I’m pretty sure this was meant to be a martial arts-style kiyai!, but every time I look at it, I hear it as Roger Daltry’s punchline to David Caruso’s set-ups:
If only the panel before had involved sunglasses.
But enough of that! It’s Thursday night, and that means it’s time for another round of the Interenet’s Most Hustlin’ Comics Reviews! Here’s what I picked up this week…
…and here’s what I thought of them!
Batman/Doc Savage Special #1: Earlier today, Kevin Church pretty much nailed this one on Twitter when he said that if your story ends with Doc Savage telling everyone Batman didn’t commit a murder because Batman uses a different kind of gun, then you’re doing it wrong. And that, I think, is my biggest problem with this one: I just don’t get Azzarello’s Batman.
To start with, Batman’s using guns, and aside from a few awesome or hilarious exceptions, that’s a pretty big hurdle to get over right from the start. I mean, I know that Azzarello’s doing something different here with a more pulp-styled Batman to fit the motif he’s building, but it doesn’t even make sense in the context of the story. Yes, Batman packed a sidearm for a brief time in his early apperances, but he also used it to kill people, and it’s mentioned in this issue that the murder that drives what little plot there is would be “Batman’s first kill,” implying that–like “our” Batman–this one doesn’t. So then the question becomes why he’s got guns. Is he good enough to shoot people without accidentally killing them? Of course he is, he’s Batman. But then why not just stick to the things that make Batman unique instead of casting him as a watered-down version of the Shadow (who, again, kills people) that lacks the charm of either?
If you’ve got a pulp vigilante who packs twin .45s, giving him a code against killing is just goofy. Pick one and stick with it, or we have learned nothing from Mr. Miyagi.
The second problem is that not a whole hell of a lot happens. This thing is 38 pages, and when it’s all said and done, all that happens it that Batman and Doc Savage fight, then realize they should be friends, and then Doc finds something out that he’ll deal with in his own series at some point in the vague future. There’s ostensibly a plot running through it about Batman being wanted for murder, but as the reader can assume from page one that Batman didn’t do it, there’s no tension to it whatsoever, and it’s dismissed as an afterthought by having Savage literally go on TV and tell people he didn’t do it. It’s less a story and more of a trailer, and if that was all they wanted to do, it could’ve been done in a third of the space with room left over to get on with the actual plot, the Golden Tree stuff that’s only barely dropped in here.
Azzarello is one of those writers that swings from brilliant to unreadable at the drop of a hat, and to be fair, there is stuff to like here. I do like the idea of a more brash, lighthearted Batman to contrast with the grimness of the other pulp characters, and there are a few genuinely funny bits mixed in to keep things moving, but if this is the book that was supposed to sell me on the idea of Azzarello’s “First Wave” reimagining (something that I am actually interested in), then a rambling, half-nonsensical story wasn’t the way to do it.
Dark X-Men #1: Long-time ISB readers will probably recall that I was a huge fan of Paul Cornell and Leonard Kirk’s work on the late, lamented Captain Britain and MI:13, so while Cornell’s Dark Reign: Young Avengers wasn’t my thing, I was more than willing to give this one a shot. And it is a hoot.
One of the things I love about Cornell’s work is that he’s not afraid to throw humor in alongside intense action and melodrama, and by the time Omega is shouting apologies as he destroys a statue of a beloved former mayor and his dog that appears to actually have “Beloved Former Mayor and His Dog” on its plaque, it’s safe to say that his skills in that regard are being put to good use. But what’s really on display here is his knack for crafting characters that instantly engage the reader. To be honest, the Dark X-Men are four characters that I couldn’t care less about, but within the first few pages, Cornell’s managed to get me intersted, especially in the way that he’s cast Mystique as a beleagured team leader saddled with wrangling her teammates, two neurotics and one that’s just completely amoral. It’s an interesting dynamic, and it comes off as effortless here, which is something that only happens when there’s a lot of work involved. And c’mon, I’d be lying if I said Cornell didn’t get a huge nostalgia laugh out of that last page.
As for the art, well, it’s Leonard Kirk, whose work is unfailingly fantastic on everything he does, and this is no exception. It’s got the smoothness of Alan Davis with the expressiveness of Kevin Maguire, and it’s just perfect, especially under Jay Leisten’s inks and Brian Reber’s colors, which are essential for the effects of the book.
So yeah, Dark X-Men #1 is one of the most fun comics I’ve read lately. Who knew?
PunisherMAX #1: Jason Aaron’s first issue of the Punisher reads exactly like a Garth Ennis story.
I’m hesitant to even say that, because I imagine one of the worst “compliments” you can pay to a writer is “Hey, you write exactly like this other guy,” but there’s really no getting around it. To be fair, the fact that the art for this one is by Steve Dillon–Ennis’s long-time Punisher collaborator who drew the character-redefining Welcome Back, Frank–goes a long way towards reinforcing the image in my mind, but it’s there. The brutality, the slapstick, the note-perfect interactions between characters–it all reads like a textbook example of Ennis at his best.
And as much as I cringe at saying that, it’s not a bad thing. There are certainly worse places you could take inspiration for a Punisher story, and while most of the guys who have followed Ennis’s eight-year run on the title have done their best to stay in his footsteps with varying degrees of success (Duane Swiercynski’s Six Hours to Kill being far and away the best of an otherwise mediocre lot), Aaron’s the one who has the best chance of actually pulling off what Ennis did before him. Not just because he’s an incredibly talented writer–although he is, and I kicked myself for sleeping on his awesomely fun Ghost Rider run as long as I did–or because his style compliments Ennis’s best work on the Punisher so well, but because it’s clear from this issue that he gets it.
He understands what worked so well in the past and, if this issue’s any indication, that the Punisher’s one of the only characters who works better the more one-dimensional he gets. This is a first issue where the main character only appears on five pages, and while that’s normally a recipe for a boring time, Aaron and Dillon sell it perfectly by setting up the sort of story we haven’t seen in a long, long time. And it works.
So yes, polar bear punching excepted, this is exactly the sort of Punisher story I want to read.
S.W.O.R.D. #1: Over the past few months, I’ve talked quite a bit about Kieron Gillen’s recent work for Marvel–first with Beta Ray Bill, then Ares–and as the gist of all that was that it’s pretty awesome, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that I think S.W.O.R.D. is great.
I like the concept of S.W.O.R.D. a lot, especially for its potential as a bridge from the Earth-bound Marvel Universe to the cosmic action that Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning have been slowly expanding since Annihilation. Gillen does a great job getting things set up right off the bat, too, especially with the way he’s cast Henry Gyrich as a complete and utter bastard, but one that actually does have a point, and Steven Sanders’ stylized art works very well with sci-fi.
The real treat, though, was seeing the back-up from Gillen and his Phonogram partner Jamie McKelvie, as I could look at that dude’s art all day. And it doesn’t disappoint here, especially under the colors of Matt Wilson (not to be confused with our Matt Wilson), who gives the backup a clean, crisp look that was a bit lacking in McKelvie’s last work for Marvel, a two-issue stint on Cable. They work well together, and the end result is top-notch stuff.
Of course, if I’m honest with you guys, I’ve got to admit that a good chunk of my affection for this series comes from my hopes that it’d be a pretty good place for ROM: Spaceknight to make his triumphant return, in the increasingly unlikely event that such a thing ever happens. Until then, though, I’ll have to content myself with a one-panel cameo from Adam-X–THE X-TREME!–and a special surprise appearance, yes?
Strange #1: Ever since I heard that Marvel was depowering Dr. Strange (again) and passsing off the title of Sorceror Supreme, I’ve been wondering if they were going to just shuffle him off to a corner for a few years, and if not, what the heck you do with a character when you’ve pretty much removed his entire deal.
Well, if you’re Marvel, you hand him to Mark Waid and have him engage in the MU’s most beloved pastime: Baseball! Hey, it’s worked for the X-Men eight or nine times!
In this case, though, it’s a magical baseball game against demons, because otherwise it just wouldn’t be Dr. Strange, and it’s an awful lot of fun. Waid’s gifted at crafting this kind of story, laying a running subplot down under a one-issue high concept, and it works pretty well here. The low stakes and outright silliness of it underscore his loss of power–the guy who almost gets killed during demon baseball isn’t exactly the same dude who’s going to go out to the edge of space and yell at the embodiment of eternity–and Emma Rios and Christina Strain do a bang-up job with the art, all bright colors and over-the-top art to fit the story. But there is a problem.
This issue’s got a cover by Tomm Coker, and while he and Rios are both great, they’re so markedly different that there’s a huge disconnect between the cover and the interiors. It’s not just a clash in style; Coker’s cover just plain doesn’t look like a bright, popping book where Dr. Strange plays baseball against demons, and that’s a shame, because Rios is strong enough that her art oughtta be able to sell the book without jarring potential readers when they pick it up to flip through. That aside, it’s a good read, and worth checking out to see if Waid keeps up his trademark fun.
And that’s the week! If you’ve got any questions about anything I picked up this week, feel free to ask in the comments section below, although bear two things in mind:
1. If you want to hear about my reaction to this week’s Hellboy, I’ll be talking about it on the next episode of Ajax, and…
2. Wolverine: Weapon X v.1 is a comic where Wolverine fights fake Wolverines who have claws made out of lasers. Of course you should buy it.