Friday, June 20, 2003

[COMICS] Reviews of things that came out on 18 June 2003

I hate the term "story arc". Mostly, it's because I always figured that even a single-serving story progresses through a beginning, middle, and end, with characters and situations evolving through it. Indeed, I'm only half-joking when I say that "story arc" is a term used by lazy writers to tell one story using the same amount of time and space that more industrious authors use to tell six. So, one time when discussing Buffy, I start using the term "macrostory", just to indicate that, yes, the continuing storyline is important, but it should be made up of smaller units ("microstories") that function well on their own. Oddly enough, other folks on the HTF have picked it up, although they sometimes miss the microstory component.

I mention this because, for some reason, I keep using "arc" when talking about comics, even though I'll pretty much always use "macrostory" for every other medium. I think this is because, well, there often really isn't a microstory going on; these things are straight serials. That's not really a bad thing, but it's starting to irk me. I watch a whole bunch of TV, read a lot of comics, and go through bursts of reading a lot of sci-fi (where the standalone story is something of an endangered species). I'm starting to wonder how many distinct continuing storylines my brain is capable of managing, especially when TV shows will take the summer off or an entire year passes between issues of Fray.

American Century #25: "Bite The Big Apple"
So, here's the start of the last arc... er, macrostory, that is, for American Century, in which Howard Chaykin and David Tischman fantasize about writing comic books and midget wrestling in the mid-to-late fifties. I enjoy American Century as a sort of male-fantasy throwback. Harry Kraft lives a life men don't really dream about out loud any more, where he's the smartest, toughest badass in the room and all the women are beautiful and unable to resist his charms. He smokes, drinks, has a bunch of unprotected sex and never, ever apologizes for anything. This issue is all set-up, which really is what the book excels at; meeting the motley crew that populates each story always seems to be a lot more fun than what they wind up getting into. The characters are not terribly original, but they are colorful. For example, in this issue the creators give us midget wrestler Tiny Tim and his scuzzy manager, Phil Becker. Becker talks about himself in the third person, and that's about all the creativity involved in their characterization. But though they may be caricatures, they're caricatures who have everyday lives, and seem real because of it. With any luck, they'll be part of a story that lives up to their characterization.

Birds Of Prey #56: "Of Like Minds"
A new creative team, including writer Gail Simone, comes on board and while it's not quite the "Bold New Direction" the cover promises, it's looking like fun. Ed Benes and Alex Lei have a sexy, exaggerated style that I like, and this is a pretty good first chapter (or first and second chapters) of a story. If I'm disappointed at all, it's my own fault - just because Ms. Simone has made a reputation as one of the few writers able to be funny for the entire length of a comic means I almost expect that of her, where here that talent is put to use for banter. Fortunately, the result is really good banter, for what looks like a solid story.

Captain Marvel #11 ("Coven", part 3 of 4): "Accessory After The Fact"
The "Coven" storyline just doesn't ring true for me. It's one thing for Genis to be nuts and really not care what happens as a result of his actions any more, but giving Coven incredible power... Well, it strikes me as creating a threat just so that there'll be a threat. Peter David plays with some nifty ideas, and I really am enjoying Genis as a loose cannon, but a great deal of this storyline seems contrived.

The Crew #2 ("Big Trouble In Little Mogadishu", part 2): "Kasper"
The Crew is the one exception to my "don't pick up any new Marvel books, since they'll be collected in a month anyway" rule. Black Panther hasn't, so why should I be more confident about Priest's new one? And I'm not going to miss out on new Priest. Although maybe I should have waited a couple of months, since it looks like I now know how the current (and, apparently, final) storyline in Panther will end. Still, I'm digging Kasper's new look, and even though Priest has had a new commitment to linear storytelling ever since Kasper took center stage in Panther, he's still telling a dense story. Thus far, though, the good characterization and urban action is making it worth sticking around to see how all the threads (including, I imagine, two or three we haven't seen the start of yet) come together.

The Crossovers #6 ("Crosscurrents", part 6 of 6)
I'm a sucker for stories that cross genre barriers cleverly; my favorite TV show of the 90s is The Adventures Of Brisco County Jr., a comedy western with sci-fi elements. Just throwing a bunch of different styles in the blender won't work, though - you've got to navigate carefully, respecting each genre's rules at all times. The Crossovers, so far, has done that wonderfully, while also piling the comedy up higher and higher. By the end of the story, everything was gleefully insane. Give Robert Rodi credit, though, for finding a way to end it so that the book doesn't have to go off in a "Bold New Direction" next month but which is, within the book's gonzo universe, completely believable (and very funny). And bon voyage to Mauricet, who really found a nice balance between CrossGen's fantasy/sci-fi house style and the whimsical, cartoony nature of the story.

Outsiders #1 ("Role Call", part 1): "Opening Offers"
Woo-hoo - bonus comics (30 pages of story for $2.50)! And it's good, too, which was not necessarily a given - Judd Winick is one of my favorite writers in comics, but Titans/Young Justice: Graduation Day (this book's direct predecessor) was pretty weak, and Blood & Water hasn't done much for me (but I really don't like vampires). Of course, I wasn't really attached to Donna Troy - I mostly knew her as a Wonder Woman supporting character - so the event which devastated Nightwing wasn't a big deal to me. How he reacts to it here, though, is believable, and it's a nifty change to see Dick Grayson as the off-balance one, when he so often has functioned as Batman's voice of reason. The rest of the team doesn't get short shrift, either - Winick had already hinted about Thunder in Green Arrow, but gets a nice intro, as do Grace, Indigo, and Metamorpho (the latter two, really, more than they got in Graduation Day). And while the big reveal of the villain didn't bowl me over (didn't The Flash just beat him?), the responses were fun.

The Power Company #17 ("Hostile Takeover", part 2 of 3): "Mergers & Acquisitions"
I know, next issue is the last, but Warner Brothers should really think of making a TV series out of this. When Busiek is dealing with the idea of for-profit superheroes, this book is a blast. Unfortunately, much of this issue takes place in another dimension, which means a lot of stuff you can see in any other team book, without the top-tier characters. And it looks like we're going to wind up with a new, twenty-first century Haunted Tank - I'm not sure I want the conept made less goofy. I guess, in a way, this issue is like the whole series - a nifty idea that too often became ordinary superheroics.

Promethea #26
Visually, this is jarring - almost ever previous issue of Promethea has these incredibly intricate layouts, big double-page spreads that loop back onto themselves, with details lurking in every corner. They're almost exhausting to read, really, but the 3x3 style used here is another neat trick - it's claustrophobic, and along with the muted color scheme, conveys a sense of urgency that the story doesn't quite have yet. It's not all coming from the art - Moore's transfer of the real world's culture of fear is quite effective, and seeing Tom Strong (created in Superman's image as a man certain about right and wrong) acting nervous about what's coming is effective. And though I was uncertain about the Tom Strong characters showing up in Promethea (why take a big world and make it smaller?), it seems to be working.

The Red Star Volume 2, #2: "Brother Against Brother"
I love The Red Star. The art is gorgeous, and the idea behind it - the fall of the Soviet Union retold in a "science fantasy" fashion - is one of the more clever ones in recent memory. But, man, it's a long time between issues, and though "Brother Against Brother" is a fantastic battle, it's also a very quick read. That's partly a good thing - early issues of The Red Star were packed full of the fantasy elements and too much "what you thought you knew was wrong" to keep straight on a book that came out so seldomly - but the story lines may be too simple now. The art is beautifully rendered, but there's really not enough going on to cause me to linger over that gorgeous art.

Robin #115 ("The Wrong Town", part 4 of 4)
Oooooooooo-kay. I guess the best thing that can be said about "The Wrong Town" is that it ended pretty cleanly, without any loose ends that need further tying up. Other than that, I think I'd drop Robin in a minute if I didn't know a new team was coming on board. Worst Of The Week

Route 666 #13
Remember what I said, way up at the top, about "story arcs" being a way to stretch a single story out for months? Prime example here. This really feels like it was stretched from last month's issue and next month's, without much of a story of its own. And it's sort of unfortunate that it comes out the same week as The Crossovers #6, because it features the same kind of "antagonists fight each other instead of the protagonist, who is wrapped up in her own problems" structure, but doesn't pull it off nearly so well.

Sidekicks: Super Fun Summer Special
Yeah, I'll buy most anything Oni throws my way, especially if J. Torres is involved. I wound up having two contradictory opinions on this: First, that it seemed to be assuming more familiarity with the characters than I really have from four issues spread out over a couple of years, and second, that it was enjoyable even without that familiarity. The three stories are neat little throwaways, my favorite being the guys at the concert - in just eight pages, it established them as distinct characters, had some nifty art, and if the ending was predictable, it was also at least cute. The girls trying on swimsuits didn't work nearly as well for me, as the characters seemed too close in design physically and didn't really differentiate themselves enough to get past that.

Superman: Metropolis #5 (of 12): "Small Favors"
Chuck Austen's doing some really good work here - I really haven't cared for a lot of his other projects, but he seems to be in his element with Jimmy Olsen and Lena. It's funny, though, that this limited series is structured more like I'd expect an ongoing to be than most open-ended series. Take this issue, for instance - though it refers to events that occurred in previous issues, and is doubtless setting up for later ones, it's a complete story. It's also full of good characterization, including a nifty visual bit as Jimmy lectures Lena about acting like a child while walking around his apartment, which certainly looks like the home of someone who has never completely grown up. That this backfires shows how Jimmy isn't quite fit for the adult part yet, but he's getting there. Really, this might be best Superman book going right now, and the big guy is barely in it.

Y: The Last Man #12 ("One Small Step", part 2)
Even folks who don't read comics should be checking this out. It's fast-paced, thought-provoking, funny (but never at the expense of the suspense), and nobody does a cliffhanger better. To be frank, this story would have me hooked just by the question that's sort of percolating in the background - what happens when the male astronauts come down to earth? - but throwing the Israelis in just ratchets the tension up another notch or three, as does the revelation of how they're tracking Yorick. Best of the week, easily.

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