BY AARON BLOCK
[At the end of each month, Aaron surveys the comics he read, celebrates the best, considers the rest, and takes stock of what it means to be a contemporary comic fan.]
[Note: this month’s Pull List is mondo-big, so it’ll be broken up into three pieces. This is the third part.]
On the eve of the DC relaunch I thought it appropriate to say goodbye to the titles I read regularly from the publisher. Some of them will return in a month as new #1s, while others are slated for relaunch towards the end of the year. Still others seem to be gone for good – two of which are among my favorite books of the year (one of which is Xombi, this month’s Spotlight book).
Batman and Robin concludes a solid run with issue twenty-six, written by David Hine and drawn by Greg Tocchini and Andrei Bressan. I wasn’t too fond of Tocchini’s work in previous issues of this title, but it seems more appropriate to Hine’s reverie for Dada and Surrealism. Bressan’s style doesn’t match Tocchini’s at all, and the dual artist approach suggests that this was rushed in at the last minute while other creators worked on the relaunch books. Hine deserves better – I hope there’s room for his absurdist take on superheroes at DC in the months to come. And I’m excited for Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason’s return to the title next month.
Even though I know it’s returning in some form in 2012, I’ll still lament the absence of Grant Morrison’s Batman, Incorporated. I’ve followed the story he’s been building in various Bat-titles (including Batman and Robin) for five years now, and I’ve grown accustomed to monthly (or near-monthly) doses of energetic plotting and world-building. Issue eight is probably the weakest entry so far, however – the story is fine, but Scott Clark’s computer generated art is often clumsy, at worst it obscures the action. I appreciate the appeal of digital art for a story that takes place entirely in “Internet 3.0”, Bruce Wayne’s newest high-tech crime-fighting tactic, but I think regular series artist Chris Burnham could’ve done more with the concept, using just pencils and brushes. It’s a good thing, then, that Burnham will be back on the title next year.
Detective Comics #881 brings both Scott Snyder’s year long James Gordon Jr. arc and the longest-running continuously published title in comics history (Action Comics has more issues because it went weekly at one point, but Detective was published first) to a close. I can’t imagine a conclusion more befitting that milestone – all the tension Snyder packed into the previous ten issues comes to a head as James Jr. confronts Barbara and reveals the extent of his psychosis. Artists Jock and Franceso Francavilla share the title, but Jock gets the majority of the action scenes while Francavilla handles the expository bits – appropriate enough, considering how well Francavilla builds tension and Jock releases it. Unfortunately this writer-artist team won’t carry over into the new DC, but Snyder is staying on the Bat-titles, poised for a long, satisfying run with the character.
Justice League of America #60 was easily the best of the month’s farewell issues, and probably the best issue of writer James Robinson’s run on the title. Robinson uses his last issue to tell the story of this League’s dissolution – a fitting parallel, but the meta-commentary doesn’t stop there. As the characters discuss their reasons for wanting to leave the League, they wonder aloud about legacy and memory, and what it means to be replaced. If that sounds a bit like a veteran writer wondering about his role at a big publisher that’s in the middle of significant change, it’s no coincidence. My favorite parts of the issue, though, are the recollections of epic battles that apparently took place in-between issues. It’s a clever bit of storytelling on Robinson’s part, and worthy end to a run that deserves a little more attention than it was given.
The Spirit #17 is officially the final issue of the title, but it’s been shutting down in stages since June. Issue fifteen was the last to feature series artist Moritat, who’s European-derived cartooning defined the title’s look, and issue sixteen was writer David Hine’s farewell, with guest art by John Paul Leon. Issue seventeen returns to the “Spirit: Black and White” mode, collecting the already-completed stories that were left on the shelf when DC dropped all the second features to afford the move to a $2.99 price point. Howard Chaykin and Brian Bolland team for a tabloid murder plot while Paul Levitz and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez tell a tragic winter tale, but Will Pfeifer and P. Craig Russell’s art museum robbery/history lesson is the real gem. We’ve known the Spirit was on the chopping block for a while so it’s no surprise to find it’s absent from the new DC. But if they want to hold on to the license DC will have to publish something Spirit related – let’s hope whatever creative team is tasked with once-more revitalizing the title gels even half as well as Hine and Moritat.
When T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents launched last Fall I had inkling it would quietly become one of the bleakest titles on the shelf – sure, the concept of superheroes who fight for good knowing their powers will eventually kill them is a bit grim on the face of it, but in a heroic, celebratory kind of way. But writer Nick Spencer took the book in a different direction, telling a slow (at times frustratingly so) story and holding every character accountable for the terrible things they’ve done in the name of security. The second arc, which wraps up with issue ten, plumbed those depths even further, tugging on a thread from the original series to find the grim places where it could possibly have led. We know that former Agent Dyna-Man’s relationship with villain Iron Maiden is doomed, but we’re compelled to watch it play out in gorgeous flashbacks, rendered by Mike Grell and Nick Dragotta, while weathering the fallout of their star-crossed romance in the present. It’s almost too much, but Spencer finds a perfect middle between irony and heartbreak on the final pages. T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents is one of my favorite new titles, so I’m glad to hear that it’s returning in November. I hope the new series finds a slightly faster pace, but doesn’t sacrifice any of the dark tone I’ve come to love.
In retrospect, I’m surprised I held onto Zatanna for so long. It started out promisingly enough – Paul Dini’s stories were light in tone but briskly plotted, and Stephane Roux’s pencils were predictablylush. But then fill-ins for both artist and writer started to hinder the larger story’s momentum, and the book became a series of single-issue stories that tended to hit the same notes again and again. I was ready to drop the book, but I knew two of my favorite creators – artist Cliff Chiang and writer Matthew Sturgess – had arcs or issues in the offing, so I stuck around. After they’d left, though, I kept buying out of habit. Fittingly, Zatanna ended with a one-shot story by Adam Beechen and Victor Ibañez that pits the titular heroine against a mischievous witch-boy, not even attempting to wrap-up any of the story threads had laid out across the first ten or so issues. I don’t feel slighted by the lack of resolution; rather, it just demonstrates how little DC seemed to care about the title. Luckily Zatanna will be showing up in some form in Peter Milligan’s Justice League Dark, but I doubt we’ll see a solo-series for the character any time soon.