You know the deal. Your friend calls you, makes plans to meet them at a bar for a few drinks and, when you show up, you realize that not only did they get to the bar early and begin drinking without you, they showed up five hours early. Now, your friend keeps making out with the stranger next to them (who is toothless and looks like Curly Joe Besser in a platinum wig) and, after trying to start a fight with you when you point out they have what you think might be vomit in their hair, you realize your friend has a problem. And if you're lucky you can make your friend realize it too, before they drive away everyone who cares about them. Obviously, in this case, I'm talking about Marvel Comics and their releases this week. But I think I'm getting a little ahead of myself... Read on and you'll see what I mean.
Oh, and there are spoilers and stuff, so don't read if you don't want 'em...
52 WEEK #38: Kind of a time-waster, in some ways. I think it's already well-established that Nanda Parabat pops up just when you can't go any farther and are right on the edge of collapse, so maybe we could have just opened with that? Also, what fun is the Crime Bible if they've got the same stuff as the regular bible, but with just slightly more absurd details? Give me the the Four Second-Story Men of the Apocalypse any day!
Ooo, and that plea by Eddie Berganza to read Supergirl was uncomfortable, wasn't it? "We're so concerned about making this a book for women, I even asked my assistant--who's a woman--for advice!" And "We wanted Supergirl to be more like a real girl and have a little more weight on her bones!" (Does the tits and ass really count as "bones"?) Sadly the subtext--"ladies, we failed to successfully pander to men, so we're ready to try pandering to you!"--is pretty apparent and sorta amusing in a depressing kind of way.OK.
CIVIL WAR THE RETURN: There's a few things in Civil War--Nitro being part of the instigating event, the prison's location in the Negative Zone--that tie in nicely with the original Captain Marvel (who, to make things more confusing, isn't the original Captain Marvel, but is Marvel's original Captain Marvel) so it seems like this was planned from the start of the event. But, if that's the case, why is "The Return" both unbearably lame and done with so little cognizance of the actual character? I'm not even a big Captain Marvel fan and I found enormous continuity flaws with this (they show Captain Marvel putting on his Nega-Bands, but the dude wasn't able to take 'em off; also, where the hell is Rick Jones? Back in the past, on fire, clanging on his bands, screaming "Why? Why aren't they working??"). If you're gonna bring a character back, shouldn't you bother to at least read the Marvel Handbook entry on him? Plus, why make him the warden of the prison? "We need someone to sign guards' request for overtime, Mar-Vell, and you're the only one we can trust!" Slapdash and hackish, but, to be fair, should I really be surprised when Paul Jenkins can't even do justice to a character he's created? That Sentry story was arguably even worse. This was a really ASS book, and suggests Marvel has already dealt their good shit with regards to the Civil War--it's all rat poison and baby laxative from here on out.
CONNOR HAWKE DRAGONS BLOOD #3: I didn't bother with the first few issues, but probably because they didn't show Connor making out with his smoking-hot Ninja stepmom on the cover. Hopefully, this mini will do the trick and we don't have to read Chuck Dixon's Connor Hawke: The Dragon's Totally Straight, Okay? where Connor really has to overcompensate. OK.
CRIMINAL #4: VERY GOOD stuff, although, you know, some quibblage. Would Leo really leave Greta the recovering addict with access to tons of high grade junk right after he buries his mentor with whom he's made the same mistake? Apparently he would, and I bet it's essential to the "coward" nature Brubaker is observing, but...I dunno. As I said, quibblage. Well worth your time and coin, though.
DAMNED #4: This is also highly GOOD crime stuff which I've been enjoying. I'm not entirely sure on the cosmology--obviously, the creators don't want me to get all the angles yet, but the hardest part about writing magic and fantasy stories is making the reader feel like they know enough of the "rules" to think they're being treated honestly. I suspect we won't know if it all hangs together until the final issue, but I have high hopes.
DOCTOR STRANGE OATH #4: What with all the puns, it's thisssss close to being a high camp self-parody of near Joel ("Ice to meet you, Batman!") Schumacherian proportions, but compared to nearly every other book Marvel put out this week, it's practically Watchmen. OK, is what it is, and probably about as good as Dr. Strange is gonna get anytime soon.
ETERNALS #6: You know, San Francisco is a very difficult town to convey visually, which is why almost everyone falls back on Golden Gate Bridge/Transamerica Pyramid/Gate of Chinatown imagery, but jeez. Thanks to John Romita Jr's apparent disdain for photo-reference (or detail), an average episode of Full House feels more convincingly San Franciscan than this miniseries. Sadly, that's not the worst of its problems, as top-name talent Neil Gaiman sheepishly drags his cosmic superhero tale through its paces with all the verve of a hungover dad at Disneyland. Parts are definitely charming, and Gaiman is one of the few guys who bothers with the idea that superheroes can (and perhaps should) be super-compassionate, but barring some ultra-mega-cosmic finale in the last issue, I kinda feel like an idiot for spending so much buck on so little bang. EH.
FLASH THE FASTEST MAN ALIVE #8: After eight issues, the creative team has clawed all the way up to an EH rating. Flash goes to Vegas, gets laid, and traps an intangible electrical being behind him on his slipstream. The End. New scripter Marc Guggenheim starts in next issue and I wish him all the best because this book is nine kinds of screwed, already.
HELMET OF FATE IBIS THE INVINCIBLE #1: So, I guess this Helmet of Fate thing is, like, DC's old First Issue Special but with Fate's helmet as a joined linking device? As Brian points out, this'll probably do little more than hurt the upcoming Dr. Fate series and that's a bummer because I thought this wasn't a bad little book--lovely art by Phil Winslade and Tad Williams manages to cover in 20 pages what it took Gaiman 6 issues--if a little glib and unnecessary. But as I grow nostalgic in my dotage, I think I prefer the "let's throw shit at the wall and see what sticks" trademark retention to "hmmm, who can we rape and unmask now?" crossover events. Like I said, kinda GOOD.
HEROES FOR HIRE #6: I can't fully hate any book that has both the Headmen and a Doombot trying very hard not to bond with its precocious kid savior, but it didn't really fry my burger, either. Between this, Dr. Strange: The Oath, Punisher: War Journal and (to a much lesser extent) X-Factor, there's a lot of comedic shtick, as if people writing for Marvel are just trying to keep themselves amused for as long as the checks clear, and hoping that enough old-school shout-outs will keep the audience from noticing how embarrassed the creators are to be workiing on the material. Considering the creators have some talent to them, and it's not quite as bad as the cynically serious-faced money-grab Millar and Jenkins spend more and more of their time at, it's struck me as the lesser of two evils up to now. So, OK, kinda, but Marvel, what's that in your hair, dude?
MOON KNIGHT #7: Moves like a greyhound doped up on horse tranquilizers--slow and kinda stupid (apparently every hero in the Marvel Universe is okay with murder and slaughter when the plot requires them to be (or until the plot requires them not to be)). And if this really got delayed because of Civil War, I'd really like to know why since it's nothing but the most generic of tie-ins. Still, the creative team here has created a superhero who continues creeps the fuck out of me in a way that's neither out of line with the character nor particularly common in the marketplace these days. So, OK, even though I guess it's gonna be draggy-ass all the way through this team's run.
PUNISHER WAR JOURNAL #3: Maybe Fraction is just making the best of the hand he's been dealt, but this was so badly paced, I really have to wonder--The Punisher stumbles out of his interminable Civil War scene (complete with what I assume is an intentional paradox of a flashback) and ends up in an armory...how, exactly? One scene ends with crazy scientist guy in an elevator and the next starts with him and Frank in the armory... it's as if an entire scene in the middle dropped out (I actually flipped through the pages twice to see if I'd missed something). The first point I can kind of forgive (the scientist has a doo-whatsit pinned on Frank with which he can track him down) but the second is such a fumble of basic pacing, I was kind of mystified.
Also? Establishing shots? They're not just for hacks. Really.
So between all that and the plot-hammering, and the OOC stuff, is it enough to have real pretty art and the re-appearance of the Satan's Claw? I wish it was, but really, this was AWFUL, and I'm really, really hoping that's just a fluke.
ROBIN #158: Brought back those fond days of yesteryear, when two unlikely heroes teamed up and fought an even more unlikely villain, and yet you could read it and pretty much believe it because the creators showed a certain respect and affection for the characters. It wasn't showstopping, even with such lovely art, but it was GOOD.
SILENT WAR #1: Sorry, Marvel: I have successfully made my saving throw against your pretty looking unlikely miniseries. I just couldn't buy The Fantastic Four--humanity's first contact with The Inhumans, mind you--being told by the government to fuck off and being okay with that. I'm starting to feel like Helen Lovejoy from The Simpsons: "Won't somebody please think of the characters?" EH.
SUPERGIRL AND THE LEGION OF SUPER HEROES #26: Sweet art, a strong story, and even a sense of peril in a story where three of the superheroes have Superman level powers--which, if you think about it, is a pretty hard trick to pull off. GOOD, although there's really no way to do an LSH book without it being crufty as hell, is there?
TRUE STORY SWEAR TO GOD #3: A strong little issue, even if the ending might be just a little bit too pat. GOOD stuff, though, and one of those books I'm always glad to see on the stands.
WOLVERINE #50: The final sign that Marvel might need help is this horribly hacky over-priced issue. Not only is it bad enough that an artist like Simone Bianchi is wasted on this dreck (although, to be honest, he's not that great here. Does "Wolverine" mean "make the fight scenes too dark and show a bunch of knees and elbows flying out at the reader" in Italian or someething?), not only is Jeph Loeb at his most scattershot "I'm having a flashback--or a dream! That's it, a dream of a flashback!--and it inspires me to start a fight--or maybe it doesn't! Yeah, maybe I'm really upset about this flashback, instead! Or maybe not!" But we don't even get a full story (yes, I know that should be in quotes, and yes I know I'm echoing Hibbs' earlier "and such small portions!" complaint) for our $3.99. Instead, we're expected to underwrite Loeb's fellating of former boss Damon Lindelof in the form of a "tribute" to Len Wein and Herb Trimpe's first appearance of Wolverine (where Wolverine says Wein's dialogue and thinks, "Like I'd ever say crap like that if I wasn't told to," and "those whiskers on the costume were humiliating and I begged Mac to take 'em off," which, as tributes go, lacks a certain something) that suddenly morphs into the infamous double-page spread of Ultimate Wolverine Versus Hulk for no reason. I think it's meant to be cute, but the unintended message--"I can suppress my gag reflex if you can get me paying work"--is really off-putting. And that's why Marvel needs an intervention: it's not just that Wolverine #50, like Civil War: The Return, is an ASS comic, it's that it's an ASS comic that Marvel presents like the most amazing comic you're going to read all month and really seems to believe it. We're all used to hyperbole from Marvel with the books it publishes but there's a wild-eyed desperation to the shit Marvel is putting out on the market--"Isn't this girl awesome? Show him your teeth, honey!"--that makes me deeply, deeply afraid and, obviously, cranky. Blow Damon Lindelof on your own time, Loeb!
PICK OF THE WEEK: CRIMINAL #4. Go get it now.
PICK OF THE WEAK: CIVIL WAR: THE RETURN. And WOLVERINE #50. And PUNISHER WAR JOURNAL #3, while I'm at it.
TRADE PICK: Just this week, I was rounding up a bunch of books on my shelf that I'd read and realized I was never going to read, and the first two Penny-Arcade volumes were in that round-up. I'd enjoyed them, to be sure, but was I really going to re-read them? So of course, along comes PENNY ARCADE VOL 3 WARSUN PROPHECIES and I tore halfway through that thing yesterday afternoon. I'm sure it's not for everyone, but Tycho's prose style is utter fucking catnip for me.
And, hey, this is a trifecta right here. Howzabout that? Please read my savagely critical colleagues below if you haven't already, and lemme know your thoughts in the funny little comments box when you can.