Sunday, July 10, 2005

SPOILERS ABOUND: a weekly digest of reviews, notes, and rants

Vol. 1, No. 1
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

In this issue:
reviews of JSA #75 and DC Special: The Return of Donna Troy #2 / notes on comics and terror, Alex Ross's JSA covers, and trades worth waiting for / rants about House of M and Doctor Doom's one-liners

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


JSA #75 Geoff Johns (Writer) / Don Kramer, Leonard Kirk, Stephen Sadowski (Pencillers) / Keith Champagne, Michael Bair (Inkers)

Geoff Johns has been steadily building the story of Albert Rothstein brick by brick for 69 issues, craftily intertwining it with the lives of Courtney Whitmore and Black Adam, and the result in this issue is a huge emotional payoff that doesn’t shut things down, but opens up an entirely new range of tantalizing possibilities. The scene on pages 26-27 is one of the high points of the series, adding yet another layer to what can only be described as one of the most surprising and intriguing love-triangles in mainstream comic books. The only thing that unnerves me about this issue is the sadistic treatment of Jean Loring, which seems gratuitous and somewhat mars the creepy fun of her grotesque turn as Eclipso. Still, the dialogue crackles and the reunion of the series’ all-star art team is a nice bonus.

Grade: A-

DC Special: The Return of Donna Troy #2 Phil Jimenez (Writer) / Jose Luis Garcia Lopez (Penciller) / George Perez (Inker)

It had a rocky start last month, but issue two delivers. Jimenez is still finding his feet as a plotter, but he writes these characters like he’s channeling the Wolfman/Perez synergy of the book’s classic run. 100% pure heart. This book “feels” like it could actually be part of that run from the mid-eighties, shortly after the Baxter series came out. The Titans look and behave like adults here, and Jimenez seems to be taking advantage of the fact that the Outsiders book has actually allowed the original New Teen Titans to age (that is, to recapture the maturity they were given by Wolfman, Perez, and later, Barreto and Grummett). Reading this issue feels rather like entering an alternate DC timeline in which the disappointing Titans series between “Titans Hunt” and the Geoff Johns era simply never happened. These are the characters I remember; and yet Jimenez has no trouble integrating them with younger members like Cassie and Bart.

Also, after the strange blip in Winick’s Outsiders last month, when Dick inexplicably reprimanded Kory for “holding back like always” (!), it’s great to see her written so perfectly here. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that she’s being drawn perfectly either.

Though it sounds like blasphemy, I’m almost be tempted to say that the Jose Luis Garcia Lopez-penciled/George Perez-inked Koriand’r looks even better than Perez’s original.

As big a Perez fan as I am, Garcia Lopez’s figures and layouts have a kind of dynamism that often seems even more expressive and lifelike than Perez’s. At the same time, Perez’s finishes add a gorgeous delicacy to Garcia Lopez’s lush, bold work. This image of Donna, for instance. Perez would never have drawn Donna’s reaction this “big,” but I ask you, could the art team be better or more complementary?

At any rate, with images and dialogue like this:

the issue might just as well be called, “The Return of Starfire.”

Grade: A


Comics and Terror

The bombings in London this week shook everyone, and the usual message board chatter took on a different tone as many on this side of the Atlantic posted supportive notes to Londoners and their families. And yet, how different it seems this time around. In the immediate wake of 9/11, one was unlikely to read posts like the following ones from “Impulse” on the Geoff Johns message boards:

“What really worries me now is that the events of yesterday give ammunition to the racist scum, the degenerate filth like the ‘National Front’ or the ‘BNP’, who’ll try to twist people’s anger & fear into racism, directed at the Muslim community in the UK.”

“One of the parts I like best about living in the UK (despite the exorbitant sales tax & incoming road tariffs, ID cards & other assorted governmental idiocy) is how multicultural a society we are. In the space of a day, I can get an Italian coffee & panini for breakfast, Indian tiffin for lunch, Thai cuisine for dinner & good old beans on toast for supper. One of the friendliest parts of the city I’ve lived in is Moseley, a largely Muslim, Hindu & Sikh community - in fact, I was one of only four white people living on the street. I never once felt out of place. My closest friends - actually the closest I’ve ever known to family - are white father, Chinese mother & their two children.

“It heartens me to see so many people pulling together in the wake of Thursday’s events. Thankfully, the vast majority of people are intelligent & reasoned enough to know that the explosions are down to madmen, not Muslims. Even the tabloids, glaring examples of sensationalism over journalism, are full of messages of solidarity. The bastards responsible for the attacks and anyone who’d twist the tragedy to fuel racism can rot in hell before my opinions towards anyone change based on their skin colour or religion. The United Kingdom will not be cowed into fear and intolerance.”

A heartening response. Read the full discussion here.

What does this have to do with comics? Not much, perhaps, but not nothing either. The standard line on superhero comics is that they are simplistic parables about good and evil. While there is an element of truth to this generalization, the best comics are anything but simplistic in their treatment of moral categories, and at their very best, they situate the discussion of morality within a larger political framework that asks us to consider the relationship between individual actions and complex (usually long-term) historical and political “causes.”

Consider the architects of Dan Didio’s shiny new DCU. Grant Morrison’s wild, brilliant conspiracy books challenge us to be better, more critical thinkers about ethics, politics, power, and difference. They teach us to think in complex ways about personal and group identity, as well as about historical causality and the political violence that underlies a cancerous phenomenon like terrorism. They certainly force us to ask more difficult questions about the relationship between “great power” and “great responsibility” than Spiderman ever did.

Geoff Johns’s take on morality may assume a more conventional, nostalgic form than the polymorphous perversity of Morrison’s riotous global visions, but it is no less challenging or important. Johns’s arresting presentation of the Black Adam/Atom Smasher relationship and the heartbreakingly subtle “Kahndaq” stories in JSA exemplify the great potential of the medium to comment intelligently on current events and, like Morrison’s work, challenge us to be better readers of our own world.

Covering the JSA

Someone needs to give Alex Ross and the DC Art Department some kind of award. I’m usually of the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” school, but the new JSA logo is utterly stunning, and Ross’s superheroes have never looked more like they were about to burst right through the page into my living room. The classiest covers on the stands, bar none.

Lost Causes Department

When will DC issue a TPB collecting the entire run of the original Marv Wolfman/Gene Colan Night Force series? It’s just on the horizon…right? Uh…guys? Okay…what about John Ostrander’s Suicide Squad? Between Day of Vengeance and Villains United, these two old classics deserve a dusting off.


House of Zzz...

What’s the deal with House of M? We’re three issues in and it feels like I’m still waiting for it to start. There are some fun bits here, but the decompression is irritating. Also, what’s with those covers? Esad Ribic is a talented artist, but the subdued beauty of his watercolors doesn’t convey the “internet cracking” excitement that the series aspires to generate…

Doctor Doom’s One-Liners

Against all odds, I had a great time at the Fantastic Four movie this weekend. The script was stronger than expected and the casting of the main players was bang-on--even the unfairly-maligned Jessica Alba as Sue Storm. But for Pete’s sake, which Jean-Claude Van Damme movie did the good Doctor get his zingers from? “I think I'll get a second opinion”? Me too! “Susan, you’re fired”? Ack! Enough already!

No comments: