Thursday, August 28, 2014

Sinestro #4 (DC)

writer: Cullen Bunn
artist: Rags Morales
via Comic Vine
That quote on the cover comes from Green Lantern #20, the final Geoff Johns issue, which I reread recently in The End collection.  It's a standout line and immediately eye-catching to be quoted for the new Sinestro series.

Tiny problem, however, in that it's not hugely relevant in the comic itself.

I really wanted that to happen!  A whole issue where Hal Jordan and Sinestro hash out their relationship, something Johns worked on a lot during his last few years, a major legacy of the New 52 to date.  Instead, we get an issue with Sinestro...demonstrating his strong will, and Hal popping up, officially, on the final page.

It's just not what I wanted to see.  Cullen Bunn is one of the "it" writers at the moment, and seems to be getting a lot of these the-main-character-is-usually-known-as-the-villain comics assignments lately.  But I don't think he's to par with what Johns was doing.  It's great that this series exists, and certainly with the perfect synergy that came to Red Lanterns later in its run with the debut of Charles Soule as writer there's always hope things will work out, but it's disappointing that they didn't get it right first shot, especially given that Johns, who is such an important DC guy, didn't merit getting Sinestro done right first shot.  Even Larfleeze was pitch-perfect (although sadly, I didn't read it any more faithfully than anyone else, and that one's gone now) from the start.

The artist is Rags Morales, who has a lot of big credentials to his name, including Identity Crisis with Brad Meltzer and Action Comics with Grant Morrison.  Fans sometimes question his work.  I don't think there's any cause for that here, although it's such a different setting than I personally am used to seeing Morales tackle that most of what I know about his work slips into the background.  This is mostly a good thing, I guess, but it's always odd for an artist who has a distinctive style to do work that isn't immediately identifiable to that style, except in the odd image here and there.  But on the other hand, his presence on art duty in Sinestro must surely be considered a vote of confidence in the series from DC.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Sandman: Overture #3 (Vertigo)

writer: Neil Gaiman
artist: J.H. Williams III
via IGN
It sucks, because I never know if I'm missing something that directly references prior Sandman material.  I know, for instance, that we have a secret origin for Dream's helm, which was famously recovered in the original series' opening arc.  But then again, maybe this is something that fans have seen before?  

It seems as if the romance around that moment is first-run material, but then what do I know?  And should I even be worrying about this?  The third volume of The Annotated Sandman is being released in October.  I hope to get both that one and the second volume and read them either by the end of the year or earlier in 2015.  By that point I'll have caught up with the bulk of the mythology, and maybe will be less confused about these matters.

But then again, maybe I really shouldn't be worrying so much about these matters.  This issue is probably the most enjoyable, for me anyway, of Overture so far.  There appear to be direct references to Dream's ultimate fate, so that this is a prequel for all I understand.  Regardless, Dream is on a quest.  There are multiple versions of him running around.  In fact, he's at the moment hanging out with a cat version of himself.  This leads to an amusing moment when they pick up a tagalong, who suggests when she doesn't walk by herself, "I could ride your cat."  To which Dream responds:

"My cat is Dream of the Endless.  He does not give rides."

Classic.  Gaiman is a master storyteller, and is a better writer, generally, than pretty much anyone else.  Regardless of how lost I sometimes feel, he's always in control.  Reading Overture for me is a little like what reading Grant Morrison must be like for all those people who don't get him.  

And as always, J.H. Williams III is stunning on art.  The way he composes his layouts can sometimes be challenging to follow even for veteran comics readers, but it's always a welcome challenge.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Red Lanterns Annual #1 (DC)

writer: Charles Soule
artist: Miguel Sepulveda
via My Comic Shop

Recently I've really gotten to love Red Lanterns.  With Charles Soule, it's a series firing on all cylinders, as far as I can tell the best of the Green Lantern titles at the moment.  This particular issue, which as you might notice is also it's first annual, happens to be Part 3 of "Atrocities," otherwise known as Guy Gardner and Red Lanterns founder Atrocitus (you can find out his original significance in Green Lantern: Secret Origin), who has been undergoing a personal crisis since the start of the series.  He's finally back in fighting mode and wants to reclaim his rage-fueled corps from Gardner, who recently won jurisdiction of Earth from the Green Lanterns.

Under Gardner, it's no longer necessary to be angry all the time to be a Red Lantern.  The red ring has become a lot more rational and a lot more like a green ring.  Still, Red Lanterns are by definition damaged individuals.  Unlike, say, the Indigo Tribe, these guys have the chance to determine the course of their own future.

Anyway, as I said, Gardner and Atrocitus: mano-e-monstero.

Atrocitus attacks Earth in this issue.  It's a big giant crisis, too, with his cronies attacking key landmarks across the globe.  If Red Lanterns were at a level where it's beginning to belong, this might have been a whole crossover event.  Mass chaos.  Red rings find countless hosts, all of them adding to the disaster.  

Rankorr, the other human Red Lantern, is revealed to have been compromised by Atrocitus under artificial means.  He's another thread for long-time readers.

All told, it's a crucial issue.  I kind of assumed when I saw it that it was the end of the arc, but for some reason there's one more chapter to go.  I guess in this instance the series was given it's first annual as a bonus issue to help draw awareness to the arc.  That said, the issue certainly does its share of heavy lifting for "Atrocities."

Gardner comes across Supergirl, who has recently been a Red Lantern but was able to walk away, and she voluntarily joins the cause again.  It's a nice moment, just one of many that rewards readers who've already discovered the series.  Hopefully more readers will with material like this!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Dysphoria #1 (Hollow Tree Entertainment)

writer: Allison Torrey
artist: Liana Sposto
via Cargo Collective
One of the perks of visiting a local comics shop is the chance to catch some local comics talent, stuff you likely won't find anywhere else (unless you've heard of the Internet, and really, who has?), lucky finds if you're really lucky.  I happen to love chance discoveries.  I think I've made a lucky one indeed.

Dysphoria is about a futuristic resistance movement and the guy who's destined to be its hero.  Okay, so not hugely revolutionary in concept, but as always it's execution that's key.  Allison Torrey and Liana Sposto are a dynamic combination.  Torrey's scripting is fairly minimalist, so that leaves ample room for Sposto's expressive work to shine.  It really is shocking to discover talent this good on such a low-key title.  I predict big things ahead for both of them, whether it's in this series or elsewhere.  

It's a kinetic read from start to finish and instantly hooks you into wanting more, all very perfect for a comic book, where classic serial storytelling soars.  

The lead character's name is Malcolm Reed, which for me is an instant link to something else I love, Star Trek: Enterprise, which featured a tactical officer of the same name.  I've been trying to remember another place I've caught the name, unless I've come across Dysphoria before.

I'll definitely be keeping my eyes peeled for further issues...

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Batman and Robin #33 (DC)

writer: Peter J. Tomasi
artist: Patrick Gleason
via Inside Pulse
In this follow-up to the Robin Rises: Omega one-shot, Batman maneuvers his way over Justice League opposition to an invasion of Apokolips in order to retrieve the body of his dead son Damian (and maybe Talia's, too).

It's great fun, Pete Tomasi tackling the Justice League, which is depicted in its current incarnation (which is why I chose to represent the issue with that particular image, featuring post-Forever Evil members Lex Luthor and Captain Cold, their exchange in that final panel a brilliant encapsulation of the new dynamic) as the big Batman and Robin event continues.

So often we're told that Batman has ways to defeat everyone, even his best and most powerful allies.  Most often, however, verbally he's reserved.  This issue is all about confrontation, however, a war of words.  Even when Superman shows up, Batman still has his way with the situation, acting contrite, conciliatory, and...then the final image leaves that whole conversation spun around.  Scott Snyder took such pains in "Death of the Family" to shatter the Bat-family trust, which was immediately turned around in the "Requiem" issues following Damian's death.  Lately I've been reading gushing recaps of Snyder's "Zero Year" arc, and everyone still seems pretty convinced that the top-selling Batman is the best Dark Knight comic being published at the moment, an instant classic.  But for me, Batman and Robin is the undisputed best and best-argument-for-instant-classic series in the family.

Is it a gimmick book?  It's a team-up book, now more than ever, but unlike most team-up books Batman doesn't necessarily actually team up with his guest-stars, as exemplified all over the place in the past year.  These are stories Tomasi gets to tell as he explores a more intimate look at Batman and how he relates to the world around him.  If he's still grieving the death of his son and still trying to find a way to get over it, whatever that happens to mean, I applaud the effort.  Too often, comics can be like a lot of television, episodic, one story completely unrelated to the next.  For a character like Batman, who's been around for three quarters of a century, the temptation is great to keep the storytelling like that, so as to not damage the franchise, tie it down with developments that can't easily be disentangled without being outright ignored.  And yet, what Tomasi is doing here has its roots in Batman's own history, following the second Robin, Jason Todd's death and eventual rise of the third, Tim Drake (as explored in the "A Lonely Place of Dying" arc), except this time, Batman is being pushed further and further past his comfort zone, into the very territory that until now was really only the subject of fanboy fever dreams.  Now it's real.  And it's better than you ever imagined.

Like Tomasi, Gleason plays by his own rules.  He can play larger-than-life (his Kalibak) or a low-key Bruce Wayne in a cemetary, a Superman cape that dangles loosely around the neck, a montage of iconic images featuring Batman's colleagues forging the so-called Hellbat armor, Frankenstein in a minimal appearance speaking a thousand words with three while walking away from the reader.

DC is ramping up the Fourth World once again across numerous titles.  It seems presumptuous for Batman to declare war on Darkseid when this could provoke the annihilation of Earth, but Tomasi captures his reasoning perfectly.  How it all plays out could tie in with what happens elsewhere.  Then again maybe not.  It's doesn't matter.

It's good stuff. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Atomic Robo: The Knights of the Golden Circle #2 (Red 5)

writer: Brian Clevinger
artist: Scott Wegener
via comiXology
Hey, so I love Atomic Robo.  This is his ninth mini-series.  Yeah!  The only one I haven't caught at least one issue of is the previous one, Atomic Robo and the Savage Sword of Dr. Dinosaur, which sucks, because Dr. Dinosaur is easily the second best thing about Atomic Robo other than, of course, Nikola Tesla, I mean Atomic Robo!

The draw of this particular arc is, besides a Western gimmick (most of Robo's stories are centered on genre gimmicks, which is fine, because being an ageless artificial lifeform, he not only can be in pretty much any setting, but this is a concept that readily embraces the strange), is that it is, to my mind, the first time our hero has been in an actual life-threatening scenario.

Now, Robo's actually in the past.  He's been thrust into the past.  Just to make that clear.  But he's been cut off from anyone or anything that can sustain his robotic body.  If he's somehow damaged or runs out of power, that's it.  One of the many, many Free Comic Book Day releases Red 5 has put out over the years (Robo is this publisher's bread and butter) hinted at dire possibilities once, but this is a departure from the usually lighthearted, brainy-but-in-a-fun-way adventures he and his fans have enjoyed in the past.  Not a huge departure, because it's still a wonky idea, but in the world of Atomic Robo, that's an exceptionally, reliably good thing.

Because he's the star of a tiny publisher, Robo doesn't have near the exposure he deserves.  Anywhere else he'd be a household (a geek household, anyway) name by now.  He'd have a cartoon.  Maybe even an extremely awesome movie!  But here he is, the star of Red 5.  This is his ninth mini-series, and he's at sixty issues, mini-series and FCBD releases considered, which is quite an achievement.  He's becoming a legitimate icon, even if in a minor context.  I'm proud to call myself a fan.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Reading Comics #130 "Bull Moose Grab Bag IV"

Local physical-things shop Bull Moose has recently changed the way it sells comics.  It remains to be seen whether it will be selling comics much longer.  But until recently it sold new comics and then slightly-less-new comics in grab bag form.  I like grab bags, and on the whole I liked what I got in these Bull Moose grab bags.  This is the last official Bull Moose grab bag, though I get to continue this sub-feature in future editions of this column as Bull Moose Bargains.  More on that when it happens!  Until then, the contents of the last grab bag.

Batman '66 #12 (DC)
The comic based on the '60s TV series that has swung back around to being culturally tolerated remains amusing for what it is.

Bravest Warriors #21 (KaBOOM!)
One of those cartoons clearly inspired by the success of Adventure Time.  Bull Moose Grab Bag did me wrong in giving me two copies, thanks to there being two different covers for some reason.

Chew #42 (Image)
I read some of the earliest issues of Chew, liked them well enough, but it was also fairly easy to...not read Chew anymore.  When John Layman wrote Detective Comics I was actually more impressed with him.  In his own sandbox, Layman is free to do what he wants...and I don't know, I guess he just wants to screw around.  These days I compare this kind of comic to Atomic Robo, and bottom line is, Chew doesn't seem as inspired.  Weirdo concept though it sports and the ability to exploit said weirdo concept, Chew is ultimately fairly throwaway.  Hey Layman, feel free to jump back into the mainstream.  Or find something more interesting to do with Chew.  Apparently he's one of the Batman Eternal writers, but does that really count?  I guess I'll keep myself posted...

C.O.W.L. #2 (Image)
A few years back I was ready to consider myself a pretty big fan of Kyle Higgins.  These days I'm wondering what happened.  Something that bothers me is that he often has a co-writer.  This is not in itself a bad thing.  He first burst onto the scene with Scott Snyder as co-writer (Batman: Gates of Gotham).  Given Snyder's reputation these days, that's not a bad association at all.  (Even Snyder had a co-writer tagging along when he worked on Severed for whatever reason.)  With C.O.W.L., Higgins is working alongside Alec Siegel.  I have no idea.  What I've read of this project, Higgins has been getting all the credit.  As far as the need for co-writers goes (it should be noted even Geoff Johns worked with James Robinson in his early years, and Robinson worked with a co-writer, too, for part of Starman), I'm wondering if this is something he really does need.  Maybe as a kind of focusing lens?  Because as far as his Nightwing ended up going, I wonder if he needed such a lens, and just never got one.  C.O.W.L., like the final issues of the Nightwing run, is set in Chicago.  There's been speculation that this is, in fact, what Higgins would have done if given the chance in his mainstream effort.  Well, maybe?  Anyway, regardless of my personal feelings on its (co-)writer, this series has gotten a fair bit of hype.  "C.O.W.L." is short for Chicago Organized Workers League, otherwise known as the World's First Superhero Labor Union.  That's interesting and all, and this is even a period piece, for whatever reason.  Maybe I just can't figure Higgins out.  Maybe I'm approaching this wrong from the start, but as with my Higgins experience in general lately, I...just wish there was as much on the page as I wish there was.

Deadly Class #6 (Image)
Speaking of Image series from writers I really wish I could like as much as it sometimes seems I should, this one's from Rick Remender, who's recently impressing me with the scope of what he's doing in Captain America.  Apparently, Deadly Class is a personal project for him.  I wish I could say I loved it and totally understood how it's so important to him, but I can't.  This and C.O.W.L. are the kinds of disappointments I think I probably need to reread.  Maybe I will.  (I generally don't do a lot of that.)

All-New Doop #3 (Marvel)
Peter Milligan is a writer I feel guilty for not liking.  He's like the advanced stage of where Higgins and Remender could be years from now.  Milligan has been around for years, a kind of junior member of the British Invasion who helped forge the early years of Vertigo.  His most recent prominent work was nearly the first two years of Red Lanterns, a series I've recently fallen madly in love with...under the auspices of Charles Soule.  As for what Milligan is doing now (not meant as a pun, but there's that, too), I...guess this is related to his earlier X-Statix, a cartoony corner of the X-Men franchise that was much cult-loved at the time.  But Doop reads like instantly pointless drivel.  I'd read Chew over this.

The Flash #32 (DC)
And what is this, a trend or something?  Another writer I wish I liked is Robert Venditti, who happens to have been the guy who took over Green Lantern following the historic near-decade Geoff Johns run.  I haven't read too much of that.  Sometimes I wish I did, because I've liked what I have read.  But then I read something like this.  I have great history with The Flash.  For some reason that history ended with the New 52 relaunch.  No disrespect to the early run, because I just never really got around to reading it, probably because I was disappointed that Johns ended a pre-New 52 run prematurely following the excellent Flashpoint event.  So I wish I liked what I read here.  But I just didn't.  The best material is still pretty weak, Barry Allen bonding with the new version of Wally West.  I don't know if Veditti's heart just isn't in this title, but it just reads so tepidly, a very far cry from Johns or Mark Waid.  For a Flash reader who wishes The Flash would always be a must-read, as it certainly was under Waid and a slightly lesser extent Johns, this is not just disappointing, it's kind of disheartening.

Justice League Dark #32 (DC)
I actually like this series.  I'm waiting to be really wowed by it.  Hollywood was wowed enough to option a movie based on it, so there's that.  Frankenstein is usually featured in it, but not this issue.  As referenced during his recent appearances in Batman and Robin, he's been on a sabbatical.  We've got Zatanna, Deadman, and we-have-our-own-titles-too guys Constantine and Swamp Thing.  J.M. DeMatteis is a writer I greatly respect, but he doesn't always write to potential.  He's someone who's better than the lot I've been grappling with in this column, but I sometimes wish he'd be better.  If this were a truly dark series, maybe that might be the case here.  I don't know.

The New 52: Futures End #8 (DC)
Futures End badly wants to be a new 52.  I know, with wording like that, I could easily confuse you.  52, as opposed to the New 52, was the 2006-2007 weekly series that helped prove possible the modern viability of such a format.  I loved it.  I mean, I loved it.  (It ranked fourth in my list of all-time favorites.)  I've been trying to make comparisons between Futures End and 52 since the newer title launched, based on my sporadic experience with it.  Maybe if I read it every week my opinion would be different, but I just don't see it as hitting the mark quite as truly as its predecessor.  This is disappointing, too.

...Yesh.  With all these disappointments, is this because this was all part of the final Grab Bag?  The world may never know...
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