February 22, 2013

The Pull List: 20 February 2013

DC Vertigo's Hellblazer ends this week with its 300th monthly issue. It's the longest-running title Vertigo ever had, and was written over a decades-long period by pretty much every top-class writer the imprint ever had. Its star John Constantine was created by Alan Moore, and the book was written by the likes of Jamie Delano, Garth Ennis, Peter Milligan, Brian Azzarello, Mike Carey, Andy Diggle, Paul Jenkins and Eddie Campbell.

Many readers and comic book enthusiasts have been quick to criticise DC for cancelling the book, although I suspect the vast majority of those angry at the cancellation were not reading it anyway. In December 2012 Hellblazer sold an estimated 9,132 copies. That's less than all six DC Universe books cancelled around the same time. The truth is that Hellblazer had been published on borrowed time for some years. Jump back 12 months to December 2011: back then the book was still only shifting 9,404 copies. December 2010? 9,342. December 2009? 10,334.

Many Vertigo titles turn a profit because, while the monthly sales are comparatively weak, the trade paperback sales are relatively strong. Books like 100 Bullets and Fables have thrived in the bookstore market. Hellblazer never had this fallback, simply because the series is too damn long. The Sandman can be collected into a neat collection of 10 books. At the same size of volume, Hellblazer would take 40 books to collect together.

With Hellblazer gone, and only Fables really holding the fort, I think it's maybe time to say goodbye to DC Vertigo. It produced some of the best mature readers comic books ever, but there's a time for everything, and Vertigo's time has passed. See you, John.

Under the cut: reviews of Action Comics, Batwoman, Daredevil, Green Lantern, Happy, It Girl and the Atomics, Justice League, Justice League of America, Legion of Super-Heroes, Revival, Saga, Sword of Sorcery, Thor: God of Thunder and Wonder Woman.
Action Comics #17
DC Comics. Written by Grant Morrison. Art by Rags Morales, Bradley Walker, Mark Propst and Andrew Hennessey. Backup written by Scholly Fisch. Backup art by Chris Sprouse and Karl Story.
The biggest problem with Morrison's Action Comics run, of which this is the penultimate issue, is that it is very difficult to follow on a month by month basis. A recent re-read of the first collected edition has revealed that this climactic storyline has actually been building since issue #1, but it's been such a long and complicated road to reach this point that it is very hard to keep it all in an understandable shape in my head. It's great, complex stuff, with a 5th dimensional villain crossing back and forth across Superman's timeline, but it's going to be a lot more readable once the entire 19 issue run is assembled together in three trade paperbacks for people to read at once. Of course issue #17 was originally going to be the finale, but once again Morrison has realised he needs another issue to get his story told. I remember him doing this with the climax of his JLA run as well.

The one really bizarre thing in this issue, which I assume is a result of the unexpected extra issue (which took six artists to get across the line), is the inclusion of a back-up strip that begins with the note "this story takes place after Action Comics #18". Surely it would have suited DC far better to hold this strip back a month and include it in the appropriate issue? As it is it feels like I'm reading a spoiler. (4/5)

Batwoman #17
DC Comics. Written by J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman. Art by J.H. Williams III.
It's been a long time coming (18 issues in total), but the Medusa arc finally reaches its climax. Batwoman and Wonder Woman join forces to take down Medusa, with Bette returning to active duty and personally defeating the villain who put her in hospital. This book is a string of satisfying payoffs, culminating in one of the best splash pages I have ever seen and an epilogue that completely blindsided me. I really hope that Batwoman and Wonder Woman team up again in the future: this issue is cleverly titled "World's Finest", and it suits the story perfectly. Wonder Woman really is Superman to Batwoman's Batman, and it's a friendship I can see developing in the years to come. This book also has the most gorgeous cover of the week that deserves to be some kind of print or poster. (5/5)

Daredevil #23
Marvel Comics. Written by Mark Waid. Art by Chris Samnee.
If you've been considering picking up Daredevil, this issue is a great jumping-on point - even if you've never read a Daredevil comic in your life. While Daredevil's best pal Foggy Nelson nervously awaits the results of a cancer test, someone is trying to recreate the accident that gave Daredevil his superpowers in the first place. Mark Waid is doing a continually great job of blending a light-hearted sense of humour and fun with some quite dark, depressing plots and themes. In a sense he's managing to have his cake and eat it too: this is the most fun Daredevil has been in more than a decade, yet he hasn't sacrificed the character's trademark misery and guilt in the process. Chris Samnee's art continues to please, with a great sketchy style that stands apart from most superheroic comic art. (4/5)

Green Lantern #17
DC Comics. Written by Geoff Johns. Art by Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy, Keith Champagne, Mark Irwin and Tom Nguyen.
Last issue Simon Baz headed off to help out Guy Gardner in the fight against the "third army". I never did find out what this third army was, because this issue starts with him a prisoner of the Guardians and trapped in the same room as an angry Black Hand. As a result I'm a little confused. This is the first instalment of "The Wrath of the First Lantern", which I can only assume will wrap up in the pages of Red Lanterns. Or maybe even Legion of Super-Heroes. Who can tell any more? Sorry DC, by tossing the plot into another book for a month you've confused me, and probably lost me as a reader. (2/5)

Happy #4
Image Comics. Written by Grant Morrison. Art by Darick Robertson.
Nick Sax, accompanied by the imaginary horse Happy, goes to rescue his daughter. It's a bit sad to discover that, after three great issues, the fourth and final part of Morrison and Robertson's Happy is a disappointment. It feels as if this could have been a more complex series, but for some reason Morrison tapped out and wrote the quickest conclusion possible. It may read better as a complete work, and I'm keen to go back at some point and read all four issues in a single hit. To be honest Robertson's artwork feels a little rushed this time around as well. It's not a terrible comic, but I was expecting something a lot more accomplished.

There's also something rather uncomfortable in how Nick's daughter (on the cover, tied up and gagged) doesn't get any sense of agency or even personality. She exists as an object to be reached, rather than as a character in her own right. As a result she feels little better than a dead body shoved into Kyle Rayner's refrigerator. I expected better. (2/5)

It Girl and the Atomics #7
Image Comics. Written by Jamie S. Rich. Art by Mike Norton.
After last month's Mr Gum segue, Rich and Norton return to a solo adventure for It Girl among the Alps, trying to rescue a kidnapped scientist. This comic continues to be tremendous fun, combining wonderful Allred-inspired pop art visuals with simple old-school storylines. It's never exceptional, but it's always enjoyable. I suppose my only real criticism of this book is that by using fairly large panels and relatively simple stories, this winds up being a pretty slight read. I'd love to see a few more panels per page and stories that whip along at a greater pace. (3/5)

Justice League #17
DC Comics. Written by Geoff Johns. Art by Ivan Reis, Paul Pelletier, Joe Prado, Oclair Albert and Sean Parsons.
"Throne of Atlantis" comes to a rousing end with an extra-length, loud, action-packed finale. This has been my dream DC superhero crossover - the kind of thing that comes in, tells a great story with a range of DC characters, and then finishes with some intriguing plot threads to weave into future titles. Aquaman gets a fresh direction, the Justice League are set to expand their roster, while the US government is looking at launching its own Justice League of America (more below). This has been well-paced, tightly-plotted and beautifully drawn by the art teams of both this and Aquaman. It almost got me interested in reading Justice League regularly.

I've been trying to work out why I got so annoyed at Green Lantern crossing over into Green Lantern Corps and why I ultimately haven't been annoyed at Aquaman crossing over into Justice League, which I don't usually read. I think the difference is that this was a widely advertised five-part crossover, whereas with Green Lantern they made it seem like you could easily just read Green Lantern before suddenly switching the finale to another book. (5/5)

Justice League of America #1
DC Comics. Written by Geoff Johns. Art by David Finch.
One of the hanging plot threads of Justice League #17 gets picked up straight away with this, the first issue of Justice League of America. Amanda Waller and Steve Trevor are putting together their own super-team, one that the US government can have a handle on, and which can - if it becomes necessary - take down the independent Justice League if something like "Throne of Atlantis" happens again. It's a great conceit and gives this book a nicely cynical, mean-spirited edge. This edge continues with some of their picks for the team: Hawkman, depicted as particularly violent and bloodthirsty (when did he become this violent? He wasn't like this when The Savage Hawkman started), Katana, Catwoman, Martian Manhunter, Green Arrow and the new Simon Baz handgun-wielding Green Lantern, plus Stargirl for public relations purposes and... Vibe.

Yeah, I don't get it either. It's Vibe. He's a terrible character remembered chiefly for being a terrible character. They've even given him his own solo monthly, which also premiered this week. I didn't bother buying it, because... dudes, it's Vibe. We live in a world where the Question doesn't get his/her own monthly book, Robin doesn't have a solo book, Stephanie Brown and Cassandra Cain don't even get to appear at all, and yet DC gives us Vibe. I give him eight issues.

As for this comic, it's a nice introduction to the new characters with some good hooks to lead into issue #2. I'm definitely checking it out again next month. This is a much better first issue than we got for either Justice League or Justice League International. (4/5)

Legion of Super-Heroes #17 
DC Comics. Written by Paul Levitz. Art by Keith Giffen and Scott Koblish.
Keith Giffen, a major contributor to the LSH mythos for much of the 1980s, returns to illustrate the start of a fresh story arc for the Legion. He brings an injection of energy that makes this a wildly dramatic and entertaining read, with action, danger, death and intrigue served in equal measure. I adore the old-fashioned six-panel layout Giffen is employing here, along with a deliberately retro-styled aesthetic similar to his work on OMAC last year. This is hands-down the best issue of Legion of Super-Heroes since the relaunch. Sadly Giffen isn't sticking around for long (just two issues, I think) but if Paul Levitz and Giffen's replacement can maintain this level of energy, then I think this book will be in damn good shape. (4/5)

Revival #7
Image Comics. Written by Tim Seeley. Art by Mike Norton.
Mike Norton is some kind of superhuman artistic machine, I swear. Not only does he provide art for two monthly books (Revival and It Girl), but he's also assisting Jamie McKelvie on Young Avengers at the same time. I honestly don't know how one man can work that fast and keep his quality so high. Quality is what we continue to get with Revival, which frankly should be as popular as The Walking Dead as I suspect it would appeal to many of the same readers. In this issue police officer Dana Cypress is chasing down a murderer who also happens to be one of the risen dead within the town. It's a grim, considered, creepy work of horror, like much of this comic. It continues to be exceptional stuff. (5/5)

Saga #10
Image Comics. Written by Brian K. Vaughn. Art by Fiona Staples.
This is pretty much how reading any issue of Saga goes down: I will smile warmly at a piece of well-informed human detail; I will break into a large smile at a sharp, perfectly-placed joke; I will turn a page and stare in awe at a strikingly original piece of artwork and design; I will marvel at a brilliantly paced action scene or verbal stand-off; I will fall in love with the issue's characters; I will be surprised at an unexpected plot twist or revelation; I will shout and swear at Vaughn when he appears to kill a character I've been loving to bits, and then forgive him because there's nothing better than a well-written death in a story. This is the 10th issue in a row that I've felt this way, and quite frankly this is the best American comic book published today. And Izobel is back this issue, which makes me happy. (5/5)

Sword of Sorcery #5
DC Comics. Written by Christy Marx. Art by Aaron Lopresti. Backup written by Marc Andreyko. Backup art by Andre Bressan.
Sword of Sorcery has already been cancelled, making this a 'dead book walking'. After last month's bizarre John Constantine crossover we're back into a high fantasy pastiche of rival houses and magically-infused jewels. It's just all become so crushingly generic: I was somewhat hopeful around this book's second or third issue that this was going to be quite a distinctive and enjoyable book, but to be honest it's wound up more than a little dull. (2/5)

Thor: God of Thunder #5
Marvel Comics. Written by Jason Aaron. Art by Esad Ribic.
Thor continues his fight across three time periods with Gorr the God Butcher. This has been a stunningly crafted story arc, with outstanding art by Esad Ribic that really accentuates the heightened, epic nature of Thor. It also now features time travel, which I am an absolute sucker for, and which superhero comics don't use nearly enough if you ask me. More and more Marvel Now seems to be a complete waste of time, so it's nice to see at least a few of the relaunched titles are worth reading: this one absolutely is. (4/5)

Wonder Woman #17
DC Comics. Written by Brian Azzarello. Art by Tony Akins, Amilcar Pinna and Nick Filardi.
Diana is reunited with War, in an issue that finally begins to pay off events set up back in Wonder Woman #0 in September. This book, which has essentially been following the one storyline for 18 months now, is a classic example of how to sustain such a lengthy arc without boring the readers to tears (like, say, Animal Man). Cliff Chiang appears to be taking this issue off, but his temporary replacement Tony Akins is a worthy replacement with a similar style. (4/5)

Winner of the Week: Well it has to be Saga, doesn't it? Any other choice would be ignoring the best comic in the USA.
Loser of the Week: I really was disappointed by Happy's conclusion, so I guess that wins the title this week.


  1. Hellblazer always struck me as the sort of comic that was more suited to a graphic novel format than monthly pamphlets. I'd be happy to pickup a standalone Constantine graphic novel once a year, telling a complete story each time out. In a sense, novels stole a leap on this comic when Jim Butcher started publishing his harry Dresden books-- Dresden's such an obvious Constantine-for-novels clone that it's almost insulting.

    1. 300 issues is a lot for any comic book character, let alone one with some a specific remit such as Constantine.

      I do agree that he would probably work better via graphic novels, and certainly by titling the new monthly comic Constantine DC are free to continue using the Hellblazer brand for adult-oriented Constantine adventurers if they want to.

    2. I stopped reading the pamphlets a long time ago, but have continued to pick up the GNs whenever I've got spare money to treat myself. While the standard varies depending on who writes/illustrates (which is par for the medium), it's a satisfying medium for this particular character, and something like "Chas: The Knowledge" stands alone perfectly in this format, where I'd probably be less tempted to pick up a Chas miniseries.

      Which might just be my particular prejudice, but it still seems a viable alternative to me.

    3. I think the problem is that if they publish a graphic novel, they profit from it, but if they publish a miniseries *and* the graphic novel, then they get two hits with the same product.


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