Sunday, April 22, 2007

Nightwing Loves & Loses, Manhunter Lives On While The Lightning Saga Strikes Thrice

Although we’ve been on hiatus for these past couple of weeks, FanBoyWonder has been keeping up with our reading. It seems we picked quite the week to resume our review of weekly books.

It was a huge week for us as we picked up 11 books. We had actually expected to be picking up an even dozen with the new Dr. Fate series. However, although DC Comics still had it listed among its releases for this week, we’ve heard that the title has been delayed for a relaunch date to be named later.

Whether it was due to art problems or whatever, we think it will be a good thing in the long run. Despite the series of Helmet of Fate one-shots a few weeks back (which were so bad we didn’t bother to pick them up) there was absolutely no buzz on this title.

We actually laud DC on this call. Better pull a book out of the line up than put out a sub-par, potentially schedule challenged book.

Anyway, this week in books was so big that we’re going to divide our reviews into piles—the World War III and 52 books and everything else, starting with everything else below.

Nightwing Annual #2

The upshot from DC Comics: One year ago, Dick Grayson/Nightwing pledged his heart to Barbara Gordon, a.k.a. Oracle, then nearly surrendered his life during the INFINITE CRISIS. Now, learn the full comeback story of Nightwing as it brings to light the story of DC's most star-crossed couple in a stunning annual by fan favorites Marc Andreyko (MANHUNTER) and Joe Bennett (52).

This is not only the best issue of this week’s batch and not only the best issue of Nightwing to come down the pike in years but we’ll go out and say that this will stand out as the best single issue of any DC Comic this year.

This issue not only filled in the blanks to what happened to Nighwing and Oracle during the missing year—but writer Marc Andreyko showed readers both sparks and heart in the long, winding complicated relationship between Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon.

We’ve actually been long supporters of the pairing but previous writers had somehow managed to portray their relationship as a strangely platonic romance.

The flashback of them back during their Robin and Batgirl days was priceless and nostalgic to ole Grandpa FBW as we realize that many readers not only don’t have any first-hand living memory of either the original Batgirl (shot by the Joker in the Killing Joke, 1988) or of the original Robin (who gave up the short pants and pixie boots in New Teen Titans #39, late 1983) or worse they weren’t even alive at the time.

The second favorite scene was the flashback encounter between Barbara Gordon and Starfire at Dick’s apartment. We’ve always wanted to see a meeting between the two women and this was tantalizingly short. Plus that Barbara went to Dick (too late it turned out) reminded readers that this relationship was not all one-sided.

In the end, Dick and Barbara aren’t together. These are two people who love each other deeply but in their world, love just isn’t enough and it’s yet again timing and circumstance that is keeping them apart even as it leaves the door wide open for the future.

A quick word on the art by Joe Bennett and Jack Jadson which was dead bang perfect. Not only was each page flawless, but they obviously put some effort into the little things—such as the subtle age differences during the flashbacks.

In the regular Nightwing book, the current writer artist team of Marv Wolfman and Jamal Ingle are doing a competent job of repairing the book and the character but Andreyko and Bennett have definitely set the bar that much higher.

Manhunter #30

The Upshot from DC Comics: The shocking series finale! When you're the best superhero lawyer on earth, where do you find your next challenge? Look to the stars…

Except this wasn’t the series finale. The readers have spoken and DC has extended the life of this series indefinitely after previously canceling it at issue 25.

As FBW readers know, our best pal Kemosabe turned us on to this book and we’ve been glad we got back on board. To those of you who heeded Kemosabe’s advice and picked up the book—you deserve credit for forcing DC to make “flight to quality” decision.

As for the story itself, wrapped up the Wonder Woman Murder Trial story arc on a low-key note. Of course the grand jury wasn’t going to indict but the very fact that writer Mark Andreyko picked up the Wonder Woman/Max Lord killing plot thread when Wonder Woman’s own creative team (and DC at large) dropped it like a hot stone is a credit to the writer going against the current creative tide.

Our only grip with the past few issues is that Andreyko didn’t do as much as he could have to make this “last chance” story arc more accessible to new readers—we’ve had to guess as to what’s going on with supporting players Mark Shaw (a former Manhunter himself) and DEO agent Cameron Chase.

But we look forward to getting to know them better when this book comes back for good this summer.

Justice League of America #8

The Upshot from DC Comics: Beginning the long awaited, epic crossover between the new Justice League and the new Justice Society, uniting the combined writing talents of best-selling author Brad Meltzer and comics’ mega-star Geoff Johns for the ultimate team-up! "The Lightning Saga" 5-parter begins with the mystery of who Trident is, and how his identity crisis will change everything!

Fanboys of a certain age—like FBW—remember the annual JLA/JSA cross-over events as the ultra-cool events they were. Now JLA writer Brad Meltzer and JSA writer Geoff Johns reignite the spark with an epic 5-part crossover between the DC Universe’s two premier hero teams, with the Legion of Super Heroes thrown in for good measure in the Lightning Saga.

Part 1 of the saga was the classic step up to the big saga as members of the two teams are hanging out—the best part was the two page splash near the end, a total throw back to the old days where they all chat and hang out before they are called upon to break up into smaller groups and investigate the problem.

We’ve never been big fans of the Legion but we’ve always wanted to see the team from the far future team up with JSA—the very first super team. It’s too early to tell here but we think that Meltzer and Johns may have been influenced by the JLA/JSA/Legion team up from 30 years ago.

A word on the art—pencils by Shane Davis with inks by Matt Banning. The layouts and breakdowns were quite good. Visually consistent with the regular art team of Ed Benes and Sandra Hope but something about it rubbed us the wrong way. It had a—not quite unfinished but a sandpaper quality about it.

We suspect that it was a clash of styles between penciler and inker not unlike what we noticed between Benes and Hope before they found a groove together. It wasn’t a deal breaker in this issue but it did prove to be a distraction. We hope for better in upcoming issues.

One more thing, FBW was on hiatus when these events occurred in previous JLA/JSA issues but three cheers for the new leaders of the Justice League and Justice Society—Black Canary and Power Girl. These two strong female characters deserve their chance to shine.

We are further heartened at word of an upcoming Black Canary mini-series this summer. We hope that a Power Girl mini-series or at least another feature in JSA Classified won’t be too far behind.

Birds of Prey #105

The Upshot from DC Comics: Trapped in Russia, the Birds face off against the Secret Six — just as one of her team wrests control of the mission from Oracle! Plus, the return of a very cool character to the DCU!

Given the truly surprising reveal of former Justice Leaguer Ice being back from the dead (if still in a coma-like state) left us wanting more but Ice and the circumstances of her non-death turned out to be barely an after thought as writer Gail Simone played out the other aspects of this story arc.

We did like the little bit of a history lesson regarding Czarist Russia and Rasputin, but even as we had a little more of the conflict of a now controlled by Spy Smasher Birds of Prey, the real focus of this issue was the guest staring Secret Six.

Which is to say it wasn’t a bad thing. Following Simone’s recent lackluster Secret Six mini-series, this issue, aided by the superior art of by Nicola Scott and Doug Hazelwood reminded us why this group of noble bad guys is such a good read. We love the reveal of Harley Quinn as the newest Sixth member of the group. Makes perfect sense.

We were recently disappointed to hear the news that Simone will be leaving Birds of Prey—just as she was finding her sweet spot in our opinion—but we understand her reasons as she has been offered the chance to write Wonder Woman.

If anyone can save Wonder Woman, it’s Gail Simone. But please Gail before you go, give us a good wrap up confrontation between Oracle and Spy Smasher.

Brave & Bold #3

The Upshot from DC Comics: It's Batman and Blue Beetle versus the Fatal Five in the team-up book to end all team-up books! Who's brought these Legion villains into the fray? The Lord of Time, who has pulled in assassins and villains from throughout the history of the DCU!

This wasn’t as good an issue or at least as satisfying as the previous two issues but it was by no means a dud—in a word it was “busy.” There were a lot of characters and trying to find air time in an ever growing storyline.

A potential drawback of writer Mark Waid’s “plot-baton” formula is that we’re forced to keep track of the characters from the previous issue—such as Supergirl who was stranded last issue on the gambling planet Ventura after Green Lantern Hal Jordan was forced to leave without her.

Supergirl bails Lobo out of a jam in exchange for him navigating her back to Earth—setting up the premise of next issue. Like we said, “busy” but not too much for a pro like Waid.

Ditto for the art by George Perez. Special kudos to inker Bob Wiacek. Inkers don’t often get enough credit but he complements Perez’s pencils perfectly.

As for the main team up, we like the interplay between Batman and Blue Beetle. Our favorite sense was the Dark Knight reassuring a nervous and unsure Beetle. It was actually a shock considering how much a Frank Miller-influenced jerk the character had become over the years.

Or course, Batman did play a role in getting the previous Blue Beetle Ted Kord murdered (by ignoring Ted’s request for help when he needed it most—the rest of the DCU apparently has moved on from this but we’ll NEVER FORGET) so perhaps there’s some guilt going on there too.

All in all, this book is doing what is has promised—provide a fun ride while introducing readers to new or under explored parts of the DC Universe. Keep it up fellas.

Flash The Fastest Man Alive #11

The Upshot from DC Comics: The top Rogues haven't been on speaking terms for a while, so who's uniting them as one voice to take down the Flash? This issue kicks off a battle so brutal, we had to call it "Full Throttle"!

This wasn’t a bad issue but writer Marc Guggenheim is still stuck trying to do damage control over a flawed premise. The addition of new artist Tony Daniel will provide some visual consistency but there’s a long way to go.

It was nice to see Iris Allen again, Bart Allen’s grandmother but Bart’s characterization remains inconsistent—is he a grown-up or a kid in a man’s body? It depends on the moment.

But again, our biggest point of contention comes with Bart Flash’s so quickly and easily dispatching of Zoom. This was a major league bad guy created to be Wally West’s equal and even superior.

Yet Guggenheim has retro-conned or just plain ignored the fact that Zoom manipulates time and doesn’t actually super speed in the conventional sense. It’s as if, for example, one day out of the blue Superman shot lighting out of his eyes instead of heat vision.

We see how Guggenheim is trying to mark Bart’s territory by demonstrating he is the Flash and the Flash’s Rogues are now HIS Rouges but don’t elevate the hero by dumbing down the great villains. Strike One Marc!


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