Comics Reviewed! Spider-Man, Wolverine, X-Men and more!
Comics Reviewed is now a weekly feature on JoBlo! We'll be seeing you here every Tuesday, same bat-time, same bat-channel. Speaking of which...
Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #1 (DC, $3.99)
By Adam Prosser
Some people love comics primarily because they’re a haven for crazy weirdness of the kind you’re unlikely to get in more mainstream media. That’s not what I would call my personal most favorite aspect of comics, but there’s no denying that, in this era of predictable, formulaic blockbuster movies and drawn-out, soapy network TV shows, I get a definite charge from knowing that this medium can give me a time-traveling supergenius playboy billionaire with a utility belt beating up cavemen while wearing the skin of a giant bat, and it’s the first chapter of a heavily promoted major “event” storyline. As opposed to the kind of thing that airs at midnight on a struggling cable network and gets cancelled after three episodes.
Grant Morrison’s run on Batman has managed the near-impossible trick of making the adventures of the caped crusader feel fresh, imaginative and bursting with new possibilities. And he’s done it by doing the kind of things that the “common wisdom” would indicate you shouldn’t do with Batman, i.e. taking him far away from his typical role as a gritty, “realistic”, street level hero. Morrison’s devoted his run to delving into the willfully-forgotten corners of the bat-mythos, particularly the bizarre stuff that happened to him in the 50s, dredging up the Bat-Mite and The Batman of Zurrh-en-Arrh to amazing effect without detracting from Batman as we know him today. The end of the mega-crossover Final Crisis promised to take Bats even further afield, throwing him back to the dawn of time via Darkseid’s “Omega Effect” (which, believe it or not, is totally in keeping with DC Universe precedent) and setting up this new miniseries in which an amnesiac Bruce Wayne skips through time from era to era, rebuilding his Batman persona from the ground up. Maybe even literally, given that there have been plenty of clues to indicate that the time-lost Bruce is going to play a pivotal role in the history of Gotham City in general and his own family history in particular.
Of course, even if you haven’t been reading the main series you could still pick up and enjoy this miniseries on its own. All you need to know: Bruce Wayne, thrown back in time to caveman days with no memory. In fact, by Morrison’s standards, it’s a pretty simple tale, the kind of thing that you’d expect to find filling the back pages of an old pulp magazine with illustrations by the late great Frank Frazetta (though the illustrations we do get, by Tom Strong artist Chris Sprouse, are pretty incredible in their own right). The cleverest bit, other than watching the Batman story retell itself in the Stone Age, is seeing how Morrison manages to make these cavepeople seem relatable yet culturally extremely primitive, even while Bruce Wayne seems alien in his sophistication. We’re seeing the beginning of the human family, and Batman is right there to witness it, while standing apart as he always does. Who needs deep thoughts when DUDE! GIANT BAT! CAVEMEN! TIME TRAVEL!
Just another Wednesday at the comic shop…
Hellboy in Mexico (Dark Horse, $3.50)
By Jeb D.
In just a few years, cheesy Mexican wrestlers have gone from an Ed Wood-level of cultism to familiar geek culture tropes. They may not have outlived their welcome to the same degree that zombies have, but, as with zombies, it takes a new perspective, or special treatment, to make them worth your coin. Hellboy in Mexico skirts the edges of that, but finally comes down on the upside (so to speak).
The story (scripted by Mike Mignola) isn’t much: Hellboy and Abe Sapien are killing time in a Mexican ghost town, and Abe finds an old photo that—whoda thunk?—shows that, long ago, this town was the setting for one of Hellboy’s early adventures. And from there, Big Red flashes back and fills us in.
The ensuing tale, about Hellboy teaming up with a group of Mexican masked wrestling brothers to fight evil, doesn’t take us anyplace particularly surprising, but it’s got two things going for it: Hellboy himself, of course, who still manages to bring his gruff “what-the-hell” attitude to monster fighting, and the art of horror veteran Rich Corben (who previously illustrated the Eisner-winning Hellboy: The Crooked Man). If you saw any of his recent Poe adaptations for Marvel, you know that he’s still on top of his game, and seeing him bring his personal touches to the Mignola visual universe is always a joy. At its best, Hellboy mixes its moodiness with the unhinged quality of 50’s-era Mad, and Corben captures that better than anyone besides Mignola himself ever has.
It’s a fun read for fans of Hellboy (though readers of things like El Superbeasto or Lucha Pop! may find it a bit light on the jokes); I particularly enjoyed the nod to Lobster Johnson’s “luchador” career. I give this one three cans, but I’ll add a fourth if you crank up a Los Straitjackets album while you’re reading it.
Astonishing Spider-Man / Wolverine #1 of 6 (Marvel, $3.99)
By Jeb D.
Because I’m kind of spoiler-phobic, I tend not to read Previews very carefully, so I’m sure that when I first saw the title Astonishing Spider-Man / Wolverine, I probably just yawned and moved on. It wasn’t till just the other day that I noticed the creative team: Jason Aaron and Adam Kubert! Well, with a pair of heavy hitters like that, who’s not going to at least take a look?
So, look I did, and… it’s not bad. Lest I be accused of damning with faint praise, this kind of grouchy superhero teamup is an inherently limited form of storytelling, given that both characters appear in books all over the Marvel Universe, with a half-dozen writers and editors involved. There’s only so far you can derail things for the purpose of having two of Marvel’s flagship characters meet up to shift a few books.
But I gotta give the guys credit here: they may have only been able to go “so far,” but they went there. Aaron fans may be expecting (hoping for) the outrageous dark humor of his Ghost Rider or Punisher stuff, but he does a great job of coloring inside the lines here. He has imagined a situation where Peter Parker and Logan are about as far from their fellow superbeings as possible—in fact, from everyone that they’ve ever known or loved. And in some nicely interlocking first-person narration, he uses each character’s distinctive voice to make it clear that the last thing in the world either of these heroes wanted was to find himself in a place where his only hope for returning things to normal is the other guy. The relationship of the two is at the heart of the story, and Aaron makes it entirely reasonable that these two characters could both stand on the same side of the “good guy / bad guy” line without being either bosom buddies or lifelong enemies: they’re a superpowered Odd Couple.
Without spoiling the actual storyline, let me just say that there’s a kind of “Old Man Logan” imaginative vibe going on here, but with Aaron’s smart character work taking the place of Millar’s bloodthirsty road trip. Logan’s learned to cope with their situation, but Peter hasn’t, and while he acknowledges that he’s no Reed Richards, he’s smart enough to have learned that their time’s just about running out. When Peter finally does persuade Logan to take action… let’s just say that as we head into issue #2, their situation has not improved.
Everyone’s got their “definitive” Wolverine artist (well, maybe everyone but me), and for a lot of fans from the 90’s, Adam Kubert’s the guy. He takes Logan and Peter out of their comfortable environments, plunks them down into a situation that necessitates a slightly different look for both, and puts his pencil at the service of their personalities, more than their powers. Good action, but even better character work.
Not exactly a life-changing book, and my grade below reflects that, but if you’re going to read yet another “heroes-meet-and-greet” comic, you won’t find many done this well.
Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis #1 (Marvel, $3.99)
By Devon Sanders
"Accessible" and "weird" are words seldom used to describe most superhero writing. Unless you're English. And more specific to to this review, Warren Ellis. He adores "weird bits" and all sorts of scientific oddity while loudly claiming to abhor most popular superhero comics. So, Ellis on the progenitor of psuedo-superhero/science phenomena? No-brainer. In Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis #1, mutant babies are being born all across East Africa while en route, high in the sky, The X-Men discuss democracy, genocide, guerilla warfare, will to power, fashion and diplomacy. Basically, stuff that happens in the world, only in comics where superpowered children go "BOOM!" In setting up a tale potentially rife with political and sociological intrigue, Ellis somewhat amazingly manages to keep The X-Men "in character" while voicing his own beliefs on world and current events. No mean feat there. Artist Kaare Andrews wonderfully illustrates this tale using simple yet imaginative page layout, dynamic figure work and costume design. Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis #1 with its embrace of all things nonlinear, is every bit the X-Men comic Warren Ellis was made to write.
Booster Gold #32 (DC Comics, $2.99)
By Devon Sanders
Why, Booster, why? Why must you treat me as your own personal Michael Corleone? I told you I was done. I told you I was out. And then, you had to go and be a lynchpin character in the maxi-series, "52," following that up with having been written by Green Lantern writer Geoff Johns and being drawn by your creator, Dan Jurgens, no less. You had me kissing that damned Legion flight ring all over again. And then Geoff left, your book went up a dollar in price and that was my signal to leave. As much as I like you as a character, in my eyes, you're very much a creator-driven character. Meaning, I love you but you've got to keep a writer I love on you to keep me interested. Sort of the way only a Matt Fraction could keep me interested in Iron Fist. I was out, free to live a respectable life, reading books like Scalped. And then, you went and got the the only writing duo who could possibly bring me back to the table: Keith Giffen & J.M. DeMatteis, late of "BWA-HA-HA" Justice League fame. Just when I thought I was out...
The planet Daxam, 30th Century: Darkseid is in the middle of destroying Daxam, implementing what will be forever known as "The Great Darkness War." And running through the laser beams as if he were trying to dodge raindrops is "Booster Gold, The Greatest Hero You've Never Heard Of." There's an artifact on hidden deep in the recesses of Daxam that should Darkseid get his hands on it, could change the tides of history and it's up to Booster to make sure only a war between a god and The Legion of Super-Heroes will happen on his watch. Elsewhere in the time stream, an evil once thought dead is resurrected; an evil he knows all too well.
I'll tell you what I was expecting from this issue; the trademarks that came to be associated with the Giffen/DeMatteis 80's JL run: some laughs, a bit of double entendre', Booster pouring on what he thinks is charm and some reminiscing about the past glories. And that's what I got. What I wasn't expecting them was the kick in the gut of page seventeen bringing the reader and Booster staring directly down at the cost of war. My only complaint, and it's a small one, is that Giffen & Dematteis tend to be "wordy." And when I say, "wordy," I mean it in the sense the word balloons threaten to take over the page and obscure the artwork. With Booster being the type of character where exposition is almost always necessary, it's easily forgivable, though.
Artist Chris Batista anchors it all down with simple yet dynamic layouts. Giffen & DeMatteis give him a lot to do with their multiple locations and set changes but his art never feels cluttered or confused and his figurework is always impeccable.
With Booster Gold #32, this is my third time around with our golden boy and while this one may not stand up as well as the other two, hell... you know the rest.
Birds of Prey #1 (DC Comics, $2.99)
by Graig Kent
Gail Simone left the original Birds of Prey after a 52-issue run which both defined the book and her career. After her departure two writers (Sean McKeever and Tony Bedard) essentially drove the title into the ground, but in their defense, they had an extremely tough act to follow. Now relaunched less than a year after the last issue of volume 1, here's a new #1, with Simone back on board (coming off, most notably, a surprisingly less-than-notable run on Wonder Woman) and key members of the roster (most notably Black Canary, who was off limits from the book while she was leading the maligned Justice League of America series and even more maligned Green Arrow/Black Canary series) back on board. Simone is re-teamed with artist Ed Benes (who provided art for her first three major story arcs) and if it feels like they're just "getting the band back together", well, that's pretty much it. In fact, that's the exact feel of the bulk of this first issue, as Oracle reassembles Black Canary, Lady Blackhawk and the Huntress and they have their moment before carrying on with business almost-as-usual. Two new additions join the Birds, aptly, Hawk and Dove, the former making things (hopefully) interesting having been newly resurrected at the finale of Blackest Night, and, *gasp* a boy amidst the estrogen-heavy roster. This first arc revolves around a "race-against-the-clock" scenario in which people will die and secrets will be revealed if the BoP don't intervene. It's too early to say with one issue whether Simone and company will hold up to the level of quality action, adventure and characterization the series became known for, but things are looking good so far.
Daytripper #1-6 (Vertigo, $2.99)
By Adam Prosser
We all have our little hang-ups. Me, I go into a bit of a frenzy when people use the word “comics” interchangeably with “superhero stories published by DC and Marvel”. Batman and Spiderman and co. are obviously a huge part of the medium, yes, but to refer to “comics” as if that’s all there was to them can have a real, negative impact on the artform. An awful lot of superhero fans are distressingly reluctant to pick up even a superhero comic if it’s by another publisher, let alone something that departs from the genre entirely. This is also true of a lot of Manga readers and slice-of-life indie comics fans, but superheroes, which still dominate the industry, have to bear the brunt of the criticism here. For comics to survive, there has to be more experimentation, more willingness on the part of fans to try something outside their bubble, whatever that might be.
Fortunately, some of the best comics writers and artists themselves are willing to make the jump, and hopefully they’ll bring some of their fans with them. Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba are two rising stars in the world of comic art, twin brothers from Brazil (yes, despite having different last names) who have dazzled with their work on Matt Fraction’s bizarre Spy-fi series Casanova, as well as separately on Joss Whedon’s Sugarshock (Moon) and Gerard Way’s The Umbrella Academy (Ba). Now with Daytripper, a rather unique series from Vertigo currently on its sixth issue, the brothers show that they’re talented writers as well, and they’re willing to make a leap between genres.
Daytripper isn’t an action series, it’s not set in a fantastical world, and it doesn’t have people dealing with the impact of the strange or supernatural. In most respects it’s not a genre story at all. Instead it’s a fairly low-key drama detailing the life of Bras Domingo, a Brazilian obituary writer, through a series of depictions of the most important days of his life, from his childhood, to the birth of his son, to the death of his father, whose shadow looms large over Bras’ life. There’s one other, unusual aspect to the series, though, one that pushes it out of the realm of straightforward realism, but which doesn’t become apparent until at least the second issue, and which I won’t spoil here. Suffice it to say it’s in line with Kurt Vonnegut’s work, if more subtle. For the most part, though, this series isn’t about twists and narrative sleight-of-hand, it’s a character piece and an exploration of Brazilian culture made accessible for Anglos (not for nothing are several of the issues about characters on vacation.) And it’s superb.
I don’t mean to come off as sounding as if I think this comic is better because it doesn’t contain aliens or robots. I love SF and fantasy as much as the next comics reader. But to limit one’s comic intake to one small genre does both oneself and the medium a disservice. The important thing about this comic is that Ba and Moon (apparently sharing both writing and art duties, although the finished art looks more like Moon’s) are clearly telling a story that’s very close to their hearts, and doing it with a consummate level of skill worthy of the best modern literature, but in a way that only the comics medium could tell it. Just as Bras aspires to writing as something more than a job, Moon and Ba are trying to tell a story that does more than entertain for fifteen minutes as you read it. That’s something that ought to be worth a look for anyone.