Thursday, April 28, 2005

INFINITE CRISIS Sightings of the Week

Aside from the much anticipated DAY OF VENGEANCE #1, which I'll get to soon enough, the most obvious and dare I say important tie in to INFINITE CRISIS was in BATMAN/SUPERMAN #19. Billed in the previews as merely a fill in, all Supergirl issue designed to act as a prologue for that heroine's ongoing series coming out this summer, B/S #19 turned out to be much more. The Calculator -- the "Oracle" of Lex luthor's new villain Society -- is seen nearly as much as Batman, Superman, or Supergirl, most often feeding information regarding his observations of Supergirl to an unknown on the other end of the line. Not surprisingly, that unknown turns out to be Lex Luthor (though, I must admit that for a second there I thought it was going to turn out to be Batman himself, finally infiltrating the Society -- ah, but it is too early). Although we only see Lex for one page in this issue, it is a biggie, and not just because it is a beautiful full page spread by Chruchill. Luthor is in his classic purple and green power-armor and he's got on his gauntlet what looks like a whole rainbow of kryptonite: red, greed, blue/white, and black! Time to hit the Unofficial Guide to the DC Universe and see what those colors mean for poor Supes. One last interesting thing about this issue and how it fits in to INFINITE CRISIS: Batman didn't spend a single thought bubble bemoaning his fate at the hands of the JLA in IDENTITY CRISIS. It was actually a welcome characterization for the Dark Knight, who for the past few months has been portrayed as unravelling and a danger to himself and others.

Over in FLASH #221, we see the return of the Top -- who reappeared as a direct response to IDENTITY CRISIS -- and in ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #639, Eclipso continues his rampage and [SPOILER!!!!)














gets his mits on the Man of Steel himself, with Captain Marvel poised to take on the Kryptonian powered Eclipso. This arc hasn't much seemed like a INFINITE CRISIS tie in other than the presence of characters also involved -- but since it is universe wide, I guess having Chunk in it would mean it is an INFINITE CRISIS tie-in. Nonetheless, it is worth a look for Superman, Captain Marvel, or Eclipso fans, and, of course, completists (who hardly need me to recommend them picking upa book).

Over in WIZARD MAGAZINE #164 we get the first few pages of JLA #115 -- the first issue in the Geoff Johns written arc dealing with Batman's response to having his memory wiped by the Justice League in IDENTITY CRISIS. We don't get a whole lot more than we already know -- Hawkman's a jerk and Green Arrow's a different kind of jerk -- other than the responses of both Green lantern Hal Jordan (an apologist for the League in this case) and Martian Manhunter, who has to have the coolest line in the preview: when he lets it be known that Batman is aware of what happened and the other League members ask him what he is going to do, he responds simple "Fix it." That alone is enough to make me impatient for this JLA arc. Seeing Batman and Martian Manhunter, two characters that couldn't be both more similar and more different, go head to head (who knows, but one can hope) is going to be great -- especially since way back in JLA #4, Batman took out a whole league of MM's pale cousins witha single matchbook and his giant brain.

Finally in the preview department we have a VILLAINS UNITED first look with actual dialogue. The information is limited, but we do get a whole list of villains that join, some more willingly than others, with Lex Luthor's "Society of Supervillains", as well as a good look at the core membership of that Society. It is too bad so many covers for this series have been released or leaked, because it might have been more fun trying to figure out who was going to sign up and who wasn't. As it is, go to any comic message board and you'll find posts of the various covers showing which villains are on the Society's hit list. If you don't know what I am talking about, and would rather be surprised, I won't ruin it for you. just stay away from those message boards and fan sites.

Next up: the long awaited Spoiler review of THE OMAC PROJECT #1 and the First Look review of DAY OF VENGEANCE #1.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

VILLAINS UNITED #1 Sells Out

According to NEWSARAMA, the INFINITE CRISIS tie-in mini-series VILLAINS UNITED's #1 issue has sold out at Diamond two weeks before its release on May 4. This is the book that follows closest on the heels od IDENTITY CRISIS and the threads it left dangling. With the announcement, DC also released the pencils for the second printing cover, which looks great.

VILLAINS UNITED is written by Gail Simone and promises to show us how Lex Luthor forges the various villains of the DCU into a "society" under his control -- all except for 6 villains who defy Luthor's control. Not all the identities of these Six are known, but it is definitely Deadshot, Catman and Cheshire among them.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

THE OMAC PROJECT #1: Spoiler Free First Look Review

It’s the beginning of the end and it looks like it is going to be a fun ride. With the publication of the THE OMAC PROJECT #1, DC Comics has truly begun its wild ride toward this year’s INFINITE CRISIS event. This is a “First Look” review, spoiler free and based upon one read of the comic. Consider more impressions than a full review, which will be coming once I have had a chance to fully digest the book after two or three more reads. For thos just tuning in, THE OMAC PROJECT follows hot on the heels of COUNTDOWN TO INFINITE CRISIS. If you need more details, scroll on down and read that spoilerific review.
THE OMAC PROJECT is written by Greg Rucka, well known for his nourish pulp writing, especially of the spy thrillers and the Dark knight himself. Jesus Saiz does the gorgeous art, which while a little rough around the edges lends a moody feel to the story. If I have a complaint about the art in general, it’s the colors. They are not bad, per se, but the glossy paper doesn’t let them sink in the way it seems they should. From what I understand, slick paper is actually sheaper, but I think I would have paid an extra fifty cents or even a dollar for clean colors.
The story itself is mostly about Sasha Bordeaux, former bodyguard and love interest of Batman and current Knight to Max Lord’s Black King of Checkmate. It is clear that she is conflicted about her role in Checkmate, and the direction of Checkmate in general under the rule of Lord. She takes great pains in this issue to cover her tracks, and much of the narration in the book is her voice, giving us an insight into how and why she remains in Checkmate and under Lord even while she feels something is wrong with the whole scenario. Sasha has a distinctive voice and a strength in her character that is welcome. So many of Batman’s past loves have been, at best, cardboard Lois lane wannabes.
We also learn a lot about Checkmate and Max Lord’s capabilities, in regards to observation of meta-humans in particular, and we get a glimpse of what O.M.A.C. and “Brother I” is, though nothing is perfectly spelled out for us. It is clear that Rucka has a mystery in store for us and it promises to be a doozy.
The Dark Knight Detective himself makes an appearance or two, mostly trying to determine what’s gone wrong with his newest toy and how that fits in to the trouble brewing in the DCU. To say more would violate the ‘spoiler free’ clause of this review, but it is safe to say, I think, that it confirms that Batman is indeed a paranoid bastard (not that he doesn’t have reason to be -- see IDENTITY CRISIS).
Finally, we get to see Booster Gold -- although his costumed identity is nowhere to be seen -- and Wonder Woman -- the one of the Big Guns (no, that is not a euphemism) who took Blue Beetle seriously in COUNTDOWN -- join up to look into the strangely absent Blue Beetle. Of course we know what happened to Beetle (I’ll spare both of you out there who haven’t read COUNTDOWN) but they don’t. it is nice to see that someone cares.
Overall, on a first read, THE OMAC PROJECT lives up to the hype. It is a good start to what looks to be a good story about the conspiracy/politics corner of the DCU as the INFINITE CRISIS looms ever closer. And unlike a lot of books lately, with decompressed storytelling to fit the trade paperback market, none of the pages in THE OMAC PROJECT seem wasted of fluff.
All in all, I recommend the book to anyone who like Rucka, Batman, the DCU, or a good pulpy conspiracy yarn.

Friday, April 15, 2005

1985: A Bad Year for Power Girl?

An possible hint regarding INFINITE CRISIS occurred in this week's JSA #72. On the team's return trip through time -- after defeating Degaton with the Golden Age JSA in 1951 -- Rip Hunter's time trvelling vehicle hit some significant 'turbulance' at 1985 -- the same year that the original CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS was published. Power Girl, whose origins have been quite convoluted since that seminal event series, was most affected by the turbulance. An indication that her origin-- and anyone else's who was findamentally altered by the original CRISIS -- might be re-retconned by INFINITE CRISIS?

Another implication that may or may not have been intentional is actually placing the original CRISIS in the year 1985 -- a year, given current continuity, in which none of the heroes were active. All signs in the current DCU point to 10 or 15 years of activity for the modern age of heroes. When INFINITE CRISIS is over, will that have changed?

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Preview Review: DAY OF VENGEANCE

Jean Loring – you know, the ex-wife of the Ray Palmer, aka the Atom, who managed to kill not only Sue Dibny but Jack Drake, Robin’s father, in the now classic IDENTITY CRISIS – is back and it isn’t pretty.

Unlike the preview for THE OMAC PROJECT, which in a few pages netted us a whole bunch of information, this preview for DAY OF VENGEANCE, the pre-Infinite Crisis mini-series involving the mystical power-houses of the DCU, is short on details. It does, however, give us one big shocker: Jean Loring is the new Eclipso.

Unfortunately, if you hadn’t read ID CRISIS and didn’t know what an “Eclipso” was, this preview might leave you a little confused to say the least. Jean is never named, just some woman in Arkham Asylum – revolving-door home of Batman’s rogues gallery -- babbling to a little black gem on the ground. And while even a casual reader would know something big and bad is happening by the time Jean is transformed into and Evil Hawt Chick by the gem, it might not be enough – without small details like who she is and what she’s become – to get the uninitiated to pick up the book when it comes out at the end of April.
Willingham paints Jean as believably cracked, without descending into Joker territory, and the art is evocative if nothing else. I give this preview as 5 out of 10, mostly due to the lack of information. If you’re familiar with ID CRISIS and the DCU in general, you’ll be excited by the preview. If not, then you might want to hit the Unofficial Guide link to the side there and read up on Jean Loring and Eclipso first.

Crisis Counselling

For those visitors who might not know what in the hell it is I am rambling on about here, I have added a link to DC Comics' official "Crisis Counselling" page, which will help you keep up with all the fun.

EDIT: Link fixed.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Preview Review: THE OMAC PROJECT

THE OMAC PROJECT, the first of DC’s follow up mini-series to COUNTDOWN TO INFINITE CRISIS, begins just seconds before the end of that book. Sasha Bordeaux – Batman’s old flame and CHECKMATE Knight – hears the shot that ends, rather messily, the life of Ted Kord, aka Blue Beetle. And she’s not happy about it.

In the five interior preview pages (not counting the awesome cover and a spoiler-space page) for THE OMAC PROJECT, we are made privy to a whole slew of clues to how bad things are going to get. Although it is tough to trust all the information, given that much of it is Sasha’s narration and may not be reliable or even honest, we can give her the benefit of the doubt for the time being.

1.) Max rules the roost. Apparently, the CHECKMATE organization has built in checks and balances, including two kings and two queens. From Sasha’s perspective, though, only one king counts: Max Lord, the Black King.

2.) Sasha’s only loyal out of fear. Apparently, the Knights are under constant surveillance and any wrong move would – well, she doesn’t say but it doesn’t seem like a pleasant prospect, given the look on her face and the pool of brains and blood where Beetle once was.

3.) This one comes outside of Sasha’s narration and so is as real a truth as we are likely to see: Batman created OMAC and may have done the damage to the files that Lord originally blamed on Beetle. All the meta-human files were wiped out – JLA files, S.T.A.R. labs files, and D.E.O. files – and Lord believes Batman was responsible. Whether this is the case is unknown, since it is certainly possible that someone knows all of Batman’s secrets.

4.) What’s left “oddly” untouched is the “OMAC Elimination Protocols.” Whatever these protocols are, they are enough for Lord to order the apparently autonomous OMAC to begin surveillance on “all known meta-human associates of Ted Kord…”

This preview does its job admirably – just enough information is given to make us wonder what’s going on, and at the same time we are introduced to a sympathetic character within the ranks of what appears to otherwise be a villainous government conspiracy. The art is top notch and the characters expressive. Rucka’s prose shines as usual, though we don’t really have enough to judge pacing or plot on yet.

It is too early to give THE OMAC PROJECT a rating, but the preview is – as far as previews go – a full 10 out of 10.

The preview is available as a .pdf download at the DC Comics website.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

SPOILER Review: Countdown to Infinite Crisis

Ted Kord, aka Blue Beetle, gets a bullet between the eyes. For real. Worse yet, the trigger was pulled by an old – well, I wouldn’t call him a friend, but he certainly wasn’t waving a gun in Ted’s face anytime recently.

Now that it is there, out in the open, we can dispense with coy maneuvers and spoiler tags and get on with the heady business of reviewing the starter-pistol blast of what promises to be the biggest DC event in years, perhaps the biggest since the first Crisis 20 years ago. COUNTDOWN TO INFINTE CRISIS #1 is an 80 page giant, sold for a buck (though the second printing is going for $2) and designed specifically to hook you and drag you along for the next six months until INFINTE CRISIS finally unfolds. This review is concerned with not only the overall quality of the book, but how well it achieves that particular goal.

The book was written by DC’s current crop of elite writers – Geoff Johns, Greg Rucka, and Judd Winnick. Interestingly, while the artists on the book (there’s a ton of them including Rags Morales, Jim Palmiotti and Phil Jiminez) are given credit for the segments of the story they worked on, the writers are not. We’re to believe, then, that the whole book was written as a collaborative effort between these three superstars. I, for one, totally buy it. There is not a point in the book where the pacing, dialogue or characterization changes in such a way that you can say, “Aha! That’s where Winnick started writing!” Amazingly enough, even the art styles remain largely consistent. Those familiar with the various artists’ styles will no doubt see it easily, but the casual fan will more likely be so engrossed by the story that they wouldn’t even notice. This is a feature, by the way, not a bug. It makes the book look and feel like it was produced by a single team and that, in my mind, gives the book more weight than if it was essentially an anthology title.

The story of COUNTDOWN follows Blue Beetle, best known (both by readers and the other heroes of the DC Universe) as half of the half-witted duo Blue and (Booster) Gold – does this make him a quarter wit? – as he slowly begins to uncover a nefarious plot to ‘protect’ normal humans from meta-humans. As he investigates, he finds that even Batman is wrapped up in what is going on, and the closer he gets to the truth, the more dangerous things become. Not surprisingly, Beetle is joined by Booster Gold for a portion of the adventure. What is surprising is that Booster Gold ends up injured and in a hospital bed – hit by a lightning bolt meant for Beetle – and is too weak to help his old friend out. Life in the JLI was never like this (unless you count that time Doomsday nearly killed them both before taking out Superman himself). At every turn, Beetle is stymied not by the architects of this scheme, but also by other heroes. Beetle has been a joke so long, the book suggests, that even stand up guys like Batman, Superman, and Martian Manhunter can’t be bothered to hear him out or lend a hand. To be fair, the writers did a good job of interjecting other, more immediate crises for the Big Guns that make Beetle’s problem look small. Even those that want to help like Wonder Woman and Oracle have (or believe they have) bigger fish to fry. The only characterization that seems of is Martian Manhunter’s. While he has always been portrayed as having little to no patience for Beetle’s shenanigans, he has also been more recently portrayed as one of the most stalwart members of the JLA. Of course, we don’t know the whole story yet and the writers may well give us a solid justification for this apparent shift in character.

While the story of Blue Beetle getting deeper and deeper in – and simultaneously finding himself more and more marginalized by his fellow heroes – is an interesting one, the real meat of COUNTDOWN is the little teases for four upcoming mini-series that serve to bring us ever closer to INFINITE CRISIS itself. After Booster gets hit by the lightning bolt, Beetle goes looking for Captain Marvel. He finds instead the enigmatic wizard Shazam, one of the big guns of the DCU’s mystical powers, who only says that the Big Red Cheese is busy with a crisis of his own and then sends Beetle packing. After Beetle’s visit with Batman, we discover that the Dark Knight is well aware of what happened to him in the pages of Identity Crisis, and none to happy about it. The aforementioned exchange between Manhunter and Beetle ends abruptly with a message from space adventurer and protector of the planet Rann Adam Strange, revealing that Thanagar – hoemworld of the Hawkman and Hawkgirl characters – has attacked. And finally, we see Lex Luthor’s new “society” of super-villains, many of whom were key players in IDENTITY CRISIS, preparing for what looks like war. An enraged Doctor Light appears in this scene, demanding vengeance for suffering a mind-wipe at the hands of the JLA, and Luthor promises that they are “building it.”

Ultimately, Blue Beetle is successful in his search for answers as he discovers that the government agency known as Checkmate – now headed by Maxwell lord of Beetle’s JLI days – has files on seemingly every costumed hero in the DCU. Lord confronts Beetle and asks him, as a fellow human among superhumans, to join him. Beetle, stalwart like he has never been shown before, refuses. That’s when Max Lord puts of bullet through Beetle’s head. There is no ambiguity, no chance of some sort of trick on Beetle’s part. He is dead, dead, dead.

There is some hope yet for Blue Beetle fans, though. During Beetle’s meeting with Shazam, the blue scarab, which powered the original Blue Beetle, seemed to ‘power up’ and come to life before disappearing. Will this herald a new Blue Beetle with mystical powers as the original possessed? Or will Ted Kord be resurrected by its power? Time will tell.

As a self-contained story, COUNTDOWN TO INFINITE CRISIS is a good read, well paced and beautifully drawn. It’s core plot, that of a marginalized hero working to prove he is not a joke – as much to himself as to his peers – is a classic feeling, tragic story. Some of the characterization of the other heroes seems off though, much as it did in some parts of IDENTITY CRISIS, which may detract from some readers’ enjoyment of the story. As a follow up to Identity Crisis and a lead in to INFINITE CRISIS, it does an admirable job of teasing and exploring the new, more dangerous DCU.

Overall Grade: 8 out of 10

Next up: A look at the previews for the OMAC PROJECT and DAY OF VENGEANCE min-series.