Saturday, March 30, 2013

Reading Comics #101 "The Annotated Sandman Volume 1 #10"

Before we get into the pages, let's do another title-of-the-post ditty.  I would not be upset if you misread that as Reading Comics 101, like I'm teaching a class.  Because that's what this whole blog be about, yo!

Ego deflated once again, of course the real topic is The Sandman #10 as presented in Leslie S. Klinger's The Annotated Sandman Volume 1.  This issue marks the start of "The Doll's House," the eponymous arc from the original second collection from Neil Gaiman's fantasy classic.

On the very first page, Klinger explains a little of the background for the title of the arc for anyone particularly interested, which eventually concludes with a rumination on the origins of Superman's Fortress of Solitude.  Hey, Sandman may not be a traditional superhero comic, but it's still a comic book, and what else is prominently known about comics than all things Superman?

Technically the page also introduces Desire, another of the Endless, Dream's family, each member of which has a name starting with the letter "d."

Anyway, the issue calls to mind some of those pesky details from the earliest issues of the series, before Gaiman felt he had a good handle on what he was doing, returning to one of the victims of the sleeping sickness as depicted in the very first issue, when Dream's kidnapping led to all sorts of irregularities.

Unity Kinkaid gave birth while she slept for decades.  Kind of creepy, yeah (especially when you know she wasn't pregnant before she fell asleep).  Well, that's just life.  A lot of this issue is a way of humanizing the story, which until this point tends to have sensationalized, well, everything.

Of course, before you get any funny ideas, much of the issue also sets about establishing some of the more mundane aspects of Dream's reality, revealing the talismans of the entire Endless.  Klinger explains all of them in his notes for the third page.  More of the mythology is explained on the fifth page.

By the sixth page, we catch up with the humans who will occupy most of the issue, Rose Walker (already seen briefly previously) and her mother Miranda.  Gaiman's script apparently went to great lengths in describing Rose's intended appearance to the artist.  Klinger also notes that another bit of intrigue about Rose, other than her grandmother Unity, is her brother Jed, who was actually introduced by the late great Jack Kirby in a previous incarnation of Sandman.

The seventh page is pretty amusing, because it features the very much American Rose and Miranda attempting to understand the differences in the English culture they'll be experiencing as they visit Unity.  Gaiman, of course, is English, but he tends to write American characters, so if you for some reason had no idea (he was in fact part of a vast British exporting of comic book talent in the 1980s that included Alan Moore and Grant Morrison) there you go.

I like layers like that!

The art turns sideways for a few pages, possibly because Rose has fallen asleep and in fact Dream appears in a dream (she's lying across the backseat of a car at the time) as we catch up with some of his housekeeping.

The eleventh and twelfth pages feature a spread that is more or less Gaiman's gift to his emerging Sandman fanatics.  Yes, only ten issues in and they not only exist but he's able to write for them in a script.

Anyway, a bunch of monsters, including the pivotal Corinthian, are introduced on the thirteenth page.  The Corinthian is notable for having tiny mouths where his eyes are supposed to be.  These monsters slipped away while Dream was gone, and so like the first arc this second one will feature cleanup duties.

Gaiman by way of Klinger explains Unity's curious appearance on the sixteenth page, how she's very old but doesn't look very old because for most of her life she didn't exercise any facial muscles, and her fashion sense is affected by what she remembers from her youth.  Although most old people I know are similarly in a perpetual fashion time warp.

It's fun that Klinger gets to explain the '45 Rebellion Unity references on the seventeenth page, since it's not 1945 but rather 1745.  A country like English would have people talk like that, while Americans tend to only think about wars in its past, or patterns of settlement and migration.  This is a fine instance of Klinger helping readers to do some migrating of their own, from what's probably an American mindset to another entirely, which is basically what Gaiman does with Sandman as a whole.

The Hecate, the trilogy of women seen in previous issues, speak with Rose, guiding her and the reader into the dawning awareness that her story is far from over.

By the end of the issue, it's the Corinthian who drives the story forward, however, and Klinger guides the reader again to something particularly clever in the comic.  Well, first, he also has to explain something that's lost in a black-and-white reproduction, an effect involving the Corinthian's shades.  Then he points out how a couple of word bubbles in the last panel in fact come from the separate mouths from the eye sockets, which is a fine way to remind readers that this dude has at least a visual gag working for him...

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Reading Comics #100 "The Annotated Sandman Volume 1 #9"

Just a note before we get on with the festivities:

As the title of this post indicates, this is the 100th edition of this particular regular feature here at Comics Reader.  As the label suggests, it started out as an eponymous tag for the blog itself, and the material that's been covered (which is archived here) has been at times very scattershot.  This latest series under what was finally settled as Reading Comics under consistent numbering months ago has been fun to do and has helped streamline and refine my approach to the entire blog, which will become more and more evident.

Now to have some fun!

Finally past material previously collected in Preludes & Nocturnes, the only Sandman I've had any prior working experience with, the ninth issue begins what might also be found in The Doll's House.  It's also a standalone issue, but resonates with what came before and what will follow, story time in a very Sandman fashion and also familiar to what might be found in a typical Neil Gaiman story regardless of where it's found.

We begin in Africa, deep in the tribal tradition, and in fact a rite of passage that can be found in many cultures, not in this specific form but as a general focus for entering adult life.  Leslie S. Klinger is pretty chatty in the notes, at least early on, before the story simply takes on its own fascination.

On the second page Klinger talks about Nelson Mandela's experiences with such a rite, although not so much the story aspect, which to Gaiman's version is key, and the only way Dream himself appears in the issue.  Perhaps it's entirely fitting that Morpheus is a supporting character after all.  Most of the time when you're dreaming you're not really aware of that fact.  The act of dreaming is always a guide.

The tale the young man hears from his own guide is about an African city of the past, whose queen falls in love with a mysterious visitor who turns out to be Dream.  She goes on a quest to discover who it was, and it's the queen herself, Nada (Klinger explains all about this name and its various cultural interpretations), who rejects Dream as a mate, convinced that the match could never work.

At this point I'm going to be learning quite a bit about what happens next, so the end of this story really is a mystery.  Gaiman ends the issue with the suggestion that Nada's story may not be finished, that Dream's potential love match may not be lost.  Or perhaps it is and this ends up defining him a great deal.  A writer like Gaiman can fold a lot of story into a single narrative, and Sandman is his masterpiece in this regard, and in fact a lot of my writing is done in the method I gleamed from everything I'd come to know about Sandman (in particular a currently unpublished novel entitled Modern Ark).

To my mind, an issue like this one is brilliant in and of itself.  It speaks as much to my memories of American Gods and Anansi Boys as what I've already read of Sandman and what I expect in the future.  I can see why some people would say Preludes & Nocturnes might be skippable, although it really isn't, that The Doll's House may be the true beginning of the story, because this prelude is undeniably what you'd expect from the series if you'd never read any of it before (the first issue itself is like that, too) and only read about it.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Reading Comics #99 "The Annotated Sandman Volume 1 #8"

Sandman #8 is the last issue included in the original collection Preludes & Nocturnes, and as such is the last issue I've previously read of the series on any kind of relevant basis (there was another odd issue, but for all intents and purposes, Preludes is the only real experience I have with the series to this point).

By the way, it's also the introduction of Death, the original Goth Chick.

The first notes Leslie S. Klinger provides reference blurbs that ran in the original comic, which curiously he doesn't provide for new readers, which is something that might have been expected.  He's provided lengthy extracts of similar material for previous issues.

Death, for the record, may look like a Goth Chick, but doesn't act like a Goth Chick.  She's much more lively!  The notes for the third page include a fairly spooky artistic coincidence concerning Neil Gaiman's encounter with a waitress who looked exactly like Death.

Keeping up the pattern established in other issues, Death is more prominent than Dream in the issue, though the star of the comic does end up doing some considerable reflecting based on this reunion with his sister.

If you want to know how lively Death really is, she apparently loves the movie Mary Poppins, which Klinger duly explains as different from the original book material, in such key points as the absence of "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" from the text (although that shouldn't be much of a surprise).

Klinger also explains all about the Egyptian talisman Death sports, the ankh, which ironically is all about life.

For Dream, this is a completely reflective issue, actually, as he remembers everything that he's experienced since the start of the series.  It's Death, however, who basically says what Gaiman's about to do with the rest of the series, starting a whole new story.  In a way, it's more appropriate than anyone seems to have considered for Gaiman to have done his version of a traditional superhero story to start things off, because that's not what anything else will be like.

As the issue progresses, Gaiman revisits some of the stuff he's already done in a different way, the little vignettes of lives that have populated the series so far.  This is turning out to be reliable material.

Klinger explains what you might to expect if you're intrigued by Death and want to know what else she does, by far at this point the most interesting example of this impulse in the notes, since Death is the most famous example so far.  If you ever wondered what Gaiman does in Death: The High Cost of Living, for example, Klinger lets you know.  It's a little surprising that Gaiman hasn't devoted more time to Death.

Though, of course, by the end of the issue it's Dream who's ready to move on, appropriate for any visit from Death...

Friday, March 15, 2013

Reading Comics #98 "The Annotated Sandman Volume 1 #7"

The conclusion of the Doctor Destiny arc finally comes to pass in this latest issue from The Annotated Sandman Volume 1 from Neil Gaiman and Leslie S. Klinger.

Since the start of the series six issues ago, Dream has been attempting to reclaim his lost totems of power from a period where he was held captive for seventy years.  The last totem is a gem that manipulated by classic Justice League villain Doctor Destiny, who escaped from Arkham Asylum by the time we caught up with him.

When Dream gets his hands on the gem, he discovers that Doctor Destiny's manipulation has completely warped it.  Thus a confrontation in this issue that would be akin to a true superhero experience, if Gaiman were writing any other series.

Instead we get something very similar to what he's done previously, suggesting the lives being influenced by Dream's experiences, this time by way of Doctor Destiny's nightmares.  Rather than some knock-down drag-out fight, Dream does a lot of talking, trying to figure out his foe verbally rather than physically.

One of Klinger's first notes is about matters that aren't particularly relevant to a black-and-white reprint, while there are some others that make it clear how the original presentation of the issue has been altered over the years in the various collected editions.  (It may be worth noting that in addition to these Annotated volumes, DC is also releasing giant omnibus editions at present.)

The notes for page 10 are particularly relevant, as they explain Gaiman's references to Shakespeare, including the one particularly relevant to today's date, the Ides of March, 3/15.  Just for the record!

The next page also talks about Bride of Frankenstein, which may still be one of the most fascinating developments of the early Hollywood horror era.  Has anyone ever written a book with this character?

It should be noted that within the story itself Dream wears his helm, one of the totems that he's reclaimed, which makes him look like the original superhero Sandman, which probably won't happen too many more times in the series.  Or I could be wrong.  I've read very little of Sandman, so that's why I hope I can continue with the rest of the Annotated volumes.  I don't know about you, but I enjoy this process.

Destiny, the non-Doctor Destiny version of Destiny, makes his first appearance in the series on the sixteenth page.

It's just interesting that so much of this issue, if it were illustrated differently, could just as easily be an event issue from a typical superhero comic, the way the pages are laid out and the big climax is reached.

By the end, Doctor Destiny is brought back to Arkham, where he is greeted by Scarecrow, Jonathan Crane, who saw him off, while Klinger notes how Gaiman cleverly guided the artist to reference The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in the last panel.

Page 24 does make a strong case for an even weirder look at DC lore, Arkham as seen by the inmates as they live there, which Gaiman suggests probably is not very pretty.

I guess most people don't really consider the Doctor Destiny arc part of the true Sandman experience, but to me it certainly feels like an essential way to present what it will be all about, how it will be different from what you may have read before.  The Vertigo line can sometimes be a little deliberate and singular in the way it's presented, almost embarrassed to be associated with the rest of DC.  This is one example that this really doesn't have to be the case.  You can be different yet strangely familiar at the same time.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Quick Hits: Young Avengers #1 (Marvel)

I think it's just struck me, what this new iteration of Young Avengers is like.  It's Runaways, the series that was launched by Brian K. Vaughan that was also about a bunch of misfit superhero kids.  I have never read Runaways.  Half of what I loved about Young Avengers was its clever extension of existing Marvel lore, which The Children's Crusade absolutely continued.  It's not just the characters, but how they're used and finally advance the musty Marvel landscape.  I don't think this new version is doing that.  It's like someone saw only the soap opera elements and decided that was the best thing about the original comics.  It was a good thing, but it wasn't the best.  Without the best part, it's not really Young Avengers...

Quick Hits: All-New X-Men #4, 5 (Marvel)

Another of my favorite launches from 2012, this is Brian Michael Bendis finally doing the X-Men book he all but promised in House of M.

The fourth issue pushes the strange arc of the current and conflicted mutants meeting their own past selves.  That's all well and good.  It advances thing enough so we can reach:

The fifth issue, in which Bendis really gets to write for both Jean Grey and Beast, the two biggest beneficiaries of this series not named Cyclops.  Jean is the most fascinating character ever to be sacrificed to the needs of a death in comics that somehow stayed pretty permanent.  This is her second chance and Bendis knows it, and that's reason enough to look at this whole story as something other than a gimmick.  She's here mostly to help Beast try to figure out a way to not die, which is odd because if I were writing it I'd be trying to find the loophole that would help Jean survive.

Both issues are illustrated by Stuart Immonen, who is a favorite and whose absence from some of the following issues is excuse enough for me to lose track of the series for a while.  Still, as worth checking out as anything else I endorse wholeheartedly.

Quick Hits: Wonder Woman #15 (DC)

Like anyone else I'm always hoping that Wonder Woman will somehow become one of the most popular series DC publishes, thereby finally expanding our favorite Amazon into the role she holds by default in the company as the most prominent/important female character in comics.  I thought it had another shot when it was announced Brian Azzarello would be writing the New 52 relaunch...and gradually I lost the hope.  While he's definitely been doing distinctive work, I've begun to view as less and less essentially and therefore essential work with Wonder Woman herself.  He's basically turned her into Percy Jackson.  Yet I vowed to have another look when Orion popped up.  Orion is one of Jack Kirby's New Gods, one of the few who really stands out, and has been sorely missed since Final Crisis.  Yet I'm not sure he works here any better than Wonder Woman, though conceptually they appear to be headed in a much more interesting direction in the months to come, soon to be entangled in the Superman affair currently being featured in Justice League and therefore key to the upcoming Trinity War.  All of which is to say this is a series that still bears monitors, works for what it is (basically an indy book starring one of the most famous superheroes of any company), and could still be more.

Quick Hits: Womanthology: Space #4 (IDW)

Womanthology is a collaborative effort that has been celebrating the ongoing contributions of, well, women in comics, and I love that it exists, but this is the first time I've actively participated, and the reason is simple enough: this issue features Devin K. Grayson.  Grayson write another Grayson, Dick Grayson, in the pages of Nightwing for a few years, and they were in some ways a worthy follow-up to Chuck Dixon's work, in other ways a evolution, and quite possibly the best storytelling the character has ever seen.  So I always had a high appreciation for Grayson, being Devin K. Grayson.  Some fans were turned off by some of what she did, and so her overall reputation fell like a stone, and her expanding work in comics slacked off considerably until she all but disappeared, which was a terrible shame.  So I will always relish when she makes an appearance, and this is one of them, one of several stories in the issue but reason enough to have it and enjoy her contribution, which reflects her Nightwing run, which I still miss.

Quick Hits: Wolverine #313 (Marvel)

About a year ago I learned that Jeph Loeb had not only already done a Wolverine story but was soon going to be doing another one.  I have a great appreciation for Loeb's writing (most recently in the must-read Nova #1), and so figured I'd check the second one out.  For whatever reason I kept missing it.  And then it ended and the series moved on.  Thankfully some comics shops keep a deep inventory on their new release shelves, and so some of the stuff you'll find their is pretty old indeed.  This issue was published last year and is the conclusion of the Sabretooth arc in which Logan's famous foe and erstwhile brother attempts to convince him that it was Logan himself who decided to enter the Weapon X program that famously gave him his adamantium and lost him his memory.  Much like Scott Snyder in "Death of the Family," Loeb hedges his bets at the end of the story, but it's fine, because it's still Loeb and he still knows how to do character better than just about anyone.  So I'm glad that I've finally read at least some of his Wolverine.

Quick Hits: Wasteland #42 (Oni)

My favorite indy comic is Wasteland and I am happy to continue talking about it even while no one else seems to.  On the way to A-Ree-Yass-I and now separated from Michael, Abi is confronted with the limits of her powers.  All of these are immediately relevant details to the overall series, but you can appreciate most of it individually this issue, which is something Antony Johnston has been getting better at the longer the series has continued.  Which is another reason that there's absolutely no excuse not to discover Wasteland for yourself.

Quick Hits: Threshold #1 (DC)

One of the most exciting bits of news I've heard recently is that Larfleeze is getting his own ongoing series.  Larfleeze is Agent Orange, the Orange Lantern, the alien filled with avarice who is sole possessor of the orange spectrum but has populated his "corps" with enough constructs that you might be forgiven to forget that.  He's the best character Geoff Johns created in his Green Lantern run, a regular hoot and a holler, and has previously been featured in his own Christmas one-shot and as a backup in Threshold.

Oh!  This whole thing is supposed to be about Threshold!  Keith Giffen is a legend who has mostly worked at DC, and he's been waiting for a truly signature book that he hasn't had to co-write or use "bwa-ha-ha" as a signature line.  As debuted in the recent Green Lantern Corps annual, the renegade Green Lantern I've dubbed Threshold himself (but that's not really his name) is currently in the midst of a killer reality show known as The Hunted (also the subtitle of a Deathstroke arc I still mean to read some day).

But you really want to read Threshold because of Larfleeze, as proven by the recent news of his own series.  Did I say that already?  I'm feeling a little greedy.  Threshold can only be appreciated for Larfleeze!  Who, by the way, is made speechless with rage (not in a Red Lanterns kind of way, but in a clever caption-y kind of way) when someone steals from him, and not just anything but his battery.

You will read Larfleeze!  Because he collects readers, too.

Quick Hits: Think Tank Military Dossier (Top Cow)

Think Tank is like Fringe or any other TV series you can think of where eccentric individuals are brought together for some reason or another, usually crime or science or both (that would be Fringe).  it comes from the mind of Matt Hawkins, who is more usually understood as a backstage kind of guy, but has some interesting ideas of his own.  Think Tank is littered with them.  This is a profiles one-shot, and as such is a primer for anyone who isn't already familiar with the series, but is rounded out with what appears to be fairly typical backup material that covers the same kind of territorial in a more technical manner, supporting the fiction with nonfiction as it were.  All of it appears pretty interesting.

Quick Hits: Star Trek: The Next Generation - Hive #3 (IDW)

Brannon Braga's ultimate Borg adventure continues, and for the bulk of the issue things kind of happen, and only in the final pages do we finally see hope that something will amount from it other than an epic setup that finally proposes resolution for Picard's link to the Collective.  This is to say Data's role will finally come into focus in the finale.  Data was a key aspect of Star Trek: First Contact, Hive's most obvious predecessor besides "The Best of Both Worlds."

Quick Hits: Doctor Spider-Man (Marvel)

As everyone knows by now, one of the biggest comic book stories at the close of 2012 was Doctor Octopus switching minds with Peter Parker and thus becoming Spider-Man, and obnoxiously continually plugging the name of the new series that would replace the long-running Amazing Spider-Man.

All of this began in Amazing Spider-Man #698, in which the switch actually occurred.  I finally picked up a copy at Barnes & Noble, because this story for better or worse is a big deal.  It's Amazing Spider-Man #700, however, that everyone latched onto, an oversized celebration that forced Otto Octavius to relive Peter's greatest moments, the ones that helped shape his life, and therefore made Doc Ock realize what a complete joke his criminal career had been, thereby making the transition into Spider-Man not just about being his own worst enemy but a curious kind of redemption.

Avenging Spider-Man #15.1 will probably be overlooked by just about everyone forever, but it's a nice transitional meditation on the whole affair, and I'm glad it was available when I finally decided I cared and everything else wasn't.  

Superior Spider-Man #1, meanwhile, is pretty much exactly what you'd expect.  Otto isn't quite as benevolent as Peter's Wonderful Life might have led readers to believe, but most readers weren't really paying attention to the details, and neither was writer Dan Slott, who appears to be as conflicted by the whole story as his lead character.  On the one hand he's had to acknowledge for impatient and bothered readers that this is all temporary, and on the other he's had to pretend that it is.  In the meantime it's all a game of trying to exploit it to the best possible degree.  Slott calls this the biggest and best story he's ever wanted to tell, and in a lot of ways it is.  It was pretty awesome when Sylar and Nathan Petrelli did it in the fourth season of Heroes, too.  

Doctor Spider-Man really exists because of the Brand New Day era, where everything old was made new again, which somehow left dear Otto on the verge of death for years, constantly attempting one last desperate ploy after another.  Slott himself, once he launched his Big Time era, seemed to leave Otto out of his plans, and now here he is, in the middle of the biggest plan of them all.  All pretty shocking for an iconic villain who starred in the most popular of the Spider-Man movies.

Everyone knows that Peter will get his body back.  Will Otto have changed at all when he's evicted from his superior footing?  Will he even survive?  Only time will tell.  Fascinating stuff told tolerably well in the meantime...

Quick Hits: Saucer Country #10, 11, 12 (Vertigo)

Saucer Country was announced as canceled, and so these are some of the final issues.  Writer Paul Cornell has vowed to bring it back somehow somewhere, though in my experience this doesn't usually happen, although it happens most often in comics, and the only reason why I would still doubt this vow is that Cornell is known best of all for having a fairly short attention span.  He doesn't stick around any series for long.

Still Saucer Country was a favorite of mine, and Cornell is a favorite of mine, so I will savor it and both as much as I can.

The tenth issue is a lot more of the same, very serialized material that advances the basic quagmire of running an election and trying to figure out whether aliens are real or not, all the characters talking about and being frightened out of their minds that what they think isn't just a delusion.

The eleventh issue is another of those amusing digressions into conspiracy lore that Cornell spent the middle run of the series exploring.  This time, for some reason, it's about fairies, which is another layer of how the series has explored its central themes and works far better than you might think.

The twelfth issue is dominated by Professor Kidd, who has been doing most of the practical investigating for Governor Alvarado, and has been struggling the most, mostly because he's been experiencing what he's determined to be an ongoing set of delusions, like Grant Morrison's Happy! with a less happy outcome.  Or so it currently seems.

Quick Hits: Saga #2, 8, 9 (Image)

Saga was my favorite new launch of last year, and it seems to be settling comfortably into everyone else's, a perfect word-of-mouth comic that Image has gotten behind.  Half of this isn't so hard to understand, given that it's written by Brian K. Vaughan, and he's done this before with Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina, and Runaways, but that he's doing it again can still only be considered remarkable.

I've previously tracked down the first issue thanks to a reprint, mistakenly believing that I'd started reading the series with the second issue, but it was in fact the third, so I went tracking again and got the second and so completed that much of the reading experience (I'm now behind a few issues, and don't know if I'll be able to continue keeping up outside of the trades).  This issue features the first appearance of The Stalk, a bounty hunter who was killed off far too quickly for artist Fiona Staples' interests, because she loved designing and drawing the curiously attractive spider lady.  More on Stalk in a moment.

The eighth issue is made up of a bunch of sometimes disturbing family bonding moments, and so is just a fun one to read (but really, they all are), including how Marko and Alana met.  Honestly, I could read this series forever.

The ninenth issue, meanwhile, features the "return" of The Stalk but is really all about The Will being all Han Solo-y, which is good, because The Will is another excellent character and I could read him forever, too.

Quick Hits: Red Hood and the Outlaws #15 (DC)

Part of the "Death of the Family" crossover that concluded recently, this is one of those issues that could've been something really special, especially considering that it stars Jason Todd, the first Robin to die in the line of duty, confronting the psychopath who killed him, the Joker.  Unlike the initial Batman and Robin outing, however, Red Hood and the Outlaws doesn't embrace the opportunity, which is curious, because Scott Lobdell has wisely wrapped the whole series around Jason's perspective, which is part of the reason I've been trying to make the case for it being exactly the opposite of the horrible mistake everyone else has been trying to make it.  Yet for some reason Lobdell hesitates at the moment of his greatest triumph, and this may be due to the fact that he simply wasn't sure how far he could take it, given that the Joker has similar confrontations in every other tie-in, and so inherently the moment can't help but be dimmed, because that was the weakness inherent in the apparent strength of a Joker story like this.  You can't expect him to be everything to everyone.  And so Jason doesn't get much out of what should have been a seminal moment.  Maybe the other issue accomplishes that, or maybe there's simply room for a future story where Joker and Jason are all alone together, advancing the "Under the Hood" story that much further.  Because in a lot of ways, the Joker is more of a Jason Todd villain now than he can hope to be Batman's.  Batgirl has a similar claim.  I didn't check in to see whether the moment was realized in her opportunities.

Quick Hits: Punk Rock Jesus #6 (Vertigo)

Sean Murphy's conclusion to Punk Rock Jesus can be enjoyed by those who didn't even read the rest of the series.  I should know, because I only read one other issue.  I knew I'd want to at least have a look when I originally saw the series announced, because it could either be really good or really crappy with a name like that, and yeah, it turned out to be really good.  It's the type of finale that seems to undo everything that came before it, and yet it's a resonant kind of undoing, making everything that much more interesting, the characters that much deeper.

Quick Hits: Nova #1 (Marvel)

Jeph Loeb is a treasure in comics, and I think most people know that, but I don't think that his work with Marvel has been particularly expressive of that.  Nova may be the book that changes that.  It may also be his best work ever.  It's very much the kind of work that can only be done after a cumulative effect, years of life and work converging, and anyway, you don't have to worry about that.  You don't even need to particularly care about the Nova concept, which I am more or less completely ignorant about.  This issue exquisitely details the relationship between a father and son, the father being a former member of the Nova Corps and the son being a kid who doesn't believe for a minute that his father is a former member of the Nova Corps.  The Nova Corps is basically the Marvel version of the Green Lantern Corps, by the way, only with an awesome helmet instead of an all-powerful ring.  This has my pick as first issue of the year, new series of the year, all of that.  It must be read.  It will be enjoyed.  And it's at the very least a career highlight for someone who has already made a career out of highlights.

Quick Hits: Legends of the Dark Knight #5 (DC)

I love anthology titles because it increases the possibility for welcomes surprises, and this particular issue of Legends of the Dark Knight is exactly what I'm talking about.  I've been trying to find ways to appreciate Joshua Hale Fialkov short of making a commitment to I, Vampire (which if I didn't have to worry about money would probably have been a series to follow since its launch, but looked for all appearances to be something that would've been cancelled long ago), and so along with the recent news that he'll be one of the lead writers in the Green Lantern creative relaunch this was the best thing I could've discovered.  It's a Batman story featuring the classic detective character Slam Bradley (I think I'd respect the much ballyhooed Gotham Central if it had featured more cowbell, I mean Slam Bradley).  And what's more, it's illustrated by Phil Hester.  I love Phil Hester.  I don't have a clue why more people don't love Phil Hester.  He's known for his art, which on fine display here, but he's also a killer writer, as evidenced by anything from Golly to The Anchor.  I would've loved this issue regardless, but it was enjoyable too!

Quick Hits: Justice League of America #1 (DC)

Several thousand covers later...DC showed considerable restraint in waiting for a spin-off of Justice League.  Twenty years ago this would not have been the case.  Fittingly the second series has the same writer as the first.  The brilliance as I'll call it continues in the way Geoff Johns approaches the membership of the new team.  Each one is painstakingly introduced in this issue, what makes them interesting, even intriguing.  The only curious thing is that Vibe and Katana not only already have spin-offs of their own but that they launched the same day this was released.  Both prove in this issue that they're more interesting than whatever reputation they previously had might suggest, and I do mean both.  Vibe is the more curious one, of course, sort of the Booster Gold without even the shred of dignity he's had, someone who is basically a blank slate.

Quick Hits: Justice League #17 (DC)

"Throne of Atlantis" concludes where it began, in the pages of Justice League rather than Aquaman, which is incredibly brilliant on the part of Geoff Johns.  Traditionally when a writer is trying to draw attention to a character or series that for whatever reason probably isn't or won't be inherently popular they have a character who is popular make an appearance in that series.  Where Geoff has wisely determined that it is probably far more effective to make the character who could use some positive mojo make a significant appearance in a book that is popular.  As excellent as Aquaman has been, Justice League by definition, even though both are written by the same popular writer, has greater exposure.  "Throne" is an incredibly personal story for Aquaman, but it was made into a full-blown event, the first one since the opening story in Justice League to help it behave like the monthly event book that I've been calling it all along.  Everyone wins, and this conclusion is entirely appropriate, because it's more or less entirely an issue of Aquaman itself.

Quick Hits: Happy! #4 (Image)

The fourth and finale issue of this ditty hits the resonating mark I'd hoped for from Grant Morrison.  If anything, it finds him, along with what he's been doing in Action Comics and Batman Incorporated in a pretty sentimental mood.  That's the ultimate takeaway from Happy!, which I've previously discussed in relation to other Morrison projects, but more than anything it's like his two recent superhero projects done in miniature, for anyone who doesn't want to bother with capes but would still like to enjoy the storytelling prowess of a master.  That's exactly what Seaguy did in two mini-series, and so it's nice to see that Morrison has continued that tradition.

Quick Hits: Green Lantern #17 (DC)

The other major news that's hit comics I love in recent weeks, besides the death of Damian in Batman Incorporated #8, was that Geoff Johns is concluding his epic run with Hal Jordan in Green Lantern #20.  You may recall that I recently speculated that Geoff could easily have continued for years to come with Simon Baz, who has only been around for about half a year, in much the same way Brian Michael Bendis reinvigorated and continued his even longer Ultimate Spider-man run with Miles Morales, so it was a shock to me that not only is Geoff walking away in the near future, but within the span of a few months.  That puts a huge emphasis on the "Wrath of the First Lantern" arc, which has become Geoff's finale after starting on the franchise in 2004 with Green Lantern: Rebirth.  The First Lantern basically becomes the summation of all his ideas, and reading it, especially this particular issue, it's not hard to see how Geoff could have come to this conclusion, whether it was what he was originally thinking when he planned it or if he recently made the decision based on his workload (which is always extensive) and increasing focus on the Justice League franchise (where Simon Baz continues in the pages of ...America).

Quick Hits: Django Unchained #2 (Vertigo)

I still haven't seen the movie, but it's now available on home video release, so maybe I'm that much closer (kind of bummed it didn't hit the local dollar theater, unless that still happens).  Very much enjoying reading the comic, though.  If Tarantino filmed scenes about the Sigfried story, that would be another reason to savor the film, because it would represent another filmmaking evolution for him, which the period nature of both Django Unchained and Inglourious Basterds have already indicated.  When a director like Ridley Scott jumps all around time, it becomes expected.  You learn how their basic storytelling is translated and becomes more resonant, but it's not so surprising.  If and when Tarantino decides to set an entire movie in the distant past, that will be immediately notable.  So that's what I take away from this issue.

Quick Hits: Comedian #5 (DC)

I don't know why the publication of this particular Before Watchmen book has been drawn out for so long, but I've continued to enjoy it, and have even figured out why it's remained in Vietnam for several issues now, because Brian Azzarello figured out that it has more significance than what fans probably assumed just from the original Alan Moore story, along with everything else that's been done in Comedian.  I'm pretty convinced that I won't be the only one calling this one the most significant part of the whole project once it's all done and sitting on bookshelves, maybe as regularly as Watchmen itself.

Quick Hits: Batman Incorporated #7 (DC)

The issue before the one everyone knows about, where Damian a.k.a. until his death the current Robin uh dies, in which events that have been the culmination not just of this second Batman Incorporated series or even the first but rather the entire run start to really build momentum.  It's been strange, since at one point Grant Morrison was unquestionably the Batman writer, and his stories were events even when they didn't have titles or crossovers.  By the way, this concept is the reason there's a book called Batwing in the New 52.  With Scott Snyder's "Death of the Family" letting everyone down who expected a major development, we may know now why that was, and why he'll soon be launching "Zero Year," thereby allowing him to do exactly what he's always wanted to do without anyone confusing his intentions again, playing with the continuity, which in a lot of ways is what Morrison has been doing, except with all the elements no one else knew what to do with, like making Talia al Ghul Batman's ultimate villain even before The Dark Knight Rises.

Quick Hits: Action Comics #17 (DC)

This is the second-to-last issue of Grant Morrison's run on Action Comics, though it was originally scheduled to be the finale.  In a lot of ways this one will make the whole run easier to understand, resonating the villain who's been running around, Superman's experiences, and the human element that has been at the heart of the story since the start, when we first saw the new t-shirt costume.

Guest Post Over at Speed Force

The fine folks at Speed Force would have been my best friends fifteen years ago.  Now they're simply some of the nicest people I know.  I say this because they've allowed me to write about Max Mercury. Max Mercury is one of my favorite superheroes, and in this article you'll find out why.  For some reason I have never quite gotten around to writing a lot about my favorite comic book memories (if you visit the link about the timeline above, you may get an idea), but suffice to say Max plays a big role in some of them, even though he was a small part of Mark Waid's The Flash and a supporting one in Impulse.