Saturday, June 24, 2006

New comics 6/14/06 and 6/21/06

We begin by picking up a spare from June 7. Fittingly enough, I got Nextwave #5 (written by Warren Ellis, drawn by Stuart Immonen) a week late, on my mom's birthday, June 14. I say "fittingly" because it featured teddy bears, which were the subject of a running joke between Mom and me. When I lived at home during law school, I watched TV with my parents, including "Star Trek: The Next Generation." Inevitably, Mom would see something or someone on the episode she didn't know anything about, and would ask me what was going to happen. Since these were first-run episodes, most times I didn't know what was going to happen, so all my answers ended up being about the planet of fuzzy teddy bears, and all the picnics and tea parties the crew would have. This satisfied my mother, who I might have mentioned has a master's in English and is really quite sharp. Anyway, when an episode put our heroes in a tight spot, Mom would look at me rather accusingly and wonder aloud when the teddy bears were coming. (This often happened around season-finale time.)

So last week I sent her some killer-teddy-bear scans from Nextwave #5. Happy birthday, Mom!

Captain Atom: Armageddon #9 (written by Will Pfeifer, pencilled by Giuseppi Camuncoli) wrapped up the miniseries that turned out to be a big tour through the WildStorm universe, just in time to blow it all up and start over. Whoopee. Now that it's over, maybe DC can use Cap's rather twisted history with the U.S. military to some good effect. It's a rich backstory which makes the character a little more than just a generic superhero, but you'd never know it from how he's been treated pretty much since his series ended.

American Virgin #4 (written by Steven T. Seagle, drawn by Becky Cloonan) concluded the book's first arc, but it really didn't leave much of an impression on me, and I'm leaning towards dropping the book.

The same goes for Green Lantern Corps #1 (written by Dave Gibbons, pencilled by Patrick Gleason). I like Guy Gardner and I have always liked the Corps, but this book just isn't doing a lot for me. I may give it a couple more issues.

It wasn't earth-shatteringly good, but I didn't dislike JLA Classified #22 (written by Steve Englehart, pencilled by Tom Derenick, inked by Mark Farmer), which began a new arc featuring JL Detroit. Much of it recapped Steel's origin, and a few other pages recapped the origin of the Royal Flush Gang. The rest, natcherly, was the fight between the two groups, and it wasn't David Mamet, but it wasn't bad either. Also, it reached a stopping point at the end of the issue, which was nice. Derenick's pencils were better than in his last JLA arc, although again nothing groundbreaking.

Firestorm #26 (written by Stuart Moore, pencilled by Jamal Igle, inked by Keith Champagne) was also a fairly intriguing issue centered around a super-hero fight, as Firestorm and Firehawk take on a new villain who's torturing Martin Stein. It all has to do with the nature of Firestorm, apparently, and the strange bond Jason and Lorraine have forged since "One Year Later." Fun stuff.

You know by now that 52 #6 (written by Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, pencilled by Joe Bennett, inked by Ruy Jose) introduced the Great Ten and Rip Hunter's "Lost" Blackboard, and you've probably already formed your opinions on both, so I'll just say it was fascinating to see how the book could pay so much attention to its four mainstays' plots while still herding them all towards some inexorable common destiny. Also, it managed to put the Green Lanterns, who are so far the highest-profile heroes who could appear in the book (with the Big Three, Aquaman, and the Flash off the table), on the same level as those supposed C-list mainstays. The GLs don't feel like guest-stars, but neither do they take over the book. Entirely appropriate for a book that purports to be a window on the world.

Superman #653 (written by Kurt Busiek and Geoff Johns, drawn by Pete Woods) was the big throw-down between Superman and Luthor (in the hijacked Kryptonian battle-mech), and it didn't disappoint. Of course, given the nature of this storyline, the cliffhanger ending the issue wasn't very suspenseful, just funny. Jimmy Olsen gets a good scene, Supes and Luthor both have some good "But I am also left-handed!" moments, and from the previews I read on Newsarama earlier this week, the conclusion should be just as good.

Of course, Jimmy -- or, I should say, his Cojo-influenced All-Star interpretation -- is the focus of this week's All-Star Superman #4 (written by Grant Morrison, drawn by Frank Quitely), which combines the goofy sitcommery of bumbling through being Superman's Pal with a couple of shots at "big event" comics past and present. As Mark Fossen points out, Jimmy gets to be All-Star Vicki Vale, and later on turns into Doomsday. This never fails to be an entertaining series.

I think I'm done with Robin after #151 (written by Adam Beechen, drawn by Freddie E. Williams II), not because it's poorly executed, or because the latest developments have repulsed me, but it just hasn't drawn me in.

At the other end of the spectrum is The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive #1 (written by Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo, drawn by Ken Lashley), which did a lot to turn me off. First is its apparent baton-passing to Bart Allen, which I think is unnecessary. Second, it both devotes a lot of space to bringing everyone up to speed on Flash history, but then plops Bart into an entirely new situation, kind of like dropping Captain Atom into the WildStorm dimension. The exposition slows the book, and the new stuff seems barely sketched in. Bart now has a repellent "duuude!" roommate and works at the Keystone auto factory, because he's aged completely out of his teenage years. Never mind that, as originally conceived, he was a developing brain in an outsize body. Combined with the maturity Geoff Johns thrust upon him (this makes twice), he's just your average 20-year-old now, which makes him a lot less interesting. I'm waiting to see who ends up with the Infantino suit, but if it's still Bart in this form, I'll wait until the next creative team.

Lashley also pencils 52 #7 (written by Reed, Sue, Ben, and Johnny, inked by Draxhall), featuring Ralph Dibny played by Josh Holloway and sporting some ill-advised facial hair. His pencils look a lot better here than they do in the Flash book, which may have something to do with Keith Giffen's layouts. Anyway, Booster gets his from Manthrax and Ralph, and Montoya meets DC's most famous lesbian. The Booster/Ralph stuff is pretty good, and the Montoya/Kate Kane scenes aren't bad, except for one panel which seems like it could be either wishful thinking or a flashback, but is presented as reality. It's all better than the History of the DCU backup, though, which does nothing to make Zero Hour comprehensible, and in its few pages even makes it less so. I think its facts are wrong too, although that could just be more retconning.

I probably read Checkmate #3 (written by Greg Rucka, pencilled by Cliff Richards, inked by Bob Wiacek) too quickly. Either that or it's hard to summarize all the politics and maneuvering in a few sentences. It's still a good read, and I should get more out of it the second time around.

Superman/Batman #27 (written by Mark Verheiden, drawn by Kevin Maguire) was decent enough until the end, which tries to shoehorn it into modern DC continuity. It's really about the Earth-2 Power Girl and Huntress trying to save their "dads" from old foes, and on that level it's enjoyable enough. In fact, Maguire gives Huntress more cleavage exposure than Power Girl, which may be a first. However, the big dramatic reveal turns on a bit of Earth-2 continuity I had forgotten, and which isn't quite set up as well as it could have been. It doesn't amount to anything very substantial, I guess, but it's competently done.

Sgt. Rock: The Prophecy #6 (by Joe Kubert) concluded the miniseries rather quietly, if such a thing is possible after an issue full of urban Nazi-fighting. I'll have to read this all in one sitting, although it may play better as a series of episodes than as one story. If it has tested the waters for a Rock ongoing, I'd be on board for that.

Star Wars: Rebellion #3 (written by Rob Williams, drawn by Michael Lacombe) continues the dual double-agent plotlines carried over from the old Empire series. At least I think it does; the plots are kind of confusing after a while, and anybody who doesn't look like Mark Hamill or Katee Sackhoff is hard to pick out of a crowd. The art on this series is a little uglier than it was on SW:E, and that doesn't do the book any favors. I'm getting this because it offers classic Skywalker action, so that should buy it a few more issues at least.

Much of Captain America #19 (written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Steve Epting) continued the waterfront fight from last issue, doing so in fine fashion. The rest was spy-type intrigue, with Sharon Carter showing up in London to take over operations. Art was a little confusing this issue, with Sharon looking like Spitfire and Cap looking like Master Man, but it wasn't too hard to figure out in context. Overall it was a good second act, and this London storyline has a lot of potential.

Finally, I got the Giant-Size Hulk special, although it was for the two Peter David-written stories and not for the "Planet Hulk" tie-in. Accordingly, I was happy -- David's excellent Hulk: The End extra-long special (art by Dale Keown) was reprinted here, and he also contributed a light and fluffy Champions vs. Hulk tale (pencilled by Juan Santacruz, inked by Raul Fernandez). The latter was clearly to prime Marvelites for a new Champions series, but I don't particularly care about that -- I was just glad to see a staple of '70s Marvel revisited and given the respect it probably deserves. The middle story (written by Greg Pak, drawn by Aaron Lopresti and Danny Miki) was a good complement to The End, although I suspect it meant more to those who've been following the Hulk more recently; and it probably didn't advance "Planet Hulk" much. Still, this is over 70 pages of story for $4.99 US, and thus a bargain.
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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Ride Captain Ride: The Grand Unified Theory Of Star Trek

Well, it’s about time to unspool my Theory, and incorporate my thoughts on Modern Trek in the process.

(This means, unfortunately, that I will have to abandon a more comprehensive look at the 24th-Century shows, which I was really hoping to call "It’s Just My Job, Five Days A Week.")

First, though, an explanation of what my Grand Unified Theory is, and is not. It aims to identify commonalities among the five series, and from them explain what Star Trek has become. It is not a baseline for determining "good" or "bad" Trek. There are more qualified people than I who have invested a lot more time doing that. In effect, Star Trek is now its own genre, but considering its roots as a new sci-fi TV storytelling style, that's not so bad.

As we know, each Modern Trek series subtracted something from the series which preceded it. Thus, the GUT must take into account the lack of Kirk & Co. ("TNG"), a starship ("DS9"), Alpha Quadrant politics ("Voyager"), and indeed the history of the 23rd and 24th Centuries ("Enterprise"). That still leaves a number of distinctive elements.

First, of course, is the Captain. The Captain is the Decider, and the ultimate interpreter of Federation ethics (about which more later). The Captain might not be the focal point of every episode, but sets the tone for the show as a whole. The buck stops with him/her.

Star Trek requires that the Captain’s authority derives from a larger organization which facilitates his mission. At first this might not seem that critical of an element, inasmuch as Gene Roddenberry could have made Kirk, Spock, et al., unaffiliated types wandering around the galaxy getting into trouble. (Indeed, that's how things looked at the end of Star Trek III.) However, not only does Starfleet (including the Earth Starfleet of "Enterprise") provide continuity between the various series, it provides a continuity of ethics for the Captain to uphold.

Starfleet is described consistently as having a combined military/explorational mission, modeled on the 18th Century’s British Navy. Starfleet’s Captains are equal parts soldiers, diplomats, and astronauts, having to deal with a wide range of scenarios virtually as the only representative of their government out on the frontier. Still, although a Starfleet Captain may be on a very long leash, with very broad discretion, the leash is still there, and the discretion does have limits. No Star Trek show to date has given its Captain complete autonomy, or stated that its Captain was not the representative of a benevolent government. More specifically, Star Trek’s Captains have consistently been portrayed as upholding the ideals for which their government stands. (The glaring exception, again, is Star Trek III, but there, even indirectly, Kirk protects the Federation by keeping the "secret of Genesis" out of Klingon hands.) Thus, not only the existence of a benevolent government, but the Captain’s fidelity to that govenrment’s ideals, is a critical element of Star Trek.

To me, a large part of Star Trek’s separation from other space shows comes out of the synergy between the Captain and the Federation’s ethics. "Firefly" turned this on its head, making its Captain a rebel from a defeated cause who despised the central govenrment’s patronizing omnipotence. "Battlestar Galactica" 2.0 has taken a two-headed approach, with Roslin and Adama trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t in their new post-apocalyptic reality. This ends up making Star Trek look a bit naive in comparison, but if that’s the way its viewpoint will be judged, then I suppose it will always have that naivete.

Another element that "Firefly" and the new "Galactica" eschew, at least for the most part, is the Friendly Alien Outsider. I’m not talking about "Galactica’s" Cylons here, because while Six and Boomer are critiquing the human condition, they’re hardly working with the humans to make things better (at least, not from the humans’ perspective). Also, they’re outside the organizational structure, and that's antithetical to Trek’s worldview.

The FAOs serve a couple of purposes: they highlight Starfleet’s diversity (more on that later), and they offer different perspectives on human behavior. The Modern Trek shows usually have at least two FAOs: a Happy one who enjoys humans and may even want to become more human; and a Grumpy one, who doesn’t see why humans do such stupid things. Happy FAOs include Data, Jadzia Dax, Neelix, the holographic Doctor, and Doctor Phlox. Grumpy FAOs include Worf, Odo, Tuvok, Seven, and T’Pol. Spock started out Happy in "The Cage," and his replacement Xon would have been Happy in "Phase II," but otherwise he stayed in the middle. The expanded casts of the Modern Trek shows, plus the conscious desire not to copy Original Trek, resulted in Spock’s role being split into Happy and Grumpy parts.

There are other character types, too: the Stiff (Riker, Chakotay), the Kid (Chekov, Wesley, Kim), the Good-Hearted Dope (LaForge, Bashir, Mayweather), the Activist (Kira, Torres), the Telepathic Babe (Troi, Kes), the Quirky Tinkerer from the British Isles (Scotty, O’Brien, Reed), and even the Bartender (Guinan, Quark, Neelix). However, these aren’t represented in every show; and by and large, they tend to be less memorable than the FAOs and the Captains.

Anyway, the Outsider element reinforces another key Trek tenet: Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations. I’ll leave it open whether IDIC is best served by being under a big Starfleet/Federation umbrella, but again, that goes back to the series’ optimistic conceit about a benign galactic government and its seemingly omnipresent military/exploration arm.

A crew’s diversity can also extend to the integration of disparate factions. This was the case in "Deep Space Nine" and "Voyager," where circumstances forced Starfleet officers to work with Bajoran militiamen and Maquis terrorists (respectively) on a daily basis.

Because the Bajorans and the Maquis didn't have quite the same interests as the Starfleet crews, conflict was supposed to be hard-wired into the shows' formats, but ultimately everybody got along fine. The Maquis wore Starfleet uniforms, only with different rank insignia. Kira Nerys, the highest-ranking Bajoran officer on DS9, even got a temporary Starfleet commission towards the end of the series. T'Pol started out as part of the Vulcan military, but eventually became a full member of Enterprise’s crew. She didn’t wear a regulation Starfleet jumpsuit, though, perhaps as a visual nod to her status as the ship's only nonhuman officer (Dr. Phlox wasn't part of Starfleet). In fact, every Modern Trek series had characters with some uniform latitude, including Worf, Troi, Wesley, Neelix, Kes, Seven, T'Pol, and Phlox.

I mention this because in the end, even Star Trek's costumes seem to say that the organization’s interests ("the needs of the many...?") trump those of the individual, although the organization is dedicated to the protection of the individual's freedoms. I know that opens up a whole can of philosophical nightcrawlers, but I won't take it much farther than that. Original Trek overthrew totalitarian societies all the time, and Modern Trek has made its two main villains the hive-mind Borg and the Great-Linked Founders of the Dominion, each of which fold individual interests completely into the whole. Of course, the tension between Starfleet’s rules and individual needs has also been played out intramurally in various episodes across all of the series, and perhaps on its largest scale in (you guessed it) Star Trek III. Because Starfleet is a series constant, such tension has become a constant as well.

Accordingly, without getting too much deeper into the particular philosophical concerns Star Trek has explored, it may be sufficient to frame the Grand Unified Theory partly in terms of the individual’s role within such a benevolent governmental entity. Thus, the GUT would describe Star Trek as a series

1. dedicated to a wide range of storytelling possibilities, but
2. promoting a particular egalitarian philosophy, which is
3. personified by the Captain of a diverse crew, which contains
4. at least one Friendly Alien Outsider who comments on humanity, and all of whom work for
5. Starfleet, the military/exploratory arm of a benign, benevolent government.

There is another element which, unfortunately, I can't describe any other way except attitude. Rooted in the Kirk/Spock/McCoy relationship, it has been diffused among Modern Trek's ensemble casts. To me it's the sense of looking into a world that's not quite real -- not in the "I can see the zipper" way, but more like the realization of an alternate reality. Focusing on the Kirk/Spock/McCoy dynamic was a stylized way of doing drama, but an unrealistic way to run a starship. Thus, Modern Trek emphasized how non-allegorical its casts were meant to be. You couldn't swing a dead sehlat in the Modern Trek era without hitting a couple of characters pedeconferencing about some staff meeting, rendezvous on the holodeck, or other bit of mundanity meant to show Starfleet wasn't all phaser battles and stellar anomalies. Still, though, each series had this ... attitude ... that it was doing something important.

Ironically, for all the efforts from fans and pros alike to unify Star Trek's history, technology, etc., into something that could actually work, the shows themselves seemed to know they were just make-believe. Again, that may come off to viewers as naivete or self-righteousness, and maybe my rose-colored glasses need cleaning.

Nevertheless, at its best, somehow this attitude exemplifies the joie de vivre of Kirk's famous "Risk! Risk is our business!" speech. At that point in Trek's history the world-building and continuity maintenance weren't nearly as ingrained as they have become, and as the years went by a kind of workplace familiarity would replace Original Trek's derring-do, but Kirk's sentiment still burns in Star Trek's core. On one level the idea of serving in a galactic navy with the ideals of the Peace Corps and the firepower to raze planets is preposterous, and Star Trek occasionally seems to acknowledge that with a wink -- but on another, it occasionally succeeds in convincing the viewer that the preposterous might just work after all. And that, ultimately, is the point of Star Trek: demonstrating that humanity can rise above its failings and differences and create a future that approaches utopia.

Hmmm ... still seems a little fuzzy in spots, and I'm not perfectly happy with it, but that should do for now. What do you think?
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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Real Startling Secret of the New Batwoman--?

Thinking about it now, it seems kind of obvious, so either it's kind of dopey or somebody's already pointed it out, or (as foreshadowed here) both.

Kate Kane is named after Kathy Kane, the original Batwoman from 1956, who in turn was named after Batman co-creator Bob Kane. Now, Bob Kane is the namesake not only for (I think) a building and a bridge in Gotham City, but also for Kane County, in which Gotham sits. Thus, the Kanes must have put the old in Old Gotham. It also makes sense that Kate (like Kathy) is a socialite, and perhaps part of that Old Gotham family.


Before her untimely death, one Martha Kane was a Gotham debutante, socialite and crusader for social justice, who married Doctor Thomas Wayne. If Martha had a sister, or a cousin, Kate could actually be related to Bruce.

I suppose, depending on how you feel about the whole magilla, that would either be kind of cool, or it would make her the Dawn/Sybok/Cousin Oliver of the Bat-verse.
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A Research Question

Kalinara and Ragnell do the important research, I know. Still, this has been bugging me for a couple of days, since the last Titans post made me think about Dick Grayson and Wally West's college experiences.

What are the education levels of the major superheroes (DC, Marvel, etc.)? In other words, who was otherwise eligible (i.e., was raised in a system of primary, secondary, and higher education, and not on an island full of immortal women, not that that's inferior in any way), and

A. only graduated high school,
B. attended/attends college and didn't graduate/hasn't graduated,
C. graduated college, and/or
D. has some post-graduate degree?

These would be academic achievements we've either seen or can infer (imply? I wasn't an English major).

Here's my off-the-top-of-my-head list:

A. Hal Jordan (?), Jason Rusch (?), Steve Rogers, Alan Scott (?)
B. Dick Grayson, Wally West, Johnny Storm, Bruce Wayne (?)
C. Ronnie Raymond, Peter Parker, Clark Kent, Ben Grimm, John Stewart, Guy Gardner, Barry Allen, Sue Storm, Jay Garrick
D. Reed Richards, Barbara Gordon, Bruce Banner, Stephen Strange (and all the other medical doctors), Adrian Chase, Kate Spencer, Jennifer Walters (and all the other lawyers)

Who else?
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New comics 6/7/06

The best part of 52 #5 (written by Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencils by Chris Batista, inks by Jimmy Palmiotti) was the end, seeing that (SPOILER!) Animal Man, Starfire, and Adam Strange had survived the big cosmic burp which Mixmastered everybody else. The rest of it was more ... I don't know, creepy. Certainly not suspenseful, since we know Hawkgirl gets back to normal size, Firestorm gets separated from Cyborg, and Alan Scott doesn't get the eye back. Chris Batista's on board for four issues, I presume, and by and large his stuff here isn't as good as his JLA issues of last summer, but it's still decent. Maybe I had just gotten used to Joe Bennett. Anyway, check out the Montoya/Sawyer pages -- doesn't it look like Giffen went ahead and finished his pencils? Weird.

I was looking forward to some ramped-up action in the penultimate chapter of "Face The Face" (in Detective Comics #820; written by James Robinson, pencilled by Leonard Kirk, inked by Andy Clarke), and I got it, even if solving the book's central mystery seemed almost like an afterthought. I guess this storyline is more about re-establishing the OYL status quo than being a standalone Batman & Robin adventure, and that's fine (certainly the Superboy-Prime cameo suggests it's meant for those who just finished Infinite Crisis). I really can't complain about the issue, either -- the Scarecrow fight was a hoot, we get to see Batman doing some detecting, and he's nice to his colleagues -- so for once, it looks like my Bat-attitude needs adjusting....

The Superman Returns Prequel #1 credits pretty much explain the book itself. The comic proper was written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, and drawn by Ariel Olivetti, and it looks good and reads well. However, for some reason, the Superman Returns writers (Bryan Singer, Michael Dougherty, and Dan Harris) get their names above the title, and get credit for "adapting" the story. That leads us back to David Newman & Leslie Newman, Robert Benton, and Tom Mankiewicz, who wrote Superman (1978), where about 60% of this material originally appeared. Jor-El looks like Brando, the rocketship is the Christmas ornament, etc. Even the Action Comics #1 is the one from the movie, with the rocketship cover. If you wanted more Brando out of your Donner movie, this is the book for you.

I talked about Wonder Woman #1 (written by Allan Heinberg, drawn by Terry Dodson & Rachel Dodson) in last week's Grumpy Old Fan, so here I will just say I liked how it faked me out, I'll probably be sorry to see Heinberg go after these first five issues, and it all looks very intriguing. Oh, and nice costumes on Ultimate Cheetah and Ultimate Giganta.

Fantastic Four: First Family #4 (written by Joe Casey, pencilled by Chris Weston, inked by Gary Erskine) is starting to feel a little wooly. Weston and Erskine do a fine, almost ridiculously meticulous job, and Casey is starting to put everyone in their familiar places, especially developing Sue's maternal instincts and Reed's guilt. The scene where Sue basically tells Reed it's either her or the lab is very effective. Johnny also has fun showing off to the local teenyboppers. However, I hate to put it this way, but there doesn't seem to be a lot of action otherwise. Reed still hasn't figured out how to replicate the unstable molecules of their flight suits (which have to be ungodly hot --!) and the Evil Thought-Invading Scientist Dude is still just lurking out there. It's 2/3 of the way home, folks; time to wrap things up.

Finally, I bought Star Wars Legacy #0 for a quarter, and looking at it am not sure I would have paid much more. It looks pretty much like a bookend to Knights of the Old Republic or some other disconnected-from-the-Skywalkers saga. I know, the main guy is Luke's descendant by way of Han's attitude, but nothing about this made me want to get the ongoing series.
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Monday, June 12, 2006


Well, I would have done a new-comics roundup tonight, but I stayed late at work and then had to watch the A&E Superman documentary. Overall it was worth it, but it did spend just a smidge more time than it needed to on how the '60s were a time of national upheaval. Wouldn't people watching A&E know that already? (Or did A&E assume that Superman fans wouldn't have known that?)

Congratulations to Ms. Gail Simone, who (I believe) made not only her comic-book documentary debut with this special, but also the first appearance of a female comic-book writer in one of these things, period. Other comics pros included Mark Waid, Paul Levitz, Stan Lee, Dan DiDio, Denny O'Neil, Art Thibert, Gerard Jones, and Elliot S! Maggin (who revealed that he and Cary Bates spent a couple of afternoons smoking cigars with Mario Puzo when the latter was researching the Superman screenplay). Pretty comprehensive, although the only pro involved in what felt like the last half-hour was Dan DiDio. Also, why not interview Kurt Busiek and/or Geoff Johns, who actually write the things today?

Anyway, off to sleep now. Last week's comics tomorrow, I hope.
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Friday, June 09, 2006

Crappy New Year: New Teen Titans #s 28-31

Lots of plot in these four issues, most of it directed towards upending the team by introducing new players and turning around the personalities of the old ones. With these issues, the book really got into a soap-operatic groove. Who will be the newest Titan? Why is the Brotherhood of Evil after Brother Blood? Is Robin wound too tight/stretched too thin? Will Wally quit? Has Raven turned evil? What of Donna’s love for Terry? And will Speedy get to enjoy his lunch?

After opening with 3 1/2 pages of Changeling failing to capture Terra, New Teen Titans #28 (February 1983) begins the plot in earnest with a trip to Zandia, where the Church of Brother Blood is headquartered. The Brotherhood of Evil attacks Blood Central, because (as discussed a couple of issues later, but not until then) it wants Zandia for itself, and Blood runs the place.

Phobia softening up the control-room techies takes about a half a page longer than it should. Perez goes for "creeping horror" when "quick strikes" might have worked better. The sequence does introduce us to Sister Sade, which I don't think is pronounced "Smooth Operator." There's also Sister Soul and Brother Fear, and really, Marv and George, these names make "Darth Maul" sound like it’s derived from Tolkien’s Elvish.

(Someday I will do a post on the logistics of the Church of Blood, or at least its application for 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status.)

4 1/2 pages of hallucinations, bad accents ("Ach! I hate vhat I haf become, but I use vhat I now am for der good of der Brotherhood!") and Bloodite death later, we're back in NYC with Donna and Kory. The latter is worried because her man's been all grumpy and tense, and sure enough, when the Teen Wonder appears in Donna's doorway, he looks kind of slacker-stalker creepy. Honestly, he almost looks like he'll take a swing at either of them if given half a chance. However, Wally is drawn with the same kind of blank, bland, squinty stare a couple of pages later, and he's just supposed to be bored, so maybe this is Perez' and/or Tanghal's "tired" expression. Donna leaves and Dick and Kory decide to stay in.

Indeed, after two pages of Changeling finally defeating Terra, it's nighttime and Dick and Kory have apparently had The Sex.
(I don't think this is their first time together, but it is the first the book's acknowledged it.) He apologizes for his attitude and they head off to meet Adrian Chase about Brother Blood.

Over at Titans' Tower, Wally (in the aforementioned squinty scene) wants to talk to Raven about how hard it is to juggle college and superheroics. This echoes, consciously or not, Donna's earlier observation about Dick a) going to college (but didn't he drop out before issue #1?), b) leading the Titans, and c) working with Batman -- but the difference here, and the reason Wally comes off all whiny, is that Dick doesn't have superspeed. Wally, I hate to say it, but next to your speed-reading, attention-deficient cousin, you sound like an idiot. Focus, man! It’s not like you’re going to win the lottery! If you don’t watch out, you’ll end up fixing cars for the rest of your life!

Then again, Wally does explain his costume ring to Raven (after disclosing "I never really wanted to be Kid Flash" -- somewhere, Mark Waid grabs his chest), so maybe he took a bad blow to the head. The two join Gar and Terra in the conference room, but Terra wants no part of Raven, and Raven gets bad vibes from Terra. After a brief escape attempt, and in a somewhat touching scene, Terra tearfully unmasks, explaining how she's being coerced into evil by terrorists holding her parents hostage.
Meanwhile, Donna meets Marcia Long, Terry’s ex-wife. Marcia’s got razor-sharp cheekbones and an "is this your little chippie?" icy stare. Remember Mark Greene's ex-wife from "ER?" Kind of like that, but if Mark were sleeping with Lucy Knight. Awk-ward!

Although the Titans easily catch Terra's captors, she goes nuts when one of them reveals her parents are already dead. As the issue ends, Gar comforts Terra while Cyborg and Raven worry.

New Teen Titans #29 (March 1983) finds Brother Blood in his Massachusetts church, preparing for the Brotherhood's attack. They've just finished destroying all his churches in Europe, and now they're headed across the big water in a stolen Blood jet, planning to abduct Raven. Unfortunately, they let some blond Bloodite (who looks like a Brother Chip) pilot the plane.

How’d that work, exactly? They storm aboard, threaten to fricasee Chip if he doesn’t fly them to New York, and then ... adjourn to the passenger cabin? For hijackers, they sure have a lot of trust in the hijacked. As you’d expect, Chip, revealed as a robot when Plasmus finally starts some more threatening, points the plane straight into the ocean. Don’t worry, the Brotherhood's OK.

A few pages in Titans’ Tower set up the issue’s emotional beats: Dick's still pushing himself, Donna's frustrated because she doesn't know her real parents, and Wally's in love with Raven – but Raven tells him to forget it, because if she loses control, Trigon gets out. Donna flies off to be with Terry.

Leading into the big fight at the end of the issue is a genially funny sequence where the main cast parades through the kitchen past Speedy, who’s fixed himself a sandwich and some soup. He interacts with each in one way or another, but he just keeps eating.

First, for flirting with Starfire, he gets rebuked by Robin: "Stay away from Kory. She's not yours." Robin and Kory (obviously descended from the House of Enabl’r) leave for another Adrian Chase meeting. Changeling and Terra then recap their own subplots, reminding us that her story doesn't quite add up. Gar tries to play the team-spirit card, but Terra says she's not joining. When Frances Kane (!) lands on Titans Island, everyone heads outside. Frances doesn’t want her magnetic powers, and Wally thinks this could be his way out of the group. Speedy, naturally, flirts with Fran, but to no effect. Cyborg, unfazed (as usual) by the angst around him, bounds off over the river.

As Speedy finally finishes his soup, the Brotherhood of Evil teleports in. Phobia puts the whammy on Raven, making her think Trigon's killed Wally. This tricks Raven into attacking Wally, plunging him into worlds of hurt. Frances and Speedy subdue the Brotherhood, and Raven backs off, but too late -- Wally's felt Trigon's evil in Raven. He says Raven knew she would have killed him, and what's more, she enjoyed it. Issue #30 (April 1983) picks up right there, with the Brotherhood coming to and taking out Speedy, Wally, and Fran.

Over at the apartment where Terra was held hostage, she shows Changeling her new costume, which she’d only wear when she was free. Although earlier in the day she was telling Gar she wasn’t joining, once she gets the new duds on, she asks “Am I Titans material or what?”

Robin, Starfire, and Chase meet with a suddenly-cooperative Bethany Snow, who’s actually setting them up but who doesn't fool Robin or Chase. Snow explains the Blood/Brotherhood feud, and further that Blood wants to fix three special elections to insure Congress arms Zandia to fight the Brotherhood. Robin saves Snow from a sniper, but the sniper gets away. Snow, "spooked," swears to be good, and says the Brotherhood’s after Raven. Hearing this, Robin and Starfire streak away.

At Sarah Simms' apartment, Cyborg finds nice-guy Mark Wright, her fiancĂ©. She’s not there, and Vic leaves frustrated and angry with himself.

When he gets back to Titans’ Tower, it marks the first time this arc that most of the Titans (except Wonder Girl and Raven) are in the same room. Gar introduces Terra as the newest member, Robin OKs it perfunctorily, and they strategize about protecting Raven.

Meanwhile, Donna’s on a fancy dinner date with Terry, and Raven’s at St. Peter’s Cathedral looking for guidance. The Brotherhood finds her there, and she’s ready to throw down, but Phobia says they shouldn’t fight in church. Raven teleports out, the Brotherhood follows, and the priest is left contemplating the bizarre display. A good little scene all around.

It’s New Year’s in NYC, and Dick Clark’s (really!) counting down, when Raven’s soul-self flies out of the clock. The Brotherhood teleports into Times Square as well, with the Titans close behind. Plasmus shatters Raven’s soul-self, knocking her out with big psychic feedback. Kid Flash tries to speed her away, but they run into one of Warp’s portals. Fran traps Phobia in some water pipes, but Phobia turns the crowd against the Titans. Warp reappears, dumping off a dazed Kid Flash, whose thoughts reveal that he still loves Raven. While the Brotherhood escapes, Terry proposes to Donna.

As issue #31 (May 1983) opens, the team picks itself up and heads back to Titans’ Tower, with Robin and Kid Flash both thinking about quitting. Somewhat surprising considering his attitude in previous issues, Dick doesn’t want the team to break up, recognizes he’s got “too much on [his] mind,” and thinks maybe Donna should take over. In fact, Donna’s waiting for them, in costume, eager to spill her big news. Dick and Roy are supportive, but Wally wants to get back to business. A T-Jet full of grim Titans speeds for Zandia….

… where the Brotherhood tries, one by one, to pry Brother Blood’s secrets from her. They think he left something behind (eww) when he stepped through her soul-self in issue #22. Ultimately, Phobia exploits Raven's fear of not being able to handle everyone else’s emotions and needs. (Phobia can’t play the Trigon card again, because she can only exploit each fear once.) This sends Raven on a weird trip through an orange-tinted hell which, even rendered on decades-old newsprint in slightly faded colors, is still pretty spooky.

First, millions of little souls swarm all over her, stripping her bare and leaving her isolated atop a rocky outcropping, with only their baleful, glowing eyes keeping her company.

When this gets unbearable, she tumbles away, only to see that Trigon and the Brotherhood have brutally murdered the Titans. Now Wally, the only one left alive, refuses to let her heal him, saying he’d rather die first. And die he does, crumbling into dust not unlike Perez would depict his uncle’s fate. The Brotherhood sees none of this, only the unconscious Raven. Maybe she don’t know nothin’? No, the Brain says, she knows, but she doesn’t know she knows. (An “unknown known,” in Rumsfeld-speak.)

On the T-Jet, Gar and Vic talk about Sarah’s fiancĂ©, and Dick and Kory do whatever making-up they need to. In Zandia, the Brain plays good cop, and Raven starts remembering a cave. After Mother Mayhem tells the local cops to let the Titans off the T-Jet, both groups find their way to Blood’s cave. They fight. Interesting note: during the battle, Terra muses, “How long can [the Titans] keep treating me like I’m a fifth wheel?” Jeez, Terra, it's been what -- two days?

Raven watches the combat passively, until “one … by one … by one … the Titans fall … DEFEATED!” This is too much -- Raven has seen her nightmare come true, and all bets are off. Her soul-self now has a glowing red four-eyed Trigon face, and demonic Kirby Krackles.

The Brotherhood wets itself. Raven’s soul-self descends over them. Fortunately for them, Donna shows up to snap Raven out of her trance. She says “you’ll murder all your friends,” which is probably true, even though at that moment it’s only the Brotherhood in trouble.

Raven screams, her soul-self withdraws, and Wally asks “she tried to kill us … didn’t she?”

“No,” Donna replies, “… she tried to kill herself!


* * *

For anyone familiar with the history of the book, these four issues set up some fairly important arcs. Raven’s subplot is particularly compelling, because she has always been a pawn of one faction or another, from Trigon’s daughter to Azarath’s champion, and now as some kind of secret weapon. The fact that the Brotherhood wants her in its war on Blood must be doubly damning, suggesting that she can only be used for evil. Raven herself just wants to be left alone so she can solidify control over her emotions. The triumph over her soul-self in issue #8 might well have been her happiest point in the series, and that was almost two years ago.

Interrupting her constantly, at least in these issues, is Wally West, himself trying to figure out what to do with his life. I know later Flash writers filled in a lot of Wally’s rather bland backstory, giving his parents names and personalities and whatnot, and establishing him as the Flash’s biggest fan. Although that doesn’t jibe with his treatment here, it can still be reconciled by shifting young-adult emotions. That may only go so far, though, considering that Wally decided to retire Kid Flash after his high-school graduation and had to be “coerced” by Raven’s emotional nudging to join the new Teen Titans. Now that he’s free of her influence, he apparently does love her, but his declarations come off lukewarm. His connection with Frances Kane is far more tangible. It’s almost as if Wally’s going through the motions with Raven and his Titans membership to convince himself and the readers that he gave them one last, valid shot. I will say that these issues also lay the groundwork for Fran to join the Titans, with Wally as her gateway/guide, so Wally’s leaving isn’t entirely predetermined.

As for the actual new Titan, Terra’s lightning-quick reversal from #29's "I'm not joining" to #30's "get me in" might also be chalked up (charitably, that is) to hormones, if it weren’t for Gar -- Gar, remember, not Dick the detective -- pointing out holes in her story, and Cyborg and Raven’s separate concerns. Next to the trouble with Raven, though, questions about Terra look less pressing. Besides, she seems charming enough, what with her wholesome looks and her love-hate relationship with Changeling.

On a more meta note, you’ll notice that this is the first time I’ve actually posted scans of the artwork with one of these recaps. Perez and Tanghal didn’t have entirely complementary styles at first, but one or the other, or both, were drawing a lot tighter, and it really shows in these pages. Dick and Wally look appropriately muscular, but wiry, especially in street clothes. Kory is being drawn a lot taller than everyone else, but she, Donna, and Raven all have the bodies of late-teen/young-adult women. Terra, now the youngest cast member, gets the most typically-teenage body, similar to Lizzie, the runaway from last time. It’s now easier to believe these characters are the ages they’re supposed to be, thanks to the evolving art.

Again, overall these four issues present some pretty meaty melodrama, but I also get the feeling that Marv and George realized just how popular the book had become, and were emboldened by said popularity to take some real chances and pull out some stops. For the most part, these worked, but occasionally a hint of overconfidence would shine through.

Next: Two single-issue sagas, the return of Deathstroke, and New York’s newest masked man!
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Monday, June 05, 2006


Some of you might have already noticed that The Great Curve's URL now points to "Blog@Newsarama." Well, it's been in the works for a while, but yesterday TGC became part of Newsarama, changing its name accordingly.

I'm going to have a weekly column called "Grumpy Old Fan," coming out on Thursdays, and everything will be organized under a Grumpy Old Fan section. Two essays (on Nightwing and the new Justice Society) are there already, and a lot of my other TGC posts, including the recent DC lists, has been archived on the new site too.

Don't worry, I'll still be here, writing about the same old stuff. Now I get to bore a lot more people over on Newsarama!
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Saturday, June 03, 2006

New comics 6/1/06

Superman/Batman #26 is a fine tribute to the late Sam Loeb, Jeph Loeb's teenage son. Sam plotted the issue, which was finished by a whole gang of comics creators. It still holds together well with regard to both words and pictures, and it's both fun and touching.

Action Comics #839 (written by Geoff Johns and Kurt Busiek, drawn by Renato Guedes) is Part 6 of "Up, Up and Away!," in which Luthor's scheme finally ripens and Supes gets to test his fully-restored powers. While I liked it generally, a few things did start to bother me. First, as is clear from the cover, Luthor is in control of some decidedly movie-esque Kryptonian technology. Aside from this being the third (right?) iteration of Krypto-tech in the past twenty years, doesn't the way Luthor uses it remind anyone of the Superman Returns trailers? I hope this storyline doesn't look like the movie, or vice versa, not because either are bad, just ... vive la difference, I guess. Second, some familiar major-league urban carnage breaks out this issue, with buildings being destroyed and whatnot; and maybe the start of hurricane season has put it further forward in my mind, but who's going to rebuild Metropolis when this is over? (Who rebuilds it now? Are construction costs through the roof because of insurance, or are they ridiculously cheap because of economies of scale?) Finally, midway through the issue, Supes pauses to reflect on how he's really an outsider, yadda yadda yadda, and it's probably not too out of line, but having just come off a couple of years of angsty Superman, let's have this be the last gasp for a while, okay? "UU&A!" has been great fun so far, and I'd like that trend to continue.

JLA Classified #21 concludes "The Hypothetical Woman" (written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, inked by Sean Phillips) pretty well, with the highlight being Wonder Woman's explanation of the League's "Fox Defense." Yes, we all saw it coming, and it's nice to have it acknowledged for once. J'Onn's "cure" for the Starro disease is a bit on the macabre side, but it works; and Batman gets the last word. I may come back to this arc in a later post.

The Spectre #1 (written by Will Pfeifer, drawn by Cliff Chiang) was a good reintroduction to both Crispus Allen and the Spectre. It's a meditation on why God allows bad things to happen/evil to go unpunished, but the Spectre gets in a zinger at the end that puts the ball back in Allen's court. Story and art are both very good, although this issue seems to contradict the Spectre/Allen merger shown in Infinite Crisis. Also, still not used to the Spectre having facial hair.

52 #4 (written by John, Paul, George, and Ringo, breakdowns by Pete Best, pencilled by Joe Bennett, inked by Jack Jadson) is mostly a Montoya spotlight, featuring her official job for/with the Question. Having just finished "The Rockford Files" Season 1 on DVD, I can say with confidence that her $200-a-day-plus-expenses rate has to be a shout-out. We also check in with Ralph Dibny and the Superboy cult, John Henry Irons and his hallucinations, Booster Gold and Fire, and the recovery of the Rann-Thanagar War survivors. There doesn't seem to be much of a rhythm to the various plots' appearances, but maybe that's to keep us readers picking up every issue. (When I watched "Days Of Our Lives," I soon learned that some plots were Monday/Wednesday/Friday, and some were Tuesday/Thursday, and nothing of note happened except on Fridays and Mondays, when the cliffhangers were set up and resolved.) Anyway, this issue ends on a cliffhanger that pretty much demands to be addressed, if not resolved, next issue, so good thing I only have a few more days to wait.

While I've enjoyed The Thing (#7, written by Dan Slott, drawn by Kieron Dwyer), and am sorry to see it go, I have to say this was one of the weaker issues. The big joke's punchline is telegraphed from the first page, and Ben's actions in trying to get used to Alicia's relationship just seem kind of desperate. Still, the joke on the last page works, and the shenanigans leading up to it are fun enough.

Finally, the third first issue of Hero Squared (written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis, drawn by Joe Abraham) actually kicks off the ongoing series, so that's good news. The whole thing is a verbal dance in the manner of Aaron Sorkin, which all parties pull off handsomely. This series has gone beyond the bwah-ha-ha antics of previous efforts, evolving into a more fully formed superhero sitcom. I'm now curious to see how it could handle more familiar superhero adventure, but I'd be just as happy with talkier relationship-oriented issues like this one.
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