September 6, 2012

The Pull List: 5 September 2012

The first week of the month is always an expensive one for me, since more of the comics I regularly subscribe to seem to come out then than any other week. Before I dive into this week's eleven (count 'em) mini-reviews, I wanted to encourage you all to buy The Manhattan Projects. The first trade paperback was released yesterday, and in my opinion it's a must-buy.

The Manhattan Projects is written by Jonathan Hickman, for my money one of the best writers in American comics today. It's illustrated by Nick Pittara, who illustrated Hickman's excellent 2011 miniseries The Red Wing. It follows the exploits of a fictionalized Manhattan Project as they experiment with and investigate cybernetics, alternate worlds, alien civilizations and more. It's a strange, disturbing science fiction drama featuring a cyborg Werner Von Braun, an insane Albert Einstein, a computer simulation of Franklin D. Roosevelt and a very out-of-his-depth Richard Feynman. Check it out - I hope to see it on the Hugo shortlist for Best Graphic Story in 2013, although given the current track record of that particular category I'm not holding my breath.

Onto this week's comics. Under the cut: Action Comics, Animal Man, Batwing, Detective Comics, Green Lantern, Hawkeye, Lookouts, The Phantom Stranger, Stormwatch, Ultimate Comics Spider-Man and Worlds' Finest.

Action Comics #0
DC Comics. Written by Grant Morrison. Art by Ben Oliver.
Far and away the best-looking comic of the week, Action Comics marks the start of DC's "Zero Month" - every New 52 title is numbered #0 and presents an origin story, or a flashback, or some variation of the two. "The Boy Who Stole Superman's Cape" is a wonderful story, well realised and likeable, and to be honest should probably have been the first New 52 issue of this title. I've expressed frustration with Morrison's run on this title for a while, but this is just beautiful stuff. It's ably helped by Ben Oliver's painted artwork that just pops off the page. It's readable, enjoyable and exactly the kind of optimistic, relaxed style of Superman I was originally expecting from Morrison. Plus it's a stand-alone story, so feel free to buy this without having read the previous issues. 5/5

Animal Man #0
DC Comics. Written by Jeff Lemire. Art by Steve Pugh.
On the other hand, Animal Man #0 just feels like treading water. Subtext from previous issues is made into obvious text, a lot is explained that probably didn't need to be, and Buddy Baker himself is subjected to the mother of all retcons, uncomfortably squeezing Grant Morrison's legendary run on the title into Lemire's new paradigm. Why it was felt this needed to be done is beyond me, since there's a universe-wide reboot dividing Morrison and Lemire's run. Bottom line, however, is that this issue was simply a bit of a snooze-fest. 1/5

Batwing #0
DC Comics. Written by Judd Winick. Art by Marcus To.
Batwing is better, telling an actual origin story for its protagonist that ties in nicely to events seen through the first story arc and helps to illuminate the character a bit more. One year in, I'm a big fan of Batwing - it's managed to extend the DC Universe into Africa in a way that's dramatic and enjoyable, yet successfully balances DC Universe superheroics with some of the harsh truths of what life in Africa can be like. Making David an ex-child soldier could have been a recipe for disaster, but Winick's written it well enough to feel like a master stroke. Marcus To's art is pretty great too. 4/5

Detective Comics #0
DC Comics. Written by Gregg Hurwitz. Art by Tony S. Daniel.
Tony Daniel's off writing Detective Comics, but stuck around to provide art for this zero issue. That's good, because while I don't particularly enjoy his writing he is an outstanding artist. New writer Gregg Hurwitz provides a story set during Bruce Wayne's long absence from Gotham, learning from a Himalayan guru how to become a martial arts master. Unfortunately the story is marred by two severe problems: first up, it feels like something quickly cobbled together from every relevant cliche imaginable; secondly, there's a nasty hint of mysogyny here. The bottom line of the story ostensibly seems to be that Bruce shouldn't trust attractive women, and I'm not sure that's what Hurwitz intended. Mind you, if it is mysogyny, it's very pretty mysogyny. 2/5

Green Lantern #0
DC Comics. Written by Geoff Johns. Art by Doug Mahnke.
I haven't been picking up Green Lantern of late, but having just caught up with the first six issues via the hardcover collection, I felt intrigued enough by the prospect of this zero issue that I thought I'd give it a go. I'm glad I did. Unlike other zero issues, this one is actually set between issues #12 and #13 of the regular series, and introduces an all-new human Green Lantern: Detroit-based Simon Baz. He's a Muslim and a car thief, forced to crime to help support his sister-in-law after the death of his brother. This is a very hard-edged issue, incorporating anti-Islamic sentiments in the USA, 9/11, security theatre and acts of torture by the American government. I suspect readers are going to fall fairly cleanly into two camps: those who enjoy seeing a bit of sharp realism injected into Green Lantern, and those who think the whole issue is sensationalistic and tacky. I'm in the former camp, and I'm very excited to see this new person of colour and a Muslim take on the central role. 5/5

Hawkeye #2
Marvel. Written by Matt Fraction. Art by David Aja.
Two issues in, and it's looking like Hawkeye is a very solid must-buy from the House of Ideas. Like the first issue, it's a nicely self-contained comic with action, humour and exceptionally strong characterisation. In many ways I think it may actually be an even stronger issue than the first, with the introduction of Kate Bishop - an archer who assumed the role of Hawkeye some time back. Now we have both Hawkeyes running around together, shooting criminals with arrows and generally making a really entertaining comic out of it. Fraction's script pops. Aja's art is stunningly distinct and very readable. This comic was a joy. 5/5

Lookouts #1
Cryptozoic Entertainment. Written by Ben McCool and Robb Moomaerts.
Lookouts was a short-run online comic that temporarily replaced Penny Arcade, the massively popular and long-running videogame webcomic by Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins. It portrayed a bunch of what were essentially Cub Scouts in a high fantasy environment. It was very sweet, suitable for all ages, and all round likeable. This, what I believe may be the first comic book from Cryptozoic (they usually make games), is that concept and art style expanded out to a full 32 page comic. And it's delightful. Lushly coloured, wonderfully drawn and suitable for children of all ages. McCool and Moomaerts have done a wonderful job evoking the style established in the original Krahulik/Holkins strips. This first issue was published online via Comixology some time ago, but you have to check out the print version. It pops off the page like nobody's business and is a work of art in itself. Simply gorgeous. 5/5

The Phantom Stranger #0
DC Comics. Written by Dan Didio. Art by Brent Anderson.
Oh goodness me, I don't even know where to begin. Let's take Julie Andrews' advice: the Phantom Stranger is a supernatural DC character first published in 1952. He had four conflicting origins: either a Jew from Biblical times forced to walk the Earth for eternity after committing suicide, or a vengeful Jew who bribed a Roman Guard to let him be the one who flagellated Christ, or the sole survivor of a former universe observing our new one, or a fallen angel who refused to take sides during Lucifer's rebellion against God and thus was forced (as in option one) to walk the Earth for all eternity. In practical terms the Phantom Stranger was a mysterious supporting character who'd pop up in a superhero comic, tell them mystical mumbo-jumbo and observe their subsequent actions. He is, ultimately, a really boring and fundamentally non-dramatic character. Even if I hadn't read this debut issue, I would give The Phantom Stranger six months before DC announce its cancellation.

Dan Didio, DC's publisher and writer of the cancelled New 52 comic OMAC, writes this new iteration of The Phantom Stranger, with competent but weirdly outdated art by Brent Anderson. Didio gives the Stranger a fifth origin. Apparently the four pre-existing ones weren't ridiculous or vaguely imflammatory enough, so instead Didio makes him Judas. Yes, that Judas, and because he betrayed Jesus a magical council of wizards condemn him to walk the Earth for all eternity, only to be led to betray people if that betrayal pushed the world forward. Or something. To be honest it's all so limply written and superficial that I started to lose interest. This comic has all the depth of a 1960s title with the decompressed, slow storytelling of a 2000s title. We get a religiously offensive origin (although, in all fairness, it's probably less offensive than the one about a Jew whipping Jesus), then a very slow pointless story about the Stranger meeting Police Detective Jim Corrigan, accidentally betraying him (that seems to be the Stranger's superpower now) and leading to the birth of the Spectre.

It's a weird week for the DC Universe. On the one hand Green Lantern gets a Muslim protagonist. On the other, The Phantom Stranger essentially proves Christianity is the one true religion of the New 52.

I'm fairly leery of Didio writing a DC title at all, to be honest. The man is co-publisher of DC Comics, and is ultimately responsible for a lot of the hiring and firing that goes on. Giving himself regular little writing jobs on the side just feels... tacky. He's not a bad writer - I didn't mind his short run on OMAC, for example - but he feels a very outdated, mediocre one. Better writers are out there who could do a better job on the comics Didio is giving to himself to write. It's also very apparent that The Phantom Stranger is going to be a key title leading into 2013's mega-crossover event The Trinity War, which would seem to be a massive reason to give this comic to the best damn writer possible.

This is a horrible comic. I resent the four dollars or so it cost me to buy it. I resent losing the 10 minutes it took me to read it. In a nutshell: Didio has taken an old character nobody cares about, given them their own title, created for them an all-new batshit origin story, and then written a very dull story about them. I feel sorry for Brent Anderson for having to draw this thing. I feel sorry for all the other readers who've already bought it to try it out. I feel sorry for all the writers who pitched comics to DC in recent months only to have them turned down, and then to see this get published instead.

I wrote a sitcom pilot once. A proof-of-concept pilot was actually produced, and submitted to the TV network that paid for it. They rejected it. My producer phoned me to break the news, and wisely said "Buddy, you may think it hurts right now, but trust me: this is nothing compared to the pain you'll feel when you see what piece of shit they've decided to greenlight instead." Those prospective DC writers must be in a lot of pain today. 0/5

Stormwatch #0
DC Comics. Written by Peter Milligan. Art by Ignacio Calero and Scott Clark.
This zero issue just felt like filler. It retells the history of many of the Jennies of the centuries, something that will be familiar to long-time readers of Stormwatch. It also ties Stormwatch back to Demon Knights a bit more closely. I don't know - for some reason it bored me. I've been feeling this way about Stormwatch in waves since it started. I think it may have had enough extra chances and is getting cut from my pull list. I don't especially look forward to reading it, and it's usually the last comic in a given week that I'll get around to reading. Plus with Martian Manhunter gone it's lost my favourite character. 2/5

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #14
Marvel. Written by Brian Michael Bendis. Art by David Marquez and Jorge Malina.
I'm running out of superlatives for this comic. It's just so consisently good. This issue sees Miles receive direct orders from Captain America to cease and desist trying to become a superhero, and the later Peter Parker's Aunt May telling Miles to just ignore Cap and do what he feels is right. Yes, this is a slow-paced comic, but it's also so wonderfully characterised with what feel like real people in extraordinary situations. 4/5

Worlds' Finest #0
DC Comics. Written by Paul Levitz. Art by George Perez and Kevin Maguire.
This is the final zero issue of the week, and thankfully it's one of the good ones. Here we get to see Power Girl and Huntress back when they were Supergirl and Robin. It's wonderful. I loved the characters - I particularly loved the insight into married life between Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle. It's got action, drama and heartbreak. Oh that final splash page. The expression on Helena's face. The dialogue. Not necessarily the best comic of the week, but possibly the most emotionally effective. 4/5

Winner of the Week: Such a hard choice - this was a really strong week. I think I'm going to recommend Lookouts - it's an awesome all-ages title that really deserves a lot of success.
Loser of the Week: The Phantom Stranger #0. Easily the worst thing I've reviewed since starting The Pull List.

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