Wednesday, September 29, 2004

New Comics 9/29/04

Pretty good week this week.

Green Lantern #181 (of 181): Written by Ron Marz, pencilled by Luke Ross, inked by Rodney Ramos. All things considered, it could have been worse. Marz gives his creation a decent way to exit center stage. There's a little bit of suspense involving whether Kyle would actually give up the power ring; Major Force reveals himself to be unkillable; and Kyle gets some good news about his mother.

Batman #632: "War Games" Act 2, Part 8. Written by Bill Willingham, pencilled by Kinsun, inked by Aaron Sowd. Batman fights Zeiss as Black Mask continues to plot. Turns out Orpheus had some weird super-spraying machine thing ready to go. The macro-plot has gotten more intriguing, but the execution in this issue is a bit flat. Kinsun looks like Paul Gulacy Lite, and Willingham actually has Batman tell Oracle to "grow up." Nice. At least he treats Alfred well.

Superman/Batman #12: Written by Jeph Loeb, pencilled by Michael Turner, inked by Peter Steigerwald. The penultimate part of the Supergirl story wraps things up on Apokolips, but ach! that dueling narration! Painful to read. As for the art, in the movie Kara will apparently be played by Calista Flockhart. The super-cousins fight each other, Batman stares down Darkseid, there are teary farewells on Themyscira and in Kansas, and while this is the book of Big Widescreen Events, I can't decide if they're presented with too much fanfare or just too matter-of-factly. Needless to say, the narration doesn't help.

JLA #106: Written by Chuck Austen, drawn by Ron Garney. Thank goodness this issue didn't involve Batman dealing with his inner failures. He actually gets some funny bits here, mostly interacting with the other children of the dad with super-powers who got killed 'way back in #101. To his credit, Austen ties the other issues together with this one, and the ending isn't entirely happy -- but I'm still excited about Kurt Busiek bringing the Crime Syndicate back next month.

Superman #209: Written by Brian Azzarello, pencilled by Jim Lee, inked by Scott Williams. Superman fights four elemental creatures, apparently sent by Aquaman (...huh?), including one which forms itself out of Mount Rushmore and makes me nostalgic for that old Justice League of America with "The Fiend With Five Faces!" (Either that or the "Dexter's Laboratory" where Dexter uses a George Washington giant robot to stop an Abe Lincoln giant robot. But I digress.) It's a well-done issue, and Superman defeats the giant elementals in a clever way. Next up, Wonder Woman.

Wonder Woman #208: Written by Greg Rucka, pencilled by Drew Johnson, inked by Ray Snyder.

(No, I meant next month in Superman.... Oh, forget it.)

An all-around winner of an issue, as Diana, Artemis, and Phillipus attend a state dinner at the White House. (FYI, the President is now somebody named Horne.) Veronica Cale arranges for Medousa and her pop-culture-loving assistants to be there too. Rucka gives us an excellent blend of politics, mythology, and monster-fightin', not to mention the return of an old friend. The book's been very good under his guidance; I hope this means it's going to be great.

Adam Strange #1 (of 8): Written by Andy Diggle, drawn by Pascal Ferry. So, Adam's in Gotham City collecting his things to move to Rann permanently, but then Superman shows up to tell him Rann's gone, and then he gets arrested, and then some big aliens show up to kill him, but he fights 'em off, and to be continued. I'm there for #2, all the way, baby!

DC: The New Frontier #6 (of 6): Written and drawn by Darwyn Cooke. The Best Wife Ever looked at this and said "What's that? Looks kind of '60s." I explained it was a period piece about the Justice League in the early '60s. I'm glad I didn't weep openly at the end of the issue like I wanted to, because that would have taken even longer to explain. It almost goes without saying that I loved this series. Cooke's art is cartoony, but it reminds us that superhero comics are aimed at the "kid inside." He also uses patriotic speeches a lot more effectively than Jeph Loeb. My only quibble is that there wasn't enough Batman in this one.
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Bat Attitude

Dave has offered a few good suggestions on scaling back the Batman line in order to eliminate mega-crossovers like the current "War Games." However, the more I think about it, the more it seems like the mega-crossovers are just a symptom. Larger changes are needed to the Bat-line, starting with the approach to the character himself.

For almost the past 20 years, the conventional wisdom has held that Batman was the "real person" and Bruce Wayne the "mask." In other words, the foppish "Bruce Wayne" persona was a creation of Batman, much like the nerdy "Clark Kent" attempted to cast suspicion away from him being Superman.

However, I'm not sure that this holds up under scrutiny. We are told that Bruce Wayne's childhood trauma forever altered his personality, causing him to become grim and driven, and compelling him to embark on a lifelong crusade to fight crime. This new direction later found its ultimate expression as The Batman.

Still, it appears indisputable that Bruce himself created the Batman. Bruce is consistently portrayed as merely inspired by the bats, with their influence going no further. (Certainly he's not "summoned" by them or otherwise bound to them in any quasi-mystical way.) Simply put, Bruce wants his adventuring persona to be scary, and bats are scary; therefore, Bruce becomes a bat-man.

"The Batman" therefore allows Bruce to express his revenge on the mysterious forces which took his parents. It assumes the worst about the criminal element ("a superstitious, cowardly lot") and looks to do to crooks what the crooks did to him as a child. Such an attitude is very much a kid's answer to a problem. It is not a solution -- and Bruce should realize that he can do an equal amount of good through the Wayne companies. Accordingly, the Batman persona must only be one tool in Bruce's crimefighting arsenal.

Speaking of tools, it's never really explored in the comics, but the Bat-Signal and the unique, stylized looks of the Bat-equipment all form a sort of "brand identification." Taken as a whole, this "brand" reinforces the sense that Batman is a police force unto himself, equally important to Gotham society. It is, in effect, another element of Batman's psychological warfare. Since Bruce is a businessman, there's a darkly funny juxtaposition -- he basically "markets" the Batman to the Gotham underworld, so that it cannot help but be aware of his presence.

To me, such calculation argues against the vengeful Batman being in control of Bruce. The chronicles instead point to Bruce having used his talents, skills, and education to make "Batman" a scary, separate persona. This is not to say that Bruce can't also adopt the public guise of a foppish, shallow playboy. Obviously, to the extent that Playboy Bruce is a cover for Batman, Batman is "more real." Nevertheless, because "Batman" was conceived after Bruce vowed to fight evil, it is hard to see how "Batman" was always there. Indeed, Batman is almost an elaborate joke, or prank, which Bruce plays on criminals. ("Playboy Bruce" is a similar act for the benefit of daylight society.) Assuming that Bruce is in on this particular joke, he would have to be pretty far gone to let the joke consume him.

Mark Waid examined Bruce/Batman's duality in a JLA arc, "Divided We Fall," where the Leaguers were literally split into their "civilian" and heroic selves. When confronted with violence, the separated Bruce Wayne boiled with rage, but had no way to channel it or defend himself. The separated Batman was practically an automaton, possessing fantastic skills but featureless and lacking any kind of drive. While Waid acknowledged that Bruce needed Batman as a sort of therapeutic outlet, he still ascribed the emotional components of Batman's crusade to Bruce. Thus, Bruce was the "real person" and Batman the fiction. If it were the other way around, as the Bat-books argue, then Batman would have held all the critical cards, and Bruce would have been an ineffectual wimp, helpless without Batman's anger.

Unfortunately, the current Bat-books have continued to present Batman as a rude, distant figure, awash in personal demons, who alienates his colleagues as much as he helps them. Ironically, this was also reinforced by a Mark Waid JLA arc -- "Tower of Babel," which preceded "Divided." In "Babel," the notion that "Batman always has a plan" led to Waid's supposition that Batman would develop protocols for disabling each of his League teammates. Batman's needs for secrecy and self-reliance naturally prohibited him from sharing even the existence of these plans with them, and the League kicked him out when they learned the truth.

"Batman Can Only Rely Upon Himself" didn't originate with "Tower of Babel." It stretches at least as far back as 1993's "Knightfall," in which the manipulative Bane ran our hero ragged to weaken him for their ultimate confrontation. In 1999's "No Man's Land," efforts to reclaim quake-ravaged Gotham began and ended with Batman (notably using a new Batgirl for "marketing"). In 2001's "Bruce Wayne: Murderer?" arc, the possibility that Bruce could have killed a lover who discovered his secret was entertained, if only briefly, because the other Bat-colleagues weren't sure how far Bruce would go to protect his other identity. The current "War Games" centers around yet another Bat-plan gone wrong. After 11 years of Batman perpetually pushing his friends and associates away, it is long past time for his attitude to change.

However, the distance between Batman and his proteges is important in at least one respect -- it allows them to maintain their own separate comics. Nightwing, Catwoman, Robin, and Batgirl can't be about the eponymous characters' relationships to Batman, or there would be no point in their existence. Still, each periodic line-spanning crossover tends to create anew the same dynamic:

-- a solo character grows and develops in his/her own book;
-- he/she is treated as a subordinate by Batman for no good reason; and
-- at the end Batman recognizes his/her value.

It's a vicious cycle -- the characters are at once dependent on the Batman imprimatur and striving to be independent of it; and periodically they interact with Batman himself but are never quite treated as equals. Again, Batman's perpetual "I need you"/"I'm better than you" attitudes contribute to this cycle. Warming up relations between Batman and his associates would justify a reduction in the number of Bat-titles and would help integrate Nightwing, Robin, Catwoman, and Batgirl more fully into Batman's adventures. Such integration would enrich the Bat-books across the board and would force creators to examine new character dynamics, instead of simply uniting the associates in their frustration with Batman.

Given the current conventional wisdom, I would expect a large number of fans to see this as a step back, dulling the fine edge which Batman has cultivated over the years. My response is that this merely acknowledges Batman's need to correct what has become a self-destructive behavior. When it comes to the small band of people you've allowed to join your inner circle, trust works a whole lot better than intimidation.

Besides, despite Batman's self-described solitary existence, he has always tended to surround himself with confidants, even in this post-Crisis, post-Dark Knight era. As described above, his impersonal attitude towards them facilitates their solo adventures (and creates bizarre, almost codependent relationships); but such an attitude is becoming increasingly unrealistic given the characters' various histories.

It would serve Batman better in the long haul for him to drop the pretense that he will be forever alone on his solitary quest, and let his associates "in on the joke." The Batman persona is at its heart nothing more than another elaborate strategy for fighting crime. It shouldn't be the Alpha and Omega of Bruce Wayne's life. His longtime friends like Alfred Pennyworth, Leslie Thompkins, Dick Grayson, and Barbara Gordon all recognize this. The sooner Bruce realizes that "Batman" is as much a fiction as "Playboy Bruce" is, the sooner he can start forming healthy relationships with his associates, and the better the Bat-books will be.
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Friday, September 24, 2004

Follow The Leaders

Just finished polishing a "Post-Crisis Crisis" essay -- which may be one of the geekiest endeavors I've ever done, and that's saying a lot -- but in the interests of space and laziness, thought I'd jump on the latest meme bandwagon:

Use the comments to ask me 5 questions, and I'll give you answers. So simple, and yet so fraught with consequences....
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Thursday, September 23, 2004

Convergence Scorecard

The cold I got from the Best Wife Ever finally manifested itself fully yesterday afternoon. Left work a little early, but what with picking up new comics got home about the same time. Took a dose of sweet, sweet Nyquil and popped in the Star Wars DVDs. (The Phlox figure arrived too. It has a gut, which I thought was kind of brave. Neelix was paunchy, but his figure wasn't. I digress....)

After about 30 minutes with the DVDs, the Nyquil was coming on strong and I figured I'd better read those comics before it was too late. The "War Games" issues were mixed -- the revelation of the criminal mastermind was a surprise, but again with the torture of a female character? I set the VCR for "Lost" and took a nap.

I made myself wake up a little before 8:00 and watched "Smallvile" through the Nyquil haze. I was surprised at how much I liked Lois Lane. She and Clark had good chemistry and would make a good couple. (Speaking of Lois, time has been much kinder to Annette O'Toole than to Margot Kidder.) Overall it was a strong episode, but there were still some hokey moments. The Clark vs. Clark fight seemed ripped from Superman III, and black Kryptonite? Since I haven't watched the show in a while, maybe it's been on before, but what's it do -- break Kryptonian mind-control? Is that really something that would have developed naturally?

I picked up the first Doom Patrol paperback when Lana appeared. This subplot about her being infused with the spirit of an ancient warrior/saint doesn't look promising. Finally, the in-jokes about "give me a nerd with glasses" and "what's that? A bird? A plane?" were on the good side of cutesy.

Haven't watched "Lost" yet because I went to sleep for good after "Smallville." All in all, though, the convergence was managed pretty well.
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Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Geek Convergence Tonight!

Too many nerdy things happening today:

1. Those pesky Star Wars DVDs should arrive. You'd think that shipping them from the Amazon warehouse located about 2 miles from my house wouldn't require them to go through Cincinnati, but you'd be wrong.

2. The Phlox figure I also ordered (cheap!) from Amazon should also arrive. It's coming from Campbellsville, Kentucky, about an hour south of here, but it's coming straight up via UPS, so no Cincinnati stopovers. (While not that yooge [tm Television Without Pity] an event on its own, I wanted to contrast the delivery situation with the DVDs'.)

3. "Lost" premieres. I'll be taping it at the request of the Best Wife Ever, who has a late meeting. Since I got to see the last 20 minutes or so in San Diego, while it tapes I will revisit...

4. "Smallville," which also premieres tonight. When the show first aired, we didn't have a dedicated WB station, so it was on irregularly around 10:00 p.m. Friday nights. Therefore, I got in the habit of watching "Enterprise" and "West Wing," and never looked back. If "Smallville" doesn't thrill me, there's always...

5. New Comics Day, with the two Morrison/Case Doom Patrol trades as the probable highlight.

So there you go. Whoever thought leisure could get so complicated?
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Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Enjoy This Linky Goodness

By way of Shane, here are pictures of next summer's Fantastic Four in costume; and a really fascinating Newsarama interview with Greg Rucka about his plans for Superman.

The FF costumes look OK to me. Johnny doesn't look very blond. The suits themselves appear more inspired by the Jim Lee "Heroes Reborn" outfits than by the classic or "Ultimate" looks.

I'm hoping Star Wars DVDs will be in my mailbox by this afternoon, so expect a post on them in the near future.

UPDATE (via Postmodern Barney): As far as John Byrne goes, I don't think Alba/Sue looks like a hooker. But that's just me.

UPDATED UPDATE: It was Fanboy Rampage!, not Postmodern Barney. Shows you what happens when I go off my meds. Profuse apologies to everyone.
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Thursday, September 16, 2004

Must There Be A Superboy?

Every interpretation of Superman makes him super-powered by the time he's a teenager. While most don't put him in the familiar red-and-blue costume until adulthood, for about 40 years in the comics he did have a career as the teenaged "Superboy."

Much of the Superboy stories' appeal came from their fleshing-out of a known character. This is obvious from the tagline -- "The Adventures Of Superman When He Was A Boy!" It all but admits that if Superman weren't so popular, there wouldn't be a demand for Superboy. (It is also tempting to theorize that Superboy was created because the adult Superman couldn't realistically have an adolescent Robin-esque sidekick, but could have heretofore unrevealed teenaged adventures, and so help younger readers identify with him that way. In 1993, a perpetually teenaged "Superboy" was created as a sometime sidekick for, and ostensible clone of, the adult Superman, and his adventures continue to this day. I'm not so concerned with him here.)

In the 1950s, the Boy of Steel added much to the overall Superman legend and inspired the creation of the Legion of Super-Heroes, a group of superhuman teens who lived 1,000 years in the future. Matt Rossi argues persuasively that Superboy is critical to Legion mythology, because no other figure in history would have grown up to be the galactic legend that Superman became.

This is the source of my cognitive dissonance over having a teenaged costumed Kal-El. Superboy is significant mostly because he grows up to be Superman -- but on his own, I'm not sure anyone has really delved into the dramatic reasons for Clark putting on the costume as a youngster. Because Clark as Superboy would seem to make Clark as Superman anticlimactic, few adaptations have dealt with Superboy. The biggest exception, the "Superboy" TV series (1988-92), focused neither on Superboy's emergence nor the transition from "boy" to "man." (The 1985 Bob Rozakis/Curt Swan miniseries Superman: The Secret Years dealt with the latter, but not so much the former, at least from what I have read secondhand.) Here are the issues I see raised by a Superboy career.

The Secret Identity

Before the 1986 revamp, Superman disguised himself as mild-mannered Clark in order to convince people that Clark was the last person anyone would suspect of being Superman. According to writer Elliott S! Maggin, Superman considered Clark an elaborate fiction that took on a life of his own. In other words, Superman saw Clark as a separate person whose identity he assumed. This might have made it easier for "Clark" to endure the perpetual humiliations the identity required. Of course, Clark was precious to Superman for connecting him to the people of the Earth, so Superman protected Clark from these slings and arrows. Clark still took a lot of lumps.

Now imagine a teenaged Clark submitting himself to similiar torments in a small-town school environment. It would take a lot of internal fortitude for him not to crack under the strain. Allowing himself to be pushed around could alienate his classmates, encourage their taunts, or both. This ground was covered fairly well in the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko issues of Amazing Spider-Man, where Peter Parker was constantly frustrated by having to conceal his powers. However, where Peter was an outcast before receiving his abilities, and felt trapped by circumstances, Clark would have chosen such a life consciously; and that might have put even more pressure on him.

We see this for a few moments in the first Christopher Reeve Superman movie (1978), with a teenaged, Superboy-less Clark as the butt of the Smallville football team's pranks. Clark, the equipment manager, can outperform anyone on the team, but Pa Kent reminds him of the consequences of using his powers openly, and emphasizes that Clark was not sent to Earth to win football games. Whether a Superboy career would have helped Clark deal with these frustrations is debatable. Peter Parker coped by becoming Spider-Man, but the teen Clark of Superman didn't have to contrast his personality with a Superboy's, and so wouldn't have had to play the role with such dedication. Therefore, the classic model of the self-denying Clark may not be plausible for a "modern" Superboy. A different approach to Clark might be needed in order to make such a Superboy workable.

Somewhat ironically, the 1986 revamp of Superman's history omitted Superboy but made Clark a football star. This young Clark was also unaware of his extraterrestrial origins, until Pa Kent "scared him straight" by showing Clark the rocket in which he was found. This inspired Clark to spend the next seven years wandering the Earth, using his powers in secret as a mysterious "guardian angel." (Even this was frustrating, as shown in the first two issues of Superman: Birthright.) Only being exposed in public, and receiving a crush of unwanted publicity, compelled Clark to create the Superman identity. Therefore, the "fictional" identity is reversed from the previous status quo.

This teen Clark is the model for TV's "Smallville." I am far from a "Smallville" scholar, but broadly speaking, it shows Clark learning more about his origins as his powers develop over time. The producers stated early on that "Smallville"'s mantra was "no tights, no flights" -- that is, Clark won't learn to fly until the end of the series, shortly before he assumes the Superman identity. "Smallville" therefore tracks the development of the Superman persona, presumably as one which does not require the degradation of Clark's.

Again, I believe it would be easier on young Clark for "Superboy" to be the fiction. Still, we need to know how Superboy is going to operate before we can decide how he should be different from Clark.


The first Superboy story was published in 1945, 7 years after Superman's debut and almost 20 years before DC began dividing its heroes among several parallel universes. Still, eventually it was established that Superboy grew up to be the Superman of "Earth-1," the universe in which most of DC's comics from the mid-'50s through the mid-'80s took place. Because that Earth had few, if any, prominent superheroes before Superboy appeared, and because Superman has always been given a pivotal role in the emergence of superheroes, I presume that Superboy was intended to be the first prominent superhero of Earth-1.

(Your mileage may vary. This site places such historically significant figures as Zatara the Magician, J'Onn J'Onzz, Captain Comet, and the Shadow ahead of Superboy in the timeline, but that may have something to do with the need to make Superman's history indefinite and thereby preserve his youth. Furthermore, those other heroes either operated in secret or eschewed fancy costumes. Still other heroes like the Guardian and Manhunter wore costumes and operated publicly but had no superhuman powers. The wartime heroes Commander Steel and Robotman were more products of technology than superhumans; and the costumed superhumans TNT, Dan the Dyna-Mite, and Plastic Man were just not powerful enough to have the impact that a Superboy would. Thus, I recognize the qualifications about Superboy as Earth-1's first "prominent" superhero.)

As I mentioned in the earlier post, the appearance of a superpowered teenager is perhaps more unsettling than that of a superpowered adult. The teenager should only get stronger as he ages, and is less emotionally stable than an adult would be. Earth-1 might have seen a handful other costumed superhumans in the 1940s and 1950s, but Superboy was orders of magnitude more powerful than any of them. His appearance would signal a new age for the planet.

In the current unified model of DC's timeline, superheroes first came to prominence in the late 1930s and early '40s, in much greater numbers than on Earth-1. Many of these men and women formed the Justice Society of America and protected the homefront during World War II. These heroes were forced to retire by a McCarthyesque Congressional committee in the early 1950s. Decades later, Superman, Batman, and their more familiar contemporaries debuted, at an undefined "10-12 years ago." This generation of costumed crimefighters has been consistently portrayed as more powerful and more influential than their predecessors, with Superman at the top of their particular pyramid.

In either situation, it seems that Superboy would immediately head to the top of the pyramid; but in the unified timeline, at least the world could draw on its collective experience with the Justice Society (and powerhouses like the Green Lantern, Dr. Fate, or the Spectre) to gauge the impact of a Superboy. On Earth-1, Superboy's appearance would have been a quantum leap ahead of the first superhumans. There might even have been back-room conversations about how to neutralize the Boy of Steel. Superman: Birthright showed how Superman first gained the public's trust, but it also demonstrated how public sentiment could be turned against him.


In the comics, Clark becomes Superboy pretty much because he's itchin' for action and his parents think he's ready. By contrast, the Superboy-less Clark becomes Superman mostly in order to deal with a traumatic event -- the death of his foster parents in the 1938 origin (and in subsequent revisions until 1986); in the 1978 movie, Pa Kent's death and the contemporaneous discovery of Jor-El's crystal; or the need for privacy in the revised 1986 origin.

The 1986 origin is significant because it didn't just omit Superboy -- it also allowed Clark's foster parents to survive past his high school years. In the 1938 origin, Clark swears to use his powers only for good as the elderly Kents lie on their deathbeds. The Earth-1 Superman's origin has the Kents contract a fatal disease for which Superboy can find no cure; and they die around the time of Clark's high-school graduation. (The Secret Years miniseries then has Clark go to college and face similar failures as Superboy.) Because the 1986 origin is the first to let both Kents live, it has to find a new justification for Clark's heroic career.

Since the Kents helped get Superboy off the ground, a revised Superman origin which includes Superboy could take a similar approach. Smallville is not a big community (duh), but it is out in the middle of nowhere. The teenaged Clark could be content to fly around doing anonymous good deeds until a catastrophe forces him out in the open. As with the 1986 origin, he would then use a gaudy costume to "hide in plain sight." He might not even have to protect his secret identity that much, it being a sort of "open secret" that the townspeople trust each other to keep; and that could lead to tragedy.

If I were revising Superman history with a Superboy career, I might visit some horrific event on Smallville itself, destroying the town and most of its inhabitants, as part of an attempt to destroy Superboy. With Superboy refusing to lose another set of parents, the Kent family would survive, but Clark would retire his heroic identity. In Clark's mid-twenties, events (perhaps the alien invasion that brings together the Justice League?) would naturally force "Superman" back into the spotlight, but as previous Supermen had to deal with the deaths of the Kents, this Superman would rededicate himself to insuring that a Smallville-type disaster never happened again.

Having a clear break between Superboy and Superman seems to me to be a good way to distinguish the two periods. Giving Superboy a carefree childhood which isn't just Superman's in miniature also provides a thematic distinction. (The scenario does sound like a twist on the backstory of Kingdom Come, but I didn't intend it as such.) Virtually wiping out Smallville's population might seem more drastic than just having the Kents die, but to me it gives Clark a happier childhood and adolescence, surrounds him with a community which loves him for who he is, and makes him re-examine the depths of his Clark Kent identity.

In my mind, this approach makes Superboy the fiction while Clark is young, and then makes Clark the fiction while Superman is an adult. Because Clark is one of the few "Smallville survivors," he is naturally worried that someone might figure out he's Superman and start the process over. Thus, he throws himself even more into playing "Clark" to reduce that likelihood. The differences between Smallville Clark and Metropolis Clark can be explained as Clark's reaction to the disaster, which wouldn't be too far from the truth.

Of course, it's simpler just to say, as the current models do, that Clark was never "Superboy." There is probably even a simpler solution than I have proposed. I definitely wouldn't mind seeing what somebody wanted to do with the Boy of Steel if he or she got the chance.
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Wednesday, September 15, 2004

New Comics 9/15/04: Special Managed-Care Edition

Because this week's books are so good, I'm skipping last week's for now.

Identity Crisis #4 (of 7): Written by Brad Meltzer, drawn by Rags Morales and Michael Bair, edited by Mike Carlin. Best issue yet, and the first to really live up to the series' potential. While there are still grim tidings, and the ending is undercut somewhat by this week's Adventures of Superman, I'd almost call these proceedings "upbeat." Maybe this has to do with the long-awaited focus on the "Big Three" (Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman), who get more reverential treatment from these creators than Alex Ross could ever have dreamed of giving them. Their appearance also signals a shift in pacing, as we get a sense that events are finally moving. Most of the issue is investigation, but couched in scenes which emphasize the characters -- for example, the Spectre closes a potential plothole while enjoying a reunion with his old buddy Green Arrow. Meltzer also allows Batman a bit of self-examination which happens to fit perfectly with my view of the Darknight Detective, so he earns extra points with me. Needless to say, my expectations have officially been raised.

Adventures of Superman #632: Written by Greg Rucka, drawn by Paul Pelletier and Rick Magyar, edited by Eddie Berganza. Rucka talked about this issue at the Superman panel in San Diego, but I could have guessed Lois would be OK. In fact, reading this issue, I expected more of a commentary on the health-care system than a study of the anguished Man of Steel watching his wife go through surgery.

Consider -- Identity Crisis showed us that the superhuman community protects itself with a whole other layer of high-tech security, unavailable to the general public. When that security is breached, it swings into action with a similar level of advanced investigatory and enforcement measures. Now we see that when the wife of a superhuman is shot, and things get too bad for the regular docs, Superman has the option of transporting her to JLA headquarters. Since Rucka has a number of front-line soldiers literally begging Superman to heal them -- a touch which I found completely credible -- giving Lois this kind of special treatment made me wonder if Supes would have done the same for someone to whom he was not so close. (Rucka also works in that the Umec army surrenders unconditionally upon learning Superman is in the area, which is another great bit.) This to me almost seems out of character, since Superman does not regularly place himself above ordinary people. I understand that Rucka is exploring the relationship between Lois and Clark, but the potential for contrast was there and went almost unexamined. Still a good issue, because it made me think about these things. I hope Rucka comes back to these themes.

Birds of Prey #74: Written by Gail Simone, drawn by Jim Fern and Steve Bird, edited by Joan Hilty. The Brainiac/cult story is over, but the cute opening is a wry follow-up of sorts. Black Canary and Huntress infiltrate a would-be "union meeting" for Gotham supervillain henchmen, and wear Penguin and Riddler outfits to do it. Oracle checks in with the theoretically rehabilitated villain Savant, and Canary then settles her score with Savant. On the balcony this series stole from the "BoP" TV show, Oracle muses about Huntress and Savant in a way that makes me think Simone is setting her up as the "Batman" of this group -- molding these recruits into the right kind of crimefighters. Having Oracle take on some of Batman's leadership qualities (and gosh, didn't that statement sound sexist?) might be worth watching. Next issue promises Big Changes in the aftermath of "War Games," but because this is the week where my lowered expectations are hopefully raised, I'll remain cautiously optimistic.

Batman: Gotham Knights #57: "War Games" Act 2, Part 4; written by A.J. Lieberman, drawn by Al Barrionuevo and Francis Portella, edited by Matt Idelson. And yet another pleasant surprise -- an A.J. Lieberman Bat-book which doesn't make me cringe! Oh, maybe a little, when Batman sounds like a 20-year-old, but thank goodness he's finally realized what's going on! Too bad it's a couple of installments too late. I don't know whether to praise the creators for making Batman more fallible, or go the other way for not letting him recognize his own plan sooner. Also too bad that the ending is telegraphed about 2/3 of the way through the book. What else happens? Well, Tarantula fights those bodyguard wannabes from last issue, Spoiler gets to be a badass, and as mentioned, Batman remembers his brain. There is a fairly big "huh?" about Batman's plan which might be excused by its last-resort nature, and another one which makes me wonder about a Plan B, but by my reckoning we're exactly halfway through this mother and there's still time for it to turn out well.

Fantastic Four #518: Written by Mark Waid, drawn by Mike Wieringo and Karl Kesel. The only complaint I have about "Fourtitude" so far is that the "Manhattan gets kidnapped into space" story was part of John Byrne's run, specifically when Reed saved Galactus' life. Since this issue also involves Galactus obliquely, I kept waiting for somebody to remember the earlier story, but no such luck. Not really a problem for me, because Waid, 'Ringo and Kesel deliver another solid issue full of excitement, humor, thrills, and suspense. I know I've been more happy than usual this week, but if these guys keep it up they deserve a long run on this book.

I also got Batman in the Eighties and have been flipping through it. Since it's, you know, the Eighties, I have most of these issues already, but they look like a good representative sample. If I get time I'll let you know more.

Finally, one item from last week: Essential Super-Villain Team-Up turned out to be a diverting, if somewhat confusing, trip through 1970s Marvel continuity. Basically it told the story of a strained alliance between Dr. Doom and Sub-Mariner (renewing what had been a brief marriage of convenience from the early issues of Fantastic Four) and expanding to include their battles with Attuma, the Red Skull, and Hatemonger. It wasn't anything I'm dying to see reprinted in a color hardcover, but I'm not wishing I had my $16.99 back either.
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Scary Superboy?

A big part of my thinking about Superboy -- the Kal-El Superboy of Earth-1, that is -- involves the general public's reaction to this flying teenager from the Midwest. If I understand Earth-1 history correctly, Superboy was its first superhero. Contrast that with the Earth-2 Justice Society heroes (Justice Socialites?), who were for the most part in their twenties and thirties when they burst on the scene; or even Marvel's World War II-era heroes, who were around the same age. In that light, Superboy's situation on Earth-1 was unusual, if not unique.
Put another way, it's one thing to see adult men and women dashing around in colorful costumes, performing amazing feats -- and it's quite another to see a kid who can fly, shrug off high explosives, lift tanks, and melt them with his eyes, and realize he's just going to get older and more powerful. Because those Superboy stories were by definition flashbacks, we know that he made it through puberty without lashing out at the world during some teenaged tantrum, but at the time the world didn't know he wouldn't go nuts. (And if he did, who'd stop him...?)
Don't know how much more this bears exploring, but I've already gotten about half a draft of a "Doing Superboy Right" essay written. So there you go.
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Yes, there are Tony Shalhoub jokes

Matt Rossi takes on The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told, one story at a time. Currently he's done Parts 1 and 2 of the classic 1939 "Monk" two-parter by Gardner Fox and Bob Kane. This is everything you'd ever want in a Golden Age Batman story -- creepy artwork, deathtraps in quick succession, a stoic Batman who still gets a kick out of scaring people silly, and a supernatural villain. It was a clear inspiration for the Grant Morrison story "Gothic" from Legends of the Dark Knight #s 6-10, 'waaay back in 1990.
If only the Monk employed a gorilla....
P.S. Still trying to collect my thoughts on a variety of topics, including Superboy and the Waid/Kitson Legion, doing something about this spate of Bat-books -- and today's new comic day! Merde!
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Saturday, September 11, 2004

Where Have I Been?

Just a quick update for those two or three of you who have been missing new content: in a nutshell, I got a new job which starts Monday, and I've been spending the last week or so getting ready for it.

This has meant cleaning and reorganizing around the house, looking for a new car (more travel in the new job) and buying some new clothes (the old suits were getting kind of ratty).

On Thursday I did buy a passel of new comics, as usual, including an inordinate amount of reprints (Fantastic Four Masterworks, Essential Super-Villain Team-Up, the second Perez Wonder Woman paperback, and the third Byrne/Wolfman/Ordway Superman trade). Life rolls on, and I'm back in the thick of it.

Still, I like doing this, and I think some of you like it too. Who knows if I'll have more or less time to devote to it, but I'll try not to get too far behind. Thanks for all the encouragement, and I'll talk to you soon.
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Wednesday, September 01, 2004

New Comics 9/1/04: Special Cheapskate Edition

Well, not really, because I bought Majestic #s 1 and 2 after hearing good things about the series. Otherwise I would have bought just three, count 'em, three new issues. Still, let me have my dreams.

Detective Comics #798: Written by Anderson Gabrych, drawn by Pete Woods and Cam Smith, edited by Bob Schreck. "War Games" Act 2, Part 1. Lots of plot in this issue and only one real cringeworthy balloon. (Page 3, panel 6: "No! No! Oh, God, no! Henry what have you done?!?") It's a solid, satisfying issue which sets up some intriguing threads, including Batman's relationship with the police and the fate of Tim Drake. (Okay, so Tim's fate isn't surprising, but given its predictability, it's not overplayed.) I got the sense that lots of things were happening without being lost among all the players. If that helps redeem all the exposition of Act 1, so be it. There's also a backup story featuring the Riddler and Poison Ivy which picks up where recent issues of Gotham Knights left off. I don't know why, but ever since "Hush," I don't know who this person calling himself the Riddler is supposed to be. He just seems radically different somehow.

Firestorm #5: Written by Dan Jolley, pencilled by Chriscross, inked by Rob Stull and Keith Champagne, edited by Peter Tomasi. Jason experiences a new Firestorm power while on the trail of last issue's antagonist. Along the way he merges with a police officer who has an unusual take on his "need" to be Firestorm. Also, Superman and the Flash pop in for a couple of pages. This title has earned its way onto my regular rotation (alert readers will note that Justice League Elite is no longer there). Jason already seems more book-smart than Ronnie Raymond, not to mention more practical (as evidenced by his calling the professionals when he needs their help). The "anthological" nature of this series -- merging with different people -- also offers a whole host of possibilities. I'm waiting for Jason to merge with his dad. (Is it coincidence that Ronnie Raymond also lived only with his father, who by and large didn't know about Firestorm? Hmmm....)

Birds of Prey #73: Written by Gail Simone, with alternating artwork by Ron Adrian & Ron Lea and Eric Battle & Rodney Ramos; edited by Joan Hilty. Huntress and Vixen take out the cult and its mind-controlled superheroes as Black Canary helps Oracle fight off Brainiac. It's funny, but I would have expected Adrian & Lea's "cleaner" artwork to go with the more cybertech-oriented storyline. Battle & Ramos' muddier style could then have augmented the superhero slugfest. Still, the two teams mesh well, and Battle/Ramos did get a more unsavory assignment overall. They definitely don't make the bloodied Canary look glamorous. Since this issue's theme is "breaking mind control," Huntress uses a rather novel method, but Black Canary is not so original. Thus, the story isn't quite redeemed for me. Technically there's still one issue to go in the arc, so I'll see how that turns out in a couple of weeks.

Majestic #s 1 and 2: Written by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning, drawn by Karl Kerschl, edited by Tom Palmer Jr. The only exposure I have to this WildStorm character is his appearances in various DC books -- 1997's JLA/WildCATS (where he met Superman, assuming the story still counts) and last winter's Superman titles. Clearly he's a Superman analogue, because the miniseries is playing that for all it's worth. Issue #1 has an entertaining encounter between Majestic and Superman in a greasy-spoon diner, and follows that up with a Majestic/Eradicator fight. Issue #2 has Majestic taking Superman's advice to start a secret identity, but even that has him mistaken for the Man of Steel. Meanwhile, there's a flashback to Majestic's homeworld, from which something has pursued him to DC-Earth. I can't quite discern a plot for the miniseries just yet, other than "Eradicator hates him" and "something evil from his home has followed him," but each issue's main vignettes have held my attention long enough for me to want more. Heck, it's probably cheaper than the paperback will be.
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