Sunday, May 13, 2007

DC Countdowns Another Weekly Series While Miss Spidey’s Mom Saves The Day

Here’s FanBoyWonder’s comic book picks for the second week of May.

Countdown #51

The Upshot from DC Comics: The event of the year is here! This brand-new, year-long weekly series features a cast of hundreds where anything goes! With head writer Paul Dini and a rotating team of some of the industry's best writers and artists, COUNTDOWN will serve as the backbone of the DCU in 2007.When a character dies in COUNTDOWN 51, it sets off an unexpected ripple that will touch virtually every character in the DC Universe. The COUNTDOWN is on…so begins the end!

Well….this first issue wasn’t nearly as horrible as we thought it would be. Actually it wasn’t that bad even as we went into yet another year-long weekly comic with greatly lowered expectations following disappointment that was 52.

While we understand—at least from a business perspective—DC’s desire to keep feeding readers a weekly book but from an editorial/storytelling standpoint, Countdown would have benefited from a month or even a two-week break to allow readers to catch a breath and to build some buzz about this series.

Thing is we had very little idea what this series was about—other than being another weekly series—going in but that might be to DC’s benefit. If little is promised up front, it’s harder to complain about what wasn’t delivered in the story.

Despite our disappointment at 52 and bitter disappointment with Infinite Crisis, we are looking to keep an open mind about Countdown, hoping that DC has learned valuable lessons during the past year and is ready to produce a weekly comic book series that is both timely and quality.

The first lesson appears to have been learned already as Paul Dini has been drafted as head writer and calling the shots among the team of writers as the series progresses as opposed to the “too many cooks in the kitchen” approach of 52 by having so many heavyweights jockeying for storytelling space.

Gotta be honest in that the main draw that kept us from voting with our feet following the 52 train wreck was the inclusion of Mary Marvel into the cast of Countdown’s featured players.

Despite the series’ whisper instead of a bang kickoff, Dini crafts a decent first issue yet there are a number of head-scratching items within the story that could have and should have been avoided with a few words of simple explanation.

Example: Joker’s Daughter seems pretty unfazed that she’s been plucked from a “neighboring Earth” to Earth-1 (boy it’s been a while since we used that in present tense), yet she knows the full bio of Jason Todd the Red Hood—even as the reader is never told for sure that it is Jason Todd under the hood.

With Mary Batson, unless you had read the current Trials of Shazam maxi-series or even the Brave New World one-shot from a year earlier, the reader would not know that Mary Marvel’s powers crapped out on her in mid-air and she’s been in the hospital recovering.

So the magic word doesn’t work for her anymore. We’re sure to find out why as the series progress but give the “Seduction of the Innocent” ad-tag line that’s been associated with her part in this series, we’re wary to say the least.

Another thing is—viewing Mary Batson as she checked out of the hospital, it’s unclear to us whether she’s 15-years-old or 25 and the way that DC keeps shaking the continuity snow globe with the changing ages of the Marvel family she could be both depending upon her appearance in different issues.

As for the art, we have absolutely no complaints. Former Checkmate artist Jesus Saiz’s pencils with inks by Jimmy Palmiotti complement each other perfectly. We have to say that hands down this is the best we have seen from both of these guys—we hope they can keep up this level of quality throughout the remaining 50 issues.

Green Lantern Corps #12

The Upshot from DC Comics: Pursued by his fellow Green Lanterns, Guy Gardner seeks refuge on Mogo, only to be confronted by his oldest fear. And on Oa, Lanterns clash as death stalks the Corps.

Despite the unoriginal “Fugitive” plot thread with Guy Gardner having been cast in the role of Richard Kimball, this was a fairly low key issue which served to advance the cast of characters toward the big build up that will be the upcoming Sinestro Corps storyline in both Green Lantern titles.

We like the continued focus on Green Lantern Natu and her sector partner Princess Iolade. These are two strong but flawed female characters and they play well off one another.

Dave Gibbons is growing into his role as a writer as we thought he would but this title still has unrealized potential. The art was a little disappointing as regular artists Patrick Gleason and Prentis Rollins were unable for whatever reason—perhaps the upcoming Sinestro Corps big story arc—to carry the whole issue.

Thus it falls to artist Ron Nguyen to pick up some pages in this issue. His art style was not radically different than Gleason and Rollins but it was noticeable.

Nightwing #132

The Upshot from DC Comics: Three friends are dead, and as Nightwing's thirst for revenge grows, he finds himself having to choose a path that could alter his future forever. Also, 300 hundred years ago an evil was born, and now, to survive, it is ready to destroy in the conclusion of "Bride and Groom."

This was by no means a bad issue and while we’ve been pleased overall with writer Marv Wolfman’s performance since he came on board last year, this issue does display perhaps his greatest weakness as a writer—his inclination to take an otherwise good idea and drag it out well beyond its usefulness.

Bride and Groom as co-dependent vampire-like life-force sucking serial killers was a decent enough concept but at best this was a two issue story arc that was dragged out over four issues with the promise of more to come at a later date.

We need to see Nightwing take on a worthy adversary in these pages. There is a hit of that to come starting next issue but it can’t come soon enough for us.

Regular artist Jamal Igle takes a breather this issue with Paco Diaz doing a more than capable job of filling in.

It’s safe to say that Marv Wolfman’s post-Bruce Jones grace period is at an end. The superb storytelling in last month’s Nightwing Annual #2 has raised the bar to a whole new level. From here on in, Wolfman is going to have to carry the book and win readers on his own merits—simply “not sucking” is no longer good enough. Full throttle time Marv.

Amazing Spider-Girl #8

The Upshot from Marvel Comics: Anti-mutant sentiments flare in Midtown High and Mary Jane Parker takes center stage when one of Spider-Girl’s classmates begins exhibiting dangerous new powers.

We’ve been generally pleased with the series as a whole since we started buying it with the reboot of the series but this issue is hands down one of the best we’ve read—not just of this series but it was the best Mary Jane story ever.

Spider-Girl never stops being the star of this book but writer Tom DeFalco shifts the focus onto Spidey’s mom Mary Jane Parker.

In any comic book, the hero’s love interest never has it easy—comparisons to a cop’s spouse are not too outlandish—but Mary Jane Watson-Parker has had it harder than most.

While it’s tough enough for most “Lois Lanes” to see their loves put themselves in harms way, it’s a whole different ball game to watch one’s little girl go into the “family business” and watch her risk her life and all you can do is hope for the best.

May Parker never appears in costume in this issue but Spider-Girl is a heavy presence throughout this story.

When May’s friend Sara previous latent and unknown and barely controlled mutant powers in front of the entire school, Mary Jane goes to comfort the girl’s parents and is shocked at Sara’s father’s bigoted reaction that his flesh and blood is a “mutie.”

It forces MJ to confront her own guilt and fears at making guilt-tripping May into giving up her role as Spider-Girl.

We’ve noted in the past in this book how much we enjoy watching Peter Parker, the one-time Spider-Man, relegated to a supporting character role here.

Frankly, the thing we love best about this series and the premise of the Spider-Girl character is that it’s an outlet that allows the reader to see Peter and Mary Jane live “happily ever after”—something refreshing considering the events playing out in the Spider books in the “main” Marvel Universe.

As usual, the art by Ron Frenz and Sal Buscema was top shelf. Monthly issues with consistent quality storytelling and art with nary a missed deadline in sight. Score one for the boys from the Old School.


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