So we’ve got a big new corporate spandex cross-over to talk about this week, and for once it looks like it might not completely suck! Let’s get right to that, then. FUNNYBOOKSINREVIEWAREGO!!
Heroes in Crisis 1
by Tom King and Clay Mann
Tom King’s work is very concerned with trauma. Post-Traumatic Stress, in particular, figures prominently in Mister Miracle, and to some extent Omega Men and Batman as well. And that makes sense; considering his military background, I’m sure it’s something he’s seen a lot of. It’s also a very timely topic. America’s been at war with an idea for a generation now. Nearly 20 years of non-stop conflict in foreign lands, and PTSD has become a fact of life for many. I’ve had family members who suffered from it, and I doubt I’m alone in that. I’d wager that a large percentage of the population has known someone who returned from a combat zone and just didn’t know how to deal with it. How do you live a normal life after you’ve seen and done things so far outside it? How do you adjust to day-to-day peace when you’ve been conditioned to expect sudden death every minute of the day?
And that is the core question of Heroes in Crisis, King’s latest super hero outing, in which some kind of mass shooting breaks out at The Sanctuary, a crisis center set up to help heroes cope with the lives they lead. Well, okay. It’s really a murder mystery, so I suppose “Whodunnit?” is the actual core question here. But the “why” of it seems just as important. And the why of it seems to be all about trauma.
That’s one of several monologues from this first issue, single-page looks at various patients and their problems. We’ve seen this technique before, of course (just like we’ve seen super-trauma explored before), but King does good work with it, using the monologues to maybe give clues about who did what, but mostly to add poignancy to deaths that otherwise might not matter much. Because Blue Jay, understand, is not one of the suspects. He’s one of the victims.
And with that, I should probably warn you that this is going to get pretty SPOILERY from here on out. If you don’t wanna know, you might want to just skip ahead to the next review. For you guys, I’ll just say that I liked this first issue, and leave it at that. Four Stars.
So only keep reading now if you don’t mind having a few of the bigger shocks of this first issue SPOILED.
Everybody gone who wants to be gone?
Most of the victims we see are relatively minor characters. Steel. A kid named Hot Spot. Some kind of Abe Sapien rip-off character. The sort of people you expect to get bumped off in a thing like this. But then you get two biggies: Speedy and Kid Flash. Or Arsenal and the Flash, if you want their modern-day names. Or Roy and Wally, if you’re an uber-dork. Considering that Dick Grayson just got shot in the head last week, it makes you wonder what the hell Tom King’s got against the classic kid sidekicks.
Of course, some are saying that this has nothing to do with King, and everything to do with editorial politics at DC Comics. Geoff Johns leaves as chief creative officer, and the people he took power from when he started in that job immediately re-establish themselves by killing off Kid Flash, the character he resurrected as a symbol of the brighter, more optimistic super hero fantasies he was ushering in when he took over. Now, I thought that particular Geoff Johns comic was crap, but his direction DID increase sales for the company after years of lukewarm fan reaction, and this IS kind of like a big middle finger to all that. Hmm. Wonder where that’ll get them?
Ah, well. At least death keeps Wally West off the list of suspects. Because right now, that’s a list of two: Harley Quinn and Booster Gold. The issue opens with those two, in fact, running into each other at a small-town diner after the killing spree. Both were patients at the Sanctuary, and each thinks the other is the killer. Violence ensues.
Interspersed with that are the various monologues, and the arrival of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman to survey the carnage back at Sanctuary. King does his usual good job of interweaving it all, too. The action flows smoothly back and forth, and each new segment informs or plays off the one before it, building the story while still allowing King to keep the mystery open. From a technical standpoint, you really couldn’t ask for better.
From a character standpoint… It’s a little weaker.
Granted, I’m mostly bothered by King’s Superman, who seems more stricken by the murders than he should be.
He has that boy scout reputation, of course, and I’m sure King wants to establish a different mindset for each of the Big Three. But Superman’s a professional. He’s seen death before. If he’s first on the scene, reporting back to the Justice League, he’s not going to sound so lost. Sad, yes. Deeply sad. But not lost. It lessens him, somehow, and that strikes a wrong note for me.
I didn’t like King’s Harley Quinn very much, either. I’m not sure she’s a character that stands up very well to an incredibly realistic portrayal. The sort of cartoon-noir sadness Paul Dini and Bruce Timm occasionally brought to her is about as far as you can go before the character breaks. Because if you go much deeper, she’s not funny-crazy anymore. She’s just crazy. And because of her particular brand of crazy (falling in love with the world’s most notorious psychopath), that makes her antics pitiable rather than entertaining. The book on the whole is sufficiently well-done that I’m willing to see where he goes with it, but I do wonder what kind of character he’s going to leave behind at the end of this thing.
These are relatively small problems, however. For the most part, King tells his tale well, layering in pathos to make the slaughter less numbing, and dealing, as always, with trauma. Because whatever horrible things Booster and Harley were at Sanctuary to deal with, I suspect it’s those problems that will ultimately be at the root of what really happened.
A Walk Through Hell 3-4
by Garth Ennis and Goran Sudzuka
I think I wrote about the first two issues of this comic a while back. But I missed the second when it came out, got confused about what I had and hadn’t read, and finally wound up just reading the whole thing in one go this past weekend. And, holy crap it’s good. A coldly horrifying bit of weird fiction that goes back and forth between a child murder case being investigated by two FBI agents, and those same two agents, months later, trapped in a warehouse, alive even though their hearts aren’t beating, and witnessing a series of disturbing incidents as they try to hold themselves together and figure out what’s going on.
It reminds me of the first season of True Detective in structure, and Alan Moore’s Neonomicon in tone. Granted, it’s not as mean-spirited as the latter, and it’s a lot weirder than the first, but I think they’re both in the book’s DNA. It goes off into its own territory beyond that, though, dealing quite deftly with modern-day issues of power and privilege, and the struggles between straight white men and the traditional outsiders (women, gays, minorities) who are making room for themselves at the table. It’s one of those occasional Ennis comics that stands out as something rare and different, which is the reason I still keep an eye on his stuff. I’m quite enamored with it, and looking forward to the rest.
Hey Kids! Comics! 1&2
by Howard Chaykin
Much like Garth Ennis, Howard Chaykin still occasionally knocks one out of the park. And I think this may be one of those occasions. This time out, he’s telling the story of the comic book industry, from the end of World War II to the present. And it’s just as messed up as you’d think. I’m tempted to call it a jaundiced view, except that I suspect it’s all too accurate. He doesn’t name names, of course. This is a fictionalized account. But while not all of the back-room deals, front-office screwjobs, and catty in-fighting is based on specific incidents, what I know of comics history tells me that Chaykin’s capturing the feel of it rather well. And the stand-ins are pretty easy to recognize.
But the dishing of dirt (and lord knows there’s plenty of dirt to dish) is not what makes this one of Chaykin’s best. That, I think, is his storytelling approach. He follows three characters across the decades, jumping from one period of comics history to another, showing where things started, where they go, and where they finally end up. So we start in the 1940s, jump to the 50s, then the 60s, then the early 21st Century. Then it’s back to the 60s, then the 40s, the 50s, the 60s again, and back to the Naughts. That may sound confusing, and I’ll admit that you do have to pay attention. This is not a book you can skim. But Chaykin’s careful to always establish what decade you’re in every time he makes a leap. And even if he wasn’t, he’s done a good enough job establishing his cast’s changing appearance over the decades that you could probably follow it anyway.
This is also a project where Chaykin seems to be keeping his fetishes in check. While there’s certainly sex, it’s all tastefully done (and, thus far, off-camera). And I don’t think I’ve seen a single bustier or garter belt anywhere. I get the sense that he’s taking this one a little more seriously than he does many of his projects. He’s having fun with it, as he always does, but it also feels like this is something he wants to reach a wider audience than his usual tricks afford him.
So check this out. If you’re a comics fan, it’s fascinating. And if you’re not… Well, if you’re not, I can’t imagine how you stumbled onto this review. But if you’re not, it’s still a great piece of period drama, set in a strange and interesting industry.
Action Comics 1003
by Brian Michael Bendis and Yanick Paquette
Action is shaping up to be, by far, my favorite of the two Bendis Superman comics. And that’s largely because it feels like a Superman book, complete with the supporting cast and a focus on the goings-on in Metropolis. That’s the sort of thing Bendis excels at, and I’m really enjoying his take. He breathes life into the Daily Planet newsroom, and into Metropolis in general, grounding the action with an environment that feels like a place people might actually live. It’s a fun read, too, this issue especially, as Clark Kent succumbs to Kryptonite exposure in the middle of the newsroom and manages to sell it as a minor malady.
See? It’s scenes like this that make me like the book so much. Bendis does a nice job balancing the danger with the comedy here. I’ve seen stuff like it before, of course, but not in a really long time. So long that it feels fresh again. I just had a good time reading it, and that’s nice.
Of course, the comedy of that moment leads to something horrifying down the line, as the source of the Kryptonite nugget winds up dead because her criminal superiors think she had a leak in her organization that clued Superman in on the rock’s existence. It’s hard to feel bad for her, of course, because she’s a pretty awful person. But, still. If Superman didn’t have a secret identity, she might still be alive.
Which is probably deeper than you’re supposed to look at that scene. But, ah well. That’s just what I do. It doesn’t keep the issue from being a lot of fun. Supes calls Batman in to deal with the Kryptonite, which he’s happy to do. Of course, he also keeps the rock. Because of course he does. But that’s just part of the show.
At this point, I really wish the Bendis Superman run was just a bi-weekly version of this. It’s the happiest I’ve been with the series since the weekly Superman books of the early 90s, and I could really go for a twice-monthly repeat of that.
And, hey! As long as we’re talking Bendis…
by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev
I liked the second issue of this better than I did the first. While I still miss the possibility that Scarlet might not be the most reliable of narrators, this phase of the story is hitting its stride now, and I’m getting more into it. The plot thickens in a way I should have seen coming (but didn’t), there’s an interesting discussion of whether or not Scarlet and her people are terrorists, and there’s a really nice character moment with Our Heroine along the way, too. It’s still not as good as the first series, mind you – Alex Maleev’s artwork isn’t as good here, for one thing – but I’ll definitely be sticking around for more.
The Wicked + The Divine: 1373 AD
by Kieron Gillen and Ryan Kelly
The latest WicDiv special (historical flashbacks published in-between arcs of the main book) centers on the era of the Black Death, and on a young nun who’s taken on the mantle of Lucifer.
And, really, y’know… That’s all you need, right there. If “Lucifer as a nun in the Dark Ages” doesn’t intrigue you, this book’s just not for you. Gillen does some interesting stuff with it, though, with a Lucifer focused very heavily on guilt and the hope for a redemption that she doesn’t believe she deserves.
As with most of these specials, we also gain some insights on how the whole “cycle of gods” thing works, and (this time) on Ananke’s perspective on the whole thing. We know the Pantheons define their ages, and it must have been a seriously messed up Pantheon indeed to have birthed this particular period of history. I’d kind of like to have seen their story, but I’ll have to make do with what little insight we gain on it here. The journey from Minerva to Ananke is suddenly quite fascinating to me, though, and I hope we get to see a bit of it before the series is done.
But now I’m saying things that only make sense if you’re following the book, so I’ll shut up. The Wicked + The Divine continues to fascinate, though. Check it out, if you’re not already.