March 22, 2013

The Pull List: 20 March 2013

Check out the illustration to the left: pretty cool, isn't it? This was originally intended to be the cover to Supergirl #62, part of Nick Spencer's proposed new direction for the title. It would have seen Supergirl taking on a more pro-active leadership role among the DC Universe's teen heroes. And check out that cast: Damian Wayne, Stephanie Brown, Miss Martian, Static Shock, Blue Beetle, a girl Impulse - this is the sort of bright, optimistic vision of the DC Universe that I really want to see. Also note: more girls than boys.

For more of what Spencer had planned - before it was nixed by DC's editors and Spencer wound up not writing the book at all - check out this Comic Books Resources article here.

Flash-forward to 2013, and rumours of DC's editorial interference are reaching clamorous levels. Andy Diggle has resigned as writer of Action Comics before his run's even started, and in a week where every DC title features a special preview of his run. Joshua Hale Fialkov has resigned as writer of Green Lantern Corps and Red Lanterns, again before his run has commenced. In his case it appears to be in protest over an editorial mandate to kill off Green Lantern John Stewart, the DC Universe's most notable African-American superhero.

It only seems a few months ago that Gail Simone was fired, and then subsequently rehired after an Internet protest. Before that it was Rob Liefeld quitting the company, citing excessive editorial interference.

This can't continue: DC has the strongest stable of superhero characters in the world. It should be a home for smart ideas, great writers and wonderful artists. Instead it's becoming an editorially-driven machine, churning out commodities for an ever-shrinking market of die-hards and collectors.

In 1992 Bill Clinton won the United States Presidency on the simple mandate of "it's the economy, stupid". Fix the economy, and the rest of the country will follow. DC desperately needs a similar mandate: "it's the story, stupid". Get the stories right, and the rest of the comic line will follow. Hire smart writers, and talented artists, and get out of their way. DC should be a place of bright, smart action-adventure stories, like Nick Spencer's Supergirl proposal. Instead it circles a drain of cynicism, shock tactics and sales gimmicks. Next month all of the New 52 titles will feature gatefold covers, depicting "shock" moments once opened. How's this for a shock: make good stories.

Under the cut: a big week, with reviews of Action Comics, All-New X-Men, Batwoman, Constantine, Daredevil, Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time, It Girl and the Atomics, Justice League of America, Legion of Super-Heroes, Revival, Saga, Storm Dogs, Sword of Sorcery, Ultimate Comics Spider-Man and Wonder Woman.
Action Comics #18
DC Comics. Written by Grant Morrison. Art by Rags Morales and Brad Walker, Andrew Hennessy and Cam Smith. Backup written by Scholly Fisch.
Grant Morrison's run finally concludes with this high-priced, deeply confusing climax. I really haven't enjoyed this final story arc, in which Morrison uses a villain from the 5th dimension to tell a crazy time-travelling story that deliberately references the whole of Superman's history. There have been a few highlights in Morrison's 19-issue run, but to be honest it's a pale shadow of his work on other titles. I worry that, in terms of superheroes, his creative well might have run dry. I didn't appreciate DC pricing this final issue at US$4.99 either. (2/5)

All-New X-Men #9
Marvel Comics. Written by Brian Michael Bendis. Art by Stuart Immonen and Wade von Grawbadger.
Kitty Pryde continues to train the time-travelling X-Men, while secrets and internal divisions begin to form cracks in the team. Jean Grey continues to slowly grow out of control. It seems a shame: readers finally get a fresh new, non-Phoenix Jean Grey, and it looks like things are going to go in that direction sooner rather than later. Like most of Bendis' comics work, the pleasure in this book is in the long-term payoff of character and plot developments, and there are developments a-plenty here, including a "can't miss the next issue" cliffhanger at the end. Plus Sabretooth is back! I thought he was dead. I really don't keep track of Marvel continuity. (4/5)

Batwoman #18
DC Comics. Written by J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman. Art by Trevor McCarthy.
The way that Williams and Blackman have crafted their own little niche in the DC Universe, and populated it with a growing range of well-formed supporting characters, is really reminding me of 1990s hit Starman. Both books do a marvellous job of teasing out plot and character threads in the background of one story arc, and then weaving them into the spotlight with the next. Here we see a lot of family connections brought to the foreground, which bodes well for high drama in the coming months. Trevor McCarthy provides the art to this issue; he's got a good style that's distinct from Williams but doesn't feel like a jarring leap away from it. (5/5)

Constantine #1
DC Comics. Written by Raw Fawkes and Jeff Lemire. Art by Renato Guedes.
The main point first and foremost: many (including me) were anticipated a creative disaster for a DC Universe John Constantine comic, and it's a relief to say that this first issue is actually pretty decent: while obviously the sex and swearing is out, John still smokes and drinks to excess and - most importantly - is a deeply untrustworthy bastard not worth trusting as far as you can throw him. It's also thankfully priced at $2.99, which makes me far more inclined to continue reading. My second point: Constantine was famously based on popular musician Sting in terms of his look and feel. The New 52 Constantine is clearly based on Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He looks exactly like James Marsters, and once you've got Marster's cod-English accent in your head you can't hear Constantine's lines any other way. (4/5)

Daredevil #24
Marvel Comics. Written by Mark Waid. Art by Chris Samnee.
This feels like one of those "calm before the storm" issues. Foggy begins to receive treatment for his cancer. Matt finally catches up with potential love interest Kirsten McDuffie. The mastermind behind the scenes, who's been responsible for pretty much every attack on Daredevil in the past two years, prepares to make their final move. Month in, month out: this is such an incredibly reliable read. I particularly liked Matt and Kirsten's scene in this issue: a surprisingly mature and adult conversation for what is essentially an action-oriented fantasy. (5/5)

Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time #3
IDW. Written by Scott and David Tipton. Art by Mike Collins.
Three issues in and the format of Prisoners of Time is becoming fairly clear: a one-shot generic story for each Doctor, culminating in the sudden and unexplained kidnapping of his companions. As a result I suspect your enjoyment of each issue is going to vary based on your feelings about each era of Doctor Who's television series. In this case it's a humdrum story of the Third Doctor, Sarah-Jane Smith, Liz Shaw and UNIT fighting an alien invasion. The Tiptons clearly know their Who history, and fill each issue with nice nods to each respective Doctor's time on the show, but overall there's a sense of low ambition. This is a relatively pleasant exercise in nostalgia, rather than something genuinely interesting and unmissable. (Note: as with the first issue, the villain on the cover does not actually appear in the book.) (2/5)

It Girl and the Atomics #8
Image Comics. Written by Jamie S. Rich. Art by Mike Norton.
You see this is the sort of tone I'd like to see from a DC Universe title occasionally. It's fun, breezy and wildly entertaining. Mike Norton's art just pops off the page, and it's impossible to read without smiling while you do it. After an initial five-issue arc and a one-off segue, I expected that the second arc would last another five or six issues. Much to my surprise this second story got neatly wrapped up in two issues. I like this pace of storytelling. I like this comic. (4/5)

Justice League of America #2
DC Comics. Written by Geoff Johns. Art by David Finch. Backup written by Geoff Johns and Matt Kindt. Backup art by Scott Clark.
What the hell is going on with these characters? First up you've got Catwoman with her catsuit unzipped to the navel, strutting around like she's less jewel thief and more porn star. Then you've got Hawkman, weirdly re-envisaged as a psychopathic, blood-soaked idiot (no really, he turns up to his first JLA meeting soaked in somebody's blood). Then you've got Amanda Waller shouting about how "goddammit we need this team to take down the Justice League!!", without any explanation as to why the world's finest superheroes are in need of being taken down. Finally you've got the Martian Manhunter offering to wipe people's memories and being a generally creepy, unlikeable prick. Let's round off the team with Stargirl acting like a stereotypical cheerleader and Vibe asking what most of the readership is asking: "why the hell am I here?"

Geoff Johns has written some outstanding superhero comics. I adored his run on The Flash, and "The Sinestro Corps War" is very likely the finest Green Lantern story arc ever written. I don't know what happened to that Geoff Johns, because this stuff is just actively unlikeable. (1/5)

Legion of Super-Heroes #18
DC Comics. Written by Paul Levitz. Art by Keith Giffen and Scott Koblish.
Things have all gone to hell in the most entertaining and rivetting of ways. Paul Levitz has slowly brought the book to a crisis point, where the Fatal Five are returning and everything seems to have exploded, crashed and died all at the same time. Keith Giffen is still hanging around this month providing art, which makes me very happy. I adore the slightly Romita-esque style he's working in here. Like Demon Knights, which I discussed last week, Legion of Super-Heroes is currently living on borrowed time; but if it has to go, it's going out in style. This is the best this book has been since it relaunched. (4/5)

Revival #8
Image Comics. Written by Tim Seeley. Art by Mike Norton.
With every issue Revival grows in complexity and tone. It really is like reading a television series in comic book form, one so effective that it beggars belief that attempts to get a pilot off the ground last year ended in failure. This issue focuses more on character development than anything else, but the characters are so well developed that this makes it an absolutely brilliant read. If you're a fan of horror and slightly creepy stuff, you really need to track down the first trade paperback of Revival and check it out. And Mike Norton is an artistic machine. He has two comics out this week: this and It Girl. They couldn't be more different in style, yet he knocks it out of the park both times. (5/5)

Saga #11
Image Comics. Written by Brian K. Vaughn. Art by Fiona Staples.
The best part of Saga this month is not to be found within the comic itself: have a read of the first letter in the letter's page: now that's a cliffhanger. The remainder of the book is typically excellent: great dialogue, warm characters, crazy sci-fi and fantasy ideas, beautiful artwork. To be completely honest it's not quite up to the usual standard this month: it suffers from a similar problem to Batman Incorporated #8, in that while dramatic events occur, we won't get to see the emotional payoff until next issue. (4/5)

Storm Dogs #4
Image Comics. Written by David Hine. Art by Doug Braithwaite.
The murder team finally visit the lands of the Elohi to continue their investigation. This is a great science fiction book with neat ideas, strong scripting and excellent artwork. It pleases me immensely to read in the letters page that Hine and Braithwaite are planning at least a second six-issue miniseries in this universe, with the potential for even more down the line. While I'm really enjoying this month-by-month, I can't wait to see how it reads in a collected graphic novel. There's a lovely European quality to the book that I think will help it once collected together. (4/5)

Sword of Sorcery #6
DC Comics. Written by Christy Marx. Art by Aaron Lopresti. Backup written by Marc Andreyko. Backup art by Andrei Bressan.
John Constantine is back and, like in his own title, he's portrayed as an untrustworthy, cynical backstabber. Here he convinces Eclipso to leave Earth on a one-way trip - and back to his home world of Nilaq. The manner in which Christy Marx has tied long-term DC villain Eclipso into the backstory of Amethyst is a masterstroke, and it's a shame that this continuity tie-in is happening on the eve of Sword of Sorcery's cancellation. This is a great issue, and has given this book a much-needed focus. (4/5)

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #21
Written by Brian Michael Bendis. Art by Sara Pichelli.
It is absolutely fantastic to see the return of Gwen Stacy and Mary-Jane Watson in this issue. It really ties this new(ish) version of Spider-Man in with the old, and they're such great versions of the characters that it's a joy every time they crop up. The best part of this storyline at the moment is that I have no idea where Bendis is taking it. All I know is that the characters are uniformly brilliant, and Sara Pichelli's art is among the best being published by Marvel or DC today. (5/5)

Wonder Woman #18
DC Comics. Written by Brian Azzarello. Art by Tony Akins and Dan Green.
It's climax time as Diana, Orion and War face off against Hermes and Demeter for the fate of Zola's child. This has been an incredibly long story arc, but for some reason this one has kept me interested and engaged right the way through unlike other long DC arcs like Animal Man's "Rotworld". It's a testament to Azzarello's skills as a writer that it's been entertaining as it has. This is another patchwork issue in terms of art, with different artists contributing a few pages each - presumably to get the book out on time. Despite this, it's actually pretty seamless. (I also wonder how many readers have noticed that War looks exactly like Brian Azzarello.) (4/5)

Winner of the Week: This week I'm giving it to Revival. Everyone should be reading this.
Loser of the Week: Justice League of America. Mr Johns, I know Hawkman. I've read nearly every Hawkman comic since the 1980s. This, sir, is not Hawkman.


  1. "Plus Sabretooth is back! I thought he was dead."

    He probably was. This *is* the X-Men we are talking about, after all.

    1. From Wiki:

      ...In the ensuing battle Wolverine cuts off Sabretooth's left arm with the Muramasa. Sabretooth, still in his animalistic state tries to re-attach his arm allowing his healing factor to kick in, but it does not work. Wolverine explains to a bewildered Creed that it is because the sword interrupts the healing factor and that he has to finally kill Sabretooth for what he's done. Wolverine then decapitates Sabretooth, finally putting an end to his long-time enemy. Logan then walks away, leaving both Creed's body and head in the snow to rot.

      I mean, either he's got so much healing factor you can basically forget about him as ever being a meaningful character again, or somebody needed a leak and used continuity as a wetpad, but either way, c'mooooonnnnn.....

  2. Good point about Wonder Woman v Rotworld. I think the fact that Rotworld had a big reset button looming over it didn't help.


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