Thursday, July 30, 2015

Reading Comics 171 "A Frustrating Week"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Quarter Bin 68 "Grant Morrison, etc."

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

The Filth #6 (Vertigo)
From 2002.

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

Green Lantern #1 (DC)
From 1990.

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

Green Lantern #46 (DC)
From 1993.

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

Green Lantern Corps #38 (DC)
From 2009.

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

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

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

The Invisibles #6 (Vertigo)
From 1994.

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

Maybe there's a message in that?

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

Justice League America #74 (DC)
From 1993.

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

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

JLA Classified #45 (DC)
From 2007.

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

JSA #81 (DC)
From 2005.

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

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

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

Marvels #1 (Marvel)
From 1993.

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

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

The Mighty #1 (DC)
From 2009.

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

Millennium #5 (DC)
From 1987.

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

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

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

Starman #46 (DC)
From 1998.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sweet Tooth #13 (Vertigo)
From 2010.

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

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

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

Wisdom #1 (Marvel)
From 2006.

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

New X-Men #149 (Marvel)
From 2003.

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

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

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

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

Reading Comics 170 "From 7/22/15 plus more"

Covered this edition: Grant Morrison's 18 Days #1, Cyborg #1, MIND MGMT #35, Prez #2, Superman: Doomed #2, and We Are Robin #2.

Grant Morrison's 18 Days #1 (Graphic India)

Back in 2010, Dynamite and Liquid Comics released what was intended to be a kind of graphic novel trailer for 18 Days, which became an online animated series.  Now, that series is being adapted into a comic book.  The original graphic novel was actually more like an elaborate series bible.  And so this first issue covers familiar material, more setup than actual storytelling.  The art is not exactly the lush work from the graphic novel, and that took some getting used to, but that's what the animated series looks like.  I have no idea how long this will last, but I intend to read it for as long as it exists.  This is Morrison's Morrison Version of the Indian epic Mahabharata, which might be described as The Iliad by way of The Lord of the Rings.

I'm reading this one on delay because I had to request the series from the local shop, and it took a while for it to come in.  If I hadn't asked last week about its status, I still wouldn't have seen it yet, because the shipment came up damaged and the shop owner didn't want to sell it like that.  Listen, I don't read comics, much less buy them, as investment potential.  The best comics are some of the best things I read, period.  For me, that's the best reason to read them.

Cyborg #1 (DC)

Incredibly, this is the first time Cyborg has ever had an ongoing series.  He was originally introduced in Marv Wolfman and George Perez's New Teen Titans.  Since the start of the New 52, he's been a member of the Justice League.  Very wisely, this series seems to have been taken directly from the pages of Geoff Johns' work, written by David F. Walker and especially aided by the art of longtime DC standout Ivan Reis.  Everything that isn't familiar, in the best possible way, sets up space robots who will likely further complicate Victor Stone's relationship with his new body.  I think it was incredibly wise to wait this long to launch the series.  Here I'm thinking of Mr. Terrific from the start of the New 52, which had to reinvent the wheel twice over.  Not only did that series also star someone who had never had an ongoing series before, but far less track record and to that point only one context, as a member of Johns' Justice Society.  And it was not only introducing a theoretically new version of the character, but in totally new context.  It's no surprise that Mr. Terrific was one of the early failures.  And so hopefully, doing everything exactly the opposite, Cyborg will be the success it deserves to be.

MIND MGMT#35 (Dark Horse)

Technically the end of the story, since as far as I know the next and final issue is an epilogue (apparently solicited as NEW MGMT #1), because this issue the good guys defeat the bad guys.  Anyway, I guess what I really want to address is editor Brendan Wright, who spent every letters column I saw fawning over the series, saying how proud he was to be involved in it.  I guess it was a pretty big deal for him (as outlined in how he presents his career).  For a series that lasted three years, which would be a long-term failure for a lot of other companies if it hadn't been the creator who dictated its length (the series was originally commissioned at six issues, and was allowed to expand from there), this is the kind of reaction you'd normally expect from a Vertigo series like Y: The Last Man or Sandman.  It is odd, because MIND MGMT in a lot of ways seems like it should have been published by Vertigo rather than Dark Horse.  I have no idea how or why it happened this way.  The advantage to having it Vertigo would have been to bring Matt Kindt into the DC fold.  Except he's been doing exceptionally well in the Valiant fold.  He's the rare talent who helps comics as a whole rather than merely himself or try and puff up his and/or a given company's chest (the way Image tends to do it, say).  But I don't want to read about how special he is from the editor who probably will never be associated with something this good again.  I want to hear from Kindt himself.  Because in my experience, this is a novelty for Dark Horse.  Which is why I'm confused about how it was published by them to begin with.

Prez #2 (DC)

Last time I believe I talked a lot about artist Ben Caldwell.  I love that guy.  Increasingly, I wonder if it's because his work reminds me of Jeff Smith.  Either way, I need to stress that I love Prez for its storytelling, too, which means I need to stress Mark Russell's contribution a little more directly.  I hadn't even made a label for him, so now there's that.  Prez is such an oddity.  There's nothing superhero about it at all.  I have no idea why it's being published by DC and not under the Vertigo imprint.  Ostensibly, it's because it's a new version of a classic DC concept.  And because there are now a lot of series with superhero connections that are aiming for the youth vote, it's harder for Prez to stand out, especially when it seems like it's nothing more than the stupid gimmick the original was.  This Prez is flat out great political and social satire.  "Corndog Girl" is only elected president this issue, expressly because of all the shenanigans the arrogant official candidates were up to, and the compromises the electoral college (anyone still wondering what that's all about in the wake of the...2000 election might look here for an explanation).

And unfortunately, originally set to be a twelve-issue maxi-series, Prez was just shortened to six.  As someone who absolutely loves what Prez is doing, I'm sad that it's been reduced like that, but at least that's not as bad as when The Great Ten, originally scheduled for, well, ten issues, was dropped to nine.

 Superman: Doomed #2 (DC)

It's been hard to make me care about Superman comics in the New 52 era if it weren't being written by Grant Morrison or Geoff Johns.  Every now and then I check in with what other people are doing.  I was aware of the Doomed event, which was the New 52 version of Doomsday, which was actually a pretty interesting idea.  This and the first issue are the bookends, and are now everything I've read from it.  The writers this time are Greg Pak and Charles Soule, although it's Scott Lobdell who continues to be associated with the concept thanks to his new Doomed series (which does not feature Superman, but will, eventually, have Alpha Centurion in it, which is good enough for me).  There are about a million artists involved in the issue, as well as Lois Lane in her most notable New 52 arc to date (in the least likely way imaginable, unless you're thinking of the Silver Age or Jimmy Olsen), plus Brainiac.  And I read this issue trying to figure out how it related to Convergence, and for most of the issue, I thought not at all, until at the very end.  And I don't know, maybe I'll have to do further research, but that ending makes it look like it might actually completely redefine Convergence.

But getting back to Doomsday, having the concept become something like a Venom parasite is probably better than what DC originally did with Doomsday in the aftermath of killing Superman.  He ended up being a Kryptonian monster who reincarnates after each defeat, no longer able to be defeated that way again, and he and Superman fought again many other times (Dan Jurgens at one point tried his best to further his legacy solely in this way).  While I haven't read the Doomed series itself yet, and generally I've been far more forgiving of Lobdell than fans tend to be, I'm glad this new vision exists even though I'm not immediately interested in delving into it myself.

We Are Robin #2 (DC)

Where you might have expected the second issue to have spent time with members of this Robin gang other than Duke Thomas...Nope, not so much.  This is still the Duke Thomas show in all but name.  I mean, other members are addressed, but they're not really featured.  They exist.  The issue begins to explore the mystery of who has been recruiting them.  There's also teasing of the villain who will apparently kill one of them soon.  Dead Robin.  It's a thing.  So it figures that We Are Robin will be waiting very little to reach its own Dead Robin story.  All the better!  Writer Lee Bermejo's covers continue to represent not at all the interior art, but I guess that's okay.  I can learn to live with it.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Reading Comics 169 "Comics from 7/15/15"

Covered: Robin: Son of Batman #2, Book of Death #1, Hawkeye #22, Justice League #42, and Martian Manhunter #2.

Robin: Son of Batman #2 (DC)
Pat Gleason picks up where...Batman and Robin #0 left off, delving more deeply into Damian's formative years with Talia, while also further introducing the new Nobody (totally counts as this Boy Wonder's first romance) and not really getting much more into how exactly Goliath became Robin's new partner except to say that he's probably more rude to the Man-Bat than he's been to anyone else (even Pennyworth!).  And it's another fantastic issue.  I love that Gleason has turned out to be such an excellent chronicler as well as illustrator.  He knew he had plenty to build on.  And he's making the most of it.

Book of Death #1 (Valiant)
Robert Venditti is definitely one of those writers I have a tough relationship with.  Understandably, Geoff Johns had to leave Green Lantern at some point, but I hoped his replacement would be some version of inspired and thus not be a complete disappointment.  Venditti hasn't been a complete  disappointment (the funny thing for me to remember is that I didn't think Johns himself was as good as his Rebirth suggested when he first launched the ongoing), but I've just never been able to get into his Green Lantern.  Then over at Valiant, which is where he first came onto the scene with X-O Manowar, I wasn't overly impressed with his material there, either.  So to see Book of Death, a direct sequel to The Valiant, which I found brilliant, written by Venditti was a cause for concern.  Turns out, the only thing immediately objectionable about it is how the lettering seems enlarged, or done in bold, whatever the case may be.  Just makes the issue seem off.  But it's not Venditti's fault!  Probably.  So maybe I will continue reading Book of Death.  For now.

Hawkeye #22 (Marvel)
Apparently much, much delayed (although not really), this is the final Matt Fraction issue of Hawkeye (a Jeff Lemire reboot comes next).  I've caught enough of the series to know that this was something special, a truly unique "indy style" comic featuring a mainstream superhero (pretty much), the kind of storytelling you only wish Daredevil had received post-Miller (instead of endless rehashes or attempts to ignore Miller entirely).  Some of the impact of the issue is lost on me, as I didn't really have anything invested in the big showdown, but it was still fun to see and be a part of.

Justice League #42 (DC)
"Darkseid War" continues, and Geoff Johns reveals that both the female warriors he's introduced are basically villains, not only Grail, the daughter of Darkseid, but apparently even Myrina Black, Grail's mother, who willingly conspired with Darkseid (including, ah, knocking boots) in a thorough rejection of Amazonian dogma.  Maybe either or perhaps both will get a little more nuance later.  Because I'm still digging Johns' depiction of the New Gods, especially Metron, who loses "his" Mobius Chair (remember, "Mobius" is actually the Anti-Monitor!), with Batman taking seat and finding out disturbing things.  One is that Joe Chill murdered his parents.  This we knew.  But he also finds out Joker's real name.  No, Johns doesn't spill the beans.  But this is something DC has been teasing in Scott Snyder's Batman for a few years now.  Somehow I have the feeling that we finally are going to have a definitive origin for the Joker (although I'll always be partial to "Lovers and Madmen" from Batman Confidential).  Batman's reaction when he finds out?  "No.  That's not possible."  I love it.

Martian Manhunter #2 (DC)
Continues to be a pleasant surprise.  This issue is trickier than the first one.  At first Eddy Barrows seems to have stumbled in a simplistic "Angry Martian Manhunter" presentation as Superman and the Justice League attempt to intervene.  But Rob Williams backs Barrows up in the script, explaining the central premise of this arc and thus vision of the character, that pretty much everything we know, anyone knows, including Martian Manhunter himself, is subject to telepathic overwrite.  It's brilliant.  Why is this the first time anyone has ever thought of that?  This is a series that will challenge the reader in nearly every way.  I say it's a worthy challenge.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Digitally Speaking...56 "The Life After, etc."

Material in this feature is read from my comiXology account, which is to say, digitally...Covers this edition are: Lady Mechanika #0, The Legend of Bold Riley, The Legend of Oz: The Wicked West #1, The Life After #1, Life Begins at Incorporation, Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland #1, Lola XOXO #1, Lost in Space Anthology #1, and Lumberjanes #1.

Lady Mechanika #0 (Benitez)
From 2014.

Here's another of those pleasant surprises.  Maybe I don't know Joe Benitez well enough, but seeing him kick around without having previously secured a true spotlight (he's writer and artist here) is surprising having read this.  The concept is steampunk, a woman with mechanical parts who comes across a creature who turns out to be a figure from her forgotten past, clues to her origins, murdered before it can reveal them by an enemy who could be a friend but goes the other way.  Anyway, it's not really the concept but the competent execution, which is rare indeed, that's such a treat to read.  If you're looking for something new, Lady Mechanika would be a good pick.  Benitez has a strong voice as a writer, and excellent characterization.  His art is much as you'd expect from someone who has worked extensively with Aspen and Top Cow, but he's doing better work here than you'd typically find with them.

The Legend of Bold Riley (Northwest)
From 2012.

It's a little hard to know what to make of Bold Riley.  On the one hand, there's a lot of competence behind it creatively.  On the other, it seems like Weathington borrowed a lot of Indian folklore to create her stories, and kind of needlessly created a fictional version of India to do it.

So, what's wrong with that?  For one, Weathington creates a bunch of difficult-to-pronounce names, or just plain difficult.  Which in depicting another culture is fine, but she immediately undercuts that by giving the lead character a distinctly English nickname that once bestowed is clearly meant simply to make things easier for the reader.  But the thing is, if Weathington hadn't created all the fake Indian names in the first place...

And that about sums up what's wrong with otherwise better-than-decent material: there are too many gaps in the logic.  Because this is a series of somewhat-related stories, the individual parts work well enough, but taken as a whole, Weathington clearly left the wider vision of her main character unexplored, an empty template to be plugged into whatever's needed at the time.  And that drags down the product as a whole.

If you're a reader who doesn't have a problem with any of that, then you should enjoy Bold Riley without much reservation.  But to me, it's a way of saying, Weathington could do better.  And hopefully does, elsewhere.

The Legend of Oz: The Wicked West #1 (Big Dog Ink)
From 2013.

Yeah, so...An inexplicable variation on The Wizard of Oz, as a Western.  The title suggests that much.  Doesn't explain how poorly it's conceived and executed otherwise.  But there you are.  It sucks that there are so many bad Oz comics out there.  I mean, what gives?  At least there are the Shanower/Young adaptations...

The Life After #1 (Oni)
From 2014.

Huh.  By the time you finish this issue, your perspective kind of completely changes.  Because now you know what it's about.  I'm somewhat familiar with Joshua Hale Fialkov (Elk's Run), but maybe not well enough.  For most of the issue I was thinking this was a variation of The Adjustment Bureau, and that was after I thought it was a variation of The Truman Show.  But as the title suggests, this is in fact an afterlife story, but how exactly isn't very clear from the start.  But then it is, and so now I've got to...reevaluate.  It's actually pretty clever.  I mean, the reader should be as confused as the main character.  But then he meets Ernest Hemingway, who explains what's really going on.  Which in the interests of keeping the surprise intact for anyone who doesn't know and is maybe interesting in finding out, I will keep a secret.  Fialkov is doing another high-concept comic in The Bunker, so that makes him one of the more interesting creators out there at the moment.  It would be better if this weren't still such a well-kept secret...

Life Begins at Incorporation (Matt Bors)
From 2013.

So as to not get into political talk, I will simply remark that this collection of editorial cartoons of the kind you'd find in your local free alternative news weekly features funnier stuff than I had in the one I read while living in Colorado Springs, but somewhat oddly features more essay material than editorial cartoons.  Or it certainly feels like it.

Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland #1 (IDW)
From 2014.

Speaking of Eric Shanower (just a few comics ago), here he's adapting classic comic strip Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland for modern audiences.  Modern audiences, ah, had more recently, Calvin & Hobbes, which did the same thing Little Nemo did but, ah, better.  Shanower sticks to the original formula, with a boy constantly falling out of bed after his adventures getting, ah, near Slumberland.  Readers who know Shanower better from his Oz adaptions than his original Oz work, much less Age of Bronze (which hasn't seen a new issue in two years) might be disappointed to see less of the creative spark than they might expect (because that spark came from, ah, L. Frank Baum) can see signs of life here and there, but the reverse of his Oz adaptions is true here: he's too faithful.  And smothers his work for it.  But it's still pretty good.

Lola XOXO #1 (Aspen)
From 2014.

Technically this is better and more nuanced than typical Aspen material, and you can imagine how the company came up with it, by pretty much saying exactly that to itself.  The art is recognizably Aspen, but classed up a little.  And the story is topical, or in this issue tries to be, in the 9/11 era.  But yeah, things quickly even out.  But it was pretty neat, reading this directly after reading the above, because the issue opens with dreams on the brain.  If it gets better than this, I would have asked for the better material first...

Lost in Space Anthology #1 (Titan)
From 2015.

As anthologies go this (issue) is pretty good, though the title is taken pretty literally, as every story ends exactly that way (a nary a Dr. Smith to be found!).  I like the dog (poor dog!), monkey (love monkeys!), and opening (twisted tale about reluctant hitchhikers that's easily the one I'd love to read more of) ones best.  Good mix of styles, too, if that's what you like in anthologies, a true "something for everyone" vibe.

Lumberjanes #1 (Boom!)
From 2014.

This is another one that I totally got only as I got further into it.  At first it looks like a bunch of nonsense, but then it gets good.  Like all the comics based on all the cable animated series try to be (as far as I know, this one isn't based on a cable animated series), off the beaten path and following the beat of its own drum as it explores childhood, in this case a group of girl scouts known as Lumberjanes who (in this issue but maybe all of them, too) are camping, have some adventure, are caught by their troop leader (which is my favorite part of the issue, as she pompously marches them to the Lumberjanes leader herself, lecturing all the way).  Anyway, you don't have to be young, or a girl, or a scout to enjoy this.

I'm going to try something new again, which is rank the material read in this edition:

  1. The Life After
  2. Lady Mechanika
  3. Lumberjanes
  4. Lost in Space Anthology
  5. Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland
  6. Life Begins at Incorporation
  7. Lola XOXO
  8. The Legend of Bold Riley
  9. The Legend of Oz: The Wicked West

Friday, July 10, 2015

Reading Comics 168 "7/8/15 - One of the Best Weeks of the Year"

Covered this edition: Batman #42, Bloodshot Reborn #4, Civil War #1, Descender #5, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency #2, Earth 2: Society #2, Providence #2, Saga #30, Spider-Verse #3, Star Trek/Green Lantern #1, Star Wars: Lando #1, and Strange Fruit #1.

To say last week was disappointing for a comic book addict like me would be an understatement.  This is not to say that there nothing worth reading, but nothing that interested me, nothing from my pull list and, well, nothing else that I wanted to read.

So this week was an embarrassment of riches.  Very good (or very bad) for a comics addict.  I ended up reading a bunch of stuff I hadn't read previously, or continuing to read stuff that I don't typically read, or enjoyed a bunch of new stuff, and of course a bunch of stuff I've been reading all along.

Kicking off is Batman #42 (DC), the second issue of the Bat Gordon era.  Visually the costume in full armor still looks and will always look ridiculous, and Gordon's military haircut looks ridiculous, but...this is still the best Batman Snyder has ever written.  It's the first time he's allowed himself full control, and it shows.  The fact that astute readers knew Bruce Wayne was never dead, and Snyder has shown every willingness to play along, keeping him in every issue "post-death," including the issue with "his death" after "his death," this is what I've been waiting for.  This is an exercise in patience.  Obviously this is an exception, and if it hadn't been hugely popular from the start, DC would never have stuck around this long.  But thankfully this is an instance where popularity eventually gives way to material justifying the hype.  I don't know how popular this material will be, in the short- or long-term, but I have to imagine, however much longer Snyder sticks around, he will be back to writing Bruce Wayne as Batman, and will be the better for having this experience under his belt.

It's also clear that the villain concept was in part an excuse for Capullo to do a version of Clayface after discovering how well he does it visually in Batman #20 (excellent cover).  I would have maybe capitalized on the horn concept and named the villain Horn (although I guess there are other members of the gang, so there's always a chance, right?).

Bloodshot Reborn #4 (Valiant), meanwhile, is something I picked up because I just read The Valiant, and thought it was pretty brilliant, and because of the timing, which was even better than I thought, I realized this series existed and I should probably start reading it.  It's the first of two Jeff Lemire comics from this week (just as there are two from Charles Soule), and both are winners (just like Soule's).  Bloodshot, as I've explained elsewhere, is a kind of Wolverine, and in this iteration without any of the baggage and written in the full knowledge that it's perhaps is best to just concentrate on what makes him interesting, which is his background and how it continues to impact him.  In The Valiant, Bloodshot lost his powers, and so Reborn is the journey of getting them back.  In this instance, picking up the narrative four issues in (I wanted to try and catch up with whatever was available, but when that meant the latest issue as it was released and only one other plus a few of the preceding series, I opted just for this one) proved no problem at all.  Whatever else has been done in Reborn to date, this issue captures the journey perfectly, exactly as I hoped it'd be from The Valiant.

And even with surprises, such as Bloodsquirt.  Kind of like Bloodshot's Bat-Mite, Bloodsquirt is part of the hallucinations Bloodshot is experiencing as he tries to deal with his situation (the other person he sees is the woman responsible for taking away his powers, but in this scenario, unlike House of M's Scarlet Witch, the late Geomancer was a good guy who was very much Bloodshot's friend, which is why she did what she did, right before she died).  The nanites, meanwhile, that previously gave Bloodshot his powers have been infecting other people, and he's able to absorb them back when he finds these people.  Anyway, the whole thing is pretty fascinating, and executed perfectly.  I'm once again glad that Valiant exists, and that I've found my way in.

 Civil War #1 (Marvel) is one of the many, many Secret Wars spin-offs featuring past notable Marvel stories, whether standalone events or arcs within a given series.  Civil War ought to be polarizing.  Originally, it concluded with Captain America's assassination, but in this version that never happened, and things degenerated to a certain extent as the "Old Man Logan" arc did in Wolverine (which has become another Secret Wars spin-off, not to mention one of the titles announced as becoming an ongoing once Secret Wars ends, and Hugh Jackman's vision for his last performance as Wolverine).

This is written by Charles Soule.  When his exclusive contract with Marvel was originally announced, I conceived of it as a nightmare scenario, not because I had enjoyed his DC work so much, but because I feared Marvel wouldn't know what to do with him.  But as it turns out, that wasn't really the case at all.  If anything, he might be perfectly suited at Marvel, where he can use his best instincts to bring out Marvel's best instincts.  This is in fact a best case scenario.  At DC he was for the most part marginalized.  At Marvel he has the opportunity to become the company's next signature writer, succeeding Brian Michael Bendis and Jonathan Hickman.  I would be very happy to see that happen.

Civil War, then, is a kind of audition.  I mean, arguably all of these Secret Wars spin-offs are auditions, either for talent or for the continuing viability of old concepts.  In that, Marvel again has an edge over DC.  With Convergence, DC was letting fans know once again (and I do mean once again) that it hasn't forgotten its own history, but it was never going to revive anything.  DC is always looking forward, aggressively, often to the detriment of fans who want desperately to cling to the past.  Marvel isn't like that.  It's often just as merciless as DC when it chooses to change things, but it usually goes out of its way to assure fans that things are going to be okay (unless you're a mutant).  Anyway, it's always trying to do things organically, whereas DC is that pesky genetic engineering that everyone has such a passive-aggressive relationship with.

All that's to say, Civil War, and Soule along with it, is once again a fascinating concept.  The problem Marvel has, despite all its virtues (and I'm convinced Marvel fans celebrate the virtues and ignore everything else, on the whole), is that most of the time, once it's come up with an idea it really has no idea what to do with it.  The idea eventually, inevitably, peters out, or mutates so many times that it become irrelevant.

What Soule accomplishes here, as he usually does, is succeed in once again grounding the original idea without losing sight of how to once again progress it.  The original hook of the original Civil War is played out to its logical conclusions, going full American Civil War by creating separate nations: The Iron, which obviously is led by Tony Stark, and The Blue, which is led by Steve Rogers.  Perhaps with the less comic booky version of Captain America's assassination (otherwise, the opposite of what Brubaker chose to do) in the original in mind, Soule has an attempt by Stark and Rogers to negotiate sabotaged by a gunshot.  This Civil War is not dominated by meaningless battles between superheroes, but as a true war of ideology (which is what Kingdom Come was so good at depicting, but more on Mark Waid later).

It's also nice to see Leinil Francis Yu at work again.  He's been a signature Marvel artist for years.  Linking Yu and Soule is hopefully symbolic of past and future.  Although they could certainly continue working together.

Descender #5 (Image) features one of my favorite story tropes, the exposure of a fraud.  Back in the second Harry Potter book/film, The Chamber of Secrets, I was inordinately fascinated by the character of Gilderoy Lockhart in large part because he was exposed as a fraud.  I mention all this because this issue of Descender answers what I was looking for after the previous issue: Why should I care about Dr. Quon, erstwhile creator of adorable boy robot Tim?  Well, as it turns out, because he's a fraud.

And we learn this through the most grisly means possible.  I guess I haven't read enough Lemire to know how typical this is for him, but as far as Dustin Nguyen goes, I wouldn't have expected it, certainly not in his current mode of looking about as innocent as a comic book can, especially with killer robots running amok (although Driller, who is a Killer, can run amok as much as he wants, as far as I am concerned).

Which is to say, Dr. Quon is tortured, in the most direct way possible: a buzz saw is used to amputate his left hand.  Without no warning, mind you!

So Descender continues to surprise, and this is a very good thing, for a series that is proving more and more that what Saga started, other can and might actually do better.  Which is something fans of Saga probably never expected in a million years, let alone less than a handful of them.  (Luckily, ah, Dr. Quon still has a hand to grab things with.  But he won't be clapping again any time soon...)

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency #2 (IDW) continues to be the most improbably comic book ever (probably), and just as interesting a read for it, featuring the obscure Douglas Adams creation featured in two and a half books and nary a holiday to his credit.  Interestingly, the issue doesn't really try to advance the story at all, but merely let the chaos unleashed in the first one continue.  Although we do get introduced to Kate Schechter, from the second and better Dirk Gently book, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, this time with far less Norse mythology surrounding her.

One has the sense that IDW, and Chris Ryall, totally got that Adams was always a guy interested in nutty concepts and great dialogue, because that's what's to be found here, unabashedly.

And for those keeping score, I offered the theory in my review of the previous issue, which had never occurred to me before (because I hadn't given much thought to Adams's past) that Dirk Gently is another Doctor Who figure for his creator.  And the guys behind the comic seem to think so, too, because (and I can't name which one, because I'm not nearly as big a fan of Doctor Who as I am Douglas Adams) at one point Dirk dons a hat and looks the spitting image of one of the regenerations of Doctor Who.

So there's that.

Earth 2: Society #2 (DC) continues this pocket universe's hot streak.  Conceptually, I've loved the concept since it debuted as one of the second-wave titles in the New 52, because creatively it offered so much potential, which a number of writers at this point have capitalized on.  Convergence gave it the best possible spotlight, but the best possible storytelling has apparently saved for Society itself.

Traditionalists, purists, and other such individuals would probably have preferred the Justice Society of America concept to remain exactly as it was originally conceived, which is what the Justice League continues to represent.  And I think Geoff Johns pushed the original vision as far as it could go.  So, much like the Silver Age gave birth to a new Green Lantern and a new Flash, the same has been done for the Justice Society.

Here's where it truly begins to pay off, because now there is a society, and it's as literal as you can possibly get (in a good way), a whole society defined by the superheroes at its heart, survivors of an obliterated Earth.  And now we see what transpires next.  Terry Sloan, the original Mr. Terrific, has been transformed into a leader of questionable ethics manipulating events to his benefit.  I think there was some resistance to this previously, but at any rate I wasn't reading that material, and as presented here it works wonderfully, and he's in a situation that fully exploits his potential.  The same, hopefully, will be true of all the characters, including Dick Grayson as Batman.  This is a series that is going to take its time unfolding the story, and two issues in that's definitely what's been happening.  There are more introductions this issue, oddly enough, which might as well mean anyone who was reluctant to give it a try before has another opportunity to come aboard.

Because this is suddenly some of the best comics around.  Good storytelling, great art (and I liked Jorge Jimenez's work instantly last issue), and builds on a concept that is becoming better and better all the time.

Providence #2 (Avatar) is part of my continuing efforts to get a handle on Alan Moore.  His reputation has Moore out to be the best writer comics have ever seen, but my own views have been more contentious.  The last time I have him a shot was Avatar's own Crossed  +100, a spin-off of the Garth Ennis series, which to my mind embodied all Moore's worst instincts.

This time, however, Moore seems to be interested in what might actually be his true legacy: creating comics that attempt to be as literally the embodiment of the term "graphic novel" as you can get.  While fans might know him for Watchmen or Batman: The Killing Joke, Moore is also known for V for Vendetta and From Hell, both of which are very much relevant to any discussion of Providence.  When he tells a superhero story, Moore is able to disguise or even distort his best instincts.  But elsewhere he can't.  Even the Guy Fawkes mask can't obscure his real interests.  I have this theory that Moore is actually ambivalent about the comic book medium, or at least superheroes, whatever possibilities they might have, because for him they're nothing but memories he formed decades ago.  When he tells a story about superheroes, it is about them, not with them.  Later, with League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, he did tell stories with them, but superheroes of a different kind.  The difference is often hard to reconcile.

Anyway, Moore is interested in telling stories about characters interested in what he is.  Providence is a story of the occult, but in the way Stoker's original Dracula was, as something that's stumbled into like The Blair Witch Project.  This is the second issue, mind you, and I didn't read the first, but I'm not sure how much story I missed because of that.  The Alan Moore that exists today will never again have the impact he did in the '80s.  I don't know how he feels about that, but I think he's becoming comfortable with that.  In the '90s he was still trying to recapture what he'd lost by abandoning DC.  Providence might be the first time he's tried to move past that, return to what he once was, before superheroes dominated his legacy.  So if you're interested in that, you might be interested in Providence.

As for me, I found it interested if sedate.  If there must be irreconcilable differences between fans of Alan Moore and fans of Grant Morrison, this is what you would compare, say, Annihilator against.  And as different as the approaches are, for me there is no comparison.  Give me Morrison and Annihilator any day of the week.  Providence, meanwhile, glimpses for a moment the world Morrison's Nameless exists in.  Considering that I wish Nameless were a little less lunatic, maybe Providence actually represents the bridge that might still exist between them...

Saga #30 (Image) is the issue before a hiatus.  Vaughan and Staples have been taking these throughout Saga's run.  As far as I know, it's the first time a comic book has deliberately done this, and it's probably a smart idea.  I mean, other than tradition, there is no inherent reason why an ongoing series  has to publish continuously month after month for the duration of its existence.

The issue also presents a "season finale," which is something I hope future trades will help distinguish (ideally, I guess I'm arguing, there would be distinct collections for each "season," which is to say the material that exists between hiatuses).  For some time now, the story of Alana and Marko has been defined by their being apart.  They finally stumble back into each other's company.

The other major thing is that our helpful narrator Hazel once again reveals something major about what the future looks like, which in this instance (it hasn't always been as artful) is a very good thing, with excellent timing (which is another reason why I think the "season finale" concept should be better emphasized): she won't be returning to mommy and daddy any time soon.

In a way, Saga is taking on the feel of Lost (which Vaughan worked on), recognizing the inherent drama of reunions between characters who have complicated relationships with each other.  For me, this is another very good thing.  Sometimes I struggle to see what exactly Saga hopes to accomplish.  As of now, this is my conclusion, and I'm happy with that.

Spider-Verse #3 (Marvel) is one of the many, many Secret Wars spin-off releases, which I finally decided to be interested in because it's written by Mike Costa.  I was previously reluctant to embrace Costa's Spider-Man material because I feared he'd ultimately amount to about as much as Wasteland's Antony Johnston when he waded into Daredevil material a few years back.  Sometimes my favorite comic book writers don't write for DC or Marvel, and when they do, the results are less than favorable.  But Costa (responsible for so many excellent Cobra stories for IDW's G.I. Joe comics) has been doing his Spider-Man stories for a few years now, and apparently Spider-Verse is becoming an ongoing (as Web Warriors) in the fall, so I decided to quit fighting it.

I want Costa to do the kind of material I love Costa doing, but that's just not happening with G.I. Joe.  I liked Avengers: Millennium, saw the potential to get close to what I wanted, so I decided to give Spider-Verse a shot.  And it seems to be even closer than Avengers: Millennium.  As you may or may not know, Spider-Verse means the Spider-Man version of DC's multiverse, endless variations of the character.  The most famous one recently isn't of Spider-Man himself, but his dead lover Gwen Stacy, who is officially known as Spider-Gwen, and apparently wildly popular.  She's more or less the lead of this issue, too.  Costa has figured out how to present these characters in a group the way he normally does individually in his Cobra stories, focusing on their varying perspectives.  This I was glad to see.

Star Trek/Green Lantern #1 (IDW) is something that could very easily be a bad gimmick, as comics that mix different properties with different timelines must inevitably be (the Star Trek/X-Men crossover, I still have no idea how anyone could ever take that seriously), but as of this first issue, makes perfect sense.  I have no idea what the second issue will have to say about that, but let's focus on the positive!

What's great is that it also gives me a chance to read a good issue of two properties that aren't currently giving me much in that regard.  (As always, I provide the John Byrne caveat; because my local shop doesn't regularly stock his work, I don't have  a chance to read it regularly, unless I wanted to go the digital route.)  I haven't read IDW's Star Trek work with any regularity in a few years, and more often than not discover that I'm not missing much.  Robert Venditti's Green Lantern, meanwhile, is much the same.

This issue takes place in IDW's favorite Star Trek sandbox at the moment, stories set in the Abrams reboot era.  I think it's a mistake to routinely feature Kirk's Enterprise adventures at a time when new movies are still being produced.  Once in a while is fine.  I think there's much more valuable opportunity looking around the corners, which is what IDW used to do, even in the Abrams era.  Anyway, but that's exactly what this comic is doing, too, except with Green Lantern.

Or more accurately, the corpse of Ganthet.  That's a wonderful image.  With all the times the Guardians have been slaughtered over the years, I never imagined such an image would be so impactful, but there you are.  Until Hal Jordan (presumably) shows up on the final page, there isn't even anything to worry about time-wise.  Ganthet could easily have lived to Kirk's time (the Guardian's are the universe's oldest beings in DC speak).  He brought the last rings across the whole spectrum (red, yellow, blue, violet, orange, and indigo) created or embellished by Geoff Johns, and as Kirk's crew examines the corpse and the rings, the comic has ample opportunity to let the reader enjoy the Abrams era for what it is, a distinct version of familiar Star Trek.

Again, I have no idea what the next issue does to affect the continuing viability of the concept, but so far so good...

Star Wars: Lando #1 (Marvel) is unquestionably the one I've been dying to read since I had first heard about the series.  I've loved Lando since he first sauntered into Star Wars in The Empire Strikes Back, and this comic is written by Charles Soule.

As I've mentioned repeatedly, I had great misgivings when Soule went exclusive to Marvel.  His Red Lanterns was the work that made me a fan of Soule, and I didn't want to see it end.  (Well, DC ended it anyway, in the end.)  When I saw Lando announced, with Soule as writer, I saw it as the best chance to see Soule in the mode I knew best from him.

Turns out it's better than that.  Never mind what I already said about Soule above, this one's better than I could have imagined.  It not only features Lando, which is obvious, but takes him in new and unexpected directions.  Now, I'm about to reference Lost again.  Unlike a lot of fans, my affection for it not only didn't go away after the way it ended, but was actually amplified by it.  I loved the whole final season, in fact.  This is relevant, because in Soule's mind, Lando is something of a Sawyer, a con man who given the chance could absolutely go straight.  When we meet Lando in Empire Strikes Back, that's exactly what happened to him, but the Lando we meet is difficult to imagine as anything else.  I read and enjoyed the L. Neil Smith books, too, but they were part of the whole thing that suggested if Lando had ever been any different, he was basically Han Solo.

Which is not very imaginative.  Given a chance, Han would never have become an administrator.  But Lando loves a good con, because a con is basically an opportunity, and that's what con men love.  As a con man, Lando suddenly makes perfect sense.  And his Cloud City buddy Lobot becomes fully alive in the comic, too, plus a number of nefarious associates that make it seem just as if Star Wars: Lando is the first time anyone really tried to do additional Star Wars material.  Because this is exactly what Star Wars was always meant to be.

And so why care about Lando at all?  I liked him because he really wasn't involved in Luke's adventures.  Other than snatching Luke from that weathervane, if you think about it Lando really has nothing to do with him in his two movie appearances.  But this doesn't stop him from being, arguably the most confident man in the room, even when he quickly realizes he's got to switch allegiances.  That deal he strikes with Vader turned out to be a bad idea.  So he flips.  He's the only character to do that, too.  Han, if you'll remember, spends most of his time actively trying to avoid entanglements.  That's what he had in common with the old Lando.  He didn't see the opportunity Luke represented even though it was staring him in the face.  He came back because he grew to care about the boy.  Not Lando.

All of which is to say there was always unexplored potential in Lando.  As of now, there's less.  Or, more.

Strange Fruit #1 (Boom!) is the first installment in the Mark Waid story fans have been waiting for since Kingdom Come.

Whereas Alex Ross has been trying to recapture his Kingdom Come glory ever since (just as the project itself was originally embraced as "the next Alex Ross project" after Marvels, which Kurt Busiek followed up with the similar Astro City), Waid seems to have been incredibly reluctant, which is probably because initially he didn't understand what he'd accomplished.  Before Kingdom Come, Waid was a fan who became an editor who got to write The Flash and then anything else he wanted.  But along the way, he had the opportunity to do something big, Kingdom Come.  Even though fans (like me) claim the best of his Flash was incredibly hard to surpass, that's exactly what he did.  He set the bar higher than anyone could have imagined, and I think like Waid himself, everyone has been struggling to catch up with it.

This was transcendent material, for Waid, for superheroes, and in some ways, comic books in general.  Snooty fans won't even take superhero writers seriously, will try and create mainstream credentials by being anything but.  What Waid realized was that this wasn't by any means necessary.  But having someone like Alex Ross around to make it visually distinctive would probably help.

Here he was J.G. Jones, whose most visually distinctive work previously was on the landmark covers of the weekly series 52, which are among the rare covers to get their own collection.  Jones has gone to some trouble to evoke Alex Ross, but where Ross tends to be minimalist, Jones sketches in the rest.

Otherwise the rest is entirely Waid.  The only other times he's invoked Kingdom Come was to try and recapture the scope of superhero storytelling, which resulted in lesser works like The Kingdom and the Irredeemable/Incorruptible universe.  Strange Fruit is nothing like that.  And considering the charged nature of race relations, and even the status of the Confederate flag (interested observers can make much of the issue's final image on that score), it's beyond timely.  It's timeless in the best Kingdom Come manner.  It's Waid coming home to Boom!, yes, but it's also Waid coming to terms with a part of his legacy he has finally come to embrace, a challenge he set aside and has returned to at last.

At its heart, Strange Fruit is a variation on Superman.  It even evokes Django Unchained.  But it is distinctly its own, too.  It looks at politics, too, by the way, but at its heart is a social landscape at turmoil with itself, trying to come up with easy answers and finding that to be a difficult task.  And suddenly, there's this black man standing there, tearing the whole scene asunder, come to Earth like Superman, in a rocket that crashes in a field, but this is a full-grown man.

Who and what he is are matters for the three remaining issues.  I highly recommend you investigate the results for yourself.  And welcome back, Mark Waid.  It's been a long time.