Weekly Comic Review for 11/21/07

Angel: After the Fall #1 (Brian Lynch-writer, Franco Urru-artist)

After the success of Darkhorse’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 series, it seemed almost inevitable that Buffy’s spin-off, Angel, would get the same treatment.  Like he did with the series, creator Joss Whedon is serving as “plotter” for Angel: After the Fall, giving the day-to-day writing chores to Brian Lynch.  The final episode of Angel found L.A. sucked into Hell and what’s left of Angel’s team about to face off against Hell’s demonic host (our hero’s final words: “Personally, I’ve always wanted to slay a dragon.”).

After the Fallpicks up a few months after these events.  L.A. is still in Hell and the more powerful demon lords have carved up the town into their own fiefdoms (not unlike what Gotham’s gangs and super-villains did after the city was hit by that earthquake).  It turns out Angel didn’t slay that dragon after all, instead he’s trained it to be his trusty steed–the way our boy figures it the dragon’s a lot like he is, they’ve both been used and manipulated by Wolfram & Hart.  Angel and his crew are doing the best they can against the demons that are infesting the streets of The City of Angels.  Angel’s son Connor, electric-gal Gwen, and Nina the werewolf are running a human safe-house in Santa Monica.  Wesley (who died in the final episode, “Not Fade Away”) has become a ghost, seemingly on the payroll of evil law firm Wolfram & Hart.  It’s hard to tell what Wesley’s deal really is.  He appears as his old clean-cut and suited-up self–as opposed to the rugged street-fighter look he’s sported since Angel’s third season–and we’ve seen how much the Senior Partners of W&H like this look (I give you Adam Baldwin’s Marcus Hamilton); he’s spouting off Wolfram & Hart edicts, first to the demons roughing up Angel and later to Angel himself; and, finally, he’s seen inside the “White Room”–which is usually how one contacts the Senior Partners.  But, despite all of this, in his chats with Angel, we get a glimpse of the real Wesley, so I’m not sure if we’re supposed to accept that this is the real Wesley or not.  And then there’s Gunn.  Gunn’s abandoned his super-lawyer path and returned to the world of grass-roots, street-level demon fighting.  “Team Gunn” busts into the gladiatorial arena of Kr’ph, “Lord of Westwood!  Dark overseer of everything west of Beverly Hills!”  Gunn’s crew saves the humans held prisoner there but…oh, what? holy shit…Gunn’s a freakin’ vampire!

After the Fall seems to be off to a pretty good start.  Even though Whedon isn’t personally writing the issues, Brian Lynch seems to have a pretty good ear for Whedon-speak, especially when it comes to Whedon’s classic “just-like-us” portrayal of demons.  The one problem I had with Angel(the series) was it’s scope.  Everything that happened on the show was a global apocalypse.  Whereas Buffy and the Scoobies were defending there hometown from the things that go bump in the night, Angel and his team were always trying to stop the end of the world…and, y’know what, it got old pretty fast.  Things got back on track when the show was rebooted for its fifth (and final) season, which included making Angel head of L.A.’s branch of Wolfram & Hart, bringing Spike into the fold, and (unfortunately) killing adorably shy physicist Fred Burkle.  As long as After the Fallkeeps things simple–and there’s no reason to think it won’t, if this is supposedly Whedon’s idea for the show’s sixth season–this should be an enjoyable series.

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Batman Confidential #11 (Michael Green-writer/Denys Cowan-artist)

“This is what happens when insanity goes insane.”  This is Batman’s near-poetic response when he comes face to face with the newly created Joker.  As much as I enjoyed this arc, I felt that it tried too hard to give us Joker’s pre-transformation motives.  But, now that Mr. J has been dunked in chemicals and emerged as the chalk-skinned, scarlet-grinned psycho we know and love, the storyline really hits his stride.

Green gives us an explanation as to why Joker runs around trying to transform his victims into mirror-images of himself.  In his own insane way, Joker is trying to help the people he’s killing.  He wants them to have their eyes opened like he has, to be able to see just how amazingly wonderful Gotham City is.  And, of course, the only way to do that is to expose them to the same kind of chemical bath he was exposed to.  It all makes sense in a creepy, psychotic way.

Green’s writing continues to be strong as he explores the early days of Gotham’s Dark Knight–for example, having both Alfred and Joker telling Bruce that he’s responsible for people like Joker solely through the act of dressing up as a bat.  Personally, I still find Cowan’s art to be a bit too sloppy and sketchy…not so bad as to distract from the story, but close.

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Catwoman #73 (Will Pfeifer-writer, David Lopez-artist)

What’s a reformed criminal to do?  Selina’s tried to go straight.  She’s tried to be a good mom to her little daughter.  But, no one seems to want her to succeed.  After faking their deaths and secretly giving her daughter up for adoption, someone decides to blow up Selina’s apartment.  Now, she has nothing.  Not even the stash she hid away in a locker at the bus station is safe, someone’s managed to break into the locker and clean it out.

So, Selina does what any of us would: she breaks into a store, nabs a new set of threads and some spending money, and goes to find out who’s been messing with her.  Maybe it’s just me, but I found Selina’s Converse and ski-mask get-up positively adorable, plus it added a bit of realism to everything that happened after.  With info gathered by Calculator (the evil version of super-hacker Oracle), Selina heads out to the mansion of Conrad Krupp to retrieve a spare mask.  It seems this guy Krupp has a major hard-on for super-villain memorabilia, including a Catwoman mask.  Once Selina gets her mask, Calculator sends her to a seedy bar where she should find the people responsible for blowing up her apartment.  Of course, it’s a trap, and Selina comes face-to-face with some dude I’ve never seen before.  He’s all decked out in black leather and straps, like Wildstorm’s Midniter, and he’s wearing some kind of groovy multi-lensed goggles. 

I liked what Pfeifer did here.  He took a very basic plot–they took my money and I want it back–and grafted it into the tights-and-capes world of DC Comics.  This issue was, essentially, no different than Point Blank or Payback, and that’s what makes it so much damn fun.

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Countdown to Final Crisis 23 (Paul Dini-writer, Tom Derenick-artist)

So, it looks like Superman-Prime may very well be the dude behind this “Final Crisis” everyone’s been talking about.  In his desire to get back to “his Earth”, S-Prime has been ripping apart the Source Wall.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, he’s the one responsible for kidnapping Mr. Mxyzptlk.  He’s holding Mxy hostage, the imp’s Fifth Dimensional magic sapped by the goth-inspired Annataz Arataz of Earth-3.  Superman-Prime wants Mxy to use his powers to erase every Earth in the Multiverse except his own.  I’m going to say this again in case DC missed it the first time: “DO NOT GET RID OF THE MULTIVERSE ONLY ONE YEAR AFTER BRINGING IT BACK!”  It would be a mistake.  It would be a Marvel-level mistake.

Elsewhere, “Black” Mary Marvel is having second thoughts about joining Darkseid.  She doesn’t want to help someone who’s evil.  Unfortunately, Eclipso is there to tell her that “evil” is relative.  People think that Mary is “evil.”  Is she?  People think Darkseid is “evil.”  Is he?  Just when you think poor, lost Mary is going to finally get her act together…

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Detective Comics #838 (Paul Dini-writer, Ryan Benjamin-artist)

“The Resurrection of Ra’s al Ghul” continues in this issue of Detective Comics.  Damian and Tim are brought before the resurrected-but-corpsified Ra’s.  Tim tries to help Damian escape, but as soon as that little douche Damian can save his own skin, he bails.  This is when Ra’s tries to seduce Tim to his side of things.  Ra’s tells Tim that Bruce will inevitably choose Damian over him.  He will turn his back on Tim, just like he turned his back on Jason Todd.  Tim should join forces with Ra’s.  Ra’s has more money, more power, more influence.  Hell, Ra’s could even bring Tim’s dead parents back to life.

Bruce and Talia arrive in Tibet and they’ve seemed to have reached some kind of understanding.  Talia has stopped bitching at Bruce about his parenting skills and Bruce has decided to accept the new cloak and armor that Talia’s offered him.  Also in Tibet, Dick and Alfred are met at the airport by Ra’s al Ghul’s annoying man-mountain of a servant, Ubu.  Dick makes short work of some ninjas and Alfred sucker-punches Ubu. 

When Ra’s and Bruce finally come face to face–after Bruce uses echo-location to find the secret entrance of Ra’s’ lair–Ra’s tells Bruce that the reason he needs a younger, stronger body is to face the Sensei (some old Chinese dude who’s been running the day-to-day business of the League of Assassins).  Bruce says no, of course, and Ra’s gives Batman a choice: he must choose whose body Ra’s will inhabit–Damian or Tim?

Yes, this story is about halfway over, but I’m not sure it needed to be as long as it is.  And I’m pretty sure that it didn’t need to run every week.  Since a lot of the story seems to be a bit repetitive, I think we could have handled it only taking place in Batman or Detective Comics.  The reason people agree to read a story that spans several different titles is that they don’t want to miss anything important or exciting.  I don’t feel like I would have missed anything important if I didn’t read Robin or Nightwing.  But, that’s just me.

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The Flash #234 (Mark Waid-writer, Freddie E. Williams, II-artist)

This issue starts off with Wally surveying Keystone City after the alien invasion.  He’s amazed by the resilience of Keystone’s citizens.  Wally’s also amazed to learn that if he moves fast enough, he can sync up to his twins and pull them towards him.  It’s the perfect way to make sure that Wally and the twins never get separated during an emergency.  Jai–still in shock over what he overheard at the end of the last issue–doesn’t think it’s such a bad idea.  Iris, however, is insulted that her parents would ever use what she calls “the leash.”

The bulk of this issue deals with Jai’s sudden and unexplained mutation.  His body starts to bulk up…his arms become reptilian spikes…his legs resemble those of an ape.  He can’t control his powers, resulting in a near-fatal rock-slide.  At Iris’s urging, Wally uses “the leash” to find her brother and stop the aforementioned rock-slide.  After Linda runs some tests in the Wests fancy underground science-lab, she discovers that Jai’s DNA was vibrating and, essentially, travelling back through the evolutionary ladder. 

This issue again highlights the Wests strength as a family, partly due to Wally’s grounded, blue-collar background.  They can have “family meetings” and not seem square.  Wally can call the twins “kiddo”, “champ”, or “big guy” and not sound lame.  He can talk to Iris about Kim Possible and it sounds right.  Normally, the addition of children to a series is a death sentence (anyone remember Cousin Oliver?), but the West Twins are providing a shot in the arm to a character who doesn’t even need one yet–it’s these little changes to The Flash’s status quo (like when no one knew who The Flash really was, not even Wally) that keep the book fresh. 

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Metamorpho: Year One #4 (Dan Jurgens-writer, Mike Norton-artist)

This is the issue when Metamorpho actually does his first bit of superheroing.

Stagg is manipulating everything.  He tells Rex that there may not be a cure for his condition and then, as an olive branch, offers to use his private jet to fly Rex wherever he wants to go.  He also gives Rex a latex mask of his normal human visage, knowing that there’s no way a latex mask would pass through airport security (especially after someone calls in a tip about a potential attack).  When Metamorpho is forced to flee the airport, he ends up at the estate of someone who calls himself Doc Dread.  Dread uses the fear of disasters to manipulate economics and increase his fortune.  He’s also planning on gassing the airport and blaming Metamorpho.  This is one Metamorpho returns to the airport and plays hero.

So far, Metamorpho: Year Oneseems more like a series of one-shots, and not a cohesive six-part story.  I would think that there would be a limit to the number of times that Rex would fall for Stagg’s shenanigans, but every month he’s just as gullible as the month before.  Jurgens has two more issues, and I wonder if he’s going to tie everything up into a neat little bow or if he’ll continue on his seemingly aimless narrative path.

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Powers #27 (Brian Michael Bendis-writer, Mike Oeming-artist)

The search for the Dead Girls’ Powers Killer continues.   Deena–no longer a cop and actually a suspect–takes matters into her own hands and visits sleazy underworld club-owner, Lance.  She roughs Lance up until he agrees to use his criminal connections to find out who the killer is.  Lance’s “connections” include a small army of creepy little gobliny dudes called Simons, who bounce around the city beating information out of people. 

Meanwhile, Walker is visited by his old buddy Triphammer.  It’s been a while since Trip was around and I’ve missed him.  I’ve always thought of him as George Carlin in Iron Man’s armor…anyway, ol’ Trip is calling on his pal Walker because Trip’s thirteen year old daughter is missing.  It should come as no surprise that one of the dead girls in the basement of police H.Q. is, in fact, Trip hammer’s little girl.  To make Walker’s life even more complicated, Callista (spurred into action by the apathy of her peers) appears at the precinct in her Retro Girl outfit ready to “help.”  I can only assume that this new Retro Girl (a teenager saved by Walker, who has taken on the role of her Obi-Wan) is going to use herself as bait to lure the Dead Girls’ Powers Killer into a trap.

Again, Bendis is at his best when writing his own characters.  Powers never fails to deliver–even if it has a less than ironclad printing schedule.  It would be easy to throw action-packed issue after action-packed issue at us, but that isn’t Powers’s style.  This book has always been a gritty, street-level procedural that just happens to have people with super-powers in it–as if someone took an episode of Heroes and an episode of Law & Order, put them in a blender and made a delicious entertainment frappe. 

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Quote of the Week

“Look in your underpants and you’ll see.  You’re still a boy, ‘Clarky.'”–Mr. Mxyzptlk to Superman(boy)-Prime in Countdown to Final Crisis 23.

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