Friday, March 21, 2008

Comics!


Just a brief note here on two current issues, since a) they represent polar opposites in terms of conception, b) they possess some exact similarities in terms of conception, and c) somebody's gotta talk about comics around here! Worry not, all you non-comics readers: we'll be brief.

First up is issue #7 of the new J. Michael Straczynski/Olivier Coipel relaunch of Thor - only ooops! Coipel has already decamped for fresher coke-fields! Leaving Straczynski to bravely soldier on alone - for the two or three more issues it takes before he's bored and twitchy too, or until some slightly-larger relaunch paycheck is waved under his nose. We here at Stevereads have bemoaned before this mayfly tendency among comic creators these days, so we won't belabor the point here. We're only glad the book's new artist - Marko Djurdjevic - is almost as good as Coipel; in the bad old days, the art chores would have fallen to George Tuska or Herb Trimpe - Marvel hacks who lacked talent but could at least be relied upon.

And the storyline in this issue had an interesting twist as well. At the end of the previous issue, Thor had expended all his Asgardian power in a gigantic planet-wide effort to revive all his fellow gods (currently slumbering inside mortal hosts) ... all perhaps save one. As he confesses to his own mortal host Don Blake, Thor is hesitant to revive his father Odin, because Odin only knows 'the old ways, the old patterns,' and Thor wants to break free of them. The issue left us unclear whether or not Thor had decided to bring his bat-shit crazy daddy back to life.

(or did it? One of Coipel's final panels on this title he told everybody he'd be with for years was an indistinct shot of somebody looking vaguely Odin-like, materializing in a busy city square)

This issue begins with Thor so exhausted from his efforts that he has to go into the Odinsleep (or, more properly now, the Thorsleep), a kind of mystical coma designed to restore his strength. In this coma, our hero (who, so far in this title, has yet to do anything all that heroic - with the single exception of beating the living snot out of Tony Stark) exists in a state between life and death - and in that state, he sees his father re-fighting the epic battle with the flame-demon Surtur that claimed his life before this re-boot began. Odin is victorious, and he and Thor have a father and son chat - about how Asgardian sons always kill their fathers (heartwarming stuff). Odin relates a time eons past when he had a chance to revive his own father, Bor, and didn't - because, he tells Thor, it's perfectly natural for sons to want to step out of their fathers' shadows:

If you had wished to recall me from the darkness, my son ... you would have made some effort before now. Would have summoned mages. Would have asked questions. Would have tried. You did not. As I would have not, in your place.
Figures - the first time in the title's history where Odin talks straight with his son, and he's DEAD.

The issue ends in mid-flashback (and a record LOW number of pages of artwork) with a hearty 'to be continued...' teaser, and we here at Stevereads have a STUNNING PREDICTION for you all to mull over for the next month: the shadowy figure revived by Thor in the previous issue isn't Odin - it's BOR! Get ready for some grandfather-grandson trash-talking!

The second title we're taking up today is issue #172 of Robin, written by Chuck Dixon and drawn with wonderful low-key detail by David Baldeon. This issue continues the book's ongoing storyline which finds Robin dealing night after night with a new 'mask,' Violet, who steals from the rich and corrupt and gives to .... herself. Our current Robin, Tim Drake (here portrayed by Baldeon as in his late teens, on the verge of no longer being a 'boy' wonder), has had lots of experience in the run of this always-excellent title with young women who wander back and forth over the sharp line of right-and-wrong he learned from Batman, and Violet is no different: he's fascinated by her, but he's also compelled to stop her.

The issue's most interesting wrinkle is that he's being aided in that goal by two Gotham detectives, who want to partner with him openly, as an agent and confidential informant, as sort of a ground-level Jim Gordon sans bat-signal. Tim is suspicious of them, and even though their in-car patter (which we hear and he doesn't) seems innocent enough, the device has lots of potential for future complications.

The end of the issue finds Tim no closer to catching Violet, but the takedown of an illegal casino that is the issue's main action is expertly done and consistently fast-paced.

Which is where the similarities and differences of these two titles come in. The differences are obvious: Thor's the most powerful super-hero either Marvel or DC have to offer (no matter what INSANE happenings might have taken place in the famous Avengers/Justice League team-up from a few years ago), and Robin's the least powerful. Thor's title is now pretty much entirely involved in introspection and house-setting (the actual storylines are obviously being kept back for the second graphic novel), whereas Robin's book is humming merrily along on the strength of plot and character.

But the similarities are greater: both books are really good - among the best their respective companies currently put out. Thor is still in an epic holding pattern, but we here at Stevereads have faith (how can we not, him being our favorite Marvel character and all?). And Robin - through pretty much the entire run of this book - is finally getting the consistently excellent treatment the character has always deserved.

So until other voices should resume talking about comics (ahem ...), we'll let those two stand as our recommendations of the week. Even coming in mid-story in both, you'll find lots to entertain you.

16 comments:

Beepy said...

Yeeks, what STERLING PROSE.

steve said...

sorry Beepy! I know these comics entries must be a trial to you (and all the rest of you not COOL enough to ream 'em), but what am I to do, what with The Latest Issue STILL offline and all? Don't worry, though: it'll be two or three entries (a TV, a Penny Press, another book) before I return to comics!

In the meantime, I'll just wait here patiently for somebody to rise to the bait of me calling Robin the least powerful super-hero of all ...

Kevin said...

Yeah, 'cause calling Robin the least powerful super-hero of all is such a bold claim...

JEaton said...

Just a heads up to . . . gee, I don't know who. People who don't already know this probably don't care, and those who care knew about it years ago. But anyway, just a heads up that Alan Moore's The Killing Joke was re-released this week. I've been assured that this is a big deal. Having read The Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns each for the first time in the past six months, I'm looking forward to reading their love child.

Kevin said...

You should read Alan Moore & Eddie Campbell's 'From Hell', Jeff - I think you'll really enjoy it.

steve said...

'From Hell' IS extremely interesting, although it's a perfect example of a) what happens when you let a writer work without an editor, and b) what happens when that writer subsequently works while really, really drunk.

'The Killing Joke' is downright awful. If I live to be FIFTY, I'll never understand why comics fans venerate it the way they do. The main body of the thing is grotesque without being absorbing, and the ending is nothing less than blasphemous. For it to be routinely grouped as not just one of the greatest Batman graphic novels of all time but as one of the greatest graphic novels, period, of all time ... well, I just don't get it.

Kevin said...

While you're wrong, of course, about From Hell, I think I'm with you on 'A Killing Joke'. I haven't read it in years and years, but I was never that taken with it.

I can see Jeff specifically digging 'From Hell', for a number of reasons - Gull's treatise on London history and Architecture among them.

Kevin said...

Wow. I told Steve he was wrong days ago, and he still hasn't posted threats of my panishment.

He must finally be ready to defer to my expertise on all things comic book.

About time!

JEaton said...

Greg's madness is obviously contagious.

steve said...

I'm waiting for your REMORSE to settle in ...

Kevin said...

Remorse? Feh! Why would I -
*sniff*
H-hold on - I got... Something in my eye...
*sniff*
*snarf*
...BWWWWWAAAAAHHH! OH GOD, I'M SOOOOOOOOOO SORRRRRRY!


Just kidding. You're still wrong.

JEaton said...

I think we know who is to blame for Steve's lovely new banner. Ahem.

I agree that The Killing Joke wasn't all that. It had a few moments, but overall it was a little anemic for a Joker origin. The ending was only good to imagine in a daydream or a parallel universe.

I just bought From Hell on Kevin's recommendation, so I'll be taken up with that for a while.

Kevin said...

Excellent.

steve said...

Jeff: be sure to IMMERSE yourself in my Jack the Ripper piece on Open Letters. It's the final word on the subject, crackpot Moore notwithstanding.

steve said...

Oh, and Kevin?

YER GOIN' DOWN.

Word.

Kevin said...

(note that Moore didn't work off of what he thought was the most plausible Ripper theory, but the one that would make for the best story)