Monday, October 29, 2012

Reading Comics #80 "Essential Wolverine Vol. 2 #2"

Continuing my reading of Essential Wolverine Vol. 2, collecting comics originally published in 1990-1991, we now reach:

WOLVERINE #s 31-33 (Marvel)

These issues mark the debut of writer Larry Hama and artist Marc Silvestri in the series.  A markedly different tone from the Jo Duffy stories that precede it though in the same Madripoor setting, as Hama focuses more on action, and the future Image co-founder Silvestri adds a more dynamic style.

The latter, perhaps not so surprising, as that's what the Image revolution was all about, putting art first, which perhaps wasn't so surprising, since the Image founders were all artists.  The funny thing is that Silvestri's Wolverine looks a lot like Erik Larsen's Savage Dragon.  Perhaps this is something of a coincidence, since Larsen created Dragon well before these comics, but now that I start thinking about it, the connection does go pretty deep.  Since Dragon is big and green and sometimes has She-Dragon around, I always made the natural association with the Incredible Hulk.  But the similarities with Wolverine could not be more glaring.  If you know anything about Savage Dragon, you know that he has the same healing factor as Wolverine, a fact that Larsen has exploited in some very deliberate ways over the years.

If I go on about Savage Dragon in this update, it's because the storytelling is perhaps not terribly inspired.  Perhaps not coincidentally, Wolverine's healing factor plays a huge role in these issues.  This version of the character has some pretty definite limits, though Hama doesn't seem particularly constrained by them.  He seems more interested in his drugs-are-bad message, which is a fine message except it's directed more at the cliche villains pushing the drugs than actually talking about the drugs themselves, which Hama may inadvertently glamorize.  There is a renewed Japanese link to Hama's Wolverine, but nothing too inspired.

It, ah, may or may not be worth noting at this point that Hama and Silvestri are responsible for nearly every remaining issue in the collection.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Reading Comics #79 "Essential Wolverine Vol. 2 #1"

Regular readers will remember the series of reports I did on Essential Classic X-Men Vol. 2.  As it happens I get to revisit that, because the large batch of comics I covered in the Quarter Bin "Brother's Blitz" columns also included Essential Wolverine Vol. 2, and so I'll be doing exactly that again, giving my thoughts as I read through the collection.

Starting out we have in the first reading:

WOLVERINE #s 24-30 (Marvel)

All comics in this collection were originally published between 1990 and 1991.  As we begin, he is apparently on a leave of absence from the X-Men, believed dead and living in Madripoor, a small island nation off the coast of Asia.  The first issue is written by Peter David and is pretty storybook in its examination of the inhabitants of this country, the typical assassins of a superhero (or crime) story mixed with street urchins.  Comics legend Gene Colan provides the art.

The other six issues from this reading are written by Jo Duffy, notably a woman working on one of the most masculine characters in comics.  Art varies from John Buscema to Klaus Janson to Barry Kitson.  Though only the final four issues comprise the "Lazarus Project" arc, it's all essentially a connected narrative concerning the life Wolverine has made in the tiny country under the assumed identity of Patch (so-named because he wears a patch over one eye).

While there's plenty of story happening around him, the issues are notable in that they're related to the reader via a running monologue from Wolverine, the kind of caption narration that has fallen out of favor with most creators.  I happen to love this kind of comic book storytelling.  I like when creators are confident enough to show as well as tell.  Most amateur writers have it drilled into them that telling is somehow a sin of the craft.

In this particular show, it's very reminiscent of the kind of movies Hollywood was making at the time, still influenced by the Vietnam and Cold Wars, what gave us John Rambo.  Wolverine in this version is Rambo via Clint Eastwood (no chairs involved).

What's funny is that Wolverine could have a comic like this at perhaps the height of X-Men popularity (at least in the comics), that is nothing at all like you'd expect from a character known, as I've said, to be about as manly and savage as you can get.  It was a different time.  It was before Image.  It was perhaps the last time Marvel could truly be itself and get away with it.  And so we end up with a Wolverine who sits around drinking tea and gambling and basically doing everything he can to stay out of trouble.  In this version of the character, he's very similar to the Bruce-Banner-on-the-run as seen in the old Hulk TV series and in some of his recent movie experiences (or even where Wolverine himself in when we first meet him in the movies).

It's not even the classic Wolverine-in-Japan stories.  Some of that is touched on, though, and it actually seems the most extraneous element of Duffy's stories.  I'll admit to some skepticism early in the reading.  This isn't the Wolverine I expected.  But it's a Wolverine I started to love.

I don't read a lot of Marvel comics, and I don't read a lot of Wolverine comics.  I enjoyed the "Old Man Logan" arc, and Marc Guggenheim had some interesting thoughts about why Wolverine can't die, and perhaps more recently Jeph Loeb seems to have done some interesting things concerning Sabretooth (those are some stories I will read at some point).

We'll see how the rest of the collection goes.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Reading Comics #78 "Batman R.I.P."

Grant Morrison has been writing regular installments in his Dark Knight saga since 2006.  In recent years he's successfully transformed a nebulous "son of Batman" character into the next Robin and perhaps the ultimate culmination of the Ra's al Ghul quest made famous by Christopher Nolan's films, which may be his most lasting contribution to the franchise.

Yet what most fans will probably say is Morrison's biggest story is his version of the traditional "death and return arc," last attempted with the "Knightfall" saga that was featured in Nolan's conclusion, The Dark Knight Rises.  This story involves Final Crisis, in which Batman is zapped by the omega beams of Darkseid, but is depicted in its full arc in "Batman R.I.P.," which now reads like Morrison's version of Nolan's vision.

The collection of the story includes Batman #s 676-683 as well as key material from DC Universe #0, all released the same year as Nolan's The Dark Knight, which depicted a psychological duel between Batman and the Joker, memorably portrayed by the late Heath Ledger.  Morrison had earlier made his initial mark on the franchise with Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, which was released at the same time as Tim Burton's Batman.

"Batman R.I.P." is the conclusion of Morrison's Black Glove arc, featuring a conspiracy that attempted to reconcile the most bizarre elements of the franchise, mostly 1950s tales that heavily employed sci-fi elements into the Dark Knight's adventures.  The key piece of the puzzle is Batman's embrace of Zur-En-Arrh as a psychic defense, a fail-safe mental default state that allows Batman to still function in the case that Bruce Wayne has been compromised, originally suggested by a trip to an alien world with its own Batman.

The Black Glove is run by Doctor Hurt, who masquerades as Batman's dead father, Thomas Wayne, who has set an elaborate plot that everything but Batman believes is a paranoid delusion he refers to as the Black Casebook, a file he's kept throughout his career detailing his most bizarre experiences, Morrison's record of the tales previous creators told and he's cleverly reclaimed.  Most of "R.I.P." is Batman outsmarting even this, what's supposed to be the ultimate test, because he's prepared for everything, pushed himself to the limits of endurance, and threatened to push his closest allies away.

I say that it's Morrison's version of Nolan's films because it may help to keep one in mind while you consider the other.  Morrison famously lets his readers fill in some of the gaps he glosses over as he builds his labyrinthine epics, and his Batman tales are perhaps his most labyrinthine yet.  The "R.I.P." collection does not include sequences directly from Final Crisis, nor crucial explanatory issues later reprinted in another volume (Batman #s 701-702).

Perhaps most intriguingly, it's a Joker tale in which the Joker is not strictly the center of the story.  With Scott Snyder's "Death of the Family" bringing the character back into the spotlight, the Joker is at his most relevant since Ledger's iconic performance.  Morrison's Arkham Asylum featured a lot of Batman's foes, but central to it was the Joker assuming ringleader status and engaging the Dark Knight in a battle of wits.  "R.I.P." recasts Joker as a pawn of Doctor Hurt, and so far as Hurt is concerned, everything works out perfectly, even when Joker inevitably rebels from his role.  Morrison had done some cosmetic alterations of his own to the Joker, including etching a permanent grin on his face and leaving a bullet hole between his eyes.  In the DC Universe excerpt, Joker and Batman share another conversation.  How do you talk with someone like the Joker?  Carefully.  His words follow their own logic.  Batman's biggest challenge has always been to follow that logic.  In a sense, Morrison admits that most of Batman's experience in "R.I.P" is derived from those efforts.

Yes, it's a little curious that the writer is ending his saga with al Ghul's legacy rather than the Joker, given this. Imagine Grant Morrison telling his version of the ultimate Joker story.  It would not be hard to imagine it becoming the definitive Joker story, over and above even Alan Moore's classic Killing Joke.

And yet that's the joke of "R.I.P."  It features a villain who believes they can do what the Joker has never done.  Batman is always looking for a pattern.  He admits that he hates doing that.  He hates having to interpret psychopaths.  And yet because of the Joker, he's had to do exactly that.  And that's the thing Doctor Hurt didn't count on, even the goons that kidnap Batman directly after his apparent death.  In Nolan's Dark Knight Rises, Batman fakes his death to lead an ordinary life.  In "R.I.P.," Batman's apparent death leads to an extended absence of an entirely different kind.  Both lead to important new phases of Batman's life.  In Dark Knight Rises, it's retirement.  In Morrison's saga, it's the realization that he has always had allies.  His mission is not his own.  He is not alone.

That's Batman Incorporated, however.  We're discussing "R.I.P."  How does it still stand as the linchpin of Morrison's vision?  Can you read it in the same way you can read "Knightfall" today?  Well, even "Knightfall" requires three omnibus volumes to read the whole story.  There are three acts to follow: Bane breaking the Bat, the new Bat, and the return of the original.  "R.I.P." stands as a testament all its own.  Sure, the story doesn't end in this collection.  You would need to read at least The Return of Bruce Wayne to see where Batman went after Final Crisis, and how he came back.  The last issues in the "R.I.P." collection suggest where the story goes, and further emphasizes the conditioning that helped Batman survive Hurt.  Part of it serves as a character study that can be enjoyed outside of either "R.I.P." or Crisis, so that's something of an independent story itself.

With Nolan's Batman, the whole saga is spelled out.  In Morrison's, it helps to be a fan, but even in "R.I.P.," even if you don't know who Bat-Mite is, you will still end up appreciating that a flesh-and-blood man has gone to extraordinary lengths to achieve perfection in a quest to avenge the death of his parents and overcome every manner of obstacle set in his path.  There are certain parallels to "Knightfall" inherent in a story like this, but Morrison is uniquely qualified to fully illustrate what makes Bruce Wayne Batman, and "R.I.P." is his definitive statement.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Reading Comics #77 "Dinosaurs vs. Aliens"

Remember that underwater scene in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, where Jar Jar Binks is distracting Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn as they try to make their way to the Naboo capital, running into a series of giant sea monsters?

What I'm referring to is the parade of sea monsters.  In DVD commentary it's explained in detail, the motivations and details that might not have been apparent while most the of the audience was busy being annoyed by Jar Jar.  Perhaps the most famous element from the sequence is Qui-Gon explaining that "there's always a bigger fish."

I call this image to mind because it's pertinent to Grant Morrison's new graphic novel, Dinosaurs vs. Aliens, produced in conjunction with Liquid Comics and Dynamite Entertainment (the same publishing scheme that made 18 Days possible two years ago).  DvA is a potential film from director Barry Sonnenfeld (perhaps best known for the Men in Black trilogy).

Like 18 Days (which was to be the first phase of a potential screen epic, in that instance an animated series), DvA is illustrated by visionary artist Mukesh Singh, whose work is greatly enhanced by vivid coloring.

Morrison has history imagining the inner lives of terrestrial characters other than humans in We3, which looked at the aftereffects of a military program that turned a cat, dog, and rabbit into commando warriors who subsequently broke from their training and succeeded in returning back into the ordinary world.  DvA is very much the reverse of that arc.  This graphic novel represents only the opening salvo of aliens on the verge of extinction coming to Earth and discovering dinosaurs waiting for them.  As humans have ever since digging up their bones, the aliens expect dinosaurs to be dumb and easily wiped out.

But Morrison's dinosaurs are clever, and have their own culture.  They will not be so easy to eliminate.

The story in the volume unfolds as the aliens approach the planet, relating their tale in hindsight, thereby making it clear that they will meet their match later on.  Most of the words in the volume are in narrative caption, though dialogue creeps up eventually.  The dinosaurs, naturally, are silent except for animal sounds, but it's Singh's task to illustrate Morrison's version of that Phantom Menace sequence, drawing the reader into a world where the inner lives of beasts are explored in the context of their lives.

The dinosaurs in DvA are garbed in primitive decorations, and that's the first and most startling evidence that they're more sophisticated than most estimations allow.  Dinosaurs have been a cultural fascination for decades, with Jurassic Park representing the high point of that interest.  In recent years, as more examinations have modified classifications and some facts have shifted around, it's almost been like when Pluto was declared to no longer be a planet: something was lost along the way.  As we've come to know them better, they've become less exotic.

Morrison clearly has retained his fascination.  Included in the back end of the volume along with sketches from Singh are excerpts from the script, and Morrison's continued interest is clear.  Dinosaurs fit perfectly with his ability to grasp complicated systems, which has been demonstrated in his Batman work, The Invisibles, Seven Soldiers of Victory, and other comics.

In an introduction, Morrison admits a favorable impression of Sonnenfeld's Wild Wild West, which is otherwise classified as one of Will Smith's few outright failures, a movie that quickly became a punchline.  Yet it is also an imaginative wonder, and that's the kind of thing that Morrison will always enjoy.

You can easily enjoy this on its own terms, or as a possible prelude to a future movie blockbuster.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Reading Comics #76 "Nightwing and the Color Red"

When Nightwing launched as an ongoing series in 1996 under the auspices of Chuck Dixon, it was immediately defined as much by the title character as the city of Bludhaven, which continued to define both until the latter became a smoking crater in 2006 thanks to the events of Infinite Crisis.  Dick Grayson's life in this more corrupt neighbor of Gotham City was defined by the many colorful characters around him.

I enjoyed reading the series for years until it came time to leave comics behind in 1999.  Some years later I came across a trade collection that more or less picked up where I'd left off, The Search for Oracle, in which Barbara Gordon and her Birds of Prey colleagues share time with the original Boy Wonder.  A few months ago I coincidentally stumbled across the next volume in the collection, Big Guns, collecting issues originally published in 1999-2000: Nightwing #s 47-50, Nightwing 80-Page Giant, and material from Nightwing Secret Files & Origins.

From the beginning, Bludhaven's corruption was almost best understood in its police department.  Chief Redhorn was no Commissioner Gordon.  Inspector Dudley Soames got his head twisted around by Blockbuster and became the psychopath Torque.  In this collection, Redhorn's on the lam and Torque is on the loose.  Redhorn's successor is a fairly harmless man, but the new inspector, Mac Arnot, is classic scum.  Unfortunately for both of them, Nightwing's biggest threats in this collection are nothing but bad news.

Let's talk about those threats for a minute.  One of them is Sylph, the woman in red polymer scarves (which act in much the fashion of the cape in the short-lived TV series The Cape, highly adaptable for business).  She's a woman trying to get revenge on the businessmen who drove her father to suicide.  The other threat is Hella, a former cop trying to get revenge on the corrupt cops responsible for the death of her entire family.  She has notable red hair.

In the New 52 comics, Dick's costume has red on it where there was once blue.  This decision was recently described as making more sense to the color scheme of his Robin origins.  Yet Dick Grayson's connection to the color red runs deeper.  Donna Troy wore a red costume while they served in the Teen Titans together.  Starfire of course has red hair, and to some fans she's still Dick's most famous romantic conquest (though their attempt at marriage was even more disastrous than the frog wedding in Lois & Clark).  And of course, Barbara Gordon has red hair.  (So does Batwoman, who was notably introduced opposite Nightwing in the pages of 52.)

Babs is still around in these pages, operating as Oracle, the source of all information in DC at the time.  This was also the time in which Dick and Babs came closest to having a real romantic relationship.  It was a giant tease that lasted for years but has mostly been forgotten since.

Dixon was a writer who could really get inside the heads of his characters, and know how to build a world around them.  He proved it in Nightwing and Robin (and earlier this year in the Cobra annual; he currently writes IDW's ongoing G.I. Joe comic, but I spend my IDW time with Cobra, written by Mike Costa, who has managed to streamline Dixon's approach).  With the introduction of Blockbuster as Nightwing's chief adversary, there were a lot of fans who drew parallels with Daredevil, defined by his adversarial relationship with Kingpin.  In these pages Blockbuster is mostly a nonentity, recovering from a heart transplant (being a big guy has certain disadvantages), but he still manages to loom over the proceedings.

Another of the brilliant things Dixon did was make Dick Grayson a cop.  This was an ambition that began well before the stories in this collection, but Big Guns sees his first official action operating from the other side of the law.  Any further need to distinguish between Dick Grayson and Bruce Wayne was certainly accomplished with this move.  True, as eager as Dick is to function with a badge rather than his fists, he often abandons one for the other in order to get results.

In a lot of ways, that's just one of the reasons why Dixon's Nightwing was the original Gotham Central.  Aside from the focus that had already been put on the police department, inserting Dick into the mix gives that much more of a look into some more ordinary law enforcement than is typical in a superhero comic.

Aside from the color scheme shared by Sylph and Hella, the fact that they're both female is another signature element of Dixon's run (shared by his successor Devin K. Grayson), to continue defining Nightwing by the women around him.  This is atypical in comics.  The closest, naturally, would be Daredevil, whose relationship with Elektra became legendary under the auspices of Frank Miller.  A lot of Nightwing's foes were women, so it's no surprise that both of the ones in this collection are, too.

As I'd hoped, Big Guns serves as a wonderful reminder how excellent Chuck Dixon's Nightwing was.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Reading Comics #75 "BlueSpear"

Andi Ewington's Forty-Five was one of the most innovative comics of the past few years.  It's a graphic novel comprised of interviews with or concerning forty-five superheroes.  BlueSpear is the followup that looks at one of the more notable characters from it.  Helpfully, it reprints the original interview and uses it as a springboard for another evolving storyarc, something Ewington cleverly employed in the original interviews as well.

Ever since Superman appeared everyone has been creating their own superhero landscapes.  While most companies try to create entire lines, some creators do it in a single story, with Kurt Busiek's Astro City perhaps the most notable example.  Ewington's tapestry was unique in that it bucked most comic book conventions, and on its own could easily have stood as a landmark of the medium.  He's since begun work on a trilogy of more conventional sequels, of which BlueSpear is the first.

BlueSpear himself is as much defined by his own emerging mythos as by his relationship with Akira Tomikawa, the brother of the boy who drowned in a fishing accident and emerged a superhero.  Both the interview and the spotlight graphic novel heavily feature this aspect of the character's story.  In fact, the original interview is taken with Akira, whose pathos is just one of the ways Ewington managed to evoke a realistic approach to the genre.  In BlueSpear Ewington works alongside Eddie Deighton, one of the managing editors of publisher Com.x, a small British imprint, as well as artist Cosmo White (replacing original interview artist Calum Alexander Watt; another notable element of Forty-Five was that there were as many artists as subjects).  White's work, beautifully enhanced by the pastel color scheme, is reminiscent of Jeff Smith, visionary creator of Bone and RASL.

Unlike with the interviews, this time a more identifiable story is necessary, and at first it's a little jarring to see this world expressed in more crass terms, but it quickly evens out over the course of forty pages (there are pin-ups that fill out the rest of the comic).  BlueSpear, so named because he discovered, well, a blue spear at the bottom of Funakoshi Bay in Tokyo that forever altered his destiny, ripping apart a family and making him an instant celebrity.  It also makes him a target for less savory individuals, who attempt to band together to steal the spear from him.  They use Akira as bait, naturally.

BlueSpear himself remains elusive even by the end of the story, the true details of how and why he was chosen by his signature weapon.  Whether additional volumes will focus on him or other creations from Forty-Five remains to be seen.  The project itself remains an exhilarating example of how superheroes can be approached both on an epic and human scale.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Quarter Bin #45 "Brother's Blitz, Part 3"

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.


Alpha Flight #6 (Marvel)
From January 1997:
This Canadian team is best known these days for Northstar, a pioneering gay character who just got married.  There was a time the only relevant association was Wolverine.  Very rarely, it's the team itself.  This issue comes from Steve T. Seagle and Bryan Hitch (before The Ultimates made him a superstar), and features the diminutive Puck trying to track down Sasquatch, who's being screwed around by the authorities.  One of the more interesting reads from this selection.

Atari Force #7 (DC)
From July 1984
Atari Force#8
From August 1984:
A comic book not meant for the likes of me.  In the letters column of the latter issue, however chimes in one Thomas Paoli.  It's only the second time I've seen that surname.  The first is in the pages of Mike Costa's Cobra, where Paoli is the last name of the twins Tomax and Xamot.  Coincidence?

The Avengers #290 (Marvel)
From April 1988:
Of tenuous interest to the many viewers of this summer's biggest blockbuster.  Remember the Tesseract?  In the comics it's better known as the Cosmic Cube.  In this particular comic it's become Kubik, though it has the bad fortune of temporarily being corrupted by the Adaptoid.  Much havoc ensues.  The Avengers in the issue are very much a b-team, though Captain America is around, even though this is a period during which Steve Rogers is estranged from the US government (he does that periodically).  He sports a variation of his usual costume that looks like the one U.S. Agent wears later

Battlestar Galactica #21 (Marvel)
From November 1980:
This is not your BSG.  This is, as the publication date suggests, the original.  There's a reason it was almost totally reimagined.

Captain America #347 (Marvel)
From November 1988:
As with the above Avengers comic, the role of Cap is in flux, with a sort of prototype Jean-Paul Valley arc going on as the unstable John Walker assumes a role he makes considerably less familiar.  

The Crow: Dead Time #1 of 3 (Kitchen Sink)
From January 1996
The Crow: City of Angels #1 of 3
From July 1996
The Crow: City of Angels #3 of 3
From September 1996:
I think I've been spreading some falsehoods.  In a previous edition of "Brother's Blitz" I suggested that there haven't been any new Crow comics in years.  There is in fact a new one in print right now.  There was also a new Concrete one-shot just recently published from material previously published in Dark Horse Presents.  Journalistic integrity...eventually!  Anyway, Dead Time is original material from Crow creator J. O'Barr and features art from Alex Maleev.  City of Angels is based on the movie that tried to start a screen franchise after the infamous Brandon Lee original (infamous because Lee famously died on the set).  Yes, the franchise did happen, but to very little success.  Angels failed to connect with fans.  It's become increasingly obvious that anyone cared about the Crow at all because of Lee's death (though pro wrestler Sting took the look and has kept it in the public conscious since '96).  From this comic I think the story certainly had its merits.  If the execution was off, I suppose that would be one thing.  I may have to start watching some of this material to see for myself.  Like the Highlander franchise, it's a cult I wasn't in at the time, but have found myself increasingly attracted to.  

Elfquest: Blood of Ten Chiefs #3 (Warp Graphics)
From November 1993:
I still don't find myself caring for Elfquest.  Sorry.

The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones #19 (Marvel)
From July 1984
The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones #20
From August 1984:
Anyone who thought adding aliens to the franchise in The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was hopefully scratching their head in the former issue, which features a dragon.  Yeah.  The latter sees someone trying to impugn the name of Marcus Brody!

Ghost Rider 2099 #1 (Marvel)
From May 1994:
Features the art of Carlos Bachalo.  Otherwise seems to be a pretty standard Ghost Rider comic, and not particularly inspiring 2099 material.

Hawk & Dove #1 of 5 (DC)
From October 1988:
From Karl & Barbara Kesel as well as some dude named Rob Liefeld, whose legendary inability to draw feet (or so modern observers like to claim based on his current style) is somewhat belied by many feet appearing this issue.  Hawk & Dove is a pretty interesting concept (though Hank Hall is perhaps more interesting as Monarch/Extant, or for slightly more recent fans Brightest Day), and got their own New 52 comic.  This issue features the debut of the female Dove, who replaces Hank's brother Don.  Her name is Dawn.  This is what it sounds like when doves cry.

Infinity Inc. #35 (DC)
From February 1987:
Features art from Todd McFarlane, which looks nothing like the Todd McFarlane art later featured in Spider-Man and Spawn.  The team, by the way, was second generation Justice Society.

Jack of Hearts #s 1-4 (Marvel)
From January-April 1984:
This character has a terrible costume design.  Otherwise fairly interesting.  The second issue features the first reference (of many) in the comics from this Blitz to the Official Marvel Try-out Book, which famously launched the career of Mark Bagley.

Kitty Pryde and Wolverine #s 1-6 (Marvel)
From November-April 1984-85:
From Chris Claremont's legendary X-Men run comes this mini-series featuring Wolverine's second-ever solo(ish) adventure, which is really a supporting role in Kitty Pryde's story in which she runs away after being rejected by Colossus (which going on this information alone makes Joss Whedon's most famous Astonishing X-Men moment completely illogical) and discovers her father's dirty business dealings have gotten him into trouble with Japanese gangsters.  In his previous mini-series Wolverine's Japanese connections had just been established, which makes it awfully convenient.  As it's written by Claremont himself, this is readable material, even if Al Milgrom's art does no favors to Kitty's hairstyle, before and after it's forcibly altered by the chief villain.

Lady Death #0 (Chaos!)
From November 1997:
A character straight from the '90s bad girls scene, though this particular comic certainly makes her out to be pretty, er, matrony.  It's actually pretty interesting.  This is Lady Death's secret origin!

Marvel Fanfare #16 (Marvel)
From September 1984:
Apparently much controversy was to be had at the time by editor Al Milgrom appearing in the Marvel corner symbol, a spot normally reserved for the stars of the particular title (it's something DC did, too).  I don't know what that's about, but it's the most memorable thing about this one.  It also features work from Marv Wolfman and David Cockrum, as well as Mike Mignola (unlike McFarlane and even Liefeld above looking familiar to fans of his later work).

MASK #1 (DC)
From February 1987:
Based on a toy line I had brief experience with.  Art by Curt Swan!
The Micronauts: The New Voyages #4 (Marvel)
From January 1985
The Micronauts: The New Voyages #6
From March 1985:
Features art from Kelley Jones, who would go on to play a memorable role on the covers of the Batman "Knightfall" saga as well as several vampires tales featuring the Dark Knight.  Even moreso than Mignola, Jones' work is instantly recognizable in these issues.  It's the only thing worth noting about them, however.

The Mighty Thor #409 (Marvel)
From November 1989:
From Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz, the latter of whom would later work in the '90s Superman comics I enjoyed so much, except when illustrated by Ron Frenz.  Not the right style.  No label link for Ron Frenz!  Features Dr. Doom!  Hercules!  Exclamation points!  And the second time Thor was tied to the body of an ordinary human!

Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD (Marvel)
From December 1983:
But featuring reprinted material from '67 and '68 and the work of legendary Jim Steranko, a conceptual genius when it came to art.  There's only a few panels here that truly reflect that, however.  It's nice finding classic work in these random comics, and for some reason this batch was just loaded with notable artists, even if some of them weren't doing their most iconic work.

Nightmare Theater #1 & 4 of 4 (Chaos!)
From November 1997:
A horror anthology that I enjoyed best for its surveys of classic Hollywood films (these issues cover the Golden Age and the resurgent '60s.  Both issues feature Eric Powell (The Goon) inking someone else's work.  The latter issue features a story from Alan Moore, in classic form taking an alternate look at familiar faces, this time movie monsters and featuring wolfman Francis "Itchy" Peterson.

The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe #3 (Marvel)
From March 1983:
Characters from The Collector to Dracula are profiled, with Collector probably being the most interesting character, with Deathlok coming in second, though more famous ones like Cyclops, Daredevil, and Dazzler (famous?), as well as Doc Samson, Dr. Doom, Dr. Strange, and Dormammu (??) are also featured.  Marvel's Captain Marvel is listed in the appendix on the inside back cover.  I don't know if he got better treatment in the previous issue, but he was an incredibly notable character, especially in Jim Starlin's famous Death of Captain Marvel graphic novel.  Is it that he was dead by the time this was published?

Pitt #15 (Full Bleed)
From September 1997:
Dale Keown's Pitt was pretty famous in the '90s, and was also one of a rash of characters from the decade to duplicate the (Fawcett/DC) Captain Marvel gag of being closely tied to a little boy (or perhaps Keown was more inspired by Bill Watterson?).  Now Pitt just seems like one of those out-of-control art oddities that also littered those years.

Preacher #25 (Vertigo)
From May 1997
Pride & Glory #s 2 & 3 
From August-September 1997:
I'm lumping these together because they're both written by Garth Ennis.  I've had something of a contentious relationship with Ennis.  I've never read him regularly.  The one time I almost did, I ended up taking a fairly violent reaction to his work.  The thing to understand about Ennis is that he's not writing comics to write about superheroes.  In fact, it might be said that he really dislikes superheroes.  He's incredibly cynical about them (whether in the pages of Hitman or The Boys).  He's probably better understood outside of comics where he forces himself to write about something he neither enjoys nor particularly understands.  Preacher is perhaps his most famous creation.  These three issues (Pride & Glory has no relation) reveal a writer who has a great deal in common with Stephen King.  Both of them like to have fairly ordinary characters swap stories.  I think with this insight, I may begin to better appreciate Ennis.  Don't tell him I said so.

Robotech #1 of 3 (DC)
From January 1985:
Written by Andy Helfer!  Based on a Japanese TV show (does not feature Wolverine).  That is all.

ROM #23 (Marvel)
From October 1981
ROM #s 63-64
From February-March 1985:
I still don't get ROM.  (The first issue features Iron Fist, Luke Cage, and a cameo from the Fantastic Four.)  Great concept, terrible design.  How did this series run for so long?  I think if anyone wanted to revive it now they'd better give the lone survivor of a band of space knights a better look.

Sabretooth (Marvel)
From 1995:
From Fabian Nicieza and Gary Frank (showing glimmers of the work he'd make famous with collaborators like Geoff Johns), this one was perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the last Blitz.  From the foil-embossed cover I was expecting very much the kind of (mostly) bad X-Men comics I've been characterizing in these things.  It's anything but.  This is all the more surprising because I remember being baffled that anyone thought it made any sense to try and make Sabretooth a member in good standing of the mutant community.  Nicieza crafts this tale in the fashion of Jeph Loeb (years before anyone would truly appreciate that fact), and Frank makes Victor Creed the spitting image of portrayed by Hugh Jackman in movies that wouldn't exist for another five years.  In effect, this is a comics years ahead of its time, and is all the more remarkable for it.  

Shatter #1 (First)
From December 1985:
It's almost sad, the amount of hope First Comics seemed to have in this series.  Tell me how many comics fans know about either Shatter or First Comics today.  The comic features digital art, however, so that was pretty revolutionary.  The company also published Mike Grell's Jon Sable, John Ostrander and Timothy Truman's Grimjack, as well as Howard Chaykin's American Flagg! (apparently being written by Alan Moore at the time), Nexus, Michael Moorcock's Elric...Holy crap, First Comics was a precursor to the indy dream!  But is it remembered?  First indeed...

Uncanny X-Men #-1 (Marvel)
From July 1997:
Note the minus sign in the issue number...This was part of Marvel's "Flashback" event, more or less its version of Zero Month (1994 and 2012 versions) from DC.  Written by Scott Lobdell, it's another indication that '90s X-Men wasn't completely wasted by attempts to cash in on the Image art craze (which it actually began with Jim Lee's X-Men #1).  Lobdell probably did his most notable work in Generation X, but apparently he was at least as ambitious with the main group.  I'm not sure fans agreed, and the legacy doesn't seem to be there, but this was another comic worth discovering in the Blitz.  Another appearance from Bryan Hitch, too!

Vengeance of Vampirella #15 (Harris)
From June 1995:
Bad girls be gone!  Written as in previous Blitz appearances from the tramp vamp by Tom Sniegoski, sometimes collaborator of Jeff "Bone" Smith.

West Coast Avengers #37 (Marvel)
From October 1988:
More Al Milgrom!  A team of Avengers acting dysfunctional!

Wolverine: Days of Future Past #2 (Marvel)
From January 1988:
Harking back to a famous Claremont tale...but not itself destined to be famous.  The next First Class X-Men film is going to be borrowing from one of them.  Guess which.

X-Men Annual #12 (Marvel)
From 1988:
From Claremont.  Not featuring vintage Claremont.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Reading Comics #74 "Making History"

AvX #12 (Marvel)
writer: Jason Aaron
artist: Adam Kubert
Avengers was the big event at the movies, but in the comics, Marvel's 2012 story belonged to Avengers vs. X-Men, which has finally come to a close.  A mass collaboration between the company's so-called architects) (Aaron, Brian Michael Bendis, Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, Jonathan Hickman), it's also a sequel of sorts to the classic "Dark Phoenix Saga" (featured in X-Men: The Last Stand) as well as House of M, and this basically means that the X-Men finally got to figure out how to level the playing field again.  The Scarlet Witch famously declared, "No more mutants" in House of M, and her subsequent absence was one of the defining elements of Avengers lore for the past decade (she finally returned in Avengers: The Children's Crusade).  This caused a rapid decline and possible extinction for mutant kind until the appearance of the so-called mutant messiah Hope.  AvX spent a lot of its time having the company's two most famous teams duke it out, ostensibly over control of the Phoenix, which eventually took control of Cyclops, who let the power go to his head.  In this issue he's defeated and the Phoenix is drawn out from him, and it falls to Hope and Scarlet Witch to decide what to do with the entity.  It's awesome that someone finally decided to do something notable with Hope, much less the Phoenix, and maybe killing off Professor X (which happened last issue) will stick this time, and Cyclops can become the new Magneto, if subsequent writers can exercise some restraint (though the fact that Captain America and Iron Man are once again bosom buddies despite the events of Civil War does not bode well for such a long-lasting change).  No, I did not read every issue, but it was certainly worth following, and this concluding issue does track well.

Action Comics #13 (DC) 
writer: Grant Morrison
artist: Travel Foreman
This issue has a kind of curious crossover appeal.  Grant Morrison's own celebrated Vertigo story We3 is certainly relevant to the issue, as is the Futurama episode "Jurassic Bark."  Hopefully you know the one.  Basically this is Morrison's Krypto story, though a lot of it also involves Phantom Zone villains and the like.  A lot of what Morrison has done in his run on Action Comics is provide a clear template on all the most notable elements of Superman lore, with an updated aesthetic that removes all its cobwebs.  One of the recurring pieces throughout the run is a gradual introduction of Mxyzptlk, the imp with the impossible name (and it also must be conquered backwards!) who has served as one of the most curious foes in the canon.  If anyone can make him work now, it's Morrison.  Sholly Fisch, meanwhile, emphasizes Krypto in his typically consummate backup feature, which has been another highlight of these comics.

Artifacts #s 17 & 19 (Top Cow)
writer: Ron Marz
artist: Stjepan Sejic
Preparing a script for a Top Cow talent contest has made me aware of the fact that I don't have a lot of practical experience with actual Top Cow comics.  This is a little surprising, because Ron Marz has been writing for them for several years now.  I became familiar with him (and a fan of his work) thanks to his Kyle Rayner years on Green Lantern.  He's worked hard to shape a working mythology for Top Cow's artifacts, originally represented in Witchblade and The Darkness, the latter of which is featured in the first of these two issues as Jackie Estacado concludes a confrontation with Tom Judge, the signature character of this particular series, which follows other similar mystical devices to the ones that helped define Top Cow in the first place.  All told, there are thirteen of them.  Judge isn't really defined by his artifact, however, but by how he attempts to navigate them and their bearers.  He's an ex-priest who now works for the FBI.  Apparently Top Cow has gone into Fringe territory by exploring subtly different versions of its familiar characters via an alternate reality in which old relationships can begin anew, which is what the second issue helps demonstrate with characters familiar to Angelus fans.  It's all pretty readable even for someone not terribly familiar with such nuances.  It's fair to say Top Cow does have a functioning superhero legacy developing, and Marz continues to be a strong part of making it happen.

Batman #0 (DC)
writer: Scott Snyder
artist: Greg Capullo
The lead story features a harbinger of the "Death of the Family" arc that features the return of the Joker, but its best aspect is Bruce Wayne's early attempts to figure out how to make his Batman function.  That's all well and good (and familiar to fans of Christopher Nolan's cinematic vision), but the highlight of the issue is James Tynion IV's backup feature (it's worth noting that Tynion has just launched Talon, a spinoff from the Court of Owls epic that dominated the title and franchise during its first year in the New 52 era), which follows Jim Gordon's decision to switch on the Bat-signal to hopefully make the citizens of Gotham aware of its strange new protector.  All of Batman's eventual allies see it, and the genius of it is that could easily inspire a whole series, something totally new to the franchise, exploring Tim Drake, Jason Todd, Dick Grayson, and even Barbara Gordon before they don the costumes of Robin and Batgirl.  Drake's part of the story dominates it, and for a long-time fan of the character (who now appears in Teen Titans almost exclusively, but maintained one ongoing series or another from 1993 to 2011) it still manages to be a revelation, a truly fresh take.  He's a wunderkind, naturally, well before he wears a cape.  Jason is a tragic figure as always.  Dick tracks consistently, and is familiar to anyone who's been following Nightwing in the past year.  Who wouldn't want to read more of how Barbara first decided to be inspired more by the Dark Knight than her cop father?  Such a comic would be like Smallville reclaimed by its native land (a little more directly than Birthright).

Batwing #0 (DC)
writer: Judd Winick
artist: Marcus To
It's funny, because Judd Winick originally prided himself on launching Batwing without a traditional origin story...This is that story.  It's actually very familiar to what Lost did for six seasons.  David Zavimbi's journey to joining Batman Incorporated (through which he gets his nifty armor) is a uniquely African adventure (something I'm not sure Marvel's Black Panther has ever achieved).  Although I haven't read an issue of the series since its debut last fall, I've long considered Batwing to be one of the highlights of the New 52, something new, even if it's connected to something familiar.  Yet for all intents and purposes, Zavimbi lives in his own world, something Winick has appreciated.  He's exactly the kind of character the writer has always excelled developing.  Even if I only read sporadic issues, it's good knowing something like this exists, and this issue is as rewarding as I expected.

DC Universe Presents Kid Flash #12 (DC)
writer: Fabian Nicieza
artist: Jorge Jimenez
Like Tim Drake, Bart Allen has been playing in the New 52 sandbox, but almost exclusively in the pages of Teen Titans.  This is a rare opportunity to stretch his legs a little.  Nicieza proves an unexpectedly compelling chronicler of his hyperactive escapades.  Originally introduced by Mark Waid as a humorously immature speedster who grew up in virtual reality, Bart was shaped by Geoff Johns into Kid Flash nearly a decade ago in another Teen Titans.  Here the transformation truly seems complete.  No longer callow so much as cocksure, Bart Allen is still a remarkably unique character to read, as this issue proves.

DC Universe Presents #0 (DC)
writer: various
artist: various
The anthology series that has featured a number of different properties over the past year takes Zero Month as an opportunity to explore characters whose New 52 first wave titles were cancelled.  That means Dan DiDio and Keith Giffen, for instance, can have one more crack at O.M.A.C., though they take the opportunity to explore Brother Eye, the sentient satellite best known for wrecking havoc in Infinite Crisis.  James Robinson does for Mister Terrific more justice than his comic ever did, which is encouraging, since the character is due to play a role in Robinson's Earth 2.  The highlight for me, however, is the reunion of Great Ten collaborators Tony Bedard and Scott McDaniel, who present a tale of Deadman, whose adventures launched this title (which to me was disappointing at the time, because I thought the momentum the character built from Brightest Day and Flashpoint would have led to an ongoing series, which I would certainly not mind from Bedard and McDaniel...), teaching him a lesson in humility (well, several).

The Flash #0 (DC)
writer: Francis Manapul, Brian Buccellato
artist: Francis Manapul
I haven't read an issue of The Flash since Geoff Johns left the title prior to the New 52 relaunch.  It's not because I no longer care for the character, but that I've been waiting for Manapul (who was artist in the Johns run) to find his legs.  The Flash has increasingly become a character defined more by his personal story than his adventures for me, and it seemed that Manapul was content to leave the stories at the adventure level.  I knew the minute Zero Month was announced that I would likely read my first Flash in a year.  Yes, this is an origin issue, retelling the new narrative of Barry Allen's life, how his mother was murdered and his father was blamed for it, and how Barry has been driven ever since to discover the truth.  Becoming the Flash is almost besides the fact.  If the quality of this sample is any indication, I may be reading more in the future.

Green Lantern #13 (DC)
writer: Geoff Johns
artist: Doug Mahnke
Very much like Batwing above, this new phase of Green Lantern is reading like Lost, as Simon Baz and the narrative of not just his emerging career as a ring-bearer but his life begins to take shape.  Baz seems to have stumbled into circumstances the US government can't help but confuse with terrorist activities, but he's far more troubled by what he's done to his beloved sister's husband.  There's also this ring and the two strange people (Sinestro and Hal Jordan) who broadcast rescue requests when it started to fully activate.  He adopts the distinctive mask when he realizes it would be expedient given his legal troubles.  Other than that, his is a story that's still very much unfolding.  So too is the "Rise of the Third Army" arc in which the Guardians of the Universe, founders of the Green Lantern Corps, who have devised something of an organic version of Star Trek's Borg.  And on the final page, Simon Baz is introduced to the Justice League...

Jack Kirby (Bluewater)
writer: John Judy
artist: Paul Cox
One of the founding father of the comic book, Jack Kirby co-created almost every major Marvel superhero, and became known as "The King," revered in the industry and by his peers.  This is his story.  It almost reads like a lost issue of Fred Van Lente's Comic Book Comics, but otherwise is a fairly standard Bluewater biography, skirting a lot of details and emphasizing anecdotes, which is a little disappointing for anyone who wanted a little more depth, but a good overview, even if it begins to heavily focus on the things that went wrong in his career rather than everything he achieved and has inspired.

Superman #0 (DC)
writer: Scott Lobdell
artist: Kenneth Rocafort
The company's reward for a couple of creators fans don't seem to have enjoyed as much, perhaps because they've previously collaborated on the divisive Red Hood and the Outlaws.  But the force of their magic is undeniable, and it's remarkable that they've been given a major character and title to work on next.  As compared to the Morrison-powered Action Comics, Superman has had a rocky course in the New 52.  This is its third major creative change in a year.  Tonally, Lobdell immediately marks himself as comparable to Morrison's inclinations, particularly in the opening pages of the issue, in which Superman's dad Jor-El picks up the familiar refrain of the character, the lone scientific genius capable of foreseeing the fate of Krypton.  Lobdell makes it seem fresh, and Jor-El vital.  It's the second time this column I'll suggest that a Zero Month story could easily support its own series.  It's a bright start to a bold new era.

Ultimate Comics The Ultimates #15 (Marvel)
writer: Sam Humphries
artist: Billy Tan
It's something of an irony that the year the Avengers movie inspired by the Ultimates comics coincides at a time when the Ultimates are at their least accessible.  The whole point of Marvel's Ultimate line was to make its characters more accessible.  In recent comics the United States has apparently splintered apart.  Last time I checked that hadn't happened in the real world.  Humphries makes up for this with the big bomb in the aftermath of a recall election for the presidency (several years late, but it still brings to mind the memorable California gubernatorial fiasco that gave us the Governator), Captain America taking the highest rank in the government he's served since WWII.  It's a pretty huge development that I had to check in on.  This is the issue where he wins the election (more hype is given to the following one, in which he takes office).  It's a good yarn as Humphries relates it.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Kickstarting Manny Trembley's Latest Project

I don't normally do this.  In fact, it's the first time I've pledged to back anything on Kickstarter.  But here we go.

I first discovered Manny Trembley during my Digital Webbing days in 2005-2006.  He and Eric A. Anderson were just launching PX!, a whimsical, all-ages, insanely clever serialized comic that was eventually collected in two volumes by Image (A Girl and Her Panda, In the Service of the Queen).  Image further supported Trembley and Anderson by publishing Sam Noir.  Neither lit the comics world on fire.  But I remained a rabid fan.

I waited years for PX! (short for Panda Xpress, which closely resembles a certain Asian fast food franchise, hence the usual abbreviation) to continue.  It never did.  If you click that link for its website, you'll see the same thing I have for years.

So I read on Facebook today from Anderson that Trembley is still in the game.  (They're actually both gaming programmers by day, so small in-joke there.)  He's got a Kickstarter.

Wait, let me repeat that.  He's got a Kickstarter.  How could I not support it?  Trembley's art is distinctive.  Now that I think of it, it reminds me of Bill Watterson.  Y'know, the creator of Calvin + Hobbes, if Watterson didn't focus everything on a philosophical kid who can never stay out of trouble, even with his own stuffed tiger.  PX! did feature a girl and her panda, but it wasn't like that.  It also featured Wikkity Jones!  Weatherby!  Pollo the evil goat!

He and Anderson created some of my favorite comics of the past decade.  Heck yeah I want to see more, even if only half the team is around.  Maybe it'll bring the whole band back together!

But that's the true story of how I came to support Kickstarter.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Quarter Bin #44: Brother's Blitz, Part 2

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.

Avengers West Coast #48 (Marvel)
From September 1989:
Anyone who thought Scarlet Witch's predicaments since House of M are unique for the character probably aren't aware of just how obsessively Marvel keeps track of its own comics and keeps using even the most ridiculous developments to inform new stories (thankfully, there are limits).  In this issue (from another time there were a bunch of Avengers teams running around), Wanda is being held captive and exploited by an evil organization.  From the mind of John Byrne.

Cable #33 (Marvel)
From July 1996:
Jeph Loeb seems to thrive better in shorter assignments than when he's called to work in a more ongoing capacity (he got around this in his seminal Superman/Batman by working on very specific arcs).  In the last Blitz, I dismissed Cable as just another symptom of the mediocre X-Men '90s, but it's worth noting that Loeb and James Robinson wrote those (and they were released in 1997).  I won't say they're good, but they do have the hallmark character work, even if it's mired in uninteresting material that someone at Marvel thought was awesome at the time (I appreciated DC at the time because it avoided what the rest of the industry was doing).  Are these comics worth a look?  Well, only just that.

Concrete: Think Like a Mountain #2 (Dark House)
From April 1996:
For some of you newer comics readers, Concrete was pretty big at the time, basically what Hellboy is today for Dark Horse.  He was a human trapped in an alien body, which as "Concrete" suggests basically turned him into the Fantastic Four's Thing.  Except Concrete was not the Thing.  He was a lot like a mountain, actually.  And creator Paul Chadwick was an unapologetic environmentalist (if you don't believe me, check out this issue for the bonus material alone), and that's what this comic is all about.  To Chadwick's credit, at least in this issue he allows Concrete to be fairly (typically) impassive.  I wonder why the character didn't resurface in the wake of Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth campaign (famously more passionate than his presidential one).  Now Chadwick seems content to leave Concrete as a curious artifact.

Damage Control #3 of 4 (Marvel)
From January 1990:
This seems to be Marvel's version of DC's (in)famous Bwa-ha-ha Justice League, a jokey look at the more routine (and less reverent) corners of the superhero life.  These guys try to clean up the damage left behind, hence the title.  She-Hulk dominates the issue, however, with not a little assist from her gimmick at the time, breaking the fourth wall.

Elven #4 (Malibu)
From May 1995:
Malibu may be obscurely known today for giving us the Men in Black concept that led to the movies, but at the time it made a game attempt to join the superhero big leagues with its Ultraverse line, which Marvel eventually absorbed and forgot about.  Less forgettable than the star of this book is guest-star I'm-Definitely-NOT-Captain-Marvel Prime.

Ex-Mutants #14 (Malibu)
From March 1993:
Speaking of the Ultraverse, this was another of its efforts.  It's forgotten now, but in the early '90s several companies attempt to make their own mutant franchises.  This one did not make its intentions subtle.  It was also not especially good.

Freex #4 (Malibu)
From October 1993:
Another offering from Ultraverse, this one was easily the bunch of the three.  But it had a terrible title.  Hence another reason why nobody remembers it.  From writer Gerard Jones, who was a notable Green Lantern creator.  Very reminiscent of DC's later Primal Force, part of the original Zero Month.

Give Me Liberty #1 (Dark Horse)
June 1990:
That there are people who argue Frank Miller hates women (mostly because in Sin City they're all strippers) is a little surprising, considering he's responsible for the creation of Martha Washington.  No, the first president's wife was not a time-hopping robot.  This Martha Washington lives in a future where everything bad about America has only gotten worse.  Miller (and artist Dave Gibbons, who must have felt a certain amount of deja vu, having worked on Watchmen a few years earlier) tracks Martha's life in this issue from 1995 to 2010, as she grows up in a district/asylum for the underprivileged and escapes it by enlisting in the military.  Forced into desperate acts that appall her, Martha is always sympathetic.  I always knew this one was in the collection, but never got around to reading it, which is just as well, because I think I appreciate it more now than I would have ten years ago.  The character last appeared in 2007, but already by then was a forgotten piece of Miller's legacy, which is a pity.

Guardians of the Galaxy #53 (Marvel)
From October 1994
Guardians of the Galaxy #56
From January 1995:
A Marvel book from the '90s that looks like an Image book from the '90s, especially that first issue.  I think these guys were Marvel's attempt at an answer for DC's Legion of Super-Heroes, a team set a thousand years in the future.

Hawkman #7 (DC)
From March 1994:
Featuring Mongrel, another character created during the 1993 Bloodlines Annuals event, and a version of Hawkman that was very Native American (it's curious, because Zero Hour was supposed to have made Hawkman less schizophrenic).  Actually pretty interesting, though I thought the Bloodlines characters on the whole were a lot more interesting than their legacy suggests.  If you want some 2012 context, I think what happened was that fans at the time thought they were just an attempt to cash in on the Image phenomenon.  No, fans, that's the horrible art in Guardians of the Galaxy #53.  Bloodlines was awesome, and I will not rest until I resurrect what it achieved.

Heroes #3 (Milestone)
From July 1996:
No, not a comic based on a TV show that debuted a decade later (seek Isaac Mendez elsewhere).  Rather, this was Milestone's attempt to be a little more mainstream.  On all accounts, Milestone was already mainstream.  Icon was a Superman figure.  Hardware was an Iron Man figure.  Static was a Spider-Man figure.  The Blood Syndicate was an Image figure (see!).  But they were all black.  Heroes, then, was an attempt to try and make Milestone more relatable.  The body builder-esque female Donner was white (or certainly looks it).  Reads almost like a Kurt Busiek comic today.

The Inhumans Special  #1 (Marvel)
From April 1990:
I've never been able to care for the Inhumans, basically a version of Jack Kirby's New Gods as if they were mutants and thus perpetual outcasts (or, the popular reception of the New Gods!).  This did not change my opinion.  Possibly doesn't help that the cover touts their first encounter with the Fantastic Four.  Which really doesn't amount to anything special.

My Name Is Chaos #3 of 4 (DC)
From 1992:
From writer Tom Veitch, this was one of the big discoveries from this batch, part of a prestige format mini-series that today reads like a version of Ridley Scott's Prometheus that doesn't become a horror story midway through.  Ideally this would be another comic that would not have been forgotten.  Though popular reception of Martian tales does seem to be a dicey affair, so I guess I shouldn't be so surprised.  I will probably attempt to read the rest of this one.

The Omega Men #21 (DC)
From December 1984
The Omega Men #27
From June 1985:
Pretty much rubbish, but the second issue does reference Peter Pan, so I may have to have another look at some point.

One Mile Up #1 of 5 (Eclipse)
From December 1991:
Terrible cover, but what's inside is pretty awesome, like an updated version of Tom Corbett, Space Cadet (more on that later!), so that was a nice surprise.

The Origin of the Defiant Universe (Defiant)
From February 1994:
Jim Shooter kicked around for quite a while, trying to jumpstart new or existing characters outside of the Big Two (he's probably still at it), and this was one of those efforts, an ambitious prose introduction that's like Jack Kirby's New Gods (there they are again!).  In all likelihood, the resulting comics were not worth this effort, but at least this was interesting!

Shakespeare's Othello (Tome Press)
From 1993:
Actually a very interesting adaptation, from David J. Verruni.  Previously I was most familiar with the play thanks to Kenneth Branagh and Laurence Fishburne.  Though somehow I had more sympathy for Othello when he was Morpheus...

Outbreed 999 #1 (Black Out)
From May 1994
Outbreed 999 #2
From July 1994:
I kind of feel bad for small press creators when they don't seem to realize that something about their effort is obviously small press.  The art, in this instance.  And maybe the lack of subtlety.

Overland Magazine #1 (Eclipse)
From April 1987:
An anthology of small press black-and-white comics!

Oz: Romance in Rags #2 (Caliber)
From 1996
Oz: Romance in Rags #3
From 1996
Oz #11
From 1995
Oz #12
From 1995:
In a lot of ways, Eric Shanower and Skottie Young have completely spoiled me.  Their Oz adaptations from Marvel have come to represent L. Frank Baum's original intentions (and not just because they adapt Baum's original books directly).  So it's both a good and bad thing to read these Oz comics now.  Shanower and Young have helped me catch up on some Oz lore that would not be apparent from the Judy Garland movie or the first book, so it's better that I read these comics now than when I originally got them, because the appropriate context would not be there for me to even begin to appreciate the work.  Young especially has come to represent my ideal Baum artist.  These comics do not feature Skottie Young.  But they're not as bad as they would have seemed without the context.  It is still unfortunate that anyone might have had to accept this as Oz material.  It's not bad, it's just not what it could be.  And it takes Oz in a direction that doesn't jive with Baum's original spirit.  Except if you know how he kind of it himself.  Emphasis on kind of.

Prince (Piranha)
From 1991:
The best thing about this comic (from a DC imprint) is that it was created by Dwayne McDuffie and Denys Cowan, who would later make their reputations on Milestone (McDuffie passed away last year).  The rest of it is a daydream of the pop musician's ego.  So yes, it features "When Doves Cry" Prince.  It's not terrible, but it is ludicrous.

Pummeller $2099 #1 (Parody Press)
From 1993:
A parody of Punisher 2099 (in case that wasn't obvious).  Not bad, may also even be funny!

Purge #1 of 4 (Ania)
From August 1993:
A completely low-rent answer to Milestone (gosh, tons of references to Milestone in this Blitz!), with poor production values.  This is the kind of description that gets me in trouble.  It's not that bad.  But it's not Milestone, either.

Q-Unit #1 (Harris)
From December 1993:
Harris Comics was known for Vampirella.  Let's just leave it at that.

Quagmire USA #1 (Antarctic Press)
From March 1994:
A spinoff from Ninja High School, which Antarctic had recently reacquired, and probably only decipherable by those fans.

The Queen of the Damned #9 of 12 (Innovation)
From September 1993
The Queen of the Damned #11 of 12
From December 1993:
Anne Rice was pretty huge at the time, thanks to Interview with the Vampire.  Queen of the Damned became a movie, too, a decade later.  For some reason Lestat in this comic seems to be based on Christopher Lambert (very noticeable on the cover of #9), erstwhile Highlander.  Pretty fascinating stuff, though.

Quest for Dreams Lost (Literacy Volunteers of Chicago)
From 1987:
Anthology meant to promote adult literacy.  Ironically, it could have used more thorough editing.  One segment features the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!  Also features the first professional work of the late Mike Parobeck!

Robin Annual #3 (DC)
From 1994:
The theme of DC's 1994 Annuals was Elseworlds, a concept that replaced the multiverse during that decade, and gave fans a ton of alternate versions of their favorite characters.  This one, from Chuck Dixon, places the Batman mythos in feudal Japan, to remarkable effect.  Batman is Robin's sensei, and protector of a besieged lord.  And it only becomes more complicated.  Batman dies early in the story, leaving Robin to figure out how to avenge him (or not, which is his mentor's dying wish).  Eventually, Robin runs into Catwoman.  A lot of it plays like a version of Robin's experiences following "Knightfall," but infinitely more awesome.  The thing about these one-shot comics, annuals or not, especially if they're set in an alternate reality, is that fans are not likely to remember them.  I could read a whole series based on Ninja Robin, but this is certainly enough of a taste to know how well it works.  It's not surprising that Dixon would write a lot more martial arts comics following this effort.

Rogues Gallery (DC)
From 1996:
Basically an excuse for a pinup gallery of DC's villains, with Underworld Unleashed as the inspiration.  Said title was a crossover event from Mark Waid and Howard Porter, whose main benefit was to help differentiate Captain Marvel from Superman.  Come to think of it, that was the point of Kingdom Come, too.  Why hasn't Waid written more Captain Marvel?

Rust #5 (Now)
From 1989:
Ed Brubaker, thank this comic for having something to be ten times better than.

The Saga of Original Man #1 (Omega 7)
From 192:
Remember what I was saying about Milestone (!) and Purge earlier?  Original Man is exactly what Purge wasn't.  It's bad comics.  Pretty much hilariously bad.  I think I went to middle school with kids who did better work than this.

The Saga of the Sub-Mariner #3 of 12 (Marvel)
From January 1989:
Let me set some context here: Namor, the Sub-Mariner, is literally one of Marvel's original creations.  It's baffling that in seven decades no one has ever figured out what to do with him.  Aquaman has a better track record.  Aquaman!!!

Savage Dragon #2 (Image)
From July 1993
Savage Dragon #23
From October 1995:
Erik Larsen's Savage Dragon is basically an ongoing parody of traditional superhero comics.  The second issue of the series apparently featured the Ninja Turtles (two appearances in this Blitz?!?), while the 23rd features girls with boobs, at least one of them in a costume that could not logically contain them, and certainly not in battle!  And Savage Dragon is one of two Image series that is still in regular publication from the earliest days.  Is it really any wonder that the company basically abandoned the superhero format years ago, with few exceptions?

Secret Weapons #13 (Valiant)
From October 1994:
I'm not really sure what this was supposed to be about.  And I have two copies of this issue.

Shadowman #22 (Valiant)
From February 1994
Shadowman #23
From March 1994:
Valiant was one of the companies that tried to support the superhero line that invariably includes Solar, X-O, Turok, Magnus...Shadowman does not belong in this company.  I'm not sure what's going on here, either.

The Shadow #8 (DC)
From March 1988
The Shadow #9
From April 1988
The Shadow #10
From May 1988:
I'm now at something at a loss to reconcile something.  If you will remember (or have a look through my Challengers of the Unknown label), I became a little obsessed with Jeph Loeb and Tim Sales Challengers of the Unknown Must Die!, a precursor to The Long Halloween and other famed and popular collaborations.  Must Die, however, was not popular.  The world wasn't yet ready for Sale's art, for one thing.  Except these issues of The Shadow suggest precedent.  From Andy Helfer (better known as an editor) and Kyle Baker's debut on the title, these issues are so similar to Loeb and Sale's work with the Challengers that I can't help but assume a few things: that, for one, Loeb was inspired by this work when he was making the decision to enter the comics field; that perhaps I read or at least looked at these comics when I first received the Blitz; and that subconsciously my interest in Must Die was derived from them.  One way or another, memorable stuff.

Silver Sable and the Wild Pack #7 (Marvel)
From December 1992
Silver Sable and the Wild Pack #8
From January 1993
Silver Sable and the Wild Pack #9
From February 1993:
Marvel's bad girl comics!

Space: Above and Beyond #3 of 3 (Topps)
From March 1996:
Based on the short-lived TV series, think of it as Star Wars by way of BattleStar Galactica by way of Top Gun by way of Wing Commander...Features art from Yanick Paquette.

Space Cadet: The Original Tom Corbett #1 of 10 (Eternity)
From September 1990
Space Cadet: The Original Tom Corbett #2
From September 1990
Space Cadet: The Original Tom Corbett #3
From October 1990
Space Cadet: The Original Tim Corbett #4
From November 1990
Space Cadet: The Original Tom Corbett #5
From December 1990:
Reprints of classic daily comic strips from September 1951 to July 1952 (and that's half the series, on both accounts) featuring that guy you may recognize from the poster on Leonard and Sheldon's wall in The Big Bang Theory.  This is surprisingly interesting stuff, vintage sci-fi that with the right treatment could totally be revived today (if you doubt me, remember One Mile Up).

Superman Adventures #2 (DC)
From December 1996:
Featuring Scott McCloud (Understanding Comics), based on the second Bruce Timm/Paul Dini animated series.

Tempus Fugitive #1 of 4 (DC)
From 1990:
Not as compelling as My Name Is Chaos, but another prestige format limited series that nonetheless interesting.

They Were 11 #3 of 4 (Viz)
From 1995
They Were 11 #4
From 1995:
A manga that I found to be enjoyable, perhaps because it features some interesting character work.

The Mighty Thor Annual #15
From 1990
The Mighty Thor Annual #17
From 1992:
My attitude toward Thor, at least in these stories, is very similar to the Inhumans.  Remember what that was?

Triumph #1 of 4 (DC)
From June 1995:
Marvel's Sentry was Marvel's version of Triumph, an attempt to retroactively add an iconic superhero to the history books.  Neither of them is around today.

Turok Dinosaur Hunter #43 (Valiant)
From May 1996
Turok Dinosaur Hunter #44
From May 1996:
Although this is some fairly generic Native American storytelling, it's still heads and shoulders above most of the other stuff in the Blitz, so it counts as a win.  It's surprising that no company has been able to keep Turok and the several others like him in publication, or that any major company hasn't snapped them up, or whatever it would take to bring them some stability.

Venom: Nights of Vengeance #3 of 4 (Marvel)
From October 1994
Venom: Lethal Protector #4 of 6
From May 1993:
The other curious development of '90s Spider-Man besides the Clone Saga was the attempt to make Venom as pretty much originally envisioned a star.  I know everyone was wild about him...But really?

Warchild #4 (Maximum Press)
From August 1995:
Maximim was one of several versions of Rob Liefield's own publishing line after Image no longer wanted him (the best attempt was literally Awesome).  That's the only thing notable about this comic.

The Web #2 (Impact)
From October 1991:
Archie's Red Circle superheroes are in the same boat as Turok & pals: no one can figure out how to keep them in publication, and many have tried.  Impact was DC's first attempt (the recent Web series from Marc Guggenheim and Roger Robinson was worth the effort, but I was one of its few fans).  It obviously didn't work.

What If? #40 (Marvel)
From August 1992:
What If? is basically Marvel's long-running version of Elseworlds, only far less awesome, often very pedestrian look at what would have happened if something from a particular story had turned out differently. In this instance, what if Storm hadn't joined the X-Men?  As this story posits, nothing about her life would have changed except joining the X-Men.  How fascinating!


Batman and Robin #0 (DC)
writer: Peter J. Tomasi
artist: Pat Gleason
One of the things I absolutely loved about the idea of Zero Month (Version 2) was the chance for creative teams to refocus their attention on the characters who star in their books, and one of the great beneficiaries was Tomasi and Gleason's Damian.  Introduced in 2006 by Grant Morrison as the son of Batman and Talia al Ghul (spinning off from an earlier graphic novel, Son of the Demon, which had previously given Mark Waid a totally different interpretation in his Kingdom Come stories), the newest Robin is easily the most inspired one in franchise history.  The series was hottest this year when focusing directly on Damian, and so this issue was a no-brainer.  Exploring his relationship with Talia before being introduced to his father, Damian must prove his worth, a little Alexander the Great (most comics fan will here think of Ozymandias, but I prefer to think more directly on Alexander himself, and the underrated movie Alexander).  Though only Morrison's own Batman Incorporated deals with the current Talia storyline, the issue also serves as a good primer on what you need to know about that.

Batman Incorporated #0 (DC)
writer: Grant Morrison, Chris Burnham
artist: Frazer Irving
Well, speaking of the series, its own Zero Month contribution finally brings the concept of the book back to the forefront.  Let me go back a step or two.  This incarnation of Batman Inc. follows a previous one that did feature the Batmen of the world concept pretty heavily, but eventually started to emphasize the concept of Grant Morrison's concluding Dark Knight arc, featuring the threat of Leviathan, who turned out to be Talia as explored in the first issues of the relaunch.  All the Batmen were previously introduced in earlier eras, and were recently reclaimed by Morrison, first as the Club of Heroes and then as members of the organization Batman put together to tackle the threat of Leviathan, realizing after his return from a journey through time that he's never been alone and should probably stop thinking of himself as so isolated.  (This is a point reiterated in the issue as well.)  The most famous members of Batman Inc. are Knight and Squire, who had their own mini-series from Paul Cornell (well worth checking out).  Hopefully there will be more from this element of the series in future issues.  Another interesting aspect of the issue is that Morrison works on the script with Chris Burnham, who has been the artist on Batman Inc., and this is interesting because another artist Morrison collaborated with during his Dark Knight run, Tony Daniel, has since gone off to a successful career as writer-artist, and is rumored to be assuming these duties on Justice League when Geoff Johns departs.

Before Watchmen: Comedian #3 of 6 (DC)
writer: Brian Azzarello
artist: J.G. Jones
Recently I've been modifying my comic-buying decisions, and one of the things that means is that I will not be reading individual issues of the whole Before Watchmen project.  I realized that my favorite so far has been Comedian, and so here I am with another issue, in which Edward Blake has a conversation with Bobby Kennedy concerning events that transpired when Blake came back to the States from Vietnam, and was shocked to discover that hostile reaction to the war extends even to him, creating a sticky situation.  Which he compounds by actually aiding a riot to help end it, logic that only he seems to appreciate.  Makes sense, if you're the Comedian, or understand his psychology, which Azzarello clearly does.  I suppose what this one's helping me realize is that Comedian was my favorite character from the original Watchmen, even though he was technically dead throughout the present-day events, more of a catalyst for pretty much everything that happens.  What happens when he gets to carry the story?  Apparently still the best of the project.

Cobra #17 (IDW)
writer: Mike Costa
artist: Werther Dell'Edera
A patented piece of the Cobra experience is the character study, and that's what this issue does with Major Bludd, exploring his origins and what they mean for the present.  Costa and his collaborators perfected this long ago (to the point that Chuck Dixon copied the formula for this year's Annual that had a look at the new Cobra Commander), and still know how to use it.  As with Comedian, Cobra is a book that respects psychology, which Bludd is careful to employ in trying to explain how a man of his comparatively lowly origins was able to become a trusted and valued member of the organization, with interesting insights for characters the series (and its predecessors) have been following, including the Paoli twins (Tomax and his late brother Xamot).  And if that's not enough for you, or not traditional enough, the end of the issue promises the return of the Oktober Guard!

Happy! #1 of 4 (Image)
writer: Grant Morrison
artist: Darick Robertson
I've been waiting for this one (not as long as fans have been waiting for Multiversity, but that's a whole different story!), so it seemed like it was something like a miracle to finally see it released.  Once again, Grant Morrison takes a side project to another publisher (see also: 18 Days, Dinosaurs vs. Aliens, the latter of which I'll be writing about in the coming weeks), and perhaps part of Happy! is something Vertigo wouldn't have touched even in its woollier days, with a good chunk of its debut issue very reminiscent of artist Darick Robertson's more famous collaborator Garth Ennis (as in The Boys), foul-mouthed and featuring nasty characters looking for nothing good in relation to each other.  And yet Morrison pulls yet another rabbit out of his hat with the introduction of Happy, a tiny blue horse who comes to Nick Sax in his hour of need, when he's about to be brutally tortured for information.  It's this glimmer of the bizarre and the push against the boundaries of reality (best demonstrated in Morrison's own favorite work, The Filth) that elevates this book past shock value and novelty to something that in the next three issues will once again redefine comic book storytelling as we know it.

Justice League #0 (DC)
writer: Geoff Johns
artist: Gary Frank
Since the seventh issue of the series Johns and Frank have been exploring a new origin for the hero once known as Captain Marvel, following a rebellious orphan called Billy Batson as he struggles to find a new home with a family whose belief in mankind contradicts everything he's come to experience in his short life.  This issue he finally meets the wizard who gives him the power to become Shazam, and Johns takes the opportunity to reinvent the character, defining him first and foremost as a practitioner of magic.  Previously he was all but a version of Superman with a few quirks, not the least being the famous (and since oft-duplicated)  transformation from boy to man.  There's so much potential in all of this, it's almost disappointing to know that in the near future we're simply going to see Billy figure out what to do with his new powers.  But he's a boy, after all.  A backup story from Johns and Green Lantern collaborator Ethan Van Sciver features New 52 newbie Pandora, who's still trying to live down sins of her past, while the Question makes his debut in the new continuity.

Nightwing #0 (DC)
writer: Kyle Higgins, Tom DeFalco
artist: Eddy Barrows
The exact character of Dick Grayson has always been a little difficult to define.  For much of his existence, he was simply the second orphan in Batman mythos, the acrobat whose parents were murdered by a mobster and became Robin as a result, and later Nightwing.  What motivated him, other than the presence of Bruce Wayne, to take on these roles?  This Zero Month effort posits that it was an essential part of him long before his life changed, that Dick always had the instinct to look before he leaped, even though he always possessed the ability to know exactly where he was headed.  His problem is that he didn't always consider the consequences.  Like most youths, he was impulsive.  What made him different was what happened to him.  Higgins has been doing a good job grounding Dick back into his own particulars, and apparently now has Marvel veteran Tom DeFalco to assist him.  Since the New 52 relaunch was all about getting back to the basics, Zero Month was necessary to remind fans where those basics began, to ground the new stories after a year's worth of development back to what it was all about.  In some cases, I think this was as important to fans as it was for the creators, and Nightwing (and I'd say Batman and Robin, too) benefits a great deal from this issue.

Punk Rock Jesus #3 of 6 (Vertigo)
writer/artist: Sean Murphy
I became a fan of Sean Murphy after Joe the Barbarian, his epic collaboration with Grant Morrison.  When Punk Rock Jesus was first advertised, I knew it was a project worthy of Murphy's talent and ambition, and now that I've had a chance to experience it for myself, I can say that he's absolutely nailed it.  The first thing to note for those who may now be intrigued is that it's a rare black-and-white book from a major publisher.  Not that it matters.  Murphy's art is easily strong enough to sustain itself without color.  The story is sort of like the Jim Carrey movie The Truman Show if it featured a clone of Jesus Christ (as PRJ actually does).  As I like to say, the strength of any story is proven if you can come into the middle of it and still completely appreciate what's being done.  This is definitely the case here.  This issue handles the relationship between Chris, star of the unorthodox reality series "J2," and his troubled mother, who has grown increasingly wary of the affect of her son, who to her is simply her son, being trapped in the confines of a manipulative environment.  She has very different ideas than the producers on how to raise Chris, but the producers have all the power, and by the end of the issue, prove it.  This is brilliant, brilliant material, even if you only view it as a variation on The Truman Show and ignore its religious connections, and a revelation on the full impact of Murphy's talent.

Red Hood and the Outlaws #0 (DC)
writer: Scott Lobdell
artist: Pasqual Ferry
Completing my survey of Robin origins in the New 52 (technically Tim Drake gets his due in Teen Titans #0, but I didn't know that last Wednesday or Muse  simply didn't have the issue, as it was missing several of the comics I was looking for, including that issue of The Ultimates that makes Captain America president of the United States), Jason Todd as star of this book is featured in the Zero Month issue.  Though comparatively recently much of this story has already been retold (when Jason originally came back as the Red Hood), it's worth exploring the full story again, how he was a troubled youth even before Batman rethought his decision to name him the second Robin.  I'd been waiting for Jason to get his own book for the past few years, so I was always going to be excited to see it in the line-up last fall.  It didn't hurt subsequently when Lobdell proved that he understand exactly what to do with the character, or to surround him with characters who instantly had more chemistry with him than Dick Grayson, whom Starfire and Roy Harper had more history with (which is to say any history at all).  Neither of them appears in this issue, however (I suspect they're in the book at all because some people in the DC offices questioned whether Jason could or even should have his own series).  The truly brilliant element of the issue, however, is the backup feature wherein the Joker explains how he manipulated all the events of Jason Todd's life, except his resurrection.  Just how much will that affect the "Death of the Family" event, which clearly calls to mind Jason's bloody death at the hands of the Clown Prince of Crime?

Road to Oz #1 of 6 (Marvel)
writer: Eric Shanower
artist: Skottie Young
Following their work in four previous L. Frank Baum adaptations (The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The Marvelous Land of Oz, Ozma of Oz, and Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz), Shanower and Young continue their efforts to remind modern audiences of the true character of Baum's legacy, distorted for years by the Judy Garland film as almost nothing but a series of memorable songs.  Baum was an incredibly clever and playful writer, and together Shanower and Young have perfectly embodied that spirit.  I haven't read all of their work (though at some point I will correct that), but arguably it's more important than the ambitious Stephen King projects (the Dark Tower franchise, The Stand cycle) Marvel has been doing concurrently in the past few years, more essential.  In this one, Dorothy is back once again, and the Shaggy Man is her somewhat dubious guide to Oz.  (It should be noted that even in Young's depiction he seems little better than a pedophile in the making.)

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Hive #1 (IDW)
writer: Brannon Braga, Terry Matalas, Travis Fickett
artist: Joe Corroney
For a lot of Star Trek fans, Brannon Braga was a chief architect of the franchise's destruction, driving it into the ground with one too many series and one too many ill-advised ideas.  It's an historical irony that he gets another shot, in the comics, to bring his vision to the public.  Conceiving a new Borg story (especially after all the work in Voyager and that one episode in Enterprise) seems to be one of the things you'd least expect from him, but perhaps it's worth remembering that he co-wrote Star Trek: First Contact, the one Next Generation movie that everyone loved that happened to introduce a major new element to Borg Collective lore, the Borg Queen.  The movies never returned to the Borg, though, and Voyager was consumed by the Seven of Nine arc and Captain Janeway's efforts to survive and take advantage of the Collective (ultimately use its technology to get home in the final episode).  Hive presents a version of what might have been, returning the Borg story to Jean-Luc Picard and his "Best of Both Worlds" alter ego, Locutus, the human representative (fully assimilated) of the Collective.  It's a truly epic vision, one if executed on the screen may have totally revolutionized the popular conception of Star Trek's ability to present an expansive saga.  To be completely honest, I was always a fan of Braga, and this only further confirms my respect for him.

Thanos: The Final Threat (Marvel)
writer/artist: Jim Starlin
Another reprint one-shot, this time from still earlier in Marvel lore, 1977 (there's a ton of Star Wars influences here, although some references seem to look forward as well as backward, interestingly enough), as Thanos presents a sufficient threat to unite his natural foe Adam Warlock with Captain Marvel (Marvel's version, who would famously die of cancer in a story that also features Thanos), the Avengers, as well as Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four's Thing.  The story reads like an earlier version of later epics (and seems to contradict Starlin's own efforts in the Thanos Quest reprint from some thirteen years later), including the definitive Infinity Gauntlet that in all likelihood inspired this summer's The Avengers to include the character in the end credits.  This one's far more conventional than Thanos Quest, but that only means it's easier to see what Thanos is like in context.  I suspect a lot of exclamation points were edited out of the dialogue, however, because that was the style at the time, and they're notably (mercifully!) absent.  More reprints should do this.  It would make it so much easier to appreciate older material.

Westward #1 (Kinetic)
writer/artist: Ken Krekeler
It's always worth checking out some of the smaller press efforts on the market, and always nice to find these things at my local comic book store (in this case Muse in Colorado Springs), and this is probably one of the more random ones, though very welcome, to have available, from a very small press indeed (currently soliciting Kickstarter support for future issues).  If you haven't caught on to my predilections by now, rest assured that Westward has a strong emphasis on character (and like Punk Rock Jesus also features black-and-white art), specifically Victor West, who wakes up in a hospital with barely even a vague idea on how he got there.  In a previous life, he was the spoiled son of a visionary who angered his father with irresponsibility.  As Victor stumbles into the new truths of his life, we receive clues about what's been done to him, the secrets of the West family, and the unease of the world around them, which takes into account how us folks in the real world are living.  It's impressive storytelling, hugely intriguing, even before the big reveal at the end.