Sunday, October 28, 2007

Zombies, Bizarros, and Sinestros: Oh, my!

My head is still hurting from last night's Halloween festivities, so I'll probably keep this brief. Let me start by saying, however, that despite what DC and Jim Starlin might think, Jack Kirby's New Gods are alive and well, thank you very much.

That's my pal and co-worker Rachelle Goguen as Big Barda, and me as Orion. In your face, DC!

On to the comics. The three part ACTION COMICS storyline, "Escape From Bizarro World", wrapped up this week--it was written by Geoff Johns and Richard Donner, and drawn by THE GOON creator Eric Powell. First off, I'd like to reiterate how much I am loving this writing team's run on the book, however intermittent it might be, and I'm super happy to see it back on track. Next week, Donner takes a break (I'm honestly not sure how much he actually contributes to the process, anyway) and Gary Frank joins as new regular penciller, which is very exciting. In the meantime, though, this was a fun little storyline that restores the idea of a Bizarro World to the DCU. In the olden days, it probably would have been a single issue, or maybe a double-sized annual, but in these days of "decompressed storytellng" or "writing for the trade" or whatever you want to call it, it somehow translates to three issues. As a result, it felt a bit padded--lots of pages are spent introducing characters like Bizarro Luthor, Bizarro Doomsday (who is really just Doomsday--shouldn't he be weak and puny or something?), and the Bizarro JLA, but when the artwork is this nice, it's hard to complain about it. Superman comes to a nice, Silver-Agey solution in the end by making Bizarro the hero of his people rather than just fighting him, and there are lots of fun details in the issue, like Bizarro Aquaman with a fishbowl on his head. I also loved how the Bizarro Green Lantern is actually that sector's representative of the Sinestro Corps, who is too stupid to get with the program and join the GL/Sinestro war that's currently raging across the galaxy.

Speaking of the Sinestro Corps...the "Sinestro Corps War" storyline is nearing its conclusion in the GREEN LANTERN titles, and as much as I've enjoyed this crossover, I think I'll be glad to see it end. This week, three tie-in books--GREEN LANTERN CORPS, BLUE BEETLE, and TALES OF THE SINESTRO CORPS: SUPERMAN-PRIME were released, and not much actually happened between them. They all kinda reiterated the same basic info--the war has come to Earth, Superboy-Prime hates everybody, and Sodam Yat is the new Ion--yet none of them managed to advance the story very much. It's kind of like what went quickly wrong with the WORLD WAR HULK tie-ins, where multiple issues cover the same couple of events from a few different angles, but the story doesn't go forward quickly enough. The multitude of unappealing fill-in art on GLC doesn't help either. Still, this has been one of the more exciting crossover events of recent memory, and there's still time for Geoff Johns and Dave Gibbons to bring a big finish to the whole shebang.

So, the last time I posted, I complained yet again about the proliferation of zombie comics, but now I have to go and recommend one. FEAR AGENT co-creators Rick Remender and Tony Moore team up with artist Kieron Dwyer to unleash XXXOMBIES (a title that kind of only works in print) on the world, and the result is good, gross fun. Really gross. Like, not for 99% of the population gross. The premise of this series (which is the first of a projected series of horror titles under the banner CRAWLSPACE) is that a bunch of 70s porn stars are holed up in a mansion to film three days of hardcore sex, unaware that Los Angeles has just been invaded by walking corpses. Eventually the two worlds collide, and the result is disgusting and awesome. One gag involves an actor who leaves the mansion, is bitten by a zombie, and stumbles back to the shoot where he is thought to be high on crystal meth or something and, before he has a chance to infect anyone, he is rushed off to do a scene...I'll let you imagine where this one goes. Good stuff, but most definitely not for everyone.

My head still hurts, I have to go back and lie down for a while. Happy Halloween, everybody!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Make Peace With Your New Gods!

Hmmm...maybe it's only because I expected to utterly despise it, but THE DEATH OF THE NEW GODS #1 by Jim Starlin was actually not too bad. Kinda pricey ($3.50 US), and kinda dependent on the last few NG series (which I skipped) for its continuity--i.e. Highfather is dead and some non-Kirby dude named Takion is in charge of New Genesis, and both Darkseid and Mr. Miracle have mastered the Anti-Life Equation--but I found it to be a lot better than I was expecting. It's not all that consistent with events in the DCU in places like COUNTDOWN, seeing as how the method of the New Gods being dispatched is not the same as it has been in other places (did Lightray really have his heart ripped out? 'Cause I think I'd remember that), and events transpire to ensure that there will soon not be a single happy married couple left in DC Comics before long (I may have said too much). However, some decent Starlin art and vibrant colours by Jeromy Cox, plus a feeling in my gut that Grant Morrison will fix any damage to these characters by the end of FINAL CRISIS, saw me through this all right. Even if Granny Goodness did refer to Darkseid's Elite as a "ROUGE'S gallery". Seriously, this mistake bothers me almost as much as when people write "VIOLA!" instead of "VOILA!", which means I seriously need to chill the fuck out when it comes to grammar and spelling.

I have never in my life listened to a song by My Chemical Romance and I don't really envision a scenario where that is going to change anytime soon, but the band's frontman (I guess? I could be wrong, but I'm too lazy to do a Google search) Gerard Way writes a pretty fun comic book in the form of THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY: APOCALYPSE SUITE. Drawn by Gabriel Ba (CASANOVA) and released by Dark Horse (you may have caught your first glimpse of this series in this year's DH Free Comic Book Day offering), it's the story of a group of dysfunctional super-powered orphans brought together by a mysterious millionaire, who reunite in the present day to stop an impending armageddon kicked off by their benefactor's demise. The quirky take on this superteam/messed-up family unit has lots of sly humour and cool ideas, superbly rendered in Ba's Mignolaesque style. Those slick James Jean cover paintings don't hurt, either. Fans of Grant Morrison's DOOM PATROL should get a kick out of this.

Man, did JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA go downhill in a hurry, or what? I mean, some (okay, many) would argue that it was downhill to begin with--to say that Brad Meltzer's run on the book met with mixed reviews is to be awfully charitable--but Dwayne McDuffie has quickly turned this book from a series that was kind of boring but filled with nerdy easter eggs and in-jokey character moments into the other kind of bad superhero book--the one where the good guys fight the bad guys, and that's really about it. I know, that's a weird complaint for a capes-and-tights book, but seriously...that's really all that has happened so far. Luthor's Injustice League kidnapped most of the JLA last month, and in this issue, they fight Superman and Black Lightning before kidnapping them, too. Yep. Nothing else to see here, folks, just lots of cheesecakey Ed Benes art (although, to be fair, Joe Benitez's fill-in issue last month was much, much worse). It's the kind of superhero comic that makes me think "Oh yeah, this is why most people are bored stupid by superhero comics!". I mean, come on, we're talking about Superman and Batman and Wonder Woman here...there's not much chance that Luthor and the gang are gonna kill them all. McDuffie somehow made it work on the excellent, much-missed JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED cartoon, but it's just not coming together here, no matter how much he tries to turn the comic into the show (i.e., John Stewart as the team's resident Green Lantern, the team suddenly having shuttlecrafts named Javelins with no explanation). Where did it all go wrong? Fortunately, Mark Waid and George Perez are back with the superfun BRAVE AND THE BOLD #7, which has a great Wonder Woman/Power Girl teamup that somehow sidesteps all the T and A you would expect from that matchup and instead starts off with a bang and continues with its one-off story that is somehow still part of a bigger yarn that you can ignore if you choose to (but when it's this good, why would you want to?).

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Cowboys From Hell

Sorry for the absence, folks—some offers I couldn’t say no to, as well as some long-percolating personal projects I wanted to get back to, got in my way of reviewing for a much-longer-than-anticipated period. Anyhow, I’m gonna try to keep this regular again starting now-ish.

The zombie thing has officially gotten waaaay out of hand (I know, I think I might have said this a year or two back, but who knew it would have the legs it did?). I’m saying this as someone who owns all the Romero zombie movies on DVD too, even the extra-fancy four-disc DAWN OF THE DEAD. Not only did Marvel release four, count ‘em FOUR zombie variant covers last week (on WOLVERINE, PUNISHER WAR JOURNAL, SPIDER-GIRL, and RUNAWAYS), but three separate undead western comics shipped last week as well. Interestingly, not a single one was written by Joe R. Lansdale…but I digress. One of ‘em was called OMEGA CHASE, and sadly, I didn’t have time to read that one. Another was called GRAVESLINGER, and it came from creators Shannon Eric Denton, Jeff Mariotte, and John Cboins (no way am I ever gonna try and pronounce that one) by way of Image Comics. The third one was called DEADLANDER, and it was written and illustrated by Kevin Ferrarra. GRAVESLINGER had nice art but didn’t make much sense, and DEADLANDER had REALLY nice art but possibly made even less sense. The art really did carry me through on that one, though—gorgeous stuff, a mix of guys like Frazetta, Mark Schultz, and Berni Wrightson with occasional touches of E.C. Comics atmosphere (one character, a dead ringer for the Old Witch, even talks in an E.C.-style font). I think I might have preferred the art in black and white, but even so, it still looked amazing. Oh yeah, there was also a zombie-themed graphic novel from Slave Labor called EATING STEVE, but I didn’t get to that either. Cal liked it, though, so maybe I’ll read it next week.

OPTIC NERVE’s first extended, multiple-issue story arc (three issues over almost as many years!) arrived last week in a nifty hardcover, under the title SHORTCOMINGS. Adrian Tomine’s squirmy tale of neurosis, infidelity, and racial self-loathing makes a sweet hardcover, and it holds together way better as a single-sitting read rather than a couple of floppies spread out over many, many months. The story covers territory that will be pretty familiar to OPTIC NERVE fans—you know, twentysomething angst, stormy relationships, bitterly dry humour, desperate alienation—but it still remains a fascinating read, mostly due to Tomine’s crisp, sharp artwork which perfectly captures so many nuances of human conversations, gestures, and reactions, and his utterly believable sounding dialogue. If you’re new to OPTIC NERVE, you couldn’t ask for a better introduction.

Chris Staros, publisher of the always-stunning line of Top Shelf graphic novels, released new work of his own last week in the form of YEARBOOK STORIES:1976-1978, published by Top Shelf, natch. The smaller-size black-and-white comic features a couple of autobiographical stories written by Staros, dealing with his high school years. The first, illustrated by Bo Hampton, tells of the author’s foray into school politics, while the second, drawn by Rick Tomasso, details a wild gig Staros’s band agreed to play. This is a fun, heartwarming little book, and it also features a couple of great pics of the genial publisher rocking a terrific ‘stache.

In closing, director George Miller (THE ROAD WARRIOR) was apparently testing actors this weekend for possible roles in his upcoming JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA movie, which is being rushed through production in anticipation of the upcoming Hollywood writers’ strike. Fanboys everywhere, however, are up in arms over the average age of the performers under consideration…most of them in their early twenties (lots of names from THE O.C., were on the list, as well as Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who played John McClane’s daughter in this summer’s surprisingly awesome LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD). It occurred to me, though, that this is likely a film geared towards kids and teenagers, and anyone over twenty seems like a grownup to them anyway…so, is it the fact that these actors are all fairly dewy that has fanboys everywhere gnashing their teeth, or is it that, given the fact that most comic book fans are of at least college age these days, geeks the world over just can’t deal with the fact that they may soon see a live action rendition of a Batman or Superman who is-gulp-younger than they are? I know I’m still having a hard time with the knowledge that I’m nearly twice the age Ferris Bueller was when he took the day off.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

"The Rocka-who?"

Hey, I totally met a super-hero this week! Bill Campbell, star of THE ROCKETEER (still one of the best comic-to-film adaptations, in my opinion) is filming a TV movie here in Halifax, and he dropped by Strange Adventures. He said he even considered becoming a comics artist in his youth, but the whole acting thing got in the way. Anyway, he was kind enough to pose with me, in a picture that makes me look about twelve years old:

Man, that guy is a tall drink of water. Super nice guy, too--I'm hoping he comes back in and signs my ROCKETEER graphic novel for me (I got Dave Stevens to sign it in San Diego a few years ago, and the signature of the real-life Rocketeer on there would be pretty damn awesome too). Anyway, have some reviews, won't you?

Now, here’s a book I found myself liking waaaay more than I expected to. Not that I have anything against the character, mind you—as a big fan of the Giffen/DeMatteis JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL, I’m actually pretty fond of him, and his recent usage in 52 was swell, too. I’m just not sure the world needs another ongoing BG title. I’m also really not much of a fan of Dan Jurgens’ art. However, this book has a few aces up its sleeve—namely, a solid writing team (Geoff Johns and newcomer Jeff Katz—I’m not sure how much is done by who, but it reads well regardless), and a cool hook; Booster has to maintain his schmucky façade as a C-list hero while secretly saving the multiverse from a mysterious, time-twisting nemesis. The Jurgens art is…better than expected, although I’m not sure why DC keeps getting Norm Rapmund to ink his stuff when someone like Jerry Ordway does wonders for him. A surprisingly entertaining debut all around, otherwise.

FLASH #231
Man, this book just can’t catch a break. Wally West is back as the Flash, along with a couple of super-powered kids in tow, and it’s more or less back to business as usual. Daniel Acuna’s art is bright and fun, like this book needs (although Karl Kerschl’s work on last month’s ALL-FLASH #1 showed that he is the guy who deserves this gig more than anyone else), but this title just has way too much baggage at this point. We learn (in a sequence of annoying exposition in the form of Wally and Linda recapping their past year or so together TO EACH OTHER) in this issue that Wally and his family have been on another planet with aliens who worship the Flash or something, and now they have a bunch of crazy alien technology to help control the kids’ unstable metabolisms and unnatural growth spurts. I thought they were in the Speed Force or on another Earth or something, but whatever. Anyway, then some monsters show up and there’s a fight, and Mark Waid is reportedly only doing four issues so who cares anyway? This book needs some kind of clean slate, although at this point, yet another relaunch could only hurt it more.

Meltzer’s run comes to an end here, probably to a lot of people’s relief. They’re not really wrong to be happy to see him go, although I have for the most part enjoyed the series—he pushes a lot of the right geek buttons for me, and he certainly made use of the League’s history and villains in cool and unexpected ways. However, it’s more like he wrote a series bible and a two-hour pilot, as a ton of stuff is set up and subsequently left to be resolved by other people if and whenever they get around to it. IDENTITY CRISIS suffered from a bit of this, but he really kicks it into high gear here. Let’s see, there’s the Black Lightning as super-villain liason subplot, the Vixen’s screwed-up powers subplot, the Red Tornado as emotionless jerk subplot, the Red Arrow/Hawkgirl tryst subplot (which incorporates Red Tornado in a weird, unexplained way this issue), the Per Degaton/Ultra-Humanite thing from a few issues back, and all the Geo-Force nonsense (which finally becomes interesting in this issue, just as Meltzer is packing his bags and heading for the door). Ed Benes’ art, which I’m not all that into anyway, takes a turn for the shaky by this issue’s end, making the conclusion even more sloppy—Martian Manhunter and the current Aquaman sit around reminiscing about the League’s early days, and say that they’ll be there again if they’re needed. Huh? Is this Aquaman even the same guy who helped form the League? I’m pretty sure he’s not. Also, DC pulls the same crap they did with issue seven--there's two covers, by Alex Ross this time--that each make up one-half of a group shot of the team, so you have to buy both if you want the complete picture. What the hell happened to the idea of a gatefold cover? Or a wraparound cover? Oh, wait, there's a variant cover that's a single image on its own--oh, wait, it's by Michael Turner. Never mind.

From Glen Brunswick and Frank Espinosa (ROCKETO) comes this new Image mini about a Mafia hitwoman whose past catches up to her at a lousy time. Espinosa’s style stops just short of being an assault on the senses—it’s a flurry of wild brush strokes where you sometimes need to step back to see what you’re supposed to be looking at. This is a compliment, even though it might not sound like it. There isn’t much else to compare it to, unless you can imagine a collaboration between Scott Morse and Leroy Neiman. The story’s not bad either, kind of a cartoon LA FEMME NIKITA with the Mob instead of the CIA.

I forgot to review the first issue of this new Marvel mini, but this is fun stuff. Balloon-domed baddie MODOK assembles a crew of established super-villains to help him pull off a cosmic heist, namely the theft of an unlimited power source. The script by Fred Van Lente has lots of fun dialogue and characterizations, and the art by Francis Portela is expressive and detailed. In this ish, one of the villains is not who they appear to be, and another one is killed so this can be kept silent. I guess it’s a testament to the quality of the book that the implications of a long-standing Marvel villain getting whacked didn’t even sink in right away. It’s that rare kind of Marvel character death, I suppose—one that isn’t done for shock value, a sales bump, or contempt for the Silver Age, but one that comes naturally out of the story. Well done, guys.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

"Advantage: Evil. Place Your Bets With The Black Glove."

Two metal-loving teenaged twin brothers, suffocating in suburban hell with their sugary step-mom and annoying baby step-brother, find a record that sets them forth on a quest to steal back a mystical sword and uncover their own demonic, heroic legacy. Written by Rick Spears (TEENAGERS FROM MARS) and drawn by Chuck BB, this volume—the first in a manga-sized series from Oni—reads like SCOTT PILGRIM by way of BILL AND TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE, with generous helpings of LORD OF THE RINGS and the classic Eighties horror flick TRICK OR TREAT (where the guy who played Skippy on FAMILY TIES unleashed an undead demon of a dead rock star by playing his record backwards—shouldn’t have been a surprise, since Gene Simmons gave him the record in a cameo as a DJ). I don’t really know what’s left for further volumes, though, since this one kinda wore out its welcome by the end; the brothers’ dialogue (generously peppered with plenty of ‘indeed’) wears thin very quickly, and the art is equal parts fun and tedious. If you’re a huge Tenacious D fan and you need something to tide you over until their next album, though, this might suffice.

I started this immediately after I finished BLACK METAL, and was groaning at the prospect of another Oni graphic novel full of suburban metalhead angst…then the story took an abrupt and creepy turn as the book’s heroes, Sam and Alec, find themselves trapped on a ghostly train full of otherworldly weirdos. Before long, Alec has been shockingly dispatched by a terrifying ticket-taker ghoul, and Sam is left alone to try and somehow rescue his friend or, at the very least, escape with his life. Written and drawn by Vasilos Lolos (PIRATES OF CONEY ISLAND), this book feels like the bizarre bastard child of Hayao Miyazaki and Paul Pope. And, unlike BLACK METAL, this one ends with a cliffhanger that makes me want the next one in a hurry.

The first in a new series of digest-y sized graphic novels from Image, Andi Watson’s latest creation follows the adventures of a little girl prone to supernatural shenanigans. Eschewing the gothy clichés of EMILY THE STRANGE and the like, though, GLISTER has more of a children’s book flavour, immediately evident in Watson’s new art style—his angular compositions have given way to a more rounded, whimsical look. In this debut volume, the title heroine comes into possession of a teapot that is haunted by the ghost of a failed author, who has one last book left in him, one that will hopefully finally garner some rave reviews. This is a good all-ages read, one that engages in otherworldly mischief without the morbidity that such comics usually indulge in.

Grant Morrison’s run on the monthly BATMAN book has been a roller-coaster ride—not to say that it’s always been exciting and fun, but that the quality of it has been surprisingly up-and-down. However, this three-part tale, drawn by Morrison’s SEVEN SOLDIERS collaborator J.H. Williams III, might just come to define the writer’s run on this title. Batman and Robin are invited to a mysterious island to attend a reunion of the International Club of Heroes—masked men of different nations inspired by the adventures of the Dynamic Duo. Unfortunately, their host has been murdered, and the heroes are now trapped on the island, being picked off one by one. There are so many elements of awesomeness at play here, it’s kind of difficult to start talking about it; it’s a great old-school murder mystery, a wonderful postmodern sequel to a goofy Silver Age story, a nice change of pace from the bizarre “Three Ghosts of Batman”/Damian Wayne plot…and good lord, the art by Williams III is nothing short of breathtaking. Not content to be a brilliant visual stylist on his own, the artist also throws in dead-on pastiches of guys like Dave Gibbons and Howard Chaykin to give the international heroes their own distinct looks. Here’s hoping that when this story wraps up, DC collects it separately from the main Morrison BATMAN run, along with a reprint of the original “Batmen of Many Nations” story.

I gave this one an unfairly quick read last week when it came out, but I really wanted to give it more attention so I snuck it back into this week’s pile. I’m glad I did—this eight-issue mini, written and drawn by Duncan Rouleau (and based on ideas and concepts by Grant Morrison) is lightweight, endearing, goofy, and very easy on the eyes. The first issue has some present-day action, where the title robots fight a very cool looking giant technological collective called U.N.I.O.N., then shifts back in time to the days when a self-doubting Doc Magnus unveiled his artificial beings to the world. Oh, and the whole thing is bookended by a time-twisting subplot. It’s best not to waste your time wondering where and when this thing fits into DCU continuity (even though the Metal Men have recently made incongruous appearances in JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, SUPERMAN/BATMAN, and 52), and just enjoy the ride. Rouleau has wrangled his art style into a smooth and less confusing Bachalo-lite, and his story, as crazy as it gets, remains charmingly silly throughout. This is gonna be a good one.

Despite all kinds of Skrull-based finger pointing (from Luke Cage more than anyone, for some reason), this looks like it might be going somewhere interesting…that is to say, we might see the Marvel heroes fighting some bona fide bad guys again soon, instead of just each other. The Hood, from Brian K. Vaughan’s MAX miniseries of the same name from a few years back, is uniting the supervillain underworld or something, which is a cool idea and a good excuse for Bendis to start trotting out forgotten nutjobs like Dr. Jonas Harrow, who gave Spidey all kinds of grief in the Seventies and Eighties. The idea is so refreshingly old-school at this point that I’m almost willing to overlook the fact that nothing in the Hood’s mini (or his recent appearance in the BEYOND! miniseries) led me to believe he had any kind of leadership skills or aspirations, or the fact that the whole Skrull thing is tired already after only three issues. Also funny—everyone still calls Clint Barton “Hawkeye” even though he’s wearing the Ronin costume these days. Still taking a wait and see on this storyline.

From the pages of old SWAMP THING comics spins this new series about a murder in a town called Aberrance, which is entirely populated by genetic freaks. An albino FBI agent named Kilcrop is sent to investigate, and runs into the gamut of unusual suspects, including a rich dude with a little guy growing out of his back, a mad scientist who is little more than a head on a crawling hand, and a one-armed, winged woman. Mike Hawthorne’s art is decent enough, but the script by newcomer John Whalen failed to really grab me. There are three types of Vertigo first issues, it seems—the ones that kill from page one, and you know they’ll have a lengthy run (like Y: THE LAST MAN), the ones that don’t work at all and you know they’ll be cancelled within a year and a half (DEADMAN), and then ones like this that aren’t bad but aren’t stellar either,,,they just need to survive long enough to prove themselves. It’s possible that UN-MEN falls into this third category, but so far it just feels like textbook Vertigo—dazzling cover artwork (in this case, from Tomer Hanuka), serviceable interiors, but a now-familiar tone of detached quirkiness throughout.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Wasn't Robin Supposed To Be In This Book?

Thanks to the crazy success of Dark Horse’s BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER Season Eight series, I think we’re going to see a lot more of this kind of thing. Hopefully, though, they’ll be more like BUFFY and less like this, which is set after the original series ended, but before the movies began—so, I guess, during the short-lived animated series from the Seventies (the crew of the Enterprise does feature some of the strange new alien cast members from that show). This is pretty by-the-numbers stuff; a red-shirted nobody gets killed, leading Bones to say “He’s dead, Jim”, etc., etc. I know I keep coming back to BUFFY here, but that comic uses the TV show’s defunct status as a springboard for moving ahead and making major changes to the characters and status quo, but since there was still a STAR TREK movie franchise ahead and the show never had much episode-to-episode continuity anyway, this just feels more like the same old, same old. IDW has a knack for securing the rights to fan-favourite properties, but they have yet to make a compelling comic series out of them.

Remember when Grant Morrison ended his terrific NEW X-MEN arc with a head-scratcher of a final story set 150 years in the future? This stand-alone issue of BATMAN is kinda like that, only set fifteen years in the future and appearing right in the middle of his run. Damien Wayne, Batman’s possible kid, is all grown up and has taken up the mantle of the Bat in a hellish future Gotham that is under siege by a false Batman who is offering up the city to Satan. I think that’s what this was about, anyway. It all ties in to the “Three Ghosts of Batman” that we heard about last issue—the three corrupt Gotham cops who became insane replacement Batmen. We already met the gun-toting psycho Batman in Morrison’s debut issue, and we met the Venom-enhanced steroid nightmare Batman in the previous two issues. The Satanic Batman we meet here is, I guess, the third Batman. I’m sure it all makes perfect sense to Morrison, but it’ll be a while before we see his plan for this story unfold—next issue begins a three-part arc drawn by J.H. Williams III (yes!) that, so far as I know, has nothing to do with this craziness. Still, very entertaining and, at times, hilarious (the future Gotham Rogues, like Max Roboto and Jackanapes, are awesome enough in their brief appearances to make me want lots more of them).

And then there’s this. It’s getting a bit tiresome to continually gripe about this book, but I don’t know how else to react to it. The whole thing is so conceptually insane to me that I can’t even wrap my head around it. There’s a school of thought that says Miller is poking fun at the gritty Eighties and Nineties Batman, but a) Miller was largely responsible for that interpretation, so his mockery of that era is a bit hypocritical, and b) that kind of satire isn’t exactly timely—the so-called “Dark Age” of comics ended around 1996 with the release of stuff like ASTRO CITY and KINGDOM COME. So, what do we have this time around? Miller rips himself off with his updated Batgirl, who is essentially a retread of the Carrie Kelley Robin from THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS. James Gordon provides a load of plot exposition by having a cheery long-distance chat with his extramarital fling, Sarah Essen, while his slovenly hag of a wife pours herself another drink in the background (there’s a quick reference to her text-messaging somebody, which may mean Miller’s laying the groundwork here for her to somehow be responsible for the Grayson family murders—which would make about as much sense as Dick Grayson being revealed as the villain of THE DARK KNIGHT STRIKES AGAIN). There’s a genuinely funny scene with Jimmy Olsen visiting Vicki Vale in her hospital room, but Miller’s propensity for perversity ruins it. The phrase “the Goddamned Batman” is used not once, not twice, but thrice. The Goddamned Batman finally tracks down the killer of Grayson’s parents, only to run off and join forces with the ever out-of-place Black Canary. The Goddamned Batman also makes reference to having gained a kid sidekick, but neither Dick nor Robin is anywhere to be seen in this issue—presumably, he’s still playing with the axe collection (?) in the Goddamned Batcave. God-damn.

This new Image series is set in some sort of alternate timeline where something or other blah blah blah you know what? When you start your new, self-contained miniseries off with a page of exposition and two pages of character bios, you’re already in big trouble. Just let the damn story tell itself, okay?

On the other hand, this four-issue Image series starts out much more promisingly. A French-Canadian underground chemist gets mixed up in a drug deal gone wrong, and goes on the run with the requisite gorgeous fugitive. Not exactly groundbreaking stuff, but Jay Boose’s art is expressive and fun, and the characters are revealed through story and dialogue. Which is how it should be.

I’d sort of lost track of this series about two issues in, but this SINESTRO CORPS WAR tie-in makes me think I should get back on board with it. Soranik Tu, the GL member from Sinestro’s planet Korugar, has a run-in with her diabolical predecessor while the GL planet Mogo (along with other Green Lanterns Stel and the Green Man) meets his scary-ass opposite number in the Sinestro Corps. The art, by Patrick Gleason and Angel Unzueta, is a bit shaky at times, but the story is pretty cool; Sinestro isn’t just content to destroy Soranik Tu, he wants her to follow in his fascistic footsteps. Man, that guy is bad news. That mustache of his was just made for evil twirling. As much as I’m loving this crossover, I’m hoping its quality isn’t diluted by the just-announced SINESTRO CORPS PRESENTS one-shots.

Speaking of space operas, this new mini is part of Marvel’s big ANNIHILATION: CONQUEST crossover, which seems to be being overshadowed by WORLD WAR HULK (just as the original ANNIHILATION event was eclipsed by CIVIL WAR). Peter Quill, AKA Star-Lord, is asked to lead a suicide mission of “volunteers” against the cosmic menace of the Phalanx. His team is a who’s who of Marvel nostalgia, featuring Eighties obscurities like Rocket Raccoon and Bug from MICRONAUTS. Timothy Green’s elegant art recalls early Travis Charest, and the concept is a cool one (the similarities to THE DIRTY DOZEN are brought up by Quill himself, thank you very much). Unfortunately, this is a pretty talky first issue, where the Phalanx threat itself is off-panel for the duration. Not the most exciting first installment, but this has the potential to be an entertaining series.

Three, count ‘em, three, new Warren Ellis books in one week. I’ve never made much secret of the fact that Ellis just doesn’t do it for me—I think he’s got a terrific grasp of pacing and storytelling (the man almost never goes for the easy out of a caption or a sound effect), but I don’t find his ideas all that compelling or original (though I do love PLANETARY, lemme tell ya). The Ellis Formula seems to go something like this:
BlahblahblahblahtalktalktalkbastardyaddayaddayaddaVIOLENCEVIOLENCEVIOLENCEVIOLENCEyaddayaddabastard. There’s a lot of “Hey, you guys like historical epics like 300? Well, here’s more of that stuff with WAY MORE GORE AND CURSING!”. Or, “Hey, you guys love superheroes but you hate George Bush, right? Well, here’s a comic where a superhero kills the fucking President! With GORE AND CURSING!” Or, “Hey, remember when I did TRANSMETROPOLITAN? Well, I’ve got this new guy who’s like that only a mad scientist, who says things like ‘I am Science Jesus now’! Is that edgy or what? With GORE AND CURSING!” Sheesh. Can’t I just have the finale to PLANETARY instead?

Monday, July 23, 2007

Use a Microphone Like Shazam Used Tights

Sorry this is kinda late--I was a bit busy reading the new HARRY POTTER, and, well, you know how it goes. Those nasty old books without pictures take a lot longer to read. Anyways...


Jeff Smith’s long-awaited miniseries, named for a classic Golden Age Captain Marvel adventure, drew to a close this week, and the only bad thing I can say about it is that was only four issues long. Sure, I could complain about the liberties Smith took with Cap and his supporting cast (the talking tiger Mr. Talky Tawny is explained away as a helpful spirit called an “Ifrit”, the titular Society is composed of bugs and mysterious robot monsters rather than the Marvel Family’s Rogues Gallery), but that would miss the point of what Smith attempted to do with this book—that is, create an all-ages, stand-alone adventure that serves to introduce Captain Marvel to a new audience while creating a fun new epic for established fans. The final installment makes it plain that Dr. Sivana (recast here as “Director of Technology and Heartland Security”, and an unrepentant war profiteer) and his ilk are the real bad guys, both in Smith’s story and in the real world (although the political message is not at all preachy, buried as it is under layers of cartoon fantasy). Smith leaves the door wide open for a sequel, which would hopefully include other Marvel mainstays like Black Adam and Captain Marvel Jr.—let’s just hope we don’t have to wait another four or five years for it.


Hmmm…I gotta say, there is a serious cathartic thrill to this book—it’s a little unsettling how refreshing it is to see the Marvel heroes rally together for a common cause after all of last year’s CIVIL WAR nonsense, only to find it doubly refreshing to see the Hulk and his alien pals whomp the living crap out of all of them. Unfortunately, all of the crossovers—some of which are not bad at all (I’m talking about WWH: X-MEN and WWH: FRONTLINE here) serve to dilute the narrative of the actual series a bit, which was a major problem with CW. That is to say, the actual WWH series is beginning to feel like a somewhat skeletal framework that needs the crossover books to fill in the blank spots. Also, I can’t possibly see how this can end well, since the heroes will either need to kill off the strangely absent Bruce Banner or just exile ol’ Jade Jaws all over again, but I guess that’s part of the fun. Still, this is probably among the top two or three Marvel Event Books ever…although, given their weak track record, that’s not saying much.


Gene Ha (TOP TEN) steps up to fill in for series regular Ed Benes in a stand-alone story about Red Arrow and Vixen being trapped under a toppled building. This might have made a decent eight-page backup story, but it kinda stretched my patience as a full issue. It’s not bad, but I don’t think it’s really what I want from a JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA comic, I guess. Ha’s painted art is terrific as usual, what little of it there is—the story is told in narrow strips of comic panel set against black backgrounds. Good for claustrophobic effect, not so good for fans of the artist’s lushly detailed work. Scripter Brad Meltzer departs after next issue, and I’m sad to say that might be for the best; I’ve defended the writer’s controversial run up until this point, but now I think I just really want to see what Dwayne McDuffie will do with this series.


Formerly known as THE CHAMPIONS (named after the 1970s Marvel series, whose title was subsequently usurped for an RPG system when the copyright lapsed—at least, I think that’s what was responsible for the last-minute title change), this new title by Matt Fraction and Barry Kitson spins out of CIVIL WAR by introducing L.A.’s signature superhero team. The Order is headed up by a has-been actor who was also an Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor of Tony Stark, so he’s understandably upset when his team very publicly boozes it up after their debut. Much like Milligan and Allred’s X-FORCE/X-STATIX from a few years back, this title promises to deal with the celebrity angle on superheroics while maintaining those titles’ signature rotating team lineup. Not a bad first issue, although I kind of hope it’s a mini and not an ongoing—I think the concept has more promise as a finite idea. I like Kitson’s art here more than I usually do (his stuff takes a George Perez-esque turn (although that could be just all the little tiny panels in Fraction’s script), but his character designs are all kind of boringly similar.


Well, it’s not a stretch to say that this a huge improvement over how the last FLASH series started out, but something about this feels a bit off. I’m glad Wally’s back, and some of the art here is really nice (why isn’t Karl Kerschl going to be the regular artist on the relaunch again? He’s clearly more than capable, as this book shows), but this whole switch-em-up just seems like a big backpedal on DC’s part. Maybe they should have tried to do something decent with a brand new Flash—not Bart, but somebody brand new—rather than consigning Wally to a frustratingly non-committal “death” where they could trot him back out if the new book tanked. It almost makes me wish they had just gone ahead and brought Barry Allen back—instead, we’re left with lots more questions and a lot of assurances that this is all part of some long-term plan that dovetails with FINAL CRISIS in May.

Sunday, July 15, 2007



This made me very happy. For those who don’t know, the GLI were originally the Great Lakes Avengers, an unlicensed, Milwaukee-based ripoff of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes who first appeared during John Byrne’s run on WEST COAST AVENGERS.

Featuring loser characters like Big Bertha, Doorman, Flatman, and Mr. Immortal, the GLA went on to ride the coattails of the Thunderbolts when the Avengers were presumed dead, appearing in the pages of DEADPOOL as the Lighting Rods. Dan Slott resurrected the gang for a four-issue miniseries in the wake of the AVENGERS: DISASSEMBLED crossover, appropriately titled GLA: MISASSEMBLED. By that series’ end, most of the team’s surviving members realized they were mutants, and the GLX (or, Great Lakes X-Men) were born. A GLX HOLIDAY SPECIAL followed, and then an appearance in CABLE/DEADPOOL during CIVIL WAR which saw the group sign up for Tony Stark’s Fifty States Initiative. Which, I believe, brings us up to speed with this extra-sized, extra-awesome one-shot. In the first story, drawn by Nelson (that guy’s gotta get a first name, pronto), Deadpool teams up with the newly-retitled Great Lakes Initiative to get to the bottom of a mysterious Inebriation Wave that has left most of Earth’s heroes drunk. This story felt a bit on the routine side, but it sets up the rest of this super-fun issue, which sees Deadpool refusing to leave the GLI’s cool new HQ, while Squirrel Girl breaks into Thunderbolts Mountain to try and talk some sense into her ex-boyfriend, Speedball (now the gritty hero known as Penance). Slott hilariously deflates CIVIL WAR and its fallout here as SG pokes holes in all of Penance’s post-CW motivations, and we are also introduced to the former Speedball’s updated sidekick—Niels, the Bouncing Cat, is now P-Cat, the Penitent Puss. Also, Deadpool and Big Bertha go on a date. Throw in a fun parody of the SOPRANOS finale, some great art by Kieron Dwyer, and guest villains like AIM and Dr. Doom, and you’ve got the perfect antidote to Marvel’s summer of Endangered World War Initiative Annihilation.


Okay, so this is probably the best thing Frank Miller has written in over a decade, but it still pretty much sucks. Martha Washington—the heroine from Miller and artist Dave Gibbons’ excellent GIVE ME LIBERTY mini—is now one hundred years old, and serving as the spiritual leader for some generic group of freedom fighters. She talks about when she went into space, says some inspiring words, and then dies, turning into fireworks and rallying the next generation to run into battle one last time. There. I just save you five minutes of your life and a couple of bucks to boot. To add insult to injury, there is an ad at the back for THE LIFE AND TIMES OF MARTHA WASHINGTON, an omnibus edition featuring the original miniseries and its sequels…and, presumably, this flimsy excuse for a story as well. If this had appeared as an extra in that forthcoming volume—you know, a cool little epilogue or something—it might have read a lot better than it did as a one-shot. Dave Gibbons lends his usual professional polish to the artwork, but it’s not enough to save it. At least there’s no gratuitous T and A here, and when’s the last time you could say that about a Frank Miller comic?


Okay, so Elektra turned out to be a Skrull, so now everyone’s pointing fingers at each other and saying that they could all be Skrulls in disguise. Whatever is being built up to here—next summer’s big crossover event, most likely—I’m already not liking it. It’s suspiciously similar to DC’s MILLENNIUM event in 1988, where we learned that Manhunter agents were walking among the DCU for years, often as brainwashed sleeper agents like Lana Lang and Commissioner Gordon. Also, it offers Marvel countless other ripoff opportunites, from paranoid classics like John Carpenter’s remake of THE THING to more timely favourites like Sci-Fi’s BATTLESTAR GALACTICA. And there’s always the quick continuity fixes the shape-changing Skrull solution offers: Iron Man’s acting like an asshole these days? Well, that’s ‘cause he was replaced by a Skrull years ago. Elektra should have stayed dead when Frank Miller killed her? She did, but a Skrull has been posing as her for decades. Captain America has been shot? No way, man, it was a Skrull who took the bullet! Most importantly, though, this issue shows us that Doctor Strange can’t use his magical powers to stop a light plane from falling out of the air, much less use his Cloak of Levitation to save himself from the crashing of said plane because, as he says, “My cloak won’t work under these conditions!” “Sorceror Supreme”, indeed. The fact that this character’s usage in NEW AVENGERS prevented us from getting another Brian K. Vaughan/Marcos Martin DOCTOR STRANGE miniseries makes me really, really upset. I bet Bendis and Quesada are Skrulls. That’s the only possible explanation.


Man, is it ever a good time to be a Jack Kirby fan. Consigned to oblivion (or, at the very least, cheap looking black and white reprints) for far too long, the King of Comics has sent Marvel and DC into reprint overdrive lately. I’m not talking about his massive 1960s output at Marvel, of course—that stuff is always available in any number of formats—but his bizarre post-Marvel career which saw him defect to DC where he created his masterpiece, the Fourth World Saga, among other things…only to return to Marvel a few years later to take the reins of CAPTAIN AMERICA while launching few new books (and masterminding Marvel’s comic spin-off of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY—his tabloid-sized adaptation of Kubrick’s film is absolutely essential). Over at DC, the KAMANDI Archive editions are running along smoothly, with two volumes available and probably about two more in the works. JIMMY OLSEN has been available in two paperback editions for a few years now, and CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN is offered in two Archives or one big, fat Showcase paperback. And now, Kirby’s Magnum Opus—the Fourth World saga, which spanned JIMMY OLSEN as well as NEW GODS, MISTER MIRACLE, and FOREVER PEOPLE—is being released in four hardcover volumes collectively titled JACK KIRBY’S FOURTH WORLD OMNIBUS.
The first of these books dropped a few weeks back, and a second one is due in August (Volume 3 hits later this year, and the final book will likely arrive in 2008). Not only is this a gorgeously designed prestige reprint for this important and influential work, but the stories have been arranged in the order they were released. This allows modern readers a chance to see Kirby’s epic unfold the way fans did when these much-misunderstood titles were first released. It even has a cool new intro by Grant Morrison! Let’s keep our fingers crossed for some form of OMAC or DEMON reprints next.

Meanwhile, Marvel’s got most of Kirby’s 1970s material back in stores. His CAPTAIN AMERICA run is available in three trade paperbacks (one of which includes his tabloid-sized CAPTAIN AMERICA’S BICENTENNIAL BATTLES special), and two books contain his BLACK PANTHER storyline. THE ETERNALS was released a year or two back in a massive hardcover to coincide with Neil Gaiman’s new miniseries, and last week gave us the complete DEVIL DINOSAUR hardcover.
Still no word on MACHINE MAN (seems like the time to do that would have been during the character’s usage in NEXTWAVE, but whatever—I’m sure it’s in the works), and Marvel no longer has the rights to 2001, so who knows if that stuff will ever resurface (I certainly hope so—Kirby’s pseudo-sequel/anthology ongoing series is totally baffling, but shows the passion he had for the film’s evolutionary theme). Kirby’s1980s work is being collected as well—this week, Image released a SILVER STAR hardcover, and a DESTROYER DUCK collection is coming at some point. The new issue of TOYFARE unveiled unpainted prototypes of DC Direct action figures based on NEW GODS, closely modeled after Kirby’s artwork (I nearly barfed with joy when I saw these—can’t wait to see the finished products in April of next year). It seems that Kirby’s legacy is being acknowledged and celebrated all over the place these days, as it should be.

So, why then, is DC killing off the New Gods? Hinted at in the pages of DC’s weekly COUNTDOWN series (the less-than-stellar follow-up to last year’s surprisingly decent 52), Jim Starlin is writing and drawing an eight-part series called THE DEATH OF THE NEW GODS whose plot should be fairly self-explanatory. Granted, these characters have been misused all over the place, and a lot of the themes and ideas Kirby introduced have been misunderstood and misrepresented many times over. But really, can’t you say that about pretty much every comics character who has been handled by more than one creator? Did John Broome and Gil Kane envision Green Lantern as a mass murderer? Did Stan Lee and Kirby see Iron Man becoming a tin-plated fascist? Probably not, but you don’t see anyone closing the doors on those character’s usage anytime soon.

Kirby intended the Fourth World Saga to be a complete story with a beginning, middle, and an end—a novel concept for comics in 1971, to be sure. Obviously, DC didn’t want the series to have a conclusion—even though they cancelled the titles early on, DC has made lots of use of the characters. Not only have they appeared in all kinds of later series (like the 1988 COSMIC ODYSSEY, and its subsequent Starlin-penned NEW GODS relaunch), but they’ve made their way into other media as well; Darkseid and his Elite formed a large portion of the 1980s SUPER POWERS toy line, and the Fourth World mythos played a major part in both the SUPERMAN and JUSTICE LEAGUE animated series from Warner Brothers. Kirby himself even returned to try and finish his epic a few times—first, in a new story published at the end of a series of early Eighties reprints of NEW GODS, which saw Orion die at Darkseid’s hand (obviously, this didn’t take), and later, in the HUNGER DOGS graphic novel, where the “lowlies” of Apokolips finally overthrew their cruel master (even this was undone in record time, since Darkseid was set up on Earth’s moon and plotting to re-conquer his world in a Kirby SUPER POWERS miniseries a few months later). Of all these scenarios, my probable favourite appeared in a deleted scene from Mark Waid and Alex Ross’s KINGDOME COME miniseries, which was thankfully restored for all the various collected editions that followed; we are told that, as prophesied, Orion and Darkseid met for one final battle in the firepits of Apokolips, and Orion destroyed his evil father once and for all. Unfortunately, the soul-crushed masses of Apokolips were in no shape to rule their own world, so Orion took the place of his father, eventually becoming a despotic ruler not much better than the one he replaced.

Where was I going with this again? Oh yeah—the point was, even Kirby was unable to end his series to his own satisfaction, and he tried to do it twice! The possible best conclusion to the saga is in an Elseworlds alternate future story. And the characters and mythology Kirby created in 1971 still resonate with possibility, as seen in Grant Morrison’s recent MISTER MIRACLE miniseries and on the excellent JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED cartoon. So really, putting an end to the NEW GODS saga now just seems like a big waste of time and energy, since it will likely be undone by another creator in a few years. I mean no offense to Jim Starlin with this—I’m sure he’s going in with the best intentions and everything, but c’mon; you’re messing with The King here.


It’s looking more and more like the best summer crossover of 2007 snuck under the radar, as the “Sinestro Corps War” storyline continues in GREEN LANTERN #21. Not a lot happens here, but that’s okay since things started off big in the SINESTRO CORPS special. Suffice it to say that the Green Lantern Corps appears to be well and truly screwed, and the three-issue hiatus Ivan Reis took has made his already-stellar work even better. GL is possibly the most dependable mainstream monthly DC produces, and it somehow keeps improving …MADMAN ATOMIC COMICS #3 continues with the trippy fun as Frank and his comic book idol, Mr. Excitement, wander through Frank’s subconscious in the styles of practically every famous comic artist under the sun. Maybe a bit self-indulgent on Allred’s part, but isn’t that the reason to do a creator-owned comic—to indulge your every favourite whim?…That whole “Superman is halting humanity’s progress, so Arion, Lord of Atlantis has to kill him” storyline is still going on in SUPERMAN #664. It doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere interesting, and it’s taking its sweet time getting there too, while Pacheco’s art continues to get weirder and uglier. What the hell happened to this guy?…NEXUS #99 might actually be a better introduction to the character and his universe than the Free Comic Book Day issue, which is weird, but there you go. Nexus’s lady Sundra is expecting their first child, and an army of crazy alien assassins wants to make sure the baby isn’t born. This is an exciting meld of SF and superheroics, with the amazing art of Steve Rude to make it go down even more smoothly…STEPHEN COLBERT’S TEK JANSEN #1 didn’t seem as funny to me as it should have been—I thought the novelty of his spacefaring, blowhard alter ego wore thin pretty early on, but my girlfriend Hillary loved it. Maybe it’s a better read for what my boss, Calum, calls “civilians”, and not us hardened comic book cynics. Still, though, why was this thing so damn late?

Monday, July 9, 2007

"Mayhem is the Man-Fish!"


David Lapham has been gone for way too long from the gritty crime drama comics he excelled at in his self-published STRAY BULLETS series, taking too many sidetrips into the mainstream with inconsistent results (his DAREDEVIL VS. PUNISHER mini was pretty decent, but his yearlong DETECTIVE COMICS run lost me pretty early on). Thankfully, Lapham made a glorious return to form with last week’s SILVERFISH, an original hardcover graphic novel published by Vertigo in that undersized black and white format that was used for Harvey Pekar and Dean Haspiel’s THE QUITTER, Gilbert Hernandez’s SLOTH, and Dave Gibbons’ THE ORIGINALS.

Teenaged Mia hates her Dad’s new wife, Suzanne, so she tries to dig up some dirt on her stepmom. When her folks go away on a ski trip, Mia and her friends uncover an address book that leads them to a mystery man from Suzanne’s past. A late-night prank phone call to the guy is a big mistake, since Daniel is a repressed psycho who thinks his brain his haunted by ghostly fish who can only be silenced when he commits murder. Before long, Daniel is on the trail of the woman from his past, ready to cut through anybody in his way with a butcher knife.

SILVERFISH is a superfast read, excellent for Lapham newbies as well as those of us still feeling the sting of STRAY BULLETS’ absence. Some of the book’s themes come straight out of SB, like the promise of criminal horror lurking beneath suburban family life, as well as the snake’s pit of resentment that usually represents adolescence in Lapham’s stories (most of the mayhem that occurs in SILVERFISH is brought on by when Mia’s best friend starts feeling jealous about her boyfriend’s interest in Mia). Lapham’s black-and-white art looks better here than it has in years as well, giving loads of personality to the lead characters while rendering those evil fish as a toothy, frenzied wave that provides a more unnerving image than most horror titles are capable of mustering. When he can still kick it like this, one wonders why Lapham feels the need to take on projects like his upcoming TERROR, INC. relaunch for Marvel. TERROR, INC.? Really? Well, I guess he’s gotta eat, too.


Boy, Marvel sure is making a cottage industry out of the death of Captain America, huh? The infamous CAPTAIN AMERICA #25, where the Living Legend of World War II fell victim to an assassin’s bullet, has now been offered in three versions (four, if you count the two covers on the initial printing): the regular edition, the second printing, and the “Director’s Cut” expanded edition that dropped last week. Oh yeah, there was also that MARVEL SPOTLIGHT: CAPTAIN AMERICA REMEMBERED thing a few weeks back, and of course, the five-part mopefest FALLEN SON: THE DEATH OF CAPTAIN AMERICA that wrapped up a week ago. It’s not all bad, mind you—the whole spectacle has turned lots of heads towards the excellent work being done by Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting, and Mike Perkins on the monthly CAPTAIN AMERICA series, and FALLEN SON did occasionally feature work by some pretty amazing artists. Even when this series was tepid and maudlin—which was most of the time, mind you—the gorgeous artwork by the likes of John Cassaday and Ed McGuinness eased the pain. Heck, the third issue, which had Hawkeye mulling over Iron Man’s offer to take up Cap’s shield, was a surprisingly decent Jeph Loeb book, and I really don’t say that very often. Still, though, I gotta say, I’m getting pretty tired of people coming into the store and saying things like “Is he back yet?” or “Is he REALLY dead?” while rolling their eyes and sighing loudly. To the first point, while I’d love to be privy to some secret information about Marvel’s plans for the character, I honestly have no idea where they’re going with this, and if I did, I probably wouldn’t be allowed to share it with you anyway. As to the second, I’d like to remind everyone that HE WAS NEVER REALLY ALIVE IN THE FIRST PLACE.

Ahem. Sorry about that. Anyways, another good side effect of this is Marvel’s mad rush to put as much Cap material in print as possible, such as last week’s re-issue of CAPTAIN AMERICA: WAR AND REMEMBRANCE. This collection features the all-too-brief run by Roger Stern, John Byrne, and Joseph Rubinstein from the early Eighties, including famous tales like the two-part Baron Blood story that debuted the new Union Jack, and the issue where a Populist group tries to get Cap to run for President. Cap also dukes it out with the Machinesmith, Batroc, Mister Hyde, and artificial lifeform/big dopey monster Dragon Man, who actually tries to take a bite out of Cap’s indestructible shield. What an idiot! All the extras from the original printing of the trade are included, even the original volume’s cover artwork. This collection is a great snapshot of Jim Shooter-era Marvel at the top of its game, and it shows why Cap is a great character who, while a bit of a square, is a terrific action hero when written well.


It’s sometimes kind of hard to tell people why they should be checking out a particular title without spoiling the story for them. DC faced this particular challenge with “Last Son”, the much-hyped, much-delayed (more on that later) inaugural story arc by Geoff Johns, Richard Donner, and Adam Kubert on ACTION COMICS. When this story began in ACTION #844 late last summer, it looked like a limp attempt to cash in on the release of SUPERMAN RETURNS; not only did the series begin with a redesigned, crystalline Fortress of Solitude featuring a sentient hologram of Jor-El, it also utilized the newer film’s tweaked Superman outfit (y’know, with the S-shield on his belt buckle) and the plot point of a mysterious moppet with Kryptonian powers. However, as the story has progressed—albeit very slowly, thanks to inexcusable artistic delays—“Last Son” has proven to be one of the most entertaining and surprising in-continuity Superman arcs in…jeez, I couldn’t even begin to guess how long, mixing the mythology of the Donner and Bryan Singer films with classic Silver Age Superman hallmarks. But, for me to explain why, some spoilage might be required, so read on at your own peril.

“Last Son” begins with a mysterious spacecraft materializing over Metropolis and crashing to Earth, its path of destruction halted by the Man of Steel. Superman is shocked to find that the ship contains a small boy who speaks Kryptonese and displays yellow sun-powered abilities of his own. Over the course of the first two issues, Superman and the Department of Metahuman Affairs squabble over who should take care of the kid, and even Lex Luthor gets in the act by sending a brainwashed Bizarro to try and kidnap the tyke. By the end of the second issue, Superman decides that the child, who is, in all likelihood, the true last son of Krypton, is his responsibility, and Clark and Lois get the kid a pair of glasses and a name—Christopher Kent. Unfortunately, the sky opens up again over the arctic Fortress of Solitude, and three new ships from a breached Phantom Zone bring even more Kryptonian refugees to Earth…Ursa, Non, and General Zod, AKA the super-criminals from the first two SUPERMAN films in 1978 and 1980. Turns out the kid belongs to Zod and Ursa, who have used the boy and his ship as a kind of beacon to lead them out of the Zone and right to the doorstep of their jailer Jor-El’s only heir.

This plot point is significant for a couple of reasons. It’s the first time in nearly two decades that the Phantom Zone and its criminal denizens—a hugely important piece of the Superman mythos and a wellspring for countless story possibilites—have been used in an in-continuity Superman tale. Following the original CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS and the subsequent MAN OF STEEL reboot by John Byrne in 1986, DC had decided that Superman should be the one and only survivor of his world, so the only Phantom Zone criminals we got were the ones from a pocket universe that laid waste to the entire population of an alternate Earth (but we won’t get into that here). Of course, recent years have seen the return of Supergirl, Kandor, and even Krypto, so the door was wide open for the Zone to return. Also, despite the trio of Kryptonian super-criminals being among the most widely-known members of Superman’s Rogues Gallery thanks to their appearance in two major motion pictures, two of ‘em—Non and Ursa—aren’t even originally from the comics, and are therefore debuting in mainstream continuity for the very first time with this story. Usually, this kind of adherence to the Hollywood version of a comic book saga bugs me, but a) these characters have been around, in celluloid form, for nearly thirty years, so they’re clearly not just flash-in-the-pan black hats, and b) they’re totally cool and evil. So they get a pass, in my book anyway.

But back to “Last Son”. After the second part of this story hit, DC released ACTION COMICS ANNUAL #10, which laid the groundwork for some future Johns/Donner Superman tales while fleshing out these latest cast additions. In the comic book version of their origin, the hulking brute Non started out as a brilliant scientist who served as Jor-El’s mentor. Non spoke out about Krypton’s impending destruction so vocally and convincingly that the corrupt Science Council had him lobotomized, rendering him the mute monstrosity he is today. Zod and Ursa, originally part of Krypton’s military, tried to overthrow the Council in a bloody coup after Non was silenced, which got them all sentenced to imprisonment in the Phantom Zone. Back in the pages of ACTION #846, the trio loots the Fortress for information from the Jor-El hologram, as well as some other goodies, then heads to Metropolis to cause some major property damage. Zod and Non throw a beating on Superman while Ursa steals Christopher (whose real name is Lor-Zod, it turns out) back from Lois. To make matters worse, Zod cracks open the Phantom Zone, bringing down a rain of Kryptonian convicts with Superman-level powers onto Metropolis. For a finale, Zod then uses the Phantom Zone projector he pilfered from the Fortress to send Superman into oblivion.

Last week, DC released the latest chapter of “Last Son”, which sees Superman trapped in the Phantom Zone while Zod and his super-powered thugs essentially conquer the world. Superman finds help from an old friend in the Zone, and Lex Luthor (along with a couple of other familiar baddies) make their own plans to end the Kryptonian invasion—after all, Luthor’s been trying to rid the planet of alien interlopers for years already. This exciting penultimate chapter was made even cooler by being offered in a 3D variant edition for about a dollar extra, with effects by longtime 3D guru Ray Zone (you gotta wonder what this guy does with his time between the release of 3D comics). The 3D section of the book, which comprises about three quarters of the page count, is used during the Phantom Zone sequences to give those scenes an otherworldly feel. The extra buck is totally worth it—this is the coolest looking 3D I’ve ever seen in a comic book. Also nice is the fact that the glasses DC provides look like the ones Zod, Non, and Ursa are wearing when they make their escape from the Zone. The issue ends with a pretty great reveal of Luthor’s plan for taking back the planet, which readers will see in ACTION COMICS #11, coming…er, sometime.

Which brings us to the major problem with “Last Son”. Calling its publishing schedule “haphazard” is pretty charitable. The super-secret creative team of Geoff Johns, his old boss Richard Donner (before scripting comics full-time, Johns worked as an assistant on the director’s 1997 film CONSPIRACY THEORY), and new DC exclusive artist Adam Kubert was originally set to debut in late spring/early summer of 2006 along with the rest of DC’s high-profile “One Year Later” creative teams like Grant Morrison and Andy Kubert on BATMAN and Allan Heinberg and Terry Dodson on WONDER WOMAN. However, right before the solicitations for those issues hit, a three-issue fill-in arc by Kurt Busiek, Fabian Nicieza, and Pete Woods was announced to give the new creative team a bigger lead time. Issues #844 and 845 came out pretty much on schedule in, I believe, September and October, then…nothing. The book dropped off the radar for several months, a new date was given, which was supposed to be followed up by one fill-in issue in #847, and then the storyline would resume its monthly schedule with the regular creative team. Then, right before #846 hit in, I think, January or February, solicitations were released for a slew of fill-ins—a two-parter by Fabian Nicieza for #848 and 849, and a special anniversary issue by Kurt Busiek for #850. “Last Son” would continue in #851, and then conclude…whenever. What a mess.

So, what happened? Online speculation has pointed to numerous possible factors. The obvious target was film director/first time comic writer Richard Donner, an unproven quantity in the comic book world (and of course, the tardiness of Hollywood types turned comic scribes like Kevin Smith and Damon Lindelhof have put fanboys everywhere on the defensive), or the always-busy Geoff Johns. This argument seems unlikely, as Donner’s involvement likely doesn’t amount to much more than overall plot kibitzing (not unlike the director’s collaboration with screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz on the first two SUPERMAN feature films), and Johns has successfully juggled more than one monthly title in the meantime (he also writes JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA and GREEN LANTERN, and spent most of last year co-writing the weekly series 52). Others blamed the current issue’s 3D effects, but that wouldn’t explain the delays on the third chapter of the storyline, or its currently in-limbo conclusion. It seems most likely that artist Adam Kubert is the hold-up; a few months back, DC announced that the second Johns/Donner storyline, “Escape From Bizarro World”, would be drawn by THE GOON creator Eric Powell (after—what else? THREE MORE fill-in issues by Busiek), and more recently, Gary Frank was named as the new regular series artist after Frank, beginning with an arc titled “Superman and The Legion of Super-Heroes”. Kubert is still handling the art chores on the finale of “Last Son” but, as of this writing, DC hasn’t put ACTION COMICS #11 on their schedule.

Sadly, this creative snafu is all too familiar lately, particularly at DC. The last couple of years have seen the company shell out big bucks to lure high-profile creative teams onto their biggest titles, only to have these creators dole out pages at a ridiculously slow rate (Allan Heinberg’s WONDER WOMAN, anyone? How about Frank Miller and Jim Lee’s ALL STAR BATMAN AND ROBIN THE BOY WONDER?). Of course, someday “Last Son” will conclude and be collected in a trade paperback, and its troubled publishing history will be a bad memory. Also, the upcoming arcs by Powell and Frank sound very cool, particularly the promise of a Powell-drawn Bizarro. Until then, the excellent work being done by Johns and Donner, who have managed to avoid the pitfalls of in-continuity Superman adventures by bringing back a sense of urgency and excitement while utilizing the best elements of the hero’s history, languishes in a proverbial Phantom Zone.


I feel like I’ve been yapping about ALL-STAR SUPERMAN and how awesome it is forever, so I won’t do it again. Suffice it to say that #8 has lots of crazy Bizarro World foolishness, including more about the weird Bizarro-Bizarro known as Zibarro, and that it’s still awesome…The new BLACK CANARY mini started off well, having been written by the dependable Tony Bedard and featuring art by Paulo Sequeira (whose stuff contains weird traces of wildly disparate styles like John Cassaday and Chris Bachalo—strange, I know, but it works)…FAKER, by Mike Carey and Jock, is an intriguing first issue that suffers by not being easy to sum up in a few words, but I’ll try; a bunch of college pals get drunk in a science lab and drink something they probably shouldn’t have, leading them to question their own identities while a mysterious nonentity seems to have infiltrated their clique. Does that make any sense? Anyway, it has potential… THOR #1? More like SNORE #1 ( I stole that from Ben Jeddrie)! Seriously, the art by Olivier Coipel is really cool, but would it kill J. Michael Straczynski to write a superhero comic where SOMETHING ACTUALLY HAPPENS FOR CHRISSAKES?…DARK TOWER: THE GUNSLINGER BORN is a real weird case—it kinda feels like one of those movie adaptations that you don’t really see anymore. You know, the ones that were a pale shade of what they were adapting? People sure are buying the shit out of it, but is anyone actually enjoying it?…NEW AVENGERS/TRANSFORMERS #1, huh? I can’t really decide if this was actually better or worse than Michael Bay’s movie, but I think it’s just bad in a different way—that is to say, it’s so conceptually retarded that I can’t believe it exists. Hold up, maybe they are bad in the same way after all…UNCANNY X-MEN #488 continues to prove that Brubaker is better doing Earthbound stuff as opposed to 12-part space opera sagas, as the Morlocks carry out a really gross terrorist attack on a subway train…RUNAWAYS #27 is a bit late, so I had forgotten that the gang got sent back in time in the last issue. Joss Whedon has a lot of fun with turn-of-the-previous-century Marvel New York here, with its “Wonders” like the old-timey Punisher knock-off the Adjudicator and the Yellow Kid, based on the super-creepy little guy who was the first comic character, historically speaking. Michael Ryan really stepped it up on the art this issue—he seems to be improving at a surprising rate.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Testing...One Two Three!

Hello Internet,

Comics reviews are on their way, once I pack up the old Livejournal, turn off the lights, and lock the doors. Hope I get my damage deposit back.