Tell you what…these companies keep droppin’ books this hot, and that bi-weekly schedule of mine ain’t gonna cut it.
Back again, another fantastic Wednesday come and gone, and another handful of exceptional titles to highlight for their efforts. As the title of this piece clearly suggests, there’s an unrestricted level of commentary to be found within, so if you’re one of those strange people who prefer to “wait for the trade,” want to discover everything worth knowing about these books on your own terms, or are just a little behind in your reading, you might want to skip over this one. For the rest of you, especially those with more refined tastes, some of the following you probably already know, but it’s worth saying regardless. You never can say enough about good comics…
Remember, spoilers all over the place, no inviso-text in sight.
Birds of Prey #90 (Gail Simone/Paulo Siqueira & Adam Dekraker/Robin Riggs)
Man, Batman is a dick. I mean, there is an awful lot goin’ on here, chiefly Simone bringing one of her strongest arcs to an amazing close, but seriously…Batman really is an absolute dick. The character works best that way, because it makes his viewpoint, and more importantly, the intensity and single-minded expression of it, a truly unique expression within the DC Universe. There is nothing as cool, and simultaneously as infuriating, as Batman stepping out the shadows, pointing a harsh finger at somebody, and commanding them to fall in line with his completely obsessive worldview. Or else. Still though, as fascinating and engaging as all that is…doesn’t change the fact that he’s a dick.
But it always makes for good drama, and here forms the spine of an excellent confrontation between him, Barbara, and former commissioner Jim Gordon, stemming from Batman puttin’ his foot down over Huntress’ ongoing deep cover operation, in his usual uncompromising fashion. Typical “this is MY city” nonsense, but it marks the first real dividend of Barbara revealing her life as Oracle to her father, because it complicates an already tense situation. Jim takes serious offense to Bruce’s latest display of disrespect and arrogance, even though it’s a bit unnecessary, as Babs has proven on more than one occasion, that she’s quite willing to get at her former mentor when pushed. Barbara Gordon hates that you see, especially when it involves her agents. And on top of that, while Batman is doin’ his thing, those agents are being targeted by the Calculator and Deathstroke.
Setting Calculator and Oracle in direct opposition is somethin’ everyone knew would happen eventually, and their complex battle of wills is the main draw of “Perfect Pitch,” easily one of Simone’s strongest arcs on this title to date. One of the things about Gail’s stuff that’s always impressed me, is that her story arcs aren’t just that in name only, the characters and central relationships between them, always undergoing some type of significant evolution by the time they end. Every single story has pushed things forward in some way, and sets the tone and focus of the subsequent arc. In this case, the “connection” and natural rivalry between Oracle and Calculator deepens, Barbara introduces her father to the life of Oracle, Huntress’ standing and trust in the group intensifies, Dinah faces off with Deathstroke without all those JLAers in the way, Savant quits the team, and the team’s relationship with Batman subtly changes, heading toward a path of a well deserved mutual respect.
Realize that with One Year Later, an immediate goal has to be the creation of natural “jumping-on” points, making it easier to hook into the various titles, and I can only hope it brings increased attention to what has been one of the most consistent and superior offerings that DC’s had in their catalog the last couple years.
Rex Mundi #16 (Arvid Nelson/Juan Ferreyra)
Think I’ll always feel connected in some way to this book. When the column was just a baby, Mundi became one of the first significant indy projects that I actively sought out and featured. Hell, the very first Rex behind-the-scenes didn’t even appear in Ambidextrous, it’s buried somewhere in the interview archive, with probably an entire series of really bad questions, and that annoying double question mark thing I was doing back then. Anyway, I remember when I approached the creators (Arvid Nelson & Eric J) at a con, nervously introducing myself and the column, while strikin’ up a convo. about the zero issue, which paved the way for the official launch, and I’ve been following it closely ever since. Through a couple unfortunate delays, two trade collections, and the thing that’s brought us here today, an unexpected artistic change, I’ve been down with the “king of the world.”
I know, even from my very limited experience, just how traumatic losing an artist on an intensely personal project can feel, and though it’s an unfortunate part of the game, when it first hits, you’re confident everything is gonna fall apart. Developing an attachment with a collaborator is the only real avenue for accomplishing the true synergy that’ll lead to an exceptional work, and seriously, who endeavors to create somethin’ with a talent you can’t imagine being a part of the whole deal, from beginning to end? So, I’m sure the departure of original artist and co-creator Eric J gave Nelson some serious concerns, before finding a capable guy to fill his shoes. And then doing it all over again, when that artist was forced to leave the project after only two issues, bringing us to Mr. Juan Ferreyra, of the recently departed Small Gods. Which was another great book from Image, by the way.
Issue 16 marks Ferreyra’s debut, and proves this story has fallen into good hands. Juan’s artwork was exceptional in black and white, but the addition of color has taken him to the next level, and he excels with his portrayals of the main cast, remaining faithful to the original designs, but tweaking them ever so slightly. And his first script appears to have been fairly difficult, containing a large number of characters, and an incredibly complex ballroom scene that anchors the entire issue, testing his figure work, his skill at rendering backgrounds, and his palette, color serving as a strong visual component, in a book that often seems cloaked in permanent shadow.
The story is what we’ve come to expect from Mundi, strong characterizations, molded around a good deal of mystery, as the conspiracy continues to develop, and France marches ever closer to war. One more issue, and we’re officially halfway home on this series, and I can only hope that Arvid is allowed the opportunity to complete his epic historical adventure, even if it isn’t beside the artist who helped get things started. It deserves that, at the very least.
Planetary #24 (Warren Ellis/John Cassaday)
Planetary is that old friend you don’t even realize you miss, until you unexpectedly bump into each other, and are reminded of the incredibly good times from before. Whenever it drops, that familiar brand of Ellis/Cassaday alchemy hits you for 22 straight pages, and renders any and all delays an afterthought. Who really gives a damn how frequent or infrequent this book is released, when it’s always this good when it does? Just sit back, relax, and enjoy the final issues, before DC inevitably releases a second Absolute edition to preserve the series, in a format that makes the work of Cassaday and color artist Laura Martin look even more amazing than it appears in singles form.
In many ways, this chapter is really the “deep breath” issue, Elijah bringing his team together to peer behind the curtain one last time, so they can see how everything connects, and learn just what is ultimately at stake. Seemingly unrelated adventures are referenced, Snow explaining his very conscious change in behavior, and what his final aim is and always has been. Where once it appeared that Elijah Snow was just a remarkable explorer and historian, his ultimate goal is slightly more human, and it gives the character an entirely new level of emotional depth, because in only a couple sentences, we can completely understand and instantly relate to the man’s passionate struggle. Elijah wants his best friend Ambrose Chase back, and he won’t let anything or anyone stand in his way, especially not a couple of assholes that are content to fire an orbital death ray at him, from the safety of outer space.
In a recent Bad Signal posting, Warren Ellis notes this as one of the more difficult scripts he’s penned for the series, but you can’t tell. As usual, the pacing and the dialogue nears perfection, Snow saying only what he needs to, letting his actions and attitude dictate everything else. He continues to be an incredibly “cool” character, and when he says, “No more time for games at all,” with a slight sneer creeping onto his lips, you believe he ain’t playin’ around anymore. What’s left of The Four is gonna pay for “withholding glory from the human race,” and through them, Snow is going to be reunited with his long lost friend. And if you’re stupid enough to get in his way, well…shit, that’s on you. Should be fun to watch, though.
It’s a strange world. Let’s keep it that way for just a little while longer…
Infinite Crisis #4 (Geoff Johns/Phil Jimenez, George Perez & Ivan Reis/Andy Lanning, Marc Campos, Oclair Albert, Jimmy Palmiotti & Drew Geraci)
I don’t know where to even start, honestly. I shouldn’t like this book, I’m sure of it. A massive company crossover, serving as the staging point of a line altering publishing initiative, designed to lead the readership into books and characters they normally wouldn’t associate themselves with? Mind you, this is after the groundwork for this crossover was extensively outlined in four other miniseries, not to mention that the “villains” of the piece are the direct result of the original Crisis, from several years ago. And every single issue ships with a variant cover!? This is a mind trick man, specifically designed to pick the pockets of consumers who should know better. We need to rebel against this crossover nonsense before it’s too late, and we’re all drowning in chromium covers and polybags. I can’t be the only dude who sees this as the domain of a less discriminating reader, one lacking the discipline and elitist sensibilities necessary for any card-carrying member of the alleged internet brain trust? Because it is truly we who know best, and I won’t be distracted from that certainty by a Jim Lee cover.
……….Yo, did I read that right? Did the Superboy from Earth-whatever just kick the crap out of our Superboy, and about two dozen Titans? And what about that bit where the Flashes show up and take my man directly into the Speed Force, before disappearing in a giant fireball? TIGHT. Oh, and Crispus fuckin’ Allen becoming the new Spectre, after being murdered by dirty cop Jim Corrigan? That might actually be better. On the real though, probably the most amazing thing that happened in this issue, was a scene between Batman and Nightwing, where Bruce wasn’t a complete dick. I’d stop short of saying that the two characters had a “moment,” because we might not ever see it again, and I’m slightly superstitious. Man, I couldn’t dislike this book, even if I wanted to… it’s just too much heat.
The sound and fury threatens to completely overwhelm everything in sight, but it’s all built on a strong foundation of characterization and emotional payoffs that hit on several levels. For instance, I might not be incredibly familiar with the elements from the original Crisis, but I’ve followed Gotham Central religiously, and this latest development with Cris makes perfect sense, and was set up quite nicely by Rucka, in the last couple issues of the title. What Johns did to cap his lengthy run on The Flash comes back here, with the very strong assertion that we’ve seen the very last of Wally West, who with his family beside him, really has no reason to return back to Earth. And the crown jewel is the gentle steering of Batman toward something approaching reasonable, least in relation to his partners and fellow heroes. The scene is so good that I expect something unfortunate to happen to Nightwing before it’s all over, ’cause that’s what the best storytellers do, make you feel really good about a character, before doin’ something really bad to them.
Suppose we’ll see in the next couple months, but saying this series is living up to admittedly high expectations, is an understatement. The density of both the storytelling and artwork make this a must for at least two full readings, and if we HAVE to look forward to more of these sprawling crossover things, IC is proving with the right balance of spectacle and character progression, they can actually be good.
I’m as shocked as you are, really…
All-Star Superman #2 (Grant Morrison/Frank Quitely/Jaime Grant)
The comic book equivalent of a tall glass of water. Cool, refreshing, and incredibly good for you. The body needs it to survive, and the industry needs a creative pairing like this to accomplish the same. There is no reason in the world, that I hit the shop with a genuine and uncontrollable excitement about reading a Superman comic, of all things, and there is no reason that after setting a perfectly acceptable bar of quality and inventiveness with the first issue, Morrison and Quitely would top that only an episode later.
Nothing really “happens” in this issue, least not in the traditional sense. No one is punched in the face, nothing blows up in blockbuster fashion, no one dies…at least not yet anyway. “Superman’s Forbidden Room” is almost a character study that examines the very complex relationship between Lois Lane, Clark Kent, and Superman, casting it in a slightly fresh light with a very clever twist. The idea that when told the truth she’s been after for so long, Lois doesn’t actually believe that Clark and Superman are one and the same. Not after all the trouble he’s gone to over the years to prove differently.
With this, Morrison takes us into the Fortress of Solitude, Superman giving Lois a guided tour of his secret sanctuary, basically showing off the Super-intellect a little bit. Grant is doing the usual, tossing out spectacular ideas on every page, then moving onto the next one without pausing. There’s the key made of dwarf star material, the time telescope, the baby sun-eater in the Phantom Zone map room, the cosmic anvil, the mirror of truth, and my personal favorite even though it’s purely cosmetic…the giant Joker penny. “Good for one crime” it reads. Insane, brilliant, sublime, enter your own impressive adjective here. A comic is doing something right, if I’m reading it with a big Kool-Aid grin on my face, and there’s something incredibly likable about this portrayal of Superman. Nothing fazes him, his abilities and his creativity have found no limit, and really, this is how the “first” superhero should be depicted.
Lois also gets ample chance to shine, her tenacity and curiosity driving her towards the realization that what she’s been told is in fact true, Superman and Clark Kent are the same guy. Over the years, I’ve come across the complaint that Quitely’s characters lack a certain level of “attractiveness,” but anyone who doesn’t find his rendition of Lois to be incredibly sexy clearly is not to be trusted. Her character is further reinforced by the little subtleties in body language, the way she spends a large portion of the tour with her arms crossed, trying not to buy into any of Superman’s “explanation.” Her eyes narrowing as she’s interrogating him over dinner. The blind panic that sends her to the armory, in search of a kryptonite laser.
It might take us two years to get all twelve issues, but I really couldn’t care less. These two guys have me anticipating a Superman book, and given the excellent cliffhanger and solicit for chapter three, they just might push their personal bar even higher come March, making it look even easier than they did this time. “Faster” is better, but “Superman’s Forbidden Room” proved to be even better than that. Can you even imagine how good this book will probably be once issue five hits? Or eight? Just hope DC is prepping that Absolute Edition now…
Okay, those are my five picks for the week. Originally, there were meant to be six, but I yanked the Mister Miracle one at the last minute, because I have a rule that I won’t “review” something until I’ve read it at least twice, and I really didn’t have the interest in giving it that second look, for at least another few days. Let’s just say I had a very…strong reaction to it, and if you read it, you probably have some idea of what I mean. But I thought including it, and the really disturbing historical parallel I found in it, would clash with the overall tone and focus, and this is already runnin’ a bit long.
Will bring it up again at a later point, and while I’d like to say see you in another 2 weeks, Bendis’ last Daredevil issue is hitting on Wednesday, along with the first issue of Nextwave, and a couple other potentials hits. Until then…