Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Week 5: All Harnessed in Gold

There's a line from the Book of Judges, "the stars in their courses fought against Sisera," but I'm betting the way the title of this issue is meant to be understood comes from Rudyard Kipling's "An Astrologer's Song":

To the Heavens above us
O look and behold
The Planets that love us
All harnessed in gold!
What chariots, what horses
Against us shall bide
While the Stars in their courses
Do fight on our side?

That's an awfully confident thing to say, and its confidence is a little like the 52 puppet-masters' confidence: if the DC Comics promotional machine insists that 52 is the most important mainstream comic right now, then ipso facto it is. The problem is that that atittude removes the obligation to make 52 awesome in practice as well as important in theory, and although I'm totally engaged in the story--well, you may have noticed that I haven't talked much about the series' artwork so far. That's because it was unobtrusive in its first four weeks; this is the first issue where it's a real problem.

The verbal tone of 52 has gotten established pretty well by now--I can still identify the four writers' parts most of the time, but they've worked out a consistent kind of pacing. Having Jones draw all the covers was a great idea, even though the three out of five that are supposed to show scenes from the story rather than symbolic abstractions have had inconsistencies with the interior art. And having Giffen do layouts for the whole series is a very smart idea too, just in terms of keeping the story-flow consistent. It's interesting to compare his layouts at to the finished comics, too. The layout for week 3, for instance, shows Black Adam beheading Rough House, and also indicates that the blindfolded woman in that scene is named Andrea--also, it looks like Detective Jiang on page 1 of that issue was originally Detective Driver from Gotham Central, and Akteon-Holt was originally Glassonix (whose logo Booster's wearing on the cover of week 2).

But the style Giffen is using to draw his layouts has real flair, and a specific aesthetic. The finished artwork doesn't--it's just boilerplate superhero-comics cartooning, and that's a major opportunity lost.

Every memorable superhero comic I can think of has a particular, focused, unmistakable visual aesthetic. That tradition starts with C.C. Beck's Captain Marvel stories, goes up through the obvious Kirby and Ditko work in the '60s, and continues through recent stuff: Alex Maleev's Daredevil had a look all its own, and so did Michael Lark's Gotham Central (continued by the artists who came after him) and Darwyn Cooke's Catwoman (ditto), and so does Barry Kitson's Legion, and Mark Bagley's Ultimate Spider-Man, and Frank Quitely's All-Star Superman (which even looks significantly different from Quitely's other work), and everybody's version of The Authority. And nobody's done that for 52.

Grant Morrison has worked on some projects that had lots of different artists who each had their own distinctive visual style, but those were comics where that was part of the point: The Invisibles is about multiplicity of perspective, and Seven Soldiers is eight miniseries with dramatically different tones about characters who experience the world very differently. (Even the musical-chairs game on Mister Miracle's artwork was formally appropriate for that storyline.)

Here, though, the rotating artists are working toward an absence of style rather than toward a specific style, which means that the drawing is bland at best, and often worse than "best"--especially this issue. Jimmy Palmiotti is one of those inkers who puts a pretty significant stamp on anything he works on--not quite as much as, say, Alfredo Alcala used to, but as much as Vince Colletta. Like Colletta, though, he's known as a guy who works really quickly, and sometimes it shows: his chunky lines here don't do the storytelling many favors. There's also a lot of dodgy anatomy and unconvincing facial expressions here, which might be Batista's problem and might be Palmiotti's, but it's somebody's. (See, for instance, Ellen on page 1, panel 2, looking like her eyes are pointing in two different directions, or Maggie's Dick Tracy-ish facial expression on page 14, panel 4.)

As far as this issue's story goes: It's amazing how much I enjoyed it, considering that a) it's mostly devoted to wrapping up leftover gobbets of plot from the Rann/Thanagar Mess, and b) although the Red Tornado's utterance seems to be foreshadowing whatever the main plot of the series will be, the character arcs we've already been following don't seem to be getting advanced at all. Booster? Hanging out on a rooftop, being irritable. Ralph? Eating a sub. Steel? Still acting funny. Montoya? Still has the Kirbytech gun. Black Adam? Natasha? The Question? Who? And I suspect the mad-scientists plot isn't even going to get resolved in 52, since a line in a recent issue of Geoff Johns' Teen Titans suggests lots of scientists are still missing.

The good stuff, really, is pretty much all character play this time: Ellen holding out hope for Buddy, Alan trying to be strong enough to carry everyone else's weight and not realizing how messed up he is, Pieter talking about "metahuman care," Buddy meditating on the picture of his family while Kory's enjoying herself.

"History of the DCU": Donna Troy weeps again. I can't wait for this to be over.

More notes:

Pg. 4: Do we recognize anybody in panels 3 or 5? That's ringless Ralph in panel 6, yes?

Pg. 5: So apparently John Henry's face doesn't have the liquid-metal effect we saw last issue, and he's cleaned up the Steelworks, and either Natasha didn't find out about the explosion last issue or it's not a big deal. And Hawkgirl has switched from the ridiculous high-heeled boots she's wearing on the cover to more sensible shoes with treads. Why are they still wheeling her into the hospital, by the way, if Alan's had time to get himself cleaned up, get an eye-patch and notify Ellen Baker that Buddy's missing? Or is it just that she won't fit through the door?

Also, St. Camillus of Lellis is the patron saint of hospitals and hospital workers--a fitting name for a medical center, although it might have been funnier to figure out who the patron saint of superheroes would be. (On the other hand, St. Camillus was supposedly large and powerfully built, so maybe he is.)

Pg. 6, panel 5: That's definitely Ali-Ka-Zoom in the hat, and I'd like to think that the character he's talking to is Ystin! Of course, we're not going to find out for sure until Seven Soldiers #1 comes out, which now looks like it's going to be considerably beyond Week 7.

Pg. 8, panel 3: Wait--when did John Henry lose his hand? I don't remember that part. Issue number, please? And how convenient is it that the Red Tornado's voicebox was neatly implanted in Mal's chest (along with the robot-ish parts embedded in his face)?

Pg. 9: Pieter and John getting on with business while Alan keeps nattering away. Although I'm sure that his line about "the one I do have isn't even my own"--so the score for this issue is four eyes down, one eye up. And what exactly is his new eye? It looks rather green. Might it have something to do with the Emerald Eye of Ekron?

Pg. 16: I can't wait to see what Polite Dissent makes of this--something seems sort of dodgy about the treatment Hawkgirl's getting, in particular.

Pg. 17: Apparently the Red Tornado's last words were plugging the hot new series from DC Comics.

Pp. 18-20: The "heaven" where Adam, Kory and Buddy have been dumped appears to be the planet Adon, from Jack Kirby's Forever People #11, and even more conveniently they appear to have ended up with a spaceship--considering that they were apparently zeta-beamed there, does that count as a crash landing? I'm guessing that those eyes watching them belong to Devilance the Destroyer, given that the tag for Week 9 is "who dies before Devilance?" and it looks like him on the cover. But what is Devilance doing on Adon? They both appeared in the same comic originally, but Devilance spent the entire issue on Earth, and didn't seem to have any way of getting to the way-way-way-far-away planet where the Forever People ended up...


At 8:04 PM, Blogger Michael said...

Page 4 panel 7 - the panel after Ralph and his sub, wouldn't that be Lois and Clark? I mean come on, that's classic Clark Kent in the blue suit, white shirt, and red tie (with glasses).

Pages 10-11 - on the right hand side of the page, a caption apparently explains how Supergirl got to the 30th century of the Legion. I was hoping it wasn't that simple, but that pretty much ties in with the most recent Legion issue, they're scanning her memories for what happened before she showed up in the 30th century, and it was this fight in space. And also, whose bright idea was it to bring Bumblebee on a space-based mission? What's she going to do, fire her stingers at the ships?

At 9:20 PM, Blogger Scott said...

Ask and ye shall receive:
a look at the medical aspects of 52 #5. Personally, I was more worried about the care given to Mal than whatever they were doing to Hawkgirl.

At 8:01 AM, Blogger alex said...

given luthor's big announcement this week, it would seem that when luthor touched john down at the coroner's office, he "infected" him with whatever the meta-human gener triggering process is (why would he even show up tot he hospital in the giant steel armor-suit, unless now he can't take even take it off? -- or perhaps it's more like an iceman sort of deal where he'll just "steel-over" from now on -- and just care a cape in his pocket?), but he certainly seems to have conveniently forgotten about it in light of others' medical problems for the time being.

i agree with you on the visual theming of the book needing to come together, and soon (i tend to buy just about anything darwyn cooke happens to draw because of that). the biggest problem seems to be that the book occasionally gives into telling us WHAT happened in an explanatory sense, not what happened in terms of what happened to the characters.

At 7:14 PM, Blogger Steven said...

So apparently John Henry's face doesn't have the liquid-metal effect we saw last issue

To be a literalist, all we know is that less than half of John's face isn't covered in liquid metal, pointedly not the half we saw covered last issue. Also note that while the call is for "Doctor Irons," he answers as Steel.

Page 4, panel 3. I think the woman on the left might just be the goddamn Batwoman.

At 7:32 PM, Blogger Matthew Perpetua said...

This was my favorite issue of 52 thus far - maybe it is because it seemed like the one where it seemed like Grant Morrison and Mark Waid did most of the work, and Geoff Johns' voice was not particularly noticeable?

It could be the art - I prefer this more open look, something about Bennett's style was too tight and dull to me, this is definitely boilerplate but at least it feels like it's got a bit of life in it. The Starfire cheesecake stuff was a bit wanky, but that scene was otherwise nicely drawn.

I am frustrated by the way the series randomly picks up and drops story threads, but this was the first issue where I was entertained for almost all of the issue. It's going to take a lot for me to care about that boretastic Montoya/Question plot, though. That seems to be going nowhere!

At 11:46 AM, Blogger Jim said...

GL's little speech would have been stirring if it wasn't delivered by a guy in a purple cape and red pirate shirt. And now an eyepatch! Just put a parrot on his shoulder and be done with it.

So it's Geoff Johns who's driving all this limb-rending, eye-gouging crap, right? I mean, THEY POKED OUT ADAM STRANGE'S EYES. What is wrong with these people?

At 11:48 AM, Blogger Jim said...

(Although maybe that's a concession to the artist, who can't line up anybody's eyes correctly anyway.)

At 1:30 PM, Blogger Prof-Fury said...

OK, so there was no Question this ish, so forgive the off-topicality of this speculation, but: folks in the comments for last ish noted that The Question didn't seem to be acting much like we've come to expect the DCU's Question to act like...

...but you know who he *was* acting like? Ted Kord. Another Chicago-based acrobatic fighter-type who once had a team-up with The Question in the pages of his own magazine. I know it's probably hoping for too much to think that it might be Ted behind the no-mask, and I know next to nothing about the current status of Vic Sage, but still.

At 2:42 PM, Blogger acespot said...

Incidentally, Doug, the quote from Judges is one of two of the more famous biblical proofs for the existence of extraterrestrials. The other is from the book of Genesis, where it talks about the Nefilim coming to earth to mingle with the daughters of man.

I'll post my comments to this issue after I read it next week.

The new layout is confusing. You should keep each week's issue on a separate page and fully expand all the comments.

At 7:45 PM, Blogger Rick Tyler said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 7:52 PM, Blogger acespot said...

p.1 Doesn't Buddy Baker have a son too? Where was he?

p.4 Perhaps the black chick in panel 3 is Natasha?
The couple in panel 7 is definitely Clark and Lois.

p.6 notice that Steel has gone back to wearing his old Superman-inspired logo.
p.6.5 Isn't Ali Ka-Zoom dead? Didn't he show up as a ghost in Zatanna #3?

p.8 Steel didn't lose his hand...the hands on his outfit are detachable - see the invasion of the watchtower back in Grant Morrison's JLA...Steel can shoot the hands. However, this leaves one to wonder as to the proportionality of the Steel suit.

At least somebody realizes that it was a stupid idea to take VOX into space. Donna Troy really doesn't inspire much confidence in me. I'd rather have had ANYBODY else leading that mission. Like, "sure, Donna, just take the people with powers that would be useless in a deep space battle with you - you're practically immortal, what do YOU have to worry about?" Animal Man? Useless away from the "red". Cyborg? Useless in space. Bumblebee? What's she going to do? Sting the spaceships to death? Vox? Useless in the vacuum of space. Red Tornado? Useless in the vacuum of space - since he's an air elemental, and there's no air in space - well, you figure it out. Hawkgirl? Can she even breathe in space? How can her wings work without gravity? And what the hell are Donna's powers anyways?
I can understand taking Adam Strange along, he's like the Batman of deep space. Supergirl, Alan, Jade, and Starfire were good choices as well.
And how the HELL would Vox get fused with parts of Red Tornado? So symmetrically?

p.9 Alan's remaining eye isn't his own? Then whose is it? And how can he see? Whatever.

p.15 I like the fact that Montoya has Kirbytech, but did anyone notice that it's a different gun from the one she used last issue?

p.16 They're in one of the most advanced hospitals in the world - yet Alan has to do MOUTH TO MOUTH on Mal? They don't have any bags?

p.17 Yay. Red Tornado is now nothing but a mouthpiece for the DC advertising department.

p.18 Notice Red T's hand still floating in space?

I don't care if he's married...there is no way that Buddy can sit half naked in front of a fully naked and exhibitionist Starfire and not get aroused. Unless he's dead. Or gay. And maybe even then. Seriously.

p.19 So the Zeta beam teleported a spaceship too? And put Adam's eyes out? Riiight.

History of the DCU:
Roll Call:
Batman, Metamorpho, Blue Beetle, and two unidentified others.
Obsidian, Hawkman, and six others.
Who is the green girl with purple hair?
Superman, Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel, Firestorm.
Who is the guy who sortof looks like a rocket red?
Who is the guy wearing a red suit and a blue cape?
Who is the guy wearing a red and green suit?
Who is the Starman looking guy by the Anti Monitor's right shoulder?

This issue was weak. And not just in terms of the art. Did anybody else notice how it skipped five whole days? And I can't wait until HotDCU is over. God is it awful.


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