Image Comics – Brian Bendis (w); Michael Oeming (a)
Periodically, I like to sit down and make a list of all the titles I buy, month to month. In doing so, what I like to do first is pencil in all the books that I find myself unable to live without, the ones that I would be genuinely irritated if I missed an issue of. When that’s done, I start jotting down all the books that are left that I still buy, as they are obviously the ones that I could stand to not collect. This, in turn, inspires some thought, as I inevitably begin slashing books this way, dropping the books that I don’t think have much chance of improving their position on my list and keeping the ones that I’m hopeful about.
Why is this relevant, you’re asking yourself? Because Powers earned itself a spot on the “Why Am I Reading This?” section of the exercise this month.
Now, that having been said, let me address those of you who may have read the issue and are jumping to a false conclusion. I am decidedly not offended by the content of this issue. Or rather, I should say that I’m not offended by the events of the issue. I am, however, offended by how it seems that Bendis is simply phoning it in on this book. I can appreciate that his Marvel work probably pays considerably larger dividends than his creator-owned, and that with a pregnant wife and a busy schedule, one could be wont to some creative inconsistencies, but it’s finally dawned on me that Powers is essentially the same story, arc after arc, from the first one to the current. For those of you who realize this months ago, I must ask, “Why wasn’t I informed earlier?”
I mean, at this point, with Brian Bendis being the Golden Boy of the fan community in general and Internet in particular, it seems to me that he should be trying harder than to produce a story about a Batman rip-off sexually abusing a Robin rip-off and being murdered by a member of a Justice League rip-off. I’m simply astounded at what an easy (not to mention tired) joke that is to make. Compound this lack of originality with the fact that we already saw this joke last month with Garth Ennis’ The Pro and I’m left wondering why so many people love Bendis so much.
The simple fact is that every Powers arc is essentially this: it turns out that superheroes, while possessed with abilities far beyond those of mortal men, are in fact human beings and are subject to moral failings and human frailties much the same as the rest of us. This, naturally, leads to sexual misdeeds and murder (I say this with tongue firmly in cheek). The murder is uncovered, Walker and Pilgrim investigate and expose the culprit to the media. The public, of course, tosses aside their hero and latches onto another. Proceed to next story arc. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
Detective Comics #776
DC Comics – Paul Bolles (w); William Rosado (p); Bob Wiacek (i)
Working in a comic book store leaves me with a glut of free time on my hands to chitchat with the customers, which inevitably leads to theoretical debates of the superhero variety. Sometimes it’s as simple as “Hey Matt, who do you think would win in a fight: Thor or Superman?” (It’s Thor, for the record, because he has a magic hammer). Others, it’s a bit more abstract, like what exactly Superman, as a concept, is all about (I say it’s all about Judaism, at least in the early years). One thing that has come up time and again is my theory that all great superheroes rise from guilt (Batman and Spider-Man, obviously, but I say Superman as well, amongst others). This issue is a hammer that hits that nail of a point on the proverbial head.
It’s essentially a not-so-fresh take on an old tale: a hero can only be in so many places at once and can only do so much. When a series of gang-related murders hit Gotham City (and by “gang-related,” I mean gang members are being murdered), Batman uncovers a connection to a fallen undercover cop, a man who has a reason to seek vengeance on the band of drug-peddling killers. While the set-up seems passé, the ending of that story has a nice twist on it (albeit one that I feel I should have seen coming). In the end, Batman is wracked by guilt and remorse over not having anticipated the real culprit of the killings, left with a painful reminder that everything is not always as it seems. For most heroes, this would serve as a lesson that even they can make mistakes and have lapses in judgment; for Batman, it’s simply unacceptable. The story is closed by narration from Dr. Leslie Thompkins, one of the members of the extended Bat-family that knows Batman’s true identity, a narration that sums the character up so succinctly.
All in all, it’s a good month to start reading the Batman titles. As previously covered, Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee’s debut on Batman was solid and enjoyable. Detective Comics will fall under new creative direction next month when former Batman scribe Ed Brubaker takes the reins, but for now, this issue serves as a solid, enjoyable fill-in before the book is transferred to Brubaker’s more than capable hands.
Eden’s Trail #1
Marvel Comics – Steve Uy, Chuck Austen (w); Steve Uy (a)
Here’s a book that I really feel like I should have enjoyed more.
I complain a lot at my store that the thing that separates DC from Marvel (and, in my opinion, makes DC a superior company) is a lack of reliance on superhero books. Now, don’t get me wrong, DC’s bread and butter is clearly its wide stable of recognizable superheroes. However, the Distinguished Competition does allow a bit more creative freedom, at least when it comes to what genres of books it will publish. If nothing else, it has Vertigo, something that by itself overshadows the sum total of everything that Marvel publishes in a given month. Marvel, on the other hand, essentially won’t touch a concept that doesn’t tie at least loosely to a superhero, and generally not unless that superhero is either Spider-Man or a member of the X-Men.
I’m not looking to argue about how DC is financially more stable than Marvel and can afford to publish books that aren’t guaranteed sellers. I understand and appreciate that, although I don’t feel the least bit sorry for Marvel (they made that bed about ten years ago). I’m simply stating facts, as I see them.
That having been said, I initially dismissed Eden’s Trail as typical Ameri-manga, and hence not worthy of my time. And while I’m not entirely sure that that initial impression wasn’t spot-on, it occurred to me that something like Eden’s Trail is exactly what I’m complaining that Marvel should publish, so I relented and gave it a shot.
The problem with the book is that it simply isn’t all that good. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not Frank Tieri or Ron Zimmerman bad. It’s somewhere around the Fabian Nicieza or Scott Lobdell level. To say it simpler, it’s mediocre.
As first issues go, the initial offering of Eden’s Trail is pretty poor. Typically, when dealing with entirely new characters, there are two approaches. On one hand, you can introduce the characters slowly, building a little bit of back-story while you try to launch the first arc forward. On the other hand, you can just sling action around like so much paint on Pollock’s canvas and hope the audience can make sense of it. This book takes the latter approach and it simply doesn’t work.
The main reason for that is that, and I’m going to put this as bluntly as I can, a lot of Uy’s characters look the same. I mean, this is an issue where we’re to distinguish characters not by their facial features, but by their hats (or lack thereof), apparently. And while that would be an amusing riff on the western genre (the book is a sort of weird western/sci fi story), if it were intentional, I don’t think it is. The Marvelscope (read: sideways) format contributes very little, leaving the style so far batting 0 for 3 (counting last year’s X-Men annuals).
Maybe if I understand a bit better what was going on and had a reason to care about the characters, I would have enjoyed the issue a bit more. But as it stands, I have neither. I will, however, pick the next issue up, because there are some moments where Uy’s art really shines, giving a nice sense of motion to the action. It’s simply not a book for everyone. Manga fans, however, take notice. I’m sure this is right up your alley.
Kissing Chaos: Nonstop Beauty #1
Oni Press – Arthur Dela Cruz (w/a)
Wow. This single issue is so much better than the entire mini-series that preceded it. I’m stunned.
If you didn’t read the first Kissing Chaos mini-series, I’d love to fill you in on what you missed. Sadly, I’m still a little unsure of exactly what was going on in that book, mostly due to the fact that it had simply lost my interest by the concluding issues. I will say that it had some moments that I thought were really creative and enjoyable and some art that was a joy to look at, even if the plot got a bit to melodramatic and self-indulgent for my tastes. So let’s say this as a summary: it was a bit like that Alec Baldwin/Kim Basinger flick, The Getaway, only a bit more dysfunctional and starring rogue teenagers instead of a has-been who runs his mouth too much (listen to the pot calling the kettle black with that mouthy crack). In the end though, it was a story that drug on an issue or two too long and outlived its welcome for me.
On that lack of strength, I almost didn’t pick up this second offering from Dela Cruz. Only the Oni Press label convinced me to do otherwise and I’m glad I did.
As a summary of this mini so far, let’s say this: it’s a bit like Brian Wood’s Couscous Express (which was kind of fun, if you’ve not read it), in that it’s ostensibly about teenage rebellion and crime, as well as aspirations of revolution.
So far, it looks like Dela Cruz is going to continue the previous mini’s theme of unrequited/undeserving love. It was basically the central theme last time and looks to at least factor in rather heavily this time around. Given the ages of the protagonists, it’s an appropriate concept and it works well. In fact, since things are already infinitely more lucid than they were last time, it actually works better, since one has a distinctly better grasp on the central characters.
Anyway, it’s too early to start critiquing the plot too heavily and it’s a bit abstract anyway, so I can only tell you that the book is a solid value and definitely worth your money.
Marvel Comics – Peter Milligan (w); Michael Allred (a)
No, it’s not the “real” X-Force. And thank God for that, the “real” X-Force was a band of derivative ’90s garbage that was going to be cancelled regardless of anything Milligan and Allred did. So if you’re one of those people who steered clear of this book because of some misguided loyalty to such cerebrally-named characters as Cable and Boom Boom, now’s a good time to check out the quality stories that you’ve been missing.
Possibly the best superhero book on the market, X-Statix (born from the finally official death of the X-Force name) is the story of the Marvel world’s corporate-owned superhero team. It’s a nice riff on the “superheroes in the real world” that we’re all so familiar with thanks to Warren Ellis and Mark Millar. After two years of bickering and frequent line-up changes (due to the unbelievably high mortality rate of the characters), the first story arc comes to a close.
Why do I call two years the first story arc? Because, essentially, we’ve been treated to an extended version of the “this is how the team formed” story that used to be told in a single issue, two at the most. Under other circumstances (and writers), I would undoubtedly give this book an exceedingly poor review. But as it stands, the past two years never felt like I was sitting through an origin sequence. Rather, the stories simply felt like natural progressions of the relationships that the characters had/have with one another, as well as the need to periodically scatter superhero fisticuffs about.
I will grant, however, that this issue might not be the best, continuity-wise, for a new reader’s first issue. But that’s because it’s the close of a story arc, so some leeway can be given there. However, I do think a new reader of any average mental capacity would be able to follow the events adequately. So, if you’re new, it would be preferable to at least snag the preceding three issues as well, if possible; if not, however, you won’t be lost. And you won’t be sorry you picked it up, I promise.
Ultimate Daredevil and Elektra #1
Marvel Comics – Greg Rucka (w); Salvador Larroca (a)
If you’re thinking to yourself that this book is nothing more than an attempt to turn both the popularity of the Ultimate line and the interest in the upcoming Daredevil movie into comic book sales, you’d probably be right. However, it’s a take on the Daredevil and Elektra mythos that is both fairly consistent with the original Marvel Universe version and fresh enough to be enjoyable. So whether you’re looking for an extra dose of your DD fix over the next couple months or simply looking to add your first bit of the character to your collection (you know who you are), this book is a solid choice. To boot, Larroca looks so much better here than he did the last time I saw his work on X-Treme X-Men (which, admittedly, I don’t follow, for reasons that I think are fairly self-explanatory).
Uncanny X-Men #415
Marvel Comics – Chuck Austen (w); Sean Phillips (a)
Yep, I’ve officially run out of new and different ways to review this book (some would say that I ran out about three reviews ago). But let’s recap anyway. It’s like Claremont’s run, only with better dialogue. That is to say, it’s a mix of superhero fights, character-driven subplots and soap opera melodrama. Or rather, it’s the book that Uncanny should have been, but wasn’t, following Claremont’s more recent exit. Place the blame firmly on Joe Casey’s shoulders.