Thursday, June 30, 2011

No Evil Shall Escape My Sight

It still bothers me, that GREEN LANTERN was something of a box office disaster. I’ve since learned that plans for a sequel have not been consequently scrapped, so there’s that much, and anyone who saw the ending of the movie knows that one of the big complaints has theoretically already been addressed to that end; Hal will have a definite, physical foe to fight, and it’ll be Sinestro (I would also bet on Star Sapphire).

Given the rather extended partisan rant I went on in the last Quarter Bin, it should be no surprise that I generally favor DC over Marvel, not simply out of loyalty, but on basic philosophical levels, which seem to extend between the comics and film realms as well. Where Hollywood sees a rather extended and rather extensive success story from Marvel’s properties, I see a series of movies that more often than not take the cheap way out, and the successes are almost always by accident. For every FANTASTIC FOUR (which itself still managed to produce a sequel), a conceptual failure that was easily on the same level as two Hulk failures (which again, is, financially, on a fairly relative scale), audiences have embraced two Iron Man movies and a Thor that have neither of them been that much better. I’m still trying to figure out just how THOR became a success (at this point, I’d embrace the FANTASTIC FOUR model, or the anticipation for AVENGERS), but everyone knows that Robert Downey, Jr. saved IRON MAN from collapsing in on itself. In fact, almost every single Marvel movie has contradicted the assertion that a strong villain is necessary to make a successful superhero film. Every villain a Marvel movie has featured has been, in some way, either a complete joke or a conceptual nightmare, or for all intents and purposes perfectly ready to confront Adam West in a slanted camera angle. (The rare exception to this rule has either been outright rejected, as Thomas Haden Church learned the hard way in SPIDER-MAN 3, or misused, as Ian McKellen routinely was, when he wasn’t talking, in the X-Men trilogy.)

When DC does a villain, and Joel Schumacher not particularly factored into this equation, you have a character who thematically fits into the rest of the picture, without any real compromise. Heath Ledger’s Joker was already legendary before anyone had properly experienced him in THE DARK KNIGHT, and still ended up producing box office records. Kevin Spacey took what even Gene Hackman reduced to a joke and made Lex Luthor menacing in SUPERMAN RETURNS, a true reflection on the humanist outlook for a movie that also failed to properly fill out the regular superhero spandex. Peter Sarsgaard and the voice of Clancy Brown (!) represented unusually cerebral adversaries for a hero with one of the most unlimited powers in comics and movie theaters, but as GREEN LANTERN stressed again and again, it was willpower that was bound to win the day.

Just not the hearts of moviegoers. Everyone’s been attempting to explain the failure of the movie, but very few people were attempting to make it a success. Aside from an uptake in popularity at comic book stores, Green Lantern is a property that meant absolutely nothing to mainstream audiences, a concept that was either thoroughly illustrative of its native medium, or hopelessly dominated by it. Now it seems we have our answer. Why there was no novelization available prior to the theatrical release is one of the great oversights in recent marketing. To assume anyone who might have cared would simply read up with some of the trades doesn’t begin to consider that no single Green Lantern story has ever properly conveyed the scope of the concept, which is why the movie had to moderately tweak certain aspects. To simply say, Geoff Johns’ SECRET ORIGIN covers the bulk of what anyone needs to know, kind of misses the point. Peter Jackson didn’t have a huge success on his hand with the Lord of the Rings trilogy because there was a huge population hopelessly devoted to the works of J.R.R. Tolkien (that would be the case with Harry Potter, or the Twilight Saga), but because he unexpectedly produced a landmark fantasy experience, something no other filmmaker had done before him, or has managed since.

GREEN LANTERN was expected to succeed because of its unique scope, and the fact that most comic book movies tend to be something of a success these days. It was an unknown property with something remarkable to contribute.

But, it was also a comic book movie, with something entirely new to say about comic book movies. Just imagine if Star Wars had originally been a comic. “Come see this awesome new sci-fi movie! It was originally a comic!” Putting aside that many, many imitators quickly proved that George Lucas really did have a singular, unduplicatable vision, Green Lantern as a property developed over many decades a rich tapestry that is completely unrivaled in comics. One might say that if it hadn’t been for the fact that DC did it as a comic book first, a movie version of this mythology would have been inevitable anyway. Anyone who watched Jackson’s movies and wondered what someone else might do with magic rings and complicated histories might objectively look at GREEN LANTERN and easily interpret it as a natural reaction, even if it’s taken a decade to reach. Did anyone object to Sauron being a disembodied eye for nearly the full length of three films, or the fact that even in the conclusion of that story, this main villain never so much as looked Frodo directly in the eye?

I may not be very coherent about this, may not even be very objective, and that’s because I’m just so damned confused and disappointed. I would perhaps sum up GREEN LANTERN’s failure as asking too much of an audience from a property that has existed for decades but in a form that few fans of even its original medium ever bothered to follow. I’m extremely happy that, one way or another, this film does in fact exist, and my own enjoyment of it cannot be dampened by the general reaction of others. Hey, I have a rich history of liking movies other people rejected out of hand, for reasons that are even harder for me to understand. I can handle this. It’s a matter of expectations. With this one movie, I had the idea that Green Lantern would finally come to be embraced on a scale I imagined it always deserved. I wanted a Green Lantern movie back in 1994, when Hal Jordan was a crazy man and one of DC’s biggest villains. I always saw the cinematic potential, even when I myself would never have envisioned quite this way.

I made another trip to Escape Velocity last week, and have planned another this week, and while these are still purely exceptions, I will write about the comics I bought in future columns. I hadn’t even planned on such an extended rant directly solely on GREEN LANTERN, but rather something that would have segued into more direct comics talk, including some relevant material to a starter topic like the movie. Better luck next time…

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Quarter Bin #11 "Just Imagine Stan Lee Creating..."

At a time when Marvel is attempting to breath new life into its Ultimate line (or at least reinvigorating ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN) and DC has launched FLASHPOINT and announced a complete reboot of its regular line, now would be a great time to look at another famous comics remaining. Or rather, let’s just imagine…

Okay, whether that was actually clever or not, this week’s column is a look back at Stan Lee’s brief visit to DC from nearly a decade ago, and is prompted specifically by:

From March 2002.

Circa 2001 and 2002.

Clearly, not the complete set of JUST IMAGINE STAN LEE CREATING…(which I’m surprised didn’t become a perennial reprint collection, or not), but the SECRET FILES & ORIGINS (have I mentioned before that I wish DC would continue publishing these?) covers the whole field, and gives plenty of reference for the rest of it. I’m not here to argue that these comics are classics, but that they are certainly interesting material, and part of my own interest in them comes from the fact that they were originally released during the 1999-2004 period where I wasn’t reading comics regularly, though I was at least following important developments from a distance. Anyone familiar with the rivalry between DC and Marvel, and Stan Lee’s own prominent role in that feud, will be as surprised today as they were a decade ago that these books happened at all (or maybe not as much, with the increasingly desperate-to-participate Stan working on all kinds of crazy projects in recent years, and only Boom! seems to have been smart enough to temper it).. Fact is, true believer, they did. Excelsior!

Unlike he’s sometimes liked to popularly acknowledge, as Jack Kirby and Steve Dikto might attest, Stan worked very prominently with a battery of famous artists on these books. SHAZAM! was done in collaboration with Gary Frank (slightly ahead of the curve that eventually brought Frank to his greatest heights with Geoff Johns and Superman), while Joe Kubert worked on BATMAN and Dave Gibbons on GREEN LANTERN. Similar blockbuster collaborations could be found in the rest of the set. I chose the particular ones I did because they particularly interested me, Green Lantern simply because through just about every incarnation (including the Tangent Comics variation with the Chinese lantern) never really disappoints, Batman because he seems the least likely to fit the Marvel mold, and the other version of Captain Marvel for reasons I can no longer clearly remember (I ordered these comics last fall, and that’s when I originally read them).

I feel compelled at this point to ruminate a little further on some of those points. What exactly separates a DC concept from a Marvel one? No one but Stan Lee could possibly understand that better, and that’s a little of what made this experiment so interesting. Movie patrons this summer have been getting a crash course, too, even if they haven’t always realized it. I’m thinking right now of the relative failure of GREEN LANTERN versus how audiences have generally embraced, say, X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, which to me is a travesty of justice, and here it’s not even specifically a matter of comic book publisher partisanship. The difference in quality and depth, to me, is clear, the actual execution and worth of the films undeniable. GREEN LANTERN is superior.

How do I reach that conclusion? Everyone’s been talking about how socially relevant FIRST CLASS is, whereas GREEN LANTERN comes off almost like a generic geek offering, suitable only for fans, impenetrable otherwise. (What a pity it is that Ryan Reynolds was already a known commodity! Anyone else in that performance would have been a breakout, and this is coming from someone who admired Chris Hemsworth’s turn in THOR, but there is no comparison in terms of how valuable these star turns are as complete packages.) But where FIRST CLASS is a constantly flawed film, GREEN LANTERN is in full control throughout its running time. Even the apparent flaw of villains can easily be explained if you care to. Where Parallax turns out to be the ultimate test of will, Hector Hammond is the test of character. Without either of these opponents, Hal Jordan’s arc would be incomplete, just as he needs his friends Carol Ferris and Tom Kalmaku to support him. There are so many storytelling echoes in this film, so many affirmations of what the audience is supposed to take away from the experience. Where FIRST CLASS is ultimately hollow and functional, GREEN LANTERN is immersive and soulful.

In other words, where FIRST CLASS pays lip service to its intentions, GREEN LANTERN is well-rounded; it does exactly what it sets out to. How this translates to my perception of the difference between Marvel and DC is simple enough. Stan Lee, and his collaborators, famously created a whole world of superheroes defined by their flaws existences, and that has always been interpreted as more relatably human than the larger-than-life figures DC introduced earlier, the archetypes too distance from everyday experience to be continually relevant.

Another way to say that, as the movies bear out, at least as I see them, is that Marvel is really good at origins, while DC sets its characters on journeys. Think about it: X-MEN: FIRST CLASS is an origin movie, just like BATMAN BEGINS was, or even SPIDER-MAN, or GREEN LANTERN. What do you really get from this experience? You watch the pain that creates Magneto, the ambitions of Charles Xavier, and the alienation of your regular batch of mutants, and how all these elements colliding produces a clash of philosophies. That’s great and all, but in the meantime you also get some generic villains (I love Kevin Bacon, too, but even he couldn’t possibly salvage a group of baddies that also included a wooden Emma Frost and Nightcrawler stand-in with no personality). In other words, there’s no story here, just some points that need to connect, like watching mad Norman Osborn transform into Green Goblin, just so Spidey has a villain to physically defeat. That’s the kind of storytelling that may look “great” in live action at the movies, but it’s also what makes most people find it very hard to respect comics in general. And what’s more, they begin to associate that kind of work as inherent to superheroes, and they reject anything that contradicts it.

Time and again, you see a Marvel character with only a semblance of future potential after the origin has gotten out of the way. Why do you think it’s so hard for a good Hulk movie to be made? Because once you get past the origin, you basically end up exactly with the kind of stories the TV show had to do, a version of THE FUGITIVE. The Hulk isn’t really a hero at all. The only thing interesting about him is Bruce Banner. Without Banner, you basically have a villain, or a mentally handicapped superhero, who can’t help himself inflicting all kinds of mindless destruction all around him. “With great power comes great responsibility,” but aside from the moment he realized he should be a superhero, Peter Parker has nothing to separate himself from the villains he eventually pursues, and even after that, he only barely seems to realize the gravity of the role he has assumed. He spends most of his time avoiding that responsibility, actually, when you think about it. Most Spider-Man writers don’t, naturally. Captain America is a steroids metaphor, but I guarantee you won’t see Steve Rogers presented like Barry Bonds in his new movie. Where do you go with a character like that and actually be honest about it?

The reason the X-Men movies are now repeating themselves is because without that rivalry and that social metaphor, the writers have constantly demonstrated that there’s very little else to do with them. They can’t be seen as regular heroes, which otherwise they obviously are, so they have to either become painfully generic and dull down the impact of the same stories, or they have to repeat themselves. There’s nothing different about FIRST CLASS than the first X-MEN, expect a greater focus on Magneto, and even less probing look at Xavier. Everything has to fall in place without a lot of examination or everything falls apart.

GREEN LANTERN, on the other hand, represents a DC comic book just as perfectly. The origin is just another step in the development of that character. Why is Hal Jordan such a perfect selection to represent the Green Lantern Corps? Because even before he received the ring, he had his own problems. Bruce Wayne wasn’t just a spoiled little rich boy, but the son of a philanthropist, who looked for real solutions to the problems he saw all around him. Putting a suit of armor on him wouldn’t make him Iron Man. (Part of the charm of the Robert Downey, Jr. superhero experience is that it subverts as much as supports the Marvel method, actually, something that’s a little more apparent in the second film.) Superman’s home world was lost, and he was adopted by very humble humans. His journey isn’t just about the cape, but about coping with a whole existence that is ripe with storytelling potential. Hal lost his father early on, and never really came to grips with it. His story is ably depicted in the movie, and the superhero layer just another excuse for character growth. “You have the ability to overcome great fear.” It’s just a metaphor. He doesn’t believe in himself, but he’s been proving himself wrong all his life. He just needed other people to believe in him.

To then see what Stan Lee, who comes from a completely different school of thought, work with something like that is fascinating in its own right. Stan sticks by his own formula pretty religiously, but it’s clear he works with a few more tools than he’s used to. These are comics worth revisiting for that reason. They’re at once instantly disposable and compelling at the same time. Just imagine someone else working with this stuff, they seem to say, without anyone involved realizing it. More than the Green Lantern variant, it’s Batman who is most revealing. In many ways, it’s Stan grafting the idea of Spider-Man onto Batman. Can the two coexist? Well, just imagine…

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Friday, June 17, 2011

Green Lantern in theaters today!

I know I haven't exactly written a ton of things about Green Lantern since beginning the Comics Reader earlier this year, but of all the comic book properties out there, this one has always been my favorite, so yeah, I'm extremely excited that it's gotten the Hollywood treatment. The critics I've read so far are somehow finding the movie more difficult to stomach than Thor or X-Men: First Class, both of which I found uninspired and undercooked, but I haven't actually seen it yet. Oh, and most critics are so full of themselves they can only very rarely see the actual merit of a film, rather than whatever opinion is most convenient to hold.

I will check back in with my own thoughts.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Who Wastes the Wasteland?

There’s a comic I’ve been believing every serious comics reader should be reading, but every year, it seems less and less likely that they will, let alone are. It’s called WASTELAND and is published by Oni Press. The industry, at least, seems to be paying attention. Writer Antony Johnston has been working with Marvel recently, maybe not on projects I believe are particularly worthy of his skills, but the recognition alone is certainly gratifying. He deserves so much more, though, infinitely more.

I’m writing about WASTELAND today because of that last trip to Escape Velocity a few weeks back. In addition to the comics I previously wrote about (plus some additional bargains I’ll get back to later), I also picked up WASTELAND BOOK 5: TALES OF THE UNINVITED, which I was more than happy to find, in the first place because this is a comics shop where WASTELAND cannot typically be found (to the point where one clerk hadn’t even heard of it, or thought it’d been cancelled, and there were literally some older issues sitting on a rack in the store). A tiny but devoted readership keeps the comic around, and clearly by some strange coincidence this particular trade collection in the store that day.

Printed back in 2009, TALES OF THE UNINVITED brings together several of the interlude chapters from an otherwise continuing arc, specifically issues #7, 14, 20, and 25, covering backstory elements that otherwise still convey the scope, sweep, and feel of the series as a whole. (On 7/12, BOOK 6: THE ENEMY WITHIN will become available, and conveniently continues the feel of these issues, with spotlight stories for a number of key characters that also continues the overall arc.)

I began reading WASTELAND back when I was still living in Burlington, MA, the place of my comic book rebirth thanks to Newbury Comics, which carried the early issues, and to which I’ll be forever grateful. When I moved to Colorado Springs, I quickly learned the WASTELAND love was not universal. Escape Velocity, then known as Bargain Comics, seemed to have given up on it fairly quickly, and Heroes & Dragons never had it, either. Eventually, I picked up BOOKS 2-4, which helped catch me up, and I started ordering the series through Midtown Comics, one of the greatest perks and justifications of an otherwise financially ill-advised continuation of my comics obsession. Because the issues were always released sporadically, I didn’t often remember just how much I loved WASTELAND, and until that fateful appearance at Escape Velocity, I might have forgotten entirely, or nearly so, which would have been criminal.

Simply put, and without equivocation, WASTELAND is one of the great comic books. The title I chose for this column is a deliberate one. Once you’ve read this series, you’ll realize how much it has in common with WATCHMEN. Its strong sense of character, and the way those characters are strategically utilized, are extremely familiar to the way Alan Moore wrote his most famous work, but as an ongoing series, that experience is able to develop all the more grandly. I don’t want to say outright that WASTELAND is better than WATCHMEN, but I wouldn’t have that hard a time convincing myself, anyway.

One of the things that the Image revolution accomplished was making it more acceptable, and easier, to develop and sustain independent comics that didn’t feature superheroes, and while a great many people seem to have interpreted it as a kind of mandate to then repudiate the work of DC and Marvel entirely, I’ve found it more difficult to believe that the comics most worth reading are provided on a consistent basis by any other companies. There’s a history and tradition that has become inherent to superheroes that few writers are able to master without them. If comics are to be released as an ongoing series of issues and collections, why should I care as much about something that lacks these essential attributes? What truly ends up separating them from experiences I can have in other mediums?

Where some have embraced a book like THE WALKING DEAD as a phenomenon worth lauding and celebrating and translating to other mediums, I see only an extended interpretation of Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD, with zombies. I can read a better version of that in the Marvel adaptations of Stephen King’s THE STAND, without zombies, without a trendy gimmick. Besides, DC has been doing a remarkable job of exactly this kind of work for years. Y: THE LAST MAN is a better version of THE WALKING DEAD. And very few comics, with superheroes or otherwise, are capable of competing with the achievement of Neil Gaiman’s SANDMAN.

That’s where WASTELAND comes in. It’s that good. It’s that important. That’s why it needs so much more awareness than it gets. Antony Johnston, and regular artist Christopher Mitten, accomplish this in a kind of vacuum, in black and white (#25 is a rare exception, and even then, its color is still stylized, calculated), with very little recognition. There are blurbs from critics on the book covers, but apparently those opinions have amounted to nothing. This is a book that should dominate all the comics awards. Every reader should at least be aware of it.

If only that were the case.

Just to give you a tiny taste of what you’re missing, and maybe in some friendlier context, one of the central characters is a drifter named Michael. Okay, so when I say “drifter,” I should maybe go back even further and explain the basic premise. WASTELAND takes place in a post-apocalyptic America, a hundred years after the “Big Wet,” and if it helps to explain it like this, when society seems to have reverted to a kind of Arabic communal, paranoid, culture. The book is described most basically as a sci-fi western. We become familiar with Michael when he makes the trip to Newbegin, a town steeped in its own mythology (ably represented in TALES OF THE UNINVITED), a story that has come to dominate the series.

Anyway, Michael is kind of like Wolverine, if Wolverine hadn’t become so popular as to become ubiquitous, diluted. He’s not a superhero, but maybe he has a few strands of DNA in common with Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name. Although he’s most often at the periphery, you almost want to keep reading just to see what he’ll do next. But there’s plenty of intrigue besides.

That’s WASTELAND. That’s the book everyone should be reading, should be talking about. With any luck, that can still happen.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Quarter Bin #10 "Superboy: Losin' It"

In the last edition of this particular column, I mentioned the work of Karl Kesel and Tom Grummett on the character of Superboy. Good timing, since this edition will be all about it, with a launching pad of:

SUPERBOY #25-30 (DC)
From March through August 1996.

I don’t know how many fans will recognize this detail, but these issues comprise the “Losin’ It” arc, something I was unlucky enough to miss the first time around. I don’t remember how or why, because I was definitely reading comics regularly at this point, but collecting this arc was an obsession for years. If you’re a Green Lantern fan, think of it almost like “The Sinestro Corps War,” something Geoff Johns had been building toward ever since GREEN LANTERN: REBIRTH, a story that resonated backward and forward in the grand design of a maestro.

“Losin’ It” might not sound like a terrifically dramatic title for such an important arc, but trust me, even after fifteen years, I was still thrilled, both to finally read it and while actually reading it, not out of some nostalgia, liking it because I always believed I would (and certainly not because a lot of people had constantly been raving about it, because that was simply not the case). For years I’d hoped DC would make a trade collection of it, to make it easier (and acknowledge its importance, I guess). I knew, though, that it was a foolish wish. Very few people ever held SUPERBOY in quite the same esteem I did. It was a necessary spin-off of an acclaimed and popular arc, a durable one that lasted a hundred issues (then again, so did the original AZRAEL), and even garnered a spin-off of its own (the even better SUPERBOY AND THE RAVERS, which I will at some point in the future obsessively document). It’s hard even these days to achieve something like that, unless you have “Bat,” “X,” or “Avengers” in your name (or you shamelessly hope to flood the market with Deadpool for god knows what reason). Still, there wasn’t a lot of respect, much less trade collections, even in SUPERBOY’s prime. (If you need any further proof of this, and discounting legal matters that had a hand in altering his fate, Superboy in short order lost his trademark costume and, even though his story drove the early issues of Geoff Johns’ TEEN TITANS, never seemed to seriously merit another run, and even when he finally did, all his previous continuity was completely ignored. Harsh.)

What great sin did Karl Kesel and Tom Grummett accomplish? Nothing short of excellence. “Losin’ It” concerns Superboy’s climactic tangling with Knockout, who would eventually stand reveal as a fugitive of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World, which alienates him from all his friends, especially Supergirl, who in those days was the source of an unrequited crush, someone he looked up to with almost as much fervor as Superman. His “S” shield was literally ripped from his chest! Aside from the Superman family of books themselves, Mark Waid’s THE FLASH, and Ron Marz’s GREEN LANTERN, no one was doing better character-based material. Okay, so I wasn’t reading James Robinson’s STARMAN. The point is, Kesel and Grummett were doing this with the least likely character imaginable, a punk kid who couldn’t seem to realize there was anyone else in the whole world besides him, who played fast and loose even with people he respected, and treated every girl as if they were just an inevitable conquest. It was Knockout, and “Losin’ It,” that changed everything. If you want to know how Superboy eventually developed the maturity to handle finding out he shared DNA with Lex Luthor, look no further. If Superboy’s editors at the time hadn’t laughed Geoff Johns out of the letters column at the time (seriously!), this would have been a natural for Kesel and Grummett to handle.

Sure, they began to take their Kirby fixation a little more seriously in later years (and darn if I wouldn’t mind DC allowing them to do so again, even if it has nothing to do with the Boy of Steel; Kamandi returned in the pages of COUNTDOWN TO FINAL CRISIS, after all), but they also helped launch the concept of Hypertime, which heralded the return of the multiverse. They could look backward and forward. They were always keeping their eye on the future of Superboy. Their run in its scope far exceeded the grasp of the continuity commentary that was Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley’s ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN.

And again, I have to point at “Losin’ It” as a prime example. (Before you actually track these issues down for yourself, let me just say for the record that I know Grummett didn’t provide the art for every issue. That’s beyond the point here.)

All of this is to say, Superboy demands more respect. Don’t make me explain it in greater detail…

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Whatever Happened to the Lex Luthor of Tomorrow?

I would call it something of an irony. No, not that I will be talking about yet another trip to Escape Velocity after I’ve “quit reading comics.” When DC unleashed INFINITE CRISIS some five years ago, it accompanied the event with a “One Year Later” gimmick across its line of titles, a chance for every character to reboot with a new starting point in the near future. I mention this in relation with the “Up, Up, and Away” arc that Geoff Johns and Kurt Busiek wrote for ACTION COMICS, a story that pitted Superman once again with his archnemesis Lex Luthor. Recently, within the pages of the same series, Paul Cornell brought Luthor through “The Black Ring” arc, and once again a defining showdown with the Man of Steel, culminating in ACTION COMICS #900. And then DC announced that it would be rebooting its entire line, this time from a newer, earlier starting point, in conjunction with another Geoff Johns event, FLASHPOINT.

Anyway, that’s the irony. Don’t know how many others have made that connection. Last time DC rebooted, it was Superman everyone wondered about. You know, Alan Moore’s classic “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” It’s nice to see Luthor at the center, since in many ways, he’s never seen better character work than in the past fives years, notably “Up, Up, and Away” and “The Black Ring,” of course, stories that not only justified his legendary rivalry with Superman, but pushed it to cosmic proportions, yet never forgetting that unlike his enemy, Luthor is just a man, someone driven so insane with jealousy that he can ignore a great deal, even a scenario that gives him all the power in the world, quite literally. That’s what you call understanding character. And where does he go from there, anyway? Where else but a reboot, so he can start all over again?

Only DC knows the specific details about what will actually happen at the end of the summer, so I won’t spend a lot of time speculating, and yes, I’m not technically, actively reading comics anymore, so why should it matter to me? Because I still like to consider myself as a champion of the medium. Comics have only gotten better, off the backs of WATCHMEN, THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, James Robinson’s STARMAN, Mark Waid’s THE FLASH, Neil Gaiman’s SANDMAN, Y: THE LAST MAN, Geoff Johns and Green Lantern, Grant Morrison and Batman. If you still choose to consider them as juvenile, then that’s your choice. That’s your loss. It’s the whole reason I can’t take manga seriously. Those are comics which are hopelessly lost in juvenile ideas. That’s their whole point. That’s why they’re synonymous with their animated counterparts, anime, and why American comics are better translated into live-action film, like THE DARK KNIGHT. Christopher Nolan can do Batman. I don’t think anyone would care to see him do NARUTO.

The unabashed excuse for this most recent trip to Escape Velocity was the second chance to read ACTION COMICS #900, both for the “Black Ring” conclusion and the already-controversial Superman-renounces-American-citizenship story, which as it turns out isn’t in Paul Cornell’s main story but one of a few celebratory shorts, and is from the hand of screenwriter David S. Goyer. The whole comic is exceptional, from Cornell and Pete Woods (on his final work with Superman, at least for a while), which both concludes their own story and segues into “Reign of the Doomsdays” (the eventual trades will probably help distinguish them) to the Goyer piece that is eerily prescient for the wave of revolution in the Middle East he couldn’t have fully appreciated when he was writing it, to a Geoff Johns and Gary Frank personal interlude (something they rarely had a chance to do when they were on the book) to excellent additional contributions from Damon Lindelof (exploring a little-considered moment in Jor-El’s famous story with Ryan Sook), Paul Dini (with an instant-classic that takes a far wider examination of Superman than almost anyone else has ever considered), and finally, Richard Donner, who proves he still has a keen understanding of the character he once emblazoned onto the big screen. I knew I wanted to read two of these stories, but all of them are better than anyone had a reasonable ability to anticipate. A strong contender for best single issue of the year.

Do I feel ashamed to have once again broken my vow? Well, considering that I successfully broke the regular habit, not at all. Even if I’ve read perhaps more comics this year than I technically should have, I figure it’s worth it, especially when something like ACTION COMICS #900 comes together. The rest is icing:

I’ve already mentioned my extreme interest in this one, my enthusiasm for clever alternate versions of familiar characters and situations. But reading this, which many readers and critics seem to have found very easy to either downplay or outright dismiss, is far, far better than I might have expected, too. The narrator comes out of leftfield, and makes the whole issue read even better than it does initially. Geoff Johns is becoming a true master, and this one may actually be his masterpiece.

RASL #10 (Cartoon)
Jeff Smith, meanwhile, continues his subtle storytelling in RASL, not a marked contrast from BONE so much as a welcome evolution of it, with most of the fuzzy layers entirely removed, but not the intrigue. In fact, that’s what this book is all about, a heady trip that proves endlessly fascinating, even though it’s a long wait between issues, especially for something this fascinating. I hate to keep using the same terms with completely different books, because it begins to seem as if I view everything the same way, and therefore diminishes the impact of all my opinions. But I like to read what I like, and if what I like doesn’t compel me to similar observations, then I’m just wasting my time, aren’t I?

KIRBY: GENESIS #0 (Dynamite)
Alex Ross has finally hit on his next great comic, and it’s been a long time coming. To my mind, he has only two great titles in his career, the big ones, MARVELS and KINGDOM COME, and everything else has simply been him attempting to milk the reputation he gained on those books, any way possible, any way necessary, and that was never more evident than with the generic material he worked on with PROJECT SUPERPOWERS. The problem was that he began believing that he was as much a part of the creative force that resulted in his two great works as all his supporters kept saying. That simply wasn’t the case. He needed substantial help to reach those levels, and he had it in Mark Waid and Kurt Busiek, the latter of which is back to help bring this ode to Jack Kirby’s legacy into reality. It also doesn’t hurt that, once again, though Ross isn’t providing the regular interior art on his own, he finally has someone worthy of making it look respectable, even sensational, in Jack Herbert. That was another failing of PROJECT SUPERPOWERS. In short, everything comes together nicely in this book. Should definitely be worth reading.

Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason worked magic in the pages of GREEN LANTERN CORPS, and were rewarded with another tandem assignment. Even though few readers were ever to likely care as much about this title upon Grant Morrison’s departure, Tomasi and Gleason are reason enough to justify keeping it around, no matter how much longer that actually is. The biggest question of the post-reboot DC line is what will become of everything that has developed with the Batman titles in recent years. Will Morrison get to finish his epic in a kind of pocket universe? I certainly hope so…

One of those indy books with a great level of buzz to it, and certainly enjoyable. But really, I can’t help but think of Image as a whole as something of a USA Network of the comics medium, where quirky diversions come to stay.

One of the deluxe reprints DC has been doing recently, in one-shot form, when the possibility of a standard trade isn’t particularly relevant. This one’s a real find, an alternate version of Superman from the mind of Howard Chaykin (but probably owes its return to the art of J.H. Williams III). Wondering what would become of Superman if he were to actually produce an offspring, this is truly fascinating, landmark material, almost a DARK KNIGHT RETURNS for the Man of Steel.

From here, a couple of not-necessary recent dollar reprints I decided to pick up:

HELLBLAZER #1 (Vertigo)
Circa the “What’s Next?” campaign inspired by the WATCHMEN film, a reprint that conveniently now allows me to sample John Constantine upon his recent return to the DC mainstream.

I KILL GIANTS #1 (Image)
Like L’IL DEPRESSED BOY, quirky material, satisfying and enjoyable, but still begs the question, if Image allows its creators complete freedom and this is the material they produce, doesn’t the company ever bang its head against the wall and wonder where all the truly epic, literary stuff might be? Sure, you can have your SPAWN, your WALKING DEAD, and all the fun comics you can shake a stick at, all the stuff fanboys say is “missing,” or simply isn’t superhero material, but I figure there should at least be some part that yearns for real posterity.

SERENITY #1 (Dark Horse)
For some reason, I’ve found it easier in recent years to support Joss Whedon’s FIREFLY franchise than when it was actually on TV, or the big screen, possibly because, in many ways, this is, well, Image material at heart. If Joss ever got out of his own way, he could produce truly great stories. But he still seems perfectly happy to be shackled by his own irony. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.