Sunday, June 18, 2006

Reviews: Conan #28; Superman/Batman #26; Wonder Woman #1

***AHOY! HERE BE SPOILERS, MATEY!***
***AHOY! HERE BE SPOILERS, MATEY!***
***AHOY! HERE BE SPOILERS, MATEY!***
***AHOY! HERE BE SPOILERS, MATEY!***
***AHOY! HERE BE SPOILERS, MATEY!***
***AHOY! HERE BE SPOILERS, MATEY!***
***AHOY! HERE BE SPOILERS, MATEY!***
***AHOY! HERE BE SPOILERS, MATEY!***
***AHOY! HERE BE SPOILERS, MATEY!***
***AHOY! HERE BE SPOILERS, MATEY!***
***AHOY! HERE BE SPOILERS, MATEY!***
***AHOY! HERE BE SPOILERS, MATEY!***

Comic book reviews:

Conan #28
Superman/Batman #26
Wonder Woman #1


Conan #28 (Dark Horse): I've really enjoyed Kurt Busiek's soon-to-end run as writer of this series, which is extremely faithful to Robert E. Howard's classic stories. This issue features guest artist Eric Powell (The Goon) and is part of the celebration of Robert E. Howard's 100th birthday this year. It's a self-contained story about a village in Aquilonia where a young man named Rovann lives. He tells fantastic stories in the village pub when he isn't shadow boxing in the streets (anyone familiar with Howard's life should recognise the latter trait).

One evening, a certain barbarian and his companions arrive in the village pursued by demons. The villagers have no choice but to fight for their lives alongside them. Rovann figures out where the demons may attack next, but people think he's a fool and refuse to heed him. He saves the village from the second attack, but dies and his body is found weeks later. The villagers think he fled in terror and never know he saved them, and because he was the village storyteller there's no one to tell his story. The story ends with Rovann's spirit shadow boxing (this time with sword in hand), and a paraphrasing of Howard's suicide note ("All fled, all done/So lift me on the pyre/The feast is over/And the lamps expire" becomes "All fled, all done/But the lamps will never expire").

Final Page

This is perhaps Busiek's finest Conan story, a bittersweet tale where a character based on Conan's creator is the hero. Powell's art is a departure from regular artist Cary Nord, but his style works very well for this story, giving it a dramatic, pulpish look. All in all, a great memorial to Robert E. Howard, who committed suicide at the age of 30 but whose characters and stories still live.


Superman/Batman #26 (DC): The story was conceived by Sam Loeb, the 17-year-old son of regular series writer Jeph Loeb. Sam tragically died of cancer before the issue could be scripted and drawn, so it was completed by twelve writers (including Joss Whedon, Geoff Johns, and Brad Meltzer) and eighteen artists (including John Cassday, Jim Lee, Tim Sale, Rob Liefeld, and regular series artist Ed McGuinness). Each creative team handles 1-2 pages of story and art, bringing Sam's story idea to life.

The story itself is a teenage boys' night out, as Superboy and Robin are sent on a mission by Superman and Batman to locate and rescue the current Toyman, a teenaged boy who designs equipment for Batman. The main story is framed by Robin in the present recounting the story to the Teen Titans at a memorial service for Superboy, who was killed during Infinite Crisis.

Despite the large number of writers and artists, the story is remarkably cohesive with great characterisations of Superboy and Robin (and Toyman, who it turns out is simply lonely). Although in other stories they sometimes come off as stiff, younger versions of Superman and Batman, here they come off as full blooded characters in their own right, teenaged boys who are close friends. They joke around, talk smack, and act like typical teenaged boys, albeit ones who are superheroes.

To see a funny scene where Superboy finds himself in a hottub with robot doubles of his buxom female Teen Titans teammates, click here.

The issue features a shorter backup story by writer Jeph Loeb and artist Tim Sale about a young boy named Sam who is a friend of the teenaged Clark Kent. He dies of cancer and forces the future Superman to confront human mortality for the first time. It's a very touching story written by Loeb in memory of his son.


Wonder Woman #1 (DC): After the previous series was canceled during Infinite Crisis, it has been quickly resurrected under a new creative team of writer Allan Heinberg (writer of Marvel's Young Avengers and creator of the tv show The OC) and husband-and-wife artists Terry and Rachel Dodson.

The most obvious change here is that in the wake of the post-Infinite Crisis retirement of the original Wonder Woman, Princess Diana of Themyscira, her sister, the former Wonder Girl Donna Troy, has taken over for her. She is called in to deal with a hostage situation, which she discovers to be a ruse by her sister's longtime enemies Cheetah and Giganta, who are looking for the original Wonder Woman. The original WW shows up and attacks Donna, but she is revealed to be a illusion created by Dr. Psycho. Donna is defeated and captured by the three supervillains. On the final page, an agent of the Department of Metahuman Affairs is given the job of rescuing Donna: Agent Diana Prince.

Longtime Wonder Woman fans will remember that in the late 1960s, she lost her powers, started wearing a white Emma Peel-esque jumpsuit as a costume, and became a secret agent. Heinberg is clearly a longtime fan and it looks like he's paying homage to that era of Wonder Woman stories.

Despite a relaunch with a new creative team, it just doesn't do much for me until the end when Diana shows up. I'm not sold on Donna as Wonder Woman, but it's pretty much guaranteed that Diana will take back her role again sooner rather than later: the upcoming new Justice League of America series will feature Diana's return as Wonder Woman. I do like the art of the Dodsons, who draw a gorgeous yet dignified Wonder Woman.

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