Fëanor's weekly comic book review post.
This covers new releases from the week of 1/7, 1/14, and 1/21. Yep, my "weekly" comic book review post hasn't been very weekly lately. I'm way, way behind, so this is my big catchup entry. Settle in! Oh, and also, beware spoilers; they're all over the place down there.
Back issues and old data
The Goon Volume 6: Chinatown and the Mystery of Mr. Wicker
Just last week, in my review of The Goon #31, I said serious drama was not author Eric Powell's strong point. Now that I've read this hardcover volume (which I received for Christmas), I feel like I may have been unnecessarily hard on Mr. Powell. This book is serious drama through and through - which it warns you of itself by opening with a page that says, in very large letters, "This ain't funny." - but it's also extremely effective, beautiful, and brilliant. The story clears up a lot of the confusion I was feeling over various characters and relationships in the most recent Goon arc. In fact, it's two stories interwoven, one set in the past and explaining finally the Goon's history with Isabella and Chinatown, and the other set in the present and dealing with the rise of a powerful and mysterious new crime lord named Mr. Wicker. There's also a really wonderful flashback at the very beginning that goes all the way back to the Goon's days in the carnival with Kizzie. The story as a whole is touching, tragic, and artfully told. The way Powell illustrates is amazing. When the Goon meets Bella again after many years, and she's sitting close to him in his room, he sees her as a series of fractured images: lips, a shoulder, breasts, legs, an eye.
Later, when Bella rejects him, he steps into the bathroom and looks into the mirror. There follow five full-page illustrations of the Goon's face as he stares into his own eyes and sees only ugliness, and all of his agony is clear in his expression. When Franky comes to visit the Goon later at the hospital, he shares his pain in a tender, quiet moment where the strength of their friendship is made clear. It's a subtle, powerful story, exciting, engaging, and moving, and it completely swallowed me up. I read practically the entire thing in one sitting. It's very possibly Powell's greatest achievement, and that's really saying something. My hat is off, sir!
Terminator: Salvation #1
Comic book prequels to movies seem to be all the rage these days. This book is set before the events of the upcoming film of the same name, and is being put out by IDW (the Terminator license is a complex thing, with three or four different publishing houses putting out three or four different books, all set in different timelines). IDW is also putting out the prequel miniseries tied into the new Star Trek movie. Because I'm interested in both movies, I decided to give both books a shot. This one I couldn't find the week it came out, but I was able to pick it up this week (which is why it's appearing in this section). The Star Trek book you'll find a review of near the bottom of this post.
The issue opens in 2018, post-Judgment Day, and focuses on two resistance cells, one in Detroit, and one in Niger. They're trying to coordinate an operation called "Sand in the Gears," which apparently involves blowing up a mine that's important to the machines. Elena, the woman heading the Detroit cell, is having a kind of long distance, flirty affair with the guy in Niger, whom she's never met. But from a flashback we see later in the book, it looks like she also has an unrequited thing for John Connor (don't we all?). A dude and his family trying to survive out on their own in Detroit, away from the resistance, get bombed out, and the patriarch goes up against a Terminator. Meanwhile, a machine busts in and attacks the folks in Niger, as well.
There's nothing really terrible in this book, but nothing particularly exciting, either. It's very talky, but the dialogue isn't all that great. And there's some decent action sequences, and then the cliffhanger at the end, but I don't care enough about the characters for them to mean much to me. So yeah, I don't think I'll be wasting any more money picking up future issues of this.
New releases 1/7
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8 #21
Wow, this was the best issue of this comic in a while - and I thought the recent ones were really good! The cover is done up like a fashion magazine, except with Harmony and vampires as its subject. That's because the story inside is about Harmony getting famous thanks to video of her sucking Andy Dick's blood ending up on TMZ. She gets a reality show, but the ratings are not so good... until she gets into a fight with a Slayer on TV. Then all of the sudden she's a star, and Slayers are in the public eye - as villains. It's a very interesting story that fits in perfectly with the arc of the "season" so far, and it's also very clever, very timely, and very, very funny - as in, brilliant pop culture satire. Just a great comic, from the front cover to the back.
The latest Gravel arc comes to an end in this issue, but as is made very clear on the final page, it's just the beginning of a new direction for Bill's story. Gravel must make a decision here between the temptation of a life of ease amongst the upper class, with servants and an estate, or a continuation of his life of murder and dirty, blue collar brutality. He gives his servants and the remaining member of the Minor Seven a final test, and then makes his choice in spectacular and violent fashion. I wasn't always sure about this series, but I love the way Ellis and Wolfer pull everything together in this final issue and open the door to an even more exciting future story. I also enjoy Oscar Jimenez's art, and Gravel's trickery. Excellent!
Hellboy: The Wild Hunt #2
Yes! Hellboy! And this issue even includes a back-up story, something I don't usually expect to see in a Hellboy book. In the main story, written by Mike Mignola with beautiful art by Duncan Fegredo, Hellboy makes an unexpected visit to another realm full of the bones of dead kings, then he's back in the present and rather foolishly jumps into battle with some giants. Meanwhile, big doings with Gruagach! We get to learn more of his early history (which has the flavor of ancient fairy tales and Tolkien epics), and get a replay of his more recent history with Hellboy (which was a nice refresher). I also got confirmation on my suspicion that Gruagach hasn't really heard the lady in the box speak, and has been putting words in her mouth. But he won't have to do that anymore, as a mysterious stranger shows up with a very disturbing gift to help him finally awaken her. And that just can't be a good thing!
The back-up story, written by Mignola and with wonderful art by Guy Davis, is part one of the tale of how Koshchei became deathless - a really evocative story out of Russian folklore. It's comics like these that remind me why I love Mignola, his team, and the entire Hellboy-verse so very, very much.
In this issue, Kull learns the true history of the world and some of the dark secrets that lurk inside his own castle. Also, the arc of the series begins to take shape. Kull's in even more trouble than he knew! Evil lizards lurking everywhere waiting to kill him! And an angry wife! Ouch. I have to say, I'm not loving this series quite as much as I was at first, now that the mysteries are being solved and going away, but it's still pretty well written, with great art and some great ideas, so I'm sticking with it.
No Hero #3
At the end of last issue, our new recruit started to experience his horrific, hallucinatory transformation into a super human. In this issue, the transformation continues in four incredibly detailed, gruesome, nightmarish, two-page splash illustrations. But even as a new super human is being born, another one gets offed. And there's still little clue as to who's doing it, except that they know a great deal about super humans and how to destroy them. At the end, newbie guy seems to start falling apart, but it's probably just the next stage in his transformation.
I'm still really enjoying this little series. Ellis is creating a fascinating alternate history; he's making an interesting examination of what super humans could be; he's developing a crazy little dysfunctional family with an arrogant genius as its patriarch; and he's even got an intriguing murder mystery brewing. Plus, Juan Jose Ryp's art is impressive, as always - although I think he gets so carried away with capturing all the details that sometimes the images end up cluttered and confused and it's hard to understand the whole. A cleaner style, with fewer lines, might be better. But what do I know? The point is, it's fine comics, and I'm still firmly on board.
I was very wary of this new Punisher ongoing, especially since it's written by Rick Remender, whose work has disappointed me in the past. But it's a Dark Reign tie-in, and thus important to the future of the Marvel Universe, and it features the Punisher (obviously) and the Sentry, both of whom I love, so I decided to give it a try. Unfortunately, as expected, I didn't care for it all that much. There's actually not all that much story here, as a lot of the back of the book is taken up with a preview of Agents of Atlas, and a detailed history of the Punisher, illustrated with reprints of selected panels from earlier Punisher comics. What story there is is interesting and well drawn (I particularly like the way the Sentry is depicted, and the way he just appears next to Frank immediately after stopping his bullet four miles away), but not well written. There's way, way too much narration, all very cheesy, and all from the perspective of the Punisher. The dialogue is also pretty weak. I might give the series one more issue, just to see where the story is going, but then again I might not.
As for the backup material, I did appreciate getting filled in on the strange and complex biography of the Punisher. I always like to catch up with the history of the Marvel Universe, and this was a part of it I was not familiar with. The preview of Agents of Atlas was less interesting. Some Feds bust into an Agents of Atlas building. The Agents show up and one of them says, "Feds, huh? what a coincidence. 'Cause we're Agents of Atlas." Uh... how is that a coincidence? That makes no sense. Really, it just doesn't.
War of Kings Saga
This isn't really an original comic, per se. It's a free book that tells the history of the Inhumans, with a particular focus on their connection with matters extraterrestrial, in order to get you ready for the War of Kings storyline that is currently ongoing. As with the history in the back of Punisher #1, I appreciated this book for the gaps it filled in for me in my knowledge of the Marvel Universe. I knew little about the Inhumans, and little about what happened to Vulcan and Havok after the events of X-Men: Deadly Genesis. There's also a bunch of other characters described here that I'd never even heard of before. All this history is conveyed in a pretty bland manner, however, with short bursts of words slapped on top of reprints of old illustrations. So I didn't really retain very much of it, and it wasn't really all that exciting to read. Plus, there's no way I'm jumping into another massive story arc that will spread itself over multiple books, especially since none of those books are ones I read.
X-Men: Noir #2
Hmmm. After reading another issue of this miniseries, I'm sad to say I think maybe my original feelings of dislike towards it were justified. The cliffhanger at the end of last issue is quickly discarded and deflated at the beginning of this one, and a lot of the mysteries are just as quickly swept out of the way with a few bursts of exposition. I still can't get used to the idea that mutations have been replaced with sociopathic tendencies. That's just not the same thing at all! It's also weird that Beast isn't actually smart here; in fact, he's dumb, and is constantly using big words in the wrong way. Plenty of the other character analogs take on similarly shameful and disappointing roles here. And the back-up sci-fi/pulp adventure story is really hard to read, it's so deliberately bad.
I probably won't pick up another issue of this. I'm curious as to where the story's going, but... not that curious.
New releases 1/14
Action Comics #873
Great line near the beginning of this one from General Lane: "What kills you makes you stronger." Heh. Anyway, apparently in the other episodes of the New Krypton storyline that I didn't read, a great big war started with the Green Lanterns, the Justice League, and the Justice Society on one side, and the people of Kandor on the other. It's getting pretty nasty until Kara's mother decides to end the fight by making it moot; she moves Kandor elsewhere. Woah. Well, that explains the storyline's title! Things aren't really taken care of for good, however; Superman still wants to see justice done on his fellow Kryptonians. And then we get a couple of epilogues (what is the deal with having multiple epilogues in comics, btw? Does anyone else think that's totally lame?) that throw a couple more big reveals into the mix. We find out where the mysterious Superwoman's true allegiances lie; some super dude gets wasted (I never did figure out who he was, but he's been skulking around this storyline for a while); and General Zod and friends drop back into the mix. Nice!
I still feel like this storyline was maybe a little too busy, trying to fit too many things in at once. There are a couple of panels thrown in at the end here showing Nightwing and Firebird, and some Bizarro people, almost as if to say, "Oh yeah, and this stuff is going on, too!" Like Geoff Johns felt obligated to mention those characters, even though there wasn't space to actually do anything with them.
I also can't say I really like the Superman who's depicted here. He's more self-righteous and annoying than he is just righteous. Part of the problem is the way the artists draw him; he just looks like a prick.
All that being said, there are some really neat things in here. I like the creation of New Krypton. I like the mysterious plotting of Lane and Luthor. And I like that Zod and friends are coming back into the story. This issue could have been a lot better, but it wasn't awful.
B.P.R.D.: The Black Goddess #1
The new B.P.R.D. miniseries starts out by making clear the connection between the current story arc and the recent Lobster Johnson miniseries (Iron Prometheus). I'm not sure why I never guessed that Martin Gilfryd and the villain in Iron Prometheus were one and the same person, but now that they made it explicit here, it was obvious in retrospect. Still, an exciting revelation, and it was also very neat to find out what happened to Lobster and his crew after the events of Iron Prometheus, and to learn a bit more of the story of Martin Gilfryd (although he remains quite mysterious). There's a weird two-page spread right in the middle of the issue where we see an old man in some kind of temple carving little stone frogs and painting red designs on their backs. I'm not sure what that's about. Meanwhile, Panya seems quite certain that Liz won't be coming back to B.P.R.D. headquarters, which is very disturbing. Things look bleak for the team finding a lead that will get them to Liz and Gilfryd, until Johnson's bad-ass old buddy comes through with freaking directions to Gilfryd's hideout. Nice!
I love the way everything they've been doing in B.P.R.D. almost since the beginning of the comic is all coming together and building to a big climax in this storyline. I also love that Lobster Johnson is involved, because he's awesome. As usual, Mike Mignola and John Arcudi do an excellent job with the words, and Guy Davis and Dave Stewart back them up with beautiful pictures and colors. I even like Kevin Nowlan's cover; it's interesting to see the familiar characters visualized in a unique, new way.
Captain Britain and MI13 #9
I just read online that this series has been canceled. Boo! I've really been enjoying this. It's a look at the British corner of the Marvel Universe, which rarely gets mentioned, and Paul Cornell's been putting some really interesting characters and concepts in here.
This particular issue sees Pete Wisdom tearing the Dream Corridor to bits and bringing everyone's fantasies crashing down with the help of the faux Black Blade. Which means we get a quick glimpse at a lot of different fantasies, including an old dude playing professional soccer, a guy in a bunny suit frolicking with a giant teddy bear (a plushie in a Marvel comic??), and a guy on a throne being served cheeseburgers and beers by beautiful young women. We also learn that scientific adviser Stewart is pretty bad-ass, and that Captain Britain can do anything. And Plokta, Duke of Hell, is finally disposed of in excellent fashion. A relationship seems to start up between Blade and Lady J (which is pretty impressive, given that they were trying to kill each other only a few issues ago), Captain Midlands ends up imprisoned and shamed, and tragically, it turns out that Captain Britain just missed seeing the real Meggan on his way out of the Dream Corridor. She's trapped in some kind of hell dimension. Argh! A powerful story with some very moving moments. I really liked the way they got Plokta in the end. And there wasn't much Faiza, which is always good!
At the very end, we get the preview for the next story arc, which will involve Dr. Doom teaming up with Dracula and an army of vampires to assault the Earth from the moon. Go back and look at that again, because it may just be the most awesome sentence I've ever written. Thankfully, it sounds like Marvel is going to print that story arc in its entirety before killing the book for good.
Final Crisis #6
The last issue I read of this miniseries was the first one, so needless to say I was pretty confused as to what was going on in this one. Although frankly, I probably would have been pretty confused anyway, given that it's written by the master of confusion, Grant Morrison. But I saw some scans of this issue online and felt I had to pick it up and read it. After all, it features the death of Batman.
Yep, that's right. You'd figure Batman would have died in one of the comics that actually feature him as the main character, maybe during the story arc called Batman R.I.P.! But in fact at the end of that story he had merely disappeared. Then he started investigating the death of Orion, got captured briefly by Darkseid, and in this issue finally tracks down Darkseid and attacks him. But before that happens, Brainiac 5 lets Superman use a machine that turns thoughts into things (at least, I think that's what happens), although what Superman does with it is unclear. Then there's an insane war going on in the middle of a city, which involves Supergirl in a cat fight with an S&M obsessed Mary Marvel, who's possessed by Desaad. Mary calls Supergirl a slut. It's funny. Some tiger people have a showdown. There's a symbol you have to paint on your face to protect you from the Anti-Life Equation. A ton of characters I've never seen before and know nothing about huddle together and try to figure out how to fight back now that the world is ending. Checkmate initiates some kind of insane last minute plan to move the entire Earth onto another Earth in another universe. Which, as it turns out, may actually be a really bad idea. Luthor and Dr. Sivana turn on Libra and Darkseid because they decide they like life after all. The Flashes all get together to get to Darkseid and they plan to use some kind of Black Flash to do it. Batman sneaks into Darkseid's hideout and breaks his restriction against firearms to shoot Darkseid with a poison bullet. Somehow he's able to shoot Darkseid faster than Darkseid's able to shoot him with his eye beams, even after Batman has wasted time standing around explaining how we got to this point with some pointless exposition. It's a little silly, and a bit disappointing that Batman had to use a gun, but then again, if Batman had to go out, going out while killing an evil God and theoretically saving the entire world is a pretty good way to do it. That being said, even after Batman shoots Darkseid and Superman finally shows up and blows up some crap, it still doesn't look like either of them really succeeded in changing much, and the world is apparently still on the brink of ultimate destruction.
There are some really cool ideas in here: the God-weapon, or miracle machine, that Brainiac shows Superman; the way Luthor and Sivana turn on Libra (great dialogue in that scene); all the Flashes getting together and essentially outrunning death ("Godspeed" is a particularly appropriate thing for the woman to wish them as they dash off); and of course Batman sacrificing himself to kill Darkseid. But there's also some pretty odd stuff I don't quite get. (What does Superman do with the miracle machine, for instance?) I'm going to give Morrison the benefit of the doubt, however, and assume that most of those confusing bits either were already explained by earlier issues, or will be explained in the last issue. Regardless, I'm surprised to say it, but I really enjoyed this issue of Final Crisis, and I'm probably going to pick up the next (and final) one.
Warren Ellis and Mike Wolfer apparently don't believe in dilly dallying! Only a week after the previous Gravel storyline ended, the next one begins here, with Gravel somehow surviving, with sanity intact, a marathon reading of the Sigsand manuscript. Then it's off to meet his new buddies, the Major Seven. At first it seems as if everything's going to be sunshine and daisies with this lot, but things quickly get more complicated. He's given two tasks: to reform the Minor Seven, and to establish a location in England that will be his place of power. But then he's also given a third, secret task by the sort of leader of the Major Seven: to discover which of the Major Seven killed Gravel's predecessor. D'oh! Here we go again. Or, as Gravel himself puts it, "Oh, bollocks."
As usual, I very much enjoyed this issue of Gravel. The character now finds himself at the start of a new phase in his life and his magical experience, and at the start of a new murder mystery. Should be exciting - although I was disappointed to see that Wolfer had taken over the art again. He's just not very good at it, so I'm really not sure why people keep letting him do it. Ah, well.
Punisher: War Zone #5
The Punisher and the still-drugged Schitti manage to escape from the trap Elite set for them, but not unscathed. The Punisher retreats to Schitti's place, takes out some more mobsters, and meets Von Richtofen, who agrees to not kill him or arrest him for a while, so he can help her survive an onslaught of wiseguys. The usual clever writing and dark humor run throughout, making this another entertaining entry in a wonderful miniseries. Sadly, there's only one more issue left, but I'm sure it'll be a doozy.
Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Last Generation #3
Hoo boy. This series is starting to feel like cheesy slash fiction again. Wesley and Picard ready their two factions of the resistance for a last ditch struggle. Wesley cuts his hair and paints his face all punk rock. We have to watch as Picard exits a bed full of naked Guinan (argh! My eyes!!). The relationship I guessed at between Tasha and Ro is made explicit. Then Wesley effs everything up and gets somebody killed. It doesn't look good for our heroes! But they've got two issues left to fix everything.
The second issue of this really picked things up and started building a clever and interesting story that played with these familiar characters in new and different ways. But this issue was mostly just melodrama, and man I really didn't need that scene in Picard and Guinan's bedroom. I can't quite decide if I'll get the next issue or not. I guess we'll see when the time comes...
New releases from 1/21
Angel: After the Fall #16
This is a book I dropped a long time ago, but I saw Joss Whedon's name on the cover of this issue and, after flipping through it in the store, noticed that it seemed to be the conclusion of the recent story arc, and that it seemed to include some pretty pivotal events in the lives of the characters, so I decided to give it a try. I'm still not sure how I feel about it. It opens with Connor dying, and with evil winning. But of course we can't have that. Luckily, Wesley and Angel discover a loophole that allows them to essentially reboot back to the beginning of the story arc (and thus back to the end of the last season of the TV show), but with everybody retaining their memories of everything that happened. So, everything's back to normal, except now everybody in the city remembers going to hell and back, and they all know and adore Angel as a hero. Which kind of freaks him out.
The reboot is a little lame, and I don't entirely understand how and why it happens, but it's an interesting turn of events, and it has some interesting consequences. There are some funny lines, too, like when the dude in the hospital says, "I made friends in hell, and now I have no idea where they are." Heh. It's a pretty good end to this part of the story, but probably not good enough to make me start reading this comic again on a regular basis. Not unless Whedon, or somebody equally talented, takes over the writing duties entirely (on this issue, Whedon just helped sketch out the plot, and Brian Lynch did the actual writing).
Astonishing X-Men #28
As this issue opens, the X-Men are still checking out that weird secret Chinese mutant hideout. They foolishly split up and end up getting attacked by a bunch of monstrous mutant creatures. Before that happens, Forge comes up in a couple of their conversations, which immediately made it clear to me that Forge would be involved in this storyline somehow, because why mention such a weird old character otherwise? And indeed, once the attacking creatures are subdued, they all talk about only one person: Forge.
I always thought Forge was an interesting character with an interesting power, so I'm glad he's being brought back, and I'll be curious to see what Ellis does with him. Is he going to be the ultimate villain here? Hmmm...
This is an okay issue, but not all that exciting, as it's mostly transitional. Plus it was a little clumsy the way Ellis threw that flag up about Forge. Still, I did enjoy the moment where Cyclops tells Wolverine and Armor to capture an enemy alive, but then Wolverine tells Armor, "Cyke's a good guy. You should listen to him. But if it comes down to it with some bastard out there, you kill him without even thinking about it." Nice.
Dark Avengers #1
Brian Michael Bendis launches yet another Avengers book! This time it's a Dark Reign tie-in following the Avengers team that Norman Osborn puts together. It really surprised me how excellent this turned out to be. It opens with the official presentation of the team to the public and the press, but the actual identities of all the members aren't clear at first, until the book jumps back in time and shows you how Osborn assembled the group. It's quite a bunch he puts together! I'm disappointed in the Sentry for joining up, but apparently Osborn offered him something he couldn't refuse (probably some imaginary way of controlling the Void). None of the other guys in the group are much of a surprise, although it is interesting in some cases what superhero identity they've taken on. I kind of doubt Clint Barton will be very happy with what Bullseye's calling himself these days!
I love that Osborn came up with the acronym for his new version of S.H.I.E.L.D. (H.A.M.M.E.R.) and then left it to his new deputy director to figure out what it stands for. I also enjoy: the gratuitous shots of Ms. Marvel's ass; when Ares describes the food at a pizza place as "glorious crap;" the surprise expressed by all parties when Daken reveals that Wolverine is his father (but really, who didn't know that?); the scene where Ares points out what the team is still missing; when Osborn gets Stark's room full of Iron Man suits open (although, who is that Ghost guy? He's not familiar to me); and when Dr. Doom responds to a soldier's request to take a picture by just looking at him. Doom and Morgana get into it at the end of the comic; I'm not sure what that's about, as I'm not really knowledgeable about their history together. But it's just a really clever, really entertaining comic, and it looks like the start of a dark, funny, and exciting series. I should point out that possibly a large part of the reason I like it is that it's drawn by Mike Deodato, one of my favorite artists. He does a kick-ass job here, as usual.
Final Crisis: Superman Beyond 3D #2
Wow. This is just... wow. I'm not sure they should let anybody but Grant Morrison write Superman anymore, because what with this miniseries, and his recently completed run on All-Star Superman, he's put together two of the most amazing, imaginative, artful, wise, moving, insightful Superman stories ever written.
One thing I noticed in this issue that I didn't notice in the first is how similar Captain Adam is to Dr. Manhattan. In fact, I'm quite certain the character is meant to be Manhattan, and Morrison just couldn't use the name due to rights issues.
As far as the story goes, it starts out with the inhabitants of Limbo rising up against the invasion of their universe by Mandrakk. As Morrison describes it: "The forgotten versus the yet to be. Like some half-remembered dream." And the story as a whole is very much like a half-remembered dream - surreal, primal, insane, with beautiful, stilted, strange dialogue. Superman makes his way to Mandrakk by colliding with Ultraman. Anti-matter + matter = huge explosion. Captain Adam is able to use the resulting energy to broadcast Superman's pure essence to a receiver in a higher dimension.
That receiver is a Superman statue in the primal realm of the Monitors - a final living weapon, a thought-robot designed to defeat the ultimate enemy. As Captain Adam does this, he says, "Only Superman can save us now." Effing A! The Monitors, Superman learns, have 5,555 different words for nothing. They were "once numberless and faceless... until narratives formed around them, like crystals in solution." It turns out the story of the multiverse is a massive circle. The ultimate weapon awakes to face the ultimate enemy, and his awakening convinces the Monitors they made a mistake when they banished the primal outcast. They open the door for him, but now he has become the final enemy, and the ultimate battle begins. Superman realizes, "I'm inside a self-assembling hyper story! And it's trying its best to destroy me." But he also realizes, "This is my reason to be. My purpose is simply to stop him."
Superman seems beaten, until one of the other Monitors cries to Mandrakk, "You're using us to believe you into existence! But deep within the germ-worlds, I found a better story; one created to be unstoppable, indestructible! The story of a child rocketed to Earth from a doomed planet..." (It's so incredible what Morrison is doing here, and how it ties in with what he did in All-Star Superman - the way he's making not just Superman, but the story of Superman, a thing of momentous and archetypal importance.) Mandrakk kills this Monitor, only to realize too late it was the woman he loved. The battle begins again in earnest. Superman narrates: "We fight in the ruins of utopia. In the wreckage of dreams... We fight in the black floodlights of an eternal last sunset." Discovering who Mandrakk truly is - the primal outcast and the best of Monitors - Superman flings him into oblivion. But Mandrakk lands safely in Limbo with Ultraman, whom he makes his first knight of terror - a vampire Superman. Then he promises he will come back and fight Superman again. (Some final crisis, huh? But the last page of the comic will make it all okay.) As the thought-robot that contains his essence dies, Superman falls back into his own body and fights his way back to Lois. He was told that the Bleed was the only thing that could save Lois, but that there was also no way to contain it and carry it back to his own world. But he found away. He carried it within himself, and he administers it with a kiss. When Lois awakens, she remembers all that happened in Limbo and those other universes as if she were with Superman the whole time, and she demands a pen so she can write it all down, because it's such a wonderful story. Earlier, as the thought-robot Superman was inhabiting was dying, he told the Monitors, "There's something about stories that you should know. Mandrakk asked what words I'd have inscribed on my tombstone. Only these. [He carves them himself.] Let them be a warning." Lois says when she saw those words on the tombstone, she knew everything was going to be okay. On the final page, we see what those words were: TO BE CONTINUED.
So beautiful. An incredible story about stories, but also about love and life and existence itself, all told via the archetypes of comic books, and via great art by Doug Mahnke. And it's in 3D! (Btw, the author icon I used for this post is a picture of me wearing the 3D glasses the thing came with.) Quite simply one of the greatest comics I've ever read; a triumph of the medium, and another feather in Morrison's impressive cap.
Ghost Rider #31
I was disappointed to find that this is yet another transitional issue of this title, and really not much happens in it. Instead, the big showdown is just pushed off for another issue. Which is not to say the book is utterly dull and pointless. We do get to figure out what's been going on with that poor, misguided, one-handed cop, Kowalski, which makes for a fun story; we get to meet the last two Ghost Riders and see their hidden city; there's a great full-page illustration that gives us glimpses of a bunch of the other, now dead, spirits of vengeance, including dudes riding elephants, bears, and even a freaking shark; we learn a bit more about the nature of the Riders, their power, heaven, and God; and finally, a couple of bad-ass kids manage to convince Johnny to get back into the fight. I was sure at the end of the last issue that this one would feature the final showdown, and it turned out I was wrong, but I'm almost certain this time that the final showdown will be in the next issue, especially since the words written in the bottom right of the final panel are "To Be Concluded" and not "To Be Continued."
Great, great art here from both Tan Eng Huat and Roland Boschi, and Jason Aaron delivers his usual fine work. Like I said, there could be more substance here, but it fills in some important gaps, and it was fun poring over all those headlines tacked to the wall of Kowalski's hotel room.
Green Lantern #37
This issue begins with Hal Jordan rejecting the Blue Lanterns and running ahead of them to get Sinestro off of Ysmault himself. Standing before Sinestro alone, he has his chance to kill him once and for all. But he keeps thinking back to everything they've been through together. He hesitates, and is distracted long enough to fall into Atrocitus' trap. It's an interesting moment.
This issue is part of the Faces of Evil event, which is a thing they're doing across the DCU that's supposed to center the stories more on the villains. It's a great idea, except that they're not really sticking to it; none of the Faces of Evil books I've read so far were actually told from the perspective of the villains at all. That aside, I did find it interesting that the villain they chose to put on the cover of this book is Laira, a former Green Lantern now fallen to the Red, who wants Hal Jordan dead. Before Atrocitus turns Jordan over to her, he pops out another of his interesting prophecies: Jordan will become a renegade again. The Guardians will take his greatest love from him. He'll revolt, and he'll lose everything as the universe divides. Interesting! Sounds pretty believable, too. Anyway, at this point things get really crazy, as both the Yellow Lanterns and the Blue Lanterns drop down and turn the whole thing into a crazy multi-colored battle. But the real twist comes at the end. Jordan is trying to talk Laira back to herself, and it seems like it be working, until suddenly Sinestro (now reunited with his ring) just wastes her. As Laira's ring goes looking for a nearby replacement, Jordan attacks Sinestro in a rage. Do you see where this is going? The red ring decides Jordan is the perfect guy for it, jumps on his finger, and all the sudden he's a Red Lantern (although he's still wearing the green ring on the other hand). Oh no! This should be interesting.
Still loving this series. The dialogue isn't stellar or anything, but it's a great adventure story from Geoff Johns, with great art by Ivan Reis. I'm looking forward to seeing how Jordan gets out of this one. Will he switch right back from red to green, or is this going to be a longterm thing? Hmmm...
Highlander Origins: The Kurgan #1
Finally, the origin of the Kurgan revealed!
The premise of this two-issue miniseries seems to be that Connor MacLeod is seeing the Kurgan's life replayed before his eyes as he takes in his essence after defeating him at the end of the first movie. The Kurgan's story begins with him as a small child on the Russian Steppes way back in 904 B.C.E. His people are trying to escape a flood, but he's been left behind. His mother tries to go back for him, but a man stops her, saying, "He's not even of your blood, woman!" (So she's not really his mother after all, which means the Kurgan's ultimate origins are still a mystery. You tricky writers, you!). So the boy is carried off by the flood, and later taken in by the Kurgan people (which is how he comes to be called the Kurgan). His new "father" hates him instantly, constantly abuses him, and finally even tries to kill him. The little boy Kurgan fights back, and his life of killing begins!
Much later, while he's traveling with a gang of thieves, the Kurgan experiences his first death, which awakens his true nature. He's taken in by a fellow immortal, who explains everything to him and trains him in sword fighting. This man also teaches the Kurgan not to suffer an immortal foe to live, a lesson the Kurgan learns well and exercises immediately.
Which brings up my one problem with the plot: why would one immortal ever take in another and teach him all of this, especially one who believes you should never leave an immortal foe alive? What was he expecting the Kurgan to do?
It's also a little hard to understand how the Kurgan survived all the terrible things that happened to him as a child, so that he could die for the first time as an adult. And besides the logic and believability issues, the book is just not written that well. Still, it's not terrible, and it is interesting finally learning this guy's story, so I might pick up the next issue, especially since it'll be the last one; it's only a two-part miniseries.
The Mighty Avengers #21
It's a new day for the Avengers! This Dark Reign tie-in issue, written by Dan Slott with art by Khoi Pham, reveals the new makeup of the team, and the first crisis they'll have to face. It also features Hank Pym as the Wasp. And that's why I bought it, despite the fact that it was written by the dreaded Dan Slott.
It starts off on the wrong foot by focusing on the Vision and Stature, two members of the Young Avengers, a team which, I think we'll all agree, sucks. They discover their teammates have been turned to stone. The Scarlet Witch is nearby, so naturally they suspect her. But before they can do anything about it, they all vanish. Meanwhile, it turns out that a few people turning to stone is the least of the world's worries, as horrible, large-scale, apocalyptic events are happening all over the planet. The Dark Avengers (who are actually officially known as the Mighty Avengers, confusingly enough) show up to take care of things, although they end up being mostly ineffectual. (I hadn't read Dark Avengers #1 yet at this point, so when I saw they were going to be major characters in this book, I put it down and read Dark Avengers first, then came back to this one.) Cho and Hercules have decided a new Avengers team is needed to save the world from these current crises, so they collect Jarvis (whom Cho has calculated is the constant element of successful Avengers teams) and go to convince Hank Pym to be the leader.
Of course, the question is, why assemble a new Avengers team when there are already two, including a "good" one that was assembled by the new Captain America? This question is not answered, although we do drop in on the Cap-led Avengers (who are... not mighty, I guess?) and find them fighting for their lives in Philadelphia against a bunch of plants that are taking over the city. In a couple of panels, they all seem to meet horrible deaths - yes, all of them, including Spider-Man and the new Captain America. What?!? Wanda (who, as it turns out, is also assembling a new Avengers team) had planned to grab Captain America for her team, but finding him already killed (by fricking plants, remember), she heads to Toronto (where, as an aside, we're told that most of Omega Flight is being eaten by bugs) and grabs U.S. Agent as a consolation prize. She also snags Hulk, then goes to meet Pym, Cho, Herc, and Jarvis as they arrive at the center of the disturbances. And then, for some silly reason that makes no sense, Pym has to say the old tagline ("Avengers assemble!") to actually make the whole team appear at once. It's kind of a cute idea, but c'mon. Meanwhile, we've learned that the guy behind all this is some dude named Modred who goes around with a talking cow as a sidekick. Good lord. Who thought digging up this character was a good idea? The old Slottster, apparently. Anyway, Modred's causing all the chaotic events apparently just as a side effect of turning himself into an old magic book called the Darkhold, and using the power of that book to call up Chthon the elder God and stick him in the body of Quicksilver. Why he wants to do all that I have no idea. (UPDATE: Actually, I have a slightly better idea, and some of this makes more sense, now that I've read these old scans explaining the origins of Bova, Chthon, Quicksilver, and Wanda.)
As you can probably tell, I really didn't like this comic. First off, Slott's writing is just not good. Secondly, it's ridiculous how suddenly and without warning he just drops the apocalypse on top of us. We learn there's an ocean of blood submerging New York, Philly is overrun with evil plants, and flesh-eating bugs are ravaging Toronto in the space of a few pages, and then the story just moves on. You can't just do that!! What the hell? For one thing, it really diminishes the power of your apocalypse if it's just the background of your story and you don't even slow down to let us appreciate the immensity of it. For another, because these things go by so fast and are treated so cavalierly, it's painfully clear they're all just going to be negated, either by the end of the next issue, or the end of the storyline. It's all a pathetic sham! Admittedly, stuff like that gets negated in comics all the time, but it's pretty poor form to make it so obvious that that's what you're going to do from the get-go.
It's the same with the way a bunch of big-name superheroes are killed off. They die in incredibly lame ways, sort of in the background, while the real story is going on in the foreground. I'm sorry, but you don't kill Spider-Man and Captain America with plants (plants!!), in two small panels, and then just move on like nothing happened. That their deaths will obviously be reversed later on in this storyline doesn't make it better; if anything, it makes it worse.
I really don't particularly care for the way Slott writes most of these characters. Pym, for instance, is an interesting, complex, tortured character, but Slott makes him arrogant and whiny. The Hulk is also dull in Slott's hands, and Cho is nowhere near as smart or as cool. And how did the Scarlet Witch suddenly get all articulate and well adjusted?
I don't like the team Slott has put together here, either. Why are two members of the Young Avengers being pulled into the Avengers? And they're not even two of the more interesting members of the Young Avengers, which is a team full of dull characters! And U.S. Agent? Seriously?
And did I mention the talking cow?
This is just bad, bad stuff. You better believe I won't be picking up another issue of this stinker.
The Punisher: Frank Castle MAX #66
It's hard to believe, but yes, there is yet another Punisher book on the stands! The character's popular these days, I guess. This particular book is part of the explicit MAX series, and this issue is the start of a new story arc written by Duane Swierczynski. I like Swierczynski because he's a Philadelphian who sets all his stories in Philadelphia, and because I enjoyed his book The Blonde. I have yet to really enjoy any of the comic books he's written, but I was hoping this would be the exception, especially since it's about the Punisher, a character I figure he should be able to handle with some facility, given his crime writing background. Unsurprisingly, it's set in Philadelphia, and opens with the Punisher breaking up a child trafficking ring. As soon as he's done, he's kidnapped and injected with a poison that will kill him in six hours. He's then told to go kill a crime lord, and once he's done, he can have the antidote. It's unclear whether he'll bother doing the job - he doesn't seem interested in giving into people's demands just for a little thing like his life - but we'll see.
The "you have a limited time to live, now go do something" premise is a pretty old one, but it's been modified a bit here, and applied to a character who's reacting to it in his own special way, so it could be interesting. I'll probably stick with the story for at least one more issue, just to see where it goes next. Although I don't really like the way artist Michael Lacombe draws the Punisher.
I didn't actually know what this was; I just saw that it was a Marvel book written by Warren Ellis and I picked it up. Turns out it's a reprint of a two-issue miniseries (collected here into one, extra-thick comic book) originally published in 1995 (thank you, Wikipedia) that's sort of a twisted, "What If?" companion piece to Kurt Busiek's Marvels. Like Marvels, it features Phil Sheldon as its main character, and he's wandering the world following a trail of paranormal events and beings. But this story isn't set in the Marvel Universe we know; it's set in a universe where everything went awry - where every event that could have created a hero instead led only to death and pain and horror. What with this and Ellis' recent Astonishing X-Men: Ghost Boxes miniseries, it seems clear the man revels in taking the canon events of the Marvel Universe and twisting them into the most depressing and awful stories imaginable. The book is well written and effective, there's no doubt of that, and the painted art by Cliff and Terese Nielsen (who are supported by Chris Moeller in the second part) is beautiful and impressive. But my God, is it depressing. Creating a universe ruled by Murphy's Law is an interesting concept, but I'm not sure the story needed to be told in such excruciating detail and dragged out over so many pages.
Spider-Man: Noir #2
The second issue of X-Men: Noir really made the luster fall off that series for me, but the second issue of this title has made me love it twice as much. The X-Men title discarded superpowers altogether and turned mutants into sociopaths (a change I just don't like). I thought this title might also get rid of the superhuman element, but I was pleased to find in this issue that authors David Hine and Fabrice Sapolsky had instead chosen to simply reimagine Spider-Man's powers in a pulp/noir context. Peter is bitten by a spider, but it's a cursed spider, not an irradiated one. The scene of his transformation is fantastically realized, in words and visuals. He has a horrific hallucination in which a giant spider god tells him, "My bite brings death only to those of evil intent... I will bestow on you a greater torment... the curse of power..." Awesome!
Parker doesn't sit around wondering what to do with his newfound abilities; instead he just goes right to the top and starts threatening the crime lord known as the Goblin. But he's shocked and horrified to discover his friend Urich in the Goblin's office, accepting a payoff. ("Everyone takes their cut," Ben warned him.) Even as Urich is trying to pull himself up and do the right thing - but too late, and in the wrong way - Parker is putting together his costume and his arsenal, using his Uncle's uniform and sidearm from the war. Urich, who went by the nickname the Spider, is destroyed, even as the Spider-Man is being born. It's brilliant stuff, perfectly executed. I love the writing and the panel layout, and although Carmine Di Giandomenico's art doesn't always work for me, it's good enough (and really quite excellent during the spider hallucination scene), and anyway I almost always end up liking the books he works on.
Star Trek: Countdown #1
The upcoming Star Trek movie is set in the past, before the original series, but interestingly enough this comic book series that's supposedly tied into that film is set far in the future, after the events of the most recent, Next Generation-era film. So I'm pretty curious how the two stories are going to connect. We open with a Romulan mining crew witnessing a strange and powerful supernova, then jump ahead a bit to Ambassador Spock addressing the Romulan Senate about that same supernova. Turns out it's spreading and will soon threaten the entire Romulan Empire, and the only way to stop it is to use technology from Vulcan. But the Romulans still dislike and distrust the Vulcans, and other scientists don't think the supernova is as dangerous, so Spock is ignored. Only the captain of the mining crew that witnessed the birth of the supernova believes him, and secretly offers to help him, even though he and his crew will be thrown in prison if they're found out. But before they even get a chance to start mining the material they need, they're attacked by Remans (whom I'd almost forgotten about, as they were introduced in that terrible movie Star Trek: Nemesis). The Remans are then just as quickly attacked by... the Enterprise! Commanded by Captain Data!!
Wha? I'm pretty sure Data got killed at the end of the last Star Trek movie, and the only android left like him is his retarded brother, B-4 (another element introduced by Star Trek: Nemesis that I hated; man, that's a terrible movie). So... that's confusing.
As in the Terminator prequel comic, there wasn't anything particularly terrible in here, but there also wasn't anything particularly exciting. I might stick with this series for at least one more issue, however, just because I'm really curious to see how it will connect with the movie, and how they're going to explain the Data thing.
War Machine #2
So, does Pak's new Dark Reign tie-in series still stand up after a second issue? Yeah, pretty much, mostly because Rhodes is just so bad-ass. We learn in this issue that he can immediately adapt pretty much any piece of weaponry to work with his systems - which means he can pick your missiles out of the sky, load them on his back, and fire them back at you. He can also merge himself with a tank. It's pretty awesome. His mission is made more difficult by the fact that he's being backed up by a guy he can't entirely trust, and by the fact that he's fighting people that he doesn't want to kill (ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. soldiers). Also, it looks like maybe he was manipulated into going on this mission in the first place by Norman Osborn. But War Machine isn't doing exactly what Osborn wants, so he goes to plan B and drops in Ares. Which means next issue should be really fun! A God of war versus a War Machine.
So yes, this comic is still good! Let's hope it stays that way.