Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Reading Comics 181 "Always a Fan"

I went shopping again, in part because Christian Mock got a letter in a comic book, and so I'll be heaping further praise on Tom King's masterful Omega Men, plus some other thoughts.

First, a word on Comic Shop News.  This is a free weekly newsletter you can find in most comic book shops (although I've had a rough time finding it in recent years with a lot of stores simply not making enough to give away stuff like this).  It's basically the last print source for fans in the age of the Internet, which is probably what killed Wizard.  While its interior content is more or less superfluous these days, its main articles are an excellent resource, the rare all-inclusive source for notable projects throughout the medium.  Without it, for instance, I may never have heard of Andi Ewington's breakthrough 45.  I'm talking about it at all because I picked up a copy, which turned out to be #1,500, which is a milestone if there ever was one.  The cover feature this issue concerns Paul Dini's forthcoming graphic novel Dark Night: A True Batman Story, which looks like an amazing project.

Before I get into the comics I bought, it's also worth noting that Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is opening this weekend, and the merchandising blitz is in full force, including select cereal boxes including mini-comics.  Most of these mini-comics aren't much to write about, but Jeff Parker's "Playground Heroes" turned out to be a pretty good one.  In it, he explores Superman's impact on a boy struggling with how to respond to bullies.  It's a worthwhile character study where these things tend to be fairly generic storytelling.   Presumably, the other three mini-comics in the set are equally worth reading. 

Plus, y'know, that movie they're technically hawking is a pretty big deal.  As a fan of Man of Steel, I'm glad the Justice League franchise is spinning out of it.  Even if fans still prefer the irreverent hijinks of the Avengers and Deadpool at the box office, this is still some of the best superhero material on the big screen, ever. 

Anyway, onto the comics proper:

Dark Knight III: The Master Race #3 (DC)
I nearly bought the deluxe version of the second issue.  In my more limited comics experience these days, I won't read the complete story until the eventual collected edition.  I previously read the first issue digitally.  As of this issue, I would equate DKIII with DC's previous Before Watchmen, with Brian Azzarello once again stepping up to help make it a reality.  Frank Miller's voice is still there, but there's clearly a filter this time around.  I decided to pick up this issue because the mini-comic this time features Green Lantern, apparently from the perspective of the ring itself rather than Hal Jordan.  It's interesting stuff. 

Martian Manhunter #10 (DC)
I figured I had to revisit this series when the cover boasts, "The Secret Origin of J'onn J'onzz," which otherwise means Rob Williams is getting around to explaining exactly what's been going on, and that's exactly what this issue is all about, a new version of Mars mythology and origin of the Martian Manhunter, how J'onn is involved, and why he ended up splitting himself up into a variety of guises, including Mr. Biscuits.  I liked it.  Should anyone be interested in expanding on these concepts, they could easily once again tie in Bloodwynd with the rest of it, as confused readers two decades ago...

The Omega Men #2, 4, 5, and 9 (DC)
While accidentally duplicating my print collection of #5, now I'm only missing #3, which I'd read previously in digital form.  I can't get over how brilliant this series is.  Tom King obviously got to write the greatest non-Geoff Johns Green Lantern story of the New 52 era by making the ostensible leads the terrorists/freedom fighters Omega Men, making alien politics as realistic and intriguing as possible, and featuring a heavy dose of Kyle Rayner to move the narrative along, including #9 finally featuring him reuniting with the white ring.  I think Omega Men represents what DC has routinely done better than Marvel, which is to look deeper into the superhero narrative, looking for alternatives in storytelling approach.  Marvel does it on occasion, like Frank Miller's Daredevil, Matt Fraction's Hawkeye, and King's Vision, but more often than not it clings to the tradition more than anything else, even in the Ultimate Comics experiments.  DC, meanwhile, routinely pushes the boundaries of literature storytelling, not as exceptions but increasingly as the rule.  It frustrates fans to no end.  They want simplicity and familiarity above everything else.  They want what they always had.  Omega Men flies in the face of all the rules.  Nine issues in and we're still waiting for Kyle to pick a side.  Shouldn't it be obvious?  Isn't it obvious?  And yet King is writing something truly great here, buried in a series that has some of the worst sales of DC's whole catalogue, which DC itself saved from cancellation in order to give King the chance to complete his story.  Because, as I've said time and again, DC knows better than the readers what it has with Omega Men, and King.  Word is that King will be writing Batman once the full details of DC Rebirth are revealed.  I couldn't be happier.

Robin: Son of Batman #5, 6 (DC)
These are the remaining issues under Patrick Gleason's creative direction (although I guess I missed #4) in the follow-up series to his and Pete Tomasi's brilliant Batman and Robin.  The more issues I read, the more I'm convinced that Gleason had more creative input in Robin: Son of Batman's predecessor than previously thought, because he proves a deft hand as writer, so similar to and in the same spirit as it that it's a seamless continuation.  These issues features Damian's reunion with his mother Talia, confronting the matter of what happened in Grant Morrison's Batman, Inc. while also exploring Goliath's secret origin and rounding out Maya Ducard's story.  I have no idea why fans wouldn't embrace this series.

Superman #50 (DC)
Gene Luen Yang's final issue is a big one, concluding both the 'Truth" and "Savage Dawn" arcs.  I follow two blogs that both savaged (heh) the issue, and weren't particularly keen on Yang's run in general.  For me, putting aside my incomplete reading of it to this point, it was a natural extension of Geoff Johns' (it's rare when two different writers can do this; previously I can think of Chuck Dixon and Devin K. Grayson in the pages of Nightwing, and...really, that's about it, except for maybe Karl Kesel and Stuart Immonen in the Superman comics).  The whole point of it, taking away Superman's powers, was to provide one of those extreme situations that the '90s did on a constant basis.  And in fact, Superman lost his powers in the '90s, too (in the wake of The Final Night).  This time, however, his identity was exposed at the same time.  He began to feel hounded, and no longer knew who to trust.  For a lot of readers, this didn't feel true to character.  Yang's fight club, I think, was what most alienated readers.  It's a common trope, but as far as I could tell from the issue that debuted it, Yang's version was uniquely positioned to explore Superman's insecurities, kind of like if he'd ended up in the Bottle City of Kandor instead, or some other environment where he had to rediscover what being Superman means.  Because that's really what it was all about.  It was a place where he was safe when he felt unsafe everywhere else, both because of the powers and the identity being compromised.  So this issue has him dealing with Vandal Savage, who presents him with further options, ultimately forcing Superman to once again affirm what he does and why he does it.  At the end of the issue, he's reunited with Lois (and Jimmy), who tell him, "Go be Superman!" and, "Go be Clark."  Because far too often, there's confusion as to which he is.  When he's really both.  Which, again, was the whole point of this crisis.  We've become too comfortable with the notions of Superman and his secret identity.  The modern era has been trying to dismantle that for twenty years.  I guess it'll have to keep trying.

All-New Wolverine #5 (Marvel)
Mock's letter appears in the letters column of this comic.  It's one of those letters from a fan who has found a comic that's let them be a fan again.  Mock as been a reader longer than I have.  He's probably a different kind of fan than I am.  Which is fine.  This is another of the many Marvel series in recent years featuring a new character in a familiar guise.  It's an old DC trick but one Marvel has only recently begun to embrace.  A lot of them have been about switching the gender.  This is one of them.  Since Death of Wolverine (which some have interpreted as Marvel's campaign to undermine the X-Men movies by removing the most popular mutant from the comics landscape, except in the pages of Old Man Logan), classic Wolverine has remained dead.  In his place is now the character formerly known as X-23 Laura Kinney.  This particular issue reminds me a great deal of Valiant's Bloodshot Reborn, which features a character who is very much a Wolverine variant himself.  I can't say I find this to be a bad thing, because it's always nice to see the big guys pay attention to the competition, and to have a comic that pays attention to mythology in general.  I can't say the issue made me want to read the series faithfully (all told, I guess I'm more interested in Bloodshot Reborn), but it was certainly worth reading at least once.  Cheers, Mock!

I guess, if there's an overall lesson to be learned from this particular post, it's that I'm always going to be a fan, no matter how my readership evolves.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Quarter Bin 69 "Eight Below"

As always, "Quarter Bin" is a figurative term.  This is a back issues feature.

The title of this edition comes from the fact that I bought the following comics from the store Five Below (basically another dollar store), two different packs of four comics each.  These are not the first comics I've gotten from Five Below, and not even the first bargain packs I've picked up in the last few months, but there's one excellent, and several good ones, reason to write about this set first (I'll get to the others later).  Namely, it gave me my first look at one of Grant Morrison's Marvel projects I hadn't gotten around to yet.  Without further adieu, let's dive in:

New Avengers: Illuminati (Marvel)
From September 2006.
Civil War was kind of better in a handful of one-shots specials than it was for the event itself or the comics that followed it.  Here I'm mostly thinking about the ones concerning the death of Captain America (I'm sorry, "death"), but this is another of the literate stories Marvel let slip through, Brian Michael Bendis getting to write about the Marvel landscape in frank terms, setting up a cabal (that kind of went nowhere but was intended to be more significant), a meeting of the heads of the big guns before everyone started to become Avengers (even before the movies made it cool).  I guess I'll never understand why Namor has been such a tough nut for Marvel to crack, I guess just too difficult to reconcile with the more juvenile instincts of the company, even though he's one of its founding creations.  He's a standout here.  Conspicuous by his absence?  Captain America.

Daredevil #253 (Marvel)
From April 1988.
I thought this would be a Frank Miller issue (shows how much I know, I guess), but it ended up being Ann Nocenti, one of the more long-lived female comic book creators who has been involved in DC's New 52 initiative recently, writing Green Arrow and such.  She writes about what you'd expect from Daredevil.  It's telling, what fans were thinking, or at least what Marvel was thinking, from the letters in the back lamenting the grim turn in then recent years, which would be the Frank Miller era, which was not yet completely over.  The editor suggests to readers still searching for a good Kingpin story Daredevil: Love and War, Miller's graphic novel from two years earlier.  Well, anyway, what's perhaps best to talk about is the debuting artist in the issue, none other than John Romita, Jr., at least as described in the letters column (which was always months behind), actually three issues into his run at this point.  Romita would go on to make quite the name for himself (probably known at the time very much as "Junior"), and a distinctive style.  Which is hard to find in the work here.  So I spent perhaps more time trying to find the Romita I know than to anything else.  But it was still worth checking out for all three reasons.

DC Universe Presents #11 (DC)
From September 2012.
James Robinson, just starting his comeback, though everyone seemed to ignore The Shade (despite its generally excellent quality), writing a Vandal Savage arc, uniquely featuring him as something other than the villain, trying to make peace with a rebellious daughter while trying to avoid the sins of his past.  As the antagonist of Legends of Tomorrow and having apparently resurfaced in the Superman titles recently, Savage is experiencing a renaissance of significance lately.  He's a compelling character, and Robinson certainly helps sell him better than the norm. 

Fantastic Four: 1234 #4 (Marvel)
From January 2001.
I assume Marvel did a roundabout second printing of this, because the copyright fine print says "Vol. 2" and the cover features a 9/11 memorial logo, even though the publication date still lists it as the beginning of the year...Either way, this is the first time I've read anything from this Grant Morrison's project.  Morrison's Marvel work is better known for his New X-Men and Marvel Boy, but there's also this to consider.  And now having read some of it firsthand, I would almost consider it his response to Marvelman/Miracleman, a dystopian twist on a traditional superhero property.  Aside from a classic comic book twist that undoes it, the issue features Dr. Doom turning the team against each other, against themselves, all of that, in ways Alan Moore's opus never adequately explained, except that he just didn't understand superheroes anymore and wanted them to "grow up."  This is  a whole thing among fans, the relationship between Moore and Morrison, how Morrison tried to write in his own contribution to Moore's work on that property (to be printed years later by Marvel), and how they've been "rivals" ever since.  It's a fairly one-sided creative conversation, though.  Morrison did his version of Watchmen in Pax Americana (within the greater Multiversity construct).  But few observers seem to have perceived 1234's commentary.  It even makes Dr. Doom credible for the first time...ever.  So that's good to read, too.  Now on to Skrull Kill Krew!

Force Works (Marvel)
From January 1995.
The Image explosion caused chaos across the board, and one of the weirdest effects was forcing (heh) Marvel and DC to try and ape the style approach, which meant as much about the art as the less subtle storytelling (which eventually gave way to more subtle storytelling, so on the whole it was probably a good thing).  DC created a Justice League that starred in the series Extreme Justice, Marvel created an Avengers called Force Works.  I originally learned about the latter in a calendar I had as a teenager.  I admit, I liked the title.  So now I read an issue for the first time ever.  Scarlet Witch is taken semi-seriously, in a kind of stripper-with-a-heart-of-gold kind of way.  U.S.Agent is in a costume I don't recognize.  There's a Mandarin story that doesn't really feature Mandarin all too well (Iron Man 3  wants its plot back!), and Tony Stark is being a shmuck.  On the whole, seems about right.

Hawkeye #11 (Marvel)
From August 2013.
I think I've read this issue already.  Or maybe Matt Fraction used the dog gimmick again later?  Either way, this is the dog gimmick issue, which features a dog and the only words the reader gets to read are the ones in the dialogue the dog would understand.  Otherwise, it's the various associations the dogs would make, conveyed via icons.  I don't want to underestimate the uniqueness of the artistry, certainly in a mainstream work, that Fraction manages to bring to Hawkeye.  In any other era, this would have been hailed as the second coming of Frank Miller.  For whatever reason, that just never happened with this series.  I don't think anything groundbreaking was achieved, except to highlight that no one really has a definitive Hawkeye story they figure is worth telling (except, you know, that he debuted as a villain?), which even the movies acknowledge, so that Fraction literally could do anything, like this dog issue.  But that's still a breakthrough for a mainstream superhero comic.

Prime #3 (Malibu)
From December 1995.
I used to think that Prime was basically a Captain Marvel) (DC version) ripoff, but after this issue, I guess he's kind of more like the Spectre, a powerful entity that needs a human host to anchor it.  Which obviously was otherwise poorly conveyed.  In hindsight, Prime is just too comically overmuscled.  I mean, was that deliberate

Professor Xavier and the X-Men #1 (Marvel)
From November 1995.
I think I got this comic back in the '90s.  I guess it doesn't particularly matter.  It's a '90s version of the early X-Men years.  It still baffles me that Marvel has never considered using Jean Grey more productively.  Here's a character who used to be known as Marvel Girl.  She's the center of one of the most famous X-Men, if not Marvel in general, stories ever in "The Dark Phoenix Saga."  And even the movies had her as second lead after Wolverine.  She's the lead character in this issue, too.  And still...Nothing.  Talk about missing a golden opportunity.