Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Wednesday Is Black Tuesday For All I Care #25

B.P.R.D.: The Black Goddess #1
Black Lightning: Year One #1
Dr. Doom and the Masters of Evil #1
Vixen: Return of the Lion #4




B.P.R.D.: The Black Goddess #1 (Dark Horse, 2009, $2.99)
While I've long enjoyed the art of Mike Mignola, I've never understood the popularity of his Hellboy universe. I've made repeated attempts to delve into its arcana, but every time I just end up shrugging. I also hate a printing conceit Dark Horse pioneered: the ongoing series disguised as a cycle of accessible minis. Every time I've been suckered into buying one, I feel cheated by a largely inaccessible narrative that I've clearly been dumped into the middle of. My first shot at reading B.P.R.D. proved both these irritating rules. I don't know these characters. I have some idea of where they've been through an inside cover primer, but the information seems to be out of date. I gleaned enough through context clues to mostly orient myself, but by the last page felt no compunction to read on.

There was little in the way of characterization, and the best bits followed the recollections of an elderly member of a Doc Savage style heroic troop. His story wrapped this issue, while those tasked to follow up on it didn't hook my interest. John Arcudi's script was solid enough, so I expect the blame falls on overall series plotter Mignola. The rough cartooning of Guy Davis also failed to impress.

Black Lightning: Year One #1 (DC, 2009, $2.99)
I grew up in the barrio/ghetto, and while I'm unquestionably a honky, I always related to the experiences of my mostly black friends growing up. Marvel ruled the roost in my neighborhood, as they treated their street characters with respect and an air of authenticity. DC's few attempts at creating African-American heroes always felt prefabricated and obligatory. That might explain why no one I knew collected Black Lightning appearances, and only I followed Titans-- with Cyborg among my least favorite members. Both, especially once B.L. joined the Outsiders, reeked to me of tokenism.

Black Lightning himself was hampered by a slew of handicaps: an afro-wig attached to his mask to hide his identity; the shirt open to his navel; the modest powers artificially generated by a belt; and so on. I know Tony Isabella had the best intentions with the character, but stacked against Black Panther, Power Man, Storm, Roadblock or Stalker? He just seemed hopelessly lame. Even the Falcon had a better costume and power set, if possibly even less personality. I've tried often to embrace the character, including his second solo run in the '90s, but all that came of that was a bitchin' action figure as part of the Total Justice line.

I bought this new mini-series because it was offered to me at a heavy discount. I expected nothing from it, so color me surprised when it turned out to be the best take on Black Lightning I've ever read. While I initially dismissed Judd Winick's retconning of a secret adult daughter for Jefferson Pierce, because Judd's a tool, I'm amazed at how Jen Van Meter turned this possible strike to her advantage. The mini-series establishes Pierce as a family man who, due to circumstances and personal convictions, is tragically growing ever distant from his loved ones. The internalization of the Black Lightning power is sidestepped as an issue by retroactively making them a part of Pierce from the beginning, which actually makes his motivation and inevitable consequences more plausible. Pierce's new extended family reminds me of Louise Simonson's work on the Steel character, before everything went completely to hell there, and enriches the hero-to-be.

The plot itself is nothing special, especially if you've ever watched any of those inspirational low-income school movies like "Lean On Me," or maybe the more paranoid vigilante franchise "The Principle." What makes it work here is the presentation, both in how well it suits the character, and as visualized by some of the finest art Cully Hamner's ever produced. Even the coloring of Laura Martin is inspired, mingling day-glo graffiti with moody blues and ominous brown-reds. This is one great looking, well thought out book, and I will be back for the trade! Thanks to the creative team for finally transforming Black Lightning from a idealistic concept into an intriguing character!

Dr. Doom and the Masters of Evil #1 (Marvel, 2009, $2.99)
Was this story originally produced to run in the back of some "Marvel Jr." magazine or something? Paul Tobin's plot is barely there, his sarcastic characterization is limp, and the whole affair seems pointless. Dr. Doom beats up a collection of Spider-Man villains, then forces them into a "Usual Suspects" scenario against Tony Stark for no clear reason. In the process, Iron Man and Dr. Strange (of all illogical combinations) are made to look like fools, the Sinister Six come across no better, and the next issue promises actual Masters of Evil the same treatment. Not even the wonky, kid-friendly art or cel-style coloring were appealing. Expect unsold copies in the discount bin in short order.

Vixen: Return of the Lion #4 (DC, 2008, $5.99)
Well, this issue was less disappointing than usual, if I can damn with faint praise. Halle Berry, one of the most boring actresses alive, continues to serve as a likeness, and apparently excitement, model. This reminds me of Berry's awful turn as Storm in the X-Men movies, and all this "finding herself in Africa" bullshit just makes me figure G. Willow Wilson overdosed on old Chris Claremont scripts. Gerry Conway created a flirty, fierce heroine, but every take I've seen since has leaned decidedly toward the milquetoast. At least the Justice League Unlimited cartoon got her right, and would that future writers looked toward her appearances there, I'd be a happier reader.

10 comments:

DamonO said...

Speaking of Tony Stark (which you were in the Dr. Doom limited series review), do you still think Superhero Registration was a good idea now that Stark has been removed and Norman Osborn is the man that all registered superheroes have to answer to? Not to mention the fact that he has all of their secret and private information at his fingertips.

When we previously debated this topic, I stated that my primary opposition to registration was that in a comic universe like Marvel's, it was way too easy for people with bad intentions to infiltrate the government and manipulate it to their own ends. And, lo and behold, look what happened.

Frank Lee Delano said...

DAMON! Great to hear from you, man! I thought you'd been lost at sea, or replaced by a non-commenting Skrull or something!

I believe in Superhero Registration, because in a realistic world, unchecked vigilantism would be horrifying. The moral certainty of "super-heroes" fighting "villains" is no different than all those cops and prosecutors who pushed innocent men into prisons, only to see them cleared years later through DNA testing.

I recognize this is comic books, and we can be certain our heroes are right... unless its the Punisher, Wolverine, Ghost Rider, Morbius, etc. etc. etc. One man's champion is another's terrorist, and circumventing the rule of law makes all unregistered super-beings criminals. There have to be checks, and registration is one of them.

Disregarding my imposed "realism" though, I think the Civil War and the threat Norman Osborne now poses makes Marvel Comics a more interesting universe to read about. While DC suffers through the very worst excesses of '90s Marvel, the Marvel of 2009 is forward looking, provocative, and fascinating. The question and continued repercussions of the Registration movement has a lot to do with that.

Greed is good. Conflict is good. Corruption is good... reading, at least. Norman Osborne expanding his role from classic Lee/Romita Spider-Man comics into the entire MU is good, even if it is a total rip-off of President Luthor. Also, you can still do evil government stories without marring Obama & company, at least for now. All those years of Bush, and the typical slow uptake of comics culture, means we still have a few years of conspiracy theories to play out...

DamonO said...

I was replaced by a Skrull shortly after my last previous comment here. Fortunately, I'm back now...or am I?

The whole point of Superhero Registration was to make the populace safer. Does anyone honestly believe that the public in the Marvel U is now safer with Norman Osborn essentially in charge of all registered heroes and with access to their private information? If so, I'd love to hear how.

"Yes, the world is a safer place now that the Sentry takes orders from Norman Osborn."

Frank Lee Delano said...

I did not support the Mutant Registration Act of 1987, as it was discriminatory, based as it was on inborn genetic traits. Simply by being born different, you had a separate set of laws established to govern you. That is unethical, as it assumes your guilt of abuse based solely on the mutation's existence.

The basic premise of Super-Hero registration is that if you use your powers/technology/abilities to "fight" crime, your are a vigilante. If you punch a suspect, that is a case of assault. If you carry off a suspect against their will, even to jail, that is kidnapping.If you are a vigilante, you yourself are a criminal, and therefore incur penalties under the law.

The alternative is to become deputized by the government. I must have a license to drive a car, or to carry a concealed firearm. This certifies that I meet the basic qualifications to perform these functions responsibly, and I don't understand why "super-heroes" should enjoy immunity from the same oversight. It's a matter of public safety and the common good.

DamonO said...

I've noticed that you still haven't answered my question: Is the public safer now that Norman Osborn is in control of Superhero Registration and has total access to the private information that comes with it?

I think you're still applying real-world logic in order to justify registration. Let's put it this way: SHIELD was a government-controlled law enforcement agency. The New Avengers are not under government control. The government put Norman Osborn in control and now SHIELD is disbanded. The New Avengers are still around. If, let's say Galactus were to attack now, who'd be around to defend the Earth? Certainly not SHIELD, but the New Avengers are still there.

Do you honestly believe that the superhero population in the Marvel Universe, under the control of a homicidal maniac, can do a better job of protecting the public than if they weren't registered? I'd love to see that argument.

Frank Lee Delano said...

But see, that's what makes them super-heroes... they're supposed to overcome all adversity and triumph. It makes for better stories, whether wrangling with a Henry Peter Gyrich type while registered, or being renegades hunted by the Thunderbolts when not.

DamonO said...

But you're talking about what makes a better STORY, a totally different issue. I'm asking you if, within the context of the Marvel Universe, is the populace now safer because registration is the law of the land, and the man representing that law is Norman Osborn. I think the reason dancing around the issue is because you know they aren't.:-)

Here's another question: If you were Peter Parker, who isn't registered and whose secret identity is currently unknown to Norman Osborn, would you register and give up your secret identity, and private information to the government knowing that he could potentially use that knowledge to threaten you and your loved ones?
Do you believe that somehow the public is safer because Osborn has that information than if he didn't? Really?

Frank Lee Delano said...

Honestly? Above all else, I'm in favor of a good argument.

If you deputize super-heroes, they stop being courageous individuals, and become violent fascists. Even as vigilantes, the question of moral justification is intriguing. I think Marvel is a more interesting universe for forcing the question.

DamonO said...

I have to say I'm almost in awe of your ability to avoid answering a direct question:-), but I think it helps prove my point. I believe it would certainly be hard to make the argument that the Marvel Universe is safer place NOW than it was before Superhero Registration -- and if the population isn't any safer -- indeed they're LESS safe with a homicidal maniac like Osborn in charge -- then what's the point of registration? Basically, its just a way of gathering cannon fodder for one of the most evil men on the planet.

Frank Lee Delano said...

Man, filing for bankruptcy, putting up characters as collateral on bank loans, and a price hike to $4 makes the Marvel Universe a less safe place. The goings on on Marvel Earth 616 only amount to so much.

Regardless of what its government does, another Annihilation Wave or a visit from a Beyonder-type entity can come at any time. If there weren't super-hero registration to complicate heroes' lives, it would just be something else inspiring their angst and infighting. It's Marvel Comics, after all. In principle, registration makes perfect sense, and exploitation of its weaknesses makes the universe more interesting.

...nurghophiles...

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