A mad mad week from DC: Ambush Bug returns, Women in Refrigerators on Sale, Clayface eats Gotham, Scarecrow crashes a slumber party, JLA doubles its fishnets quotient, Wonder Woman’s bondage fetish explained… and Batman’s dad travels to Krypton to hang out with Jor-El!?!
AMBUSH BUG: YEAR NONE #1
(Keith Giffen / Robert Loren Fleming / Al Milgrom)
It’s impossible for me to encompass just how sheer fun this book is, how many comic conventions it breaks, how perfectly it captures (and pisses on) the current comics storytelling fads, how how how…
Ambush Bug returns to investigate the murder of Jonni DC (the original DC logo mascot) and do a parodic tour-de-force of the current DC Comics universe.
Let’s just run through some highlights:
The Source Wall complaining about its aesthetic decline since Kirby, way too much awareness of the medium, fourth-wall breaking, inside jokes that every reader feels part of, women in household appliances, the eternal struggle of thought balloons versus square box narratives, whatever-happened-to the omniscient narrator, self-referential continuity porn, meta-textual madness, the real reason behind Jean Lorring’s Identity Crisis, the return of the Jack Kirby Sandman, Sugar & Spike, ‘Mazing Man, Yankee Poodle’s Swimsuit special, Egg-Fu puns, Ace the Bat-Hound… and a menace from DC’s checkered past uncovered!
BATMAN: GOTHAM AFTER MIDNIFHT #3
(Steve Niles / Kelley Jones)
While researching for a Steve Niles interview I’m doing for Newsarama, I stumbled upon a great quote from Steve about Gotham After Midnight:
Q: Well, you did get to play with Batman already once. Why is this title different for you?
A: Well, with “Batman: Gotham County Line,” that was what everyone expected me to do. Now I get to do what I want to do.
That quite says it all doesn’t it? Niles vows to offer a self-contained threat and story each month while building up to his larger story (which he does).
This issue features Clayface, now transformed into a gigantic, ever-growing and terrifying people-eating mass. Kelley Jones excels at drawing crazy monster stuff like this, making every panel in this issue a joy to behold and quite unsettling at the same time.
BRAVE AND THE BOLD #15
(Mark Waid & Scott Kolins)
Nightwing and Hawkman teaming up? What is the point of that?
Oh, wait, they’re really secretly off to rescue Deadman and Green Arrow from last issue? Sneaky…
The conservative Hawkman is of course the best character to play off Green Arrow’s liberal leanings, and the two of them always work great together on the page. Deadman continues to be an uncomfortable presence to the other DC heroes, but Waid surprised me with an obvious circus connection between him and the other famous DC acrobat, Dick Grayson. Little things like the two of them sharing circus lingo, or Deadman teaching the Flying Graysons really made this issue shine, along with the usual old-school superhero action, the fun quips and the plot twists at every corner.
THE JOKER’S ASYLUM: SCARECROW #1
(Joe Harris / Juan Doe)
Dr Jonathan Crane is a psychologist by day, and a psychotic fear-inducing scarecrow villain by night. His latest project? Playing boogeyman to a student slumber party (how b-movie horror of you, Dr Crane!) and putting the fear back into a group of snotty cheerleaders terrorizing his pet patient.
Plot-wise, it’s pretty much on the same level as last week’s Poison Ivy, an ok story that treads on predictable ground. Juan Doe’s absolutely stunning art makes the difference here, a modern/dark/moody take on the vintage Fleischer Superman cartoon style, doing jaw-dropping things with colour, and composition. Thanks to the cinematic flow of the story, I could easily see this being a standout episode of the Dini Batman animated series.
JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #23
(Dwayne McDuffie / Ed Benes)
‘The Second Comics’ part 2.
The JLA versus Amazo (in Red Tornado’s form).
More talking about Vixen’s F’d up powers.
Black Canary and Zatanna on the team at the same time, both wearing fishnets?
Is the JLA really that stagnant a concept that we need to put up with Amazo and Red Tornado-focused storylines so soon after Metzler’s departure?
LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #44
(Jim Shooter / Sanford Greene / Nathan Massengill)
‘Enemy Rising’ part 5. Um, did this storyline just finish? I’m still quite unclear on what the threat was, after getting bombarded with the frenetic plot pace and unpolished storytelling of the past issues.
The Legion has been divided into three fronts. Invisible Lad steps up and saves the day and the captured Legionnaires from the red-skinned pirate guys. Saturn Girl’s team strikes back against the Science Police. Lightning Lad saves the Legion from… the tax office (?) thanks to the intervention of a new annoying supporting character with awesome bureaucracy-fu.
Fans of senseless, non-stop super-hero action with fast and constant scene changes (even mid-page most often) should really love the retro-aesthetic writing on this title. It just makes me queasy.
Still, I do marvel at Shooter’s talent to provide (I’m guessing) unintentionally funny iconic sequences, and appreciate his attempts to infuse humour in his stories – even if he goes a bit overboard most times.
MADAME XANADU #2
(Matt Wagner / Amy Reeder Headley)
I kinda get it now…
Joel La Pula helped explain the issues I had with the 1st issue last month. Wagner assumes a certain familiarity with both the character’s origins and (mostly) the Arthurian legend for readers coming into this series. I admit to having no interest in either — which of course brings us back to my confusion over #1.
Madame Xanadu is of course a C-list DC supporting character, a sorceress who has lost her powers (and recently her sight) and is most commonly used as a plot device when a writer needs a tarot reading to foreshadow some gloomy threat in the horizon. Her origins go back to the aforementioned days of Camelot, where she was known as Nimue: one of the fairies linked to the ‘Lady of the Lake’, Merlin’s ‘companion’ and betrayer, a sister to the dread Morganna…
Wagner fills his script with subtle nuances and small moments, reimagining the legend within the confines of the DC Universe by introducing free agents like the Phantom Stranger and the Demon Etrigan – although never clearly identifying them as such. Neither character is a stranger to Vertigo’s universe (having featured in Sandman and Books Magic, much like Xanadu herself), yet their presence here fills odd still, in a sore thumb manner.
Headley’s art took some getting used to, but I now appreciate its merits and the definite japanese (=’manga’) flavour it brings to the storytelling. I do wonder if it would have been more worthwhile and rewarding to have gone the Full Monty and done the story in black & white and stronger inks.
(Fabian Nicieza / Joe Bennett / Jack Jadson)
‘Batman R.I.P.’ tie-in
Nicieza replaces Dixon on the title to basically explain to readers what they have been reading about in Morrison’s Batman for the past year. I’ll admit this actually lnear and reader-friendly approach to the narrative helped me piece together some elements of Batman R.I.P. that were baffling me before. Apart from the expository catch-up, the issue offers little more — with a run-of-the-mill filler flashback with a didactic leasson to take to the present occupying most of the issue’s space.
Joe Bennett is doing an amazing job on both Robin and the returned Spoiler, finding the ideal balance between portraying them as believable teenagers and cool vigilantes.
THE SECRET HISTORY THE AUTHORITY: HAWKSMOOR #4-5
(Mike Costa / Fiona Staples)
The plot opens up, linking the murder mystery, to Jack’s new girlfriend, to the gradually-more-frequent giant robot attacks, and ultimately to Jack’s secret origins.
Mike Costa not only gets Jack Hawksmoor, he seems to be genuinely in love with the character, and manages through this connection to really bring forward the hidden potential – both in terms of power and personality. Different attitudes come to play, surprising character traits are revealed, and every other page there’s a ‘whoa’ moment waiting for you. To accomplish all that in a Wildstorm tie-in comic that more would usually treat as a throwaway gig… Well, I really hope mr Costa sticks around after this!
(James Robinson / Renato Guedes / Wilson Magalhaes)
Superman and the returned Kirby mythical hero Atlas (Wikipedia is good for you) punch each other around Metropolis, while Guedes fills us in on Atlas’ background – doing an impressive near perfect imitation/ribute/homage to Jack Kirby’s signature style (with a Buscema twist) for the purposes of the flashback.
I’ll just come out and say it: This is boring.
Fistfights, Kirby flashbacks, more tedious Science Police characters. The only interesting part of the issue for me was Lois and Clark arguing over Krypto and Zatanna over their morning coffee. That’s 1 page out of 22.
I still have faith in Robinson, one of our genre’s greatest super-hero writers – but he needs to get his act together and fast!
(Michael Green & Mike Johnson / Ed Benes, Matthew Clark, Allan Goldman & Ian Churchill / various)
This is what we learned in this anniversary issue of Superman/Batman:
Dr Thomas Wayne (Batman’s dad), while driving through Kansas, accidentally stumbled upon a Kryptonian space probe sent by Jor-El (Superman’s dad), which transferred Wayne’s consciousness to Krypton where the two men basically hung out, talked over baby names and picked out a new family for baby Kal-El…
The issue also features kids roasting marshmallows over Firestorm’s flaming top, Black Canary with Vixen hammering nails on a Smallville roof (because somehow they’re better at it than the contractors Wayne paid to fix the building, who just standard around and admire the view), Batman terrorizing toddlers and the Titans vs the Batcave (huh). Despite all that nonsense going on and an endless array of pointless hero and villain cameos, the issue still takes itself quite seriously, indeed establishing the Wayne/Jor-El meeting as canon.
Are there any DC editors actually approving this stuff, or do Heroes staff writers have carte-blanche to mess up properties on either major publisher just by grace of being on a popular subpar TV series?
(Kurt Busiek & Fabian Nicieza / Mark Bagley & Scott MacDaniel / Art Thibert & Andy Owens)
Busiek showcases each of the Big Three in their familial/civilian identity environment and introducing their respective supporting casts and friends. It’s well written as always (hey, it’s Etta Candy and Diana talking about boyfriends… what’s not to love), some of the insights are intriguing, but the formulaic plot breakdown to explore and compare the three heroes from yet another angle starts to get rather repetitive/predictable.
The back-up story showcases Morgaine and Enigma as they finally enlist Despero in their villainous Trinity and takes a look through their new headquarters and their mysterious minions.
Tags: Batman, DCU, Green Arrow, JLA, Superman, Vertigo, Wildstorm, Wonder Woman