For me, the make-or-break issue of a comic book is often the second issue. Sure, there are the rare comics that amaze you from the first issue. And there are, unfortunately, first issues that are so atrociously awful that you don’t bother to pick up another. But the vast majority of first issues fall somewhere in the middle. They have to take care of introductions, exposition and set-up. And they rarely get to run with the story. So I tend to be lenient about first issues. If I see any potential, I’ll give the second issue a try. But the second issue is where my real opinions are formed, and where the real decisions are made. So here are some of my opinions on some of the second issues I’ve read in recent weeks. Enjoy!
Star Wars: The Clone Wars #2
Dark Horse, by Henry Gilroy, Ramon Perez and Dan Parsons
This issue didn’t work for me. Oh, there was some stuff I liked and I’ll start with that. It’s Star Wars so it’s got plenty of action including a good blasters vs. lightsabers fight and a dogfight in space. There were some nice verbal touches, such as having the bad guys call Obi-Wan and Anakin “Jedi scum.” And while the art started off a little uneven for me, Perez got better as he went along especially when he was drawing the alien characters. So it wasn’t entirely bad.
But there was one big flaw in the entire premise and that’s the relationship between Anakin and his new Padawan Ahsoka. It doesn’t work. Anakin has only recently become a Jedi Knight himself. And now he’s been assigned a Padawan learner (a Jedi apprentice). However, Anakin’s old mentor Obi-Wan is still around. They still go on missions together as if they were partners. Even worse, Anakin doesn’t really know what to do with an apprentice. So he’s not a very good teacher. And Obi-Wan knows it. And Obi-Wan keeps telling him that. And Obi-Wan keeps interfering in the relationship between Anakin and Ahsoka. The result is that Anakin looks incompetent and Obi-Wan looks like a busybody. These are supposed to be the heroes of the story and they’re both acting like fools. It simply doesn’t work.
I think I see what they’re trying to do. One of the best things in the prequel trilogy was the Obi-Wan/Anakin friendship. They had a great brotherly relationship that shined in “Attack of the Clones,” saddened in “Revenge of the Sith” and was portrayed well in extended universe works like the Genndy Tartakovsky cartoons and the Dark Horse comics. There was even a Dark Horse trade titled “When They Were Brothers.” Furthermore, change and conflict are both good from a story-telling standpoint. So the idea of introducing a third person into the relationship as Anakin’s student seems like a good one. It changes the dynamic. And it brings the potential for conflict. Unfortunately, in this case, it brings so much conflict that you wonder why anybody in the story would go along with it. There’s no good in-story reason for it, and by going along with it anyway, the characters come off as fools.
I can also think of several “fixes.” One, give Obi-Wan the new apprentice. His apprentice just graduated and by most accounts he did a pretty job as a teacher (hey, nobody knows Anakin will betray them all at this point). Give him the new student. You’ll still have the change and potential conflict but in a way that makes sense. And this mentor/big brother/trainee relationship has worked really well with Batman, Nightwing and Robin. Two, give both Anakin and Obi-Wan new Padawans. That way, the creators could illustrate the differences in teaching styles without having Obi-Wan tell us about it. And you could do it in such a way that Anakin and Obi-Wan look different, but not immature or foolish. This approach has worked well in some Star Wars novels which paired up Obi-Wan and Anakin with mistress Luminara and her Padawan Barriss Offee. Three, split Anakin and Obi-Wan up. It doesn’t make sense from an organizational stand-point anyway. If Anakin needs to go on missions with two Jedi, pair him up with Kit Fisto or Saesee Tiin or anybody else. Go ahead and make the story about Anakin and Ahsoka and use Obi-Wan as an occasional guest star. Four, acknowledge that the situation isn’t working in the story. Hey, the Jedi are fighting a war. Maybe they’re trying to rush a new generation of Padawans into service. So they know that Anakin isn’t ready to be a teacher. They know that Ahsoka isn’t ready to be a Knight. But they’re doing it anyway because the war efforts necessitates that the Jedi take a few shortcuts.
Any of these options could work. Unfortunately, the one they’ve chosen doesn’t work. Maybe it could. I haven’t seen the movie or the new cartoons. Maybe those writers found a way to make this teaching triangle work in those stories. But it doesn’t work here.
Marvel, by Stephen King, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Mike Perkins and Laura Martin
Wow, this was a great comic. Earlier this summer, when I first saw some of Mike Perkins’ promotional art for this series, I started to get the itch to read “The Stand” again. I held off, partly because I was in the middle of another big book, and partly because I thought I might have more fun waiting to re-read the novel until the comic books came out. But after I read the first issue, I didn’t feel that same excitement or the same need to read the novel over again. Now, however, after the second issue, I’m eager to dive into the book again. More importantly, I’m excited about the comic book adaptation itself.
In the first issue, Aguirre-Sacasa had done a good job of setting up the story. He introduced the problem- a plague that’s highly communicable and highly fatal. And he introduced three main characters: Stu Redman, a redneck from Arnette, Texas; Frannie Goldsmith, a young woman from Ogunquit, Maine; and Larry Underwood, a rising rock star returning home to New York. It was good.
This was better. Aguirre-Sacasa takes two of the stories he introduced in the first issue and moves them along- the plague story and the Stu Redman story. With the first, we get a sense of the overall movement of the story, the increasing tension and the rising threat. And he does it very well with a couple of two-page scenes, one showing the government facility where the plague originated and another showing a series of vignettes of the unseen spread of the plague. Mike Perkins even adds a nice touch to the vignettes by drawing in some red blood cells over top of the panels and borders. With the Stu Redman story, we get two lengthy scenes. We see a significant portion of his story arc so that we feel that the series is progressing. This is something Keith Giffen failed to do with Rann/Thanagar Holy War, which had so many introductions that the story failed to achieve forward momentum.
Meanwhile, Aguirre-Sacasa makes sure that we don’t forget about the other characters he introduced in the first issue. Fran and Larry both get their scenes- not as long as Stu’s, but just long enough to keep these characters in our minds. Plus, Aguirre-Sacasa manages to introduce two new pieces to the puzzle. He has time to introduce a fourth main character into the cast: Nick Andros, the deaf-mute drifter. Indeed, Nick gets the second most screen time, bringing his character up to the level of the three who appeared in the first issue. And, Aguirre-Sacasa introduces the dream sequences and the threat of the Dark Man. However, as with the novel, this is introduced through a character we already know so it becomes a natural branch of the story we’re already reading rather than an insertion. It’s really a masterful job of pacing.
Of course, the right pacing is practically useless if the individual scenes aren’t any good. In this case, the individual scenes are great as well. Aguirre-Sacasa seems to know just what to distill. The scene in which Fran tells her father she’s pregnant is perfect. Larry’s scene gives us a clear view into his character. And Mike Perkins does a great job of drawing facial expressions and body language. These scenes come to life in a wonderfully realized way. They’re almost more real than the screen version, although it’s still sometimes hard for me not to see the famous actors despite the fact that I didn’t think the tv mini-series was very good.
This was the kind of issue that makes you want to read more. The interview with Aguirre-Sacasa in the back, in which he reveals his King fanhood and his clear love for the story only increases my confidence in the product. And the next issue teaser introducing Poke and Lloyd, only increases my anticipation. This is shaping up to be a classic adaptation.
Marvel, by Greg Pak, Carmine Di’Giandomenico and Matt Hollingsworth
I mentioned in the introduction that it’s rare to read a first issue that is so amazing you know that the rest of the series is going to be great. Magneto Testament #1 was just such an issue. After reading it, I immediately included the rest of the series in my orders. This could be a great story and one of the best X-Men limited series ever.
The second issue isn’t quite as great as the first. That’s not really a complaint. The first issue set a pretty high bar so it’s not surprising that the second issue comes up a little short. Even so, this second issue is really good.
The Magneto Testament is the story of the young boy who would grow up to become the X-Men’s greatest enemy. As previously established, Magneto is a Jew and a Holocaust survivor. So this is not the typical super-villain origin. Instead, this is the mostly realistic portrayal of what it was like to be a young Jew living in Nazi Germany. In the first issue, we met Max, the boy who would become Magneto. We see his hopes and dreams, and even his first love. We catch glimpses of the growing bigotry. And we’re also given hints that Max might have an unusual connection to metallic objects.
In this issue, Max accompanies his father on a trip to Berlin. His father plans to look up an old friend and World War I comrade in arms who he hopes can help him get his job back. The trip backfires. Max’s father is assaulted by stormtroopers and beaten bloody. Even so, Max’s father remains optimistic. He’ll get the help he needs next time, he claims.
Max, however, takes a different approach. When some bullies try to beat him up back home, he fights back much to the consternation of his mother (who doesn’t like seeing his black eye) and to the disappointment of his father (who doesn’t think fighting back is the right answer).
But the big part of this issue is not Max’s individual battles with bullies. It’s his role as an observer. His prospective girlfriend has been placed in a relocation camp- the forerunner of an infamous concentration camp. He witnesses the events of Kristallnacht-the historic event in which Germans and Austrians destroyed Jewish property and businesses. And, after moving to Poland to escape Nazi persecution, he witnesses the invasion of Poland and the start of the Second World War.
Max makes for a great point of view character. He’s a young boy trying to figure out his place in the world at a time when the world seems to want to deny him any place in the world. He’s resilient and realistic. He has a bit of a mystery to him: why is he so good at finding metal objects like coins? And he’s just a little bit feisty. Also, Greg Pak smartly includes a two-page series of vignettes describing the actual historic events so that we have the context for what Max witnesses.
I’m growing more and more impressed with this issue even as I write about. It really was good. Yet I will admit that there were a few little things that I thought could have been better. Max’s father is much more of a grandfatherly figure. He looks too old to be Max’s father, and especially looks old when standing next to his Aryan war buddy. And there are several extended family members who have unclear relationships. At one point, I even thought Max’s dad was somebody else and he just called his grandpa “poppa,” but now it looks like that character might be Max’s uncle and Max’s dad just looks real old. In the grand scheme of things, that’s a pretty minor complaint. And it’s certainly possible that Max just has an old dad. But those temporary moments of confusion do count against the story. Even a story as great as this one.
DC, Geoff Johns, George Perez and Scott Koblish
Based on internet reaction, I must be the only person who didn’t like this book. That surprises me because I thought this book was go-cancel-any-future-orders bad.
Some of my problems are derived from the first issue. In that issue, the villainous Superboy-Prime is shot into the future. Still nursing his desire for revenge against Superman, he ends up taking a tour of the Superman museum. Through the museum, he learns of Superman’s association with the Legion of Super-Heroes. This leads to Superboy devising a plot to destroy the Legion as a way of getting back at Superman. As an opening to a story, there’s not a lot to it. But the point of that first issue wasn’t the story. It was the exposition. In this case, Geoff Johns came up with a creative enough way to share the exposition that I didn’t mind. And George Perez’s pencils are filled with so much detail that I actually had a lot of fun.
Even so, Legion of 3 Worlds #1 was another example of how it can be hard to judge a story by its first issue. The first issue is the set-up, not the story. And the series is going to be judged on the success of the story, not the quality of the set-up. I did approach the second issue with interest, hoping that the strong set-up would lead to a strong story.
At first, it looked like that’s what I would get. There was an opening prologue featuring Shikari of the second Legion that was visually interesting. And then there was a really good opening scene featuring the first Legion. The White Witch was lying in one of Mordru’s prisons. Her teammates Wildfire, Dawnstar and Blok came to rescue her in a nice prison break scene, with solid characterization and sufficient tension.
The story took its first misstep for me with the appearance of Rond Vidar. I like him as the curator of the Time Institute. I don’t care for him much as a Green Lantern. Yet, even though Geoff Johns added a character that I felt was superfluous, the story didn’t exactly fall apart. Yet. The prison escape instead morphed into a great battle between the small squad of Legionnaires and the magician Mordru. Then, Johns took the battle up a notch with the sudden appearance of Superboy-Prime and his new Legion of Super-Villains. There’s even the kind of great double-page spread of an entire team that Perez is renowned for drawing. At this point, about a third of the way into the story, I’m having a great time.
Unfortunately, that’s when it started to fall apart. On the next page, Superboy-Prime reacts to the fact that one of the Legionnaires opposing him also happens to be a Green Lantern. Apparently, Superboy-Prime has as much hate for Green Lanterns as he does for Superman. And apparently, Geoff Johns needs to remind us of this with a half-page of exposition. It’s completely superfluous. Johns has already spent an entire issue establishing Superboy’s motivation for destroying the Legion. He doesn’t need to stop the story and interrupt a fight scene in order to give us a second motivation. It gets worse. An argument between the Legion of Super-Villains and Mordru about who has the right to fight the Legion of Super-Heroes gives rise to even more exposition. And then, without starting the big fight, we jump to Legion headquarters. Johns does jump us back and forth between the battle and the bickering at headquarters, but the battle becomes a one-man show between the Green Lantern and the super-villains while the others escape. It’s quite a let-down, considering that four of the Legionnaires don’t even engage the enemy at this point.
Meanwhile, the argument back at headquarters didn’t work for me either for two reasons. First, the tension seemed forced. I understand why Superman and Lightning Lad would disagree about how to deal with Superboy. But I don’t understand why Cosmic Boy gets so mad that he throws Lightning Lad around. The outburst comes out of nowhere. Admittedly, the Legion have had internal tension in their past. But this just seemed arbitrary, like the random arguments that Johns brought to his run on The Avengers.
I could continue to pick this issue apart scene by scene but it would take too long and it’s not worth it. Yet my complaints continued right up until the end. I was disappointed that the second and third Legions didn’t show up until the story was almost over. They got a two-page spread and then, with the exception of the three-way Brainiac 5 argument, two panels of dialogue. That’s it. We’re two-fifths of the way through a story called Legion of 3 Worlds and two of the Legions have combined for less than four pages of face time (including the Shikari prologue). It’s pretty clear which Legion is supposed to be the “real” one and which ones are just props for the “real Legion” to put to work.
Even within the one Legion that he did concentrate on, I didn’t think that Johns handled the balance of characters well. The Legion can be a challenging book. There’s a trick to including a lot of characters without having the book feel crowded. And Johns doesn’t pull it off. He concentrates on only a few characters with the result that many of the others are little more than scenery. Yet the book manages to feel crowded anyway.
Finally, the issue ends with the surprise appearance of another Green Lantern. I know that others have complained about Geoff Johns using the Legion as guest-stars in Superman books so much that it seemed like they pushed Superman out of his title. I didn’t feel that way then. But I feel that way now. Superboy and the Legion of Super-Villains against 3 Legions of Super-Heroes is enough of a story. I don’t need to add another plot involving the Green Lanterns. The book is crowded enough without it. With it, it becomes an incoherent mess.
Top Cow, by Ron Marz and Lee Moder
Secret Six #2
DC, by Gail Simone, Nicola Scott and Doug Hazlewood
I don’t have as
much to say about these last two number twos. They were neither
great- like “Magneto Testament” and “The Stand”-
or awful- like “The Clone Wars” and “Legion of 3
Worlds.” They were in the middle.
is the better of the two. It’s the story of an adolescent boy,
Aaron, who learns that his father was a dragon and who is starting to
turn into a dragon himself. Aaron is confused without being whiny.
His mom is competent, without being hard (in contrast to the
Terminator’s Sarah Connor). And the history of the dragons
which are able to shift shapes into human forms is an interesting
background. Plus, Ron Marz includes a nice antagonist in the form of
the representative of a wizard agency that is determined to rid the
world of dragons, even young ones like Aaron. It’s cute and
fun- thanks in large part to the Lee Moder art- while also being
dynamic and tense- there’s a car chase scene, a visionary dream
and a clear villain. It’s fairly similar to Phil Hester’s
“Firebreather,” though I prefer the more-established
Firebreather at this point. It’s pretty good, and suitable for
all ages, without feeling like a kids’ book.
The second issue of the ongoing “Secret Six” series was much better than the first though it’s still not quite as good as the two mini-series which preceded it. There’s a pretty good fight scene between Catman and Batman though it’s hampered a little by dialogue about nothing in particular, which works for Quentin Tarantino but not for Gail Simone. There’s some fun interaction between the other stars, as Rag Doll continues to make inappropriate observations, Scandal does everything with a chip on her shoulder and Deadshot is just plain rude to everybody. Unfortunately, the title is feeling like Secret Four Plus Two as it’s obvious that four of the team members are crucial while the others rotate in and out. I’m not ready to give up on “Secret Six” yet because of the good-will I have for this title based on the earlier stories. And the big prison fight against Mammoth was certainly a highlight. But “Secret Six” isn’t pushing enough of the right buttons to maintain my excitement or my interest for much longer.