The Watchtower 12.1.03

Welcome Home

I’ve enjoyed doing the DC News & Views for Saturday for the last few weeks, but both due to the fact that I usually wasn’t getting done until Sunday and because I was doing a lot more views than news, I decided it was time to hand the reins back over to a pure news guy; this week Tuesday stalwart Tim Stevens filled in, next week we’ll have a brand spanking new fella who I think you’ll all like. As for me, I’ve decided to fire up the ol’ Watchtower and bring some of the format I’ve been using on News & Views the last few weeks. Sometimes I’ll scan the headlines in the world of comics and give my two. Sometimes you’ll get my take on what was good and what was not from the past Wednesday (or Thursday, depending on wacky postal holidays…or like Friday if you’re in some backward country like England)…like this week. And sometimes maybe I’ll have enough to just write a whole essay on something or another. So welcome to a new era…again…and don’t worry, Tim Sheridan is along for the ride (you can all keep reading now).

Making Headlines


What I Read This Week

DC

The Flash #204
Story: Ignition pt. 4 of 6: Cold Reality
Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist: Alberto Dose

Admittedly, I expect a bit more each month from THE FLASH than from other titles; I have championed it more than once as the best monthly title on the market. There are few writers out there that seem more comfortable with every character they write, every detail of the world they live in, and every line of dialogue than Geoff Johns on THE FLASH. Despite my expectations, it’s been a long time since Geoff and THE FLASH have failed to hit one out of the park; this issue is no exception.
If there is any criticism I would level at THE FLASH since Geoff took over, it’s that he’s done such a great job making everything from the Rogues to Keystone City so interesting that you often lose sight of just how amazing a character Wally West, The Flash, truly is. With the current “Ignition” arc, Geoff has gotten back to the heart of why Wally is one of the best characters in the history of comics: even when he has no idea what is going on or what he can do, Wally has such a heart beating in his chest that he will go out and try to do the right thing, to save the innocent, to fight evil, no matter what. Wally is one of the most real characters in comics; he’s far from perfect and he is very scared, but he puts the greater good ahead of all that, not to mention risking his life to save others when he knows that the life he’s found himself in has already cost him and his wife things he can’t even remember (an angle that is hopefully going to get some more screen time down the line).
We get a nice treat in this issue as Captain Cold puts in an in-costume, full-out, fighting The Flash appearance; and there are few characters Geoff writes better than Cold. We get a very intriguing new supporting character in Ashley Zolomon, wife of the new Zoom; a mix of sympathy and guilt and a lot on untapped potential in her interactions with the existing catch. And last but not least, we get an absolutely fantastic last page that will give you a tingle even if you can guess at the surprise.
This was my favorite issue of “Ignition” yet. The Wally parts have been good throughout, but the overall story, including the ongoing mystery of the new Mr. Element, is really starting to click now, and though I’m still anxious for Howard Porter, Alberto Dose is really capturing the essence of this arc. Great job all around on THE FLASH.

JLA #90
Story: “Perchance”
Writer: Joe Kelly
Penciller: Chriscross

What a horribly disappointing issue for a couple reasons.
First, because this will be Joe Kelly’s final issue on the series for a bit. Some have criticized Kelly’s run as getting away from what has made JLA a success in the past, for using characters nobody wants to read about, for being too preachy about political issues and more. While I see a lot of these points and there were certainly flaws in the run, overall I give Kelly credit for daring to go in some new directions and for writing truly epic stories like “The Obsidian Age” and “Trial By Fire” that utilized a lot of underused characters and did a masterful job tying together tangent plotlines to create an elaborate tapestry.
Second, there has always been so much potential in the Batman/Wonder Woman relationship, for years, in this title and in others. They are so similar and yet so different; two strong personalities that just spark in each other’s company, usually as rivals, sometimes as friends, but with the last year or so, Kelly has explored the possibility of the two as lovers seriously for the first time. The chemistry has even spread over into the animated Justice League cartoon.
After over a year of buildup, this issue does a horrible job of wrapping up the Batman/Wonder Woman relationship and Kelly’s run (for now). The plot device of J’onn’s telepathic machine which allows Leaguers to tap into their own psyches to see potential futures (last seen in the infamous #83…yeah, the Lex Luthor=George W. Bush issue) is once again used and the result is…confusing. It is nearly impossible to follow the flow of this issue, to tell what is and isn’t real, and what scene comes when, and Kelly goes all over the place so much that there’s no storyline you really latch onto and care about. Chriscross has not impressed me in his fill-ins here or on OUTSIDERS; his art works especially poorly here as he just doesn’t have a handle on making Diana, the model of comic book beauty, look attractive, which kills an issue that is supposed to center around romance. Just disappointing.

JLA/Avengers #3
Story: “Strange Tales”
Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artist: George Perez

The first two issues were about brilliance, reading underneath the subtext of what both teams were about, and writing fight scenes in such a clever way that you were forgot you were reading fight scenes. Oh yeah, and beautiful art.
This issue was about fun, pure and unadulterated fun. Not that the issue wasn’t brilliant, especially in the latter half, but you can tell Kurt Busiek was living out every fanboy dream he and legions of others have had from the Silver Age to the present (and I’ll make the assertion that I do believe for Mr. Busiek, the Elongated Man embodies everything he loved about aforementioned more innocent age of comics).
The first part of the issue is admittedly jarring, a bit hard to follow, but one figures that’s the mood that’s being gone for. The second half of the issue is haunting and does a nice job of upping the ante of the threat yet again; no small task considering what we’ve already seen in this series and what the expectations were going in to begin with.
If there’s one flaw, it’s the one that people have been saying all along: the JLA do all in all come off looking more heroic than the Avengers; particularly considering that it is the most fallen of DC heroes, the much-maligned Hal Jordan, who stands resolute to do the right thing in the face of doubt from the Scarlet Witch (but man…what a speech…even though it almost felt like Kurt was practically yelling “Hal Jordan is still a good guy! See! SEE!” in my ear, it was so classically rendered that I cared little). But it stays with what I’ve been saying every other time this criticism has been raised: the JLA are icons, the Avengers are humans, at the end of the day (or the issue), they’re all heroes, and there are difference kinds of heroes and all are ok…that’s what this series is here to tell us.
Oh yeah, and beautiful art.

The Legion #27
Story: “Foundations pt. 3”
Writers: Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Penciller: Chris Batista

“Foundations” has been a great story, packed with everything you look for in a huge-scale action epic (historically a Legion specialty). This issue isn’t awful, but it’s paced extremely quickly and feels a bit rushed.
There’s a lot going on in this story, and more importantly, as in any Legion story, a lot of characters to follow; that makes it imperative that Abnett & Lanning pack as much into each issue as they can. For the first two parts of this story (admittedly #25 was extra-sized) and for most of the series, they’ve done well with that. In this issue, it feels like the duo panicked, not thinking they’d shed enough light on the principle antagonist yet, and sacrificed too much to establish motives and an impending threat. We see nothing of Live Wire and his situation this issue, and didn’t see much last issue either. There’s been no movement in the ongoing Ultra Boy-Apparition relationship in months either; I worry that when the plot is picked up again, new readers brought in by “Foundations” will be hopelessly lost.
Still, there are plenty of bright spots. Chris Batista is one of the most underrated artists in comics; his work is so crisp and beautiful. Superboy’s guest stint continues to be a pleasure and even if his relationship with Cosmic Boy seems to run contrary to interactions the two have had in the past, the intriguing direction it is taking more than makes up for that. Braniac 5 and Kid Quantum, among others, get some nice character bits and Invisible Kid (who DnA write really well, they just don’t do it enough) gets to be really cool in a sort of homage to the pre-Crisis second Invisible Kid’s role in “The Great Darkness Saga” (the classic story on which “Foundations” is loosely based). Plus, the JLA-based baddies are just cool as all hell. I think this puppy will really pick up with #28 and I’m glad it’s bi-weekly (I think all team books should have one big bi-weekly arc a year, don’t you?).

Batman/Superman/Wonder Woman: Trinity #3 (of 3)
Story: “III”
Writer & Artist: Matt Wagner

Amidst all the hub-bub about everything that’s gone on in the DCU this year and what is on the horizon for 2004, Matt Wagner’s brilliant little work, hyped strongly to start, has been criminally overlooked, probably in no small part due to the extended delays and breaks between books.
Well, it was worth the wait. Wagner crafts a tale that perfectly interweaves the diverse paths of DC’s three heaviest hitters, keeping a weighty feel but never feeling bogged down by self-importance; the characters and their relationship never takes a back seat to the engaging and well-done adventure story Wagner uses to move everything along.
Beyond understanding the Man of Steel, Dark Knight & Amazon Princess, Wagner does fantastic turns on Ra’s al Ghul & Bizarro as well (I love the fact that Bizarro actually gets thought bubbles and I love what’s in them). His handling of the rogue Amazon was fun, but it’s a bigger payoff for long-time WW fans when they learn who she actually is; but you lose nothing if you don’t, which is another reason this book is great: it’s accessible to obsessive long-time fans and neophytes all the same.
The ending sequence may be a bit hokey, but it comes off as fun. If you read the three books as a whole (this will make a great TPB), every character gets their moment in the sun as does every relationship amongst the three. The pacing is perfect, the art is crisp (but doesn’t overwhelm the story) and the story is one of the most organic I’ve read in years; it feels like it ends exactly where it should, not a minute too soon, not a minute too late.
Wagner never promised a story that would “rock the foundations of the DC universe,” he promised a fun look at the big three, and that’s what you get (plus a great cameo of a fourth DC hero that I had to take a second and third look at, it was such a great idea). I wish he had written JLA #90.
I’d love to see Matt Wagner play in DC’s past some more (maybe with Flash, Green Lantern and some of the other folks who lie in between “Big 3” and “second-stringer” status next time)…I’ll also take a Bizarro ongoing.

Marvel

Avengers #73
Story: The Search for She-Hulk pt. 3 of 4: Sticks and Stones”
Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist: Scott Kolins

Let’s get this out of the way right now so as not to gush over it: Geoff Johns writes a great Hawkeye. With all due respect to current HAWKEYE scribe Fabian Nicieza, if I were to hand a new writer a bible on how to handle Hawkeye’s character in less than two pages, the first two pages of this issue got it all; the character is always a pleasure to read, but became even more so under Johns’ pen; I was smiling with every line. On a sidenote, Geoff writes a great Bruce Banner as well; “No offense, Hawkeye…but I’m a lot smarter than you” was one of the coolest Banner lines I’ve read in awhile, and the ol’ “You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry…” chestnut was used to perfection here.
I wanted to get the good stuff out of the way so I didn’t give the impression that I’ve been anything other than completely and utterly disappointed in Geoff Johns’ run on AVENGERS.
This was probably one of my favorite issues of the run (the others being the standalone stories with The Falcon and Ant-Man/Jack of Hearts), and I still didn’t like it very much. “Search for She-Hulk” has been marginally better than the awful “Red Zone,” in which it seemed like it took forever for something to happen and then…nothing happened; I attribute this to Geoff being a better character writer than big epic battle writer. If you look at his best stuff on FLASH, it’s cerebral; ditto for HAWKMAN; with JSA, all the big battle stuff has been co-written with David Goyer, Geoff goes solo for smaller scale battles and character work (making me a bit concerned for the upcoming “Black Reign,” which I was really looking forward to). He’s got the same problem on TEEN TITANS: he just can’t seem to balance his brilliant character stuff and then write big battle scenes; when he tries to write fight scenes, they take the whole issue and resultantly you finish the book in about three minutes; not good.
Scott Kollins also just seems out of his element. He’s a fantastic artist, but he feels all wrong for AVENGERS; his work just seems sloppy and impossible to take seriously, especially his She-Hulk, and taking her seriously is central to the arc. Maybe it’s just that I’ll never be able to disassociate Scott from his FLASH work, I don’t know.
Overall, the Johns era of AVENGERS has produced a few gems, but a lot more dead air. I’m pretty much glad he’ll be done after two more months so he doesn’t tarnish his ever-expanding legacy any more.

Fantastic Four #507
Story: “Authoritative Action pt. 5 of 6”
Writer: Mark Waid
Penciller: Howard Porter

There isn’t a day that should go by without somebody out there giving thanks that Mark Waid and Marvel made up. In my opinion, ever so humble, this is without a doubt the best Marvel book currently being produced. It’s a fun read every month, it has weight, I has real emotion and characters you get attached to, and it takes time to really appreciate the intricacies of each story, something I’ll always appreciate. Something else I really like is that Waid is getting away somewhat from the current trend of “writing for trade paperbacks” by making his entire run to this point truly one big ongoing story that can still be broken down into smaller arcs. I feel rewarded as a reader that stuff I read a year ago is still affecting the title today; this book has every good quality of when Stan & Jack wrote it and I daresay the dialogue is a bit funnier.
SPOILER WARNING
I threw that in there because I don’t think I could discuss this issue fully without mentioning that, yes, Doom does make his return from “hell” after a seven issue imprisonment with aid from the unlikeliest of sources. But again, because of that “bigger picture” feel, it doesn’t seem like such a quick reappearance by Doom is trite or a lame ploy, he feels like part of the regular cast, albeit one who only shows up occasionally, but that doesn’t take away any of the weight appearances by him gained during “Unthinkable” nor make you doubt that him showing up is especially bad. Doom really is the fifth member of the Fantastic Four, and Mark Waid has shown a perfect knowledge of how to use him and how frequently, rather than ignore him altogether or not use him just for the sake of his return seeming bigger; I’m fully convinced (almost) that Waid could have him return every issue and I’d still gasp every time.
The Reed-Doom scenes are the highlight of the issue. They show why Doom is one of the greatest villains ever and why the relationship between these two antagonists is so unique. It gives a whole new twist to the whole “…and when you return, I’ll be waiting” thing and Reed’s actions make sense, in a desperate sort of way. I feel so awful for Reed yet smirk along with him as Doom realizes the extent of the situation. Waid succeeded in making Reed’s actions thus far in this arc make sense given how the character has been written, and that was of incredible importance for the arc.
Howard Porter’s art is what it always is: excellent. Can’t wait to see him on FLASH (did I mention that already?)

New X-Men #149
Story: “Planet X pt. 4 of 5: Phoenix in Darkness”
Writer: Grant Morrison
Penciller: Phil Jimenez

Oh Grant Morrison, you vex me so.
I picked up “E For Extinction,” having loved Morrison’s work on JLA, and was pretty on the fence about it; some cool stuff, but too far departed from the X-Men I loved to give it a pass on anything less than greatness. I got the rest of the first year for free because my girlfriend at the time gave me a subscription as a gift and found myself liking the book less and less with each issue, so I dropped it before “Imperial” ended.
I picked up the book two more times: for the Cannonball “guest appearance” (don’t get me started…) and then for the Magneto memorial issue…both left me glad I didn’t spend $2.25 a month on the book.
So then with big reveal in #146, I caved and decided to buy the last two arcs (regardless of what overall opinion I have of the run, that moment very nearly made it all worth it, I’m still blown away).
So now we’ve got this arc almost wrapped…and I’m no closer to decided whether or not I like Grant Morrison’s X-Men than I was almost three years ago. It’s almost as if he’s intentionally trying to alternate the good and bad issues. #146 was genius, then the issue focusing on Magneto was just dumb (I couldn’t take anything seriously with Toad & company acting like jackasses in the background…any air of importance to Mags felt like it was just Morrison trying to have a laugh). Part three with Wolverine & Jean was more gold. Then you’ve got this issue…which was ok. Not great, not awful. Some good moments, some bad. Cyclops showing up was as cool as the character has been in quite some time, I’ll give Grant that (since Scott is supposedly his favorite). The Xorn part was cool, even if it does serve only further to make Magneto seem less threatening and more mid-life crisis old geezer. I can’t decide whether I hate Beak or love him (improvement, because when he debuted it was firmly the former). I worry that double-sized or not, next issue has too much to resolve. I fear the use of Phoenix Ex Machina very badly (and Wizard sucks this week for possibly spoiling the end of the story anyhow).
Yeah, that’s really all I have to say. And that Phil Jimenez is amazing, no matter what.

Uncanny X-Men #433
Story: “The Draco pt. 5 of 6”
Writer: Chuck Austen
Artist: Philip Tan

I am not one of those who believe Chuck Austen can do no right. I enjoyed his arc way back when in ULTIMATE X-MEN that introduced Ultimate Gambit and think he’s done good stuff in the Superman titles. Even within this title, I think he’s made Havok the best he’s been in awhile, he has had some really good issues with Northstar (principally the one where he joined the team…he’s also had some bad ones since) and I really like the Juggernaut angle.
But even an Austen apologist such as myself can’t forgive how awful “The Draco” has been; I just want it to be over.
The entire plot has been bizarre and the opposite of compelling. Azazel is one of the worst, most stereotypical and dull villains introduced in years (please, have him twirl his moustache and go all the way…this chapter’s revelations did not do anything to salvage him either…it’s an interesting idea, but not nearly enough to make me care). Nightcrawler has been written as bad comic relief since Austen’s run started, so I don’t care about him. Mystique has been useless; the first thing she sees after spending months imprisoned in exile is the son she abandoned and the man who abandoned her…and all she can do is smile like a moron for three issues? And I don’t not care about Archangel’s relationship with Husk because of the age thing…I don’t care because there was no logical buildup and yet Archangel is freaking out like he never did over Psylocke. And what is with the tendency of any of Austen’s characters to just start yelling the most bizarre things when a loved one is in danger (see: Nurse Annie)? I’m trying very hard to restrain my thoughts on the fact that Iceman has been a freaking head of ice for three issues and the concern most of his teammates showed consisted of going to dinner with the guys who did it and now another is offering to pee on him.
I have nothing nice to say about this story arc. Fine, the Polaris thing is mildly intriguing, but Annie has gone for decent P.O.V. character to irritating as hell, so there’s not even that. Philip Tan’s art? I’m just indifferent to it, nothing else…he seems like he spends a lot of time on it, I will say, and I do respect that. Final thought: this is one of the worst story arcs anywhere in years, let’s move on.


Tim Sheridan’s Little Corner of 411

For those of you who may have missed it, the short form in the style of a haiku:

Meet Tim Sheridan
A comic book fan with sass
So much sass has Tim

Marvel:

Amazing Spider-Man #501
I keep wanting this title to get better. As a longtime Spidey fan, I should be getting a big kick out of it, but I just am not. I was quite disappointed in the last story, which just seemed to be one big ad for a new Dr Strange series, so that was sad. I feel a sort of loyalty to this book, as it is the one that got me into comics years ago, but I don’t feel Straczynski is getting the right balance of character and plot.

Fantastic Four #507
I’ve always dug the FF. I even read it in the really crappy years, even before the Heroes Reborn stuff. Just thought the concept was fun. A family of superheroes. And this creative team really seems to get that. So I’m liking it a lot. As for this story, for the first time in years, I’m getting the sense of a real status quo change. Not that that always means good….but it’s at least fun.

Human Torch #7
So disappointed in this book. I like Kesel, and I like the Torch too, but it’s just really treading water. Stories take far too long.

New X-Men #149
I never thought the X Men were as great as I always heard. I was never blown away by the concept. That said, I was one of the many folks suckered in that bought the book when Morrison took over in 2001. I liked it. I liked how he didn’t just do a typical story with the characters. It seemed, after years, they were finally moving someplace else. Overall I have enjoyed his run, but it seems that this Planet X story, especially this issue, has been a cop out. It’s moving very slow, and Magneto seems to be ripe for the plucking. His weaknesses are far too apparent. But I respect Morrison as a writer and a humanitarian (uhm…sure) so I’m hoping he’ll be able to turn that around. Invisibles confused me though. Completely. Anyone wanna help me out with that?

Silver Surfer #3
I know no one that was excited for this relaunch. To me, the Silver Surfer is the second most bunk character, and Aquaman is first. He does not look cool. He looks dated. He looks weird. He looks Kirby, circa 1965. And I’m sure he was awesome then. But he’s not now. I will try this book once more, just once.

Spectacular Spider-Man #7
I love Spiderman, but I just feel like the art is really getting in the way of Jenkins’ character driven stories. Disappointed.

Trouble #5
This was a cute idea, and I think it’s gotten a lot of flack for no reason. I don’t think it was the bold stroke Marvel wanted to have to reach out to female readers. But it was a fine read, and nothing more than that. It was fun. It was a sex story, but it never got overt. I liked how each character was very well defined, but the art sometimes took away from that. A bizarre look at the very real “origin” of Spiderman. And May was hot. I will not look at that old biddy the same way again.

Uncanny X-Men #433
I’m not going to be another “Austen Sucks” person. Mainly because I don’t think he does. But his X-Men stories just don’t do it for me. They are rather bland next to Morrison’s. I’m sure without him on NXM, things would be different. I can see he has a lot of love for the characters, but it’s just not hooking me.

Venom #8
Why does Venom have his own book? That’s just foolish Marvel. Stop it!

DC:

Batman #621
I like it. It’s different. I like 100 Bullets, so I was anticipating what the team would have in store for a mainstream title. A nice turnaround from the Loeb/Lee story.

Batman Adventures #8
I love this book. I truly miss the Batman animated series of 11 years ago. Thankfully this gets the feel of it.

Batman: Gotham Knights #47
I love Batman. I love his “family”. I even love Bane. But that said, I cannot truly express how bored I have been with this book.

JLA/Avengers #3
AWESOME.

Teen Titans GO! #1
This cartoon scares me….a lot.

Losers #6
This is one of the best books out there. Anyone who is not reading it, please pick up the trade.


That’s all for this week, gang. Whole lot of typing and copying and pasting and my fingers ache. Barring anything too exciting this week, next week you’ll get my defense of Joe Kelly, a guy I almost felt bad bashing even slightly this week because I like his stuff so much and don’t get why he gets such bad press. So until then…

…I need a tag line.