Sunday, January 18, 2015

Weekly Action Comics Weekly Review: Issue #614

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 for 42 weeks. This is the fourteenth of those reviews.
Sick of wordiness
So haikus only this week
A fun, weird challenge
Hal's ring removed fear
Cool concept, explained too fast
With lame, sappy end
Great art, great story
A truly scary villain
Solid two-part tale
Cheshire gets her man
It's still a Speedy story
Fluffy, but not bad
Recap again? Ugh!
But Supes gets to save the day
And looks fantastic
I didn't have room to say it in the poem but this is a fantastic first page
Catwoman murders
And then frames Arthur for it
Dark, twisted justice
I'm still so confused
One awesome action panel
Otherwise, whatevs

In conclusion, here are all the stories from this issue, listed from worst to best:
6. Black Canary/"Bitter Fruit Part 4" [It's really Part 6 but "Part 4" is what it says]
5. Green Lantern/"Bring me a Man"
4. Nightwing/"First Blood"
3. Catwoman/"The Tin Roof Club Part Four"
2. Superman/"Death Comes Calling..."
1. Phantom Stranger/"Death God"

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Weekly Action Comics Weekly Review: Issue #613

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 for 42 weeks. This is the thirteenth of those reviews.
Woo, boy, I am sure starting to let that "one per week" promise slip, huh? But as my parents recently pointed out to me while visiting this weekend, if I miss a self-imposed deadline once in a while, who's going to punish me? I will try to get back to posting these reviews on Sundays more regularly again, but obviously this one is coming in a few days late. Forgive me.
This might've been my favorite Green Lantern chapter yet. The art hasn't done a lot of cutting loose in the Green Lantern story so far, but Tod Smith goes big here, getting to be the star of the first five of the eight pages. Hal Jordan spends those pages in a nightmare world of his own imagination, as influenced by Mind Games' mental superpowers. Up to now, we've only seen him turn people into homicidal maniacs, but apparently he can also influence other emotions as well, at least when he mind-blasts someone directly instead of through his machine. So he puts Jordan through a bunch of intense, negative feelings, things like hate and guilt, which manifest as crazy hallucinations, meaning Smith gets to play around a little. He also gets to draw a Hal who's on the brink, sporting some awesomely exaggerated expressions of anger and contempt. Eventually Mind Games tries to make Hal experience fear, which backfires since of course Hal has no fear. I liked this for a couple reasons, primarily that it tied together what had seemed up to now to be two concurrently running but non-intersecting threads: Hal's questioning of his fearlessness and the Mind Games threat. Also, it speaks to a larger issue, which Hal himself recognizes. For Mind Games' attack to fail, Hal would have to literally possess no fear, not even the kind that's buried deep or wholly ignored. Does this indicate damage, a flaw in Hal's personality? Acting fearlessly is heroic, but a legitimate absence of fear, an inability to feel it even when being controlled by another person, that may be symptomatic of deep dysfunction. It's definitely worth exploring, and as that seems to be Hal's intention, I'm still on very much on board. Mind Games seems to be taken care of for now, an appropriately quick defeat for such a lame villain, and one which moved the narrative in an interesting direction.
This is not a Nightwing story; it's a Speedy story in which Nightwing features prominently. At least, that's the only conclusion I can draw based on this first part. The story centers on Speedy's mission for the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation, which I guess was a thing in the DCU at this time) and revolves around Cheshire, who is Speedy's ex and the mother of his child. Remove the part where he asks Nightwing for help and this is a nice, clean, Speedy story with solid stakes. On the other hand, if it weren't for Speedy showing up in need of a partner, Nightwing wouldn't even know anything about what happens in this story. So why is he the title character? I assume it has mostly to do with him being a more popular (and, admittedly, better) character, plus maybe some as-yet-unrevealed plot detail that makes this narrative a better fit for him. Whatever, the fact that it's really a Speedy story doesn't make it bad. Nightwing is an amusing narrator, he and Speedy have a nice friendship, and the conversation between them about how they are both former wards of millionaire superheroes is interesting if a little obvious. Do I care about Cheshire trying to assassinate random ambassadors? Not really, but her villainous monologuing was fun. I also liked the looks of all three main characters. They were extra 80's, but it suited them, and everyone's outfits looked practical even if they didn't age all that well. I found this an entertaining but not quite exciting read, unremarkable save to say that it was actually a Speedy story.
Even though Tom Grindberg's art is not as standout as Kyle Baker's was in the first Phantom Stranger story back in Action Comics Weekly #610, this ended up being the best story, visually, in this whole issue. Grindberg is inked by Dennis Janke and colored by Petra Scotese, and all three of them really bring it when it comes to the horror elements. The opening page's final panel of the young woman who aged so suddenly it killed her, lying on the floor of the bus like the world's most terrifying ragdoll...I got chills. And Ah Puch is gloriously grotesque and enormous, believable as a god and a viable foe for the Stranger. Part of me feels like I've seen the concept of a book that kills the people who read it before, but I can't place it, and the added touch of having them grow old while having their faces sucked by magical leeches makes it compelling even if it's not original (which, again, it might actually be). I don't have a ton of experience with the Phantom Stranger, but this seemed a pretty good beginner story, with an obvious threat presenting itself, one that can and no doubt will serve as a perfect opportunity for the Stranger to show off the full breadth of his power. I am anxious to see that, especially with this particular opponent and in the hands of this artistic team.
This was the first time reading Superman in Action Comics Weekly felt like a slog, which was hugely disappointing. Recap, followed by super-dull housecleaning-type stuff, followed by the hint of a start of something dramatic and worthwhile, which came right at the end. There's reason to be hopeful about next week's installment, I suppose, but that doesn't make this week's any better. The five panels of info-dumping at the start already felt like a waste, or at the very least an inefficient way to remind readers of what's happened so far. But to follow them with two sizable panels of Clark Kent hiding Bob Galt in his apartment was just plain boring. The panel that came right after those, where Superman thinks to himself that Galt will probably be safe in the apartment, was really all that was needed to establish where Galt would be while Supes continued the investigation, but instead we had to spend time seeing Galt get dropped off, possibly the dullest scene ever. Clark Kent wasn't even wearing the amazing jacket he's had on in every other issue, and when we finally saw Superman in costume, it was small and action-less. I felt a little let down by this, because Superman has been so impressive up to this point, but everyone is allowed one off week, and it took three months worth of weekly chapters for Superman to have a real stinker.
Holly dies suddenly, and Selina mourns in her way, first getting drunk and then trying to get revenge. Selina knows that Holly's house didn't just blow up randomly; Arthur, Holly's husband, must have been responsible, trying to take his wife out so that the brooch Selina gave her could be all his. It's a simple enough hook, and it works well, bolstered considerably by Barry Kitson, Bruce Patterson, and Adrienne Roy's art. The explosion itself is bright and huge and devastating, and the page which follows, in which Holly slowly dies in Selina's arms, is done mostly in tight shots and lit only by the fire, making it intimate and pale and oh so sad. The real standout panel is two pages later when Selina confronts Arthur, and we see her standing over him on his bed, brandishing her whip, obscured by shadow but still terrifying and intimidating with her glowing eyes and fierce-looking cat ears. These are all good-looking pages, and the scene between Selina and George is tightly written, doing what it needs to do for her character and the plot without dragging its heels or taking up too much space. I'm starting to get into the groove of this Catwoman story now for real, and with Holly's death amping things up considerably, it's bound to get better from here.
I could've sworn that last week, in the scene where the mysterious Mr. Scales was talking on the phone, there was some dialogue about Hector Librado being terminated or some similar word. Apparently I misunderstood, though, as Librado is still alive, having survived the attempt on his life when another patient in the hospital happened to wake up and see him being strangled. Just one more detail I either missed, misinterpreted, or never understood. This Black Canary story has become a chore to get through, because I am so far from being invested in it at this point. It has never been clear to me what the stakes really are or why I am meant to care, there are still major players I know next to nothing about, and on top of everything else, it's slow-moving, with none of the hard-hitting street-level action I was hoping to see from this character. While I still enjoy Randy DuBurke's art and find his down-to-Earth style to be pretty perfect for this reality, it doesn't do anything original or interesting ever, really, save for that one panel a few weeks back where we first saw Black Canary in costume. Since then, it's been a by-the-books story art-wise, and Sharon Wright's narrative has never been totally accessible or even moderately interesting to me. I feel like I'm repeating myself, but I don't have anything new to say, because my problems with this story are the same every week. I'll stop for now, and try to find a new angle from which to approach my criticism next time.

In conclusion, here are all the stories from this issue, listed from worst to best:
6. Superman/"Wicked Business!"
5. Black Canary/"Bitter Fruit Part 5"
4. Nightwing/"The Cheshire Contract!"
3. Catwoman/"The Tin Roof Club Part 3"
2. Phantom Stranger/"Can't Judge a Book..."
1. Green Lantern/"Head Trip"

Friday, January 9, 2015

Terminal Hero #5 Review

I like Mia and Minesh. They have so much more personality than Rory; they're funnier and more perceptive and smarter and faster-acting. Rory, who has never been my favorite character, really starts to look boring when he shares the stage with Minesh and Mia. At the end of the issue, they ask him to join them, and I find myself wanting him to do it, even though that's basically like wanting Luke to embrace the Dark Side. Mia and Minesh are also visually more interesting. He has sharp, almost aggressive features that are attractive up close, and she exudes a weird kind of desperate confidence. She's also pale and red-headed while he's a tan brunette, so they have a nice, simple contrast as a duo. They're a great pair with a natural chemistry, and I like them so much better than the protagonist.
     The Tumor Kid, on the other hand, I'm sort of getting sick of. For one thing...I could've sworn he explained himself as Rory's tumor personified when he was introduced, but in this issue he seems to be the concept of all cancer personified, since he demands Rory kill some stranger who had a miraculous, inexplicable recovery from pancreatic cancer. Tumor Kid is angry that someone escaped him with no clear reason, and while it is quirkily compelling to think that cancer is bothered by its survivors, it's also kind of gross to introduce a random character as someone who recently beat cancer and then have him killed off because cancer somehow takes a human form. Speaking of gross, Tumor Kid is horrible to look at, and I know that's exactly what Piotr Kowalski is shooting for, so it's a successful character design, but it still bums me out.
     My biggest problem with this issue comes from, surprise surprise, it's pacing. Or, rather, the series' pacing, and the way it detracts from some of the emotional stakes. Both Tumor Kid and Agent Davenport threaten to hurt Rory's family, a.k.a. the family of Chris Walker, the man Rory whose life Rory stole after killing him (and a bunch of other people) in an explosion. The idea of the family being in danger seems to be enough to get Rory to do or at least seriously consider things he's not morally comfortable with, but I find that hard to buy or get into because as a reader, there hasn't been nearly enough for me to form any connection of my own with the Walkers. They're two cipher children characters and a woman who we know is cool, talented, and kind, but we've been given no reason to love yet. So while Rory acts as if he loves Chris' family as his own, I find that kind of hard to believe; it comes across as self-delusion on Rory's part because I have never seen or felt any of the love he supposedly has for them. The scene where he sends a projection to check in on his daughter was the most forced, uncomfortable moment in this book yet, and also maybe the most inappropriate use of Rory's powers so far.
     Similarly, I am pretty sick of Rory pining over Emma, and the scene where he spies on her and inadvertently attacks and maybe even kills her new boyfriend bugged me and felt gratuitous. Why is he so hung up on this woman? As with the family, I have not seen any clear reason to go nuts over Emma yet, simply because she hasn't been present enough for me to form any strong opinion. I guess Rory keeps coming back to her because she was the last person he was with before he got his powers, but...that's a flimsy reason for the obsessiveness he displays.
     Other than Rory's unconvincing relationships, Peter Milligan's writing was on point this month, if only because Mia and Minesh got to be on so many pages. That really is the main thing I enjoyed about Terminal Hero #5, getting to see more of those two characters, and considering they and Rory are face-to-face in the closing scene, I'm banking on getting a good deal more of them next month, and hopefully for many months after.
     Here's one last thing: I have not, in any of the four previous reviews, mentioned letterer Simon Bowland at all. I didn't even tag him in those posts originally (though for consistency's sake he is tagged in all of them now). The lettering isn't flashy or experimental at all, but it's reliable stuff. It's never in the way, it's easy to follow, there are expressive flourishes when needed but they're never excessive, and, in this issue at least, I didn't notice any errors. So, apologies for the oversight in credit-giving, but please know that Bowland's work is solid and appreciated.
     (I have also never mentioned cover artist Jae Lee, but that was more intentional, because I am not a big fan of the covers. They're way too similar to each other, and none are particularly remarkable or reflective of either the content or tone of the comic. I'm going to go ahead and leave Lee untagged in all these reviews, because I like him a lot as an artist, but this series is the least I've ever enjoyed his work.)

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Weekly Action Comics Weekly Review: Issue #612

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 for 42 weeks. This is the twelfth of those reviews.
Both Deadman and Secret Six concluded this week, and I wasn't expecting either of them to do so. I looked back at last week's issue and it did say at the end of the Deadman story that it would conclude next time, but somehow I missed that. Secret Six, however, gave no such indication, and considering what a non-ending we get this issue, I have to assume that maybe the original plan was to have it run longer, but for some reason that changed. The Paul Gulacy cover above is pretty awesome, though, a nice way to highlight the team and the tone of their narrative before putting it on pause.
So Mind Games is short, like bizarrely short, and has a super passionate Napoleon complex. It's not the best motivation for a villain, and it gets written by Peter David without an ounce of subtlety. I think that's because it's meant to be funny, and Green Latnern definitely finds it amusing, unapologetically pointing and laughing his tiny new foe, but the comedy doesn't connect. So he's short and mad about it, so what? I mean, yeah, he takes it to a crazy level, turning people into raging murderers just to get revenge on the entire world for failing to take his small self seriously. But him being maniacally self-conscious about his size isn't automatically humorous. It's sadder than it is silly, and it means Mind Games is terrifyingly unhinged, even crazier than his scheme made him seem at first. So I was not wild about the last couple pages where Green Lantern and Mind Games were face-to-face. Before that, we got to see Lt. Rensaleer be a total badass when confronted with an enraged Green Lantern, and Arisia commit to being a model, both of which were much more to my liking. I did not like the gag where the stray dog stole the letter Mind Games sent in and ran off with it, because why would a dog be interested in a random piece of paper? That's nonsense. I guess I liked everything here that wasn't supposed to be funny, which makes me wish David didn't bother with the jokey stuff at all. I did chuckle a little at the opening splash page (above), but that was all Tod Smith. The contrast between Hal Jordan's uncontrollable fury and Rensaleer's childlike joy is wonderful, a fantastic opening image to pull the reader in.
As I mentioned above, this is a jarring final chapter. While it does pretty much tie a ribbon on the tainted meat mission, it also opens up a whole new can of worms by revealing that both that and the first mission were connected to the same company, Technodyne. We also see Rafael's friend/employee, whose name I completely forget right now, break into the Secret Six's HQ just like Raf did before. At first he and the team fight it out, but ultimately he explains himself and they agree to work together to try and investigate Mockingbird, find Rafael, and solve the mystery of what happened to the original Secret Six. These are all good, intriguing developments, connected to the general mystique of Mockingbird, which is one of the biggest draws this Secret Six story has. Meanwhile, Mockingbird himself seems to know what's going to happen already, and is even anticipating and counting on the Secret Six and Raf's friend to try and free Raf, so that adds another layer of tension I enjoy. Martin Pasko has been letting this slowly come to a boil for twelve issues, and it's really starting to froth now, but then WHAM! The final panel has a caption reading, "So ends the opening story of the new Secret Six." Does it? Ok, if you say so, caption, but it really seemed like we were just getting going on an awesome third act, and it's a bummer that we don't get to see it yet. The team is supposed to be back in issue #619, so it's not a painfully long wait, but this is the first time a story has ended in Action Comics Weekly without reaching it's natural stopping point, even in a wedged-in way. And it was such a solid story, too, along with some of the best, strangest, creepiest art in the whole book. Dan Spiegle's presence will be a more notable absence than Pasko's, I think, and really the whole project is going to be dearly missed. For seven weeks, anyway.
The ending of this story is as rushed and disjointed as the rest of it has been, despite Mike Baron bringing back Talaoc, one of the earliest enemies Deadman faced in this tale. Somehow, without explanation or any hints at all, Deadman figures out that the character who claimed to be the Devil last week is in truth the leader of the alien visitors of whom Talaoc is also a member. This doesn't quite add up, because the Devil character has displayed some pretty impressive power, and he had that demon follower who he sent away last week, and also I am assuming he created the "Hell" that Deadman was trapped in, so...can all the aliens do those things? Is he also the Devil, like an alien came to Earth ages ago, went crazy, turned himself into the Devil, and then became a part of Judeo-Christian mythology? That'd be sort of cool, actually, but nobody ever makes it clear how this all is supposed to make sense, which makes me feel like it just doesn't. There's some other highly flawed logic, like Major Kasaba deciding to sue the CIA for slipping her hallucinogens. Does she honestly believe that's what happened, because if so, she's an idiot, which does not fit with what we've seen of her in the past. However, if the hallucinogen thing is a lie, how could she possible expect to win the lawsuit? It's a garbage, hand-wavy way of wrapping up the story in a hurry. Dan Jurgens and Liz Bérubé both absolutely crush it on the page of Deadman shooting the Devil-possessed Kasaba and trapping the Devil in one of the glass tubes. That's a blast of dazzlement that the story desperately needed more of, and it was the one bright spot in the conclusion of this Deadman story, other than the simple fact that it concluded at all. He'll be back in just six issues, which I'm not thrilled for right now, but maybe round 2 will be a bit more focused or well put together.
At long last, the part of the story where Bob Galt explains his past to Clark Kent is over, and Superman can once again actively work on solving this mystery. Don't get me wrong, I've liked getting Galt's background, and it's more exciting and comicbooky than I anticipated, with his group of Superman worshippers being attacked by some sort of large evil organization, the scope of which is starting to look pretty damn impressive. We get a glimpse of their leadership at the end of this installment, some of whom I think we've seen before, and they are just as interested in Superman's search for them as he is. Their intention to to take him out before he can uncover them, so it's a bit o a race now between Supes and the baddies—who can find and stop the other first? It'll be fun to see that play out, and I'm also very excited to seeing Superman beat up some of the goons in the red space suits, so there's a lot of good-vs.-evil action to look forward to. Basically, as the final beat of a section of exposition, this is mostly set-up for future events, but it's quite effective in that role.
This I liked a lot, and it made me like the Catwoman debut from last week more than I thought I did when I read it. I complained then that Mindy Newell might have crammed too much into her first chapter, introducing Selina, Holly, and Detective Flannery all at the same time. However, this week, Flannery saves Selina's life, only to immediately try and arrest her for still being Catwoman, and you get the feeling that he's more upset about her lying to him than he is about her actual criminal activities. That's a nice dynamic for them to have, both of them essentially good people, and therefore friends, but still on opposite sides of the law, and thus forced to also be enemies. Plus their actual fight, which only takes four panels, looks great, Barry Kitson showing Selina's grace, strength, and skill quickly and in tight spaces. With things starting to get out of hand, Selina regrets that she gave Holly the stolen brooch, and breaks into Holly's house to retrieve it. Turns out Holly already opened it and gave it to her husband, news that distresses the complete hell out of Selina, at least for the few moments between her hearing it and Holly's house exploding. The downward spiral Selina's on is fast-moving, but I appreciate how the rapidity doesn't make the story hard to follow. Newell and Kitson do a good job of creating a sense of urgency rather than mere hurriedness. The opening beat was good but failed to grab me; this week, everything got much better, and I am now fully (and happily) grabbed.
I've just about given up on trying to follow along with the Black Canary narrative. Take the opening page scanned above; I see that it's a homeless woman finding a gun, but I'm not sure whose gun it is or what the significance of the scene is meant to be. It's followed by Black Canary waking up in a dumpster, and the random cowboy who offered to help her last week saying he got left in another dumpster across the street. So evidently whatever happened at the end of last issue involved both of them getting knocked out, but the details are still hazy, even after the cowboy character provided a bit of an info dump here. He and Dinah part ways suddenly and awkwardly, and he gives her a card identifying him as Doug Vallines. Then we see Vincent Scales, who must be a villain, based on the dark lighting and menacing cigar, talking on the phone to someone named Gary in semi-cryptic language. The implication is that Scales is responsible for killing Rita's father, but I'm not sure that's what's going on, and even if it is, I still have no clue why. Anyway, there is then an entire page of Dinah in the shower, and for a minute it looks like someone is going to attack her but then, surprise surprise, it's just Oliver Queen coming in for a little romance. Dinah gets a call from Rita saying something happened to Rita's father, and then the final page is a short bald man in Hollywood running as fast as he can to a pay phone, calling someone named Barry, and naming himself as Doug Vallines. I imagine we're supposed to understand that this means the cowboy was lying about his identity, but again, that's not clear, nor are his reasons. Also...I don't care. There are so many half-introduced characters running around, and such a thing, sloppy story tying them together, I'm having a hard time feeling invested. I do continue to enjoy Randy DuBurke's realistic art style, and he did an especially nice job for the scene of Scales on the phone, but Sharon Wright's narrative is a big mess.

In conclusion, here are all the stories from this issue, listed from worst to best:
6. Deadman/"Take us to Our Leader"
5. Black Canary/"Bitter Fruit Part 4"
4. Green Lantern/"Mind Over Matter"
3. Secret Six/"Out of the Frying Pan...Into the Fire"
2. Superman/"Where Lurks the Evil?"
1. Catwoman/"The Tin Roof Club Part Two"

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

11:59:59

On Monday, my phone died. And I don't mean my battery had to be recharged—my phone died, shutting itself off for no reason when it had plenty of battery life left, and refusing to turn back on or respond to anything I did to it for the rest of the day. Somehow, the next morning, it came back to life; it's old and the screen has been cracked for a long time, plus I don't have a cover for it but I do drop it constantly, so this bizarre behavior is not necessarily unprecedented or unfounded. The point is, I spent all of Monday night phone-less. At first it made me anxious and tense, but it ended up being kind of nice to be forced to look at something other than my phone screen all night. It also prompted me to get some comic-related reading and writing done, more than I had planned to do that day, which is exceedingly rare. What I'm getting at is that for this New Year's Eve, the closest thing I'm making to a resolution is to try and put my phone away more often, like literally leave it in another room and pretend it doesn't exist. I want to do it every day for at least a few hours, and/or maybe all day Sunday or something like that. And I want to use that time to focus on comics in a more concentrated way than I have of late. I keep letting myself get distracted by other stuff, and games on my phone are a HUGE part of that, so enough is enough. Hopefully by publishing this half-baked plan on my blog, I'll be more likely to actually stick to it. Time will tell, as it always does. Happy New Year y'all!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Monthly Dose: December 2014

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

100 Bullets #26: Mr. Branch tells a woman he's sleeping with, possibly a prostitute, some very vague things about the Trust and the Minutemen that have pretty much all already been hinted at if not fully revealed before. There are two reasons for all of this recapping: 1. It's a useful if unneeded way to get the audience all brought up to speed on this fairly complicated story before whatever comes next, and 2. There are a bunch of splash pages done by various guest artists to go along with different parts of Branch's narration. It's kind of a cool gimmick, but it does make the issue feel crazy light, since not much goes on and little-to-no progress gets made. Some of the splashes are cool, particularly Mark Chiarello's drawing of Cole Burns and J.G. Jones' take on Dizzy's Parisian street fight from an earlier issue. The best guest artist contribution was actually the first one, Paul Pope's awesomely depressing Benito Medici, a cigarette barely hanging from his mouth as he stares at himself with hate and disgust in the mirrored wall of a crowded nightclub. It's a perfect encapsulation of that character and, really, of the spirit of this whole book. On the other hand, Frank Miller's portrait of Agent Graves' floating head was a complete waste of space, and even Eduardo Risso's pages of Branch and the unnamed woman have less going on than usual. It's a sex scene played straight, and Risso does it well for what it is, but there's just nothing important or unexpected happening, even at the end when she robs him and exposes to the reader that she can in fact speak English, not just French like she's been pretending. So there were some strong images, but a few weaker ones, too, and nothing significant took place in terms of plot. All told, a boring but visually varied and therefore occasionally rewarding read.


Automatic Kafka #2: Lots of exposition this issue, but delivered through an amusing interrogation between the National Park Service's Agent Stahl and the Warning, smug genius and super-rich guy. Turns out the Warning was the corporate sponsor and founder of Automatic Kafka's old superhero team, the $tranger$, and now that the NPS is looking for Kafka (we don't know why) they come to the Warning for help. In the course of asking for that help, Stahl and the Warning rehash the past, not only of the $trangers$ but much of the Warning's backstory from before they were formed, the events in his life that led up to him creating his own superhero team. He's an awesome character, cocky in a way he can always back up, and effortlessly funny, almost incidentally so, because he sees the big joke(s) in life that everyone else fails to get or refuses to even acknowledge. We spend more time with the Warning than the title character this issue, but when we do catch up with Kafka, things go nuts, and Ashley Wood's art gets to really blast off. Kafka, still loving the hell out of his new nanotecheroin, makes his supplier come with him to a closed/abandoned amusement park. He then connects the park to his own internal computer systems, and turns everything on remotely while he comes up on his high, experiencing the sights, sounds, and other wonders of the park on many levels, both real and imagined. Eventually he comes down hard, the park collapsing around him, just in time for some huge, terrifying-looking, heavily armored people to show up and take him in. We ultimately learn that these are NPS troops of some kind, as Kafka wakes up in the agency's custody, bringing the issue to a close. Well, actually, first he (and the reader) meets Agent Travers, who is one of his captors but also a self-proclaimed fan of his from his $tranger$ days, an interesting combo to say the least. Her introduction is also the issue's conclusion, a creepy and effective cliffhanger. Joe Casey jumped in with both feet for the debut of Automatic Kafka, so here in issue #2, he provides more background info more clearly, but still leaves room for Kafka to get into some crazy, drug-fueled trouble. It's a strong second beat all over.


X-Force (vol. 1) #26: After the super-sized clusterfuck of excitement and confusion last month, X-Force takes a deep breath and collects itself. Most of this issue is Cable walking around X-Force's home base and thinking about each member of the team one by one, mostly focusing on their emotional damage. Cable is starting to feel guilty and foolish for having assembled such a messed up group of kids, and wondering if maybe he's not equipped to lead and/or teach them the way they need. His fears seem legitimate, based on what we see here. There's a lot of unrequited love, Siryn's heavy drinking, Shatterstar's lack of emotion, and plenty of arguments and insults big and small among the ranks. The dysfunction and unrest are widespread, which helps make this issue compelling despite the relative lack of action. There is some token violence at the end when Reignfire frees the members of the former Mutant Liberation Front from prison so they can form a new Mutant Liberation Front. The art this time is by Mat Broome instead of usual artist Greg Capullo. Broome is a good replacement, his characters just as large and looming as Capullo's, though somewhat more angular in their features. He did make several hilarious clothing choices, most notably a shirtless Rictor in tattered jean shorts. It was extra 90's. I liked this issue, even if it dragged a little, because it was a lot clearer and more carefully put together than the last few, and more thoughtful, too. These little pauses in the action are good for a book that goes so hard at the action so often, letting the cast and readers reset before things get crazy again or, hopefully, crazier than ever before.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Weekly Action Comics Weekly Review: Issue #611

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 for 42 weeks. This is the eleventh of those reviews.
This cover is pretty good, but it seems an odd choice. I feel like this and the last Superman cover, for issue #606, should maybe have been switched, even though the above image would've been a bit of a late arrival even for issue #606. It's been several weeks since Superman has done any chasing of gunmen in cars, so showing that on this issue's cover, along with the phrase, "...The never-ending battle!" is a tad misleading. The battle depicted has very much ended, even if the story around it continues to move forward. It's not a bad cover on its own—I don't know if this series has ever had a cover that was straight-up ugly or poorly drawn—but it's not the best call for this specific issue.

In other news, I am sick and this is already a day late, so it's going to be a short one.
I'm digging this Mind Games story. It's simple enough for the eight-page chapters in which it has to be told, and high-stakes enough to hold my interest. I did find it weird that Arisia started out calling for Hal to help her, but then once he finally got out of the shower and asked her why she didn't scream for help, she says she enjoyed the thrill of fighting for her life because she's a former Green Lantern. Her perspective changed mid-combat for no real reason, so that wasn't great, but the fight itself was well-done by Tod Smith, and the rest of Peter David's script was solid. I particularly liked the super-brief scene where Arisia was approached by a modeling agent at the police station. That's a nice storyline for Arisia as a character, a chance for her to interact with the culture (and pop culture) of Earth in a fun new way. I also still like the police lieutenant Hal is working with (Renesslear, I think his name is). He's entertainingly gruff, and comes across as a decent, well-intentioned, genuine guy. Mind Games has yet to truly come into his/her own as an antagonist, but turning random innocents into savage murderers is an effectively scary tactic, a classic brand of supervillainy, so it hums for me. I look forward to seeing where it leads, and finding out what motivates Mind Games to do this at all.
Most of the Deadman story bothered me for all the usual reasons; it's unfocused, it introduces a new threat after getting rid of the last one unsatisfactorily, the content is generally dull, etc. There were two things, though, that I liked a lot: 1. the full-page splash of the Devil displaying his true power, and 2. the final two panels which, at long last, brought some elements of this story full circle. The splash page was mostly impressive because of Liz Berubé's glaring reds and oranges, as well as the simple fact that is was a splash page, a very rare treat in this anthology comic. The closing panels saw the re-arrival of two characters I'd thought were removed from the board for good, and because actually referring to and pulling from its past is so extremely uncommon for this Deadman tale, I was excited when to see this kind of connection be made at last. Maybe there has been a plan and a point to this narrative all along, and even if not, it seems Mike Baron is taking a stab at coming up with one now. Better late than never.
This is a pretty middle-of-the-line installment, devoted entirely to the Secret Six's mission instead of splitting up that action with some Rafael Di Renzi material like we normally see. It was good espionage action, and a lot got accomplished in a small space, so I don't have any complaints, per se. But the main draw of this Secret Six story from the beginning has been the bigger Mockingbird mystery, and that part was put on hold for this week, making Secret Six a little less enticing than I've come to expect. I do love the top right panel in the page scanned above—there's a perfect mix of fear, powerlessness, and hopefulness, captured entirely in the character's eyes and the shape of her mouth (somehow, incredibly, I still have not learned the names of anyone on the team except for Vic). Dan Spiegle has been awesome at nuanced facial expressions from the beginning, and that was just one more, especially strong example. Not much else leaps out as noteworthy, but it was plenty enjoyable, and it's always nice when this team is firing on all cylinders.
Seeing the "non-believers" in full uniform, looking like weird space invaders from the 60's, really reinvigorated my interest in this narrative. Not that it ever lost me, but it has slowed down the past few weeks, and now it seems to be gearing up for more excitement, even if this time all we got was a glimpse. I'm also hoping the huge bald guy from Bob Galt's group of Superman worshippers comes back, because he was the best part of both the panels in which he was featured. We pretty much already had enough clues to figure out the bulk of the info provided here, but having Curt Swan's depictions of everything made it a fun read, and it's important for Superman to understand the stakes, too, so this didn't feel at all like a waste. It may not have moved anything very far forward, but it looked great and was a necessary step. I've said it a lot but it bears repeating: Roger Stern is crushing these two-page story beats. They almost all count, and I've got to believe that's a rare talent for a comicbook writer to have, especially these days.
Why was Black Canary's debut given the opening slot and Catwoman's placed second-to-last? I asked a similar question last week about Phantom Stranger, but the more obvious answer in that case was that the Phantom Stranger story was a one-off, told top-to-bottom in eight pages. Catwoman is going to be a multi-part thing, so why no big introduction? She's not the cover, and he story is tucked away near the end. I don't necessarily mind, because the ordering of these stories has always felt largely arbitrary, but it is curious. Was it a specific editorial decision to make a bigger deal out of Black Canary than other new characters? Did they just happen to have that dope Brian Bolland cover for issue #609 so they went with it? Seems unlikely, since the cover image refers directly to stuff from within the issue. I'm not here to say Black Canary is any more or less deserving of attention than Catwoman, but whoever you prefer, it's baffling that they would be treated so differently by this series. The Catwoman story itself is fine but unremarkable. It's a clean, clear explanation of Selina Kyle, who she is and what makes her tick. We also meet the delightful Holly, some random criminals, and a detective who's name I forget and who seems to suspect that Selina is Catwoman but likes her too much to do anything about it. The whole cast is interesting, and Mindy Newell writes each scene well, but it did feel like maybe one too many details got crammed in by the end. The detective character, for example, might've waited one week for the sake of seeing more Holly or adding more drama in the big fight scene. That fight, by the way, was the highlight of Barry Kitson's art, a perfect showcase of Selina's talents. I'm happy to see more of this narrative, because this opening had far more good than bad, but I wouldn't say I'm exactly hooked yet.
I'm still having a hard time understanding this Black Canary story, though this week the confusion came more from Randy Duburke's art than Sharon Wright's writing. There were several unclear panels, but the last panel of the second-to-last page was the most frustrating, because it's Dinah Lance's last panel this week, and I think it's supposed to be shocking and dramatic. It looks like Dinah gets knocked out or at least attacked by the strange man who she had only just agreed to work with, but I can't be sure. The panel is too small, the angle too strange, and image too static for me to be positive what, if any, movement it's meant to be showing. Is Dinah falling over? Getting hit? Being pulled down? Is the other guy her attacker, or is the attacker unseen? The man who's visible doesn't look surprised or upset, but then again, I can barely see his face, so who knows? That's just a single moment, but it's the final moment for the main character, so it ought to at least be apparent what's happening. I guess I'll find out next time. I did at least learn one of the names that threw me off last week—Librado is the last name of Rita's family. I still don't know who the guy is who said it last issue, or why he said it, although he may be the same guy who kills Rita's father this time (I'd have to compare the two issues to confirm, since neither character left that strong an impression on me). The main problem I have with Black Canary so far is I just don't know what it's about, and this week did nothing significant to help that.

In conclusion, here are all the stories from this issue, listed form worst to best:
6. Black Canary/"Bitter Fruit Part 3"
5. Deadman/"Will the Real Devil Please Stand Up?"
4. Catwoman/"The Tin Roof Club"
3. Secret Six/"Bringing Home the Bacon"
2. Superman/"...Beyond Mortal Men!"
1. Green Lantern/"Room Service"

Sunday, December 28, 2014

2014

The highlight of my year, comics-wise, was getting to bring my "1987 And All That" project over to Comics Should Be Good, a blog that has offered me a much wider, more knowledgable audience of comicbook fans than ever before, and of which I was already a regular reader for several years by the time the generous Brian Cronin invited me to be a part of it. A pretty sweet bonus of my being a CSBG writer this year is that I also got to contribute to the annual Top 100 Comics list for Comic Book Resources, the mother site that CSBG is part of. Everyone involved sent in a top 10 list, with a brief explanation as to why each title was chosen, and then the folks at CBR tallied everything up and turned it into a top 100 list for the year. Normally, I don't like to do a formal "best of" list on Comics Matter for various reasons, but because I already put one together this year for CBR, and I was excited and honored to be able to do so, I thought I'd paste my submission for that site's list here in full, copied directly from the email I sent in. Not sure yet where any of these ended up on the final list (or if they made it on there at all), but we'll see as the week unfolds.


10. The Names
Even only four issues in, The Names has already made itself stand out as one of the weirdest and most intriguing series around. Peter Milligan is writing a great conspiracy adventure, one where we get to see all the sides without fully understanding any of them. I'm also crazy about both of the heroes, a dysfunctional duo who each bring their own darkness and comedy to the story. Leandro Fernandez's elastic art is the comic's true driving force, though. It's haunting and emotive, and it perfectly heightens the book's noir sensibilities.

9. Mighty Avengers
Really, Mighty Avengers gets my vote just because of the cast. They are an unusually and admirably diverse team, and they're all fantastic individual characters who Al Ewing writes the hell out of. Mighty Avengers has an idealistic heart, a quick wit, and a serious appreciation for the superhero genre. Plus the current Power Man's superpowers are awesome. He uses the chi of New York City? What does that even mean? I'm not sure I fully get it, or if Power Man himself even does, but Ewing makes it click and I love it. Which could also be said of the whole series.

8. The Wrenchies
The Wrencies is a heavy fantasy tale, overwhelmingly imaginative. Farel Dalrymple is a singular artistic talent, drawing in a sort of warped and muted psychedelic style. It's grittily trippy, and as magical as the novel's story. Themes of childhood insecurity and loneliness are mixed with fun-loving dystopian future demon violence for an uplifting tale of near-hopeless despair. The Wrenchies is, you can tell the first time, a book that requires multiple reads, and will likely never be grasped entirely.

7. Afterlife with Archie
Generally speaking, I am neither a fan of Archie nor zombies, but Afterlife with Archie sold me on both. No doubt, much of that has to do with Francesco Francavilla. The man is a tremendous artist, and for this kind of creeping horror story in particular, his style is the perfect match. The two-page splash of Sabrina the Teenage Witch meeting Cthulu for the first time might be the most memorable single image of any comic all year, and definitely holds a special place in my heart. Robert Aguirre-Sacasa's writing deserves plenty of credit, too. He's telling a pretty straightforward survivors-on-the-run story, but using the classic Archie character dynamics to add tension and complication at every turn.

6. She-Hulk
The biggest comicbook loss of 2014 was when Marvel announced the cancellation of She-Hulk (even though the series itself won't wrap up until January of next year). Charles Soule and Javier Pulido told great superhero stories and great legal dramas in the same space, tying the two genres together seamlessly to produce something that, if not entirely new, was at the very least fresh. It had a strong sense of humor, an impressive cast, and some of the best pop comics art on the shelves. I'm going to miss the hell out of She-Hulk, and I only hope it can continue to find fans even after it concludes, because it deserves much love for many reasons.

5. Harbinger and Harbinger: Omegas
Since it started in 2012, Harbinger has been one of the most interesting, compelling titles around. Joshua Dysart's character work is phenomenal, his villain at once classic and contemporary, and his hero probably the best-written teenage character I've ever encountered. This year, Harbinger reached its conclusion with the three-issue Harbinger: Omegas, and while it's not exactly the end of the line, at least for one character, it was nonetheless a fantastic finale. Indeed, all of the arcs this year—beginning with the introduction of the @x character and leading up to the final confrontation with Harada—were excellent, a mighty fine way for a solid series to make its exit.

4. Moon Knight
Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey, and Jordie Bellaire put together six of the hardest-hitting, best-looking superhero action comics of the year, bar none. Moon Knight isn't a character who is easy to do well, but Ellis found an angle that worked immediately, and Shalvey & Bellaire made it sing. An issue-long fight scene, an extended dream sequence, and deeply ambiguous endings are three things that would normally turn me off, but in the hands of this team they made for immensely satisfying reading. Some bemoaned the short lifespan of this run, but I think its brevity is part of why it belongs on this list. "Leave 'em wanting more" is advice taken not nearly often enough in comics, but Moon Knight is a prime example of how effective that approach can be.

3. Ms. Marvel
To create a new superhero in the either Marvel or DC Universe and have it not only succeed but truly break out is no easy feat. Those companies have such dense histories and so many well-established characters, most newcomers are quickly dismissed or forgotten. Kamala Khan isn't just new, she's in her own book, in her own city, and comes from a culture that is hugely underrepresented in the mainstream comic world. So her success, and the success of Ms. Marvelas a series, is significant for several reasons, not the least of which is that it breaks the mold of what's expected to sell. Also, it is a reliably awesome, entertaining, hilarious, heartwarming, great-looking superhero comic, so even without all other the things that set it apart from the herd, it's a standout series. It may not be my personal #1 pick, but I'd still say it's the one title that most deserves to be on this top 100 list for the year.

2. Revival
Revival is a comfort blanket. Or maybe it's more accurate to call it a pillar. My point is, you can count on it to always, always deliver. While other titles, even the great ones, have an off month here and there, Revival maintains its impeccable quality throughout. With Tim Seeley writing and Mike Norton drawing every issue, it's also one of the most cohesive and consistent books being published today. The story burns slowly but is still white-hot, a horror tale but also a small-town soap opera of the highest caliber. There isn't a single character in the expansive cast who comes across as shallow or underdeveloped; they are all full, complex, flawed, engaging people, meaning no matter who we're watching or what the situation is, our full attention is always demanded. I look forward to each new issue of Revival more than any other title I follow, and that has been consistently true since it debuted more than two years back.

1. Flash Gordon
Jeff Parker and Evan Shaner's Flash Gordon has so, so many things going for it, but above all else it's fun. And it has fun being fun, the characters and creators all enjoying themselves unabashedly. There's not nearly enough of that in comics, and what's so wonderful about this series is that it manages to have its fun without in any way detracting from the stakes of the stories it's telling. We care deeply about all three of our heroes, even as we laugh at their antics. Flash Gordon is an old-school character, and both Parker and Shaner respect that, giving the book a retro feel, yet simultaneously making it undeniably modern. It's the kind of series that makes you remember why you fell in love with comics in the first place, and at the same time gives you hope for the future of the medium. Hands down, I get more pure, unfiltered enjoyment and pleasure from reading Flash Gordon than anything else coming out right now.