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From the Hoss’ Mouth 05/09/07

An interesting week for comics with some great offerings, specifically by writer Matt Fraction.  DC launched it’s next weekly series and I’ve done a full review of Countdown along with coverage of New Avengers, Punisher: War Journal, Marvel Zombies: Dead Days, Wolverine Origins, Nightwing, plus the usual roundup of everything else.  This week’s Trade Off is handled by Pendragon Concepts and he reviews Huntress: Dark Knight Daughter.

Full Review:

Countdown #51
Writer: Paul Dini
Pencils: Jesus Saiz

Not the best book this week (check out Iron Fist) but certainly the one with the most hype.  There’re a few differences between Countdown and 52.  The first is that each individual issue of Countdown is written by a specific writer instead of the team effort present throughout 52.  How well the different voices will gel in the long run remains to be seen.  The second difference is that there’s no days of the week format like there was for 52.  Countdown is happening in DCU real time, as in right now this very second and in conjunction with all the current DC books.  It does not take place directly after 52.  This means that Countdown, unlike 52 which was only affected by Infinite Crisis, can and should have real world impacts on the whole of the DCU immediately. That makes this series very much about continuity (which I’ll get to in a bit). 

I like weekly comics.  If an issue is average or even bad it just doesn’t matter to me because next Wednesday is another opportunity for greatness.  With monthlies I’m just not that forgiving.   For this specific issue, Countdown begins with a bang.  What better way to start a series than by pulling out Darkseid.  He’s here, he’s evil, he’s also very brief unfortunately.  Not a bad way to get a reader’s attention though as Darkseid and Desaad’s brief appearance is full of evil foreshadowing.  As big first issue reveals go, this one has me tuned in and waiting for more.  Darkseid’s scheming leads directly into the main plot of this issue: Duela Dent (Joker’s Daughter, but not really) kidnaps a pop singer and Jason Todd (Red Hood) stops her.  Here’s where things get bad.  First, Duela Dent and Jason Todd for the opening issue… seriously?  Not the most well known or even interesting characters to start a book and yet here they are and I just don’t care.  I know the Red Hood’s been big in the Bat books for the past two years and that Duela has recently re-emerged in Teen Titans but still I just expected more in an opening shot, especially with issue one having Paul Dini at the helm.  To top it off, these two don’t exactly play along like they’ve been written recently.  First, Duela just rejoined the Titans and is now a good girl again… so why then is she off trying to kidnap some pop singer?  Second, Jason Todd’s not exactly the forgiving type.  He’s been doing the screw loose heroics ever since he crawled out of the Lazarus Pit and he’s never been one to just let a criminal go yet alone live through the encounter, yet here he spares Duela.  Along with the scuffling Duela casts a brief bit of dialogue saying she’s not from this Earth (which is the only tie-in with 52).  It’s very brief and no explanation is given (Duela could just be lying anyways, she has a large history of lying), which further confounds me as to why all this is happening.  Ultimately a renegade Monitor shows up and executes Duela, before another Monitor steps in and apprehends him for going too far.  To top it off the second Monitor pays a trip to the source wall to gather information about the fate of the new multiverse, the answer given for the upcoming “Great Destruction” problem is Ray Palmer, which is another great surprise right up there with Darkseid.

Also interspersed throughout the Duela/Todd plot is a Mary Marvel story about her hospital recovery and a Flash Rogues’ party featuring Heatwave and Trickster with a cameo by the Pied Piper.  There’s not a whole lot of headway made in either plot but both seem a whole lot more interesting than the Duela Dent death.

As a reviewer of Countdown, I have very mixed feelings about the book.  For a first issue I thought it was okay, but my biggest concern is whether or not DC’s real time approach is going to alienate a lot of fans.  52 for the most part existed in a bubble, allowing new readers to come in, check it out, and not worry about getting lost in the other things going on in the DCU.  Countdown is the complete opposite.  For example, if you want to know what Darkseid’s been doing recently you need to read the last arc of Firestorm.  How about Duela Dent?  Well that’s Teen Titans then.  Jason Todd?  The last two years of Batman, OYL Nightwing, World War III, and the last arc of Green Arrow.  Mary Marvel? Check out Brave New World and Trials of Shazam.  Flash Rogues? That would be the tail end of Geoff Johns’ Flash Run.

See where this is going?  The series is continuity heavy because… well it’s all about continuity and the treads that run together in the DCU. If the trend of no explanations continues like it does in the first issue then I don’t see this book being very newbie friendly.  It’s great for people who read every DCU mainstream title, but bad for the majority of readers out there not wanting to invest this heavily in a story. Another thing of note for new readers is that this book has a fifty cent price increase over 52.  It’s not a lot, but a whole year of it adds up to the price of a decent hardcover. Art is good, in fact it’s better than most issues of 52 and the Darkseid spread is really fantastic.  There’s also one kickass gatefold cover.

Verdict: For an opening issue it was ok with a couple of nice reveals that managed to hold my interest far longer than the main plot.  Recommended for those that really dug 52.  I can’t, however, recommend this book to DCU newbies, at least not until DC grasps the concept of recap pages.

Quick Reviews:

The New Avengers #30 – The secret of Ronin is revealed.  It’s a new take on an old character.  It’s also not very surprising, in fact I’m sure half of the internet had it pegged from the beginning.  Personally, I’m ecstatic to have this character on the team and I feel it lends a lot of credibility to the New Avengers being an actual Avengers team rather than just a ragtag group sitting around in the Sanctum Sanctorum all day. A lot has been made of this reveal, mainly about the costume and lack of a specific weapon but in actuality the way the new costume is presented to this character seems perfectly feasible.  It’s simply the only costume and weapon that was available at the time and it also leaves the door wide open for a return to old favorites a little later. Instead I found this issue’s main problem to be Dr. Strange.  This new group of Avengers isn’t a very trusting bunch, which leads to a lot of great drama.  Strange, with a tip of his finger, casts a trust spell to see the purity of each individual.  Way too easy of a plot device, but not only that, it also immediately ruins a lot of great interaction and drama.  What I really dug about this issue was the return to the Raft plot from the very first arc.  Not only that but Bendis is tying everything (and I mean everything) together in what looks to be a giant conspiracy.  It’s nice to get back to those old plotlines and finish them out. Art is fantastic; I really like the gritty, unpolished feel of Yu’s pencils and the colors are excellent.

Verdict: A downer of an issue with all the moody interaction, but still a fairly average if not slightly above average issue of New Avengers.  Recommended for New Avengers fans.

Punisher War Journal #7 – Watered down from the MAX version, yet this Punisher stays true to form and gets a taste of the super-heroics too.  I really enjoyed this issue.  Watching Frank try to seamlessly blend in amongst the bigots of Hatemonger’s army was exciting and a great plot point.  I also enjoyed Frank’s handling of the initiation ceremony.  This may not be the MAX version but this book just goes to show that you can still approach very sensitive political commentary and topics in a book designed for the mainstream Marvel reader. It’s also a plus to see Frank engaging in some super villain takedowns again while still keeping the gritty realism you’d expect from a Punisher book.  Between this book and Iron Fist, Matt Fraction is having a hell of a Wednesday.  Ariel Olivetti’s art is slick, detailed, expressive, and just all around awesome.  He rocks and I honestly truly believe that even with something as subjective as art, everyone will agree with me here.

Verdict: Highly recommended for everyone and a big step up from the beginning of this arc.

Marvel Zombies: Dead Days – As I understand it, this book is supposed to be an origin story yet we get a whole lot more of an origin in the Marvel Zombies vs. Army of Darkness book.  I really enjoyed the very first Kirkman Marvel Zombies story.  I’ve also really liked the AoD crossover so far.  I didn’t enjoy this book though.  The requisite gore and crazy zombie action is still present, but the campy feel and humor of the other two series is long gone.  This is a book that takes itself too seriously and misses the point of what the first Marvel Zombie arc was about.  I don’t know if they’re trying to legitimize the Zombie Universe to get more mileage out of it or what, but I’d rather they just return to the grotesque silliness of the original.  That’s not to say the book is completely devoid of humor it has a touch here and there (all done by Thor) but it’s definitely lost a lot of the craziness of the other books in this series.  Art is well done with the usual zombie feel, there’s also a really nice and truly impressive gatefold cover done by Zombie Universe extraordinaire Arthur Suydam as he pays homage to Jim Lee’s X-Men #1.

Verdict: I expect even the Zombie fans to be disappointed by this one.  Instead check out the Marvel Zombies vs. Army of Darkness series for more of the classic style Marvel Zombie action.

The Loser of the Week:

Wolverine Origins #14 – I no longer possess the ability go into why this book is bad.  If you’ve been keeping up with this column you know that every month it manages to find its way on the worst offenders’ list.  Judging by this month’s entry there’s no sign of that stopping anytime soon.

Verdict: Lost cause.

Nightwing #132 – The Bride and Groom arc outlived it’s welcome a long time ago.  This book has had huge ups and downs under Wolfman’s brief tenure.  I’m hoping that he can finally get Nightwing back to a level of competence that he used to possess or that we currently see in other titles with Nightwing, like the Outsiders.  For this specific issue though, it’s completely passable just like the supporting cast we’re subjected too.

Verdict: I have a glimmer of hope for this series, but I honestly believe it’d better to just cancel it.

Trade Off:
By – Pendragon Concepts

HUNTRESS: DARK KNIGHT DAUGHTER

PLOT:
Batman and Catwoman have finally married and have a child, Helena Wayne. To help bring up his daughter Batman retires. But when Helena’s mother, Catwoman, is murdered, Batman can’t find the strength to take up the cowl again. Instead Helena has that strength. She takes on the costumed identity of the Huntress. Now the Huntress takes over for her father as the protector of Gotham City. Taking on villains such as Lionman, Karnage, the Crimelord, and even the insanely murderous Joker. Can the Huntress pick up where Batman left off? You better believe it.
 
BACKGROUND:
This trade paperback collects the origin of Huntress as well as the backups that appeared in Wonder Woman. Written by Paul Levitz and drawn by Joe Staton, this TPB shows the Huntress in her own solo adventures. Fresh off of her induction into the Justice League in All-Star Comics # 69, this TPB fleshes out Huntress as a character. Showing she’s not just Batman’s daughter. This isn’t the Helena Bertinelli character that is currently the Huntress in the DCU. This one is the daughter of Batman & Catwoman on Earth 2. The Huntress eventually died during Crisis on Infinite Earths.

PRO’S:
These are classic stories. Definitely a fun read. The artwork is good. DC did this TPB justice. They re-colorized the issues & they look great. This is an interesting character and really well written.

CON’S:
The stories definitely a sign of the times. The dialogue & stories don’t translate well throughout the years. Huntress comes across as a little ditzy as opposed to the grim Huntress we have today. Staton’s artwork is good, not great. His Joker particularly looks horrible.

BOTTOM LINE:
All in all still a fun book to read that is a must buy for any fan of Earth 2, the old Justice Society, or Infinity Inc.

Roundup:

The Great:

Nova – Don’t let the cover fool you, there is no Iron Man vs. Nova fight.  For those disappointed by this, there is still a war of words and Nova delivers one helluva insult.

The Immortal Iron Fist – Best book of the week.  A thorough re-imagining/fleshing out of the origin of the Iron Fist with great dialogue, action, and plot.

Green Lantern Corps – I’ve really grown to love this book now that I’ve settled in with the cast and crew.  A great mix of personalities as well as a cool plot twist and ongoing mystery.

The Average:

Dreadnoks Declassified – A fun and fulfilling conclusion for Zartan fans, but does a fairly weak job of fleshing out any Dreadnoks except for him.

Thunderbolts – The Steel Spider’s diatribe of registration is great in its meta commentary but the rest of the book lacks the violent punch of previous issues, namely because the T-Bolts get their ass kicked.

New X-men – This cast just can’t seem to stay alive, good thing there’s a convenient Elixir interlude panel just waiting to be exploited.  Whatever happens though, it’s all cool unless Rockslide dies and if that happens I’ll drop the book.

Black Panther – On the plus side this book does an excellent job of tying into the current Fantastic Four arc.  On the downside it ties-in after the finish of the current FF story (which is not out yet) completely ruining that story arc and leaving us with a confusing story about magical frogs (no joke).

The Amazing Spider-Man – I’m just not digging violent and vengeful Spider-Man.  You’d think after all these years he’d have developed a bit more foresight into these matters.  I guess common sense is something Parker just doesn’t possess nowadays.

Green Arrow – The upcoming Black Canary and Green Arrow marriage proposal story begins here.  There’s a whole lot going on here for a book that only has one more issue left; making me a bit apprehensive on how many of these plots Winnick’s going to be able to finish up.

Outsiders – A lot of action and a lot of ass, seriously a lot of ass.  The whole story leads up to a conclusion that just doesn’t work and could have been handled in a whole lot less space than 22 pages.  It’s exciting, but it’s still filler.

The Annihilation Sage – Cliff’s Notes version of the Annihilation sage.  A thorough retelling of the whole saga from a little before the prologue right up until the new Nova ongoing complete with art.  A handy dandy read for interested newbies or a nice guide for those with less than stellar memories.  Either way it’s just a $1.99 and is a great pick-up before the second Annihilation series starts.

The Filler:

Tales of the Unexpected – A rare example of a backup story overshadowing the main one.  The main story by the way is dreadful.

Ghost Rider – I really like the art but there’s just not enough here to maintain my interest.

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