Sunday, February 10, 2008

Comics for 6 February

It was another short list this week. And fortunately, a couple of the things I talked about last week had their counterparts come out this week, offering the opportunity to dig a little more.

Spoilers ho!

Detective 841 - Paul Dini offers up a one-and-done Mad Hatter story, complete with beginning, middle, and end. While I recognize it is the nature of serialized publishing to have stories that extend over a period of time, good story-tellers can advance an overall arc while telling self-contained episodes in the arc, completing a story and leaving some threads to be advanced in the ongoing stories. Dini does this with the Mad Hatter, giving us a new situation, developing that situation, coming to a crisis (in the literary sense, not in the DC Universe sense), and then giving a solid denouement. And once again we see the detective facet of Batman in the forefront of the story--using his skills to unravel the mystery at hand.

Contrast this to the most recent issue of Batman which was a series of nearly hallucinogenic flashbacks, revealing very little new about the character, offering perhaps some insights into the current incarnation, bit not advancing what appears to be a major story-arc, Batman suffering from a heart attack while in the clutches of a sadistic new nemesis. Again, this is not to say that wherever Batman ends up is not interesting, but the getting there feels rather tedious. Detective remains sharp and crisp, each story pulling the reader in and delivering, with almost every issue. Dustin Nguyen's art takes some getting used to, but it is serviceable and does not get in the way of the story, which is the very least we can expect from an artist.

A note for the future of these two series: this weekend Dan Didio announced at the annual retailers' meeting that the upcoming "Batman R.I.P." arc in Batman will not be crossing over into the Detective series (the actual quote from "you’ll have “Batman: R.I.P." in Batman, along with another major and separate storyline in Detective"). This announcement comes in the middle of a discussion about the continuity all coming together for Final Crisis in 2008. Seeing that the assumed death of Batman is to be balanced by an important story-line having nothing to do with the death of Batman actually makes me feel worse even less optimistic about the continuity actually coming together. I guess we'll find out in about three months.

Fables 69 - Last week, I talked about the disappointment I feel for Jack of Fables, especially balanced against its companion title. And this issue of Fables just highlights the strengths of this title. Chapter Nine of "The Good Prince" brings the resolution of a stroy-arc that has run for most of a year, and it does it triumphantly. Flycatcher has gone from being the amnesiac janitor in Fabletown city hall to the savior of all the fables, when he defeats the primary army of the opposition. And to its credit, I doubt many readers could see this conclusion coming, given the end of the last issue, wwhere it appeared that all hope was gone.

Along these lines this is the first issue in the story-line where the effects of the events in Fabletown were not revealed, but Flycatcher deserved the lion's share of the pages. And the events of this issue are so big, the full impact could not be adequately covered anyway, leaving the repercussions to be worked out in future issues of Fables. The few reactions we get to see are crucial to the ongoing story of Flycatcher and offer a Kay-esque promise of stories that continue long after the scenes that held the reader's attention have passed.

While often light-hearted and even whimsical in tone, Fables perfectly balances the worlds-spanning importance of events while reminding the reader that these characters are based on whimsy. In fact, it is the background of whimsy that makes the serious events that much more poignant. Meanwhile, Jack of Fables uses whimsy as the background for just being mean-spirited. At any rate, this story arc deserves mention for the Eisners come July. Given the minimal interaction I have had with Bill Willingham in San Diego (he graciously accepted my thanks for using characters from The Faeire Queene in his story-telling, actually carrying on a short conversation about the beauty of those stories rather than rolling his eyes at the geek boy nature of my praise) and given the care he appears to put into the stories, according to his panels, I admire his talent and skill immensely. And he seems like just a good guy. How much fun would it be to sit in on a story session with him and artist Mark Buckingham?

Along with Detective and Booster Gold, this has become a destination comic each month from DC.

Justice Society of America 12 - Perhaps freakishly, I am thrilled as much by the Golden Age characters in the DC Universe as I am by the more modern ones. The Justice Society and it sister titles have long been a favorite of mine, probably because the 80-page giants I used to read had back-up reprints of those really cool stories. The stories of the Seven Soldiers of Victory and Justice Society somehow resonated with me for the sense of family among the characters that often felt missing from the Justice League stories also carried in those giants. In later years, All-Star Squadron carried that tradition further. So imagine my delight to see the cover of this issue of Justice Society, complete with an African-American man in green and yellow.

Yes, there is a new Amazing Man, complete with fascinating back-story and historical perspective. In some ways, I wish some stories could be told of the history that the original Amazing Man, grandfather of this new one, and the place he took in the society around him. According to the flashbacks, he used his powers for social justicve, becoming a companion to Martin Luther King, a role this new Amazing Man continues. Storylines of the original's struggles, handled tastefully as this introduction was, could be fascinating and powerful story-telling.

This issue also serves as the introduction of a new character in the DC Universe, Lance, who turns out to be a descendant of FDR. This one is less promising, although having a character currently serving in the military could open up some story-telling possibilities as well. There is also the introduction of the villain for this arc, Gog, whom I should have suspected all along given the presence of the Kingdom Come Superman. Things are building up nicely for some huge stories, but then, Geoff Johns has always been skilled at the build-up, including his personal touchstone, a single-panel final page with a twist in the story-telling. And I have written before of my findness for the action-filled clean lines of Dale Eaglesham's art.

The only concern I have for this title is the cast approaching the size of the roster of the Legion of Super-heroes. Eighteen menbers are included in the roll call, and four new characters are introduced in the pages of this title. And they all have such fascinating back-stories, I have no idea how any of them are going to get any build-up over time. But it promises to be a fun ride for a while.

All-New Atom 20 - The last issue written by Gail Simone feels a little rushed, as the villain behind the events of the last 19 issues is revealed, fought, andthen defeated. Given Simone's apparent love of the DC Universe, the revelatoin that Chronos is the bad guy makes perfect sense. But the time it takes to defeat his plot feels disproportionate to the build-up to get to this point.

There are also a couple of miscues concerning the Black Mercy plant used against the Atom. For instance, the dean wears a Black Mercy as a boutoniere but is unaffected by it. Meanwhile, the Atom not only knows he is under its influence but is able to fight it off. I like the new Atom, but I find it very hard to believe he has the willpower of Batman, and more than Superman, just because "everything he wants" is already in his grasp. That's a romantic notion but not likely to be true, given the history of human happiness.

But I understand the need to have the great storyline wrapped up by the writer who originated it. And I loved finding out that Head and friends actually have their own bodies. All the threads of the story were pulled together nicely in this conclusion. I don't know Rick Remender's work, but I do know I'll miss Gail SImone's work.


The Permanent Damage link over on the left navbar has a really good entry on one of the traditions of comic history, the thought balloon and how it has been abused and is being gently redeemed in current comic story-telling. In fact, Grant talks about a few other comic traditions as well, and I find it is a refreshing introduction to some of the details of the craft of writing comics that newcomers may not know and oldsters take for granted. Good good stuff.

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