Singles Going Steady is Comics Bulletin's weekly single issue review roundup.
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Batman Inc. #12
(Grant Morrison, Chris Burnham, Nathan Fairbairn; DC)
Everyone is dying. The sprawling saga that Grant Morrison has been weaving for years is finally coming to an end, but Morrison is packing in just enough "umphf" to make sure we miss him when he's gone. And beg him to come back.
So what has this story done to us? What's it done for us? This review has been pretty hard for me to write, which is something that doesn't happen for me. I don't know how to turn all my Brain-Things into Paper-Things, into Word-Things.
Reading monthly publications tempers the passage of time. A month is kind of a long time. I'm not just saying it's a long time like the way everything is a long time when you haven't had sex in a while or when you're waiting for your Pop-Tarts to finish toasting. I'm saying a month is actually a long time. Especially in this world where everything is weekly or shorter and I want what I want and I want it now and if you don't give it to me I'm telling mom. When I read issue #12, I'm connected to one month ago (or two months, since last month was a filler issue). As is the nature of any serial publication, you have to think about what has happened in the story up to that point in order to prepare for what you are about to read.
But humans are weird things. The single most important principle of memory is Encoding Specificity. When you try to remember what was happening in issue #10, you also remember everything surrounding the moments when you read that issue. Encoding specificity is the principle that spawned the phrase, "If you study high, you gotta take the test high." This is because when you record information and material, you're not just recording that which you're attending to, but you're recording everything around you like a 360-degree Google street view image of color, emotion, and sound. So if you study high, you have to take the test high because the test material is actually linked to your memory of highness, any sensation of wonky vision or slowed time will boost your performance.
Hopefully talking about being high didn't make you remember that you are addicted to getting stoned because otherwise you're not gonna remember where I'm going with all this. Damn, I can tell. I've already lost you. Just go get some S'mores Pop-Tarts. I'll wait…
You're back? Okay. The thing about this story is that it isn't a short arc. This story has been going on for seven years. For seven years if you've been reading Morrison's Batman since the beginning, you've been tied to each passing month, tempering the passage of time. You aren't just connected via this story to last month or the month before, but to the last 20 or 30 months.
Emotion ignites memory. This story has made me feel so often, made my brain work to understand it and consequently created so many memories. When I read issue #12 in a hostel in Barcelona, I'm not really there. I'm in Germany reading issue #11; I'm homesick. I'm back in my empty apartment in Indiana for issue #10. I have no TV. My lips still tingle with the sensation of the girl who just left. Her work clothes are on my couch; I'll sneak them to her tomorrow. I'm visiting my sister in New York City, and she's still working. I'm horribly lost; I have to stop at a small library in Brooklyn to charge my phone. I'm reading issues 1-8 there. Damian dies in that library. I feel strange and hollow. I get a call that tells me my boss at work has died! Dude croaked! I had completely forgotten about that, honestly. I wasn't really planning on writing it, but I remembered it just now because that's how these things work. Memories are conjoined and circumstances are bound to the instances in which they occurred.
Why am I talking about all these weird life things? I'm not really sure. This story is ending, and I don't know how to deal with it. This is my meltdown about the shifting tectonic plates of time; there's no real way to predict the earthquakes. I've carried this story with me through time, and soon it'll be gone, just a thing in the past, like all stories. That's all the past is, stories.
I've carried this with me because it has mattered to me. And to be honest, I'm not even 100% sure how Morrison and his artistic compatriots have achieved that. But they did. I'm sad this story is ending. I'm happy that I'll be back in time every time I read it. I'll be 17 and Googling where to start reading Batman: the beginning. I'll be in Von's Comics in Lafayette, Indiana reading Batman Inc. #1 in front of the shelves. I'll be in my parent's house. I'll be reading in cars on road trips. I'll be in airplanes. I'll be in my college apartment, just looking at the pictures because I'm too stoned to remember what happened on the previous page. And I'm bummed because now I gotta take this test tomorrow super high. I'm holding paperback books, I'm reading on my computer, my iPhone, in hardcover, in Absolute Edition, on my tablet.
Shit, uh, you came to hear about Batman didn't you? Some simple things, some, simple things… This issue is rad. Morrison has more tricks up his sleeve. There are more big secrets to be revealed. Batman is vengeful. The final confrontation is coming. Burnham is a superior artist among his peers. The way he conveys motion and kinesis, but still smaller emotional moments is incredible. I'm delightfully excited to see what his next project will be after this. I'm so happy that they have been giving Burnham adequate time to do the best pages he can, as opposed to rushing him. I cannot fucking wait for the conclusion. Even though I don't want it to come. It's too soon; I'm not ready. What book wil
l matter to me this much again? Will any book matter to me this much again? I'm unsure. This was part of my youth. See you next month on Tyler Has the Blues for the rollicking conclusion. And maybe you'll remember where you were and how you felt when you read this review and together we'll be connected through time and space, like kids speaking into fake telephone cups connected by string.
– Tyler Gross
Red She-Hulk #67
(Jeff Parker; Carlo Pagulayan, Patrick Olliffe, Wellington Alves; Marvel)
Comics get canceled. It happens. But it sucks when they get axed right when momentum hits.
I picked up the book at the beginning of "Route 616" and after the first couple issues the quality didn't merit much praise. Over the course of a lengthy road trip by Red-She Hulk and Machine Man the pieces fell in place and the plot involving massive computers, a missing girl and supped-up super soldiers gets quite readable.
The last two issues welcomed the inclusion of the now more personable Man-Thing which introduced an alternate reality where Betty Ross and Bruce Banner swamp places. Just as green She-Hulk finds her crimson clone she and a bunch of military operatives with high-tech upgrades, are transported to the alternative reality (dubbed 616.1), smack right in the middle of a war between superheroes and a league of Machine Men.
That premise might sound familiar if you read the first few issues of Red She-Hulk as the first bits of drama started over Betty's vision of a war between heroes and Echelon that would ruin the world. That loose-end gets tied up nicely, as does some cool stuff with the Ancient Order of Shield. Yes, the same one from the yet unfinished project by Hickman/Weaver. The bow that sits atop this series is efficient, even if it's a little goofy looking.
I've expressed my feeling on the art by committee approach to this book. No clue why a platoon of capable makes sense to Marvel. I think it's an experiment. In this issue, because the script messes with reality, and because the pace moves swiftly, it's not super evident how much the art shifts around. I also noticed that the wrong colorist is credited on the cover.
Jeff Parker has penned the Ross family since Hulk #25 and it's eerie that this title ended much like his other Marvel offering. He did some good things with two of the major supporting characters in comics, and kept it all afloat with few appearances by the Green Goliath. It's a shame that Parker has no current Marvel projects on the slate, but at the end of this one we are teased about Betty leading a team that sponsors a bunch of familiar faces and a new concept. Who knows if that's where we'll see Betty or Aaron again.
The Hulk/Red-She Hulk run has taken two fairly unpopular characters and stabilized them into respectable pieces of the continuity quilt. Thaddeus is doing his thing, and even in a short run this book further distilled Betty Ross into her own unique figure.
– Jamil Scalese
Quantum and Woody #1
(James Asmus, Tom Fowler, Jordie Bellaire; Valiant)
Valiant Comics continues to prove that its relaunch was a good idea with the release of Quantum and Woody #1. As Woody himself says when he accidentally sets off the Dynamo Systems in Zone Theta, "Ooo… Shiny."
Quantum and Woody #1 plays in a familiar sandbox. Two brothers, one an over-the-top, by-the-book law enforcement type and the other a ne'er-do-well, lovable, quipping rouge, are acrimoniously brought back together by their father's mysterious death. In the course of taking matters into their own hands, they are accidentally zapped by some kinda super power ray which, I guess, gives them super powers. It's your buddy cop story stitched up inside your basic "origin" tale — like I said, we've built a lot of castles and moats in this sandbox before.
And it's obvious that Asmus and Fowler know this, but they use this knowledge to their advantage and use the tropes inherent in these formulas to propel the story. We already know this and that so they don't have to go on and on telling us why. Which frees them to have fun. And this is a fun book. A lot of fun.
Early on in the book, Asmus has on of the newscasters in this book ask if Quantum and Woody are really heroes or "dangerous overgrown children causing trouble?" The answer to that question is "Yes" — these characters will be heroes, but, like all heroes, to do so they have to be "dangerous overgrown children" as well. Because heroes step outside of the expected, normal, don't-want-to-get-involved day-to-day behavior that we all, as adults, display constantly and consistently. We think that given the opportunity to be heroic, we would certainly step up to the challenge. But we're kidding ourselves. We won't and we don't. We bear witness to horrible things happening around us all the time, and continue to walk into the store, the office, the classroom, our home, without really doing anything about it.
Who is it that actually does something about trying to make the horrors of others' existence a little less horrible? It's the dangerous overgrown children, that's who. The one's who are still willing to risk, to challenge, to change. These are the heroes.
Are Quantum and Woody going to be those kinds of heroes? I think they will (albeit the "world's worst superhero team"). Asmus and Fowler are creating something fun and exciting with this series, using all the advantages of an often-told tale to have some laughs.
The other day I asked my Twitter followers, "If I write 'It's a fuck-ton of fun' in a review, will people think I'm not being professional enough?" As nobody responded, I'm going to make my own decision.
Quantum and Woody #1 from Valiant Comics — It's a fuck-ton of fun. There's your pull quote, Valiant.
– Daniel Elkin
Justice League #22
(Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, Oclair Albert, Joe Prado, Rod Reis; DC)
Warning, this review contains spoilers for this issue, Man of Steel, and the 2012 Presidential Election.
Soooo, big crossover. I remember my first crossover. Hooray? Is anyone excited? Surely there must be someone. I remember when I used to get excited about crossovers. I'd delve into as much information about them as I could, I'd buy the director's cut issues, I'd strategically plan which books seemed necessary reads and which ones didn't.
Welp, that time has passed. I'm no longer excited about big superhero smash-em-up crossovers. I've lapsed on Justice League. I haven't read it since like issue #12, and I don't even know why I read it up to that point. It was a fun book up until then though, just entirely without substance. I should mention that I left when Jim Lee left, but not because Jim Lee left. We left… together? At the same time? I dunno how to phrase that.
I feel weird coming into this issue lapsed and not knowing anything because I feel like I'm the person that ruins everyone else's comics. This issue is essentially 100% exposition without much true plot advancement thrown in, but… I kind of liked it. I thought the exposition was laid out in an interesting and symbolic fashion. Except, I'm assuming all those kids that read as much as they could about Trinity War, who've read all the interviews and who are actually caught up on Justice League, I'm assuming this was kind of boring for you. First issues typically are in crossovers because the general direction of the story is so over-revealed in solicits and stuff. I was excited though, I had a good time reading this. I never really felt left out, even though there were about a million characters. Truthfully, this issue is well-written.
Now's the part where we get into the sticky stuff. And the spoilery stuff. So you know, go read the Wikipedia page for "cerebral hypoxia" or something if you don't want spoilers.
I generally just yawn every time I see a Superman-gone-bad story. I just yawn and turn the page. That's not a story. That plot point has been so over-used since 1985 that I don't even care about it a little bit. Superman is practically DC's greatest villain. I remember reading the "Superman NOW!" proposal from 2000 and part of their deal was an editorial mandate with no more Superman-gone-bad stories, and that should totally be a thing. Superman shouldn't be going bad. Even Geoff Johns seems kind of bored by his own idea here. Superman is bad for like 8 panels, and then it's over. Then he toasts that dude's face in the big splash and it is immediately revealed that it wasn't his own doing. It's like somebody is forcing Johns to make Superman bad, so he had to end it as quickly as possible. Maybe Geoff Johns himself is possessed by Pandora's Box and it's making him do weird stuff. #meta
I was okay with Superman taking down Zod in Man of Steel. It was well acted and had the perfect among of resonance, I thought. But now Superman has burned someone else's face off. Doesn't he get tricked into killing Lois in Injustice: Gods Among Us as well?
Happy 75th, Superman, you're a murderer.
Once upon a time, there was a story called "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" It was a while ago. It was written by a beardy guy. In this story Superman also kills someone. Except that it was an accident.
AND HE STILL DECIDED TO GET RID OF HIS POWERS FOREVER.
This is the world we live in now, one where Superman kills people because Superman doesn't kill people. I could take it once. I could take it twice, but now it's becoming a trope and I ain't happy.
I also remember (even though I don't because I'm not that old) when a Superman vs. Captain Marvel fight used to mean something. And that is done extremely casually here as well. It's like they're saying, "We know you want to see this, so we'll give it to you, but we're gonna be shitty about it."
In the final pages, it looks like the big Trinity War is on. And it is in the Middle East, making it even more war-ry.
Quick round up for people that hate reading: Trinity War is on. Superheroes are fighting. This issue is well-written, stupidly plotted. Reis is a beast on the art chops, but I think he's suffering a little simply from having to draw a fuck-ton of characters. His Aquaman stuff was better. Yeah, I'll probably read the next issue. I have to. This is what crossovers are. Oh like you're any better? I challenge you to give your four dollars to charity instead. Just get it in quarters and go to a mall and put it down one of those whirly spinny things. You even get to watch it go around and around! Do it.
– Tyler Gross
Trinity of Sin: Pandora #1
(Ray Fawkes, Zander Cannon, Daniel Sampere, Vicente Cifuentes, Patrick Zircher; DC)
This mystery woman, who looks like a DC version of Ghost or Rachel Summers (Hound Version), has all the pulpy potential of a mythological fable updated to the present. But her sad fate of not being an Amazon despite being ancient means there's zero chance the New 52 is going to have any idea of who Pandora can be or how to live up to her legacy. She's not good. She's not evil. She's boring. Her origin belies the kind of resonance the very cool Ryan Sook cover should possess. Would that he were inside as well, but what could even he do with this inert story?
She's vaguely exploratory, in pre-history. So she stumbles upon a futuristic metal skull. That holds seven avatars of evil. That's her big sin. Curiosity. For this vague pushing of a boundary in pre-history, everyone she knows is killed. And the Rock of Eternity folks sentence her to eternal torment.
Wrath is big, red and violent. Pride is female and purple. Envy is green. You don't have to work hard to imagine Sloth, Gluttony or Lust. Greed isn't Larfleeze, but otherwise we might as well be in Green Lantern territory. Which I refuse to visit without a Star Sapphire around, personally. The simplicity here is like a Sunday school story. It's PG-13, and not in a very bright way.
We get a tour through history that doesn't even make much sense in the DC universe, because where are all the other living myths to give these colorless (intended) ciphers a bit of competition or control? They're neither as dysfunctional as the Endless nor as quirky as fifth-dimensional invaders. Wrath seems to be doing what Ares usually does, for example, in war after war. Sense is not being made here. The snapshots of history our poor cave girl witnesses eventually reach recorded history, where she finally starts to learn to do things like pray, fight and bespell her enemies. She's still pretty useless once the Crusades begin, but at least she runs into Vandal Savage. His cameo is a short moment of wit in the otherwise dragging tale, but she's not smart enough to learn from the better Immortal.
She goes on taking centuries to learn basic superhero survival skills, until meeting up again with the remnants of the Eternity council. Oops, their bad. She's sort of the anti-Shazam, unleashing dark forces on the world rather than drawing power from good ones. Oh, and they were wrong to punish her for 10,000 years. You know, since she wasn't actually evil. Also, they need her to go see what else was in that box. Thanks for that, guys. Now stand still while she flays you alive, please.
Remember Sandman? Remember encountering Astarte, who'd become a stripper in Las Vegas. Because that was as close as she could get in the modern world to the fertility symbol she used to be? And how that was kind of tragic, but also poignant and interesting. And how she could still flame up and bestow wrath or blessings occasionally? That's how you do an archetype as a person. This? This is how you pay lip service to a legend while going no deeper than the surface.
And another thing, DC: if she needs help opening her box, she's not Pandora at all.
– Shawn Hill
Conan the Barbarian #18
(Brian Wood, David Gianfelice, Dave Stewart, Dark Horse)
Ugh. Issue #18 marks the end (finally) of The Nightmare of the Shallows storyarc. This three-issue drug trip where Belit and Conan skip down the happy avenues of the Yellow Lotus has marked a low point for Brian Wood's run on the series. Both in terms of art and story, things haven't been this bad since Conan took Belit home to meet his Mum, and met his evil twin in full soap opera splendor.
The first two issues of The Nightmare in the Shallows were that favorite comic book trope, the recap. They essentially went through Wood's entire run on the series, story arc by story arc, and presented it to the reader. I was bemused by — — on a series with hundreds of issues and pulling in new readers, I can see where the recap would be of value. But on a 24-issue run that is nearing its close I don't really understand why two issues need to be wasted in recap. We know the story thus far.
And now this third issue of The Nightmare of the Shallows; we get delivered what can only be called "Conan and Belit's Happy Ending."
I don't know if Brian Wood is doing this on purpose, but many of these story arcs in Conan the Barbarian: Queen of the Black Coast seem pulled from television writing. The whole idea of the dream sequence where two characters get to live their happy ever after, right before harsh reality rips it away from them—I have seen that on TV shows dozens of times. Enough that it has become a cliché.
That cliché is exactly what we get here. Conan and Belit live an idyllic, happy life on a tropical island, with their fully grown son and inexplicably blonde daughter (seriously, how do Conan and Belit manage to have a blonde daughter? Doesn't that make Conan even a little suspicious … ?) There son is fine and strong. Their troubles far away. And then … it was all a dream.
I wish I could find something nice to say about this issue. The scenes with the boat are really well drawn? The beach looks pretty? Artist Davide Gianfelice is another in the lineage of recent Conan artists who do backgrounds and settings much better than figures and faces. Even the King of Colors Dave Stewart isn't doing his best work here. The art is flat and lif
eless. The lines too harsh and sculptured. Conan's body looks more like a sculpted plastic action figure than a living, breathing human being. Each muscle on his body is delineated by a single slash of the pen.
Oh! I have something good to say about this issue! The letters column was great!!! An intelligent, interesting discussion on the proper pronunciation of Belit, Howard's use of diacritical
Signs, and the contrast of French and Sumerian/Assyrian use of the circumflex.
Sigh. At least it is over. Now I will go reread King Conan: Hour of the Dragon to cleanse my palate.
– Zack Davisson