Saturday, September 22, 2007

OML Comments for August, Part 4

In the home stretch. I might actually finish everything before the next order arrives.

Category C (cont.)
Annihilation: Conquest Starlord #2
This is the only Annihilation: Conquest title I'm reading out of the four Marvel is publishing and I only bought this because of Star-Lord. Not that the Star-Lord here even resembles the version I remember from 1977, but I don't care because there is more to this comic than just one character. As you may have heard, the basic plot is "the Dirty Dozen in space," though with with just seven characters. And what characters. Who but Keith Giffen could put Star-Lord, Mantis, Captain Universe, Deathcry, Bug, Rocket Raccoon, and Groot in the same comic, and have the ability to make Rocket Raccoon and Groot friends. I honestly can't tell you anything about the mission; though I think the mission may have something to do with what is happening in the other Annihilation comics, for me the mission doesn't matter. It is is a macguffin to me. What I am enjoying is Giffen's ability to take a band of B- and C-grade, Marvel space characters and make them more interesting through their interactions with each other. I did think that Deathcry needs/needed to think about learning to let things go, but otherwise I like these characters together. I don't know how this concept would play as an ongoing, especially if Giffen isn't writing it, but for the limited issues of a mini-series, it is working well. I really like the art on this title, too. I wouldn't necessarily want Timothy Green II and Victor Olazaba drawing a "lighter" title, She-Hulk, for instance, but the art and Nathan Fairbairn's coloring help to create a claustrophobic feeling. The uniforms designed for the characters, though I don't know if Giffen or Green designed them, are interesting, too. They remind me of uniforms worn into battle by the British in World War I. Starlord's helmet really reminds me of something from the Edwardian era, and that overfall mis-matched feeling between high technology and trench warfare really helps sell the possibility that none of the characters are going to live. In fact, two died in this issue, and one was an unexpectedly heroic death from a character Giffen hadn't been taking seriously.

Astonishing X-Men #22
This is one of two X-titles I read and when Joss Whedon leaves in two issues, I probably will, too. It has been so many decades since I did read a current-day X-title that most of the background of the story Whedon is telling is lost on me, but I don't care and I find that not knowing doesn't make the story any less compelling. I know some of you may find that difficult to believe, but it is the truth. You don't have to know every little detail from prior stories to help you enjoy a current story. Anyway, semi-interesting story, though I don't really think Whedon could ever top his first story arc that he wrote for this title. A possibly X-title changing ending, one I thought I would have heard more about, but I guess that may speak to just how jaded comic fans are these days. John Cassaday's art is beautiful as ever, though it is a shame that he can't produce work at a faster rate. By the way, am I the only one who sees a hint of Willow in Cassaday's drawing of Kitty?

Action Comics #855
For all the excitement over this comic that I've been reading, I have to say that it isn't as good as Busiek's work on Superman, but I've found Geoff Johns's and Richard Donner's writing on Action to be unimpressive so far, so why should this new story be any different? I will give Donner credit for opening himself to new ideas regarding Superman. It must have been uncharted waters not to have the Phantom Zone villains or Kryptonian crystals (again) in a Superman story. I enjoyed the re-population of Bizzaro-Earth, in a much creepier manner than Mort Weisinger ever would have allowed. I normally love anything Eric Powell does, but I didn't think his work on the art here was anything special. Bizzaro looked a lot like the Goon and I didn't see much of Joe Shuster's influence on Powell's Superman, but I'll take the blame for that. When I first read people comparing Powell's Superman to Shuster's, I was imagining that the drawing would be more akin to the Superman Wally Wood drew in the mid-seventies All Star Comics revival and I was a little disappointed that Powell's wasn't closer to the original in my eye. Still, not a bad comic book, I just didn't get as much enjoyment out of it as I do with Busiek's Superman.

Fantastic Four #548

I know Michael Turner has been treated for cancer, and from what I read he's doing better, so how much longer are people going to put up with his art? I am not a Turner fan, I never have been, and I know that Mr. Fantastic is a character that doesn't necessarily conform to the rules of anatomy and perspective, but look at his arms on this cover. What the hell is that? And don't get me started on the unnecessarily over-rendered drawing in general. Way too busy, weirdly drawn, strangely constructed, yet people love his art. I don't get it. What did I think about the comic book itself? I'll tell you right after I've read #549, which should show up in the next post.

Jack of Fables #13
There is actually subtext in this comic. Intended subtext, I think, as opposed to the subtext some people want to find in creative works. On the surface, we follow along with Jack of storybook fame. Name a Jack and it is he. Jack is Little Jack Horner, Jack be-Nimble, Jack the Giant Killer, and other of which you can think. In this comic, Jack has left Fabletown and adventuring on his own. Well, I guess he's more looking for an easy mark or three than truly adventuring, but still, he's on the road and it is the journey that matters. Underneath the story, though, I think Bill Willingham is making an examination of the mutability of mythology and culturally shared stories, which is something comic book fans should think about when they start complaining that a favorite character has changed. With Jack, after his time in Hollywood and a series of movies that he starred in, he is quite well known. For the people from the Fable lands, the more well known you are, the more concrete you are. Jack is now so popular that the cultural group mind is finding him in other stories whether he was originally present or not. For instance, a belief has sprung up that Jack is part of the King Arthur legend. Since there is no real place for him in the stories, he has replaced the Stone into which Excalibur was thrust. Lucky for him, too, since Excalibur has been thrust through his sternum. Now, all he needs is the true king to step forward and remove the sword, but he and his companions are in the middle of nowhere. Look, just read the comic. You'll like it.

Green Lantern #22
Simply put, this is a great story and has been since the Sinestro Corps Special. Ever since David Goyer stopped co-writing JSA with Geoff Johns, I've always felt his writing lacks something, I've never enjoyed his writing as much as I do when he is part of a team. However, Green Lantern is one comic book Johns appears to be able to write solo without going off into strange little places (and after one issue, at least, Booster Gold could be another). This is a story at once simple in presentation and complex in what story is told. It reminds of where mainstream comics were heading before the double whammy of Watchmen and Dark Knight produced the belief in less-talented creators that adult situations layered over a nihlistic presentation of the world (1) could reproduce the success of those earlier works; and (2) acurately represented the world. The story Johns is writing has character development and action scenes, neither more important than the other

Once upon a time, before comic fans started driving the industry and Superman, comic book stories could occur in their own little bubble, even as the characters were part of a greater shared universe. I know it crushes the soul of some fans, but Flash, for instance, could take on an alien invasion near Central City and there was no indication that he even considered calling the Justice League for help. Right now, until the inevitable merging of the aftermath of the Sinestro War with the coming Great Disaster/Final Crisis, it is just nice to read a huge story taking place in its own little bubble, without having to read the complaints of people over being "forced" to buy titles they don't want to to follow the story. You know what, I'm not buying Green Lantern Corps, I'm only following the story in Green Lantern, and I sure don't feel like I'm missing anything. We can talk about how the so-called "event fatigue" is really "obsessiveness fatigue" later.

Justice League of America #12
I guess there are people who like his work, but Brad Meltzer, in my opinion, is really over rated as a comic book writer. God bless him for having an affection for the JLA, but, you know, having an affection for something doesn't mean you should do anything more than admire that thing from afar. I think it says something that the most interesting story Meltzer wrote was in Justice League of America #0, and in retrospect, it was the single panel images of JLA stories that will/may occur in the future that really made the story. It did have an incredible use of foreshadowing though, as Meltzer leaves subtle hints that he enjoys thought captions,

What really happened in the remaing twelve issues of Meltzer's Justice League of America? Well, may I suggest nothing? Issues #1-7 were a composite story, part recreation of the JLA post-Infinite Crisis, part recreation of Red Tornado post-52. There were some interesting ideas; well, the idea of the multiple Tornados of various colors was at least visually appealing, but the intelligent Solomon Grundy just reminded me of the intelligent Grey Hulk and, for some reason, Vandal Savage. Then, after way too many issues of the Big 3 making their choices for the team, and where Meltzer used way too many thought captions as if he was writing a novel using a simultaneous narrative technique, it is all negated when other heroes go to them, offering the Big 3 membership.

The next three issues was the crossover story with Justice Society of America, "The Lightning Saga." These issues at least felt like Meltzer was telling a story about the JLA, though I think that that is more of an artifact of Meltzer being dragged into actually telling a story in comic book form because he was forced to continue the story from Geoff Johns lead in JSA every month. The story presented in #11 could have involved almost any two random heroes, there was nothing about it that inherently made it a Justice League story save that Red Arrow and Vixen, JLA members, were present. Actually, there's the next fifth-week event for DC. Throw ten character names in a hat, have five different writers each pull out two, and have each write his/her version of this story. Really, to me, this felt more like a fill-in Marvel story written when Jim Shooter was editor-in-chief there than anything else. At least it served dual purposes of getting the issue out, ticking off one story from Meltzer's contractual obligation, and of not having to reprint an old story.

Then there is this issue. Didn't I read this story, like, back in issues #1-5 or so? Why in the world did Meltzer think we needed to see, or wanted to see, small groups of heroes, talking about other groups of heroes? When I think of Justice League of America, my first thought should never be "writer's exercise." Brad Meltzer is just one person, but his work here, and, yes, on Green Arrow and Identity Crisis previously, is a key example as to why someone who is a comic book fan, even if he is a published author or a professional in another creative writing endeavor, should not necessarily write mainstream comic books. Only my affection for the Justice League, and naive hope that this run was going to be equal the hype, kept this book as near the bottom of the pile as I placed it. Had this been any other book with the same creative team, it would have placed high in category A. Next month, Dwayne McDuffie starts writing and even if I didn't already know the general quality of his work, I'd be anticipating issue #13 because sight unseen I'd know it was an improvement.

Fantastic Four #549
This is how Fantastic Four should always be written. When I've dropped FF over the years, it has been when the comic has strayed far from the basic idea presented by Lee & Kirby: Four adventurers who happen to have super power going on adventures by choice or necessity. Some people understand that concept: Byrne, Karl Kesel (who really deserves a chance to write the FF full time, and Dwayne McDuffie. (Who doesn't understand it? In my opinion, anyone who talks about the FF being a family, like that is the biggest, most important discovery ever made. Yes, I am looking at you, Mark Waid, but I digress.) McDuffie is doing great things with this comic, the least of which is salvaging Reed Richards after the previous writer and Mark Millar transformed him into a jerk, one that was one step away from using "I was only following orders" as his excuse for his actions during the Civil War, so, of course, he is only a placeholder in Marvel's eyes, keeping the writer's seat warm for Millar when he and Bryan Hitch take over the title next year.

Fables #64
A fill-in issue, I guess, because there was a fill-in artist, but it didn't matter because the story Bill Willingham chose to tell was still wonderful. As the refugees from the various Fable lands answer the call and come to the United States in preparation for the (final?) battle with the Advisary, Snow White's and the Big Bad Wolf's litter of children celebrate their birthday and are let in on a secret. I'd say that 95% of all comic books can be picked up at the beginning of a story and a new reader can figure out the characters and situations rather quickly, if said reader allows himself the chance to learn. In other words, I don't think that you have to go back and read the totality of a series to understand where the series is at the top of a new story. However, with Fables, like Sandman years ago, to not go back and pick up the back issues or trade collections is a disservice to that new reader. Fables is telling a wonderful story, and I think telling it in the same manner Sandman did, too. That is, Fables presents stories that are stand alone, yet are forming a larger story when considered as a whole. Don't let that dissuade you. I think anyone could pick up the first part of any story arc Willingham has written thus far and you could understand the story, so if you aren't picking up Fables, start here.

She-Hulk #20
Dan Slott's penultimate issue as this comic's writer, and mine as a reader. For me, this She-Hulk has only worked as a headliner when Slott is writing the character and until Civil War infected the whole Marvel Universe, it was a pleasant little corner. In this issue, Slott overtly hits the reset button for the next writer and does it with such finality I wonder what his final issue will be about.