Monday, September 10, 2012

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 9/5

Detective Comics #0
Story: Greeg Hurwitz/James Tynion IV
Art: Tony Daniel & Pere Perez/ Henrik Jonsson

The first of the DC Zero Month Batman titles was a pleasant surprise. Bruce Wayne's time away, training to be Batman, is a period that has actually had very little exposure in comics. Batman Begins spends a good amount of time with it, and one of the best episodes of Batman: The Animated Series, "Night of the Ninja," also features Bruce learning martial arts skills. But in the comics, more time has been spent with Henri Ducard and Harvey Harris, the men who taught Bruce the manhunting and detective skills, than with his martial arts history. The issue is about Bruce taking his final step, with his final master, the cold and unrelenting Shihan Matsuda. Much of the story works like any martial arts training montage you've ever seen, with Matsuda training Bruce and insulting him when he fails, with Matsuda's wife soothing Bruce's aches and offering comfort where Matsuda offers scorn. But part of Matsuda's training is the denial of emotion and connection, and we see part of where Bruce's inability to connect with others comes from. The ending of the story shows Bruce that betrayal is always around the corner, and that trust can get you killed, lessons that I think he struggles with to this day. While I enjoyed the main story, the back-up, featuring Alfred during Bruce's years away, was the real gem. Having established Bruce's mother, Martha, as part of the Kane family, who are still alive since Batwoman is probably related to them as well, this story explains why young Bruce never went to live with his relatives. But more important than a continuity fix, the story showcases Alfred's love and dedication to the Wayne family, and to Bruce. Alfred is a constant presence in Bruce's life, and I enjoy a story that really puts the focus on him, reminding us that he is more than just Bruce's gentleman's gentleman, but his friend and family. The two stories work well off each other, with the Matsuda's as Bruce's surrogate family filled with pain, and Alfred, who shows nothing but unconditional love. I hope that the remaining issues exploring the revised origin of Batman in the New 52 are of a similar quality; it will lay a nice groundwork for new readers to understand Batman.

Fairest #7
Story: Matthews Sturges
Art: Shawn McManus

The first arc of the Fables spin-off Fairest was a fun little yarn that put some pieces that had been off the table back into play, and introduced a couple fun new characters. This issue, on the other hand, take a couple of the existing pieces and shines a completely new light on them. Set in the 40s, Beast is out of Fabletown, home in exile of fairy tale characters, on a quest to track down and capture the Lamia, an ancient Greek snakewoman who is killing men, while trying to stay one step ahead of St. George, the legendary dragon slayer, who wants to kill the monster. Told as a letter from Beast to his wife, Beauty, we see Beast working the case, following clues in a classic gumshoe tale, to a bloody confrontation between all the characters. Beast is a character who has been part of Fables since issue one, but has never really had much of a spotlight, and it's odd to see that spotlight in a book geared towards the female Fables cast. There's a scene at the end of the issue between Beast and Bigby Wolf, the lycanthropic Big Bad Wolf who serves as Fabletown's sheriff, that begins to explain some of the animosity that regular readers of the Fables universe have seen in the past. The ending is a major twist, one that readers could figure out if they read the issue carefully, and one that completely shakes up the status quo for some of the regular characters in the series. I'm hoping to see the revelation played out in the course of upcoming stories in this title or the main book, but the final page switches genres beautifully, not working as a noir, but as the perfect cap to a thriller, with Beast again faced with the choices he has made before, and wondering what he will have to do if things come to a head again. It's a great ending, full of possibilities for stories, and since stories rest at the center of Fables, there is no better ending.

The Muppets #3
Story & Art: Roger Langridge

This is the penultimate issue of The Muppets by Roger Langridge, and his deft handling of these classic characters is going to be sorely missed when it's done. There are few comics that are so full of charm and whimsy as a Langridge Muppets. This issue, the Fall issue of "The Four Seasons," focuses on Pops, the Muppet Theatre's doorman. It seems Pops has reached the age where the stage doorman's union makes one retire, and so Pops must train his replacement, his nephew. While there's a hilarious scene as Pops's nephew tries to gently but firmly tell a comedian who is seeking and audition that he isn't welcome, the majority of the issue's comedy is based around the rest of the gang trying to find a way to get Pops to stay on, without letting Kermit, the straight shooter, know. Gonzo comes up with an elaborate scam, that involves finding a birth certificate, but it seems to only member of the crew who has one is Miss :Piggy, who has lost it. Scooter is also taking a collection to get a special plaque made for Pops, and when it comes, it doesn't exactly say what Scooter has intended. As with all issues of a Langridge comic, there's a lot that's going on here, if you couldn't tell be my little synopsis, but it never feels rushed or cramped. As I've said before about any Langridge Muppets story, what Langridge really captures is the heart of these characters, created by the late, great Jim Henson with such love. This crazy band of misfits really care about each other, and Langridge builds his stories around that family relationship, and that's what has always made a great Muppets story.

Near Death #11
Story: Jay Faerber
Art: Simone Guglielmini

Another of my favorite Image series goes away. After the end of Reed Gunther broke my heart, the "season finale" of Near Death stomps the pieces to dust. Markham, the hitman who has found a conscience of sorts after his near death experience, must protect Novak, his former boss, from Robert Knox, the FBI agent who has hunted Novak and who suffered a brain injury removing his conscience. Now Know will kill anyone who gets in his way to get to Novak. Markham continues to struggle with his pledge to not take a life, but this time the life he wants to take is that of the person he's protecting, and Novak continues to goad him about coming back to work for him. The issue is a perfect ending for the story that Jay Faerber has been telling about Markham, and if this is the last we ever see of him, I'll be satisfied, if not happy. Markham cotinues to make choices, and in the end he does the right thing despite what it might mean for him. Markham, who at the beginning of the series had little to no sense of the value of others, now makes a purely selfless choice. The people who Markham has protected over the course of the series come in to help him in the end, and show that the "good guys" have at least a grudging respect for this bad guy trying to turn good. The final back-up, "Struck," from Ed Brisson's Murder Room series is a wonderful short noir, like the rest, fitting tonally well with the book's lead story. I do hope to see more of Markham before too long, but at least I'll have Faerber's new noir mini, Point of Impact, starting next month. Check it out with me, huh?

New Crusaders: Rise of the Heroes #1
Story: Ian Flynn
Art: Ben Bates

I have a real soft spot for the Red Circle heroes, the super heroes created in the 30s and 40s by the company that would one day become Archie Comics. I first discovered them when DC had the rights to the characters in the 90s for their !mpact line (yes, it was the 90s and punctuation could be a letter), and enjoyed them in their appearances in Archie's Weird Mysteries. I wasn't as big a fan of DC's other attempt with the license a couple years back, but it produced a few good comics too, so I can't say too much against it. This first issue introduces us to the town of Red Circle, where it seems most of the original Crusaders have retired to. The retired heroes are having an annual picnic, with their families and proteges, when one of their old enemies attacks, and one hero, the Shield, grabs the kids while the heroes fight. By the end of the issue, it seems the parents have been defeated and killed, leaving only the Shield and the kids to stop the returned villain. The set-up has been done before, with the young inexperienced legacy heroes trained by the one grizzled veteran (it was the foundation for much of Geoff Johns's JSA work, and for Marvel's Secret Warriors), but this issue is very much an all ages story. There's action and pathos, but a distinct lack of the gore that we see in a lot of modern super hero comics. There's not a ton of exposition, so if you don't know the Red Circle characters well, you might not get a lot of what the parents are up to, but the New Crusaders, the kids, are the focus of the series, and this getting to know them as characters is what is really important. With a team of seven, and six of them new completely new, you know you will only get this in broad strokes, but there's still a good amount that happens; I don't feel a lot of decompression here. I'm looking forward to seeing more time spent with the kids as they learn about their parents' histories, and the powers that they'll all be receiving, judging by the cover anyway. If you feel like reading a superhero comic that hearkens back to a simpler time, but still keeps some of the sensibilities of more modern comics, this is a book worth reading.

Smallville Season 11 #5
Story: Bryan Q. Miller
Art: Chris Cross

Smallville was a guilty pleasure TV show of mine for the last few seasons, when they decided that their real audience was fanboys like me, who wanted to see DC heroes on screen, and who didn't care about the will/they won't they relationship between Clark Kent and Lana Lang. I didn't think I'd be particularly interested in getting a comic following up the series, but then they decided to bring in Batman, and, well, you know me... The issue is quite good. Bryan Q. Miller, the writer of the series, actually worked on Smallville on TV, but is best known in comics circles as working on the late, lamented Stephanie Brown Batgirl series, and his mix of action and comedy is evident here. His Nightwing, who is Barbara Gordon, was originally rumored (confirmed?) to be Stephanie before decisions from the powers that be changed it, and she has the same strong, sassy attitude that his Stephanie did. He has a good handle on Batman, and how he thinks; his scene with Lex Luthor could have been in any mainstream DC title and worked just as well. It's interesting to see two early Batman stories from very different universes in one week, and how they contrast: while the Batman in this issue is not a lightweight, he seems lighter than the version in Detective, probably due to the influence of Nightwing. This is a Superman comic, and I should probably talk about Superman a little. I like Miller's Superman, who is closer to the pre-New 52 Superman, very earnest, very boy scouty, missing the anger I see in his current incarnation. But the thing about the Superman parts of the story I liked most were the interactions between Clark and Lois Lane. In this universe, Lois and Clark are a couple, and seeing this, plus rereading some pre-Flashpoint stories, has really made me miss Lois and Clark as a couple. I really only knew them in the comics as a couple, and seeing them again here, they had such a wonderful rapport, one that humanizes Superman. I understand Silver Age fans who never got behind the relationship, but for me, it's a part of the character I miss even more than the red shorts.

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