Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Not a bad sendoff

James "Scotty" Doohan received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame today. Over the weekend, he said goodbye to fans at a Los Angeles Star Trek convention. He suffers from Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases and was in a wheelchair.

It's said that many of today's scientists were inspired by Star Trek to enter their chosen fields. The featured speaker at Saturday night's dinner honoring Mr. Doohan probably wasn't one of them. In fact, his greatest achievement came about 6 weeks after the original Trek's last episode aired. On July 20, 1969, he became the first human to walk on the Moon.

Yes, the chief engineer of the fictional Starships Enterprise was toasted by Neil Armstrong -- who, as I understand it, doesn't come out for just anybody.

Very cool. Very, very cool indeed.

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Sunday, August 29, 2004

Supreme Power, Part 2

The cover of issue #3 shows Hyperion in his super-suit. It's red, white, and blue, but the tunic is a sky (or "Carolina," if you prefer) blue -- not so much the deeper blue of the American flag. (More United Nations, actually.) No cape, naturally. The "H" symbol forms his neckline. (Also, the Hyperion costume has a fly, which is an innovation I kind of wish more traditional costumes would adopt. Just for the sake of practicality. Even the Superman and Batman costumes could hide it under the briefs-on-the-outside, you know?) He's holding a tattered American flag. The background is a sort of dingy bronze/parchment color, and the lighting reminds me of the portrait of George Washington. Very "archival" looking.

Page 1: Synopsis.

Pages 2-3: Mark meets Bush 41 at the White House. Bush wants him to soften up the Iraqi military before Desert Storm begins. This puts the issue at the end of 1990/beginning of 1991, about 14 years after the rocket landed. Lots of exposition on page 2, with only two unique panels (the White House, and Mark sitting). Mark hears everything they say. More talk about how powerful Mark is -- strong, fast, and invulnerable, and he was probably holding back so as not to blow out the instruments. Slightly less exposition on page 3 describes Mark's job for the military.

Another potential error which could just be a slip of Bush's tongue: the operation in the Middle East which responded to the invasion of Kuwait was called "Desert Shield" until the air assault began, and then it became Desert Storm. By using "Desert Storm" in front of Mark, Bush is getting ahead of himself. (Just an observation.) On these pages, Mark's expression hardly changes, but we get the feeling that going up against the Republican Guard would be about as hard for him as getting a box of crackers from the top shelf. Like, "Okay, if you say so; I'm just looking for something to do." Needless to say, this is not an unusual expression.

Pages 4-5: In mid-January, 1991, Mark destroys the Iraqi military, although we never see it directly. Given what we have learned about the real Iraqi military, both in 1991 and 2003, it would have been interesting to see if the U.S.'s intelligence was accurate. It would have fit this series for Mark to encounter an undersized, underequipped Republican Guard, destroy their tanks, and send them fleeing into the desert. I doubt Mark would have killed any of them (especially not after Spot).

A footnote: At this point Mark is at least 14 years old. When Superman's teenage self, Superboy, announced himself to the world at around the same age, one of his first public appearances was as a target for Army gunners.

Page 6: Jason Scott, a suspicious reporter for a great Washington D.C. newspaper, thinks something's fishy about the easy success of Desert Storm. It's another Superman parallel, since regardless of the iteration reporter Lois Lane always has one of the first public encounters with Superman. However, Jason's involvement with Mark won't go as far as Lois.' (Now that would be a MAX book!)

Pages 7-9: It's now at least 1995, and Jason defends his Muldering to his editor. He's investigating weird occurrences in various military actions. This is similar to John Byrne's Superman origin, where Clark Kent left Smallville at age 18 and traveled the world for 7 years, saving lives in secret. Here, Hyperion acts invisibly for the government -- including in Haiti and Somalia, two places where the real U.S. military faced pretty stiff resistance. In single-panel, rapid-fire montage style, Jason interviews assorted weirdos, including Ma Kent and two people who have heard of "Project Hyperion."

Page 10: Jason does a FOIA request on "Hyperion" and gets a heavily-blacked-out file.

Page 11: Jason confers with a Deep Throat who looks a lot like Joe Ledger. It can't be Joe, because we already know he's in a coma. Actually, it looks a lot like Buzz, an unsavory character Gary Frank drew in the late Supergirl book.

Page 12: Jason is freaked-out by what he learns. The panels show him isolated from others, which is probably how he feels -- "isolated" in the "singled out" sense, like something was watching him.

Page 13: Jason visits Ma Kent, who we learn is named Cavenaugh. Elsewhere, in some red-lit situation room, Bill Clinton says it's time to tell Jason the truth. That way, the government can control how the story gets out.

Pages 14-15: Naked Jason is visited by Hyperion. MAX moment: full frontal male nudity for Jason. Page 15 is a splash panel of Hyperion in a black leather X-Men-movie-type jumpsuit.

Page 16: Montage of world news people reacting to Hyperion. The inevitable televangelist gives thanks that God has blessed America thusly. One of the high-school girls reveals she really liked Mark all along. (Tramp!)

Page 17: In the red sit' room, government people plan how to market Hyperion and use him for political advantage.

Page 18: Clinton's news conference, intercut with Mark (in the Hyperion suit) floating above the clouds.

Pages 19-20: Intercut Clinton with Hype's memories (Clinton says he was "raised in an environment of love") as he swoops down to the press conference. Here we do see one panel of Hyperion destroying a tank, but also one of him frying Spot. I bet page 20, panel 2 is an homage to the famous "pointing down" pose from the cover of Superman #1 (1939).

Page 21: Hype appears at the press conference in a tasteful V-neck sweater, shirt, tie, and slacks. "May we ask you a question?" He replies, "Of course. Freedom of the press is one of the foundations of the American system." (This last is juxtaposed with Jason Scott.)

Page 22: Hype wraps things up with Jason. Despite his strange answer on the previous page, and his perpetual stoicism, Jason compliments him on his social skills. Hype is bummed because he doesn't know his origins.

Pages 23-4: Jason and his editor talk about Hype. Jason thinks he's been played by the White House to distract him from other superhumans. In fact, Jason hears reports of a speedster in Atlanta.

When I first saw issue #4's cover, I focused on the "arrowhead" and figured this must be the SP counterpart of Green Arrow. Wrong, obviously. Nighthawk looks suitably creepy here, what with the glowing yellow eyes and the sharp-looking "beak."

Page 1: Synopsis of issues #1 and 3.

Pages 2-5: Intercut a meeting at a military base with Mark saving a plane. General Casey is releasing the Fa-Kents from their duties and sending them to retirement in Amsterdam. Everyone at the meeting comments on Mark's public image and the need to keep him connected to the country. The Fa-Kents each receive Presidential Medals of Freedom.

My hat is off to Gary Frank, Jon Sibal, and Chris Sotomayor (color) for the splash panel on page 3. Hyperion rescues the plane with the sun behind him. It's really beautiful -- a "look! Up in the sky!" moment if ever there was one.

Of course Mark enjoys using his powers to help people, but we know (thanks to the general) that this emergency was staged by the military. It does offer a rare look at Mark happy, or at least satisfied. That's not ego smiling faintly out of page 4, panel 3. However, something creepy is behind the eyes of that woman in the last panel. Yikes.

But again with the '80s-Alan-Moore aping! Casey says "You've given America a new star" right under a big closeup of a star on the flag! We get it, guys. Every time I want to like this series, it chaps my hinder. These anvils are starting to hurt!

Pages 5-7: An insensitive white accountant tells Kyle Richmond how rich he (Kyle) now is. Kyle indicates that the guy's mere presence reminds him why he's getting his parents' inheritance. (In case we've forgotten, there's a newspaper clipping of the hate crime on the wall behind Kyle.) Meanwhile, the TV blares an "Entertainment Today" report on Hyperion. On TV, Hype says "you can't break [his feelings] down into black-and-white terms." Wham! (Oww!) Once Kyle is alone, he dresses in the Nighthawk suit. The closeup of Nighthawk's goggles reminds me of Nite Owl's goggles in Watchmen.

Page 7 does have a weird panel that I honestly didn't notice until now. In panel 4, Hyperion makes what sounds like a joke about kids not jumping out of windows to be like him. It's punctuated like a joke, but Hype has this downcast look which makes me wonder if he's referring to an actual event. Otherwise, the words and the picture just don't go together. Anyway, it's all in the service of telling us again that Hyperion feels alone, and contrasting that again with the existence of another masked mystery-man. Thanks, folks, I missed the ends of issues #1, 2, and 3.

Pages 8-11: Nighthawk saves an African-American woman from white attackers. It's all very bloody, including an arrowhead to the eye and the ripping off of ears. (Two ears! Up yours, Reservoir Dogs!) Nighthawk isn't interested in scaring these thugs in order to give him an advantage; he knows he can take each one of them without it. Frank does a good job with the fight, using some traditional "Batman moves" (only showing parts of the hero, keeping him in the background, emphasizing the glowing eyes) without trying to make Nighthawk look like Batman. The victim's expression at the end of the fight also captures her mood -- a cautious "take that," I'd call it.

Pages 12-14: At the Fa-Kents' house, Casey tells Mark to look into the Atlanta Blur rumors. But Mark and Pa were supposed to go fishing! Too bad, but maybe Ma can go instead. By the way, the "Miltons" are named Mason and Elizabeth. Mark wants to reschedule the fishing, but Pa really wants to go. Mark hears Pa's heart beating abnormally fast; and on his way out, notices the big red "X" over "Fishing" on the calendar.

Page 15: Fans have camped outside the Fa-Kent house (just past the barbed wire). One OMIGOD!s when she sees Hype lift off. This little scene makes sense -- Mark's parents were under constant scrutiny by the government, so naturally after he went public they'd be under constant scrutiny by fans and the media and the government scrutiny might not seem so bad.

Page 16: The Fa-Kents leave as Hype flies away.

Pages 17-18: Hype hovers over Atlanta, listening -- but does he hear the Fa-Kents' deception? (Nice little joke about Atlanta's obsession with "Peachtree" street names.) He hears the Blur and chases after.

Page 19: Hype catches the Blur, but Blur gets away.

Page 20: At long last, Hyperion realizes he's not alone. No time to dwell on that, though, as soldiers arrive to tell Hype there's been an accident with his parents.

Pages 21-22: Hype searches the ocean and finds the wrecked fishing boat.

Page 23: Hype mourns as the Fa-Kents split up in Amsterdam. From his footsteps on the beach we can tell he just flew away, but for some reason we also see quite a few fish washed up on the shore. What does this mean? Is it some side effect of his being in the ocean? Is it yet more irony, that the fish were literally coming out of the ocean but the Fa-Kents weren't there to catch them? Does Hyperion realize this? Did he put his dad's racing heartbeat together with the X-ed out calendar and deduce they were leaving? Is he sad because he thinks they're gone or because he thinks they went fishing just to get away from him? Either way, he's sad because he knows they're not coming back. He really is alo-- oh, wait....


These issues introduce Hyperion to the world and show him doing traditional superhero stuff. Not only is Hyperion a celebrity, he's also apparently pretty glib. Considering how much exposition went into convincing us how powerful he was, and how screwed-up his childhood was, I'm surprised we're asked to accept his newfound social skills so readily.

In fact, that's one of the big potential problems with this series. It's drummed into our heads that Hyperion was raised under a microscope, in virtual isolation, by people who were supposed to love him without having any genuine feelings for each other. From this environment he learned the concepts of "love" and "trust." He's able to articulate both of those to his "dad" in order to have a normal day at school.

Now, I am willing to accept that the Fa-Kents gave him enough semblance of an ordinary upbringing so that he knew to call one feeling "love" and the other "trust." (And how, exactly, did they do that by themselves? Were there no grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, etc.? Did Mark spend the first dozen years of his life with his parents, assorted teachers, and the TV?) I can accept that his upbringing allows him to function in normal society. It is much, much harder for me to accept that he can charm the White House Press Corps.

These issues set up Mark's desire basically to be a superhero. He is fulfilled by using his powers to help other people, perhaps because he knows it's right, but also because he sees that he can make people happy, instead of nervous, for a change. This is half of the Clark/Superman equation, with the other half being the need for a normal life. (That's coming, don't worry.) For now, Mark enjoys serving people, without much thought for how that could be abused. I suppose we can infer that his foster parents provide him with enough privacy and "down time," but at the end of this issue they're gone. This leaves the government/military (SP seems to treat them interchangeably) free to step in as a parental figure, and as we will see, that will end up backfiring on it completely.

I'm not really commenting on Nighthawk because he raises some sensitive issues about which I have no experience. He's basically Batman with a racially-charged origin, but he goes entirely for the violence with none of the theatrics. To me this makes him less interesting visually than Batman, and more of a "street fighter" like Daredevil. There's more with him coming up soon as well.

That's pretty much it for these two issues. None of the Spectrum, Zarda, or Amphibian plots were advanced. Remember, it's 1/3 of the way through the first year, and 2/3 through the first paperback, and the only plot which has formed so far concerns Hyperion's journey of self-discovery.

And maybe the dead fish.

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Friday, August 27, 2004

And yet I still feel inadequate

Checked out Give Our Regards To The Atom-Smashers! from the library yesterday and cracked it open tonight. Among other things, it contains a neat American Flagg! essay by Steve Erickson and an autobiographical "Judas Contract" essay by Brad Meltzer. Great minds think alike, I suppose.
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Supreme Power, Part 1

After spending a year with Supreme Power, I still don't much like it. I didn't really like it after the first issue, but wanted to give it a fair shot. 12 issues should be enough to attract and hold a reader, and I like to think I have an open mind.

Still, every time I'd get around to writing exactly how I feel about this series, I'd always get blocked. Therefore, I'm going through the existing 12 issues, 2 at a time, and giving them one last shot. I will honestly try to be fair.

Let's get on with it, shall we...?

Cover of issue #1 features the child Mark Milton wrapped in an American flag, standing on a marble slab, glowering at the reader. It says to me now, as it did last summer, "this kid is controlled by the United States government, and he hates you." Oh, the kid probably has superpowers; otherwise he'd just be a kid and you wouldn't be scared -- but this cover makes you feel like you should be scared of him. Ironically, as we'll see, Mark neither wraps himself in the flag (other people do it for him) nor actively hates people without good reason.

Page 1: Mark's rocket crashes as the "Kents" listen to "Cruel To Be Kind" on their pickup's radio. (By the way, according to NickLowe.net, the album from which that song comes was released in 1979. We'll later learn that Mark landed in 1977. I want to be a little picky about real-world facts, because the series is supposed to be set in the real world as much as possible.) Reference is made to Mark's ship "singing" of its journey, and singing to Mark that he will never be alone. There are a few layers here -- both the ship and the radio are singing; the "Kents" are going through some marital problems, and the song's about handling a lover's quarrel; and Mark's "never being alone" will turn out to be a double-edged sword. He will never be alone, although he will want to be left alone.

"Cruel To Be Kind" also refers to the theme of the 1985 12-issue Squadron Supreme maxiseries, which showcased the characters from which these characters were based. The Squadron Supreme was the Marvel equivalent of DC's Justice League, with analogues for Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, etc. In the SS maxiseries, following a tremendous battle with supervillains, the Squadron started rebuilding the global infrastructure and ended up becoming its de facto government. Because they were a little on the totalitarian side, but had good intentions, there were conflicts within the group and none of it really turned out well. Thus, "Cruel To Be Kind" is appropriate here.

Page 2: Splash page of Mark's rocket crashing in front of the "Kent" pickup truck. The only dialogue is the radio singing "Got to be cruel to be kind." I might have been willing to give the Stephen-King-esque use of song lyrics a pass on the first page, but having them emphasized on this page is too much. Unfortunately, that's going to be the pattern from here on out. (Also, the indicia box covers the truck's screeching tires as it swerves towards the ship; otherwise, the truck might have gotten a little more attention.)

Page 3: The "Kents" find Mark in the wreckage of his ship. He's covered in chrome life-support equipment and looks like the bejeebus has been scared out of him. Contrast this with the happy, giggling Kal-El who emerges from the crater in Superman (1978).

Page 4: "Ma Kent" sees this as a miracle and a sign that their marriage will be healed. "Pa" isn't so sure, looking at the chrome and green goo of the life support. Mark is happy to be out of the machinery. Don't get used to the happiness, kiddo.

Page 5: A silent series showing the pickup driving away and black helicopters tracking it.

Page 6: Jackbooted government thugs show up at the "Kent" household. At this point the series could have really used an Elian Gonzales shout-out panel.

Page 7: Jimmy Carter gets briefed on Mark and orders that he be raised as a child of the United States. Oh, the irony that Jimmy, with the kindest public image of all our recent leaders, sentences Mark to a Truman Show adolescence! By the way, Mark sits on a marble table that looks like the same material from the cover. He is not wrapped in a flag here, though. Exposition briefs the President about Mark's alien origins, his "skin density," and his strength.

Page 8: More exposition, as Mark's second set of foster parents (who I like to call the "Fa-Kents") receive their mission. They are specifically warned not to get emotionally involved with each other or with anybody on the "outside." In other words, 15-20 years without a romantic relationship with another person. (Isn't that DC and Marvel's target audience anyway? Thank you, I'm here all week.) I'm guessing that conjugal visits will involve lots of hookers and porn? Nice. Ma Fa-Kent still affectionately puts her hand on Pa's. Careful, kids, no nookie!

Page 9: Yet more exposition on the government origins of how "Project Hyperion" and "Mark Milton" were named. One of this series' obsessions is explaining how everything works. In a playroom, Mark gets fed a bottle on a stick by a woman dressed like Jane Goodall. Cut to Mark celebrating a birthday with the Fa-Kents behind barbed wire.

Pages 10-12: For his birthday, Mark gets Spot the puppy. The Fa-Kents both leave the room to get the rest of his presents, Spot starts yapping, Mark gets startled, and Spot gets fried with heat vision. Now, I don't have kids myself, but isn't the first rule of toddlers that you never leave them unattended? Especially kids you found in spacecraft who are super-strong and invulnerable? Of course, this traumatizes Mark. Is this why the series got the MAX treatment?

Page 13: Ma Fa-Kent is traumatized too, so Pa suggests they slip away from the cameras for a little backdoor action. Oh, that's why SP got the MAX treatment.

Page 14: Next day, it's a lot colder in the Fa-Kent household, as Ma tells Pa he's not getting into her cabinets anymore. In the news, Pol Pot's regime ends, and the Shah comes to the U.S. That means it's January 1979.

Page 15: Mark grows up in front of the TV. From events I'm guessing this compresses about 9 years -- the end of 1980 (Reagan elected; John Lennon dies) until June 1989 (Tiananmen Square). We see that Mark is home-schooled. Couple of potential errors in the 1989 scene -- Mark refers to Chinese leadership as "Mousey Tung," but Mao died in 1976; and there is a widescreen broadcast when commercial HDTV wouldn't start for at least another 7 years. Probably a government channel anyway.

Pages 16-18: It's 13 years after the rocket was found, so at least 1990. George H.W. Bush examines the rocket and the prism which powered it, and his naughty thoughts about a garter-belted scientist are manifested in the prism. Records from the rocket show it was escaping from a space battle. Bush wants to know who made the records, and what do they mean about Mark's arrival?

Pages 19-20: Mark and Pa have a heart-to-heart. Mark wants assurance that Ma and Pa love each other. Mark describes his super-senses, says he knows about the guards, and reveals he can fly. Nothing can keep him in that house, but he will stay if he knows his parents love each other. He assures Pa "I love you just as much as you love me." See, more irony!

Pages 21-2: Bush 41 tells us about the Doctrine of Unintended Consequences as a segue into the introduction of the Atlanta Blur. Blur's sonic boom makes his neighbor think "there's a storm coming." Spooky.

Issue #2's cover features Joe Ledger, who we will later know as Dr. Spectrum, the Green Lantern analogue. His upraised fist shows off the power prism embedded in the top of his right hand. He wears a green-and-black quasi-military outfit which reminds me of the Silver Age Green Lantern costume. Ledger is staring intently at the glowing prism with a mixture of caution and awe.

Page 1: Synopsis of issue #1.

Pages 2-4: Mark fries a history book with heat vision. Mark and Pa have a talk about how Mark needs to meet other kids. Mark wants an opportunity to be trusted, because imagine what he’d be like if he didn’t work on his social skills. There is so much irony in this statement I could pick it up with a magnet.

Pages 5-6: Logistics of getting Mark to school involve using a tank for his "bus." Mark shows that the tank won't hold him. I have a feeling the tank bits are supposed to be funny, but even after one issue the mood has been so unrelentingly grim and solemn that it just comes across as more of the same.

Pages 7-11: Amphibian's dad reveals the horrible secret of her birth, 14 years ago. Back then, Mom watched a shooting star streak overhead and dislodge a few smaller "streamers." Later, she gave birth to a non-human child. (Mom wanted a boy, ironically enough.) Seeing the child, Mom drowns herself (singing "When You Wish Upon A Star"), but the baby's fine. Dad goes into a mental institution.

Pages 12-13: The Richmonds are killed by racists, but their young son Kyle survives.

Pages 14-17: Joe Ledger receives the power prism and learns how to use it. It bonds to him, but he goes into a coma. He is a military assassin who considers himself like a "surgeon" or "doctor."

Pages 18-19: A mother and son take food to a (presumably) aged, wrinkled crone who hasn’t been seen in a long time. They call her "the Princess." After they leave, a wrinkled hand appears and announces "something is stirring." MAX moment: full frontal female nudity in the wall art outside the Princess' chamber.

Pages 20-22: Mark's day at school; nobody likes him and the girls think he's creepy. He sees and hears it all.

Page 23: Schoolday wrap-up with the Milton family. When they say they don’t know if there’s anyone else like Mark, we see shots of the other future Squadroners.

By the end of issue #2, we’ve seen the basic origins of those we will know as Hyperion, Nighthawk, Amphibian, Doctor Spectrum, the Blur, and Zarda/Power Princess. Most of these 45 pages are devoted to Mark/Hyperion. It is made abundantly clear to us that the government is doing a horrible job raising him. I used to think that Supreme Power was Marvel’s way of saying "Superman would be cool if we did him, because he would work for the government and he wouldn’t have that dopey secret identity with the glasses." Now I’m not so sure.

I think SP tries to have it both ways – first, by saying "look how we’ve made Superman relevant by taking away Clark and the Kents"; and second, by saying "look how screwed up Superman would have been if he hadn’t been raised by the Kents." Clark Kent has always been Superman’s way of hiding from the world, precisely so people like Mark’s one-time classmate won’t treat him like plutonium and screw up his worldview. In its twisted, bass-ackwards way, Supreme Power reinforces that.

SP also ties its other paranormal individuals to the arrival of Mark’s ship. This hearkens back to Watchmen, which used its lone superpowered character as a springboard for all the changes in its world. However, where Watchmen (and many other "real-world superhero" stories) started with the changes and used flashbacks to show how they were made, Supreme Power shows the progression in a more linear way. It also devotes paragraphs of expository dialogue to its characters’ details.

In the mid-to-late 1980s, Watchmen, The Dark Knight, and Squadron Supreme all showed superheroes as tools of the government. (Of course, in SS, they were the government.) This ushered in a whole slew of "realistic" takes on superheroes, many of which involved secret government and/or corporate projects from which the heroes escaped. (John Byrne's Next Men, DNAgents, Gen13, The Liberty Project, and even Watchmen's Dr. Manhattan himself are all examples of this.) Supreme Power hardly breaks new ground to suggest that Supes/Hyperion could have been part of such a project. The extent to which it explains his early years comes across as overcompensating.

In other words, I'm not convinced that Supreme Power believes in its story or its characters enough to let them stand on their own. It invests so much time, energy, and dialogue in making sure everything is plausible that it sucks all the joy out of what made these characters popular in the first place. Heck, none of the characters seems to be having much fun except the Blur, and we barely get to know him in these two issues.

So where do we stand at the end of issue #2? Mark's an alienated teen with an uncertain past, but he has four potential colleagues waiting to be introduced to him. Ominous portents surround all of them. There is no joy in Mudville. Did I mention there was a storm a-comin'?

Written by J. Michael Straczynski, pencilled by Gary Frank, inked by John Sibal, and edited by Mike Raicht and Nick Lowe (probably not the same one).

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Thursday, August 26, 2004

New comics 8/25/04

Since I already talked about the grand implications for this week's "War Games" installments, I'll start with comments on how those books worked as individual issues.

Catwoman #34: Written by Ed Brubaker, pencilled by Paul Gulacy, inked by Jimmy Palmiotti, edited by Matt Idelson. The book opens with a car chase, which is a little confusing, but I blame that on Gulacy. After that it's dialogue-driven, as Selina has illuminating conversations with Leslie Thompkins (mad at Batman for being part of the cycle of violence; and mad at herself for not raising Bruce better) and Stephanie Brown. In between Catwoman fights Mr. Freeze, but even that is more dialogue than action. Gulacy is a fine artist whose figures can be a bit "sharp," but Palmiotti softens his pencils. Faces and bosoms are still pointy enough to be distracting, though. At certain angles Selina looks like Shannen Doherty.

Batman #631: Written by Bill Willingham, pencilled by Kinsun, inked by Aaron Sowd, edited by Bob Schreck. Batman, Batgirl, Nightwing, and Tim Drake free the hostages at Tim's school. This issue succeeds at portraying Batman from almost a Marvels/Astro City-ish "normal person's" perspective. Although we go behind the scenes to see the Bat-crew prepare for combat, they stay in the shadows long enough that when Batman finally bursts through a skylight to start kicking ass, it feels like an actual payoff and not just a glamour shot. Since the point of the issue is that yes, Virginia, there is a Batman, the creators did a good job in "finally" revealing him. However, I have to fault this issue for its Greek chorus of newspeople jumping to a questionable conclusion at the end. We'll see if the crossover as a whole agrees with them.

DC Comics Presents Justice League Of America: Two good stories again in this final Julius Schwartz tribute issue. The first is plotted by Harlan Ellison, scripted by Peter David, and drawn by Joe Giella. It once again makes Julie a protagonist, but this time he gets to fight (and in some cases, humiliate) the Justice League, so how can you go wrong? At the end, Green Lantern, speaking for the League, says "We love you, Julie. You gave us life." The second is written by Marv Wolfman with art by Dustin Nguyen and Richard Friend, and concerns the present-day JLA traveling back in time to defeat their Silver Age ancestors. Although Julie isn't a character in this one, Wolfman gives both Flashes complimentary dialogue that clearly is directed at Schwartz. I get sentimental easily, perhaps, but I did like this book, and the series as a whole.

JLA #104: Written by Chuck Austen with art by Ron Garney; edited by Mike Carlin. J'Onn J'Onzz gets the spotlight this issue, as he strikes out on his own to get away from the overwrought emoting of his teammates. He joins a private detective agency and gets involved in an uneasy romance with a colleague, but the League eventually tracks him down. I thought this was a well-written issue, and the art was good as always, but it goes against years of J'Onn's characterization. As a shapeshifter, he has (or had at one time) multiple identities all over the world into which he can slip at a moment's notice. Why not focus on one of those? And why would he think the League's pain is any less sincere than his own? As an adult, J'Onn lost his family, so Grant Morrison had him bond with Batman and Superman, both orphaned in childhood. If I hadn't read a Martian Manhunter story before this one, I'd think this was a lot better. As it stands, it is better than its predecessors in this arc.

Flash #213: Written by Geoff Johns, with art by Howard Porter and Livesay. Wally West's first problem of his second secret identity phase surfaces, as he's accused of attempted murder. (Always reminds me of that Sideshow Bob quote -- "Do they give the Nobel Prize for attempted chemistry?") He still manages to defeat the Turtle without letting the cops know he's the Flash. Also, plotlines involving the Rogues' Gallery are advanced. The fight with the Turtle is handled deftly both by Johns and Porter, and the subplots don't overwhelm the issue. All in all, an improvement over last month's unpleasantness with Mirror Master, and that wasn't so bad itself.

Green Lantern #180: So I hear Ron Marz has become associated with mistreatment of female characters. Therefore, this issue, featuring Kyle Rayner having a heart-to-heart with his sweet, saintly mother, provides an opportunity for Mr. Marz to introduce a female character and not have some horrible fate befall her. To underscore the point, Kyle visits the graves of two other girlfriends before confronting Major Force (who last issue swore to kill him). Other than the event which kicks off Kyle and Force's fight, this is a pretty well-done issue. (By the way, art was by Luke Ross and Rodney Ramos.) I just don't know what Marz was thinking with the one thing. Next issue is the series' end, so something final will probably happen to Kyle one way or another.

Legion #38: Speaking of final issues, here's the last before the Waid/Kitson reboot starts. It finishes the Gail Simone/Dan Jurgens/Andy Smith arc in slightly rushed fashion -- who knew that's all you needed to do to get Metropolis' power back on? -- but maybe that was an editorial dictate. It doesn't seem like The End Of The Legion As We Know It. The book is neither extra-sized, nor does it feature appearances by the entire Legion. I don't even know if it makes a nice lead-in for the upcoming Teen Titans/Legion special. Anyway, Dreamer comes off pretty well, so there's that.

Wonder Woman #207: Written by Greg Rucka, with art by Drew Johnson and Ray Snyder, and edited by Ivan Cohen. A good transitory issue, featuring two views of villainess Veronica Cale. We see Medousa and her henchwomen visit Veronica while Wonder Woman tries to stop the body-hopping Dr. Psycho from making people commit suicide. Psycho also tells WW about his involvement with Cale, which gives us the second perspective. I like the art a lot, and Rucka is good as a matter of course, so it's quality all around.

Superman #208: Written by Brian Azzarello, with art by Jim Lee and Scott Williams; edited by Eddie Berganza. In the aftermath of a second "Vanishing," Superman confronts Mr. Orr, a shadowy assassin-type, and has to deal with criticism both global and from within the Justice League. Along the way, Supes realizes he's losing his grip on his humanity, as the Kryptonian Fortress of Solitude starts to feel more like home. It leads up to a confrontation with a fellow Justice Leaguer which should give Jim Lee the opportunity for big fight scenes next issue. The arc is picking up steam after a few meh issues, and I am cautiously optimistic about it.

Star Wars Empire #23: Written by Jeremy Barlow with art by Brandon Badeaux; edited by Kilian Plunket (and assistant-edited by Jeremy Barlow). A smuggler who professes neutrality helps a beautiful paramilitary type escape from Rebel forces. The smuggler refuses to choose up sides in the Galactic Civil War, but since we know how black-and-white the Star Wars universe is, we're pretty sure that 1) everybody has to choose and 2) if the Rebels don't like you, maybe it's because you're not on their side. It's a predictable story whose suspense comes from wondering how the hero is going to find himself on the "right side." In other words, the reader is probably smarter than the hero. Not really a happy ending, and for that I have to give it credit, but it might have been nice to see what a happy ending would have looked like.

Astonishing X-Men #4: Written by Joss Whedon, with art by John Cassaday; edited by Mike Marts. The X-Men break into Benetech to get the secret of the mutant cure. Meanwhile, the new villain confronts two students at the X-mansion. It reads like an early Buffy episode, and that ain't bad; but since I am more of a Whedon fan than an X-Men fan, perhaps the Big Surprise at the end doesn't carry the emotional heft with me it might with others. Also, because I am a Whedon fan, I would not be surprised for the Big Bad of this arc to be unstoppable until the heroes figure out the one very simple way to render him totally powerless. I still say that Firefly is Whedon's best work (outside of Toy Story, and that's just because I don't know how much credit to give him for that) because by and large it doesn't rely on people using superpowers to get themselves out of world-threatening jams. I wish Astonishing felt more like Firefly and less like Buffy.
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Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Pre-review thoughts on "War Games"

Oh, how I want to like "War Games." Today's comics (the new Catwoman and Batman) each featured stunning revelations -- one about who called the "mob summit," and the other about the Batman's long-debated public image -- and while I want to believe they will give the Batman books a creative spark, I just don't know.

Here is the SPOILER warning, so proceed with caution.






So, Item One: Stephanie Brown lit the match by appropriating a Bat-plan which relied upon the intervention of Matches Malone. Not only did she not tell Batman (because she'd been fired by that point), she had no reason to, because she didn't know Matches is one of Batman's undercover aliases.

The first phrase into my head was naturally "Tower of Babel." That JLA story brought up a number of issues which will undoubtedly be explored by "War Games" -- among them, Batman's paranoia, obsession, and need to be in control. However, "ToB" had Talia al Ghul break into the Batcave and steal the "JLA protocols." How did Stephanie, who was Robin for around 6 weeks, a) find and b) steal these plans? Did she know Tim so well that she could guess code words unique to him? (That's my theory of the moment.)

Doesn't Batman recognize his own plan in action? I'll have to go back through the books to see.

I fully expect Batman to be hit with the kinds of accusations and recriminations from the Bat-family that he received from the Justice League. If someone doesn't at least mention the JLA protocols, however, I'll be very disappointed, because it will signal to me that the Bat-creators continue to hang their dramatic hats on Batman being an unapproachable paranoid obsessive. Both "Tower of Babel" and the "Bruce Wayne: Murderer/Fugitive" storylines were based on the notion that Batman Keeps Things From Those Closest To Him. ("Murderer" hinted that Bruce/Batman might actually have killed Vesper Fairchild because she had crossed some final line for which he was not prepared.) "M/F" was supposed to signal a new openness and make Batman realize how much he needed his colleagues, if only to keep him from becoming completely engulfed in darkness.

Now, if Batman puts it all together and realizes this is Plan #9 in action, tells his associates about it, and at least one of them says something like "Holy crap! Plan #9 without Matches would be disastrous!" then I will know that somebody in the Bat-office has been paying attention. I am not holding my breath for this to happen. (Still, what about the Mystery Villain talking to Hush in last week's Gotham Knights?)

Item #2 is the incredible -- but not implausible, unfortunately -- leap of logic which accompanies the end of "War Games" Act 1. Batman, Batgirl, Nightwing, and Tim Drake have successfully defused the standoff at Tim's high school. This has apparently resulted in the largest "Batman sighting" on record, and given the Gotham TV press a shot of Batman in the daylight -- thus proving that he is not an urban legend. (This is something which should have been settled oh, about 10 years ago, when Tim Drake saw Batman and Robin on the local TV news and was inspired to learn all about them, but as my grandmother used to say, nobody asked me.)

Because Batman emerges from the school carrying a dying girl, and helps load her onto a stretcher, the reporters state pretty unequivocally that his intervention caused her death. Never mind that nobody "official" -- police, firefighters, etc. -- seem to want to question Batman, Batgirl, or Nightwing, and pretty much let them leave without any trouble. The second act of "War Games" will now get to focus on Batman being Hated And Feared By Those He Swears To Protect.

The "Batman as outlaw" bit has been done before, of course. It was actually the status quo for the first 2 1/2 years of Batman's career, until he and Robin were made special deputies in "The People Vs. Batman" (1941). In his seminal Detective run in the mid-'70s, Steve Englehart had the Gotham City Council re-outlaw Batman and Robin, but they were under the influence of Rupert Thorne. Thorne did it again in the Bat-books of the early '80s; and the Batman: Outlaws miniseries from a few years back had our heroes hunted by federal authorities. And, of course, it was a big part of both Dark Knight miniseries.

I don't expect it to last very long here. For one thing, Batman is pretty well known to a lot of police and firefighters, and they'll give him the benefit of the doubt. Moreover, when does Batman have any meaningful interactions with the ordinary citizens of Gotham? The Batman who inhabits these books now doesn't care what people think of him, only that he saves those who need it. A "ban on Batman" will have little effect on his crimefighting. Finally, those who were rescued -- including Tim Drake, who was there when Darla got shot and can testify that Batman wasn't the proximate cause -- might have a more positive view of Batman and his associates.

Again, this was explored in slightly different terms in the "Murderer/Fugitive" issues -- only that time it was Bruce Wayne's public image under attack, not Batman's.

Ultimately, these plot twists do a lot to enliven what was looking like a pretty punishing event. It takes some guts to make Stephanie Robin at the beginning of the summer and have her cause a gang war at the end. (It would have taken more guts to make it Tim, Nightwing, or Batgirl....) I just hope the creators find new ways to explore their ramifications.
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"Do you spell that C-R-I...?"

So, it's 50 LY from Earth and about 16 times larger, eh? Mu Arae is a yellow-orange star, so I guess whoever gets rocketed here when it explodes won't be that much more super.

Still comes pretty close to hitting the geek trifecta.

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Monday, August 23, 2004

More TV titles

For what purpose is a blog if not to get random thoughts out of one's mind?

Following this post:

60 Minutes --> Hourman (clever, no?)
Saved By The Bell --> a sequel to that Alan Moore Green Lantern story about the Lantern with no concept of light

I feel much better now.
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Sunday, August 22, 2004

Teen Titans "Aftershock Part 2"

Well, "Aftershock" was no "Judas Contract," but there was no way it could have been. It's fitting that "Teen Titans"' take on what is probably the most famous New Teen Titans story arc is a perfect example of how the show is different from the comic. The show has to be different because the medium demands it.

"Aftershock" gave Terra a pretty final fate while not crossing any lines inappropriate for younger viewers. (I was very surprised that it also seemed to say goodbye to Slade in a pretty definite way -- although I think that will be reversed before too long.) I found the end touching, perhaps because it is a more palatable way to deal with Terra than the comics did.

The comics had more time to set up Terra, and thus more material from which to draw pathos and tragedy. Terra's story began in New Teen Titans #28 (1982) and lasted about 16-17 issues. Because that Terra wasn't manipulated, abused, or misunderstood, her story turned out seedier and more disturbing. At the end of "The Judas Contract" (the 4-parter which wrapped up the arc), the Titans were reeling not just because they'd lost a friend and teammate, but also because they felt violated by the whole series of events. It was therefore fitting, and perhaps a way of healing for both characters and creators, that Wonder Girl's wedding in Titans #50 -- probably the happiest moment in Titans history -- took place six months after the end of "Judas."

Since such long-term arcs wouldn't have worked for a half-hour cartoon, I'm impressed that "Aftershock" packed as much emotional impact as it did. The animated Terra was more rebellious than dangerous, and her journey to the "dark side" was less voluntary than her counterpart's. As a teen hero on a show which glorifies teen heroes, she couldn't be completely evil (which made the comics' Terra even more daring, especially 20 years ago). The cartoon Titans don't deal in subplotted angst like their print ancestors, nor should they. For what it accomplished, "Aftershock" honored "Judas Contract" as well as it could.

Besides, before too long the cartoon will take on the saga of Raven's father Trigon, and we'll see how it deals with another Titan's literal dark side....
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Friday, August 20, 2004

Unfortunately, "Leave It To Beaver" was already taken

Shane plays "Rename a comic with the title of a TV show," and I guess I will too.

Survivor --> Identity Crisis
The Apprentice --> Robin
Big Brother --> OMAC
The Amazing Race --> The Flash
Fear Factor --> Man-Thing
Moonlighting --> Batman
Yes, Dear --> Hawkman, ideally with the Silver Age Hawks
My Mother The Car --> a miniseries about the child of Superman ex-villainess Maxima
Those Amazing Animals! --> Kamandi
Brimstone --> The Demon or Lucifer
V.R. 5 --> D.P. 7 (retooled, of course)
Family Ties --> Fantastic Four
Friends --> Teen Titans
The Clubhouse (an actual CBS series coming this fall) --> Legion of Super-Heroes
The People's Court --> Vigilante (the old Marv Wolfman/Keith Pollard series)
Pinky & The Brain --> the long-awaited post-Crisis Luthor/Brainiac miniseries

I got a million of 'em....
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I used to be cool ... right?

Last night I pulled Hard Times, the first American Flagg! collection, off the shelf and started reading. I wanted to refresh my memories because I'd been thinking about a Flagg! essay.

Instead I found myself remembering, as invariably I will, the circumstances of finding and reading the original issues lo, those many years ago. Discovering Flagg! was like watching Stripes or Caddyshack for the first time -- not necessarily a portal into the "adult, mature" world, but just something unquestionably cool. I'd never read anything like Flagg! before, and probably never since. I devoured every issue I could find, showed them to friends, took them to band camp (don't snicker, you'd have done it too), and read them over and over. I read more independent comics then -- Nexus, Cerebus, The Maze Agency, the occasional Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (in glorious black & white, before they sold out), and every so often a Love & Rockets collection -- but thinking about those halcyon high-school days made me realize the steady diet of superheroes I'm on now.

What brought me to such a state? It would be easy to place blame with my current comics shop, because the one I went to in high school (long since gone) was more indie-friendly. The comics magazine I used to read, Amazing Heroes, is also gone, replaced in large part by the more superhero-friendly Wizard. Still, with the Internet (and especially the blogosphere), I can get plugged into the indie scene pretty easily.

No, at heart I've always read superheroes and I probably always will. Last night I realized it was Howard Chaykin's Shadow, done for DC, which led me to Flagg!; and likewise most of the other books I mentioned have some superhero connection. (Cerebus and TMNT both featured superhero parodies; Nexus was pretty much a superhero book; and Maze Agency was written by longtime Bat-writer Mike W. Barr. Love & Rockets I read out of curiosity.)

So have I ever been cool? Who knows? (Who cares?) All I can say is that American Flagg! makes me feel very cool indeed.

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Thursday, August 19, 2004

Better late than never

If you're like me, and I know I am, then you should get your hinder over to Shane Bailey's Near Mint Heroes. It's a great blog full of information, and it's one of the blogs which inspired me to get online. Shane's been nice enough to link to my little essays now and then, so I should have done this a while ago. If I ever figure out how to do a link section here, his is going at the top.
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Recent Releases Reviews Roundup, 8/18/04 Edition

More good stuff than not. This week the good stuff gets mentioned first.

I really liked DC Comics Presents The Atom. Its two standout stories share a title, “Ride A Deadly Grenade!” The first recycles the familiar-if-not-cliched “put Julie Schwartz in the story” gimmick, but it’s still madcap fun, especially in the way Julie’s friends accept and even trust his crazy ideas. The second seems to channel the spirit of Schwartz’s heyday, using his off-the-wall ideas as springboards for actual crimes. It has much the same wacky spirit as the first story, making for a great read.

Fantastic Four #517 ties into the big Avengers “Disassembled” event mostly by showing us that with the Avengers gone, the FF will have to be trustworthy enough to satisfy the people of New York. While the thrust of the issue is to rehabilitate the FF’s public image (destroyed after Reed invaded Latveria), as a practical matter it doesn’t make sense. Someone’s stealing Manhattan Island, so naturally they’ll try to stop it without waiting for the Mayor to light the “4" flare. (I didn't even know he had a flare. When did he go to Commissioner Gordon school?) It doesn't make much difference anyway. There’s still plenty of fun and adventure, and even some Halloween shenanigans. I hesitate to call this Waid and 'Ringo's triumphant return, since Waid didn't go anywhere and the past few issues weren't that bad, but together they really work some magic here.

Speaking of crossovers, “War Games” rolls on this week in the Batman books. In Gotham Knights, a Russian mob boss allies herself with an African-American mob boss against the gang led by Bat-villain Scarface. However, before I have time to worry about what this means, there’s a double-cross and Scarface ends up joining one side. Hush meets with the Mystery Villain, which is ironic, because he used to be an M.V. himself. Prometheus is back as Hush’s bodyguard. Penguin has also amassed a handful of C- and D-list supervillains to offer as bodyguards to the other imperiled mob bosses, but they’re not buying. On one semi-ridiculous page, the mobsters take turns saying one sentence. What, no Mad Libs? Meanwhile, Batgirl conveys Batman’s message to Tarantula that her hoods should join up with Orpheus’.

The sheer number of characters – not counting the unnamed cannon-fodder crooks – is already becoming unwieldy. Even Crisis on Infinite Earths had its limits. So far there’s Batman, Oracle, Batgirl, Spoiler, Catwoman, Nightwing, Tarantula, Orpheus, Onyx, and Tim Drake for the good guys. Bad guys include Penguin, Hush, Deadshot, Scarface, and Prometheus. Penguin’s stable of super-goons – none of whom get lines in this issue, and I’m omitting some because I don’t know who they are – include Electrocutioner, Firefly, Trickster, and that eyepatched girl from the Ghost Dragons. Add in the mobsters, who you’ve seen I can only distinguish by ethnicity, and with all the fights and team-ups I am really starting to miss the omniscient narrator.
You know, Teen Titans opens every issue with little head shots of the main characters and a couple of sentences about who they are, and for the most part we already know. These crossovers are designed to get us to read books we wouldn’t otherwise read? How about filling us in on what’s been going on so we feel more comfortable reading the frickin’ thing?


Story continues in Robin #129, which is actually a pretty tight tale about the non-costumed Tim protecting a mobster’s daughter. Secret identity concerns take a back seat, probably because Tim doesn’t think he has a Robin identity anymore. The cynical part of me says that this will be a big part of Tim resuming the role once “War Games” is over. He can tell his worrywart dad that there is violence everywhere, and he can be more effective as yadda yadda yadda. Tim is hyper-capable here, but his actions weren’t really far-fetched when I considered this was the same kid who’s had adventures all over the place with Young Justice and the Titans. This issue’s art team also told a better story than Damion Scott has. (It helps that the action all takes place in daylight.) They gave Tim dark circles around his eyes which in some shots looked like the Robin mask. Other than that there’s not a costume in the entire issue.

Batgirl #55 shows her journey across town to meet up with Batman at the school. Along the way she runs into Spoiler and urges her to go home, but probably nothing doing. I have a feeling that this issue is meant to be contemporaneous with the Robin one, so other than everyone being in place, the plot isn’t really advanced.

This week in “War Games” has inspired a couple of ghoulish thoughts. First, I get the feeling that the whole thing is an editorial plan to pare down the number of Gotham mobs and make the books that much simpler. I’m all for that. Second, it was advertised that serious harm (if not death) would come to one of the Bat-heroes. The cynic in me observes that

-- Orpheus, Onyx, and Tarantula don’t have their own comics,
-- DC won’t kill another Robin, even a former Robin, and
-- Tarantula has sinned by corrupting Nightwing.

Doesn’t look good for the femme fatale from Bludhaven.

Over in Birds of Prey, Huntress and Vixen try to escape the cult compound, Oracle learns that her computer’s been invaded by an unexpected cyber-adversary who looks to have seen Demon Seed one too many times, and Black Canary tries to stop suicidal teens in super-costumes. This title is no stranger to wild adventure, and its heroines have faced Apokoliptian hordes and prehistoric beasts, but this issue seems to have taken that left turn into “Whaaa...?” territory. When I say the cyber-foe is "unexpected," I mean in the sense of "Where the hell did we get this?" There are two installments left in the current story, and it still makes a certain kind of sense, but it doesn’t look as good anymore.

Adventures of Superman follows two tracks – Lois in “Iraq” (called Umec so DC’s lawyers can breathe more easily) and Superman finishing up his fight against Ruin and Ruin's lackey. Different pencillers handle the two threads, although I’m not quite sure why. Lois’ story is objectively harrowing, but familiar to anyone who’s seen enough war movies. Given her particular situation, it was almost a Freudian slip for the Superman panel at San Diego to point out “we all know Lois isn’t going to die.” This is the second straight issue in which Rucka has underwhelmed me, and it’s starting to get disappointing. There is a hint that Ruin’s plan ties into events over in Superman, so that’s something positive; and Clark’s art is good as ever.

This week‘s Astro City special features “Supersonic.” I’ve followed most of Astro City but can’t remember if I’ve seen this guy before. Certainly he hasn’t been spotlighted like he was in this issue. He seems like a cross between the Silver Age Flash and Green Lantern. The special offers a a bittersweet contrast between his glory days, now decades ago, and the present, when he has to stop a giant robot from killing an entire suburb. Just about anything Astro City-related is worthwhile, and this is no exception.

In a perfect world, Supreme Power #12 would actually wrap up a year’s worth of storylines and subplots – but why should this issue be any different from the others? Hyperion is still pissed off at the government for manipulating him, just like he was 5 months ago. Nighthawk and Blur are on an actual case which is nowhere close to being solved, since it was just introduced last issue. Zarda goes on a lethal shopping spree which will probably catch Nighthawk’s attention about 3 issues from now. Dr. Spectrum makes a connection with the scientist supervising him, and Amphibian makes a fairly meaningless cameo. The Dr. Spectrum miniseries also premiered this week, but I’m not getting snookered by it on a monthly basis. If this book is going to be produced for the paperback, then on the slim chance I decide to read any more of it, that’s how I’ll do it. (And even that is suspect. It’s one thing to end arcs on quasi-cliffhangers filled with ominous portent; but it’s another to do it every six months without actually resolving anything.) These characters aren’t nearly compelling enough for me to follow their sordid exploits at such a paint-drying pace.


DC Comics Presents The Atom. Story #1 written by Dave Gibbons, pencilled by Pat Oliffe, and inked by Livesay. Story #2 written by Mark Waid, pencilled by Dan Jurgens, and inked by Jon Bogdanove. Edited by Eddie Berganza.

Fantastic Four #517. Written by Mark Waid, pencilled by Mike Wieringo, inked by Karl Kesel, edited by Tom Brevoort.

Batman: Gotham Knights #56. Written by A.J. Lieberman, pencilled by Al Barrionuevo, inked by Francis Portella, edited by Matt Idelson.

Robin #129. Written by Bill Willingham, pencilled by Giuseppe Camuncoli, inked by Lorenzo Ruggiero, edited by Michael Wright.

Batgirl # 55. Written by Dylan Horrocks, drawn by Sean Phillips, edited by Michael Wright.

Birds of Prey #72. Written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Ron Adrian, inked by Rob Lea, edited by Joan Hilty.

Adventures of Superman #631. Written by Greg Rucka, pencilled by Matthew Clark and Renado Guedes, inked by Andy Lanning, edited by Eddie Berganza.

Astro City Special: Supersonic #1. Written by Kurt Busiek, drawn by Brent Anderson, edited by Ben Abernathy.

Supreme Power #12. Written by J. Michael Straczynski, pencilled by Gary Frank, inked by Jon Sibal, edited by Nick Lowe.
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Wednesday, August 18, 2004

One comment to my previous GL post rightly pointed out that Hal murdered several Green Lanterns and all but one of the Guardians, so why don't they just clap him in irons whenever he's rejuvenated? (They could say, "well, we're back from the dead too, so let's call it even," but that wouldn't exactly be a fair trade because Kyle brought them back. Still, Kyle only brought them back as toddlers, and apparently changed the gender of some, so I don't know how happy they'd be with him either.) At Wizard World Chicago, the point was made that "Batman's almost the villain" of Rebirth. That suggests to me that Batman doesn't trust Hal anymore either.

Anyway, I should have addressed that in the earlier post and didn't, so shame on me. My blind spot probably comes from two sources. First, I thought "Emerald Twilight" could be justified by the destruction of Coast City and Hal's past rebellions against the Guardians, but that doesn't mean I thought it was in character for him. "ET" was such a jarring event that I have since chalked it up to temporary insanity. Second, "ET" was an abrupt editorial decision on DC's part, so in a sense Hal also gets the "Nuremberg defense" of just "following orders" from Kevin Dooley and Ron Marz. Still, I don't like being less than complete.

And all I meant by Hal-Spectre "working smoothly" was that it wasn't creating any major disruptions. Hal was running around stirring up trouble as Parallax, but as the Spectre he was in the background, available for deus ex machina work as needed. A lot of fans didn't like Hal as the Spectre. I thought the Spectre series was enjoyable enough, but I didn't want that to be Hal's final resting place (so to speak). Nevertheless, the status quo had adapted to include Hal-Spectre such that some kind of disruption -- as shown in "Redemption Lost" -- was necessary to shake it up and require the kind of fix that Rebirth apparently will bring. Sorry for being unclear, and thanks for helping keep me honest.
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Tuesday, August 17, 2004

The Obligatory Green Lantern Essay

Hal Jordan’s coming back and everybody's got an opinion. Here's mine.

While I try to be optimistic, there are still a lot of potential pitfalls. Chief among them is the justification for Hal becoming Green Lantern again. In 1994's “Emerald Twilight,” Hal went insane and destroyed the Green Lantern Corps. In 1996, Hal sacrificed his life to reignite the Sun. In 1999, the still-dead Hal became the ghostly host of the omnipotent Spectre. For the most part, Hal’s short-lived Spectre comic gave him closure over his misdeeds in life. Thus, Geoff Johns’ recent “Redemption Lost” storyline in JSA upset Hal’s Spectral equilibrium, and apparently will lead into Johns’ Green Lantern Rebirth miniseries. In other words, although fans might not have liked the Hal-Spectre, it was working smoothly, and a Rebirth solution first needed a "Redemption Lost" problem.

Second, but no less important, will be Hal’s post-Spectre character. As Green Lantern, Hal’s main source of drama came from the tension between his life on Earth and his duties in space. Now that his ties to Earth have been severed (due mostly to his being dead for the past several years), he’s presumably free to devote all his time to the Green Lantern Corps.

But how will he feel about being a lackey to three dozen omniscient, omnipotent immortals, after having been the Redemptive Force of God Almighty? In life, he second-guessed the Guardians. He then learned not to second-guess the Lord. Still, working for the Divine Presence might cause Hal to question any lesser bosses.

Hal will also have to deal with colleagues who are now more experienced. These include his successor, Kyle Rayner, who once bore sole responsibility for restoring the Green Lantern Corps; and his former deputy John Stewart, who is the Justice League’s resident Lantern. Given Geoff Johns’ nostalgic tendencies, Guy Gardner may also rejoin the Corps. All three have changed and grown since Hal’s breakdown and death. Hal should be humbled after Rebirth, and with the others being more on his level, he certainly won't automatically be in charge.

Rebirth would make a big splash regardless of who wrote it. Since the writer is Geoff Johns, there is a danger that only someone with a good command of DC history (if not specific GL history) could fully enjoy Rebirth. As writer of JSA and Teen Titans, Johns has become a specialist at weaving new stories out of DC’s complex and sometimes contradictory history. In this respect he’s not much different from writers like Kurt Busiek, or even ‘80s GL writer Steve Englehart. (Englehart famously studied practically the entire run of Green Lantern in order to justify a particular multiple-personality storyline involving Hal’s girlfriend Carol Ferris.) This can sometimes mean that characters are exposition generators, and their dramatic roles in the story suffer accordingly. As far as I know, Johns hasn’t tried a revitalization on this scale before; and so he must ensure that Rebirth doesn’t feel like the reintroductions of Raven, Hawkman, or Doctor Fate.

For me the best thing about Hal’s return is the contemporaneous re-establishment of the Green Lantern Corps. In Hal’s heyday, readers saw many of the thousands of Green Lanterns patrolling the universe. Never mind John and Guy -- the Corps had birds, fish, insects, crystalline creatures, clouds, androids, cannibals, you name it. If you got tired of Hal, wait a month or so and you could see a cartoon-type squirrel dispensing emerald justice. To me all the different Lanterns helped keep the concept fresh. Still, when the word came down that Kyle was going to be the only Green Lantern left, that was it for the rest of the ring-bearers.

Having Kyle as the only Green Lantern meant that he was saddled with a particularly heavy bit of baggage. For the first few years of Kyle’s existence, his adventures drove home the notion that he was The Last One. The fact that Hal hung around, in one form or another, didn’t help either. Kyle then decided to restore the Corps, which so far has turned out about like my decision to renovate my office -- a lot of planning, some false starts, and mostly a mess. For years a feeling of uneasy anticipation hung over both Kyle and Hal, with fans waiting for both to find some kind of groove, Corps or not.

While John’s position in the League seems fairly secure (at least as long as he's on TV), his character has suffered because of it. John was originally conceived as a socially aware architect, both more intellectual and more radical than Hal. When Hal quit the Corps in 1984, John took his place, and was Earth’s only Green Lantern for over a year (until Hal came back). Even when several Lanterns were stationed on Earth, John stood out among them. He eventually got his own book, which lasted some 16 issues. It was launched amid much fanfare and canceled as part of “Emerald Twilight’s” radical changes. John disappeared for a few years, resurfacing as a supporting character to Kyle. Still, when he got a power ring again, he quickly moved over to the Justice League, where there has been little room for characterization. I can’t say it enough – the Green Lantern concept fosters diversity in characters and storytelling possibilities, and it is shortsighted to focus on any one Lantern to the exclusion of the others. Geoff Johns should make time for Kyle, John, Guy, and other Green Lanterns, if for no other reason than to highlight facets of Hal’s character.

Ultimately, I think about Hal Jordan’s return in much the same terms as Michael Jordan’s. The first time, Jordan only spent about one and a half seasons out of the NBA, so he came back to a league which was much the same as when he left. He also returned to Chicago, where he was surrounded by an improved supporting cast. Chicago lost in the playoffs that year, but won the next three NBA titles. Jordan’s second comeback, with the Washington Wizards, was much less successful, both because he was older and because the Wizards weren’t nearly as good as Jordan’s Bulls teams. There will always be a special aura around Michael Jordan, but his experience with the Wizards shows that the circumstances have to be right for even the best players to succeed.

DC can’t just plop Hal Jordan into a rejuvenated Green Lantern Corps and expect to tell meaningful stories. The circumstances have to be right. The responsibility for those circumstances now rests largely with Geoff Johns.

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Friday, August 13, 2004

I regret nothing...!

Forgot to mention in the weekly reviews that I picked up the gigundo JLA/Avengers two-volume slipcased oversize Herbert Walker hardcover set. The oversized format makes looking for Waldo that much easier, and if that fails, the annotations will tell me just exactly where he is.

The companion volume reprints the Marvel Age and "Meanwhile..." columns which the two publishers put out in 1983 after it was clear the project was going nowhere. While it's water 20 years under the bridge, it still strikes me as brave for the companies to include their dirty laundry in a commemorative edition. Sadly, I don't know that the current atmosphere between Marvel and DC is much better.

The companion volume also includes Perez's 21 pages he pencilled for the '83 series, most of which I had seen in various places before now. While they're mostly introductions and team-gathering, there is one action sequence involving Batman, Hawkman, and Zatanna versus Captain America, Starfox, and Scarlet Witch. It was nice to see everything in order and flowing together.

Probably the most interesting part of the companion volume is Busiek's Amalgam-like plot for issue #3. Busiek wanted the DC characters "Marvelized" and vice versa -- for example, Superman is a scientist who works in a Baxter-Building-like skyscraper, and is literally haunted by the Phantom Zone-exiled inhabitants of Krypton, which his actions destroyed. It was excised apparently for being too Amalgamish, and I'm happy with the #3 which was published (probably my favorite issue of the four), but thematically it reinforces Busiek's conceptions of the two universes' differences.

Overall, I'm glad I got it. It probably ranks up there with the Marvels 10th Anniversary edition in terms of "bonus features," and it's miles ahead of the Kingdom Come slipcase. Since we're not likely to see a Super-DeLuxe Watchmen hardcover anytime soon, this may be as good as it gets for a while.
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Thursday, August 12, 2004

Identity Crisis Research, Part Two

Identity Crisis #3 flashes back to a 3-part story in which the minds of five JLAers are switched with the minds of five members of the Secret Society of Super-Villains. It appeared in Justice League of America #s 166-68, May-July 1979, and in fact takes place two days after the funeral of Zatanna's mother, Sindella.

"The Long Way Home,” JLA #166, May 1979: Red Tornado’s on monitor duty at the JLA Satellite when the Wizard, Blockbuster, Plant-Master (a/k/a Jason Woodrue, the Floronic Man), Star Sapphire, and Professor Zoom attack. They’ve been trapped between Earth-2 and Earth-1 for the past 6 months until Zoom used his vibratory powers to free them. After taking out Reddy, they use the JLA transporter to go to Israel and pick up a magic griffin statue. Using the transporter triggers an alarm which brings five JLAers. They follow the Secret Society to Israel. They fight, and the villains win. Star Sapphire exposits that their life-forces are trapped between Earths. The life-forces will die unless the villains transfer their minds into the heroes’ bodies, which they do. The brain-switches are as follows: Wizard-Superman, Zoom-Green Lantern, Star Sapphire-Zatanna, Plant Master-Wonder Woman, and Blockbuster-Batman.

“The League That Defeated Itself,” JLA #167, June 1979: While Wizard/S and Zoom/GL squabble, the JLA tries to figure a way out of its Kryptonian-made cell. Remembering a flaw from when he built it, Supes/W gets GL/Z to pound one corner at super-speed, and the cell shatters. The villains have left, so the Leaguers reactivate Red Tornado. He thinks they’re evil, and fights them, but loses. A trip to a San Francisco prison lets GL/Z trick a villain named Hijack (former member of both the Royal Flush Gang and Secret Society) into giving up info about the Society’s new 'Frisco headquarters. The League goes there, but everyone except Zatanna/SS is felled by Green Arrow’s shock arrow. GA, Black Canary, Flash, Hawkman, and Elongated Man have joined up with the other “Leaguers,” but GA is suspicious.

“The Last Great Switcheroo,” JLA #169, July 1979: Zoom/GL imprisons the “Society” members (minus "Star Sapphire") in a power-ring diamond, chained and gagged. Green Arrow flashes back to reveal that “Superman” set up the ambush. Thanks to super-hearing, Wizard/S knows of GA’s suspicions. He throws the diamond towards the sun. The real Leaguers are shocked. Wiz/S says calm down, the other members discussed it before you got here, and besides I just put them into a solar orbit until they can be rehabilitated. This confirms for GA that “Supes” is an impostor.

Aboard the JLA Satellite, Red Tornado escapes the ice-prison “Sapphire” put him in last issue. He sees “Sapphire” arrive, but holds off blasting her. She says she’s Zatanna and passes out.

Wiz/S sets up the League to guard the “Nova Jewels,” ancient Aztec jewelry on loan from the Mexican government. The Leaguers split up, with Wiz/S flying over the city and Zoom/GL and Black Canary staying with the jewels. Once they’re alone, Zoom/GL kisses BC. She knees him in the crotch (!), judo-flips him, and yells “They’re imposters!” loud enough for GA to hear. GA takes out Saph/Z with a paralysis arrow (so she can’t talk). Blockbuster/B and Plant-Master/WW attack Flash, but he ties them up with the magic lasso. Wiz/S sees what’s going on with x-ray vision, but he’s downed by Supes/W’s magic. Later, aboard the satellite, Zatanna/SS switches everyone back.

This story looks like a pretty important part of Identity Crisis. In fact, JLA #168 contains an ad for Flash #275, out the same month, in which Iris Allen was murdered. This helps settle the chronology of events. However, there are still some problems, since Professor Zoom killed Iris. That most likely happened shortly after this story, because Zoom had been trapped between Earths for the past 6 months. (I know the parallel-Earth issue is gone now, but I would think it's been replaced with something similar.) Moreover, Identity Crisis' flashback doesn't have Flash beating the daylights out of Zoom. I haven't read the Flash story, but it adds an extra layer to both the JLA story and IC -- Zoom learns Flash's real identity (if he hadn't already), has it erased by Zatanna (according to IC) and still manages to kill Iris Allen not long afterwards. (I imagine that Zoom broke jail soon after the League left him with the authorities. Either that or this was a Zoom from another point in the timeline before the JLA story, which would really make my head hurt.) In that respect, Zatanna's mind-wipe only postponed the inevitable.

Nevertheless, Identity Crisis suggests (through Green Arrow's narration) that the Secret Society storyline took place before Iris' murder. I figure GA was trying to make a point. The Secret Society story immediately followed Sindella's death, but it was probably some years removed from Larry Lance's. Of those three deaths, both Larry's and Sindella's were sacrificial, and Iris' was the only murder. Thus, GA had to include Iris' death, or his argument would have fallen apart. Regardless, listing the two sacrifices alongside Iris' murder is jarring. Neither Larry nor Sindella were in positions to avoid sacrificing themselves, and neither of them could have been saved by the protection of their loved ones' secrets. In fact, it might have been the case that the time-traveling Zoom would have known Barry Allen's secret identity anyway. Is Brad Meltzer setting Green Arrow up for a fall, or is he unwittingly undermining his own plot, or both?

Speaking of Zoom, I'm not sure if this Star Sapphire was supposed to be Carol Ferris. (There was another Star Sapphire roaming around, and I thought she, not Carol, joined the Secret Society.) I don't think it was, because at that point Carol knew Green Lantern's secret identity. To further complicate things, I can't remember whether Carol's Sapphire remembered GL's secret. Still, that's another problem with the League's mind-wipes -- what if you're wiping the mind of the woman you love? (Carol may not be the best example of this, since she had other mental-health issues.)

There are a lot of JLA stories which have the Leaguers trade minds and/or bodies with villains or each other, and I am nowhere close to cataloguing them all. We'll see how IC plays with this theme in future issues.

Notes: To account for the current timeline, Identity Crisis substitutes Black Canary for Wonder Woman, I guess by default. (This would mean that someone else racked-up "GL" when he put the moves on her, and Hawkgirl is the only female member remaining.) The story still takes place before Sue’s rape because Zatanna is in her old costume. She didn't get the new one until much later, in JLA #187, February 1981. She also appeared in it in New Teen Titans #4, same month. Ironically, the new costume helped Flash figure out that "Zatanna" was an imposter. Another bit of irony -- in the JLA story, Wiz/S overhears Green Arrow voicing his suspicions; and in IC, Supes overhears GA telling Wally about the mind-wipes. Finally, IC’s Daily Planet headline, "Switcheroo!," is a bit of fun with the last part’s title.

Credits: All stories written by Gerry Conway, pencilled by Dick Dillin, inked by Frank McLaughlin, and edited by Ross Andru.

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Identity Crisis Research

Last night I pulled down the Justice League of America longbox and started rifling through, looking for issues with Dr. Light and Hector Hammond. (We're told that Light's assault on Sue came while the League was fighting Hammond.) I also looked at the DCU Guide online to make sure I wasn't missing anything. I re-read the 3-part Secret Society story from Identity Crisis #3 too, but that's another post.

Hector Hammond first. His only fight against the League during this period was as a disembodied spirit, controlling the new Royal Flush Gang, in Justice League of America #s 203-05 (June-August 1982). Because this story features Firestorm, who's apparently not part of the League at the time referenced in IC, I believe the reference is to an "untold tale." I could be wrong; Firestorm may play a more prominent role in Identity Crisis later on. Still, the 1982 story is also long enough after Iris Allen's death that I don't believe it's the same one referenced.

Dr. Light appeared only a few times in Justice League of America during the "Satellite Era." The first, JLA #122, is eerily significant, but I'm saving that for later; and besides, it's not clear (because it's a "casebook" story) whether it takes place before the League moved into their satellite headquarters. The second, JLA #136, is part of a JLA/JSA crossover, and Light was just one of a horde of villains.

The third was December 1977's Justice League of America #149, entitled “The Face Of The Star-Tsar!” JLA #149 has a number of elements significant to Identity Crisis. It opens with Light "at long last" finding a JLA transporter terminal (which, of course, he later hijacked in IC). He doesn't get to use it because the League chases him off. Light easily escapes from the Leaguers, but runs afoul of new villain Star-Tsar. Eventually, Flash and Superman find Light's invisible hideout. Light traps the various Leaguers in a sphere of whirling titanium slivers, traveling at near-light speeds so they’ll slice to ribbons anyone (even Supes) who tries to pass them. He then turns the “Spectriminator” on them, which splits them up into little pieces, each colored a different part of the spectrum because each is in a different dimension. Because GL’s power ring isn’t in a yellow part (still in a green part, in fact), he reunifies himself and the others, and Star-Tsar frees the League from the titanium prison. Light reappears, but Hawkman decks him.

Throughout the issue, Light says he wants the League to die, and refers to a “war” between himself and them. Batman calls Light a “clever criminal mastermind – very deadly,” and the Hawks, GL, and Wonder Woman all agree. Light calls his spectrum-trap “the definitive destruction – because you remain alive to suffer, but have no hope of ever reuniting your scattered parts!” Thus, Light shows a sadistic side, and is still considered a genuine threat. Indeed, we see that if GL's ring had wound up in the yellow dimension, the League would have been trapped forever by the Spectriminator.

If JLA #149 helped set the stage for Identity Crisis, then JLA #122 is certainly its direct ancestor. In "The Great Identity Crisis!", Dr. Light disguises himself as an ice-creature which the League defeats and takes to the interplanetary zoo in Supes’ nearby Fortress of Solitude. While the Leaguers are occupied, Light takes “Amnesium” from Supes’ armory and puts it into a weapon. The Amnesium will transfer the memories of each Leaguer's secret identity to Light's mind. Aquaman doesn’t have a secret ID, and Supes is invulnerable to the weapon, but Light's got plans for them too. Light shoots the five other Leaguers with the Amnesium. He then scrambles the information and returns it to different minds: Green Arrow thinks he’s Ray Palmer; Green Lantern is Barry Allen, Batman is Oliver Queen, Atom is Hal Jordan, and Flash is Bruce Wayne.

The five confused Leaguers leave the Fortress for their "homes" without Supes or Aquaman being any wiser. The "switched" Leaguers are each trapped in various ways, and unable to escape because they can't quite use their new bodies' powers. Meanwhile, Aquaman is knocked out by Light’s exploding fish-trap.

Light, still in the Fortress, reflects that Supes and Bats once switched identities to trap him (in JLA #12, June 1962). Supes returns, but Light traps him in Kryptonite rays. The rest of the Leaguers show up, led by Aquaman, who reveals he wasn’t fooled by the exploding fish. (Aquaman also says that Light didn't think he had another identity, but he does -- Arthur Curry, the name his human father gave him.) Checking with the Fortress’ computer, he learned Light’s scheme; and from there the other members were rescued. After an extended fight through the Fortress, Light is captured. The Amnesium erases the secret identity data from Light's brain, but Green Arrow points out that if they’d known each others’ identities, this wouldn’t have happened in the first place. The League agrees to share secret identities among all members from this point forward.

This looks a lot like the inspiration for Identity Crisis. The title alone would be enough, but here we also have Dr. Light learning the Leaguers' secret identities, and the Leaguers erasing that knowledge and changing their protocols to make sure something similar doesn't happen again.

However, if this story shows up in IC, it would have to be heavily altered. Superman didn't have a Fortress of Solitude at this point in post-Crisis history, nor did he know Batman's secret identity (or vice versa). Flash, Green Lantern, and Green Arrow probably knew each other's secrets. I don't know about Atom. Besides, "amnesium" as a plot device wouldn't fly with today's readers. Although Brad Meltzer has talked about "reclaiming" the Silver Age stories, hokum and all, it would be a stretch to revisit this one.

Next up: the Secret Society of Super-Villains!

Justice League of America #122, September 1975. "The Great Identity Crisis!" Written by Martin Pasko, pencilled by Dick Dillin, inked by Frank McLaughlin, and edited by Julius Schwartz. JLA Roll Call: Aquaman, Atom, Batman, Flash, Green Arrow, Green Lantern, and Superman.

Justice League of America #149, December 1977. “The Face Of The Star-Tsar!” Written by Steve Englehart, pencilled by Dick Dillin, inked by Frank McLaughlin, and edited by Julius Schwartz. JLA Roll Call included Batman, Hawkgirl, Red Tornado, Superman, Flash, Hawkman, Green Lantern, and Wonder Woman.

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Wednesday, August 11, 2004

New comics 8/11/04

Once again, all the DC team books seem to have come out this week.

Identity Crisis #3: Written by Brad Meltzer with art by Rags Morales and Michael Bair. First off, I have to say I was genuinely shocked and surprised by the cliffhanger which ends this issue. Most of the book concerns the fight between Deathstroke and the Justice League, which I think leaves the Leaguers a little more shaken than they'd have liked. The flashback du jour concerns another JLA story from my childhood, but Meltzer shows us how the League dealt with the consequences. There is a blatant mistake in Dr. Light's memory which probably has consequences of its own, and Superman might have learned a critical piece of information. It's all very well put together, and again, it leaves me curious about the outcome.

Challengers of the Unknown #3: As does this book, written and drawn by Howard Chaykin. This time we get more insight into the past lives of the Challengers as the various sides' viewpoints become clearer. Chaykin's narration and dialogue seem less arch, and his art is as sharp as ever. I probably could have waited for the paperback for this, but I'm kind of glad I didn't.

Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #182: "War Games" Part 1.2, written by A.J. Lieberman with art by Brad Walker and Troy Nixey. More damage control with Batman, Batgirl, Catwoman, Orpheus, Oracle, and Onyx. It's all a lot of running around, trying to keep gangsters safe from themselves. There is a subplot with a hijacked ship and the Penguin that will probably become more important next week. This issue may mean more later, but for now it feels like housekeeping. The art is good enough, although Batgirl looks like she's made out of crude oil.

Nightwing #96: "War Games" Part 1.3, written by Devin Grayson with art by Mike Lilly and Andy Owens. Nightwing returns to Gotham apparently on the heels of an immense personal failing in Bludhaven. (I don't read Nightwing regularly.) This gives the issue a distinctive voice and doesn't just drive the plot forward. Dick doesn't want to disappoint Batman, but at the same time he knows Batman will find out soon enough. Nightwing also brings the female vigilante Tarantula with him. I gather from the issue that she encouraged him to do the acts of which he is ashamed, and also that she is some sort of romantic threat to the Nightwing/Oracle relationship. Devin Grayson does a good job with Nightwing and Batman's relationship. It really is the "home is where they have to take you in" situation, with both parties focused on getting the job done. There's an interlude with Tim Drake and his dad and a reference to "Otisburg." I was not aware that Gotham City neighborhoods were named after former Luthor associates, but I take it from this reference that Ms. Teschmacher also has a borough...? An all-around good crossover issue.

Legion #37: Written by Gail Simone, with art by Dan Jurgens and Andy Smith. The penultimate issue of the series gives us a look at the Legionnaires off in space, fighting an insectoid race which evolves on a daily basis. Back on Earth, Devil and her criminal cohorts continue their war against technology. The Legion Subs are used to good effect, especially Infectious Lass. Karate Kid also gets a spotlight. One overdramatic moment involves Trudy the reporter, but other than that it's a solid issue. Hard to believe it all gets wrapped up in two weeks.

JLA #103: Written by Chuck Austen, with art by Ron Garney. Green Lantern decides to patrol constantly after failing to stop a slasher. (At least she didn't die in a fire.) Of course, it does more harm than good, and Superman shows up to console him. Superman also revisits his own problems from two issues ago. I actually thought this issue was more suited to John Stewart, who's been through tragedies both domestic (his wife was brutally murdered by Star Sapphire) and cosmic (he failed to stop the destruction of a planet). On one hand he could have been reliving them, but on the other you'd think he might have learned from them. Anyway, as with the other two issues, I'm still wondering about the point. I'm almost hoping there is some mystery villain tying it all together, as hokey as that sounds.

JSA #64: Written by Geoff Johns, with art by Jerry Ordway and Mark McKenna. The end of the Sandman storyline is pretty much by the numbers. The two JSA teams fight underground and in the Dream Stream to bring Sand back. Many references are made to the Gaiman/Sandman stories which included these characters, but there are no footnotes; I guess because DC doesn't want to confuse the mainstream readers with Vertigo stories. Ordway's art is always excellent, and here he infuses Sand/Sandman with appropriately Kirbyesque lines. It all goes about as you'd expect. It was nice to see Dr. Fate and Fury beat down Brute and Glob, though.

Teen Titans #14: Written by Geoff Johns, with art by Tom Grummett and Lary Stucker. The "Beast Boy virus" story continues, with most of the Titans corralling green animals while Cyborg and Beast Boy figure out how to reverse the infections. On the other coast, Superboy visits Tim Drake. The Superboy/Tim scenes sound like a conversation between two friends who are moving apart, and thus ring true. The rest of the book is a lot of flying (Raven can fly now?) and chasing and lifting and catching. It's all nicely drawn. We'll see how it ends up next issue.

DC Comics Presents The Flash: The cover is probably the best thing about the issue. It's a photorealistic Alex Ross interpretation of the Flash urging the reader to read the issue -- "my life depends on it!" The cover works (better than the original, perhaps) because it looks like the "real" Flash is trying to stop you. Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness provide the first tale, about Flash trying to find a clue that will jail Barry Allen's would-be assassin. It's cute, and McGuinness draws a good Flash. The second story is by Dennis O'Neil and Doug Mahnke, and concerns a more literal interpretation of the cover. Like other tributes, it puts Julie Schwartz in the action, but in a convoluted, loopholeish way. What should come off as madcap and (naturally) fast-paced is flat in O'Neil and Mahnke's hands. So far, that Mystery in Space issue is coming off as the best of these tributes.

Action Comics #818: (Written by Chuck Austen, with art by Ivan Reis and Marc Campos.) Speaking of covers, it looks like Weapons Master is making Superman fly through a hoop on this one. Not Art Adams' best work. Inside, Weapons Master -- the same jerk updated by Dan Jurgens 12 years ago in Justice League America -- enjoys shooting at Superman while the Man of Steel's invulnerability slowly returns. Supes just gets madder and madder (at one point calling WM a "whiny little baby"), until finally he threatens the assembled super-crooks with the full force of his powers. The end of the issue promises some character moments next time, and we'll see how Austen handles that. (Of course, next issue also brings the husband-and-wife villainy of Sodom & Gomorrah, but still.) I'm not sure what to think about the "whiny little baby" line, although it was funny on first reading.

And finally:

Gotham Central #22: Written by Ed Brubaker, with art by Michael Lark and Stefano Gaudino. The conclusion of "Unresolved" is engaging and a little surprising, but like the series as a whole, it shows us what life might be like in caped-and-cowled Gotham City. It's a little hard to believe, although it makes a decent amount of sense. Harvey Bullock reaches what may be his final fate in this issue, which was odd for me because I've been reading the Detectives and Batmans from 20-plus years ago which introduced him. Bullock's been an irritant, a buffoon, and a hero at various points during that time, but GC presented him as a real person when it could have made him a relic. For that it deserves a lot of credit.
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