Sunday, May 31, 2015

Quarter Bin 67 "Here, There, and Everywhere"

This is a back issues column, meaning that the title should not be taken literally.  Shame on you literalists!

Action Comics Weekly #632 (DC)
From 1988.

This is apparently one of the final Action Comics Weeklys.  I know this because the letters column addresses this.  Unlike DC's later weekly comics, this was an anthology series that borrowed the flagship more closely associated with Superman for about a year.  Rather than addressing the content from this particular issue, I thought it would be fun to reflect on the material that spun out of the experiment, at least as announced in the letters column...

The first is Blackhawk, which I actually got to sample a few months back and was impressed by, even though I was surprised to see sexy art from Rick Burchett.  Although being surprised by sexy art from Rick Burchett was a response the original Action Comics Weekly material garnered as well, and this was before Burchett ever did material based on Batman: The Animated Series.  The surprise from this point was actually from scandalized readers...The second title is Green Lantern, the relaunch that led to "Emerald Twilight" and Kyle Rayner, featuring the creative team of "James Owsley" Christopher Priest (oh wait, that's just the writer from the story in this issue of Action Comics Weekly) Gerard Jones and M.D. Bright.  The Deadman mini-series referenced finally emerged in 1992 as Deadman: Exorcism.  There was indeed a Wild Dog special released soon after.  It seems to have been the character's last regular appearance, however, outside of Action Comics Weekly itself.  Marv Wolfman apparently promised to have a solo Nightwing project at some point, but other than in the pages of The New Titans, he wouldn't write solo Nightwing until Nightwing #125 (thru #137).  The first Nightwing solo, headlining comic was Nightwing: Alfred's Return in 1995, which led directly into a mini-series which led directly into his first ongoing series...Speaking of Wolfman and the Teen Titans, though, the letters column also references Wolfman and George Perez working on a hardcover graphic novel, which finally became a reality as New Teen Titans: 2011.  Black Canary presumably did appear in Green Arrow.

Asylum #2 (Millennium)
From 1993.

An anthology title (another one???) scored a lucky break (although it lasted only one more issue...) by featuring Neil Gaiman, who provided a straight-up horror story (much of Sandman was basically horror).  So when I saw that I bought the issue just to read it.  That's pretty much it.  Among the other material is P. Craig Russell providing a piece of artwork for an old Edgar Allen Poe poem, "Eldorado."

The Books of Magic #26 (Vertigo)
The Books of Magic #32 (Vertigo)
From 1996.

This was something conceived by Gaiman and later continued by others, featuring young wizard Tim Hunter as he explores the magical world.  I've long wanted to read something, anything, from the concept, and so finally took the opportunity.  Of course, Harry Potter later completely usurped the genre of young wizards, and Vertigo later had The Unwritten, which was more or less the imprint reclaiming the concept in a very meta way.  The issues I had a look at bookend a trip to America ("Rites of Passage") from the British youth, featuring bits of continuity that the letters column helps spell out for neophytes (wherever they may be coming from).  I liked what I saw.

Civil War: The Confession (Marvel)
Fallen Son: The Death of Captain America #3 (Marvel)
From 2007.

The Fallen Son issue is written by Jeph Loeb and features Tony Stark (Iron Man) convincing Clint Barton (Hawkeye) to become the new Captain America (for about the length of the issue).  That's all fine and dandy, but it's more The Confession that fascinates me.  Civil War was a Mark Millar comic, but Confession is written by Brian Michael Bendis, and is perhaps the comic that anyone looking for the best Civil War material should read.  This is literally the two main characters from Civil War, Stark and Steve Rogers, presenting their closing arguments in the polarizing debate that split the Marvel universe apart.  And it's absolutely brilliant.  If none of it ended up meaning anything more than a bump in the road for everyone involved, even the temporarily assassinated Rogers (Ed Brubaker ended up making a mockery of the whole thing by wrongly co-opting what Grant Morrison was doing with Batman at the time), then the concept endures somewhere other than the forthcoming Captain America: Civil War in theaters in a spin-off one-shot that completely transcends typical superhero storytelling.  I read it when it was originally released, along with Civil War itself, and I remember being impressed then, too, but I think its value has increased with time, knowing what Marvel actually did post-Civil War (the next big event involved alien shape-shifters infiltrating Earth, which is about as opposite Civil War as you can get).

Legionnaires #0 (DC)
From 1994.

I sometimes dabbled in the two Legion of Super-Heroes titles from that era, and so revisiting it is hardly a tough call.  This issue, part of the original zero issue month post-Zero Hour, features Mark Waid co-writing, and conveniently enough a speedster (at the time Waid was best-known as the writer of The Flash) named Jenni Ognats, granddaughter of Barry Allen and soon to be known as XS (not to be confused at all with Bart Allen, who was known originally as Impulse).  And yes, this is her first appearance, so that's a good thing to have in a collection (for a Waid fan, at the very least).  She, ah, appears only on Page 20, however.  She next appears in the following month's Legion of Super-Heroes #62.

Punk Rock Jesus #1 (Vertigo)
From 2012.

I think I mentioned at the time this mini-series was originally being released how impressed I was by it.  Sean Murphy had previously ended up on my radar thanks to his work on Grant Morrison's Joe the Barbarian.  He would later work on Scott Snyder's The Wake and Mark Millar's Chrononauts (his current project, actually).  I still haven't read the whole thing, but I'm continually impressed with Murphy's turn as writer/artist on the project, for my money easily one of the most interesting Vertigo titles of the recent past.  Scientists use the Shroud of Turin to create a clone of Jesus, which is then featured as the star of a reality show in the vein of The Truman Show.  The sacrilegious baby is surrounded by a mother who isn't entirely comfortable with the whole thing and a bodyguard with a traumatic past.  And it can only get better from there, right?

Saga #4 (Image)
From 2012.

I was reading this series pretty much from the beginning, but to randomly revisit it from somewhere near the beginning is to be reminded all over again how fascinating Saga really is.  First of all, The Will is featured on the cover along with Lying Cat (can it get any better?), and the bounty hunter is featured inside as well (in other comics, this is never a given).  Given that The Will has been largely absent from recent issues, and he's basically my favorite character in the series, this was hugely welcome to read again.  The letters column also features the inaugural Saga Readers Survey results (so soon???).  Apparently Brian K. Vaughan was a huge fan of the movie Haywire at this point.  It makes sense.  But that was also the last time Gina Carano was culturally significant, right at the moment where she was poised for her biggest breakthrough.  Now all her thunder's been stolen by Ronda Rousey.  But c'mon folks, Gina Carano!!!

Zot! #10 (Eclipse)
From 1985.

Looking back, it's incredibly bizarre that Scott McCloud ended up becoming such a notable name in the field of comic books.  Until 1993's seminal Understanding Comics, the only thing he'd really done was write Zot!, which was a part of the deconstruction of the superhero form that the '80s featured a number of ways, culminating in Alan Moore's Watchmen.  Eclipse was a publisher was a little like the Image of the day.  It was one of the early publishers of Dave Stevens' The Rocketeer (which until the later movie was much more important than it seems today) as well as the stateside home of Miracleman, among other seminal projects, Zot! being among them.  It's incredibly common for someone who succeeds in comics to begin thinking they've more or less transcended the form as practiced by everyone else, and McCloud was among those who began thinking of himself in that way.  This was supposed to be the final issue, but a few years later he picked it back up and continued for a while longer, but then more or less abandoned work as a regular creator (this year he released a new graphic novel, The Sculptor), working almost exclusively as someone trying to push comics into some imagined future (I first became aware of these efforts when I attended a McCloud seminar in college about the possibilities of the Internet).  I'd read some of his more elaborate later Zot! (I'm pretty sure on the Internet), so to see some of the early material in its original form was certainly interesting.

Reading Comics 163 "More Comics from 5/27/15"

Divinity #4 (Valiant)

The conclusion to the first Divinity mini-series (this issue announces the next one) is a worthy ending to an outstanding story that not only explores the potential of a character with infinite abilities in ways that you normally don't see, but explores Valiant's superheroes in general (grouped together as Unity) to a remarkable degree, all of which previous issues suggested, and so it's nice to see everything come together so nicely.  And we see Divinity himself, in a move that if it's ever happened I'm not particularly aware of it, actually inspire a religion.  (Seriously, I have no idea why DC's New Gods have never been presented this way.)  Another feather in the cap of Matt Kindt.

Mister X: Razed #4 (Dark Horse)

Dean Motter's latest Mister X concludes a little more intimately than usual, as usual referencing the setup of the whole concept, but also presenting Mister X himself as a character with more than just an obsessive quest (for redemption, among other things) going for him.  I haven't read all of Motter's Mister X, although at some point I'd certainly like to.  I like its cerebral approach, how it evokes a previous era while at the same time presenting something new.  What I've always wanted is for the narrative to move forward a bit.  I think this issues represents exactly that, so I'm glad to have read my first-ever Mister X in original serialized form.  Anyone curious about Motter's work might actually start with this issue, because it sums up the whole thing nicely.

The Sandman: Overture #5 (Vertigo)

The first issue published this year???  Indeed.  And the mini-series launched at the end of 2013, so...five issues across three calendar years.  Obviously not a very fast pace...I've had my issues enjoying this effort from Neil Gaiman and J.H. Williams III, but at this point I think I've put them behind me.  This was never supposed to be the Sandman of the original series, but rather an expansive view of the whole thing, Dream himself.  The next issue (whenever that happens) is actually the conclusion, so I'll wait until then to come up with a more comprehensive reaction to Overture.  But as with Mister X, I'm just glad to have an opportunity to correct something I hadn't done previously, which is read the serialized version of something I previously knew from collected editions...

Reading Comics 162 "Convergence Week 8"

Convergence #8 (DC)

Something fascinating occurs in the finale of Convergence, something certainly I never saw coming.  This was an event billed as the point where DC finally learned to stop worrying and love the multiverse, something that has been a whole process since Crisis on Infinite Earths thirty years ago.  And this is really revolutionary for a major comic book publisher.  What it means is that it no longer matters if every title doesn't match up in the same context, which was actually something the New 52 itself started with the Geoff Johns Green Lantern that wasn't a reboot but rather a continuation of prior continuity, just as Grant Morrison's Batman Inc. was, as opposed to everything else, which was a series of reboots across the line.

Anyway, so Convergence was also an excuse to pander to all the fans still upset (boo-hoo!) that their favorite version of a given character technically no longer existed in the New 52.  This was achieved in the dozens of spin-offs that brought back various eras.  The best writers weren't constrained by the story given to them, in that these characters were meant to be pitted against each other in what otherwise might have seen as somewhat meaningless battles fated to mean nothing at all.  As it is, Convergence might have, ultimately, been viewed as perhaps the most gimmicky event in gimmick event history, especially after head writer Jeff King basically abandoned his character-centric approach about halfway through the main series.

That was the point where I started to lose a sense of what Convergence itself would end up representing, not just its goal but its own worth.

Early on, it was pretty easy to assume that the story would pivot on Dick Grayson and Telos.  Dick came from Earth 2, where he wasn't Robin or Nightwing or Batman, but just plain Dick Grayson.  Convergence was basically an effort to make him a superhero.  Word is that he'll be Batman in Earth 2: Society (I've already heard snide remarks about his version of the famed costume).  More than that, however, as an outsider he was the lone voice capable of questioning Telos, a new character introduced in Convergence as a kind of lieutenant for Brainiac, as well as a continuation of the avatar idea that has gained considerable traction in the New 52 (Earth 2's Green Lantern even takes on the role Swamp Thing occupies in that regard from what's increasingly difficult to call regular continuity).  Telos starts out as the main villain, the guy who pits everyone against each other, and thus the direct impetus for all the spin-offs.

Eventually, though, both are sidelined by would-be usurper Deimos from Warlord, which was actually the start of pushing Convergence forward from what it originally seemed to be.  Warlord himself meant very little to the story, but the inclusion of a character from his continuity, and one that became increasingly significant, was a sign that the series was reaching maturity.

Which brings me to Convergence #8.  Here is where everything wraps up, and a lot of observers have said it was in unsatisfactory fashion.  Yet the evolution of the event reaches its apex in the most unexpected but also expected way possible.  Brainiac finally enters the picture.  Through the course of the issue, Brainiac reveals his back story (something initially teased for Telos, who will undoubtedly show up in Earth 2: Society, where all the lingering mysteries will likely be revealed; Convergence itself was essentially an Earth 2 event anyway, picking up where Earth 2: World's End left off and continuing, as I've repeatedly noted already, in Earth 2: Society), including the many incarnations he's had through the years.  It should already have been notable that the New 52 Brainiac wasn't all that familiar (there was a Villains Month issue that I may have to track down, but I can't off the top of my head remember another appearance before Convergence), even though Geoff Johns had introduced a viable new version not so long ago that hadn't really been explored.

So Convergence was already as much a Brainiac story as anything else.  Except the final issue also completely turns his character around.  He's horrified of what he's become.  He wants to change (somewhat ironic, given how the event brings back the classic version of Parallax that didn't seem capable of such introspection even though it was almost immediately retrofitted in order to give Hal Jordan the redemption fans yearned for), and so he's the one who helps set things right (pointedly transforming Crisis from the point where the multiverse collapsed to one where this particular element never happened, which is another point that confused most observers; but that was the whole point of Convergence all along, wasn't it? and so complaining that it muddies the continuity of later stories...yeah).

And the thing is, Convergence achieves something even more remarkable.  Two of the three villains...are completely redeemable.  In a superhero comic???  Yeah.  That just happened.  With the depiction of Lex Luthor in the New 52 included, DC is launching an idea that completely skewers even the worst reviews of the recent Forever Evil, that villains in comics don't have to be one-dimensional, mustache-twirling lunatics.  Comic book fans have a curious relationship with supervillains.  In a lot of ways, they seem to love the villains most of all.  One of the signs of Marvel fandom is eternal devotion to Doctor Doom, who is one of the most generic villains ever.  And yet the violence villains brings to the table frequently horrifies fans.  Apparently the giant backlash to Jeph Loeb began with Ultimatum, which gleefully tore apart the Ultimate line.  And of course there's the backlash to Man of Steel (Superman would never do that!!!).  Among many other examples.  If most fans were aware of what Garth Ennis was doing in the pages of The Boys, they'd faint (or something more ridiculous).  Yet they were more than happy to laud praise on Alan Moore when he perpetrated the worst act of violence in comics history (Batman: The Killing Joke).  It's an odd subject to even breach.

But suffice to say, DC is finally distancing itself from the rampant, mindless carnage of the past (making it all the more...curious, the latest backlash that resulted from evoking Killing Joke in an alternate cover for an issue of Batgirl).  (I'll never understand...)  And all of which is to say, Convergence ended on a high note.  It did what it set out to do, and it had surprises along the way, stuff nobody would have expected from it, building on history, making history, and even being history.  Bravo, Jeff King and DC.

Convergence: Blue Beetle #2 (DC)

As with the first issue, the conclusion to this one was a highlight of Convergence for me, both with the trio of lead characters (Beetle as well as the Question and Captain Atom) and the guests from the Legion of Super-Heroes, who were cleverly presented as a deluge of opponents rather than with an attempt to present them individually, which normally would be what I'd want to see from them, but for once the numbers game worked in their favor.  Too often the Legion is just assumed to be a bunch of characters always in the right...but in reality, they're a bunch of teenagers, who are bound to make mistakes, not in the way Convergence: Superboy demonstrated, but as only, well, a bunch of teenagers could do it.  And that's another way the Legion could work much better than it's managed to in recent years (Grant Morrison achieved a similar fresh take within the pages of Action Comics).  Also features a preview for the new Black Canary, which is building strong buzz for good reason, a series that will embrace the new opportunities post-Convergence.  So what I'm saying is, if you didn't read Convergence: Blue Beetle originally, you should probably correct that oversight.

Convergence: Detective Comics #2 (DC)

In the previous issue Superman: Red Son ended up having a better showing than the Robin and Huntress from a previous Earth 2.  The second issue balances the scales, and throws in Batman for good measure.  As with the last time, the artwork of Denys Cowan remains perhaps the main selling point.  The ending has Dick Grayson becoming Batman.  This keeps happening, it seems.  Anyway, the preview here is for The Flash, featuring Van Jensen's debut as writer.  He'd actually written the past near-dozen issues along with Robert Venditti (both were also writing Green Lantern titles at the time), but I never saw as good writing from that time as is apparent in this preview.  The only thing I'd change now is the art.  I don't normally have a problem with Brett Booth, but there are a few instances in these few pages where I wished he'd made different choices.  Once Barry suits up, however, these problems disappear.

Infinity Inc. #2 (DC)

I originally became interested in this one because of Ben Caldwell, but probably because of the upcoming Prez he's not really in the second issue.  Which otherwise is still worth reading.  Infinity Inc. was a concept I was exposed to early in my comics experience, and so I was happy to see it return.  A lot of these characters ended up repopulating DC in the years following the end of the team, but the original concept of their being the children and successors of the Justice Society was lost (although it would be pretty interesting, once and for all, to read a series featuring Alan Scott and his two kids Jade and Obsidian, even if the rest of the team comes along for the ride) along the way.  Brainwave emerges as the most interesting character in the bunch, having been the biggest victim of the dome and subsequently the one with the biggest issues when it came down.  His entry into the fight (their opponents are a legitimate weak point, or are at least not compatible with the leads) is the high point of the issue, which also features a preview of Batgirl, which has picked up considerable buzz since it was revamped with a much less loose connection to continuity (another early schism that helped make Convergence possible).  I was not particularly impressed with what I saw, but I'm sure there's an audience.  I'm sure because clearly there is.

And just like that, Convergence is done.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

MIND MGMT #33 (Dark Horse)

writer/artist: Matt Kindt

This is the point in any other story when plans are made, presented in their ideal execution, and then subsequently things horribly backfire.

One of the ways you know MIND MGMT has, ah, a mind of its own, has a distinctive voice to its narrative, Matt Kindt has a grasp of the rules he's laid that the second part of that storytelling trope is likely not going to happen.  This is a story about characters who are cleaning up a mistake, not making new ones.  And so at this late stage, things go according to plan.  And victory will be achieved in a few issues?  We'll see.

One sign for optimism is that when Meru visits her foster parents for the first time in years, expecting the worst, actually has an experience that would otherwise have the term "nothing to write home about."  (Yes, the further ironies...)  Which is to say, if things go accord to plan, for duration of the series, all the craziness that Kindt has been exploring will be put to an end.  In an era dominated by intelligence agencies run amok, MIND MGMT is that rare fable: mistakes are rectified.  The end.

I came in late and haven't read the whole thing, but became obsessed and am reading the rest of it regardless.  It's definitely a different experience, reading one issue at a time.  I've never really had that experience before.  You read about that sort of thing all the time, when a comic book actually has a letters column, which of course this one does, and at a certain level it's hard to process.  Great for them, right?  They like the series!  They obsessively read everything that came before their discovery!  But what happens next?  Actually, that's a little of what this whole series is about.  At the beginning, Meru doesn't realize she's already involved.  And then can't help but continue to be involved.  And she was always involved.  She just didn't know it.

Yeah.  Sounds about right.

Django/Zorro #7 (Dynamite)

writer: Matt Wagner

artist: Esteve Polls

Well, I think Matt Wagner nailed the ending.  Going into a project where he was not only continuing his own work on Zorro but creating the first sequel to a Quentin Tarantino film, this was something he needed to do.  Django Unchained is a lot of things, but first and foremost it's a surprisingly moral experience, turning in one spectacular moment into a character's outrage at the conclusions the villain has not only reached but callously shared as if there wouldn't be consequences.  Wagner goes a slightly different route, but it's Zorro's awakening of Django's moral outrage that informs this story's conclusion.  As Django himself observes on the final page: "Diego de la Vega...alias El Zorro -- without a doubt, the most peculiar white man I have ever met.  And, brother...that's sayin' somethin'!"  And Wagner completely earns that statement.

It might seem a little pat to have Django realize that black slaves were not the only minorities being mistreated, because after all, championing black slaves, black Americans at all, would certainly have been mission enough, and in Zorro's own adventures, a limited scope always seemed to be enough.  But Wagner's conclusion is that perhaps Zorro had been limiting himself for too long, basking in comforts that have now become to feel uncomfortable.  And so yes, Wagner achieves victory with both characters.  How often does a crossover achieve that?

And this is something that has been building all along, mind you, but to see all the pieces come together, to even have the villain taken out, ultimately, by someone other than Zorro or Django, is entirely pleasing to experience.  It reminds me all over again why I read Wagner's Zorro in the first place, and even the expansive potential of Django, a character Tarantino himself borrowed from others.  Zorro is a character of the frontier.  This is a story that brought him closer to home.  And as such, helped do the reverse for Django.  And perhaps, helped enrich both for future adventures.

Reading Comics 161 "Convergence Week 7"

Convergence #7 (DC)

The penultimate issue doesn't feature Dick Grayson at all (!), but rather Deimos being defeated by Parallax (a kind of response to Zero Hour), who at first seems like he isn't going to have much of an impact but then returns a few pages later and handily finishes the job.  Telos explains that this is kind of a bad thing, but essentially this is how the event is going to end, by officially stating all these alternate realities will get to continue existing after all.  Well, probably.  I guess the point was to make it official that all these prior continuities that DC has abandoned over the years can still exist, do exist, and because they've now been revisited, it's that much easier, should DC decide to again, to revisit them again.  Convergence itself has lost its edge as the weeks have progressed, letting the general mayhem take over.  Hopefully next week Jeff King has rallied and lets Telos have a proper ending, and positions everything that follows (you know, besides Earth 2: Society) in a suitable, dignified manner...

Convergence: The Flash #2 (DC)

The focus kind of dramatically shifts from Barry Allen to Tangent Superman, who is kind of dick concerning how seriously readers should be taking Convergence as a whole (although I guess that would be writer Dan Abnett speaking, technically).  But since I loved the Tangent comics, and always love seeing those characters show up again, I don't mind at all.  This might actually be the first time Tangent Superman isn't the villain, because originally he was the guy everyone mobilized against (I may be slightly misremembering).  I love the Tangent variants because they're conceptually fascinating, and if anything, this exposure has helped them find more traction.  Speaking of which, I think it's a little surprising that the Milestone characters weren't included.  Is Milestone being revived somewhere?  Did I read that?  They tried Static Shock at the start of the New 52, but quickly backed off when all the creative hassles started happening.  It'd be a shame if Milestone were abandoned.  Other than Tangent Superman is the fact that...Tangent Superman points out that he can't harm Barry, because Barry needs to survive in order to...participate in Crisis On Infinite Earths.  It's an interesting acknowledgment that perhaps some of these stories aren't somehow spin-offs of their own realities, that Brainiac and Telos have perhaps only interrupted the time-frames they come from.  And presumably, these events won't be remembered once Convergence is over. Well, right?

Convergence: Green Lantern Corps #2 (DC)

Basically, Guy Gardner is a kick-ass hero with or without a green ring, so exactly what happens to him after the Crisis era anyway.  I'm not familiar enough with the '80s Green Lantern era.  Would Guy, John Stewart, and Hal Jordan working together be a first?  Obviously, the Corps itself existed, but the idea of multiple human bearers working in tandem, I would think, was something that happens only starting with Green Lantern: Rebirth during the great revival.  Anyone want to correct me on that?

Convergence: The Adventures of Superman #2 (DC)

Like The Flash, features a character very much aware of what Crisis awaits them.  What separates DC's handling of events so distinctly from Marvel's is that although Marvel does sometimes build on events, they rarely outright reference a prior one if they can help it.  DC has been referencing Crisis since Crisis, and "The Flash of Two Worlds" just as often (speaking of which, I guess it had to be during Convergence #6 that a direct visual reference was made to that one, which was pretty awesome).  Supergirl otherwise spends all her time kind of being the big sister to Superman.  Again, this particular revisit has been special because it's featured a version of Supergirl that hasn't existed for decades, even though there have been multiple versions of the same basic character since then.  And even though I did miss that era, I miss her because of this....

The bonus material in this week's comics is expanded with some text previews of what DC has planned for June (DC You!), promising something for everyone (for real this time!), plus the usual batch of previews.  Suicide Squad looks like it could possibly interest me, for the first time ever.  Gotham Academy features, randomly, rhyming poetry, which quickly dissuaded me from something similar in a project I'm working on.  Martian Manhunter, thankfully, looks as fascinating as character always seems to in solo adventures.  Which begs the question, why it so hard for the company and fans to find him as fascinating as I do?

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Digitally Speaking...51

The comics I talk about here were read from my comiXology account...

G.I. Joe #1 (IDW)
From 2009.

When IDW originally acquired the rights to G.I. Joe, it printed up a preview with all the titles it was going to launch.  I immediately identified G.I. Joe: Cobra as the one most likely to interest me, and never looked back (that series panned out nicely), which here means I never really gave the rest of the line a chance.  So this digital version of the debut for Chuck Dixon's flagship title was my first chance to see if I made a mistake.  I was a big Dixon fan in the '90s (he had a knack for Boy Wonders, working wonders in the pages of Robin and Nightwing), and so he's one of those creators who've since floated around that I should theoretically be interested to revisit.  I don't think this was a good fit for him, or at the very least, it's not a good fit for me.  Once I became hooked on Mike Costa's G.I. Joe, all interest in any other version fell completely by the wayside.  Dixon's G.I. Joe is nothing like Costa's.  I guess that's all there is to say about that...

Goblin Hood (Twin)
From 2013.

Interesting if a bit...pointless? head-scratching?  Basically, as the title may suggest, Robin Hood smashed with monsters, with Robin Hood and his crew as monsters, not so much the actual characters but entirely new characters...cast in the familiar roles.  This preview doesn't really sell the idea as particularly...necessary? but it does provide one or two interesting ideas, the more interesting one being the one that's not really explored outside of the character sketches...included in the story itself.  (Yes, this is a somewhat awkward affair overall.)  Little John has become Little Giant, who like Harry Potter's pal Hagrid is something of an undersized giant.  (I can't help but think of the correlation being less than completely coincidental.)  That's a character I'd want to read.  The rest of it...Creator Bobby Timothy is apparently another alumni from DC's Zuda experiment.

God Hates Astronauts #1 (Image)
From 2014.

I first heard of this series from a preview in an issue of Chew.  I thought it looked stupid.  In the interests of objectivity, if you're the kind of reader who takes Garth Ennis seriously, you might like God Hates Astronauts.  However, strictly speaking, this is an incredibly stupid comic that makes you doubt the existence of quality control at Image, and comics in general...

Guardians #0 (Black Magic Wolf)
From 2013.

The general idea here is that God (without calling him God) sends a couple of ready-made superheroes (they're basically angels, but not called angels) superhero things.  And the twist is that these guys don't really know how to interact with humans other than them.  And stuff.  The premise sounds interesting, but Guardians has no idea what to do with it.  Maybe the material previewing the concept just doesn't do a good job of showing its actual potential, but somehow I doubt that.  There are many, many writers out there who just don't know how to execute their material.  Some of them are outright bad, some merely mediocre.  It's not so much a matter of the story not working, but the writer having no clue what to do with it.  They have an idea, and without knowing what to do with it, they just kind of run with it.  And hope that's good idea.  It's not good enough.

 Guardians of the Galaxy Infinite Comic #1 (Marvel)
From 2013.

"Infinite Comic," as in taking full advantage of the digital medium.  Otherwise this is a Drax the Destroyer story, a version of the character movie-goers didn't quite get to see in Guardians of the Galaxy.  This is also part of Brian Michael Bendis's comics relaunch, which is what led to the movie in the first place.  He and artist Michael Avon Oeming (whom I know from Mice Templar, which after some consideration have decided to stop reading after many years) are better known as collaborators on Powers (now a TV show available via PlayStation).  This counts as the best material from everything presented here.  And easily so.

Reading Comics 160 "More from 5/13/15"

G.I. Joe: Snake Eyes, Agent of Cobra #5 (IDW)

The conclusion of Mike Costa's latest continuation of his sprawling Cobra saga features an epic confrontation between Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow, plus more of Costa's trademark insights, not only into various characters but the general G.I. Joe landscape.  I keep heaping praise on the whole thing, but really at this point I'm just glad that IDW keeps letting Costa continue the whole thing, because the fans just aren't showing up, and every time Costa does something else, he doesn't seem to bring the same verve or perspective.  But I guess I'm okay with that...

Ms. Marvel #15 (Marvel)

G. Willow Wilson has me as a fan, but I've never quite connected with her again the way I did over Air.  I'm glad she's got a big hit in Ms. Marvel, but I've grown increasingly frustrated at the title spinning its wheels.  The conclusion to the "Crushed" arc makes it plain as an allegory for Muslims (or any other group) being unfairly represented by their worst representatives (which sadly, for Muslims, are not at all hard to find), a topic of considerable importance to Wilson, since she's a convert to Islam, and as such probably doesn't like her religion looking so bad.  That being said, the charm has begun to fade on this series.  The heavier the material has gotten, the more it's lost its buoyancy, which is a statement that only sounds obvious when voiced that way, and the buoyancy is exactly what made it so unique to begin with.  I will keep reading, but increasingly that's a statement that seems destined to end with "until I don't."

Rebels #2 (Dark Horse)

Be careful, writers.  That's a message I say not so much about Rebels itself but what writer Brian Wood writes about himself in the back of this issue.  He talks about his political views, and how he's writing Rebels in part to reclaim a part of himself he believes has been denied himself in the post-9/11 climate.  And yet in doing so, he seems to totally misinterpret the climate of Rebels itself.  The story in the issue seems to corroborate this view, as it takes a somewhat simplistic idea of who the people were who decided to fight...And I don't know how a writer who presents himself the way Wood does could possibly come to such a conclusion.  There's absolutely nothing simplistic about the American Revolution, or about the people who decided to take up arms against England for the sake of independence.  It's perhaps most frustrating because Wood, at least in this issue, has chosen for his main character a fictional base-level soldier in this war, someone whose motives perhaps could boil down to simplicity...but if you want to explore the complexities of this period, and reclaim a part of yourself, a writer probably should choose a different tack.  And that's at least two reasons why I once again will not be able to read a Brian Wood series.  This is four missed opportunities for me now.  I guess I'm just not a Brian Wood guy...

Saga #28 (Image)

In contrast, I've connected with Brian K. Vaughan with two out of his four major projects, so I'm much more comfortable calling myself a Brian K. Vaughan guy even though I don't always care about what he's doing.  Saga is at once a work of genius and also a series that at times seems like it desperately wants to repeat the Walking Dead model.  I can hear a million voices saying, What can possibly be wrong with that???  Well, for starters, Saga can easily turn away from looking like a work of genius and become something that spins its wheels for the sake of remaining in-print (which, ah, is basically my impression of Walking Dead, and also the TV series).  Which is not to say that a given issue of Saga doesn't feature everything I love about it, but that the story can drag quite a bit.  Each issue features as little of the overall story as possible (when people talk about Brian Michael Bendis, they like to use the term "decompression;" they should consider applying it to Vaughan, too), which can be frustrating.  And so when Vaughan reiterates at the prompting of a letter that he can easily see the series continue on for years, I scratch my head.  Because at this pace, we will have seen the story advanced to a considerable degree years from now.  Oh, now I get it...

Strange Sports Stories #3 (Vertigo)

There's only one reason why I bought this one, part of an anthology mini-series, and that's because it features CM Punk's second foray into comics.  Punk was a professional wrestler until about a year and a half ago, but his every movement is still followed with breathless anticipation by wrestling fans (who obviously expect him to wrestle again at any moment), so when news of his working in comics began to appear, I was eager to see what he would do with such an opportunity.  Recently it was announced that he'd be writing an ongoing Drax the Destroyer comic (appropriate, since Drax was portrayed by another ex-wrestler, Batista, in Guardians of the Galaxy), but before that Punk has been limited to much shorter material.  His first effort was in Thor Annual #1 earlier this year, in which he proved a deft hand at comedy.  Here he spins a yarn obviously dedicated to the Chicago Cubs, using a caption-heavy approach that contrasts nicely with his earlier work (he has versatility!).  Punk has long been heavily associated with his hometown of Chicago, so it's not at all surprising that he demonstrates an affinity for the Cubs (looking really good this season!).  He chooses to spotlight the idea of the team being cursed (several times over!).  As a member in good standing of Red Sox Nation (season looking horrible!), I can understand the intricacies of curses, and can appreciate the restraint necessary to talk about such things with the kind of relaxed mood Punk demonstrates, especially since he exited wrestling with a lot less patience in mind (is the whole story a code suggesting he isn't done after all???).  And yes, the rest of the issue is utter gibberish.  It's clobbering time!

Reading Comics 159 "Convergence Week 6"

No, I don't read all the Convergence titles.  I thought about doing exactly that, months ago (mostly because I wanted to do that with Flashpoint but wasn't able to), but then thought better of it.  So I only read the ones that immediately interest me, and for the most part this means the ones related to the DC I was reading from years past, which is to say the ones revisiting the ones I used to read.  Not completely (I ended up skipping Shadow of the Bat and Man of Steel, for instance), but close enough.

This week that meant Green Lantern/Parallax #2 and Superboy #2, as well as Convergence #6 ended up on my read list.

Convergence itself continues to let the story unfold.  At eight issues I think Jeff King realized there was more room than he was comfortable playing around with as far as the kind of character work he has shown he's best at, so that the story around the character work stretches out more comfortably than his exploring, say, Dick Grayson or Telos, both of whom remain the most interesting elements of the core title (they, ah, converge once again this week) without pushing either further in actual development.  For me it's kind of disappointing only in the sense that King has presented better material previously.  But there should always be time for story, too.  At least that's what people keep trying to tell me...

Green Lantern/Parallax and Superboy generally conclude more strongly than the crop from last week (Batman and Robin, Nightwing/Oracle, The Question, Speed Force, Superman), so that was certainly something of a relief, both of them doing an excellent job keeping the focus on the characters rather than Convergence fighting, even though both feature Convergence fighting as the impetus for continuing to explore their characters.  Apparently this is a difficult thing to accomplish, because last week's titles tried that, too, but didn't end up doing too well in that regard.

For Green Lantern/Parallax, that meant deciding once and for all whether or not Hal Jordan, outside of The Final Night/Day of Judgment/Green Lantern: Rebirth, which is to say, the Hal Jordan of "Emerald Twilight"/Zero Hour, is irrevocably tainted by his transformation into Parallax.  The conclusion is thoroughly in favor of how Parallax was originally viewed, a final corruption of a once-heroic figure.  This is thoroughly interesting, and clearly something that could only have happened here.  Almost from the start, DC back-peddled and suggested Hal wasn't such a bad guy after all.

In Superboy, the Kingdom Come Superman (whom in Convergence itself is presented in far less favorable light) struggles to end the fight in a way that doesn't mirror Man of Steel and its apparently endlessly controversial conclusion.  In fact, that ends up being the entire issue, which actually takes the focus off of Superboy himself, waiting until he "does the right thing" and submits to Superman.  It's another fascinating conclusion, because this is another one that seems like what should have happened to the character as originally conceived, a hothead who wouldn't back down despite his lack of awareness of his own limitations and huge ego besides.

So I would actually rate both as quite excellent.

The June previews included are more of a mixed bag.  Cullen Bunn's Lobo is featured in Green Lantern/Parallax.  I think everyone knows by now that the New 52 radically altered Lobo.  As presented here, I'm not really sure what the point is, because the new version doesn't seem very compelling.  It could be that I still can't get into Bunn himself.

Superboy features a peak at "Truth," the Superman arc that promises the New 52 version of Clark Kent being exposed as the Man of Steel.  Apparently someone also decided to take away Superman's powers.  I don't know if this is a continuation of handling the recent new powers, which at last check-in only temporarily affected his overall powers (and there were two issues that confirmed that, even), but at this may seem like an unnecessary complication.  Unless the arc seeks to take away all of Superman's safety nets.  This would certainly be a vulnerable version of the character...

Monday, May 11, 2015

Digitally Speaking...50

This column features an ongoing tour of material I've read from my comiXology account...

The Trial of Atomic Robo (Tesladyne)
From 2015.

For the first time since Red 5 has existed and participated in Free Comic Book Day, it didn't feature Atomic Robo in its release.  No 2015 FCBD Robo.  That may have something to do with the fact that creators Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener are migrating Robo to a new publishing platform, which is to say, he's becoming a webcomic.  Apparently that's how Clevenger started out his career, and so that's where he's returning, and he's taking Robo with him.  Trial is part of this transition, and as part of the festivities Doctor Dinosaur returns.  Atomic Robo is one of many, many comics that heavily feature absurdist humor, and there's no character in its history that better features this instinct than Doctor Dinosaur.  The title is somewhat misleading, since it's in fact a Doctor Dinosaur trial (which rapidly degenerates and is resolved in typical blunt Robo style).  The whole thing explains the appeal of Atomic Robo in one of its more charming aspects, but doesn't necessarily translate the overall thrust of Clevenger's storytelling, which is not always so absurdist.  Still, if you like your comics absurd, then Trial makes an excellent argument for joining the ranks of Robo's fans.

Descender #3 (Image)
From 2015.

The previous issue introduced emotional depth to the story, and so it was a matter of building on that for the follow-up, and not just the apparent death of the lead character...This issue manages to pull off such a difficult task by introducing new depth to the story itself, giving Tim a quest and even additional wrinkles to the existential matters inherent to Jeff Lemire's little robot.  Descender isn't the first story to tackle the rights of artificial life, but it's doing so with uncommon nuance, which once again is down to not only Lemire's writing but Dustin Nguyen's art.  Recently I became aware of the fact that the series launched to a sizable audience, and I couldn't be more pleased.

Fighting Stranger: Chapter Two (HicksVillain)
From 2013.

By the end of Chapter One, we learned somewhat unexpectedly that Stranger's day constantly repeats.  Chapter Two explains how this is an entirely orchestrated spectacle, and how a few citizens of the city Stranger escapes each day band together to change Stranger's day, break the loop, and hopefully one day overcome the mutant overlords that keep them all oppressed.  Fighting Stranger remains a pleasant discovery, filled with excellent storytelling and the occasional killer line, and this second installment enriches the whole thing even as the title character takes a backseat to help accomplish it.  The movie Edge of Tomorrow, I'm told was something like this.  If you were one of the people pleasantly surprised by that movie, you might enjoy Fighting Stranger as well.  The story continues here.

Swamp Thing #40 (DC)
From 2015.

The final issue of the series and also Charles Soule's last work for DC (for however long that lasts; at least Marvel had the good sense to let him write the Lando comic in its Star Wars line), something I'd hoped to read in print, had the local shop order me a copy when it sold out on original release, still haven't seen, gave up waiting for, and so I bought it digitally...I hopped around Soule's run and was always playing catch-up anyway, so it's only appropriate that I'm a little late to the conclusion.  Soule once again pulls off the unthinkable: imagine if Grant Morrison didn't go full meta in Animal Man and instead left it simply at Buddy Baker only realizing he was a fictional character.  That's what Swamp Thing discovers when he hides in the pages of a book.  By the end of the issue, he's seen reading One Hundred Years of Solitude, which is a novel about cyclical life that eventually ends.  It's clear that Soule parted with Swamp Thing reluctantly, but he also recognizes that above all else he was part of a whole tradition, and that regardless of what happens in this issue, Swamp Thing's story continues.  It's a fitting way to go, with far more grace than creators tend to exhibit, taking the ego out of the proceedings where it's far more common (even though this is usually pretty enjoyable to read) for the departing writer to weave some clever metaphor about why it's such a bittersweet if not outright bad development.  I may lament DC's loss, but it's not as if Soule hasn't left a lot of great storytelling behind.  That's a legacy, folks.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Secret Wars #1 (Marvel)

writer: Jonathan Hickman

artist: Esad Ribic

So here we are, Secret Wars commence!  Again!  This time infused with far, far more Jonathan Hickman!

Oh Hickman, Hickman, Hickman...There are times I wonder whatever happened to the Hickman I knew when he was still just an Image standout.  Then he was recruited by Marvel to translate his style to mainstream comics, a move I strongly suspect as motivated by a desire to find the next Grant Morrison.

Hickman's most notable run at Marvel to date has been with Fantastic Four and its spin-off FF (which stood for Future Foundation, by the way) even though he was most recently running around with Avengers sticking out of his pockets.  Secret Wars, so far as I can tell, is either directly related or at least inspired by his Fantastic Four, and there they are at the heart of the story, too (so it's not such a hard assumption to make, really).

And Hickman is full Hickman, making stylistic choices and approaching the whole story from a way that makes perfect sense in a Jonathan Hickman sort of way.  If there's a problem with any of this, it's that the whole process is in service to a story that boils down to: Marvel doing another Super Dramatic Event, which has been a problem since Civil War, when the company first tried to duplicate the emotional impact of DC's Identity Crisis.  The more Marvel tried, the more it permanently warped the course of its own future into an increasingly grim, impossible to avoid destiny of destroying everything it had once been.

You see, Marvel used to be fairly buoyant, bouncing back after even events like House of M, which "only" decimated the X-Men line while completely rejuvenating the Avengers.  The Ultimate line, however, somewhat jubilantly tore itself apart from the very beginning, particularly with The Ultimates, which is half of how the cinematic Avengers came to be (the other half being the style of Brian Michael Bendis, who is like classic Marvel on crack).

The higher the stakes, the less Marvel could pretend, as it has for more than fifty years, that its continuity was an unbroken chain of events.  And so Secret Wars is the story, finally, that does what DC has been doing for decades, which is purposely break those chains.  That's what this first issue is all about, turning aside everything (hey! there's big bad Thanos randomly inserted into a pack of other villains!) and preparing a giant reset button.

Which, depending what you think about Marvel, is either very, very wrong or very, very right.  I guess we'll see.  I'm certain Hickman will have fun along the way.  As to whether or not readers do, too, is somewhat beyond the point.  There are already a billion spin-offs ready to launch, giving the fans plenty of other ways to view this event, almost none of which will look like anything Hickman will be doing for the next seven issues...

Or, as Marvel has always done, having its cake and eating it too.

Reading Comics 158 "Convergence Week 5"

I've decided to condense my Convergence coverage this week, on account of feeling as if, at least with this week's second issues from the spin-off mini-series, there's...less to write about than when they debuted.

We'll start with Convergence #5.  There's plenty going on with this won, including Warlord's biggest outing in years.  But above and beyond that, his nemesis Deimos has hijacked the whole darn story, supplanting Telos and even Brainiac in every possible way.  Not a bad bit of work, and this is exactly how you keep things interesting, folks, not only using a character few remember, but finding all sorts of unexpected things for him to do.  The nearest comparable figure I can think of at the moment is Extant in Zero Hour, but previously he'd been Monarch, who was the Big Bad from Armageddon: 2001.  But the villain everyone came to see in Zero Hour wasn't Monarch, but rather Parallax (you know, Hal Jordan Gone Wild!), and so to see this other guy play such a prominent, crucial role (at least for a while) added whole dimensions to the story.  And so we get to see something like that again.

By the end of the issue he's even undone the central gimmick of Convergence, telling everyone that they don't have to fight each other.  But that isn't reflected in any of the spin-offs, alas.  In Batman and Robin #2, which only have something worth saying once Batman goes full paternal.  The Extremists are generic and dull as opponents.  Nightwing and Oracle #2 dances around its plot so much, by the time the lovebirds reconcile, it just seems as if the whole story was just wasting time.  The Question #2 says more about Two-Face than any of the trio of gals.  That was the biggest disappointment.  Speed Force #2 is more or less the opposite case of the pack, in which Wally (and hopefully the reader) maybe sees his kids as less a detriment and more an asset than ever before.  Lee Weeks doesn't draw Superman #2, but Dan Jurgens does some of his modest best work in recent years, so that's good to see, even though by the time the historic birth of Lois and Clark's baby finally happens, it's mostly an afterthought.

Perhaps more revealing are the previews for June comics included in the backs of these issues.  Batman and Robin has Omega Men, which evokes the Islamic State in its execution (*gasp!*) of Kyle Rayner.  Very dramatic.  Very bold.  Nightwing and Oracle has Midnighter (which is most appropriate, because the character technically spins out of Grayson), and hopefully the whole series is this sharp.  The Question has Starfire, which features the orange-hued heroine trying to figure out how to be normal in a world where someone like her is anything but.  Should be interesting in a Power Girl kind of way.  Speed Force has yet another Green Arrow creative reboot.  Superman has Doomed, which features Alpha Centurion!  As a supporting character.  Who looks like he gets somewhat mortally injured.  It's like someone is trying to trick me into reading the series just to find out for sure...

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Reading Comics 157 "True Believers"

Marvel deluged Free Comic Book Day with Secret Wars material.  Last Wednesday I helped myself a little, too, by scooping up a few more of the True Believers reprints, including the ones for House of M, Planet Hulk, Old Man Logan, and Age of Apocalypse.  As far as Marvel goes, I can sometimes be pretty darn grumpy, but rest assured, it mostly because Marvel is the most popular comics publisher, rather than DC, and in my humble opinion DC is the better one.

Sometimes I view fan allegiance to Marvel as something of a cult.  With phrases like "true believer," it's not even that hard to imagine.  But that's a bit extreme.  (Right???)

Yeah, Secret Wars is basically a ripoff of DC's Convergence, but maybe it doesn't matter (maybe).  Marvel loves to celebrate itself, and really, that's all that Secret Wars is, too, trotting out all over again a bunch of the famous stories it's published over the years, which yes, the True Believers reprints have helpfully pointed out in advance.

I think House of M is iconic for all the right reasons.  It was a rare moment when Marvel allowed itself to live up to the hype, and as far as the X-Men books were concerned kept the story going for years.  Scarlet Witch says "No more mutants," and then we have to wait until Hope arrives and then Avengers: The Children's Crusade for true resolution to occur (I'm sure there are fans who think AvX belongs in this lineage, too).

Planet Hulk was a goofy idea that is best remembered by me for allowing Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente to write a lot of great Hercules comics (seriously, they remain my favorite-ever Marvel memories).  Old Man Logan was great.  Age of Apocalypse features bad '90s art, but pretty good storytelling.

So yeah, I may be checking out some of this Secret Wars material.  Could be interesting.  (Could!)

Superman # 40 (DC)

writer/artist: John Romita Jr.

This is one of the best segue issues ever.

Bridging the Geoff Johns and upcoming Gene Luan Yang eras with the common artist John Romita Jr., who also writes this issue, what at first seems like another slice-of-life side trip exploring Superman's new solar flare power turns dramatic in a heartbeat when we cut to Lois Lane at the end of the issue, a moment that will spin off in the "Trust" arc that swallows various Superman and Batman titles starting in June.

But the issue is also great fun.  Romita has some gags like Superman getting drunk.  Too often comics fans make the distinction between DC and Marvel storytelling in how human they allow their characters to be, the common wisdom being that Marvel is far more liberal in this regard.  The fact that longtime Marvel stalwart Romita is responsible for a story like this may make blurring such distinctions harder to prove, but trust me, this has always been nonsense.  Still, this is atypical material for Superman.  Exploring his powers or spending social time with his heroic colleagues are rare moments.

Hopefully as far as Romita's art is concerned, Superman fans will become less uptight.  I've liked it since he came aboard, but especially with this issue, it becomes increasingly expressive and playful (Wonder Woman takes advantage of the opportunities presented on this occasion, a moment ripped from the Superman/Wonder Woman era).  And yes, Superman even seems more human.  That's entirely appropriate for the series at this point.

The Multiversity #2 (DC)

writer: Grant Morrison

artist: Ivan Reis

And it all boils down to: Morrison's love letter to superhero comics.  That's what The Multiversity is, when you strip away everything else, all the stories he told in the pages of the individual issues, even the extremely clever and begging-to-be-a-standalone-classic Pax Americana.

All throughout Multiversity the characters have been reading Multiversity itself.  Typical meta Morrison, right?  Except this time, he has a greater point to make.  Superhero comics often get a bad rap.  They're throwaway nonsense, escapist literature for light readers.  Except they're not.  Morrison certainly doesn't see them that way.

What he sees is this: Something that adds value to the reader's life.  That's why Nix Uotan, in Earth 0 a regular human, comes up with rent money after bringing together Justice Incarnate, the team cobbled together from the combined adventurers of Multiversity.  He hasn't created a new superhero team, he's found a version of the world that makes sense to him.

Could you expect a better statement from Grant Morrison?

Justice League #40 (DC)

writer: Geoff Johns

artist: Kevin Maguire, Phil Jimenez, Dan Jurgens, Jerry Ordway, Scott Kolins, Jason Fabok, Jim Lee

A lot of this issue, the prologue to "Darkseid War," recaps DC history, from Jack Kirby's New Gods saga to Crisis On Infinite Earths to Zero Hour to Infinite Crisis to Flashpoint to the opening arc of Justice League itself.  And it completely works.  Narrating is Metron, Kirby's famous New God observer who has long best been known for sitting in his Moebius chair.

And what's that, you say?  He's addressing some as Moebius in that panel?  Why, yes he is.  And that, folks, is Geoff Johns making yet another genius leap of imagination.

The subject of Metron's address is more commonly identified as the Anti-Monitor, the big bad from Crisis On Infinite Earths.  And so here's Geoff Johns finally having Anti-Monitor being something other than...the reverse of a Monitor.  And it absolutely makes sense.

Among the recap material is the famous truce between Apokolips and New Genesis when Metron convinces Highfather and Darkseid to swap sons.  Darkseid's son Orion, who goes to live with Highfather, has gotten a lot of mileage over the years.  Johns prefers to spend this brief moment with Scot Free, otherwise known as Mister Miracle.  Johns writes Scot as a scared little boy, petrified of what awaits him on Apokolips (of course he would be!).  Based on this sequence, I absolutely want Johns to write a larger Mister Miracle story at some point, even if it's got to be in backup stories like he did with Shazam.  This has got to happen.

And there are further tricks up his sleeve, because by the end of the issue we meet "Darkseid's daughter" all over again.  This is a character who's been teased throughout the New 52, a sort of second stab at the Pandora phenomenon.  I haven't read it yet myself, but I hear that she gets more time in Free Comic Book Day's Divergence.

I've tried to be a champion of Justice League throughout its run, but this may be the best time yet to be reading it...

The Fuse #12 (Image)

writer: Antony Johnston

artist: Justin Greenwood

Last week I read a digital copy of Fuse's first issue, and it reminded me that I should be reading The Fuse.  By sheer coincidence, there was a new issue released on Wednesday, and it was the conclusion of an arc.  Coincidence, perfect timing...

Fuse is a police procedural set on a space station, and it comes from the mind of Antony Johnston, genius creator of the recently concluded Wasteland.

Part of the reason I originally felt reluctance to sign up for an ongoing tour was that I wasn't sure I wanted to follow a more episodic Johnston after the epic arc featured in sixty issues of Wasteland.  But Klem and Marlene do have their secrets.  Marlene (real name: Ralph)'s reasons for requesting assignment to the station have been a lingering mystery that the veteran Klem has been wondering about since she accepted him on as her new partner.  But now it seems as if Klem, too, has her mysteries.

This is good.

The issue concludes the "Gridlock" arc and it's in classic procedural fashion, the culprit being fingered with a full explanation of how they did it.  Maybe it's the TV viewer in me, but that's always my favorite part anyway.  I previously checked in on Fuse at the start of the arc, so that's another of the good timing bit going around.

In the letters column, Johnston celebrates the connection the series has made with its fans, and then explains what the next arc is going to be, and it sounds very interesting, a sort of reverse of The Purge, the movies about the one day of the year when everybody can be bad guys (!!!).  Here it will be an exploration of the day Earth is closest to the sun, and how this makes everyone extra crazy.  If you know of other stories that have explored this concept, let me know!

Fantastic Four #645 (Marvel)

writer: James Robinson

artist: Leonard Kirk

This is it.  Marvel and/or Disney has thrown a hissy fit because Fantastic Four remains a 20th Century Fox film property and thus not part of the Avengers franchise (as Spider-Man has now become), and so the series has been cancelled, put on indefinite hiatus.  Goodbye, see you later, nice knowing you, First Family.

How does it end?  James Robinson followed a Jonathan Hickman run that sought to push the team to new creative heights.  Mostly he reboots it right back to its classic dimensions, and basically winks to the reader and says there are some constants, and the Fantastic Four are one of them no matter how it looks at the moment.  I mean, Marvel would be pretty stupid to keep it gone, right?

Karl Kesel gets to write a Johnny Storm solo, Louise Simonson a Sue Storm entry, Tom DeFalco gives the Thing his moment, while Jeff Parker rounds these shorts out with Reed Richards.

Mark Paniccia, identified as senior editor at Marvel, writes a farewell notice.  Various creators write odes to their favorite covers and by extension, their favorite stories.  "Willie's Mailbag" (referencing an old timey supporting character), which may or may not have been an ongoing letters column in the series and/or the history of Fantastic Four (my reading history with the World's Greatest Comic Magazine has been sporadic; I read somewhat steadily during Civil War, and I popped in once or twice during Hickman's run), but here it represents a chance for the fans to say goodbye.

And that's it.  Goodbye.  See you again!

Convergence: Infinity Inc. #1 (DC)

writer: Jerry Ordway

artist: Ben Caldwell

I'm not gonna lie: I was hugely interested in this particular Convergence spin-off for only one reason, and that's artist Ben Caldwell.

Simply put, I became a devoted fan of Caldwell's after his masterful Wonder Woman feature in Wednesday Comics.  The panel I've included from Infinity Inc. is as close as this one gets.

Which is not to say, Ba! and darn you Ben Caldwell! but that clearly he didn't get to go the full Caldwell.  "Full Caldwell" means some of the most interesting page layouts I've ever seen.  But it's okay.  It's enough to see more Caldwell art at all.  I have no idea why, but this has proven to be incredibly scarce over the years.

So yeah, I leaped at Infinity Inc. to see it again.

The rest of the comic isn't too bad, though.  The writer is Jerry Ordway, another impressive talent (with more pedigree and longer history) who doesn't seem to get enough work.  The featured characters are the offspring of the Justice Society.  Back in yon olden days I had randomly acquired an issue of the classic Infinity Inc. material, so I was familiar with the characters from their original context (Alan Scott's offspring, Jade and Obsidian, have the longest publishing history of the set).  And it struck me, these guys make for excellent storytelling material.  Grant Morrison's Multiversity issue The Just featured a different second generation entirely (as did Kingdom Come, and come to think of it Geoff Johns' JSA/Justice Society of America), but this is the original version.  If I were DC, I would consider bringing them back on an ongoing basis.

And, you know, locking down Ben Caldwell.  He'll be doing Prez after Convergence concludes.  I will certainly have to take a look at that, too...

Convergence: Detective Comics #1 (DC)

writer: Len Wein

artist: Denys Cowan

Wait, why am I using an art sample from an issue that by the cover is supposed to feature Robin and Huntress as featured in full '70s Justice Society alternate reality mode?

Because Len Wein is another of the writers clever enough to do something interesting with the opportunity he's been given.  See, he gives equal time to Superman: Red Son's Soviet soldier.  And this is a very good idea.  The conversation between Dick Grayson and Helena Wayne (daughter of Batman and Catwoman) throughout the issue, at least for me, is far less interesting, mostly Huntress needling Robin for wearing a hybrid of Boy Wonder and Batman costumes (in this reality, Batman is dead) rather than outright assuming the blue cowl.  Of course, by the end of the issue, it seems Huntress has let her impetuousness prove fatal.  We'll see.

The art is from Denys Cowan, who's pulling double Convergence duties (he's also the artist on record for Batman and Robin).  I like his work better here, especially for Superman (another reason to cheer this part of the book on).

Convergence: Blue Beetle #1 (DC)

writer: Scott Lobdell

artist: Yishan Li

Seriously, though, folks: Scott Lobdell.  The guy can't seem to catch a break with the fans, but he's a genius, he really is.  That excerpt from one panel in this issue helps prove it all over again.

Across multiple Convergence spin-offs fans have seen characters breaking or attempting to break the rules of Battleworld Telos (he's a planet, too!).  Finally (maybe it's occurred in some of the titles I haven't read, but I suspect not), Lobdell hits on the obvious, a literary technique that probably doesn't get mentioned in comics a lot: the unreliable narrator.  As in, you don't have to believe everything he says.

It takes the Question to say it.  Of course it does.  The title says Blue Beetle but it's actually a whole Charlton reunion, featuring Question and Captain Atom as well (the nucleus of the characters Alan Moore borrowed for Watchmen, and borrowed back by Grant Morrison for Pax Americana), plus referencing others.

Lobdell knocks the whole issue out of the park.  Usually his comics shine best in narration, so he would certainly be the one to know all about the rules of the storytelling device.  This one doesn't have narration, but it does have yet another novelty (again, in my personal Convergence experience) in showing Telos himself as his explanation for the dome experience is once again repeated, as it is in each Convergence spin-off.  Usually it's featured as it was in Convergence itself, as disembodied words in the air.  Lobdell and Yishan Li play by their own rules.  And thank goodness.

Convergence #4 (DC)

writer: Jeff King

artist: Stephen Segovia

Well, I think at this point it seems clear that the great cosmic significance of Convergence is going to result in...Earth 2: Society.  Maybe elsewhere, too, but as it seemed obvious from the conclusion of Earth 2: World's End and even Convergence itself, that's where the story is headed.

Pretty bold move for DC, actually.  Earth 2, without or without James Robinson, was never going to be the company's top book.  It's set in an alternate reality.  The only other time anyone was really paying attention was when this version of DC revealed Alan Scott (Green Lantern) to be gay.  And now it's not only got a weekly under its belt, but its own crossover event.

I say, bravo.  This was always a great idea, in my book.  Fans were pretty annoyed that the Justice Society concept itself was more or less discarded, but I thought that was a pretty good idea, too, finally leaving behind the concept of aging heroes and thereby making the reintroduction of at least some of them more relevant than they've been in years.

All the time travel villains this issues makes obvious (some of them always having had direct Justice Society significance, such as Per Degaton, who was featured in Geoff Johns' JSA; others like Extant who should have, considering what he did to the team during Zero Hour) add an additional layer of new significance that should certainly be interesting to explore, should they factor into the new series launching in June.

Telos identifies the Earth 2 Dick Grayson as the first he's seen who doesn't wear a mask (the current mainstream one doesn't, either, but that's after years of Robin/Nightwing/Batman), and clearly that's another element of what we can expect in the future (see how many Convergence tie-ins feature the original Boy Wonder?), his new prominence.

I'm liking Convergence quite a bit.

SPOILER ALERT: Batman #40 (DC)

writer: Scott Snyder

artist: Greg Capullo

Wait, I'm not the only one to notice this, am I?  I mean, it's kind of obvious, right?  But I haven't seen any references to it, in my admittedly casual trips through the Internets since last Wednesday.  I haven't done a search, so maybe I'm not.

But still.  You'd think it wouldn't be that hard.

Well, here it goes (and here we once again mark SPOILER ALERT for those who haven't read it and/or have but didn't catch this panel, which on its own doesn't actually spoil anything, but still amply illustrates what I'm about to talk about):

Batman survived.

And by the way, I noted elsewhere how this issue was the break-all point for me.  If Scott Snyder hadn't stuck the landing, I would have finally and truly and with all other concluding statements given up on his Batman.

But he does nail it.  He absolutely nails it.  This one issue justifies all the years of hype and accolades Snyder has enjoyed.  "Court of Owls," "Death of the Family," "Zero Year"...they all mean absolutely nothing without this moment.

It's Snyder finally reaching a culmination point that means something, his statement on what Batman and the Joker's relationship really means.  Granted, it's not what I thought he'd do, after the conclusion to "Death of the Family" (I thought Snyder was going to say: hey, guess what, they're brothers!!!) (which would still be awesome, by the way), but after all the years of psychotic villainy that went deeper than anyone else could ever go, the Joker got his comeuppance.  And Batman seemed to have cashed in all his chips to achieve this moment.

And it absolutely did build on everything else Snyder has done over the years, as I'd hoped "Endgame" would but sometimes seemed as if it didn't (all the way back to the Detective Comics days, even, when Snyder brought back the crowbar that murdered Jason Todd) (besides, you know, the explosion).

But Batman didn't die.  Much like Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises, Snyder decided this was a perfect way for Batman to retire.  Bruce Wayne literally walks away.

Permanently?  Nothing's permanent in comics.

But perhaps the all-the-more-interesting thing about that panel is the presence of Damian.  Is this the first time Snyder acknowledges his return (which occurred in the pages of Pete Tomasi's Batman and Robin)?  Perfect timing.

Bravo, Mr. Snyder.

Free Comic Book Day 2015

Yesterday was Free Comic Book Day, the annual event I've gotten to enjoy nearly every year for the last decade.

These days I work across the street from my local comic book store, and I work overnight, so this year it was absolutely not a question of getting there or getting there early or any other complication I've experienced in the past.  I had four and a half hours to kill.  I started by walking over to Dunkin' Donuts.  I'd planned to stick around there a while, reading Tom De Haven's It's Superman! (this came up in my reading order, so it was merely serendipitous to be reading something absolutely appropriate on the comic book geek holiday), but decided to leave pretty quickly because, I don't know, anticipation.  I spent a lot of time walking around, and by 8 (the store opened at 10) I found out I'd lost my designation as first in line.  And then because I didn't stick around even at that point, I became fourth in line.

This was obviously not much a problem.  But still.  The only real problem was listening to the inane chatter.  Not dorky comics chatter, but one point a trio of genuine hobos came up and I got to listen to that, explaining how they've been all over the country in a surprisingly brief amount of time, and how best to sneak into Canada and not get into trouble.  Hobos, ladies and gentlemen.

(Hobos rock!)

The owners of the store, I learned during the waiting period, had decided to do things differently this year.  They thought last year was too chaotic.  (Remember, my chief complaint was about the idiot who thought taking a recommendation was a ridiculous idea.  Yeah.)  So I started to worry a little.  And then a Ghostbuster came up and started setting up a table with all the awesome gear he's constructed (he said it took him about a year to put together the backpack).

And then the store opened.  And we literally became an assembly line, and the only assemblage necessary was: being handed a bag and shuffling out the store again.  Person + bag = happy person.  Probably.

The bag was stuffed, literally, with every Free Comic Book Day release the store received.  Fifty-one free comics!  Insane!  This I absolutely did not expect.  How could you???  In Colorado I became used to the store's three comic limit.  That sucked, but it made priorities an absolute priority.  And much, much easier to calculate subsequent reading time.  Last year was incredible, being able to pick anything I wanted, as much as I wanted.  Which makes this year's haul absolutely ridiculous!

Seriously.  So I won't be providing thoughts on everything.  So I will probably leave it at this list of everything from the bag:

  1. 2000 AD (Rebellion)
  2. And Then Evil Was Gone (Comix Tribe)
  3. Attack on Titan (Kodansha)
  4. Avatar: The Last Airbender (Dark Horse)
  5. The All-New, All Different Avengers (Marvel)
  6. Bob's Burgers (Dynamite)
  7. Bongo Comics Free-For-All (Bongo)
  8. Bodie Troll (Red 5, not featuring Atomic Robo for the first time ever!)
  9. Captain Canuck (Chapter House)
  10. Chakra the Invincible (Graphic India)
  11. Cleopatra in Space (Graphix)
  12. Comics Festival 2015 (Beguiling)
  13. Dark Circle Comics (Archie)
  14. Divergence (DC)
  15. Doctor Who (Titan)
  16. Fight Club (Dark Horse)
  17. Grimm Fairy Tales Presents: Wonderland (Zenescope)
  18. Gronk (Action Lab)
  19. Hatter M: Love of Wonder (Automatic)
  20. Help the CBLDF Defend Comics (CBLDF)
  21. Hip Hop Family Tree (Fantographics)
  22. I.C.E. (12-Gauge)
  23. JoJo's Bizarre Adventure (Viz)
  24. Jurassic Strike Force (Silver Dragon)
  25. Lady Justice (Super Genius)
  26. Legendary Comics 2015 Preview (Legendary)
  27. March Grand Prix (Capstone)
  28. Mega Man/Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie)
  29. Mercury Heat (Avatar)
  30. Motorcycle Samurai (Top Shelf; best title)
  31. Overstreet's Comic Book Marketplace (Gemstone)
  32. The Phantom (Hermes)
  33. Pokemon (Perfect Square)
  34. Rabbids (Papercutz)
  35. Savage Dragon Legacy (Image; seriously, though, Erik Larsen is going to eclipse Dave Sim at this point)
  36. Secret Wars [Free Previews edition] (Marvel)
  37. Secret Wars (Marvel)
  38. SpongeBob Freestyle Funnies (United Plankton)
  39. Steampunk Goldilocks (Antarctic)
  40. Street Fighter (Udon)
  41. Super Mutant Magic Academy (Drawn & Quarterly)
  42. Tales of Honor (Top Cow)
  43. Teen Titans Go!/Scooby-Doo Team-up (DC)
  44. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (IDW)
  45. Ten Year Celebration (Boom!)
  46. Terrible Lizard (Oni)
  47. Thanatos Diver/The Stuff of Legend (Th3rdworld)
  48. The Tick (New England)
  49. Transformers: Robots in Disguise (IDW)
  50. Valiant 25th Anniversary Special (Valiant)
  51. Worlds of Aspen (Aspen)
Plus, New York Bulletin (a newspaper-style Marvel Secret Wars preview...making that three for the year) and a leaflet advertising the 2015 Boston Comic Con.  And, you know, air.