JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #1 — This issue blindsided me in more ways than one. I didn’t realize it was coming out today. I had no idea that there were going to be six (or seven?) variant covers featuring every member of the League (which looked quite striking side by side on the rack, by the way). I didn’t know that it was going to be $6 or feature 48 damn pages of glorious Hitch art. And I didn’t expect the script was going to be as rock-solid as it was. Really, just a terrific opening on every level. A very immediately engaging premise that is of course a very foreboding set-up for the tale to come. Nobody wants to see a pile of dead Supermans (pretty sure that’s how the plural of that should go). You know, it took this issue to make me realize, for all of the criticism that Snyder took for the disaster porn aspects of the fiasco that was MAN OF STEEL, that aspect of it really is just coming full-circle with the widescreen city-leveling madness that Hitch first popularized with Ellis back on their THE AUTHORITY fifteen years gone already. Think about it, though, every Hitch project since then, of course THE ULTIMATES and then the FF run with Millar and that mini-series with Wossy all the way up to the original AGE OF ULTRON thing with Bendis, there are a loooooot of finely rendered depictions of cracked-ass skyscrapers getting torn down to rubble by unmitigated superheroic destruction. And while we are quick to criticize that going down on the big screen (really kicking into gear with JOSS WHEDON’S MARVEL’S THE AVENGERS, as well, let it be said), we’ve always just been stunned by Hitch’s draftsmanship. Certainly no one’s coined the term “disaster porn” to describe it that I’m aware of in all these years. Maybe it’s just because the characterization in the comics has been better and so the destructive catharsis feels more earned? An interesting discrepancy. This issue here, though, is nothing but Hitch at play with DC’s biggest guns. The Aquaman scenes are an interesting standalone juxtaposition with the other more straight-ahead superhero action. There was maybe a little bit more mostly gratuitous swearing than seems ideal for a book you’d want to get a bit evangelical with amongst the younger crowd (In just the centerpiece ensemble fight scene alone, Batman busts out two “Dammit”s [which actually almost could have become more of an entertaining thing if he’d maintained the rhythm and just stuck with that as like a sort of an involuntary epithet Tourette’s crutch for while high-powered business is just breaking down], a “damn” that broke that rhythm, Parasite calls Wonder Woman a bitch, and Superman even gets in on the action with a “damn,” as well). Overall, though, this is a tremendously entertaining issue and a pleasure to feast your eyes on, as well as an intriguing premise that actually feels like something we haven’t seen before, after all of these years. You’ve got to almost feel a little bad for poor Mark Millar, the golden boy who can churn out creator-owned Hollywood-ready books that get optioned just as fast as he can sign up an A-list artist for “pages”/storyboards but who is apparently still blackballed at DC from scripting his dream gig on basically this very title. When the script is this solid, though, we don’t even miss him. I fervently hope that all of the DC cinematic folk who have apparently fetishized Miller’s DARK KNIGHT run from thirty years ago are still paying attention and can swerve the situation of their output a little bit in this direction. They can still get their buildings all smashed to powder while everybody stays true to who they are as a character and not be deconstructed into some apology that was played out around the time Marvel went bankrupt. But, I digress. Go, Hitch!
ROBIN, SON OF BATMAN #1 — I have made no secret that early on in the now-bygone days of The New 52, BATMAN AND ROBIN shot out in front of the pack in terms of quality, consistency, and overall emotional devastation, really packing it in in terms of what your monthly superhero sequential can and should be able to deliver on a regular basis. Those guys did such a strong job that they brought a tear to more than one fanboy’s eye through the at-the-time soul-crushing trick of putting Batman through two years of shit in order to earn a single smile that is one of the most rewarding payoffs I can recall expecting in serial fiction. So, when writer Peter J. Tomasi went on to other projects, all were sad but then buoyed by the news that at least the art team would soldier on with Patrick Gleason taking on scripting duties singlehandedly. My optimism was tempered by the fact that for every Darwyn Cooke or Paul Pope or Erik Larsen one-man-band storytelling engine, there are the cautionary tales of Todd McFarlane cutting his teeth on one of the best-selling polybagged comics of the nineties and not, in fact, managing to rise above it all. Or, um, that time they let Andy Kubert out from behind his drawing board to wreak serious havoc on this very character. But hey, this series apparently has a Man-Bat sidekick named Goliath, so right off the bat, we’re starting out ahead of the game. And never looking back. Of course, the art maintains the very high standard that Gleason/Gray/Kalisz have set for themselves, but the terrific news is that Gleason appears to have already spent so much time with Damian Wayne and be so invested in the character that he gives every indication of being the only person besides Morrison or Tomasi to be able to strike the right balance of arrogance and relentless drive to honor his father’s legacy that is such a core component of what makes Damian who he is. And oh, it does my heart good. I really wanted to be able to fully invest in this title. Not only is this a very satisfying pilot episode representing the new status quo from Page One, but the Year of Blood/Atonement storyline sounds like a perfect long arc and is perfectly in line with Damian’s long-term development as a character. For all the rebooting, reimagining, and streamlining going on these days (see: BATMAN, GRAYSON, SUPERMAN, BATGIRL, STARFIRE, and this next one down below), as important as that is to kick off the cobwebs and dust of years of accumulated continuity in order to pull in new readers to this ever-diminishing fanbase, it is just as important to reward the long-time stalwart readers with palpable non-illusory growth over time to characters who we have become invested in over the course of years. I couldn’t stand Damian Wayne when he showed up in Morrison’s first issue anymore than anybody else could. But somewhere along the way, maybe as early as him shit-talking Dick & “Pennyworth” that very first time he was in the suit in that first Quitely issue of BATMAN AND ROBIN, I realized how much I actually liked the little bastard, shit though he was. And the work that Morrison and Tomasi put into him in the intervening six years made him one of, if not the, most nuanced, interesting, and well-developed new character in at least mainstream superhero comics, if not the entire medium. It is so gratifying to see that he remains in good hands while entering this new fatherless time in his crimefighting career. God help us all.
BLACK CANARY #1 — I have been seriously onboard with both the Burnside BATGIRL and GOTHAM ACADEMY since their first issues and also really dug the Annie Wu/Kate Bishop issues of HAWKEYE (which I realize isn’t like a controversial stance on either count), so it was a foregone conclusion that I was going to try this thing out. Though I have to say, I worried that maybe we were stretching ourselves a bit thin already spinning Dinah out of Barbara’s book, there. Any concern was completely misplaced; this book is totally its own thing and a more compelling direction for the title character than I recall reading. It’s certainly nice to see her fronting an eponymous band as opposed to completing the phrase GREEN ARROW & _______. This series is rock and roll all the way. Like, already more rock and roll than SCOTT PILGRIM, and those books had a backbeat built in to every turn of the page. An all-new supporting cast here, the band gets interesting character tics but not too much exposition out of the gate, but there’s enough to invest in. Hell, anyone who can cause a guitar to phase and flange, echo and delay without stompboxes has my full attention. What a terrific counterpoint to Dinah. Love Fletcher’s scripting, love Wu’s art, I’m all in for the big rawkshow.
BEST OF WEEK: ASTRO CITY #24 — Okay, and then something like this comes along and just blows everything away. I’ve been trying to parse exactly how Busiek/Anderson and friends made me care so much about a super-powered gorilla who just wants to be a rock-and-roll drummer, but somewhere along the way, I realized that I was already answering my own question. There’s also the fact that we’ve been visiting ASTRO CITY almost-regularly for twenty years now*, and the roving-eye constantly-shifting protagonist aspect of this series has resulted in some of the most concise, consistent, and fully realized world building that it’s ever been my pleasure to encounter, the kind of work that you can really only do panel by panel, year after year. Serious respect to Busiek for not only having Samaritan explicitly quote the mantra of ALL-STAR SUPERMAN, “There’s always a way,” but have him deliver this line during a rooftop scene that’s a cover version/homage to the all-time classic Saving Regan scene from #10. And you’ve got to love a little touch like just throwing Astra in, a supporting character that doesn’t have to mean anything unless you remember her being a little girl in #2 of Volume 2 many many years ago, and then she had that incredible one-shot just a few years back when she graduated high school. So there’s all of that character investment charged up in a character who’s just one of six in an opening fight scene that’s just meant to establish the status quo for the issue before immediately upsetting it. These guys make all of this look easy, and it’s so enjoyable to read, but the level of craft required to make all of this happen requires master storytellers, and we are lucky to have them bringing us tales that we can care about as much as they clearly do. There have been so many times when I’ve finished an issue and just hollered, “That’s the series! Do that! Don’t put that person on the bench for the next five years, I’m begging you!” Even though that’s the beauty of this series. It’s an entire fully realized universe in one single title. But I have never ever wanted a spinoff ongoing title from this book more than THE NEW ROCK’N’ROLL ADVENTURES OF POWERCHORD! Please, Kurt Busiek, make it happen. I’m begging you.
TREES #10 — Okay, yeah, so Ellis doesn’t appear to be even writing this with breaks in mind, the page count just runs out and we’ll see you next month. As hoped for, that flashback that ended #9 makes a little more narrative sense when we can actually have the back half of the scene. This mayor guy is an interesting new character. And then we’re back with the surviving doc, managing to insult her new locale while not offending the locals. Jason Howard remains a cartooning barbarian on this thing; every turn of the page really is a delight, no matter what horrible shit Uncle Warren has the characters doing or saying or thinking about.
SOUTHERN BASTARDS #9 — Nice reversal here. We zoom out to the sheriff and get most of the sympathy/empathy we might have built up for old Euless Boss over the course of the last arc beaten out of us with a single baseball-bat-maimin’ scene. What is it about this county and big ol’ sticks? The shifting character focus might be the most interesting aspect of this series, but I think all most folks are waiting on at this point is for Earl Tubb’s daughter to show up and just start chucking napalm out on the street, cooking barbecue in the undying flames. I enjoyed the nooks and crannies of this issue and had no problem dialing in to our new temporary lead, but I wish they wouldn’t have gone with the straight MAD MEN pilot ending on the last page. That was such a powerful thing when it happened the first time, you can’t really do it again without suffering from inferior comparisons, certainly not in the last beat of your first episode.
GOD HATES ASTRONAUTS #9 — Who among us was prepared for the secret origin of Pandor? Not I, fellow Stunned! Really glad to hear about 3-D Cowboy’s newfound sobriety and improved situation at home. But then this whole issue is batshit crazy! Once again. There is nothing in the world like this series, and I am grateful for that, but then I recommend that you all ascend into its finely rendered insanity as often as possible but no less than once a month. Long live King Pandor of the Royal Burger!
LOW #7 — Mmm, this is an interesting little zoom-in here where we completely bail on the main plot fired up from the first arc and cut to another city, focusing on a pair of woman, one of whom is basically imagination police, an upgrade from Bradbury’s firemen from FARENHEIT 451, whose job it is to eradicate artists, which is unfortunate because her lover is a really talented painter. There’s some meaty character work here, reminiscent of THE OUTER LIMITS, a very solid done-in-one that’s a rewarding experience all on its own. Tocchini throws down maybe his best pages yet again. This is still an interesting one to watch, especially in light of this new wrinkle in the narrative format.
BUCKY BARNES: THE WINTER SOLDIER #009 — As usual, Rudy absolutely paints the hell out of this thing. The layouts are dynamic, and the eye can’t help but be drawn across the page, torn between the desire to marvel at the depth of skill and technique inherent in every innovatively bordered panel while eager to devour the next images. Kot’s script, however, leaves much to be desired. We burn basically the entire issue on Loki taunting our hero in rhyme before eventually being overcome at the end, which comes across as terribly self-indulgent and, if not squandering Rudy’s considerable talent, at least not making optimum use of it in terms of telling a story that’s engaging and entertaining. I wish this thing felt a little bit trashier, a little bit pulpier, a little bit less impressed with itself and packed in with more heart-pounding moments of action, adventure, wonder, and space-opera glory. It doesn’t have to just be an analogue of FLASH GORDON or ADAM STRANGE, but it feels like it’s trying so hard to range around and not be those things that it’s failing to do the most important thing: latch on to the reader and never let go.
THORS #1—I’ve been tradewaiting Aaron’s run on THOR but had to go on and jump right in to this situation to stay current with the event as it unfolds. This is a great take on things that Aaron has going here. The vibe that Hickman was rocking in #s 2 and 3 of the main series was a sort of Thor Corps, very much an analogue to what Hal Jordan and friends get up to on the other side of the corporate spectrum. Here, Aaron doubles-down on that concept, making this almost a straight procedural in which the Thors have partners, investigate murders, are called into Odin’s office and berated for not clearing cases, drink mead in bars when they’re not solving murders, the whole nine realms (forgive me for that). That’s a great look for this title even before featuring Ultimate Thor & Beta Ray Bill as our two leads. Terrific interplay to be had between the two throughout this book. And all kinds of great supporting characters waiting in the wings, Storm is a Thor here, as is a Destroyer, and even Thor-frog gets in on the act as a medical examiner. The art team shows up in force with Sprouse/Story providing dynamic visuals and Gracia making them look as beautiful as he always does. I am all in on this one, to be sure.
OLD MAN LOGAN #002 — Bendis/Sorrentino don’t let up as they just right away set out to maximize the potential of a set-up this nutty and straight-up kick our grizzled Man Named Logan into the Age of Apocalypse, which results in more confusion than anything else this issue, a slight momentum-killer that Creative mitigates by just bringing dude face to face with Apocalypse himself by issue’s end. Grand and glorious fun, both of these SECRET WARS tie-ins are the high end of what is possible when the creators embrace the madness inherent in a premise this wide open and just get to work telling the best stories that they possibly can.
*is this the first time, in all these years, that an ASTRO CITY volume has made it to #24? Seems like that Volume 2 shut down at #23 and we’ve never made it this far since, what with all that THE DARK AGEing for all those years. Huzzah!