The Audition

I know that I told you that I'd be the first one to punk out 0n the every-week reviews -- and guess what? I was right! (But I was writing Tilting, and a very special DC-Relaunch ONOMATOPOEIA that you can actually download as a full color PDF until June 28, so I don't know, maybe that counts?)

Anyway, Jeff and I were talking about how much we like John K (UK)'s comments every week in "Shipping this week" threads, and we thought "Well, let's give him a shot".

(Important note to everyone who constantly asks to become a Critic -- this is actually how you do it. You write nd you write without any expectation of anything other than amusing yourself and others, and then we invite you without you asking whatsoever. There will be no more discussion of this.)

So, accordingly, here's John K (UK)'s first shot, below the cut. Make comments in the comments section, with your thoughts, though the final decision is absolutely mine and Jeff's.

(I really should have some reviews of my own up tomorrow, I am pretty sure)

Without further ado: John K (UK):

FEAR ITSELF: THE HOME FRONT #1: Wow, do you like your Dumb wrapped in Ugly? Then have Marvel got a Speedball story for you!  How about a page which is just J Jonah Jameson saying: “I hate superheroes, me, I do, it’s true.” It’s one of the nicer Chaykin pages the self-proclaimed Jew From The Future has recently secreted but it’s still definitely one he just did to be able to afford his RDA of Mai Tai mix. Peter Milligan does a bit I’ve already forgotten but I’ve never forgotten that his and Duncan Fegredo’s ENIGMA is fantastic. And the folk of Broxton are horrible. What a bunch of self obsessed platitude panting dingleberrys. Are we supposed to empathise with them? Is this how the Marvel Landscape Gardeners view us commoners not blessed by The Muse? I’m being unfair; I know that the stress and financial hardship of the current recession that I and my family were experiencing was alleviated no end by the fact that Marvel were excreting an oily link of overpriced comics about Nazi robots and magic hammers. CRAP!

iZOMBIE #13: I swear stuff happens in this comic but I can’t remember what all from issue to issue. It’s just horribly frothy and weightless, an astronaut’s milkshake affair. Everybody’s a zombie, or a vampire, or a mummy, or an old man in a chimp’s body and they’re all just dating and, like, RPG-ing and totally worrying about lattes and how to recharge their iPod in a crypt. It’s like Scooby Doo for people who are legally allowed to have sex but are emotionally incapable of doing so. Look the fault is mine, I’m 41 years old I should have got out as soon as I saw “paintballing vampires”. Golly, it’s so cutsey and coy I can’t really process it. Every month it turns up and smiles at me and demands to be loved but…I can’t. I’m just not built that way. I graze on Hate. I think I’m buying it because I like it and I think I like it because of Mike Allred but I think, actually, I just liked X-FORCE/X-STATIX. And this ain’t that. So few things are, bubba.

JONAH HEX#66: I don’t know much about Fiona Staples but I know that she knows enough to know that you don’t draw snow. (The Master of not drawing snow is of course Mr. Joe Kubert.) There’s a super (almost) wordless sequence where you know what its leading up to but you kind of hope that it isn’t (it’s called “ suspense”) and its delivered nicely by all parties. Words and pictures successfully working together towards the common purpose of entertaining actually happens a lot less than you might think but it happens in JONAH HEX quite a lot.

JONAH HEX #67: This is a typically taut and tasty tale in which Jonah Hex must save the life of the very man who framed him! Which sounds teeth grindingly predictable but I assure you it is not. It’s a decent done-in-one but really it could just be Jonah sat on his porch digging cow muck out of his spurs with a sharpened matchstick because Jordi Bernet is in the saddle this issue. Like Brynner’s boys dealt in lead Jordi Bernet deals in awesome. Bernet! Spread the word!

(Y’know, I’m not convinced that having Jonah Hex fight Hush in a stovepipe hat is going to bring in a whole new audience. But then again I am baffled by the fact that there is no real audience for a comic as consistently well written and excellently drawn as JONAH HEX is.)

JSA #50: Despite being a mobile fossil I don’t know much about the JSA as before 1986 the only way we got comics in Blighty was when they washed up on the beach after a U-Boat had scuppered some luckless cargo ship. Were the silence broken by so much as a fruity trump kids would be hurtling to the nearest beach hoping to find a sandy four colour treasure. Distribution was patchy is what I’m saying. Luckily the JSA are introduced in Part One, illustrated by George “Ladies wrestling? Yes, please.” Perez. Unluckily it totally fails as an introduction to the JSA. Predictably the big guns elbow all the others out of the way and then stamp on their feet with their heels until they have to move to the back of the room near the stinky damp patch of carpet.

Look, can I just personally ask DC to, for the Love of all that is Holy, to stop telling me about Hal Jordan and Barry Allen! Stop it! You’re making me crazy here! I mean look at Mr. Terrific , he gets about three panels (Usually when faced with a scene where a young man on a bridge is approached by some creepy looking guy in green underoos talking about “voids” and the need for their “filling“ you’d get some kind of hilarious rudery. But I’m better than that. And I need you to know I am better than that.) which leave you none the wiser really. Luckily I know all about Mr. Terrific (He’s the world’s third warmest man, his wife is deaf and he is invisible to heavy machinery) but you won’t learn any of that in here. Golly, it’s a good job no one is expecting him to support his own series or anything. This chapter was a mess but George Perez drew it so it was a pretty dynamic mess.

Part Two involved time travel and how to fill a lot of pages with very little. Beards still equal evil in parallel universes in case you were wondering.

Part Three and please put your hands together for – HUAC! Because the JSA without HUAC is like a Day without Doris! Howard Victor Chaykin does the pictures here. DIAGNOSIS: MURDER must have finished because it actually appears HVC was almost engaged with this. He gives everyone a different face, some of them don’t even look like they are composed of uncooked dough, and he does a nice job of layering his drawings over his now obligatory clip art compulsion. Delightfully he also effectively communicates the inherent visual comedy of having a bunch of Cosplaying adults in a stuffy legal setting. It’s okay this bit but there’s a slight possibility I might be biased.

Part Four is how I guess most issues of JSA are on a regular basis which explains why I don’t buy JSA on a regular basis. Give me a mystery – I’ll solve it! No charge.

JSA #50 was very much like turning up to a party no one actually wanted you to turn up to. I don’t think that was the idea. AWFUL!

MIGHTY THOR #1: Oh God, this priest. This priest is the worst priest ever. He appears to have been written by someone who has heard of priests but only actually experienced them via the distorting medium of popular culture. I’m no priest defender and I’m certainly not Ricky Religious but I’m pretty sure the accepted role of the priest isn’t one of scaring the living piss out of the congregation. Having a priest act like that at a time of crisis is like having a fireman show up during the Watts Riots only for him to proceed to hose down burning buildings with gasoline while screaming racial epithets. Faith, pal. Google it sometime. Oh yeah, Galactus drools when he sleeps. Heck, he probably scratches his cosmic nuts when he forgets other people are around as well but I don’t need to see that either do I? EH!

Hibbs Tiptoes Through 6/30

OK, so I lied a little -- I meant to write the Dark Tower post yesterday, but then I found I didn't want to after Paul McEnery came in an distracted me for an hour. So, let's move forward onto comics, and I'll come back to DT at some point in the future (probably) WIZARD #228: Wait, what? Well, yeah, Wizard. One of my jobs is to read pretty much everything that flows through the store, and that includes mags like Wizard. Normally that takes, dunno, 5 minutes or less? But this issue is "Guest Edited" by Mark Millar, and there was a fairly interesting roundtable discussion with film-makers about how and what works when making super-hero movies, and while it wasn't great journalism, or anything, it took me nearly TWENTY minutes to read this month's Wizard, which is, anyway you look at it, a great improvement. There were a couple of other, at least, readable pieces. There's no chance that this bump in readability will last more than an issue, and Wizard doesn't seem to understand that people-who-read-Wizard actually want a price guide (sigh), and I fairly despise the company in general, and wish they'd just go on and go out of business already, but I thought this individual issue was actually fairly GOOD.

CHRONICLES OF WORMWOOD: THE LAST BATTLE #4: I don't think I actually mentioned this during the first three issues: while Oscar Jimenez is a very fine artist, his art is a pretty severe tonal shift from the first series drawn by Jacen Burrows. Given that the series is (sort of) "So, Jesus and the antichrist walk into a bar", I find I want that kind of semi-bigfootish cartooning on it, rather than highly rendered, tiny-fine lines. Still, liking this a lot. GOOD.

JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA #40: I really think the JSA has been a mess since Willingham took over; I know I've personally broken my multi-year buying of the series. And this issue really isn't much better: jumping around in time awkwardly, quickly resolving the non-threat of a modern nazi-driven supervillain group, and so on. Art is nice, however. But I'm bringing this book up for another reason: someone in DC Editorial or Marketing branded the cover of this issue with "A NEW ERA returns for the [JSA]" and "NEW beginning! NEW Triumphs!", when what the comic ACTUALLY is is the CONCLUSION of the current storyline, and doesn't contain a single thing that might make a new reader either jump on, or stay on. This is even weirder considering that NEXT issue will be the "jumping on" point, featuring a JLA/JSA crossover. I guess I just don't get the thinking of trying to make the cover super-attractive to a new reader, but not following through with that editorially? I thought it was fairly AWFUL.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #46: This is not great epic comics. We will not be comparing this to WATCHMEN any time in the near future. This will not be winning an Eisner Award. Hell, it's part one of a JSA/JLA crossover, so clearly it isn't literature. What it IS, however, is pretty decent, fun, superhero comical books. There's a certain amount of zest and zing going on here, and, maybe most importantly, it feels like it is taking place in a coherent universe. If all super-hero comics had at least this level of craft, then maybe we wouldn't be seeing such weak sales on so many books? Just sayin'. I thought this was mildly GOOD.

WONDER WOMAN #600: Let's leave the problems for last. As an anniversary issue, I was taken by this in a way that I wasn't with BATMAN #700 or SUPERMAN #700; maybe because I thought the "look back" stories worked well? I super-double especially liked the Simone/Perez story that led off the book, as being essentially "correct" in tone and craft. The Amanda Connor story was also pretty lovely and awesome. The Lousie Simonson story was pretty straight-ahead genericism, but it didn't suck. The Geoff Johns bit was... adequate, mostly leading into the JMS bit, but other than that, it didn't really have a lot of place in the book. There's also a big mass of loverly pinups. So, yeah, this is a nice anniversary issue, and one I can recommend.

But lets talk about the JMS bits, now.

Actually, as a starting point, it wasn't horrible or anything -- and I particularly thought the art was very strong -- this seems like it could be a somewhat interesting direction for a short time (though I am wondering where her lasso is?)

The problem is that we have to discuss the "meta" implications of this. First off, there's a timeline problem here, as I see it. Diana is told it has been "18 years" since whatever happened, happened, and there's a strong implication she was a child when that happened.. making her... 20? 21? certainly less than 25. I'm not a fan of this, as it then makes her younger than Superman or Batman. I've always thought that Diana was older than that, however -- Amazons are "ageless", and while we've seen her "childhood", I've always kind of assumed that she was a "kid" for decades on the perfect, timeless Amazon island. You may disagree.

The goal seems to be to make Diana as important and significant as any other character, but the way they've appeared to try and make that happen is to essentially remove her from DC continuity. This is partly because two things in opposition can't be true at the same time -- if Diana was "never" star-spangled WW, then what happens to the JLA? To Donna Troy, or to Wonder Girl? If she never was, then she never killed Max Lord, in which case he couldn't have "come back" in BRIGHTEST DAY, could he? WAR OF THE GODS and AMAZONS ATTACK then never happened (well, that last one is not SO bad, is it?) Hippolyta would never been in the JSA. I can go on, but what's the point? There are characters and situations that can be retconned, but Star-spangled WW really isn't one of them, because there are too many other things happening to and around her -- pull a thread like this, and the whole tapestry collapses -- she is, or at least should be, central to the underpinnings of the DCU. It's NOT like "Well, Peter never married MJ", because that still left Spidey in play as effectively the same character. Even the whole "Spider-Totem" thing didn't invalidate previous stories (and OTHER CHARACTERS) stories -- but this really would appear to do so.

So, there's that.

There's also the dissonance of renumbering the series (that previous #1 really never should have happened...especially because Picault didn't stay on the character) back to "classic" numbering, then delivering a story that really kind of DEMANDS a new #1 (not that I like "fake" #1s, but this is a pretty different version of the character, both figuratively and literally) -- it's like "we're celebrating 600 issues of this by getting rid of anything that happened in those 600 issues!" Weird weird choice.

The costume? I don't hate it. I mean, personally, I'm more for the sandals-and-skirt version myself, but I'm OK with mixing it up a bit. Ugh, that jacket, though -- it just screams "90s!", and it flashes me back to the bicycle-pants-and-bra Mike Deodato redesign (which didn't much last) (There's a pretty great article on Comics Alliance about her costumes over the years) -- it just feels very "last decade" to me, rather than "21st century cool!"

thought I really do have to question the wisdom of getting rid of the Star-Spangled look DIRECTLY BEFORE FOURTH OF JULY WEEKEND. Ooops.

Also on the "meta" scale, JMS needs to... well, he needs to think before he speaks. Apart from the factual notions he gets wrong (ie, she's never changed her costume over the years, Superman and Batman look radically different than they did at launch, and so on), he just sounds remarkably and amazingly dismissive towards anyone else who has worked on the character recently. It rubbed me the wrong way.

At the end of the day, I don't really think this will stick -- there's too much product in the Star-spangled mode, there's too much history that this unwraps -- and, unless there is a WW movie greenlit using exactly this model in the next six months, I can't imagine this will still be here in two years from today. Maybe I'll be wrong, I've sure been so before, but I can't see it.

Despite all of that, I still thought WONDER WOMAN #600 was pretty GOOD.

What do YOU think?


Malthusian Superheroics: Chris reviews JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA

Fellow Savage David Uzumeri is at the Toronto Fan Expo and he's liveblogging Marvel and DC's panels. Friday's DC panel featured a discussion of recap pages, with Len Wein positing that "we used to work under the theory, which I don't think is true anymore, that every issue is somebody's first issue" and Didio affirming his anti-recap-page position. Earlier this year Didio said he thought "the writers should be able to introduce readers to the ongoing story within the issue itself."

Let's take a look at that then, shall we?

Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturges and Jesus Merino started a run last month in JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA #29. JSA is a book with a sprawling cast of legacy heroes a concept Willingham and Sturges embrace, keeping nearly all of former writer Geoff Johns's bloated team around for their first issue. There are thirteen Society members on the cover, fifteen on the opening page, and by the end of the first sequence twenty one members total, including two introduced in this issue. Soon, the team follows a distress beacon and are ambushed by a mysterious team of twenty one villains, who appear to be part of the "Global Ultra Society of Dread" and have "trained themselves to take on specific members of the JSA."

Fortunately, no JSAer attempts to fight someone not specifically trained for them, and the GUSoD correctly guessed which of the Society's two dozen members would show up for the fight. Meanwhile, one of the new members sneaks up on Mr. Terrific, stabbing him repeatedly in the back for some reason.

Taken as the twenty ninth (or really, the one hundred and somethingteenth, given the previous JSA series and recent annuals and Kingdom Come one-shots) issue, this book borders on coherent. A less charitable person would question why Willingham and Sturges open their run by apparently killing the Society's most prominent black member while writing out Jakeem Thunder and Amazing Man. One might also question why they turned Obsidian, the team's only LGBT member, into an inanimate black egg. But that isn't my primary concern.

Where this book utterly fails is accessiblity to that fabled reader for whom this is their first issue. Sturges and Willingham have a sizable following from their work on Vertigo's Fables family of titles, and this issue was heralded as a "New Era." It stands to follow that JSA #29 is designed to be a jumping-on point for Fables fans and curious readers alike. And yet, the first issue is crammed full of forty characters, over half of which are never identified by name.

It's one thing not to name cannon fodder villains, though by implying each one was handpicked to counteract a Society member should make them more significant. Even as a dedicated superhero nerd, I can't identify many of them, and my list of characters in this comic includes such luminaries as "Metal Dude from Flash(?)", "Luchador Guy" and "Extreme Legolas".

Even more crucially, half of the Society members aren't identified. Stargirl, one of the only characters with a plot throughline besides "stand around then get ambushed" is repeatedly addressed by friend and foe alike, but "Stargirl" -- or even "Courtney", her government name -- appear nowhere in JSA #29. Power Girl, Society chairperson and star of a new ongoing series, isn't named either. She gets two lines: "What's wrong, Alan?" and "Bring it, cupcake!"

This week's JSA #30 somewhat addresses this issue by having people refer to Stargirl by name, and someone appeals to "Pee Gee" as their leader, though the context of the panels makes it so that it appears as if "Pee Gee" is a pet name for Alan Scott. If DC's comments about being concerned about things reading better in the trade, it's possible by the end of these six issues, every JSA member will be named, and perhaps even given a distinguishing characteristic.

In this week's issue, the Global Ultra Society of Dread is dispatched with the help of Doctor Fate, who one can infer is a new Dr. Fate, I guess? I either missed or blocked out the story that introduced this new Fate, but I can only assume there's a good reason Willingham and Sturges introduced a twenty-second member to the team in this issue.

I know that this sort of questioning can be intellectually dishonest, and I don't know how much a recap page crammed with dozens of headshots and names could've helped. But at least it would allow people to Google the names of the characters. Even as a longtime DCU follower, this book is AWFUL to try and follow.

I can only imagine what some poor soul brought in by Willingham and Sturges's names must be going through.


Comics of 8/18

Yah, like Lester I was thinking about how good ol internet time made it seem like we never posted. What's up with that? I've mostly been trying to unravel a Mystery in the UK the last few days -- I think I have most of it sussed, but I'm still not sure HOW to solve the crime, as it were.

I also finished TILTING (appears on Friday on Newsarama), and have started making notes on Deppey's NuMarvel essay in the new Journal. Damn, that's one fine issue.

Plus I dinged 30 in CoH, and am now playing the How Long Until I Get Bored and Quit game (I doubt I'll make it to 35, is all I can say, but we'll see -- really this is all a function of running out of Content and having to Street Hunt too much at the higher levels)

I'm going for my bi-annual haircut in a bit, so let's see how many comics we can bat away first....

For some reason, IE won't connect to blogger this morning, so I'm doing this via Opera, which means I don't have easy itals. I probably should learn the HTML commands, but I'm lazy and I'll just use CAPS for stress and titles this post instead.

(After the fact note: When I went to publish this, Opera wasn't working with Blogger either, so you won't see this until I get home tonight)

SIMPSONS #97: Usually I'm the big singer of Ian Boothby's praises -- he's usually the Funniest Writer in Comics, or something -- but I thought this issue was kinda flat and boring. The feud thing really didn't work -- maybe because it's too much of a staple cliche. Anyway, EH.

SHE-HULK #6: Some cute and decent Ha Ha in a few places, but the art, being mostly done in Marvel House Style reduces the humor for me by tons. OK.

NEW INVADERS #1: Too much time spent introducing the characters in far too obvious ways -- the whole first half of the issue passes in a weightless plot free fall. The second half is also mostly plotless as the flat characters revolve around each other in obvious ways. It's not BAD or anything, but, unless you really have a hankering for these characters it is pretty lifeless. For $3, I have to go for a high AWFUL.

TERRA OBSCURA V2 #1: I don't really care about any of these characters, and I'm surprised anyone else did enough for there to be a second go round here. Having said that, I like this much better than V1, and I'll go with a strong OK.

BIRDS OF PREY #72: You might have noticed most of this week's DCs came bagged with a SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW CD. Well, you didn't notice this at CE, at least -- I unbagged all of the copies (that was a fun 45 minutes I'll never get back). One the other hand, this means a certain VP gets a fun package on his desk on MOnday morning. They filled up an entire DoubleWide Diamond box, sheesh! Anyway, this comic mostly felt like marking time to me -- not much happens except setting things in motion for NEXT issue, which, while fine, makes me only say OK

HAWKMAN #31: This is well done comics, but I think this arc (while adding to the Dead Girlfriend in the Refrigerator count [sorta]) really shows why a traditional Hawkman comic really doesn't have much for legs -- at least with the Ostrander HAWKWORLD run they were able to get into neat outsider-looking-in concepts. But this Hawkman is pretty much Just Another Hero. *shrug* OK

GOTHAM KNIGHTS #56: "War Games" 4 Lots of super-villains. They don't do much. There's an attempt to go with the throughline of GK's "Wow, Hush is a badass!" thread, but he's not, really, and he comes off far more as Chump to this reader. Batgirl also feels written very wrongly here. My fav bit is at the beginning where all of the bosses finish each others sentences. Only in a comic book, man. AWFUL.

ROBIN #129: "War Games" 5. Tim shows everyone in the whole city that's he's a super bad-ass, which makes me hope all the more that the speculation of his returning to the mantle at the end of WG (and/or IC) is wrong. My fav bit is right at the last 2 pages where a seemingly invisible gunman shoots the chick, then seemingly decides it's not worth (despite being, y'know, invisible) to follow up and make sure she's, y'know, dead or something. A very low EH

BATGIRL #55: "War Games" 6. Almost nothing happens in this one -- the overall WG plot isn't moved ahead one fraction of one inch. Still, Sean Phillips art makes this the first chapter I've genuinely liked LOOKING at, so OK.

TOUCH #5: Suddenly, the book starts moving right before it gets axed. Huh. OK

FRACTION #5: This one on the other hand just feels like it's standing still. Nice art, but this can't end fast enough. A very low EH.

DC COMICS PRESENTS: THE ATOM: Damn, they both picked a "Julie saves the day!" turn. I liked the Gibbons story better, mostly because Waid "cheats" on the second one and only has the cover be a brief one-panel bit in the story. Still, OK

ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #631: Quite a bit harsher than one would expect from a Superman story -- I don't know I'd let a kid near this one. Having said that, very strong and moving, really only undercut by the sequence of Supes hearing that last shot. How does he hear that from halfway around the world when I bet there's guns going off in, say, Detroit too? Meh! OK.

EX MACHINA #3: Finally, something to get excited about! This is a really terrific book, and one of the rare recent example where we're gaining new readers with each and every issue. Between this and Y, THE LAST MAN, Vaughan is cementing himself as one to watch. VERY GOOD.

EXILES #51: I also quite liked this -- the happy twist at the end was both unexpected and was celebratory of heroism. I don't feel that often enough in super-hero books, which is pretty fuckin' weird, don't you think? GOOD.

FANTASTIC FOUR #517: An "Avengers Dissembled" crossover (Which is about as "red skies" of a crossover as you can get), and, to celebrate the sales increase, the book is now $2.99. Huzzah! A perfectly reasonable issue, but the previous points left a nasty taste in my mouth, so I'm going with a patently-unfair AWFUL. (If it weren't for that, I might have gone for a low GOOD)

ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #64: IN every technical way this issue is just as good as the book has ever been -- but something in me somewhere says this arc was a mistake. None of this was anything I wanted to see, and it largely strikes me as pandering. So, foo, let's settle with EH.

MANHUNTER #1: There's nothing for it but to compare this with BLOODHOUND, because the two books seem to occupy a similar "space" in the DCU. This one tries way way way to hard to set up it's moral dilemma, and given that it seems to be moving to "Murder is fine, as long as it is scum!" rather than anywhere else, I'm going to give this the big thumbs down. The art is nice, the writing is adequate, but I don't want to read about super-powered murderers, thanks. There's really nothing here, no mystery no suspense, that makes me want to come back for issue #2. The worst part is this is naturally going to sell better to the retailers because of the legacy name, and the suggestion somewhere that this ties into IDENTITY CRISIS somehow (though I can't seem to find that citing now that I'm looking for it -- I know I read somewhere that there was a connection though). Sorry, though, this is AWFUL.

DOCTOR SPECTRUM #1: Not only does nothing happen, but it doesn't happen between panels of earlier issues of SUPREME POWER. Wrong way to do a spin-off, kids. EH.

SUPREME POWER #12: Meanwhile JMS does a good job with the formalist four-panels-across story. Things are starting to move here, and I like what he's doing all in all. VERY GOOD.

JSA STRANGE ADVENTURES #1: Period work, which always fits the JSA. Nice nice art from Kitson. But the story feels a bit light for the HOLY SHIT, $3.50?!?! Man, that's too much. EH.

Right, be back with more tomorrow, I think -- that's what I've read so far. Whatta d'you think?