Gail Simone Trade Post: Wonder Woman Contagion & Secret Six Danse Macabre

WONDER WOMAN: CONTAGION (DC)
Written by Gail Simone, drawn by Nicola Scott, Aaron Lopresti, Chris Batista, Fernando Dagnino & Travis Moore
Collects Wonder Woman #40-44
Post Infinite Crisis, Wonder Woman was one of the books that made me leery. I didn’t really care about Wonder Woman taking on the Diana Prince persona and becoming a government agent. Generally, I find the drive by some creators to go back the Silver Age, incomprehensible. The lateness of the book didn’t help either. But, I later went back and read those early Alan Heinberg issues in trade format and wound up really digging them. I would go on to enjoy Gail Simone’s run on the book as well though I’ve only posted about Rise Of The Olympians for some reason. Well, once news hit that JMS was taking over Wonder Woman, I was bummed because I thought DC had a good thing and might have been getting rid of Simone’s longterm plans for a story and costume that were immediately panned. I read the first few issues of that run and actually enjoyed them, but I got the feeling after reading Contagion, Simone’s last volume of WW (for now at least), that she was cut off a bit early.

This book feels a little all over the place. You’ve got elements from the previous volume, which I believe I’ve read, but didn’t blog about it and if I kept the trade it’s buried in a longbox in the closet because my shelf is full. So, I’m a bit lost as to what happened, why Etta Candy is in the hospital and what happened between Rise and this volume that they still haven’t found Genocide’s body (there’s a pretty big issue gap there). Those are just bits and pieces of the story though. The first two issues feature a giant snake god and bunch of little kids who have the ability to drive people crazy, including Power Girl who winds up throwing down with Diana. After that’s all figured out, a race of woman taken from various planets called The Citizenry has come to Earth to absorb its resources and take the 100 best and brightest women. Wonder Woman gets to show her stuff and, with the help of her allies, holds them back just in time for a nice group shot panel to end the book. In the end, the last issue felt like the end of an arc, not a run. Adding to that, the kind of Galactus and Storm Vs. Callisto for control of the Morlocks elements mean this one doesn’t feel like a swan song. Making matters worse, some of the artwork in the last few issues looks really bad. I’m not sure whose it is because there’s two or more artists working on the pages, but it seems like the pencils were rushed through to color without being inked. The result is some really unfinished pages that hold up like a kindergartner’s artwork compared to pros like Scott and Lopresti.

As a fan of the book, it’s a bittersweet collection because it completes my collection of this volume of Wonder Woman, but it’s not one that really wowed me or felt like a good conclusion. It’s not in Ex Machina territory where I’m still wondering whether I want to keep the entire series or not. Instead of feeling like a creator failing at the end, this one feels like the creator was not given the proper chance to close out a book she had been working on for quite a while.

SECRET SIX: DANSE MACABRE (DC)
Written by Gail Simone & John Ostrander, drawn by Jim Calafiore & Peter Nguyen
Collects Secret Six #15-18, Suicide Squad #67
After reading Simone’s last volume of Wonder Woman, I remembered I had a Secret Six trade in the to-read pile and figured they’d make a good pair for today’s Trade Post. Danse Macabre is an interesting collection because the first story was written by Ostrander and features Deadshot dealing with the death of Batman. It’s a great call-back issue to the writer’s run on Suicide Squad, which heavily featured Deadshot, but still fits pretty seamlessly into the world of Secret Six. From there the book has more of an 80s feel in that, while there is a definite arc collected, the elements flow into one another in a way that reminds me of Iron Man and Secret Six comics from back in the day. Black Alice, a magic-based character Simone created in her first run on Birds Of Prey, makes it known that she wants to join the team. Then we’re right into Blackest Night territory.

As regular readers will remember, I just finished reading the three main Blackest Night volumes, so the story is all pretty fresh in my mind. Partway through that series, DC announced an interesting idea: bringing some canceled series’ back from the dead. One of those was Suicide Squad and that issue is collected here because it’s less a one-shot for Suicide Squad fans or people super-into Blackest Night and more of a part of the regular Secret Six story. Seriously, Black Lanterns only appear in the beginning and very end of the issue. I can’t imagine how frustrated people must have been who were concerned about staying caught up on BN and got something that doesn’t really add to anything in that vein. It DOES add to the Secret Six story and is thus necessary to include in this volume.

Okay, back to the story. I think Simone did a pretty good job of including Blackest Night elements in her story. It really makes sense for this group to interact with dead heroes and villains because they’ve put more in the ground than anyone else. It’s also nice to see the Suicide Squad connection that’s running through the book as Amanda Waller sends them on a mission to distract the Six so she can attack Scandal back at the base. The story would be interesting on it’s own, but then you’ve got the looming threat of the Black Lanterns which adds another level of conflict and winds up throwing the Six and the Squad together at least for a bit. I even liked how Waller had an ace in the hole that wound up getting rid of the immediate threat of the Black Lanterns. Most of the tie-in books had something similar, but they usually relied on existing characters with light powers that wound up having no bearing on the larger story. Instead, Waller uses hers like a weapon, points it and blasts them to hell.

One problem I had with this book, and it has nothing to do with the story itself, is that I am completely confused about the Suicide Squad’s recent history. I dug Ostrander’s mini from a few years back and Waller’s appearances in Checkmate, but ever since Salvation Run, It’s been fuzzy in my mind (mostly because I didn’t read that book). I know Bane was on the team for a while as was Deadshot, but then they left or got thrown into that prison planet? It makes me want to go back and read Secret Six again going back to Villains United. Maybe it’ll be a project read down the road.

Comic Book Vs. Movie: Planet Hulk

I’ve been looking forward to the Planet Hulk dvd for quite a while. I first posted the Alex Ross DVD cover back in October, then I did interviews with some of the people behind the movie for Marvel.com and even mentioned how hopeful I was for it in a list over at Topless Robot. Plus, the comic is one of my all time favorite Marvel runs of all time, so, needless to say, I was really hoping the dvd feature wouldn’t disappoint me. And thankfully it didn’t.

What I liked about the comics is that the story by Greg Pak took a character who generally seemed to be a plot device and turned him into an actual down-to-Sakaar character who you were rooting for. There was an epic nature to that tale, taking the Hulk from stranded and betrayed to revered royalty. I didn’t like World War Hulk because, let’s face it, the premise itself just wasn’t going to happen in the regular Marvel universe. Hulk was never going to come to Earth and kill the guys who sent him there. I know that ended up not being the point of the story anyway, but that was the bill of goods we were sold heading in the project. Anyway, as a collection, the hardcover is one of my favorite because it includes so many extras and just looks damn nice on a shelf.

So, what about the movie? I think they did a helluva job interpreting it for the small screen. Sure, it could have been longer and covered the entire run of the book, but I like where it left off, even if I wasn’t expecting it to end so soon. Consider this potential SPOILER territory if you haven’t seen it. The movie covers the first 2/3 of the comic basically, with Hulk and the Warbound overthrowing the Red King and Hulk becoming the new king. So, you don’t get the spaceship blowing up and a vengeful Hulk ready to smash the Earth, instead it ends on a happy note with Hulk and his lady celebrating. It was kind of a nice change. Plus, it leaves plenty of room for a sequel that can go right into World War Hulk if they think that will work.

And, while many of the story points were compressed and combined, I didn’t feel like anything huge was left out. There were some changes seemingly made based on the rights to certain characters. For instance, the Warbound does not include a Brood, presumably because she’s part of the X-Men license which isn’t held by Marvel Studios presumably. The same goes for the lack of Silver Surfer who showed up in the comics to fight Hulk and company. This time it’s Beta Ray Bill who first pops up in Korg’s Thor-based flashback and then fights Hulk. I’m guessing this is the same thing, considering Fantastic Four characters fall outside of Marvel Studios’ purview currently. It was a change I liked, I mean, how can you not like seeing ol’ Horseface fighting Hulk?

Which brings me to the fight scenes. Man are they cool. I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of Hulk throwing down with robots, pink zombies or dudes in armor. Those were the best parts of the Incredible Hulk movie, which I really didn’t like, but luckily, the story here is a lot tighter and makes more sense. The pace is rapid, but not without character moments and all around a great piece of work by everyone involved. Two thumbs way up.

EDIT: In a conversation with my buddy Ben, I was reminded that Marvel Studios does the Wolverine and the X-Men cartoon, so they obviously do have the rights to do Brood. Maybe they didn’t because they’re gross.

Trade Post: Spider-Man Noir, Wonder Woman: Rise Of The Olympian & Astro City: The Tarnished Angel

SPIDER-MAN NOIR (Marvel)
Written by David Hine & Fabrice Sapolsky, drawn by Carmine di Giandomenico
Spider-Man is one of those characters whose regular comics I find generally indecipherable. I know it’s because I’m just not all the familiar or interested in his comic book adventures. I was a DC kid growing up and everything I heard about Spidey’s books while coming up just didn’t sound that interesting. Aside from burning through the first 100 or so issues of Ultimate Spider-Man (which I found super boring and over-written) I don’t think I’ve ever even read a full Spider-Man trade. People say the same thing about Superman and that’s cool, it’s just how things is. But, I am a sucker for alternate universe stories featuring familiar characters and I do like Spidey in every other medium (cartoons, video games, one movie), plus I like the idea of noir superheroes. And, for the most port, I liked it. It’s way less jokey than the Spidey you probably know and love, but it’s still a fairly quick moving story that kept me interested and art that moved the story. It’s not a life-changing story, but a good read. I tried reading the X-Men one and just couldn’t get into it. I do think it’s interesting that Marvel made this and the other Noir trades a little bit smaller than a regular trades. It’s not quite digest size, closer to a Mome I guess. Anyone know what the reason for this is? For what it’s worth, I’ve got a great idea for a Thor Noir, if anyone’s interested.

WONDER WOMAN: RISE OF THE OLYMPIANS (DC)
Written by Gail Simone, drawn by Aaron Lopresti & Bernard Chang
It’s kind of funny for me to think of myself as a Wonder Woman fan. I read John Byrne’s run on the book and didn’t really like it (why I didn’t drop the book is beyond me), I’ve enjoyed the first two volumes of the retro Diana Prince: Wonder Woman (check out reviews here and here) and I’ve mentioned how much I like Gail Simone’s run on the book before, so I guess I am a fan. It’s too bad such a big time character doesn’t have more epic stories to point to, but I feel like Simone’s run might be one of the best. This trade (which collected Wonder Woman #26-33 and a segment from DC Universe #0) shows Wondy throwing down with a god called Genocide created by a group of mad scientists while Zeus resurrects a group of dead men to become the new Amazons. There’s all kinds of fighting and drama, but what I like most about this particular volume is that it changes the WW status quo by adding men into the Amazon picture. Sure, there’s all kinds of conspiracies and what not going on, but it seems like an at least fairly permanent change (you know, as much as you can have one of those in a comic). Lopresti’s art is sick as always and I hope this book starts getting some more attention soon. I will say that Rise isn’t a great jumping on point for new readers. I highly recommend going back and checking out all of Simone’s run and, if you like that, it might be worth it to check out the first trade of this series which sets the stage for everything going on here (like why Diana has an alter ego and all that stuff that wasn’t around before the relaunch).

ASTRO CITY: THE TARNISHED ANGEL (WildStorm/DC)
Written by Kurt Busiek, drawn by Brent Anderson
Astro City’s one of those books like Hellboy, Sin City and Jack Staff where I really fell in love with the universe along with the characters. I first heard about it from reading Wizard back in the day and then finding them at the library while visiting my grandma in Cleveland. I read them out of order and lost track until I started at Wizard when I was able to get caught up. Kinda. I’m way behind on all the newer stuff. Anyway, one of the more revered of the Astro City books is Tarnished Angel (along with Confessions), which collects Astro City Vol. II #14-20. The story follows Steeljack, a super criminal who gets out of jail only to go back to his same old crummy neighborhood where everyone’s either a henchman or related to one. Turns out someone’s killing these black masks and the neighborhood hires Steeljack to find the killer. Not being much of a detective, Steeljack has to rely on some hints along the way and dogged determination. Busiek has become known for stories like these that take a look at the world superheroes live in from the ground up, zoomed way in on a particular character or group and this is a prime example of that. You really feel for this mook who’s just trying to make things right. The story might be a bit long (note that this collection also includes a one-off story about a guy called the Mock Turtle that ties back in, but isn’t SUPER relevant), but overall I think it’s a well told tale. The one thing that I don’t necesarily like and the element that has turned a lot of people off to the Astro City comics is Anderson’s artwork. It’s kind of muddy and maybe over-inked. Overall it’s fairly inconsistent, at times it’s spot on and works really well and at others it looks pretty bad. Not being a super-art oriented comic reader, this doesn’t bother me as much. I really urge you to push through and give it a shot anyway. Also, as I’m sure you know, Alex Ross did all the covers in this volume and they’re top notch, from when he was really on top of his game. Now I just need to get my hands on Confessions, Local Heroes and everything after the first Dark Ages trade which I read and found to be way too slow and written just like the schlocky Superman/Batman issues where Jeph Loeb kept having Superman and Batman thinking about each other in nearly identical ways.