There was a nice selection of DC titles out this week, 7 of which were on my pull list (if the previous issue of Trials of Shazam hadn’t been such a blah-fest, that would’ve still been on the list as well, alongside Supergirl, but there’s only so much patience I can muster for that series, even with Joe Kelly writing it now; I flicked through it in the store and my decision to drop it seemed wise, as the stories appear to remain singularly uninspired, especially compared to the previous Supergirl series by Peter David, which was one heck of a ride, only making the current incarnation even worse of a travesty.)
So, going through them alphabetically, we automatically start with 52, which is nearing its half-way point with #21. Topped off by another beautiful J.G. Jones cover (featuring a Titan I can’t properly identify, as there’s seven here but only 6 in the issue, and I’m not sure who the seventh is meant to be), this week’s instalment mainly focuses on Luthor’s superhero team, dubbed Infinity Inc., which you’d think would attract some heat from the JSA rather than the Teen Titans, but oh well. Luthor is portrayed as thoroughly vile here, willing to see a bright-eyed innocent killed to advance his own nefarious schemes with the Everyman Project. It’s taking him a bit too much into cackling, moustache-twirling territory, not sure if I like that. Only a year ago this same Luthor claimed in the concluding pages of Villains United that he was no child-killer. I guess in this case the victim wasn’t quite a child anymore, but even so, Luthor never struck me as someone who delighted in killing anyone other than Superman. The issue was enjoyable nonetheless, so we’re going three for three here, which hasn’t happened in a while. I get the feeling Greg Rucka has been less involved in most of the September issues, which is my idea of why I’ve been liking weeks 19-21 a lot more. I could be thoroughly mistaken of course, but most of this issue seemed “on”, which tends to imply greater involvement of both Morrison and Johns, in my estimation. The cut-scenes with E-Man and Red Tornado kept my interest as well, so the ball seems to be rolling better again, no doubt aided by Joe Bennett and Jack Jadson’s line-work, which is not spectacular but thoroughly solid, exactly what’s necessary for a weekly book. Great coloring, too, at that. No real complaints about pacing or anything this time around, and I’m looking forward to finding out more next week, so I guess it gets the thumbs up!
Action Comics #843 saw the concluding chapter of Fabian Nicieza and Kurt Busiek’s “Back In Action” arc, which makes the DCU at large properly believe that yes, he’s the real steel deal, as Lois Lane so aptly put it. Flanked by a diverse array of fellow heroes, Big Blue proves that he’s not only super-strong, but pretty super-savvy as well in dealing with the Auctioneer, a cross between Galactus and Manga Khan, who’s such a fun antagonist, both thematically as visually that I hope to see him again in the pages of Busiek’s own Superman series. Alongside the high dose of action making the series live up to its title—love the packed splash page of all the heroes battling the alien droids after they’ve been set free by Superman and his posse—Busiek not only acknowledges Superman’s intelligence in the way he dispatches the Auctioneer, but smoothly sets up what will no doubt be a big part of Richard Donner and Geoff Johns’s storyline starting next issue. Between a promising end, a highly entertaining cover (I’m particularly fond of the idea of an entire Ohio town forming a big human ‘S’ that can be seen from space, w00t!), and of course rock-solid art by Pete Woods, this was very good indeed.
I hope that Morrison intends for us to truly dislike Damien, supposed son of Batman, as his portrayal in Batman #657 is far from endearing. It’s strange how this chapter seems both very slow and simultaneously an example of how Morrison likes to throw out all notions of decompression, as Batman’s response to being saddled by an obnoxious teen assassin is peculiar, to say the least. No doubt Morrison is trying to play with metaphors and the like, but to be honest, I’m not feeling very invited to look past the surface, and on the surface, Damien is a creepy twerp. I find it hard to understand why Batman takes Talia at her word and brings the boy to his sanctum sanctorum (which is portrayed fairly pathetically by Kubert, I must add, and I tend to like his art, but the tiered levels seem oddly unappealing and stale, there’s not enough spooky-coolness going on there). Not only does he bring him there, but he basically gets to run around freely, with disastrous results. Sure, it’s true that he was in a locked room, but if Bruce is presupposing this *is* his own flesh and blood, descended from the Demon as well, no less, then you would expect some more foresight considering his skills. It also irked me that yet another not-quite-classic Batman-foe is callously killed off, something that has been happening far too often in recent months (and years). Black Mask, the Ventriloquist, Killer Moth, the KGBeast, now the Spook, anyone who’s not from the Golden Age gets bumped while the classic foes continue to return ad nauseam (in some cases resurrected without explanation, as is the case with Poison Ivy). And yet, for my complains about Damien and the Spook, I still enjoyed Kubert’s kinetic art and Morrison’s snappy patter. It’s a pop-comic, as Morrison likes to call them, and he does those well (but last issue was still much better though). Not nearly at the same level as All-Star Superman, but not a waste of time nor money, at least.
Blue Beetle #7 proved to me once again the strange relationship I have with the series. Every time I think “this will be my last issue” and every time I’m at the end of an issue, I’m looking forward to the next one, a feeling which fades away until the next issue is in my pull box and I duly take it home with me. There’s a subtle charm permeating from Jaime and his family and friends, which takes this book beyond mere superheroics or space opera, evoking the qualities that made Stan Lee’s Spider-Man or Claremont’s X-Men so popular. It doesn’t hurt when Cully Hamner is on art duties, as he brings the perfect kind of human softness to all the characters, bringing them to life in the most perfect manner. Despite the absence of Keith Giffen’s hand in the plot (he’s back next issue), there are still a number of humorous moments involving BB out of his depth during the flashback scene (my favourite one was Jaime calling Black Canary “ma’am” :D) and the dialogue continues to ring true. With both Hamner and Duncan Rouleau (who’s arrived at a point in his career where I truly enjoy his work, distinctly stylised without being impenetrable) scheduled to pencil the upcoming issues (featuring the New Gods soon!), I’m thinking I’ll likely be along for the ride until at least the end of the first year (which is #13, not #12, like DC itself will probably try to claim, erroneously so ;)) No doubt I’ll have forgotten all about that by the time next issue arrives, and I’ll go through the same process of “Should I drop this? // Heck no!” yet again. I don’t know if that’s a compliment or not, but it’ll have to do.
JSA Classified #17 will be one of the last issues of this series I’m buying, as I’m beginning to lose interest in this stand-alone tales. This one I didn’t want to miss though, as it’s a rare occasion when Tony Bedard writes for DC, spotlighting Hourman and Bane, no less! Just the notion of teaming up Bane and Hourman is inspired, as they have nothing in common at first glance, and it’s made all the better by Scott McDaniel’s exaggerated yet fluid artwork, which works tremendously well for a goon like Bane. By no means is this an instant classic, but it’s a fun little story tying one well-established drug in the DCU into another one, with some typically well-designed lay-outs from McDaniel. I have quibbles with it, such as the rather abrupt ending, which isn’t as suspenseful as it wants to be, or the overly familiar “misunderstanding” between Bane and Rex Tyler leading to an (unfair) fight. I had fun reading it, and I’m pretty sure I’ll enjoy the next two-parter featuring Dr. Midnight with art by Rags Morales, as well, but with the regular JSA ongoing restarting in December, this one’s headed for the chopping block. Unless a spectacular creative team does an arc, of course, then I might be tempted again :)
Justice League of America #2 is another animal entirely. Starting with the hideously generic and plain ugly cover: Michael Turner’s art makes everyone look spicy and clumsy instead of the iconic look it’s aiming for, and the orange background simply dumbfounds me, clashing as it does with the characters’ dumb, boring poses. Ed Benes, with inks by Sandra Hope, isn’t a bad artist, but he’s not a very good one either. Far too much cheesecake (although I’ll admit I don’t mind as much when the cheese involves Black Canary. Mmmm, Black Canary :D) and an overabundance of crosshatching, which must be meant to add an extra dimension to the art but instead only makes it flatter. It also displeases me when an artist can’t keep track of his own work, portraying Vixen without a jacket in a scene which continues immediately from the previous issue, where she was still wearing it, or when we get non-functional two-page spreads like the shot of Red Tornado's severed (former) head. Meltzer only makes things worse with his pretentious narration and confusing caption boxes, which only work because of their colour, and even then I got confused sometimes whether it was Superman talking, or Wonder Woman. I find fault with narration which goes “My name is Mary McCabe. Vixen. I can channel any animal through the totem I wear on my hip. That means if I pick right, I can rip your head off.” Meltzer is one of many comic book writers who has no clue about narration like this: if the narration is meant to be her own thoughts, then this is sheer idiocy, nobody thinks like that. If the narration is meant to be exposition, then why not have an omniscient narrator? It becomes a muddled mess that’s neither fish nor fowl, which irks me greatly.
What’s even more vexing is the reintroduction of a classic Superman foe who’s meant to be dead and buried, something editor Eddie Berganza knows full well, having allowed Jeph Loeb to bump off the villain to begin with. I don’t mind his return—I do mind the lack of understanding of his powers—but why not acknowledge in the story that he’s not meant to be alive? I get the impression Meltzer is simply unaware of this aspect of continuity, which somehow rankles. Apart from that, his pacing/timing/sequencing is rather off too: the way the story is structured, Vixen and her opponents stand still for about 40 minutes, allowing the now-human Red Tornado to do the monkey dance with his wife and for the rest of the League to get involved. Meanwhile, we get the over-arcing scenes of the trinity picking and choosing who’s hot and who’s not, which grates severely because they are voicing Meltzer’s own wishes, not their own. I rolled my eyes profusely when Superman grabbed a picture of Batman, at that. Who on earth would be able to take a full frontal picture of Batman? That defeats the entire mystique of the character! Lastly (I could go on longer but there’s only so much complaining I can do), I was rather galled by Roy (pardon me, “Red Arrow”) shooting professor Ivo several times with his arrows, that seemed pretty uncalled for, considering he didn’t even know who the guy was. The writer may think that gives the character an edge, I think it makes him an ass. I was okay with the previous two issues, but this one was a pretty big dud. Here’s hoping the quality will veer upwards again, because believe me, I *want* to like the JLA’s own book. The Meltzer/Berganza combination (“don’t know/don’t care”) doesn’t fill me with much confidence at all though, so we’ll have to see.
A good one to conclude with: Secret Six #4. I was delighted to get more of the all-new, all-different, yet strongly familiar Doom Patrol in this issue, which had great, moody visuals from Brad Walker and Jimmy Palmiotti. I’m not a big fan of Palmiotti’s inks, but I think they mesh will with Walker’s looseness, although I admit to being curious what a tighter inker would make his art look like. The fight between our (anti-)heroes and the DP though was fun to follow, even if writer Gail Simone tries far too hard to be “edgy” like Mark Millar or “insane” like Grant Morrison. There are too many times (“Now shut up and eat your Grundy”, “Parademon would have loved this view”, “My lovely throbbing hat”) where it feels to me as if Simone is trying to push the buttons she knows full well a lot of fans like, which comes across as insincere writing. Enjoyable writing nonetheless, as I intend to happily reread both Villains United and the current mini-series once it’s all over and done with. I even hope for an ongoing of some sort, either this or an updated Suicide Squad, because I’ll readily admit that seeing a bunch of villains being sleazy is a lot of fun. Speaking of their sleaziness, both the opening and the final scene were somewhat too predictable: the nature of Vandal Savage’s friendly dinner was immediately clear to me, as was the eventual tryst between Knockout and Deadshot. Luckily, that final scene should lead to some fireworks next issue, so I don’t mind too much, but it’s always a bit disappointing when writers don’t really stray off the beaten path, even while thinking they’re taking the audience by surprise. In a very short amount of space though, Simone has made me look forward to the misadventures of these psychotic nutjobs, which is an accomplishment in its own right (as is impressing me with chapter titles, hers always sound inspired, which pleases me greatly). Despite my quibbles, this was probably the DC book I enjoyed the most this week, and really, apart from JLA, I was pretty happy with all of them.