Sunday, October 16, 2011

COMICS READING FOR SEPTEMBER: “Their names are legion”


* NOW WITH STAR RATINGS (ala Wrestling Observer Newsletter PPV reports) *

HOW I RATE THE COMICS VIA THE ALAN MOORE SCALE
*****    Watchmen, Marvelman, V For Vendetta
****       From Hell, Supreme, Swamp Thing, Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow?
***         League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen (the first two series), Axel Pressbutton, Tom Strong
**           Promethea
*              LoEG: Century: 1969
DUD  (or lower)     anything he’s written for Avatar or any of the non-comics drivel he shits out on a regular basis

I RECENTLY bought a bunch of first issues from Lone Star (www.mycomicshop.com/) to see whether any of them would be worth purchasing the entire series. Here's what I discovered:

1. Steampunk: Catechism (Wildstorm, 2000) *
Writer: Joe Kelly/Artists: Chris Bachalo & Richard Friend
I love steampunk but this is just a mess. Kelly’s script shows promise but Bachalo draws everything in that late 90s sub-Chaos! style, which means you can’t follow a single fucking thing that’s happening on the page. Maybe this improved once it became a regular series...but I doubt it.
2. Fantastic Four: First Family #1 (Marvel, 2006) ***½
Writer: Joe Casey/Artists: Chris Weston & Gary Erskine
Now THIS is a series that I’ll acquire after reading this intriguing first issue. What happened when the FF first went through that cosmic storm? For sure, the government wasn’t happy with them stealing a rocket ship and piloting it illegally into outer space. And then there was the cosmic radiation that irrevocably changed their physical make-ups. Surely, the boffins wanted to probe and prod these unique individuals. This six-part miniseries explores the immediate aftermath of the accident that created the Fantastic Four. The first instalment was pretty damn good.
3. FCBD: Batman Adventures #1 (DC, 2003) **¾
Writer: Ty Templeton/Artists: Rick Burchett & Terry Beatty
Nothing inherently wrong with it, but I won’t be buying another issue.
4. Batman: City Of Light #1 (DC, 2003) **½
Writers: The Pander Brothers & Mark Paniccia/Artists: The Pander Brothers & Alvaro Lopez
I love, love, LOVE the Pander Brothers’ art but the story – Batman loses his mojo after accidentally crippling a kid – is wrong. Batman isn’t a wuss and shit happens in his line of work. So I’m not buying a Batman who turns into a whiny bitch because of a bit of collateral damage. But the art’s exquisite. Still, I’m not buying the next seven issues.
5. Curse Of The Weird #1 (Marvel, 1993) ***
Classic monster reprints from the 50s featuring artwork by Steve Ditko, Basil Wolverton, Russ Heath and Bill Everett. Fun schlock but no need for me to go out of my way to grab anymore.
6. The Extremist #1 (Vertigo, 1993) ***
Writer: Peter Milligan/Artist: Ted McKeever
I’m surprised this full-on yarn even got off the ground at a conservative company like DC. Sexual perversion, ultra-violence, decadence, bisexuality, a virtual Sodom and fucking Gomorrah. Judy’s husband used to be a masked superhero/killer/pervert called The Extremist. After he was murdered, she takes over the role, discovering her new self and losing her old self in the process. This comic was pretty fucking hardcore for a mainstream title. I’m curious enough to seek out the other three issues.
7. Fanboy #1 (DC, 1999) **
Writers: Mark Evanier & Sergio Aragones/Artists: Sergio Aragones with Jerry Ordway, Bernie Wrightson, etc.
Aragones is a fucking god so I have to blame Evanier for the utter lameness of this comic. Justifying being a comics fanboy to other fanboys is a little like wanking over your own photo, I suggest.
8. The L.A.W. #1 (DC, 1999) *
Writer: Bob Layton/Artists: Dick Giordano & Bob Layton
Wow – a miniseries featuring all of Charlton’s superheroes as they defend a DC superhero-less world. Nice try but I believe some far more talented folk already did this tale in 1986. It was called Watchmen. This perfunctory tale, Mr Layton, is NO Watchmen.
9. Bloody Mary #1 (DC/Helix, 1996) *
Writer: Garth Ennis/Artist: Carlos Ezquerra
Dear Garth, if you’re going to set your tale “in the future”, don’t make it 2012. Otherwise, it’ll seem quite stupid when someone reads it in 2011. Secondly, don’t set up a preposterous premise like Europe declaring war on the UK and the US, and think it’s gonna make any goddamn sense to the reader. Finally, don’t go all high-tech on us, then have one of your top military figures talk about receiving “a fax”. BWAH-hahahahahaha! That’s what happens when you write a sci-fi yarn JUST BEFORE the internet took off. Still, nice art by Ezquerra.
10. American Dream #1 (Marvel, 2008) *
Writer: Tom DeFalco/Artists: Todd Nauck & Scott Koblish
Forgettable.
11. Defenders Of The Earth #1 (Marvel/Star, 1987) *
Writers: Stan Lee & Bob Harras/Artists: Alex Saviuk & Fred Fredericks
How could you fuck up a series featuring The Phantom, Mandrake The Magician AND Flash Gordon? Give it to a past-his-prime Stan Lee and some Marvel hacks and tell them to write it for juvenile appeal only. Make sure you throw in a bunch of stupid kids to make the series “more kid-friendly”. Give The Phantom superpowers like Animal Man (’cos he’s kinda non-superheroish otherwise). And give Mandrake random magical powers that make no goddamn sense. Alright, I almost gave this abortion another chance when the team discovered Ming The Merciless had killed Dale Arden. But it turns out it was a red herring and she’s really alive after all. What a copout.
12. Accelerate #1 (Vertigo, 2000) *½
Writer: Richard Kadrey/Artists: The Pander Bros.
It’s weird – I love the Pander brothers’ art but so many of the projects they’ve attached their names to have been...well, let’s be blunt, SHIT. This is a typical post-apocalyptic tale filled with angry teenagers, trendy drugs and violence against authority. Ho-hum. Nice artwork, though.
13. Captain America: What Price Glory? #1 (Marvel, 2003) *½
Writer: Bruce Jones/Artists: Steve Rude & Mike Royer
Good writer – check. The Rudester channelling his best Jack Kirby artwork – check. So why is this story such a letdown? It’s just lame and kinda forced. Cap gets hired to go to Vegas to rescue an older mobster’s daughter from another mobster? I just didn’t get it. Meh.

ONTO other stuff from a recent Lone Star haul:

14. Fantastic Four Roast (Marvel, 1982) DUD
Writer: Fred Hembeck/Artists: Fred Hembeck & friends
Whoa, this sucked. Why did Hembeck think he was funny? Maybe to retarded 10-year-olds, but that’s about it. Utter shite.
15. Fantastic Four Ashcan (Marvel, 1994) *
Writers/artists: various
The FF were totally in the toilet when this B&W mini-sized overview of the team’s history was released. Mr Fantastic was “dead”, the original FF had split up, Franklin Richards had been magically aged to 16 years and now ran a darker, lamer FF called Fantastic Force. It makes you almost glad that Rob Liefeld came along to fuck everything up before the original FF got restored to their original glory in 1998 and a lot of the early 90s history was quietly retconned out of existence. The Mike Mignola wrap-around cover is nice, if slightly muddy.

LEGION CONFUSION

16.-23. JLA: The Lightning Saga (DC, 2008) **½
- originally published in JLA #0, 8-12 & JSA #5-6 (DC, 2006-07)
Writers: Brad Meltzer & Geoff Johns/Artists: various
24.-29. Superman And The Legion Of Super-Heroes (DC, 2008) ***¾ 
- originally published in Action Comics #858-863 (DC, 2007-08)
Writer: Geoff Johns/Artists: Gary Frank & Jon Sibal
30. Action Comics #864 (DC, 2008) ***
Writer: Geoff Johns/Artists: Joe Prado & Jon Sibal
31.-35. Final Crisis: Legion Of 3 Worlds #1-5 (DC, 2008-09) ***
Writer: Geoff Johns/Artists: George Pérez & Scott Koblish
After reading the three story arcs that reintroduced the current incarnation of the LoSH to the DC Universe, all I can say is, “Um...wha...?” Talk about confusing. Really unnecessarily confusing. But Superman And The Legion Of Super-Heroes was a great, stand-alone tale about a racist superhero group inspired by the warped teachings of Superman warring against the LoSH. The other two arcs just felt kinda forced: “Let’s get the original Legion back and make our readers jump through a few logical hoops in the process.”
30.-37. Superman: Mon-El (DC, 2010)
- originally published in Action Comics Annual #10, Superman #684-690, Action Comics #874, Superman: Secret Files 2009 #1 (DC, 2009)
Writer: James Robinson/Artists: Renato Guedes & José Wilson Magalhães & friends
This story shouldn’t have worked as they’re fucking with Superman timelines in a sense. But it’s still kinda cool seeing a naive, dying Mon-El hanging out on 21st century Earth and acting as Metropolis’s defender while Superman was visiting New Krypton. To be honest, Robinson did a great job with this run.
38.-55. Adventure Comics #0-12/515, #516-520 (DC, 2009-11) ***¼ (averaged out over all those issues)
Writers: Geoff Johns, Paul Levitz/Artist: Francis Manapul, Kevin Sharpe & Mario Alquiza, etc
Wow. As if Legion continuity wasn’t confusing enough, then try to follow it through this title, which also had to contend with crossovers such as “Blackest Night” and “Last Stand Of New Krypton” – it’s literally impossible to follow. That said...I certainly enjoyed ASPECTS of Adventure Comics. Adventure #0 reprinted the LoSH’s first appearance in Adventure #247 (writer: Otto Binder/artist: Al Plastino) back in the late 50s, and the back-up by Johns and Manapul sets the groundwork for Lex Luthor and Brainiac launch their new plot of revenge against the new Superboy, Connor Kent. Superboy was the main story for Adventure #1-6 (with the old numbering ghosted behind it) – when he wasn’t sharing that honour with a Superboy Prime yarn that was linked to “Blackest Night”. I kinda enjoyed the idea of Connor attempting to be just like Superman while worrying that he was also displaying traits of his father, Lex Luthor. It culminated in a chilling full-length conclusion in #6 where Luthor uses his genius to cure his invalid sister (just to prove he can), then immediately returns her to her vegetative state (just to prove he can). Never has a Superman tale more eloquently displayed the selfishness, brilliance and insane evil that is Lex Luthor. Kudos to Mr Johns. The final story focussing on Connor is a big “Blackest Night”-related tale with a possessed Superboy fighting Wonder Girl ((writers: Tony Bedard, artists: Travis Moore & friends). Meanwhile, the at-this-point only-occasional back-up LoSH tales (#1-4) were setting up threads that would come together in later issues when the Legion joined with Superboy in Adventure #8-11 (writers: Sterling Gates & James Robinson/artists: Travis Moore, Eduardo Pansica, Eber & Julio Ferreira) to battle Luthor and Brainiac in the “Last Stand Of Krypton” story that ran across several Superman-related titles. It seems quite complicated and I felt quite dislocated reading these yarns. From #8-11 there was also a back-up yarn about a Kryptonian spy infiltrating some secret human army run by Lois Lane’s dad. That was okay, I guess (writer: Eric Trautmann/artist: Pier Gallo). #11 wrapped everything up, mainly dealing with the end of Mon-El’s run on 21st century Earth.
From #12 onwards (which resumed the title’s old numbeing at #13/516), the Legion took over as the main story with Levitz taking over as the writer (and Kevin Sharpe, Marlo Alquiza and Marc Deering handling the art duties). The comic ran stand-alone tales fleshing out old Legion stories (similar to those back-up tales that used to appear in Classic X-Men), giving more depth to what happened in the original LoSH continuity. And they also starred the original Superboy, not Connor Kent. Confused? So was I. I stopped reading last month just as Lightning Lad had been killed (#520). Frankly, these stories weren’t particularly inspiring. The back-up feature starred The Atom (writer: Jeff Lemire/artists: Mahmud Asrar & John Dell), who I care nothing for.
Wow! After writing that recap, no wonder I felt so confused reading this title.
56.-57. The Brave And The Bold #34-35 (DC, 2010) ***¾
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski/Artist: Jesus Saiz
JMS has copped a lot of (fair) criticism in recent years, but when the dude actually bothers to write something, he does a great job. This throwaway two-parter is a perfect example. #34 sees the classic LoSH go back in time to meet with the classic Doom Patrol to save Earth in the 31st century from a black hole. Along the way, the two teams encounter a few odd anomalies that they can’t explain, but they save the day anyway. #35 explains away the odd occurrences. It sees the classic Legion Of Substitute Heroes try to steal the LoSH’s thunder and save Earth from the black hole. So they steal a time bubble and go back in time, but instead of finding the Doom Patrol they meet The Inferior Five instead. Between these two inept groups, they nearly destroy Earth, but somehow fail to do so. It’s clever and surprisingly funny. AND...JMS finds a clever way to bring the 70s-based Inferior Five to 2010. Of course, they’ve probably been retconned out of existence courtesy of the new 52 Universe. Ah, well...
58.-59. Legion Of Super-Heroes #1-2 (DC, 2005) ****
Writer: Mark Waid/Artist: Barry Kitson
No. 2 was single-handedly the most enjoyable LoSH issue I’ve read this year...with a great punchline that actually made me smile. I may have to pick up Waid & Kitson’s full run on this particular version of the LoSH.
60. The Brave And The Bold #5 (DC, 2007) ***
Writer: Mark Waid/Artists: George Pérez & Bob Wiacek
Batman meets the LoSH (or a version of them at least). It’s part of some convoluted six-parter. Nice to see a “caveman” like Bats outwit his 31st century foes.
61.-67. The Legion: Foundations (DC, 2004) **½
 - originally published in The Legion #25-30 & The Legion Secret Files 3003 (DC, 2003-04)

Superboy (Connor Kent version) and the Legion taking on Darkseid and Darkseid? Kinda okay, nothing special – and totally retconned out of Legion history now, I suspect.
68. Supergirl Annual #2 (DC, 2010) ***
Writer: Sterling Gates/Artists: Matt Camp & Marco Rudy
Supergirl meets a version of the Legion and teams with Brainiac 5 to battle Satan Girl, who’s enslaved Earth. It’s fine.
69. Supergirl And The Legion of Super-Heroes #35 (DC, 2007) **½
Writer: Tony Bedard/Artist: Dennis Calero
I preferred this version when it was more light-hearted.  This is all very “grim”.
70.-73. DC Comics Presents Legion Of Super-Heroes #1 (DC, 2011) ***½

- originally published in Legionnaires 79-80 & Legion Of Super-Heroes #122-123 (DC, 1999-2000)
Writers: Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning/Artists: Olivier Coipel & Andy Lanning
Yet another incarnation of the Legion – the version where they renamed everyone to eliminate all the “lads” and “lasses” – but this stand-alone four-parter is kinda cool. Earth gets invaded (again) by an evil called the Blight and most of the Legion are corrupted by evil. It’s up to the young Legionnaires who are left to save them. Mon-El is in the thick of things. A fun lil’ tale...one day I’ll collect this full run of the comic as well.

MOVING ON...
74. Black Dynamite: Slave Island (Ape Entertainment, 2011) ***¼
Writer: Brian Ash/Artist: Jun Lofamia
Righteous!
75. Batman: Gotham Knights #23 (DC, 2002) ** (*** for the Darwyn Cook back-up feature)
Yep, bought his for Darwyn Cooke.
76. Jennifer Blood #4 (Dynamite, 2011) **¾
Writer: Garth Ennis/Artist: Marcos Marz
Rapidly running out of steam, and Marz’s artwork appears to be getting worse. I’ll finish this arc, then probably dump this title.
77. OMAC #1 (DC, 2011) ***¼
Writer: Dan DiDio/Artists: Keith Giffen & Scott Koblish
A promising start to “The New 52!” – I like Giffen’s homage to Jack Kirby’s bombastic art style. Brings back fond memories of his work on The Defenders in the late 70s. I’ll stick with this one for a while.   
78. Vescell #1 (Image, 2011) ***
Writer: Enrique Carrion/Artist: John Upchurch
Body-swapping, fairies, detective noir, cyberpunk and big tits. All with a vague European sensibility. The plot doesn’t make much sense but I’m a sucker for well-drawn female arses. I’ll give this another issue.
79. Bug #1 (Marvel, 1997) *
Writer: Todd DeZago/Artists: Derec Aucoin, Rich Faber & Ralph Cabrera
An utterly pointless one-shot that sees the Micronauts’ Bug battle Annihilus through recent history and inadvertently launch the Marvel Universe. Should’ve been fun but I was bored. I also suspect I was the only person who bought this mag.
80. Generation X Underground Special (Marvel, 1998) **½
Writer/artist: Jim Mahfood
A kinda cool idea – doing a B&W zine-style comic to cash in on Marvel’s hot X-super team. Pity I was never a Generation X fan.
81. House Of Mystery #36 (Vertigo, 2011) **½ (all for Darwyn Cooke)
Yep, another comic that I bought purely for Cooke’s art.
82. The Guild: Clara (Dark Horse, 2011) ***½
83. JLA: Earth 2 (DC, 2000) ****
Writer: Grant Morrison/Artist: Frank Quitely
Morrison at his mind-bending best. And Quitely’s art is exquisite, as always. The Crime Syndicate (Ultraman, Owlman, Superwoman, etc) have never seemed so decadently evil and perverse.  
84. La Mano del Destino #1 (Castle & Key, 2011) ***
Writer/artist: J. Gonzo
Not the best wrestling comic out there right now, but a promising start. I’ll keep buying to see where this leads.
85. The Red Wing #3 (Image, 2011) ***
Writer: Jonathan Hickman/Artist: Nick Pitarra
The next issue better blow me away, ‘cos this has been kinda MEH so far.
86. Brilliant #1 (Icon, 2011) **
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis/Artist: Mark Bagley
Not really.




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