Thursday, July 31, 2014

Secret Origins #1 (DC)

writers: Greg Pak, Kyle Higgins, Tony Bedard
artists: Lee Weeks, Doug Mahnke, Paulo Siqueira
via Comic Vine
Some fans get tired of seeing secret origins regurgitated repeatedly.  Me, I love the stuff.  I love it as a creative exercise, to see how it'll be approached.  Even if the elements don't change (which is seldom the case), the best writers will make their presence known.  

So, four years in, DC has revived the Secret Origins series in order to catch fans up on the backstories that've emerged behind familiar faces in the New 52.  Two Septembers ago, sure, a certain amount of that was already done in the zero issues, and many of the initial launches in 2011 incorporated the idea from the start.  Still, as far as I'm concerned, this is a good idea, and I think this first issue proves why.

The first of three stories in the issue features DC's first and arguably still most iconic superhero, Superman.  It's written by Greg Pak, who's recently joined the Man of Steel's writing stable, taking over Action Comics.  Previously, Pak was a Marvel guy (best known for his Hulk and Incredible Hercules, the latter of which he wrote entertainingly with Fred Van Lente for years), which certainly makes the whole proposition all the more intriguing.  If this effort is any indication, Superman is in very good hands.

Intriguingly, Pak approaches Superman's Kryptonian and human origins from the perspectives of his two mothers.  This is incredibly rare.  You're no doubt as familiar as I am with the idea of presenting Jor-El and Jonathan Kent ahead of Lara and Martha Kent, the heavier emphasis on the fathers over the years.  In the movies, Lara had her biggest moment in Superman II when she replaced Marlon Brando's Jor-El in discussions at the Fortress of Solitude (that is, until the Richard Donner cut from 2006 brought Brando back).  Pa Kent had periodically been depicted as dying relatively early in Clark Kent's life, but he's often credited with instilling Superman with the values that would define his heroic career.  There's a lot I'm glossing over, but you get the point.

So that's perhaps reason enough to read that one.  And Pak nails the idea, with both mothers.

Next comes Dick Grayson's story via Kyle Higgins.  Higgins, of course, defined Dick for the New 52 set with his multi-year run on Nightwing.  In a way, this is the effort I was waiting for all along, what he danced around for much of the first year of that series.  Since Dick Grayson is a character uniquely defined by his past, not burdened by it but certainly informed by it, a concept Higgins nails in the piece, it's always profitable to look backward with him, which writers like Higgins and Marv Wolfman had tended to do over the years.

It helps to have Doug Mahnke doing the art for this segment.  Mahnke is awesome.  For a hiccup, after seeing his work in this issue, I feared that DC had finally let him slip through the cracks.  That's not really the case, though.  He's an excellent utility player when he needs to be (although it certainly looked like he was doing exactly that role at the end of Final Crisis, there was also the tie-in with his having already drawn the Superman two-issue mini-series for that event).  And he always delivers.

Supergirl rounds out the issue via Tony Bedard, and this segment reads like one of those young adult book series that've been turning into profitable film franchises like The Hunger Games and Divergent.  I have no idea if that's how Supergirl entered the New 52, but this is canny all the same, and deserves to be identified as such.  Sometimes jumping on a bandwagon is a good thing.  It's recognizing a good thing.  And as far as I can tell, this new interpretation of Supergirl has been a good thing.  In the past I've absolutely loved Bedard's work, but recently I've lost track of him.  So it's good to see that he's definitely still got it.

It's an interesting mix for the first issue.  Superman was certainly obvious.  Including someone from the Batman family I suppose was equally obvious.  And as I've suggested, it's probably a good thing to put Supergirl out in front of something like this, too, so she'll have a better chance of getting noticed.  Higgins may have departed Dick Grayson's adventures, but the character has recently been repositioned, so in hindsight this was like a part of that relaunch, too.

An excellent debut issue.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Justice League #30 (DC)

writer: Geoff Johns
artist: Ivan Reis
via Reddit
I chose that for the image from the issue because of that last panel.  I forgot about that moment, but looking back, it reminds me of Shazam (the erstwhile Captain Marvel) and Lex Luthor's relationship in Kingdom Come (which, I suppose, the former's comments to Superman do as well).

This is what I love about Justice League, about Geoff Johns, about DC in general.  As far as I can tell, in a Marvel team-up book, the characters are busy falling all over themselves making quips (such as you'll find in one of their movies).  In a DC book, especially one written by Johns, relationships matter.  Not because you want to remind people about the "fastball special" or somesuch callback nonsense like that, but because even when things change, they stay the same.

(Say that with me, Internet fans who still can't understand the appeal of the New 52.)

Anyway, this issue is also known as the first one since the end of Forever Evil.  It features the immediate and most obvious fallout of the event, Lex Luthor in his new context, being viewed as a hero, and as such his decision to draft himself into the League.

There's a moment where Wonder Woman's lasso of truth is used on him to reveal his motives, too, in case you were wondering.  Unless he's found a way to subvert the lasso, this change of heart seems to be genuine.  He admits to having a massive ego.  But even he sees the crisis hinted at on the last page of Forever Evil as being reason enough to continue working on the level.

Well, for now.

Other plot points worth mentioning: Captain Cold as he makes his own transition to League membership.  The Doom Patrol continuing to work its way into the New 52.  Jessica Cruz making her debut.

Wait, who's Jessica Cruz?  She is going to be the first bearer of a green ring on Earth.  (Technically Jade had Kyle Rayner's ring for a hiccup.  But we'll overlook that.)  She's gaining possession of the Crime Syndicate's Power Ring ring.  As of this issue, she's paralyzed with fear over the prospect.  (A bit ironic, that.)  But you would be, too, if that ring were telling you this:

"You have been chose, Jessica Cruz -- to annihilate the Earth."

Yeah, so things will be interesting.  Did I mention that Luthor figured out that Bruce Wayne is Batman during Forever Evil, and as of this issue isn't taking that information quietly?  He's the kind of guy who will casually visit Wayne Manor and request an audience with Batman...

Good times.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Star Wars #8 (Dark Horse)

writer: J. W. Rinzler
artist: Mike Mayhew
via First Comics News
"Love?! Now I remember why our clans have fought for a thousand years!"
That's Prince Valorum speaking to Annikin Starkiller.  It's the greatest deviation, perhaps of the whole original draft now concluded in comics adaptation with this issue.  And I love it.

The ending has a lot of famous New Hope moments, from a character struggling to find Storm Trooper armor comfortable to rescuing Princess Leia from prison to getting trapped in a garbage shoot to the destruction of a giant space station...

And sneering at the concept of adhering to the ways of the Force (of Others).

Like the whole project, it's strange and wonderful to see so much that's otherwise familiar presented in slightly (though in fact, significantly) altered context.  That being said, I have to spend the bulk of this final review talking about the most interesting moment of the issue, which is a Sith choosing to side with a Jedi.

Really???  That happened???

It happened.  Valorum is stuck in the Vader position under a Tarkin-like figure (or rather, that one Imperial goon who ended up getting Force-choked for his efforts).  And again, mind, Vader himself (or his equivalent) is there, too, and is right along with this belittling of what amounts to the "ancient religion" that seemingly has no bearing in the present.  Starkiller ends up prisoner, and is bound for a bad end when Valorum switches sides (maybe that explains the vote of no confidence!).

The whole thing even makes one reconsider the prequels in a way (from a certain point of view).  By the time Starkiller, Valorum, and Leia end up in the garbage shoot, Valorum has become a Han Solo figure.  Starkiller, despite his first name being Annikin, is another would-be Han Solo.  (A lot of Han Solos running around!  Including the Swamp Thing version!)

Anyway, Valorum and Starkiller evoke Anakin and Obi-Wan in the prequels.  One of the things fans unconsciously missed the most in those films was the lack of a Han Solo.  In a way, Anakin was that figure.  I always thought so.  I always figured George Lucas thought so, too, and here's a kind of proof.

Disentangle and that's what's in this issue.

Of course, it also features a dynamic between the Jedi and Sith that's completely different.  That's what's so fun about this whole thing.  

The last interesting note is that the issue ends with a closing scroll (which actually references a sequel, entitled Saga of the Ophuchi, which Dark Horse will never have a chance to make; Marvel's acquisition of the property has recently been expounded on with three titles set after the events, naturally, of New Hope).

It'll be great fun reading the whole thing back.  (It's, ah, worth noting you can read the whole thing in a collected edition as of last week.)

May the Force of Others be with you!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Saga #19 (Image)

writer: Brian K. Vaughan
artist: Fiona Staples
via Henchman-4-Hire
I love Saga.  When it originally launched I scrambled to catch up and continue reading, one of the few series I followed like that at that time (I've been in survival mode as far as reading comics goes for a few years now).  Everyone said how awesome it was and they were right.

That's not always the case, mind.

But it certainly was with Saga.  I've realized recently that Brian K. Vaughan's latest epic, this time a sci-fi epic, is kind of like Hawkman.  If you're at all familiar with Thanagar, you know what I'm talking about.  There's nothing wrong with that.

But since I read with such horrible consistency these days (there were days of yore when I read dozens of series faithfully every month!), there are always sacrifices.  Even series I adore I can't/don't read regularly.  So the fact that my recent record with Saga has been spotty at best is no negative judgment on the series.

The saga of Saga revolves around the flight of Marko and Alana, members of warring alien species with a classic Romeo & Juliet romance going on.  Lately they've gone into hiding.  As the above panel suggests, they have different ideas of what that means.

(I should note that the panel is not the greatest representation of Fiona Staples' work.  She's brilliant.  Like this:
via comiXology
The, ah, opening page of the issue involves the birth of one of these robotheads.  It's one of many examples that this is a matures readers comic.  The robotheads, as represented by Prince Robot and his growing family, are just an example of the quirky awesome supporting cast of Saga.)

One of the great things about Saga is its narrator, Hazel, who is the daughter of Marko and Alana, who as the series progresses has just been born, so she's kind of like Richard Dreyfuss in Stand by Me or Bob Saget in How I Met Your Mother.  The last page of the issue offers a startling development that is heartbreaking if I'm interpreting it correctly.  I probably am.  It's awful!

But again, Saga is awesome!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Nightwing #30 (DC)

writer: Tim Seeley, Tom King
artist: Javier Garron, Jorge Lucas, Mikel Janin
via Bleeding Cool
Among the many fake controversies to be found recently on the Internet was the one surrounding the final issue of Nightwing (this one).  Apparently there's a whole alternate, original version that exists and does the elegiac, retrospective, reverent look that fans might have wanted to see otherwise, and this one has been seen a crude patchwork, poor substitute.


I'll admit, it's not a perfect issue.  But it's a far better one than it could have been.  As you may or may not know, Dick Grayson ended up being a pivotal player during Forever Evil after he was kidnapped by the bad guys and exposed to the world as being the face behind the domino mask of Nightwing.  By the end, he "died."  Not in the typical comic book fashion.  More like a cliffhanger.  In the final issue of the crossover event, he was alive and hardy.

And repositioned.  And so his ongoing series, Nightwing, was cancelled, and was just relaunched as Grayson.

Dick Grayson was originally introduced in 1940's Detective Comics #38.  He is of course the original Robin, Batman's sidekick, the Boy Wonder.  Over the years his role has evolved.  He was the original reader surrogate, the Spider-Man prototype if you will.  Eventually he struck out on his own, starting when he helped form the Teen Titans.  In the '80s he adopted a new superhero identity, Nightwing, and a new costume.  In the '90s he donned the cowl of Batman for the first time.  He was scheduled to die in Infinite Crisis.  Grant Morrison had him reprise his time as Batman.  And now this.

I've long been a fan of the character, thanks to Burt Ward's depiction in the classic '60s TV show.  (Holy glove-fidgeting, Batman!)  I was too young and unfamiliar with the actual comics at the time to know it wasn't Dick who was killed off in "A Death in the Family."  I was devastated when I saw the news in the paper.  I wondered why he wasn't in Tim Burton's Batman.

And, eventually, I thrilled when Chuck Dixon and Scott McDaniel launched the first Nightwing ongoing comic.  I loved that run.  I loved Devin K. Grayson's run.  And I wondered why it was so hard for subsequent creators to sync up with Dick the way Chuck and Devin had.  When the New 52 came around and Kyle Higgins launched the next Nightwing ongoing comic, I thought someone had finally figured it out.  And for a brief moment, he had. it reached the point where Dickwas once again expendable.  Or, malleable.  A trait that has become perhaps Dick Grayson's defining characteristic.  The ability to be "who you need me to be."

That's from this issue, by the way, those very words, the final ones of this final issue.  It's not a perfect summation.  It's something a character in transition would say in lieu of something more definitive.  But that's what's unique about Dick.  He's an icon who's free to evolve.  Always looking for that chance to define his legacy.  All over again.  Because he's always changing, it's hard to think of him in the same way one does, say, Batman or Spider-Man.

That lost version of Nightwing #30 might have been that statement.  Who knows?  What I love about this version is that it's a final issue that actually speaks to the next issue.  Directly.  You have no idea how rarely that happens.  Is this actually the first time?  Correct me here, folks.

So often, the final issue of a series, or sometimes just a creative run, is self-reflective, self-referential.  Most of the time it's be a different creative team than the one that was last best known, and is incongruous.  Or dismissive.  What have you.

You will note the absence of Kyle Higgins in the credits.  No Chicago (Dick's last context prior to this and/or Forever Evil).  I don't have notable history reading Tim Seeley or Tom King, both of whom write Grayson, along with artist Mikel Janin.  They're all here.  A lot of the issue is representing the new context, Dick as an undercover agent infiltrating a criminal organization known as Spyral.  His new context is being a spy.  Actually, it's not terribly different from Devin K. Grayson's Renegade arc (so there's even precedence!).

There's also Batman beating the stuffing out of Dick.  And Dick fighting back.  We get Dick's version of the mission statement Christopher Nolan had Bruce Wayne's father give him in Batman Begins ("And why do we fall, Bruce?  So we can learn to pick ourselves up."):

"We fall because someone pushes us.  We get up to push back."

I consider this a pretty good time to be a fan of Dick Grayson.  I think the more DC's writers are forced to think about him and work with him, rather than merely write more adventures (which is what it might seem they're doing now), the better he is.  So I'm happy that an issue like this exists.  I'm happy that it tries to reconcile the present with the past.  I'm happy that the ending is the same as the beginning.

But I'm strange like that.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Ms. Marvel #4 (Marvel)

writer: G. Willow Wilson
artist: Adrian Alphona
via The Daily Crate
This is the big turning point issue.  Technically, it could easily have served as the first issue of the series, and a lot of other creators might have done exactly that.

By the way, G. Willow Wilson is not a lot of other creators.

Funny thing is, her Ms. Marvel in this issue looks a lot like Mark Millar's Kick-Ass (thanks to Adrian Alphona's art looking a little like John Romita Jr.'s in some respects), just an ordinary girl (our girl Kamala Khan) trying to be a superhero without any of the usual finesse.  Yes, this is an origin story.  Superheroes in origin stories don't usually have a lot of finesse (just look at multiple versions of Batman's).  But this is the start of a series, and that's not typical for an origin story at the start of a series.  So, Kick-Ass, or Brian Michael Bendis's Ultimate Spider-Man.  Stories that don't jump right into typical superhero material.

The thing is, last issue Ms. Marvel was shot.  So this issue she's got to figure out if that, y'know, fatal.  It isn't, just so you know, or this new series will have had some strange stories in the last two issues I've read.  The twist is that these powers Kamala is still trying to figure out have a lot to do with altering her body.  To this point she's been in superhero form in basically a different body.  The typical, blonde white girl body of Ms. Marvel.  This is the issue where that changes.  She changes back to Kamala, and learns that the bullet wound doesn't travel with her.  

So the panels above are a little of what follows.  This is also the issue where Kamala's good friend Bruno finds out her little secret.  When the cops show up at the crime scene (Bruno's brother has attempted to fake a robbery of the Circle Q where Bruno works and this was the result, Kamala being shot), and Ms. Marvel has once again become Kamala (to her benefit!), she and Bruno scramble to provide a cover for her.  It's not impressive, and not convincing when Kamala tries explaining that she is Ms. Marvel.  She doesn't look like her, right?

Another understated moment in the series.  The whole point so far has been that Kamala is definitely not the Ms. Marvel you know.  The draw was always the Muslim Ms. Marvel.  Except Wilson hasn't just written the Muslim Ms. Marvel.  To even conceive of the Muslim Ms. Marvel was always going to be risky.  Perhaps it helps that she lives in a fictional Jersey City.

So I love this series more and more.  This issue, this strange new Ms. Marvel begins to embrace herself, her own image, as a superhero.  Her unique costume begins to take shape.  If you're going for the hat trick of superheroes (bucking stereotypes, being a woman, and wearing a costume that doesn't exploit a woman's body) then you've finally arrived at the moment you've been waiting for.  (It goes without saying, but Alphona probably doesn't even know what "brokeback" is.)

It's a goofy series.  It's lighthearted.  But as with the best of Wilson, it's a constant revelation, and its appeal only grows.  I don't know how long it's going to last.  I don't know if this Ms. Marvel ultimately has a chance at being embraced by the larger Marvel landscape.  Outside of her own comic, she would probably be just another bumbling teenage hero.  (The whole Avengers Arena thing is the proof in the pudding about how far that goes.)  That's too bad.  But then again, she could also be like a new Spider-Man.  If she proved popular enough, that would not be too big of a stretch.  Who knows?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Forever Evil #7 (DC)

writer: Geoff Johns
artist: David Finch
via Inside Pulse
That's actually the last page of the issue.  This counts as a spoiler?  But this is my approach to talking about what's really important, ultimately, about Forever Evil and its finale.

Quite frankly, I'm bored with the reaction I've read about DC's latest crossover event.  It's really the same fan outrage nonsense that seems to have finally overtaken the general Internet reaction (and has caused a number of sites I follow to also comment on it recently).  I've seen this before.  It happened to Star Trek at the turn of the century.  (The difference is that at the movies, superheroes are still undeniably king, which means regardless of what Internet fans say, comics will be safe for the foreseeable future, which is something Star Trek couldn't say at that time.  Other things were popular.  Other things got all the positive chatter.  So Star Trek went away for a while.  And, incidentally, came back in a big way.)

Anyway, the fake controversy of Forever Evil was that it was all about villains.  I have no idea what that's about.  It's the same logical nonsense as with all these other "controversies."  You can't even blame event fatigue anymore.  DC hadn't had an event to any major extent since 2011.  That's a major gap, folks.

What Forever Evil actually did was allow Geoff Johns to do what he did when he was working on Green Lantern, which was turn his current run into a crossover event.  This time it was Justice League's turn.  Which is hugely appropriate.  I've been calling the series a monthly event book from the start anyway.

Yes, Forever Evil is about villains.  But ironically, these villains were working toward a shot at redemption the whole time.  Since I haven't to this point read the whole story, I don't know how obvious that was.  Probably not to be considered a surprise twist, however.

The best part about it is that Johns had a chance to do something different.  (Admittedly, there are certain parallels to a couple of Marvel events, such as Secret Invasion and Siege.  Good creative writing doesn't need to quibble over these things, only bad critical reactions.)  And he embraced the opportunity.  That's apparent in how he ended the story.

Basically, the evil Justice League that has been featured in such stories as Grant Morrison's JLA: Earth 2  took over for a while, and then Lex Luthor figured out how to beat it.  It's ironic that Johns has now written two major events outside of regular continuity (Flashpoint was all about an alternate reality, after all), although as the final image suggests, Forever Evil leads to very specific continuity indeed, both the New 52 version and DC's continuity as a whole (for those who don't know, that's Anti-Monitor, the villain of 1985's Crisis on Infinite Earths, the seminal crossover event of all DC crossover events).

When Justice League launched, the revamped continuity had the team forming in response to the first appearance of Darkseid.  (Earth 2, unrelated to Morrison's comic and in fact a revamped Justice Society of America book, is all about an alternate version of how those events played out.)  If Johns is suggesting what I think he's suggesting, it would be his greatest revision since Green Lantern: Rebirth.  Darkseid has always been obsessed with the so-called Anti-Life Equation.  Repositioning the Anti-Monitor into this context is classic Johns genius, figuring out how to look at something differently, similarly, but in an elevated state.

The issue is about winding down the current story, of course.  Alexander Luthor, who happens to be another Crisis creation, turned out to be the big bad of Forever Evil (he was also featured in Johns's first effort at a Crisis sequel, Infinite Crisis).  Villains to a certain extent in comics have always been defined as characters who pursued having powers from a a more negative way than superheroes.  That's what Alexander was all about.  And it was his undoing, because once they were taken away, he was easy to eliminate.  His alternate self, "our" Lex Luthor, figured this out.

Forever Evil is a Lex Luthor story.  He's since gone on to headline Justice League itself.  This won't last.  But it's an interesting repositioning all the same.  I think Johns has more nuance in his characterization than, say, Marvel had for Norman Osborn.  At one point he bellows, "But he was my monster," when Bizarro is killed and someone tried to understand why he's so upset about it.  Luthor has classically been portrayed as jealous of Superman.  In his current incarnation he may have finally found a way to get over his jealousy.  He's transcended the situation.  He'd have to revert to what the Internet thought this story was like to fall significantly.  I don't see that happening.  It's far less interesting.

Besides, Johns has already proven he probably won't do that, with how he's handled Sinestro recently.  Who, incidentally, has his own series now.

It's just good storytelling.  Johns has taken the opportunity to do a lot of repositioning.  Ted Kord is back.  Kord was famously killed off in previous continuity in the run-up to Infinite Crisis.  Now he's a younger character who may serve as the useful counterpoint to Lex.  There's the final fate of Nightwing.  There's been outrage concerning that, too.  Whatever.

As far as I can tell, this is nothing but Johns doing himself better.  That doesn't happen often.  He's been at his game, and at the top of the DC game, for years now.  One might expect a little apathy.  Except the challenge of representing the face of the New 52 has seemed to energize him.  New opportunities.  Revisiting old stories, seeing new possibilities in them.  This is all right up my wheelhouse.  His, certainly.

So, don't believe what you've heard.  Forever Evil is apparently pretty fantastic.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Batman and Robin #31 (DC)

writer: Peter J. Tomasi
artist: Doug Mahnke
via Reddit
The penultimate chapter in "The Hunt for Robin" sees Batman come up against Frankenstein for the first time since #19.  As suggested in the above sample from this issue, Frankenstein hasn't forgotten what the grief-stricken Batman did to him previously.

It's a perfect issue.  One of my big regrets from the early New 52 was not reading Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E., which stars the character originally introduced in Grant Morrison's ambitious Seven Soldiers of Victory project and also featured in Flashpoint: Frankenstein & the Creatures of the Unknown.  Hopefully these latest appearances will cause more fans than just me to remember how awesome Frankenstein is.

The artist with Peter Tomasi this time around, rather than regular collaborator Patrick Gleason, is the always excellent Doug Mahnke, who it might need reminding helped create The Mask (I'm continually surprised that no effort has been made to relaunch this character).  

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Quarter Bin #52 "Grant Morrison, Cosmic Odyssey"

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

Animal Man #24 (DC)
From June 1990.
Animal Man #25
From July 1990.

Recently Zimmie's (my local comics shop these days) actually had a selection of bargain back issues.  I love poring through boxes of this stuff.  Fortunately, wherever this selection came from had a keen interest in Grant Morrison.  I've read both these issues already (collected in Animal Man: Deus Ex Machina, the most memorable and iconic volume of his run).  The first issue features Superhero Limbo, which rereading the complete Final Crisis made me realize is a concept Morrison actually revisited.  The second has Buddy Baker on the verge of finally breaking the fourth wall, meeting Morrison himself, on his way to realizing he really is a character in a comic book.  The more recent Animal Man comics (recently concluded) from Jeff Lemire has been the closest to this era the character has come in years, although without all the existential awareness.

Cosmic Odyssey #4 (DC)
From 1988.

One of several DC crossover events (including Legends, Genesis, and the aforementioned Final Crisis) to feature Jack Kirby's New Gods as the primary context, this is the event that became best known for Green Lantern John Stewart's from-that-point defining moment of losing an entire planet on his watch.  In this issue he grapples with suicidal grief, with Martian Manhunter helping him get over the hump.  The writer is Jim Starlin, which is hugely appropriate, given that this is a Darkseid story, and Starlin is best known for his Darkseid pastiche, Thanos (coming soon to Marvel movies everywhere!) in such crossover events as The Infinity Gauntlet.  The artist is Mike Mignola in perhaps his best-known work prior to creating Hellboy.  Aside from John Stewart, it's always been Mignola's work that I wanted to experience from this event.  If I were DC, I would keep all of these New Gods crossover events in print.

Doom Patrol #22 (DC)
From May 1989.
Doom Patrol #29
From January 1990.
via Simon Bisley Gallery

I didn't buy all of the Grant Morrisons in the selection, but picked and chose.  The first of these two Doom Patrol issues is the finale to his opening arc, "Crawling from the Wreckage," which I hadn't read before (it would help, I assume, to read the complete story).  The second is the finale to "The Painting That Ate Paris," a story I have read in its entirety.  Aside from the narration from a poorly educated man (amply reflected in his poor spelling), this issue may perhaps best be known for Morrison's first handling of DC's icons (aside from, I guess, Arkham Asylum).  Doom Patrol has recently resurfaced in Forever Evil and Justice League.  This team is the original X-Men, just as the Challengers of the Unknown are the original Fantastic Four.  Morrison tended to take an extremely surreal approach to the team, the first version of his Invisibles, as it were.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The New 52: Futures End #1 (DC)

writer: Brian Azzarello, Jeff Lemire, Dan Jurgens, Keith Giffen
artist: Patrick Zircher
via DC Wikia
Futures End is the latest weekly series from DC, launched on Free Comic Book Day earlier this year.  There's been a lot of speculation on just how important it really is, whether it's leading to a significant event next year (how much the concurrent Batman Eternal is involved remains to be seen, but the upcoming Earth 2: World's End, which begins in October, will definitely be part of the loop).  The New 52 trend of September being an event month continues with a full-blown Futures End tie-in across every ongoing series.

So what about Futures End itself?  Well, Batman Beyond, Terry McGinnis, has now joined official canon, sent from the future to slightly earlier in our future to prevent the end of the world.  Conveniently, everyone involved seems to be characters DC tried to feature in their own New 52 series (although no sign of Static, so far as I know, so far).  This is bad news for Stormwatch (as always; although in this new context I think maybe someone could finally help them find their DC groove) but good news for Grifter (mixed bag for WildStorm overall).

Also involved in this issue is Firestorm.  For whatever reason, I seemed to skip the whole New 52 experience, but I loved what was being done with the character previous to the relaunch, after the third host, Jason Rusch, was introduced post-Infinite Crisis.  With the brain (Martin Stein) and the brawn (Ronnie Raymond) thrown into the mix, there evolved full-blown potential for a Firestorm franchise, if the character ever became, y'know, popular.

Mostly, though, the biggest winner I foresee at this point is Grifter.  The best thing about 52, the brilliant weekly that began this modern trend at DC, was how it took characters who had been overlooked and made them relevant, and Grifter's the one who most closely matches what I loved so much in those pages.  If there was a true problem with Countdown, it was a lack of that kind of character.  Trinity didn't have one either, but I think there were a lot of things calculated incorrectly with that one.

No, I haven't been reading Futures End regularly.  In fact, this remains the most recent issue I've read.  But I suspect it will be a pretty good weekly.  I trust Brian Azzarello and Jeff Lemire, two of the key writers in the current DC fold, and they have a few guiding voices in Dan Jurgens and Keith Giffen to keep things not only interesting but grounded in the kind of work that has always been exemplary of this company, which is about as much as you can expect from a DC weekly.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Reading Comics #127 "Antony Johnston"

Antony Johnston is the genius writer of Wasteland, one of the best comics I've ever read, counting down to its sixtieth and last issue later this year (#56 just released!).  Thankfully he's being afforded an expanded presence in the comics landscape thanks to a pair of new Image series, which happen to feature art from his best Wasteland collaborators.

The more recent The Fuse features Justin Greenwood (I first experienced him on Marc Guggenheim's Resurrection).  I have the first issue waiting in my comiXology queue, but the more recent #3 now stands as my first real experience with it.
via Image
Fuse is a detective comic set in the future.  The genius of it is that it allows Johnston to work on his signature world-building in less daunting context than readers have typically been able to experience from him.  And it's not even the far future, more like one of those near-future worlds that look completely familiar to what you already know.  You don't even have to worry about the future at all to enjoy Fuse, at least not with this issue.

(It's the kind of trick that has allowed Jonathan Nolan and J.J. Abrams' Person of Interest to be a reliable hit, whereas so many of Abrams' other shows have been stuck with the genre tag and therefore had limited appeal.  Frame it as something that looks conventional and you can get away with so much more!)

I like what I read in the issue, although of course for me, it's Johnston's world-building that's the real draw, so I will have to read more (another dirty trick!) to truly get Fuse in my blood.

Of more immediate appeal for me is Umbral, which Johnston launched slightly earlier with original Wasteland collaborator Christopher Mitten.  I've talked about this series already, how it's kind of like Wasteland if it had been set entirely in the city of Newbegin (and soaked, soaked! in purple).  Since I haven't been reading it regularly (I hardly read any comics regularly, so this is not a knock against the series), I'm still prone to getting lost.  I make a poor champion in that regard.  I do, however, highly recommend it.
via Image
Coincidentally, the next issue is being released next week (there was a small break between issues, which is worth it to keep Mitten energized and involved in the project).  The first trade, Out of the Shadows, was released at the end of May.

Umbral is pretty much the opposite of Fuse.  It wears its genre (magic fantasy) thickly on its sleeve.  It's also a quest story, like Wasteland, although the approach is far more deliberate.  Again, Johnston seems to have handled this expanded platform brilliantly.  

(This is not to say I think any less of Wasteland.  I applaud worthwhile ambition.  And Wasteland has always been a peak example of that.)

I was happy to come across Umbral #6.  Not keeping track of the series closely (because, again, my trips to comic book stores and/or digital purchases are erratic these days), I didn't really know how fortuitous this one was.  It feels nice to be a part of the experience.  Part of that experience is definitely the letters column, which Umbral features vibrantly.  Since these things are no longer a given experience in comics, it's almost as much a statement as a reader's platform on how the creators approach their fans, and comics in general, when they have them and how they approach them.  Saga's letters column is the best around.  There's just no question.  Brian Michael Bendis tends to use them to talk about his many projects.  The Walking Dead is one extended, interactive forum, probably moreso than any other I've seen.  As of this issue, Umbral has entered the big leagues.  Good stuff.  

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Batman and Robin #29 (DC)

writer: Peter J. Tomasi
artist: Patrick Gleason
via comiXology
For the past year, Batman and Robin has been missing Robin, since Damian's death in Batman Incorporated #8, and so this has become a team-up book.  Unlike other team-up books you could think of, however, Peter Tomasi's version has remained committed to advancing a storyline.  As such, "The Hunt for Robin," which next week hits a new peak with the Robin Rises one-shot and subsequent arc in the ongoing saga.

It's the first time real attention has been called to the series.  I've been saying all along that this is arguably the best Batman book in the New 52 and I hope other readers are taking the opportunity to find out for themselves.

Long story short, Ra's al Ghul has stolen the bodies of Damian and Talia, son and mother, part of a screwed up family shared with Batman himself, and Batman is none too pleased.  He wants Damian to sleep in peace.  Al Ghul wants what he always wants: eternal life.  In years past he would've easily had it with all the plentiful Lazarus Pits that've kept him alive and/or resurrected over the years, but their numbers have dwindled, forcing him on a worldwide search, with Batman hot on his tail.

The guest star this issue is Aquaman.  Since Brightest Day there's been a concerted effort to rehabilitate his image.  You may have heard that he's a joke.  In the comics, these days, he's become completely legitimate.  (And in the movies, he's become Jason Momoa!)  In previous attempts to accomplish this, Aquaman was relegated to his own world, which is fine, but that always has the effect of isolating him and therefore preventing anyone from seeing him interact, outside of Grant Morrison's JLA, with the rest of the DC universe.

Typically, it's an excellent appearance, not just because the character has been on a hot streak, but because Tomasi is clearly in his element.  The issue that follows (because I read them out of order and therefore have written about them out of order) features Wonder Woman, and I guess Tomasi wasn't as comfortable.  This is not because Wonder Woman is, well, a woman.  Tomasi does monsters well, and his ideal collaborator, Patrick Gleason, does them well, too.

Batman and the grotesque.  Kelley Jones knew that twenty years ago!

"The grotesque" in this context means, of course, al Ghul's latest attempt to resurrect Damian.  He had clones incubated in whales, and...just very messy business, really.  So, grotesque.  But beautifully grotesque, thanks to Gleason!

And at one point, Batman shouts at Ra's, "Give me back my son!"  Now, I apologize in advance for those who don't like Mel Gibson anymore, but I can't help but think of his movie Ransom when I hear that.  Good stuff.

And I now want an Aquaman series from Tomasi and Gleason, should they unfortunately be forced to leave Batman and Robin at some point.  One hundred issues and a movie!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Reading Comics #126 "Bull Moose Grab Bag III"

Ten comics for a steal.  Even when the contents go wrong, you can't go wrong.  These happened to all be bagged and boarded.  Always a plus.  I used to do that with all my comics.  Became less of a priority after the first break in reading at the start of the millennium, and then I sold that collection, and sold the next one.  What're you gonna do?

Uncanny Avengers #16 (Marvel)
Here's Rick Remender again, our new friend from the pages of Captain America, apparently in the thick of some gigantic crisis that will likely have been rebooted, given all the characters who are killed off during it.  The big threat constitutes the Apocalypse Twins (this series is part of the X-Men/Avengers mash-up that has persisted since the end of, well, AvX, so the referenced Apocalypse is the one and same Apocalypse you may or may not have recognized as teased at the end of X-Men: Days of the Future Past).  This story kind of wraps up next issue, but carries over into the next storyline.  Well, whatever.  The big development in this particular installment involves Thor and Captain America being all climactic, in typical Avengers fashion.  The artist is Steve McNiven, whom I remember most fondly from the "Old Man Logan" arc in Wolverine.  Good reliable talent right there, makes this looks sufficiently impressive.  As usual, I don't really understand what Remender is up to.  Like Jonathan Hickman, Remender for me is what Grant Morrison seems to be for a lot of other readers.

Batwing #28 (DC)
For a while, Batwing was the African representative of Batman Incorporated.  I enjoyed what I read of that from the start of the New 52 era.  Recently the armor has gone to Lucius Fox's son.  Based on this issue I don't see this as an improvement.  Writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti have plenty of good credentials behind them (various Jonah Hex and Uncle Sam & the Freedom Fighters comics chief among them), but they're felled by the typical trap of trying to fake their way through the stereotype urban scene (ready to write Milestone adventures they are not).

The Flash #27 (DC)
At one time I read The Flash regularly without exception, thanks in large part to the remarkable Mark Waid run that began a little over twenty years ago.  I haven't really done much of that lately, not really at all since the New 52 launch, perhaps out of disappointment that Geoff Johns cut short his second run with the latest relaunch.  This issue, from recently departed (co-)writer Brian Buccellato, who along with Francis Manapul has shifted over to Detective Comics, is actually pretty good, mixing Rogues with history, playing with the revised Barry Allen story of having the death of his mother hanging over him thanks in part to fact that her murder was pinned on his father (made for truly excellent material in Flashpoint).  I still have to wonder if this increasingly revolving game of musical chairs will lead to resolution on that.  Or simply hope Johns will return to the thread he left behind...

Forever Evil: A.R.G.U.S. #4 of 6 (DC)
I remember Martin Gray over at Too Dangerous for a Girl calling this perhaps the best part of the Forever Evil crossover event.  A.R.G.U.S. is the we're-not-S.H.I.E.L.D.? group from DC (which is funny, because Checkmate is a perfectly viable and distinctive alternative).  The main draw for me is the presence of Steve Trevor, who in a previous incarnation was the, ah, Lois Lane to Wonder Woman's Superman.  Since the New 52, he's best been defined by his inability to retain that relationship, and thus his efforts to find a surrogate.  I thought he'd found it in Justice League of America, but things might've changed when I wasn't looking.  Another sometimes-supporting cast member for Wonder Woman, Etta Candy, is present in the issue.  Wonder Woman herself isn't in the issue (mostly), but curiously she is on the cover, and her frequent enemy Cheetah shows up both on the cover and on the last page (it's actually artist Neil Edwards' weakest moment the whole issue, besides mouthless Psi).  One has the sense that the whole point of the mini-series was to further establish the Wonder Woman brand in the New 52.  This is overall a good thing.

Green Lantern #28/Red Lanterns #28 (DC)
via Hit Fix

via Green Lantern Wikia
This is another another comic I was glad to have gotten randomly in one of these grab bags, especially based on my increased appreciation for Red Lanterns from other grab bags.  This was the flip book saga featuring the debut of Supergirl as a Red Lantern.  This is a saga that completely capitalizes on the New 52 version of Supergirl, who isn't the well-known superhero she was in previous incarnations.  In fact, no one knows who she is when she pops up as a Red Lantern.  They in fact think she is just a random Red Lantern.  This occurs in the midst of other things that've been developing in the Green Lantern franchise, likely by the lead of Robert Venditti, who was given the unenviable task of following Geoff Johns in that regard (unless people were just looking for a fresh start, which Green Lantern itself didn't really get at the start of the New 52).  One of his ideas has been to restrict the use of all those rings floating around, with the idea that unrestricted usage drains the universe of essential energy.  Something like that.  Star Trek: The Next Generation toyed with that idea concerning warp drives.  Venditti also seems to have reconfigured a few semi-familiar faces from days past, including Evil Star (totally reinvented and it seems quite interestingly), Kanjar Ro, and Bolphunga the Unrelenting (famously debuted in the same Alan Moore as Mogo, "Mogo Doesn't Socialize").  Each time I sample Venditti's Green Lantern I like it.  Certainly the same goes for Red Lanterns these days.  The writer on the flipside is Charles Soule, who's always impressing me.  The man running the Red Lanterns in the comics is Guy Gardner, who is actually less of a hothead than ever before.  He's also got Ice by his side once again (more fond memories from two decades ago), although it's as contentious a relationship as ever.  (By the way, Guy looks awesome these days.  About the first time ever that can be said.)  The main thrust of the flip book actually has far more to do with Green and Red Lanterns not getting along (but for different reasons than before, more like a professional rivalry these days).  When they realize this mysterious girl is Kryptonian, they of course realize she has something to do with Superman.  If you're not reading either (or I guess any of these, including Supergirl), this would be a good sampling occasion.

The Superior Spider-Man #26 (Marvel)
I recently talked a little bit about how the Doctor Spider-Man era ended, but on its way to that ending there was (seemingly as always) Green Goblin to deal with.  But in this particular issue Goblin is dealing with the Hobgoblin, trying to figure out who's behind the latest incarnation.  He thinks he knows.  He's wrong.  There are a number of stories in the issue with a number of artists drawing them.  One is Peter Parker inside the so-called mindscape figuring out how he'll find his way back.  Another is the Avengers finally rejecting Doctor Spider-Man (I won't explain that again).  The final is the Goblin/Hobgoblin one, which amounts to the most significant one (it does rate the cover), and feature the work of Humberto Ramos.  I was a huge fan of Ramos for years thanks in large part to, ah, his collaboration with Mark Waid (I just can't avoid mentioning that guy!) on Impulse.  I'm glad he's remained relevant, and that he's become one of Dan Slott's chief collaborators on whatever version of Spider-Man he's writing.  His Goblins are fantastic.  Who knew?  Plays completely against type (as far as I knew), but it's a huge reason why that's the best thing about this issue.

Superman #27 (DC)
One of the major developments of the New 52 was the sudden end of the romance between Lois & Clark.  (Guess she didn't want to become a desperate housewife.  Ha!)  But thankfully, Lois Lane has stuck around.  And even gained powers.  But I guess with this issue she lost them, which as far as current logic goes is a good thing.  Superman risks a giant gamble in allowing Parasite to siphon them from her.  Scott Lobdell is at the helm.  Apparently his run wasn't very popular.  I still have no idea why fans find him so hard to love.  (But, ah, the next issue promises Starfire.  There you go.)

Swamp Thing #28 (DC)
Swamp Thing, with about a decade lead time, was a poster child for the early Vertigo, thanks to Alan Moore's psychological approach.  In the New 52 the character has returned to his own mythology, which Charles Soule goes about exploring in this issue.  The character of Capucine, featured and named on the cover, is fascinating, a long-lived woman with an incredible story all her own.  This is good stuff.  Another series I've never really thought to buy deliberately, but am infinitely glad each time I've found it in a grab bag.

Talon #15 (DC)
A spin-off from Scott Snyder's Batman...not hugely compelling a concept on its own.

Teen Titans #27 (DC)
Remember Impulse, which I mentioned earlier.  That was Bart Allen's earliest incarnation.  Geoff Johns turned him into Kid Flash.  And the New 52, thanks to Scott Lobdell and a new backstory, or I guess forestory, is a freedom fighter from the future.  I've long been interested in reading some of this for myself, and I think it's pretty interesting.  The only curious element is the strange looks Kid Flash keeps giving people, as if he really is the villain fans have been interpreting this new version of the character to have suddenly become.  One of Lobdell's original Titans, Solstice, has her story explained in the issue, too, while the Superboy situation is explore, too.  (From what I've read about it, I think that's pretty interesting, too.)  Besides all that, I also found it interesting that Scott McDaniel provided breakdowns.  I found this particular image to make that most obvious:
via Up Roxx
If you know McDaniel's work at all, you can see it most clearly in the shoulder.  He's another talent I wish would get a better break these days.  He's long been a favorite of mine (how long? twenty years of course!).  The last significant work he's done was the short-lived Static Shock at the start of the New 52, which to say it was received poorly would be an understatement.  This is unfortunate, since McDaniel started out that one as both artist and writer (his first real effort in that regard), which was a statement of confidence from DC.  I don't know what's happened, but it certainly seems like he lost it, apparently in both regards.  I wish him luck digging his way back to where he belongs.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Reading Comics #125 "Bull Moose Grab Bag II"

Ten comics packaged together with a remarkable bargain price!  These are all from last year, but that's okay...

Angel & Faith #23 (Dark Horse)
I don't particularly care for Buffy and/or related franchises, so I don't have anything to say about this one.  Sometimes you get comics you just don't care about in these things.  It's a risk!

Secret Avengers #5 (Marvel)
Even more blatantly than the other time I read an issue from this series (and hopefully this is the last time, but again: brag bags) this is so blatantly a S.H.I.E.L.D. comic, I have no idea why it's called anything but.  Are people really assumed not to know that term better than "Avengers" of some extrapolation?  Really?

Batman: The Dark Knight #21 (DC)
The New 52 Batman launch that was meant to be a vehicle for David Finch (and, incidentally, has since ceased publication), one that until now I hadn't read (there was a Bane issue early on that...looked like the kind of Bane story I try very hard to avoid).  This particular issue was written by Gregg Hurwitz with art from Ethan Van Sciver, who I'm still surprised has been reduced to relative obscurity after being a huge deal not so long ago.  Notable people get lost in the shuffle no matter the context.  It happens.  It's still sad to see happen.  Dark Knight was always more of a visceral experience than other Batman comics, and this one's no exception.  It features Mad Hatter, but Batman is still in pretty dramatic mode (perhaps only in the pages of Dark Knight would this have happened).  It's funny, because within the context of Dark Knight this is kind of the story Scott Snyder has been telling within the pages of Batman proper, whether in the Court of Owls stories or "Death of the Family," what have you.  (I noticed as I was making the Ethan Van Sciver label that I was, in fact, making that label.  Just goes to show.  I've been blogging here since 2011.  That's a long trip in obscurity, alas.)

Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre #4 (DC)
I'm on record as supporting the whole Before Watchmen project.  As it was being published I eventually had to back off reading the whole thing, and so eventually boiled my experience down to the excellent Comedian, but I enjoyed what I'd read of Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner's Silk Spectre when it began, so it's nice to have randomly come across its final issue.  This was a story that was thoroughly about Laurie's journey out from the shadow of her mother, the original Silk Spectre.  Famously in Alan Moore's Watchmen, Laurie's arc was much more about her relationship with Doctor Manhattan and Nite-Owl as well as reconciling the fact that Comedian was her father.  In this comic it was much more about mother and daughter, and so that's how things conclude, a different and perhaps more important reconciliation.  That's the whole thing about Before Watchmen, that it was able to explore significant aspects of the Watchmen canon that benefited from being brought to the forefront in ways that were not possible during the original story.  If it had been a matter of exploitation for exploitation's sake, I think that would have been obvious.  To call Watchmen a finite work and say there were no other stories possible is to miss the point of storytelling entirely, and to limit the impact of the original story, to say these characters who became instantly iconic ultimately had no potential, which is also to say Moore created something that didn't inspire anything.  I think we all agree he inspired a lot of what comics became after Watchmen.  What about before?  In a new context, superheroes mean something else.  Not just allegory.  A place where superheroes and their own narratives can be taken seriously.  Such as this tale of mother and daughter.

Captain America #8 (Marvel)
via IGN
I'm drawing special distinction to this one because my whole perception of the issue changed remarkably while I was reading it.  I don't, or perhaps didn't would be more accurate at this point, have a high estimation of Rick Remender.  I figured, based on my experience with his work, that Remender is a goofy sensationalist (perhaps typified by the whole Zombie Punisher run known as "FrankenCastle").  Long story short, when I heard he was the guy replacing Ed Brubaker as writer of Captain America, I couldn't understand it at all.  I mean, Remender is pretty much the opposite of Brubaker's gritty realism.  And when I heard that he'd definitely gone in that opposite direction, I thought, Well that's all you need to know.  So when I found this in the grab bag, I figured it would be just another one in this particular selection that I didn't particularly have to care about.  Then I read it.  And then the moment happened.  Captain America has basically been in a Superman-in-space-exile, "Planet Hulk" moment, and there's this boy he's formed a relationship with, and right away I'm completely lost.  But then the relationship between Steve Rogers (that's Captain America, naturally) and the boy crystallizes.  And I think Remender totally gets Steve, in a way Brubaker never did.  He understands that Steve's journey is a matter of deliberate choices, not random chance (as it can sometimes seem post-thaw).  The art is from John Romita, Jr., who has just begun his first-ever DC run, with Geoff Johns, Superman #32.  Romita has a distinctive style I've always enjoyed (among many other projects, he's the guy who helped Mark Millar bring Kick-Ass to life), which is perfect for Remender's Captain America, certainly this particular issue.  The criticism I always leveled against Brubaker was that he didn't really know what to do with Steve Rogers himself (his most famous contribution was the creation of the Winter Soldier, which audiences everywhere got to see in the movies earlier this year).  On that score, I shouldn't have been so critical of Remender, or Marvel's decision.  It was just surprising.  As of now, I might actually argue that Remender's run has a chance of being better.  Start with this issue for yourself if you want to see.  

Deadpool #12 (Marvel)
This is part of the Brian Posehn/Gerry Duggan run that I've previously written as making me as close to a believer in this goofy character as I've ever come.  I don't have much to say about this issue.

The Malevolent Mr. Burns #1 (Bongo)
With stories from Gail Simone (yes, that Gail Simone) and others.  Mr. Burns, of course, from The Simpsons.  Reliably entertaining whether in cartoon or comic book form.

Star Trek #22 (IDW)
"Amok Time" as reinterpreted post-Abrams reboot.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #23 (IDW)
Hey, so for what it's worth, reading this issue, which is also part of the "City Fall" arc from the other grab bag-instilled issue I read previously, is a less painful experience.  So there's that.

Ultimate Comics X-Men #28 (Marvel)
Basically, I'm really of the opinion that Marvel ought to scrap the whole Ultimate line at this point, other than Brian Michael Bendis's Spider-Man.  

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Star Wars #6 (Dark Horse)

writer: J.W. Rinzler
artist: Mike Mayhew
via TM Stash
Annikin - Got one!
Captain Whitsun: You were lucky!

That's from the first page, but clearly evokes an exchange between Luke Skywalker and Han Solo from A New Hope.  And just like that, you have one look at some of the classic material you'll find rediscovered in this particular issue of The Star Wars, adapted from the original draft of George Lucas's epic sci-fi vision...and from the fever dreams of fans everywhere.

And actually, this moment from the movie calls to mind not only the Millennium Falcon's escape from the Death Star (ah, with a tracking device) but also its breathtaking flight from pursuing Star Destroyers through an asteroid field in Empire Strikes Back.

And as you'll recall from my review for #7 (consider this review a prequel!), you'll recall that there be Wookiees, and so here is how we meet them, so that's another callback, for Return of the Jedi.  So there's a lot of material that will be familiar...from a certain point of view.

Is that not enough?  There's another very subtle callback to Empire Strikes Back after our heroes have crash-landed and are on their way to meet the Wookiees (which of course evokes the Ewoks but is also similar to Phantom Menace).  There be bounty hunters!  One looks like Boba Fett, but Mike Mayhew isn't too obvious about it.  This is a pretty neat moment, as Princess Leia has been separated from the rest of the group, and instead of being met by the furry natives is taken captive in advance of where we meet up with her again, in the clutches of the Empire.

Someone else we meet in the issue is Owen Lars, no real connection his counterpart, just someone who's living among the Wookiees, doing what he can to exploit them (perhaps some allusions to what his father was doing in Attack of the Clones).

The Captain Whitsun from the quote nobly sacrifices himself during that breathless opening sequence that also sees Annikin temporarily jettisoned into space (also breathless!).  Upon his retrieval and in delirium while the erstwhile Luke recovers he keeps repeating Leia's name.  Again, sound familiar?

This whole issue, and the ones that follow that wrap up the story, so clearly echo what we'd later see in the movies, it's appropriate that Lucas chose to use so much of that material directly, the stuff that most resembles the serialized sci-fi adventures frequently referred to as the inspiration for Star Wars.  Scrambled as it is, it's still fascinating, the most brilliant thing Dark Horse could have done to round out its relationship with the saga, even if at the time it had no idea it was losing it to Disney.