22 November 2009

Faster than a DC Bullet, Issue #14: Superman: For Tomorrow, Volume One

Comic trade paperback, n.pag.
Published 2005 (contents: 2004)

Borrowed from a friend
Read November 2009
Superman: For Tomorrow, Volume One

Writer: Brian Azzarello
Penciller: Jim Lee
Inker: Scott Williams
Colorist: Alex Sinclair
Letterers: Rob Leigh, Nick J. Napolitano

DC Universe Timeline: Two Years Ago
Real World Timeline: 2006

(It has to have been over a year since Identity Crisis, as "the Vanishing" happened a year prior to the opening of this story, and that has to have come after Identity Crisis. However, just two months remain until the Infinite Crisis-- meaning only three months have passed since Identity Crisis!)

The thing I really like about Superman-- the thing that I think Superman For All Seasons captured so well-- is that he's a guy who feels like the weight of the entire world is on his shoulders. He doesn't angst out over this, not usually, but feels it all the time. He has the power to do the greatest good of anyone in the entire world; how can that not weigh on him? So he does his best, like any hero would do, but not even Superman's best is always enough. Sometimes, he fails.

For Tomorrow begins a year after the Vanishing, an incident where over a million people vanished instantaneously. Superman wasn't there-- he was in space, doing what Superman does, helping people-- and he holds himself accountable, not the least because among the Vanished is one Lois Lane. Superman travels to the apparent origin point of the energy waves that cause the Vanishing, tracking them down to a country in the Middle East. When he arrives there, he doesn't find the source of the Vanishing, but he does find a civil war: one he decides to end.

All of these events are being narrated by Superman to Father Daniel Leone, a Catholic priest. Exactly why Superman feels the need to deliver his story under the seal of confessional isn't clear, but he tells Daniel that his sin "was to save the world", and it's certainly related to the actions he took after the Vanishing, which were drastic, to say the least: he stops a battle in the civil war, tracks down the leader of the insurgents, only to find he's already won. So he helps stabilize things by cleaning up the area. But what he eventually discovers is that the now-toppled regime was who created the Vanishing device, which has fallen into the hands of General Nox, the insurgent leader, and Equus, his cybernetic henchman. The dialogue between Superman and Father Leone runs over all these scenes, proving an insight into Superman's state of mind, and it is immensely well done: Brian Azzarello seems to get Superman. He's upset without being angsty, troubled without being tortured. He sees himself as one of us, and that is why the burden he bears is such a hard one. He doesn't always win, but no one tries harder.

It's hard to judge this story right now, because it's not a story. In its infinite need for profit, DC split the For Tomorrow story up across two different trade paperbacks, so all we get here is the first half. And it's not even really a first half, given the terribly out-of-sequence way we're learning about events. We might have half of the story, but it's not a continuous half. But what's here is good: Superman's frustration is portrayed well, as is his drive and determination. I love the bit where he fights four elementals (summoned by a mysterious woman who I hope is explained in volume two) determined to cleanse the earth of human life, defeating them through cunning and sheer force of will, not punching.

Of course, not everything quite works, not yet. Though I like the disjointed narrative in general, and I love the in medias res opener, there are parts where it's almost impossible to parse what's going on, especially with Superman's talk with the Justice League. Though maybe this will be filled in later. The Justice League's reaction to the Vanishing is oddly muted, too: obviously this is because it's a Superman story in a Superman book... but it makes them look like jerks to tell Superman he's too involved to handle the issue but seemingly do nothing about it themselves. I don't really get what's up with the confrontation with Aquaman, either. And Equus is a pretty uninteresting villain, though on the other hand, General Nox and Mr. Orr are working for me so far. And as for the earth elemental being formed out of Mt. Rushmore...

But the heart of this book are the conversations between Superman and Father Leone, and those work. A lot. Daniel has his own demons to deal with: just like Superman he wants to help everyone, and just like Superman he can't. The rapport the two men have springs up immediately and works very well, giving a focus to the often-disjointed story. I like the banter they have as both attempt to answer the unanswerable, always switching roles as questioner and answerer.

Even when Brian Azzarello's writing slips a little though, it all still works: Jim Lee's art is fantastic. That man knows how to draw Superman in an iconic pose, and that's a good thing given how often the character seems to pose here. His Superman isn't someone you'd want to mess with. All the art is handled well, though, especially the settings, which effectively move from gleaming Metropolis to war-torn desert, from lunar fortress to underwater, from a Catholic church to deepest space.

I don't know where For Tomorrow is going yet, but that doesn't stop me from looking forward to volume two. Superman should always be written this well.

Note that this originally appeared on my old LiveJournal and included pictures back then. Sadly, the pictures are lost in the mists of the Internet.

06 November 2009

Faster than a DC Bullet: Project Star City, Part X: Connor Hawke: Dragon's Blood

Comic trade paperback, 144 pages
Published 2008 (contents: 2007)

Borrowed from the library
Read October 2009
Connor Hawke: Dragon's Blood

Writer: Chuck Dixon
Artist: Derec Donovan
Colorist: Guy Major
Letterer: Phil Balsman

One of my consistent complaints about Judd Winick's run on Green Arrow is that the other Green Arrow, Oliver Queen's son Connor Hawke, doesn't get the amount of play that he should, usually just getting beaten up to prove that the situation is serious. So it's nice to see him get a miniseries all of his own. As far as I can tell, this ran between the end of Green Arrow and the beginning of Green Arrow and Black Canary, so I decided to read it then. It's a good little story, seeing Connor drawn into an archery contest in China-- where not everything is quite as it seems. Chuck Dixon gets Connor in a way that Winick clearly never did, which makes sense given that he wrote for Connor quite a lot on the pre-Quiver Green Arrow series. It's nice to see Connor go through the wringer and come out all the better for it. The fact that there are two Green Arrows, father and son, is one of my favorite parts of the Green Arrow mythos, so I hope to see more of Connor going forward.

Faster than a DC Bullet: Project Star City, Part IX: Green Arrow: Road to Jericho

Comic trade paperback, n.pag.
Published 2007 (contents: 2006-07)

Borrowed from the library
Read October 2009
Green Arrow: Road to Jericho

Writer: Judd Winick
Penciller: Scott McDaniel
Inker: Andy Owens
Colorist: Guy Major
Letterer: Pat Brosseau

After six years, the revived Green Arrow series that began with Quiver came to an end with the comics collected here. They have three distinct chunks. The first is a flashback to what Team Arrow got up to in the year between Heading into the Light and Crawling through the Wreckage, which is train on a tropical island with Buddhists and assassins. This is pretty good, especially for what it shows us of Oliver's new drive and determination. The second part of the book has Green Arrow and Batman teaming up to take down the Red Hood. I guess this guy actually used to be Robin, which would would explained why Batman is even more ticked off than usual, but the book never actually bothers to mention that-- thanks Wikipedia. Mostly this story is a lot of Winick's usual dramatic punching and hitting. There's a part where the Red Hood works on Mia psychologically, but the effect of this is half-hearted at best and never convinces.

The last part of the book brings everything from Winick's run together by pitting Green Arrow against Brick, Merlyn, Deathstroke the Terminator, and Constantine Drakon. This could be great, right? G.A. finally getting to beat up the villains that have bedeviled him for years, even if two of them are lame? Connor and Mia at his back, not to mention that Black Canary is finally back? Unfortunately, it's not great, as the Justice League randomly shows up and defeats them. And then tears down the wall in the Star City ghetto, even though Oliver didn't want them to do that a book back. That's the ending? Consider me underwhelmed. The political storyline ends up getting much less play than I'd've liked-- I think Ollie as mayor is a great idea-- but the way it's capped off is quite nice. And the book's very last moment speaks well for Oliver's development as a character (though I'd wish we'd seen more of it) and for the Green Arrow and Black Canary series that span off from this one. This series might be finished, but the journey's not over yet.

Though Scott McDaniel continues to not be out-and-out bad like some of the post-Hester/Parks artists on the series, I still can't say that I'm in love with his art. It's usually passable, but all his black characters pretty much look the same, and I hate his interpretation of Constantine Drakon. The man's short, but he shouldn't look like a dwarf.

Faster than a DC Bullet: Project Star City, Part VIII: Green Arrow: Crawling through the Wreckage

Comic trade paperback,143 pages
Published 2007 (contents: 2006)

Borrowed from the library
Read October 2009
Green Arrow: Crawling through the Wreckage

Writer: Judd Winick
Penciller: Scott McDaniel
Inkers: Andy Owens
Colorist: Guy Major
Letterer: Pat Brosseau

This volume picks up a year after the explosive events of Heading into the Light, and it's been a heckuva year-- a wall has been built to separate the ghetto, Green Arrow (both of him) has disappeared, and Oliver Queen has become mayor of Star City. I enjoyed Winick's early work on Green Arrow, but I'm really starting to tire of his approach; this was a bit better than the preceding book, though. The lame villains don't help: I never particularly liked Brick, and I've always thought that Deathstroke the Terminator was just dumb. Dumb name, dumb costume. Also, drugs turning innocent citizens into monsters was done by Winick five volumes ago. The best part of this book is Ollie trying out his new role as mayor, and I wish that we had more of that. The bit where he combines his two roles of politician and superhero to outsmart Deathstroke was great. On the other hand, him refusing to let anyone bring down the ghetto wall makes absolutely zero sense; glad to see you're willing to let people die to prove some kind of point, G.A.

Scott McDaniel's art has the virtue of being consistently decent. His Ollie is especially nice, though sometimes his face looks really weird. I don't really care for the full lips and big boobs he draws on Mia.