Tuesday, August 05, 2008

DC Capsule Reviews Week 29 2008

Jason Aaron rules this week with the two best Vertigo books in a long long while. Batgirl and Flash are faring better outside their solo books, and the Bat-villains go solo: Two-Face, Poison Ivy and the Tangent Joker!

Plus, because you requested it: Simon Dark!


(Adam Beechen / J. Calafiore / Mark McKenna & Jonathan Glapion)

'Redemption Road' part 1. Second time's the charm, right?

The 'leather' Batgirl Cassandra Cain gets her ongoing running again following her successful appearances in 'Teen Titans', 'Robin', and 'Batman & the Outsiders'. Apart from some disjointed instances, I have never been too familiar with the character, and I was always confused about her history, her fluctuating loyalties and her seemingly unending line of sisters.

This first issue is mostly devoid of plot and focused on reintroducing Cassandra to new readers. This info dump starts off nice and nuanced, but things get blunter and thicker than a rushed Wikipedia entry by the end of the issue, as Batman, Robin and Nightwing simply start reciting her biography to each other (in her presence); If you're going to waste a whole issue on this, don't just randomly summarise and push under the carpet -- Show us who this girl is, her history, and why we should care enough to buy the next issue; If we don't need to know every excruciating bit of her continuity to enjoy her first new story, don't swamp us in every painful detail about every Batgirl appearance since her last cancellation...
I was completely lost because of the sheer amount of information, the writers' desperate attempts to chalk up every badly characterised moment to drugs and mental manipulation, and the fact that it's all force-fed to the reader in the space of two pages, with no visual cues whatsoever...



(Chuck Dixon / Julian Lopez / Bit)

Another excellent issue from Chuck Dixon, doing some of his finest work on this book, and Julian Lopez who simply jumps a league from 'excellent' to 'breath-taking' this month with his Looker art piece and the subtle details in his storytelling (a trail of wind-swept leaves leading the reader's eye through the page):

Yes, Looker, another of the original series Outsiders making a triumphant return, in her new vampiric state. Could my fave sweetheart 'Halo' be also due for a return from beyond?

The issue is filled with enjoyable moments, from Metamorpho escaping his pursuers by flushing himself down the toilet, to the increasingly enjoyable Remac ventriloquist act, and the players feeling more and more like a close-knit team/family.



(Tony Bedard / Michael O'Hare / John Floyo)

Oh, dear, will someone please send mr Bedard a copy of the Manhunter trades so he can see how Kate actually thinks and operates? It's a pain to see her so cocky and abrasive here - picking a fight with Black Canary, being cocky about her abilities (to the leader of the JLA? Really?), bragging about her fights with Wonder Woman and Cheshire... Maybe he read the issues, but didn't really get the point?

So, yeah, Black Canary is back in the pages, and it looks like she's here to stay as a semi-regular. We're also introduced to new member Infinity, a cypher of a character so far, with an interesting visual and some funky ghost abilities. Bedard seems to have a solid hold on Barbara and her shady antiques, and a solid eye for action. With the big J showing up after a long time, it will be a major 'make or break' move for his run on the title; especially with the big gun artist Nicola Scott trailing off after Gail on Secret Six, he's left alone to take all the weight.



(Keith Giffen / Lee Garbett & Trevor Scott)

Things finally make sense as Giffen gives a wowzer of a meta-physical (and very Authorit-arian) explanation behind the DC heroes crossing over to Wildstorm. I'm very impressed with the concept, even if it takes a few minutes to wrap my head around it.

I can't say the same about the battles themselves. They still have no real meat to them, as there's little focus on the person-to-person dynamics and interactions and more generic blasts and punches - that's why the Wonder Woman / Wetworks stand-off stands out from the issue, with the Vampires standing in awe in front of the Amazon Princess because of her sheer presence.



(Geoff Johns / Scott Kolins)

Geoff Johns is so sneaky.

Here he swoops in, famous Flash collaborator Scott Kolins in hand, taking the entire mess that is the Flash franchise since his departure (oh you know: Kid Flash Bart Allen getting further artificially aged into taking over as the Flash after Wally's 'death', Bilson/DeMeo/Lashley totally f***ing up the relaunch, leading to a very early cancellation, Bart accidentally murdered by the Rogues due to his future clone Inertia's machinations, Wally coming back with his Flash Family...), and making it seem like a really well-oiled and thought out plan spanning 5 years of publishing. I'm even actually inclined to believe him, apart from the part involving that horrid Flash series - why would DC deliberately relaunch a franchise under an incapable team with the express purpose of it floundering and getting canceled?

Oh, anyway...

After Bart's death, the Rogues (Captain Cold, Weather Wizard, Heat Wave, Mirror Master) have been public enemy number one. As they explain to their newest recruit here, there are unwritten rules in the hero-villain game - namely, you can hit them all you want, but it's really dumb to kill one of them and get their combined ire on your back (mirroring the treatment of cop-killers in police drama).

Johns reintroduces his cast (whom he himself developed into interesting three-dimensional characters during his run by devoting separate origin issues to each one), plays around in their heads, recaps the entire sordid Bart Allen mess, re-introduces Piep Piper in the mix after his 'Countdown' nightmare, catches up with events in Final Crisis #1-2, checks up on Inertia (the teenage brat mastermind behind Bart's death, now immobilized by the Flash as a living statue in the Flash museum), hints at Barry Allen's return, and provides a heck of a teaser for the future of the Flash legend in the whopper of a cliffhanger. Hot Damn!



(Tom Peyer / Freddie Williams III)

'Spin' part . The tragedy of the Flash's situation, watching his daughter age rapidly into oblivion because of the speed force connection she inherited from his, was really getting to me emotionally this issue - until the so-obvious 'reset' switch appeared, and I kind of groaned and went back to square one, moping about Freddie Williams still having a regular art gig...

I mean, seriously, what other artist has difficulty differentiating a 15-year old from a 30, 40 and 50-year old character design?



(Jason Aaron / Sean Murphy / Lee Loughridge)

'Newcastle Calling' part 2 of 2. A group of young journalists doing a documentary on John Constantine and his old punk band 'Mucous Membrane' stumble open a badly buried nightmare, which traps them and the whole city of Newcastle into a quietly paranoid homicidal state. Constantine is drawn to the city to set things right, but it may be too late to do anything but bear silent witness to the dying moments of the innocents caught in the wake of one more of his messes.

Aaron relies on the dialogue nuances and the graphic sequences to convey to the reader what a solitary character like Constantine fails to communicate voluntarily. There is immense desperation and sadness in the voice that tries to remain apathetic and compassionate. I can't really recount any instance where I genuinely felt a horrific chill and such emotive pain from reading a comic book story, as he pushes the envelope both in the raw emotion, and the horror and gore he narrates with suggestive images and spine-chilling prose detail.

Definitely the best Constantine story you will read this year.



(JT Krull / Guillem March)

A passable on-the-surface examining of Poison Ivy's methods and madness, keeping close to the treaded grass, trying to mirror her famously creepy 'toxic kiss' (but failing to the effect) and desperately resorting to an over-the-top axe-murderer finale.

Let's just keep the beautiful panel grid designs and chilling storytelling innovation in the hatchet scene from Guillem March -- and track down the John Francis Moore Batman: Poison Ivy one-shot from a decade back for a real diverse take on ms Isley.



(Jason Aaron / Davide Furno)

'The Boudoir Stomp' part 1. You'd think after the sheer amount of praise I have for Jason Aaron every week, I'd have run out of words by now...

Scalped has been described by Vertigo as 'Sopranos set in an indian reservation', which may actually be even doing this title a disservice. Dash Bad Horse is the black sheep coming back to the reservation to work as 'tribe policeman' for the Tribe Chief/Mob boss/Casino runner. Things aren't that easy though. The boss has a romantic history and criminal history with Dash's activist mother; Dash himself is fucking the boss' whore of a daughter; he's also secretly working for the Feds - who want to put the boss behind bars, and also find evidence linking his mother to an unsolved murder some decades ago... Hooked yet?

This issue focuses on Dash's 'relationship' with Carol, the intimacy two solitary people like them share in bed, the feelings they communicate without talking, and the worries they don't dare voice, relating to their families, their insecurities and their weaknesses. Aaron again sets the atmosphere of the scene with minimal dialogue, and simple silent sequences (rewarded for the trust he allows each of his artists). I'm always amazed how easily each key sequence functions completely independently from the context of the issue or the title in conveying the emotional core of the characters.

Vertigo editors were too late to realise the future of Vertigo was right here in their hands before they let Marvel whisk him away with an exclusive contract...



(Steve Niles / Scott Hampton)


I've been holding off reading/reviewing this title because I'd been unable to track down #2-3 anywhere online (yeah, that means Uncle Demonoid and DCP) or in comics stores. After a reader request, I gave the current week's issue a try, hoping I wasn't too lost - let's call this the 'new reader friendliness test'...

...which this issue failed with flying colours! I have no idea who the title character is, I don't know what his powers are, I have no idea who his brother is, or his nasty adversary, or why he's targetting that other family whose welfare is linked somehow to their sick child that only Simon can save.

But still, I dug the issue. It has stunning painted art by Scott Hampton, an insanely fun action sequence (using a mind-controlled floating stone to impale a roomful of satanists? bring it on!), some mad killer moves and most importantly: a quirky mysterious protagonist that keeps my interest just by virtue of his insane 'serial killer' mismatch appearance (part Freddie Krueger, part Leatherface - still adorable) and this odd vibe that reminded me of very early Madman (the eyeball-chewing days, if you're familiar), if he was designed as a tribute towards horror instead of pop super-heroics.

Oh, and hey, I just found a torrent of #1-7... Stay tuned!



(Dan Jurgens & Ron Marz / Jamal Igle & Fernando Pasarin / Robin Riggs & Matt Banning)

Earth-Tangent Power Girl mops the floor with the remaining Secret Six and New Earth's Justice League, while Tangent Joker gets the special spotlight origin in the back of the issue with trully gorgeous pin-up illustrations from JSA's Fernando Pasarin.

In case you missed the joke on your first read through, check out the Tangent Earth's 'Kissing Cousins': Power Girl and Superman:



(Art Baltazar & Franco)

Supergirl and Blue Beetle join the Titans - only to discover they have to put up with the replacement dorky Titans East while the popular kids are out on a camping trip. Also starring little goth girl Raven, and a meeting of the Tiny Legion of Super-Pets!

It's a treat to witness Baltazar's cute take on Titans continuity (even when he's referencing something as bloody as the Titans East oneshot) each month, and an even bigger joy when you get something like the big pin-up poster of all the Titans from the first 6 issues in one big spread.



(Kurt Busiek & Fabian Nicieza / Mark Bagley & Tom Derenick / Art Thibert & Wayne Faucher)

Superman (channeling Busiek's ongoing thesis) muses more on the nature of their Trinity (Brain/Heart/Will, Magic/Science/Humanity, Tomorrow/Yesterday/Present, Guardian/Warrior/Avenger), Hawkman and Gangbuster arrive to the Watchtower to connect the dots on this whole plot (I'm impressed it all came together as fast as it did), Morganna and Enigma finally recruit Despero, and Firestorm gets the live wiki story on Krona (don't you just love it when Busiek includes JLA/Avengers as canon, but obviously can't refer to the Marvel characters so he just calls them '...and others')

A very enjoyable issue, even if it was only taking heads and no action.



(Mark Sable / Jesus Saiz & Jeremy Haun / Jimmy Palmiotti)

A very well-produced new examination on the origin of Two-Face (most famously explored in Batman: Long Halloween), this time from the POV of Harvey Dent and the GCPD, focusing more on his characterisation, the roots of the bipolar personality before the scarification , and his war against the Gotham mafia families -- treating the holiday killer as a mere backdrop element. Readers already familiar with the story will find a lot of rich new elements added to the story, while new readers will be treated to a completely self-contained story.

I'll admit I enjoyed this telling of the origin more than any previous story, being reminiscent of a much-missed DC gem: Gotham Central.


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