December 6, 2012

The Pull List: 5 December 2012

This week DC Comics confirmed that DC Vertigo editor Karen Berger will be stepping down and leaving the company, ending an association with them that has endured since 1979. She was the editor of Alan Moore's Swamp Thing and, by following a personal interest in the horror genre, spearheaded the development of The Sandman, Hellblazer, Shade the Changing Man and then - in 1993 - the acclaimed DC Vertigo imprint.

It's not enough to suggest that Karen Berger had an enormous influence over Vertigo. For all intents and purposes Berger is Vertigo. With her departure I strongly suspect the imprint will close up shop within 12-24 months. It's glory days are long past and, while new and worthwhile series are always being developed there, it has nothing of the support from DC Comics at-large that it used to enjoy.

Vertigo used to be the go-to place for creator-driven, long-form comic book works: Neil Gaiman's The Sandman. Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon's Preacher. Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson's Transmetropolitan. Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso's 100 Bullets. Grant Morrison's The Invisibles (still my all-time favourite comic book). Today readers are better off looking to Image Comics, and a new generation of writers such as Robert Kirkman and Jonathan Hickman. These are writers who, 15 years ago, would have been making their best work for DC. Now they're making it someplace else.

It's clear that DC has no interest in sustaining Vertigo in the future. They've strip-mined it for old IP (John Constantine, Swamp Thing, Animal Man). They've cancelled their longest-running title, Hellblazer, in favour of re-fashioning its lead character as a superhero. The once strong range of prospective long-running titles has slowed to a trickle (has there been a new monthly launched since Paul Cornell's Saucer Country?). DC Comics is now solely aimed at generating corporate IP for film and television, and a mature readers line of creator-owned, corporate-supported titles doesn't help that aim at all. It's a shame: it feels as if they haven't just let the creative fields run fallow - they've burned and salted the earth underneath as well.

I suspect the first rival publisher to offer Berger an editorial job, a health commissioning budget and carte blance to publish what she sees fit, will make an awful lot of money in the future.

Under the cut: reviews of Action Comics, All-New X-Men, Animal Man, Avengers, Batwing, Cyber-Force, Detective Comics, Great Pacific, Hawkeye, The Human Bomb, I Love Trouble, Red She-Hulk, Storm Dogs, Stormwatch, Thunderbolts and Worlds' Finest.

Action Comics #15
DC Comics. Written by Grant Morrison. Art by Rags Morales and Mark Propst. Backup written by Scholly Fisch, with art by Chris Sprouse and Karl Story.
So it turns out a fifth-dimensional villain is attacking Superman simultaneously in his past, present and future. These sorts of reality-bending shenanigans are old hat to Morrison, and they're definitely old hat to his readers. I'm about as big a fan of Morrison as you're likely to find, and even I would have to concede at this point that he's revisiting the well one time too often. On a page-by-page basis, this book is still great: good dialogue and characterisation combined with great artwork. I just wish it gave me something that didn't feel quite so reheated. (3/5)

All-New X-Men #3
Marvel Comics. Written by Brian Michael Bendis. Art by Stuart Immonen, Wade Von Grawbadger and Marte Gracia.
Oh Marvel, are you fucking kidding me? Let's re-cap: All-New X-Men #1 came out on 14 November. Two weeks later, All-New X-Men #2 came out on 28 November. One week later and All-New X-Men #3 comes out. That's three $3.99 comics in the space of a month. That's $11.97 just on one superhero comic for one month. The only reason I purchased this issue was because the first two were so good, and it turns out this third issue is nowhere near as accomplished. This week we get to follow the modern-day Cyclops as he crawls around in sackcloth and ashes feeling sorry for himself with new best friend Magneto. He's miserable because his powers have gone all wacky. He's miserable because his girlfriend has dumped him. He's miserable because he murdered Professor X and all of his friends now hate him. And he hasn't even encountered young Jean Grey yet. Basically this issue is a four dollar lesson in why Cyclops is a dick, and why no one who reads comics has ever been heard to say 'oh yeah, I'm a huge fan of Cyclops - he's my favourite X-Man'. (2/5)

Animal Man #15
DC Comics. Written by Jeff Lemire. Art by Steve Pugh, Timothy Green II and Joseph Silver.
I really do want to like this comic, but with each succeeding issue it's failing to grab my attention. I just want this "Rotworld" arc to be over: it's been building up to it since the first issue and I'm frankly exhausted by it. Speaking of Frank, this issue does feature a guest appearance by Frankenstein, Agent of SHADE, which made me a little bit interested. Overall, however, this comic needs to find a new direction as soon as possible, or just end. Or I may simply drop it. Steve Pugh's art is still quite nice, for what it's worth. (2/5)

Avengers #1
Marvel Comics. Written by Jonathan Hickman. Art by Jerome Opena.
Everybody seems to be going crazy for this comic but me. I'm usually the first person to start ranting about how great Hickman's work is, but this issue - for some unidentifiable reason - utterly failed to interest me. There's some obvious foreshadowing for future storylines, the set-up of some random superhero fight on the surface of Mars, and a cliffhanger ending that comes far too soon into the storyline. Basically there isn't enough here to interest me, and the knowledge going in that this book is scheduled to publish 24 issues a year is keeping me well away in the future. By the way, Marvel, the kerning is a little close on Captain America's line "Nicely done, Clint!" You know what I'm talking about. (2/5)

Batwing #15
DC Comics. Written by Fabian Niceiza. Art by Marcus To and Ryan Winn.
Another story arc concludes - I mention this in case you wanted to pick the book up next issue, with the start of a new storyline. There's not a lot I can say about this issue that I haven't said about all of the previous ones. This is a comic that's consistently good without being great, with likeable characters that aren't quite being fully explored, and a setting that's by-and-large being used sensitively but not as inventively as I'd like. It's an enjoyable read each month, but it could be so much more. Then again, who'd have honestly thought "the Batman of Africa" would have lasted 16 issues and counting? (3/5)

Cyber Force #2
Image Comics. Written by Marc Silvestri and Matt Merhoff. Art by Khoi Pham and Sunny Gho.
This is the second issue of Marc Silvestri's free-to-the-reader relaunch, and so it would be fairly ungrateful of me to broadly criticize a comic I got for free. Screw it - this is a really dull, by-the-numbers comic book. The art is okay, albeit in a particular style, but the story the art is telling is just instantly forgettable. I never read the original Cyber Force, and maybe if I had this comic would mean more to me. While I'm sure this comic is doing fine as a free thing readers can pick up at the comic shop counter, I can't imagine this selling particularly well once it starts costing $3.99 a month. (1/5)

Detective Comics #15
DC Comics. Written by John Layman. Art by Jason Fabok. Backup art by Andy Clarke.
This issue came with a die-cut cover (not pictured above) heralding it as part of the big "Death of the Family" crossover. Inside, however, there are at best three references to that storyline. The rest is continuing on with the Poison Ivy-Clayface storyline from last issue. My best guess is that the tie-in was an editorial mandate that new writer John Layman resisted to the point where it was essentially irrelevant. The issue itself is enjoyable, but by no means a must-read. (3/5)

Great Pacific #2
Image Comics. Written by Joe Harris. Art by Martin Morazzo.
So a teen billionaire has lifted billions of dollars from his own company, faked his own death and laid claim to the Pacific Ocean garbage patch. I was quite ambivalent about the first issue, but this second instalment has really picked up the quality in quite an amazing way. You can see the rough geography of the series in this issue in a way that wasn't possible last month. It's a great premise, rich with speculative fiction potential and pro-environment themes, and it's a relief to see that Joe Harris may be doing something genuinely good with it. (4/5)

Hawkeye #5
Marvel Comics. Written by Matt Fraction. Art by Javier Pulido.
For the fifth issue in a row, Matt Fraction has written a comic that is as close to faultless as a superhero comic can get. Here we have an Ocean's 11-style caper disguised as a superhero comic, combining humour, drama and action in a marvellously fluid manner. We have multiple positive female characters. We have a tightly plotted, massively entertaining storyline that's been completed in two issues that has been better value for money than pretty much every other comic book from DC or Marvel this year. I could try to pick out highlights, but to be honest there's not a page in this thing that isn't either perfectly paced, or beautifully presented, or ridiculously inventive. If you're not currently reading Hawkeye, you're not reading the best American comic on the market. (5/5)

Human Bomb #1
DC Comics. Written by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti. Art by Jerry Ordway.
For the past year Palmiotti and Gray have been writing a string of short mini-series introducing all of the old Quality Comics characters back into the DC Universe. Precisely which universe is unclear - as far as I know they haven't yet established whether these books take place in the New 52 universe proper or some self-contained version a la Earth 2. They've done The Ray, they've done Phantom Lady and Dollman, and now they're setting out with artist Jerry Ordway on a four-issue reintroduction of the Human Bomb. It's a solid, entertaining first issue, with clean, "old school" artwork by Ordway (seriously, the man has been drawing comic books since before I was born). It's $2.99 a month for four months (as opposed to All-New X-Men's $11.97 for one month), it can't hurt to keep reading. (3/5)

I Love Trouble #1
Image Comics. Written by Kel Symons. Art by Mark A. Robinson.
Women drawn in unnecessarily sexualised poses? Check. Women treated as sex objects? Check. Violence against women performed in a light-hearted, jokey fashion? Check. Can I leave it at that and move on? No? Okay, then. There's a lot of potential in this title's premise (low-level female hoodlum gets teleporting powers) and periodic moments when the book really works. There's a great opening plane crash that's as good as anything I've seen published this week. But man oh man does this comic have issues with women - and I'm not even certain it's creators would realise that. I'll never regret trying a comic book out, but I'm certainly not getting onboard for the remainder of the story. (1/5)

Red She-Hulk #60
Marvel Comics. Written by Jeff Parker. Art by Carlo Pagulayan and Wellington Alves.
I'm really glad I stuck with this beyond the first issue (#58), because Red She-Hulk has become an absolutely outstanding, surprisingly complex superhero comic. I was surprised to see the book tie into characters and elements from Jonathan Hickman's bizarre Marvel historical SHIELD, but its an addition that really works. It also benefits hugely from having Machine Man as a viewpoint character - it allows Betty Ross (the titular Red She-Hulk) more of an unknown quantity, and the book as a whole benefits from the unease around her. Sadly without the virtue of a new issue #1, and as a spin-off of a spin-off, I can't see this book going the distance sales-wise, but while it lasts I'm going to be reading it. (4/5)

Storm Dogs #2
Image Comics. Written by David Hine. Art by Doug Braithwaite.
David Hine and Doug Braithwaite's science fiction mystery continues with a second great issue. This book manages to push its plot along at a satisfying pace, develop its characters and make use of some great science fiction at the same time. This is developing into one of the best science fiction comics of the year, and as I've regularly noted this has been a great year for science fiction comics. We're still at the early stages too, so if you've been on the fence with this one there's almost certainly still time to pick up the first two issues and get onboard from the start. (4/5)

Stormwatch #15
DC Comics. Written by Peter Milligan. Art by Pete Conrad.
Midnighter goes on the run from the team in an issue that runs fast enough that you might almost not notice the enormous holes in the plot. The big hole is this: the events of this issue only work if you assume the Stormwatch team are - Midnighter excepted - ridiculously unobservant and stupid. Now they certainly haven't done much in this book to make me assume they're particularly smart, but neither do they seem like chumps. This book remains all over the place. Individual issues sometimes contain great stuff, but none of it links together it a way that makes it feel like it's making sense on the whole. (2/5)

Thunderbolts #1
Marvel Comics. Written by Daniel Way. Art by Steve Dillon.
The best element of this book, just to lay it out front, is that it has Steve Dillon drawing Frank Castle again, and Dillon is to my mind the best artist to ever draw the Punisher. I don't know how long Dillon will be staying on the title, but he gives it a classy look from the outset. I also like the idea of a down-and-dirty super-team comprising the Punisher, Elektra, Deadpool, Red Hulk and Venom. In terms of execution, this issue is all set-up. We reach the end of a book at precisely where I wanted them to start it. As a result, it's all kind of a waste: I wouldn't be surprised if you could just skip this issue and head straight for #2, where I assume the story will begin for real. Not sure if I'm personally going to bother myself. (2/5)

Worlds' Finest #7
DC Comics. Written by Paul Levitz. Art by Kevin Maguire, George Perez and Scott Koblish.
Wonder Girl goes to Africa on the trail of Apokalips technology, while parallel universe-in-law siblings Huntress and Robin go hunting for wolves. While this issue lacks the most satisfying elements of the last issue, it's still a great Huntress-Robin team-up. The pair work together well enough that I hope we get to see more of it down the line. I was sad when DC rebooted the Helena Bertinelli Huntress in favour of Helena Wayne - eight issues in, I wouldn't want it any other way. (4/5)

Dropped Titles: All-New X-Men, Avengers, I Love Trouble, Thunderbolts.
Winner of the Week: Hawkeye #5. This is truly the comic book that can do no wrong.
Loser of the Week: Cyber-Force #2. Sure it's free, but it still costs you time. 

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