Sunday, July 06, 2008

Short Reviews for the Week of July 2nd 2008

Billy Batson & the Magic of Shazam #1 - If this represents the state of kids' comics, kids are darn lucky. This comic looks great. It's full of color, energy, and movement. There's also a ton of story here. You get about four times the plot of a normal superhero comic. The panels-per-page ratio is high; and it flows well and is never crowded. Who is this Mike Kunkel? Where have he and his serious comiker skills been? Playing tether ball with a wrecking ball? That's superhero brilliance.

Trinity #5 - The fight with Konvikt reminds me of Superman's first fight with Doomsday: the JLA has gotten beaten up by this mysterious, one-dimensional badguy who came out of nowhere, and it's up to Supes (and Wonder Woman and Batman) to take him out. I like when WW is shown to be Supe's equal. If she isn't quite as strong, she's a better fighter.
When Bats is questioning him about his spaceship, Graak says that he isn't a "sciencelizard". Could that refer to the Psions of the Vega system? They're lizardy, and into the kind of superscience that could create and/or contain someone of Konvikt's power level.
Now the Big Three are clued-in that someone else is in on the cosmic stuff from issue one, so maybe that thread will develop further next issue.
In the second half of the book: So, Gangbuster is related to Superman b/c he used to operate in Metropolis, and we can assume that Tarot corresponds to Wonder Woman in this "street level" triad b/c of her connection to the magical/mystical (and her gender), so that leaves the Batman slot open. Who could the third member of this group be? I think this story is happening on the west coast, so maybe someone from Busiek's Power Company series?

Buffy #16 - It's cool to see Fray and her world again. Karl Moline's Buffy is really tall. We get another peek at what Twilight and his crew are up to, but not much. I hope that thread gets some decent development before it comes to a head. It would kinda suck to get an info dump about it just in time for the big fight. I wonder how all these elements will tie together, too. Dawn's changes, time travel, Dracula, the scythe, etc. Maybe they won't. Maybe this series isn't following the TV season model literally, where the season ends with its plot threads wrapped up, or at least repositioned for the next season. Maybe it's more like old serial comics, with subplots that move at their own pace in relation to the major plot.

Fables #74 - I loved this issue, just like the last one. The title, "A Very One-Sided War" is very accurate. The Fabletown forces are p0wning the Empire at every turn. What's best is that they're doing so by being smart--by planning, by innovating, by anticipating. When big scary orcs are getting shot in the face by rabbits, it's not a battle, it's a humiliating rout. The Emperor sums it up when he says "Our real sin was a lack of imagination." It tweaks that part of my brain that loves strategy and tactics. Good stuff. Of course, since things have gone so well for Fabletown so far, you know that there's a huge bucket of shite just waiting to fall on them. I don't know what the Emperor's last ditch plan is, but it's gonna be nasty.

Jack of Fables #23 - Continuing a tale from Jack's past, this issue has Jack in New Mexico in 1883. There's a great two-page spread (pages 2 & 3) of the town, Lilly of the Valley, which i think much have been drawn from reference material (it's convincing in its detail), but doesn't have that annoying photo-referenced look. It looks like a real slap-dash, ramshackle frontier town. Bigby Wolf is tracking Jack. I think this will be their first encounter, so Jack must have 'ported over from the Homelands sometime in the mid 19th century (we saw him in the Civil War in an early Fables issue). Both of these characters work well in an Old West setting, Jack as the greedy bastard, Bigby as the bar-brawling, New World barbarian. Of course we get another funny non-sequitor page of Babe the Blue Ox's daydreams, too.

Dynamo 5 #14 - Jay Faerber's comics are rooted in the superhero comics of the Bronze Age, it seems. (This is a good thing IMO.) That's true for a lot of writers, but where Faerber differs from some contemporaries, is that it never feels like he's trying to deconstruct or recast or re-imagine the superhero genre. He continues the tradition, adding some new elements, but never taking it apart. In Dynamo 5, the team's origin is that their superpowered male genetic contributor, Captain Dynamo (a superman type), had affairs with their mothers, and they each inherited one of his powers. It's easy to imagine that concept being worked into a series the point of which would be the fallibility of heroes, disillusionment, moral ambiguity, etc.; it would drown in self-importance and faux sophistication. Dynamo 5 does touch on some of that more "serious" stuff, but it doesn't dwell on it. It never forgets that it's a superhero comic.
In this issue, the fallout from an attack on the team's headquarters continues. With their leader/mentor/drill sergeant (and Captain Dynamo's widow) Maddie in a coma, the 5 have retreated back to their families. None of these are in Tower City, the city D5 is supposed to defend. Thus, the city is being overrun by supervillains. The only 5ver in Tower City is Myriad, and he's too busy philandering to fight crime (he inherited skirt-chasing as well as shape-changing from Capt. Dynamo). Maddie is under the care of Doc Noble (from Noble Causes), and when Scrap visits her there, she gets some good advice from Zephyr Noble.
Meanwhile, a new hero going by Vigil is trying to fight the invasion of villains in Tower City. At first i thought maybe Vigil was Scrap in a different costume, but that's not the case. From what's in this issue and what i've seen in Previews, it looks like the next few issues will see an alternate Dynamo 5, with Scrap, Vigil, and others yet to be determined. Now, that's an old trope in superhero comics (most often used in Fantastic Four), but somehow i'm still excited about it here. Maybe it's the execution, maybe it's that Dynamo 5 is creator-owned so it's more possible that the status quo could actually change.

Noble Causes #35 - The "pitch" on Noble Causes is that it's superheroes as soap opera. All superhero comics have that element, esp. superhero teams, but here it's really played up. There are moments that are just ridiculous, but at the same time fun, in that soap opera way. The Nobles are a super-hero family. Doc Noble is married to Olympia (his first wife, Gaia, is in prison). The kids include Rusty (in a robot body), Zephyr, Frost, Surge and Minutiae. Celeste and Slate married in.
Here's an example of the super soap opera of Noble Causes. It's a minor spoiler from an early story. Doc's first wife cheated on him with his doppelganger in an alternate universe.
Current plots come to a head in this issue, as the Nobles discover a traitor in their midst, and the adversary who put the traitor there. They don't figure it all out at once, though. Different subsets of the team are discovering different elements, but it's all hitting the fan at once. Surprise follows surprise, building suspense, tension, and the anticipation that next issue will be a knock-down drag-out.
Artist Yildiray Cinar has some strong moments here. There are some well-laid out pages here that do a lot to convey action, and surprise.

Blue Beetle #28 - Pfeifer guest-writes again (new regular writer Matt Sturges beings next issue) with a very entertaining one-shot that incorporates the legacy of the original, Golden Age Blue Beetle and gives a lot of page time to one of this series' strengths: the supporting cast. A supervillain who fought Dan Garret back in the '40s has apparently resurfaced in El Paso. Jaime, along with his friends, Garret's granddaughter, and Peacemaker (a sort of reluctant mentor, and metatextually, a tie to the 2nd Blue Beetle's origins in Charlton Comics) have to figure out why and how an octogenarian supervillain and his monster have become a threat again. The answer is surprising, and fits perfectly with the tone of this series, wherein the hero is always able to find a solution that's better than the obvious one.

Madame Xanadu #1 - There's a very cool world here that's inviting because of its visuals and intricacy. DC fans will find some cool and intriguing takes on the continuity around Kirby's take on the Arthurian mythos. This issue sets up a lot: who Xanadu is, or who she was to start with, her connections to other important characters like Merlin, the Phantom Stranger, and Morganna, and the world around her. Matt Wagner brings the strong script as you'd expect, and young artist Amy Reeder Hadley shows serious chops of her own. Her characters look great, they act well, her backgrounds/environments are convincing and interesting to look at, and her storytelling is smooth. I wonder how it would look with some heavier lines here and there, but that's not a criticism. Big props also go to Guy Major on colors, who contributes greatly to the mood and sense of place.
I'm excited about to see where this one is going. It's full of narrative corners to explore, and characters i want to see more of.

Jonah Hex #33 - The Darwyn Cooke art is what convinced me to pick this up, but i've read a few other issues of this current Hex series, and i've enjoyed all of them. As usual, this is a done-in-one story, and it shows, in the age of (sometimes thinly) drawn out mega-parters, that a great story can still be told in 22 pages. Hex haunts this story, as it's told by someone who was rescued (sort of) as a boy by the devil-eyed bounty hunter. It's got the grit this series is famous for: the unforgiving environment, the heartless villains and perhaps as heartless protagonist. This is a great issue.