Saturday, February 12, 2011

Reading and Writing 2.12.2010

Batman & Robin #20
OK, it's the first issue for the Tomasi/Gleason team. So, fair play on it being mainly set-up.

The opening sequence, with Bruce and the boys watching The Mark of Zorro together, which would normally be pretty charming and cool, feels wrong in this "Batman, Inc." environment. If Dick is the Batman of Gotham, and you want me to accept him as such, you can't show me Bruce hanging out. It's just a reminder, in my mind, that Bruce IS Batman, Dick can step up when needed, but it's never going to be forever. The fact that Tomasi writes Dick in a way that makes a bit too much of Bruce doesn't help (I'm thinking of the limo/bow tie bit).

There was a treat of a nice Damian/Commissioner Gordon moment with the victim in the morgue. It was very funny, and absolutely true to both characters. It was so good it made me question why no one seemed to realize, or utilize, that Gordon wouldn't really have any use for this brat from day one.

The Flash #9
 Well...Here comes Flashpoint.

It was great to see Wally, and the rest of the supporting cast, even for a couple of pages. And never in costume. We have another in the great comic book tradition of lying covers. We never see Kid Flash or Wally/Flash (Give the guy a new code name, for God's sake) in action. Honestly, we barely see Barry in costume.

That would be fine, except I don't want to see mopey, isolating Barry. I don't want to see Barry hiding out from his friends and loved ones. I mean, that's a fine story element to pursue, but first you have to establish something about Barry, other than that he can run fast, and he's haunted by the death of his mother. Which was an element out of nowhere in the Flash: Rebirth mini-series, anyway.

Here's the real problem; Barry, as the symbol of honor and virtue, was more of an interesting character in Wally's Flash series, when he was dead. I have no problem with bringing him back, but, if you do, it's upon the creative team to make damn sure he's more interesting alive than dead. I feel like Johns hasn't accomplished this. The stories are fine, well-plotted, well-executed, the Rogues are used well, but you haven't given me anything that makes Barry a compelling character out of the costume. Wally was awesome to read about because he was constantly haunted by the legacy of Barry, the legacy of the Flash, that also made Barry interesting, in the sweeping influence he had even after dying.

When I got to the final page of this issue, and the surprise reveal, I found myself thinking, "man, that would've been an incredible hook in the Wally series." That's because I understood how Wally would react to it. I still have no idea how Barry will. It's a great hook, but it's a hook that would be even better if I understood that character it was happening to better.

Red Robin #20
Here's a crossover I was actually looking forward to, and I have to say, I was disappointed.

I had about five moments in this issue where I simply didn't understand how we got from what happened in one panel, to the next. I mean, right off the bat, page one, panel on. Tim is on a date with Tam Fox, and Catman is watching. Fair enough, but then Tim is racing away on a motorcycle to check on an alarm at Lonnie Machin's hospital room. First time I read it, I thought it was some sort of flashback thing. (Storytelling device, not crossover) It's only as I'm re-reading it, right now, that it makes some sort of sense.

Again, with the Calculator robots...I'm not getting why they would actually exist, and the cliffhanger...Why that turn of events?

The issue feels, bluntly, rushed. The need was to get a team-up with the Teen Titans, and the issue races, headlong to that target. Which would be fine, except the plot that's been devised seems far too intricate and twisty to not slow down and actually explain some things.

It also reads like you're expected to be reading Teen Titans, already. I am not. So, there we two or three odd conversations that were gags turning on Wonder Girl being the Leader of the Titans, and not Tim. Completely lost on me, because we never stop to reiterate that Cassie is the new leader of the team.

I'll still pick up the Teen Titans issue, but this was a weak start.

Ultimate Avengers vs. New Ultimates #1
On the other side of the coin. Oh, boy, Mark Millar has never met a two-page sequence he couldn't turn into a full issue.

I mean, what REALLY happens here? The Ultimates stop a train with a failed attempt at a Super-Soldier in it, an attempt that dies in front of them, they interrogate on of the guards, and they reveal that Nick Fury's behind shipping super-soldier tech to China.

Stan Lee and Jack Kirby would've done that in five panels.  Now, I know our storytelling, and expectations have changed in fifty years, but come on. You could certainly have expanded on what a classic comic creator might've done, but still, y'know, moved the plot forward a bit more.

There was some nice stuff here. I was really happy to see something done with Iron Man's brain tumor, which had seemed to become the "oh yeah, we never really meant 'brain tumor,'" plot point of the Ultimate Marvel Universe. I liked the vignette with Black Widow and her baby. Gave some humanity to the characters.

All-in-all, I think this is gonna end up more like the Ultimate Avengers mini-series, which I hated, than the Ultimates series, which I liked, in the Mark Millar cannon. That said, it might have some impact on "The Death of Spider-Man," so I'll keep reading, like the lemming I am.

Ultimate Comics Captain America #2
For as much of a fan of Captain America as I am, I have to admit the Ultimate Universe version of the character has always been unsettling. I've always felt that his personality, which a lot of readers see as a 'realistic' depiction of a patriotic man of the 40's, was more about Mark Millar's vaguely paranoid fear of American power. That paranoia has played out in pretty much every Ultimates/Ultimate Avengers story he's ever written.

I like Captain America as a symbol of the best of America, yes, the strength and the power, but also the compassion and the duty. Ultimate Cap has always hewed to the former, with a heaping dash of righteous indignation and anger. That bores me.

What's interesting about this Jason Aaron/Ron Garney mini-series is that it honors that depiction of Steve Rogers, but I get this sense of something more happening. On the surface, it's a re-telling of a 1970's story where Steve Rogers fought and defeated his ultra-right-wing, anti-communist replacement from the 50's and 60's, when he was still frozen in ice. Aaron has taken that basic story, added at least the imagery of Daredevil villain Nuke, and come up with something that just might be heading for an interesting place.

There's a lot of emphasis on Vietnam, and the last few pages of this issue plays out in a very direct allegory to that war. It makes sense, because Aaron has surmised, and I think rightly, that Millar's view of America that spawned his Steve Rogers is far more based on the Military mindset that fought Vietnam, rather than WWII. The action sequence that ends the issue (and I loved that it's really the only point in the issue where Steve wears his uniform) really hits home (yes, in a simplistic way) what happened to our military over there. The final splash page also hits for something that might prove very, very revelatory for this character in the long-term.

I hope it lives up to the promise.

Ultimate Spider-Man #153
Another good, but not great issue. That may seem faint praise, but there's precious few series out there where you can say that it's always at least good.

The biggest sin I can level here is that, well, Bendis feels like he's killing time. Plenty happens, and it doesn't feel like decompressed storytelling run riot, like much of Millar's work. Even at that, the whole issue is really just about re-affirming the threat of this artifact recovered last issue from the Kingpin's headquarters after his death a few issues back. We see it in use no less than three times, and at one point, I found myself thinking, "jeez, we never really saw the Ark of the Covenant do anything until the last ten minutes, yet we still believed it's power."

I'm assuming this relic will be part of "The Death of Spider-Man" arc, and, if so, Bendis has felt the need to assert it's power, over and over again, during the Prelude. (It says "prelude" right on the cover.) I was always entertained, but I did have a sense that we could move a bit faster.

As always, all of the bits work. The confrontation/conversation between Mysterio and the Black Cat is suitably creepy and tense. Spidey's lesson with Iron Man is fun, and positions these two characters as good friends, with more in common to each other than, honestly, anyone in their respective series. I also loved the flashback with the Kingpin on the first couple of pages. It really added some depth and humanity to the character, even if he is dead now (as dead as you get in comic books).

What just struck me right now, as I flipped back through the issue, is it's also the first issue in quite a while not dominated by Peter's home life. Now, I love May, Mary Jane, Gwen, Bobby and Johnny, and they have brought a lot to this series. That said, the title is Spider-Man, not Spider-Man and His Roommates. It's nice to just see some honest-to-God super-hero action on display.

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