Thursday, 13 December 2007

In brightest day, in far-off night

I've just finished the Sinestro Corps War Part 11 in Green Lantern 25. I've yet to read, also in this week's pile of comics, Green Lantern Corps 19 (epilogue) and Ion 1 (spin-off). I have read all the Sinestro Corps specials - Superman Prime, Anti-Monitor and Cyborg Superman - and the odd tie-in such as Blue Beetle 20. That's a lot of comics but the promise of a crossover pretty much contained with one family of DC books, one with an actual ending, was refreshing . . .

. . . until I got to the so-called end. GL 25, the supposed climax of the story, features the Sinestro Corps defeated. But are they jailed? Nope, they escape to lick their wounds. One of those floaty Guardians of the Universe conflabs tells us that: 'Members of the Sinesstro Corps retreat into the darkest corners of the universe.' and 'They will rebuild their central power battery, they will no doubt continue to spread fear.'

Darn. But at least their leader is arrested. And three pages later Sinestro is sitting in a cell, smirking as the little blue men decide to enact the second of the 'Ten New Laws of Oa'. He has every right to smirk because, as he pointed out to the Lanterns, he's sorta won: enacting the first new law, allowing GLs to use lethal force, will spread fear - his currency -throughout the universe, because good and bad alike will tremble at the thought of Hal and co being willing to kill.

Oh well, at least Superboyman Prime got his, as a self-sacrificing Guardian explodes, stripping Prime down to his skeleton. Hurrah . . . huh? Four pages later we're told that he has 'warped into the Multiverse'. Don't all these stories take place in the Multiverse? Anyway, he's floating in space, his body showing no obvious signs of lacking a skeleton, and wide-eyed with excitement at something he sees.

But we did get the bittersweet end of the Cyborg-Superman, who finally has his wish to die granted. Shame that before issue's end his android Manhunter pals are putting him back together again.

Never mind, at least we got rid of the Anti-Monitor, reduced to half a skeleton by Prime and tossed into space, never to be seen again - until he shows up on the last few pages, slotted into someone's plan for . . the Black Lantern. Goodness, who could have seen that coming, after all the waffling about a rainbow of lanterns (blue for hope, violet for love etc etc zzzz) and talk of the Blackest Night?

So apart from a few dead Sinestro Corps members . . . oh, hang on, In The Grand Tradition of Justice Society of America 1 the final page becomes an advert for upcoming events. The aforementioned Black Lantern is going to ensure that 'across the universe, the dead will rise'. So the departed Sinestro Corps won't be dead for long. We're told this in a series of statements that minic cinema trails ('In a world . . .'). Geoff Johns works in film production as well as comics, and he knows what works in, er, cinema.

And when is this grand sequel showing up. Summer 2009. SODDING SUMMER 2009.

So the villains survive, the heroes are compromised and the story is not only not over, it won't resume for a year at least.

I am so sick of DC Comics. The never-ending battle was once Superman's catchphrase, not loyal readers' attempts to stay afloat while buying more and more comics in the vain hope of getting to the end of a story. Yes, the journey is important, and yes, I enjoyed much of the ride that was the Sinestro Corps War, but my pleasure is diminished by the lack of a conclusion, the story becoming bloated as DC added more issues because we readers were responding positively to the story. That we were; and one of the main things we liked was the finite nature of it. But, as the story got bigger, things got muddier - there was so much going on it was difficult to know where to focus, what to care about. And we actually believed we'd get an ending. More fool us.

Is there a colour for gullability?

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Review - Supergirl 24 (DC)

Bless me father for I have sinned. I am weak. WEAK!

Last issue I swore off this comic, as the new lead creative team of Kelly Puckett and Drew Johnson failed to grab me. Heck, they pretty much tossed me away, presenting a terribly confusing story of Supergirl on a space mission for Superman and the Green Lantern Corps. The worst aspect was the (mis)use of silent panels. Johnson isn't an unattractive artist, and he's growing with each assignment, but either he failed to get across the relevant information in his panels or, more likely, Puckett forgot that while he knows what his story is, the reader may need a few hints.

But that was last issue. I must get over it, move on with my life, so let's see, what have we here? A cover with the main image in letters too large to easily read. Lovely. Straining, it says Ghosts of Krypton. We see Supergirl being spied on by spooky skeletons in Superman costumes. Can't wait to see how that comes into play.

Inside, the first few pages follow on from last issue's set-up - Kara is off to see if she can find the alien spaceship she lost last time. Apart from the recap page and a one-word thought box, the first four pages are silent. As best as I can tell, Supergirl goes through a portal in her bathroom, comes back and takes a deep breath (last month 'established' that she can hold her breath in space for just two hours, an arbitrary limit never previously mentioned and out of kilter with Superman having long since cast off the breathing equipment he used in the Exile storyline), sucking up a variety of object in a comedic manner. And it is a fun scene, an original scene. But the silence continues as Superman is found to be in his cousin's apartment and for some reason she expels all the rubber ducks, bog roll and so on in his direction.

I'm not against a minimal use of silence in comic books. It made sense in the first scene here, but when Superman shows up we could expect a few words to be exchanged, rather than snitty looks. When the cousins do start chatting, there's a distinct lack of realistic interaction. Supergirl tells Superman she's been off trying to sort out the spaceship business, he tells her not to worry, it's all happily concluded. But does he give her details? Do we know what the fight was that he and the GLC were involved in? Nah, that's not important right now. Apparently. And Supergirl doesn't ask him, I assumed because she was sizing him up . . . this guy is acting suspiciously, with strangely burned arms and coming out with cryptic and creepy comments. By the time he says he has a surprise for her it was obvious this was a Phantom Zoner or somesuch, with a projector ready to doom Kara to the dark dimension. But no, he's wanting to take her to a holographic home movie of Krypton he's created, eliciting memories from Supergirl, who, unlike him, had a Kryptonian upbringing.

Last time we saw her on Krypton in this series, she was the jewel-encrusted killer stooge of her evil scientist father, Zor-El. Now she remembers her mother as the scientist while her father is a (forest? Scarlet Jungle?) ranger. And he's ever so nice, welcoming brother Jor-El and family for snacks. She leaves Krypton in her rocket without killing her mom. Which is nice. And the final picture is Kara sitting in a tree, one dotted with crystals.

Dearie Lord, I thought after all the origin shenanigans we've gone through in this series that Krypton would remain untouched for awhile. A few months ago Joe Kelly gave us a story which left it open as to whether or not Kara was a killer chandelier. It would have been great to be told that all that nonsense was indeed nonsense, but readers could choose the Never Happened, Dark Angel Played With Your Head option. Yet here she is again, hanging out with shiny spiky things. Just leave it out, DC. Give us a couple of years of Supergirl living in the now, establishing her heroic place in the DCU. If you must touch on who she is and how she came to be, give us the definitive story, no ambiguity. And move on.

There were a few nice moments in this issue. The aforementioned bathroom scene was amusing. Kara uses her powers in a way Superman hadn't thought of. She has a sweet anecdote to share at book's end. Other than that, though . . . Kelly Puckett, you're not writing Batgirl. Cut out the mute scenes. And then we'll talk.

Review - The Ultimates 3 1 (Marvel)

After two series of Marvel's Ultimate universe Avengers team by Mark Millar and Brian Hitch, Jeph Loeb and Joe Madureira inherit the book. The story begins shortly after the events of the last run, with Hawkeye reeling from the betrayal of the Black Widow and loss of his family, Tony Stark reeling from the betrayal of the Black Widow and loss of a shag, Captain America reeling from Wanda's skimpy costume and the revelation that she and brother Pietro are lovers - forget Quicksilver, this is Icksilver.

Thor is snogging the mysterious Valkyrie, who will likely turn out to be Amora the Enchantress as in her original Marvel 616 Universe debut. Jan is trying to deal with leading her team of belligerent idiots and looking to abusive former husband Hank for support, but he's busy popping pills. Iron Man is drinking heavily, Black Panther is missing a personality. The good news is that Black/Blank Panther is strong enough here to make a good showing against Venom, who turns up, peeved, in search of some unnamed female. He can't just outright say who he want else the comic loses the closest thing it has to suspense.

Oh dear, is my mood showing? What can I say, this is a hideous comic book, with two of the biggest creators of the Nineties taking me back ten years. The most obvious problem is the art. 'Joe Mad' provides some truly ugly figurework - people with fat heads, Michelin Man musculature and pointy eyebrows and hair. He draws more attractive women then men - perhaps he's spent more time looking at women? - but only just. I think his storytelling is OK, but it's hard to tell as there's a colourist I'm unfamiliar with here and boy, does Christian Lichtner like to murk it up. Never mind the cliche about entering a world of pain, this is a world of brown. When a story is as gloomy and cynical as this, I think we could stand some light to go with the shade. Credit, though, to Lichtner for some very impressive shadow modelling on the faces.

Now, did I say 'cynical'? That would cover Loeb's script nicely. His characterisation so far concentrates on all the nastiest parts of the Ultimates' personalities as established by Millar, and amps it up. So Hawkeye is a hothead, but now he's a hothead with a death wish and not averse to holding a gun to a colleague's noggin. Captain America is more a reactionary old fart than ever. Giant Man is just a big old junkie loser. Iron Man is a drunk loser. Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch practise incest (and are apparently good at it) . . . I'm all for heroes with realistic tics but please, can we have something to admire? It's not good enough to have the title characters triumph at the end of the series and sigh, see, they're heroes after all. If they're not at base decent people, or at least trying to be, then I can't give a toss for them and won't be around for the conclusion. At the moment it seems no one in the team likes anyone else bar - and again, I say thee ICK! -Wanda and Pietro. I might as well cheer on Venom, at least he's acting his part by being villainous.

Spider-Man and Wolverine are set to hook up with the Ultimates in future issues. Me, I'm off to find a nice car smash to rubberneck. It leaves a better taste in the mouth.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

There's a great blog, Comics should be good, with a section on Comic Book Urban Legends. I've not read every episode, so I don't know if this tale has been addressed.

My chum Mark tells me that at DC in the 1970s Paul Kupperberg, Pablo Marcos and Vinnie Colletta were the official go-to guys when DC creatives failed to meet deadlines. So if a creative team were late with part six of a six-part story they'd get one extension and if they again failed to deliver, the editor would make three phone calls - to Kupperberg, Marcos and Colletta and the story would be finished. Perhaps not in the way the original creative team wished, but at least the book reached the shops on time.

Oh, how I would love such a policy to be instituted today – for a while, every second issue of the Ultimates and Astonishing X-Men would be a fill-in, and suddenly Marvel's most-coddled creators will start delivering the goods.

Anyone have Paul Kupperberg's phone number?

Four colours will do nicely,ta

Why are comics production values so high these days? I don’t want glossy paper, stiff covers and four million colours (that, at Marvel, always appear reddy brown). Back in the days of Bob Rozakis as DC Production Editor they reserved special formats for particular projects - inventing them when the right format didn't exist, as with the Dark Knight Returns and the Prestige Format - but now production values seem random.

Why, for example, does Superman/Batman have shiny paper and a stiff cover? I can see a case for Brave & Bold having this format, as George Perez and Bob Wiacek produce lovely, detailed art, but Superman/Batman has used big thick-line cartoony artists such as Ed McGuinness, and super-clarity does the art no favours.

I want to return to the days of comics on cheap papers, with colouring that isn't afraid to be gaudy. Sure, lines such as Vertigo benefit from a duller palette, but superhero comics? They should be gaudy, brash, in yer face! I want cover stock that's not madly flimsy, but not as thick as backing boards. This should allow for cheaper comics and more sales - if the quality of story and art are good.

Yes, younger fans may be initially shocked and appalled by the new/old format, and that horrible term 'pamphlet' will be bandied around, but if they want the stuff in a better quality package, that's where trade paperbacks and hardbacks (hardbacks, for every other comic that's puclished, I ask you!) come in. Better paper, better covers . . . same colouring - hey, I like comic books that don't apologise for themselves.
Tis the season to be jolly, so that means just one thing in theatres everywhere - pantomime!

Panto not being big in the US (though stars such as Henry Winkler and Paul Michael Glaser are coming over here to take part), it's unlikely we'll ever see a superhero panto.

Which is a shame - it could be a hoot. Take a Legion of Superheroes panto, for instance. They have the characters to match the archetypes of villain, dame, principal boy and comedy stooge. I think I’d go for Aladdin, with Brainiac 5 as the manipulative Abanazer; Princess Projectra (post Val’s death) as Widow Twankee; Shvaughn Erin (post-Pro-Fem) as Aladdin; and the utterly useless Lightning Lad as Wishee Washee. The rest of the Legion can play the 40 Thieves – er, do they have the 40 Thieves in Aladdin?