Writer, Editor, Author

Tag: Detective Comics

Notes: Coover, Brokeback Pose, Fatale, Movies and the Cover of the Year

Some links of note:

  • Tom Spurgeon at Comics Reporter does a very enjoyable interview with Colleen Coover, whose work I particularly liked on the short stories in X-Men: First Class (the comic, not the movie) as well as in Banana Sunday
  • Here’s a hilarious Tumblr account from The Beat called The Brokeback Pose, devoted to all those cover shots of scantily clad heroines twisting in just the right way to show off all their assets in two dimensions.
  • As long as we’re talking about women comics characters, you could do a lot worse than to track down the few issues that made it out of Broadway Comics’ Fatale. I recall it was a good series that was getting better, but in the free-fall sales era of the mid-1990s, quality was rarely a factor in determining which companies and titles stuck. Jim Shooter talks about the creation of that series on his must-read blog here.
  • Roger Ebert explains the decline in moviegoing is due to high ticket and concession prices, an increasingly annoying moviegoing experience, and the poor quality of most movies. I can’t dispute any of those, and think the price and quality issues also affect comics much the same way. 
  • Artist Dave Johnson does a great job on his blog of running down the good and the bad in each week’s batch of comic book covers. Now he’s picked his cover of the year, the super-cool Joker image Jock created for Detective Comics #880. 

Ranking DC’s New 52

We’re now about halfway into the second month of DC Comics’ The New 52, and I’m now at the point where I have to pick and choose which books I really want to follow and plunk down my own money for. So I made a list and found it quite interesting.
The good news is that I am buying more DC Comics than I was before the relaunch, when I was pretty much just getting the core Batman books. 
Starting with the books I liked enough to stick with, these are the titles I have bought the second issue for already:
  • Action Comics
  • Animal Man
  • Batgirl
  • Detective Comics
  • O.M.A.C.
  • Batman and Robin
  • Batwoman
  • Batman
These books I definitely plan to buy the second issue of:
  • Justice League
  • Wonder Woman
  • Superman 
  • I, Vampire
That’s 12 so far, just one title less than a quarter of the New 52 offerings. 
These books I am very likely to pick up, availability and funds allowing: 
  • Supergirl
  • Aquaman
  • Batman: The Dark Knight
  • Superboy
  • Green Lantern Corps
  • The Flash
So if I pick up those books, that means DC got me back for 18 of the 52 books. Again, that’s not too bad — it’s a lot more than I was getting. 
These books just missed the mark for me, and I could reconsider:
  • Green Arrow
  • Swamp Thing
  • Deathstroke
  • Green Lantern
  • Blackhawks
  • Teen Titans
I admit that I had picked up Green Lantern #2 at the store last week, but changed my mind and put it back once I saw Love and Rockets: New Stories, Vol. 4 was out. 
These titles were the mediocre group of the bunch — not bad, but also neither interesting enough or good enough to make me want to come back. And I’ll admit, some of these surprised me.
  • Batwing
  • Hawk and Dove
  • Justice League International
  • Men of War
  • Static Shock
  • Stormwatch
  • Demon Knights
  • Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E.
  • Grifter
  • Legion Lost
  • Mister Terrific
  • Resurrection Man
  • Birds of Prey
  • Blue Beetle
  • Captain Atom
  • DC Universe Presents
  • Legion of Super-Heroes
  • Nightwing
  • All-Star Western
  • The Fury of Firestorm
  • Green Lantern: New Guardians
  • The Savage Hawkman
  • Voodoo
That’s a full 23 our of 52 books that fall into that category, nearly half of the line.
And then, there’s the titles I actively disliked or thought were flat-out terrible.
  • Red Lanterns
  • Suicide Squad
  • Catwoman
  • Red Hood and the Outlaws
  • Justice League Dark
Again, not bad, but the relaunch hasn’t really improved the quality of DC Comics, despite all the hype. I wish that the publisher had taken the time to dig deeper in terms of talent and offered up more surprises. They only get one shot at this — at least for the time being — so I would have liked there to be more comics that I could wholeheartedly recommend to both lapsed fans and new readers.

Batgirl Surprises, ‘Tec Shocks and Two New 52 Surprises

It appears that Batgirl #1 by Gail Simone, Ardian Syaf and Vicent Cifuentes is the surprise hit of The New 52, becoming the first book to sell out in many stores. It’s no surprise that Simone writes a great Barbara Gordon, but I was especially impressed by the artwork. Not only was it attractive looking and nicely polished, but the coloring by Ulises Arreola really added to the tone of the book without sacrificing clarity. I keep harping on this point, but coloring has been a real weakness at both Marvel and DC in recent years and it’s nice to see DC make a concerted effort to improve the coloring in their comics. The story was very engaging, though I missed exactly how Babs got the use of her legs back. The new outfit is very cool and the book is overall just a good bit of fun. I’m not sure why this particular book is so in demand — it could just be pent-up demand for seeing Barbara back in the cape, but I think there’s more going on here and I hope the book continues to be as much fun to read as this first issue.

OMAC #1 was a book I thought had potential right from the start. This was a great concept for the character when Kirby came up with it back in the 1970s, but its original run was cut short and no one has ever quite found the right mix. But Keith Giffen, getting back into the Kirby mode he exhibited years ago on Legion of Super-Heroes, really delivers a story that gets the Kirby spirit right. Working with Dan DiDio as co-writer and Scott Koblish as inker, this is another action-packed and fun comic book that evokes the King’s work in every panel and twist and turn of the story. That it does so without seeming dated is an impressive feat that few other Kirby imitations have succeeded in doing. This is exactly the sort of book I was hoping to find in the New 52 — an unexpected surprise that delights and entertains.

Detective Comics #1. The last time we saw a Detective Comics #1 on the stand was March 1937, and this  is the title from which the company derives its name. (Yes, DC Comics does mean Detective Comics Comics, and trying to correct that lack of logic is just as pointless as trying to get people to stop saying ATM machine.) So, this is one of the titles that changed the least, with writer and penciller Tony S. Daniel moving over to ‘Tec from the same job on the just-concluded run of Batman. Daniel does raise the bar here. The storytelling is better, the color is better and the scripting is better than his recent Batman run. He’s also telling an especially intense story with a conclusion that is already getting a lot of shocked responses online. I admit that it surprised me, by being both unexpected and particularly gory for a Batman comic. But it does make me want to read more.

Green Arrow #1 is another example of the kind of book I was hoping to find in the New 52. Now, Green Arrow has never been a character I’ve been especially fond of. He is, after all, a guy with a bow and arrow. I walk my dog in Lower Arroyo Park in Pasadena, and see archers there almost every day at a public range down there. Archery just isn’t threatening to me in the same way that firearms would be, even in a safe setting like a shooting range. As a character, Green Arrow has always been a bit of a caricature, going all the way back to his role as the voice of hippiedom in superhero comics when he teamed up with that square dude Green Lantern way back in the early 1970s. This new Green Arrow keeps Oliver Queen as the hero, but updates him to be much more modern and less one-note. Gone is the goatee, and Queen is like a young Steve Jobs who runs a major tech company as a side job to playing superhero. He’s assisted by tech girl Naomi and skeptic Jax. The book is, again, heavy on the action and it plays like vintage late 1980s DC, courtesy of writer J.T. Krul, penciler Dan Jurgens and inker supreme George Perez. The art really helps sell this book, as both Jurgens and Perez are veteran superhero artists who seem to relish the opportunity to revisit a more fun take on this character. This book would have easily fit into the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths relaunches of 1986-1989, which makes me very happy because that’s perhaps my favorite era of DC Comics.

One more post to wrap it up.

Mutants drift further from Utopia, but Batman and Spidey are doing quite well, thanks

It’s taken me a awhile to get to reading the giant stack of comics that piled up the past few months. Reading them has been sadly dull — I don’t know if it’s the comics or if it’s me, though I suspect if everything was a great read I wouldn’t have written what I just wrote. So let’s get to it.

Dark Avengers/Uncanny X-Men: Exodus #1 (Marvel, $3.99) is the conclusion to the Utopia crossover storyline, and it’s reasonably good. That’s to be expected when you have folks like Matt Fraction writing and Mike Deodato and Terry Dodson drawing. The Utopia storyline was pretty overtly political for X-Men, starting with an initiative called Proposition X that would require medical birth control for all mutants. That leads to the mutants, who’ve established San Francisco as their new home base, going on the riot path and H.A.M.M.E.R. director Norman Osborn bringing in his Dark Avengers to restore order and discredit the X-Men and install his own lackeys — the Dark X-Men — as the public face of mutant kind. It’s a heavy handed and painfully obvious attempt to tie the mutants into the gay rights issues that are at the forefront of society. And that would probably work, but there’s such a sense of change fatigue when it comes to the X-Men franchise that none of this really has a chance to stick. It was only a year ago that the X-Men came to San Francisco, and nothing about that switch really stood out as meaningful or interesting — and now we’re on the move again to the remnants of Asteroid X, now renamed Utopia. It would have been nice for the X-Men to have stuck around San Francisco long enough for that setting to made a difference. And it’s hard when your arcs all run four, five, six issues to establish a real sense of place the way comics used to back in the days when they were periodicals through and through. I think of the first Wolverine series from 1982, where that setting of Japan really came to life and was important to the story. Nowadays, even with a half dozen spinoff titles, the X-titles (and Marvel titles in general) have become kind of cookie cuttered in the Bendis mode — where characters’ dialog rarely has much to do with the story and the overall tone is self-conscious and self-referential to the point of inanity. All of this was fresh 10 years ago, but at least for me, this style has worn out its welcome.
I also read the Utopia tie-in issues Dark X-Men: The Confession #1 (Marvel, $3.99), X-Men: Legacy #227 (Marvel, $2.99), both of which suffer from much the same symptom. Confession is basically an entire issue of Cyclops and Emma Frost having it out over the status of their relationship and their respective guilt and responsibilities in the whole thing. And character is important — it’s part of what made Marvel great — but this exemplifies the self indulgence that I think is plaguing the X-books in particular. Another example is The Uncanny X-Men #515 (Marvel, $2.99), the first issue of the new “Nation X” storyline that heralds the return of Magneto, usually a big event with lots of drama even when it’s not done well. But here, it’s sudden and just seemingly random. Even the things that should work don’t — a minor character dies in a rather nice scene, but again it’s a character who hasn’t been around long enough or done anything interesting enough for the reader to care about his passing with the same passion some of the X-Men display.

In the Wolverine corner of Marvel, Mark Millar and Steve McNiven’s alternate future run concludes in Giant-Size Wolverine: Old Man Logan #1 (Marvel, $4.99). Alternate future storylines can be fun, and this one has had its moments of coolness. But the ending, delayed from the regular run of the title to this special, is disappointing for just being so damn obvious. This post-apocalyptic Western tale, in which Old Man Logan has to rediscover his spine as he tries to protect his family from the victorious supervillains that rule the land. The end, however, sees Logan finally pop the claws and go to town on everyone — but it does so in so mundane and excessively violent a fashion that it’s hardly satisfying or even terribly interested. The art’s nice, even though it’s a bit gross at times, but this ending throws no curves at all and I couldn’t help but think, “That’s it?”
Still, it’s better than X-Men Origins: Wolverine #1 (Marvel, $3.99), the most recent Origins one-shot. I guess this does a decent job of recapping the character’s origin and making it jibe, both storywise and visually, with what appears in the movie of the same name. But in simplifying the story, it loses the interesting parts of the good stuff and exposes the lame stuff for being truly lame. It also doesn’t do much to explain itself — like who are Heather and James Hudson, who weren’t in the movie? The art, however, is nice — no surprise since it’s by Mark Texeira, who did a good job drawing the Wolverine series way back in the early 1990s.
X-Factor #47-48 (Marvel, $2.99 each), continues to be a consistently entertaining read. Yeah, it’s gotten complicated, with future Dr. Dooms, an adult Layla Miller, a future Cyclops and more Madrox dupes than you can shake a stick at. But writer Peter David does a good job of giving everyone a personality and structuring his story so that it’s entertaining even if you don’t remember every detail of the previous 46 issues.
Before we leave the mutant corner of the Marvel Universe, there’s X-Men Forever #7 (Marvel, $3.99), which reminds me how great writer Chris Claremont was at establishing a new direction for a series and how quickly the new status quo could be forgotten. After a memorable five-issue opening arc, the last two issues have been a lot more murky and directionless. This one features a lot of flashing back on Nick Fury’s part to the days when Logan (currently believed dead in this timeline) did a lot of dirty work as a solider. It’s all still very recognizably Claremontian, which is comforting at times, but lacks the obvious forward momentum and focus of the first arc. Given that the outcome of Claremont’s stories usually depends greatly on the talents of the artist he’s working with, Tom Grummett can’t return to these pages soon enough.
Fantastic Four #569 (Marvel, $3.99) wraps up another Mark Millar run, though this time without the artist who kicked it off, Bryan Hitch, and with an assist on the scripting from Joe Ahearne. This is a definite ending point, though I recommend rereading as much of the run before trying to tackle the finale as possible because who’s who and what’s what is, once again, a complicated matter. The best part of the book comes at the end, when Ben Grimm’s wedding day arrives at long last. Removed from the plot complexities of the first half of this book, the characters are fully enjoyable and the situation surprising for the nature of the conflicts and how they play out. The art, by Stuart Immonen, is a good imitation of Hitch’s style, giving a bit more warmth to the characters. Looking back, the run didn’t measure up to the potential of the earliest issues. Seeing the acclaim for the follow up run by writer Jonathan Hickman tells you all you need to know about fan reaction to Millar’s run. But it still turned out well and I think will grow a bit in fans’ eyes over time.
Lastly from Marvel is The Amazing Spider-Man #602-604 (Marvel, $2.99 each). The plot in these issues, written by Fred Van Lente, features a good twist on the old Chameleon character (he’s been a villain since way back in ASM #1) as he mistakenly takes on the appearance of Peter Parker without knowing he’s Spider-Man. There’s some funny moments as Chameleon manages to fix a lot of Peter’s personal problems without really trying too hard. The return of Mary Jane figures fairly prominently, not completely justifying three consecutive MJ-themed covers, but OK, they’re well done. The Amazing Spider-Man has succeeded in its attempt to be a serial of its own — it may be the only part of the Marvel Universe that doesn’t rely on constant crossovers or participation in things like Dark Reign. Shipping three times a month, it’s also worked out a unique rhythm to its plotlines that is most like that of a TV series. I don’t know how much of an effect this had had on readership — whenever I ask at the comic shop, I’m told that overall interest in Spider-Man is down — but I think Marvel should stick with it because it’s, at the very least, different.
Having dug through the Marvels, it’s time to look at a few DCs from the Batman corner. Batman and Robin #4 (DC Comics, $2.99) is the first issue drawn by Philip Tan instead of Frank Quitely. I think it takes Tan a bit to find his groove on this issue, as I had a hard time following the art in the early pages but was very much enjoying the issue by the end. Grant Morrison’s story brings back The Red Hood, though who’s under the hood remains a mystery at this point, and his sidekick Scarlet. This is a good Batman story — the plot, villains, conflicts and visuals all work as well, if not better than, the previous Quitely-drawn issues.
It’s only moving on to read Batman #689-690 (DC Comics, $2.99 each) that I wonder what specific purpose each book is intended to serve. Maybe it’s just that with Batwoman having taken over Detective Comics, they needed to start Batman and Robin to have that second main Bat-title. I don’t know. But these issues, written by Judd Winick and drawn by Mark Bagley, were also quite enjoyable. Bagley’s art, especially, is refreshing on Batman because his style is so associated in my mind, and I’m sure others’, with the sunnier superhero fare of Thunderbolts and Ultimate Spider-Man. His Batman has some of the same quality, but after so many years of downplaying the superhero aspect of Batman it comes off as cool and interesting. Of course, Winick’s script helps, emphasizing as it does new Batman Dick Grayson’s happier outlook on life when compared to that of Bruce Wayne.
Lastly, comes Detective Comics #855-857 (DC Comics, $3.99 each), featuring solo tales of the new Batwoman by writer Greg Rucka and amazing art from J.H. Williams III. Considering how easy it would be to butcher a series about Batwoman, who was introduced to the world in a flurry of news articles about her homosexuality, it’s a bit of a minor miracle that this is so good. A lot, I think, comes down to Williams, who remains underrated despite outstanding work on Alan Moore’s Promethea and the seemingly lost Desolation Jones with Warren Ellis. The “Alice in Wonderland” villain is beautifully rendered, the pages are shockingly designed to be read as comics rather than movie storyboards and the imagery is powerful and beautiful all at once. And it does so with an unmistakable homoerotic undercurrent that’s attractive and playful in a way no comic has been since Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbe’s Cobweb feature from the ABC Tomorrow Stories series. And let’s not forget Rucka, who gives Kate Kane everything a character needs to be interesting and true to herself without doing the obvious sex scene. Instead, there’s a rather romantic dance between Kate and Maggie Sawyer from the Superman books that is really well written, staged and drawn. I also like that this series doesn’t interact with the other Batman books, that the series is getting a chance to stand on its own and hopefully develop its own identity and audience. There’s also a backup strip in these issues, written by Rucka and starring The Question. This is the new Question, former Gotham City cop Renee Montoya, and it’s so far so good there too.
We’ll see how much more of the pile I can plow through this week, though I’ve been on a real Jack Kirby kick of late and am interested in revisiting some of his work. Also, I’ve been reading Moebius — Blueberry Vol. 1 (the Marvel/Epic version) and The Airtight Garage just arrived in the mail today — and picked up a couple of interesting items in France and Italy that I want to get to and will … eventually.

Comic du jour: Detective Comics #437 (Nov. 1973)

I was visiting flea markets again this past weekend and came across a good deal on this classic issue of Detective Comics.

Was there ever a better time to be a Batman fan that the early 1970s? You had Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams doing their classic thing. And then there was this issue, the first edited and written by Archie Goodwin and featuring art by Jim Aparo and the first installment of “Manhunter” with art from then-newcomer Walt Simonson.

The lead story is a solid Batman detective story in which the Caped Crusader stumbles across and foils an elaborate criminal blackmail plan revolving around a mysterious artifact in a Gotham museum. (I’d like to know how often the Gotham museum cliche has been used in Batman stories over the years – I’d guess it’s in the top five.) But this is a solid, complete story told in a mere 12 pages. Aparo is one of those workman-like artists who never got the acclaim that guys like Adams or Simonson did, but he should have. Looking at the quality of both his storytelling and his illustrations, this is top-notch stuff. There’s even a stellar “silent” action sequence on page 2, in which Batman dispatches a group of rooftop thieves in an economical and compelling eight-panel layout. And Aparo still was a top-notch Batman artist more than 16 years later, when I first started reading his work on such seminal 1980s Batman stories as “10 Nights of the Beast,” “A Death in the Family” and “A Lonely Place of Dying.”

The backup story is known as a tried and true classic. I have a trade collecting the Goodwin-Simonson “Manhunter” stories, and they are definitive of the best comics of this era. Simonson remains one of my all-time favorite comics artists, mostly for his work on Thor, X-Factor, Star Wars and even Marvel’s old Battlestar Galactica series, (which I believe gave him his first credits as a writer). Seeing these stories from early in his career, it’s remarkable to see how consistent his distinctive art style has been, even as he improved his storytelling and drawing abilities in quite significant ways over the years.

Even more interesting is the letters page in this issue, in which Goodwin introduces himself as the successor to Julie Schwartz and outlines his plans for reviving Detective. (At the time, the book’s sales were slumping and the series was being published bimonthly! I don’t know how long this lasted, but I’m sure the quality of issues like this one helped turn that around.)

The weakest point of the whole package is, surprisingly, the cover. It looks like Aparo to me, but the illustration is poorly composed and completely overwhelmed by a design that overemphasizes the logo and trade dress. Even so, with regular comics today about to reach en masse the $3.99 price mark, this comic was a tremendously entertaining bargain, even at the princely sum (in 1973) of 20 cents.

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