Weekly Comic Review for 2/20/08

Batman and the Outsiders #4

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W: Chuck Dixon

A: Julian Lopez

It’s my humble opinion that, if you can’t remember what the hell happened in the previous issue of book when you start reading the new issue, there’s a problem. Sometimes it’s as simple as the book’s been delayed for one reason or another. Sometimes it means that the writer isn’t doing his or her job well enough. I don’t know if Batman and the Outsiders #4 falls into either of those categories. As far as I know, it wasn’t delayed. And, I usually really dig Chuck Dixon’s work–and, once I checked to see what the previous issue was about (the JLA dropping in and trying to cause some shit with Bruce’s new team), I was able to get into the groove.

For the most part, the strength of this series resides in Dixon’s characterizations of Batman, Batgirl, and (in this issue) Green Arrow. (Of course, Lopez holds up his end of things with the art.) Bats is a cranky, laconic, paranoid freak. He’ll work with others, but only if it furthers his goals, and he can be assured of a certain amount of control. On a good day, Batgirl will say two words; on a bad day, she’s keep mum as she royally beats the crap out of you. Green Arrow’s a hot-headed bleeding heart. And, with Dixon at the wheel, these are the characters you get.

As much as I like the majority of the characters on the team–c’mon, Metamorpho…awesome!–I’m not sure how I feel about the current storyline. Why exactly should I care that some Euro-trash businessman is planning to launch a bunch of genetically engineered Cloverfield monsters into space? Okay, admittedly, I care because Bruce cares, and that’s good enough for me. What part do the O.M.A.C.s play? More importantly, when did DC decide that Brother Eye and the O.M.A.C.s are the most feared villains in the universe? I know why Batman’s obsessed with the things: they’re his mess and he needs to clean it up or go down trying, but why do they keep showing up in every other issue of a DC book?

Cute gag of the week: the reprogrammed O.M.A.C. that Bruce’s team is playing around with uses its shape-shifting ability to morph into a pretty good rendition of George Clooney.

Mysterious possible cameo of the week: Bruce runs into two strangers in the jungle who seem to know who he is…could they be Martian Manhunter and Miss Martian in human disguise?

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Catwoman #76

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W: Will Pfeifer

A: David Lopez

When we last left Catwoman, she was whisked away to that God-awful Salvation Run prison planet. After hanging out with some of DC’s craziest crazies, she jumps into some weird alien dingus and is beamed back to Earth. Or so she thought.

In this issue of Catwoman, Selina starts out staring down the barrel of a gun wielded by Batman. She’s sure this isn’t the real Batman–after all, Bruce would never, ever use a gun–and, when it turns out that he had forgotten to load the thing, she’s positive it’s not Bruce. That is until she unmasks him and discovers that it is Bruce, although noticeably older and more weathered. Things get weirder when Selina runs into another Catwoman, who turns out to be her sister Maggie.

Selina’s first reaction–and, to be honest, mine as well–is that she must be on one of the multiple parallel Earths that Bruce has told her about. Seems to fit, right? Alien dingus. Older, gun-toting Batman. Sister as Catwoman (oh, and Selina tortured and killed by Black Mask). Yep, sounds like a parallel Earth to me. The only hitch? Selina’s never actually left the prison planet. The alien dingus turns out to be some kind of weird holo-deck dealy that’s not only messing with her brain, but it’s killing her, too.

How do I feel about all of this? Personally, I’ve come down against the very concept of Salvation Run. I don’t think you should remove the most dangerous, and interesting, villains from the picture (think about it…you do that and you end up with Flash fighting weird octopus aliens…no one wins when that happens). I say you get Selina, and everyone else, back to Earth where they belong.

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Countdown to Final Crisis 10

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W: Paul Dini, Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti

A: Scott Kolins

I guess the big story this week is Brother Eye completely assimilating Apokolips. See, again, Brother Eye is the biggest, baddest, bad-ass in the universe. Really? Brother Eye might have been nominally interesting at one point, but now he’s (its?) become DC’s answer to Venom. Is Eye going to be the Big Bad of Countdown? Is the Great Disaster and Final Crisis all about him (it?)? Well, looking at the way this series has been going, Brother Eye is the third or fourth logical suspect (remember when we all thought it was Monarch? Oh, we were so young back then), so I wouldn’t be surprised if someone else entirely turns out to be behind everything.

Forgetting all of this Brother Eye nonsense, the real story this week is Mary Batson. Poor, dear, sweet, lost, misunderstood Mary Batson. Back when magic went ka-blooey, Mary was cut off from the powers of Shazam. Her bother was too busy being the new Shazam to notice she was hurting. Mary was scared and alone and easy prey for the likes of Black Adam and Eclipso. As Black Mary, she totally did the whole Darth Vader thing, until she saw the error of her ways and decided to give up the magic for good. Even though she was no longer Mary Marvel (or Black Mary), sweet little Mary Batson still managed to be a hero. Mary’s perseverance is rewarded in this issue, when she frees the Olympian gods from imprisonment on Apokolips and is allowed, once again, to call upon the powers of Shazam and become Mary Marvel. I, for one, am pleased.

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The Flash #237

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W: Keith Champagne

A: Koi Turnbull

If you want to know why the West family might be the greatest in comics, you need look no further than the very first page of this issue of The Flash. A lot of heroes try to lead a normal life, have a real job, friendships and relationships. But, Wally and Linda have managed to have “a family.” And, families have breakfast together. And movie nights. And kids who fight over bacon. The Wests have all of that, and that’s why they’re awesome.

There are two sub-plots in this issue. The first involves Linda taking Iris and Jai to Metropolis for a little scavenger hunt. Their goal: steal Superman’s cape. Of course, the West twins run afoul of Livewire and have to be rescued by Big Blue and their dad.

The second sub-plot deals with Wally trying to find a job, which isn’t easy since he’s constantly getting distracted by his Flashly duties. One such duty, apparently, involves helping Superman fight a giant robot Wendigo menacing an Inuit village (the reason? Well, it seems that there was oil under the village, so after watching an episode or two of Scooby-doo, someone decided to scare the villagers away with Robo-digo). Now, here’s my question: why does Wally need to go on job interviews? Why doesn’t he just go back to being a mechanic for the Keystone P.D.? He seemed to like it, and he was good at it. I’m sure he’d make enough as a city employee to be able to support his family.

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Justice League of America #18

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W: Alan Burnett

A: Ed Benes

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Once the title that I couldn’t wait to come out each month, JLA continues to leave me longing for those by-gone days. I know what you’re saying: “Why do you keep reading it?” Simple. Hope. I remember how good JLA can be, and I continue to hope that it will be that good again.

What do I get instead? I get issues that focus on characters like Vixen. Vixen!? Really? I wouldn’t have had any freakin’ clue who this dame was if not for the Justice League cartoon, and now she’s being treated like the most important character in the League. Do I care about her past relationship with Bronze Tiger? A clue: No. I’ve also tired of the Red Arrow-Hawkgirl thing–lady, of course Roy’s concerned about Cheshire…she’s the mother of his kid, geez!

Am I supposed to believe that this current storyline isn’t simply a way to get a bunch of super-villains in one room so the JLA can beat the snot out of them? I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it here: DC is wasting Amanda Waller. Go back and watch some of the earlier episodes of X-Files (y’know, before it started to suck) and learn a lesson from the Cigarette Smoking Man. That’s how you manipulate shit.

And, finally, let’s be honest: (1) even if you could convince the big three to have a face-to-face meeting with you, Bats ain’t going to show up. And, (2) it would not have taken Batman that long to figure out it’s a set-up. I’m just saying.

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Robin #171

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W: Chuck Dixon

A: Chris Batista

Another great issue of Robin, and I’m not just saying that because it has a cameo by the lamest Batman villain ever–the Condiment King (although that never hurts). No, what makes this a good issue is that it highlights Tim’s strengths as a hero. Dick was the acrobat. Jason was the little punk who wanted some thrills. But Tim…Tim’s a detective. Given enough time, he might even surpass Bruce. The best issues of Robin are the ones that let him be a detective.

Tim’s still on the trail of Violet, a new player in Gotham who’s been jacking dirty money from bag-men all across town. With a little bit of prodding from Alfred, Tim decides to follow the money, leading him to a church. This is when Tim does the undercover thing, and discovers that this particular church is home to numerous support groups–everything from pregnant teens to Gamblers Anonymous.

Some other tasty tidbits from this issue: Robin’s still being shadowed, and tormented, by someone dressed as Spoiler. I wonder where this falls in the time-line established in Gotham Underground? Could the mysterious girl that Penguin takes under his…ahem…wing be the beguiling Pristine, whom Tim meets at the Gamblers Anonymous meeting? Also, what the hell is up with this guy Ives who Tim keeps bumping into? I can’t shake the feeling that I should know him. Is he the rich kid who got nabbed in the convenience store parking lot a while back? A little help here, Chuck.

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Runaways #29

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W: Joss Whedon

A: Michael Ryan

Oh, how I wish everything could be written by Joss Whedon. Okay, maybe that’s not entirely true. But it’s close. I’m sure there must be a book out there that Joss couldn’t write the hell out of…I just can’t think of one at the moment.

The kids are still trapped in turn-of-the-century New York City, surrounded by various factions of super-powered folks: from the Avengers-like Upward Path to the Street Arabs to the nefarious Sinners. And, as if that weren’t bad enough, the evil time-traveling parents of their dead friend Gert Yorkes are skulking around, causing trouble.

Because this is a Whedon book, bad things are going down. A war is brewing between the Sinners and the Upward Path, orchestrated by the Yorkes, and from the looks of things, no one is meant to survive. Of course, that could just be the big, honkin’ bomb that the Yorkes have set.

If this run has done one thing, it’s make me wish that we could have an entire mini-series set in the Nineteenth Century.  It would be like Marvel’s 1602, except with completely new characters like The Swell or Kid Twist.  I know it’s a pipe dream–the last thing Marvel needs at this point is to start publishing more books–but I’m such a sucker for superhero stuff set in “the before times.”

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Ultimate Human #2

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W: Warren Ellis

A: Cary Nord

If I had one problem with this issue, it’s that Warren Ellis’ dialogue is a bit long-winded and philosophical in the middle.  Yeah, I guess I understand why–Tony Stark and Bruce Banner are two of the biggest brains in any Marvel universe, so when they get together, the techno-babble is going to fly.  But, I guess my biggest concern is why spend so much time talking about something (Tony finding a way to turn off Banner’s Hulk cells) that will be reversed by the end of the series, if not the end of the next issue?  You can’t cure Bruce of being Hulk.  Bruce is Hulk, we all know it.

Here’s what Ellis did right: he brought in one of Hulk’s greatest enemies, the Leader.  Like I mentioned in my review of the last issue, this Leader is former British Spook Pete Wisdom.  Wisdom’s got a brain that’s been souped-up by an early version of Britain’s super-soldier project.  The downside?  His head is now so freakin’ huge that he can’t stand up.  Like his mainstream Marvel counterpart, he wants the secret of Banner’s transformation.  He also wants to get his slimy little hands on the nanites in Tony’s blood.  He plans to use both of these to become the perfect human that he knows he was meant to be.  The idea that Wisdom is so pissed off that a scrawny little nerd like Banner can become the Hulk and that a drunk like Tony gets to be Iron Man while he’s stuck in make-shift radial collar is hilarious.

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Ultimate X-Men #91

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W: Robert Kirkman

A: Salvador Larroca

What’s the deal with Ultimate Apocalypse?  Judging from his first full appearance in this issue of Ultimate X-Men, he seems pretty unbeatable.  He claims that he can absorb all of the abilities of every mutant on Earth.  Whether he can really do that or not isn’t important, because he proves that he can control any mutant on the planet and make them dance like his little puppet-men.

So, most of this issue deals with Apocalypse laying waste to New York City.  He takes control of every mutant, leading to Kitty attacking poor Peter Parker, and the X-Men trying to lay a smackdown on the Fantastic Four.  As if all of this wasn’t enough, who shows up at the end of the issue?  Onslaught and Stryfe.  I shouldn’t be surprised.  Look at the facts: Kirkman is obsessed with the 90s.  Cable, Apocalypse, Onslaught, and Stryfe are all poster-children for the X-Men in the 90s.

I think I’ll be quite pleased when Kirkman hands over the reins to someone else.  I don’t dislike the man–actually I give him a lot of credit for redeeming Nightcrawler in the last few issues after turning him into a psychotic prick a few years back.  I just can’t get behind his 90s love.  Sorry, Rob.  It’s just not my thing.

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Ultimates 3 #3

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W: Jeph Loeb

A: Joe Madureira

I’m going to admit it: I’m still buying Ultimates 3 because it is such a stupendous train-wreck that I just can’t look away.  Yes, I bought the first issue solely on the respect I have for Loeb as a writer.  But, as soon as I read it, I knew.  I knew it wasn’t that good.  I knew that Loeb wasn’t writing to his strengths.  Here’s the way I see it: if you hire Peter Jackson to direct the first two Lord of the Rings movies, you don’t hire Judd Apatow to direct the third.  I like Apatow, but he wouldn’t have been the right fit for Return of the King.  That’s the sense I get with Loeb’s run on Ultimates 3.

In this issue, Loeb does the worse thing a writer at Marvel can do.  He brings in Wolverine.  Honestly, using Wolverine is a crutch.  You plop him down into any issue of any book, and it’ll be good (in theory), which is why at current count, Wolverine appears in about 37 books a month.  Not only does Wolverine show up, but we get a ridiculously convoluted story about how he banged Magneto’s wife back in the day and that Ol’ Mags used Wanda’s resemblance to her mom to coerce Logan into joining the Brotherhood.  Oh, and there are dinosaurs.  Did I forget to mention that?  Yeah, it seems that Wanda’s powers are so nigh omnipotent that she can bring dinosaurs back to life.

Other developments?  Hawkeye is still suicidal.  The bullet that killed Wanda was a fancy, DNA-tracing super bullet developed by Stark Industries.  Black Panther is actually Cap…or so we are led to believe.  And am I crazy, or is that Ultron?

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Quote of the Week (not suitable for the faint of heart):

“Didn’t you used to have a wife and two kids?”–Wolverine in response to Hawkeye asking if he used to be a member of the Brotherhood in Ultimates 3 #3.

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One response to “Weekly Comic Review for 2/20/08

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