Weekly Comic Review for 12/28/07

Batman #672 (Grant Morrison-writer, Tony Daniel-artist)

Way back in the earlier issues of Morrison’s Batman run–y’know, before the International Batmen and Ra’s al Ghul getting all resurrecty–Bats had to deal with a pair of maniac cops running around dressed as Batman (in one way or another).  It was even hinted that there was a “third man” waiting in the wings.  Batman #672 introduces us to the third fake Batman (although this one seems to be a fan of Firefly, as well, since he’s running around with a napalm gun).  If memory serves, one of the other two Batmen had more than a passing resemblance to Bane.  Are these guys supposed to look like Bat-villains?  Are they Elseworldy in nature?

Despite my love-hate relationship with Morrison, the Ra’s al Ghul stuff has gotten me intrigued to see what he has planned for Bruce and Company in the coming months (as long as Damian stays far, far, far away from Gotham).  What Morrison should avoid–like every other Bat-writer should avoid–is the whole relationship thing.  Admittedly, the broad Bruce is escorting around the globe doesn’t have a great deal of “staying power.”  Bruce all but says the only reason he’s seeing her is to get Alfred off of his back.  I do give Morrison tons of credit for The Scene–a Gothamized version of The View where each of the four co-hosts are not only bitchier than their real-world equivalents, but also about 50 times more attractive.

My biggest concern at the moment is the appearance of Bat-Mite on the last page of the issue.  Modern writers need to leave certain Golden and Silver Age creations and ideas alone.  Something that seemed like a good idea in the 1950s or 1960s may not be a good idea in 2007 (or 2008, for that matter); furthermore, some things can not be changed or updated to become “cool” or “relevant”: the concept of a Bizarro Earth is skating close to the edge…any appearance of Bat-Mite just dives right over it.

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Countdown to Final Crisis 18 (Paul Dini with Sean McKeever-writers, Scott Kolins-artist)

With roughly thirty-five issues or so down, this issue of Countdown delivers what might be the series’ best story to date.  With the exception of a short scene where Mary Marvel opens a can of lightning-fueled whoop-ass on Eclipso, this issue focuses entirely on Ray Palmer, a.k.a the Atom (the scene with Eclipso fits in with the overall Ray-centric nature of the issue since Eclipso’s current host is Ray’s maniac ex-wife Jean Loring).

So…what’s ol’ Doc Palmer been up to for the last two years?  After learning that his ex-wife was behind the murder of his best friend’s wife, Ray went sub-atomic, eventually shrinking his way through the barrier between Earths.  He learns of the existence of a new Multiverse and sets off to find a better world to call home.  Ray arrives on Earth-51, shortly before the Palmer of that Earth dies in a lab accident.  Always the curious scientist, our Ray looks over Ray-51’s research and learns that he (Ray-51) discovered a potential danger to the new Multiverse.  Ray decides to take his double’s place on Earth-51, and basically gets a chance to re-live his career.  On Earth-51, all crime has been eliminated and the familiar heroes of the DC Universe have hung up the capes and gotten on with their lives–well, all except Bruce…on Earth-51, Batman is still active.

Despite being happily married to an un-insane Jean and spending time with friends (Ralph and Sue Dibny, and Barry and Iris West), Ray Palmer’s been having nightmares…nightmares about his old life on New Earth.  Even stopping off to see Zatanna (now a Rubenesque shrink at the Arkham Institute for Emotional Disorders) doesn’t soothe Ray’s troubled psyche.  That’s why he’s less than surprised when Monitor Bob and the Challengers arrive on the front lawn during a holiday party.  But, you have to admit, Ray was probably a little bit surprised when Bob threatened to “eliminate” him.  It would be a nifty twist if Bob’s been using Kyle, Donna, and Jason this whole time just to ice Palmer, but we’ve all read enough comics to recognize a potential fake-out when we see one.

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Daredevil #103 (Ed Brubaker-writer, Michael Lark-artist)

Lesson to evil-doers: if you’re going to try and start some shit in Hell’s Kitchen, it’s best if you stay as far away from Matt Murdock’s friends and relatives as possible.  Y’see, the thing about Matt is this: sure, he’s a hard-ass when it comes to crime…but he’s also a slave to guilt, and if he thinks some slime-ball is messing with his friends and loved-ones just to get to him, he’ll go from zero to ape-shit in about 12 seconds.

Case in point: even though Matt’s been trying to stop Mister Fear and his goons from flooding the streets of The Kitchen with MGH and other uber-drugs, he’s been doing so with kid-gloves.  But, now that Matt’s beloved Milla’s in the middle of things, Matt decides to take his hunt for Fear to the streets.  He lets a pair of bad guys rip up the middle of the street in hopes that a higher-rung baddie will show up.  When that doesn’t work, Matt tracks down the sleazy doctor that the super-villains use to patch themselves up.  Finally, Matt gets his hands on Ox, Mister Fear’s go-to muscle, chains the big lug down and breaks out the acetylene torch…looks like Matt’s going to get Ox to blab one way or another.

Back in the day, every superhero was forced to become dark and gritty (the “day” being some point in the 90s).  It didn’t always work.  Superman should not be dark and gritty.  Spider-man should not be dark and gritty.  Batman can be, to a point.  And, so can Daredevil.  Brubaker’s Daredevil books are so good because they remind me of gritty crime novels from the 1950s.  Daredevil is, despite the fancy red underwear, a bare-knuckled, street-level detective looking out for the little guy.

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Flash #235 (Mark Waid-writer, Freddie E. Williams, II-artist)

Sometimes, I feel bad writing lackluster reviews of some books (like Batman or Ultimate X-Men) while I seemingly do nothing but sing the praises of other books (like anything written by Joss Whedon…or, in this case, Flash).  I guess what helps me sleep at night is the fact that I always criticize a book based entirely on what I’m looking for in a comic book–I try to avoid calling a book “bad” or “terrible”, instead I say that a book didn’t “hold my interest” or “deliver what I was expecting.”

Flash always holds my interest and delivers what I expect (with the exception of Bart’s brief tenure as Fastest Man Alive, which is why I didn’t read Flash for those twelve months).  Anyways…this latest issue continues the story of those wacky aliens who attacked Earth just because we happen to be an air-breathing planet.  Wally’s managed to convince a few Justice Leaguers (John Stewart, Wonder Woman, and Black Lightning) to follow him back to the invaders’ home world and stopping the invasion at its source.  What Wally didn’t expect was the aliens using mind-whammy fluids to trick him and his team into fighting illusions.  When Wally returns to Earth, he sees that the aliens have started dehydrating the good people of Keystone City.

This set-up could have led to a basic comic book plot, instead Mark Waid takes this as an opportunity to further examine the relationships between Wally and his family.  Upon returning to Keystone, Wally immediately goes home to check on his wife and kids.  Iris is upset because her brother has run off and she was torn between following him and protecting their mom.  Wally comforts her, telling Iris that she made the right choice and that he’ll go and find Jai.  The scene where Wally finally finds Jai is great for a number of reasons.  Jai tells his dad that he knows that he and his sister are on borrowed time, and that he’s decided to shoulder this burden alone and let his sister live a (moderately) normal life.  Wally is understandably shocked, and touched, at how mature his boy is.  Again, it’s scenes like these that make Flash a satisfying read month after month.

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Gotham Underground #3 (Frank Tieri-writer, J. Calafiore-artist)

For lack of a better phrase, I’ll call this issue of Gotham Underground the “build-up” issue.  Why?  Well, there are plenty of little moments and cliffhangers sprinkled throughout the issue, but very little pay-off.  This is the issue that’s supposed to make you say “Holy Shit!” and come back in thirty days to see what happens.  Since this is basically the end of Act One, I think it does the job well enough.

For starters, Bruce (disguised as Matches Malone) is still behind bars in Blackgate, where he’s mercilessly assaulted in his cell by Mr. Zsasz.  Of course Bruce fights Zsasz off, but not before getting sliced up something awful and passing out due to blood loss.  This puts Bruce is a bad spot: he’s undercover, injured, and there’s at least one (and, most likely more) prison guard on the take.

Elsewhere, Penguin’s bending over backwards to make sure he stays on his perch in Gotham’s criminal hierarchy.  He’s already gotten into bed with the Suicide Squad.  Now he’s trying to cement a relationship with Tobias Whale, head of the non-freak Gotham criminal element.  If you’re wondering what kind of relationship a Whale and a Penguin can have, don’t…Whale already beat you to the punch when he tells Penguin that a penguin is not a whale’s enemy, it’s a whale’s dinner.

Robin’s still in Metropolis, on a fact-finding mission with Oracle.  Babs gives Tim the lowdown on Tobias Whale and why he’s in Gotham: it seems that Whale was chased out of Metropolis by a former underling named Johnny Stitches.  But, before she can tell Tim any more about the zaftig albino bastard, Oracle’s intruder alerts go off.  An invisible assailant smacks Tim around a bit before being subdued by Wildcat.  Tim is shocked to see the invisible intruder slowly revealed to be…wait for it…Spoiler!  Now, I’m not saying that it’s THE Spoiler (although I hope it is because I really dug Stephanie Brown), for the moment I’m going to refer to it as ASpoiler (mainly because I don’t recall Steph having a Romulan cloaking device).  Either way, it’s a big cliffhanger: is Steph back from the dead, or is someone else wearing the Spoiler costume? 

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Green Lantern #26 (Geoff Johns-writer, Mike McKone-artist)

I’m going to take a few minutes to justify my Green Lantern cred.  For most of my life, I considered the Green Lantern to be that dude on Super Friendswho flew around and attacked people with giant green boxing gloves and birdcages.  You can understand why he wasn’t a big favorite of mine…until the Nineties.  When I started collecting comics hard-core in college, Hal Jordan (the Lantern of Super Friends) had gone crazy, become evil, and died.  His replacement was Kyle Rayner, a struggling artist in New York City who was given the last Green Lantern ring in the universe.  Kyle was cool.  Because he was an artist, he was able to come up with some crazy constructs (one of the ones that stands out is a construct of Batman…how cool is that?).  Anyways…I read Green Lantern every month for a few years, bailing shortly after Kyle became Ion (it’s a long story best left to our friends at Wikipedia). 

After discovering Kyle, I started researching the older Lanterns–John Stewart, Guy Gardner, Hal Jordan.  So, when it was announced that Hal–who had spent several years as the host for the vengeful Spectre–would be resurrected and given the ring again, I was jazzed.  The real Hal Jordan (not the lame, 2-dimensional Hal of Super Friends) is a classic, lantern-jawed (pun intended!) 50s hero.  He’s brave and stalwart.  He’s a bit of a thrill-seeker (the sonuvabitch is a fuckin’ test pilot, kids!) and a hit with the ladies (Hal’s the Captain Kirk of DC).  I gave Hal’s new Green Lantern a shot, until economic constraints forced me to drop it.  Then came Geoff Johns and the Sinestro War.

Sinestro was Hal’s greatest foe, whom Jordan killed when he was possessed by Parallax.  With Hal’s return it shouldn’t be a surprise that Sinestro, he of the porn-star moustache, would eventually return.  Not only did Sinestro return, but he brought his own yellow ring-clad Corps. with him (an idea I still say he got from Booster Gold).  A war was fought across the universe between the Green and the Yellow.  Planets were ravaged.  Soldiers were killed.  Heroes were made.  Villains were punished.

Green Lantern #26is the first issue after the conclusion of the Sinestro Corps. War.  It actually serves as an epilogue of sorts.  Sinestro has been defeated and imprisoned on Oa.  While in his cell (a cell on death row, by the way), Sinestro talks with his former partner, Hal Jordan.  Sinestro never thought the Green Lantern Corps. embraced their true potential, and his desire to use the full extent of the Lanterns’ power is what made him go rogue in the first place.  He claims that he orchestrated the Sinestro Corps. War to frighten the Guardians into allowing their Green Lanterns to kill.  And, that is what happened.  The Guardians created ten new laws, the first of which authorized the use of lethal force when facing a member of the Sinestro Corps.  The second new law is revealed in this issue and involves a group called “Alpha Lanterns.”  I have no idea who or what these Alpha Lanterns are, but they look like zombies with power batteries in their chests.  Creepy.

While Hal is chatting with Sinestro, John Stewart goes where he goes after every victory: the sight of his greatest failure–the destruction of the planet Xanshi.  This was the lowest point in John’s life…and, with each victory, he returns to try and recreate Xanshi with his power ring.  If there’s one Lantern who possesses the power to rebuild a planet, it’s probably John–he’s not only an architect in his civilian identity, but he was also made “Master Builder” by the Guardians.  In fact, it’s in his capacity as architect that John’s on Earth, helping the expansion of Coast City.

Why is a super-hero playing construction worker, you ask?  Oh…poor, poor Coast City.  It was destroyed by Mongul, which forced the power-mad Hal Jordan to attempt to recreate it.  It was eventually rebuilt around the time of Jordan’s rebirth, but it was so underpopulated that people called it “Ghost City.”  However, during the Sinestro War, the people of Coast City refused to abandon their homes (or their hometown hero, Green Lantern).  They lit green lights in every window and created enough courage and will to weaken the fear-based Sinestros.  The courage of Coast City’s citizens earned it a new nickname–“The City Without Fear”–and caused a population boom relatively over-night.  With more people than buildings, it fell to the four Lanterns of Earth (Hal, John, Guy Gardner and Kyle Rayner) to help with the construction of new buildings.

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Ultimate Fantastic Four #49 (Mike Carey-writer, Mark Brooks-artist)

Mike Carey has officially written one of the best arcs in Ultimate Fantastic Four.  Recent story arcs in this book have stumbled a bit, relying on ridiculously flowery Tolkien-isms to simulate alien languages and too much emphasis placed on the idea of Reed-as-obsessed-genius.  But, the Red Ghost story that concludes with this issue had everything that I want in a Fantastic Four comic: action, adventure, comedy, gee-whiz science.  Plus, it had monkeys.  Lots and lots of monkeys.

I’m not always a fan of fixing what ain’t broke, but at the end of the day, I actually liked Carey’s new Red Ghost.  With Ivan Kragoff stabbed in the back, his assistant, Rutskaya, becomes the Ultimate Red Ghost.  And, to up the creep-factor, Rutskaya’s not just a super-villain, she’s an eco-terrorist who also happens to be a weird, super-powered chimera.  Rutskaya still has a mad-on for killing Sue (kudos to Mark Brooks for giving us a Sue Storm who’s H-O-T), and to do so, she sends forth the various apes that comprise her new body.  Each ape (like the original Red Ghost’s hench-apes) has a different super-power.

Of course the boys show up to help, with Crimson Dynamo in tow, but does Sue need their help?  Not at all.  With the help of Kragoff’s cyber-bear (cybear??), Sue makes short work of Rutskaya’s apes and overloads the maniac with additional DNA samples.  Sue Storm has always been one of the strongest female characters in comics, but Ultimate Sue takes it to a whole new level.  She’s cute.  She’s tough.  She’s wicked tough.  And, after putting up with Reed’s shit as of late, she’s single.  Yup.  Sue’s decided that she and Reed should “take a break.”  To be honest, though, now is probably not the time…y’see, just as the FF return to NYC, they find the city encased in a shimmering CUBE of seemingly COSMIC energy. 

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Ultimate Power #9 (Jeph Loeb-writer, Greg Land-artist)

Taken as individual issues, Ultimate Power was not that good.  However, when viewed as a whole, it’s actually not that bad.  Maybe it was a little confusing here and there–what with two or three different versions of people running around–but, if nothing else, it explains (a) why Nick Fury is MIA in the Ultimate Universe, and (b) why the Ultimates are currently hanging out in Tony’s mansion–Fury was left behind in the Supreme Power Universe to answer to his crimes.

This final issue sees the Hulk cut loose and rampage through the Supreme Power Universe.  Hero after hero falls (and not even Spider-Man, acting as Hulk’s Jiminy Cricket, can stop the carnage).  In what I can only assume is Loeb’s homage to the original Avengers, the heroes put aside their differences and team-up to take down the Hulk.  We get (what I assume to be) the first meeting of Ultimate Thing and Ultimate Hulk–needless to say, without an assist, Thing is no match for the Hulk.  Another fun moment is watching Spider-Man flirting (rather obviously, too) with Sue Storm.  Hey Pete: Sue’s single again, just hold out for a few days.

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Ultimate Spider-Man #117 (Brian Michael Bendis-writer, Stuart Immomen-artist)

This issue is pretty much a straight-forward, balls to the wall, slug-fest between Norman Osborn and his son, Harry.  SHIELD’s broadcast of Harry from last issue was a huge fake-out, designed to lure Norman out into the open so SHIELD can take him out.  Once Norman–in full-out Goblin mode–arrives at the helicarrier, he and Harry–in Hobgoblin mode–go at it.  I like the changes that Marvel made to the Goblin family in the Ultimate Universe.  Instead of becoming a second Green Goblin (like his mainstream counterpart), Ultimate Harry Osborn becomes the Hobgoblin, and a non-evil one, to boot.

This issue’s (and, possible, this week’s) “Holy Shit” moment comes when Norman pounds his son into the deck of the helicarrier, sending blood and meat flying every which way.  Norman is so disgusted by what he did, that he reverts to human form and begs SHIELD to kill him…which they do.  Spider-Man sees this and freaks out.  There have been far too many people in his life who’ve been taken by violence, but I think this might have hit Pete the hardest because he was so close…he could have prevented it…but, in the end, he simply holds his dying best friend in his arms.  Peter then totally flips out on Carol Danvers, basically washing his hands of SHIELD from here on out.

Now, deaths in comics are not permanent.  Sure, some times they last longer than others, but almost everyone comes back (Jason Todd…Bucky…I’m lookin’ at you).  So, while I’m sure one–if not both–Goblins will eventually return.

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Quote of the Week:

In honor of the holiday season, I’ve decided to give you kids not one, but three, Quotes of the Week–all from Ultimate Fantastic Four #49:

“Just past the crazy-looking monkey-ghost girl?”–Ben Grimm, when asking Reed where Sue’s transponder signal is coming from.

“My bad, Rutskaya.  I seem to have extinguished your baboon.”–Sue Storm.

“Making monkeys?  That’s the stupidest super-power I ever–“–Ben Grimm, facing off against Rutskaya…just before one of her apes shapeshifts.

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One response to “Weekly Comic Review for 12/28/07

  1. I’d actually forgotten to pick up Gotham Underground, the reviews I’ve read is that the fight is pretty amazing, and that Batman really comes across as more human.

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