Is It Wednesday Yet?
14 October 2008 — Once again, the focus this week isn't on forthcoming comics, but those that have been recently released. As noted in Earth-2.net: The Show 275, Marvel is currently reevaluating their early review policy. Once that's settled, we'll (hopefully) get back into the swing of things. As always, these reviews are spoiler-free, so feel free to read onward.
Our grading scale is simple:
Buy: An excellent comic book.
Borrow: A good comic, but save yourself some money by reading a friend's copy.
Flip Through: Give it a once-over at the comic shop.
Skip: This doesn't need to be explained.
Army@Love: The Art of War #3
Publisher: DC Comics / Vertigo
Released: 01 October 2008
Writer: Rick Veitch
Penciler: Rick Veitch
Inker: Gary Erskine
Colorist: Brian Miller
Letterer: Travis Lanham
Cover: Rick Veitch
It's about time someone turned the brutal eye of satire onto America's current overseas expeditions, and with Army@Love, comics legend Rick Veitch has done just that. While his renditions of the mainstream media, the state of our troops and the nonstop corporate sponsorships that fill our collective subconscious may initially seem cartoony and exaggerated, deeper inspection reveals that they're startlingly close to the truth. I suppose there'd be no place for lampoons without an outrageous, frightening reality to provide nourishment.
Not to say this is an entirely accurate mirror of the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Veitch provides plenty of original material, both to keep his readers engaged and to ensure the storyline keeps moving without spiraling off into an endless loop of poking and prodding at the shortcomings of America's current foreign policy. Though he's certainly provided sufficient material to do just that.
Army@Love's cast is constantly distracted by their interests off the battlefield. While the troops on the ground are more interested in getting their rocks off than completing their initiatives, their superior is too fascinated by a lock of Frank Sinatra's hair to take notice. Nobody has an interest in actually doing what they were sent there for, and with money from taxpayers and corporate sponsors continuing to pour in, who can blame them?
Concept is never an area where Veitch has struggled in the past. The man's ideas have always been astonishingly original and divinely rich; his imagination is unrivaled, and it's always a pleasure to absorb another of his stories. The trouble I've always had with his work is with actually sitting down and getting through it. Rare Bit Fiends is some of my all-time favorite material, but it's not something I can read over and over again. His run on Swamp Thing is legendary, with good reason, but it too is far from an easy read. Same story with Army@Love, this month in particular. We're following so many different faces, crossing so many lines of communication, that I'd need an encyclopedia-sized guidebook to find my way from cover to cover. It's a great adventure, but the constant narrative leaps are dizzying.
New readers beware: unless you've been keeping up from the beginning, this book will lose you within five pages. Longtime followers of Rick Veitch's other work will probably fare a bit better, but even they might want to give some thought to starting with the first issue of the series. If you can get into it, this is downright brilliant and something that's badly needed with the current state of American affairs. Borrow this and see if you can get through it. It's supremely rewarding if you can.
Released: 01 October 2008
Writer: Robert Kirkman
Penciler: Ryan Ottley
Inker: Cliff Rathburn
Colorist: Fco Plascencia
Letterer: Rus Wooton
Cover: Ryan Ottley
This book had me in good spirits just from looking at the cover: "The All-New, All-Awesome, Invincible!" Just in case you even attempted to question the awesomeness of said comic and implied that even a fraction of it was less than awesome, it puts you in your place.
Unfortunately. It's not really that awesome.
Invincible tells the tale of Mark Grayson, a superhero whose character traits appear to be the result of a drunken Peter Parker Mad Libs. Just like the Marvel hero, Mark has to fight crime while juggling his personal life. Because the book tries to deal with both concepts, this really feels like two different stories. The first half reads like your typical WB drama, with Mark and his girlfriend trying to work through the kinks in their relationship. Well, actually, there aren't really any kinks to speak of, as Eve is written as being so absurdly unselfish and understanding that she's almost a parody of herself. Not to mention that she's so insecure that there's no way she could ever be as attractive as they portray her. The guy nearly flies into space to see her, and she actually has the gall to ask if he's happy with her. If only the dialog were read, you would expect her to be some sort of goblin with an eating disorder. Women like this simply do not exist in the real world. I've looked.
Further anchoring the WB half is Mark's relationship with Oliver, his purple-skinned half-brother, who has the personality of Mr. Spock after popping some Ritalin. We're told that he killed two guys a while ago, and he seems to be taking the whole thing pretty well, which begs the question as to why Mark is so stressed out. He actually appears to be conflicted by the lack of conflict in his life. When the action finally starts, there is a lot of frantic hooting and hollering, but not much in the way of context. One second Mark backhands someone, then there's a huge dragon.
Ryan Ottley's art is acceptable. It's not great, and outside of drawing chins so sharp they look as if they could slice through a redwood, it's not really bad either. The vibrant coloring is what seems to set it apart from the grittier Image books, and fits the superhero theme well enough.
For those that already follow Invincible, you'll probably find this a decent read, as there appears to be some level of intrigue being forged here, but this isn't a good jumping on point. Flip through it.
Justice League of America #25
Publisher: DC Comics
Released: 01 October 2008
Writer: Dwayne McDuffie
Penciler: Ed Benes, Doug Mahnke, Darick Robertson, Shane Davis, Ian Churchill, Ivan Reis
Inkers: Ed Benes, Christian Alamy, Darick Robertson, Rob Stull, Ian Churchill, Joe Prado
Colorist: Pete Pantazis
Letterer: Rob Leigh
Cover: Ed Benes
It's been a tricky time for the Justice League of late: slowly, surely, each member has begun demonstrating alterations and limitations in the use of their powers. As it turns out, the source of the League's problems is an African spider god, Kwaku Anansi, who's been meddling with their histories from within Vixen's power-granting Tantu Totem. I suppose that's usually the problem with animal-shaped trickster deities residing in a piece of jewelry: there isn't much to do in there besides fool around with the outside world.
It was only a matter of time, but seeing the League's ranks swell to once again include a large collection of B-list characters is somewhat disheartening. When Grant Morrison launched JLA a decade ago with the goal of returning the team to its glory days, the first matter of business was limiting the roster to the publisher's big guns. Today, the shortcomings of that format are a bit more obvious; it's tough to coordinate a monthly team book with dozens of ongoing solo titles without treading water and losing a great amount of pertinence. But while there wasn't a lot of room for serious change from within in the old format, I found it hard to get excited about the new adventures of Vixen, Black Lightning, Hawkgirl and Red Arrow. While they're balanced to an extent by the presence of Green Lantern, Batman and the Flash, the real focus of the storytelling is on these lesser-known characters. And that's disappointing.
To his credit, author Dwayne McDuffie tries to make the best of the situation. The time he spends with many of these also-rans reveals a good collection of distinct personalities, although there isn't a lot of conflict brewing from within the ranks. While it's nice that this diverse group is so chummy and content, constantly kidding around with each other, in the end that also makes them quite vanilla. It may be the DC way for their premiere team to constantly share warm handshakes and smiles, which they seem to do this month for more pages than they spend confronting their enemies, but that's not what I'd call entertaining reading.
An entire platoon of artists have piled on this month's issue. While most of the illustrators have similar styles that easily gel with one another, Darick Robertson's distinctive technique is the exception. His thick lines, exaggerated expressions and sharp focus on contrast sticks out like a sore thumb. And while his work can be fantastic in the right circumstances, that doesn't include a straightforward superhero book. The former Transmetropolitan artist's duties are fairly brief, however, and the rest of the issue looks and feels just about right.
Justice League of America #25 brings an awful lot of posturing and hot air, but it stops short of actually delivering much value. The team's confrontation with Kwaku results in a 10-page monologue so long-winded, I barely made it through in one sitting. I'd expect some sort of resolution in a double-sized anniversary issue such as this one, but it spends so much time on dialog that I guess the conclusion will have to wait for another month. Skip this; despite a few solid character-driven conversations, it's inconsequential and tedious.
Terror Titans #1
Publisher: DC Comics
Released: 01 October 2008
Writer: Sean McKeever
Penciler: Joe Bennett
Inker: Jack Jadson
Colorist: Rod Reis
Letterer: Travis Lanham
Cover: Joe Bennett
Within the first few pages, you get the feeling that Terror Titans has a very different vibe going for it. Graphic, unflinching violence has been DC's calling card as of late, but what sets this story apart is how utterly heartless it can be at times — which, of course, fits since this is a villain story.
The new Clock King has assembled the Terror Titans, a group of young do-badders that seem to be assisting in a plot to capture teenaged metahumans. From a storytelling standpoint, this team works so well because of the members: Dreadbolt, Disruptor, Copperhead and Persuader. Well, Ravager's there, but she's an unofficial member, if only because she's still trying to decide if she's a killer or not. Granted, when your father is Deathstroke, your career options are usually pretty limited. Something tells me she won't be working the register at Taco Bell any time soon.
Something DC has always been known for is their legacy characters, both hero and villain. In a very smart move, all of the Terror Titans have vaguely familiar titles, but are actually the decedents of their namesakes, making them more or less clay that can be molded to the whims of the story, instead of being dictated by years of continuity. What results is a book that very much has a Thunderbolts vibe, with Clock King serving as the Norman Osborn-esque puppeteer, manipulating his charges while still having to answer to the bigwigs that sign his checks. It's a cool dynamic, and there appears to be several interesting directions in which this could go.
I planned on taking some points off for Bennett's art, but I won't. Really, outside of one panel in which a particular character is jumping sideways and is flinging his junk into my face, the artwork is pretty good. The man can draw a kinetic action scene, and he seems to be a big fan of characters being hurled upside down into walls in the most awkward fashion possible. So I can't really complain.
I've never read an issue of Teen Titans in my life and I was able to follow everything going on here, which is remarkable considering how often my ignorance of the past has hindered my enjoyment of certain books. With five more issues to go, and a hell of a groundwork laid here, I'd say this is a series to look out for. Buy it.