Thursday, October 19, 2006
comics! 52and counting!
My extremely young friend Elmo spends a great deal of his time with alien species. He betakes his sylphlike form to the nearest open parkland and slowly, by ineluctable stages, he VANISHES from the human-view of all the living things around him. Those living things then proceed to pay Elmo the highest compliment they can: they completely ignore him.
They cavort in front of him, they scamper all over him, and they let him into their own perceptions of the living world. Elmo loves to play games with his own perceptions in this way - it's his particular drug. It's a drug-habit he shares with, among many other people (including innumerable anonymous British bird-watchers throughout the ages), David Attenborough - and a habit entirely unknown to various crocodile hunters of recent vintage. Buff, married, obviously gay nature-jumper Jeff Corwin has spent innumerably more hours around innumerably more species than Elmo ever will, but he's a pathetic, complete stranger to the interest, the joy, and especially the exhilaration Elmo can find in a walk in the park.
So when it's Elmo supplying me with a batch of current comics, instead of his roommate, my nemesis Pepito (theirs is a marriage of convenience, I assure you), I know to pay attention.
Five issues this time around, an uneven batch. Starting thing off are the Wildstorm relaunch of Wildcats and the Authority.
This is ominous stuff, this sudden reappearance of Wildstorm titles like pesky super-villains you were sure were dead and buried. Wildcats has always been a crappy concept, and we all know the Authority was only ever a two-arc wonder.
So imagine my surprised happiness when both these debut relaunches turned out to be really, really good.
No, they stink, both of them, a whole lot. Wildcats is the worse by far, despite Jim Lee's technicaly adept pencils. The main point of this first issue is that cool people smoke. They smoke cigarettes when they're down on their luck, they smoke cigars when they're kicking ass, but in either case, they're NEVER loser enough NOT to smoke. Geez.
The Authority #1 had a little more complexity to its crapitude. It's unbearably slow-paced and clogged with cliches, but Gene Ha's artwork is genuinely interesting. I'll never look at another issue of this turgid piece of poop, but that artwork was interesting.
Luckily, the rest of the batch didn't suck. The latest issue of X-Men had fantastic artwork by Yanick Paquette and a fairly snappy story besides, although can I just say I HATE this big blue kitty-cat Beast? The movies were a success - can't we dial back this 'secondary mutation' crapola to the classic Kelsey Grammar look?
The latest Ultimate Fantastic Four continues the God War story arc, and it's incredible - Mike Carey's writing is better than the vast majority of sci-fi short stories that appear in Asimov's and Analog, and Pasqual Ferry's artwork is the best of his career. The only irritating thing about this whole story arc is that it IS a story arc. I'd be happy to buy the grapic novel it was obviously designed to be NOW, instead of waiting for the whole process to run its course.
Wrapping up batch in question is the title by now guaranteed to get a totally ambiguous reaction from the crack staff at Stevereads: 52.
Every issue, there's stuff I really like and stuff that really irritates me, and this issue is certainly no exception. So let's go through it categorically, shall we?
Well, of course a comics veteran such as myself not only likes but LOVES the whimsical gesture of having Elliot Maggin as Oliver Queen's campaign manager.
*In the days before comics grew up, Elliot Maggin provided readers with an endless stream of good stuff, wiry, witty issue after issue. I don't know that he or any of his colleagues in those simpler days could write a comic today - and I'm not sure they'd want to. But this little invocation was a nice squirt of nostalgia.
*the look of Super-Chief - great size, great buffalo-mask.
*Judging from the memorial sculpture carved by the Martian Manhunter in this issue, it seems that Maxima is finally dead. And so our long national nightmare is over.
*the continued fascinating and well-done characterization of Black Adam - now accompanied by Isis and this new character Osiris.
*the hilarious way Ambush Bug infiltrates the 'next issue' banner at the end of the issue.
*Um, week 24? At the end of Infinite Crisis, Oliver Queen was a pin cushion, two arrows through his lungs and a convicted killer standing over him. Not only does this opening sequence not jibe with the story being told in flashbacks over in Green Arrow (I predict this is going to happen a lot), but it doesn't make sense on its own.
*the unholy resurrection of Keith Giffen's weird, apparently unappeasable fetish for loser-supergroups. Note to Keith: they weren't funny then, and they aren't funny now.
*Osiris? Did I miss an issue? Where did this kid (however entertainingly written) come from? Did I miss an issue? Wait ... Elmo, Pepito, you izquierda ... DID I miss an issue?
*Uh, the DEATH of Super-Chief? After one friggin issue? Geez.
*My usual complaint about 52 in general: the basic concept of this whole series - in addition to showing us the events that took place in the 'missing' year after Infinite Crisis - is to show us what the super-hero (and super-villain) world would be like without Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman in the picture. And this opportunity - it's unlikely there'll be another - is being hugely wasted.
Put simply, we shouldn't be reading stories about a bunch of losers (and Super-Chief, sniff) trying to be the Jutice League.
Wonder Woman was not only the most powerful woman in the world but an ambassador and de facto friendly face on the superhero community. Superman, despite his extensive rogues gallery, spent most of his time averting natural disasters. And Batman kept the most viral assortment of stone-cold psychopaths under constant control.
In addition to figuring out everything that happened in that missing year, this series should be about what happens to the world when none of those things is true anymore. What happens when the only person between UN sanctions and the superhero world is, for instance, Black Canary? How does Catman handle a Richter 7 earthquake in northern China?
How the hell does Captain Marvel handle the Joker?
Alas, we'll never see that storyline. 52 seems intent on a more soap-opera theme instead. Guess we'll have to take the good with the bad of that, and I'll just have to silently (well, metaphorically, you undertand) regret the path not taken.