Saturday, November 01, 2008

comics! november 2008!

It's a tale of three companies in this most recent batch of comics, and three very different states of comic book storytelling.

The first is a one-shot Thor special written and drawn by Alan Davis (as is evidenced by the fact that everybody skinny, even, just a little, Volstagg the Voluminous) that very pointedly looks back, back to the previous incarnation of Thor, the happy-go-lucky Thor whose costume featured a bright red cape, bright yellow boots, and six big polka-dots - the Thor who had heroic friends as his comrades in derring-do. A far cry, in other words, from the version of Thor currently being written and drawn over in the character's ongoing book, which, since it takes place in the dark, dystopian world that is the current Marvel continuity, features a darker Thor - unhappy, grim, relentlessly purpose-driven, and entirely free of polka-dots.

This one-shot Thor and his merry friends become embroiled in an adventure in ancient Egypt that just naturally features Thor fighting a giant ... you guessed it ... sphinx. Davis' artwork is of course great - so much so that his accompanying script, though entertaining, is entirely unnecessary to the understanding of the issue's plot. And everything is wrapped up neatly at the end, which is kind of a shame - this version of the character (like a heroic Iron Man and an alive Captain America) had tons of potential left. It would be nice if Marvel would consider a separate Thor title, featuring this version of the character and his supporting cast, entirely consisting of adventures, like this one, set in the distant past.

From looking back we turn to two DC titles trying their best to look forward. In the latest issue of the Legion of Super-Heroes, Jim Shooter's epic storyline continues to move forward with well-crafted confidence - a confidence, we now learn, that is entirely illusionary, since our young friend Elmo showed us an interview Shooter gave in which he's quite frank (and more than a little bitter) about the way DC pulled the plug on his run on the title and truncated his ideas for his storyline. So the graphic novel we'll see in the spring probably won't represent the great, grand story Shooter signed on to tell, and that, too, is a shame.

As far as grand stories go, they don't get much grander than the one unfolding in the Superman titles right now, a story long-time Superman fans will find tantalizingly familiar: Superman has succeeded in freeing the Kryptonian city of Kandor (which had been taken from Krpyton and shrunk into a bottle by the intergalactic super-villain Brainiac) and restoring its one hundred thousand citizens (including his own uncle, the father of Supergirl) to normal size - on the planet Earth, where of course they all develop super-powers. The Justice League and the Justice Society are worried about the prospect of having thousands of strange visitors romping around the planet, but Superman assures them everything will be OK (this even after one Kryptonian accidentally kills a blue whale, thinking it was threatening him). So of course you know things won't be OK. This is a gigantic storyline, exactly the kind of thing writers should be doing with Superman, and so far (it's had three chapters), it seems everybody involved is handling the "New Krypton" plot fairly intelligently, so this could end up being one of the winter's best stories. I'll keep you posted, since of course I won't be missing an issue.

By far the best thing in this batch is yet another stand-alone issue, this time "In the Chapel of Moloch," a new Hellboy story written and drawn by the guy who does it best, Hellboy's creator Mike Mignola.

The story takes place in 1992 in Portugal (a signature of Mignola Hellboy stories: they bounce all around in time and setting, like Robert E. Howard's Conan stories) - a friend of Hellboy's calls him in to investigate the weird behavior of an artist who locks himself in a room (without locks, naturally) every night and seems to be turning into some kind of zombie. Hellboy finds a statue carved to Moloch, and when he and his friend stake out the place, they see that the zombified artist is indeed mucking around with dark supernatural forces (another signature: Mignola's visual realization of horror's presence is non-flashy and genuinely creepy). The Moloch statue comes to life ("Well, you knew that was going to happen," Hellboy deadpans, another signature), Hellboy fights it, and general merriment ensues.

I understand entirely why Mignola might be a little tired of this, his most popular creation (although he must be proud too, especially with two fairly decent movies bringing the fruits of his imagination to millions of people who've never read the comics), but it still feels like a gift whenever he returns to give us a chapter like "In the Chapel of Moloch." Fifteen or twenty pages, once or twice a year - just that, and I'm content.

So: one company looking back, one looking forward, and one rejoicing in staying exactly the same. And all distinctly enjoyable - a good batch, unlikely to be repeated any time soon!

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