Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Multiversity #1 (DC)

writer: Grant Morrison
artist: Ivan Reis
via DC Comics
Grant Morrison is going supersized again.  The Multiversity is a project he's been teasing and talking about for years, and his fans have been salivating for exactly as long.  Not that it hasn't been kind of obvious for all that time, but as it turns out, now that it's here and two issues have been released, it's kind of a mix between Seven Soldiers of Victory and The Return of Bruce Wayne.

But to be more accurate, it may actually be his bid to make good with Final Crisis.

Even Morrison's biggest fans have had a hard time with Final Crisis, an event that seemed to go in a thousand different directions at the same time without a great deal of coherence to it.  I personally never had a problem with it, but I'm sure that someone like Morrison would've found that to be a considerable problem for his legacy, a project he and DC were certain about being a surefire success instead becoming a critical nightmare.

As a creator Morrison has always been interested in embracing the total experience.  Famously, he broke the fourth wall in Animal Man, which in some ways still dominates his legacy.  Whenever he's done anything remotely like that again, it could then be argued that he was just repeating himself.  But what's he really been doing?  Pushing, always pushing forward.

A lot like Geoff Johns, the other DC mainstay of the modern era, Morrison loves to look at the history of a character or property, and instead of seeing problems sees opportunities.  Where Alan Moore and Frank Miller famously sought to introduce "realism" to superheroes, Morrison has sought to comprehend and therefore translate what it would mean for superheroes to exist in the worlds they've inhabited in their own context.  (Context, after all, is always king.  With apologies to Jack Kirby.)

The problem, if in fact there was a problem, with Final Crisis was that Morrison in fact was overly ambitious.  He tried to tie a bow around the whole DC experience, when in reality he ended up with a knot.

The Multiversity is Morrison undoing that knot.

It features, in this kickoff issue, one of Final Crisis's key figures, the Monitor known as Nix Uotan, who in that story was banished from among his brethren to the "real world."  Consider this a depiction of where he ended up.  Central to at least Superman's experience in Final Crisis was the unique DC storytelling element known today as the multiverse, where alternate realities sometimes explain how characters who used to be published by other companies suddenly exist in DC proper, or where problems of current continuity are resolved (such as the current series Earth 2, which revived the Justice Society).

As it was with the New Gods for a few years, the multiverse in its totality may be something only Morrison can approach and present in such a way that it stands a chance of being taken seriously.  It's one thing to have a standalone story take place in an alternate reality (one of the enduring examples of the abandoned Elseworlds brand is Superman: Red Son, which imagines, well, a Soviet Superman, although Morrison himself probably wouldn't like that example, since it was written by Mark Millar; he and Morrison were once good friends, but they aren't anymore), another to have them all running around at the same time.  A recipe for disaster.

Not for Morrison.  That's why he's taking the Seven Soldiers/Return of Bruce Wayne approach, but with a twist.  Each issue will feature a different alternate reality, but the interconnectedness of it is that it's all a mission to rescue Nix Uotan.

There are what might be considered meta tricks involved.  So what?  This is unabashedly Morrison's love letter to comic book geeks.  Perhaps that's all you really need to know.  It sounds complicated, but it's really just an excuse for him to let loose (hence Captain Carrot), and suitably, it's something of a fanfare for his current run with DC (he's been absent, actually, since Batman Incorporated and his Action Comics run wrapped up, which made the wait for this that much more interesting and all the more rewarding when it was finally announced to schedule, and of course now that it's finally in print).

For me, perhaps the most interesting thing about the debut issue is the appearance of Bloodwynd.
via The Escapist.  That dude in white is Bloodwynd
In his nonfiction book on superheroes, Supergods, Morrison thoroughly dismissed Bloodwynd as perhaps the prototypical DC version of the forgettable, laughable '90s comics image.  To see him in a Grant Morrison comic, then, is not only surprising, it may be the biggest turnaround in pop culture history (a slight exaggeration).  I happen to love Bloodwynd.  He was intriguing for all the right reasons, and perhaps disappeared at exactly the right moment, leaving his best moments still in his fans' imaginations.

Aside from that, the other character I loved seeing again was President Superman, who first appeared in Final Crisis and was also memorably the featured character in Action Comics #9:
via DC Wikia
I loved that issue, and at the time thought it might be a tease for Multiversity.  Turns out I nailed it.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Ms. Marvel #7 (Marvel)

writer: G. Willow Wilson
artist: Jacob Wyatt
via Things Matter
The two-part Wolverine guestie (a term I just made up) concludes, moving along the series as a whole with, y'know, the power of imagination.

That's the unexpected power of Ms. Marvel, which you might otherwise think of as "that Muslim comic."  The truth is, G. Willow Wilson is clever enough as a writer to have things like facets to her storytelling.

I guess I hadn't realized it at the time, but the first issue actually was a tie-in to the recent Inhumanity crossover event featuring, as you may or may not have guessed, the Inhumans (the X-Men if they were a lot like the New Gods).  That's the secret origin of the mist that gave Kamala Khan her powers.

That and developments in the Inventor arc, which lately has involved a lot more Inventor.

That and Wolverine, who has been in the midst of definitely-probably-permanently-dying, without the benefit of his nifty regenerative powers, imparting on Kamala the importance of not completely relying on her nifty new powers.

And it only seemed like a giant digression from what the first five issues had been doing, an excuse to feature Wolverine and storytelling that doesn't specifically relate to Kamala's Muslim faith issues, which after all is one of the big draws of the series.  Okay, the big draw.

Guest artist Jacob Wyatt unexpectedly brought a more cartoonish look to the series for the arc, and it really worked to keep the mood light.  I mean, it kept Wolverine in a good enough mood to humor Kamala, the way he used to other junior heroes like Kitty Pryde and Jubilee, so that he and/or the reader wasn't thinking definitely-probably-permanently-dying the whole time.

Again, that's to the considerable prowess of Wilson, and the facets she brings to her storytelling.

By the end of the issue, a new supporting character is introduced.  But more on that next issue.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Justice League #33 (DC)

writer: Geoff Johns
artist: Doug Manhke
via Comics X-aminer
Every time the Justice League forms anew, they have the iconic characters as the starting point, and then start dubbing in second stringers, until it's only second stringers.  We're three years in on this run.  New characters have started to join.  That's what's happening again, right?

Well, wrong.  Lex Luthor joined.  In typical Geoff Johns fashion, it's a radical new vision of previously established continuity.  Now that we're a few issues into the Luthor age, how're things looking?  

Actually, pretty good.

That page above has Luthor, plus Niles Caulder, founder of the Doom Patrol, sort of X-Men before there was X-Men.  There's also Power Ring, the new one, like Luthor another gift from Forever Evil.  All three are elements Johns has brought along to great effect.  He introduced Jessica Cruz, actually, in his final issue of Green Lantern, and Element Woman from Doom Patrol is a character he's been working with since Justice League #16 (although she debuted in Flashpoint).  These are examples of long-term planning and stories coalescing.  Maybe not too impressive a fete in and of itself, but also not what other people would do with the League.  Which is what Johns does all the time.  What seems natural after he does it, but probably would never have happened until he did.

Same with Luthor.  Same with Doom Patrol.  Luthor and Caulder clash over ideologies.  As everyone is with Luthor in the League, Luthor views Caulder, with extreme skepticism.  At this point, it's safe to assume we can take Lex at face value.  He wants to be a part of the League.  For all intents and purposes, he is a good guy now.

But it doesn't mean he's always right.  Take Caulder at face value, and statements like this are completely  natural in this series:

"Not everyone with super-powers can be an inspiration."
It's a pretty profound statement.  As far as Johns is concerned, the good guys are the good guys, and the Justice League is comprised of the best good guys there are.  But not everyone is League material.  And that's what Doom Patrol is for Johns, a chance to view superheroes in a different context.  Far too often, what the League itself is can be obscured by what it does.  But a team like Doom Patrol has been lost in the DC shuffle for years.  Not just because Grant Morrison happened to establish his whole legacy in part on the Vertigo series where the team was last relevant, but because sometimes, it's hard even for a company that's handled superheroes for three quarters of a century to know what to do with some of them.  There are plenty of lost superheroes out there.  Some of them are ripe for new context exactly like this.

So you get a perfect platform for a team that's the opposite of the League within Justice League itself.

In the middle of Lex Luthor joining.  In the middle of an alternate version of Green Lantern who's evil but actually it's just the ring and it's now in the possession of someone who's probably good.  I would hyphen all of that, but honestly, that's too much even for me.  Suffice to say, busy, but Johns handles it effortlessly.

That's why he's paid to do this, folks, why he's a cornerstone of DC as a whole.

And while all that is going on, just in case you didn't know the difference between Lex Luthor and Batman, Batman sets that record straight, too.  Because even though Luthor's with the good guys, he still has a massive ego.  And needs to learn his place.  Who better than Batman to teach him?  And who else but Batman can do it while addressing a different problem entirely?

And so that's how, oddly enough, Lex Luthor officially joins the League.

And this is also to say that it's nice to have Doug Mahnke on art.  He belongs here.  Let him stick around a while.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Dysphoria #2 (Hollow Tree)

writer: Allison Torrey
artist: Liana Sposto
via Facebook
I loved the first issue.  Did I love Dysphoria itself?  That's the test of the second issue.

What I loved so much about the first issue was how Allison Torrey and Liana Sposto gave Malcolm Reed a whirlwind experience.  Except the second issue is a direct continuation of that.  In a way, this is good.  In another way, this is disorienting.  It's a little difficult to remain engaged in the series when it tosses not only its main character but its reader from one moment to the next.  

Thankfully, it does settle down.  Malcolm (no relation to the Star Trek: Enterprise character) agrees to be captured by the oppressive bad guys.  Somehow his allies decided he could do this and not be exposed as the guy they just rescued last issue.  Anyway, best not to think of that detail too much.  Anyway, the cop (who technically represents the United States Air Force, and so technically is not a cop) who interrogates him (and, not technically an interrogation) plays it straight until he reveals he's know what was really going on the whole time.  Flip the script.  Always a good story beat.  Glad Dysphoria reached it at exactly the right moment.  

The question remains, will I read the next issue?  Was that enough to retain my interest, or was it a matter of too little too late?

I think so.  The interrogation is a chance to explore the central conflict of the series, and the fact that the cop plays it so cool brings a certain level of nuance to the proceedings, which is also always good.  But I think I've cooled a little after my initial excitement (always got to remember to temper that instinct...).  I like that I can construe events one way while Torrey technically plays them differently.  It means that she's not doing the expected so much as playing to expectations, and at that, fairly cleverly.

Cooled, but not completely.  That's a vote of continued confidence, all said.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Superman #34 (DC)

writer: Geoff Johns
artist: John Romita, Jr.
via IGN

The third issue of the Johns/Romita era explores a little of the nature of good and evil.  In comics, this can be a pretty cut-and-dry thing.  The knock against Superman is that he's a character who makes that painfully obvious (which, I think, is pretty much the whole reason, contradictory enough, for why Man of Steel proved to be so difficult for viewers to swallow).

Well, he's met someone who is apparently even more of a good guy than he is.

The story of a new character introduced in a long-existing character's series usually leads to the new character disappearing after the story is finished.  It's all about trying something new, or saying something new about the long-existing character.  In this instance, Ulysses has been set up as a direct counterpoint to Superman.  He's got a similar origin, and as it emerges this issue, his moral character seems if anything more bullet-proof.

The twist in the origin-that's-pretty-much-the-same-as-Superman's is that this time the parents survived.  And Superman has made the decision to reunite the family.  This was the first opportunity to see if Johns would pull the trigger, if there is a trigger, on Ulysses, if he reacts in anger rather than the state of innocence that defines his character so far, to learn that he was basically abandoned.  He reacts, instead, with tearful happiness.  He even quickly decides that the pocket dimension he's been living in probably doesn't need him anymore.  Could you imagine Superman abandoning Earth so easily?  (Read the Superman: World of New Krypton series from the greater "New Krypton" arc if you want to see how it might play out.)

Too good to be true but sticking to it, that's Ulysses, apparently much more interested in hanging out with Superman than anything else, like the old knock once again, Superman being such a difficult character to like because he lacks what Marvel came to identify as the human element in superhero comics.

On the flipside is the villain the Machinist, who appears to be the clear-cut bad-guy answer to Ulysses.  Never mind that even Ulysses appear perfectly willing to use lethal force against him (I'm sure there'll be more on that in future issues), but we learn on the last page of the issue that Machinist thinks nothing of putting innocent victims in harm's way.  This is par-for-the-course villainy taken to another level.

All this is very interesting.  Johns has chosen to challenge traditional notions all the way around in this latest run with Superman.  I think the fact that he's never done an extended run with the character is proof that he doesn't take the assignment lightly.  When he does he has a specific purpose.  It's probably why Grant Morrison approaches Superman the same way.  Johns always goes for the iconic approach, which is difficult to do with Superman.  In the past he's succeeded by reinventing known elements.  Now he's doing it with new elements.  DC is promising some major changes in the new year.  I hope they include Johns sticking around the series for a while longer, seeing the effects Ulysses leaves behind, if he's going away soon, or finding a way to make him a longer-term stamp in the legacy.

We'll see.

The art, I'm sure, will be a problem for anyone who's never considered the John Romita, Jr. style for Superman, who's always had a pretty traditional presentation.  If anything, it's another indication of the risks being taken in the storytelling.  I think that's the absolute right approach, and I'm glad Romita finally came over to DC and with this specific starting point.  Ulysses has a look that probably has more than a few readers scratching their heads, but again, I think even that's deliberate.  All the way around, this is clearly not just another Superman story.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Annihilator #1 (Legendary)

writer: Grant Morrison
artist: Frazer Irving
via Previews World
So, Grant Morrison.  The guy who seems to have gone completely crazy tackling Big Ideas.  Considering that he's been doing that for years means either that he's definitely crazy, or that he can't possibly be crazy.  Of course, that isn't necessarily true for his readers, too...

Morrison is part of the class of the '80s British Invasion that included Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman.  Of the three, he's the only one who has failed to make a mainstream name for himself.  Either he's tackling his Big Ideas or he's merrily competing with Geoff Johns for the title of Most Iconic Writer on whatever major superhero series he happens to be working, be it JLA, Batman, or Action Comics.  His fans consider such work as We3, All Star Superman, and Animal Man to be among the best comics ever published.  He himself considers The Invisibles to be the unacknowledged source of The Matrix.  His Final Crisis was considered too esoteric by just about everyone, even his greatest admirers.

I think he's a genius.  I swear by Joe the Barbarian, personally; think The Mystery Play and Kid Eternity might be his best work, Arkham Asylum the best Batman comic from a period better known for The Killing Joke and The Dark Knight Returns.

But even I sometimes wonder what will happen to his legacy once Morrison stops working.  Will he become too obscure for later readers to discover him anew?  Do his Big Ideas in fact consume themselves?

Then he goes and seems to try and answer that question himself, not for the first time.  That's Annihilator in a nutshell.  It's the story of a Hollywood screenwriter faced with such a task, working on a new script, trying to come up with a Big Idea and failing miserably, swallowed by all the ways he tries to inspire himself.  He has an Idea, but doesn't know where to go with it.  Then he meets his main character.

This character, Max Nomax, has decided he will tackle the ultimate challenge, beating death itself.  In a way, it's Morrison throwing down the gauntlet on his own greatest ambitions, or as Douglas Adams would have said it, the subject being nothing less than "life, the universe, and everything."
via Superhero Hype
The outlet for this effort is an upstart publisher connected to a movie studio.  Does this mean we can expect another stab at Morrison hitting the big screen?  If so, he's got to know critics and audiences don't exactly go gaga for ambition of this kind, unless it comes from someone like Christopher Nolan.  Does that even matter?  There are five more issues to see where he goes with it, see if Morrison streamlines (as in We3, Joe the Barbarian) or verges on incomprehensible (Final Crisis).  At the start, it looks like, at last, he's found a way to blend the two.  This is a very good sign indeed.

The artist on record is Frazer Irving, who's worked with Morrison before (Seven Soldiers of Victory: Klarion the Witch Boy, Batman and Robin).  He's a master of transcendent horror, humanizing the grotesque (he does a mean Joker, then).  Once again, therefore, an ideal collaborator for Morrison.

As a fan of Grant Morrison, I always love to see a new project become available (or, as in the case of Zenith, finally become available again).  Something like Annihilator is a chance to witness, once again, history in the making.  And perhaps this time, the mainstream will start paying attention. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Saga #22 (Image)

writer: Brian K. Vaughan
artist: Fiona Staples
via Image Comics
Have I ever actually read a Brian K. Vaughan comic for any extended period of time?  Well, no I haven't.  I think I read the last year or so of Y: the Last Man.  Never read Runaways.  Read a few issues of Ex Machina.  But I've now read more of Saga than anything else he's done.  And now that I'm getting back into reading it regularly for the first time since its early days, I've...got to get used to the idea again.

Every issue can't be pure magic, I guess.  Maybe it was just the thrill of the new that made it seem so initially.  There's a lot of soap opera drama between Alana and Marko these days.  This issue deals with the impending split (so our faithful narrator Hazel, their daughter, declared a few issues ago) and how it develops.  It's kind of sad, because in a lot of ways, Saga originally read like an intergalactic fairy tale romance.  Now it seems like Shakespearean tragedy waiting to happen.  Yay!

To matters worse, they're both in hiding.  Alana seems to be the one having a harder time realizing "in hiding" means keeping a low profile.  She quotes from an obscure book on her TV show.  This is considered a bad idea.

Anyway, there's always Prince Robot IV to entertain us!  But even he's got a case of the dramas going on since his newborn was born, his wife dying in childbirth and the baby kidnapped by disgruntled janitor Dengo, who seems to be on the verge of spoiling Alana and Marko's...less than ideal circumstances.  (Maybe he'll actually make things better?  Not for the people he shoots, but y'know...)  We meet Robot King, who has a massive...screen.  And no sympathy for Prince Robot.

Such is the way Saga turns.  At least there's always an excuse for Vaughan to throw Fiona Staples an interesting visual to tackle every few pages!  This book certainly remains gonzo.  And gonzo, as any self-respecting fan of Grant Morrison will have to admit, is always good.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Red Lanterns #34 (DC)

writer: Charles Soule
artist: Alessandro Vitti
via DC Comics News
This is the finale of "Atrocities."  Guy Gardner's version of the Red Lanterns versus the Atrocitus (y'know, the founder) version.  I'll let you guess who wins.

Ha!  Na, it's pretty obvious.  I mean, Guy Gardner not winning?  Not gonna happen.  Guy becoming the headlining act of this series is the best thing to happen to it.  I've got to believe that, since the other best thing to happen to it won't be around for much longer.  That would be Charles Soule, the rising superstar who recently signed an exclusive contract with Marvel.  Best wishes to him.  I hope to find a project over at the House as equally stimulating as a fan of Soule as I have here at DC.

If "Atrocities" is technically his grand finale (this month is the Futures End issue, and then three months of the Green Lantern "Godhead" crossover follow and then I don't know how much longer he's around), then it's certainly a big way to bow, clearing house as it were.  And Soule pulls no punches.

Another member of Guy's Lanterns bites the bullet before victory is achieved (moosehead Skallox), leaving Guy himself (who technically leaves the team to spend time on Earth alone by the end of the issue), Bleez (blue chick with bone wings) and Rankorr (the other human enlistee).

The showdown between Guy and Atrocitus is the kind of event you'd expect between Hal Jordan and Sinestro.  In fact, after "Atrocities," I'd be okay with proclaiming Atrocitus to be Guy's Sinestro.  That would make the arc downright historic all the way around.  As far as I'm concerned, Red Lanterns has become a permanent and legitimate part of the Green Lantern legacy, regardless of where it heads from here or how much longer it lasts.  It's a better Guy Gardner series at this point than the long-running one he had in the '90s.

There's also Soule pulling the trigger on the Judge, one of those mysterious observer/teammate figures.  The standout of that type, for me, will always be Bloodwynd, who was introduced during the Dan Jurgens era of Justice League America and subsequently, mistakenly assumed by fans to have been Martian Manhunter all along.  (It didn't help that after Jurgens left Bloodwynd's significance dropped like a rock, and then he virtually vanished for good.  Although hey! there he is in The Multiversity!  Which is ironic, because Grant Morrison viciously dismissed the character in Supergods.)  I wasn't around enough to see how interesting the Judge actually was as a character, but it's nice to see that arc have speedy resolution.

And can I just reiterate that Guy has never looked better design-wise?  When he debuted, he was basically a red-headed version of Hal Jordan.  And then he grew more visually...obnoxious.  We'll leave it at that.  For the first time ever he actually looks cool.  Another plus for the series, surely.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Reading Comics #134 "Bull Moose Bargains II"

The second (possibly of two) batch of comics I got for fifty cents each at my friendly neighborhood Bull Moose:

Justice League #26 (DC)
I used to have an excellent track record with this series.  I'd like to think I used to be one of its biggest fans (a statement not to be misunderstood as meaning I decided at some point I don't love it anymore).  But I lost track last year and have had a hard time getting back into it.  The whole Forever Evil event was something I failed to follow monthly, and so I skipped the majority of it.  Unfortunately that meant skipping out on a lot of Justice League, too, because throughout the event this series was directly tied into it.  So I've slowly started making my way back in.  This issue features an origin story for Power Ring, which allowed Geoff Johns to write an alternate version of the classic Green Lantern origin.  Obviously he had great fun with it.  Obviously it made me wish all over again that he was still writing Green Lantern.  The other most interesting element of the issue, for me, was the page dedicated to Deathstorm, who of course is the evil version of Firestorm.  This made me nostalgic for the great Stuart Moore Firestorm comics.  Anyway, a lot of fans had a hard time with Forever Evil.  I still don't get that.

The Mysterious Strangers #4 (Oni)
A while back I wondered whatever would become of Chris Roberson, who was part of a flood of writers who fled DC over creative rights issues.  Well, here he is again.  I have to admit, he impressed me here, turned the Beatles into accidental harbingers of a near-apocalypse, based on their Maharishi period (John Lennon receives the brunt of the blame).  The Strangers who help prevent it are a little less distinctive than that, but it was certainly interesting to read another comic based on classic 60s rock (after the Hawkeye issue that spun off from the Smile! project that was such an issue between Brian Wilson and the rest of the Beach Boys).

Nova #5 (Marvel)
You may recall how much I loved the first issue of this series, and how disappointed I was that subsequent issues didn't seem to catch the same vibe (and how I love Starlight so much in part because it does).  The cover to this issue
via IGN
strongly suggests that Jeph Loeb, before he abruptly left the series, actually did what I'd hope he would, and return to the emotional crux of Sam Alexander's quest to reconnect with his father.  But it's basically a case of bait-and-switch, alas.  There's a stronger link to Nova's appearance in the Original Sin prelude.  I suppose there's nothing wrong with the series if it doesn't have what I want to see from it.  You can enjoy it for other reasons.  But for me, if it doesn't feature what for me is clearly it best material, then I personally have no reason to read it.  And besides, Loeb left.  I don't see a point in sampling it again.  Feel free to give me a heads-up if any of that changes in the future, if you haven't given up on it like I have.

Steam Wars #2 (Antarctic)
I caught the first issue back on Free Comic Book Day and was surprised to find that I loved it a great deal.  So when the opportunity came around to read another one, I figured I might as well, right?  As the title may or may not imply to you, Steam Wars is Star Wars as steampunk.  It's from Fred Perry, who otherwise is better known for his long-running Gold Digger.  Alas, once again I am quasi-disappointed.  It's not particularly that the second issue is worse than the first, but I guess, for me, much more so than with Nova, the magic simply wore off.  But we'll always have FCBD!

The Unwritten #51 (Vertigo)
This was a series that perhaps was impossibly high-concept when it debuted.  Mike Carey envisioned Harry Potter as if Harry Potter himself were a real boy whose life inspired his author to create a fictional version of him.  The author disappears and Tom Taylor (our Harry; it strikes me as funny that DC later acquired the services of a writer named Tom Taylor, current writer of Earth 2) has to put up both with his celebrity status and the apparently very real magical life his father left behind.  As I said, almost impossibly high-concept.  When it launched I was hugely intrigued, but I wasn't sure Carey pulled it off, or I simply didn't stick around near long enough to find out if he had.  It's a series I definitely want to revisit in the trades at some point.  And it's also a series that came to an end last year without my realizing it, right around the time of a tie-in arc with the more popular Fables.  Kind of an inglorious end, being told in no uncertain terms you're not as success as that, so we'll bring that in to make the point clear, and then we'll cancel you.  It does seem as if Tom became Harry pretty literally by the end.  I guess I want to see how that happened.  As convoluted as my relationship with Unwritten was, I'm sad to have seen it go so relatively early.  Vertigo already had a Harry Potter kind of comic years ago, before Harry even existed, in Neil Gaiman and subsequent writers' Books of Magic.  Because I'm obliged to reference either Geoff Johns or Grant Morrison as often as possible, I'd love to see Morrison do an out-and-out magic series.  The dude did make himself known as a practitioner of chaos magic at one point...

Wonder Woman #22 (DC)
Clearly these bargain comics were/have been a great way for me to catch up with some series and/or creators I've been meaning to revisit.  Some of them have been ones that in other circumstances I would probably have been reading religiously.  This is one of those series.  I've been impressed with the level of quality Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang have brought to Wonder Woman, not the least for the apparent fact that this is much harder than it seems.  When Orion and/or the rest of the New Gods was brought into the mix, I was beyond intrigued, so it's nice to finally read some of that material.  This is one of those developments that seems like it should have happened a long time ago.  Maybe it's because Jack Kirby created his Fourth World with Superman in mind that someone didn't think of it sooner (although for some reason Darkseid long ago made the jump to Legion of Super-Heroes lore with the "Great Darkness Saga," while this much more logical conclusion remained ignored).  Anyway, half the reason Orion joined the narrative was as a way to link the series with the rest of DC proper, which was always the one stumbling block.  As great as Azzarello's run has been, it's also been isolated.  Orion serves as a romantic possibility, and therefore default rival for Superman, which became a thing last year and then became a whole series (Orion/Big Barda Superman/Wonder Woman).  Wonder Woman as a result also boasted the distinction of getting a jump on the New 52 version of the New Gods, which is fast expanding this year (Batman and Robin, Green Lantern, Infinity Man and the Forever People).  I skipped out initially because I didn't particularly want to see just Orion hanging around.  I wanted to see the whole line-up.  Rest assured, they're here this issue.  

X-O Manowar #13 (Valiant)
This is the series that won Robert Venditti the right to write Green Lantern.  I've meant to sample it ever since I learned he'd be succeeding Geoff Johns (a very tall order, one he's sometimes seemed up to) in that regard.  X-O is one of those heroes who keeps getting revived in the hopes he'll be a legitimate alternative to the DC/Marvel big leagues.  This does not appear to have been the best issue to sample.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Reading Comics #133 "Bull Moose Bargains"

As you may recall, I was enjoying bargain grab bags from local entertainment franchise Bull Moose, until I learned they weren't doing them anymore.  But they didn't stop carrying comics outright (but I haven't gotten a chance to check in a few weeks, so I don't know what the prospects look like now).  Instead they started sticking their discounted comics in one of those old-fashioned spinning racks, so I now had the opportunity to select exactly what I wanted (from the available titles, of course).  Some of them were the same 2013 leftovers I'd find in some of the grab bags, and some of them were new releases (did they know???), all of them marked at fifty cents.  For the first of two trips in this new configuration to date, I scooped up nine titles.  And those were:

Astro City #10 (Vertigo)
When this series was relaunched last year, I was part of the I-don't-know-how-large contingent of fans who was happy to see it return.  The last time the title was in print it was the extended Dark Age arc, which apparently bothered long-term readers, but was at least a version of something creator Kurt Busiek had been intending to do ever since Marvels (twenty years ago).  I've never read Marvels, a giant love letter to (as you may have guess) Marvel history which quickly became known as painter Alex Ross's breakout project (some argue best work, but I hold that for Kingdom Come, which is the one he clearly drew on for the later Earth X comics).  Ross has done every Astro City cover since it launched in 1995 (so! Busiek wasted little time!), and Brent Anderson has been the interior artist.  This is a hardcore nostalgia comic in the Alan Moore tradition, with Busiek versions of pretty much every major superhero.  Did it really take this long for him to get around to a Winged Victory spotlight?  Winged Victory, you understand, is his Wonder Woman.  The story takes off of the Infinite Crisis era of controversy surrounding DC's Amazon taking the life of Maxwell Lord.  In fairness to Busiek, he does craft his pastiches into fairly distinctive variations, so that you don't necessarily have to be thinking WonderWomanWonderWomanWonderWoman while reading this issue (if you so choose).  It's a Winged Victory story, even if you know how Busiek reached this point.  All that being said, I cooled on the whole thing pretty quickly.  I keep wanting him to grab the brass ring, go for the gusto, but Busiek is determined to take a relaxed pace.  These are comics for Silver Age fans (early Silver Age, the lens of what would follow refracted through the 1950s).  Originally Astro City was one of the most acclaimed comics around, but even other readers don't seem as excited about it these days.  Good to have it around again, though.

Kick-Ass 3 #8 (Icon)
The big surprise was this conclusion to the Kick-Ass saga, begun in 2008.  I read the early issues, but lost track of it along the way, after it became a movie phenomenon I inexplicably still haven't seen (despite active interests in the careers of both Jim Carrey, featured in the second one, and Chloe Grace Moretz, whose whole career happened thanks to Hit-Girl).  It might have to do with the fact that the writer is Mark Millar, and for a time I kind of soured on him, not so much because of anything he'd done, but because of things Grant Morrison said.  Morrison and Millar used to be bosom buddies, but they had a creative falling-out, and Morrison subsequently expressed the kind of opinions about his former friend that, well, Alan Moore routinely spouts about Morrison himself.  (Guys!  Guys!  Can't we all just get along?)  Comics Reader readers know I've recently turned the corner on Millar thanks to Starlight, so I was more than ready to read how he ended Kick-Ass.  It seems to be exactly the way it should have, and that's fine.  The art of John Romita, Jr. remains integral to the whole experience.  Romita moved on to Superman with Geoff Johns immediately after concluding this saga, and of course I'm definitely there for that experience.  In this sudden Millar- and Romita-heavy season for my comics experience, it was fitting to catch their mutual landmark as it happened.

The New 52: Futures End #10 (DC)
Contrary to my own expectations, Futures End still hasn't become a new version of my beloved 52 experience.  I'm still keeping tabs on it (the Masked Superman was recently revealed to be Shazam, if you wanted to know), and of course September this year is a whole month dedicated to the event otherwise chronicled in the weekly series, with DC's line decked out in special issues looking at the futures of their stars.  Masked Superman Before He Was Unmasked has encounter with Lois Lane this issue, which is otherwise highlighted by (Big) Barda being asked to suit up again.  Undeniably awesome moment.  Barda is the Wonder Woman of the New Gods.  Come to think of it, I have no idea why there haven't been more Barda/Wonder Woman stories.  Somebody fix that, please?

Saga #21 (Image)
On the opposite side of my recent Astro City experience is Saga.  I lost track of both series over the course of the last year, but returning to Saga was to remember how much I love it.  In the current comics, Brian K. Vaughan is finally putting the spotlight on the Robot Kingdom.  Prince Robot IV (such a deceptively simple, awesome name; I'm a man of uncomplicated pleasures sometimes) has had a baby, and that baby has been kidnapped by a disgruntled Robot Kingdom janitor.  Alana and Marko are still in the thick of their soap opera (call it what it is) otherwise.  I'm once again addicted.

Superman/Wonder Woman #6 (DC)
I don't know if you remember, but I was wild about this series when it launched.  I thought it was a brilliant idea, long-in-coming for Wonder Woman to get a second ongoing series of any form (and now she has a third, thanks to the digital-first Sensation Comics), and it also happened to have part of the early comic crush I've developed over Charles Soule (who unfortunately has recently signed an exclusive contract with...Marvel).  This issue is one of the periodic General Zod stories DC loves to do, these inspired by the Man of Steel version Michael Shannon embodied more than Terrence Stamp in Superman II (but there have been lots of versions over the years).  Zod is presented as a formidable foe.  In fact, Superman/Wonder Woman in general seems to love thrusting its love birds in epic battles they can only hope to survive (although of course they will), valuing their link as warriors, a bond only they can truly experience together (which is the whole point of the relationship).  The art is from Tony Daniel, whom I've greatly admired since his "Batman R.I.P." days, and whose work continues to evolve.  He may epitomize what some fans have called the "New 52 house style," which basically folds around Jim Lee's work.  For a brief moment it seemed as if Daniel had in fact begun to pattern himself pretty directly on Lee, but as I said, this issue is proof that he's still in flux.  This is a good thing.  I still have great hope for his career.  Given the right project, his budding interests as a writer-artist could cement a real legacy.  Next project in that regard is the forthcoming Deathstroke relaunch (which I will be rooting for, obviously).

Trinity of Sin: Pandora #2 (DC)
Ever since it became clear that the New 52 was launching with the secret lynchpin of a new character (who looks like part of the WildStorm legacy that officially became a part of DC canon at that time), I began rooting for Pandora to become an important, lasting creation.  This is a work in progress.  When she got her own book last year, I was rooting for that, too, but kept looking for a way in after I missed the launch.  Well, now I've finally read an issue, just in time for a forthcoming relaunch where the character and her Trinity of Sin cohorts (Phantom Stranger, Question) fold in together under the single, unspecified banner (it could certainly be worse!).  I think this is a good thing.  A character like Pandora kind of needs context.  She was built for context.  Unless someone literally spends a year or more exploring her own story, sending Pandora on random adventures will do her no favors at all.  This issue is a tie-in with "Trinity War," a Justice League crossover event that was supposed to be a big deal but kind of wasn't, a culmination of everything the New 52 was meant to accomplish to that point.  (Failure?  There are fans who've wanted the New 52 to be a failure from the start.  Is this how fans were after Crisis On Infinite Earths?  I hope not!)  The strongest element of the issue is its use of Vandal Savage.  Someone other than Ray Fawkes might have really played that up.  Fawkes is one of the writers who've benefited from the revised creative landscape DC has sought to establishment, and he's one I really haven't formed an impression of, so I hope this isn't completely indicative of his work.  I'd like to see better.

Wolverine #4 (Marvel)
Ah, Paul Cornell.  He's one of those writers who became an instant favor a few years back, and I became a loyal reader for a good long while.  But I wonder if he hasn't lost the thread of what interested him in writing comics along the way.  He's also known for his work with Doctor Who, and as an author.  And also for not really sticking around any one comic book project for long.  Maybe that's why I stopped trying to keep track, or found I didn't care when he started on Wolverine.  I kept almost checking out the run, but never quite doing it.  He's the writer who set up the Death of Wolverine event that...Charles Soule is finishing.  So I finally checked it out.  And...I really don't think I've missed anything.  Sorry, Paul.  Doesn't seem to be among your best.  When Cornell is at his best he's among the best.  So that's why I've been disappointed.

Wonder Woman #23 (DC)
If I hadn't gotten so horribly behind, I'd've been a loyal fan of the whole Brian Azzarello/Cliff Chiang run on this series, which is about to end.  It's brilliant, easily one of the best things that's ever happened to Wonder Woman, and for one of the biggest characters in comics.  This issue is part of the First Born arc.  First Born is a new villain to the mythos, part of the September 2013 Villains Month one-shot line-up and everything.  The one thing that can be held against the Azzarello Wonder Woman is that it feels completely disconnected from the rest of the DC landscape (which, I'm convinced, is half the reason Superman/Wonder Woman happened), and why First Born didn't at all become a household name.  I mean, H'El over in the Scott Lobdell Superman comics from around the same time had a better shot.  Wonder Woman from this era will become known for its particular context.  To read one issue is to read any issue, in some respects.  It's all one continuous story.  (Although I will be contradicting this gross simplification next time I talk about it, which is another tie-in to how Superman/Wonder Woman happened.)  This is a good thing.  I'm already hoping for a Azzarello/Chiang reprise somewhere down the line, an epic mini-series or even crossover event.  Hey, I can dream!

All-New X-Men #24 (Marvel)
This is another series I was once completely hot on but cooled over as time wore on.  This is the Brian Michael Bendis/Stuart Immonen series that spun out of AvX and famously sports the gimmick of having the original, youthful X-Men time-displaced to the present.  I'm about as all over the place with Bendis as I am with a handful of other creators.  He's kind of the Marvel equivalent, for me, of Scott Snyder in some respects.  When I love his work, I think he's brilliant.  But he's not always engaged in ways I think benefit what he's doing.  This issue is all about how he's reached that point again.  I thought the time-displaced heroes would be gone by now.  I really have no idea why they're still around.  In the early issues, All-New X-Men seemed primed to introduce a whole new generation of mutant heroes.  I don't know if I've simply missed that whole development, or if it's been abandoned, delayed, whatever.  That's what I think the series ought to be doing.  And as always, I want Immonen to be doing work that's far less busy.  He's the pen-and-ink version of Alex Ross at his best.  At Marvel he's simply never been given a chance to express that side of his work.  Maybe he's fine with that.  But for me, the same with Bendis, I'm...disappointed.  Bendis and Immonen could indeed be a dynamite combination.  But not this way.  Anyway, "The Trial of Jean Grey Part 5 of 6."  Blah blah blah, "Dark Phoenix Saga," I-can't-believe-we-didn't-remain-innocent-forever, forcing an unnecessary Guardians of the Galaxy connection.  (I never really got why the X-Men ever had to have anything to do with space.  Basically the complete opposite of what makes them relevant.)

Next time, fewer comics.  That's all I can promise...

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Reading Comics #132 "Detective Comics #27 Free Edition and Vertigo Defy"

via Robot 6
Batman is arguably the most famous fictional creation of the past hundred years, and the most consistently celebrated one, eclipsing his closest competition, who is more important, Superman.  This year there've been even more celebrations than usual, thanks to his seventy-fifth anniversary.  One of them was Detective Comics #27, not the 1939 version, but the DC New 52 relaunch edition, an oversized issue stuffed with all kinds of special creators chipping in to celebrate the occasion.  It was pretty great.  Well, DC liked the idea so much it kind of did it again, this time a little smaller, a lot more free, and so here I am talking about that.

The lead story is from the original version, the 1939 one, from Bob Kane and Bill Finger, the very first Batman story in all its dated glory.  Then comes the Brad Meltzer version of that same story, originally presented in that second edition, and a little later a third version, borrowing the captions from the Melzter story and the Finger art from the Kane story, altered by famed graphic designer Chip Kidd, an excerpt from an otherwise exclusive element to a different Batman release for the celebration.  And to round all that out, the Scott Snyder/Sean Murphy story from the second edition, which remains brilliant, one of the best things Snyder has ever written (the best?), and conveniently reminding everyone that Snyder and Murphy also collaborated on the recently-concluded Vertigo mini-series The Wake (which I haven't read, because I've grown leery of Snyder aside from this Batman short).

Anyway, all that being said, if you caught this freebie, that's all well and good.  It's still available at comiXology if you'd like to have a look yourself.

I'd like instead to talk about something that might have been obvious to a lot of other people, but for me was really only obvious after reading through this special: Tim Burton's Batman was pretty much "The Case of the Chemical Syndicate."  Sure, the Joker wasn't in it originally, but everything else is basically exactly the same (no "king of the wicker people" or black rubber suit, I also realize).  Meltzer certainly supports that impression (and he does insert the Joker).  The first dozen or so times I saw the movie, I'd never read the first Batman story, so I can be excused for not realizing that.  Movie critics will certainly never care about that, either.  (They care very little about how accurate a comic book movie is to its source material, although Marvel always seems willing to oblige direct comparisons, at least as soon as they update their own material to match.)  I wonder how much fans really care, either.  But there you go.  I'm not even sure Burton particularly cared that he was making a Batman movie.  It might even be argued that he wasn't making a Batman movie at all (the same can certainly be said about Batman Returns).  He had a look at the first story, figured out the Joker was a perfect figure to insert and build around, and really, there wasn't much else he had to do.  Batman is kind of a creep in the movie.  He's not even necessarily the good guy, just the guy who defeats the villain.  It's a gangster movie.  For some reason, gangster movies made a surge at that time, with Godfather Part III and Goodfellas and The Untouchables.  Even Dick Tracy!  (Is it any surprise that the further the Batman movies drifted obviously toward comic books or even Burton's own tendencies and further from other their own origins, the more audiences questioned them, to that point?  The decade following Batman saw a flood of comic book movies, and virtually none of them was a success.  The decade after that, everything changed.  But then, event movies had finally come to complete dominate the market.)

So let's switch topics and examine what one might learn from browsing through the Vertigo Defy preview:
via Comic Vine
When it was announced that long-time Vertigo chief Karen Berger was leaving, fans kind of assumed that the DC imprint would turn to pot.  It used to be an indication of some of the best comics in the market, having that logo on the cover.  For a good twenty years, it was practically a guarantee.  I think the rise of Image as a mature readers publisher built around The Walking Dead instead of Spawn changed the rules a little.  Suddenly all the cool creators were at Image instead of Vertigo, which became instead a little like the vanity label Marvel has tried to establish for years.  I mean, to a certain extent, Vertigo always was that, but now it seems like there's less to support its credentials, all the hype and none of the substance, or far less of it anyway.  But here's a review of what the freebie presented as the Vertigo of 2014:
  • Bodies from Si Spencer.  This is the listing for a new project with an excerpt.  The only time I've read Spencer I was soundly unimpressed (X-Club).  I can't imagine anyone believing in him as a strong talent, but maybe my experience was unrepresentative, he's grown, what have you.  The excerpt isn't terrible, but excerpts can be deceiving.  It's a mini-series that launched in July, so if you want to have a look at a story about multiple investigations across time concerning the same corpse and hope Spencer pulls it off, by all means, do so.
  • Coffin Hill, a current monthly.  I know nothing about this one other than the one-page ad in this special.  Doesn't seem to have distinguished itself.
  • The Names from Peter Milligan.  This is another new mini-series, complete with an excerpt.  Milligan is a long-time Vertigo talent, although one I personally have never been sold on.  From what I see here, I haven't found a reason to change that opinion.
  • American Vampire from Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque, one of Vertigo's current headlining acts.  Snyder and Albuquerque (an instant favorite when I saw his work in the pages of Blue Beetle a good handful of years back) had the helping hand of Stephen King when they originally launched this project, and I read those issues, and King's work was consistently my favorite work, Skinner Sweet being an instant icon whereas Pearl was just another character experiencing the beginnings of the saga along with everyone else (although that fact that I remember her name was Pearl is probably a point in Snyder's favor).  Is this a shining example of Vertigo at its finest?  I have such a hard time appreciating Snyder the way virtually everyone else seems to, it just seems like the prime example of Vertigo's new vanity image (heh), something he gets to do to give his Batman work greater credibility (because otherwise Snyder remains in a relative vacuum as far as his output is concerned other than the Dark Knight).  
  • Astro City, Kurt Busiek's long-standing metaphor baby, a kind of ongoing Alan Moore-style nostalgia project trading on his Marvels reputation, relocated to Vertigo as a matter of convenience (it's also been published, of course, by Image).  
  • The Kitchen, another new mini-series with an excerpt.  Doesn't much distinguish itself anymore than the other two.
  • The Sandman: Overture, the callback mini-series to Vertigo's formative years and heyday, which is typical Neil Gaiman brilliance and a reminder of what the imprint can do when it's really inspired.
  • Dead Boy Detectives, an ongoing series that spun out from Sandman.
  • Hinterland, an ongoing that seems to be a variation on Fables, the other current Vertigo headliner.
  • Suiciders, a new monthly from Lee Bermejo that seems to be an extended version of the movie subgenre of people killing each other for sport and survival and yes, entertainment.  Seems mostly relevant for its art (heh) and even as a kind of bridge back to superheroes (famously, Vertigo had its origins with alternative looks at superheroes, and the biggest thing to happen to the imprint recently was in fact losing all its most famous superhero projects back to DC proper).
  • Fables, the ongoing that's highly popular in the trade collections and similar to the later-launched TV series Once Upon a Time.  Started out horribly but seems to have leveled out and become an institution, although it's kind of a poor man's Sandman (no offense to Bill Willingham intended).
  • Fairest, a Fables spin-off that focuses on female characters.
  • FBP (stands for Federal Bureau of Physics), an ongoing that launched last year that might actually be the best non-Sandman Overture series Vertigo is publishing at the moment, the one I still most recommend checking out, even though I haven't done so in a good long while (I'm now fearful that I've missed too much, and so I should instead start reading in the trades if I'm so inclined).
Missing from the lineup is The Unwritten, which is probably another series Vertigo can hang a happy shingle on.  I'm not sure why it was left out.  The conclusion I reach from this survey, however, is that the imprint needs a little help at the moment.  (I'd personally love to see what Geoff Johns would do if he finally decided to launch something there.  Maybe give some other DC acts that kind of chance.  Vertigo is always at its best when it's reinventing itself.)  American Vampire and Fables are not terrible ways to headline the imprint, but I'm also not sure they stand up to the best it's ever seen.  The best of what's around doesn't necessarily say much.  Maybe FBP is that series.  It certainly needs more publicity.

Or, like Detective Comics #27, perhaps a lot more repetitions of what's already been said...  

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Quarter Bin #54 "Phantom Stranger 1972"

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

Phantom Stranger #21 (DC)
From September 1972:
via Aparo Fan
The original draw for me was that this is the oldest first-print comic I've ever owned.  It's in pretty bad shape, is worth nothing, and I got it for free, but still!

Also, it's Phantom Stranger.  Lately the star of a New 52 series under the Trinity of Sin banner along with the new character Pandora (separate series, but in a few months they're being combined under that sole title; the third member of this merry band is The Question, the classic Vic Sage version rather than the 52 Renee Montoya one), he's one of DC's more obscure icons, an observer type who is about on level with Spectre in significance and appearance frequency as well as story type.

This issue isn't likely to convert anyone into becoming a fan of the character, unless they don't particularly care about Phantom Stranger himself, who has famously subsisted on obscuring his origins for most of his existence (the reverse of pretty much every other superhero ever).  It seems to be a kind of pastiche on Gandhi (assassinated twenty-four years earlier), or perhaps some other historical figure I don't recognize from this modern vantage point.

Writer is Len Wein, who is otherwise known as a comics legend (he created Wolverine and Swamp Thing), working alongside Jim Aparo, a classic Batman artist who worked on such legendary stories as "A Death in the Family" and "Knightfall."  I first came across the Wein/Aparo duo, actually, in the pages of a paperback book reprint of their Untold Legend of the Batman.
via Toonzone
As you may or may not guess, Untold Legend was an origin story, the first one I ever read for the Dark Knight, and it remains a treasured version for me.

The real draw, after looking inside Phantom Stranger #21, is the ad on the letters page for this:
via Pencil Ink
As you can see on the cover, in case you're unfamiliar with Kamandi, he's one of Jack Kirby's creations, a recreation of which being one of the undeniable highlights of Countdown to Infinite Crisis.  Being there for the launch of Kamandi, or the New Gods, is one of the things I would do if I were given a fanboy time machine, along with experiencing the career of Will Eisner.  That's some of the best stuff comics ever produced.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Reading Comics #131 "Geoff Johns Returns to Superman"

Geoff Johns.  For readers like me, one of the undisputed greatest writers in comics today.  Since starting at DC in 1999, he's risen through the ranks to becoming one of the company's most crucial assets, now listed as Chief Creative Officer along with his regular writing assignments.  Critics tend to peg him as a fanboy writer, because he seems to write wish-fulfillment stories (the most famous early anecdote of his career was writing a letter to Superboy explaining how it'd be cool if Lex Luthor's DNA had been used as part of the Boy of Steel's original cloning material, which he later made reality in the pages of Teen Titans).  Those who admire him consider Johns to write the iconic version of every character he touches, not just the ideal version but one that expands their mythology exponentially (his near-decade run on Green Lantern being the archetypal example).

Before he broke into comics, Johns worked as a personal assistant to Richard Donner, who directed 1978's Superman.  When Johns began his third run with the Man of Steel in late 2006 on Action Comics (earlier that year he'd helped launch Superman's post-Infinite Crisis "One Year Later" arc, and he had a few issues in 2002-2003), he teamed up with Donner in a different way for the first few arcs.

Johns' Action Comics period was some of the best material I've read from him, and although it lasted a few years, its relative brevity was easily its cruelest mark.  So it was with great anticipation that I heard he'd be returning to the fold this year.
via Dad's Big Plan.  From Superman #33
It's pretty clear from the start that he retains his interest in keeping the spirit of the Donner version of Superman alive, most evident in his lively depiction of the Daily Planet, which in recent years has seemed increasingly like an anachronism for the continuing mythos.  Even in the '90s they were trying to shift Clark Kent into television reporting.  But with Johns handling newspapers and especially with his clear devotion to the perspective of the older Perry White, as near a father-figure as Superman has left, this is an element that takes on new relevance, and is just one example of how the run is nailing it out of the park.
via Comic Vine. Superman clashes with Ulysses. From Superman #32
The big push of this latest run is Ulysses, the "New Superman" whose story closely mirrors the Last Son of Krypton's.  This is a human whose parents were scientists involved in a disastrous experiment and believed they had no choice but to save their son in the same manner Jor-El and Lara did years ago.  Since Johns quickly reveals otherwise in the second issue of the arc, I have no real qualms "spoiling" that Neil Quinn's parents in fact survive.  It's a huge part of the contrasts Ulysses constantly presents to Superman.  It's a different approach to the one Johns has taken before, perhaps owing to how he's been writing Justice League and even how he worked Green Lantern in its later years, in a much more methodical, deliberate approach.  Each issue is strong on its own, but read together they present an unfolding story unique in a medium where serialized story long ago became the norm but rarely with such finesse.  It's startling to consider this to be such a bold innovation, but you can't help but feel that way, even if you've only read Superman #s 32-33, as this column covers, with the second issue having great impact because it so quickly releases some of the suspense, without weakening it at all, from its predecessor.  

This is the work of a creator who is still working toward mastering his considerable talents, and getting closer to perfection all the time.  Johns understands that it isn't in Superman's powers where his greatness comes through, but in his human vulnerabilities.
via Entertainment Weekly. Daniel Radcliffe, in a Spider-Man costume,
stood in front of this image at San Diego Comic-Con.
Why would I make that up?
But he can do great things with those powers, too!
via Comic Vine. Neil Quinn, A.K.A. Ulysses, blending in. Superman #33
For a Superman story that shares considerable time with a new character, presented as an equal to the Man of Steel, it's a real challenge, because plenty of creators have tried that before.  Will Johns ultimately reveal Ulysses to be villainous?  Will Ulysses even matter after this introduction?  Perhaps it's moments like our contender walking around as an ordinary human, or trying to, that are most telling.  This is the way Johns wrote Wonder Woman in the early issues of Justice League, by the way.  Maybe that's even where he got the idea.  (Although, it would be nice for Johns to finally tackle Wonder Woman directly, too.)  For that reason, perhaps naively I hope Ulysses remains on the side of the angels.  He might be one of those characters destined to die at the end of a spectacular origin story, sort of like Grant Morrisons' one-and-done Tomorrow Woman from JLA.  I hope not!
via USA Today
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the artist in all of this. That would be John Romita, Jr., who is best known for his Marvel work, as well as Kick-Ass.  Like Andy and Adam Kubert before him, Romita was so clearly identified with Marvel previously that it's shocking to see him working at DC at all, but that means he's owed a high profile project all the more, and this is about as big as they get.  Over at the House of Ideas he is most associated with Spider-Man, who also seems to be the complete opposite of Superman.  

I think he's doing an excellent job, exactly the presentation Johns' scripting calls for.  Even the theoretically '90s hairstyle Ulysses sports (and '90s Superman would certainly know all about that!) works in everyone's favor.  It sets Ulysses apart, it forces the reader to remain engaged in the character, and it's another layer of intrigue (as in, will he really keep it that way?).

This is the kind of comics event readers dream of, ones that seem impossible until they happen, and then they seem completely natural.  For Johns, it's another milestone for his already-distinguished career.  As a title, Superman has been begging for something like this since the New 52 relaunch, after a series of revolving creator teams left it well behind Action Comics in impact (owing to the latter title's launch under Morrison).  It should be the flagship series of the company, and now once again it is.

Up, up, and away!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Starlight #4 (Image)

writer: Mark Millar
artist: Goran Parlov
via Panels and Pixels
Any time you discover something new and love it instantly, you kind of wonder if you're jumping the gun.  Will you still love it the next time?

So that's where I was with Starlight, which has become my favorite Mark Millar project.  It's a pastiche of John Carter/Adam Strange/Star-Lord (the last being our fearless leader of the Guardians of the Galaxy variety, lately star of his own series, naturally), but from the vantage point of a hero revisiting his glory days years past his prime.  His family, once he returned and he became an ordinary guy once again, didn't necessarily believe he stomped around in space having adventures (the perfect setup for the Nova reboot that hasn't necessarily been capitalized on in that title).

Being drafted into the role of hero again, especially when you're older, may not exactly be wish-fulfillment, but Duke McQueen is working himself back into the role.  It doesn't hurt that he gets to enjoy one of those classic dramatic prison breaks this issue, or that the little boy who drafted him reveals more of his own story.

It doesn't hurt that Starlight increasingly matches up well with another space adventure I'm loving, Saga.  It's prone to some of the same cool random alien details (wood-giants who are, alas, extinct!).  It's got a different approach, different art style (though Goran Parlov isn't as lush as Fiona Staples, he's perhaps got a better grasp of storytelling), but even though I've got more experience with Saga, Starlight is fast catching up in my personal estimation.

There's a big twist on the last page.  That's another hook right there.  Not that I need it at this point.  However long this Millar journey lasts, I'm pretty sure I'll be following along.