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 cover 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.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Weekly Action Comics Weekly Review: Issue #617

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 seventeenth of those reviews.
Even though it had been a full month since I last read an issue of this, I didn't feel the least bit lost in any of the stories. So that's something.
Green Lantern gets bested by the Freak Show, the new group of villains whose team name we did not know before now. Several members of the team were also introduced for the first time here, and all-in-all it's an odd bunch. They seem to have very straightforward powers, but their abilities are varied and they're a sizable gang, so together they become interesting and formidable. I do find it annoying that their leader remains faceless, because I feel like that gimmick where a character's face stays hidden for a long time is almost never worth it, but hopefully it'll end up paying off in this case. The fight between Freak Show and Green Lantern was on point, and it took up most of the pages, but the opening of the story saw Hal coming home to try and apologize to Arisia, who pretends to be in some kind of trance, but is really just ignoring him because her feelings are still hurt. As soon as he leaves, she wails out his name, which is frustrating behavior. I want Arisia to be more active. She was a Lantern once herself, and it'd be nice if her inner willpower didn't have to translate into this kind of unhelpful stubbornness. She can be and has been better than that, and with Hal having a rare moment of maturity, I wanted to see Arisia's more mature side as well. I guess that's their dynamic—one of them is being childish at all times. But I don't love to see that play out, because it's an easy/lazy way to create tension, it makes me not like them as a couple, and the incessantness of it is stressful. So all of that was present up top, which stunk, but it quickly got into some solid superhero action that I really liked.
This Blackhawk story is crawling. Martin Pasko just doesn't seem as suited to this character as Mike Grell was. Pasko is slowly assembling the team and adding one half-nugget of information about their upcoming mission each issue. It's taking too long, and because of that, it's starting to get boring. Meanwhile there's this whole obnoxious subplot about how Blackhawk thinks Olaf wronged Natalie in some way, so when the two men see each other, a fight breaks out immediately. It's lamely macho, and it feels like internal conflict amongst the heroes for the sake of it, not making anybody look good or serving any purpose. That spat took up all of the final two pages, so the story ended with its most annoying and least compelling part. Plus the opening two pages were devoted to setting up the Olaf-Blackhawk friction, and the whole story was only seven pages long, so...not a lot of tasty meat on these bones. Rick Burchett's lines and Tom Ziuko's colors continue to be fun, energetic, and quirky, but the narrative doesn't have nearly the same pop. The art may look great, but there's not enough for it to do, and even when there's action, its heroes punching heroes in the name of someone else. Something's got to happen that I care about, and soon.
Wild Dog just makes me so angry as a protagonist. He's always so smug about how necessary his hyper-violent bullshit is, and then when his craziness causes a kid to imitate him, he yells at the kid and then goes home and fumes about how his methods are supposed to be his own. First of all, it's idiotic to think nobody else would be called to action by his vigilantism. If one person starts getting away with taking justice into his own hands and killing whoever he deems deserving of death, of course others are going to follow over time. Secondly, where is Wild Dog's guilt or sense of responsibility when faced with the reality of his young fan? Even when consequences of his work that he hadn't considered are right in front of him, he doesn't waver on the importance of what he's doing. His arrogance is bottomless and ever so aggravating. Also, the ending of the Wild Dog chapters are consistently too abrupt and unexciting. This issue ends with two panels of Susan King on the news reiterating the plot of this story. Or not even the plot, really, just the central moral questions, points that have already been raised, implicitly and explicitly, in the preceding pages. It's not dramatic, it's not new information, it's not a surprise, and it has nowhere to go. In short, it's the worst possible place for an ending, and I'm not even convinced those two panels belonged in this story at all. A much, much stronger conclusion would've been the panel that came before, where the kid who loves Wild Dog is writing in his journal about how he's going to keep helping his hero no matter what. That's where you want to land, on the promise of this child participating in more dangerous activities, the threat of Wild Dog's whole deal being unraveled because of the worship he accidentally inspired. I guess that is where it tried to wrap up, but it went one step to far by having King repeat those themes, instead of letting them speak for themselves.
Surprise, surprise, Bob Galt wasn't safe in Clark Kent's apartment. As soon as Galt was left unsupervised, it was a safe assumption he'd go missing before long. It's shame that such a predictable twist is the entire reason for this chapter's existence. Everything leading up to that reveal is housekeeping, Superman finding a way to explain his presence in the hospital to the doctors, going over some exposition in his though balloons, and then BAM! Galt is gone. If that ending had been a legitimate shock, I think this would've been a strong beat, but it was so easy to see coming (even without Superman's "astounding X-ray and telescopic visions") that it ended up being fairly blah. Curt Swan sure continues to deserve his reputation as arguably the best Superman artist ever, though. It's worth commenting on anew every so often, because he captures the charm, good intentions, strength, and power of the character in an almost effortless way. It's really something, an artist understanding a character at a level you don't even realize is uncommon until you look at such a clear example of it like this.
I love how the Phantom Stranger shows up in Action Comics Weekly for these short little stories; it's very in-line with the concept and tone of the character. This was a bizarre one, where a scam artist named Sylvia Blane somehow figures out real magical words, gets possessed by the angry spirit of an ancient king, and goes on a rampage through the city streets until the Stranger figures out a way to calm things down. The king, Ky'lhorr, was magically cursed by an enemy during his life and forced to kill uncontrollably, so he cast his soul into a dimension where he thought he'd be safe (or the world safe from him), only to be summoned centuries later by a fake medium seeking fame. It's a depressing situation, made a bit lighter and more digestible by the Stranger's levelheaded approach, as well as the overall mood of the story, which is a little jittery and crazed to match Ky'lhorr's personality. One of the reasons these shorter Stranger tales work so well in this book is because Paul Kuppererg works with a different artist every time, and he always seems to write to their strengths. Or maybe they are selected based on the story, or maybe it's just luck. Whatever the reason, Joe Orlando is a great pick for this story. He makes Ky'lhorr stand out from the nameless citizens he terrorizes, not just because he's wearing old-school armor, but because of how detailed he is, and how larger-than-life. Even compared to the Stranger, there's something that sets Ky'lhorr apart. The Stranger himself is very simple, not too intimidating but a solid presence. You can't miss him, but he's not overbearing, either, which is perfect because his heroism involves less offense and more negotiation in this story. The amusingly cynical ending worked for me, where Sylvia decides to leverage the event to advance her career, because the Stranger had already secured the more significant victory, and it was good to see him take out the bigger evil and be defeated by the smaller, more common one. Another hit for the Phantom Stranger, and a done-in-one at that.
Things get dark for Nightwing and Speedy. The former has two intense fights against Jade that take their toll on both combatants, the latter gets emotionally tortured by Jade before being poisoned by her. Jade, meanwhile, has to abandon her child to save herself, a choice that weights heavily on her, but was also the only one she ever could've made. It's heavy stuff, but it doesn't hold back the pace of this story's action for a second. Marv Wolfman and Chuck Patton gel nicely, filling these pages with beautiful acrobatic battle sequences, poetic prose in the captions that never gets too purple, and characters that are written and drawn with enough detail and care for all of the narrative's emotional battery to hit with full force. My interest in this Nightwing story has always been moderate at best, but this time around I was heavily invested from start to finish. It kicked off with a fight already in progress, kept going at a quick clip all the way through, and the slowest part was also the most devastating, when Jade cruelly taunts Speedy with promises that he'll never see his daughter again. It was mighty fine superhero entertainment, the ideal mix of melodrama and exaggerated violence.

In conclusion, here are all the stories from this issue, listed from worst to best:
6. Blackhawk/"Seems Like Old Times..."
5. Wild Dog/"Fatal Distraction Chapter Three: Puppy Dog Tale"
4. Superman/"Missing Person"
3. Green Lantern/"Assault on a Green"
2. Phantom Stranger/"Channel Switching"
1. Nightwing/"Motives"

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Monthly Dose: February 2015 (Super Belated)

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

100 Bullets #28: A fairly dull, slow-moving change in setting and introduction to a new character, Wylie, and his world. Wylie is presented as a pretty uninteresting slacker, not happy but not necessarily upset about having a dead-end job in a tiny town where nothing ever happens. He's realistic about it and seems determined to make his peace with that life. He's not a bad character, likable and intelligent and mostly honest, but there's nothing that grabs me about him. Meanwhile, Dizzy and Shepherd arrive in town, and at the end we're told unsurprisingly that they're there for Wylie, though we don't know why yet. It's a safe (and correct) assumption that he's a Minuteman at this point, because if he reminds me of any other character from when we first met them, it's Cole Burns. This means things are bound to get more exciting, and the fact that Wylie gets pulled into some kind of mysterious criminal enterprise promises the same, but this issue I was mostly bored. Also, Dizzy's outfit seemed needlessly skimpy. Though the setting was definitely hot, nobody else was falling out of their tops, and it didn't seem as though seducing Wylie was her endgame, nor does that feel like her style. Megan toyed with Benito on purpose, so at least her oversexualization served some narrative purpose, but in this issue Dizzy is dressed in almost nothing for no obvious reason. Eduardo Risso didn't focus on her body for more than a few of the panels she was in, but there were those few, and none of it added up. A subpar issue in the midst of a weaker streak for this title, but as I said, Wylie's life is bound to get more complicated and compelling very soon.


Automtic Kafka #4: I actually wrote a whole Cheese Stands Alone piece about this issue way back when. I stand by what I said there, except for getting Charles and Lucy's marriage status wrong, which was corrected for me in the comments. Anyway, that post is more words than these paragraphs ever are, so go ahead and check that out for my thoughts. For the record, though, I did reread this when I read the other two comic for this Monthly Dose.


X-Force (vol. 1) #28: This was one of those big fight comics where everybody talks their mouths off even though they are supposed to be in the middle of combat. Some of the lines are simply too long to have been spoken in the same time as the action seen in their corresponding panels. It's frustrating, both because of the lack of believability and the lack of necessity. Plus it gets in the way of the action. I liked Antonio Daniel's art, his blocky Cable especially, but Fabian Nicieza's words didn't fit it, and broke the rhythm of it more than once. So that was all disappointing. The cast gets a shake-up in the end, though, which is interesting, and there is something conceptually appealing about X-Force only barely pulling off a mission nobody else wanted them to complete, including the guy they rescued, and then having all their efforts be for naught in the end. There's been a consistent level of bleakness in this book, and that fits right in, as did Feral leaving the team. I doubt if her departure will stick for long, but it's a significant loss for the team, and Nicieza makes it natural enough to feel in-character but still be a surprise. Daniel handled the issue-long battle well, and made everyone on both sides look cool at some point (except maybe Reaper, but he was on his way out already when the issue began). The broad strokes of the issue were good, I guess, but the ultimate execution fell short. It wasn't just the number of words, either, it was that characters were largely repeating points that have been made before, sometimes even having the same conversation multiple times in this very issue. Feral and Gyrich go back and forth about three times too many over whether or not she's going to kill him or free him. It's maddening. It's been sort of a long time now since this book really impressed me. I feel like when Capullo showed up it looked good, like it was headed for change, but lately it's just Cable and his kids fighting bad mutants again, and that's not as enjoyable a read.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Elsewhere (and I'm Back)

Hey all! I got back from Mexico a couple days ago, and today I finally feel up to posting a lil something on the blog. Later this week I'll do the Monthly Dose for February and get those Weekly Action Comics Weekly Reviews a-rollin' again, but for now let's catch up on the stuff I published in other places, some of which came out while I was actually on vacation. Just before I took my hiatus, I had a column on PopMatters dissecting my favorite page from Rasputin #4. I loved doing that kind of analysis for a single page, and it's something I might do more of in the future, I think. Then while I was away, they published a piece I wrote about the first two arcs—and the overall new-creative-team-every-six-issues structure—of the current volume of Moon Knight. We all know that the Ellis/Shalvey issues dominated the Wood/Smallwood ones, but that doesn't ruin the whole project, at least not for me. That same day, my new 1987 And All That came out as well, covering Mister Miracle Special #1. It was a solid comic with great art.

Something I Failed to Mention
I'll level with ya: I barely remember what I did mention, let alone what I forgot. All of the things I linked to above were written some time ago. Even the Mister Miracle column was finished and scheduled almost a full week before it went up, and the PopMatters stuff was done before that, so it's all a little hazy in my mind now, especially with a week in Tulum separating my present thoughts from my memories of things written in the past. Could I read through them to find something I missed or neglected to bring up? Of course, but I've got other things to do tonight, most of all prepping myself to return to work in the morning, so...I'm phoning this one in. I'll try to do an extra thick "Something I Failed to Mention" section for my next Elsewhere post in a couple weeks. Until then, XOXOXO.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Birthday & Hiatus

It's my birthday today. I turned 28.

As a present to myself, I'm going to have Comics Matter go dark until sometime in the second week of March. At the beginning of that month, my wife and I are spending a week in Mexico, and between now and then I have a fairly tight schedule between work things, preparing for the trip at home, and getting my PopMatters and CSBG stuff finished ahead of time so I'm not writing them during my vacation. As such, the simplest, easiest thing to cut out of my calendar is this blog, since it's just my personal jam. So no new Weekly Action Comics Weekly reviews until I get back from my trip, and February's Monthly Dose will be heavily belated, and nothing else is going to get posted here for a bit, either. Once I return, I damn well ought to be recharged enough to get back to something resembling regularly scheduled programming.

Happy birthday to me. See you all in less than a month, but not much less.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Weekly Action Comics Weekly Review: Issue #616

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 (give or take) for 42 weeks. This is the sixteenth of those reviews.
For what I think is the first time ever, the order of the stories this week was exactly the same as last week. Weird.
I really liked seeing Hal Jordan use his powers in innovative ways to escape the safe, but I was not such a big fan of the scenes with the villains. The as-yet-unseen head villain is annoying with her arrogance and lack of a face, and the rest of the bunch are gratingly childlike. They also look terrible, just bizarre character designs that seem to neither have a function nor make any real statement about who they are. They look strange for the sake of it. So these characters don't do it for me, but that's alright, because all the better for Jordan to ultimately stomp them into the ground. The highlight this week was his escape, though, as I said. He chips the yellow paint away with his ring, using it as a physical tool rather than an energy conductor/manipulator/whatever the right word is, which I thought was a clever little detail from Peter David. Just because Jordan's powers are negated doesn't mean his ring is useless, and that's nice. He then creates a green drill to make a hole in the un-yellowed part of the safe, through which he shoots a beam out and makes a Hulk knock-off construct that frees him. It's a series of smart, quick-thinking moves by Jordan, making me like him and believe in him as a hero in a way I don't know I ever have in this series before. Of course, he then verbally beats the crap out of Arisia, and even though he feels bad afterwards, he doesn't really do enough to try and make up for it because he's in such a hurry to track down the baddies. That was disappointing behavior, an soured me on him only moments after I'd been so staunchly in his corner. Between the Arisia business and the 3 pages worth of obnoxious villains, this story ended up being mostly a letdown, but it opened with a very interesting and entertaining use of its main character.
Blackhawk is boring this time around. Martin Pasko doesn't have the same zippiness or humor in his writing as Mike Grell did, which makes the narrative move much more slowly. Also, this story is not nearly as intriguing—it's a conspiracy/murder investigation rather than a treasure hunt, and the man hiring Blackhawk here (Leslie Richardson) doesn't have any of the mystery of the nun from the first story. Leslie lays it all on the table right away, which makes me care less about what happens, because he's just a talking plot hook instead of a real character. On top of the actual mission being dull, the opening three pages have pretty much nothing to do with it. They're just sort of check-in scenes where we see what the rest of Blachawk's crew is up to right now, which mainly consists of them talking about what they're up to amongst themselves, so that's a decent amount of wasted space. Especially considering Blackhawk later repeats to Leslie almost all of the info those first few pages provide. This is not unclear or even badly written, it's just progressing at a crawl and not capturing my interest. Hopefully there will be some action next week, and things will pick up from there.
It sounds insane when I say it in my head, but Wild Dog may have been my favorite story in this issue. It did squander its first 2 pages, spending more than 25% of its total space—for some reason this was only 7 pages instead of 8—on inefficiently recapping last week's events. But the heart of the narrative was what came next, when Daniel Crown, the kid who witnessed Wild Dog shooting some robbers, got in an argument with his friends at the comicbook store about whether or nor Wild Dog is a "real" superhero. It's a debate I imagine took place in real comicbook stores at the time, and certainly several of my problems with the character were brought up by Daniel's opposers. It was good to see these complaints addressed in the actual comic; that display of self-awareness made me more forgiving of Wild Dog's bad points. He may be flawed and not fit into everyone's definition of "hero," but he knows that and so do his creators, and they're doing their thing anyway, which is admirable in its way. The rest of the story sees Daniel equipping himself with his own mini version of Wild Dog's battle gear, getting cash from his neglectful, alcoholic mother and buying his weapons from pawn shops. This naturally leads to him going out on his own patrol (he has a moped) and finding Wild Dog in the middle of a hostage situation. Daniel decides his hero needs back-up, so chances are he's about to involve himself directly in the violence, which can't possibly go well for anyone. I look forward to seeing Wild Dog being he's forced to face the negative influence of his methods and message. I don't expect him to change his mind, but it might, at least, add some much-needed depth to his character.
Not surprisingly, it turns out Superman didn't kill the man he threw against a wall last week. There was, evidently, some sort of transceiver implanted in his brain that allowed someone to remotely listen in on him and also kill him from a distance. No sooner do Superman and the doctors figure all that out then the transceiver is used to blow the dead man up, which Curt Swan, inker Murphy Anderson, and colorist Petra Scotese draw like the Sun firing confetti. Everything that happens here feels important to the unfolding mystery of the obscure evil organization who supposedly killed Bob Galt's fellow Superman worshippers. That said, this isn't a very compelling chapter, since it's mostly just information being delivered to Superman by two random doctor characters, who could easily have been only one person, instead. Supes no doubt needs to know these details, and both of these pages were needed in order to properly explain them to the audience, but even so, just learning about the transceiver and what it does without anything else happening was not all that thrilling a read.
There's a whole lot of fighting in this installment of Nightwing, and Chuck Patton makes it all look great. Speedy fights Wen Cheng, and then Nightwing fights Cheshire, and in both cases, the good guys don't do so well. The villains get the drop on them, and Speedy ends up knocked out, while the last panel of the whole thing is Nightwing's face only inches away from Cheshire's poisoned fingernails. Even though this narrative hasn't totally grabbed me so far, I liked this beat because it was brisk, action-packed, good-looking, and tense. Things are heating up all over now that Nightwing knows Speedy lied to him and they have both finally come face-to-face with their foes. I can't imagine there are too many chapters left in this arc, actually, because this felt like the beginning of the end, with little left to do but have Nightwing somehow best Cheshire, and then save and simultaneously confront Speedy. These might be wild assumptions on my part, but it seems like the only logical development, though I guess Nightwing might get beaten and then he and Speedy would find themselves captured together. Then they could deal with their personal shit, rally, and win the day together. Either way, a final battle in which one or both good guys get free from the bad guys' clutches can't be too far off, and based on this, I'm rather looking forward to it.
So I'm still not positive I understand what the hell happened in this Black Canary story, but I am positive of this: Vincent Scales was the main bad guy, and he basically gets to win, because by the time Dinah figures out what he's up to, she also learns that he has terminal cancer and will die within months. That may not sound like a victory for Scales, but he never has to pay in any direct way for the wrong he's done, and as vague as that wrongdoing may be from my vantage point, it would've been nice to see some kind of consequences. This story wasn't strong or well-built enough to pull off an ending this morally ambivalent; if nothing else, it needed to land on a solid beat of Black Canary winning, so we could've had some meager payoff despite the befuddling lead-up. Without even offering that, this narrative concludes just as unsatisfactorily as it moved all along, and thought I'm not sure of all the details, I definitely know I was never convinced to care.

In conclusion, here are all the stories from this issue, listed from worst to best:
6. Black Canary/"Bitter Fruit - Conclusion"
5. Blackhawk/"Mission: Implausible"
4. Green Lantern/"Safe at Home"
3. Superman"Dead Men Tell no Tales"
2. Nightwing/"The Cheshire Contract Chapter Four: Counterpoint"
1. Wild Dog/"Fatal Distraction Chapter Two: Battle Gear"