Monday, April 20, 2015

Weekly Action Comics Weekly Review: Issue #620

In 1988-89, DC changed Action Comics from a monthly Superman-focused series to a weekly anthology, also changing its name to Action Comics Weekly. It lasted 42 issues before reverting to a monthly format. I am going to review all 42 of those issues, one per week (sort of) for 42 weeks. This is the twentieth of those reviews.
I know nobody is keeping track as closely as I am, but I'm starting to get sincerely pissed at myself for not sticking to my one-a-week schedule for these reviews. So help me, I am determined to get back into that flow starting with this issue. And I will, goddamn it! I do swear it!
Huh...this Green Lantern story went ahead and got interesting out of nowhere. What has up to now been a pretty blah story about GL wrestling with the Freak Show and their mysterious benefactor Veronica Hawkes suddenly became much more complicated. It turns out Veronica's mousy sister Lillian isn't nearly as frail or oblivious as she seems. It is Lillian who may really be controlling the Freak Show, and though her motives are unknown right now, her ruthless methods are made very clear when she guns down Castle with great relish in order to cover her tracks. Having a character who seems weak and frightened secretly be a scheming, wicked villain is nothing new, but I was genuinely surprised when Lillian was revealed to fit into that mold. Because Veronica, Lillian, and the Freak Show are all new characters, I took their introductions at face value, so this twist caught me off-guard, something I always like from my fiction. And the fact that even Veronica doesn't seem to know what her sister's really like adds new wrinkles that make me really eager to see where this story goes. So that development would've been enough, but on top of it, Veronica gives Green Lantern a pointed, concise speech about how macho and ultimately sexist he is, automatically playing a protector to the sheepish Lillian and an opponent to the more assertive Veronica. Her points make sense, and Hal Jordan seems to agree, as in the end he finalizes his impending break-up with Arisia, believing he may be with her for the wrong reasons, more attracted to her helplessness than her actual person. It's fun to see Hal so shook up, and I hope we'll see it carry over into his future interaction with either or both of the Hawkes sister. Peter David and Richard Howell took a stock superhero story and added more than one effective new wrinkle in only eight pages, and after a while of feeling lukewarm about this narrative, I'm totally reinvested now.
I've complained about how much I dislike Wild Dog as a character and a hero lots before, but something occurred to me reading this chapter that I'd never really articulated before: I pretty much hate all of these characters. Lt. Flint bitches and bitches about Wild Dog's activities but refuses to do anything about it out of a weird combination of misplaced loyalty, cowardice, and laziness. Susan King is the stereotypical reporter character who only cares about getting the story, which is equal parts obnoxious and cliché. And then there's Wild Pup, the kid who's so into Wild Dog that he insists on putting his own life (and the lives of many other people) at risk so he can be the sidekick his hero doesn't want. Watching this child stubbornly ignore Wild Dog's orders to stay out of the way gets less tense and more frustrating with every page. At first I worried about the kid, but now I just want something bad to happen to him as it is inevitably going to do so we can just get it over with already. He can learn his lesson, Wild Dog can hopefully learn one, too, and this damn narrative can end. The Wild Dog universe is populated top-to-bottom with character I can't stand, and orbiting around a central figure whose moral code and entire reason for being I disagree with. I'm not going to harp on it any longer, because I feel like the most broken of broken records by now, but the it seemed a noteworthy realization that it isn't just the title character that drives me so crazy but also almost every member of his supporting cast.
Half of this was a tight, suspenseful action-adventure comic that I loved. The other half was talky, info-dumpy, and full of old information, so I liked it considerably less. To be honest, even during the good parts, I was pretty lost. The break Secret Six took from Action Comics Weekly was long enough, and the narrative complex enough, that it's been a little hard to get back into the swing of things since these characters returned to the title. Still, Frank Springer and Frank McLaughlin make the opening sequence thrilling enough that it clicked for me in spite of the fact that I wasn't totally sure who I was watching or why they were fighting each other. I'm like 98% sure it was one member of the Secret Six escaping from enemy forces, and some of the opening conversation was clearly trying to put things into context for me, but there are so many moving pieces in this tale, I'm not always following them all with equal focus. I like it a lot that the Secret Six fights corporations and the like, that they combine espionage, violence, and research to accomplish their goals, and that they can do multiple things at once because of the size of their team and the range of their expertise. So conceptually, all the disjointed bits and pieces are key, and they're something I support. In practice, though, it means sometimes we're following the more obscure and/or less fascinating threads, and that it's easier to lose track of stuff than it would be in a simpler or more straightforward narrative. The ambition is a good thing, and it produces lots of good results, like the title page above and the two action-packed pages which preceded it. But I'm not as locked into the Secret Six as I am with other characters in this comic, and all told this was an uneven segment of their story.
I don't know if this gets credited to penciller Curt Swan or letterer Bill Oakley, but the "SMEK" sound effect when Bob Galt punches one of his would-be muggers was my favorite part of this Superman chapter. It's a well-done panel all over, with priceless looks on the faces of all the muggers, but that noise really sold it for me. I also enjoy that the way Superman finds Galt is to save him from a crime. It's a good way to reunite them, maybe even an obvious one, but earned through Galt's bravery and unshaken faith in the face of danger. If he wasn't so admirable in that moment, then having Superman come to his rescue might've seemed too easy, but Galt stays courageous and loyal to his idol even with his well-being on the line, so he fully deserves the protection from Superman that he already assumes he'll receive. That's all the happens in these two pages, starting with the muggers' initial taunts and ending with Superman's arrival, and as much as I liked it, I'm itching for a slightly faster progression of this story. Hopefully Galt and Superman being together again, now that Superman has slightly more info, will help them get to the heart of the mystery more quickly. It's been a long, slow ride to try and figure out who it is that wants to destroy Galt and his fellow Superman worshippers, and I know that two pages isn't a ton of space, but I'd like to see the villains more fully revealed sooner than later or my interest is bound to start waning. All the same, for this week, I was on board with everything that went down, and it should be fun to see how Galt's assailant react to Superman next time.
I feel like there's something wrong with the stakes of this Deadman story. I just cannot muster up any concern for what's happening. Deadman's not really personally connected to it at all; he's an outsider who got semi-randomly involved, and therefore he's annoyingly passive. Madame Waxahacie explains everything to Deadman and tells him what he should do, then he does it. That's boring, and slow, and it gives me as the reader no good way in. The only character I can latch onto at all is a protagonist who doesn't entirely understand what's going on, has no plan of action, and barely seems interested himself. He seems to be participating mostly because he has nothing better to do, and because he's obligated as Deadman to try and fight against evil. Those are weak reasons for the main character to be involved in the narrative, which in turn weakens my own commitment to it. So whatever, Legros continues to try and build his zombie army, and Deadman and Waxahachie feebly try to stop him. Then in the final moments, the Brogden twins who appeared to be victims of Legros expose themselves as villains/forces of evil in their own right. I'm not sure how that works yet, but it's a final beat that almost makes me want to come back for more. It is, at least, something unexpected, and having children as the antagonists in any story always makes for a nice moral dilemma to torture the hero. Still, it's too little too late, a small glimmer of something I might care about reading that shows up only in the last panel of the third chapter.
Ohhhh...he was taking his belt off so he could whip a snake with it. That excuses the implied rape from the end of last issue...NOT! I know it's a little silly to review this chapter based on the conclusion of the last, but it just still really bothers me, two weeks later, that the previous Blackhawk installment ended that way. And that this week ends with the same two characters having consensual sex doesn't help, and in fact makes it worse somehow. With all the impending danger, it seems like a pretty inappropriate time for them to do that, especially since they just met. I don't mean to sound like a prude, and there's nothing inherently wrong with sleeping with a stranger, but doing it under an active volcano while an ally is wounded and unconscious nearby and you're in the midst of trying to escape the people who kidnapped you...it's ridiculous, and Martin Pasko wedges it into the last two pages not because it makes sense there but because this is Blackhawk and he's got to be a ladies' man all the time no matter how illogical it may be. In between the rescue and the sex scene was a TON of exposition that I had a hard time paying attention to and an even harder time understanding. The whole reason for this mission and this narrative gets explained, and I couldn't tell you what it is, because it's written dryly and hurriedly, like even the creators don't give a shit. Which they probably don't—this could all well be an excuse to write some gunfights and love scenes hung on the frailest of frames. That's definitely how it reads, and I'm sick of it.

In conclusion, here are all the stories from this issue, listed from worst to best:
6. Wild Dog/"Fatal Distraction Chapter Six: Tailed!"
5. Blackhawk/"Most Guys Just Leave Her Hanging There"
4. Deadman/"Part 3"
3. Secret Six/"Just a Little Bug That's Going Around"
2. Superman/"Too Late, the Hero?"
1. Green Lantern/"Last Gasp!"

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Elsewhere

This week, my newest 1987 And All That went up on CSBG covering issues #4-10 of Star Brand. It was the first time that, rather than talking about the defining attributes of the series, I found its lack of consistency the most interesting aspect, and wrote the whole column about that. Not the best reading experience, but a pretty fun critical one. Meanwhile, on PopMatters, I wrote about Copperhead. That series really caught me off-guard, and I'm super glad I gave it a chance.

Something I Failed to Mention
There's a scene in Copperhead #4 that's so funny and well-written, I could probably get a whole column out of it alone. The local self-important tycoon, Benjamin Hickory, very quickly finds himself at odds with new sheriff Clara Bronson so, as egomaniacs are wont to do, he tries to find a way to get rid of his problem. He calls up another cop who used to work with Bronson to try and get some dirt, and then we get the following exchange between them:
It's simple, but the wry delivery from Bronson's old boss, and the final silent panel of Hickory realizing he's being insulted in numerous ways, totally sells it for me. Plus it only takes up one page, so it's the perfect amount of space for a gag like this. It's a nice bit of development for a slow-moving subplot, it helps cement Bronson's personality without her even needing to be in the scene, and it's just solid comedy, classic in its sensibility and gorgeous in its delivery. I read and enjoyed this page four times in a row my first time through the issue.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Weekly Action Comics Weekly Review: Issue #619

In 1988-89, DC changed Action Comics from a monthly Superman-focused series to a weekly anthology, also changing its name to Action Comics Weekly. It lasted 42 issues before reverting to a monthly format. I am going to review all 42 of those issues, one per week (sort of) for 42 weeks. This is the nineteenth of those reviews.
Whoops! Missed a week! That will most likely continue to happen here and there. As formulaic as these posts are, they can be time-consuming since I gotta write six separate reviews for each one. Anyway...
So we finally see Veronica's face, and it signifies nothing. Also, it's kind of hard to pay attention to her face when her body is so bizarrely shaped. Could a person with a waist that small even hold their torso up straight? It's crazy. Veronica offers Green Lantern a tour of her facilities in order to convince him she's not the power behind the Freak Show, but of course, since she really is that power, the whole thing is actually a trap. Lantern gets ambushed by the Freak Show and this time they are a bit more coordinated in their attack, so they seem to very quickly get a strong upper hand. That's where the story ends this week, with Lantern being burned alive and held in place by the Freak Show, our hero seemingly stuck in a deadly situation with no obvious way out. It's a good cliffhanger, but the trip there isn't all that interesting, with half of these pages being spent on Lantern's dull argument with Victoria and/or his even duller tour of Hawkes Industries. And even once the fight with the Freak Show begins, it's not particularly thrilling, a few quick shots from either side before Lantern gets his ass handed to him. I did love that the closing line was just Castle saying, "Bitchin'." Other than that, though, this neither impressed nor frustrated me all that powerfully. It was a logical next beat in terms of plot, but the Victoria reveal was anti-climatic, her character design was laughable, and the action sequence at the end was less than exciting.
I'm tired of making the same complaints as always about Wild Dog. Assume they all still stand. Instead of repeating them again, this week I wanted to talk about how all the Wild Dog stories have been only seven pages long rather than eight, at least since the character showed up for this second storyline. I think the same is true of Blackhawk, but I have other things to say about Blackhawk in this issue (see below). I'm sure the decision to shorten these sections was editorial as opposed to creative, but whatever the reason, it seems a very bad call. Eight pages is already a challenge when it comes to telling a complete, satisfying story, even if it's just one part of a larger narrative. And Wild Dog in particular suffers frequently from endings that are too abrupt and boring, almost never offering a real hook to make the reader want to know more. For me, having a little less Wild Dog in my life is kind of nice, but I also have to wonder if the additional page every issue might not help beef up these stories, even just a little. Space is such a valuable commodity in comics, so it's a shame that some of it had to be usurped by...I don't even know what. Additional ads? Probably, since the total page count of each Action Comics Weekly hasn't changed. It was 48 in the beginning and it's 48 now, but the stories themselves have gotten shorter, so I suppose it has to be the commercials that get to occupy those pages. Yuck.
After Kelley Jones showing up and blowing up as the ideal Deadman artist last week, this week the title character appears in only two panels, including the credits page above. The rest of the time, he's either in the body of the resurrected cop he got trapped in last time or the schoolteacher he moves into once the cop is re-killed this time. It's a tremendous drag to get so little of Deadman, even though Jones' other contributions are pretty fantastic. Madame Waxahachie is a fittingly bold, terrifying force of humanity, and there are a handful of really interesting perspectives in these panels. Lots of dramatic close-ups and moody shading, and best of all is the panel where Deadman, in the cop's body, looks down at the knife in his belly with an unphased stare. It's a nice, darkly quirky moment, and it comes right before the second (and last) appearance of Deadman in his natural form, so it's for sure the best sequence in the story. I did like the narrative itself more this issue than last, if only because Deadman was more active, and also a little bit because the ending genuinely surprised me. After Deadman and Waxahachie seemingly thwart Legros' plan to steal the Brogden twins, having the twins get immediately kidnapped worked as a final twist. There was an assumption of temporary safety for the kids, because Legros had only so recently failed to get them, and whether or not he is their kidnapper now, having somebody nab them so soon after they avoided that same fate was genuinely unexpected. All the Voodoo stuff still seems offensively clichéd, but there's a bit less of it here, and it's a bit more reserved, so overall this is a step up. Not amazing, and disappointing because of little we get to see Jones draw Deadman, but there's hope.
Even though Superman is effectively not in this, I enjoyed it quite a bit. It's so rare, in fiction or reality, that someone in an argument listens to reason and then admits they were wrong, and I especially wouldn't have expected it from somebody as passionate as Bob Galt. It was a pleasant, quiet resolution to the problem introduced at the end of last week's Superman story, and I liked the shot at California that the cop took as Galt left the store, most of all because it's accurate. Admittedly, the events of this chapter are pretty fluffy, and it's not even clear if they matter at all to the larger story yet. It's sort of hard to imagine how they even would. Maybe Galt wearing a Superman t-shirt is going to lead to extra trouble for him in some way, but if not, then the whole altercation in the store was essentially pointless, a quick, meaningless diversion just to get Galt out of Clark Kent's apartment. Even so, I had a good time reading this, and at the very least it reestablished Galt as a guy who's as honest and decent as the hero he worships, even if he's not quite as thoughtful or controlled. Also, big credit to Curt Swan, because while Superman is only in one of these nine panels, his S symbol is at least partially visible in eight. That's a smart way to keep his presence in the foreground without needing to insert the man himself into a part of the story where he doesn't belong.
The Secret Six are back, and it's as if they never missed a beat. A lot goes on here, with different members of the team working on different missions, advancing several plots at once. While most of them make a move against Sunnydale Farms and their infected pigs, there are others out there trying to get a glimpse of the bigger picture. One goes undercover at Jefferson University, and another dons a disguise and interviews one of the cops who initially investigated the crash that killed the original Secret Six. It's all an effort to figure out Mockingbird's identity and/or motives, and as the Secret Six themselves mention, it seems strange that they'd be able to do so much of their own investigating without Mockingbird interfering or outright shutting them down. In the past, he has seemingly been able to monitor them all the time, but recently they've been operating fairly independently, and everyone is waiting for the other shoe to drop. It's possible that it does here, with one of the Secret Six getting jumped, knocked out, and shoved into a van on the closing page. It's a bit of mysterious excitement for the finale, a solid, near-silent conclusion that brings back  all the intrigue and anything-can-happen awesomeness of the Secret Six's original run in this title. The exposition gets wrapped up efficiently, the danger ramps right back up to its previous level, and the Secret Six are buzzing along as a well-oiled machine just like they were before. It's a perfect return, delivering all the goods and meeting all the expectations.
I kind of barely remember what even happens for the first five pages of this story, because the last two stand out so strongly as such a shitty, stupid, infuriating ending. Blackhawk and the man who claims to be Leslie Richardson get trapped in a cave after a rockslide, and Leslie is knocked unconscious, so Blackhawk heads off to find a way out. What he finds instead is the pilot he cam here looking for, Alice Richardson, chained to a wall in stereotypically tattered clothing. The way Alice is presented alone feels sexist and gross, but then in the final three panels, we see her notice Blackhawk with a relieved smile, which then immediately turns into a look of sheer horror, and then, finally, we see the reason for her terror: Blackhawk is removing his belt. Look...I understand that he's not going to rape her. Next issue, there'll be some kind of explanation as to why he needed to take his belt off to get her down, and the whole thing will be played as a sort of semi-amusing fake out for the reader. But the thing is, it's so not funny, and it's such an idiotic way to end this chapter. Why have her think even for one second that Blackhawk is about to assault her? Is there a compelling reason to put her through that, especially after all the trauma and torture we already know she's suffered recently? And as cliffhanger endings go, making the protagonist—who's already a well-known womanizer—look like he's about to do something so despicable is a very poor choice indeed. I don't really understand the thought behind it, and what's really troubling is that Rick Burchett draws Alice's terrified face so damn convincingly, and in such a tight, detailed panel, the reader can't help but feel her fear with her. So we are left in Alice's position, with no reason to believe anything other than what she believes, save for the fact that we understand, deep down, that the hero of the story isn't suddenly going to become a rapist. Martin Pasko continues to be the wrong writer for this character, a fact that this awful, incredibly misguided ending really cements.

In conclusion, here are all the stories from this issue, listed from worst to best:
6. Blackhawk/"What's a Nice Girl Like You...?"
5. Wild Dog/"Fatal Distraction: One Mass Murderer to Go"
4. Green Lantern/"Veronica"
3. Deadman/"Part 2"
2. Secret Six/"Once More Unto the Breach"
1. Superman/"Protective Shield?"

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Dearly Departed: She-Hulk

Dearly Departed is a semi-regular column where I look back on recently completed or canceled series.

She-Hulk is just a joy to read. That's because it's a celebratory comic, a big, bright, fun-loving look at everything great about comics, superheroes, and the titular character in particular. Oh, and also lawyers, though the series does a pretty good job of talking about what's terrible about them, too. The book only had 12 issues before being canceled, but in that time it told several awesome, amusing, off-kilter stories, including one about the mysterious Blue File that ran all throughout the title from the debut to the finale. And though this isn't the normal format for a Dearly Departed column (which I haven't written a new one of in almost a year-and-a-half) I think that maybe the best way to dissect She-Hulk is to take it arc by arc, and then wrap up with some more macro thoughts at the end.
     The first two issues are sort of each their own thing, but also very clearly work together as a two-part story, the tale of how Jennifer Walters goes from losing her corporate law job to starting and staffing her own practice. It's an awesome introduction to the character and the comic. Jen's resourcefulness and self-assuredness are heavily highlighted right up top, and the core cast is rounded out with the always amusing Hellcat Patsy Walker, and the brand-new, almost entirely inscrutable Angie Huang. The trio works very well together, balancing each other out with different levels of seriousness, areas of expertise, and kinds of intelligence. Plus Javier Pulido's poppy, laid-back, standout style, filled in with Muntsa Vicente's equally poppy and confident colors, gives the series a refreshingly fun look that brightens and bolsters the narratives. This is a hopeful, believe-in-yourself type comic all the way through, from She-Hulk's optimistic self-starterism to Angie's mysterious hyper-competence to Pulido & Vicente's dynamic artwork.
     The next two issues are about Jen taking on Dr. Doom's son Kristoff as a client. Kristoff is seeking asylum so he won't be forced to rule Latveria in his father's shadow, and Jen battles tooth-and-nail to make it happen. She even wins in court, but of course Dr. Doom doesn't give a shit about that and immediately kidnaps his son right back. So Jen goes to Latveria to save Kristoff, and ends up using her sharp negotiation skills to make Doom see why it's actually in his best interests to give Kristoff the freedom to be his own man. What I love about this arc is that Jen gets to be an awesome lawyer, then an awesome superhero, and then just an all-around awesome person. We see her at her best in several different kinds of situations, all related to a single case, displaying how capable and impressive she really is.
     She-Hulk #5-6 (I promise they are not all two-issue narratives, just the first half of the series, plus the last two issues, so...everything but #7-10) is a storyline titled "Blue" that's all about She-Hulk and company trying to figure out what's up with the mysterious Blue File that Jen found randomly in a box some time before this title even began. The file is connected to a case that names Jen and several other super-people as the targets of a lawsuit by a man named Georg Saywitz, but Jen has no memory of George or the case itself, so the existence of the Blue File is something of a nagging anomaly. The Blue File is ultimately the central problem of this entire 12-issue run, so it doesn't get fully resolved in these two issues, but Jen and her crew do interview several of the other people named in the suit, like Tigra, Shocker, and Nightwatch, and discover that discussing the details of the file acts as some kind of weird subconscious trigger that makes people go crazy and attack everyone and try to hurt themselves. Because of that danger, She-Hulk decides to drop the investigation, even when Angie shows up with what she claims is vital information. It's a weird moment, actually, when Jen shoots down Angie, because she's overly aggressive and then immediately seems to forget the whole thing. Clearly, there's more to this Blue File than meets the eye, and if you read this arc knowing how She-Hulk ends, it's pretty incredible how well Soule hints at who's behind the Blue File without giving it away. Ditto Ron Wimberly, the artist for "Blue." I know that, at the time, there were people who didn't like Wimberly's art on this book, but I think he was the perfect fill-in artist for Pulido. His work has the same kind of playful but abundant energy as Pulido's, so the voice of the comic maintains without wavering, even though stylistically the two artists are quite distinct.
      Issue #7 is an Ant-Man team-up, where he, She-Hulk, and Hellcat shrink down to locate and save another genius scientist who shrunk himself and then went missing. It's an amusing, freebie one-shot, a little diversion after the major development of the main plot in "Blue." Also Pulido and Vicente return, and do a marvelous job with the pint-sized adventure, particularly the ant swarm that She-Hulk and Hellcat have to tangle with.
     The best story in the series comes in issues #8-10, "The Good Old Days." It's She-Hulk vs. Daredevil in court, and the focus of the trial is Captain America. I wrote about one of the things I enjoyed in this story—the use of continuity—on PopMatters, but there are other things to admire as well. It's a solid courtroom drama, and an exceptional study of what makes Captain America what he is. It also adds an interesting wrinkle to the story of why he is what he is, without in any way undoing or challenging the established facts of his history. Jen gets to be a hero for a hero, by using skills that most of her super-peers don't have. There's also a nice message in there about the flexibility of the truth and how even without lying, people can tell the same story in wildly different ways. It's about perspective, and context, and how hugely important both of those things are to consider whenever you hear anyone describe any experience. These are relevant points to make, especially these days, and they're made subtly and indirectly but are still impossible to miss.
     Finally, issues #11-12 bring things to a close by revealing the whole story behind the Blue File. She-Hulk #11 is actually just an issue-long fight between the threesome of She-Hulk, Hellcat, and Angie and the duo of Titania and Volcana. The latter pair was hired by Nightwatch to scare Jen and her team off of researching the Blue File, which Angie had secretly been doing all along, despite Jen's instructions to let it go. Turns out Angie uncovered the truth, so after Titania and Volcana's attack, Angie tells Jen that Nightwatch is the real enemy, forcing his hand. She-Hulk #12, then, is the explanation of how the Blue File came to be, and also the final defeat of Nightwatch. The story is that Nightwatch used to be a villain named Nighteater, who hired Shocker, Vibro, and Dr. Druid to help him cast an uber-powerful spell that would make him into a hero in the memories of everyone in the world. Effectively, every past heroic deed Nightwatch supposedly performed is in reality a false memory created by this spell. He erased his past as a bad guy and replaced it with a fake one where he was always a good guy. Also, he wiped an entire town out of existence, save for George Saywitz, hence the lawsuit. Then Nightwatch retired, able to live his days out in peace, relatively unknown compared to many heroes, but still respected and adored by the public enough to get by. He seems like the ideal character for this kind of retcon, in that he's never been that popular or major a figure in the Marvel canon. Not too many feathers get ruffled if you make Nightwatch into a villain, and it fits so perfectly with everything else we've seen around the Blue File, especially Nightwatch's earlier appearance, so it's a very strong conclusion.
     All through this book, She-Hulk is a badass, a hero in every sense, and a hilarious, captivating protagonist. It's everything you want out of the title character of a mainstream superhero book and more, because she's also a lawyer who's actually decent, honest, and admirable. I'd never had a strong opinion about her before reading this, nor even all that much experience with her, but I think of myself as a firmly devoted fan now. Her inclusion on any team is going to make me all the more likely to follow them, and the next time she gets a solo series, I'll be giving it a try pretty much no matter who the creative team is.
     I'm not sure how I feel about Angie. I loved her as the stoic, strange, brilliant super-paralegal, but I'm not wild about characters who have loosely defined powers and always seem to have exactly what they need to solve every new problem they encounter. Over the course of these 12 issues, Angie Jedi mind tricks a few people, comes back suddenly and inexplicably from being shot to death, mentally takes control of Volcana's powers, and figures out Nightwatch is the primary baddie without us seeing how she does it. Also her pet monkey Hei Hei, with whom she clearly has some kind of telepathic bond, grows to be larger than a man, sprouts wings, and seems to develop some kind of super-strength. I don't doubt that Charles Soule knows Angie and Hei Hei's backstory and the limitations of/explanations for their abilities, but within She-Hulk it's all one big question mark, and considering how important Angie's contributions were, I would've preferred some more insight into who she is and what she can (or can't) do.
     The best dialogue in the whole book is actually a monologue from Shocker, delivered to She-Hulk after she chases him down: "Lady, all I know about you is that you're tough as hell. Guys like me, we got a list of people like you. Like a rating system. You got your Daredevils, your Iron Fists---those guys, you fight. Maybe you get lucky, or maybe you're actually good enough to beat 'em. Now any Hulks---lady, dude, red, green, purple---you see a Hulk, you run. As you saw. Thors, too." This tickles me every time, as does She-Hulk's protest that there's just one Thor, and Shocker's reply that, no, everyone like Volstagg and Valkyrie and Beta Ray Bill are Thors, too. A wonderful conversation that can only take place in a superhero reality.
     I think that's all I have on this. It's a phenomenal comicbook, and not just for a Marvel superhero series. It's good all over, and it fits a whole lot of high-quality content into its 12 installments. She-Hulk was never a favorite of mine, Pulido I only knew from his subpar issues of Hawkeye, and the few things of Soule's I'd read before this I had pretty strongly disliked. On this project, though, all three of them were unexpectedly fantastic, as were Vicente and Wimberly, Hellcat and Nightwatch, and all the various guest stars.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Monthly Dose: March 2015

Monthly Dose is a semi-regular column where I read one issue each month of long-completed series.

100 Bullets #29: While presumably still focused on Wylie, this issue felt like it was dominated by Mr. Shepherd more than anyone else. It is Shepherd who introduces us (by introducing Dizzy) to Juárez, where much of the action takes place. Shepherd also gives Wylie's name to Mik, a detail that comes into play in a big way at the end, and is most likely some kind of deliberate wrench-in-the-works move from Shepherd. It seems far more likely Shepherd knew that Wylie, pretending to be Hopper, was going to do business with Mik, and thus intended to have Mik spook Wylie by saying his real name aloud. Why Shepherd would want to rattle Wylie like this is impossible to tell, but that's true of almost everything what Shepherd ever does. He's at least as mysterious as Graves, and as manipulative, which is why I assume that the consequences of any action he makes must be exactly what he wanted. The tension in this issue comes from Wylie, and more pages are centered on him than not, but even so, Shepherd's presence is the one you feel more powerfully. He's the only character who knows what's going on and is in control of his fate from start to finish, so he comes out looking stronger and more significant. None of this is a complaint; I love Shepherd and find him considerably more interesting to follow than Wylie or anyone else in this arc. And the trouble Wylie gets into at the end of this issue is scary and exciting and, if not unexpected, at least hard to predict. Who are the gun-wielding figures in the shadows? How is Wylie possibly going to get out of this? Why did poor, simple Dan have to die? We're left with some decent hooks to pull us back for the story's final act, even though Wylie isn't a standout star here, and generally hasn't convinced me I should care about him yet. It speaks to both Brian Azzarello's story-crafting skills and Eduardo Risso's exceptional suspense-building that the conclusion of this issue draws me in so effectively even though I'm not fully invested in Wylie, and his journey is not what gets the spotlight this time around. I'm still all-in on 100 Bullets, despite the current storyline being only so-so, because the overall quality of the series maintains even during its lower points.


Automatic Kafka #5: After a few pages of Kafka being interviewed, the bulk of this issue stars his former teammate from the $tranger$, the Constitution of the United States of America. I love that as a superhero name, but the character himself seems a lazy, easy, nuance-free take on America's fetishistic adoration of violence and machismo. His opening speech where he's trying to rally the troops is more than enough to understand him and what he represents, yet that only takes up two pages, after which we get another nine pages of him and his crew annihilating a drug lab and all the people in it. Of course big, needless action sequences are part and parcel for superhero comics, but in this specific case it felt like one note played for too long, an utterly simple character introduction stretched over way too large a space. Near the end we see the Warning's baby bombs again, so there are hints of a larger, connected story here, but only of the vaguest kind. The real purpose of the babies in this issue is to piss off the Constitution, who prefers his violence and destruction to be hands-on, and dislikes the distance with which the babies' controllers commit their acts of murder and destruction. Which is almost interesting, but by the time that point gets made, I'm so tired of the Constitution (and his dialogue is so clipped and indirect) that it's hard to even muster up the energy to comprehend what he's saying. Ash Wood does chaotic, over-the-top action well, and he nails all the other elements of the Constitution's overall theatricality, too. So the art is as good as always, but it, too, sells the character concept quickly and then goes nowhere new with it, making this a good-looking but visually repetitive comic. Every issue of Automatic Kafka is a new, wild adventure, and this was no different, but somehow shifting the book's attention to a superhero other than the title character produced something blunter and lighter than usual, like a watered-down version of what the series has been prior to this issue.


X-Force (vol. 1) #29: I've seen a lot of this before. Cable walks around, surveying the team, thinking about how bad things have been lately. Old news; very boring. The rest of the issue, on the other hand, has a plot that's new, or new to this title, anyway: Arcade kidnaps Shatterstar and pits him again opponents from his homeworld. It's fine, though not considerably less boring than the other part of the issue. Arcade is lame, a spoiled child of a villain even at his best, and this is far from his best. His insane bright pink sunglasses and head-sized polkadot bow tie look terrible, and he's not even really the main baddie here, just a gun for hire working at the command of a mysterious employer. Who cares? Is the point of this just to spotlight Shatterstar? I'm going to go with yes, especially since Arcade makes Shatterstar put on his original, Liefeld-all-over costume for absolutely no reason at all. But why give that character this kind of focus now? There's way more urgent stuff going on, like Feral quitting and Tempo possibly joining up, but that all gets the most meager lip service in the Cable pages while all the action and meat in this issue is Shatterstar-centric. It seems a wholly random detour, and a frustrating one, and it ends with X-Treme showing up, who is just so overwhelmingly 90's I can hardly look at him. Bottom line is that I did not care for one bit of this issue. Matt Broome's pencils are clear and consistent, but his style is not to my taste at all, too bulky and heavy and cramped. As for the script, Fabian Nicieza writes these scenes well enough, but they weren't the scenes I wanted to have to sit through. Follow the threads already established, don't shunt them aside for new, arbitrary, pointless action pieces that only involve one of the series' stars.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Elsewhere

Two Thursdays ago, the latest installment of "1987 And All That" went up on CSBG, on the first five issues of Concrete. It was a charming-ass comicbook, and I definitely intend to dig into the rest of that initial series and all the Concrete titles that followed. One Thursday ago, PopMatters published a column of mine about events and comics that "matter," which in some ways felt like a retread of old ground, but it had been bobbling around in my brain for a few weeks so I finally wrote it down.

Something I Failed to Mention
I completely left out of my Concrete review the character of Maureen Vonnegut, the biologist who studies Concrete and who is his love interest. I was never all that interested in Maureen, who seemed to have very little personality, yet I was supposed to buy her as the protagonist's romantic focus. She was very matter-of-fact, a truly professional scientist, which is a fine way to go with a character, but didn't make her charming or unusual enough to win me over, which made me unable to connect with the idea that she'd won Concrete over somehow. He seemed to love her mostly because she was the main female presence in his new life, and that's a lame, almost desperate reason to fall for someone. It's not based on who she is as an individual, but merely on her proximity to him, or at least that's the way it reads. Also, I'm never wild about having one character quietly pine over another. If no one is going to make a move, the endless unrequited love story gets old quick, even if I am interested in or rooting for the relationship (which I wasn't in this case). So I ignored Maureen in the CSBG piece because I didn't feel like going off on a whole tangent about the member of the cast I was the most bored by. I didn't dislike her, but the storyline built around her wasn't one I could sink my teeth into, for several reasons. Luckily, it had little bearing on the primary plots of any of the issues.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Weekly Action Comics Weekly Review: Issue #618

In 1988-89, DC changed Action Comics from a monthly Superman-focused series to a weekly anthology, also changing its name to Action Comics Weekly. It lasted 42 issues before reverting to a monthly format. I am going to review all 42 of those issues, one per week (sort of) for 42 weeks. This is the eighteenth of those reviews.
See? I told you this was just as much a Speedy story (if not more so) as a Nightwing one!
After defeating the Freak Show, Green Lantern makes his way to Hawkes Industries, where he finally gets to see the face of Veronica, the evil mastermind behind all of his recent troubles. Frustratingly, the audience does not get to see her face yet, but the final panel seems to promise that we'll get the full reveal next week, so...hopefully that's really happening. Lantern turning the tables on the Freak Show with his quick thinking and varied tactics was a strong way to open the story, but the rest of it was pretty slow. One whole page is just him fixing his costume and talking about going to Hawkes Industries on the top half, and Arisia getting a new modeling job offer but turning it down and saying she's leaving Chicago on the bottom half. Not unimportant stuff, but not the most exciting, either. I did like Richard Howell's art a lot, and even on the dull-ish page I just mentioned, there's one panel where Hal Jordan looks really strong, well-built, and genuinely heroic. And Lillian Hawkes, Veronica's much more bashful, fragile sister, is used for solid comedic effect, her hands finding a variety of oh-me-oh-my positions and her face in a constant state of strained concern. I'd like to see her get a bigger role in this narrative now that Hawkes Industries is the setting of the main action; Lillian is an interesting and amusing character, but has been little more than a punching bag for Veronica so far, so it'd be nice to see her have more to do. I didn't love this Green Lantern chapter, but it advanced both its A-plot and B-plot in logical and enjoyable ways, and it had a good cliffhanger ending with Veronica making her entrance, so it ended up being the sturdiest, best part of this issue overall.
Blackhawk and his crew finally go on the mission that was set up several issues back, and immediately everything goes to hell and they all get kidnapped. I mean, the fighting starts before they've even gotten off the plane. It's bad news. Yet even with all the added action and excitement this time around, I find myself mostly bored by this story. There's a lot we're not being told, that much has been made abundantly obvious, but instead of being drawn in by the mystery, I'm just irked by it. I think this is because the story has been developing so damn slowly, I don't expect to get answers anytime soon, and the idea of continuing to follow a story with so many obscured details for much longer, without any other particular reason to care about it, just bums me out. Even this week, when shit finally hits fans, there are 4 pages of build-up and then just 3 of action, meaning the most interesting chapter so far is still unbalanced when it comes to the pacing. The good guys are in the thick of it now, so with any luck things will advance more quickly from here on, but this week was only a half-step up from the fully immobile installments that preceded it.
Wild Dog is the most annoying "hero" of all time, it's official. Here, he decides he wants to encourage Susan King to keep saying what she's already been saying, that Wild Dog inspiring a child to act like him is a terrible, dangerous thing. So how does Wild Dog accomplish this? By hiding in King's car with a mask on like a maniac and forcing her to have a weird, tense conversation with him, during which he forcefully grabs and hurts her when she says something pretty innocuous and predictable. It's despicable behavior, not to mention totally unnecessary, since most of what he says is, "Keep doing what you're doing." Then, in the middle of their chat, they happen to be close enough to hear it when local serial killer the Night Slasher takes another victim. Not because Wild Dog solves the case or uncovers an important clue or anything like that. No, he finds the main villain of this story through blind fortune, while in the middle of doing something awful, and then loses the fight against her because of a last-minute nut shot. None of it makes him seem the least bit heroic, impressive, or even competent, and much of it only re-convinces me that he does more harm than good with his crazy brand of self-important crimefighting. I feel like a broken record going after Wild Dog over and over again, but almost every time I read about him, it infuriates me all over again. Here's hoping this arc wraps soon and I can get another break from this character before he returns for his third and I believe final Action Comics Weekly storyline.
Lately these Superman two-pagers haven't done as good a job of moving the story forward as they did in the earlier issues of this series. We found out last time that Bob Galt was missing from Clark Kent's apartment, and this time all that happens is he continues to be missing and then the reader gets to see him destroying some Superman merchandise. It's an incremental bit of progress, and not a very compelling one, either. As I mentioned a week ago, Galt leaving the apartment was easy to see coming as soon as he got left there by himself, so stretching it out like this doesn't really click. Also, Galt is acting like a child here, which isn't out of character, but it doesn't make me care about him much, which makes it less effective when his life gets threatened in the final panel. I always like it when Superman is in his costume for the entire story, instead of being Clark Kent some/all of the time, because Curt Swan draws him so damn well, so at least there's that. Otherwise, though, this was fully meh.
Kelley Jones is the artist Deadman deserves. Deadman is so gaunt and covered in shadow, all of which is made even more awesome and ghastly because of Tony DeZuniga's inks. So visually, I was all about this story, and I eagerly look forward to seeing more of Deadman in action with this stretched, creepy, fantastic look. Story-wise...eh, I don't know. I'm never wild about villains who use Voodoo. I see if too often and it seems lazy, Voodoo being an easy shorthand for something that people fear without understanding, and almost always including some kind of crazy-powerful dark magic that's only loosely tied to any real-world Voodoo beliefs. This is no exception, with Wellman Legros, the self-proclaimed "Voodoo King of New Orleans," raising an army of zombies to do his wicked bidding. Zombies are an awesome choice of threat for Deadman to tackle, because both they and he are humans who died and were returned in a new form, but does it have to be Voodoo? There's no convincing reason for it that I can see, and it's such a trite detail. Then again, this is just the first chapter, so maybe it'll matter more later, or it'll go away completely—Mike Baron is the writer here, just as he was for the last Action Comics Weekly Deadman story, and that one meandered all over the place. So there's no telling where this narrative is heading yet, and it's definitely going to look phenomenal, so fingers crossed I guess.
Though generally this was a logical and emotionally fulfilling ending, its last page-and-a-half made me think that maybe there just wasn't enough story to fill the necessary pages, so Marv Wolfman tacked a bit of complete fluff onto the very end of this tale. In the final scene, Dick/Nightwing flies home and is met at the airport by Kory/Starfire, and they have a romantic reunion that ends with him telling her that being with people you love is what really matters and that he really loves her. The first part of that point is thematically connected to the rest of the narrative, but didn't need to be stated out loud like that, and the bit about how much he loves Kory just comes out of nowhere. I'm not even sure we saw here in the issue where Nightwing called the Teen Titans, and even if she was there, their relationship has never been at all a part of this story. I like them as a couple and everything, but why throw it in at the finish line randomly like that? It got to me. Anyway, before that happens, Dick brings Roy/Speedy's daughter Lian to him in the hospital, they make up, and then Nightwing takes out Jade/Cheshire. Their final confrontation was solid, with her refusing to believe he'd shoot her with a gun, and him doing it, only to reveal it was a tranquilizer gun all along. It was very Nightwing, outsmarting his opponent in several ways, including planting a tracking chip on her and moving all of her targets to a safe location so she wouldn't pull any last-minute drastic moves to try and complete her mission. Chuck Patton has been killing it art-wise, and I think the page above really shows how well he can capture both the feelings of the characters and their super-people physiques. I ended up being a big fan of this narrative, even though it didn't win me over immediately, and I still like a lot in spite of the slight stumble at the very, very end.

In conclusion, here are all the stories from this issue, listed from worst to best:
6. Wild Dog/"Fatal Distraction Chapter Four: Lucky Night"
5. Superman/"Out on the Town"
4. Blackhawk/"Unhappy Landing"
3. Deadman/"Grave Doings"
2. Nightwing/"The Cheshire Contract - Conclusion"
1. Green Lantern/"First Encounter"

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Terminal Hero #6 Review

I did not know when I started reviewing all the issues of Terminal Hero that is was going to be a six-issue mini-series. I didn't actually know that until in between issue #5 and this one. I have to wonder if all my complaints about the too-rapid pacing would've been different if I had realized this wasn't an ongoing. I'll have to go back and reread it now, knowing what I know. Maybe. Probably not really going to do that, because I'm not wild about the title (see below).
     Anyway, this finale left a lot to be desired. Petter Milligan does a dutiful job of wrapping up all the threads, he gives Mia and Minesh a fitting ending, and he generally just gets out of the way of the story he's set up and lets its momentum carry it over the finish line. All of which is good. What bugs me, though, is that Rory ends up returning to the life he stole from a man he killed. He gets to live out the rest of his days pretending to be somebody he's not, raising someone else's kids and being married to someone else's wife. It's arguably the most fucked up thing he does in the whole series, so to have it be his ultimate reward is sort of infuriating. I'm not convinced that Rory deserves any kind of happy ending, but he 100% shouldn't be allowed to get away with usurping another person's life and family.
     That's my biggest takeaway from this issue, because that's how the whole book resolves. To make matters worse, Rory himself, in the very final narrative captions, questions whether or not he'll even be satisfied with his normal, mundane reality after all the crazy shit he's been through, all the unthinkable pleasures he has experienced. So he's not even grateful for what he has, let alone guilty about how he got it. It makes me downright hate a protagonist about whom I've felt mostly ambivalent up to now; he was never my favorite, but he always showed potential, the desire to redeem himself if not the ability. Here in the conclusion, he fully, definitively becomes an asshole, so that's a drag, because I've been hoping all along that he'd go the other way.
     Piotr Kowalski and Kelly Fitzpatrick do exactly as solid a job with the artwork as they always have, but there's also not much new for them to draw here. It's mostly variations on stuff we've seen before, and which was more impressive the first few times around, but has by now become familiar and thus less interesting. Nothing looked bad, but nothing pulled me in, either.
     I don't think I liked Terminal Hero in the end. There were some strong bits here and there, Mia and Minesh were pretty stellar characters, and the visuals were consistently great, but the details of the plot and the directions in which Milligan chose to take it resulted in one letdown after another, so all told this is a middling comic at best. Worth reading if you dig Kowalski's style, but far from Milligan's best work, and none too memorable or impressive in the scheme of things.