Some Long-Overdue Reviews

Because of my hiatus on picking up new Marvel and DC comics, I’m a few months behind on some series as I wait for prices to drop and make sure I have consecutive issues to read.  Recently I had the chance to get caught up on a series picking up some serious buzz, a favorite I was reluctant to drop, and a new series by a favorite author.

Despite some morbid curiosity I’ve steadfastly refused to finance J. Michael Strazcynski’s Superman run, believing Superman’s walk across the United States to be a fascinating writer’s exercise but a dreadfully dull reader’s chore.  When JMS bailed on his own awful experiment I thought that was it for “Grounded,” but then something unusual happened: Chris Roberson took over the writing details and the book started generating some positive buzz.  Despite being saddled with continuing The Long Walk, Roberson has been able to act as the fans’ advocate and a) return Superman to his proper character, and b) explain why he went so far off-track for the past several months.

The results have been refreshing, and returns the “Super” to Kal-El that has been missing for more years than you’d think.  Seriously, aside from All-Star, Superman has pretty much been limited to flight, speed, strength, and heat vision for ages, and he hasn’t even been doing anything creative with those powers.  Now Roberson has him racing The Flash, re-routing rivers, and using super-speed to put out fires.  It’s a more modern sensibility rather than a Silver Age homage like All-Star — as it should be — but it does reclaim the Superman we all know and love.

There are still some rough spots here and there, but each issue gets better and Roberson is a writer to keep your eye on.

Superman #707-709
Cover Price – $8.97
My Price – $4.50
Average Wait Time – 89 Days

Pity Jeff Parker’s Thunderbolts.  It’s consistently one of Marvel’s best books but after several months of excellence my reviews have denigrated to the point where that’s all I can say about it.  Either you’re reading and loving it, or you’re not and missing out on an exceptional superhero book starring some of Marvel’s greatest villains.

The first and most important thing to note is that Parker gets characterization.  The T-Bolts team is comprised of very different characters, and by the dialogue alone you could tell any of them apart even without art.  They’re that unique.  Parker doesn’t just line up 6 characters and aim them at a challenge, they interact with each other in some very interesting ways.  Everyone has different motivations and methods, and I swear I feel the world-weariness of Luke Cage having to deal with these villains and their chaos in each and every issue.

Something not completely necessary but highly appreciated is most of the issues stand alone, even as they contribute to the larger story. This means almost every issue is a great jumping-on point, no .1 issues needed!  This shouldn’t be as novel a concept as it is.  These standalones also allow each team member some focus.  To that end we get a Ghost issue (and his decidedly old-school villain origin!), and even a Man-Thing issue, where we finally learn how Swampy feels about being the team’s Nightcrawler.   Adding to the overall story structure, Parker anticipates the necessarily high turnover of the team (a la Suicide Squad) by setting up the T-Bolts farm league, which will also create another dimension for characterization and friction among the team.

Thunderbolts 152-155
Cover Price – $11.96
My Price – $6.30
Average Wait Time – 70 Days

My love for Jason Aaron’s work has been fairly well documented at this point.  I just wrapped up “Wolverine Goes to Hell” and fortunately have several issues left to go through before I run out.  Credit Aaron and artist Daniel Acuna for being able to appropriately convey the oppressive bleakness of Hell.  While I’m usually able to support my protagonist, in a way just reading the book made me feel beat down by the environment even as Logan was not, and I admired his perseverance all the more for it.  There’s no surprises or gotchas here — other than a guest appearance by someone from waaaaay back in Logan’s past — that aren’t self-evident from the title, but that’s okay.  It’s about the journey.

My only real complaint is, having read it so close to his Manifest Destiny mini-series from 2008, the story arcs drift just a little too close to each other.  <SPOILERS> Wolverine gets in over his head, meets bad people from his past, overcomes all obstacles and wins, then becomes the new ruler.  And while the first three are staples of EVERY Wolverine story (and roughly 68.3% of all comic book stories), the last once should be used more sparingly.  </SPOILERS>  That said, my Aaron man-crush goes on unabated.  I have started but not yet finished Wolverine vs the X-Men, but it is as strong as story as the first arc, as the X-Men must deal with the after-effects of a possessed Logan (starring the Ghost Riders!)

Wolverine 1 – 7 (only 5-7 calculated for 2011)
Cover Price – $15.96
My Price – $8.64
Average Wait Time – 82 Days

There we go: that’s where I am at the moment.  I’m frustratingly close to being able to plow through Paul Cornell’s Action Comics run, along with the Adjectiveless, New, and Secret Avengers.  I’m fairly caught up on Batman, but have found it fairly generic and not really worth delving into. 

Read anything I’ve mentioned?  Argue with us in the comments section.

Random Links For Your Weekend

  • Looking for an instant collection of everything Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle-related that’s ever existed?  Kevin Eastman has your back.
  • As Matt previously pointed out, JMS is leaving Superman.  While I appreciate him knowing his limitations and focusing on work that is complete before it stops shipping, it’s a pretty crappy move to start such a horrible storyline and then jump ship a few months in.
  • Since there’s such little linkage this week, here’s another plea to hit up our Facebook page.

That’s it!  Have a good weekend, everyone!

Game Tape: One-shot

Since I’m out of town, I didn’t pick up the books on my pull list this week. I did make it a point to stop into a comic shop to pick up Superman #701. Those of you who remember the “leaked” pages will probably wonder why I would do such a thing. Simply, there are moments when I prefer not to be the ignorant voice screaming in fear of things to come. Although wholly unimpressed by the bit in #700, I wanted to give the book and the character, if not Straczynski, a fair shake before continuing with the items like “Weep of the Week.”

The good: Loathe as I am to admit it, the book was paced well. For a book about nothing, there’s enough change that it keeps a steady movement. I won’t say it’s all interesting, but it never feels like it drags. Everything is little vignettes. This is probably the best way to tell a story where the hero just walks around interacting with people.

I don’t know if he gets the whole of Superman as a character, but in the win column for JMS is the fact that he gets what a hero should be. JMS gets the whole idea of a hero, not just the guys in capes and masks. We see this all through the interactions and the homilies that Superman delivers.

A positive point that will probably get lost in the mix by many reviews is the art. Eddy Barrows and J.P. Mayer bring a great deal to this book. With a style that’s an excellent combination of Jurgens/Rubenstein and Davis/Farmer, faces are clean and expressive; bodies are streamlined and realistic. Superman’s not a hulking Liefeldian mass of muscle, but he’s not George Reeves either. Also impressive is that so much here is done with color instead of inked lines. The definition on all faces could easily be over inked, instead much of it around the mouth and eyes is subtle shades of color change. So major kudos to colorist Rod Reis.

Lastly, it seems that JMS is shooting the bird to doubtful fans like myself. Or at the very least he’s aware that this concept is crazy and may not have legs. The reporters that are following Superman sound very much like snarky fans. A couple of times we see reporters saying things like, “This is nuts, you can’t make a story about a guy walking down a street…” Superman’s reply is always a milder version of, “Piss off. I’m doing this for me.” So JMS is committed to the idea firmly, and I can sort of respect the fact that he believes in the story he’s telling.

The bad: Yeah, he’s committed to the idea… for how long? DC has said in several places that Grounded is the story/ direction until at least 2012. Remembering the commitment JMS made to The Twelve and to Rising Stars before that, I’m going to go ahead and call shenanigans on that. Unfortunately, a story like this needs to be executed through to completion. It can’t suddenly end in St. Louis at issue #704 because interest is lost by the writer or editorial. So a big concern of mine is that we waste months with a never completed story idea. If you’ve got the balls to ground Superman in a crazy story, have the balls to see it through.

The ugly: It’s really ugly. For starters, I mentioned homilies, or sermons, above. It gets preachy. Real preachy. Whether he’s quoting Thoreau or expounding on why suicide is (almost) never an option, this is a book about Reverend Superman. Which brings us to ugly part two: how much more bludgeoning do we need of the idea that Superman is a messianic figure?  This issue reads too much like one of the Gospels: Superman performs miracles, Superman delivers sermon on being good to each other, Superman roots out evil in a (sacred) place, Superman gives a parable to a disciple. Give they guy a beard, sandals, and a damn robe already.

Finally is the point that many people have already mentioned in general, but it also applies specifically within the issue. Grounded is noticeably derivative of previous works. I’ve made comments comparing it to Highway to Heaven and Touched by an Angel; many other folks are comparing it to the 3rd act of Forrest Gump where Forrest runs, and others mention the seminal O’Neil and Adams story: Hard Traveling Heroes. As an over arching story idea, this is true. Being derivative doesn’t stop there. It is also true of this individual issue. It plays like a list of Superman’s greatest moments connecting with people on a human level. From over confident thugs who don’t see how he can affect them to little moments with children, average blue collar stiffs, and the elderly, it’s all there. JMS even cribs blatantly from All Star Superman. Seriously?

In the final analysis, if #701 is an indication of how much it’s going to rip off other works, wake me when they nail him to a wooden L.

I wonder if he’ll wait the three days before rising.

Discussion Question

With Straczynski taking over Superman, I started wondering what’s more common: do you follow a creative team (writer and artist or one or the other) or do you follow a character. As frequently as the big titles take on “exciting new directions,” do many people read Superman regularly just for the character? I use Superman as an example, but it could be any title/ character.

Me, I’m tending to follow creative teams more. More accurately, I’ll stick with a book as long as the stories and creative teams are agreeable. I’m dropping Superman on the principle that JMS can’t finish a single thing he starts. I’ll buy anything Jeff Parker writes, but I’m becoming more discerning about Warren Ellis.

Like Matt, I tend to follow creators more than characters (and writers more than artists).  The one huge exception to this is Batman.  I won’t buy every title he’s in, but I get every issue of the main title regardless of how bad it gets (the two times I’ve temporarily dropped it were Larry Hama’s run and the War Games period, which goes to show exactly how much I’ll put up with).   I also tend to give a new creative team on a book I’m currently reading the benefit of the doubt if someone takes over.

So I put the question to you, good reader(s?), do you tend to follow a title for the character or for the voice behind the character?