Monday, April 27, 2015

Digitally Speaking...49

This column details my adventures reading comics from my comiXology account...

Fade Out: Painless Suicide (WiseDog)
From 2014.

I'm not entirely sure what this was supposed to be.  It starts out like it's going to be about suicide.  And then young love.  Young love and suicide?  Makes sense.  But then it's about a murder mystery.  And then the murder mystery ends with the main character being murdered.  Not, you know, committing suicide.  So I guess...I just don't get it.

Fantastic Four #1 (Marvel)
From 1961.

History could have read this so much differently.  Mister Fantastic (Plastic Man/Elongated Man) and Human Torch (the Golden Age Human Torch) were archetypes of existing superheroes, while the Thing and Invisible Girl were culled straight from horror movies...In fact, the whole thing seemed to be Stan Lee and Jack Kirby creating horror characters more than superheroes, but using them as superheroes.  The team launched the Marvel Age, and as such became known as the first superheroes to inhabit the angst-ridden, "human level" variety Marvel became known for, but...they were horror creations, tossed together like Van Helsing meets League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.  Doom Patrol, the X-Men, the Incredible Hulk, these were all characters more akin to horror, which at that time cinematically was still steeped in the classic horror age, before the dawn of the slasher flicks twenty years later.  Just imagine if the team had remained known as horror characters, rather than superheroes...But then, Marvel became known as DC's main competition, and the rest is history.  Characters who slipped in from the frames of movies have transitioned into the movies, where they have become a whole genre like, well, the horror movies that inspired them.  It figures.

Fatherhood #1 (Challenger)
From 2013.

This one-shot is much like Fade Out, tonally somewhat baffling.  The writer describes it as attempting to explore what it means to be a father (hence the, ah, title), fighting between impulses of great devotion and the ability to do very questionable things because of that great devotion...but the story abruptly shifts from being about the pain of a separated marriage to the father going all psycho and pseudo-noir as he gets the latest popular toy for his daughter.  Like Fade Out, I can say I just don't get it.  You understand, this essentially means, these are poorly-reasoned comics.

Fighting Stranger: Chapter One (HicksVillain)
From 2013.

Fighting Stranger is...strange.  And it becomes stranger.  The good news is that it's a good kind of strange.  The writing is at turns incredibly clever and clunky.  Thankfully the cleverness outweighs the clunk.  And the cleverness extends a few ways, from how the stereotypical story of an amnesiac being guided along a journey to discovering he has certain skills and purpose is reshaped by how it's done (by the end of this chapter, there's a whole new level added) and with what kind of characters.  The most important character isn't the lead at all, but his guide, the dancing entertainbot C4D, who proves endlessly amusing.  Good stuff.

First Law of Mad Science #1 (Noreon)
From 2012.

By the time a quote from H.P. Lovecraft shows up at the end, I guess what precedes it makes perfect sense.  Lovecraft has inspired something of a religion.  I doubt his fans would consider their devotion to be a religion...but yeah, it's something like a religion at this point.  The story involves a scientist who's a pretty crummy father, a son who is resentful of his scientist father being so crummy, cybernetic eyes, robot daughters, seeing monsters that aren't there...Damn Lovecraft fans.  I rue the day I ever learned about Lovecraft!

The Flash (DC)
#30 (from 1989)
#54 (from 1991)
#162 (from 2000)

I was recommended the first two when Flash comics went on sale in celebration of the new TV series launching.  For me they're rare Wally West stories not written by Mark Waid, but rather William Messner-Loebs.  There came a point where I no longer believed this, but during the '90s, when he was writing The Flash, Waid could do no wrong.  He was, for me, the definitive writer of not only Wally West but the Flash in general.  So for someone to recommend reading issues from the same series Waid later made his own felt like an impossible mission.  Waid came onboard years after the series launched, which meant he wasn't the first writer to attempting defining what it meant for Wally to have assumed the scarlet cowl, succeeding his friend and mentor Barry Allen.  But the recommendation was, Messner-Loebs made Wally's life as a speedster interesting.  And so?

The first issue features Wally in a theater realizing that time seems to have stopped.  But it didn't, he merely sped up without realizing it.  That's a pretty neat trick.  Not that special, but pretty neat.  The second issue is probably better.  This recommendation made it known that Wally's "Nobody dies" edict alone was special, but there's also diving out of a plane to catch someone, and that was special.  Messner-Loebs, it seems, got what being a speedster could feel like.  Waid always concentrated on the legacy, but here's a writer who slowed things down (heh) and let Wally, and the reader, experience how the powers actually work.  Sometimes it takes a great deal of effort.  This is something that's rarely touched on in superhero comics.  That alone makes #54 unique.

The third issue, meanwhile, was Waid's final one (until All Flash #1 in 2007, which kicked off the era recently resurrected in Convergence: Speed Force) after his long, historic tenure.  By this point he'd been transitioning away, giving more and more responsibility to Brian Augustyn, and so maybe it's not surprising that there's not really a farewell message here, as I would have expected.  I took a break from comics in early 1999, when Waid was working on his last great Flash arc, "Chain Lightning," a story whose conclusion I finally read a few years back.  The truth is, I thought for years that Waid left after "Chain Lightning," that it was his big goodbye.  Turns out he lingered.  The issue instead is a pretty random Captain Marvel team-up.  I consider this disappointing.  Or maybe the disappointment was Waid's.  Either way, he did return to the character (fans always considered that work disappointing), but by that point Wally had become a Geoff Johns guy.  Which turned out pretty well, until Johns decided he was more of  Barry Allen guy...

Flash Gordon #1 (Dynamite)
From 2014.

Flash Gordon is one of those characters most people know but don't really know much about.  He's a space adventurer in the vein of Star-Lord, the currently popular model as seen in last year's popular Guardians of the Galaxy flick.  And he's more or less fallen completely by the wayside.  So of course he gets a revival.  The question is, does the revival remind us what makes Flash Gordon unique?  Not really.  Very quickly, we're dumped in the middle of an adventure, Ming, all of that.  Which is fine.  if you like random adventure stories set on alien worlds, then this is your thing.  But if you want a reason to care for Flash Gordon specifically again, this may not be.  Because otherwise the character has become as equally random as the story he's in.  I personally don't see this as a particularly good development.

Footprints Vol. 1 (Soup Dad)
From 2014.

If you ever wanted to find out what it would be like if Alan Moore wrote Hellboy in the same general style he did Watchmen...Footprints follows Bigfoot in much the way the early issues of Fables followed the Big Bad Wolf.  You don't know why Bigfoot became a private investigator except that the story felt like putting him in that role.  And then he has to solve the mystery of what's been happening to the cryptoid community.  Tries to make bold statements about the 20th century.  Fails.  Scott Snyder provides an introduction, although he unwittingly reveals what kind of experience you're really headed for when he begins by explaining how he used to watch a bad Bigfoot special on TV all the time, and he got hooked on it.  That's what this basically is.

FUBAR: FCBD Edition (Alterna)
From 2013.

Soldiers in various eras blah-blah-blah random monsters!  And that's basically all this is.  If you like random monsters, I guess you'd probably like this more than I did.  And as for all those acronyms...FUBAR = F***ed Up Beyond All Reason (it's a military term, naturally), FCBD = Free Comic Book Day.  Which incidentally is this Saturday!

Fun Fun Comics #1 (Fun Fun)
From 2013.

Deliriously funny stuff from Michael D. Koch (presumably not related to the Derek Koch I got to know from Paperback Reader, who actually probably would like stuff like Footprints), a collection of some old indy comic strip material filled with terrific gags and wacky situations that are kind of what Family Guy tries to do (which is not to say that Family Guy fails so much that Koch does it better).  His noble work continues, weirdly enough, at a site called Fun Fun Comics.  Later in the collection, Hamlet tries to warn Mel Gibson about the talking skull.  But of course it doesn't matter.  I guess I'm just a sucker for this kind of stuff.  And what about Michael Bolton?  As everyone who's seen Office Space knows, Michael Bolton sucks.  But that's hardly the last word on him.  Probably you should read this to find out more...




The Fuse #1 (Image)
From 2014.

I may have sold The Fuse short.  This is because I know the writer, Antony Johnston, from something that I love, the recently concluded post-apocalyptic epic Wasteland, and so when Fuse launched a little over a year ago, I wasn't quite ready to dive into another Johnston project.  I mean, Wasteland happens once a lifetime, right?  And Johnston launched another series at the same time, Umbral.  The thing is, Umbral is a lot more like Wasteland than Fuse.  What they all share is Johnston's knack for world-building.  But where Wasteland and Umbral set up years-long stories, Fuse is, basically, a procedural set on a space station (the title is the name of the station).  I actually liked what I read when I sampled Fuse previously, but again, I wasn't ready to make another commitment.  Reading the first issue for the first time, after the end of Wasteland, I think I'm ready.  This is good stuff.  And so I will be correcting my oversight first chance I get.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Reading Comics 156 "Impending Secret Wars"

I may be totally off-base on this, but it looks like Marvel found out DC was doing Convergence, and then decided, "Hey, we should do the same thing!"

And thus the new version of Secret Wars that's about to commence.

Maybe there's more to it than that.  I'm not sure how much I should care.  I know this much: the company has been making various decisions that make it look like "everything will be different" post-Secret Wars (this is the usual statement post-any event).  And maybe once announcements start coming about what does result (DC started making such announcements at a fairly rapid pace, so that fans knew what to expect post-Convergence before Convergence itself even began), I can quit worrying and maybe learn to embrace Secret Wars.

Or not.

What's clear at this point is that while DC chose to represent certain eras in its version of this event, Marvel is evoking acclaimed stories, and it has been releasing handy one-dollar reprints of first issues for these stories.  The Infinity Gauntlet edition is the only one so far that I actually took up on as an offering.

(I passed on Age of Apocalypse after some consideration; I've never read this event, but it always seemed pretty interesting, although recently I read an analysis of it that was not particularly flattering.  Also, I saw what's inside Armor Wars.  A lot of extremely dated art.  I passed quite eagerly on that one.)

Like Convergence, Secret Wars is featuring a bunch of spin-off mini-series.  The only one I'm interested in is Old Man Logan, to be written by Brian Michael Bendis.  It's inspired by a classic story arc from the mind of Mark Millar, which I greatly enjoyed in its original incarnation.  Does Bendis has something interesting to say?  Oh, "Old Man Logan" refers to Wolverine.  In-continuity Wolverine is still dead, by the way.  But his publishing schedule remains undaunted.

Anyway, I didn't really pick up the Infinity Gauntlet reprint because of Secret Wars specifically.  I picked it up because of Infinity Gauntlet itself.  This was Jim Starlin's opus, the culmination of his Thanos stories. You know, Thanos, as in the guy at the end of The Avengers who grins in the general direction of the audience when his lackey equates fighting the eponymous heroes with "courting death."  This is because Thanos obsessively courts Death, literally.  Everything he does is because he loves the silly gal.

And no, not the version in Neil Gaiman's Sandman.  (That might be easier to understand.  She's kinda cute.)  Starlin figured out a way to convert Thanos from a blatant ripoff of DC's Darkseid to a Shakespearean tragic figure, who has no idea how ridiculous his quest really is.  Death literally resurrects him to play into her hand, not because she loves him or respects his obsessive courtship (I mean, who would?).

Whenever Starlin focuses on Thanos, his storytelling is blameless.  It's when he focuses on anything but that the wheels wobble.  Sure, Silver Surfer and Dr. Strange are fine and all, but they're not Thanos, and the three don't amount to the inhabitants of every panel.  And other characters are not to par.

Basically, Infinity Gauntlet is absolutely worth your time.  Thanos is the standard by which all cosmic villains should be rated.  But finding a story that at any point deviates from his specific perspective is perhaps a challenge too great for even Jim Starlin.

Ah, which means, if Jonathan Hickman uses Thanos in Secret Wars, which certainly seems to be the implication, he ought to be careful indeed...But then, how likely is it that Secret Wars itself will be anything but a random series of "everything-changes-forever!" nonsense?  You know, in a way that Convergence isn't?

Yeah...

Mister X: Razed #3 (Dark Horse)

writer/artist: Dean Motter

Motter's eponymous and most famous creation continues the same story he's always ensconced in to lead this issue, trying once again to disentangle his beloved city from the strange architectural conspiracies that have been plaguing it.

As back-up, Menlo Park, the robotic P.I. from one of Motter's other playgrounds, introduced in Electropolis, concludes his latest mystery, and it's clever, a zombie-themed story that turns out to be more clever than that (any good zombie story isn't really about zombies at all, and the best ones don't even feature real zombies at all).

What Motter adds, almost as an afterthought, is a link between Park and Mister X's adventures.  At first they seem somewhat incompatible, however similar in structure, given that Menlo Park is distinctly an element of Dean Motter's prescious retrofuturism whereas Mister X is in many ways merely retro.  How the twain shall meet?  Motter doesn't really sweat it.  It's the girl observing Park's adventure that makes the link.  She even thinks she discovers Mister X's secret identity.

Would that be a first?  I've been trying to catch up with Motter's work for a decade.  I've still got more to read (and therefore I'm happy when I can catch new material first-run), so maybe it isn't a new wrinkle at all.  But it certainly helps keep things interesting.  Besides (without spoiling things in case you want to read Razed for yourself) Motter's idea about how to make your own zombies...

MIND MGMT #32 (Dark Horse)

writer/artist: Matt Kindt

Recently I discovered MIND MGMT and...went a little crazy trying to catch up.  This is the sort of thing that you read in letters columns all the time (when you find a comic book that has letters columns) but maybe haven't experienced yourself.  That was true for me, anyway, until recently.

So I binged.  Not the complete series, but a good chunk of it.  That makes this the first time I've read a lone issue, a new issue, one piece at a time.  However you want to describe it.

Which is to say, did I discover that I made a horrible, horrible mistake, gone temporarily insane (help me!), been brainwashed...or was this a good use of my time after all?

And also, as the cover states, this is part of the final arc of the series, too.

Okay, I'll end the suspense: Kindt's magic is still in effect.  Lead character Meru realizes at the end of the issue that until recently she "had nothing to lose."  And now she does.  She's made an investment, too, become inextricably tied up in the quest to unravel a chain of events that already ended in disaster once (the odd plane incident that began the series), or at least once.  She fell in love.  Reading an issue with an ending like that is what they mean by "serendipity," folks.

It took me a few issues to realize that Kindt embeds additional layers of storytelling on the margins of most pages.  He also includes bonus material that would be unavailable should I attempt to read MIND MGMT in its collected form.  I would love to watch Salvador Dali's Triple Indemnity, by the way.

Four issues left to go...

Divinity #3 (Valiant)

writer: Matt Kindt

artist: Trevor Hairsine

I admit, I decided I was interested in Divinity because I found myself obsessed with Matt Kindt's Mind MGMT.  I wanted to see some of his other work.

This was a very, very good decision on my part.  Divinity is phenomenal.  And it's getting better.

This is a Valiant mini-series.  Valiant is home to a bunch of wandering heroes sometimes published by a company named Valiant and sometimes not.  These heroes apparently also form a team called Unity these days, and they showed up in Divinity last issue, but begin to become relevant to how the story work this issue.

The story belongs, however, to erstwhile Russian cosmonaut Abram Adams, who encountered something truly out of this world, and came back...changed.  He's discovering along with everyone else exactly what that means.  Part of what happened to him was because he defied his superiors and left someone behind.  Forming personal relationships was supposed to be forbidden, but it gave Abram a tether.  Stories like this are always good.  It provides an opportunity for emotional investment to creep in, no matter what else may be going on.

Kindt has also taken the opportunity to borrow a page from Grant Morrison's playbook.  Notice in the panels I've included for your convenience Abram breaking the fourth wall.  He realizes his life exists in the pages of a comic book.  He can exist on whatever page he wants (this would have been handy for Morrison to do in The Multiversity: Ultra Comics).

This is to say, again, that Divinity was intriguing to start out, on any number of levels, but that Kindt is making it better and better all the time.  It's a tremendous selling point for Valiant's whole line, a reason for otherwise apathetic readers to care.  This is what event books should do, but rarely are they approached by their writers with such deftness.

Convergence: The Green Lantern Corps #1 (DC)

writer: David Gallaher

artist: Steve Ellis

David Gallaher apparently comes from DC's short-lived Zuda experiment.  It's good the company finally remembered discovering him, because he proves a deft hand in this effort.  He and frequent collaborator Steve Ellis, actually.

Otherwise, the story is all about Guy Gardner (aren't they all?).  I'm convinced that the average comic book fan still doesn't know or even care that there is and have long been more than one claimant to the superhero persona "Green Lantern."  Guy's journey was a particularly complicated one.  Fans who know anything substantial about Green Lantern know Guy less for being a Green Lantern than for his brash attitude, "One punch!," and subsequent re-absorption into the mythos following Green Lantern: Rebirth, where it took his turn in Red Lanterns to stand out again (Charles Soule and Landry Q. Walker took the character to new heights, by the way, thanks to this latest turn).

Back in the day, Guy was the most luckless of Green Lanterns.  Hal Jordan, the Silver Age original, was the original emerald jerk, and Guy the replacement unlucky enough to have spent most of his in-continuity time in a coma while John Stewart had his angst-ridden turn with the ring.  This Convergence spin-off picks up with the Guy who was awakened by the Guardians to try and set things right.  Except being a Green Lantern has never been a guarantee of such things (another unique quality to the franchise).

Guy, and John and Hal, end up trapped under the dome, like everyone else in this event.  Except he's got a huge chip on his shoulder.  Not the ego he'd become known for.  More like a legitimate beef.  He realizes he's had a raw deal all this time, and uses his time trying to set things right.  The Hal he encounters is possibly the most enlightening version of that character, too, a man who became obsessed with using SETI to contact aliens (imagine if someone retroactively made Hal a UFO nut, huh?) to solve the dome dilemma.

Oh, and Guy brings attitude.  He's always good for that.  Gallager is another writer who takes full advantage of every storytelling opportunity Convergence affords.  Makes it a pleasure all over again to be a Green Lantern fan.  And now, perhaps, the uninitiated have another opportunity to find out what the rest of us already know.  There is more than one Green Lantern.  And this makes things very, very interesting...

Convergence: The Flash #1 (DC)

writer: Dan Abnett

artist: Federico Dallacchio

Listen, so I was a huge fan of Mark Waid's Flash.  For that reason, I became interested in the character in a more general sense.  Eventually this led me to "The Trial of the Flash," a years-long arc that wrapped up Barry Allen's stories prior to his death in Crisis On Infinite Earths.  I obsessed over reading the complete arc for years, and then DC collected most of it in a giant black and white omnibus.

And you know what?  It's...not easy reading for someone who grew up with comics written from a more...literary perspective, the impact of the British Invasion that was just getting underway when Barry seemed to have left comics behind forever.

So it's great to see Barry Allen's adventures from that time in a style I can more easily appreciate.  Because that's exactly what this is.  And it's another of the many excellent things to appreciate about Convergence.

It also doesn't hurt to have Dan Abnett at the helm.  Abnett typically works in tandem with Andy Lanning, but I discovered the pleasures of a solo Abnett through his excellent Conspiracy mini-series for Marvel, and ever since have been hoping to see it again.  I am not at all disappointed with the results.

(Also, the included image is a wickedly delightful meta commentary on the whole Convergence event.)

Convergence: The Adventures of Superman #1 (DC)

writer: Marv Wolfman

artist: Roberto Viacava

Well, this one is one of the best excuses to have done Convergence at all: giving Marv Wolfman an excuse to revisit Crisis On Infinite Earths.  Years later Wolfman also wrote the novelization of his most seminal work, so this continues a welcome tradition.  Here it's an even less likely, ah, convergence.  A different era's Supergirl was one of the famous deaths in Crisis.  Today that Supergirl might as well have not have existed at all except historically, because there have been so many other versions that she has been completely lost in the shuffle.

Wolfman cleverly plays on that, too.  He's got a blank slate to work with, and so not only takes the opportunity to play with her acknowledged fate in Crisis but demonstrating how much fun the character could be.  This is probably the only innocent version of Supergirl available, which is extremely odd to even consider.  Subsequent versions were all dark in one way or another, including the New 52 one, who eventually signed up as a Red Lantern, with all the rage therein implied.  Crisis Supergirl is much more in-line with, say G. Willow Wilson's Ms. Marvel, or even the popular reboot of the New 52 Batgirl.  This is a Supergirl who has a direct relationship with Superman.  Yeah, this hasn't happened since Crisis.  And yeah, that's weird to think about, and even weirder to realize that it took this to realize that.

And even weirder that Lucius Fox, a supporting player I know from other iterations (much like Supergirl herself) comes off in the early pages like Fringe's Walter Bishop.  Which is awesome.  Coming off his most famous version (Batman Begins et al's weapons developer), this is either like finding out what he once was, or could become all over again.  Either way, pretty awesome.

The Crisis era Convergence spin-offs probably have the best chance of helping fans discover, or rediscover, potential like this.  And Wolfman's Adventures of Superman seized this wonderful opportunity.

Convergence #3 (DC)

writer: Jeff King

artist: Stephen Segovia

The third issue of Convergence isn't as sharp as the second, but it still shows the inherent strengths of allowing a clear new voice into DC's most hallowed grounds.

The included page introduces the old stomping ground of Skartaris into the narrative.  "Old stomping ground" is a phrase here that means a relatively obscure location from Warlord, the main character from which does not appear in this issue, but who is referenced at the bottom of the page in such a way that totally redefines him in much the way Convergence itself, in full Crisis tradition, hopes to redefine DC for a new generation.

Which is to say, yes, Convergence is meant to reassure older fans that everything they loved still exists, but it's also a wonderful opportunity to use that familiar in exciting new ways.  Much as DC has done pretty much throughout its whole history.

Jeff King has a remarkable way of going about it.  The issue includes [SPOILER ALERT] the death of the Thomas Wayne Batman from Earth 2, in a sequence that includes many famous villains from Grant Morrison's "Batman R.I.P.," including of course Dr. Hurt.  It's a scene that works well for those familiar with these faces, but it also leaves Thomas Wayne's reluctant traveling companion, to that point, on his own.  The companion's name?  Dick Grayson.

I mentioned in my review of the previous issue that Dick is an excellent choice for a number of reasons to focus Convergence around.  This particular incarnation also evokes without anyone needing to point it out the star of Grayson, the familiar erstwhile Boy Wonder who is also walking around without a superhero costume these days.  Dick Grayson is best known as Robin and/or Nightwing, but the Dick in Convergence comes from Earth 2, where he was never either one, much as the Dick in Grayson is what resulted from his experiences during Forever Evil, in which he was forced to leave the costumed life behind.

An, ah, convergence...

So yeah, conceptually at least King is absolutely pulling this off.  Probably most readers are still thinking of this as a gimmicky story where heroes are nonsensically pitted against each other.  But it's quickly becoming much more than that.  I for one can't wait to see where King goes with all this.

Avengers: Millennium #4 (Marvel)

writer: Mike Costa

artist: Carmine Di Giandomenico

The conclusion of Mike Costa's four issue weekly is a worthy ending to a project that at times seemed like it was spinning its wheels.

Costa's trademark is springing a well-devised trap, and that's exactly what this story promised and what it delivered.  Getting there was a little more complicated.  Working with any set of characters other than the good and bad guys of G.I. Joe over at IDW has for one reason or another proven to be something of a problem for Costa.  With Millennium he tended to swing radically from manic dialogue to the kind of character work he does best.  In an effort to be mainstream, he lost sight of his writerly instincts.

It's not a bad thing to be goofy.  At times it seems to be a mandate in comics, whether working with superheroes or otherwise (Chew is kind of what you get if you try to be goofy and clever all the time; personally I found Chew to be exhausting after a while; however, this is a formula that Atomic Robo has routinely made work extremely well).  So it's not surprising to see Costa attempt it, because the Avengers have been that kind of franchise since Brian Michael Bendis and/or Robert Downey, Jr. took control of its voice.

Fortunately that's not all Costa did with his story.  The thing is, however, that four issues ended up seeming like he needed to rush the ending, having characters explain what needed to happen rather than let it play out.  This may be a problem of trying to have too many lead protagonists.  This is always a gamble of superhero teams.  In his G.I. Joe stories, Costa normally has one lead per story and a bunch of supporting players (and all of them have motives that are clearly established; that's what makes them so great).  Likely he was given permission or didn't feel comfortable doing this with the Avengers.  But he should have.  He should also have, as I've previously pointed out, featured more than a generic Hydra agent as the bad guy.  Hydra was the basis for Cobra.  Costa knows Cobra.  He could be the guy to make Hydra as interesting as Cobra became.  If he was at all interested in doing so, this particular opportunity got away from him.

But this is still a step up from other non-Joe projects I've seen from him.  Hopefully Marvel took notice and will entrust him with bigger projects.  He uses Hawkeye pretty well in this finale; maybe Costa can write Hawkeye at some point.  Already there's Clint Barton and Kate Bishop and their complicated relationship, which is something right up Costa's Joe-honed instincts.

(Seriously, make this happen, Marvel.)

And no, it doesn't matter that the big threat Hydra set up was so easy to defeat, because this was a story about the Avengers out-thinking rather than outfighting their enemies, which should definitely happen every now and then.  Plus, dinosaurs are awesome no matter how they're used.

(I'm looking at you, Atomic Robo enemy Dr. Dinosaur!)

Monday, April 20, 2015

Digitally Speaking...48

Digitally Speaking...covers comics I've read from my comiXology account...

CBLDF Defender #1 (Creator Owned)
From April 2015.

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund takes comics seriously, as in they champion creator rights, and the right for readers to have access to comic book material.  It's basically the comic book version of the inexplicable banned book phenomenon.  Banned books, as in the concept of allowing ninnies to censor what you're allowed to access.  Mostly this takes place at schools and libraries, which means the very institutions intended for society to build itself up are in fact breeding ground for people to tear each other's potential down.  This strikes me as wrong.  This debut issue of a journal detailing CBLDF's activities and relevant discussions such as Neil Gaiman's experiences (via an interview) and the Charlie Hebdo controversy (in which one culture violently attempts to tell another what is acceptable, and the other responds with cartoon drawings) is pretty dry.  Usually the Defense Fund enlists industry veterans to make actual comic book material out of the discussion first begun with Seduction of the Innocent (also covered in the issue, by the way), but for whatever reason chose not to do so here.  Insightful material, but could use more innovative analysis.  Personally, using more examples of challenged material would be more interesting.  An excerpt from Persepolis is almost completely unreadable in even the greatest enlargement, which only enhances the size of the pixels.  Alas, comiXology's Guided View is useless in this instance.

Daredevil: The Man Without Fear #1 (Marvel)
From 1993.

This issue begins Frank Miller's origin of Daredevil alongside artist John Romita, Jr.  This was years after Miller's famous work on the character, and it shows, how well he knows Matt Murdock, calling back to mind things Miller had done previously.  By the end of the issue, Matt's father has refused to throw a fight (this is depicted in the movie released a decade later) and been murdered for it, following Matt's blinding and subsequent training under Stick, although his interest in the law and even nickname "Daredevil" is presented as predating all of this.  Romita has a distinctive style that is already in full evidence, pretty much exactly as seen in his current Superman work.  Perhaps tellingly, it looks much like Tim Sale's work.  And hey! speaking of which...

Daredevil: Yellow #1 (Marvel)
From 2001.

After years of telling Batman stories together, Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale went over to Marvel and started a series of character sketches there, too.  Their Daredevil read a lot like Frank Miller's, and looked like it, too.  Probably not a coincidence.  Miller's work paved the way for Loeb, who always seemed to have an instinct for superhero psychology and an intuitive grasp of their personal narratives.  Later he'd bring this to his greatest success, Superman/Batman, which began life as a series of dueling monologues straight out of the work he'd done in Batman: The Long Halloween and Daredevil: Yellow, among others.  Yellow is another origin story, and the first issue covers the same fateful sequence concerning Matt's father as detailed above.  Yet repetition, as always, creates resonance, especially when covered by expert hands.  One master to another...

The Defense Fund could find a lot of illustrations in Matt Murdock's story.  Miller depicts the formative days of the boy who would become Daredevil as full of delinquency and fallen heroes.  Yet this only serves to create the man who would become a hero best known for never giving up.  Surely a message worth spreading?  Comic book fans, especially superhero fans of the Marvel persuasion, are always arguing that this is a medium that celebrates triumph over adversity.  Isn't that the CBLDF mission statement?

Django/Zorro #5 (Dynamite)
From 2015.

Django/Zorro, and Grant Morrison's Annihilator, became the first time I read a comic book first-run digitally.  I haven't made that clear until now.  My local comics shop is supposed to have the series (both of them, actually) pulled for me, but then, the guys who run this store are always screwing up.  So I didn't even realize I hadn't read this particular issue yet until I checked in on my comiXology account.  I don't always have time to read the material there, which is why my alphabetical journey through it has taken such a long time.  As it turns out, this is the issue of Django/Zorro I've been waiting for all along, the moment the Quentin Tarantino in the story really pops.  Not just because the late Dr. King Schultz makes a cameo, or that Don Diego de la Vega (a.k.a. Zorro) pulls off the same trick Schultz does in Django Unchained concerning revealing the identity of someone he has a bounty on, or that gunfire irrupts abruptly.  Okay, maybe a combination of all these is enough.  It's the first time Matt Wagner seems interested in more than a superficial juxtaposition.  Here he's making a clear effort to evoke not just the spirit of Tarantino's movie but its feel as well.  And this is a good thing.

(I've also added Descender to my subscriptions.  Where will I strike next???)

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Ms. Marvel #14 (Marvel)

writer: G. Willow Wilson

artist: Takeshi Miyazawa

In this second of three chapters of the "Crushed" arc...I find myself asking all over again, am I over my fascination with Ms. Marvel?

This is the second time now that G. Willow Wilson has come up with an unsatisyingly generic twist to an intriguing story.  The first was with the Collector, the villain who dominated the first year of the series.

The problem is the same: Wilson is apparently bold enough to challenge the status quo but too shy to have Kamala Khan openly rebel.  Maybe I'm asking too much.

"Crushed" started out promisingly.  Kamala unexpectedly meets a Muslim boy who is her perfect match.  But it turns out to be one of those "too good to be true" developments.  Which is exactly like Wilson's tepid conclusion to the Collector dilemma involving today's youth and their overall worth in society. Just as things were becoming interesting on an intellectual level, everyone just starts throwing punches.  I realize this is superhero comics.  I've read plenty of superhero comics.  I know how this goes.  But I've also read Wilson's Air.  I know she's capable of going deep.

Maybe she's compromising for the sake of keeping it mainstream?  Or maybe she truly believes she's pulling it off.  Maybe other readers are perfectly fine with all of this.  But I expect better.

And if it continues like this, I'm done with Ms. Marvel.

G.I. Joe: Snake Eyes, Agent of Cobra #4 (IDW)

writer: Mike Costa

artist: Paolo Vinanelli

We're getting to the point where Mike Costa's really going to trick the uninitiated to love his comics, because finally Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow will clash.

And it's because of Ronin.  The funny thing is, she's been in this position before, the exact position Costa leaves her in by the end of this issue.  So I'm not worried about her.  I mean, I should be, because Costa been evil like that before.  But he wouldn't do it again.  Would he?

Even if that's how he chooses to go, Costa has once again deepened his overall Cobra experience by continuing to spotlight characters he's been writing for years across a variety of titles but all basically the same continuing story.  In this instance it's also a direct continuation of last issue, which featured Billy, the son of the late Cobra Commander, whom Ronin has been watching since some prior point in this complex tapestry.  So this issue is all about Ronin's perspective.  This is the first time Costa has allowed Ronin to be the hero of the story rather than merely a supporting player.  All with all his characters, Costa has previously explained her poignant origins, but that's not what's important here.  The more time she's spent with Billy the more important he's become to her.  This is what Costa does, folks.  He twists the knife.

Again, hopefully not literally...

Django/Zorro #6 (Dynamite)

writer: Matt Wagner

artist: Esteve Polls

I've been waiting six issues now for a true Quentin Tarantino moment.  There's one more issue to go.  Should I expect one then?  And will that be what signifies this as a satisfying experience?

These are the important questions concerning Django/Zorro.  As I've remarked previously, this is otherwise an extension of Matt Wagner's prior Zorro comics, which is not at all a bad thing.  But it's also a "sequel" to Tarantino's Django Unchained, and as such there are certain expectations.  Such as, if Tarantino's Django is to return at all, should it be in a story that has a true Tarantino ring about it?  Wagner has gone out of his way to echo Django Unchained itself, but is that enough?  Furthermore, Django has found himself in a situation where he has found another group of people being exploited as abused.  Is that enough?  Is that the true legacy of the character, being an avenger in much the way as, well, Zorro?

I leave this review filled with questions.  The answers may or may not be found in the final issue...

Convergence: Superboy #1 (DC)

writer: Fabian Nicieza

artist: Karl Moline

For me, it will always be tough to beat DC in the '90s as the best era in superhero comics, and to further categorize me I admit Superboy as one of the defining elements from that time.  Exactly the Superboy depicted in Convergence: Superboy.

I mean, the recap at the back of the issue even references Knockout.  And Sidearm!!!

And it's good to see Dubbilex, the so-called DNAlien assigned to Superboy by the scientists of Cadmus (just like in the pages of Convergence: Green Lantern/Parallax, the later Geoff Johns elements are overlooked, so you won't find any reference to Lex Luthor here).  Granted, he doesn't look as good in the issue as when he was depicted by Tom Grummett, but you can't have everything.  Although the inclusion of Serling Roquette is a nod to the later Karl Kesel/Grummett era that is otherwise not technically represented.

Superboy's costume is usually referred to as one of the most comically-dated elements of any superhero from that time, but I don't know, I always liked it, and I was sad when it went away.  The New 52 Superboy gets a nod-of-sorts in the opening pages, too, although so too does Superboy's Jack Kirby connection.

Otherwise this is a story featuring Superboy in all his brashness and need to justify himself, a version of the character that hasn't existed since the end of "Reign of the Supermen," when he learned how to be humble at the expense of a close brush with death.  So this is a particular snapshot of an era that was technically never truly given a chance to shine, the character as originally conceived but almost instantly replaced with a horndog who obsessed over Supergirl and then later Tana Moon, Knockout, and having a good time with the Ravers (*sign* I will always wish Superboy and the Ravers could receive half the love from other readers that I heap on it).

And it's written by Fabian Nicieza, whom I last enjoyed in the pages of Robin, and was sufficiently far enough in the past that until now he was yet another favorite creator had nonetheless not been featured at Comics Reader.  So it's good to finally include his work.

Convergence: Green Lantern/Parallax #1 (DC)

writer: Tony Bedard

artist: Ron Wagner

The thing about Convergence is that it could drive you crazy trying to reconcile when, exactly, these snatches of DC history would have been gobbled up by Brainiac and/or Telos.  Green Lantern/Parallax, for instance, freeze-dries history apparently in the middle of Zero Hour, and obviously no such thing actually happened in Zero Hour.  Maybe Convergence itself will explain, and maybe that doesn't really matter. There are other things to care about.

One of which is certainly to have the ability to revisit favorite eras.  Hopefully new fans can use these stories to discover older stories, too, but there's a certain nostalgia built into Convergence.

One of the things to keep in mind about Green Lantern/Parallax is that it doesn't involve the later developments from Geoff Johns.  This is the Parallax you will remember from "Emerald Twilight," Zero Hour, and other stories prior to Green Lantern: Rebirth.  There's a remorseful Hal Jordan involved, but that's because he's spent a year completely powerless just after the point where he punches Superman upon the big reveal in Zero Hour, the moment depicted in the included panel.  The Kyle Rayner present, meanwhile, is taken from just after the infamous murder of his girlfriend Alex (I won't get into the controversy here, but the one thing you will always have to grant DC is that it's never let the girl be forgotten; at this point she's about as crucial as Gwen Stacy to Kyle's narrative).

Hal is remorseful up to the point when the domes are lifted and powers are reactivated.  Then he turns right back into Parallax and is right back in full Parallax mode.  The interesting thing Tony Bedard does is depict Hal in a remorseful mode at all.  He's suggesting that the guy (not Guy) was redeemable all along, with or without changing the nature of Parallax.

There's a fair bit of manipulating the classic story involved.  At one point Kyle suggests that Batman doesn't hold Hal's actions against him.  This is not the case in other stories like Day of Judgment and Green Lantern: Rebirth, for instance.  Batman does hold a grudge.  (Uh, would he be Batman otherwise?)  Kyle even has Hal killing off the entire Green Lantern Corps, although Hal at first limits his greatest atrocity to genocide of Oa.

It's funny to me that it's possible for anyone familiar with comics at all who don't identity Hal Jordan as Green Lantern.  It's much more likely that they "know" comics from other media, the way the kids were at the time of Tim Burton's Batman who subsequently had no idea who Robin was.  No, Hal is synonymous with Green Lantern.  But he's also synonymous with Parallax.  And seeing that made clear again is one of the great pleasures of Convergence.

Convergence #2 (DC)

writer: Jeff King

artist: Carlo Pagulayan

Oh, this is becoming quite good.  And as the first issue to be written solo by Jeff King, it speaks to King's ability to write a good comic book, too, and that's very good to see.

The one thing that seemed to garner universal praise for Flashpoint was when Batman, who was in the altered reality Thomas Wayne, gave the Flash a note to give to the Batman from the reset reality, which is to say Bruce Wayne.  As we all should know, Thomas Wayne is Bruce Wayne's father.  In the Flashpoint altered reality, Bruce is the one who died in Crime Alley, whereas it is much more common for it to have been Thomas.  Which is to say, having either aware of the other's existence creates instant poignancy.

King doesn't go for poignancy when he has Thomas and Bruce meet.  He deliberately avoids the exchange between them.  But the impact is still there.  It's there when Dick Grayson of one reality realizes the wife he has lost in his own is still alive in another.  This is common alternate reality material, but it's the first time a mainstream alternate reality story in DC, famously home to many alternate realities, has sanctioned such a possibility.  Thomas Wayne as Batman is walking around in Convergence, too, but the one from Earth 2, not Flashpoint.  That's where Dick Grayson comes from, and he's the lead character in the issue.  Without King having to point it out, there will be plenty of fans who find this to be ironic, because ever since Infinite Crisis this is a character who has been walking around on borrowed time.  DC had toyed with the idea of killing him off.  This was the subtext of his fate in Forever Evil.  And now in Convergence there's at least one issue where Dick is directly aware of the transience of fate.

King masterfully navigates such storytelling, with the kind of finesse not seen in a big event comic book since Identity Crisis.  If Convergence never receives a similar reputation, it will be because Convergence is far more linked to the more outlandish things comic books can do.  But the quality, certainly in this issue as we follow Dick Grayson and two Waynes, is the same.  In some ways, by allowing the reader inside the veil, which is what makes narrative captioning so powerful, perhaps even better.  On the page depicted in this review, it speaks for itself.

Avengers: Millennium #3 (Marvel)

writer: Mike Costa

artist: Carmine Giandomenico

This issue features Mike Costa settling in to his story.  Sure, there's more Spider-Man nonsense, but once it becomes apparent that even though Hydra seems to have everything figured out, the Avengers are still going to come out on top, and in a thoroughly Mike Costa way.

The image demonstrates how Costa is approaching Hydra in his familiar way, too.  The difference between his approach here, however, and how he would have done it in one of his G.I. Joe/Cobra comics is that Hydra is represented anonymously, whereas there are many famous figures to use or even create over at IDW.  Costa has learned that he doesn't need to do things the same way in order to get comparable results.  This is a considerable step forward from his Blackhawks experience.

He likes to make logical puzzles out of his stories, too, a key element of his IDW work, and certainly something Millennium at least suggested early on but is only now getting to actually demonstrate.  This is definitely true of how the issue ends, a moment that proves the story is going to show exactly how the good guys pull it off, which is the most insidious aspect of how Costa always presented Cobra, how he's done Hydra here, and even why the good guys were always worth rooting for in the midst of all that Cobra posturing, because the best laid plans can still be defeated.

So I'm pretty happy at this point.  I just wish he would ignore the impulse, whether by his own instincts or encouraged by Marvel, to present wacky nonsense alongside the rest of it.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Wasteland #60 (Oni)

writer: Antony Johnston

artist: Christopher Mitten

I want to go on record, once again, for how much I loved how Lost concluded.  I thought it was a brilliant experience all the way through.  And two of the most brilliant things it did came in the final season, specifically two episodes: 1) "Ab Aeterno," which detailed the previously mysterious Richard Alpert's complete backstory, and 2) "Across the Sea," which similarly explored Jacob and the Man in Black.

The only thing that would have been better is if one or both of them had been held until after the finale.

Because that's exactly what Antony Johnston chose to do with Wasteland, explaining once and for all what exactly was going on all along.  Technically, the story ended last issue, and that one was circular, too, but in a different way.  This one's strictly explaining, once and for all, how Michael first came to take up his quest for the mysterious A-Ree-Yass-I, and how his dark counterpart Marcus established the fateful town of Newbegin.

Like the Lost episodes, it features time-lapse so as to better cover a large chunk of Wasteland history.  The series always had a strong generational theme to it, and so watching that play out again is one of the issue's pleasures.

And yeah, now with all this added perspective, for the first time I can probably suggest Wasteland to fans of Lost.  I'd never realized that before.

Writer Antony Johnston includes a heartfelt essay about what it was like to finish his grand story.  Omitted is any mention of what he's working on now, but there's more bad news for Johnston fans in that he's recently put Umbral on hold.  Umbral is his second project with Christopher Mitten, Johnston's first and last collaborator on Wasteland, that in many ways was a more playful version of their first.  From what he says in his essay here, it's easy to imagine that it's not easy being Johnston at the moment.

For readers like me, who have remained faithful for sixty issues, despite breaks in publication and rotating artists (when at the very least it would have been preferable for Mitten to have stuck around the whole time; Saga has built in breaks in its publication so that Fiona Staples can faithfully continue with each issue, but sometimes times change too slowly, although even that is a part of Wasteland mythology), it's great to see the end at last, so that we can commence enjoying the whole thing, over and over again, at our leisure.  And continue praising its merits for the vast legions of the uninitiated.

Because this one's a classic.

Miles Morales: The Ultimate Spider-Man #12 (Marvel)

writer: Brian Michael Bendis

artist: David Marquez

I feel kind of snookered, and I really should have known better.  This was billed as "the epic conclusion," which I took to mean, Brian Michael Bendis's last ever issue of Ultimate Spider-Man after fifteen years, three series, over two hundred issues, and two different heroes under the mask.  The second being the eponymous Miles Morales from this iteration.

You know, every time a creator comes up with an alternate character to hold a famous superhero name, there are fans who think that replacement will stick around forever.  And sometimes they do, but we all know they will never actually replace the icon.  (And it does need to be an icon.  The Golden Age Flash and Green Lantern don't count.  Or any other example off the top of your head.)

And because as often as not it's a minority who gets the honors, there are fans who are desperate for that alternate to become a permanent replacement, or be the animated and/or live action Hollywood equivalent of said famous superhero.  There's nothing wrong with that, but there's probably a lot of disappointment involved, as when it was recently announced that the new big screen Spider-Man...will once again be Peter Parker.

Which means, not Miles Morales.  Or Miguel O'Hara, or even "Spider-Gwen," the latest inexplicable Marvel sensation.  Or anyone else you might be thinking of off the top of your head.  The thing is, the icons are icons for a reason.  Theirs was the story that set the ball in motion, and usually there's a much better story involved that way.

You really have Bendis to blame for this one.  After helping inspire the Samuel L. Jackson version of Nick Fury (via some of the most curiously circular logic in pop culture history), the Ultimate line pretty much became completely pointless.  A "more realistic" version of Marvel, it quickly disposed of icons left and right, starting with Wolverine.  Superheroes don't come back from the dead in the Ultimate line.  Which is why when Peter Parker was also killed off, he was simply replaced.  And whatever else Miles Morales is, he has always been a random replacement who merely allowed Bendis to continue writing Ultimate Spider-Man, which at times has seemed like it might after all be his lasting legacy.  So you can see why he's reluctant to move on.

And is he moving on?  Your guess is as good as mine.  This issue is not a goodbye at all.  That may be one considerable suggestion right there.  Bendis would not abandon something like this so flippantly.  The biggest development is Miles randomly exhibiting a new power, which might as well read like the Marvel version of Superman's recent debut of a new power.  It's basically the same.  It would not be below Marvel to steal something so blatantly like that.

I mean, this whole series is ending because Marvel is "closing shop" again in preparation for Secret Wars, which promises another Marvel "reboot" (Marvel has never yet done an actual reboot, just a window dressing alteration or two that freshens the landscape a bit).

(Marvel has made a wicked habit of ending series left and right, the way the Ultimate line killed characters left and right.  Always to get that fan-friendly "first issue.")

The thing that is ending, and I will qualify this statement - apparently ending, is the Ultimate line.  When Kitty Pryde pops up and announces the team with her as the Ultimates, which was this reality's version of the Avengers (until, and massive geek headache ahead, a team showed up literally calling itself the Avengers), and it has no more impressive membership than Kitty herself and the team of Cloak and Dagger (kudos if you have any idea who Cloak and Dagger are, Ultimate versions or otherwise), you know something has already ended.

To complicate matters further, the letters column went out of its way to solicit comments from creators and fans just as if this really were an ending.  Nothing from Bendis himself, mind you.  So chances are, Bendis fully intends to continue.  I just have no idea what else he has left to say, except...

Yeah, I have no idea.

Saga #27 (Image)

writer: Brian K. Vaughan

artist: Fiona Staples

So yeah, Saga is basically a soap opera, which if you take the term "space opera" in full soap opera context, is exactly what you might have always expected a space opera to be like.

Which is to say, the story is still hinging on whether or not Marko has a chance of getting back together with Alana.  At the moment it looks pretty grim.  He was thrown out after he, uh, threw groceries at her (it's slightly more complicated than that, but she's basically treating it as spousal abuse; she doesn't trust him, he doesn't trust her, and oh wait! a psycho robot janitor kidnapped their baby girl!), and this issue sees him actually have a bad drug experience (which was kind of the whole reason he, uh, threw groceries at her), which reminds him of all the bad things he's done (worse than throwing groceries).  He emerges with a clear sense of what he has to do next.  Whether that ends up making sense remains to be seen.

This is a space opera filled with great characters, by the way.  That's kind of the real appeal of Saga, that it's the most clearheaded science fiction creation since Star Trek and Star Wars, fairly straightforward yet filled with moving parts.  Fortunately, they'll all very distinctive.  The two in the image I've included for this issue are: 1) the shorter one, Ghus, a deceptively cuddly-looking fellow who is more than willing to help 2) Prince Robot IV draw some blood.  Prince Robot is by definition awesome.  His Robot Kingdom features a population with television monitors for heads.  Pure awesomeness.

Saga is filled with moments like that.

Red Lanterns #40 (DC)

writer: Landry Q. Walker

artist: J. Calafiore

At times in this final issue, Landry Walker seems to be taking some serious digs at his predecessor, Charles Soule.  Pretty bold, Mr. Walker.

The funny thing is, he still comes to the same conclusion.  The only way to extricate Guy Gardner from being a Red Lantern is with hope.  In Red Lanterns: Futures End, Soule envisioned Guy as becoming a Blue Lantern.  Walker has Guy spend this issue talking with his sister, who thinks Guy's attitude about what Atrocitus tried to do to Earth, and Guy's belief that he alone can or needs to make things right, is complete nonsense.  She calls him on it numerous times.

Like I said, Walker suggesting perhaps in a very subtle way that, at the very least, some of the ways Green Lantern comics in general have been written over the years might not be very, well, subtle.

He also spends pages on end allowing J. Calafiore to draw big blazing images of angry, angry Guy trying very hard to make things right, stooped in anguish the likes of which, well, only Atrocitus had previously exhibited, early in the series when everyone wondered what the whole point of a Red Lanterns comic could possibly be.  Why wonder about the torment of monsters?  Walker's concluding thought is that rage isn't the be-all some people can make it out to be.

Which, again, is him basically refuting the whole concept.  I don't know whether to congratulate Walker or offer condolence.

Once again I have to say how much I admire Calafiore's remaining with the series, a point of continuity that's incredibly rare when another creator has suddenly departed.  It's more common for both headlining acts to vacate the premises, and for the new artist to fail miserably in helping smooth the transition.  Walker gets away with as much as he does in part because Calafiore creates the illusion of continuity.  If you didn't know someone else was writing, you wouldn't notice.  This is a testament to the writer, the artist, and probably the editor, too.

The New 52: Futures End #48 (DC)

writers: Brian Azzarello, Jeff Lemire, Dan Jurgens, Keith Giffen

artists: many, many artists

And how does The New 52: Futures End, well, end?  Apparently with Batman Beyond realizing, as the panel suggests, that he failed.

Yeah.  Never quite see that coming, do you?  But there were surely surprises along the way, and really, I think the whole point of Futures End was making Batman Beyond officially part of DC canon, giving him a whole event and everything.  And as it turns out, replacing the original one with Tim Drake.

This wouldn't be the first time a weekly series has swapped one secret identity for another, even.  Countdown to Final Crisis did that for Red Robin, a persona that debuted in Kingdom Come and originally featured Dick Grayson under the cowl.  But as with the Boy Wonder version of Robin, Jason Todd succeeded him.  And later, even Tim Drake.  Drake has, in fact, been Red Robin throughout the New 52, though with a redesigned look and relegated mostly to Teen Titans comics except for appearances in various Batman crossovers.

Drake is the Robin who most selflessly supports the Batman legacy, so it's fitting that he finally gets a chance to be Batman, in one form or another.  Unless there's another swerve, he's going to be the star of the upcoming Batman Beyond ongoing, which will also mean his first solo series in the New 52 era.  He was famously the star of the first-ever Robin ongoing, not to mention the popular series of limited adventures that preceded it.

Second lead, at least as represented in this issue, for Futures End turned out to be Mr. Terrific, a character among several who was given a second chance in the weekly after having proven a bust at the start of the New 52 in his own series.  He also appeared in Earth 2: World's End, although he was probably more crucial here, as one of two people (the other being Bruce Wayne) responsible for the unintentional unleashing of Brother Eye, who has been a standby villain since Infinite Crisis, and at one point even the intended foe in a Justice League movie, him and all his associated OMAC drones.

I'm still more than okay with not having read Futures End all the way through.  It was launched under great fanfare as the most important of the three weeklies DC debuted last year, and had at least two writers with considerable critical pedigree behind them (Brian Azzarello and Jeff Lemire), supported by more traditional ones (Dan Jurgens and Keith Giffen).  In the end, I would assume that the veterans seemed to run more of the show.  I don't know.

The only thing I would really want to go back and read is Superman's arc from when he returned to how he eventually exited.  Given how much attention was given to whether or not the real Man of Steel was even going to be present, one might have expected him to be featured in this final issue.  At least, one might have expected that if they hadn't been reading faithfully.

As it turns out, the future that ended was Batman Beyond's.  But now there's a new one.

Nameless # 2 & 3 (Image)

writer: Grant Morrison

artist: Chris Burnham

The thing that Chris Burnham brings out in Grant Morrison (which I will not demonstrate with an image) is the ability to cut loose.

The Morrison who exists in most of the material from JLA onward is completely safe for mainstream audiences, but the Morrison from a lot of his previous material (and the later The Filth) is kind of anything but.

For instance, the last page in the third issue of Nameless features a mutilated male corpse.  Notably, the nude corpse is missing one very significant piece of its anatomy.  And in a more general sense, Nameless also features Morrison's well-known interest in black magic, exhibited through grotesque imagery.

Burnham did this kind of work, to a lesser degree, in Morrison's Batman Incorporated, too, so there was every reason to expect stuff like this in Nameless.  I mean, why else bring this particular artist into another project, right?  Morrison has plenty of other well-known collaborators.  You bring along the one most suitable to the project.

Otherwise, Nameless, as the family-friendly image I've included suggests, is more or less like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Prometheus, Armageddon, a space adventure with a team of astronauts looking to solve what is essentially a simple problem: go in, get out.  Except there are always complications.  Above and beyond the problems the main character literally known as Nameless represents for working colleagues who understand all the occult matters as much as the typical reader will, this is very much a story that slowly unfolds its mysteries.

I get what Morrison is doing here.  But I'm probably not, all considered, the target audience.  Hey, as much as I enjoy reading Grant Morrison, these things can happen.

The Multiversity: Ultra Comics

writer: Grant Morrison

artist: Doug Mahnke

Honestly, the only thing you need to know about this particular edition of The Multiversity is that Grant Morrison is addressing his well-know proclivity for breaking the fourth wall.  This is the full-on meta issue.

At one point, he has some social media comments embedded:

"Same Old, Same Old Pretentious SYMBOLISM."

"Yet ANOTHER comic-about-comics treatise retreading the SAME tired themes."

"How about a simple adventure story for once?"

As far as the last comment goes, certainly Thunderworld would fit that one, or even Mastermen (the Evil Superman version of Crisis On Infinite Earths), or even Society of Super-Heroes (so, about half of The Multiversity, really).  But because this is Grant Morrison; everyone expects this from him.

Structurally it tries to be clever but isn't really, and probably that's intentional, because Pax Americana was also intentionally clever (on several levels) and quite successfully so.

It's slightly disappointing, though, insofar as for the first handful of pages, Morrison succeeds in tricking the reader into having a more interactive relationship with the story than a typical comic will (read: any comic not written by Grant Morrison), remarking how characters think in the voice of the reader, or a correct estimation of when the reader is likely to prepare turning the page, or of course the matter of turning the page at all.  (These techniques are spread throughout the issue, but the heaviest concentration comes early.)

But then it just becomes a story.  I would have tried a little harder to make the whole experience cyclical, personally, given that the issue starts out with the main character reporting that he's actually come back from the end of the story.  How does that solve things?  Well, obviously, comics are a fairly easy medium to experience again, reaching the end of the issue and then starting over again.  Some can be read in a matter of minutes, and some readers will reread several times in one sitting.

Come to think of it, that's exactly what Grayson: Futures End did.  So that would've been nice to see here as well.  At least we have the art of Doug Mahnke to keep us company.

Maybe the whole point really is Morrison goosing readers.  The joke is that there really isn't a joke this time.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Mister X: Razed #2 (Dark Horse)

writer/artist: Dean Motter

Thanks in large part to Dark Horse's extraordinary commitment in recent years, Mister X is finally starting to get some recognition.  Yeah, it only took three decades...

But Dean Motter is approaching the character exactly the same as he always has: that same mysterious insomniac obsessed with navigating a city he helped create, one corrupt to the very core, having apparently been designed to wreak havoc on the psyche.

Motter's vision has turned out to be a criticism of the modern urban landscape.  At times he's focused on what we used to think the future would look like (what he calls retrofuturism), but in truth Motter has a distinctly pulp perspective, one he's shared with Frank Miller all along.

Where Miller has tended toward a more primal approach, Motter prefers an oblique one.  Where they distinctly merge is in storytelling like the page I included, which you can also find in Miller's Dark Knight Returns.  This is a portrait of the whole city.  Mister X is most often a bogeyman, how Tim Burton envisioned the Dark Knight in Batman, which was much more like Miller's vision than anything that had been seen in comics or television to that date.  Miller's creative vision is best-known from his Sin City comics and the resulting films co-directed by Robert Rodriguez, who's good friends with Quentin Tarantino, who of course made Pulp Fiction.  Motter's storytelling is kind of like what happens in a Tarantino film when there isn't blood involved.  Everyone's very self-absorbed, and they don't notice what's happening around them.  Which is exactly what Motter's villains are always counting on.  When they aren't pulling off a sensational act like making a building disappear.

But more on that next issue!

G.I. Joe: Snake Eyes, Agent of Cobra #3 (IDW)

writer: Mike Costa

artist: Paolo Villanelli

When The Cobra Files ended in 2013 it seemed like the last time Mike Costa would be involved in the further adventures of G.I. Joe.  Even someone like me, a hopelessly devoted fan, had forgotten that there were still loose ends to tie up.

This issue involves Billy, the late Cobra Commander's son.  Billy was a character previously featured in Larry Hama's comics, but Costa's stories are unrelated.  In this continuity, Cobra Commander was famously assassinated, and Billy is very much an innocent still trying to disentangle himself from the life his father led.

Whether or not he thinks Ronin is helping him do that might be open to interpretation, but that's what this issue's all about.  Ronin was another of Costa's signature characters in the older stories, and it's great seeing her again, too.  You might be wondering where Snake Eyes, the eponymous character, is in all of this, and to this I say: the dude is mute.  His story is bound to be told from someone else's perspective.  And because this is Mike Costa doing his Mike Costa best, there are a lot of moving parts around him.  Conveniently, continuing stories that really have nothing to do with Snake Eyes.

Although, who knows?  By the time he's done, Costa might have us thinking differently about Snake Eyes, too.  That tends to happen when Mike Costa's writing G.I. Joe...

Earth 2: World's End #26 (DC)

writer: Daniel H. Wilson, Marguerite Bennett, Mike Johnson, Cullen Bunn

artist: many, many artists

This finale to Earth 2: World's End, and in fact Earth 2 itself (to be relaunched as Earth 2: Society, and thereby finally making the Justice Society thing official) demonstrates in dramatic fashion what happens when Darkseid is successful in defeating humanity.

And I still don't get it, because anytime I've heard someone talk about this particular weekly it's been negative.  Maybe it's because I didn't read it weekly, and I stopped reading Earth 2 monthly a while back, and so my impressions would necessarily be different from someone who read along the whole way, I don't know.  But, and certainly in this last issue, I think World's End has been quite the example of weekly event book, arguably the best out of the three just concluded at DC (the others being, of course, Batman: Eternal and The New 52: Futures End).

Maybe it's been an issue about trying to keep all the characters straight, or wanting to see one or another have more of a focus.  Well, this one's all about Alan Scott, the character who made the earliest and most sensational impact in Earth 2 when it was revealed this version is gay.  And now he's also the most powerful superhero in this reality, having merged all the avatars into himself and once again redefined what it means to be Green Lantern (it perhaps needs reminding that he was in fact the original Green Lantern, too).

Earth 2 was always set in a reality where Darkseid won.  It was an alternate version of how the New 52 Justice League began.  And now that Darkseid is scheduled to at last return to Justice League, it's only fitting that he has at last finished what he started elsewhere.  Shouldn't there be at least one story where the ultimate villain really and truly wins?  Where else but in a comic book landscape where something like that can actually happen?

In the spotlight to a lesser degree is Earth 2's Flash, who like Alan Scott is a version of the original, although in Jay Garrick's case the link is much more tenuous.  For his part in the issue, Jay has to make the heartrending decision to abandon his mother at the end of the world.

There are a bunch of other characters who appear, but the ending closes out the story and offers a segue to Convergence.  Yes, this was the one that led directly to DC's big event.  So maybe, at some point, people will realize they should have been paying attention.  Or they'll stop by in the trades...

Descender #2 (Image)

writer: Jeff Lemire

artist: Dustin Nguyen

I think I mentioned this in my review of the first issue, but it bears repeating: Descender reminds me of A.I. Artificial Intelligence.  Less Haley Joel Osment, alas.  But Jeff Lemire has got a very good thing going.

A major element of this particular issue is a series of memories Tim (our boy robot) has concerning his early years, including being activated and then joining his human family.  But that's in the past.  In the present, a repressive government has declared war against technology, including a Blade Runner-esque campaign against robots like Tim.

Against even little boy robots?  Lemire and artist Dustin Nguyen have done an excellent job of portraying Tim's innocence, his yearning to be "a real boy."  Except this Pinocchio comes equipped with a deadly plasma bolt!  And he's not afraid to use it.

The memory element turns out to be tied into how the issue ends, a real cliffhanger moment that's a bit shocking to see come so early in the story (you can maybe more or less guess what that is at this point).  As if I wasn't going to be reading more of this comic anyway, but it'll certainly be interesting to see what happens next.

Convergence: Superman #1 (DC)

writer: Dan Jurgens

artist: Lee Weeks

Arguably the comic every '90s Superman fan wanted to read, the logical progression from the death to the wedding.  And baby makes three.  This is how Lois & Clark ended, too, that threshold that has never been crossed.  Until now.

And it only figures that Dan Jurgens is the writer.  Joining him is his collaborator from Superman: Futures End #1, Lee Weeks, and they make a great combination once again.  Weeks brings out the dramatic side of Jurgens in a way Jurgens himself hasn't been able to since Superman #75 (but really, who was ever going to be able to top that, much less match it?).

For me personally, Weeks is also the Stuart Immonen connection, since there's no artist Weeks compares to from that time other than Immonen, who has been at Marvel ever since someone decided he wasn't needed in Superman comics anymore.  (Still a terrible shame I hope to one day see corrected.  Never-ending battle, right?).  (It was great to hear he will soon be doing Star Wars, which is a project truly worth his talents.)

This issue also features the Flashpoint Superman, which was a hidden treasure of that event, a clever variation that saw Kal-El stuck in the Roswell position, kept hidden by the government.

The recap at the back of the issue runs through a list of events including: the wedding, the start of Grant Morrison's JLA, Electric Superman, Our Worlds At War, Infinite Crisis, and the Geoff Johns Brainiac story (appropriate for Convergence) plus the New Krypton arc.  I think fans might have been happy to see just the '90s era recapped.  Or at least this fan.  Those remain some of my favorite comics...

Convergence: Speed Force #1 (DC)

writer: Tony Bedard

artist: Tom Grummett

You have no idea how much I love reading those two sentences in a comic book.  "My name is Wally West.  I'm the fastest man alive."  For me, it's like "My name is Inigo Montoya.  You killed my father.  Prepare to die."

I geek out.  I totally geek out.

So it's great to see them in a comic again.  Context doesn't matter.  Not in the slightest bit.  But as context goes, of course this is Convergence, and the context of Speed Force is the later Mark Waid era, when Wally has his two kids, Iris and Jai. along for the ride, one big superhero family.  Waid had made a name for himself creating a speedster family, the real meaning of the whole Speed Force idea, but when he returned years later he lacked the same edge he'd exhibited so well previously.  If he'd done the family concept before, with the rest of the Speed Force family around Wally, things might have been different.

As it is, Speed Force keeps the focus on Wally and kids.  So, no Max Mercury, say (*sigh*).  This isn't really such a bad thing.  I liked the Wally West family era.  Not as much as the Speed Force era, but if Wally's legacy must be evoked at all, it probably should be, at this point, an era fans feel less nostalgic about, because this is where his story ended, certainly where Waid's ended, and that is kind of the whole point behind Convergence and its spin-offs.  To have Tony Bedard writing it is also appropriate, because Bedard was always an excellent curator, who received far too little credit in that regard.

And seriously, why would you not want to read a Flash comic in a wider story that so closely evokes the famous "Flash of Two Worlds"?  Convergence is also happening because of Flashpoint, remember.

Maybe it would have taken a more clever writer to write those reflections directly into the story, but you can't expect everyone to realize everything that could have been done for this auspicious occasion.  There will always be possibilities.  And that's the whole point, right?

The artist is Tom Grummett, who has long been a favorite of mine, especially in his many adventures with Superboy.  Always nice to see him again.

Convergence: The Question #1 (DC)

writer: Greg Rucka

artist: Cully Hamner

Arguably the best Convergence comeback is Greg Rucka, who returns to DC after years away, having once been one of the most significant writers for the company, a status forever immortalized in the pages of 52, where he transformed Renee Montoya into the Question.

A journey he once again continues, and who needs Convergence itself to get in the way?  Rucka doesn't seem to even sweat it.  He merely picks up where he left off.  And apparently, so the recap at the back of the issue suggests, I missed where that was.  Yeah, I had stopped reading Rucka's Montoya after a while.  I guess I got tired of waiting for DC to pull the trigger and make it an ongoing series already.

Montoya's journey began in the pages of Gotham Central, which led directly to 52, which led directly to Crime Bible, which led to a feature in Detective Comics concerning the Mark of Cain business referenced in this latest follow-up.

Of course, by the final page, Batwoman shows up.

The artist is Cully Hamner, another veteran I apparently gotten around to making a label out of previously, so here's his first mention at Comics Reader.