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The Non-Marvel Action Hour – 3/3/10

New Wonder Woman and a triple dose of Secret Six. Green Arrow: Year One, the last of the Books of Magic, and two months of solicitations.

New Wonder Woman and a triple dose of Secret Six. Green Arrow: Year One, the last of the Books of Magic, and two months of solicitations.

News

DC Comics April Solicitations

Brave and the Bold #33 – Normally, I wouldn’t be interested, but Wonder Woman and Batgirl? Oh, Zatanna, too. JMS is hit and miss, but it might be worth the gamble. That Jesus Saiz cover is gorgeous, and interior artist Cliff Chiang is no slouch himself.

Batman: Brave and the Bold #16 – Batman and Wonder Woman vs. Egghead and Egg-Fu, from the same creative team as Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the Eighth Grade. A recipe for fun.

Batwoman: Elegy – The first collection of Kate Kane’s stint headlining Detective Comics, so it’s a hardcover. A book like this ought to get a HC collection, and $25 for seven issues isn’t a bad deal, but once again I’ll wait for the softcover, and once again it’ll be a long wait. No mention of the Question backup being included, and I don’t think there’s room, even with 192 total pages. Should be 154 for the Batwoman stuff, and Montoya would need about 56 pages. Probably covers and bonus J.H. Williams art, mostly. At least Question gets to run long enough to build up sufficient material for a trade, unlike most backups.

Wonder Woman: Warkiller – What? A trade that’s only five months behind the single issues? Um… good job. This matches Rise of the Olympian‘s trade turnaround time, though there’s apparently no HC for Warkiller.

Astro City: The Dark Age finally ends, with issue 4 of Book 4. Maybe I should finish reading it.

More $1 Reprints

Relatively new stuff this time around. Issue 27 of the current Green Lantern series, Batman & Robin #1, Ex Machina #1, The Losers #1 (Vertigo), and Human Target #1 (Vertigo). To further clarify, Human Target is the miniseries by Peter Milligan, not to be confused with the regular series by Milligan or the new, TV-based miniseries not by Milligan. It’s a good mini, but don’t pick it up expecting to see the Christopher Chance from the TV show, nor his friends in any form. Milligan’s Chance has complex identity issues the likes of which the show, to its benefit, have barely hinted at. Perhaps half of the story is about protecting his client, with the rest focusing on who, if anyone, Chance really is. Don’t bother with Ex Machina or  The Losers. You’ll want the trades, so these are redundant.

May sees the addition of Jonah Hex #1, Action Comics #858, Scalped #1, Hellblazer #1, and Authority #1, all of which are available in trade. Not the worst way to sample a series, but you’re basically renting to see if you want to buy. Ultimately, you’ll either want the trades or nothing, as the first issue only has the first part of the story. I highly recommend Scalped if you like grim n’ gritty stories with deeply flawed, unlikeable, but nonetheless well-written characters.

DC Comics May Solicitations

Birds of Prey – It’s back! It’s back! It’s back! Babs didn’t revert to Batgirl, but Helena got her crap costume back and Dinah fell through a wormhole. No one knows what happened to her. The important thing is, they’re all right, they’re here now, together, where they belong. Breaking them up made as much sense as breaking up the JSA or the Bat-Family. Now there’s more room for Catman/Huntress, the most doomed romance since Bates/Crane. Woo!

The new backup in Teen Titans stars Traci 13, Black Alice and Zatara, with art by Ted Naifeh. I’m not familiar with the writer, Rex Ogle, but if his story fits Naifeh’s art, which is a poor fit for straight superheroics but great for lighthearted fun, this could easily outshine the main feature. I’d buy it as a miniseries, but I’m not willing to pay $4 an issue for 8-10 pages. Maybe they can package it with the Blue Beetle backup to fill out a trade.

Showcase Presents: Suicide Squad – Finally, a collection. Too bad it’s B&W. Pass.

Reviews

Employee’s Pick

BoM 74

[DC] Books of Magic Vol. 2 #69-72 & 74
Writer: Peter Gross
Artists: Peter Gross (layouts, issues 69-71 & 74; finishes, issues 70, 71 & 74), Vince Locke (finishes, issue 69), John Ridgway (issue 72)

This won’t be a proper review since I’m missing two issues, including the last of the series. With a better book, I’d wait to get a complete run. With this, I’ll try not to assume too much.

Gross saving his run in the final issue would be a monumental task and force him to break the cycle of build-destroy-desensitize he picked up from Rieber. A cycle he distilled and perfected to the point that you can see the flames whenever Tim finds a new home. Or maybe that’s just in hindsight; I know I kept hoping it would turn out better this time, like maybe a step above complete disaster. Gross seems to lampshade my discontent in issue 74 by having Tim overwhelmed with a wave of pent-up emotion before slipping down to a new rock bottom. It’s remarkable how Gross keeps finding a deeper hole to push Tim into. Technically, he still has something to lose. People and parts of himself. Plenty more iterations of the same story left.

Rieber and Gross continually teased turning Tim into a likeable character, but ultimately, he’s a schmuck. If issue 75 is his triumphant return to form, that doesn’t mean he won’t revert to selfish senselessness shortly after. The next series is by a different writer, but this series so thoroughly smashed Tim’s internal and external appeal, his character and supporting cast, that I’m no longer willing to give him a chance. Better to start fresh with someone who might have a solid foundation to build on. Any potential here is too deeply buried under garbage to bother digging out.

I used to be impressed by the fact that Tim Hunter beat Harry Potter to the whole boy magician/chosen one schtick. Would’ve been remarkable if he’d been as good a character as he seemed early on. Less laudable is beating Spidey to the punch in selling a memory to a demon. As Oberon tells us, the ultimate price for this is Tim’s soul. You don’t make deals with the devil (or a devil), no matter how altruistic your reasons, and frankly, Tim’s are well-meaning but stupid. As usual, he takes the easy way out of a complex problem, blithely ignoring the consequences in favor of less short-term stress.

New-Type Books

WW 40

[DC] Wonder Woman Vol. 3 #40
Writer: Gail Simone
Penciler: Aaron Lopresti

This is why I keep reading. This isn’t radically different from recent issues, but Wondy’s usual resolution to conflict, turning enemies into friends, is presented more believably. I find myself disagreeing with characters who suggest Diana isn’t resolving a conflict at all. Not because they’re evil or their arguments are strawmen, they’re simply wrong and wouldn’t convince anyone without coercion.

dichotomy

That’s my one criticism. Yet again, mind control features prominently in the story. Those creepy kids on the cover are going around nudging people to believe and do awful things, like burgeoning Dr. Psychos. The mind control’s obvious here, which I prefer to the subtle kind that seems to only exist in captions, but it remains an annoyingly recurrent theme. Better to have the vast majority of stories involve people acting on their own discretion, so you aren’t constantly having to disregard actions with “oh, that wasn’t really her.” So you can see characters genuinely interact with each other. It’s especially glaring with someone like Donna Troy, who’s only made a handful of appearances during Simone’s run and wastes a good chunk of her limited time being slave to another’s influence.

so be it

It doesn’t grate so much here, though, largely because the parts away from the MC kids are so very good. Etta’s back, and she brought stories! Specifically, one story, the one explaining what she was up to before this series and why she’s so slim now. Plot, characterization, conflict, and it’s all good. Even the MC stuff is fine in and of itself, though I wish Diana would find other ways to do her whole “fighting deception” thing.

Amazon flowers
Even their flowers are badass.

Despite its ups and downs, I can’t quite figure out why Wonder Woman isn’t more popular. There’s so much here to appeal to both genders, as Simone both tells and shows in this issue. For gals, you have strong female characters who are much more than men with different anatomy, and a protagonist who doesn’t need her fists to resolve every conflict. For guys, there’s the willingness to use violence when necessary – not only as a last resort – displayed in a delightfully cheesy way this issue with two characters announcing their names before/during a fight. I don’t think that last was entirely intentional, but reading it I half expect them to start shouting out their attacks. Golden Lasso Strike! Flying Kick of Truthiness! I wouldn’t complain.

Suicide Squad 67

[DC] Suicide Squad Vol. 1 #67
Writers: John Ostrander, Gail Simone
Artist: Jim Calafiore

Or Secret Six #16 1/2. The Squad are merely guest stars, foils for the Six. Black Alice is more interesting here, or less annoying. Not sure. The theme is regression to the mean. Secret Six started out so far above average it lost sight of normal comics. Now it’s falling back to Earth. It had to happen. You start expecting every issue to knock your socks off, and you know disappointment.

It’s OK. Bane’s adorable, Scandal and Liana are a great couple, everyone loves Ragdoll (no matter how much they fight it). But nothing stands out. There are no great moments. Too many moments and not enough support for them was my problem with Wonder Woman #39, so I’m glad that’s avoided here. A lack of support isn’t. The plot is Secret Six vs. Suicide Squad. Not bad, not great. The whole comic’s like that: not bad, not great. The art does just enough. Nicola Scott’s absence is a major reason for the lack of a wow factor. The difference between Calafiore and Nguyen is that the former doesn’t break immersion with patchy art. Every panel’s as good as the last, no better, no worse.

Reminds me of some of the lesser issues of Birds of Prey. Might improve with more readings. Speaking of, there’s a carryover here from BoP, Yasemin Soze. As a rule, the fact that Simone created her doesn’t grant her any special treatment. Yasemin exposits enough of her backstory to catch us up, but conveniently avoids mentioning who put her in prison, namely the Birds. There’s nothing to indicate that she’s ever appeared before now, so you can be forgiven for thinking this is her debut. There’s also little in the way of names or information for the bajillion other characters, so I hope you’ve read plenty of Suicide Squad and Secret Six. I’m a little lost, which is part of why I’m not getting much out of this. At least the editor was kind enough to leave a note about needing this issue in Secret Six #16, as well as a note in this issue about Secret Six #17 being part 2 of the story. It works better if you view it as a Secret Six story and resign yourself to knowing as much about their foes as the Six do, Deadshot excepted.

S6 17

[DC] Secret Six Vol. 4 #17
Writers: Gail Simone, John Ostrander
Artist: Jim Calafiore

Oh yeah, and zombies. I hate zombies, so if you enjoy this crossover more than me, that could be why. This issue repeats Yasemin’s backstory from Suicide Squad #67, which would make more sense if that weren’t a must buy for anyone following this series. A panel of Huntress holding Yasemin over the edge of a rooftop is included, a fun flashback for those of us who remember that scene, but it still doesn’t tell anyone where she’s appeared before. I just found out Scandal had a run-in with the Suicide Squad in Checkmate (issue 18 of the recent series) by skimming Wikipedia. Then I remembered why I don’t look for info like that outside of the comics, running smack into a major reveal from Secret Six #18.

ineffectual

Sigh. I should’ve read all this stuff before the internet had ample time to ruin it for me. Now it’s hard to judge fairly. That said, I like this issue. There are more names and less of a sense that more are needed. It strengthens the previous part and together they form a stronger whole. Blackest Night is used as a device to give insight into characters by showing what emotions they feel. Naturally, Ragdoll’s a roiling rainbow of raw emotion. As the conflict evolves from Six vs. Squad to include a third party, the Black Lanterns, who oppose all, an overarching plot feels less necessary and great moments crop up that more than balance out bits of awkward phrasing like “they’re gonna kill each others!” and “you were meant to be saaafe!” There’s also what appears to be a colorist’s error, where a character is said to show will (green) and fear (yellow), but is colored green and red (rage). There are faint spots of what might be yellow, but if he is, as we’re told, “cover[ing his] fear with [his] will,” he’s doing an amazing job of it.

S6 18

[DC] Secret Six Vol. 4 #18
Writers: Gail Simone, John Ostrander
Artist: Jim Calafiore

OK, that was good. Came together real well in the end. Even the art got better. No idea who most of the Black Lanterns were, but it’s not important. You either have a beef with Deadshot or you’re a background zombie. Waller’s great in this, the perfect balance of necessary cruelty. I’m glad to see the back of this crossover, surprisingly good though it was.

Trade

[DC] Green Arrow: Year One
Writer: Andy Diggle
Artist: Jock

The new true origin of Oliver Queen. It’s a simple story told well. Man with everything is taken away from it all, nearly killed. Has to get back to basics to survive, and in so doing, finds a purpose for the first time in his life.

The details make it. Diggle sells us on Ollie the spoiled rich kid, Ollie the desperate survivor, Ollie the fledgling hero. Each incarnation is believable on its own and as a part of the proverbial journey from boy to man. Jock’s art isn’t pretty in the conventional sense, but it more than makes up for that with depth. He’s a great storyteller and understands that comic art is about more than stock poses. Whatever the script calls for, Jock delivers, and the emotion is palpable in every page. He breathes life into the characters and their every action.

With Longbow Hunters and the ensuing regular series, Mike Grell took Queen to the outskirts of the DCU, to a darker, more realistic land where he could tell stories that had little to do with superheroes or the genre’s trappings. Here, Diggle and Jock firmly establish the roots of the character. It’s a Green Arrow primer, and it’s a shame this wasn’t followed by an ongoing series in the same vein.

Truncation

Books of Magic – I’d be lying if I said I were disappointed, but I sure ain’t pleased. Lousy end to an overall lousy series.
Wonder Woman – Not the most consistent series, but issues like this are why I’ve stuck with it so long and probably won’t drop it until Simone leaves.
Suicide Squad – Needs more nekkidness. Not one instance of a topless person who was also alive. I expect better.
Secret Six #17 – Better. Worth buying for Ragdoll’s emotional spectrum alone.
Secret Six #18 – Better still. “I say we negotiate.” Love.
Green Arrow: Year One – Like an action movie. Full of cool scenes, with a likeable lead character, hateable villains to oppose him, and just enough plot to tie it all together.

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