Singles Going Steady 2/25/2013: The One Where We Gave "Vibe" a Mild PassA comic review article by: Danny Djeljosevic, Rafael Gaitan, Shawn Hill, Daniel Elkin
Singles Going Steady is Comics Bulletin's weekly single issue review roundup.
Not everything gets covered in Singles, so here are the comics that got reviewed separately:
- Paul turned in a review of Happy! that pinpointed just why it felt so "off" for a Grant Morrison comic.
- Zack thought Baltimore: The Widow and the Tank was spoiled by the previous Baltimore installments being amazing.
- Keith flipped for the latest Kill Shakespeare, an action comic based on the works of The Bard.
Captain Marvel #10
(Kelly Sue DeConnick, Christopher Sebela, Filipe Andrade, Jordie Bellaire; Marvel)
Captain Marvel has a brain lesion in her head and doctor's orders are to fly under no circumstances, lest that shit burst and she comes crashing down to Earth. At this point Captain Marvel has finally come into its own as an ongoing comic book series -- not only have Kelly Sue DeConnick and co-writer Christopher Sebela finally put a Hawkeye-like supporting cast of normal folk in place alongside the guest appearances of various superheroes, but now there's a hook for the series that makes us concerned for our protagonist.
It's really exciting that this series is finding its footing, because a lot of us have been rooting for it since issue one -- not that the prior issues were bad, but until this point it was hard to get a sense of what the book was really about as Carol Danvers was being kicked around time or fighting sharks and robots. It's just a shame that it's happening as Captain Marvel reaches double digits, after a lot of the readers who joined up for #1 have jumped ship by now (as comics readership often does).
It ends on a cliffhanger -- and an actual cliffhanger, at that, and not just one of those "we need to cut off the story here" last pages -- but Captain Marvel #10 is a great single issue installment as it features character development, a casual appearance from another superhero and a fight scene with Deathbird, who I guess is tied into Carol Danvers' oddball backstory in ways that aren't really germane to one's enjoyment of this comic.
I still think Filipe Andrade and Jordie Bellaire are amazing on this book, but the reason I'm not talking about the art is because I tried and it inspired a new Z.E.I.T.G.E.I.S.T. column so it's going to be worked into that. But it looks great and I love pointing my eyes towards it.
- Danny Djeljosevic
Captain America #3
(Rick Remender, John Romita, Dean White; Marvel)
Rick Remender's Captain America has been a swift kick to Steve Rogers' teeth issue after issue, but in putting the Star-Spangled Man through so much in another world he finds a fascinating untapped mine in what makes him tick. Any Captain America writer can convey that Cap loves his country, but like no other, Remender takes us into why he is who he is -- why he's a mortal that leads gods and geniuses into battle.
This issue is far less physically brutal than the previous two, but fret not, fellow Fans of Weird Shit, we get plenty of that, all strengthened by Dean White's gritty-neon palette -- the Zola family and their creations are as chilling as anything I've read in modern comics in ages. In Cap's struggle with the Zola Virus and keeping it from Ian, we get to explore Remender's gift for organic characterization -- he trusts the audience enough to pick up on what he's telling us without having to say it. The pace of this issue is perfect as an interstitial from the previous two -- we take a breather at the same time Steve can, but even then his fight is far from over.
Remender's disregard of actual time is a brilliant move -- it superplexes exposition through the table that is confident storytelling -- we don't need to see every minute of Cap and Ian together to know what he's feeling is legit. The relationship between Cap and his makeshift son Ian has a deftness only possible through Remender's natural talent for internal thought -- he gives Cap a lovely reverence when he speaks of Ian, and it's clear it comes from the same place that he gets his mettle and confidence.
The most obvious comparison to what Remender and John Romita Jr. is Fear Agent, but to compare the two does either a disservice- themes are shared but ultimately Remender has done what he dreamed: make a mainstream character his own.
- Rafael Gaitan
Green Lantern #17
(Geoff Johns, Dan Jurgens, Phil Jimenez, Doug Mahnke, Too Goddamn Many Inkers, Alex Sinclair, Tony Avina; DC)
I had to check in on Green Lantern once I saw this preview for issue #17 where a blue man with Nike Swoosh sideburns watches a home video of the creation of the universe -- a giant hand in a different shade of blue fists a tight swirl of Kirby Dot -- only to reveal that said hand has a Green Lantern ring. Then a caucasian Astronaut emerges from the video screen and declares himself to be a person named "Volthoom."
Geoff Johns sometimes gets labeled as a fanboy whose comics are exclusively about how much he likes DC Comics and Star Wars, which is criminally reductive because his comics also have a tendency to be batshit insane. And no superhero comic this week was more off-the-wall than Green Lantern #17, which does not feature Hal Jordan at all and kicks off the conclusion of Johns' character-redefining run by complicating this world where magic rings turn different feelings into power based on what color they are by introducing The First Lantern, which at the moment is a human figure with a psychedelic central nervous system.
Doug Mahnke, who drew parts of Final Crisis, is the best person to be illustrating Johns' Green Lantern because his art is strange compared to most other mainstream superhero comics. I dunno what the hell is going on in Johns' head or if he's just autowriting and filtering out all the sentient genital monsters, but Mahnke brings this bizarre shit to life and it's gotta be unfortunately to be any member of the creative team that's forced to follow these guys.
- Danny Djeljosevic
Legion of Superheroes #17
(Paul Levitz, Keith Giffen, Scott Koblish; DC)
Starting out in medias res, a classic approach -- the Legion Cruiser, with Brek, Dirk, Tinya and Jacques, has crashed, they know not why or where. And barely survived, so much so that one of them didn't. Not only is this death visually gruesome; insult is later added to injury when it comes to disposing of the body.
Why is this happening? It has something to do with Tharok. And with the Fatal Five. Which means the Empress, the Persuader and Manos can't be far behind. All of them potential planet killers, and the planets they're starting with this time are the Legionnaires' home worlds. Which is a pretty badass and creepy, leave-no-survivors style approach.
Fits with the new General Immortus look given to cyborg Tharok. It's already begun on Rimbor, where Jo, Glorith and Cham try to figure out what could drain the power of the planet. Both of these dire scenarios are told in a style similar to what Giffen used on the Annual featuring the Empress, which means short stocky figures, heavy detailing, and lots of big, epic, revealing Kirby-style splash pages and unfolding vistas.
It's never going to be "The Great Darkness Saga" again. He just doesn't draw that way anymore. To expect him to still be in his mode of 30 years ago is to misunderstand how artists develop. I'd still put his layouts and his sense of both scale and action up against anyone. There are zero problems with the storytelling this issue, Giffen shows exactly what the script calls for, in every case, and creates some pretty believable alien worlds along the way.
So, final score: loving the palpable sense of peril, can't wait for the battles to come, and not that upset over the first casualty of what is sure to be a very bitter battle.
- Shawn Hill
DC Universe Presents #17 & Morbius: The Living Vampire #2
(Joe Keatinge, Ricken; DC) & (Joe Keatinge, Richard Elson, Antonio Fabela; Marvel)
Two fringe-y mainstream superhero books from Joe Keatinge this week, reviewed at the same time.
DC Universe Presents #17 presents a one-off story featuring Arsenal, the DC Universe's perennial fuck-up, as he fucks up yet again and finds himself chained up at the hands of Triad members (and a guy who may or may not be Killer Croc) in Hong Kong. I haven't read Red Hood & the Outlaws since like issue three and I have no real opinion of Roy Harper in any incarnation, but I really enjoyed this issue. Keatinge writes a fun self-contained superhero comic with jokes and punching and personality. This makes the best case for Arsenal that I've ever read -- he's fully aware that he's a dickbag, but at least he's a dickbag who tries to do good when he's not hitting rock bottom -- and it's nowhere near as gritty as some of that J.T. Krul stuff we all made fun of a couple years ago. This makes me wish they'd hire Joe to do the proper Red Hood comic.
This issue also marks the debut of Ricken (who's this amazing western comics-obsessed Japanese artist) as an interior artist, having previously illustrated a couple covers for Keatinge's Image work. For this issue, it looks like she's adopted a style that hybridizes her own energetic anime look and what the average DC Comic book looks like -- or maybe I'm just projecting, who knows -- but it's solid, expressive art and I hope she gets more comics work in the future.
As for Morbius #2… the first issue came out the second day of January, and now this issue dropped in the penultimate week of February. Which is a long time to wait between issues, especially something like Morbius which a casual reader may be quick to forget about. Even for me it took a moment to get re-acclimated to Michael Morbius' world, which has thus far only existed one issue. And it's a world I like -- one where this vampire guy is just chilling with the poor and homeless and beating up guys with mohawks. I have no idea where Joe's going with this, but he infuses the series with enough personality to keep me interested as we slowly find out.
- Danny Djeljosevic
Hellraiser: The Dark Watch #1
(Clive Barker, Brandon Seifert, Tom Garcia, Vladimir Popov; BOOM!)
I am not really steeped in the Hellraiser lore. All I know about it really comes from one drunken afternoon in 1993 when my buddy Mark and I stumbled into a movie theater on Market Street and saw Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth on a whim. I sorta remember thinking that it would be really uncomfortable to lie down if you had a face full of nails. I vaguely remember that Motorhead's music seemed an appropriate soundtrack to this film (and for my life at the time as well). I also remember that there was a lot going on in the movie that I didn't understand -- either I was too drunk or I had missed too much of the backstory to follow the present storyline.
I kind of had the same problem with Hellraiser: The Dark Watch #1. It might have enhanced my enjoyment if I had just a little more background as to who is who in this comic, and why they are so determined to behave in the way that they do (and they do).
But I wasn't entirely lost either. From what I could gather, there have been a lot of changes going on in the world of Hellraiser and this issue reflects that fact and then moves the narrative in a new direction. The comic begins with a Lady Cenobite giving a tour of hell to a man who claims to be a theologian with liver cancer. "We have such sights to show you," she says, firmly establishing that this is, indeed, the world of Hellraiser. Things unfold from there, with characters introduced, positioning established, and conflicts unearthed. There is sort of a flurry of reveals at the end of the book that, for someone unfamiliar with the story, become a bit confusing.
And yet I want to read more.
See the thing is, I trust Brandon Seifert. His Witch Doctor is one of the smartest horror comics on the shelves nowadays and, even though this book may be slightly chaotic, I have all the faith that Seifert knows where he's going. He's got Clive Barker drawing the map for him. After this steep incline, with Seifert at the wheel, I have a feeling we may be in for an epic road trip.
And then there is Tom Garcia's art. Garcia renders the hell out of hell in these pages, and put echoes of my personal nightmares in his panels. When you combine Garcia's pencils with the color work of Vladimir Popov, you get yourself a hell not just for children.
So yeah, twenty years later and sober, I'm back in the Hellraiser oeuvre. This time, though, I think I'll give it a little more attention, a little more credence, and a little bit more of my own demons to rend. It's been awhile since I've taken a drive through hell. This time, though, I think I will be happy being the passenger. Hellraiser: The Dark Watch #1 has got all the makings of the start of a journey worth taking.
- Daniel Elkin
Justice League of America #1
(Geoff Johns, David Finch, Sonia Oback, Jeromy Cox; DC)
Pretty sure I can only pull off that "give a positive review to a DC Comic everybody's champing at the bit to eviscerate" a handful of times before Comic Book Resources just starts sending me paychecks. If it was a trick, that is -- I legitimately dug the absurdly straight-faced/straight-faced absurdity of Katana #1. Maybe the trick is to approach these comics with jaded disinterest to cover up the childlike curiosity that never went away because I failed to grow up and move away from superhero comics.
What I'm saying is that I actually kind of liked Justice League of America #1. To begin with, it's got a solid opening four pages -- mysterious villains mysteriously plotting followed by a New X-Men-style extra-diagetic splash page and two pages of some minor, fatally wounded superhero being chased by more mysterious villains. That's enough intrigue to give 2011's Justice League #1 a run for its money, and I'm pretty sure there's more content in this debut than the entire first six issues of the other Geoff Johns superhero team comic.
And, to its credit, Justice League of America #1 makes its mission statement very clear -- Wonder Woman and Superman making out has made the people in power nervous, because then they thought about the two having babies and maybe those babies deciding to take over the world or whatever. So now the US Government is putting together it's own counter-Justice League with the table scraps -- the untrained, the loose cannons, the vigilantes with criminal records -- and poor Steve Trevor has to coordinate this team because writer Geoff Johns loves to give that guy grief. More than even Aquaman.
Don't get me wrong, though -- this nearly double-sized inaugural issue almost completely wastes its potential as far as how a first issue should be constructed, being far too reminiscent of that first Brad Meltzer Justice League of America story arc where Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman just sort through photographs of Superheroes Who Will Not Be Appearing in This Comic. Instead of superpeople, here it's Steve Trevor and Amanda Waller discuss who's on the team. Maybe Amanda Waller is DC Editorial and Steve Trevor is Geoff Johns and it's all a big Morrisonesque metaphor for the very making of this book. "Wait, THESE people are who I have to work with?"
Either way, it's a very undynamic way to start a comic book -- maybe it'd make a pretty good Paul Greengrass film -- but Johns' script breaks up the monotony by giving us quick sketches of each superhero on the team, often in the midst of being recruited, which is helpful because they're either making their New 52 debut in this issue, debuting in concurrent solo books or they're Hawkman and nobody reads their comic. Add to that the aforementioned no-name superhero being chased by some bad guys and there's at least an illusion of stuff happening, which is the great magic trick that superhero comics are meant to pull off -- it's the same repetitive shit every month, but it feels like forward motion. And its endurance as an installment in the genre requires it not to completely fall apart under scrutiny, which this book fails to do; once you realize it's about people talking in a room -- less Justice League of America and more The Assistant Principals of Justice League of America -- it's hard to un-see that, especially when 2013 has seen creative teams do a lot with 20 pages while this comic book uses nearly twice that for people yakking.
Ultimately, what sold me on the concept book as a reader was the above image, that these characters are positioned as pseudo-equivalents of the "real" Justice League, especially when juxtaposed with Johns' characterizations of the new team. Like I stated earlier this month, I have a thing for dysfunctional second-stringer superhero teams. It's at the heart of fan-favorite things like Justice League International, the Defenders, most iterations of the Thunderbolts and even the early days of the Wolverine/Storm/Colossus X-Men, back when they were just some kids enlisted to save the original team. That's even why I liked Justice League Dark for about 12 issues. Justice League of America is certainly in that family, being a comic book where where a down-on-his-luck government employee is forced to organize a team of crazy people, half of whom think they're Wolverine, to be a superhero team intended to be as good as the Justice League. It's not going to work -- Exhibit A: Green Arrow; Exhibit B: Hawkman -- and watching this team struggle through that should be massively entertaining if Johns sticks with that idea. It's like some superhero version of Argo, the way I see it -- a crazy idea that even the people carrying out only half-believe in. And, unlike Justice League proper, it'll actually make sense for these guys to argue all the time.
I'm even relatively okay with David Finch's art in this book, and I am decidedly Not A Fan of his work. He's not very good at acting and emotion with his characters, but his figures are well-drawn enough here compared to some of his past efforts. One bit I found particularly interesting is how he draws Amanda Waller. She's still a skinny lady, but Finch doesn't try to sex her up like we saw in Waller's first New 52 appearance. Here, she just looks like some normal woman in a reasonable business suit. So, at least there's that -- even though her apparent age seems to fluctuate in every panel.
No ideas or insight about the longevity of the comics industry or the appeal to new readers vis a vis Justice League of America #1 -- it's really just some stupid superhero comic book that piques my interest because of a preexisting concern in these characters, bolstered by the fact that it's one of Geoff Johns' better constructed first issues in recent years.
- Danny Djeljosevic
Justice League of America's Vibe #1
(Geoff Johns, Andrew Kreisberg, Pete Woods, Sean Parsons, Brad Anderson; DC)
I said a lot about Justice League of America #1 above, so I'm not going to say very much about Vibe #1 -- mostly because it inspires less words. Not sure why people were so concerned about Vibe coming back -- everyone in this business knows that the original Vibe was very poorly executed, so it should be a no-brainer that any return to that character would be massively toned-down. Which it probably should be, but I'd argue there's a place for a breakdancing-themed earthquake superhero if you didn't write him as a racial stereotype with sub-Claremontian accented dialogue.
Anyway, Geoff Johns and Arrow's Andrew Kreisberg wrote a first issue that shows how Vibe got his powers (getting caught in the event horizon of a Boom Tube during the events of Justice League #1) and then a stranger invites him into a car to join the JLofA in exchange for a chance to beat up some Parademons. And that's mostly it. It's breezy, weightless competently illustrated stuff that could have been a subplot in Justice League of America rather than its own solo series, mostly because I don't get a sense of what the point of Vibe is. Maybe if it were a digital-only release or a webcomic companion or something.
There's one really cool bit in this issue -- apparently ARGUS has a "zoo" where they keep errant superpeople they can't control. I love shit like that, especially when you fill it with goofy references to obscure characters like KRAKKL, Wally West's imaginary friend from a forgotten Morrison/Millar Flash story.
The final page reveal of Vibe #1 -- spoiled by DC's own preview pages so I have no qualms about sharing it above -- was striking and bonkers enough to make me laugh. It's funny that Johns is slowly tying all of his Justice League stuff together(including that Justice League International Annual) to the point where Superman and Wonder Woman's kiss is a major plot point and Darkseid actually had a reason for coming to Earth to begin with. That's kind of cool, assuming you've been paying attention as long as I have (and you probably shouldn't have).
Here's the problem with this issue -- Johns and Kreisberg are only writing Vibe #1, leaving the rest of the series to Sterling Gates. It's a very TV approach, where the creators write the pilot but the scripting duties are left to other staffers. That doesn't necessarily work for comics, where creative teams often dictate reader interest and there's not necessarily a showrunner's "voice" to adhere to. Which means that, for all intents and purposes, Vibe #2 is basically another first issue.
- Danny Djeljosevic
HICKMAN/EPTING'S NEW AVENGERS IS ACTUALLY PRETTY GOOD IF YOU READ THE FIRST THREE ISSUES BACK-TO-BACK INSTEAD OF MONTH-TO-MONTH:
Dark Avengers #187
Wonder Woman #17
Mind MGMT #8
Adventure Time #13
G.I. JOE #1
(this is another one you'll hear more about in an upcoming Two for #1)
Justice League #17