Saturday, October 22, 2016

QUICK HITS: Champions, Death of Hawkman, Doom Patrol, Jupiter's Legacy, Superwoman

Well, gang, I'm way behind on my comic book reading and playing catch-up. This post, and the next several to follow will be mini-reviews, sometimes taking several issues of a series together, as I attempt to clean up the backlog.


CHAMPIONS, No. 1

Marvel Comics, 36 pgs, $3.99  — December 


If I'm being honest, the main reason I bought this series was because of my massive nostalg-on for the 1970s CHAMPIONS series. But also, while I ended up bailing on Mark Waid's ALL-NEW ALL-DIFFERENT AVENGERS series after Issue 9, the best thing about that title was the interplay between Nova Jr., Spidey Jr., and Ms Marvel Jr., so the original solicitation for this series had that going for it, too. 

I do like that this iteration of The Champions gives a reasonable rational for the formation of the team, although the rando nature of the original line-up was  a large part of its charm. Still, I LOVE that Waid seems to be trying to roll back the grim-n-gritty style of comic book storytelling, which, though it reached its zenith in the 1990s, pervades all aspects of the industry to this day. That these characters want to do the right thing simply because it's the right thing to do, and that they strive to be better than the villains they fight, is solidly within the escapist literature wheelhouse that attracted me to comic book super heroes in the first place. I mean, I've completely given up on THE WALKING DEAD tv series ever since Rick and crew murdered a bunch of rivals in their sleep. And even Superman seems to have fallen into that, "for the greater good" definition of hero in recent decades. But this series seems poised to redeem the genre, or, at the very least, Cyclops, and that all by itself would be no mean feat.

But, beyond that, this first issue, at least, is just plain fun to read. Although the main plot is pretty basic, Waid NAILS the characters, imbuing each with a distinct voice. His take on Ms Marvel is particularly spot on. Frankly, I only bought her series when it first launched because it was $2.99, while all other Marvels were $3.99. My intent was to support the lower price point in hopes Marvel might follow suit with the rest of its line, but instead ended up staying with Kamala & Co. when they jumped $1 because I so enjoyed and appreciated the work of writer G. Willow Wilson, who gave us a Ms Marvel who reminded me in many ways of the Spider-Man of my youth, an everyman always insistent on doing the right thing, no matte how hard. As I said, Waid, a Superman-fan from way back, hits all the right buttons for me on this title.

The penciling of Humberto Ramos, however, is an acquired taste. It's not bad by any means, it's just stylized to a degree that is sometimes a little offputting to me. Still, either I'm getting used to it, or his storytelling is getting better (his panel-to-panel continuity sometimes confounded me back in his AMAZING SPIDER-MAN days), but I thought this issue was generally pretty decent. But again, "pretty decent" is, as with assessment of any type of artwork, highly subjective. Most people would call his stuff phenomenal.

STORY: A
ART: B+

BOTTOM LINE: A promising start that would hold better long-term promise on my pull list if it was $1 cheaper. Strongly recommended.



DEATH OF HAWKMAN, No. 1 (of 6)DC Comics, 32 pgs, $3.99 — December


I picked this up off the shelves of my local comics shop having not pre-ordered it. In that I was lucky, because my shop orders pretty close to the bone based on pre-orders, and this happened to be the last one left, just two days after the title went on sale. 

I did not pre-order it because, when solicited, it was not titled DEATH OF HAWKMAN, which is both foreboding and, given the hopeless continuity mess the character has been since CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS 36 years ago, faintly promising. Dare I hope DC is finally going to jettison Carter/Katar and Schwartzenize the winged wonder? 

As originally advertised, the book was called ADAM & KATAR: BFFs OF SPACE, or something like that. There hasn't been a really decent Adam Strange/Hawkman story since SHOWCASE, No. 101-103 in 1978 (which is a great tale and worth seeking out, by the way) and the most recent go-round I bought into — 2005's THE RANN-THANAGAR WAR — was a particular disappointment. So, I skipped this title, until the title change piqued my interest. 


This debut issue starts strong, given great art by Aaron Lopresti, with Adam and Katar losing the Battle of Serenity Bay, But then we flashback to before the fight and the story stops dead in its tracks — just as any story involving Adam Strange always does, as he gloms about it search of a zeta beam. Hawkman is entirely absent from the final 3/4 of the book — which is a bit odd in a series that, to judge be its revised title, is supposed to be all about him — while Adam tries to calculate where his wandering taxi ride to Rann will show up next. 


The issue ends with Adam finally finding his ride — or, rather, it finds him — and he arrives on Rann at what appears to be moments before the opening scene, with the planet already in ruins. Now, so help me, the fact that the zeta beam was not where it was suppose to be, appearing instead in cities that host most of DC's other heroes, had better play into the larger plot of this series. Otherwise, I'm going to be retroactively pissed if I realize this issue, written by Marc Andreyko, was primarily pointless filler. 


STORY: CART: A–

BOTTOM LINE: A series that might amount to something, but if you missed first issues you didn't miss much. Barely recommended.




DOOM PATROL, No. 1-2 DC Comics, each 40 pgs, $3.99 — November-December

The flagship of DC's new Young Animal line flatlined for me almost immediately. Granted writer Gerard Way does a better job at trying to be Grant Morrison than Rachel Pollack ever did, but this still amounts to weirdness for the sake of weirdness, with no apparent consideration for an overall plot, or internal logic. 

Now, I say "apparent," because I'm sure Way has invested a lot of time into building his world and the series "bible," but so little of it comes across in the final project that the story ends up feeling like a series of absurd non sequiturs. That's likely purposeful — the interludes with the Chief, for instance, are meant to have an surreal detachment — but even the people I know who like this book say they're hoping things will come together and "make sense" eventually. But $4 a pop is a little much, in my book, for the hope that things will partchwork together down the road, or that I'll remember all the random bits from one issue to the next. This is a series that may well read better when collected, but this is still serial fiction and, when published in the "floppy" format, there are certain structures that must by obeyed in order for the the buyer to come away with some sense of reading satisfaction. Oh, sure, comics long ago abandoned the simple idea of having a beginning, middle, and end under one cover, or even having a single element or subplot introduced, explored, and resolved within the confines of one issue, but there still needs to be some form of continuity as we lumber along. 

But the idea that, "Hey, this is the Doom Patrol, man, it's supposed to be weird," should not mean waving a white hanky to logic, or inserting elements, like the dead lion at the end of Issue 1, that are not immediately followed up on in the next outing.

But beyond that, the attempt at absurdist hipsterism should still maintain some semblance of logic within the confines of the narrative. For example, Casey and Samson never question the strangeness of the dispatcher until long after getting in trouble for going where sent. They should have at least tossed out a "What the heck was that all about" aside. Without it, having simply taking it at face value, we're left wondering why they should have gotten in trouble for obeying orders that, in their world, are apparently normal. Even worse, we're told Casey became an EMT because she wants to help people, yet she blithely brushes aside having her roommate blown up and takes on his murderer as her new apartment mate without reporting, or even much caring, about the guts splattered all over her kitchen. So, there's weird, and then there's just plain stupid. 

Oh, and for what it's worth, I've driven an ambulance. Forget taking out the unit for unauthorized trips, Casey should have long since been fired just for how she flies through the streets.

Anyway, Nick Derington's art is clear and compelling at least, and helps the story, such as it is, to flow. Given half a skosh of coherence in the story, his art would definitely be worth my hard-e. But as it is, I've already cut DOOM PATROL from my pull list. Issue No. 4 will be my last.

STORY: DART: B+

BOTTOM LINE: Exhibit A in the theory that comic book editors long ago forgot how to say, "No." Not recommended.



JUPITER'S LEGACY 2, No. 4 (of 5)
Image Comics, 28 pgs, $3.99 — September

Well, here's a comic that is extremely well done, just not done well for the serial format. I mean, the artwork of Frank Quitely is faboo. No question there. And the dialogue crafted by Mark Miller reads great. The problem to my mind is that this is too quick a read for $4. And, while there are plenty of interesting bits, I doubt anyone who has not read all of this series, plus the previous one, and the JUPTER'S CICLE books, is liable to have much of a clue what's going on, or why. I mean, there's enough to whet your appetite, with the theme of fathers and sons, and the pretty cool scene of saving the airline passengers that ends in both triumph and tragedy, but the uninitiated would be hard pressed to tell from this issue along who some of the characters are, what there powers may be, and what their relationship to one another is — let along why that matters.

And, to be frank, I'm starting to lose interest anyway. I mean, so little happens plotwise in any one issue that I often find myself struggling to connect with the characters in each outing, and then, just as I'm starting to settle in to things, the issue is over. I mean, I think I read this issue in under five minutes. 

STORY: BART: A

BOTTOM LINE: Like dining on a 12-course meal that's all appetizers and desserts, with no main dish. Recommended in collected form.


SUPERWOMAN, No. 3 DC Comics, 32 pgs, $2.99 — December

Well, DC has really struck out with me on its recent bait-and-switch attempts. As mentioned above, I did not bother to pre-order DEATH OF HAWKMAN under its original title. In this instance, I probably would not have ordered this series if it has been solicited with Lana Lang in the lead. For one reason, this version of Lana is not the one I grew up with. I'm not sure exactly when Lana became a super-scientist, but the change always makes me feel as if I'm reading an alternate-reality version of the character I know. And, for matter, for how long has Lana been shacking up with Steel? Is that new? 

Anyway, I'm not sure if DC solicited this as a Lois Lane book because it didn't think a Lana Superwoman would sell, but, if so, in my case, they're right. I bought into this series for the specific purpose of seeing Lois carry on for the New 52 Superman. And Lois, of course, has always been a dynamic, compelling character in her own right. I thought seeing her try and BE Superman after so many years of writing about and living with him would be interesting. But this Lana, on the other hand, is uninteresting enough that writer Phil Jimenez felt the need to make her a globertrotting reporter like Lois in addition to being a tech whiz. 

Apart from the change in leads, the story this issue was weak, I'm afraid. I enjoy Jimenez' work because it generally reminds me of the plot-rich, meaty dialogued comics I grew up with in the 1970s and early 1980s. But this issue does not advance the plot overmuch, and instead has Lana and Lex in their respective plotlines essentially covering the same ground in each scene, saying the same basic things over and over. Comics is a form of "sudden fiction." As such, much like my field of journalism, the writing needs to be tight. That doesn't mean the script need to be short or spartan, but there should be no unnecessary words, or repetition that does not serve a specific narrative purpose. As it was, I grew weary and mostly just skimmed the back half of this issue. 

As to the are, while Emanuela Lupacchino's pencils are not bad by any means, the work is a huge letdown given that Jimenez' own detailed delineations were what drew me in. It's too bad really, the first issue of this series was a solid A+ for me and one of the best single issues I've read in years.


STORY: CART: B+

BOTTOM LINE: The death of Lois will probably mean the death of this title's tenure on my pull list. Hardly recommended.

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