Weekly Comic Review #17 (November 7, 2007)

Astonishing X-Men #23 (Joss Whedon-writer, John Cassaday-artist)

This issue of Astonishing X-Men is a typical Joss Whedon fake-out. Anyone who has seen any of Joss’s television shows will know what I mean. It looks like everything has gone straight to hell, the good guys have their backs to the wall, the bad guys seem to be getting the upper-hand…then, BANG, Joss reveals that it was all a ploy by our intrepid heroes to lull the baddies into a false sense of security (it’s happened in Buffy and Angel more times than I can count).

The X-Men–with members of S.W.O.R.D. tagging along–are still on Breakworld, trying to deal with an ancient alien prophecy that says Colossus will destroy the entire planet. Cyclops seemingly sacrificed himself, only to wake up in the clutches of the evil Kruun. Kruun’s torturing the shit out of Cyke (in a scene that is more than a little bit like the “War Stories” episode of Firefly), trying to learn all about something called “Leviathan.” While Beast and Agent Brand try to decipher the text of the alien prophecy, the remaining X-Men launch a counter-strike, which results in Wolverine and newbie Armor (y’know, the little Japanese girl with the force-field) getting thrown in the clink.

Of course, this was all just a clever ruse. The whole thing, from Cyclops getting captured by Kruun to Wolverine getting nabbed, was a plan to get inside Kruun’s throne room. Oh…and there’s no such thing as the “Leviathan.” Beast discovers that the prophecy may not be a prophecy at all…it could simply be an instruction manual for destroying the giant planetary generator that powers all of Breakworld–a generator that only someone with metal skin could get close enough to.

The big reveal of the issue is that Cyclops is no longer neutered. Not only does he unleash a virtual deluge of destructive scarlet energy, but after Emma’s psychic voodoo, Cyke seems to have gained complete control over his optic blasts. This was a “holy shit” moment akin to Giles returning at the end of the sixth season of Buffy to lay the magical smackdown on Willow.

One of the questions left unanswered thus far is exactly who is responsible for this whole fake prophecy deal. I doubt it’s Kruun, since destroying the generator would probably kill him. I think Aghanne and Dafi (the supposed rebel leaders) are the real rat-finks here. I’m sure Joss won’t leave us hanging and the conclusion will be as satisfying as the next non-Whedon arc will be disappointing.

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Buffy the Vampire Slayer #8 (Brian K. Vaughan-writer, Georges Jeanty-artist)

Faith’s mission to assassinate the evil Slayer continues. She’s done a pretty good job getting on Lady Genevieve’s good side, becoming her “best mate” and everything. The two Slayers indulge in a bubble bath (thank you, BKV!) and Genevieve tells Faith (using the alias “Hope”…get it?) her plans for subjugating humanity with an army of Slayers once Buffy is out of the way. Faith warns Genevieve to be careful and not go looking for Buffy…luckily, Genevieve’s sleazy Irish sorceror uses black magic to bring Buffy to her.

Buffy and Genevieve throw down, complete with the Buffster berating Lady Genevieve’s Renfair attire. Just when it looks like Lady Genevieve might get the drop on Ms. Summers, Faith blows her cover to save Buffy’s life. You would think that Buffy would be greatful. Instead, she gives Faith all kinds of shit. Here’s our damaged Slayer trying to make good, but Buffy–in her holier-than-thou mode again–just can’t cut Faith a break…going so far as telling Faith that she couldn’t be working for Giles because Giles doesn’t trust Faith anymore than she (Buffy) does. That’s just cold, B. Kudos to Vaughan for getting us to feel bad for Faith without being overly manipulative. Buffy has a huge blindspot when it comes to Faith, so much so that she may never be able to cut Ms. Lehane any slack.

Other high points: the revelation that Buffy’s secret Slayer army has a mysterious and wealthy benefactor, and seeing Giles trying to break into Lady Genevieve’s estate with the aid of a dwarf armed with the Hammer of Hamner.

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Countdown to Final Crisis #25 (Paul Dini & Adam Beechen-writers, Ron Lim-artist)

After last week’s Multiversal Conference of Yalta, the Monitors are noticeably absent from this issue of Countdown. What we get instead is an issue that’s almost entirely set in the city that used to be Bludhaven. Karate Kid and Una, along with Buddy Blank and his grandson, have come to Bludhaven to try and break into the Command-D bunker, hoping that it will contain information about the O.M.A.C. virus. They’re stopped by Firestorm (I guess if your town has been destroyed by a giant radioactive monster, who better to watch over it than someone called “The Nuclear Man”?). Things get much worse when the Atomic Knights show up, forcing Karate Kid’s gang and Firestorm to band together to fight the Knights. In the end, Karate Kid gets into the bunker and finds Professor Stein (one of the earlier hosts of the Firestorm matrix) being tortured by Desaad–does this mean that the “D” in Command-D stands for “Desaad” or “Darkseid”?. Because he’s a douche, Desaad uses Prof. Stein to overpower Jason Rusch (one of Firestorm’s current hosts) and become Firestorm. One can only assume that giving Darkseid’s chief torturer the power to transmute matter is a bad, bad idea.

Elsewhere, Trickster and Pied Piper are still on the run. Pissed that these two losers managed to slip out of the noose twice, Deadshot has decided to eliminate them. With equal parts luck and skill, Trickster and Piper foil the assassin extraordinaire, getting in more adolescent gay jokes in four pages than any Judd Apatow movie.

Jimmy Olsen finds himself up shit-creek when Forager abandons him to the slave pits of Apokolips. As if that wasn’t bad enough, it seems that Darkseid has taken a “special interest” in the Daily Planet’s cub reporter. And, since Darkseid isn’t evil enough, it looks like he might be the one behind everything that’s been going on in Countdown. Why do I say that? Well, what other reason could Eclipso have to show up on Apokolips with poor, lost, misguided “Black” Mary Marvel in tow, offering Mary’s services to Darkseid? It could be a massive case of misdirection, but that’s my theory as of now. I just hope Mary makes it out of “Final Crisis” okay.

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Hellboy: Darkness Calls #6 (Mike Mignola-writer, Duncan Fegredo-artist)

In a previous review of Darkness Calls, I said that most Hellboy stories never make sense until the end. What I found out after finishing Darkness Calls is that sometimes they don’t make sense even then. I was under the impression that this mini-series would be the first step in bringing HB back into the B.P.R.D. fold…maybe I was wrong, because the conclusion of this series didn’t give me the slightest hint that that might be happening. What it did offer was another glimpse of Hellboy leading the armies of Hell from atop a dragon…and a reference to classic Hellboy antagonist Rasputin.

Even though I felt that this issue didn’t bring any kind of conclusion to the overall Darkness Calls storyline, Hellboy books are just so breath-taking to look at. I can flip through any Hellboy or B.P.R.D. book and completely ignore the words, and still come away feeling as if I’ve gotten a satisfying entertainment experience–and, since I’m a “word-guy”, that says a lot about the art in these books. Mignola might not be drawing this series, but Fegredo’s art is just as good, even if it isn’t as minimalist as Mignola’s art is.

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Lobster Johnson: The Iron Prometheus #3 (Mike Mignola-writer, Jason Armstrong-artist)

The pulpy fun continues in Mignola’s Lobster Johnson mini-series. Each issue makes you feel more and more like you’ve unearthed some forgotten treasure from the Golden Age of Pulp Magazines. What this issue lacks in Nazis, it more than makes up for in steampunk cyborgs and crazy pseudo-science.

In this issue, Mignola not only gives us a human brain kept alive in a big jar, but also offers an explanation of exactly what the hell this Vril crap is. Mentioned as the power-source used by Atlantis, as well as the energy source for Professor Gallaragas’s (the dude whose brain is residing in the aforementioned jar) V.E.S. armor. This issue reveals that Vril comes from Anum, an angel who stole power from God and gave it to the Hyperboreans. Mignola also fills in some blanks regarding the man in the V.E.S. armor: Jim Sachs. Is Jim dead? Is he being kept alive by the suit, Robocop-style? And, as if it wasn’t bad enough that some Fu Manchu wannabe (remember how much fun the “Yellow Menace” was in the 20s, 30s and 40s, kids?) is using the power of Anum to make evil, steampunk cyborgs, it seems that Anum’s power has a nasty side-effect: transforming people into giant, unfriendly Dragon-Men.

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Metamorpho: Year One #3 (Dan Jurgens-writer, Mike Norton-artist)

Remember kids: if a creepy little billionaire offers you a job, he’ll probably end up screwing you over. That’s the lesson that Rex Mason (a.k.a. Metamorpho, the Element Man) is slowing starting to realize in this retelling of his origin. It wasn’t bad enough that Rex’s employer, Simon Stagg, ordered Mason left for dead under a collapsed pyramid in Egypt, now that Rex has returned with superpowers, Stagg wants to trademark Mason’s new Metamorpho abilities and turn a tidy profit.

What I enjoyed about this issue in particular was the explanation that Rex’s clothes, backpack, and other knick-knacks were all absorbed into his body during his transformation into Metamorpho, meaning his body contains pretty much the entire Periodic Table of Elements. Initially, Metamorpho could turn into any element or chemical compound found in the human body, but I always seem to see him turning into stuff that isn’t found in a human body–like, for example, titanium. Doing a little retconning and adding that Mason’s clothes and equipment were absorbed into his body, seems to make more sense to me. I was a tad bit confused by Rex’s sudden ability to, and understanding of, his new powers…especially since he didn’t seem to have the slightest idea what to do with them in the last issue. And, just for the hell of it, Rex is kidnapped by an old associate of Stagg–a gun-runner named Maxwell Tremaine–and forced to show off his Metamorpho abilities by fighting a bunch of giant robots. Why? Who the hell cares, kids, we’re talking giant robots here. Giant-freakin-robots!

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Robin #168 (Peter Milligan-writer, Freddie E. Williams, II-artist)

This issue is the first part of “The Resurrection of Ra’s al Ghul” storyline that’s running through the Bat-titles. I’m a little confused as to why DC chose to publish the first part in Robin’s solo title, especially since it means that there was a bit too much Batman and, in my opinion, not enough Robin–which is weird, I know, because Batman is feakin’ awesome, but when I pick up a book called Robin I have certain expectations, y’know?

While Ra’s continues to search for Nanda Parbat, Damian shows up in Gotham looking for his old man, realizing that if anyone can stop his deranged grandfather, it’s Bruce. What Damian doesn’t know is (1) Bruce is off tracking down Talia and Ra’s, and (2) Ra’s has sent a whole crap-load of ninjas after his wayward grandson (and, if Ra’s has his way, future host body). So…all Damian finds in the Batcave is one honked-off Tim Drake. Again, we have the same problem that Faith had with Buffy: Damian’s here looking for help and all Tim does is assume the worst and try to kick the scared little kid’s ass. Now, I do not want Damian to replace Tim as Robin and I don’t want Damian to ever become Batman (which won’t happen, because comic characters never really age, so Bruce will always be a fit and trim mid-thirties), but the least Tim can do is give Damian a chance to explain himself. Luckily, Alfred is there to be the voice of reason. Good ol’ Alfred…remember when DC almost killed you off with toxic guano from Man-Bat’s kid?

Oh, and while Tim is dealing with Damian (and vice versa), Bats is off looking for Ra’s al Ghul…which basically leads him directly into the line of fire of Talia’s “bitch-cannon.” Telling Bruce that he’s a bad father because he’s more concerned with catching psychotic lunatics and immortal fanatics than getting to know his own kid. Really, Talia? Maybe you should have thought about that before you grew Damian in a jar of Wayne-gravy. Bruce doesn’t have time for kids…unless, y’know, they’re orphans or something.

My hope? Damian dies by the end of the storyline. It can be a heroic death, like saving Bruce or something. Or he can get possessed by Ra’s, effectively dying. But, one way or another, I’d like him out of the DC Universe.

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Quote of the Week:

“Oh yes, let’s talk–let’s share our feelings and have slumber parties and try on hats.”–Emma Frost to Kitty Pryde, regarding the apparent death of Cyclops, in Astonishing X-Men #23.

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