WHAT I'VE BEEN READING
I'm taking a break this week from the longer reviews to cover some of the books I've read in the past couple of weeks but haven't had the chance to talk about.
IDENTITY CRISIS #1: It was the big event release of last week. I hated it at first, then I begrudgingly liked it, but now I'm back to hating it again. I'll give Brad Meltzer this much: he made me think about the book. Unfortunately, that's going to back fire on him here.
The first half of this super-sized issue is just an introduction to as many JLA characters as Meltzer could fit in. It's so bad that there's a character who is aflame on a stakeout. Yes, Ralph Dibny, The Elongated Man, starts the issue on a rooftop at night trying to hide from criminals, while standing next to a woman who has flames shooting out of her all the time. No wonder why everyone presumed he was to be the dead one.
Then, the murder occurs, and Meltzer uses the cheapest and schlockiest of all writing tricks to attempt to make us feel bad about the death. He has some decent characterization leading up to the death, actually, but then blows it all by going over the top with an Out Of The Blue pregnancy "shocker." It feels manipulative, and it feels like something straight out of a soap opera. I expect an evil twin to show up in the second issue, now.
The last few pages of the book is where things get interesting. A small faction of the JLA is harboring a secret that threatens them all. Ah, yes, that old chestnut. We'll see what Meltzer can do with it. And I'm really curious to see how this so-far simple murder mystery is slated to turn into the beginning of an all new look to the DC Universe.
BATMAN: LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT #180: Dylan Horrocks treads on precarious comic book ground, placing Barbara Gordon in a virtual world to fight crime. Has any such story ever worked? On the bright side, he keeps it grounded enough that we don't have such crazy sci-fi notions as tactile feedback without an interface, or a shock in the Virtual World that kills a person in the Real World. Someone in CyberSpace does die after getting one to the head in the Real World, but we'll chalk that up to creative license.
The cover makes the poor decision to show Oracle on a flying surfboard, chased by two similarly equipped bad guys, while Giant Batman Head looks down on her. Didn't the world give up on Batman all together the last time he decided to go surfing in the air?
Ramon F. Bachs is a good artist, though. His faces are sharp, and people carry their weight visibly in the book. They're not little models floating across the page. At a time when the satellite Bat books are besieged by an endless parade of questionable fill-in artists, it's good to see a strong one. They should move this guy to ROBIN or NIGHTWING.
I was surprised to see Lee Loughridge's name (misspelled, though it was) in the credit box. This issue doesn't look like his regular style at all. It works, but it's very different. Much more sculpted.
I've already spent far too much time, though, on a book that's OK, but nothing special. This is part 1 of 3.
EXCALIBUR #1: Chris Claremont resets Charles Xavier in Genosha, intent to save an island he feels guilty for deserting, while bringing the body of his dear friend back home. Or something like that. It's a very meditative piece, punctuated by a minor villain squabble near the end, and many of the tools we've seen come out of Claremont's tool box before. You see, it's very hip in the X-books these days for characters to converse with or see ghosts of their younger days. It's a convenient way to get into Xavier's head and tell us what he's thinking without overloading on exposition. Claremont does a good job restraining his prose on this book. I don't mind the flowery captions and poetic dialogue he often uses, but it's good to see something different from him once in a while, too.
Aaron Lopresti pencils and Greg Adams inks the book. Much of the art reminded me more of Igor Kordey's style than Lopresti, who I've come to associate more with good girl art.
This issue is part one of four. The big surprise on the last page is one of the worst kept secrets in comics, and has upset many a Morrison-ite. I don't see why. Most of them only read the X-Men because he was writing it. Now that he's off, why are they sticking around? Do they expect a new set of creative teams to continue in the same mold? It rarely works that way.
UNCANNY X-MEN #445: Two issues in, and Claremont is already having a better homecoming than he did the last time with the Neo storyline that never really took off. Part of the credit for that has to go to Alan Davis, for his clean storytelling and drop dead beautiful art. Frank D'Armata uses this issue as his memo to whatever academy comics has to tell them that he's ready to accept his award for coloring. As great as Davis' artwork is, the coloring equals it. Check out the muted color scheme inside the ruins of the building early in the issue for the work of a restrained colorist who knows how to color for effect.
Still, that doesn't excuse the biggest clunker of the issue. It's one panel that sticks out so badly that you have to laugh. Three mutants enter a house, see a large hole in the ground leading to an underground lair. They fear for their friend's life. So what's the first thing they think to do? Quick - - change into costume! It's one thing to bring the costumes back into play, but it's another to use them so awkwardly.
DISTRICT X #1: This is the new mutant cop book. Bishop starts as a regular cast member in the second issue, which I haven't read yet.
David Yardin's art is very disciplined, with a simple grid approach to his storytelling and a good sense of detail and perspective. In a book that's trying to be "grounded" like this one, it's a good idea not to have an artist using forced perspectives and any of Kirby's more exaggerated effects to tell the story.
I just have to wonder how long we'll go before we tire of seeing alternative takes on well known superhero cliches. All such books have to have one wisecracker who makes light of superhero/mutant issues, only to become victim of one himself. His point of view is used to make us feel better as superhero comic book readers, winking at the silliness of it all.
The set-up of the story, though -- police in Mutant Town, sort of a mutated version of Little Italy, I suppose -- is interesting, looking especially at mutations that don't present themselves as crime-fighting vehicles. These mutants really are "just people." Writer David Hines does a good job crafting a murder mystery in the first issue.
NEW X-MEN: ACADEMY X #1: It's an interesting look at Professor Xavier's school, with Scott and Emma as the authority figures. (Those poor, poor children.) Ultimately, it's a boring first issue with a single attempt at drama near the end falling flat in the Danger Room. The book has great potential, though, and is worth checking out.
Randy Green's art is a great match to the story. He draws teenagers well, and a book like this should give him a chance to flex his artistic muscle without being pegged as a Good Girl artist.
ULTIMATE X-MEN #47: I missed Brandon Peterson's art this past year. Joined by CrossGen compadre Justin Ponsor on colors, Peterson makes this issue sing. It's one of the best looking books Marvel has this month.
Brian K. Vaughan is handling himself admirably in the presence of some mighty large shadows. He's directly following Brian Bendis, and Mark Millar just before that. The first two issues that he's written so far show a strong characterization and a fearlessness that a book like this needs. The grand scope and Big Ideas aren't present just yet, but give it time. Right now, he's doing well in keeping the drama lively and the characters on their toes. Vaughan just has to be careful not to re-introduce too many standard Marvel Universe characters and situations all at once. We're verging on playing Where's Waldo with this storyline already.
HYSTERIA: This is Mike Hawthorne's graphic novel as published by Oni Press. It features a female cop and a team of superpowered anti-terrorists all mixing it up. The book is set up as a series of short stories, with only one tale carrying through the entire book. Some pin-ups in the middle feature a great creator guest list: Scott Morse, J. Bone, Steve Rolston, Mike Oeming, and more.
HYSTERIA is a big helping of ideas, creative design, and good humor. It's not the most satisfying thing I've read all year, but it's definitely entertaining. It's a shot of creative energy that I'd like to see more of. It would be a waste to be done with the characters after this little work.
SHE-HULK #3: It's another great issue. If you're not reading this one, you're missing out on the most fun a Marvel superhero comic has been in years. Dan Slott includes the humor and the satire without breaking the fourth wall or making a mockery of the characters. It's a smart series, and each issue is a complete story unto itself. Juan Bobillo's art is wonderful, capturing the quirky charms of Jennifer Walters and She-Hulk. Check it out. It's worth your time.
THE WALKING DEAD #8: More complications from Robert Kirkman. Lots more beautiful black and white art from Charlie Adlard (with tones by Cliff Rathburn.) This might just be the best looking black and white book in the market today. Kirkman, once again, does a great job in telling a relatively complete tale in one issue, but still throwing in a creepy twisty cliffhanger at the end.
SPAWN: SIMONY. This is the graphic novel imported from France. I haven't read it yet, because I can't see the artwork on the pages. When did it become so dang cool to color things so darkly that it becomes impossible to read? I'm sorry I pre-ordered this one. I was taken in by the promise of Euro-art. Instead, I got bad Top Cow.
DEMO #7: Becky Cloonan continues to show her great versatility in this issue, using a high contrast art style. Brian Wood tells the typical story of a dumb person who doesn't believe that joining the armed forces might lead to serving in a war. That's OK, Wood says in an editorial in the back, because the military is filled with liars, scheisters, and con men trying to trick poor minorities into serving.
Yeah, I'm not buying it either.
Thus, the whole thing rings hollow for me.
GLOBAL FREQUENCY #12: It doesn't matter than this issue is months late. Gene Ha's amazing art makes up for all of it. Colored (painted?) by Art Lyon, this is the best looking issue of the series.
Warren Ellis combines more high concept science fiction with sharp tongued global agents. This comic could make a very good television show, indeed. Let's hope they don't screw it up.
THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #15: Dave Ryan's art is shot directly from the pencils, and it works well. Gives the art a softer look without making it look fuzzy or unfinished.
The story is paint by numbers so far: Another beautiful mind controlling woman holds the city in her grasp. Spider-Man and Captain America are trying to stop her. This is part one of two. Hopefully, something new will happen in the conclusion next month.
WITCHES #1: Shot from Mike Deodato's pencils. Looks nice. Doctor Strange assembles his team. Obligatory CHARLIE'S ANGELS reference in the script. There's a new big bad guy loose in the world, and the magical people will need to save the universe from it. Catfights and sharp tongues ensue. It's just a mini-series, so I'll give it a shot. If this were an on-going series, I'm not sure I'd stick around for issue #2.
JUSTICE LEAGUE ADVENTURES #32: Keith Giffen writes a fun tale about Martian Manhunter and The Flash's odd friendship. It's not the over the top hilarity of Giffen's classic JLA run, but there are nice comedic moments throughout this issue. The story is complete in one issue, and would be a great comics introduction to the kiddies who like the cartoon. It's straightforward and a bit silly. Dean Haspiel's art is pleasantly clean.
Pipeline Commentary and Review returns next Tuesday. Don't forget to vote for your Comic Book Idol, either! De Blieck Out!
Over at Various and Sundry this week, you'll see my angst over the summer television schedule, new ways to protest the movies, the surprise team on AMAZING RACE 5, the return of JOE SCHMO, more thoughts on poker, and more. It was a very busy week.
More than 500 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically. The first 100 columns or so are also still available at the Original Pipeline page.