The Weekly Pull – 6/6/12 (Part 1)

   

With the first of the month comes more large pull lists, so it’s back to multi-part posts. This time we’re looking at DC’s offerings, including DETECTIVE COMICS #10, SWAMP THING #10, EARTH 2 #2, and DIAL H #2. In part two, we’ll be looking at the books from Marvel.

Thankfully for me, DETECTIVE COMICS #10 saw the last issue as the book’s only contractually obligated addition to the Night of the Owls event, and it can finally get back to its own storyline. Because if you can’t tell, I’m kind of sick of talking about that event. This issue has an armored car hijacked by a number of armed thugs wearing Batman costumes, intent of stealing an experimental radioactive substance being transported from a science lab. And these guys are so intent on getting their prize away and maybe killing the real Batman in the process, that they willingly and without hesitation blow themselves up like suicide bombers.

You can’t buy employee loyalty like that, folks.

Turns this was all orchestrated by Mr. Toxic, one of those villains from a few issues back that tried to team up with the Penguin, but ultimately got shafted. And yet despite Batman having met the guy and seen what he can do, the fact that several people in various science labs have been melted by red acid completely stumps the Dark Knight. Maybe the writers just didn’t want to acknowledge this, since they might be banking on people having jumped onto the title from the brief romp in Night of the Owls. Except this causes two problems. One, Batman still encountered the guy, so the plot hole still stands. And two, Detective Comics also has a backup story involving Two Face that’s ongoing, and began before the tie-in issue. So people are already going to be confused no matter what they do. Not to mention all the little developments from previous issues, like Bruce Wayne visiting Charlotte in the hospital so as to comfort her on her injuries and the fact that her sister was murdered at the end of issue eight.

Let’s talk about that story with Two Face now. I think it’s about now I’m getting a bead on this plot. Which is funny, because most of it sees the bifurcated villain in the hands of a group of monks. The monks want to wipe evil from the world (although they do it as mercenaries for criminals?), yet they only kill people if they can prove they’re without hope for redemption. There’s a lot of mind-reading and hazy rituals, made a bit harder to understand because of the art style. It looks like Two Face, however, is moving forward now, and I’m not sure what this accomplished other than telling us he has the potential to be a good guy.

Let me say the art on this issue isn’t bad. It’s by the guy who did Penguin: Pain and Prejudice, so of course it’s quality stuff. But while the Penguin miniseries at least had a lot of detail, and plenty of balance between the light and darkness, there’s just too much dark in this storyline. And I mean it’s difficult to tell what’s going on, let alone get into people’s heads a lot of the time, because facial expressions are hard to read. This is especially true for Two Face himself, who usually only has the scarred part of his face lit, and that part heavily distorts his expressions. Combine that with certain panels seeming to miss transitioning actions, and what’s actually going on is sometimes murky. A monk does a mental thing with Two Face, then his eyes react with shock, and he’s immediately on the ground. I presume he fell, but there’s no action to suggest that, which is a frequent thing with the way this backup story is laid out. I don’t hate the Two Face stuff because it has a lot of good ideas, but it’s like dirty water in that I barely see or understand what’s going on so the impact is lessened.

I’ll admit the current run of Detective Comics hasn’t really done it for me since the initial storyline ended some time ago. But I’m optimistic, so here’s hoping the book can get the ball rolling again. Besides, The Joker still hasn’t shown up again, so I might as well keep to it.

Next we have SWAMP THING #10, which serves too cool things down a bit while also somehow ramping things up for the next story arc. The main forces of The Rot were crushed and Abigail Arcane saved, but in the process Swamp Thing isn’t looking too good. So the two return to their old swamp home – complete with what remained of the Parliament of Trees relocated to nearby for easy defense – and Swamp Thing just wants to chill in the mud for a while and heal.

Just as Anton Arcane comes back with intents on reclaiming Abigail. Okay, so I should probably explain who Anton Arcane is.

Way back in the original run of Swamp Thing – back before Alan Moore came in and before the writers really knew what to do with Swamp Thing – Anton Arcane was the second adversary the recently plantified Alec Holland came against. He was a very old mad scientist/alchemist/sorcerer whose goal among other things was to claim Swampy’s body for himself. He had the means of immortality, but didn’t want to spend eternity in his crappy old body, you see. A bunch of stuff happened, and Anton supposedly fell to his death. But then his minions – creatures called Un-Men cobbled together from raw biological parts – came to his aid and helped him piece together a new body. But since master surgeons they were not, Anton ended up in a much crappier (yet stronger) body with which to do stuff. And then I think he died again. Not to sure of the details.

Oh, and he’s also the uncle of Abigail Arcane. Except I guess now he’s her father? Yeah, a few things were retconned for this issue, most importantly being the new ties to The Rot. Turns out Anton Arcane was always working for The Rot, which is perfectly fine by me. Anything that acknowledges past continuity and rejiggers it into working stories now is fine by me. After all, Green Lantern wouldn’t be as popular now if Geoff Johns hadn’t worked so hard on the mythos for the last decade or so.

Like most issues, this is heavily stylized and a good piece of work by Scott Snyder. It’s also very plain to see that the cliffhanger at the end won’t stick, because such things simply don’t. Not in comics. No spoilers, just me voicing what everyone is thinking. The cover is another in a long line of misleading covers. Yeah, Swamp Thing and Anton Arcane do meet, but not in combat. Believe me. Other than those petty concerns, I’m reminded of why I love this book.

[Edit: Actually doing research on the old series made me realize why they structured the cover like they did. It deliberately harkens back to the old series, specifically the cover to the tenth issue. It also had Swamp Thing fighting Anton Arcane, meaning this book just became ten times more awesome.]

 

Next we come to EARTH 2 #2, straight from the Department of Redundancy Department. The issue starts off in a personally amusing note by introducing a new, old player to the game: Mister Terrific. I only ever read the first issue of the Mister Terrific series before it got canceled, but from what I understand that series ended with the titular genius hero stepping into a dimensional portal. Apparently, that portal ended up coming out in Earth 2, meaning Mister Terrific finally found his way back to his roots (figuratively speaking, I’m pretty sure this MT is an Earth A native).

The A stands for alternate. I pine for the day when I don’t need to explain that every time I refer to the main Earth of the New 52.

This is something I’ve noticed since DC canceled a bunch of ongoings. First OMAC finds his way to Justice League International (thus tempting me to start buying that), while Mister Terrific ended up in Earth 2 where he arguably belonged all along. Here’s credit to DC, they know enough to not just abandon a good character concept just because it didn’t sell well. This adds to my (probably poorly conceived) optimism for the future, since it would appear DC is getting better.

That said, let’s get to what’s really important about this issue: Alan Scott is gay now. In fact, this version of Alan Scott has been gay for a quite a while, since a part of this issue has him getting back in touch with his boyfriend after business kept them apart. I’ve got an entire separate post planned out explaining in detail what I think about this change, but for now I’ll say I don’t like it. Not that I don’t understand why they did it or begrudge it being the status quo now. The origin behind this is that recently, DC leaked word that one of its “iconic” characters was going gay. Turns out it was Alan Scott, and character that – despite his rich history and cult following – is decidedly not iconic. James Robinson decided to make him a homosexual because in the old continuity, Scott had a gay son named Obsidian, who was a gay superhero and there was a lot of story stuff around the two’s relationship. That and Obsidian being a gay superhero in the first place made James Robinson sad about him no longer existing anymore. So to make up the difference, Alan Scott is now gay.

Again, my full thoughts on this change are forthcoming. Just know I’m not happy, but I’ll go along with it. If anyone can do this, it’s probably James Robinson, and he really cares about these characters as much as I do. So for now, I’ll say the scenes weren’t objectively scenes of romance. Between two dudes…yeah, best save that for the post.

The most important part about this issue so far as plot is concerned is that Jay Garrick meets Mercury, last of the pantheon of gods worshiped by the equally dead Wonder Woman. We learn Mercury is dying, and he passes on his speed to Jay despite the latter’s protests of not being worthy. Oh, and you know how the whole war in the last issued revolved around a conflict with Apokolips? Turns out they aren’t even the biggest threat out there, though Mercury doesn’t elaborate on the nature of the dark forces coming to Earth.

So Jay Garrick is now the Flash, and I have some more stuff to talk about. First, I have no problem with this origin for his powers. There’s a semblance of solidarity with the setting, with ties to the late Earth 2 Wonder Woman. And if it wasn’t literal godspeed, we’d be back to him inhaling hard water to arbitrarily get speed. It does mean he doesn’t necessarily have a tie to the Speed Force, though Mercury could have gained his speed from there all along. There are visual cues with the lightening to suggest such connections, though we aren’t told about the nature of his powers to any degree.

Speaking of visuals, we have a better look at Jay’s new costume and I can say I still don’t like it all that much. I think it’s both the track suit look (complete with built-in cleats) and the weird helmet he’s sporting. There are several points that just don’t sit right with me, and it’s not just my nostalgia talking. It’s another attempt by DC to make everything look sleek and modern, damn everything else. I get an iPod feeling from this helmet, if only a little. I’ll probably get over it eventually, but it’s just weird.

We’re only two issues into the run, so concrete judgements on how it’s going aren’t solid yet. But I’m very intrigued thus far, with my gripes being acceptable. James Robinson is taking risks, which are necessary for a series to prevent stagnation, no matter how little fans may like it. In fact, I’d prefer Robinson to do more to differentiate Earth 2 from Earth A in little minor ways. After all, it’s a parallel world significantly different from the regular DC universe. In pre-Crisis days, Earth 2 was a different world, complete with an independent Quebec. We don’t need whole pages taken up by people commenting on the nature of the world. Just some clues here or there that flesh out the world. There’s a two-page spread in this book where news stories talk about various things, but most concern the loss of the Big Three in this world. Why not use those moments to talk about the politics of the world, or how history differs?

Am I the only one who cares about these things?

Last of the books from DC this week is DIAL H #2, second issue to the series that impressed me most of the new ongoings. For those who missed it, Nelson is an overweight, unemployed man who suddenly stumbles upon a rotary dial inside an old phone booth, which turns whoever dials 4376 into a different superhero. The issue begins with Nelson experimenting with the phone, turning into various heroes while also getting a feel for the limitations of the strange artifact.

We briefly see a number of such transformations in this issue, including Human Virus, Shamanticore, Pelican Army, Double Bluff, Hole Punch, Skeet, Control+Alt+Delete, and Iron Snail. Quite a group, though we only see the last three of these in action. The entire point behind the original Dial H for Hero was that readers would submit ideas for superheroes, and they’d get featured in the issues. That’s definitely what the writer seems to be going for, with various character concepts put in that seem like extensions of a single idea. Like a Napoleonic army officer commanding pelicans, or a musclebound dude dragging a tank with a whole lot of guns and snail-like mucus sprays. It’s a neat concept, and lets the creators flex their creative juices.

Not that all these various forms seem to stop Nelson’s enemies from figuring out they’re dealing with one guy. In the last issue, Nelson delivered an ultimatum to the gangs who beat up his friend to leave said friend alone. They apparently have a lot of supervillain, superpowered friends of their own, who respond in kind. Not going to spoil this for you, just know these guys escalated the conflict. In a big way.

We also get to meet the mysterious woman that’s been giving the gang trouble, whom Nelson comes into contact with on two occasions. She seems to be working against their plans, and after some classic comic book misunderstanding, she seems intent on helping Nelson. And it looks like he needs it.

What I love about this book is that while it has a more or less serious plot (especially that escalation I mentioned), and has some more realistic character development with Nelson using the dial to escape himself being a useless slob, the book doesn’t really take itself seriously a lot of the time. It can get downright silly sometimes, though in a darker manner than other such silly books. In fact, that’s what this feels like: silly grit. A story on the darker side, but with enough self-awareness to go for broke when it comes to the fantastic elements. It’s very hard to describe, but it’s probably the most like OMAC by simply how different a direction is goes in relation to all the other books in the second wave.

And like OMAC, I love every minute of it. Perhaps now people will read the thing, since it’s not working with a Kirby-esque art style. If I haven’t made it clear, you should be buying this book. Right now!

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