Friday, July 20, 2007

Comic musings for 18 July

A little note of warning--next week, Mrs. Speculator and I will be in San Diego at Comic-Con, so no blogging. We'll see if we can update a Web site somewhere with pictures when we get back. This means the following week will be something like a double-shot of reviewing even though this week's going to be a little big also. What can I say? Stuff happens this time around.

After complaining about Thor a little bit ago, a friend who is a J. Michael Straczynski fan and was appalled at the depth of my loathing for the book decided to try to show me the error of my JMS-hating ways. He loaned me the entire run of the 2004/2005 miniseries Strange to try to sell me on the skillz of JMS. Quick review--the art by Brandon Peterson was very hit or miss, and it was a shame that so much of the panels were taken up by expositional word balloons. The new origin of Dr. Strange had nothing very new or exciting in it; perhaps JMS was constrained by not warping continuity too much but he also didn't change very much that I am aware of. No risks taken, daring narrative techniques attempted. Fairly pedestrian stuff. I'm told by people who know that much of JMS's independent stuff is fabulous, but they generally agree with me on my review of Thor: nothing happens.

On to this week's books:

Spoilers ho!

All-Flash 1 - The return of Wally West as the Flash has promise as it feels like the old issues, but that could be as much about Flash-meister Mark Waid being back at the helm as it is about WAlly donning the costume. There really are just four scenes in the book; the first is the shortest, preparing the reader of Wally's return as he is welcomed back to Earth by the Justice League and Justice Society. The second is the scene immediately after Bart's death as the Rogues realize what they have done and the consequences of it. I guess it is the nature of a comic villain not to realize those consequences before they do stupid and/or bad things. But they do know now that they have become, momentarily, the most wanted men on Earth.

The third scene is Wally catching up with Inertia and the conflict that ensues, within Wally himself, over what should be Inertia's punishment. For the first time, Wally wants to kill and has the ability and opportunity to do it. The resolution of the that conflict is, in some ways, the beginning of the best tribute to Bart yet. Finally, Wally and Iris decompress and talk about the nature of knowing the future and what a good person Bart was. This conversation truly is the proper eulogy for Bart and is handled gently and with respect by Waid. We also get to see a glimpse of some future stories, including a most unusual costume coming out of the Flash ring.

There is, however, one glaring point in the story that feels just like a total mischaracterization of Wally. When Iris asks, Wally reveals how he has punished Inertia--by sucking away all of his speed so that it "takes a hundred years to blink" but his mind works at its niormal speed and then leaving him as a statue in the Flash museum to stare at the statue of Impulse. On the one hand, this is a fitting and ironic vengeance...but that's where the problem lies. As angry and sad as Wally was, he had decided he was a hero and would not kill Inertia. So instead, he inflicts about the most torture imaginable out of revenge, which is decidedly not the action of a hero. And decidedly not something the Wally we know would ever do. It truly is the one sour writing note in the summation of one series and its bridge to the next. I'm a little puzzled by the decision to have seven artists since it made some of the scenes rather jarring, but it's livable.

Points though to Waid for not dragging the guilt of Wally thing for too long. Iris resolves Wally's remorse simply and honestly; it doesn't feel forced and it is perfectly within the previous characterization of all the people involved. Kudos, sir.

Hmm...Suicide Squad captures all the members of the Rogues? Think that might be a lead-in to another story?

Justice League of America 11 - This issue is a fascinating bit of story-telling involving the two least powered members of the Justice League trapped in a building collapsing into a river. Brad Meltzer's writing explores the personalities of the characters in ways that just another super-powered fight would not allow. And Gene Ha stepped into the art chores for this issue, delivering some stunning work both in the actual art and in the framing technique, using expanses of black space around the panels to show both the unknown that surrounds the heroes' situation and just how much danger they are in as the building slowly collapses in around them.

I set this book down after I finished it and smiled since it may be the strongest book out of the new Justice League run. And then I thought about it and realized that Meltzer may have made a serious gaffe in physics. When Vixen tries to escape through the hole she makes, she finds that as she swims, she can see no light and she figures they are so far underneath the river that the light fails. When she tells this to Roy, he eventually figures out by water pooling on the ceiling above him that the building is actually upside down and Vixen had been swimming down rather than up.

Okay. First of all, gravity would have pulled them in a downward direction, like it did the water that Roy noticed. Unless they were virtually pinned by the collapsing building, I don't believe there would be any way for them to not know they were upside-down. Also, when Vixen swims, she would have felt the pressure increase as she swam down and should have realized something was wrong. And, as she swam back to the building, she should have indeed been able to see it growing gradually lighter as she swam *up*.

But I give Meltzer marks for the ingenuity to find a way to push the characters in ways that reveal their inner workings. And Ha's art is as great as it always is. This is a fine stand-alone issue if we just set aside our rational minds for a few moments.

Checkmate 16 - The story jumps between two viewpoints, one involving the growth of the personal relationship between Sasha and Mr. Terrific and the other regarding the story recently concluded in the crossover with the Outsiders. We also get some scenes as Tora is reunited with her best friend, Fire, and Rucka writes the heck out of their relationship (in a good way). For those folks not familiar with the compassionate and charming personality of Tora, it is all brought back in the few pages where Bea admits her guilt of her deeds. Tora refuses to rise to the bait and just loves her friend. It is a wonderful scene that, while probably not ultimately resolved, resonates with the characters we once knew.

The evolution of the affair between Sasha and Mr. Terrific is also developed well, with both parties having reason to not want what develops but falling slowly and happily into it. It's a solid piece of writing that develops these relatively unknown characters nicely. The dual revelations at the end of the issue are a little annoying. As if there wasn't enough friction within Checkmate, introducing a new character--partially responsible for Sasha's torture earlier--just seems like overkill. And of course, someone is taking pictures of Sasha and Mr. Terrific getting some down time together. And that it is Mirror, given thetrouble Amanda Waller is about to fall into, is not much of a surprise, especially given what happens in All-Flash. It'll be interesting to see how it is played out, but I would not be at all surprised to see the new Outsiders summoned to help ease tensions.

Birds of Prey 108 - Gail Simone's farewell issue. We get to see the resolution for the battle for control of the Birds, and Barbara remembers two important things. First, she is never as trapped in her wheel char as she thinks she might be. Second, and perhaps most important, she has friends. Lots of them. And they only have to be asked in order to pitch in. Artist Nicola Scott does a fine job of showing them pitching in, in a strategically organized four-page spread. The final conversation between the Birds is a strong one and calls out so very well what Simone has added to them, the sense of family. And there is a resolution as well for Misfit that opens up some new doors. Well done, Ms. Simone! And thank you for the lovely work.

Action 852 - Just a small complaint here. Overall a decent story, but a few art problems with ridiculously angled faces. The complaint--the issue says that the story is continued over in Countdown 41. And it isn't. I'm growing more and more concerned about DC's ability to keep their titles synchronized as they blow the universe more and more apart. I suspect that there was intended to be a clear connection between the issues, but it got lost as changes affected Countdown. I hope this remains an anomaly rather then the beginning of the trend.


Some Marvel props. First, hat's off to Mark Bagley and his phenomenal run on Ultimate Spiderman. It is somewhat painful to see him leaving the title. I dare say he has joined the group of artists renowned for both their tenure and good works on on a title--Kirby and Fantastic Four, Swan and Action, and now Bagley and Ultimate Spiderman. I realize that can be read as ridiculously hyperbolic, but I firmly believe it.

Second, if you aren't reading World War Hulk, you should be. I don't think Hulk has been written this well since Peter David was doing it, and as difficult as it may be to say this, Greg Pak's run could surpass David's. It's all mixed up with the ongoing deconstruction of the Marvel universe, and none would have expected Hulk to be such a brilliant protagonist, but this is some really fine story-telling. Hulk's consecutive confrontations in issue 2--with Jennifer Walters, Rick Jones, and then, of all people, Sue Storm--were just masterfully handled. I have a very very bad feeling Marvel is going to wuss out on the ending, giving us some sort of deus ex machina, such as one of the Warguard being responsible for blowing up the ship, but until that happens, I'm mighty pleased with the story. It's no Decimation....

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