Saturday, January 12, 2008

Comics for 9 January

I was travelling to see the in-laws last weekend, so I didn't get to pick up the comics for the first week of January until this week. I'm not sure which week some of these titles were supposed to come out with (one of them has DC's Thanksgiving editorial in the back), so I'm just treating them all as if they came out this week.

Spoilers ho!

Green Arrow and Black Canary 3 -- So, last month Connor gets shot while the Arrow family is trying to leave Themiscyra. This issue begins with the efforts to get him help. Ollie invokes the name of "Clark" and Superman comes flying in to carry Connor off to a hospital. The rest of the issue is centered on the waiting room, as Ollie goes back and forth between begging his friends for help and berating them for not helping fast enough. His venom is especially sharp for Hal Jordan. In some ways this feels real: this is how a man reacts when his child has been injured. And of course, Ollie soon begins a monologue about how he was a such a bad father in the first place, ending up as these scenes usually do, with someone pointing out that Connor knew about Ollie's faults and loves him anyway. This is all fairly routine stuff.

But them Hal comes out of the surgery to tell Ollie that first, all of Connor's injuries have been healed, but secondly that the bullet was laced with toxin and Connor is brain-dead. Of course, Ollie goes to be at his son's side in an emotion-filled scene we don't usually get from him.

The results of the shooting feel like a cop-out to me. Writer Judd Winick couldn't decide to keep Connor alive or not, so he postponed the decision and thus used the most cliche of all the soap opera tropes. Now, at any point the writers want, Connor can awaken in some sort of deus ex machina scene. It also clumsily sets up all sorts of possible directions, and the writer will always have the trump card of bringing Connor back without much repercussion. At least in stories like the recent "One More Day" in Spider-man, the creative team took a position in their story-telling. It may not be a well-received position, but they commited themselves and the characters to it, at least for a little while. But Winick didn't even do that and the rest of the series hangs in limbo as a result.

Cliff Chiang's art was pretty good, but it couldn't save this issue from the trap it laid for itself.

Detective 840 -- After the resurrection of Ra's Al Ghul, the newly reborn would-be world conqueror has decided to set up his base of operations in Gotham, because he has decided that Batman should no longer be treated with benign neglect. Because Batman thwarted Al Ghul's original plan, Al Ghul has decided to take the battle to Batman on his home turf. It seems, however, that Al Ghul did not count on the newly re-energized Batman, who now feels as if he has a family that he will defend at nearly any cost.

The bulk of this issue is the fairly standard bluster between the two of Batman and Ra's Al Ghul, but it is where the comic ends up that takes the title to places we've not seen before. After Batman defeats him, he manages to get Al Ghul a new identity and then commited to Gotham, where Batman has further arranged a prescription that "guarantees slurred speech and next to zero mobility." In other words, Batman has trapped Ra's in his own mind, in Arkham, with apparently no ability to get free. However, it leads to some fascinating questions, such as why the same prescription couldn't be given to the Joker? And given the reaction of his friends to his past machinations, what would they, especially Superman, think of this?

I'll ride along on this because Paul Dini is writing it, and I'm pretty sure he's got a plan, but it's pretty clear this situation is not tenable. A lot of time was spent to bring Ra's back from the dead, and it seems really unlikely that he was brought back just so he could be incarcerated permanently. This issue stretches my credulity a good bit, but I'll hang in with Dini....

Wonder Girl 5 -- Cassie and her friends take on the Female Furies and Hercules. The whole issue is one long fight, with a little interesting repartee between former members of Young Justice Empress and Arrowette. That's nearly all there is of interest, except at the very end, the God Killer, the person responsible for the deaths of the New Gods, shows up to pick off the Female Furies while they are distracted. There is only one issue of this mini-series left, and unless the identity of the God Killer is revealed in 52 or Death of the New Gods, that last issue will reveal a major player in the last 9 months of DC continuity. That's the way to bury an important piece in an otherwise totallyt forgettable mini-series....

The Spirit 12 -- This is the last of Darwyn Cooke's issues. In the past I have complained about how I didn't feel this title was reaching its potential, but it appears that Cooke was saving the best for last. In short, he nails it, crafting a brilliant noir story that actually uses The Spirit as the narrator and protagonist, rather than the run of issues where he is either a witness or a victim.

The issue reveals the backstory between Denny Colt and Sand Saref, his lost love in some deftly handled flashback, while The Spirit rushes to stop or save Sand. The emotional impact of their shared childhood and forced separation, and the causes for that separation are wonderfully handled. And at last, I feel some of the winsome grief that underlies a lot of the dark humor of the original Spirit. There is that dark humor here as well, though not much of it, as Cooke seems to have gone to the opposite extreme from the issues that are almost all goofiness.

This is what The Spirit should have always been, and it saddens me that it is the last we'll see of Cooke's work. If you can only read one of his issues. this is the one to pick up.

Simon Dark 4 -- Steve Niles and Scott Hampton continue to do brilliant work on this series. It still has much more of a Vertigo feel than DC, and I pray that we don't have any huge crossovers with "mainstream" DC. In this issue, the cast of support characters begin interacting more, alternately pulling back the sheets on some things that need revealing and creating solid relationships between those characters. The main character himsef, Simon, only appears in the background of a few panels of this issue, as those that know him or know of him begin to share their feelings and theories about him. Simon does take center stage in the last panel, in a heart-rendingly sad scene that just deepends the mystery about him.

Hampton's art is fantastic as well. His painting is nuanced and doesn't appear remotely hurried. Faces show character and emotion that complement the ongoing story and overall this is someof the best aret going in a book anywhere right now.

Here's hoping that this book finds an audience because it needs to have a long life. I anticipate this book every month and it has yet to let me down.

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