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Wonder Woman #33

Posted in Comics, Wonder Woman with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 5th July, 2009 by Adam Redsell
A much-needed return to form for Princess Diana.

A much-needed return to form for Princess Diana.

“Rise of the Olympian Finale: Monarch of the Dead”
Author: Gail Simone
Artist: Aaron Lopresti
Inker: Matt Ryan
Colorist: Brad Anderson
Letterer: Travis Lanham
Cover Artists: Aaron Lopresti & Hi-Fi
Variant Cover Artist: Bernard Chang
Associate Editor: Sean Ryan
Editor: Elisabeth V. Gehrlein

The cinematic opening of Wonder Woman #33 promises a return to form for Gail Simone’s flagging run on the series, and I’m happy to say this issue delivers on that promise.  With a giant clam shell falling from the Hunter’s Moon, this story picks up from before it all went so wrong – that is, before Genocide.  Perhaps it was an issue of tone after all.  This overtly grim Doomsday clone sapped all the magic and charm from a series that dealt chiefly in magic and charm.  Over seven issues, no less!  Well, Wonder Woman fans, it’s safe to come out now, the bad creature has gone.  But already we’re at the eighth and final part of “Rise of the Olympian”, and I’m wondering where it all went – it all went to Genocide, that’s where – is it too little too late for Simone to make us care about this story?

The answer is no, surprisingly, and it causes me to wonder if the problem was simply an editorial one or not.  In the course of a single issue, Simone has managed to accomplish everything she needed to accomplish with this storyline, without it feeling rushed, all the while drastically changing Diana’s status quo.  Judging from her earlier work on this series, and her stellar run on Secret Six, Simone deals primarily in short three-issue arcs and one-shots, so I wouldn’t be at all surprised if what was originally planned to be a three-issue story arc was forced on her as an eight part epic by editorial.  After all, Batman had “R.I.P.” and Superman had New Krypton, what was the third pillar of the Holy DC Trinity going to have?  In light of this issue, the preceding seven issues of mindless brawling were clearly filler (and admittedly, by filler standards it was not too bad).  Still, I can see how Genocide, or something like her, was somehow necessary to reach this interesting point B.  In retrospect, this could have been done more easily by restoring a villain that requires no introduction, and that of course is Cheetah.  That Cheetah *did* appear in a greatly limited capacity just screams to me of missed opportunity.  Instead we had to deal with seven issues of build-up for a villain we didn’t care about, and never really had more than two dimensions to begin with.  But enough bitching and moaning about the waste of ink that was Genocide – she’s gone now, so let’s get on with the story.

Wonder Woman returns to Themyscira in dire need of medical attention.  To make matters worse, the island is being attacked by gigantic sea monsters, which is awesome.  Diana’s mother Hippolyta shows her true strength as a woman and a leader, as she prepares to lead her people into battle.  Now, I don’t know where Hippolyta stands in current DC continuity, but I get the sense that this is the same Hippolyta that was Wonder Woman in previous iterations, and if that’s the case, Simone makes it fit quite nicely here.  The stubborn warrior-woman that she is, Diana ignores all emotional pleas and medical advice, binding axe and lasso to her severely burnt hands, and goes into battle.  This is awesome to watch, because you know in your heart of hearts that this is exactly what Wonder Woman would do.

The battle itself is fun and reminiscent of those big monster films and Moby Dick-style epic sea stories.  All of the action is cleanly and wonderfully drawn by Aaron Lopresti, who seems right at home with horror themes and Greek mythology.  The battle yields revelations that the gods are once again involved in foul play, Zeus and Ares in particular.  Diana’s had just about enough of this, and the result is more than shocking.  The gods finally play their hand, and so does Wonder Woman.  I don’t want to spoil it by going into detail, but one can’t help but feel that she’ll never be the same again.

Everything about this issue is a shock, in what is essentially the boldest Wonder Woman story in a long time.  Just when I’d lost hope in this series, Simone leaves me hooked on all the charm and magic that brought me to her series in the first place, along with a smorgasbord of new story possibilities.  It’s time to start reading Wonder Woman again, people.

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Superman #689

Posted in Comics, DC, Superman with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 4th July, 2009 by Adam Redsell
A World Without Superman ain't so bad after all.

A World Without Superman ain't so bad after all.

“The Tourist”
Author: James Robinson
Artist: Renato Guedes
Inker: Jose Wilson Magalhaes
Colorist: David Curiel
Letterer: John J. Hill
Cover Artist: Andrew Robinson
Assistant Editor: Will Moss
Editor: Matt Idelson

Against all odds, James Robinson’s Superman has become, for me, the most interesting Superman book on the stands.  That Robinson achieved this without its titular character is no mean feat.

The issue opens with a snidely amusing xenophobic diatribe from Bill O’Reilly knock-off, Morgan Edge.  Widespread fear of the Kryptonian threat has created PR problems for its new protector, Mon-El, and even Superman himself.  As he’s dispensing with two-bit supervillains (and no doubt listening to a television in the distance), Mon-El reflects upon the fickleness of Metropolis, and humanity at large.  Not out of judgement, but out of pure fascination with the human condition.  Why all the existentialism?  Mon-El has been told the baddest of bad news – he doesn’t have long to live – and having spent a majority of his life in dimensional purgatory; he’s got a lot of living to do.

(This may require a history lesson: some of you may remember Mon-El, the boy from the planet Daxam, who met Superboy all those years ago.  Superboy was delighted to have found a friend (or a big brother, so he thought) he could relate to; someone else just like him, with the same powers.  But he wasn’t just like him.  He didn’t have a weakness to kryptonite, and they soon discovered he had a different planet of origin, and a far more fatal weakness: to lead.  And so it was that a lead-poisoned Mon-El was projected into the Phantom Zone until Superboy (now Superman) could find a cure.  The recent destruction of the Phantom Zone meant that Superman had to get Mon-El out of there, pronto.  Thankfully – for reasons best not discussed in this review-cum-history lesson – an anti-lead serum had been left for him.  After running a series of tests at S.T.A.R. Labs, Dr Light discovers that the serum is working its magic, but that his superpowers are trying to metabolise the serum.  Thus, the more he does to protect Metropolis, the closer he comes to his own death.)

And a lot of living he does!  As soon as he’s dealt with the D-listers, he flies off to Russia to see St. Basil’s Cathedral, goes on a date with one of the Rocket Reds(!), fights an imitation Blue Hulk in England, takes a break to admire the art of Georges Seurat and the architecture of Gaudi, and helps a vampiress fight crime in Barcelona!  What a rip-roaring, rollicking tour of the world according to DC!  The result are some beautiful drawings from Renato Guedes, no doubt leaping at this chance to spread his wings.  I believe James Robinson is also taking this opportunity to include a few of his favourite comic book characters from across the globe (Will Von Hammer, La Sangre, Beaumont and Sunny Jim), and the fun he’s no doubt having is almost tangible.  The character and his creative team are going on an adventure, and they’re taking us with them.  It’s an amusing relief from the heaviness of Mon’s terminal illness.  This is the strength of the medium: gravity and levity, reality and fantasy, can somehow co-exist to deliver an emotionally rich and entertaining story.

Mon-El’s story, though it is the most interesting, is not the only one this issue tells.  There’s a weird little interaction between the Guardian Jim Harper, and his alien friend, and still I’m struggling to discern the importance of that particular plot thread (one that requires reading the Guardian and Jimmy Olsen one-shots in order to follow).  Another interesting plot thread emerges from these pages involving John Henry Irons (aka Steel) and a long-dormant character.  I don’t want to spoil it for you, so I’ll leave it there.  As much as I’d prefer to see these stories of Metropolis’ heroes advanced in separate stories, I understand the difficulty in selling a Mon-El series or a Steel series separately.  Huge respect to DC for using one of its biggest titles to explore the untapped potential of these characters.  I hope they are rewarded for their efforts with a deeper roster of characters and a richer catalogue of stories.

Black Lightning: Year One #6 (of 6)

Posted in Black Lightning, Comics, DC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 27th May, 2009 by Adam Redsell
If only it was as straightforward as the cover.

If only the rest of it was as straightforward as the cover.

Author: Jen Van Meter
Artist: Cully Hamner
Letterer: Sal Cipriano
Colorist: Laura Martin
Editors: Rachel Gluckstern & Joan Hilty

This is the sixth and final chapter of Black Lightning’s origin story, and while this issue and the story as a whole was *good*, I have a major gripe with it that has detracted from my enjoyment of it.  I admire Van Meter’s attempt at parallel storytelling, but damn those narrative caption boxes get annoying by the sixth time around.  If you read the collected volume, do yourself a favour – read the caption boxes first from start to finish, then devote your attention to the rest of the story.  Instead of hitting us up front with all of the exposition in one go, Van Meter has attempted to spread it evenly across each panel.  The problem is, no real thought has been put into their distribution, and it’s impossible to maintain the narrative in your head in between dialogue.  Van Meter expects the reader to keep one foot [brain] in the past and the other foot [brain] in the present during the first two-thirds of this issue.  It just can’t be done.  The backstory interrupts the story at hand and vice versa.  Every single issue of this mini-series has been written in this fashion, and after six hits of it, I still find it a jarring experience and a clunky read.

What I believe Van Meter should have done was either begin with three issues of backstory followed by three issues of story (or even alternating between issues), or come up with an inventive way of putting all the exposition in one place.  Hollis Mason’s “Under the Hood” biography in Watchmen springs to mind.

As soon as the exposition is done with and Black Lightning’s thinking about the events at hand, it’s smooth sailing.  I just wished it was like that all the way through, which is why I recommend readers read the captions exclusively, and ignore them altogether on the second read-through.

Putting these issues aside (and you’re going to have to to enjoy it), the story is, at its core, a good one.  In essence, this is the story of Jefferson Pierce the man returning to Suicide Slum to break the spirit of defeat and despair that has strangled his hometown.  As the school principal, Pierce shows his students that they don’t need to accept mediocrity; that they don’t need to accept defeat.  As Black Lightning, Pierce shows his fellow citizens that they do not need to accept injustice and corruption.  This particular issue sees Black Lightning lead his students and the citizens in a final struggle against the corruption of their local government in league with the criminal organisation known as The One Hundred.  More on that later.

Whether or not you’ll enjoy this story depends on a few things:

  1. Are you interested in social reform?
  2. Do you believe the world of comics needs [conceptually] stronger black superheroes?
  3. Are you a young black person in need of a wholesome role model?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then Black Lightning is the strongest black role model you’re likely to find in superhero comics, and this book (along with Final Crisis: Submit and Final Crisis: Resist) is the best book I’ve read starring the character.

Artistically, Black Lightning: Year One is stylistically confident and cohesive across all six issues.  Cully Hamner’s style is best described as classic American cartooning with a dab of gritty realism.  It’s very well-drawn, but it may not be everyone’s cup of tea.  One could argue for more realism given the gritty subject matter, but I think this style helps incorporate the more supernatural elements of the story.

The final battle, I’d have to admit, is a little anti-climactic.  It felt as though Van Meter had run out of pages and needed to get it over with.  Had the mystery behind The One Hundred been preserved until this final issue, I think the impact could have been a lot stronger (although the revelation itself is strange and probably requires at least two issues to get used to).  That it all boiled down to superhero fisticuffs was also a little disappointing.

In case you couldn’t tell, I really did like this story deep down; there’s just a lot to look past in terms of execution.  If you’re a patient soul (or the next Malcolm X), and the positives I’ve mentioned appeal to your sensibilities, then certainly pick up issues 1 through 6 or the inevitable trade paperback.  If you’re a harsh bastard then save yourself the frustration and avoid.