Monday, April 25, 2011

A Good News / Bad News Kind of Trade Find...

I've recently survived an interstate move, and currently am still getting my standing order from my longtime LCS. I've got a good relationship with them and their prices are very reasonable even with postage included, so I don't see that changing any time soon.

Still, it's nice to be able to visit a comic shop every once on awhile, so I have been getting to know the various shops in my new city, Melbourne. There are some great shops right in the CBD, but I live and work a bit too far away to make that a weekly trip. As such, I've been on the lookout for somewhere I can drop in to regularly to do my browsing and pick up the occasional non-standing order item.

The good news / bad news aspect of my post is that a found a brilliant shop recently, with a huge selection of trades and back issues, and I discovered today that they're moving to the other side of the city! To celebrate, they were having a huge sale of their existing stock, and I decided that the best way to console myself was to make the most of it!

The real find here and the main reason I decided to post was that I am so excited to finally own the Captain Britain Omnibus. At nearly 700 pages, it's not the kind of thing I'd be wanting to pay international shipping on. I've seen some good online prices for it that have been negated by shipping costs, so had it on my list of "things I hope to find on sale someday". Today was that day!

Alongside this great find, I also got three Thor trades (Thor: Ragnarok and Thor: The Eternals Saga Volume 1 and 2 - although I left Volume 2 out of the photo for some reason...), The Avengers Korvac Saga, Essential Defenders Vol 5 and Suicide Squad Classic Vol 1. A pretty happy day for this trade waiter!

I was so happy about these finds I had to share - and also give you a warning about some of the reviews you can expect to read in the coming weeks!

Alas, the hunt for a comic shop I can call "home" here in Melbourne continues.....

If you'd like to keep up with Trade Waiting Tales, you can sign up for the TWT Twitter feed and “like” the TWT Facebook Page.

Happy reading!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

TWT Joins the Teen Titans in the Hunt for Raven. Or a Plot.... Anything, really....

Don't be fooled by the cover - Superboy and Kid Flash barely appear in this volume

Part of my mission with Trade Waiting Tales will be to review a cross section of the different trade paperbacks that are being released or reprinted for today's comic readers. That means reading and reviewing the good, the bad, the ugly and, in this case, the horrid. On that note, I'm looking at the latest trade paperback released for the Teen Titans ongoing from DC Comics, entitled Teen Titans: The Hunt for Raven.

This trade collects issues #79- 87 of the current volume of Teen Titans, but you won't find that out by looking at the cover, the back cover or anywhere obvious. It's only in the very small print about three pages in - not easy to find if you're in a shop that has all its' trades in sealed bags! This annoyance isn't unique to this trade or to DC -  the way that the numbers of the collected issues are often so difficult to find often irks me. I really don't understand why companies need to make finding this information difficult - it's not a secret that these trades come from actual comic books, is it??

Okay, end rant and on to the review:

Just to be clear from the start, there are two elements of good here, and one of them is the art. There’s nothing terribly remarkable art-wise in this volume, but both of the main pencilers do a more than adequate job. The highlights of the book are the covers from Legion artist Yldiray Cinar, but the internals aren't bad by any means. Neither Joe Bennett (issues #79-81) or Jose Luis (main penciller for #82-#87) have set the world on fire as yet, but each makes a respectable go of his turn at the artistic helm of the book. Bennett has been around for awhile and is definitely ready for an opportunity to hone his skills on a regular gig, and Luis’ art evokes memories of Michael Turner, although he needs a bit more experience to develop a complete consistency of style. Expect good things from both of these gentlemen.

No, the 'not so good' I'm alluding to is in the writing and story department, bar one element I’ll touch on later. This volume collects the majority of the tenure of Felicia Henderson as Titans scribe, and thankfully, in the eyes of this reviewer at least, the end of her run.

Aquagirl calls Raven "Rach" - and reveals all that is wrong with this series.....
It would be easy to lay all of the blame for these issues at Henderson’s feet. To try to be fair to her, she wasn't handed an easy task taking over the Teen Titans at this particular point in its history. DC’s rapid succession of “game-changing events” and attention-deficit disorder approach to storylines has played havoc with many of its books for years now, and this book is just an example of the reverberations of this approach.

Essentially, Teen Titans has been in free-fall since Infinite Crisis and the deaths of Superboy and, in the year that followed, Kid Flash. The departure of Tim Drake’s Robin after Batman: R.I.P. was the final nail in terms of any semblance of the main drawcard of this run of the Teen Titans: the relationships between the four former Young Justice Members who joined with experienced Titans to re-form the team. With only Cassie Sandsmark’s Wonder Girl left, that dynamic has been absent and sorely missed. Add to that the bizarre removal of interesting post- One Year Later members Ravager and Kid Devil(what a waste of an interesting character!), Kid Devil’s silly death along with those of Marvin and Kid Eternity’s, and a ridiculously rotating roster, and you have the state of the team that Henderson inherited.

That’s as far as my understanding goes, however. As someone who has always been interested in C-list characters and oddball line-ups, (JLA Detroit, anyone??) there’s no correlation between a less than stellar roster and bad writing. In fact, less established characters can often give a writer more to play with, as they can explore different angles without stepping on years of continuity and history. Characters like Bombshell and Aquagirl in particular are still relatively undeveloped, and each has the potential to be quite an interesting character in her own right. Unfortunately, under Henderson’s guidance, they never get the chance.

Henderson creates some opportunities for character development in this arc, but basically squanders them all. The biggest problem is that she never moves beyond stereotypes and caricature. Bombshell and Aquagirl continue to bicker and clash without any real depth or development until things take a sudden dramatic turn at the end (more on that later). Wonder Girl’s crisis of confidence as team leader was well and truly played out before these issues started, but continues here with little development. This incarnation of the team has always been about younger heroes being mentored by more experienced heroes, and Cassie should be more than capable of stepping in to the mentor role. Instead, her anxieties and failings combine with the missteps of the younger heroes to create a sense that everyone on the team is a mess. It’s not easy reading.

The real crime here, however, is how team stalwarts Beast Boy and Raven are handled. Henderson’s Gar Logan is a humourless bore. Between his overbearing attitude toward Wonder Girl and his painful romantic efforts with Raven, he’s a shadow of the character that made the Wolfman / Perez run a joy to read. Naturally, Gar should be allowed to grow up, but to see him depicted without any of his sense of fun is pretty disheartening. These two characters should be the mentors to the younger members of the team, and instead they’re two of the most screwed up. Sigh.

Bombshell and Aquagirl disappear halfway through the story. It turns out, they're the lucky ones....

Henderson is also handed the task of reintroducing Superboy and Kid Flash (following their ‘resurrections’ in Legion of Three Worlds) to the team, and does so in a rather lacklustre and contrived fashion. (Don’t be fooled by Conner and Bart’s prominent place on the cover of this trade – they only come into the story towards the end). If you’re expecting an emotional or meaningful reunion of any kind, forget it. They arrive in the middle of a battle and then sit in the background for the rest of the story. Cassie and Conner’s main interaction is a bit of bickering related to Cassie’s leadership insecurities that seems most unlikely for a couple that should just be happy to be reunited.

Henderson also seems to have been given the task of setting up the team for J.T. Kruhl and Nicola Scott’s run, and part of that is a changing of the guard. Farewell Static, Miss Martian, Aquagirl and Bombshell, and the last two don’t even get an on-panel goodbye, they’re “lost at sea”. Actually they’re lost in the plot, as we leave them in terrible danger a couple of issues out from the conclusion of this trade and they only get a brief mention as being missing at the end. Along the way, Miss Martian goes nuts for a moment, Static gets de-powered, and then Henderson ends her run with the oldest Titans plot contrivance in the book - Raven goes evil for a few pages. How original. The end result is so ridiculous I can’t bring myself to speak of it. Bring on Kruhl and Scott’s run, and quick!

I alluded to one element of the writing that should be looked on favourably. One hopeful note in all of this is that the character that Henderson handles the best throughout this arc is Static. The reason this is good news is that she will be the writer for his new ongoing series. Some portions of this trade seem to be setting the scene for his new solo adventures, and re-building a world for him to inhabit - family, friends, old romantic interests, and an archvillian, in the form of the horribly named Holocaust. As one of Static’s main nemeses from his solo run, bringing back this Dwayne McDuffie creation was probably sensible, but I do hope that Static gets a better rouges gallery back in his own book.

Politically Incorrect Supervillain Names #1: Holocaust
Again, as tempted as I am to be more savage regarding Henderson’s writing abilities, you have to keep in mind all of DC Editorial decisions that have led the book to where it was. A solo book like Static’s will be a much fairer medium in which to judge her talents, and her Titans run will be mercifully quickly forgotten.

I hope I’ve demonstrated my dedication to this new blog by being willing to wade through this so that you don’t have to. I have to say this was one of the most challenging reviews of anything I’ve ever written!!

Next up, something much happier, and cosmic. I’ll be looking at Marvel’s Chaos War TPB. It’s essentially a Hercules story, so expect lots of gods and copious body hair....

If you'd like to keep up with Trade Waiting Tales, you can sign up for the TWT Twitter feed and “like” the TWT Facebook Page.

Happy reading!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Trade Waiting Tales checks out Hawkeye & Mockingbird: Ghosts

Cover to "Hawkeye & Mockingbird Vol 1: "Ghosts"
First off, welcome to my newest blogging effort, "Trade Waiting Tales". Those that know me from Action Figure Blues will know that most of my toy and statue collecting is comic book based, and as such I decided it was time to put some thoughts together on what I'm enjoying and not enjoying in terms of the source material that inspires my more expensive and space-hogging collecting habit!

I chose the name Trade Waiting Tales because I have basically converted all of my comic book collecting to trade paperbacks for a couple of reasons. One is a basic cost and storage consideration, but the second is that there's a large portion of modern age comics coming out these days that don't seem like "keepers" - not like the comics I collected when I was younger, where each issue was a treat on its own. Some time back I spent a few days of my holiday bagging and boarding comics collected over a couple of years (I was very busy!!), and I found that there were many issues that really had no sentimental value to me because of constant changes in mainstream comics. The prevalence of “events”, tie-in issues, and just plain bad writing has made me much pickier about what I am buying these days. The wait for trades gives me a chance to avoid comics that no longer "matter" and focus more on stories I want to keep in my collection for the long term.

With that introduction to the blog over, let’s move on to our first review!

--------
The first trade to get the "TWT" treatment is the first collected volume of Marvel's Hawkeye and Mockingbird. I am a die-hard Hawkeye fan, and particularly love the early West Coast Avengers stories featuring Hawkeye and Mockingbird as newlyweds. I “grew out” of comics in the late 80’s and returned in the early 00’s to find out Mockingbird was dead. Her return in SECRET INVASION was a very welcome plot line in my opinion.

I really liked Jim McCann and David Lopez' work on the post-Secret Invasion New Avengers: Reunion Miniseries, which explored Clint Barton and Bobbi Morse re-establishing their personal and professional relationships. The news that that McCann and Lopez would helm an ongoing featuring the pair was another welcome development.

The title of this volume is "Ghosts", and it has a few layers of meaning. The story explores Clint and Bobbi continuing to negotiate their new normality, while facing echoes from their pasts – Mockingbird’s in particular. This first takes the form of Bobbi’s mother, whom Hawkeye learns had been led by her daughter to believe Bobbi was dead, in order her to protect her, when in fact she had joined S.H.I.E.L.D. This brings up a set of personal issues for Bobbi to deal with and causes conflict between herself and Hawkeye, especially when her mother becomes entangled in the major plotline of the story.

This is an excellent opening arc for what was intended to be an ongoing series, in which McCann is clearly trying to establish the beginnings of a rogues’ gallery for his pair of protagonists. He’s chosen well by updating old Mockingbird nemesis Phantom Rider in the form of the daughter of the previous wearer of the mask. Harrison Slade’s daughter Jaime becomes possessed by the spirit of her grandfather, Lincoln, and continues his quest for vengeance against Mockingbird, who he holds responsible for his death. This new Phantom Rider teams up with old Hawkeye nemesis Crossfire to enact her plan, and the two make a fantastic pair of antagonists for our heroes.

Of course, no series is complete without a great supporting cast, and McCann has assembled quite a promising one in the form of Hawkeye and Mockingbird’s fellow agents in the World Counter-terrorism Agency, or WCA, which is a nod to the pair’s days in the West Coast Avengers. We don’t get to see a great deal of analyst Twitchy, explosives specialist Bangs and enigmatic researcher London, but you get the feeling that McCann knows their back story and has plans for them somewhere down the road. They add to the texture of the book and give the leads people to react to and bounce off of.

To all of this, add the enigmatic Dominic Fortune, hired by Mockingbird to assist the WCA. This left field inclusion is in many ways the making of the series in my view, as Fortune provides a great source of energy in terms of the dynamics between the leads – he’s a foil for Hawkeye and there’s some clear chemistry between Mockingbird and Fortune – providing interesting possibilities for future tension. He’s also a great device for introducing some humour to the scenario, which is always welcome.

Lopez doesn’t draw the most expressive facial expressions about there, and his characters and figures can have a degree of same-ness to them, but I’ve found his artwork well suited to the secret agent / spy style of the book. There is a definite colour palette in use that is quite effective and gives the book a distinctive look. He draws the two leads very well and has a consistent style which is much appreciated.

One of the things I appreciate most about this story is that it very much belongs to both of the leads – Mockingbird has as much to do as Hawkeye, and in fact the “ghosts” in the title really come from her past. It’s very gratifying to see Bobbi get her share of the limelight after so long off-panel.

The only thing that I’d list as a drawback about this volume is that it seems it may the first and last of the series. Initially Hawkeye and Mockingbird was put on “hiatus” for the Black Widow / Hawkeye / Mockingbird Widowmaker Mini-Series, but now it appears it won’t return, which Hawkeye starring in another mini-series. Jim McCann has stated, however, that he and Lopez aren’t finished working together with these characters, so it seems time is going to tell what that means. This disjointed approach to delivering stories seems to be the norm for both Marvel and DC these days, and only serves to reinforce my conversion to Trades!

That wraps up the review, and gets the maiden post of this new blog over and done with. I’m planning on a weekly post looking at one of my new readings, which means I need to get busy reading and selecting a new book to review!


What to do now? If you'd like to read Hawkeye and Mockingbird Volume 1: Ghosts, click on the link to buy it at Amazon.com!

If you'd like to keep up with Trade Waiting Tales, you can sign up for the TWT Twitter feed and “like” the TWT Facebook Page.

Happy reading!