Saturday, September 22, 2007

Old Dr. Fate Is New Again, Quality Time With Parallax & The Wall Starts Her Fall

As FanBoyWonder declared last week, we’ve officially given up on DC Comics’ weekly series Countdown. So we must admit that not only did we miss picking it up NOT at all but we actually felt quite good—like we were sticking it to the MAN-agment at DC.

A quick glance through this week’s Countdown on the shelves confirmed our decision. Yet we do have a Countdown title on our pull list—Countdown to Mystery, which features the New Dr. Fate.

We’ve had a long-standing affection for Dr. Fate thus we will make a single exception to our No More Countdown rule.

So without further ado, here’s FanBoyWonder’s picks for the week of September 19.

Countdown to Mystery # 1 (of 8)

The Upshot from DC Comics: Get ready for two incredible features in a new monthly series that shine a light on the dark places in the DCU! The Helmet of Fate has landed…on Kent Nelson — a man so far down on his luck, he doesn't know what luck is! The transformative nature of the helmet grants him powers he can't begin to comprehend…but will they make his life better, or even worse? Plus, Eclipso becomes the temptress of the DCU, bribing its heroes to the dark side in more ways than one! She succeeds…and the results will shock you!

We went into this introduction of this latest of Dr. Fates prepared to dislike it or at least to be disappointed. This eight-issue Countdown series had initially been slated to be a new Dr. Fate series in its own right earlier this year when it at the last minute it was pulled from the line up with little official explanation.

Writer Steve Gerber has admitted publicly that he is suffering from serious health issues, which in part delayed the project but nonetheless we took DC’s decision to dump the Fate issues already in the can into one of the plethora of Countdown series as a vote of no confidence about the quality of the series.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Gerber with art the art team of Justiniano and Walden Wong do a first-class job in the introduction of this new character with the familiar name.

Dr. Kent V. Nelson, psychiatrist, is a distant relation/descendant of the archeologist Kent Nelson, the original Dr. Fate. The helmet of Fate is no longer the host of Nabu, Lord of Order but still a powerful source of magic in an age where the rules of magic have been re-written travels from the pages of the pre-Infinite Crisis mini-series Days of Vengeance and to here where the helmet finds a broken man in this Kent Nelson.

Gerber paints a portrait of a man who has hit bottom—the physician could not heal himself from clinical depression and it caused him to lose everything—his wife and child, his professional reputation and his will to live until the helmet finds him.

Gerber’s excellent re-introduction is complemented by Justiniano and Wong’s art. This is the same art team from the aforementioned Days of Vengeance so there is a visual continuity to this story. Their style is particularly suited for tales of magic and sorcery.

As for the other story in this issue—the Eclipso storyline—we could care less about it. Nuff said.

But even as we look forward to the remaining seven issues of this series and as we laud Gerber’s skillful introduction of a new character to wear Fate’s helmet—we are annoyed at how unnecessary it is.

Dr. Fate has gone through nearly as many re-boots and new “hosts” in the last 20 years than the Legion of Super Heroes.

Since the original Fate Kent Nelson, this new Kent Nelson will make the fifth “new” Fate—Eric & Linda Strauss (the merged as Fate so they count as one), Inza Nelson (the original Kent’s wife), Jared Stevens, Hector Hall and now Kent V. Nelson.

The problem is that we really LIKED Hector Hall as Dr. Fate in the pages of JSA. He had several years as Fate under his belt and he was just starting to find some traction when—to our mind—he was quite briskly and unnecessarily removed from the stage (along with his newly resurrected wife Fury).

We don’t blame Steve Gerber for this. Quite the contrary, we laud him for a brilliant introduction of a character in a familiar role but we question the necessity of the mandate from DC management—change just for the sake of change.

We hope that Geoff Johns in the pages of JSA will address the Hector Hall situation while we get to know this new Dr. Fate and new Kent Nelson and hope that both stick around for a while.

Tales of the Sinestro Corps Presents Parallax

The Upshot from DC Comics: Get ready for a new series of specials focusing on members of the Sinestro Corps and tying into the "Sinestro Corps War" crossover.

Well that tells readers absolutely nothing but at least it was short.

Truth be told, it took us better part of a day and a couple of re-reads for us to decide that we did indeed like this one-shot special. The scripting and characterization by writer Ron Marz is well done, as the art by Ardrina Melo and Marlo Alquiza.

What bothered us was that before we even picked up the issue, the mystery of Kyle Rayner’s fate had been shattered by the give away in the pages of Countdown last week of Green Lantern Kyle Rayner—a Kyle who neither no longer Ion the torchbearer of the Green Lantern Corps nor possessed by the Parallax entity.

So given that this entire story takes place in Kyle’s head as he is trapped inside his own body, watching himself kill and destroy while fighting the monster possessing him—there were ample reasons not to like this issue or even to not to bother picking it up knowing the end result.

Truth be told, it’s not a vital component to the Sinestro Corps War storyline. But it as an interesting detour inside the character of the once and future Green Lantern.
We had always been a fan of Kyle during the 10 years that he was THE Green Lantern before Hal Jordan’s return, but it’s clear that the DCU (and DC Management) has had a hard time trying to figure out what to do with the one-time last Green Lantern.

The problem is that Kyle has an ample fan base but not a dominant one. Killing Kyle off would cause an uproar but with Hal’s return Kyle is no longer THE GL. We have to admit that our affection for the character went of the tracks some what with last year’s sub-par 12-issue Ion series, but Marz does a decent job here if regaining some lost ground.

Checkmate #18

The Upshot by DC Comics: Amanda Waller's unauthorized Black Ops game is exposed! "The Fall of the Wall" begins here!

Amanda Waller doesn’t appear in a single panel of this issue yet she dominates the story. Villains are being abducted and recruited for Waller’s Suicide Squad—her off the books covert team.

As White Queen of Checkmate, she is by law prohibited from having anything to do with covert operations, which is what she is doing. The Black King—led by Mr. Terrific, is trying to prove what they know—that the Wall seeking to consolidate power by building a covert team answerable only to her—a team that includes a team includes Rick Flag and Bronze Tiger.

Yet we are bothered by where Rucka is going with this. His characterization of Waller and Flag and the Tiger are all off. This is that much more noticeable with John Ostrander’s Suicide Squad mini-series playing out right now.

Ostrander’s Amanda Waller was ruthless and a ball buster but she had a code she lived by and she bent or broke the rules for the right reasons. Rucka has spent 18 issues getting Waller’s ruthlessness but not of her mirth.

And hey, what’s with Bronze Tiger wearing this Tiger Mask again—the same mask he would never wear because it was what he wore when brainwashed by the League of Assassins. There seems to be a characterization gap going on.

On the brighter side, we did like scene with Black Queen and Oracle. Black Queen offers an apology of sorts and seeks to make peace following the Spy Smasher incident in Birds of Prey. At least some books talk to each other.

The art by Joe Bennett and Jack Jadson is first rate. With this book finally having a top shelf art team, it’s all up to writer Greg Rucka. The Fall of the Wall storyline will be a make or break arc for this book.

Flash #232

The Upshot from DC Comics: What alien menace lies beneath the Flash's own home? And what's his dark, dark family secret — the one that's helping him keep the peace in Keystone?

Well giant alien squids may not have been the best antagonists to introduce so soon after the return of Flash & Family. The reader does get to know a little better Wally’s kids Iris and Jai.

Writer Mark Waid does a good job of having them actually act like kids. Yet it really bothers us that Waid pulled out of his hat yet again the super-speed accelerated growth trick—like he first did with Bart Allen.

Physically the twins are 8-to 10 years old-ish but chronologically they are a year old—they grew at a hyper-accelerated rate while Wally and wife Linda and the twins were away following Infinite Crisis.
We get that Waid wants the kids to be viable characters and infants just can’t do that but time travel or something other than accelerated growth may have been a better solution. But Waid has a proven track record so we’ll let him play this out.

Birds of Prey #110

The Upshot from DC Comics: In the aftermath of her new team's first mission Oracle is reminded of how, sometimes, a smaller task force is needed even on some big assignments.

Writer Tony Bedard does a decent job of replicating former BOP writer Gail Simone’s trade mark banter between Oracle and Huntress who has stepped up as Oracle’s primary field agent following the departure of Black Canary.

We see Huntress chasing down a car-jacked school bus while Oracle tries to get her to leave the bus to go stop some kids from detonating a bomb—even as Oracle runs down the list of female heroes who didn’t make the cut.

All in all it’s not a great story but it’s not the worst one in the world either. Thankfully the art by Nicola Scott and Rodney Ramos continues to be stellar.


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