Sunday, 16 September 2007

Reviews For This Week - Countdown Contamination

While it may not be readily apparent from my recent posts, this blog is still intended to be focussed on the countdown to Final Crisis (as opposed to Countdown To Final Crisis), and there has been quite a lot to talk about on that front recently. This week DC started three new titles, as well as debuting a new writer on Justice League.

Wonder Girl #1 and Countdown Presents: The Search For Ray Palmer : Wildstorm (50) #1 are of absolutely no interest as comics whatsoever, and are merely secondary tumours that have metastasised from the crossover. In the case of Wonder Girl there appears to be a pleasant superhero-fights-plus-teen-romance comic aimed at teenage girls in there somewhere, but it's choked to death in the tangle of unresolved plotlines from (as far as I can tell) four separate comics - Countdown, Wonder Woman, Amazons Attack and Teen Titans. Given that none of those comics have exactly lit their way up the charts, it's amazing that something like this was even considered. DC editorial are obviously having no truck with the idea of not putting all your eggs in one basket. Instead, they're trying to fit them into one extremely small basket that's clearly not big enough for a single egg, and one with holes in the size of the holes in this metaphor.
All-Colon 1 on the other hand, which spins out of (again, as far as I can tell, I may be missing something) Ion, Atom, Countdown, Amazons Attack, Sinestro Corps War, The Authority and, for all I know, Sugar and Spike and Famous Funnies, is just a fight scene in which we learn that the Authority's methods would be met with disapproval by DCU superheroes. There is no possible reason for anyone to buy either of these comics. If World War III was, as Jog put it so well 'gonzo continuity porn' ("there’s only forty-five seconds of repartee, if that, before those discrepancies start resolving"), these comics are the hotel room porn Bill Hicks spoke about, continuity porn but with no 'money shot' at all, just the promise that if you pay another $3 you might get to the good bit.

Suicide Squad 1 (by John Ostrander, Javed Pina and Robin Riggs, DC) is bad in a different, far more forgiveable way. If you're just after action and thrills, this comic has them - in the first four pages alone we have a secret mission behind enemy lines, an atomic explosion, an attempted prison break and a half-man half-cat creature whose head explodes. The rest of the comic continues at much the same pace, ending with a dinosaur about to attack our unconscious hero.
The problem is that Ostrander's writing hasn't really changed since he was writing this title in the 1980s. He still can't do plausibility, or dialogue, and has still never heard an actual Australian speak. This would have been a very acceptable issue of the series in 1988, but seems curiously pointless now.

Another comic that feels like a late-80s DC midlist title, but this time in a moderately decent rather than a moderately bad way, is Booster Gold 2 (by Geoff Johns, Jeff Katz, Dan Jurgens and Norm Rapmund). Less accessible (and less funny) than issue 1, because our hero has now started time-travelling and continuity-patching, it still manages to tell a more-or-less complete in itself story, while setting up future stories in what looks like it will be a regular variant on the old Levitz ABC plotline formula - one page is 'the origin of the Dan Garret Blue Beetle', one is 'something ominous in the timestream' (with a quick feature from Team 13 having a rather unnecessary dig at Brian Azarello) , half a page is 'who is evil Supernova?' and the last page sets up next issue.
The rest of the issue is deliberately patterned after Quantum Leap (with a dash of Back To The Future thrown in) - Booster goes back in time to try to prevent a catastrophe without letting anyone know of his involvement. He succeeds, but another problem comes along. It's all very formulaic, but the way in which Booster resolves the conflict with Sinestro is quite fun.
I don't want to give the impression that this series is great or anything - for a start, it's very reliant on at least a passing knowledge of the DC Universe - but for what it is, it's surprisingly decent. The premise allows Johns and Katz to tell single-issue stories while advancing a larger plotline, to make use of pretty much any DCU character, and to not take it too seriously.
The current comic this reminds me of most is The Brave And The Bold, and I suspect anyone who enjoys one will get at least some enjoyment out of the other. Booster Gold isn't as good as Brave & Bold, but it's solid, fun superhero entertainment, and that's sadly lacking at the moment.

Poor Kurt Busiek has got the short straw with the Superman assignment. The Camelot Falls story which continues in Superman 667 (by Busiek, Carlos Pacheco and Jesus Merino) was obviously meant to be a relatively short storyline, but with the various inventory stories that have been dropped in, plus the scheduling problems and Busiek working double duty on Action for much of the time, the storyline has been running for thirteen issues with no hint of resolution. What looked to be a brief darker story in the mold of Must There Be A Superman? in the middle of an otherwise light-hearted run has now become a long dark epic with brief incongruous light moments, simply because of the order in which the issues have come out.
It's a tribute to how well Busiek gets Superman that the story is still readable, but I can't wait for this plot to be over. This storyline finally wraps up next issue, and will probably read much better when it's collected.

The JLA Wedding Special (by Dwayne McDuffie, Mike McKone and Andy Lanning) is McDuffie's debut on the title. This is mostly setup for future storylines - the inclusion of Firestorm and John Stewart (who didn't see them coming?) and the formation of a new Injustice League. It's nothing special, but it's infinitely better than Meltzer's recent run (which McDuffie takes a few potshots at) - McDuffie juggles a large cast well, and manages to get in a few choice lines (the Joker stealing one of my favourite Mel Brooks lines, and Lex Luthor's "If you don't want your enemies to neutralize your powers, refrain from publishing scientific papers explaining them"). It's a competent Justice League comic - something I thought I'd never see again. Now if they can only stop getting Ed Benes to draw those horrendous T&A covers (or failing that at least show him what a real woman looks like)...

The Groo 25th Anniversary Special (by Sergio Aragones & Mark Evanier , Dark Horse), shows all these newcomers how it's done. I've always had a soft spot for Groo, which is in many ways the comic that people must have expected from Dave Sim when he first announced his plan to go to 300 issues, and this special is exactly what you'd expect from Groo. The main story is about how there's a disease going round, originally caught from a monkey, which is spread by kissing and can only be prevented by wearing something over your mouth, but the priests don't approve... Groo has never been about subtlety. There are some delightful pot-shots taken at the priesthood and the medical profession (who provide palliatives that don't work, then medication for the side-effects, then medication for the side-effects of the side-effect medication) which as an advocate of orthomolecular medicine I love (but I have enough of a sense of humour to appreciate the shot at alternative medicine too).
There's also a back-up tale of Young Groo, a rhyming glossary of the main characters, and a text piece by Evanier. There's no such thing as continuity when it comes to Groo, so if you've never read it before, you can start with this issue. Aragones and Evanier have just been announced as the new writers of The Spirit - I can't wait to see their take on it.

Finally this week I bought Potter's Field 1 (by Mark Waid and Paul Azaceta, Boom!), a comic about which I have very serious reservations.
Other people have pointed out most of the interesting things about this, but to recap - this is Waid doing Ellis, specifically Fell (but the panel layouts owe more to the widescreen Transmetropolitan than to Fell's 9-panel grid). It's 'high concept' - an investigator wants to find names for all the dead people buried in unmarked graves in the city - and reads a lot like a pitch for a TV series.
This first issue is actually very like Paul Dini's Detective Comics - a decent, atmospheric done-in-one story with a plot that doesn't quite work as a fair-play mystery but comes close enough, and the concept can generate a potentially infinite number of stories.
My one problem with this is simple - the reveal that the bald, black, burly working-class man kidnapped, raped and murdered an upper-middle-class white girl.
I am absolutely certain, beyond all doubt, that neither Waid nor Azaceta have a racist bone in their body, and that the very nasty subtext here was totally unintentional, but this sort of thing shouldn't get through editorial. Someone should have said "Hang on, we've got an apelike black man raping and murdering a young white girl here - maybe this could be seen as being a little bit dodgy".
I don't mean to sound too critical here - it's even possible there will be a reveal in a later issue that it was someone else all along (though I think it's unlikely, the series doesn't seem set up that way), and this is, other than Groo, the best comic in an otherwise lacklustre week - and I certainly don't want to suggest that no comic should ever have a black villain. But there are certain cultural resonances one shouldn't play with without a great deal more thought than Waid and Azaceta seem to have put into this. I'm sure both men would be mortified at the thought that they could even inadvertantly give the slightest ammunition to bigots, but the subtext is there...
I'm going to buy the second issue, and it is a genuinely good comic, but I wish someone had pointed this out before it went to press. It's the kind of thing that could be changed without upsetting the story, and I wish it had been...


zc said...

You know, I've liked this blog for a while. With all the Grant Morrison talk I've liked this blog a lot as of late.

But it wasn't until you mentioned Bill Hicks that my heart just went all a-twitter and I began to Love you.

Granted in my favorites this blog is still Sci-Ence! Justice Leak! which gives me a chuckle every damn time. So maybe a bit biased.


Andrew Hickey said...

Sorry, zc, but I'm taken. However, my wife *is* out of town til Monday...

zack soto said...

I just wanted to give some love for the blog too. Very readable, and your Morrison mini-essays are pretty darnn insightful. Keep it up!

zack soto said...

oops, forgot I'd already given props on another post. don't let it go to your head!