Friday, January 11, 2008

Occasional Reviews: Hulk #1, Nightwing #140, Teen Titans Lost Annual

Hulk #1
Writer: Jeph Loeb
Artists: Ed McGuinness & Dexter Vines

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Rating: A
On My Pull List? Yes

Hulk #1 skillfully carries on the momentum that World War Hulk started. Though no actual real-time Hulk action is depicted in this issue (making it interestingly similar in that regard to the Spider-Man-less Amazing Spiderman #546 & the Captain America-less current Cap run), his massive footprints (and, apparently, fingerprints) are everywhere in evidence.

Spoilers: Classic villain Abomination is apparently killed by the Hulk. With a gun. Meanwhile, a half-naked Rick Jones, who, despite the end of "WWH," is quite alive, roams the Russian countryside in a daze. Is he this mysterious "Red Hulk?" And the Winter Guard make an appearance, much to my boyfriend's delight (he loves those "global" teams).

I admit that I was very turned off by Jeph Loeb's recent writing for DC, but his work in Hulk #1 is both fast-paced and engaging. Ed McGuinness & Dexter Vines's art is appropriately massive, and Loeb provides the sort of wide, open storytelling that plays that art to its biggest advantage. There are spreads so massive in this book you'll feel as if you're reading one of those old treasury editions.

A great start; I hope they keep it up.

Nightwing #140
Writer: Pete Tomasi

Artists: Rags Morales & Michael Bair
Publisher: DC Comics

Rating: B

On My Pull List? I will give it one more issue before deciding.

Nightwing enters a whole new phase with issue #140 and the new creative team of Tomasi, Morales, and Bair. With a story that takes place mostly in New York City instead of the familiar haunts of Gotham or Bludhaven and a far more realistic art style than I'm used to for this character, it certainly does feel like Dick Grayson's own "Brand New Day."

Tomasi's writing does not lack feeling for the characters or a penchant for manly action scenes (indeed, Dick's skydive at the beginning of the issue seemed more at home with a James Bond novel). However, the copious use of dialogue and narrative captions denotes more of a prose approach to a graphic medium. For example, the scene with Robin & Nightwing at the end of the issue -- there are a tremendous amount of words on those two pages.

It is really the art of Morales & Bair that are the showstoppers here. If ever there was a comic most likely to appeal to females based on the sexiness of the male superhero alone, it is Nightwing. If there ever was a male character in the DC roster in danger of being exploited for his good looks alone, it is Dick Grayson. The sheer number of gratuitous shower scenes featuring Mr. Grayson through the years testifies to that.

Simply put, the Dick Grayson (and Tim Drake, assuming he's of legal age) of Nightwing #140 is incredibly good-looking. It makes me wish Devin Grayson was still writing the book.

Teen Titans Lost Annual
Writer: Bob Haney
Artists: Jay Stephens & Mike Allred
Publisher: DC Comics

Rating: B+

I watched this book grow from its inception while I was an assistant to its original editor, Dan Raspler; so it might be more valuable to my blog readers to give you some background to it in in addition to just a review.

If my memory serves me correctly, Bob Haney, a classic writer of Silver Age DC material, wrote the script for Teen Titans Lost Annual on a manual type writer, all in caps. Almost every other line ended with a double hyphen & double exclamation point. We stood around the office just looking in awe at the thing. And yet, it was the perfect vehicle for Jay Stephens & Mike Allred to express their love of that time period.

Titans Lost Annual was shelved before publication because it was considered "weird." A new Teen Titans title was launching, and it was believed the one-shot would confuse branding.

The thing is -- the book is weird. It features hippie cavemen going up against mod aliens in Beatles haircuts. And John F. Kennedy.

But, like last year's The Last Fantastic Four Story by Stan Lee, the book is a love-letter to a kinder, gentler period in comic book history. It was written by someone who wasn't trying to be ironic, but just wanted to tell an action-packed, fun story. On those merits, the book can be enjoyed.

But, the biggest draw is the art by Jay Stephens & Mike Allred. It is spot-on perfect. Plus, you get a cover & "sketchbook" by original Titans cover artist Nick Cardy. I would almost recommend that you get this for a child and let them enjoy the wonder of the early Titans stuff, if it wasn't for the inherent bizarreness & occasional deaths in the book.

But, would today's kids enjoy the 60s version of the Teen Titans, or the current "in continuity" comic, or Titans Year One, or even the upcoming Tiny Titans?

These are some damn sophisticated kids. I think it's Teen Titans Go! all the way.


  1. I read the red Hulk book & was yawn-city, which I generally find to be my response to Loeb. Though I will admit that a Hulk with a Hulk-sized gun is a little bit awesome. Why was Doc being such a total choad, though?

  2. I love Ed McGuinesses art, but not enough to pick up a mainstream superhero comic. Speaking of art, I've hated Morales art ever since the Valiant days.

    Anyway, I *loved* the Titans' annual!! I looove Allred's art, so that was an easy purchase. The story was exactly the sort of genius storytelling we should be seeing in comic books. It was like the perfect story! I'll just make a broad, general statement.... All Silver Age comic book writers are better than all modern mainstream superhero writers. I wish there were more old scripts like that hanging around!

  3. On the Lost Titans Annual:

    Have you read this yet? If you haven't you should.
    It's a retro-kitsch throwback that finds that original Titans squad saving John Kennedy from alien abductors. It was one of the best reads I've had in ages.
    It didn't take itself too seriously. The characters were treated with respect, and that infectious Silver Age sense of fun prevailed. You could have easily pictured this book coming out of Julie Schwartz's idea factory. There's a great twist of a surprise ending, and I won't ruin it for you if you haven't read it yet. Suffice to say, I was a little misty-eyed when I got to the last page as I remembered how much I used to care about comics and why I cared about them so much.
    Meanwhile, Darwyn Cooke and J. Bone wrapped up their 12-issue run on The Spirit by reintepreting one of Will Eisner's classic tales form the 1940s. Their run on the Spirit had the feeling and look of an old pulp adventure, and they breathed new life into a character that could have easily been moribund.
    Bone's art struck the right balance between cartoony and realistic, making Denny Blake into a believable hero and his Midway City into a believable place. He drew women with the curves of Varga girls, but never allowed them to become the pin-up cheesecake offered up by the rest of the DCU.
    Outside of JSA, this is one of the best books DC has going right now. And I'm confident that it's in good hands when Sergio Aragones takes over with #13.
    In the meantime, Batman is fighting a newly, newly, newly, newly resurrected Ra's-al'-Ghul in the pages of the flagship Bat-book and the pages of Detective Comics, and I. Just. Don't. Care.
    The art is substandard. The plot makes absolutely no sense. Why do I care tha Ra's is alive again? What role did he play in Batman's life other than to harrass and harrangue hime with those cheezy, "Detective ..." taunts again. Talia's an interesting character, but they had their moment and their time has passed.
    Yep ... Batman has a kid and maybe there's an heir-apparent to the cowl running around the DCU. But he'll have to fight Nightwing and Robin to get it. Why do I care? I have no idea.
    Paul Dini wrapped things up nicely in Detective, as Ra's was sent packing off to Arkham Asylum. But, c'mon ... do any of us expect him to stay there?
    And there's the difference between the mainline DCU books and the fringy ones like the Spirit. Cooke gets the time to write stories that can stand by themselves as rip-roaring yarns even as they establish a new continuity for the character. Meanwhile, DC's flagship heroes are slaves to the editorial direction being handed down by DiDio and the rest of the braintrust. It's all in service to Ultimate/Final/No Effing Kidding/We're Serious This Time/Or We Are Until the Next Time We Need to Do a Reboot/Crisis. And I'm left not caring about characters I once felt passionately about.
    Meanwhile, I have no idea how I'm going to break my 2-year-old daughter into the comics trade. She can recognize the Neal Adams-vintage Batman on the side of the 35-year-old drinking mug that I've handed down to her. But there's no way I'm reading her the next issue of Detective Comics. It'd scare her to death, assuming she could ever understand it.
    I guess I'll have to start with something from the Johnny DC line, but I'm not sure I like it. The overly cartoony art annoys me. I still treasure the memories of reading 1970s vintage Batman comics with my Dad. But I could never do that with my daughter now. The books and the stories just aren't the same anymore.
    And that brings me back to the new Titans annual. We need more stories like that. We need that seemngly vanished enthusiasm and innocence in our comic books. They're the kind of stories that lured me into comics, and they're the kind of stories that DC needs to tell more often if they want to lure in younger readers.
    Remember, there's a reason they call them "heroes." It's something we're supposed to want to aspire to on our own.
    I keep waiting for the comics I read now to inspire that same kind of longing in me.

  4. Groovydaddy,

    Yes. To all of that, yes. Your post is exactly why I've come to hate mainstream comic books. Imagination and creativity is frowned upon so the same corporate icons can go through the same motions in an attempt to squeeze every last drop from the stone that is the comic reading audience.