Wednesday, January 23, 2008

I Like Comics: 1/23/08

I read a huge pile of today's comics, and it's probably because I've been listening to too many podcasts lately--Bendis, then Loeb, then Fraction on Word Balloon, most specifically--but I'm continuing to feel the pull of the Marvel books at the expense of the increasingly lackluster DC output. I grew up as a DC guy, but even when I was a teenager, I didn't think so much in terms of companies as I did creators. I liked Chaykin, so I read American Flagg, and I liked Steve Rude, so I read Nexus, and back in those days Marvel didn't have much of interest to me, except when Miller or Sienkiewicz (or both) came back to play. The DC icons always interested me more, as characters, as visuals, as concepts, and clearly DC put out far superior comics than Marvel in the 1980s. It's not even close. But this Quesada-era Marvel has something special going on. Say what you will about Quesada raping your childhood, and pretend that you're going to boycott something that you really won't, but Quesada has not only turned Marvel into the best mainstream company this decade, but he's brought in creators who are just beginning to heat up. Jason Aaron is sure to impress on Wolverine and Ghost Rider, Fraction will be on half a dozen titles by the end of 2008 (and my guess is that one of them will be the Young X-Men with Yanick Paquette--if the preview art is to be believed. EDITED TO NOTE: The April solicits, just posted, confirm my guess about Paquette, but Guggenheim, not Fraction, will be writing. That just gives Fraction the freedom to write more Thor!), and Brubaker is writing the best super-hero stuff of his career. Brand New Day has convincingly turned the main Spidey titles around, and even stuff that seems like it has been bled dry, like the Marvel Zombies and Ultimate Universe "franchises" continue to amuse me.

Countdown, on the other hand, even now that it's reaching its climax, still feels life-draining. By the way, why is the Ion trade paperback out of print? That seemingly inconsequential miniseries is the DIRECT lead-in to Countdown-- it establishes Captain Atom as the new Monarch, and it also ties in to the upcoming Tangent Universe stuff. If DC REALLY cares about Countdown as much as they seem to, why not keep that series in print and promote it as the "road to Countdown" or whatever the hell Marvel seems to do so successfully? Seems like a missed opportunity that would have helped sell books and make more sense out of the admittedly still poor Countdown title. I don't know why I even care, but I do, because I want DC to be better than it has been lately.

You know what is good at DC, though? You guessed it! Blue Beetle! The newest issue (#23) might be my favorite of the entire series thus far, and I've been raving about this book for over a year, so you can imagine that the newest issue is, in fact, really damn good. As I read it, I realized that John Rogers would be a PERFECT choice to take over the Legion of Super-Heroes once Jim Shooter completes his run. (I have no clue how long Shooter plans on sticking around, but if he leaves anytime in the next year or so, PUT ROGERS ON THAT BOOK!) Rogers mixes super-hero science with aliens with a kid learning to use his powers in an unconventional way with family drama and makes excellent comics out of it. Rafael Albuquerque could come along as the artist on Legion too. He's pretty great already, and I have a feeling he's going to get even better.

Teen Titans was also quite good this week, showing that Marvel did make a huge mistake in letting Sean McKeever slip away. Marvel never gave him a shot on a big book, and here he proves that his ability to write meaningful characterization can carry a story even without a billion guest stars punching eachother (which is what happened in the previous arc--and I liked the previous "Titans Army" stuff that he just completed, but in issue #55 it's all about the characters and it's GREAT).

But those two comics, as excellent as they were (and Shooter's new Legion comic wasn't bad either--although it had about eight times too many "future swears" which seemed silly in their use. If you read it, I'm sure you found them annoying too), they can't stand up to the barrage of Marvel quality: Fraction and Kitson's The Order #7, a series that's cancelled just as it's hitting its stride--and this new issue is a great example of the way Fraction uses spectacle (aka super-hero punching) as backdrop to the main conflict, which is the intellectual face-off between Henry Hellrung and Namor. Brubaker uses spectacle in a similar way in the first issue of the Young Avengers Presents Patriot, as the story centers on what it means to carry on a legacy, but it still has enough punching and kicking to keep the kids coming back to the comics shop for more. The strategy seems to be: lure them in with the punching, but keep them with the characters. That's the real Marvel Method, and Fraction and Brubaker do it as well as anyone. I even enjoyed Ultimates 3 #2 this week (Marc Caputo, are you still breathing?) with its super-exaggerated spectacle at the EXPENSE of character. The coloring is still ugly as hell, but at least Loeb filled in some of the "huh?" gaps that we were left with after issue #1. He explains why Thor acts differently all of a sudden, and you may think the reason is stupid, but at least he had a reason. And, really, the new issue isn't about logic anyway. But it does feature THREE big guest stars, one being a fun interpretation of Ultimate Spider-Man, one being a certain mutant badass, and the other being an even bigger mutant badass (you can judge which is which if you've read the book). It was fun in its excess.

Marvel: even their crap books are good today. DC: still a whole lot of counting down to go.


Marc Caputo said...

I wasn't expecting to get my books today, but I did. I only read X-Men 207 (end of Messiah CompleX) and Astonishing X-Men 24 (last regular issue of the Whedon/Cassaday run). Both were very good, but I'm giving X-Men the nod. A great deal was wrapped up, new plots were set up and there were actually a few surprises (where DID our man go in that last panel, though?). Finally, there was some real hard-won emotion, as well as the continuing evolution of Scott Summers.

Ultimates 3, #2? Couldn't do it. At 5 issues, the trade will have to do on one of those weeks when I hit $100 at Midtown and get my free $20.

I'll have a look at the last two weeks of stuff up this weekend.

BTW, congratulations on getting your capitals on in the title.

Have you read anything by Jason? Looking through the Fantagraphics' catalog, some of it seems good.


Troy Wilson said...

I read the first twelve issues of Blue Beetle and wasn't hooked. Yes, they were decent. Yes, they were solid. But I just don't find myself chomping at the bit for more. Does the series make a quantum leap in quality somewhere after the first dozen, or should I save myself some cash and throw in the towel now?

It's funny, I'm a few episodes into Season Two of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and I'm feeling exactly the same way. Decent and solid, but far from addicting. I'm kinda, sorta enjoying it, but I could walk away without batting an eye.

Teen protagonists are hit-and-miss with me. Loved the Wolfman/Perez Titans and Levitz/Giffen Legion when I actually was a teen, and I've dug the Invincible trades I've borrowed from the library. But I haven't felt compelled to read very far into said library's supply of Ultimate Spider-Man trades, despite the fact that what I've read to date has been - wait for it - decent and solid.

Timothy Callahan said...

I read the two X-books today as well, but I wasn't as excited about them. I'm not sure I understood what was so significant about the baby in Messiah Complex--is it supposed to be Rachel Summers and is that relevant somehow? Or is the red hair an Summers family photo just supposed to imply something else?

Also, after all that fuss, Messiah Complex ends up at the same place as Ultimate X-Men was a year and a half ago? Really? That's a strange choice.

And the Whedon/Cassady run is basically meaningless as single issues. I love the art, and I'm sure it will read well as a series, but I'll wait until the final installment, read 'em all again, and then see how I feel about it all.

Troy: Blue Beetle DOES get significantly better one Rogers takes over as solo writer. I felt the same way about the first dozen issues. In retrospect, they ARE better than I first thought, but only because the series really improves and builds once it hits the teens. It's definitely worth picking up the issues you missed. It's as good as Invincible, if not better, depending on how you feel about the DC mythology.

Marc Caputo said...

Troy: S2 of BTVS gets so much better, culminating in what may be one of the best season finales ever. S3 is easily the best season - for the record, 4 and 5 are very good, 6 is god-awful and 7 is underwhelming. Several characters make the season stand out, especially Nathan Fillion (who would go on to play Mal in Whedon's Firefly - GET THAT!!), but the series finale was somewhat weak.

I've got the box set and am currently working through them. You want "addicting"? You'll get there.

Chad Nevett said...

I find those podcasts frustrating, only because the creators are always hyped and excited about books that often have lacklustre execution. I realised the problem with the hype and excitement of those writing conferences is that, yeah, good ideas may spring up, but it always comes down to a single writer in a room and that can kill any great idea. That said, I did listen to Fraction's, because, well, it's Fraction (although, to hear him talk about Punisher War Journal, I would think it's a better comic than it actually is). So, now, I tend to avoid the podcasts because I don't any more excuses to be a cynical bastard.

Troy Wilson said...

Timothy and Marc: Glad to hear the best is yet to come.

marcwrz said...

I also read thru a toon of comics this week and agree, Marvel definitely takes the cake this week.

The End of Messiah Complex was actually well-done (interesting parallel to Ult. X-Men last year though) But what it does better is Xavier and Cyclops come to an understanding at last and the mantle has been passed. About damn time. Cable and the X-Men are on the same side again (not that they ever weren't) and Bishop is now officially the X-Traitor.

The Best part? The crossover ended on a dramatic note...but we know its not the end, its just the playing field has changed and and really they've been saying these changes were coming almost a year before the crossover started.

Uncanny - Flagship book once again, my money is seeing some of the New X-Men graduating to that team.

X-Men: Legacy - I'll be following Mike Carey...I'm just not sure where this book is going.

Young X-Men - Cyclops assembling a team og youngsters to eb the final generation of X-Men? Sure, heard that before, but from the solicits, seems there is a reason they're assembled.

X-Force - Hardcore Black-Ops X-Men. Whoo. I could the least about this one but I'll pick up the first arc. Who knows, it could be good.

Astonishing X-Men - Warren Ellis. Simone Bianchi. Sold.

As for the rest of marvel...Ultimates 3 is dropped, I just don't care, Mad's art is a welcome return, and I don't hate the coloring that much...but Loeb is just ugh. Whatever happened to the guy who wrote The Long Halloween?

And Countdown...its almost over. That's all I can say.