New Avengers #49Greetings! Welcome back to the big column. And we’ve got one BSE . . .
Now for the rest . . .
New Avengers #49
From: Marvel Comics
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Phillip Tan
Reviewed by: Richard Renteria
For the most part I have enjoyed the first wave of Dark Reign titles, so it was bound to happen that I would stumble upon a title I would not enjoy. New Avengers is that title. The main reason this issue fell flat for me was not because of Dark Reign, but rather a story element that is basically ejected from the title itself with little thought for future story potential. Worse yet, it’s another issue of New Avengers that has our heroes doing absolutely nothing; I understand story development but this is starting to get ridiculous.
The idea of Luke Cage basically making a “deal with the devil” was one of many story elements that rolled out of Secret Invasion, but instead of fully exploring the idea and its potential, Brian Bendis instead gives the reader a quickly moving story about a father’s desperation with an anemic conclusion that robs any story potential that could have come from Cage’s deal. I did not think Bendis was capable of introducing an idea and exploring it fully in two issues, yet here we are and yes he did.
With the exception of Cage’s unexpected declaration to Norman, this issue ran pretty much by the numbers and did more to spin in place than move forward. While the final moments of the issue nicely set-up the big throw-down with the Dark Avengers, the story on a whole was pretty hollow. The one shining spot of this issue was Clint Barton’s take charge attitude. It seems Bendis may be setting him up to take on a more important role within the Avengers, which would be a nice direction to take the character.
Phillip Tan continues to give the title his all and for the most part, he does succeed visually. But, with little action to convey, Tan is forced to reign in his energetic pencils. He still manages to display his talents for creating emotion and mood. Tan’s pencils are paired well with the inks of Matt Banning and the colors of Paul Mounts, even if the story was a bit subdued.
Question, am I wrong or was there an issue of New Avengers where baby Cage had green eyes? This one’s a marginal issue that mainly fails for its lack of story development. However, the set-up for next issue leaves me hopeful that we’ll finally see some action in New Avengers.
Batman: The Brave and the Bold #1Batman: The Brave and the Bold #1
Written by Matt Wayne
Pencils by Andy Suriano
Inks by Dan Davis
Colors by Heroic Age
Letters by Randy Gentile
Editing by Rachel Gluckstern
Reviewed by Lan Pitts
Based on the hit cartoon with the same name, the first issue follows the same formula of the show: Batman is in a sticky situation with another random hero that may or may not follow the rest of the show. This issue starts with Batman and Aquaman in a quick brawl with the villainous Carapax. Afterwards, Batman gets an important message from Alfred (who hasn't been seen on the show yet, except in a flashback) saying that the Prime Minister needs to talk to him.
Turns out a giant monster is tearing up downtown London. Batman hurries to the scene, but his plane is quickly destroyed and knockout gas doesn't work. Nearby, we see that Lex Luthor is behind it. Though, it's the Luthor from the 40's, not quite the millionaire bad guy he is today, but more like the mad scientist he once was. Also nearby is ace programmer Karen Starr, aka Power Girl. Bats and Power Girl meet up and she discovers that the creature is a composite creature made from actual citizens of London (the reader knows this because they say things like "I say" and "Raw-ther"). Tongue in cheek humor all the way.
The duo find a way to Luthor's building, taking him out and his concentration ray that created the composite creature. Luthor is arrested and Batman and Power Girl meet the Queen and are rewarded medals. Pretty freaking simple here. And you know what? There is nothing wrong with that. I'm personally a fan of the show's style: an amalgamation of Darwyn Cooke, Dick Sprang, and Bill Finger. The story is kid-friendly, which I am all for. Batman has been the victim of stories that border delirious and ludicrous recently, and this book shows even an rich orphan with serious issues can still have a little fun. Easy to read, fun to read, and it can be enjoyed by readers from the ages 8 to 80. If you have a young reader in your house, or perhaps want them to start, be sure to bring this home.
Final Crisis #7Double-Shot:
Final Crisis #7
From: DC Comics
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Doug Mahnke
Reviewed by: Richard Renteria
As a story, Final Crisis works well on a multitude of levels; as an event Final Crisis fails miserably. When one takes a step back from the larger story series writer Grant Morrison is telling, and looks at it from a completely non-superhero story perspective, it works, almost. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the characters he is utilizing, the structure of the story crumbles upon reading the final issue as Morrison basically negates all the events from the first few issues to instead tell an unexpectedly different story that has its roots in Superman Beyond more than Final Crisis. By utilizing the characters of the DCU and the DCU as an entity itself, Morrison paints himself into the corner of event expectation (which can be a disastrous spot).
To understand Final Crisis fully, one really needs to read Morrison’s prelude to Final Crisis, Seven Soldiers. Sure, DC says it’s not important to the series, but it is; a lot of the ideas that exist within Final Crisis were introduced in that series and do a lot to complement the overall narrative that is presented within the series as a whole. The problem though is that while Morrison’s base fans may understand and be open to what he is trying to do with his story, with or without the authors interview clarifications, others who were looking for an actual straight-forward crisis in the vein of Crisis on Infinite Earths got something entirely different and will probably view this series and its final issue with a skeptical eye on its impact to the greater DCU.
Although the story did have a grand scope with some epically wild ideas, the final issue does suffer from a lack of coherent characterization as most individuals introduced early on in the series are given a one or two panel send-off with little impact to the story. What Morrison instead gives the reader this issue are iconic moments, but instead of being visually stunning moments throughout the series the reader is instead told why these moments are important at the moment they become important, which lessened the effectiveness of a handful of scenes – Aquaman being a prime example. Instead of a big battle with a major bad guy, what Morrison does is tie together a myriad of iconic symbols and gives them their figurative moment within the story while literally slamming the book shut on the story of the Monitors.
Important characters early on have their importance effectively made moot as Superman quite literally changes the course of the story by his mere presence (read Seven Soldiers as their importance to the series is clarified). Of course, as a reader, we assume the early issues are important to Morrison’s narrative but his introductory ideas have no real relevance to the final dénouement of Final Crisis as it becomes more of a conclusion to Superman Beyond and Batman: Last Rites; thus, it gives the issue a rather abrupt shift in the story’s focus.
From my perspective, Morrison shifts the focus to what seems to be an endless reference to the alpha and the omega and their importance to the story of the DCU. The Alpha (Superman) and the Omega (Batman) switch places in their story roles wherein Superman was the first (alpha) and becomes the last (omega) hero standing at the beginning/end of the DCU’s story; whereas Batman’s role as the Omega/Alpha is a bit more literal in that Batman’s last action of shooting a god is also the action that causes Darkseid to ultimately fall through time, thus creating the DCU itself (the black hole at the center of creation wherein lies Mandrakk at the beginning of time); at least that was my interpretation of the events. Fortunately, I had read Superman Beyond.
By allowing for multiple interpretations, Morrison engages the reader in a mystery that relies less on “who did it” and more on “what do you see”. Most of the characters take a back seat to Morrison’s ideas and random thoughts about the universe as an entity and how the “germ-people” infect and interact with their universe, good or bad. Staying focused on his ultimate goal, Morrison tells a story that is seemingly telling its own story and bringing it to its inevitable ending/beginning. Utilizing a multi-layered approach to his writing, the story itself is elevated from a mediocre event into an incredibly dense story replete with ideas that would require a PhD in Morrison-ology, yet the story suffered due to the impenetrability of the final issue.
By negating the relevance of the first few issues and making the ideas presented moot, Morrison continues his story on the mythology of storytelling and by extension the mythology of the characters who reside within the DCU which he began in Superman Beyond. Let’s be honest, with the exception of a handful of scenes, this series could have been just as effective with new characters created specifically for the series, but Morrison chooses to bring order to chaos with more chaos. The end of the issue does require multiple readings as a number of events that seem to be strewn together upon first read, but make more sense upon the realization that some events are happening simultaneously.
Holding the story together is the art of Doug Mahnke, who does a phenomenal job on the pencils on what was probably a very tight deadline. Mahnke’s art is very expressive and detailed. Even though a few pages look rushed, the overall quality of Mahnke’s art definitely comes through. I did think his black Superman had plastic surgery between pages, but once the story gets going, Mahnke gets into a groove, especially during the final battle. His iterations of multiple Supermen and his renderings of Mandrakk stand out most vividly.
While I may not have been a fan of the art switches that have been taking place over the last few issues as they were happening, I have to say the overall effect of the art shift actually seems to complement Morrison’s story, albeit accidentally. It’s almost perfect symmetry that this story started with JG Jones’ photo-realistic art, as early on the story had a very grounded and sublime feeling to it and thus made it a perfect fit at the time. As the story entered the realm of the fantastic though, moving to a more traditional comic art format actually enhanced the story and gave it a feeling of devolution followed by evolution, as if it was having its own crisis. Again, I know the art changes happened due to deadlines, but the overall effect of the art shift worked perfectly in context with the story Morrison is telling while introducing a potential storytelling technique for future events.
If there was one aspect of this series I do not agree with, it is the absolute disrespect Wonder Woman suffers throughout the series. It was almost as if Morrison was unsure about what to do with her, which is understandable but completely unforgivable. Again, Final Crisis fails as an event because it does nothing an event comic should do, but that’s okay because as a story Final Crisis is a challenging read that does not require the reader to know the ins and outs of the DCU but rather its specific iconography. If your are open to experiencing the ebbs and flows of some grand ideas from the mind of Morrison, Final Crisis is for you; but if you were expecting a genuine DC crisis that included long term repercussions, you will probably be disappointed.
The Complete Terry and the Pirates v5The Complete Terry and the Pirates vol. 5: 1943-1944
Written & Illustrated by Milton Caniff
Published by IDW
Reviewed by Michael C Lorah
Can I start by admitting I had, for the first time, an issue with this volume of Terry, though frankly, I realize that it’s entirely generational and not a comment on the quality of the strips. As the U.S. entered into World War II, Caniff dropped the veiled references to the war in the Pacific (the “invaders” are now openly called the “Japs”), and both Terry and Pat join the military to aid in the war effort. Caniff was a huge patriot, and the strip becomes very jingoistic and blindly patriotic. That’s the generational divide; having been born post-Vietnam, I love my country, but can’t entirely embrace the bravura and divine right of the American cause. So the strip fits somewhat uncomfortably into my worldview, and yeah, the ads for buying war bonds that ornament many of the strips do sometimes seem to clutter the artwork and distract from the story being told.
That said, it’s still ripping good comics. Astonishingly, our central heroes, Terry Lee and Pat Ryan, don’t come face to face during this entire two-year run until the Dec. 31, 1944 strip that concludes the volume (and leaves you desperate for the next). Caniff has built up such a compelling cast of characters – and he continues to add to the roster here with Lt. Charles “Hotshot” Charles, the boy so nice his momma named him twice; the object of Charles and Terry’s affection, Willow Belinda; war correspondent Dunkan; and WAC’s Big Jane and Little Jane – that the strip doesn’t miss a beat with only one of its erstwhile leads carrying the narrative. In fact, for a few brief stretches, both Terry and Pat are missing from the strip!
The free-wheeling nature of the early strips disappears here, as both Terry (Airforce) and Pat (Navy) enlist to serve their country in World War II’s Pacific theatre. They – gasp – answer to superiors and partake in missions, a far cry from their vagabond days of the 30s, but Caniff’s mastery of pacing and inventive twists keep the narratives surprising and restless. The Japanese saboteurs are diabolically creative, and only our boys’ quick wits, all-American perseverance and sturdy fists can keep the free world safe.
Artistically, Caniff has perfected the layout and staging of the daily strip. Working with limited real estate, he uses shadows, mixes the depth of his shots, and swings the camera round and round to continually exploit maximum drama and humor from each sequence. His characters’ expressiveness belies their apparent stiffness and classic designs.
By the end of 1946, Caniff will have left Terry and the strip, reportedly, never truly recovers from the loss. Fortunately, we have IDW’s gorgeous and fastidious reprint editions to preserve these astonishing and wonderful strips for future generations. I can’t imagine how readers waited two full years to see these stories unfold; they’re so utterly compelling that I raced through months at a time without breaking. How will Willow Belinda escape her captors? Why is Burma posing as an Indian dancer? Terry and the Pirates may be only pulp adventure fiction, but it’s the high point of pulp adventure fiction. Everything Indiana Jones and Han Solo know about dynamic heroism was learning at the feet of Milton Caniff.
Batman #685 (DC Comics; review by O.J.): The two lead Bat-books have been sharing stories lately, so you can be forgiven if you're thrown by the fact that the previous chapter of this story was in Detective Comics. Of course Catwoman has been regarded as a Batman villain for decades, but knowing her character over the last decade it's clearly a stretch that she's used in the "Faces of Evil" book cover this month in DC books. The only one thinking that Selina Kyle's evil at this point is Tommy Elliot, Hush, as he gets the business end of her wrath because of his near-fatal assault on her in "Heart of Hush." So long as the creative team of Paul Dini and Dustin Nguyen is involved, you know you're going to get a dependable, well-crafted comic book story, and it's no different here. Without giving anything away, "Catspaw" also answered questions I had regarding how Elliot in his new fake identity as Bruce Wayne was able to go undetected for so long without attracting the attention of Batman's closest allies. I was also going to suggest that "Catspaw" here was going to close the book on Hush for the foreseeable future, but early preview materials have indicated that there's a role for Elliot in the upcoming "Battle for the Cowl." Just when you think Hush is out, the powers that be at DC keep bringing him back in.
Superman #684 (DC Comics; review by O.J.): Post-"New Krypton," this issue hits on a lot of plot points. Focusing mainly on "Faces of Evil" star, the Parasite, Rudy Jones gets a taste for Daxamite and that may not bode well Mon-El, still resigned to the Phantom Zone due to his lead poisoning. Elsewhere the Guardian asserts himself to the Science Police as their new field commander. Even though he's merely a clone of the original, I like how Guardian's kept somewhat old school, averse to armor other than his helmet and shield. The mysterious Flamebird and Nightwing are given their requisite one page of backstory, and save for acquiring an ally in the Golden Age Flash, little is offered in terms of what their deal is. Guest artist Jesus Merino serves James Robinson's moody script well, and he does a terrific job on the various states of Parasite as he's constantly in need of juice. But the biggest reveal comes at the book's end when Superman visits the spacebound New Krypton to visit his Aunt Alura. As much as she welcomes Kal-El on this occasion, a reestablishing of Krypton's military, the news she shares about the army's leadership is anything but welcome to the Man of Steel. Not at all.
Wonder Woman #28 (DC Comics; review by Rev. O.J Flow): Not really sure what to make of this book right now. To be sure, Wonder Woman is one of the best-looking books going right now, a testament to the talents of Aaron Lopresti and Matt Ryan. Truthfully, so long as there's a book starring the Amazon Princess, I want these guys drawing it. No, my concerns are in the story, and I know Gail Simone has nothing but the best intentions with this series, but this issue is guilty of narrative overindulgence that prevents a clear vision from coming across. For one thing, it's way too talky, Simone giving Bendis a run for his money in excess dialogue. Sarge Steel is the main offender, apparently going rogue and increasingly losing his marbles. Just whose side is he on? Again we see Wonder Woman's magic lasso getting used against her, and I question how many times they're going to draw from that well. Meanwhile Zeus' plan to replace the Amazons with a more male-dominated force, Jason of the Argonauts leading the charge literally and figuratively. This angle appears to be just about ready to converge with the lead story, and that would seem to complicate things, what with the Doomsday-like Genocide still being a big flippin' problem. Someone needs to explain to me how a man-made creation like Genocide can have such godlike power over Wonder Woman too. Is Professor Ivo THAT talented?? And Cheetah earns her "Faces of Evil" cover status as she proves to be way more instrumental in all the goings on than anyone would've assumed. I guess my biggest thing is that there's a lot of ideas thrown on the wall from different directions and I'm still waiting for something to stick. By no means bad, I'm just waiting for the great.
The Incredible Hercules #125 (Marvel; by Troy): It becomes hard, after a certain point, to keep praising a book that you’ve regularly praised for months previous. But this one continues to deserve it for unfailingly sharp writing and humor, great art, and a willingness to just be different. As the reality-bending twist of “Love & War” comes to a resolution, it’s become evident to me just how happy I am to see this book perform at such a consistently high level. As always, the bond between Hercules and Cho is the engine, and their double-heartbreak lends an air of poignancy to the usual shenanigans. I hope this book stays healthy (with creative team intact) for a long while.
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