Comics Roundup

>> Friday, February 29, 2008

After beginning to blog about my monthly comics reading, I hit a snag. My January shipment of books was swapped for someone else's--someone who just happens to live in Australia. The online comics company I buy from is, oddly enough, in North Carolina too--which means that my comics took almost two months to effectively travel two hundred miles from origin to destination. With a slight detour down-under.

I suppose I should take a moment to explain why I have my comics shipped to me. Yes, there is a good comic book store in Asheville, North Carolina. Two, in fact. That Asheville is more than an hour away doesn't matter too much. I go down often enough so that I could collect my books in a timely manner, and having them shipped to me means I have to wait a few weeks for books that are already on shelves anyway.

And yes, I do get my comics cheaper by ordering them online. The folks at Sci-Fi Genre, the web site I use to order my comics, don't have a brick and mortar store. This isn't a sideline for them, it's their only business. Their site is great and easy to navigate, and they don't have the overhead that comes with paying a college kid to sit around and read comics all day.

But the real reason I buy my comics online? I hate comic book stores. I mean, I love them, but I hate them. I love them because I can totally blow an afternoon browsing the shelves, looking at all the comics I want to buy. I love the action figures that line the walls, the posters they sell, the t-shirts that have been collecting dust since they ordered them ten years ago. I love the big white boxes full of back-issues and the bookshelves full of trade paper collections.

What I hate are the clerks.

Not uniformly, mind you. I've met one or two nice ones in my day, like the guy who ran the comics shop I frequented in Cincinnati. Not only did he always have my books reserved--and I mean all the books I reserved, not just some of them--he was actually friendly. But most comics shops I walk into have clerks who are comics snobs. It's like they've been marginalized all their lives for being total geeks and losers, and the only power they have in life is making wannabe comics readers feel like idiots for asking where the Batman Animated comics are. I swear, I get so intimidated when I walk into some comics shops because I'm not "hardcore" enough, meaning, "I don't buy every single title on the shelf."

Is it any wonder that comics shops are going out of business left and right? Certainly there's more to it than that--like high overhead in a short margin business--but the number of comics store clerks and owners (usually the same thing) who work really hard to drive potential customers away is astounding. New Gods forbid anyone should want to buy a book from them that they themselves don't give the comics geek seal of approval.

So back when I was in Atlanta, where it was difficult enough to find a comics shop, let alone one with normal people running it, I decided I'd explore ordering my comics online. I did a bit of digging and finally settled on Sci-Fi Genre, and I couldn't be more pleased. Last month's rerouting of my books to Australia (the shipping slips for my books and this other Spider-man-obsessed fellow were merely switched) has been the first malfunction from these guys in three years of ordering books from them. Not only that, but the more books I buy from them, the bigger my discount is! I routinely get 20-30% off my comics shipments, easily paying for the shipping, and then some. To compare, I went into one of the comics shops in Asheville and, just for kicks, asked them what kind of discount they could give me if I subscribed to my books through them. The answer? No discount for a year, then a flat ten percent on everything after that.

Thanks but no thanks.

So, long story short (too late!), I ended up with two months of books at once. Here's a rundown on how things stand in the stories I follow:

Robin 170-171: The return of Chuck Dixon, former Robin scribe, has been . . . disappointing. He's introduced a foil for Robin called "Violet," who--you guessed it--dresses in violet. She even tells Robin that's her vigilante/villain name. Okay, I get that Batman and Robin named themselves. But don't you think that a Robin Hood-like vigilante would just get named by the press and not be all like, "Hey, I'm Violet! Cha-ching!" VERY cheesy. And why does her costume remind me of eighties' workout fashions? It's terrible.

Worse, in the second episode, in a weak attempt at laughs, Dixon completely steals a Paul Dini creation--"The Condiment King." Yes, it's a super villain who uses giant condiment canons to battle super heroes. The thing about Dini's episode of Batman: The Animated Series was that the Condiment King was a joke--he was a schlump brainwashed into being a farcical super villain by The Joker, who was taking his revenge on the poor fellow. Yet here we're supposed to believe that the Condiment King is a real villain. Yes, Batman and Robin don't take him too seriously, and yes, they dispatch him quickly, but come on. It was a joke in a Dini show. He shouldn't be resurrected here like he's one of Batman's rogues . . .

There's bad dialogue too. Dixon's trying to make the teenagers sound hip and cool but . . . they're not. "You need some serious caffeinization, Timbo," and "Dude, she is hacked off at you" are not words that real teenagers would speak. I struggle with this in my own writing, so I know it's difficult. But this just isn't working.

And since when does Robin drive around in a bright red sports car with a yellow "R" on the grille!? Greg Rucka preserve us. I've dropped this book from my subscription, which is a shame. It was such fun with Adam Beechen as the writer. Bring back Beechen!

The Spirit 13-14: On to another disappointment, The Spirit. I almost didn't finish #14. New series writer Sergio Aragones is a comics god, I know--on par with the dearly departed creator of The Spirit, Will Eisner. But I cannot get over the loss of Darwyn Cooke on this book. I don't know what Darwyn Cooke left The Spirit to do, but it'll be tough for it to be half as good as what he produced on his too short, thirteen-issue run on the Spirit relaunch. Sigh. Yet another book I've dropped from my list. At least I have my newly-acquired Justice League: The New Frontier DVD (based on Cooke's fantabulous comics mini-series) to watch in the meantime.

Detective Comics 840-841: Now that the Powers That Be have finally finished re-introducing Ra's al Ghul back into the Batman rogues gallery in a crossover event with every Bat-book (and after more painful experiences with the ill-conceived and poorly-executed "son of Batman and Talia" character) we get a stand-alone from Paul Dini about the Mad Hatter being used by his own henchmen. Close to the kind of bittersweet villain tale we got sometimes in Batman: The Animated Series, and all the better for it. Still, it felt a little rushed, as though there was too much content or not enough pages. (Which, I suppose, amounts to pretty much the same thing whichever way you look at it.) Might have really sung with one or two more pages to stretch out the Columbo moment we get at the end when Batman apprehends the villain and actually feels some sympathy for him.

B.P.R.D.: The Killing Ground 4-5: Written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi, with art by Guy Davis. WOW. What a finale! The B.P.R.D. books have been just as good as, if not (dare I say it!?) better than Hellboy! These books never fail to move me, surprise me, and entertain me. And what an end to this mini-series! Just when we learn the secret behind Captain Daimio's strange existence, he turns into a monster and goes on a rampage through the B.P.R.D. headquarters. When his comrades can't stop him, he figures out a way to stop himself that is at the same time both heartbreaking and brilliant. Kudos to everyone involved in this book. I can't wait to dive into B.P.R.D.: 1946!

Abe Sapien: The Drowning 1: And speaking of diving right in, the first ish of this Mignola-penned Abe Sapien story is great, taking us with the amphibious paranormalist's first mission for B.P.R.D.

Superman 672-673: I love writer Kurt Busiek, but I'm going to bail on Superman. It's not just this Queen Bee story, although that's been pretty bad. (Zeriouzly, doez everything thiz inzect villain zay have to be written like thiz!? It'z annoying az hell.) It's just that I can't get as interested in Supes as I'd like. He's a nice guy, and I'm happy that he's finally together with Lois and all, but I just feel like the challenges for Superman aren't up to his impossibly powerful set of super-skills.

It's not Busiek's fault--it's that over the decades Superman has become even more super, and there's very little left that can give him trouble. Even the threats he faces now that challenge him in the books don't seem to really be all that challenging. In the last comic, Superman hit a baseball to the moon as a charity stunt, actually aiming for a target that had been placed there. Now, the fun of this aside, it took a room full of geniuses at NASA to calculate how to get a rocket there, and Supes knows JUST when to hit that ball so that it'll intercept the moon in it's orbit AND hit just the right spot? I know, I know, I'm nitpicking impossibilities in a story about a guy in a big red cape and blue tights who can fly around and shoot lazers from his eyes . . . but seriously. AND NOT ONLY THAT, but in the resolution to this three-parter (in which an alien queen bee has taken over a Lexcorp moonbase and kidnapped Superman to be her mate) he defeats her by . . . wait for it . . . maneuvering her into the path of the ball as it speeds toward the moon!

And it's strike three for Superman, which just fell off my list.

Justice League of America 17-18: Still fun, now that Dwayne McDuffie has brought the Justice League Unlimited feel to the "grown-up" comics. My devotion to the animated versions of the DC heroes is finally vindicated!

The Flash 236-237: After trotting Mark Wade back out to try to resuscitate the flatlining Flash comic book, he's been packed back into his trunk and a guest writer, Mark Champagne, was given the reins for one book until the new creative team takes over in a month. I mention this one-shot appearance only because it is perhaps the best Flash story we've had in more than a year. Not that that is saying a lot. This story isn't perfect, but it's a heck of a lot better than what's been published under this title for a long time. Congrats to Champagne for whipping up something worth reading, and having a little fun with Wally and the family in Metropolis.

And a note to the new writers: Can we please settle on a new job for Wally quickly and move on? I was never a great fan of Johns' decision to make him an auto mechanic in the police pool (seriously, an auto mechanic!?) but that would be better than some succession of odd jobs. Isn't there like a Fallen Hero Assistance Fund that all the Justice Leaguers contribute to that can help out the Wests while they get back on their feet?

Ex Machina 33-34: The odd "Mayor Hundred is brainwashed to kill the Pope" run is over, and we're rewarded with a tremendous stand-alone that focuses on New York City's tough female police commissioner, from her childhood through her patrolwoman days to her failed marriage and her on-again-off-again battles with The Great Machine--who just so happens to now be the mayor of New York, and her boss. The last page/panel is a real kick in the pants, laugh out loud grinner, and proves that Brian K. Vaughan is a postmodern comics master. Still consistently one of the best books out there. Go buy the trade paperbacks.


TN-Tanuki March 1, 2008 at 2:29 PM  

"New Gods forbid..." Priceless. But, hey, aren't they all dead? Or did I miss where they've been reborn as the multi-armed Cthulhu-esque Jimmy Olson? Whatever.


Alan March 4, 2008 at 9:46 AM  

Yeah, I think they killed off all the New Gods. Or are in the process of doing so. Frankly, I haven't got it in me to read all that (or, perhaps better put, haven't got it in my wallet). And yeah, I think they may have pulled a Spock/McCoy "REMEMBER!" thing with Jimmy and the New Gods, but again, I haven't been reading 52 or Countdown or whatever they're calling it where all that has played out. I like a lot of the changes the latest crisis hath wrought, but endowing Jimmy with super powers is not at the top of my list . . .

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