Thursday, July 28, 2011

Gone in a flash...!

The biggest news for me personally in recent weeks was that Borders, the company I’ve worked for over the past five years, has gone into liquidation. In a matter of months, it’ll have passed into history. There’re any number of things I could say about this, but for the purposes of this particular column, I’ll limit myself to comics experience I was able to enjoy during that time. Perhaps most notably, I found myself increasingly in charge of a small corner of the comics retail experience, quite by accident.

I began working for the company in the fall of 2006, opening a new store in Burlington, MA. At first, I as just another employee, and since this was the first time I had ever worked in a bookstore, it took time for me to establish a role for myself, to become comfortable. Some of my earliest contact with the comics in the store were the regular supply of new issues we received in our magazine shipments. I took care to manage these as best I could, but I also enjoyed reading them on breaks, which was a marvelously unique experience (I can’t imagine the wicked temptation working in an actual comics shop might kindle).

At some point, when it became necessary to reorganize certain areas that had gotten wildly out of order, I realized I could take control of the graphic novel collection, too. I became quite interested in this. I started reading a lot of those, too, some like DARK KNIGHT RETURNS and WATCHMEN that I was naturally aware of but had never actually experienced before.

Within about a year, I transferred to a different Borders after moving to Colorado Springs. Things were different here. The graphic novels hadn’t been maintained in any serious manner for some time, and I didn’t feel qualified to correct this right away. In time, however, I had enough support, the right moves were made, and I was finally able to bring them back under control. It was a greater revelation. The new order was perhaps a greater order than I’d accomplished in my other store, and I began to take greater pains to keep it so. I became, essentially, a guardian to the graphic novel collection, sometimes zealously so. The comics kept coming in with magazines, and at some point, I became sole guardian, as it were, of the magazines (somewhat more officially, it should be noted), and so was able to maintain the available issues at my leisure.

Retail can be a funny beast, sometimes completely unaware of the difference between supply and demand. Space was a constant issue, with the graphic novels. I had to innovate in order to find space for all of them. I began appropriating more and more display areas, all around the general area where comics were ordinarily be found. I became a fanatic. I didn’t exactly foster readers, but I at least made it easy for anyone to know what I thought might be worth checking out. It was fun. The displays continued to grow, and it became somewhat ridiculous (within reason). I had virtually turned a whole section of the bookstore into a comics shop. (If only I had real power! Or loyal customers!)

Anyway, then Borders went into bankruptcy, and for some reason or another couldn’t avoid liquidation. So there ends that.

Earlier this year, I had a fortuitously-timed employee appreciation discount when THE FLASH OMNIBUS BY GEOFF JOHNS VOLUME ONE was released. You may know this particular ditty comes at a fairly hefty price, oversized hardcover that it is, collecting more than a dozen comics. The period of 2000-2001, as readers of this blog may remember, was notable in my comics experience in that I was not, as such, reading comics, so Geoff’s run came at a time when I couldn’t really appreciate it. I was still high on all the work Mark Waid had done (even though his last story, involving Cobalt Blue in “Chain Lightning,” seemed to fall on deaf ears), and couldn’t imagine anyone else capturing the world of the Scarlet Speedster quite so vividly. I kept track of comics during my time away, though, and heard all these amazing things about what Johns was doing, and in 2004, when I was segueing back in, his FLASH comics were among the first things I read, even though I didn’t make an effort to be very expansive about it. Even by 2005, when I was officially back, I didn’t seem all that interested in following his efforts too closely.

Let me just step aside for a moment and note for the record that Geoff worked on THE FLASH for five years. This is incredibly unusual. Waid had about six years of interrupted time (by Mark Millar and Grant Morrison) on the title, and worked in conjunction with Brian Augustyn for some of that. Unlike his work on JSA, which he spent shared some of the work with James Robinson, Johns wrote THE FLASH on his own. It was his first big assignment after STARS AND S.T.R.I.P.E., the book that ushered Geoff’s comics career.

He’s been writing Green Lantern since 2005, and has so thoroughly revolutionized that character and the franchise around him that Hollywood finally took the gamble that a wide audience might actually be out there for a property even comics fans have only moderately cared about (for the most part). Geoff’s work in this regard is exactly comparable to what Mark Waid did with The Flash.

So what exactly did Johns did with the same character? THE FLASH OMNIBUS is a clear indication that he had no intention of replicating Waid’s work. He de-emphasized the mythology of the Speed Force and Wally West’s considerable family of speedsters (though in Geoff’s own TEEN TITANS reboot Bart Allen receives a remarkable upgrade that no other writer has been able to capitalize on, with the possible exception of Marc Guggenheim), and instead found a way to represent the reality of life for someone whose main attribute is the ability to run really fast. In effect, now that Waid had matured Wally, Geoff was able to push him into his own confident adventures.

In another departure from Waid’s impulses, Johns chose to bring villains squarely back into the fold, new ones, figures who were familiar from stories that predated Waid in the same series, but most notably the Rogues, characters who had been famous foes of Barry Allen, the second Flash, but who had basically remained dormant for decades. Geoff infused Captain Cold, Weather Wizard, Mirror Master, and others with a considerable of amount of depth that exploded their possibilities, something clear from the very beginning, though he himself wouldn’t fully realize the potential of all this for a few years. For an outsider, it seemed like he was losing himself in everything but his main character. In reality, Geoff understood better than anyone the potential of what he was writing.

A lot of commentators like to say that he prefers to resurrect old ideas at the expense of newer ones, that he’s guilty of submerging the future of comics in a fanboy’s fantasy that forever chains it to the past, limiting the potential for new readers. He brings back Barry Allen after a few decades, reversing one of comics’ seemingly permanent and perfect deaths, and forgets completely about Wally. Where’s the sense in that? The fact is (the Flash Fact), Geoff understands Barry as a character, and has done more with a few stories than most writers working for years will ever accomplish with other characters, realizing the heart of their potential. He found a narrative, a singular voice, for Barry, that had been overlooked before, wasn’t even possible given the style of storytelling when Barry was last in action. If you’ve got that, why worry about anything else?

As I attempted to do, prematurely, a few months back, I bought some comics from Borders, from the last rounds that will ever be delivered, and so will round out this week with my thoughts on those:

Cover date July 2011.

Somewhat appropriately enough, the final issue of the current FLASH series, with Johns at the helm, leading directly into FLASHPOINT, the first time the franchise has carried a major crossover event. With details having emerged about the “New 52,” we now know that Geoff has technically ended his run with The Flash, once again, at least for now, which is something of a disappointment, but it can’t be said that he hasn’t devoted a significant amount of his career with one Scarlet Speedster or another. I spent five years working for Borders, and Geoff spent five years writing Wally West. I know how that time passed for me. I can only imagine what it’s like to write a single series for that length of time.

Cover date July 2011.

I made a conscious effort to refrain from reading or collecting any of the “War of the Green Lanterns” comics in recent months, knowing that if I read any of them, I will probably want to read all of them, and since I’m “not” reading comics these days, I wanted to wait until the eventual collection to read this latest epic. Well, this was a good enough excuse to break that rule. As far as I can tell, it’s a more than appropriate arc to finish on (at least to the “New 52” fresh start), and works extremely well with GREEN LANTERN AND PHILOSOPHY, a book that was released in conjunction with the new movie, and which deals at some length with the work Geoff has been doing in developing the core concepts of the franchise.

BATMAN #711 (DC)
Cover date August 2011.

I’ve heard some people refer to Tony Daniel as a hack writer. Those who have been following this blog know that I think otherwise. I’m extremely glad that he’ll have the chance to continuing creating Batman stories in DETECTIVE COMICS come September. He has all the potential to succeed Grant Morrison as the next architect of the Dark Knight.

Cover date March 2011.

Okay, so I didn’t always notice when a series stopped shipping. Toward the end, we received fewer and fewer new comics. I liked to maintain as full a rack as possible, and so that’s why this book stuck around for so long. Which is just as well, because it becomes my only real experience with J.T. Krul’s Titans, which famously integrated Damian as a member. A fairly decent experience, overall, but not really on par with Geoff’s, or Marv Wolfman’s. There is, however, a nice moment where Bart Allen remembers the death Marc Guggenheim was editorially directed to end his run with, which is a nice touch, given what I’ve written earlier.

SPIDER-GIRL #4 (Marvel)
From April 2011.

Along with “One Moment in Time,” “Grim Hunt” was an excellent representation of a mature Spider-Man, so I kept this particular comic around since it was basically a follow-up I kept hoping customers would snatch up. They never did, obviously, but that just allowed me to, finally.


This one was only shipped a few weeks back, and is a repackaging of #s 574 and 587-588 of the series recently replaced by FF, including the famous conclusion to “Three,” and therefore the infamous death of Johnny Storm. I wrote about that particular issue a few months back, and my opinion of its individual worth remains basically the same (the lack of emphasis on Johnny is baffling, except to say that his death was somehow a completely natural outcome of the story, at least in Jonathan Hickman’s eyes). The difference is that this special edition puts the whole thing into a far better context. The Fantastic Four were always something of a Marvel indulgence, a willingness to believe that it somehow made sense that these four characters really did make sense as superheroes, and not just as a makeshift family. Reed Richards, even in the movies, is portrayed as a little too singularly motivated by his pursuit of science for this to completely jive, so the forging of the Future Foundation and a complete break with its origins is actually something of a genius move on the part of Hickman. If other writers actually maintain and expand on the idea, it might even make sense! So I was glad to have had the opportunity to buy this one, certainly.

The fate of Borders, in the end, simply adds a new wrinkle into the continuing evolution of my comics experience. But things are always changing…

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Quarter Bin #13 "Grant Morrison's Back Pages"

I’ve been writing about my experiences reading and following comic books throughout the year, and have touched on my devotion to DC and relative aversion to Marvel, and some of the reasons why. I guess this column might explain a little more about that, and why it came to be.

As I’ve noted before, I didn’t actually start out following superheroes by reading comics. I watched them on TV originally, from the Adam West BATMAN to SPIDER-MAN AND HIS AMAZING FRIENDS to SUPER FRIENDS to THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO to THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERBOY. Some were cartoons, some were merely cartoonish, some were original concepts, some were interpretations of established material. Sometimes an action figure would come with a comic book, but my experience with superheroes was almost exclusively on the screen rather than the page. One Christmas I got some ACTION FORCE comics (repackaged G.I. JOE, in other words). My sister somehow came into possession of THE DEATH OF CAPTAIN MARVEL graphic novel, and a very impressionable younger version of myself was completely blown away. Jason Todd made the newspaper when readers were given the chance to kill off Robin, a character I was familiar with, but not as much as I thought.

In other words, I became enamored with and involved in the concept, but not the reality. In many ways, that’s the DC recipe. Every generation of DC readers seems to have its own starting point (which will soon include the “New 52,” come September). It does tend to anger longtime readers (even the second Robin, only a few years into his career, experienced a radical reboot thanks to CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, which probably led directly to his infamous destiny), but it creates endless possibilities, comics that carry unexpected depth, creators who constantly have the opportunity to push both themselves and the medium. We would never have had WATCHMEN if DC hadn’t absorbed another company into the fold, and Alan Moore been given the opportunity to play with a few new characters (in a roundabout way).

Marvel doesn’t really have that. Fans are expected to care about the same characters in much the same context for decades, and while that has inarguably created the most loyal fanbase in comics, it’s resulted in homogenous stories that rarely push the envelope, even when that’s the point of the current storyline. (Ironically, DEATH OF CAPTAIN MARVEL may be the only Marvel story to ever fulfill such an ambition.) Readers invariably find superhero adventures in a strictly comic book sense, the stereotype everyone expects, and the movies that result invariably reflect exactly that kind of storytelling, even when they try (the X-Men franchise) not to.

Grant Morrison famously broke the fourth wall during his acclaimed run on ANIMAL MAN, a classic DC character who at that time was published through the Vertigo imprint. Morrison’s most famous Marvel work was with NEW X-MEN, which was basically repudiated the minute he left the company. His mutant work was a kind of extension of the superhero comics he did with JLA, widescreen storytelling that pushed the boundaries of past glory and made way for future greatness (in other words, the DC mandate). For whatever reason, Marvel experimented with it for a few years, and then went back to what it does best. I’m not saying there isn’t real talent, in the past or present, at the House of Ideas. I would suggest that this talent is relentlessly constrained by a creative mandate that routinely shatters potential in favor of what can best be described as the comfort factor.

There are some back issues I’m getting around to talking about, that serve as the crux of this argument. The first of these is by all accounts an almost throwaway experience I stumbled upon by accident, during a random search in Midtown’s online catalogue for Morrison material:

From August 1990.

It’s the final issue of a series that recounted the, well, secret origins of DC characters, a tradition that’s continued throughout the years, in one form or another, most recently in backup features for weekly comics 52 and COUNTDOWN TO FINAL CRISIS. The letters page for the issue serves as much as a memoriam for a cancelled book as a testament to the opinion at the time that the series really had run its course, which is incredibly strange to me, because out of the six stories within it, there are two that were timeless enough that I couldn’t believe my luck at having basically rediscovered it twenty years later. The second is the Morrison piece, but the lead is a prose effort from Dennis O’Neil which revisits Dick Grayson’s Haley Circus days.

Marvel partisans like to boast about two things, that the origins of their favored heroes are distinctive, and that those heroes are invariably uniquely identifiably human. What they tend to ignore is that DC started that same trend earlier. They like to try and obscure this fact by proclaiming Superman to be unapproachably alien, even though his Kansas connection has always been stressed more than his Kryptonian, or that Batman is a fortunate son of unobtainable privilege, even though he’s always been portrayed more as a tortured soul than as a trust fund elitist. These “World’s Finest” scraped together their current lives from personal journeys almost more epic than anything they will ever experience as crime fighters. Fans actually hated SPIDER-MAN 3 because it delved too deeply into Peter Parker’s angst, and the complicated nature of his origins. There’s a reason Christopher Nolan crafted BATMAN BEGINS the way he did. Bruce Wayne is more interesting to him than the Dark Knight.

Dick Grayson is a character who’s been around for decades, and the longer he’s been around, the less relatable his origins have become. I suspect fewer kids in the 21st century dream about running away to the circus than those in the 20th. Yet his story remains intriguing, the more writers have had to explain the appeal (even recent TV shows like HEROES and THE CAPE have tried, in their own ways), as they’ve begun grafting a separate narrative, Deadman’s past, onto it (notably in FLASHPOINT, but also Chuck Dixon’s NIGHTWING: YEAR ONE). I’ve got a great ambition of my own, to attempt my own version.

Then Grant Morrison reinterprets the famous “Flash of Two Worlds” story, which is a more direct version of that same archetype, reconnecting a new generation to a seminal yet increasingly distant milestone. At its heart is the meeting between the first two men to assume the identity of The Flash, Jay Garrick (Golden Age) and Barry Allen (Silver Age). Jay was, when this story was originally presented, a fairly generic member of a lost generation, while Barry literally represented a new one, having personally ushered it upon his introduction. Symbolically, the two inhabited twin cities, one of which had mysteriously vanished years ago. Barry crossed the divide, met his inspiration, and basically introduced the multiverse, a version of DC which embraced different eras side-by-side. Heroes that had been well-known during WWII but who had been discarded over time, most of whom were members of the Justice Society, came back, and their absence had to be explained. The more years that passed, the harder this became. Quite notably, the Society is absent from the “New 52.” I wonder if DC isn’t planning a new version of history to explain it all over again.

Anyway, the most clever aspect of Morrison’s version is that he tells it in the form of a child’s experience of this meeting (we find out later that this narrator is in fact Gar Logan, future Beast Boy of the Teen Titans, who operates alongside Wally West, the eventual third Flash). Kurt Busiek chose a reporter in MARVELS, but it’s Morrison, in this comparatively obscure comic, who truly understands the best possible perspective for such a tale (it might be argued that JOE THE BARBARIAN is his recent attempt to tell this story all over again, in a bit more literary style). The boy isn’t really impressed with superheroes until he goes along for the wild ride himself. Morrison himself has represented for me the ideal comic book writer, perhaps because I experienced superheroes first on the screen rather than the page. I understood the basics long before I read comics. I wanted to be dazzled when I finally did. Grant Morrison understands dazzle. That’s what he does. He doesn’t necessarily do superheroes (which is why most of his early work didn’t really feature them, and why his current work does), but stories that expand the possibilities of his craft. Once he caught everyone up on his style, he could do whatever he wanted, and readers would pay attention. Clearly a lot of readers don’t understand it, which is why for every fanatic there’s someone who claims he’s simply overrated. Even those who love him don’t uniformly get him. They recognize that he’s doing something special, but probably couldn’t explain him if they tried.

There’s also:

SEBASTIAN O #s 1-3 (Vertigo)
From May-July 1993.

Morrison has a reputation for being subversive, which you can understand if you’ve at least sampled THE INVISIBLES or THE FILTH. Perhaps his most concentrated effort in this regard is SEBASTIAN O, which is like his version of V FOR VENDETTA, about a cultural deviant who is actually quite deeply culturally immersed, attempting to wake people up, destroy corruption, even if the reaction he invariably finds is at best confusion. It would have made an excellent satire a decade later, when homosexuals finally started to creep into the mainstream, but Morrison is someone who has consistently skirted widespread awareness (which is probably okay by him), been just on the other side of the zeitgeist. I like to think his breakthrough is inevitable, and that his legacy will eventually eclipse Alan Moore’s, even though just at the moment it seems unlikely.

If Sebastian isn’t good enough, there’s:

From September 2004.

Part of a series of tribute books honoring the legacy of then-recently deceased iconic editor Julie Schwartz, Morrison writes Adam Strange, an intergalactic hero and perfect match for Morrison’s gonzo style, for one of several stories in the one-shot. It’s a wonder, or perhaps a gift for those who read this comic, that other than 52, he hasn’t otherwise worked with the character. More than the outsized possibilities of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World, Strange is a character uniquely suited to Morrison’s sensibilities, and has rarely been handled so perfectly.

Taken together, these are comics Grant Morrison won’t often by identified with, but are perfect examples of his unerring gift to elevate the medium at every opportunity, comics that also serve to illustrate the potential DC has consistently strived for and in fact accomplished through the years. Most of this blog talks about DC comics, so you know that I read plenty of those, but I don’t always get to write about Grant, even though he has become my favorite comics writer.

The good news is that I’ve got plenty of other Morrison comics to write about.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Capping The Cape

Maybe I don’t have a lot of right to do this, because I’ve been writing this blog throughout 2011, and THE CAPE had its brief run during this time, but I’d like to take this opportunity for another spirited defense of an overlooked superhero gem.

To understand how THE CAPE failed for NBC this past season, you probably have to understand how HEROES gradually became a failure, after starting with a bang back in 2006. HEROES was the next big genre TV hit after LOST became a sensation a few season earlier. You have to remember that by the 2006 season, LOST had started to grate on some viewers by refusing to give its answers quickly, and this was before the 2007 season, which was famously truncated by the writers’ strike. When HEROES came around, it seemed prepackaged with all the answers needed to retort the genre, big-concept questions LOST had raised, telling a complete arc over the course of its first season, which gained more buzz and acclaim as it went along. Exactly how that momentum was, ahem, lost over the course of the next three seasons is usually explained by a growing complacency and lack of genuine inspiration. Not being a partisan of usual public opinions, I’ve had other ideas. In fact, I grew to love the show more the longer it was on. But the fact remains, viewers became tired of this particular approach to superheroes on TV, and NBC’s thought process, by the time THE CAPE was announced, became a little obvious.

THE CAPE was basically the reverse of HEROES (just as HEROES had kind of been the reverse of LOST). Where the characters on HEROES never wore costumes and the villains were never permanently pegged as such (much to the chagrin of those who became tired of Sylar), THE CAPE had a costume almost from the start, and an archenemy sooner. In many ways, THE CAPE was less an answer to HEROES and more a continuation of the experiment begun by THE FLASH two decades earlier, an expertly conceived and produced superhero adventure, with most of the sensibilities most people think of from this particular genre. Like Dick Tracy and Batman, THE CAPE developed a rich rogues gallery, even within the abbreviated time it had, relying not just on the main heavy, but introducing many more, with varying roles.

How exactly this failed so utterly and swiftly is no real surprise. Like THE FLASH before it, THE CAPE asked a great deal of its audience, to accept tropes most of them had already avoided by not reading comics in the first place, asking for a commitment and to believe and accept certain leaps of faith that usually require something extraordinary, some spark either in casting or concept, that’s not necessarily related to the property itself. And even then, a cult following is needed almost instantaneously, or a convenient connection to the cultural zeitgeist. I could explain all that with examples, or simply say THE CAPE obviously had none of it. All NBC thought it needed was HEROES without the HEROES mindset, which is not exactly what Tim Kring was thinking when he saw the opportunity LOST created, just as SMALLVILLE didn’t come into existence simply because of “No Flights, No Tights.”

Anyway, I keep getting carried away. I like comparative analysis, obviously. The point is, THE CAPE is far better than its failure suggests, more nuanced, far cooler, entertaining almost to a fault. Sometimes it even takes itself a tad too flippantly. And the groundwork is laid in every episode for something greater, a rich tapestry that would have been something truly special, if the opportunity had been there.

I’m taking the liberty to talk about it because THE CAPE was released on DVD last week, and so those who overlooked it originally have a second chance, and this is a show that rewards dedicated viewing. You’ll see how the writers reveal that Orwell is Peter Fleming, a.k.a. Chess’s daughter well before they do (and well before the show ever had the chance to truly cash in on this connection). You’ll even see how Vince Faraday’s boy hangs out with Goggles’ son, without anyone ever calling attention to it. You’ll marvel at how awesome Vinnie Jones is as Scales. If this is the show’s legacy, then it is already a good one. Like THE FLASH before it, you won’t care that practically nobody cared about THE CAPE. Because you will. And it only means TV will have a chance to do it again, because now another fan will have something to work off of, a predecessor, a precedent.

To round out this week’s feature, I’ll discuss the comics I bought at Escape Velocity over the course of two visits. I get to talk about GREEN LANTERN, the movie, because DC has been supporting it a great deal, sometimes in ways that weren’t so obvious. Like THE CAPE, there’s success even in failure, so long as there are those willing to embrace material that rewards those who cared.

First, we visit with the one series I’ve tried to continue following in 2011, Grant Morrison’s continuing Bat-masterpiece. These particular issues continue to reward the long-time reader, with the first one being a kind of status marker for the whole journey, while the second is an exceptional example of the work Grant’s been doing with this series in particular; it’s like SCALPED on crack, or if you haven’t read that Vertigo series but have noted Native American writer Sherman Alexie, like a superhero version of THE LONE RANGER AND TONTO FIST-FIGHT IN HEAVEN. (It’s even more awesome than it sounds.)

Judd Winick doesn’t get a lot of respect, except from DC, which has not only retained him as a writer despite that, but cherished the groundbreaking work he’s done for the company, notably with the character of Jason Todd, whom he revisits for the conclusion of a three-issue guest stint in this title.

Gotta say, I’m really loving FLASHPOINT, Geoff Johns’ continually masterful grasp of character. We all know by now that this event book is basically his goodbye to Barry Allen, but he’s making up for whatever hard feelings that might have to those who wish he could’ve repeated his Hal Jordan magic by giving Barry’s his biggest-ever story. For a character who was killed off almost three decades ago, , was best known for ushering the Silver Age, a rogues gallery, and not even for an innovative trial that was well ahead of its time, this is perhaps more remarkable than anything Johns has done with the Green Lantern franchise. He’s succeeded in making Barry a compelling character with a story that is distinctively his own, whatever the context. And to then spin variations of known characters around this, especially the big revelation of what happened to Superman in this reality, that’s far more than anyone could have expected, no matter the hype.

The Rogues were well-established before Geoff Johns broke into comics, but it might be argued that no one has done as much for them as he has for the past decade, and FLASHPOINT seems designed to do even more, especially this book, which finally gives one to an individual member. Scott Kolins further proves his elevation as a creator on this one.

Given that Deadman, after starring in BRIGHTEST DAY, and Dick Grayson, after starring in half the Batman titles the past couple of years, are among the “losers” of the DC reboot, this one’s perhaps more important than it would have otherwise been, and maybe specifically intended to be a kind of consolation gifts for their fans.

I somehow knew from the moment I read about the Flashpoint titles, that I would find this one intriguing. I suspected, unless the character were somehow a variation of a character I hadn’t been thinking about at the time, that Cricket was a new creation for the event, and we know that I love to give new characters their due. “Canterbury Cricket” was beyond unusual. Well, Mike Carlin confirmed my faith, easily. Needless to say, I hope Cricket finds his way into the DC Universe proper.

Okay, so the titles are a little repetitive, but obviously these are the books I was talking about earlier. Two of them have a direct connection to the movie, while the others have an unexpected link, and serve as a testament both to the movie and Geoff Johns’ work with the franchise over the last five years. Before it, there’s no doubt Hal’s involvement would have been different, and it’s doubtful that Abin Sur would have been involved at all. You have things like Darwyn Cooke’s NEW FRONTIER that also embraced Hal’s character seriously, but otherwise Hal’s importance, and his backstory, have mostly been downplayed over the years. The movie prequel Hal book is as close to an adaptation as DC and Warner Brothers have apparently considered. That’s both the blessing and curse of the strong SECRET ORIGIN tie-in. I figure the movie’s success, as I’ve suggested, could’ve been greater if fans other than of comics could have seen the scope before walking into the movie theater. But there’s always next time.

The more “Grounded” (and “Odyssey” over in WONDER WOMAN) dragged on, the less interesting it became. So it’s good that there’ve been interludes, even completely unscheduled ones like this issue, which resurrects a lost Kurt Busiek tale involving Krypto (who has a grizzly cameo in FLASHPOINT #3, by the way) and the aftermath of Superboy’s death during INFINITE CRISIS. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Busiek’s run on SUPERMAN from a few years back (though stories like “Third Kryptonian” were enough to convince me his take wasn’t completely alien to my Man of Steel sensibilities), but this is a nice reminder of the many things that’ve been missing from Superman comics recently.

That’s all for this time. I swear (I swear!) that this recovering comics addict hasn’t completely relapsed, that these trips to Escape Velocity really were basically anomalous (I really only want to read the final two issues of FLASHPOINT now, and hope that my finances are better in September so I don’t miss out on all the potential awesomeness).

In conclusion, let us also begin the hype for Frank Miller’s HOLY TERROR!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Comics Reader Special: 52 Pickup

As everybody should know by now, DC is rebooting its entire line in September. Longtime readers will find this somewhat familiar (Zero Month following ZERO HOUR, naturally), but the observation that a lot of people seem to be missing, or maybe I’m just not reading closely enough, is that the biggest news here is that the lineup won’t necessarily be interconnected anymore. Some of these series are continuing from titles and characters as you might have known them in August, where others are clearly going with a fresh start. That’s a fair bit more radical than the reboot itself, given that DC, even with frequent company-wide crossovers that’ve sometimes led to reintroductions (with MAN OF STEEL being the most famous example) has pretty much stayed with the same basic status quo since the dawn of the Silver Age (with various explanations eventually adopting the Golden Age into that mix from an otherwise clean break that allowed Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman to continue leading the charge). DC hasn’t exactly been Marvel, which has more or less maintained every one of its stories from the introductions of all its characters to remain in continuity, but with one Crisis or another, great pains have been taken in the past to explain how everything fits neatly together.

Well, not anymore! How this actually works in reality versus how it reads now, not to mention whatever impact the conclusion of FLASHPOINT has, won’t really be known until September. This is no Heroes Reborn, though. Every single series is starting from scratch.

Of course, for readers of any particular series, all that’s almost beside the point. Most readers will never read every title; never have, never will. DC’s ambition is to give every potential reader something interesting to discover, and with a selection this wide, it’s a good bet that the success rate will be pretty okay. Every series seems to have a fairly substantial premise, which is a good thing, either an established legacy or some unique hook, rather than multiples and duplicates of a given theme seeking to dominate through numbers and popular trends. Yes, there are a lot of Batman titles. Green Lantern is represented widely, and so is the name “Justice League.” (One of the biggest losers of the reboot is the Justice Society, and then maybe Tim Drake.)

For me, I found the mix of creators to be pretty interesting, almost exactly as intriguing as the titles and characters involved. Without further adieu, a ranked listing, from the series I’m salivating to read, to those I probably could do without…

This is the no-brainer winner for me, Superman written by Grant Morrison. Actually, any title written by Morrison would have found itself in this spot, but the Man of Steel and Morrison have done well by each other (ALL STAR SUPERMAN, FINAL CRISIS: SUPERMAN BEYOND) in the past. Superman hasn’t been written with consistency since Geoff Johns was on this title. He’s due for the flagship position again.

When you’re at the threshold of a fresh start, you always want to find that one title that captures all the potential of this creative surge. Mister Terrific (who has at least one classic story behind him, “The Fourth Reich” from the pages of JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA) is exactly the kind of character poised to capitalize on this opportunity. He’s been around for about a decade, but he’s been a kind of buried secret for most of that, and as a more cerebral character than superheroes are usually known for being, and with almost exactly only that going for him, he’s got a lot to prove, just like the whole reboot. I don’t have a lot of history with writer Eric Wallace, but artist Roger Robinson has been a favorite for years, and I’ve been waiting for him to find that one project that finally puts him into the spotlight. DC has J.G. Jones on covers, so you know right there that I’m not the only one with expectations.

This is seems to be the one title DC is holding close to the vest. Other than the creative team (Geoff Johns and Doug Mahnke), there is very little known about the plans for this one. Given that it’s Geoff Johns, though, and the wave of momentum that he and the property, despite the relative failure of the movie, are still riding, it’s a can’t-miss.

I didn’t really read Milestone back in the day, and I’ve never seen the cartoon series that really put this character on the map. I’m excited for this one because of Scott McDaniel, a creator I’ve been following for more than a decade, and who I’m glad has stuck with DC long enough to perhaps have found his next great project.

No offense to Geoff Johns and other creators who’ve worked on this character in the past decade, but Superboy never worked better than in his earliest days, when he was a vibrant new concept, a knockoff Superman who eventually realized that he wasn’t even close to being Superman, and so settled into being himself. Scott Lobdell is mounting a big comeback in the DC reboot, and this is probably going to be his best bet for success.

I shouldn’t speak too soon! He’s also working on this one, which was easily the most pleasant surprise. I’m been clamoring for a Jason Todd book since last summer, when the Judd Winick LOST DAYS book came out along with the UNDER THE RED HOOD animated movie. Comics fans have a complicated relationship with resurrected characters, but regardless of the impact to “A Death in the Family,” which after all is now a generation or two in the past, bringing back Jason was one of the most brilliant moves possible, considering how much more he’s worth alive than dead, all the potential and implications of “Batman’s failure” being in play again. He’s been used so sparingly since, it’s only enhanced that potential. This is exactly the book those who’ve been waiting have been waiting for, especially the additions of Starfire and Arsenal into the mix. Wounded souls, outlaws, superheroes. This book has the chance to be revolutionary.

The Green Lantern books, like the Batman books, receive something of a shuffle, with Tony Bedard shifting into the “C” book (not in terms of quality, but so far as spin-off weight). I think the concept for this one, replacing the more generic EMERALD WARRIORS, works beautifully with the momentum Geoff Johns brought to the franchise, and just as well with Bedard’s mythology-rich approach.

I haven’t actually read a whole lot of Brian Azzarello, so this is more in testament to my faith in the concept, which weds the “Odyssey” arc with an actual reboot, which the title probably needed to begin with. Few writers seem to appreciate just how special Wonder Woman is, how strong the concept is, and what exactly to do with it. This one seems to understand all of it. If Azzarello nails it, the story of the reboot rests here.

DC has done surprisingly well with international concepts, even if its readers rarely seem to notice. Judd Winick, another underrated element of this book, is returning to the Batman family with another left field contribution.

Technically speaking, the flagship of the relaunch. It’s not that I don’t have faith in Geoff Johns or Jim Lee, both of whom are legends in the comics field, but that I can’t help but wonder how long either one will stick around, and how quickly all their work will come to naught. That’s the real tradition of the Justice League, as Grant Morrison and Brad Meltzer can attest. Johns stuck around the Justice Society for years, though. There’s a good chance he’ll repeat that here. If he does, we’ll at least have a really good book for a fair number of years.

Peter J. Tomasi somehow became one of DC’s elite writers without hardly anyone even realizing it, and the GL Corps is one of his signature projects.

I could’ve cared less for Blue Beetle as a member of the Teen Titans, or to a lesser extent, his role in JUSTICE LEAGUE: GENERATION LOST. Jaime Reyes is a strong standalone character with almost as strong as sense of the legacy he continues, which he’s broadly extended . Now he’ll be written by Tony Bedard. Happy to see this one as part of the lineup.

Written by Fabian Nicieza, who’s been doing some terrific work for DC, with art by Pete Woods, one of the least likely superstars in comics, based on a cult favorite story from the Legion’s past. This one’s a sleeper, but hopefully destined to be one of the best surprises of the reboot.

Paul Cornell takes something of a step back with the relaunch, but he’s still fairly prominent with this new take on a classic Wildstorm concept, with Martian Manhunter along for the ride. Should be interesting.

I don’t really know why Tony Daniel and Scott Snyder flopped books, but my allegiance remains with Daniel, who’s quietly establishing his own iconic take on the Dark Knight.

Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason are one of the classic creative teams at this point. It seems right that they get a chance to reboot their run on this book with a revamped pairing, rather than having to try and live up to Grant Morrison’s iconic original concept. Actually says a lot about them that they’ll get to handle to handle the reunion between father and son.

Hawkman’s had a number of series, but this feels like it’s the first one that attempts to follow the character in his most basic and appealing context. Happens to be written by Tony Daniel.

I have high hope that Paul Cornell will be able to unleash his full potential on a book like this, just completely cut loose.

Writer Mike Costa is half of the team that brought us the brilliant G.I. JOE: COBRA series, which eventually forced IDW to shape its whole Joe line around it. Seems like he’s going to be kicking it DC style this time.

Hate the art I’ve seen for the cover (sorry, Eddy Barrows!), but I have to stick by Dick Grayson, especially when the series seems to be taking a character approach, which is always good for this character. Still, he’s Nightwing again…?

Even if he apprenticed under Geoff Johns, Francis Manapul essentially has the same problem Johns has on JUSTICE LEAGUE: history. This book did not need a reboot so soon, and it really did not need to lose Johns so quickly. I expect either unexpected awesomeness, or another Flash book lost to deferred momentum.

Love Firestorm almost as much as Blue Beetle, but I wonder if the magic will be with this series as much as the last one.

I’ve been in awe of Michael Green since “Lovers and Madmen” from BATMAN CONFIDENTIAL, but he hasn’t really had a chance to shine since. This Supergirl reboot is kind of like the Superboy and Wonder Woman ones I’ve already written about, digging back into the core concept and seeing how vibrant it can really be. Sterling Gates wrote the character pretty well, but Supergirl probably shouldn’t be that identifiable, as least as reintroduced by Jeph Loeb (kinda wish he were involved in the reboot).

Long-announced, still a big question. Will these guys really make for an interesting series?

Paul Levitz is the master of the Legion. That much is pretty undeniable at this point. He was the Chris Claremont of the Legion before Claremont was the Claremont of the X-Men. Here he seems to be working with an even more clear break from previous continuities than before.

Kept getting delayed so long, DC finally figured out that this was the best possible opportunity to finally start publishing this book. Kate Kane and J.H. Williams III will always be worth the wait.

Less quirky than previous attempts at this kind of a team, and that will probably work in this book’s favor. The most Vertigo of the post-Vertigo projects. Might be another sleeper.

It’s surprising that with all the things DC has done with Animal Man in recent years, this is the first time he’s actually gotten another series. Sounds like Jeff Lemire got the concept right.

A lot of the appeal for Scott Snyder’s Batman was that he was using Dick Grayson. Will it work as well with Bruce Wayne?

Two Superman books, neither featuring a classic interpretation (making Geoff Johns pretty much the last writer to do so). George Perez has an uphill battle. Never-ending?

The most obvious spin-off from BRIGHTEST DAY is a tall challenge, but Geoff Johns is the most likely writer to figure out how to make this character compelling. If he can pull it off, he’ll have revolutionized DC all over again.

On the one hand, Booster Gold lost his own book. On the other, he’s the leader of the team! I’m glad Dan Jurgens is still in the mix, but I’m most excited to see just how August General in Iron (THE GREAT TEN) gets used, almost as excited that he’s being used at all!

Another character with a bad track record (J.T. Krul, however, seems to have figured everything out already). Assuming his momentum isn’t totally lost in this reboot, could stand a shot at redemption.

Will he be able to sustain a compelling series? J.T. Krul will find out.

A team and a book that has faded into irrelevance, and shockingly, Tim Drake’s only appearance in the reboot, the first time he hasn’t had his own book since 1993. Scott Lobdell has his greatest challenge with this one, but he could pull it off.

36. O.M.A.C.
Jack Kirby’s legacy makes it into the reboot, and it’s not with the New Gods! Dan Didio and Keith Giffen have their work cut out for them, with the unenviable task of finally making that whole OMAC thing DC’s been working on finally stick.

You can almost see “Witchblade” written on this one, given that Ron Marz has spent most of his recent comics past with that franchise. Could be awesome. Total mystery otherwise. A true “Zero Month” prospect.

There’s a cult of readers who salivated over this one like I did for Morrison and Superman. One of the best surprises of the relaunch. Not many characters like this receive a second chance, even one who has a hard time staying dead. (Hmm. Apparently quite literally.)

I know Alan Moore created his legacy with this character, but I’m still not all that convinced, having not read much of even that legendary run, that Swamp Thing makes a compelling character to follow.

This is a character who had a long-running series back in the 1990s, but that’s practically a lifetime ago. This might be awesome. Or it might be a huge mistake.

I kind of hate to say it, but I think I prefer Babs as Oracle. This feels unnecessary.

I loved Grant Morrison’s Frankenstein in SEVEN SOLDIERS OF VICTORY. But I’m not convinced he’s as awesome otherwise.

I’m still not convinced I should care about David Finch’s Batman.

Could be really interesting. Could be a huge waste of my time. These books tend to be cancelled on me far ahead of their time.

DC’s A-Team/Thunderbolts/Give-Me-a-More-Compelling-Set-up.

Dropping Grifter into this seems to be a little premature.

I don’t know. I loved Catwoman in Paul Dini’s Hush stories. But at least Judd Winick is doing this one. Could be more entertaining than I’m giving it credit for.

Black Canary paired with a new character has possibilities. The onus is on Starling to be interesting.

BRIGHTEST DAY gives and it takes. Sterling Gates and Rob Liefeld were not given the most posh assignment of the group. Hank Hall is a great character, but he’s a better villain than he is a hero. Unless this book quickly makes that transition, it’s kind of pointless.

Maybe this will be the western that makes westerns interesting. But I never really bothered with Jonah Hex before, either.

Kind of superfluous, after BLACKHAWKS.

I have nothing against this one, except the tradition of these anthology books falling apart after a time. Still, glad that Deadman gets to open the series. Should’ve gotten his own book, though…

All this translates to my gut instincts about the books I would absolutely want to read sight unseen, to those I wonder about, whether I would be interested upon seeing them, or if they have a realistic chance of remaining published in a year’s time. I’m no prognosticator, though, and clearly some of the ranks are based on my interests as they are now alone. One way or another, this is a list of fifty-two books, and has ambition written all over it. I applaud DC just for having the guts to do it.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Quarter Bin #12 "Blue Marvel"

One of the pitfalls of being a comics reader is that you can sometimes develop impulses that don’t always pan out. As some of the previous editions of Quarter Bin have indicated, I have an instinct to embrace obscure characters, superheroes other fans have all but ignored or dismissed, or just plain forgotten about. I look at them with a mixture of nostalgia and potential, for both what they’ve accomplished and represented in the past, and what they might still have to offer in future stories.

Comics readers often like to connect with other comics readers, to share their passions and opinions, to discover things they’ve previously overlooked. I’ve been a registered member of the Comic Book Resources forums for more than a year now (though “Tekamthi” only has about 200 posts to show for it). Every now and then, there’s a topic that intrigues me, such as when Blue Marvel was brought up.

Wait, so who’s Blue Marvel? The topic of this column, actually:

From January 2009.

Blue Marvel, as it turns out, is exactly the opposite of what I’ve been talking about. There certainly are a number of characters with great potential but very few comics to show for it, but Blue Marvel isn’t one of them. Maybe it’s the writing in the issue I tracked down, which seems to be written almost as a parody of generic comics, so bad you’re left to wonder if Kevin Grevioux weren’t in fact trying to establish a bold new hero but sabotage him.

Blue Marvel is a black superhero, and Lord knows there’s history enough with DC and Marvel struggling over how to do that. Most of the successes are variations on established characters. You also have someone like Black Panther, but I cannot for the life of me figure out why anyone would take him seriously. His name is “T’Challa,” and he hails from the African nation of “Wakanda.” If Marvel were to call do-over on any of its creations before seriously supporting them, Black Panther is that character. He’s as insulting as he’s supposed to be empowering. You also have Luke Cage, but the only way he’s ever been successful is either as a team-up buddy or as a member of Brian Michael Bendis’ Avengers (uh…one of them). I still don’t know exactly what his deal is, other than as the superhero equivalent of blaxploitation, Marvel’s Shaft. I’d take the company’s commitment to him more seriously if he’d at least had one ongoing series to his credit, just one attempt, or even an association slightly more positive than “Sweet Christmas!” Or maybe even a movie deal.

Hey, Blade had Marvel’s biggest success at the movies, to that point. Still doesn’t have his own series. Moon Knight gets more respect. Moon Knight!

Getting to the specifics of Blue Marvel is beyond the point. Not worth dignifying. At least DC has shown considerable support for its Milestone characters (Static might count as the most recent important new character for either DC or Marvel), despite apparent reader apathy. Mr. Terrific, who just about counts as the only version of that character worth mentioning, will be part of the big relaunch, with his first series. Very excited about that one.

Beyond the racial issues, which only compound the disappointment I have for Blue Marvel, I guess the point is, discovering the undiscovered can sometimes be more complicated than it seems. Sometimes a character is undiscovered for a reason, and for a creation like Blue Marvel, the reason is exceedingly obvious in hindsight. So for Comic Book Resources members, or for comics readers in general, let this one serve as a warning for this particular character. But keep the faith alive. Comics have plenty of treasures to discover.