YES! I got this posted before midnight! Now I won't turn to stone.

*No, really! I had no clue that taking a seasonal job on my vacation would dominate my Christmas time! Seriously! I also like sticking foil gum wrappers into electrical sockets! I thought it would open the doorway to adventure, but it didn’t.

JLA Classified #2

I think art team Ed McGuinness and Dexter Vines are the problem here. There’s a certain lack of clarity in this issue; when Batman and his faithful robotic faux-JLA swoop into battle it’s sort of difficult to tell where they’re coming from (I know it’s a Bat-Plane, but the perspectives are constantly skewed), or especially how the wicked Super-Gorilla Grodd has spotted them. I later noticed that it’s because they’re all standing outside, but the Bat-Plane is depicted soaring through the rain, while rain is rarely depicted falling on Grodd or his mysterious ally, so my sense of environment had become confused (it doesn’t help that there’s no establishing panel to orient us). Fight scenes are also chaotic: in one instance, Batman lands a nice kick to Grodd’s face. We then cut to other members of Batman’s robo-JLA getting trounced by the mind-controlled forces of the Ultra-Marine Corps. One particular Ultra-Marine then freezes everything in the area, and we get a panel of Batman backing away as an obscured figure (I suppose a JLA robot) shatters in the foreground, although nobody but Grodd has been pictured standing by Batman before. In the next panel, Batman is not backing away, but towering over the fallen Grodd, with no evidence of a shattered JLA robot around. I had to go over these two pages twice because on my first read I had very little idea of what the hell was going on (I really wish a had a working scanner or something so I could whip up some nice images for you all; it’s story pages 17-18 for the record). Somebody on the art team (the letterer?) even makes a really basic error early in the issue. We are glimpsing at somebody writing in a journal. The perspectives are skewed, so all of the page is not in the panel. However, in one panel, the writing is perfectly laid out so that all of the written words are contained in what portions of the page can be seen, despite the fact that logically such writing would leave large portions of the page (the parts which we cannot see) blank. It’s ‘writing for the reader’ so to speak. A nitpick? Sure, but I tend to fixate on little gaffes like this that could be easily avoided; it distracts me.

And it’s not to say that this issue is totally without style or skill; the JLA is wonderfully introduced through a series of tiny panels featuring extreme close-ups of readily identifiable portions of their bodies and costumes. This fits in very smoothly with writer Grant Morrison’s idea of the miniature universe in which the JLA are visiting as an analogue for our own ‘real’ world. These icons are thus very much larger-than-life (why, they can barely fit in the panels), and the notion of our little non-super reading world existing as a tiny universe within a grand universe of mighty heroes and cosmic battles is an awfully fun one. And it’s also not to say that a good “JLA” story can’t thrive with slightly dodgy art (I’m of the opinion that many of the ‘big’ stories on Morrison’s initial run succeeded in spite of Howard Porter).

But on the “JLA” scale, this one doesn’t rank very high. It has some nice ideas, but with one issue to go it isn’t quite coming together into much of anything interesting, even from a superhero pop fun standpoint. I’m sort of wondering what Grodd’s ally is up to, yes, but most of this story just isn’t keeping my attention. Maybe the Ultra-Marines are a little too bland. Maybe the conflict with Grodd is too typical, too uninteresting. And maybe the art is dietracting me too much. If anyone’s prone to last-issue saves it’s Morrison, so I’m not going to jump to conclusions, but as of now this arc is going in the ‘weaker’ column, and its probably the least effective work Morrison’s put out on this most recent hot streak of creative productivity.

The Goon #10

Well that’s something. Not only is this special Christmas issue here just a few days before the holiday, it’s also one of this book’s irregular no-ads specials. Furthermore, it’s a largely straight adaptation of “A Christmas Carol”, which various members of the regular Goon cast filling the familiar roles, their individual appearances fitting into Dickens’ characterizations often eerily well. Quite a bit of the dialogue appears to be taken directly from Dickens’ work, although there are moments where the personalities of the individual Goon characters break through, often in connection with the plot abridgements necessary to plugging the story into 21 comics pages. But an awful lot of the book is a pretty serious translation, and a good one at that. It helps that Eric Powell draws nearly the entire issue in his soft pastel style (which only occasionally pops up in the course of the average story in this book), with each page washed in a light sepia tone. It’s very handsome looking, and effectively used in service of genuine suspense (the page in which Marley first appears is a fine one).

There’s also an 11-page back-up prose story by Thomas Lennon of “The State” and “Reno 9-11" fame, with spot illustrations by Powell. It’s not very funny, I’m sorry to say, with Franky and friends hunting for a lost boxcar filled with expensive ladies’ footwear, and encountering all sorts of trouble. Transferred to comics with Powell’s pacing and art, it might have faired better, as Dickens does earlier in this issue. The comics portions of “The Goon” continue to defy expectation, and while sometimes Powell’s ambition seems to be looking out a bit farther than he can reach, the experiment pays off this time.

Hunter-Killer #0

Hey,” said the shop owner, “You want a ‘Hunter-Killer’?”

Oh... that’s the new quarter book, right?” I replied.

Nah, we’re just giving them away now.”

Oh. Alright. Free. Sure.”

And that’s how I wound up with the hot new preview book from Top Cow, with Mark Waid on the script and Top Cow founder Marc Silvestri handling the pencils (along with no less than two inkers for its twelve story pages). The book also features some early character sketches and a very short essay in which Waid tries to sell the book as a parable for our War on Terror society. But mostly it reads just like countless other X-Men style superhero comics. There’s these genetics-based super-powered individuals known as ‘Super-Sapiens’ running around, and the titular Hunter-Killer organization works to track them down when they go rogue. Led by Samantha, a woman so devoted to her duty that she thinks nothing of standing around at a stakeout on a November evening wearing little more than... it's either a multicolor spandex one-piece or a swimsuit with a particularly low-riding pair of spandex pants; there appears to be a dispute between the colors on the cover and interior of the book. Thanks to a corny but kinda fun bit of narrative misdirection, we then meet a typical brooding Silvestri bad-ass tough guy who’s also looking out for Super-Sapiens, for his own mystery purposes, I’m sure. He fights a scary monster, and the Hunter-Killers all comment on how much of a brooding bad-ass tough guy he is. Then we cut to another Super-Sapien, who’s living peacefully with his parents, and that’s it. The supplementary features in the book indicate that he’s the protagonist, so I’m sure his loving family is not long for this world or something.

I’m not much of a Top Cow fan, so while I can’t definitively say that the book offers absolutely nothing new, I can say that it’s a very standard-issue superhero book by any measure. The art offers exactly what you’d expect: rippling muscles and balloon breasts and slimy demonic beasts. I guess if you like this particular style, Silvestri has managed to nail it down over the years; there’s no lack of clarity at least, and the story flows smoothly enough. Waid’s script hits those superhero notes without much difficulty. There’s little that’s immediately deficient about the writing, save for the total absence of anything not intimately familiar to even the casual superhero fan. It was a nice freebie, but I’m not gonna start shelling out for this stuff.

Really the most interesting parts were the ads for other Top Cow books. “Witchblade” is up to issue #80??? Somebody has to be buying all this stuff; I keep forgetting that “Spawn” is still being released too. Maybe that’s the real value of these quarter previews; they’re not selling me on the upcoming book, but they do let me know that these sorts of comics are alive and well, and they give me just enough of a peek inside that it’ll hold me for another few years.