Hey Kids, Comics! 6/15/01

Each week we let you know about the comics we buy and tell you which ones you should buy. Trust us.

The Adventures of Superman #593

Prelude To War: Suicide Mission!
writer: Joe Casey, pencils: Mike Wieringo, inks: Jose Marzan, Jr.

Okay, kids, like it or not, we’re knee-deep in summer cross-over madness, and it’s only getting deeper. Last week someone (oh, heck, fine – Lex Luthor’s grown-up daughter Lena) warned President Luthor that a huge war was coming to Earth, and he’d better prepare. Of course, this wasn’t necessarily altruistic, as Lex realized that a victorious president gets remembered as an heroic one (as the last three presidents have all tried to be, and just give the Shrub a little more time). The first step in his preparations get revealed here.

Lois investigates a prison break at Stryker’s Island, and discovers that someone has been transferring dangerous criminals out of the facilities. It’s never quite explained to newcomers who actually broke out, and within pages, it doesn’t matter. Mongul is one of the transferees, as are a couple of others that shock Lois. Worst of all, the man approving the transfers is General Sam Lane, Lois’ own father and Luthor’s Secretary of Defense. Why is he doing it?

Superman finds out first. Lured to an abandoned military base (kids, never, never trespass on these – they’re ALWAYS dangerous), he finds himself under attack from Shrapnel. Just as he gets a handle on that, Plasmus tries to dissolve him from behind. And yet another villain (?) watches from the shadows as the melee intensifies.

For those who read DC’s bulletins, you’ll know that not only does Our Worlds At War lightly fleece us out of extra cash this summer, it also re-launches the cult favorite Suicide Squad. So put two-and-two together here.

Though the actual title will be written by Keith Giffen (and dammit, yes, he consistently gets at least $2.25 from FanboyPlanet), Casey does a good job laying the groundwork here. The issue suffers, however, as Superman titles often do, from being a time-filler until the real story-line gets going. Wieringo and Marzan provide manga-esque artwork, but it compliments nicely with Ed McGuinness’ work over on Superman. And really, Shrapnel and the fourth mystery villain are the type of characters who look silly when drawn in a realistic style because, well, they just look silly. Please don’t write in saying they’re actually deadly; they just look silly.

The Bottom Line: It’s fun, but can we please get to the earth-shaking events?

Hellboy: The Conqueror Worm #2 of 4

Story and Art: Mike Mignola

Hellboy awakens on the floor of the mysterious Hunte Castle, facing one of his arch-enemies, the disembodied head of Herman Von Klempte, now wearing a cyborg body. Somewhere on the mountain below him lies the unconscious homunculus Roger, who has been rescued by the fictional pulp hero Lobster Johnson. And they’re all there to welcome the return of a Nazi Zombie From Space. Well, only Von Klempte and his hot granddaughter really welcome it.

To summarize a chapter in a Hellboy story is to tell you that really, you should be reading Hellboy. Each mini-series remains pretty complete unto itself, so there’s not a lot of baggage if you think you’re too late to the party. Mignola does a good job of remembering that every comic book is somebody’s first one, and provides just enough prior information to keep it enjoyable for everyone without slowing things down. And from the above paragraph, clearly, things move pretty fast. Every issue reads like an old-time movie serial, except without the stupid parts. And, of course, a hero that looks like hell.

Fans complain that Mignola doesn’t turn enough of these out, but really, quality should always win over quantity. And for what is ostensibly a horror comic, Hellboy is just plain fun. With Vin Diesel rumored to be circling around a movie adaptation, now is the time to get in on it.

Starman #80

Arrivederci, Bon Voyage, Goodbye
writer: James Robinson, artist: Peter Snejbjerg

This is the hardest review of the week. With this issue, Starman is over. And what an incredible ride it’s been.

Never a huge seller, Starman has been one of the most consistently brilliant comic books DC has ever published. That may seem ridiculous praise for a -sniff- superhero book,, but it’s true. The saga of Jack Knight and the mantle of Starman has always been only incidentally about superheroes. Instead, it is about family and friendships, and remembering the good things in the face of bad.

Though fans of the book have seen this coming, Robinson still ends it with a logical grace. The book will be missed, but the story is done, for that strangest of reasons in comic-book land: it’s actually done. Though others may pick up threads from it (as was done with The Sandman), Jack Knight deserves the rest. If you haven’t read Starman, start looking for the collections. And if you’re Mike Goodson, keep bugging me to find the back issues. Eventually, I’ll find them and the time to do justice to the overall series.

Amazing Spider-Man #32 or #473

The Long Dark Pizza of the Soul
writer: J. Michael Straczynski, pencils: John Romita, Jr., inks: Scott Hanna

What is it with these hot comic writers? Why do they have to be both good and prolific? With this latest chapter in the life of Peter Parker, Straczynski hits the mark again.

Peter has his first day as a science teacher, and nothing in particular goes wrong. No clones, no lab accidents, no attacks on the school, nothing except the fact that he’s facing high school students. And some of them would rather be elsewhere. After class, however, Peter gets called to the principal’s office to face the mysterious Ezekiel, the man with powers like Peter’s own.

And finally, Ezekiel starts explaining a few things.

The answers he provides will make you slap your head and say, “of course!” Not only that, Straczynski seems to have picked up on an obscure bit of continuity from, of all things, the days of Malibu Comics and the horrifically stupid Spider-Prime. Just as we get drawn into Ezekiel’s explanation, we also get reminded that Morlun hovers nearby. A deadly confrontation is coming.

There’s a bias towards good writers at Fanboy Planet, and so it should come as no surprise that we say you should pick up this book. Spectacular Spider-Man is entertaining, but so far hasn’t been all that exciting. Over here in Amazing…, things are happening that will really change Peter’s character and his outlook, hopefully for the better. And John Romita, Jr. seems to be working hard to be worthy of the words.

Not a clone in sight. Marvel really is getting it right.

Batman: Our Worlds At War #1

Hidden Agenda
writer: Ed Brubaker, artist: Stefano Gaudiano

Two Gotham City construction workers arrive at their construction site twenty minutes earlier than everyone else, and pay for it with their lives. Someone (a terrorist?) blows up the site, and the Feds quickly swoop down and kick the police out of the investigation. Commissioner Akins (growing cooler with every appearance) does the only thing a police commissioner in Gotham City can do – call The Bat.

Using the identity of Bruce Wayne, he manages to uncover the reasons why the blast occurred, but it only leads to more trouble. It’s a trail that goes all the way up to the proverbial highest office in the land. Of course, in the DCU, all roads lead to Luthor these days. But it actually makes a lot of sense here.

Now this is what a cross-over chapter should be. We get a mystery that both gets neatly solved and leads to further mysteries. Batman encounters two major (and at this point, unexpected) elements of the upcoming story arc. Despite being a heavy-hitter, in a cosmic war, he’s the least likely to be involved. And yet, with complete logic, here he is.

Credit must go to Brubaker. The two victims at the beginning are given three densely written pages to underscore (and essentially summarize) the conflict between Luthor and Bruce Wayne, getting newcomers up to speed. It also reminds fanboys that we were all idiots for not demanding that the two become arch-enemies before Grant Morrison thought of it. Brubaker and artist Gaudiano play with Bruce extremely well. Here, his two identities are less separate than usual, and it’s interesting for him to behave Batman-like while not wearing the mask. More and more, we see the Dark Knight in a saner light than has been popular.

Our Worlds At War will be inescapable this summer. But so far, these larger specials (Green Lantern last week) have proven to be real values. If you’re going to buy books you don’t normally, pick the specials.

Detective Comics #759

Unknowing, Part Two
writer: Greg Rucka, pencils: Shawn Martinbrough, Inks: Steve Mitchell

Detectives Montoya and Allen (who might as well be “Hardback” Bock) have donned ski masks and held up a strip joint. Trying to help after having stumbled onto Bruce Wayne’s secret, his bodyguard Sasha has only ended up a hostage. Luckily, Batman subdues them quickly, and deduces that this can only be the work of … The Mad Hatter. And the police department must try to squelch the fact that well over a third of the force could be under the villain’s control. How does he do it? Well, a lot of people do say coffee is bad for you…

For some reason, no matter how you dress him, nor how cool the writer is, Jervis Tetch still seems like a refugee from the ‘60’s TV show. Oh, sure, he’s evil, but he never quite comes across as all that dangerous once he’s been exposed. Rucka does the best he can, which is, of course, quite good. And the growing tension between Sasha and Bruce finally comes to a head, which makes up for the fact that The Mad Hatter is a lame villain.

While the Martinbrough/Mitchell artwork is serviceable at best, the color scheme (that runs through the various Bat-books) still works. It’s cool; it’s pop art, and even after months, it still seems daring.

In the back-up slot (what, no Jacobian?) Ed Brubaker uses one of DC’s first characters, Slam Bradley, to follow the Trail of the Catwoman. Brubaker writes hard-boiled fiction, and even though the storyline will obviously skirt close to costumed heroics, you can forget that. Slam Bradley tends to speak with his fists, and it’s fun. Even the artwork evokes an early noir feeling. This is the best of the new back-ups so far.

Green Lantern #139

Away From Home, Part Two

writer: Judd Winick, pencils: Darryl Banks, Inks: Rich Faber

This two-part story falls under the Star Trek category of science-fiction: using it as a metaphor for conflicts we face here on Earth. Kyle and Jen (is she officially Green Lantern, too? I’ve lost track.) have been sent to Tendax, “a jewel of a planet very far away from Earth,” as representatives of the JLA for the signing a great peace accord. Despite Tendax being a great vacation spot, it’s been racked by civil war for countless years. Last issue you could have substituted “Ireland” for “Tendax,” and not been far off. This issue makes it seem a little more like the Middle East. Either way, it makes for a story that is more reflective than adventurous, and that’s not a bad thing.

Don’t worry; plenty of ring-slinging abounds. And Winick throws in a nice twist on the old doomsday weapon scenario. But mostly, Kyle learns that there are problems that the ring can’t solve. Or rather, that the ring shouldn’t solve. The Banks/Faber team frames the scenes nicely, really showing us Kyle’s growing anguish, and the horror that surrounds him.

Though Winick has won over a lot of fans, he still falls victim to the more melodramatic touches around Kyle’s character. Granted, it’s switched tone. When Ron Marz wrote the title, Kyle would consistently prove himself as a worthy heir to the ring, and just as consistently worry that he wasn’t measuring up. It seemed lame then, and now we’re getting the flip-side with Kyle being too powerful. It must be a strange editorial mandate that Green Lantern read like a bad Marvel book, because Winick and Marz are both better writers than this. It’s only jarring because Jen worries about Kyle’s new-found strength here, but laughs it off when Kyle worries about it in last week’s Our Worlds At War cross-over.

He’s not heading down Parallax Road, but could we let Kyle spend a few years both good at being Green Lantern and able to enjoy it?

Harley Quinn #9

Quintessence, Part One: Shop ‘Til You’re Dropped

writer: Karl Kesel, pencils: Pete Woods, Inks: Mark Lipka

Harley has a price on her head. Actually, she doesn’t, as it turns out that it’s an underworld game of “Telephone” gone wildly out of control. The first eight issues’ worth of sub-plots get neatly summarized in a page-one puppet show, making this a good issue to jump onboard. The rest of the comic shows the consequences of the “imaginary” contract, and it’s pretty fun.

For many, the idea of Harley having her own book seemed a bad one. But so far, writer Kesel has managed to keep it interesting by embracing the core of Harley’s character: she’s nuts. Absolutely nuts. Her response to any situation won’t be predictable, and unlike her ex-boyfriend, it tends not to be lethal. She seems to be more playing at the criminal game than really living it (though please, DC, don’t make her a heroine).

Kesel also takes advantage of Harley’s skewed vision, though it’s sometimes inconsistent. There have been hints that, like Plastic Man, Harley literally sees the world differently, which means that occasionally the artwork will change from semi-realistic to the style of the animated series. In this issue, we get the aforementioned puppet-show.

The guest artists do a good job of maintaining the look of the series. They’re not showy, and yet manage to convey a lot of action in a lot of panels. With Kesel’s help, of course, it works; it moves; and you get a lot of actual story in this issue. Call them old-school, but for the money a comic costs these days, it’s nice to see that some people can pack a lot into 21 pages.

JLA: Incarnations #2

Belonging

writer: John Ostrander, pencils: Val Semeiks, Inks: Prentis Rollins

All hail Hypertime! Because of it, we get this retconned vision of DC’s flagship group, which we don’t have to accept as gospel if we don’t want it. Which is good, because even though this isn’t really a bad story, it just seems wrong.

Mainly this issue focuses on the year that the JLA asked Superman and Batman to join, and their respective reactions to the invitations. Somewhere in there is a giant super-genius dinosaur, in deference to the heyday of the Silver Age. Super-Gorilla Grodd plays a huge role, too, making this a perfect pastiche.

Except that it’s awkward. The Big Two’s respective decisions and characterizations play out arbitrarily. Things play out not because they make sense, but because clearly, DC Editorial says this is the way it happened. For now. As a result, this isn’t Ostrander’s best work, though he tries valiantly. (And wisely, he does nothing with the presence of Hawkman – letting him be active, but not delving into anything continuity-wise that could cause a new fan’s brain to melt.) He tries to give us a touching glimpse of the beginning of the Green Arrow/Black Canary relationship, and yet it rings a little hollow, since most fans are more concerned with what Kevin Smith has to say about it. At least he covers Ollie’s change from fatcat to bleeding-heart liberal.

The art can’t decide between being cartoony or extremely detailed, and the result just sits there. It’s a shame, because Semieks, at least, has done some fine work in the past. Like so many JLA products lately, this feels like an assembly-line book, intended to gain market-share instead of fans. If you’re a JLA completist, yes, you’ll want to continuie with this book. But if you’re wondering what the hullabaloo is about, buy the regular monthly book (and for Highfather’s sake, stay away from Black Baptism).

Just A Pilgrim #4 of 5

Firestarter

writer: Garth Ennis, artist: Carlos Ezquerra

Ripping off a host of post-apocalyptic films, starring a reformed cannibal turned holy man, and featuring a man reduced to nothing but a giant testicle, this book is offensive, disgusting and morally reprehensible. By all means, buy it.

Blind, limbless pirate Castenado and his Bloody Buckers attack the Shepherd party in a fiery conflagration. As a result, the Pilgrim must once again prove that though he walks in the dried-up ocean valley of the shadow of death, he is the baddest mutha-f***** in the land. The Buckers take the testicle prisoner, and we’re set up for a final battle on a very logical (if surprising) famous historical location.

It’s simple, furious, and annoyingly, one of the best books out there. Ennis is one of the few writers who really give distinct voices to their characters, and co-creator Ezquerra expertly matches faces to those voices. Despite the ridiculousness of the concept, Castenado is a frightening villain. The Pilgrim, too, has an horrific past, but when the Shepherd party throws in with him, it’s perfectly understandable. And though it’s somewhat lifted from The Road Warrior, Billy Shepherd’s narrative reads as all too human, and the moments when he realizes the consequences of his decisions aren’t those of an adults forced onto a child; Billy is a believable kid struggling with a terrible situation.

Of course, Ennis himself might take issue with that serious an interpretation, as he’s a great writer masquerading as a drunken lout. Or vice versa.

Nightwing #58

A World of Hate

writer: Chuck Dixon, pencils: Mike Lilly, Inks: Jesse Delperdang

At last the storyline begun in Robin: Year One comes to a close with almost non-stop fight scenes and guest-appearances from the Birds of Prey. Nightwing (a.k.a. Chester Honeywell) takes on Shrike twice in this issue, with a little interlude involving Nite-wing and Dudley Soames. Oh, sure, it’s exciting, but the book is becoming a little too much been there, done that.

Dixon writes stories that really move, and it is his hand that has made Dick Grayson such a fan favorite. But the book has become plagued with elements that stretch the suspension of disbelief. For starters, Tad and Dudley’s escape plans all hinge upon causing Amygdala to revert to his savage state. On the surface, that doesn’t sound implausible, except that Amygdala, former psychopathic killer, is employed as a guard at Bludhaven State Correctional Facilities. And as long as Dick has been in the public eye as Nightwing, it’s taken this long for Shrike to confront him? Oh, yeah, they just created him, but still…

On the quieter, more romantic side, with Dick and Barbara going hot and heavy (and boy, he’d better not break her heart), why has his ex-wife Koriand’r never, ever been mentioned? Granted, the actual “superhero” side of the Bat-books always feels like an awkward fit, but right now Bludhaven has a crime boss with (literally) the heart of a super-intelligent gorilla, so there’s room to try. If you’re going to write soap opera elements in, you’ve got to deal with the guy’s romantic past.

Back to the main plot…

It is just more of the same. Dick gets in a lot of fights, proves that he has great skills, and eventually triumphs. And the same two or three baddies hover in the background every issue.

Without a doubt, Nightwing is one of the best properties DC has. But right now, somebody needs to shake this book up.

The Punisher #1

Well Come On Everybody And Let’s Get Together Tonight

writer: Garth Ennis, pencils: Steve Dillon, Inks: Jimmy Palmiotti

As a character, The Punisher lost his luster for a lot of people years ago. Overused and overexposed, he should have gone the way of the rest of the grim and gritty trend in comics. Except that thanks to Joe Quesada, Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon found their way to the character.

After a 12-issue maxiseries, they’ve decided to give Frank Castle another go-round in an open-ended series, and we’re grateful. Ennis has the knack of writing unrepentant a**-holes and making them compelling. Castle is pretty much a one-note kind of guy, but he plays it loudly and without stopping. From the opening page of this issue, Ennis has him summed up. “So this is Christmas,” Castle thinks as he walks into a mugging, ironically quoting John Lennon. The intended victim tries to thank him, but he doesn’t do this for thanks, or kicks, or anything other than a burning hole within himself: to punish.

Not since Frank Miller has anyone made so few excuses for The Punisher. And it’s great.

Of course, the book would get boring without some sort of supporting cast, and so we get the pathetic Detective Soap, assigned once more to The Punisher Taskforce. Perhaps the worst detective alive (illustrated beautifully in a seedy bar-scene), Soap may nonetheless prove useful to The Punisher. One can only hope.

In true Ennis fashion (see Just A Pilgrim above), the book takes a last-minute turn into the grotesque that will either send you away screaming or laughing away all bladder control. And really, what more could you want in your funny book?

Uncanny X-Men #395

Poptopia, Part 1 of 4

writer: Joe Casey, pencils: Ian Churchill, Inks: Art Thibert & Norm Rapmund

It seemed as if Marvel had learned its lesson. But here we are again, faced with multiple covers. People, please, don’t give in. Buy one copy of this book if you must, and only one. And then read it.

Once again, the X-team appears to be different than the previous issue; supposedly in a couple of months editorial will have this all sorted out and obvious to everyone. In the meantime, though, the X-books have lost a lot of their impenetrable density. Just take anti-mutant hysteria for granted, and everything will be fine.

The team travels to London, ostensibly to find Jonathan Starsmore, a.k.a. Chamber, and bring him back to the Academy. Instead they stumble across the British version of the Morlocks, with their own more literal version of Cyclops.

It’s pretty straightforward, but Casey loads the story with lots of telling character bits. Bobby Drake works very, very hard to be cool as the Iceman, and no longer assumes the iced-up form we’ve grown so used to seeing. In a throwaway incident, we get reminded of how limber Nightcrawler actually is. Good thing he’s a priest. The art team helps out by portraying most of the X-men as being able to “pass” as normal humans, even the blue Archangel. It’s a long overdue touch, and it makes the conflict with the British mutants more poignant.

If we must have a beef, it’s with the latest in a long line of characters designed to play upon a trend just a little past its time. In this case, it’s Chamber’s new “girlfriend,” Sugar Kane, an obvious bubble-gum popstar made “edgier” by being British and thinking that Chamber looks cool without a chest and chin. If she displays a mutant power within six months, we’ll know that despite appearances, it’s business as usual at X-Central. Casey is better than that. At least, let’s hope.

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About Derek McCaw
In addition to running Fanboy Planet, Derek has written for ActionAce, Daily Radar, Once Upon A Dime, and The Wave. He has contributed stories to Arcana Comics (The Greatest American Hero) and Monsterverse Comics (Bela Lugosi's Tales from the Grave). He performs with ComedySportz San Jose and ShakesBEERience, in addition to occasional screenwriting and acting jobs. If you ever played Eric's Ultimate Solitaire on the Macintosh, it was Derek's voice as The Weasel that urged you to play longer. You can buy his book "I Was Flesh Gordon" on the Amazon link at the right. Email him at editor@fanboyplanet.com.