Friday, July 30, 2004

Last week's comics: more "What the--?" than not

The batch of reviews for last week got lost in the shuffle of packing for San Diego. Still, I can sum up about half of last week's books under the "What was THAT about?" heading. Thumbs up for Captain Marvel #25, Flash #212, Birds of Prey #70, and the second half of DC Comics Presents Green Lantern #1. Thumbs down on Batman: Gotham Knights #55, Adventures of Superman #630, Justice League Elite #1, Robin #128, and the first half of DCCP Green Lantern. Seaguy #3 could fall into either category, but "Huh?" is probably the reaction I was supposed to have from it.

Here are the details, from (roughly) worst to first.

Batman: Gotham Knights #55: Story by A.J. Lieberman, art by Al Barrionuevo and Francis Portela. It's the conclusion of a story following up on last year's mega-event "Hush" over in Batman. Hush (the new villain) is after the Riddler and hires Prometheus (another fairly new villain) to take out the Riddler and Batman. The Riddler contacts the Joker for protection, offering to tell the Joker which cop is responsible for a tragedy in Joker's past. My first problem is that this storyline portrays the Joker with long stretches of lucidity, and even rationality. This means there is nothing funny or scary about him; he might as well be Ronald McDonald with a different color scheme. Hush gives Joker a beating, but since Joker's effectively been neutered already, we don't much care. (Actually, we care because Hush is a lame villain compared to the Joker, and we are a little sick at the way Hush is elevated over Joker -- but that wasn't the point.) Speaking of neutered villains, Prometheus (originally created specifically to be a better fighter than Batman) shoots and misses targets twice at point-blank range. Everybody gets away from everyone else, and nothing is really resolved. Whoopee.

Adventures of Superman #630: Written by Greg Rucka; art by Matthew Clark. I usually like Rucka, but here he takes a detour into wackyland. In the middle of a hostage crisis, Superman is whisked away by Mr. Mxyzptlk. Mxy wants to warn Supes about bad times ahead, but he's prohibited from so doing. Rucka's in-jokes fell flat for me, and Clark's portrayal of Mxy suggests somehow a thinner Archie Bunker with a limited range of expression. I'm sure this will make more sense in the grander scheme of things, but for this week it was a head-scratcher.

Justice League Elite #1 (of 12): Written by Joe Kelly; art by Doug Mahnke. "Superhero black ops" is probably the best way to describe this series. It takes the conceit that one could have "undercover" work in a subculture of costumed villains and mercenaries, and mixes in a few Justice Leaguers. Issue #1 is the basic "infiltrate the bad guys by showing how bad you are" plot, with a Mission: Impossible-style twist at the end. The plot involves Deathstroke, an assassin who also figures prominently in Identity Crisis, so it was hard here to tell which side he was on. At the end I didn't really care that much.

Robin #128: Written by Bill Willingham; art by DaMion Scott. On the trail of Scarab, the killer of potential Boys Wonder, Robin earns first praise and then condemnation from Batman. The art is still off-putting, as Scott seems eager to play with the relative sizes of Batman and Robin. On page 3, for example, they look about the same height, and Batman seems slender but athletic. (Robin's body is bottom-heavy, like a half-full water balloon, but I'll chalk that up to perspective.) Other scenes, especially in the Batcave, make Batman a massive individual, bulked-up and towering over Robin. There is a cliffhanger of sorts to end the issue, but I am skeptical about its effectiveness. We'll see who's Robin after the big "War Games" event concludes in October.

DC Comics Presents Green Lantern: The first half of this issue, a story by Brian Azzarello with art by Norm Breyfogle, is apparently a "throwback" tale designed to capture the carefree spirit of 1960s DC. However, it's spoiled by a truly bizarre denouement -- casting the rest of the Justice League as insensitive jerks -- which wastes the goodwill the tale had managed to engender with me. The second story, written by Martin Pasko with art by Scott McDaniel, is more rooted in reality (so to speak), working in longtime GL co-star Green Arrow, some social commentary, and a glimpse into GL's rocky childhood. Both stories riff on the unlimited possibilities a power ring offers, and both comment on how an individual personality will hold that power in check, consciously or not. I'll probably have more to say about Green Lantern in the weeks ahead, so I'll reserve judgment on this for now.

Captain Marvel #25: The last issue of writer Peter David's 5-year run on this character (across two series) is a mordantly funny demolition of the fourth wall (or, in a 2-d medium, the third wall?). Since it's also the series' last issue, our hero is henceforth relegated to comic-book limbo. For me, having read the entire run, there were some confusing stories (especially in this series), but the end is still poignant.

Flash #212: Written by Geoff Johns; art by Steven Cummings and Wayne Faucher. Here's the life story of the Mirror Master, and a grim one it is. The story is told proficiently, and since it's about a villain, it's not supposed to be pleasant; but at the end of the day I'm not sure whether to feel sorry for the guy or hate him. I tend to think this story serves a larger purpose in an upcoming arc, so we'll see how it pans out.

Birds of Prey #70: Written by Gail Simone; art by Ed Benes. Huntress investigates further into the superhero-centered cult. Meanwhile, after giving a former adversary a chance to do some good, Oracle is attacked through her computer. There's a good blend of fights, character bits, and plot advancement here, plus a couple of cliffhangers. I still don't like Huntress' current costume, but that's not the current team's fault.

Last is Seaguy #3, written by Grant Morrison with art by Cameron Stewart. This is the conclusion of a 3-issue miniseries, but I hope there's more. Not because I'm completely on Morrison's wavelength or anything; far from it. If I had to guess I'd say this miniseries was about the inherent innocence of superheroes and their manipulation by corporate masters, but that's as far as my analysis goes for now. No, I want more because Morrison and Stewart did create a couple of likeable, innocent characters in Seaguy and his sidekick -- and then put them through some horrific paces. It's almost like Pilgrim's Progress. These guys deserve a happy ending, so I hope they get one soon enough.
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Monday, July 26, 2004

A brief bio

Now that the site's being updated on the Comics Weblog Update page, I might actually start getting outside traffic. For those of you who may be curious, here's a little about me.

I was born November 1, 1969, and started reading comics at a fairly early age. I read mostly DC, including Justice League of America, Flash, the Batman books, and the Superman books. Memorable stories from that period include the Justice League/Justice Society team-ups, the Avengers squaring off against Count Nefaria (with art by John Byrne, although I didn't realize the significance of Byrne at the time), the last issues of the old Teen Titans series (featuring Titans West), Marshall Rogers drawing Batman in Detective, and the first few issues of New Teen Titans. In fact, probably the last comics I read for a while were Teen Titans.

In those days I was exposed to older comics through hardback collections -- the volumes focusing on Batman and Superman, and the Encyclopedia of Comic Book Heroes volumes featuring Batman and Wonder Woman. I read paperback-sized reprints of the first Amazing Spider-Mans and Fantastic Fours, and tabloid-sized Famous 1st Editions reprinting key DC issues. One of the creepiest stories I remember from childhood was a tabloid-sized reprint of the "Spidey gets 4 extra arms" tale which began in Amazing Spider-Man #100.

Of course, TV was a big part of my early exposure to science-fiction and superheroes. There were Star Trek reruns on Sunday mornings and Batman reruns weekday afternoons. Super Friends debuted around the time I started watching cartoons, and it was soon followed by a Batman-only cartoon. I watched The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman. The biggest wave probably hit in 1977, when I saw Star Wars for the first time. My mom said it would change my life, and sure enough....

Still, I was getting older, and once I got out of 6th grade, started drifting away from comics. 7th graders were more mature than that, after all. I did something much cooler with my time -- I started playing Dungeons & Dragons with my new friends from junior high. I got very into role-playing games at this point, and when the Star Trek RPG came out, it renewed my interest in Trek. Star Trek II came out the summer after 7th grade; Return of the Jedi got me from 8th grade to 9th grade; and Star Trek III closed out my junior-high career.

Those movies got me back into comics. Starting in 10th grade, I joined a new D&D group, and it became my habit to stop by a convenience store on the way. Along with the Tahitian Treat and York Peppermint Patties, one weekend in the fall of 1984 I picked up DC's Star Trek #9. The third Trek movie had left its heroes unsettled, facing courts-martial, and without the starship that had been their home. At the awkward age of 14, I had gotten emotionally invested in the former crew of the Enterprise, and Star Trek #9 picked up where the movie left off. I devoured this comic and sought out the ones which preceded it. It led me to a little hole-in-the-wall shop on the edge of the UK campus, where I soon learned that new comics arrived every Friday. By the summer of 1985 I too was there every week, getting new books and accumulating back issues. I borrowed New Teen Titans, All-Star Squadron, and Firestorm from a friend.

I took comics on vacation and to band camp. When school started in 1986, I finally had a girlfriend, and I stopped going to D&D on Saturday nights. I kept getting comics. As 1987 dawned, the girlfriend had gone, but I kept getting comics. Comics helped get me through four years of college and three years of law school. In the nine years I've been practicing law, I've continued to buy, read, and collect them.

As you can see from the earlier posts, I read mostly superhero comics. Superheroes dominate comic books like sports dominate television, and like TV, comics have a lot more than superheroes. I wish I read more of the non-superhero books, but old habits die hard.

Actually, the way I think about it, I started reading comics because they could portray fantastic events. Prose can do that too, of course, manipulating a little thing we like to call "imagination," but comics require a certain amount of imagination too -- for example, when the mind fills in the gaps between panels. As a kid, comics, prose, and moving pictures all stimulated my developing mind. On that level I just wanted escapism, and it turns out I always have.

So I probably read comics because they tell me about superheroes, not because that's all I think comics should be. I suppose that's why there are so many words devoted to the four Robins. I'm not sure why I'm so fascinated by these characters, but you see the results. I'm trying to be a little less verbose on this site too -- I'll probably start a "Since You Asked" feature for the newer folks.

By the way, here's some rundown on the non-comics areas: I play the trombone; I read a lot of nonfiction; I start the day with Don Imus and finish it with Jon Stewart. For the past 5 years, I represented poor people as an attorney for a nonprofit agency. I did a lot of domestic-relations work, including child custody and divorce. (If you've ever come home and wanted something that totally didn't remind you of your job, comics are pretty good for taking your mind off hellish divorces.) Now I'm getting back into private practice. I watch college basketball and pro football, and listen to a lot of music. I'm married to the best wife a guy could have, who supports my love of superheroes, sci-fi, and all the other things I thought I'd have to tone down.

Anyway, if you've slogged through all of this, congratulations, because I know it can get pretty thick. Bear with me, and please come back. Thanks for reading!

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San Diego Diary, Last Day

Saturday, July 24

Woke up in the middle of the night thanks to stereo snoring. One would snore and the other would answer. Very strange.

Tried to make up for the room-service imbroglio from yesterday by getting my own breakfast. Everybody else was still asleep, so after getting cleaned up, I moseyed down to the hotel restaurant and had granola and a croissant on the veranda by the pool. Read the New York Times, too. It felt very high-toned.

The water taxi didn't start until 10:00 a.m., so I was late getting to the 10:00 "Lost" panel. For those who don't know, Lost is a new ABC series from JJ Abrams, the creator of Alias. My lovely wife and I are big Alias fans, and she asked about the panel when we talked on Friday night, so I figured I had to make a decent effort to get there.

Went to Room 20, but the panel had moved across the convention center and it was a pretty good hike to get there. Still saw about 15 minutes of the first episode -- survivors of a plane crash explore the wreckage and get terrorized by some mysterious thing. All things considered, it was probably good I didn't see the actual plane-crash scenes. After the show, the cast and some of the writers came out for Q & A. Dominic Monaghan, who played Merry in Lord of the Rings, is in this show, and he was the subject of much squealing and screaming from what I took to be the teenage girls in the first few rows. Not bad for a guy I thought was the Ringo of the four hobbits. Neither Abrams nor Greg Grunberg (an Alias alum who is also in Lost) was on stage, which was a little disappointing, but it was still a good presentation.

After about an hour on the convention floor, it was time for the Identity Crisis panel. I had expected a little more acrimony from the crowd, considering that the series has done some pretty horrible things to a character who was always pretty light-hearted. However, everyone was cordial, and the phrase "love-fest" was used a few times. I suppose the people who don't much like IC wouldn't have come to the panel just to vent, but I was surprised nobody said anything negative. I asked a question and, after the panel, made a couple of positive comments to writer Brad Meltzer.

Dropped in on the Cartoon Voices panel next, and enjoyed stories from Tom Kenny (who voices SpongeBob and a couple of characters on The Powerpuff Girls) and Billy West (who starred in Futurama and Ren & Stimpy). Left that one early to go to the Pros vs. Fans Trivia Challenge. Before that panel, I talked to Mark Waid and Kurt Busiek and basically told them they'd "made my year" for JLA/Avengers and Superman: Birthright. I then told Waid his first Fantastic Four issue was one of the best single issues of comics I'd read. None of these were real exaggerations -- I did enjoy JLA/Avengers even though, and probably because, it was blatant pandering to the fans. I do like Birthright, which revised Superman's first adventures, better than its predecessor Man of Steel. The reinterpretation that Waid outlined for Reed Richards, leader of the Fantastic Four, did really stun me. (Waid told me it was editor Tom Brevoort's idea.) I try to say something nice to everyone, even Chuck Austen, just to be nice -- but I wanted these guys to know how much I appreciated their work. Busiek' s going to be the regular writer of JLA next year, so I'm excited about that.

Anyway, the trivia panel was fun enough. They took questions from the audience for a while, and I contributed a couple. It wasn't as entertaining as I'd seen it, but it was still diverting.

The general DC Comics panel was next. I'd heard most of the information before at other panels, but it was announced that DC would start reprinting every single Batman story in order, in paperback form. I wonder how long DC will stick with this, because a complete set of Batman stories just through the 1970s would cover half a wall.

Caught up with Sam on the convention floor, and we walked around while he shopped for his kids and waited for his panel to begin. I had already gotten my wife a couple of gifts, and took them to the on-site UPS store to be shipped back. (One thing about coming to San Diego -- I always limit myself to carry-on baggage, and my bags were pretty full. By this point, they were a lot heavier too.)

Sam did pretty well on his panel. He was on with several other sculptors, talking about making action figures. Most of the crowd were artists themselves, so hopefully they found it informative. We left the convention, caught a taxi, and got to the airport about 2 hours before the flight was supposed to leave.

Sunday, July 25

We left San Diego at about 1:30 a.m. EDT and flew straight to Atlanta. I slept for about 2-3 hours on the plane, and the rest of the time tried to drown out the cabin noise with my MP3 player. We landed in Atlanta at 5:00 a.m., where we settled in for a 2 1/2 hour layover. This consisted of watching Airport CNN, listening to the piercing beeps of the courtesy golf cart making its rounds, and growing slowly colder under the glacial influence of determined air conditioning. A little plane, like the one which took us to Dallas, returned us to Lexington. I got home about 9:30 a.m., took a shower, and went to church.

Before too long, my wife will have to experience all of this.

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Check me out!

First update on the Omnibus Blog Update website!
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San Diego Diary, Day 2

Friday, July 23

Going to Comic-Con inevitably reminds me of going on marching band trips. I am always just on the outskirts of feeling sufficiently socialized to deal with these ritzy settings, and here I am doing something which many people consider somewhat juvenile. This is a long way of saying I couldn't navigate the room-service menu well enough to order for 4 people and still keep within our budget.

Friday also saw the arrival of the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan, which would have San Diego as its home port. All the local TV stations gave it massive coverage, of course. Nancy was there. We had no idea whether it would come close enough to us to affect the water taxi. It didn't, but I halfway expected to go out to the dock and see a couple of destroyers floating calmly between me and the convention. We did count at least 4 helicopters hovering over the city. Don't know whether they were news or military. Probably both.

The big attraction for me on Friday was the Batman Begins panel, because I hoped they'd premiere the rumored teaser trailer. No such luck. Instead, we 6,500 assembled in Hall H got an entertaining session with writer David Goyer and actor Cillian (Scarecrow) Murphy. Goyer assured us that he was more than pleased with the way the film turned out; it's the Batman film he's always wanted to see; and nothing anyone hated about the last four movies is in this one. There was also a taped greeting from director Chris Nolan and star Christian Bale. Bale looked fidgety and tired, but maybe that's just me.

The BB show also included a look at Constantine. I wonder if anyone at Warner Bros. appreciated the irony of putting these two movies together. Batman had long been rumored to be the most faithful adaptation of the comics, whereas Constantine took a character conceived as a seedy bleach-blond British occult con-man and turned him into an American played by Keanu Reeves. (The original model for the character, some 20 years ago, was Sting.) In other words, fans came to be reassured about Batman, and quite possibly to vent about the liberties being taken with Constantine. However, Warners did a pretty credible job of showing that Constantine would still be a dark, disturbing trip through Heaven and Hell, and Keanu (who was there in person) acquitted himself well. I had no interest in Constantine before this presentation, but I do now.

Warners also showed trailers for its Exorcist prequel (it tried hard, but not quite) and A Sound of Thunder. The latter is based on the Ray Bradbury short story about a group of hunters who travel back in time to hunt a tyrannosaur and end up changing history. The trailer had the advantage of being introduced by Mr. Bradbury, and it was nice to see how many people of all ages still appreciate him and his contributions to SF/F. Thunder looks pretty decent -- more of an action film than an ironic commentary, but probably enjoyable.

Next up for me was the Superman panel. There were a couple of interesting tidbits about the books themselves. Adventures of Superman writer Greg Rucka said that writing Superman isn't easy because of his powers, it's hard because you have to tell a good story despite the powers. (I'm paraphrasing terribly.) Superman/Batman writer Jeph Loeb disclosed that he plans to leave the book after about another year, and explained that his next big arc on the book would have our heroes taking over the world.

The panel was dominated by a couple of fans who started arguing with the creators. The first one said he felt lost by the changes in the books since April (when new creative teams took over) and wanted to know if he should have gotten any special issue. The short answer was no, he was supposed to feel lost; but this took quite a while to sink in. The other guy wanted to know why there were so many new one-off villains, and couldn't the creators use some of the older, more familiar ones? Again, the short answer was that the writers and artists got paid to think up new things. That was met with a conspiratorial "that's just a publisher's directive" reply, but Rucka basically said they all liked thinking up new villains, not just doing the latest Luthor story.

However, I did get to talk to Chuck Austen and Super-editor Eddie Berganza after the panel. Austen confirmed for me that the wacky doctor was based on Jack Black. Berganza was very gracious with his time, answering my questions about whether Clark Kent was slated exclusively for Adventures, and talking about the time-twisting ramifications of Superman #200 and Superman: Birthright. He didn't have to be as nice as he was, so I appreciated his time.

After bumming around a couple of other panels for an hour or so, I went to the Warner Bros. Animation presentation, which talked about the Cartoon Network series Justice League Unlimited, Teen Titans, and The Batman. The Justice League and Teen Titans presentations were pretty entertaining, and most of the Titans cast was there. As for The Batman (so named to distinguish itself from the long-running Batman: The Animated Series), an entire episode was shown (featuring Man-Bat), but much of the comments seemed designed to assure fans of the earlier series that they had the utmost respect for the show's predecessor and would be happy if the new one were half as good. The episode itself was OK. While the vigilante Batman is being chased by the police, the monstrous Man-Bat appears, and the chaos he causes rubs off on Batman's reputation. It didn't seem as deep as an average episode of the earlier series, but it's hard to judge.

Still didn't get a chance to hand out any cards.

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San Diego Diary, Day 1

Thursday, July 22

Going to San Diego was different this year for a couple of reasons. I was a little nervous about flying. By coincidence, this would be the first time I'd flown since 9/11. In fact, the last time I'd been on a plane was the 2001 Comic-Con.

I'd also skipped the '02 and '03 Cons because I was too busy getting engaged and married to afford going out there. Ironically, though, my wife would be flying out of town about 90 minutes before I was supposed to get back, so after I left the house Thursday morning, we wouldn't see each other for a week.

I'd also bought my first cell phone, which made navigating the con a lot easier. I go mostly as a guest of my buddy Sam, who's part of "the industry." This means I get a pass which marks me as "professional" -- or, this year, just "industry" -- and it means I have to explain why an attorney with no discernable professional connection to comics has such a tag. Because I hate sounding like a hanger-on, I usually just tell people I've represented Sam in the past, which is true. This year I have the new blog, but old habits die hard. Anyway, Sam schmoozes while I go to panels and scour back-issue bins, so we get separated pretty quickly.

Left the house at 5:40 a.m. and, after a brief stop to pick up Sam's portfolios, headed for the airport. Security was not a hassle at all, although I did have to take off my running shoes. Saw a couple of people from church at the gate and talked to them about current church events. A group of high-spirited teens was also there, and since I have little tolerance for peppy people before sunrise, was very glad they weren't on our flight.

Thunder had awakened me initially, but it passed through before I left the house. Now, however, a second wave of strong storms was moving in, and the airport was caught in a pretty good deluge. Our flight was delayed to make sure the fueling truck wouldn't be hit by lightning. I want to say there were other electrical problems which almost forced us to deplane, but those were cleared up (still leaving us passengers a little nervous) and we left 30 minutes late, about 8:00 a.m.

The flight was routed through Dallas, so with the lateness of our departure from Lexington, we got to the gate at DFW just in time to see them boarding. We literally had no time to sit down. The plane from LEX to DFW had fewer than 50 seats, making the 737 we flew to San Diego a pleasant, roomier change. The flight to San Diego was uneventful.

It's not like I am an experienced air traveler, but the San Diego airport is almost like a mall. The crowds are managed well, there's a lot of sunlight, and the Delta terminal is situated very close to the ground-transportation plaza outside. When we landed at 10:30 Pacific time, we did see a long line stretching from the security checkpoints out the doors and across the skybridge, so we resolved to get to the airport early on Saturday night.

We shuttled into town with a couple of beautiful people who had flown in for a wedding. They were from Houston. We explained that we were from Kentucky, and had come to the convention a few times before. For some reason they asked our opinion on why property taxes were so much higher in Los Angeles than in San Diego. Not knowing why they thought two Kentuckians would know, we faked an answer that seemed to satisfy them. What with dropping off the rest of the shuttle passengers, it took us about an hour to get to our hotel, the Marriott Coronado Resort.

We had originally planned to stay at the Marriott next to the convention center, but the travel agency overbooked rooms and Sam wangled the Coronado at the last minute. It is located across the bay from downtown, meaning we had to take a water taxi to get to the show. The Coronado is a fairly nice hotel, but it suffered a little from not being on a beach. I am probably being slightly unfair to it because we didn't spend a whole lot of time there -- the water taxi kept a strict schedule and cost $5.00 one way.

This meant I missed the first panel of interest ("Focus on Walt and Louise Simonson," about a married couple who between them worked on Fantastic Four, Thor, and Superman), but I got my badge (my name was misspelled) and started shopping. Within about an hour I'd bought most of what I came for, so I headed back to the room to drop off the heavy stack.

Spent the rest of the day Thursday going to panels. I had wanted to ask a couple of Robin-related questions at the Batman panel (the last one of the day) but boiled them down to "Will we see more Robin in Batman and Detective?" The answer was a vague yes. I get the impression from the Batman writers and artists that they joke a lot about Robin, which is understandable. Besides, these panels are not Meet the Press, although sometimes you can start to think they are.

We had dinner Thursday night at The Yacht Club, a Marriott restaurant next to the convention center. We were there with Sam's colleagues, who were waiting for a couple of guys to arrive. These guys were sculptors who would be staying with us. By this time it was 10:00 p.m. Eastern and I was starting to get cranky. I didn't quite fall asleep at the restaurant, nor did I snap at anyone, but came close on both counts. (At 2:30 EDT I grumbled, "Why stop now?") We finally got back to the Coronado around 3:00 a.m. Eastern, and after getting the two other guys situated in our room, went to sleep.

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Thursday, July 15, 2004

Who needed the glasses here...?

"Superman Takes A Wife!", from Action Comics #484 (June 1978), is one of my favorite Superman stories, odd quasi-Biblical title and all. I got the Superman in the Seventies paperback mostly because it reprinted that story. I love its retro, mature, cusp-of-the-'50s feel. I love that Curt Swan really tried to ape the period style of Wayne Boring, even though Swan's style is iconic.


Lois marries Clark never having learned that he was Superman. (Clark is still super, he's just magically forgotten his other identity, and Superman's been missing for a year.) Lois' old suspicions come back when Clark survives a machine-gun attack while swimming.

Now, Lois has spent the better part of 15 years or so analyzing the differences between Clark and Superman. In fact, after Supes disappeared, Lois grew more attracted to Clark because Clark became less of a pushover. When Clark is attacked, Lois sees him swimming without his glasses. That night they sleep together, and she finally catches on -- by trying to cut his invulnerable hair. Never mind that when he's sleeping, he doesn't have his glasses, and darn if he doesn't look like Superman!

Because the story takes place in the '50s, I can accept that this particular day was the first time she'd seen him au naturale, as it were. I'm just a little amazed that she doesn't notice a resemblance when he first comes out of the water. He's completely unscathed, and her reaction is not a shouted "HOLY ****!" but a thought of "Could it be...?"

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New Comics for July 14, Part 2

I forgot to mention that Part 1 featured all the "team" books, but you probably noticed the theme. Here are the rest.

Action Comics #817: Written by Chuck Austen; drawn by Ivan Reis and Marc Campos. A wounded Superman recovers at STAR Labs after the last few issues' worth of fighting with Gog. However, several B-list villains who didn't make the cut for Identity Crisis have learned Supes is vulnerable, and attack the facility. As it happens, Wonder Woman and Superboy are there to help, but the Weapons Master manages to get through and provide the cliffhanger. The art carries the book, maybe by design -- it doesn't seem too hard to write snappy dialogue for fight scenes, and since Austen took over in April, that's primarily what Action has delivered. Still, Austen gives us satirical characters -- Jack Ryder, a Jerry Springer/Morton Downey-like newscaster whose cameraman sacrifices himself for the story; and Mohlman, an annoying, nerdish doctor who in the movie would be played by a bleached-blond Jack Black. Both are fairly broad, and the cameraman comes off the best. It's hard to take the whole thing too seriously when it begins and ends with somber announcements about Superman's death.

DC Comics Presents Mystery In Space: The Julius Schwartz tribute continues this week with Adam Strange, an Earthman periodically teleported to the planet Rann via "Zeta-Beam" (and no, his Rannian wife is not named "Catherine Zeta-Beam"). The two stories herein are inspired by a cover where Adam must choose between stopping an atomic blast on Earth or a giant heat-beam on Rann. The first story, by veteran Superman writer Elliot S! Maggin and artist J.H. Williams, is a more literal interpretation of the cover. When Adam's advanced Rannian technology falls into the hands of a corrupt Earth government, it creates a nuclear crisis which guest-star the Elongated Man must solve; since Adam himself must take out a rogue weather-control device on Rann. The resolution is a neat bit of dovetailing worthy of "Seinfeld."

The second story, written by Grant Morrison with art by Jerry Ordway, is a more conceptual riff on "two worlds." It juxtaposes an Army attempt to invade Rann with commentary on Adam's editor Julius Schwartz, DC's sci-fi heroes of the Space Age, and the readers of the original Mystery in Space. This unconventional approach argues that the children who read Adam's fantastic adventures in their youth grew up to face the struggles of the 1960s, and hope for a better world. The message is somewhat more poignant given that DC's comics of the 1960s sought to keep out those harsh realities -- and Adam himself was literally able to escape Earth for a comparatively idyllic life on another planet. All in all, this was a fine installment in what hopefully will be a fitting tribute.

And now, the Batman books.

Gotham Central #21: Written by Ed Brubaker; art by Michael Lark and Stefano Gaudiano. This is the penultimate chapter of "Un(re)solved," but just like last issue (and like the cop shows this book emulates) there's a helpful "Previously in Gotham Central" recap page. Basically, the Mad Hatter is being questioned for his role in killing a high-school baseball team several years before. Also suspects are two former students, now adults but then ostracized for being nerds. There is some thought that the Penguin might have wanted the team dead as part of his gambling operations. Finally, the detective on the case was Harvey Bullock, now disgraced for killing a man who shot former Commissioner Gordon. Most of the issue follows detectives Driver and MacDonald questioning the Mad Hatter (who's locked up), Bullock, the ex-nerds, and the Hatter's former landlady about his involvement -- but by the end of the issue, things have gone south and the investigation might be compromised. I really like this book -- the characters all talk like real people (or at least real TV cops, which may well be a step up for comics) and the art is gloomy, almost photorealistic. When fantastic characters like Batman and his villains show up here, they still look natural. There is a Gotham Central paperback out, collecting the first 7 issues, which is a great way to get into this ambitious series.

Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #181: Written by Dylan Horrocks; art by Ramon Bachs and Jon Holredge. Barbara Gordon gets to slip into Batgirl's skin again, at least in cyberspace, as she tries to find out who's been killing hackers. Along the way, Batman gets to question a mob boss's daughter, who Bruce Wayne knew from summer camp and who blames Batman for her father's incapacity. The best part of the story involves one hacker's attempt to take out another by hijacking a cruise missile. The revelation of the killer's identity is both surprising and novel, and the art isn't bad. It tries to blend different styles in the "cyberspace" segments, to reflect the different genres of characters in the computer universe. While the story doesn't say anything new about Batman or Barbara, I've read worse, including in this series.

Superman/Batman #11: Written by Jeph Loeb; drawn by Michael Turner and Peter Steigerwald. Part 4 of "The Supergirl From Krypton" finds Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman invading Apokolips (with the help of former Apokoliptian Big Barda) to rescue Superman's ostensible cousin Kara from the evil despot Darkseid. Even if I hadn't seen the cover of the next issue, I wouldn't have been surprised at the ending for this one -- but I'm getting ahead of myself. Wonder Woman and Barda fight Barda's old colleagues, the Female Furies. (This includes Barda's admission that WW "inspired" her; never mind that these days, Barda was around for a few years before WW showed up.) Batman fights giant Demon Dogs. Superman finally catches up to Darkseid, but we don't get to see him fight too much.

Along the way, dialogue and our heroes' internal monologues drive home the point that 1) Batman doesn't trust Kara, 2) Superman trusts her implicitly, 2a) this is no different than if Batman were going to rescue Robin, and 3) Kara's stay on Paradise Island made her partly Wonder Woman's responsibility. Ever since Jeph Loeb started writing this series, I have been annoyed with his use of dueling first-person narration for Supes and Batman; and here, when he actually stops using it (for the Wonder Woman scenes, naturally), the issue improves noticeably. To me this series has become an excuse for "big dumb fun," and has turned out to be an overwrought exercise in -- for lack of a better term -- "stunt plotting." There are probably a half-dozen better ways for these high-profile heroes to find out the truth about Kara, but apparently they are not as marketable as "Three Justice Leaguers Attack Apokolips!" Oh well; it'll be over in two months.

Batman: The Order Of Beasts: Eddie Campbell's one-shot is an "Elseworlds" tale of Bruce Wayne traveling to 1939 London and getting tangled in a murder mystery involving an animal-themed cult. Despite the monochromatic color palette and the unassuming artwork, the word that comes immediately to mind is "jaunty." Campbell presents a Batman who isn't quite as grim or driven as the current version. He's just starting out and makes little mental notes as to how he can improve his crimefighting skills. He's also accepted by local law enforcement without much question -- just a transatlantic call to Commissioner Gordon to check his bona fides. Campbell's Batman is depicted as a guy in a suit, almost as if he were drawing Adam West, but he never makes Batman a ridiculous figure. The mystery itself goes from plot point to plot point without much trouble, making for a light bit of entertainment that captures the spirit of the Darknight Detective.
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New Comics for July 14, Part 1

Big week this week, including several good issues. Since I’m turning out to be long-winded, I’m breaking these up into two posts.

Identity Crisis #2: Written by Brad Meltzer, drawn by Rags Morales and Michael Bair. Two basic storylines this issue –- a flashback to the “Satellite Era” of the Justice League (judging from Zatanna’s costume and the dialogue about Iris Allen’s death, around 1979-80) and checking in with the B-list villains in the old Injustice Gang satellite. The murder mystery is still intriguing, although there are some rather unsavory images surrounding the hideous events of the flashback. (In this respect IC is closer in spirit to the old Squadron Supreme maxiseries than the current Supreme Power is.) I have to say that the hype is fairly accurate –- this was a shocking episode for the old League, and their reaction will probably color my perception of them and Dr. Light for a while to come. Anyway, while the Leaguers square off against Light in the present, Dr. Mid-Nite’s autopsy reveals a surprise about the murder. It’s nothing earth-shattering, and like I said the story is still pretty involving. One word about the art, not that it’s not good: Morales and Bair make Light look suitably creepy, and Hawkman (thanks mostly to the mask) looks menacing, driven, and in charge. Since they represent opposite sides in this story, their depictions are good shorthand for the villain’s mania and the heroes’ determination.

The Legion #35: Gail Simone, Dan Jurgens, and Andy Smith come aboard to wrap up this Legion series. (Mark Waid and Barry Kitson take over in the fall.) Obviously the first thing one notices is the fetishistic cover, with Dreamer and her prominent breasts held prisoner by our new villain. (It looks like Adam Hughes art, but I can’t find a credit.) Actually, while the exact image isn’t in the story itself, Dreamer’s captivity is an important part of the plot, so I can’t entirely fault DC. They sure are– I mean, the cover sure is eye-catching....

Ahem. The story itself is quite good, featuring an attack by mysterious villains reminiscent of familiar modern-day DC heroes. They plan to assassinate the United Planets’ President, but that’s only the beginning. I am of two minds about making allusions to modern DC characters -- on one hand, it might indicate the series couldn’t stand on its own; but on the other, it takes advantage of “DC history.” Coming off a storyline which brought evil versions of those heroes into the future to fight the Legion, it seems redundant, but then again, these aren’t quite the same characters.

Simone gives the Legion a more accessible sense of humor (i.e., not as many in-jokes) and places them in a 31st Century Metropolis which feels more “real” than previous incarnations. (The opening pages show readers a floating prison which gives new meaning to the phrase “Not In My Backyard.”) Jurgens’ pencils are less stiff here than usual, perhaps because he’s only credited with breakdowns. Andy Smith’s finishes soften Jurgens’ lines and Sno-Cone’s colors give the figures depth and dimension. The color palette is particularly rich here, spread among the cool hues of the city, the harsh tones of the villain’s hideout, the darkness of the prison, and the vibrancy of the Legion uniforms. Legion is biweekly too for the duration of the story, so get this issue now and come back in two weeks!

Teen Titans #13: This is Part 1 of a story featuring Beast Boy’s powers “infecting” schoolchildren. Writer Geoff Johns also takes the opportunity to catch up with the Titans in general through a window-shopping interlude and a visit to the doctor. Penciller Tom Grummett has handled most of these characters before in his career –- the older Titans in the classic New Titans series, and Robin and Superboy in their respective solo series -- so it's nice to see him back. One panel of the Titans strolling downtown shows their relative heights (Cyborg and Starfire are tallest, Beast Boy is about a head shorter, and Raven, Kid Flash, and Wonder Girl are shorter still) and helps illustrate the characters’ age differences and the fact that the younger members are truly adolescent.

As the cover promises, Superboy confronts the new Robin, Stephanie Brown, and is none too happy to hear about Tim Drake’s absence. Again, Grummett drew both of these characters for many years in the Robin and Superboy books, so here he makes them both move with ease and fluidity. His take on Stephanie is a nice compromise between the stylization of Damion Scott and the more “realistic” approach of Pete Woods, and I hope Stephanie shows up in these pages again.

JSA #63: Apparently this is Old Home Week for artists. Penciller Jerry Ordway returns to the characters which helped make him famous in the 1980s (in All-Star Squadron and Infinity, Inc.). His clean, dynamic work, here inked by Wayne Faucher, is always welcome. Geoff Johns writes this book too, and unlike Titans, it is fairly continuity-heavy and seeks to pull together a few subplots imbedded throughout the book’s history. Let’s put it this way –- the Justice Society is “visited” by Sand, its former chairman, who was somehow lost in the bowels of the earth. At the same time, Hector Hall, the current Dr. Fate, seeks to rein in Nabu, the Lord of Order who lives in his magic amulet. It starts to get tangled when you realize that Hector was also a hero called Sandman, who had nothing to do with geology but lived in a dream realm. Thus, the JSA launches a two-pronged search for Sand, one underground and the other into the dream state. I have a feeling it also involves plot threads from DC's revered horror/fantasy series Sandman, which only briefly touched on superheroics. Johns isn’t as slick in dealing with continuity here as he is in Teen Titans, but these are potentially confusing issues and he juggles them pretty well.

One thing about Ethan von Sciver’s cover -– apparently the Flash has a mouth that Jessica Simpson would envy....

JLA #101: Yet another Part 1, and a biweekly story too, as writer Chuck Austen and penciller Ron Garney begin a 6-issue arc called “The Pain of the Gods.” This installment features Superman second-guessing himself when he encounters a newly-minted superhero (whose name we never learn, by the way). In one way the story is one big plot hole, because one could argue that Superman should have been fast enough to handle all of the problems involved; but since Superman knows he could have done better, arguably that fixes the hole. It boils down to Superman being deliberately thick, so I guess your reaction to the story will depend on how thick you think Supes should be. Garney’s art is rough but expressive, and he does a good job both with the action of the story’s first part and the conversations of the second.

Challengers of the Unknown #2: Howard Chaykin’s all-new take on the venerable “living on borrowed time” team picks up after the disaster which brings the group together. No one should have survived the explosion in Long Beach harbor, but five people did, and for some reason they’re all wearing identical jumpsuits and rings and sporting identical head wounds. There’s a lot of indirect exposition from everyone, a brief fight, and a decent amount of scantily clad women -- so if I wanted to be cute, I'd say it was a typical Chaykin outing. Chaykin approaches his villains with relish, drowning them in satirical dialogue that would make even their models at Fox News blush, but the purple prose of his narrative captions doesn’t work as well. On the whole, it’s not his best work (wait for the reprinting of his seminal American Flagg! for that) but so far it’s not his worst. It’s about on par with Midnight Men, a 4-issue series from about 10 years ago that seemed like a pale imitation of his Shadow reinterpretation. We’ll see.

Next up: Action, Batman, and the Schwartz is with us....
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Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Robin Problems, Part Two

Having taken care of Dick, Batman's caretakers wouldn't let the Robin identity retire. They had already created the young Jason Todd to take over as Robin. At first Jason was a fairly upbeat character, even written as a self-referential, pun-spouting echo of TV's "Holy Underwear!" Robin. A few years later, though, he had become a sullen teen, with one story implying pretty heavily he'd disobeyed Batman and let a criminal fall to his death. In 1988, when DC let readers call a 1-900 number to determine Robin's survival, a slim margin doomed Jason. (The fact that he was already dead in the bleak alternate future of the popular Dark Knight miniseries probably didn't help.)

Following a few months of Batman venting his rage on the underworld, readers met the third Robin, Tim Drake. Tim was at Haly's Circus when the Flying Graysons were killed, and from that experience deduced Batman and Robin's secret identities. When he saw Batman becoming more violent without Robin, he wanted to help. Unlike his predecessors, Tim's parents both survived for several months after he began his training (although eventually his mother was killed and his father crippled), and he soon had his own series. Tim was also not as integrated into Batman's world as Dick or Jason had been. Although he spent months training in the Batcave before earning his costume, he and his dad lived in the mansion next door to Wayne Manor. This didn't mean he told his dad about it -- in fact, he spent the next 14 years fighting crime solo, with Batman, and with his own group of teens called Young Justice, without his dad being any the wiser.

Tim was not the first Robin to have solo adventures, but I believe he was the first one created to separate the Robin identity from Batman. Tim received his unique Robin costume in November 1990, and almost immediately had his own 5-issue series spotlighting his martial-arts training in Europe. Tim had two more Batman-free miniseries under his belt by the time his ongoing series began in 1993. To reinforce expressly Robin's independence, in that issue the new Batman (filling in for an injured Bruce Wayne) locked Tim out of the Batcave. All of these developments are especially ironic considering Tim's initial pitch to Batman that he "needed" a Robin to keep him balanced. Instead, Tim became arguably the most independent Robin in 50 years.

Herein lies the second problem -- that Tim's Robin career took on a life of its own. Honestly, I don't want to advocate any kind of involuntary servitude, even for a fictional character, but for me Robin is a character who should always be connected to Batman. Having Dick literally mature into Nightwing was at the time a stroke of genius, but since then readers have seen Robin, and other heroes, replaced as marketing stunts. It would be possible in dramatic terms for Tim to craft his own Nightwing-type adult identity, or even take over as Batman, but it might be better dramatically for Tim to declare that his days of youthful crimefighting were over.

(This assumes that being Robin has an age limit. In the current comics, Batman first appeared at an indeterminate "10-12 years ago." On the alternate world of Earth-2, when Dick's adventures began in 1940, his Robin career lasted the rest of his life, some 45 years. I don't rule out such a fate for Tim, but it would have to acknowledge at leats that Tim was entering his 20s.)

In fact, when his dad learned this spring that Tim was Robin, it compelled Tim to quit. However, for some mysterious reason, Batman already had a contingency plan in place. Some years before, Tim had met Stephanie Brown, the daughter of an old Batman villain (a Riddler knockoff called Cluemaster). Stephanie wanted to atone for her dad's criminal ways and became a masked vigilante called Spoiler. She was never very good at it, and was invariably told by most masked adventurers she encountered to go home before she hurt herself. Nevertheless, she persisted, and received more advanced training from Batman and his cohorts. Accordingly, upon Tim's resignation earlier this year, Stephanie was tapped as his replacement.

Readers could be forgiven for any cynicism at this development. After all, this was the third Robin in twenty years. Besides, DC would never let Robin stay a girl -- they'd have to crank out a whole new set of action figures, for one thing. (Female Robins had shown up in The Dark Knight and other alternate-history stories, but never before in the "real" books.) For 64 years, in the comics, on TV, and in the movies, Robin has been a dark-haired boy, not a blonde. Changing the costume, as DC did with Tim in 1990, was one thing, but changing gender was something entirely different. Furthermore, DC is cranking up for a major storyline involving Gotham City gang wars, and promising carnage -- and Stephanie would be a bigger casualty as Robin than as Spoiler. The whole thing smelled of marketing.

On the other hand, if handled properly, Stephanie could strengthen Robin's ties to Batman. While her training continues, she's not likely to stray far from his side. Batman is not encouraging her to strike out on her own. She already wants to prove herself to him, and so seems very eager to learn.

Unfortunately, the role of Robin may have evolved past simply being Batman's assistant. Dick and Jason were both motivated by family tragedies. Tim wanted to help Batman cope with Jason's death. Now Stephanie considers herself "promoted" to Robin, like a Triple-A outfielder putting on a major-league uniform.

From here Robin's fate has three basic tracks: staying with Stephanie, returning to Tim, or becoming a sort of "rotating office" for Batman to train aspiring crimefighters. Personally, the last option is the least appealing, because it devalues the character. I don't hate Stephanie, but I can't see her staying Robin for very long; so it looks like the wait is on for Tim's comeback.
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Robin Problems

[Published in two parts because my pokey connection kept timing out.]

Whenever I start discussing current comics with non-comics fans, odds are good I'll get around to the "Robin history." It could be as simple as explaining the difference between Robin and Nightwing, but it always has the potential to snowball into a yooge, eyeball-glazing, dissertation. Now there is a new Robin who happens to be female, and while I suspect it's just a marketing stunt, it could end up returning the "office" of Robin to its roots.

I've always liked the idea of Batman and Robin. He was created so that young readers would have someone with whom they could identify. (This backfired somewhat -- Jules Feiffer in The Great Comic Book Heroes observed famously that he hated Robin for being so perfect.) Later, as Batman developed into a grim, obsessed figure, the then-Teen Wonder also matured into one of the few people who could break through the Dark Knight's great stone face. To me there was, and is, tremendous power in the Bruce Wayne/Dick Grayson relationship, for just that reason. Both were shaped by tragedy, but Bruce helped guide Dick through his, and Dick won't let Bruce forget it. Moreover, all indications are that Bruce did a great job raising Dick, who to my knowledge has always been shown as incredibly well-adjusted.

The first problem was that Dick Grayson had to grow up.

Robin debuted in Detective Comics #38, cover-dated April, 1940 -- eleven months after his mentor. A grade-school-aged circus acrobat, his parents (the "Flying Graysons") were killed by mobsters. Batman, recognizing the tragedy as a mirror image of his own, took in the orphaned Dick and allowed him to participate in the case which brought his parents' killers to justice. Mr. Feiffer aside, Robin was at least no detriment to sales, and soon adolescent adventurers were everywhere. Captain America had Bucky, the Human Torch had Toro, the Green Arrow had Speedy, and (in a twist) the Star-Spangled Kid had an adult aide, Stripesy. Superman's teenaged adventures were even chronicled in a very popular series of "Superboy" stories.

Batman and Robin were inseparable for almost three decades. For most of that time, Robin remained the same stocky, cowlicked, apple-cheeked youngster he was in 1940. However, along the way, comics became more self-aware, and gradually Dick started to grow up. December 1969's "One Bullet Too Many!" (Batman #217) opened with Dick packing up his things and leaving Wayne Manor to start college at Hudson University. Batman and Robin still joined forces whenever Dick wasn't at school, but Dick had his own adventures too, both alone and with a group of sidekicks called the Teen Titans. By 1980, Dick was more focused on heroics than school, and like many young adults trying to establish his own place in the world. Ultimately, in 1984, Dick created the new Nightwing identity to honor his relationship to Batman without being subordinate to it.

Nightwing started out as a Titans-centered character, putting his destiny for the next 10 years or so in the hands of Titans writer Marv Wolfman, but since getting his own series in 1996 has been squarely back in the Batman camp. Throughout it all, Dick/Nightwing has set the standard for his peers in the realm of former kid sidekicks and become emblematic of his generation. He continues to have a healthier relationship with Bruce/Batman than just about any other Bat-character except Alfred.

[Next up, the ‘80s and beyond....]
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Last week's comics

Kind of a light week last week. I'm writing these from memory too, so you might see some editing after a while.

Birds of Prey #69: Written by Gail Simone and drawn by Ed Benes. Murders, a cult, and the costumes of dead superheroes combine for the first part of a storyline spotlighting Huntress. Since she has to go undercover at said cult, there is a certain "Charlie's Angels" feel to some of the scenes, especially when she gets hassled by the local sheriff's department. The book has just come off a multi-part odyssey through Black Canary's martial-arts past, which was entertaining but hard to remember from month to month. This looks like a good change of pace. The cliffhanger ending is effective, if not unexpected.

DC Comics Presents Batman: The first of DC's Julius Schwartz tribute books takes its cue from Batman slacking off to watch TV. The book has two stories with TV themes. The first, written by Geoff Johns with art by Carmine Infantino (the artist who redesigned Batman for Schwartz in the '60s), involves a murder on the set of a "Batman" TV show, with the real Dynamic Duo getting involved. The twist ending is clever enough, but I know I have seen something similar on the recent Batman animated series. The second, written by Len Wein, is a little more satirical, and more fun. Someone's been taping Batman and Robin and editing the bits together into a reality TV show. This story ends on a fairly trite note, but it gets points with me for satirizing both the "reality" genre and the editorial notion that Batman is a Bigfoot-like "urban legend." Both stories are unusual for today in that they feature Batman and Robin working together, so that was a nice plus too.

Detective Comics #796: Speaking of Batman and Robin, here's the newest Robin, Stephanie Brown, making a special appearance outside her own comic. Anderson Gabrych wrote and Pete Woods drew this story about the Dynamic Duo tracking an incredibly dangerous serial killer, Mr. Zsasz, who carves a notch in his own body for each life he takes. The story is rendered in two styles, with a "watercolor" effect used for Zsasz's point of view. There is nothing groundbreaking about the story -- Batman doesn't want Robin around when he tracks down Zsasz, because she's never encountered him before and might get killed. You can probably guess what happens. Predictability aside, I liked the interaction between Batman and Robin better here than in the Robin book. However, Pete Woods' take on Stephanie makes her look quite different than Damion Scott's art in Robin, and despite Scott's heavily stylized take, I'm not sure which I prefer. (Woods did draw Robin for a while, so it's not like he's new to Stephanie.)

Firestorm #3: Written by Dan Jolley, pencilled by ChrisCross. For those who might not remember, as originally conceived Firestorm was the union of a teenager and a nuclear physicist. The teenager's body controlled Firestorm, and the physicist provided unseen "backseat driver" commentary. The new Firestorm series has so far shown readers the new Firestorm's sudden discovery of his powers, and the "fusion" he achieves with a second person. In this issue the "backseat driver" is our hero's antagonist, who's not so much a part of Firestorm as he is trapped inside Firestorm's head. The drama comes from needing to find a way to separate the two people before the "backseat driver" is killed. I didn't expect the outcome, but I did want more closure, since this is the end of the first arc. The most I got was the notion that Stormy's new secret identity will use his powers to escape his unquestionably bad life. (Peter Parker has it 10 times better than this kid!) Next issue, Firestorm gets visited by the Justice League, who remember the old guy and don't know who the new one is.

Captain America and the Falcon -- Madbomb: Jack Kirby co-created much of the early Marvel comics (the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, the X-Men, the Avengers, etc.) in the early '60s, but ended up leaving Marvel very publicly in 1970 to go to rival DC. There he created the groundbreaking "Fourth World" series and gave DC one of its most enduring villains, Darkseid the Destroyer. Kirby returned to Marvel in the mid-'70s, where he worked on various esoteric projects like Devil Dinosaur and a comics adaptation of 2001: A Space Odyssey. He also wrote and drew Captain America, a character he co-created with Joe Simon in 1941. Cap had fought in World War II but then was frozen in an iceberg at the end of the war, and thawed out by the Avengers some 20 years later.

I was excited to read Madbomb for a couple of reasons: because its first cover was all over Marvel's Trapper Keepers when I was in elementary school; and because I was expecting mind-blowing Kirby action taking up where the Fourth World had left off. Well, compared to his epics, Madbomb is a pretty ordinary story. Basically, a group that wants to roll back democracy has developed a mind-control device which causes riots, and they'll set off their "Big Daddy" bomb on July 4, 1976. It's mostly action without a lot of the social commentary Kirby had put into his earlier work. Considering that DC had just gotten a lot of attention in Green Lantern with a couple of superheroes traveling across America and righting social injustices, this is doubly surprising. The African-American Falcon makes a few ironic remarks about being descended from slaves, and the villains dress like George III, but other than that, and Cap's romantic interlude with a terminally ill woman, not a lot of thinking getting in the way of the action. Still, it is Kirby, which means the action is very well done. I know Kirby did more Cap in the '70s, and from what I remember it was a little freakier than this.

Fantastic Four #515: This is the second part of what looks like a three-part storyline featuring the new Frightful Four. As with Madbomb, there's a lot less going on here than in other storylines, but it's still reasonably well-done. Basically, a villain called the Wizard occasionally assembles a group of three other super-villains to take out the Fantastic Four. Here he's enlisted his daughter to infiltrate the Fantastic Four by seducing Johnny Storm, the Human Torch. I continue to be confused by the daughter's role, and the Wizard's insistence on having exactly four members in his group, but it does provide a plot point about midway through the issue. FF alum Karl Kesel helps out regular writer Mark Waid here, and regular penciller Mike Wieringo is on vacation, so these feel like fill-in issues -- but, as I say, reasonably good fill-ins.

Supreme Power #11: This installment of Marvel's "mature" take on familiar characters centers on Zarda, a beautiful naked woman, explaining to Superman-analogue Hyperion their shared history. The short answer: they're supposed to take over the world. Doctor Spectrum (think Green Lantern), still working for the U.S. military, continues to look for Hyperion, aided by the power prism which has a mysterious connection to Hype. Meanwhile, Nighthawk (i.e., Batman) enlists the Blur (the Flash) to help him track down a serial killer.

Since we're at issue #11, and the book goes on hiatus after #12, it's more than a little frustrating to feel like writer J. Michael Strazcynski is still setting things up. A lot could happen in #12, but given the pace of the book so far, I doubt it. Zarda, originally conceived as the Wonder Woman-analogue, is defined here by three qualities: naked, beautiful, and evil. Not the best combination for someone whose model is a feminist icon.

Back in a few hours with this week's books, fresh from the shop!
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Nothing to see yet -- move along, move along.... Full Post