Tuesday, August 16, 2005

What's in your comic book shopping cart?

If you've cruised by SSTOL on any given Friday, you know that I collect original comic superhero art. Knowing that, it may surprise you to learn that I only recently began reading comics again, after a hiatus of about 15 years. Collecting art spurred my interest in seeing what was happening in the industry currently, so I dropped in at a local comic shop and found a few series that intrigued me enough to garner my attention (and my three bucks) on a regular basis. The experiment will last as long as the books remain interesting to read and attractive to look into.

Here's what's currently landing in my comic book shopping basket each month.

The Amazing Spider-Man (Marvel Comics). I gave up on Spider-Man when Todd McFarlane spun the character in a dark new direction in the late '80s. But the Spider-Man films reminded me just how much I've missed connecting with my boyhood hero. I was stunned to see that where once there were but a few Spidey titles — the original Amazing Spider-Man, the companion book Spectacular Spider-Man (which was originally intended to focus more on Spidey's everyday life as mild-mannered Peter Parker, but quickly became indistinguishable from the main title), the weaker sister Web of Spider-Man, and the McFarlane-spawned Spider-Man (no adjective necessary) — there now seems to be a veritable plethora of series featuring the Wall-Crawler. I decided to stick with the horse I rode in on, and sample the original series, currently being written by noted TV scribe J. Michael Straczynski (creator of Babylon 5) and penciled by Mike Deodato Jr. I enjoy Straczynski's character development enough to tolerate Deodato's evocative but maddeningly inconsistent art (I suspect that a lot of the work that bears Deodato's name is actually being done by his legion of assistants). I was thrilled to see the recent logo change away from the grotesque McFarlane-era lettering to something cleaner and classier.

Black Panther (Marvel). One of my favorite characters, in the process of being reinvigorated by screenwriter and director Reginald Hudlin. Now that the starting run of six issues that teamed Hudlin with artist John Romita Jr. — never on my list of faves, though I was a huge fan of his father's Spider-Man work in the late '60s — I'll be interested to see whether the promise of the series holds up. One of the few comics I followed during my years away from regular reading was writer Christopher Priest's earlier Panther series — thus far, the Hudlin version pales in comparison.

DC Special: The Return of Donna Troy (DC Comics). A revamp of the original Wonder Girl character, with eye-popping art by industry legends Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez and George Perez. The story by artist-turned-scripter Phil Jimenez makes little sense, but the pictures are doggoned pretty.

Defenders (Marvel). A miniseries from the team that recently finished a six-issue run in DC's JLA Classified: writers Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis, and pencil artist Kevin Maguire (this time sans inker Joe Rubinstein, and the worse for it). I'm not usually a fan of humorous takes on otherwise serious heroes, but I enjoyed the JLA storyline ("I Can't Believe It's Not the Justice League") so much that I'm giving its creators another chance. The first issue was clever, so I'll be intrigued to see where this goes.

Fantastic Four (Marvel). Nostalgia value — the first superhero comic I ever read was a Fantastic Four summer special. J. Michael Straczynski is writing this one, too — less effectively, in my opinion, than Amazing Spider-Man, but it's entertaining even if not terribly original. A monthly visit with Reed, Susan, Johnny, and Ben still makes me smile, after nearly 40 years.

Gravity (Marvel). A new series showcasing a teenage hero in the mode of the early Spider-Man (and such later Marvel characters as Nova and Darkhawk). Enthusiastically written by Sean McKeever and drawn with Silver Age overtones by penciler Mike Norton and inker Jonathan Glapion. I've very much enjoyed the first three issues of this book.

Green Lantern (DC). An aggressively retro look at one of DC most enduring characters. I've always thought Green Lantern — actually, all of the Green Lanterns, because DC has featured at least five characters by that name — was kind of a silly idea (a guy with a mystical power ring that can create anything he imagines), but I loved the series in the early '70s with Denny O'Neil writing and Neil Adams (later Mike Grell) drawing. Current writer Geoff Johns and artists Carlos Pacheco and Jesus Marino are taking Hal Jordan back to his stylistic roots, and after two issues, I'm digging the ride.

House of M (Marvel). Marvel's summer crossover series, which spans four separate titles, is an interesting enough idea that, even though I typically hate big crossover concepts, I rather like this one. The art in all four books is hideous — the Iron Man spinoff, drawn by Pat Lee, literally gives me a headache — but the scripts are engaging, tightly written, and inventive. I'm eager to see how the intersecting storylines will resolve.

Jon Sable: Freelance (IDW). Creator Mike Grell is doing everything but the colors and letters on this book, which resurrects his classic hero from the '80s. Grell, like many great artists before him (Jack Kirby and Gil Kane leap to mind), has reached the point in his career where his distinctive penciling style has begun to parody itself. When Grell's good, however, he's still very good, and greasepainted swashbuckler Sable is still as fascinating a character as he ever was. It's clear that Grell is pouring his heart and soul into every issue.

Legion of Super-Heroes (DC). Always a favorite of mine when I was a kid, this often ridiculous series (which I sometimes refer to as Legion of Stupid Heroes for its history of characters with goofy codenames and ludicrous powers) is still fun to read, thanks to writer Mark Waid. DC keeps shuffling the art team around, so I have no idea from one month to the next how each issue will look, but I'm sure the script will be nicely done.

New Avengers (Marvel). I just started reading this one, mostly because I've heard so much about the writer, Brian Michael Bendis. After a couple of issues, the jury's still out.

Ororo: Before the Storm (Marvel). Just as Superboy used to be "the adventures of Superman when he was a boy," Ororo is the adventures of the X-Men's Storm before her mutant powers manifested. It's been long established that Ororo Munroe survived her youth as a thief on the streets of Cairo (Egypt, not Illinois), and this series reveals some of the happenings of Storm's years as a sort of Artful Dodgerette. With fun, all-ages-appropriate scripts by Marc Sumerak, this is the book I'm trying to persuade my teenage daughter to read.

Rann-Thanagar War (DC). Part of DC's buildup to a mega-crossover called Infinite Crisis, this miniseries features two of my favorite heroes from the DC Universe: Adam Strange and Hawkman. Classic storytelling by writer Dave Gibbons, coupled with dynamic art by penciler Ivan Reis and inker Mark Campos. I'll be sorry when this one is over in a couple of months.

Seven Soldiers (DC). Writer Grant Morrison has assumed the Herculean task of writing seven miniseries featuring seven different protagonists (not all at once; three of the series have yet to begin), working with different artists in each title. Only two of the current series are on my reading list: The Manhattan Guardian (art by the talented Cameron Stewart) and Zatanna (art by the equally talented Ryan Sook and Mick Gray). The two books are lightyears apart in concept, but share a similar realistic flavor that I like.

Supergirl (DC). A brand-new series that just began this month, and I'm hooked already. I've long thought that the deaths of Supergirl and the Flash during the 1985 Crisis on Infinite Earths series helped sound the death knell of superhero comics as I once knew them. Supergirl's return, 20 years later, gives me reason for hope. I'm glad that Kara is back, and I look forward to her continuing adventures.

Wonder Woman (DC). This will come as no surprise to anyone who's seen my art collection. I very much appreciate the dignity with which scripter Greg Rucka portrays my all-time favorite heroine, who has probably suffered from more flat-out lousy writing than any major character in the history of superhero comics. Penciler Rags Morales, the current artist on the title, has an appealing approach that suits Rucka's words beautifully.

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