Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Convergence: Speed Force #1

So I have a big question concerning this issue (and Convergence in general). Is it my problem, or DC’s problem, that I vastly prefer the Convergence-era characters to the ones available monthly? I don’t think I’m alone in this. I mean, I’m naturally drawn to reviewers whose opinions are similar to my own, but it sure seems to me that people really like seeing the “real” versions of these characters, not the watered-down new 52 folks.

Anyways, on to the actual issue. Tony Bedard has been an inconsistent creator for me. Some of his work has been absolutely brilliant, combining the best aspects of continuity and characterization into a great new creation. But some of his work (mostly new 52 GL stuff) has seemed a lot less inspired. Fortunately, Speed Force has the good Bedard working on it.

Wally West, along with his kids Jai and Iris, have been trapped in Gotham for a year. Hidden away on an alien world under a dome, Wally is having a hard time adjusting. He spends each day trying to figure out how to break free. He’s justifiably concerned that a year apart from his wife Linda will have her pretty worried. I thought it was interesting that Wally’s identity seems to be public knowledge in Gotham these days. (Although maybe that was the status quo in the old days too, I can’t remember.) Either way, I find myself pretty bummed at the idea that the old DCU is truly destroyed and this Gotham City is the last surviving remnant of that world.

My favorite thing about this book is Wally West’s attitude about the “contest” between the surviving cities. When Tellos flashes an image of the Flashpoint Hawks demolishing the Justice Riders, Wally’s first instinct is to race out to try to help them. He doesn’t even think twice. How wonderful is it to see that kind of concern for strangers in a hero again? Then, to make matters even better, we get Fastback the turtle from Captain Carrot’s Zoo Crew.

I have ZERO idea who Fastback is. I can only recognize Captain Carrot from Multiversity. But FB’s attitude about Tellos’ contest mirrors Wally’s, and my own; of COURSE there is another way. What kind of hero would just go along with a battle to the death to amuse some weird cosmic voyeur? Man, that is what DC comics are all about, heroes thinking outside the box and doing the right thing. It has been too long!

So the plot is OK, the setting is a little watered down, but these are the versions of the characters I love. Wally’s kids complicate his story a bit, but we’ve seen Wally’s journey as a hero start with childhood and continue into fatherhood. For Wally, his maturation is integrally tied to his hero’s journey. Iris and Jai are fun complications without being stupid or a disadvantage, a nice change for most kid supporting characters.

And Tom Grummet’s artwork. I always like Grummet’s stuff, but seeing the clean lines of the real Flash costume again? Seeing the costume so bright and inspiring? Man, it really makes me miss DC comics. I’m impressed that Grummet even made Fastback fit into Wally’s more grounded-Gotham. It pains me to admit, even Flashpoint Wonder Woman looked pretty dang imposing and cool on that final page.

So this is a GOOD comic. But my goodness, does it drive home how alienated I am by the current DCU. I think that will probably be the subject of a bigger write up after I read some more of these Convergence throwbacks. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Flash v3: Gorilla Warfare TPB

When it comes to Flash villains, one towers above the rest. Gorilla Grodd. I haven’t read any of the New 52 Flash comics since the first trade, but when I saw Grodd on the cover of this volume, I figured I better check it out.

And, you know. It is fine. As I’ve said many times in previous reviews, I just don’t find Barry Allen to be that compelling a character. When I read him as the Flash, I’m much more interested in the costume than in anything else. Taking away his relationship with Iris sort of distracts me even further. Patty Spivot doesn’t have the same attitude and spark that motivates me to read about her.

I’m also not a huge fan of the way Brian Buccellato and Francis Manapul handle the rogues. They are clearly going for some of the old Mark Waid/Geoff Johns feelings, but it just doesn’t work yet. Those older Flash stories established that the rogues were bad guys but they would do the right thing when they had to, and that they exhibited their own sense of honor. The rogues (led by Golden Glider?) do help out Keystone City against Grodd’s gorilla army, but I never quite understood exactly why they were doing it. And the new 52 costumes don’t help. Captain Cold is close enough to what he should be, but the new Heatwave looks boring.

Grodd is pretty horrific. His scenes boast some of the nicest art in the collection. The physical, brutal combat between him and Barry look fantastic. I’m not keen on the idea that Grodd is powered by the Speed Force (especially that he boosts that power by biting yellow energy capsules?). Grodd is enough of a threat on his own that adding in super-speed is a bit distracting. I prefer to leave the speed force stories to the villains that need it!

The second half of the collection has Barry helping the Trickster deal with an unfounded murder rap. I enjoyed this arc a bit more, because it helped flesh out the current supporting cast. I have absolutely no idea who those folks trapped in the speed force are, but Buccellato and Manapul do a nice job making the newly powered bozos interesting enough that I’d like to see more. I’d also kill for some caption boxes or some sort of recap. I’m not sure that the supporting cast’s identity is clearly established very often in these issues.

The art is the high point of this title. Manapul’s skill at graphic design makes for striking and innovative page layouts. He uses panel composition, sound effects, and a sense of motion to make the pages pop at crucial parts in the story. This was the greatest strength of Manapul’s run with Geoff Johns too.

So there is some potential here, but my lack of interest in Barry Allen combined with the new 52 continuity keeps this as an AVERAGE book with EXCELLENT art. 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Nightwing and Oracle #1

I’ll be honest. I’m not sure if I loved this comic so much because it was super-awesome, or if I was just so happy to see these characters acting like themselves again. Because let’s face it, those are both pretty good reasons to enjoy this comic.

Gail Simone wrote a definitive (if not THE definitive) take on Oracle back in the old DCU, so it is not surprising that she gets right back on the horse in this issue. The green-tinged narration boxes sound like the strong hero that we read about for years back in Birds of Prey. And Nightwing sounds like himself. He’s cocky, confident, and really enjoying this whole super-hero thing. As he should be. Again, that’s the character I know! While only Barbara Gordon gets an inner monologue, Simone uses Nightwing’s interactions with Starfire and Oracle to show how his personality is still intact too.

This isn’t all about looking backwards, though. As someone who doesn’t read many DC books these days, I have no understanding of the greater Convergence storyline. But it doesn’t matter. Gotham City is trapped in a dome on an alien world, but they are not alone. There are other cities trapped there too. Some weird robots (Brainiacs, I think?) are forcing the champions of these cities to battle it out to see who survives. I certainly hope that doesn’t mean that these remnants of good comics have to die, though. Even the fairly generic Hawkman and Hawkwoman of Flashpoint seem interesting when Simone is writing their dialogue.

This book packs in the DC history too. In addition to the Flashpoint Hawks, Nightwing, Oracle, and Starfire, we get cameos from Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy. With a big conflict with the Hawks brewing, I’m very hopeful that Freeze, Ivy, and Starfire join up with Nightwing to fight for Gotham.

I also really enjoyed the way Simone addressed the dwindling resources of a “fishbowl” city. The split up families and broken lives would be a real factor too.

I’ve been a fan of Jan Duursema’s art for years, so it is no surprise that I really enjoyed the pencils on this book. Even the Flashpoint Hawks really drew me in (as a Hawkman fan, it wasn’t that tough). Nightwing’s suit looks updated, but retains the classic feel that is missing in the new 52 designs. Starfire and Oracle look fantastic, attractive without showing ridiculous skin. The backgrounds are well done too, establishing the dome as an ongoing, ominous threat.

I don’t mean to just praise this GOOD comic because it isn’t a new 52 book. And yet, there is no denying that the old continuity is still part of its charm. I’d like this comic in any DC continuity, but this is Simone writing the characters she was meant to write. Enjoy it while you can, folks!

Monday, April 6, 2015

G.I. Joe vs. Transformers v1 TPB

I want you to imagine the craziest, most ridiculous comic book you’ve ever read. I have a promise for you. This book is crazier.

Tom Scioli is a lunatic, and from what I understand, he’s the driving force behind the madness in this book. John Barber’s work on Transformers is solid, but doesn’t have anything close to this level of insanity. That’s why I’m awarding Scioli the credit for this brilliant, insane masterpiece.

To be honest, so much happens in every single issue that the book barely has a plot. The action leaps from scene to scene, skipping over mundane details as if this were a Grant Morrison comic. When you read this comic, it honestly feels like the creative team has so much story to tell that they are just rushing to get it all out on the page. There simply isn’t time for deep characterization or motivations. There is always a new bit of madness waiting to be revealed after you flip the page!

Let me give you a quick summary. Unlike every other crossover between these properties, this one focuses on the Joes invading Cybertron. Utilizing the plant bomb technology from the old cartoon, the Joes have seeded Cybertron with oxygen, preparing it for an invasion. They rocket up there and quickly start swarming around the big ‘bots. Heck, one of the covers has a Joe dropping a grenade on poor Wheeljack’s head! The Transformers are having a hard time processing these little meat bugs, and Scioli addresses the insane sense of scale on every page. This is like two different stories that crossover due to proximity rather than logic.

Naturally, the Joes and Autobots start to make alliances, as do the Cobras and Decepticons. Of course, this had to happen since Destro is described as a “god of guns” at one point. And that’s not even the craziest thing in this collection.

Once you add in that Scioli is drawing this in his Kirby-like style, and this becomes the most exciting comic book on the stands.

This is an EXCELLENT comic, but only if you like concepts like the following:
  • Tunnel Rat climbing into the nose of Fortress Maximus.
  • The G.I. Joe pets forming their own combat team.
  •  The October Guard re-imagined as Halloween-based, Rob Zombie-type villains in a Jack O Lantern ship.
  • Broken Transformer parts used as jewelry on surviving robots.

Don’t pick this up if that type of ridiculous madness doesn’t appeal to you. 

Friday, April 3, 2015

Justice League of America v1: The World's Most Dangerous TPB

I think I’m finally giving up on my new 52 angst.

I’m too tired to fight it when Geoff Johns’ JLA hits me over the head with “newness” in every issue. We have to pretend the team doesn’t know Chronos, the Shaggy Man, or Dr. Light. Hawkman doesn’t know Green Arrow. No one knows Star Girl. Amanda Waller put together the JLA (with Steve Trevor’s help). Yep, this isn’t your Dad’s Justice League of America. Unfortunately, I’m old enough to be your Dad, which means this isn’t my Justice League.

But as I said, I’m getting too tired to fight it. (Note that I’m reading these from the library, my days of buying DC books are long gone.) So now, I’m just happy to see Hawkman acting like a tough a-hole. I’m happy to see Catwoman slinking around the team, but fitting in quite nicely. I’m happy to see Martian Manhunter treated as an uber-powerful mainstay of his own team. And once those introductions are done, this book is perfectly fine.

The trade focuses on the debut of the Society of Super-Villains. From the striking opening sequence where an undercover JLA-er barely escapes to the big showdown with the Shaggy Man, this is classic superhero action. I especially enjoyed Catwoman’s execution about halfway through the trade. I never believed it, but it was neat seeing how Johns’ got Selina out of trouble.

Like many of DC’s current trades, I found myself very tripped up by crossovers. Whole chapters of this trade are distracted by crossovers with other titles. The Justice League Trinity War gets some development and exposure, but absolutely no wrap up. (I guess I need to read a different trade for that?) This isn’t as disjointed as the Green Lantern trades, but it isn’t easy to follow either.

The actual team make-up is surprisingly effective. I found myself really rooting for Catwoman to get her due respect from her peers. I also really liked the everyman Vibe as he tried to prove that he was actually useful. I don’t know the old Vibe character at all, so seeing this new 52 version wasn’t jarring for me at all. And of course, I absolutely love that Johns has always written Martian Manhunter the right way. J’onn is powerful, protective, and intimidating all at the same time. Jeff Lemire does a nice job in the backups maintaining that portrayal.

I’m not a David Finch fan, so his chapters didn’t knock my socks off. He draws pretty ladies and handsome fellas, but most of the characters have pinched, childlike faces that don’t quite fit the character. That said, the art told the story clearly and set out the action nicely. I preferred Doug Mahnke’s chapters, those felt and looked a lot more like what I like from my DC comics.

Reading this for free, it is perfectly FAIR. I still miss my real DCU, and I guess I always will. However, I’ll continue reading this one from the library due to the strong characterization Johns always brings to his books. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Fantastic Four v2: Original Sin TPB

What the heck. James Robinson has been hiding some core Marvel U comics in plain sight in this comic. Much like his solid work on New Invaders, this is classic Marvel U stuff here. Robinson has plumbed the depths of continuity in the DCU for decades, but he is proving equally adept at doing it in the Marvel U. I mean, this trade has the Sharon Ventura She-Thing, for heaven’s sake. I certainly never thought I’d see that character again! And she actually mentions Unlimited Class Wrestling! Mark Gruenwald would be thrilled!

The poor FF have had a rough go of it over the years. It seems they are constantly being split up, tossed out of their headquarters, and then struggling to get back together. I’m not sure who the evil mastermind is behind all of this yet, but whoever it is, they have good taste in flunkies. The Wizard, the Frightful Four, SHIELD, and even the Avengers all show up to make things miserable for the FF. Of course, Robinson uses this as a chance to show off just how powerful the Invisible Woman really is. How great is it that the character has been portrayed as so frigging powerful for the past few years?

I also really enjoy the mini-crossover Robinson’s got going on. He leverages his work in New Invaders to use the original Human Torch as a supporting character in this title. Jim Hammond has the same quiet dignity and honor in this book as in the Invaders. The Torch is in charge of looking after the Future Foundation kids while SHIELD looks at the FF’s legal standing, and Hammond’s integrity in the role is refreshing. He continually stands up to SHIELD’s bureaucracy and does the right thing. It is good stuff.

I realize I’m skipping over the “original sin” portion of the story, but frankly, that is the least interesting part of this collection. After all these years, seeing that Johnny Storm ruined one of Ben Grimm’s chances at humanity just doesn’t catch my interest anymore!

Marc Laming and Leonard Kirk are amongst the artists on this run, and they do a great job keeping the book looking like classic Marvel. Even with tweaks and updates, everyone’s costumes are immediately recognizable. The Wizard and his new Frightful Four look ready for inclusion in a Marvel Handbook.

It bums me out that sales haven’t been stellar on this run. It really is action in the Mighty Marvel Manner. Unfortunately, since I’m reading this on Marvel Unlimited, I guess I am part of the problem. It is a GOOD comic though!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Princess Leia #1&2

This creative team pretty much guarantees quality. Mark Waid writing a strong lead character in an established universe? Easy sale. Terry Dodson drawing a powerful, attractive female lead with lots of action? Say no more. So yeah, this book pretty much sells itself.

With Jason Aaron handling the “team” book in the core Star Wars title, I was unsure how Mark Waid would handle Leia in her own book. What types of missions would she be on when she’s by herself? We saw her scouting new Rebel bases in Brian Wood’s Star Wars series from Dark Horse a few months ago. I sort of figured Waid would follow a similar path. He doesn’t.

Instead, Princess Leia is a bit more sheltered, much to her chagrin. After the destruction of Alderaan in the first film, Leia is dangerously close to becoming a figurehead and mascot for the Rebellion. The bosses want to keep her hidden and safe, minimizing her impact on the ongoing struggle. With the main Rebellion plans out of reach, Leia comes up with a great mission statement: save the survivors of Alderaan.

Joined by R2D2 and Alderaanian pilot Evaan, this book will follow Leia’s efforts to save the survivors of her home planet’s destruction. It seems the Empire wants to stamp out the last survivors of Alderaan, so Leia has to make sure to find them first. The race seems a tad artificial, but that’s OK with me. Mostly because this sure seems like a good excuse to get some bounty hunters involved. Surely, we can get some Boba Fett or IG-88 action hunting down survivors.

Evaan is a fun contrast to Leia with her strict obedience of Alderaanian norms and social hierarchies. Leia wants to buck the system, but Evaan values the system over everything else. This puts Evaan in a tough spot, since she by her own rules, she has to assist Leia in her unconventional endeavors. I think the two women (and one droid) cast does need a few more voices, but that should take care of itself pretty quickly.

Dodson’s art is wonderful. R2 looks shiny and clean. Leia looks like she just walked out of the films while retaining a comic-book look. I really like Evaan, since we don’t get to see too many female pilots wearing the orange Rebel pilot uniforms. I also like that Evaan is a big lady with a different body shape than Leia. Dodson also nails the Star Wars universe look for settings and aliens. Naboobians look like Naboobians, and the ships are dead on as well.

I’ll be sticking with this GOOD book, as Leia is an unexpectedly fun POV character to follow through the Star Wars universe.