Thursday, July 26, 2007

Legion, Star-Lord, and All-Star Batman: Special Bonus Review Section--Number Three of Three

I couldn't decide which of these titles to review in this last slot (and I wanted to give myself a finite amount of review space so I wouldn't spend all day writing blog posts), so decided to go with some three-way action here today and cover Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #32, Annihilation: Conquest--Star-Lord #1, and All-Star Batman and Robin #6.

Unlike my last two entries on Morrison and Brubaker/Fraction which deal with self-contained flashforwards or flashbacks, my post here deals with three comics which are part of larger story arcs, and all three of which might read better if not read in isolation.

But how do they rate as chapters in larger serials? Flawed, all of them. But interesting.

I wrote about Morrison's Batman and Brubaker/Fraction's Iron Fist first, not just because I was most excited about those two issues (even though I was), but because I think both of those issues (and surrounding stories by those creators) belong in the top tier of super-hero comics. As disappointed as some people have been with Morrison's run on the title, I think, by the time he's finished, his tenure on the series will be considered one of the major Batman contributions ever. People will look back on this stuff in 10, 20, 30 years time. And the same goes for the Iron Fist stuff coming out now. It's some of the best stuff ever produced at Marvel (a company with relatively little top-tier work, once you get past the early stuff from Kirby and Ditko and Miller's Daredevil). If the current Iron Fist series keeps going as it has, it will be remembered as one of the great comics of all time.

These next three comics belong in the second tier (and my tiers are pretty large, as you can probably guess, but I do think of comics in this way--For example, I'd put Gaiman's Sandman in the top tier, his Books of Magic in the second tier, and his Eternals in the third tier.) These are some interesting comics, but they aren't anything I'd give to someone as an example of super-hero comics anywhere near their best.

Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #32 is a back-to-Legion-basics story by new writer Tony Bedard (featuring some strange, wildly inconsistent artwork by Dennis Calero). While the Waid/Kitson run featured a large cast of characters and an exploration into social dynamics and intergalactic threats of destruction (or oppression), this first part of a two-part storyline features a handful of characters on a much smaller "mission." It's reminiscent of the old 8 or 12 page Legion stories from the late Silver Age, and the content of the story matches that style, as Bedard brings back some of the classic Legion concepts like Lightning Lord and Validus. Calero's art, though, looks too rough in some panels, and too photo-real in others. Particularly jarring are the first panel on page 2, with Mekt Ranzz's bed-head, the two side-by side panels on the top of pages 7 and 8 which look as if Calero scanned the same exact pencils into the computer and then used it for two different panels but added different facial details and a different haircut on Mekt Ranzz, and the constantly shifting lightning design on the shoulders of Mekt's costume throughout the issue (why the Mekt hate, Dennis?). Calero does a nice job with Tenzil Kem throughout the issue, and I've enjoyed his artwork elsewhere, so I'm guessing he was rushed on this particular story. Nevertheless, his Mekt-related problems ruin the narrative consistency and distract from Bedard's story--which is quite good.

Star-Lord #1 doesn't actually have a cover that looks anything like this image, but I already showed the cover for this issue in my enthusiastic preview of this story, and I didn't want to put the same image up two days in a row. Plus, it's important to the new Star-Lord series that you consider how dorky he used to look back in the Bronze Age. He looked less like a Star-LORD and more like a Star-Speed-Skater. And he also killed thousands of people in an attempt to save millions. Such is the backstory given to us at the beginning of this new issue #1. I'm not a big fan of multi-page exposition to start a story, but writer Keith Giffen gets the backstory out of the way so he can show us a bit about Peter Quill's tortured past and his lack of eagerness about the future. The exposition establishes Peter Quill's self-depracating tone, at least, even if the narration goes on a bit longer than it needs to. The rest of the story is great. We're introduced to the members of Star-Lord's strike team, who will undertake a suicide mission against the Phalanx threat. These strike-team members are all Kree prisoners: a big tree dude, a Captain Universe, Mantis (from the Avengers), and Rocket Raccoon to name a few. Quill makes a Dirty Dozen reference, and that's clearly the archetype Giffen's drawing upon for this series. Sounds good to me! Although this series, coupled with the Wraith comic, which is also part of the Annihilation crossover and is clearly a homage to the "Man with No Name" Spaghetti Westerns, makes me think about what movies the other two Annihilation series are referencing. Here's my guess: Quasar is Thelma and Louise in space, and Nova is Rebel Without a Cause except James Dean gets replaced by a girl halfway through.

All-Star Batman and Robin #6 is finally here, and I'm not going to make any jokes about how late this series has been running, but it is rather difficult to even remember how the series first began those many years ago. This issue features a sensitive portrayal of two important female characters, Black Canary and Batgirl. Both characters have long been an integral part of the Batman mythos and Frank Miller and Jim Lee allow for enough tender moments to reward the close reading such a dense story requires.

Who am I kidding? You guys know that's all a total lie. All-Star Bats #6 is a ridiculous mess, and what does Black Canary have to do with anything? When she first appeared in the series, a few issues ago, she seemed unrelated to the main "plot," and now that her "storyline" has converged with Batman's, she still doesn't seem to fit. And now she's Irish too?!? I though Frank Miller was just being verbose with her speech on page 13 (or I thought he was referencing some bad film noir dialogue), but I guess that was his attempt at an Irish cadence. What's that about? And we get more close-ups on Vicki Vale's ass! Oh, and Batgirl appears! And there's some attempt to establish a theme of "youth, hope, inspiration" and then there are some swear words crossed out.

Everyone seems to have a theory about this comic. Some say it's Frank Miller taken to the extreme, some say it's his attempt to subvert his Dark Knight work, some say the whole thing's a satire of super-heroes. Here's my theory: Frank Miller wants to make Jim Lee draw stuff that makes my eyes bleed and he wants to make me even more thankful for the really great Morrison work on the character. Why else would he so strategically time the slow-release of this title to coincide with Morrison's run? Think about it.

I also lied about All-Star Bats being a "second tier" comic. It's not. It gets a tier all to itself. A very, very low tier. Right between Liefeld's X-Force and Bilson and DeMeo's Flash.


Marc Caputo said...

Did you also notice in the crossed out swear words that "bull---ing" was "bull----inging". Just bad, bad, bad.

Matt Jacobson said...

I genuinely think Miller's just fucking with us. The entire All-Star Batman & Robin The Boy Wonder (remember, it was Miller who insisted on it having that ridiculously long & overinflated title) comic is just Miller making fanboys squirm and laughing at us. I didn't get it till Wonder Wonman's "sperm factory" line last issue. Then this issues opening: "Oh, Hell! Damn!"... ezxcessively macho B-Movie cussing. Miller's just making fun of us, man.

Anonymous said...

Legion: don't see what you're saying at all. Miller is def fucking with us, no doubt in my mind.

Timothy Callahan said...

You don't see what I'm saying about what?

James Meeley said...

I also lied about All-Star Bats being a "second tier" comic. It's not. It gets a tier all to itself. A very, very low tier. Right between Liefeld's X-Force and Bilson and DeMeo's Flash.

And so you keep on buying (or at least READING) it why?

I mean, I could understand if this were issue #1 or 2 and you were trying to get a feel for what the series is like or had no idea what to expect. By this point though, critics of the book who continue to harp on how "bad" it is are just giving free publicity to something they hate, which isn't hurting Miller or DC.

I've already told people that Miller is obviously taking all the ciriticism he's getting and using them as fodder for the story. Think Wonder Woman's "feminazi" attitude was just random chnace, after the comic feminist outrage over the Vicki Vale panty shot in issue #1? I'd highly doubt it. Hell, it might even be why the book has been so late. Miller keeps getting new and zanier ideas for the book every time a critic opens their piehole again (and rewrites do take some time, with redrawn pages taking even longer).

The book is, more or less, "What if Batman and crew lived in Sin City?" And by "lived", I don't just mean that's the setting. They are as much a product of the enviornment as any character in Miller's past Sin City works, too. Now, if this is a premise one can get behind and enjoy, then you should definately keep reading. If not, by this point, you really should just ignore the book. Your verbal slams on it don't do anything to deter people who are buying it and it's doubtful Miller will suddenly change this into a series you will enjoy (especially since he's having so much fun doing it like he is right now).

There is a fine line between being critical and being a "whiney, self-indulgent crank." Those who are still buying (or at least READING) ASBAR, knowing they are going to simply rip it apart, have long since become the latter, by this stage of the game. But hey, it's your money to waste. Miller and DC sure don't mind if you do.

Timothy Callahan said...

I don't expect ASBARTBW to be bad, actually. I expect it to be good. And every issue I come back for more, although now I realize that it's probably not ever going to be good with this creative team, yet I will continue to buy it because it's still fun in a ouch-that-scab-really-hurts-but-I-can't-stop-peeling-it way.

Hell, I'm not even recommending that anyone else not buy it. Go ahead and buy it. I'm going to.

I never said I wasn't enjoying it! But the comic is REALLY bad, you have to admit, right?

James Meeley said...

I never said I wasn't enjoying it! But the comic is REALLY bad, you have to admit, right?

Well, the lack of anything in the review stating you are enjoying it certainly doesn't help the case for people to know you actually are. Maybe you should make it a point, when you review the book, to make sure to point out you are enjoying it, even if only in that "rubbernecker who can't help but be held transfixed by a car crash scene."

And I'm not suggesting you shouldn't always be honest with your feelings about a work you've read. However, there comes a point when you've made that feeling known and to state it over and over becomes less about critical analysis and merely an exercise in making the same complaints.

As for my own feelings on the book, well, it's certainly not "high art", to be sure. And if I was looking for some kind of classic Batman type of story, I'm sure I'd be VERY disappointed in this series. However, I have been a fan of Miller's Sin City stuff, so seeing him put Batman in that kind of world is interesting, even FUNNY at times (The thought caption stating: "I LOVE Being The Goddamn Batman!" in issue #5 was the epitome of over-indulgent, ham-fisted delivery of a theme if ever there was one and I found it hilarious!). So, I'm enjoying it. True-blue Bat-fans, though, probably won't. Fortunately for them, there is Batman and Detective Comics.

As I said, in the future when you review the book, you might want to let people know that you are enjoying it, even if only as a guilty pleasure type of thing. It will prevent confusion like this from happening again. :)

Timothy Callahan said...


I disagree about your expectations for a review, though. I think it's irrelevent whether I'm personally enjoying the book. The review was a quick look at the comic itself, not a quick look at my feelings.

Not that I'm a bastion of objective criticism, as I've proven in other posts.

I'm curious about you, though. You only commented about the one-third of one post that featured a negative review. Why not comment about the positive reviews? Do you have something personally against the idea that someone might write a negative review?

After all, if a critic writes nothing but positive reviews, then his opinion seems useless. If EVERYTHING is good, then NOTHING is good.

James Meeley said...

I'm curious about you, though. You only commented about the one-third of one post that featured a negative review. Why not comment about the positive reviews? Do you have something personally against the idea that someone might write a negative review?

Oh, not at all. In fact, I used to write reviews for comics myself. I know that negative reviews are a part of the game and to be expected.

With the other two reviews, though, you seemed to get across more of how you felt about the works. It wasn't just "hate-hate-hate" in your review, as with ASBAR. With it, you only displayed sarcasm and disaproval. And given that you had obviously read the book before (with your comments on how Black Canary's story seemed seperate earlier, yet now has been connected to Batman's), it seemed incredibly pointless since you obviously knew what the story would be like.

I have nothing against critical reviews. Not everyone likes everything. Not everything will actually be a "home run" every time out. However, as I noted before, to keep with a series you KNOW you won't like, is just as pointless as only doing praising reviews. It does really give any critical analysis, as much it it gives the right the chance to make the same complaint (or compliment) over and over. If you have a bad meal at the restraunt, or see an episode of a tv series you didn't like, odds are you aren't going to partake in it there offerings again.

Yet with comics, I've never seen so many people who seem so dedicated to (figuratively) PUNISHING themselves with stuff they know they won't like, just so they can sound off on how much they dislkike it. There comes a point when you have to just say this ain't your thing and move on to something else. I doubt you are getting paid for doing this, like a movie reviewer might, so to partake in work you know you won't enjoy seems reather fruitless. Unless one is just looking to rant. And that's vastly different from what a review is for.

I disagree about your expectations for a review, though. I think it's irrelevent whether I'm personally enjoying the book. The review was a quick look at the comic itself, not a quick look at my feelings.

Actually, it is BOTH. It is a look at a work, using your own feelings and thoughts as a guide for why it is good or bad. Your own opinions and feelings are very much a part of any review. And if you are withholding some of that (as you say you did in the ASBAR review), then you are doing a disservice to the review and your readers.

If you are actually enjoying the book, even if for no other reason than because of how "bad" it is, you should be sure to at least mention that in the review. People who are reading it, are reading it because they are interested, or have some respect, for your opinions on it. Out of that same sense of respect, you should always strive to make your feelings about a work well-known and honest. Hiding how you feel isn't a very good way to do a review. Reviews aren't really objective, by the very nature of what they are: one person's opinion of a subject work/item.

I hope this has given you the insights into my thinking on this, as you seemed to indicate you wanted. I hope it gave you some things to think on and consider, perhaps even in helping you be a better reviewer. If nothing else, I hope it gave you something interesting new viewpoint you didn't think of before. Which, funnily enough, is pretty much what I always hope for when reading someone else's reviews. :)