W: Grant Morrison
A: Tony Daniel
My love-hate relationship with Morrison’s Batman run continues. Really Grant…don’t you know me well enough to know what I want? What I need? Why must you toy with me so?
I hope I’m not ruining things for anyone when I say that this issue is the preamble to the next (cue ominous drums and cool echo-y voice) “BIG STORY ARC IN BATMAN’S CAREER!!!!” The aforementioned story arc being “R.I.P. Batman.” Now, let’s all be honest here–we’re among friends, after all–we all know that Batman ain’t gonna die. He’s not going to grow old. He’s not going to retire. All of the talk in the DC Universe about who will replace Bruce when he hangs up the cape is moot. The character’s been around since 1939 and he’s aged, what, five years? Unlike DC’s legacy heroes, Bruce will always be Batman–just like Clark will always be Superman and Diana will always be Wonder Woman. Sure, they may be replaced from time to time for the purposes of a particular storyline (Bane breaking Bruce’s back comes to mind…or, y’know, “The Death of Superman”). But, after all is said and done, Bruce Wayne isn’t going to die for real.
That brings me to this week’s issue of Batmanwhich, I’m going to assume, is leading up to Bruce Wayne taking a breather for a while. Why? Well, the entire issue is written around ol’ Bats suffering a heart attack on the roof of the GCPD headquarters. Don’t worry, kids, he pulls out of it with the able assistance of the “Third Batman”–who looks like a cross between an Elseworlds Batman and the arsonist rogue, Firefly (it’s the mask, trust me). Anyways, I can’t fault Morrison for his overall vision for this run of Batman. Things that he’s thrown at us in earlier issues are starting to pay off (I admit that I had written off the whole “Three Batmen” shit from his earlier issues).
Now for the bad news: what I can fault Morrison on is his rehashing of Batman’s past. While Brucie’s teetering on the brink of life and death, he has a lovely little transcendental vacation, remembering how he tracked down and tormented his parents’ murderer, Joe Chill. For several nights, a young Batman (commendably designed by Daniel to look like Batman did in 1939) sneaks into Chill’s office and plays boogeyman. When Batman throws the gun Chill used to murder the Waynes at the criminal’s feet, Chill realizes who the Batman really is. He also realizes that as the man who created the Batman, his name is pretty much Mud in Gotham’s underworld and uses the gun’s last bullet to kill himself.
Now, while I understand that not everyone is well-versed in Bat-lore to know that Joe Chill was the man who killed the Waynes (yes, it was in Batman Begins, but an entire generation of people grew up thinking that Jack Nicholson did it). But, I say that it isn’t necessary to know that fact. All you need to know is that Bruce Wayne saw his parents murdered when he was a wee lad. I’d even be willing to chalk this up as a necessary evil spinning out of the reappearance of the Multiverse: solidifying a few facts about Batman’s history on New Earth that may have gotten a little muddled since the 1986 reboot. But, I don’t think it needed to be an entire issue. And, I certainly don’t think it needed to include a delusion-fueled appearance by Bat-Mite. Yeah, you heard me. Bat. Mite.
Captain America #34
W: Ed Brubaker
A: Steve Epting
I know what you’re all saying: “Oh look, he’s jumping on the Captain America bandwagon.” Well all I have to say to that is: “Fuck you…you have some nerve!” But seriously, kids, I’ve never been a huge fan of Captain America. Of course, I never hated him, either. Like Superman or Iron Man, I like when Cap shows up in books with other heroes, I’ve just never been a fan of his solo series. Part of that comes from the way he’s always been portrayed. Most writers portray Captain America like he’s some lame, Ward Cleaver wanna-be. Shit guys, he was a child of the Depression. He fought in World War II. He’s a hard-ass lifelong soldier. Write him like one. He should be the kind of guy who other hard-asses like Nick Fury and Wolverine respect.
That being said, several people (folks who know the kind of comics that I like…guys who convinced me to read Catwoman, Green Lantern, and New Frontier) have told me how much I would love Brubaker’s run on Captain America. And, I’m sure I would have before now if not for two things: (1) Marvel’s heinous Civil War bull-crap, and (2) Steve Rogers got all killed and shit. Now, the reason I decided to start reading this book with issue #34 is that it’s the premiere of the new Captain America and I figured it was as a good a jumping on point for me as any (I refused to be lured by Brubaker’s use of the Red Skull’s crazy, black leather and red corset-clad daughter, Syn…damn you, Bru, get out of my head!).
It’s a little funny to be writing about the man who replaces Cap right after I wrote about how no one will ever replace Bruce Wayne as Batman. I’m sure that at some point Steve Rogers will be back (and, I’m sure that it won’t involve magic…sorry, Spidey), but for now Brubaker’s doing a pretty damned good job of showing the aftermath of the death of a guy who’s as loved in the Marvel Universe as Superman is in the DC Universe. Just like the death of Big Blue, Cap’s assassination left a void that needed to be filled. Credit goes to Brubaker for taking his time with this process. As a sign of penance (or just a scumbag PR stunt) Tony Stark offered the mantle of Captain America to pretty much anyone he could think of. But, it was Rogers’ final wishes that his former sidekick Bucky (brainwashed by the Soviets to be a crack assassin known as the Winter Soldier) should take up his trademark shield and continue the legacy of Captain America.
This issue sees Bucky suiting up as Captain America for the first time. Although he uses Steve’s shield, he refuses to wear his old mentor’s costume. He also forces Stark to give him complete autonomy from the U.S. Government and S.H.I.E.L.D. which allows him to operate freely when he’s sent to stop agents of A.I.M. from breaking into the gold depository on Wall Street (I guess the Red Skull really loved Die Hard with a Vengeance, since he’s using Jeremy Irons’ heist from that flick as part of his plot to destabilize the U.S. economy).
Overall, I’m pleased by what Brubaker’s doing and I’ll keep coming back every month. It makes perfect sense that Bucky should replace Steve as Captain America. Not only is he honoring the memory of his mentor, but he’s atoning for the crimes he committed as the Winter Soldier. Bucky isn’t a super-soldier like Rogers was. He wasn’t trained as a battlefield leader. As the Winter Soldier, Bucky was trained to be a sniper and assassin. His tactics as the new Cap will reflect this training. He’s packing heat and relying on his single bionic arm to help him wield his trademark shield. Bucky knows that he’s not replacing Steve–that he can’t replace Steve–but he’s honoring his friend’s dying wishes.
Countdown to Final Crisis 13
W: Paul Dini & Tony Bedard
A: Tom Derenick & Wayne Faucher
After reading the last few issues of Countdown, all I want to know is this: what the hell did Earth-51 do to piss off Paul Dini? The supposed paradise of the Multiverse has been beaten like a red-headed stepchild for the last few weeks, and things don’t get any better this week.
Superboy(man)-Prime comes to bring the pain to Monarch for destroying what Solomon told him was his “perfect Earth.” During the tussle, Monarch berates the whiny Kryptonian as only a super-villain can. Of course, Monarch probably wasn’t expecting Superboy(man)-Prime from ripping open his containment armor and letting out all that precious, precious deadly quantum energy. The wave of quantum energy sweeps across the universe, destroying Earth-51 (much to the horror of Monitor-51). But, don’t worry, the final page shows Monitor-51 discover a single sapling growing out of the ashes of his once-perfect Earth.
Before the quantum shit hit the fan, Darkseid appears in the Nexus and offers Solomon a place at his side. Showing more of his crackerjack decision-making skills, Solomon agrees to follow Darkseid to Apokolips in a move that will hereby be known as Solomon’s Mistake #73. Back on Earth-51, the Challengers receive a summons to Apokolips in the form of some kooky fiery handwriting. Sadly, before they can heed this summons, Batman-51 gets his cranium punched like an over-ripe melon by Ultraman. But, in what might be the most cathartic moment in recent comic book history, Jason Todd–still Red Robin–smashes a Joker’s skull in with a big fucking rock.
With a dozen issues left, it looks like everyone’s going to start congregating around the Source Wall which, as we know, separates all of the dimensions of the new Multiverse. It’s also where the spirits of deceased New Gods go…well, until they started going into Jimmy Olsen. Is the Source Wall in danger? Superboy(man)-Prime tinkered with the Wall a while back and wiped out Earth-15. Again I voice concerns that DC is going to eradicate the Multiverse before fully exploring all of its storytelling possibilities.
W: Ed Brubaker
A: Michael Lark
Another one of the few mainstream Marvel books that I can stomach and, surprise surprise, it’s also written by Brubaker.
Hell’s Kitchen is still ground zero in the war between Mister Fear and the Hood for control of the Kingpin’s criminal empire. In the midst of this gang war, Fear also continues his psychological torment of Matt Murdock. Although Daredevil may be the most single-minded hero in the Marvel canon–he doesn’t just defend New York City…he defends one freakin’ neighborhood of New York City–but, he’s also probably the easiest to manipulate, as Mister Fear has most recently illustrated.
Concerned over the mental instability of his wife, Matt goes completely bat-shit on pretty much every thug and crook he comes across. I’m a little disappointed that the acetylene torch Murdock busted out in the last issue wasn’t actually used to torture Ox. I know, I know…it wouldn’t have been very heroic, but it would have been balls-out awesome. Instead, Horn-head does some funky nerve-pinch kung-fu on Ox, knocking out his eyesight, then pokes and pummels Ox’s nerve clusters until the big oaf feels like he’s being burned by the torch Murdock left running in the background.
When he returns home, Murdock finds the German nurse sent to tend to Milla dead (I guess I was wrong…this broad wasn’t evil). Matt also smells something familiar…something from the past…something that leads him to Lily Lucca, she of the mind-whammy super pheromones. These pheromones usually make people remember their fondest memories (in Matt’s case, he remembers Karen Page), however whenever Lily is around Milla, Mrs. Murdock goes off the deep-end. Is this a normal reaction to Lily’s pheromones, or is it a combination of these pheromones and something Mister Fear cooked up?
Although I have faith that Brubaker won’t let us down, I do hope this storyline comes to a solid conclusion soon, mainly because I really don’t give two shits about the Hood and his underworld pissing contest with Mister Fear. Fear is cool, no doubt…and what better villain to face “The Man Without Fear”…but this Hood joker looks like he’s late for a RPG convention.
Green Lantern #27
W: Geoff Johns
A: Mike McKone
Green Lantern keeps getting better. In the aftermath of the Sinestro War, the Green Lantern Corps. is in disarray. Sure, the Guardians have granted their officers the use of lethal force against members of the Sinestro Corps., but to what end? That’s the question that Johns addresses in this issue.
This month’s Green Lantern begins with Hal and John being summoned to track down a Sinestro ring that’s come to Earth looking for a bearer. Being an object fueled by fear, the ring understandably seeks out Jonathan Crane, a.k.a. The Scarecrow. Our boys learn that the ring’s original owner, Amon Sur, has died and that one of their own, Laira, is responsible for his death. Laira is brought back to Oa to face judgement for her actions against Sur. Was it justice or murder? Who decides? The Guardians authorized the use of lethal force against Sinestros, but did Amon Sur pose an actual threat?
To answer these lofty questions, the Guardians create the Alpha Lanterns, a special squad who will act as an Internal Affairs Division and investigate the actions of other Lanterns. Senior members of the Corps. are chosen based upon their “ability to enforce justice.” Once chosen, the Alpha Lanterns no longer require food or sleep, they are bonded with their Power Batteries, and gain a second power ring. Furthermore, the Alphas are surgically altered, becoming half-Lantern and half-Manhunter. And, to aid them in their duties, Alpha Lanterns have the ability to drain the energy from other power rings–this makes sense, if you think about it: if you’re investigating a Lantern’s actions, you wouldn’t want them to have a fully-charged ring.
Green Lantern is slowly becoming the best book published by DC. It’s achieved a grand scope that the older JLA series had at its height. It’s part police procedural, part sci-fi epic. Just when you think it’s gotten as good as it can get (the introduction of the Sinestro Corps.), it ups the ante (the Alpha Lanterns and the revelation that there are other Corps. out there). With the groundwork that Johns is laying down, this could easily become an idiot-proof book–which is good, because I doubt Geoff will write it forever.
Ultimate Spider-Man #118
W: Brian Michael Bendis
A: Stuart Immomen
Brian Bendis offers up another character piece in his ever-increasing run on Ultimate Spider-Man. I’m the first to call Bendis out when he’s off his mark. But, I’m also the first one to give him credit when it’s due. And, with Ultimate Spider-Man, it’s almost always due. Bendis’s love of dialogue fits perfectly with the uber-chatty Spider-Man.
Peter’s still in a funk over Harry’s death. Of course, nearly everyone else is in a funk, too. M.J.’s toiling at a crappy part-time job in the mall’s food-court. Kong’s desperate to make sure he doesn’t end up in the friend-zone with Kitty (and, honestly, can we blame him?). Kitty’s dealing with being a mutant outcast in a human school. And, poor Liz thinks she has a brain tumor. Can things get any worse?
Sure they can. Johnny Storm–after suffering through a pretty bad date with a super-model–shows up to hang out with his old buddy, Peter Parker. Peter starts freaking out. He’s worried that someone will make the connection between Johnny Storm and Spider-Man, essentially revealing his secret identity. Things get even more complicated when Bobby “Iceman” Drake shows up hoping to reconcile with Kitty.
Rather than having some lame-ass super-villain show up, Bendis decides to let the whole thing devolve into a good-natured John Hughes movie. After spending a day at the beach–where Johnny and Bobby openly discuss Nick Fury’s eye-patch, much to Peter’s chagrin–the crazy kids gather around a bonfire. While M.J. and Peter share a kiss, Liz suffers a sudden headache and subsequently bursts into flames. Here endeth the issue.
This next arc of Ultimate Spider-Man is playing off of the old Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends cartoon, which explains why Iceman’s there. In the original cartoon, the other “Amazing Friend” was Firestar, a.k.a. Angelica Jones. Firestar was a mutant who could generate and manipulate microwaves. Liz Allan’s transformation into Ultimate Firestar actually seems to parallel the origin of Frankie Raye in the mainstream Marvel Universe.
I’ll take a moment here to talk about Immomen’s art. Normally I like what Immomen does in Ultimate Spider-Man, it’s very similar to Bagley’s art. However, this time around it looked rushed to me. The lines aren’t nearly as clean as they usually are, giving this issue a sketchier look than normal.
Ultimate X-Men #90
W: Robert Kirkman
A: Salvadore Larocca
Kirkman’s run on Ultimate X-Men–or, what I like to call “WHOOO….THE NINTIES EFFING RULE!!!!! WHOOOOO!”–continues. Kirkman’s devotion to what, in my humble opinion, is the worst era in X-Men history is inexplicable. I do think he’s trying his best to simplify things (although there’s a limit to how simple you can make time-travel stories): for example, having Cable be a future version of Logan makes a tad bit more sense than that whole son of Scott Summers and Jean Grey’s clone, Madelyne Pryor, raised in the future bullshit. But, just a tad.
Mutant-killing maniac Sinister is back. He’s escaped from the morgue and is continuing his mission to kill ten mutants, thus bringing forth his master, Apocalypse. To accomplish this mission, Sinister goes to the Morlock tunnels and starts poppin’ caps in some mutant asses. Bishop and his team arrive, but Bishop prevents them from stopping Sinister. Bishop was sent back to make sure that Sinister succeeded, which would make it easier to stop Apocalypse. Like I said, it’s only a tad less complicated. All you really need to know is that after all is said and done, Sinister succeeds and transforms into Apocalypse.
Yes, Kirkman understands the characters in this book. I might not agree with the direction he’s taking them in, but I certainly have to give him credit for doing a fairly good job at getting into their heads. Larocca, on the other hand… Well, I’ll just say that I have not been thrilled with his work on this book. His panels feel static to me. I don’t get a sense of movement when I read Ultimate X-Men, which has a serious effect on the action scenes, especially when they involve hyper-agile characters like Nightcrawler or Beast.
Quote of the Week:
“Can anyone hear me or am I having an internal monologue?”–Peter Parker, Ultimate Spider-Man #118.