Saturday, July 16, 2005

Comic Reviews For July 13, 2005

This week, Action Comics 829, New Thunderbolts 10, Invincible 24, and, by special engagement, JLA 116.Action Comics 829 – “End of Identity”
By Gail Simone and John Byrne

And so the crossover monster rears its ugly head. This is part 2 of “Sacrifice,” a crossover running through all the Super-books this month, and concluding in Wonder Woman. Last week, in Superman 219, Superman woke up in the Fortress of Solitude with blood on his hands, and remembered fighting and possibly killing Braniac, who had killed the supporting cast. This time out, it turns out that the memory was false, and Supes was really fighting against Darkseid on Apokolips for Lois’s life. Or was he?
Well, no, he wasn’t, which is the big problem with this story: It’s not real. The circumstances of the fight (Darkseid basically kidnapping Superman for a grudge match and using Lois as leverage) is neat, and Darkseid is written better than he has been in years, but it doesn’t matter, because what really happened is that Superman was hallucinating, and he was actually beating the living crap out of Batman. The “OMAC Project” logo suggests that this is somehow the doing of Max Lord and Checkmate, but since I won’t be reading the other parts of the crossover, I don’t care.
It’s a shame, because Simone and Byrne really bring their A-Game. Byrne’s panel layouts are distinctive and often just as much fun as the art itself. His character designs manage to even make Black Canary’s current costume, which I hate, look good. I don’t quite see what Superman does to beat Darkseid, although the dialogue does explain it, but other than that, this is some of John’s best work in years.
As for Simone, well, she gets Superman, plain and simple. She also gets Darkseid and Apokolips, as shown by some commentary on the fight from the peanut gallery. And Supes, ultimately, cares more about protecting innocent people than he does about beating Darkseid. I don’t even have (much of) a problem with Superman’s decision to “kill” Darkseid after seeing Lois “die,” or his guilt when he realizes the truth. I also like where the subplot is going, although this would be the second time Simone has pulled the “corrupt politician goes after snoopy female character” rabbit out of her hat. But the overall story is one I have very little interest in, and seeing as how Batman is up and feeling fine in his own books, plus JLA and Outsiders, this month, I can’t really feel like the big reveal has much impact. He’ll be better by the end of the storyline, guaranteed. I mean, he has a movie out.
Grade: C+

New Thunderbolts 10 – “Of Mice and Maze”
By Fabian Nicieza and Tom Grummett

Boy, I don’t like the Purple Man’s new characterization. It’s not so much that it’s a bad idea, as that it’s so very melodramatic and overplayed. He’s totally full of himself with this “Puppet Master” stuff, and it makes the narration for this issue very hard to swallow. Also, he uses his powers to rape people now. Not too happy with that.
Other than that, though, I like where this is going. The three-way fight between the T-Bolts, Songbird and Swordsman, and the population of Manhattan is full of both action and character moments, making this the closest Marvel has come so far to matching the balance DC has struck with JSA. There’s a couple of twists, some good interplay between MACH-IV, Photon, and Songbird, and reminders of how everyone in the cast brings something to the table. That these are heroes with entire legs of clay doesn’t degrade from the relative heroism of their actions. In short, we’re reminded of just what made Nicieza one of the best team writers of the 90s.
Grummett keeps things moving at a good pace, and gets a chance to really flex his muscles with all the cool stuff the script gives him. He’s another long-time talent who goes somewhat unappreciated these days; he’s not flashy or on the edge, but it’s good, solid work, and I have nothing bad to say about it.
This issue ends on an abrupt House of M crossover. Nicieza gets a chance to toss out a nice line about how these things can screw with isolated ongoings like this one, but I’m much more interested in seeing how he’ll integrate advancing this story into that one, given its nature. Can the cliffhangers he set up before the reality switch stand? I dunno, but I want to find out.
Grade: B

Invincible 24
By Robert Kirkman and Ryan Ottley

So, the Angstrom Levy plotline that’s been brewing for several issues finally comes to a head of sorts, and I gotta say, if this is the resolution, I’m a bit let down. Make mo mistake, the big fighty-fighty between Mark and the multiple sets of Mauler Twins is a big bunch of fun. Levy’s surprising (for a villain) code of ethics, Mark’s horror at the eventual outcome, and the brutality of the Maulers are all great examples of how to characterize in the middle of a fight scene, but the dénouement is that now Levy has his brain growing out of his head, and hates Invincible. It addresses the comments about Mark not having an archvillain yet (unless you count Omni-Man), but unless it leads directly into the next storyline (possible, given the title), it’s pretty anti-climactic, especially since Mark doesn’t do much except get beaten up.
The brief “normal life” moments at the top of the issue are good, and make use of a tactic that Ottley and Kirkman have devised that gets around a problem I’ve noticed in my own scripts, and that I am therefore going to steal. By the way, if the lettercol is to be believed, Ottley is 17, which makes his work even more impressive.
While this isn’t the best issue of Invincible (that would be 13), it’s still a way superhero comics haven’t been done in a while, and I’m happy that it’s both done well and doing well. Let’s just work on meeting that schedule, eh, fellas?
Grade: B+

JLA 116 – “Crisis of Conscience, part 2”
By Geoff Johns, Allan Heinberg, and Chris Batista

I didn’t plan on picking this up, but a friend got it for free at some thing a DC suit was speaking at, so here it is. The newly-reformed Secret Society (not to be confused with either the Society or the Secret Six, both currently appearing in Villains United) fights the six leaguers who erased Dr. Light and Batman’s memories, plus Batman, Catwoman, Flash and Martian Manhunter.
I like the fight. It moves quickly, all the villains and heroes get something to do, and the tension between the Leaguers adds an extra dimension to it. And hey, Clock King actually comes off as threatening, which I believe is a first. I also can’t bring myself to disagree with Batman for being pissed at the League for wiping his memory. I can see both sides on the Dr. Light thing, but Batman was their teammate and was supposed to be their friend, which makes the betrayal sting.
But, there are little bits that don’t work for me. On the art side, I have no clue why Ralph Dibny’s hair is now blonde, or why Zatanna identifies a simple pentagram as something called “The Eye of Truth.” On the writing side, Batman’s got no reason to be mad at J’onn or Flash, since neither of them were in on the mindwiping, and J’onn only just found out about it last issue, and in fact defied the others in telling him about it. I also don’t agree with Zatanna wanting to take all the blame herself, just because she was the one whose powers actually did the mindwiping. Yeah, she was the hand, but the others are just as guilty, just as Truman was as guilty as the bombardier on the Enola Gay.
I did like the ending; it was a twist I didn’t see coming, and takes the story into another realm beyond the “Batman’s pissed at the League” theme. This is a JLA story, and JLA stories should be big, and this’ll be big. It also won’t be “Batman vs. the JLA,” thankfully, since I was afraid that’s the way it was going based on the solicits. I wouldn’t have picked this up on my own, and I probably won’t pick up the next issues, but it’s ok.
Grade: B-

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