Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Comics! the kingdom of frustration!

Frustration was the key to the last batch of comics young Elmo swiped from my archnemesis Pepito. Not frustration over the SOURCE of said comics - I make sure to shake the Pepito-germs off them before reading - but rather with the CONTENT. Let's take a brief survey, shall we?

Take, for instance, the week's best comic: the first issue of the 'new' Fantastic Four, with wonderful, Whedonesque dialogue by Dwayne McDuffie and very good Alan Davis-esque artwork by Paul Pelletier. For those of you not keeping score, the 'new' part here is this: Reed and Sue Richards have decided to leave the team temporarily, and their spots have been taken by the Black Panther and Storm. So far, so good: always interesting to see Storm outside of the X-Men, and of course the presence of the Black Panther (especially the character as he's been portrayed for the last few years at Marvel - intelligent, capable, regal) is always in this title.

And the issue itself is great - full of shot and incident, with a final panel that alone is worth the price of admission (plus, the cool little detail of having the team adopt black uniforms as a tip of hat to the Panther was neat). So where does the frustration come in, you ask?

It comes from the fact that such a roster-change would never really happen. Not only is it unrealistic to think the ruler of another nation would have the spare time to lead a super-team, but it's impossible to believe the Black Panther would simply put aside the differences between himself and Reed Richards and just move into the spare bedroom. The Panther is opposed to the whole idea of government registration for super-beings; Reed was one of the idea's main architects. The way the whole issue seems to have been swept under the rug all across the Marvel lineup is very frustrating, even in so good a comic as this one.

But the frustration was by no means limited to Marvel Comics, oh no. DC had a strong lineup last week, and the strongest books were also the most frustrating.

Take '52' for instance. Last time around, the title lost its nerve at the last minute when it came to the whole Black Adam plotline. He drove toward Oolong Island, tossing aside every defense the evil scientists gathered there could throw at him. His cause was righteous - avenging his wife - and for once his Superman-level powers weren't being soft-pedalled. But then when he finally reached the men who created the monsters that killed his wife, the DC writers lost their nerve. The bad guys zap him with what looked like a remote control for the VCR, and down he went - something that never would have happened to Captain Marvel or Superman in the same situation. And this current issue was even worse - in it, Black Adam is being tortured OFF PANEL. All we learn about it is that his screams can be heard all over the island. In other words, bad guys win completely. Very annoying, to turn from that travesty to anything else in the issue, although in all fairness it should be pointed out that there's a wonderful sequence centering on Bruce Wayne getting his Batman mojo back.

And speaking of Batman! Over in his own title, frustration reigns supreme. And again, it doesn't have anything to do with how well-executed the issue itself is: Grant Morrison's scripting is just dandy (he writes a convincing Bruce Wayne, which isn't, apparently, as easy as it sounds), and Andy Kubert's pencils are breathtaking (this is the wrong book for him, of course - he does a great job because he ALWAYS does a great job, but a Batman book isn't a good fit). No, the frustration comes from a couple of egregious missteps in the plot-sequence, the kind of missteps you just can't overlook.

Like the part where Batman is examining a squalid potential criminal hideout when he's snuck up on and SURPRISED by a gigantic thug in a Bane getup ... a gigantic, steroid-crazed thug who couldn't realistically sneak up on my 210-year-old mother. And as if that weren't bad enough, during he ensuing fight, the thug gets the upper hand by ... wait for it ... yanking on Batman's cape. Not yanking on it with a special phase-inducer, or yanking on it at super-speed, or anything like that. Nope. Just plain old yanking on it. To say the least, that's pretty frustrating.

But most frustrating of all is last week's issue of venerable old Action Comics, written by Dwayne McDuffie (there's that name again) and drawn by Renato Guedes. It's a story called 'Intermezzo,' in which Pa Kent tells Ma Kent about an adventure he had with their son Clark some years ago. The REASON it's called 'intermezzo' is because it's a little interlude set against the backdrop of the title's main story. And that's the source of the frustration: that main story should be the biggest cross-over event in the DC universe, not the province of any one title, even DC's oldest. Not one nor two but DOZENS of Kryptonian criminals break free of the Phantom Zone and come to Earth intent on conquest? Surely that is the ultimate nightmare scenario, the ultimate reason why groups like the Justice League exist in the first place? And yet here it's presented as just another storyline, locally contained in Action Comics.

The problem with such a storyline, great as it is, is that if it's done realistically it can have only one ending.

Dozens of psychotic Kryptonians intent on conquering Earth. Conjure with that for a moment, those of you who are so inclined (that's you, Kevin ....). Each one with the powers of Superman, so who's up as Earth's first and only line of defense? Wonder Woman and Batman, yes (anybody discounting the latter would be pretty damn dumb), perhaps Captain Marvel and maybe, just maybe the other Marvels. Alan Scott definitely, Hal Jordan possibly. Doctor Fate, if we still had a Doctor Fate. Black Adam, Solomon Grundy, and Lex Luthor (see above) if we include bad guys. And that's it. Conventional human forces would count as nothing, and apart from that, have I missed anybody? Supergirl, perhaps? Certainly Raven would be effective against Kryptonians gone amok. But no more. Nightwing, Robin, Starfire, Metamorpho, Green Arrow, Red Arrow, Black Canary, the Question, Doctor Midnight, Red Tornado, Wildcat, the Martian Manhunter, the Flash, the Atom, Aquaman, Wonder Girl, Steel, Catwoman ... you name it, it's no contest. And that means it's about ten against dozens. It SHOULD be the DC storyline to end all storylines, so it's frustrating to see it being done in such a piecemeal stoner fashion instead.

Better luck next week, I'm certainly hoping.


Gianni said...

Never happen to Superman? I'm sure there were plenty of times Superman tore down some villain's defenses just to succumb to a small glowing green rock. Or am I confusing the comics with the first season of Smallville?

steve said...

No, you're right - there've been plenty of times a villain's gadget brought down Superman. My point is that he didn't STAY down, pathetically, being TORTURED and effing SCREAMING entirely OFFSTAGE for a couple of issues while the bad guys went about their business. I thought DC was going to treat Black Adam the same way, and it's frustrating to see otherwise.

Kevin Caron said...

The ideal DCU counter to a dozen or so Kryptonians about to open a can of whoop-ass on Earth, in my opinion, would include Superman and Wonder Woman, certainly, and Batman, for tatical support, and for sure Captain Marvel (heck, the whole damn Marvel family) - but it would also include the Flash (to help execute some Kryptonite/red sun related scheme Batman cooks up), Martain Manhunter (Kryptonians are not immune to telepathy, last time I checked), Zatanna and the whole dang ShadowPact (to hit the 'magic' weakness), and the Original Legion of Superheroes (not the Extra Crappy version on the shelves today) if at all possible - this kinda thing is right up their alley. Maybe just a gaggle of Daximites to run interference while Supes and B-Man come up with a plan.

I certainly agree that this would/should be a great opportunity to bring in a slew of characters other than Superman - I think I'd prefer to see it done within one title, rather than a multi-title crossover - have a this great force gather to deal with the threat, then maybe make a reference to it in the other corresponding books (have the characters returning from the battle, or have an issue about the supporting characters that takes place while, say, the Flash is off dealing with this nonsense).

Sort of a half-crossover, like we used to see in the 80's at Marvel. I always liked that - when books acknowledged that they shared this world with other books.

Kevin Caron said...

Oooo... And Metamorpho! Turns to lead, to hide a BIG OL' WAD O' KRYPTONITE, YO!

beepy said...

Finally Steve posts an accurate picture of himself.