Recent Dorkiness

Rolling in the Spandex

Okay, so that stack of unreviewed funnybooks (though greatly reduced) is still buggin' me, which can only mean that... FUNNYBOOKSINREVIEWareonceagainGO!!!! Action Comics #5-8, by Grant Morrison, Rags Morales, and Andy Kubert The thing I love most about Grant Morrison's Superman reboot is its complexity. Yes, it's the story of a (perhaps) naively-earnest young hero, but in these issues it also reveals itself as the story of that hero's maturation, his coming-of-age as seen from above, from outside of time itself. We jump from the concrete, working-class feel of his earliest exploits back to his science-chic infancy on Krypton, forward to his multi-chromatic, villain-choked present, and then back to the beginning again just in time to see everything start to change, including Our Hero's fashion sense. Though Jim Lee's over-busy redesign of the classic super-suit has not grown on me with time, I do like Morrison's lead-up to it here. As the young Superman goes from battling wife beaters and corrupt businessmen to the planet-threatening menace of Brainiac, we see his initial costume literally fail in the face of his ever-increasing super-feats. First his t-shirt and jeans get shredded, and then his work boots give way under the strain of his first orbital leap: This shows rather graphically the need for the indestructible man to have equally indestructible clothing. The traditional Kryptonian fabric might have worked just as well, however, and not been such a damned disaster from a design perspective. Anyway. Complexity. Beyond everything I've talked about thus far, Morrison just has a lot of irons in the fire here. We get the origins of Kryptonite and Brainiac, the addition of Jor-El's rocket as a major plot element, some nice interaction between Lois, Jimmy, and Luthor, and the continuing mystery of the Strange Little Man. I've been saying for months that he's Mxyzptlk, and I'm now more convinced than ever. Of special interest to me was this little tidbit: So the Little Man yells something so far beyond normal language that it's depicted with an ink scratch, and disappears. Now, Saturn Woman does say that it sounds like “Give in! Kent next!” which doesn't sound to me like any possible pronunciation of “Kltpzyxm” I can imagine (Killitpizixm?). But she may not be hearing correctly. If that lettering's any indication, whatever he said is most likely an ear-ripper. Or, you know, I could be totally wrong. Glenmorgan does say he's the devil, after all. Of course, Glenmorgan's crazy, so... And speaking of Glenmorgan, I was also pleased to see that Luthor was Clark Kent's Deep Throat on that story, effectively engineering the downfall of one Mister Metropolis in order to take his place as the next. This was as much Luthor's origin story as it was Superman's, and that little detail is the finishing touch the character needed to really establish himself as the world's pre-eminent evil genius, capable of plotting rings around Our Hero but still a sniveling physical and emotional coward when his machinations go awry. So... yeah. Very pleased with this book. Even Scholly Fisch's back-ups became more palatable when he wasn't writing fight scenes for Steel and instead focused on small personal moments with the young Clark Kent. His four-panel presentation of a prank Pa and Clark played on the local bank (in retaliation for repossessing a neighbor's tractor) speaks volumes about how Morrison's Clark was shaped into the socialist firebrand we see in the front of the book. And Chris Cross' artwork on that same back-up is just beautiful, as this gorgeous page with Clark and Lana on the Kent farm shows: Hot damn that's pretty. The artwork on the lead feature, unfortunately, hasn't been as good. I like Rags Morales' work here, and that Kubert boy's pretty okay, too. Both are solid professionals, and (near as I can tell) they interpret Morrison's scripts well (something not all of his collaborators seem capable of). But neither is particularly inspired, and they keep the book from earning the solid “A” it might otherwise receive. Still, the story's the thing for me here, so it still scores pretty high... Grade: A- Glory #23-25, by Joe Keatinge and Ross Campbell If you'd told me this time last year that two of the best super hero books on the market in 2012 would be Rob Liefield properties, I'd have laughed in your face. And yet, here we are. Prophet, I discussed at length during my little nerd farming hiatus, and it's really more sci-fi than super hero. Glory skirts traditional super-tropes to some extent, as well, but I'm including it in tonight's little roll in the spandex because, well, it's still about an overwhelmingly powerful super-bitch in a fancy costume. Now, the only Glory I've read previously is the one or two issues Alan Moore wrote back in the 90s, before Extreme went broke and stopped paying him. I barely remember those comics, but I think this one kind of picks up from them. I remember Glory wanting to experience life as a normal Earth woman, anyway, and becoming this waitress, and... Really, nothing else. So, since someone who I think is that waitress appears in these issues... As far as I'm concerned, this is tight, tight, tight continuity. Except, of course, for Glory's appearance. Back in the 90s, she was your average impossible standard of female beauty, a Barbie doll with white hair and a battle-swimsuit. Under Ross Campbell's pen, however, she's become... well... this:

Awesome. And, honestly, not quite as extreme (or as battle-scarred) as she appears in most of the panels inside. Campbell’s Glory is a giant, seven feet tall and as over-muscled as her male counterparts (though drawn with a better grasp of human anatomy). She’s larger than life, bleached white, and utterly unearthly. And yet, still strangely beautiful. It’s the best artistic depiction of a female super hero on the market today. Maybe the best ever, though I’d have to think hard on that to be sure… Hmm…  Yeah. Jack Kirby’s Big Barda and Frank Miller’s Elektra are in the running, too. But Campbell’s Glory is still something else. And… Aw, hell. Here’s his alternate cover to issue 23, just to give you a better look:

What’s that? The story? It’s good, too. It focuses on Riley Barnes, a young American reporter drawn by dreams and portents to France, where a mortally-wounded Glory is healing up and preparing herself for a return to battle. There’s been a war among the gods, it seems, and Glory’s side lost (though all is, as usual, not as it seems). So there’s mystery, intrigue, prophetic dreams, and a POV character who I actually don’t want to kill (a rare bonus!). Also, there’s the possibility that Glory may actually be the villain of the piece, a specially-bred A-Bomb of the Gods who’ll bring nothing but ruin to all. Which, again… Awesome.

So! That’s compelling story matched with beautiful and unique art. Or, in other words… Funnybook gold.

Grade: A

Thor #10-12.1, by Matt Fraction and a Veritable Host of Artists

A pattern seems to be developing for storylines in this book: big, fun, outrageous set-ups followed by resolutions that feel a little too quick for their own good. So while I’m enjoying the hell out of the ride, the destination’s usually a little bit underwhelming. Case in point: the Tanarus Saga. This one had a particularly great concept: Thor dies and is reborn as his Celtic counterpart Tanarus… but not all is as it seems. Tanarus is actually Ulik the Troll, disguised as part of a plot by the Norn Queen to break the god-city from within. This lead to all sorts of hysterical moments as the story progressed, most of them revolving around Ulik’s boorish idea of what a hero acts like. Then Thor comes back, and it all wraps up in an uninspired slug-fest.

Which is fine, and very viking-like and all, but… the execution just isn’t there. If you’re gonna count on ALL-OUT-ACTION ™ to conclude your story, you should make sure that action is as compelling as the plot that lead up to it, and this just isn’t. There are some nice moments, I think, including the All-Mother entering the fray to take out the Norn Queen. But overall, it just falls flat.

Part of the problem, I think, may be the art. The final chapter features a distracting shift in style from Pascual Ferry to Klaus Janson (working over breakdowns by Giuseppe Camuncoli). Now, I like Janson fine, but the style change is so jarring that it took me out of the story completely. It doesn’t help that it also looks like Janson was rushed, his art getting progressively sketchier as the battle progressed. I’m assuming this happened in the name of meeting that monthly deadline, but it kind of killed the story, even with a full month between issues. I can only imagine how bad that effect will be for those reading in the trade collection.

As always, I’d rather wait for good work than have crap that’s on time. After issue 12, in fact, I came pretty close to dropping the book. Three disappointing endings in a row coupled with crap art does not equal four bucks’ worth of funnybook entertainment in my book. But then the “Point One” issue came out, only cost three bucks, featured fun adaptations of some of my favorite Norse myths, and had maybe the best Barry Kitson art I’ve ever seen. So… damn. I guess we’ll see what happens when the next issue hits the shelf. But for now, the Tanarus Saga only rates a disappointing…

Grade: C

Defenders #1-4, by Matt Fraction, Terry Dodson, and Michael Lark

This book, on the other hand, is entertaining as all hell. This is Matt Fraction unfettered by the complications inherent in writing big Marvel franchise characters, having fun with the crappier side of the Marvel Universe. He’s also walking kind of an exciting tightrope on this book by working in an approximation of Stan Lee’s old “Marvel Style” of writing: he provides Terry Dodson with a loose script, but lets the artist handle the staging. This has lead to some of the most dynamic work I’ve seen from Dodson…

Pardon our seam, but… BOOM!

…and a kind of loose, free storytelling from Fraction that I’ve not seen outside of his excellent Casanova series. This isn’t as good as that, understand; it’s still a work-for-hire affair, and there’s only so much entertaining cruelty he can put his cast through. It’s a fun updating of the gonzo funnybook stylings Steve Gerber established on this series in the 1970s, though, and I love this now as much as I loved that then.

I’m not sure if he’s working Marvel-Style with Michael Lark on issue four, but that’s an excellent story, as well, maybe my favorite of the run to date. If the first three issues update Gerber, this one does the same for the early Lee-Ditko Dr. Strange, all dark, obsessive, and vaguely terrifying. This is pitch-perfect Strange, and the fact that none of the various attempts to revive the character in recent years have even come close to it should maybe tell Marvel why all those series failed.

At any rate. Defenders is good super hero funnybooks, entertaining and funny and weird as all hell. It might even be better than the Waid/Rivera/Marcos Daredevil (which beats the pants off this visually, but Waid’s scripts, as usual, leave me cold).

Grade: B+

Green Arrow #7, by Ann Nocenti and Harvey Tolibao

And speaking of Daredevil… I gave this issue of the rebooted Green Arrow a shot out of my fond memories of new series writer Ann Nocenti’s really rather good run on that book with John Romita Jr back in the early 90s. But, ouch. That was a long time ago, and Nocenti really let me down here. It’s just bad, front to back. I mean, did Green Arrow really call somebody “dollface” in this book?

Yes. Yes, he did.

There’s also a straight-outta-porn scene in which he has sex with triplets on a jet plane. It’s a “honey trap,” as one of the ladies in question so charmingly calls it a couple of pages later, designed to make Our Hero easier to capture. Except that the sex has nothing to do with how the ladies capture him. In fact, the way it plays out, they could have taken him down at any point after getting him alone on the plane. So…

Jesus. There’s just no excuse for shit like this. I don’t know if Nocenti’s trying to (rather ham-fistedly) establish Ollie Queen as some kind of roguishly over-macho dick, or if she’s just continuing on from the tone of the earlier issues. They were written by JT Krul, after all, so anything’s possible. But, holy crap. I think I’d rather read Rise of Arsenal. At least there, the wrong sex was supposed to be wrong, rather than flirty and cute.

Final analysis: I only spent two bucks on this book, and I still feel cheated. Complete crap.

Grade: F

Supergirl #4-6, by Michael Green, Michael Johnson, and Mahmud Asrar

I had stopped picking this book up, but this morning, stuck out in the wild and looking for a quick light read, I leeched some public wi-fi to download these three issues. And y’know what? That wasn’t a bad use of six bucks. Better than the dry, flavorless McDonald’s breakfast I ate while reading it, anyway.

Not to damn it with faint praise. Green and Johnson are delivering breezy super hero action with engaging (if not particularly deep) character writing and breakneck pacing. Seriously, reading three issues of this in a row is kind of exhausting; I don’t think Supergirl stops moving once, unless it’s to be tortured by evil scientists or knocked unconscious by a genetically engineered Kryptonian warrior woman. Well… Things do slow down enough for them to develop a little mystery surrounding Supergirl’s arrival on Earth, and on what really caused Krypton’s destruction. But even that passes by breathlessly as we move on to the next bit of running and hitting. It’s not great writing, certainly, but it does what it sets out to do entertainingly, and that’s more than I can say for a great many funnybooks out there.

It’s also pretty good art-wise. There was a bit of buzz on Mahmud Asrar before this series launched, and in these issues I think I’m seeing what the fuss was about. He’s got a clean, appealing, and dynamic style that serves the story well. He’s also, refreshingly, drawing Our Teen Heroine with a fairly realistic build, and NOT drawing her in a bunch of skeevy porn poses. So while her new costume IS of the battle-swimsuit variety, and that red crotch piece DOES invite all kinds of unsavory jokes I could probably be arrested for making about a minor, most of the time it doesn’t even look like she’d have to wax her bikini area to wear it. And in as cum-drenched an artistic medium as the modern corporate spandex field has become, that’s kind of refreshing.

Asrar’s design for Reign (the afore-mentioned genetically engineered warrior woman) isn’t quite so chaste (if you can call an outfit consisting of a swimsuit and thigh-highs “chaste”), but even the Reign design’s not bad by modern super hero standards:

Okay, sure. She’s wearing hip-huggers with a plunging waistline, and a bustier that’s about two sizes too small over breasts that are about two sizes too big for a woman of her muscular build. She does not make it onto the list with Glory, Elektra, and Barda. But Reign’s got a kind of creepy-hawt bad-ass vibe going for her overall, and I like that. Even if maybe I shouldn’t.

I like this comic, too. It’s not great, but it entertained me over an otherwise-boring meal, and sometimes that’s enough.

Grade: B-

The Flash #4-6, by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato

Another light, breezy spandex book with nice art. And nobody who’d have to wax their pubes to wear their costume in public. Of course, that’s hardly a danger with most male heroes, so maybe that’s not such a big thing. Still, I thought it was worth mentioning.

Anyway… What can I say here? Manapul and Buccellato continue to produce the most amiable and fun super hero book on the stands. The villains are murderously vile, Our Hero’s a pleasingly-harried nice guy, and the action moves at the speed of light. While I wouldn’t call it hip, it does feel contemporary in a way that most corporate spandex books simply don’t. It’s also a truly all-ages funnybook, the kind of thing that can be read and enjoyed by kids, teens, and adults, with none of them being confused or talked down to. It makes science cool, offers a positive role model who’s not simpering or dull, and doesn’t let itself get bogged down in strident angst. It’s good-not-great, but I still wish there were more comics like it.

Which probably means that it will fail. So screw you guys in advance for not buying it.

(EDIT: Actually, it looks like Flash’s sales figures are pretty strong. So, like, never mind…)

Grade: B

Danger Club #1, by Landry Q. Walker and Eric Jones

A “serious” hero book from the team that brought you Supergirl: Adventures in the 8th Grade and the funnybook version of the Brave & Bold cartoon. Their first (?) foray out of children’s comics has kind of a cool premise: what do the kid sidekicks do when the grown-up heroes all die in a big cosmic outer space crossover adventure? Well, since this isn’t a children’s book, they don’t have a weenie roast. No, it turns more into a spandex version of Lord of the Flies.

These are immature adolescents, after all, mostly very young teenagers, given access to horrifying levels of power. So there’s an immediate battle for dominance, with the haughty Apollo actually holding gladiator-style combat tournaments to prove who’s “worthy” to be on his team. But (the possibly-paranoid) Kid Vigilante and his pals don’t like that, so they set out to bust Apollo’s chops and take control before the aliens that killed their mentors come gunning for them.

So that’s the Danger Club. Lots of ludicrous characters running around without adult supervision, beating the living hell out of each other, with dumb teen attitude to burn. I can definitely wait a month for the price to drop before I buy the second issue, but this one was kinda fun. And a lot more inventive than most of what’s come out of the DC Reboot, as well…

Grade: B-

America’s Got Powers #1, by Jonathan Ross and Bryan Hitch

I liked this one more than I expected to. The premise is fairly simple, and kinda dumb: seventeen years ago, a glowing space rock fell on San Francisco, and every woman within a five-mile radius became pregnant. The resultant race of super-babies caused predictable chaos (see above review about young people with super powers), and the government stepped in, restricting them to camps to protect the general public. In order to keep these horribly dangerous teenage a-bombs from going off in captivity, however, they’re given a chance to compete in a reality TV show, the winners of which are given the opportunity to leave the camps and join a public super hero team.

It shouldn’t have worked. It should have been a parody of a cultural phenomenon that’s long since devolved into self-parody. And even playing it straight the way Ross and Hitch have done here, focusing on the loser of the power sweepstakes, the one kid who apparently got no special abilities from the rock whatsoever… This just shouldn’t have worked for me the way it did. But, cliché as I think the whole thing is… I liked it. Maybe it’s the straight-up, no-irony tone. Maybe it’s Hitch’s art, which I will always be a total sucker for. I dunno. It’s flawed, certainly. The cast is made up, at this point, of stereotypes more than characters. Personable stereotypes, but stereotypes nonetheless. And there’s something just kinda stupid about the whole thing, too. But I liked it. God help me, I liked it.

Grade: B

Wonder Woman #5-7, by Brian Azzarello, Tony Akins, and Cliff Chiang

I really wanna love this book. Really, I do. It’s got a great feel, really imaginative interpretations of the Greek Gods, and art to die for. Seriously. Cliff Chiang is the master here, but Tony Akins did damn well on his two fill-in issues. I don’t know which one of them’s responsible for the design of Hades, but man…

…that is some seriously great stuff. Poseidon is even more insane:

So, yeah. I wanna love it. But Azzarello’s making it hard. I like that Wonder Woman is flawed, for instance, but she keeps having these weirdly passionate over-reactions to things, then learns a heartwarming lesson about it. Which… I’d had about enough of that when she had a hissy fit over finding out that she wasn’t made of clay. I don’t need a repeat performance at Hephaestus’ forge, but that’s what we get in issue seven.

The resolution of Akins’ two-parter also leaves something to be desired. They seem to be pitting Hell and the Sea against each other in a battle over Zeus’ abandoned throne, a battle that will keep Hera busy and (conceivably) off their backs. Which is cool. But the whole thing, it turns out, was actually engineered by Diana and Lennox (her chav half-brother from London) so they could snatch a candle from Hades’ head and use it to break Hera’s scrying mirror, so she couldn’t spy on them all the time. Which… okay, fine. That’s about a hundred times less interesting than the political machinations of the gods, but… Fine.

The problem is that the reader’s not let in on that plan. Which would also be a fine way build suspense for the big final scene where they snatch the candle and go for it. Except… It’s never established that the candles have any kind of special significance beyond being a cool-ass design for Hades. So when Diana tosses the thing down and breaks the mirror… I have no idea what’s happening. The mirror kinda cracks, Hera gets real pissed off, and… That’s it. That’s the climax, and it left me less impressed with Our Heroes’ sneakiness, and more confused as to what the hell had just happened. And even when it was explained, I found that I didn’t care because that was so much more lame than what I thought was going on. Bait and switch plotting only works when the switch is better than the bait, and this most definitely was not.

And I still don’t know why the candle broke the mirror. It just did. And that kinda sucks, too.

Sigh. In spite of all that, though, I’m still sticking with this book. The art and concepts are incredible, even if the execution leaves a little something to be desired. So we’ll see how it goes.

Grade: B

About Mark Brett (408 Articles)
Shaved Yeti. Alien. Writer of stuff. Read my fiction at http://reportsfromthefieldblog.wordpress.com/. Read my thoughts on comic books and other dork culture ephemera at https://dorkforty.wordpress.com/.

1 Comment on Rolling in the Spandex

  1. Again, I only read two of the titles in this one. Wonder Woman is one I really want to like, and I agree with you in all particulars. I’m looking forward to Diana—er, excuse me, Wonder Woman—beginning to act like a grown woman instead of a spoiled little girl. On the other hand…the Greek gods were almost uniformly extreme (and often violent) in their reactions, something I hadn’t considered until just this moment. Maybe her bloodline tells…

    And Morrison’s Action…can’t say enough good stuff. I sometimes feel like it’s a little unfocused, a little frenetic, and then I remember that it’s Morrison and that everything is going to dovetail nicely and tie together. I’m not even going to try to anticipate where it’s going, as long as Morrison keeps integrating little bits and pieces of the pre-52 continuity into the Superman backstory so nicely. Really, this is foundational work, and Morrison is doing an excellent job in getting the basics out in front of the audience.

    Like

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