Y-The Last Man: Girl on Girl review

Saturday, August 26, 2006

While my recent reading of Fables: Homelands left me feeling lukewarm about the next volume, I just finished Y: The Last Man - Girl on Girl and I'm eager to read more. Perhaps it's that, silly me, when Ring of Truth ended with the characters headed for Japan, I just guessed that this volume would open with them there; instead, Girl on Girl is adventure on the high seas, both captivating in its own right and leaving the reader hungry for more. But Girl on Girl also contains some strong character moments, and some of the best social controversy of the series, which only bodes good things as the series continues.

Yorick, Agent 355, and Dr. Mann, in search of the kidnapped monkey Ampersand, ride on a ship across the Pacific; Yorick is quickly discovered. While Yorick spends the night with the ship's captain, Dr. Mann and 355 have an unexpected liason. An Australian submarine attacks, and the characters learn that the ships they're riding is smuggling heroin; Yorick and the group must escape before the submarine scuttles the ship--with them on it.

The headline of the "Girl on Girl" storyline, of course, is Agent 355 sleeping with Dr. Mann. I had, of course, fallen for the stereotypical cliche that Yorick and 355, slowly building from initial animosity, would fall in love by the end of the series. This, however, is the easy answer, while Y: The Last Man is all about challenging the easy answers. On one hand, we have a story where women make up 99 percent of the characters, the heroes and villains and everyone in between. On the other hand, as Brian Vaughn has his character Kilina point out toward the end, "an entire planet of women, and the one guy gets to be the lead." Y: The Last Man is both gigantically egalitarian, and entirely unfair, and one gets the sense that this is brilliantly on purpose.

Agent 355 and Dr. Mann's relationship--or, at least, the tension that will come from the lack thereof--is one of our first senses of the story turning away from Yorick as the center. We already know that Ampersand kept Yorick safe from the plague, and not vice-versa, and now Yorick's love life begins to wane from the spotlight. That Dr. Mann got together with the professed-heterosexual 355 also raises interesting issues of sexuality; in a world of only women, a heterosexual woman both pursues a homosexual experience, and also, does not pursue an available man when she has the chance. It is, perhaps, what many heterosexual people believe they would not do in the same situation, and reading it, one can't help but think and rethink their own beliefs and attitudes. Ultimately, Yorick and 355 will have to talk this out further, and I'm very eager to see where Vaughn takes this, and if he complicates it even further.

There's one final story included, "Boy Loses Girl." Even as we begin to doubt Yorick's love for Beth, we're faced with a story in which it starts to look like Beth might die. Being the good people we are, the reader worries for Beth as the story continues--only to find her survive. For a while I've thought that when Yorick finally reaches Beth, it would be Beth who rejects him; yet, just as Vaughn causes the reader to care more deeply for Beth, we get the sense that it may be Yorick that rejects her. Once again, between Beth, 355, and Dr. Mann, Yorick becomes less and less integral to the story; perhaps, as an earlier story suggested, he may not even survive until the end.

[Contains full covers.]

Y: The Last Man was refreshing; I think I'm not quite ready to return to the DCU-verse. Space Ghost next, perhaps, and maybe the Absolute Watchmen that's been burning a hole in my shelf. Come on along!

JSA: Black Vengeance review

Sunday, August 20, 2006

As a Day of Vengeance crossover, JSA: Black Vengeance is not required reading; it's nothing more than a footnote in the plot of Day of Vengeance, and the headache of figuring out where it fits between the pages is hardly worth the price of admission. As the next JSA trade volume, however, JSA: Black Vengeance is fantastic. JSA is always at its finest when it combines wild adventures with the pure "aw shucks"-ness of these Golden Age characters, and the first story here, "JSA/JSA," delivers whole-heartedly. Black Reign and Lost were good, but "JSA/JSA," I think, really captures the JSA spirit of Stealing Thunder.

Rip Hunter has brought the JSA to 1951, where the House Committee on Un-American Activities has forced the Golden Age JSA to disband, and where Per Degaton intends to frame the JSA to destroy the team for good. Stargirl, Mr. Terrific, Dr. Mid-Nite, Jakeem Thunder, Hourman, Sand, and Atom Smasher must find their respective predecessors and warn them of the plot; Atom Smasher asks to rejoin the JSA. In the present, Eclipso possesses the Spectre and causes him to attack Kahndaq; when the JSA intervene, Jakeem Thunder is trapped within his magic pen, and Atom Smasher is nearly killed, only to be saved by Black Adam.

One thing I liked about the very first JSA story, Justice Be Done, is that it stuck to the original JSA formula: the characters come together in the beginning, split into teams for smaller adventures, and then rejoin in the end. The first story in JSA: Black Vengeance, "JSA/JSA," preserves this to some extent--each of the members are given twelve hours to individually find and convince the original members to wear their costumes again. What happens from here is largely predictable--each of the heroes learns something new about their mentors, and everyone learns a valuable lesson--but each of the adventures is imbued with so much creativity that their hokiness quickly gives way to pure joy. Of special note is the Mr. Terrific plotline, that not only mixes action with social commentary when Terrific fights Klan members, but also wraps up loose ends concerning the original Mr. Terrific's relationship with Roulette. And as all the modern heroes struggle to make the older heroes believe them, Geoff Johns throws in a humorous wrench--Dr. Mid-Nite walks into the original's house, explains himself, and the two walk out together without the slightest shrug.

Though the "Black Vengeance" storyline, on the other hand, has some good moments--Power Girl using her heat vision, for one, and a truly nail-biting ending--it hardly revisits the issues at the core of "Black Reign." Black Adam remains a shade of gray, both a just and blood-thirsty ruler for the people of Kahndaq; Stargirl and Captain Marvel barely talk, furthering their relationship almost not at all; and when Stargirl confronts Atom Smasher with a moral speech about not killing under any circumstances, it's not that it's not valid--it's just not new. New seeds are not planted in "Black Reign"'s soil, so much as it's just the old soil retilled. But redeeming moments there are--while Eclipso's Jean Loring identity is all-but-wasted in Day of Vengeance, here it adds a personal touch, especially in showing more of Hawkman's feelings about the events of Identity Crisis. Alone, this might not be enough, but with "JSA/JSA," it makes JSA: Black Vengeance worth it.

[Contains full covers, bio pages, and a prologue containing missing pages from issues in JSA: Lost.]

All this and a great cameo from another Golden Age super-team resurrected for the modern era--JSA: Black Vengeance ranks up there with the best JSA trades. Me, I should be on to the Rann-Thanagar War or maybe some Bat-family trades, but I've had a hankering for some Y: The Last Man, or maybe the Space Ghost trade lying around; we'll see. Thanks for reading!

Review: Day of Vengeance trade paperback (DC Comics)

Sunday, August 13, 2006

By writing about magic confined within the superhero genre in Day of Vengeance, Bill Willingham avoids the overwriting sometimes found in his Fables work. Willingham grounds Day of Vengeance from the beginning in the hard-luck trappings of the Oblivion Bar -- much as he gives Fables a real life sense through the politics of Fabletown -- but Day of Vengeance fortunately never becomes sidetracked from the story and characters by layers of research, as Fables sometimes does. Day of Vengeance reveals any number of mystical origins, but all of them are relayed clearly and with relevance to the story. Magic, in the DC Universe, is sometimes boring; Day of Vengeance is not.

[Contains spoilers]

I think I expected to like Day of Vengeance the least of all the "Countdown to Infinite Crisis" miniseries; after all, even if the Rann/Thanagar War, at the outset, seemed only tenuously connected to the DCU proper, at least it had familiar Green Lanterns in it. But the team dynamics of Day of Vengeance are just so engaging -- Ragman as the "everyman," kissing the Enchantress and then being teased mercilessly; Nightmaster as the team leader that makes his whole team eat a good breakfast before a fight; and, of course, a talking monkey -- that I couldn't help but be drawn in by the story. Each of the characters take a turn narrating a chapter, in true Jeph Loeb style, and it helps to distinguish their personalities and powers.

I especially liked Willingham's exploration of Nightshade — feeling that she hadn't shown the full extent of her powers in an early battle, Nightshade resolves to fight harder; later, we get a better glimpse of her powers, making a nice character thread throughout the chapters. And Willingham writes a fantastic Captain Marvel, including a truly touching scene where all the magic characters of the DC Universe offer up their powers to help Captain Marvel fight the Spectre.

Day of Vengeance loses, however, only in an examination of its villains. The Spectre here is ghostly and ruthless, buffeted greatly by Beast Boy's Justiniano, doing some of his best work; however, this Spectre seems greatly removed from previous incarnations, speaking in full, complete sentences with Ming the Merciless wit. Eclipso, on the other hand, is all but inscrutable; it's easy to understand that the Spectre is attacking magic and the Shadowpact has to stop him, but it's far less clear why Eclipso's egging him on.

Even if, as we come to understand later, the Eclipso gem was given to Jean Loring by Superboy-Prime so that Alexander Luthor could gather all the world's magic, we're never quite sure what's in it for Eclipso. And in the end, when Eclipso is made to orbit the sun, a quick look at Eclipso: The Darkness Within shows that when Eclipso is exposed to sunlight, he leaves the host body; Jean Loring ought be burned to a crisp while Eclipso lives another day. The use of Jean Loring appears to be for the Identity Crisis-name-check only; once Eclipso takes over, the character is all but indistinguishable from any other Eclipso around, which is probably a waste of some potential drama.

All in all, however, Day of Vengeance is surprisingly good, and takes the top spot right now above OMAC Project; we'll see how the other stories hold up. I'm eager to read JSA: Black Vengeance to get more of Captain Marvel's side of the story, and Robin: Days of Fire and Madness to see more of the Shadowpact (there's also, apparently, a Shadowpact-member appearance in Birds of Prey: The Battle Within, too). The preview pages from the upcoming Shadowpact series, however, still leave me cold; Willingham writes and draws, and it seems like the actions and dialogue often overlap (at one point, Superman says, "I'll try my heat vision," while using his heat vision; at other, Blue Devil quips, "Let me trying hitting this guy," while he hits the guy.). Early reviews are good, however, so I'll wait to see how the trade comes out.

Thanks for reading!

Infinite/Identity Crisis Softcover Mix-Up

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Blink and you'll miss it ... right now on the DC Comics webpage, the Flash* advertisement for Justice League of America #1 says, "Also Available: Infinite Crisis Softcover," but the link takes you to what they meant--the Identity Crisis softcover. No doubt someone will catch and fix this shortly.

Review: Teen Titans/Outsiders: The Insiders trade paperback (DC Comics)

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Coming as it did just a few scant months (and one trade more per series) before Infinite Crisis, Teen Titans/Outsiders: The Insiders might well have been the series closers before Infinite Crisis. That is, there's plenty of team shakeup at the end of the trade, but it's going to be painfully short-lived given the coming One Year jump. But moreover, The Insiders is a direct, and well-done, sequel to Young Justice/Titans: Graduation Day, the acknowledged beginning to the Countdown to Infinite Crisis, and as such it should more stand as the end of the Countdown, rather than the almost, kinda end. But these are tiny quibbles -- praise, really -- about a trade that, while mostly fight-scenes, also contains unexpected heart, and is a nice anniversary for both of the series.

Superboy resolves to tell the Teen Titans that he's learned Lex Luthor is one of his genetic fathers -- but before he has the chance, Lex enables a sleeper program that pits Superboy against the Titans. Robin calls the Outsiders for help, but they're attacked by their own teammate Indigo. It turns out Indigo is Brainiac 8, and Lex Luthor has teamed with Brainiac 13. The villains attack the teams at Star Labs -- with an army of Superman robots -- echoing Graduation Day; Wonder Girl is able to awaken Superboy, while Shift must kill Indigo to save her. Superboy subsequently leaves the Teen Titans, considering himself a threat, and Nightwing quits the Outsiders; Jade recruits Captain Marvel Jr. to add power to the team.

As a sequel to Graduation Day, The Insiders succeeds enthusiastically. I didn't quite make the Graduation Day connection in this trade until the excellent shot of Wonder Girl facing the Superman robot in the same pose as Donna Troy, shortly before she died; if one didn't know better, they might have been worried that Cassie was headed for the same fate. In fact, the trade does a great job showing how all the characters have evolved over the last year of Teen Titans and Outsider stories, Wonder Girl especially. I thought it was a nice touch that the covers to parts three and four of the story are homages to the two series first issues, thematically bridging the gap between the two.

When we learn that Indigo, as an agent of Brainiac, was sent all along to kill Donna Troy, it completely reverses the way we interpret Graduation Day. Arsenal blows up the headquarters that the Outsiders received after Graduation Day, effectively "closing" that chapter. And Nightwing quits the Outsiders -- just as he quit the Titans after Graduation Day -- and were it not for One Year Later, we might figure this to be the end of Nightwing's involvement with teams for the forseeable future. The strife in much of this is contingent on how much the teams have grown over the year they're together; the state of the union appears strong, even as that union begins to crumble.

As villains, Superboy and Indigo are notable also because they're each one half of a driving team romance. In the end, it's those romances -- with Wonder Girl and Shift, respectively -- that redeem the characters. Wonder Girl and Superboy have been building since their Young Justice days, and their relationship here is a natural continuation of that; if anything, it might have been more effective had they actually been dating here, as after the Teen Titans Annual, instead of undefined. Shift and Indigo's relationship, alternatively, is much newer, but there's a great scene in Insiders that shows them together, and it's a wonderfully tragic counterpart to the end of the book. If a story has any strength, it's in making the reader dread the inevitable, and The Insiders delivers in spades.

There's a couple of different art teams here, with considerably different styles. Carlos D'Anda is pretty controversial for his dark, grungy lines, but for Outsiders, I'd argue that it works appropriately. I had more trouble with Matthew Clark on Titans, following Mike McKone; Clark's traditional style contains hints of Rob Liefeld, with cheesecake poses and perpetually open mouths. I found I liked Tony Daniel much more, inked by Art Thibert; his close-up shots strongly evoked Tom Grummett. None of the art is unreadable, certainly, and all of it works well for The Insiders' wide-screen action; some of it just worked better for me than others.

[Contains bio pages, full covers.]

Well, I'm off now to continue our Countdown to Infinite Crisis countdown, reading Day of Vengeance. From there, the JSA tie-in, and more. See you around.