Thursday, October 05, 2006

comics! Civil War escalates!

My nemesis Pepito, in his blind and stumbling way, sometimes picks some comics that are actually good. This week, the haul that ever-vigilant Elmo yoinked from Pepito's room while its occupant was off dirty dancing at the Kit Kat Club was mostly well-done.

True, there was the usual proportion of crap so characteristic of Pepito: there's still swill like 'Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes' (when, oh when, will the plug be pulled on this, the VERY WORST incarnation of the Legion that's EVER EXISTED?) and 'Secret Six' (yeesh - of all the lame-ass concepts for a super-team book... made all the worse to see by this issue's guest-star, the Doom Patrol, one of the BEST concepts for a super-team book, but without a book of their own these sixty or seventy years) ... and Pepito also bought 'Ultimates,' about which I've already said all I'll be saying.

But the rest of it - from a very good, surprisingly good issue of 'Daredevil' to yet another winning issue of 'Blue Beetle' (the title is in direct violation Steve Peeve #114-50/c: established comics characters being replaced by second-grade recruits chosen for their gender or ethnicity - it's a sign of the worst corporate craven irresponsibility), an issue that includes a classic riff on the oft-used 'newbie meets Batman' motif:

Blue Beetle: I can tell my parents I helped the Batman

Batman: say Superman

Blue Beetle: Huh?

Batman: Trust me. Tell them it was Superman. Everybody likes him.

Blue Beetle: Doesn't anybody like YOU?

Batman: They're not supposed to.


Quite a few other DC titles had similarly good parts. In 'The Trials of Shazam' poor crippled Freddie Freeman goes to visit Mary Batson in the hospital. As you may recall from last time, Freddie lost his superpowers during battle with some super-demons, and Mary lost her powers while battling a harpy far, far above Puerto Vallarta. Because comics is still a boys' world, Mary ended up comatose and paralyzed in a hospital room, while Freddie ended up with a soul patch and a hot black girlfriend. Sigh.

At one point in his bedside recriminations, Freddie says the word Shazam' and WAMMO! He's lightning-bolted to the rock of eternity to have an audience with the new Wizard thereof, the former Captain Marvel. Freddie is probably too stunned to ask where the heck his CRUTCH is, even though it's clearly shown getting zapped right along with him. But stunned or no, you'd think it would occur to him to ask where his LIMP is.

In any case, the new Wizard informs him that he'll no longer be Captain Marvel Junior, at which point Freddie had to be thinking "Yes! No longer will I be the only superhero who can't say his own name without losing his powers." The new Wizard informs him that if he survives his upcoming trials, he'll be known as .... Shazam! At which point Freddie had to be thinking "D'oh! I STILL won't be able to say my own name!"

But it seems he'll have lots of company even so - the new Wizard informs Freddie that ALL the Marvels will be reborn - and sure enough, on the panels behind him we see the disastrous, embarrassing rest of the Marvel extended family, including Uncle Dudley (guess the old pederast will actually have super-powers now, instead of only pretending to). We'll have to see if Judd Winick can make it work.

The latest issue of "52" and the latest "Teen Titans" neatly dovetail, since in the former we first meet the characters who are so scattered and embittered in the latter. '52' has great panel breakdowns by Keith Giffen and wonderful pencils by Joe Bennett, and 'Teen Titans' features the increasingly-annoying artwork of Tony Daniel. Both issues kept things moving along fairly briskly, although the writers really should make an effort to, you know, actually TALK with each other. In 'Teen Titans' Zatara (Zatanna's cousin, possessing her same backwards-magic powers) tells his erstwhile teammates that his powers only work on things, not people. But in '52' he's stopped right in the middle of backwards-ordering Blockbuster to 'freeze' ... and while we're on the subject, shouldn't the writers make it clear that this restriction certainly DOESN'T apply to Zatanna herself? Because if it did, I can think of a couple of fairly big DC storylines in the last two years that wouldn't have happened ...

The other two DC picks I enjoyed mostly for their artwork: Scott McDaniel doing great work on an Hourman issue of 'JSA Classified' and Andy Kubert doing great work on Batman. The Hourman story is fairly standard, but kudos to Grant Morrison for his sparkling dialogue in 'Batman.'

But the top honors for the week go to Marvel's latest batch of 'Civil War' tie-ins - despite all my problems with it, this storyline is turning in consistently involving issues. We have three this time around:

Frontline #6 - this title is still annoying me with its multiple-storylines, but that annoyance is lessened when a couple of the storylines are really good. The Ben Urich strand in this current issue makes for very good reading (although again, the people involved really ought to talk to each other about what they're doing ... this issue shows Thor killing Goliath by blasting his head with lightning, when the latest issue of Civil War itself shows - in graphic detail - Goliath getting lightninged straight through the heart). And the issue's shocker is Speedball getting shot (the artist re-creates the famous photo of Oswald getting shot) - he's on his way to testify to Congress about his innocence, having had his safety personally guaranteed by Reed Richards. This was interesting reading but incredibly depressing, since the Oswald invocation is SURELY meant to throw suspicion on Reed Richards ... call me naive, but I just don't want Mr. Fantastic to be secretly orchestrating the execution of pesky jailbirds. Iron Man going all villainy I can barely stomach, but not that ...

Captain America #22 - Finally, Cap hashes out his position with Sharon Carter in this issue. They toss around quotes from Thomas Paine and Ben Franklin, and there's some very good lines, like when Sharon asks 'If Captain America doesn't follow the law, who does?' or when Cap points out that America isn't a country founded on law - it's a country founded on the breaking of a law, an unjust law. But as impressive as all of this is, what impressed me the most is that Cap and Sharon waited to have this deep philosophical debate until AFTER THE BOOM-BOOM ... they're getting out of bed and getting dressed when the political science fur starts to fly. Grown ups! They keep their priorities straight!

Amazing Spider-man #535 - Well, this is the issue I've been waiting for: the defection of Spider-Man from the cause of fascism, Peter Parker's realization that he's made a horrible mistake supporting the Registration Act and all the subsequent measures Tony Stark has enacted.

Ron Garney's artwork is once again the best he's ever done, but it's J. Michael Straczynski's writing that's the star of the show. This is the issue that finally confronts several major parts of the whole Civil War storyline, and above everything else, it cements Iron Man's role as the main villain of the piece.

Peter Parker insists on inspecting the gigantic Negative Zone jail Tony Stark and Reed Richards have devised to house all the super-beings who refuse to fall into line with the Registration Act. After the tour, Iron Man says. "So if you had notions of some kind of inhumane gulag, or a dark, dank prison dripping sludge and human misery, you were mistaken." Peter replies that he supposes the place is alright as an interim solution, whereupon Iron Man brings him up short: "This isn't temporary, Peter. This isn't interim. This is permanent. Get with the program." And when Peter is naturally shocked, Straczynski puts even more first-rate dialogue in Iron Man's mouth: "You can't put an atomic bomb on probation! You can't put somebody who flies under house arrest! It's real simple, Peter: they either sign up, or they stay here until they do sign up! And if they never sign up then they stay here for the rest of their natural lives! Do you get it, Peter? Do you get it now?" To which Peter replies "Take off the helmet. And tell me that again when I can see your face." And then for the first time we get a glimpse of the Tony Stark old Iron Man fans would actually recognize: "Do you think I like this, Peter? Do you think I worked my whole life to become someone's jailer? I hate this, Peter. I hate every minute of it. I hate everything about it. I haven't had a good night's sleep in weeks. But we have no choice. We have to follow the law ..."

So there it all is, out in the open, and the next thing we know, Peter is waking Mary Jane and Aunt May in the middle of the night, trying to slip them off the premises before anybody notices. The issue ends with Iron Man exploding through a wall and tackling Spider-Man - although what kind of a fight it could possibly be, considering the fact that Iron Man built the suit Spider-Man is currently wearing and almost certainly retains some kind of electronic control over it - remains to be seen.

But in the meantime, kudos to Straczynski for turning in the single best Civil War issue to date .... always knew he had it in him!


Justo said...

Er, um... there have been TWO Doom Patrol on-goings in the last five years, both of which you would have yelled at Pepito for buying... Dicknose.

Kevin Caron said...

I was just thinking about John Byrne the other day (always loved his run on Alpha Flight) and his current spate of forgettable comics that don't sell (my friend and local comic-book store owner has come to resent Byrne for all the comics he over-ordered because Byrne had his name on it, then got stuck with - ie a huge stack of "Lab Rats") - thinking, well, what should he be doing, to redeem himself (if that's possible)? Certainly not "the Atom", as he's never been particularly good drawing Asians, for one thing.

And it hit me that "Doom Patrol" should be a great fit for Byrne - in some ways, the book should be a lot like his Alpha Flight run - quirky characters, on the fringe of superherodom, who's lives are decidedly more complicated and difficult than the average super dude, and the pulpy twist plots...
(I could be wrong here - My actual knowledge of classic Doom Patrol is somewhat limited).

So, I guess my question is - was the Byrne Doom Patrol run any good?

Kevin Caron said...

Oh, and I bought TWO superhero books this week - X-Men: First Class #1 (sucked)and the new Dr. Strange book. Haven't read that yet, but I love the art, so hopefully that'll be good.

So there.

steve said...

I only yelled at Pepito those two times because I like yelling at him ... ulp ...