious filler that can’t step on the toes of Infinite Crisis but also can’t do anything of interest until One Year Later. OK, at best.

(Out of interest, since I last did regular reviews, the final issues of both Gotham Central and JLA have shipped, and both of them fell into the same trap as Firestorm and Action – Nothing of value happened. Gotham Central, in particular, was a disappointment considering the quality of the previous couple of issues, with no resolution to the main plot nor to Montoya’s character arc, because the characters are needed in larger series later (Montoya will be in 52, Allen in The Spectre). JLA, meanwhile, continues the mess that was the last storyline without getting any better. You know it’s a bad sign when the most interesting thing that happened in the last six issues was the inclusion of a Flash plotline that went absolutely nowhere, presumably due to last-minute changes elsewhere.)

HELLBLAZER #217: Denise Mina continues her attempt to get John Constantine to Glasgow, and what seemed like a one-off McGuffin from last issue turns out to have greater significance than what I’d assumed. Some of the narration is overdone – The “I’m rain water running down a drain” monologue in particular felt like writing, as opposed to someone telling a story – but overall, there’s a lot that rings true in the dialogue, and the plot’s appropriately downbeat: Empathy is something that kills you. Leonardo Manco’s art reads like cut-rate Tim Bradsheet: Photo-realistic, but static and posed, and it isn’t helped by some odd coloring choices in certain scenes. It’s a Good book, but a frustrating one, because it feels like it should be better.

PLANETARY BRIGADE #1: Here’s another of my terrible secrets: While I liked Giffen and DeMatteis’s Justice League way back in the day, I don’t get why so many people are so excited about seeing them together again on other books. It’s lazy nostalgia for everyone involved, like watching the Rolling Stones at the Superbowl do “Start Me Up” for the seven millionth time, purely going through the motions (I’m probably the only person who was completely underwhelmed by their two returns to the Justice League characters, aren’t I? They both just felt so safe, smug and uninspired). Despite the opportunity provided by it being a new creator-owned book, Planetary Brigade, their new book for Ross Richie’s Boom! Studios, is more of the exactly the same: There’s the Superman analogue, the Batman analogue, the Wonder Woman analogue, the cynical aloof mystic (like J’Onn in JLA), the shallow, selfish but with hidden heart of gold woman (like Fire in JLA)… The bickering snarky dialogue is tired, the characters barely introduced, and the plot just kind of… there. For those who love Giffen and DeMatteis and what they do, this is probably great, but for me, Eh at best. I’d much rather see the two writers do what they’re more interested in, like DeMatteis’s Abadazad or any of Giffen’s many other Boom! Books. Nice to see Mark Badger and Eduardo Barretto doing some more work, though.

(I’ve now dissed Johnny Ryan and Giffen and DeMatteis – Somewhere, Kevin Church is plotting my downfall, I can tell.)

PICK OF THE WEEK, surprisingly, ends up being Daredevil. Who knew? PICK OF THE WEAK is Action Comics, because as much as I disliked Angry Youth, at least it was coherent and didn’t rely on me having read 20 years of earlier Johnny Ryan comics. I’m tempted to say that DC in general should get Pick of The Weak, because I’m getting mighty bored of the majority of DC’s superhero line being stuck in neutral and waiting for Infinite Crisis to finish. TRADE OF THE WEEK is the deeply overdue Kid Eternity trade, where Grant Morrison and Duncan Fegredo tell you that a glowing blue boy with the power to raise the dead doesn’t mean that you’re immune to late-80s “chaos magic” iconography trends.

I’m still pissed that Supermarket sold out so quickly, though.