The Week In Ink: August 29, 2007

What kind of world are we living in when brother can turn against brother? Parent against child? Archie… against Jughead?

 

 

Yes, Civil Chore roars into its second installment this week in a digest where even the unrelated stories are finally getting the infusion of violence that we’ve been clamoring for since Riverdale played host to that deadly Box of Satan back in the ’70s. Still, it’s Thursday night, and even the tragedy and heartbreak of seeing Moose turn against Midge and the possibility of having the Elevenaire show up to solve everything can’t stop the rock here on the ISB as we head into another round of the Internet’s Most Mirthful Comics Reviews!

Here’s the Fifth Week offerings I snagged up this week…

 

 

…and here’s what I thought about them.

 


 

Avengers: The Initiative #5: As some of you may recall, Dan Slott is the same writer who brought us a comic where Spider-Man’s dune buggy was carjacked by a trio of communist space monkeys in a move that cemented him as one of the most beloved writers of the past few years. That in itself is a pretty neat trick, but the fact that he’s managed to turn in that kind of quality work on such a consistent level–from the humor that runs through She-HulK to the two-fisted fun that he put into the cancelled-but-awesome The Thing–is nothing short of amazing, and this is the kind of book that really plays to his strengths. He’s one of the few writers that can manage to do some of his best work during crossovers, simply because he takes the opportunity to expand the amount of stuff he’s allowed to play with.

And he does play with it: This issue sees Slott dragging in stuff from Planet Hulk to House of M in a way that seems completely effortless, and it’s all done in a way that lets you know he’s having fun doing it. And when people are having fun writing comics, it makes it a lot easier to have fun reading them.

The biggest problem, as I’ve mentioned before, is the art. It’s not Stefano Caselli’s pencils that bother me–I think his semi-cartoony style has a great sense of energy and motion to it that adds a heck of a lot to the book–but Daniele Rudoni’s coloring, which remains a blindingly high-contrast pastel assault on the eyes. There are certainly scenes where it’s not as noticeable as others, and on the whole, it’s gotten a lot better than the migraine-inducing Civil War: Young Avengers and Runaways, but really: There are panels where everything’s a shade of yellow and panels where everything’s a shade of pink, and it all adds up to something that looks like the Hulk’s fighting the concept of Easter. And I’m pretty sure that crossover’s not scheduled ’til next year.

 

Batman Annual #26: I’ve been as excited about the return of Annuals to the world of comics as the next guy–or let’s be honest here: a lot more than the next guy–but I’ll admit to being a little wary of this one when it was solicited a few months ago.

It’s not that I don’t like Peter Miligan, because I do. In fact, that guy wrote a couple of my favorite Batman stories when I was a kid, namely the often-overlooked Dark Knight, Dark City and a story where a derranged librarian kills people and then puts their bodies in leather jackets with patches corresponding to the Dewey Decimal System numbers of their professions.

You know, now that I’m actually writing down what that story’s about, I realize that my affection for it might say a lot more about me than it does about its writer.

Anyway, back to the point: Not only do I like Pete Miligan, but I actually like his work on Batman an awful lot, too; it’s the premise of the story that’s bothering me. I realize, of course, that the return of Ra’s al-Ghul was inevitable–especially given how underrated Death and the Maidens is–but it just seems like a major waste of potential to have him return without ever doing the big story about the League of Assassins under Nyssa, a villain with the same resources as her predecessor, but without the affection for Batman or the desire to keep Talia happy. For me, the biggest annoyance of Adam Beechen’s much-maligned run on Robin wasn’t anything with Cassandra Cain, but rather Nyssa’s quiet, off-panel death via car-bomb.

Add that to the fact that Miligan’s been known to phone it in on occasion (much like, y’know, everybody), and you end up with something that reads like little more than filler, and–if you’ve read Denny O’Neil’s Birth of the Demon–pretty unnecessary filler at that. It’s not badly written by any stretch of the imagination, but there’s just not a whole lot to it. Well, except for the absolutely gorgeous artwork of David and Alvaro Lopez, who turn in their usual wonderful job with clean, fluid artwork that makes it almost worth the price alone. I just wish they were drawing something a little more engaging.

 

Conan #43: It occurs to me that this is an issue of Conan where the principal characters pretty much just stand around discussing the plot, and yet it still features a giant ape in a red wizard robe killing the bejeezus out of a bunch of shirtless, sword-weilding mercenaries.

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this lately, but man. I freakin’ love Conan.

 

Ex Machina: Masquerade: It certainly seems like we haven’t gotten an issue of Ex Machina in quite a while, and I realize that this thing’s cover-dated for October, but doesn’t anyone else think Labor Day weekend is kind of an odd time for a Halloween special to come out?

Unusual timing choices aside, Brian K. Vaughan turns in his usual excellent script along with artist John Paul Leon for a story that does a better story about super-heroes and the anonymity that comes with their masks in one double-sized issue than a lot of writers manage to squeeze out in entire story-arcs. Granted, Vaughan’s got the luxury of working in a world he’s created specifically to address issues like this, where he’s able to mix real-world laws with scenes where the main character walks around doing his best Unknown Soldier impression telling machines what to do, but the fact remains that it’s a pretty entertaining read with a lot of thought behind it. You just might want to wait another month, just to make sure it all works thematically. Or, alternately, you could eat an entire bucket of candy while reading it. Your choice, really.

 

ISB BEST OF THE WEEK

 

 

Hellboy: Darkness Calls #5: I usually try to be a little more in-depth with my “Best of the Week” reviews than the ones I write for the other books, but with Hellboy, there’s really no point. Trying to break down what I like about every issue would be like trying to explain why you like your favorite song.

I’ve been trying since this series started to explain what it is I love so much about the character and his world, but Mike Mignola and Duncan Fegredo are doing things with this book that are just so intrinsically appealing that any attempt to “review” would just end up with me summarizing the plot. And while I’m sure that “Hellboy fights for his life and soul in the Russian afterlife against Baba Yaga and Koschei the Deathless” sounds awesome, I can pretty much assure you that it just doesn’t do justice to how well-crafted this book actually is.

Those of you who have read it–or any of Mignola’s truly wonderful Hellboy stories–will know what I’m talking about when I say this, and those of you who haven’t really, really should. It’s great.

 

Mice Templar #1: Let’s be honest here, folks: There is no way whatsoever that anyone’s going to be able to talk about this book without comparing it to David Petersen’s Mouse Guard, so we might as well get that out of the way first. After all, even though the creators of both books have said several times that it’s just a coincidence, the books are pretty thematically similar.

Right off the bat, though, there’s a pretty marked difference: Guard focuses pretty tightly on three principal characters, while Templar starts off with an entire village of mice, and that leads to the big problem for this issue. Petersen’s Guard Mice are visually distinctive, with different colors of fur and cloaks, and while that seems like a pretty minor element, it helps a lot when it comes to telling them apart. Templar’s opening scenes, on the other hand, are full of mice standing around talking about secret histories and mythologies, and with so many of them showing up, it can be a little difficult–even with Oeming’s great artwork and distinct touches for each character–to keep track of who’s who.

Of course, halfway through the book, that becomes a pretty moot point, as does the bulk of the comparison to Guard, because that’s when the fighting starts. I mentioned already that Oeming’s art is wonderful in this, and this is really where it swings into full gear as he illustrates all the classic tropes of a big fantasy-battle, as waged by mice with swords. Amazingly, this is actually more awesome than it sounds, and Glass’s script fits right in, flowing from one big set piece to another in scenes that make for striking visuals all the way through. It’s fun, and while I’m not sure if it bodes well that the fights are so much better than the exposition pieces with so much left to be revealed, it’s definitely enough to keep me around for the next issue.

 

Teen Titans #50: I’ve said before that my interest in Teen Titans lately has been pretty much reduced to just hoping that it gets better soon–which, considering the godawful ending of “Titans East,” didn’t exactly pan out for me–so for me, this issue was the last chance for the book to actually get good again. After all, if the only thing keeping me around is idle curiosity over what they’re going to do with animated series Starfire Miss Martian, then it’s probably not going to work.

Unfortunately, I’m still not sure where I stand with this one. After all, an anniversary jam issue with four different writers (or five, really, but I’ll get to that in a second) probably isn’t the best place to gauge the quality of a series, and while there’s nothing in here that really struck me as being bad, it didn’t have the decisive moment that I wanted it to.

Instead, it had a decent-enough story marked with major annoyances, like the way the Flash showed up and proceeded to act like a complete and utter tool for the duration of his appearance, or the six-page sequence lifted verbatim from last week’s Blue Beetle. Admittedly, there’s a footnote, and while I’m all for anything that gets people to pick up one of DC’s best titles, the fact that there wasn’t even an attempt to show the big fight with Lobo from a different perspective is a little annoying. Still, there’s as much potential for good stuff to come from it as there is annoyance at the way the book’s been treading water for a year and a half, so I’m going to break my own rule here and hold out for another issue, if only to see if new writer Sean McKeever can recapture a little bit of the magic that had every month on Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane.

I mean really, it’s a time-travel story involving evil opposites! How could that possibly go wrong?

 


 

And with that ominous statement, I’m done for the evening. As always, feel free to drop a line in the comments section below if you have any questions or comments on something that hit the shelves this week, or if you just want to talk about how some good finally came out of the wholesale slaughter of the cast of New X-Men: Academy X.

If only they’d had footclaws to save them…

Why, This House Is No Fun At All!

When flipping through DC’s recent Showcase Presents Wonder Woman trade, the reader is often confronted with far, far more questions than they get answers to. Questions like…

 

Why did the US Government build a hundred foot-tall stick of dynamite?

 

Why is Wonder Woman’s marriage to Steve Trevor entirely contingent upon her wrestling a shark?

 

 

And perhaps most importantly…

Why are all of these stories about Wonder Woman shrinking?

 

If you think about it though, the answer should be pretty obvious: Because Bob Kanigher. That’s why.

Once that little bit of logic is applied, everything else makes a lot more sense–relatively speaking–but there are still stories in there that stick out even when you consider that they were written by the guy who brought us the Metal Men and managed to out-crazy even Bob Haney with stories like The Gunner is a Gorilla. Take, for instance, 1958′s “The Fun House of Time” from Wonder Woman #101.

Whenever a Fun House shows up in a super-hero title, it’s not going to be any fun whatsoever. It’s one of the last unbroken rules of comics, and as someone who grew up in South Carolina and attended the County Fair on a number of occasions, I’ve never once gone into one of those things and ended up fighting for my life against a series of deathtraps, each more diabolical than the last.

Clearly, I’ve been missing out.

Wonder Woman, however, suffers from no such problem:

 

 

The whole shindig gets kicked off when Wonder Woman and her reasonably useless and vaguely militaristic sidekick Steve Trevor head out to one of the charity carnivals that one can assume were held weekly back in the late ’50s. See, they’ve been invited out to be the first couple to test out the ride by the friendly (yet Cryptkeeperesque) proprietor of the Fun House, Ty M. Master. And yes, they have to say his full name–including the completely unnecessary middle initial–like five times and still have to be told that he’s actually the villainous Time Master.

Anyway, once entering, they find themselves confronted with a room full of doors and, after picking one out and going through it, end up in the time of dinosaurs fighting a giant pterodactyl.

Now, one would assume that this would be the point where all traditional logic would go rocketing out the window, but beleive it or not, Kanigher managest to actually top his own crazy within three panels:

 

 

His pistol doesn’t work… because it hasn’t been invented yet. “But Chris!” you may well be saying to yourself at this point, “Clothes hadn’t been invented either, and they’re not walking around naked! Why doesn’t–”

Because Bob Kanigher. That’s why.

Wonder Woman’s able to save them by lassoing a convenient meteor and using it to create a smoke screen, and once they’re teleported back into the room with all the doors, they start to suspect that something fishy’s going on. Time Master pops in to tell them that he plans to destroy them, blah blah blah, and their only chance is to find him hiding behind one of the doors. So they pick one, and end up in the middle of the ocean circa 1492, being sucked into a whirlpool along with Christopher Columbus’s flagship.

 

 

The Pinto, hm? Looks like that whole Wisdom of Athena thing’s working out pretty well for you.

Anyway, Wonder Woman sets things right with Columbus & Co., and once she heads up to the future to harness the power of 1.21 gigawatts of electricity…

 

 

…she figures out that she can easily defeat the Time Master by vibrating her molecules so that she can go through the doors without actually opening them. This was, for the record, the method by which every single DC comics super-villain was defeated in the ’50s. “Vibrating your molecules” was the “sentient nanotechnology” of its day.

Thus, evil is defeated once again, we’re left with a pretty incomprehensible moral to send us on our way:

 

 

Yes, children of the ’50s, evil will always be defeated, because the world is like an eternal amusement park. Strong words, Mr. Kanigher. Strong words.

The Shameless Flirting of Mary Jane Watson

Your Spidey Super Stories Moment of Joy for this week:

 

 

Dude, Mary Jane. Your boyfriend is right there.

 

 

We know, Spidey. We know.

 

The heartbreak of dating a super-model is chronicled in Spidey Super Stories #27, wherein Loki interrupts MJ’s game and gets a boot to his chops for his trouble.

 


 

BONUS FEATURE: I Seriously Have No Idea

 

Behold, and be perplexed:

 

 

ROM Week: This Creature Men Call… The HULK!

One of the things that might not have been made abundantly clear over the past week–what with the fact that he usually disposes of his problems by shooting them with his giant, unweildly square hunk of sheet metal Neutralizer–is that ROM also comes with a pretty standard array of super-powers.

After all, you don’t go out and trade your humanity to the Prime Director of Galador for a suit of cyborg armor that looks like an NES with legs without getting some pretty serious perks, and for ROM, said benefits far outweighted the drawback of not having any fingers. The cyborg armor gave him the ability to fly and–as we’ve seen–withstand even the raking, razor-edged claws” of Wolverine, but most importantly, it made him crazy strong.

Case in point, ROM #26, wherein ROM punches his way into Galactus’s spaceship.

 

 

I don’t know if you guys know this, but not everybody can do that. In fact, ROM’s strength was so remarkable that over the course of the first few years of the comic, other characters often compared him to the Hulk, at which time ROM would inevitably look off pensively and think to himself that one day, he would have to encounter this creature that men call… The Hulk.

Clearly, these two had to get together. Thus, Boisterous Bill Mantlo and Sal Buscema’s Incredible Hulk #296.

 

 

Sadly, despite the fact that it features ROM shakin’ that ass on an awesome Bill Sienkiewicz cover, this one isn’t the all-out slugfest that I think everybody wants it to be, and falls slightly short of the issue of Power Man and Iron First where ROM Neutralizes a Dire Wraith hooker on the grand scale of ROM guest appearances.

The whole thing opens with what essentially amounts to a three-page advertisement for ROM’s own comic, catching up 1984′s impressionable youngsters on on ROM’s origin with handy shots of our hero totally chokeslamming a Dire Wraith and informing us that he’s using his Energy Analyzer to track down a strange source of radiation.

Said source is, of course, ol’ Jade Jaws, who has enough problems of his own to be getting on with. At the time, for those of you who don’t remember Secret Wars, Bruce Banner’s mind had finally gained control of the Hulk’s body, as long as he didn’t flip out and go BANANA.

And at this point, you should’ve already figured out what’s going to happen in about fifteen pages.

Anyway, it all comes down to a guy with the almost-unbearably manly name of Max Hammer, who responded to a terminal illness by blackmailing Bruce Banner into subjecting him to Gamma Rays, apparently forgetting how that actually works out for everybody except Doc Samson. Result: Crazy Old Man Hulk Monster.

 

 

As you might expect–what with the fact that this is a mid-80s Bill Mantlo issue of Incredible Hulk we’re talking about–this quickly leads to bone-shattering fight scene, and despite the fact that he manages to land a haymaker right to… well, to about a foot and a half below the old guy’s crotch…

 

 

…Banner quickly finds himself outmatched by the savage fury of a cranky old man. So let this be a lesson to you, kids: For the love of God, stay off the man’s lawn.

So severe is the ass-kicking that the Hulk receives from his geriatric counterpart that Banner’s mind retreats deep within the Hulk’s psyche, and, as predicted…

 

 

…the Savage Hulk returns with an uppercut that sends Hammer through the roof and pretty much out of the story.

And that’s about the time that ROM shows up, greeting the Hulk’s then-girlfriend Kate Waynesboro with the kind of modesty he’s known for.

 

 

Quite the charmer, that guy.

Before long, ROM’s managed to Neutralize the Gamma Radiation that’s killing Hammer’s test subjects and heads off for the confrontation everyone had been waiting for since ROM first set foot on the planet five years previous.

Needless to say, it doesn’t quite work out that well for the Greatest of the Spaceknights, and even the time-honored comic book tradition of ramming yourself head-first into your opponent’s breadbasket can’t stop this from happening:

 

 

And that pretty much settles that.

The Hulk, of course, ends up accidentally catching Kate on the backswing and runs off, and–despite the fact that it’s continued directly from the end of this one–ROM is nowhere to be found in the next issue, apparently having decided that chasing down lumpy, hooded space-witches is probably more his speed.

And considering that the Hulk ends up beating the living crap out of the Avengers two issues later in Hulk #300–still one of the most mind-bogglingly awesome comics known to man–I think we can all agree that was a pretty wise decision.