Sunday, October 9, 2016

Reading Comics 199 "What I've been reading lately"

This is just a quick look at what I've been reading the last month or so.  Expanded thoughts will probably follow later...

  • 18 Days #13-14 (Graphic India)
  • Atomic Robo: The Temple of Od #2 (IDW)
  • Avatarex #2 (Graphic India)
  • Blackcross #6 (Dynamite)
  • Bloodshot Annual 2016 (Valiant)
  • Blue Beetle #1 (DC)
  • Civil War II #3, 4 (Marvel)
  • Civil War II: Ulysses #1 (Marvel)
  • The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage: Second Lives #1, 3, 4 (Valiant)
  • Doom Patrol #1 (DC's Young Animal)
  • Earth 2: Society #16 (DC)
  • Empress #4, 5 (Icon)
  • The Flash #5, 6, 7 (DC)
  • The Fuse #21 (Image)
  • Klaus #5, 6, 7 (Boom!)
  • Snotgirl #3 (Image)
  • Action Comics #964 (DC)
  • Trinity #1 (DC)
  • The Vision #11 (Marvel)
Lots of really interesting reading, for sure.  Got to have a look at some slightly older stuff I'd been reading and/or wanted to check out previously, plus catch up with material I'd been following all along, as well as great new stuff.  All of which helps begin to round out a very good year in comics so far!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Quarter Bin 100 "True Believers: Thor #1"

True Believers: Thor #1 (Marvel)
From November 2015/December 2014

writer: Jason Aaron

artist: Russell Dauterman

A total of twelve comics across four value packs, and I'm left with a decidedly familiar impression of Marvel: these guys just aren't for me.

I mean, I can read the odd Marvel and enjoy it quite a bit, but it just seems as a rule that I just don't get this company.  Case in point: this comic.

Like True Believers: Black Widow #1, it was a reprint of a comic that was older than I thought it was.  Unlike True Believers: Black Widow, however, True Believers: Thor #1 is the start of a bold new story, in which, in keeping with what Marvel has been doing across its line for a few years now (cue semi-appropriate comparisons to DC's Silver Age, or post-Infinite Crisis), changing identities, ethnicities, and sexes for a large portion of its heroes.  Basically, keeping the names and changing everything else.

How can you possibly do this with Thor?  A very-well-established Norse god?  Whose name is Thor, and whose secret identity is Thor?  Good question.  Jason Aaron still doesn't have an answer, by the way.

I used to be a huge fan of Jason Aaron.  Scalped was a work of genius.  I even liked his work when he started dabbling in Marvel comics.  But it just seems as if he's been totally overwhelmed in the years since, and will try anything, and take any suggestion from his bosses.  Such as turn Jane Foster into Thor.

I mean, if ye so lift the hammer Mjolnir, thy arst granted the power of Thor.  But become Thor?  Really?  This one just don't make no sense.

This issue doesn't even pretend to make sense of it.  It opens with some fairly generic action.  Then we spend some time with Thor absolutely not explaining what's going on, which sets the tone for the next several years' worth of stories.  And then a woman lifts the hammer.  Later, we find out it's Jane Foster (y'know, Natalie Portman), but this big concept debut issue just kind of has her wander in unannounced, at the end of the issue, and lift the hammer, and be transformed.

Jason Aaron supporters say it fits in perfectly with what he'd previously been doing.  Anyone else will be able to tell that he was merely fulfilling a Marvel mandate to make Thor a woman, for diversity's sake.  We've all seen superheroes undergo gimmick changes.  There's nothing inherently wrong with gimmick changes.  But Thor is Thor.  The hammer doesn't make the man.  Er, woman.  There's absolutely nothing wrong with diversity.  But there are female mythological characters you could introduce, Marvel.  Have a look around! 

It's a special kind of logic that in this form is twisted so badly, you really need to be drinking the kool-aid to appreciate it.  I'm a DC guy.  I've seen a lot of weird stuff.  But this is bad storytelling and publisher mandate taken to a whole new level.

So no, I'm not a Marvel guy.  I'm a DC guy.  And twelve random issues did absolutely nothing to change that.  More often than not, this DC guy just felt like he was being insulted as a reader.

For those wishing to keep score:
  • True Believers: Black Widow #1 - fail
  • Captain America: White #1 - pass
  • Captain America: Sam Wilson #1 - fail
  • Hail Hydra #1 - pass
  • Hawkeye #2 - pass
  • Howling Commandos of S.H.I.E.L.D. #1 -pass/fail
  • Karnak #1 - fail
  • Nova #1 - fail
  • Star Wars: Obi-Wan & Anakin #1 - pass
  • Star Wars: Shattered Empire #2 - pass/fail
  • Star-Lord and Kitty Pryde #1 - pass
  • True Believers: Thor #1 - fail
That's 5 fails, 5 passes, and 2 that are somewhere in-between.  You'd think that would equate a fairly mixed bag, but batting .500 in this instance is not good.  The fails are epic.  The passes in large part exemplify what it is to be Marvel, indicating the very kind of insular reasoning Marvel fans are always accusing DC of implementing.  I don't know.  Maybe it's confirmation bias.  Maybe twelve random comics was too large a sampling.  Maybe I just take this stuff too seriously.  Maybe I'm too close to DC to judge it the same way.  I mean, I tend to read what I like (which any sane person would do), and if that seems like a much larger percentage at DC than Marvel, again, that just goes to prove that I read DC more than I read Marvel.  These were twelve random comics.  I was pleasantly surprised a few times.  That's a good thing, right?  And again, I've deliberately sought out and enjoyed plenty of Marvel over the years, some of which is reflected in this very sampling. 

The object lesson here is, I should quit trying to make this so hard.  I like comics.  All comics follow peculiar logic.  All stories do.  I'm not going to like all of it.  That's it.  The end.  Nod, nod.  Wink, wink.  Say no more...

Monday, October 3, 2016

Quarter Bin 99 "Star-Lord and Kitty Pryde #1"

Star-Lord and Kitty Pryde #1 (Marvel)
From September 2015

writer: Sam Humphries

artist: Alti Firmansyah

The benefit of all the Secret Wars nuttiness is that it opened opportunities for some unexpectedly good storytelling.  I mean, the best thing to come out of Secret Wars was definitely the Secret Wars version of a sequel to Civil War, but there was other good stuff, too, even stuff that fully embraced the nuttiness, like Star-Lord and Kitty Pryde.

Listen, I had no idea these two had any kind of history together.  It probably happened when Brian Michael Bendis was writing both Guardians of the Galaxy and All-New X-Men.  Anyway, thanks to Secret Wars nuttiness, not only do they get a reprise, but only one of them knows their history together, and Star-Lord gets to do a lot of crazy stuff along the way, too.

Such as: Calling himself Steve Rogers.  Singing Disney songs (corporate synergy, thy name is Marvel!).  Especially singing Disney songs.  Because in the reality where Star-Lord finds himself, Disney songs don't exist.  (Never mind that people usually love to hear music they already know.)

This is the kind of nuttiness that works because it thoroughly embraces its nuttiness.  Not in a Deadpool way, that doesn't take anything seriously.  Or any other wacky Marvel character currently embracing the Deadpool conceit (there's lots of them, folks).  No, this is good old-fashioned storytelling.

And I'm absolutely not surprised to see Sam Humphries writing it.  Granted, my experience with Humphries is still fairly limited and recent, but this totally makes sense as a Sam Humphries project.  He may vary considerably in tone, but the Humphries pattern begins to emerge: he totally embraces whatever it is he's writing.  This is a very, very good thing.

Even when it's complete nuttiness.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Quarter Bin 98 "Star Wars: Shattered Empire #2"

Star Wars: Shattered Empire #2 (Marvel)
From December 2015

writer: Greg Rucka

artist: Marco Checchetto, Angel Unzueta, Emilio Laiso

Thanks to a deliberate purchase and then an incidental one (in one of those convenient packs this issue also came from) of the first issue, I know how this mini-series began, twice, but until now hadn't read further into the story.  Finally!

Shattered Empire is part of the new initiative that replaces all the other stories that tried to flesh out what happened after Return of the Jedi.  In fact, Shattered Empire starts immediately at the end of Return of the Jedi, with the parents of The Force Awakens character Poe Dameron participating in the Battle of Endor.

That's all well and good.  Greg Rucka usually writes strong female characters, and so his focus is squarely on Poe's mum, Shara.  This issue she's drafted to escort Princess Leia to Naboo.  Yes, this is a story that not only takes the prequels seriously, but remembers that Leia's mum was Queen Amidala.  I like the prequels.  I like stories that make nice logical connections, too.

The part of this comic that doesn't work nearly as well for me is the Emperor having a fail-safe program that's more or less a complete duplicate of Order 66, which indicates to all surviving Imperial forces that they must eradicate the Rebellion.  Listen, if this had been remotely possible, that would've happened well before the events depicted in A New Hope.  It's this very kind of shoddy storytelling that the Disney canon was theoretically envisioned to replace.

Frankly, I'm surprised to see someone like Rucka participating in it.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Quarter Bin 97 "Star Wars: Obi-Wan & Anakin #1"

Star Wars: Obi-Wan & Anakin #1 (Marvel)
From March 2016

writer: Charles Soule

artist: Marco Checcetto

Charles Soule, otherwise known as one of my favorite new writers of the past few years, very easily.  I was crushed when he left DC for Marvel, but relieved when I saw him work on quality projects at his new home, including the excellent Lando Calrissian mini-series.  So here he is again, bringing his trademark grasp of character back to Star Wars and...characters as depicted and depicted in the prequel era???

The horror!  Except for someone like me, who inexplicably likes the prequels, and is happy that not only is Marvel dipping its toes into those waters, but allowing someone the caliber of Soule to not only do it for them, but do it brilliantly.

As if there was ever any doubt.

The relationship between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker is one of the most important ones in all of Star Wars lore.  Their hellacious fight in Revenge of the Sith was long a part of franchise legend, even before the movie ever existed, and its sequel in A New Hope leant the very first movie considerable emotional depth.  And yet, their relationship was otherwise one of friendship.  Obi-Wan was the one person, besides Padme, who took Anakin seriously, warts and all.  So Soule can be comfortable allowing Anakin to voice the same kinds of doubts and theories that would lead to Darth Vader we'd previously only seen between him and Padme, and Obi-Wan accept it in stride.

The best part, the big twist, of this issue however, is the Jedi ending up on a world that has no place for their kind, and in fact has no idea what a Jedi even is.  It's an irony that the Jedi-heavy prequels alienated fans, while the Jedi-light originals, and The Force Awakens, have been such fan-favorites.  One would almost venture to assume that it's Jedi the fans don't like.  They like their lone wolves, thank you very much. 

So putting a couple of prequel-era characters into a situation ripe for that kind of storytelling is yet another sign of Soule's genius.  I love that guy.  He might actually get some readers to be okay with the prequels.  Such a feat is worthy of a Jedi.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Quarter Bin 96 "Nova #1"

Nova #1 (Marvel)
From January 2016

writer: Sean Ryan

artist: Cory Smith

A few years back Jeph Loeb introduced Sam Alexander, whose touching backstory included a dad who was a Nova, and no one believed him until he went missing, leaving his Nova helmet behind, at which Sam did believe him, and became the new Nova (who like Green Lantern over at DC is actually a whole space cop corps, as represented in Guardians of the Galaxy).  Then Marvel decided to ditch the poignant angle, and just keep Sam as a Nova, a new Nova, and basically leave it at that.

This relaunch teases a father/son reunion, but the end of the issue predictable disabuses us of such depth...Sorry, this is another one I just didn't get.  I get that comics are supposed to be fun, and that there ought to be plenty of stuff for readers who don't want to be bothered with too much backstory and such, which is to say young and/or immature readers, but when you have Jeph Loeb create something, you don't immediately ditch what he set up for the sake of convenience.  And maybe he himself was okay with what Marvel did with Sam, knew it right from the start, but as a reader, I just don't get it.

It's like everyone who's disappointed with DC movies trying to be too dark.  Well, my Marvel stereotype is that their stories are too dim.  And stuff like this doesn't help. 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Quarter Bin 95 "Karnak #1"

Karnak #1 (Marvel)
From December 2015

writer: Warren Ellis

artist: Gerardo Zaffino

Warren Ellis is one of the elite comic book writers I don't normally have much time for, but he's got at least one project (Supreme: Blue Rose) that I think truly does warrant his genius reputation, so I always like to keep his work in mind.

Karnak is an Inhumans series.  The Inhumans are Marvel's attempt to try and replace the X-Men as the dominant subset group of its publishing line, because currently the X-Men belong to 20th Century Fox as a movie franchise (Marvel has taken the Fantastic Four completely off the board for similar reasons, but it would be foolhardy to try and do the same with the X-Men, but darned if it doesn't try really hard to do so).  I don't know much of anything about Karnak as a character outside of what I've read in this very issue, but the Inhumans in general seem to have very little definition and a lot of suggestion about them, and I'd never heard of Karnak until I saw this series on the shelves for the first time.

I wish I could bother uploading images, because it's the cover of this issue that always had me semi-interested in it (I finally read this because of a handy comics package). It's a great, impressive cover, Karnak's face imposing itself so that he looks completely badass without really having to do anything to achieve it.

But Karnak turns out to be a little like Doctor Strange mixed with the Spectre.  Ellis tends to write genius characters because there's so little work involved in actually establishing their genius.  It's just assumed that whatever they do is genius.  I mean, it's practically a comics staple, and in that regard, Ellis is right on target.  (He ought to write a Doctor Doom series.)

Grumpy Karnak is asked by Phil Coulson (who's one of those characters Marvel is using a lot these days because of the movies, but whose appearance here totally justifies it; Ellis should be writing a Phil Coulson series instead of a Karnak series) to look after one of the many, many humans recently exposed as an Inhuman because of a McGuffin (Ms. Marvel is the most famous example; she otherwise has absolutely nothing to do with the Inhumans, except for a few early issues).  Karnak proves to be a dick, because he can get away with it.  Pretty much end of story.

Bottom line is, I have absolutely no idea why Karnak exists.  Doesn't really rate such a killer cover.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Quarter Bin 94 "Howling Commandos of S.H.I.E.L.D. #1"

Howling Commandos of S.H.I.E.L.D. #1 (Marvel)
From December 2015

writer: Frank Barbiere

artist: Brent Schoonover

I have little enough to say about this one, which I think is dedicated to the kind of hardcore Marvel reader who will care about this attempt to keep the Howling Commandos brand alive, but I will say that I love the idea of Dum Dum Dugan as the lead, and I'll expand a little on why:

First, it's a Marvel tradition I don't normally get to see a lot of, because it usually turns up in all the stuff I don't read from the company, because I've just never been a dedicated Marvel fan.  Dugan is officially a Life Model Decoy, which in the past has been a gimmick used to explain away (retcon) things that didn't prove popular among readers.  Dugan is part of the original Howling Commandos, who fought with Captain America in WWII (they're in Captain America: The First Avenger to prove it, and Dugan is played by Neal McDonough, who's long been a favorite of mine).

Dugan as a LMD plays into my DC/Star Trek roots.  Cadmus is a cloning facility familiar to "Reign of the Supermen" fans as the secret origin of Superboy, plus it employs the Guardian, another WWII legacy character who looks like the blue/yellow version of Captain America (which I'm sure is no coincidence), who's also a legacy clone.  In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the Vorta Weyoun appears in various clone units throughout the series (the last one dies in the last episode).

So Dugan dealing with being a clone is the best thing I can take from this, and the fact that he dies this issue, and his replacement is activated, and asks where S.H.I.E.L.D. keeps his trademark bowler hats.  That much is good stuff, and I'll just leave it at that.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Quarter Bin 93 "Hawkeye #2"

Hawkeye #2 (Marvel)
From February 2016

writer: Jeff Lemire

artist: Ramon Perez

To call Jeff Lemire one of my favorite active writers would probably be an understatement.  He's been writing some of my favorite comics for years now.  If anyone could follow up Matt Fraction's Hawkeye with something with even a slim chance of being as clever, it would be Lemire.

(Never mind that it would've been perfectly acceptable to keep the same numbering.  Uh-uh.  Not Marvel.  Not these days.  DC at least let a bunch of its New 52 series actually reach fifty-two, consistently-numbered consecutive issues.  Marvel now has seasons, which only makes sense for the dedicated monthly readers.)

Lemire even keeps Clint Barton and Kate Bishop working alongside each other in-tact.  I love that.  I've been a fan of Kate since she debuted in Young Avengers.  If any of those characters were going to extend their shelf lives, I'm glad it was her.  It doesn't hurt that she's following in the footsteps of a less-than-giant.  (As if to punctuate that, Marvel recently had Clint murder the Hulk, and so that's probably the end of him.)

In true Lemire fashion, however, he's not just content to keep things the way Fraction had them, but have a look at the future, with the past and future converging.  It shouldn't work but it does. 

I love that the art keeps general pace with the Fraction era, too.  I mean, that's Marvel really letting a good thing continue, in the best possible way.  Bravo, Marvel.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Quarter Bin 92 "Hail Hydra #1"

Hail Hydra #1 (Marvel)
From September 2015

writer: Rick Remender

artist: Roland Boschi

Yeah, I had no idea this one even existed, or at least what it was, among the glut of Secret Wars spin-off mini-series.  Someone over at Marvel had a look at what DC was doing with Convergence, and decided they'd like some of that action, and so a lot of old storylines were revisited in one form or another, and apparently one of them was Rick Remender's run on Captain America, by Rick Remender himself, and that Secret Wars spin-off mini-series is this very title.  Again, I had absolutely no idea.  The title doesn't exactly give it away, now does it?

There were apparently four issues of this, all of them written by Remender.  It's a follow-up, specifically, to his notion that Arnim Zola had a son who in Damian Wayne fashion ended up being mentored by Steve Rogers.  While the greater story around Hail Hydra draws on the bonkers kit-bashing reality of Secret Wars and thusly dumps Leopold Zola/Ian Rogers into an alternate reality where Arnim Zola rules with an iron fist, it at least puts him into a situation where he must confront his past all over again.

Remender's Captain America was easily one of my most pleasant discoveries of the past few years, something that broke free of the pseudo-earnestness of the Ed Brubaker years and just had some fun with the core concepts.  I love that Marvel gave him a shot to revisit it.  I don't know if it was Marvel's or Remender's idea to completely bury the result, but it at least becomes another pleasant discovery, because this is once again one of the best things I've read from Marvel recently.

I also love that Roland Boschi, whether at Remender's direction or otherwise, ends up depicting the alternate Leopold Zola Ian finds himself confronting exactly like Tom Hardy's Shinzon from Star Trek Nemesis.  It can't have been a coincidence one way or another.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Quarter Bin 91 "Captain America: Sam Wilson #1"

Captain America: Sam Wilson #1 (Marvel)
From December 2015

writer: Nick Spencer

artist: Daniel Acuna

Lately Marvel has been given a whole franchise to one writer, be it Brian Michael Bendis and Iron Man or Nick Spencer and Captain America.  Recently, Spencer debuted his second series, Captain America: Steve Rogers, which ignited a lightning rod when he revealed Steve has kind of been a Hydra agent all along (pay no attention to the Cosmic Cube behind the curtain).  So what about his Sam Wilson series?

Following on the heels of the earlier Sam Wilson/Captain America (which featured artwork from Stuart Immonen), this reboot picks things up in medias res, quite literally, with Sam in big trouble with everyone because he dares ask Americans to pay attention to crime around them.  Anyway, it's Spencer's bid to make Sam's Cap socially relevant.

If you had no idea why Sam even was Captain America, this issue is not going to help you.  It's part of Marvel's increasingly clumsy efforts to keep sales good by rebooting every series without a good reason, because for a lot of these series, the only thing changing is the creative team, such as the case is here.  Otherwise, there's no reason to have a new first issue if there's nothing but some engineered controversy to try and make it stand out.

That makes it ironic that Spencer's own Steve Rogers series has a real controversy, but then, it also has a rejuvenated Steve Rogers, who for a little while was an old man without super-soldier serum anymore.  This one just has Sam Wilson, randomly being Captain America, because he used to be his partner, as the otherwise totally unrelated Falcon (who has a falcon as an ally).

Sorry, I'm sounding negative again.  I swear I'll tone that down.

The art is from Daniel Acuna, who's been a Marvel guy for a few years now, but I still best remember as a DC guy, doing Freedom Fighters comics.  Here his work, whether intentionally or not, evokes Stuart Immonen's.  (See the note above.)  Still, I like his work and won't complain about that.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Quarter Bin 90 "Captain America: White #1"

Captain America: White #1 (Marvel)
From November 2015

writer: Jeph Loeb

artist: Tim Sale

I'd already read this issue when it was originally released, but it came in one of the packs of slightly oldish comics I picked up recently (I love that comics are being packaged and sold in diverse retail environments again), so here I am, reading and writing about it again.

I've continued to be a fan of Loeb/Sale even after they've stopped being popular (I tend to do that), especially in a project (this one) that didn't seem to interest anyone, even though Marvel does few enough projects like it, and for fans like me it's an ideal way to read a company that more often than not alienates me.

Like Loeb/Sale's other Marvel projects over the years (Spider-Man: Blue, Daredevil: Yellow, and Hulk: Gray), Captain America: White is a kind of origin story that takes the form of a reminiscence over a lost loved one.  In this case, Steve Rogers lamenting Bucky Barnes. 

It's kind of odd, because Bucky finally came back from the dead (you may have heard about it), and so trying to get people interested in a concept that's now completely retro is probably one of the reasons nobody cared about this.  Marvel fans are hopelessly nostalgic to a fault, but they also love the idea of being eternally current.  If that makes any sense.  Very few Marvel stories stand the test of time in the ways DC's routinely do.  It's more about nostalgia, like I said, and whatever's happening now (heh). 

It comes off as a little homoerotic (not that there's anything wrong with that, but unlike Batman & Robin I don't think anyone ever really suggested such a relationship before) for Steve to be pining away for Bucky in the classic Loeb/Sale/Marvel manner, which I think is another reason fans skipped over this one.  The biggest problem is that other than Peggy Carter or her descendant Sharon (a thing that mostly has its roots in the movies), Steve Rogers has never been depicted as someone with any close relationships.  He's a soldier, and soldiers bond with other soldiers.  But Bucky is usually depicted as much younger than him (Loeb describes the relationship as father/son).  The great irony of Steve that few writers choose to spotlight is that in a lot of ways he's still the skinny little guy who originally couldn't make it into the army.  Loeb/Sale bring this up in terms of his relationship with women, but even in that it just makes it seem that much more that the real problem is that he's gay and just doesn't seem to know it.  You don't have women throwing themselves all over you and remain totally oblivious to it, just because of who you used to be.  You can probably ask any given celebrity about that sort of thing.

The issue prints not only the first one but reprints the zero issue as well, from nearly a decade ago.  For whatever reason there was a massive delay between the start and completion of this project, whether because Loeb got too busy in Hollywood or Sale just wasn't feeling motivated, or whatever.  Neither really deals with Steve's transformation, but rather throws him and Bucky into the war (there's a little contradiction as to whether the story starts with their first or last excursion).

Regardless, if you'd never read Loeb/Sale before, I'm sure this would all read a lot better.  I tend to read too much into things, or think too much in general.  But then, this series hasn't exactly been a blockbuster, either.  But it's definitely worth a look, as a curiosity at the very least. 

Friday, September 23, 2016

Quarter Bin 89 "Black Widow #1"

True Believers: Black Widow #1 (Marvel)
From November 2015/January 2014.

writer: Nathan Edmondson

artist: Phil Noto

Ever since Scarlet Johansson showed up in the movies as Black Widow, Marvel has made tepid efforts to make the character more visible in its comics, including a number of solo series attempts.  This reprint of the second-most-recent attempt (Marvel's recent penchant for restarting titles about once a year is a really weird business practice for anyone attempting to keep track of what's actually working and whether they're just goosing sales for everything to mask such things) comes from a few years ago.

But you can see how achingly Nathan Edmondson follows the movie template of the mysterious Natasha Romanov.  I know first issues tend to generalize in order to contextualize the concept, but I felt like I was reading an impression of the movie character rather than someone who's existed in the comics for decades.  This is a very, very bad thing. 

I mean, I get corporate synergy and all.  I scratched my head for years while Marvel failed to sync up the movie and comic Tony Starks (which finally the only man capable of doing so, Brian Michael Bendis, did, only to set up a teenage black girl to replace him).  But a character who does exist in the comics, who theoretically has a richer history than has so far been depicted in the movies, should have something better than this. 

I also get that the whole point of these particular True Believers reprints were meant to spotlight Marvel's rich crop of female-led comics it's got going on (part of a complete diet of diversity that's kind of hard to argue with).

In this context, Black Widow becomes like Wolverine.  No, not the current Wolverine, who of course is a girl, but the original, part of whose mystique was that for years he didn't and we didn't know much about his origins.  But the strange thing about Black Widow is that she exists in an Avengers universe where the movies, for those members lucky enough to get their own movies (unlike Black Widow or Hawkeye), have been all about origins.  I honestly don't know if the comic book Black Widow has always been this mysterious, and I honestly don't know how this benefits her.  Because she's a character who's literally a Russian spy who inexplicably works alongside Americans without really referencing the fact that historically and in the present, Russians and Americans really only get along in the International Space Station.

But Edmondson seems perfectly happy writing a comic where such nuances don't exist.  And we just sort of vaguely follow along the movie template.  This is shallow writing.  I don't blame Edmondson, but the editors who sanctioned this series, and the filmmakers too cowardly to handle Black Widow the same way they've handled nearly every other Avenger.  (I mean, sure, Captain America: The Winter Soldier was as much a Black Widow movie as it was a Nick Fury movie, and only vaguely a Captain America movie, and even more vaguely about the Winter Soldier, but...)

I don't mean to sound so negative, but it's just that it's offensive for Marvel to handle Black Widow like this in two mediums.  The least it could do is let someone do a Black Widow comic like the excellent Hawkeye comics of the past few years.  I mean, if you're going to not even pretend she's anywhere near the guys anyway, at least let the series be fun to read, right?

Friday, September 2, 2016

Quarter Bin 88 "Marvel's All New, All Different"

Back issues of the recent past this edition: All-New All-Different Avengers #1, the Uncanny Inhumans #2, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. #1, Secret Wars #5, Secret Wars Too, Spider-Woman #1, Star Wars: Darth Vader #11, and Web-Warriors #2.

All-New All-Different Avengers #1 (Marvel)
From January 2016.
The Alex Ross cover doesn't exactly scream the same "youth" as the lineup and interior of this revamped team, featuring characters from the Ms. Marvel generation.  Written by Mark Waid and drawn by Adam Kubert (the brother who worked on Action Comics with Geoff Johns, not the one who worked on Batman with Grant Morrison), this is exactly an updated version of the kind of stuff Marvel has been doing since the '60s, and hey, it seems to be working quite well for them, right? 

The Uncanny Inhumans #2 (Marvel)
From January 2016.
With the heavy role the Inhumans are playing lately, not just in Civil War II but generally speaking (Marvel is kind of desperate for them to replace the X-Men, whose movies are not currently controlled by Dr. Disney), it was kind of crucial for the comics to be good.  I knew Charles Soule had it in him, and Steve McNiven has been a heavy-hitter (collaborations with Mark Millar on the first Civil War and the original "Old Man Logan," for instance) for years, so creatively, I have nothing to complain about.  The comic is good, too, with Black Bolt falling out with his lady Medusa, and their son Ahura falling under the influence of Kang, an arc that accelerates giddily throughout this issue.  I have plenty of evidence that Soule knows how to write great comics (his Secret Wars version of Civil War, for instance, in case you thought I'd referenced that title for the last time), so it's good to see that he started out well here, too.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. #1 (Marvel)
From March 2016.
This is stuff adapted from the TV series, which I've never particularly made a habit of watching (I'm a Flash guy, with some real effort toward DC's Legends of Tomorrow tossed in), but I knew Agent Coulson had a flying car he calls Lola.  Apparently he named it in honor of his ex-wife.

Secret Wars #5 (Marvel)
From October 2015.
As A DC guy, I tend to be amused at the way fans and creators alike treat Dr. Doom like a god.  I just never understood it.  In this entry of Jonathan Hickman's ultimate Fantastic Four (sendoff) saga, Doom literally has become a god, and the entire issue is just kind of Doom complaining about it with a lackey, because he recently offed Dr. Strange and no longer feels challenged.  You know what?  I'm not even going to talk about this issue.  Let's just move on, because Hickman's got better material in:

Secret Wars, Too (Marvel)
From January 2016.
This is literally Hickman and Marvel joking around about the whole Secret Wars concept.  Marvel has gotten to the point where it either publishes straight-out humor titles, titles obviously inspired by successful movies, or the handful of serious stuff it allows itself to do, so it's not at all surprising that something like Hickman literally laughing about his apparent inability to finish his story happens in something Marvel itself published.  Marvel has become the House Wizard Created.  All throughout the '90s, Wizard was a massive Marvel fan service, and introduced the cartoony approach to fandom that has since gone mainstream.  Hickman's piece is brilliant, in which he imagines a conversation with Dr. Doom about what the conclusion should be.  Then there's some middling stuff that's just kind of there, and then indy creators Rob Guillory (Chew) and Eric Powell (The Goon) provide some of their trademark wit.  I actually have to give Marvel props for releasing this.  In another era, this would've been a jump-the-shark moment, but this one's all about that kind of irreverence.

Spider-Woman #1 (Marvel)
From January 2016.
This one's famously the cover advance solicits spoiled as feature the pregnant Jessica Drew.  Dennis Hopeless somewhat hopefully assumes readers would be familiar with Spider-Woman's somewhat odd supporting cast (the guy who's dressed up as a porcupine), so he spends the entire issue presenting the awkward situation of superhero being unable to superhero while pregnant.  It's bold in an era where it's kind of anathema to be pregnant (or something) to have a pregnant superhero, but one wonders if this latest calculated move to corner every market didn't miscalculate.

Star Wars: Darth Vader #11 (Marvel)
From December 2015.
Kieron Gillen normally gets pretty high marks from fans, but he apparently is somewhat uninterested in featuring Darth Vader as the lead of his own comic...

Web-Warriors #2 (Marvel)
From February 2016.
This series was recently cancelled, and Mike Costa announced to be moving on with a new Venom series, which I think will be right up his alley.  I've been a vocal of supporter of Costa for years, and long for the day he'll be a major player at the Big Two (I can't believe he's gotten less than the Greg Rucka treatment).  It may be that he simply finds it hard to use his Cobra style outside of his IDW work.  Not in this issue, though.  This one reads like a straight-up Web-Warriors edition of Cobra, detailing Electro's romp through the Spider-Verse, with Spider-Gwen (this is what Marvel thinks of as witty) filling in for the good guy Costa frequently traps in his webs (phrasing it that way totally helps make sense of Marvel thinking of him as a Spider-Man guy).  Maybe I'm just as guilty as anyone else in not giving Costa's non-Cobra work a fair shot, but it's always nice to come across work that rings so true to what I know best, because Costa's best is among the all-time best.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Reading Comics 198 "DC Rebirth Week 10, All-New All-Different Avengers, Civil War II: The Accused, and The Fuse"

Featured this edition: All-New All-Different Avengers Annual #1, All Star Batman #1, Civil War II: The Accused, Deathstroke: Rebirth #1, The Flash #4, The Fuse #18, New Superman #2, and Superwoman #1.

All-New All-Different Avengers Annual #1 (Marvel)
I kind of had to buy this one as an early fan of G. Willow Wilson's Ms. Marvel, because this whole issue is dedicated to fan fiction, or Marvel creator versions of fan fiction, which turns out to be pretty funny.

All Star Batman #1 (DC)
Scott Snyder is never a sure-thing for me, although I did read through much of his New 52 Batman run, which was that era's biggest success story.  I had to at least give his follow-up a shot.  Turns out I love it, at least in this debut.  This is a Two-Face story, which may have things to say about the current US presidential campaign season, and it's some of the best writing I've ever seen from Snyder.  It doesn't hurt that he has John Romita, Jr., to help guide him along to greater creative heights.  That's something few fans appreciated about Romita's Superman run, which was a real shame, but I think they'll have less of a problem accepting his style in this series. 

Civil War II: The Accused (Marvel)
Screenwriter Marc Guggenheim has hopefully done enough comics where fans will accept him as one of their own.  It can't possibly hurt his cause exploring one of Civil War II's touchstone moments: Hawkeye murdering the Hulk.  Guggenheim helps Matt Murdock (Daredevil) navigate the intricacies of the resulting trial, exploring a range of relevant social topics.  The only knock is that this could easily have been expanded.

Deathstroke: Rebirth #1 (DC)
Unlike other Rebirth one-shots, Christopher Priest's (he's now billing himself strictly as Priest) Slade Wilson primer doesn't really make the origin explicit so much as exploring his complicated history as a father, and the kind of morality he inhabits as DC's most famous mercenary and frequent star of his own series.  The results are certainly fascinating, and they allow the reader to reach their own conclusions.  I haven't read too much solo Deathstroke, but this may be the start of his best run yet.

The Flash #4 (DC)
Joshua Williamson continues to nail it.  What else can I say?  Even moreso than Sam Humphries' Green Lanterns, this is feeling like comics that will be remembered fondly for years to come.  When this happens in the pages of The Flash, it usually means someone has managed to become the new standard by which all others follow.  Williamson joins the ranks of Mark Waid and Geoff Johns in that regard.

The Fuse #18 (Image)
This issue was released earlier in the year, after which the series took a hiatus that just ended last month.  The Fuse is Antony Johnston's police procedural set aboard a space station, and the issue concludes the "Perihelion" arc, which represents the day of the year Earth and the station are closest to the sun, which seems to bring about more communal chaos than usual.  I like that Johnston (who became a legend, at least as I'm concerned, with his masterful Wasteland) not only builds scenarios but thinks of scenarios-within-scenarios like this.  Also, the plot of what brought Ralph Dietrich to the station ramps up, and continues in the next arc, "Constant Orbital Revolutions."  That's another Johnston trademark, the ability to build his stories a layer at a time, so that different arcs actually mean something and don't just mean another story in the series.  This is much rarer than you'd think.  Geoff Johns in his epic Green Lantern run would be another such example.

New Super-Man #2 (DC)
What Wilson's done in the pages of Ms. Marvel is something Gene Luen Yang is doing in the pages of this comic, introducing a unique cultural perspective that also presents a unique perspective on superheroes.  I love that DC let Yang do this even after the lackluster response to his Superman.

Superwoman #1 (DC)
The blockbuster "Last Days of Superman" story that helped round out the New 52 era has proven to be reach creative groundwork for the Rebirth era, which now proudly includes Superwoman in its ranks of successes.  Marvel has been swapping the identities and genders behind their icons for a couple years now, which in truth is kind of old hat in comics.  On the surface, Superwoman probably seems like it's climbing aboard the bandwagon, but DC has at least put considerable thought into it.  "Superwoman" is actually "Superwomen" in this issue, in which long-time creator Phil Jimenez gets another chance to shine in writing and art duties (he's previously done so with the likes of his early millennial Wonder Woman run), and features longtime supporting cast members Lois Lane and Lana Lang gaining powers.  As Lois points out, this would hardly be the first time for her (perhaps the most famous example was in Grant Morrison's All Star Superman, but she also had Brainiac powers in the New 52, among other instances).  Jimenez also acknowledges Lois's role in the controversial "Truth" arc, in which she exposed Superman's secret identity.  The clever thing, though, is that Lana is along for the ride, too, and so any fans still grumbling about how Lois Lane was depicted in the New 52, and the lack of a romance with Clark Kent, can instead focus on Lana, Clark's Smallville crush.  In fact, without giving too much away, Lana Lang is actually the star of this comic.  I also like that her costume and powers harken to the much-maligned "Electric Superman" (as did Strange Visitor fifteen years ago).  Good creators always know better than naysaying fans.  This issue more than proves that Jimenez is a good creator.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Reading Comics 197 "DC Rebirth Week Nine, DC's Young Animal, Avatarex, Bombshells, Iron Man, Moon Knight"

Covered this edition: DC's Young Animals Ashcan, Avatarex #1, Batman #4, Bombshells #16, Green Lantern #4, Harley Quinn #1, Invincible Iron Man #12, Moon Knight #5, Nightwing #2, Suicide Squad: Rebirth #1, and Superman #4.

DC's Young Animal Ashcan (DC)
Gerard Way (Umbrella Academy, The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, My Chemical Romance) has finally made his way to DC, and is helping launch what is kind of Vertigo 2.0, reimagining some of the company's unused properties from a new perspective, starting with a couple of titles inspired by ones that helped launch Vertigo itself, Shade, the Changing Girl (originally Shade, the Changing Man) and Doom Patrol, which Way is writing (along with co-writing Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye, which is probably the title I'm most interested in; the fourth in Young Animal's debut set is Mother Panic, which seems to be the imprint's Batman title).  What I love about Way's approach to Young Animal is built into his introduction from this preview: "With a monthly book, it is real seat-of-your-pants comic making, and you sort of have an end in sight, but you don't know exactly when you'll get there."  It's a refreshing perspective on the nature of writing at the Big Two, whether or not you have your own imprint.  The ashcan was done in the style of the old Who's Who comics, with profile pages for key characters in the upcoming launches, plus some artwork.  Michael Avon Oeming, who helped create Powers with Brian Michael Bendis and Mice Templar with Bryan JL Glass, does art for Cave Carson, and it's weird seeing him do humans again.  I know people are probably more familiar with his Powers work (which has since become one of the many streaming TV shows people can obsess over), but I know him better for his Mice Templar,'s weird seeing him do humans again.  I'm so glad DC is doing Young Animal.

Avatarex #1 (Graphic India)
Now that I've finally gotten a copy of the debut issue, there's not a ton of difference between what inside and what was previously featured in the FCBD release, but all the same, I love that Grant Morrison is exploring the idea of a superhero who has no idea how complicated the modern world really is in relation to superheroes, which in conception is almost like how Marvel was originally telling its Thor stories with the Don Blake character.

Batman #4 (DC)
Tom King's the first one advancing his Rebirth story by getting to the point where Gotham (the superhero) cracks, while also making a strong Suicide Squad connection, which is hugely smart, with Amanda Waller making one of the keenest observations ever in a Batman comic: "Zero Year.  Owls.  The Joker.  The Joker again.  Bloom.  Plus all your colorful friends [referring to other villainous foes].  Ever since you arrived, Gotham has been on fire.  This is America.  We don't stand idly by while our cities burn."  While certainly New Orleans and Detroit might argue with that over the past decade, it's interesting, because we're so used to Batman essentially operating in a vacuum, existing in a chaotic environment with one crisis after the other, and only him capable of intervening.  I know Scott Snyder (and Christopher Nolan, in The Dark Knight Rises) came up with certain reasons why soldiers couldn't disrupt Zero Year, but it's been traditional to let Batman exist in his own little world, and continue a war that never seemed to get better and in some respects get progressively worse without anyone else ever stepping in (the No Mans Land arc is probably archetypal in this regard).  I'm not at all surprised that it's King penning this insight.  I figure it'll play into the future of his run, too.

DC Comics Bombshells #16 (DC)
I figured I would finally have a look inside one of these, and saw that one of the stories in this issue features Mera, who in recent years, thanks to Geoff Johns, has risen to costar status in Aquaman stories, so I bought the comic and found it well worth it.  I'm familiar with Marguerite Bennett as a presence, but this is the first time I've really found her notable.  The lead story is kind of like the DC superheroine version of Kurtis Wiebe's Peter Panzerfaust, which updated the Peter Pan story in a WWII context.  Obviously a DC equivalent would be backtracking back to the company's roots.  It was a fun read.  But the Mera story, as I figured, was more interesting.  This version of the Atlantis saga puts her squarely in the lead, with the monarchic saga (Game of Thrones fans will appreciate it) at the fore, with Arthur Curry (Aquaman) tagging along.  I honestly have no idea why she hasn't already gotten an ongoing series.  It would almost be a better sell than Aquaman at this point.  Bennett would be an ideal writer, naturally...

Green Lanterns #4 (DC)
Sam Humphries continues his exploration of Jessica Cruz and Simon Baz as they learn to trust each other.  I'm so, so happy this series is happening.  Every now and then, this franchise benefits greatly from the introduction of new leads, and Humphries is proving that all over again.

Harley Quinn #1 (DC)
Blatantly a continuation of the recent series (it figures, with Harley), with some quick reintroductions, including Red Tool, the parody of Deadpool that's been featured previously.  (It's only natural; Harley is DC's Deadpool, after all.)

Invincible Iron Man #12 (Marvel)
I figured I'd check back in with Bendis and Tony Stark, what with Civil War II going on and the announced Riri Williams era that will follow it.  Bendis is writing the cinematic Iron Man so thoroughly it's almost disappointing at this point, but I'm also the guy who had no idea why Marvel wasn't doing that already. 

Moon Knight #5 (Marvel)
Jeff Lemire's masterful saga continues and/or concludes, depending on your level of mental engagement.  Marc Specter, by the end of the issue, has confronted his psychiatric issues, realizing that it's Khonshu who's been messing with him, only to be booted into a different persona, Steven Grant.  Lemire is being incredibly thorough and comprehensive, and you don't have to be a long-time fan, or at least know vaguely the Moon Knight backstory, to follow along.  The best thing about Marvel, and DC, is that these minor characters do get to have comics this rich, the most daring and experimental stuff from the mainstream, and sometimes, the best, like Lemire's Moon Knight.

Nightwing #2 (DC)
As someone who hasn't really read a great Nightwing comic since the Dixon/Grayson era (aside from the brilliant Grayson: Futures End one-shot), it's so nice to be reading one that totally gets what the character is all about, and what he represents, which as described in this issue: "hip new version of an old beloved product."  At his best, Nightwing really is Batman, but less grim.  I mean, wasn't that the whole idea of Robin to begin with, making the Dark Knight more accessible? 

Suicide Squad: Rebirth #1 (DC)
Rob Williams, at least in this debut, doesn't arrive in the title with the same thunderclap that he brought to Martian Manhunter, but that may be due to the fact that this is a concept that kind of overshadows the messenger.  Just look at the reaction to the movie.  (Critics hated it because it sells the concept of superheroes too strongly, which is why they've hated most of DC's movies; Marvel's tend to be far more flippant about it, which is why critics tend to love them, because that's how they approach superheroes, too.)  Anyway, the issue is really an introduction to Rick Flag, the ringmaster of this circus, the military leader tasked with keeping Task Force X in-line.  Williams has President Obama (in image if not by name) talk about the moral repugnance of the team, while Amanda Waller argues that in the grand tradition of black ops apologists, this nasty work is necessary to maintain the goodness everyone prefers to think about.  This is clearly a military title (the movie got that, too; it's no surprise that director David Ayer has Fury under his belt, along with all the grey areas explored in other movies like Training Day, which he wrote, and End of Watch, the previous directorial effort I've seen, which was brilliant), and I'm not sure previous incarnations got that.  Hopefully Williams keeps that in mind.

Superman #4 (DC)
It's so good to see Patrick Gleason back on art.  I realize the twice-monthly shipping schedule will probably prevent him from doing so every issue, but as much as I admire his writing ability, too, I can't help but long to see his artwork help lead the storytelling.  I loved seeing Bibbo (one of the signature '90s supporting characters), and the Kryptonian ghosts end up not being adversaries, as they at first seemed.  I hope fans are appreciating this run as much as I am.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Quarter Bin 87 "Back to Automatic Kafka, and more from recent back issues blitzes"

Automatic Kafka #3, 4, 5, 9 (WildStorm)
From November & December 2002, January and July 2003
Joe Casey's comic caught my eye in previous rummaging through back issue bins, so I figured I'd read more of it.  Thankfully, #9 is the final issue and adequately explains what the hell he was doing with the rest of it.  Basically this was a post-modern superhero comic, in the tradition of Wasteland and Grant Morrison's Animal Man (Casey liberally appears in the final issue, speaking directly to Kaf and the reader), from the more cynical perspective of early millennium superhero comics, which had been turned on their head by stuff like The Authority, which would give birth to The Ultimates and somewhat strangely, the Marvel movies we all enjoy now, which are on the whole far less concerned with taking superheroes seriously than the comics that spawned them.  It's classic satire, the Kafkaesque version, if you will, of Loeb & Sale's formative collaboration in The Challengers of the Unknown Must Die!, a previous big find in the back issue bins recorded in previous editions of this column.

Black Magick #1 (Image)
From October 2015
Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott are past and present Wonder Woman creators.  Their pasts previously aligned in this series about a magic practitioner who's also a cop, which is kind of luck summarizing and simplifying Charmed.  Figured I'd finally have a look.

Blackhawks #2, 3, 4 (DC)
From December 2011, January & February 2012
As a huge Mike Costa fan...when he's writing his brilliant G.I. Joe/Cobra stories over at IDW, I always like to check in on his other stuff.  When the New 52 was announced, I was automatically intrigued at his Blackhawks, but then financial restraints got in the way and I was only able to check back in well after the fact.  This is the second such time I've read some of it, and I'm far more impressed now than the last time.  The big beef I had the last time was that I didn't really get the Mike Costa feel, that in having to create a whole team right off the bat, he didn't have the chance to dazzle with an intense single-character drama, like he did at IDW.  Well, I stand corrected, and even more curiously, the passage of time and further comics experience informs me that his Blackhawks reads like a preview of Valiant's current Bloodshot comics.  So I will definitely make a better effort at reading the complete short-lived run in the future.

Cairo sneak preview (Vertigo)
This graphic novel was G. Willow Wilson's comics debut, originally released in November 2007.  I later became hugely enamored with Wilson through Air, while other readers made her Ms. Marvel a leading member of Marvel's new generation.  I've always wanted to read Cairo (which is also Wilson's first collaboration with Air artist M.K. Perker), and so this teaser is a pretty good start.

Global Frequency #12 (WildStorm)
From August 2004
Thanks to Transmetropolitan and later works (such as the aforementioned Authority), Warren Ellis became known as one of the most progressive writers in comics (I dubbed his Supreme: Blue Rose as a landmark work).  Global Frequency was one of the several projects from the same general period that helped solidify his reputation.  At least in this final issue, it's a terrifying vision of government population measures.  I think I've read it before.  Didn't hurt to read it again.

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Book 1 (DC)
From 1993
I've long wanted to have a look at DC's adaptation of Douglas Adams' classic story of Arthur Dent's terrifying vision of government population measures (heh).  For now, I'll have to settle with this first installment, featuring very, very '90s art.  No, not the Image kind.  What everyone else had when all the Image artists went to Image, or were employed in Marvel and DC books desperately trying to look like Image books.  If that helps.

Inferno #2 (DC)
From November 1997
I've read the complete mini-series before, but I wanted to have another look (those issues were lost in one of the purges).  This was Stuart Immonen's writer/artist tryout, I think, for DC, before he was allowed to assume the same responsibilities in his Superman comics.  His Inferno is a good reminder that there's a whole set of young readers who read comics because they identify with the human qualities these characters can exhibit, not the desperate attempts to be cool that some companies began to think were necessary to find them.  It's yet another example of the timelessness of Immonen's work, and why it's sad he's never really gotten another chance since that time to explore this side of comics.

Nova #3 (Marvel)
From March 2016
Ah...bad timing, Nova.  Because this latest incarnation of the Jeph Loeb vision for the character is the opposite everything I just talked about...

Our Love is Real (Image)
With his sensational work in Green Lanterns recently, I've gotten more aware of the name Sam Humphries, so when I saw this one-shot, I figured I really should have a look.  It's kind of a shameless parody of sexual diversity, and the artist draw sideburns like Howard Chaykin.  That's all I'll say about that!

Resistance #6 (WildStorm)
From July 2009
Here's Mike Costa again, doing another military comic, only this time it's based on a video game.  But it's excellent Costa material all the same.

Starman #6 (DC)
From January 1989
The Will Payton Starman, like the rest of them, popped up in James Robinson's later Starman series.  Here will is very much at the start of his career, and in the thick of the "Invasion" crossover arc, and contending with the Power Elite  But more on superhero Elites in a moment...

Action Comics #775 (DC)
From March 2001
The introduction of Manchester Black was one of those legendary events from early millennium Superman comics, and I always wanted to catch up with it.  Here was a character meant to help explain what makes Superman continually relevant, because he reflects all the violent tendencies that had been cropping up since the likes of Alan Moore and Frank Miller complicated such things.  This was a whole era in Superman comics dedicated to making him cool again, which really wouldn't work until Superman/Batman (somewhat ironically).  At the end of this issue, Joe Kelly makes him looks like he's stooped to Black's level, but then cleverly explains how he didn't, while still making Superman look pretty badass.  Black's Elites, who starred in a twelve-issue Justice League Elite, were another response to Ellis's work.

Superman: Last Son of Krypton FCBD
From 2013
This is the first issue in the Geoff Johns/Richard Donner run, that reads as well now as it did when originally published. 

We Stand on Guard #4 (Image)
From October 2015
Brian K. Vaughan is one of the guys who formed his reputation in the years following Ellis's dominance in the progressive movement, and in recent years he's been doing some even edgier stuff.  We Stand on Guard is a curious little thing, in that it tackles America's current reputation from the perspective of a future war with Canada.  It totally makes sense if you ignore the fact that Canada and the United States have generally been okay with each other since the unfortunate business of the war of 1812 and the business of trying to add Canada to the rest of America...

Ultimate X-Men #7 (Marvel)
From August 2001
Mark Millar explores the Ultimate version of Weapon X.  Predictably edgy outlook.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Reading Comics 196 "DC Rebirth Week Eight, Divinity II, Moon Knight"

Covered this edition: Detective Comics #937, Divinity II #4, The Flash #3, Moon Knight #4, Nightwing #1, Red Hood and the Outlaws: Rebirth #1, Action Comics #960, Titans #1, and Wonder Woman #3.

Detective Comics #937 (DC)
Batman escapes from the custody of the bad guys this issue, which features the return of Ulysses Hadrian Armstrong (I remember him fondly from the pages of '90s Robin), who is a little criminal genius in the making.  As this is the bulk of the issue, it's a slam dunk of a sequence.

Divinity II #4 (Valiant)
The final issue of this particular story in the saga (an ad promises Divinity III this December, as does some quick foreshadowing) is a remarkable conclusion to Abram Adams' war with Myshka in which he's able to connect with his fellow cosmonaut-turned-god on a strangely human level.  Matt Kindst's work with Divinity remains some of the best stuff being published today.

The Flash #3 (DC)
I can't even begin to describe how happy I continue to be about this relaunch.  I haven't been (with all due apologies to Geoff Johns) been this interested in a Flash comic since Mark Waid's prime.  The cleverness just doesn't stop.  One would think Central City being flooded with new speedsters would diminish the role of Barry Allen as a significant figure, other than as budding mentor (can you say Max Mercury?), but then his new sidekick August Heart says something brilliant like, "Do you know how fast you were going?" 

Moon Knight #4 (Marvel)
Jeff Lemire continues to knock this one out of the park.  (If chosen carefully, the things you enjoy shouldn't be so difficult to enjoy.)  I decided to catch up with this weeks-old issue, and damn if this isn't one of my favorite comics in recent years.  It's really that good.

Nightwing #1 (DC)
This is a strong follow-up to the Rebirth one-shot, in which Nightwing repositions himself as a mole in the Parliament of Owls and then meets Raptor, the latest dude who thinks Dick Grayson can't hack it on his own.

Red Hood and the Outlaws: Rebirth #1 (DC)
This is Scott Lobdell's restating of the Jason Todd biography, although this time he makes the point that Jason is uniquely suited to appear like he's the compromised Batman, which is interesting.  I know Frank Miller probably has conniptions every time a comic book suggests Boy Wonders aren't destined to become lunatics, but I don't have a problem with it.

Action Comics #960 (DC)
Wonder Woman enters the fight, but other than getting some readers up to date about Doomsday's origins, nothing much significant happens this issue.

Titans #1 (DC)
This fairly Wally West-centric issue also features Linda Park.  Hey, I can't argue with that.  Dan Abnett lets other Titans in on the act, notably Lilith, who's one of the more obscure members of this family, before shockingly revealing that Abra Kadabra is claiming responsibility for Wally's disappearance.

Wonder Woman #3 (DC)
Greg Rucka does a pretty powerful study of Cheetah, one of Wonder Woman's most famous foes, who probably comes off better in this one issue than she has in all her other collective appearances combined.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Reading Comics 195 "DC Rebirth Week Seven, 18 Days, Letter 44, Tokyo Ghost"

Featured this edition: Grant Morrison's 18 Days #12, Batgirl & the Birds of Prey: Rebirth #1, Batman #3, Green Lanterns #3, The Hellblazer: Rebirth #1, Justice League #1, Letter 44 #26, Superman #3, and Tokyo Ghost #8.

Grant Morrison's 18 Days #12 (Graphic India)
Morrison's Avatarex #1 shipped last week, and hopefully I'll be seeing a copy in a couple weeks.  Although I lost track of reading Graphic India's vision of his Indian superwar epic a while ago, I always thought it was well worth reading, and so I checked in again for this issue, which details Bhima's further experiences, from his great familial devotion to a momentum moment for him in the fighting.  This project's being executed with pitch-perfect precision.

Batgirl and the Birds of Prey: Rebirth #1 (DC)
The Birds of Prey was conceived during the '90s, and has been maintained in some fashion ever since.  It's a girls-only team (still unique in comics, but not with Ghostbusters).  This issue features Batgirl Barbara Gordon's biography at the forefront, but also gives nods to Black Canary's DCYou band exploits and Helena Bertinelli's Grayson spy work, and how the team only reluctantly gets back together.  It was a good introduction.

Batman #3 (DC)
Tom King's Dark Knight continues, as we learn the secret origin of the superpowered heroes who have lately been lending him a hand: Hank and Claire Clover.  Hank was saved by Batman years ago, when he was a kid.  King cleverly stages this origin so that the unsuspecting reader might think he's seeing Bruce Wayne's fateful Crime Alley nightmare all over again, but then the story continues and we find out what's really going on.  As always, King is in full command of the psychological beats, including those provided by villains Hugo Strange (always, ah, somewhat strangely overlooked in Batman lore) and Psycho Pirate. 

Green Lanterns #3 (DC)
Simon Baz spends more time in the spotlight this issue, including a killer sequence with Red Lantern soldier Bleez, who is the latest recipient of Baz's ability to unlock his power ring's most surprising abilities, ones rarely experienced by other bearers.  He'll need all the help he can get, because partner Jessica Cruz has just been overtaken by the rage seed...

The Hellblazer: Rebirth #1 (DC)
John Constantine is that unique DC character, in that he's a genuine antihero, which unlike his Marvel counterparts (say, the Punisher) doesn't mean that he goes around shooting people, but that he makes unorthodox moral decisions, possibly because of his ties to Hell (hence, the returning traditional name to his adventures).  Since his return to DC proper (after being a headlining Vertigo act since the brand's creation two decades ago) during Brightest Day five years ago, fans have been skeptical that Constantine can properly function in the relatively sanitized DC superhero landscape (for comparison, imagine if Neil Gaiman had had to make Sandman permanently co-exist with the likes of Dr. Destiny and Martian Manhunter, both of whom made early appearances in the series, but who seem hard to reconcile with Gaiman's later creative pursuits).  I've never really been a Constantine reader, so I welcomed this chance to have a look.  For what it's worth, I do think, at least in this issue of this iteration, he works perfectly well.  It's like the Demon Etrigan (who had a Garth Ennis-penned series in the '90s, that gave birth to one of Ennis's signature creations, Hitman), but without the Demon as the lead, if that makes any sense.

Justice League #1 (DC)
The first issue of the series, like its New 52 Geoff Johns predecessor, has Wonder Woman on the brain, which I love.  Tony Daniel on art (he helped launch Superman/Wonder Woman, which is all kinds of natural for this latest Daniel project) is as always a thing of beauty.  I love how the whole issue is about mobilizing the team. 

Letter 44 #26 (Oni)
I'd previously sampled this Charles Soule series, but didn't really get the hang of what's going on in it, so I'm glad that I've finally read another issue.  This is a story about the end of the world, and all the odd decisions people are going to make if the involved players include aliens, U.S. presidents, a team of scientists, and messianic collaborators.  Actually, I came out of this issue being very impressed.  But then, I was already a fan of Soule, so I'm doubly glad I can now say I like Letter 44, too.

Superman #3 (DC)
Having witnessed the thunderbolt that was Jorge Jimenez's work in the early issues of Earth 2: Society, I'm so happy to be seeing more of his art, in this Tomasi/Gleason series and in the forthcoming Super-Sons, which in some ways this issue helps set up, as we see Jon Kent light up for the first time.  The sequence of events that provoke this (a new vision of the Eradicator that offers some fascinating new wrinkles to established character mythology; Krypto) is breathtaking in ways I hoped this series would be.

Tokyo Ghost #8 (Image)
Rick Remender has joined Mark Millar in the select group of modern writers who have been able to establish a viable brand around their names, and a large net of titles to populate it.  This Remender project envisions a dystopic future directly culled from our own, in which addiction to digital content has literally sucked the life out of everyone, leaving the population susceptible to corrupting influences.  Fortunately, there's a hero in the eponymous Ghost capable of stepping in to stem the tide.  This issue turned out to be a perfect one to sample, involving the Ghost's tragic baskstory, and the man she's tried valiantly through the years to protect, despite increasing odds against her.  But the reason I wanted a look was because of the Sean Gordon Murphy art.  I've been a fan of Murphy's since Joe the Barbarian, his seminal work with Grant Morrison, as well as his personal creative vision, Punk Rock Jesus.  He's also collaborated with Scott Snyder (The Wake) in recent years, as well as Millar (Chrononauts).  I never get tired of his art.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Reading Comics 194 "DC Rebirth Week Six, Earth 2, Millarworld Annual, The Vision, Old Man Logan"

Covered this edition: Detective Comics #936, Earth 2: Society #14, The Flash #2, Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps: Rebirth #1, Millarworld Annual 2016, Nightwing: Rebirth #1, Action Comics #959, New Super-Man #1, The Vision #9, Old Man Logan #8, and Wonder Woman #2.

Gosh, so I kind of got all the DC Rebirth releases this week...

Detective Comics #936 (DC)
This isn't the first Detective Comics issue of the Rebirth era, but I was curious to read an issue because the spotlight was on Batwoman, Kate Kane, a character that's fascinated me since her debut in 52.  As one of the more high profile openly homosexual characters in comics, Batwoman has had a certain level of prominence over the years, although since she was created by Greg Rucka and had J.H. Williams III as her artist for a number of years, she was allowed a great deal of creative freedom, too, up to and...excluding, infamously, a wedding in her New 52 series.  The writer of Detective Comics is James Tynion IV, whom I've somewhat unfairly judged over the years due to his association with Scott Snyder, whom I've sometimes found difficult to appreciate.  But Tynion is a pretty good writer, and as this issue is a pretty good Batwoman story, I may have to once and for resolve to consider Tynion positively going forward. 

Earth 2: Society #14 (DC)
I'm not sure how much Dan Abnett is commenting on the creative reputation of the series he inherited several issues ago or if it's just coincidence, but there's much ado about the broken nature of the new society this alternate world of heroes represents.  Still, there's a strong focus on Dick Grayson's Batman, which hasn't really happened since Convergence, and that was good to see, as was the return of his son.  Which, all told, Dick himself is far less pleased about, given the unfortunate circumstances...I still think Earth 2, under its various creative directors, has been one of the shining successes of the New 52 era.

The Flash #2 (DC)
Barry Allen begins training his friend and colleague August Heart, who has just acquired access to the Speed Force, and that's fun in and of itself, their contrasting stances on what they should do with it, when the series takes a page from the unrelated TV show and has STAR Labs become the source of trouble, revealing who's behind the freak lightning storms, and what they're after.  It's such a good feeling, knowing I love reading The Flash again...

Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps: Rebirth #1 (DC)
Maybe it was because I never intended to read it full-time, but Robert Venditti's Green Lantern eventually lost its status as a worthy creative follow-up to the work of Geoff Johns, in my estimation, and once it fell, it plummeted.  Funny enough, Venditti explains his thought process in this issue, and it has great relevance in the policing controversies spread across newspapers seemingly every day for the past few years.  I have no idea where Venditti started the idea, but it begins to make more sense, seeing it all laid out, and where he has Hal Jordan continue to go with it.  So I'm glad I can finally say I get his take.  It's not Johns (but few could be).  And I'm okay with that.

Millarworld Annual 2016 (Image)
Putting all the cards on the table, the international competition for this thing that sought submissions from new creators was something I entered last year, basing my entry on Starlight, which you can look elsewhere to see how much I enjoyed.  I've been a member of the Millarworld message boards ever since, and so was able to keep tabs on when this would be released.  Obviously I had something of a vested interest in it.  The writer I got to know the best from the boards, perhaps somewhat naturally, was Deniz Camp, whose Starlight effort did win.  I can admire Camp, because he too admires Grant Morrison.  But the standout entry in the annual, for me, very easily, was Cliff Bumgardner's American Jesus script (just as amazingly illustrated by Steve Beach), which took a moment out of time from Mark Millar's original comic (originally titled Fallen) and explored the consequences of saving a dog's life, which was to inadvertently have the effect of stopping death from occurring, during those moments, around the whole world.  It gave me chills to read.  It was like reading Stephen King, or at any rate, a first-fate professional.  Kudos, Cliff!

Nightwing: Rebirth #1 (DC)
This was exactly the connecting story fans of Dick Grayson could have hoped for, as Dick's adventures with Spyral aren't just unceremoniously dumped, but incorporated into his greater adventures, as he realizes he probably really does have to become Nightwing again, an identity Tim Seeley (Dick Grayson's amazing co-writer, along with the incomparable Tom King, but more on him a little later) explains, as been explained many times before but still comes out fresh, because for the duration of the New 52 it was kind of ignored, as having been inspired by Superman and not Batman, as might be easy to assume.  There's also some good Parliament of Owls stuff in the issue, proving that maybe that whole story really should have been Dick's all along...

Action Comics #959 (DC)
The Rebirth era Doomsday saga continues, with parallels popping up all over the places, plus a few new wrinkles, like Superman being forced to concede that the New 52 Lex Luthor may not actually be an exact match for the one he used to know.  Otherwise, the reader will just have to continue waiting to see just where the new wrinkles are really headed...

New Super-Man #1 (DC)
I loved, loved, loved Tony Bedard's The Great Ten, which was about a group of Chinese superheroes.  Each issue told each member's story.  It was a true overlooked masterpiece.  Fortunately, someone realized China is perhaps a hotter topic today than when Great Ten was published only a handful of years ago.  And even more fortunately, a writer of Gene Luan Yang's quality is around to explore the landscape all over again.  Yang's Superman wasn't everyone's cup of tea, perhaps unfortunately coinciding with the "Truth" arc that wasn't really what anyone wanted to read in the Man of Steel's adventures.  His New Super-Man features as unlikely a protagonist as you'll find.  When first seen he appears to be a jerk!  (Bonus points to the Silver Age for being relevant again.)  But his personality is entirely in keeping with Chinese society, which is an extreme example of what we experience in the States (and you thought it was bad here!), with income disparity resulting in social dynamics that will probably surprise readers.  Yang's origin continues along so that his Chinese Superman ends up kind of being a DC Captain America, with his powers literally being infused into him (and making Chinese Superman to be something of the Rebirth Superboy).  I applaud DC and Yang for coming up with this, and I hope enough readers are culturally curious enough to keep it going a while.

The Vision #9 (Marvel)
For me, there was no question that Tom King's greatest superhero work of the past year was The Omega Men, to the point where I was willing to sell his Vision short (heh).  Yet, as of this issue, which details how Runaways character Victor Mancha went from uncle to murderer, explaining all over again how rich a creative source King's war experience really is, I'm completely sold on it.  So clearly King had room for two masterworks, in a very short time.  Here's hoping he has many more.

Old Man Logan #8 (Marvel)
This spin-off of Mark Millar's original story, generated in the wake of Secret Wars and I'm not sure how related to a similar Brian Michael Bendis mini-series during that event, was something I was slow to give much credit to (there I go again), because I just didn't see the point.  But if comic book logic counts for anything, then something like this makes its own kind of sense.  And it can't possibly hurt to have Jeff Lemire writing.  This is the story of Wolverine, decades older, whose whole life and world crumbled in the wake of a catastrophic supervillain victory (think Final Crisis or  Forever Evil, but more permanent), and he was left virtually alone to pick up the pieces.  Somehow he was transported to the present.  This issue, Lemire helpfully spells out the whole thing, and helps Logan come to a kind of peace with his situation.  He's been in constant dread that he's going to have to experience the fall all over again.  Curiously, the time-displaced Jean Grey, from Bendis's (it figures, right?) All-New X-Men, is the one who helps him.  This is Jean at the start of her career.  She hadn't even met Logan yet, when she was pulled from the past.  And all over again, the value of Jean Grey is exhibited.  Great issue.

Wonder Woman #2 (DC)
Greg Rucka's origin of Wonder Woman begins.  Suddenly, there are a million Wonder Woman origin stories going on.  There's Legend of Wonder Woman, Wonder Woman: Earth One, the upcoming Wonder Woman movie, the upcoming Wonder Woman: The True Amazon...  Yet, for all that, it is worth visiting and revisiting.  Every creator has a fresh perspective, and with Wonder Woman, finally getting her creative due, it's more relevant than ever before.  This is a character who's always been touted as one of DC's most important characters, but she's never been near as popular as Superman or Batman, and as such her origin isn't as well-known.  As more fans come to check out what she's all about, it presents, obviously, a rich opportunity to explore, right from the beginning of the story.  Rucka's vision is pretty focused, as the Amazonian princess Diana is alone interested in a world she never knew, as she's the first of her kind to be born since they were sealed off from Man's World.  He assumes you already know, or don't care, about the particulars of her birth (although the alternating arc in this twice-monthly series does feature exactly that), and just runs from there.  The in-house ads talk about each series of the Rebirth era featuring a new epic that starts now, and as far as I can tell, that's exactly what DC has been delivering.  Azzarello set such a high mark in the New 52 with Wonder Woman.  Rucka seems intent to, and capable of, surpassing it.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Quarter Bin 86 "The Lightning Round"

The title of this feature is not literal.  It's a back issues spotlight.  Most of the comics from this particular were definitely not bought for a quarter.

This has been a summer of awareness that I probably won't be buying too many comics in the near future, for the foreseeable future, and so I've kind of made a mockery of how I've been intending to slow down my purchases.  I know, it's easy to hide how many comics I've read in group reviews like this, but the truth is, it's been a lot, and now that I'm nearing the end, I thought I might take a deliberate look at the back issues, and find some interesting stuff I wanted to have a look at.  This time, they'll be grouped between creators or titles, because I've tried to be an advocate of reading comics for the sake of the artistic value, admittedly from the writer side of the equation, most of the time, getting a sense of what a creator, or a series, has done as a statement in the medium, and not just reading for the sake of reading superheroes, or comics, in general.  And I managed to once again find some good stuff...

Animal Man #26 (DC)
The Invisibles (third series) #9 (Vertigo)
Spotlight: Grant Morrison
It should come as no surprise that Grant Morrison factored into this search, as he's been a longtime favorite, and favorite topic, of mine.  Animal Man #26 is the final issue of his run in that series, and features the classic scene where Buddy Baker literally has a conversation with Morrison himself, which I'd previously read in the Deus Ex Machina trade collection.  Morrison wonders if he's maybe indulged himself a little too much, but the whole concept of fictional worlds being utterly under the control of their writers, and the writer's perspective on it, is a fascinating topic in and of itself, including how Morrison approached Animal Man as a whole, and what he thought he'd accomplished.  Buddy's experience in the issue, for me, comes off like a precursor to The Truman Show, the Jim Carrey movie where he realizes he's the subject of a TV show.  If you want, it might even be an analogy for the surveillance age, in which we're all paranoid about being watched.  (Who watches dull people?)  The Invisibles, meanwhile, is the Morrison opus I've never even come close to reading in full, much less fully comprehending what it was all about.  Morrison, and his fans, liked to claim in later years that The Matrix kind of shamelessly ripped off of it, but after The Invisibles #9, I'm not sure I'd make that claim.  It seems more like Matt Kindt's recent Mind MGMT, in which a subset of humanity has a hard time coming to grips with its own past.  In a way, this whole thing was Morrison's statement on the lasting effects of the '70s generation, the one most influenced by the '60s counterculture revolution, who absorbed alternative culture as the culture, and has been trying to reconcile it with the mainstream ever since.  This is where anyone who wants to figure out Grant Morrison should really investigate.  JLA/WildCATs, meanwhile, comes so early in Morrison's then-recent JLA launch that it still features Electric Superman.  Unlike a lot of crossovers between companies, this prestige format one-shot has something other than novelty on the brain.  It's like Morrison's initial attempt at a mainstream event story, with a villain who unites the teams (this is the most clear statement of who the members of the WildCATs are I've ever read, by the way) in an intricately-conceived story, filled with what would become Morrison's trademark language for concepts that go well beyond the average, the language, in other words, that he developed to convey his vision of superhero comics (there's a reason why he gave the title of his nonfiction commentary Supergods).  It's also fitting that the story begins with Wally West, as he was one of the characters, in the pages of The Flash, where Morrison spent some of his formative time writing mainstream superheroes.  Needless to say, these were all well worth reading.

Countdown to Infinite Crisis (DC)
Spotlight: Geoff Johns
Although he co-writes this comic with Greg Rucka and Judd Winnick (Johns and Rucka would later be part of the impressive 52 writing team together), I prefer to think of Countdown as the start of Geoff Johns' ascension to the top of the DC writing order.  As its title suggests, it leads directly to Infinite Crisis, Johns' event follow-up to Crisis on Infinite Earths.  Somewhat inexplicably, Johns had written an event book at the beginning of his DC career (Day of Judgment, which somewhat prophetically was ultimately a Hal Jordan story), but by the time of Countdown, his stock had risen sufficiently to ensure that he would no longer be lost in the shuffle, or feel he might need to look elsewhere for some love (by which I allude to his short stint writing for Marvel in the early millennium).  What he achieves with Countdown is the complete mastery of DC continuity, as he was helping it become, that he'd later demonstrate in Flashpoint and DC Universe Rebirth, among others.  There are those who are unhappy about Johns' rise, saying that he's a shameless fanboy who regresses continuity more than builds it.  To them I say, Green Lantern.  No one in comics has ever built continuity like that, no single person on any single property, as extensively as that, as comprehensively, as productively.  Go ahead and challenge me if you like, but it's true.  There was groundwork laid for some of it, but he completely exploded the whole concept, in the best way possible.  What Countdown does is provide a coda for Brad Meltzer's Identity Crisis, which became the modern benchmark for making event stories count for something.  In detailing Ted Kord's tragic investigation, Johns and his co-writers transform Blue Beetle, who had become a fairly worthless character in the years after losing Justice League membership, into one of the most heroic figures in DC lore, in much the way Meltzer made it practically impossible to ever again (excluding 52, obviously) tell a good Elongated Man story.  Ted Kord, Ralph Dibney...these were characters who were never DC icons, whose stories ended so perfectly it continues to seem impossible to use them productively again.  Ted showed up in Johns' Justice League, but he's now serving as a mentor to his replacement, Jaime Reyes.  Where Alan Moore has tried desperately to seal off Watchmen because he didn't think there was anything left to tell about that story, and fans generally agree (except Geoff Johns), the fates of Ted and Ralph are examples of effecting that in-continuity.  Some future edition of Identity Crisis should actually include Countdown, and if Infinite Crisis somehow hasn't to this point, it definitely should.  It's required reading for DC fans.

Daredevil: Dark Nights #1, 3 (Marvel)
Spotlight: Lee Weeks
I read the first issue previously in a digital edition, and I raved about it as an answer to the long-standing Miller Narrative, garnering the rare outside comment (meaning, someone other than Pat Dilloway) in response.  Lee Weeks, who has been delighting me in Superman stories with Dan Jurgens, turned out to be one of those artists who can also write exceptionally well.  The psychology he brings to the table is considerable, establishing what it is that keeps Matt Murdock grounded without having to tear the floor out from under him (the Miller Narrative), as a more human superhero than we tend to see.  This despite the fairly meaningless superpowers he gained in his origin story.  Daredevil ends up as a human Superman, if that makes any sense, who can hear far beyond the ordinary range and wants desperately to help out, even when it tests the limits of his endurance.  When Spider-Man does that (there's a famous moment in which he hefts a heavy weight of crumbling infrastructure fans like to remember), it just comes off as his writers struggling to underline his underdog status.  I never understood why Spider-Man had to be an underdog, too, when Peter Parker already filled that bill.  With Matt Murdock, he's a lawyer who champions the underdogs when he's not Daredevil, who is one of the few disabled superheroes (quick, name another!), and so there's a real sense that he's just a guy trying to do the right thing, despite all other extenuating circumstances.  Weeks is the first time I've found someone who truly understands that. 

Green Lantern: Mosaic #16, 17 (DC)
Spotlight: Green Lantern: Mosaic
When I read the first issue of this series some twenty-five years ago, I was instantly thunderstruck by its maverick vision.  Recently I think I've settled on characterizing it as the mainstream DC version of the then-emerging Vertigo psyche, providing a truly alternative approach to storytelling, and bucking expectations with abandon.  As a Green Lantern series, it remains completely unique to this day, and also totally unappreciated.  So I always enjoy dipping my toes into my still-incomplete enjoyment of the complete experience (there is but one more issue after #17 remaining for the run).  The letters columns seem to have been a battleground in attempting to define what exactly Mosaic was.  Mosaic #16 features two fascinating letters discussing whether or not John Stewart adequately represents black Americans.  On the one hand is Dr. Shabbaz, who advocates the African perspective, and on the other Thad Damien Pendleton, who insists that who he is shouldn't be defined by the color of his skin.  Both are valid in their own way, and that they are united in reading a comic book about a guy with a magical ring trying to keep disparate colonies united, despite all opposition, seems quite frankly to be unbelievable.  And yet, in recent years whenever Marvel has placed a new minority in a familiar role, letter writers have chimed in with similar sentiments.  They want, above all, to be represented, to be heard.  That's the message of Mosaic in a nutshell.  John Stewart, to that point, was the black Green Lantern, or the Green Lantern haunted by his failure to save a whole planet in Cosmic Odyssey (these two versions appear in the Justice League cartoons), but within the pages of Mosaic he takes up a whole new crusade, one uniquely his own, and perhaps he uniquely was capable of undertaking.  DC always understood that legacy meant an opportunity to build rather than merely change, something Marvel has been having a hard time understanding recently.  Fans look at the New 52, at DC Rebirth, and even Crisis on Infinite Earths and say DC was just screwing with them.  But this is what DC has been doing since the Silver Age, since Hal Jordan became Green Lantern, since Barry Allen became the Flash.  Well, John Stewart starred in Green Lantern: Mosaic, and that's something Marvel can never touch, either.  These aren't simple stories, and Mosaic may have been one of the most complicated ones ever.  I say again, it deserves to be recognized.  DC has been reprinting a lot of old material lately.  Make Green Lantern: Mosaic a part of that, please.

Green Lantern Movie Prequel - Abin Sur (DC)
Green Lantern Movie Prequel - Hal Jordan (DC)
Green Lantern Movie Prequel - Sinestro (DC)
Green Lantern Movie Prequel - Tomar-Re (DC)
Spotlight: Green Lantern (2011)
The Green Lantern movie became one of the infamous superhero busts at the box office, a victim in part of the emerging Avengers surge that has been dominating audiences ever since.  Plenty of people have said that it's because the movie just wasn't any good, but I've never understood that.  I mean, I do tend to like a lot of movies that other people don't.  It's not because I'm a contrarian.  It's not because I'd wanted a Green Lantern movie for years, and in that respect might be said to have liked it simply because it finally existed.  I liked the movie.  I loved the movie.  It completely worked for me.  Maybe because I was primed to understand its logic?  Well, that can't necessarily be it, because I'm sure there are plenty of Green Lantern fans who didn't like it.  I don't know.  The hate kind of drowned out everything else.  These prequel comics generously lay out the whole concept, especially what it means to be a Green Lantern, kind of like what it would have been like to be a marshal in the Old West.  What throws a lot of people, I think, is the concept that Green Lantern is that rare superhero who isn't singular, but plural.  The four Green Lanterns featured in these one-shots (there's also one for Kilowog).  A lot of times, tie-in prequel comics are worthless.  They're shameless cash-in efforts with little attention afforded to quality.  Because these feature four (okay, five) different versions of a Green Lantern, all of whom have a significant role in the movie and a different perspective, I think it was impossible to get anything less than decent results.  But they also represent what a pitiful opinion of humans Green Lanterns had before Hal Jordan, and I think that's part of what made the movie such a hard sell, too.  We tend to be pretty egotistical.  Even in Star Trek, humans are the glue that holds everything together.  Superheroes inevitably define Earth as the center of the universe, too.  Green Lantern has always been different.  Hal Jordan is a tough sell, too, because inevitably the question becomes, what makes him so special, other than the ring?  Well, as with any Green Lantern, the ability to overcome great fear.  The movie makes him almost tough to like, a tough sell even to the audience as a worthy bearer of a power ring.  But his perseverance, and his willingness to question authority, make him unique.  These are qualities that can be easily lost in the shuffle, when he's presented as a member of the Justice League, for instance.  But in the comics, Hal has long been defined by his inability to work within the system, even leaving the Green Lantern Corps (that's how Guy Gardner and John Stewart became Green Lantern) when he felt he could no longer put up with it.  I don't know.  The concept fascinates me.  The movie fascinates me.  And I'm glad they got these comics right, too.

Legion of Super-Heroes #53 (DC)
Spotlight: Stuart Immonen, Tom McGraw
When I was digging around for another Stuart Immonen LSH issue to read, I tried really hard not to double-up on the one I'd read last time.  Turns out, I goofed.  It didn't help that the cover had new resonance for me, having just read the Valor issue where Glorith had also appeared.  This is the awesome little recap issue where the team finally defeats her, or she defeats herself, whatever the case may be.  I just love how Tom McGraw pulls together years of continuity to spell it all out.  Now, plenty of readers hate exposition, telling rather than showing, but if it's done right, it's as good as any other kind of storytelling.  This was definitely done right.  McGraw and Immonen, as I explained before, relate the recap below the main action, so that as you're reading the issue, both unfold at the same time.  I find it highly likely that Immonen kept this in mind when he was telling his later Superman stories, which tended to buck creative tradition on occasion.  It's a truly great issue, and I can't for the life of me figure out why the Legion was so hard-up to find vocal fans during this time.

Superior #1 (Icon)
Superman Adventures #22 (DC)
Spotlight: Mark Millar
Mark Millar clearly has Superman on the brain.  One of his most-recent projects, Huck, was his response to Man of Steel, presenting a Superman who might convincingly be said to hail from a simple small-town life (similar to Tom De Haven's vision from It's Superman!).  Somewhat similarly, Superior was Millar's response to the malaise that greeted Superman Returns.  It's also, somewhat amusingly, his recoupling of Captain Marvel as a Superman figure, when a disabled boy gets the chance to be Superior (for all intents and purposes, Superman).  One of Millar's signature stories is Superman: Red Son, which imagines what would have happened if the rocket had landed in Soviet Russia instead of rural Kansas.  Some of his early solo comics work was in Superman Adventures, based on the animated series, said to be some really good Superman material, regardless of continuity (again).  I hadn't previously read either Superior or his Superman Adventures work, and so I figured I'd give it a look.  Incidentally, Millar has been mulling a new project for the Big Two, and has narrowed down his choices to something for Marvel, or Superman.  Guess which one he'll choose?

The Adventures of Superman #596 (DC)
Spotlight: 9/11
This was the comic that arrived in stores the day after 9/11, featuring a close-up of Superman busting his Clark Kent dress shirt open...revealing a black-lit version of his familiar S-shield.  It was the aftermath of the "Our Worlds at War" arc, the defining story of that Superman era, but it coincided with the real world in ways conspiracy theorists still like to speculate about.  I'd never read it.  One of the most famous comics of the new millennium, and finally, it ended up being really easy to buy, cheap, and worth every penny.  The story concerns Superman deciding it wasn't his place to clean up after the effects of the devastating alien war he'd just fought.  President Luthor (yes, it's that era, too) tries to claim otherwise, but some ordinary people back up Superman's stance, saying it gives them point of pride to do what Superman does, chip in with the task of living in this world, regardless of what happens.  It reads like an acknowledgment that even if Superman did exist, we wouldn't, and shouldn't, rely totally on him.  There's always the debate that since Superman seems so powerful, not only does he seem invulnerable to most threats, but can solve every problem.  That just isn't the case.  Whatever else this era accomplished, it was good for defining Superman's limits (previously, it had also told a story, "King of the World," where he tries to be Superman 24/7, which proves untenable).  This was a time when DC was attempting to redefine Superman's relevance.  Post-9/11, it might have looked like he suddenly became the most irrelevant fictional character around.  And yet, because of a quirk of fate, he was already giving the world the very statement it sought.