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The Non-Marvel Action Hour – 2/3/10

A double dose of new Wonder Woman and Secret Six, plus two months of solicitations. Also, Books of Magic and Blackest Night: Wonder Woman.

A double dose of new Wonder Woman and Secret Six, plus two months of solicitations. Also, Books of Magic and Blackest Night: Wonder Woman.

News

DC Comics February Solicitations

JLI trades continue with Vol. 4 in March, collecting issues 23-30 of the Giffen, DeMatteis and sometimes Maguire run. Hopefully, this means we’ll see Vol. 5 and beyond.

Wednesday Comics is collected in hardcover, an 11″ by 17.5″ volume totaling $50 for 200 huge pages, due out in May.

Wonder Woman ships issue 41 in February and will revert to pre-reboot numbering in order to slap a big, round 600 on what would have been the 45th issue in June. Marvel editorial can’t believe they didn’t find some way to put it off till after issue 50 for the double anniversary whammy. I don’t care what number’s on the issue as long as Simone and Lopresti keep me coming back each month. Not looking forward to the $4+ pricetag, though… More importantly, the Ends of the Earth trade isn’t due until March. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the wait for these is ludicrous. To be fair, it’s not like Wonder Woman‘s being singled out. Action Comics trade-waiters are just as far behind (17 issues), and Detective Comics is 13 issues beyond the latest trade. You could also argue that DC wanting to issue Wonder Woman HCs, which cause the excessive trade delay, is a good thing. She’s much better off than Animal Man, whose recent miniseries wrapped up in November, got no HC collection, and still has to wait until March to get a trade, as though it took them a few months to remember he existed. That or they waited for the full sales data before greenlighting a collection. I don’t think Wondy’s so bad off that they have to think twice about that.

Speaking of trades DC took their time releasing, Mysterius: The Unfathomable wrapped up in June of ’09, got no HC, and is only getting a TPB in March. Understandable, as it got good reviews but sold terribly. It’s one of those books that isn’t under the Vertigo imprint because DC refuse to write Wildstorm off, so it isn’t as cheap as it could be. You pay cover price, $18 for six issues.

Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan’s Demo returns with a six-issue mini. I can’t say as I’m jumping for joy. The first series had twelve issues that fit the title all too well. Each one stood alone, introducing a new character(s) with some sort of superpower. Some issues were almost good, but before they could tell a full story or flesh out a character more than a little, they were over. Demos, like videogames offering one level with half the buttons locked, or songs that end before the first chorus. The full story might be amazingly good, but you’ll never get to see it. Wood jotted down some ideas, played around with each one for what amounts to minutes of reading time, and moved on. If you like interesting, unexplored ideas, you’ll get some enjoyment out of the two series. If you want stories, if you want more than a glimpse into the lives of random characters, look elsewhere. You’ll find nothing but frustration here.

In Bizarro Vertigo land, Greek Street gets its first trade, collecting issues 1-5 in time for #9, and your reward for waiting is a $10 pricetag.

DC Comics March Solicitations

Blackest Night ends. Let us all exhale before the next Event hits. Wait, no, we don’t get a break. Brightest Day is directly after. At least they gave the weeklies a short rest. Maybe next time they can have four series that each ship an issue in turn, one per week, with different creative teams and only a loose connection between them.

Nicola Scott is guest artist on Wonder Woman #42. That’s great, but I’d rather get her back to drawing Secret Six, with Aaron Lopresti or Bernard Chang on Wondy. Gail Simone has confirmed that Scott will be returning to Six, so at least it’s only a matter of waiting.

Now that most of the backups are cancelled or being replaced, the big question is, how will that material be collected? Will it be collected? I expect it will in some form, but the latest trade and hardcover solicitations make no mention of any so-called co-features. Batman: Streets of Gotham starts with a HC collecting the first four issues, one issue of Batman, and one of Detective Comics, all by Paul Dini. Those six issues take up 144 pages, 24 per issue, leaving no room for the Manhunter backup. Booster Gold‘s next trade collects issues 20-25 and a Booster-centric issue of Brave and the Bold, totaling 160 pages, one short of 23 per issue. No Blue Beetle there. Jaime Reyes’ backup only went nine issues, so a collection would be approximately 90 pages. The Metal Men lasted a mere seven issues, producing less material than one of DC’s 80-Page Giants.

Power Girl gets a relatively timely TPB, collecting the first six issues in April, when #11 will hit. Same with Red Robin, except his first trade only has five issues for the same price.

The second Secret Six trade collects issues 8-14 in time for #20, and the price? $15. That’s almost Vertigo cheap. Not a great sign for the future of a so-so selling title, but a great deal.

American Vampire
– DC’s attempt to compete with/cash in on the Twilight craze. An ongoing series about vampires who are “powered by the sun.” Could be bad, but there’s some name value attached. Stephen King and Scott Snyder will write, presumably with Snyder adapting King’s scripts to the comic format, and Rafael Albuquerque’s on art. Could be good. True Blood (and the novels it’s based on) proved you can have a setup similar to Twilight‘s and still be good, albeit not as popular.

Reviews

Employee’s Pick

Books of Magic 64

[DC] Books of Magic Vol. 2 #63-68
Writers: Peter Hogan (issue 63), Peter Gross (issues 64-68)
Pencilers: Gary Amaro (issue 63), Peter Gross (issues 64-68)

This series is greatly improved by taking a long enough break to let recent events fade from memory. Ignoring the latest slaughterfest and the fact that Tim Hunter is an unappealing protagonist, this six-issue chunk is fairly enjoyable, especially the parts by Gross.

We start with a fill-in issue, a standalone flashback that captures Tim’s character all too well. Would that there were more to capture. After that, it’s back to the present for genderbending escapism. Tim dons a Faerie glamour stone that belonged to his mother and finds he looks like her at his age. He takes this remarkably well, using the glamour and his mother’s name, Mary, as a disguise for several issues. Let’s go over that again. A teenage boy turns into his mother and he says “that’s brilliant” without a hint of sarcasm. Granted, he needs a disguise right now since he’d be as good as dead if The Other knew he still lived, but he could at least use the stone grudgingly. Or, if he isn’t disturbed by walking around as Teen Mom, there could be something about how much he misses his mother, who died when he was young. I’d almost prefer a creepily overeager acceptance, which is there if you squint at it but doesn’t seem strongly implied.

Instead, he’s numb. I guess that’s his preferred way of dealing with things, as we’ve seen before, though I’d kidded myself that the magic tattoos were keeping most of his emotions in check. He goes through massive trauma, basically losing everyone he knows, and his strongest reaction is petulance towards his annoying step-brother. Girlfriend left you? Evil twin killed your family? Look like your mom? No problem! Pretend it didn’t happen and get on with your life.

So he does, exclaiming “I choose magic!” which would’ve been music to my ears about twenty issues ago, but gives me cognitive dissonance now. Issues 64-68 are almost totally detached from the rest of the series, like one of the tangent universes Tim unconsciously created to let a part of himself escape reality. And it’s fun if you go along with Teen Mom on a series of wacky adventures. She hooks up with a group of seemingly random strangers en route to the Inn Between Worlds. As is always the case with these stories, not everyone reaches the Inn. The journey doubles as a sort of crucible and a way to learn more about the new characters through observation.

Once at the Inn, Tim once again shows his disdain for his adopted father, the only father he knew for 99% of his life, by dreaming of his birth father. This being the guy who was around for a few issues at the start of the series before nobly sacrificing himself to save Tim. His adopted dad has issues, but it’s not like he was abusive. He tried to be a good father, and while his human flaws held him back at times, he had bouts of success. Not only does an alternate Tim – considered by his mentor to be the best of all Tims, and for good reason – live in a castle with his mother and real father, keeping adopted dad around as a third wheel, now Tim dreams about his dad, the shapeshifter Tamlin. In doing so, he gives Tamlin life, of a sort, in the Dreaming. Normally, that would be of no significance, but a certain plot development means Dream Tamlin can hop over to visit Tim. For all the time they’re together, Tim only thinks about how best to spend time with his super awesome magical dad, never once imagining what it might be like to see the father who was there for him again. There’s also a scene where Tim meets his stepmother, who apologizes for being mean to him in dreadfully normal ways. And he forgives her.

…Now I’m numb. I can’t be bothered working up the outrage I’m fairly sure is justified. Maybe that’s why Tim doesn’t react. Things won’t be getting any better and they haven’t been good for ages, might as well shrug it off and do something else.

New-Type Books

Wonder Woman 38

[DC] Wonder Woman Vol. 3 #38
Writer: Gail Simone
Penciler: Aaron Lopresti

This series is so jumpy. Issue 36 ended with Diana and Giganta beating Achilles and his army, but letting them go after Achilles revealed he held Hippolyta captive. Next issue, Giganta’s gone, Diana’s back in her apartment. Fair enough, but she soon decides she gave up too quickly before and sets off to rescue Mom. That issue ends much the same, with Hippolyta telling Diana and guest-ally Donna Troy that they can’t rescue her. Then Alkyone takes her stuff to play Amazon dressup. This issue starts with Artemis trying to bust Diana out of jail. ‘Cause that’s where she went between issues.

It’s only a little jarring, to be honest, and only because I’m reading this in monthly installments. In collected form, you’ll still go from a shocking page to a more subdued page that skips ahead in time, but it’ll be easier to figure out that the time skip is due to there being no further conflict after the latest bubble of tension popped. You might even expect Diana to give up over and over before buckling down and fighting for serious this time.

That’s what this four-parter is all about. Warkiller is a series of surrenders and delays designed to set up dramatic moments. Artemis claims to give up on rescuing Diana, then gathers an army to save her. Donna heads off to find Hippolyta, who’s been secreted away since the last time we saw her or Donna, when they were close enough to touch. A few pages later, she has a cool new costume, but not only has she made no progress, she has to be told to go do what she set out to do. Maybe I read too much into Alkyone saying “you won’t find her” and Donna answering “we’ll see,” but if she wasn’t trying to find her, it’s an awful convenient coincidence that Artemis tells her to after dressing her up. It would’ve worked better if Hippolyta’s freedom being key had been revealed after Donna got her spiffy new duds. Bonus if said duds served some purpose to justify the time it must’ve taken to tailor them specifically for her.

Achilles dons a new costume this issue, too, not half as spiffy as Donna’s, as if to say “yes, this is all the ‘Wonder Man’ hype amounted to.” So many dramatic moments peppered throughout this arc, yet so few matter enough to evoke emotion.

More references to Diana’s guest spot in Secret Six. It’s not essential to read Secret Six in order to understand Wonder Woman, but Wonder Woman is written with the assumption you’ve read Secret Six. It’s a missing chapter, or at the very least, a missing paragraph, clipped from one book and secreted away between the pages of another.

WW 39

[DC] Wonder Woman Vol. 3 #39
Writer: Gail Simone
Penciler: Aaron Lopresti

The good news: most of the things I worried about were resolved, as such things tend to be by good writers. The bad news: it’s all tied up too neatly. I’m happy with the results, but the methods leave something to be desired.

Zeus has a change of heart for no apparent reason. It occurs to him that his motivations in this story are completely insane, so he just… knocks it off. Crazy ol’ Uncle Zeus went on one of his spells again. Let’s hope he stays on his meds this time. The big finish has practically everyone rallying to Wonder Woman’s side against her now massively outnumbered foes, all agreeing that they were fools to ever oppose her.

As loveable as Wondy is, she isn’t made more endearing by having the cast heap praise on her or reiterate how beloved she is and should be. It helps that she returns that love, but maybe some people could just like Wonder Woman, and maybe she could impress the audience instead of the cast. The Circle, the rogue Amazons who’ve hated Diana since birth, are fixated on the belief that no one should love her. They got it in their heads that she would be the doom of the Amazons, and seeing Amazons love her fries their circuits. Why is that? Is their position so weak that they can be swayed by emotional appeals? You’d think that would make it worse. Clearly, Diana’s the Amazonian Anti-Christ and she’s fooled everyone but you. I’m having trouble seeing how they can hold a grudge for all these years and still be openminded about it. “Could we have been wrong?” one asks. Could you not have considered that earlier? She’s so universally beloved that you have to turn to a hated enemy to get any help against her, and that very love is what makes you question your hate. Really? Ares had his head rented out for axe storage and he’s firmer in his convictions than you.

Except for Ares, all the baddies turn out to be incompetent or confused. Fish. Barrel. A disservice to the buildup in previous issues. I’m left wondering how things could appear to be so dark when they were so easily brought into the light.

I could be overthinking it, but as cool as all the dramatic declarations are, it seems like so much style over substance. I don’t feel like the good guys won for any particular reason. It’s more like Simone ran out of time and had to wrap things up, though I don’t know why there’d be any rush. There certainly wasn’t with Rise of the Olympian, which laid the groundwork for this arc. Lovely art, though.

S6 15

[DC] Secret Six Vol. 4 #15
Writer: John Ostrander
Penciler: Jim Calafiore

It’s rare that you can point to an issue as the worst in a series and still call it good, but that’s the case here. As fill-ins go, this is above average. The problem is, Simone and Scott have set the bar so high that anything less than greatness is a letdown. Which is not to say I wouldn’t buy a comic like this month in and month out, praising it all the while. Ostrander knows Deadshot like none other, and this is a very good Deadshot story. What it’s not is any kind of Secret Six story, though it is relevant to the series. It would also be a weak argument for a Deadshot solo series, though it would fit well as a standalone issue there. The supporting cast is basically limited to Deadshot’s conscience, in the form of Generic Preacher Guy. The rest of the Six are absent, and Deadshot’s the only character to display three dimensions.

Lawton’s been having a bit of trouble dealing with his history of mass murder. It’s not that he feels guilty; he worries he’s growing addicted to killing, to the point where he’d kill without wanting to. That’s never good, especially in a team setting, so he seeks professional help. That and a brief trip through Lawton’s history comprise the entirety of the story. Part filler, part clips show, it’s still entertaining. Calafiore does an adequate job with the material, but he’s a huge downgrade from Scott. This is the first time I feel confident in saying Secret Six was not the best comic in a given month. I don’t know what was, but it was definitely something else.

S6 16

[DC] Secret Six Vol. 4 #16
Writer: Gail Simone
Penciler: Peter Nguyen

Quick, bring back Calafiore*. Or Carlos Rodriguez. Hell, let Amanda Gould draw a whole issue; at least it’ll be cute. Nguyen is not ready for primetime. Easily the worst art in the series, dating all the way back to Villains United. Thanks to Nguyen, this beats #15 for worst issue. Rodriguez wasn’t good, but his guest issue was so charming, it stands up as one of the best overall.

This issue, Black Alice meets the team and tries to join, filling the vacancy relucantly left by Scandal two issues prior. In hindsight, it’s a wonder she hasn’t appeared before. Gail Simone creation, can’t decide whether she’s hero or villain or villahero sandwich, mentally unhinged… Perfect fit. Only she’s several leagues above the Six in terms of power. Alice helpfully exposits her weaknesses, but wielding unlimited power for any length of time is longer than anyone else in this series. Her greatest weakness isn’t that her power can cut out, it’s that she lacks a firm direction and the intelligence to use that power efficiently. She could singlehandedly obliterate most, if not all, of the enemies the Six have faced in their time as a team, but she could easily get hung up on “making them pay,” or waffle when faced with the decision to kill or spare a deadly foe. She can be everything or nothing, whatever the writer wants.

The script seemed weaker this issue. It’s hard to tell when I’m wincing every few panels at artwork that, if it’s at home anywhere, certainly doesn’t fit here. Simone and Nguyen don’t seem to be on the same page. If they are, Simone must not have tried to get the usual quirks of posing and body language into the script. Simplification or miscommunication, it makes for a ho-hum read. No one looks right or moves right, and the dialogue lacks its usual sizzle. The main problem, I think, is that Black Alice doesn’t fit in, mostly because she’s not interesting. The focus is on her, and all she does is put off a menacing aura and force her way into scenes like an annoying kid sister who promises to tell on you if you don’t let her tag along. Everyone has to respond to her, rather than playing off of each other, so the whole cast are dragged down. There’s more to Black Alice than whining and bratting it up, as Birds of Prey readers know, but any depth is buried under layers of teenage tedium. It’ll be years before she rises above her loose cannon status, if ever, and I’m not sure I want to be along for the journey.

*I know, he’s coming back next issue.

BNWW 1

[DC] Blackest Night: Wonder Woman #1
Writer: Greg Rucka
Penciler: Nicola Scott

At least it’s pretty.

I’ve ranted before about the Max Lord debacle. No need to repeat all that. For this issue, I prefer to focus on the words “the ring wears the body.” Max Lord does not appear, nor does anyone claim he does. Wonder Woman fights a monster pretending to be him.

That’s the best view I can take of the story. The art’s wonderful, the treatment of Wonder Woman respectful. It’s everything you’d expect from the title and cover credits, maybe a little more. But it’s not essential reading for anyone. Blackest Night fans gain nothing, because the whole story is Wondy fighting zombies with no greater plot implications. Wonder Woman fans gain a decent Wonder Woman adventure, but not one that has particular significance to the character. Rucka takes the premise of Blackest Night (what if superzombies tried to take over the universe through angst?) and shows us how Wondy would react. It’s good for what it is, but what it is ain’t much. Faux Lord does his best to get a rise out of Diana, who, thanks to Rucka, reacts in character. With another writer, this could easily have been dreck. As it is, the art’s all that keeps me from thinking I wasted my money. This’ll be the only part of the miniseries I buy.

I can easily see this having no lasting effect on Wondy, and there was nothing in this issue that merits a reference in future stories. It won’t even be terribly important to the next two issues, since you could sum up all the relevant details in a few sentences. Actually, this issue is slightly confusing if you haven’t read certain other parts of Blackest Night. Diana mentions needing “light” to defeat the Black Lanterns, but never specifies what kind. Other issues have shown the white light of peace to be an effective weapon. She might have meant that. It isn’t clear.

Truncation

Books of Magic – Kinda nice out of context.
Wonder Woman #38 – Full of false starts and false drama.
Wonder Woman #39 – Not a bad comic, but unsatisfying.
Secret Six #15 – The worst issue until the next one. Still good.
Secret Six #16 – Disappointing. I think I should cut down on raving about this series. Nicola Scott can’t get back too soon.
Blackest Night: Wonder Woman – Skippable, but OK.

Additional Links

4 thoughts on “The Non-Marvel Action Hour – 2/3/10

  1. “Well, Greg’s gods were the one thing I was mandated not to use, as DC felt they had ‘moved on’ from them. I still think it was a mistake.”

    Ah, good to know. I’d been wondering about that since you first used them. It won’t be easy, but I’ll have to treat them as separate characters from now on. It helps that Rucka’s gods were so different from the classical versions, so it makes sense for them to reboot again.

    I’m not sure what Zeus would do, but if I were him, I’d be grateful for the rescue and that’s it. He seems less interested in repaying them than in wholeheartedly joining their cause.

    I’m definitely on board for the first issue of BoP, and probably many more after that. It’ll be great to see the Birds back in action, especially Dinah, who’s barely done anything since you left BoP.

  2. Hmm.

    Well, Greg’s gods were the one thing I was mandated not to use, as DC felt they had ‘moved on’ from them. I still think it was a mistake.

    I don’t think the characters at the end of RotO and especially Warkiller have the same doubts they did at the beginning of the story at all. We’ll have to disagree on that.

    You’re right about your analysis about Alkyone, although I don’t know if she thinks Diana IS evil so much as that she brings evil in her wake, a much more sane and plausible concept even from an irrational mind. I think what’s fun/tragic about Alkyone is that she wants the same things at Hippolyta and Diana, ir. protection of the Amazons and the Amazon way.

    I think Zeus’ through-line is not one of starts and stops, but of conflict between his historic power and entitlement and the small wiggling beast that is his conscience and heart. And the Ichor DID save them, regardless of their imperiousness.

    Anyway, still fun stuff. Hope you give BOP a chance, it’s turning out to be good stuff.

  3. Wait, someone reads these? No offense to previous readers, but yours is by far the longest, most detailed comment I’ve received. Thank you for that, the compliment, and for being so polite in defending your work.

    I don’t think we’re far off, but we don’t quite see eye to eye. Your explanation was plenty clear. I saw all of that when I read the story, I just don’t think events flow naturally, that the characters are driving the story. They seem to start and stop as the story dictates. I saw ample reason for people to join with Wonder Woman, but while some gradually turned to her side, others seemed to ignore everything until that “moment of realization” brought on by a single event.

    I can’t help but compare this Zeus-goes-crazy plot to the one Greg Rucka wrote. I don’t recall all the details, but Athena was leading a coup against Zeus and Diana was hesitant to help… until Zeus declined to show her mercy. That convinced Diana, and Zeus realized he’d been wrong.

    It’s hard to tell how much of Rucka’s run is still in continuity, but the whole thing with the Greek Gods, suicidal Athena, and Crazy Zeus got off on the wrong foot since they were so different the last time I saw them. If there was something in the first 13 issues of Vol. 3 that explains the changes, other than what you had Zeus recap for us, I’ll concede the point. Without having read those, it seems to me like Zeus unlearned his lesson, and I’m not sure why.

    I also don’t understand why he wants to send someone “worthy” off to be with the Ichor if he hates them. He has good reason to hate them, or at least, to want nothing to do with them, and that same reason is supposedly why he has a change of heart. “I became the same,” he says, yet later he offers Diana the “honor” of joining the Ichor and, after gracefully accepting her refusal, says he’ll keep looking for someone good enough. The only difference between that and “helping” the Amazons by putting them out to pasture is that he isn’t being violent now.

    I can buy Zeus’ villainous acts if he’s reverted to type for some reason, but that makes it harder to believe his turnaround. I’m not sure if it’s good or bad that he seems to still be crazy, in a more benign way. Maybe that’s what Diana was doing at the end there, politely telling him to go be crazy somewhere else. I can’t imagine why she’d seriously consider accepting his offer, but a straightforward “no” would only invite hostility.

    On closer examination, I get the impression that none of The Circle ever truly hated Diana, except Alkyone. She led and the others followed. They all hesitate when they go to kill Diana as a babe, and Charis asks then and in Warkiller whether they were wrong, but their devotion to Alkyone is second only to their love of Hippolyta, if that. Alkyone’s will is the will of The Circle.

    That’s part of the problem, though. Characters keep having the same doubts, and rather than a buildup to character growth, those doubts tend to be a catalyst for extending the story (or bringing it to a tidy conclusion). Alkyone has one goal and one doubt. Her goal becomes so twisted that it only vaguely resembles her original purpose, and she’s so stubborn that she won’t listen to anyone, not even Hippolyta, when they tell her Diana isn’t evil. She wants to believe it, but that would mean admitting her mistake and facing all the horrible things she did for no good cause. Worse, it would force her to accept that she’s not special. Why would the Queen need her Captain when she has a Wonder Woman, a daughter, a bond Alkyone can never hope to match.

    I guess that’s why I keep reading. Some stuff works, and the stuff that doesn’t, or doesn’t seem to, makes me think. That and Aaron Lopresti.

  4. Fun reviews, Snowglare.

    Please don’t take this as nitpicking, you’re certainly entitled to your opinions (though I disagree about some of the art criticism). But I just wanted to point out one thing.

    Through the whole of RotO and Warkiller, Zeus is agonizing and pissy about deserving respect and fealty and love, and he is shown as going to insane lengths to make that happen. He kills Kane, he de-immortalizes the Amazons, in short, he moves mountains, but in the end, it’s all for himself. It’s for his glory, his return to be worshiped.

    He doesn’t change his mind out of nowhere…he (and the Circle) have this horrible moment of realization when the Amazons AND the Thalarions (who barely know Diana except as an opponent willing to die to protect her mother and people) all leap in one after another, most likely to their deaths, to save her.

    That moment is really the whole point of both stories…Diana gets what Zeus most wants, the respect and love of her people, and she does it without even trying. It just happens.
    For the same event, it’s a crushing moment for the Circle, who are not only not capable of starting the revolution they had hoped for, they are completely ignored when the Amazons see Diana in danger.

    The difference is that Zeus finally feels some shame, whereas the Circle just hate her more afterwards.

    It’s never a good thing to have to explain a story–sorry if that stuff wasn’t clear, but it is meant to be a transitional moment for everyone concerned. It’s not so much ‘they suddenly see the light because Diana’s so great,’ rather, it’s the response Diana causes in others that stops them cold.

    Just clarifyin’, not trying to dismiss your points. I enjoyed your column here a lot and will be checking back regularly. We need good, intelligent, funny commentary like this as many of my favorite comics commentators have hung up the keyboard lately!

    Very best wishes,
    Gail Simone

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