Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Secret Origins

Action Comics #0 (DC)
writer: Grant Morrison 
artist: Ben Oliver 
September marks DC's second ever Zero Month (the original being from 1994 in conjunction with Dan Jurgens' Zero Hour), and where else would I want to start but with Grant Morrison's Superman?  Since the launch of the New 52 a year ago, this has been the all-star of the crop, which is ironic, because of course Morrison also once gave us All Star Superman, which was as big-picture as the Man of Steel has ever gotten.  Action Comics has been small-picture from the start, a more intimate Superman than perhaps anyone not dealing almost exclusively with Clark Kent has ever gotten.  The redesign (two-fold in the New 52; the armor that the present version has, and the jeans-and-tee-shirt version in these pages, set five years in the past) has been a standout feature, and the origin of that t-shirt has been something Morrison has been teasing.  One of the things this issue does is settle that once and for all.  There's also the matter of the Kryptonian cape that's indestructible, and has also been a prominent element of the book.  It falls into the possession of a boy whose father has been terrorizing the family, and the effects are interesting enough.  But again, there's more to the issue!  The dynamic between Clark and Jimmy Olsen is another highlight.  (They're all highlights.)  The guest art of Ben Oliver (who's been crushing Batwing) is another.  The backup feature written by Sholly Fisch is another!  It's a riff on the Captain Comet story that Morrison has worked on previously, a secret origin that probably makes Captain Comet more interesting in a few pages than he's been in decades.  (Though one of the more memorable images from 52 involves him, though in pretty grim fashion.)

Cobra #16 (IDW)
writer: Mike Costa
artist: Antonio Fuso
I can never get over how awesome this book is.  It's been running for years, and has remained completely awesome, and redefined IDW's approach to the G.I. Joe franchise, and still doesn't have near the amount of awareness that it deserves.  It's awesome.  In the beginning, the focus was on a single Joe (Chuckles, in Chuckles' most relevant story ever) attempting to infiltrate the mysterious Cobra organization.  Recently the focus has shifted to the Joes working with Cobra defectors (some defecting a little more honestly than others).  It's a very post-9/11 approach to G.I. Joe.  Costa, who worked on Blackhawks for a few months and didn't do anything like his work here, has been one of the best writers of character in comics.  In this issue, he makes the mystique of Firefly pop off the page, and potentially another breakout personality to work with in the future.  The whole run has been filled with stuff like that.

Green Lantern #0 (DC)
writer: Geoff Johns
artist: Doug Mahnke
Speaking of the post-9/11 world, Geoff Johns gets to introduce his very own Earth Green Lantern this issue (has it really taken so long?!?) in the form of Simon Baz, who's in the midst of being mistaken for a terrorist when a green ring finds him in one of the most awkward pieces of timing ever.  It's hard to understand this development not being a bigger deal, though I guess Superman and Wonder Woman over in Justice League does tend to eclipse a lot of things (another Johns book, by the way).  Not only is it a huge twist in a series of huge twists in the Johns run on the franchise, but it's potentially the one with the longest-lasting effect (after all, each of the four previous humans to become Green Lantern are still running around, each of them decades old).  This is the equivalent of Brian Michael Bendis introducing a new Spider-Man.  This will be extremely interesting to follow in the coming months.  And there's also that whole Third Army business coming up!

Scalped #60 (Vertigo)
writer: Jason Aaron
artist: R.M. Guera
I haven't read this series in a couple years, but this being the final issue and all, the moment I learned the end was coming, I knew I was going to have to read it.  I actually had a conversation about it with the cashier at the store (I usually don't do that), who had never read Scalped.  I remarked that the end was about as inevitable as you can get in a story, something very bloody.  Inevitable in a good way, we both decided.  Dashiel Bad Horse in the lead character of the series, but the central figure of the issue is someone else, which is perfectly befitting of Aaron's style.  Jason Aaron has become a hotshot over at Marvel since he began working on Scalped, but aside from a short piece in a one-shot years ago, I've never found anything like the sheer amount of inspiration in his superhero work that he's consistently brought to one of the best comics of the past five years.  And just as I assumed, the issue was easy to appreciate and derive resolution from, even if I missed a good chunk of storyline.  Dash's story could easily continue, but Scalped has definitely concluded.

The Secret History of D.B. Cooper #s 4-5 (Oni)
writer/artist: Brian Churilla
Apparently these are the final issues of the book, depicting the inevitable conclusions of the first three, in which CIA agent D.B. Cooper is exposed for revealing secrets to the Soviet Union in his efforts to escape the program he's been blackmailed into continued participation in thanks to the kidnapping of his daughter, using an alternate dimension to carry out hits.  In that dimension, he's been hanging out with a teddy bear, and these issues reveal the bear's identity, as well as the fateful events that lead to the November 1971 plane incident that was only reported as a hijacking and dramatic escape by Cooper.  Yes, this is all fantasy, but Churilla handles it so brilliantly that you not only accept his conclusions as plausible, but invest it with real emotion.  Five issues is a pretty good haul for a small press book, but I would have loved to read this one for years.  It'll make a very nice trade collection for your bookshelf, though.

The Shade #12 (DC)
writer: James Robinson
artist: Gene Ha
The final issue of this series comes after a year's journey through the mind of experiences of a reformed villain who's lived centuries on the edge of ambiguity, and at last reveals his secret origin.  Perhaps not so surprisingly, it's more of that ambiguity, Richard Swift finding himself in a bad situation because of an ego that got out of control (which would explain why he's been so careful ever since, and is a rare villain who has managed to take himself out of that role).  Like D.B. Cooper and Scalped, there are obvious ways to keep the story going, but as far as the series go, it's the appropriate note to end on.  (Yes, it's odd in hindsight to have gotten all three issues at the same time, and coincidentally appropriate.)  James Robinson I hope has finally convinced some readers that his Starman reputation (for those who liked it; I received a comment from one visitor a while back that suggests not everyone shares it, and that's fine, too) isn't something that's been forsaken since that time.  He can still do that work.  It can sometimes be baffling when a creator does a different kind of story than what their fans know them for, but that doesn't mean the creator has suddenly lost the ability to do the work those fans recognize.  The Shade is in fact different from Starman, too, more intimate, more studied (though those are the very terms that fans of the latter would cling to; I'd use "legacy" and "expansive").  The resulting collection, with its various artists, may prove quite interesting to read.

Thanos Quest (Marvel)
writer: Jim Starlin
artist: Ron Lim
I must admit, my favorite part from this summer's The Avengers remains the big reveal in the credits of Thanos, the rock-jawed Titan whom some comic book fans might mistake for Darkseid (hey, it could happen!), star of the crossover events Infinity Gauntlet and Infinity War.  This book is a reprint prequel, revealing how Thanos acquired the Infinity Gems, basically talismans of power that fans of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine might find similar to the Orbs of the Prophets, in his efforts to woo Death.  To my mind, Thanos is easily the most fascinating character in all of Marvel, and Thanos Quest helps make that point.  He's Jim Starlin's baby, and I'm not sure Starlin has ever found a worthier subject for his talents.  This is classic, epic material.  Why Marvel's summer event involves the Phoenix rather than Thanos can only be considered baffling.  Did the company not know what Joss Whedon was planning?  Thanos is used so sparingly, though, and maybe that's what helps him keep his appeal.  But I'd seriously wonder if the House of Ideas still didn't have something for him by next year.

Monday, September 17, 2012

My Favorite Creator Runs

Brian Cronin's Comics Should Be Good prompted the topic of favorite creator runs, and I responded in the comments with my picks, so I figured I ought to expand on that here.

Now, I'm going to cheat a little here, because Cronin only wanted a very specific set of criteria to be met, mostly to keep mini-series out of the equation, so I'll list my selections and then add the exceptions.

Without further adieu:

1. Mark Waid/Humberto Ramos - Impulse (DC)
Generally the first twenty-five issues (though various artists interposed throughout) of the series, this was the most fun I ever had reading a comic book.  Starring Bart Allen (raised in a virtual reality, hence an inability to accept actual reality most of the time) and his mentor Max Mercury, the Zen master of speed, and spun off from Waid's epic Flash, which Impulse reads like a more perfect version of, with the added benefit of the anime-inspired art of Ramos, which perfectly captures the chaos and wonder of youth.  Released between 1995 and 1997.

2. Grant Morrison - Batman/Batman & Robin/Batman Incorporated (DC)
Other writers have gotten to do iconic stories with the Dark Knight, but no one has defined the character better than Morrison, grasping his entire career, even if that means figuring out how the most outlandish elements fit in.  In a lot of ways, "Batman R.I.P." was only the beginning, what was an updated version of "Knightfall" that tied in with Morrison's own Final Crisis to temporarily remove Bruce Wayne from the playing field (his journey back chronicled in The Return of Bruce Wayne, a more mainstream version of Seven Soldiers of Victory).  No reading of of Morrison's Batman would be complete without Arkham Asylum, a standalone graphic novel that explores the psychology of the franchise better than any other example.  The continuing run began back in 2006.

3. Geoff Johns - Green Lantern: Rebirth/Green Lantern (DC)
No creator has revolutionized a franchise more thoroughly than this.  Starting in 2004 with the resurrection of Hal Jordan in the pages of Rebirth, Johns has added layer upon layer to Green Lantern lore, not the least being the concept of the complete spectrum, building on the Star Sapphires and the renegade Sinestro, who had long slung a yellow ring (curiously Guy Gardner's temporary possession of it has been overlooked).  There are the peaceful Blue Lanterns, the cult-like Indigo Tribe, the vengeful Red Lanterns, the curious Larfleeze (sole representative of the orange power battery of greed), unifying White Lantern, and zombie-inspired Black Lanterns.  Regardless of how you feel about the 2011 movie, it would not exist without this run.

4. Grant Morrison/Howard Porter - JLA (DC)
Famous as the iconic reboot of the Justice League, Morrison and ideal collaborator Porter worked together (with many art substitutes) from 1997 to 2000, pitting DC's biggest heroes against such threats as the White Martians, Darkseid, Prometheus, and others.  Unlike virtually every other incarnation, Morrison was able to capture the essential big and small elements of the League, something he was able to do thanks to Porter's ability to be distinctive and personal at the same time.  The curse of JLA is that it almost stands apart from regular continuity, something later creators didn't seem to understand (a problem Superman/Batman didn't understand either, once Jeph Loeb left), not in a way where any story could be told, but that made sense in a grand scheme.  The final story of the run was foreshadowed at the beginning.  Morrison's One Million crossover event was later reprinted as a volume of the series, but it was the self-contained nature of the book that helped make it so great.

5. Mark Waid - The Flash (DC)
Starting in 1992, Waid revolutionized the characterization of Wally West, the successor of Barry Allen as The Flash.  He put an end to Wally's angst, which had typified the character and series prior to Waid's debut.  He instead pulled a James Robinson/Starman before that series ever existed, figuring out the concept of legacy in the matter of speedsters, and very early on deciding it didn't have to end with Wally and Barry, but could embrace every other known fast runner the company had ever known, unified by a concept known as the Speed Force.  (I was always partial to Max Mercury, a character Waid cobbled together from various existing Golden Age heroes, creating a backstory that still remains mostly untapped.)  Most fans consider Waid's second run (which can be referred to as the Wild Wests era, both because the first collected volume uses that title, and because it features Wally's emerging family) to be inferior to the first, but his creative juices were becoming altered well before that, with "Chain Lightning" an intended culmination that never quite reverberated with fans like "The Return of Barry Allen" (the essential arc), "Terminal Velocity," "Dead Heat," and "Race Against Time," in which Waid gets to plays with John Fox, a character he created before this run technically began.

6. Ron Marz/Darryl Banks - Green Lantern (DC)
Before Geoff Johns, no era had a greater impact on the Green Lantern franchise than its almost total reinvention after the cataclysmic "Emerald Twilight" event that saw Hal Jordan become Parallax.  In the wake of that, the entire Corps was snuffed out, rescued from oblivion only by the rogue (and at the time only surviving) Guardian known as Ganthet giving the last ring to Kyle Rayner.  Marz pulled a Mark Waid and emphasized the legacy as much as the future of the franchise in his stories, which ran from 1994 to 2000.  Banks was his most frequent and distinguished collaborator (though his style tends to look a tad dated today at least as far as his women are concerned; it might also be noted that Marz and Banks are responsible for the "Women in Refrigerators" phenomenon, in "honor" of Kyle's girlfriend Alex, killed off within a few issues of their debut).

7. Karl Kesel/Steve Mattsson/Paul Pelletier - Superboy and the Ravers (DC)
I hold no minor series in greater fondness than this one, a rare spinoff of a spinoff.  Running from 1996 to 1998, for a total of nineteen issues, it features Superboy (one of the "Reign of the Supermen" creations, who received his own series in 1994) and a group of teenaged heroes (including such notables as Sparx, Hero, Kaliber, and Half-Life) united by a mysterious party scene run by Kindred Marx.  Pelletier does provides roughly a year's worth of art in the series.  For anyone curious enough to know what it was all about, it was basically a '90s version of the New Teen Titans.  Curiously (and perhaps because a new Titans book was launched at roughly the same time), no one ever seemed to notice that.

8. Chuck Dixon/Scott McDaniel - Nightwing (DC)
McDaniel's highly stylized, cartoon/action art helped distinguish Dick Grayson's first ongoing series for me, but Dixon helped establish a firm status quo of corruption in a city worse than Gotham for Nightwing, a premise that lasted for more than a hundred issues.  As a unit, Dixon and McDaniel lasted from 1996 to 2000, with a reprise five years later for a Nightwing origin story.  Although building their definitive story around Blockbuster ended up leaving a strong Daredevil impression, the team helped define the character by those around him, something that had been done with both Batman and the Teen Titans before, but never so that Nightwing dominated the landscape, as he most obviously does against a peculiar vigilante wannabe who steals his name but none of his abilities.

9. Louise Simonson/Jon Bogdanove - Superman: The Man of Steel (DC)
To me, the '90s "triangle era" was a renaissance, remembered by most fans for Doomsday and the death of Superman, but filled with exceptional creators.  Simonson and Bogdanove launched Man of Steel in 1991, and were notable participants in many of the events that followed, including the inclusion of John Henry Irons (Steel) in "Reign of the Supermen."  They didn't work on every issue together, but lasted until 1999, the biggest mark of sustained continuity in the franchise that decade.

10. Devin K. Grayson - Nightwing (DC)
Chuck Dixon's successor became controversial in the way she concluded the Blockbuster arc, notably in the character of Tarantula, but there's a reason I've included two separate creative runs from a single ongoing series, because they were equally brilliant.  Spanning roughly 2002 to 2006, Grayson left Nightwing on a high note, bringing the town of Bludhaven down around her, enjoying the moral ambiguity she'd fostered but was always there right to the end.

Honorable mentions, then:

Chuck Dixon & Tom Grummett on Robin; Karl Kesel & Grummett on Adventures of Superman and Superboy; Stuart Immonen on Adventures of Superman, Action Comics, and Superman: End of the Century; Grant Morrison on Seven Soldiers of Victory; Tony Bedard & Scott McDaniel on The Great Ten; Morrison, Mark Waid, Geoff Johns, Greg Rucka, and Keith Giffen on 52; Dan Jurgens on Superman and Justice League America; Dan Vado & Marc Campos on Justice League America and Extreme Justice; John Byrne on Jack Kirby's Fourth World; Dixon & Graham Nolan on Batman; Allan Heinberg & Jim Cheung on Young Avengers and Avengers: The Children's Crusade; Marc Guggenheim on The Amazing Spider-Man; Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale on various; Dave Gibbons & Patrick Gleason on Green Lantern Corps; William Messner-Loebs & Craig Rousseau on Impulse.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Flash Fact!

I don't think I ever mentioned this here, but I was a finalist in a Flash memories contest over at Speed Force.  This was several months ago, but I did win a prize!  I feel a little guilty reading their e-mail updates, since I haven't read The Flash since Geoff Johns left the pre-New 52 book just before Flashpoint.  The neat thing, however, is that they've been doing a series on "The Trial of the Flash," something I know a thing or two about.  If you click on the first link, you'll see how my memories involved Mark Waid's run with Wally West, which included the debut of the Speed Force concept that gives the site its name.  While a lot of fans consider it a black mark on the New 52 that West still has yet to appear, his legacy in previous continuity is so distinct, and tied into his succeeding Barry Allen as The Flash, that it's a little difficult to picture how the two could co-exist at a time when Allen is still being re-established.  The Flash isn't like Green Lantern.  Waid crafted a whole legacy of speedsters, but that was a different time.  Fans enjoyed two ongoing series (The Flash and Impulse, both of which were written by Waid, sort of like Irredeemable and Incorruptible), partly because Bart Allen was rebelling against tradition in much the way Robin and Nightwing did when they received their first series.  Now, maybe that's what it would take, reimagining Wally West to be the exact opposite of what he was known for in his best era, but who would want that? 

Another thing I haven't mentioned is that my entire Wally West/Mark Waid collection that is not in trade collection format, along with every comic I bought from 1992 to 2011 (to Flashpoint) was sold at the end of August in the interests of helping me with a transition.  It was an extremely painful if necessary decision.  There are a great many regrets, comics that I wish I could save, but if I had, it would only have complicated it.  The simple answer in this case was the best one.  I still have the memories, and that's what counts.  I may at some point write about the best of the lost comics, gems I hope their new owners can appreciate.  But, as I'll never know, there's no point speculating about that.  It was a considerable milestone in my life, however, and well worth mentioning on a blog I run dedicated to my comics experience.  I simply did not want to get maudlin about it.  Readers who sift through the archives already know that in the early days of Comics Reader I was in a transition I thought would create a split between me and the new comics reading experience.  That lasted about half a year.  Things change all the time.  It's our ability to adapt that keeps things interesting.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Quarter Bin #43 "Brother's Blitz, Part 1"

Disclaimer: Comics featured in this column do not necessarily come from a quarter bin.  The ones in the "Brother's Blitz" series, however, in all likelihood were got for a good price.  The following are the contents of several boxes given to me as presents more than a decade ago, which I did not read until recently.

The A-Team #1 (Marvel)
From March 1984:
Better to watch the Joe Carnahan film than bother with this comic book, fool!

The Adventures of Superman #450 (DC)
From January 1989,
The Adventures of Superman #452
From March 1989:
From Jerry Ordway (#450) and Dan Jurgens (#452), two creators who defined Superman in the '90s had their start following the famous John Byrne Man of Steel reboot.  These were the comics that fans at the time of Superman's death in 1992 were familiar with, an exile from Earth that would lead to Mongul (well, you'll see).

Aquaman #2 of 4 (DC)
From March 1986:
In this attempt at making Aquaman relevant, he sports a blue version of the red costume Aqualad would sport years later as Tempest.  The writer is legend Neal Pozner.

Avengelyne #1 (Maximum Press)
From May 1995,
Avengelyne #2
From June 1995:
Some genuine '90s artifacts here, complete with a gimmick cover and a bad girl and one of Rob Liefeld's attempts to have his own comics publisher.  That's pretty much it.

Batman Chronicles: The Gauntlet (DC)
From 1997:
I remember this being one of the few comics I was excited to find in those boxes when I originally got them, because 1) it was something I would have gotten by my own druthers, and 2) it's a Robin story.  More importantly, it's a Year One Dick Grayson story, his initiation as the Boy Wonder.  It's one of those prestige format one-shots, which is another thing that was big in the '90s, something I wish DC was still doing.

Cable #39 (Marvel)
From January 1997,
Cable #44 (Marvel)
From June 1997:
I think one of the reasons that Cable is close to a nonentity these days is that he was so closely associated with the '90s X-Men.  If you were to look at the art for these issues, you'd know exactly what I'm talking about.  I don't know what the X-Men editors were thinking, but at least we got Age of Apocalypse, which lives again today.  That's worth remembering.  The actual X-Men books from the time, including Cable's adventures, aren't so much.

Conspiracy #2 (Marvel)
From February 1998:
If you use the "Conspiracy" tag you'll see what resulted from my second read of this issue.  You may remember that I loved this comic so much that I tracked down the first issue.  In some ways, I shouldn't have bothered.  This one's the money shot.  From Dan Abnett, who usually writes with Andy Lanning, comes a a fable about the interconnectedness of classic Marvel origin stories, something the Avengers film franchise has embraced in earnest, making this something of a lost treasure and ancestor text to one of the highest grossing movies in history.  I still wholeheartedly endorse this one.  Dig up the dirt for yourself.

Crimson Dawn - Pyslocke & Archangel #3 (Marvel)
From October 1997:
Uh-oh!  Another "classic" '90s X-Men story!

The Crow: Wild Justice #1 of 3 (Kitchen Sink)
From October 1996,
The Crow: Wild Justice #3 of 3 (Kitchen Sink)
From December 1996:
In pop culture, The Crow is better known from the Brandon Lee film than from the comics, but that's where the character came from.  It's a little surprising that although everyone and their mother attempted to exploit The Crow after the notoriety of the film (Lee infamously died on the set) through various screen spinoffs of increasingly dubious quality, the comics were mostly left in the dust.  This was one of the efforts, and is probably more interesting than all the movies and TV shows put together, reads like an exceptional indy comic from today, and even features art from Charlie Adlard, artist of The Walking Dead.  That makes two things about this entry that bears remembering.

Damned #1 (Homage)
From June 1997,
Damned #2
From July 1997:
Pretty generic for a '90s comic, indy or otherwise.  That's all you need to know.

Daydreamers #3 (Marvel)
From October 1997:
Features work from J.M. DeMatteis and Todd Dezago, but also starring such luminaries as Franklin Richards (the Fantastic son only recently developed past embarrassing by Jonathan Hickman) and Howard the Duck.  Akin to Impulse (Mark Waid's brilliant spinoff from The Flash featuring young Bart Allen, who would one day officially adopt Kid Flash as his moniker) in its final, uninspired days.

DV8 #11 (Image)
September 1997:
Remember when Gen13 was huge?  Well, there was a time when they were.  This was a spinoff, a darker version.

Elfquest: Blood of Ten Chiefs #2 (Warp Graphics)
From September 1993:
Elfquest was kind of a huge fantasy franchise.  It's not anymore.

The Flash #17 (DC)
From October 1988:
Before Mark Waid, Wally West languished for years.  This is nothing against William Messner-Loebs or Greg LaRocque, but anything before Waid's debut some forty issues later can be skipped.

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #17 (Marvel)
From November 1983,
G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #33
From March 1984,
G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #44
From February 1985,
G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #60
From June 1986,
G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #64
From October 1986,
G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #66
From December 1986,
G.I. Joe Yearbook #2
From March 1986,
G.I Joe: Special Missions #1
From October 1986:
So!  A whole bunch of G.I. Joe comics!  The most notable issue from this bunch is #33, which features young Billy's attempted assassination of his father, Cobra Commander, a pivotal moment in franchise lore.  Writer Larry Hama got to continue this series with IDW, but including these issues I've never really read a good G.I. Joe comic other than Action Force (which was a Canadian reprint series I guess I got all the good issues from), DDP's America's Elite, and IDW's Cobra.  Especially the last one.  Special Missions #1 was a special treat to find, though.  For years I only knew it from some G.I. Joe trading cards, so it was nice to finally see in person.  Reading, not so special.

Generation X #1 (Marvel)
From November 1994,
Generation X #3
From January 1995,
Generation X #4
From February 1995,
Generation X #6
From August 1995,
Generation X #30
From September 1997:
The forgotten X-Men legacy of the '90s is actually Generation X, a new class of mutants led by Jubilee (no doubt still riding the fame of the classic cartoon in which she was a prominent character) takes the lead.  The whole basis of my interest in Scott Lobdell's major inclusion in the New 52 was because of reading these issues.  It's truly good stuff, and his recent work on Red Hood and the Outlaws has been comparable.  I don't get why Marvel has since buried this stuff.  The last issue is actually written by James Robinson!

Genesis #3 (DC)
From October 1997:
One of DC's patented annual crossover events from the '90s, from John Byrne and heavily featuring Jack Kirby's Fourth World (the New Gods), which Byrne was handling on a monthly basis at the time (highly recommended for fans).  Some might consider it a poor substitute for its '80s predecessor, Legends, but I've always had a soft spot for it.  When done properly, the Fourth World has few equals.

Green Arrow #4 of 4 (DC)
From August 1983:
There was a time when Green Arrow didn't have a monthly series.  This was one of the steps that helped change that.  Otherwise not terribly notable.

Green Lantern #194 (DC)
From November 1985,
Green Lantern #195
From December 1985:
Current fans may be forgiven to believe that John Stewart, Guy Gardner, and Hal Jordan somehow always juggled representing Earth in the Green Lantern Corps.  These issues can help alleviate the confusion.  Jordan is on a break from the Corps, Stewart is the ringbearer, Crisis on Infinite Earths is happening, and Gardner is finagling his way back into the fold.  There's a bumpy ride from this point, too!  Green Lantern becomes Green Lantern Corps, is cancelled; Green Lantern is relaunched, Jordan returns; Gardner discovers his yellow ring, becomes Warrior; Stewart joins the Darkstars; Jordan goes crazy; Kyle Rayner becomes the last Green Lantern; Jordan redeems himself, comes back; Corps is reignited; all four humans become regular, simultaneous members!

Journey into Mystery #514 (Marvel)
From November 1997:
The series that launched Thor staged a comeback in the '90s (why not?), returned to its anthology roots.  This issue features Shang-Chi, Marvel's Bruce Lee.

Justice Society: America vs. the Justice Society #4 of 4 (DC)
From April 1985:
I don't know for certain (though I could easily look it up), but this is likely the last appearance of the venerated team before the '90s, featuring Roy Thomas explaining how the team came to an end (at the time), including the famed House Un-Americans Committee showdown.

Legends #1 of 6 (DC)
From November 1986,
Legends #2
From December 1986:
Ah!  Well remember Genesis from a few comics ago?  This is what I was referring to, and as it happens also the inspiration for the arc from Smallville's final season concerning Darkseid and various cronies attempting to discredit superheroes.  The all-star collaborators for this event included John Ostrander, Len Wein, John Byrne (surprise!), and Karl Kesel.

Legion of Super-Heroes #11 (DC)
From June 1985,
Legion of Super-Heroes #25
From August 1986,
Legionnaires #29
From September 1995:
The Legion has been a staple at DC for decades, partly because of its ties to Superboy (the version that was simply a young Superman), and also because along with New Teen Titans, it was a verifiable bestseller in the '80s.  Much of what fans know about the Legion today, however, was established in the '90s, when it supported two ongoing series, as it does today.  (Don't worry, I've got more Legion coming up!)

Machine Man #3 of 4 (Marvel)
From December 1984:
The character was pretty interesting in Earth X.  Not so much here.  Written by Tom DeFalco.

Ms Mystic #1 (Continuity)
From October 1987:
From legend Neal Adams, so pretty interesting.

The New Mutants #63 (Marvel)
From May 1988:
Generation X this is not.  Still, from Chris Claremont (who owned the X-Men franchise for years) and Louis Simonson (who owned Superman: The Man of Steel for years).

ROM #24 (Marvel)
From November 1981,
ROM #37
From December 1982:
Marvel has tried a long time to make its space-faring stories interesting.  This was one of those efforts.  Note I did not say "success."

Sensei #4 (First)
From December 1989:
Not much to look at here.  Move along.

Shi: Senryaku #1 of 3 (Crusade)
From August 1995:
Assuming you're still reading, you now get a huge reward!  The anti-bad girl created by William Tucci was only big during the...same time the bad girls were popular.  She's the star of this comic, naturally, but the true significance of this issue is that it inspired much of what I did with the manuscript for Yoshimi, my fourth completed manuscript.  Tucci includes the classic 36 Stratagems of war, which I subsequently incorporated into Yoshimi, much as he does here.  Yes, I stole from Bill Tucci.  I hoping he'll be flattered.  Yoshimi is not the only reason I would easily consider this one of the best comics I've ever read.  Score another point for the Brother's Blitz!

Shi #3 (Crusade)
From October 1997:
I've got nothing much to say about this one, however.

Silver Surfer #18 (Marvel)
From December 1988:
See my comments on ROM above.  Features art from Ron Lim!

Sovereign Seven #30 (DC)
From January 1998:
After a hot debut, interest in this series quickly cooled, though I was an avid fan all the way through.  Chris Claremont's great original creation, survivors of alien worlds band together and eventually add Power Girl to their ranks (in the interest of attempting to reclaim a mainstream audience, because otherwise it doesn't make too much sense).  Features art from Ron Lim!

Spectacular Spider-man #-1 (Marvel)
From July 1997:
Usually gimmick issues were a DC thing in the '90s, but this was a rare opportunity for Marvel to get in on the action, "Flashback" stories (hence the negative number count).  This one's written by J.M. DeMatteis (there he is again!) and features a young Peter Parker's struggles with "Flash" Thompson.  The reader gets to see the human side of a classic comics bully!

Star Trek #16 (DC)
From July 1985,
Star Trek #36
From March 1987:
That's an Andorian on the cover of #16!

Star Wars: A New Hope - The Special Edition #2 of 4 (Dark Horse)
From February 1997:
For the record, includes events from the destruction of Alderaan to the death of Ben Kenobi!  So yes, this is an adaptation of the first film, from the special edition released that year.  Some fans believe George Lucas tinkering with his own movies is blasphemous.  I find that reaction to be humorous.

Star Wars - X-Wing Rogue Squadron: Requiem for a Rogue #2 of 4 (Dark Horse)
From April 1997:
Rogue Squadron notably included Wedge Antilles.

Suicide Squad #17 (DC)
From September 1988:
When DC puts a team of villains together, there's no hiding the fact that they're villains.  Your move, Marvel.

Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #241 (DC)
From July 1978,
Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #242
From August 1978:
By the way, there's more Legion to come!

Superman #32 (DC)
From June 1989:
Ah!  So remember when I said Mongul was coming up?  Yeah, well I did.  Superman's quest in space leads him to the big yellow world conqueror.  The writer this time is Roger Stern, another classic '90s Superman creator.  Mongul is best known for the classic Alan Moore story "For the Man Who Has Everything," plus aligning with Cyborg Superman and breaking Hal Jordan's arm (and the whole destruction-of-Coast-City that affected Jordan just a tad more).

Superman #129 (DC)
From November 1997:
Another time capsule from the '90s, this issue features Electric Superman.  I liked these stories.  I also liked Scorn, who came from this era's version of Kandor, the bottle city from Krypton.  He was one of those monster characters that populated a lot of '90s comics, and dawned a Superman outfit at one point.  A real sweat and charming fellow.  I'd love for him not to be forgotten.  From Dan Jurgens, by the way.

Tales of the Legion of Super-Heroes #346 (DC)
From April 1987,
Tales of the Legion of Super-Heroes #347
From May 1987:
More Legion!  Not all of these were written by Paul Levitz, but Levitz has easily written more Legion stories than anyone else.  He's doing it again in the New 52!

Turok, Dinosaur Hunter #1 (Valiant)
From July 1993:
Turok is one of those characters (along with Solar, Man of the Atom) who gets relaunched every few years from different publishers.  I think he got a video game in the '90s.

Tzu the Reaper #1 (Murim)
From September 1997:
Features work from Jae Lee.  But not the right Jae Lee.

V #5 (DC)
From June 1985,
V #6
From July 1985:
If you're still wondering why they rebooted V as a TV series a few years back, it's because it was popular back in the day.  It got its own comic.  Written by legend Cary Bates.

Vampirella/Dracula: The Centennial (Harris)
From October 1997,
Vengeance of Vampirella #4
From July 1994,
Vengeance of Vampirella #16'
From July 1995:
The poster girl of the '90s bad girls.  Basically wears red dental floss for a costume.  Centennial features work from Warren Ellis, Alan Moore, Gary Frank, and James Robinson, among others.  Vengeance is written by Tom Sniegoski, who's one of the few collaborators Jeff Smith has worked with in his Bone franchise.

Wheel of Worlds #0 (Tekno)
From July 1995:
Neil Gaiman subsequently distanced himself from the project, but this debut/preview has him written all over it, and the results are completely fascinating.  What was meant to become a whole Neil Gaiman franchise for the upstart publisher (which also worked on books with Leonard Nimoy, Gene Roddenberry's estate, and others), instead sort of washed out after a while, which as I've suggested is hugely unfortunate.  If you can get your hands on this issue, you'll see what I mean.  The third big find of the Blitz!

Who's Who #9 (DC)
From January 1986:
Featuring characters from Icicle to Jonni Thunder, as well as five heroes named Johnny, the Joker, the original I Vampire, Jade, and others.  DC doesn't really do this sort of thing anymore, though the New 52 could probably use one by next year.

X-Factor #36 (Marvel)
From January 1989,
X-Factor #137
From September 1997:
Peter David has basically been writing X-Factor since 2004.  So incredibly, neither of this issues were from him.  The first one's from Louis Simonson, though!

X-Man #30 (Marvel)
From September 1997:
Well, like I said, '90s X-Men.  This "X-Man" is an alternate version of Cable.  Figures.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


Aquaman #12 (DC)
writer: Geoff Johns
artist: Ivan Reis

Chapter Six of "The Others," in which Johns explores a different kind of mythology for Aquaman, who has been marginalized in pop culture as "the dude who talks to fish."  Unlike other creators, Johns doesn't just see the character as a fish out of water or connected to undersea kingdoms, but in connection to an intricate mythology that embraces arch foe Black Manta as never before and creates a web of allies that redefines Aquaman's greater scope.  The Others (not to be confused with the good folks from Lost) are a network of world superheroes unrelated to the Justice League.  As of this issue, Manta has killed two of them now in his efforts to lay claim to a scepter, one of seven relics of an older world destined to be possessed by Aquaman, but instead claimed by Manta.  Aquaman has been avoiding both the Others and his Justice League pals, not to mention Mera, his mate.  He thinks it's safer for everyone if he finally puts Manta behind him on his own.  After this issue, maybe everyone will understand?

Green Lantern Corps #12 (DC)
writer: Peter J. Tomasi
artist: Fernando Pasarin

Green Lantern #12 (DC)
writer: Geoff Johns
artist: Renato Guedes, Jim Calafiore

Green Lantern: New Guardians #12 (DC)
writer: Tony Bedard
artist: Tyler Kirkham

Green Lantern Annual #1 (DC)
writer: Geoff Johns
artist: Ethan Van Sciver, Pete Woods

I had a recommendation that the twelfth issue of the Green Lantern books (which also include Red Lanterns) were worth checking out.  As they're soon to launch into "Rise of the Third Army" (which the Annual previews), chances are that they were at least reaching a boiling point.  In Tomasi's Corps, the Guardians are building Guy Gardner's confidence up, because a cocky Guy is a careless Guy.  Guy Gardner is already the cockiest Green Lantern, human or otherwise.  In this issue, he completes a rescue of John Stewart, whom the Guardians have destabilized by once again playing on his fears of inadequacy.  The obstacle is the Alpha Lanterns, whom the Guardians previously created as Manhunter versions of their Green Lanterns.  The Manhunters, by the way, were the First Army, the Lanterns the second.  The Alpha Corps has been a plague since Final Crisis, a huge hassle that has proven time and again to be more trouble than it's worth.  In Bedard's New Guardians, Kyle Rayner (the fourth human to hold a green ring from Oa) finally gets to the bottom of troubles his fledgling alliance of members from the Blue Lanterns, Red Lanterns, Sinestro Corps, Indigo Tribe, Star Sapphire, and crazy Larfleeze (easily the best creation of the Geoff Johns era) has been experiencing, and why Ganthet originally made him the torchbearer, because he alone can wield the power of the whole spectrum.

Johns as head writer of the franchise gets to write the big guns, Hal Jordan and Sinestro, the two most famous Green Lanterns, and the ones the Guardians absolutely need out of the way in order to enact their plans for a Third Army that will unquestionably and effectively obey them (removing free will, and thus making the Green Lantern Corps obsolete, as it is entirely powered by will).  Jordan and Sinestro have been trying to handle Black Hand, emissary of the Black Lanterns, a quirk that introduced the zombie craze to DC.  In both the ongoing series and annual, this proves increasingly complicated.  From the Book of the Black, it's revealed that Jordan is meant to become the greatest Black Lantern (that's the shock of Green Lantern #12).  The Guardians facilitate their plans by tapping into the power of the imprisoned First Lantern, and use Black Hand to apparently permanently eliminate Jordan and Sinestro (that's from Green Lantern Annual).  All in all, big things continue to develop in this franchise.

Justice League #12 (DC)
writer: Geoff Johns
artist: Jim Lee, Ivan Reis, David Finch

Closing out the saga of the mad David Graves has some great features to it.  For one, each member of the League is forced to confront some hard truths about their pasts, loved ones they would rather still have in their lives.  There's a twist that may seem like it guts this element, but it's still worthwhile.  For another, we learn that Steve Trevor is in fact not dead, but that doesn't simplify his relationship with Wonder Woman, though at least on her end there's finally a reckoning and resolution.  For a third, well, there's been a lot of media attention to Wonder Woman's other relationship from this issue, the bond she realizes exists with Superman.  It's on the cover and everything.  Another development, meanwhile, sees Hal Jordan (Green Lantern, in a continuity that exists outside of the Green Lantern books, it should be noted) leaves the team, realizing that from the public perception side of things, he's something of a problem, having sparked a fight among several members of the team and thus helped everyone question its continuing effectiveness.  I've been surprised at the tepid reception to this series, since it's been a favorite of mine since the launch of the New 52 last fall.  It's precisely Johns' ability to see the humans in the mythic team that I've enjoyed so much, something Brad Meltzer previously tried to do (succeeding with Red Tornado but overlooking everyone else).  The series has arguably done far better working with the characters than throwing Grant Morrison-level threats at them.  Maybe that's something of what fans have lamented.  But the main thing is, Johns has managed to do something with the team that no one else has, and that's something you want for any creator trying to leave a mark on something as big as the Justice League.

Saga #s 4-6 (Image)
writer: Brian K. Vaughan
artist: Fiona Staples

As you may or may not recall, I previously wrote about this series in a roundup of significantly hyped new series from established creators, and it was my pick for the best of them.  I didn't realize how much I loved what I'd read until I had the chance to read more of it.  Three additional issues of Saga is more than enough for me to establish my love for this book.  It's a little like Grant Morrison doing Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  In books like Seaguy and The Filth, Morrison has certainly come close.  But not as close as Saga.  Vaughan has previously done stellar work in Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina, and has now come up with a third totally distinctive world that's impossible to overlook.  The work of Staples should not be overlooked, either.  Her art is astounding, from the iconic covers to interior art that surprises with every panel.  There are a number of plotlines converging so far, from the relationship between Marko and Alana to The Will and Prince Robot IV, both of whom are looking for the fugitives, like a version of Farscape that isn't just a tad precious.  Constantly evolving, it's the best science fiction epic to come along in a while.  Considering that this is a genre that's (at least to my mind) notoriously hard to pull off in comics, that's saying something.

The Shade #11 (DC)
writer: James Robinson
artist: Frazer Irving

Featuring a main character who is entirely ambiguous, neither good nor evil (though he's been known as the latter in the past), this has been a rare opportunity for comics to be existential, and Robinson has embraced it wholeheartedly.  This is the last issue that attempts to pretend that there was ever any other point than simply exploring The Shade, wrapping up a quick struggle with Egyptian gods recruited by the descendant who tried to have him killed at the start of the series.  Proving that he's smarter than them, our protagonist does what he does best, talk himself out of a problem, using his powers less as a means to get something achieved than because he has them.

Velvet Garden #1 (RC)
writer: Ryan Davis
artist: Gunther Goltz

Not a fantastic book, but worth checking out.  Based on an arcade game that was notoriously pulled from the general public for its destructive effects (Polybius, for the record), it's a mystery adventure I bought on the strength that it's from some local creators.

Wasteland #39 (Oni)
writer: Antony Johnston
artist: Sandy Jarrell

A fascinating glimpse into the mythology of the series.  Ten years (instead of the usual hundred) after the apocalyptic event known as the Big Wet, we meet Michael, Marcus, and Mary as children wandering through territory already on the savage side.  Michael is the Ruin Runner who's been the main protagonist of the book, while Marcus runs Newbegin with an iron fist, and has recently gained Mary as an ally.  All three of them (along with Abbi, our other protagonist, who is currently searching for the mythic A-Ree-Yass-I with Michael) have special abilities, though they don't each have all the same gifts.  That's one of the things that becomes a problem in this formative trio, not to mention the fact that both Marcus and Michael have an interest in Mary, whom they think is dead by the end of the issue.  As always, one of the best books being published today.

Terminal Motter

Dean Motter is one of those comic book creators that you will never know exists until you stumble across him yourself.  He doesn't fit into the mainstream or indy scene, and isn't a name like Howard Chaykin or Frank Miller who somehow combines them.  He's his own brand.  Brand X, as it were.

He originally gained notice creating Mister X in the '80s, and to a certain extent that's exactly what Motter is still known for today.  Dark Horse has in recent years actively joined the effort to spread Mister X awareness, the second company to reissue the original stories and actually allow him to publish new ones.

Motter also worked on Terminal City for DC's Vertigo imprint.  His more recent Electropolis was originally meant to be a third volume of these stories, but he ended up working on that project at Image (though it was subsequently reprinted through Dark Horse).  Like all his stories, Terminal City is about retrofuturism, or in other words the shared vision of tomorrow as conceived in the early 20th century, whose footprints can be found in The Jetsons and Futurama, among notable popular interpretations.

In The Compleat Terminal City, both the original nine issues and the five issue followup Aerial Graffiti explore a population existing in the remains of the Brave New World's Fair (we're several generations removed from the relevance of World's Fairs, but they used to be the Olympics of culture).  Motter chooses to put the narrative thrust on daredevils whose relevance fell apart as the boldness of the vision for the future started to fade.  As the vision lingers, so do these daredevils, notably Cosmo Quinn, the so-called Human Fly who once scaled terrific heights merely for the thrill and spectacle of it but now to clean the windows of skyscrapers.

His notable compatriot and greater exile is Monty Vickers, who's the last great anthropologist, who locates living specimens of humanity's evolutionary past, and exploits them like P.T. Barnum getting his hands on King Kong.

There's a host of supporting characters and subplots, though few of them receive satisfactory arcs, and perhaps that's the point, that there will always be a hole in this story.  It's all an illusion, something Motter conjured from the broken pieces of someone else's dreams.

Is it worth visiting Terminal City?  Absolutely.  It's arguably Motter's most complete vision.  Yes, he's playing with the toys of other people, but in such a whimsical fashion (with Mister X he's always grim; in Electropolis traditionally hardboiled) that you can't help but be sucked in.

Perhaps all his nostalgia limits Motter's audience, but it also helps locate one.  Once you discover Dean Motter, it's hard not to love him.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Superman & Wonder Woman (and Peter Parker & Gwen Stacy)

So, hopefully by now you've heard all about how Justice League #12 featured the big reveal of the romance between Superman and Wonder Woman.

If not, well, that just happened.

Superman went steady with Lois Lane for seven decades.  They made a TV show about it.  When DC Comics launched the New 52 last fall, one of the first things done in the pages of the Superman relaunch was the end of that relationship.  It wasn't even important to Action Comics, arguably the more significant of the two comics.

For many years, Lois was incredibly important to Clark Kent, Superman's alter ego.  Yes, in Lois & Clark, it was all about human lives.  In Smallville, Lois popped up several season in and became a staple.  But there was a shift, even then.  This was a Clark who constantly battled with his powers, who was more defined by a gradual transformation into Superman than being human.

For a long time now, a lot of people who are not fans of Superman claimed it was too difficult to care about him because he was too powerful, too remote.  It was exactly his relationship with Lois that was supposed to humanize him.  Perhaps someone realized that this no longer worked.

Wonder Woman is a character whose significance begins and basically ends as the most significant female character in comics.  It's always been difficult to define her beyond that.  Batman is the consummate human.  Superman is the consummate immigrant.  Wonder Woman is the consummate...ambassador?  Some writers have even tried to make that compelling, especially in the knotty times following the straining of international alliances following the launch of the Iraq War.

Since its launch last summer, Justice League has made one of its main elements Wonder Woman's relationship with Steve Trevor.  As the team became more widely recognized, Trevor found himself increasingly marginalized.  What could an ordinary guy do to matter in a life like Wonder Woman's?

In a lot of ways, that's the story that couldn't be told with Lois Lane.  In the '90s, she finally married Clark.  (They married in the TV show, too.  No one cared about it after that.)  In some of the franchises, the New 52 retained old continuity, but mostly with Batman and Green Lantern.  Action Comics began with something of an origin story, set five years in the past.  Superman was set in the new present.  The main split from old continuity was established with a new costume.

And the fact that Lois Lane was no longer the stalwart girlfriend, much less wife, of Superman.

The possibility of romance between Superman and Wonder Woman was most famously breached previously in the pages of Kingdom Come, set in an alternate future where the Joker murdered Lois and unleashed a chaotic series of events that brought allies together and forced a climactic war between heroes.  Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman continued to stand tall by the end of it, having realized anew their true significance in the world.  Notably, this included a romance, and child, between Superman and Wonder Woman (Batman was the godfather).  Kingdom Come was about seeing the mythic vision of DC characters.  Even simply an alliance between Superman and Wonder Woman was enough to establish in the story.  As perennial allies in the Justice League, they had certainly worked together before.  But it was only when they realized that that they needed each other's support that they realized they needed each other.

That's something of what underlines the development in Justice League #12, something that will be explored still more in the coming months.

The Amazing Spider-Man was released in theaters this summer, and instead of focusing on Peter Parker's relationship with Mary Jane Watson, as with the three Sam Raimi films before it, the new movie features Gwen Stacy, whom some fans still consider Peter's true love.

In recent years, Marvel did the same thing DC just did between Lois and Clark, ending Peter's long-term relationship (and marriage) to MJ.  Gwen was featured in Raimi's third film as a rival, but in the comics, it was the exact opposite.  She was Peter's first love.  If you pay attention to the end of Amazing Spider-Man, you'll have a strong indication of her ultimate fate.  In the comics, she is eventually a victim, very infamously, of Spider-Man's war with the Green Goblin.

If you only know Spider-Man from his movies, you may assume he's another character who can only be defined by his relationships, and perhaps sometimes that's exactly the case.  Yet he's also something of a consummate loner, something Amazing Spider-Man does depict well.  He's not a loser like in Raimi's version, but someone who just doesn't fit in, who's basically already Spider-Man before he's ever bitten by a spider, but not yet good enough to get away with it.  But it's not the powers that gives Peter the will to succeed, but finally learning the truth about his father, and gaining confidence, and a true sense of responsibility.

This is a Spider-Man who significantly decides to keep being Spider-Man because he has to take the villain down, not because he just has to keep being Spider-Man.  His relationship with Gwen is about finding a kindred spirit, not unrequited love.

Superman spent years loving Lois Lane.  Spider-Man spent years loving Mary Jane.  But that doesn't mean that these were the only ways they could ever find love.