Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Quarter Bin #50 "Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Bloodwynd, Waverider, Etc."

Comics featured in this column were not necessarily bought in a quarter bin.  This is a back issues column.

Armageddon 2001 #1 (DC)
From May 1991:
DC tends to be obsessed with superheroes from the future (Booster Gold, Legion of Super-Heroes) who are obsessed with superheroes of the present.  Waverider is no exception.  Armageddon 2001 was Waverider's big story.  It was all about one of the icons of today turning into tomorrow's tyrant (sort of like Harvey Dent's line in The Dark Knight: "You either die the hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain").  They say the original plan was for Captain Atom (the basis for Alan Moore's Dr. Manhattan in Watchmen) to be revealed as Monarch (something that ended up being done in the pages of Extreme Justice anyway), but instead (because it was always going to be someone obscure) it turned out to be Hawk, as in Hawk & Dove.  Hawk/Monarch eventually became Extant, who was the other villain in Zero Hour.  Still, like I said this was much more about Waverider.  The whole event was basically a crossover in the 1991 annuals (a yearly bonus issue that used to be a staple and has been staging a sporadic comeback).  Like the "Night of Owls" or "Death of the Family" or "Wrath of the First Lantern" crossovers recent fans might be familiar with, these annuals basically featured the same story with slight variations each issue, making it all the more relevant to care about Waverider himself, which is why this issue recounts his poignant origin, the Kingdom Come of its time.

Heroes & Legends (Marvel)
From October 1996:
The whole point of this jam issue is to commemorate the 1965 wedding of Reed & Sue Richards.  Although I suspect the real reason this was released was because of Superman: The Wedding Album released at the same time, featuring the long-awaited marriage ceremony between Lois Lane and Clark Kent, which featuring a similar jam session.  Every conceivable Marvel hero appears to make the Fantastic Four event pull off with as much incident as possible, just as DC's heroes gathered in Metropolis to give Superman peace of mind and a honeymoon.  I got this one because the cover was so vague I had no idea what was inside.  I just hoped it was interesting.  Another notable appearance in this issue is Phil Sheldon, the reporter who served as the guide in Marvels.

Icon #16 (Milestone)
From August 1994:
Milestone was the DC imprint filled with black superheroes, and Icon was its Superman.  In 1994 there was a crossover between the Milestone line and the Superman family called "World's Collide" (and that's...pretty much the whole story).  This issue was part of that.  The writer was the late Dwayne McDuffie, while the artist was M.D. Bright, who previously worked on Green Lantern.  I'd previously had a copy in my collection of a Superboy installment featuring the Boy of Steel's encounter with Icon's ally Rocket.  I guess Superboy could make a memorable encounter with any young female hero (his relationship with the Supergirl of that era was the highlight of any month it happened).  Here Superman and Icon are deathly dull and the story around them the epitome of paper thin crisis.  If DC wanted people to care about Milestone, this wasn't the way to go.  Milestone is better known today for Static, the teen hero who later starred in the Static Shock animated series and was briefly a part of the New 52 relaunch (and perhaps in hindsight it was a bad call to have artist Scott McDaniel figure out how to be a writer at the same time in the title).

Infinite Crisis #1 (DC)
From December 2005:
Obviously I read the complete Infinite Crisis as it was released.  I even made the rare decision to buy multiple covers of each issue.  The sequel to Crisis on Infinite Earths was an epic examination of generations and perspective.  The classic line from this issue is Batman speaking to Superman: "But they need to be inspired.  And let's face it, 'Superman'...the last time you inspired anyone was when you were dead."  The truly memorable thing about Infinite Crisis, though, as that it truly did focus on Superman and Batman, as well as Wonder Woman.  Yes, there were thousands of other characters at play, but the Big Three were the focus.  They weren't the focus of Crisis on Infinite Earths.  In fact, they were rarely the focus of these crossover events.  Geoff Johns can sometimes be described as a fanboy by his detractors.  In this instance maybe it indeed took a fanboy to finally do an event centered on the three central figures of the DC landscape.  It sounds so obvious to do that, but it's one of those things that are so obvious that no one had really thought of actually doing it before.  So here's what it looks like, and it's glorious.

The Invisibles #21 (Vertigo)
From June 1996:
This counts as the second issue I've ever read of Grant Morrison's Vertigo opus.  Technically I've read the entire first collection of stories, but individually just the first and now this one, and it really figures. The Invisibles is about discovering the scary truths hiding just beneath the surface of the mainstream, and our guide for the journey is initiate figure Dane.  This issue catches up with him as he's trying to process it by revisiting his regular, mundane life of friends and family from the time before he got to look behind the curtain.  Part of the real charm of reading individual issues from the series is having a look at the letters columns.  Back in yon olden days, this was the window into the fan community behind a series.  In these Internet days, everyone thinks they're experts (or just cynical) about everything, and so they don't tend to know or talk about anything in particular except in snide, condescending remarks that mean nothing.  Letters columns were like monthly Wikipedia entries, talking about events and the significance of those events from individual issues.  The best creators used these columns as their personal forum, not only as an open dialogue but a way to express their personalities outside of the stories that were their first impression.  Today it's a mark of distinction to include them against the new standard; Brian Michael Bendis and Brian K. Vaughan are perhaps the best practitioners of this new underground vibe.  I mention all this because Morrison was one of the creators in those days who absolutely made the most of it, and sometimes he used it to craft a dangerous version of himself I contend may or may not have been true.  These days it's not as much fun as I once thought to reread old letters columns, but Invisibles is probably as reliable a forum as you'll find in that regard. 

Justice League America #88 (DC)
From May 1994:
One of the best creative teams I've ever read in comics was Dan Vado and Marc Campos.  They briefly collaborated in the pages of Justice League America and Extreme Justice.  Fans will know the Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire era and to a lesser extent the Jurgens era (mostly thanks to "Doomsday"), but the sheer awkward humanity reached a crescendo in the aftermath of all that as Booster Gold struggled to recover from losing his original costume, which was really about losing all faith in the superhero community.  Booster and pal Blue Beetle were previously the very incarnation of the carefree spirit, two of the goofiest bastards ever.  In a lot of ways, the forgotten Justice League crossover event "Judgment Day" was the culmination of the Vado/Campos era.  This was the event where beloved neophyte Ice was temporarily killed off (she and Fire...yes, Fire & Ice...were another signature element of this era).  It was also the culmination of the Bloodwynd mystery.  Bloodwynd was a mysterious (hence the mystery) new member created in the Jurgens era.  Some fans will always be convinced that Bloodwynd was finally revealed to be an alternate persona for Martian Manhunter, but that's a stupid misunderstanding.  Bloodwynd was awesome.  By the way, Grant Morrison takes Bloodwynd for a joke of a typical '90s character, and possibly he has the Vado/Campos era in mind (Campos might be said to resemble the typical Image style, but in a DC context he was pretty unique).  If you ever wanted conclusive proof that I'm not a slave to all things Morrison, know that we differ on the subject of Bloodwynd (although the character apparently appears in Morrison's upcoming Multiversity, which will mark his first appearance in...two decades?).  "Judgment Day" in some ways was kind of the story that finally forced everyone to face the elephant in the room.  Was he worth all the mystery the team put up with all those years?  I still hope he makes a triumphant return.

JLA: Our Worlds At War #1 (DC)
From September 2001:
Our Worlds At War was the signature crossover event of 2001, but if it remains notable at all today it's because of the eerie parallels with a far more significant event from that year.  The parallels went so far as several issues of Superman comics being released soon after 9/11 with still more hauntingly relevant images.  This issue is from Jeph Loeb and features the complete text of Franklin Roosevelt's address to Americans following "the date which will live in infamy," interspersed as captions through the story.  Seems pretty heavy, but Loeb is also quick to put Superman at the front of the story (making this the precursor to Infinite Crisis).  This was a time when DC was paranoid about the Man of Steel's continuing relevance, so it tried to make him as edgy as possible.  Goading him into an all-out state of war seemed to be the best way.

JLA Secret Files & Origins 2004 (DC)
From November 2004:
Speaking of making Superman edgy, the other notable story from the period involving this instinct was the saga of Manchester Black as depicted in Action Comics #775.  When DC realized that the story could probably continue, Black's sister Vera helped found the Justice League Elite, which as you might guess was the Justice League but more...edgy.  Actually, there were only two bona fide League-worthy members, Green Arrow and The Flash.  The Secret Files specials were a favorite of mine, primers that included profiles and short adventures (and sometimes handy timelines).  This one put the JLElite in the spotlight, plus a few other notable upcoming stories, including the then-forthcoming return of Grant Morrison's Ultramarine Corps in the pages of JLA Classified.  

JSA #49, 51, 70 (DC)
From August & October 2003, April 2005:
Geoff Johns did a lot of notable material before I caught up with him, and his long work with JSA lasted until the Justice Society of America reboot that I actually did read (notable for the "Thy Kingdom Come" arc that heavily featured an in-continuity Magog from the original Kingdom Come).  His JSA was the first time I read unabashedly good things about what he was doing, fun stories that involved a return to prominence for Hawkman and the emerging menace of the complicated Black Adam.  The first two issues are part of the "Prince of Darkness" arc that might have been the culmination of anyone else's run.  It featured Mordru and focused on elements like Dr. Fate (one of the coolest and most versatile designs for any superhero; check out the Helmet of Fate event for a primer) and Eclipso.  Mordru's name doesn't resonate no matter where you look (except King Arthur lore), but in a lot of ways this whole story was like Geoff preparing for Infinite Crisis, where Mordru would be the prototype Superboy-Prime.  I got the latter issue because it because the modern and Golden Age Mr. Terrific on the cover.  Mr. Terrific was my favorite member of Geoff's Society (although he was an unfortunate victim of the New 52 launch, he did finally receive his first ongoing series...for a few issues).  The issue itself doesn't really feature him so much as include him.  The best inclusion is Walker Gabriel, star of another short-lived series, Chronos (which demands a complete reprint collection).  The villain this time is Degaton, another villain best known to Society aficianados.

The Possessed #4 (Cliffhanger!)
From December 2003:
This was the period in the career of Geoff Johns where he was pretty much doing whatever he wanted.  He was working on The Flash and JSA at DC, Avengers at Marvel, and side projects like this, which was basically his Image work (Cliffhanger! was an imprint of WildStorm, which was at one time a founding imprint at Image).  Actually, The Possessed reads a lot like Robert Kirkman's later The Walking Dead, although there's a little more emphasis on the bogeymen around which the regular human characters are trying survive.  Like Olympus, Geoff co-wrote this with Kris Grimminger.  These days it's superheroes superheroes superheroes (with the odd Vertigo anthology tale), but the existence of material like this is like a promise that one day he'll try something different again.  We'll see.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Quarter Bin #49 "From An Actual Quarter Bin, Part 3"

Comics featured in this column are not always actually from a quarter bin.  However, this is a rare occasion where they were, courtesy of a grand opening/preview sale for the second location of Escape Velocity in Colorado Springs earlier this year.

Blackhawks #1 & 2 (DC)
From November and December 2011:
One of the titles I was most looking forward to in the fall 2011 DC relaunch was Blackhawks, not because I have a particular affinity for beachfront property the classic Blackhawk concept but that it was being written by Mike Costa, who has earned my eternal respect for his Cobra comics over at IDW.  Those are some of the best things I've ever read in this format, and I'm continually surprised that their genius still hasn't been embraced by even a cult audience at this point.  They continue to be published because IDW itself has realized what it has, like Red 5's devotion to Atomic Robo.  (Seriously, people, Atomic Robo is fantastic.)  Yet I opted out of reading Blackhawks at the time based on an accurate and yet unfair snap assessment that it didn't properly evoke my Cobra memories.  The series was based less on the aforesaid classic Blackhawk (like a superhero version of the formative Air Force) and more a DC version of G.I. Joe.  Costa's Cobra (recently relaunched as The Cobra Files, for the record) is basically the antithesis of anything you might think about G.I. Joe.  It's all about espionage and deep character study, far less about war games.  Based on the original glances I took through its pages, Blackhawks looked like it was typical G.I. Joe war games, as if someone at DC had looked at Costa's name and only cared to see that it was associated with G.I. Joe and not what he was doing in the sandbox.  And to a certain extent, that's really what happened.  The thing is, Costa still made the most of it.  His Blackhawks are the good guys (until recently he only had token Joes in his Cobra), but in these issues (which I opted to sample based on the Collected Editions recommendation) there's a similar (if not exactly the same) focus on character rather than fairly generic action that I had expected.  Now I'm sorry I skipped reading this one.  It was quickly cancelled, and Costa was not welcomed back by DC.  Now I may even have to track down the whole collection.

Flashpoint: The Canterbury Cricket (DC)
From August 2011:
This is something I bought at the time and was forced to part with (along with many, many other treasured memories) when I sold my comic book collection last fall.  The whole reason I remain obsessed with the Canterbury Cricket is that it was the odd original creation during the Flashpoint event, and that seemed like something worth commemorating.  As his name suggests, the Cricket is British, part of the resistance movement during the Amazon/Atlantis conflict that was one of the many things happening in the background of Barry Allen's existential crisis.  He is also, as the name suggests, a giant cricket, although he used to be human.  One of the things fans of Marvel characters always say is that they're so relatably human, even the ones who don't look so human anymore like Ben Grimm a.k.a. Thing from the Fantastic Four.  And over at DC it's always been reliable that the characters who used to be human but aren't as much anymore get much better exploration, like Man-Bat, Blue Devil or even Jason Blood (the flipside of Etrigan the Demon).  Canterbury Cricket, as depicted by erstwhile editor Mike Carlin, is all about that, and what's interesting is that he views the transformation as a good thing, because he didn't like who he used to be.  It's a lot like Spider-Man but without the Great Guilt Trip.  I'd love for this character to appear again.

Flashpoint: Abin Sur - The Green Lantern #3 (DC)
From October 2011:
With the release of the woebegone Green Lantern movie in 2011, there was a good amount of bonus releases featuring characters from the franchise that year.  One of the things I loved about Flashpoint was that it found ample space to share this love, including several spin-off mini-series including this one featuring Hal Jordan's predecessor.  Abin Sur is one of the great characters in fiction who is technically dead the moment he becomes relevant.  He also had a comeback in Brightest Day, which ended at the end of the old continuity, otherwise he might have been the ultimate recipient of the fabled white ring of spectrum power.  He had another shot here.  Maybe I'm mixing up the stories now, but he ends the issue with a white ring here, too.  Throughout much of it he's also battling his doomed persona thanks to Sinestro.  In the lore Abin and Sinestro were actually pals.  Sinestro was in love with Abin's sister.  Like Canterbury Cricket I think there's ongoing potential in exploring Abin Sur's story.  It seems somehow wrong that with Green Lantern we not only get thousands of potential characters to follow but also a rich history that has barely been scratched.  You could go worse than to spend a little more time with Abin Sur.

Flashpoint: The Outsider #3 (DC)
From October 2011:
Technically the lead character in this one is in the title, another of the rogue genius manipulators who populate a lot of comics.  But this issue also features the Flashpoint version of Martian Manhunter.  Martian Manhunter is always fascinating.  His origins are unique and his relationship to humans is equally unique.  He's the real outsider here.  But what's perhaps more fascinating about the issue, written by James Robinson, is that it strongly evokes 52, the sensational experiment that proved weekly comics were possible in the modern era.  It weaves Black Adam into the story, more as a reference than a character, but that's enough.  I didn't get a chance to read most of the Flashpoint spin-offs (something I hope to rectify at some point), and this was in fact my first experience with this one.  It was a good issue to catch.

Flashpoint #5 (DC)
From October 2011:
I read the complete Flashpoint mini-series itself in 2011, and it was a highlight of my year, a year I was trying to quit comics.  It was a very good very bad thing to happen.  It was brilliant.  Geoff Johns had brought Barry Allen back in The Flash: Rebirth, and then spent about a year in the subsequent ongoing series before launching this event based entirely around him.  It was a little disappointing for some fans to think he'd be walking away after it (Geoff spent half a decade writing the Wally West version of The Flash), but he'd already accomplished the unthinkable.  Barry Allen's previous highlight was dying in Crisis On Infinite Earths.  He was made into the central character when Marv Wolfman wrote a prose adaptation of his own story.  It was Mark Waid who pushed the franchise into a more central position, but it was Flashpoint that made it possible for everything to pivot around the Scarlet Speedster.  Geoff envisioned the ultimate conflict between Barry and his nemesis Eobard Thawne, Professor Zoom.  Thawne tricked Barry into changing history and affecting an entire alternate reality.  Another of the side stories in the world of Flashpoint was that Thomas Wayne never died and it was him who became Batman.  This final issue makes this particular element so much more poignant when Barry has managed to correct the timeline, but with a message from Thomas to his son Bruce.  An animated movie based on Flashpoint is due to be released in July, and there has been some criticism (possibly only among Flash fans) that the Batman element has been retained as a key element.  It really should be.

Sovereign Seven #1 (DC)
From July 1995:
I read the complete Sovereign Seven as it was originally released in the '90s (fun fact! Power Girl eventually became a replacement member of the team).  It was a big sensation at the start, mostly because Chris Claremont was the writer.  Claremont made his name making the X-Men into legitimate icons in the '80s (the upcoming Days of the Future Past movie is based on one of Claremont's best stories, as was the Jean Grey/Phoenix arc from the second and third films).  He was a genius at team dynamics and mythology.  That's what Sovereign Seven was all about.  Each of the members from this team were exiled royalty from alien worlds.  The result was more fantasy than superheroics.  I suspect this may have been one of the reasons fans became disillusioned.  Maybe another was that it was difficult to tell how this creator-owned series related to the rest of the DC landscape.  Ham-fisted attempts at better integration (hence Power Girl) were made later, but by then it was too late.  Please note to creators of new characters in a shared universe: it's never a good thing to be isolated, and it's never enough to have cameo appearances in your own book.  You need to appear elsewhere.  You need to be accepted into the family in the family.  It might seem scary to lend your shiny new character to someone else so soon, but that's where the real strength of the concept shines.  Claremont further annoyed fans by ending the series by apparently suggesting his characters were fictional in their own world, too.  I think there's still room for a serious revival, and Claremont need not necessarily be involved.  Although it would be far less likely to happen without him.

Vertigo Preview (DC)
From 1992:
This was the most sensational discovery for me, the vintage preview book for the launch of DC's Vertigo imprint.  The flavor of what was to come had already begun in Neil Gaiman's Sandman and other projects, but this was the dawn of a whole new era.  There's an introduction from recently departed iconic Vertigo editor Karen Berger to kick off the festivities.  Then previews of all the books of the official freshmen class.  First off is Gaiman's own Death: The High Cost of Living, spinning off from Sandman.  Death is the ultimate Goth Chick, even better than the real thing.  Peter Milligan, long associated with Vertigo and another of the writers of the '80s British Invasion, is represented with Enigma.  The reliable J.M. DeMatteis is present with Mercy.  Anne Nocenti, one of the longest-tenured women in comics, has Kid Eternity.  Grant Morrison, of course, must be here too, and it's with Sebastian O, though he'd win much greater Vertigo acclaim with The Invisibles, in some ways his magnum opus.  Black Orchid is featured with Dick Foreman and Jill Thompson.  Animal Man, which Morrison had helped shape into the Vertigo groove, is here with Jamie Delano.  Doom Patrol, also shaped by Morrison into the proper configuration, is here with Rachel Pollack (Pollack and Delano and Milligan were all reliable Vertigo staples in the early days).  John Constantine, Hellblazer, is written by Garth Ennis with art from frequent collaborator Steve Dillon.  Ennis would stake his Vertigo fame with Preacher years later.  Milligan also has Shade the Changing Man.  Nancy Collins has Swamp Thing (in its '80s Alan Moore incarnation perhaps the prototypical of all prototypical Vertigo, besides '70s horror comics like House of Mystery).  Of course the coup de grace for this whole preview is an exclusive (i.e. original) Sandman tale from Gaiman, which is pretty much exactly Gaiman giving his pressing and introduction to the whole venture.  Pretty awesome.

X-Men 2099 #1 (Marvel)
From October 1993:
In the brief period where my brothers were the ones in the family who read comics (they were both older than me), they read Star Wars and X-Men and Batman comics.  They caught the 1992 bestselling X-Men relaunch.  I got to read a lot of "Knightfall" because they did.  One of them got the complete collection of the original zero issues from Zero Hour.  And then they stopped and scoffed at the whole thing, much like they did their appreciation of Hootie and the Blowfish.  I remained fans of both comics and Hootie.  A lousy psychiatrist would say I did that because I spend my life trying to catch up to my brothers.  I prefer to believe it's because I still appreciate these things.  Sometimes when someone believes they've outgrown something, they just never go back.  That's just how it is.  The discovery I most appreciate from my brothers is X-Men 2099.  The whole 2099 line was a brief experiment to revamp the Marvel landscape with new incarnations set in the future.  People still talk about Spider-Man 2099 (well, sometimes), but to my mind the money remains with X-Men 2099.  My perennial problem with X-Men comics in general is the same I have with all Marvel comics: they only pay lip service to the conflicts at the heart of their concepts.  X-Men 2099 is everything a mutant fan ought to love.  None of the faces are familiar but they're all engaged in the same tragic struggle you love from all the ones you do know.  Like the rogue members who began populating the comics you remember (Wolverine, Storm...Rogue), these guys were all outsiders even to each other.  Someday, much like my Flashpoint ambition, I hope to read the complete X-Men 2099.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Quarter Bin #48 "Day of Judgment, Flash, and Green Lantern"

Comics featured in the Quarter Bin column were not necessarily bought from a quarter bin.  This is a back issues feature.

Day of Judgment #3 & 4 (DC)
From November 1999:
I've been wanting to read Day of Judgment for years.  For any number of reasons.  One of them is that it was released in 1999.  I quit reading comics in the spring of 1999 as I prepared for college.  Ever since then I've been trying to catch up with everything I missed between that time and 2004, when I started transitioning back into regular reading.  1999 was significant for a lot of reasons, and one of them was that it was the first big year for Geoff Johns at DC.  He started out writing the fairly innocuous Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E., a kid punches version of Starman.  And yet the company seemed to know it had something far bigger than that right out of the gate.  Years later Johns became an event machine for DC, but his very first one was Day of Judgment.  That's not even the only hallmark for this event.  It was also the last stop on the redemption tour for fallen Green Lantern Hal Jordan, who had gone on an epic rampage as Parallax before sacrificing himself in The Final Night.  Day of Judgment saw him assume hosting duties for DC's Spirit of Vengeance, the Spectre.  The Spectre is always a hard character to write on a regular basis.  He's envisioned as the embodiment of God's Wrath, dispensing justice in grim and ironic ways.

I spent years looking through back issue bins for Day of Judgment.  It was never collected, and it was impossible to find (unless you use the Internet cheat and were willing to pay for the pleasure of reading this increasingly obscure adventure).  Johns finished the redemption of Hal in the pages of Green Lantern: Rebirth, with the hero literally shedding the identity of the Spectre like changing an outfit.  If you want the lasting legacy of this phase in the character's history, it sits in the pages of Kevin Smith's Green Arrow: Quiver (which only figures, because Hal and Oliver Queen have their own brand of DC history).  Earlier this year, even knowing that DC was finally going to collect the mini-series, I was still looking for the back issues.  I came across these, like a preview (rest assured I have the collection and will write about that, too).  The most curious thing about it is the art, which is the reverse of anything you'd expect, much subdued.  (Soon enough DC would go in the opposite direction in that regard, immortalized in Our Worlds at War and the existence of Manchester Black.)

I'll leave this one for the moment with the thought that it was worth the wait.

The Flash 80-Page Giant (DC)
From April 1999:
In the spring of 1999 Mark Waid was still writing The Flash, immersed in the subsequently lost saga known as "Chain Lightning," but DC was already preparing for the post-Waid Speed Force.  He doesn't write a single story in this special, although his editor Brian Augustyn does.  There are seven tales from a variety of creators.  The first one is Augustyn's and features Wally West teaming up with Jay Garrick, something that not uncommon in the Waid era.  There's a vintage Teen Titans of the original lineup (with West again in his classic Kid Flash getup), then another Wally tale that evokes the pre-Waid era, then another Wally tale, then another one that at least ruminates on his relationship with Linda Park.  Finally we get one that features someone else entirely (mostly), the Flash featured in Kingdom, the Waid reality that evoked his own Kingdom Come.  The final tale features XS, the Legion of Super-Heroes speedster.  I always wondered why she was mostly neglected as a character.  I don't she even exists these days, which is pretty sad.  Soon enough, Geoff Johns was writing Wally's adventures and then rewriting the legacy of The Flash by bringing back Barry Allen.  This serves as a nice time capsule between these eras, so I guess it's only right that Waid was not technically involved.

Green Lantern #167 (DC)
From September 2003:
I got this issue from the Judd Winick era mostly because the cover image inadvertantly evokes the later Geoff Johns era with an alien who looks very much like a member of the Indigo Tribe.  Who knows, and that's as much as why I wanted to have this one, but maybe Johns was inspired by this very issue, or perhaps just the cover?  It seems reasonable enough.  There's even an alien on the very first page who looks exactly like Larfleeze.  It's worth noting that in the back page DC projects preview section, Geoff's Teen Titans #1 and Waid's Superman: Birthright #1 and Empire #1 are listed.  I don't plan all these connections.  They just happen.

Green Lantern #181 (DC)
From November 2004:
This one's the final issue of Kyle Rayner before Green Lantern: Rebirth.  It's fittingly written by Ron Marz, Kyle's creator, who hadn't actually written Kyle regularly for years at this point.  It'd been creators like Winick and Ben Raab in the meantime.  I'd caught a previous "final Rayner issue from Marz" during one of the rare comics I caught during my exile (Marz would later write a Rayner mini-series called Ion based on a character revision from Winick), so I'm happy to close this loop.  In the issue he battles Major Force, a villain whose main claim to fame was originating the hideous "women in fridges" syndrome in Kyle's early adventures when he shockingly murdered the new Green Lantern's girlfriend Alex, whom readers might have assumed would be a love interest with longevity.  The last bit of trivia I'll mention is that the issue is edited by Peter Tomasi, who would go on to a successful writing career with Green Lantern Corps being one of his first assignments.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Reading Comics #114 "Rounding Toward Third"

Batman Incorporated #9 & 10 (DC)
The issues that follow the death of Damian Wayne are pretty interesting and speak to the significant impact of the event as well as how it fits into the rest of what Grant Morrison has been doing in his final Batman arc.  #9 cuts between the immediate aftermath of Damian's death as Batman and Nightwing attempt to handle the other Damian (a clone matured to adulthood by proud mama Talia, who was nonetheless displeased that one killed the other) and the funeral, where Bruce lets Alfred know that he too is displeased in the butler's tacit approval of his late son's last caper.  That's probably the best moment of the issue.  The former Squire also decides to replace the late Knight (the two were the most prominent members of Batman Inc., featured in an excellent and very British mini-series by Paul Cornell).  The city of Gotham, meanwhile, gives in to Leviathan a.k.a. Talia's demands and officially outlaws Batman, the agent provocateur.  #10 sees Morrison circle back to his earliest issues in this run, where Manbats were flying about.  It's also a direct evocation of Batman's origins, as Bruce decides that the only way to defeat Talia is to literally become a bat, thanks to the Manbat serum.  It's a powerful, meaning-filled development.  There are three issues left, plus a jam issue a month later featuring the international heroes technically represented in the title of this series.

Batman: Li'l Gotham #1 (DC)
I've been following the blog of Derek Fridolfs for a while now, and by extension his Facebook posts, and it's always been a little weird because Fridolfs is mostly a digital-first creator, his stories originally appearing on the DC website and then being printed later.  He's best known for his comics based on the Arkham City games (and as such that was the basis of the excellent Endgame Joker story I read last year) and Batman Beyond landscape, though recently he's been collaborating with the great Dustin Nguyen on Li'l Gotham.  This issue is a collection of the holiday specials that served as the introduction of these incredibly fun tales.  Fridolfs is clearly a fan of continuity, and he's always finding new ways to explore it, mindful that for some readers, especially in these fringe adventures, it could very well be their first exposures.  Since he doesn't write New 52 material, Fridolfs can do whatever he wants.  Li'l Gotham is technically considered a young readers title, but it can easily be enjoyed by anyone strictly as a humor series.

Before Watchmen: Comedian #6 (DC)
The conclusion of this mini-series and the whole Before Watchmen event, I've been waiting months for this.  Comedian became the only part of the event I tracked for every issue of original publication thanks to Brian Azzarello's masterful character study of Edward Blake and his relation both to the Vietnam War and the John/Robert Kennedy saga.  Azzarello made a few changes to Blake's classic arc; for instance the infamous face scarring that forced him to wear a mask doesn't occur in this comic.  The lead character in this series remains more of a hero than antihero, though certainly stained by the events of his times.  Edward and Bobby end the issue trying to make the best of a bad situation and not really succeeding.  Bobby, of course, is assassinated.  Edward's demons are more psychological, but they're impactful.  I read someone's assessment of the Before Watchmen project, and they labeled Comedian as one of the disappointments.  I still contend it was the best of the whole thing, and I think history will side with me, just as anyone who read Watchmen itself ended up thinking a lot differently about Edward at the end of it than they did at the beginning (or...every other point).  That's the magic of the character.

Django Unchained #3 (Vertigo)
Now that I've actually seen the movie, it's a different experience reading the comic book adaptation of Quentin Tarantino's complete script.  With the first two issues, I was discovering the story outside of the movie's direct influence.  Now it's harder to separate the two, although the adaptation is still making the story its own, retaining all the distinct advantages of the comic book format, and new artist Denys Cowan continues to keep the art equally distinctive, evocative and yet unique.  The series is halfway through, and on the final page introduces Calvin Candie, the character portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio in the film.

Justice League #18 (DC)
This will probably be my final issue of the series.  While Geoff Johns continues work on Justice League (and its spin-off I'll be talking about next) and is gearing up for "Trinity War," the event that he's been working toward since the start of the New 52 and introduction of the mysterious Pandora (very soon to be featured in her own series), I'm not really in the financial means to continuing reading new comics on a regular basis.  I've been in the position to have a much smoother conclusion than in 1999 (known as cold turkey) or my abortive efforts in 2011 (when Flashpoint and the start of the New 52 sabotaged a similar design).  Grant Morrison concludes his Superman and Batman stories this year, and Johns is stepping down from Green Lantern.  I couldn't ask for a better exit.  Justice League has been consistently excellent, and this of all issues is a fine place to stop (and just as well to begin for readers in a different situation than me).  It's the customary recruitment issue.  Morrison did something similar in his JLA run, and it's been a staple for subsequent writers like Brad Meltzer.  Lots of new faces are here.  The issue also features the tenth installment of the Shazam! backup feature from Johns and Gary Frank, where the erstwhile Captain Marvel and always-kid Billy Batson finds it increasingly difficult to avoid the inevitable confrontation with Black Adam.

Justice League of America #2 (DC)
Another comics blog I follow, Crisis on Earth Prime, found this Hawkman/Vibe moment pretty memorable: Vibe says "Are you okay?," to which Hawkman responds "Why?"  Vibe next says "You're covered in blood," and Hawkman says "It's not my blood."  Vibe spends the next two panels putting some distance between them, and there are no words.  They're not necessary.  Johns wrote Hawkman both in the pages of JSA and his own title for years, but this may be the best scene he's ever done with the character.  There's also a pretty interesting Catwoman moment where she realizes how similar she is to Steve Trevor in the department of being spurned by giants.  This is the strength of the series, that Johns is able to write characters who aren't necessarily icons.  He actually writes both his League books in much the same way, but this one just feels more intimate.  These characters all have something to prove and they know it.  There's a backup feature in this series, too, featuring Martian Manhunter, who gets my vote as the best character too many people don't really care about.  He would make for an excellent movie.

The Mice Templar, Volume IV: Legend #1 (Image)
The series featuring fuzzy rodents that everyone who cares knows about is Mouse Guard, but Mice Templar has always had my vote for the better of them.  It's an iconic new take on the traditional hero's journey, always taking original twists and turns.  After a considerable absence, I'm glad to see it return.  I started reading these adventures in 2007.

Nova #2 (Marvel)
I loved the first issue of this new Jeph Loeb series, an integral element of Marvel's renewed Guardians of the Galaxy push (seeing that there's going to be a movie and all).  I didn't just love it, I adored it, one of the best single issues I've ever read.  You may have guessed at this point that I wasn't so wild about the second issue.  That's okay.

Saucer Country #13 (Vertigo)
The penultimate issue of this series (although Paul Cornell contends that he will attempt to revive it elsewhere) busts one of the key bits of mythology.  The previous issue had a distraught Professor Kidd apparently about to commit suicide, which turned out to be a ruse in order to get the "Pioneer space probe couple" stand revealed as a hoax.  The whole series has been about perception and reality in the world of alien abduction, following the presidential campaign of Arcadia Alvarado, who has been trying to come to grips with her own apparent abduction, which has only been complicated by the fact that she shared it with her estranged husband Michael.  It's been a fascinating ride.

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Hive #4 (IDW)
The conclusion of this Borg epic that represents Brannon Braga's ultimate vision for the Collective and the roles Jean-Luc Picard and Seven of Nine (featured in Voyager) play in it.  In a lot of ways, it's a rephrasing of Voyager's final episode "Endgame."  There's also a little of a Star Trek Nemesis hangover involved as Future Data reveals how he returned (and not because as fans thought simply reborn as B4), which serves as an excellent ending after an emotional farewell to another character.  Pretty good stuff, although it would certainly be interesting to watch as filmed material.

Star Trek #19 (IDW)
This series is based in the rebooted continuity of the 2009 J.J. Abrams film and was originally set up to adapt classic episodes from the original series with the new interpretations of the familiar characters.  I don't know how many issues have deviated from this mission, but this one in particular certainly does and it's well worth enjoying for it.  Simply put, this is the secret origin of Scotty, from his family heritage to the incident with Admiral Archer's beagle (evoking similar characters from Enterprise but not the exact ones, because that was a hundred years in the past).  Good stuff.

(Justice League of America's) Vibe #1 (DC)
I had to go back and catch this one after initially skipping it.  Both spin-offs of the new series look like they're well worth checking out, this one and Katana.  What's intriguing about Vibe is that it follows a character who in his previous incarnation was all but a punchline, more famous as a casualty of a forgettable League lineup than anything he did or represented personally.  As with Earth 2, this is another series that builds on the initial Darkseid arc of Justice League, and brilliantly at that.  Departing Earth 2 writer James Robinson is still most famous for Starman, a series he cleverly hinged around legacy, but in a twist that no one would have seen coming when Jack Knight quickly replaced his more traditional brother David as successor to their father Ted.  Geoff Johns does something very similar here with the new Vibe, who is also notable for having the ability to see beyond the regular limits of this particular reality.  It's Geoff revising his own Booster Gold revision, the also-ran who became a multiverse champion following the breakthrough 52 experiment.  I don't know how long this series will last, but to my mind Vibe has everything to gain from all of this.  He's just become one of the most fascinating characters in DC.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Reading Comics #113 "Free Comic Book Day, Part 2"

By Saturday evening I'd lost my opportunity to experience Free Comic Book Day in its purest form, and yet the hangover proved perhaps more interesting than the regularly-scheduled celebration.  I've previously discussed my visit to Muse Comics in Colorado Springs on the day itself.  Now we'll talk about Sunday.

There are a surprising number of comic book stores in Colorado Springs.  As of this year there are even two shops for Escape Velocity, formerly known as Bargain Comics, which should be considered the godfather of them all.  There's also Heroes & Dragons, which was my entry point in the city when I moved here in 2007.  Ed's Cards and Comics is the third of these, rounding out the shops carrying new releases on a regular basis.  Yesterday I didn't go to any of these.  Instead I felt like making a trip to CK Comics in Manitou Springs, just to visit it for the first time.

After some initial scouring I wasn't terribly impressed.  It seemed like much more of a comics novelty shop than anything, and doesn't even overtly display new releases.  Yet it had been advertised by the FCBD site as participating in the event.  I already knew that Heroes & Dragons doesn't participate.  Escape Velocity is usually good to have some extra copies after the day itself, but doubtfully the main ones.  So CK it was...hopefully.  I looked and I looked.  Eventually I found one of those comic book boxes on the floor, and it contains oodles of FCBD comics.  Not all of them, but at this point I'm far more of a beggar than a chooser, right?

Still, this was a bountiful offering.  Here's what I got and what I thought of them:

Bongo Free-for-All (Bongo)
This publisher almost exclusively deals with Simpsons comics (with Futurama tossed in every now and again).  I've read some of it, strictly on a sporadic basis.  I love the cartoon, have for years (but mostly must abstain from the ever-persistent is-it-worse-than-before? debate as I don't get to watch on a regular basis these days, although every time I've watched new episodes I've still been amused), and the comics do a good job of capturing its spirit in a different format.  The characters do in fact translate well even without their distinctive voices.  There are several stories in the issue.  The first involves Bart behaving atypically well, which itself isn't the apocalyptic development everyone takes t for, but merely the result of a bet he made with Milhouse, his best friend.  It's the lead and best story.  Another one features L'il Homer concerning his reluctance to take a bath and his father (known as Grampa or Abe) trying to tell him a cautionary tale that is welcomed much differently than intended.  The art takes subtle liberties from the Matt Groening archetypes, which is always nice to see.

Chakra the Invincible (Graphic India)
The most notable thing about this one is that it's the latest of the latter-day Stan Lee creations.  What's different about this one is that it's very much from the basic '60s archetype (I guess that's the word of the day) he established at Marvel, set in India.  I don't know if there's a wide American audience for this, but seems much more natural and capable of sustaining more than just a novelty act than just about anything he's done for years.  He's credited for concept and story, but he's not a writer.  The other thing of note is the "Invincible" subtitle.  Invincible is also a long-running Robert Kirkman series over at Image (a hundred issues and counting!), so it's a little funny to see this word (also frequently used in association with Iron Man) in use again.

Grimm #0 (Dynamite)
Dynamite is one of many smaller publishers that lives and breathes on licensed comics and established properties.  Grimm is also a TV series, one that seems to be amassing a cult audience that grows over time.  It's pretty clever, and this issue explains the whole concept, how the main character is a descendant of the famous brothers who helped codify fairy tales.  He alone is capable of seeing the true faces of the monsters who have integrated themselves into modern society.  The issue also includes a preview for the upcoming Damsels, which is a lot like what Bill Willingham has been doing in Vertigo's Fables, or the TV series Once Upon a Time, or even the cheesecakey comics of Zenescope.  The writers, Leah Moore and John Reppion, have been Dynamite's in-house literary classics/adaptation experts since their work with Alice in Wonderland and Dracula.  With the success of this spring's Oz the Great and Powerful in movie theaters, it may very well prove that fairy tale characters are due to succeed vampires and zombies as the new obsession.

Infinity (Marvel)
A preview for an upcoming event book, Infinity is also a canny bid to capitalize on the appearance of Thanos in the credits of last summer's blockbuster Avengers flick.  The company is making a concerted effort to shift its space-based properties to greater prominence, and this is a huge art of that.  The writer is Jonathan Hickman, who continues to try and elevate his name in the comics pantheon (Thanos was previously the baby of legend Jim Starlin).  The title is a nod to the classic Infinity Gauntlet (and its various sequels), which is also one of the odd bit of convergences between Marvel and DC, which bases a lot of its legacy on Crisis on Infinite Earths (and its various sequels).  Most of this preview with weird alien creatures and a mythology that only in its final pages points to Thanos, thereby making the whole thing exactly like Avengers.  (Marvel tends to repeat itself a lot.)  The artist is Jim Cheung, whom I still associate with the original Young Avengers.  He's got a playful yet serious style, which looks quite different in this altered context.  There's also a reprint of a vintage Thanos appearance.  For the record, Thanos has my vote as undisputed best Marvel villain.

KaBoom! Summer Blast! (Boom!)
KaBoom is the young readers imprint of Boom!, a company that at this point might as well admit that it has all but been driven into irrelevance by the licensed properties on display here.  Adventure Time is a crudely animated cartoon series that captures the spirit of the way children play (when they're playing something other than video games).  Amusingly (and confusingly), the story of Finn and Jake featured here takes the form of the classic Choose Your Own Adventure books.  There are a lot of crazy arrows directing how to read it, but it's almost as much fun (and appropriate) to read all of the possible directions at the same time.  There are a few other such segments (including one based on te Ice Age movies), and there are also ones based on Peanuts and Garfield, two classic comic strips.  Peanuts creator Charles Schulz has been dead for more than a decade, and newspapers have continued to rerun the old strips, plus the regular airing of the Christmas TV special, but it's good that these characters live on in new adventures.  Amusingly, this one is all about Charlie Brown teaching the reader how to draw Linus, all while obsessing over baseball.  In fact, he uses baseball images to guide the entire process!  It's good stuff.  If this special guides readers to any of the featured titles,  would think they would undoubtedly be Adventure Time and Peanuts, unless readers don't like imaginative storytelling.

Star Wars/Captain Midnight/Avatar: The Last Airbender (Dark Horse)
This one's a grab bag, too, features three different spotlights, two of which are featured on the flipbook format's covers (the first and last I've listed).  I'm mostly familiar with Last Airbender thanks to the M. Night Shyamalan movie (which I loved).  The story in this issue is a tad like the Phil Hester comic I talked about in Part 1 of this FCBD series.  The Captain Midnight episode, meanwhile, is part of the company's periodic effort to enter the superhero game, mostly using characters they tried in the '90s as well.  A lot of these smaller publishers seem to equate prior publishing history as a built-in legacy that will compete with those of DC and Marvel.  I think they're slightly mistaken.  Captain Midnight is very much a pulp hero, which is something Dark Horse is going for this time (and so did DC when it did the Doc Savage comics a few years ago, in a line that also revived Will Eisner's The Spirit, while some other publishers are doing every unsigned Golden Age hero).  Anyway, the final one is Brian Wood on Star Wars.  Dark Horse has done thousands of Star Wars comics at this point, as much the definition of the expanded saga as any of the books.  "Expanded" means mostly noncanonical, but that doesn't seem to bother the publisher.  Wood is an indy star, and has recently burnished that reputation with Dark Horse as writer of The Massive (which reminded me of an earlier and superior series from the same publisher known as Zero Killer).  He seems to think it's just as well as anyone else who has written Star Wars in comics or books to pretty much play fast and loose with logic in order to have "kewl" moments.  In fact, that's what his whole story with Darth Vader, set just before the events of A New Hope, is all about, and yes, Boba Fett (as is often the case with these comics) is shoehorned into the story.  Although Dark Horse does score some points from me for the soon-to-launch comics based on George Lucas's original notes for The Star Wars.

The Walking Dead (Image)
The extremely clever thing that Robert Kirkman did for this special issue was to include new material.  Most of it is reprinted from origins of characters like Michonne and the Governor (both of whom were heavily featured in the latest season of the TV series), but one of the more obscure characters (as far as my experience goes) also gets some significant love.  Tyreese appeared pretty early in the comics, but has really only just popped in the series.  He's the one who gets the exclusive material.  Apparently he was envisioned as the replacement Shane, who in my mind not only completely stole the second season but was also the best reason to watch both the season and series as a whole, emblematic of what I think is the true strength of the series, not the sensationalism but the very human foibles on display, whether in extreme circumstances or otherwise (although yes, Darryl was an immediate standout for me, too).  I've read the comic sporadically (although pretty regularly for a few months), but I think the series does it more justice.  Kirkman, especially in this special spotlighting reactions to a suddenly apocalyptic setting, does a good job of being thought-provoking, but I'm not sure if he's just incredibly cynical (although not as much as Cormac McCarthy was in The Road, and certainly not as redemptive as Stephen King in The Stand) or taking an extremely long time to explore his story (he says he envisions two hundred [or maybe it was three?] issues), and that just seems excessive and leaves most of it seem unfocused rather than methodical.

Reading Comics #112 "Free Comic Book Day, Part 1"

My experience of Free Comic Book Day technically takes three faces.  The first was Free Comic Book Day itself, which is the subject of this post.  Then there was yesterday's hangover, and also downloads from comiXology.  Now, I haven't read the downloads yet, and I'm not sure when that'll happen.  Hopefully soonish.  That leaves the two batches of physical comics I have read, and they were fruitful indeed, which is half the reason why I'm separating the two days in two posts.

The first day was a little delayed.  I worked a morning to early evening shift.  Usually I love to be one of the customers lining up before the store opens on FCBD.  That just wasn't going to happen.  So I hustled to Muse Comics in Colorado Springs after I got off and looked around excitedly  for the freebies.  Muse had two tables set up (usually where their gaming tables are set up, because even twenty years later it's still sound business for a comic book shop to double as a gaming emporium), one for kids and one for adults.

Now, I've already said that this was significantly late in the day.  Obviously I can't say how many of the actual titles Muse originally had, but by the point they had something like two left.  One was on the kids table, the other on the adults, and it was Image's Walking Dead contribution (more on that in Part 2).  But the thing that Muse did that was really cool was to compensate the stragglers like me by placing some older back issues for free consumption.  Most of them were exactly what you'd expect from typical back issue bargain fodder, but the dedicated (and knowledgeable) sifters were in for some even bigger surprise treats.  Maybe this is how it was for earlier patrons (and maybe why they ran out of the intended comics so quickly; in my experience at Escape Velocity it was always three), but we could choose up to five, and I ended up having to make some surprisingly painful choices.  I gave up a vintage Ambush Bug, folks.  Ambush Bug!  Yet I think I made some good choices.  Without further adieu, here's my haul from this unexpected version of FCBD:

1602 #8 (Marvel)
from June 2004:

(And yes, the format of this post will look very familiar to those readers who have read the Quarter Bin columns here at Comics Reader.)  Simply put, I was amazed that this was among the offerings.  It was the chief reason why I thought there must be some mistake, that they couldn't just be giving those comics away.  This, along with Eternals (based on a Jack Kirby concept very similar to his New Gods over at DC), is one of Neil Gaiman's very few stories for Marvel.  It's all the familiar characters set in colonial times, and it's the end of the mini-series.  I've never read the complete let alone any of 1602, but I've long been aware of it.  The interesting thing to my mind is that Steve Rogers (a.k.a. Captain America) is the lone character to be represented by his actual self, having traveled through time and become basically an adopted Native American, very similarly to what Grant Morrison later did in The Return of Bruce Wayne.  Rogers is already famous for two different eras, which is one of the things the recent Avengers movies has depicted very well.  The rest of the characters are all clever extrapolations of their familiar selves, though Matthew Murdock (a.k.a. Daredevil) perhaps has one of the more interesting variations (a lot more assertive, certainly).  Nick Fury is a central character in this issue.  Peter Parker (I'm using all their familiar names but they have contemporary versions in the story; this one is also known as Spider-Man, obviously) is a boy.  The X-Men are still in factional disputes.  The science geeks still speak in general science geeks terms as if they're exactly the same level of advanced awareness then as they are now.  It's interesting that in both instances with his Marvel material, Gaiman works far more diligently with established lore than he does at DC (see: Sandman, a master class of iconoclast literature).

All Star Superman #12 (DC)
from October 2008:

In the collection I no longer have, I had the complete All Star Superman.  This is the final issue of the maxi-series.  In it Lex Luthor has availed himself of the same temporary duplication of Superman's powers that Lois Lane enjoyed earlier (a somewhat different experience than she had in Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman).  He thinks he's finally gotten everything he wanted.  He thinks he's finally triumphed over Superman.  Now, the whole point of the story Grant Morrison tells in this series was to see what Superman would do if he thought he was about to die.  He essentially becomes an even more mythical version of himself.  There are clear echoes in the later Action Comics stories, though in those Morrison tries his hardest to remained subdued (doesn't really work too well, admittedly).  Here he makes the point that Luthor again fails to achieve his stated goal of being mankind real savior "if given the chance," again proving what really sets these adversaries apart.  At the end of the issue Superman should theoretically be dead, because that was the whole point of the story, but as with "Doomsday" and "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" (the Alan Moore story that closed out the era before the John Byrne reboot in Man of Steel) DC again proves incredibly reluctant to kill off Superman.  It's just something writers can't find themselves willing to do.  The interesting thing is that Morrison fans link this whole story with his earlier DC One Million, which features a Superman who stayed inside the sun for millennia.

Hourman #17 (DC)
from August 2000:

This is a comic that technically comes from DC One Million, actually, as well as 1999's revival of the Justice Society of America, a team that had been dormant for years.  Morrison's JLA was the hottest thing going for a number of years, and the Society came back in JSA, clearly evoking as closely as possible a book that was all about the team's successors.  This version of the Society was heavily focused on legacy, and the Hourman of this series is a version from the future Morrison envisioned from the year DC's comics would hit their millionth issues (so that's the origin of the title).  The original Hourman famously gained his powers (for one hour at a time, hence his name) from a wonder drug (some slightly more recent comics have explored the ironies of this in the steroids era, which Marvel hasn't addressed with, ahem, Captain America).  This Hourman is a machine.  Like an even more obscure series from more or less the same time, Chronos, Hourman was a good series to more directly explore the concept of legacy than even James Robinson's Starman.  I thought it was a heck of an idea, not even just because it was derived from Morrison.  When I look for back issues, I usually tend toward ones like this, from series that most people won't really be thinking about but I'm more than eager to see how it developed after I lost track of it (remember or not, I wasn't a reader from roughly 1999 to 2004 for any kind of regular basis).  I was not disappointed with this return visit.

Relative Heroes #5 (DC)
from July 2000:

I was and am and will remain a big fan of Devin K. Grayson.  Grayson was the most appropriately named writer of Nightwing ever.  It's an assumed name, but as she once described it Devin wasn't purposely going for that kind of synergy.  She first rose to prominence in a mini-series with Nightwing (Dick Grayson) and Huntress, and then had the opportunity for an extended run on Nightwing itself.  I never did find out why she eventually went on a kind of exile, but still suspect that the ridiculous controversies that crept up in the middle of that run (and perhaps how it ended thanks in part to the developments of Infinite Crisis) were largely responsible.  She's a writer who knows how to handle high concept while remaining incredibly intimate.  That trait is on display in Relative Heroes, about a pair of shape-shifting alien siblings who end up in one of the many teenage teams that tend to crop up in comics.  (Two that are among my favorites but are in fact obscure were featured in Superboy and the Ravers and The Next.)  Reading this issue (the last before the conclusion of the mini-series) is almost like reading Young Avengers five years earlier (but without successor angst).  It makes me wish all the more than Grayson would come back to comics in some kind of regular basis.

Stronghold #1 (DDP)
from August 2005:

Grayson and Phil Hester both had a number of selections I had to choose from, which was a really good and yet really frightening prospect.  To my mind, they're both members of a club that should be among the all-stars of the comics creative community today.  For whatever reason, neither are.  Hester is better known as an artist, but he's also an extremely capable writer, and this is just another example (others that I'm personally familiar with are Golly! and The Anchor).  Stronghold might be considered a kind of cross between Hancock, Superman, and Unbreakable.  It's the story of a cult that exists to protect humanity from a god-like being who if ever exposed for what he is would provoke the apocalypse, because his archenemy is basically the Devil.  So the cult actively engages in keeping this being completely ignorant of what he truly is.  So also a little like The Truman Show.  It manipulates every aspect of his life.  We follow both this guy and the young woman who has basically just undergone the cult's own Rumspringa, the Amish rite of passage where young adults can choose to experience the outside world and decide for themselves if they will return to their previous life.  It's all pretty fascinating.  I mention Superman because if anyone, much less Hester, ever approached him like that, regardless of whether they wanted to commitment as fully to the idea as Stronghold, it could totally revolutionize the Man of Steel.  It's basically how Lex Luthor views him anyway.  So I am very happy to have discovered and read this one, too.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Green Lantern #18, 19 (DC)

writer: Geoff Johns
artist: Ardian Syaf, Szymon Kudranski

These are some of the final issues of Geoff Johns writing Green Lantern, something he's been doing since 2004 with the Rebirth mini-series.  Now's as good a time as ever to acknowledge that his interpretation wasn't for everyone.  This is the sort of thing you expect from a generally popular run.  It's perhaps also inevitable when the movie more or less based on this run was more or less a failure at the box office.

#18 picks up with Hal Jordan and Sinestro in the dead zone where they've been trapped for the last several issues thanks to Black Hand (last prominent during Blackest Night a few years back).  One of my personal criticisms of Johns has been that he hasn't always had a strong focus on Hal, the character he helped bring back as an undisputed heroic figure.  What Johns has spent most of his time doing is expanding the Green Lantern mythology.  He's done that in a lot of ways, notably with the idea of the entire traditional color spectrum having its own league of champions, a concept suggested by the prior existence of the yellow ring Sinestro has used and the Star Sapphires.  It might be argued that all Johns has ever done is work on the details neglected by others, treating them as vital elements rather than static concepts.

As the issue progresses, we're reminded that Simon Baz, the most recent human to become drafted into the Green Lantern Corps, has also joined Hal and Sinestro in the dead zone.  Predictably, Sinestro uses the opportunity to selfishly advance his own objectives, believing that he's the only one capable of confronting the First Lantern currently rampaging around the franchise.

Since the New 52 relaunch, Johns has done an excellent job exploring both Hal and Sinestro, and so for them to have ended up in this predicament in an appropriate cumulative point.  When Johns has his characters converse, it's different than when, say, Brian Michael Bendis does so.  Bendis is like a strictly comic book version of Joss Whedon (who has also written comics).  He specializes in clever dialogue, grounded in context but mostly emphasizing the character of the writer.  When Johns does it, he's emphasizing the characters and their particular narratives.  Hal and Sinestro are characters obsessed with their own narratives.  Javier Marias wrote about something called "narrative horror" in Your Face Tomorrow.  This is something neither Hal nor Sinestro suffer from.  Hal is always trying to rise above his problems.  Sinestro is always trying to deny his, or else simply wording them in the best manner possible.  That's what Johns truly seems to grasp.

When those on the outside free Simon, they get Sinestro along for the ride.  Yay everyone but Hal!

#19 is a lot about how Hal intends to follow them out.  The only way is to die and wield the power of the black ring, which only works on the dead.  To do this he has to willingly sacrifice himself.  We've already seen that you can't just die in the dead zone.  Hal discusses this option with Tomar Re, an iconic Green Lantern from a previous era, dead a very long time in continuity but featured (and voiced by the great Geoffrey Rush) in the movie.

Because Simon (the only human Green Lantern created by Johns) and Sinestro are back out in the real world, there's a greater emphasis on the action there.  Simon has been the focus of the title since last fall's #0, but he's taking a back seat in these last issues from Johns to the more familiar faces.  Johns will still be writing him in the Justice League books, so I guess there's that.

The First Lantern, Volthoom, has apparently been a lot like the Batman crossover event foes, doing much the same thing from series to series, and this bugs some readers.  That's par for the course with these events.  It depends on how distinctively the individual writers tell the same story.  Maybe in the collections I'll get to see for myself.  In this issue, he has Sinestro see a vision of his life if he'd never become a Green Lantern.  Sinestro's relationship with his homeworld of Korugar has long been a key element of franchise lore.  In the way Johns has presented him, Sinestro could very easily have been a character on Lost, someone with a dark past in need of redemption that doesn't seem so hard when they're seen in sympathetic light (that's literally every character on Lost).

Hal was contemplating last issue making the leap to his death and everyone else's salvation (well, he's the hero of the title and everything), and he's doing the same at the end of this one.  Johns brought him back from the dead at the start of his run.  Does he reverse that at the end?

When the new writer comes aboard two issues from now, Hal will still be around.  But is the whole point of the First Lantern to provide Johns with another patented reality swipe?  It seems possible.  Johns did it in Infinite Crisis and again in Flashpoint.  That could very well be how next issue ends.

We'll see.

Free Comic Book Day! Tomorrow!

Tomorrow is Free Comic Book Day, the annual holiday for geeks (who love comic books) everywhere (participation may vary).  I've been enjoying it for years.  Last year was a screwy year all around, and it figured that I missed FCBD.  This year I'll be working until the evening, and so hope there's something left when I show up at Muse Comics (any other participating shop in Colorado Springs can be considered right out because of this; if I'd had the option I was planning to hit all the area stores).  I'll try hitting some of the others in the days that follow, even though all the festivities themselves will be over (cosplay is a reliable element at Escape Velocity).

Click on the logo to visit the site and access a store locator engine.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

East of West #1 (Image)

writer: Jonathan Hickman
artist: Nick Dragotta

East of West is a new title, and by itself probably has no real name recognition, but its creators are much more notable.  First is writer Jonathan Hickman, who made his name working at Image on such titles as The Nightly News (an issue or two of which I read at the time) and Pax Romana, but whose work with Marvel in recent years (notably Fantastic Four and its Hickman spin-off FF) has elevated his awareness among comic book fans in general.  Hopefully East of West will help do the same for artist Nick Dragotta.

Apparently he's done quite a bit of work for Marvel, but the only one I'm personally familiar with is Vengeance, a mini-series he did a couple of years ago.  It was sensational, in large part thanks to Dragotta.  Fans didn't really take notice, however.  Thankfully Hickman has noticed him.  Chances are that simply in association, especially in a project like Hickman's homecoming (in addition to The Manhattan Projects), Dragotta's star is bound to rise a little.

Here's another association I'm going to make, this time to American Vampire, the Scott Snyder/Rafael Albuquerque Vertigo series.  In the early issues, Stephen King contributed a serialized story that to my mind is similar to East of West.  The King element was always my favorite element of American Vampire, so from me this is a huge compliment.

Hickman is famously high concept as a writer.  I'm a Grant Morrison guy myself, so I've always been curious about Hickman.  The two really aren't that much more similar besides the penchant for big ideas.  Hickman's big idea in East of West is what if Native Americans had emerged as a significant power during the Civil War.  Needless to say, the landscape changes drastically.  Central to this new landscape is the Second Book of Revelation and a waking vision (think Black Elk Speaks) that become known as The Message.

I also happen to be obsessed with an Oni series called Wasteland.  I've written about it here many times.  East of West might be said to be Wasteland from the other side, where the big mystery is explored from the other side.  We know what we're supposed to be following in this instance, rather than experiencing it the same way as the characters.

If I can make one last allusion, I'll also reference Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples' Saga, also published by Image.  In this context, East of West is like tracking our main characters outside of isolation.

The more I talk and think about it, the more I like East of West, actually.  I came to it because of Dragotta, much as the same reason I still think positively of American Vampire for Albuquerque.  I don't often talk about comics from the perspective of an appreciation for the art, although of course that's half the battle, so it feels nice to acknowledge that for a change.

This one's worth a look.