Sunday, December 30, 2007

Sunday Soliloquy

... or, "Orion Talks The Smack."

I like this sequence for the unrestrained glee that Orion brings to both the verbal and physical beatdowns. It's not quite anti-heroic, but it's not exactly good sportsmanship, either.

Of course, laughing about the Mother Box's sacrifice is just cold, especially since Fourth World readers would already have seen DeSaad torture a "good" Mother Box in Forever People. Still, I get the feeling Orion would have said much the same things about Slig's real mother....

[From "Spawn," in New Gods #5, October 1971. Written and drawn by Jack Kirby, inked and lettered by Mike Royer, color reconstruction by Drew R. Moore and Dave Tanguay. Scans from Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus Vol. 2, which my own mother and dad gave me for Christmas.]
Full Post

Saturday, December 29, 2007

New comics 12/28/07

... So I bought sixteen comic books and then entered a Nyquil fog? Isn't it supposed to happen the other way around?

Jeez, sixteen comics. I'll point out quickly, though, that three carry the Countdown banner, two the 52 Aftermath one, and a couple of others are one-shots (Green Lantern Secret Files, Fantastic Four Isla de la Muerte), and one I'm just giving a tryout to (LSH). So that's half, which makes me feel a little better.

Also, I read 'em last night during the Nyquil haze, so I might still be a little fuzzy talking about 'em today.


The three Countdown books -- Arena #4, C. To Adventure #5, and issue #18 of the main book -- were all pretty competently done. The big attraction in the main book was the reunion with Ray Palmer, but it felt more like the capper to those wheel-spinning Search For specials from the past few months. Good to check in with Ray, but not much else happened this week, and of course another cliffhanger ending. The Adventure book advanced the plot in San Diego, but seeing that we're past the halfway point and our three stalwarts haven't hooked up again, the story starts to look a little more padded. Finally, Arena wrapped up with a weird fight involving the Supermen, made even more incomprehensible by Christopher Kent (the bald one)'s odd powers. If you had "Superman defeats Monarch," you lost!

The Forerunner backup in C. To Adventure was okay, about her taking over a pirate ship and generally being hardcore, but the overall storyline has not engaged me.

Moving on. Green Lantern Sinestro Corps Secret Files & Origins #1 was surprisingly comprehensive as these things go, delivering on the cover's promise of "bios on over 200 Lanterns!" and generally acting as the Bill James Baseball Abstract 2008 for all us GL fans. Worth the $4.99, and I don't say that lightly about these Secret Files books.

Mark Waid strikes twice this week, first with Flash #235 and then with Brave and the Bold #9. The Flash story was fine; more intriguing for its Jai-Wally scenes than for any advancement in the plot. I'm not convinced that Freddie Williams is a good fit for this book. I might have mentioned already that his figures are a little on the bulky side, and for a speedster I don't think that's optimal. Still, it's not a total mismatch. The backup fares better, being a Wally-and-Bart flashback and helping to explain the origin of the main story's bad guy.

The Brave and the Bold #9 is likewise a patchwork of three fairly simple team-ups (Metal Men and Dial H For Hero, Blackhawk and Boy Commandos, present-day Atom and Hawkman) in which each set of heroes fights some messenger of Megistus. It's all tied together by a Challengers of the Unknown framing sequence, and the suggestion that the Book of Destiny has come to life somehow. (There must have been some magic in that old silk hat they found....) It will probably mean more to the story once the bigger picture is seen, and it's not the best issue so far, but it's still pretty fun.

This week also sees a double dose of the Legion of Super-Heroes, first in their own book and then in Action Comics. Legion #37 kicks off the return of Scripter-Boy Jim Shooter, back after thirty-plus years; and I've gotta say, I wasn't really encouraged. The thrust of the story is that new Legion leader Lightning Lad is, to put it lightly, overwhelmed by his responsibilities, with the team suffering as a result. The issue provides an overview of quite a few Legionnaires, which is appropriate, and it's not really decompressed, which I appreciated; but it almost tries to do too much. Blocky, angular art from penciller Francis Manapul and inker Livesay doesn't help the scenes flow into one another. There's also not much sense that this Legion is appreciably different from the old Shooter/Levitz days, and I kinda think there should be. Maybe I'm just picky that way.

Over in Action Comics #860, what is allegedly the old Shooter/Levitz Legion gets its own workout, but again, the book just feels crowded with characters. Having them all introduced with their own bullet-point caption is a nice idea in theory, but in practice -- take the first page, for example -- the things can clutter up the page. The Legionnaires also crowd out Superman themselves, but if the point is to get all the players straight before the big scrum, that'd make it easier to take. Oddly enough, I think penciller Gary Frank makes the Legionnaires look a little older than Superman, which strikes me as an intriguing detail if it's intentional. Look at the cheekbones on Lightning Lass and Night Girl. Those faces seem almost middle-aged to me. Anyway, we're about where I'd expect for the halfway point of the story, so it's still good thus far.

Green Lantern #26 bills itself as Part 1 of "The Alpha Lanterns," but it's more transitory than that. Pieces are picked up after the Sinestro Corps War, Hal and John go back to Earth, and a group of "Lost Lanterns" runs afoul of Amon Sur. Mike McKone comes on as penciller and does a good job. His layouts aren't as crowded as Ivan Reis's, but of course he's not drawing thousands of GLs and Sinestros either. Because the issue is so episodic, it's hard to get a sense of what it wants to accomplish, and it dispenses with the "Alpha Lantern" thing pretty quickly. We'll see how Part 2 deals with the Alphas, I guess.

Another somewhat transitory issue was Captain America #33, wherein the Winter Soldier's arm beats up some SHIELD techs and the fully-armed (ha ha) W.S. almost takes out Iron Man. Pieces are put together by the good guys re: the involvement of the Red Skull, and next issue advertises the New Cap. Another fine installment.

Fantastic Four: Isla De La Muerte was a cute one-shot spotlighting the Thing's annual secret vacation to Puerto Rico. With as much time spent on team dynamics as on the mystery du jour, it's a good little FF story. I don't quite see the resemblance between Ben and El Morro, though. The art, by Juan Doe, is fairly cartoony, but I just say that to describe, not criticize.

JLA Classified #49 was a strange, rather insubstantial story about the Leaguers' various helpmates reacting to their being off-planet on a dangerous mission. Most of it concerns Lois Lane and Alfred Pennyworth meeting for the first time, which you'd think would place this fairly early in DC history; but Wally is the Flash and Linda is his sweetie, so it can't be that old. Also, Lois either doesn't know Superman's secret, or doesn't know that she can share it with Alfred. Paulo Siqueira and Amilton Santos are the penciller and inker, respectively, and they combine to produce somewhat Adam Hughes-like figures. However, the layouts are a little too self-conscious, with figures jumping out of panels when they maybe really shouldn't. The overall effect is to make the story seem more important than it is. I hate to be a continuity stickler, but it might've worked better with a more open relationship among the principals; and that might've been better portrayed with a group which included the Silver Age significant others. Those people did hang out together in a way that, say, Alfred and Lois don't.

Teen Titans #54 finished up the "Titans Of Tomorrow Today" storyline, but I'm not sure how. Did the revelations about Future-Kon and Future-Bart really affect the current Titans' viewpoints enough that history will be changed for the better? And what about that epilogue? The issue has some nice moments, many of them involving Wonder Girl or Blue Beetle, but I don't know that they add up to a coherent conclusion.

Batman #672 sees Grant Morrison and Tony Daniel return to the familar "Three Evil Batmen" storyline Morrison had been working before the Club of Heroes and Ra's al Ghul arcs intervened. I liked this issue pretty well, although I thought the ending was confusing. Since it involved Zur-En-Arrh, a Batman getting shot, and what looks like Bat-Mite, I'm sure it'll be explained eventually. Daniel and his various inkers still remind me of Andy Kubert, but that may well be the influence of Guy Major's colors.

Finally, the two 52 spinoffs, Four Horsemen and Crime Bible, were both pretty entertaining. I especially liked Crime Bible's look at the Gotham PD and, therefore, Greg Rucka's "return" to Gotham Central territory. Batwoman also seemed a lot more plausible as a crimefighter, although you'd think we'd have seen her in more places even taking her recovery into account. Anyway, Crime Bible was more a spotlight on the Question's relationship to Batwoman, and for that it was pretty good.

Four Horsemen continues to be a good adventure story, weaving various ancillary characters like Mr. Terrific, Veronica Cale, and Snapper Carr into its story about DC's "Big Three" taking on Apokoliptian terror-gods. This issue adds the Doom Patrol. It's all very well-organized, with enough set pieces (like Superman's and Batman's respective duels with Horsemen) to hold my interest. Of course, there's not much doubt about the outcome, so the fun is in seeing how we'll get there.

Whew! How's that for a whirlwind look at an end-of-year blowout week?

* * *


Action Comics #860. Written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by Gary Frank, inked by Jon Sibal, colored by Dave McCaig.

Batman #672. Written by Grant Morrison, pencilled by Tony Daniel, inked by Daniel, Jonathan Glapion, and others, colored by Guy Major.

The Brave and the Bold #9. Written by Mark Waid, pencilled by George PĂ©rez, inked by Bob Wiacek and Scott Koblish, colored by Tom Smith.

Captain America #33. Written by Ed Brubaker, pencilled by Steve Epting, inked by Butch Guice, colored by Frank D’Armata.

Countdown Arena #4. Written by Keith Champagne, pencilled by Scott McDaniel, inked by Andy Owens, and colored by Guy Major.

Countdown To Adventure #5. “Space Heroes” written by Adam Beechen, pencilled by Allan Goldman, inked by Julio Ferreira, and colored by The Hories. “Forerunner” written by Justin Gray, pencilled by Fabrizio Fiorentino, inked by Adam DeKraker, and colored by The Hories.

Countdown (To Final Crisis) #18. Written by Paul Dini and Sean McKeever, story consultant Keith Giffen, drawn by Scott Kolins, colored by Tom Chu.

Fantastic Four: Isla de la Muerte! #1. Written by Tom Beland, drawn and colored by Juan Doe.

52 Aftermath: Crime Bible -- Five Lessons Of Blood #3. Written by Greg Rucka, drawn by Matthew Clark, colored by Javier Mena.

52 Aftermath: The Four Horsemen #5. Written by Keith Giffen, pencilled by Pat Olliffe, inked by John Stanisci, colored by Hi-Fi.

The Flash #235. Main story written by Mark Waid, drawn by Freddie Williams II, and colored by Tanya & Richard Horie. Backup written by Waid and John Rogers, drawn by Doug Braithwaite, and colored by Alex Sinclair.

Green Lantern #26. Written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by Mike McKone, inked by Andy Lanning, Marlo Alquiza, & Cam Smith, and colored by JD Smith.

Green Lantern Sinestro Corps Secret Files & Origins #1. Written, drawn, and colored by too many people to mention.

JLA Classified #49. Written by Andrew Kreisberg, pencilled by Paulo Siquiera, inked by Amilton Santos, and colored by Allen Passalaqua.

Legion of Super-Heroes #37. Written by Jim Shooter, pencilled by Francis Manapul, inked by Livesay, and colored by Nathan Eyring.

Teen Titans #54. Written by Sean McKeever, pencilled by Eddy Barrows, Joe Prado, & Greg Tocchini, inked by Rob Hunter, Julio Ferreira, Oclair Albert, & Prado, and colored by Rod Reis.

Full Post

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Showcase Presents ... Holidays In Hell

No, that's not a summary of Christmas with our families. I took Showcase Presents Jonah Hex Volume 1 along for light reading during the Christmas break. I had already plowed through Showcase Presents Sgt. Rock (also Volume 1), and was curious to see how Hex would compare.

Showcase Presents Sgt. Rock Volume 1 covers just over three years' worth of comics. It begins with what is apparently Rock's first appearance, in G.I. Combat #68 (January 1959), and then reprints the Sgt. Rock stories from Our Army At War #s 81-117 (April 1959-April 1962). None of these stories are what we'd consider full-length today, with the longest ones being 13 pages. Most were written by Bob Kanigher and/or drawn by Joe Kubert, including the "prototype" story from G.I. Combat. (Bob Haney wrote, and Ross Andru and Mike Esposito drew, Rock's OAAW debut.) Of course, Rock is identified pretty closely with both Kanigher and Kubert, so this isn't surprising.

The stories each tend to have the same basic structure: Rock introduces and narrates each, and each tends to depict some object lesson Rock teaches the somewhat interchangeable men under his command. There's two-fisted action, naturally, with the men of Easy Company facing off against implacable German machinegunners, tanks, or planes, but the emphasis is on the characters. Of course, since the point of virtually every story is for Rock's men to learn from him, Rock doesn't really experience many epiphanies, but he's still a very engaging host. In fact, Rock's constant presence is one of the book's real charms. As hard as he comes off to his men, Rock is much friendlier to the reader, and that "behind-the-curtain" look drew me into the book in a way I hadn't expected.

The book does develop some of Easy Company's other members, including Rock's second-in-command Bulldozer, the formerly wimpy Ice Cream Soldier, and the well-named Wild Man. Other Easy soldiers aren't so lucky, meeting their ends during their introductory tales. Death -- personalized death, that is -- isn't a big part of these stories, but it's there. I got the feeling that the youngest intended readers of OAAW were probably in 5th grade or older -- older, to be sure, than the kids reading the superhero books. Still, this was the late '50s, well into the superheroic revivals of the Silver Age which gave rise to the "aging fan," so I could be wrong.

Outside of their shared World War II timeframe, the stories take place for the most part on anonymous battlefields. Similarly, other than Easy Company's constant antagonists being (mostly) faceless Nazis, the stories aren't overtly jingoistic. I also didn't get the sense that these stories glorified combat for its own sake. The collective message of the "Sgt. Rock" series seems to have been that grace under pressure, steadfastness, and teamwork were the paramount attributes of any soldier. The '50s and '60s probably produced better war comics -- I'm thinking particularly of the EC war comics, which have an excellent reputation -- but Showcase Presents Sgt. Rock Vol. 1 is endearing in its own way, and it's got me waiting for Vol. 2.

* * *

Showcase Presents Jonah Hex Volume 1 wasn't as big a hit with me. Maybe it was reading such an unrepentantly nihilistic Western series in the days leading up to Christmas. I didn't dislike these stories, but I didn't find myself wanting to spend more time with ol' Jonah anytime soon. In some ways I'm sure that's the point.

SPJH Vol. 1 reprints some four years' worth of Hex stories from (the bimonthly) Weird Western Tales (nee All-Star Western) #s 10-33 (February-March 1972 to March-April 1976). It also reprints a couple of relatively obscure All-Star Western features, "Outlaw" and "Billy The Kid," which I'll discuss at the end.

Jonah Hex, character and series, was born into a world quite different from Sgt. Rock's. Hex had to acknowledge, and in some sense compete with, the revisionist Westerns of the '60s and '70s. Hex also had to balance being a misanthropic, antiheroic killer with being both sympathetic and palatable to the newsstand crowd. (Each issue's cover carries the Comics Code Authority seal.) Accordingly, although Hex's good heart was hidden pretty well, dealing with characters who were demonstrably evil gave him frequent chances to reveal it. Having him spurned by polite society, both for his profession and his hideous scarred visage, also made him more sympathetic.

(By the way, for those of you who listen faithfully to "A Prairie Home Companion," I couldn't help but give Hex the gravelly voice of Tim Russell's Dusty from "The Lives of the Cowboys." Don't judge me.)

Hex's creators John Albano (writer) and Tony DeZuniga (artist) collaborated on a little less than half the stories in this book, with Michael Fleisher writing most of the rest for a variety of artists. Fleisher's artists included DeZuniga, Noly Panaligan, George Moliterni, Doug Wildey, and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez. Garcia-Lopez's two stories may be the most accessible to today's readers, art-wise, due to their clean, crisp figures and layouts, but the others each have a particular earthy style which suits the subject matter. I wasn't as impressed with the storytelling on display as I was with Kubert's in the Sgt. Rock volume, but nothing is hard to understand.

Although this volume includes a few flashbacks to his Civil War days, it doesn't offer much clues as to Jonah's postwar "origin." Still, the overall impression of Hex is as a tragic figure, doomed to wander the West making a career out of killing and bounty-hunting. Again, he's certainly not unsympathetic. If anything, the stories tend to weaken whenever they introduce gender and/or racial issues (the threat of rape, for example) to which today's readers might ostensibly be more sensitive. Ultimately, though, Jonah is the agent of a certain variety of rough, pulp-flavored justice which perhaps satisfies no one but the reader. Mindful of Fleisher's background writing ironic punishments for the Spectre series, I soon saw Jonah in the same angel-of-vengeance light.

Really, now that I think more about it, I'm eager for Vol. 2, just to see if (and how) DC softened Jonah as the '70s wore on.

As for the "Outlaw" and "Billy The Kid" features, they're perhaps best appreciated as filler. They don't have a lot to do with Jonah Hex beyond sharing some creators, and they're not very true to their respective premises. The "Outlaw" series is advertised as the adventures of an aspiring Texas Ranger who runs afoul of his Ranger father and must clear his name. The "Billy The Kid" premise is pretty familiar too, although I won't spoil it. Suffice it to say that "BTK"'s premise is undercut by the art. "Outlaw"'s is undone by its writing, which suddenly decides in mid-story that the central conflict is over.

I can't figure out whether Hex Vol. 2 has been rescheduled -- it was part of that group of '70s-'80s Showcases cancelled back in the summer -- but I guess I liked Vol. 1 enough after all.

* * *
Really, I liked both of these for fairly different reasons. For good bedside reading, I'd definitely suggest Sgt. Rock. For something more involved, story-wise, I'd go with Jonah Hex. It's a trade-off -- you can't beat Joe Kubert's artwork, but I can see where the stories would get repetitive. Still, I found myself wanting to read more after each Sgt. Rock story, whereas it was easier for me to put down the Hex volume.

I hope to see what a Vol. 2 brings to each series.
Full Post

Friday, December 21, 2007

And to all a good night

(Click to blockhead-size)

Well, here we are again, at Christmastime. I've been trying to think of a good post for the season, but they all come out too preachy or too melodramatic. (This might not be much better, actually.) The Best Wife Ever and I are busy as usual, and just like in those awful Lifetime movies, that makes it harder to get into the proper spirit.

However, I suppose that if you can actually plan around Christmas, that may also make it easier to compartmentalize the holiday into its own little packet of time -- say, 24 hours from the evening of December 24 until the evening of the 25th, when you look around at a wrapping-paper-strewn family room and realize someone's going to have to clean all this up....

Better, perhaps, to let Christmas come suddenly, in the dead of night, as it did to Luke's shepherds in the fields outside Bethlehem. Better perhaps even to have it highlight the complications of our lives and work with them, and through them, so we see its practical effects.

Still, I don't think of Christmas as a panacea. Not everyone learns a life lesson, and not every rough place is made plain. After all, the innkeeper doesn't give up his own bed for Joseph and Mary -- instead, he finds room for them out back, with the livestock. It's not very Lifetime-movie of him.

However, the Christmas message isn't quite "be happy with what you have," either. Christmas is about faith, hope, and change. The last shall be first. The meek shall inherit the earth. "Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord." The change is gonna come, for behold, its agent is here.

This holiday season has been stressful, to put it mildly, for more than a few of my friends and family. The stresses are all different, as are the methods for dealing with them. Some are losing (or have lost) loved ones. Some stresses are work-related. Some are just the logistical demands of the season. Christmas isn't going to solve all of their problems, and in fact may make enduring those problems more difficult. Again, though, the message of Christmas isn't ignorant bliss, it's the promise of a better world. The real gift of Christmas is the pause to honor Christ's birth. In that pause we not only rest, but may also contemplate that better world about which he taught.

Therefore, this holiday season, my wish for you is for that opportunity to rest and find the peace you need. A better world depends on each of us.

Happy holidays, blogosphere! See you next week.
Full Post

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Lord Havok = Nightwing...?

I liked a good bit of the new Dan DiDio interview at Newsarama, but I have to disagree with his characterization of Countdown's tentacles.

DD: ... People identify things like Countdown to Mystery and Countdown to Adventure and even Lord Havok as Countdown crossovers, but I really don’t – I consider those books to be spin-“outs” of Countdown featuring characters that were in Countdown, and have spun out into their own miniseries and stories. They’re not different than when say; Iceman or Nightcrawler got their own miniseries spinning off of X-Men. So if you say we’re putting out a lot of Countdown, “Countdown” is a brand name the same way that Superman is a brand name, Batman is a brand name, or X-Men is a brand name.

NRAMA: True, but without Countdown, the Lord Havoks and other spin-offs wouldn’t exist, or have a reason for their stories to be told, so there is something to say that there is a connection between them…

DD: Agreed, but you can say the same thing about anything like that – would there have been a Nightwing series without Batman? There wouldn’t have been a Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen without Superman. Jimmy played a role in Superman, and his profile was raised to the point that people wanted to see more adventures with him. That was the hope of what we did. Maybe we spun things out to fast, without getting the chance to really establish the characters, but the more important thing is the Countdown name increased the amount of sampling and interest in characters that people normally would have passed by if the books had come out without the Countdown branding.

It seems pretty disingenuous to say that tremendous reader demand for the adventures of Forerunner and Jeanclipso led to the creation of Countdown To Adventure or C. To Mystery. All of the "branded" series were sold to us readers as take-'em-or-leave-'em parts of the larger Countdown experience. That's fairly far removed from analogizing them to Nightwing, who got his own solo series about a dozen years after his first appearance, and who by the way was a major player in a prominent team book for a good ten years.*

Moreover, the lead stories in CTM and CTA are, respectively, the repurposed Steve Gerber Doctor Fate relaunch, and a 52 follow-up. Those are better arguments for publishing the titles, but they hardly support the notion that people would read them based on Countdown. In fact, I wonder if they would have done better on those grounds, without the CD brand.

On balance, I think Dan DiDio tries to be pretty fair about DC's shortcomings, but in this respect he's not exactly arguing from a position of strength.

* I'm counting Dick-as-Nightwing, obviously. To count Dick-as-Robin would just be piling on.
Full Post

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Quick Thoughts On Today's New Comics (12/19/07)

Yeah, I know, it's been quite a while -- but sometimes you're inspired and you have the time, and sometimes one or both of those aren't present.


Checkmate #21: really good start to a Mlle. Marie story. Very pleasantly surprised by the new White Queen. (She's no longer powered, is she?) Would have loved some hint that (a) Mlle. Marie had had a liaison with Alfred Pennyworth, like in the old days.

Birds Of Prey #113: Welcome aboard, Mr. McKeever! Glad to see you work so well with Ms. Scott and Mr. Hazlewood!

Detective Comics #839: This has been an uneven mess of a crossover, and the art in the first half of the book didn't help, but I did like the overall tone of this issue. Still, it's Christmas already?!? Man, the timeline questions surrounding today's DC superhero books....

Countdown Presents ... Ray Palmer: Superwoman/Batwoman: Well, that was rather pointless.

Countdown Arena #3 and Justice League of America #16: Arena is developing more of a plot than I originally expected, although Vampire!LibertyFiles!Batman! reminds me more and more of Primaul (TM). However, my main problem has to do with the Tangent Flash. Either she makes it out of Arena alive -- since she's on the cover of JLA #16 -- or there's a reset button built into the Arena setup, if not all of Countdown. It goes back to my "not the real Elseworlds" theory from a recent Grumpy Old Fan, but otherwise it just makes my head hurt.

Superman #671: Very good start to the "Insect Queen" story. Peter Vale's art is much better than I remembered.

She-Hulk #24: I dunno. There may be some parallels between the Jen-and-Jen setup and PAD's Supergirl, but I'm just not getting much out of the book right now.

I'll try to do a holiday-themed post before the weekend, but if not, regular service resumes around Dec. 27.
Full Post

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Sunday Soliloquy

I didn't get to use the Thing/Doom beatdown from this week's FF for this week's Friday Night Fights. Good thing, then, that Future Doom is just as mouthy as Present Doom.

[From "Epilogue, Chapter 2: The Middle Of The End," Fantastic Four #552, February 2008. Written by Dwayne McDuffie, pencilled by Paul Pelletier, inked by Rick Magyar, colored by Wil Quintana, lettered by VC's Russ Wooton.]
Full Post

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Thursday Night Thinking

I'm not going to argue that the "Spidey refuses to give up and lifts the heavy machinery" sequence isn't a classic of superhero comics...

... but these two pages with Thor-Frog are pretty effective too.

And, of course, it wouldn't work if Thor-Frog weren't THINKING!

[From "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner; or, It's Not Easy Being Green!" in The Mighty Thor #365, March 1986. Written and drawn by Walt Simonson, lettered by John Workman, colored by Max Scheele.]
Full Post

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Extending the Final Frontier: Thoughts on DC's Star Trek

I'm pretty excited about Star Trek Week over at Dave's Long Box, because it means he'll probably be talking Trek comics for the next couple of months.

Anyway, his latest post is on DC's Star Trek vol. 1 #35. I am full-to-bursting about a certain aspect of this comic, but didn't want to hijack Dave's comments.

For those who don't know, DC got the Star Trek license in 1983, following Star Trek II. However, editors Marv Wolfman and Bob Greenberger wanted to do contemporary stories. This meant picking up from where The Wrath Of Khan left off, which in turn meant switching out Spock for Saavik.

It worked out well enough for the first eight issues. The first four issues were a "Klingon War" storyline involving some familiar omnipotent aliens. A couple of done-in-one issues followed that, and then a two-part "Origin Of Saavik" story had David Marcus come back into the mix to transfer Saavik to the U.S.S. Grissom. By this time it was the summer of 1984 and DC had to lead its readers into Star Trek III.

The problem, as you might guess, was leading out of The Search For Spock with anything resembling contemporary stories. Indeed, Star Trek vol. 1 #9 began with our heroes on Vulcan, wondering how to finesse their surrender to Federation justice. Luckily, an invasion from the Mirror Universe provided a handy opportunity for Kirk & Krew to save the Federation from (goateed and/or scantily-clad versions of) itself. Starfleet couldn't prosecute such heroic figures, so Kirk and most of the regulars (including Saavik) were assigned to the starship Excelsior.

For reasons I can't quite remember, though, Spock was given command of the Surak, an Oberth-class science vessel, and sent to explore a different corner of the galaxy. I'd say this was done not only to preserve the initial Spock-less lineup, but also to make sure that, whatever happened between movies 3 and 4, Kirk was still getting to know the "new" Spock by the time Star Trek IV rolled around. I'd say the same applied to a new Enterprise -- DC couldn't have one in its comics if Paramount hadn't introduced it on the big screen.

Accordingly, from issue #16 through #33, DC's Star Trek was mostly about the voyages of the starship Excelsior, exploring strange new worlds, yadda yadda yadda. DC even did a twentieth-anniversary issue where the original crew (overshooting the 2260s on their way back from "Tomorrow Is Yesterday") met their movie-era selves aboard Excelsior. Nevertheless, it all had to be rolled back again, to get ready for Star Trek IV.

That's where Dave's Star Trek #35 comes in. If memory serves, "The Doomsday Bug" makes Vulcanoids go nuts. It affects a shipload of Romulans and Spock too. Kirk & Ko. become involved in an intergalactic incident, Spock's neural pathways start to degenerate, and the Excelsior high-tails it for Vulcan so Spock can get the help he needs and the others can find sanctuary.

I think this is fascinating (ha ha) for a couple of reasons. First, Paramount apparently let DC have as "traditional" a setup as the events of the movies would allow. On one hand this seems eminently appropriate, because who'd want to come cold to a Star Trek comic only to find two years' worth of "Kirk On The Lam" stories? On the other, though, why wouldn't Paramount want to let the movies tell their own stories, and require DC to publish flashbacks in the meantime? The Star Trek novels still focused on the pre-TWOK era (although designated adaptation writer Vonda McIntyre fleshed out the movies with her own subplots and transition sequences). Indeed, DC's second volume of Trek comics began after 1989's Star Trek V, and at first included the Klingon characters from that movie, but soon dropped its own continuing characters and subplots for a series of standalone stories. Certainly those weren't unpopular, because Vol. 2 lasted 80 issues, but after a while it felt less ... personal, I suppose, than Vol. 1's attempts to create its own continuity.

In short, I thought it was pretty gutsy of DC to do its own thing with the Trek movies. To me it helped justify the comics' existence, because it added a soap-opera element that the TV show never really had. The fact that it worked even within the movies' own cliffhangers and (relatively) tight continuity was also pretty impressive.

The second fascinating aspect of "The Doomsday Bug" is its rollback function. It's the narrative equivalent of cleaning up after that wild party you weren't supposed to have while your parents were out of town. Everything has to be put back just like they left it. In hindsight, this makes parts of the story pretty ridiculous. For example, the Klingon Bird-Of-Prey apparently sat in Excelsior's shuttlebay for some twenty issues, without being appropriated by Starfleet for further study.

Still, the point of a parents-are-away party isn't to obey the rules. The point is to take advantage of the freedom, however fleeting it may be. DC definitely did that. In fact, its "Excelsior period" was designed to give readers the kinds of stories they expected, without strip-mining the familiar five-year mission or even the less-familiar post-Motion Picture era. (Besides, Marvel's series was set post-TMP.) I like the rollback because it acknowledges that those stories existed and could reasonably be incorporated into the movie timeline. After years of superhero comics' simply pushing the reset button, an old-fashioned transitory story is almost quaint.
Full Post

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Sunday Soliloquy

Doctor Manhattan learns the true meaning of Christmas:

... Okay, not exactly, but it is a kind of "goodwill towards men" ("and women," as Batman Returns reminds us) moment.

[From "The Darkness Of Mere Being" in, duh, Watchmen #9, May 1987. Written by Alan Moore, drawn and lettered by Dave Gibbons, colored by John Higgins.]
Full Post

Friday, December 07, 2007

Friday Night Fights

Rip Hunter continues the proud tradition of brainiacs who aren't afraid to sucka-punch!

It's always time for Bahlactus!

[From "52 Pick-Up Chapter 4: He's Gonna Save Every One Of Us!" in Booster Gold vol. 2 #4, January 2008. Written by Geoff Johns and Jeff Katz, pencilled by Dan Jurgens, inked by Norm Rapmund, colored by Hi-Fi, lettered by Rob Leigh.]
Full Post

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Brief Words About Recent Books And Upcoming Content

As you may have noticed, I upgraded to the current version of Blogger a week or so ago. It's made the site a little more functional, I think, although my StatCounter stats are screwed up. Either that or there are 90% fewer people visiting, which is entirely possible.

It's been a weird few weeks around here. The Best Wife Ever and I have been pretty busy with our real lives. My parents visited for Thanksgiving. The leaves need raking. We went to Grand Illumination, the kickoff of Colonial Williamsburg's Christmas season. That doesn't leave a lot of time for blogging about new comics.

Actually, I've been reading a lot outside the Wednesday hauls, and that's taken time away from the weekly roundups too. Last week it was The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier and I Shall Destroy All The Civilized Planets!. I got Showcase Presents The Brave And The Bold Batman Team-Ups for my birthday last month, and Wednesday I got Showcase Presents Sgt. Rock. So far, all of them have been pretty entertaining, although Black Dossier was fairly self-indulgent.

Of course, I've been keeping my regular Thursday deadlines for Grumpy Old Fan, and as I mentioned in a comment on today's post, odds are good that I'll finish the magnum-opus Grand Unified Theory of DC Comics -- my own Black Dossier, probably, with all that implies -- before too long. I'm a little frightened by the thought of that, and you should be too.

I'm also interested in the more nuts-and-bolts aspects of DC's output, but I admit freely that it'll take more research than I have time for right now. Moreover, I'm not sure the answers are readily available. Just off the top of my head:

-- Are there still formal "ship weeks," i.e., where Batman ships reliably on, say, the second week of every month?
-- How does one calculate when a month has a fifth week? (I think it used to be the number of Tuesdays, but that might just have been back when the books shipped on Fridays.)
-- How late have DC's books been, really? How does that compare to Marvel, Dark Horse, and/or Image?
-- What should fill the slots all these Countdown miniseries will leave behind?
-- Is a variant cover a slot-filler? What about a second printing?

You get the idea. I still think a lot about comics, even if those thoughts don't make it to this blog. I just wanted you to know I haven't turned this space into a series of scans (although I like doing the scans too). It might not be this weekend, or next week, but before too long, I hope to be filling this space with long-winded tirades about superhero esoterica, just like old times.

As they used to say, "be here -- it'll be good!"
Full Post

Thursday Night Thinking

There's all kinds of THINKING ... quick thinking, forward thinking, thinking on one's feet ...

... and then there's "thinking in a constantly shifting, Escher-inspired environment," which apparently takes some getting used to.

[From "Different Worlds," the lead story in Action Comics #600, May 1988. Written and pencilled by John Byrne, with at least some assists (I think) on both from George Perez, inked by Mr. Perez, colored by Tom Ziuko, lettered by John Costanza.]
Full Post

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Sunday Soliloquy

I have a good chunk of Cerebus phone books, but not all of 'em. Sometimes I don't know which would be more rewarding -- reading Cerebus from start to finish or trying to make sense out of The Silmarillion. Still, as far as I know, there are no superhero parodies in Tolkien.

Here's the Moon Roach all dressed for the Sacred Wars in his "Black Spidey" costume:

I had forgotten about his henchmen, themselves parodies of the hillbillies from old Warner Bros. cartoons.

There was also a three-headed swamp monster (Swamp Thing, Man-Thing, and Alan Moore) and MIck Jagger and Keith Richards, but maybe another Sunday.

[From "Becoming Synonymous With Something Indescribable" in Cerebus #81, December 1985, which itself was a tiny little part of Church & State II. Written, drawn, and lettered by Dave Sim, with Gerhard on backgrounds.]
Full Post

Friday, November 30, 2007

Friday Night Fights

Happy birthday, Keith Giffen!

Superboy and Supergirl would love to celebrate, but first they've got to give Darkseid a message ...

... the 20th Century says "have fun getting sucka-punched!"

(Also, the future belongs to Bahlactus!)

[From "Darkseid," in The Legion of Super-Heroes vol. 1 #294, December 1982. Co-plotted and pencilled by Mr. Giffen, co-plotted and scripted by Paul Levitz, inked by Larry Mahlstedt, colored by Carl Gafford, lettered by John Costanza.]
Full Post

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Thursday Night Thinking

Hal Jordan gets a lot of grief for all the head injuries he's sustained, but as this sequence shows, he still gets some productive use out of the ol' noggin.

I call that THINKING, Diamondrock!

[From "He Who Slaughters!" in 5-Star Super-Hero Spectacular, a/k/a DC Special Series vol. 1 #1, 1977. Written by Denny O'Neil, drawn by Joe Staton, colored by Liz Berube, lettered by Ben Oda.]
Full Post

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Sunday Soliloquy

Had a great Thanksgiving with my wife and parents; thanks for asking. Sorry that meant no blogging for the past week. Still, back in the swing of things now, so let's get movin'.

* * *

Back at Thanksgiving 2002, the Justice League and Justice Society had to fight not only tryptophan, but a couple of uninvited guests....

... with bad table manners to boot! Hey, Despero, we put out the good napkins so people will use 'em!

[From JLA/JSA: Virtue and Vice (2002), written by Geoff Johns and David Goyer, pencilled by Carlos Pacheco, inked by Jesus Merino, colored by Guy Major, lettered by Ken Lopez.]
Full Post

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Sunday Soliloquy

This was going to be my Friday Night Fights entry, and I guess it would fit the current theme. After all, Batman's been sucka-punched by love...!

The best part of this page isn't the ghostly images of Bruce and Silver, or the cool efficiency with which Batman takes out his frustrations. No, for me it's that closeup of one almost-wild eye in panel 3. You see that look in Batman's eyes and you know someone's getting a beating.

[From "The Coming Of ... Clayface III!" in Detective Comics #478, July-August 1978. Written by Len Wein, pencilled by Marshall Rogers, inked by Dick Giordano, lettered by Ben Oda. Recolored by Rogers for this reprint.]
Full Post

Friday, November 16, 2007

Crisis On Definitive Earth

Dick Hyacinth's list of complaints made by superhero fans includes this observation:

It seems to me that the most vocal online fans are the ones who feel the greatest attachment to specific characters. So you get a lot of complaints that Intellectual Property X is written out of character, or that Storyline Z violates some musty story from the complainant's youth. In its more extreme forms, criticism informed by such notions of ownership seems like nothing more than cross checks against the fan's preconceptions of how the character(s) "work." If the comic meets these expectations, it's good. If not, it's bad.

In general, I don't disagree. I also agree that we commentators should want to reward "good comics" as a rule, without regard to their place in a larger corporate-owned "canon." However, I don't know that it's possible to discuss corporate superhero characters without taking into account "how they 'work.'"

Dick mentions the Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four and the Lee/Ditko Amazing Spider-Man as the pinnacles of creative achievement from Marvel, and also better than anything DC has ever published. For me to debate that would be beside the point. However, each book continued past the departure of its original artist, and each enjoyed some measure of success without that person. Considering the "Marvel Style" which Stan Lee and his collaborators pioneered, and the persistent debates over "who did what," I think it's safe to say that neither book was the same. Still, Lee, the other "parent" involved, kept writing both books, keeping them from being farmed out entirely to new people.

What does that mean for our evaluations of the Lee/Romita Spider-Man and/or the Lee/Buscema FF? Are they exploitative, even in part, because Romita isn't Ditko and Buscema isn't Kirby? Is Lee's position in Marvel's management structure a factor in our analysis? Where did Stan's loyalties lie -- to the work, created in collaboration with Kirby and Ditko; or to his corporate responsibilities? I don't know the answers to all of those questions. We might come down on the side of the work, in order to keep it in its purest form. However, since Lee was still involved, isn't there at least some sense that he wants to do right by the characters?

Before we go on, I'll acknowledge that these various problems can all be avoided simply by leaving the work solely in the hands of its creator(s), and no one else. Thus, Fantastic Four would have ended when Kirby left, and Spider-Man when Ditko left, etc. However, that's not the situation which faces us today. It seems to me that if we enjoy Intellectual Property X, we should want to honor the creator(s) who brought IPX to us in the first place. That may well entail judging the current work against the original work.

I've written previously (based in part on plok's exhaustive series) about the transformation of a creative endeavor into a corporate property. As I see it, the original creators by definition lay the ground rules for "how the characters work." Taking that point to its extreme, Lee and Kirby, working together, could never have written the FF "out of character," and the same goes for the Lee/Ditko Spider-Man. (Note, though, that this wouldn't have stopped them from producing low-quality comics, or from producing comics of a significantly different tone, tenor, whatever. Let's keep this simple, though.) By the same token, after one collaborator left, an "out of character moment" would be possible. Indeed, the main function of the new collaborator(s) would arguably be to ensure that the characters never have any such anomalous moments.

That tends to devalue the contribution of a John Romita or a John Buscema, and if we are interested in maximizing creative expression we don't want to do that. Thus, at some point, Spider-Man must stop being a "Ditko" character in order to become, at least in part, a "Romita" character. Repeating this process long enough, and with sufficient numbers of people, and Spider-Man does take on a life of his own. Nevertheless, every Spider-Man story may in theory still be measured against the original Lee/Ditko run, because those issues comprise the "definitive" work. Later works may be just as influential -- Simonson's Thor, Miller's Daredevil -- but the later people are still doing riffs on someone else's creation.

It's a little more complicated at DC, because DC started exploiting its characters earlier and across multiple media platforms. The Superman radio show added a number of elements to the character, and the Batman serials likewise affected the comics. The current Superman and Wonder Woman books seem especially far removed from their Golden Age adventures. The scope of Superman's adventures has been expanded geometrically from where they were in the late '30s, and I'm pretty sure no mainstream Wonder Woman comic wants to get close to the sexual politics in those '40s stories.

More to the point, though, DC's characters have been so franchised-out that the original works no longer seem as relevant. Batman is the exception which comes most quickly to mind, but although the dominant Batman paradigm has been in place since 1969, it followed at least two decades' worth of stories which are today considered far "out of character."

Accordingly, you can't look to Siegel & Shuster for Superman guidance the way you can look to Lee & Kirby. Instead, depending on who you ask, the "definitive" Superman is Christopher Reeve, or Alan Moore's Supreme, or Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely's All-Star. In other words, it's the Superman which most closely approximates an ideal aggregation of qualities. Because, by and large, DC can't point to a series of canonical works like Marvel can, it has to traffic more in these Platonic ideals, and there's where it gets into trouble.

If we look to the work of the original creator(s) for inspiration, guidance, and/or a qualitative baseline with regard to a particular character, with DC we arguably have to look to multiple sources. Siegel and Shuster laid the foundation for Superman, but at some point the character stopped being theirs, just like Spider-Man stopped being a Ditko character. This is not to say I don't get a particular primal charge out of the original Siegel and Shuster stories, and it's not hard to connect one of those stories with, say, an Elliott Maggin/Curt Swan issue, but that connection covers a lot of distance. Christopher Reeve was performing Elliott Maggin's version of Clark Kent. Grant Morrison is riffing on the Weisinger era. All of Superman starts with Siegel and Shuster, but not everything goes back to them immediately.

So whose creative vision is being honored by the Superman stories of 2007? Hard to say; and that leaves room for argument. The problem with DC's characters -- and it may well be a problem with Marvel's too, but I'm not as much of a Marvel scholar -- is that today's fans think they know just as much about Superman, or some other Intellectual Property X, as today's pros. I certainly can't speak for all superhero-comic fans, but I'd be willing to be that many see themselves on equal footing with the pros in at least two ways: both groups start with the same access to the texts, and thus to the "rules" of a particular longstanding character; and neither group can claim to have created that character. Those contentions may not be defensible, but I do think they exist. Thus, the character exists independently from its creator(s), the current creative team doesn't have an absolute claim on it, and its corporate owner is only out to make a buck -- so who else is going to stick up for the character's best interests but a fan?

Again, I'm not saying I feel that way. I'm not saying the majority of superhero-comic fans feel that way. I honestly don't know. However, I'm guessing that such a line of thinking could reinforce fan "attachment," "entitlement," whatever you want to call it. Obviously everyone's happy when the latest issue of Intellectual Property X matches up with the generally-accepted consensus about what makes a good IPX story. When it doesn't, though, we see appeals to "continuity" and/or charges of being "out of character." To me, fans of corporate superheroes have just substituted this comparatively nebulous notion of a "definitive" Intellectual Property X for the work of the original creator(s). Today those characters "work" because they've become aggregations of details which have accumulated over the years. They're almost more products of evolution than intelligent design ... but that's just a facile comparison. It's late and I don't want to get into another long discussion.

Full Post

Friday Night Fights

Look at Deadshot's shiny, shiny helmet....

See that little shadow on the back?

That means he just got sucka-punched!

Go see Bahlactus for more of the same!

[From "The Deadshot Ricochet," Detective Comics #474, December 1977. Written by Steve Englehart, pencilled by Marshall Rogers, inked by Terry Austin, lettered by Ben Oda. Recolored by Rogers for this reprint.]
Full Post

Monday, November 12, 2007

New comics 11/7/07

We begin this week with Supergirl #23 (written by Kelley Puckett, pencilled by Drew Johnson, inked by Ray Snyder), which I bought mostly out of past loyalty to these creators. By now these Supergirl relaunches have an air of "This time for sure!" about them, so I'll also admit to some morbid curiosity. In that respect I wonder if it's a bit of black humor that the cover has our heroine going up in flames....

Anyway, the issue itself is an enigmatic bit of decompression which starts and ends with a mysterious box delivered to Supergirl's apartment. After a brief, but funny, chat with Batman about the box, she's called away by Superman to help him and a squad of Green Lanterns stop an interstellar war. Things don't quite go as planned, but her reaction -- and the role of the box -- aren't quite explained, thereby theoretically encouraging us readers to come back next month.

Should we, though? I'm more intrigued by the storyline than I am by the title character, and I'm not sure that's a good thing. From what I can tell from this issue, Supergirl's kind of a spaz. She zones out when the GLs brief her. She's apparently responsible enough to have her own (spacious, nicely furnished) apartment, and that magazine subscription in her hand indicates she's put down some roots, but how old is she supposed to be -- late teens? Early twenties? What's her "secret identity" like? (Judging by this week's Superman, she doesn't have much of one ... but that's this week's Superman.) She's got all the powers of Superman, so how does she use them differently? In short, why should I care about her enough to pay $2.99 (plus tax, minus folder discount) every month?

Well, the art is quite good. Johnson and Snyder do meticulous work. I'm not entirely sure about their Supergirl anatomy, but that could just be an optical illusion from the costume. There's a long, wordless stretch in the second half of the book, and they handle that pretty well too. Like I said, I'm intrigued by the story, and this issue was good enough to make me want to see more. However, if I'm going to make a long-term commitment, I'd like to know more about Supergirl herself.

As for her cousin, Superman #670 (written by Kurt Busiek, pencilled by Rick Leonardi, inked by Dan Green) finishes up "The Third Kryptonian." It's a good conclusion to what was a somewhat predictable but still enjoyable arc. Busiek hit most of the "moody loner" character beats with Kristin Wells, including the "only out for herself" one. However, the issue is mostly action, which Leonardi and Green do nicely. I also like their Supergirl, who looks about five pounds heavier than Johnson and Snyder's; and their Power Girl, who looks about ten pounds lighter than, say, Michael Turner's. Anyway, the basic plot is that the Head Bad Guy has all kinds of weapons specifically designed to kill Kryptonians, so Superman and his allies (including Batman) have to figure out inventive ways to counter them. It's all fairly straightforward, although it apparently sets up a sequel and at least one other future story. That's not really a criticism, because I haven't been this consistently pleased with a Superman writer in a long time.

Countdown #25 (written by Paul Dini and Adam Beechen, pencilled by Ron Lim, inked by Jimmy Palmiotti & John Stanisci) finally checks in with the cliffhanger that closed out Firestorm, lo those many months ago. That's the bulk of the issue, and it's entertaining and somewhat satisfying. However, the other "check-in" scenes -- Jimmy and Mary Marvel on Apokolips, and Piper and Trickster escaping from Deadshot (?!?) -- are kind of lame. Art is good throughout, and I would expect no less from an old hand like Lim.

I was curious about The Search For Ray Palmer: Red Rain (written by Peter Johnson, pencilled mostly by Eric Battle and Angel Unzueta, inked by Derek Fridolfs, Vicente Cifuentes, and Jonathan Glapson, with a few pages drawn by Kelley Jones) because I enjoyed the "Bat-Vampire" trilogy by Jones and writer Doug Moench. However, this has all of the grue and none of the grim nihilism. It's not a very attractive book, mostly because it tries to ape Kelley Jones' style without much success. The colors (by Art Lyons) are muted and muddy, like a red filter has overlaid everything. The plot is moderately diverting, since it involves this Earth's Dick Grayson (and, in a small role, Barbara Gordon), but even that feels like something of a departure from the original material. The Batman/Dracula: Red Rain book was creepy precisely because it was set in a Bat-milieu that could easily have been the character's regular title. However, this special's Dick and Babs are just characters with the same names. What's more, our Challenger heroes really can't do anything to affect this Earth's status quo -- they can only introduce us to it and move on. Therefore, nothing of consequence happens. Unless you just like seeing alternate versions of familiar characters put through penny-dreadful situations, you don't need this issue.

In the regular Bat-books, "The Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul" begins officially in Robin #168 (written by Peter Milligan, drawn by Freddie E. Williams II). If you've seen one of those "Bad Seed" kinds of movies, where no one will believe the good kid who knows the evil kid's evil, that's about how Tim must deal with Damien. Also, Batman rescues Talia from what is apparently her bandage-enwrapped father. It's kinda unremarkable, except for the hints at the mysticism (Nanda Parbat, the Sensei, etc.) behind Ra's' return. Williams' work is fine; Robin is lean and muscular, and Batman is appropriately chunky.

The romance, or whatever it is, of Ryan and Doris "Giganta" Zuel is the best thing about (The All-New) Atom #17 (written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Mike Norton, inked by Trevor Scott). I found myself rooting for the two crazy kids despite the fact that she's a little unhinged. The weird androgynous villain (at least I think "he" and "she" are the same person) was hard to figure, but that's a good enough mystery for two issues. Norton and Scott turn in another fine issue. They work about as well with Simone as Nicola Scott did on Birds Of Prey, and considering how much I like Nicola Scott, that's high praise indeed.

I bought Welcome To Tranquility: Armageddon #1 (written by Christos Gage, drawn by Neil Googe and Horacio Domingues) out of loyalty to the regular title -- only one issue left, apparently -- and it was just okay. Basically, it focused on Tranquility's Captain Marvel-analogue, but let him stay "in costume" the whole issue, as opposed to his regular role of deus ex machina. Also, the time-travel involved in showing us the alternate future also made our hero's role that much more confusing. In short, he flies around while others tell him how bad things have gotten, and then he forgets about everything and the issue is over. It was kind of like the Ray Palmer: Red Rain issue, above, except without the muddy art.

Fantastic Four #551 (written by Dwayne McDuffie, pencilled by Paul Pelletier, inked by Rick Magyar) looks like it kicks off this creative team's last arc, involving a set of time-travelers bent on stopping Reed from saving the world. It ends on a heck of a cliffhanger, and it ties into Reed's "room of notes" from Civil War. That's not a lot in terms of plot, but it's executed well.

Howard the Duck #2 (written by Ty Templeton, pencilled by Juan Bobillo, inked by Marcelo Sosa) gets closer to its roots, as Howard and Bev must deal with Howard's sudden celebrity following his smackdown of the hunters last issue. Most of the issue finds Howard on a yelling-match talk show, and that goes about like you'd expect, or maybe a little worse. I might be easily amused, but I did like MODOT (Designed Only for Talking) a lot. This is not a bad miniseries by any means, even if it has a lot to live up to.

Finally, the satire is presented much more deftly in Groo: Hell On Earth #1 (by Mark Evanier and Sergio Aragones), in which Groo's bumbling leads to eco-unfriendly consequences. I'm not sure how this can be stretched out into four issues, but if the rest are as clever as this one, I definitely won't care. The latest Groo tale finds everyone at the top of their particular game, especially Aragones and colorist Tom Luth. Those two complement each other perfectly through Aragones' exquisite backgrounds and two-page spreads. This story aims for a broad scope and even an epic feel, and succeeds admirably.
Full Post

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Sunday Soliloquy

And now, a villain who desperately needs the sartorial touch of Blockade Boy:

Yes, it was the '70s, but bell-bottoms and platform shoes? For an ancient mystical creature who allegedly brought down civilizations? Really?!? Maybe the clothes are meant to keep his victims awake during his speeches....

(sigh) "A place where nobody dared to go," indeed.

[From "When Fall The Mighty," All-Star Comics #62, September-October 1976. Plotted by Gerry Conway, scripted by Paul Levitz, pencilled by Keith Giffen, inked by Wally Wood, colored by Carl Gafford, lettered by Ben Oda.]

P.S. Zanadu is also the name of a fine chain of Seattle comics shops which I am sure have nothing to do with this ill-dressed bad guy.
Full Post

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Denny O'Neil, Neal Adams, and The Armies of the Night

When I heard this morning that Norman Mailer had died, I thought immediately of Green Lantern #79. It's the fourth issue of Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams' "relevance" run, where Green Arrow was brought in to shake up GL's establishment worldview. This particular issue found the two on opposite sides, with Green Arrow posing as a legendary Native American spiritual leader. The dramatic climax comes in the form of a fistfight, but O'Neil ups the emotional ante by setting the fight to Mailer's prose.

Along with writers like Tom Wolfe and Hunter Thomposn, Mailer was considered one of the first of the "New Journalists," who sought to bring the techniques associated with novels into mainstream journalism. His book The Armies of the Night (1968) was about his experiences surrounding the 1967 march on the Pentagon.

I'm a little embarrassed to admit I've never read Armies of the Night, or anything else by Mailer. Sorry I can't provide more context.

However, the point is not that Green Lantern #79 is improved by the addition of Mailer. (One wonders in what context the square, conservative Hal Jordan would have read anything by Mailer without first being exposed to Ollie's preaching.) Rather, the incorporation of Mailer quotes is perhaps the best example of the earnest pleas at the heart of these GL/GA stories.

In 1970 the '60s were over not just chronologically but spiritually too. Still, these stories are bubbling over with the energy, idealism, and (yes) naivete of a youthful true believer. Just as the New Journalists wanted to make their reporting seem like novels, so O'Neil and Adams wanted to blend superheroes and social concerns.

More significantly, though, the Mailer quotes read to me like Denny O'Neil inserting himself into the story in a more active role than simply the narrator. Sure, he's preaching, but he's also pleading with the reader, in a display that today we might call "too emo." However, it doesn't come across to me as pretentious, precious, or arch -- instead, it's more like Denny's attempt to engage his audience. It's not hard today to see the original GL/GA stories as overwrought and broad, but rarely do we see such nakedly personal appeals come through so clearly on the page.

It was also, I feel sure, Denny's attempt to get his readers (including his college-age readers) active and involved. In this respect The Armies of the Night represents something more than Mailer's meld of autobiography and reporting -- it signifies any number of movements in which a young person could be productive once he put down the comic. I enjoy a lot of modern superhero comics, but I'm hard-pressed to think of one which consistently tries to make its readers think about their world, and thereby make them (and it) better.

So rest in peace, Mr. Mailer, and thanks for your contribution, however small or indirect, to a run of superhero comics whose heart was definitely in the right place.

[Scans from "Ulysses Star Is Still Alive!" in Green Lantern #79, September 1970. Written by Denny O'Neil, pencilled by Neal Adams, inked by Dan Adkins, lettered by John Costanza. Color reconstruction for The Green Lantern/Green Arrow Collection by Cory Adams.]
Full Post

Friday, November 09, 2007

Friday Night Fights

Why is the Kree-Skrull War considered a classic?

Sucka-punches all around, of course!

No wonder Bahlactus ate the Skrull homeworld....

[From "This Beachhead Earth," The Avengers vol. 1 #93, November 1971. Written by Roy Thomas, pencilled by Neal Adams, inked by Tom Palmer, lettered by Sam Rosen.]
Full Post

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Thursday Night Thinking

You're a rookie crimefighter looking for a big credibility boost. Suddenly the opportunity literally falls into your lap.

Time for some serious THINKING--!

If the same scene were to play out today, I'd put even money on a) Batwoman taking a peek under the mask and b) getting a good dose of one of the costume's countermeasures.

That's in a mainstream Batman comic, mind you. The Frank Miller version would definitely be NSFW.

Diamondrock is deep in thought!

[From "The Batwoman," Detective Comics #233, July 1956. Written by Edmond Hamilton, pencilled by Sheldon Moldoff, inked by Charles Paris. Color reconstruction for Batman in the Fifties by Lee Loughridge.]
Full Post

Next, Tonight's Lottery Numbers

In the September 13 Grumpy Old Fan, I said this:

[T]he Old New Teen Titans could do worse than to re-establish themselves as DC’s answer to the Defenders, an ad hoc non-team composed of old friends who just like working together. It could even be a twenty/thirtysomething version of the “adventurer’s club” I thought would be good for the Justice Society. George Perez once described the Titans as “sitting around a table waiting for a safe to fall on them,” but as long as the Titans’ Tower utilities are paid and someone sweeps the place out every couple of weeks, who needs a purpose?

Now Judd Winick, writer of the upcoming New Teen Titans revival, says

The way we’re going about it though is that they’re not actually a team. There’s not going to be anyone on monitor duty, there’s not going to be meetings and roll calls – they basically are coming together because they are together....

So, the thrust of the book will be that this is a group without being a group. They are a team without associating as a team, because they’re more than that. They have a lot more history. No one is getting in anyone else’s face about who’s the leader, or who will do this or that. The adventures that will occur, and the missions that they will go on will come from one of them needing some kind of help. Somebody will be working on something, and they could use some backup from their friends.

Even a blind squirrel finds a nut now and then, I guess.

P.S. Just to be clear, I am the squirrel.
Full Post

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Sunday Soliloquy

The New Teen Titans kicked off its second year with a three-issue "Search For The Doom Patrol's Killers" arc. (Yes, there was a time, not all that long ago, when the Doom Patrol was most famous for being dead.) Of course, all the Titans had parental issues, so this gave Gar the chance to explore his.

Gar spends most of the arc out for the blood of General Zahl and Madame Rouge, the DP's old enemies. He even gets what he wants, after a fashion; and so learns a valuable lesson. Take it away, Raven:

"Bloodthirsty Gar" would show up again, most notably right after the events of "The Judas Contract." For a while, though, he coped pretty well.

[Scans from, respectively, "Revolution!" in The New Teen Titans vol. 1 #14, December 1981, and "The Brotherhood Of Evil Lives Again!" in issue #15, January 1982. Written by Marv Wolfman, pencilled by George Perez, inked by Romeo Tanghal, colored by Adrienne Roy, and lettered by Ben Oda (#14) and John Costanza (#15).]
Full Post

Love ... exciting and xenophobic!

Inspired in part by Siskoid's Trek recaps, and mindful of Shaenon Garrity's "Drunk and Watchin' Star Trek," I've been working my way through the 24th-Century series. Friday night was "The Dauphin," TNG's second-season look at Wesley Crusher's first lurve. Yesterday, I watched the "remastered" version of TOS's "Metamorphosis," and noticed some parallels. Naturally, I share these with you.


"Metamorphosis" first, because it offers more to discuss. Kirk, Spock, and Bones are ferrying diplomat Nancy Hedford back to the Enterprise in a shuttle. Comm'r Hedford was negotiating a peace treaty when she suffered a billion-to-one hit from a deadly virus. Without the Enterprise's sickbay, she'll die. However, the non-corporeal Companion pulls the shuttle down to a planetoid where 21st-century Earth pioneer Zefram Cochrane has been living for the past 150 years. He's told the Companion he'll die of loneliness, and since the Companion has been keeping him alive all this time, the rest was easy.

Cochrane tells our heroes he communicates with the Companion non-verbally, but Kirk literally sees more: in the sparkly, effervescent way the Companion's energy-form surrounds Cochrane, Kirk can tell the Companion loves Cochrane. This is confirmed when the universal translator lets Cochrane hear the Companion's "voice" for the first time -- it's a female voice, and that (dun dunn!!) wasn't programmed into the machine! ZOMG!!!

This is where things get a little screwy. Because the Companion is now demonstrably and objectively female, Kirk basically sings the "K-I-S-S-I-N-G" song to Cochrane. Cochrane is all eww gross, shut up!, and sounds very segregationist when he accuses the Starfleeters of having loosened their morals over the last 150 years. He wants nothing to do with a non-corporeal chick who's warm for his fleshy form, and it makes him more than ready to leave the Planetoid of Eternal Life.

Now, I thought that bit of characterization was appropriate. However you look at it, Cochrane's the guy who basically made the Federation possible. That doesn't mean he has to be a champion of diversity. In fact, I could see the Cochrane of Star Trek: First Contact having this attitude, which is also reminiscent of the Peter Weller segregationist character from the final "Enterprise" two-parter.

No, my problem is with Kirk's attitude, and the plot points it reinforces. First, I'm a little shaky on the idea that "male" and "female" have their own brainwave frequencies that can be analyzed by the universal translator. Second, and more importantly, female + male doesn't necessarly = romance. The Companion could also be a mother-figure, a gender-neutral guide, or even just half of a symbiotic relationship. Yes, I know Star Trek was groundbreaking for subverting audience expectations about space aliens, and making the Companion a relatively benign entity was part of that (see also "The Devil in the Dark," another Gene L. Coon script, where the monster is really a mother), but the way "Metamorphosis" gets there involved a couple of large leaps of logic.

We're not done yet, though. The dying Hedford has heard Cochrane's protests, and she starts to weep. Turns out she's an unfulfilled career woman who's never known love, and here he is rejecting it --! Fortunately, Kirk's been talking to the Companion about how her relationship with Cochrane is doomed. The upshot is, since the Companion's not human, she can't really love Cochrane. He's basically saying "if you love him, and by the way you'll never be 'able' to love him, if you get my meaning, set him free." Actually, if I remember right, Kirk says the Companion needs a soul, not necessarily any other body parts.

Kirk's thinking is that love sometimes expresses itself in sacrifice. Well, the Companion's actual sacrifice involves merging with Hedford so that both can continue to exist. Hedford gets to know love, because now Cochrane can love both her and the Companion; and thus the Companion also gets to have her love for Cochrane returned. The episode presents this weird arrangement as very sweet, and it is, in a way. At least everyone looks happy as the shuttle blasts off for its rendezvous.

So about twenty years later, TNG produced "The Dauphin," the tender story of a young planetary ruler, Salia, and her shape-shifting bodyguard who can totally whale on Worf and make him like it. I probably hadn't seen this episode since it aired, and honestly I was not looking forward to it, but it's a lot better than I remembered. "The Boy" is immediately taken with Salia, and she with him, probably because he's the first teenage boy she's seen in a long time and vice versa. Wil Wheaton does "smitten" quite well, and there's also a great little scene where Riker and Guinan quasi-flirt. However, as we know, this relationship is doomed, not just because she's got a planet to rule but also because she's a shape-shifter too. When Wes finds out, he gets all pissy and hurt, accusing Salia of toying with him and not giving her the courtesy of saying goodbye. However, his better impulses take over, and he sees in the end that she's really a non-corporeal being. He finds her energy form very beautiful, but in a completely platonic way, and goes off to Ten-Forward to cry in his chocolate.

Again, I watched "Dauphin" the night before "Metamorphosis," so couldn't help comparing the two; and again, I think "Dauphin" comes out ahead in its attitudes towards women. Indeed, "Dauphin's" Anja, the bodyguard, gets all of the "protective," parental aspects of the Companion, and it's Anja who Worf et al. must find ways to control. Maybe that's part of it -- there's no possibility of confusing Salia's role in the story. However, I'm more willing to give "The Dauphin" a pass because Wesley's attitudes are the erratic, unformed gesticulations of a hormonal teenager. I expected more from the adults of "Metamorphosis."

Thinking about "Metamorphosis" today, though, Cochrane actually ends up with quite the non-traditional relationship. True, seeing the Companion anthropomorphized in Hedford appears superficially to be the thing which confirms his love for her, but it could also be a sign to Cochrane of the extent of the Companion's sacrifice. Not to get all religious here, but the Companion was willing to give up her normal existence to be with Cochrane as a human. The X factor here is Hedford, who a) seems to fit the career-woman stereotype and b) has no reason to love Cochrane beyond the fact that he's literally her last chance to ever know love. I guess I feel the most uneasy about her place in the triangle.

Still, I presume they all lived happily ever after....
Full Post

Saturday, November 03, 2007

New comics 10/31/07

Just for the heck of it, let's start off this week with a "why not?" purchase, Mythos: Fantastic Four (written by Paul Jenkins, art by Paolo Rivera). I love the FF, and Jenkins and Rivera probably do too, but beyond serving as a kind of generic introduction to the team, I don't really see the point of this book. Last year the First Family miniseries attempted to bridge the gap between the plainclothes adventurers of the first couple of issues and the celebrity superheroes to come. This retelling of the origin changes a number of elements but obviously has to leave the end result the same.

Accordingly, there's no real drama in the story beyond the pathos of becoming superhuman, and even that is glossed over. Indeed, the current editorial revision of making our heroes actual American astronauts, who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, sucks away another source of tension. Yes, we all know they're not "racing the Commies" anymore, but Reed and crew defying the government to go into space isn't just a plot point, it's a character-builder -- as is Reed's culpability in the accident itself. Both are absent from this version. Apart from all of that, though, the book is put together well, except Reed looks a little bullet-headed in spots and Ben's eyebrow-ridge is a bit too sharply defined at times. I'm tempted to say the most fun thing about the issue is the very last page, a cutaway drawing of the Baxter Building done up all photo-realistically.

Another impulse buy was Superman Confidential #8 (written by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning, pencilled by Chris Batista, inked by Cam Smith), the first part of (yes, another) retelling of Forever People #1. In other words, it's Superman's first full-blown encounters with the New Gods, and I think it's more successful than Mythos. Batista draws a lithe, dynamic Superman, and Smith's inks and Jason Wright's colors make this a good-looking book. Abnett and Lanning bring in other Fourth World/early '70s characters like Morgan Edge and Victor Volcanum. Not much new ground is broken, but this kind of continuity-porn is what I expected SMConf to deal in, so in that respect, good job.

Here's the thing about calling something "52 Aftermath" -- 52 ended six months ago. I don't disagree with publishing Crime Bible #1 (written by Greg Rucka, drawn by Tom Mandrake) on Halloween, and I enjoyed it, but let's be clear: if you read 52, you know good and well what the Crime Bible is. If you didn't, wouldn't the title Crime Bible be at least somewhat attractive, even without the 52 brand? (I swear, all this unified trade-dress is getting out of hand.) Anyway, CB plays out like a late '60s-early '70s urban-paranoia horror movie, with Renee "The Question" Montoya investigating some poor schmuck's blundering across a secret society. I enjoyed Rucka's unadulterated take on Renee, and I thought it worked well to bring the reader into the story via the schmuck and not her. Mandrake's work was quite good this issue, and better specifically than his Batman fill-ins from earlier in the year.

At the risk of sounding hypocritical, I don't have as much of a problem with the title of 52 Aftermath: The Four Horsemen (#3 written by Keith Giffen, pencilled by Pat Olliffe, and inked by John Stanisci). Four Horsemen is generic enough that it might need the 52 qualifier. This installment reveals a lot about a certain former JLA mascot's recent association, and Giffen has some fun with that. In fact, this story has a lot of Greg Rucka influences, the more I think about it, and the presence of frequent 52 penciller Olliffe makes it feel the most connected to said miniseries. It needs to get moving, though -- the 4-H Club takes a pretty good shot from Superman this issue, but now we're at the halfway point and time to get serious.

Countdown to Mystery #2 has a pretty good Doctor Fate story (written by Steve Gerber, pencilled by Justiniano, inked by Walden Wong) and a so-so Eclipso one (written by Matthew Sturges, drawn by Steven Jorge Segovia). The Eclipso story involves the corruption of Plastic Man, and therefore tries to be both wacky and edgy. It does not succeed. The art is fine, but maybe that's the problem: it's appropriate for your average superhero-influenced Plastic Man story, but not for a harrowing inversion of all that's good and right about an inherently goofy character. It comes across pretty overwrought.

The Doctor Fate story finds him learning on-the-job how to cast the right demon-defeating spells. However, it also establishes just how far down the socio-economic ladder he's fallen, and what he needs to do to get back into a barely-normal life. This does not include a mystic golden helmet. Accordingly, I don't get the feeling that this Fate will be joining the Justice Society anytime soon. Not that he won't eventually -- why else would he have been brought back? -- but if DC Editorial keeps him true to this characterization, it'll be a while. Thankfully, the mundane concerns of this Kent Nelson are compelling enough to compete with the magic.

The lead story of Countdown To Adventure #3 (written by Adam Beechen, pencilled by Eddy Barrows, inked by Adam Ferreira) was pretty entertaining, albeit a little disconcerting. I didn't expect to see a kill-crazy kid slice open Starfire's thigh on page 3. Everyone in San Diego and on Rann is going crazy with Lady Styx fever, so naturally they're out to get Starfire and Adam Strange. Like I said, it's entertaining, but it feels a bit redundant too. I also don't like having Ellen Baker suspect Buddy of having fallen in love with Kory. It strikes me as a well-worn plot element which might appear to make sense, but which reinforces certain stereotypes. Clearly Ellen is frustrated because for a year she thought Buddy was dead, and now that he's back he's brought this golden space-goddess with him. If "Friday Night Lights'" Coach Taylor had brought Starfire back to Dillon from TMU, I expect Tami would be a little upset too. However, Ellen's in danger of becoming a cliche, and that's what I don't want to see.

Countdown #26 (written by Paul Dini and Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti, story consultant Keith Giffen, drawn by Scott Kolins) was an exposition-riffic attempt to pull all of the various subplots together into a larger narrative. However, it chose to show all of the excitement through the riveting device of ... watching it on television. Yes, it's Third-Hand Theater -- we mostly watch the Monitors as they watch what's really important. Of course, you could argue that what's important is the Monitors' decision to "go to war," which I suppose will be pretty exciting assuming it happens in the pages of this title and not 25 weeks down the road. By the way, I think Black-Suit Superman, about to execute the Luthor of Earth-15, is our own Superboy-Prime who somehow survived the Sinestro Corps War. Hey, if Kyle's OK, why not him too?

There's nothing really wrong with Batman #670 (written by Grant Morrison, pencilled by Tony Daniel, inked by Jonathan Glapion). It doesn't have the stylistic zip of "The Club Of Heroes" or the over-the-top frenzy of Morrison's other arcs. However, it does have solid, dynamic characters in Batman, the three forgotten super-vixens, and Damian. I'm sure those more versed in Morrisonia could fit said trio and Damian (again in the Robin costume) into the taxonomy of heroes and wannabes explored in "Seven Soldiers," but I can only say they seem part of the same "here's our costume; we're super" paradigm. I thought the art was good, and reminiscent of Andy Kubert, but a bit flat, especially in the Ra's al Ghul scenes. Daniel does draw a good Batman, though.

I decided to drop Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes (#35 written by Tony Bedard and drawn by Dennis Calero) after the first issue of this arc, so I'm three issues removed from that one. On its own, though, this isn't bad -- a fight between Atom Girl, Shadow Lass, and Wildfire, with Brainy helping the Legionnaires from afar and Drake's brother likewise guiding him. Meanwhile, Supergirl, Lightning Lad, and Saturn Girl find Evolvo Lad and prepare to fight him. I was only a litlte disoriented, so that's a positive. Art was fine, if a bit muddy and blocky. Best thing about the issue was also a little incredible -- 31st Century technology will still let Atom Girl do that old trick?

"That other" Legion shows up in the long-promised Action Comics #858 (written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by Gary Frank, inked by John Sibal). It begins with a great little three-page sequence which takes full advantage of the Superman origin as DC's version of the Nativity. It also incorporates that quasi-cinematic "DC Comics Proudly Presents" approach to credits, and even includes a splash page with a pinup of Supes himself. With this team having drawn the Superman-analogue over in Marvel's Supreme Power, there's also a wink to that series' paranoia. I have only minor complaints about Frank and Sibal's work: for some reason, Clark has an overbite; and many characters look a little wild-eyed, especially Lightning Lad. Also, I liked the two-page spread of the Silver Age Legion, but boy do they look Caucasian. I know that's the way things were in the '60s, and I wasn't looking for it, but it jumped out at me. If the Legion is the agent of diversity and tolerance, it's come a long way since then. Overall, though, this issue was a good setup and it's gotten me excited about the rest of the arc.

Finally, I bought Biff-Bam-Pow! #1 (by Evan Dorkin and Sarah Dyer), because I love quality humor, especially dressed up in pop sci-fi duds and incorporating lots of monkeys. I actually liked the "undercards" more than the main event, but it's all good. Also, don't miss the back cover, cleverly advertised on the front cover!
Full Post

Friday, November 02, 2007

Friday Night Fights

Happy 80th birthday, Steve Ditko!

For more sucka-punches, Objectivist or otherwise, always bet on Bahlactus!

[From "Nothing Can Stop The Sandman!" in The Amazing Spider-Man #4, September 1963, by Mr. Ditko and Stan Lee, lettered by Sam Rosen, colored by Andrew Yanchus.]
Full Post

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Thursday Night Thinking

You're not sure Green Lantern is on the up-and-up, but his temples aren't grey. How can you know he's gone bad?

THINKING, of course!

Special bonus panel: willpower knows no height!

Short and sweet this week, Diamondrock!

[From "Decoy Missions Of The Justice League!" in Justice League of America vol. 1 #24, December 1963. Written by Gardner Fox, pencilled by Mike Sekowsky, inked by Bernard Sachs, lettered by Gaspar Saladino, color reconstruction for Justice League Archives Vol. 4 by Tom McCraw and Rick Taylor.]
Full Post