Goodbye, Farewell, Au Revoir

I regret the need to do this, but I'm leaving the Savage Critics. I find that my good intentions of contributing are far outweighed by not having the time available to do the job I should be doing here, which makes me feel guilty. I thank everyone involved, especially the great Brian Hibbs, for including me in the first place. I still feel incredibly honored to be asked, and I'll remain a reader, of course!

Johanna Does DC: Atom, Supergirl, JLAC, Teen Titans

All-New Atom #19 -- A classic fill-in issue, with the first page featuring the hero thinking about all the things going on in the "regular" title storyline, before the rest of the book becomes about an unrelated adventure. Some have of his buddies have been exploring an abandoned mine, and they haven't returned in days. The Atom goes after them, with text lumps conveniently explaining heavy-handed plot needs to keep the story going: the radio must not work at that depth, no one can excavate because the ground gives way, and so on. A scary underground inbred community living like its the 1800s has already been done, and much better, by Grant Morrison and Frazer Irving in Klarion the Witch Boy. Here, it feels very by-the-numbers, and the "hero" is just along for the ride. He falls into a cavern, where he's thrown deeper, and he's freed from imprisonment because someone else gets a crush on him. He doesn't take any positive action or solve any problems on his own, even to the point of standing by helplessly while his best friend is dragged off to presumed death. The resolution only comes about through some pseudo-scientific claptrap leading to a punch and the bad guy going poof.

I don't understand why inker Keith Champagne keeps getting writing work. His plotting is mundane and his dialogue even more cliched. Expectations these days should be higher. Eh

Supergirl #25 -- The first page features before-and-after shots of Kara's best friend as a skull-crushed skeleton. This is really what gets approved by the Comic Code Authority these days? I guess it goes along with the creepy Terminator ad featuring a girl's head, breasts, and armless torso. Doesn't make me want to watch the TV show (even if it is River from Firefly). Instead, it makes me ponder when female dismemberment (even if she is a robot) became an attractive advertising feature.

Back to Supergirl. Apparently, she's having disturbing flashbacks about remembering how her world was destroyed. I guess it's a benefit that today's superhero comics can acknowledge post-traumatic stress disorder instead of the earlier generation's "gee, it's good to be here, cousin Kal!" I do wish it was handled more substantially, though. Or at all. Superman tries to talk to her, but the sum total of his message is "I feel it too". So it's always about you, dude? She reaches out, he bails... And then we get the other half of the issue, pointless fight time. I couldn't even tell what was supposed to be happening during some of it. And nothing's resolved, the better to try and bring the readers back next issue.

This was a waste of my time. Nothing about it was interesting or worth looking at. Awful

JLA Classified #49 -- This issue is a typical example of the problems of increasing continuity. I was intrigued by the cover, promising to focus on "those left behind" (which, from the image, was girlfriends, wives, and Alfred). The cover is misleading, by the way, instead being mostly a conversation between Alfred and Lois Lane when Bruce Wayne ducks out on an interview with her because the JLA is off fighting aliens.

I have no context for this story, so when Lois, greeting a returning Superman, says "we don't know each other well", I'm left wondering. Is this story set years ago? (Yet Lois uses a Blackberry.) Has DC decided they're not married? That she's married to Clark but doesn't know he's Superman? It's the only thing that sticks with me after reading, and that distraction does the story a disservice. Puzzled

I've just noticed I haven't bothered to mention the art in any of these comics. It's the generic mediocrity so common to DC these days. Competent, but nothing outstanding or memorable.

Teen Titans Year One #1 -- Always good to end on a high note. This is great stuff. I'm immediately interested in the characters and the mystery. Batman's going berserk, way too grim on minor criminals, and Robin's asking for help from other kid heroes. This is the best portrayal of what it would be like to be Kid Flash I've ever seen, with pages capturing the boredom he feels in only a few minutes.

Writer Amy Wolfram really gets what it's like to be young, with the kids communicating through IM and believable attitudes, ably backed up by Karl Kerschl, Serge LaPointe, and Steph Peru. Terrific stuff, made better by the way the text and art work together and Wolfram is willing to rely on the pictures to tell her story. Very Good

Johanna's Last Marvel Review of 2007: Hulk/Fin Fang Foom, She-Hulk, Order

Hulk vs. Fin Fang Foom -- I'm surprised no one's thought of pitting the two green laconic purple pants-wearers against each other before. I was looking forward to a fun slugfest, but I was even more surprised that Peter David's put in a story. In a situation reminiscent of The Thing, a group of Antarctic scientists discover Fin Fang Foom under the ice. The art team of Jorge Lucas and Robert Campanella do a terrific job of capturing the original beetle-browed Hulk look. I'm ordinarily not a fan of Kirby lookalikes, but it's the perfect style for this kind of no-holds-barred adventure.

David's Hulk is simple but poignant in his desire to simply be left alone. Instead of some long drawn-out miniseries, we get a quick bout that leaves us wanting more. There's also a reprint of Foom's first appearance, complete with the gaudiest four-shade coloring I've seen in a long while: yellow Asians, orange dragon, blue walls... it's like Lucky Charms spilled over the page. Good

She-Hulk #24 -- After not enjoying the previous two issues, I promised writer Peter David I'd give it one more try, since this is the issue where the fighting's over and we get lots of characterization.

And, well, to me it starts like an episode of Law & Order: SVU. She-Hulk spats with booking cop who persists in using diminutive nickname. Partner Skrull Jen similarly has attitude with perp she's bringing in. Then the two swap clever dialogue with each other before a gang of kids from the RV park where they live wander in. There's also a troubled teen with father issues.

I'm thrilled to see women with distinctive personalities lead a superhero comic, since it's rare we see more than one female talk to each other in the genre, let alone about meaningful issues, but it's just not clicking for me. I like that there are so many different characters, but so far, they're flat, one-line descriptions intead of three-dimensional people. I don't feel anything to grab onto, any need to learn more about them. Sure, they've got to hold back to have somewhere to go in future... but I'm just not interested in the ride. I wish I was. I'd like to feel the curiosity of meeting new friends instead of the tedium of attending someone else's class reunion. Okay

The Order #6 -- This comic makes me feel the way I did when I first encountered The Legion of Super-Heroes during the 1990s run. There's a whole bunch of different characters with strong personalities, unusual powers, and codenames. Interpersonal relationships matter more than superhero battles. Every issue makes me want to reread the previous to make sure I'm caught up with what's going on. It's almost too much to keep track of, but the more attention you pay, the more you're rewarded.

That's a really cool feeling. I've missed something with that depth to hang onto. I also enjoy Matt Fraction's plot structure of having one particular character be interviewed every issue, running their narration parallel with the other events. I feel like I'm learning important, in-depth things about the cast, one at a time, and it allows him to do more subtle things than many books are able to. Barry Kitson's art is attractive but can be stiff, so the face-on interview panels turn that into a strength.

Pepper Potts is running this government-sponsored corporate superhero team on behalf of Tony Stark, which makes this the best thing to come out of Civil War. This issue focuses on Milo Fields, a paralyzed veteran whose robot fighting suit makes him Supernaut. Overall, he contributes to a very rich world with plenty to involve the reader -- plus action, suspense, conflict, humor, and plenty of cool people to fantasize about. Very Good

In order to justify adding an additional eight pages to their comics to support an increased ad count over the holidays, Marvel has been running interview and behind-the-scenes text pages. In this issue, one of them is called "What do you do with your comic books?" I found it amusing that out of the nine writers and artists who answer it, five give them away to friends, kids, or charity. The remaining four box them up and promise themselves someday they'll organize them. (The word "stockpile" is also used.) That's what happens when you get too many comics, kids -- they quit being entertainment and start being a task you'll never get to.

Johanna Snickers at Black Canary/Decrepit Stud

I only read this book because I am a total fangirl for artist Cliff Chiang. The storyline, by Judd Winick, is Ass. I think everyone's figured out by now that Green Arrow isn't really dead, and Black Canary is remarkably clear-headed for someone who just a few months ago thought she'd killed her new husband and long-time love on their wedding night. But that's the problem with comparing superhero comics to real life. What would be institutionalizable fixations in our world -- no, he's not really dead, an alien or clone is impersonating him -- make perfect sense in DC world, so it's kind of hard to relate.

Anyway, BC is undergoing a trial by combat to prove she's worthy of becoming the Amazons' new fight trainer ... which I also find unbelievable. I don't care how good she is. A group of immortal warriors who've been around for millennia can take care of their own combat training, I think. But it got her and little miss idiocy onto the island. (All Speedy or Red Arrow or girl whose name is never given in the comic (although Conner is named five times) does is sit around narrating the plot interspersed with classless comments that almost give away what little the gang has in terms of a plot.)

Let's look at the pictures some more. Chiang draws a stunning, regal Hippolyta and a fiercely strong Canary. More, please.

After ripping off Butch Cassidy (it's still a ripoff even if you quote it directly), there's a chamber pot pee joke (No! Really! In the 21st century!) and the revelation that Green Arrow's imitator blew the doppelganger plan because he was impotent. ... ... I haven't seen THAT motivation in superhero comics before. Although with all that spandex holding everything so close to the body it doesn't even show as a bulge, it makes sense.

I am very impressed that, called upon to illustrate the stunning Canary dialogue "He couldn't get his engines going... even with me?" while our heroine is wearing a bra, panties, and garter belt, Chiang keeps her looking like a person. He's more concerned with expressing the figure's emotion than showing off her goodies. After too many years of Birds of Prey art that took the opposite approach, I say bravo. And he draws holes in her fishnets! (Not the ones that are supposed to be there, actual costume damage. Those things rip at the slightest opportunity.)

The dumbest part of the whole book, though... I know, it's been pretty dumb up until now, and I didn't even mention how many times old-enough-to-be-a-grandad Arrow simply outruns a whole gang of Amazons on his tail... is the ending, which I am about to spoil.

Not three pages after the touching "I knew you weren't really dead" reunion of the title characters, Connor is shot and presumed dead. By a cloud. This would have made for a more compelling cliffhanger (except for the cloud part) if the whole rest of the book wasn't about rescuing someone thought to have been dead. It's a bad writer's way of undercutting his own story by going for the cheap-and-easy "shocking" last page.

Given the previous debates over Connor ("it's possible for him to be gay, and that would be refreshing and sensible" vs. one of his writer's demented hypocrisy on the subject, where he'd rather have the character make out with his father's rapist than admit the possibility), it's disconcerting to see him chosen as sacrificial victim this go-round. Even if he's not attracted to men, it was neat seeing a character not defined by his sexuality to the point where it was an open question.

Anyway, I trust I've made my feelings known.

Johanna Previews Northlanders, Afterburn

People send me PDFs for review. Here's my thoughts on a couple. Bear in mind that I use a laptop, so my screen space is minimal, and by the time I blow up the pages to be able to read the dialogue, I'm looking at individual panels, not full pages. It's not the most ideal format, but it's effectively free for both of us.

Northlanders #1, DC/Vertigo

If I say "Brian Wood's Viking comic", you've likely already made your decision on whether it sounds like something you'd like. But there's more to it than you might suspect.

The preview copy I saw was uncolored, which put me at a disadvantage. Artist Davide Gianfelice has a very European look to his linework, and I think the density will be easier to parse in color. That's a compliment, actually, that he has very full pages with plenty happening. Reminds me of Walt Simonson's work. Plenty of violence, too, as suits the material.

Our hero Sven has just found out his uncle has claimed his inheritance upon his father's death. (Very Shakespearean.) Uncle Gorm represents the old way, ruling through fear and old magic sacrifices. Sven's more cosmopolitan, better traveled, but now a stranger to these people.

Prediction: the people will learn to engage with the larger world without fear, and Sven will learn not to despise his homeland and to value more than money as he claims his birthright. It's a Very Good match between theme and setting that makes this comic about much more than bearded men swinging swords at each other.

More information at the book's website. Due December 5 at $2.99.

Afterburn #1, Red 5 Comics

A solar flare changes all life on earth, creating a post-apocalyptic world. An oil-rig worker becomes a mercenary, capturing objets d'art from depopulated zones for the rich. It's a postmodern take on Indiana Jones, only the artifacts sought after are those we'll recognize, like the Mona Lisa, and the dangerous environments are former world capitals populated by mutated zombie-like humans and animals.

It's a clever concept, immediately intriguing, and professionally done, impressively so for a small publisher. (Caveat: I don't know about print or paper quality, since I viewed this on-screen. I don't expect them to cheap out at those points, given the impression I've gotten about the company so far, but I've seen people make stupider decisions.) Some of the staging could be a little clearer. For example, if the hero's going to jump neither right nor left when confronted, but 90 degrees to the middle, the corridor that exists in that direction should be established beforehand, so his escape doesn't seem like deus ex machina.

There's a lot of fighting, too much for me to really get into the series, but it makes for fun action if that's your thing. I'm concerned that four issues, bimonthly, asks too much of the reader, though. That's a long time between hits for an adrenaline adventure, and by the time the next issue's out, you've forgotten the previous. I give it a Good.

Due in January at $2.95, can be ordered with code NOV07 3786. Read a preview at the publisher's website.

Marvels Advance -- Johanna Drops She-Hulk, Tries Iron Man Annual

She-Hulk #23 -- I gave it another shot, but I see nothing here to stick around for. The cliffhanger is resolved though a typical Marvel "all rules out the window" substitution, and one that makes me fear upcoming event crossover (spoiler: the broken-necked Jen is a Skrull). When Peter David's wisecracks suit the characters and fit the situations, they're gorgeous. Here, they're more like generic, seen before or bolted on regardless of character voice. She-Hulk doesn't solve her own problems (like the miniature Titania in her ear canal); instead, she hits things until everything's resolved. Bravo for a strong female hero, but it would be nice if she a) showed some brains as well and b) didn't disavow being a superhero constantly. And since when does she have a Wolverine-like instant healing power? Super-tough, sure, but the rest of it didn't feel right.

Lots of fighting, too, which isn't what I read superhero books for. (I know, I'm not the target audience.) The stuff with Jen feels like filler, there just to meet page count. Even the stuff that should be cool, like a giant shark exploding out of a broken tank towards the stunned She-Hulk and Absorbing Man, isn't, due to lackluster presentation.

I sound really harsh about this, but it's coming out of my disappointment. There are few enough Marvel comics I enjoy, and this one used to be one of them. It hasn't been for years, though, and this new direction has little to do with it. It's another example of Marvel retreating to their core competency in the face of fear of change. It's not bad enough to be Awful, so Eh with a drop.

Iron Man Annual -- This is the kind of thing that should be done with Tony Stark -- treating him like James Bond, Superhero. He heads off to Madripoor to depose its current ruler, Madame Hydra.

Lots of good roles for women, too, as Stark's undercover support staff. Too bad they all look like blow-up dolls. I guess that's in keeping with the milieu, but a little diversity would make me think the artist was capable of more than aping Jim Lee. I don't think men realize that a woman who was the absolute ruler of a country would bother dressing as though she was getting paid by the evening.

Not as fun as it could be because of the old-school Image look, but amusing. Christos Gage writes, and he's quickly gaining a spot on my list of writers to watch. Okay shading towards Good, held back by the art.

November 14 Exhausts Johanna

This is a really busy week, especially for DC books, which means too much to get distracted by. In another week, I might have tried Wonder Girl again, but I had two other comics with the Amazons I expected to like more. (Plus, I'm not interested in either New Gods or the goofy art.) I like Blue Beetle ok, but a "Sinestro Corps War" banner gives me a good excuse to skip this month. I'm looking for reasons not to get comics in order to keep numbers manageable. (This is why publishers should better manage their overall schedules to smooth out weeks, which would be better for readers and retailers, but that seems to be beyond them.)

Captain Marvel #1 -- I don't want to read about a steroid freak with a mullet. Especially one back from the dead, and one known best for his method of death. Too many superheroes already, and too much event escalation. Ignoring death only makes that worse.

X-Factor #25 -- I used to enjoy this series a great deal, and then it became crossover central. Now I don't read it any more. But others do, apparently. Good for them -- I hope they enjoy it as much as I used to.

Nightwing #138 -- Why is he throttling Vampirella in a black costume on the cover? (flip flip) Oh, apparently she's called Dragonfly, and inside, her costume actually has sides. So, artistic exaggeration. Or lack of inspiration.

Batman and the Outsiders #1 -- I used to like this book, back in the 80s, but I'm leery of Chuck Dixon these days, so pass.

Salvation Run #1 -- Why would I want to read a comic about a whole bunch of villains on another planet? The setting makes it much too easy for the writer to pull things out of his pants to take the story in whatever direction he wants. And a bunch of bad people fighting with each other... I get that every night during election season.

No, seriously, why does this book exist? And why would someone want it?

Green Arrow/Black Canary #2 -- I am SUCH a Cliff Chiang fangirl. He can do no wrong, and the regal Hippolyta on the first page of this Themyscira-set issue just confirms it. And the naked Green Arrow trying to escape from his captors is a definite eye-catcher.

Black Canary and ... what's the former-hooker sidekick's name? She's written with Judd Winick's typical subtlety, barely setting foot on the island before she's shouting about her previous profession and her HIV status, insulting her hosts, and causing Black Canary to fight with those who invited her. So I think I'll spend more time on the pictures. The story is obvious when it's not offensive, but it's sure pretty.

Wonder Woman #14 -- Is this Gail Simone's first issue? The DC website says it was last issue, but the way they juggle contents these days, I think it got shifted to this one. Diana winds up adopting some gorilla warriors as houseguests and waxing rhapsodically about cake. I'm most excited by the reintroduction of Lt. Colonel Candy, who's set against Wonder Woman.

This one's an okay read, but the art is typical "let me pause during battle to make sure you can see my butt and breast at the same time" pinup stuff. I would expect nothing else from the Dodsons. Simone and Chiang... I can dream, but until then, I have two books that make me say "but... if only..." instead of one I can adore.

Welcome to Tranquility #12 -- Did you know this was the final issue? I blame the zombies. I liked the "town of old superheroes" concept until that point. I found this installment incoherent, trying to wrap too much together and too many characters to keep track of. But I hadn't been paying attention for previous issues, either. Again, zombies. Don't care.

Johanna Reads Some Marvels

Astonishing X-Men #23 -- I don't like it. The people are pretty, thanks to John Cassaday, and there's occasionally a funny (if very Buffy-reminiscent) wisecrack, but the bigger plots are either overused cliches, fun for only long-time X-Men readers, or too detailed to be kept up with in a comic that only comes out every three months. Best read in collected format, but even then, it doesn't seem like anything worth re-reading, so why bother spending for it? The Immortal Iron Fist #10 -- I don't mind reading it, but if it disappeared, I wouldn't miss it, and I never feel like I have anything to say about it. Probably because it's a boy comic, all about the glory of fighting well, grasshopper. Writers Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker add just enough characterization to give me something beyond that, but not enough to make this worth me getting involved in.

The Order #4 -- Oh, this is good. Very Good. I like these characters. There are lots of them, so I'm going to have to reread the four issues to see which ones we know so far and which we haven't met yet. But I want to, instead of feeling like I've been assigned homework.

And I like the reality-show-inspired confessional structure, in which one of the team members explains themselves and their background, intercut with action sequences. It suits Barry Kitson's can-be-static style, in that they're supposed to be low-key, but he still varies the head shots up a lot. Matt Fraction's character backgrounds are complex, but portrayed with humor and feeling. He's up-to-date, with his celebrity heroes facing the typical pitfalls of tabloid culture: attention for the wrong things, addictions, toxic fame. It feels current. What a neat change.

Oh, and Abhay was right about Vinyl Underground -- #2 is all incoherent exposition, no movement, no appeal. Awful

Johanna Doesn't Like Geoff's Legion: Action Comics #858

Wow, really not a lot this week to try from the "Big Two" (snicker). There wasn't a single thing that interested me from Marvel. On the DC side, I don't read event tie-in titles, which leaves out six books. Given the increasing levels of violence and ickiness in the DCU, I wasn't interested in the Halloween Special. The same goes for skipping the book wearing its fetish on its sleeve, Death of the New Gods. The Confidential and Classified books are beginning to resemble slush pile fill-in dumps.

So what's left? Well, Action Comics #858 starts a Legion of Super-Heroes guest-star story. But it's written by an Architect, Geoff Johns, so my bias going in is that it's going to be more concerned with either tying up some loose end from some other story or showing off some bit of ancient comic trivia than telling a story.

The beginning, a more jaded, violent twist on Superman's origin, reinforces those negative expectations. Then there's an old-fashioned "Clark Kent, Daily Planet dweeb" scene and a flashback to the teen meeting the Legion founders for the first time. Then the jump forward to the far-future crisis. Which instead of involving some kitschy twist on technology instead is anchored by graffiti and a shootout with authority (and a loving closeup of Dawnstar's cleavage).

I've seen all this before. And that seems to be the point, reinforcing a "we're all fans together, isn't this cool?" familiarity... but I'm not part of it and I don't want to be. Show me something new, something exciting, something imaginative instead. I don't even know if this is "my" Legion or one kind of like it or one with some "clever" twist to fit some other story told in the meantime. Seeing the "classic" group just reminds me how much has changed how often. Awful, because I'm bitter.

Responding to TITLING responses

There’s been a couple of other opinion pieces going around this last week, using my latest TILTING AT WINDMILLS as a starting point. Most notably from Johanna, and from Christopher Butcher. This is good, I like debate. Here’s the thing though: I’m not sure if it is because I’m a lousy writer (guilty!), or if people are reading what they want to read rather than what I intended to say.

I’ve been using Vertigo as my example because Vertigo has a (unstated but crystal clear) program where periodical series UNIFORMALLY get collected at about month #9 in what I think any reasonable person will conclude is the SUPERIOR value – it is cheaper, sometimes by nearly as much as half (6x$2.99 = $17.94, vs $9.95), and it does not have advertisements, and it is a "satisfying chunk"

So let’s start from there, with bullet point #1: Is there anyone who disagrees that Vertigo’s “first volume” collection release is a “better” value?

If not, then let’s move to the next bullet point, #2: the natural consequence of such a plan is that whatever potential customer base that there for these books is being tacitly encouraged to “wait” for the trade.

#3: The sales charts seem to reflect this behavior.

I don’t think that anyone has, of yet, disagreed with those first three points.

I think we, maybe, begin to differ when we get to the next one:

#4: This is a lousy plan if your economic strategy is for the production of the periodical to FUND the eventual collection. Especially when it appears that this causes the periodicals are selling below any kind of “break even” number.

Again, I was probably less than clear, but this argument has NOTHING to do with “floppy vs book”, or that people should be “made” to buy something they don’t want, or any of the other positions that people seem to be arguing against. See: I, personally, as a consumer of comics (not as a store owner) don’t buy any Vertigo periodicals, and I haven’t for at least a year, maybe two, because I *know* they’re coming soon in a book, and that the book, even if only for the lack of advertisements, is a “better read”. I figured that out a real long time ago.

So, THIS is my argument, in one sentence:

If you’re trying to be a periodical publisher that is amortizing your costs with a serialization, then you should support that serialized format in all rational ways.

Maybe the disagreement is over what “rational” is? To me, this boils down to 4 things, I think.

A) Have something in the serialization that can’t be gotten any other way. Typically, this is “the letter’s page”, but it can also be something like the “backmatter” in FELL.

B) Keep your promises to the serialization audience, in terms of meeting your schedule, not changing creative teams inappropriately, and so on.

C) Objectively look at both response to, and the aesthetic value of, the work to determine the collection strategy. Not everything *should* be collected, you know! Don’t automatically collect JUST because you have a P&L that’s predicated upon it.

D) Have enough of a pause between serialization and collection to both encourage readers to follow the serialization, and to be able to create “buzz” on a book. Yes, there will probably be some isolated and extremely rare exceptional cases when the buzz is such that doing a “quick” TP release is, in fact, the better marketing move to make, but I believe that in virtually all other cases, having a 6-18 month “gap” between serialization and collection is the much smarter move for the health of the periodical market.

If your response is “Well, who cares about the periodical market?!?” there’s not a lot for us to talk about, really – this is an “If…then” argument.

I apologize for being both an unclear, as well as an easily side-tracked writer, and for throwing in too many examples, because that let’s people focus on the example rather than the underlying point.

One more time, just so we’re clear:

If you’re trying to be a periodical publisher that is amortizing your costs with a serialization, then you should support that serialized format in all rational ways.


Johanna Catches Up...

Trying something new... quick takes, to break my block. The Flash #233 -- A writer as experienced as Mark Waid should know not to write stories picking at the scabs of superhero conventions. No good will come of examining the fraying fabric "realistically". As soon as the Justice League says "we've come for the kids", I laughed. The people who hung out with Mia and Wonder Girl and Robin are trying to tell a real parent how to raise his babies?

Flash points this out to them, along with a grim message of potential death for the young ones (because Sim forbid that having powers could be FUN), and they all back down. Watching the Justice League stand around like chastised schoolchildren is even worse than their hubris to start. Eh

Legion of Super-Heroes in the 31st Century #7 -- The Legion, much as I love them, have a long history of boys vs. girls stories with questionable (at best) gender politics. This falls right into that tradition with a firm splat.

Princess Xenobia (hint! hint!), heir to New Themyscira (aka Paradise Island, in less enlightened times), is missing. Some of the Legion girls go to investigate and promptly get captured by the bitch queen Circe. She turns them against themselves with a few well-placed snipes, and the girls instantly become so insecure and jealous over various boys that they're easily captured. So the boy heroes (mostly Superboy) get to go rescue them.

Who approved this Crap? We get to see the future Amazons, only to have them turn out to be harpies and the girl heroes shown as ineffective hostages? It plays into just about every gender stereotype out there ... and the boys don't show up well, either, drooling over the idea of visiting the "Planet of the Babes". I will admit, though, the idea of Bouncing Pig was funny.

Teen Titans #54 -- I think Sean McKeever is a terrific choice for this book and group, but I refuse to read this, his debut story, because it's full of too many characters and alternate future versions. I look forward to trying a less person-packed tale.

X-Men: First Class #5 -- Kid mutants go to find the Hulk. They go up against him one by one, until Marvel Girl takes care of him. Which rocks! It's only temporary, though, because we're reading the classic fight-then-team-up structure, or at least "misunderstanding becomes uneasy truce".

The difference between these kid mutants (the young, original X-Men) and all the many other kid mutant teams that Marvel's also published is a significant one... this one doesn't have the baggage. There's just the few characters, and their tentative encounters with the classic Marvel universe, instead of seventeen hundred spinoffs and variants. The feeling is purer and more innocent, not in a naive way, but in a "focused on the core of the concept" way. Jeff Parker continues to surprise with the depth of his talent. Very Good

She-Hulk #22 -- Peter David's first issue. I understand the desire to do something different from Dan Slott's run (which had become only a pale shadow of itself by halfway through). This isn't it, though, or at least anything I care about. The last page says "Next issue: More hitting!" Which I think is supposed to be funny hip, but I just found pathetic. That's not what I'm interested in reading, and there's too much of it here.

Jen's become a bounty hunter instead of a lawyer. There's more characterization given to the villain than her, though, and the cliffhangers are artificial. Sure, I want to know the explanation behind the division and the not-really-dead return, but not in any kind of involved way, just a slight curiosity towards which comic gimmick he's going to attribute it to. I'm not affected, and I'm going to forget what happened long before the next issue. Eh

Catwoman #72 -- And creators wonder why readers don't believe they're really going to do anything different... this issue reverses everything that made the recent run of Catwoman so interesting and unusual. Baby? Given away. New identity? Lost in a drunken haze. Stand-alone stories? Let's truck in Zatanna and yet another Identity Crisis reference. Life in her neighborhood? Blown up with a convenient bomb. Complicated morality? Replaced with a vengeful vow to quit being a good guy. Looks like next issue, we're back to a simple anti-hero with no family ties and nothing complicated. Borrrrrrrring.

Oh, and at her turning point, Catwoman in the Batcave stares at the costume of a dead Robin, talking about how their lives aren't safe for kids, at the same time she's ignoring the live one babysitting her daughter. Why is absolutely no one in the DCU optimistic any more? I don't want to rate this, because I get tired of marking most superhero books Eh, but that's my overall take on them. They don't aim for much, and they achieve it.

The Vinyl Underground #1 -- I liked it. I found the characters interesting, I liked their interplay, the look and design is well-suited to them, and I want to know more about what's going on. It's got a cheeky attitude towards sex that suits our culture, permeated with it, and the London setting is necessary for avoiding American puritanism. Good

The Brave and the Bold #7 -- Excellent superherodom. Wonder Woman and Power Girl interact as two women with similar powers but very different personalities (a really basic quality of good writing that many many genre writers manage to completely ignore). Mark Waid is at the peak of his very talented long game here, and George Perez's art is perfect for the detail and obsession inherent in the tales.

Wonder Woman accidentally finds out that Power Girl has been brainwashed to kill Superman. The rest of the issue is finding out how and when and by whom, made more difficult by PG's recalcitrance towards self-examination or needing anyone's help. There's also an odd little bit woven in there about being willing to destroy a repository of world-changing knowledge if it means saving a friend or a hero (I'm not sure which is more important). Great action, high-flung adventure, creative threats, and even things to think about once the story's done.


So, what do you think? Is shorter better? Or should I not even bother if I'm not talking about the newest titles in a more timely fashion?

Johanna Has Hope: Preview of Hope Falls #1

People send me PDFs for review. Here's my thoughts on one. Bear in mind that I use a laptop, so my screen space is minimal, and by the time I blow up the pages to be able to read the dialogue, I'm looking at individual panels, not full pages. It's not the most ideal format, but it's effectively free for both of us. I'm looking today at Hope Falls #1 from Markosia. It's due in November, but I suspect that unless you have an excellent comic store, you're not likely to see it unless you commit to preordering a copy.

It's written by Tony Lee with art by Dan Boultwood. The plot starts with a home-town girl, gone 20 years, returning home and pondering what's changed and what hasn't. It's only after we begin wondering why she's so strange that we find out that she was murdered by men who are now town leaders, and she's back for vengeance.

That's an intriguing change on the usual setup, especially given the warnings she receives about how much her plans will harm her. In stories of this type, usually it's the protagonist who's moved on and grown, but here, she's the one fixated on the past, and she's still the same person (physically) she was then.

The art is sharp-edged but simple in the Oeming style. It tells the story well, and the flashback inserts of what happened then are suitably shocking and sudden. The theme, that some choices can't be apologized for or reversed, is unusual and full of potential.

It's twisty, so it's hard to recommend the entire series with confidence, because who knows where it might end up? The writer compares it to "Twin Peaks meets The Crow by way of the Da Vinci Code", but it strikes me as a layered tale best suited to comics. I admire the protagonist's determination even as I'm shaking my head that she's making the wrong choices.

Use code SEP073850 to preorder, or visit to learn more. It's a Good read, with the potential to be more once the whole story is revealed.

Johanna Reads Archies: Jughead Enters Our World

The new story in Jughead & Friends Digest #23 is odd in an historical way. Dilton's figured out a way to store stuff in another dimension with his "infinite closet" invention. For most stories, this would be a fruitful premise in itself... but here, it's just a way to set up the real conflict, when Jughead falls through it and winds up in "our" world. Jughead happens to land in the comic book company that creates his stories. (It's a lovely fantasy, the idea of writers and artists all in one office, working to create comics, although it's never been true in the modern age.)

The writer winds up showing Jughead how a comic story is created. Given this publisher, the process unsurprisingly winds up being editor-heavy and includes a feature panel for the company production artists, although it isn't explained exactly what they do. (Usually, redraw things at the last minute to match editorial dictate or fix errors.)

I called this "historical" because it seems that during a long run, every comic book character winds up meeting his creator, usually when said creator can't think of any other premise for that month. I'd rather have seen the story about Dilton's invention and what it meant for selling real estate, or the one about Jughead wandering through alternate worlds, instead of yet another "how comics are made" essay.

Especially given that hand-waving endings that are typical of such metafiction. After all, when a character meets his creator, the writer can whip up whatever's needed to save the day. I'd give it an Awful, but that would mean caring about it, so it's an Eh.

Johanna Visits the Subculture

Subculture #1 assembles clichés into a too-familiar story, running the risk of demonstrating contempt for the kind of reader it will attract. Kevin Freeman writes and Stan Yan draws the story of a depressed retail-rat comic reader. He hates his nowhere job. He hates his demanding boss. He goes to the comic store to complain about the books he buys. His friends there speculate on which superheroines don't wear underwear (and there's only one girl, a fat manga reader obsessed with our "hero"). His roommate does nothing but play video and card and role-playing games.

Then a new girl with multiple piercings enters the shop. She's an artist, opening a gallery, and she's got her own taste in indy books. She asks him out (good thing, or there'd be no series, since he has no initiative). She's perfect for him, pursuing him, talking comics with him.

The problem is, there's no sense of these characters beyond the surface. I do think it's well-meaning, an attempt to realistically capture the kind of characters the creators know or have known, but they're all different shades of unpleasant to look at and read about. I hope they get their happy ending, but I felt vaguely dirty after finishing the comic.

What's the point when we've all seen these stereotypes ourselves? And done better, in comics like Dork! or Box Office Poison? What insight is this book showing us about these character types? "I know people like this" isn't enough.

Johanna Ponders Conscription: Drafted #1

People send me PDFs for review. Here's my thoughts on one. Bear in mind that I use a laptop, so my screen space is minimal, and by the time I blow up the pages to be able to read the dialogue, I'm looking at individual panels, not full pages. It's not the most ideal format, but it's effectively free for both of us. Drafted #1 made me wonder how fair it is to consider the publisher when evaluating a comic. The premise is intriguing -- massive earthquakes around the world have killed hundreds of thousands, and as people struggle to cope with the aftermath and the uncertainty of the cause, aliens appear and instruct everyone to work together to go to war.

The Americans rally everyone together to resist, hoo hah!, and a convenience store clerk and some kind of office worker/intern are also introduced, presumably to play roles in later issues. The art is adequate, barely so at times, and the dialogue-heavy scenes are often visually unexciting. The quakes are staged in key political areas, including Jerusalem, which allows the writer to comment on current hot topics. I found myself wondering if the writer had speculated what the next chapter of Watchmen would be like and going on from there, but it's only the most casual of resemblences.

I'd be a lot more excited about the next issue if the publisher hadn't been built on schlocky licensed titles, horror, and Buffy-wannabe goth girl art. (Edit: Thanks to readers for pointing out I forgot to say that this is from Devil's Due.) I just don't have any faith that a serious exploration of sociocultural development and aftereffects of tragedy can come out from them. Instead of giving the artists credit for a good try, I find myself thinking that it's a shallow attempt at relevance, because of who they've chosen to release and brand their story.

On the other hand, it kept my attention enough to finish the issue, rare for this publisher. I rate it Eh. Find out more at The World Needs You Now, a promotional worklog.

Johanna Liked Toupydoops #6, But...

People send me PDFs for review. Here's my thoughts on one. Bear in mind that I use a laptop, so my screen space is minimal, and by the time I blow up the pages to be able to read the dialogue, I'm looking at individual panels, not full pages. It's not the most ideal format, but it's effectively free for both of us. Toupydoops #6 is the best issue yet. Kevin McShane's characters are as distinctively animated as ever, but new co-writer CJ Julian brings extra snap to the proceedings.

Toupy's an alien-looking aspiring actor in a Hollywood based around comic books instead of movies. Teetereater is still his slick best friend, a hit with women and a conman player. This issue, however, when the two head to a premiere party, Toupy's the one who hits it off with a gorgeous lady. I'm glad the lug finally got a good night out.

The opening scene sets up the opposite expectation; Teeter's all slick and "oh, yeah, lots of hot women will be inside this hip gathering", while Toupy's tired of expecting yet another night of being ditched by his friend and being turned down, like has happened every time before.

The story involves more than just typical patterns of male hunting and dating interactions with women, although those are funny enough to see. In the character of Ashley, Toupy's date, Julian and McShane tackle the compromises aspiring actors may have to make in order to get a toehold in an appearance-focused industry, whether it's contemplating radical body changes or showing up somewhere they hate just to be seen. Toupy has more in common with Ashley than he thinks, only she's obviously been in town (and shaped by it) much longer than he has.

Toupy's often the naive youngster in attitude, putting what would otherwise seem normal in sharp relief. He's also charming in his innocence when it comes to dating, especially in comparison to Teeter (who's fun to watch getting his commupance, given his smarm). Typical of the series, some existing Hollywood elements are simply translated. In this issue, they introduce the Walk of Fame, only in their world, the stars are for Archie or Robin or touchingly, Betty Boop.

There's an unfortunate whiff of gay panic in some of the comedy scenes, which takes an otherwise Very Good issue to Good. It's no different from a sitcom to have the two men show up at a "hot new club" that turns out to be a gay bar and then run away in fear when they realize their mistake, but it's not right there either. And it's not just a one-off joke; it's echoed at least two other times in the issue. In one of those other scenes, it's taken even further in suggesting being thought gay would be the most terrible thing ever. I don't understand how someone involved in Hollywood could be so retrograde on this particular subject.

Johanna Reads Superheroes Again: Stormwatch, Gen13, Wonder Girl, Suicide Squad

What I Read This Week: Stormwatch PHD #11 -- This is why I don't care about keeping up with superhero comics. (You might have noticed my issues with timeliness.) As soon as I find one I like, they cancel it. This issue sets up next's final with yet another bad guy attacking the heroes by striking at those close to them, and events happen in abbreviated fashion. The intriguing character interaction is undercut by boob-focused art when it comes to the female characters. (Gorgeous is less impressive as a bombshell if all the other women also have her exaggerated secondary sex characteristics, you know?) I'll miss Black Betty and several of the others when they're gone. Okay.

Gen 13 #12 -- Gail Simone has clever, funny ideas, but too often, I enjoy them in spite of the rest of the comic. The bigger framework or story too often is left lacking or too familiar. That's what happens here, where we get to see Grunge absorb Fairchild, which gives him superstrength and huge breasts. Once you get past the giggles of that visual (which is censored, of course -- it's still a DC comic), the rest of the book is Eh. In between flashbacks to Grunge's childhood -- surprise surprise, he's a supersmart prig, because there's less dramatic tension if he's the same person from birth to now than if he's the total opposite -- there's a big fight with yet another group of superpowers. I've read enough Authority to get the Authoriteens, but I don't know who the third gang that show up are. WildStorm's got too many characters as it is, and few of them can support any kind of regular title. Why add more? Meanwhile, some crazy robot lady is making new copies of the titular team in a plotline that's been plodding along since issue #1. Make it stop, already.

Wonder Girl #1 -- Cool! I'd love to read about a teen heroine.

What has happened to her chest on the cover? Did she go through puberty and surgery when I wasn't paying attention? First page: oh, ok, she's normal inside. Just typical bait-and-switch comic marketing.

Nice, a summary of her history to catch up those of us who want to read comics, not events. Wait, what's all this Amazons Attack crud? Do I have to pay attention to that to read this? I was enjoying ignoring it. We're supposed to believe that the public is outraged? I thought all that Civil War and Aftermath stuff was the OTHER comic company.

So Cassie is undercover, hiding out because people hate her. That's not a very promising beginning. Why can't she just be a heroine? Why's she got to act like it's so terrible to be able to do amazing things and hang out with other super-kids like Robin? Why's she so eager to take the violent, final solution? Why's she so alone, with all her superhero teams and heritage cut off from her? I don't want to read that. (If I did, I'd be buying Spider-Man instead.) Shame we don't have a Disappointing rating. Or Not What I Wanted. (It'd be more honest.) Eh.

Suicide Squad #1 -- I'm so glad John Ostrander is back writing this book, because no one did it better. The classic team -- Nightshade, Bronze Tiger, Deadshot, Boomerbutt (which raises a continuity question for those who care) -- is sent to rescue Rick Flag, previously thought dead. Most importantly, Amanda Waller is back in charge. As she describes herself, "I'm fat, black, cranky, and menopausal! You do NOT want to mess with me!" She's also usually the smartest person in the room and willing to do what it takes to make the right thing happen.

She's the kind of hero we need today, if you want to read stories dealing with more "realistic" circumstances. It's not the violence that makes her great; it's the strong moral code pushed to excess as a way of exploring justice, with loyalty as the primary virtue. The art, by Javi Pina and Robin Riggs, is lovely in its detail and complemented well by the shading of colorist Jason Wright. Good.

Johanna Squeaks at Mice Templar #1

People send me PDFs for review. Here's my thoughts on one. Bear in mind that I use a laptop, so my screen space is minimal, and by the time I blow up the pages to be able to read the dialogue, I'm looking at individual panels, not full pages. It's not the most ideal format, but it's effectively free for both of us. I can't help but compare Mice Templar to the earlier (and well-lauded) Mouse Guard. After all, they're both about mice with swords and spears. David Petersen's art is much more attractive, though, lending a storybook/fairy tale quality to the premise that helps with suspension of disbelief.

Michael Avon Oeming's mice, on the other hand, have outsized ears that look like satellite dishes with strange tiger-striping inside them, and everything's spiky, not just the weapons. Unlike Mouse Guard's emphasis on its characters fitting into a natural environment, these mice have humanoid body language, with long arms and legs, and they wear torso-covering armor. It looks like someone redrew a Japanese war story or a version of King Arthur by giving the characters mouse heads.

It's also the kind of fantasy story where various made-up names pepper the text in order to give the requisite exotic flavor. An early caption reads "It was upon the once-sacred field of Avalon where Templar fought against Templar--beneath Kros Cur Onnor Da, that now-desolate tree of grace where the noble dream of Kuhl-En finally came to its end." That kind of thing really turns me off.

Mice kids inspired by the legend of the now-departed Templar dream of being heroes while playing. When confronted with real danger -- a giant spider -- one of their townsfolk is revealed to be surprisingly heroic, and one of the children thinks he's been selected for a special destiny. It's a familiar plot, and the dressing in this case didn't interest me enough to continue or care. I quit paying attention halfway through. Ultimately, I didn't see any reason for these characters to be mice. And there's way too much violence and death for my taste, even for its setting. That gets it an Eh.

Johanna Bunts Potter's Field

People send me PDFs for review. Here's my thoughts on one. Bear in mind that I use a laptop, so my screen space is minimal, and by the time I blow up the pages to be able to read the dialogue, I'm looking at individual panels, not full pages. It's not the most ideal format, but it's effectively free for both of us. First up, Potter's Field #1, Mark Waid's first book from Boom! Studios now that he's their Editor-in-Chief. It fits right in with their publications, reading more like a media project storyboard than a comic. The first five pages set up the premise, another twist on the "oddball solves murders" plot that's so common in hour-long TV procedurals.

A mysterious John Doe is working his way through New York City's Potter's Field, where the anonymous dead are buried. His goal is to put names to the dead bodies. (Continuing premise: each episode can be a different grave tackled. Kind of like Cold Case.) I can think of better ways to spend one's efforts, but if that's what he wants to do... we don't get any sense yet of his motivation, but all that time spent hanging out in cemeteries is vaguely reminiscent of the Spirit.

Our Doe is described as follows: "He goes places the police can't. And he never rests until he can give the dead the only thing he can: A name to be remembered by." I can hear David Caruso saying that now. And in fact, whenever we see Doe, his eyes are replaced by blank aviator shades. The art is by Paul Azaceta, and the word that first comes to mind is "serviceable", which also categorizes other Boom books I recall. The colors by Nick Filardi are pretty and atmospheric, at least on screen.

Doe's got a network of operatives who owe him favors and do the groundwork, kind of like Global Frequency, only lower-tech. Waid's also picked up Ellis' tendency to lightly rewrite gruesome real-life stories. In this case, I was reminded of the story of a young girl who's been kidnapped and kept captive for years, only for her to later escape.

There's a vaguely misogynistic twist in which the terrified, despairing mother is blamed for her daughter's death through a convoluted chain of blame. And some of Doe's helper's abilities are too facile; why can his guy decode an old audio tape when the police couldn't? Can't they also call experts?

I don't blame Waid for creating a story where most of the key points remind me of other TV shows and comics. It's awfully hard to come up with anything original these days. But I get the feeling that he's not aiming for original, but for option money. It's too slick, wrapping up too neatly while allowing Doe to ride a hobbyhorse against a Nancy Grace-like TV host. It left me thinking it was Okay -- I'd likely watch this television show.

Horseradish Ketchup: Johanna Tries to Get Current

Following Graeme's lead, here's quick takes on the superhero books still sitting around from weeks previous. (And yeah, Graeme, really weird week here, too. Very mood swingy.) Stormwatch PHD #10 -- It surprises me to realize this, but this title is probably my current favorite team book. (Although statements like that say as much about what else is available as the quality of this title; and the last time I said something like that, it was about Power Company, so we see what that's worth.)

Anyway, the strength of this title is characterization, as the plots so far have been pretty simple "bad guy team infiltrates, then attacks" or "someone is attacked, find out who did it". The roster's huge, with new characters and returned-from-the-dead from previous title incarnations and, in this issue, faux historical characters. Someone is killing retired Stormwatchers, which gives writer Christos Gage reason to create yet more superheroes. I don't mind, he's good at it. Ghetto Blaster? New Romantic? Not only are they on-point concepts (summarizing powers and look succinctly), they capture the sense of a particular era.

(I don't mind simple plots for superhero titles, actually. They're easier to remember month-to-month. There's a reason they're classics. And the fun comes with the details put around the edges.)

The characters are why I enjoy the series, especially since Gage has come up with two of my favorite new superhero women. First, Gorgeous, a former moll whose power is manipulating people. I find her an insightful comment on the roles women are forced into and how they subvert them from the inside. She's a classic version of the streetwise sexpot who's got the upper hand because she knows a lot more about people than they realize. All they see is body and blonde. Think Harlow with a psychology master's.

Second, Black Betty. She's got generic magic powers, but she's so inspirationally cheery that it's a pleasant contrast from the usual version of those types of characters. Unfortunately, she isn't given any distinctive dialogue this issue, so you'll have to take my word for it. I also like the way these characters have relationships -- marriages, flings, and everything in between.

Artist Andy Smith does sexy superheroes (WildStorm's reason for existing) well, in the classic exaggerated "realistic" style, although he sometimes makes people appear generically interchangeable.

This was Good. So much for brief, hunh? Let's see if I can move more quickly.

Gen 13 #11 -- Waste of paper. Tries to do something clever with meta-commentary on previous versions and multiverses, but way too many characters means the reader is quickly lost in forgettable interaction. The concept's time is over. Bury it. Awful

Hawkgirl #66 -- Didn't read the series, mainly because when this latest version relaunched, I didn't care for Howard Chaykin's nipple-tastic art. So why am I praising the final issue of the series? Because Walter Simonson shows how you should close a title in a shared universe.

The big premise, the Hawks' cycle of reincarnation, is resolved; there's a big fight with the big villain, who's defeated; the love story recurring subplot is given a happy ending; Kendra's psychological problems (stemming from mystic schizophrenia) are fixed; and the two Hawks fly off together into the sunset. The characters are put back to the way that works best for any future writers, and readers get as much resolution as you can have in a never-ending superhero universe. Good

Supergirl #20 -- Hey, we put a new writer and a new artist on Supergirl, and there's lots of online buzz about new readers being interested in trying the title, so let's make their first issue tie in with the illogical Amazons Attack! That'll annoy the continuity fans following the crossover who don't like change AND the new readers who have no idea what's going on and don't care! Idiots running the ship, I swear.

Turns out it was all bait and switch anyway; Bedard and Guedes are only on for three issues until the real new creative team takes over. Right. Fool me once...

No rating because I was so annoyed I didn't read it.