Sunday, May 28, 2017

Superman #12, 13 (DC)

Anyone unfortunate enough to be following my lengthy Goodreads reviews knows I recently read the two collections of the New 52 series Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E., which was the first time I read the series.  I'd previously read the New 52 Frankenstein in the pages of Pete Tomasi and Patrick Gleason's Batman and Robin, and fell in love with the guy all over again (he originally debuted in this incarnation in Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers of Victory).

So flipping through back issues of Tomasi and Gleason's Rebirth series Superman, I was reminded that Frankenstein makes appearances here, too.  I couldn't have been happier that Tomasi and Gleason were given the Superman assignment.  I knew instantly that DC was rewarding them for knocking Batman and Robin out of the park, even if readers didn't seem to have notice.  But I haven't so far been much of a dedicated reader of their Superman because...I really want Gleason on art.  Every issue. 

Which on a biweekly basis, is never going to happen.

And it really doesn't have to, either, as I've gradually come to accept.  It doesn't hurt to have ringers like Doug Mahnke.  Mahnke has been working at DC since the turn of the millennium, and his stock has consistently risen, even as his profile has remained consistent.  If that makes sense. Anyway, he remains important to the company, and that remains true in the pages of Superman.

He's the artist who did Frankenstein for Seven Soldiers, by the way.  But he's not doing the character the same way in these pages.  He's been softening his style for years.  Some readers think his Superman now contrasts with Gleason's nicely, and I wonder if that has become the point.

Frankenstein himself, though, remains a joy to read.  The version who appears here is once again an agent of S.H.A.D.E., and seems to have become an intergalactic agent of said agency.  By the second issue, however, the point becomes finally resolving something from the old New 52 series, the status of his relationship with the Bride (no, not Uma!).  In that series they'd parted ways, and that was a big part of the reason why Frankenstein was in the shape he was when Tomasi and Gleason found him in Batman and Robin.  So the four of them (five, I guess!) come full circle in the pages of Superman.

Yes, the whole two-part episode is a metaphor about Superman's new status quo as both husband and father, but I can't help but appreciate this nod to Frankenstein, and his previous appearances.

Moon Knight #9 (Marvel)

This is kind of the issue where Jeff Lemire lays out the rest of the series, and so it's fun reading it now after having already read four of the remaining five (the fifth being published on Wednesday) issues, seeing how he immediately delivers on its promise.

I love how easily he explains each of Marc Spector's personalities, especially the sci-fi one that for all I know Lemire actually invented for this series.  I admit that I don't know Moon Knight well enough to answer that mystery for myself, but the letters column seems to suggest that he did.  And can I just say how glad I am that this comic has a letters column?  I know he's had one in the pages of Descender, so clearly it's an important legacy for Lemire, a way for readers to know what other fans are thinking, and clearly Moon Knight inspires a lot of interest, and even a lot of interaction between readers, who are reading the letters columns too, responding to printed letters, so that actually becomes part of the fun.  The responses Lemire and the editors give are kinda weightless, going for the positive no matter what, sometimes outright ignoring what a letter actually said just to plug this or that, but that's a part of letters columns, having a response (I hate it when they don't), so the actual content of the responses doesn't really matter.

Well anyway, this issue is all about Marc deciding to take on Khonshu, the moon god who made him Moon Knight.  The early issues I loved so much actually featured Khonshu pretty heavily, and I'm just now realizing that he's largely absent in later issues.  Those earlier ones had Khonshu talking a lot about how he was using Marc's mental issues against him, which in hindsight sounds kind of bad, so to see Marc in a position where he seems in control, even when he isn't, is actually more fun to read, and so all over again I'm glad I made the decision to keep reading. 

And all the more curious as to how Marc resolves this conflict with his creator...

Green Lanterns #18 (DC)

Not reading this regularly since last summer, there are things that've happened in the pages of Green Lanterns that I've missed, obviously.  But thankfully, there are always back issues available in comic book stores. And thank goodness, because Sam Humphries finally told the secret origin of the First Lantern, Volthoom.

Volthoom was a character Geoff Johns introduced late in his run on Green Lantern, in the relaunch volume during the New 52.  Johns introduced or revamped so many elements of Green Lantern lore it can be tempting to overlook or underestimate some.  Volthoom seemed particularly throwaway, barely a sketch, just an excuse for another overblown event when it seemed Johns had maxed out with Blackest Night

But fortunately, Humphries is able to handle this one, too.  He's already been breathing new life into the Johns creations Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz, the lead characters of Green Lanterns, the two actual Green Lanterns that Johns created, characters who seemed like they were going to head into the scrap heap of history while Robert Venditti did seemingly everything else.  But Venditti was doing what DC wanted him to do, which was to chart new waters, same as Humphries, which is to explore the known again.

And again, thank goodness, because what he does with Volthoom is fascinating.  He actually completely rewrites the origins of the whole concept.  He has Volthoom come from the year 3079, on a parallel Earth.  So yes, Volthoom is actually human.  And he and his mother create the first lantern to try and save the world.  Only, things backfire and Volthoom has to search the multiverse throughout time to try and salvage their efforts.  In so doing, he encounters the Guardians before they were the Guardians.  And he has the Guardians remove their emotions into a new battery, and in the process the first ring is created, and it is given to Volthoom.  But it's too much power for him, and so the Guardians create seven Green Lanterns to defeat him.  (Will we get to meet these guys?) 

And then, fast-forward to the present, when Humphries presents the next chapter in Volthoom's story, to be explored in other issues.

Venditti's Green Lantern never really clicked with me.  He's still writing it in Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps, but I'm so, so glad Humphries is writing Green Lanterns, for stuff like this.  Maybe he can't be the concept engine Johns was, but he's eminently capable of exploring the world Johns created.  And that is more than good enough.  For a lot of readers, this will actually be their first exposure to it, to Volthoom and Simon and Jessica, and everyone benefits from that.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Moon Knight #7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13 (Marvel)

Last year Jeff Lemire launched the latest Moon Knight series, and I had a look and it was absolutely brilliant.  I mean, one-of-my-favorite-comics-of-2016 brilliant.  I read the opening arc, and...that was it, until a few days ago.

It was nothing against the series, obviously.  But as you can probably tell I haven't been spending huge amounts of coinage on comics these days.  I figured, I'd read one genius Jeff Lemire Moon Knight story, and that was good enough.  Well, I finally reconsidered that policy.  I'm missing three issues of the run to date at this point, but otherwise I think I've caught up nicely.  Apparently the next issue is released on Wednesday, and it's the last issue.  But what a powerful creative legacy Lemire and pals will have left behind.  This really has become one of my all-time favorite comics.

I'm not a Moon Knight fan.  I mean, I've never sat down and read the character in any dedicated fashion, until Lemire.  I've dabbled in back issues (and have a few more queued up), but as far as I'm concerned right now, I've just been reading the definitive Moon Knight.  I don't see the point of humoring a wildly different approach, any approach that treats him as just another superhero. 

Because Lemire writes a very specific version, one that completely embraces Moon Knight's given idiosyncrasies, his multiple personalities (paging fans of M. Night Shyamalan's 2017 blockbuster comeback Split), and spends the entire series keeping readers guessing about how much of it is mental illness and how much the poor guy being screwed around with. 

But never for a minute does Lemire slack on keeping the focus incredibly tight.  It's always very specifically about Marc Spector's perspective, which plays so well to Lemire's strengths as a writer, his perennial interest in isolated people constantly having the rug pulled out from them, new information being revealed, the story constantly being elevated and never diverging from the original vision...

It's good stuff.  It really, really is.  And the art, from Lemire's many collaborators, is astounding.  As far as Marvel is concerned, I have to wonder if anyone has done anything this stellar recently.  I mean, I loved Matt Fraction's Hawkeye, which was a master class in exploring superheroes at a casual level, and Tom King's Vision, which was a master class in total character deconstruction, but Moon Knight goes well, well beyond them both, Lemire (and company) in total creative control.  King's Vision, I can never quite equate with his DC stuff because the whole story is inevitable.  Fraction's Hawkeye, it's so casual it never feels like it has any weight.  But Lemire's Moon Knight, it's both unpredictable and heavy storytelling.  I mean, you know Lemire will keep you guessing, but in a really, really good way. 

Well, apparently one issue remaining...

Earth 2: Society #22 (DC)

This is the final issue of Earth 2: Society, as well as the conclusion to the whole New 52 version of Earth 2.  I'm glad the series stayed on the publishing rolls well into the Rebirth era, that Dan Abnett was given a chance to give the concept a proper ending.  I may not have been a dedicated reader, but I loved that Earth 2 was always an alternate to the New 52, right from the start, an Elseworlds book, in some respects, in which alternate versions of characters and concepts were given a chance to breathe, for quite a lengthy period of time.

I know plenty of readers complained about the quality of the material over the years, especially after James Robinson left and World's End seemed to entirely dilute a product they no longer saw as worth the attention.  But DC, to its credit, kept the concept alive, and World's End as a weekly companion series still led to an actual Earth 2 event, Convergence, that ended up leading indirectly to Rebirth.

Society ended mostly because DC decided to bring back the classic Justice Society concept.  Earth 2 was always an alternate JSA, an effort to reinterpret some of DC's oldest characters, to take them out of the Golden Age and make them contemporaries in every sense to their successors.  It's a shame, actually, that we never got a proper team-up between Earth 2 and Justice League.  Just imagine...!

But Abnett ends it perfectly.  Quietly.  Just a meditation on things finally settling down, and the last rolls of how Earth 2 diverges from the rest of continuity.  Dick Grayson's son has become Robin.  Helena Wayne, Bruce Wayne's daughter, has become Batman.  If this were Marvel and if Helena had been in her own series, that would've been a huge problem for some fans.  But Earth 2 kind of became DC's Astro City, a self-contained story with a huge cast of characters, each with their own legacies (which is to say, different from the Legion of Super-Heroes).

Abnett probably realized that of all the characters appearing in the final issue, the new Batman and Robin most deserved being singled out.  In a lot of ways, Batman had become the unspoken lead of Earth 2.  In the original concept, Bruce Wayne was among the icons to die in the alternate version of how the first arc in Justice League played out.  But another Batman later emerged: Thomas Wayne's.  This was one of the most clever things Earth 2 did over the years, creating an ongoing version of a character who first appeared in Flashpoint.  But eventually, even Thomas died, and Dick Grayson took over.  Apparently Dick died in the penultimate issue of Society, and so Helena's ascension to the role is something that happens between issues.

Well, like I said, in some other reality, Earth 2 and Society itself continues, because that's the kind of storytelling that made it all worth it. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Flash #22, and thoughts on "The Button" in general

The four-part "Button" arc concludes with the dramatic return of Jay Garrick, the Golden Age Flash, as well as prelude to Doomsday Clock, Geoff Johns's November-launching DC Rebirth event that finally delivers on the promise of integrating Watchmen into regular company lore.  I know at least one fan who thinks this is inherently a terrible idea.  Spent a great deal of time last year arguing against his brick wall about the sacredness of Alan Moore's iconic original story.  Alan Moore has a way of inspiring that kind of lunatic devotion, and I can't say I'll ever really understand that.  As far as I'm concerned, the guy is a hypocrite.  He thinks he operates by a separate set of rules just because in the '80s he was considered the greatest comic book writer of that time, a reputation that more or less still persists.  He borrowed the creator rights crusade other creators from that time staked a lot more of their careers on, creators who spent their time creating original works as a matter of course, rather than spending it working very deliberately on the ideas of others, as he very demonstrably did, regardless of what else can be said about his work...

But that's neither here nor there, really.  Let's talk about some creators who are proving vital in 2017.  (Jerusalem may be an eminently worthy piece of literature.  Moore's ego will probably prevent me from judging for myself anytime soon.  Shame.  That's the first rule of literature, that you don't put the cart before the horse.  But then, there's also a tradition of writers attempting to make themselves more famous by reputation than by their actual creative prowess.  Seemingly to give their work a little attention.  Except with Moore he seems to begrudge attention.  And that's the real problem, here.)

I'm talking about Geoff Johns, who is given conceptual credit for "The Button," because it follows DC Universe Rebirth, and leads to Doomsday Clock, so naturally he has a vested interest in how "Button" worked out.  I'm talking Tom King, who wrote one of its four chapters.  I'm talking Howard Porter, who since JLA has never really had the spotlight put on his art.  I'm talking Josh Williamson, whose work in the pages of The Flash has been excellent all along, but whose role in writing three of the four chapters of "Button" has suddenly thrust him into a new level of significance within the elites of DC creators.  As is, he's becoming one of the elites.

Even at four chapters, "The Button" is a story that progressed so deliberately that there seems to have been very little actual story to it, but as a sequel to Flashpoint along with every other thing that can be said about it, everything about it seemed inevitable, except the skill and finesse of the storytelling is actually what makes it read so smoothly, and again, that falls completely at the feet of Williamson.  Anyone can be told what's expected of them, what elements to use, what's supposed to happen, but if they don't make it work, that's pretty clear.  Williamson makes it work.  He makes it work so effortlessly, the result is that he seems to have done hardly anything at all.  Yet he's done a truly incredible job.  Superhero comics can be such thankless storytelling, with a long tradition of generic storytelling, adventure quests filled with scene after scene of good guys and bad guys doing their thing, and yet, even Williamson's Reverse-Flash, who ends up making a comeback of his own, aside from everyone else making splashy appearances, it's just as easy to overlook his significance as everything else.  Reverse-Flash, the classic one who caused Barry Allen hell not only in Flashpoint but "The Trial of the Flash," one of the longest Flash stories ever, until a few years ago virtually forgotten in the face of Barry's death in Crisis on Infinite Earths, who actually becomes a kind of new Psycho-Pirate, the character who remembered Crisis happened when everyone else forgot.  And you can see where even that's significant, how it ties everything together.

Williamson, in just the material I've read so far, has been telling excellent Flash stories already, but "The Button" has put him over the top.  I loved Flashpoint.  At the very start of this blog, it saved me as a reader.  I love that it has once again proven important (and also in the Flash TV series in the just-concluded third season, which presented its own interpretation of Flashpoint and its consequences). 

I love that kind of resonant storytelling.  I'm glad Moore was able to write things that connected so powerfully with readers.  But I'm sorry it came at the expense of his willingness to stay connected with the stories that made it possible.  He closed himself off.  What I value so much about storytelling is the ability to make connections, not wall them off.  That's what Moore loves, too, but he seems incapable of admitting it at this point.  He thinks everything exists in isolation, unless he says otherwise.  Things like "The Button," and the work of Josh Williamson in general, prove otherwise, as far as I'm concerned. 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Reading Comics 204 "Fifth Trip 2017"

American Gods #2 (Dark Horse)
Amazingly, this adaption of the Neil Gaiman book still really hasn't reached the actual concept of the story.  Although Spider does drink an amazing amount of mead, and beats up a rather tall leprechaun.

Bane: Conquest #1 (DC)
Chuck Dixon and Graham Nolan reunite and return to the chronicles of Bane.  The results may baffle readers who are less familiar with Vengeance of Bane (parts 1 & 2) and more "Knightfall," Dark Knight Rises, Tom King's recent "I Am Bane," or any manner of terrible Bane appearances over the years, but they're entirely in-character, especially, again, for the Bane of Vengeance of Bane (parts 1 & 2).  The luchadore mask Nolan gives Bane for this comic is a fun little nod to the fact that the character is, technically, Latino, even though that never seems to come up other than his base of operations and/or origins.

Batman #21 (DC)
The Flash #21 (DC)
Batman #22 (DC)
Parts 1-3 of "The Button" see Tom King and Josh Williamson collaborate on a sequel to Flashpoint (the importance of this classic story to yours truly is chronicled in the early period of this blog) that also helps set up later DC-wide storytelling first introduced by DC Universe Rebirth.  Very, very good storytelling here.

Blue Beetle #8 (DC)
Giffen/DeMatteis have apparently taken over the title as of this issue, and bring a strong Larfleeze feel to the proceedings.  I loved the original Jaime Reyes series post-Infinite Crisis, and so it's great to read his Blue Beetle again.  The big draw for the issue, however, is that the magical scarab that has granted him powers (and/or de facto Iron Man suit) all these years has been taken from him.  So he and Ted Kord (the second and most famous Blue Beetle) make a bold decision: Jaime will now, even if temporarily, revive Ted's classic costume.  Yeah!

Divinity III: Stalinverse #4 (Valiant)
Matt Kindt will be moving on to Eternity, a sequel rather than continuation to Divinity, so this is the conclusion of this particular vision.  And I think, having read it twice, he came up with a good one:
"This world you've built may be real.  But you know it is not true.  You read books when you were younger.  Just as I did.  Do you not remember?  We are similar, you and I.  We were not forced to read.  We were encouraged.  But my adoptive parents raised me.  Treated me as their own.  They gave me books.  Science fiction was my favorite.  I read everything they gave me.  It wasn't until much later that I realized what they'd really done.  My parents couldn't force me...or anyone to be good.  Just as the Soviet Union cannot.  All they could do was present me with their example.  And with stories.  With writing.  With ideas.  Through those books I learned the danger of power.  I learned of the terrible effects of violence and conflict.  Of the unending cycle of war that we should be working to break.  And I learned the importance of love and to be loved.  Earth...humanity?  They are our children, Kazmir.  They can't be forced to learn.  They must learn by example.  They must be taught with stories.  With experience.  We have the power of gods, Kazmir.  Yet you choose to live a parasitic life inside Myshka.  And you choose to obey a small-minded oligarch.  But there is an entire universe out there for you.  Worlds to see.  Galaxies to explore.  Just like in the books we read when we were younger.  I am sorry for what happened to us out the unknown.  I am sorry I did not bring you back when I returned.  And I am sorry that Myshka broke your heart.  I understand why you came back for revenge.  What I don't understand is why wouldn't you stay out there?  Why wouldn't you go further?  Why wouldn't you want to see more?  Our conflict will have a winner and a loser.  That is the nature of the game.  But why should we confine ourselves to the game?  Ti these pieces?  To this artificial boundary?  To Earth?  When there is the unknown all around us?  Waiting to be explored?  I tell you all of this, Kazmir, not to "win."  But to set you free."
That's the best argument an hero has probably ever made to their enemy, in a comic book.  It's an argument that can only be made in a comic book, I think.  It's a perfect synopsis of superhero logic, as has Divinity been from the start.  I don't know why Divinity hasn't become more important among comic book readers.  It's the Watchmen of intellectual superhero storytelling.  It's surely one of the most fascinating comics I've ever read.  Every issue has someone involved in creating the issue provide commentary.  Most of it is somewhat hugely overblown praise. Most of it seems to miss the point.  It's not just how it's executed that makes Divinity great, but its ideas.  I'm hugely glad to have read along.  And to see where Kindt goes next.

Planet of the Apes/Green Lantern #3 (Boom!/DC)
This latest mash-up is about as good as Green Lantern/Star Trek (which is to say, good), but it's the art I came to see.  Omega Men's Barnaby Bagenda, to be precise.  That guy deserves to reach the stratosphere, like his collaborator, Tom King.  Hopefully it'll happen at some point.

Green Lanterns #22 (DC)
The adventures of upstarts Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz have now reached the stage where they're actively interacting with the rest of the Green Lantern Corps.  Continues to be what I've long hoped to read in a Green Lantern comic again.

Nightwing #19, 20 (DC)
Well, hot damn.  Tim Seeley has turned Nightwing into a must-read after all.  Nightwing has been so hit-and-miss since the Dixon/Grayson years, a lot of creators coming in hot and then sort of sputtering out.  This includes Grayson, Seeley and Tom King's bold revision that saw Nightwing become a spy for a couple years.  But to take Nightwing away from Dick Grayson is to take away the essential part of the character, no matter how intriguing the results.  Too many of these writers have tried to forget this or that element of the character.  Seeley seems to have built not only on the Grayson momentum, but folded Dick's Batman and Robin days back into his adventures.  "Nightwing Must Die" is a Dr. Hurt story (the whole thing plays nicely with Batman and Robin, Grant Morrison memories), but it remembers that Dick's whole history is what defines him, perhaps more than any other superhero.  Possibly the two best issues of Nightwing I've ever read (Grayson: Futures End notwithstanding).

Savage Dragon #223 (Image)
If you were to read, in 2017, only one comic book series in its entirety to figure out what superheroes are all about, I think Savage Dragon would have to be that series.  Erik Larsen is the Image creator who never gave up on the original vision of the company, who never decided to pursue other interests at the expense of the creative freedom and opportunity his vision gave him.  The letters column is almost more important than the comic itself this time:

"Change is inevitable and being more stuck in the past is no solution. Styles change, people change. You loved that old stuff because you were 12 and that was your sweet spot. You may not want change but I crave it. Doing the same drawings the same way for decades is mind-numbingly monotonous. I love nothing more than finding new ways of tackling a similar problem. I look at the older issues and see all the mistakes. I see all the poor drawings and attempts to hide my deficiencies behind a wall of crosshatching and it doesn't do much for me. The lines aren't defining shapes and establishing light sources. They're lines for the sake of lines. Emulating that seems insane. 

Strong iconic poses are great, sure, but ultimately, I'm trying to tell a story here, not compose pictures to be popped onto T-shirts and lunchboxes. And given the choice of repeating a familiar shot or finding something new--nine times out of ten I'll go with the new.

It's not an easy path. Some artists get stuck in a rut, forever repeating and emulating their old work. Readers get bored and move on. Others keep trying new and different approaches but that can alienate old readers who liked the way things had been. There's no simple solution, clearly, but in order to preserve my sanity, I need to keep moving. If I'm not kept engaged, I can't expect my audience to be. If I'm bored, it's reflected in the work. So I tend to try something new. Sometimes it's successful and sometimes it's not, but hopefully it's worth your attention.
And honestly, it's important to unlearn what you've learned. A lot of what made earlier work vibrant and full of life was the learning process. I was figuring stuff out. And part of that involved screwing up. I can look back at old art and see where arms were clearly too long or faces were constructed poorly, where compositions and anatomy and perspective are all skewed and line work makes no sense. It's hard to recreate that--and why would I want to? It would be like going back to high school."
To my mind, it reads like Larsen becoming the Bill Watterson of comic books.

Superman #22 (DC)
I really need to read more of this run.

Old Man Logan #22 (Marvel)
Jeff Lemire continues his concluding run with Wolverine exploring the character's fictional past, brilliantly, literally revisiting famous stories (at one point his origin in the pages of a Hulk comic, complete with the original dialogue).  If anyone had to tell Old Man Logan stories as a surrogate to actual Wolverine stories, I'm glad it was Lemire.  He proves why it was such a good idea all over again.

Superman #12, 13 (DC)

Anyone unfortunate enough to be following my lengthy Goodreads reviews knows I recently read the two collections of the New 52 series Franke...