Yeah, been a while, hasn't it? So let's see if we can manage a few short(ish) faster-paced reviews, just to get my hand back in, shall we? Let's shall.Cinderella: From Fabletown with Love
#1 (Chris Roberson/Shawn McManus; DC/Vertigo)
The latest in the Fables series spinoffs, we follow Cinderella, Fabletown's spy extraordinaire, as she sets off on her latest mission: to determine who's been sneaking magical artifacts from the fallen Homelands, post Fables war, into the mundy world and to stop them. She asks Frau Totenkinder for some help, for a price that's left unspecified for now but is certain to be fairly high. We also see that Cinderella runs a shoe shop in Fabletown, with her assistant -- who feels much more put-upon than he actually is -- trying to run a functioning business in the frequent absence of his leader. It becomes clear almost immediately that putting an even mildly ambitious person in that sort of position is the sort of thing that Will Not Go Well -- although, again, that's only set up in this issue, and we'll have to wait for the payoff. Overall, it was a lot of fun, consistent with the characterization of Cinderella as we've seen her in the main Fables series (I've said it before, but Prince Charming married three fairly awesome women). The only small glitch was figuring out when in the Fables timeline the story takes place, as it turns out to be very particular. It's after the Fabletown war, but before the arrival of Mister Dark, as the Underwood still exists at that point; I wonder if perhaps the series was maybe planned to come out about a year ago, and something delayed it. In any event, McManus' artwork maintains the overall look and tone of the Fables series while also being more or less its own thing.
Very Good; RecommendedStumptown
#1 (Greg Rucka/Matthew Southworth; Oni)
In which Rucka goes for the modern noir detective story. We start near the end, in which Dex is being shot by someone, and wind back to the beginning. Dex -- whose first name is apparently Dexedrine, which will tell you something about her background right there -- is a Native American detective living in Portland, Oregon, trying to care for her younger brother, whom everyone in the neighborhood seems to love. They're not so happy with her, however. Dex, it seems, has a major gambling problem. She runs up more than she can repay at the local casino, and gets roped in through those debts into trying to run down the daughter of the casino owner; said daughter has suddenly just dropped off the face of the earth. This being a detective story, we discover almost immediately that there are all sorts of things that Dex hasn't been told about what's going on. It seems to be getting set up to be a classic story of dames and double-crosses, only the detective in this case is a woman, which may or may not also truncate the classic "find the dame who then seduces the detective and then does him wrong" part of the story. (NOTE: I've seen some other reviews, and for reasons which utterly escape me, almost everyone is assuming that Dex is a lesbian. The only textual support for it seems to come from Dex commenting that the girl she's been asked to find could have run away with a man or a woman. It would not be unusual for Rucka to create a tough lesbian detective -- see also: Renee Montoya, Kate Kane's Batwoman -- but there doesn't seem to be a lot more there, at the moment.) Southworth's artwork is hard-edged, heavy-lined and dark, matching the mood of the story perfectly. For what it's worth, I'm glad that this is coming from Oni, which seems to aim for graphic novels and collections more than it does single issues. This story seems strongly like it will read better in collections -- though I assume those collections will lack the backmatter, like Southworth's explanation this issue of how he came up with the look and content of the art -- and may be a harder sell in individual issues.
Excellent; Highly recommendedInvincible Presents: Atom Eve and Rexplode
#1 (Benito Cereno/Nate Bellegarde; Image)
In which we go into the past, before the Invincible War, and see how Rexplode and Atom Eve, a.k.a Samantha Wilkins, met. We start with Rexplode's story, which turns out to be very grim indeed. His family is grindingly poor, driving Rex to steal food. He's seen by a man who gets intrigued by his apparent talents, and who then follows him back to his home and makes a proposition to Rex' father ... who sells his son to someone he doesn't know, essentially for a few groceries. Rex is made to endure all sorts of body modifications, which allow him to explode things with sufficient kinetic energy. (He throws balls at his targets. A lot.) It becomes clear to the reader long before it dawns on Rex that perhaps, just perhaps, he's not working for the good guys that he thought he was. But before he can quite figure out what to do with this concept, he meets Atom Eve.Hector Plasm: Totentanz
I really really wish that Kirkman would outsource every issue of the main Invincible title in which Atom Eve appears to Cereno so that she could get some more interesting characterization. She only appears on the last page of this first issue, but presents with a lot more attitude and is a much more interesting character, in a one page appearance, than Kirkman has ever managed. This was also true of the first Atom Eve miniseries that Cereno wrote. I get that in the main title, she's a supporting character, whereas Cereno gets to write her as the main character of his minseries, and so she actually has to be more interesting; she holds the center. I get all that, I really do. But Kirkman has only ever written Eve as an archetype of The Girl. You want her, but you can't have her. Miracle of miracles, you get her ... and then your enemy punches her guts out and kills her, motivating you to kill him (you think). But then, more miracles of miracles! she reassembles herself and she's back to life, and gave herself a boob job in the bargain! And yet ... somehow doesn't quite manage to be that interesting a character, despite everything.
Anyway, all that said, Cereno and Bellegarde do their usual excellent work in this miniseries, producing strong characterization and story and artwork. It's very enjoyable, and I'm really looking forward to the rest of the series.
Excellent; Highly recommended
(Cereno/Bellegarde and others; Image)
Very different in feel from the first Hector Plasm, which told more straight-ahead stories. This one contains not only stories, but recipes, and songs (sort of). The quality does feel rather more variable than expected, but overall, it's still a very entertaining and interesting look at the character and his life and times. And also the occasional ghosts and skeletons and whatnot. One of the stories, "Hector contre la danse macabre", is meant to be read in conjunction with composer Camille Saint-Saens piece "Danse Macabre", with story beats coordinated to the music. Happily, Nate Bellegarde then put together this NOT SAFE FOR WORK piece
(contains full frontal comics character nudity), synchronizing the visual and audio beats as intended.
Excellent; Highly recommendedWorld's Finest
#1 of 4 (Sterling Gates/Julian Lopez, Bit; DC)Adventure Comics
3/506 (Geoff Johns, Michael Shoemaker/Francis Manapul, Clayton Henry; DC)Red Robin
#5 (Christopher Yost/Ramon Bachs; DC)
I put these three titles together because the first two, between them, show how frustrating Red Robin
itself is. All three involve Red Robin; in World's Finest, he teams up with Nightwing -- Chris Kent, not Dick Grayson, who's off being Batman -- to take down an operation by the Penguin, who has managed to kidnap Flamebird. (Side note: since I abandoned the Superman side of the DCU back when they were having a terrible time getting any of the Superman titles to ship, I had no idea that there had been "time storms" or some such, which propelled Chris Kent through about 15 years of physical development in only a few months. I also had no idea that he was Zod's son. It was fairly startling. But I digress.) In Adventure, Conner "Superboy" Kent, trying to get back in touch with his past, tracks down Tim and helps him out with a mess he's gotten into. And in Red Robin, Tam Fox winds up delegated to track Tim down, for no apparent reason -- seriously, Lucius would send his daughter after Tim, knowing the sorts of things he could be getting into? His daughter
? Sorry, don't buy that. But anyway, there she is. And there Tim is, post mauling. (I will also just note that a biologically human vigilante without a spleen, doing the sorts of things he does, is taking one hell of a risk.) The thing is, World's Finest manages to advance the idea that Tim is still trying to find Bruce, searching for odd and obsure clues -- it feels like it takes place long after the current Red Robin arc has ended. And in Adventure, we see, for the first and only time so far, Tim articulate why he's chosen to be Red Robin, an identity for which he can only have the deepest loathing. Or, more precisely, we see Conner figure it out, and then he and Tim talk about it. We haven't gotten any of that in the main Red Robin title, and at this point, we should be.
World's Finest: Very good; Recommended.
Adventure Comics: Very Good; Recomended.
Red Robin: ... Meh.Final Crisis Aftermath: Escape
#6 of 6 (Ivan Brandon/Cliff Richards, Prentis Rollins)
One of the more headscratching things to come out of Final Crisis. On the one hand, it was different and experimental in a way that DC seldom is. On the other ... by the time you get to the end, all you can think is, "All of this is for THAT result? Why didn't they just ASK him?" In any event, the title ends in a way that seems to set up the new (and dreadfully misnamed, no doubt) Global Peace Agency, with Nemesis as its chief. It seems to be a replacement for the now-destroyed Checkmate, with a broader brief, and fewer checks on its power. Its brief is to prevent the next Crisis; it will, of course, utterly and absolutely fail at that. It is, in fact, failing at that at this very moment, with Blackest Night zombies running around all over the place.Power Girl
A moment from the High Horse, if you will: One of the terribly frustrating things about DC's various crises is the really odd lack of followthrough in some places. For example, at the end of the Crime Bible: The Books of Blood miniseries, Renee Montoya was accidentally head of the Religion of Crime. And then when Final Crisis came along, she just ... wasn't, anymore, and now in Detective, Alice has come out of nowhere to take charge. At the end of Final Crisis, Renee Montoya had been drafted by Checkmate to be head of the Global Peace Agency, gathering the task force of 51 Supermen who were to defeat Darkseid, only to arrive and discover that Earth-prime's Superman was back and handling things just fine, thanks. And now ... she's not. It does seem that there should be some exploration of what happened and the effects before you go blithely off to the next thing. I mean, it wouldn't take all that much to tell us how she got out of all these commitments, would it? But I digress.
Interesting; no recommendation
#6 (Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray/Amanda Connor; DC)
Have I mentioned that I absolutely love this series? No? Well, I absolutely love this series. It manages to take on the sorts of Serious Things that a superhero story must do -- for certain values of serious, of course; New York getting levitated by a hyperintelligent ape's spaceship is only just so serious, after all. At the same time, it never loses its sense of humor and fun. Power Girl actually enjoys being a superhero. At the same time, she enjoys being Karen Starr, if not quite as much -- it's certainly the more aggravating side of her existence. Detective Comics
One of the things I've never understood about superhero comix is the secret identity thing. Take Power Girl, for example: six foot tall buxom blonde, never to be found in the vicinity of Karen Starr even when they logically ought to be. Just how hard can it be to make that connection? And in the last two issues, Palmiotti and Gray have actually played with that a little, having someone discover Power Girl's secret identity. She doesn't know who it is yet, though undoubtedly she will soon.
Excellent; Highly recommended.
#858 (Greg Rucka/JH Williams III, Cully Hammer)
In which we start seeing Batwoman's origin story, with perhaps a tiny bit of Alice's origin story and the modern story mixed in. We meet Kate and her sister Beth as children, and see their mostly happy home lives. Certainly, they're frustrated by their father's frequent absences, and also frustrated when they're made to move yet one more time, but still basically happy. That all comes to an end in London, where their family is attacked, presumably by the Religion of Crime, during the girls' birthday outing with their mother. She's killed, and it seems that Beth is killed as well. In the modern frame, Kate is analyzing some of Alice's blood to see if it's her sister or not, and ignoring her father's demands and pleas for her to talk to him. In the backup story, "Pipeline, chapter 1", Renee Montoya as the Question wraps up the first part of her investigation into a slavery ring, rescuing not only the girl she was after but several more. (One wonders what the rest of "Pipeline" is supposed to be, if chapter 1 ends like that.) I actually feel a bit sorry for Cully Hammer; he's been doing very good work on The Question backup story in Detective, but has been totally overshadowed by the amazing things that Williams is doing with Batwoman.
Excellent; Highly recommendedWonder Woman
#37 (Gail Simone/Bernard Chang)
You know ... I wonder if perhaps Simone is aiming at nothing other than an essential refounding of Wonder Woman's story with this arc. After all, Diana's last two origin stories don't really work any more; she's surely observed man's world quite enough (and the current setup of her story seems to assign that role to Hippolyta as a previous Wonder Woman, anyway), and she's no longer functioning as an ambassador. After "Amazons Attack", the Themiscyran embassy seems to be gone, and she's actually working for the US government. Which brings up the question ... what's she doing here, anyway? If the issue is that she's been expelled because she no longer thinks as her people believe she should, because she also worships unfamiliar gods, then that brings her story into alignment with the other two of DC's alleged Trinity: Batman and Superman both lost their parents to create themselves, as well, albeit at much younger ages, and Superman doesn't really remember losing his. In any event, this issue is sort of wildly unbalanced. I do wish the Donna Troy part of it would just end; having her made insane by Genocide, even though nobody else who contacted Genocide was, makes less than no sense. I'm curious about what's going on with the Amazons; parthenogenic pregnancies after all this time? And Achilles seems like an honorable man being forced to do progressively more dishonorable things; I suspect that he may wind up rebelling against Zeus and Ares sometime soon. (The Ares ghost thing was just ridiculous, really.)
All that said, the one major knock against the most recent story arcs is that, the two issue thing with Black Canary aside, this thing with Alkyone and Achilles and Zeus' big plan is taking FOREVER. I have the vague, nebulous impression that it's in part because Diana isn't really doing anything with Final Crisis or Blackest Night, so she needed some sort of epic storyline to match the guys. (Yes, she had an important role, of sorts, in Final Crisis, and yes, there's a Blackest Night: Wonder Woman on the way. However, neither of those events is going to be reflected back in the main title, whereas Final Crisis rebooted the entire Batman line, and has had some interesting aftereffects over in Superman's chunk; Blackest Night showed up in this week's Red Robin, and is actually going to effectively suspend publication on Batman and Robin for three months.)
Interesting; no recommendation.
Something of a side note: it's fascinating to see how the solo-female superhero titles from the DC universe are doing relative to each other. Surprising, one way and another. From the Top 300 Comics for October 2009
chart from ICV2, the rankings for October for those titles:
#19 Detective Comics (Batwoman and the Question)
#76 Power Girl
#77 Wonder Woman
That Batwoman and the Question have been able to sustain Detective at a very high sales level is very impressive. That Batgirl is doing so well, relatively speaking, is baffling. (Something to judge by: Stephanie Brown is now outselling "Superman: World of New Krypton", Superman and Action -- though that may all be an indication of the weakness of the Superman franchise at the moment, rather than the strength of Batgirl.) To be sure, there's only a few hundred issues between Power Girl and Wonder Woman. Unfortunately, it does seem to show that people just don't quite "get" Wonder Woman these days; she really ought to be doing better.