Adam Strange: Planet Heist review

Thursday, June 22, 2006

One thing DC’s been really good at in the Didio era is bringing together writers and artists who combined create a near definitive run on a character or team. Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee on Batman is one, of course; also Geoff Johns and Scott Kolins on The Flash; Greg Rucka and Drew Johnson on Wonder Woman; and Joe Kelly, Doug Mahnke, and Dustin Nguyen on Justice League Elite. The next in line is Andy Diggle and Pascaul Ferry on Adam Strange. I’ve been a fan of Perry since his Action Comics and Superboy days, and he receives here his well-deserved time to shine. I held out for Ferry possibly on a Nightwing book, but his space-y, lushly colored artwork on Adam Strange is just as good. I’m not at all familiar with Andy Diggle’s work, knowing his name only in connection with The Losers, but in Adam Strange he writes a fast-paced, easily accessible plot, with all the expected space adventure trappings and a couple of surprises for good measure.

Adam Strange: Planet Heist opens with an earthbound Strange wanted for blowing up an apartment building; we learn that Strange has lived in a downward spiral ever since learning of the destruction of his adopted planet Rann. When two bounty hunters arrive, Strange learns that there may be more to Rann’s demise than it seems, and he heads to space, facing one mis-adventure after another. Strange escapes the clutches of a Thanagarian gulag only to encounter a mysterious weapon in the hands of the Omega Men; after a run-in with Vril Dox of L.E.G.I.O.N., Strange makes his way to the pocket dimension where Strange’s father-in-law Sardath hid the planet to save it from a star-eating conqueror. Strange, the Omega Men, the L.E.G.I.O.N., and the Darkstars must then battle both the cosmic menace and attacking Thangarians to try to restore Rann to its rightful place.

The tone of Planet Heist is definitively space-opera; Diggle employs every Indiana Jones and Star Wars-cliffhanger cliche he can find along the course of this trade, and for fans, it’s good, familiar fun. Diggle makes a smart move at the very beginning by grounding the story in in flip, crime noir roots; by acknowledging and setting aside the silliness of a space man with a fin on his head, the book can celebrate—rather than be held back by—DC’s space genre roots. The story is buffered greatly by Ferry’s art; Adam Strange’s new costume is a busy retro number that’s as twenty-first century as it is 1950s. The well-detailed art in the Earth scenes gives way to a flowing, empty style in space, and all the color effects have a dreamy quality. Ferry takes great liberties with the aliens he draws—including a dramatically redesigned Durlan—making the species frightening and fascinating at the same time.

My one complaint would be that, for a series that was supposed to reintroduce the space aspects of the DCU, many of the space characters seemed more window dressing than valuable players. The Omega Men appear the most, but little effort is made to attach their names to their faces, lessening the audience’s emotional attachment to anyone except Tigorr. The L.E.G.I.O.N., we find, is now comprised entirely of robots except for Vril Dox; it was hardly the L.E.G.I.O.N. reunion that I had hoped for. Other space creatures, including the Space Cabbie, Warworld, Lobo, or any of the former Green Lanterns, are conspicuously absent; the few remaining Darkstars appear only, unfortunately, to be quickly snuffed out. One high point, however, is the story’s mystery villain; I’m a big fan of the last time this baddie appeared, and the revelation should bring a smile to longtime DCU fans.

[Contains full covers, sketchbook section.]

So I do think Adam Strange: Planet Heist is worth reading, and especially if you’re about to pick up The Rann/Thanagar War, I wouldn’t hesitate to start here instead. I’m reading some of the Formerly Known as the Justice League stuff right now, and more reviews will be up in not too short a time. Stick around.

Whither Dreamland?

Thursday, June 15, 2006

So Dreamland Comics, once a bastion of trade paperbacks and free shipping in comics-land, never added trade paperback pre-orders to their website last month, and so far pre-orders are a no show this month, too. With the Infinite Crisis hardcover coming up, among others, eager Collected Editioners ask, "Whither Dreamland?"

Review: Green Lantern: Rebirth hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Despite its numerous sell-outs and second printings, I can't help but think that Green Lantern: Rebirth might have been greeted with even bigger fanfare had the miniseries not been released on the heels of the more controversial Identity Crisis on one side, and amidst the grand hubub of the forthcoming Infinite Crisis on the other.

Green Lantern: Rebirth shares a similar sentiment with Infinite Crisis, in that both contain revisionist DCU history that slips and winds semi-neatly between established panels. But whereas Identity Crisis is arguably a post-post-modern glance at modern superheroics, Rebirth is straight-up superheroics itself. Geoff Johns does here what he does best -- takes the windy, winding histories of some of the DCU's finest, and creates a likeable, cohesive story. The story is one with an agenda, certainly, and one that echoes somewhat disturbing messages found also in Infinite Crisis, but at base, Green Lantern: Rebirth is the quenticential comic book -- good, escapist fun.

As Kyle Rayner rockets to Earth carrying a mysterious coffin, the JLA and former Green Lanterns alike begin to fear that Hal Jordan might be returning to the dark side. Guy Gardner's body begins to reject its Vuldarian heritage, the Spectre enacts grim vengeance against Black Hand, Hal Jordan's apartment rebuilds itself in Coast City, and Hal himself appears at a magically restored Ferris Aircrafts. Kilowog, John Stewart, and a reborn Guy Gardner attack Kyle and the JLA, each controlled by their power rings. As it turns out, Parallax was a yellow fear-based being that the Guardians trapped within the Power Battery on Oa, manifesting itself as the rings' yellow impurity. Spurned on by Sinestro, Parallax took control of Hal, and even began to infect the Spectre when he tried to help. Hal and the other Lanterns ultimately defeat a Parallax-controlled Ganthet, and Hal returns to his youthful self, if warily trusted by the JLA.

This is, to put it lightly, not a story for Batman fans. Early on, Ron Marz, Geoff Johns or one of the other writers chose to make Batman distrustful of Hal's sacrifice during Final Night, and ultimate resurrection as the Spectre. Despite the number of times that Batman and the Hal-Spectre have worked together since then, Batman's never quite forgiven Hal for his murder of the Green Lantern Corps, a grudge that seems somewhat overwrought given the pity Batman has for, say, Harvey Dent. In Rebirth, Johns offers one partial explanation, in that Batman dislikes Green Lanterns because they're essentially immune to fear -- fear being the trick and trade of Batman's powers. But despite being the world's greatest detective, Batman neither suspected the Parallax-creature's involvement in Hal's fall, nor does he quite believe Hal's explanation at the end of Rebirth. It makes Batman seem, well, like a dick. In an issue of Wizard, Johns claims that he holds no bias against Batman, and I believe him -- we've seen Johns write Batman well in Infinite Crisis among others. But in paralleling the darkness of Batman against the lightness of Green Lantern, in Rebirth Batman comes off very dark.

(It's interesting to note, in the script section of the Rebirth trade, that the original plot for Rebirth involved Batman and his own cast quite a bit more, to almost the exclusion of Hal Jordan. Additionally, there was a plotline involving Kyle Rayner and his father, tying up loose ends from the previous Green Lantern series, that also didn't make the cut -- perhaps Johns or Ron Marz might pick up on it later.)

In argung that Parallax was a separate being from Hal Jordan that affected Hal's life for decades, Geoff Johns throws down a very large gauntlet against established DCU lore. As per Rebirth, Parallax was responsible not only for "Emerald Twilight," but also for Hal's prematurely gray hair, and also for his numerous trips across America to "find himself." Which is to say, these things happened to Hal based on the actions of an evil fear-being -- the writers who came before. As with Infinite Crisis, we're now supposed to see the decision to age Hal (or kill Jason Todd, or execute the Kryptonian villains) as a kind of "comics losing its way," when at the time these decisions probably seemed perfectly reasonable -- or, at least, conducive to the consumer market of the time. It's strange that the message of these comics is that we're supposed to feel bad about it (or, perhaps, it's strange that we don't feel bad about it. But I digress.), and I can't help but wonder how, say, Gerard Jones, who wrote the gray-haired Hal, might feel about it.

Though, at the same time, if you read Mark Waid's Flash & Green Lantern: The Brave and the Bold, Hal absolutely comes off like a shallow whiner in the end. So maybe a little revisionist clean-up never hurt anyone. And again, ultimately Green Lantern: Rebirth is good, pure superhero fun -- so long as you don't mind the super-powered Green Lantern taking a swing at Batman instead of, you know, encasing him in a green bubble or something.