Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Ms. Marvel #9 (Marvel)

writer: G. Willow Wilson
artist: Adrian Alphona
via comiXology
Kamala Khan learns all about her Inhuman origins, meets more Inhumans than just the giant-dog-with-a-tuning-fork-on-its-head Lockjaw, and tells them, Thanks but no thanks I'll defeat my supervillain on my own.

And then hears her mother say this:
"We came here so our children would be safe -- safe from the chaos and corruption and bombings back home.  Only after we arrived did we discover school shootings, date rape drugs and gangs.  And now giant robots!"
Apart from giant robots, that's a pretty accurate assessment, I think, from G. Willow Wilson concerning what immigrants experience coming to America these days, and that's one of the signal insights from Ms. Marvel that has brought it so much deserved attention.  It's not just a superhero series, or even just "that Muslim series," but an integration of a lot of elements, and it's interesting watching as they all play out.

Also, lots of Star Wars references this issue.  That's good, too!

And a twist ending.  Twist endings are good, right?  Kamala learns a vital piece of the puzzle she's been missing about the Inventor saga that will surely make things very interesting next issue, and perhaps even shed additional light on the whole series.

This series remains infinitely intriguing.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Grayson #3 (DC)

writer: Tim Seeley, Tom King
artist: Mikel Janin
via Comic Vine
So this is my first regular issue of the series.  After the intriguing preview in the last issue of Nightwing from Tim Seeley and Tom King and then the brilliant Futures End edition, I decided to give it a shot despite reservations that it might not as an ongoing experience work as well as I might hope.

Now I'm thinking, what was I thinking?

I love spy capers.  Alias remains one of my all-time favorite TV series, and as it turns out, Grayson reads a lot like that (minus Rambaldi), especially in the early days when Sydney Bristow was still trying to figure out loyalties.

And I also realized something about Grayson.  It's actually a lot like one of my favorite storylines from Dick Grayson's past.  It involves another Grayson, Devin K. Grayson, her "Renegade" arc from the Infinite Crisis era (which is more or less the secret origin of what happened to Dick in Forever Evil and this subsequent reboot, which makes it all the more appropriate).  In that arc, Dick went undercover for an extended period of time.  It was gangster stuff, but still the same general idea.

Seeley and King seemed to understand from the start that Dick's sense of identity is fluid, although he himself remains constant under all his guises.  The point is, he's a character who can handle different personas, whether it's Robin, Nightwing, Batman, or an agent of Spyral.  It's the conflict this always brings him, his ongoing identity crisis, that defines Dick best of all.  It's inevitable that at some point he'll stop being a spy, but it's suddenly such a smart move to have finally moved him past his Nightwing days, that it's surprising to realize all those years where I knew subconsciously the character had grown stagnant led to this moment.

Will most issues feature one-off villains like the guy in this one who uses his guns as his eyes?  I guess I'll see (heh).

Monday, October 27, 2014

Batman and Robin #35 (DC)

writer: Peter J. Tomasi
artist: Patrick Gleason
via NerdBinge
"Robin Rises" Part 3 sees Batman reach Apokolips, but also Alfred formally, once again, inserting himself into Batman's business by recruiting Red Robin, Red Hood, and Batgirl to help rescue Batman after he'd previously rejected their assistance in his quest to reclaim the body of his son Damian, the late and most recent Robin.

It's an issue that, like the recent "Hunt for Robin" arc, highlights Pete Tomasi and Patrick Gleason's ability to seamlessly adapt themselves to a given context.  The obvious one is Apokolips, home of the bad guys with the New Gods pantheon, usually headlined by Darkseid, but since he's sidelined after the events of the opening Justice League arc and hasn't yet returned, his son Kalibak and Glorious Godfrey.  Like Frankenstein previously, seeing Tomasi and Gleason with these characters is a revelation, and yet another wish for a future project from the duo.

Also in the mix is Cyborg, the only Leaguer involved even though Batman has gone over the heads of the whole team to take his Hellbat suit to Apokolips.  Alfred's Army (which I dub them as of now) tricks Cyborg into using his boom tube to follow Batman through the looking glass, but not before an interlude involving Batwoman.  Since her origins in 52, Batwoman has slunk away to her own corner of the playground, but at least that allows for fun cameos like this one.

It's a great issue in the arc, the series, and the emerging New 52 version of the New Gods.  Really, there's very little not to love about it.

Quarter Bin #56 "Binge-worthy I: Alan Moore"

These comics were sixty cents each.  The title of this column is inaccurate.

Recently the good folks at Zimmie's in Lewiston, ME (my history with this shop stretches back to 1992) indulged one of my worst habits: scouring bargain bins.  One week they had a whole table of long boxes filled with cheap comics.  I've made multiple surveys of their contents and come up with some fun reading.  This is the first in a series that explores what I found.

1963: Mystery Incorporated (Image)
From April 1993.
via Wow Cool
Alan Moore has become known for two kinds of comics: mature works that helped redefine the potential of the form, and nostalgic projects that looked backward at its most stereotypical instincts.  1963 comes from the latter instinct.  After Moore left DC and mainstream superheroes behind, he began a journey toward finding a new platform, which would eventually lead to Tom Strong and then League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the ongoing project that has become his most notable recent output.  1963 is probably his thickest nostalgia act, something he pulled out for the budding Image line that was probably among its first material not to heavily rely on the reputation of its artist.  It's also the closest he's ever come to doing Marvel material.  For whatever reason, although he famously holds a grudge against DC, for which he created Watchmen, Moore has never even worked for Marvel.  Clearly, though, he was once a reader.  Mystery Incorporated is a pastiche of Fantastic Four, with four characters who have equally fantastic powers and little interest but quipping their way through the given crisis.  That's about all there is to find here.  That may be why only die hard Alan Moore fans even know about this particular effort.

Alan Moore's Awesome Universe Handbook (Awesome)
From April 1999.
via Comic Book Realm
The bridge between 1963 and Tom Strong (as well as the rest of America's Best Comics) was laid down by, of all people, Rob Liefeld, whose Image offshoot imprint had a number of different titles but should best be remembered (and it should be remembered) as Awesome Entertainment.  Moore had previously helped relaunch Liefeld's Supreme as one of his nostalgia acts, a version of the Silver Age Superman (as last seen in the famous "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?"), which led to his involvement with a rejuvenation of the whole Liefeld landscape.  This release detailed his plans for the whole thing, a rare public look at project proposals that only the name Alan Moore could possibly have justified.  There's Supreme, of course, plus Suprema (patterned after Supergirl), Glory (revamped as his version of Wonder Woman), and Youngblood (once and always the Avengers).  Alex Ross, still riding high at the time thanks to his Marvels breakthrough (with Kingdom Come yet to, well, come) provides the preview images of Supreme and family (including a Krypto equivalent).  The Moore version of Supreme remained relevant for years (in fact, Tom Strong and the whole ABC line was based off this work) and recently Warren Ellis has started building on this legacy within the pages of Supreme: Blue Rose (I've yet to read an issue, but am very eager to correct that).  This is really the only time I've been a first-hand fan of Moore.  The whole thing fell apart rather quickly when Awesome itself disappeared, and that was disappointing.

Albion #1 (WildStorm)
From August 2005.
via Comic Book Realm
This one was plotted by Moore but scripted by the team of Leah Moore (daughter of Alan Moore) and John Reppion (husband of Leah Moore), whom I've previously experienced in the excellent Complete Dracula adaptation.  It's sort of the British LXG mixed with Watchmen.  The title refers to an ancient designation of England itself, a sort of mythic version of the country.  This is the part where I admit I probably should reread this issue because it's pretty interesting, and this was my first exposure to the project.  Truth is, I tend to talk a lot of smack about Moore (Alan Moore, you understand), and this is in large part due to the fact that Moore himself has made it difficult to like him.  He's got a huge chip on his shoulder, a sense of entitlement he actually technically deserves as the most respected comic book writer of the past quarter century, which is also to say the most respected writer in comic book history itself.  But I also think he cashed in his chips far too early, burned bridges (on his end) at a point when he was really only beginning to explore his potential.  If you think his work as it is is impressive, it's my contention that his legacy could have been better if he'd simply gotten out of his own way.  An Alan Moore who continued to evolve, who looked forward (even if he mixed in looking backward, too) would deserve the contempt he holds over everyone else in the industry, whose viewpoint on superheroes doesn't look like it was frozen in the Silver Age and only looks otherwise at his say-so.  In short, someone who respects his contemporaries, and possibly even his own readers.

American Flagg! #40 (First)
From May 1987.
via Cover Browser
Although the series was created by Howard Chaykin, there's an Alan Moore connection, since he wrote material for a few issues.  Those were the days when Moore still played well with others, which curiously, as you've already seen me indicate, ended with Rob Liefeld (which would seem, by reputation, to be self-explanatory).  Chaykin, ironically, is the creator you get when you do everything right and you become a legend, but no one really seems to notice.  That's American Flagg! in a nutshell, too, one of those '80s projects that fell outside of the Big Two, that didn't involve superheroes, and wasn't written by Alan Moore (for the most part).  (Dean Motter's seminal Mister X is another example, although Dark Horse has been doing a commendable job at trying to correct this.)  The title of the series refers to Reuben Flagg (no relation to Stephen King's Randall Flagg!), who probably has more significance in a post-Girl with the Dragon Tattoo world, a man who tries to fight back against a corrupt system.  (Like Moore's fascination with Nixon, who's still president in Watchmen, this is a concept that probably made a lot of sense back then, and actually means more now than it has in a while.)  Chaykin still pops up regularly with new projects, but his profile is so far diminished that only the comic book industry itself still thinks he's important.  He's been forgotten by fans.  This issue wasn't written by Chaykin, however, but by the team of J.M. DeMatteis (who remains relevant as he works on various superhero projects at the Big Two) and Mark Badger, making it a creator-owned title that could also thrive in the hands of others (which is always rare).  If I'd had options, I'd have wanted one written and drawn in the inimitable style of Chaykin himself, though.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Annihilator #2 (Legendary)

writer: Grant Morrison
artist: Frazer Irving
via Previews World
I'm officially really starting to love this one.

Here's Grant Morrison with a big idea again.  Here's Grant Morrison writing a comic about a screenwriter with an inoperable brain tumor trying to complete his latest script, and realizing that the biggest obstacle is actually going to be the lead character, who has manifested himself in front of the screenwriter!

The screenwriter is Ray Spass and the lead character is Max Nomax.  Together they have some great back-and-forth dialogue.  I think that alone, which was an element that also helped distinguish Morrison's earlier Happy!, might be one of the biggest selling points of Annihilator.  That's best thing to take away from the second issue, regardless of whether it continues to be a running feature for the length of the mini-series.

Ray, of course, doesn't believe he's actually talking to Max.  It's crazy, right?

Morrison famously said years ago that his work was the result of trying to channel actual experiences he'd had, meaning The Invisibles was interpretation as much as story.  The Filth had a similar vibe to what Annihilator is doing, but it lacked the streamlined quality Morrison later perfected within the pages of the brilliant We3 and especially Joe the Barbarian.  It feels as if Annihilator is Morrison's attempt to explain what he meant all those years ago, but in a more straightforward, concise way.  There are elements that are typically gonzo Morrison, but they're analogous to sci-fi concepts you'll be familiar with (Aliens, Terminator, even Inception), presented from a standpoint of a real world situation that's taken a slight deviation.

As in, Ray is dying.  Are his subsequent experiences to be believed?  Is he hallucinating (another central question of Happy!) or can he take Max at face value?

But more to the point, Morrison has found a pair of characters who work really well together and can sell all of this quite easily.  Frazer Irving helps keep all of it visually mesmerizing.  He's part of a recent trend that has reemphasized the role of art in comics storytelling, the polar opposite of what Image was doing twenty years ago, when it was only about the art and the story didn't matter, something creators worked against for years until the art didn't really matter anymore.  Now we have artists like Irving and Fiona Staples (Saga), taking big ideas and presenting them that way, playing in concert with the writer and helping to make the whole thing a complete experience, the way comics are always supposed to be.

Long story short, Annihilator is developing into another career-defining work for Morrison.

Digitally Speaking...#20 "Archeologists of Shadows Vol. III"

Archeologists of Shadows, Vol. 3: The Alter Egos (Septagon Studios)
From 2014.

The third of six volumes, meaning we're halfway through, Archeologists of Shadows: The Alter Egos explains the underlying mythology of the concept in greater detail than its predecessors and thereby enriches the whole experience.

And as always, AOS itself remains a revelation of the graphic novel form.

Patricio Clarey's art is a direct manifestation of the ambitious nature of the saga, which becomes all the more clear in The Alter Egos.  It wasn't until now, for instance, that I made an association between Clarey's work and Indian mythology.  As explained in this volume, that's a vital connection indeed.

It's intricate reading.  Lara Fuentes presents the continuing plight of heroes Alix and Baltimo (neither name is actually referenced this volume, so it increasingly pays to keep reading, which isn't too difficult at this point), who are at once hero quest journeyers and symbols.  They've been identified as Alter Egos, or in other words avatars, real world manifestations of the gods, and they've been trying to believe that themselves, too.  This is a large part of what's accomplished in the new volume.

It's a little like The Matrix but exploded to truly mythic proportions.  The Alter Egos is a little like the part of The Matrix Reloaded where we meet The Architect, but this time the heroes are being pushed to fulfill their destiny instead of being rejected.

There are matters of philosophy and faith to be considered.  At this point the full scope and ambition of the project stand revealed, and it's pretty breathtaking.

As a crossroads, this is the point where everyone has to decide where they stand, how they will react to the crisis.  Enemies play their hand, allies prove their worth.  You think this might actually be the end of the story, but it's not.  And thank goodness.

At its heart, AOS is a manifestation of the classic modern fever dream of machines eventually taking over the world, except in this vision, we're the machines, like the Borg in Star Trek we'll be transformed, piece by piece, because that's the only way to reach our ultimate goal and finally figure out what it's all about, making peace, establishing a lasting order, all of that.  There's also the Sun used, as it once was, the primal source of all things, a little like a vision Grant Morrison had in the pages of DC One Million.

This is at once familiar and totally unique material, and it's completely fascinating.

It remains highly recommended.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Reading Comics #137 "Bull Moose Bargains III"

Bull Moose probably won't be receiving any more shipments of comics to sell at steep discount, so this may be the final entry of this series.  So I made sure it was a good one.

Daredevil #33 (Marvel)
I've taken for granted for years that everyone loved Mark Waid's Flash as much as I did.  I've learned recently that maybe this isn't the case.  I know, however, that his Daredevil has been receiving a pretty good following.  It's something I've commented on elsewhere, but for the most part I really hadn't read much of his Marvel work, at any point in his career, until recently.  So I figured I'd finally give it a shot.  This is as random an issue to choose as any.  It seems to feature a bunch of characters Waid cobbled together from the old Universal monster days, a somewhat clever juxtaposition of Matt Murdock's superhero identity and something of what he's always evoked.  You know, actual ghosts and goblins, as it were.  Has anyone ever done that?  He also makes clever work of Murdock's blindness.  It's not a brilliant issue, and there's plenty of material (including the hapless Foggy Nelson's current predicament) that I simply won't be able to completely follow, but it's a decent read with some of that trademark concept work from Waid that others probably hadn't thought of before.  Probably good enough to reconsider my opinions.  Just a little.

Thunderbolts #18 (Marvel)
Here's Charles Soule doing work at Marvel, as opposed to DC.  I figured I'm going to have to get used to the idea, because he's signed an exclusive contract there that'll take effect next year (the one exception is Letter 44, a creator-owned title he does over at Oni that I probably should also have a look at).  Thunderbolts is a series that has somewhat dramatically changed course since it debuted under Kurt Busiek in the '90s.  At that time it was a new superhero team that was secretly the villainous Masters of Evil.  It's since become a sort of Marvel version of DC's Suicide Squad, a collection of hodgepodge characters who aren't necessarily bad guys but also not necessarily good guys.  Soule's team includes Red Hulk (the "Thunderbolt" Ross revision introduced by Jeph Loeb), Elektra, Punisher, Deadpool, Venom (the "Flash" Thompson version), someone named Red Leader, and Mercy, who could be the most interesting one of the bunch.  In this issue she presents the team a considerable problem, because she's a classic rogue element.  She's also the closest tie to Soule's Red Lanterns work I can find.  The tone is more flippant (which you would expect from a title featuring Deadpool) but otherwise it's not completely different from the Soule I've come to expect (his Deadpool is not as random; actually he seems to be somewhat holistic).  It's not a bad issue.  Enough to make me read more of the series?  Maybe not.  But maybe enough for me to not bitterly lament that Marvel contract he signed...

Trinity of Sin: Pandora #5 (DC)
Ray Fawkes won me over recently, and now it appears to be easier to admire his work overall.  This is the second issue of Pandora I've read (the series recently ended, and I've just read the first issue of Trinity of Sin, the catch-all title that now carries Pandora and Phantom Stranger together, along with The Question), and now I'm wondering if I've been as unfair to the series as I once was to Fawkes.  It's not that bad.  This issue even features some of that character work I thought was absent from the series.  It helps to juxtapose Pandora against someone like The Outsider, a character last seen in the alternate reality of Flashpoint (and originally conceived as an alias for Alfred Pennyworth!).  Good stuff.  Glad I stopped by!

The Wake #5 (Vertigo)
Another creator I've been unfair to is Scott Snyder, who is otherwise known as one of the current darlings of comic book fans in general thanks to his Batman and probably also American Vampire.  I long wanted to have a look at Wake, though, because of artist Sean Murphy, who wowed me in his two previous projects Joe the Barbarian (with Grant Morrison) and Punk Rock Jesus (which he also wrote).  But as it turns out, Snyder's storytelling is pretty compelling, too.  It's not that this is a great revelation or anything, but it's a matter of degrees with this guy.  On this project, he seems really keyed in.  That's good to know.  So now I probably want to read the rest of it.
via comiXology

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Wasteland #57 (Oni)

writer: Antony Johnston
artist: Christopher Mitten
via Antony Johnston
We're in the homestretch of the whole series itself.  That means answers.

Answers to how the whole story happened to begin with, the mystery of "The Big Wet," the event that created the post-apocalyptic world of Wasteland, and who exactly Michael, Abi, and others of their kind really are.

This is what Robert Kirkman will be getting around to, as he currently sees it, probably decades from now over in The Walking Dead.  For my money, Wasteland was always better than Walking Dead.

But far more complicated.  This is what fans like me have been dreaming about for years, these answers.  But fans like me have been in short supply, which is why my record of reading the series has been spotty in recent years.  I've tended to read my comics in print, and even though I've started reading them digitally this year, which happens to coincide with Mitten's return to the series for its final chapter, I wanted to read the end of Wasteland the way I began.  Which meant getting my local comics shop to order it for me, which has turned out to be a little more difficult than I thought it would.

But here we are.  I can only say, with this particular issue, that the answers have started to come.  I don't know when, exactly, the answers began, because this is the first issue I've caught all year.  I will play catch-up next year in the trade collections.  I'm already three volumes behind in those, which is also the exact material covering the period where I stopped being able to catch the series regularly, and I guess one or two more to cover the final issues.

I'd say more about what this particular issues does, but I've just read the next one, and that one's pure dynamite, and I'll have a lot more to that about that one and how it reflects on the journey of the whole series.  And after that, there are only two issues left of the series.  The last one will apparently have to wait until next year to see publication.

I can wait.  Probably.  

Bottom line, I consider Wasteland to be among the best comics being published as much today as the day I first fell in love with it.  With the second issue (only because I didn't catch the first).

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Superman: Futures End #1 (DC)

writer: Dan Jurgens
artist: Lee Weeks
via Superman Homepage
We interrupt your regularly scheduled Geoff Johns/John Romita, Jr./Ulysses Superman for this special Futures End issue featuring...none of those guys.

Instead there's Dan Jurgans, Lee Weeks, and Shazam!

This is an issue pulled directly (metaphorically speaking) from the pages of Futures End itself, where the mystery of the masked Superman (similar to Supernova in 52) was somewhat quickly resolved, with the erstwhile Captain Marvel revealed as the would-be Man of Steel.

(Somewhere the ghost of Fawcett Comics is groaning.)

It wasn't a bad way to spend an issue of the series, mind.  Actually, it was a fun reminder of the "Reign of the Supermen" era from twenty (!) years ago, with Lois Lane pulling interview duties the same way she did for "Cyborg Superman" all those years ago, within the pages of Superman, naturally.

Jurgens is something of a revelation.  I don't know how often he's been writer but not artist simultaneously.  The constant knock against him in recent years is that his art style seems hopelessly dated (I'd say that it's more that he's simply lost his edge; Superman #75 stands up quite well, thank you).  Even I've sort of jumped on that bandwagon.  It's one of the reasons I haven't really been able to read Futures End itself as regularly as I thought I might.

Lee Weeks is artist instead, and he does his reliably excellent work.  He's another artist who's worked almost exclusively for Marvel throughout his career (Daredevil is a highlight) and now popping up at DC.
via Comic Box Commentary
One of the big mysteries of Futures End is what exactly happened to Superman to make him disappear.  I can tell you one thing: thankfully Jurgens and Weeks had something to do with it.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Saga #23 (Image)

writer: Brian K. Vaughan
artist: Fiona Staples
via Image Comics
There's a bunch of stuff that happens in this issue, but the crux of its impact is in this line from Hazel, the narrator of the series who speaks in retrospect because in the present she's the toddler offspring of lead characters Alana and Marko:
"This was the story of how my parents split up.  But it's not the end of our story."
You see, I can't decide if Brian K. Vaughan has pulled a bait-and-switch or not.   You see, back in #19, she originally declared the first part of that quote.  I was devastated.  Who wants to suddenly discover that you're reading a romantic tragedy when all along you think you've been reading the galactic Romeo & Juliet (oh, wait...)?

Did he reconsider?  Or is it a matter of potentially disgruntled readers to decide?

It's not a deal-breaker, mind.  I can imagine some readers considering it one.  If this were a TV series, it might even be considered a jump-the-shark moment.

I'm making a big deal about this because this is exactly what this issue should be remembered for, a crucial moment in the series.  There's a chance I've been misinterpreting these developments because I missed vital moments from issues I haven't read.  But for what it is, for the span of these past five issues (nearly half a year), it's seemed as if Vaughan had flipped the script on the whole story.  It's not as if Alana and Marko have had an easy ride to date.  In fact, the whole series is about how rough they've had it.  But the idea, seemingly, was that they always had a chance at a happy ending, or at least boom-boom death, which would therefore remove their fates once and for all from their own hands.  For Vaughan to have spent a span of the series suggesting otherwise might be considered reader manipulation.

I'll keep reading regardless.  But now there's an inkling of doubt in creator credibility.  In literature, Hazel might be considered an unreliable narrator, but she certainly took her sweet time reaching that point.  It's at a juncture like this that I begin to wonder how long this series will actually be.  The comparable Starflight is apparently ending after six issues, a fact I just learned.  Mark Millar tends to do stories like that, though (and if it's really popular, like Kick-Ass, a few additional mini-series to follow).  Vaughan sticks around for longer.  How much longer this time?

And do I have to worry about something like this again?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Red Lanterns: Futures End #1 (DC)

writer: Charles Soule
artist: J. Calafiore
via Comic Book Resources
Aside from the brilliant Grayson: Futures End, no other one-shot from the event last month, so far as I know, took the opportunity to explore the parent title's continuity as richly as Red Lanterns.

There was good reason.  Just as the new series Grayson saw a chance to help define a new series, the Red Lanterns effort was one of Charles Soule's final issues and therefore a way to flashforward to an ending that might otherwise never happen.  

When he debuted in the series, Soule brought Guy Gardner along with him, and he used this crucial element to transform Red Lanterns into a focused character study, with the rest of the established characters free to evolve the same way. The greatest beneficiary was Bleez, the demonic-looking lass originally introduced by Geoff Johns in Final Crisis: Rage of the Red Lanterns #1.  (The other way of describing her would be to take Farscape's Scorpius, make him female and add bone wings.)  It's fair to say that Soule helped make her into one of the most fleshed-out characters Johns has created.

Along with Gardner and Bleez there's Rankorr, the human introduced in Red Lanterns as an intended bridge character for readers who might otherwise have been dubious about the series when it originally launched.  It's fair to say that Soule vastly improved him, too.  Eventually an unwitting pawn of Atrocitus, the original star of the series (fans weren't never quite convinced by that one) until the events of the recent "Atrocities" arc finally concluded that arc, it's Rankorr who serves as the the third necessary character to conclude Gardner's journey.

Soule's work has transformed Guy Gardner from a frequently combative hothead to someone who has finally made peace with himself, and therefore been able to function profitably among others.  Anyone who knows the character's history would probably have never seen that coming.  This issue makes a compelling case for Gardner as a Blue Lantern.  He's been a Green Lantern, a Red Lantern, even had Sinestro's yellow ring (someone still has to revisit that in the new Johns context).  Who would've thought that the formerly rage-defined Red Lanterns would've put him on the path to inner peace?

Soule is joined by regular Red Lanterns artist J. Calafiore, another reason to accept this as part of regular series continuity regardless of how Futures End concludes.  Five years into a future that probably won't exist in that form by next year.  Not that you'll care after reading something like this. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Green Lantern/New Gods: Godhead #1 (DC)

writer: Van Jensen, Justin Jordan, Robert Venditti, Charles Soule, Cullen Bunn (script: Jensen and Jordan)
artist: Ethan Van Sciver, Martin Coccolo, Goran Sudzuka, Chris Cross, Pete Woods

The biggest thing Geoff Johns did for Green Lantern, other than greatly expand the mythos and it importance to the DC publishing schedule, was establish the event trend, from "Sinestro Corps War" to Blackest Night.  When Robert Venditti replaced him as torchbearer, clearly this trend was retained as the common denominator between them.  

Venditti's latest is also his biggest.  This time the New Gods are involved.  Jack Kirby's iconic if popularly-challenged creations were immediately cast as intrinsic to the New 52 thanks to Johns' own opening arc in Justice League, and they've been working their way back to the forefront thanks to the "Robin Rises" arc in Batman and Robin.  The second and more prominent salvo in this campaign likely to end with next year's Crisis event is Godhead.

It's a great way to go, too.  Venditti and the whole crop of current Green Lantern writers (although the script is from Green Lantern Corps and Green Lantern: New Guardians writers Van Jensen and Justin Jordan specifically) have figured out a way to reimagine one of Johns' major contributions to the mythos: the idea of the White Lantern.  

Now, Johns created a whole spectrum, but for the purposes of Blackest Night and its followup Brightest Day he posited that the combined might of all the rings created the White Lantern (the Green Lantern version of "one ring to rule them all").  The current holder of this title is Kyle Rayner in New Guardians.  I haven't been keeping tabs on any of the series besides Charles Soule's Red Lanterns, so I had no idea that Kyle's been missing from action, as far as everyone else is concerned, for a year (the last writer, Cullen Bunn, is responsible for Sinestro).

But the thing about the White Lantern is that he's in possession of the Life Equation.  For as long as Darkseid's been rampaging through comics, he's obsessed over the Anti-Life Equation.  So it's interesting to see the good gods led by Highfather pursuing its opposite number for a change.  Except this is hardly good news for the Lanterns!  (I also had no idea what was happening with Saint Walker these days.  Apparently he's lost hope, which is a bad thing for a Blue Lantern!  More complications for him, as well as the perennially-hapless Mogo.)

It's good for the New Gods to be approached from a fresh perspective, and Godhead does exactly that.  Highfather has likely never been this vital (except maybe under Kirby himself), and he's surrounded by familiar and new figures who are equally compelling.

The good news is that if you have no real experience with Green Lantern or the New Gods, this issue serves as an excellent primer, too, catching up on concepts and characters with lightning precision.

The art's interesting too.  I love the design concept for the Godhead covers.  The interior here features new Green Lantern work from Rebirth artist Ethan Van Sciver, who shares the workload with a number of others.  There's also some splashes of that indy style that Marvel's been exploiting in series like Hawkeye and Moon Knight.  It's unexpected and effective.

Green Lantern has long been a favorite comics sandbox for me.  I feel guilty for having all but abandoned the sandbox with the departure of Johns.  Fortunately his successors know some fun games to play.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Reading Comics #136 "And I Wonder, Still I Wonder..."

It's beginning to feel as if Wonder Woman really belongs in the Big Three at DC.  Much has been made of her inclusion in the upcoming Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice.  DC just announced a fourth series, Wonder Woman '77 (based on the TV series, like Batman '66), her second after Sensation Comics.  There's also Superman/Wonder Woman besides her eponymous series.  Pretty unbelievable.  There was a period, oh...a three quarters of a century or so, where it seemed no one believed she could handle that kind of load.  She handled quite a lot in her earliest years.  But when the comics bubble burst at the end of WWII, so did her widespread popularity.  She persisted, along with Superman and Batman, but at a reduced capacity.  Her placement in the Big Three always seemed more a concession to the fact that she remains the most prominent female superhero in comics.

Things are changing.

In September I caught Superman/Wonder Woman: Futures End and Sensation Comics #2.  I figured it was a good chance to see how things are going.  Brian Azzarello's Wonder Woman run is concluding this month, and then we're headed into Finch territory, and at some point I hope to read the complete Azzarello, but I fell too far behind to have done so already.  But Wonder Woman: Futures End was actually a tie-in with Superman/Wonder Woman (some creators opted in, some out).

Charles Soule wrote this adventure, which doesn't seem to have much to say about his own just-concluded run on the series except that Superman and Wonder Woman are both involved.  It's more about Wonder Woman, and actually, something of a rebuttal to some of what Azzarello did, the whole Goddess of War thing.  Soule's conclusions make a good amount of sense and end the issue well.  Superman's arc in the overall Futures End story is more complicated than can be covered here, but that's another thing Soule gets around.

Damn.  I'm going to miss Soule at DC.  You'd better be good to him, Marvel!

It's Sensation Comics, which like Wonder Woman '77 will be is digital-first, that provides a little more to talk about.  There are a couple of stories inside the second print issue.  The first is from Ivan Cohen and plays around with the fact that like Shazam, Diana owes a lot of what she is and does to gifts she's been given rather than what she inherently is.  It's another difference between this particular icon and other superheroes.  It's probably easier to think of her as an ambassador (which was certainly fruitful material for, say, Greg Rucka), but Wonder Woman's biggest strength is her belief in herself.  Batman's obsessive quest makes him what he is, Superman's origins from another planet and subsequent adoption.  Cohen does a little trickery in his story but circles around to what truly makes his lead who and what she is.

But that's not the best story in the issue.  (It is the longer one, though.)

The second story comes from Jason Bischoff.  (These are both relatively new names in comics, I assume.  That's another difference for Wonder Woman.  Very often in the past twenty years or so, DC has tossed one big name after another at the character.  There's been some good material.  But maybe for someone like her, a fresh voice is needed.)  A few years back, Ben Caldwell presented an innovative take on Wonder Woman's origins within the pages of Wednesday Comics.  It was one of the best comic book stories I've ever read.  Now it has a rival, at least in terms of versions of Wonder Woman's origins.

Strangely enough, I've got to evoke another favorite comic book memory.  Two Septembers ago Peter Tomasi presented his version of Damian Wayne's origins in Batman and Robin #0.  Damian was the son of Batman and Talia al Ghul, raised by Talia as a perfect warrior for the League of Assassins.  To "graduate" he had to be able to defeat his own mother in combat.

Cleverly, Bischoff does the same thing between Diana and her mother Hippolyta.  The story is narrated by Hippolyta, leaving the young Wonder Woman free to struggle toward her destiny on her own.  The result is another story I've read recently that could easily be expanded upon in the future (the other being the masterful Grayson: Futures End).  Gail Simone had her strongest material when she revisited Themyscira and the origin material, while J. Michael Straczynski's best work in "Odyssey" was exploring the teenage Diana.

That's another difference for Wonder Woman.  Batman as a boy (besides a subject currently be explored in the new Gotham TV series) isn't nearly as interesting as Batman as a young man.  Superman as a boy is pretty much Superman discovering his powers one by one, otherwise it's really just a story about the Kents, while Superman as a teenager is basically exactly Smallville.  It's Wonder Woman who has the most potential as a little girl.  And writers like Caldwell and Bischoff are finally getting that.

What I'm saying is, Diana didn't need to become Wonder Woman for her story to begin.  She didn't need a catalyst; regardless of the version of her birth you choose, that alone was all she needed.  She won a contest to earn the title and leave her home behind, but her whole life was already headed in that direction.

So that's what Bischoff got me thinking.

It's a good time to be a fan of Wonder Woman.

The Multiversity: Society of Super-Heroes (DC)

writer: Grant Morrison
artist: Chris Sprouse
via Weird Science DC Comics
I've been reading Grant Morrison for years, and am still figuring out how to read him.  Today, while looking at Multiversity #2 (which is what this basically is), I realized he's a little like Quentin Tarantino by way of Indiana Jones.  He technically started writing comics in the late '70s, but he's a product of the '80s, the decade that saw popular culture become acceptable.  Or in other words, the birthplace of everything we know now.

The thing that really makes Morrison distinctive, though, is his ability to synthesize whole experiences.  Famously, he did that as a personal challenge with Batman, and his version of the Justice League was the start of, somewhat curiously, everything that Marvel has done ever since, including its wildly popular Avengers movies.

What he does is accept that every insane thing comic books take for granted and then approach them from that perspective.  He doesn't just follow the general template, like so many other writers.  He incorporates.  He incorporates like crazy.

This issue of Multiversity is the Justice Society issue.  Like the opening issue of the project, it's apparent that he's trying to make good on his Final Crisis ambition.  You may remember how he opened that, with the character Anthro, who's the narrating lead in this issue.

Incidentally, another character, used opposite Anthro/Immortal Man, is Vandal Savage, repackaged as a sort of prototypical Ra's al Ghul.  Now, why hasn't anyone else made such a connection?  And how cool would this version of Anthro be in a more extended capacity?  Although, of course, history has shown that other writers don't always approach Morrison's versions that same way he does.  Not to knock the new Klarion!

Morrison's Atom is more interesting than I've ever seen Al Pratt.  He does Dr. Fate better than anyone.  His Green Lantern is Abin Sur (with a new look that is justified in the story).

Overall, this is a great issue.  He clearly had a lot of fun creating it.  Artist Chris Sprouse (who's best known for his Tom Strong work with...Alan Moore) is a great collaborator for this content.  I don't know what to say.  I'm loving Multiversity.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Ms. Marvel #8 (Marvel)

writer: G. Willow Wilson
artist: Adrian Alphona
via Comic Vine
The first part of the "Generation Why" arc continues the Inventor arc, introduces the Inhumans dog Lockjaw as Kamala's new pet, and helps further explain what G. Willow Wilson hopes to accomplish with the series.  It also sees the return of regular artist Adrian Alphona.

The Inventor is the default villain at this point, the problem our hero is still trying to figure out.  At this point Ms. Marvel is learning everything he's been doing, starting to clean up the mess, and is working toward the inevitable final confrontation.  For this issue, it's probably the least interesting aspect.

Moving on, Lockjaw's debut puts yet another element into the ongoing narrative.  Usually a move like this is done because someone's getting anxious for people to discover the series and they've started looking for gimmicks.  In this case, it's a kind of subtle tie-in to Kamala's heroic origins (as figured out by Wolverine last issue, a by-product of the recent Inhumanity event) without advancing the series arc too quickly.  The friendly dog is a gentle reminder, is all, a placeholder.  It's also a chance for Kamala to interact with her family in matters other than faith.  That's important, too.  Every kid wants a pet.  Comics sometimes forget that.

By the time Kamala shows up for class late in the issue, she has to explain away a few things.  Her teacher tries to prove that she's a bad student, but Kamala quickly turns the tables on her with this insightful comment:

" up on the next generation is like giving up on the future, right?  And...and sometimes the next generation has to deal with all the problems the last generation left for it to fix, and that means getting up really early in the morning --"
It amounts to a mission statement for the series.  Some of it's pretty obvious, standard talking points, but Wilson also puts Ms. Marvel's context firmly in the very argument you always see but never see played out.  Quite literally, she's going to be dealing with problems (the ongoing Inhumans saga) that her predecessors have never figured out, and forging her own future, and by extension a new generation of heroes.

These days, new characters never seem to last.  If they stick around at all, they end up in a group and therefore don't really amount to much, compared to the legacies of characters created decades ago.  The last time there was a significant expansion of the superhero landscape was in the '60s, the whole reason we still, well, marvel at the Marvel Age.  Image came close in the '90s, but it's fair to say that no character from that time has become a true icon (Spawn, Savage Dragon, and Witchblade come close, but they still have yet to prove they can exist in contexts other than how they were originally presented).

Sometimes someone comes along and makes a clear effort to do something new.  Often, that's done in relationship to some established character.  That's what Wilson has done, but she's also made an effort to distinguish her efforts.  She's trying to make the character relevant as a kid growing up, and as someone entering the greater superhero community.

So far so good.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Justice League: Futures End #1 (DC)

writer: Jeff Lemire
artist: Jed Dougherty

The first thing you should know about this, in case you skipped my writer/artist credits at the top, is that it isn't written by Geoff Johns.  The second is that it is in fact a continuation of the Justice League United: Futures End special.

The whole Futures End thing is the first time the annual New 52 September celebration has dedicated itself to something other than strictly matters of continuity.  In a way, it does, because one way or another, the Futures End weekly and its September one-shots are part of the canon (and by extension, the familiar character of Batman Beyond, who plays a prominent role in the weekly), but they're also by necessity and design headed toward a reboot.  Which means pretty much everything that happens in these specials won't have happened, not five years from now, not by next year, when DC has reached its latest Crisis event, which Futures End is leading toward.

All of that is also to say, because these issues are not necessarily part of the actual series, their contents don't have to reflect what's been going on in them.  Which is to say, it's okay to sub creators.  Which is to say, no Geoff Johns.

Yeah, I guess it was kind of foolish to expect that (this goes for Superman: Futures End, too), although as I understand Scott Snyder did choose to participate over in Batman: Futures End, and he seemed to play around with the nifty story he did for Detectives Comics #27, the idea of Batman cloning himself to keep his mission as well as himself alive.  

So what does this issue do, besides feature Jeff Lemire and continue from the other League title?  It's another shot at reconciling Captain Atom with his Alan Moore doppelganger from Watchmen, Dr. Manhattan.  Captain Atom traditionally been a kind of Hulk mixed with Superman, a superhero created in a nuclear accident who tends to be a leader.  Over the years he's had various levels of significance.  He actually did have a New 52 series when the relaunch happened, but it was one of those short-lived ones, and he subsequently became one of the many characters from the revamped landscape bumming around looking for continued relevance.  A lot of them seem to have ended up in Futures End, curiously enough.

I didn't read the first part of the story, but it's easy enough to figure out what's happening as it picks up here.  At this point, Captain Atom is threatening to go the full Zero Hour, and it's only the trouble of being contained on Mars and confronted by this era's League standing in his way.  Lemire captures the Dr. Manhattan prototype well in Captain Atom's dialogue and approach to the situation.  Suffice to say, but that's certainly a Dr. Manhattan that everyone would have feared, not the angst-ridden one Moore favored.  (Everyone's angst-ridden in Watchmen.  It's still a surprise that Moore never wrote for Marvel.)

There's a lot of things Moore never did.  He wouldn't have had room for the kind of action from this issue in Watchmen.  Moore's superheroes tended to be reminders of a previous age (his happiest and apparently only memories stem from the early Silver Age) or postmodern deconstructions.  He confronted them with moral dilemmas.  Did Moore ever have a happy ending?

Because Captain Atom receives one here.  Martian Manhunter spends most of the story out of commission, thereby preventing him from using his mental abilities to influence the situation.  That leaves a League comprised of a lot of characters who are reminiscent of all those eras DC periodically reacts against by once again bringing the icons back together.  There's Vostok (Aquaman and the Others), Equinox (Justice League United), Dawnstar and Wildfire (Legion of Super-Heroes), Stormguard (unique to Futures End), as well as The Flash and Cyborg.

My memories of the issue reduce it to the Captain Atom elements, but these heroes make an impression as they fight during the story, too, making it a true mix of Moore and the regular comic book approach.  (I imagine if anyone objects to my impression of Moore, it would have to come from his America's Best Comics days, probably Top Ten.  Feel free to rebut.)

Not what I would've wanted, but still entertaining, with an ending that helps the whole thing work.  It doesn't hurt that Martian Manhunter is involved.  I don't know why there seems to be such extreme reluctance to use him as something other than supporting material in the New 52, but Lemire makes it clear he's still got plenty of potential.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Grayson: Futures End #1 (DC)

writer: Tom King, Tim Seeley
artist: Stephen Mooney
via Comic Newbies
An instant classic.  Best single issue I'll read all year.  The Dick Grayson story I've been waiting to read for years.

Need I go on?

The idea of Futures End, whether considering the weekly series itself or the September one-shots, is to present a portrait of the DC landscape five years in the future.  In the weekly series, it's a catastrophe that needs to be undone.  In the one-shots it's a glimpse at where everyone ends up.

Since the New 52 launch four years ago, September has been the best time to be a fan of DC.  The first September was the launch of the initial wave of fifty-two new series, the second a look at everyone's origins, the third a month dedicated to villains.  Every time it's a chance to reconnect with the characters themselves, take a wide view of their activities.  In essence, September is the absolute best opportunity for me to catch my favorite kind of storytelling.

And this year, that happened within the pages of Grayson.  Since the final issue of Nightwing saw Tom King and Tim Seeley take their first stab at defining the career of Dick Grayson, I've been hopeful that these were the writers who would finally do justice to the character.  There have been others in the past who have done excellent work with the character, but few have been as interested in exploring the character in the same way countless creators have, say, Superman or Batman.  I know, Dick Grayson no matter what he's called can't be argued to be Superman or Batman.  I mean, only Superman and Batman are, right?  But Dick's been around for about as long as they have.  He also holds the distinction of making permanent leaps of development into new roles, something no other character has been able to do.  He went from Robin the Boy Wonder, Batman's sidekick, to leader of the Teen Titans, to Nightwing, to a solo career, and several stints as Batman.  And now he's Dick Grayson, undercover as an agent of SPYRAL, the premise behind Grayson itself.

So far I haven't read a regular issue of Grayson.  I've heard some good things about it, but every time I have a look it seems Dick is in the midst of a spy adventure, which is fine.  I'd probably like it just fine, considering it's the last vestige of Grant Morrison's Batman Incorporated.  But over the years, I've developed a real fear of writers wasting Dick on adventures that ultimately mean nothing to the character, a trend that began after some truly excellent material from Chuck Dixon and Devin K. Grayson.  After Dick was scheduled to die in the pages of Infinite Crisis, DC lost its nerve with the character.  Other than the last stint as Batman, Dick has been completely directionless.  And then he was singled out as the victim in Forever Evil, had his superhero identity stolen away, and ended up thrown off the deep end.

The Futures End one-shot changes everything.  It's the story that finally tells the story of Dick's life, all of it.  Even if the destination ends up being something that never actually happens, that's not really the point.  The particulars don't matter.  It's the story, and the effort to make a cohesive thru-line for everything Dick has done.  King and Seeley skewer heavily toward his later solo adventures, and naturally the context of Grayson itself, and this works incredibly well.  Helena Bertinelli, the erstwhile Huntress, has considerable history with Dick, so it's nice to see her so important to the story, at last, in this version of events, the permanent romantic foil he's been searching for his whole publication history (Dixon had a few ideas, and of course there was also Starfire in the Titans days and Batgirl, a notion that's been danced around for so long it's actually lost its appeal).  Helena was always the contrasting figure who challenged Dick best, and nowhere is that more evident than in this one-shot.  Their interactions force Dick to remember the signal moments of his career, incidental ones that represent the impermanence of his life, how he was living it even before becoming Robin, as a circus performer.

The brilliance of the story might be blunted in some eyes by the gimmick of unfolding it backwards, but I've always liked that idea, and it's done perfectly anyway, even with a nice cylindrical nature to it.  There's a command to the whole thing that's rare in storytelling anywhere, let alone comics featuring superheroes.  This is very deliberate stuff, not plodding but calculated, that rewards repeat reading (demands it, in some respects, depending how much you follow initially). 

If the series as a whole is as good as this, I'll probably be adding Grayson to the growing list of series to read in trade collection format, because it seems as if it's another experience that would greatly benefit from that style.  Hopefully King and Seeley stick around for a while, get as far along the Futures End narrative as they can, because they've proven a long-term and enduring benefit to Dick's current role, how it fits in with his whole history, enhances it.  I wouldn't mind their doing side projects exploring his past a little more, either.

But the beauty of it is that even if that doesn't happen, this one-shot still exists, and it already does all that, and it has a great deal of fun in the process, something that's been missing from the character for too long.  It's a perfect single issue, and thankfully King and Seeley were smart enough to realize that the Futures End month gave them such an opportunity.  I don't know if they already had ideas like this percolating for the series or if the prompt forced them to this creative peak.  It doesn't matter.  It happened, and it's the new high-water mark for Dick Grayson stories.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Reading Comics #135 "Batman and Family"

I've been meaning to say this, but I love Batman and Robin.  What's that?  I've said it before?  Can't hurt to say it again.

I love Batman and Robin!
via DC Comics.  That guy in the middle, by the way, is Batman
In #34, "Robin Rises" Part 2, Pete Tomasi and Patrick Gleason sort of swiftly undo whatever it is "Death of the Family" was supposed to accomplish, with Batman closing circle with Batgirl, Red Robin, and Red Hood and then later with Dick Grayson, who mentions this:

"You know how much Damian meant to me, Bruce..."
It's a subtle reminder that in the pages of a different Batman and Robin, Dick wore the cowl to Damian's Boy Wonder, an era that is more important to both characters than subsequent stories tended to acknowledge.  It's the sort of deft storytelling this series has constantly featured.

And then stuff like this, too, a quote from Shazam this time:

"See, Wonder Woman, I told ya I'd beat you here."
Tomasi has become near-impeachable in his grasp of the DC landscape, transforming the series into a phantasmagoria where the constant remains the Dark Knight, but everything around him can shift (hence the period where even the title wasn't constant) but always steeped deeply in old and current lore (which itself seems impossible for most other writers).  This is not a nostalgia ride.  This isn't just a series that provides commentary for things that happen elsewhere.  It's become a touchstone.  

And, of course, with "Robin Rises," where things are most definitely happening.  I keep saying that Batman and Robin is arguably the essential Batman series of the moment, even as it becomes increasingly timeless, a synthesis of everything it is and should be.
via IGN
In the Futures End one-shot, we receive an unexpected glimpse at a new Robin, a character introduced in Scott Snyder's "Zero Year" arc (everyone always assumed that it would be Harper Row, who instead has transformed, in the pages of Batman Eternal, into Bluebird), Duke Thomas, who like all Robins starts out as a boy impressed with Batman but who apparently was given a considerable gestation.  If Futures End at all leads to actual continuity, I hope Duke makes it.  Tons of story potential in an instant, unlike every other Robin with a built-in extended training period like Bruce Wayne himself.

The writer for the issue isn't Tomasi but rather Ray Fawkes.  I've previously wondered if Fawkes was ever going to impress me, so it was great to see that he did, and under the banner of Batman and Robin, which has come to represent true excellence for me, whether the writer is Tomasi or originator Grant Morrison.  Fawkes handles the storytelling deftly and seamlessly.  It certainly doesn't hurt that he has artists Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs (who've partnered before on material like Streets of Gotham and Li'l Gotham and have been begging to be given a shot at some major league material).  On the whole this trio accomplishes the impossible, matching Tomasi and Gleason as a perfect creative team for this series.

The story itself is also interesting, since it's Batman in hot pursuit of Heretic, the brute Morrison introduced as a henchman in "Batman R.I.P." but who gained far greater significance when he was revealed to be an altered clone of Damian in Batman Incorporated.  His appearance here hopefully certifies him as a standout villain in his own right, a sort of less sophisticated Bane (anyone who's actually tried that with Bane himself has only managed to neuter the character). 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Quarter Bin #55 "Lex Luthor: The Unauthorized Biography, plus Batman: Year Three, The Mighty Thor, and Young Men"

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

Lex Luthor: The Unauthorized Biography (DC)
From 1989
via eBay
One of my many hilarious embarrassing moments concerns my original, failed attempt to buy this prestige format one-shot.  It was just before I began reading comics regularly, and I had entered the shop I would frequent for the rest of the '90s.  They had several rows of boxes lined on the floor.  I totally misinterpreted the deal I was going to get.  I spent a long time going through each box.  I had a huge stack.  I thought I had enough money.  I did not.  To this day, The Unauthorized Biography's distinctive cover is my only memory of the comics I discovered that inglorious day.  I've always wanted to read it as a result.

(Apparently the cover mimics one for an autobiography Donald Trump had released at the time.)

Jump ahead twenty years, and the journey is now complete.  As it turns out, it's pretty good.  The story isn't really a straightforward biography so much as the journey a private investigator takes as he compiles his notes for one.  This was the era of Luthor as a ruthless businessman, and as such all the P.I.'s research turns up how he reached that point, from humble origins involving "obnoxiously mediocre" parents.
via iFanboy
Perhaps the most interesting element is actually Clark Kent's supporting role.  Our erstwhile Superman ends up a Jim Rockford type, accused of the murder because he had no other plausible reason for discovering the body of the murdered P.I. other than professional opportunism, or so the cops figure (if anyone ever made another stab at a Clark Kent-based TV series, his adventures as a reporter, not strictly in a romantic sense, would probably make for interesting material; although even as a comic book, I'm surprised this has never been done).

The writer is James Hudnall, who quickly backed away from mainstream comics and has thusly become fairly obscure, which is a shame if this material is at all indicative of his work.  The artist is Eduardo Barreto, who stuck around much longer.  

Batman #437 (DC)
From 1989

The cover declares, "Batman: Year 3" (Part 2 of 4), although it might more accurately be called "Robin: Year 1."  Everyone knows "Year One," the other notable Frank Miller story featuring Batman.  DC decided to keep the story alive by continuing into "Year 2" (featuring Batman as an established commodity) and "Year 3," which was written by Marv Wolfman, who in the midst of his Titans run certainly had come to know Dick Grayson well enough.  Besides the Robin origin, "Year 3" is also part of the "Death in the Family"/"Lonely Place of Dying" sequence, otherwise known as the death of Jason Todd (the second Robin) and the debut of Tim Drake (the third), so that interspersed with the flashback is a story set in the present at that time.

King-Size Thor #2 (Marvel)
Reprint from 1994, originally published 1966

 I picked this up mostly to have another look at the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby duo.  The featured story involves the (Marvel) Norse version of the games featured in The Iliad, which take a typical-for-that-time twist with bad guys (and Loki).  It's not what I was expecting.  Lee is filled to bursting with his usual hyperbolic dialogue, while Kirby is as Kirby does (it'd be little wonder to discover that he thought up the Inhumans and the New Gods thanks to working on material like this).  There are a couple other stories included.  Not worth mentioning beyond that.

Young Men #25 (Atlas, a.k.a. Marvel)
Reprint from 1994, originally published in 1954

Another vintage experience, featuring the Human Torch (original version), Namor the Submariner, and Captain America (combined, they were known as the Invaders) in separate tales.  It is what it is.  The Submariner tale was the most amusing one.  I have no idea why Marvel is so stingy with Namor comics these days.