Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

When is it time to break up with a comic book?

Sometimes, the decision is obvious: The comic’s quality plunges or goes in a direction you don’t like. Maybe the writer and/or artist changes and their work doesn’t move you.

But let’s say you’re reading a book that you’ve enjoyed for a long time, one that is still solidly good and has had its moments of genius. It’s still better than many comics you could be wasting your money on and you’ve made it this far. However, you’ve had the sneaking suspicion lately that something’s missing. Whereas you once couldn’t wait to fetch it from your LCS and dive right in, you’re now putting it aside and thinking, “I’ll get to it eventually.” Then when you do, your attention drifts. It’s not that the book is bad or even mediocre, but it just doesn’t excite you anymore. Continue reading

Spider-Man vs. Red Robin: Who Would Win?

One has arachnid-derived superpowers and exceptional intelligence. The other graduated with honors from Batman’s School of Hard Knocks. Peter Parker and Tim Drake are both highly capable crime fighters with a surplus of combat experience and brain power, and they’re both so doggone likable. Peter’s super-strength and agility, combined with his spider sense and web-shooting are formidable enough, but he also knows how to out-think his opponents. Tim may be an even sharper detective than his mentor, and he’s usually a step (or five) ahead of his foes. He’s also fierce in a battle. But in a face-off between Spider-Man and Red Robin, which young hero would take the title?


2010 Memorable Moment: Bruce Hugs Tim

Bruce and Tim hug it out.

A new year is upon us, and V. and I are excited about all the comics goodness that awaits in 2011. Over the next few days, however, we’ll be taking a look back at the moments — the good and the bad — that got us talking in 2010.

Though they’re in no particular order, I gotta say that the panel above, from Red Robin #17, is somewhere in my top three. Tenderness is not one of Bruce Wayne’s strong suits, which is precisely why Marcus To’s illustration packed such a wallop. Following the events of Final Crisis, many Red Robin stories focused on Tim’s belief that Bruce was still alive, and his resulting angst. That made the payoff extra sweet, and one gets the feeling that being lost in time has a way of making someone — even Batman – a little more appreciative of the ones they love. Simple and effective. And no, I’m not (sniffle) crying.

Pull List Assessment Time

Every now and then, it’s a good idea to evaluate the old pull list instead of running on autopilot. Though my queue tends to be DC-heavy, there are several indie titles that I read either in trade or via review copy that are plenty good. Since V. and I are asked what we recommend or books that rock/suck, here’s assessment of what I’m reading and where it falls on the Great-to-Dropped scale. Those listed under “Promising” have not yet been added to the file, but they’re well on their way.

GREAT
Morning Glories: Image is firing on all cylinders with this book about a scary private school that traps and traumatizes its adolescent charges. Comic shops can’t keep it in stock, and that’s no surprise given the roller coaster of a plot, snappy dialogue and pretty art. Morning Glories is further proof that there’s some stellar work being done outside of the big publishing houses and the capes genre.

Morning Glories

Fables: Since I get this in trade form, I’m not current. The last volume, “The Great Fables Crossover,” was only so-so, but this book has been otherwise excellent. It also continues to evolve and expertly mixes fantasy and comedy with flat-out horror. I can’t wait for the next trade, “Witches,” to drop in December.

Batman and Robin: I’ve written before about how much I dig this book, so I won’t bore you with another love letter. Grant Morrison is handing the reigns to Peter Tomasi soon, but I’m a fan of Tomasi’s work and eagerly anticipate his work on Batman and Robin — especially since he did such a good job during his all-too-brief Nightwing run.

Madame Xanadu: After the most recent (and brilliant) issue about a deadened supermodel named Neon Blue at the height of late ’60s-fame, I was even more depressed that this comic is coming to an end. I have V. to thank for educating me about Madame X just in the nick of time. At least I’ll always have the back issues.

 

GOOD
G-Man: I initially started getting this Image comic for my children, but like Tiny Titans, it’s a smart, kid-skewing book that’s better than much of the fare for grownups. The most recent arc, “Cape Crisis” centers on young hero G-Man, who gets powers via a magic cape. The problem is that all of his peers (and his kid brother) want a piece of the action, and the results are darn funny. The news that Chris Giarrusso’s book is returning made me very happy, and the kids will have to pry it from my hands.

 

Red Robin: I didn’t like this comic at all when it debuted, but it has found a consistently good groove and done right by one of my favorite characters. Fabian Nicieza writes Tim Drake and the extended Bat-family well, and Marcus To sure can draw.

G-Man = good times

Birds of Prey: The Gail Simone incarnation of BoP was instrumental in getting me back into the comic book habit, and it’s been a fine reunion. While I’m not as mesmerized as I was the first time around, BoP is one of the books I look forward to most each month, along with …

Secret Six: This comic vacillates between “great” and “good,” so I have been spoiled. I love the characters and their bloody misadventures, and there is some real tenderness and heart underneath piles of bodies. My expectations for a Secret Six issue are probably unfairly high, but if it came down to cash flow, there are a whole lot of books I’d drop before this one.

Love and Capes: This book about a superhero married to a non-superpowered bookstore owner is light, bright and utterly adorable. I’m also reading this in trade, and there’s a longer overview here.

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man: As with Red Robin, I’ve already heaped lots of praise on the latest incarnation of Brian Michael Bendis’ long-running, consistently winning comic. The love-triangle drama between Peter, Mary Jane and Gwen is heating up again, and if enjoying juicy teen drama is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

Hawkeye and Mockingbird: When I started reading this title after the “Read This, Too!” challenge, I immediately thought that this is the book Green Arrow & Black Canary should have been. The vibe between the title characters — formerly married, now dating — is sexy and fun, and the book is full of action.

 

 

 

Welcome to Tranquility: Another Gail Simone gem about retired superheroes and supervillains, and a whole lot of secrets and lies. See a recent review here.

Mystery Society: I was late to the party on this five-issue series about a wealthy, urbane husband and wife who uncover government conspiracies and recruit odball characters along the way to join their adventures. The story is a kick, but it’s worth reading for Fiona Staples’ artwork alone.

 

PROMISING

 

 

 

 

 

Haweye and Mockingbird

 

Thunderbolts: I read my first issue a few weeks ago and thoroughly dug it. Luke Cage is leading a group of formerly bad guys trying to go legit, and Jeff Parker spins a good narrative (with ninjas!). Declan Shalvey’s art is impressive, and as a Thunderbolts newbie, I found issue #148 easy to jump into. And no, I’m not reading Shadowland.

Freedom Fighters: I bought this comic based on Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray’s Power Girl work, and I liked the first two issues quite a bit. It’s always a joy to see Nazis getting beaten up, and chances are good that this will be a dynamic team comic. Stay tuned.

Lady Mechanika: I’ve never been a Steampunk gal, but the artwork in this Aspen Comics title by Joe Benitez blew me away. The story focuses on a rifle-toting character named Mechanika, who is part human, part machine. It’s set in late 1800s London, and based on issue #0, it’s going to be a wild ride. My Newsarama review is here, but suffice to say that it’s worth checking out. If my stomach were sufficiently flat, this would SO be my con costume.

MEH
Wonder Woman: I think I got all the Haterade out of my system in this post, but I’m buying this book purely out of loyalty. I don’t want to give DC another reason to treat Diana like a stepchild, so I can’t bring myself to drop it.

First Wave

First Wave: At this point, only Rags Morales’ awesome illustrations are keeping this in my LCS file. This pulpy, character-heavy comic involving The Spirit, young Batman, Doc Savage and an alternative Black Canary got off to a nice start, but the long stretches between issues killed some of its momentum for me. There are only two issues to go, so I’m not sure it can deliver on its early promise or do justice to all the players.

DROPPED
Brightest Day: Pretty, but too draggy, convoluted and crowded. I might read it in deeply discounted trade form.

Power Girl: Judd Winick’s first few issues were better than I expected, but they just weren’t good enough to justify my $2.99. Part of the problem is that the previous creative team was so good that any successors would have a challenge on their hands. I don’t care enough about PG to read her adventures if the comic is just middling, so I cut it loose with no regrets.

 

Justice Society of America: I stuck with this book after Bill Willingham finished his “Fatherland” arc, but James Robinson’s follow-up just didn’t do it for me. I almost kept buying it just for Jesus Merino’s illustrations, even though story quality fell off in a major. The book is getting a new creative team, so I might give it another shot. Maybe.

 

Friday Favorite: Tim Drake Wayne

Despite the fact that they all run around in silly costumes, some caped characters get more respect than others. If you say you’re a Batman fan, even his harshest geek critics won’t make fun of you, at least to your face. But saying that Robin is one of your favorites leads to snickering and the occasional joke about inappropriate pixie boot fetishes.

Um, ew. And whatever. Tim Drake Wayne  —Robin III and the current Red Robin — is my ace, and I’m totally OK with that. Continue reading

Comic Judgment: The Hit Parade

Maybe I was feeling a tad sensitive last week, but there were several comic book moments that left me all verklempt. It was also one of those rare weeks when my pull list produced nothing but hits, with two (Batman and Robin and Secret Six) in a dead heat for first place. There will be spoilers.

Batman and Robin #12: Damian Wayne has haters for days, but the more Grant Morrison delves into his character and unfortunate lineage, the more he grows on me. As the book opens, Damian’s mother, Talia al-Ghul, has literally turned him into a puppet whose movements are being remotely controlled by Deathstroke to kill Dick Grayson. But Talia has (again) underestimated Dick’s Batman-certified skills, as well as her son’s ability to resist manipulation. Once Dick and Alfred shut down the puppet show, Damian decides to confront his mother, who offers an ultimatum: Come back home, or consider yourself my enemy. No one will ever accuse the littlest Wayne of being cuddly, but when Damian asks her, “Can’t you just love me for who I am? Not what you want me to be?” we’re reminded that he is, after all, just a 10-year-old boy. As expected, Talia’s response is not the stuff of greeting cards — and it is thoroughly on. A moving story, plus the no-they-didn’t ending revealing creepy Oberon Sexton’s identity, adds up to one awesome issue. Dick wins the Best Line Award for his response to Damian’s concern that Talia will have him killed: “She can try.”

Secret Six #21: Am I the only one who hears Young Joc’s “It’s Going Down” while reading Secret Six? Because every time I think Gail Simone’s scripts can’t get any more gangster, she finds a bigger machine gun. This book almost never fails to deliver a satisfying blend of poignancy, spit-out-your-Coke-Zero humor and medieval conflict. Tom’s (Catman) early memories, dominated by his repugnant father, are gut-wrenching, thanks to J. Caliafore’s all-too-vivid illustrations. Back in the present day, the anti-hero is on a mission to punish the crew that kidnapped (and possibly killed) his infant son, and his former teammates are following the trail of corpses. The Sixers have seen just about everything, so you know it’s bad when they’re taken aback. After observing the sliced-and-diced remains of one of Catman’s victims, the usually unflappable Deadshot says, “All right. I don’t know what normal people think. This is &^%$ed up, right?” Yeah, but it’s a tea party compared to what Tom has in store for the sadist, metahuman thug, Loki. It involves back trouble, and very big cats.

Red Robin #12: I’d say any comic that shows Ra’s al-Ghul stammering in disbelief is worth $2.99, but in this issue, Tim Drake cracks Mr. al-Ghul’s face — at least metaphorically — with flair. With a little help from his super friends, my favorite Robin thwarts an elaborate plot to kill Bruce Wayne’s associates and bilk Wayne Enterprises. Ra’s throws Tim’s battered body through a skyscraper window, but Dick Grayson (in Batman mode) grabs him right on time. Call me a sap, but I really dug the moment when Dick asks Tim how he knew he’d be there to save him. “You’re my brother, Dick. You’ll always be there for me.” Sniffle! The Best Line Award goes to Damian Wayne, who goes off on his grandpa via walkie-talkie for sending rank amateurs to take him down: “Really, Grandfather? Ninja? I’m insulted.” Writer Chris Yost is moving on after this issue, but he’s ended his Red Robin run on a high note.

Brightest Day #1: Now this is more like it. Following the #0 issue that left about as much of an impression as zero suggests, Brightest Day #1 (or at least part of it) finally feels like an epic adventure with some surprises up its sleeve. I certainly appreciated the moment when Aquaman and Mera put a hurting on some child kidnappers at sea, and a pedophile’s death-by-undead-shark was a particularly awesome touch. However, the subplots are breaking down neatly into care/don’t care categories: Filed under “care” are the Aqua posse (including) scary Black Manta, Martian Manhunter, Hawkman and Hawkgirl. In my “don’t care” category are Firestorm (sorry, Shag), Boston Brand and Hal Jordan/Carol Ferris/Sinestro. I’m just a tiny bit burned out on these three lanterns in general. Nothing personal, guys.

What did you like last week?

Comic Judgment: A Pull List Overview

Cover art by Frank Quitely

I read a bunch of comics this week. Here’s how they stack up, from best to worst:

1. Batman and Robin #10
During its short run, this title has ranged from brilliant to odd to plain inscrutable — in other words, classic Grant Morrison. Fortunately, things are back on the upswing with Andy Clarke’s wonderful art and a storyline pitting Damian Wayne (Robin) against Dick Grayson (Batman). Actually, it’s not Damian who’s gunning for Dick so much as his mama, Talia al-Ghul, who wants her son back at her side. Damian may be an arrogant little sod, but there are signs that he’s grown to respect Dick and even enjoy their partnership. As they search Wayne family portraits for signs that Bruce is alive, Damian seems genuinely glum about the end of his crime-fighting relationship with Dick: “If my father returns, we can’t be Batman and Robin anymore, can we?” Things get even more interesting with the appearance of the mysterious Oberon Sexton, and I’ll be very interested to see how these plot threads tie in with Morrison’s The Return of Bruce Wayne saga.

2. Secret Six #19
Black Alice develops a big, honking crush on Ragdoll. If that doesn’t move you, turn in your longboxes immediately.

3. Ultimate Spider-Man #8
This has long been one of my favorite comics, and the recent focus on Peter Parker’s crowded home life — new girlfriend Gwen Stacey, Johnny Storm, Bobby Drake and ex-girlfriend Kitty Pryde — plays to Brian Michael Bendis’ strengths as a writer. This issue is full of the usual crackling dialogue, but I just wasn’t that into Peter’s neighbor, Rick Jones, who spends roughly half of the book complaining about his new found superpowers as Nova. Being chosen by an alien to help save mankind is heavy stuff for a 16-year-old, but Jones’ extensive, why-me tantrum made me want to smack him. Come to think of it, Johnny Storm wanted to do the same thing. But even on the rare occasion when Ultimate Spidey doesn’t fire on all cylinders, it’s still a good read.

4. Red Robin #10
I love me some Tim Drake, but I didn’t really connect with this book until the last couple of issues. However, #7-9 were downright delightful, illustrating Tim’s considerable ass-whipping/detective skills while introducing a perfect potential girlfriend: button-cute Tam Fox, daughter of Wayne confidante Lucius Fox. Since I’m already way too invested in the Tim/Tam flirtation, Stephanie Brown’s appearance was a serious buzzkill. On the other hand, it was fun to see Stephanie’s Batgirl beat the snot out of a particularly annoying member of the League of Assassins. And I’m still giggling over Alfred’s withering reply to reporter Vicki Vale, who shows up at Wayne Manor looking for Tim: “Master Timothy is far too young for you.” Hee!

5. Justice League Rise and Fall Special
Despite our well-documented loathing of the Black Canary/Green Arrow relationship, there’s no denying that Oliver Queen’s sketchy personal life is good plot fodder. But this one-shot, which takes place immediately after Green Arrow offs Prometheus in Cry for Justice, isn’t about action so much as brooding: Ollie brooding about his maimed son and dead granddaughter; Ollie brooding about hunting down The Electrocutioner; Dinah brooding about Ollie’s fragile state of mind; Justice League members brooding about Ollie’s slide toward the dark side. I’ve generally enjoyed J.T. Krul’s work, but this issue is pretty stagnant. And like V., I’m way over Black Canary following her angry husband around like a wounded groupie. However, there are a few noteworthy moments, like Ollie’s ice-cold rejection of Dick Grayson’s assistance in Star City (It’s my city, “Batman.” Ouch!)  and Barry Allen getting all Judgy McJudgypants when Green Arrow’s lethal act comes to light. But for $3.99, I’d have liked a little more than panels of glowering and fretting.

What did you like this week?