Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Quarter Bin #32 "Kaboom, Slott's Spider-Man, LXG, and Bane"

KABOOM #s 1-3 (Awesome)
From July, August, & December 1999:
I eagerly read the original KABOOM mini-series from creators Jeph Loeb and Jeff Matsuda, but the follow-up came after I quit reading comics in 1999, so I never even knew it existed until strolling through the back issues at Heroes & Dragons and coming across some covers I didn’t recognize. The good news is that Awesome did manage to produce some more KABOOM before it imploded, the not-so-good news is that some if not all the charm from the original comics were lost in translation, the loss of Matsuda and addition of Keron Grant on art. Grant apparently had no idea that the art was what helped make KABOOM shine in its previous incarnation, with Matsuda driving the narrative Loeb crafted into something that resembled the comics DC was doing at the time with the same youth leads, but with an expansive concept that introduced something new to the genre, something I hoped would have staying power. With more generic art, it’s not as easy for the story (shaped by Rob Liefeld but still scripted by Loeb, who doesn’t get near enough respect from fans) to distinguish itself from the sea of indy comics competing for attention, which is probably what happened to the comics scene at the time in general, not just Awesome (which boasted its biggest gun with Alan Moore, who quickly bolted to create America’s Best Comics when this gig ended). Needless to say, whether or not this version of KABOOM impacted me the same way as the first one, I remain a fan, hoping that more will come of it.

From April 2011:
This will not be the only pretty-recent back issue in the coming weeks (there’s one more), but it’s an example of what started to happen last year, when I really was trying to quit spending money I don’t really have on things I enjoy, namely new comics, and not always completely succeeding, mostly because I find comics to be a continually rewarding medium. Dan Slott’s Big Time was shaping up to be a worthy successor to Brand New Day, perhaps even better, but I couldn’t justify trying to read a mostly weekly series when I shouldn’t have been reading any series at all. Early in the run I heard about this issue, marked by a stark white cover by Marcos Martin, in which Peter Parker mourns the death of J. Jonah Jameson’s wife, a personal defeat at a time when it seemed like Slott would finally help develop Spider-Man into less of a caricature than he tends to be portrayed by most creators (as I’ve suggested, Brand New Day was a giant exception, which is why I enjoyed following it, the only time I’ve been a regular reader of one of my favorite superheroes) than a multi-dimensional character with a fully-developed world worthy of his famous origins and not just the typical Marvel machine built around hype and generic storytelling. Yet it appears that even Slott has succumbed to the pressure of delivering Spider-Man as he’s been traditionally presented by the House of Ideas, making this perhaps the standout issue to date of his run, and now perhaps atypical. So I suggest you read it, and prove me wrong if I’m wrong, because I don’t have the experience to be comprehensive of Slott’s run for the past year, falling back on the impression I’ve gotten from events like “Spider-Island,” which don’t feel like they’re worthy of the intimate approach I originally assumed Slott was going to stick with.

From June 2000:
Hey! So let me now chime in here at Comics Reader on one of the biggest comic book stories of 2012, namely DC’s decision to go forward with BEFORE WATCHMEN, and Alan Moore’s bitter renunciation of the project. There’s are reasons to side with Moore, and there are reasons to believe that he’s a bitter old man intent to reject anyone trying to make him, or his legacy, do anything without his explicit approval. Moore is without a doubt one of the greatest writers to ever grace the medium, but at this point he’s better known for being crotchety about film adaptations and angrily swearing off any notion of the mainstream, instead retreating to, well, others people’s creations and his interpretations of them. Some people defend his decision to do this by saying it’s different from what he himself has been disputing all these years, because he’s alive and, say, Mark Twain is not. He can make decisions based on whether or not he personally created something and can make a public and legal claim to that effect, whereas Twain cannot (because, to borrow from Monty Python, he has ceased to be). I respect Moore, but he’s become a writer less influenced by the need to create new and compelling work than provoking a reaction. LXG is a prime example, blending a number of disparate literary creations to assemble a historic Justice League. There’s nothing particularly wrong with that, and this issue (the penultimate one of the original mini-series) exhibits a sober result, but I can’t help lament the loss of the guy who used to do this stuff to more productive results. Is there an argument out there that LXG is comparable to WATCHMEN? Because I think that would make a far more compelling argument than anything Moore has said in the past few months.

From May 2007:
Speaking of diminished returns, even Greg Rucka apparently didn’t have anything relevant to say about Bane a few years ago. (I suppose the case would be different if Bane had boobs, because Fire receives more nuanced treatment in this issue.) It’s incredible to me that a character who started out with such a specific and dramatic origin as Bane was so easily reduced to “that big dude who used drugs to pump up and break Batman’s back,” and set off on increasingly meaningless further adventures, eventually winding up a virtual punchline and not even a shadow of his former self in Gail Simone’s SECRET SIX, a book shared by Catman, whose revival in the same INFINITE CRISIS prelude material that helped bring us this incarnation of Checkmate rescued him from exactly that fate (or, to be more accurate, actually made a character out of him). Thank god for Christopher Nolan, is all. Thank god he was able to figure out that there was a reason Bane was created in the first place, and it wasn’t to slum by on a distortion or outright simplification of his reason for existence. I think there’s BANE OF THE DEMON waiting for me to read somewhere, perhaps the only other time besides “Knightfall” and the two VENGEANCE OF BANE one-shots where reading Bane is actually worthwhile. I may have to work on tracking that one down, and quit expecting to read just any random appearance to not be, more or less, a waste of my time…

(This week's column brought to you by Bitter Returns.)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Quarter Bin #31 "Catching up with Waid, Fialkov, Robinson, & Morrison"

From July 1999:
This is the conclusion of the six-part “Chain Lightning,” one of Mark Waid’s final Wally West epics (before the “Dark Flash Saga,” which I’d never heard about beware doing a little research, and the poorly-received latter-day reprise of “The Wild Wests”). I tracked this one down because “Chain Lightning” was a story I was abruptly forced to quit when I weaned myself off comics in 1999, and I was always curious about how it ended. With art from Paul Pelletier, as it turns out. Pelletier was a favorite of mine, thanks in no small part to his work in SUPERBOY AND THE RAVERS, so it was nice to discover that he was another of the fine artists who worked with Waid on THE FLASH (there’s a laundry list). Anyway, also with a nod to CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, long before Geoff Johns wrote a sequel, during a time when fans might’ve believed that they had already heard all there was to know about that event. Wally’s predecessor and mentor, Barry Allen (and this was long before anyone suspected Barry himself would make a comeback) famously met his end in that story, and so “Chain Lightning,” which had already introduced Barry’s apparent evil twin, the original Thawne, built toward Wally finally facing that moment, with complicated results, and once again affirming that his legacy wasn’t to carry on Barry’s but to build his own. It’s certainly an interesting issue to read for any of the reasons you can gleam from these thoughts.

ELK’S RUN #1 (Hoarse & Buggy)
From 2005:
I first came upon the name Joshua Hale Fialkov when I was a part of the Digital Webbing community, and his name was already kind of legendary thanks to his work on this mini-series (I don’t know what happened to the publishing company Hoarse & Buggy, but ELK’S RUN could easily be published by Image or Vertigo today), which was his first published comics work. Today he writes I, VAMPIRE for the New 52. ELK’S RUN is something I’ve meant to read since I first heard about it, and so I’m finally making good on that personal commitment, and this issue is a fine reason to believe the rest of it is equally excellent. Fialkov remains someone I believe will make a huge impact on the comics landscape, and I’m happy to have been there at the beginning. Well, close enough.

JSA #1 (DC)
From August 1999:
James Robinson, still flush from his STARMAN success, helped launch the new adventures of the Justice Society along with David S. Goyer (and an opening push from Grant Morrison), lending Jack Knight and his gift for getting at the heart of the connectedness at the heart of a shared superhero community. The series continued, with another relaunch added in the mix, until the New 52, where it’ll soon be reborn, again under the auspices of Robinson, as EARTH 2. I thought, thanks to my recent experience reading STARMAN, that I should read at least the start of his JSA.

JLA #31 (DC)
From July 1999:
I’ve been playing catch-up with Grant Morrison’s JLA for the last several years now, finally reading the complete ONE MILLION and “World War Three,” and now the conclusion to “Crisis Times Five” (which curiously ran for four issues). As I indicated above, this is the story Morrison did to help launch the new Justice Society, which in Morrison’s hands is predictably more grandiose than written by anyone else. Mixing the imps of the 5th Dimension with Thunderbolt formally in the possession of Johnny Thunder, the League joins forces with the new Hourman as they confront Triumph, the DC equivalent of Marvel’s Sentry.

From January-March 2005:
As I’ve said before, I was inexplicably avoiding Morrison during my transition back into reading comics around this time (it was SEVEN SOLDIERS OF VICTORY that convinced me back aboard), so I should have been enjoying these issues as they were released. Instead it took a few more years. One of my main hooks was experiencing Knight and Squire in some of their original modern tales, after Morrison bringing them back along with the rest of the Club of Heroes, and eventually the excellent Paul Cornell mini-series, and truth be told, although billed as an Ultramarines tale (they were a team Morrison introduced in his JLA run), the British Batman & Robin are more or less the stars of the story anyway, so that was pretty awesome to learn. There’s also clear foreshadowing for SEVEN SOLDIERS, plus the joy of reading Morrison writing the League again, which was assumed to be the hook in the first place, as well as art from Ed McGuinness. As it turns out, I was an idiot to avoid this the first time around, but the truth is, I probably appreciate it more now. By the way, nobody writes Gorilla Grodd like Grant Morrison.

Green Lantern #6

writer: Geoff Johns
artist: Mike Choi

"I find it hard to believe I'm looking at the once great Starstorm."

I have no idea who the hell Starstorm is, but the magic of this issue is that Geoff Johns gets me to, for the history Sinestro suggests that exists between them as well as the fact that he helps facilitate a link forward in the chain that's been pointing at the next big story in Johns's Green Lantern saga.

Since before the New 52 relaunch, Sinestro's been on an improbable path of redemption, which has both benefited and baffled Hal Jordan, who on the one hand has lost regular status in the GL Corps and therefore is free to pursue his human life and Carol Ferris, but on the other is the only person Sinestro still trusts, and so he's constantly pulled back in to help out on whatever the Korugaran's latest quest turns out to be.

This issue, he stumbles on the fact that the Guardians are planning a "third army," and readers are given every indication that the mysterious Indigo Tribe will be involved (they'll be in the spotlight next time!). While Sinestro continues to clean up the mess of the yellow-ringed Corps that now bears a connection to himself in name only, we move ever closer to an advancement of the plot. Johns is a master of narrative and characterization, something few readers seem willing to grant him, and his Green Lantern comics are becoming more and more his crowning achievement. With each passing month, he seems to be revealing just how big his vision really is, and it's been years in the making.

Justice League #5

writer: Geoff Johns
artist: Jim Lee

"Who the hell's Bruce Wayne?"

That's just a highlight of the conversation Green Lantern and Batman have during this latest issue of Johns and Lee's superior Justice League. All along I've been describing this series as the event book as an ongoing exercise, and this issue just confirms that all over again. I've read nothing much good from other commentators around the Web, but to me, that's just insane, because this is not only a definitive team book much less one starring the Justice League, but the best possible way to introduce each of the team's members to anyone curious enough to want a look.

This is the team's first adventure. They're all meeting each other for the first time, and so they're also figuring out what it means to be superheroes in a world where there are differing approaches (not to mention advantages) to doing so. The juxtaposition of Green Lantern and Batman is something few writers have really tried to work with (Frank Miller comes to mind), and here Johns is actually suggesting they're a lot alike. He would know about Green Lantern, so on the eve of his Earth One date with Batman, it's interesting to see exactly what Johns thinks of the Dark Knight (adding to what he already did, brilliantly in Flashpoint, by the way).

Add Darkseid to the mix, and you've got an iconic story in the making.

Action Comics #6

writer: Grant Morrison
artist: Andy Kubert

"I promised an opportunity unique in all time and space, and I always deliver."

That's one of the opening lines of dialogue in this issue, and it's hard not to imagine that Grant Morrison wrote it with his audience in mind. Every now and again, even if it's just your reputation, it's okay for a writer like Morrison to remind the reader that he's fully aware of expectations.

This issue delivers. Early issues focused a great deal on Superman's formative days in Metropolis, his introduction to the world (and nemesis Lex Luthor), as reimagined by Morrison, tightening the lens on the most important aspects and breathing new life into them, taking the myth of the Man of Steel and making it that much more mythical. (That, by the way, is Morrison's style in a nutshell.) After the introduction of Brainiac and the bottling of Metropolis, the story took a swift turn into the relatively abstract, as Morrison attempts to give us the big picture without belaboring the point he was originally making. Now that we know who's in the driver's seat, this issue seems to be saying, it's safe to let loose.

The Legion of Super-Heroes has been a part of Superman and DC lore in general for decades, but few writers seem to realize what exactly that means. That's what Morrison corrects here, very quickly and very well. Most of the Legion's stories keep them in their youth; it wasn't until a few years ago, thanks to Geoff Johns, that they could be seen as adults, carrying on the same legacy that they helped created when they visited the young Clark Kent (there's a fine point made about that here, too). It's the adults Morrison employs as he surges ever forward in whatever he's got planned for Superman.

Really, who doesn't want to find out?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Quarter Bin #30 "Time of Your Life"

From October 2001:
Today it seems weird to even consider that Martian Manhunter has actually had an ongoing series, much less that it ran (only?) for a few years. Thanks to Grant Morrison’s JLA, J’onn J’onzz finally had a high enough profile where DC, after many decades, thought he could carry one even though he’s a green-skinned, bald alien whose costume traditionally features practically nothing but a blue cape. Writer John Ostrander chose a strictly cerebral approach from the start, and stuck with it to the end, a mere one more issue after this one, crafting story after story of the introvert’s continued battles with the ghosts of his past, namely unresolved conflicts with the dead Martians who were more often than not related to him (the superb 2006-2007 mini-series that sought to given J’onn a more modern look and perspective did pretty much the same). In the New 52 he’s been drafted into Stormwatch, but I figure Martian Manhunter would probably work best in a Vertigo title (maybe not as much the modern Vertigo), where the rich storytelling potential that persists around him could truly be exploited and appreciated, since very few creators seem interested in seeing what it would be like to see what he looks like in the mainstream (other than munching on Oreos). Anyway, Ostrander goes so far here as to see what he looks like in Jack Kirby’s Fourth World. Because nothing says popular appeal like Jack Kirby’s Fourth World!

From September 2002:
This was one of those books that were practically doomed from the start, after such a distinct and awesome and totally appropriate creative team of Mark Waid and Humberto Ramos helped introduce it. Any other combination was either going to have to try and live up to it, ape it as closely as possible, or actually try something else. For a while, trying to live up to it actually seemed to work, under the auspices of William Messner-Loebs and Craig Rousseau (who memorably gave us a bald Bart Allen), but I think after a while, aping was exactly what subsequent creators tried to do, which is what I found in here. I had to give up reading the book in 1999, so I lost track of what the series became, and only knew that it was eventually cancelled and morphed into Geoff Johns’ new vision of Bart in TEEN TITANS. There’s nothing particularly wrong with Todd Dezago and Carlo Barberi, except they’ve basically taken the Waid/Ramos template and all but made a parody of it. There are letters from readers in the back of the issue (the penultimate one of the series) calling it a young reader’s haven, but that wasn’t what the series was originally intended to be. I call this dilemma Harry Potter Syndrome, in that J.K Rowling makes it cool for kids to read again, and so publishers rush into accepting inferior product from other writers who only think they know how to write for this audience. Again, it’s not a bad issue, but for anyone with experience with earlier issues, it just doesn’t stand up. (Then again, when I say reinvention…well, I was going to use SUPERBOY #100 as an example, because I’ve written about that one in a previous Quarter Bin, #22 to be precise, but I’ve got a better one later this very column.)

From December 2001:
Slightly earlier in the title’s past we have a “Joker: Last Laugh” tie-in from Dezago that puts the focus on Max Mercury and a foe from his past. Normally I would have been extremely happy to read an issue that puts the spotlight on Max, because I quickly became a fan of the Zen Master of Speed from Mark Waid’s introduction of him in “The Return of Barry Allen” (these days I need to probably explain that this particular story isn’t what you might expect from that title, and I’ll simply implore you to read all of Waid’s Flash from this time). The problem is, Max is written the same way Bart is by Dezago, and it’s with no real grasp that it’s a character who used to be taken seriously, which is not to say Dezago doesn’t, but not in the same way as Mark Waid. It’s like reading a Will Payton Starman by someone other than James Robinson. Sure, it’s possible, but are you really going to care? Also, in regards to “Joker: Last Laugh,” I kind of feel bad for DC readers who had to put up with this particular crossover.

From April 2009:
It was easy to tell back in 2009 that Dick Grayson would be a big hit as Batman, because the final issue of his first Nightwing series sold so much better than any other one probably since the earliest ones. I know I had a hard time finding it, for years, and even double-dipped on the one right before it because I was so convinced and confused about which one the last one actually was. Well, I finally corrected that and read the issue, from Peter Tomasi, the writer who took over from Marv Wolfman, who took over from Bruce Jones, who couldn’t possibly have hoped to follow in the footsteps of Devin Grayson (no matter what popular opinion says about her) or Chuck Dixon, especially since he was the first writer to try and toss out everything that had previously been established in the series. (Wolfman, who tried his best to tap into Dick’s history in other respects, came to closest to bringing the book back to its glory days.) Now, I love Tomasi, whether working on Green Lantern, THE MIGHTY, or even the odd BATMAN & ROBIN I’ve managed to read from him and Patrick Gleason, but he was not a good fit for NIGHTWING. This final issue is more awkward than I’d hoped (best sequence is the backup “Origins & Omens” feature that involves Barbara Gordon), but was still worth finally reading, knowing what was coming next, and certainly now that I’ve read Kyle Higgins’ excellent New 52 series.

NIGHTWING #s 84-85 (DC)
From October & November 2003:
Devin K. Grayson doesn’t get near enough respect, and here’s why in a nutshell: all the work Chuck Dixon put into crafting Dick Grayson’s first ongoing series, crafting a whole city of his own around him, Devin exquisitely deconstructed. To this day I don’t know if that was Dixon’s plan all along, if Devin was working from an outline she only had to embellish, or if and more likely she envisioned her own scenario that happened to beautifully complement what had come before, but the bottom line is, as much as I liked what Dixon did, I loved what Devin did that much more. Dixon introduced the character of Tad Ryerstad, “Nite-wing,” and a whole rogues gallery of corrupt law enforcers, and even introduced Blockbuster as Nightwing’s personal Kingpin, but it was Devin who realized that the character of Tarantula was necessary to bring it all together, someone who could work with all of Dick Grayson’s strengths and weaknesses (their relationship culminates in what fans at the time decried as an emasculating and humiliating “rape,” and then like a classic thriller pretty much everyone but Nightwing dead). These are some key issues in Devin’s run, which also included a coda in which Dick pretends to turn villain during the height of the “Villains United” lead-up to INFINITE CRISIS. If I had it my way, every one of Devin’s issues on NIGHTWING would be in collected edition form, and she’d be working alongside Higgins in the continuing adventures of Dick Grayson. If many fans still hold up Frank Miller’s Daredevil to be one of the peaks of comic book storytelling, Devin Grayson’s Nightwing was taking the precedent to the next level.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Cobra Annual 2012

writer: Chuck Dixon
artist: SL Gallant

Normally IDW's Cobra series demands to be written by Mike Costa (with or without Christos Gage and most frequently illustrated by Antonio Fuso), who seemed like the only creator capable of providing the trademark character-based storytelling required to deliver the Cobra perspective from a truly compelling, psychological perspective. I've just learned that Chuck Dixon can do it, too. (This is the first time someone other than Costa or Gage, who left a few years ago, has written one of the company's G.I. Joe books with "Cobra" in the name.) Dixon wrote a Zartan origin that suggested to a certain extent that he might be qualified, but now he's stepped up fully to the plate. This is a sign that the company realizes more than ever that the Cobra books are the best thing it's got in this franchise. After "Cobra Civil War" spun out of G.I. Joe: Cobra (which was quickly relaunched simply as Cobra), it was easy to get that impression, but this has got to be the defining turning point. The story's not too bad, either, in case you were wondering. The new Cobra Commander is a completely new character, and his origin helps fit him in with everything Costa has done with the characters who used to be one-dimensional villains. I have to imagine that Costa himself didn't write this one due to his recently cancelled Black Hawks (which curiously lacked any real sense of character) work at DC. All I can say is, I hope IDW does more and more G.I. Joe stuff like this.

The Shade #s 2-4

writer: James Robinson
artist: Cully Hamner, Darwyn Cooke (#4)

This is a book that has sadly become lost in the New 52 mix, launching a month after the big buzz captured everyone's attention, and even for me has proven difficult to find on a regular basis (which is why I've got three issues listed here). Robinson had one of the biggest critical hits of the 1990s in Starman, but he hasn't often pleased readers since. This was supposed to be his big return to form, and it actually is, like a mainstream version of the stuff Ed Brubaker has been doing for the last few years with books like Criminal, Incognito, and the new Fatale, an almost film noir kind of story featuring a comic book villain who's only now getting around to explaining how badly he's been misunderstood, possibly because he's just getting around to revealing his mysterious origins. Aside from Robinson is Cully Hamner, an artist in the same vein as Raphael Albuquerque who may have found his own American Vampire (though Darwyn Cooke provides the art for the "Times Past" issue that may be the one to convince readers that the series is worth following after all). This one's running for twelve issues, which may be long enough to find an audience, and also the exact point where that audience will start wishing that it had been an ongoing series. DC will probably breathe easy knowing they already settled on the best of both worlds. Welcome back, James Robinson.

Prophet #21

writer: Brandon Graham
artist: Simon Roy

Perhaps one of the more intriguing comic book stories is the continuing saga of Rob Liefeld's career, from boy genius to Image co-founder to pariah and back to respected member of the greater comics community (in this case, a prominent member of the class of the New 52 at DC as well), still trying to work on the creations he brought to Image twenty years ago. I knew next to nothing about the Prophet concept before this was announced, and that's just as well, since as far as I can tell, you don't need to. Like someone took a look at Peter Jackson's Skull Island monsters in his King Kong and decided to make a comic book series about them, Brandon Graham has (theoretically) reshaped the series into a bid to reclaim humanity from its own mistakes, with a man named John Prophet waking up in the future with a plan to set things right again after the planet has been claimed by aliens who've done a fair bit of redecorating in the intervening centuries. More like Walking Dead than Spawn, this is exactly the kind of material that the company has become known for since its dramatic debut two decades ago, gradually becoming a haven for anyone looking for anything other than the mainstream. Most of the time, it's meant that Image has had to settle for significantly fewer readers than it once had, but a project like Prophet might help turn that around, with a peculiar mix of familiarity and the sense of the unknown mixing together for an experience that will no doubt prove compelling for fans interested in discovering the next big thing.

Quarter Bin #29 "The Future is in the Past (sometimes)"

From August 1989:
The theme of this edition of Quarter Bin is pretty much spelled out in the subtitle; there's a lot of rich storytelling material waiting to be rediscovered in back issue bins, and as primary case-in-point we begin with Jack Kirby's perennial, in this iteration being co-written by comics historian Mark Evanier (no other name involved has immediate historic appeal). As with just about every other New Gods comic, much of the story in this issue reiterates the New Gods story, pivoting around Orion, spawn of Darkseid, raised by Highfather (the opposite is true of Mister Miracle). I begin to suspect that the problem this franchise constantly runs into is that the material isn’t inviting enough; either you already like it or you don’t, and probably won’t, either. It’s a problem of accessibility. This leads us to…

From August 1977:
A relaunch literally a few years after Kirby’s original Fourth World tales (spanning NEW GODS, FOREVER PEOPLE, and MISTER MIRACLE), this one features writing from Gerry Conway and an inexplicably redesigned Orion (looking a bit like Geo-Force, actually), and assumed that someone other than Kirby could make the franchise more reader-friendly. That may very well be the case yet, even if readers have since put up nearly-insurmountable barriers. John Byrne, at least in my experience, probably came to closest in a strictly canonical sense with JACK KIRBY’S FOURTH WORLD, while COUNTDOWN TO FINAL CRISIS, if read strictly as a Fourth World adventure, would probably do the trick, even if it has the actual FINAL CRISIS to compete with (and hey, it’s Grant Morrison, so a lot of readers assumed the end result was necessarily more significant in any respect than DC’s second weekly series, which I thought was criminally underrated to begin with). What the New Gods need (and what Morrison recognized, if apparently unsatisfactorily) is a strong connection to regular continuity (and again, even Kirby knew that, which was why he liked to sneak in connections to Superman, just not clearly enough; and this brings up another point, in that how awesome would it have been for the King to work on the Man of Steel directly?). Morrison’s answer was to bring Darkseid down to earth, grounding the signature figure of the Fourth World in a human frame. COUNTDOWN, meanwhile, embroiled a number of Earth-based characters in an adventure that ultimately led to the Fourth World, which to my mind is exactly what the franchise needs. If that connection had been more explicit, perhaps readers would have cared a little more. Anyway, RETURN OF THE NEW GODS was not the answer, obviously. There’s a bonus, though! If you possess a working time machine, you can find a handy way to be cast in 1978’s SUPERMAN (you will believe that Gene Hackman can pull off Lex Luthor), thanks to a contest printed in this issue!

From October 1994:
Another veteran of the 1993 Bloodlines experiment (see also Quarter Bin #s 6 & 8, for Sparx and Argus), Anima was a teen punk enthusiast who became bonded with Animus, her own monster guardian (the 1990s were a great decade to feel nostalgic for the Captain Marvel dynamic of a surrogate character in some sort of partnership with a heroic figure; see also Prime and The Maxx) she could summon in times of need. Anima made a minor sensation and then disappeared completely, like most of the Bloodlines characters, briefly being considered part of DC’s teen line that included Superboy, Robin, Impulse, and Damage. The concept as outlined in this Zero Month issue probably would have fit her nicely in the Vertigo line of the time, except writers (and creators) Elizabeth Hand and Paul Witcover (and this may also help explain her fate, because, really, who?) probably failed to make it clear enough (the series, which had already run about half a dozen issues to this point, lasted about as many more). This is not to say Anima is actually worthless or hopelessly a product of its time. In fact, even considering how Hand and Witcover basically made it a period piece waiting to happen; only a few minor changes would be necessarily to drag it into the OWS era. Besides, comics could always use a few more female lead characters.

From 1993:
The Bloodlines annual that introduced one of the few characters from the experiment to receive their own ongoing series, this was written, naturally, by Hand and Witcover, and follows the same basic outline as every other installment of the event: spinal fluid-sucking aliens unwittingly unlock powers in a random victim, and the resulting character either becomes a hero and helps the main characters or gets in their way. The New Titans were the latter-day New Teen Titans, getting long in the tooth from their Wolfman/Perez heyday but not yet decided on actually (or trying to) move on with their lives. The artwork doesn’t really do the Titans themselves any favors, nor Anima, but it does look good on the aliens, who could perhaps reappear one day, with a slightly more focused story and a more confident lead writer who could flesh them out a little, make them more distinctive…

From February 1997:
Chris Claremont probably had the most precipitous fall in modern comics history, from writing the most popular comics of the 1980s (and a few years into the next decade) to be an afterthought whose new X-Men comics were completely overlooked a few years ago. That helps explain why everyone found his creator-owned DC work so easy to dismiss, even though I thought SOVEREIGN SEVEN to be some of the best comics I read during that time. The only problem I identify in hindsight is the same problem the New Gods have had for the past four decades, a problem of accessibility. He came up with a great concept, and a distinctive set of characters, but there was no real perspective in how the stories actually handled them. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. When a large audience is supposed to embrace it, the more deliberate the better (small audiences like insular worlds better), so that everyone has a chance to either latch onto a particular element and try and juggle all of it (again, large audiences are a diverse lot and more often than not are not actually united about the things they like about the one thing they all like). What’s so funny about this one-shot is that Claremont, who clearly would’ve liked to write him some Legion of Super-Heroes, approaches the Legion the way he should have the Sovereigns, with a very selective use from it, concentrating on Saturn Girl while his own team dances around her, with a soft focus on Network (without ever really explaining why readers should care as much about her as he does Saturn Girl). Having read SOVEREIGN SEVEN, I know that Claremont did spend a fair amount of time developing Network and lead character Cascade, and spent time showing how the other characters were unique, but what he failed to do was keep any of them apart long enough for readers to try investing themselves in any of them. That’s what truly makes Alan Moore’s WATCHMEN stand out from other superhero comics, in that he wrote about a team, but that team didn’t really hang out together during the series, and so Moore was able to write about the characters rather than the team, and readers have any number of narratives ready-made for easy consumption (even though the story as a whole assumes you can put all of it together). Then again, WATCHMEN was a twelve-issue maxi-series, and DC probably assumed, the same way that Claremont did, that SOVEREIGN SEVEN, being an ongoing series, wouldn’t have to follow the same rules. Pointedly, the New 52 uniformly puts character first. So, a couple of lessons: respect Claremont, let him write the Legion, and remember that character ought to trump most other elements in a story.

From September 1992:
Can you believe that there was a time when the Green Lantern franchise didn’t depend on Geoff Johns to carry a full slate of titles? When this issue was published, there was also GREEN LANTERN (the standard flagship) and GREEN LANTERN: MOSAIC, starring John Stewart, with the first Guy Gardner solo book on the horizon. It seems unbelievable now! It certainly was by 1994, when MOSAIC had been forgotten, QUARTERLY cancelled, WARRIOR (what GUY GARDNER transitioned into fairly quickly) barely acknowledging that Guy had once slung a green ring, and Kyle Rayner the last of the Corps (for a while). This one, then, is a great issue to stumble across; a sort of time capsule to what might have been an alternate version of the franchise’s fortunes, if only a few more issues here and there had been sold. The framing narrative is an incredibly unsubtle plug for MOSAIC (I myself have only ever read the first issue, which is something I’ve been trying to correct for the past few years now, but is difficult short of ordering from the Interweb to actually accomplish), a conversation between Hal Jordan and Stewart that catches the reader up on things the latter has been experiencing lately (and can it also be emphasized that Geoff Johns singlehandedly reintroduced Sinestro as an active participant in the Green Lantern saga after many years of near-neglect?) in his own book, leading into short stories involving Alan Scott (who had only recently returned to regular appearances in the pages of a short-lived Justice Society relaunch that as a result only helped remind readers who all those old-timers were who becomes victims of ZERO HOUR), G’Nort, and “The History of Sector 2814,” the plug on the cover that made me buy the issue in the first place. Yes, we get a tale of an 1800s American who becomes drafted into the Corps in the midst of a personal crisis, but I guess what I expected was a somewhat more literal history, detailing predecessors of Hal Jordan and Abin Sur, which leads me to one of my biggest points for this column: Star Wars fans have been accepting generic sci-fi drivel for years from creative minds other than George Lucas, badly filling in elements of the saga that don’t revolve around Anakin Skywalker, yet DC can’t be bothered to do a regular anthology of Green Lantern stories that look at all the interesting things that probably happened prior to the modern era? I mean, sure, we’ve had the sporadic Abin Sur tale, and Johns expanded on the Alan Moore prophecy of the Darkest Night, but there’s so much more that could be done, the first Green Lanterns, even so far back as the Manhunters, or simply fleshing out the rest of Sector 2814 (that’s one of my biggest beefs with the franchise, that sectors and their designations and representatives are mostly a crapshoot any writer can improvise at their will), at the very least. Anyway, Gerard Jones and M.D. Bright (one of my personal defining Green Lantern creative teams) provide the framing narrative, while other featured fellows include Roger Stern, Dusty Abell, Mark Waid (whose story is highly amusing, and together with IMPULSE just screams for Waid to write in this style more frequently), Ty Templeton, Doug Moench, and even Scott Lobdell.

Anyway, that’s it for this column!