Weekly Comic Review for 2/6/08

Abe Sapien: The Drowning #1 (of 5)

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W: Mike Mignola

A: Jason Shawn Alexander

While we all anxiously await to find out what the hell happened after the last issue of B.P.R.D.: Killing Ground, Mike Mignola gives us not one, but two “prequel” mini-series–the other being B.P.R.D.: 1946.  With that other series, Abe Sapien: The Drowning fits seamlessly into the growing Hellboy universe.

This first issue of The Drowning begins in 1884.  Some dude in a blimp is hot on the trail of a ship carrying a pack of creepy little goblin-y guys and a corpse in a coffin (both seemingly covered with tattoos in the form of some strange script).  We later learn that the sky-pirate is Edward Grey, Queen Victoria’s top occult detective.  The freak in the coffin is a Dutch warlock named Epke Vrooman who was hanged a year earlier and supposedly turned into a bundle of sticks and blew away (this sorta thing happens a lot, trust me).  Grey uses a Tibetan lipu dagger–a little golden number that looks a lot like the dagger from Alec Baldwin opus The Shadow–to stab Vrooman’s corpse in the heart, causing the ship to sink to the bottom of the ocean.

Flash-forward to 1981.  Abe Sapien has only been a member of the B.P.R.D. for two years, and Tom Manning doesn’t think he’s ready to go on a solo mission.  Up until this point, Abe’s been paired with Hellboy in the field, unfortunately HB is currently on one of his leaves of absence from the Bureau.  To be more specific, Hellboy’s off wandering the world with Anastasia Bransfield, an archaeologist and HB’s on-again/off-again girlfriend.  Anyways, Professor Bruttenholm goes to bat for Abe and tells Manning that the young agent is ready, however he’s willing to let Manning team Abe up with former Navy Frogman Van Fleet.  Bruttenholm brings Abe up to speed about Grey, Vrooman, the shipwreck, and the lipu dagger.  The issue ends with Abe and Van Fleet diving for the wreck, only to be attacked by every manner of aquatic beasty, summoned Aquaman-style for a wrinkly old crone wearing a crustacean hat.  Of course, it’s too early to tell if this crone is friend or foe (and, given the way Mignola likes to throw a curve ball every now and then, I’m afraid to even hazard a guess).

This is another amazing offering from Mignola and Darkhorse.  When discussing 1946, I mentioned how Mignola never ceases to amaze me when he jumps back and forth along the Hellboy timeline.  Everything just seems “right.”  It’s great seeing Abe Sapien–usually the calm, cool, and collected moral center of the B.P.R.D.–as a green recruit who’s still nervous to be called in to see “the Professor.”  This issue is also, to my knowledge, the first canonical mention of Hellboy’s relationship with Anastasia Bransfield, a character that I’ve encountered in several Hellboy novels, but never in an official Darkhorse comic.

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Buffy the Vampire Slayer #11

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W: Joss Whedon

A: Georges Jeanty

Another stand-alone “episode” of Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s eighth season.  While her Slayers (and “still large-ish” sister, Dawn) have a well-deserved party at the castle, Buffy decides it’s time to have a little heart to heart talk with one of her girls.  At the center of Buffy’s little chat is the revelation that Satsu is in love with the Buff-ster.  Not only is Satsu in love with her, but it was Satsu’s kiss that woke Buffy up back in one of the earlier issues of the series.  Buffy explains to the young Slayer that loving her is not the safest thing in the world to do, since people who love her tend to die, go to Hell, burn up, let vampires feed on them, et cetera…et cetera…et cetera.

Now, of course things don’t go smoothly for long.  Twilight–the masked Big Bad of Season 8–shows up while Buffy and Satsu are dusting a gang of vamps.  Twilight’s not there to fight (although he’s wicked strong and does smack our favorite Slayer around a bit), instead here’s there to make Buffy question her moral certainty.  Is what she’s doing right?  Does she have the authority to decide that every potential Slayer on the planet should be activated? 

I know that there has been some debate in the comics community about Whedon’s Buffy series.  Some people think that it’s too mired in the show’s continuity, which turns off new readers.  Well, let’s be honest, seven years of Buffy continuity is nothing compared to the decades of continuity that some readers have to wade through if they want to read books starring Batman, Spider-Man, Superman, or the X-Men (although I will admit that most comic characters are ingrained enough in pop culture that most people might be able to suss out what’s going on).  But, I think stand-alone issues like this are not the impenetrable colossus of continuity that people accuse this series of being. 

Yes, Joss likes the continuity.  But, he also understands that you need to shake things up a little.  That’s why each season of Buffy would have a handful of stand-alone episodes sprinkled here and there.  Occasionally, they would mention the season-wide arc, but for the most part, they existed as their own entities.  That’s what we have with this month’s issue.  You get the basics–army of Slayers, giant Dawn, dude named Twilight who wants to bring about the end of magic–but it’s all wrapped up in an undaunting package.  Not only that, but we get classic Whedon moments, like Xander’s familiar lament that he has no “guy pals” (a similar lament was made in season 5, I believe, when he wishes that Oz were around, because Oz would “get it”, even if he didn’t say anything to acknowledge that he got it).

Oh…and in this issue, if it’s possible, Whedon out-Whedons himself.  Here’s the situation: Twilight has just mind-fucked Buffy and his cronies approach him, wondering why he didn’t just beat her to a bloody pulp.  Twilight begins to lift up his mask…could we be getting our first glimpse of the Big Bad?…and then scratches his neck before pulling the mask back down.  Damn you, Whedon!  You got me.

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Countdown to Final Crisis 12

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W: Paul Dini, Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti

A: Jesus Saiz & Tom Derenick

It seems like we might be done with the Multiverse, as Countdown returns to New Earth.  After Monarch seemingly blew himself (and his army) up on Earth-51 last week, the Challengers are now free to go to Apokolips.  Of course, it seems like everyone else and their brother is being summoned to Apokolips.

So, in addition to the Challengers (with our Ray Palmer in tow), Jimmy Olsen and Forager–who seem to be seriously shacking-up–also receive a summons to Darkseid’s fiery backyard.  Elsewhere, Mary Batson (poor, sweet, noble Mary) is deep undercover as a slave on Paradise Island.  During a ceremony where Athena/Granny Goodness names her newest Female Furies, Mary goes all Spartacus, which results in a free-for-all between the new Furies, Holly, Harley, Athena/Granny, and…wait for it…Hippolyta!  Granny, sensing that she’s worn out her welcome, Boom-tubes back to her master.  Harley, Holly and Mary follow her, leaving the re-instated Queen of the Amazons to “talk to” her followers. 

As if a photographer, a sexy pink bug-lady, a lesbian, an insane blonde, and a formerly mystically-empowered teenager weren’t enough, Pied Piper and Brother Eye are also making a bee-line (that’s “bee” as in “Boom-tube”) for Apokolips.  Why is everyone going to Apokolips?  Is the Source really summoning them or is it something more sinister?  Why is Darkseid being so nice to “Solomon”?  Will any of these questions be answered in the next eleven issues of Countdown, or is everything simply preamble to DC’s Final Crisis?

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Detective Comics #841

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W: Paul Dini

A: Dustin Nguyen

This issue of Detective Comics takes place “before the events of Salvation Run“, which illustrates what I think is one of the biggest problems with company-wide story-lines: either you find a way to set a story out of chronological order, or you’re forced to conform to someone else’s storytelling decisions.  The Bat-books are a great example.  Batman, as cool as he is, is only as good as his Rogues Gallery.  Salvation Run takes most of Bats’s heavy-hitters–Joker, Two-Face, Croc, Mad Hatter–out of the equation, leaving the Dark Knight to content with criminal masterminds like Scarface and Firefly.  In this issue of Detective Comics, Dini decides to do the former, and gives as an awesome single-issue story centered around Jervis Tetch, a.k.a. the Mad Hatter.

It seems that Hatter has assembled “The Wonderland Gang”, a group of miscreants who all dress like characters from Lewis Carroll’s Alice stories: Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, the Lion and the Unicorn, the Walrus and the Carpenter.  What follows is a classic, straight-forward story of Batman trying to figure out where the Wonderland Gang will strike next and where their hideout could be.  As Bats is mentally wrestling with the ridiculous simplicity of Tetch’s crimes, we soon learn that there’s a twist: Hatter isn’t leading the Wonderland Gang.  The real “brains” behind the Gang are Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, who have used Tetch’s own mind-control technology against him.  The issue ends with Tetch, Dee and Dum in Arkham, where Tetch gets revenge by making the Tweedles beat each other to death.

This is another great issue in Dini’s run on Detective Comics.  Nothing too fancy.  Nothing too complicated.  He’s just giving us a good Batman story.  Dini’s work on this book has been like getting another season of his Batman cartoon.  And I, for one, am grateful…just like I’m grateful for Nguyen’s clean, clear art.

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Justice Society of America #12

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W: Geoff Johns (with Alex Ross)

A: Dale Eaglesham

The “Thy Kingdom Come” storyline–which I assume has been in the works as soon as Johns learned DC was bringing the Multiverse back–continues in this issue of JSA.  While the Justice Society is out in force, rounding up as many legacy heroes as they can find, a killer known as “The Heartbreak Slayer” is running around blasting the hearts out of meta-humans pretending to be demi-gods.  While investigating these killings under New York City, former-Fed-turned-mystery-man Mr. America, finds a single word etched into a brick wall: GOG.  Now, clearly there’s a connection between Gog and Magog (the Big Bad from Alex Ross’ Kingdom Come), however the exact nature of this connection remains a mystery.  Luckily, a thrashed Mr. America makes his way to the Justice Society’s brownstone by the end of the issue.

Back to the JSA’s search for legacy heroes…  The last issue saw the team rescuing a new Judomaster.  The opening pages of Number 12 finds Ted Grant in the boxing ring with the new JM, testing to see just how untouchable she really is.  This is when former JSA-er Jakeem Thunder and his pet genie, Thunderbolt, pop in for a visit.

The team’s roster continues to grow as the other members of the JSA are out trying to recruit Black Lightning’s younger daughter, Jennifer (who can generate some kind of EMP field), a new Amazing-Man, and a soldier named David Reid who also happens to be FDR’s great-grandson (and a lance corporal in the army, as well as a meta-human).

I really can not praise the work that Johns and Eaglesham do in Justice Society each and every month enough.  This book has yet to disappoint, even when it touches upon things that usually turn me off: like Alex Ross or the fact that Amazing-Man uses his Grunge-like absorbing powers to police the Katrina-ravaged streets of New Orleans.

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Teen Titans: Year One #2 (of 6)

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W: Amy Wolfram

A: Karl Kerschl, Serge Lapointe & Steph Peru

If you thought things were tough when Batman is on the rag, try to imagine what it would be like if Aquaman, Flash and Green Arrow joined him.  That’s the basic premise that this series is using to tell the story of the first time that DC’s teen sidekicks came together as the Teen Titans.

The first issue of this mini-series saw Robin (of the Dick Grayson variety) get pushed around by Batman and turning to his pal Kid Flash (good ol’ Wally West).  This second issue starts out with Aquaman menacing a submarine, using his fishy friends to steal all of the vessel’s torpedoes.  Aqualad sees what’s going on and tries to stop his mentor from doing what he knows isn’t right.  I know next to nothing about Aqualad.  I’m moderately more familiar with him when he’s older and going by the name Tempest (although, in all honesty, I’m less familiar with him than I am the other founding Titans).  That being said, I’m not sure how far the Aqualad of this series strays from the usual portrayal of the character.  This Aqualad is a scrawny, pale little kid whose head looks like a puffer-fish.  But, he’s still sharp enough to realize that what Aquaman is doing isn’t right, so he heads to the surface to find Robin.

With Robin, Kid Flash and Aqualad together, they head off to find Speedy, who’s in pursuit of Green Arrow, who just happens to be trying to rob an armored car.  After all is said and done, Wonder Girl shows up and our boys are all pretty much twitterpated.

Although the exact nature of what’s happening to the Titans’ mentors has yet to be revealed, it’s obvious that there’s some kind of mind-control or empathic manipulation happening.  Could it be Gorilla Grodd or Despero?  Hell, it could be someone I’ve never even heard of.  But, whatever turns out to be the cause of their irrational behavior, Wolfram’s story has gotten my attention.  Her Kid Flash truly captures what it must be like for a teenage boy (normally pretty damned hyper to begin with) to live at super-speed.  On top of that, Teen Titans: Year One‘s art team is producing quality work.  The art in this series looks animation-quality, and the designs for the characters make them look like kids, not just tiny adults.

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Quote of the Week:

“Oh God!  Nobody cares about your wrath!”–Buffy Summers, when a vampire suggests that she “tastes his wrath”, in Buffy the Vampire Slayer #11.

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