Sunday, March 18, 2007

Comic musings for 14 March

Wow, it's been a while since I last wrote. Sorry about that. We had a trip to Atlanta and then a houseguest...just been very busy. And the novel reading is going slowly right now as well. I'll try to make it up to you with a particularly piquant blog for today.

Spoilers ho!

Buffy the Vampire Slayer 1 -- Let me get this out right in front; I'm a huge Joss Whedon fan. Good lord, I'm reading Astonishing X-Men just for him. I find his stories to be honest and his dialogue sincere and "real life-y", if you can imagine an adjective to describe how people who find themselves in the ridiculous scenarios that comic characters and TV shows put them in would really talk.

So, I was excited that "Buffy Season 8" was going to be coming out, because I followed the show and was interested in where the story would go after the big series-ending episode (more interested in what happens to Angel actually, since that episode was not intended to end the series, but one takes what one can get). If there's any doubt that the elements of the TV story might be missing, the first two pages take set the pitch-perfect tone, when Buffy says "The thing about changing the world...once you do it, the world's all different. Everyone call me 'ma'am these days." Immediately, Buffy's place and voice are clear--the world-saver who has more trouble dealing with personal issues than global. The rest of this first issue offers the same promise: Xander trades comic book jokes with a Slayer, Dawn and Buffy fighting without either explicitly saying what their concerns are, and hints of the dangers to come in the rest of the "season." The US government has decided that Buffy and her slayers are a danger--"just look at what she did to her hometown"--and so throw their support behind someone who claims to have inside information on Buffy and the remaining Scoobies.

Georges Jeanty's art is more than adequate, and he seems to take a particulr delight in the fight scene that opens the action of the book. The four-panel spread where Buffy and Dawn have their conversation is a very nice layout, but I'm not certain how much input Jeanty had in its design. No matter, it is a good example of the potential of the storytelling methods in comics.

As are most first issues/episodes, this issue begins to build a foundation for the rest of the series by identifying threads that are going to be tugged on later. It succeeds at this goal and does establish that the story goes on as it did in the TV series, which is why most people would be reading the book in the first place. I'm quite optimistic for the future.

Wonder Woman 5 -- The nightmare is over. The hideously slow and jerky start to the relaunch of Wonder Woman is done. This issue is a fill-in issue by Will Pfeifer in preparation for the new ongoing writer, who begins with issue 6. But Pfeifer is the lead writer for the upcoming Amazons Attack mini-series, so this gives the reader an opportunity to see how he handles the characters.

In a parallel to the last Superman issue I reviewed here, the story concerns the effect Wonder Woman has on the everyday person, especially women. As the issue opens, Wonder Woman is still being hunted by agent Diana Prince, in one of the useless leftovers from the previous writer, and is sent to investigate a group of women's centers opening up nationwide with apparent ties to Wonder Woman. Diana goes to one of the centers and interviews a supervisor there, receiving one of a series of stories about abused women who found the strength to fight their abuse and run away by witnessing the strength and integrity of Wonder Woman. As Diana interviews the supervisor, a call comes in from another abused woman seeking help, but the conversation is cut off when the woman's husbnad returns home. Diana runs off and takes flight as Wonder Woman to the aid of the caller. Using minimal physical intimidation and loads of emotional, the abuser is convinced to wait for the police to arrive while Wonder Woman takes the wife to a center. There she witnesses first hand her legacy, as the other center members take in the new member with compassion and warmth. Diana returns to Commander Steel and tells him that she found no ties to Wonder Woman other than emotional. The story ends with a promising coda, when the abuser is literally torn to shreds in a locked room in the police station; of course the authorities are going to suspect Wonder Woman did it and she's going to have to find the real perpetrator.

This issue offers what is best about Wonder Woman that was regularly touched on in the previous incarnation of the series--Wonder Woman is perhaps more iconic than Superman in her potential as a leader of the common people. Superman inspires people to fight, generally, while Wonder Woman inspires people to lead good lives, which includes fighting for a worthy causes as necessary. It's a subtle difference but one that reflects why it is difficult to write good Wonder Woman stories--it's not easy to sell comics based on a character who can be easily portrayed as a "good two-shoes". Captain Marvel was able to do it last century because it was a simpler time, for one thing, and because of a huge cast of supporting characters. But Wonder Woman doesn't have one of those, although Greg Rucka was working on that when the last series had to end. But as this is a fill-in issue, this offers no opinion about what is going to happen in the series. However, it is a fine stand-alone issue and speaks somewhat about what can be done.

And now some thoughts from last week.

Midnighter 5 closes out the first story arc of this new series. It being Garth Ennis, the blood continues to pour forth and Midnighter takes his revenge on the first arc's nemesis. It turns out that Anton Paulus isn't really Jewish, but that really isn't so important as finding out how Midnighter "wins". Apparently with a free kick. At this issues conclusion, Midnighter recognizes that he just isn't constructed to have the finer sentimentalities of a father or a friend; he's just a fighter. And by the end of this issue, he's picked his next target--Iraq, implying that he's going to go fix the ongoing problems there. It should be an interesting story, if it is actually told, because the Iraq problems exists specifically because there is no single voice, no popular leader of the "enemy." How a character like Midnighter, who uses brute force exclusively, will solve the problems there is unclear, but Ennis will make it interesting. Sprouse's art continues to be uneven. Sometimes it is nearly linear and people's faces appear to be made up entirely of straight lines. In other places, it is more natural, and he seems to have a real graps for showing the mayhem that Midnighter can inflict.

The Authority 2 goes to a place I'm told Grant Morrison goes to often. The Authority's carrier has crashlanded on another parallel Earth, but as the story progresses, we find that the planet they are on is ours. The commentary about the differences between our Earth and the other Earths that the Authority as visited is pointed, and not in our favor. Our Earth is not sophisticated enuogh to power the carrier and unless the Authority comes up with a plan soon, they will be trapped with us forever. The premise holds promise, except for the issue of Midnighter I've described above, in which it appears that the Authority has been on our Earth all along. I double-checked and the editors for both series are the same, so I've got no explanation for this continuity gaffe. Perhaps it'll work itself out, or the recent references to the Bleed in the DC titles will lead to an explanation. This blip is remedied however by Gene Ha's usually spectacular art. Of the two books, right now Authority is more interesting, but I don't believe Midnighter can carry his own series due to his single-minded process for solving problems. The Authority has proven it can carry its own series, exactly because it's a team book and they allow the different focuses of the members to play against each other.

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