Weekly Comic Review for 2/27/08

Angel: After the Fall #4

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W: Brian Lynch

A: Franco Urru

This month’s issue of Angel: After the Fall strikes me as that most classic of story types: the “Catching Our Breaths” story. Lynch (and “executive producer” Joss Whedon) threw a lot of heavy stuff at us last issue. First, Angel challenges the demon lords of L.A. to personal combat for control of the damned City of Angels. But, the biggest reveal was that Angel, despite continuing to do the Big Damn Hero thing, is no longer a vampire.

Issue #4 begins with a flashback to the night L.A. was sent to Hell. In these first hellish moments, Angel realizes that he is, in fact, mortal again. Between reading issues 3 and 4, I actually went back and watched the fifth season of Angel, which raised an interesting question. Season 5 was something of a reboot, so it played to a lot of themes that the earlier seasons introduced. One of them being the Shanshu Prophecy, which stated that a vampire with a soul would fight in the apocalypse and be rewarded with renewed life. Essentially, Pinocchio gets to be a real boy. I’d forgotten about the Shanshu Prophecy–which would be an excellent explanation of how Angel became mortal, except that he signed away that destiny towards the end of the season. As it stands, Angel believes that the Senior Partners at Wolfram & Hart made him mortal just to screw with him (which, to be honest, would fit their M.O.).

While discussing After the Fall, a buddy of mine wondered where Lorne was. Well, we all got the answer in this issue. Lorne has become the “non-lord” of Silver Lake, which he’s transformed into a cross between Pleasantville and Toontown. In the series finale, Lorne said he was leaving town after one last act of violent heroism, but I guess he didn’t get very far before the entire city was sucked into Dante’s Inferno.

So, while Angel is preparing for his big battle (which includes assistance from Groosalugg–look him up!), the demon lords are looking to tip the balance in their favor by handing out the eight Hagun Shafts (magical dinguses that can be used to end the life of an immortal) to their champions to use in their fight against Angel. And, elsewhere, Vamp-Gunn blows up the remains of Wolfram & Hart, which causes Ghosty Wes to pull an Old Soldier and fade away.

While I still think Urru is doing a bang-up job in his rendering of Spike–and, as we see in this issue, his rendering of Lorne is just as good–the other characters just aren’t doing it for me. Sure, his Angel does, on occasion, bare a pretty good resemblance to David Boreanaz, but when it doesn’t work, Angel looks like a big, broody blob. Urru has shown that he can capture the essence of the characters without needing to copy the appearance of the actors–his Wesley and Gunn don’t really look like the actors who portrayed them in the series, but you know exactly who they are when they’re on the page. In future issues, I’d like to see Urru draw Angel and not David Boreanaz.

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Batman #674

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W: Grant Morrison

A: Tony Daniel

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this issue of Morrison’s Batman. This, of course, leads me to believe that Morrison has taken it upon himself to totally screw with my head. If he can write an issue like this, which (barring another unnecessary cameo by Bat-Mite) is a pretty tight Batman story, why does he continue to dredge up fifty year old continuity (The International Club of Heroes) or saddle us with annoying new characters (I’m lookin’ at you, Damian).

Picking up where the last issue left off, Bats is still at the mercy of the mysterious Third Man after suffering a heart attack on the roof of GCPD headquarters. Morrison weaves an intricate plot, revealing how the Gotham PD wanted to make their own Batmen in the unlikely event that the real Batman died. The Three Batmen were the result. One was trained to be an expert marksman; the second was dosed with Venom to create a Bat-Bane; with the third, the man in charge of the program (a doctor named Hurt, believe it or not) went the psychological route. Hurt theorized that the real Batman is driven by a personal trauma, so he kills the family of the third police recruit, providing the same drive that Bruce has. Pretty fucked up, right?

Last issue, we learned that Bruce once underwent a sensory deprivation experiment. Here, Morrison gives us the pay-off: that experiment was run by Doctor Hurt, as a means of getting a look at Batman’s psyche. Bats hates when people screw with his mind, so he’s understandably pissed when he learns that chunks of his memory regarding Hurt’s experiment are missing, which is all the incentive he needs to make with the fighting.

This would have been a great issue of Batman if not for a few scenes involving Bat-Mite (normally a scene or two wouldn’t be enough to ruin an issue for me, but I think the scenes with Bat-Mite really undermine the core of who Batman is). This weird little fucker made an appearance during Bruce’s hallucinations in the last issue, and shows up again in this issue. He seems to be insinuating that he’s some part of Batman’s psyche, here to help him remember the memories that Doctor Hurt monkeyed with. Personally, I didn’t think this was necessary. Batman doesn’t create avatars for parts of his psyche, that’s way too New Age-y for Bruce. I don’t care how long he was “dead” on that roof, it’s not something that Batman would do.

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Captain America #35

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W: Ed Brubaker

A: Butch Guice

What does it say when two of the handful of mainstream Marvel books I read don’t even read like traditional comic books?  Does it mean that I don’t really enjoy “super hero” comics?  Does it mean that Marvel can’t produce a classic, entertaining capes-and-cowl comic (say that three times fast)?  Or, does it simply mean that Ed Brubaker is the shit and can do no wrong?   Clearly, it isn’t the first one.  And, although the second option does have possibilities, let’s be honest, it’s most likely the unstoppable power of Ed Brubaker.

Brubaker understands that not all comic book heroes are created equal.  While the Fantastic Four should get embroiled in cosmic, space-and-time-spanning adventures, Spider-Man should not.  Daredevil is a noirish, street-level vigilante.  Captain America is a soldier, and the stories told in his book (no matter who’s carrying the shield) should reflect that.  Sure, there are guys and gals running around in flashy outfits and there are nefarious and hideously deformed villains, but Captain America is a lot closer to James Bond than Batman.

Bucky has barely gotten used to carrying the shield (and name) of his old mentor, and now he has to deal with a riot and a number of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents turned murderers.  Admittedly, this is all due to the behind-the-scenes machinations of the Red Skull and his cohorts, who seem to be coming pretty damned close to every super-villain’s dream: the destruction of the U.S. of A.

Let’s be honest, it would be a waste of a great character to have Cap (any Cap) just running around and beating up on your average run of the mill super-villain.  He’s the embodiment of America, and would naturally be used by the government to fight its enemies both at home and abroad.  He would, essentially, be the U.S.’s top agent.

Unfortunately for the new Captain America, his bosses have too much on their plate to be of much help.  New S.H.I.E.L.D. Director, Tony Stark, has a PR nightmare on his hands when a number of his agents–seemingly under the control of mind-fucker Doctor Faustus–open fire on a crowd of civilians.  With S.H.I.E.L.D.’s hands essentially tied, Stark sends Captain Bucky out into the field with the Black Widow as his only back-up.  What the new Cap finds is a classic scheme of Bondian proportions, involving countless shell companies, manipulation of the U.S. Senate, and bottled water dosed with mind control mojo.

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Countdown to Final Crisis 9

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W: Paul Dini, Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti

A: Tom Derenick

The good news is that, with everyone on Apokolips, this issue is one of the most cohesive of the entire series.  While 52 benefited from its multiple story lines, I felt that Countdown has suffered more than anything else.  The bad news: with about two months left to go, Countdown doesn’t seem to have a clear sense of story–is Brother Eye the Big Bad?  Are we given hints about what Final Crisis is going to be about?

Sure, as usual, there are a few pretty fun moments.  Jason Todd more or less steals the show as he fights an O.M.A.C.  Brother Eye gets his “hands” on Karate Kid and extracts the uber-lethal virus out of his DNA (I’m assuming this virus will be used by Brother Eye to eradicate all of humanity), and it takes the combined might of the Challengers, Ray Palmer, Mary Marvel, Harley and Holly to even make Brother Eye…um…blink.  It probably didn’t hurt that Jason managed to trick an O.M.A.C. into releasing Firestorm.

Now, what the hell is going on with Pied Piper?  Someone along the line decided that his powers stem from the Anti-Life Equation.  Is this an old idea coming back with the Multiverse?  Or is this a completely new concept dreamed up by DC?  I get Jimmy Olsen becoming a vessel for the souls of the dead New Gods–not only was he there when Lightray bought it, but it also provides a way to incorporate all of Jimmy’s whacky old transformations into current continuity.  But, honestly, Piper??  Ignoring the fact that I don’t think he’s an incredibly interesting character, it just feels like this came out of left field.  Maybe it was just a way to get Brother Eye off of Apokolips.

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Daredevil #105

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W: Ed Brubaker

A: Michael Lark, Paul Azaceta & Stefano Gaudiano

Like he does with Captain America, Brubaker has turned Daredevil into something more than your average super-hero comic.  Under his direction, this book has become a gritty crime series that benefits from being able to draw on the toys from the Marvel toy-chest.

This issue wraps up the arc involving Mr. Fear.  Fear has spent the last several issues systematically ripping Matt Murdock’s life apart, just because he “doesn’t like the guy.”  He orchestrated the war with Hood so that Daredevil would be distracted–I’m glad they cleared that up, because I couldn’t figure out why everyone had such a hard-on for Hell’s Kitchen.

If there was any doubt that Mr. Fear is a bad mother, this issue should remove it.  Fear goes head to head with Daredevil (after staring down the barrel of a gun aimed at him by the Hood) for no other reason than to gloat.  There is no cure to the fear gas that he used on Matt’s wife.  Whatever psychological damage the toxin has done must be cured through normal means, if ever.

Plus, this issue has one of the better conclusions to an arc that I’ve seen in a while.  Fear willingly goes to prison, where he’s treated like a king.  Inmates do his bidding.  Sexy C.O.s tear their clothes off at his approach.  Fear’s managed to internalize his fear toxins and can release them like pheromones (fear-omones??) whenever he wants.  He’ll rule in prison until he decides to leave, and then he’ll just walk out the front door.  That’s a pretty bad-ass ending, if you ask me.

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Justice Society of America #13

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W: Geoff Johns & Alex Ross

A: Fernando Pasarin

Kingdom Come and New Earth continue to come together in this new issue of Justice Society of America.  Gog (who, in the past, has tormented the Superman of New Earth) is behind the recent killings of meta-humans posing as demi-gods.  Gog can also be connected to Magog (the “villain” from KC Superman’s Earth), especially since Gog mentioned the destruction of Kansas, which happened on the Kingdom Come Earth.  Supposedly granted his powers by Gog, Magog, in essence, is a legacy villain, the perfect foil for a team of legacy heroes.

The chunk of this issue deals with another meeting between our Superman and Kingdom Come Superman.  KC-Supes has come to Metropolis to learn more about the Gog that our Supes faced a year ago.  This meeting is bittersweet, as KC-Superman encounters people–Lois, Jimmy, Perry–who are dead on his Earth.  After flying off to Gotham and fighting Hercules, who Gog failed to kill, the Supermen track their quarry only to have him teleport away.

Johns offers up another great issue of JSA.  After all is said and done, the best thing about the return of the Multiverse, will most likely be this arc.  Justice Society continues to be the one book that I can’t wait to read every month.  Unfortunately, the art this issue–by Fernando Pasarin–isn’t as good as the work that Dale Eaglesham has been doing on this title.

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Rogue Angel: Teller of Tall Tales #1

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W: Barbara Randall Kesel

A: Renae De Liz

Property comics–those that are based on television shows, movies, books, etc.–can be tricky.  A writer chosen for the project might not be able to capture the voice of the series (this, of course, can be easily avoided by hiring the writer(s) of the original series).  Also, something that works in one format might not work in another.

As a fan of the Rogue Angel series of novels, I was curious to check out what IDW was going to do with their comic adaptation of Annja Creed, intrepid archaeologist and wielder of Joan of Arc’s magical broadsword.  Although it’s hard to tell after just one issue, I will say that Barbara Randall Kesel seems to have a good grasp on the basic formula of Annja’s adventures: Called to Virginia City by an old friend, Annja soon finds herself on the trail of a valuable artifact (in this case, proof that Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn was based, in part, on the life of one of the town’s inhabitants), this artifact also attracts a certain violent element (which is where having a magical sword, and the enhanced abilities it grants, comes in handy).

I’m also very impressed with De Liz’s art, which has that stylized, almost cartoonish quality that I love so much.  Plus, Annja is drawn is almost exactly the way I pictured her in my head while reading the novels–as opposed to the model they use on the covers of the books, who looks like…um…a model, instead of an athletic woman who spends most of her time in caves, ditches, and tombs.

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Ultimate Fantastic Four #51

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W: Mike Carey

A: Tyler Kirkham

This issue of Ultimate Fantastic Four again shows what Mike Carey is capable off.  Carey keeps the unnecessary techno-babble to a bare minimum as the Fantastic Four faces off against Thanos and his army.  I’ve never been all that familiar with Thanos and what his deal is in the regular Marvel Universe, but the Ultimate version seems like a cold-blooded, single-minded sonuvabitch.  Y’know…a leader.  Carey doesn’t seem to bother adding extra layers to Thanos.  He wants the Cube.  He’ll get the Cube.  Done and done.

Kirkham’s art is also pretty damned good.  There are moments when he gets a little overly complicated–especially when trying to draw aliens or alien technology–but his work on the Four is pretty topnotch, even if it occasionally looks like Sue’s got a clump of straw on her head.   One of the more breathtaking panels I’ve seen in a while is the scene where Kirkham depicts Ben with an unexplained light radiating from deep inside of him, visible through the ragged cracks in Ben’s orange, rocky hide.

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Ultimate Spider-Man #119

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W: Brian Michael Bendis

A: Stuart Immomen

I’d like to propose something to the folks at Marvel.  Make Ultimate Spider-Man the center of the Ultimate Marvel Universe.  That would mean that anything that happened in this book, would have to be respected in the other books in the Ultimates line.  Why would I make such a bizarre request?  Simple.  I’d hate to have an otherwise awesome issue of Ultimate Spider-Man ruined by an incident that my brain has trouble rectifying against the information it’s been given by other Ultimate books.  Case in point: the appearance of Magneto at the end of this issue.

Peter’s friend, Liz Allen, is still coming to grips with her new mutant powers.  Of course, we’re just assuming they’re mutant powers, since her uncle’s a mutant and Magneto pops up.  There could be another explanation for where Liz got her fiery powers, but it looks like everyone’s willing to assume that she’s a mutant for now.  Of course, this leads to another lengthy discussion of the prejudice against mutants.  There’s also a really fun moment when Spider-Man tries to give Liz the “Great Power, Great Responsibility”  speech, only to have her interrupt him before he can even get the verbal ball rolling.  I was a little confused when Magneto showed up to tell Liz about her “destiny.”  Where the hell has he been?  When he popped up in Ultimates 3, I was confused enough (especially when Mystique was with him–wasn’t she masquerading as Magneto in prison?), but here he comes floating into Peter Parker’s life.  Sure, it makes sense for the story, but I was still taken aback.

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Quote of the Week:

“That was a very strange conversation, even for me.”–Spider-Man, after trying to convince Liz Allen that her life isn’t over just because she’s a mutant, in Ultimate Spider-Man #119.

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