Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Reading Comics 178 "Tom King, the Breakout Talent of 2015"

I've been chattering a lot about Tom King lately.  Well, it's official: he's my favorite breakout talent this year.

After lavishing his Omega Men with repeated praise, it felt like time to check out more of his recent work.  The first came by accident, looking inside the Justice League: Darkseid War - Green Lantern special and realizing that he was the writer.  With all due apologies to Robert Venditti and IDW's Star Trek/Green Lantern, this is now my favorite 2015 Green Lantern.  King handles Hal Jordan like a pro.  He's the first writer since Geoff Johns to get him so clearly.  Which is to say, if you loved Johns' Hal, you'll love King's.

I've been reading good stuff about King's Vision over at Marvel (don't you let him get away, DC!), and so had a look at its first two issues.  Very literate, more like sci-fi prose than superhero comic.  It's the latest version of comics evolving past their stereotype (which will of course always have hopeless devotees, as these things tend to go).  DC (and Brad Meltzer, in the pages of Justice League of America...several volumes ago) tried doing this sort of thing with Red Tornado.  But bringing out a true "other" perspective from the Vision is exactly what you can expect to find here.

Lastly, King's Sheriff of Baghdad from Vertigo, which draws on the writer's own background, flashing back to the chaotic early days of the Iraq War.  As Eastwood's immensely popular film American Sniper did before it, Sheriff imagines a Western vibe to the events.  Like his Omega Men, you might need a few issues to get your bearing, but it's another example of King separating from the rest of the pack with vital writing that is among comics' best.

This guy will be one of the biggest names among a lot of fans soon enough...

Friday, December 11, 2015

2015 QB50 - The Year's Best Comics

Reasonably speaking, this will be my last QB50, at least for the foreseeable future.  It'll round out a full decade of keeping track of my favorite comics (although in the '90s it would be pretty easy to guess which titles would top such a list, from Mark Waid's numerous contributions in the pages of The Flash, Impulse, and Kingdom Come to other favorites like Ron Marz's Green Lantern, Chuck Dixon's Robin and Nightwing, Karl Kesel's Superman and Superboy, Stuart Immonen's Superman, Jeff Smith's Bone, Grant Morrison's JLA, and other offbeat choices like Extreme Justice, Sovereign Seven, Joe Psycho and Moo Frog...), and that's a good thing for someone who likes round numbers.  I've already begun new duties as my sister's live-in nanny, and I'm more than happy to leave comics (to a certain extent) on an incredibly high note, because 2015 was very, very good.

Without further adieu:

1. Annihilator (Legendary)
The final issues of Grant Morrison's latest big concept (a Hollywood screenwriter meeting his own creation, who's looking to find for death) were everything I hoped they'd be.  Annihilator was already my favorite comic last year, and its repeat status puts it in elite company (52 repeated in 2006-2007, Air did likewise in 2009-2010).  It fully deserves that status.  As far as I'm concerned, it's Morrison's best-ever work.

2. Wasteland (Oni)
A perennial favorite throughout the decade, Wasteland ended its epic run on an incredibly high note.  Hardly the easiest series to find in physical stores, Oni stuck with the series despite limited cult success, and was endlessly rewarded with a vision that matched its obvious ambition from the start.  Antony Johnston completely outdid himself for the final arc.

3. Superman (DC)
Geoff Johns concluded his run just in time for the Convergence hiatus that hit the DC line-up early in the year, unleashing a dangerous new power that led to drastic changes in the Man of Steel's status quo.  That's a logline that's fit for the '90s, but Johns and succeeding writer Gene Luen Yang found the ideal voice for the arc, creating a dynamic new Superman with the aid of John Romita, Jr.'s fresh eyes.  Put aside the rest of the creators working on the arc in other titles, and you have some of the best material this icon has ever had.

4. The Omega Men (DC)
I came very late to this one, but it's one of the binges I undertook to considerable enjoyment and reward this year.  A radical reinvention and remarkable relevance makes Tom King's work some of the best stuff DC has published in the New 52 era.  Years from now this will be regarded as a classic.

5. Divinity (Valiant)
This was the year I discovered Valiant, and perhaps not coincidentally the year Valiant put out it best work ever.  Divinity is the kind of superhero comic usually reserved for Marvel and DC's best - think Marvels or Kingdom Come.  Because that's what this is.  Thank you, Matt Kindt.  But more on that a little later.

6. The Sandman: Overture (Vertigo)
I came very, very late to Neil Gaiman's magnum opus.  I'm still in the process of collecting the complete annotated collections, so I can read the original series, but I'm glad I read this follow-up, because it's absolutely breathtaking, and it's another concluding title that nailed the ending.

7. Supreme: Blue Rose (Image)
Usually when I take a recommendation, it has to be so glowing I know the source is being sincere.  This was one of those cases.  Warren Ellis's new vision of the classic Image creation was unspeakably brilliant, and joined the class of 2015's concluding tales with high honors.

8. Descender (Image)
I latched onto Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen's new series early and emphatically.  Lemire is a writer I've been working toward fully appreciating for years.  This is career work for Nguyen.  Can't say enough good things about it.

9. MIND MGMT (Dark Horse)
Here's Matt Kindt again, and my first great binge discovery of the year, plus the last of the great 2015 finishes (so, I discovered it just in time!).  Chock-full of great psychology, this was easily the most unique series I've read, and one of the closest I've come to full literary in comics, especially for an effort that didn't try to be literary.  It just was.  And it was great.

10. Prez (DC)
Mark Russell and Ben Caldwell took what could easily have been a terrible gimmick (which it was, in previous incarnations) and made pure gold out of it, a political and social commentary that was among the vanguard of DC's recent efforts to revitalize its approach to comics.

Star Wars: Lando (Marvel) #11 - The best of Charles Soule's considerable efforts and the best of the Star Wars comics I read this year...The Dark Knight III: The Master Race (DC) #12 - I honestly hope it's a big seller for DC, because it epitomizes what separates the company from Marvel...Bloodshot Reborn (Valiant) #13 - The best example of Valiant's ability to present fresh stories from its refreshed world of superheroes...Saga (Image) #14 - Still one of the best and most innovative comics being published...Justice League (DC) #15 - Geoff Johns is still creating some of the best event comics in the medium...The Multiversity (DC) #16 - Grant Morrison did his best work in this grand effort last year.  That can't be helped.  But the rest of it was still pretty good...Robin: Son of Batman (DC) #17 - Patrick Gleason proves he was paying attention all those years merely illustrating Peter Tomasi's work...Civil War (Marvel) #18 - Ironically I love the Secret Wars version a great deal more than its Mark Millar predecessor.  Credit again goes to Charles Soule...Martian Manhunter (DC) #19 - Throughout the decade this character has elicited some of the best material of his history, a trend that obviously continues...The Legend of Wonder Woman (DC) #20 - Hopefully this portends a bold new era in DC's digital first line...Captain America: White (Marvel) #21 - Incredibly, everyone seemed to forget how awesome Loeb/Sale are.  So it's a good thing this series is finally being published...Batman and Robin (DC) #22 - The end of Tomasi's grandest arc was so inevitable that it's almost easy to take it for granted.  Almost...The Valiant (Valiant) #23 - Not since Marvels has a company titled an event so obviously and been justified...The Unwritten: Apocalypse (Vertigo) #24 - Had I been a regular reader of Unwritten, this would probably have ranked higher...The New Deal (Dark Horse) #25 - Jonathan Case continues to prove that he's one of the great graphic novelists working today...Strange Fruit (Boom!) #26 - It feels good to see Mark Waid finally return to form...Ms. Marvel (Marvel) #27 - I've cooled on this series considerably, but it's still been a pleasure to be a part of the movement.  And to witness G. Willow Wilson at last get her just reward...Mister X: Razed (Dark Horse) #28 - This is the first time I've read original serialized releases for Dean Motter's signature creation...Batman: Earth One Volume 2 (DC) #29 - Geoff Johns continues to redefine the Dark Knight.  It's strange and yet somehow appropriate that this is the way the two have finally come together...Earth 2: Society (DC) #30 - A series with plenty of haters.  I'm definitely not one of them...Batman (DC) #31 - If "Endgame" had been Scott Snyder's only Dark Knight effort, I would probably have listed it much higher...Tuki (Cartoon) #32 - Jeff Smith continues to digitally serialize his third great adventure...Django/Zorro (Dynamite) #33 - This shouldn't have worked at all.  Except Matt Wagner was at the helm...Swamp Thing (DC) #34 - Charles Soule left his greatest DC work last...Grayson (DC) #35 - Has never quite reached the incredible heights of its Futures End issue, but still one of the leading series revolutionizing the DC landscape...G.I. Joe: Snake Eyes, Agent of Cobra (IDW) #36 - Mike Costa sneaks in a follow-up to his masterful work with the franchise...18 Days (Graphic India) #37 - This adaptation of Grant Morrison's epic vision of the greatest epic to come out of India does the thing justice...Convergence: Detective Comics (DC) #38 - The best of the would-be fever dreams of DC geeks everywhere is a more than worthy follow-up to the landmark Superman: Red Son  And that wasn't even the leading story...Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency (IDW) #39 - A big present for Douglas Adams geeks...Atomic Robo and the Ring of Fire (IDW) #40 - Robo's return to print, with a far more prominent publisher, will hopefully make him the cult icon he's long deserved to be...The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage (Valiant) #41 - My favorite discovery from the continuing comiXology backlog, and the reason I finally started reading Valiant...Convergence and Telos (DC) #42 - Jeff King's fresh eyes on the DC landscape created something new out of a lot of familiarity...Superman: American Alien (DC) #43 - Speaking of which, revisiting the Man of Steel's origins was once again a good thing...Doctor Who: Four Doctors (Titan) #44 - Perennial favorite Paul Cornell inevitably writes a very British icon.  A bunch of them...Red Lanterns (DC) #45 - Landry Q. Walker did the unthinkable: Make me continue to care about this series after Charles Soule's departure...Klaus (Boom!) #46 - Grant Morrison wasn't all magic this year.  I came very close to hating Nameless.  But I loved this...We Are Robin (DC) #47 - Strip everything else away, and this is finally Duke Thomas in the spotlight after too many teases...Star Trek/Green Lantern (IDW) #48 - Hey, it was easily the best Star Trek and Green Lantern I've read in a few years...Justice League: Gods and Monsters (DC) #49 - Have yet to see the animated film for which these comics were to created to support, but they were more than good enough to stand on their own...Convergence: Blue Beetle (DC) #50 - Ah, Scott Lobdell, someday the fans will love you...

So long, 2015, and thanks for all the fish.  And great comics!

Monday, November 30, 2015

Reading Comics 177 "Omega Men, one of the best comics of the year"

Having read through each of DC's spring sneak peeks, I had a chance to find out if I'd been missing anything from what I'd been reading since then, and I discovered I had, ironically from one of the previews I'd already read:

Tom King's Omega Men

This one's one of the greats, one of the best comics of the year, very easily.  Start with the sensational premise of tackling the idea of terrorism, which surprisingly very few comics have since 9/11.  And then add some of the best storytelling of this or any other year.

The added bonus for me is the inclusion of Kyle Rayner.  Kyle was the new Green Lantern of 1994.  Flashforward a decade and by all rights he should have been permanently sidelined upon the triumphant return of Hal Jordan.  Except old Green Lanterns never die.  They just get better.  With Kyle, it took a while.  DC certainly kept him around, even gave him the Ion mini-series, and when the New 52 began, he was given somewhat special distinction within the pages of Green Lantern: New Guardians as the sole member of the family to have his story revisited.  Yet he was still lost in the shuffle.

In the sneak peaks, he seemed fated to the ultimate indignity: being sacrificed for the sake of someone else's story.  Except that's not his fate in Omega Men at all.  In fact, in some respects, this is as much Kyle's series as anyone else's.  Having now read the first six issues of the series DC saved from cancellation, it was just one of the pleasant surprises to be made.

The Omega Men themselves first appeared in a Green Lantern comics, in 1981.  (Another of those pleasant surprises.)  Yet you don't need to know or care about their prior print history to understand this incarnation.  It's like Marvel's endless attempts to get the Inhumans to work, but this time, it does.

King navigates their story expertly.  Anyone else might have dug directly into the team itself.  Instead, King digs into their story, as it relates to Kyle Rayner and eventually, a princess who turns out to be their leader (except Kyle doesn't know this).  Gradually, individual members and their stories get the spotlight, but never pulling the reader outside of the greater narrative.  The fourth issue is the only real exception, but that's Kyle's spotlight, which is only natural.

A whole mythology effortlessly springs from King's work (grounded in original Omega Men lore, then improved).  It's almost as if this is DC's response to the Guardians of the Galaxy movie, with DC saying, "Oh yeah?  We can do it better."  And they really do.  While there have been a lot of cutesy elements added to the DC lineup lately, this isn't one of them.  As far as I'm concerned, Marvel's biggest failing is that it's always tried to infuse cutesy into everything, even amidst all the angst, always just a tad too much.  It may be enjoyable, but it's like empty calories.  Omega Men is the perfect diet.

Wisely, King keeps the team's exact nature ambiguous, so that you can read the series without thinking you're supporting terrorists.  (Actually, if anything, King is writing Star Wars without Star Wars..  Excellent timing, Tom.)  Like the best fiction, it exists to make you think.  It's been a long time since comics undertook that role.

Joining King is Barnaby Bagenda, whose art is outside the DC norm without being so unusual that it makes the proceedings feel like anything other than the adventure it ultimately is, which is to say, it isn't pretentious.  It can be playful, and it can be impactful, but it's never intimidating.  It's also distinctive, and especially for its unusual use of grid paneling (though there are exceptions) looks like nothing else out there, not because of flashy coloring or overly intricate work, but because Bagenda is serving the story, not getting in its way.  This is a calling card for both King and Bagenda, and truly a career-defining work for both.

Even if DC keeps it around just long enough to complete a single story, it'll have done a very good thing, no matter what the characters in Omega Men ultimately accomplish.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Reading Comics 176 "DK3, Klaus, Legend of Wonder Woman, Superman: American Alien"

Some comics you just have to read.  These are some of them.  2015 wouldn't be complete without them.

The Dark Knight III: The Master Race #1 (DC)
Frank Miller is back, this time aided by co-writer Brian Azzarello and Andy Kubert.  I have a feeling that Azzarello will be given all the credit for the results, but Miller's influence is powerful, not only in Kubert's efforts to evoke his art (at least as seen in The Dark Knight Strikes Again), but in the storytelling, perhaps best in the Atom backup tale.  Most surprising, perhaps, is how Master Race reads almost like a sequel to someone else's Dark Knight entirely, Christopher Nolan's.  Remember how Batman was being hounded by police at the end of the 2008 film?  That's where DK3 picks up.  With a few twists, of course.  I think it's brilliant.  Atom, meanwhile, reads like Miller voicing his own thoughts on this last great adventure, his frustration and, yes, gratitude.

Klaus #1 (Boom!)
This is Grant Morrison's Santa Claus origin story.  As of this issue, infinitely more amusing than Nameless, for which I'm very grateful to report.  A Wildman returns to a town he's frequented in the past, only to discover that it's changed under the auspices of a new regime.  Ironically, the main problem is a spoiled child who is ruining Yuletime and being disappointed by it at the same time.  Morrison slips in his magic, and quickly sends Klaus toward his destiny.  It'll be interesting to see how the story continues to unfold, but this is certainly a promising start.

Legend of Wonder Woman Chapters 1-3 (DC)
Superman: American Alien #1 (DC)
Both of these are origin stories that revisit the children at the start of iconic journeys.  Renae De Liz, and her lush art, are perfect for the girl who would be Wonder Woman, as she struggles against the confines of a life meant to shield her from harsh truths.  It's a story the Amazon Warrior has badly needed, and in recent years has been working toward, ever since Ben Caldwell's serialized Wednesday Comics adventure.  American Alien, meanwhile, revisits Smallville, and fruitfully.  Max Landis and Nick Dragotta bring a far more inclusive version of the young Clark (and family) discovering his powers than I've ever seen (except maybe in the pages of Tom De Haven's It's Superman!).

Certainly the comics featuring DC's Big Three are entirely welcome additions to their respective mythologies.  Hopefully Morrison will be doing the same for Santa.  They're all very much worth a look.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Reading Comics 175 "A look back at the Divergence sneak peeks"

I recently downloaded the complete set of sneak peeks DC unveiled in the final month of Convergence previewing its revamped line-up.  This was half a year ago, and the results in sales have spoken for themselves.  DC's ambition was to break loose from the strict sense of continuity that had existed since the New 52 launch in 2011.  Some, though not all, titles could now follow in the footsteps of the creative shakeup first featured in the pages of Batgirl, while a host of new series promised even more diversity.

This is the first time I've had the opportunity to read every series (omitted from these previews was one for Harley Quinn & Power Girl, plus Justice League of America, which I did read when it debuted), so it was certainly interesting to see just what the lineup looks like in total breadth and scope.  Here's my thoughts on the results:

Action Comics
Greg Pak's contribution to the "Truth" arc in the Superman titles was something I'd already sampled.  Reading it again and knowing I didn't feel compelled to further read produces the same result.  There was always the sense that everyone else was just lagging behind Superman.  I remain unconvinced that "Truth" had to be a crossover.  But at least it gives other creators a chance to tell their own tales in this latest examination of what makes the Man of Steel relevant.

All Star Section Eight
As usual, I'm just not buying what Garth Ennis is selling.

For whatever reason, DC decided to push heavily the concept of the hero in exile for the Divergence era, from Superman to Green Lantern.  It's interesting to include Aquaman in this effort, but is it really a good idea?  Most readers are still trying to accept Aquaman as a serious element of the DC line, not merely in his own element, but in the greater landscape.  Continually making Aquaman literally a fish out of water might not be the greatest idea.

This is the series to thank for the Divergence phenomenon.  Seems lively enough.

So begins the Commissioner Batman era...

"Truth" collides with Commissioner Batman.  But more intriguing is Lex Luthor popping up at the end of the preview, offering to lend Superman a hand.  The Luthor featured in Justice League is officially part of a different time period.  So there's a shot this series has something useful to say about everyone's favorite bald DC character.

Batman Beyond
Dan Jurgens surprisingly writes a very entertaining Batman Beyond.  I wouldn't really have expected that.  I like how Jurgens so often surprises me that way these days.

The humor title with the worst preview.

There was a strong attempt to increase the humor in DC's line with Divergence, and this was the most obvious attempt.  Not to be confused with the Forever Evil Bizarro, this one's very much the classic version, at least as last seen in, say in a Geoff Johns or Grant Morrison comic, and is very much an all-ages comic.

Black Canary
Easily one of the more intriguing revamps, with Dinah now the head of a rock band, and competently told.  Hopefully readers realize a good thing at some point. 

I haven't made much of an effort to keep track of Selina Kyle in the New 52.  The preview seems to play off developments from Batman Eternal, although this could very well have been what she was up to in her own series.  But readers don't seem to care.  Either it's the lack of a buzz writer or a buzz artist, but Catwoman just doesn't seem as relevant as she did a decade ago.  From what I can tell, it's not because the quality of the material is letting her down. 

Constantine: the Hellblazer
Since returning to the DC fold in Brightest Day, Constantine has had a remarkably rough path toward being accepted by fans again, especially after his longstanding (though low selling) Vertigo series was cancelled to make room for the in-continuity relaunch.  So this was the second attempt.  I liked what I saw.  I think readers are just being finicky.

Victor Stone's first ongoing series ended up having soft sales.  I think it's because it jumped right into the kind of story that DC so heavily favored at the start of the New 52, ignoring character exploration and/or development and throwing things directly into a story that only superficially attempts to do either one.  Just because Vic has gotten a lot of development in the pages of Justice League already doesn't mean readers were ready to be thrown into the deep end so quickly.

Slade Wilson remains surprisingly enduring and versatile as a character.  I've been wanting to check out this latest series.

Detective Comics
This one's somewhat confusing.  What's going on with Harvey Bullock?  As I said, more confusing than intriguing.  Not the greatest use of the preview format.

Doctor Fate
Paul Levitz seems to have used this to be DC's answer to Ms. Marvel.  And I actually like what I saw in the preview quite a bit.  It could be the better version of Ms. Marvel.  But the thing that G. Willow Wilson did that Levitz didn't was to have that female protagonist.  We're in an era where it's more important than ever to feature strong, unique women in comics.  So it's not surprising that whatever Levitz has accomplished here has been all but ignored.

Knowing more about it than I did before, I can see now that Alpha Centurion was safe all along.  I still wish they had gone with a different caption style, but the last issue has been released.  The ride's over. 

Earth 2: Society
This is a personal favorite that has struggled to find an appreciative audience.  If readers were going off this preview, I guess I could understand why.

The Flash
When I read this previously, I thought it might be safe to read Barry Allen's adventures again.  On second look, it doesn't look that way after all.  As one of the few titles to overlap with the existence of  TV series featuring the same character, you'd expect it to be a bigger priority...

Gotham Academy
When I read this preview originally I was baffled by it.  But now I love it, and honestly wish I had started reading the series.  At the very least, has great potential.

Gotham by Midnight
It's common to complain when DC adds further Batman titles to its lineup, but often enough, the material justifies it.  This one is that version of Gotham Central that never got to happen, the Spectre (this time back in his familiar Jim Corrigan guise) leading a team of cops.

As someone who has been enjoying the series anyway, and knowing that nothing changed from how it'd been operating previously, this was just more pleasant reading material for me.

Green Arrow
With all the creative teams cycling in and out since launching, this should be one of the biggest messes of the New 52.  But somehow it's been landing on its feet.  I liked the preview when I read it originally, and liked it again this time.  Oliver himself seems to be aware of his tumultuous recent past, and that's a good thing.  Looks to be worth reading.

Green Lantern
I was not at all excited when I originally saw what Robert Venditti had done to Hal Jordan and/or the Green Lantern Corps in general.  But reading the preview put the whole thing in a different and much different perspective.  Easily the best surprise of this experience.

Green Lantern: Lost Army
For whatever reason, the Corps has to be in one crisis after another.  I mean, Geoff Johns didn't always have a crisis (it just seemed that way).  So I don't necessarily think this was the best possible angle.

Harley Quinn
One of DC's bestselling titles.  Now that I've gotten around to having a look, it seems pretty good.

Justice League
I guess now that Darkseid has been killed off, readers have taken notice of "Darkseid War" in general.  But this is the big Geoff Johns epic the series has been building toward since the start.  How was that ever even an issue?  Oh, because readers haven't always been as sold on how significant this run has been.  Right.

Justice League United
Apparently featuring just about any available character at this point.  And the preview was prett much just randomly featuring introductions to some of them...

Justice League 3001
Giffen/DeMatteis continue their latterday tour of Justice League duty.  I'm not sure if there's wide appeal for this particular material, but it's fun for what it is.

Easily one of the trickier revamps DC has attempted in the New 52, Lobo is interesting in this incarnation, but I can't shake the feeling that he loses his greatest appeal by straying too far from his roots.

Martian Manhunter
A brilliant series that had a brilliant preview.  Hopefully readers will realize how awesome this is before poor sales makes it go away.  What's sad is that until now Martian Manhunter hasn't had a true chance to shine in the New 52 era.  What's awesome is that in his first shot, DC absolutely nailed it, further cementing him as the best hidden treasure in its catalog.

On second look at this, I appreciated how it conveyed, or attempted to, what makes Midnighter unique: that version of Batman that previously only existed in Frank Miller stories.  But I remain unconvinced that anyone has managed to truly pull it off.

Omega Men
You can read elsewhere how I read this a second time and came away with a much greater appreciation for what it set out to do.  Of the whole Divergence line, this one probably has the best shot at proving to be a definitive statement.

I've loved the series.  Rumor has it that DC will bring it back for six additional issues later to conclude the story.  Hopefully that happens.  The preview features Beth Ross after she's been elected president, but at the start of the series itself, we see the whole process by which she attains office.

Red Hood/Arsenal
The two-man team its predecessor probably was all along.  Now making it official!

Robin: Son of Batman
I've loved Patrick Gleason's work in this series, but apparently not as many readers have been intrigued by his solo work as his collaboration with Peter Tomasi.  There seems to be confusion concerning the Year of Blood arc.  Let me explain: the Year of Blood occurred during Damian's formative years as he was raised by his mother, Talia al Ghul.  The Year of Blood events in this series are Damian atoning for those actions.  This preview features more of an introduction to Goliath, Damian's Man-Bat companion, than I've seen in the series so far.

Secret Six
It's funny.  The Nook version of this preview loads Robin: Son of Batman instead.  So I had to turn to comiXology (an account I'll be returning to in the near future) to see what Gail Simone had to offer.  As usual, nothing much I'm interested in...

I still can't quite explain why Cullen Bunn has proven to interesting to readers and/or publishers.  But this preview was the first time I kind of enjoyed his efforts.  Although basically Sinestro looks to have been repackaged as the replacement for the surprisingly entertaining Red Lanterns.

It was possibly a mistake to have the series try to help her find a new context while readers have been wondering that, too...If she isn't a Teen Titan, maybe put her back into space?

Suicide Squad
It baffles me that DC wouldn't make this series a priority, what with the upcoming movie.  But as far as I could tell, it really didn't.

I think this title has been on fire since Geoff Johns came aboard, and the Gene Yang era has proved equally fascinating, but a lot of readers were turned off by the "Truth" concept, believing it further erodes the New 52 Lois Lane.  I don't agree. 

Superman/Wonder Woman
By the end of the preview, "Truth"-era Superman seems to have broken up with Wonder Woman.  This series is easily the biggest casualty of having to do "Truth" stories.

Teen Titans
I liked the story, which featured a conversation between Wonder Girl and Red Robin, and how it handled the Superboy situation, which along with the Kid Flash situation is one of those things the New 52 has tried to do that has rubbed readers the wrong way.  I have less of a problem.  And I continue to love Ken Rocafort's art.  The Titans just seem like another concept that's proving increasingly difficult to keep relevant, along with Catwoman, the Legion of Super-Heroes...If I were DC, I'd made a concentrated effort to make these titles and/or concepts seem important again.

We Are Robin
This preview leaves out Duke, which to my mind is still the best way to make this series seem relevant, because he really is the best draw.  Otherwise the series has struggled to sell its concept.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Reading Comics 174 "Omega Men, revisited"

I've been reading the complete sneak peaks DC put out for the Divergence launch in June, and it occurred to me that what I was talking about last time concerning Frank Miller and Holy Terror!, and what it means to think about comic books, terrorism, and the aftermath of the Paris attacks specifically has another dimension worth bringing up.

It's funny, too, because the Omega Men preview was one of the few I'd caught originally, and I even talked about then how audacious it was in showing what amounted to a comic book version of the beheading films terrorists have been uploading for the horrified public.

Reading it again, especially in light of the Paris attacks and the renewed sense of urgency they've provoked, I can't help but think of Omega Men as more significant than it seemed even then.

The writer is Tom King, one half of the duo responsible for the intermittently brilliant Grayson.  I guess I shouldn't be surprised.  King very deliberately sets the preview up as a dialogue, a thought piece, which none of the other sneak peaks did.  That's reason enough for it to stick out.  The fact that it seems to feature the death of Kyle Rayner, a character comic book fans of twenty years ago have particular nostalgia for, at the time of my original reading appeared to be the most important aspect of the whole piece.

But it really wasn't. 

My friends over at Weird Science track monthly sales, so I get to find out which titles are selling miserably (although, apparently, lately it's just about all of them), which includes Omega Men, which at its current rate would target it for cancellation.  And in fact that's exactly what DC did.  Except it went back and reversed that decision.

I'm thinking DC realized what it had, even if readers at the moment don't.  What I'm suggesting is that Omega Men might be one of those seminal comics that needs to be discovered.  I'm hardly its greatest possible ambassador, having read only the preview (twice).  But if King has managed to keep it compelling, relevant, on-point (and DC's faith in it certainly seems to suggest that), this might be exactly the comic book to explain, or at least attempt to make sense of, a perspective that seems downright baffling to the rest of it.

This is not to say that I think Omega Men or Tom King are endorsing terrorists, but that this is the rare experience that dares to go where no one else has gone, and it deserves some recognition for it. 

There are plenty of people who think Frank Miller's Holy Terror! after all did have the right approach, and there are others, notably President Obama, who think it's wrong to have a knee-jerk reaction to the Paris attacks.  And maybe Omega Men can help explain why.

Hey, it's worth a look.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Reading Comics 173 "Holy Terror, Frank Miller!"

On Friday evening, Paris came under a series of attacks that were quickly determined to be perpetrated by Isis.  France itself, as voiced by President Francois Hollande, swiftly announced military reprisal.  Isis is known by a lot of names.  One of them is the Islamic State.  The times we live in have seen a lot of Muslim extremism, best identified with the attacks on 9/11, but not limited to them. 

You may be wondering why I'm writing about this on a comics blog.  Or, assuming you know what Holy Terror! is, you may know already.  This was a 2011 graphic novel published by Frank Miller.  It was originally conceived as another of Miller's Batman adventures.  Miller made his name, in part, with the historic Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One.  His Batman wouldn't be terribly out of place taking violent retribution for 9/11.  Clearly Miller himself rethought the concept, and repackaged it with an original creation.

Holy Terror! met an unfavorable reaction upon its release.  As had become typical of his recent Batman work (Dark Knight Strikes Again; All Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder), fans thought he'd lost his creative spark, gotten things horribly wrong, gone too far.  In particular, his scorched earth response to terrorism was seen as insensitive to the vast majority of Muslims who would never in their lives consider violence as a response to the world around them.

And yet, there was President Hollande speaking in much the same terms.  We'd become accustomed to different kind of talk in the years following 9/11.  Americans engaged in two increasingly unpopular wars, and that seemed to be about it.  Never forget, people seemed to say, but try your best to move on.

And yet, clearly radical Islam hasn't moved on.  And they're kind of the people who count in this conversation.  You might argue that we've provoked them, and one of the terrorists in Paris seemed to confirm this view when he shouted "This is for Syria!" in the concert hall.  The Paris attacks were all about bringing what is unfortunately entirely common in the Middle East to the Western world: random chaos meant to spread, well, terror.

Every time they strike out, there's the response that says, well, we'll have our revenge.  Radical Islam is not created from the minds of those who will sit at a table and negotiate.  It's the product of an environment that breeds frustration, which leads to a thought process people elsewhere just won't understand.  The governments of the countries where the radicals live can only do so much.  At this point, radical Islam has begun to build its own state.

Which, in some ways, might be a matter of convenience, in terms of retaliatory actions.  Miller's scorched earth response, President Hollande's scorched earth response, has a virtual playground to operate in as a result.  Is this the best response?  This is a conversation that seems to continue, and in the meantime, more tragedy unfolds...

When Miller published Holy Terror!, it was the last time he had total control over his projects.  This month his collaboration with Brian Azzarello and Andy Kubert, The Dark Knight III: The Master Race, begins its serialized publication, and another Batman adventure, The Dark Knight Returns: The Last Crusade with Azzarello and John Romita, Jr., was just announced.

It's odd that Miller became so unpopular among fans just as he was becoming a Hollywood It Boy (Sin City, 300, V for Vendetta).  Such are the vagaries of fame.  But then, maybe Holy Terror! is due for a comeback, and Miller's fortunes could change again.  This is a crazy, mixed-up world.  Anything's possible.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Officially part of Wasteland history

In the midst of reading Wasteland Vol. 10, Last Exit for the Lost, which I recently bought along with Vol. 11, Floodland, I happened to pick up the latter and have a look at the critics blurb section on the back cover.  And guess what I found?  A blurb from Comics Reader.

Yeah, this blog.  (It's since been slightly rechristened as Comics Readr, of course.)  From me.

The blurb comes from my review for Wasteland #58, two before the final issue of the series.  I got both volumes at my final visit to Zimmies, the comics shop I frequented in Lewiston, Maine, off and on for some twenty years.  I had requested they order the volumes for me, and it was only when I was getting ready to leave the shop for the last time before heading off to Virginia (and then Florida) in the midst of a hasty transition period that I remembered to ask if they'd come in.  They had, of course. 

I spent some time talking with the store owner about Wasteland (which I had had to get special-ordered to read in its final issues, too).  Now that the series is complete and all its collections are available, it may be easier than ever to spread word about it.  Whether from my influence or not, the store was now carrying the first couple volumes already.

Most of the collections feature a blurb from Warren Ellis, apparently the most famous fan of the series (in addition to being an acclaimed comic book writer), plus critical voices offering Wasteland praise.  As long as Wasteland was being published I wrote about comic books in one venue or another.  By the time I started this blog, Wasteland had become increasingly hard to find stocked in an actual comic book store without a specific request.  I've read about half the series in collections and the other half in the original serialized format.  It turned out to be a very good thing to read the final issues directly, because it allowed me to spread the word about Wasteland again.

And yes, to be excerpted as a blurb, but also as a voice for writer Antony Johnston and other invested parties to have come across.  The blurb reads:

"Epic, epic stuff...One for the ages."

Whether for potential readers or to the creators of Wasteland, it's a statement that speaks directly to what I've longed believed, that this was an effort that deserves special distinction.  Other than Ellis, a lot of the other blurbs come off as if it's "merely" worth reading or good for existing fans.  I don't think that quite encapsulates the achievement, especially in its operatic conclusion.  So I'm glad to have provided the statement that suggests something greater.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Marvel/DC Box Office Results 2000-2015

Here's an interesting little exercise:

  1. The Avengers (2012) $623M
  2. The Dark Knight (2008) $534M
  3. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) $459M
  4. The Dark Knight Rises (2012) $448M
  5. Iron Man 3 (2013) $409M
  6. Spider-Man (2002) $403M
  7. Spider-Man 2 (2004) $373M
  8. Spider-Man 3 (2007) $336M
  9. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) $333M
  10. Iron Man (2008) $318M
  11. Iron Man 2 (2010) $312M
  12. Man of Steel (2013) $291M
  13. The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) $262M
  14. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) $259M
  15. X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) $234M
  16. X-Men: Days of the Future Past (2014) $233M
  17. X2: X-Men United (2003) $214M
  18. Batman Begins (2005) $206M
  19. Thor: The Dark World (2013) $206M
  20. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) $202M
  21. Superman Returns (2006) $200M
  22. Thor (2011) $181M
  23. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) $179M
  24. Ant-Man (2015) $179M
  25. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) $176M
  26. X-Men (2000) $157M
  27. Fantastic Four (2005) $154M
  28. X-Men: First Class (2011) $146M
  29. The Incredible Hulk (2008) $134M
  30. Hulk (2003) $132M
  31. The Wolverine (2013) $132M
  32. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007) $131M
  33. Green Lantern (2011) $116M
  34. Ghost Rider (2007) $115M
  35. Watchmen $107M
  36. Daredevil (2003) $102M
  37. Blade II (2002) $82M
  38. Fantastic Four (2015) $56M
  39. Blade: Trinity (2004) $52M
  40. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012) $51M
  41. Catwoman (2004) $40M
  42. The Punisher (2004) $33M
  43. Elektra (2005) $24M
  44. Jonah Hex (2010) $10M
  45. Punisher: War Zone (2008) $8M

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Reading Comics 172 "A final week..."

It always sucks having to tell your local comics shop that you have to close your hold file.  But that's what happened last Wednesday...

When I started this blog at the end of 2010, I was headed toward what I thought was the end of a very enjoyable period of reading comics that'd begun six years earlier.  Instead, Flashpoint and the New 52 succeeded in sucking me back in.  It's always a question of money.  I walked away from comics in 1999 because I needed money for college.  The intended 2011 break was because I was entering my worst financial period (and it just got worse and worse until got better).  Now, it's because I will be entering a unique period of my life, dedicated to my sister and her baby.  I don't know when I'll have comics money again.  It's wise to walk away sooner rather than later, without that dangling period like I gave myself the last time, keeping the window open.  The window is closed.

It sucks, in some ways, because I would love to read Dark Knight III in its individual installments.  I would love to read Klaus from Grant Morrison.  And there are other comics I won't have a chance to read, or haven't heard about yet, and...

So it's better to try and not think about that.  This was a good year, a very good year, and it was one in which a lot of great stories ended.  Which makes all this far more fitting than I could've imagined.  If there has to be another moment to walk away, this is as good a moment as there can be.

All that being said, I made sure the last week was a good one, too.

18 DAYS #4 (Graphic India)
This issue is more or less an incredibly abbreviated version of the classic Bhagavad Gita, in which Arjuna and Krishna have an epic heart-to-heart.  I've grown to appreciate how this Morrison project has opened up the Iliad of India.  This is pretty much what I always hoped Shanower would've done with Age of Bronze (a project that is apparently indefinitely on hold).  Shanower, left to his own devices, is far less interesting than the kind of liveliness he exhibited adapting Baum's material in Marvel's Oz series.  Even if Morrison himself isn't writing 18 Days directly, his blueprint has proven invaluable, and the results have been continually and even increasingly impressive.  I will try and keep tabs on this series, and hope to catch Morrison's other Graphic India project, Avatarex, at some point, too.

The letters column humbles me as a fan of Robo.  Clearly there are fans out there who are much more on top of Robo mythology...

The debut of DC's lately weekly (scheduled for half a year) celebrates the Boy Wonder legacy, which as a long-time fan of Robin I'm very happy to see.  There's also a "Robin War" crossover coming up, making this an excellent time for Robin fans in general.  The story here seems to be clever even if at the same time a little clumsy, one of those "there's new information about the past that we're revealing now and it happens to be a deep, dark secret!" deals that's kind of trademark Snyder (see: Court of Owls, etc.).  Dick Grayson is at the center of the action, both in flashback and in the present.  Jason Todd and Tim Drake play support this issue, as does Harper Row, the apparent would-be Robin who instead became Bluebird.  Stephanie Brown, who was Robin, will be part of the story.  Left out so far is Damian Wayne (who will be a part of "Robin War"), as well as Duke Thomas (We Are Robin).  The best part of this issue on the creative front is Tony Daniel returning to the Batman family.

I'm so, so glad I ended up catching up on The Valiant, because this follow-up has just been brilliant.

Yeah.  I read this.  I love that an Internet star has finally managed to start branching out past their Internet roots.  The meme of all memes has already become a Christmas movie, and now Grumpy Cat is a comic book star as well.  This issue features three tales.  In all of them Grumpy Cat is forced to be more than just, y'know, grumpy.  Establishing a working fictional world turns out to be more entertaining than you might expect.  I didn't previously have anymore interest in Grumpy Cat than the millions of casual Internet denizens who saw the endless memes, and theoretically this will be about as far as my experience will go, but I'm rooting for the idea.  I'd love to see the Christmas movie at some point.  Hopefully Grumpy has more staying power than poor Hoops & Yoyo, whose hilarious greeting cards seem to no longer be in stores, and whose own Christmas special joined the heaps and heaps of recent Christmas specials that apparently have no chance at all at becoming immortal in the same way as ones created half a century ago.  But things can change, right?

When Heroes debuted, I thought it was a horrible misfire.  Ironically, I became a hopelessly devoted fan at the very same time everyone else walked away from it.  So I'm glad Heroes Reborn is happening, and checking out this companion comic seemed like a good idea.  It was.  This issue, anyway, links superheroes with the masked stars of Mexican wrestling.  One of the best things for fans of the original series who also happened to be comic book fans was the art of Tim Sale being featured in the visions of various characters, which I believe was later featured among the material DC published at that time.  It's unlikely that Sale will pop up again.  Or that Jack Black will show up and shout, "Nachooooo!"

Brian Michael Bendis finally writes Tony Stark.  I don't know why this took so long to happen.  I mean, I know this technically happened during the many years Bendis wrote Avengers comics, but to have Bendis write Stark directly is kind of one of those dream creative matches.  As I've remarked before, the movies so many people love probably wouldn't exist without the tone Bendis set in the comics, and that's especially true of Iron Man.  So that's exactly what you can expect here.  The best part is that this means there's finally, finally a readable Iron Man comic.  As far as I can tell, this has never happened before.  I mean, not completely.  It's just, Marvel has never attempted to capitalize on the character's momentum, never tried, even in the wake of the huge success of the movies, to make him a true headlining act.  How to make this sound better?  Bendis is finally writing a Doctor Doom worthy of his considerable reputation, too.  Do you need anymore reason to read this one?

I appreciate the effort to make the Rebellion's victory less clear-cut, and the comparative restraint Marvel is showing in keeping the Empire around, but I think once again, the results are not exactly to my liking.  I have all the faith in the world for The Force Awakens, but I guess I'm glad I won't be reading the rest of Shattered Empire.  End of story.

STAR WARS: LANDO #5 (Marvel)
On the opposite side of the spectrum is the remarkable insight Charles Soule brought to Lando.  So apparently I did end up missing an issue, but not so much of the storytelling.  Poor Lobot ends up with his inevitable robotic lobotomy, but the logic of how and why it happens, and what it means to Mr. Calrissian, is flawless.  This ended up being a true highlight of the year.

King and Pagulayan continue where they left off in Convergence, and I'm glad this happened.  Telos is a second chance for DC to create a true star from the New 52 era after Pandora didn't quite pan out (I think they just waited too long to pull the trigger on her).  To continue weaving Brainiac into the mythology is brilliant.

And...that's it, folks.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Countdown to QB50 2015: September

18 DAYS #3 (Graphic India)
In which I realize Grant Morrison will not actually be writing the series.  But turns out not to drastically affect its quality.

New home, same great storytelling.  Very glad to see Clevinger and Wegener back in print.

Snyder and Azzarello make for a potent combination.  Out of current continuity, this flashback tale made the news thanks to its commentary on the spate of police shootings making news.

If Deathstroke (with all due apologies to Tony Daniel, etc.) were as awesome in his own comic as here is here, I'd read that, too.  Reminds me how awesome it was to see him in The Shade, too.

In which Bloodshot realizes there's a bad guy who's also attempting to absorb all the stray nanites...

Seven years in the making, Loeb and Sale finally return to this latest collaboration.  I'm ecstatic to see this happening.  Curiously, the first issue reprints the long-ago zero issue, but after the contents of the new material.

CIVIL WAR #4 (Marvel)
Black Panther turns out to be a Skrull.  And suddenly the follow-up to the original Civil War, Secret Invasion, seems less random.  Yet another thing this reprise gets more right than the original.  Thanks, Soule.  Again.

DAREDEVIL #18 (Marvel)
I assumed all along that Waid was headed to a quasi-rehash of the classic Daredevil narative, and in this finale that's exactly what he does.  The comic itself is not so bad, but then Waid writes in his going-away thoughts how this run has been his most creatively-rewarding to date.  How he forgotten writing Wally West?  Even if the style was more deliberate, I'd hold the best of that run to anything Waid has written in a regular superhero comic since...

I've settled in to really enjoying the random pleasures of this experience.  Viva Douglas Adams!  Who makes a cameo this issue!

Cornell concludes the crossover epic.  Eventually gets around to explaining why the Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) wasn't included.

The only objection I have to this series, as it turns out, is the poor choice in style for the lead's narrative captions.  Otherwise, more solid material from Lobdell.

The conclusion to this Secret Wars tie-in seems to be a comics version of X-Men: The Last Stand's final encounter between Wolverine and Jean Grey.  Nice save, Burnham.

I love, love, love how this series has completely embraced the full potential of being its own continuity.

FIGHT CLUB 2 #5 (Dark Horse)
Finally had a look at this.  That's about all I've got to say about that.

THE FUSE #14 (Image)
I'm settling in as a regular reader.

GRAYSON #11, 12, Annual #2 (DC)
Yeah, I've finally decided to read this series more regularly.  It's just too darn good to continue overlooking.

Venditti promised, or someone promised, answers.  But there are frustratingly few.  Darn you, Venditti!

IMPERIUM #8 (Valiant)
Divinity, the guy from Divinity (no, seriously!) pops up in something other than Divinity.  Although this is kind of more or less a rephrasing of Divinity except in an Imperium context...

Don't tell anyone else that Darkseid dies in this installment of "Darkseid War"!

JUSTICE LEAGUE 3001 #3, 4 (DC)
Don't tell anyone that I snuck back into this series because I realized all over again, this is supposed to be Legion of Super-Heroes territory.  But Giffen/DeMatteis have managed to create yet another platform for their genius instead...

I caught up with this release from earlier in the year because it concludes a story I finally got around to seeing in its inception from a first issue I read in my comiXology account (don't tell anyone I'm still working away at that!).  I don't think the muted impact (the first issue was better) is because I skipped, oh, ten issues.  But it's still fun seeing Van Lente in something I actually wanted to read again.

Through no real fault on my own, I missed the previous issue.  But I still love this series.

MIRACLEMAN #1 (Marvel)
This new first issue marks the start of the reprints as they reach the Gaiman material, having concluded Alan Moore's The Original Writer's.  Turns out to be very similar to Sandman, somehow...

MS. MARVEL #18 (Marvel)
Kamala's mother knew!

NAMELESS #5 (Image)
Morrison's weird comic (his latest weird comic) finally saw another issue published.  Burnham shows restraint (for a change).  Reads a lot like the first issue.  Made me interested again.

THE NEW DEAL (Dark Horse)
See thoughts elsewhere.

PREZ #4 (DC)
The comics shop had a giant mix-up in its shipments that week.  So I panicked and got a digital edition.  I've had some fun digitally lately, but I'm not gonna tell you anything else.  Then the shop got the print edition.  And this becomes the latest comic where I have both, and don't mind.  Just two issues left, alas.

All along I've been reading how this whole story leads back to Sandman #1.  And that's exactly what happens.  This was probably my favorite issue of the series.  Sad to see it go.  Very, very gorgeous work, Williams (III).

Larfleeze on the cover...!

STAR WARS #9 (Marvel)
I thought they promised answers from Sana Solo this issue?

Takes place concurrently with the Battle of Endor (at least during this issue).  Features Poe Dameron's parents.  No idea who Poe Dameron is?  Perhaps this prequel to The Force Awakens just isn't meant for you, son...

The, ah, misshipment issue prevented me from reading a new Star Wars: Lando...

Guggenheim and Greenwood (Resurrection) started working on this years ago.  Guggenheim and Greenwood, meet Loeb and Sale...

As far as I'm concerned, some of the best Superman storytelling...ever.

THIS DAMNED BAND #2 (Dark Horse)
Cornell's second issue was good enough to helped the series get a foothold in the QB50 running.

In the fine tradition of the original Robin ongoing being the best thing about Jean-Paul Valley's stint as Batman, Bermejo has turned this one into the best thing about the Commissioner Batman era.  That second issue, which doesn't feature Duke, is the best one to date.

My periodic sampling of this series continues.  Superman is a dick.  But he kind of has a reason to be.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The New Deal (Dark Horse)

via Jonathan Case
writer/artist: Jonathan Case

That woman on the cover is actually the third lead, by the way, after a bellhop named Frank and a maid named Theresa.  The woman is Nina, and to say more about who she is would be something of a spoiler, but if you've seen The Dark Knight Rises, The New Deal might almost be described as Christopher Nolan's comic book caper sans Batman.

Theresa is black, by the way, and in a story set in 1930s New York, she's also an actress in rehearsals for Orson Welles' Macbeth.  Welles doesn't really factor into the story, by the way.  That part of New Deal has more to do with Jonathan Case's continuing fascination with working Shakespeare into more modern storytelling without actually using Shakespeare's stories to do it, as he did in the delightful Dear Creature (review here).

Case is an unusual talent.  Dear Creature took me by complete surprise when it was released four years ago.  I was pleased to read more of Case's work, and all the more surprised to find that other than the Shakespeare link, New Deal isn't really anything like it.  Sure, it's playful in the same enjoyable way, but it's grounded in the real world, even if it's a period piece (that doesn't bog itself down with period details).

Frank and Theresa are both trying to break out of ruts.  Frank is one of those hopeless gamblers deep in debt and desperate to repay it, but even as he realizes Theresa will be able to help him, neither has any idea how it'll actually happen, which makes their mutual acquaintance, the mysterious and increasingly fortuitous Waldorf Astoria guest Nina that much more important as the story develops.

Some readers might find its abrupt ending unsatisfying, but for me, it's more like a representation of the title, which evokes FDR's New Deal, of course, but also the fresh start our leads have attained.  The clash of the poor and rich is also a major theme of the story, with Nina another fine turning point there.

If New Deal isn't as breathtaking an achievement as Dear Creature, it's still another indication that Case is a major talent worth rooting for.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Countdown to QB50 2015: August

18 Days #2 (Graphic India)

  • Notable creators: Grant Morrison (writer)
  • This second issue jumps into the narrative of the superwar and features a show of respect from the good guys to the bad guys, some of whom turn out to be pretty okay, too.
  • Definitely a welcome issue for the project.
ARCHIE #1 (Archie)
  • Notable creators: Mark Waid (writer), Fiona Staples (artist)
  • I saw that my local shop had it available, so I decided to have a look at this Archie reboot.  The second issue was available at the time.  In hindsight I probably should have just gotten both.
  • Waid continues to look better than I've seen in him in years, after this and Strange Fruit.
  • Staples (Saga) somehow manages to charm without all the gross-out elements.  Imagine that!
  • Notable creators: Scott Snyder (writer)
  • Commissioner Batman (I had another name the last time I talked about it, but I think I like this one better) continues.
  • In much more interesting news, Superman stops by, and Alfred discusses how Bruce Wayne came back, and the unlikelihood, at this point, of resuming the crusade.
  • Pivotal issue.  Has nothing much to do with Commissioner Batman.
  • Notable creators: Patrick Gleason (writer/artist)
  • Damian's girlfriend, Nobody's daughter Maya, continues to prove to be excellent company for the errant Boy Wonder.
  • Talia returns from the dead.
  • Deathstroke shows up.
  • Seriously, could this series be any better?
  • Notable creators: Jeff Lemire (writer)
  • Bloodsquirt, Bloodshot's irritating figment of nanite imagination, surprisingly does an excellent job of moving the story along.
  • Like Wolverine before him, Bloodshot has a mysterious past.  This issue he allows someone to read the file that explains who he used to be.  Decides he doesn't want to know what it says.
  • Marvel never did figure out how to make Wolverine's past life as interesting as his post-Weapon X days.  This is probably a good decision.
CIVIL WAR #2, 3 (Marvel)
  • Notable creators: Charles Soule (writer), Leinil Francis Yu (artist)
  • I stand by the assertion I made previously that out of all the Secret Wars spin-offs/extensions of past arcs, Soule's Civil War is arguably the most significant.
  • Yes, the war continued.  No Captain America did not end up assassinated.  Yes, Spider-Man still has problems stemming from his decisions.  Infiltration is the name of the game on both sides,  
  • Then we discover a true game-changer, the presence of a character who did not previously make a Civil War impact: Black Panther.
Between Civil War and Star Wars: Lando, Soule was one of the August standouts, easily.  That was four solid issues from both series for Soule.  I used to dread his Marvel contract.  Now I am really, really happy.  He's doing excellent, relevant, subtle work with both series, and as far as I'm concerned significantly raised his profile.  He's poised to become a major force.

  • Notable creators: Jerry Ordway (artist), Craig Rousseau (artist)
  • This anthology title offers a number of stories, including the start of a new chapter in Ordway and Alex de Campi's Semiautomagic.
  • My main interest, however, was for Rousseau and Rick Woodall's Kyrra: Alien Jungle Girl, which I got to see in print for the first time, after discovering it digitally from comiXology.
DESCENDER #6 (Image)
  • Notable creators: Jeff Lemire (writer)
  • Hey, there he is again!  Lemire, along with Charles Soule and Paul Cornell, was a welcome repeat creator.
  • Dr. Quon's full story is detailed, as we discover more about Descender itself while he relates exactly how he stole the awesome breakthroughs in robotics that made his name (and cost him an arm).  
  • And we meet another Tim!
  • Notable creators: Chris Ryall (writer)
  • Dirk begins to make actual progress in his investigation.
  • (Somehow.)
  • Notable creators: Paul Cornell (writer)
  • The four Doctors in question are David Tennant (Tenth Doctor), Matt Smith (Eleventh Doctor) and Peter Capaldi (Twelfth Doctor). 
  • Wait, did I say four?  The fourth is John Hurt (War Doctor).
  • There are also a bunch of companions running around.  Fans will probably be able to identify them a lot better than I can.
  • Even for someone who doesn't have too much experience with the Doctor(s), this is a fun read.
  • Notable creators: Daniel H. Wilson (writer)
  • Evil mastermind (and one-time Mr. Terrific) Terry Sloan is assassinated!
  • Prime suspect: Superman!
  • (The other one.)
  • Notable creators: Bill Willingham (writer)
  • The final issue comes in the form of a collection, with the kind of ending Peter Jackson gave his Lord of the Rings.
  • As in, a lot of epilogues.
  • A little hard for someone who didn't actually, y'know, read the series to fully appreciate, but it's also a heck of a novelty.
  • I like novelties.

THE FUSE #13 (Image)
  • Notable creators: Antony Johnston (writer), Justin Greenwood (artist)
  • The series returns from hiatus for its "Perihelion" arc.
  • "Perihelion" means the space station is at its closest to the sun.
  • Which means everyone gets crazier than usual.
  • Which means plenty of crime for Klem and Marlene to investigate.  Yay!
  • Notable creators: Tim Seeley (writer), Tom King (writer)
  • Guest-stars Lex Luthor, erstwhile member of the Justice League and, oh, the guy who killed Dick Grayson during Forever Evil, which is the event that led to this innovative relaunch.
  • Yeah, even if I've failed to read this series regularly, there's no chance I was going to miss that.
  • Notable creators: Geoff Johns (writer)
  • "Darkseid War" continues!
  • The Mobius Chair won't tell Batman who the Anti-Monitor is.  The reader knows Anti-Monitor is Mobius.  
  • Superman and Lex Luthor have some nice quality time together.
  • Up next?  Darkseid versus Anti-Monitor!
  • Notable creators: J.M. DeMatteis (writer), Bruce Timm (writer)
  • To be clear, what I read here was the Wonder Woman one-shot, plus the first and third issues of the Gods and Monsters event itself.  
  • Wonder Woman emerges as the most likable of the alternate Big Three, and hailing from Jack Kirby's New Gods.
  • This could be seen as Timm's version of the complicated Man of Steel reality where Superman isn't automatically accepted as a bright shining superhero.  

MIND MGMT #36/NEW MGMT #1 (Dark Horse)
  • Notable creators: Matt Kindt (writer/artist)
  • This coda to the MIND MGMT saga reads like a blueprint to how to avoid the huge mess the series unraveled.
  • And its lingering effects.
  • With a big happy, completely unambiguous ending!
MS. MARVEL #17 (Marvel)
  • Notable creators: G. Willow Wilson (writer)
  • Ms. Marvel meets Captain Marvel!
  • Not quite as awesome as the Wolverine team-up.
  • (Would that even be possible?)
PREZ #3 (DC)
  • Notable creators: Mark Russell (writer), Ben Caldwell
  • Corndog Girl begins building her presidential cabinet!
  • The blogger reaction to Prez I've read has been considerably less enthusiastic than mine has been.
  • For me, this thing is an instant classic, a portrait of our current political cynicism in a satire of what it could lead to.
SPIDER-VERSE #4 (Marvel)
  • Notable creators: Mike Costa (writer)
  • Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy, together again at last!
  • Sort of!
  • Notable creators: Mike Johnson (writer)
  • Again, what could be a horrible gimmick continues to show considerable restraint.
  • Uhura (Star Sapphire; best quote of the issue: "Spock!  I need your help, not your analysis!)), Chekov (Blue Lantern), Gorn warrior (Red Lantern), Chang (Sinestro Corps), Romulan politican (Orange Lantern), and Bones (Indigo Tribe) are all inspired crossover choices.  
  • Sinestro shows up on the last page.  
  • Larfleeze is featured on the cover next issue.
  • Seriously.  Good fun!
STAR WARS #8 (Marvel)
  • Notable creators: Jason Aaron (writer), Stuart Immonen (artist)
  • Seriously, Immonen begins art duties on Star Wars, and you thought I wouldn't be there?
  • The big story in this Marvel series is the appearance of Sana Solo, the apparent wife of Han Solo.
  • Guess who vigorously denies that throughout this issue?
  • Immonen is a perfect fit, by the way.
STAR WARS: LANDO #2, 3 (Marvel)
  • Notable creators: Charles Soule (writer), Alex Maleev (artist)
  • By the second issue, we may know why Lobot is considerably less animated in The Empire Strikes Back than Soule presents him here.
  • The Emperor's Imperial Guard (the dudes in read) in action!
  • Chanath Cha continues his efforts to prove he's as awesome a bounty hunter as Boba Fett.
  • Lando discovers what the reader already knows: that Palpatine is steeped in Sith lore.
  • Notable creators: Gene Luen Yang (writer), John Romita, Jr. (artist)
  • This is it!  Lois Lane reveals Superman's secret identity to the world!
  • She does it so that Hordr can no longer bribe Superman.
  • It's a big, big moment, obviously.
  • In this continuity, it makes perfect sense.
  • Yang even makes a connection to Grant Morrison's Action Comics run.
  • Where, you'll remember, Superman himself briefly "killed" Clark Kent.
  • Probably will be endlessly debated.  But we already had a tidy wedding in previous continuity.  In this one, there are fewer certainties.  This is a good thing.  Allows the mythos to breathe.
THIS DAMNED BAND #1 (Dark Horse)
  • Notable creators: Paul Cornell (writer)
  • Seeing this listed in Previews originally, I didn't know how much I should be interested in it.  Besides Cornell...?
  • But it reminds me that I have a considerable history at this point reading comics that involve rock n' roll: Night Trippers, the Brian Wilson issue of Hawkeye, Mysterious Strangers, Comeback, even a Prince comic...
  • So this is kind of...destiny.
Cornell, meanwhile, more than earns being in the spotlight, between This Damned Band and Doctor Who: Four Doctors.  And I'm happy to see so much material from him.  From Captain Britain to Knight & Squire to Saucer Country to his Lex Luthor arc in Action Comics and even Demon Knights, Cornell carved out a considerable legacy for himself, and I always hoped he'd take his rightful place within the comics elite.  But wide success always eluded him, and he became the opposite of the famed British Invasion, in that he went back home.  Went all British.  Returned to one of his true loves, the very British but expanding Doctor Who.  I'm glad I've now had the opportunity to experience Cornell's Doctor interest first-hand, and to find something new from him, too.  Welcome back!

  • Notable creators: Mike Carey (writer)
  • I finally had the chance to read the conclusion to Carey's Unwritten saga.
  • To my mind, much more satisfying than Fables'.
  • Fables, in part, by the way, circled around to an allusion to Harry Potter.
  • Unwritten, meanwhile, was perhaps the most clever Harry allusion anyone's yet produced.
Four more months left in the year.  Miller and Azarello will be launching The Dark Knight III in November.  Gaiman's Sandman: Overture is ending.  Morrison is launching Klaus.  And I'm sure there are plenty of highlights yet remaining.  This has been a pretty good year.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Reading Comics 171 "A Frustrating Week"

Last week I ended up skipping on Justice League: Gods and Monsters - Batman #1 (DC), but I decided to get it this week, along with JL:GaM - Superman #1.  These are comics that help flesh out Bruce Timm's return to the animated DC fold after helping shape its legacy (along with Paul Dini) in the '90s and early 2000s with Batman, Superman, and Justice League cartoons.  I initially skipped out because the art inside Batman was nothing like the Timm I know, but I guess if these spin-offs go in a different direction artistically, it only goes to emphasize the stories more.  Batman features Kirk Langstrom, the erstwhile Man-Bat, in the role of the Dark Knight, having transformed himself, instead of a giant bat, into a vampire.  But the neat thing about the story is that it focuses on the matter of whether or not Batman does what he does because he enjoys it or out of a sense of justice.  Superman features a Man of Steel, meanwhile, who ends up being raised by Mexican immigrants, ending up more resentful as a superhero as a result.  I guess these are the variations that make them monsters...

Anyway, when I entitled this week's edition "A Frustrating Week," I wasn't really thinking about Gods and Monsters, but rather a couple of comics I tried for the first time because of my familiarity with the writers.  (J.M. DeMatteis, by the way, wrote both GaM tie-ins.)  The first sampling was Low #8 (Image) from Rick Remender, and the second was Sex Criminals #11 (Image) from Matt Fraction.  Remender is one of those writers I seem to constantly go back and forth on.  Recently I had gotten around to liking him again thanks to his Captain America work.  Fraction, meanwhile, just concluded what ought to be considered a seminal run on Hawkeye.  Both are well-known for their creator-owned work, as well.  The problem is, these particular efforts seem to have been greenlit by Image with the express interest of trying to duplicate or at least build off the momentum of Saga (which in effect makes them like all the superhero comics that all these nonsuperhero comics are constantly trying to say they're more interesting than for the simple fact of being more original in a vast sea of superhero comics...).

Low, for instance, is the latest in an increasingly long list of comics that hinge a great deal on their art and distinctive coloring, not to mention general sci-fi adventure flavoring.  In a lot of ways, Saga provoked Image into returning to the art-heavy days of its origins, but in a more thoughtful, nuanced way.  The problem is, if Image starts to produce a lot of comics with the same general artistic interests (what is otherwise termed a house style), they all begin to be lost in the shuffle.

Like Deadly Class, Remender apparently takes Low personally, and has attracted, or so the letters column suggests, an audience that seems to have instinctively gotten exactly whatever it is he's trying to accomplish.  Because the results, as with Deadly Class, are somewhat impenetrable.  And again, part of that is because the art so thoroughly dominates the storytelling, the story itself becomes lost in the shuffle.

Sex Criminals, meanwhile, is one of those comics intended to appeal to that hip audience that gravitates to taboo material, or otherwise "mature audiences" that premium cable seems to think must include, well, sex.  Graphic sex.  And again, Saga opened those doors.  The gimmick behind Fraction's comic is that the central characters stop time every time they have sex.  This would be an excellent gimmick indeed, if this were any other medium besides a comic book, which by nature exists in static images.  Which sort of limits the ability for time being stopped looking like anything other than your typical comic book panel...

But the thing is, Fraction seems to have gotten how slim a gimmick that really is, because Sex Criminals is at its best as metafiction, as he addresses the reader directly, explaining certain matters of the art that he talks over rather than allows to be depicted (but not the sex, naturally).

But are either worth reading, at least for someone like me?  I wish.  I really wish, because these are writers I want to like, and every time Remender talks about how personal something is or how much he's risking to do this particular project...I want to believe in the material, too.  But I don't.  I see creators doing stuff because no one told them to try harder.  They go for something easy, or attempt to cash in on some other hot project...

So I was happy indeed to have broken my usual alphabetical reading order and started out with Superman #42 (DC), the continuation of Gene Luen Yang's origin behind the "Truth" crossover event.  This issue we find out who the villain is, a cult figure who calls himself Hordr_Root.  This is another instance of John Romita, Jr. remaining as continuity past the Geoff Johns run paying dividends, because along with the solar flare thing, this is truly a new era for Superman, with new villains popping up, sharing a similar technological bent that speaks to modern times (needless to say, but this guy is similar to but distinctive from Machinist).  If you have no interest in "Truth," then Yang's storytelling at least has something to say about today's controversies over privacy.

Romita, meanwhile, continues to evolve.  If his Superman remains the same, it's striking how his Lois Lane looks a lot like Ron Frenz's.  Frenz was a Superman artist in the '90s.  I actually hated his work a great deal.  But to see it, in a roundabout way, again is to recognize that if just a few things had been different about it, maybe it wouldn't have been so bad.  This is ironic, because Romita's Superman work has received a great deal of criticism, too.  But I'd still take Romita's over Frenz's any day.

Needless to say, but Superman was my favorite read of the week, followed by the expectation-challenging Gods and Monsters and then whichever of the two remaining I can form a more favorable opinion at the given moment...

I won't be checking in for a couple of weeks, as I'll be visiting family in Virginia and hopefully finding a bunch of comics duly pulled for me.  But I won't know for sure until I visit the shop next.  We'll see!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Quarter Bin 68 "Grant Morrison, etc."

This is a back issue feature, which features all these this edition: The Filth #6, Green Lantern (1990) #1 and 46, Green Lantern Corps #38, The Helmet of Fate: Zauriel #1, The Invisibles #6, Justice League America #74, JLA Classified #45, JSA #81, Legion of Super-Heroes #0, Marvels #1, The Mighty #1, Millennium #5, Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere #3, Starman #46, Adventures of Superman Annual #5, All Star Superman #1 and 5, Sweet Tooth #13, Tangent: Superman's Reign #12, Wisdom #1, and New X-Men #149.

The Filth #6 (Vertigo)
From 2002.

I have previously owned the entire Filth collection.  When I purged a vast amount of my things two years ago, this and Supergods didn't survive, despite my professed great admiration for Grant Morrison.  There are limits to everything.  When I originally read the complete Filth, I was in a different place.  I was still in the midst of figuring out what exactly it was I liked about Morrison.  Turns out, I like it best when he's not trying so hard to be weird.  Stuff like this and his current Nameless are definitely Morrison trying hard to be weird.  And the thing about Filth is even when I reread this particular issue, I had some thoughts about what helped make it seem less like Morrison trying hard to be weird, but now I've forgotten.  So again I'll walk away from it and not wonder whether I'm missing something crucial.  I guess it's supposed to be social commentary, and not necessarily about, well, filth, and maybe how some people really do try too hard.  And so maybe Morrison took on Filth in full irony.  I think I read once that it is or was his personal favorite, and at one point I described it myself as possibly the Invisibles experience condensed...Still, obviously personally, I've backed off from it, and I think Morrison has done a lot of stuff since then that's far superior, not just Joe the Barbarian and Annihilator, but...I mean, even Seven Soldiers is in some ways Filth repackaged.  Made better.  Moving on...

Green Lantern #1 (DC)
From 1990.

It seems odd to think today that Hal Jordan ever had a problem being the headlining Green Lantern act.  I mean, other than everyone who wants the cinematic Green Lantern to be John Stewart (mostly because of the animated Justice League adventures where he was).  And yet there was a considerable period where Green Lantern had in fact been retitled Green Lantern Corps, and this particular reboot was all about Hal taking back the spotlight.  It was also the debut of the white temple look, which Geoff Johns later retconned as the first indication of Parallax taking control.  The Hal in this issue is drawn directly from the Green Lantern/Green Arrow era.  I mean, Hal was regularly depicted as bucking authority and reluctant to be a good little Green Lantern, which was the whole reason Guy Gardner and John Stewart had rings to begin with, but this was making it not just a phase, but a defining part of his character.  Sticking around, being Green Lantern, and still fretting about all that.  And this was the beginning of the modern era, too.  The franchise was in fact about to begin.  Guy and John both got their own ongoing series before long, and they were in this issue to assert their continuing presence from the start.  And to think, fifty issues in and everything would change...

Green Lantern #46 (DC)
From 1993.

I don't know who decided to begin a new Green Lantern on the heels of Superman's big death-and-return saga, but they were a genius.  How often does that happen, linking one such event to another, however tangentially?  Mongul and Cyborg Superman incidentally destroy Coast City at the end of "Reign of the Supermen," which is Hal's city, and it drops him off the deep end.  In this issue, it looks like he might be able to get over it.  He gets his revenge on Mongul, he's the one who gets to defeat the other major villain of the big Superman climax.  And it still ends up resulting in "Emerald Twilight," the end of Green Lantern as it had existed as a property since the dawn of the Silver Age...and yeah, eventually, Hal's big redemption and the return of everything, supersized...But at this point, the next issue is the last Green Lantern/Green Arrow team-up (in its original combination; strangely even upon Hal's return it's never happened again).  To me, this moment has always stood as about as iconic as "Emerald Twilight" itself.  The original Green Lantern trade collections of that time never included it.  There were separate "Emerald Twilight" and "New Dawn" (the start of the Kyle Rayner era), and then "Emerald Twilight"/"New Dawn" collections.  And this major component of the story was left out.  Every time.  I don't know, did the "Reign of the Supermen" collections include it?

Green Lantern Corps #38 (DC)
From 2009.

This is from the Tomasi/Gleason era that kicked off the series, the best non-Johns Green Lantern comics from that time, and enhanced in hindsight by their later collaboration in Batman and Robin, which was a definite amplification of their efforts.  So good, in fact, that I tend to forget what their GLC was actually like, other than the distinctive presence of Soranik Natu (this issue she tries to erase her just as distinctive face tattoo because it's a constant reminder of her father...Sinestro).  The Guardians are ramping up to going totally insane, executing bad guys, with the Corps somehow having a problem with that.  But it's that cover that is the best thing about the issue.  Not totally relevant to the contents, but it's strong Pat Gleason all the same, before Gleason truly came into his own (again, Batman and Robin).  It's not my favorite cover from this selection of back issues, however.  We'll get to that.

The Helmet of Fate: Zauriel #1 (DC)
From 2007)

This was a part of the late Steve Gerber's last big project, an attempted reboot of Doctor Fate.  Gerber's legacy will arguably always be Howard the Duck, which luckily these days once again means a good thing.  I read the complete Helmet of Fate at the time of its original publication, so it was good to revisit.  Zauriel was one of the less obscure characters featured in this kind of condensed Seven Soldiers (the issue recaps every other encounter to that point, which was actually the last before the intended big payoff).  Zauriel was a Grant Morrison creation from the pages of JLA, a literal angel, a surrogate Hawkman (several reboot attempts from that period had soured that particular character, who would need a dramatic comeback within Geoff Johns' JSA in order to become relevant again), and his story is ably recapped in the issue as well.  He got a new incarnation in the New 52 in the pages of Phantom Stranger, but it's not quite the same.

The Invisibles #6 (Vertigo)
From 1994.

You know what's ironic?  Every time I randomly come across a back issue of Invisibles, it's always from the Say You Want a Revolution collection, the first volume of the series.  And that's awful, in a way, because Say You Want includes the most of what I've read from one of Grant Morrison's early seminal works.  And darn it if I don't want to read something else from it!

Maybe there's a message in that?

In the meantime, I'll instead talk here about the On the Ledge feature in the back of the issue, the Vertigo press page that speaks about the Paradox Press experiment, which today is known, if for anything at all, for Road to Perdition, which later became a Tom Hanks movie.  But this hype feature also references Jerome Charyn in Paradox Press's stable of writers.  Years later, Charyn became a favorite writer of mine, and it amused me to learn that he sometimes dabbles in comics, and apparently, so I learned here, he was in fact part of the Paradox Press experiment.  The result was published in 1995, Family Man.  I will read that at some point.

Justice League America #74 (DC)
From 1993.

This issue is the reason there are fans who think Bloodwynd was in fact Martian Manhunter all along.  That's because at the end of the issue, that's exactly what it seems like.  Apparently all those fans never read the next issue, which explains what's really going on (maybe comics just shouldn't try and confuse readers so often...).  Bloodwynd's always been a favorite of mine.  He's the Dan Jurgens creation not named Booster Gold, and for my mine, infinitely more fascinating.  And yet he's got a scant publishing history, and it was Grant Morrison himself who explained why in the pages of Supergods, calling him a example of the worst the '90s had to offer.  But then Morrison himself dragged Bloodwynd back into comics in the pages of The Multiversity.

And you want to know the saddest thing about Bloodwynd?  This is his only spotlight cover, and you can't even see his face!  Okay, that's a total lie.  That face is splashed across Justice League America #88.  But still!  I've said all along, he's a great character.  Time to help everyone else realize that, I say.

JLA Classified #45 (DC)
From 2007.

Speaking of Martian Manhunter, this is my favorite cover from this selection, and it was instantly one of my favorites at the time of its original publication, too.  The contents are pretty good, part of the "Ghosts of Mars" arc that was part of the foundation of the character becoming one of my all-times favorites.  The material at that time was the strongest in the character's history.  And it's absolutely, so far as I'm concerned, the basis for the new ongoing series.

JSA #81 (DC)
From 2005.

This is pretty far into Geoff Johns' JSA, but I figure if it's before the Justice Society of America reboot (where I read every issue), but it's a good issue to randomly read because it puts Stargirl, Courtney Whitmore, in the spotlight, who was also the first character Johns ever wrote for DC, in the pages of Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E.  The issue, in fact, delves deeply into Stargirl's world, so it's almost a complete reprise/update of the prior series, so all around it's a nice one to have chosen (there were several others available), if not randomly sampling one of Johns' formative arcs (I've done that; it's not as easy to be satisfied that way) then to definitely catch it at its best.

Legion of Super-Heroes #0 (DC)
From 1994.

One of my ambitions is to own the complete Stuart Immonen Superman.  I'd planned to chronicle the run here at Comics Reader, but I don't have that kind of readership, alas.  Anyway, Immonen made his mark at DC, originally, within the pages of Legion, and he was suited to that in the original clean look he had at this time in his career, before he talked himself, or allowed others to talk him, into a busier look.  I sampled the Legion books (including Legionnaires) a lot during that time, and I'm certain now that I had this in my collection (until an earlier purge than the one referenced above), so I had already begun appreciating Immonen before I realized it.  But I didn't stick around Legion, so I in fact officially discovered Immonen in the pages of Superman comics.  Just so you don't wonder, I don't intend to track down the complete Immonen Legion, too...

Marvels #1 (Marvel)
From 1993.

One of the most famous comics of the '90s, this was also the epitome of Marvel's self-mythologizing, not just a character, but its entire line, the fictional version of Stan Lee, as it were.  I've always wanted to read it.  The first issue, it turns out, is not wildly impressive.  Photographer Phil Sheldon is a wimpy lead character, not exactly the Norman McCay of Kingdom Come.  Devised to be an everyman observing Marvel's giants from street level, Phil Sheldon is instead a Jimmy Olsen/Peter Parker who otherwise has nothing interesting going for him, just a random romance.  Yes, there are three other issues to the story, but I'm not as interested, now, to read the rest of the story.  The depictions of Namor, the Human Torch, and Captain America are a mixed bag.  The Human Torch is easily the superhero who comes off best.  But if later superheroes are treated more like Namor, who blows up the realism of the approach, it kind of ruins the concept.  And anyway, it was as much if not more so the art of Alex Ross that made Marvels such a sensation.

Curiously, Marvels, other than the stories of mini-series of Jeph Loeb (incredibly, Captain America: White is finally, finally on the publishing schedule, with a September debut, after the preview released in...2008), remains the lone example of Marvel taking an actual sober approach to superheroes.  Other than random issues of Ed Brubaker's Captain America, further examples just don't exist.  And that's why I'm a DC guy.

The Mighty #1 (DC)
From 2009.

Until Batman and Robin, this was my first indication that Peter Tomasi would be a truly exceptional writer.  The Mighty is one of those rare creator-owned projects published under the DC banner (Chris Claremont's Sovereign Seven was another...and I can't think of a third), and it's also one of the best alternate Superman stories ever told.  Curiously, at the time there was considerable competition.  Mark Waid's Irredeemable was one, and The Life and Times of Savior 28, from J.M. DeMatteis, was the other.  Yet The Mighty jumped out from the pack.  There was talk of a movie adaptation.  IDW later put out the trade collection.  Turns out from this revisit, it really stands up.  So next time I have an opportunity to pick up the complete collection, I just might...

Millennium #5 (DC)
From 1987.

This was the Manhunters event, the third big DC crossover event after Crisis On Infinite Earths and Legends.  But as I now realize, maybe it was also an attempt to capitalize on the New Age guru sensation, because that's what's going on in this particular issue, and it confuses me, otherwise, a great deal, to see that going on in the middle of a big DC crossover event.  And so even though it's the big Manhunters event that helped establish them, I've probably read about all I need to from it, I really have.  Because it's baffling.  I guess I perhaps should have known how confusing it was, because I already knew Millennium featured the big Manhunters story as a story of infiltration.  Which otherwise, conceptually, makes little sense in Manhunters context.

Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere #3 (Vertigo)
From 2005.

As the title suggests, this is a Neil Gaiman story, actually an adaption of his first novel, the career shift that helped establish him as a cultural phenomenon.  Comic books fans will always consider Gaiman's legacy unquestionably to be Sandman, but readers at large, and movie audiences, wouldn't know him unless he'd made the transition to prose.  It wasn't until American Gods, arguably, that he had his true breakthrough.  I remember when Neverwhere was released.  I never got around to reading it myself, so I figured sampling the comic book adaption might give me an idea what it was like.  And I guess it's really obvious that Gaiman hadn't yet shaken himself out of the comic book mode, because if this issue of this adaptation is any indication, he wasn't quite ready yet.  It's too busy, too unfocused.  The main character becomes lost in the shuffle.  In Sandman, the main character was always lost in the shuffle, and in that context, it made absolute sense.  But Gaiman eventually figured out that in books, the rules are different.  Unless you've got something to say creatively.  With Neverwhere, I don't think he did.

Starman #46 (DC)
From 1998.

Starman is another thing I want to read in total at some point, ideally catching up with the rest of the omnibus collections (I've read the fifth volume) because James Robinson provides extensive commentaries in those.  I picked this issue at random because it was a "Times Past" issue, so there was no chance of catching a story midstream, and because "Times Past," as well as the "Conversations with David" issues, was one of the best things about the series, the reasoning behind which is actually explain in this issue's letters column.  Although of note is acknowledging original artist Tony Harris's departure from the series.  He later collaborated with Brian K. Vaughan on Ex Machina, and Robinson managed to muscle his way through the rest of the series even though it got progressively less fun as, well, time passed.  Because this issue also acknowledges the death of original editor and DC icon Archie Goodwin, who was also the reason the series happened at all.  So this was an excellent random issue to sample.

Adventures of Superman Annual #5 (DC)
From 1993.

From the Bloodlines event that attempted to present an entire new generation of superheroes, perhaps rightly criticized, so I later discovered, as trying desperately to cash in on the budding Image phenomenon.  But I found a bunch of characters I loved from it, including Sparx, who would go on to costar in Superboy and the Ravers, one of my all-time favorite comic books.  What's fascinating about Sparx, and was hardly capitalized on outside of this debut, is that she comes from a whole family of metahumans, who apparently needed to activate their powers (presumably no two alike).  Donna Carol "D.C." Force somewhat rashly, along with the dubious consent of her Uncle Harry, chooses the alien parasites going around activating new superheroes during Bloodlines.  Also in this issue is Superboy, and this is actually at the end of the "Reign of the Supermen," literally, apparently taking place just before the final battle with Cyborg Superman.

But as much as I love Sparx, the most amusing thing in this issue is an add for Zero Hour way, way in advance.  I mean, Superboy didn't even have his own series yet, and Superboy #8 was released the month every DC title started interacting with the event.  Moving on...

All Star Superman #1 and 5 (DC)
From 2006.

Wait, they sold me a FCBD release?  Unscrupulous merchants!  Actually, that's pretty common in the back issue trade, alas.  Anyway, this is what is commonly considered one of Grant Morrison's definite works.  And I liked it just fine at the time (in the annual QB50s, it went from 12 to 37 to 17 from 2006-2008, always playing second-fiddle to Geoff Johns' Action Comics, among other material).

What strikes me about it now, especially All Star Superman #5, which ties in with what I'll be talking about a few comics later (the last one, in fact, to assure you that this is not an infinite list of nonsense), is how Morrison handles the villain, who in this case is Lex Luthor.  The whole idea behind All Star Superman was to create an iconic, and perhaps to say definitive, version of the Superman mythos.  Which makes this Lex Luthor all the more interesting.  This Lex is strictly interested in his Superman obsession because he sees himself as a world-conqueror Superman has blocked from fulfilling his ambitions.  I'm not sure how I should feel about that.  I like nuanced characters.  I love Geoff Johns' Lex Luthor in the pages of Justice League.  This is not that Lex.  He's in fact about as brilliant as Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan's eponymous villain, with clear holes in his logic and not nearly as threatening as he seems.  Which is to say, all bark and no bite.  Where Morrison's Superman is meant to be exactly the all-powerful Superman that everyone has always the character is and therefore completely unrelatable...his Lex is in fact all but the exact opposite.

Which is actually kind of fascinating, when you think about it...I've never reread the complete All Star Superman.  That could be interesting.

It's also worth noting that the issue also features a promo section for a WildStorm reboot, the one that Morrison was supposed to be a significant part of, writing both WildCATs and The Authority.  I know Keith Giffen ended up writing the latter almost immediately.  The WildCATs experiment was even more brief.  I didn't even remember about that one.  There was also a Garth Ennis Midnighter series.  Which surprisingly didn't really catch on.  You'd think it would somehow be completely natural.  But this was pretty much the end of WildStorm, so maybe the whole thing fizzling out isn't so surprising after all.

Sweet Tooth #13 (Vertigo)
From 2010.

This was one of Jeff Lemire's early signature works, along with the earlier Essex County.  I remember when it launched, and it was impossible for me to think of it as anything other than the comic featuring the boy with the antlers.  I never read it.  Later, I finally did come to appreciate Lemire's brilliance (Descender), so I figured I'd finally sample Sweet Tooth.  Turns out it's pretty interesting.  Not having gotten into it originally, I really had no idea what the boy was doing having those antlers.  Turns out it's a little like the second season of Dark Angel, a TV series I happen to love a great deal.  I don't know if Lemire had Dark Angel in mind, or The Island of Dr. Moreau, or something else I don't currently know about.  Either way, I guess this is to say, I really ought to read more Lemire.

Tangent: Superman's Reign #12 (DC)
From 2009.

Convergence brought back a lot of old concepts and eras, and I was happy to see Tangent Comics among them.  This was an idea from the '90s that sought to recapture the feel of the dawn of the Silver Age (and, I guess, Just Imagine Stan Lee Creating...) by taking familiar names and reimagining them.  I loved it.  When it was revisited in the pages of Tangent: Superman's Reign, I loved it all over again, even though there was a significant attempt to broaden the appeal by bringing in the more familiar versions to sort everything out.  Since the writer is Dan Jurgens, it features somewhat blunt storytelling, not exactly what you might have seen out of Tangent Superman in the pages of Convergence: The Flash (if you even knew clue one about Tangent Superman to begin with).  I don't remember reading the conclusion to the mini-series originally.  Although I didn't really miss much, other than the sacrifice of Tangent Batman. #sadpanda

Wisdom #1 (Marvel)
From 2006.

Paul Cornell's Captain Britain and MI13 was one of the series that made me a fan of Marvel (the other was Incredible Hercules) for a few years, just something with a vibe I'd never seen from the company before.  It made me an immediate fan of Cornell, who I was happy to later read within the pages of Action Comics and Knight & Squire, not to mention Saucer Country.  Then he went back to things more British-centric, like Doctor Who.  Wisdom, as in Pete Wisdom, was Captain Britain's predecessor, with a sterling reputation but otherwise something I knew nothing about.  I assumed it was a story about Pete Wisdom.  But as it turns out, it's basically as deliberate a predecessor to Captain Britain as you can get, the exact same approach with only a variation of the cast of characters.  So I guess I didn't miss anything wildly different.  The other notable thing about Wisdom is artist Trevor Hairsine, whom I later enjoyed in the pages of Divinity.  That's worth noting about Wisdom.

New X-Men #149 (Marvel)
From 2003.

And now we've reached the end.  While discussing The Filth, I discussed that I have a more complicated history with Grant Morrison than it can sometimes seem.  While discussing All Star Superman I was able to get into a little of how I don't necessarily always agree with his creative choices even when I don't find them particularly weird.

And here's where I concede a point to Marvel.  Maybe they weren't wrong to retcon Morrison's X-Men run.  This issue is late in the run and is just after Xorn, the mutant healer, was revealed to be Magneto all along.  Morrison's Magneto is little different from Morrison's Lex Luthor.  They're both evil.  End of story.  In fact, as of this issue Magneto has all but won.  Like he does in Final Crisis, which is far different context but also wildly unpopular with fans, Morrison writes a story in which the bad guy manages to win.  Whereas the story in comics never really advances, the X-Men in particular have tended to be stagnant (except when House of M forced them to advance to a more ludicrous point than even Morrison managed), so to see New X-Men reach a point like this must have been disconcerting to Marvel, not because Morrison revealed Xorn to be someone else all along, regardless of who that was, but because of what happened next.

Morrison's last X-Men arc was "Here Comes Tomorrow," his version of "Days of Future Past," presenting an outcome fraught with mutants everywhere.  Yes, the mutants "win," but at great cost.  This is the opposite of what he'd done with JLA, the model by which he'd been brought in with great fanfare.  Except Morrison always goes for what he sees as the big picture, and his big picture is just about bigger than anyone's except maybe Geoff Johns.  So having him do X-Men was probably a mistake to begin with, if Marvel wanted something more safe than it turned out to be.

And putting all that aside, back to Tony level, yes I had become a fan of Grant Morrison through JLA, like a lot of other fans, but when I had to break from comics at the start of the millennium, I found it difficult to get back into him, once I started reading again.  I remember seeing New X-Men on the stands when I started wading back in 2004, and although I knew what was going on, I didn't want to read it.  Even when Morrison helped kick off JLA Classified, I skipped that, too.  I only came back with Seven Soldiers, and then in a very big way.  Once I understood that Morrison's scope was bigger than anyone else's, at the time, I gave him the time of day.  And I've rarely been disappointed since.