Sunday, November 12, 2006

Double Articulation Digest #2

Doctor Strange: The Oath #1-2 – There’s still time. If you hesitated about buying the first issue because the cover logo was so inexplicably ugly, it’s probably not too late to reconsider. My advice? Just suck it up and take the plunge. Yes, the logo is hideous; but if you turn the page quickly, you’ll forget it in no time. Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin are outdoing themselves in this witty, beautiful story, which is by far the most assured and entertaining Doctor Strange tale I’ve read in many years. Vaughan’s wry take on the Stephen Strange/Wong relationship is perfection, and so is his use of Florence Nightingale fetishist Night Nurse, a salty structural stand-in for Clea who uses bobby pins instead of spells. Who says Marvel doesn’t know a thing or two about style?

Annihilation #4 – The exciting twists and turns of this space saga are further evidence that Marvel needs to liberate both its writers and its fans from the creative quagmire of Civil War a.s.a.p. Annihilation is a “traditional” space saga—by which I mean, it has an entertaining story, appealing characters, and beautiful art. This issue contains some satisfying revelations about Annihilus’s plans and gives more airtime to one of my favorite second-string Avengers: Moondragon. Oh, and it features one titanic ass-kicking. The best issue so far of a series that is shaping up to be outstanding. If only the Marvel webmasters could succeed in matching the covers with their correct issue descriptions in their on-line catalog (the actual cover to this issue is here). While they’re at it, perhaps they could make the Marvel website legible. Even after its reorganization, it is still, hands down, the most unnavigable company site on the web.

52 #25,#26, and #27 – There’s no shortage of things to praise about 52, but one thing I’m especially enjoying is its revival of DC’s more freakish characters, as well as its invention of new ones. Oh, Grant Morrison.

Is Chang Tzu “Egg Fu”? And more importantly, why do both he and Emerald Eyed Ekron have all those crazy robot legs?? (And who’s “driving” Ekron??? Or do my eyes deceive me?) Can we expect more disturbing monster-heads? 52 is so entertaining that someone is going to have to invent a special industry award just to honor it. Am also loving Ralph’s Orphic Odyssey. Not to mention the promised integration and rationalization of DC’s time-travel characters. Interesting too that the most recent issue appears to confirm my (and probably everyone’s) suspicion that the little girl on the cover of week 25 foreshadows of Renee Montoya’s future. R.I.P. Vic Sage; long live The Question.

Jonah Hex #13 – The already unmissable series gets gussied up a little further as Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti are joined by international comics artist Jordi Bernet to tell the origin of Jonah Hex. The story is gripping and the interior art every bit as rich and expressive as the superb cover image suggests. What a treat, for as good as this series has been, the charm of this issue is that it actually looks like classic Western comic. Highly recommended.

Superman #657 – This is turning into one of the best Superman stories ever told. Seriously. Busiek is on fire writing an apocalyptic future in which Superman’s own body becomes the missile that send the earth into a state of nuclear winter.

The apocalyptic future has long been a cliché of the superhero genre, but it feels different this time. The “superteam” of Luthor, Lois, Jimmy, and Parasite on the cover cool. And Pacheco’s art…gasp! The cover. The two-page spread of Metropolis falling into the sea. Everything here is just so beautifully rendered. I have nothing intelligent to say about this except: more please!

Teen Titans #40 – This was a good issue. But precisely because it was good, it also reveals the main limitations of the current series. When I finished reading it I thought: “Well, that was…moderately fun. It reminded me of some great stories from the past.” But, unfortunately, that’s about the most I could say about it. As my various Teen Titans posts over the past year and half have indicated, I’m tremendously ambivalent about this series, despite my nearly sycophantic admiration for Geoff Johns’s work on virtually every other title we writes, and despite (or perhaps because of) my fetish for the Titans era that Johns’s current series is attempting to emulate. I really like the One Year Later team; for the first time since the end of Wolfman’s brilliant Titans-Hunt saga, Johns has created a Titans team that could be spectacular. The group has energy, dynamism, and strikes a winning balance between novelty and tradition. And yet, despite a lot of action, globetrotting, new characters, and revelations, the actual story of this team still feels like it hasn’t started yet. I’m still asking myself, who are these characters? Who (especially) is Raven? And not in a gee-I-can’t-wait-to-find-out kind of way. More like an annoyed, wtf? kind of way. Similarly, the reveal at the end of this issue was enjoyable. But in a Johnsian universe, it was also inevitable (even though, I admit, I hadn’t predicted it). My complaint is that being caught by surprise this way can only be a mild thrill, and after awhile, begins to feel like a cheap trick if it isn’t supported by the kind of intricate character development and extended serio-comic “a day in the life…” downtime that was a hallmark of the classic New Teen Titans upon which so much of a reader’s enjoyment of the current series depends. What I don’t like about the current series, then, is its selective use of those Wolfman-Perez stories: it keeps much of their content, but throws out the form. What this new series has made me realize is that (nostalgia aside) my love of those earlier tales had as much to do with their formal density as with their treatment of plot and character. And of course, the two things are inseparable. Between Wolfman’s verbosity and Perez’s super-compressed, multi-panel pages, the classic New Teen Titans actually had room to deliver substantial doses of action and reflection every issue. The Johns/Daniel stories, however, are still too decompressed to do this adequately, so instead, they tend to build character development and reflection into their action sequences, sequences which are themselves simultaneously rushed (because there are too few panels per page) and overextended (because they take up so much of each issue). The result is a frenzied pace that never quite allows the team to gel. For an older fan like me, it all feels a little too much like the proverbial sound and fury… And yet, fulfillment is so close, you can almost taste it. Gah!


Marc Burkhardt said...

I'm more a fan of the Haney/Cardy era of the Titans, for reasons too lengthy to go into here. But I recently dropped Teen Titans because I don't feel like waiting months for a story that's just ... OK.

Also, there's always a whiff of seriousness hovering over Johns' work that's starting to wear me down.

Guess I'm getting cranky in my old age.

Jim Roeg said...

fortress keeper - I am so with you on the cranky.

Here's my shameful Titans confession: I've never read the Haney/Cardy Titans. Though now, with DC's Showcase Editions, I lack any excuse.

Anonymous said...

I started reading the Johns Titans for the appearance of the new Doom Patrol. I thought those issues were really outstanding--fast-paced action and a big enough dollop of characterization to keep me happy. But it's been dragging quite a bit since then. I recently re-read the first Doom Patrol/Brotherhood of Evil story from the Wolfman/Perez era and was seriously startled by the density that you so rightly suggest is intrinsic to the success of those stories; it was like I had to retrain my mind to take in a superhero comic that was so densely packed after years and years of decompression.

I've stuck with the Johns Titans since the DP bowed out, but I'm not sure how much longer that'll last.

Matthew E said...

What I want to know is, how long before we see a story featuring the Emerald Ass of Ekron?

Jim Roeg said...

prof. - Ah, density! (All those red caves in the current issue kept referring back to that sumptously dense Brotherhood of Evil/Rebirth of Brother Blood storyline from the first NTT series when Perez's art had achieved a kind of crazy, just utterly amazing level of detail and texture. The mental comparison was driving me nuts.)

I really enjoyed those Johns Doom Patrol issues too. But even those made me think: it's all really going to come together issue! And yet, here I sit griping. The really funny/sad thing about that Teen Titans post is that I originally sat down to write a positive review, but somewhere between the brain and the keyboard I talked myself out of it. I never wanted to be one of those fans who just buys books and them compains about how they aren't what I'd write, but clearly, that's my fate where Teen Titans are concerned because if there's one book that I can't not buy, it's Teen Titans.

The frustrating part is that you know that a truly transcendent contemporary Teen Titans is possible. For that to happen though, DC would have to decide to make TT a genuine first string book. Given DC's focus on restarting their Big Three and major team books, it almost feels like they're content to let TT sit as a "very good" B-level book. That sounds silly, I know, but the DC marketplace was so different in the early 80s--at that time, the Big Three were in pretty bad shape and even the JLA looked creaky. Under such circumstances, DC could plausibly invest their creative resources in a sidekick team book. Now, however, the business plan about "fixing" broken properties is radically different--no doubt because films and merchandising require a the Big Three to be front-and-center all the time. In today's market place, DC could perhaps not afford to allow the Teen Titans to steal the spotlight from Superman, Wonder Woman, or Batman--or even the JLA. Drat.

matthew e - you mean you haven't seen the solicit for Week 33? The cover features Lobo musing, "Yeah, I'd tap that."

Anonymous said...

I loved the art in Superman 657, especially the red & gold paintings (?) of Superman at the end.

My favorite comment regarding nuclear Superman is "Attention Frank Miller: This is what you should have done when you had the chance."