Monday, September 12, 2011

Wednesday Is Rebooty For All I Care #119

Angel & Faith #1
Flashpoint: The Outsider #3
Stormwatch #1 (2011)
The Ultimates #1 (2011)

Angel & Faith #1 (Dark Horse, 2011, $2.99)
Angel was the reason why I gave up on Buffy the Vampire Slayer after the second season. I know the heel turn was a big deal upon broadcast, but I caught it on DVD years later. The event itself was long spoiled, and the execution was nauseating. I caught a bunch of Buffy episodes before and after, plus one of two of Angel's spin-off show, but I would characterize myself as a casual watcher at best. I mention this because between the internet and an issue of the Buffy comic read here and there, I had no problems diving into this new book.

Once again, Angel pulled such a massive dick move, everybody hates him and I think he may have invalidated his entire run at IDW. Now he's got penance to pay and a much better story engine than that bullshit detective agency from the TV show. He's also massively traded up on sidekicks from Cordelia to Faith. The cool thing about that is I don't see a romance in the waiting, Faith is enough of a rebel to believably stick by him, she provides ties to the other slayers, and I would totally expect her to murderize Angelus if need be. Despite an awful lot of backstory baggage, writer Christos Gage manages to orient readers while setting up some plotlines and telling an enjoyable single issue tale besides. Rebekah Isaacs art is nice enough, but hurt by somewhat garish and flat coloring. Still, this was a good enough first issue to make me want to come back for more, a real feat for licensed product.

Flashpoint: The Outsider #3 (DC, 2011, $2.99)
I started reading comics years before Crisis On Infinite Earths, but by 1986 I had largely abandoned DC Comics not just as kid's stuff, but plain old bad more often than not. Knowing the mediocrity that came before, I was an easy convert to the Post-Crisis continuity, as some of the finest comic books every made came out of those years. However, if you go back and read Crisis, you'll find it an almost unbearable chore to slog through, with its dense-yet-haphazard storyline, flat characters vomiting exposition by the bucketful, and overabundance of melodrama. Looked at objectively, Flashpoint was the better story, since it was comparatively tight and self-contained, with real shocks and some thrills. A shame then that it felt irrelevant coming out of the gate, and its readability is at least in part down to the baneful decompressed storytelling of the modern era. Basically, it's easier to read because there's not much to it. For the most part, it was like one of those old double-sized Marvel Comics fantasies from the '80s: "What If... The Super Friends were Stupid Murderous A-Holes?"

We will never live in a Post-Flashpoint world, because nobody cared about Flashpoint as anything more than a means to an end. It's not like they killed the Flash, or Supergirl, or it was the first time DC rebooted its entire universe. This is the fourth by my count, and when was the last time anybody referenced Zero Hour? That said, The Outsider was a spin-off of a story that doesn't matter, although if anyone could make it slightly relevant, it would be the Outsider. A more successful Lex Luthor of India with overwhelming invulnerability and Metamorpho's complexion, the Outsider is so smart as to know that there are 52 worlds in the DC Universe and have access to them. If anyone was going to survive the brief flash in the pan that was Flashpoint continuity, it would be him. It wouldn't even contradict Dan Didio's decree that no one remember the "old" universe. Also, it makes me totally expect that in a future issue of Stormwatch, the Outsider will casually tell Nu-Manhunter "I killed one of you once already, so what's another?"

From what I can tell, most of the Flashpoint spin-offs were tasked with making use of all the stuff from the main series' story bible that wouldn't fit into the primary mini-series. That meant a lot of these books were heavy on flashbacks, with The Outsider being the flashbackiest. Much of the story takes place in 1985, which would be all well and good except J'Onn J'Onzz arrived on Earth in 1955. As a big fan of the character, I could go on for paragraphs about that alone, but suffice to say the thirty years left stewing on a plague-ridden Mars hopefully accounts for the Manhunter now being remarkably dumb. The Martian Manhunter is pretty routinely a jobber in DC stories, so taking him out is no big deal. It's just that this whole comic is about various people taking him out and keeping him captive over a span of decades with rudimentary tools. As the Outsider had already jobbed Black Adam, giving J'Onn J'Onzz the business seems quite a letdown comparatively, especially when their final battle comes down to pure muscle over brains, of which the Outsider has all of one and a good deal of the other besides. Essentially, the entire comic book is a build-up of continuity that is irrelevant and a fight that is one-sided to the point of being a foregone conclusion. Hitting par, James Robinson phones in the same purely work-made-for-hire story he's been telling since Rafferty stalked the Ultraverse in 1995. The art by Javi Fernandez is nice though, which when coupled by the coloring of the Hories reminds me of Al Barrionuevo.

Stormwatch #1 (DC, 2011, $2.99)
The first review of this book I read was Rich Johnston's scathing indictment at Bleeding Cool. It was a bit too rough, especially as I read through the rest of his seemingly very forgiving round-up of the first full week of DCnÜ releases. Johnston pushes back Alan Moore's old gray beard to suckle at his teet, and his employer serves at the pleasure of Warren Ellis and Garth Ennis, so I found it all rather suspect. Plus, I'm currently rereading the so-called glory days of Stormwatch, and like most things, it's reputation exceeds it.

The relaunched Stormwatch is thoroughly decent. If you don't have a prior emotional investment in at least some of these characters, you're liable to be confused and disinterested. Imagine reading JLA #1 without Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, or Aquaman. Continue with an inexperienced violent Superman, a diminished role for Batman, and an enhanced role for Martian Manhunter. That's pretty much this book. The Wildstorm initiated will likely be peeved with the slightness of their characters' initial representation and the tweaks, especially to Apollo. Like Ellis' debut on the first volume of Stormwatch, writer Paul Cornell seems most interested in his own new creations, who get the best lines and moments of a very busy book. DC readers are "treated" to forced tie-ins to a Superman book that won't come out for two weeks and some arbitrary one panel guest cameos. As has been mentioned elsewhere, there is virtually no subtext at play here, but simply an effort to make previously successful counterculture super-humans function in the shinier corporate DC Universe.

On the plus side, I enjoyed all of the dialogue, and the new characters are fun in this initial outing. The slow burn of the plot seems to be establishing an epic scale to the first arc, and potentially the series as a whole. Taking a page chapter from Hickman's S.H.I.E.L.D., Stormwatch in some form now represents a centuries old order traced back to at least medieval times, which should hopefull open the door for lots of retro-adventures for Detective John Jones, Team One, and so forth. The book really does seem poised to be the gateway for Wildstorm's integration into the DC sphere. I enjoyed Martian Manhunter's role in the book, established as the bridge between his teammates in the super-heroic Justice League (who wants to bet he turns up in that book's opening arc after all?) and the nitty-gritty soldier/warriors of Stormwatch. Again, having reread the early Ellis issues, I think folks have forgotten how inconsistent Tom Raney's art was, not to mention the many not-read-for-primetime fill-ins on that book. Miguel Sepulveda continues to remind me of a young Mike McKone crossed with guys like David Roach and Barry Kitson. Unlike Johnston, I think Sepulveda is good at differentiating faces and allowing them to "act" without overacting. His figures are a bit stiff, but it's a fair trade for his ability to ground some fantastic visuals in a tangible realty, making them feel that much bigger. I like the book's look and tone very much, and plan to stick with it for the foreseeable future.

Ultimates #1 (Marvel, 2011, $3.99)
This book is about a bunch of problems all happening at once, and this book is itself a bunch of problems all happening at once.
  1. This book comes in a white polybag with the exact same stock licensing Captain America shield as the one on the crotch of the Underoos my girlfriend bought for me last year. Cap is also on the cover of the book, and in ads within the book. His only role in the actual story is for Nick Fury to verbally reference his absence. My fuck is looking into a what.
  2. I though these Ultimate Comics had cardstock covers to justify their pseudo-prestige and inflated cover price. Did they stop doing that? My copy's polybag concealed an upper corner bent to shit where cardstock might have provided a little protection.
  3. Twenty story pages for four fucking dollars? I guess there's a six page preview of a book I'll also pay four bucks for without merit.
  4. Three pages wasted on a two page spread of the book's title and credits. That's four utterances of the title between the bag, cover, and interior spread, plus four instances of creator credits. You people must stop sucking one another's dicks.
  5. This same two page spread of font on white bread was in The Red Wing, so I officially have an ongoing problem with Jonathan Hickman being a pretentious twat.
  6. They're not even good fonts. It's some cousin of Arial blown up to 72 points with some ink splatters.
  7. The book actually starts off pretty decent, with Sam Jackson being a smart ass throughout the set-up, and some cute in-jokes for guys like me who have read way too many comics. Fun dialogue was saving this book, and then it started shitting silent panels and pages.all over the place.
  8. The villains are black and white with simple geometric shapes on their costumes. I've read three different Hickman comics from two publishers, and it's already cliche.
  9. A good writer could have fit this entire issue into a few pages, easy.
  10. It's an Ultimate Nick Fury comic. Own that. There are already way to many Ultimates comics. Isn't this the third series this year?
  11. Come to think of it, I'm pretty much over Ultimate Comics, period. I guess The Multicultural Spider-Men has some juice, but the rest of the line's purpose seems to be giving really slow artists the chance to draw mini-series with a loose schedule and finding assholes who'll pay an extra dollar for a baggie. Esad Ribic's art looks like it took some time, which was good of him. Throw us a bone, right?

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