Thursday, January 31, 2013

Aquaman #15 (DC)

writer: Geoff Johns
artist: Paul Pelletier


"Throne of Atlantis," the Aquaman/Justice League crossover, continues.  If you have no idea what this event is about, it's very much about Aquaman and the Atlantis saga as interpreted by Geoff Johns (who writes both books).  Basically, Aquaman since joining the League has basically relinquished all responsibility over the legendary undersea kingdom, which has been almost easy because he's very much a man of two worlds, feeling out of place in both, a native Atlantean with a background in humanity.  His brother, known as Ocean Master, surfaces in "Throne of Atlantis," wondering what Aquaman has been up to, especially after an incident where humanity seems to have attacked the kingdom.

This issue doesn't do anything to particularly advance the story so much as maintain momentum between the two books.  The interesting development, anyway, doesn't even involve Aquaman, at least as far as I'm concerned.  Aquaman #15 is a story about Batman.

Now, Geoff has written most of DC's icons in one form or another, spending a significant amount of time with Superman in Action Comics, and of course Green Lantern and The Flash, among others.  Last year he delivered Batman: Earth One, and it was essentially his first significant Batman story.  He'd written the Dark Knight before, but always in an ensemble.  Sort of like how he's been using Justice League as a second Wonder Woman series, this issue of Aquaman seems like another Batman tryout for Geoff.

There's Commissioner Gordon, Harvey Bullock, and Aquaman spending most of his time interacting with Batman himself.  Fans got their first taste of what Geoff would do with Batman during Infinite Crisis, when he famously quipped to Superman, "The last time you inspired anyone was when you were dead."  It's a version of Batman that fans don't often get to see, especially the more popular and ubiquitous he's become.  We're used to seeing the personal side of Batman, but not so much the impersonal one.  The Bruce Timm animated Batman had a strong sense of detachment, and the shocking insights of Frank Miller's All Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder were a sign that fans perhaps didn't know the character as well as they thought they did, and yet it can still be surprising to think of Batman as anything but the legend he's generally accepted to be.

And yet to Gotham, and to everyone who knows him, even in the League, Batman will be exactly that, a legend.  He's not really a man.  In the first issue of Justice League Geoff had Batman interacting with Green Lantern, who has a hard time accepting the fact that Batman is just a man.  It's a nuance some fans can somehow refuse to accept, even the ones who scoff at versions of his considerable prowess that have him finding a way to defeat any given opponent.  He just naturally seems larger than life.  Yet most writers have a hard time figuring out how exactly to present that.

Geoff's solution is to have Batman keep most of his thoughts to himself, making observations rather than conversation, utterances instead of exchanges.  When he speaks with Aquaman, it's from Batman's confidence that he becomes more than just a man.  Batman: Earth One is all about the lack of confidence, not just a man figuring things out like Miller's Year One, but someone who's so inexperienced and unsure of himself that he botches a simple building leap.  It's a Batman who would be familiar to Christopher Nolan, although Christian Bale always possessed an underlying ego, a chip on his shoulder.  When he failed, he was rattled.

One imagines that Geoff would have Batman hide his pain rather than expose it even to Alfred (although maybe I'd have to reread Earth One just to confirm that).  In Aquaman, he's the first ally Aquaman targets when it becomes clear that the conflict between Atlantis and humanity won't end easily.

Okay, so I just spent a lot of time talking about Batman in an Aquaman comic.  Now I'll talk about Paul Pelletier.

I've been a fan of Pelletier for years.  In recent years he's been known as a Marvel guy, but in the 1990s he was a DC guy, and I knew him best in the pages of the hugely underrated Superboy and the Ravers.  Now, like Stuart Immonen, Pelletier has been altered his style since I last regularly experienced him, yet I'm more familiar with Pelletier exhibiting this trait than Immonen.  The Pelletier of Ravers is different from the Pelletier of The Outsiders.  One of the things that will never change is his faces, especially around the eyes.

I'm glad he's still around, glad he's grown in prominence, glad to have him aboard Aquaman.  Just another thing to love about this book.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Action Comics #16 (DC)

writer: Grant Morrison
artist: Brad Walker, Rags Morales


The title of this issue is "The Second Death of Superman," and that's just one indication of why I love it and this whole run so much.

Now, before you think that you missed a major comics event (which was the story of 1992), Superman doesn't die in Action Comics #16 (bonus points if you can name the issue of Superman where he did).  All along Grant Morrison hasn't only been telling a Superman story but rather one that looks at the complete legacy.  Earlier that meant employing the Legion of Super-Heroes, who famously made their first appearance of teenage heroes of the future who recruited the young Superman into their ranks.  This time it means acknowledging the equally famous, or perhaps infamous, "Doomsday" event.

Moreso than with his Batman stories, this is Morrison exploiting the history of a major character and ending up with stories that are all the richer for it.  At the time it was just a story that the writing team wanted to do, actually to delay the wedding of Clark Kent and Lois Lane, that turned into a huge media event and a years-long arc that of course saw Superman come back from the dead.  It was one of the first gimmick events.  Since that time deaths and other such crises have become a regular feature of comic books, guaranteed to make the news as people who have no regular contact with superheroes other than at the movies suddenly feel that they have to experience for themselves what's just happened to an icon.

Yet now it's just another thing that happened to Superman.  Doomsday, the monster whose sole purpose was to show up and kill the Man of Steel, isn't particularly relevant to Morrison's reference to the event.  It's more that it's become a part of his story, just the same as Krypton exploding and baby Kal-El rocketing to Earth, being adopted by the Kents and adopting two different costumes to operate in Metropolis (the one with the glasses and the one with the cape).  In Marvel very few things are forgotten but most of it still ends up being glossed over.  Nothing leaves a true lasting impact, with few exceptions.  This is different.  This is Morrison having a better grasp of what helps ground a fictional character, even if it means that said character came back from the dead, which doesn't happen very often in real life.

Yet Superman is supposed to be mythic as well as comprehensible.  That's what an event like his death and return helped make more clear, what makes that happening to him different from when it happens to other characters, and why it only makes him stronger for someone like Morrison to acknowledge it years after the fact.

The Legion returns in this issue, too, by the way, both in the main story and Sholly Fisch's back-up.  After Geoff Johns shaped a whole arc on Superman's continued link and relevance to the Legion, I thought for sure DC would finally figure out that at least as far as today's readers are concerned, something like this is absolutely necessary to maintain.  Otherwise the Legion is just a group of heroes set in a time that has no relevance to the rest of the comics a typical reader will follow.  It's fine to have a separate continuity, but the Legion is best defined by context, even if that context is a thousand years in its past.  There should be a member who idolizes Superman to the point of obsessive emulation.  (How am I the first person to think of this???)  Mon-El, or Valor, doesn't count, although even he is regularly misused.

Anyway, this is Morrison's second-to-last issue of Action Comics.  The pieces are coming together.  His enemies in this run are reaching their end game.  Although it's not really about the enemies.  With Superman, it's always kind of been that way, but few writers have been able to figure that out.  Most hero figures it's the villain who helps define them.  With Superman, as Morrison clearly understands, it's about his own context, about how the world reacts around him.  Superman is very grounded, but he tends to provoke others who aren't, like fifth dimension imps, bald madmen, aliens who otherwise wouldn't care about Earth, superheroes from the future.

Morrison clearly approaches Superman as an icon.  It'll be sad to see that image end.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

All-New X-Men #1 and 3 (Marvel)

writer: Brian Michael Bendis
artist: Stuart Immonen


It may be fair to say this I've been waiting for this series since House of M.  Brian Michael Bendis was just beginning his run with the Avengers when he worked on that event book, but it became instantly identifiable for the moment Scarlet Witch uttered the words, "No more mutants."

Now, half the reason it had anything to do with mutants when it was an Avengers event was that it centered around Scarlet Witch, the daughter of Magneto.  She was always more a part of the Avengers family, but the fact that she was a mutant perhaps never had greater significance than in House of M.  Pushed to her breaking point (and afterward absent from any comic until Avengers: The Children's Crusade), Wanda Maximoff lashed out and altered reality, but the lasting impact was the severe deplenishing of the mutant population, to the point where it was on the verge of extinction (this was eventually addressed with the appearance of Hope and resolved in the pages of last year's AvX event).

Although Bendis continued writing Avengers stories for years, the impact on my own impression of what he should be doing lurked at the back of my head for years.  Bendis is a writer who thrives best when he has a big subject to tackle on an intimate scale.  It's the whole reason why he's worked on various incarnations of Ultimate Spider-Man since 2000, because whether it's Peter Parker or Miles Morales, the character speaks to Bendis's strengths.  I suspect he stuck around the Avengers for so long because once it became clear that he had at least one notable idea (embodied by the New Avengers concept that officially turned the team into Marvel's Justice League), he became identified with the franchise, and he indeed made it a franchise, working on several different books at the same time.  Yet I still wonder if it was, after all, relevant to a true Bendis experience.

The difference might be seen in the first issue of All-New X-Men.  Half (at least) of what anyone knows about this new series is that it begins with a sensational gimmick, the original X-Men meeting their future counterparts.  In case you're not hep to what this means, it's literally the original team in its youth and earliest years being brought to the present.

That present is a little awkward.  For one, Hank McCoy (Beast) is dying from his continuing mutations.  He's the one who arranged this get-together.  For another, there's the whole Scott Summers (Cyclops) situation.  During AvX (that would be Avengers vs. X-Men), while merged with the Phoenix he murdered Charles Xavier (Professor X).  This had the effect of everyone starting to see him as a villain, because Phoenix or no Phoenix that's a pretty villainous thing to do.

But what's truly fascinating about All-New X-Men is that it's not just about that.  It's also about the new mutants popping up in the world in the aftermath of AvX.  Maybe it takes someone like Bendis to think of actually doing this, because as far as I can tell no X-Men writer since Grant Morrison has been all that interested in expanding the mutant population.  Yet Bendis isn't just doing that.  He's doing it Bryan Singer style.

You may or may not recall that aspect of the X-Men movies.  At the time, especially in the first and second installments (and again in First Class) there was considerable emphasis on what it means to discover that you're different and that not everyone you know before will be happy with it.  It was compared by critics to coming out as a homosexual.  That's another intriguing element that Bendis brings to this series.

The next issue I caught was #3.  At this point I should mention that Cyclops is not only being considered the new Magneto, but he's actually hanging out with Magneto these days (at the end of AvX there was even a moment where Scott is being held in a prison much like the one where we find Magneto in X2).  As you may know, Magneto has a complicated history as a mutant.  He split early from Xavier's philosophy of peaceful coexistence with ordinary humans, and for a time was one of the X-Men's biggest enemies, what we would identify today as a terrorist.  Yet his character has undergone a metamorphosis in recent years, not unlike what Geoff Johns has done recently with Sinestro.

Regardless of how you feel about Cyclops now, the fact that he's hanging around with Magneto does not mean that he's a villain.  In fact, along with the White Queen they're yet another splinter cell of the X-Men, actively recruiting the new mutants popping up.  It's like seeing the Brotherhood of (Evil) Mutants from a different vantage point.

Yet much of this particular issue is Cyclops attempting to come to grips with what he's become, with help from Magneto, perhaps the only other mutant alive who would understand.  It's an important moment for Bendis to have written, and I'm not surprised that he did.  How long did it take him to make Peter Parker put on the Spider-Man costume?

Another draw for me to All-New X-Men is Stuart Immonen on art duties.  Immonen has been working for Marvel for years now, and has collaborated with Bendis before, but I still think of him as my favorite Superman artist from the 1990s.  He worked on Adventures of Superman before taking over Action Comics as both artist and writer.  His work on Karl Kesel's The Final Night is an essential event book from that period.  At the time, Immonen featured a simplistic, iconic style that I found infinitely compelling, human as well as superheroic in a way that no one else could match (Alex Ross is the only comparison possible, but he paints whereas Immonen draws).  When he transitioned to Marvel, Immonen started altering his style, becoming more conventional.  This in itself is not a bad thing, but I gravitated to himself precisely because he stood out.  Recently he seems to have dialed some of that new instinct back a little.  All-New X-Men is not completely different from The Final Night.  I'm glad to see that.  It's ironic, though, that he seems to thrive in representing the further mutations of, say, Beast and Iceman, relishing the prospect of making them look bizarre rather than human, since it was his depictions of humans that stood out so well previously.

I highly recommend you read this series, either as an existing fan of the X-Men franchise or as someone who only knows it from the movies, or really even as someone who knows nothing about it.  You may be a little confused at first, but you've quickly learn to love it.

Wasteland #41 (Oni)

writer: Antony Johnston
artist: Russel Roehling


The continuing saga of the world after the Big Wet continues.  As with recent issues, Wasteland #41 sees Michael and Abi continue their search for A-Ree-Yass-I.

Now, let me explain why any of that is interesting.  The Big Wet is a vaguely-defined apocalyptic event, which means that by definition Wasteland is a post-apocalyptic tale.  Humanity has regressed to a more primitive mode of existence.  There are still remnants of what once was, and in fact the series is set in America (I'm just now realizing that as far as speculations go, A-Ree-Yass-I could very well be Arizona; I'd never really thought about that before).

Most of the series to this point centered on the political turmoil of Newbegin, where Michael ended up traveling along with a caravan that included Abi.  There we met Marcus, the self-styled ruler of the city, and eventually Mary.  Michael, Abi, Marcus and Mary are unique among the people living in this world.  For one, they're far older, though they age slowly.  For another, they each possess special abilities.  A recent issue (#39) was a flashback to some of their earliest days, before their failing memories caused them to forget each other.  What's all the more intriguing about them is that they come from a time before the Big Wet, about a hundred years in the past.

Michael may have the clearest memory of the four we've followed to this point, yet he tends to play things pretty close to the vest.  I've repeatedly compared him to Wolverine, not just because he's a bad-ass loner, but because of this secret history that's still unfolding.  Though he tends to share the ensemble nature of the series, Michael is a regular standout.

Michael and Abi left (or rather, escaped from) Newbegin a while ago, and some of what recent issues have done is simply to make the series easier for new readers to follow.  They've been searching for A-Ree-Yass-I, which is fabled to hold the key to explaining the past and perhaps making the present better.  They've recently come across another small community, and a man named Joseph is its most notable resident, mainly because he's like our four extraordinary characters.  This whole issue, in fact, is a little like exploring that aspect of the series with lesser consequence, so that you can catch up on what being Michael and Abi means without worrying too much about where Joseph specifically is going.  Marcus was such a huge hassle for them in Newbegin, it's nice to see one of them in more flattering light, like Abi to a lesser extent.  What sets Abi apart is her keen interest in A-Ree-Yass-I.

By the end of the issue, Michael and Abi have moved on again but come to an argument as to how to proceed, which direction to go.  And so they finally part company.  This will have the advantage of further narrowing the perspective between issues, something that came up in the Newbegin era after their departure.

The original artist for Wasteland, Christopher Mitten, provides the cover, but interiors belong to Russel Roehling.  Roehling has a completely different style from Mitten, more cartoonish, and it can be a little distracting, something I had to get a grip on when I first saw his work in the series.  Yet the excellent writing of Antony Johnston remains.  Johnston has been getting increased attention from the comic book world, but unfortunately that hasn't translated to greater exposure for Wasteland, which has been a favorite of mine since the start of the series.  I still cannot possibly recommend it enough.

The Walking Dead #1 (Image)

writer: Robert Kirkman
artist: Tony Moore


This may seem blasphemous, but you may actually want to skip the beginning of The Walking Dead.  I know, I know.  The TV series is extremely hot.  The comics (now over a hundred issues!) are popular, and the collections are consistent bestsellers.  Conventional wisdom certainly seems to suggest that you read from the start of the story.  I have no problem with that.  But this is a warning.

I've been a kind of peripheral fan of Robert Kirkman's zombie saga for a few years.  I have been by no means a regular reader of the comic, though at one point I did string together a pretty regular reading cycle.  I never got around to reading any of the collections.  I watched the second season of the TV show, when it started becoming wildly popular, and apparently enjoyed it more than others.  And that's about it.

Image recently printed dollar editions of several of its most notable current titles, and The Walking Dead #1 was among them.  I figured it was my pop culture duty to finally read how the story begins.  Turns out the TV pilot is pretty faithful (one of a few points of strict continuity between the two incarnations), so there wasn't much to learn there.

What I did learn was that Robert Kirkman at the beginning of The Walking Dead is not the Robert Kirkman of later issues.  Specifically, he's at best a pretty hackneyed writer.  Other than the concept, and my familiarity with the story and its success, I would probably outright have quit reading before the issue's end.  It's that bad.

Well, it does tend to get better once Rick Grimes starts interacting with other people (that's pretty much what The Walking Dead is all about, what every single issue is, just like the show, lots of talking and occasional zombie mayhem), so it's not so surprising.  But the early pages are exactly like the extremely bad indy comics I used to review when I first starting writing about comics on the Internet. I figured it was my duty to look beyond the DC/Marvel horizon.  In almost every instance, when it was an upstart publisher it was horrible.

I should say now that I've gotten far better at selecting the stuff that's really worth reading outside of the major publishers, and not just from established indy labels like Image, Oni, IDW.  I've simply stopped gambling.  I've grown more selective.

At this point, if this were the first issue of The Walking Dead as created for a 2013 reader, I would absolutely not have gotten it.

So it's a darn good thing that it's a series that's been around for a while and definitely knows what it's doing.  I would recommend, if you've never read the comic before, start with later or outright recent issues.  You may eventually decide to read the complete run, but now you know what that really means.  I don't read it regularly myself because Kirkman tends to keep the characters in an interminable holding pattern, one set piece after another (as the show has helped make clear for anyone who may doubt this), mostly waiting for one grizzly death of a main character after another.  How much you care for them determines how much you care about the series as a whole.

Now, I want to make clear that my objections to the first issue have virtually nothing to do with the art of Tony Moore.  You may or may not be aware that for the vast extent of the series it's been Charlie Adlard on art duties.  There's not as big a gulf between Moore and Adlard as you might think.  Where they differ is Moore's instinct to go a little more cartoonish, like Kirkman himself, which is distracting only in the sense that you may be aware that Walking Dead otherwise is pretty realistic.

The only question I have remaining is why Image chose to publish this series in the first place.  If things hadn't smoothed out, The Walking Dead would be a memory for a few scattered readers at this point.  If it had been me, especially if I were working for Image, I would have passed.  Maybe Image has more material like this than I think.  It's hard to imagine a greater transition for a series, from this viewpoint, a book that looked like it would at best be a good gimmick to a respected cornerstone and pop culture sensation.

Still, it's almost enough to make me tackle the collections and see where the transition really occurred, whether it was Moore's departure or if it was all Kirkman.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Saucer Country #6, 7, 8 and 9 (Vertigo)

writer: Paul Cornell
artist: Jimmy Broxton (#6), Ryan Kelly (regular)


The news recently came down the pike that Saucer Country has been cancelled.  There are probably a number of really good reasons why this happened, the most of them being low sales, and perhaps another that some of the target audience assumed things like The X-Files already covered this same material effectively enough.  There's also the problem that the book itself never seemed to click for readers, as any successful Vertigo series should, develop a cult audience either of fans or critics.

I came to Saucer Country because of my great respect for Paul Cornell, developed over the course of Captain Britain and MI:13, Action Comics, and Knight & Squire.  I've seen him become one of my favorite comic book writers.  When the New 52 came around for DC, he launched both Demon Knights and Stormwatch.  Notably, neither was a leading property, and both very much versions of the team book he did with Captain Britain.  Only Demon Knights seemed to tap into the rich mythological vein running through Cornell's best work, however.  He was off Stormwatch quickly enough, and his uncelebrated Knights was given to someone else, too.  Part of this is that Cornell doesn't stick around any one series for very long, and he'll soon be writing Wolverine, and this is not a time where a writer can write for both DC and Marvel at the same time.  I thought Saucer Country would stick around.

Yet I'm pretty sure its end has mostly nothing to do with the Marvel business.  I never found other readers as eager about this series as I was, and even though who sampled it seemed more confused than anything, which is a reaction I can sympathize with.  Other than lead character Arcadia Alvarez, I still can't remember anyone else's name.  The series does have a distinctive cast of characters, but they're important so far as how they relate to Arcadia and the general plot, not so much in themselves.  Arcadia's ex-husband, or the staff researcher who does her investigating...I quickly determined that Saucer Country would reward loyalty, and as of the issues in this review, it does so much more than that.  But first it had to prove that loyalty was worth it, and I think many readers decided early that it wasn't.

The basic plot of the series is that Arcadia Alvarez is a presidential candidate who was possibly abducted by aliens.  The fact that the reader doesn't know with any more conclusiveness than she does was always meant to be the hook to draw their interest into the ongoing story as it explored the mythology of aliens as we know it.  In The X-Files Fox Mulder's kid sister's abduction was used as a prop to explore all manner of strange phenomena.  What some people liked to refer as its ideological offspring, Fringe, figured out that getting to the heart of the matter was more fascinating and ultimately rewarding.  No, Fringe wasn't about aliens but rather the aliens among us.

Arcadia's dilemma was always two-fold.  As governor of New Mexico, "aliens" meant illegal immigrants as much as extra-terrestrials.  Saucer Country never really got around to exploring that metaphorical irony.  Arcadia herself is not just a strong woman, but part of the story of illegal aliens, being of Latino descent.  In a lot of ways, even though she's closest to the abduction arc, Arcadia was also the least affected, most dispassionate about the whole business.  It's everyone else falling apart around her.  She just wanted to know what happened.

Well, as I said, Cornell to me is known as someone who knows his way around mythology.  Yet Saucer Country took its time getting around to that.  I almost abandoned the series myself waiting for it to happen.  Then I heard that it finally did, and so I had another look, and not only did it happen, but Cornell threw himself at it, much in the way he threw himself at Lex Luthor's quest for power in Action Comics (an arc that happened just before the New 52, right before the Doomsday arc, culminating in #900).

Well, let's have a look.

#6 is all about an outline of the history of flying saucers and close encounters.  It's just the tipping point.  #7 peals back an additional layer, exploring the equally familiar claims that the government knows far more than it lets on, with the military being the source of experiences that become the first obsession with UFO phenomena.  #8 is about the Men in Black, not the Will Smith/Tommy Lee Jones variety, but another familiar layer.  #9 continues that one, actually, explains who they actually are.

All while Saucer Country also functions as a look at the political process, by the way.

Maybe the problem is that Cornell tried to do too many things at the same time.  I know that G. Willow Wilson's Air, an equally ambitious Vertigo series I twice named to the top of my annual QB50 review of my favorite comics, had a different take on the traditional Vertigo look at mythologies.  Books like Sandman or Preacher or Fables find audiences because at their core they're easy to explain.  Sandman was about Neil Gaiman's love of storytelling.  Preacher was about Garth Ennis and the best representation of his typically cynical nature.  Fables is Bill Willingham exploiting fairy tales.  Air, meanwhile, was Wilson attempting to explore current international relations.  Saucer Country was Cornell's attempt to explain a topic that still exists in the ether, and may just as well always stay there.  And also about aliens.

The more complicated it became, the more Cornell made it difficult for a wide audience to appreciate Saucer Country.  The smaller audiences weren't biting, either.  Yet it was a fascinating experiment.  These are some flashy issues that caught my attention and reminded me of everything I appreciated from Cornell and my own expectations for the series, but the truth is it was always what it set out to be, and unfortunately most people either crave more explanation from the start or want something flashier to help distract from the lack of immediate resolution.

There are five issues remaining.  Cornell has said he won't rush the ending, that he hopes to finish the story somewhere else.  If nothing else, hopefully these issues will find an audience who will appreciate what he's already done.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Saga #1 & 7 (Image)

writer: Brian K. Vaughan
artist: Fiona Staples


I consider myself to be a fan of Brian K. Vaughan.  He's known for a lot of comics at this point, but it's still Y: The Last Man for me.  If you have no idea what Y: The Last Man is, picture The Walking Dead and substitute a world full of women instead of zombies.

Saga, however, has me head over heels.  I named it in my top ten favorite comics for the 2012 QB50.  I knew Vaughan was pretty imaginative, which Lost acknowledged by bringing him into its prestigious family, and Lost is among the most imaginative stories I know.  Saga is a little like Lost if it featured aliens.  Main characters Marko and Alana are a little like what Jack and Kate (or Jack and Juliet, or Jack and Ana Lucia) if they weren't surrounded by a billion other characters.  Except Saga does have some notable supporting characters, like Prince Robot IV (who has a TV monitor as his head, and is named Prince Robot IV) and The Will (who wears a cape, and is a bit like what you'd get if you somehow combined Han Solo and Boba Fett into one character).

Image recently printed some dollar editions of some of its more notable current series.  I started reading Saga with its third issue (for some reason I thought or hoped it was the second), which is another way I knew I loved it at first sight because you have to be good to have a continuing story and not be at all confusing for someone to jump in after the beginning.  The story of Saga is simple enough, so you don't necessarily need to read the first issue, but it's also good enough that you'll want to.  It details the birth of Hazel, the narrator of the series who happens to be the daughter of Marko and Alana, and therefore only really present as a wordless baby as the story is actually happening.

The birth is complicated in that Marko and Alana are at this point prisoners, and so the issue also features them breaking out of prison, at the start of their life on the lam (which is why characters like Prince Robot IV and The Will are very much interested in tracking them down).  It's the introduction of the mythology you'll be following eagerly from here forward.

The seventh issue, meanwhile, finds Marko and Alana after they've escaped into space, with the awkward development of meeting Marko's parents.  It's awkward because Marko and Alana are technically from rival alien species (you can tell from the cover images because Marko has those ram horns and Alana doesn't), and Marko's parents are keenly aware of this.  Most of the issue follows Marko's father as he interacts with Alana, which is a good way for Vaughan to express some of the more human elements of the narrative, while Marko attempts to explain himself to his mother.

All of this is rendered in breathtakingly gorgeous art by Fiona Staples, as you can tell from the covers, which have all been iconic representations of the main characters.  Staples has a way of presenting fairly straightforward work in the most effective way possible, focusing mostly on the characters and leaving background details alone for the most part, allowing equally lush coloring to help flesh out the world of Saga.  I called Staples my favorite artist of 2012, by the way.  When Image was initially known for its art, I'll bet no one thought twenty years later that Fiona Staples was going to show up and steal everyone's thunder.  This is the best looking book Image has ever produced.

I'm in awe of Saga.  It's one of the best comics to come around in years, and it proves it with every issue.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Marvel Now! Previews #2 (Marvel)

This was a free preview book, very similar (and probably a continuation of) the other one I read recently that had a look at some of the smaller titles being launched under the Marvel Now! banner, basically Marvel's version of DC's New 52 from the fall of 2011.

Here're some thoughts on what Marvel's rolling out these days:

New Avengers
This is from Jonathan Hickman and Steve Epting.  Hickman is known as one of the more cerebral writers working in comics today.  His run on Fantastic Four (and spin-off FF, short for Future Foundation) pushed one of Marvel's signature teams deeper into its roots as a family of scientists.  New Avengers looks to be typically expansive, with some good material chosen for this preview, a good idea of the scope Hickman will once again be employing.  Interestingly, the pages with Epting employ Reed Richards (otherwise known as Mr. Fantastic) and Black Panther, two superheroes not normally identified with the Avengers, which carries on the tradition Brian Michael Bendis began with this particular title.

Cable and X-Force
What's funny about this one is that it's another preview of this series, although in the far more conventional sense than the one starring Forge from the last preview book.  I still with the series were more like my first impression of it.  Also, seems like another of the unfortunate blending of Avengers and X-Men adventures Marvel seems to keen on following Avengers vs. X-Men.  Seriously, you can keep these franchises separated.

Avengers Arena
What's funnier is that Marvel keeps relegating its newest characters to titles like this.  I mean, it keeps them around, but they become so anonymous, is it really just to keep them active?  Because you're otherwise doing them a huge disservive.  X-23, who at one point was hyped as one of the company's hottest new creations (she's basically a female Wolverine), is here.  Here's a clue, Marvel: This never works.  Stop doing it.

After becoming a sensation when they first appeared, the Thunderbolts quickly devolved into one of Marvel's attempts to duplicate DC's Suicide Squad (a pattern it inexplicably keeps duplicating in the X-Men franchise as well).  This is the latest incarnation.  Change the membership all you want.  Maybe this one will even work!  But you're just making all of your teams extremely interchangeable, no matter how different each of them seem in the pitch.  But this one also features Punisher and artist Steve Dillon.  If you squint, it may actually feel like a Punisher book.

Superior Spider-Man
This one explains itself, although the funny thing is that the thing everyone knows about this series was still being kept shrouded in mystery was the preview pages for this were chosen.

Young Avengers
Another series that was previewed in the other preview I read, this particular preview is baffling.  It's not even a preview.  It's an ad.

Morbius the Living Vampire
This is not even the first time in recent years that Marvel has attempted to revive its vampire presence. This is just the latest effort in a very recent tradition of trying.  The preview is really just a preview of the art, a rough look at the pages as they looked at the time of publication for this book.

Savage Wolverine
The latest ongoing series for Wolverine looks like Marvel's latest mainstream version of an indy book.  This is not a bad thing.  The more diverse perspectives the mainstream publishers use, the better comics as a whole will be.  As the title may nor may not suggest to you, at least in its initial arc, Wolverine is in the Savage Land.

Nothing to get too excited about here.  Hickman practically sells himself at this point, but he's another indy element still selling himself on the mainstream.  Still, I will never complain about free comics.  

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Justice League #14 (DC)

writer: Geoff Johns
artist: Tony Daniel


I've been saying it so long I guess it's still surprising that I seem to be unique in saying it.  And this issue only makes it so much more obvious: Geoff Johns has basically been using Justice League to write his first Wonder Woman series.

This issue is all about Diana's relationship and conflict with Cheetah, who has long been a signature element of her rogues gallery.  And yet even moreso than Aquaman, Wonder Woman's enemies aren't quite as well-known to comic book fans as, say, Batman or Spider-Man's (Geoff himself is the reason Sinestro has been elevated to such ongoing prominence for Green Lantern).  If you don't know anything at all about Cheetah, then you'll find out everything you need to know, as well as how she fits in with Geoff's depiction of Wonder Woman so far in Justice League.

The Amazing Amazon has her own ongoing series, of course, under the auspices of Brian Azzarello, which at the moment operates very much like an indy comic.  Incredibly, Wonder Woman has never had two concurrent ongoing series in the modern era, whereas Batman and Superman have never had to settle for just one, and even Green Lantern has enjoyed more than one era of having several (and so has the Flash).  She's one of the Big Three at DC mainly because she's long been the most prominent female superhero in comics, yet she doesn't have that same immediacy as her counterparts.  She's never had a movie, although she did have a successful TV series (from which Lynda Carter remains famous), and several attempts have been made recently to do so again.

Most of what I'm saying here is that Geoff is basically doing more in Justice League to elevate Wonder Woman than has been done for any reasonably sustained effort in decades.  There have certainly been respected creators (George Perez, John Byrne, Greg Rucka, Gail Simone) who have worked on her over the years, but not once has she been buzzed about to the same degree as Batman or Superman.  Her "Doomsday"/"Knightfall" saga was called "The Contest."  Remember that?  Remember Artemis?

The story fans will remember from recent months is that Wonder Woman and Superman are pursuing a romantic relationship.  Just like Justice League as a whole it's significance by association.  But it's still a start.  And then to have a whole issue devoted to her is still more significant.  It's something to build on.  Chances are Geoff has much more to say about this.  Anytime he spends time on a character, the character is usually the better for it.  And sometimes when he spends time on a character in a team book, he ends up writing them in their own book.

(Here's hoping!)

The other thing of note is that the art is from Tony Daniel, who in recent years has made his name working on Batman, but has recently been expanding his repertoire. I've described his work as reminiscent of Jim Lee in the past, so it's only appropriate that he works in a title where Lee left a big mark (well, again, after Batman).  Yet lately Daniel's work seems to have evolved to another level.  It may be the inkers or Daniel himself or the colorists or a combination of all three, but certainly in this issue he looks all the more vivid.

Chapter 7 of Geoff Johns and Gary Frank's "Shazam" is also featured, with an emphasis on Black Adam's emerging interest in Billy Batson's activities, which at the moment is still figuring out what it means to be a kid in an adult's body, and how best to exploit it, ably abetted by Freddy Freeman (who in previous continuity becomes powered himself and inducted into the Shazam family).  Black Adam is a favorite of mine, but I suspect the story will have to progress a little more for him to really express himself, because the Black Adam I know is definitely known for expressing himself.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Comeback #1 (Image)

writer: Ed Brisson
artist: Michael Walsh


In the twenty years since its founding, Image has become the go-to indy publisher of the comics industry.  This may or may not be a problem, since it has also become the go-to publisher for indy projects.  What I mean may be best explained by analogy.  Imagine comic books like the movies.  Granted, this has become much easier in the past ten years, since superheroes completely went mainstream.  But the movies I'm thinking about aren't superhero movies.  (Image itself hasn't really been about superheroes for about as long, although titles like Spawn, Savage Dragon, and Invincible keep that tradition alive to an extent.)  I'm thinking of the indy movies that make far less money than mainstream Hollywood blockbusters (usually).  They're usually quirky, distinctive, but still have a hard time finding the same kind of audience as the movies everyone knows before they even see them.  Some of these indy movies star the very same stars featured in the blockbusters, but still don't make the same kind of money.  It's not really an issue of awareness.  Usually indy movies engage a different part of the brain than blockbusters.  They have different cerebral cues.  You have to care a little more about certain elements.  With blockbusters, the hook is simpler to digest.  With an indy project, high concept is more than just what the project is about, rather how it's presented.  There are some blockbusters that can get around this, but more often than not, it's the indy movies that tackle that kind of project.

Image is very much like that.  In the past ten years it's become increasingly common for the company to publish its creator-owned titles in more of the indy vein than mainstream material.  Part of this is because in the beginning, twenty years ago, the Image founders were mostly artists, and most reactions to the resulting comics centered on the art.  Image seemed to take this to heart, first by heavily courting Alan Moore, and then looking to newer creators to bring writing to the forefront.  It's no surprise that Jonathan Hickman rose through the comics ranks with Image.

Comeback illustrates my point beautifully.  It's a lot like last year's film Looper in that it's incredibly high concept (and also deals with time travel) and doesn't particularly care if it's easily accessible.  Looper built its advertising campaign on the fact that Joseph Gordon-Levitt was playing the younger version of Bruce Willis, and that they were eventually going to have a confrontation between them.  If it had only talked about the story (and the huge twist that involves Emily Blunt's role), even the relatively small amount it made in theaters would be much smaller, because far fewer people would have been willing to invest their time in trying to figure the movie out.  It needed a hook, much like Christopher Nolan's Inception, which happened to be Christopher Nolan himself and the fascination audiences had with his work after The Dark Knight.  Looper, then, rested on Gordon-Levitt and Willis and not so much the interesting situation they find themselves in.

Comeback is Looper without the actors as a draw.  It's very much the same concept, agents contracted to handle complicated time travel issues (in this case attempting to exchange large sums of money for families reuniting to avoid a tragedy that would otherwise have torn them apart), but instead of having a draw other than the concept, it's just the concept.  It's an indy project through and through.  I'm always looking for and hoping to find a dynamite new comic to follow, something that I can becomes a cheerleader for.  Image is a good place to look, as fans of The Walking Dead or Chew, Saga or Peter Panzerfaust will happily tell you.  The problem is that Image floods itself with this kind of material, and while it may look like so much gold to the company, it starts to look anonymous to observers.  There will always be standouts, but if the goal is the same with every project, to be the little indy that could, it starts to make the projects that don't stand out look like they're vanity projects, either on the part of the creators or Image itself.

Now, part of the problem is that any comic book company (or any company in general), believes that quantity will always trump quality.  A company like Image will assume that it has both, and very probably it does, but the already limited appeal of indy projects brings everything down when all the projects are indy.  The Walking Dead is red-hot right now, partly because we're a franchise culture, it has a lot of trades out right now, it's been running for a good long time (with a lingering promise of resolution), and it's the source of a popular TV show.  But that's incredibly rare.  Incredibly rare.  Image recently started a revival of a lot of the superheroes titles (ones originated by Rob Liefeld) that helped shape its reputation in its first decade.  Many of them, notably Prophet, have been reshaped as still more indy projects, which is great for nuance, but perhaps not great for business.  Of course, Top Cow maintains a reliable pocket of superhero titles, but it's an imprint that's very much the exception to the rule.

It's projects like Comeback that dominate the company.  Again, this is not necessarily a bad thing, but it's incredibly limiting.  Comeback is actually pretty good, and certainly interesting.  It's The Walking Dead as a mini-series (five issues, in case you were wondering), same kind of art, same kind of general intrigue.  Yet there's no Rick Grimes here, and that's what I'm saying.  Other than the concept, there's no hook.  And with some of the other comics Image publishes, it's a hook with no concept.  For the projects that succeed, or at least stand out, Image finds both.  But with too many of its titles, it's one or the other.

I almost wish I could spend more time reading Image comics, to see if I could disprove my own theory, present an ongoing record of its efforts here, see if greater exposure might result in more differentiation.  Well, one solution would be for someone to throw money my way, or free comics.  I'm just saying.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Cobra #19 (IDW)

writer: Mike Costa
artists: Antonio Fuso


The fascinating thing about the Oktober Guard arc is that it harks back to Cobra's earliest days as Chuckles explored G.I. Joe's opposite number as it was being discovered for the first time.  Mike Costa has wisely (but in this series he's done nothing but wise things) decided to use the same approach.  Only, the Oktober Guard isn't Cobra.

What made Cobra so fascinating to explore in the manner Costa (and original co-writer Christos Gage) did was that it was definitely well-known, and its members to varying degrees iconic, yet every aspect came off as fresh and intriguing.  Recently the tables have flipped, with certain of the characters featured in those early days (Erika La Tene, Tomax Paoli) now functioning as G.I. Joe informants, while the good guys are once again predominantly represented by agents like Ronin.

Ronin is a character unique to Cobra, and if you're a fan of hers you may want to approach this issue with caution.  Like Chuckles before her she goes rogue on her latest mission, eager to learn more about the Oktober Guard, and ends up in hot water.

The Oktober Guard itself is not Cobra, and it's certainly isn't G.I. Joe.  Since the end of the Cold War, America's relationship with Russia has altered drastically.  Vladimir Putin proved to be an unlikely ally in the early days of the War on Terror, yet since that time the two countries have significantly diverged in their interests, to the point where Russia might as well exist on another planet for all its apparent importance to Americans today.  Yet it remains inextricably linked to greater global affairs, and as such the continued presence of the Oktober Guard is not only a reminder of the past but a terrific nod to a part of G.I. Joe mythology that can sometimes be overlooked.

Costa is quick to acknowledge that the Guard is formidable, every bit the compelling rival that Cobra remains.  He's got less familiar territory to work with, though, which is actually good as far as the focus on the greater Joe operation is concerned.  It's not just Ronin, as it was all but only Chuckles driving the story in the beginning.  This is where the tangled web of the complete Cobra run really begins to develop.  It's not just the Guard that intrigues, but how its existence forces everything we've been following to date push forward.

It speaks directly to the strength of Costa's writing.  It's familiar but also something new, which is what Cobra has been from the start, and the fact that he's still got new ways to express it is yet another reason why this is still one of the best series on the market.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Quarter Bin #46. "Excavating the Past"

Disclaimer: Comics featured in "Quarter Bin" are not necessarily from an actual quarter bin.  This is a column about back issues.

Doom Patrol #50 (DC)
From December 1991:
Until now I'd never read Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol, which serves as an important piece in his mainstream canon, one of the titles that helped make his name in American comics after Animal Man and before The Invisibles and JLA.  Doom Patrol was part of the era where DC was formulating its Vertigo line, although it carried the classic DC bullet, and has since been considered a Vertigo series.  As such, because the prevailing theme of Vertigo at the time was a surreal approach to established if obscure DC properties, Morrison had his first chance to be as surreal as possible.  Moreso than even the famous Buddy Baker meeting his maker moment (Grant Morrison himself), this was Morrison establishing his reputation as a maverick creator.  This particular issue is all about drug culture, both the creation of LSD and the effects of a person's perception of reality.  Although the team faces a version of the foes originally confronted in the memorably titled collection The Painting That Ate Paris, that's what dominates the story, which is part and parcel of the occult reputation Morrison was actively creating for himself at the time.  It might be noted that Doom Patrol was DC's X-Men before Marvel even had X-Men, much as the Challengers of the Unknown were DC's Fantastic Four before Marvel had Fantastic Four.  This particular story isn't the best way to be introduced to the team, though it's certainly amusing if you have enough knowledge about both Doom Patrol and Morrison.  Although if you simply like your comics weird, you will appreciate it anyway.

Green Lantern: Mosaic #14 (DC)
From July 1993:
Gerard Jones may have been the most valuable writer that DC had that no one but DC ever appreciated.  He was the major writer of the Green Lantern franchise before anyone properly appreciated the fact that Green Lantern was a major DC franchise.  He spearheaded the first Hal Jordan revival (in other words the series that was in effect when Hal went Parallax in "Emerald Twilight"), made Guy Gardner into a solo star, and also wrote Green Lantern: Mosaic.  I'm not sure how many fans still exist who obsess over Mosaic, and I'm not even sure I can properly identify myself as one of them, but a quirk of fate has kept me fascinated by it for years.  Prior to this, I had only ever read the first issue, which by that quirk and how I was reading comics at the time (in giant and really awesome monthly roundup collections from Sam's Club and smaller but equally awesome ones from Toys 'R' Us) I found myself in the possession of two copies.  It's a rare comic that I read several times.  It was completely unlike anything else I was reading at the time.  After reading this issue, I think I finally can intepret exactly what Mosaic was really like.  It was as mainstream a Vertigo title as fans ever got.  (Well, except in the New 52.)  That's what it really was.  It was Gerard Jones making himself a Vertigo series based on the Green Lantern franchise.  And this realization makes it that much easier for me to request that Mosaic finally be rediscovered and appreciated for the experience it really was.  I can only imagine what Green Lantern fans thought at the time.  Mosaic starred John Stewart, the Green Lantern constantly riddled with self-doubt, on special assignment, trying to govern a melting pot community on Oa, filled with the most exotic alien species imaginable.  It was truly Jones at the height of his powers.  Unfortunately, this is also one of the last issues, because as I suggested, fans really didn't know what to make of it.  Would Mosaic have succeeded if it'd had the Vertigo imprint on the cover?  Well, as I said, it's never too late to find out.

Guy Gardner Reborn #3 (DC)
From 1992:
At this point Guy Gardner was far better known as a pesky member of the Justice League whom Batman knocked out with one punch (a moment Geoff Johns revisited in Green Lantern: Rebirth) than as a member of the Green Lantern Corps.  Still, Gardner was a Green Lantern when he was in the League during that memorable time, and he was also a part of the revival of Green Lantern (after several years of Green Lantern Corps and no Green Lantern), as Hal Jordan struggled in his first comeback.  Guy Gardner Reborn features Guy without a ring, until this issue, which is pretty historic. It features him claiming Sinestro's yellow ring for himself.  This was before Geoff Johns explained the exact significance of the yellow ring, so for the next few years Guy and the yellow ring was just Guy slinging yellow constructs instead of green ones.  He was just Guy.  He didn't have anything in particular to do with fear.  Sinestro at the time appeared to be dead.  He was dead again when Hal snapped his neck, and made a memorable appearance from the grave during Hal's Spectre, well before Geoff's own revival and elevation.  This issue also features a full-scale Qwardian invasion of Oa featuring the Thunderers, and appearances by signature members of the Corps as it was at that time.  Guy also wears a belly shirt for some reason.  Did I mention that this was written by Gerard Jones?  Like I said, the dude deserves a lot more recognition than he gets, even if Green Lantern did not become popular until Parallax, Ron Marz and Kyle Rayner.  Jones laid the foundation for what was lost in "Emerald Twilight."  And he literally made a franchise, and quite a fascinating one.  Guy's series lasted far longer than Mosaic, and saw him eventually ditch the yellow ring in favor of alien DNA that gave him a new set of powers as well as the new name Warrior.  And then of course he later rejoined the Corps, where he remains the lovable hothead.

Hawkman #19 (DC)
From November 2003:
Just as he currently writes Justice League and Aquaman, Geoff Johns ten years earlier wrote JSA and Hawkman.  His run on Hawkman has been overlooked by history, possibly because Hawkman as a property is memorable but forgettable at the same time.  He's the hero the nineteenth century would have loved, but more contemporary fans have a hard time wrapping their heads around.  Hawkman is connected to Egyptian mythology, he and Hawkgirl reincarnated lovers throughout the ages (a bit like the film Hancock) who also have ties to the Thanagarians, and thus an odd mix of sci-fi and mythology no writer has successfully blended.  (Ironically, this is the exact thing Geoff has done in Aquaman.)  At the time, Hawkman was merely a spin-off from Geoff's success making the Justice Society relevant again, featuring the famous bruiser with wings and a mace in his own adventures, his return one of the biggest stories of JSA.  I chose this issue to sample because it features Black Adam, who was one of the main reasons why 52 became my favorite comic book of all time, the villain turned antihero who tried redeeming himself for the sake of love, but in his own context and on his own terms.  Actually, Black Adam was another character Geoff helped elevate in JSA, and the start of the arc concluded in 52 began there and continued in this issue, as Hawkman visits his Middle East nation and witnesses as Black Adam makes the first vow on the road to his most distinguished period.  (There was a Black Adam mini-series that followed 52 that was equally fascinating, but suffice to say I would read more Black Adam in a heartbeat, and not just in the Shazam backup feature in Geoff's Justice League.)  This issue actually does a pretty good job of selling the series, making it more distinguished and interesting than its lack of reputation suggests.  I suppose that since Geoff was also working on JSA, The Flash, and even The Avengers at the time, some fans simply assumed he didn't have much left to say in Hawkman.  They were wrong.   

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Boys #72 (Dynamite)

writer: Garth Ennis
artist: Darick Robertson

So that's it, then, the final issue of The Boys.  It's more of an epilogue, really.

I should note before I go much further that I was not a regular reader of the series nor much of a fan.  In fact, very early on I became a tad bit infamous by denouncing The Boys as all but ridiculously offensive.  Clearly that's what Garth Ennis was going for, at least as fans of superheroes go, because Garth Ennis is not himself a fan of superheroes, or at least writes as such.  Ennis is best known for Preacher and Hitman, both of which feature antiheroes.  So does The Boys, the title referring to a team of ordinary individuals who have dedicated themselves to policing the excesses of the superhero community.  It's as much to say that Ennis is a cynic as far as capes go.

I read the odd issue here and there but not for several years.  In fact, I was surprised that there ended up being so many issues.  The series began at WildStorm but soon enough migrated to Dynamite.  I don't know if this had any appreciable impact, but here it's been, along with several supporting projects.  The character who might as well be defined as the most distinctive and therefore main character of the series, Wee Hughie, is firmly in the spotlight in The Boys #72.  Wee Hughie has the distinction of being the second most famous comic book character to have his appearance based on an actor, after the Ultimate version of Nick Fury took the likeness of Samuel L. Jackson.  Wee Hughie looks exactly like Simon Pegg.  I happen to like Simon Pegg.  Either I don't know him as well as I think I do, or Wee Hughie acts nothing like him.  It's just as well.

The character receives a happy, romantic ending that probably plays better to regular readers, although it's another affirmation for me that Ennis is perhaps best understood as a writer who just wants comics to feature normal people.  There's a few final digs at superheroes, of course, but it's almost a resignation to the fact that The Boys has had absolutely no effect on the popular landscape.  Superheroes will continue to do what superheroes do, Boys or no Boys.  I don't know if Ennis ever thought the result would be different.

Darick Robertson has apparently not been around for the complete run, but he was the original artist and does the honors in the final issue as well.  My tiny bit of notoriety arose from criticizing Robertson's work along with the rest of the comic.  His fans really didn't like that.  I have since reconciled myself as part of his fanbase.  He currently illustrates Grant Morrison's Happy!, although that's not the reason I must continue to apologize for earlier remarks.  Although there are no dogs in this issue, so I cannot give a final statement about that.

So long and thanks for all the filth.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Reading Comics #90 "Geoff Johns in Brightest Day"

Five years after Green Lantern: Rebirth and countless developments later, Geoff Johns wrote the stories included in Green Lantern: Brightest Day, titled after the bi-weekly Brightest Day series that followed the Blackest Night event but in truth a culmination of the story he began when he first started writing in this franchise.

Rebirth famously posited that Parallax was not simply what Hal Jordan became after going mad during the events of "Emerald Twilight," but was rather the entity of fear itself, imprisoned by the Guardians of the Universe within the Central Power Battery of the Green Lantern Corps.  Geoff expanded on the themes already established by other creators in subsequent stories, for instance bringing new significance to the yellow ring of Sinestro and Carol Ferris' sometimes transformation into Star Sapphire.  Instead of isolated developments, Geoff saw the beginnings of a whole spectrum of power rings, and a corps for each of them.  The Sinestro Corps was obvious enough, and the source for a whole storyline.  The Star Sapphires, as the wielders of the yellow rings represented fear, were all about love.  Hal Jordan and Carol Ferris are the two most famous comic book characters to never end up happily ever after.

The Red Lanterns were another development from existing material, representative of rage, a reaction against one of the Guardians' most grievous errors in its initial efforts to bring order to the universe, when they originally relied on the emotionless robots known as the Manhunters.  There were also the Blue Lanterns, representing hope, the Orange Lanterns representing avarice (Larfleeze being Geoff's greatest addition to Green Lantern lore), and the Indigo Tribe representing compassion.

Just as Geoff figured out what Parallax best represented, he also saw what Ion was.  Ion was a concept introduced during Kyler Rayner's time as the torchbearer, when he was apparently the last of the Green Lanterns.  Ion turned out to be willpower's answer to Parallax.  Willpower is what the Green Lanterns represent.  It's said to be the purest of all motivations.  (There's a whole Green Lantern and Philosophy where you can read about this layer of the franchise, which I've previously written about.)

Before the New 52, where there's literally a series called Green Lantern: New Guardians, the storyline featured in Green Lantern: Brightest Day was the first tale called "New Guardians," and features all these different ring-bearers coming together at the prodding of Krona, the Guardian who created the multiverse when he decided to look at the moment of creation, which directly led to the antimatter universe where the first yellow ring was forged.  (I know, it really does begin to sound like fantasy, like Lord of the Rings, when you talk about Green Lantern like this.)  Krona is trying to collect all of the entities who represent the spectrum Geoff has fleshed out.  In the Brightest Day series itself, the white lantern glimpsed in this collection has more significance, in case you were wondering, just as it plays a major role at the end of Blackest Night, when the benefits of blending the spectrum are first discovered.

Green Lantern: Brightest Day also features Sinestro becoming less a villain and thus more of the character readers of the New 52 relaunch will find familiar.  There's also a lot that fans of the 2011 movie will find familiar, which I suspect was deliberate.

Reading this and Rebirth apart from the rest of Geoff's run has a way of putting a strong focus on everything he's accomplished, how he's enriched the mythology.  The story in this collection may not work entirely on its own, but it's a milestone and will certainly help anyone to see how much Geoff Johns has really accomplished.

By the way, the specific issues included in Green Lantern: Brightest Day are Green Lantern #s 53-62.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Before Watchmen: Comedian #4 (DC)

writer: Brian Azzarello
artist: J.G. Jones


I stopped reading Before Watchmen regularly a few months back.  As it stands, I've read issues from Minutemen, Nite Owl, Silk Spectre, Ozymandias, and this one, Comedian, but not Rorschach, Dr. Manhattan, or Moloch.  Eventually I will most likely read the complete story, in collected form (which was how I first read Watchmen itself), but for now I've limited myself to the story of Edward Blake.

So far Brian Azzarello has put a big stress on Blake's relationship with the Kennedys, his revision of Alan Moore's original suggestion that Comedian theoretically participated in the assassination of JFK.  What Azzarello has done instead is put new emphasis on his moral development, from the idealism of Camelot to the quagmire of Vietnam, where we've been the last few issues.  This issue, in fact, is more or less the birth of the Comedian we know from Watchmen (incidentally the one we know from his relationship with Silk Spectre might as well at this point be folded into his relationship with Jack Kennedy, himself a notorious womanizer, though not exactly the would-be rapist that all but defined Blake for Moore).

Comedian was the cynic's superhero, the one who looked at the world through a cracked lens, who saw the joke that was its idea of justice, which he quickly saw as not being particularly fair.  (Although the cracked lens and fairness parts also speak to each of Moore's heroes.  Edward Blake simply saw it before the rest of his old teammates, and not just Ozymandias's plans.)  He was ahead of the curve, but in Vietnam he's behind it, at least as the civilian population goes.  Last issue he memorably had a hard time reconciling his patriotic idealism with what was developing stateside.  Now he's hoping for the war to end and finding it increasingly difficult to cope.  The problem for Blake is that he's Captain American in the Vietnam War.

The drug culture introduced last issue (and at the same time in Silk Spectre) finally claims the Comedian, which is the major development of the story this time.  Bobby Kennedy has declared his intention to run for the presidency, but won't accept Blake's calls, another sign that the times are indeed changing.  Soon he's going to be everything we thought he was all along.

That's the value of Before Watchmen, revisiting and expanding on the familiar story so that new truths can be found.  Why I keep reading about Edward Blake specifically is because in Watchmen he can almost be the boogeyman, the other hero-turned-villain who just happened to be eliminated by the other one, though granted a shot at redemption in the memories of those he leaves behind.  He looms over the whole story, but almost entirely in the background.  It's nice to see him at the front, and Azzarello is taking full advantage of the opportunity.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Reading Comics #89 "Geoff Johns Solidifies Green Lantern Mythology"

I've been a fan of Green Lantern since I realized he was a superhero who wore my favorite color, and had it in his name (but he also appeared in Super Friends, which Green Arrow did not).  He was a favorite action figure.  When I got my first comics, they featured Hal Jordan, a reprint of his first appearance (Showcase #22), an old issue featuring Hector Hammond (Green Lantern #177), a reprint of the start of the Green Lantern/Green Arrow road stories (Green Lantern #76).  At the time it was not cool to be a fan of Green Lantern.  I learned this because I took my meager collection with me to a school activity period that I got to select as featuring comic books.  All the other kids were wild about Punisher, a typical 1990s "gritty" character.

Eventually I got to read comics of a more contemporary kind, and the memorably surreal (in hindsight downright Vertigo-ian) first issue of Green Lantern Mosaic was among them, plus some Hal Jordan stories featuring the likes of Evil Star.  But when I had the chance to read on a regular basis, it was at the time of Superman's return from the dead, which memorably featured the destruction of Coast City. I still have no idea why Green Lantern was a part of that story, because to this day the two franchises still have very little to do with one another.  (Just one of the many things I would work on should I ever have the chance to write Green Lantern for myself.)

This led to Hal Jordan becoming Parallax.  It was a memorable time for me.  I had Mart Nodell, the creator of the original Green Lantern Alan Scott, sketch his distinctive lamp on the cover of Zero Hour #0, which was the end of the biggest Parallax story other than "Emerald Twilight," which saw the aftermath of Coast City's destruction as Jordan went on a rampage, obliterating the Green Lantern Corps, murdering the Guardians of the Universe, and absorbing the Central Power Battery, which was the move that ostensibly created Parallax.

Ron Marz then got to introduce readers to the "torchbearer" Kyle Rayner, who found himself in possession of the last Green Lantern power ring, bestowed upon him by the last Guardian, Ganthet.  Kyle was my Green Lantern, at least in the sense that he was the first one I read with any consistency. For me, it was a really good time to be a fan of the franchise, although I was certainly aware that many fans were annoyed enough to carry a torch of their own for the "right interpretation" of Hal Jordan for years.

For me, though, this period inspired a different interpretation of Green Lantern lore.  As other readers in the letters columns of the time pointed out, it was almost as if DC had turned this franchise into its very own Star Wars.  Up to this point, Green Lantern has certainly been familiar as well as memorable. Along with the Flash, it was Hal Jordan's introduction that helped usher the Silver Age.  Hal in fact appropriated Alan Scott's oath ("In brightest day, in blackest night, no evil shall escape my sight!  Let those who worship evil's might beware my power, Green Lantern's light!"), which was just one of the many ways the mythology began to form around him.  There was also Hal's unique origin, which introduced the entire concept of the Green Lantern Corps.  Here wasn't simply someone who represented himself, but an entire legion of similarly powered heroes throughout the galaxy.  It's still unique enough that I'm not sure wide audiences are ready to embrace it, one of the reasons why Green Lantern the movie turned out to be a popular failure (although of course reductionist and reactionary theory will have it that the movie itself was to blame).

Hal had been replaced as Earth's (or rather, Sector 2814) before Kyle, first by the impetuous Guy Gardner and then by the more cerebral John Stewart, both of whom were original candidates to assume Abin Sur's ring.  Both remain key parts of Green Lantern lore.  There's also Sinestro, Hal's worst enemy and former mentor, as well as former Greatest Green Lantern Ever.  He's also the originator of the yellow ring of fear, which would later be appropriated by Guy Gardner (but ultimately replaced by alien DNA that transformed him into Warrior for a time).

Sinestro's the real key, and half the reason why I'm writing about all this right now.  The part that made the Kyle Rayner era of the franchise seem like the DC version of Star Wars was that a lasting story in this saga had been reached, a flashpoint if you will.  And half the reason why most fans are actually happy about it now is that Hal Jordan has since recovered from his bout of Parallax, all thanks to Geoff Johns and Green Lantern: Rebirth.

Before getting to that, it's worth going over the rest of Hal's story before this point.  Following Zero Hour Hal had a shot of redemption when he sacrificed himself to save Earth in The Final Night.  That still, incredibly, wasn't the end of his story.  In Geoff's own Day of Judgment (finally being collected this year) he became the new host of the Spectre, DC's Spirit of Vengeance, the avatar of God's judgment, and in fact starred in an ongoing series in this role.  DC had moved on, but apparently couldn't move past Hal Jordan as a featured member of its universe, even if he had been by some accounts been irredeemably ruined as a character by going the full Vader.

And to give you an idea of what I had at one time considered the cinematic version of Green Lantern, I would literally have made a trilogy of films involving the rise and fall of Hal Jordan, including the rise of Kyle Rayner as his replacement.  In 1999/2000, I was pretty obsessed with this idea.

Green Lantern: Rebirth chronicles how Hal emerged from the spectre, as it were, of Parallax by revealing what Parallax actually was.  He was the personification of fear, ensnared by the Guardians early on in the history of the Green Lantern Corps and trapped in the Central Power Battery.  Parallax then becomes the source of the infamous yellow impurity, which for a time meant that Green Lantern power rings were literally powerless against the color yellow (which when coupled with Alan Scott's similar weakness to wood, led to the Big Bang Theory joke of being able to defeat both iterations of Green Lantern with a No. 2 pencil).

All of which is to say that Geoff reveals in Rebirth that what really happened during "Emerald Twilight" was that Parallax took hold of Hal Jordan following the destruction of Coast City, an event that made the hero formerly known for not having fear to be controlled by it.  In some circles this has been dismissed as a classic example of a "retcon" (retroactive continuity), but it's really the first sign that Geoff really understood not just what had come before him in Green Lantern lore, but its infinite possibilities, most of which had never even been considered.  His subsequent years with the franchise have been incredibly fruitful to this effect, including Sinestro's expanded significance and his recent activities post-New 52.

It's worth noting that in the pages of Rebirth are perhaps Black Hand's last pages as a laughingstock villain.  If you need proof of how awesome he has become since that time and haven't been reading recent adventures, see Blackest Night for perhaps the definitive example.

Rereading Rebirth is an affirmation that Geoff absolutely nailed it.  I was not a fanatical fan of Hal Jordan.  I appreciated his sporadic appearances in Kyle Rayner's adventures, and his significance in Green Lantern lore, but when the stories moved on so did I.  He never went away, though.  In one guise or another Hal's story continued, and then Rebirth tied everything together, and "Emerald Twilight" if anything became even more significant in hindsight, the first part of a greater saga in some ways concluded by Rebirth.

The Green Lantern franchise has under the auspices of Geoff Johns expanded to the point where most comic book fans will no longer scoff at it.  DC believed it had reached a sufficient level of respect so that general audiences might also come to appreciate it, get beyond the fact that Green Lantern contradicts most of what most people think about superheroes.  Green Lantern offers its own version of Parallax, which may be part of the reason comic book fans themselves were reluctant to embrace it, but it does hit the key development of Sinestro when he puts on the yellow ring in the closing credits.  I thought that alone would have enticed audiences to overcome any other objections, and realize what a grand saga Green Lantern represents, because they're all about grand sagas of a different kind with the Avengers cycle and Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight.

If you're reluctant about Green Lantern yourself, start with Rebirth.  It'll give you an idea of the grand scope, the rich history Geoff Johns brought together, the endless possibilities.  Sometimes the only story worth telling about any superhero seems to be their origin, and that's part of why so many of the movies based on them do exactly that.  Green Lantern has at least one more.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Reading Comics #88 "Rogues Revenge"

Maybe Susan Soares can explain it better than me, but for some reason I ended up following her posts on Facebook a few years back on Sky Pirates of Valendor, a comic book written by her husband Everett Soares.  For me, Facebook is a random sea of adventures like that, a placer where an errant "like" will get you a steady stream of updates about things you may or may not end up caring about.  (Actually, Facebook is a lot like blogging.  And tweeting.  And email.  Let's just say it's a problem with all social media.)

I did not, however, start reading Sky Pirates, and kind of felt bad about that.  I don't tend to automatically read just anything I've found on the Internet, since there's so much material out there and even when I'm selective about things I've had a chance to select personally rather than stumble across, the reward isn't always there.  Sometimes there's real treasure to be found this way, which was how I ended up reading one of my favorite books of the new millennium's first decade, TM Wells' The Patron Saints (more of a punk literature experience than religious tract, in case the title misleads you), not to mention discovering Manny Trembley.

Long story short, this Facebook experience with Sky Pirates continued for a while and I did not read Sky Pirates, though I looked it up a few times just to see what I was missing.  A few weeks ago I was perusing the material at Muse Comics in Colorado Springs when I saw they had a selection of used books, older graphic novels at reduced prices.  And randomly, there was Sky Pirates of Valendor Volume 1.  The only thing more random than this is the fact that Moya Dawson, an old colleague from the defunct, is quoted on the back cover, which may in a roundabout way explain how I ended up following Sky Pirates on Facebook (as good a theory as any at this point).

Sky Pirates Volume 1 was published by Free Lunch Comics in December 2009, so it's certainly been floating around for a while.  If you want to know an even more remarkable detail that I could not possibly have contrived, the second volume is apparently due to be published this month, so this is actually an odd kind of publicity.

Now, you probably want to know what the heck Sky Pirates is.  It's basically an indy comic that's in the vein of sci-fi TV shows like Farscape, Andromeda, and Firefly, about a group of rogues trying to scrape together a living by taking on the contracts that will keep their ship in business.  As the title implies, they are indeed pirates who fly a sky ship.  It's science fiction and fantasy and steampunk.  There are elves and ogres and big giant bears acting like Chewie, specifically first officer Bryan Springhammer, who faithfully supports Captain Tobin Manheim, while Tobin's ex-wife (though this point is not made clear in the actual stories) Gearz along with Shyni are the token babes.  (Actually, Brian Brinlee's art in this volume takes the comic book stereotype of strippers representing the basic framework of most characters pretty seriously, male and female.  The art is not the main selling point.  It's merely serviceable.)

Probably since Star Wars there have been plenty of stories like this.  In fact, there's every indication that Sky Pirates was also inspired by its obvious immediate pop culture predecessor, the Pirates of the Caribbean films.  While I still have you thinking about screen parallels, I might as well say that Sky Pirates could easily be a TV show itself, and with its odd mix of genres would still be unique.

I've got to say that I was pleasantly surprised to enjoy Volume 1.  Soares is pretty good at establishing his characters, or at least the dynamics between them, and thus world-building.  And as Keith R.A. DeCandido's introduction makes clear, it also has the appeal of pirates.  I love pirates.  Most people love pirates.  And there are still so very few good pirate comic books.  Plus Bryan Springhammer is a big giant bear, or as DeCandido describes him a teddy bear.  All those TV shows I talked about had their (more or less) human versions of Chewie.  At least Sky Pirates isn't so bashful about stealing that element of Star Wars more directly.

I can only recommend you at least be open to stumbling across Sky Pirates of Valendor the way I did. You'll thank your good fortune.  It'll be the rogues revenge all over again.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Batman and Robin #15 (DC)

writer: Peter J. Tomasi
artist: Patrick Gleason

The secret to the success of Batman and Robin these days is that it's secretly really only Robin.  If that weren't clear enough already, then this tie-in with "Death of the Family" should make it insanely obvious to anyone.  Damian Wayne is undoubtedly a keeper.

Of course, what helps make this series such a success is the dynamic duo of Pete Tomasi and Patrick Gleason, who have been a crack team for years, but are only now just reaching the peak of their collaboration.  It's a rare instance of a supporting book in a crossover event anchored by a far more famous title (Scott Snyder's Batman) decisively stealing the show, and it's all because of Damian's confrontation with the Joker.

Part of what makes it work so well is Gleason's art, which may have never looked better than in this issue.  His worthy subject, apparently, is the Joker's gruesome new appearance.  Gleason is no stranger to strange, having put in his time with plenty of aliens in Green Lantern Corps (the source of his collaboration with Tomasi), but he seems to have found new levels of inspiration depicting the face-as-a-mask version of the Joker, flies abuzzing and all.  It's really quite remarkable.  I've long appreciated his work, but this is seriously his best.

Of course, it's the psychological duel between Joker and the latest incarnation of Robin that takes center stage.  After murdering Jason Todd in "Death in the Family," it was kind of hard to see where Joker could go next, other than the sensational maiming of Batgirl.  He became a signature foe for Tim Drake in the series of mini-series that led to the first Robin series, but otherwise disappeared off the radar.

So it's no wonder that Snyder chose to depict his comeback as a war against the Batman family, and with so many Robins running around, the Joker is like a kid in a candy store.  It does strain credulity that he would have the energy to torment all of them at more or less the same time (a conceptual weak point in this event that is thematically so similar to Snyder's previous "Night of the Owls"), but if we get to have Joker meet Damian, then all the better.  Although of course they did previously encounter each other in a previous incarnation of Batman and Robin under the auspices of Grant Morrison.  But the Joker was biding his time, apparently for this.  He wasn't exactly himself.

(Although the joke of the character is that he can have any personality he wants.)

The challenge for every writer in this event is to present Joker in such a way that he seems immediately relevant, striking personally at each of the members of the Batman family.  Some of his targets are more obvious.  Damian certainly isn't.  And he's also the one character who isn't afraid of the Joker.

At times Tomasi and Gleason have forgotten that their best feature in this series is Damian, and when they aren't inspired it's obvious.  But when they are, they produce their best work, and this is the best of the best, belying the common adage that a crossover produces perfunctory material.  Creators who don't mind accepting a challenge will be able to work with anything.  Well, these guys have recognized that the Joker at his best is capable of the best, I'm sure you suspect by now, I'm pretty high on this issue.  It's probably the mandatory reading of "Death of the Family," with all apologies to Snyder.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Batman Incorporated #5 (DC)

writer: Grant Morrison
artist: Chris Burnham


The most memorable single issue of Dark Knight adventures that Grant Morrison has written to date is Batman #666, which flashes forward to the future, where Damian Wayne has assumed the famous mantle.  In many ways it's a preview of how Morrison would later write both incarnations of Batman Incorporated, having fun writing as normal a Dark Knight adventure as he can.  This was more evident in the first volume, because in the second it's become more apparent that all of this is leading somewhere.

So it's only appropriate that we finally revisit that world of tomorrow.  The twist this time is that it's a manifestation of Bruce Wayne's, the current and iconic Batman, fears of the future, specifically of Damian, the current Robin, inheriting the cowl.  Much like the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths version of Jason Todd (who ended up being killed off in "Death in the Family" but later returned as the new Red Hood, a role he still inhabits), Bruce sees a bad future for Robin, and as much as he's been motivated since the events of "R.I.P." to expand his legacy to include the more active participation of others, he now seems just as concerned to make sure that his own son doesn't bring things back full circle, a Batman who functions alone, and thus more dangerously.

It's a great spin on Batman #666, and as I've suggested is a strong indication that Morrison has been deliberately unfolding the story begun with his introduction of Damian from the start, even when it's seemed like the story has gone off in other directions.  That's a good argument for the Batman Incorporated reboot that occurred last year, because it allowed Morrison an opportunity to begin a fresh statement without undoing what he'd previously done, much as the transition to Batman and Robin helped put the focus back on Damian in the first place.

Batman Incorporated #5 may not be standalone essential like Batman #666, but in the grand scheme, it's essential to the greater arc Morrison has been weaving since Batman #655 in 2006.