Sunday, December 28, 2014

Wasteland #59 (Oni)

via Previews World
writer: Antony Johnston
artist: Christopher Mitten

Technically, this is the last issue of the Wasteland saga.  And it is deliciously cyclical, as most of the best stories are.

I say "technically" because there's one issue left, an epilogue as it turns out.  All the better for Wasteland's few but hopelessly devoted fans, who will savor this story for years.

The very first issue featured a cover remarkably similar to this one.  The person behind the goggles and the mask was Michael, whom I've always identified as a Wolverine figure, and somewhat rightly so as it turns out.  The person behind the goggles and the mask this time is Abi.  Both are characters we've spent the whole series following, and both split off from what had begun to seem like the main narrative of Wasteland when they left the city of Newbegin behind, in search of fabled A-Ree-Yass-I.

(Which is finally identified, by the way.)

When we first met Abi, she didn't know she was exactly like Michael.  She knew she had peculiar abilities, but she'd forgotten, just as the world did, what had come before.  And now she has replaced him.

The story begins anew, at the end.  Hopefully the mistakes of the past won't be repeated?  That's what it's all been about, remembering the past, learning from it.

And it's been a grand journey.

Reading Comics 144 "Supreme: Blue Rose"

via Image Comics
Rob Liefeld isn't dead, but he's began to have a wonderful creative afterlife.

A few years back, a couple of his characters were revised away from their strictly superheroic origins in the most recent Glory and Prophet comics, with Prophet in particular making a cult-sized impact.  Starting this year, it was Supreme's turn.  Liefeld originally conceived of Supreme as a more violent Superman.  Not long afterward, Alan Moore came along for the first revision of the character, crafting him into a full-blown homage to the Silver Age Superman, which later inspired Moore's own Tom Strong.  Image even brought this version back recently.

But now comes Warren Ellis.  Ellis is the slightly more grounded version of Grant Morrison, the one the mainstream couldn't hope to tame, as it has Jonathan Hickman.  From the moment I heard of Supreme: Blue Rose, I knew I had to have a look.  The longer it took for the opportunity to present itself, the more I wondered if the diminishing but intrigued response I heard, very tepidly, from my sources might be telling me that perhaps it wasn't all that remarkable after all.

But then I read an issue for myself.  And then was able to read the rest of the issues released to date.  It's amazing.

And actually, it's not hugely different from a personal favorite comic of mine, IDW's Cobra, which Christos Gage and Mike Costa envisioned as a first look at G.I. Joe's enemy just as if the reader had never seen it before, a true psychological exploration that exploded the concept onto a whole new level.

That's what Ellis is doing with Supreme.  Oh, and Supreme himself is barely even present in this story.  He's identified by his secret identity, Ethan Crane, but he's basically become the maguffin of his own story.

Instead, the focus has shifted to Diana Dane, the Lois Lane equivalent Moore introduced.  In fact, all the characters I can identify other than Supreme himself were created by Moore.  Darius Dax, Moore's Lex Luthor, has become very much a Lex Luthor figure.  Doc Rocket, a member of Moore's Youngblood, is present and better than ever.

It's hard to say much more about what's happened over the course of the first five issues except to say that Dane's investigation into the mystery of Ethan Crane's existence has continued.  The other thing Ellis shares with Moore is a fascination with the acknowledgment that there has been more than one incarnation of Supreme.  But this is not metafiction.  There isn't even much of a connection to Morrison's tendencies.  This is simply a creator embracing an opportunity to be creative, in ways most writers never even imagine possible.

It is unarguably one of the best comics of the year.  Astonishingly good, and the art of Tula Lotay helps in exactly the same way Fiona Staples does for Saga.  More people need to talk about Blue Rose.  More people need to be reading.  Because this is comic book history in the making.

Superman #37 (DC)

via DC Comics
writer: Geoff Johns
artist: John Romita, Jr.

This is the issue the Ulysses arc has been waiting for.

Geoff Johns posited this new figure as the inverse of Superman from the start.  Readers like me waited to see the apparent hero turn into a villain, and that's exactly what happened.  Right?

Except, now the lines are blurred.  Yes, Ulysses seems pretty bad now, considering the fairly naively innocent guy he originally seemed.  Somewhat monstrous, in fact.

Yet Johns has twisted the inversion still further.  The Ulysses arc has looked from the start like Johns doing something boldly new instead of stepping into the hands of tradition, as he'd done previously, exactly what he's tended to do in other projects.  Usually he'll do it by playing very directly with tradition, before turning it on its side.  He's done that again.

Superman has become something of a do-gooder villain.  He's convinced Ulysses to turn away from his original plans and in fact cause the destruction of the "Great World."  It really is a tragedy, too: Ulysses, the strange visitor who has just lost his adopted world, after having found his birth world the complete opposite of everything he'd ever known.  Just as if Superman had lost Earth, too.  Except, beyond anything Ulysses himself had planned, it's Superman who caused the destruction.

It's complicated.  The concept of the Great World is pretty monstrous, and Ulysses' complicity in its upkeep is no doubt monstrous, too, but there's enough room for gray areas to emerge.  

As the story continues, it has the potential to change Superman's outlook.  And that's the kind of stuff Johns is very good at indeed...

Starlight #6 (Image)

via Comic Vine
writer: Mark Millar
artist: Goran Parlov

The conclusion of the story is pretty formulaic to a certain degree, so in some ways, I didn't have to worry so much about potentially missing it.

The human who became a hero on an alien world, Duke McQueen, does it again, saves the day.  Pretty straightforward.

The ending I'd been wanting doesn't happen, exactly, either.  The wish-fulfillment factor from that first issue of Jeph Loeb's Nova had to instead give way to Mark Millar's Starlight:

The alien kid who, unlike Duke's human children, never stopped believing in him, arranges for a spectacular demonstration that turns the whole story on its head.  Dropping Duke back home on Earth, he arranges for dramatic flybys in his spaceship that can't help but be noticed, and even contacting the grown men so they must.  Then he goes a step further and lands right on the lawn of the White House.

Boom.  Humans, acknowledge the existence of aliens!

But Millar doesn't end the story bothering with whatever Duke's kids or the president think about all this.  It ends with a hug between the only two characters who really matter.

It is a great ending.

She-Hulk #10 (Marvel)

via Marvel
writer: Charles Soule
artist: Javier Pulido

In my continuing efforts to make peace with Charles Soule's approaching exclusive contract with Marvel, I've been trying to find something he's done for Marvel, on a regular basis, that's been anywhere near as interesting to me as what I've read from him at DC.

Well, turns out that might have been She-Hulk.  Which of course has been cancelled.  Apparently Soule used to be a lawyer, which made this court-based series a hugely appropriate venue for his talents (experts, meanwhile are still analyzing what exactly explains Stephan Pastis doing Pearls Before Swine despite a similar background...), even though readers such as myself still find it hard to reconcile a Hulk-related character working as a lawyer.

She-Hulk has always been kind  A somewhat flimsy addition to a franchise?  One that's not even particularly relevant to the franchise?

Anyway, this was an excellent issue to sample, since it's the conclusion of a Steve Rogers trial.  Steve Rogers, A.K.A. Captain America, A.K.A. Old Man Rogers, given recent developments reflected in the story.  Soule is not exactly disinclined to make Steve much more nuanced than elsewhere, but it's still a fine issue.  Opposing council is Matt Murdock, A.K.A. Daredevil (by the end, Steve explains why these two particular lawyers were chosen, which harks this geek's mind back to the classic Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Measure of a Man" in some respects).

Hey, Marvel, if you aren't planning to secretly relaunch the series, why not allow Soule to write Daredevil directly?  I mean, is Mark Waid's material really that interesting?  Or maybe even an Old Man Rogers series?  Because there's a great scene at the end ripe with possibilities.  That's a Steve Rogers I'd read on a regular basis...

The Sandman: Overture #4 (Vertigo)

via Lady Geek Girl
writer: Neil Gaiman
artist: J.H. Williams III

The Sandman: Overture is being released so gradually, you can almost forget sometimes that it's even happening.  I think that's exactly what's happened, too.

It probably doesn't help that this is not at all easy reading.

All the same, we're four issues in now and Dream is talking to stars.  Stars, mind you, that don't particularly respect him.  

And is this the issue where we finally get something to hold onto?  Dream is endangered by the troublesome stars, and he speaks with his father, and this is what the father has to say about Dream's companion, the little alien girl called Hope:
"There is always a time in which she will have been alive.  Always a time in which she does not exist.  That is the nature of existence.  I cannot think why nobody except me seems to see things like that."
Such is the value of this effort, I suspect, trying to address some terrifically big ideas.

Red Lanterns #36 (DC)

via DC Comics
writer: Charles Soule
artist: J. Calafiore

From the second month of the Green Lantern "Godhead" crossover event, Charles Soule marches ever closer to the end of his Red Lanterns tenure and helpfully has Guy Gardner explain to Simon Baz everything he's done in the series.

Which is a nice touch.

Although the issue also features one of those awkward continuity moments that are bound to crop up when there are dozens of comics books under multiple editors needing to be juggled on a monthly basis.  Cyborg has been heavily featured in the pages of Batman and Robin recently for a New Gods arc.  And here he is in Red Lanterns for a New Gods arc appearance.  And nary the twain shall meet.

And it's kind of all the more clear that Soule correctly identified Red Lanterns: Futures End as his real last word on the series.

The Multiversity: Thunderworld Adventures (DC)

via IGN
writer: Grant Morrison
artist: Cameron Stewart

To even begin to outline the convoluted publishing history of Captain Marvel again would exhaust me so much, I would actually prefer the Sivana Family to attack...

The latest chapter of The Multiversity from Grant Morrison tackles Fawcett City's own Big Red Cheese.  From the opening pages, featuring a more dynamic Wizard than anyone one's (the way he's been handling every character, basically, in this whole splendid exercise) to Captain Marvel's own Lex Luthor, Sivana, at long last creating his own Sivana Family to counteract Billy Batson's allies in Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel, Jr., it's once again a textbook adventure of the given set of superheroes.  The only major element missing, other than in substitute form, of the Captain Marvel mythos is Black Adam, who arguably became the most significant one in DC's estimation in recent years.

It's a fun read, not exactly the dense Pax Americana experience, and proves that Captain Marvel, who is now routinely known as Shazam, could be a viable franchise all his own.  I mean, who wouldn't want a Talky Tawny book?  And did Morrison invent the Lieutenant Marvels?  Once all these allies are present, it pretty well demolishes the typical image Captain Marvel projects of being that superhero who isn't Superman but also happens to switch places with an adolescent boy (who plays reporter thanks to "loosely enforced child labor laws," one of several clever quips, including allusions to Mary Marvel's turn to the dark side in Countdown to Final Crisis).

Sivana is the real winner.  It takes someone really willing to play with the concept of the mad scientist to make a character like him pop.  He's what Luther would be like without gobs of money to make him socially respectable.  There's also great fun with a different aspect of the multiverse than has so far been explored in the project, as Sivanas from across several realities attempt to collaborate on something other than the creation of "Sivanaday."

Artist Cameron Stewart has previously worked with Morrison in the pages of the Seaguy comics.  He's altered his style to match the traditional Captain Marvel style for the purposes of Thunderworld Adventures.

Everything's more vivid and vital in The Multiversity...

Ms. Marvel #10 (Marvel)

via Marvel
writer: G. Willow Wilson
artist: Adrian Alphona

Yay me!  I've been enjoying a series that's being recognized as one of the year's best!

Kamala Khan has been trying to get to the bottom of the threat the Inventor (who, remember, is basically a giant chicken person) has been posing basically the entire series.  This issue she comes...closer.

The kids her curious archnemesis has been kidnapping turn out to have willingly played along.  They think the world has basically pegged them correctly as a worthless generation.  But don't take it from me, here's the Inventor himself spelling it all out:
"The young are seen as a political burden, a public nuisance.  They are not considered worth educating or protecting.  They are called parasites, leeches, brats, spawn -- If you used these words to describe any other minority but children, it would quite understandably be considered hate speech.  We are simply taking this loathing to its logical conclusion."
The appeal of Wilson's approach is that it's been incredibly varied.  She's freely mixed in thoughts like that with typical teenage foibles and plenty of playfulness.  All that's in the issue, too.  

It's rightly being considered one of the most fresh takes on superheroes in years.

Letter 44 #8 (Oni)

via Comic Book Roundup
writer: Charles Soule
artist: Alberto Jimenez Albuquerque

Next year this is going to be the only thing Charles Soule releases that isn't published by Marvel.

And yes, I am still crying hot tears over DC's loss.

So I figured I should have a look at this creator-owned concept of his.  The title is kind of obscure, so anytime I saw it I still had no idea what it was about.  Turns out it's a more or less contemporary drama about a United States president who has recently come into office and is trying to fight the same wars we know.  He's just unleashed secret weapons the country had been developing, and now has to handle the fallout to that decision, not to mention the meddling of his predecessor.

And there are astronauts breaking new ground, not the least of which is a baby born in space.

I don't really know much of what's going on, other than what I can research.  It's interesting.  Soule has become such a reliable writer, whatever he works on will be worth a look, and to know that this is the story he wants to tell outside the superhero arena certainly says a lot about his instincts when allowed to cater to his own devices.  Clearly he likes drama that involves a multitude of players, and characters who are constantly walking tightropes at that.  

I was relieved to see that the art isn't really all that bad.  Sometimes when you're working far away from the major publishers that's not at all a given, but Alberto Albuquerque reminds me of Josh Hood, who finished out Superboy and the Ravers nearly twenty years ago.  He favors extremely flat noses, which is certainly distinctive.

Overall, I'm intrigued.  I think I'd have to take another digital plunge, because I bought this particular issue from a shop I visit about once a year, unless I ask my local store to begin ordering it for me.  But those guys continue to be wildly unreliable!

Justice League 3000 #12 (DC)

via 13th Dimension
writer: Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis
artist: Howard Porter

Here's the series that was originally conceived as a complete reunion of the "Bwa-ha-ha League" creator reunion.  Except artist Kevin Maguire was replaced with JLA's Howard Porter.  Clearly the writers, the inimitable duo of Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis, are exactly the same!

I don't know if it was the Maguire/Porter swap, or ongoing interest in the "Bwa-ha-ha League" is never exactly what DC thinks it is, but Justice League 3000 has been struggling for relevance.  Time for Blue & Gold? 


"Blue & Gold" are Blue Beetle and Booster Gold.  And not just any Blue Beetle, but Ted Kord, the one who was, of course, an original member of the team, and whose last and most famous moment in DC lore was being blown away by Maxwell Lord in Countdown to Infinite Crisis.  Later, Jaime Reyes took over as Blue Beetle, even at the start of the New 52, but a new incarnation of Ted showed up in Geoff Johns' Forever Evil.  The Ted here is not that Ted.  Booster jokes around about a time before Original Ted's death where he'd really let himself go.

And they steal this whole issue, by the way.  Your regularly scheduled Justice League a thousand years in the future (apparently having new usurped that era from the Legion of Super-Heroes) are backup players in their own series!  Does it matter?  Only if you plan to read any issues that don't spotlight Blue & Gold.

It's great, because Porter clearly does his best to channel the distinctive Maguire facial features in the issue.  I don't know if this is something he's done for other issues, but it's clearly noticeable in this one.  And much appreciated.

It's a pretty great issue.

Green Lantern Annual #3 (DC)

via Comic Vine
writer: Robert Venditti
artist: Billy Tan

The conclusion of Venditti's longest Green Lantern crossover arc to date, "Godhead," after three months of the whole ring spectrum battling the New Gods, it comes down to the matter of Kyle Rayner's status as the White Lantern to resolve things.

Geoff Johns was the one who established the stream of cosmic crises as the defining element of Green Lantern storytelling, and Venditti was likely handpicked to succeed him on his ability to maintain the trend.  "Godhead" is the one with the same Johns scope fans know best, so it's a good sign for Venditti's continued reign as head writer of this franchise.

(Will, this, ah, change after March's sweeping cancellations of Green Lantern Corps, Green Lantern: New Guardians, and Red Lanterns?  Time will tell, after the Convergence two-month layover that follows!)

It's Rayner who sticks out in the issue, along with Saint Walker, the Blue Lantern who lost faith at the start of the crossover.  Everyone else is basically along for the ride.  There's an ironic turn of events involving Black Hand, and Venditti's first big idea (literally), Relic, is temporarily unleashed again, from the Source Wall, only to turn full Metron (although Metron himself does not) and become a scientist studying curiosities.  

At some point in the pages of New Guardians, Rayner and Carol Ferris, first of the Star Sapphires and erstwhile perennial girlfriend of Hal Jordan, seem to have become an item.  There's a moment where Hal and Kyle talk about that.  Johns had tried to respark the Hal/Carol flame.  It's interesting.

The whole Venditti era is like "Godhead."  It's not quite the dire playground Johns had.  Big events can still happen, but there's more interest in keeping the mythology squarely defined.  Maybe that's a good thing, given that Johns never did manage to make Green Lantern as popular as the concept became important.  

Oh, and the next big threat is teased on the last page.  Is it Relic again?  I guess we'll see...

Earth 2: World's End #10 (DC)

via DC Comics
writer: Daniel H. Wilson, Marguerite Bennett, Mike Johnson 

artist: Scott McDaniel, Jack Herbert, Vicente Cifuentes, Jorge Jiminez, Eddy Barrows, Eber Ferreira, Jan Duursema, Drew Geraci

Given my relative interest in Earth 2 itself, in its original tenure under James Robinson or the later Tom Taylor run, I hadn't even thought to check in with the weekly World's End until I saw Darkseid on the cover.

DC made a tactical decision to run three weekly series simultaneously.  Futures End has obviously had the highest profile, given the recent month of September being completely dedicated to it, while Batman Eternal has that ever-precious Scott Snyder connection.  Comparatively, it's like DC wanted this one to be overlooked.

Anything I've heard about it from comics bloggers has been wholly dismissive.  So is that a deserved reputation?  Certainly the creators working on it are far less celebrated.  This is an affair being worked on almost exclusively by emerging talent.  In other words, by people you've never heard of.  I One of the many artists involved, Eddy Barrows, recently worked on Nightwing.  And the breakdown artist is Scott McDaniel, one of several below-the-radar assignments he's received since the failure of his Static Shock.  The closest work that comes resembles McDaniel's style involves Mister Miracle and Darkseid.  In completely unrelated news, Scott McDaniel would make an excellent New Gods artist.

The story work is all action all the time.  Maybe that's what comes of randomly inserting myself ten weeks into the series, I don't know.  Most of the faces are familiar.  The strongest material in fact features Mister Miracle and Darkseid, as the seldom-acknowledged son unwittingly unleashes the father back into active status by the end of the issue.  Early in the Robinson Earth 2, there was a strong emphasis on character arcs, but somewhere at the beginning of Taylor's the focus shifted away from Justice Society-inspired heroes trying to pick up their own pieces and toward, well, World's End.

Earth 2 was always a direct answer to the early days of Justice League.  Where that series couldn't have a weekly series like this, this one was, uh, Taylor-made for it.  All three weeklies are fifty-two-issue event books, but perhaps this one most of all.  It's more direct than, say Countdown to Final Crisis.  It's not a forgettable joke, the way its reception seems to imply.  Both Justice League and Earth 2 have always been titles you could recommend to readers reluctant to jump into the complete superhero pool.  This, then, would be an excellent way to break the crisis tradition to them.

Crossed Plus One Hundred #1 (Avatar)

via Previews World
writer: Alan Moore
artist: Gabriel Andrade

If I hadn't known about this beforehand, I probably would've ignored it just like everyone else seems to have...

Crossed is a Garth Ennis project.  Depending on how much you know about Garth Ennis, once you read any Crossed at all, you have a pretty good sense what Garth Ennis is all about.  And actually, there's supplemental material in this issue that explains everything you need to know about it, should you be so interested.  And it explains everything you need to know about Garth Ennis, too.

More pointedly, this unusual project for Alan Moore, working in someone else's playground (y'know, besides a bunch of long-dead writers who fall outside the moral outrage attached to everything everyone has tried to do with his material over the years) for a change, might be one of those things that explains everything you need to know about him, too.

Crossed is a post-apocalyptic thing about a virus that unleashes mankind's most basic instincts, which Ennis interpreted as the most depraved possible.  Crossed Plus One Hundred, as you may or may not be able to guess, is Crossed a hundred years in its future.  Mankind survives, but the victims of the virus are, well, hardly model citizens.  To call them zombies, as in The Walking Dead, or even cavemen, as in Tuki, would be a serious upgrade.  They're basically stereotypical rednecks, if they were also zombie cavemen.  Redneck zombie cavemen!  What a concept!

Anyway, I don't think this is at all a project that would convince anyone who doesn't see Moore as a hallowed treasure of literature in anywhere near that kind of light.  It's interesting.  And it's also language that Moore sees as degenerating worst, which makes the whole thing read like someone who definitely doesn't have Moore's fabled credentials.  Basically as if written by redneck zombie cavemen.

As far as objectivity goes, the redneck zombie cavemen give themselves the worst dialogue, though.  Just so you know.

Reading Comics 143 "Apokolips Cowl Part II"

The conclusion of "Robin Rises" comes in the form of Batman and Robin #37 and Robin Rises: Alpha, finishing an arc that began in "The Hunt for Robin" and Robin Rises: Omega earlier in the year.  After Damian's death in Grant Morrison's Batman Incorporated #8 last year, Batman and Robin as a series was altered seemingly forever.  Batman was without a Robin.  At first there were a series of guest-stars, and then a Two-Face arc, but Peter Tomasi revealed an ace in his sleeve when he began his most ambitious story to date, the theft of Damian's body and its subsequent relocation to Apokolips, the home of Darkseid.

It was a big, big development.  Darkseid made an auspicious New 52 debut in the opening arc of the line's flagship title, Justice League, which later proved to be a launching pad for Earth 2 as well.  The New Gods slowly began to return, first in the form of Orion in the pages of Wonder Woman, and then  later in "Robin Rises" and the "Godhead" Green Lantern crossover, after Forever Evil suggested Darkseid's return would signal the next major DC event, which will surely be one of 2015's biggest stories.

"Robin Rises" has long promised Damian's return, and by the end of Batman and Robin #37, that has indeed occurred.  Seeing Patrick Gleason's rendering of Damian and Batman's embrace was easily one of the best comic book moments of the year.  I knew Gleason and Tomasi's stories have been some of my favorite comics of the past few years, but I didn't realize until that moment how much I wanted to see Gleason's Damian again.  Gleason is the only artist capable of making a frequently pugnacious character look vulnerable, and Tomasi has somehow improved on Morrison's depiction of the bond between father and son.  For that reason alone, Batman and Robin has been an important piece of the Dark Knight legacy since its 2011 launch, but its exposure has greatly increased since Batman started his grieving process.

One of the most famous elements of Batman among fans, but one that has rarely been depicted in-continuity, has been the very human Bruce Wayne's ability to stand toe-to-toe with cosmic forces in a fight.  Usually the answer to this dilemma has always been Batman's keen mind, but Tomasi instead opted for the "Hellbat" armor, something he envisioned in association with the Justice League.  Batman wasn't even able to gain access to this armor without outright stealing it from his own colleagues, who strongly disapproved of his plans to invade Apokolips.

The sheer desperation that has driven Batman since Damian's death has been amply demonstrated, and even emphasized, by two separate encounters with Frankenstein, a symbolic figure if there ever was one for these circumstances.  But seeing him clash with Darkseid is one of those fights that elevate the story to operatic proportions.  The armor, by the way, gives him only so much hope in such an encounter.  Make no mistake: Darkseid would have won, given enough time.  But Batman prevails in a timely escape.

And he uses a maguffin to bring his son back from the dead.  There's a little tomfoolery that is a bit dismissed between the two comics, a fake-out of a mortal emergency on Batman's own part, probably explained by a momentary acknowledgment of just how dire the situation really was.  But then father and son are off leaping into action together again by the end.  And it is wonderful.

Andy Kubert provides art for both installments of Robin Rises, an acknowledgment of his own integral history with Damian, having help Morrison introduce him originally, and also working solo on Damian: Son of Batman.  And as much as I love Gleason's Damian, by Alpha Kubert's version has truly become an enduring image as well.

As usual, Batman and Robin is a story where the dramatic payoff is really a powerful urge to see what happens next, and as such it has been one of the strongest examples of serialized storytelling in comics.  That element has only been increased.

Alex + Ada #10 (Image)

via Image Comics
writer: Sarah Vaughn
artist: Jonathan Luna

I'd seen this series at the local comics shop, but hadn't thought much of it until I saw Alex + Ada listed as one of the year's best series by Mental Floss, which also provided me with the first look at what it's actually about.

And that is:

Alex is human, Ada is an android.  They form a relationship.

Obviously, it's a little more complicated than that.  Mental Floss focused on the early developments, but by this issue, things have become more complicated than "mere" existential matters.  Seems that androids being sentient, or otherwise self-aware, is uncommon in this premise, and so the general arc of the series is drifting toward civil rights matters.  

It's interesting.  Apparently Alex and Ada had a semi-breakup and now are patching things up, with a little help from Alex's ex (a human, to be clear) providing some much-needed perspective.  But Ada has been participating in some activities that have left her exposed to the wider world.  And so their happy reunion may be short-lived.

It's interesting that the main selling point of the series that Mental Floss liked so much may not even be the emphasis going forward.  I'll keep tabs.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Reading Comics 142 "Snyder Eternal?"

via Big Easy Comics
This year has seen something of a remarkable turnaround for me.  I think everyone experiences it, realizing an opinion you've held for a while and have felt pretty strongly about might be easier to change than you'd have thought.  In the case of Scott Snyder, I actually started out as a fan, back when he first showed up in the pages of Detective Comics and launched American Vampire with Stephen King and Raphael Albuquerque, but somewhere along the way, probably at the launch of the New 52 and the apparent assumption by everyone that Snyder had somehow supplanted Grant Morrison as the most significant contemporary Batman writer, in the middle of Batman Incorporated, which always seemed a little galling.  And I found the work Snyder produced at the time to be less inspired than I'd hoped.  So I tried my best to give up on him.

But I kept checking in.  The first time I thought I might reconsider was when I believed he was ready to do something very radical with the Joker, after "Night of the Owls" concluded on a cryptic note concerning a possible brother of Bruce Wayne.  "Death of the Family" has since proven to be a prelude, actually, to another Joker story, "Endgame," which began a few months ago.  Once word got out that this mysterious arc involved the Joker, I knew I'd have to give Snyder another chance.  Even if he reaches different conclusions than I thought he might, suddenly Snyder seems quite interesting again.

I checked in earlier this year during "Zero Year," the obligatory origin story every creator who wants to make a permanent mark on the Dark Knight must attempt.  When a character who showed up in the arc later appeared as a possible new Boy Wonder in the pages of Batman and Robin: Futures End, I got to thinking of another new character Snyder had introduced and has been making headway to becoming a significant addition to the mythos, Harper Row.  From the start, fans assumed she was being primed to become Robin.  Snyder threw a curveball in Batman #28, a prelude to Batman Eternal.

I assumed the issue would be a pretty big deal, but when it showed up months later in a value bin at my local comics shop, I had to assume either than readers in my area either weren't very savvy, or this is a development that has lost some of its luster since word originally spread.  I didn't scoop up the issue right away, but finally I bought it, along with my first sampling of Batman Eternal itself.  Eternal is one of three weekly series DC launched this year.  When 52 debuted in 2006, its creators wondered if such a project could succeed.  When it did, DC continued with various other weekly comics.  Now it seems there's no stopping this trend.  Eternal has a chance of being one of the most important Batman stories in Snyder's mounting catalog.  Like Futures End it takes place in the future, but seems to be a lucrative chance to revisit pieces of the lore that have slipped by the wayside, and even an opportunity to expand it.  In the preview issue, for instance, Stephanie Brown (Spoiler, Robin, Batgirl, all-around missed character from previous DC continuity) finally made her New 52 debut.  And Harper Row was unveiled as Bluebird, the start of a new tradition.

The Batman Eternal issue I sampled was #26, which recaps Hush's origin.  Hush, of course, originally appeared in the bestselling arc of the same name, part of Jim Lee's original DC experience from more than a decade ago.  Later, Paul Dini further explored his story by revealing how Tommy Elliot first became Hush, in the pages of Batman: Streets of Gotham, which is what the issue echoes.  Characters with consider history like Batman become increasingly difficult to build new material around, but Hush has been one of the most welcome additions in recent times, so it's always nice to see him again, and as far as I'm concerned, his presence in Eternal is a sign that it's doing something right.  As I understand it, though the real villain is Jason Bard, a character Snyder may be repackaging but otherwise has been around for nearly fifty years.

Batman #37, meanwhile, is the third installment of "Endgame," and apparently has suggested disturbing new things about the Joker, a character who has always been disturbing, but in an absurd way.  When the '80s made him into a killer, it changed him considerably, and most of his appearances since have tried to reconcile that with the kind of ultimately harmless goof that is necessary for repeat performances.  Snyder has been doing his level best to complete that transformation.  I've begun to realizing it's this instinct that distinguishes his work.  And may well be worth praising after all.  He's adding to the Batman legacy.  It's becoming easier to see that now.  And that's a good thing.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Annihilator #4 (Legendary)

via Previews World
writer: Grant Morrison
artist: Frazer Irving

Morrison's latest bid for immortality continues with an issue that goes a long way to unlocking the entire story.

Hollywood screenwriter Ray Spass has met the lead character of his latest script, Max Nomax, who tells him he's real and that Ray needs to finish the story so that he can remember how he defeats the cosmic forces working against him, which include Makro, who has begun impersonating Ray.

Makro shows up at the door of Ray's ex-girlfriend Luna, but thankfully Max and Ray intervene in time.

And then we learn from Luna more about Ray, and we see more about Max, and then Max's full story is explained, and by the end of the issue, Makro's impersonation has reached true crisis proportions...

So yeah, a pretty big issue.  It also continues the thread of what I picked up with the last one, with Annihilator acting as a kind of therapeutic release for Morrison.  This is not just another Morrison-does-a-story-about-a-character-meeting-his-creator thing, as one of the comics blogs I follow recently concluded.  This is one of those culmination projects, a sum of everything Morrison has sought to accomplish in his career.  It reminds me of Kid Eternity, in some respects, which when I read it became another signal project that unlocks much of what Morrison has tried to do in his career.  

And as it currently stands, I've pegged Annihilator as the best comic of 2014.

Reading Comics 141 "Django/Zorro"

via Indie Wire
When Matt Wagner first began doing Zorro comics for Dynamite, in 2008, I saw for the first time a classic pulp character masterfully resurrected in comics.  Wagner was certainly no stranger to the medium at the time, having already crafted his own legacy with creations like Grendel and Mage.  Outside of DC and Marvel, the effort to create distinctive comics with established characters has been a constant goal for publishers over the past thirty years.  Some have tried to come up with their own creations, others have grabbed at the many existing properties that drift through the hands of whoever has paid up to have them for that given moment.  Wagner's Zorro was a perfect confluence.  Of course, I was already a sucker for the Zorro character after an equally inspired 1998 film revival starring Antonio Banderas, The Mask of Zorro, yet Wagner had an equally fine grasp of the concept.  It's rare enough when known superheroes like Batman and Spider-Man find ideal creators to breathe new life into their adventures, rarer still for anyone who has to wait much further in between them for a shot at continued vitality.

In 2012, Quentin Tarantino released Django Unchained, a bombastic twist on the Western genre, aside from everything else that can be said about it.  I became familiar with it, initially, in Vertigo's adaptation, however.  It was another perfect fit.

To see Wagner's Zorro and Tarantino's Django come together is a fever dream beyond my wildest dreams.  Having read the first two issues, I can say that it definitely lives up to its potential.  The first issue heavily draws on the basic framework of Django Unchained, a foreigner traveling across America who happens to come across Django and from thence their journeys join together.  The clever thing Wagner does (he works from a story he and Tarantino hammered out together) is that he has aged Zorro to a ripe old age, probably older than Schultz in Tarantino's film but otherwise comparable enough so that Django can't help but notice the similarities between two remarkable individuals he's had the good fortune to meet.  Django himself is working as a bounty hunter, so this is very much a sequel to Unchained or at least part of his continued adventures.  Reading Wagner's dialogue for Diego de la Vega (Zorro, naturally), he's reminiscent of Schultz to a remarkable degree while remaining his own man.  This is a fantasy team-up that is very much aware that it follows a legacy, and doesn't just happen for crass appeal.

The second issue harkens back to Wagner's original Zorro comics, as it paints a portrait of the menace our two heroes are on their way to confront.  This is a comic that can literally be enjoyed by fans of Tarantino's movie and Wagner's prior work, and it can also be appreciated on its own merits.  It's worth noting that of course there have been many other Zorro stories besides, and Django existed before Tarantino as well.  Django/Zorro continues many traditions admirably.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Quarter Bin #64 "Binge-worthy IX: An Indulgence"

Air #8 (Vertigo)
via Vertigo Comics
From 2009.

Air is the genius series that first introduced me to G. Willow Wilson, who has staged a remarkable comeback with Ms. Marvel.  You see, even though I love Air, there wasn't much of that going on during its original publication.  I named it twice to the top of my annual QB50 list.  I passed on scooping up this random issue a couple of times before finally deciding to buy it.  And once again I was reminded why I love Air so much.  Blythe has just experienced mystery lover Zayn's life firsthand, but there's very little time to reflect on that, because piloting the hyperprax method takes great concentration.  Did I mention Amelia Earhart was involved?  The whole experience was like following pirates of the imagination whose goal was to try and invent the future.  Hopefully Wilson's current success will help readers rediscover her masterpiece.

Detective Comics #648 (DC)
via Comic Vine
From 1992.

I picked this one up in part because of that gorgeous Matt Wagner cover, and also to hopefully catch a little of that early Tim Drake era, after he'd become the new Robin and before the whole Bane business threw everything into chaos.  I ended up gifted with an early Spoiler appearance.  Stephanie Brown's journey to becoming a permanent institution in the Batman mythos has been incredibly complicated.  At one point she succeeded Tim as Robin, was unceremoniously killed off, revived, and apparently rejected from the New 52 landscape until she showed up in the pages of Batman Eternal.  She's also been Batgirl, by the way.  But Spoiler is iconic all on her own, thank you very much.

Daredevil #323 (Marvel)
via Comic Vine
From 1993.

The only reason for me to have gotten this one, as it turned out, was because of the Scott McDaniel art.  Yeah, that cover promises Venom, and Venom was pretty big business for a while, but that's no reason to read this.  The Daredevil costume inside the issue is one of those variants Marvel tried in the '90s, including a return to his original look, but that simple red one is really all you need.  I had my first experience with McDaniel in the pages of Nightwing, which in a lot of ways might have been deemed in that first incarnation as a kind of DC version of Daredevil, complete with Blockbuster reinvented as a Kingpin figure with a similar singular focus on ruining the life of a pesky vigilante that went on to epic proportions (and under two creators: Chuck Dixon and Devin K. Grayson).  So to finally see McDaniel in the pages of Daredevil itself was worth the trouble of ignoring everything else about the issue.  And as it turns out, his work certainly evolved over the years.  I mean, I guess it figures.  But it's interesting to see it when it was less distinctive, though certainly recognizable.  I still can't believe that McDaniel has apparently angered the comic book gods and now can't get a regular penciling gig.  It boggles the mind.  He's got insane talent.

Elongated Man #1 (DC)
From 1992.

via Pinterest
After Identity Crisis, Ralph and Sue Dibney took on iconic proportions, for reasons most comic book characters probably wouldn't want to have associated with them even if it meant immortality.  Elongated Man is a peculiar relic of the Silver Age, a costumed detective who along with Plastic Man and Mr. Fantastic is best defined for an admittedly wacky superpower.  Being married always gave him special distinction.  This mini-series, spinning out of the infamous Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League era, is quite shocking for post-Identity Crisis readers, actually.  This debut issue sees the Dibneys in considerable discord.  The art is from the late Mike Parobeck, who would later achieve his greatest recognition in the pages of the comics spinning out of The Batman Adventures TV series.  I first saw his work in the pages of an attempted Justice Society relaunch from around the same time, and I always liked it.  Another crying shame in comic book creators taken too soon.  At this point he's been dead nearly twenty years!

Global Frequency #12 (WildStorm)
From 2004.

via Full-Page Bleed
Warren Ellis is the acknowledged master of the big concept in comics, the writer Jonathan Hickman and Rick Remender have been chasing and what Grant Morrison would look like if he weren't the personification of caffeine in the medium.  Maybe it's because his reign in that regard began while I wasn't reading them, but I always found it difficult to get into him.  Every now and then I'll check in with what he's done, and if I'm honest about it I'll admit I've never been disappointed.  Global Frequency is another such instance.  This is the conclusion of the story, with various characters converging in a sequence that in a movie would definitely have left my heart pounding as they try to disable a fail-safe weapon the United States military put in place years ago.

Grendel: War Child #1 (Dark Horse)
via Comic Vine
From 1992.

This is also technically Grendel #41.  Grendel, along with Mage, is the defining work of Matt Wagner's insufficiently-heralded career.  Wagner is one of the kings of the indy scene, a pioneer who helped pave the ground for Image (where Mage unfolded at one point), but now can't seem to get work unless it's related to some licensed property or another, which in itself is not a bad thing, but for a guy who's already struck gold twice on his own, it kind of comes off as a slap on the face.  Anyway, this issue is brilliant, explains the whole concept perfectly (instantly makes me want to read more), and somehow the issue is still stolen by an account of Grendel's recent print history at that time, being tied up in legal hell after Comico went out of business until Dark Horse finally came to the rescue and the issue you've just read has been made possible.  Anyway, Wagner is currently doing Grendel vs. The Shadow...

Justice League Europe #7 (DC)
From 1989.

via comiXology
Here's the Giffen/DeMatteis era in full bloom, two series strong and crossing over for the first time.  After Jurgens did his version and then later incarnations diluted the potential of having a non-all-stars version of the Justice League and we (happily) got Grant Morrison's JLA, it began to seem as if the whole run had been repudiated, but then the reunions began (and now we have Justice League 3000, which I've finally read for the first time).  It might be sometimes hard to remember that not only was Batman present in these comics, but he was definitely the Batman you are probably thinking about, not Adam West and definitely the Dark Knight.  Other than the "One punch!" moment with Guy Gardner, yeah, he was still around.  And in this issue, doing his level best to counteract...everyone else.  For me, it's inconceivable to even try to pretend these comics didn't happen.  The line-up is classic in the same way the New Teen Titans were, and the many times Booster Gold and Blue Beetle have popped up together prove all over again that it's not all just "Bwa-ha-ha" but rather a solid era that left a positive impression on the landscape...

Spider-Man Unlimited #8 (Marvel)
via Martwa Strefa
From 2005.

Here's one of those Joe Hill comics.  Hill's the son of Stephen King, and the father helped inspire the son to write books, and I figure the son helped inspire the father to write comics.  This early example is a little goofy, but it does feature the art of Seth Fisher, another comic book creator who left us far too soon.  Dying at the very start of 2006, which made much of his last work, Fantastic Four/Iron Man: Big in Japan, published posthumously, he was also known for Green Lantern: Willworld and The Flash: Time Flies.  The issue also contains the work of Ryan Sook, whose clean work I've always admired, and is perfectly suited to Spider-Man.  Sook probably comes closest to evoking the Stuart Immonen I know and love from his Superman era.

The Spirit #6 (DC)
via Comic Vine
From 2010.

I picked up a couple of Spirit comics because at the time I was reading a book that reminded me that there were Spirit comics that were probably similar to it.  Yeah, so this issue in particular I grabbed because of the backup from Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso, the 100 Bullets team that have otherwise worked together a number of other times as well, and now I've caught a few of those instances for myself, even though I never got into 100 Bullets itself (when it reached the hundredth and final issue, I tried to catch that, but didn't manage to).

The Spirit #8 (DC)
via Xplosion of Awesome
From 2011.

But to speak of The Spirit itself for a moment, of course this is the legendary Will Eisner's most famous creation, a pulp fiction vigilante who has since joined a whole collection of migratory characters constantly shuffling from company to company.  It's not that this isn't good material, because it is.  I wonder if it had been published under the Vertigo imprint that it might have had a different fate, or perhaps simply unconnected to the rest of the "First Wave" line.  Who knows?  One thing is for certain, however, and that the sneak preview included at the back of the issue for Scott Snyder's Batman debut in the pages of Detective Comics was another recent reminder that I've probably way too harsh on Snyder in recent years.  Expect friendlier coverage on that front in 2015...

Superboy #82 (DC)
via Scans Daily
From 2001.
I read Superboy pretty religiously after it launched in the wake of "Reign of the Supermen."  Karl Kesel and Tom Grummett did some truly excellent work (to say nothing of the brilliant Superboy and the Ravers spin-off).  When I gave up reading comics in 1999, the series was in the middle of its "Hypertension" arc that was one of the first times DC had allowed the concept of the multiverse return after Crisis on Infinite Earths theoretically ended it forever.  I'd highly encourage DC to print up some trade collections from the Kesel/Grummett years.  This particular issue doesn't involve Kesel or Grummett (except the latter on the cover), but it at least continues the feel of that era in its story, unlike later issues (before its eventual cancellation with #100, in which it had transformed into a completely unrecognizable series, alas).  The highlight is a conversation between Roy Harper (known variously as Speedy, Arsenal, and Red Arrow) and Jim Harper (known as Guardian), something I'm not even sure had ever been thought of before, but there's Jay Faerber doing it, at the moment he had his apparently fleeting moment to work in the mainstream.

The Adventures of Superman #476 (DC)
via Boosteriffic
From 1991.

The "Time and Time Again!" arc was something I remember seeing advertised when it was later republished in a trade collection.  It was the first notable arc Dan Jurgens orchestrated, and it involved Booster Gold, his most famous creation, and the Linear Men, and even the Legion of Super-Heroes.  I wonder in hindsight if there was any discussion among fans that maybe this material was a little similar to the far more famous "Days of the Future Past" arc from X-Men, because there are definitely similarities.  Either way, it's a reminder of how much Jurgens used to have fun with his Superman.  When he wasn't, ah, killing him...

Superman #193 (DC)
via We Shop
From 2003.

Here's Scott McDaniel again, being far more familiar in his art this time than the previous Daredevil work, because of course this is after the Nightwing material I remember so fondly (among other work, including The Great Ten).  The writer for the issue is Steven T. Seagle, whose most notable Superman story is actually a Vertigo graphic novel entitled It's a Bird..., which was released a year later and details his reluctance to tackle the Man of Steel creatively.  One of the best comics I've ever read, too.  This issue, meanwhile, seems to involve Superman and Lois Lane's daughter.  But I'm sure there was some other explanation...

The Twelve #12 (Marvel)
via Science Fiction
From 2012.

Ha.  Realizing the publication year is just one of those ironies about this issue that is only just now dawning on me.  2012.  Of a series called The Twelve, twelve issues long, and here its twelfth issue.  The other layer is that the series was famously delayed for quite a while two-thirds of the way through, seemed like it was never going to finish.  And now several years later I catch this final installment, again, as a random discovery in a back issue bin.  It remains a favorite comics memory, a variation on Watchmen from a more sober perspective, wondering what would happen to a whole generation of WWII heroes reawakened, years after Captain America received similar treatment, with all their stories opening up again and not to their benefit.  The best I've ever seen from J. Michael Straczynski.  Artist Chris Weston, who at one point cobbled together a one-shot all on his own just to keep awareness of the project alive, also worked with Grant Morrison on The Filth.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Reading Comics #140 "Bull Moose Bargains IV"

Atomic Robo: The Savage Sword of Dr. Dinosaur #1 (Red 5)
via Razorfine
From 2013.

Hey, so I love Atomic Robo.  The genius creation of Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener is, among other things, the perennial highlight of Free Comic Book Day, the headlining act of Red 5 Comics, and the indy answer to Hellboy.  And Dr. Dinosaur is the best thing about Atomic Robo besides Atomic Robo himself.  I missed this whole arc last year, so once again I have to give thanks to Bull Moose's new trend of importing random back issues into its dying comics spinning rack.  Savage Sword opens in a pretty bleak scenario, with Robo having fallen out of public favor thanks to a trumped-up scandal, which adds valuable emotional context to his adventures.  By the time Dr. Dinosaur shows up late in the issue, it gives the story an unexpected twist, which only an Atomic Robo comic could do with the spoiler in the name of the mini-series.  Dr. Dinosaur is a character who breaks the fourth wall all over his dialogue ("It was I!  Behold, the dramatic reveal!"), just a fun character who knocks all pretension out of what comics are supposed to be.  This is exactly what fans are talking about when they ask for comics that younger readers can enjoy without be condescended to and not featuring some previously-established-in-another-medium properties.  That being said, how about an Atomic Robo cartoon?  A live action Robo might even be better!

Black Science #3 (Image)
via Image Comics
From 2014.

Having finally cracked the Rick Remender egg in the pages of his Captain America comics, I've become more interested in exploring his other work.  Black Science is a little like Sliders if it were done in the Fringe manner, a team of scientists who are able to cross between dimensions.  It's pretty interesting stuff, and once again defies my previous impressions of Remender's work.

Green Arrow #26 (DC)
via IGN
From 2013.

"The Outsiders War" is an arc I wanted to have a look at all year.  It's another instance of DC repackaging a concept for the New 52 era.  In other words, this is not the Outsiders as you remember it.  This is a new vision that is tied directly into Green Arrow's mythology, concerning that all-important origin on the island (in a lot of ways, DC has finally realized that Oliver Queen has all along been a kind of Lost figure).  The Outsiders this time are a whole network of clans that are like a human version of the spectrum of power rings introduced by Geoff Johns in Green Lantern.  In the past it's been difficult to define what exactly makes Green Arrow special, and sometimes that answer has been making him a modern Robin Hood, and sometimes a very political, liberal figure, and even sometimes, his unique relationship with Black Canary.  Finally, it seems, they've hit the nail on the head.  A couple years into his New 52 tenure and several creative teams later, the archer is being handled by Jeff Lemire during this arc, and this is exactly what the comic needed to be as relevant as the popular Arrow TV series (the emphasis on the island is the greatest link between them).  Great, great stuff.  I will have to read the whole story at some point.

Imagine Agents #3 (Boom!)
via the Geek Girl Project
From 2013.

I thought this looked pretty interesting, but it kind of degenerated into gibberish and so I guess I was wrong.  It happens.

Katana #9 (DC)
via DC Wikia
From 2013.

Along with Vibe this was one of the risky simultaneous launches along with Justice League of America last year, and it's another series I've long wanted to have a look at.  It's very similar to Lemire's Green Arrow, actually.  Unfortunately, there was only one more issue left in the series at this point.

Saga #18 (Image)
via Image Comics
From 2014.

Okay, seriously, Fiona Staples does the best covers ever.  Just look at that!  Oh, and by the way, that's Lying Cat, who's able to tell when you're lying (as you may or may not have guessed).  Saga is packed with these seemingly simplistic characters who are nonetheless dynamic figures, and always shifting around the story, which this most recent Bull Moose Bargains selection from the series helps fill in a few more of those gaps that cropped up from my erratic experience with Saga last year.  There's a great moment in which Marko tricks Alana into flying, forced to happen thanks to Marko's reunion with Gwendolyn, who's trying save The Will, while Prince Robot IV is walking around desperately needing a reboot.  Is this also The Brand's first appearance?  The Brand is The Will's sister.  A seriously awesome series.

Swamp Thing #26 (DC)
via Pick of the Brown Bag
From 2013.

I wish I had been reading Charles Soule's Swamp Thing all along.  It's the DC commitment he'll be finishing out next year before his exclusive contract with Marvel officially kicks in, and his work in the series has been seriously good, another case of a DC property with a mythology a creator has been able to lucratively crack.  Much of what Soule has done has also been undermined by fans, though, because of the tie-ins the series has had with other comics in the post-Vertigo line.  Batshit insane logic.  Anyway, Alec Holland is no longer the avatar of the Green, which is to say he's no longer Swamp Thing.  His role has been usurped by Seeder.  There's a great sequence involving Animal Man, too (part of that post-Vertigo line).  After the places Alan Moore took Swamp Thing and Grant Morrison took Animal Man, it seemed impossible to do relevant material with either character again that had nothing to do with that material.  Proven wrong.

Thumbprint #2 (IDW)
via comiXology
From 2013.

Joe Hill, in case you didn't know, is Stephen King's kid.  He's also likely the reason King finally started actively dabbling in comics.  Until Hill came along with Locke & Key in 2008, King's efforts were few and far between, and suddenly there were adaptations of The Stand and the Dark Tower series, the American Vampire stint (if you want to be technical, King started these efforts a year prior to Locke & Key's launch, but c'mon), and various other projects.  This issue marks the first time I've read Hill, though he certainly seems to have established a reputable career all his own, in case there was any such fear on my part.  Like his old man, some of Hill's comics are not by Hill himself, but are adaptions of his prose material.  Thumbprint is one of those.  It concerns a hardcase of a woman who was a soldier and now an investigator.  I like this particular bit of narrative: 
"Everyone has a story, a secret.  That's what I want...the secrets.  Most humans are terrible at keeping secrets.  We're storytelling animals.  It hurts to keep things inside and feels good to spill.  The act of confession feels as right as breathing and as good as a kiss.  If you can use your voice to tell your story, you must be alive.  Only dead men are comfortable with silence."

Is there some King in Hill's literary voice?  You bet.  But I like what I've seen...

Trillium #5 (Vertigo)
via Weekly Comic Book Review
From 2013.

Lemire is a heck of a talent, one I've started appreciating in 2014, thank goodness, and Trillium was his latest creator-owned opus that concluded earlier in the year.  The nifty yet tricky first issue I've caught recently, the flip book that introduced the parallel narratives of the story, was adapted to even trickier heights in later issues, it seems, a flip book on every page.  Helpfully, there's always instructions or at least an indication as to which side to read first, and of course it's not always the one you expect it to be.  Maybe not the best way to read Trillium, though, in fits and starts.  I'll have to catch up on this one later, too...

The Unwritten: Apocalypse #1 (Vertigo)
via Yuko Art
From 2014.

Previously I may have suggested that Vertigo dumped The Unwritten at the worst possible moment, after its Fables crossover, just at the moment that readers (possibly including me) might have finally started paying attention.  But it was relaunched, as it turned out, with a concluding mini-series.  And.  Holy.  Crap.  Mike Carey knocked this first issue out of the park.  It's the kind of material I've been expecting from The Sandman Overture, just a creator completely letting loose with full-on narrative fantasy potential.  Instantly became one of my favorite comic book memories of 2014.  And now I'll have to read the rest of Unwritten...

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Reading Comics #139 "November 2014"

Batman and Robin #36 (DC)
via Comic Book Roundup
writer: Peter J. Tomasi
artist: Patrick Gleason

"Robin Rises" continues!  In Part IV, Batman's backup (Red Robin, Batgirl, Red Hood, Titus, and the reluctant Cyborg) has arrived on Apokolips as Batman himself continues to deploy the Hellbat armor to full effect in his rampage through hell as he seeks to reclaim the body of Damian.  I love when Red Hood (Jason Todd) says, "Went a little Red Lantern here, don'tcha think?" as it evokes Tomasi's time in the Green Lantern titles.  It's a full-on action installment of the arc, allowing Gleason ample opportunity to demonstrate how awesome his work is.  The big payoff is on the last page, one of those perfect cliffhangers: standing behind Batman is the shadow of Darkseid himself.  The Dark Knight merely states, "Hrrn.  About time you showed up."  This moment evokes not only the opening arc of the New 52 Justice League reboot, but the dramatic events of Final Crisis.  Tomasi has succeeded in capturing the Batman every geek always knew existed, one who could take on any challenge without sweating it.  December promises big, big things...

All-New Captain America #1 (Marvel)
via Marvel Wikia
writer: Rick Remender
artist: Stuart Immonen

I had already been intrigued by what Remender had been doing with Captain America, but then Sam Wilson, the Falcon, was announced as inheriting the role, a whole reboot of the series was in order, and Stuart Immonen was tapped as artist.  I last caught Immonen's Marvel work in the pages of Brian Michael Bendis's All-New X-Men, and it was the best work I'd seen from him for the company, a subtle return to the form I'd admired so much in his Superman work.  His All-New Captain America may be the closest yet.  Times have changed since Immonen's Superman, certainly.  Coloring has become a major business, adding whole new dimensions to the art, regardless of the artist.  Sometimes the colorist is actually the most prominent contributor these days (on that score, aiding Immonen and inker Wade von Grawbadger are Marte Gracia and Eduardo Navarro), along with more detailed shading (whether attributed to Immonen or von Grawbadger; shading was usually conspicuously absent from Immone's Superman, which was what helped make it so striking).  Visually a very stunning comic, then.  Story-wise is pretty interesting, too.  The last time Steve Rogers, for one reason or another, was replaced as the Sentinel of Liberty it was by James "Bucky" Barnes, the Winter Soldier, who was billed for all intents and purposes as pretty permanent.  There was a giant hubbub about the updated uniform Alex Ross created for the occasion.  Wilson gets a new uniform, too, that looks a little like a cross between his Falcon garb, the S.H.I.E.L.D. design Rogers for a time ran around in, and of course the traditional Captain America look.  Upstaging Wilson's Cap is the son Remender introduced in his clever Dimension Z story, Ian, who is actually Arnim Zola's kid.  Ian, by the way, has adopted the moniker Nomad, which has become a part of Cap lore ever since Rogers himself used it in one of his earlier exiles from the cowl.  The dynamic between Wilson and Ian is unusual, almost as if Wilson is less Cap than Ian is.  Remender provides a one-page review of Wilson's origins in the likely event readers will not have been familiar with it.  It's a darn good issue regardless of all the altered dynamics.

The Fuse #7 (Image)
via Image Comics
writer: Antony Johnston
artist: Justin Greenwood

I became a devoted fan of Johnston's thanks to his soon-to-conclude opus Wasteland, so to see a couple of new projects launch at Image this year was a nice way to see that others have noticed his talent, too.  In this futuristic cop procedural he's joined by Greenwood, who helped on Wasteland but should better be known for Marc Guggenheim's Resurrection.  This issue begins the "Gridlock" arc, which concerns contestants in a reality show.  While I don't read the series regularly, I like reading the letters column featuring those that do, and their observations of the main characters, who are doubtless easier to keep track of when you don't skip around like I do...

Red Lanterns #35 (DC)
via Darkstar Sci Fi
writer: Charles Soule
artist: J. Calafiore

Here's where I interrupt the proceedings for a moment and complain about the unreliability of the pull list service I've been receiving from my local comics shop.  I don't know why they've had such problems, and maybe they have good reasons, but it's certainly been annoying.  I haven't read the Starlight finale because of this and after a few months I've only now just gotten them to produce an issue of Supreme: Blue Rose for me.  And I read this issue of Red Lanterns late because of the same problems. 

Anyway, enough complaints.  This was part of the first month of the "Godhead" crossover event in the Green Lantern titles, featuring the New Gods as they've targeted the various power rings as the answer to the Life Equation.  When we last saw Guy Gardner he'd just defeated Atrocitus and taken a sabbatical.  We pick up with Guy on vacation with his sometimes beau, Ice (not to be confused with Bea, Ice's sometimes bestie, Fire).  The issue is heavily Red Lanterns-centric, possibly because Soule's days, sadly, are numbered in the series and at DC in general (darn exclusive contract at Marvel!).  New Gods show up, and then Simon Baz does, too.  I'm glad to see Baz, who was Geoff Johns' late addition to Green Lantern lore at the end of his tenure (he remains, though, at DC, obviously).  

Superman #36 (DC)
via IGN
writer: Geoff Johns
artist: John Romita, Jr.

Speaking of Johns, arguably his biggest gig at the moment is in the pages of Superman (I check in over at Justice League more than read it regularly these days, alas, after having missed so much of the last few years).  Ulysses, the latest strange visitor, has finally tipped his hand.  For maybe half the issue things still seem exactly as they have in previous issues of the arc, but then Neil Quinn (Ulysses) visits his parents and begins to reveal what's really going on ("I love you both so much.  That's why you can't come with me."  "I don't understand."  "I didn't know you were still alive!  They didn't tell me you were still alive!  I'm trying to protect you!")  It seems the offer he made to humanity at the end of last issue is the ulterior motive most readers were probably expecting from his first appearance.  And soon Ulysses and Superman are fighting, at last.  Romita is a big-impact kind of artist (he did work on Millar's Kick-Ass after all), and he gets to do a good bit of that here.  Wherever Johns is headed with all of this, it remains expertly paced.

Superman Unchained #9 (DC)
via Previews World
writer: Scott Snyder
artist: Jim Lee

Given my complicated feelings toward Snyder, I was reluctant to check out his big Superman story.  This final issue, however, may have proven my doubts wrong in a fairly major way.  It's not even so much how he handles Superman but rather Lex Luthor.  Here's some prime Luthor dialogue to illustrate:

"You look at him, and you see a light leading the way...But instead he is a light lost in the darkness."
"What I expected to see, looking backwards through time at his efforts, was, as you said, Ms. Lane: someone who stood for something.  I thought a profile would emerge, the profile of someone sure of himself.  Someone sure he knew what was best for all of us.  But I saw that Superman, whoever he is, is trial and error."
"The point I'm making is that Superman doesn't stand for anything.  He's just a man, stumbling through life.  He's not a great beacon, he's barely a candle, lighting a path for himself the best he can.  And as we all know, eventually...candles go out."
"I reject him," he goes on to say.  In essence, of course, Luthor is equating Superman with America.  It's the first time I've noticed a particular perspective from Snyder, and it's one I completely recognize, as very similar to my own.  It's a revelation.  Regardless of your own perspective, this is Luthor making the same observation that is supposed to have been made of Superman all along ("...and the American way!"), only from a modern perspective.  It's really quite startling.  Bravo, Mr. Snyder.  Lee's Superman is distinct from the work he did in the early issues of Justice League, which is interesting to note.  

Superman/Wonder Woman #13 (DC)
via IGN
writer: Peter J. Tomasi
artist: Doug Mahnke

Charles Soule's year on the title was capped with a statement on the whole concept readers considered pretty definitive.  What can Tomasi add?  Plenty, as it turns out.  When Wonder Woman showed up in the pages of Batman and Robin, it was one of the rare odd notes in that series.  This is proof that Tomasi more than understands the Amazon Princess.  "You fight with too much on your mind.  Who did you train under?"  "My father," Superman responds.  "Obviously," she says.  Fight scenes are rampant in the series, and the contrasting approaches these lovers take as always been a focal point.  Tomasi leaves room for these observations from Wonder Woman, too [spoken to a civilian]: 

"In my culture this fragility would be your downfall.  Here it's practically a virtue.  I've been doing my best to help some of you since my arrival, but how will you ever grow stronger if you need us every waking moment?"  

Superman has this in way of a response: "This man has internal bleeding and needs immediate help.  You should've done something instead of talking to him."

It's the kind of Wonder Woman that Geoff Johns tried to introduce in the early issues of Justice League, who has recently come to what she calls "man's world" and struggles to fully comprehend it, so that what ends up defining her is the gap that exists between herself and those she is theoretically here to champion.  For Superman, there is no gap, and for Batman, the third member of DC's Trinity, the gap is something he's constantly trying to create with his enemies.  One is human but alien (Wonder Woman), one is alien but human (Superman).  Tomasi is excellent at these kinds of interpersonal observations.  He'd perfect for this series.

Umbral #10 (Image)
via Image Comics
writer: Antony Johnston
artist: Christopher Mitten

Hey, remember when I was giving props to colorists earlier, this is definitely a series that owes a huge debt to its colorist.  Otherwise it's a Wasteland reunion between Johnston and once-and-final artist Mitten.  For anyone, and that would be just about everyone, who struggled to understand the appeal of Wasteland, Umbral is your shot to embrace the fantastic vision of Johnston and Mitten.  Like The Fuse I haven't been reading it regularly, so it's a little tough to completely appreciate the proceedings, and because Umbral is a continuing story it's all the harder.  I think of the two, I can see myself making a commitment to this one next year.  Although I may end up reading both regularly.  We'll see!