Sunday, November 30, 2014

Annihilator #3 (Legendary)

writer: Grant Morrison
artist: Frazer Irving
via Previews World
Obviously I'm a big fan of Grant Morrison, and I've already talked glowingly of this project from previous issues, but this might be the one that unlocks the whole thing.

Ray Spass, the dying screenwriter who has just met the lead character from his latest script, has been thrust into the story of his life.  Max Nomax is a lunatic creation who claims he's real and that his story was downloaded into Ray's brain.  Except now Ray explains how he came up with Max in the first place, inspired by a series of previous efforts on a character who's become copyright-free.

And now the movie Annihilator could very well become is beginning to emerge.  Here are a bunch of quotes from the issue that could easily comprise the dialogue in the trailer:

"This man's creativity demands a ferocious, unpredictable expression." 
"It's the story of a rebel artist wrongfully imprisoned in a haunted lunatic asylum.  In space.  What the hell does it look like?" 
"You're a fallen specimen, Ray, weak and self-indulgent.  This so-called screenplay of yours is the work of a contemptuous, self-loathing creator." 
"I'm dying -- I just woke up thinking it was all a dream and then I remembered -- I'm actually dying." 
"I pitched them the whole idea in space.  'The Shining meets Alien.'" 
"This world.  This mortal sewer." 
"Send me to the abyss.  I'll show you the source of all art."
Cast Brad Pitt as Ray Spass, have Terry Gilliam direct, the long-awaited reunion after Twelve Monkeys.

What's more, especially with those first three quotes, I can't help but begin to view Annihilator as Morrison grappling with his creative legacy.  His admirers think Morrison is a genius and he remains one of the most respected creators in comic books, but he's never attained the same wider respect as Alan Moore or Neil Gaiman, as if his entire life's work has already been refuted.  Time and again I've attempted to do my part in explaining just what he's done, but I can imagine that it must be frustrating to think all his efforts have been in vain, all the praise he's received being, in the end, hollow.  For so long, Morrison has dedicated himself to the vital expression of superheroes, and yet this has proved impossible to distinguish or contend with what Moore achieved with Watchmen, a work that transcended the form because of its ironic detachment.  Morrison believes in big ideas and has consistently chased after them in his work, but he's long sought an anchor that makes his ambition accessible to wide audiences, not just visible but vital

After the release of Christopher Nolan's Interstellar, I think something like Annihilator might have room to exist in greater context.  Nolan's career has had the benefit of wide appreciation following his superhero work with the Dark Knight trilogy (somewhat ironic, there), and to some (such as myself) his latest film is a clear culmination of his prior films.  Annihilator is very much like that for Grant Morrison.  Yet it's being released by a relatively anonymous publisher, which may make it all the more important that it receive the treatment Morrison may have intended for it, adaptation into a major motion picture, something Moore and Gaiman have received on numerous occasions but which has still eluded him.  I'm becoming more and more convinced that Annihilator is exactly the project he's been waiting to deliver for the honor.  At first I wondered if it could stand out or even sound plausible as a blockbuster.  The longer the story continues, the more I'm convinced.  He knows exactly what he's doing.

We'll see.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Quarter Bin #61 "Binge-worthy VI: Martian Manhunter and other curiosities"

Martian Manhunter: American Secrets #1 (DC)
From 1992.
via Comic Book Resources
I've long been interested in having a look at this one.  I'm a huge fan of Martian Manhunter, one of the most perfect comic book creations ever and yet strangely one of the least-utilized DC icons, usually depicted as a stalwart member of the Justice League.  The launch of Grant Morrison's JLA put an extreme spotlight on all of the characters he chose to include, which led to the only, to date, Martian Manhunter ongoing series, which lasted for three years, at the turn of the millennium.  As indicated in his first appearance, previously featured in the "Binge-worthy" series here, the erstwhile John Jones was likely intended to be more of a detective than the green-skinned superhero he otherwise was.  With so many parallels to Superman and even the X-Men, Manhunter has always been a true outsider capable of providing a unique perspective on humanity.  American Secrets was an effort to do exactly that from a Cold War perspective, circa his earliest print history, the way some people still associate Wonder Woman with WWII even though she's been contemporized since her debut, unlike Captain America.  This is a noir story that doesn't even feature the green skin, much less cape (this is an alien who looks alien but is also a shape-shifter, so he can manipulate his appearance any number of ways, including a rough approximation of human, which is how he's usually depicted, and then an accurate version, which is how J'onn J'onzz becomes John Jones, the ultimate assimilated immigrant) until late in the first issue from the old "prestige format" (basically serialized graphic novel).  Maybe this particular line of dialogue, from our detective, sums up the project:
"...But not an evidence trail.  A trail of references, and hunches.  Game-shows, lizard-headed devils.  Comic books..."
I'd love for something like this to be reprinted, and for Martian Manhunter himself, for all intents and purposes, to be rediscovered.  If Ed Brubaker ever came back to DC, this is exactly the character he should write.  The same goes for Jason Aaron.  Heck, bring them both back and we can have a whole Martian Manhunter renaissance...

Martian Manhunter Special (DC)
From 1996.
via DC Wikia
This was a one-shot released just prior to the Morrison reboot, replete with pin-ups featuring the characters who were Leaguers at the time and about to be become irrelevant.  My two favorites are the Marc Campos Captain Atom (the artist was familiar with the character from the "Judgment Day" crossover and the early issues of Extreme Justice)
via Tumblr
and my boy Bloodwynd
via Tumblr
who funny enough was at one point mistaken to be a version of Martian Manhunter thanks to some hilarious confusion.  Why am I talking about the pin-ups rather than the comic itself?  Because the story is pretty generic superhero sci-fi.  The cover, meanwhile, is more art I'd rather talk about, featuring work from Howard Porter, who helped Morrison launch JLA, and so probably represents the chronological launch of the relaunch, moreso than the one-shot itself.

Martian Manhunter #1,000,000 (DC)
From 1998.
via DC Wikia
Speaking of Morrison's JLA, the event that spun out of it (the '90s were a decade that spun events out of series or creative teams DC wanted to spotlight; as such Dan Jurgens with Zero Hour in the wake of "Doomsday;" Mark Waid with Underworld Unleashed in the wake of his early Flash success; Karl Kesel and Stuart Immonen with The Final Night in the wake their Adventures of Superman; John Byrne with Genesis in conjunction with his Jack Kirby's Fourth World; and Geoff Johns with Day of Judgment on the cusp of taking over DC entirely) was called DC One Million, which was previously referenced in the "Binge-worthy" series concerning The Creeper.  Martian Manhunter was another character who greatly benefited from the event creatively, with regular series creators John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake exploring his adventures across thousands of years until he inhabits Mars itself.  It's another bold example of what sets the character apart and a welcome reminder of the undervalued work Ostrander and Mandrake did on the series, sort of the Brian Azzarello/Cliff Chiang Wonder Woman of its day, maybe not what JLA fans might have expected but some of the best character work of that time from an era that was steeped heavily in character work (Waid's Flash, James Robinson's Starman).

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children: The Graphic Novel Halloween ComicFest Preview (Yen Press)
From 2013.
via Halloween ComicFest
Adapted from the acclaimed novel by Ransom Riggs, which I haven't read, for a graphic novel released early this year, which I also have not read, this becomes my first real exposure to the 2011 book, which will be a movie in 2016 starring the increasingly ubiquitous Eva Green (who has also starred in comics-related 300: Rise of an Empire and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For).  If this had originated as a Vertigo project, it would have fit in comfortably with Sandman and The Unwritten, a tale of a boy trying to reconcile the stories he used to hear from his grandfather which seemed too fantastic to be real, but as it turns out they were.  The Halloween ComicFest freebies are the unheralded cousins to Free Comic Book Day.  There are mini-comics (geared exclusively to kids) and also full-size releases like this one.

The Spectacular Spider-Man #229 (Marvel)
From 1995.
via SpiderFan
My earliest superheroes favorites were Robin and Spider-Man (two sides of the same coin, really).  These were the days when I knew superheroes exclusively from their TV appearances, which meant I knew Burt Ward's Robin and Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends.  By the time I started reading comics in the '90s, Tim Drake had become the third Robin, and...well, the Clone Saga was happening.  Every major superhero had some kind of crisis during that decade.  Superman was killed, Batman was broken, Green Lantern went insane, Wonder Woman was replaced.  And Spider-Man underwent the most extreme existential crisis ever: Peter Parker met Ben Reilly, and for a time neither knew which one was the clone.  It was a sprawling story that infuriated fans more than anything, mostly because it seemed the writers were, well, webslinging it as they went along.  I always felt it was maybe not deserving of all the hate it received, but then, I also didn't read any of it.  I was a DC guy by that point, had very little time for Marvel.  I think in hindsight, the Clone Saga is a perfect embodiment of what Marvel was for decades, a company that told the kinds of one-and-done stories DC became known for in the Silver Age, filled with sensational misdirection as a matter of course (if you heard the term "life model decoy" when people were trying to figure out how Agent Coulson was alive at the start of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. despite his death in the preceding Avengers, you have a sense of what I'm talking about), the very idea of instant retcon with every new creative team.  This issue is Peter Parker walking away from the whole mess (for a while), allowing Ben Reilly to assume the webbing as he tries to make sense of his ordinary life (again).  In case you were wondering, Ben Reilly was definitely the clone.  It's a whole era fans are still trying to remember positively, meaning its legacy in Spider-Man's history is still nowhere close to "Knightfall" or "Doomsday" despite the fact that Marvel itself keeps building off of it (to say nothing of the Ultimate Spider-Man version!).

Adventure Comics #6/509 (DC)
From 2010.
via Newkadia
Geoff Johns famously wrote into the letters column of Superboy, before he broke into comics, and offered his suggestion of the human DNA used to create Kon-El as having come from Lex Luthor.  This was something he made reality a relative handful of years later in the pages of Teen Titans.  Yet the best and subsequently undervalued work was done in the pages of Adventure Comics in what was also Johns' first collaboration with eventual Flash artist Francis Manapul, which led to the second Superboy ongoing series, written by Jeff Lemire.  After the New 52 reboot literally rebooted the character, this was a whole era that was consigned to the history books when it ought to have ushered a renaissance of appreciation.  This issue features a chilling version of Luthor, willing to do awful things to his own niece (another lost element, alas), one that trades heavily on his if-only-Superman-weren't-here self-mythology, and contrasts nicely with Johns' own Forever Evil version.  For fans like me, T-Shirt Superboy will always come in second place to Don't Call Me Superboy despite what Johns brought to the character, but this is an exception that deserves greater recognition.  Johns cleverly punctuated the arc with Superboy's running "What did Superman/does Lex Luthor do?" in the narration boxes, which I found instantly iconic, more relevant than what had been done with the character, outside of Johns and Karl Kesel, for years.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Multiversity: Pax Americana (DC)

writer: Grant Morrison
artist: Frank Quitely
via DC Wikia
The Multiversity: Pax Americana is all about the elephant in the room.

The elephant's name is Watchmen, by the way, but like any comic book reference there's a secret identity, too, and that's Alan Moore.  And Grant Morrison spends the entire issue deconstructing the most famous deconstruction of comic book superheroes ever created, one that has been hailed not merely as one of the finest superhero comics ever, but one of the great pieces of 20th century American fiction in general.

Late in the issue, Morrison delivers his most sly commentary on the effort when he quotes President Kennedy from a speech he made in 1963, five months before his assassination, supporting an initiative that led to the Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty.

You'll note for the record here that I've previously discussed how Moore's vision was perhaps influenced by his growing up under the spectre of nuclear war, something later generations perhaps may not properly appreciate.

Morrison's reference to the speech is a direct refute of Moore's thesis, and represents the fundamental difference between their approaches to superhero comics.  In Pax Americana, Peacemaker assassinates the president, a direct reference to the Comedian's implied assassination of Kennedy.  Comedian is Peacemaker, and thus in this iteration Peacemaker is Comedian.  Part of what I loved so much about the recent Before Watchmen comics was the chance for creators to more heavily explore the implications of what Moore outlined in his original story, and Brian Azzarello did exactly that within his Comedian, the best of those efforts.  Now we're seeing more of the fruits of comic books directly reflecting Watchmen rather than applying all the wrong lessons, which many of Moore's successors did (I would argue Garth Ennis as being the worst offender, especially in the pages of the vastly overrated The Boys).

Moore was always a cynic in some respects, a Silver Age fan in a post-Silver Age world who clung to his memories and yet was the first to truly obliterate them.  It should be understood that when I say "Silver Age," I refer to the innocent comics that are best reflected in the popular memory by the George Reeves Superman and Adam West Batman on television, which even at that time were beginning to be artifacts of the past, with the dawn of the Marvel Age introducing a layer of new sophistication.

Morrison himself has long attempted to redeem the Silver Age through more conventional means; the "Black Casebook" aspects of his Batman stories were a way of incorporating the more outlandish elements of the Dark Knight's legacy into a more realistic approach, or at least one that better fit in with what comics have since become.  Funny enough, when he did a Bat-Mite story outside of Batman context (Happy!), he was accused of trying to be someone else (Ennis).

Such are critics.

Pax Americana is littered with ideas like this.  It's a terrific accomplishment on any number of levels, the best single issue of the Multiversity saga to date (which is saying something; this was a project that was years in development, and it shows).

There's Morrison's reteaming with Frank Quitely.  The last time they worked this well together, the result was We3, a breakthrough for both of them that still awaits its proper appreciation.  Pax Americana on this score is a perfect example of the benefits of two creators continuing to work together, pushing each other to their very best.  Clearly Quitely is asked to tackle the challenge of Watchmen's famous stylistic legacy, which is half of what everyone gushes about it.  The script itself does so, too.  Not since Grayson: Futures End #1, and this is incredible to have one let alone two comics in a single year to have tackled a story so deliberately, have I read something this sensational.
Morrison's Question reflects Moore's Rorschach, but again and perhaps more tellingly, which came first?  The Question is a character whose legacy has been all but forgotten except through the lens of a pastiche.  The last time he was relevant was in the pages of 52, and in a current iteration has an entire mystical layer that isn't a part of the original legacy at all.  A reinvented persona.  Morrison is a writer who will always be able to understand a character better than whoever else has been handling them previously.  His Question isn't a psychopath exorcising his own demons, but he does take his gimmick seriously.  Maybe the general attitude is the same, but again, Pax Americana is clearly a reflection of Watchmen already.  One that turns the story back around.

Captain Atom/Doctor Manhattan, Blue Beetle/Nite-Owl, Nightshade/Silk Spectre.  There's a lot of analytic potential here.

Bottom line is, this is one master reflecting on another.  I personally think Morrison comes out on top.  He has a better grasp of the subject material and he's more willing to side with the material, oddly, trust that superheroes can make their own defense, that stories can be multifaceted, and that a single issue can do all the necessary work.  Ever since the early days of Batman Incorporated (the first volume), he's made a concerted effort to tell a complete story while suggesting how it fits in the larger context.  That's what he did in Seven Soldiers of Victory, The Return of Bruce Wayne, and now The Multiversity.  This issue is his most subtle and yet most intricate work to date.  It may be the best comic book published in 2014, the most relevant superhero statement of the 21st century to date.

And the project isn't even finished yet.  This is a giant love letter to a medium, to a genre.  That's the difference between Grant Morrison and Alan Moore.  Moore wanted to distinguish an emerging sophisticated approach.  Morrison hopes superheroes can still explain themselves.  It certainly helps to have someone like him around to lend some assistance.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Quarter Bin #60 "Binge-worthy V: Comics Frontiers"

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Free Special Edition Preview (Vertigo)
From 2012.
via Amazon
Working in a bookstore when Stieg Larsson's trilogy became a worldwide phenomenon made it all the more impossible to ignore, so when I finally read the books last month I was pleased to discover that I quite liked them.  I'd already seen David Fincher's adaptation of the first book, and read the graphic novel version of the second, so I was familiar with some of the variations before experiencing the originals.  It was nice to come across this preview of the first graphic novel, then.  I don't remember now if I'd caught it when it was originally released, because at any rate I don't have that copy anymore much less most of the comics I had at that time.  But I want to read the rest of it now, and I hope all the more that Vertigo will adapt the third book and complete its own version of the story, which has become a personal favorite.

Godland #16 (Image)
From 2007.
via comiXology
Since catching some of Tom Scioli's American Barbarian earlier this year I became all the more interested in his Godland, which is a version of Jack Kirby's New Gods.  It's interesting, but I think I'm more interested in American Barbarian.

Green Lantern #50 (DC)
From 1994.
via DC Wikia
Hal Jordan's story reaches a climax in the conclusion to "Emerald Twilight," as the fallout from "Reign of the Supermen" and the destruction of Coast City causes him to turn violently against the Guardians and attempt to take matters dramatically into his own hands, a vigilante with the most powerful weapon in the universe.  Jordan has always been depicted at odds with the Guardians, and he'd frequently left the Green Lantern Corps because of it.  As Geoff Johns later explained in Green Lantern: Rebirth, the fear entity Parallax used his greatest personal crisis as a means to unleash its own potential.  Jordan's story continued within the pages of Zero Hour, The Final Night, and Day of Judgment.  In the wake of these events, Kyle Rayner temporarily became the last of the Green Lanterns, which was the other act that dramatically revamped the scope of the franchise within the DC landscape.  Watching Jordan battle Sinestro will always be the greatest moment from the issue, however, the moment Sinestro returned as a significant element of the mythos, regardless of the outcome at that time.

Green Lantern #81 (DC)
From 1996.
via Comic Vine
The '90s were littered with nods to longtime fans, a development that may have clashed with all the new ones the decade tried to bring in and probably part of the reason it ended up failing in permanently enlarging readership.  Hal Jordan had just sacrificed himself in the conclusion to The Final Night, and this was an issue dedicated to his memorial.  Fans like to point to James Robinson's Starman as an attempt to make a generational statement, but Ron Marz and was doing that within the pages of Green Lantern before Jack Knight inherited the cosmic rod, and Mark Waid had been doing that with Wally West in The Flash before Jordan had even heard of the Cyborg Superman.  It's funny to remember how angry fans were to what happened to Jordan, but he was constantly popping up and actually became far more relevant because of all that work.  In a span of a few years he became more important than his first three decades had managed, with the exception of the "Hard Traveling Heroes" arc.

Green Lantern #119 (DC)
From 1999.
via DC Wikia
After his transformation into the Spectre, Jordan even had a whole series as the Spirit of Vengeance, but of course had to try out his new role within the pages of Green Lantern.  This was an issue I hadn't read previously.  Jordan sports, in human form, the same bomber jacket Geoff Johns would keep him in all the time.  In fact, this issue might even be considered a soft reboot for an era that hadn't been relevant to the characters for years.  It's very interesting to see that.

Jack Kirby's Galactic Bounty Hunters #6 (Icon)
From 2007.
via Comic Vine
Kirby nostalgia is something that never goes out of fashion in comics, where his legacy is still up for contention.  Since Marvel refuses to back away from its Stan Lee-heavy approach, it's up to everyone else and whatever scraps Kirby left behind to do the job.  Galactic Bounty Hunters is just one of the many obscure projects that attempt to fill that void.  One of the participants is Karl Kesel, who notably infused much of his long run on Superboy, including a version of Kamandi, with Kirby's ideas.  Kesel rarely gets enough respect for the work he's done.  It's not surprising to see him so closely linked to Kirby.  Hopefully he won't be entirely lost in the shuffle.  DC keeps making efforts, and clearly Dan DiDio is a big devotee.  Maybe he ought to bring Kesel back to give a helping hand.

JLA Eighty-Page Giant #3 (DC)
From 2000. 
DC Wikia
After Grant Morrison's run that relaunched the team, I confess to have skipped out on pretty much everything that followed in the pages of JLA.  This one-shot provides a king-size story that revisits the era.  It's definitely not Morrison's JLA but it was certainly worth a look.

JSA #67 (DC)
From 2005.
via DC Wikia
As you might see on the cover, this ties in with Identity Crisis, but for me it's another glimpse into the whole Geoff Johns run, which I didn't follow regularly until the Justice Society of America relaunch.  A lot of the issue reflects on and interacts with Identity Crisis developments, but by the end spins off in its own direction with a different story entirely featuring a villain who probably wouldn't have been on the radar if Johns were working then the way he works now, or at least he probably would have handled the story differently.  Per Degaton certainly doesn't have the same resonance that Black Adam ended up having.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Quarter Bin #59 "Binge-worthy IV: The Final Night"

These four issues were the best surprise of my back issue binge at Zimmie's, because at the time I'd been frantically searching for an inexpensive edition of the trade collection, since it's long been out of print.  The Final Night is one of my all-time favorite comics, an "event" that is still so unique that it remains a standout in that regard but is otherwise an excellent example of an undervalued era, Stuart Immonen's Superman.  From 1995 to 2000, he laid the groundwork for the kind of iconic vision Geoff Johns would become famous for, exploring the roots of a famous characters while at the same time building something for the future.  His Superman was something you could only have found otherwise in the artwork of Alex Ross, strong but not overly muscled, assured yet vulnerable.  Buried in the heart of a time when the Man of Steel faced one long arc after another with three other creative teams competing for attention, Immonen began in collaboration with Karl Kesel but eventually wrote his own stories to accompany the distinctive style he'd later alter to become more mainstream at Marvel.

I had the issues from when they were originally released, but they were part of the first comics purge I had to make a few years back and among the first ones I realized I should have put aside, which I did with only a handful that first time and then a little more the second time.  It's my opinion that no serious comics fan should go without this story in their collection in some shape or form.

The Final Night #1 (DC)
From 1996.
via comiXology
"The sun shone down warmly on Metropolis, the city of hope."  That's the copy from the first page of the issue.  Soon enough an alien spacecraft arrives, and its unknown occupant is greeted by Superman and a group from the time-displaced Legion of Super-Heroes (it should be noted that Immonen had worked on the Legion prior to his Superman run).  Soon the alien is identified as Dusk, and she reveals that she is the herald of the end of the world.  Somewhat standard material, story-wise.  Eventually we have a shot of all the heroes populating the DC landscape at that time, who've gathered for the occasion.  If this were George Perez (or anyone else for that matter) there would be all kinds of action in this shot, but Immonen is content to let them rest.  There's the Legion (including Inferno, subject of an Immonen mini-series), The Ray, the Wonder Twins (as presented within the pages of Extreme Justice), Robin, Big Barda, Mister Miracle, Guy Gardner (Warrior style), Wildcat, Takion (an attempt to create a new New God that was fun to read in his own series for the short while it lasted), Doctor Light (the female/hero version), Phantom Stranger, Captain Marvel and family, Alpha Centurion (subject of an Immonen one-shot), Green Lantern (Kyle Rayner), Jade and Obsidian (children of Alan Scott, the original Green Lantern), Blue Beetle and Booster Gold, Firestorm, Impulse, Fire and Ice, Doctor Polaris (the first villain to join the fight), Amazing Man, Maxima, Martian Manhunter, and Wonder Woman.  Captain Atom is featured in a later panel.  Batman is there, too, but keeping to himself, which is exactly what you'd expect from him but what rarely happens in these event books.  The absence of the Spectre is discussed and then explained (he'd played a crucial role a few years earlier in Zero Hour, and would later return to prominence within the pages of Day of Judgment).  Lex Luthor finally appears, alongside the Contessa, near the end of the issue.  His role becomes increasingly prominent as the story continues...
via Boosteriffic
via Read DC Entertainment

The Final Night #2
via Comic Vine
By the third page of the second issue, Luthor is publicly shaking hands with Superman.  It's a historic moment for any number of reasons, a precedent later echoed in Forever Evil and subsequent issues of Justice League most significantly.  It's the first time Luthor is not merely the villain but someone trying to do what's right, not because he's looking to exploit an angle but because for once he's living up to his bluster, that he could very well have been Superman himself if the Man of Steel hadn't dropped out of the sky to, well, eclipse him.  The issue also sees Superman weakening, ironically enough, the result of the sun no longer giving him its strengthening rays.  Luthor's mind, and ego, meanwhile, are quickly going to work, and this is the other half of what makes Final Night worth preserving, other than its gorgeous art.  Dusk falls under attack by angry civilians who blame her for what's happened, only to be rescued by Ferro, which leads us to another echo, this time of a story that had already happened, the famous Legion story entitled "The Death of Ferro Lad" from 1967.
via DC Comics

The Final Night #3
via Comic Vine
"The universe isn't as simple as you might think, Superman.  To the trained eye, it's obvious that the sun is trying to heal itself -- but not quite in the way we'd want.  We don't know much about this phenomenon on Earth, but I'm sure where the young Brainiac comes from, they have all the timetables figured out."  That's Luthor again (you could've guessed, right?), and a page later it gets better: "Without the sun your powers are nearly gone.  I really think you should leave this to the big boys..."  Who else could get away with that?  And what other story than Final Night has ever produced such a scenario?  In more humble developments, Phantom Stranger helps Dusk see humanity in a better light by showing superheroes in more ordinary duties than we're used to.  Then humanity itself shows, well, humanity to Dusk.  Guy Gardner tries to get drunk, and the best thing that crazy alien DNA he had at that time ever did was provide a perfect setup for...

The Final Night #4
via Comic Vine
The most unexpected development was what came in the last issue, the start of the redemption of Hal Jordan, once and future Green Lantern but at the time Parallax, the villain who haunted Zero Hour and who would be expunged thanks to Day of Judgment and then Green Lantern: Rebirth.  But also, with all original emphasis included this time, these words from our old pal Lex Luthor: "Fascinating, Flash.  Thank you for sharing that essential information."  Who wouldn't want to read a whole series dedicated to that Lex Luthor?  And to think, we've only just gotten back to something even close (although Paul Cornell's Luthor-centric arc, collected in the "Black Ring" volumes, from Action Comics are also worth noting)...!  When his petty thought process is finally exposed, it leads to Superman doing what only Superman can do, unless it's Ferro trying to do it for him, and then finally what Jordan must to redeem himself.  The story ends with a rumination on Superman and Batman, but with the words of the Green Lantern oath, grounding the whole thing in the superheroics that seemed to have been cancelled by the unique scope of the event.
via iFanboy
Would I love for DC to acknowledge at the very least Final Night's significance to the Green Lantern mythos?  That's be great.  It's worth rediscovering for any of the reasons I listed otherwise, too, regardless of where it stands in current continuity.  With Convergence coming next year, does that even matter anymore?

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Reading Comics #138 "Character rundown from The Multiversity: The Just, plus other October 2014 comics"

Boom! Studios Halloween Fright Fest 2014 (Boom!)
via Previews World
The only Halloween freebie I picked up this year.  Frazer Irving illustrated the Adventure Time lead story, which was interesting insofar as Irving always does good work and Adventure Time is, well, interesting.  There were a few vintage Peanuts strips reprinted, plus background information on Charlie Brown's infamous luck with kites explained by the late Charles Schultz.  Finally, the lead-out was Fraggle Rock.  Hey, it was free.

Marvel 75th Anniversary Celebration (Marvel)
via Hero Complex
I'm not really a Marvel guy, but I like it when Marvel celebrates itself (which does seem to happen often).  Anyway, this was a special that featured a couple of stories and retrospective essays.  The first story is from James Robinson and is close to the Marvel version of Darwyn Cooke's New Frontier comics over at DC.  It's also, I guess, like Marvels.  Reflects on "where were you" when the Fantastic Four were born.  Bruce Timm next adapts Stan Lee's first-ever Marvel story, featuring Captain America.  Works better in a modern, Timm style.  Also included is the original text version.  Then there's Brian Michael Bendis revisiting Alias (his comic, not the unrelated TV show).  I never read Alias, but if it was as good as this was, hopefully Bendis really does consider bringing it back, as is suggested in the story.  A text piece explores forgotten Golden Age creations, and curiously includes Rockman, a character revived in the pages of the excellent The Twelve.  Tom DeFalco does a pretty typical young Peter Parker Spider-Man tale.  A text piece on Marvel's black superheroes.  Len Wein returns to his most famous creation, Wolverine.  A text piece on the real world intruding in Marvel's pages.  Goofy covers that mock things that would never happen (What If? for the Instagram generation).  All told, I thought it was a pretty good reflection.

The Multiversity - The Just (DC)
via Comic Vine
The third issue of The Multiversity from Grant Morrison explores a world populated by all the DC characters created from the '90s onward, a next generation experience that takes a different tack from Kingdom Come, more akin to Morrison's ideas previously represented by Zenith and Super Young Team, superheroes straight from our media-obsessed age, who have less fighting and more angst to fill up their days.

Here's a rundown of the characters who appear"
  • Sister Miracle (Sasha Norman), new creation, based off Shilo Norman, the Mister Miracle alternate Morrison used in his Seven Soldiers of Victory project.
  • Megamorpho (Saffi Mason), new creation, based off Metamorpho, also known as Rex Mason.
  • The Atom (Ray Palmer), long-established character who in the '90s was de-aged and became a member of Dan Jurgens' Teen Titans.
  • Alexis Luthor, Lex Luthor's daughter, based on a concept from late '90s Superman comics.
  • Batman (Damian Wayne) one of Morrison's most famous characters.
  • Superman (Chris Kent), based on the "Last Son" character created by Geoff Johns.
  • Azrael (Jean-Paul Valley), his costume on display; the post-"Knightfall" replacement Batman.
  • Offspring (Ernie O'Brian), featured in Mark Waid's follow-up to Kingdom Come, The Kingdom.
  • Green Lantern (Kyle Rayner), the '90s addition to the franchise.
  • Green Arrow (Connor Hawke), Oliver Queen's son and one-time successor.
  • Loose Cannon, Chronos, Gunfire, Max Mercury, Anima, Risk; group shot.  Loose Cannon, Anima and Gunfire were part of the "Bloodlines" generation from 1993.  Chronos was the anti-hero star of a brilliant, short-lived series.  Max Mercury was another Waid creation, within the pages of The Flash and Impulse.  Risk was part of Jurgens' Titans.  There are a few others I can't positively identify.
  • Superboy (Kon-El), whom Morrison cleverly has suffering from Bizarro syndrome.  I have no idea why this is the first time the idea has ever come up.  Brilliant.
  • Red Amazo, combining Red Tornado with classic Justice League villain Amazo.
  • The Flash (Wally West), the defining Flash for a generation thanks to Waid and Johns.
  • Alpha Centurion (Marcus Aelius), a character I've badly wanted to see make a comeback for years.  This may be it.  For now.
  • Steel (Natasha Irons), daughter of John Irons, the original Steel, with a long history herself.
  • Argus (Nick Kovak), another "Bloodlines" creation.
  • Wonder Woman (Artemis), the Azrael of the Wonder Woman '90s.
  • Aquaman (Garth), also known as Aqualad and Tempest.
  • Menta (Holly Dayton), daughter of Mento, Steve Dayton, associated with Doom Patrol.
  • Doctor Midnite (Pieter Cross), part of the revived Justice Society at the turn of the century.
  • Bloodwynd, part of Dan Jurgens' Justice League, famously described by Morrison in the pages of Supergods as being one of the worst examples of '90s comics.  Should be noted that his distinctive speech bubble (a crackly red outline) is omitted.  He, Alpha Centurion and Max Mercury are characters I'd want to explore given any possible comics career.
  • Arrowette (Cissie King-Hawke), taking the name of a character who was part of Young Justice.
  • Gypsy (Cynthia Reynolds), a member of the '90s Justice League scene.
  • Jakeem Thunder, a character Morrison created to join the revived Justice Society, succeeding one of the original members.
  • Impulse (Bart Allen), later known as Kid Flash.
Anyway, loved this issue.  Although of course I've loved all of them.  But this one in particular.

Saga #24 (Image)
via Previews World
The Brand enters (re-enters? I don't know) the picture, looking to figure out whatever happened to The Will, one of my favorite supporting characters who hasn't been around in a while.  Just a truly excellent issue, classic example of what made me love the series in the first place.  Pity, since the series now goes on hiatus until sometime early next year.

Superman #35 (DC)
via Ain't It Cool
Geoff Johns returns after the Futures End interlude to continue the Ulysses saga as he and Superman step up their efforts to end the threat of the Machinist.  Ulysses ends up making a bold move that may prove to be the definitive transition of the arc.

Wonder Woman #35 (DC)
via Rhymes with Geek
The conclusion of the Brian Azzarello/Cliff Chiang era has been getting mediocre reviews from the circles I visit, but I was going to have to read this one for myself even though I've had a spotty record reading the series so far.  This is basically the end of the First Born arc, too, with the most feeling of conclusion coming from Azzarello revealing the true nature of one of his supporting characters, a twist that underwhelmed other observers, but to my mind tracks well with what the series had done previously, exploring the nature of conflicting allegiances that has always been one of the worst-explored aspects of Wonder Woman (previously relegated to "you represent us!  you don't represent us!").  All along I've been convinced that this was a classic interpretation of the character, completely unusual and therefore with that much greater opportunity to say something new, which has been badly needed for decades.  It's distinctive, not just because of the art, but because it's allowed Wonder Woman to completely own her own mythology, not just "Greek gods, Greek gods, Greek gods" but what that means to her specifically.  Again, something that's needed to be done for a long time.  The instinct in the future will be to distance Diana as much from this material as possible without outright erasing it from the record, but that would be a mistake.  DC's already had other writers doing a more traditional interpretation simultaneously, including within the pages of Geoff Johns' Justice League and a burgeoning, unprecedented-in-the-modern-era line of sister titles, Superman/Wonder Woman and Sensation Comics.  I don't think any of that would have been possible without Azzarello's confident take

Monday, November 10, 2014

Digitally Speaking...#22 "Greg Rucka, Loeb & Sale, Beast of Wolfe's Bay, Bikini Cowboy, Binary, The Black Well, Blastosaurus, Bob and His Beer, Boobage, Brandi Bare, The Bunker"

Batman: The Ten Cent Adventure (DC)
From 2002.
via comiXology
Yeah, a comic that cost ten cents!  This was also the start of the "Bruce Wayne: Murderer?" arc.  This lead-off was written by Greg Rucka; the art from Rick Burchett (best known for his Batman: The Animated Series comics) and lettering by Willie Schubert (I know, I never mention the people who work on these things other than the writers and artists, but it's a whole team effort) combined with Rucka's scripting end up with the closest I've ever seen any team match the classic duo of Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale (The Long Halloween).  It's Rucka who I've got to spend this time talking about, though.  He's one of the four writers responsible for one of my all-time favorite comics, 52, along with Grant Morrison, Geoff Johns and Mark Waid.  Of the four I'm least familiar with Rucka's work.  At DC he was best known for his Wonder Woman and Gotham Central, which among other things was best known for fleshing out the character of Renee Montoya, who in the pages of 52 would go on to become the new Question while at the same time Batwoman emerged.  Suffice to say Rucka's had a vested interest in strong female characters.  Ten Cent Adventure features another of those, Sasha Bordeaux, who eventually went on to have a career in Checkmate and an interesting relationship with OMAC.  It's Rucka's depiction of Batman as a tragic story that may have deserved a different payoff than the "Murderer?" arc, something other than the Dark Knight Returns future, something bleaker.  It'd be nice to see if Rucka could nail such a story if he ever returned to the DC fold.  Rucka is also known for creator-owned titles like Queen & Country, Whiteout, Lazarus, and Stumptown.

Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight Special Edition (DC)
From 2014/1993.
via View Comic
Speaking of Loeb and Sale, here's their first Batman collaboration, the first of three Halloween one-shots later collected in Batman: Haunted Knight.  It reads a lot more like their brilliantly underrated first collaboration, collected as The Challengers of the Unknown Must Die! but long out of print, than their later work, and a freebie this year hopefully helped remind readers, or make new ones aware, of their considerable legacy.

The Beast of Wolfe's Bay (Evensen Creative)
From 2013.
via Wolfe's Bay
Well, this was pretty darn brilliant.  Well before I reached the background material that acknowledged the graphic novel's origins, including the Kickstarter campaign that helped make it a reality, I'd been thinking this was like the Scream version of monster movies, what I wished the dreadfully overrated Blair Witch Project had actually been like.  But as it turns out, Erik Evensen actually started out with the concept of modernizing Beowulf.  And in that context, the whole thing may be more fascinating than it first seems.  Other than that, this is a Bigfoot story, and in the past I've been a very amateur Bigfoot buff, so I always like to revisit that territory.  Evensen pulls double duty as writer and artist, and the remarkable thing is that he not only knows how to tell a story but visualize it as well.  The art gets better as the story continues, to the point where it started looking a lot like the excellent Fiona Staples' (Saga).  This guy has a bright future, but as far as I'm concerned, he's already given himself a head-start in building a legacy.

***** (out of five)

Bikini Cowboy Vol. 1 (Fresherluke)
From 2013.
via comiXology
Once in a while you come across something that transcends your normal evaluation of "great."  I've read a number of comics from the handy pack comiXology put together that I've really liked, including the above Beast of Wolfe's Bay and the Archeologists of Shadows series.  But Bikini Cowboy is better than all of them.  If this were a movie, I'd be ranking it alongside similar discoveries like The Fall and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.  In my Goodreads review I referenced Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained as a similarly Weest-shattering experience, and called Bikini Cowboy a modern Peter Pan.  It's phenomenal.  It's astonishing.  And it sneaks up on you.  At first it seems as close to absurd as you can get.  Girls did not wear bikinis back then.  They just didn't.  But the longer L. Frank Weber spins his tale, the more it works.  The artwork is similar to Sean Murphy, and the story itself is comparable to Murphy's own breakthrough work Punk Rock Jesus.  And this is only the first volume?  I want to read more.  Holy a-cow, Batman!  


Binary (ilfeld comix)
From 2013.
via Amazon
Based on Chris Hinz's own book Liege Killer, this graphic novel reads like the Philip K. Dick genre but needed a lot more streamlining to have a real impact.  The art of Jon Proctor is similar to Tony Harris (Ex Machina), so that kept it visually appealing.  Interesting concepts, anyway.


The Black Well 
From 2012.
via Lulu
A graphic novel that features the style of underground comix but is generally easier to read, even if Jamie Tanner leaves his story somewhat open-ended.  The Black Well might be described as a cross between The Island of Dr. Moreau and Kafka's Metamorphosis.  It's pretty interesting.


Blastosaurus #1 (Square Planet)
From 2014.
via All Comic
I...guess this is kind of the dinosaur version of Terminator.  Not terrible.  It is terribly imaginative, but all I can really say beyond that is that it's not really for me.


Bob and His Beer 
From 2012.
via Comic Vine
A little too convenient in how it all plays out, and it reads like a student's effort for a classroom writing assignment, but it works, generally, and at least for me, it's a unique comics experience.  There's one point where it even takes advantage of the digital format, which is all too rare even today, more than a decade after Scott McCloud gave a lecture in my own school days about the possibilities of the form.  I'd encourage a little more of that the next time the Stringfields collaborate.


Boobage (Lipstick Kiss Press)
From 2013.
via Comic Vine
Literary-style, you know, the kind of comic book and/or graphic novel that usually gets all the mainstream love and/or awards; more graphic novella than novel, basically a one-shot, because it's about as long as a standard issue; all that being said it's a pretty good, enlightening read on the insecurities of a small-chested woman, her perspective growing up.  The only problem is that it doesn't really nail the landing.  Is this an excerpt, then, for something Gallagher will later release?  She's talented either way.


Brandi Bare
From 2014.
via comiXology
It's not really bad, per say, but the book remains open, as it were, if Joe Pekar is doing this comic for reasons other than the cheesecake factor.  There are plenty of cheesecake comics out there, and most of them disguise their intentions by doing genre work of some extraction.


 The Bunker #1 (Oni)
From 2014.
via Rhymes with Geek
Not surprisingly, the best "regular" comic experience of the bunch belongs to a seasoned pro, Joshua Hale Fialkov.  For a few years now he's been plying his trade in superhero books, but Hale made his reputation on Elk's Run, and it looks like he's interested in getting back into that vibe.  The Bunker is like Lost by way of Robert Sawyer's FlashForward, which not so coincidentally was adapted into one of the many TV series that tried to be Lost.  It also reads a lot like Stephen King, actually.  A group of friends discover a hatch that leads them to a set of letters addressed individually to each of them.  The letters come from the future and don't speak especially well of what's to come.  Do they believe the letters?  It's fascinating stuff, and instantly becomes some of the best 2014 material I've read.  I'll be coming back to this series for sure.  It's just a matter of when.


Sunday, November 9, 2014

Quarter Bin #58 "Binge-worthy III: Mark Waid's Marvel, and other artifacts"

Bloodbath #1 (DC)
From 1993.
via DC Wikia
DC's 1993 annuals represented an effort to introduce an entire generation of new superheroes under the "Bloodlines" banner, surviving victims of a parasitic alien invasion who discovered hidden powers.  A few of these characters were featured in their own short-lived ongoing series (Gunfire, Anima) or mini-series (Loose Cannon, Razorsharp in Psyba-Rats), or else in various teams (Sparx) or as supporting characters in the titles whose annuals they debuted (Argus in The Flash).  The most famous alumnus, Hitman, branched off to create his own Garth Ennis-fed legacy.  Critics generally dismiss the whole effort as a crass attempt to cash in on the Image craze at the time, and maybe it was, but it was considerably ambitious and also the last time DC tried to replicate the success of its breakthrough Silver Age boom, which was followed by the Marvel Age renaissance a few years later.  I've been interested in these characters being revisited ever since, but that day still hasn't come, so the next best thing is to revisit "Bloodlines" itself, which I've done on a few occasions now.  This time I couldn't help but enjoy the snapshot of the DC landscape of that time that Bloodbath helps capture.  There's Mullet Superman, "Azbats," Bulky Armor Booster Gold, even my good buddy Bloodwynd.  There's also an advertisement for the DC adaptation of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, something I didn't read at the time and am still hoping to track down some day.  I'm one of the few people out there who wouldn't mind owning the complete "Bloodlines" event, and its related material.  That would be binging!

Captain America #444 (Marvel)
From 1995.
via Marvel Wikia
Until now I'd never read Mark Waid's Captain America, which at the time was distinguished as the first time he'd been noticed for something other than The Flash.  It was a run that was interrupted by the "Heroes Reborn" thing, another effect of the Image revolution, but popular enough that Marvel brought Waid back after the "Heroes Return."  I'd always wondered if Waid really was as ideal with Cap as he'd been with Wally West.  What made his Flash so special was a deep love for the character and his history, and everything Waid added to that legacy, notably bringing all the speedsters together, creating a few of his own, and introducing the concept of the Speed Force, basically a prototype for everything that Geoff Johns would do for Green Lantern a decade later.  After reading some of Waid's Captain America, I'm still not sure what to make of this work.  This issue in particular seems determined to make readers appreciate Steve Rogers for the idealistic and idealized hero he is, a Marvel concept if I ever saw one, the sacrifices and triumphs he's experienced over the years.  Steve isn't even in the issue, it's his supporters standing up for him against the doubts a skeptical government agent.  It's not very subtle work, although by the end of the issue Waid has done his trademark work of focusing on an iconic image, a frozen Captain America, except this time he's in the clutches of his enemies.  Most telling, perhaps, is Waid's heavy use of Quicksilver, Marvel's resident speedster, either a concession to fans of The Flash or a storytelling crutch for someone who was more than familiar with that kind of character at that point.

Captain America #445 (Marvel)
From 1995.
via Comic Megastore
Perhaps the most ironic part of Waid's arc at this point is that it's happened again under the current Rick Remender regime: Steve Rogers losing his super-soldier edge.  In this issue, he's given his strength back by his worst enemy, the Red Skull.  Part of the reason I know the fans were exaggerating a little, or that there were far fewer fans championing this run, is that until now I had no idea any of that even happened.  Waid creates the Speed Force and it's a permanent addition.  Waid monkeys around with Captain America and it's just his version of the classic '90s crisis every superhero underwent.  This is not to say it's not good storytelling, but that it doesn't seem to have had much impact.  I've been wondering the same about Waid's current Marvel cult favorite, Daredevil, which seems headed in the same direction.  Which leads me to this conclusion: Waid knows how to work the angles of any given iconic character, but he rarely seems interested, or motivated, to significantly add to that character's legacy.  

Captain America #5 (Marvel)
From 1998.
via Comic Vine
Obviously, this is part of Waid's return engagement.  This one's got a pretty interesting idea: What happens when an enemy (in this case the shape-shifting Skrulls) actually undermine Cap by making him popular?  All of Marvel's superheroes have inferiority complexes in one shape or form, part of the gimmick that's supposed to make them more relatable to the angst-ridden teenage market (also why the company has somewhat distanced itself from that approach in the big box office era).  If you ever wanted to know the biggest difference between Superman and Captain America, there it is.  Although a dude with "America" in his name, that doesn't automatically mean Cap is always aces with his country (something Captain America: The Winter Soldier helped demonstrate).  Although it should be noted that Waid did a similar story in the pages of The Flash.

Captain America #20 (Marvel)
From 1999.
via Comic Vine
Cap working alongside S.H.I.E.L.D. sounds like the movies, doesn't it?  Other than that, there's Sharon Carter drama (which was also a theme of other issues I sampled), and Andy Kubert (the Kubert who now has a functional Batman legacy under his belt thanks to helping Grant Morrison introduce Damian) proves there's at least one thing he can't draw, which is Steve Rogers drinking wine.  Maybe I don't know the character well enough, but I highly doubt he'd hold the glass like a dandy.  The man's a soldier.  I think people sometimes forget that.  Somehow...Actually, come to think of it, if I'd formed any impression of what to expect from a Mark Waid Captain America, I would have expected a heavy emphasis on that.  Although he seems to have done anything but.

The Creeper #1,000,000 (DC)
From 85,271/1998.
via DC Wikia
Another event I have a great affinity for is Grant Morrison's DC One Millioni, which imagines what the legacy of today's superheroes will look like in the year the one millionth issue of their current comic books would be published.  Turns out, despite all that time, pretty familiar.  Except The Creeper keeps it close to home, featuring the present version, possibly because this also happens to be the last issue of the series, meaning writer Len Kaminski has to come up with a statement on the character that makes sense in the event context.  He pulls it off.  Creeper is one of those wild card characters DC loves to experiment with, a sort of Joker combined with the Mask and Deadpool, with the same body-swapping gimmick as Captain Marvel and the Demon Etrigan.  I'd never read the series, so picked up the issue mainly out of interest in One Million, but I ended up loving the issue.  In hindsight this was another of those comics DC should probably have published under the Vertigo banner, as it features many of the classic hallmarks of a more abstract interpretation of superhero storytelling.  But if that had happened, the One Million issue would never have happened.

DC Universe #0 (DC)
From 2008.
via DC Wikia

Technically the last issue of Countdown to Final Crisis, this one was written by Grant Morrison and Geoff Johns and is best known for Morrison's interlude between Batman and the Joker, which ties in with "Batman R.I.P."  The narration is provided by Barry Allen, whose return is revealed at the end of the issue.  He'd been the most famous victim of Crisis on Infinite Earths, which Final Crisis undoes by bringing back the concept of the multiverse in full force.  But readers who expected it to be more like Infinite Crisis probably have only this issue to hold onto.  Probably Johns' biggest influence on it.

Dinosaurs vs. Aliens Free Comic Book Day Special Preview (Liquid Comics)
From 2012.
via Comic Vine
This is Grant Morrison's intended film collaboration with Barry Sonnenfeld, a project that followed on the hinges of a similar release in 18 Days.  Dinosaurs vs. Aliens sounds gimmicky, especially when you consider the similarly-titled Cowboys vs. Aliens and how poorly that went over with wide audiences, but it's actually pretty interesting.  It's Morrison in minimalist mode (We3, Joe the Barbarian), although as gorgeous as the art is (I should note that I've previously read the whole graphic novel release), it's almost better to read the script excerpts, where you can truly appreciate how much effort Morrison puts into his concepts.  The trouble with this one, though, is that it risks being, ultimately, about as interesting as that underwater chase in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace in which the heroes are confronted with a succession of large fish.  The animators put a lot of work into that, too, details you might not have caught, even a whole story you might have missed.  It's a little hard imagining that a potential movie version of this concept would play differently, which might be part of the reason there still isn't, well, a movie version of this.  Maybe it just needs more Rip Torn?

Fantastic Four #508 (Marvel)
From 2004.
via Marvel Wikia
The final Mark Waid in the binge, this issue features Dr. Doom possessing successive members of the Fantastic Four, a concept straight out of the Silver Age, although it also features the "death" of the Thing, although by the end of the issue Sue Storm is already talking strategies on how to bring him back.  So in that regard, Waid is ahead of his competitors.  I can't judge his First Family on one issue, but I didn't find it to be too remarkable.  The biggest hook for me is Howard Porter on art.  Ever since his JLA with Grant Morrison, I've been interested in Porter's career, and although he's never had another high profile run like that, I'm happy whenever I see him on a new project (current one: Justice League 3000).  Some artists change their style over time, but Porter's is the same in this issue as it was in JLA.  I consider that a good thing.