Saturday, March 24, 2007

Savage Times for the JSA, Flash Zooms to Readability and Checkmate Lights A Fire

Forgive us if this batch of reviews seems a tad rushed but FanBoyWonder’s day job is sending us to Tampa, Florida starting tomorrow for business and we still have packing to do. But before we go, here’s our take on the books we picked up for the week of March 21.

Justice Society of America #4

The Upshot from DC Comics: The saga of the world's first and greatest super-hero team continues in Part 4 of "The Next Age," by Geoff Johns, Dale Eaglesham and Art Thibert! The families of legacy heroes have been targeted by an evil force set out to end their bloodlines. Now our members find out how close to home tragedy is as their leader stands revealed. And the new mystery member set to join the Justice Society will surprise everyone — especially the members of the team!

We liked this issue even as we acknowledge that we’ve seen better JSA stories come from Geoff Johns keyboard.

While we liked the basic concept of the New Age story arc—Vandal Savage’s attempt to eliminate the bloodlines of all past and present Justice Society members—Johns failed to convey any real sense of menace or threat of loss so we expected nothing less than the JSA to prevail without cost.

One problem is that Vandal Savage is the type of villain who either really works in a story or he really doesn’t. Plus, he’s a bad guy who should be used sparingly to maximize his heat when he does appear in a book—we can immediately recall that within the last year he’s been featured in JSA Classified and the Secret Six.

Also, note to Johns and the rest of DC—NO MORE NAZIS as bad guys unless it’s a pre-1945 flashback story. We have previously stated why we support a Nazi embargo, no reason to repeat ourselves.

We did like that Ted Grant’s long lost love child son turned out to be a real Wildcat and we liked the focus on Damage and that Johns both remembered and acknowledged the character’s history from Damage’s short-lived title from the mid-90s.

Most of all we like that Power Girl has been named the team’s first chairwoman. For one thing, it guarantees that the character will be front and center in the book. For another, it represents a big step forward in PG’s character development—from team hothead to leader. We look forward next month to the JSA/JLA cross-over.

The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive #10

The Upshot from DC Comics: Good cop, bad cop! Acing the L.A. Police Academy exam, Bart Allen carries on his grandfather's police legacy at super-speed. But the darker side of the law's just shown up in the City of Angels: Zoom!

We realize that writer Marc Guggenheim is only in his second issue of digging out from the mess that the previous two Hollywood bozos made of this title and this character, but he has to do a lot more than simply not suck. Fortunately for the readers, he seems to realize that too.

We’re still not at all crazy about the Flash in Los Angeles but Guggenheim is making the best of it. Yet it doesn’t feel like he has taken a step back in how we see Bart Allen this issue. Last issue, Guggenheim injected a little of Bart’s old Impulsive personality but this month, we feel like we’re reading a Wally West by another name.

The appearance of Zoom and Bart Flash’s relatively quick work (no pun intended) to defeat him feels forced. Geoff Johns built up Zoom to be an incredibly powerful speedster who was a threat to Wally’s Flash because he didn’t so much speed as manipulate time—here it feels like Zoom’s powers have been dumbed down.

The only genuine surprise at the end of the issue was the reveal of the mysterious person who sicked Zoom on Bart Flash—Iris Allen, Bart’s grandmother and wife of Barry Allen. Maybe she’s back from the future (again) to reveal that Bart being the Flash right now isn’t right and she’s here to fix the mistake and restore the timeline or fix the space-time continuum or some such.

Checkmate #12

The Upshot from DC Comics: An INFINITE CRISIS score gets settled when Judomaster's son faces Bane, his father's murderer! Meanwhile, the Black King discovers the meaning of "Corvalho" — a meaning long hidden by his own Knight, Fire!

We really liked this issue but it’s because we liked it that we fear for the long-term health of this title.

We were glad to see Fire get some much deserved character development—these past two issues have developed her more than during her entire run on the Justice League.

Yet given the twisted childhood we see she had (like how her father trained to cut throats as his idea of family bonding), it’s almost plausible to see this character retreat as a bubble-headed bimbo superhero with the League.

We liked that Judomaster’s son was able to avenge his father’s death by Bane without killing Bane. Ok so Bane broke the Batman’s bat, but getting his clock cleaned and especially by someone not a cape should be a character builder Bane.
Back to Fire, we’re glad to see that she both faced down the truth of her father’s crimes and that it allowed her to get out from under Amanda Waller’s blackmail. We’ve been seeing too much of Waller’s ruthless side and not much of anything else—we hope that changes soon.

Back to the reason why we fear for this book’s future. Because yet again it’s been co-written with Greg Rucka by Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir. Each time they share writing chores with Rucka, the quality of the storytelling improves dramatically. Yet we know that three writers equal too many cooks in the kitchen.
Yet even with this current writing trinity, this title has yet to fully live up to its potential. We are even less optimistic given next month’s crossover with the Outsiders—a book that we wish would just go away (or at least stop give up Nightwing).

The Brave and The Bold #2

The Upshot from DC Comics: Written by Mark Waid; Art by George Pérez and Bob Wiacek; Covers by Pérez The Upshot from DC Comics: Green Lantern and Supergirl are off to Ventura on the trail of the bizarre case that began in issue #1! Ventura is a planet wide casino, which would be wild enough, but it has also become a backdrop for the Rann-Thanagar War! Guest-starring Batman and Blue Beetle!

This issue was fun. On the trail of a universal doomsday weapon at a Las Vegas-like gambling planet, Green Lantern Hal Jordan asks for Superman for backup and gets stuck with doe-eyed Supergirl.

We’ve made no bones in the past of how much we detest this re-introduced Supergirl compared to Peter David’s Linda Danvers/Matrix Supergirl or even the pre-CRISIS Kara Zor-El but writer Mark Waid manages to make Supergirl in this issue tolerable while remaining consistent to her personality (to the extent that she has one).

Yea we couldn’t help but laugh as Supergirl kept hitting on GL all the while he kept reminding himself of her age (“17” and “You have food in the refrigerator older than her Hal. Who are you Ollie”?)

George Perez with Bob Wiacek contributes top shelf visuals as usual. But we feel compelled to note that Perez is the absolute master at drawing the female form that is attractive yet not ultra cheesecake—Talented and artistic (T&A) illustrators Michael Turner and Ian Churchill, to name two, might want to take note.

Birds of Prey #104

The Upshot from DC Comics: Guest-starring the Secret Six! The Secret Six cross paths with the Birds of Prey, just as Spy Smasher takes the dismantling of Oracle's operation into her own hands!

Given that writer Gail Simone also wrote the Secret Six mini-series, it seems only natural that the two teams should cross paths.

The Huntress and Catman sharing a waltz while both teams staked out a black-tie formal event was cute—it reminded us vaguely of the Tango scene in True Lies between the future govenator of Kali-FORN-ia and the chick from Wayne’s World whom no one has ever seen again.

Simone has a knack of injecting comic sexual tension between characters and hits it big time with Huntress and Catman.

We’re also glad that Barda is sticking around for a while. Her absent-minded annoyance at having realized she had been shot several times and the team’s reaction as she casually dug out the slugs with tip of one of Huntress’s arrows told uninitiated readers more about the character than a page full of dialogue.

Following the end of last issue where Spy Smasher successfully outwitted Oracle, we were eager to see how the sky would fall with Spy Smasher now leading the Birds of Prey. Yet we see its business as usual for the Birds—Oracle is still giving them orders—the change is that it’s Spy Smasher’s orders.

Best scene of the issue—Lady Blackhawk to Spy Smasher: “You know, I knew the real Spy Smasher durin’ the war.” “Really. How interesting,” replies Spy Smasher. “I don’t think he would have liked you very much,” says Lady Blackhawk. Bang Zoom! Right there!

A quick word about art by Nicola Scott and Doug Hazlewood. The word is “fantastic.” Quality visuals, consistently produced. Please let’s hope this team stays on this book for a while.

52 Week 46

The Upshot from DC Comics: In the month to come, death and destruction will reign supreme in the DCU. Storylines will intersect with horrifying results, a main character will die, another will do something he hasn't done in years, and one will fall from grace. A war is coming, and the end is near.

Okay! The only reason we found this issue remotely interesting was that Black Adam’s revenge rampage was stopped in its tracks. Better yet, he was stopped without tricking him into saying “SHAZAM” or any other use of magic lightening. Clever fellas.

But now the Luthor Everyman storyline seems to be continuing as Steel and the cops are on hand to arrest Luthor—weeks after his superpowered rampage. They should have left well enough alone.

However, we do get to see Adam Smasher as he petitions to rejoin the JSA so he can stop Black Adam. Ok we get that World War 3 is coming. The DC house ads aren’t exactly subtle about it.

But here’s our beef. Even with 52 weekly issues, DC still needs 4 separate outside tie-in special issues to help fill in the blanks of what happened between Infinite Crisis and the start of One Year Later?


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