Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Crossovers, conclusions, and Cooper

Just finished watching the last episode of "Twin Peaks" (but not Fire Walk With Me ... not yet, at least). Naturally, I've got some ideas about how to revisit the series, but -- can your mind handle it? -- with a different set of FBI agents. It's a fanfic crossover, sure; but appropriately enough I think we'll be speaking more about the metatextual implications.

SPOILERS FOLLOW, if by chance you don't know how "Twin Peaks" ended.




I am surely not the first person to think that Mulder and Scully should help free Cooper from the Black Lodge. It just seems like a good fit, especially considering the connections between the shows. Mysticism and magic in the Pacific Northwest, with a Project Blue Book connection thrown in for good measure, seems like an "X Files" episode already. Plus, Mulder would naturally be mistaken for the cross-dressing DEA agent Duchovny played on "Peaks." (However, tempting as it might be, connecting Major Briggs directly to Scully's dad seems a bit much.)

Looking closer, though, I see more tension. "Twin Peaks" played a particular game with its mysteries: its characters took them very seriously, but the show itself did not. In hindsight the show -- which at the time I took very seriously, don't get me wrong -- was a parody of soap operas, if not movies and TV in general. Knowing that Laura Palmer's murder was never meant to be solved, all the hoopla surrounding the mystery now seems like a grand game of misdirection. Even after her killer is revealed to the audience, he gets in on the act, feeding the cops clues he's making up on the spot. "X Files" got twisted around its own continuity as well, but that was more a function of the show's longevity; and it may offer some insight into its predecessor's hypothetical fate.

But I digress. "X Files" was a lot more skeptical about its paranormal elements. I picture Scully rolling her eyes at the town of Twin Peaks pretty much from the moment her rental car crosses the county line. Moreover, "XF's" mysteries were the kinds of legends one might have found in 1970s-era explorations like "In Search Of" and Chariots of the Gods. Whether an episode was a standalone "monster show" or a "mythology show" which contributed to the overarching plotline, "The X Files" reassured viewers that there were answers.

All this is to say that the final fate of Dale Cooper would be just another week in the woods for Mulder and Scully ... so we must then ask ourselves whether the character of Cooper, and by extension the "Twin Peaks" mythology, benefits from an intervention by "The X Files." The latter show wrapped up plotlines for two of its cousins, "Millennium" and "The Lone Gunmen," but in both cases I daresay that the guests played by the home team's rules.

I suspect the same would be true for "Twin Peaks," unless our hypothetical fanfic writer elects to change the rules subtly as the story progresses. Actually, that wouldn't be too much of a stretch for a "Peaks" storyline; and it would give Cooper the chance to save the day, after first being rescued himself.

See, if I were to write such a fanfic, I'd want it to be more than creative onanism. Sure, it'd be fun to watch Scully giggle at her partner's mistaken identity; or to give Mulder pause over the thought of entering the circle of sycamores. There are more logistical concerns too, like the fact that "Peaks" takes place in 1989, two years before Mulder and Diana Fawley stumbled upon the X Files. However, these things are like equations (I almost said "solving for X," ha ha): plug values into variables and see what comes out. What is missing, inevitably, from any fanfic is the unique element of creativity which only a David Lynch or Chris Carter can provide. In a very real sense, Lynch substituted Cooper's fate for Laura's killer. There are clues throughout (including in Fire Walk With Me), but putting them together ourselves yields only the sum of those parts. Involving "The X Files" would help acknowledge the deconstruction any outsider would have to perform in order to avoid something Mary Sue-ish and insubstantial. I'd have to think pretty hard about even the bare bones of such a story (which, naturally, I'd share with you-all).

Aw, who'm I kidding? Alan Moore could do it....

See you in 2009!
Full Post

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas on the go

Every Christmas I try to post something profound, or at least something obvious said in a somewhat clever way. Not so much this year, however. This year we have been scrambling simply to keep ahead of Christmas. Let's put it this way: tomorrow morning the LCS opens at 8 a.m. and I still won't have time to go there.

Among other things, Christmas emphasizes how the divine was visited upon the mundane, so all this clamor and confusion may seem a little perverse. Indeed, I am more than ready for just settling down to a long winter's nap. (I was ready for it at about 3:00 this afternoon, in fact.)

Nevertheless, in the spirit of the holiday, I am sure everything will work itself out in the end. I am looking forward to reconnecting with old friends and sharing the season with my family. I do feel another Santa-as-superhero post coming on, but that will probably have to wait until next year.

Meanwhile, feel free to click on the "Christmas" tag to see my previous holiday offerings, and I'll talk to you next week. Until then, Happy Holidays to one and all!
Full Post

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Attempting a "cold dissection" of Final Crisis' woes

Tom Spurgeon observes that discussions about Final Crisis' failure to perform have descended into
angry jeremiads about the utter stupidity and ineptness of the current DC brain trust vs. self-styled realists lecturing in acidic tones to why none of this matters in the long run unless you're a big nerd that cares about stupid things. What's missing is a cold dissection as to the why and how of this happening.

Someday, possibly decades in the future, someone is going to ask Dan DiDio, Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, and the rest of the DC brain-trust about what was really going on in the years 2004-2009. Until then, I will have to make do with my own perspective.

To me, Final Crisis’ problems began with the success of 52 and the failure of “One Year Later.” Together, they were presented as a victory lap for Infinite Crisis, which advertised them via that trusty old device of the two-page characters-rushing-towards-the-reader spread. However, after 52's relatively good reception, I think DC’s high sheriffs figured that the marketplace was still more friendly to an event than to the regular books’ attempts to reconnect.

Furthermore, DC probably knew at the time that it had two big Grant Morrison projects in the pipeline, namely Final Crisis and “Batman R.I.P.” The seeds of each had already been planted in “Seven Soldiers,” Batman, and 52. However, I don’t think that DC had any blockbuster events planned between the end of 52 in May 2007 and the beginning of Final Crisis in May '08; and in light of 52's success, I think DC wanted to gin up something to keep the momentum going. FC and “R.I.P.” might still have been big sellers on their own, but why take that chance? Give the public more 52 ... or, more accurately, give it a “better” 52: a weekly series that helped out the regular titles and built momentum for FC.

Thus, DC created Countdown, apparently without a lot of help from Morrison. (Remember all the plans for the last issue of Countdown? Morrison was going to write it, and then it was Morrison and Geoff Johns, and then it wasn’t the last issue of Countdown but a standalone issue which led into FC.) Whether Morrison’s involvement would have helped is probably moot by now, though. Countdown sold in decent numbers, despite receiving regular critical and fan drubbings.

And I think that dichotomy helps explain Final Crisis’ big problem: it is an esoteric, creator-driven project which must fit into the every-Wednesday model of big-event series. I have nothing to back up either of the following assertions, but I suspect that for a good bit of the people who followed Countdown, FC doesn’t mesh with orthodox continuity strongly enough; or otherwise doesn’t feel enough like a big-event crossover. (Conversely, for many non-regular DC readers, FC may feel too heavily connected to Dan DiDio’s “culture of continuity.”) FC’s shipping schedule, and lack of connection to the regular titles, has also made it easy for every-Wednesday readers like me to forget it’s there. At this point FC might even feel perfunctory.

Final Crisis might also have arrived “too late” in another way. In the wake of Countdown and “Sinestro Corps,” DC has settled on an array of mini-events emulating the latter, each focused on a different high-profile character. Indeed, six of the seven DC franchises I consider “foundational” -- the Big Three, plus the Flash, Green Lantern, and the Legion -- are either in the middle of an event or preparing for one; and Geoff Johns is involved in four of the six. (Justice League has just started relaunching the Milestone characters, but I don’t think that’s the same thing.) More importantly, though, none of these events ties directly into Final Crisis. That may be good in terms of continuity tangles, but it doesn’t help remind readers that FC is still out there, waiting to be resolved.

I say all of this not sure myself of my feelings about Final Crisis’ merits. Each issue so far has left me with a feeling of creeping dread, which is probably the minimal, baseline reaction for which Morrison et al. were hoping. However, using a collection of moments to illustrate the end of the world, instead of a more traditional approach, takes some getting used to. I loved Morrison’s JLA, and I still think his DC One Million (which admittedly, at its core, was an extension of JLA) is a model for line-wide crossovers. FC’s storytelling style is a couple of steps removed from both of those, and again that might explain a reader’s ambivalence towards it. I don't dislike FC, but neither is it as thrilling as certain other Morrison works.

(It is sorely tempting to speculate that Final Crisis might be doing better if Geoff Johns were at the helm. Johns is involved more directly with the regular titles, and is in a better position to do “subliminal advertising” in the pages of Green Lantern or Action. We’ll see, I suppose, next summer with Blackest Night, which will have been hawked for some two years with little promoting it except the two Green Lantern titles and endless, almost self-parodic mentions on convention panels.)

To sum up, then, I don’t think DC had much choice but to hype FC. It was the next big event after 52, but its ostensible lead-in may well have created an environment (at least among DC fans) more suited to smaller-scale “nothing will be the same” storylines.
Full Post

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Making the world safe for Justice Society

"There will always be a Justice Society of America book in the DC Universe," according to its lame-duck writer, Geoff Johns.

Let’s start there.

On one level, it's somewhat sad to think that National/DC went years, even decades, without a steady source for new adventures of its original superhero team. But for the Justice Society of America, there might not have been a Justice League; but for the Justice League, there might not have been a Fantastic Four; and so on. No Marvel, no Image, no Charlton or First or Dark Horse, Jack Kirby stuck doing monster stories and romance comics -- the mind cannot conceive it!

However, the bittersweet fact is that the Justice League, like the rest of the Silver Age reinventions, supplanted the Justice Society so completely that the Golden Agers had to reposition themselves in relation to their successors. Today the JSA serves an "inspirational" function, which seems like a more important thematic justification for the group (and, by extension, the series) than the jurisdictional niche which has been carved out for it. The older folks are teaching the up-and-comers how to be good successors.

Here is as good a place as any for the obligatory disclosure that I stopped reading JSA back in 2005, at the end of the Per Degaton/1950s storyline. Apart from a few issues here and there, I haven't read it regularly since then. Honestly, I think you have to share Geoff Johns' particular DC tastes in order to get the most out of his Justice Society work; and mine must be just different enough.

Johns' first issue of JSA was #6 (January 2000), appropriately enough featuring Black Adam. (Johns' run will end with a story called "Black Adam Ruined My Birthday," which by itself sounds pretty fun.) For the first four years or so, his co-writer was David Goyer, who left after issue #51 (October 2003). Accordingly, I suppose we can only call the book “Geoff Johns’ JSA” from that point forward. To my mind its creation belongs in no small part to James Robinson’s Starman work, because Robinson had been exploring the original Justice Socialites through Jack Knight. Furthermore, JSA’s “reunion of names” seemed at the time to borrow heavily from Grant Morrison’s high-concept for JLA; which of course had been running for a few years to great success. (Indeed, anyone looking at the two books’ logos would surely notice the similarities.)

Regardless, from the late summer of 2003, give or take some co-contributors (Alex Ross, Dale Eaglesham, Brad Meltzer, arguably the 52 crew), it’s been Johns’ show -- much like Birds Of Prey had become associated strongly with Gail Simone. I am inclined to argue that because Johns has become so identified with Justice Society, and because the JSA isn’t an indispensable part of DC’s dramatic infrastructure, the book could stand to be cancelled upon his departure.


I mean, why not? Neil Gaiman and James Robinson got to bring Sandman and Starman to respectable closes (although certain supporting characters continued to live on, even in unrelated series like Trinity). When Johns left The Flash, it was all but over; although clearly Infinite Crisis had something to do with that book’s eventual cancellation (... and here comes Johns again, arguably causing Wally’s book to go away again...). Likewise, when Johns leaves Green Lantern, the book will remain. Flash and GL are two of DC’s “foundational” titles -- but Justice Society is not. Despite Johns’ declarations, I suspect that it never will be.

That said, though, DC has published monthly adventures of the Justice Society in some form or another for the better part of the past thirty-odd years. Starting with the revived All Star Comics in late 1975, the JSA later jumped to a feature in the bimonthly Adventure Comics. That lasted about a year (1978-79), after which the characters were title-less until the debut of All-Star Squadron in the summer of 1981. ASSq lasted about five years, and was succeeded by Young All-Stars, which lasted about another two. This period also saw the launch (1984) and cancellation (1988) of Infinity Inc.. The Justice Society itself had been “banished to limbo” in 1986, but returned in 1992, headlined its own series (Justice Society of America vol. 1) for ten issues, and then had most of its original members killed in 1994's Zero Hour. Aside from a 1940s-oriented miniseries and a similar fifth-week event, the JSA didn’t see much else in the way of significant action before 1999's “Crisis Times Five” arc in JLA. That led to the new JSA series, and here we are.

Obviously the turning point was Crisis On Infinite Earths, which took away the JSA’s status as its world’s No. 1 super-team. (Ironically, as I’ve said many times before, in Crisis the JSA pretty much assumed the traditional leadership role of the JLA, which was in its “Detroit phase.”) Since then, DC has shown, both in 1986 and 1994, its willingness to close the book on the team and (some of) its members. That’s something DC hasn’t done with, say, the Teen Titans or the Legion of Super-Heroes. It has relaunched, revamped, and outright rebooted the latter teams, but it hasn’t outright ended them as it has the JSA.

Therefore, I agree that Johns (and his creative collaborators, including previously-unmentioned artists Stephen Sadowski, Michael Bair, Leonard Kirk, Don Kramer, and Jerry Ordway) have successfully repositioned Justice Society in a world in which it was no longer required. Nevertheless, the question then becomes whether Johns has contributed so much to Justice Society that it should not continue without him.

Of course, this argument is largely academic. DC would be nuts to cancel Justice Society ... wouldn’t it? Johns has made the book a consistently reliable source of income, both as a monthly periodical and in collected form. Surely Sean McKeever, Tony Bedard, or whoever DC pulls off the bench to write and/or draw the title will be able to do just as well.

... Yeah, I don’t know. It’s hard to say. The new writer will undoubtedly proclaim his or her love for Johns’ run while at the same time making it clear that this will not be a mere retread of Johns’ work. Geoff laid a great foundation, and we’re going to build on that to take the JSA to new and exciting places! It’s an excellent place for new readers to climb aboard -- you won’t want to miss this!

What, too cynical? Maybe I’ve just been reading too many puff-piece interviews. It just seems to me that if this is truly “Geoff Johns’ JSA,” then it should end with Johns’ departure. The Justice Society itself doesn’t have to disband -- it can show up all over the DC map, as needed -- but maybe the next writer (and artist) would be served better if there were at least an hiatus between them and the Johns Era. The upcoming creative team will be compared to Johns and his collaborators anyway; why invite those comparisons the month after Johns et al. leave?

Again, to me it’s not like Johns is leaving a “foundational” title like Flash or Green Lantern. It’s more like Gail Simone leaving Birds Of Prey, or even Johns’ own departure from Teen Titans. I submit that DC needs to publish its foundational titles in order to maintain the identity of its superhero line. However, DC only needs to publish Justice Society as long as it can bring in an acceptable number of sales. DC clearly doesn’t want Justice Society to go through a succession of ill-fitting writers like the post-Johns Teen Titans did.

In other words, Johns hasn’t turned Justice Society into a “foundational” title. Instead, he’s established that Justice Society’s revised premise can be sustained over the long term. This accomplishment is not insignificant. It takes a special kind of hair-splitting axe to clear a space for what is, to children of the Silver and Bronze Ages, another version of the Justice League. If DC has found the right person to carry on what has evidently become something very personal to Geoff Johns, that’s fine. I can’t help but think, though, that Johns’ work should be followed by a break. It would both honor Johns’ departure and allow the next Justice Society creative team some time to figure out its own approach.
Full Post

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Watching the detectives

Fan reactions to the fast-approaching Spirit movie seem pretty uniform to me: it's more Sin City than Will Eisner.

It makes me wonder: isn't Frank Miller's style really better-suited to Dick Tracy? Likewise, what if Warren Beatty had made a Spirit movie instead of Tracy? (A commenter on this YouTube version of the Tracy trailer wants a crossover.)

Granted, Beatty's Dick Tracy was only about "bringing a comic strip to life" as far as it involved garish art direction and broad acting. Beatty would have had to appreciate the way Eisner used a comics page, and somehow translated that to a static frame for moving pictures. In a way, I suppose the Sin City movie, with its uber-faithful recreation of Miller's work, tried to do just that.

And you know, I ask "what if Warren Beatty...?," but really, a Warren Beatty Spirit isn't my first choice, because I wasn't that thrilled with Dick Tracy and I doubt his comics sensibilities have been tuned any finer in the past eighteen years. I guess I'm asking why Frank Miller has apparently abandoned The Spirit's nominally graceful, light attitude -- and that may be asking why Frank didn't just adapt Sugar & Spike; or why no director has staged a Batman-movie fight around a giant typewriter. The medium has limitations, and the audience has expectations.

I still think Miller's a better fit for Dick Tracy, though....
Full Post

Monday, December 08, 2008

Looks like I'm a Good Critic; plus Joe Kubert and Sgt. Rock

We got back last night from five days and four nights in Lexington, for a two-day seminar and an afternoon party so that our old Kentucky friends could see Olivia. Without going too much into it, I was technologically limited, so I spent those five days with a pretty minimal connection to the Internet. I also didn't have an opportunity to see Thursday's new comics until this morning, which meant that I couldn't check about 80% of my Bloglines subscriptions until then (no spoilers!). That left me with some 400-odd comics-related posts to skim, read, or just check off.

Probably the nicest surprise -- and I was surprised to be in such excellent company -- was being included on plok/pillock's "Critic's Canon" list. That's a pretty high standard of criticism, me excluded. It makes me think plok hasn't read my Bottomless Belly Button review, which was hardly a model of the form.

Then again, I have never been good at accepting compliments. Thus, before I forget, thank you plok, thanks to the commenters who approved of my inclusion, and thanks to whatever silent majority/minority/plurality has similar feelings. If you like this stuff, who am I to argue?

* * *

In other news, I found Man Of Rock, Bill Schelly's biography of Joe Kubert, to be a quick and entertaining read. There's not much in the way of controversy. Kubert didn't lead a "Behind The Music"-esque life of triumph, tragedy, and redemption; and neither, apparently, was his work exploited egregiously. For example, he was able to move his prehistoric hero Tor from one publisher to another without too many problems. Kubert's disappointments, as MoR sees them, include such things as being replaced on Hawkman by Murphy Anderson, and failing to sustain newspaper strips for Tor and Tales of the Green Berets.

More numerous, naturally, are Kubert's successes: Tor, Enemy Ace, Sgt. Rock, Tarzan, Fax From Sarajevo, and of course the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art. Man Of Rock argues, fairly successfully, that Joe Kubert was indispensable to the growth and development of modern mainstream comics; perhaps even on a par with Will Eisner or Jack Kirby. I don't mean this to be quite as obtuse as it sounds; but I approached MoR from the perspective of Kubert as the consummate craftsman, and came away with an even greater appreciation of the man's place in comics history.

* * *

Then, of course, I read Showcase Presents Sgt. Rock Volume 2, written entirely by Bob Kanigher with only a few non-Kubert stories. (It reprints Our Army At War nos. 118-148, May 1962-November 1964.) Last year, discussing Volume 1, the stories were, by and large, about object lessons taught by Rock to the men under his command. While this book contains several of those as well, after a while Kanigher and Kubert start telling stories about Rock himself, as well as building up a regular supporting cast (the by-now-familiar Bulldozer, Ice Cream Soldier, Wild Man, Sunny, and Little Sure Shot). There's even a story narrated by our heroes' weapons, which for me recalled the Spirit story of Rat-Tat, The Little Machine Gun.

It's not all fun and games, to be sure: death seemed to come more readily to Easy's men, and even a regular is both blinded and deafened (temporarily) by an exploding shell. Men of Rock mentioned that Kanigher and Kubert had to be careful about what they showed, but the sight of a makeshift tombstone -- fashioned from a rifle and an empty helmet -- is unmistakable. With regard to Volume 1, I thought that the stories were meant for grade-school kids, but lead-out captions for many of the stories in Volume 2 talk about Easy's exploits being "aimed at your heart." Apparently, readers of Our Army At War wouldn't have been blamed for shedding manly tears (or "actin' like we had cinders in our eyes," in Rock-speak) at the end of an issue. Indeed, with this volume, Kanigher and Kubert seem to be settling into a nice groove.

The book ends on a two-part story from OAAW #s 147-48, which involves a deskbound general whose lack of combat glory has disappointed his two sons. Naturally, Rock ends up impersonating the general, and you can guess the rest. Although the story is driven by their sentiments, the general's sons come across as unsympathetic (one's eager for reflected glory; the other is passive-aggressive). The plot also has to contort itself in order to avoid a court-martial for Rock. Nevertheless, "Generals Don't Die" is effective on its own terms, thanks mostly to Kanigher and Kubert's concise,direct storytelling. The whole book is like that; and like its predecessor it's highly recommended.
Full Post

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Would You Like Less Pulp In Your JLA?

I have argued previously that the Justice League is a "clash of genres."

That phrase might not be perfectly accurate, but it's a good soundbite. Batman has some pulp roots (Zorro, the Shadow). The Flash and the Atom are science-heroes, powered by vaguely plausible experiments/accidents. Green Lantern and Hawkman are space-opera characters. Zatanna straddles the Vertigo line. The Elongated Man and the Martian Manhunter are different types of detectives; and at one point Booster Gold and Captain Atom were different kinds of "men out of time." The ones I would call "pure" superheroes -- for purposes of this post, "fantasy" characters -- include Aquaman, Superman, and Wonder Woman.

Therefore, I think it would be instructive to examine which Leaguers tend to fare the best over the years. If the Justice League is a sampler of DC as a whole, seeing which "genre" dominates its adventures might give us a clue as to the company's overall tone.

Regardless, I suspect that, despite J'Onn J'Onzz's presence in virtually every era of the team, Batman would be the go-to guy. Batman always has a plan; Batman always wins. Grant Morrison had Batman unmask the Hyperclan (and beat up three of them), outlast DeSaad, and outsmart Lex Luthor. When he wanted to show that Prometheus meant business, he had the new villain (who was an "evil Batman") first defeat the Darknight Detective.

It goes back farther. One could argue that Batman leaving the League and founding the Outsiders was the beginning of the "Satellite Era's" end. Likewise, Batman's return to the team (now based in Detroit) was an attempt to lend that League some credibility. Batman was a dominant force in the early Giffen/DeMatteis years, and showed up a few times in the Dan Jurgens/Gerard Jones/Ron Randall relaunches of the early '90s.

And why do people like Batman? Because he has no powers but he's real smart. (Also, the years of martial-arts training and discipline don't hurt.) So what does it say that, on a team composed of characters from different genres, that the most visible heir of the pulp heroes routinely gets the most deference?

Clearly the implication is that Batman represents the "need for realism" which has driven superhero comics for the past twenty-plus years (probably going back to his takedown of Superman in The Dark Knight Falls). Yes, those who look to Batman for "realism" are probably frustrated with his very involvement in the Justice League, but I don't see too many people claiming that Black Canary and Green Arrow are any more realistic. Indeed (despite GA's appearance in the Dark Knight Superman fight), conventional fan wisdom seems to hold that a bow and trick arrows are no way to stop, say, the Demons Three, or even a moderately well-armed super-criminal like Captain Cold.

Actually, now that I think about it, Kingdom Come also gave Batman's "talented-humans" team something of an advantage, in that they didn't have the drama of Superman's and Wonder Woman's Justice League. With that nuclear strike, the "regular" humans also end up settling much of the superheroes' infighting.

So what are we to make of this trend? Is it an anti-superpower bias? (Ozymandias even beats Doctor Manhattan, at least for a minute or so.) Or is it simply more interesting to have the non-powered, real-smart humans outsmarting the powerhouses?

I don't know that it goes that far -- and really, if it gets much farther, it wanders into the old "superpowered fascists vs. wild-eyed vigilantes" territory. Anyway, the Dark Knight, Watchmen, and Kingdom Come examples are all "good guys" fighting among themselves, which is ostensibly "more dramatic" than a run-of-the-mill super-fight. Talking about something like the Justice League, on balance it is probably more interesting to have someone with a lower power level save the day. (There was Steve Englehart's Willow/Mantis storyline, where the Atom was the hero; not to mention 1978's JLA/JSA team-up, where the Elongated Man defeated the Lord of Time.)

Still, what's the point of having a Justice League if you're not going to use the Supermen and Wonder Women? Well, in fact, the JLI teams got along pretty well with only a few powerhouses at a time (Martian Manhunter, Doctor Fate, Captain Atom, Captain Marvel). Guy Gardner was never really a world-beater as a Green Lantern, Wally West was stuck at the speed of sound for much of his JLI tenure, and Power Girl was de-powered as well. Even when the Morrison League brought together the "big guns" (for the first time in that continuity), Morrison tended to place the powerhouses in set pieces: Superman wrestling the angel, Big Barda fighting the future Wonder Woman, Green Lantern containing an exploding Sun. Morrison's Flash and Green Lantern were especially creatures of the Id; whereas the lower-powered characters (Huntress, Steel, Green Arrow II, and of course Batman) got to be smart.

I dunno. Again, maybe I'm making too much out of it. However, I can't help but think that the treatment of Batman over the past twenty years has rippled out not only through the Justice League, but into the wider DC line. It's created an attitude of cynicism that eats at the more fantastic titles (how great is Superman if Batman can beat him?). After all, Hal Jordan decks Batman in Green Lantern: Rebirth -- probably to help his street cred -- and then goes on to greater things via "The Sinestro Corps War."

This could be why I like Trinity so much. I got a huge kick out of Morrison's "JLA/James Bond Batman," and I even gave the fist-pumping moments of last week's
"R.I.P." conclusion a pass. Batman should be a world-beater, you know? However, there are times when he should also be surrounded by world-beaters, even taking a back seat to them once in a while. If these are superhero stories, pulp's most famous heir shouldn't be hogging the stage.
Full Post

Monday, November 17, 2008

Get well soon, Carla and Lance

You've probably heard by now that my friend and colleague Carla Hoffman was badly burned, as was her husband Lance, while trying to escape the Southern California wildfires. They'll probably be in the hospital for a while, and are expected to recover, but they've lost their house. Goodness knows I can't imagine what they've been through.

I "met" Carla (in the online/email sense) when she joined Blog@Newsarama in the summer of 2006, but I didn't meet her in person until the 2007 San Diego Comic-Con. (Unfortunately, I haven't met Lance.) If you think her blogging is energetic and passionate about comics, she moves about ten times as fast in real life. She is a real dynamo, and I can't imagine her not in perpetual motion, let alone laid up for days or weeks.

Please help them out. I know I will. Donations may be made to

The Lance and Carla Burn Fund
Santa Barbara Bank and Trust
1483 East Valley Road
Montecito, CA 93108-1248
Full Post

Thoughts on Star Trek '09 (Trailer Edition)

After spending an unhealthy amount of time following our thrilling Presidential election, I had been wondering whether I’d find a new obsession...

... but then the new Star Trek trailer appeared. I am (in a word) stoked, and can’t wait the (barely!) six months which tick away just to your right.

Of course, other fans -- who appear to be a small but insistent faction -- are not so sanguine. For them the trailer, like the pictures which have been trickling out over the past several weeks, confirms their collective fear. The long-dreaded reboot (gasp!) of Star Trek must necessarily explode four decades of canon (or “cannon,” if you’re not particular). To this point the history of the Trekverse had been assembled out of plot points and throwaway references into a workable structure, albeit rickety and creaking in parts, upon which had nevertheless been hung hundreds of hours’ worth of stories and characters. Without canon, Star Trek is merely a collection of stories. With it, though, Trek is a vast centuries-spanning galactic tapestry. I understand why it’s maintained so intricately, and I’ve enjoyed the interconnections (intentional and otherwise) myself.

Star Trek ‘09 aims to reveal finally a new wing of the structure -- the “origins” of the famous Five-Year Mission -- while looking back into Kirk’s and Spock’s childhoods. With so much background material available, the participants in this story seem obvious: all those trivial (in the strictest sense) names and events relevant to this period which had already been mentioned on-screen. The story itself seems like a mere matter of connecting the dots, from “The Cage” to “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” Thus, the subplots would be Pike to Kirk, Number One to Spock, Boyce to Piper to McCoy, etc. For good measure, throw in all the people from Kirk’s Academy days and early career: Mallory, Finnegan, Ruth, Carol Marcus, Captain Garrovick, Ben Finney. Perhaps most importantly, there’s Gary Mitchell, Kirk’s best friend, who may even have been his first officer when he died as part of “WNMHGB’s” climax. A “Year Zero” story would need to address the doomed Kirk/Mitchell friendship ... wouldn’t it?

In a word, no. Star Trek ‘09 appears to answer those kinds of issues in the resounding negative -- or perhaps worse, with resounding indifference. Pike is in it (the trailer casts him as a father-figure to Kirk), but the other “Cagers” are nowhere to be found. Neither is Mitchell or Number One. Furthermore, the sets are pristine, the Bridge is spacious, and the bulkheads are concave. It all looks familiar, but obviously it’s been changed -- and for some, those changes are dealbreakers.

Now, I can speak only as a second-generation fan who grew up on the movies and ‘70s syndication, but the original Star Trek may be the last major bit of pop culture associated indelibly with unsocialized geeks. Not surprisingly, many fans have turned this perceived stigma on its head, charging that any attempt to update or “make cool” the Original Series is actually “dumbing it down.” Thus, like any other so-called cult phenomenon, Star Trek is too good for the unwashed, who must prove themselves worthy of it, and not it of them. Having spent most of my life trudging up such steep learning curves, I have some sympathy for this perspective. It’s only natural that, with our efforts rewarded, we want others to be rewarded similarly only after similar efforts.

However, when think about re-registering at the TrekBBS ... well, it’s literally asking for trouble, isn’t it? The memories of debates gone by, and the spectacle of today’s polarized fanbase, are huge obstacles. Writing about comic books is much easier by comparison. For example, the Legion of Super-Heroes boasts a vocal fanbase doggedly supportive of, say, the Adventure Comics days and/or Levitz/Giffen, but to my knowledge they don’t go around making dark pronouncements like The Legion died in 1989.

No, these bitter, angry Trek fans are people who feel betrayed, and again I am sympathetic -- but I have to ask, by what have they been betrayed? By the foreseeable effects of advances in time, age, and technology? By the business aspects of movie production, which necessarily demand stories with wide appeal? By the thought -- and here I freely admit I’m speculating -- that accepting a new version of Star Trek somehow betrays one’s fidelity to the original?

Look, I know what it’s like. Because there are fewer and fewer old-school fans out there, you think that if you don’t stand up for the good old days, pretty soon no one will. Although you came in late, you were converted just the same; and therefore others can be converted similarly. There’s nothing wrong with the basic ideas, just their execution. Above all, you don’t want the thing you love to sell out, because you don’t want it to lose that unquantifiable spark that makes it special.

Nevertheless, I am now officially stoked about ST09 because I can see Pine and Quinto as Kirk and Spock, even in the fewer-than-two-minutes they’re on the screen. The differences in the Enterprise, the bridge, etc., aren’t big enough to be distracting.

Besides, when you get down to it, Star Trek is about the boldly going. So what if the Enterprise doesn’t line up exactly with the original? It is still recognizable as the Enterprise NCC-1701, and these folks are recognizable as her crew. I’ve said before that the key to making Star Trek viable for new generations lies not so much in creating yet another new crew, which will be compared inevitably to the five previous -- but in finding ways to re-acquaint the general public with the original. As much as I enjoyed having eighteen years’ (!) worth of TV sequels and spinoffs, at their core those shows could only riff on the original. For Star Trek to start over it had to do something like this ...

... and for something like this to work, it can’t be hamstrung with minutiae. The Star Wars prequels had to hew to a certain structure, because they were parts of a single large story. Conversely, Star Trek takes an almost entirely opposite approach. It’s set up to tell individual stories, not one big one. ST09 may be concerned with the two biggest individuals in all of the series, but it’s not the final piece of any narrative puzzle.

Indeed, the earlier movies helped frame the exploits of Kirk and Spock in recognizable character arcs. The Motion Picture showed Spock reconciling the inner conflicts between logic and emotion; and The Wrath of Khan featured Kirk’s midlife crisis. Naturally, both movies built on the original series, but had less to do with character moments in individual episodes (“Space Seed” notwithstanding, of course) than a general sense of who the characters were. By that I mean that I can recall nothing in either movie which is a specific callback to, say, “The Naked Time,” but obviously Spock’s struggles in “Naked” (and “This Side Of Paradise,” “Amok Time,” “All Our Yesterdays,” etc.) inform his growth in TMP.

It bears repeating too that the Kirk and Spock of ST09 are not quite the characters who appear in those episodes, or for that matter in “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” Instead, by coming to know each other they are in the process of becoming those characters. While it might be informative to see how Gary Mitchell or Number One affected that process, it’s not necessary, and in fact those characters might be more of a distraction to the casual moviegoer than a redesigned Bridge will be to a hardcore fan.

So, with all due respect to my fellow Trekkies and Trekkers, I say engage! to this version of Star Trek. As a certain velvet-voiced officer once said, “any chance to go aboard the Enterprise...!”

[P.S. I know that the trailer shows a familiar-looking starship being constructed out in an open field -- but are we sure that this ship is the Enterprise, and not one of her sisters?]
Full Post

Friday, October 24, 2008

Friday Night Fights

You know, if I'm up too far past my bedtime, I get a little cranky.

Sleepwalk, though, gets violent.

So, let me think ... do you have to get up pretty early in the morning to beat her, or are you better off waiting until later in the day, when she's more likely to be awake...?

It's a puzzler, that's for sure --

-- but no one snoozes on Bahlactus!

[From "Labyrinth," Doom Patrol vol. 2 #28 (December 1989). Written by Grant Morrison, pencilled by Richard Case, inked by John Nyberg, lettered by John Workman, colored by Daniel Vozzo.]
Full Post

Friday, October 17, 2008

Friday Night Fights

Wonder Woman is a born warrior, trained in unarmed combat and the use of a wide range of weapons, and given powers by the gods and goddesses themselves -- but even so, she never stops learning.

Kind of puts the lie to any thoughts of towel-snapping locker-room scenes on Themyscira too, I suppose....

Don't tug on Bahlactus' cape!

[From "Bird Of Paradise/Bird Of Prey!" in Wonder Woman vol. 2 #16 (May 1988). Written by George Perez and Len Wein, pencilled by Perez, inked by Bob Smith, colored by Carl Gafford, and lettered by John Costanza.]
Full Post

Friday, October 10, 2008

Better late than never: Bottomless Belly Button

It is a truism in comics that the writer(s) and artist(s) involved put on the page what they deem to be necessary for the reader's understanding. I read a lot of superhero comics, so I see a lot of detailed muscles and intricate cityscapes.

Therefore, the unique style of cartoonist Dash Shaw, on display in his massive graphic novel Bottomless Belly Button (published by Fantagraphics) took some getting used to. Caped-crimefighting aficionado that I am, I would call Shaw's work "minimalist" in the sense that it uses distinctive storytelling shortcuts. For example, one almost-caption, accompanying a swirl of floating points, reads "sunlight makes dust in air visible." In this black-and-white book, morning is noted with "orange dawn." To me it was an unusual approach, but not an unwelcome one; and it serves Shaw well by allowing the reader some interpretive freedom.

As for the subject matter, Bottomless Belly Button concerns the Loony family, all gathered at the Loony beach house for the announcement that the elder Loonys are getting divorced. Naturally, their various reactions (or lack thereof) make up the bulk of the book, which spans the limited amount of time the Loonys are "on vacation." Son Dennis plunges into denial. Daughter Claire meditates on her own divorce and attempts to bond with Jill, her own teenage daughter. Son Peter mopes about his lack of a social life. It's not unfamiliar, and it kept reminding me of the independent films I used to watch more of (unfortunately, none comes to mind but Little Miss Sunshine, and that's probably too commercial a comparison).

However, BBB needs to be told through sequential art, because it takes good advantage of the medium. Not unlike an old-school superhero story, it pauses for cataloguing: here are the Loonys in happier times, arranged in designated spots in their house, their station wagon, the dinner table, etc., like a starship crew manning posts or the Justice League in personalized meeting-room chairs. BBB also includes print-favoring excerpts from the Loonys' archives, such as an encoded letter which contains the book's title. It all has the desired effect: in their own ways, and from their own perspectives, the Loonys are an institution, not just some random group of characters.

Shaw uses another comics-specific device: Peter looks like an anthropomorphic frog. At times this bit of characterization, combined with Peter's general malaise, can get a little too precious; but when Shaw shifts gears unexpectedly, it's startling, and it adds another layer to the character.

Ultimately, the success of Bottomless Belly Button comes from Shaw's ability to make the Loonys three-dimensional. His characters aren't perfect, or perfectly formed; but none of their arcs is entirely predictable (not even Peter's, which is probably the most by-the-numbers). Shaw's unique style gives the reader just enough information to suggest the rest, and that helps bring the characters alive.

I read BBB as its author directed, taking breaks between each of its three parts over the course of a couple of days. That was a few weeks ago, and it has stayed with me. There's a lot of symbolism and minutiae to absorb in this work, so I suspect it will reward multiple readings. Maybe I'll take it with me on our next trip to the beach.
Full Post

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Olivia Vs. Super-Babies

Now that I have finished the Essential Defenders books, I've moved on to a different set of black-and-white reprints for Olivia's story time. I'll get back to the Marvel stuff eventually, but for now we've been reading Showcase Presents Legion Of Super-Heroes Vol. 2 ... and guess which story came up to bat last night?

That's right, "The Menace Of The Sinister Super-Babies!" from Adventure Comics #338 (November 1965). This particular story was a revelation to me, and not just because of how the dialogue sounded when read aloud. If you're unfamiliar with it (as I was), basically the plot involves the Time Trapper's attempt to destroy the Legionnaires by, appropriately enough, de-aging them from teenagers to infants and eventually into the "protoplasmic slime" from which all life comes. Because the point of the story is to show the Legionnaires as infants, though, there must be complications.

See, the Time Trapper is an omnipotent villain who lives in a post-apocalyptic dinosaur-shaped building on a devastated planet at the end of time. His "Iron Curtain of time" prevents the Legionnaires (who live in the 30th Century*) from attacking him directly. His plan, however, involves sending a henchwoman (Glorith) back to the 30th C. with a device which, when touched by anyone not properly protected, will de-age them ultimately to the aforementioned primordial goo. Thus, Glorith tricks the Legionnaires into touching the device -- but unfortunately for her, they are only de-aged to infancy, thanks to the interfering spray from a nearby "Fountain of 1,000 Chemicals." I failed to mention that Glorith and the Legion are at a theme park, where the fountain is one of the attractions, next to the merry-go-round.

Anyway, hilarity ensues, and the Time Trapper (who eventually enters the story as a sinister "Uncle," tricking the Legion Babies into stealing for him) ends up so annoyed with his "Infant-ry" (the story uses that term repeatedly) that he gives the few unaffected Legionnaires the cure for their colleagues' condition, in exchange for them replacing the spaceship the super-babies trashed.

This story was written by Jerry Siegel, Superman's co-creator, and drawn by regular Legion artist John Forte; but it reads like the result of a three-day ether binge. Still, because it introduced the character of Glorith, who later became one of the main Legion villains 'round about the time I started reading the title regularly (the "TMK"/Five Years Later era), I suppose it has become an important milepost in Legion history.

An aside: I keep forgetting how far into the 1960s these stories were advancing. It's easier for me to see the march of time reflected in more serialized books, namely the Marvel titles. Therefore, by way of unfair comparison, the November '65 issue of Fantastic Four had them battling the Inhumans and Dragon Man.

For a more informed view of this story, I recommend H's recap here (scroll down). You can read all of "Menace of the Sinister Super-Babies" here.

By the way, I haven't been doing distinct voices for the Legion stories like I was for the Defenders issues. I tried to do a deep, booming Time Trapper, but this story's dialogue suggested more of a cranky Uncle Leo. Besides, these characters speak pretty much in paragraphs (that is, when they're not laughing at someone), so it's hard to concentrate on a voice while getting all the words out.

Anyway, we'll stick with the Legion for a while, but probably back to '70s Marvel before too long.

* [I know most of you know this, so it's primarily for my family members who aren't so into the superheroes.]
Full Post

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Another quick Green Lantern question

Everyone remember the Justice League bookshelf?

Wouldn't 'cha know, the Green Lantern figure has suffered a career-ending knee injury, and I'll be needing a new one.

However, thanks to the good folks at Mattel, I now have a choice. Do I replace the "Hard Traveling" Hal, thereby keeping that set of Hal/Ollie/Dinah intact; or do I go for the more articulated Mattel version? (If it makes a difference, I am planning to get a Mattel Aquaman as well at some point.) I don't think availability is an issue, since I got both Ollie and Dinah off teh Ebay.


[EDIT] P.S. If you have any preference for a particular John Stewart figure, I'd love to hear it. (The Guy and Kyle figures may have to wait until a future League expansion.)
Full Post

Friday, October 03, 2008

Now I want a John Stewart movie too

Inspired by Brainfreeze, just a quick question before a busy weekend (and no time for Friday Night Fights, darn it)....

Wouldn't the first Green Lantern movie be more interesting if it focused on John Stewart?

I mean, I love Hal, but his story arc is pretty much a straight line. The basic Green Lantern origin-story plot is "you are in over your head." Here is a magic ring; now go fight aliens and fix problems.

With Hal, there's no real story arc. Any complications (father issues! drunk driving!) seem artificial, because come on, he's a test pilot. He's got the right stuff already, so why are we wading through these subplots to see it?

Speaking broadly, Guy and Kyle exist primarily in relation to Hal. Guy is the star of the Green Lantern movie that Adam Sandler's production company would make (har har, I'll use the ring for hookers and blow!); and Kyle is the star of Disney's (I am sensitive and I believe in myself!). Those are gross oversimplifications, to be sure, but I'm thinking two-minute trailers here -- not a lot of room for nuance.

John, though ... now there's a movie-movie. Spend the first ten minutes on slice-of-life stuff for a socially-conscious architect. However, drop into the background a couple of news items: a polarizing politician's visit, and Green Lantern saving a busload of school kids in Baltimore. The plot begins in earnest when Hal shows up to make John his deputy (and I did say make, because Hal and probably a big holographic Guardian head make it clear that John has no choice).

So yeah, it's essentially an adaptation and expansion of John's origin from the Denny O'Neil/Neal Adams Green Lantern #87, but really, isn't that the kernel of a good movie all by itself? Here is Hal, representing (as he did originally) the establishment, having to train a new Lantern who he worries may not have the right attitude for the job; and here is John, wondering what in fact this new role means to his long-held beliefs. Sure, there are racial and political overtones, but it would have been a heck of an introduction to John, Hal, and the Green Lantern Corps.

Okay, gotta go. Back before too long.
Full Post

Monday, September 29, 2008

Looking at Eternals in light of New Gods

As promised, here are my thoughts on Jack Kirby's The Eternals, which on the whole is eerily reminiscent of New Gods ... except when it isn't. The more I think about it, there seem to be a couple of big differences and a lot of superficial similarities.

First, some background for those who need it. The Eternals’ basic premise is that extraterrestrial half-mile-high giants called Celestials created, from prehistoric humans, two additional species: grotesque Deviants and regal Eternals. The Deviants subjugated humanity, whereas the Eternals protected it; and to various degrees Celestials, Deviants, and Eternals all ended up as part of human mythology. The Celestials left Earth soon after their experiments were complete, only to return (at the start of Eternals vol. 1 #1) for an evaluation of Earth lasting fifty years. The return of the Celestials prompted the Deviants and the Eternals to emerge from hiding, each with different designs on humanity; and of course the humans had to figure out how to react to these various developments.

Now, I said earlier that The Eternals felt a lot like a “do-over” of New Gods ... and while it still does, clearly New Gods (and the larger Fourth World) has a fairly different setup.

Kirby’s Fourth World was a sprawling attempt to create a new set of myths -- advertised as “an epic for our time” -- centered around a mismatched set of fathers and sons. To cement a truce between the warring worlds of New Genesis and Apokolips, their respective leaders each agreed to raise the other’s son as his own. Thus, the hot-tempered Orion was raised by Highfather, and the peace-loving Scott Free was consigned to Darkseid’s brutal orphanage.

In fact, while The Eternals begins on Earth, with a scientist and his daughter discovering that their strapping manservant is Not What He Seems, New Gods begins with “a time when the old gods died,” and launches from there into tours of New Genesis and Apokolips. New Gods #1 ends with Orion’s discovery that Darkseid has been kidnapping Earthlings for his Anti-Life Equation experiments, and that sends Orion to Earth, where much of the rest of Kirby’s Fourth World takes place.

So yes, right off the bat the two series demonstrate storytelling differences. New Gods starts with the “gods” and works towards the humans, while Eternals starts with the humans and works towards the gods. However, in both series the humans are important components of the story.

Honestly, my initial reaction of Eternals-as-Fourth-World-revisited was based largely on the human characters. Once confronted with Eternals, Celestials, and Deviants, Margo and her dad displayed a kind of wide-eyed pragmatism which seemed to echo Darkseid’s kidnap victims. In both series, Kirby’s human protagonists don’t quite believe what’s going on, even as they try to rise to the occasion. I mention this not because it’s an unusual storytelling device, but because in my experience with Kirby’s other superhero work, the people encountering the “new gods” are superheroes themselves. Admittedly, here I am thinking of the Fantastic Four and the Inhumans/the Watcher/Galactus, but to a certain extent it applies to Superman’s role in the Jimmy Olsen stories which prefigured the rest of the Fourth World.

Thus, to me Eternals and New Gods are set apart because their human characters have these “cold” consciousness-expanding experiences -- not blunted or filtered by their existing relationships with familiar superheroes -- which reveal to them some larger world of magic, possibility, what-have-you. In New Gods the revelation to the humans is about Darkseid and the Anti-Life Equation. In Eternals it’s about the secret history of human development. In both cases, though, Kirby is pulling back a curtain on humanity’s place in the universe, and using the very loaded word “god” to do so.

* * *

There are other similarities, but they are more superficial and probably subjective: the “evil gods” attack the big city; Makkari maps somewhat to Lightray; and Olympia seemed reminiscent of New Genesis. However, the big difference to me is Eternals’ lack of a Darkseid. Without a central villain Eternals becomes more ethically neutral: the Celestials have fifty years to judge the Earth, but in the context of a monthly present-day comic book that’s a rather meaningless deadline. (I presume it was addressed at some point in a future-of-Marvel book like Guardians of the Galaxy.)

Instead, Eternals uses a series of antagonists to provide obstacles for Ikaris and friends to overcome. There are the Celestials; there is Kro, whose manipulations guide the plot of the first few issues; and there are various entities who try to destroy the Celestials over the course of the book's short run. However, despite Kro posing as the Devil, Eternals has no personification of evil to compete with Darkseid and his overarching quest for the Anti-Life Equation. Indeed, Eternals’ setup is pretty much the point of the series. Honestly, it is open-ended enough to be the premise of a TV show. (In fact, the late-‘90s show “Prey” starred Debra “Remember me from ‘Ned & Stacey?’” Messing as a scientist who deals with warring factions of ultra-advanced humans.) Compare that to the Fourth World’s stated end-point, the final battle between Orion and Darkseid in Apokolips’ Armagetto.

And that brings up the last thing I want to mention: the fact that Kirby never got to finish either series to his satisfaction. Maybe that’s why he didn’t build a practical ending into Eternals, and why he felt free to, say, devote three issues to a battle with a robotic Hulk. I think that’s the biggest part of my “do-over” vibe: the notion that Kirby wanted to get all the important stuff out of the way first. Kro is no Darkseid because his bad-guy arc is over pretty quickly: after his Devil ruse, he shifts gears and rekindles the torch he carried for Thena. Meanwhile, Thena becomes more of a protagonist than Ikaris, “recruiting” the Reject and Karkas to the Eternals’ side. Obviously I can’t say that Kirby got bored with Ikaris, but you sure can tell that he’s not the central figure Orion was.

Of course, related to Kirby interruptus is each series’ post-Kirby fate. If Eternals was supposed to be part of the larger Marvel Universe, I just have one question: how did Marvel explain the 2,000-foot-tall armored giants which Kirby left stationed around the globe? I can easily imagine Eternals recast as a modern-day Big Comics Event, crossovers and all, with Celestials instead of registration acts or red skies. Maybe Marvel has done that already. I’d be surprised if it hadn’t. For that matter, I think DC was trying to do exactly that with the Fourth World and Countdown, even rewriting Forever People #1 as a three-issue Superman Confidential story.

That’s getting a little off the subject, but not by much. The Eternals still seems to me to be a “do-over” of New Gods maybe not in the nuts and bolts of its storytelling, but as another example of Kirby’s mythological consciousness-expansion which was cut short.
Full Post

Friday, September 26, 2008

Friday Night Fights

Hey, Black Canary is fighting a bad mother -- shut your mouth!

No, really, the goon here actually does belong to a bad mother, who's thrown her planet into an horrific crisis of overpopulation. So yes, I'm just talkin' about Mother Juna.

Bahlactus can dig it!

[From "Death Be My Destiny!" in Green Lantern vol. 2 #81, December 1970. Written by Denny O'Neil, pencilled by Neal Adams, inked by Dick Giordano, lettered by John Costanza.]
Full Post

Sunday, September 21, 2008

An Eternals question

Thanks to the magic of trade paperbacks, I've finally read all of Jack Kirby's Eternals, and ... well, I liked it a good bit, but let's just say I think we have a lot to talk about.

Before I launch into a long blog post, though, I've got just one question:

Surely someone besides me has noticed all the similarities to New Gods? (And if I might be allowed a follow-up -- boy, Kirby loved hidden civilizations, huh? The Inhumans, the Asgardians, the Hairies....)

I mean, I was reading these issues and thinking "do-over," and I can't have been the only one.

Anyway, I do have more to say about Eternals, but I have to get that out of the way first. Back soon -- I promise -- with those thoughts.
Full Post

Friday, September 12, 2008

Friday Night Fights

[Postponed from last week....]

No Jon around, but here's Kate Plus Eight!

... or, wait a minute, maybe there's nine. Ten? Aw, heck. With Multiplex, who can tell?

Anyway, we can't get enough of Bahlactus!

[From "Forgotten Part 4," in Manhunter vol. 3 #34, November 2008. Written by Marc Andreyko, drawn by Michael Gaydos, lettered by Travis Lanham, colored by Jose Villarrubia.]
Full Post

Monday, September 08, 2008

New comics 8/13/08

Olivia turned four weeks old yesterday, and will be a month old on Tuesday ... not unlike my current-comics backlog, as it turns out.

I've also been reading a lot of non-superhero comics. I finally got around to The Professor's Daughter, The Plain Janes, and Black Hole, with Bottomless Belly Button on deck.

But yes, the superheroes still dominate, so let's get to 'em.

In Booster Gold #11, guest-writer Chuck Dixon joins regular artists Dan Jurgens and Norm Rapmund for a light look back at Batman's less-grim days. Batman, you say? Yes; Booster must pose first as Killer Moth and then as the Darknight Detective himself in order to fix the problems one of Dixon's one-shot Detective Comics villains has caused. It's part 1 of 2, and it seems content to gawk giddily at the trappings of '60s Batman and one of his goofier villains. (Killer Moth considered himself the anti-Batman, down to his own set of themed gadgets.) There's the usual drama about A World Without Batman, but we know by now how that sort of thing turns out -- especially in a two-part guest-written arc. It's still fun, though.

Someday soon -- maybe after Bottomless Belly Button and finishing another run through Watchmen -- I'll break out all of the Grant Morrison Batman issues to date. Maybe then I'll have a more informed angle on "Batman R.I.P." In the meantime, though, every issue seems like a mad dash through the storyline, with Morrison throwing out ideas and plot points left and right. Batman #679 finds the "emergency persona" in full effect, busting heads and behaving like a cross between Rorschach (i.e., vigilantism on the cheap) and the Frank Miller parody, with a little "Moon Roach" from Cerebus thrown in. I liked it pretty well, and I think my problem is that I read it too quickly.

Wonder Woman #23 finished the "Ends of the Earth" storyline with a big, brutal fight between Diana and the Devil, with her soul (among other things) at stake. I liked it on its own terms, but I still couldn't follow the changing loyalties and subtle reveals from previous chapters. Fortunately, the issue brought Donna Troy into the romantic subplot involving Nemesis, and let Donna have a good scene involving Amazon ritual.

Assuming we hadn't seen it previously, Action Comics #868 adds The Matrix to the other sci-fi influences writer Geoff Johns and penciller Gary Frank have brought to their ultimate version of Brainiac. While Superman contends with the villain, the more lively parts of the issue involve Supergirl and her soon-to-be-Jonah-Jameson-like rival, Cat Grant. It's all good, though.

Fantastic Four #559 tracks the Human Torch's fight with the New Defenders across Manhattan, while Sue has dinner with Reed's ex-flame and Ben takes his new love to see Johnny perform on "The Late Show." If you think this is mostly an opportunity for Bryan Hitch once again to demonstrate his photorealistic tendencies, you're not far off (although there is no David Letterman cameo, unfortunately). One money shot shows the Fantasticar flying low over Times Square. The issue has a couple of big revelations, one involving Magrathe-- I mean, the "new Earth" -- which is mildly surprising, and the other involving a classic FF foe which recalls both the Walt Simonson issues and JLA/Avengers. If you'd never read a Fantastic Four comic book before, you'd probably think this was pretty cool stuff, but for us lifers, it feels pretty hollow.

Green Lantern Corps #27 holds a hodgepodge of day-in-the-life-of-Oa subplots including the opening of "Guy Gardner's American Cafe" (it's not called that), a visit to the Green Lantern graveyard, and hints of affection between Kyle and Dr. Natu. However, the cover image refers (somewhat inaccurately) to the tragedy which I presume kicks off the next storyline, and it's a gruesome one. Guest penciller Luke Ross (with guest inker Fabio Laguna) has a less distinctive style than regular penciller Patrick Gleason, but considering that this issue is concerned with introductions (Guy's bar, the crypt), I suppose that's okay. I have to say, though, that the aforementioned tragedy seems to fall squarely within the "worthwhile = realistic = gruesome" thinking which DC can't seem to shake. This will sound like an empty threat, but I think I'll be dropping this book if things don't improve after "Black Lanterns."

Batman Confidential #20, Part 4 of the current 5-part Batgirl/Catwoman storyline, was pretty much like the other three chapters, except with Batman replacing the shredded costumes and outright nudity. By that I mean Batgirl isn't necessarily struggling to impress/one-up Catwoman here, but Batman himself. Still pretty entertaining, although Batgirl's dialogue tends to be a little too earnest.

Green Arrow And Black Canary #11 lays out the details of the Plot To Kill Green Arrow, along the way revealing the mysterious mastermind behind it all. Not bad for an expository issue, although I'm not sure it dovetails entirely with the "Countdown was responsible" tone of the first few issues.

I'll be honest: I was ready to declare Final Crisis: Revelations #1 (written by Greg Rucka, pencilled by Philip Tan, inked by Jonathan Glapion et al.) one of the worst comic books I have ever read. The art seemed deliberately ugly and incomprehensible, and the writing depended upon a good working knowledge of recent DC crossovers.

Well, re-reading it, it's not quite that bad. The writing still involves a particular learning curve, but I suppose if you're buying a Final Crisis [Colon Subtitle] book, you're halfway there already. The art isn't a model of clarity, but perhaps it fits the particularly grim mood of the book. This is an issue where Doctor Light dresses up helpless teens as rape-ready superheroines, and where the Spectre subsequently gives him and assorted other supervillains their ironic punishments for the even-more-sordid acts they committed in the course of recent DC crossovers. Furthermore, the story invokes one of the classic responses to an omnipotent character: making him powerless (or not so powerful) against a particular foe. I wouldn't mind it so much here if it hadn't just been used in Countdown To Mystery, although it does make more sense here than there.

Ultimately, though, I'll stick with this miniseries largely out of a need for closure. I hate to say it so bluntly, but at least we won't have Doctor Light to kick around for a while. Maybe by the end of this miniseries we'll have a functional Spectre and/or Question.

Finally, The Last Defenders #6 was a letdown on a couple of levels. First, the big revelation is something of a betrayal of the "non-team" concept. Second, I kinda get Nighthawk's role, but I've been reading those Essential Defenders (halfway through #4!) and does he really need to be validated this much? I guess I was expecting something more subversive. Also, the opening fight choreography was hard to follow.

Three weeks (or so) worth of comics left....
Full Post

Friday, August 29, 2008

Friday Night Fights

The Fourth World takes on the future as the 853rd Century's Justice Legion A invades the Justice League Watchtower!

In case you can't read the captions, Wonder Woman's bracelets are named Harmony and Charity. Harmony, Charity ...

... meet Mega-Rod!

This isn't the only fight, of course; but by the time we check in with these combatants, it's pretty much over.

A particle cannon (with Kirby Dots (TM), even!) might seem like cheating, but hey -- it's not like Wonder Woman didn't know who she might run into, back in the mists of history....

It's always the right time for Bahlactus!

[From "Prisoners of the Twentieth Century" in JLA #1,000,000, November 85,271. Written by Grant Morrison, pencilled by Howard Porter, inked by John Dell, lettered by Ken Lopez, colored by Pat Garrahy.]
Full Post

Monday, August 25, 2008

New comics 7/28/08 and 8/6/08

Here are some quick impressions of recent books, as I try to get rid of the accumulated baby-related backlog....


Batman: Death Mask #4: I stand by my original appraisal of this series, which is that it's more of a read-right-to-left exercise than a demonstration of manga's storytelling potential. It was a decent Batman story, but (as opposed to those Star Wars manga from ten years ago) nothing which really encouraged me to read more manga. If this were Batman/Punisher or some other outside-the-norm crossover, each "side" would get a chance to "win." Here, though, Batman is still Batman, just read differently; so he wins decisively.

Green Lantern #33: This was the penultimate chapter of "Secret Origin," wasn't it? Good. I get the feeling that "SO" could have been more interesting, and more to the point (leading up to "Blackest Night"), if it had been a couple of oversized issues told from the point of view of someone other than Hal. Also, I really think Johns et al. are pushing it to give Black Hand's mortuary the Black Lantern symbol.

Justice Society of America Annual #1: I talked about this one in a Grumpy Old Fan.

Teen Titans #61: Not a bad issue, although I am still not convinced that Kid/Red Devil is the breakout character everyone says he is -- and I say that as someone who looked forward to his appearances in the old Blue Devil series.


Detective Comics #847: Part 2 of "Heart of Hush" would have been better if it didn't have so much Hush.

Final Crisis #3: This is a scary, scary miniseries, and I admire its unwavering fatalism. I think I also like the way it paints its terrifying picture through individual snapshots, and not a "widescreen" overview.

House Of Mystery #4: Last month I think I said it's taking a while for Fig to realize what the readers already know (because it's the premise of the book). This month does nothing to change that. HOM isn't badly made, it's just slow; and I may have to give it another storyline to evaluate it properly.

Manhunter #33: I continue to like this series, and I want to learn more about it, but honestly I couldn't tell you why I liked this particular issue.

Nightwing #147: Part 1 of a 3-part Two-Face storyline is fairly entertaining, although for various external reasons I'm not sure how much longer I'll be with the book.

Supergirl #32: However, it looks like I'll be with this book for a while to come, as long as it ties into the Superman titles.

Tor #s 3 and 4: Tor starts a family in these issues. I'll probably finish out this miniseries, if only because I enjoy Joe Kubert's storytelling.

Of course, I also bought Trinity #s 9 and 10, and enjoyed them beyond my self-imposed obligation to annotate.

Back before too long to catch up on the next two weeks!
Full Post

Friday, August 22, 2008

Friday Night Fights

For someone who described her home planet as "peaceful" and "hav[ing] no weapons," Leia Organa sure is good in a scrap.

Of course, she also famously declared that "someone has to save our skins!"

Bahlactus decrees Ladies' Night, even in a galaxy far, far away!

[From "To Take The Tarkin!" in Star Wars #52, October 1981. Written by David Michelinie, pencilled by Walter Simonson, inked by Tom Palmer, lettered by John Morelli, colored by David Warfield. Scan from the reprint in Star Wars: A Long Time Ago ... Volume 3.]
Full Post

Thursday, August 21, 2008

What voice goes well with "Imperius Rex?"

Somewhere along the way I picked up the impression that reading to one's newborn helps her development, regardless of what one reads.

Since I've been re-reading the Essential Defenders books, naturally I tried dramatizing a couple of issues (#s 5 and 6) for Olivia's benefit. Issue #5 featured Namor, Doctor Strange, and the newly-minted Valkyrie against Omegatron/Yandroth; and #6 pitted the non-team (this time adding the Silver Surfer) against Cyrus Black.

My question is, what can I do to make the voices distinct? Omegatron/Yandroth was easy, because the context indicates how ... slowly ... he ... should ... speak. The Doctor Orpheus voice didn't really fit for Doctor Strange. A Boris Karloff voice worked a little better for the Silver Surfer, but it became harder to sustain. I don't know what kind of accent Namor would have, and I didn't do anything special for Valkyrie.

(Thank goodness Olivia was asleep while I read the Avengers/Defenders crossover!)

I'm into the Steve Gerber issues now, with not so much Namor and Surfer but more Hulk and guest-stars. Any suggestions?
Full Post

Saturday, August 16, 2008

There are many copies ... and they have a Pam.

No one likes to hear about another person's dreams, but every now and then mine involve TV or movies, so I figure those might slip through.

Recently I dreamed that Jim Halpert was the Twelfth Cylon. This gives me the same creepy/funny vibe as the revelation of Marge Simpson as Head Vampire in that one Halloween episode.

Anyway, it made perfect sense at the time. Jim has been romancing Pam so that she can (unwittingly) breed little Cylon/human hybrids. I don't remember exactly how Dwight reacted when he found out, but obviously it would make his life a lot more interesting.

So now, of course, I am mentally trying to match all the US-"Office" characters with "Galactica" roles: Michael = Baltar, Creed = Tigh, Jan = Roslin, etc. I would map Ryan and Kelly to Tyrol and Callie, but I like Kelly too much. Can't quite figure out where to put Stanley or Kevin, though.

Also, now I'm thinking that no one wants to hear about my TV-related dreams either.... Full Post

Friday, August 15, 2008

Friday Night Fights

Someday, several years from now, when Olivia Bondurant and her dad sit down to talk about Supergirl -- as, inevitably, we will -- she'll bring up the Maid of Might's less popular fashion choices. She'll list the headband and perm of the '80s, the bare midriff of the '90s and '00s, and the hot pants of the '70s.

And I will reply that yes, these were all rather unfortunate to one degree or another; but through it all, Supergirl could still serve up a beatdown.

Strike a pose, Bahlactus!

[From "The Other Side Of Doomsday!" in Super-Team Family #11, June-July 1977. Written by Gerry Conway, pencilled by Alan Weiss, inked by Joe Rubenstein, colored by Jerry Serpe, lettered by Bill Morse.]
Full Post

Harassment is harassment, even at Comic-Con.

John DiBello is a trusted friend of this blog. His disturbing acoount from this year's Comic-Con is crossposted from his pal Bully's site:

Overheard at San Diego Comic-Con while I was having lunch on the balcony of the Convention Center on Sunday July 27: a bunch of guys looking at the digital photos on the camera of another, while he narrated: "These were the Ghostbusters girls. That one, I grabbed her ass, 'cause I wanted to see what her reaction was." This was only one example of several instances of harassment, stalking or assault that I saw at San Diego this time.

1. One of my friends was working at a con booth selling books. She was stalked by a man who came to her booth several times, pestering her to get together for a date that night. One of her co-workers chased him off the final time.

2. On Friday, just before the show closed, this same woman was closing up her tables when a group of four men came to her booth, started taking photographs of her, telling her she was the "prettiest girl at the con." They they entered the booth, started hugging and kissing her and taking photographs of themselves doing so. She was confused and scared, but they left quickly after doing that.

3. Another friend of mine, a woman running her own booth: on Friday a man came to her booth and openly criticized her drawing ability and sense of design. Reports from others in the same section of the floor confirmed he'd targeted several women with the same sort of abuse and criticism.

Quite simply, this behavior has got to stop at Comic-Con. It should never be a sort of place where anyone, man or woman, feels unsafe or attacked either verbally or physically in any shape or form. There are those, sadly, who get off on this sort of behavior and assault, whether it's to professional booth models, cosplayers or costumed women, or women who are just there to work. This is not acceptable behavior under any circumstance, no matter what you look like or how you're dressed, whether you are in a Princess Leia slave girl outfit or business casual for running your booth.

On Saturday, the day after the second event I described above, I pulled out my convention book to investigate what you can do and who you can speak to after such an occurrence. On page two of the book there is a large grey box outlining "Convention Policies," which contain rules against smoking, live animals, wheeled handcarts, recording at video presentations, drawing or aiming your replica weapon, and giving your badge to others. There is nothing about attendee-to-attendee personal behavior.

Page three of the book contains a "Where Is It?" guide to specific Comic-Con events and services. There's no general information room or desk listed, nor is there a contact location for security, so I go to the Guest Relations Desk. I speak to a volunteer manning the desk; she's sympathetic to the situation but who doesn't have a clear answer to my question: "What's Comic-Con's policy and method of dealing with complaints about harassment?" She directs me to the nearest security guard, who is also sympathetic listening to my reports, but short of the women wanting to report the incidents with the names of their harassers, there's little that can be done.

"I understand that," I tell them both, "but what I'm asking is more hypothetical and informational: if there is a set Comic-Con policy on harassment and physical and verbal abuse on Con attendees and exhibitors, and if so, what's the specific procedure by which someone should report it, and specifically where should they go?" But this wasn't a question either could answer.

So, according to published con policy, there is no tolerance for smoking, drawn weapons, personal pages or selling bootleg videos on the floor, and these rules are written down in black and white in the con booklet. There is not a word in the written rules about harassment or the like. I would like to see something like "Comic-Con has zero tolerance for harassment or violence against any of our attendees or exhibitors. Please report instances to a security guard or the Con Office in room XXX."

The first step to preventing such harassment is giving its victims the knowledge that they can safely and swiftly report such instances to someone in authority. Having no published guideline, and indeed being unable to give a clear answer to questions about it, gives harassment and violence one more rep-tape loophole to hide behind.

I enjoyed Comic-Con. I'm looking forward to coming back next year. So, in fact, are the two women whose experiences I've retold above. Aside from those instances, they had a good time at the show. But those instances of harassment shouldn't have happened at all, and that they did under no clear-cut instructions about what to do sadly invites the continuation of such behavior, or even worse.

I don't understand why there's no such written policy about what is not tolerated and what to do when this happens. Is there anyone at Comic-Con able to explain this? Does a similar written policy exist in the booklets for other conventions (SF, comics or otherwise) that could be used as a model? Can it be adapted or adapted, and enforced, for Comic-Con? As the leading event of the comics and pop culture world, Comic-Con should work to make everyone who attends feel comfortable and safe.

There is no good reason why this kind of behavior is even remotely tolerated, and no excuse for Comic-Con not to take steps to address it. I've written sexual-harassment policies myself -- trust me, they're not rocket surgery. If my client had 125,000 attendees' worth of harassment complaints, I'd want one too, and pronto. It might take a few billable hourse to write, but it'd take a potential plaintiff's lawyer just a little longer to allege that Comic-Con's management was liable, even in some small part, for a particular incident.

(sigh) Things like this make it just a little bit easier to stay home from San Diego, even if it means missing out on seeing friends like John.
Full Post

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Not a dream! Not a hoax! Not an imaginary story!

Yeah, yeah, I know ... another weekend gone by with no scans posted, and no new-comics roundups.

Well, this time I have a good excuse ... I became a dad! Mary Helen (a/k/a the Best Wife Ever) and I welcomed our daughter Olivia into the world at 8:36 Central time on Saturday, August 9.

We did miss the big "08/08/08" convergence, but that's OK. Everyone is home from the hospital now and we are getting Olivia adjusted to a good routine. (Obviously we are also adjusting to her.)

Naturally I hope she acquires her dad's tastes in comics, space operas, etc. I put a Dean Trippe Supergirl print in her nursery, to get her started out right.

Anyway, gotta go -- lots to do! Back before too long, I hope.
Full Post

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Well, this can't be right.

So I just finished entering about a year's worth of comics into the Vast Comics Library's spreadsheet (I still have the nine issues of Trinity and this past week's books to do), and looking at the bottom line appears to yield just over 10,000 individual issues.

Let me repeat that: Ten. Thousand. Comic. Books.

My Dad called me last week to ask how many I had, because he'd seen someone on "Jeopardy!" with, like, 1,500. I told him I didn't know, and I ended up lowballing my estimate.

Still, I can't quite believe it. It's all there in the spreadsheet, but it's an awfully big number.

I don't know if I should feel proud, a little embarrassed, or some weird mixture of both....
Full Post

Friday, August 01, 2008

Friday Night Fights

This time around, it's Ladies' Night! Bahlactus commands that at least one combatant must be female ... but hey, look what I just happened to pull from an unorganized stack:

That's right, it's the classic throwdown between Barbara "Call Me Batgirl" Gordon and Katarina "Spy Smasher" Armstrong!

The stakes? How about control of a little ad hoc group of superfolk no one dares call the Birds Of Prey?

"But Tom," you say, "Babs is in that wheelchair for a reason!" Yes, and that's why Manhunter zapped Spy Smasher in the leg.

Although really, I tend to think it's so that Barbara wouldn't hurt her too badly....

Naturally, the multi-page spread which follows this bout shows that none of Babs' operatives will go with Spy Smasher under any circumstances -- but this isn't called "Friday Night Friendships," now is it?

[From "Whitewater Epilogue," Birds Of Prey #108, September 2007. Written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Nicola Scott, inked by Doug Hazlewood, colored by Hi-Fi Designs, lettered by Travis Lanham.]
Full Post

Saturday, July 26, 2008

New comics 7/23/08

Apropos to the release today of the new X Files movie, let's start with The X Files vol. 2 #0, written by show writer/producer Frank Spotnitz and drawn by Brian Denham. It's a 22-page comic book which tells a self-contained story that -- as far as I know -- doesn't tie into the movie at all. Instead, it's chock fulla references to the show, including the "Post Modern Prometheus" episode and the "I made this!" sound bite. Most of its first page is a sequence of images pulled from the opening titles. In short, it seems to want most to say how great!, just great! it is to be back in the saddle.

And an old saddle it is, too -- this is an episode which could have taken place at any time after "PoMoPro" and before Mulder's abduction. I could try to pinpoint it from Scully's hairdo, but I don't have all my DVDs at the moment. The story won't be unfamiliar to fans of the series, since it involves kidnapping, body-hopping, and arrested aging. I wish I could say it was a more lively affair, but what would probably sound natural coming from the actors just comes across flat on the page. Maybe it's because there is little space for anything but the main plot -- very little humor, and nothing in the way of meaningful Mulder/Scully interaction. The plot itself is hard to keep straight, mostly since one of the main players is never seen.

The art, however, is fairly good, and it gets a big boost from Kelsey Shannon's coloring. Shannon keeps things moody for the most part, but occasionally enhances the wide-open spaces which helped convey the show's sense of isolation. (Clouds reflected on a car hood are a nice touch.) Denham does likenesses well, although at times his faces seem two-dimensional. Honestly, this issue reads like one of those 8-page stories TV Guide would advertise in some Special Collector's Issue. I read a good bit of Topps' X Files comic back when the show was in its heyday, so I know that translation need not be a problem. I want to believe (sorry) that this issue's done-in-one format contributed to my problems. This creative team is certainly worth watching, and I'll probably pick up X Files #1.

And as long as we're talking about licensed properties, Star Trek: New Frontier #5 (written by Peter David, drawn by Stephen Thompson) wraps up the current miniseries with an issue which does little to untangle any of its confusing bits. I might read it again, and if I ever decide to catch up on the prose NF offerings, I might find this miniseries more enjoyable. Wish I didn't have to have those conditions, though.

In a nice change of pace from wacky setting-based antics, The Spirit #19 offers three stories, each written by Sergio Aragones and Mark Evanier. They're all fairly pleasant. The first (drawn by Jason Armstrong) reveals how the Spirit dealt with a childhood bully; the second (pencilled by Aluir Amancio and inked by Terry Austin) finds the Spirit catching up to a reformed criminal; and the third (drawn by Paul Rivoche) is a whodunit about the murder of a comic-book artist. Again, it's not that they're done poorly -- far from it -- but nothing strikes me as especially innovative.

I hesitate to say that something like Batman: Gotham After Midnight (#3 written by Steve Niles and drawn by Kelley Jones) comes closer to what I expect from a Spirit book, but GAM does have a unique sense of design. This particular issue features a monstrous Clayface, engorged on the bodies of random Gothamites, and a very silly ending. It's a superhero comic book which isn't ashamed to be a superhero comic book. As part of that aforementioned silly ending, Clayface calls the screaming rabble "puny humans," and Batman commands him to "pick on someone [his] own size." If you don't mind that level of dialogue, and you like Kelley Jones, you'll like this book. In any event, it's better than the Millar/Hitch Fantastic Four.

Green Lantern Corps #26 (written by Peter Tomasi, pencilled by Patrick Gleason, inked by Drew Geraci) concludes the Black Mercy/Mongul storyline in a way that, were Alan Moore dead, might just get him spinning in his grave. I didn't mind it, but I'm a little more forgiving. Mongul suffers an ironic punishment, and Mother Mercy herself ... well, that's the part which I suspect would offend whatever's left in him that hasn't yet been offended by DC. Aah, I'm probably making too much of it. The issue was fine. Tomasi seems to fit better here than at Nightwing, and Gleason and Geraci are reliably good.

Penciller Renato Guedes, inker Wilson Magalhaes, and colorist Hi-Fi provide a nice Jack Kirby pastiche in Superman #678 (written by James Robinson). It fills in the background of Kirby's one-off character Atlas, revealing who brought him into the 21st Century, plus why and how. The rest of the issue continues the fight between Atlas and Superman, ending (much as #677 did) with the promise of more fighting. For his part, Robinson's omniscient narration gives Atlas' story a somewhat wistful tone, although Atlas doesn't seem entirely sympathetic. The present-day scenes are pretty good too -- Atlas is basically a big slab of muscle, drawn beefy and bulky so that he can stand believably against Superman. This is basic superhero stuff -- active figures against believable backgrounds -- but it's all done very well.

More action in Justice League of America #23 (written by Dwayne McDuffie, drawn by Ed Benes), as the JLA takes on Amazo. This time, though, Benes doesn't seem as concerned with his female figures, and the issue benefits as a result. Practically the whole thing is devoted to the fight, with a dozen or so Justice Leaguers each getting their licks in, but Benes keeps everything moving. There are a couple of awkward panels (one where Amazo holds a helpless Flash, one where perspective makes Wonder Woman look about 8 feet tall), but on the whole it was a good issue. McDuffie's script makes Amazo a credible threat and the Leaguers capable opponents.

It wasn't until about halfway through The Brave and the Bold #15 (written by Mark Waid, drawn by Scott Kolins) that I realized this issue's headliners (Nightwing and Hawkman) were intended to match up with last issue's (Deadman and Green Arrow). Nightwing and Deadman both come from the circus (Deadman's costume even inspired Nightwing's first one), and Green Arrow and Hawkman have a longstanding friendly rivalry. Anyway, this issue boils down to pushing the Reset Button, but first, Nightwing must trick every other superhero (including Ambush Bug!) into leaving the planet. Therefore, he and Hawkman (the designated expert on magic) have no backup as they storm the demon-possessed Nanda Parbat. Like JLA, it's well-choreographed action backed up by snappy dialogue.

And finally, if snappy dialogue is what you crave, look no farther than to Ambush Bug: Year None #1 (plotted and pencilled by Keith Giffen, scripted by Robert Loren Fleming, inked by Al Milgrom). Its sense of humor might not be for everyone. This particular issue mocks DC's alleged misogyny, with the Bug asking right off the bat "[d]o you have any major appliances that don't come with a dead body in it?" and the female salesperson replying "It's a standard feature." Indeed, throughout the issue female corpses are used as cannon fodder (which I think refers to something tasteless Bill Willingham said last year in San Diego). Anyway, ABYN's targets are many and varied, but modern storytelling techniques get hit pretty hard, especially narrative-caption boxes. Oh, how I laughed. This may be 2008's Architecture and Mortality; and if you remember how much I liked that story, that's pretty high praise.
Full Post