Sunday, June 28, 2015

Digitally Speaking...55 "Kyrra: Alien Jungle Girl, etc."

These are comics I've read from my comiXology account...This time that means Kinds of Blue Vol. 1, Kung Fu Skratch! #1, and Kyrra: Alien Jungle Girl #1.

Kinds of Blue Vol. 1 (Hive Mindedness)
From 2011.

When people talk about depression, when they try to help with depression, they invariably end up with something like Kinds of Blue: a well-meaning, expressive, demonstrative...lack of concrete dialogue.  Part of this is the comic book format.  Hey, I know from comic book format.  What people generally call the graphic novel when they want to distinguish from superhero stories and the like usually comes with a certain vagueness.  Anecdotal,'s as if revealing too much would be a betrayal of the self.  But then what's the point?  The epitome of this kind of storytelling is Harvey Pekar, the late curmudgeon made famous by the film American Splendor.  So what it amounts to is sounding like you're complaining about everything, and admitting that there aren't any answers, that the world sucks and you just have to deal with it, or that you'll find a kind of happiness if you'll just look...

Listen, if I sound like I'm taking the material personally, it's because I am.  And overall it is good material, but it lacks anything but empathy.  The problem, anyone who carries around with them existential discontent, to use another term, is not overly comforted by the notion that they're not alone.  Or that one or two people may sympathize or will try and help them if and when they can.  Depression is something of a modern invention.  Life sucked a lot worse in times past.  Depression, I think, is an acknowledgment that life isn't completely bad, but it could be a lot better if only..., and it's the if only... that can never be addressed, because, well, life is in transition.  And maybe humans really are getting better.  But it happens in slow motion, and in the sucks.

So my point is, instead of one or two people saying, "Hey! I realize you're having a tough time of it," it would perhaps be better if even whole pockets of a community could chip in.  Think of it like the school social pecking order.  You have the cool kids, and then you have the misfits who band together.  But what about the misfits who are misfits even among misfits?  This is what I'm talking about.  Depression is like being that loner misfit.  This is not addressed in Kinds of Blue.  In fact, if there's a concrete criticism of it, it's that of any real information provided in the vignettes, it's that the creators are reasonably comfortable in their lives.  It's just that they happen to be depressed.

I don't know.  How do you help the misfit loner?  How do you find that pocket of a community?  Kinds of Blue has a vignette about enjoying movies.  Escapism.  The problem is, society always has demands.  And maybe it's the demands that are the biggest cause of depression.  Can't very well acknowledge that, however.  Society depends on demands, even though we have so many people in the world, most of us have no practical use whatsoever.  (And maybe that's another cause of depression, realizing that.)  Maybe we just have to find better ways to make people feel useful.  Wanted.  Included.  No matter how they prefer to exist.

Because not existing at all is way more daunting.  That much Kinds of Blue nails.

Kung Fu Skratch! #1 (Adrian Engmann)
From 2013.

Yeah, um....Seems to be manga by way of white people.  The art is manga, and the story is white people...The combination is bad enough, but this reaction is coming from someone who struggles to understand just manga itself, so white people only make it more complicated...All of this is to say, I am completely baffled...

Kyrra: Alien Jungle Girl #1 (Artist Alley)
From 2013.

Well, this one's pretty awesome.  It's kind of a parody of all those other jungle girl comics, the ones meant squarely as cheesecake.  But it's more like a humor comic than straight parody.

But other than the storytelling, the big draw for me is the art.  I know Craig Rousseau from the pages of Impulse.  If he hadn't had the thankless task of following Humberto Ramos and having a fairly similar style, I would've loved his art a lot more back then.

The thing is, today Rousseau looks very little like the Rousseau from Impulse.  I'd say in terms of art evolution, it's a little like Dustin Nguyen's work from Batman: Streets of Gotham as compared to his more recent Descender.  Sometimes you like artist consistency.  And truthfully, I would've been plenty happy to see the Craig Rousseau from Impulse.  But this Rousseau is more distinctive.  And hopefully like Nguyen will get a project like Descender so that he can get the wide audience he deserves.

(Somewhat beside the point but totally relevant to Digitally Speaking..., I discovered in the new Previews catalog that Atomic Robo has found a new, more prominent home at IDW, starting in September.  Very happy to see that.  So long, obscure Red 5!)

None of which is to say Kyrra: Alien Jungle Girl can't be the project that shoots Rousseau into the stratosphere.  Because from this material it definitely looks to be worth considerable attention.  But this is also to say, if Kyrra remains obscure, now I'm definitely rooting for Craig Rousseau to find himself back in mainstream comics.

Reading Comics 166 "Comics from 6/24/15"

Covered this week: E for Extinction #1, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #215 (plus #214), Green Lantern: Lost Army #1, Superman #41, and We Are Robin #1, as well as The Multiversity: Pax Americana Director's Cut.

E for Extinction #1 (Marvel)
Among the many, many Secret Wars spin-offs attempting to pick up the pieces of past Marvel stories is that incredibly rare title, E for Extinction, otherwise known as acknowledgment that Grant Morrison did, in fact, write X-Men stories for a number of years.  You may be forgiven to forget this happened, because Marvel has been trying to scrub history of this for years.  The minute Morrison left, for instance, Xorn was retconned far away from being Magneto.  Perish the thought!  To be fair, this run did have a fair impact on the future of mutants, but any and all associations with Morrison seem to have been severed as completely as possible, and everyone agreed that Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men was in fact the true watershed of the franchise, and that was that.

I confess to have played a part in this debacle.  Observers today might assume I've always been a hopeless devotee of Grant Morrison.  This is true to a point.  I became a fan through JLA, which is probably true for the vast amount of us.  But then I had to work my way back in.  I never read New X-Men, only a few issues here and there in later years (still working my way toward the complete run, as with Invisibles, Animal Man, and Doom Patrol, the titles the truly devoted would call the starting point, although this would be from a critical and not popular standpoint).  I was keenly aware of Morrison's mutants, so there's a kind of mythological element to the run, as with the fourth-wall Animal Man breakthrough, mostly what became of Xorn and how Beast became subject to a secondary mutation (to his present look).

All of which is to say, I'm glad E for Extinction exists.  Named after the opening arc in Morrison's New X-Men (in all, forty issues, with eight arcs), which along with several others features the art of Frank Quitely (the cover of this issue closely mirrors the famous art for the run), this is a wonderful reminder of how Morrison attempted to push the franchise forward.  Morrison himself isn't present, but Chris Burnham is.  Burnham is currently collaborating with Morrison on Image's Nameless and also did the art for the second run of Batman Inc., and as such has become associated with him enough that I guess he was a go-to guy for Marvel for this project.  That, I guess, and the fact that his art somewhat resembles Quitely's.  But he's not doing the art for this, rather another guy who somewhat resembles Burnham's!

Burnham himself has an issue of Batman Inc. in his credits as writer (#11, plus credit for #0 along with Morrison).  For most of this issue he's remarkably adequate, although he has instincts that one would not typically associate with Morrison material (although I could be wrong; I'm not familiar enough with New X-Men to identify all the characters in E for Extinction who come directly from it).  At any rate, he does an excellent job of conveying everything Morrison hoped to accomplish.  The representative panel in relation to that philosophy demonstrates how it's hilariously outdated to suggest today that minority groups in America haven't gained a certain mainstream credential (if not outright equality) that can no longer be denied with the simple moral equivalencies typical for mutant allegory.  Magneto (no mention made of Xorn, naturally) leads the new X-Men, with hopelessly dated Cyclops and Emma Frost used in counterpoint (the clearest connection to more recent material like how Bendis started out All-New X-Men).  Thrown in as well is Wolverine, because: Wolverine.

I'm just not a big fan of Burnham.  I don't like his art, and I think he tends to ruin what he does.  As a writer this is less so, but then there's the guy hired because he kind of draws like Burnham, so more or less, this is all Burnham all the time.  Unfortunately.  Fortunately there's plenty of Morrison present.  So as far as this first issue goes, I like this project.  I'm very glad it exists.  Clearly Marvel kind of desperately wants Morrison back in the fold (going back to the Marvelman annual that finally brought to life one of his old scripts).  I guess we'll see where that goes...

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #215 (IDW)
(and #214)
IDW did something somewhat remarkable when it acquired the G.I. Joe franchise.  It began publishing new issues of Larry Hama's Marvel run along with its own material.  This in itself was not hugely unique, since at the time Marvel itself was doing (or very near to doing) the very same with Chris Claremont and the X-Men.  But the Claremont experiment ended years ago, and Hama's G.I. Joe continues.  And it's just completed its biggest arc ever: "The Death of Snake Eyes."

And so apparently readers get to discover that when a publisher like IDW does a story like this, the rules are different, because the actual death occurred two issues ago.  I found that out because I was only reminded this was happening at all when I looked at the cover and saw the arc's title, so I flipped through the issue.  Seeing that the death didn't happen this issue, I went to see what other issues had to say about it.  Needless to say, #213 was not available.  I'd assumed it did occur in #214, but no such luck.  I decided to buy it even though it's a silent issue (appropriate) depicting full G.I. Joe honors for the body.

What this issue does is conclude a journey for the new Snake Eyes, someone Hama is careful to set up in the same mute mode as the original (seems somewhat convenient, but I'm willing to go with it).  So a little like "Knightfall," which ended with the new Batman defeating Bane rather than Bane's snapping of the original Batman's spine, the next chapter has already begun.

The issue also includes a tribute to Hama's original collaborator, Herb Trimpe, who passed away earlier this year.

Green Lantern: Lost Army #1 (DC)
I figured I'd give this one a shot because with the end of Red Lanterns I would otherwise not have been reading Green Lantern, and generally speaking, for as long as I've been reading comics I've been reading Green Lantern.  And I'm still not particularly interested in Robert Venditti's run (his revamp in the main title is something that looks radically...desperate to me).  And this does feature Guy Gardner, although the how and the why of his having a red and a green ring will apparently have to wait.

Otherwise, the most interesting thing about Lost Army is the inclusion of Krona, a traditional Green Lantern villain who for some reason or other is working alongside the heroes.  If anything, Lost Army reads like New Guardians crossed with Red Lanterns.  I have considerable doubts about whether I will be reading this long-term.  Why oh why did Venditti have to be given control...

Superman #41 (DC)
In Gene Yuen Lang's debut, quite unexpectedly "Truth" technically has not even begun yet.  Unlike the rest of the titles included in the arc, which have already released their first entries, anyway, the moment of, well, truth hasn't been reached yet.

Actually, thanks to the continuity of artist John Romita Jr., this issue reads as seamlessly with the Johns run as Romita's own issue, and I guess that's probably the point.  The other common link is Superman's apparent obsession with his new solar flare power.  It seems likely at this point that Superman will have probably used it once too often, and thus deprived himself of all his powers, which accounts for the other gimmick of the "Truth" arc.  The other being the loss of his secret identity.

And that is to say, I think the whole point of the arc is a complete deconstruction of Superman.  At this point, DC probably feels more than ready for something to dramatically shake things up.  Other than Grant Morrison's run in the early issues of Action Comics, nothing any creator has done since the start of the New 52 has really stuck.  This tends to make DC think there's a problem, and the answer invariably is a defensive one.  So: "Truth."

Given that he has managed to make himself at home in the Romita era, Lang already has my endorsement for being able to pull it off.  I'll be skipping the tie-ins from other series.  As far as I'm concerned, Superman is absolutely worth reading again.

We Are Robin #1 (DC)
For whatever reason, DC decided to be all mysterious about this series from writer (usually known as artist, but in Suicders, both) Lee Bermejo.  But to clarify, this series stars Duke Thomas, one of the many characters Scott Snyder has tossed off in the pages of Batman.  As depicted in a possibly unreliable Futures End: Batman and Robin #1, Duke at some point does in fact officially become Robin.  For now, he will have to content himself with a more unofficial distinction.

It's perhaps helpful to mention, as well, that Bermejo has made at least one thing official: finally, a connection between the concept of Robin and the legendary Robin Hood.  Traditionally, DC has attempted to make such distinctions with Green Arrow (most blatantly during the "Brightest Day" era just before the New 52).  In a nutshell, that's what the concept behind We Are Robin seems to be.

But really, it's just good seeing Duke again.  Featured in "Zero Year" and "Endgame" (the timeline seems a little muddled, but then as far as Batman's concerned that's been true throughout New 52, so it's just best not to worry about it), this is the first time he's gotten his own story (which is one better than the other Snyder castoff, Harper Row, who fans must be content to find in the pages Batman Eternal, apparently).  The artwork is nothing like Bermejo's cover, and it's easy to suspect that DC may have been thinking of Miles Morales with art that somewhat evokes Humberto Ramos (who has been identified with Spider-Man for a number of years now).

Also along for the ride is Leslie Tompkins, a Batman staple whom fans have been protective of over the years (she was tied up in the Stephanie Brown arc when the once and future Spoiler took on the role of Robin), so that's good to see.  Overall, I like this series quite a bit.

The Multiversity: Pax Americana Director's Cut (DC)
The local shop finally stocked copies of this, so I snapped one up.  As you can see, the crux of this is the entire issue reprinted with Frank Quitely's original pencil art, which I think actually looks better than the finished work.  There're also excerpts from Grant Morrison's script and looks at the art in development.  For some reason it always humbles me to see how much Morrison is involved in helping to visualize the art, since I stopped doing artwork of any serious nature years ago.  If I were to try what he does, it would not be fit to print.

To the extent that I've read any reaction to this release at all, it's griping that this is all it is.  "Director's cuts" in comics usually tend to include creator commentary if not outright added story (which is impractical in comics).  Morrison's script is represented only in part, his descriptions for panels, showing just how much he does in collaboration with Quitely to accomplish this ideological answer to Watchmen.  It begins with a full-blown description of intent, actually, which for the subsequent reader is also like an introduction-after-the-fact.

It was also an excellent excuse to read the whole thing all over again, by the way.  Still love it.

Also included in this polybagged issue is a larger version, in fold-out poster form, of the Multiversity map.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Annihilator #6 (Legendary)

via Paste Magazine
writer: Grant Morrison

artist: Frazer Irving

There are few authors as universally acclaimed without a single novel universally considered a classic as the late Philip K. Dick.  (I realize I may have just angered all of his fans, right there.)  As acclaimed as his fiction is, Dick's lasting impact to date is in the wide body of film that has been adapted from it, beginning with the cult phenomenon Blade Runner.  My personal favorite, since its release in 2011, is The Adjustment Bureau.

I begin my review of Annihilator's final issue like this because, in the end, its story ends up being a lot like Adjustment Bureau.  In the first issue, with an excerpt refreshed in everyone's mind thanks to Legendary's 2015 FCBD release, Max Nomax boldly proclaims that he will find a cure for death.  He does in fact do that in this finale.  As it turns out, Ray Spass's whole odyssey of meeting his own fictional creation while struggling to complete what looks to be his final screenplay because he's got an inoperable tumor that spells his imminent actually all part of Max's ultimate defiance of fate, this whole universe his contrivance, and in turn Morrison's answer to life, the universe, and everything.

I've said all along, or I began saying it at some point early on (and in fact named Annihilator the top comic in my 2014 "best of" QB50), that this is in all likelihood Morrison's best-ever work.  With this conclusion, I'm now fully prepared to endorse this assertion to its fullest.  What he's always lacked until now is a full-blown and yet fully accessible version of his wildest tendencies.  And that, friends, is Annihilator.  This was an inkling I'd previously had about Joe the Barbarian, but I came to appreciate that one more in hindsight than I did at the time it was originally being published.  With Annihilator there was no doubt whatsoever.  Other fans could rightly point to We3, although its brevity might always be its biggest (and only) weakness.  The funny thing is that during the midst of Annihilator's publication, Morrison also finally published The Multiversity, including the Pax Americana issue, which may actually be the leading contender for the second spot in his oeuvre.

Anyway, this is also a love story, a messy one.  I love The Adjustment Bureau a great deal, but Annihilator is like the epic version of The Adjustment Bureau.  Another of the reasons I've been so excited to see this unfold is that it is probably Morrison's best bet to finally join Moore and Miller in the mold Dick has long enjoyed, which is being a favorite of Hollywood.  Now that it's clear that it really does boil down to something as simple and accessible as a love story...I mean, at this point I look for weaknesses, some misstep Morrison made along the way.  And, really, he's got everything covered.  This is his most complete, best work.

So here's the grand pitch: Annihilator = The Adjustment Bureau + Interstellar + A.I. Artificial Intelligence + Adaptation...Chances are, even if there are movies in that computation you don't like, it gives you an idea of how far-reaching the story really is, and how intimate at the same time.  And where there are so many associations to be made, it's also very clearly unlike any of them, almost a Princess Bride in that it's also a story about the story, a commentary on itself without being too meta, and it's obnoxious in all the ways people love about Quentin Tarantino movies (it's hard to say if Annihilator is more like Jackie Brown, Kill Bill, or even Reservoir Dogs)...

End of story.  Happy ending?  Well, pretty much.  And really, it could never be any other way.  And that's the genius of it.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Digitally Speaking...54 "Judge Dredd, etc."

This column comics.  Hence, ah, the title.  This edition features Jackie Rose Volume 1, John Carpenter's Asylum #1, and Judge Dredd FCBD Special.

Jackie Rose Volume 1: The Treasure of Captain Read (Josh Ulrich)
From 2013.

Somewhat completely hackneyed.  I used to spend a lot of time, in college creative writing classes, letting fellow students know in my comments on their work, how obviously they'd learned storytelling from movies, and not necessarily how to do storytelling, but merely aping the storytelling itself.  That's what Ulrich has done here, without any real finesse.  Actually, with no finesse at all.  The artwork is for the most part competent, except for the "bad guy mustache" (that otherwise seems to be on a boy who would be...too young for a mustache of any kind; just one of the many logic gaps present).  When you see this labeled as "all-ages," consider it most (if not completely) relevant for young ages.  A deeper analysis would only give me headaches...Darn you, comiXology bundles!

John Carpenter's Asylum #1 (Storm King)
From 2013.

I seem to be one of the few people who even knew the movie Deliver Us From Evil was even released, much less enjoyed it.  This is not Deliver Us From Evil.  But it does have copious nudity in it.  As if to make up for the lack of inspiration?

Judge Dredd FCBD Special (IDW)
From 2013.

This was published by IDW, but it's actually reprint material from 2000 A.D., where Dredd has also been featured in Free Comic Book Day material.  Dredd's a character you kind of have to already like in order to appreciate, which is why it's somewhat baffling that there have been two movies based on him (neither successful) without really addressing the lack of crossover appeal.  There's nothing inherently bad about Dredd comics (the FCBD 2000 A.D. material I've read the last two years is better than what's in this special), it's just, if IDW were going to go through the trouble of publishing him, maybe make the same effort DC made two decades ago?  New material?

I give up.  I struck out this time.

Reading Comics 165 "Comics from 6/17/15"

Comics covered: Justice League of America #1, Martian Manhunter #1, MIND MGMT #34, Ms. Marvel #16, Prez #1, and Robin: Son of Batman #1.

Justice League of America #1 (DC)
That image can't help, for me, but evoke Mark Waid's The Kingdom, an attempt at a follow-up to the much more famous Kingdom Come.  Killing off Superman en masse will always have visual impact...Anyway, the rest of Bryan Hitch's debut (he was exclusive over at Marvel for a decade starting in 2002, and has been making a slow return to the DC fold for a few years now) of the latest Justice League title makes it clear that this is not an in-continuity series (although since Convergence, "in-continuity" doesn't mean that much anymore), and as such can be recommended to anyone looking for their DC fix without too much commitment.  The line-up is the same as the original from Geoff Johns' flagship.  That's about it.  Good, competent storytelling.  Nothing wildly exceptional, but then, I guess that doesn't particularly matter.

Martian Manhunter #1 (DC)
I've been waiting for a decent Martian Manhunter story from the New 52 era.  Thankfully, it arrived at the same time the unexpected ongoing series launched.  This is a character ripe with potential because he's never a given for the publishing schedule, which means anytime DC trots him out (for a solo story), chances are good that a creative team came together to tell something decent.  His only other ongoing series was somewhat of an exception for me (spinning out of Grant Morrison's JLA), featuring the creative team of John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake, who somehow made an alien character too alienating.  And this is a character who thrives on that distinction.  The later A.J. Lieberman mini-series was actually the first of the great Martian Manhunter material that I've had the fortune to read, and for me remains the high water mark for the character and his best presentation.

But that might change.  The writer is Rob Williams, whom I've previously encountered in the unremarkable Classwar.  Taking a cue from Ostrander, Morrison, and Lieberman, Williams has focused on how much is really known and/or set in stone in Martian Manhunter mythology, which again is perfect for exploring because while he's iconic his relatively scant publishing history makes him ideal for innovative storytelling (but less ideal for randomly killing, as Morrison discovered in the pages of Final Crisis).

The Eddy Barrows image I included, from the first page of the issue, features "Mr. Biscuits," whom I assume is actually Martian Manhunter.  Again, more of what you can do with a character like this.  The art, especially the depiction of Mr. Biscuits, is a major revelation for a reader like me only familiar with Barrows from the pages of Nightwing, where he was perfectly serviceable if not especially inspired.  Which is to say, he's definitely inspired here, and is a real strength for the series, moreso than Mandrake was in the previous series (nothing against Tom Mandrake, but his art was the major hindrance of that run).  Barrows can convey classic superhero and the rest of the range Williams requires.

It's that range that showcases everything right with this vision.  It's pretty sensational, really, and that's without even mentioning the character Pearl, who is that rarest of superhero characters, someone from the Middle East who isn't at all what you'd expect, but rather a traditional superhero character introducing us to an all-new vision of the Middle East, at least as compared to...everything else you tend to see.  She's the Catwoman of Arabia.  Brilliant.

I look forward to future issues, eagerly.

MIND MGMT #34 (Dark Horse)
I mentioned with the previous issue that Matt Kindt had reached the heist portion of the series, where the plan is explained, and how he exhibited how this story is different because the plan won't go wrong because, well, that's what kind of series this is.  This issue calls to mind Christopher Nolan's Inception.  Which is basically a heist movie.  So I guess this is to say, if you're wondering what kind of story MIND MGMT is, I guess you can say it's like a Christopher Nolan movie.  For me, this counts as a considerable endorsement.  I've been a Nolan fan since Memento.  And now, hopefully, years from now I will be able to say I've been a Kindt fan since MIND MGMT.

Ms. Marvel #16 (Marvel)
For the past few issues, I've been wondering if I should continue reading this series, because more often than not I've found myself disappointed.  Unlike a lot of other readers, I didn't start reading Ms. Marvel for its cultural uniqueness, but because the writer is G. Willow Wilson.  I became a fan of Wilson through work (Air) I considered the best of all the comics I was reading over the course of two consecutive years (2009-2010).  That comes with significant expectations for any future work.  And when this one started, Wilson absolutely lived up to the hype I gave her.  I read Wilson because of her ability to keep things interesting, on a number of levels.  Lately those levels have dropped.

I mention all that because this is one of those issues that reminds me why I like Wilson.  It's part of Marvel's Secret Wars event (hence "Last Days of..." printed over the logo).  I've found that sometimes ongoing comics really can knock out of the park what can otherwise be a cumbersome mandatory tie-in for an "end of the world" story (during DC's The Final Night two decades ago, for instance, this happened, and that's one of the reasons I love that event so much).  For Wilson, it seems to have been a fruitful chance to refocus, bring back some of the sharp observations that've been Ms. Marvel at its best, rather than the lukewarm ones that've been floating around lately.

So that was good to see.

Prez #1 (DC)
DC makes infrequent attempts to candor to the youth vote, as it were.  The last time I found it particularly effective was Final Crisis Aftermatch: Dance (the Super Young Team mini-series).  Prez is kind of like that, but I think it has a better shot at being noticed, so long as there's a willing audience out there.  The creative end certainly does its part.  In that above panel alone there's inspiration from Alan Moore, Frank Miller, and even Jeff Smith to be found, which is not bad company at all.

Writer Mark Russell seems to be pretty new, and he's certainly seized this opportunity.  I will, however, be concentrating my praise on Ben Caldwell.  I've been praising Ben since his exceptional Wonder Woman material from Wednesday Comics, which Prez evokes to a certain degree.  I say "certain degree," because I think part of the reason I seem to be somewhat singular in my devotion to Ben and his Wonder Woman is that he took his creative freedom in that project to a perhaps excessive extreme.  He's dialed in it here, but the work is still uniquely vivid, and that's what I love about him.

I think the big fear everyone had about Prez is that it would be more or less like the previous, decades-old version of this narrative, a precocious "kid president" (although as kid presidents go, you know about Kid President, right? he's awesome) that has no real creative value.  That couldn't be further from the case.  Another big post-Convergence winner right here.

Robin: Son of Batman #1 (DC)
Speaking of great art, here's Patrick Gleason in what's effectively a spin-off from Batman and Robin.  I think most of us fans feared that divorced from Pete Tomasi, Gleason couldn't really pull off the same magic on his own.  But as it turns out, he really, really can.  After the massive detour caused by Grant Morrison's murder of Damian in the pages of Batman, Inc. and various other crossover events, it's perhaps best of all to see Robin back in the mode that made for truly excellent comics in Batman and Robin's earliest days.  And for proof, there's even the return (of a sorts) of Nobody, a character the series thankfully picked up from one of Christopher Nolan's ideas in his Batman movies (even if his Henri Ducard ended up...not being Henri Ducard at all).

Given how DC likes to experiment with artists acting as their own writers, the results are always going to be interesting.  One of the last times was Scott McDaniel in the pages of Static Shock, which was one of the more notorious failures of the early New 52 (alas, McDaniel's career still has yet to show any signs of recovering).  As you can see earlier in this very column, one of the latest is Bryan Hitch.  But I think Gleason makes a better case, possibly because he did have that lead time with Tomasi, but perhaps also because he has proven such an excellent match for Damian.  There's no artist who has done the character better.

And now he's got a Man-Bat (don't call Goliath that, though!) as his new partner.  And that's a story we will get to see unfold in future issues, which should be interesting, just one of many Gleason gets to work with, which is a very good thing, because this is a series that has earned a certain amount of autonomy, and as I've suggested, if there was anything wrong with Batman and Robin, it was that it had to earn the same distinction the hard way.  But thank goodness.  Because it seems Damian's adventures just keep getting better and better as a result!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Digitally Speaking...53 "Impulse, etc."

This column covers material read digitally, oddly enough, from my comiXology account...And this particular edition covers: Impulse #1, The Infidel #1, Inhuman #1, Injustice: Gods Among Us: Year Three #1, The Mire #1, and Invincible #s 1 & 118...

Impulse #1 (DC)
From 1995.

This is not the first time I've read it.  Back in the '90s I was as big a fan of Mark Waid as you could find, and especially of his Flash comics.  And then he launched Impulse and I found something I loved even more.

Going back to this issue is something like rediscovering it.  In the early going it reads very much like Edward Furlong in Terminator 2, and even the great Humberto Ramos, in these pages, looks like that's exactly what he's evoking in the art.  It's not until Bart Allen is in the same room as Max Mercury that the issue truly becomes alive.  Now, Max was always my favorite.  From his introduction in the seminal "Return of Barry Allen" arc, Max was a brand-new character, a mentor who wasn't really a mentor at all, more like a reluctant observer/guardian, especially once given responsibility for the ADHD poster child Bart, Waid's vision of video game corruption as feared for years by excitable parents and social watchdogs everywhere.  Reading Max now is like discovering that he could easily be Arnold Schwarzenegger as seen in Maggie, that hulking figure who seems completely incongruous in the given situation but otherwise tries to make the best of it...

And Bart?  Never mind that Ramos finally becomes recognizable as Bart and Max interact, Bart suddenly seems like an emissary from the future.  No, not the fictional one from his origin, but from Pixar, from films like Frozen.  Yes, a full twenty years ahead of his time, instead of a teenager culled from a movie four years in the past.

Needless to say, but Bart didn't stay like that for long.  Even before Geoff Johns revamped the character in the pages of Teen Titans, Bart had become a victim of his own quirks, bereft of the innocent charm Waid and Ramos gave him and made into a cartoon of a cartoon.  And I liked that version.  But it wasn't Bart at his best.  That was always Waid's Bart.  And Humberto Ramos on art.  Ramos has actually aged the best out of all three.  He later graduated to another youthful character, Spider-Man, and seemed perfectly at home from the start.  More people know this work than ever cared about Bart and Max.  This is okay, because it's a rare second act in comics that builds on the first effortlessly.  Usually when a given act is transplanted, something is definitely lost in translation.

But this is to say, there's a good deal to rediscover.  With DC delving into its past so gleefully these days, now might be a good time to dig up this version of Bart Allen.  Something tells me that at the very least, a really good movie could be made out of it.

The Infidel, featuring Pigman #1 (Bosch)
From 2011.

For people who want a sanitized version of Frank Miller's Holy Terror.  The cover image even seems to evoke it.

Inhuman #1 (Marvel)
From 2014.

Hmm.  So, maybe the Inhumans are not completely pointless after all.  You'll forgive me for believing that all this time, because as far as I could tell previously, even with potential they had been completely pointless for, oh, fifty years.  They were an attempt to duplicate the idea of mutants but in a different context.  Handled better they could very easily be the best thing Marvel has ever done.  Well, imagine that.

This isn't the first step in making them relevant, but it's a neat little package and it's written by Charles Soule, signer of that infernal exclusive deal with Marvel that took him away from a lot of good DC work.  I can't ascribe all of this new potential to Soule, but as far as I'm concerned...why not?  Because there's the hallmark of work I am familiar with from the pages of Red Lanterns, blown up to epic proportions.  The Inhumans are the product of genetic engineering from an ancient Kree visit to Earth, and a society that until recently was pretty exclusive and self-contained.  Except now things have gone all to hell.  The Terrigen Mist was released as Inhumans are popping up left and right.  It's kind of like what Marvel tried doing with mutants once it had done a complete hash job of keeping them relevant, but done...better.  Possibly because this is a story that's building rather than attempting to continue.

And this may be one of the many reasons I finally give up on Ms. Marvel, because technically its premise is entirely predicated on this bold new Inhumans arc but without any real understanding as to its potential.

Here, as in something Brian Michael Bendis was the last X-Men writer I've seen trying to salvage the mutant version therein from the early issues of All-New X-Men, new Inhumans are being inducted to the ongoing war of ideology among this clan.  And I use clan because the full potential of all this could very much be a Game of Thrones situation, completely subverting the biggest weakness that had previously plagued the Inhumans in that they used to be just another superhero team with a quasi-gimmick to try and set them apart (which didn't work or didn't seem interesting, and so this long fallow publishing history).  Soule did some of that in Red Lanterns, and even Swamp Thing was ultimately about this very concept.

If he and/or other writers actually pull it off, the Inhumans really could be the next big thing.  As represented in this particular issue, it really could be.  If he's built on this foundation profitably in the meantime, that time could actually be now.  (Marvel Now!  Heh.)

I'll have to have a look around...

Injustice: Gods Among Us: Year Three #1 (DC)
From 2014.

Based on a video game...and wouldn't you know, that is not all you need to know!  Like Inhuman above, this is a pleasant surprise.  As the somewhat laborious title suggests, this has been going on for some time already.  This particular debut issue drops the reader in the middle of the action with minimal context (basically, key good guys are kind of key bad guys, leaving some of the more unconventional good guys to do the good guy bit), starring John Constantine (late of his own TV show these days) as he attempts to protect his daughter from things that go bump in the night.  Along the way we also come across Zatanna (along with Black Canary, perennially doing what she can to keep the spirit of fishnets alive!) and Dr. Fate (Constantine has a good quip against him).  And finally, Detective Chimp.  A veteran reader of Shadowpact, I know how awesome Detective Chimp is.  I'm curious what other readers (and/or game players?) think when they see him dropped into the story, with such an auspicious introduction.  I've heard that the Injustice comics were good, but I'd avoided them because, y'know, based on a video game.  But seriously, DC takes this stuff seriously.  You could very easily read this exclusively and get a very healthy DC fix.  The writer on record is Tom Taylor, who also helped out Earth 2 for a while.  But I think he's since slipped away from DC.  Either way, the dude's got talent.

The Mire #1 (Ink & Thunder)
From 2012.

...This is the kind of comiXology session you always hope for...Which is to say, I keep finding stuff that's fantastic today.  This was listed under Ink & Thunder, and so I listed that here as publisher.  But it's self-published by Becky Cloonan, a name I keep coming across, apparently because she's been around DC and/or Vertigo for a while now.  And suddenly she's another thing I want to further investigate.  Because The Mire is kind of that version of Lord of the Rings without all the quasi-epic history involved, just the intimate, character-centric kind you always suspected Tolkien could have focused on and made his work better, which is the thing Peter Jackson did that was absolutely the best part of his films (and so yes, when he went back with the Hobbit trilogy, you know exactly what I think he did best there)...And I guess this was pretty much a standalone tale, but I absolutely loved it.  Good stuff, Cloonan.

Invincible #1 (Image)
From 2003.

Launched before Walking Dead, this is Robert Kirkman's original breakout series, one of those this-is-a-self-contained-superhero-comic-that's-not-even-published-by-DC-or-Marvel efforts that attempts to give readers a new venue with which to explore the genre.  And it's probably a good way to know where Kirkman eventually takes Walking Dead, because unlike that series, he's already pushed Invincible to at least one climax (it's an Image thing; over in Spawn and Savage Dragon, the other long-lived superhero comics published by Image, definitive arcs have come and gone, and for some reason they keep getting published until the creators come up with, I don't know, another).  Launched a few years after Brian Michael Bendis' Ultimate Spider-Man, it's kind of the same experience as that, too.  And for some reason, even though Walking Dead has since gone onto massive crossover success, Invincible is still sitting there pretty much ignored but still in publication.  Probably because, Robert Kirkman, I guess.  The beginning is all sweet and innocent, actually not so different from the Impulse experience.  As a massive spoiler alert from the past, things become much, much more complicated.  And anyway, as I said, if you don't want to wait decades (or however long Kirkman can actually draw it out), you probably can find out Walking Dead's future, because really, the two comics aren't really that different thematically.  This is not a knock on Kirkman.  Good writers have resonant themes in their work.  This is the first time I realized Kirkman was probably doing that, too.

Invincible #118 (Image)
From 2015. it happens, the future is now.  I had an issue from this year waiting for me, too.  It's an isue designed to be a jumping-on point.  Or at least intended to be.  There's a massive recap of the series to date to start things off...and then we're dumped into the middle of the next arc just as if everything that follows makes perfect sense.  Just 'cause!  As I...may have suggested...I'm not really sure why Kirkman is still writing Incincible other than that it's a steady gig, and steady gigs.  It gives them stability.  Life rarely comes prepackaged with that.  But this issue makes the whole series, everything that's recapped, seem like just another series of stories, and that's kind of wrong for a series that seems predicated on breaking the mold, making it okay to delve into a superhero's life, because this is one creator's vision, everything means something, and the future isn't something that's as fictional as the character himself. and seventeen issues later, the lead character is still incredibly youthful, plopped into the middle of what comic books inevitably think growing up means, wife and one kid (see: Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows), trying desperately to figure out of that's a mistake or not.  Comic book creators are amazingly bad at making sense of such developments.  This issue also deals with the less-publicized notion of male rape victim, another thing comics inordinately fixate on (Dick Grayson was infamously such a victim, which fans reacted to as if this ruined the character, somewhat the obverse of the point I'm trying to make, and also a black stain on readers instead of just creators).  Not something I'm taking lightly, but...well, maybe victims of either gender will benefit from it being explored regardless.  Anyway, the greater point (that makes it sound like I'm sweeping aside the issue...) being, it doesn't paint the series in the best light, any of this.  Even Bendis eventually moved on to a different Ultimate Spider-Man.  Maybe Kirkman should do that?

Too bad I'm ending on a bad note, because most of this stuff really was good.  In the random way I tend to collect comiXology material, that is never a given.  So it really is good when it happens.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Reading Comics 164 "Comics from 6/10/15"

Featuring Batman #41, Descender #4, Earth 2: Society #1, Nameless #4, and Saga #29.

Batman #41 (DC)

This whole issue is Scott Snyder doing the hard sell for his new direction.  This can be seen as a good thing, even a smart thing.  But it might also be acknowledgment that maybe it's not such a good idea after all.  Veteran comics readers know how this game works.  Original character is replaced.  New character attempts to solidify their right to the role.  Original character returns.  Snyder has been playing a little fast and loose with the concept from the start, "killing off" Bruce Wayne while also making it clear (to anyone paying attention) that this didn't actually happen.  And this issue makes that clear, too.  He's sitting in a park on the first and last pages.  Some readers will wonder, is that really Bruce Wayne?  Of course it is.

And that's really Jim Gordon playing at being Batman, too.  Even he pokes fun at the new getup, by the way.  As I said, Snyder plays with fire in the issue.  And it's a little hard to swallow after a while.  I know what you'll say, you veteran of this blog.  I've acknowledged problems reading Snyder in the past.  The conclusion to "Endgame," I said, might have been the point where I put all that behind me.  But I guess it really doesn't work that way.

So this is Snyder trying to do his version of the replacement trope.  As you can see from the above panel, Snyder even gives lip service to all the reasons why this typically happens.  The oddest thing is that there's no one saying Batman needs this right now.  And so why is Snyder even doing it?  Because he's subverting even that part of the narrative?  Hey, since when was Scott Snyder even known as a guy who subverts expectations anyway?

So the issue is actually pretty uncomfortable, and once again I'm telling myself, I'm done with Snyder.  I won't be fooled again!  

We'll see...

Descender #4 (Image)

In strict contrast to Snyder and even to a comic I'll be talking about a little later is this one from the combined genius of Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen.  I happen to love comics, or stories in general, with a lot of moving parts, which is to say components that are being used not necessarily in direct conjunction with each other but that keep things interesting, and this has nothing to do with being simple or complicated, but a general awareness that the creator(s) have figured out what they're doing in an obvious, even if subtle, way.  This means, for instance, what's illustrated above.  What Snyder's done in Batman has sometimes seemed like it wanted to do something like this, but then it turns out most of that was geared toward Batman Eternal and not Batman itself, which is fine and all, but there's a clear difference, and the distinction is that Snyder himself didn't want to affect what he was doing in trying to create an iconic Dark Knight by introducing a lot of dynamic new elements (Court of Owls notwithstanding, or perhaps included).

The above illustrates the difference nicely.  The Driller is somewhat one-dimensional, but serves as a nice contrast to Tim, the little boy robot who's the heart of Descender.  Tim convinces Driller not to be a killer because that would be bad for its future.  But later in the issue, when more mayhem surrounds Tim, he releases Driller from this restriction.  Lemire writes this perfectly, and of course Nguyen is doing the same killer work he's done since Batman: Li'l Gotham.  While Tim's creator Dr. Quon remains about as one-dimensional as Driller, there's also Telsa to be considered.  This is the issue where we begin to find out what makes her interesting.  At first not only as one-dimensional as Driller but as function-centered, she's a reflection of what the series may ultimately be about, breaking away from what others perceive you to be (and hence a sign that Quon will likely receive similar treatment at some point).  Tim himself, especially to Telsa, is just a boy robot programmed to be a "real" boy's best friend.  

Anyway, while Lemire has been careful to keep the action and plot moving, he doesn't do that at the expense of character development, and not just development, but exploration, which is a concept that is usually ignored.  Snyder, for instance, constantly flirts with it, but only in the safest ways possible, which was he allowed himself, and was allowed by DC, to do such a radical Batman/Joker story as "Endgame" ended up being.  But he always backs away.  When other writers aren't backing away, they aren't even attempting it.  Lemire pushes boldly ahead.  Descender, this is to say, is looking like an all-around classic.

Earth 2: Society #1 (DC)

Speaking of character exploration, the thing I liked best about Convergence was how it took Earth 2 and made it better.  When James Robinson started that series, it was about as character-centric as anything DC was publishing at the time.  Convergence came around and took one of Earth 2's characters, Dick Grayson, and pushed him forward.  And interestingly, as with Convergence as a whole, the story clearly didn't end there.  This is to be understood as a hook.  If you care at all about the character, you will want to know how the story continues.  The debut issue of Society keeps that idea going.

The panel above once again is selected for illustrative purposes.  A lot of the successful comics these days are ones that feature a hook for the real world.  The paralyzed Dick Grayson will hopefully join those ranks.  Most of the issue he is in fact running around, but this is also an issue that jumps back and forth in time.  The hook, then, is for the reader to want to continue reading the series, see how exactly Dick reaches the point where he is running around again.  Likely for the same reasons he was in Convergence, because he has some sort of artificial support.  This should be no big problem for someone looking to him as a role model.  Amputees, for instance, are very familiar with this narrative.

So for me, my interest in Earth 2 was absolutely elevated by Convergence, which I believe was one of the main points of the event, and Society is an excellent way to keep that momentum going.

Nameless #4 (Image)

For those two panels (the rest of the page becomes much like the rest of this particular story), Nameless evokes Grant Morrison's own We3, which is one of the best things he's ever done.  The problem is, Nameless is otherwise hellbent on being the weirdest thing Morrison has ever done, The Filth taken to the next level.  Weirdest as in most disturbing.  It's very easy to interpret Nameless as the culmination of Morrison realizing his Batman Inc. collaborator Chris Burnham as being capable of this exact kind of story.

For some comics readers, the weirder is in fact the better.  Comics, in their view, are supposed to shock.  And they have been shocking readers for many decades, sometimes deliberately so.  And Nameless is also a culmination of Morrison's own basic instincts, by the way.

But it's still very hard to enjoy.  I didn't particularly like Burnham in the pages of Batman Inc. either, by the way.  He's a definite proponent of gross-out material. It's sad, because in those panels above, he is clearly capable of stuff that doesn't need to do that.  (Sometimes I assume people who specialize in gross-out do it because they think they need to.)  To link more of this edition of Reading Comics together, Burnham can perhaps take lessons from Fiona Staples.  (I've been leading toward Saga.  There.)  Staples can do a lot of things.  Saga in one sense is designed to let her do a lot of things.  Some of it is explicitly to let her shock the reader.  But it never quite seems as shocking as what Burnham has routinely demonstrated in Nameless.

And it gets in the way, too.  That's the thing.  It distinctly feels as if Morrison is letting Burnham sell most of the concept for him.  And Morrison is routinely guilty of letting the story sell itself rather than bothering to explain it himself.  And when this works, it absolutely works.  But sometimes it doesn't.  And I think that's ultimately why I backed away from The Filth, too, because the more I thought about it, the more I wished Morrison didn't rely so much on the actual filth.  Imagine how much more readers would have hated Final Crisis if it had done that!

So more and more, that's what I think about Nameless.  I wish it evoked Morrison's best instincts more often.  But I also think this whole project is Morrison working his worst instincts out of his system, or simply trying to prove that old image he created of himself was real after all.  Except more and more, I'm convinced it really wasn't.  But what do I know?

Saga #29 (Image)

This issue is something of a bloodbath for supporting characters in Saga.  If this were Star Trek, it would be the redshirt issue.

And there's an image that's not about that at all, and may be one of the defining gross-out images of the whole series, and that's all I'm going to say about that.  Visually, this is about the sum of everything anyone who doesn't like what they've seen could possibly fear to see throughout a whole issue.

Which is also to say, just another issue of Saga.  But really, this really is Saga to the extreme.  And this is definitely one of the odder things about the series.  It doesn't need any of that to be awesome.  Why Brian K. Vaughan has done it at all, and repeatedly, is probably just because he absolutely knows he can get away with it, or because he just really always wanted to see a sci-fi story do it.  There are plenty of people who like their stories like this.  I'm not necessarily one of them.  Usually it's kept to a minimum, one shock per issue, and usually with a bunch of issues that don't feature this sort of thing at all (mostly).

And the thing of it all is that Fiona Staples otherwise has some of the most lush art around, and could as easily sell itself without any of that as Vaughan could write Saga without any of these distractions.  And yes, at this point it has to be considered one of the primary elements of the series, so there's little use complaining about it, especially so many issues into the series, and from a reader who has read a majority of the series...

Anyway, some of this was absolutely inevitable.  And I suppose Vaughan's greater point is that sci-fi that isn't dirty is simply ignoring a great too many realities.  But the long-term potential of Saga is somewhat compromised if this sort of issue will be routine.  Walking Dead does this all the time.  And I've mentioned before that I absolutely think Walking Dead was ruined by making this sort of thing routine.  You can't do a long-term story where the same thing happens over and over again.  After a certain point, the idea becomes routine and therefore pointless, especially if the writer clearly has nothing to say.

The point of this particular issue is that the things that have been happening throughout the series really have been messy, and are doomed to messy conclusions until and perhaps even when the same mistakes stop being made.  We'll see if that's where Vaughan is actually going with this.  The important thing is, the important people are still alive.  For now.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Digitally Speaking...52 "Hawkeye, Henchmen, etc."

via Comic Vine
Artwork from Hawkeye #1.
This column covers comics read digitally (hence the title) from my comiXology account...

H.G. Wells' The Chronic Argonauts (New Baby)
From 2013.

Based on an obscure Wells book published prior to his well-known classics, as demonstrated by this comics adaptation Chronic Argonauts is actually pretty interesting.  Not having read the original prose edition, I can only speculate how much was altered, although it seems to be conspicuously faithful to a fault at times.  But the thing is, it gets better as it moves along, becoming far more comfortable with its considerable world-building, which may not be as iconic as, say, The Time Machine or straight-forward as War of the Worlds.  A kind of Doctor Who adventure taken to its logical conclusions with no concern to whether or not there will be another adventure next week, the fate of mankind is in the balance and the echoes of history examined, and maybe, just maybe we have an alternate look at, say, how Tesla could have turned out if he'd created a time machine.

Hawken: Genesis #1 (Archaia)
From 2012.

Apparently a preview for a graphic novel based on a video game...If I were more into video games, the prior sentence would not have included the word "apparently."  But that's where we are, folks.  Video games, it should be understood, are excellent at world-building, but the thing is, that's usually where the story ends, because actual game-play tends to be pretty...static.  Which is one of the many reasons why I don't generally play video games.  (Which is to say, another is that I'm actually pretty horrible at them.)  So this preview features world-building.  And only world-building.  And it must be said, excellent art.  Because art tends to be pretty important to video games, too.  In fact, of the things video games and comics have in common is the importance of art.  Good comics have good storytelling as well.  Good video games have...visceral qualities.  Which is why they're popular, like porn one of those hugely significant subcultures that's hard to talk about adequately in mainstream society, because it's just hard to talk about.  Anyway...

Hawkeye #1 (Marvel)
From 2012.

So, this is the little comic that helped revolutionize mainstream superhero comics, which is a ripple effect that is being felt more and more across DC's and Marvel's lines.  But the thing is...if it had been any other title but Hawkeye, the series that achieved this would be considered an instant classic.  And that probably won't happen for Hawkeye.  Writer Matt Fraction has parlayed this and other success into making a name for himself, but I wonder if he'll have the same amount of overall exposure as, say, Frank Miller or Mark Millar before him.  What Fraction achieved with Hawkeye was making a mainstream superhero title into an indy book.  But instead of, say, Daredevil, it stars Hawkeye(s).  And really, no one cares about Hawkeye.  He has no solo track record.  He's an Avenger.  This comic happened at all because of the movie The Avengers, where Hawkeye is one of two members (Black Widow) who will probably never have a solo movie (as opposed to the rest of the team).  And so while Hawkeye gets a series out of it, Marvel let Fraction do whatever he wanted because it just didn't care.  And fans still talk about whatever it is Mark Waid's been doing in the pages of Daredevil even though creatively it's not in the league of Fraction's Hawkeye.  And with an impact that's much greater...

FCBD 2011 Headache Preview (Kickstart)

Written by Lisa Joy, wife of Jonthan Nolan (brother of...Christopher Nolan), this is one of those variations-on-the-Greek-gods stories.  Knowing the Nolan connection, I wish there had been the full Nolan approach, focused on a strong character perspective.  Except there really isn't.  Jonathan frequently collaborates on his brother's films.  Now it seems he'll be working with his wife on such projects as a Westworld reboot.  I don't know.  Hopefully she's better than this...

Henchmen #1 (Robot Paper)
From 2014.

If I were better at math, I could come up with a convincing statistic concerning how much of this comiXology stuff I've got that ends up being a pleasant surprise.  A lot of it's mediocre or worse, but I've found a few really good ones in the mix.  Henchmen is one of those.  Although something of an awkward mix that may be selling the concept a little too hard, this is the story of, yes, henchmen, the goons who support the supervillains who are usually as dispensable as the redshirts in Star Trek.  Except Henchmen focuses on Gary, the guy whose world has crumbled around him, which means losing his job, his wife, and discovering a fortuitous ad in the paper while recovering from a somewhat obscured medical emergency.  Which is an invitation to become a henchman.  Some of the rough edges in the storytelling are easy to overlook because overall it's pretty darn good.  I can't say how Henchmen: I, Henchbot (what's currently being published) compares, but as far as how the story begins, there's a lot that's done right.  So it receives a recommendation from me at the very least.

The Heroes of Echo Company #1 (Joseph Henson)
From 2013.

What's with all the military comics at comiXology?  Because as you may or may not be able to tell from the title, this is one of them.  It's also a space-based comic, and one that kind of awkwardly tries to meld military with superhero comics (in the way G.I. Joe has code names and only sometimes outlandish costumes to go alone with them, and more often than not for the villains...this comic has the costumes and code names...taken from hero history...for reasons not properly relevant to the rest of the story, at least as presented here).  Something like that.  I think actual military-enthusiasts would like this one more than I did, but I'm not convinced at all that the concept was figured out.  Maybe it gets better?  But I'll never know...

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Justice League #41 (DC)

writer: Geoff Johns

artist: Jason Fabok

There seems to be a determined interest in downplaying or downright diminishing the work of Geoff Johns.  This is ridiculous and needs to stop.  Ideally, "The Darkseid War" will help with this.

FCBD's Divergence gave a preview of what to expect, including the official debut of a character the New 52 has been teasing for quite some time, Darkseid's daughter as she was originally known, now revealed as Grail.  Actually, this was the highlight of Divergence, which also included previews for the "Truth" arc featuring Superman and the new Batman.

What Johns does better than anyone before or currently is measure up a character, pretty much any character, and know what to do with them.  Since she made her debut in it, Wonder Woman has done a good job of making Justice League a part of her publishing cycle, which is still as close to Johns writing her as we've gotten.  At one point in this issue, he does a good job of reminding the reader that he has written solo adventures for nearly every member of the team to date, and nailed it every time.

The issue heavily features Mister Miracle, who has rarely been used as anything but an escape artist and general adventurer.  It's Johns who realized this is a guy who was traded by Highfather to go live on Apokolips.

And the final page features another addition to the growing stable of Geoff Johns Characters (he writes them, he owns them, and sometimes he creates them, too), a woman named Myrina Black.  It should perhaps be noteworthy that Myrina and Grail join Power Ring, Jessica Cruz, as formidable female characters.  Grail is an Amazon, by the way, so she's another way of Johns getting to write Wonder Woman stories without actually writing Wonder Woman.

A fifth woman also makes a big impact in the issue, Lena Luthor, Lex's sister.  Lex's status in the League takes a big turn in the issue as well.  Jason Fabok captures all of this typically in what is considered DC's house style, but brings his own ideas to the table as he depicts Darkseid himself.  Unusually, he keeps Darkseid in shadow, which has the effect of giving the granite-faced villain the kind of gravity he normally doesn't get to have.  You can practically hear the ground rattle beneath him.

When I've been reading this series (which, alas, has not been throughout its run), I've consistently tried to help sell Justice League as being as top-grade as you can get.  "Darkseid War" seems to be the arc where it, impossibly, sets the bar higher.

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency #1 (IDW)

writer: Chris Ryall

artist: Tony Akins

The star of two and a half books from the late Douglas Adams (the first one, which has the same name as this comic; The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul; and the eponymous lead from The Salmon of Doubt, a posthumous miscellany built around a new, incomplete Dirk Gently mystery) is now the star of a comic book as well.

And I had to make sure to read at least one issue, because I'm still kicking myself over skipping the DC adaptations of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy twenty years ago.  But, you see, I hadn't yet personally become a Douglas Adams fanatic.  This changed, oh, soon after the DC adaptations of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy...

At any rate, I have a confession to make: although I just self-identified as a Douglas Adams fanatic, aside from the original (well, novel version) Hitchhiker's, I have a terrible memory for most of what he actually wrote.  After Restaurant at the End of the Universe, I couldn't really tell you what the rest of the, ah, trilogy actually contains (I'm fairly certain the bit about learning to fly by forgetting to fall comes somewhere after the first two, but wouldn't really be able to narrow it any further).  Same with the Dirk Gently books.  I've long thrown my support behind Tea-Time as the best Adams book, but...other than having a clever use of Norse gods that was actually a good bit of timing as it nicely matched up with Neil Gaiman's American Gods, which I read at the same point in my life...I can't really say much more about it.

Which is to say, Adams was a writer for readers who truly loved reading.  His work oozed charm.  he was a master of the craft.  Having read many writers since my Adams-heavy days who, sadly, are not so gifted, to cherish him now is to remember that sometimes it really can be the writing itself that sets a writer's work apart.  And clearly, also his excessive cleverness.

So Dirk Gently, more directly...As depicted by Chris Ryall, Dirk could very easily be reduced to the genre of quirky detectives that took over TV a while back.  I mean, TV always had detectives, but quirky detectives, like Monk or even Psych (they were a good match for each other, those particular shows), became a whole genre quite easily.  And what is Dirk but a quirky detective, "holistic" in the sense that he really just...assumes any random thing he experiences will help him solve his case.  Ryall's presentation doesn't really stress the randomness of it so much as the interconnectedness of it, which is how Dirk chooses to view it and clearly how Adams wanted him to be understood.  But really, this is a quirky detective series.

But one that plays fast and loose with genre conventions.  As I said, Ryall is very deliberate in his approach.  Even though there's a big dramatic reveal at the end of the issue, it should really come as no surprise.  Dirk takes everything in stride.  In many ways, he's another version of the Adams Doctor Who stand-in, like Ford Prefect in the Hitchhiker's books.  You can throw anything at him and he won't be rattled.  For everyone else this is hardly likely to be the case.  But for Dirk...That's what helps set this quirky detective apart.  He's literally a platform on which anything can be done, which is why there are Egyptian mummies running around.  This is not quirk for the sake of quirk, which is what a lot of comics that don't feature superheroes opt for, but rather quirk for the sake of storytelling.  Who but Dirk Gently?

Thank goodness he finally came to comics!

The Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows #1 (Marvel)

writer: Dan Slott

artist: Adam Kubert

To call this disappointing would be an insult to disappointment.  One of the many spin-off titles from Secret Wars that in no way ape what DC just did with Convergence, Renew Your Vows seemed like Spider-Man I actually wanted to read again.  Because it hearkened back to the era where I most wanted to read Spider-Man, the bi-weekly period where a team of writers wrote one excellent story after another, culminating in "O.M.I.T.," the sequel to "One More Day," the story that kicked it off.  Otherwise known as the end of the Peter Parker/Mary Jane marriange.  Which Renew Your Vows is supposed to correct.

Yeah, so that doesn't really happen.  And I don't know, but does this pretty much mean the whole Dan Slott era that succeeded the bi-weeklies really wasn't for me?  Because Slott's time with Spidey continued the arc-heavy period that he succeeded, but at the cost of distancing the wall-crawler from most of what he had once been.  This was the period where Peter finally got the hi-tech job that made him stop having to mope around all the time because things never work out for him (even though the greatest success from this career turn seems owed to Doctor Octopus from the Doctor Spider-Man era that was...much more of a Doc Ock story than it was a Spider-Man story).

Slott's the writer of Renew Your Vows.  He seems to have been absolutely the wrong choice.

This happy return to the marriage era is immediately presented as less than ideal, MJ depicted as a nagging wife.  And so why are we even doing this?  I have no idea.  Then we find out Spider-Man is doing a lot of overtime because other superheroes aren't doing their part to catch bad guys.  Then we find out why.  Then we meet Amazo Regent.  And for some reason, Venom is the villain who threatens everything Spider-Man holds dear.  Again, I have no idea why.  What does Venom have to do with Spider-Man's secret identity?  Slott doesn't explain.  It would make far more sense if, say, Norman Osborn or any villain remotely related to "One More Day" or anything from the "Big Time" (bi-weekly) era were involved...But no, Venom.  For some reason.

Then Spidey resolves this by killing Venom.  Then we fast-forward a bit and the bouncing baby Adam Kubert can't quite pull off early on is older, and we learn that Peter has consciously decided to let Regent rule New York...And on the cover for next issue?  Apparently...Venom.

It's a nightmare!  And I will not be bothering to check back in.  I've seen people complaining about the overall quality of the Convergence spin-offs.  I personally questioned the value of Convergence: Superman, which finally gave us a story with Lois and Clark having a baby.  I mean, a little late, right?  (Except that's a trio that might show up again if DC ever follows up on their role in helping sort out Crisis On Infinite Earths as suggested in Convergence #8.)  Renew Your Vows ends up like a bad rephrasing of "Old Man Logan," a Wolverine arc that has also been revived for Secret Wars.  (I nearly decided to buy that first issue from last week after all.  I could still do so.  We'll see.)  I have fellow bloggers gushing over Secret Wars so far.  But if the rest of its spin-offs are like this...