Thursday, May 29, 2014

Superman #23.3 (DC)

via Comic Book DB
writer: Scott Lobdell
artist: Dan Jurgens

Ha ha!  Wasn't I just complaining about Marvel's convoluted numbering ideas?  Here's DC doing it, too.  At least they did it, this most recent time (and the time before it, the second set of zero issues during a whole zero issue month), for a specific reason.  That was the annual New 52 launch anniversary celebration, which last year featured fifty-two issues spotlighting DC's villains.  It was, appropriately, known as Villains Month.  

Since the villains selected didn't necessarily come from every comic DC was publishing at that time, and also they really wanted to double- and triple- and even quadruple-dip with some of the big name heroes and their well-known villains, that necessitated some wonky numbering.  That meant, basically, that DC had to do the same decimal nonsense Marvel has been doing.  

Thankfully, along with familiar names DC also took the opportunity to help launch some new villains, such as H'El in this particular issue.  The first thing you need to know about H'El is that, yes, someone finally made the obvious play-on-words with Superman's birth name.  The other thing you need to know about him is that he's basically the comic book version of the Zod featured in Man of Steel, a Kryptonian who wants to bring Krypton back, and doesn't particularly care about what (and/or who) needs to be sacrificed in order to do it.

But that's not really all you need to know.  Since Superman's past is rarely the present in the comics, mostly because, well, it's the past and Superman didn't exist so much as his parents on a whole world that had to die in order for his origin to live, lots of creators have taken liberties with the established canon of Krypton and who was doing what in its last days.  H'El is, thusly, a new element of Jor-El mythology.  Jor-El, of course, is Superman's father, the guy responsible for sending baby Kal-El into space and eventually to Earth.  

He's the kind of character that might seem convoluted if you're not feeling generous.  (And let's face it, fans are as apt to feel generous as not.)  And Scott Lobdell is a writer whose reputation is much the same.  For every fan who loves what he does, there's another who wishes he would just go away.  I think he's pretty brilliant, personally.  He's a high profile success who also happens to be a constant underdog, always on the cusp of actually being appreciated.  I think it's because he hasn't really become known for anything but superheroes.  He was the defining writer of the X-Men during the '90s (when people didn't necessarily care about the X-Men, besides Generation X and Onslaught/Age of Apocalypse), and his New 52 work has been bizarrely controversial (because he...dared to use Starfire pretty much...the way she's always been used in comics?).  He understands the characters he writes, but he also understands their potential, which is rare, and he's not afraid to take chances (which is rarer) which pay off (which is rarest of all, which pretty much puts him in the same league as Geoff Johns and Grant Morrison and...that's about it, really).

The other part about this issue is that the art is from Dan Jurgens.  The Artist Who Killed Superman.  Actually, most recently he's the reason I haven't really made the effort to continue reading The New 52: Futures End (which is the DC version of X-Men: Days of the Future Past).  Which is bizarre, because I've continued to be a champion of Jurgens long after everyone else jumped off the bandwagon.  I'm among a select few who enjoyed his Teen Titans.  I loved that he helped keep the Tangent universe alive.  His art is so distinctive, this can be a good thing.  And it can be a bad thing.  In Futures End I find it distracting for the first time.  But within Superman #23.3 it's a welcome link to a previous era.  I really wouldn't mind Jurgens owning a whole pocket version of Superman.

So I like H'EL.  I like Lobdell.  And once again, I like Jurgens.  I'd like at some point to read all of the Villains Month issues.  I've had the opportunity to catch up with a select few, and I haven't been disappointed.  I have been selective about it, but still.  I think it was a great idea.  And again, I love that a few new villains had their shot during the event as well.  

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Star Wars #5 (Dark Horse)

via Comic Book DB
writer: J.W. Rinzler
artist: Mike Mayhew

Every time I read a new issue of The Star Wars, adapted from George Lucas's original vision for his saga, I think I'm going to finally be disappointed.  Maybe it won't be as fun as I remember from the last one.  Maybe this will be the one that finally breaks the spell.

And every time, every time, I'm proven wrong, all over again.

I haven't had this much fun reading a comic book since 52, DC's first year-long weekly series from 2006-2007 (which topped both years' QB50s).  I've always been a big fan of Star Wars, but I haven't always loved everything I've encountered based on it.  Yes, I'm one of the crazy people who love the prequels.  The thing that Star Wars always needs, for me, is a real connection to the original inspiration Lucas had.

And apparently, the original inspiration was not too bad, either.  As you may or may not be aware, The Star Wars is nearly exactly like the Star Wars you know.  Lucas scrambled a lot of the details when he went back to the drawing board and came up with the version of events and characters you know from the movies, but his first ideas weren't so drastically different.  And that's what's so fascinating to read in this adaptation from those ideas.

Today's the release of the final issue, so for me that's kind of a holiday.  Couldn't be more excited.  I've been catching each issue almost by accident sometimes.  This particular one (#5) was one I had to catch after its release, while #6 I had to miraculously snatch on Free Comic Book Day (meaning my reviews for that one and #7 will be out of order because I review in reading order...and you now have an idea of how long after the fact I get around to writing about comics these days).

Much of The Star Wars features material that best resonates with New Hope material, naturally, though there are elements that also resonate with Return of the Jedi and The Phantom Menace.  This is an issue that revolves on New Hope.  The action is like a mash-up of the escapes from Mos Eisley and the Death Star.  There's a moment that calls to mind "You don't need to see his identification."  Good stuff.  

If you randomly pick this one up, you may need to be reminded that Han Solo in this version looks like Swamp Thing rather than Harrison Ford.  And the Millennium Falcon looks like the ship Leia was captured in at the start of New Hope.

Two of the things pesky fans sometimes criticize Lucas for are his dialogue and the decision to reveal Luke and Leia as siblings after some in-hindsight-awkward moments of attraction.  This is maybe an issue where if you have problems with that you may either want to study or avoid.  Again, characters and situations are not completely comparable.  Anakin, here known as Annikin Starkiller and clearly not Darth Vader, is running around in an outfit that looks exactly like Luke's ceremonial garb at the end of New Hope, has realized he and Leia are probably in love.  The dialogue is so to-the-point (I'm not clear if Rinzler keeps all of that as he found it, if his role is more shaping the script into this particular format), it reminds me all over again that I've always been a fan of even that aspect of Star Wars.  Han's bantering is really no different from Anakin and Padme's heart-to-hearts.  Always direct.  "What is this silly talk of love?  Stop acting like a child and start behaving like a queen!"

Also, it's weird that R2 (here Artwo) has actual dialogue.  I suspect if that had always been the case, there would have been much less difference between him and Threepio.  Although as they stand in the movies, they really aren't that different from, say, Jar Jar Binks.  That would be as clear in words as it is in beeps and boops.

Just to make this clear, too: Mike Mayhew is an absolute godsend to this project.  

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man #700.5 (Marvel)

via Comic Book DB
writer: Brian Reed, Kevin Grevioux
artist: Sean Chen, Lee Weeks

So, I don't know if you've heard, but Peter Parker's back.

In order to properly appreciate this fact, you've got to understand that he was actually gone for a while.  Instead of dead (technically) he got body-swapped with Doctor Octopus.  I call it the Doctor Spider-Man era.  But it's over.

So this is one of the incidental celebratory issues Marvel released.  Marvel does a lot of weird things with numbering.  They're not the only ones, but they're getting weirder.  Amazing Spider-Man #700.5 is meant to signify that the issue harks back to the old series, rather than the recently concluded Superior Spider-Man (featuring Doctor Spider-Man) or the relaunched Amazing Spider-Man.  The actual #700 was the issue where Peter "died"/body-swapped (or concluded "dying"/body-swapping, because for those of you who think these issues might become valuable nonreading material, that occurred in #698).

Anyway, I figured this would be worth checking out.  Out-of-continuity stories can be fun.  Most of recent Spider-Man under Dan Slott has been part of some arc or another.  I was not disappointed.

The lead story, from Brian Reed and Sean Chen, is a throwaway nonsense adventure featuring time travel and the Fantastic Four.  Completely nonessential harmless fun.  But key word: fun.  Because one of the things readers ought to associate with Spider-Man is the ability to have fun reading him.  (Most of the time.  This is a character who can handle comedy and pathos with equal aplomb.)

The backup, from Kevin Grevioux and Lee Weeks, is the real selling point.  It's the other end of Spider-Man, explaining what makes him special beyond his penchant for quippy remarks.  It's the message of the character that isn't "With great power comes great responsibility."

Basically, perseverance.  Never giving up.  Always getting back up.  Ignoring the odds.  Accepting the consequences.  It's a tale featuring a teenage boy who takes all this to heart, and helps Peter recognize this as his true legacy, too.  It's the real message of the recent The Amazing Spider-Man 2, by the way.  Reading this comic beforehand was a fine way to prepare for it, but it was a real hidden gem.  Backup story.  This should have been the lead.  But perhaps better to close the issue strongly, I suppose... 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Liebster Award

This bloggers award, the Liebster, was given to me way back at the beginning of the month.  Now I'm finally, formally, accepting it.  The nominator was Dan Head, whom I've known digitally for just about a decade at this point.  We met on the message boards at Digital Webbing and a little later both wrote for the Paperback Reader website that was the original source of my Internet comic book musings (origin of the QB50 concept).  Later still I reconnected with Dan as a blogger.  I was proud to find out he's been reading this blog, too.

The Liebster process has three steps.  I'll try to keep it entertaining.

Ten Interesting Facts About Myself (Comics-Related)
1. The first three comics I ever had were all Green Lantern.  Two were reprints (Showcase #22 and Green Lantern/Green Arrow #76) and the other was Green Lantern #177.
via Comic Vine
2. Prior to these, the only comics I'd read were the mini comics that were included in He-Man and Super Powers action figure packs from the '80s.  Of course Green Lantern was one of them.
via My Comic Shop
3. Besides those, there was also the random graphic novel my sister had gotten her hands on at some point: Jim Starlin's The Death of Captain Marvel.
via Wikipedia
4. My brothers started reading comics in the early 90s boom.  Thanks to the cartoon at the time, they were into the X-Men, so followed the early issues of both the X-Men relaunch and X-Men 2099.  They also followed Dark Horse's early Star Wars comics.
via Star Wars wikia
5. Along with a lot of other people, the "Doomsday" arc caught my attention.  These were among the first comics I owned outside of the ones previously detailed.
via Read DC Entertainment
6. This led to more Green Lantern, thanks to a crossover during the "Reign of the Supermen" arc that led directly to "Emerald Twilight."
via DC wikia
7. Which led directly to Zero Hour.  The last time either of my brothers particularly cared about comics, they ordered the complete set of zero issues.
via Entertainment Fuse
8. The first comic book recommendation I ever got was Bone, during the Image reprint run.
via My Bone Stuff
9. Skipping across history a little, I had to quit reading comics in early 2000.  The comic that brought me back at the end of 2003 was Geoff Johns's "Ignition" arc in The Flash.
via DC Wikia
10. Which is appropriate, because when I nearly quit reading comics again in 2011, it was Johns's Flashpoint that kept me hooked.
via Axolotlburg News
10 Questions From Dan
1. What is your blog about, and why did you start it?
It's about mutant guppy fish.  I mean, comics.  I started it as the last stop (as of now) with my increasing frustrations writing at Paperback Reader.  I left and went back there a couple of times before I finally left for good, which turned out to be good, because finally the site went dead shortly thereafter (I've learned that website relaunches are an increasingly finite phenomenon).  So I've been operating this particular blog since the very end of 2010.

2. Did you serve in the military?  Why or why not?
Everyone in the family except the brother who collected all those zero issues and my mother served in the Air Force.  I was the third exception out of seven.  Last year I came incredibly close to signing up with the Navy.  My two sisters went directly into the Air Force after high school, while my brothers and I all went to college.  My oldest brother ended up in the Air Force after his civilian career field ended up looking less promising than he'd originally thought.  I have nothing but respect for those who serve.  If I'd thought about it differently, I might have gone into the military, too (I mean, successfully gone), but I've been satisfied with a lot of what I've done instead.  Two of my siblings, incidentally, have/had military spouses.  One of them was in the Army, the other (you guessed it) the Air Force, the tradition begun by my father.

3. Are you an athlete?  What's your favorite sport?
I was an athlete in gym class?  Somewhat more seriously, I did track & field in my freshman and senior years of high school.  I was not an Olympian.  I was the opposite of an Olympian.  (I was a resident of Hades?)  I did not get a medal for that achievement.

4. Name three authors that other people should spend more time reading.
Regular visitors to Comics Reader know some of the big ones I always read personally.  Here I'll spotlight some I haven't covered as extensively but highly endorse: 
  • Antony Johnston, who's responsible for Wasteland and the more recent launches Umbral and The Fuse.  I've obsessed over Wasteland on this blog, but not as much I'd like (catching it in actual comics shops has become increasingly difficult; by the time the series ends later this year, I'll probably have purchased the end run digitally).
  • Jeff Smith, who's responsible for Bone, RASL, and Tuki.  At some point this year I'll be rereading the complete RASL, which has the potential to unseat Bone as my favorite Smith work.
  • Dean Motter, who's best known for his Mister X stories, which I always highly recommend.
5. If you had to rename your blog, what would you call it?
Part of the reason this blog along with every other blog I have has a URL that doesn't match the title (aside from the fact that I don't pay for any URLs) is that the title I chose was pretty general and had already been claimed in Blogger's URL annals.  It also happens to evoke both Paperback Reader and an old fanzine Paul Levitz used to do.  If I had to come up with something new, it would be something more unique, which would probably help drive more eyes to the blog.

6. When you read comics, do you pay more attention to the writing or the art?
Most of the time, the writing.  If I particularly like the artist, I'll certainly pay more attention to that aspect, but as an eager reader, it's got to be the writing.

7. Marvel has had a string of hit movies, but DC has fallen behind.  Besides Superman, Batman, and/or Wonder Woman, what DC superhero would you like to see in a movie?
I already had the dream of a Green Lantern movie fulfilled, so I can't say that.  I suppose the Teen Titans would be a pretty interesting pick.  Thanks to the cartoons they've got some mainstream exposure already, and they come prepackaged as a youth demographic franchise with a couple of strong stories and female characters that could easily slot into current expectations.

8. If you were a Dungeons & Dragons character, would you be a Fighter, Rogue, Wizard, or Cleric?
The same friend who introduced me to Bone also helped me play a little Warhammer.  But that's as close I've come to RPGs.  So this is a question I've got to skip.

9. The secret to your success is...?
I have success??? In the relative sense, knowing my own interests.

10. What are you doing right now?  How does that compare to what you thought you'd be doing back when you were a kid?
Work-wise the only idea I ever had as a kid was becoming an astronaut.  But I think that was in fourth or fifth grade.  I sort of lost track of that ambition.  Other than being an actual success, though, I'm pretty much doing exactly what I always wanted to do.  (Technically I have two published comics.  I'm still working on that.)  So, yay me!

Nominate 10 New Blogs
I'm not really going to do that.  Just one:
Readers of this blog besides Pat himself will remember that he was actually a contributor to Comics Reader earlier this year.  The reasons why this is no longer the case are kind of complicated.  But suffice to say, as the only other contributor in the existence of Comics Reader, he's pretty significant to it, regardless of whether or not he still has things posted here.  He's written a series of superhero novels featuring the Scarlet Knight (and a few dozen million more).  

Pose Ten Questions
  1. How did you originally create Scarlet Knight?
  2. When did you first start reading comics?
  3. What's your favorite comic book?
  4. Who's your favorite superhero?
  5. What's your favorite comic book movie?
  6. What do you wish comics would do that you haven't seen yet?
  7. Do you have any interest in writing comics?
  8. Would you adapt the complete Scarlet Knight saga?
  9. Which one is your favorite installment in the series?
  10. Does Detroit figure into your writing style?
That is all.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Ms. Marvel #1 (Marvel)

via Comic Book DB
writer: G. Willow Wilson
artist: Adrian Alphona

The mantle, as it were, of Ms. Marvel has been passed around more often than any other comic book character.  Certainly among relatively minor ones.  So when this series was originally announced, my only reaction was, "Great!  Another Ms. Marvel!"  (*insert sarcasm sign*)

But the series was given a lot of hype, because this wouldn't be just another Ms. Marvel, but one of the many the-latest-incarnation-is-an-ethnic-variation! updates that are the safe version of diversity in comics.  This Ms. Marvel would actually be...Arab American.

Even that wasn't nearly enough to interest me.  It was a little surprising that it took comics so long to tackle the Middle East.  Over at DC, Black Adam was retrofitted to fit that type in the years after 9/11 thanks to Geoff Johns.  I'm not complaining about that one at all.  A total creative revival that has had limitless dividends. Grant Morrison touched on the topic in New X-Men.  Johns recently revisited the idea with the latest human Green Lantern, Simon Baz.

So all in all, Marvel's effort was a bit Johnny-DC-Come-Lately.  And in an incredibly safe capacity.  I mean, would anyone have cared at all about a new Ms. Marvel otherwise?

Except at some point I became aware of the writer attached to the project.  G. Willow Wilson.  There could not have been a better choice.  Wilson converted to Islam and has been relating her insights in her writing for years, to my mind still most successfully in the pages of Air, though her novel Alif the Unseen is a perhaps more visible effort.

Although I've been a big fan of Wilson since discovering her in Air, she otherwise maintains a fairly low profile.  After Air was cancelled, she disappeared for a while, resurfacing in the resurrected Mystic but otherwise appearing to be as completely unappreciated as the quiet reception of Air suggested.

So to see her with a project like this was both unexpected and gratifying.  Turned my perspective completely around.  Was my faith justified?

I've now read the first three issues of the series.  So yes, yes it has.  This debut issue introduces Kamala Khan, who like all of Wilson's lead characters is at a crossroads in her life, footing in separate worlds and finding them hard to reconcile, when a drastic change in her life forces her to confront ideas she's only been toying with.  In this instance, a mysterious transformation into the new Ms. Marvel.

Kamala has friends and family that push her in these disparate directions.  She also happens to like comic books and has her own opinions of superheroes (there's a fantastic sequence in the issue depicting them, which is one of the few instances of Wilson actively presenting her view of them, and is itself wildly refreshing even in an era that seems to want to present superheroes every way possible).

This is an origin issue.  It's the first of a five-part arc, and so if you want to experience what Kamala is actually like as Ms. Marvel, you have to wait until the next installment.  (Once you've read the first two issues, you'll really have a proper sense of what it'll be like.)

The cover is a pastiche on the cover of the 1996 debut issue for Peter David's Supergirl:
David's version of that other frequently rebooted character was also all about grounding a traditional superhero into a more recognizably human setting, but with strong identity issues and an unusual approach to the differences between being a person and a superhero at the same time.  Similar (and I read that series for a while, probably some of the best PAD material I've read), but Wilson's approach is more assured, more grounded in material we've seen from the writer before (although, yes, I suppose it could be said that Supergirl probably resembled the Incredible Hulk).

Having now read the new Ms. Marvel, I can confidently endorse it.  Not just because I'm already a fan of Wilson.  But because it's Wilson firing on all cylinders, and making a truly unique superhero comic in a landscape full of such attempts.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Justice League of America #12 (DC)

via Comic Book DB
writer: Matt Kindt
artist: Eddy Barrows

I love Martian Manhunter as a character.  He's the perfect counterpart to Superman, the alien who can't (or won't) hide himself as just another human.  He's a big green, bald dude.  He's the outsider who in his best stories does better X-Men stories than the X-Men ever did.

Recently DC has been rereleasing some of his solo adventures.  His one and only ongoing series to date came about in the wake of Grant Morrison's JLA nearly two decades ago, and these John Ostrander/Tom Mandrake tales are finally being collected.  There's also a collection, out of print, from a mini-series that was released nearly a decade ago.

Since the New 52 launch, Martian Manhunter has been a featured team books.  For some reason he was inserted into the new Stormwatch, and he was one of the notable figures in Justice League of America, which has recently relaunched as Justice League United, with him as one of the few connecting elements.

As I've followed reactions to Forever Evil, I couldn't help noting how little fans seem to enjoy what the New 52 has been able to sustain as its strongest feature, which is a strong focus on character.  Forever Evil, and what I've read about how this particular series tied into it, wasn't just about villains triumphant, but forcing the heroes to prove themselves all over again, which is to say, give us an opportunity to explore them once more.

Such is the case with this issue, naturally, which of course focuses on Martin Manhunter.  His stories tend to be a lot more psychological in nature, playing with the question of identity.  As he battles Despero (the big pink alien with the third eye and the fin), there are flashes of the true Martian form, and an interlude about a Martian legend.

The issue also features Stargirl (who was the first character Geoff Johns ever wrote for DC, and in fact his creation) as Martian Manhunter reflects on her budding career (which is a constant theme with her, a perpetual reminder of a new generation), and writer Matt Kindt does a fine job of juggling both.  This may not be the greatest issue for either character, but it serves as a reminder that both have the potential for greatness.

And I love that Martian Manhunter still gets moments like this.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Digitally Speaking...#17 "Apocalypse Al"

Apocalypse Al #1 (Image)
From 2014.

I think it started with Quentin Tarantino.  The smartass outsider making a dent in pop culture with Reservoir Dogs.  I love Tarantino.  But I don't like all the folks who've followed in what Hollywood imagines to be his footsteps.  I'm not talking about other filmmakers who've made movies that are sort of like his.  I'm talking about other writers who spend their time making their characters too quippy for their britches.  Tarantino can get away with it because he is a genius.  But the line has to be drawn somewhere.  And that's at anyone who is not a genius.

The first wannabe I have in mind is Kevin Smith, who became the Bizarro Quentin Tarantino after Clerks was released.  Then there was Kevin Williamson, who became best known for Dawson's Creek and the Scream movies.  (I actually liked the Scream movies, by the way.)  Then there was Joss Whedon, whose style has been become the new mainstream thanks to the Avengers movies.

There's also J. Michael Straczynski to consider.  Joe, as he likes to be called, has a history that dates back further than any of those guys.  When he references Young Frankenstein at the back of Apocalypse Al, it was nearly enough for me to reconsider my opinion of him.  Except I don't think Joe is in the same category as Mel Brooks.  Joe's first real claim to fame was Babylon 5, the quip-happy version of Star Trek that hooked geeks because it was also a pioneer of the serialized TV format.  Then he tried doing other things.  There was the Angelina Jolie movie Changeling.  He was involved in the adaptation of World War Z to the big screen (appropriate, somehow, given that the source material came from Mel Brooks's son Max).  He also did the comic book The Twelve, which I unabashedly loved.

But basically, Joe is really no better, in my eyes, than a Smith or a Williamson or a Whedon.  For a lot of people, all of these guys are very talented, very enjoyable writers.  Which is fine.  But for me, they've always represented, well, what goes wrong when you're trying to find the new Tarantino and looking in all the wrong places.  (Joe Carnahan or Martin McDonagh do it so much better, folks.)  All the quip, none of the focus that will mean something past the next contemporary reference they make.  Which is fine, making references every two seconds.  Or just being irreverent.  Except for me, being irreverent can quickly turn to irrelevant.

And that's what something like Apocalypse Al is for me.  Joe thinks he's finally getting to do something funny for a change.  But as far as I'm concerned, that's the bulk of his material.  Just...spinning wheels.  The title refers to Allison Carter, who regularly combats forces who are looking to bring about the end of the world.  The issue opens with a flippant take on the world-eater (read: Galactus) model.  And flippant is about all you get.  Page after page of flippant.  And Al running around in skimpy outfits.  For some reason.  Joe goes out of his way to praise the art of Sid Kotian.  But if this is Sid's best work...Sorry, Sid, I'm not a fan.

Maybe it's wrong to expect any of these guys to try and be Tarantino.  Maybe it's the wrong comparison entirely.  But I get the sense that at least some of them have careers at all because someone thought they had that potential.  And some of them have struggled quite a bit, outside of cult followings, including Joe.  I think there's a reason for that, and I think something like Apocalypse Al demonstrates what's wrong.

Yes, you can have fun.  But you have to ground the fun in something substantial.  You have to have an anchor.  And Joe doesn't have one here.  And if he's not careful, enough people are going to realize that and his career really will come to nothing, as it's sometimes seemed it will at any moment.  He's a talented guy.  But his instincts are more often than not misguided, circling the trivial rather than embracing whatever inspiration he's found.

If you don't agree with anything else I've said here, just know this: Apocalypse Al is definitely no Young Frankenstein.  And that's the bottom line.  Straight from Joe's own words, that comparison...

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Justice League #25 (DC)

Via Comic Book Database
writer: Geoff Johns
artist: Doug Mahnke

I've done an extremely poor job reading Justice League lately.  This is the third issue released in 2013 that I've read (or is it second; see?), and that means none for 2014 so far.

And yet, I still profess this as one of the must-read comics being published today.  After the first few arcs of the New 52 series, which I've routinely described as a monthly event book, I had to scale back on my comics reading.  Reading month-to-month on any book became virtually unheard-of for me, so it certainly wasn't as if I singled out Justice League.  Far from it.  In a different time, this must-read would have been the must-read.  It continues to fascinate me.

Another comic I haven't been reading is Forever Evil, the sort of Final Crisis of the New 52.  Villains triumphant.  That sort of thing.  The most intriguing development of the event concerned Nightwing, long a favorite of mine, somewhat infrequently a favorite read.  Kyle Higgins had me nearly captive in the early run of the New 52 reboot of Dick Grayson's solo book, but I much more easily lost track of that than Justice League.  It degenerated into a scramble for ideas, somehow.  Same as has happened to Nightwing since Chuck Dixon and Devin K. Grayson left.  Dick's fate in Forever Evil trades on the famous fate he nearly suffered in Infinite Crisis.

He would have been one of many casualties.

Well, he's been the hero hardest hit by Forever Evil, had his secret identity exposed to the world, became captive to the villains.  Fate undetermined.  Except recently it was announced he'll be receiving a new series in July, Grayson, which will turn him into a spy, his third major character revision (counting his second, more substantive run as Batman).  I'm looking forward to that.

The big deal about this particular issue is that, of course, it's a Forever Evil tie-in with Geoff Johns writing Nightwing.  It's a strong showing.  I'm obviously of the camp that Johns can't really do any wrong.  Any character he touches only benefits.  So it's great to have him finally write Nightwing.  As always, Johns finds some fresh ground among familiar territory, Dick's curious family issues (which have a lot to do with Owlman's, the villainous parallel to Batman).

A lot of reviews I've read concerning Forever Evil have been negative.  But then, a lot of reviews for Johns tend to be negative, at least compared to how I rate him.  I look forward to reading the whole story at some point.  I'm sure I'll like it.  If this issue is any real indication, it's typical Johns, which is to say: pretty great.

And I hope I'll catch more Justice League than I've managed recently...

Monday, May 12, 2014

Digitally Speaking...#16 "Apama"

Via Hero Tomorrow
Apama #1 (Hero Tomorrow)
From 2013.

The backstory is pretty interesting.  Apparently this comic is based on an indy film, Hero Tomorrow, from the same creators, Ted Sikora and Milo Miller.  And, what the heck is an apama?  It's a ferocious animal that took itself out of history, king of the beasts, unwanted and uninvited but better than all of them.

Anyway, the comic itself reads a lot like a lost Silver Age adventure (minus gratuitous exclamation marks!!!), with this issue a whole origin story in kind.  If you're nostalgic for that kind of thing, that might be reason enough to check out Apama.  If you've never read that kind of thing, this might actually be an excellent way to sample it.

The art is another thing that evokes a previous era.  Benito Gallego, whether intentionally or not, has a style similar to Joe Kubert.  Don't believe me?  Feast a look:
Via Comics Bulletin
(The reviewer in that link compares the art to John Buschema, but I stand by my comparison.)

It's the kind of comic that can feature a cameo from Flaming Carrot.  It's a comic, basically, for comics fans, probably first and foremost, a nostalgia comic (there are certainly plenty of those!), but one that probably stands on its own, too.

Worth a look.

Friday, May 9, 2014

God is Dead #8 (Avatar)

writer: Mike Costa
artist: Juan Frigeri, Rafael Ortiz

First off, that cover looks an awful lot like an Age of Bronze (Eric Shanower's Trojan War epic) cover, but of course it is not.  This is a Jonathan Hickman concept, which he launched himself, and has since passed on to Mike Costa.

Now, obviously if you've read enough of this blog you know I love Costa (I made some fairly creepy comments last time I brought him up in a somewhat funny manner!), though it's been hard finding him in best form in something other than the recently concluded Cobra comics over at IDW.  Part of that is because he hasn't really done much else.  There was his Blackhawks at DC (which, to my own regret I managed to criminally underrate to the point where I waited until after it was cancelled to properly sample), and also Smoke and Mirrors (which for some reason I also chose to skip; I can't explain).

Finally I went for broke and had a look at something well before it disappeared.  And I'm mostly glad I did.  God is Dead is kind of like Neil Gaiman's novel American Gods from the perspective of the gods.  Coming eight issues in, I wasn't really lost, which is a good thing.  I can't say I would go out of my way to read the series again, but it's not really anything to do with whatever Costa did in the issue so much as...basically, Hickman.  Hickman, to my mind, has become notorious for grappling big concepts without really knowing what to do with them.  Maybe Costa can salvage it.  If anyone can, it's Costa.  He's kind of a master of that craft at this point.  Which is almost an argument to have another look, see where he takes it.

So yeah, that's my judgment.  Word to the wise: if for some reason you're considering reading this for yourself and you think you might casually share it with a kid (just go with me here), you may want to think twice.  There will be boobies.

(In some alternate universe, I've just launched a new blog, and it has a name that will bring in a million visitors instantly.)

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Batman and Robin #28 (DC)

writer: Peter J. Tomasi
artist: Patrick Gleason

Perhaps you remember me praising this series to the nines in the past.  Don't get me wrong: I'm not about to do something else this time.  It's just, after the first year or so I didn't have the chance to read it regularly anymore, what with new budgeting techniques and the zombie apocalypse (brain and brain, what is brain?).  My wild appreciation has certainly been helped by the issues I have caught since that original period, which have blown me out of the water.  I think the team of Pete Tomasi and Patrick Gleason is genius, and that there is no finer one, or either separately, working on Batman today.

Since the, ah, death of Robin last year, the title of the series has undergone a metamorphosis.  Officially it's still Batman and Robin, but unofficially it changes from issue to issue, depending on who is guest-starring.  Some recent issues have had a string of Batman and Two-Face on the cover, and I'd been itching to at least sample the arc, since the previous prominent continued story of the series, brought together in the debut collection entitled Born to Kill (after the first issue of the series) was what originally convinced me of the great worth of all involved.

In the New 52, what's old is new again.  Two-Face is one of those reliable characters, thanks in part to the particularly bittersweet nature of his origin (which you might see best represented in Batman: The Long Halloween, or The Dark Knight), a good guy named Harvey Dent who was once one of Gotham's greatest citizens turned into a schizophrenic mess of a man.  The best Two-Face stories call to mind both facets of the character (naturally), and Tomasi, of course, completed understood that.  So it might not be too much of a stretch to call this arc one of the new essential Two-Face stories.

This concluding issue ends with an apparently definitive decision on Harvey's part as to how he can resolve his dilemma.  Me, I think I'd keep it like that, and leave the character on that note.  But this being comics, where no story ever really ends, maybe I'll just have to settle on this being a particularly good version of how it might go.  And as such, not only great for Two-Face, but another ace in the cap of Tomasi and Gleason.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Reading Comics #122 "Bull Moose Grab Bag"

I love grab bags.  One of the shops I frequent these days, which is actually an indy music/movie chain store that also has comic books, is Bull Moose in Lewiston, Maine.  I've gotten a few grab bags from them over the last few months, and during the course of my reviews of the stuff I've been reading lately you might have seen some fairly negative ones.  Since I've cut back on my spending, I've been reading far fewer comics than I used to, only the stuff that I'm really certain I'll appreciate, so that's the secret origin of that.  Bull Moose grab bags are a great bargain (since it's highly unlikely that there will be a lot of Lewiston, Maine, natives in my reading audience, this does not count as a shameless plug), ten recent comics for five bucks.  "Recent" means within the past year, usually within the last few months (although the one I got this Saturday must have been one of the older bags they had, because its contents were near a year old).

So at this point I've decided to bring back the roundup feature I sometimes fall back on here.  When there's something I haven't really enjoyed I don't have to try and justify it too much.  But there can be real gems in the bunch as well!

Cable and X-Force #18 (Marvel)
Cable and Bishop are time-traveling mutants who are fascinating in theory but are more often than not incapable of living up to their potential, possibly because writers aren't really thinking about what they can do but rather what they can't, which is explore the dystopias they come from.  Bishop has had a much rougher path to follow than Cable (notice which one is in the title, and has had a lot of series over the years and which...hasn't), although he's been a favorite of mine since I first saw him in the old early '90s X-Men cartoon.  (Hey, and speaking of which, is either one of these guys in X-Men: Days of the Future Past?)  They've got the same curse every Marvel mutant has, actually, only amplified.  Everyone knows that the X-Men are supposed to be a persecuted lot, but the logical gymnastics writers take to keep them that way, or ignore this concept entirely, can sometimes be ridiculous.  Recently they've settled on making more Magneto characters, which is to say compromised figures trying to do the right thing but making all the wrong moves (read: Cyclops).  Add Bishop to that bunch, unfortunately.  And so that's what this issue is all about.  Apparently someone also thought it was a good idea to have not one but two teams of X-Force running around (because you can never have too many competing concepts in Marvel), and so that's also what this comic's about.  It's not very good, alas.  And the art looks a little weird at points.  It screws up Cable, for instance.  (Since when was his metallic arm a covering for an actual arm?  Who am I kidding?  I don't care!)  Long story short: this is not a comic book I would have read deliberately.

Earth 2 #19 (DC)
I kept trying to find the recent annual that basically mainlined the awesome Flashpoint concept from a few years back of Thomas Wayne becoming Batman instead of his son, but failed everywhere I looked (even though I do digital comics now and am clearly aware of the Internet, I still love operating in the physical world), so it was pretty awesome to randomly come across an issue of the regular series.  This series, in case you're not aware, is set in one of DC's alternate realities.  It was launched by James Robinson as a surrogate Justice Society landscape but set in the same context as the debut arc from Geoff Johns' Justice League, so that the Darkseid siege of Earth was more successful and so everyone had to figure out how to pick up the pieces.  At the start the new versions of the classic JSA superheroes were occupying a landscape devoid of the more familiar DC icons because those guys had been eliminated.  But recently they've been resurfacing, including the new Batman.  I think it's evolved beautifully, and under the auspices of Tom Taylor remains a leading contender for a mainstream superhero comic that you could pick as your standalone experience should you want to know what that's like without having to worry about picking up any other series.  And this is a good issue.  Like I've said about Justice League all along, Earth 2 could easily be construed as an ongoing event book.  Closing in on two years, that's not a bad thing to consider reading at all.  At the moment, Batman and the altered version of Superman have been occupying the center stage, coming ever closing to a reckoning.  Well, like I said, good stuff.

Infinity #6 (Marvel)
This was last year's big Marvel event, sort of like something-something Thanos, something-something Inhumans (because Marvel keeps trying to make them a thing just like DC keeps trying to make the New Gods a thing, and only one of them actually has something interesting to explore) (and it's not Marvel).  This was Jonathan Hickman's effort to duplicate the classic Jim Starlin stories featuring Thanos, no doubt thanks to the large-chin villain's cameo at the end of Avengers (although he won't appear as a main character until the third movie) (probably).  I've always admired Hickman's ambition, but I'm not sure he's quite what Marvel keeps hoping he'll be, which is their own Grant Morrison.  He's better than other writers who've tried to handle Thanos recently, but the result is still a fairly poor echo of Starlin's material.  Still, the art is from Jim Cheung, who was half of the iconic original team on Young Avengers (along with Allan Heinberg).  Good strong stuff there, anyway, as always.  Glad to see him still considered a significant player.

Marvel Previews #14 (Marvel)
This is Marvel's separate catalog to the industry-standard, Diamond distributor version that handles...everyone else.  I don't really know why this ended up in the grab bag.  But it didn't exactly convince me to think any differently about Marvel's current output than I have been.  On the cover is Nightcrawler, the latest returned-from-the-dead character.  Oh, which reminds me, in case you had no idea, Nightcrawler's been dead lately.  But apparently he got better.

Red Lanterns #25 (DC)
I haven't really been following the Green Lantern franchise, other than Geoff Johns, since the New 52 relaunch in 2011, but it's been nice knowing it exists, and in such force.  One of the odder additions to the lineup was a Red Lanterns series, but it seems the longer it's lasted the better it's gotten.  With Charles Soule, always good news, writing it these days, and Guy Gardner having become the face, it's probably as good or better than anything else you'll find in the lineup.  Guy has repositioned the remaining members of the corps into defenders of his home turf, not so much on Earth but the territory (Space Sector 2814, to be precise).  Soule has particular fun with Guy's allies, while he also continues the saga of Atrocitus, who once ruled the roost.  It's as good a sci-fi title as I've read, which is actually pretty rare for a Green Lantern series.  Which is pretty odd when you think about it.

The Sandman: Overture Special Edition #1 (Vertigo)
So, clearly I'm kind of the target audience for this series.  I'm not sure how many new readers will be coming aboard for the journey, except maybe Neil Gaiman fans who came about after the end of the original series when he'd begun making a name for himself as a prose writer.  The casual comics reader probably won't be spending too much time in the Vertigo sandbox, because with Image and a thousand indies running around, there's a lot more competition for the nonsuperhero set than ever before.  As someone who loves Gaiman's Sandman but who hasn't read the complete series, I'm a curious phenomenon (for a lot of other reasons, too).  I caught the original version of this debut issue of Overture, but was glad to randomly catch the special edition as well.  It helped me digest it a little more, not just the bonus features, but being forced to read the comic itself over again.  The Corinthian (the creepy dude with two additional mouths where his eyes ought to be) is in the spotlight once again, but only until our title hero stumbles into an existential conundrum that is not anywhere near finished by the end of the issue.  Gaiman's approach is serialized in this effort, rather than in some of the fairly self-contained stories he told even in his arcs from the original Sandman.  There's plenty to find familiar and interesting here.  It certainly helps to have an artist the caliber of J.H. Williams III (there are few others capable of being anywhere near as awesome), whose sense of the page is virtually unparalleled, which as host of the special edition he's capable of walking through with the reader.  If you're unsure of Overture, these special editions may actually be your better bet.

Sonic Universe #58 (Archie)
I'm just going to skip over this one.  Better for you.  Better for me.  Better for them.

Swamp Thing #27 (DC)
There's whole corners of the New 52 landscape that have nothing to do with Superman or Batman or Green Lantern.  No, really!  One of them involves the so-called "dark" characters who most recently were handled by Vertigo rather than DC.  Their return has been one of the most interesting things about the relauch (I know, if you hear much about it I bet you much more regularly hear all the complaints about what was lost rather than gained).  I confess to not having really taken advantage of this stuff.  But it's good.  It's probably some of the best stuff DC has.  But even fans who know about this corner find reasons to complain, especially since there have been a lot of crossovers.  I don't see the problem with crossovers.  If it's a shared universe, it's a lot more useful, sometimes, to have an out-and-out crossover rather than have a guest-star.  Crossovers, when done right, have a good way of establishing context, and as far as I can tell, books like Swamp Thing have definitely understood that.  Unsurprisingly, the writer here is also Charles Soule.  The dude has quickly become indispensable.  Where the heck did he come from???  A lot of what this particular character means comes from Alan Moore work from thirty years ago.  This run, and even this very issue, is a chance for a fresh start.  Good stuff.

Walking Dead #119 (Image)
(Comic Book Datebase locked me out of the issue listing without a login, so no cover for you.)
Obviously you know about Walking Dead.  Whether from the comic or the TV series or both.  Rather than discuss anything specifically from the issue, I want to address the letters column.  In it, creator/writer Robert Kirkman discusses the future of the comic, how long he envisions it to last.  A couple years ago he was talking a total length of 300 issues.  And keep in mind we're only a third of the way there.  But apparently now he's thinking 500.  And he's already got fans talking about him padding his storytelling.  Because of the huge success of the TV show, Kirkman could keep this thing going as long as he wants, long after the show is over.  The one doesn't depend on the other.  It just sounds ridiculous to me.  No writer has five hundred issues worth of material to tell about one story.  It's just this dude realizing he's got it made.  No matter what else happens, he'll always have this in his back pocket.  Now, there are certainly creators in any medium who spend their whole careers on the same property.  In comics that's certainly been the case.  But other than Dave Sim (who by the way did accomplish 300 issues, over the course of thirty years, on his Cerebus), there hasn't really been anyone who has managed to make such a dedicated run (it's worth noting Sim was his own artist).  Kirkman probably ought to stop prognosticating.  If fans are already complaining about his output now, he may have very few fans indeed decades from now who care about the latest shenanigans of survivors stumbling from scenario to scenario.  Just saying.

Savage Wolverine #14 (Marvel)
Like Walking Dead above, I'm not really going to talk about the issue or the capable talents of Richard Isanove, but rather some of the ridiculous recent habits of Marvel.  On the cover, as you can see, there's a giant #1 in the corner, even though this is not the first issue or some reboot (of a reboot of a reboot of a reboot...over the span of...just a handful of years).  Marvel has always prided itself as never having rebooted its line.  The stories you read today are theoretically related to stories that were done decades ago.  And yet, there've been so many shenanigans that it doesn't really matter anymore.  It's just one successful gimmick to keep fans interested after another.  Such as the equally ridiculous Marvel Now! branding that is clearly Marvel's lackluster answer to DC's New 52.  The cover also has the copy, which means...absolutely nothing.  It's just one stupid, we're accessible! argument after another.  I think in a few years Marvel will have finally worn out its welcome at the top.  Hopefully.  Well, I wish...

All images via Comic Book Database.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

FCBD 2014

Apparently Free Comic Book Day has been a thing since 2002.  My first experience with it was either 2005 or 2006, when I was living in Burlington, Massachusetts, when I happened to visit Newbury Comics (a chain store that actually much more heavily features music) on that day.  When I transplanted to Colorado Springs I got to celebrate the true geekiness of the day for the first time thanks to Escape Velocity, which annually features cosplay hosts and bonus prizes.  This is my first year back in Maine to celebrate FCBD.  Back in the day (I wasn't reading comics in 2002, so the point of whether or not it was notably celebrated anywhere around me then is moot), I used to have a lot of shops I could visit.  In the '90s there was even one in my hometown, Ray's 3Cs (comics, cards, collectibles).  One by one they all moved or closed.  So when I came back, I was pleased to see that the situation had improved.  I've visited a number of shops or stores that happen to have comics, including a Newbury Comics in Portland and a Bull Moose in Lewiston, or the old-reliable Zimmies.  It was Bull Moose and Zimmies that saw my business yesterday.

Bull Moose carrying comics was a very welcome development.  Back in the day, it was very much like Newbury, except without the comics.  Now they have a limited selection of new comics available as well as grab bags (I love grab bags).  They were my first stop, and where I got all the highest-profile releases for the day.  Then I headed over to Zimmies, where there was a much more dedicated crowd (read: line).

But Zimmies also has the dubious distinction of winning my FCBD Doctor Dumbass award, or at least one of its patrons yesterday.  Now, the whole idea of Free Comic Book Day is that the comics published specifically for that day'll never believe  They're free.  So, if and when someone behind you suggests something, maybe just, I don't know, grab that thing and shut up already?  Except this is not what happened.  I was the guy standing behind someone, a dad picking up comics for his two kids (a girl-starring comic for the girl!).  I gave him my wholehearted recommendation for Atomic Robo.  You guys know how I love me Atomic Robo.  And you'd think the guy would just take the recommendation and add Atomic Robo to his haul.  Because, y'know, the comic is free.  But his reaction was confusion, at first.  And then he tried to grab one for me.  And then he put it back, because, if it wasn't for me, then why???  Because, Doctor Dumbass, it was a recommendation!  For a free comic!  You...cannot...go...wrong!

Anyway.  So obviously I grabbed myself an Atomic Robo.

Here's my complete list:

  • Atomic Robo (Red 5) Because I love Atomic Robo.
  • Bongo Free-for-All (Bongo) Sometimes I think I love Simpsons comics...more than the TV show?
  • (Help the CBLDF) Defend Comics (CBLDF) The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund kind of explains itself once you know what "CBLDF" stands for; I was happy to see this one, although I would be happier if comic book stores would more reliably stock their paid releases.  The last time I saw one was at a Newbury (I bought it).
  • The Dumbest Idea Ever! (Graphix) The Scholastic imprint that also handles Jeff Smith's mainstream Bone releases.
  • Guardians of the Galaxy (Marvel) Even though I fear the movie will make superheroes into a permanent mainstream joke (no matter how successful), I am still looking forward to it.
  • The New 52: Futures End #0 (DC) The start of the latest weekly series from DC.  Appeared to be the hottest pick from both locations.
  • Previews: What's @ Comic Shops (Previews) In the '90s I read through the new Previews every month.  
  • Project Black Sky (Dark Horse) Dark Horse is doing superheroes again.
  • Rise of the Magi #0 (Top Cow) As with all of Top Cow's releases, could be very interesting.
  • Rocket Raccoon (Marvel) Rocket just can't stay away from Marvel's FCBD releases this year.
  • Shigeru Mizuki's Showa: A History of Japan (Drawn & Quarterly) Must remember to read this one the right way.
  • Steam Wars (Antarctic Press) I wasn't going to take this one, but I figured why not?  With such a ridiculous bounty (even before reaching Zimmies, which seemed to have every release), I could afford to make a few selections that I maybe wouldn't really have read otherwise.  Because it's free.
  • Teen Titans Go! (DC) Say it with me, folks: People who watch TV shows or movies are probably not going to be reading the comic books these characters also appear in.  So quit your stupid whining about Starfire and other related nonsense already.
  • The Tick (New England Comics) Spoon!
  • Valiant Universe (Valiant) Because this time these characters will stick around forever!
  • Worlds of Aspen (Aspen) Will there be a lot of long-limbed beauties?  I'll let you know!
  • 2000 AD (Rebellion) I think it's about time we all acknowledge that Judge Dredd just isn't big in America.
And hopefully I will read this stuff (and the other stuff I got, including a grab bag!) and write about it before the end of the year!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Tomorrow is Free Comic Book Day

The annual comic book and/or geek holiday has come around once again!  Visit your local comic book store (the site has links to participants via zip code) or join the fun digitally at comiXology (which will hopefully make it easy to find selections tomorrow).

I'll be providing my haul and thoughts hopefully by Sunday!