Friday, December 28, 2012

2012 QB50

Every year since 2006 I've been presenting my picks for the best comics I read over the past year.  In 2007 it expanded to its present form of the QB50.  Since 2010 I've been presenting them here at Comics Reader, and apparently this is the only place that has had enough permanence where previous versions haven't been swallowed by the Rule of Internet Decline.

"QB" in this instance is a reference to the first comics column I wrote, "The Quarter Bin," which has since been converted here as a forum to examine back issues.  I don't pretend to have read every comic published, and increasingly so I've had to be selective about what I read, which means that more so than at any other point, if a comic is on this list, I've made a real commitment to it in recognition of its quality.

Without further adieu, the best of 2012:

1. Action Comics (DC)

Grant Morrison has a pretty good history in the QB50.  Last year he hit #2 with Batman Incorporated, #6 in 2010 with 18 Days, #6 in 2009 with Final Crisis, #1 in 2008 with Batman, and the same in 2007 and 2006 in the collaborative effort 52 (my favorite comic of the modern era).  That would be the reason he's got the shrine here, because Morrison has so consistently given me some of my favorite comic book memories.  Action Comics was not month-by-month the best comic I read, but it was the most consistently transcendent.  The above image comes from #9, which features a look at a parallel reality and is one of the best single issues of the year, followed closely by #15, which delves into the 5th dimension and the unexpected depth of Mxyzptlk.  Smaller moments that explored Clark Kent's life were also well worth savoring, including a temporary switch to Johnny Clark, as well as #0, which was an intimate look at the origin of the t-shirt and what happens when a kid steals Superman's cape.  All of it rewards faithful readers.  Morrison was ably supported throughout the year by backup writer Sholly Fisch, who also had a standout issue in #9 as well as #14, and gave perhaps the better Captain Comet story in the series this year in #0.  (Ranked 5th in 2011.)

2. Green Lantern (DC)

It's strange, because my appreciation for Geoff Johns' work in this series has grown over the years.  I've ranked it everywhere from 16th in 2006 to 19th in 2007 to 15th in 2008 and 2009 to 5th in 2010 to 6th last year.  Green Lantern as a property has been one of my favorites for as long as I've cared about superheroes.  The Ron Marz era (also known as the dawn of Kyle Rayner) was a favorite of the 1990s.  I've followed the Johns run since Green Lantern: Rebirth in 2004 and been fascinated by his expansion of the mythos ever since, and in fact increasingly so.  Yet it wasn't really until last year's New 52 fresh start, which in this series meant just a renumbering, that I began to feel Johns grow in confidence, perhaps because he shifted his focus away from Hal Jordan, who always seemed a reluctant lead, and onto Sinestro, who dragged Jordan around for the first year of the series.  #12, whose cover image graces us above, crystallizes Jordan's new status, and perhaps what Johns was inadvertently leading to since 2004, including Blackest Night, shifting the most famous Green Lantern into a new destiny (by now an old routine) and making way for Simon Baz, who with #0 began to shape his own.  While various spinoff series handle other things Johns has brought to the franchise, Green Lantern finally explored the Indigo Tribe, demonstrating yet again that there's plenty of material left to explore.

3. RASL (Cartoon)

Jeff Smith's second epic work (after Bone) came to an end this year, and was one of the series that I fought tooth and nail to read.  That's how I knew what my favorite comics were in 2012, the ones I absolutely had to read.  There were in fact only three issues released this year, and fifteen issues overall, making RASL a sparse experience no matter how you look at it, including in narrative, as Rob Johnson tries to undo the damage he caused by investigating the science of Nikola Tesla and trying like Tesla before him to find practical uses for it.  Sometimes the world simply isn't ready, and as Batman feared in The Dark Knight Rises will exploit in the wrong ways visionary new technology.  In Rob's case, this was a problem that involved parallel worlds, and a girlfriend he thought he lost but in fact was his opposite number.  The title, I should note, is an acronym for Romance At the Speed of Light.  Brilliant stuff, which will hopefully find a similar level of appreciation as Smith's more famous work.

4. The Shade (DC)

Last fall I was fascinated to learn that James Robinson was returning to the world of Starman (much as readers are fascinated this fall to learn Neil Gaiman will be returning to the world of Sandman, though that project is still a year away).  I felt compelled to read The Shade even though in truth I still haven't read the complete Starman.  Robinson can be a little hit-or-miss.  The Golden Age was an obvious hit.  I loved Cry for Justice.  His Justice League of America seemed run-of-the-mill.  Yet The Shade didn't just revisit Starman, a pioneering look at the superhero trajectory later featured in Ultimate Spider-Man and Invincible, but one of its most fascinating characters, the reformed villain, the gentleman fop once known as Richard Swift.  In fact the final issue gave readers his origin, but his life and career are explored throughout the series, with #5 featuring a dramatic uptick with the story of La Sangre, which continues for the next few issues.

5. Justice League (DC)

Johns again in the series that from the start of the New 52 last year read like a sensation to me, a monthly event book, which is to say Johns writing a monthly series the way he's written numerous event books (Infinite Crisis, Blackest Night, Flashpoint).  While the high drama and stakes of the early Darkseid arc gave way to more intimate threats such as Graves, the man who literally wrote the book of the League, the strong character work remained, most especially with Wonder Woman, on whom most of the action pivots, including a budding romance with Superman.

6. Saga (Image)

Easily the best new series of the year, this imaginative work from Brian K. Vaughan (also responsible for Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina, Runaways) and Fiona Staples was something that took me by complete surprise.  Perhaps I would have been forgiven to assume that it was just another overhyped indy book, because the indy scene specializes in overhyping itself, but not only was this from Vaughan but it turned out to be nothing like anything else he'd done, which is rare for any creator.  Okay, so it's a little like Y: The Last Man, but there are so many colorful characters and such a rich reality built around them, it really doesn't matter.

7. Wasteland (Oni)

I've been enjoying this series since 2006, and am still waiting for the rest of the comic book world to catch up.  At any rate, Antony Johnston is still writing it and still working toward the central revelation of the narrative, what happened and how it came to be.  In the meantime, 2012 was a very good year for new readers to catch up with Wasteland, as most of the plot points that have been featured since the beginning have been repeated but in more standalone context, leaving lead stars Abi and Michael to fascinate with their journey to rediscover the lost city of A-Ree-Yass-I, as well as who they are and why they have such unnatural lives.  I've been comparing Michael to Wolverine since the beginning.  This is like returning to the days before Origin and seeing the character explored, from the start, more deliberately.

8. Batman Incorporated (DC)

It's funny that Grant Morrison's Batman has become so low-key, since for years it was the buzz of the comic book world.  That's probably thanks to Scott Snyder.  Since relaunching earlier this year, Batman Incorporated has slowly drawn the strings of Morrison's story together, and appropriately enough it all comes back to Damian and his mother Talia, daughter of Ra's al Ghul.  The current Robin has been a target throughout this run, which has made his father overprotective, which as you might expect Damian doesn't take well.  #2 serves as a handy recap for anyone who has no idea who Talia is or how she can be the ultimate threat in Morrison's saga, while the international heroes who are represented in the title make a comeback in #0.

9. Cobra (IDW)

Mike Costa might not seem like an impressive name to readers only familiar with his DC effort Blackhawks, but he's been writing one of the best comics in the market for years, and that's Cobra.  For anyone who appreciates rich character work and an expansive look at the G.I.Joe mythology, this has been your series and you may simply not have known it.  The above image comes from #17, which focuses on the familiar Major Bludd, who has been at the center of recent developments, though plenty of Cobra agents, past, present and perhaps future, have been involved in the events that presently find us in Russia with the Oktober Guard.  Early in the year Chuck Dixon wrote the annual that introduced the new Cobra Commander, part of a franchise crossover event necessitated by the last one's assassination in these pages.

10. Saucer Country (Vertigo)

I've been slow to embrace Paul Cornell as one of my favorite writers, but he's been producing some of my favorite stuff (Captain Britain and MI13, Knight and Squire, the Lex Luthor arc in Action Comics) for years.  Saucer Country is Cornell's first original comic and perhaps the latest great Vertigo series.  It concerns Arcadia Alvarado, current governor of New Mexico and hopeful president of the United States, who believes she was abducted by aliens.  The fascinating thing about this isn't following Arcadia as she discovers whether it really happened, but following everyone else around her, too, and in turn exploring the whole culture of the phenomenon, like The X-Files if it wasn't so concerned with monsters.  #6 is the turning point, the beginning of Cornell's version of UFO mythology.

11. Batman and Robin (DC)
Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason have been a dynamite team twice before (Green Lantern Corps, Brightest Day), and the high hopes for their reunion in the pages of Batman and Robin survived the New 52 reboot and led to their best work.  Early issues dealt with Robin's continuing efforts to discover his own legacy, one that didn't just involve the training of his ruthless mother but rather also the influence of his father, Batman, and those that involved the son of Henri Ducard were exceptional.  Yet #0, which details his relationship with Talia, is the highlight of the year, with #15 a close second, a tie-in with "Death of the Family" that finds Damian matching wits with the Joker.  At their best, Tomasi and Gleason are among the best, and they were at their best quite a lot in 2012.

12. Happy! (Image)
Here's Morrison again, in a mob comic dripping with the threat of violence that also features the title character, a little blue horse only Nick Sax can see.  Nick appreciates this fact when it helps him escape a grizzly end, and when he realizes that Happy is not a delusion.  Depending on how you read comics, this might seem like the most disposable of the three, or it might be the only one you care to read, because that's how most comics readers approach the medium, very little in-between.  Though I suppose given that most of the comics on this list involve superheroes, I stand outed.  I tend to follow the material and the creators, the best work relevant to my interests, so like Happy! can deviate from my norm quite easily.

13. Hoss and Feffer (FishTank)
This is the latest from one of my favorite creators, whom I didn't even realize until this year was still actively pursuing the craft.  Manny Trembley is the co-creator of PX!, an all-ages adventure strip that went away a few years ago.  He seems to have since reinvented himself as the proponent of material that caters but does not speak down to children.  This is, for instance, a retelling of the tortoise and the hare.  Lively, lovely and sweet, Hoss and Feffer is everything that proves Trembley's talent as great and enduring.

14. Batman: Earth One (DC)
A rare venture outside of monthly comics work for Geoff Johns, this is part of DC's graphic novel series that basically serves as movie-style storytelling and approachability.  In fact, there are similarities between the origin found here and Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins, but most especially a Bruce Wayne who's definitely still learning his craft and who has Alfred to lean on, the estwhile butler revealed in this version to be playing the role rather than living it, because he was really a friend of Thomas Wayne's come to defend him against the corruption of the Penguin, who serves as the villain of the story.

15. The Twelve (Marvel)
Last seen properly in 2008 (where it landed in 3rd, though a Chris Weston one-shot hit fifteenth in 2010), J. Michael Straczynski's vision of twelve heroes brought to the present from WWII finally concluded with its final four issues.  This was basically Watchmen meets Captain America, but it was absolutely brilliant, absorbing in its depiction of morally gray and the shifting allegiances of allies discovering anew their diverging paths.

16. Aquaman (DC)
Johns again, this time in his efforts to make a man out of Aquaman, which began to take shape around the "Others" arc that finally proved once and for all that there are compelling things about the character that have nothing to do with talking to fish or Atlantis.  Although with "Throne of Atlantis" kicking off, there's plenty for Johns to say about that, too.  The Others, by the way, are international allies Aquaman had well before the Justice League, fellow outsiders looking for redemption, who become targets of Black Manta, Aquaman's most famous foe.

17. Avengers vs. X-Men (Marvel)
Aside from the movie The Avengers, this was Marvel's biggest event of the year, a sequel to the "Dark Phoenix Saga" (roughly covered in X-Men: The Last Stand) and House of M, which famously included the phrase, "No more mutants."  This was the final reckoning, in which the Phoenix force returns to Earth and both mutants and Avengers struggle to contain it.  Written by the company's best-known creators, AvX spanned the summer and helped pave the way for Marvel Now!

18. Dinosaurs vs. Aliens (Dynamite)
I figured it would be pretty funny putting similarly titled books one after the other, but they have no relation to each other.  This one's from Grant Morrison and filmmaker Barry Sonnenfeld, and may end up becoming a movie.  Like Morrison's earlier 18 Days, it may also remain an awesome screenplay version of his awesome scope as a storyteller, a visually and psychologically compelling experiment that sees what happens when two very different worlds collide.

19. Before Watchmen: Comedian (DC)
One of the biggest and most controversial stories of 2012 was DC's decision to launch Before Watchmen without the consent of Alan Moore.  I figured that we would at least get interesting twists on familiar elements.  I didn't think we'd get Comedian.  In Watchmen Edward Blake was the victim at the heart of the story, but also one of its villains.  This is the worthy effort to explore him more fully.

20. All-New X-Men (Marvel)
If you really stop to think about it, Brian Michael Bendis has been itching to write Marvel's merry mutants for years, and he finally has his chance with this series, featuring art from Stuart Immonen.  It's more or less the sequel to AvX, may possibly feature the last days of Hank McCoy, and as an opening gimmicks literally brings the original team from the past to meet its own future.  Also, Scott Summers deals with becoming the new Magneto in a more figurative sense.

21. The Secret History of DB Cooper (Oni)
Brian Churilla first proved he could do monsters in Phil Hester's The Anchor.  In this mini-series he proved he could find the heart of a monster, a man struggling to reclaim his own life in the face of a mythology, a cold war, and an identity later to become famous for leaping from a plane he hijacked midflight.

22. Artifacts (Top Cow)
Ron Marz recreated himself as the scribe of the Top Cow universe, and with Artifacts has been redefining the landscape with some of the most interesting mythology in comics.  You may be familiar with Witchblade or the Darkness, but this series will make you care about a dude named Tom Judge.

23. Star Trek: The Next Generation - Hive (IDW)
Most of IDW's best work with the Star Trek licence has involved characters from the Kirk era, whether original or movie reboot versions, so it's always a treat when the company can work its magic with other eras.  This one combines Next Generation with Voyager, and handles the Borg Collective, giving Brannon Braga one last shot at the franchise.

24. Vengeance (Marvel)
This stunning vision of the next generation from Joe Casey and Nick Dragotta concluded early in the year but deserves one more round of recognition (Dragotta earned my designation as artist of the year in 2011 for his exceptional work).

25. Nightwing (DC)
Kyle Higgins started off strongly in his New 52 launch last year, and although the series has since fallen below essential reading, I'd still like to acknowledge that it's some of the best work Dick Grayson has had under this name in years.

26. Red Hood and the Outlaws (DC)
Scott Lobdell and Kenneth Rocafort have been so sensational in this series that DC graduated them to the pages of Superman.  Granted, this statement is only recognized by a select few, because most fans ended up dismissed the book upon its New 52 launch, but the work speaks for itself.

27. Earth 2 (DC)
James Robinson in his ongoing series for the New 52, reimagining the Justice Society on its own parallel world, sensationally taking the same elements that launched Justice League and using them to springboard old heroes into fresh interpretations, most famously with original Green Lantern Alan Scott being revealed as gay.

28. Peter Panzerfaust (Image)
I've got a soft spot for Peter Pan, and as you may guess from the title of this series, this is an adaptation of the mischievous youth, brought into WWII with his Lost Boys as resistance fighters.  It's how the new resonates with the old, and how it all unfolds, that makes something like this work.

29. Demon Knights (DC)
Paul Cornell worked a certain amount of his magic in this medieval version of DC lore, where familiar faces like Vandal Savage and Etrigan can be explored in more friendly context.  I wonder if Cornell shouldn't have worked smaller arcs to make it more compelling, but at any rate he has since left the series.

30. Before Watchmen: Minutemen (DC)
The next best project of this effort is a reliable old-timey look at the first generation of heroes, something else that was a subplot in the original Watchmen that could definitely have used its own spotlight.

31. Atomic Robo (Red 5)
Although the more traditional Flying She-devils of the Pacific served as the regular installment of Atomic Robo's adventures in 2012, I think he was actually more interesting in Real Science Adventures, an anthology series that pushed the boundaries of the character.

32. DC Universe Presents (DC)
I found some good excuses to read this anthology, including the Challengers of the Unknown, Fabian Nizieza's Kid Flash outing in #12, and #0, which had another look at all the characters who lost their series launched at the start of the New 52, while Deadman, whose adventures launched the series last fall, got a visit from Tony Bedard and Scott McDaniel, reunited for the first time since The Great Ten.

33. BlueSpear (Com.x)
Andi Ewington's followup to 45 was a more conventional comic but featured the same strong character work and sense of mythology, marking it as a good test of its continued vitality.

34. Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre (DC)
At its most relevant, Before Watchmen had to explore things in ways we hadn't seen before, and Silk Spectre's look at the relationship between the mother and daughter to share that name and Laurie's subsequent surge to independence fit that bill.

35. Superman (DC)
This entry should be understood to indicate the Lobdell/Rocafort era, begun toward the end of the year and including the famed #13 in which Clark Kent quits the Daily Planet.  With any luck, it's an era that will continue for years and leave a lasting impression.

36. Batman (DC)
Most comic book fans are gaga over Scott Snyder, and are eating up stories like "Night of Owls" and "Death of the Family."  I don't read this series regularly, but it's always worth sampling.

37. Beyond the Fringe #1 (DC)
The TV series Fringe has long been a favorite of mine, and so I've read a number of the comics based on it.  But this issue is the best and most relevant, from "Peter Bishop" Joshua Jackson himself, dealing with his character's experiences involving the mysterious machine that shaped so much of the third and fourth seasons.

38. Punk Rock Jesus (Vertigo)
This is a series I wish I'd been able to read more extensively, but the little I have so far is some of the best stuff I read all year.  Sean Murphy, Grant Morrison's artist on Joe the Barbarian, imagines what would happen if Jesus Christ were incarnated again in the present.  I know that #3 is a standout.

39. After Earth: Innocence (Dynamite)
Movie tie-ins can sometimes at best be promotional hack work.  This one, for the forthcoming Will Smith/M. Night Shyamalan blockbuster, is anything but.

40. Batman: Arkham City -End Game (DC)
Derek Fridolfs gets to tell the story few others have had the chance to, the Joker's last laugh.  As you might expect from the greatest comic book villain ever, death doesn't stop his madness.

41. Scalped (Vertigo)
Apparently I was last a regular reader of Jason Aaron's masterpiece in 2009, where Scalped ranked at 17th, its best of two previous appearances in the QB50, the other being 42nd in 2008.  Dash Bad Horse finally leaves the reservation after somehow surviving sixty issues.  I had to come back to read it happen.

42. Before Watchmen: Nite Owl (DC)
When fans envisioned what outrages would come of Before Watchmen, something like Nite Owl was probably what they expected, the first sign that the worst they could expect wasn't bad comics but mediocre material.  But at least these comics feature the inks of the late Joe Kubert.

43. Brilliant (Icon)
This is Brian Michael Bendis turning the superhero experience into a TV series, half procedural, half coming of age, The OC meets Criminal Minds.

44. Green Lantern: New Guardians (DC)
The one starring Kyle Rayner and representatives from each of the "color Corps" introduced by Geoff Johns over the past few years, it's also the one written by Tony Bedard, who is a junior member of DC's mythology team, currently spearheaded by Johns and Grant Morrison.  (Peter Tomasi is also a member, and writes Green Lantern Corps.)  From the few issues I read in 2012, Bedard retains his fascination with the Weaponer who originally forged Sinestro's yellow ring (he employed the character in the pre-New 52 GL Corps), which is a good thing.

45. The Stand: The Night Has Come (Marvel)
This series of mini-series adaptations of Stephen King's best work finally came to an end.  I previously distinguished the efforts in 2010 (where it ranked 9th), 2009 (where it ranked 12th), and 2008 (where it ranked 35th).

46. The Road to Oz (Marvel)
Eric Shanower and Skottie Young are now on their fifth book in the L. Frank Baum series filled with whimsical creations.  I've ranked their efforts 19th in 2011, 24th in 2010, and 33rd in 2009.

47. Before Watchmen: Ozymandias (DC)
When I had to start being more selective about how I followed Before Watchmen and therefore make more definitive judgments on the material, I had to judge the extraneous from the inspired.  And Ozymandias is basically extraneous, and subsequent efforts like Rorschach, Moloch, and Dr. Manhattan also appeared so.  Perhaps later collected editions will read better.  After all, I'm part of the generation that has only known Watchmen in that form.

48. Spawn (Image)
I culled my favorable reading of #220, part of Image's 20th anniversary and a repositioning of the series, into this ranking in part because I had a pretty limited comics experience in 2012 (and probably will be all the more limited in 2013).

49. Westward (Kinetic)
A pretty amusing indy work that I was subsequently a little miffed to see would only continue via crowdfunding.  Just off this list is material from Jesse Grillo, whose Bleeding Ink seems to be entirely funded that way.

50. Charmed (Zenescope)
Unless I'm mistaken, these comics have come to an end, but were still a worthy followup to the TV series.

Some concluding awards:

Writer of the Year: Geoff Johns (Green Lantern, Justice League, Aquaman, Batman: Earth One)
Artist of the Year: Fiona Staples (Saga)
Character of the Year: Damian Wayne (Batman Incorporated, Batman and Robin)
Single Issue of the Year: Punk Rock Jesus #3
Movie of the Year: The Dark Knight Rises
New Series of the Year: Saga
New Character of the Year: Simon Baz (Green Lantern)
Series Conclusion of the Year: Scalped #60
Limited Series of the Year: The Secret History of DB Cooper
Cover of the Year: Batman #6

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Aquaman #14 (DC)


writer: Geoff Johns
artist: Pete Woods, Pere Perez

In this prelude to "Throne of Atlantis," the Aquaman crossover with Justice League (both series written by Geoff Johns), you may learn the most fascinating thing about the title character of this series.

I give you a hint: the answer is in the cover image provided above.

Okay, chances are you still have no idea, so I'll just go out and say it: Ocean Master.  Who the hell is Ocean Master?  Aside from being one of Aquamn's most notable foes, he also happens to be Aquaman's brother.

Now, I know I appreciate the idea of a hero's worst enemy being his brother.  Many years ago I created a very crude comic (strictly for personal amusement) that was basically a very obvious knockoff of Superman (though there have been many, many creators who have done exactly that), with one crucial difference: he was not the only survivor of his world.  Unlike, say, Supergirl or General Zod, Powerman's kin was his own brother.  And mortal enemy.

No, I didn't get very much farther in the story.  That's basically all there was.

That's just part of the reason why I think Ocean Master's new level of significance is so brilliant.  Let me clue you in on a little secret: most of what anyone finds brilliant is something they may have thought of themselves, but someone else also ended up thinking it, and so it's like an affirmation.  That's brilliance in a nutshell, the less-common-than-you'd-think confluence of thought processes.

Anyway, another reason why this is so brilliant is because it's surprisingly rare in comics.  Martian Manhunter, in the years following JLA, when he had an actual ongoing series, had his own evil rival of a brother, but all due respect to Martian Manhunter (a continually underrated, brilliant character) and John Ostrander, but I will choose to overlook that one.

Of the major characters in comics, Aquaman stands pretty unique in this regard.  And somehow every single one of the creators before Geoff Johns never really saw fit to exploit this.

That would be like failing to acknowledge Wonder Woman as the ultimate ambassador.  Oh, wait.  Pretty much every Wonder Woman comic not written by Greg Rucka has done that.  (To steal an expression: hurm.)

Anyway, you may or may not have heard of "Throne of Atlantis."  It's one of the dozens of crossover storyarcs DC is currently in the midst of, and probably the one you should be noting right now in case you haven't already.  Obviously the point is to help raise the profile and significance of Aquaman, which Johns has been doing quite well in this series already, in a far more lucid and imaginative interpretation than the character has ever seen before.  As I've noted in the past, it's not enough to have Atlantis as a prominent element of Aquaman's story.  You have to know what to do with it.

Aquaman is a fish out of water in two worlds, which is pretty ironic, because one of those worlds is certainly under water.  He's not just that dude who talks to fish.  He's awesome.

The cleverest thing about this issue is that even though Ocean Master is kept in shadow and most of anything you need to know about him is omitted, it's so obvious what's going to happen, you're only following along as Aquaman himself discovers that his brother is going to turn out to be his worst enemy.  That was always supposed to be the virtue of the New 52: these elements are all familiar to older readers, but to new ones they can come as revelations, and the right writers will know exactly how to strike that balance.  In a way, this makes Aquaman quintessential New 52 reading.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Action Comics #15 (DC)


writer: Grant Morrison
artist: Brad Walker, Rags Morales

Earlier this year I was pretty certain that Grant Morrison had written his best issue of Action Comics with #9, which featured some bold variant storytelling.  I may now stand corrected.  This is probably his best issue of the series.

For some reason, Morrison does his best work with Superman by subverting every expectation.  In All Star Superman, he had a look at what a dying Man of Steel would do, and it was pretty much everything he hadn't done previously in his career, living up to all those funny little fan diatribes that say he's too powerful to be taken seriously.

Granted, Morrison launched Action Comics last year by looking at a very human Superman, and that too was a revelation, perhaps a a little too radical for some readers even though aside from the t-shirt there wasn't too much difference between what he did and Geoff Johns in Superman: Secret Origin or J. Michael Straczynski in Superman: Earth One.  What set Morrison apart, as always, was his intrinsic understanding of the mythology.  (That, by the way, is the reason why Morrison and Johns function so well as the head writers of DC, since it's a trait they both share.)

In Final Crisis, and specifically Final Crisis: Superman Beyond, Morrison all but gave a preview of what Action Comics would be like, featuring a Man of Steel who is intrinsically significant, not just because he's the comic book character the majority of the public identifies with superheroes, but because he's meant to be the quintessential superhero.

If you keep that in mind, you may understand why Mxyzptlk has suddenly become the most significant supporting player in Superman lore.

Mxyzptlk may have the most convoluted name in comics.  No, he does have the most convoluted name in comics.  It's so awesomely terrible that it's become plain awesome.  He's a peculiar Superman villain, though, because he forces the Man of Steel to do anything but be a typical World's Greatest Superhero.  He's an imp from the 5th dimension, and has always had, throughout his various incarnations, one of the most cartoonish looks in comics.

So again, why is this guy a Superman villain, and why is Morrison making him the showcase supporting character of Action Comics?

Perhaps not just because JLA previously featured Morrison's efforts to redeem 5th dimensional imps, Action Comics has with notable subtlety been featuring them for much of its run, including Clark Kent's apartment super, Nyxly.  (Yes, because of the precedent, all of these imps have the same impossible naming scheme.  You just have to accept that.)

While there has been building a team of villains interested in eliminating Superman, we've also been watching him figure out his relationship to the world.  In an odd sort of way, this issue shows how the imps have been doing the same, specifically Mxyzptlk.  Well, as I said, it's a pretty remarkable accomplishment.  No one else has ever made this kind of effort to legitimize him.

Rather than going into much further detail, I would simply like to note that as I may have suggested, this is a must-read.  And as his efforts have been from the start, Sholly Fisch knocks his backup contribution out of the park, emphasizing everything Morrison just accomplished in a more standalone capacity.

Reading Comics #86 "Noah By Any Other Name"

I've got a lot of obsessions.  One of them has less and less inadvertently become reading variations on Noah's Ark (Not Wanted On the Voyage, The Preservationist, A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters).

I stumbled across Microcosm Publishing about a month ago and Box Brown's Everything Dies, which was a web comic subsequently collected in print editions by Microcosm.  Everything Dies #7, as you might guess, features a variation on Noah's Ark.

Now, as you may or may not know, the idea of a vast flood that wiped out all of civilization in ancient times was not unique to the Bible.  In fact, it seems to have been a common story of the Mesopotamian region, for instance depicted in the Epic of Gilgamesh as well, and therefore either based on an actual flood or simply a story several cultures really liked.

The account in Everything Dies #7 comes from Eridu and in many ways is a pretty standard origin-of-the-world story with archetype gods whose decision that humanity has become "too raucous" leads to the flood, the ark and a king named Ziasudra packing up animals into the ark in order to preserve a semblance of continuity.

Ziasudra plays a very minor role in Brown's account.  He basically functions.  It's the gods that carry this story, almost like how the gods play such an integral role in Homer's Iliad.

Brown is your fairly typical indy creator.  His art is very cartoonish and simple, which is not a bad thing.  In many ways, it suits his ambition to strip this version of Noah's Ark to its most essential elements.  Even in the biblical version, it can sometimes be hard to remember that God is a huge part of the story.  (In Not Wanted On the Voyage, he's an immortal, very old, very brittle passenger, one of several quirky individuals in the narrative.)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Hive #2 (IDW)


writer: Brannon Braga, Terry Matals, Travis Fickett
artist: Joe Corroney

As a Star Trek fan, I'm crazy enough to appreciate the work Brannon Braga did in the franchise, including his role in developing Star Trek: Voyager and its use of the Borg, though the Collective remains most famous from the Next Generation cliffhanger "The Best of Both Worlds" and Star Trek: First Contact.  While Voyager did have a chance to incorporate the Borg Queen from First Contact into its adventures, the more famous voice of the Collective, Locutus, remained off-limits (he did appear in the Deep Space Nine premiere episode "Emissary," mostly because that show's central character Benjamin Sisko lost his wife in the famous Battle of Wolf 359).

Locutus, of course, was the assimilated version of Jean-Luc Picard, a moment of his life that he'd sooner forget, but even some of Starfleet wouldn't (such as in the episode "The Drumhead").  Even though the Borg Queen made him relive the experience in First Contact, it seemed as if there would be no lasting repercussions.  Not so for Voyager's Seven of Nine, who continued to use her Borg designation long after being severed from the Collective, even though everyone was perfectly aware of her original human name, Annika Hansen).  Several times, and sometimes with the Borg Queen around, she was tempted to rejoin the Collective, but always resisted it, even though she spent most of her life as a drone.

Because Locutus and Seven didn't share any stories directly, it's sometimes perhaps a little difficult for fans to appreciate their mutual legacy.  This is corrected in Hive, from a story developed by Braga.  In the novels that Pocket Books continues to produce, the origin of the Borg was eventually revealed, at least in that version of the franchise, as well as what eventually became of it.  At the end of Voyager, Janeway had struck a crucial blow against the Collective by destroying one of its transwarp hubs, though the greater threat remained.  After all, "resistance is futile."  The whole point of the Borg is that scientific progress and the quest for perfection stops for no one.  Setbacks are irrelevant.  First Contact was in a lot of ways very similar to the Alien franchise, for any number of reasons.  Imagine a Star Trek movie like Prometheus.

Actually, Hive is a lot like that.  The game plan continues.  Just when he thought he was out, Picard has been dragged back in.  In the distant future he's become Locutus again.  In the relative present he's undergone one of Starfleet's periodic attempts to end the threat of the Borg, and has recruited Seven.  In the continuing story, this dynamic will be crucial.  (It's also worth noting that Future Locutus has Data as an ally.  In First Contact the Borg Queen's best move against Picard was the attempt to recruit his android friend.)

This new end game may turn out to be similar to the last one.  ("End Game" was the name of Voyager's finale.)  Locutus may be attempting to reset time in order to prevent the future he's living.  I guess we'll see.  But it's a worthy adventure, if only to see Braga playing in the sandbox again, and perhaps telling that epic he never got around to.  

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Turtlepop! #1 "Amazing Spider-Man #700"

(via and maybe Kelley Jones)


(Turtlepop twists current Internet buzz topics by representing the relevant creator, in this instance Dan Slott, into the guise of Turtle, whom we then proceed to interview.)




Comics Reader: Turtle, there's been great controversy surrounding Amazing Spider-Man recently.  In #698, Dr. Octopus switches bodies with Peter Parker.
Turtle: True.  They switch bodies.  Peter Parker being Spider-Man and Dr. Octopus being PURE EVIL, this is bad.  Which is why the idea is so ridiculously awesome.

Comics Reader: Contextually speaking, this is exactly what Dr. Octopus would love, isn't it?
Turtle: Absolutely!  The poor dude has been an invalid since "Brand New Day," the popular creative reboot that followed J. Michael Straczynski's "One More Day," which eliminated Peter's marriage to MJ and made him literally swingin' single again.  "Brand New Day" lasted for a few years, but eventually "Big Time" came along, for which I was solely responsible, in which Peter finally got everything he ever wanted, including a successful career with a tech firm.

Comics Reader: However, no girlfriend.
Turtle: Girlfriends have no place for a guy who is better at making wisecracks than dinner!

Comics Reader: So what you're saying is that anyone who is wondering what's going on with Amazing Spider-Man #700 should remember that Dr. Octopus has been an invalid for several years now.
Turtle: No, you said that, probably to get this interview back on track.

Comics Reader: True!
Turtle: There was no question there.  Despite dying for a really long time, Dr. Octopus never gave up being a villain.  I guess I might as well take the initiative here.  That's where we're at.  Readers should remember that.

Comics Reader: There are rumors that Dr. Octopus will emerge as the permanent new Spider-Man at the end of #700.
Turtle: There are also rumors that Aunt May will dance the jitterbug, and that will absolutely happen, too, and everyone will forget it.  The point is, Superior Spider-Man is going to be the start of a bold new era, one that I am extremely proud of.  I've been waiting to tell this story for years.

Comics Reader: With Peter Parker?
Turtle: With Spider-Man!  Brian Bendis has been writing Spider-Man for several years now without Peter Parker, and you don't hear people complaining.

Comics Reader: Possibly because Ultimate Spider-Man is a pocket continuity?
Turtle: In a weird kind of way, that was a question.  Congratulations.

Comics Reader: What do you say to readers who will say that regardless of what wacky things you do in the next several months, Peter Parker will return and be Spider-Man again?  
Turtle: I tell them that turtles are the ultimate speed bump.

Comics Reader: Contextually speaking, that makes no sense.
Turtle: Exactly!  What I'm saying is, read this stuff.  It's big!  It's noteworthy!  It's historic!

Comics Reader: Amazing Spider-Man #700 is being released on 12/26/12.  Any concern that some fans will be too busy on their Christmas high to notice?
Turtle: No.  Any other questions?

Comics Reader: Favorite wax?
Turtle: This interview is over!

Green Lantern #14 (DC)


writer: Geoff Johns
artist: Doug Mahnke

There's a ton to talk about with this issue.  I'm going to start with what's on the cover.  Now, Geoff Johns writes both this series and Justice League.  Having an issue of Green Lantern that features the League, written by the man who writes both would kind of expect a lot of similarities.  One of Geoff's unacknowledged strengths as a writer is his ability to write for the occasion, rather than an overly uniform style.  His style is knowing what makes a particular franchise work, and he's done this successfully for more than a decade with a great number of iconic properties.

Part of this, of course, owes to Doug Mahnke's distinctive style.  Mahnke has been working with Geoff on Green Lantern for years now.  He's not an artist who gets a great deal of publicity, but he's distinctive and dynamic, and as Geoff has obviously determined one of the best in the industry, and maybe it takes an issue like this for people to notice.  Just like Geoff, Mahnke doesn't allow the fact that he's doing the League transform Green Lantern into something else.  While this particular phase of Geoff's saga doesn't feature a plethora of characters, there have been plenty of moments like that.  Both are keeping this one intimate.

Now, the reason the League shows up in the issue is because of the new ring-bearer  Simon Baz, Geoff's own Green Lantern eight years in the making.  He's been flagged as a terrorist, which has nothing to do with his being a Green Lantern, but has certainly added a great deal of complications to that fact, and even in this issue is forcing him to learn about his new role in an immediate way.  This is fascinating stuff.  Sometimes people don't see how DC can be anything like Marvel, much less the reverse (of course, some people probably can't see these distinctions at all, but they are definitely there), but as I've said before, Geoff is basically getting to do his version of Brian Michael Bendis on Ultimate Spider-Man (the Peter Parker or Miles Morales version), following a new career as it develops rather than rushing into the expected.  In this instance part of that is being rushed, simply because of the heated nature of Simon's life.  

It also means, hopefully, that Geoff is really only getting started, which for some of us is an entirely welcome prospect.

In some ways, though, there are signs that he may no longer be writing Green Lantern the way he once did.  "Rise of the Third Army" is an event crossover in much the way "War of the Green Lanterns" was just before the New 52 reboot.  It does not seem like it's anywhere close to "Blackest Night," say, or "Sinestro Corps War."  The Third Army itself is not so awesome as many of the other concepts Geoff has brought to the franchise.  The First Green Lantern is far more interesting, and tellingly is already supplanting the Third Army as the real star of the event.  The Third Army is supposed to be the culmination of the Guardians of the Universe's revised plans for maintaining order, replacements for the robotic Manhunters who proved emotionally compromised (because they had none) and Green Lantern Corps (compromised because have emotions), perfect because it removes free will from the equation (will being, of course, central to the concept of the Corps).

In some ways the Third Army is exactly like the Black Lantern Corps that starred in "Blackest Night," and Geoff acknowledges this with Black Hand's return.  Black Hand became a far creepier villain when he started reanimating the dead, which he does again this issue with one of the Guardians who had previously stood sentry over the First Green Lantern.  

One of the biggest teases of Geoff's current work, however, is the final fate of Sinestro and Hal Jordan, who dominated the first year, brilliantly, of the reboot.  Are they gone for good?  Probably not, but they're still in limbo, visible only for a few pages at a time.  Though Simon Baz is the new star and the most interesting element of the book, there's a lot of snatches of story going on.  "Rise of the Third Army" doesn't have an event book like "Blackest Night" to accompany it, and perhaps it couldn't support one, but that's another odd thing about it.  It's been hyped for months, and yet seems like just another of the many crossover arcs that have begun to dominate the New 52, almost like the ubiquitous "Rotworld" event that ran through the arcane titles for months on end.  

If you're suddenly wondering if you should even bother with it, I would caution that you stick around. Maybe Green Lantern Corps or Green Lantern: New Guardians is a better place to look if you want to read more about "Rise of the Third Army."  Green Lantern itself is where you'll see how the bigger picture unfolds.  Right now that picture is still developing, much like Simon Baz.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Reading Comics #85 "Grant Morrison Forever!"


In my continuing efforts to read more Grant Morrison, I've just read Kid Eternity, which was a three issue mini-series he did for the fledgling Vertigo imprint in 1991.

Now, I'm probably missing some Morrison context, not having read the majority of his early material, which includes not only material previous to his first working with DC/Vertigo, but also Doom Patrol and most of The Invisibles.  However, I have had the chance to enjoy his seminal Arkham Asylum, which Kid Eternity closely resembles in tone and indeed art.

A word to the uninitiated, as far as this era of Grant Morrison goes: if you think he's impenetrable now, in Batman Incorporated or Action Comics, you probably don't even want to begin contemplating Kid Eternity, which seems almost like an ancestor text to his efforts at transcending typical fiction, the prototypical vision of a perspective that looks beyond the usual in order to find greater clarity, the mundane in the absurd.

That's a lot of what Vertigo was like in its origins, a way to explore known DC concepts in new contexts, more intricate, more mythologized, in many ways the product of Alan Moore's revision of Swamp Thing at the start of the 1980s as a creature who thought it was once a man rather than a man who became a creature.

This early Vertigo is best understand by the series that is still, justifiably, the imprint's best-known work, Neil Gaiman's Sandman.  In a lot of ways, Kid Eternity also reads a little like Morrison's condensed version of Sandman, which in 1991 was only about at the half point of its run.

Okay, so what's Kid Eternity actually about?  It's Morrison's map of Hell.  This is appropriate, because it deals with the title character, who at one point was a tad more conventional within DC lore, but as with anything Morrison touches (and yes, in this era of Vertigo everything the imprint did) becomes a lot more grandiose.  In fact, Kid Eternity at one points comes into possession of maps of Hell, because he needs to navigate the nether regions in order to convince a man who has recently died to help him, although he subsequently discovers that his quest is part of a greater design by the damned to revamp reality into an order that works for everyone.

Now, Morrison has claimed for years that the Wachowskis basically stole The Matrix from The Invisibles, but I am going to argue now that The Matrix owes a lot more, as far as I can tell at this point, to Kid Eternity.  Perhaps The Invisibles was simply Morrison's effort to make Kid Eternity more accessible.  I don't know enough about what Morrison did in The Invisibles to know how closely the events of the Matrix trilogy follow it.

But I can say that the three films closely follow Kid Eternity, which I now believe to be Morrison's greatest work.  In the Wachowski's movies, Neo is drafted into a war he subsequently learns he has already been fighting across many lifetimes, and by the end discovers that the only way to end the conflict between machines and mankind is to find a happy compromise between them.  In a lot of ways, that's what Kid Eternity is all about, the everlasting conflict of mankind with death, which the denizens of Hell have sought to overcome with the unwitting help of Kid Eternity.

Throughout the story Morrison harkens to a lot of things, not the least being the Byrds pop song "Turn! Turn! Turn!," which in some ways is about the idea of the Wheel of Fortune, which in some ways is about the Buddhist idea of reincarnation.  Kid Eternity, then, is all about coming to a new idea, which like Morrison continually repeating "turn! turn! turn!" throughout the narrative is answered by the constant refrain of "eternity! eternity!"  By the end, it becomes clear that what this means is that the only way to break the cycle is to embrace the concept of eternity, that things don't have to fall apart, that breaking the cycle means embracing the cycle, internalizing it.

The universe in the palm of your hand.

If it seems like a lot to ask, it's because it is.  That's Grant Morrison in a nutshell, though.  His idea of storytelling seems to have that refrain running through it, his use of archetypes, whether obscure or iconic subjects, which is why he can start his popular career by writing little-known characters to spending years with Batman, the definition of the comic book mainstream.  Kid Eternity is the switching post, the point where he gets his own archetype set so he can explore it elsewhere, a mission statement that makes difficult concepts clear in a very obtuse way.

It's no surprise that very few fans talk about this one, because in a lot of ways it's impossible to talk about.  But it's also Morrison's Inferno.  Every other comic book he has written is basically Virgil escorting readers through the tricky depths of imagination.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Ghosts #1 (Vertigo)


writer: various
artist: various

As far as I'm concerned, there are two reasons to read this special, originally released appropriately enough on 10/31/12 (Halloween).  The first is that it features the last original work from the late Joe Kubert.  The second is that is features the first Vertigo work from Geoff Johns.

When I originally sought it out, the second of these selling points was what I thought was my only point of interest.  Johns has now done the majority of his comics work for DC with its superhero comics.  There was also a short piece he did for Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (as well as a number of other comics, including an extended run on Marvel's Avengers a decade ago at this point), and yet he has been so consumed by his various epic visions (on JSA/Justice Society of America, The Flash, and Green Lantern, each of which have lasted for many years) that Johns has very rarely done something other than superheroes.

By now, if you're at all interested in Vertigo you've heard that long-time executive editor Karen Berger recently left the imprint.  Vertigo took shape around the force of the British explosion that hit comics in the 1980s and built itself around Neil Gaiman's Sandman.  It was a featured element of DC's mainstream push in the early 1990s.  Some fans have speculated that Berger's departure signals perhaps the end of the imprint, which has also recently announced the end of the long-running (three hundred issues!) Hellblazer in favor of a DC series for star John Constantine (whom you might know from the Keanu Reeves film Constantine).  I find that to be unlikely.  Vertigo, like everything, is simply in the midst of change.  DC will always find value in a haven for material that plays to a different audience than superhero fans.  Contrary to what Image and other indy publishers may sometimes suggest, the mainstream has room for that stuff.  

I don't always read one-shots, especially anthologies.  It frequently means that they will feature talent a company is trying out, which is fine for that new talent, but it also means that the stories may have little weight to them.  They can certainly be entertaining, but they can also be very throwaway.  Some fans read comics specifically for stories that are anything but.  I happen to be one of those, and increasingly so.  Contrary to that trend, Ghosts features a lot of veterans, not just Kubert and Johns, but also John McCrea, Phil Jimenez, Paul Pope, David Lapham, Gilbert Hernandez, and Jeff Lemire, whose own Vertigo series Sweet Tooth has recently come to an end.  

The first story, "The Night After I Took the Data Entry Job I Was Visited by My Own Ghost" from Al Ewing and Rufus Dayglo, is one of the more memorable and surreal entries, and ironically enough reads very much like an Image series.  As the very long title suggests, it features someone being haunted by their own ghost, who ends up being a lot more popular than them because they're the cool version of the character who's lived the dream (and has no worries).  Gaiman's Dead Boy Detectives, who debuted in Sandman, are the stars of Toby Litt and Mark Buckingham's "Run Ragged," which is apparently the first part of what will be serialized in other Vertigo anthologies.  Cecil Castellucci and Amy Reeder, meanwhile, in "Wallflower" have something that might appeal to romantics.  Neil Kleid and McCrea explore foodies in "A Bowl of Red," while Mary H.K Choi and Jimenez in "Bride" talk about the loss of love.  Pope and Lapham collaborate on "Treasure Lost," features aliens making suspect decisions to preserve themselves, and Hernandez in "The Dark Lady" features a couple of boys you don't realize are dead until the end (so, a little like The Sixth Sense).  

Joe Kubert, who died in August, impressed Berger by sketching "The Boy and the Old Man" within days of her request to participate.  The sketches are what remains of the unfinished work, but a talent like Kubert keeps it worth savoring.  It's eight pages in all.  The old man is dying, but still manages to find the resolve to save the boy from a nightmarish threat.  Very simplistic, very archetypal, and so very much what you'd expect from a master storyteller.  Probably worth the price of admission alone, a testament to Kubert's enduring legacy.

Finally there's Johns and Lemire's "Ghost-for-hire," in which two brothers collaborate on one last prank.  The twist here is that one of the brothers is a ghost, and that they're scamming people with hauntings.  As always, Johns has figured out the elements of an existing story type and used them ingeniously.  It's not just a goof, however.  Johns makes sure to bring the human element to the story, with a twist ending that instead of feeling gimmicky solidifies the value of the whole thing.

Would I say it's worth your while, even if you don't particularly care about Kubert or Johns, that Ghosts truly distinguishes itself from the genre of anthologies?  "Night After I Took..." and "A Bowl of Red" are two other standouts, which makes at least four of nine stories worth reading.  That sound good enough?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Aquaman #s 0 & 13 (DC)

writer: Geoff Johns
artist: Ivan Reis

Geoff Johns has been writing Aquaman from a viewpoint that assumes you know nothing about the character or his world.  For all intents and purposes, this is as it should be.

I don't make that statement to belittle the accomplishments of others, but of all the signature characters of DC Comics, especially members of the core Justice League, Aquaman has had the roughest publication history, with numerous reboots of ongoing series (only Hawkman is truly comparable, but then, Hawkman didn't have this statement said about him in The Big Bang Theory: "I don't want to be Aquaman.  Aquaman sucks."), and at one point was quietly killed off and replaced by a successor who was basically exactly like him (no, seriously! I recommend the stories by Tad Williams if you can find them).

Johns himself brought Aquaman back to the land of the living in Brightest Day, which was a continuity that ultimately mattered only previous to the New 52 relaunch, though it did help inform much of the new landscape.

When Aquaman began last fall, Johns took much the same approach that he'd done with Green Lantern after Rebirth, letting the character establish himself before diving into truly juicy storytelling.  #0 is Aquaman's origin story, which is not so surprising, because Zero Month was all about origin stories, but unlike some others feels completely organic to what Johns has been doing the past few months.  The "Others" arc, concluded in #13, drew the character back to his origins anyway, and leads to the "Throne of Atlantis" crossover event.

The stereotype has always been that Aquaman is just that weirdo who talks to fish and is basically in effective out of the water.  Some of the stories that tried to demonstrate his true potential tied him into Atlantis, or represented him as a fish out of water.  Johns instead focuses on combining these elements.  Like Wonder Woman (with whom he was paired during Flashpoint), he's a son of two worlds but doesn't feel like he belongs in either.  That's what both these issues demonstrate, although they also show his ongoing efforts to find a place in both.  His archenemy Black Manta has ties to both, too, which certainly helps (unless you're Aquaman).

Another clever thing that Johns has been doing is slowly building toward the introduction of Ocean Master, but more on that next issue.

Suffice it to say, but Aquaman has been doing all it can to transform its title character in a compelling read, building up the narrative of his life and fleshing out details both new and that have existed for decades.  This is a milestone of the New 52.  Well, it is written by Geoff Johns.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Action Comics #14 (DC)

writer: Grant Morrison
artist: Rags Morales

Recently I've been filling Comics Reader with a lot of perspective, why you should care about current projects, how they connect to stuff you may be familiar with.  My review of the latest Action Comics will be no different.

Basically Grant Morrison has been telling his Batman epic in miniature.  He's been writing Batman on a regular basis since 2006 and has along the way done a number of really amazing stories, although if you're not careful you could easily become confused by some of them.  Perhaps "Batman R.I.P." best illustrates my point, and is actually most pertinent to his work on Action Comics.

"R.I.P." is all about another of those master criminals thinking that they've created the ultimate web of destruction against Batman (much in the way the cumulative Leviathan arc is working its mojo through Batman Incorporated now).  To that point Morrison had sewn a lot of threads through his stories, until introducing Doctor Hurt and and saying "this is where it all led."  (Although, again, as it turns out it wasn't Hurt but rather Leviathan, but a lot of that is because of Batman's response to his experience with Hurt.)

In Action Comics, much of what Morrison has done so far is to explain how Superman responds to the world, and at the start this was done by way of an updated origin story that made the Man of Steel a little more human than he's sometimes been portrayed, most obviously with the signature t-shirt costume change, although in accord with other appearances he's since taken on a slightly more traditional look.

Yet, as in his Batman stories, Morrison has also been building toward one big threat (call it the Buffy Technique if you must), which I will not spoil for you here but it's been just below the series arc from the very beginning, tied in with Superman's alter ego Clark Kent, and what Morrison has cleverly extrapolated from the best aspect of Sam Raimi's Spider-Man movies, his relationship not with Mary Jane or Harry Osborn but the apartment residents (I'm thinking less of the grumpy super than his cute daughter whom Peter Parker remains obvious to for all three movies) he spends his most human time among.

Action Comics #14 spends most of its time on an problem-of-the-issue event, though, so you don't have to worry too much about the arc that's rapidly drawing to a close (sob!), as well as whole Morrison's tenure.  Although if you want another association, it's very much like an issue of Morrison's All Star Superman, which was widely considered to be brilliant.

There's also the regular backup effort from Sholly Fisch, which remains a highlight of the series.  Here it's actually more important to this specific issue than the lead.  Both stories involve Superman interacting with scientists, but Fisch gets to have him experience an unexpectedly moving reunion with his birth planet, the kind of moment that would probably never occur in anything but a backup feature but is something that probably should have happened a long time ago.  Maybe it did.  But for now I will use it as evidence of Fisch's considerable talents.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Teen Titans #0 (DC)

writer: Scott Lobdell
artist: Brett Booth

For the record, although I seem to be writing quite a bit about Scott Lobdell these days, I didn't buy this issue because of Lobdell, but rather to complete the New 52 Zero Month collection of Robin stories.  (Others included Batman and Robin, featuring Damian; Red Hood and the Outlaws, featuring Jason Todd; and Nightwing, featuring Dick Grayson.)

Teen Titans until recently was the only place where Tim Drake could be found in the relaunched DC landscape.  This had to be considered a little shocking, since Tim was the Robin for two decades, and was the first of them to be featured in his own series, not to mention the only founding member of the Geoff Johns relaunch to retain his own book (unlike Superboy and Impulse/Kid Flash).  Although much of my superhero experience has involved the rich lineage of the Boy Wonder, he's always been who I consider to be "my" Robin.

And yet somehow Tim, who'd become Red Robin (a costume originally designed for Kingdom Come and therefore an identity first held by Dick Grayson, and ironically or not next worn by Jason Todd in Countdown to Final Crisis) in his last phase before the New 52, was dropped unceremoniously into a book that really did not have a link to Batman.  Certainly there is precedent for Robin, but not for Tim Drake, so it was always a little shocking to me that this had happened, and yet as part of the streamlining process it was also a little inevitable that his role should change.

The Teen Titans themselves have tended to fluctuate in terms of importance.  In the Wolfman/Perez '80s they were the lifeblood of the company.  Johns shot them back into significance, but in a lot of ways DC has spent a great deal more energy keeping the Justice League relevant, which is fine, although there will always be comic book fans who believe only by engaging the younger reader base will the industry's future be assured.  This may be one of the reasons why the Titans (sometimes called Young Justice) have a continuing role in the cartoon leg of DC's efforts.

Lobdell, meanwhile, took on the youth wing of the New 52, whether that meant Teen Titans, Superboy, or even Red Hood, which in a lot of ways is another Titans book (and in a previous era this would have been more obvious), based largely on his reputation from Generation X.  Because the Titans have such a turbulent publishing history, I didn't have an interest in checking this new incarnation out.  It seemed if anything something for a new generation, moreso than most of the other new books, even though most of its characters are some of my favorites (the same was true for Superboy, though I had a look at its first issue).

All that being said, I finally read an issue because it finally put the spotlight on Tim Drake.  It's interesting to me, someone taking another shot at Tim's early development.  One of the great benefits of comic books is that they're one of the few creative mediums (music is another) that actively encourages revisiting familiar material.  It's a chance to have a fresh look and discover what makes it special all over again.  A Bob Dylan song sounds different when played by Hendrix or U2, but they're all pretty great (here I'm thinking of "All Along the Watchtower," by the way).

The bulk of my experience with Tim comes after he's already become Robin, so the period in which he figures out (or as depicted in this issue, spends a lot of time trying) Batman's secret identity (originally presented in Batman: A Lonely Place of Dying) is pretty fascinating.  In a Brian Bendis comic this would have been the first twenty issues (which is what he did in the initial Ultimate Spider-Man comics and then again with the introduction of Miles Morales).  Tim is such a unique Robin, too, in that his parents at least at the beginning of his story are both alive.  He's driven by different ambitions than any of the others, including Batman himself, and Lobdell does a great job of explaining that.  (It's also worth noting again that Batman #0 includes brief looks at each of the Robins, and as I said when I commented on the issue, Tim stands out.  Bendis should switch to DC and do that.)

While I'm very happy that this issue happened, I also wonder why.  Shouldn't it have been dedicated to the whole team, if not the new members Lobdell has introduced?  Just wondering.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Superman #13 (DC)

writer: Scott Lobdell
artist: Kenneth Rocafort

I've come to have a great appreciation for the talents of Scott Lobdell.  He's been just beyond the mainstream for years, a name fans are familiar with but not someone who has produced a tangible legacy behind him, though he's certainly done notable things.  When I saw that he was apparently one of DC's major acquisitions to help shape the New 52, I was intrigued.  I'd just become acquainted with his work on Generation X (which was the X-Men title at the time), so I saw it as an opportunity to see how well he held up not just historically but as a working writer.

I was impressed from the start.  I stuck primarily with Red Hood and the Outlaws, which was somehow notorious for sexualizing Starfire (even though only in the cartoon everyone was thinking about had she ever not been sexualized since her debut in the '80s).  It was good stuff, and not just because I'd been wanting a series starring Jason Todd for years.  There was also the stellar art of Kenneth Rocafort.

When I saw that the pair had been elevated to Superman, I wasn't thinking that this particular series was getting its third major creative shakeup of the New 52 relaunch.  I was ecstatic that I wasn't the only one to have noticed not just Lobdell's work but the unique chemistry he has with Rocafort, whose work can be called a post-Michael Turner dynamism, very reminiscent of '90s art but a step beyond it, as if someone were finally noticing that it could be taken to another level.  Like the artists who ushered the Image revolution, Rocafort is not just an artist but a storyteller, one of the boldest of his generation.

All that aside, their work so far in Superman has been everything that I hoped it would be.  There is a tad bit of awkwardness involved in this transition process, however.  Lobdell and Rocafort, either by their own initiative or by editorial mandate (something that admittedly has played a role in the preceding administrations, as it were), are going almost directly into a crossover event (also involving Supergirl and Lobdell's own Superboy) involving the latest incarnation of a threat from Krypton's past coming back to haunt the survivors of the present.

But very few readers of this particular probably cared too much about that.  And actually, Lobdell proves that he hasn't let the continuity of previous creators fall by the wayside, as the personal shakeups that have plagued Clark Kent (our erstwhile Superman, in the off chance you didn't know that), famously including a breakup with Lois Lane (less drastic with new continuity than when Spider-Man did the same a few years back, although of course his ex is Mary Jane Watson, not an intrepid reporter).  

As you may or may not have heard, Clark quits the Daily Planet, and in spectacular fashion, with a grand speech about journalistic ethics and ideals that seem to have been abandoned by today's press (though you may be forgiven to be thinking of TV rather than newspaper as you consider his points, as very few people, ah, think of newspapers these days).

It suggests Superman's famous credo: Truth, Justice, and the American Way.

This is the kind of territory Grant Morrison has been visiting in Action Comics, the other ongoing series to chronicle the adventures of the Man of Steel, in which Superman returns to his roots as a social crusader (though not like Joe Straczynski did in the days leading up to the New 52).

Although as far as the action goes, and again this has a lot to do with Rocafort's considerable talent, this may be the first time Superman looks vital in years.  All of this is to say that if you haven't taken this dude seriously in the recent past, you have one less excuse to use.  Two books, two distinctive approaches, and they're both firing on all cylinders.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Reading Comics #84 "Natural Born Morrison"

Most of the comics Grant Morrison does involve intricate plotting and mythologies that he spends years or at least a good number of issues exploring.  Every now and then he does something on a more intimate scale.  Kill Your Boyfriend is one such example of the latter.

Even after entering the mainstream in 1996 with JLA Morrison has continued to explore his interest in more subversive material.  It might be argued that his unique perspective makes Morrison more capable of finding something of worth in a diverse pool of material.  Boyfriend in many ways is very indicative of '90s pop culture.  In the edition I read he provides an afterword in which he actually laments how his story might be overlooked in the rush by filmmakers to copy material that at the time he wrote it was still fresh, indicating Quentin Tarantino as a predecessor.  Yet some of the movies I can think of that were released by 1995, when Boyfriend was originally published, were actually written by Tarantino, Tony Scott's True Romance and Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers.  Tarantino himself never quite directed a film of the kind of psychopaths depicted in Boyfriend and these films.

Morrison's interest in the story is exploring the increasingly jaded nature of youth culture and the growing surge of violence they were capable of, which he couldn't have known was only getting started.  The Matrix, for instance, which by some accounts Morrison believes was based on his own Invisibles, was cited as an inspiration for the Columbine killers.

The star of Boyfriend is actually the girlfriend, whose parents don't understand her and life exactly the kind of stifling life she believes she's destined for until she stumbles across a rebel who gives her the excuse to experience the alternative, which quickly turns shockingly violent, not the least with the execution of the title character.  By the end of the graphic novel she and her new friend have been cornered, he's shot dead by law enforcement and she realizes that she never actually crossed the line, that she can still pretend innocence.

Her parents debate her innocence early on, convinced that undergarments somehow will somehow prove it one way or another, the way some people claim the way a woman dresses encourages rape.  She offers a running commentary on her own life, as if she's an outsider looking in, and that's the kind of alienation that the story is about.  The girlfriend (never named, by the way, so I'm not just being lazy) dons a wig at one point, and a little red dress, completely altering her appearance.  Identity, then, is something that is only a perception, or so she believes throughout the experience.  She and her friend run across a hippy collective that is also all about appearances, failing to live up to the ideals the new boyfriend lives on a daily basis.

Morrison collaborates with Philip Bond (they work together again in Vimanarama), who gives the story a lightly comic look, as if it's up to the reader whether any of this should be taken seriously.  Sure, there's a lot of sensationalism and not too many answers.  Boyfriend isn't a statement and it isn't a love story, either, the way the Tarantino screenplays unfold.  It's simply a record of the mood Morrison was feeling and was only starting to develop at the time.

It recognizable material but it's also a sharp left turn from the extremes Boyfriend only skirts.  By the end, Morrison's conclusion confronts the reader with everything that they've experienced thus far and forces them to question it all over again.  That's patent cleverness from a master.

Don't forget that I've constructed a whole page dedicated to Grant Morrison's career.  Have a look at it here.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Marvel Now! Point One (Marvel)

writer: various
artist: various

I don't always read Marvel, but when I do I read the best.

Okay, shameless parody of TV commercials aside, I really don't read Marvel on a regular basis.  I have on occasion, but nothing recently, although I always keep myself abreast of the company's stories.  As DC did last fall, Marvel is relaunching its line, although it's been careful to try and make fine distinctions of the differences, the main one being that the creator runs that have come to an end have been distinguished for years, whether you're talking about Brubaker's Captain America or Brian Michael Bendis' Avengers (all dozen iterations) or Jonathan Hickman's Fantastic Four.

Marvel Now! is mostly a chance to begin some new eras (although one can never say if an era on a character or franchise will actually stick).  This one-shot isn't about such eras, but rather some of the smaller properties getting their chance to shine with this initiative.  The framing sequence is written by Nick Spencer, a writer best known for his Image series Morning Glories but had looked to be one of DC's major new writers just before the New 52 began, but instead subsequently surfaced at Marvel.  Spencer gets to handle another Nick, as in Fury, who used to be a white dude in the regular Marvel canon (it's the Ultimates version that was based on and subsequently portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson) as he interrogates a man who claims to be from the future.  I don't know where that's going, but it's probably the least interesting element of the issue.

The most interesting belongs to Jeph Loeb.  Yeah, I'm a fan of Loeb, which these days is sadly not something every comics fan is saying.  He and frequent collaborator Ed McGuinness handle Nova, who is sort of Marvel's Green Lantern, except Marvel has never really defined Nova very distinctively (fans of the cosmic comics may feel free to disagree).  The one depicted here is very similar to Kyle Rayner, the '90s Green Lantern.  As usual, Loeb has a good feel for character, which is why I like him so much.  If anyone can make me care about Nova, it's Jeph Loeb.

Another cosmic franchise featured in the issue is the Guardians of the Galaxy, soon to be featured in a TV series.  It's one of Brian Michael Bendis' latest projects (he'll soon be as ubiquitous with the X-Men as he was with the Avengers), and "decompression" is clearly still in his vocabulary.  Most of the sample of his work here (dealing with the oft-overlooked Star-Lord) is in the artwork, from Steve McNiven (famous from Civil War and Wolverine: Old Man Logan).

Kieron Gillen previews a new Young Avengers book.  I never understood why Marvel took its sweet time developing Young Avengers projects that weren't written by Allan Heinberg.  At one point, this property was one of the hottest things the company had.  Heinberg, better known as a screenwriter, eventually took long breaks from the Young Avengers (far better than the name suggests), and by the time he came back for Avengers: The Children's Crusade, he'd lost the zeitgeist and fans no longer cared.  The few instances where Marvel attempted something with the team by writers other than Heinberg obviously did not receive the necessary creative commitment.  By the preview, Gillen may have figured out how to correct that.  We'll see.

Matt Fraction, who is one of Marvel's Architects (their term for marque creators) and Mike Allred (famed for his creation Madman) preview an Ant-Man project that both looks incredibly promising and also tonally completely wrong.  It's supposed to be Hank Pym (a founding member of the Avengers and soon to be movie star) being angsty.  There's a lot to say about Allred as an artist.  But angsty is not a term typically applied to him.  So that's certainly an interesting choice.  That book will be FF, which is in no way related to Hickman's FF, which was short for Future Foundation, not Fantastic Four, though it was one and the same property.  (Marvel doesn't like to keep things...simple.)

The biggest revelation of the special is Dennis Hopeless's Forge.  Forge is a typically overlooked member of the X-Men who debuted in the '80s, a tech guy who apparently has become something of a mad genius.  He'll apparently be featured in Cable & X-Force (so obviously it features Cable prominently).  If that series is anywhere near as awesome as the preview, it may be a book that I need to check out.

I always enjoy preview books like this.  Well, I have really fond memories of DC preview books like this (such as Brave New World).  I hoped Marvel would have at least something impressive in this one, or a good suggestion at where the Now! thing was headed.  Mostly it's just a massive relaunch with some new books being tossed out.

I'd say, with Loeb's Nova and the potential of Hopeless's X-Force, and even a new shot at ongoing glory for the Young Avengers, that it was worth my time to have a look.