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The Non-Marvel Action Hour – 6/18/8

New Wonder Woman, Fables, Doom Patrol, Inferno, Starman, and Teen Titans.

Employee’s Pick

Doom Patrol 22

[DC] Doom Patrol Vol. 3 #19-22
Writer: John Arcudi
Pencilers: Tan Eng Huat (issues 19, 21 & 22), Rick Geary (issue 20)

Tycho Bray is back. Last time, two Doom Patrols couldn’t stand up to him and his demon buddies; he only lost because of a loophole. Now, instead of using monks as voluntary vessels for the trapped spirits he seeks to release, he’s using the Doom Patrol themselves. Beast Boy is the first to fall victim to the giant sword what non-lethally impales you. Then Bray goes after Robotman, their second meeting from Bray’s point of view, but the first time he and the real Robotman have tangled. Several pages of senseless destruction later, Bray runs off emptyhanded thanks to the running Robotman-has-no-soul subplot.

It’s an intriguing question. Robotman thinks he’s Cliff Steele, former racecar driver whose body was destroyed in a crash and whose mind lives on in a robot body. But is he? He doesn’t even have an organic brain at this point. Souls, Heaven, and Hell are all very real in the DCU, which begs the question, if humans have souls, do robots? Is there an appreciable difference? If robots are sentient, and Cliff certainly is, shouldn’t they have all the legal rights and spiritual accoutrements as humans? Maybe it doesn’t work that way. Robots, androids, and simulacrum, however sophisticated, are manmade. T.O. Morrow couldn’t imbue Red Tornado with a soul, nor could Niles "The Chief" Caulder add one to Robotman’s body. Only… they saved his brain, right? So he was still alive at that point. No reason for the soul to depart, you’d think. Maybe it only left when he switched over to the mechanical brain, which brings us back to "are robots people, or merely toasters with delusions of sentience?" Perhaps Robotman isn’t truly sentient, but a highly sophisticated computer program patterned after Cliff Steele’s mind. The important thing is he thinks he’s human, and the idea that he might not be is as depressing as the thought that we humans might only be a collection of electrical synapses ourselves, our identities naught but imaginary creations that help us cope with reality.

Issue twenty questions why there ever was a Doom Patrol, what purpose they have and what Caulder’s motivation was for keeping them around. It’s been established that Caulder was more or less evil, but John Arcudi leaves the why of the Doom Patrol open for readers to decide. Thoughtprovoking as it is, it’s essentially filler, as regular artist Tan Eng Huat is spelled by Rick Geary and Arcudi spends the break on a flashback and a related peek at the Doom Patrol TV show. Here we see the problem with adapting real events; the full story is difficult if not impossible to get, and most people would rather portray events in an entertaining than accurate way. One fact checker objects, but he’s too low on the totem pole to make a dent. It’s a nice one-off story, but not essential to the book’s plot. Perhaps the fact checker character was meant to appear again, though that isn’t implied. At any rate, he never got the chance.

The long-running Tycho storyline comes to a close in issue twenty-one, as the whole team are possessed save Cliff, and with no way to win, Robotman concedes to Tycho’s request to be left alone so he can set the spirits free. It’s disappointing, as the ending is anticlimactic as well as a retread of the previous attempt. The DP only had a few battles throughout their series, and Tycho & Co. accounted for two of them. The series was largely introspective, dealing with character development and identity issues. Tycho fits into that well, as we learn from his origin story this issue; turns out he heard some stories as a kid, clung to the world of fantasy as he grew up, and in searching for the reality within got in over his head. He lost his eyes chasing dreams, and could only think to go deeper to get them back.

The series ends without closure, as is typical of truncated ongoings. The team dissolves, and Cliff leaves without saying goodbye to the others. A sad end to a generally enjoyable series. It arguably couldn’t have ended any other way, though. Conceived as a long-term project with several slowburn subplots, it needed many more issues to be satisfying. It does leave the door open for the team to be revisited, but precious little has been seen of anyone but Robotman since, thanks in large part to volume four of Doom Patrol, wherein John Byrne rebooted the team back to the silver age. I can’t give it a solid recommendation; good as it was, it didn’t go much of anywhere and its importance to the Doom Patrol and greater DCU continuity is minimal or nonexistent. It leaves you wanting more, in a not altogether good way, and more is not forthcoming. There are more satisfying story and character arcs to be found elsewhere.

New-Type Books

Wonder Woman 21

[DC] Wonder Woman Vol. 3 #21
Writer: Gail Simone
Penciler: Aaron Lopresti

At this point, I could just write "Wonder Woman is really good. You should read it," and copy+paste that each month. But that’s no fun.

Wondy continues her epic journey through the backwaters of DC continuity. Last issue, she met Stalker and the DC version of Beowulf. Now, they meet each other, as the trio set off to find one final companion, the last of the swordbearers Stalker was told he needed by the ancestor of Barbara Gordon. It wasn’t clear where we were going last issue, but the confusion didn’t last long; part two of this four-part story reveals that Stalker seeks the very demon who gave him his power… at the cost of his soul. Said demon, Dgrth, is out to do what cosmic-level threats are wont to do: destroy the universe. And, apparently, he can only be stopped by cold steel.

I’m sure it’ll be something more than that. At any rate, Stalker needs Wonder Woman, Beowulf, and one other forgotten warrior to face this threat, and somehow it’s dangerous for Diana to be involved. She’s become infected by Stalker’s soullessness and is slowly turning evil. Her compassion, her kindness, all the things that make her uniquely wonderful – they’re fading away. And now it appears her beauty’s fading, as that clawed red hand on the cover isn’t misdirection.

Claw, Claw, Claw the Unconquered!

Not sure why, but I’ve always loved when writers dredge up characters from the past to reinvigorate them. Maybe the characters were always good, maybe it’s modern sensibilities and a shinier package. I don’t much care for the golden or silver ages, yet I tend to like stories and characters reminiscent of same, like Astro City and pretty much everything else Kurt Busiek writes. It’s fun seeing Stalker and the others here, if only because I know someone more familiar with the characters would get a kick out of it. You get the sense that Simone’s a kid in a toybox, playing with all the great toys in the DCU, digging down deep to find ones that have long been neglected but are just as good as the shiny new ones everyone loves.

I suppose that’s what she’s doing with Tom "Nemesis" Tresser. Sure, the last person who played with him let a dog chew on him – among other things – but that’s no reason to throw him out. Give poor Tom a bath and treat the teethmarks as battle damage. Good as new, right? That’s how it looks, anyways. I was wrong about last issue’s cover; the use of a second of the three pictured costumes shatters my "Diana Through the Ages" theory. They’re just costumes she’ll wear throughout this storyline, which is thus far free of flashbacks. Still a great cover.

Fables 70

[DC] Fables #70
Writer: Bill Willingham
Penciler: Niko Henrichon

Following the epic story of The Good Prince, Mark Buckingham takes a month off, and Willingham takes a sort of break from the main story. It’s a familiar pattern to Fables fans. This time we’re off to the Farm to visit Boy Blue, Rose Red, and the many animal fables. It’s filler, but it’s tasty filler, despite the crummy art. The Farm animals learn about Haven, Boy Blue finally confesses his feelings to Rose Red, and war plans progress.

Mama Bear

Back Issues

Inferno 3

[DC] Inferno #3
Writer/Penciler: Stuart Immonen

There seems to be, at most, two issues’ worth of story here. Inferno mills about a mall, fights a fear-vampire or whatever, grumbles about her past and lot in life, and struggles to form friendships with a group of girls she’s not sure are worth having as friends. That was the first issue, and the second, and the third. Next issue, she’ll still be fighting the monster. Presumably, there’ll be a conclusion. Hopefully, we’ll learn more about her and see more progress aside from the fight. So far, I don’t have an opinion of the protagonist aside from wanting to like her for superficial reasons. What depth there is makes no strong argument.

Teen Titans 1

[DC] Teen Titans Vol. 2 #1
Writer: Dan Jurgens
Artists: Dan Jurgens, George Perez

I don’t think I’ll ever like the Teen Titans. You’d think otherwise, given my predilection for teen superteams, but there’s always something missing. Usually, I’m scared off by the character designs, and I can’t say this version stands out in that regard. Prysm’s OK, nice and simple, but the rest of the team are 90’s style in the worst way. Vests, buckles, some sort of half-shirt thing… tassles? If Argent holds her arms out, she looks like a girl’s bicycle. I find it hard to enjoy a comic like that, and the writing doesn’t help. As usual with Jurgens, it’s decidedly average. Inoffensive, but unattractive. A de-aged Ray Palmer (seriously), is accidentally kidnapped along with some kids… *sigh* his age, and they wind up forming a new Teen Titans team. But not this issue. First issue’s for setup and getting to know the characters, only we don’t see much of any of them. Five isn’t too big a main cast, so there should be room for each to reveal a well-rounded personality. Maybe they do in later issues. Here they’re little more than ciphers, with only the barest hint that it might be worth taking the time to get to know them.

Trade

Starman Night and Day

[DC] Starman Vol. 2: Night and Day
Writer: James Robinson
Pencilers: Tony Harris (issues 7-10 & 12-16); Tommy Lee Edwards, Stuart Immonen, Chris Sprouse, Andrew Robinson, Gary Erskine, Amanda Conner (all on issue 14)

The first trade was good. This is superlative. Evocative imagery, chaos, poignant drama, weirdness, good and evil and their tense struggles. And oh, the references. I don’t get most of them – Sondheim musicals and bakelite and womb chairs – but I love trivia. I love those few I do recognize, like Spencer Tracy in A Bad Day at Black Rock. That’s what life is for, if you ask me. Shared experiences. Movies you’ve seen, historical events you’ve witnessed, things you’ve collected. Finding even one person to share it with makes everything better. That’s what makes Jack Knight great: not wars, but their spoils. The detritus left behind that has little use but for owning, and his passion for it. For collecting and selling and haggling over it. Listening to him is like listening to a scientist; you admire his vast knowledge, but his words make little sense. Unless you, too, are a scientist, are an avid collector.

Robinson makes frequent use of foreshadowing. Well, more telling than shadowing. For instance, he reveals in this volume that Jack’s second child will be a girl. Jack doesn’t have a steady girlfriend yet, nor child number one. It tells you Robinson’s planning far, far ahead, but at the same time it ruins some of the surprise. In volume one we learned he’d visit a circus, and now he does, finding imprisoned freaks and former Starman Mikaal Tomas. The main difference between what Robinson did with Starman and what Arcudi did with Doom Patrol is time. Time and action. Robinson had more of both, time to set up and knock down his many plots and subplots, and action enough to keep readers entertained while they waited. Much as I love character-driven stories and hope for peace, nothing beats tension. Real tension, where terrible things could happen if the characters misstep. In a superhero book, that means fighting, action, colorful battles with nemeses. More than that, but never less. Jack nearly dies at the circus, gets smacked around by Solomon Grundy, and then the trouble starts.

The Mist comes back, in the form of the first Mist’s daughter, Nash. As Jack followed in his father’s footsteps, so does she, embracing evil and revenge, using sex and bullets as weapons, killing and stealing and gaining her father’s powers, becoming Jack’s dark mirror image. The meat of the trade is the five-part story Sins of the Child, which chronicles a single day from four different perspectives. Amazingly, there’s enough story to go around that, aside from a modicum of filler, the Rashomon-style approach is justified. It wouldn’t be as good without Ted Knight’s fight against Dr. Phosphorus, or the kidnapping of Mikaal and Grundy, or the seven artist jam showing how the O’Dare family responds to the Mist’s crime spree. It’d still be good with just Jack running around naked, trying to escape Nash’s maze, but you’d miss out on the best parts. Only in the ending does the story disappoint, as the tension melts away while Nash speechifies, going on and on about why she did everything and blahdedy blah. It’s too much. Feels like Robinson is speaking through her, defining her character through words instead of deeds. It doesn’t work as well as the rest of the story, the rest of the trade, though it’s not so bad that it detracts from anything else. A hiccup, excusable.

Truncation

Doom Patrol – Though it lacked action and a sense of purpose, it was a pretty good series. Wish someone would bring this team back. Someone competent who likes the characters, that is.
Wonder Woman – Oh so good. Oh so pretty.
Fables – Not worth three bucks to a casual reader, but enjoyable enough that I don’t regret the purchase.
Inferno – Better than Voodoo, it still doesn’t seem headed much of anywhere.
Teen Titans – Blah.
Starman Vol. 2: Night and Day – Sickly sweet.

 


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