Usually when there’s one of these huge weeks of comics, I do a bit where I’m like “Whoa, hey, this was a great week of comics! Wow!” Then I write about, like, some random Impulse issue from 1998.
But the haul this week was substantial enough that even I am not going to ignore it. Here, then, are capsule reviews of a few of the notable books this week–first issues, key issues, and, of course, Batman & Robin Eternal. God forbid I not keep everyone apprised of how I’m feeling about that one.
Yes, there’s lots of good stuff this week indeed. So let’s instead start with the big ol’ wet squib that is Secret Wars #7. As this series goes on, it’s appearing more and more like a catastrophic disaster all around.
Marvel disrupted their entire publishing line for this book, which would MAYBE be worthwhile if it was in any way notable. But with the best will in the world I can’t see how you could describe this as more than a solid alternate-Earth event, and nothing about the book makes me want to treat it with the best will in the world.
This is the culmination of Jonathan Hickman’s Marvel writing work, so it’s maybe understandable that it would also be the apotheosis of his writerly tics: all the characters speak in a similar, flat voice; the plot clicks blandly along its track like a toy train; the big moments somehow have all the emotion and awesomeness drained out of them so they land with no impact whatsoever. (Seriously, there are two separate incidents in this book, both coming off dialogue going from on-panel to voiceover, both seemingly structured as impact moments, where the impact is “another big thing is flying to somewhere.” The first one is underwhelming on its own; by the second it seems like deliberate comedy.)
What this book is doing, oddly enough, is making me really appreciate the histrionics of late-nineties writing. Because this is in all significant ways identical to the original Age of Apocalypse event–entire line of books “cancelled” for an alternate Earth story focused on the heroes trying to change time to prevent their greatest villain from taking control, with the associated miniseries conveying the details of the sidequests that are otherwise glossed in the main books–but the execution of the earlier one feels so much smarter.
Part of that, of course, is that it was only four months, and only one sub-imprint rather than being Marvel’s entire output. But the other part is that this sort of thing is just much more fun when it’s pitched in a more exaggerated key. It’ s not something I’d ever think I’d say, but I’d much rather see this type of story in Roger Cruz’s Joe Madureira knockoff artwork than in Esad Ribic’s much more beautiful, much more impressive, but also much more staid style. And Fabian Nicieza’s motormouth characters and Scott Lobdell’s mimeographed-Claremont dramatics sell this kind of thing much better than Hickman’s intricate plotting and lifeless scripting.
The tl;dr version: I finished this book and thought, “Oh my lord, I can’t believe we have two more issues of this.”
Then again, that’s the kind of thing I had been thinking about the The Darkseid War one-shots DC has been putting out, and this week totally turned me around on those.
The Darkseid War: Shazam is a decent enough issue on its own, but it’s mainly fun for the high-concept change to Captain Marvel’s character: the traditional inspirations of Shazam’s powers and name (Solomon, Hermes, Zeus, etc.) have been replaced by six new gods (whose initials, luckily enough, ALSO spell out Shazam).
So this one-shot is Shazam (or Captain Marvel — what the hell is his name now, anyhow?) learning who these newcomers are, and what powerset they give him. It’s as comic-book-y a comic-book as ever comicked, and but writer Steve Orlando and artist Scott Kolins are committed enough to the bit to make it work.
(If I’m being honest, I was hesitant to buy in at first, but their choice for the H god made me laugh out loud and sold me on the book.)
It’s The Darkseid War: Green Lantern that’s the true gem this week. Tom King has cemented himself as a buy-whatever-he-writes guy for me, and he’s paired here with Evan “Doc” Shaner, who proves to be a strong fit for King’s formalist efforts and what I imagine to be pretty detailed scripts.
Graeme and Jeff mentioned on the podcast this week that there was something Alan Moore-ish about King’s work on Vision #1 for Marvel, and I’d take it further–I think that King is the most Moore-influenced creator to come along in years, maybe the first one since the pendulum swung in the early 2000’s toward Bendis (dialogue! crime! meandering pace!) and/or Millar (high concept! action movie dialogue! wanton disregard for continuity!) as more primary influences. This is very much another Alan Moore-influenced issue, structurally (and, to a certain extent, thematically), but it makes the absolute most of the interstitial-event-one-shot format, taking Hal Jordan on a clear, discernible internal journey while also giving him a nicely epic fight against overwhelming odds and creating the illusion that the story has moved notably forward while (presumably) not undermining the next issue of the actual event.
Shaner’s art always makes me think of Dave Mazzucchelli, and this issue’s no different. He’s got a really good sense of quiet, but is deceptively good at clean, clear action sequences as well. He’s even able to make a somewhat dodgy Francis Manapul costume redesign look cool, which is its own quiet kind of triumph. This is a really good book.
Superman: American Alien #1 is not as good, but it contains one scene that I really wanted to see more of.
This is the book written by Max Landis (whom the internet seems to think I should hate but whom I’ve never actually heard of), with very nice art from Nick Dragotta (including some sumptuous colors from Alex Guimarães, and John Workman lettering that’s comforting like an old sweatshirt), which plans to present seven single-issue short-stories from Clark Kent’s pre-Superman days; this first one deals with Clark wrestling with being able to fly.
There are a few problems with that, the biggest being that I never even need to see a scene of Pa Kent being rural and folksy and wise to Clark ever again. This is a story beat that has been used and reused and tweaked and reused and examined and reused and twisted and reused so many goddamned times, and it was never that interesting to begin with. Just…just stop. Everyone. Please. We’ve somehow reached the point where Kevin Costner’s asshole Jonathan Kent in the movie feels like a better option simply because he’s rural and folksy and dumb and wrong instead, and also because he dies relatively quickly. Pa Kent is the worst.
But! There is one good scene, in which young Clark goes to the drive-in to see E.T. That’s a smart, clever juxtaposition–everyone else is watching with the kids as their POV characters, and Clark is identifying with the alien. Spending an entire issue on that–that woulda been an interesting short-story take on Clark’s childhood. This dumb crap with Pa Kent coming to terms with being human and teaching his son how to fly, though…not so much. Really pretty art, though.
God, so many books. Some really quick hits….
Ultimates #1: Al Ewing is another guy who has achieved “buy anything he writes” status from me (as previously mentioned), and this is, for me, his first real misstep since that happened. I’m not sure it’s entirely his fault–the art from Kenneth Rocafort was really not to my tastes, although I find myself completely unable to pinpoint why–but this felt like the prologue to an interesting issue rather than an interesting issue in its own right. I’ll stick around, but I expected to like this much more.
All-New Wolverine #1: Tom Taylor isn’t quite at “buy anything he writes” level yet, but he very quietly has carved out a career taking HORRIBLE-sounding ideas and making them work. This is a shockingly entertaining book, and I look forward to it starting to show up on Marvel Unlimited so I can read more of it.
The Goddamned #1: Hey, have you ever had one of those nights where you fall asleep reading a bunch of Garth Ennis comics while Clan of the Cave Bear is on TV and the radio is playing Bible stories? No? Well, Jason Aaron and R.M. Guera would like you to know what that feels like. It’s … cute. As with most of Aaron’s work, it’s technically impeccable and perfectly entertaining, but there’s something about it that feels deeply over-entertained by its own blasphemy. Might work better as a collection.
Batman & Robin Eternal #6: Somewhat astoundingly, I’m still enjoying this, for all the same reasons I’ve previously listed. The “present day” scenes have the breakneck feel of an episode of 24, and the flashbacks do a nice job of providing some character-based moments. Reliably entertaining, if totally not taxing on the brain. I wonder if they can sustain it.
Agreed on every point (though I haven’t read the Goddamned). These 2 Darkseid war books, as well as the Flash one, would all be IDEAL ongoing creative teams (except maybe Jesus Merino on Flash’s art.
Can you imagine Tom King being given the keys to the kingdom for DC cosmic comics? I would DIE. Robert Venditti has run those books into the ground, with Sinestro as the only worthwhile book. I doubt they could tie Doc Shaner down for it, but he would be great on it
Rob Williams on the Flash? YES PLEASE. And while I might not be a Merino fan, pretty much anyone is better than Brett Booth.
Steve Orlando has proven his chops enough that i think he could do a big, dumb, fun Shazam run. And I’ve never understood the dislike for Scott Kolins. I’ve liked him since Johns’ 1st Flash run (which i read 3 years ago).
I have to totally agree with you on Secret Wars. You nailed just about everything wrong with that book.
I couldn’t disagree more with you on Green Lantern. To start, I’m not buying the whole “God gets to watch but doesn’t have free will” nonsense. How does Jordan know that? Did he attend seminary school? Hal Jordan jet pilot/philosopher. I’m also not buying the whole lazy deus ex machina outcome. The other Justice Leaguers didn’t get to chose if they wanted to be a god but GL does? The others can’t seem to choose to not be a god, but GL can? As God of Light he can raise the dead? And restore the status quo, making what preceded it consequence free? With all that power, couldn’t he just vanquish the Monitor and all other forms of evil? Yet the idiot is willing to give that all up just because he won’t have free will any longer. But of course he does because he used his free will to decide to raise the dead, restore OA and banish the parademons. GL is going to end up where he left off in Justice League, which kind of made this whole story pointless.
Great reviews, Matt! I’m with you on your view of Tom King — after falling in love with his bold take on THE OMEGA MEN, I am now absolutely buying anything he writes (although I missed this GL issue, thx for the heads-up!). I agree that King seems heavily influenced by Alan Moore’s formalism (each issue of THE OMEGA MEN is apparently “reflective” — the second 10 pages of each issue “mirror” the first 10), as well as his prose style in caption boxes. I believe it was Graeme who pointed out how much THE VISION was reminiscent of an issue of Moore’s SWAMP THING, which I heartily agree with — all the way down to the quasi-awkward, bombastic intrusion of the company’s mainstream superhero universe (“Aaaarrrgh! I am Grim Reaper, grrrr, I will keeeeeeel you!”) into what had heretofore been a rather understated and elegant sci-fi story. But King still managed to end the issue on the killer metaphor about the alien vase, which was lovely. This all felt very much in keeping with the beginning of Moore’s SWAMP THING run, where Uncle Alan was still trying to balance mainline DC continuity with his more artistic ambitions. I think it is that lyrical, artful sensibility that has been missing in the work of mainstream American writers who have dominated superhero comics over the last couple of decades. Cannot wait to see King’s new Vertigo book drawing on his own personal experiences as a CIA operative in the Middle East — that sounds fascinating to me. In summation, all of Tom King’s work feels vital and essential, such a breath of fresh air in corporate comic books right now.
I feel like I’m setting a line up for someone, but I’m pretty sure that Thor isn’t a warthog…I think it’s a boar…