Sunday, September 17, 2006

comics!

After an extensive tour of Europe, Scandinavia, and the subcontinent, my nemesis Pepito has at last returned and begun supplying me once again with stacks of comics. Comics of indiscriminate quality, needless to say.

Pepito doesn't only buy crap, although dios mio, he crap he DOES buy! He must be the only person in the world still hanging in there with this wretched Aquaman relaunch, for instance.

The thing that bugs me most about this relaunch (even more than the turgid plotting, the cliche-soaked writing, and the murky, morose artwork) is the same thing that bugs me about the new John Byrne Asian Atom: they aren't really relaunches at all. They're cowardly little trial-balloons.

In both titles, the 'real' title characters are plainly still out there somewhere. The new Aquaman is a normal guy who's given superpowers, instead of being the son of a mermaid and a lighthouse keeper. Right. THAT's gonna stick. The whole time we're following the adventures of this guy in gold chainmail, we all know he's not the REAL Aquaman.

Same thing with the Asian Atom. We're explicitly told that the REAL Atom, Ray Palmer, is still missing after the mega-inexplicable events of Infinite Crisis (still waiting for one of you to tell me what the Hell actually HAPPENED during that storyline ...).

The only reason the REAL versions of both these characters haven't shown up by now, in a final-panel splashpage (with a next issue blurb saying something like 'Seeing double!' or 'Next time: things get interesting!') is because DC wants to see if these new versions will SELL. It's the most cowardly kind of character overhaul out there.

And the added twist is that it's so unnecessary. Look at Wonder Woman, tackling the whole 'year later' gimmick straight-on. Look at Birds of Prey, or the weird, increasingly wonderful stuff going on in OMAC. Look at the towering greatness that is Green Arrow.

(Don't look at Superman, alas - the powers that be at DC missed a golden chance to show some massive creative balls and have all the Superman books feature a completely powerless Clark Kent trying to adjust to his new, normal life ... a HUGE gamble to take with their flagship character, but oh! Just imagine how good it could have been!)

Icon-changes happen, I know. But they never last, and the whole of their merit lies in how well-built they LOOK. And both these relaunches look like they were cooked up during free period by a couple of high school stoners. Anybody remember the blue-leotarded Aquaman? How about the 'Savage Sword of Conan' Atom? Geez.

What kills me is that this moment - the after-crisis sorta-kinda slate-clearing - was the PERFECT moment to re-define both these characters for real, instead of these lame-ass attempts. As it is, we'll have to wait ten years, until DC has another crisis and kills another Flash.

But it wasn't all doom and gloom in Pepito's latest batch! There were good items too.

Like the first issue of 'The Trials of Shazam' (although: gloomy title) - neat, unusual artwork and some very good cliffhangers.

Or the latest issue of the Teen Titans, where this new loser-ass team (a kid who burps fire? And hey, while we're at it, let's let DEATHSTROKE'S DAUGHTER on the team? What's the worst that could happen?) goes to Russia and gets verbally spanked by Red Star. My only real complaint comes in at the end, when we the readers get to see the roster of the team during the 'missing' year. And my gripe with that, you ask?

Some of the characters, although intriguing, aren't POSSIBLE. Or if they are, they represent some of the biggest dropped balls in comics storytelling history. Little Barda? Surely even the offspring of Mister MIracle and Big Barda would need more than a year to develope, um, boom tubes quite that big? Miss Martian, complete with the trademark big red X right across her, um, twin moons? Zatarra? Zatanna has a brother we never knew about? And Osiris, standing next to Black Adam and looking a helluva lot like his son? (my money's on his being Isis' brother)

I mean, it worked - I'll certainly be reading future issues now, if only to see how some of these characters can be explained. Little Barda? The mind boggles ....

(although one thing bears pointing out: the team is set on finding each of these characters because one of them BETRAYED the team. So fine, let's find each of these new characters and learn their stories and in the process build a interesting team with some of them. But traitor? Puh-lease! Scroll back up and re-read those words: DEATHSTROKE'S DAUGHTER)

But by far the best thing in this batch of Pepito's comics - and it pains me to say this - was the latest issue of Green Lantern.

It pains me for this reason: I've never really cottoned to one-note superheroes. Atom can shrink. Flash can run. Green Lantern has his ring. Big woop. Give me no powers (Batman, Adam Strange) or multiple powers (Superman, Wonder Woman) any day.

But there's absolutely no denying what going on in Green Lantern since its conceptual (if not numerical) relaunch: this stuff is brilliant. Geoff Johns' writing is hard and fast, and Ivan Reis' pencilling is huge and gorgeous, very nearly the equal of 1970s John Buscema (he's very nearly there, it kinda sorta grieves me to admit ... the meticulous opulence of his wide-angle views is the equal of anything Buscema could do even at his peak, but his interpersonal action-sequences lack the requisite ooomph)(this isn't a criticism at all - the guy's probably 20, and if he keeps on this way, I have no doubt even the mighty Buscema will be displaced in due time, just the way his sons have all but displaced Joe Kubert)(that process will be complete when the ABSOLUTELY FUCKING INEVITABLE happens and somebody gets one or both of them to do a new version of Tarzan)

The issue starts poorly - with a stupid-ass cover that should never have been approved by any editor - but hoo-boy! Once you get inside, the thing is brilliant. Heady action, great characterization (not, alas, the title character - Hal Jordan is every bit as bland STILL has Barry Allen was, despite HUGE numbers of ways to fix that fact), especially Guy Gardner, who continues to steal both this book and Green Lantern Corps with absolute regularity. What a HUGE mistake it would be, to give him his own book or ever change him from what he was meant to be: the one Green Lantern in the whole galaxy who's playing BAD cop.

I have to tell you, boys and girls, if ALL the re-visionings of DC's biggest guns were being done with this sure touch of epic, we'd be seeing a DC lineup that hasn't been seen since WWII. Imagine if the whole POINT of Infinite Crisis ... that DC's signature big guns returned to BEING big guns with huge fire and a renewed sense of themselves ... were being done across the board.

Well, we'll have to take what we can get.

Next comic-chat we have, I promise: all my thoughts about '52'!

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

What have you read lately?

Yeah, I know but what HAVE you read lately?

steve said...

OK, let's try to keep up with the class, Anonymous! If you finish reading a post in which I talk about what I've read lately, you shouldn't have to ask what I've read lately.

Don't know why that 'have' is uppercased ... if it's meant to imply that I HAVEN'T read the issues I just talked about, you'll have to admit I did a Helluva job faking it.

You always were an odd one, Anonymous...

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steve said...

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Kevin Caron said...

Ivan Reis is 30, not 20.

Said the 30-year-old who hasn't broken in yet.