Saturday, January 06, 2007
Comics! Because Kevin and Elmo have got to read SOMEthing!
It's a curious phenomenon, here as 2007 kicks off: my arch-nemesis Pepito (who cares not at all for our petty Western holidays) continues to drag-line trawl the new release shelves of his local comic shop, but such is the generally high mean of comics quality right at the moment that even he ends up getting mostly good stuff.
It can't last. It's only a matter of time until the Superman titles, Teen Titans, Outsiders, Green Arrow, the Batman titles ... it's only a matter of time until they all drift, until they start to suck almost as bad as, say, Supergirl and the Legion.
But while this little golden period lasts, even Pepito will have trouble buying crappy comics on a regular basis.
Fortunately, he'll always have Marvel Comics to turn to. In other words, he'll always have the X-Men.
There are so many X-titles, such a wide variety, all unified in one thing only: their suckiness. True, some suck worse than others - in fact, it's hard to say some of them suck completely, since they almost all sport absolutely first-rate artwork - but they're all so patently, pathetically adrift that I'm of a moral certainty that Pepito is the only person in the country who still buys them, and I firmly believe even he doesn't actually FOLLOW them (quick y'bastid, and without boning up: what's Mystique's hidden agenda? Why isn't Cyclops wearing his visor? Anything? Anything?).
Take the latest issue of 'X-Men' - it has absolutely first-rate artwork by the great, perpetually-underrated Humberto Ramos, but the issue's actual CONTENTS can be adroitly summarized by the cover - buncha grim super-types (including a rendition of Mystique that's so comically over-endowed Ramos should have been embarrassed to draw it), posing. The entire issue features nothing much more than that - at least, nothing comprehensible.
And how we wish we could say something different about Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men - it's been such a strong title and is still such a curiously readable one, but those of us loyal fans saw the same patterns when Whedon was giving us 'Buffy' so regularly (so regularly we forgot to be properly grateful, sniff! And now look at the miniscule progeny with which we must deal!) - he would go through a period of spectacular, prodigal creativity, and then he would ... well, he'd coast, custardize, even cannibalize.
Alas, he's at that stage in Astonishing ... the villains are a little too stagey, the dialogue is a little too arch, and as with all the other X-titles, the goings-on leave the reader with a profound sense of having urgently watched absolutely nothing get done. No dialogue is fruitless in Whedon's hands, but even so - one wishes for a new broom,
Things are no better in non-X titles - like 'Daredevil,' for instance, a title that could be the very definition of 'adrift.' This issue has like 30 pages, and every single one of them features nine neatly-cut little panels of FACES, just an endless parade of faces - Matt Murdoch and Vanessa Fisk, the long-lost wife of the Kingpin.
This is a charged history! This is a storied past! This SHOULD have been an enormously involving ... not one of Daredevil's great writers in the past (post-Lee, of course) has dealt with the formidable wife of the Kingpin, and one can feel what a Wein or a Gerber or a Miller would have done with the scene.
Here, it's entirely wasted. Matt talks, Vanessa talks, but thanks to the entirely static artwork and the go-nowhere writing, this issue yields nothing at all but information, and what the use of that, in a four-color comic?
And it's not just Marvel! Pepito managed to find crap even over at DC - no mean feat, considering what a roll their whole lineup seems to be on lately. Of course, he's aided in that aim whn the crap involved is particularly high-profile.
Which brings us to the latest issue of Brad Meltzer's Justice League. This is issue #5, but don't worry! Nothing much has happened yet. A freshly-sophisticated Solomon Grundy is still standing around menacingly, Vixen is still channelling animals off on the sidelines, and Red Tornado is still flesh-and-blood.
A far as I can tell, this issue features only one thing of any note: it gives us our first glimpse of pretty much the whole new League lineup (minus two rotten choices - Vixen and, apparently, Geo-force). There's the Big Three, naturally, but the rest shape up to be: Hawkgirl, Red Tornado, Black Lightning, Green Lantern, Red (ick) Arrow, and Black Canary. Not exactly an assemblage for the ages - that should be Green Arrow, and the team's token black character should be the Jon Stewart Green Lantern. Pulse or no pusle, Red Tornado is a loser of a character - that spot should be going to Aquaman, or Zatanna (or, for that matter, Power Girl, since all three of our D&D players agreed for three months running that she was a shoe-in).
Luckily, this haul had genuine highlights. Mike Carey's incredible 'God War' storyline in Utimate Fantastic Four continues to be the best science fiction being published. And Howard Chaykin's two-issue Guy Gardner mini-series concludes gloriously. Chaykin is such a talented penciller that it's easy to forget that he's also a canny, talented writer, a writer who specializes in heroes who are as flawed as they are noble.
He and Guy Gardner are a match made in comic book heaven. In this two-parter, Gardner is grating, bullying, and obnoxious - WITHOUT the Hallmark Moment at the end. He's a jerk, and he STAYS a jerk, and it's absolutely wonderful. And that 'absolutely wonderful' comes without any of the usual Stevereads caveats, because Guy Gardner - and the entire Green Lantern mythos - is currently experiencing the greatest creative period in its entire history. This two-parter is just delicious icing on the cake.
And of course there's the haul's highlight, so regular it's predictable: the latest issue of 52. It's spectacularly good, especially the central storyline involving Black Adam and his new family. This melodrama of power seeking to be good (the character of young Osiris has the potential to be one of the best, most conflicted super-'villains' in all of DC history) is extremely arresting, easily the best part of 52's slowly unfolding tapestry.