Tuesday, June 21, 2005

SPOILER Review: Day of Vengeance #3

The third installment of the all-mystic-all-the-time INFIITE CRISIS tie in mini-series kicks things up a notch. While most of our rag tag band of second string heroes takes on Eclipso while Captain Marvel fights a losing battle against the Specter, the third stringers -- that’s Detective Chimp and Nightshade for those keeping score at home -- scour Dayton , Ohio for “the one mortal (potentially) more powerful than the Specter.” Oh yeah, that mortal appears to be an underage girl.

The battle against Eclipso and the Specter is narrated by Blue Devil. While buildings crumble and burn, he waxes not-quite-philosophical about his origins and the origins of his companions. But he never quite gets there, never really giving us an insight into who he, or any of his fellows, is. Ironically, he goes on for more than a few panels about Captain marvel, the once character in this whole story that even the casual reader is likely to recognize. I realize I keep kicking this deceased equine, but I can’t help it: tell us who your protagonists are, for the sake of all that is holy. All the while, it looks bad for the good guys -- Ragman manages to eradicate a number of the damned souls trapped in his cloak when he tries to pull Eclipso in, and Blue Devil himself gets flung across the city by one of her backhands. Captain marvel doesn’t look any better and everyone knows that as the Specter continues to draw out his magic, he is going to weaken until he’s gone. But Marvel doesn’t give up, swearing that it won’t end until either he or the Specter lies dead if the Specter doesn’t give up. It is a pretty intense version of Marvel’s character, but given the dire circumstances, it doesn’t feel out of place, but instead underscores how desperate the situation has become.

Meanwhile, Nightshade and Detective Chimp banter on the streets of Dayton while he talks to household pets and she keeps them from being noticed by the muggles and whines about being a third stringer. Yay.

Back where the action is, Blue Devil finds the Enchantress just standing around -- or, seemingly so. Devil has expected Marvel to fall already, but finds that Enchantress is funneling her power to the The World’s Mightiest Mortal. They craft a plan and the Enchantress requests the energies of all the living magicians, sorcerers and monsters in the world, good and evil alike, to help. Everyone from Green lanter Alan Scott to the incidental magicians living all around us give Marvel their power and he comes back powerful enough to put the fear of Shazam into the Specter. For his part, Blue Devil skewers -- apparently killing -- Eclipso. Even as Marvel begins to gain the upper hand on the Specter, Enchantress doesn’t look so hot channeling all that power. For those not in the know, Enchantress is a mean drunk when she’s had too much mana to drink.

In the end, we learn the name of the little girl who might just take down the Specter (if Marvel doesn’t do it before Enchantress goes all evil): Lori Zechlin. I’d appreciate it if anyone out there could tell me who the hell that is.

Overall, the issue was on par for the series, which isn’t necessarily saying a whole lot. I like the art, and the dialogue is good, but it just doesn’t have the weight to it that OMAC and the other mini-series have. It is my least favorite of the lead ins, but that is partially motivated by my unfamiliarity with the characters. It’s certainly worth picking up, but I give it a 6 out of 10.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

SPOILER Review: RANN/THANAGAR WAR #2

I am beginning to believe that DC needs to reintroduce the use of the editorial footnote caption because, quite frankly, I don’t know half of what is going on in this issue.

With Issue #2, RANN/THANAGAR WAR maintains its epic super-heroic space-opera scope, feeling as much like a big budget blockbuster as anything else we are likely to see this summer. The art by Reis and Campos is busy, detailed and just plain fun to look at -- not unlike a the visuals of a certain space opera now in theaters. And like that other work, R/T WAR #2 is ambitious in trying to tell so much of the story in a single episode and, ultimately, only does so at the expense of the audience. Not that Gibbons doesn’t write well -- while fast, the pace is even and he manages to include good dialogue in the midst of all the action. But in a strange reversal of the usual decompressed storytelling we see in comics these days, he crams just too much and too many characters in R/T WAR #2.

My concerns about R/T WAR #2 can be summed up with the single question I had upon opening the book: “Isn’t Starman a skinny geek who wears goggles?” Now, a quick google showed me that the STARMAN comic had introduced this Prince Gavyn, but the point remains the same -- Gibbons assumes I know a lot more than I do about this segment of the DCU. This is an unfortunate trend running through the INFINITE CRISIS mini-series, most particularly this book and DAY OF VENGEANCE, that requires remedy. But I have strummed that harp before and will leave it at that.

R/T WAR #2 opens on Throneworld, which is being defended from a Thanagarian invasion by a very different than usual Starman and a lynx-man named Tigorr who, apparently, is a member of the Omega Men. The whole galaxy is taking sides in the war between Rann and Thanagar and war threatens to consume every system, it seems.

Back on Thanagar, we get a great sci-fi pulp moment as the evil cult sacrifices a scantily clad damsel to a horrible monster in order to appease it. In this case, the monster seems made out of Nth Metal -- which, by the way, is quite yellow and clamoring for ‘pain and fear’ making one wonder how bad this is going to get for the Green Lanterns by series’ end -- and is named Onimar Synn.

Skip to the world of Ancar, where Green Lantern Kyle Rayner -- see, Kyle fans, he is still around d even after Hal Jordan returns -- steps in to defend the planet from both the invading Khunds and the L.E.G.I.O.N. forces hired to protect it. Green lantern uncovers the truth behind the Khund invasion: the Khunds were hired to recover Nth Metal lost across the galaxy since Thanagar’s days as an empire, specifically by the same Seven Devils cult. Green Lantern gives both the Khunds and the L.E.G.I.O.N. one day to get off world or “face the consequences.” It’s a nice turn for Kyle, who so often has been portrayed as a rookie and a lesser Lantern. One wonders what sector he is going to end up with, given he is one of Earth’s 4 Green Lanterns, and it looks like Hal and John Stewart are the ones that are going to stay. But that is neither here nor there.

Back on Polara, the Tamaranean queen bitch Komand’r -- sister of Starfire, also known as Blackfire -- meets with Thanagarian ambassadors -- who, by the way, are definitely looking like Seven Devil cultists -- with the intention of lulling them into a false sense of security so Tamaran can scoop up Rann once Thanagar was expended its strength in taking the planet. Her gift to the Thanagarians: Hawkwoman Shayera Thal. That is when Adam Strange, Hawman and Hawkgirl explode on the scene and manage to allow Shayera to escape so she can turn on the Rannian forces assaulting her captors. Obviously, she is dedicated. I expect we’ll be seeing Hawkwoman’s funeral by the end of this series.

Back on Ancar, Kyle Rayner investigates what the Khunds were after and discovers that the Thanagarian god Onimar Synn has tangled with Green Lantern Alan Scott in the past and was “apparently“ destroyed. Captain Comet -- working for the L.E.G.I.O.N. -- shows up to lend a hand and the two decide to go to Thanagar and determine for themselves than Onimar was destroyed.

On Thanagar, Onimar Synn walks free across the wasteland, attended by members of the Seven Devils cult. He devours the soul of some poor creature, raises dead Thanagarians as his zombie enforcers, and ultimately promises to feast upon the souls of the whole universe.

That is all a lot happening in 22 pages, which although in a way is refreshing, doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for bring the neophyte up to speed. Perhaps it is the advent of the Web and the easy access to information, but it seems that DC doesn’t think it is necessary to tell us who these characters are -- many of whom haven’t been seen in years. Given that it is beginning to look like INFINTE CRISIS is going to make casualties out of any number of B-listers, this is unfortunate: not knowing a character means not caring when that character is in peril or dies. The other complaint I have is one of continuity: when does this all take place for Hawkman, who in his own title just assaulted Hawkgirl and in JLA is fighting with the rest of the team over having mind-wiped Dr. Light and Batman? Being everywhere isn’t necessarily a good thing for a character, especially during these big crossover events.

Overall, I give R/T WAR #2 a 7. It is consistent with the first issue, and a lot happens that propels the story forward, but it suffers from being a little too dense and not providing the reader with all the necessary information to enjoy the issue.

Monday, June 06, 2005

SPOILER Review: VILLAINS UNITED #2

The thing about villain based comics is that you are never quite sure who to root for. Usually, you end up getting behind whoever the writer tells you to, who also happens to be the lesser of two (or more) evils. If this tendency remains in effect for the duration of VILLAINS UNITED, chances are that ‘lesser evil’ is going to be Richard Blake, aka Catman. And even if its not the case, the fact is that writer Gail Simon has managed to turn at least one third rate Batman wannabe and, in a mere two issues, made him an interesting character. The strength of VILLAINS UNITED #2 very much lies in Simone’s writing. That isn’t to say that Eaglesham and von Grawbadger don’t do an excellent job on the art chores -- they do -- but when you are talking about a group of protagonists as low every meter in the DCU as these guys, it takes one hell of a writer to make the book fun. And VILLAINS UNITED #2 is nothing if not fun, in a twisted, guilt-inducing way at least.

VILAINS UNITED #2 opens in the House of Secrets -- a mystical DCU location that suggests at least loose ties to another INFINITE CRISIS tie-in mini-series, DAY OF VENGEANCE -- with Deadshot -- the DCU’s cold stone killer -- and Catman -- the aforementioned Batman wanna-be -- discussing the identity of their employer, “Mockingbird” over blades, bullets and breakfast. It is a nice touch that even as we, the reader, wonder about Mockingbird’s identity , the characters do too. Meanwhile, Cheshsire is skulking about (which in any other title would suggest something nefarious, but this is a villain title after all --everything is nefarious) and Scandal -- about which little is known -- is writing love letters to an unknown -- Mockingbird? -- and accepting the reason she was “formed” and her possible death in the “coming war”. While this is all very interesting, it distracts us from the true mystery of VILLAINS UNITED: how the hell did Catman go from loser to, well, not since he last appeared in GREEN ARROW? The good news is that we get the questioned asked -- by Deadshot, who himself went through something a transformation recently in his own mini-series. The bad news is that it doesn’t get answered.

And before you know it, the team is off on a mission for Mockingbird. They are going to Gotham to intercept a shipment of Thanagarian weapons ultimately intended for the Society -- and thus ultimately intended to be pointed and fired at the Six. It isn’t much but it is a nice nod to the RANN/THANAGAR WAR mini -- after all, the weapons could have been from anywhere. Little things like this remind us that this is all part of a larger plan. Of course, if we were Luthor and his Society, we’d know this already, since Calculator has managed to bug the plane and is monitoring the Six as they close in on Gotham. Luthor has a plan, indeed, and once the Six find that the shipment is nowhere to be found, they discover what it is: the capture and torture of the Six.

Now this is a surprise. I expected somewhere down the line that the Six would have to face the music, at least the first few notes, but not so early. But when they are duped and jumped by no less than 16 Society villains -- including Flash-rogue powerhouse Weather Wizard and “who the hell is that? Nazi Man?” -- the Six don’t stand much of a chance. Luthor doesn’t lave much to chance, after all. He may not have super powers -- Kryptonite mixed with Venom notwithstanding -- but that doesn’t mean he isn’t dangerous. This is something to keep in mind as things progress.

Anyway, Catman leaps in head first while the rest of the Six attempt to bail, but it doesn’t matter. They all go down, though not without a fight. Unfortunately for Blake, that isn’t the end. He wakes up in the care of the Crime Doctor, who promises that life is going to be both long and excruciating before asking for one piece of information it doesn’t seem that Catman knows: the identity of Mockingbird. It makes for a tense little cliffhanger, especially if you assume that the question is a real one: if Luthor doesn’t know who Mockingbird is, then it isn’t part of some contingency plan of his, which suggests that there is a player that we’ve discounted, or there is a traitor in the Society. I still vote for Talia -- she has the smarts, the means, and the motivation.

VILLAINS UNITED #2 is a great read and deepens an already fine mystery. It is fun without being light, and it portrays the villains of the DCU, both the protagonists and the antagonists, as competent and even a little likable, without necessarily compromising their villain status. I give this a 9 out of 10 and am eagerly awaiting issue #3.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

News from WIZARD WORLD Philly: One Year Later

Newsarama is reporting here that when INFINITE CRISIS is all said and done, all DCU title will jump ahead one eyar in the timeline -- that is, the March 2006 issues will take place 1 year after the end of INFINITE CRISIS.

In comparing the 'One Year Later' to the jump-starts following CRISIS and ZERO HOUR, Dan Didio said: “In those two events, every series started from a common point and moved forward and outward. With ‘One Year Later...’ each and every character has a starting point and moves of at a pace of its own. You will see a wide mix of new series, rebooted series, continuing series and unfortunately, cancelled series. All the changes will make sense for the character and for their own story.”

Other news from Didio at WW Philly indicates that THE FLASH may not make it through this CRISIS, that NIGHTWING "plays a very important role" in all this, and that it is quite possible we will be seeing characters and plot line from the various minies well after INFINITE CRISIS is over.

Friday, June 03, 2005

SPOILER Review: DAY OF VENGEANCE #2

In the second issue of DC’s mystical INFINITE CRISIS lead-in mini-series, we are treated to much of the same: Willingham’s skilled pacing and slightly disjointed dialogue, Justiano’s detailed pencil only improved by Walden Wong’s inks, and a story as big as it gets propelled forward by protagonists almost as insignificant as they get. DAY OF VENGEANCE #2 is a good book -- a fine read and certainly well put together, but it isn’t particularly exceptional and, moreover, it has some flaws that I just can’t ignore.

First, the rundown:

The Specter, host-less, is in full mad vengeance mode, having murders feasted on by crows (while still alive), killing adulterers with their own sweaty sheets, and impaling a tax cheat with a giant pen. It wouldn’t be so bad that the Specter lost its mind, except that it seems to have maintained its libido, as the Jean Loring Eclipso has seduced the Specter into hunting down and destroying all magic and magicians as the source of evil in the world. The premise isn’t particularly sound, I know, but it works in the same way that every other big comics event works: if you suspend you disbelief and turn your brain down to 4 or so, you can accept it just for the fun of the ride. This isn’t really a condemnation, so much as a sigh of acceptance: more can be done to make these things believable and entertaining. But, alas, that is neither here nor there.

The small group of never-has-beens, led by Detective Chimp and including such mystical luminaries as the Enchantress, Ragman, Blue Devil, and some guy who I am *still* not sure who he is, spends a lot of tiem time talking in the back room of an one-dimensional bar, trying to figure out how to beat the Specter. In the meantime, the Specter unleashes divine (infernal?) vengeance on mystical powerhouses the Phantom Stranger and Dr. Fate. I really don’t know which category Madam Xanadu falls in, but I really don’t think it matters. One interesting development in all this is the revelation that Enchantress knows and awful lot about what has happened and is happening, and is able to get into Eclipso’s mind. One wonders if that is a spell, or if the Enchantress *is* Eclipso/Loring and we are going to see a big traitor reveal by issue #6. It wouldn’t be the first, and it would go a long way to explain things (outside the inherent deus ex machina that is magic in general in the DCU).

Eventually our heroes leave the bar for the woods, talk a whole lot more, and Enchantress gives ragman a gun to kill her with, “just in case”. Ragman, in return, gives her a kiss, which was most definitely misplaced. It is the one true spot of characterization in the whole book and it wasn’t just funny, but kind of sad: who hasn’t made a move based on a few misinterpreted signals? Ragman declines the gun, by the way, and offers a much more horrible fate: Enchantress can spend her period of penance as one of the patches in his rags, should she go bad. More fuel for my little conspiracy theory, I’d say.

They eventually track down their prey in the mystic forest going toe to toe with Captain Marvel, aka Billy Batson, aka the World’s Mightiest Mortal, aka the Guy Who Laid Out Superman With a Magic Punch. Cap doesn’t seem to be fairing too well, so being smart C-listers, the heroes decide to attack Eclipso instead, hoping to defeat her before the Specter is no longer distracted by Captain Marvel. This is, of course, where we finish up.

Overall, it is a good story. However, it still vexes me that Willingham can’t be bothered to explain who all of the admittedly little-known characters are. People -- like me -- are going to be picking this up just because it says INFINITE CRISIS on the cover, people who don’t know DC’s mystical characters, even people who don’t know DC at all. “Every issue is someone’s first,” they say. Most of the INFINITE CRISIS stuff is like this -- with the exception of THE OMAC PROJECT -- unfortunately, targeted at DC fans rather than comic readers of all stripes. The other real problem I have with the book is for the amount of dialogue, we don’t get a lot of information, just a lot of talking. Which is fine, and can be fun, but there is information that needs told, especially regarding the characters but also assuming *someone* is reading only this lead-in mini-series.

DAY OF VENGEANCE #2 gets a 7, on the low side.