Friday, September 30, 2005

I've got the end-of-quarter blues

Be warned -- I am very close to turning this post into a Larry King-like stream-of-consciousness string of non sequiturs. Must -- stay -- focused!!!

At first I was going to list all the things I'd like to see out of the revitalized, post-Infinite Crisis DC, but that started to sound an awful lot like a wholesale regression to around 1991, as told by someone who's seen his parents fight once too many and just wants everyone to get along.

Then I was going to explain how the little weekly new-comics roundups aren't reviews, because I tend to gloss over a lot of the critical thoughts, and plus I just buy what I like and like what I buy. That ended up being an admission that I may well get burned out on new comics completely and devote the site to Teen Titans recaps.

In turn, that sparked a few sentences about peer pressure (real or not) from the rest of the blogosphere to start reading comics about normal people doing normal things, or at least to start reading more manga. I like to think my response wasn't too defensive, because after all I am fairly open-minded, but various factors (including a genuine affection for the genre) keep me in some familiar habits, so as much as I'd like to branch out, it won't be anytime soon.

Oh, the heck with it:

1. The new Justice League should include Aquaman, the Atom, Batman, Big Barda, Black Canary, Fire, Flash, Green Arrow, Green Lantern (either Hal or John), Huntress, Mr. Miracle, Superman, Wonder Woman, Zatanna, and Zauriel.

2. Superman should be happy. A tormented Supes is like a tormented Santa -- and here I'm talking about the real Santa, not just his David Sedaris-like or Billy Bob Thornton-esque helpers, entertaining as they may be.

3. Batman and Robin should work together a lot more. I know I keep harping on this, but I think it's necessary for a more well-adjusted Batman. For purposes of this argument, Nightwing counts as a Robin, and Red Hood does not. Dick and Tim working together also doesn't count, unless Dick is in the Batman suit. (Jeez, that whole paragraph sounds sick!)

4. Darwyn Cooke should write and draw The Flash.

5. George Perez should draw JLA, and either Kurt Busiek or Mark Waid should be coaxed back to write it.

6. Also, the League should go back to a satellite headquarters.

7. Failing either of the previous two, I would accept the rumor that Waid and Perez will handle the new Brave and the Bold team-up series.

8. Put Captain Marvel and his whole entourage in some idyllic corner of the DC cosmos where no deconstructionist notions can penetrate and Billy Batson never has to age. Cap works as a contrast to the rest of DC, not necessarily as a functioning part of it.

9. Put Peter David back on Supergirl, and give her a healthier body image.

10. Updating one of the Silver Age "we don't have superpowers but we're real smart" teams might be good. How about another crack at the Blackhawks?

Next time, content that's more well-thought-out. I promise.
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Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Tune In, Turn On, Veg Out

When I was a kid I loved TV. It provided all kinds of surrogate relationships. I would get the TV Guide fall preview special and look eagerly for the entries marked "Debut." I even remember the preview for Fall 1982, which made me anticipate "Knight Rider" but not so much "Cheers."

As I got older my TV-watching declined. Finally, at the end of last season, attrition had reduced it so far that this season I have been more actively evaluating new shows. So far nothing has really jumped out at me like "Knight Rider" did, but there may still be some "Cheers" in the mix.

Monday: Last year I watched one show on Monday, "Everybody Loves Raymond." This year I will watch at least one show, "Arrested Development." I can't say enough about this show, other than it works so well on so many levels. Please, tell all your friends to watch it, watch the reruns, and buy the DVDs, until FOX has no choice but to keep it on the air for as long as we say.

Last Monday I tried out the first episodes of "Kitchen Confidential" and "How I Met Your Mother." This, of course, represents the battle of the "Buffy"/"Freaks & Geeks" couples -- Nick "Xander" Brendon and John Francis "Sam" Daley vs. Allyson "Willow" Hannigan and Jason "Nick" Segel. Although "HIMYM" was a fun little half-hour with potential to transcend its "Friends"-ripoff milieu, I did enjoy "KC" more. Much of this was the presence of its leading man, "Alias" alum Bradley Cooper. "KC" also has a more distinctive setting, featuring a motley group of maverick chefs in a struggling New York restaurant. "HIMYM" probably has the longer life expectancy, but I'm more likely to buy the DVDs of "KC."

(I watched the first episode of "Out of Practice" too, but it didn't make much of an impression.)

Tuesday: "My Name Is Earl" and "The Office" brought me back to Tuesdays after they had dropped off my radar with the end of "Buffy." I thought both were very funny, and "The Office's" Dundle awards ceremony felt touchingly real to boot. (One thing about the American "Office" -- it sometimes invites you to feel sorry for Michael where the original never did.) I've been watching "Bones" too but it hasn't really grabbed me.

Wednesday: You know how after a while, the various Star Trek spinoffs started to repeat plots from previous shows? That's how "The Apprentice: Martha Stewart" felt right from the start. The details are different, but the core principles are the same. Among those principles: your team should win if you do market research and your project manager has a modicum of people skills. I kept thinking, Galaxy Quest-like, "Didn't these idiots watch the other show?"

"Lost" has kept me and the Best Wife Ever as viewers for now, but over the past few days I have been hearing "This had better not be another 'Twin Peaks.'" Revelations about the hatch were welcome, even if its tenant's identity wasn't so surprising. Personally, I think every season should put the castaways on a new "island" (underground, in space, in the Middle Ages, etc.) just to keep things fresh.

Thursday: "Everybody Hates Chris" is right up there with "Arrested Development" in terms of wit and originality. It's apparently doing great things for UPN, so let's hope it has a long run too. As for the original "Apprentice," see above -- the losers did their market research, and they didn't lose by a lot, but they quickly found a scapegoat. As it happens, the scapegoat turned out to be a paranoiac of Captain Queeg proportions, so at least they cut off that avenue of irritation early. Still, this could be the year "The Apprentice" tips over irredeemably into self-parody.

Friday: "Battlestar Galactica" showed its last episode before a 3-month hiatus, and I ended up not liking it. Not because I am squeamish, or disdainful of all things "dark and gritty," but because it was so one-sided. Everyone from Pegasus might as well have been from the Mirror Universe, so starkly did they contrast with the regulars. Many of you will snort with disgust when I say this, but I liked the setup better when it was a "Star Trek: Voyager" two-parter called "Equinox." At least there, the suggestion was that Voyager could adopt some of Equinox's radical survival strategies. Here, the cliffhanger hinges on how Adama and Galactica can outfight the higher-tech Pegasus to rescue its crewmen. While we're supposed to be shocked by how easily Pegasus' crewmen went over the edge, the episode portrayed them as so far gone that there'd be virtually no chance of Galactica's crew doing the same. Moreover, their tactics didn't seem to be working as well as Galactica's. "Galactica" is a fine show, but I expect more nuance from "the best show on television."

Saturday: I missed the first two episodes of this season's "Justice League Unlimited," but these were fairly good. I'm especially looking forward to the Batman/Orion/Flash/Rogues' Gallery installment.

Sunday: "The Simpsons" was OK. I keep watching because it's still more funny than not.

"Desperate Housewives" did a decent job of setting up a new status quo. I particularly enjoyed seeing flashes of the old "Sports Night"-style super-competent Felicity Huffman multitasking. However, I fear that before long, it will be back to the old klutzy Susan and scheming Gabrielle overshadowing the revitalized Lynette. I also don't quite know what will happen with the widowed Bree, who last season was my favorite DH. Rex's death deprived the show of a good, albeit strange, relationship, different enough from Lynette's more normal marriage and Gabrielle's broken one. And just what did happen to Paul in the desert?
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Friday, September 23, 2005

All Together Now: Rann-Thanagar War #s 1-5

At long last, I'm down to Rann-Thanagar War (written by Dave Gibbons, pencilled by Ivan Reis and others, inked by Marc Campos and others). The slog through these miniseries was more difficult than I expected, and I can only hope it pays off in Infinite Crisis, if not in the various issues #6. Thankfully, RTW seems to be the most straightforward of the lead-ins, overlaying interplanetary war with the resurrection of an evil Thanagarian cult leader whose followers instigated the fighting.

As with the other miniseries, the events of RTW were themselves set up elsewhere; namely, in the excellent Adam Strange miniseries by Andy Diggle and Pasqual Ferry. However, RTW stands on its own, thanks to Adam Strange's opening scenes of exposition with Hawkman and Hawkgirl. Basically, the planet Thanagar has fallen into a lower orbit around its sun, putting all its life-forms in danger of being burned up. Strange and his armies from Rann evacuated many of Thanagar's people to Rann, but the two planets were never chummy to begin with and fighting began almost immediately. The presence of the Onimar Synn death-cult didn't help any either. Thus, Strange teleports to Earth to fetch Hawkman and Hawkgirl, hoping they can help calm everyone down.

Unfortunately, though, the situation has only gotten worse, and Thanagarian hordes have spread to other planets. Soon, planetary leaders like Prince Gavyn (assisted by Tigorr of the Omega Men) and Queen Komand'r join up with the Rannians, and it becomes clear that the Synnites still want Zeta-beam devices so they can spread their evil across the galaxy. Meanwhile, as if all that weren't enough, Green Lanterns Kyle Rayner and Kilowog run afoul of Synn's followers while on an apparently unrelated mission. They meet up with Captain Comet, who eventually finds his way to Strange and the Hawks, but the GLs still haven't interacted with anyone else.

Those are a lot of characters fighting on a lot of fronts, and for the most part Gibbons manages to keep everything orderly. It helps that the plot isn't too complicated -- just Rann and its allies fighting Thanagar and, eventually, the resurrected Onimar Synn himself. The problem is, Reis and Campos' art is very busy. It tries hard to convey an epic scope, with thousands of soldiers exchanging laser fire in various sci-fi cityscapes, but it ends up being cluttered. The colors don't help much either. The battlefields are lit by fire and explosions, and so take on an orange hue that overwhelms characters and backgrounds alike. Even the characters themselves blend into the armies at times, especially Adam Strange, whose outfit has only minor differences from every other Rannian soldier. At least the Hawks from Earth are distinct.

Still, on the whole I like RTW. I only know interstellar DC politics second-hand, but Gibbons has been good at using dialogue to convey backstory without it sounding like exposition. Characterization suffers a little, although there's not much room for character moments when everyone is flying around, yelling, and shooting most of the time. Gibbons does have Kyle and Kilowog terraform the post-apocalyptic surface of Thanagar; and he also gives Hawkman and Hawkwoman a tender farewell. Even the hoary old "fake prisoner infiltration" scene gets a bit of a twist.

The resolution of this miniseries apparently depends on subduing the giant monster Onimar Synn has become, but I doubt the story will end there. For one thing, even without Synn, his followers must still be defeated. There is also the possibility that this miniseries will end on a cliffhanger, and Synn will be around to cause trouble in Infinite Crisis. I threw a hissyfit the other day over Day of Vengeance's ending, but this miniseries' conclusion probably won't provoke me as much. RTW never felt bloated or decompressed -- if anything, it felt like it was trying to move too fast and cover too much ground.

One last thing which occurred to me this morning: what exactly is Hawkman's pre-InfC timeline? He's in JLA arguing for more mindwiping, he's in RTW, and isn't he supposed to be dead in his own book? Surely someone out there in Internet-land has the answer.
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Wednesday, September 21, 2005

New comics 9/14/05 and 9/21/05

At the risk of sounding like the stereotypical frothing-at-the-mouth angry superhero fan, I have to get this off my chest:

Day of Vengeance #6 (written by Bill Willingham, pencilled by Justiniano, inked by Walden Wong) is the worst comic I have read in a while, even including Willingham's Leslie Thompkins kiss-off in Batman. As the last issue of a miniseries, it doesn't conclude the story it started. Instead, it goes for what I can only assume is a series of shocks -- cliffhangers, really, since the people and places affected are too important to "die" -- designed to get the reader to buy Infinite Crisis. News flash, DC: we were going to do that already, and it would have been nice if DoV had been able to streamline InfC's storytelling. The last few pages could easily have been, and probably will be, incorporated into Infinite Crisis itself, arguably making the entire miniseries pointless. As for the Shadowpact, it defeats one of its foes early on, spends the rest of the issue patting itself on the back, and stands around like disinterested spectators for the aforementioned cliffhangers. The last panel of the issue has the Shadowpacters rallying themselves unironically, and the "next issue" blurb encourages us to watch out for their further adventures. Not if Bill Willingham is anywhere near, I won't. (By the way, DC -- how does the destruction of you-know-what over here affect the status of you-know-who in Villains United?)

Speaking of writers whose work frustrates me, Batman: Gotham Knights #69 (written by A.J. Lieberman, pencilled by Al Barrionuevo, inked by Bit) might actually start Lieberman back on the road to redemption, at least in my eyes. He seems to be retconning away one of the biggest mistakes of the Jeph Loeb/Jim Lee crowd-pleaser "Hush," namely the identity of the eponymous villain. The flashbacks and flash-forwards are better this issue, the dialogue isn't as arch, and the art has been consistently good. I wonder if I have reached some kind of critical mass with Lieberman, where his stuff finally starts to make sense....

Captain America #10 (written by Ed Brubaker, pencilled by Lee Weeks) interrupts "The Winter Soldier" for a House of M crossover. So far this is the first and only House of M issue I've read, and only because Brubaker's writing it. As alternate histories go, things start off pretty well for Cap, but he soon finds himself unwelcome at both ends of the political spectrum. Brubaker presents a series of compelling vignettes -- the problem is, they never approach any real climax, and the book just runs out of pages after a while. It's well-executed otherwise.

Green Lantern Corps: Recharge #1 (written by Geoff Johns and Dave Gibbons, pencilled by Patrick Gleason, inked by Christian Alamy and Prentiss Rollins) is a fine introduction to the new GL Corps, focusing on Guy Gardner and a would-be Lantern from Sinestro's old space sector. Johns and Gibbons combine for some subtler dialogue than I usually associate with Johns. The Korugarian physician, clearly the main guest star, is fleshed out well, even if her story seems a bit predictable this early on. The art is decent too. Except for Guy's head looking like a helium balloon in some panels, everybody looks heroic and the aliens look appropriately alien.

Finally (for this week, at least), Seven Soldiers: Mister Miracle #1 (written by Grant Morrison, drawn by Pasqual Ferry) almost read like a Mister Miracle Elseworlds. It doesn't seem to have much to do with the other 7S projects, but that's not necessarily bad. Giving the New Gods the alternate-reality treatment is a good way to invest the longtime fan emotionally, and for a newcomer they are effective just as elements of another reality to which Mr. Miracle isn't quite sure he belongs. The art was different than I remember seeing from previous Ferry projects -- more painted and three-dimensional -- but still very good. Too bad he's not coming back next issue.

Now to last week, except I'm saving Rann-Thanagar War #5, Star Wars: Empire #34, and Batman: Legends Of The Dark Knight #195 for omnibus recaps.

Chris Eliopolous' Franklin Richards: Son Of A Genius was a fun special, kind of a cross between Calvin & Hobbes and "Dexter's Laboratory," but good on its own terms, and no previous knowledge of the Fantastic Four was required.

Action Comics #831 (written by Gail Simone, pencilled by John Byrne, inked by Nelson) featured both a Superman/Black Adam/Dr. Psycho fight and a Bizarro/Zoom race. Bizarro comes off a lot more fun here than he does in Superman/Batman (for example), and Simone uses him to good comic effect against the more businesslike villains of the Secret Society. The Superman/Black Adam stuff is entertaining too, but not as much. Jimmy Olsen is here too, drawn with a Beatle/Chekov mophead when he had more of a shaggy '70s 'do in the last Superman -- but I quibble. At least the Super-books are paying attention to Jimmy again. Simone also writes a funny Perry White. I mention these things because it's been easy for the Superman writers to get caught up in the whole "let's make everything big, cosmic, and gut-wrenching" paradigm, and miss the interaction with Supes' normal friends that was a hallmark for so long. Simone is the most evocative of those old tropes at the moment, and the books are better for it.

Black Adam (get 'im while you can, folks!) is also in Firestorm #17 (written by Stuart Moore, pencilled by Jamal Igle, inked by Prentiss Rollins and Rob Stull), trying to recapture 'Stormy after the Secret Six broke him out of Secret Society captivity over in Villains United. However, the real guest-star is Gehenna, a young woman also being used as a power source by the Society. Their escape from the Society's base is both exciting and romantic, and the issue does a good job of conveying Jason's thrills at both defeating super-baddies and flirting with a teenaged hottie.

Another immensely enjoyable issue last week was JLA #118 (written by Geoff Johns and Allan Heinberg, pencilled by Chris Batista, inked by Mark Farmer), in which J'Onn J'Onzz and Aquaman square off against Despero, Zatanna seeks sanctuary on Themyscira, and the rest of the JLA votes on further mindwiping. This would be a good story even without the Identity Crisis theatrics, and it left me anticipating the next issue.

Finally (for sure), All-Star Batman & Robin #2 (written by Frank Miller, pencilled by Jim Lee, inked by Scott Williams) felt a little better than last issue. It seems looser and more freewheeling now that it doesn't have to establish a certain mood or live up to first-issue expectations. The subtext of the issue deals with Batman's emotional manipulation of Dick Grayson, and Dick's realization he's being manipulated. I have a theory that Robin exists to show readers it would be fun to live Batman's life without actually being Bruce Wayne, so I wonder if Miller is headed someplace similar. Still, the true test will come once Dick gets into the short pants and elf shoes.
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Tuesday, September 20, 2005

All Together Now: Villains United #s 1-5

Villains United (written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Dale Eaglesham and Val Semeiks) uses the same slobs-vs.-snobs premise as Day of Vengeance and does right by it. Not just a story about glib super-powered outcasts, it takes full advantage of its circumstances and weaves an anything-goes tale filled with manipulation, treachery, and degrees of evil.

Proceeding directly from Identity Crisis' revelations while not relying on the reader's knowledge of same, VU picks up with Lex Luthor organizing a mammoth new, hundreds-strong, Secret Society of Super-Villains. Luthor's pitch is that the villains must, well, unite in order to avoid the Justice League mindwiping them like they did Dr. Light those many years ago. Opposed to Luthor, for reasons as yet unclear, is the mysterious Mockingbird, whose new Secret Six includes himself, undercover as one of the Sixers. At first the Six are Cheshire, Deadshot, a new Rag Doll, a random Parademon, Scandal (apparently new for this miniseries), and the Fiddler. However, when Fiddler botches his part of a mission, he's executed by Deadshot and replaced with Cat-Man.

Cat-Man is therefore the reader's guide to the DC underworld. Introduced in January 1963's Detective Comics #311, he was a criminal amalgam of Batman and Catwoman, with a Batman-like costume and cat-themed crimes. His main gimmick was a magical orange cloth, incorporated into his costume, which gave him nine lives. VU hasn't said anything about this so far, being content to make him as much like the strong, silent Bat-type as possible. In other words, his mad skilz belie his loser's reputation. When armies of Secret Socialites attack the Sixers, Cat-Man takes out several single-handedly; and when the Sixers are eventually imprisoned and tortured, Cat-Man (somehow) breaks them out. If VU has a flaw, it's in making Cat-Man a little too capable. I read the breakout scene a few times last night and still couldn't figure out how he did it, short of simply being tough. It might go back to the magic cloth; I don't know.

Cat-Man's main relationships in VU are with Deadshot, his alpha-male antagonist, and Cheshire, who wants him to bear her child. As for the other Sixers, Rag Doll and Parademon have an odd, half-HoYay, half-Of Mice and Men bond, and nobody really trusts Scandal. Moreover, there's a traitor in the group, so between looking for the traitor and looking for Mockingbird, there are a lot of shifty-eyed glances traded.

Simone pays a bit less attention to the Secret Society's brain trust, which starts with Luthor and his former corporate colleague Talia al Ghul, and descends through Calculator, Deathstroke, Black Adam, and Dr. Psycho. Each of these folks gets a couple of thumbnail traits too -- nobody trusts Luthor, Dr. Psycho is all id, Black Adam has some Klingon-like honor, and Talia still lusts after Batman. Basically, though, the Society wants to make an example of the Six, and so doesn't go after them right away. Naturally, this ends up giving the Six the opening they need to defy the Society, and eventually they destroy the Society's big weapon. As the penultimate issue ends, though, the traitor within the Six has been revealed, and has brought the Society down on the Sixers' heads.

Maybe the best scene in the miniseries comes at the beginning of issue #4, when a small-time supervillain wannabe explains, in chilling detail, how the Society's formation will mean the end of every prison on Earth. It's a great couple of pages, executed flawlessly by Simone and Eaglesham, and it does more to heighten the stakes than any doomsday-device scenario Luthor could describe.

VU's potential lies in its paranoia. Most of the time the reader can tell which characters are "safe," because those are the characters the companies need to sell toothpaste or underwear. With VU, though, those "name" characters are the bad guys -- or, I should say, the really bad guys. DC's not going to kill the Secret Society's leaders, but it has no such need for Cat-Man.

This leaves a few basic outcomes. First, the Society could crush the Six in a kind of Grand Guignol, blaze-of-glory tragic ending. Second, the Six could survive, and continue to be a thorn in the Society's side, probably coming to the heroes' aid at some point in Infinite Crisis. Third -- and perhaps most intriguing -- would be the revelation that Mockingbird was somehow working with the Society to consolidate Luthor's bid for power. Any one of these endings would be fine with me, because Simone has garnered a lot of goodwill along the way.
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Wednesday, September 14, 2005

All Together Now: Day Of Vengeance #s 1-5

Day of Vengeance #s 1-5 is, in a couple of significant respects, the opposite of The OMAC Project. Like Countdown to Infinite Crisis, it is the story of B-listers trying to stop an A-list threat, but there the comparison stops. No A-listers overshadow the main characters (Captain Marvel is merely a plot device), and where OMAC's narrative ranged far and wide, DoV's is almost maddeningly simple. Its focus is on the characters, but to such a degree that it forgets to ground them for the reader.

It begins with Eclipso seducing the host-less Spectre (as opposed, of course, to host-less Twinkies) into destroying all of Earth's magic. He does this by killing or otherwise incapacitating Earth's magic-users. The survivors begin gathering at a bar outside space and time, run by John "Nightmaster" Rook and having Dan "Blue Devil" Cassidy as its bouncer. Bobo, the Detective Chimp, decides he's not going to sit around and wait for the end of the world, and recruits Nightmaster, Blue Devil, Ragman, Enchantress, and Nightshade to help him try and stop the Spectre.

There's not much more to the plot than that. The group (eventually named the Shadowpact) takes two stabs at the Spectre -- first, by increasing the flow of magic to Captain Marvel and making him Spectre's equal in power; and second, by recruiting a heretofore unknown teenager who can steal others' magic briefly, and using her to steal Spectre's power. Issue #5 ends with a cliffhanger in the middle of that fight. Here's the issue-by-issue breakdown:

#1. 6 pages of Jean Loring becoming Eclipso; 4 pages of Ragman introduction; 6 pages of Ragman and Enchantress establishing the plot; 5 pages in the Oblivion Bar; and one page of Shazam and Captain Marvel.

#2. 6 pages of Spectre and Eclipso; 4 pages of the team assembling and expositing; 4 pages of Spectre and Eclipso taking out magical heavyweights; 3 pages with the team before Detective Chimp and Nightshade split off; 2 pages with Enchantress and Ragman; 1 page with the remaining members getting ready for Eclipso and the Spectre; 1 page of Spectre/Captain Marvel fight; and 1 page of the Shadowpacters preparing to face Eclipso.

#3. 6 pages of Spectre/Eclipso/Shadowpact fight; 4 pages of Detective Chimp/Nightshade conversation; 6 pages of Eclipso/Shadowpact fight; 4 pages of Enchantress powering up Captain Marvel; 2 pages of Detective Chimp and Nightshade finding Lori Zechlin.

#4. 3 pages of Detective Chimp origin; 2 pages of Chimp/Nightshade/Mr. Zechlin conversation; 4 pages of Spectre/Captain Marvel fight; 3 pages of Enchantress going nuts; 2 pages of Lori introduction; 5 pages of Enchantress/Shadowpact/Spectre/Captain Marvel fight; 2 pages of team-reassembling.

#5. 1 page of Spectre/Eclipso; 5 pages of Shadowpact/Captain Marvel in the Oblivion Bar; 2 pages of Shazam/Captain Marvel conversation; 1 page of Nightmaster/Detective Chimp/Phantom Stranger Mouse; 1 page of Spectre/Eclipso; 3 pages of Shadowpact planning; 3 pages of Nightshade/Lori conversation; 6 pages of Shadowpact/Spectre/Eclipso fight.

Based on that, I'd say the book is split 60-40 in favor of characterization, and there are some decent character moments. Ragman has unrequited feelings for Enchantress. Nightshade hates Enchantress, apparently from their time in the Suicide Squad together. Blue Devil hates Detective Chimp because the chimp's a mean drunk. Nightmaster's armor itches. These are sometimes effective, but they aren't enough to fill out a thin plot, and the characters themselves are obscure enough that even their little bits of business emphasize the lack of backstory. I know who Nightshade is generally, but here she's in a fairly new costume, and her name is not uttered until issue #3. Again, it can be hard to get into the bits when you're trying to figure out who the characters are.

Still, this loosey-goosey attitude makes the book somewhat unique. When I first heard about these Infinite Crisis lead-in miniseries, I imagined that they would establish backgrounds and foundations for the components of IC's plot. Let's say that during Infinite Crisis, the Spectre can't do X because Y happened to him -- well, DoV would have streamlined the IC plot by telling how Y happened. From that perspective, Day of Vengeance already feels half-empty. I admit I could be approaching this the wrong way, and DoV is actually designed to introduce the Shadowpacters to the larger DC audience. In that respect it's more successful, but obviously it could have done more than just throwing the reader into the middle of their conversations.

I can't close this essay without mentioning Day of Judgment, the 1999 miniseries by Geoff Johns and Mike Mignola-wannabe Matt Smith, because there are some weird comparisons. Day of Judgment also featured an unhinged, host-less Spectre controlled by an evil presence. Ragman, Enchantress, and Blue Devil had minor roles too. However, Day of Judgment was more of a JLA-centered adventure, with scenes in Heaven, Hell, and purgatory; and it focused on making Hal Jordan the new Spectre. As such, it had a lot more action and a lot less characterization. Moreover, the art was so Mignola-esque it was distracting.

It's unfortunate that none of the Day of Vengeance participants seems to remember Day of Judgment. Even something along the lines of "We beat the Spectre before -- but we were second-chair to the JLA then" might have reinforced the oh-no-it's-up-to-us? theme. I suppose that could be chalked up to more selective backstory, but it's a curious omission.

Day of Vengeance tries hard to be witty and irreverent in the face of certain annihilation. The art, by Justiniano and Walden Wong with help from Ron Wagner on one issue, establishes a good, creepy, apocalyptic mood. Most of the time, though, the miniseries is too detached and ironic for its own good. On principle I want to like it, but in practice it's hard to work up any excitement. Obviously this could change depending on how #6 ends, because that will determine whether DoV was about beating the Spectre or forming the Shadowpact.
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Tuesday, September 13, 2005

All Together Now: The OMAC Project #s 1-5, et al.

[Plenty of SPOILERS, but you've probably already heard them.]

As the title indicates, I didn't just read The OMAC Project #s 1-5, but included its prologue (Countdown To Infinite Crisis) and its digression ("Sacrifice"). I did this to be fair, and to get the most complete picture of the story writer Greg Rucka and his colleagues have been trying to tell.

The end result is a beast -- a tale which, with the addition of OMAC #6's 22 pages, will top out at an even 300 pages. Even with some editing in the Countdown and "Sacrifice" parts, that's still over twice as much as the other 6-issue, 132-page Infinite Crisis lead-in miniseries. I wrote earlier that it feels like more has been happening in OMAC than in those others, and clearly much of that is due to OMAC's expanded scope. It's tempting to observe that, like its villainous Brother Eye, The OMAC Project has slipped out of its creator's control and is growing dangerous and unwieldy, but I don't know how far that particular comparison goes.

Nevertheless, OMAC's strength is its air of doom. Brother Eye is strongly reminiscent of Solaris, the Tyrant Sun from Grant Morrison's 1998 company-wide crossover DC One Million, and perhaps in the DC timeline that's a happy coincidence. (Solaris, an artificial satellite, was a future enemy of Superman who had a brief "good" period. Also, where DC One Million featured the "Hourman Virus," OMAC's eponymous virus makes ordinary folk into killing machines.) Like another Morrison creation, Prometheus, Brother Eye has the advantage of knowing Batman's strategic mind and being able to think past it. An omnipresent satellite with an army of unstoppable cyborgs and a mandate to Kill All Hu-- uh, Metas is a pretty potent combination for an adventure tale. Rucka does a good job of making Brother Eye and the OMACs believably invulnerable.

OMAC's other big asset is its air of manipulation. At its core, Max Lord's plan is simply to eliminate all superheroes before they become too dangerous to be controlled. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy, since Max is able to demonstrate how "easily" Superman can be tricked into turning on his closest friends. Because that also forces Wonder Woman to choose between either killing himself or Superman, Max again makes sure his interests come out ahead. Diana killing Superman would have been too good to be true, but even Max's own death drives wedges between the Big Three. Batman is at odds with the JLA over their reaction to Dr. Light, and the JLA responds in kind to the creation of Brother Eye. Now Superman has attacked Batman, and Diana's actions have alienated her from both of them. This division and conquest must only make it easier for the OMACs to eliminate heroes one by one.

Unfortunately, the narrative itself is all over the place. Countdown was a tale of a B-list superhero uncovering an A-list plot, and being ignored by the A-listers along the way -- Death of a Salesman with Blue Beetle as Willy Loman. However, once Beetle was dead he became the McGuffin, and except for a few scenes where he serves as a martyr, the emphasis shifted quickly to the top of the A-list.

Speaking of McGuffins, perhaps none is more inexplicable to the uninitiated reader than this Sasha Bordeaux woman who Batman kisses passionately in issue #2. Batman isn't James Bond, so this just isn't something you think he does that often -- but Rucka acts as if everyone knows who she is. Maybe he's waiting for issue #6 for that bit of herstory. The OMAC artists don't do her any favors either, making her only just distinguishable from the other dark-haired, black-jumpsuited Checkmate flunky with whom she spends most of the miniseries. Sasha was Bruce Wayne's bodyguard, trained briefly by Batman once he learned she'd discovered his dual identity. She then spent some time in prison as a suspect in the murder of one of Bruce's girlfriends, but was spirited away by the shadowy government agency called Checkmate -- and now she's a cyborg who probably holds the deus ex machina key. Everything up to that last part could have been explained a little better.

Then there's the whole "Sacrifice" side trip, which highlights Superman's mind-control with chilling effect, but which also pulls the reader farther from the central narrative. It's basically a dream sequence that takes up about a third of the story, and was designed to take advantage of the periodical format. Thus, it comes off slightly less well when read all at once. I say "slightly" because I still think its repetitions work, but some of its twists are more obvious when all the parts are read in rapid succession. I don't know if the impact of "Sacrifice" would be as great if it were told more economically, and I think that impact is crucial to the larger OMAC plot. It just feels like a right turn into high grass in the context of the OMAC miniseries, especially when combined with Countdown.

Honestly, I'm not sure OMAC was intended to be read as a single story. Its three parts -- Countdown, the core miniseries, and "Sacrifice" -- all feel separate enough from each other that there doesn't seem to be a central plot thread beyond the looming threat of Brother Eye. The seeds of distrust sown among Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are naturally products of OMAC, but the miniseries seems to play out in "real time," acknowledging events in the larger DC universe without any other comment. In other words, OMAC is probably best appreciated that way -- read month-to-month over a six-month period not as a single narrative, but a series of waypoints; and probably read in conjunction with a handful of other titles.

Despite all of that, The OMAC Project has been a fairly exciting adventure story, with some genuinely scary moments. This helps redeem it from just being the chronicle of a process, but I am afraid that at the end of issue #6 the story still won't be over.
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Monday, September 12, 2005

All Together Now: City Of Tomorrow!

Howard Chaykin's City of Tomorrow! (DC/WildStorm, June-November 2005) is best appreciated as a unit, not as a monthly miniseries. At least, that's my conclusion, having just read its six issues in one setting. Chaykin wanted me to pay attention right from the beginning, but I treated each issue as if it could be enjoyed on its own for a few minutes every month.

City of Tomorrow! is the story of Tucker Foyle, his father Eli, and the independent utopian nation of Columbia that Eli founded. It takes place in the near future, but one not too far removed from today. Tucker is a jaded soldier marked for death by his superiors after following their orders to plant war-justifying WMDs. Thought dead, he returns to Columbia to find its robot underclass transformed by a computer virus into warring gangster factions. From there Tucker tries, in familiar Chaykinesque fashion, to clean up Columbia and confront his issues with his father.

That's only the barest hint of an intricate plot, which as I said requires strict attention. I haven't even addressed the women in the Foyle men's lives, each of whom plays a unique role. However, I don't want to spoil anything. Besides, the plot is complicated enough that I considered it an accomplishment to have kept up. Not that a complicated plot is a negative -- here, Chaykin makes watching it unfold a pleasure.

Nevertheless, Chaykin's character designs don't make the characters any easier to distinguish. Tucker and his father are identical except for different-colored hair streaks, and even those might fool a careless reader (like me) into thinking the white-streaked Eli was the older version of the red-streaked Tucker. Likewise, the two mob bosses might be confused, if not for different parts in their hair, and one having a mustache. Adding to the confusion is Chaykin's reliance on sound effects, which in the past has greatly enhanced the moods he sets, but here seem intrusive much of the time. Finally, it's hard to tell when the first issue is flashing back, and since that's the foundation for the rest of the story, the reader shouldn't just plow through it.

However, City of Tomorrow! presents a story which seeks to be rapid-fire and fast-paced. It is full of Chaykin's trademark noir-driven dialogue, which gives each character's voice a certain world-weary tinge and a few dramatic declarative statements. There's lots of gunplay, double-dealing, and sexual innuendo, which again comes with the territory. Some parts of the plot are easier to predict than others, and the whole thing ends up feeling like a pilot episode. (It even has a subtitle: "Human Nature, Metal Fatigue.") When I put down issue #6, I didn't feel like Tucker's story was finished -- instead, I appreciated how Chaykin had played out his various plot threads to get Tucker to a particular point.

I would probably read a sequel to City of Tomorrow!, and I'm not sorry I picked up these issues, but they don't offer much that is new or innovative. Still, even average Chaykin is better than a lot of comics. City of Tomorrow! was a well-made miniseries which should make a fine collected edition, and who knows -- maybe then we'll get a sequel which explores the issues this story produced.
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Some new comics, 9/8/05

Copping out slightly this week, because I will devote a set of essays to arcs/miniseries which are either complete or almost complete. Therefore, hold on a bit for analyses of Serenity, City of Tomorrow!, Seven Soldiers: Manhattan Guardian, and Villains United. I will say I liked the conclusion of Guardian and the penultimate issue of VU, but was lukewarm towards Serenity #3 and CoT! #6.

That leaves only three titles. Jeez, looks like I get a lot of miniseries, huh?

First up is Superman #221 (written by Mark Verheiden, pencilled by Ed Benes, inked by Mariah Benes, Alex Lei and Rob Lea). It’s advertised as a VU crossover but isn’t really. Instead, it highlights Jimmy Olsen and Bizarro, who both struggle with building up Clark Kent. The Verheiden/Benes era has so far been a mixed bag for me, and I think part of that is the constant intrusion of Infinite Crisis hoo-hah. Here, though, their efforts actually end up feeling like a classic Superman story, or at least one which doesn’t feature the put-upon Supes who’s suffered so many emotional sucker punches over the past several months. Yes, there are some VU moments, but not many, and certainly not enough to warrant Zoom on the cover. Still, I was pleasantly surprised by this issue.

Detective Comics #811 (written by David Lapham, pencilled by Ramon Bachs, inked by Nathan Massengill) returns to ”City of Crime” after a couple issues’ diversion, but while Lapham and company ease the reader back into the story, things get confusing quickly. A mystery villain (maybe the Joker, probably the Scarecrow) introduces a foaming fear elixir into the slum Batman has infiltrated. The elixir wreaks havoc on everybody including Batman, but apparently it’s easy to overcome, which kind of deflates the tension. Still, at least for a while there was tension. Also, Robin and Jim Gordon share a nice, almost nostalgic scene, and the disguised Batman also has a few good moments with neighborhood kids. Finally, I noticed that this issue was a regular 22-page story, without the backups the title has had for the past year or so. Don’t know whether the backups are gone for good, but they weren’t all bad.

Last is Gotham Central #35 (written by Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker, drawn by Stefano Gaudiano and Kano). This is the penultimate chapter of “Dead Robin,” and it’s another solid installment. It has more of a wrap-up feel, as if there will be a big blowout conclusion next issue and all the subplots have to be gotten out of the way first. The real Robin makes another appearance, in another sweet scene with Stacy, the Bat-Signal operator, and big pieces of the mystery are revealed. I really can’t say enough about this title, and everyone who enjoys superheroes in general and Batman in particular should read it.

Coming soon: omnibus recaps, as promised.
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Wednesday, September 07, 2005

New comics 8/31/05

Lots of concluding storylines this week, so I’ve been torn between doing entire-arc wrap-ups and single-issue impressions. Going with the latter for now, but expect the former later.

Flash #225 (written by Geoff Johns, drawn by Howard Porter & Livesay) closes off not only “Rogue War,” but also Johns’ 5-year writing tenure. As such, it works better as the end of an era than the end of this particular arc. “Rogue War” started with much fanfare as the final battle between old-school and new-school villains, but it has finished as the unofficial sequel to the first Zoom storyline from about 2 ½ years ago. It’s a decent action issue with fine artwork and a not-unexpected happy ending. I suppose I’ll reserve further comments until about 2015, when “Rogue War” comes up in the Johns recaps.

Seven Soldiers: Shining Knight #4 (written by Grant Morrison, drawn by Simone Bianchi) feels like a bit of a cheat, if only because it leads directly into the Seven Soldiers special, out around the same time I’ll be recapping “Rogue War.” Other than that, it’s about the same as the previous three issues. Bianchi’s art is still very pretty. Morrison’s big twist makes sense in the context of the genre, but he doesn’t seem to do a lot with it. Again, I’ll probably do an omnibus recap of this one.

The cover of Batman: Gotham Knights #68 (written by A.J. Lieberman, drawn by Al Barrionuevo and Bit) features exciting images of a determined Batman, a menacing Hush, a demented Alfred, and some guy chained in a cell. The actual issue is very different, basically telling a disjointed-in-time story about Hush’s plan to defeat Batman through clones. There’s no Batman, except a cameo appearance by his silhouette. The art isn’t bad at all, but Lieberman’s writing is starting to remind me of the literary equivalent of an early-‘90s Image wannabee. It’s all attitude and flash, with few fundamentals; and it assumes that the reader can get by on inference and nuance.

Speaking of attitude, JLA Classified #11 (written by Warren Ellis, art by Jackson “Butch” Guice) improves greatly on Part 1 of “New Maps Of Hell.” This is the roundup issue, where each member of the Justice League responds to the crisis during his or her own snappy vignette. Also, a bit more of the mystery is revealed. That’s about it for the plot, but it’s all fun and entertaining – the kind of “To the Batcave, Robin!” issue that fanboys young and old dream about writing. Parts of it feel like Morrison, but he would have taken about six pages.

Green Lantern #4 (written by Geoff Johns, drawn by Ethan van Sciver) starts a new arc with Hector Hammond and a couple other old GL villains. Johns’ treatment of the Flash’s Rogues irritated me after a while, but the GL villains seem more suited to his style. The story itself starts with a steal from a classic “X Files,” takes a trip to Oa for a new/old GL Corps reunion, and descends into prison for yet another Silence of the Lambs-style confab. However, it all comes together well, even the Hannibal Lecter stuff. Van Sciver’s Hector Hammond makes MODOK look like Teddy Ruxpin (how’s that for a geek-trifecta reference?), and Johns lets him live vicariously (and ickily) through Hal, even for a moment. As much as Johns gets ripped for his over-reliance on continuity and forced drama, I think he’s really enjoying himself with this series, and it shows.

Wonder Woman #220 (written by Greg Rucka, pencilled by David Lopez, inked by Bit) is the flip side of this month’s Adventures of Superman, also written by Rucka. It is more substantial than AoS, though, because it dovetails Rucka’s subplots and supporting cast with the “Sacrifice”/OMAC macro-plot. Specifically, WW confronts a couple of Max Lord’s foot soldiers, one of whom turns out to be a close friend. Thus, as with Sasha Bordeaux in Detective and OMAC, Rucka has treated negatively another of his own characters who once was very sympathetic. I don’t know whether this means Rucka doesn’t care about his characters, although that doesn’t seem likely. Rather, it seems to be more indicative of How Bad Things Are Now. In any event, this was a good issue, and while I don’t like the repetitiveness of the flashbacks, I appreciate Rucka doing that for the benefit of those happy few who only read this book.

Astro City: The Dark Age #3 (written by Kurt Busiek, drawn by Brent Anderson) is confident enough in its gritty evocation of ‘70s superheroics to slip in a Ron Burgundy cameo. Such confidence is justified. The two brothers’ story gets a bit more interesting this issue, even as the superheroes get more attention on the global political stage. One thing which confused me was the chronology of Tyranos Rex. Because he’s clearly a Thing-analogue, I thought he was a founding member of the First Family, but according to this issue maybe not. Still, the great thing about Astro City is Busiek’s ability to convey entire peripheral story arcs with just a few lines of narrative shorthand. Maybe it speaks only to the fanboy in me, but I would hope more casual readers could get sucked in too.

Hero Squared #2 (written by Keith Giffen & J.M. DeMatteis, drawn by Joe Abraham, Mark Badger, and Shannon Denton) relates Captain Valor’s last battle on his own Earth, told first from his perspective and then from Caliginous’. (Badger and Denton do the flashbacks.) Except for a fairly obvious series of gay-Batman jokes, and the notion that Caliginous’ version is less truthful than Valor’s, it’s all about as clever as you’d expect. I almost don’t mind the $3.99 per issue, especially since I’ve been driving less these days.

It’s a tribute to the Solo series that I picked up issue #6 solely on the strength of its predecessors. I had almost no idea who Jordi Bernet was, outside of an 8-page Batman story from several years ago. His style reminds me a lot of Alex Toth and Joe Kubert – thick pencils, full figures, and very expressive faces. Reading this was like watching a Sergio Leone Western (not least because a couple of the stories have frontier themes): a European artist makes a classic American medium his own, and hey, there’s Eastwood/Batman too!

Star Wars: Empire #33 (written by Thomas Andrews, drawn by Adriana Melo) presents the Jabiim storyline’s penultimate chapter, and things are starting to pick up. However, I’m still confused about who did what to whom, both 20 years ago and today. Mitigating this are nice scenes involving Vader, whose presence helps bring together the present-day and Clone Wars elements. There are also familiar elements like Star Destroyers and Rogue Squadron. Still, I’m waiting for Luke, the ostensible hero, to get more involved. Maybe next issue.

Captain America #9 (written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Michael Lark) was a winner of an issue that could have stood effectively on its own. Cap, Fury, and Sharon go on a raid that fails, thanks to the intersection of business and politics. I read this wondering why Cap has to wear the gaudy flag-colored costume and use only an indestructible shield as a weapon, when the SHIELD agents get more practical black outfits with guns. Watching Cap rage with frustration at the men who have made his mission fail, it brought home Cap’s symbolic nature. He has to act a certain way because of what he represents, just like his country has to act a certain way because of what it represents, and practicality must sometimes take a back seat to the symbolism of acting rightly.

Astonishing X-Men #12 (written by Joss Whedon, drawn by John Cassaday) is the big “season finale” blowout between the X-Men and the sentient Danger Room/Sentinel. Most of it is well-choreographed action with snappy Whedon dialogue, but the emotional zinger is a revelation about Xavier’s use of the Danger Room over the years. That’s not quite as successful, because it feels both forced and tacked-on. Looks like the title is taking a brief hiatus, and I don’t know whether I’ll be back when it returns. I do like the villains reintroduced on the last page, so we’ll see.
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Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Fireside Chats: Tales of the New Teen Titans #s 1-4

Not to be confused with the core title's eventual name change, this Tales miniseries was published from June-September 1982, concurrent with NTT #s 20-23. Using a Grand Canyon camping trip as a framing sequence, each issue told the origin of a different Titan (excluding, of course, the ones who already had their own Mego figures). Wolfman and Perez collaborated on each issue, but regular inker Romeo Tanghal got a break in favor of (respectively) Brett Breeding, Pablo Marcos, Gene Day, and Ernie Colon.

What struck me most about this miniseries is its efficiency. I couldn't help but think that in today's marketing climate, each origin might well have filled four issues. Instead, each issue is self-contained, with each hero facing (and for the most part defeating) his or her first antagonist. Again, today these would probably be "zero issues," taking each protagonist up to the events of NTT #1.

The Cyborg origin in issue #1 (June 1982) is probably the most densely plotted. Although I've compared Victor Stone to Ben Grimm a few times in the course of these essays, here he really becomes his own person. Blessed with a 170 I.Q. and raised by scientist parents who inundate him with knowledge almost from birth, Vic naturally rebels. Having been home-schooled to this point, he has no real peer group, and falls in with a street gang headed by the slightly older Ron Evers. Ron ends up saving Victor's life twice. Vic's parents think he's wasting his potential, but this only deepens the divide.

Despite his father's reluctance, Vic enrolls in public school, gets into sports, and falls in love (with Marcy Reynolds, last seen in NTT #8). Vic continues to hang out with Ron, and eventually gets wounded in a rumble. Vic's dad disowns him, but what really hurts is his mom's disapproval. She agrees that Vic has squandered all his opportunities, and in hindsight Vic-the-narrator seems to agree. When Ron wants to blow up the Statue of Liberty, as a message that the white establishment can't keep African-Americans down, Victor refuses to help him.

Not long thereafter, Vic loses half his body to an otherdimensional monster which kills his mother -- and leaves him in the care of his father, who he has grown to hate. After five months of rehab to get used to his new body, Vic moves into Hell's Kitchen, where "one more godforsaken loser wouldn't be noticed." Ron catches up with him there, wanting help to blow up the United Nations building. Vic again rejects Ron, observing that where Vic has had to take care of himself, Ron has always blamed his problems on someone else. Ultimately, despite his history with Ron, Vic chooses to save the U.N., and Ron dies as a result. Narrator Vic acknowledges that the Titans were his first real friends, and they helped him rediscover the love he has for his father (who you'll remember died in issue #7).

The issue really succeeds at keeping the reader off-balance, even as it lays the foundation for Vic's present attitudes and ultimate relationship with his father. Vic's high I.Q. and early childhood are only the first surprises. The story develops in such a way that it's not about Vic's relationships either with his father or with Ron, but instead about the evolution of his self-sufficiency. It still amazes me to see the thought and complexity which Wolfman and Perez put into Vic Stone. (However, unless I missed it, Vic has stopped being concerned about his relationship with Sarah Simms. This was a little surprising, given that they're back where he last saw her. He doesn't even mention her by name until halfway through Gar's story.)

With so much time devoted to Raven's origins in the initial Trigon arc, issue #2 (July 1982) focuses on her early years in Azarath. I did get a Touch Of Satan "horror, turtleneck style" vibe off the couple of pages devoted to Arella's seduction by Trigon, but that blips by quickly. When Trigon dumps Arella on Earth to keep her safe from his enemies, she's adopted by the Azarites so they can raise Raven right. Otherwise, as spiritual leader Azar intones, Trigon will destroy the Earth, and from there the rest of the universe. It turns out that when the Azarites banished all evil from themselves and Azarath, it was re-formed into Paralla-- uh, Trigon. Thus, they have a special responsibility to protect the universe from him. Still, there are ill portents, not the least of which are the unending, black, lightning-filled clouds which appear at Raven's birth and never go away.

Although food-production honcho Juris wants to cast the infant Raven into the nether-dimension, Trigon flash-fries him when he tries. Azar then trains Raven in various mystic arts, including the suppression of her emotions. When Azar dies, she gives Raven her rings, containing the essence of Azarath and perhaps even a little of Azar herself. However, Trigon reaches out to the adolescent Raven. Soon she's allowed to visit him in the nether-dimension. When she sees him threaten Arella, she gets angry and unleashes her soul-self for the first time. This was a big no-no from the Azarites' point of view. Trigon has been waiting for this, and "baptizes" it with ... a ray of pure evil, I guess. Trigon chuckles that Raven has shown her corruptibility, and vows to return when she becomes a woman. Not long after, when Raven turns 18, she leaves Azarath looking for help against Trigon, which is where we first meet her.

I should point out that in this issue, Wally West's love for Raven is made quite clear, despite their lack of any other indications their relationship has progressed beyond the "just friends" stage, and also despite the budding relationship Wally apparently still has with Frances Kane. This may just be a way to heighten the issue's last emotional sting, where Wally verbalizes that he could have destroyed the world if Raven had acted on her emotions.

The mood lightens considerably in issue #3 (August 1982), which focuses on Changeling's career between the Doom Patrol and the Titans. (Note to the Wizard World Atlanta promotions department: Starfire wears a "Heroes Aren't Hard To Find NC" t-shirt throughout the issue.) The running gag is that Gar gets so into his story he keeps burning his hot dogs (not a euphemism). Anyway, the quick recap of Gar's origin (which was just retold in issue #14) points out that he had a legal guardian, Galtry, between the deaths of his parents and his adoption by Steve Dayton and Rita Farr. The action picks up in earnest with Gar's brief post-DP TV career, opposite a Shatner doppelganger on "Space Trek 2022." There he's attacked by an old battlesuited DP villain, The Arsenal. The story basically connects Galtry with Arsenal, gives Gar a chance to vent some frustrations lingering since the DP's deaths, and explains why he dropped "Beast Boy" as a codename. It also introduces Jillian No-Last-Name, Gar's semi-serious girlfriend from his California days.

Wolfman gives Gar an entertaining narrative voice and throws in a few "Space Trek" bits (and even a Looney Tunes homage) which make the thin plot more appealing, but this is still the weakest of the four issues. Gar doesn't want to live like a down-and-out actor, but he's still the adopted son of the world's fifth-richest man, and the contradiction is never really explained. Also, Gar's big escape from an impervious cage seems a bit silly even under the story's internal logic. Finally, the emotional climax feels lifted from the end of that big Doom Patrol epic.

Issue #4 (September 1982)'s Starfire story also had a rather thin plot, but it benefits from association with the upcoming return-to-Tamaran arc. From birth, Koriand'r is favored over her older sister Komand'r, and Komand'r responds by becoming more and more evil. See, unlike other Tamaraneans, Komand'r is bitter because she can't fly. This apparently makes Komand'r a "sickly" child, judged unfit to rule. She also has a huge, almost "Family Circus"-like melon head and dramatically slanted evil eyebrows, but those may be common Tamaranean traits.

During the girls' childhoods, the once-happy planet begins preparing for intergalactic war, and sends Kory and Komand'r off for training by the Warlords of Okaara. (Future Omega Men Primus and Kalista have cameos in one panel.) Trying to kill Kory gets Komand'r expelled, and she runs away from home to sell out her planet. Not long afterwards, the Gordanian fleet defeats Tamaran and makes King Myand'r a deal -- give them Kory and they'll leave the planet alone. Myand'r agrees, and Kory becomes Komand'r's slave.

Several years of torture and degradation end when Komand'r's ship is captured by the Psions, lizard-men who care only for science. They strap the sisters into solar-energy machines to test how much their solar-battery cells can process, but (naturally) it ends up giving them energy-blasting powers. Kory uses hers to escape, and after a few months finds her way to Earth. Thus, the miniseries comes full circle, since that's basically the opening of NTT #1.

However, the issue is hampered by the bright-line division between Koriand'r and Komand'r. I almost got the feeling that Kory was telling a version of her childhood sanitized for the Titans' benefit. The story walks a thin line between "intense" and "exploitative" once it starts showing the adolescent Kory being cruelly tormented. Admittedly, it can't spend too much time on the roots of Komand'r's evil, but it seems too quick to assume that's the way she's always been. The miniseries' other antagonists had motivations which made more sense, and here the creators seem content to make Komand'r a "bad seed" and leave it at that.

The miniseries does succeed at making each origin just different enough. Not every issue is a story about overcoming bad parents, learning self-reliance, or enduring betrayal, but when there are commonalities they reinforce the Titans' bonds of friendship. One theme which does emerge paints the proto-Titans as objects and/or curiosities. The Stones love young Victor, but often treat him like a delicate experiment. The Azarites regard Raven as a burden to be controlled and shaped to positive ends. Once the Doom Patrol dies, Gar Logan is first exploited by a TV show and then blackmailed by his former guardian. Finally, Koriand'r's father is forced to use her as a political pawn. I suppose (never having been an English major) that this sort of alienation isn't an uncommon teenage motif, and besides each of these characters is faced with some pretty unusual circumstances.

In the larger scheme of things, this miniseries helped anticipate a couple of major storylines, filled in some plot gaps, and generally cemented the Titans' hold on DC's readership. The book's second year was winding down, but it would go out with a bang.

Next: Brother Blood!
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Thursday, September 01, 2005

Hurricane relief

"O afflicted city, lashed by storms and not comforted, I will build you with stones of turquoise, your foundations with sapphires.

"I will make your battlements of rubies, your gates of sparkling jewels, and all your walls of precious stones."

-- Isaiah 54:11-12
I have put some relief organization links in the sidebar, just under the "Previouslys" and the archives. The list is hardly exhaustive, but it should have some productive gateways.

Giving anything is better than giving nothing. I particularly like the Shrew's suggestion of matching the amount you spent on new comics yesterday.

If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!

-- Ecclesiastes 4:10
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