Sunday, January 27, 2008

Comics for 23 January

The list this week was bigger than last, but there are fewer things that stand out to me from the stack. Countdown seems to be dragging nearly everything down, and that title itself has become more or less distracted from its multiple storylines, instead relying on associated titles to do some of the heavy lifting. More about that below.

Spoilers ho!

Countdown to Mystery 5 - Something like an anthology series, this title is supposed to introduce the new Dr. Fate and continue the story for Eclipso. But up to now, the stories have been plodding and somewhat uninteresting. There is the mystery of how Dr. Fate's helmet has ended up in the hands of a Dr. Kent Nelson, who it has been revealed is distantly related to the original Dr. Fate's Kent Nelson. And there hsa some interesting bits about Fate learning some of the arcane powers of the helmet. But before this issue came out, there were only four more issues left, and what I would suspect a lot of ground to cover. This issue, Dr. Nelson reads the comic written by a victim of his own inexperience, a young woman named Inza, and the majority of the story takes place in the pages of that comic, entitled Killhead. Every now and again, the story draws back out of that comic as Nelson tries to use his psychiatric skills to learn something about Inza through her craft, but the comic-within-a-comic is more interesting than those attempts. The problem is that it doesn't really advance the story very much, and now we have three issues to what, I'm not sure.

My expectation was that we would at least see the new Dr. Fate in costume and attempting to do good by the end of this series, but I don't believe that is possible at this slow rate. He might just get to resolve his first case, avenging (reversing?) the death of Inza, but that would be somewhat unappealing, if only for the epxectations set up by the publicity of what this was going to be. Meanwhile, the art for his story is lovely, a combination of the work of Tom Derenick and Wayne Faucher. But it doesn't assuage the slow pace of a story in an antholgy with a limited run that is much more suited to an ongoing series. Perhaps that ultimately is the goal--to try out the idea for a new Fate series, but ifit is, the target audience is going to be a small one, with tremendous patience. It would feel more like a Vertigo title than mainstream DC, and thus be forced to the smaller audience and dividing line between "mainstream" and Vertigo DC work.

The other half of the title belongs to Eclipso and her turning of the Creeper, Plastic Man and Dove into eclipsoid villains before Jean Loring loses the Eclipso power. The turned heroes are an interesting story but they are decidedly in the background and I fear the resolution for them will be less than rewarding. Meanwhile, off in another title, Jean Loring has lost the Eclipso power and it has returned to its original owner, Bruce Gordon. He doesn't want it, but the new Spectre attempts to guide him its use so it will not take him over, with mixed results. Of more interest is Gordon's decision not to be a super-hero, but to be a physicist with the power to study his subjecxts that much more closely. His giddy exposition as he circles around a black hole may be worth the price of the comic alone.

Unfortunately, the art for this half of the story is very uneven, and I believe the story is already on its third artist. But it is faster moving and there will appear to be some sort of resolution by the end, somehow placing Eclipso in the pantheon either of heroes or of villains. But this one doesn't feel like it has the potential to be an ongoing story, if the intent is to measure that possibility.

Wonder Woman 16 - Gail Simone's first story arc with the Amazon explores her distant past and the resolution of the changes to Themyscira with interwoven stories. For the past, she asks a very interesting question--if the Amazons were not allowed to reproduce, did all of them celebrate when Hippolyta was allowed to create Diana? The answer is an unmistakable negative, and this story follows the most unhapy of the Amazons'--known as the Circle--as they act on their unhappiness. Currently, however, Themyscira has been invaded by neo-Nazis searching for advanced Amazonian technology and weapons, who unwittingly free the Circle from their prison.

Simone also appears to be working on redemming Hippolyta following the recent ridiculous Amazon invasion. It's unfortunate that such redemption is required, but that mini-series so badly characterized Hippolyta that the repair work going on here and in Countdown should do something to bring Hippolyta back. Simone, as usual, does fine work of interweaving different plot threads, leaving the reader in something like suspense even though you know all of the threasd are going to come together somehow.

It's a fine first story, taking small steps as Simone gets used to the characters in her new playpen. And even though the focus is not clearly on Diana through most of the issue, it does bode well for the future of the series.

Dan Dare 3 - I have to admit I know nothing about this long-running English series, though I am told that Dan Dare is to the Brits what Captain America is to Americans. But I can say that Garth Ennis is writing a rousing space opera, sure to pull in modern audiences. Dan has been called back into service as the dreaded Mekon--a sort of Venusian overlord and long-time arch-nemesis--appears headed to EArth with an invasion fleet from beyond the solar system.

However, the story is taking a long time to build, as the last two issues have been spent on a sidetrack, a planet under attack by other forces that Dan runs into as he leads the Earth fleet out to meet the Mekon's forces. The last issue and Dan'srescue attempts in the face of an invading fleet were enough to convince me this is a real hero--seeing the details in the midst of the big picture. And this issue, where Dan's rescue attempt continues, does give a good opportunity to provide exposition and back-story to the Mekon threat. But we've now spent two issues dealing with a tangential issue to the thrust of the story, and we're going to have spend at least part of another issue. And meanwhile, when there isn't exposition, Dan's forces actually fighting the aliens on the threatened planet are doing nothing new, using tactics from the Roman phalanx and the American Revolution.

Like Countdown to Mystery, if this were an ongoing story, paying an homage to the serialized nature of comic strips, this would be well and good. But this is supposedly a nine-issue mini-series and we're going to be about halfway into it before the supposedly main plot is taken up.

Meanwhile, the art by Gary Erskine is better than average, evincing a nostalgic feel without getting in the way of the story-telling. His lines are clean and compact, and the panels nicely rendered, propelling the story on its way. I really am enjoying this, just mindful of its slow pace and hoping it doesn't interfere with concluding the story as nearly as a serial story can be. Here's hoping for more of Dan Dare, either as more mini-series or as an ongoing.

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