Sunday, December 30, 2007

Sunday Soliloquy

... or, "Orion Talks The Smack."

I like this sequence for the unrestrained glee that Orion brings to both the verbal and physical beatdowns. It's not quite anti-heroic, but it's not exactly good sportsmanship, either.

Of course, laughing about the Mother Box's sacrifice is just cold, especially since Fourth World readers would already have seen DeSaad torture a "good" Mother Box in Forever People. Still, I get the feeling Orion would have said much the same things about Slig's real mother....

[From "Spawn," in New Gods #5, October 1971. Written and drawn by Jack Kirby, inked and lettered by Mike Royer, color reconstruction by Drew R. Moore and Dave Tanguay. Scans from Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus Vol. 2, which my own mother and dad gave me for Christmas.]
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Saturday, December 29, 2007

New comics 12/28/07

... So I bought sixteen comic books and then entered a Nyquil fog? Isn't it supposed to happen the other way around?

Jeez, sixteen comics. I'll point out quickly, though, that three carry the Countdown banner, two the 52 Aftermath one, and a couple of others are one-shots (Green Lantern Secret Files, Fantastic Four Isla de la Muerte), and one I'm just giving a tryout to (LSH). So that's half, which makes me feel a little better.

Also, I read 'em last night during the Nyquil haze, so I might still be a little fuzzy talking about 'em today.


The three Countdown books -- Arena #4, C. To Adventure #5, and issue #18 of the main book -- were all pretty competently done. The big attraction in the main book was the reunion with Ray Palmer, but it felt more like the capper to those wheel-spinning Search For specials from the past few months. Good to check in with Ray, but not much else happened this week, and of course another cliffhanger ending. The Adventure book advanced the plot in San Diego, but seeing that we're past the halfway point and our three stalwarts haven't hooked up again, the story starts to look a little more padded. Finally, Arena wrapped up with a weird fight involving the Supermen, made even more incomprehensible by Christopher Kent (the bald one)'s odd powers. If you had "Superman defeats Monarch," you lost!

The Forerunner backup in C. To Adventure was okay, about her taking over a pirate ship and generally being hardcore, but the overall storyline has not engaged me.

Moving on. Green Lantern Sinestro Corps Secret Files & Origins #1 was surprisingly comprehensive as these things go, delivering on the cover's promise of "bios on over 200 Lanterns!" and generally acting as the Bill James Baseball Abstract 2008 for all us GL fans. Worth the $4.99, and I don't say that lightly about these Secret Files books.

Mark Waid strikes twice this week, first with Flash #235 and then with Brave and the Bold #9. The Flash story was fine; more intriguing for its Jai-Wally scenes than for any advancement in the plot. I'm not convinced that Freddie Williams is a good fit for this book. I might have mentioned already that his figures are a little on the bulky side, and for a speedster I don't think that's optimal. Still, it's not a total mismatch. The backup fares better, being a Wally-and-Bart flashback and helping to explain the origin of the main story's bad guy.

The Brave and the Bold #9 is likewise a patchwork of three fairly simple team-ups (Metal Men and Dial H For Hero, Blackhawk and Boy Commandos, present-day Atom and Hawkman) in which each set of heroes fights some messenger of Megistus. It's all tied together by a Challengers of the Unknown framing sequence, and the suggestion that the Book of Destiny has come to life somehow. (There must have been some magic in that old silk hat they found....) It will probably mean more to the story once the bigger picture is seen, and it's not the best issue so far, but it's still pretty fun.

This week also sees a double dose of the Legion of Super-Heroes, first in their own book and then in Action Comics. Legion #37 kicks off the return of Scripter-Boy Jim Shooter, back after thirty-plus years; and I've gotta say, I wasn't really encouraged. The thrust of the story is that new Legion leader Lightning Lad is, to put it lightly, overwhelmed by his responsibilities, with the team suffering as a result. The issue provides an overview of quite a few Legionnaires, which is appropriate, and it's not really decompressed, which I appreciated; but it almost tries to do too much. Blocky, angular art from penciller Francis Manapul and inker Livesay doesn't help the scenes flow into one another. There's also not much sense that this Legion is appreciably different from the old Shooter/Levitz days, and I kinda think there should be. Maybe I'm just picky that way.

Over in Action Comics #860, what is allegedly the old Shooter/Levitz Legion gets its own workout, but again, the book just feels crowded with characters. Having them all introduced with their own bullet-point caption is a nice idea in theory, but in practice -- take the first page, for example -- the things can clutter up the page. The Legionnaires also crowd out Superman themselves, but if the point is to get all the players straight before the big scrum, that'd make it easier to take. Oddly enough, I think penciller Gary Frank makes the Legionnaires look a little older than Superman, which strikes me as an intriguing detail if it's intentional. Look at the cheekbones on Lightning Lass and Night Girl. Those faces seem almost middle-aged to me. Anyway, we're about where I'd expect for the halfway point of the story, so it's still good thus far.

Green Lantern #26 bills itself as Part 1 of "The Alpha Lanterns," but it's more transitory than that. Pieces are picked up after the Sinestro Corps War, Hal and John go back to Earth, and a group of "Lost Lanterns" runs afoul of Amon Sur. Mike McKone comes on as penciller and does a good job. His layouts aren't as crowded as Ivan Reis's, but of course he's not drawing thousands of GLs and Sinestros either. Because the issue is so episodic, it's hard to get a sense of what it wants to accomplish, and it dispenses with the "Alpha Lantern" thing pretty quickly. We'll see how Part 2 deals with the Alphas, I guess.

Another somewhat transitory issue was Captain America #33, wherein the Winter Soldier's arm beats up some SHIELD techs and the fully-armed (ha ha) W.S. almost takes out Iron Man. Pieces are put together by the good guys re: the involvement of the Red Skull, and next issue advertises the New Cap. Another fine installment.

Fantastic Four: Isla De La Muerte was a cute one-shot spotlighting the Thing's annual secret vacation to Puerto Rico. With as much time spent on team dynamics as on the mystery du jour, it's a good little FF story. I don't quite see the resemblance between Ben and El Morro, though. The art, by Juan Doe, is fairly cartoony, but I just say that to describe, not criticize.

JLA Classified #49 was a strange, rather insubstantial story about the Leaguers' various helpmates reacting to their being off-planet on a dangerous mission. Most of it concerns Lois Lane and Alfred Pennyworth meeting for the first time, which you'd think would place this fairly early in DC history; but Wally is the Flash and Linda is his sweetie, so it can't be that old. Also, Lois either doesn't know Superman's secret, or doesn't know that she can share it with Alfred. Paulo Siqueira and Amilton Santos are the penciller and inker, respectively, and they combine to produce somewhat Adam Hughes-like figures. However, the layouts are a little too self-conscious, with figures jumping out of panels when they maybe really shouldn't. The overall effect is to make the story seem more important than it is. I hate to be a continuity stickler, but it might've worked better with a more open relationship among the principals; and that might've been better portrayed with a group which included the Silver Age significant others. Those people did hang out together in a way that, say, Alfred and Lois don't.

Teen Titans #54 finished up the "Titans Of Tomorrow Today" storyline, but I'm not sure how. Did the revelations about Future-Kon and Future-Bart really affect the current Titans' viewpoints enough that history will be changed for the better? And what about that epilogue? The issue has some nice moments, many of them involving Wonder Girl or Blue Beetle, but I don't know that they add up to a coherent conclusion.

Batman #672 sees Grant Morrison and Tony Daniel return to the familar "Three Evil Batmen" storyline Morrison had been working before the Club of Heroes and Ra's al Ghul arcs intervened. I liked this issue pretty well, although I thought the ending was confusing. Since it involved Zur-En-Arrh, a Batman getting shot, and what looks like Bat-Mite, I'm sure it'll be explained eventually. Daniel and his various inkers still remind me of Andy Kubert, but that may well be the influence of Guy Major's colors.

Finally, the two 52 spinoffs, Four Horsemen and Crime Bible, were both pretty entertaining. I especially liked Crime Bible's look at the Gotham PD and, therefore, Greg Rucka's "return" to Gotham Central territory. Batwoman also seemed a lot more plausible as a crimefighter, although you'd think we'd have seen her in more places even taking her recovery into account. Anyway, Crime Bible was more a spotlight on the Question's relationship to Batwoman, and for that it was pretty good.

Four Horsemen continues to be a good adventure story, weaving various ancillary characters like Mr. Terrific, Veronica Cale, and Snapper Carr into its story about DC's "Big Three" taking on Apokoliptian terror-gods. This issue adds the Doom Patrol. It's all very well-organized, with enough set pieces (like Superman's and Batman's respective duels with Horsemen) to hold my interest. Of course, there's not much doubt about the outcome, so the fun is in seeing how we'll get there.

Whew! How's that for a whirlwind look at an end-of-year blowout week?

* * *


Action Comics #860. Written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by Gary Frank, inked by Jon Sibal, colored by Dave McCaig.

Batman #672. Written by Grant Morrison, pencilled by Tony Daniel, inked by Daniel, Jonathan Glapion, and others, colored by Guy Major.

The Brave and the Bold #9. Written by Mark Waid, pencilled by George PĂ©rez, inked by Bob Wiacek and Scott Koblish, colored by Tom Smith.

Captain America #33. Written by Ed Brubaker, pencilled by Steve Epting, inked by Butch Guice, colored by Frank D’Armata.

Countdown Arena #4. Written by Keith Champagne, pencilled by Scott McDaniel, inked by Andy Owens, and colored by Guy Major.

Countdown To Adventure #5. “Space Heroes” written by Adam Beechen, pencilled by Allan Goldman, inked by Julio Ferreira, and colored by The Hories. “Forerunner” written by Justin Gray, pencilled by Fabrizio Fiorentino, inked by Adam DeKraker, and colored by The Hories.

Countdown (To Final Crisis) #18. Written by Paul Dini and Sean McKeever, story consultant Keith Giffen, drawn by Scott Kolins, colored by Tom Chu.

Fantastic Four: Isla de la Muerte! #1. Written by Tom Beland, drawn and colored by Juan Doe.

52 Aftermath: Crime Bible -- Five Lessons Of Blood #3. Written by Greg Rucka, drawn by Matthew Clark, colored by Javier Mena.

52 Aftermath: The Four Horsemen #5. Written by Keith Giffen, pencilled by Pat Olliffe, inked by John Stanisci, colored by Hi-Fi.

The Flash #235. Main story written by Mark Waid, drawn by Freddie Williams II, and colored by Tanya & Richard Horie. Backup written by Waid and John Rogers, drawn by Doug Braithwaite, and colored by Alex Sinclair.

Green Lantern #26. Written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by Mike McKone, inked by Andy Lanning, Marlo Alquiza, & Cam Smith, and colored by JD Smith.

Green Lantern Sinestro Corps Secret Files & Origins #1. Written, drawn, and colored by too many people to mention.

JLA Classified #49. Written by Andrew Kreisberg, pencilled by Paulo Siquiera, inked by Amilton Santos, and colored by Allen Passalaqua.

Legion of Super-Heroes #37. Written by Jim Shooter, pencilled by Francis Manapul, inked by Livesay, and colored by Nathan Eyring.

Teen Titans #54. Written by Sean McKeever, pencilled by Eddy Barrows, Joe Prado, & Greg Tocchini, inked by Rob Hunter, Julio Ferreira, Oclair Albert, & Prado, and colored by Rod Reis.

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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Showcase Presents ... Holidays In Hell

No, that's not a summary of Christmas with our families. I took Showcase Presents Jonah Hex Volume 1 along for light reading during the Christmas break. I had already plowed through Showcase Presents Sgt. Rock (also Volume 1), and was curious to see how Hex would compare.

Showcase Presents Sgt. Rock Volume 1 covers just over three years' worth of comics. It begins with what is apparently Rock's first appearance, in G.I. Combat #68 (January 1959), and then reprints the Sgt. Rock stories from Our Army At War #s 81-117 (April 1959-April 1962). None of these stories are what we'd consider full-length today, with the longest ones being 13 pages. Most were written by Bob Kanigher and/or drawn by Joe Kubert, including the "prototype" story from G.I. Combat. (Bob Haney wrote, and Ross Andru and Mike Esposito drew, Rock's OAAW debut.) Of course, Rock is identified pretty closely with both Kanigher and Kubert, so this isn't surprising.

The stories each tend to have the same basic structure: Rock introduces and narrates each, and each tends to depict some object lesson Rock teaches the somewhat interchangeable men under his command. There's two-fisted action, naturally, with the men of Easy Company facing off against implacable German machinegunners, tanks, or planes, but the emphasis is on the characters. Of course, since the point of virtually every story is for Rock's men to learn from him, Rock doesn't really experience many epiphanies, but he's still a very engaging host. In fact, Rock's constant presence is one of the book's real charms. As hard as he comes off to his men, Rock is much friendlier to the reader, and that "behind-the-curtain" look drew me into the book in a way I hadn't expected.

The book does develop some of Easy Company's other members, including Rock's second-in-command Bulldozer, the formerly wimpy Ice Cream Soldier, and the well-named Wild Man. Other Easy soldiers aren't so lucky, meeting their ends during their introductory tales. Death -- personalized death, that is -- isn't a big part of these stories, but it's there. I got the feeling that the youngest intended readers of OAAW were probably in 5th grade or older -- older, to be sure, than the kids reading the superhero books. Still, this was the late '50s, well into the superheroic revivals of the Silver Age which gave rise to the "aging fan," so I could be wrong.

Outside of their shared World War II timeframe, the stories take place for the most part on anonymous battlefields. Similarly, other than Easy Company's constant antagonists being (mostly) faceless Nazis, the stories aren't overtly jingoistic. I also didn't get the sense that these stories glorified combat for its own sake. The collective message of the "Sgt. Rock" series seems to have been that grace under pressure, steadfastness, and teamwork were the paramount attributes of any soldier. The '50s and '60s probably produced better war comics -- I'm thinking particularly of the EC war comics, which have an excellent reputation -- but Showcase Presents Sgt. Rock Vol. 1 is endearing in its own way, and it's got me waiting for Vol. 2.

* * *

Showcase Presents Jonah Hex Volume 1 wasn't as big a hit with me. Maybe it was reading such an unrepentantly nihilistic Western series in the days leading up to Christmas. I didn't dislike these stories, but I didn't find myself wanting to spend more time with ol' Jonah anytime soon. In some ways I'm sure that's the point.

SPJH Vol. 1 reprints some four years' worth of Hex stories from (the bimonthly) Weird Western Tales (nee All-Star Western) #s 10-33 (February-March 1972 to March-April 1976). It also reprints a couple of relatively obscure All-Star Western features, "Outlaw" and "Billy The Kid," which I'll discuss at the end.

Jonah Hex, character and series, was born into a world quite different from Sgt. Rock's. Hex had to acknowledge, and in some sense compete with, the revisionist Westerns of the '60s and '70s. Hex also had to balance being a misanthropic, antiheroic killer with being both sympathetic and palatable to the newsstand crowd. (Each issue's cover carries the Comics Code Authority seal.) Accordingly, although Hex's good heart was hidden pretty well, dealing with characters who were demonstrably evil gave him frequent chances to reveal it. Having him spurned by polite society, both for his profession and his hideous scarred visage, also made him more sympathetic.

(By the way, for those of you who listen faithfully to "A Prairie Home Companion," I couldn't help but give Hex the gravelly voice of Tim Russell's Dusty from "The Lives of the Cowboys." Don't judge me.)

Hex's creators John Albano (writer) and Tony DeZuniga (artist) collaborated on a little less than half the stories in this book, with Michael Fleisher writing most of the rest for a variety of artists. Fleisher's artists included DeZuniga, Noly Panaligan, George Moliterni, Doug Wildey, and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez. Garcia-Lopez's two stories may be the most accessible to today's readers, art-wise, due to their clean, crisp figures and layouts, but the others each have a particular earthy style which suits the subject matter. I wasn't as impressed with the storytelling on display as I was with Kubert's in the Sgt. Rock volume, but nothing is hard to understand.

Although this volume includes a few flashbacks to his Civil War days, it doesn't offer much clues as to Jonah's postwar "origin." Still, the overall impression of Hex is as a tragic figure, doomed to wander the West making a career out of killing and bounty-hunting. Again, he's certainly not unsympathetic. If anything, the stories tend to weaken whenever they introduce gender and/or racial issues (the threat of rape, for example) to which today's readers might ostensibly be more sensitive. Ultimately, though, Jonah is the agent of a certain variety of rough, pulp-flavored justice which perhaps satisfies no one but the reader. Mindful of Fleisher's background writing ironic punishments for the Spectre series, I soon saw Jonah in the same angel-of-vengeance light.

Really, now that I think more about it, I'm eager for Vol. 2, just to see if (and how) DC softened Jonah as the '70s wore on.

As for the "Outlaw" and "Billy The Kid" features, they're perhaps best appreciated as filler. They don't have a lot to do with Jonah Hex beyond sharing some creators, and they're not very true to their respective premises. The "Outlaw" series is advertised as the adventures of an aspiring Texas Ranger who runs afoul of his Ranger father and must clear his name. The "Billy The Kid" premise is pretty familiar too, although I won't spoil it. Suffice it to say that "BTK"'s premise is undercut by the art. "Outlaw"'s is undone by its writing, which suddenly decides in mid-story that the central conflict is over.

I can't figure out whether Hex Vol. 2 has been rescheduled -- it was part of that group of '70s-'80s Showcases cancelled back in the summer -- but I guess I liked Vol. 1 enough after all.

* * *
Really, I liked both of these for fairly different reasons. For good bedside reading, I'd definitely suggest Sgt. Rock. For something more involved, story-wise, I'd go with Jonah Hex. It's a trade-off -- you can't beat Joe Kubert's artwork, but I can see where the stories would get repetitive. Still, I found myself wanting to read more after each Sgt. Rock story, whereas it was easier for me to put down the Hex volume.

I hope to see what a Vol. 2 brings to each series.
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Friday, December 21, 2007

And to all a good night

(Click to blockhead-size)

Well, here we are again, at Christmastime. I've been trying to think of a good post for the season, but they all come out too preachy or too melodramatic. (This might not be much better, actually.) The Best Wife Ever and I are busy as usual, and just like in those awful Lifetime movies, that makes it harder to get into the proper spirit.

However, I suppose that if you can actually plan around Christmas, that may also make it easier to compartmentalize the holiday into its own little packet of time -- say, 24 hours from the evening of December 24 until the evening of the 25th, when you look around at a wrapping-paper-strewn family room and realize someone's going to have to clean all this up....

Better, perhaps, to let Christmas come suddenly, in the dead of night, as it did to Luke's shepherds in the fields outside Bethlehem. Better perhaps even to have it highlight the complications of our lives and work with them, and through them, so we see its practical effects.

Still, I don't think of Christmas as a panacea. Not everyone learns a life lesson, and not every rough place is made plain. After all, the innkeeper doesn't give up his own bed for Joseph and Mary -- instead, he finds room for them out back, with the livestock. It's not very Lifetime-movie of him.

However, the Christmas message isn't quite "be happy with what you have," either. Christmas is about faith, hope, and change. The last shall be first. The meek shall inherit the earth. "Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord." The change is gonna come, for behold, its agent is here.

This holiday season has been stressful, to put it mildly, for more than a few of my friends and family. The stresses are all different, as are the methods for dealing with them. Some are losing (or have lost) loved ones. Some stresses are work-related. Some are just the logistical demands of the season. Christmas isn't going to solve all of their problems, and in fact may make enduring those problems more difficult. Again, though, the message of Christmas isn't ignorant bliss, it's the promise of a better world. The real gift of Christmas is the pause to honor Christ's birth. In that pause we not only rest, but may also contemplate that better world about which he taught.

Therefore, this holiday season, my wish for you is for that opportunity to rest and find the peace you need. A better world depends on each of us.

Happy holidays, blogosphere! See you next week.
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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Lord Havok = Nightwing...?

I liked a good bit of the new Dan DiDio interview at Newsarama, but I have to disagree with his characterization of Countdown's tentacles.

DD: ... People identify things like Countdown to Mystery and Countdown to Adventure and even Lord Havok as Countdown crossovers, but I really don’t – I consider those books to be spin-“outs” of Countdown featuring characters that were in Countdown, and have spun out into their own miniseries and stories. They’re not different than when say; Iceman or Nightcrawler got their own miniseries spinning off of X-Men. So if you say we’re putting out a lot of Countdown, “Countdown” is a brand name the same way that Superman is a brand name, Batman is a brand name, or X-Men is a brand name.

NRAMA: True, but without Countdown, the Lord Havoks and other spin-offs wouldn’t exist, or have a reason for their stories to be told, so there is something to say that there is a connection between them…

DD: Agreed, but you can say the same thing about anything like that – would there have been a Nightwing series without Batman? There wouldn’t have been a Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen without Superman. Jimmy played a role in Superman, and his profile was raised to the point that people wanted to see more adventures with him. That was the hope of what we did. Maybe we spun things out to fast, without getting the chance to really establish the characters, but the more important thing is the Countdown name increased the amount of sampling and interest in characters that people normally would have passed by if the books had come out without the Countdown branding.

It seems pretty disingenuous to say that tremendous reader demand for the adventures of Forerunner and Jeanclipso led to the creation of Countdown To Adventure or C. To Mystery. All of the "branded" series were sold to us readers as take-'em-or-leave-'em parts of the larger Countdown experience. That's fairly far removed from analogizing them to Nightwing, who got his own solo series about a dozen years after his first appearance, and who by the way was a major player in a prominent team book for a good ten years.*

Moreover, the lead stories in CTM and CTA are, respectively, the repurposed Steve Gerber Doctor Fate relaunch, and a 52 follow-up. Those are better arguments for publishing the titles, but they hardly support the notion that people would read them based on Countdown. In fact, I wonder if they would have done better on those grounds, without the CD brand.

On balance, I think Dan DiDio tries to be pretty fair about DC's shortcomings, but in this respect he's not exactly arguing from a position of strength.

* I'm counting Dick-as-Nightwing, obviously. To count Dick-as-Robin would just be piling on.
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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Quick Thoughts On Today's New Comics (12/19/07)

Yeah, I know, it's been quite a while -- but sometimes you're inspired and you have the time, and sometimes one or both of those aren't present.


Checkmate #21: really good start to a Mlle. Marie story. Very pleasantly surprised by the new White Queen. (She's no longer powered, is she?) Would have loved some hint that (a) Mlle. Marie had had a liaison with Alfred Pennyworth, like in the old days.

Birds Of Prey #113: Welcome aboard, Mr. McKeever! Glad to see you work so well with Ms. Scott and Mr. Hazlewood!

Detective Comics #839: This has been an uneven mess of a crossover, and the art in the first half of the book didn't help, but I did like the overall tone of this issue. Still, it's Christmas already?!? Man, the timeline questions surrounding today's DC superhero books....

Countdown Presents ... Ray Palmer: Superwoman/Batwoman: Well, that was rather pointless.

Countdown Arena #3 and Justice League of America #16: Arena is developing more of a plot than I originally expected, although Vampire!LibertyFiles!Batman! reminds me more and more of Primaul (TM). However, my main problem has to do with the Tangent Flash. Either she makes it out of Arena alive -- since she's on the cover of JLA #16 -- or there's a reset button built into the Arena setup, if not all of Countdown. It goes back to my "not the real Elseworlds" theory from a recent Grumpy Old Fan, but otherwise it just makes my head hurt.

Superman #671: Very good start to the "Insect Queen" story. Peter Vale's art is much better than I remembered.

She-Hulk #24: I dunno. There may be some parallels between the Jen-and-Jen setup and PAD's Supergirl, but I'm just not getting much out of the book right now.

I'll try to do a holiday-themed post before the weekend, but if not, regular service resumes around Dec. 27.
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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Sunday Soliloquy

I didn't get to use the Thing/Doom beatdown from this week's FF for this week's Friday Night Fights. Good thing, then, that Future Doom is just as mouthy as Present Doom.

[From "Epilogue, Chapter 2: The Middle Of The End," Fantastic Four #552, February 2008. Written by Dwayne McDuffie, pencilled by Paul Pelletier, inked by Rick Magyar, colored by Wil Quintana, lettered by VC's Russ Wooton.]
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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Thursday Night Thinking

I'm not going to argue that the "Spidey refuses to give up and lifts the heavy machinery" sequence isn't a classic of superhero comics...

... but these two pages with Thor-Frog are pretty effective too.

And, of course, it wouldn't work if Thor-Frog weren't THINKING!

[From "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner; or, It's Not Easy Being Green!" in The Mighty Thor #365, March 1986. Written and drawn by Walt Simonson, lettered by John Workman, colored by Max Scheele.]
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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Extending the Final Frontier: Thoughts on DC's Star Trek

I'm pretty excited about Star Trek Week over at Dave's Long Box, because it means he'll probably be talking Trek comics for the next couple of months.

Anyway, his latest post is on DC's Star Trek vol. 1 #35. I am full-to-bursting about a certain aspect of this comic, but didn't want to hijack Dave's comments.

For those who don't know, DC got the Star Trek license in 1983, following Star Trek II. However, editors Marv Wolfman and Bob Greenberger wanted to do contemporary stories. This meant picking up from where The Wrath Of Khan left off, which in turn meant switching out Spock for Saavik.

It worked out well enough for the first eight issues. The first four issues were a "Klingon War" storyline involving some familiar omnipotent aliens. A couple of done-in-one issues followed that, and then a two-part "Origin Of Saavik" story had David Marcus come back into the mix to transfer Saavik to the U.S.S. Grissom. By this time it was the summer of 1984 and DC had to lead its readers into Star Trek III.

The problem, as you might guess, was leading out of The Search For Spock with anything resembling contemporary stories. Indeed, Star Trek vol. 1 #9 began with our heroes on Vulcan, wondering how to finesse their surrender to Federation justice. Luckily, an invasion from the Mirror Universe provided a handy opportunity for Kirk & Krew to save the Federation from (goateed and/or scantily-clad versions of) itself. Starfleet couldn't prosecute such heroic figures, so Kirk and most of the regulars (including Saavik) were assigned to the starship Excelsior.

For reasons I can't quite remember, though, Spock was given command of the Surak, an Oberth-class science vessel, and sent to explore a different corner of the galaxy. I'd say this was done not only to preserve the initial Spock-less lineup, but also to make sure that, whatever happened between movies 3 and 4, Kirk was still getting to know the "new" Spock by the time Star Trek IV rolled around. I'd say the same applied to a new Enterprise -- DC couldn't have one in its comics if Paramount hadn't introduced it on the big screen.

Accordingly, from issue #16 through #33, DC's Star Trek was mostly about the voyages of the starship Excelsior, exploring strange new worlds, yadda yadda yadda. DC even did a twentieth-anniversary issue where the original crew (overshooting the 2260s on their way back from "Tomorrow Is Yesterday") met their movie-era selves aboard Excelsior. Nevertheless, it all had to be rolled back again, to get ready for Star Trek IV.

That's where Dave's Star Trek #35 comes in. If memory serves, "The Doomsday Bug" makes Vulcanoids go nuts. It affects a shipload of Romulans and Spock too. Kirk & Ko. become involved in an intergalactic incident, Spock's neural pathways start to degenerate, and the Excelsior high-tails it for Vulcan so Spock can get the help he needs and the others can find sanctuary.

I think this is fascinating (ha ha) for a couple of reasons. First, Paramount apparently let DC have as "traditional" a setup as the events of the movies would allow. On one hand this seems eminently appropriate, because who'd want to come cold to a Star Trek comic only to find two years' worth of "Kirk On The Lam" stories? On the other, though, why wouldn't Paramount want to let the movies tell their own stories, and require DC to publish flashbacks in the meantime? The Star Trek novels still focused on the pre-TWOK era (although designated adaptation writer Vonda McIntyre fleshed out the movies with her own subplots and transition sequences). Indeed, DC's second volume of Trek comics began after 1989's Star Trek V, and at first included the Klingon characters from that movie, but soon dropped its own continuing characters and subplots for a series of standalone stories. Certainly those weren't unpopular, because Vol. 2 lasted 80 issues, but after a while it felt less ... personal, I suppose, than Vol. 1's attempts to create its own continuity.

In short, I thought it was pretty gutsy of DC to do its own thing with the Trek movies. To me it helped justify the comics' existence, because it added a soap-opera element that the TV show never really had. The fact that it worked even within the movies' own cliffhangers and (relatively) tight continuity was also pretty impressive.

The second fascinating aspect of "The Doomsday Bug" is its rollback function. It's the narrative equivalent of cleaning up after that wild party you weren't supposed to have while your parents were out of town. Everything has to be put back just like they left it. In hindsight, this makes parts of the story pretty ridiculous. For example, the Klingon Bird-Of-Prey apparently sat in Excelsior's shuttlebay for some twenty issues, without being appropriated by Starfleet for further study.

Still, the point of a parents-are-away party isn't to obey the rules. The point is to take advantage of the freedom, however fleeting it may be. DC definitely did that. In fact, its "Excelsior period" was designed to give readers the kinds of stories they expected, without strip-mining the familiar five-year mission or even the less-familiar post-Motion Picture era. (Besides, Marvel's series was set post-TMP.) I like the rollback because it acknowledges that those stories existed and could reasonably be incorporated into the movie timeline. After years of superhero comics' simply pushing the reset button, an old-fashioned transitory story is almost quaint.
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Sunday, December 09, 2007

Sunday Soliloquy

Doctor Manhattan learns the true meaning of Christmas:

... Okay, not exactly, but it is a kind of "goodwill towards men" ("and women," as Batman Returns reminds us) moment.

[From "The Darkness Of Mere Being" in, duh, Watchmen #9, May 1987. Written by Alan Moore, drawn and lettered by Dave Gibbons, colored by John Higgins.]
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Friday, December 07, 2007

Friday Night Fights

Rip Hunter continues the proud tradition of brainiacs who aren't afraid to sucka-punch!

It's always time for Bahlactus!

[From "52 Pick-Up Chapter 4: He's Gonna Save Every One Of Us!" in Booster Gold vol. 2 #4, January 2008. Written by Geoff Johns and Jeff Katz, pencilled by Dan Jurgens, inked by Norm Rapmund, colored by Hi-Fi, lettered by Rob Leigh.]
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Thursday, December 06, 2007

Brief Words About Recent Books And Upcoming Content

As you may have noticed, I upgraded to the current version of Blogger a week or so ago. It's made the site a little more functional, I think, although my StatCounter stats are screwed up. Either that or there are 90% fewer people visiting, which is entirely possible.

It's been a weird few weeks around here. The Best Wife Ever and I have been pretty busy with our real lives. My parents visited for Thanksgiving. The leaves need raking. We went to Grand Illumination, the kickoff of Colonial Williamsburg's Christmas season. That doesn't leave a lot of time for blogging about new comics.

Actually, I've been reading a lot outside the Wednesday hauls, and that's taken time away from the weekly roundups too. Last week it was The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier and I Shall Destroy All The Civilized Planets!. I got Showcase Presents The Brave And The Bold Batman Team-Ups for my birthday last month, and Wednesday I got Showcase Presents Sgt. Rock. So far, all of them have been pretty entertaining, although Black Dossier was fairly self-indulgent.

Of course, I've been keeping my regular Thursday deadlines for Grumpy Old Fan, and as I mentioned in a comment on today's post, odds are good that I'll finish the magnum-opus Grand Unified Theory of DC Comics -- my own Black Dossier, probably, with all that implies -- before too long. I'm a little frightened by the thought of that, and you should be too.

I'm also interested in the more nuts-and-bolts aspects of DC's output, but I admit freely that it'll take more research than I have time for right now. Moreover, I'm not sure the answers are readily available. Just off the top of my head:

-- Are there still formal "ship weeks," i.e., where Batman ships reliably on, say, the second week of every month?
-- How does one calculate when a month has a fifth week? (I think it used to be the number of Tuesdays, but that might just have been back when the books shipped on Fridays.)
-- How late have DC's books been, really? How does that compare to Marvel, Dark Horse, and/or Image?
-- What should fill the slots all these Countdown miniseries will leave behind?
-- Is a variant cover a slot-filler? What about a second printing?

You get the idea. I still think a lot about comics, even if those thoughts don't make it to this blog. I just wanted you to know I haven't turned this space into a series of scans (although I like doing the scans too). It might not be this weekend, or next week, but before too long, I hope to be filling this space with long-winded tirades about superhero esoterica, just like old times.

As they used to say, "be here -- it'll be good!"
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Thursday Night Thinking

There's all kinds of THINKING ... quick thinking, forward thinking, thinking on one's feet ...

... and then there's "thinking in a constantly shifting, Escher-inspired environment," which apparently takes some getting used to.

[From "Different Worlds," the lead story in Action Comics #600, May 1988. Written and pencilled by John Byrne, with at least some assists (I think) on both from George Perez, inked by Mr. Perez, colored by Tom Ziuko, lettered by John Costanza.]
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Sunday, December 02, 2007

Sunday Soliloquy

I have a good chunk of Cerebus phone books, but not all of 'em. Sometimes I don't know which would be more rewarding -- reading Cerebus from start to finish or trying to make sense out of The Silmarillion. Still, as far as I know, there are no superhero parodies in Tolkien.

Here's the Moon Roach all dressed for the Sacred Wars in his "Black Spidey" costume:

I had forgotten about his henchmen, themselves parodies of the hillbillies from old Warner Bros. cartoons.

There was also a three-headed swamp monster (Swamp Thing, Man-Thing, and Alan Moore) and MIck Jagger and Keith Richards, but maybe another Sunday.

[From "Becoming Synonymous With Something Indescribable" in Cerebus #81, December 1985, which itself was a tiny little part of Church & State II. Written, drawn, and lettered by Dave Sim, with Gerhard on backgrounds.]
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