Weekly Comic Review for 1/4/08

Buffy the Vampire Slayer #10 (Joss Whedon-writer, Cliff Richards-artist)

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Joss is back at the reins and he’s brought the unhappy–he’s always said that happy characters are boring characters, so he’s made a career out of tormenting his own creations. 

The issue mainly concerns Buffy and Willow heading off to speak with one of the demon elite: a weird hybrid of scorpion and Quintesson named Sephrilian.  Along the way, the girls play the Dream Game, which includes cameos by Daniel Craig, Tina Fey, and two Christian Bales (no points for guessing which girl had the Tina Fey dream)–this bit was pure Joss (similar to the bizarre dream sequences from “Restless”) but with the added bonus of having celebrity cameos.  When the girls finally arrive at Sephrilian’s lair, they find it guarded by a human “handler” named Robin, who, like Buffy, was chosen for her position.  (Interesting sidebar, the character of Robin is based on a young woman who entered and won a contest on Myspace…ain’t the internet grand, kids?) 

Back at Slayer H.Q., Xander’s gotten the team’s Wiccan Squad to magically embiggen Dawn’s wardrobe.  While Xander struggles to get out of Dawn’s giant suitcase (including a funny bit where he freaks out when he finds himself fondling something silky, lacy, and frilly), Giant-Dawnie reveals that she was not cursed after sleeping with Thricewise boyfriend Kenny.  Oh no, she actually slept with Kenny’s bad boy roommate.  Honestly…what is with the Summers girls and the bad boys?  I blame their mother…we all remember how hot and bothered rebel Giles got her when they were under the influence of the cursed band candy.

Meanwhile, inside Sephrilian’s lair, the girls are confronted by various illusions and allusions, as the demon delights in tormenting the lowly “human things.”  Sephrilian is well aware that “Twilight” is approaching and that means the end of demons and magic on Earth, but he’s more interested in torturing Buffy.  He shows them things that may or may not be true, such as Willow bedding a she-demon for information and Buffy leading a group of Slayerettes on a bank-rolling heist.  However, the biggest punch to the gut comes when Willow reveals why she’s kept Kennedy at arm’s length.  Willow blames herself for Tara’s death–bringing Buffy back from the dead set all of the events in motion that led to Warren shooting Tara–and Willow would do it all over again if she had to.  She doesn’t want Kennedy around because she doesn’t want to have to choose to save her best friend or her girlfriend ever again.  Good to see that, even though she’s a Wiccan, Willow Rosenberg is still holding on to that Jewish guilt.

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Countdown to Final Crisis 17 (Paul Dini, Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti-writers, Ron Lim-artist)

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I think I can safely go on record and call this the double-crossingest issue of Countdown yet.  When we last left poor Ray Palmer, he was about to get iced by Monitor Bob.  Well, Ray continuing to breathe had nothing to do with Bob’s lack of motivation.  He really did want to kill Ray, but will willing settle for killing Barry Allen (who he says is actually dying before the Crisis for a change).  The Challengers step up and start pummeling Bob to cover Ray’s escape…Jason even manages to stab Bob in the back of the head, a move Bob calls “pointless and annoying.”  Poor Ray…he can’t even find peace on the paradise that is Earth 51.  Just as he and Jean are about to escape, Bob incinerates the not-insane Ms. Loring in front of her loving husband.

Okay, so you’re probably asking: what the hell is Bob’s deal anyway?  It seems as though Bob and Solomon were actually working together.  The big disagreement was all a big ruse to cover Bob’s search for Palmer.  Of course, in the end, you can never trust a trickster.  Solomon actually wanted to absorb all of his brother (and sister) Monitors and become the one and only Monitor in the Multiverse.  The plan might have worked, too, if not for two things.  The first was the appearance of Kyle Rayner.  The second was the recent “evolution” of the Monitors.  The Monitors are now too different for Solomon to absorb and incorporate into himself (well, all except for Bob, who meets an unfortunate, absorby demise). 

And then there’s poor, lost Mary Marvel.  Our girl has finally realized that Eclipso just wants her power, like everyone else.  Mary’s done.  She’s done with Eclipso.  She’s done with Black Adam’s power.  In a magic-fueled brawl across the cosmos, Mary brings Eclipso back to Earth.  As they plummet towards the ocean, Mary “Shazams” and turns herself and Jean back into mortal form.  Of course, Mary’s the first one to admit that she might need Black Adam’s power when she washes up on the shore of Paradise Island.  Great!  She’s just kicked Eclipso’s ass for trying to make her Darkseid’s whore, and now Mary Marvel finds herself at the doorstep of Granny Goodness’s Female Fury training camp.

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Detective Comics #840 (Paul Dini-writer, Dustin Nguyen-artist)

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Paul Dini, the man who gave us Harley Quinn, introduces another new villain in this issue of Detective Comics: Hammond Carter, a.k.a. The Globe.  Even Bruce is a bit taken aback by the appearance of a map themed villain in Gotham.  The Globe has three things going for him: (1) he’s a rather rotund gentleman, (2) he uses horrible map-related puns, and (3) his last name, Carter, is most likely a reference to the Latin word “carte”, which means map (duh).

Carter has stolen a bejewelled globe and Bats busts in to get it back.  What Bruce doesn’t know is that the globe actually belongs to Ra’s al Ghul, and the Demon’s Head has stopped by to retrieve it.  Ra’s gets all superior and ranty, explaining that the globe contains a hidden map of every Lazarus Pit on the planet.  He also tells Bruce that the two of them are no longer “allies” and that al Ghul is moving his business to Gotham City, and that Bruce will find him to be a very, very bad neighbor.  Ra’s also blows up the Batmobile, forcing Bruce to steal a crappy vacation ensemble and suitcase from a department store window and cab it back to “Stately Wayne Manor.”

All of this is really out of character for the usually calm, cool and collected Ra’s.  Bruce theorizes that his merging with the body of his son, Dusan, was not as total as Ra’s had hoped.  Dusan, as an albino, was always viewed as being inferior.  Those feelings of inferiority are subconsciously sneaking into Ra’s’ current actions, making him act rashly as a way for Dusan to gain his father’s acceptance.  After a throw-down in al Ghul’s penthouse, Bruce manages to subdue the Demon’s Head, drug him and have him committed to Arkham, seemingly forever.

Again, Dini shows that he is the person to go to for a Batman story.  Not only does he understand Bruce, but he understands the very formula of what made Batman popular in the first place.  No one can create new villains with staying power like Dini. 

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Lobster Johnson: The Iron Prometheus #5 (Mike Mignola-writer, Jason Armstrong-artist)

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In true Mignola fashion, the conclusion of Iron Prometheus leaves more unanswered questions than actual answers.  Sure, the V.E.S. suit is more or less toast, as is poor Jim.  Yes, the Nazis who captured Lobster Johnson at the end of the last issue are dealt with–it involves a Nazi submarine set to attack Manhattan, an underworld wrestling match that would make James Bond piss himself, and an ancient amulet loaded with explosives. 

What this issue leaves unanswered is exactly who this Fu Manchu dude is and why he’s tormenting LJ.  Lobster calls him “The Devil” and the dude works some ancient who-do on the Lobster, claiming to turn our hero into his puppet.  But the story ends before we get to see if this is all evil posturing or legitimate sorcery.  Is “The Devil” the same creepy old Asian dude torturing Liz in the present?  If they’re really connected, is that why Lobster was able to explode out of Johann’s body and shoot him inside of Liz’s subconscious?

Say what you want about Mignola, he knows how to write well enough that you don’t even need a concrete conclusion to be satisfied.

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Teen Titans: Year One #1 (Amy Wolfram-writer, Karl Kerschl, Serge LaPointe & Steph Peru-artists)

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The latest in DC’s Year One books, and the one that probably has the most nostalgia value.   By the time I discovered Teen Titans, most of the original roster had already moved on, so I wasn’t all that familiar with Aqualad or the original Kid Flash and Wondergirl.  For example, the Aqualad presented in Teen Titans: Year Oneis something of a spaz.  Is Aqualad really a spaz?  When Donna first shows up in this issue, she’s uber-naive.  Is she naive because it’s her first time off Paradise Island?  Or has she just been sculpted from clay like her older sister Diana?  Part of the problem with Donna Troy is that she might have the most confusing continuity of any character ever created, and that’s after the Crisis on Infinite Earths reboot.  I was highly amused that the young Wally West is portrayed as an impulsive, hyper-active little maniac, just like Bart Allen is portrayed when he appears later.  I was not amused in any way to see the old Robin costume again.  Seriously, who thought green chain-mail tightie-whities were a good idea for a costume?

I’ve always thought the idea for a team of teen superheroes was a good idea, especially in the DCU where teen sidekicks are all over the place.  Honestly, you can’t swing a dead Flash in a DC book without hitting some little kid running around in a mask and cape.  As far as I recall, the original idea for Teen Titans was to give the sidekicks a place to hang out away from their mentors and just be kids.  What Wolfram gives us in the first issue of Year One is a darker reason for the Titans to come together.  Sure, Robin is a little bored hanging out with Bruce all day in a cave, but there’s going to be a more sinister reason for the teen sidekicks to band together: in this first issue, Batman is acting uncharacteristically brutal, going so far as to bitch-slap Robin.  With their mentors acting all wonky, what’s a sidekick to do?  Easy, find other sidekicks.

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Ultimate Human #1 (Warren Ellis-writer, Cary Nord-artist)

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I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not sure why I keep buying Marvel’s Ultimate crossovers.  The stories are rarely that good, the creative teams usually aren’t worth writing home about, and all they really do is complicate continuity (and, after all, wasn’t the main selling point of the Ultimate Universe was its lack of stifling continuity?).  I think it’s funny that the one book in the Ultimate line that seems to handle it’s continuity the best is the almost ten-year-old (if I did the math right) Ultimate Spider-Man.  I guess I’m just a sucker…or maybe the irregular publication schedules of many of these crossovers are having serious effects on my memory.

The basic idea of Ultimate Human is a good one: Tony Stark hanging out with Bruce Banner.  Not only are they two of the smartest men in any Marvel Universe, but they are two sides of the same coin.  Tony is super-wealthy and intelligence incarnate.  Bruce is practically homeless and, as the Hulk, rage personified.  Tony is a futurist.  The Hulk is a throwback to an earlier, more savage time. 

Anywho…Banner comes to Stark with a simple request: use the nanites in Stark’s blood to rid Banner of the Hulk for good.  In order to do this, Stark brings Banner to his secret test facility–Ironworks–and runs a bunch of tests on Bruce.  Stark learns just how the Hulk works.  As far as I know, it’s the first time an Ultimate book has used the basic “madder Hulk get, stronger Hulk get” concept.  Granted, since this is an Ultimates book, the explanation is far more…complicated: Stark theorizes that the Hulk’s physiology adapts to newer, heightened stress levels, developing additional bone mass, skin density, musculature.  Sadly, anything that Stark learns from his tests may come too little, too late.  His entire facility is bugged by a shadowy cabal led by Peter Wisdom, a former British spook now transformed into the super-intelligent Leader.  Although I’m a bit bummed to waste the Ultimate version of Peter Wisdom by making him the Leader, I think it’s awesome that they made the connection between “wisdom” and “intellect.”

Yes, Warren Ellis tends to be a little more mean-spirited than I like my comics to be, but he’s started Ultimate Human off pretty well.  His characterization of Tony Stark as someone who’s so intelligent that the rest of the world bores him to tears is spot-on.  He’s not helping Banner out of any kind of philanthropy, it’s just something for him to do until the next supermodel crosses his path.  Ellis is also, if memory serves, one of the first to portray the relationship between Banner and Hulk as being one similar to Jekyll and Hyde–the Hulk is constantly inside of Banner, trying to claw his way out.  He also get a few bonus points for having a nervous lab tech say “I don’t think I like it when he’s angry” just as Banner starts to get his Hulk on. 

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Quote of the Week:

“It’s too dangerous!  We can ski down these crazy alps in the morning, but till then, television’s Tina Fey, we must find a way to keep warm.”–Willow to her fantasy Tina Fey in Buffy the Vampire Slayer #10.

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