Friday, March 30, 2012

Superhero Spring Round-Up 2012

I am sorry but I may have inadvertently jinxed Animal Man (DC). They were still doing okay when several posts upstream I suddenly started to doubt the series because it seemed to display a lack of interest in its title character, and since then writer Lemire has only been stalling and artist Foreman has been mostly in hiding. Issue 6 read like Lemire, unfulfilled by the half dozen titles he is currently writing, was pitching a slacker superhero comic to Fantagraphics. He had no real idea for it yet except that the former superhero would be boring and depressing with a thoroughness that ticks all the obvious boxes: alcohol, divorce, a kid that just wants to love his dead if only the old guy weren’t so pathetic. Which invites unhappy comparisons to Grant Morrison’s classic run on the character, where we had the last appearance of a former would-be super-crook in “The Death of the Red Mask.” Which was pretty depressing also and ended in a suicide, but it took super-heroics (and writing about them) as the actual topic. Whereas Lemire gives us run of the midlife crisis.

The comparisons with classic Morrison become even unhappier in the latest issue, where Buddy and Cliff take a walk so they can bond and they bond over the fact of the awesomeness of Buddy being Animal Man. Which is about the first time he appears as Animal Man since the first issue, here to impress a couple of girls for his son. Just see how awed the girls are. I mean, wow, superheroes. It makes me long back to Morrison’s “Home Improvements,” where the Martian Manhunter took over impressing duties, frightening Cliff’s schoolmates to stop them from picking on him, and everything was a little more ambiguous, funny, and true. In fact Lemire used to be quite good on family in the early issues of his run.

But it’s really strange, sometimes it is like the comic itself had amnesia, the way that Buddy forgets what it is that is coming after them, and the way he needs a dream to enter worlds that before seemed like pretty much everyday rot reality?

And does Travel Foreman actually have better things to do or is he getting ousted the complicated way, because he has fans out here?

The other comic I had previously jinxed was of course Daredevil (Marvel). After two abysmal issues there has been a slight return to form, though Daredevil hasn’t quite recovered from the Spidey mash-up and therefore calls himself “hero to the judgment-impaired everywhere” among other self-deprecatory jokey stuff. Also, the storyline has the new, fun Daredevil plunging the bowels of the earth to retrieve the body of his dead father from all sorts of yucky creatures, only to find that he just doesn’t care anymore.

Art by the Riveras still is beautiful, especially the page layouts are great. But where in Daredevil one usually derives some pleasure from ingenious or playful ways to visualize his radar sense, they have now established the convention that Matt sees like we do only sort of in pink contour line drawings on a black ground. To the last detail. In one panel of the latest issue, there is even a break in perspective where we see Daredevil as a pink outline falling through a chute drawn as a contour map. My guess? They just don’t care anymore.

I’m still following Supergirl (DC) with distrustful delight. I fear I have to start giving the writers credit, because they’re keeping the pace marvelously (and I wasn’t exactly keen on how the so-called worldkillers looked in recent issues, these creatures weren’t designed by evolution, that’s for sure). The comic really builds: all the fights following from her natural impulse to just hit into something with grim determination for the lack of knowing what’s happening exactly. I especially like that so far there has been no out and out antagonist wanting to kill her. First her cousin, then that dealer in outer space flotsam who wanted to use her, now a worldkiller as a sort of bossy potential sister figure . . . values kept in clear boundaries only by the healthy workout of a fight. Or one could read this as a different take on fighting as means of communication in superhero comics, where usually opponents will keep up more or less witty small talk during the fights, which stays pretty meaningless, while the fists engage with each other and propel the narrative. This learning to get to know the world (and yourself, even in death) through your fists is explored with unprecedented care and detail here:

To make this a proper round-up: a quick shout-out to Milligan’s run on Hellblazer (Vertigo). It’s the only real run on a character in comics there is right now? I wonder how Milligan does it, since he also is churning out three or four titles a month, all the others complete and utter dreck? I do not really judge single issues anymore, I just greet them as friends (in need of some help before they go to hell), as long as they give me that dark eye-sockets crumbling from habitual dread-like stare Camuncoli and Landini are so great at. Also this:

I haven’t been able to get into the first issues of Brubaker and Phillips’ Fatale, they seem such a staid team by now, maybe they should try making a graphic novel out of De Lillo’s Underworld or something. But Winter Soldier (Marvel), Brubakers other new title with one Butch Guice on the pencil, has me hooked so far (yes, you need to get beyond unforgivable title pages). I usually wouldn’t much like art that looks like photo collages pushed through a digital faulty xerox plug-in, with all hand-drawn parts in complete ignorance of anatomical or physical logic, but they do that so very well. Also, the story, at least as long as I can’t quite follow it (I try to prolong that state by only skimming over the text), proves the healthiness of the motto for Brubaker/Phillips’ earlier Incognito: “The secret ingredient is pulp!” In this case an 800 pound gorilla blasting away on his 50 caliber machine gun:

If you want more great page layouts, the wonderful Javier Pulido has now been on The Shade (DC) for two issues. Although he can’t really help the thing. And Saucer Country (Vertigo) might prove worth following.


  1. Animal Man has definitely been stalling. The reason is pretty obvious: it's set to start a crossover with Swamp Thing that's been simmering since both titles began, but Scott Snyder needed more time to get things into place over in Swamp Thing. So the last few AM issues have sadly been obvious filler; I'm still enjoying it but it's clearly not at the same level that it was. Also, Foreman is off the book, apparently by his own choice: he said that his mother died recently and all the death-and-decay was getting to him. Steve Pugh is taking over. I'll definitely miss Foreman but I'm really looking forward to the Red/Green crossover. Swamp Thing has become the better of the 2 books after a slow start, the last couple of issues of that have had the same vibe as the first few issues of AM.

    Daredevil's taken a bit of a dip but I still like it too. The only issue I hated was the one with the blind kids in the snow, that was real weak. The rest has been fun, including the Spidey/Black Cat stuff, which I actually enjoyed more than the current Mole Man storyline.

    Loving Fatale so far mostly for Phillips' art but I'm finding it really hard to keep track of the story month-to-month. That's clearly one of those series that will be much better in collected form. The same goes for the Azzarello/Risso Spaceman, which is pretty baffling but fun.

    Winter Soldier is great too, love the art (unfortunately Guice is leaving soon) and the spy movie vibe. All the Brubaker Cap universe stuff is cool. He just wrapped up a pretty good story in Captain America & Bucky bolstered by typically amazing Francesco Francavilla art. The vanilla Captain A title isn't as good anymore, but I'm still reading it.

  2. Oh, and I wasn't sold on the first issue of Saucer Country, but I'll give it some time to see if it goes anywhere. I was much more into Brian K. Vaughan's new Image fantasy series Saga, which had a killer first issue with some great world-building setup.

  3. Damn, Guice too will leave. But maybe that's not so awful, I didn't think Winter Soldier looks much like his earlier work, so if they'll sit the next guy at the same computer ...

  4. I'm just wondering what happens - do TPTB tell Lemire to stall indefinitely or was that the two writers' plan? I'm bummed because I was looking forward to the AM trade.

  5. Trade will be 1 to 6, and I think I'll actually enjoy the slacker superhero movie issue much more as an outro that than in its own right, so that's okay with me. Somehow it seems more often that a run starts very good but then deteriorates than that irt really picks up (if it hasn't after the first couple of issues). Eg. I only like the first trade of Brubaker's Daredevil and more than half of the first much thicker one of the Bendis (that actually was quite brilliant, hard to imagine today).

    I have the new Daredevil and it would be a beautiful thing except for the awful production values, pages are lacquered so heavily that they repel the gaze. Marvel is often too dark and glossy in a cheap way, which really hurts the very clear layouts here.

  6. (sorry for all the typos and than thats, can't edit)

  7. Awful, awful issue 8 of Supergirl. All the build-up blown to dust. The as yet unknown singer from the Cranberries shacks up with Supergirl and plays a gig in a bar where she turns the audience into undead freaks by the power of her voice. This would date the story around 1990-91, which roughly corresponds with George Pérez' unspeakable "art," the best about which I can say is that the girls' rubber doll expressions do not seem to be meant offensively. Urgh.