Thursday, June 30, 2016

Quarter Bin 84 "Spider-Man, Starman, Superman, '90s edition"

This penultimate edition of a series covering comics found in an actual quarter bin is no indication that this feature's title can always be taken literally.

Sensational Hornet #1 (Marvel)
(Sensation Spider-Man #27)
From May 1998.
This was part of a storyline in which Peter Parker felt his Spider-Man persona was becoming more trouble than it was worth, and so he adopted several new superhero identities.  Clearly a nod to the Superman replacements of a few years earlier (although as far as I know none of these identities made it past this arc, in any form), this was '90s Spider-Man once again taking a direct page from DC, as anyone would easily argue that extended Clone Saga was created to do, to the chagrin of readers who had absolutely no interest in it.  For me, I had a look at the issue for the Mike Wieringo art, which if you'll remember was also the intent with the Flash comic I read earlier in this series of Quarter Bin columns (follow them alphabetically, or just root around the recent ones).  Ringo was a big part of my enjoyment of '90s comics, whether in his Flash or Robin runs.  Like every other creator that decade, he went on to launch a creator-owned series, Tellos, except fate played a cruel trick on him, and his fans, and comics fans in general, when he died unexpectedly in 2007, at the far-too-young age of 44.  His was a playful, expressive style that proved incredibly adaptable, and he was a natural to draw Spider-Man's adventures.

Spider-Man: Blue #4 (Marvel)
From October 2002.
The magic team of Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale produced a series of stories for Marvel's superheroes, each of them featuring narration directed at the biggest influences in the characters' lives.  For Spider-Man, they chose Gwen Stacy, whose untimely death in a 1973 comic forever altered the destiny of Peter Parker, again.  Interestingly, both this and the above issue feature one of Spider-Man's most intriguing, and oldest villains, although the Vulture takes the latter title pretty literally.  I would almost say that the melancholy Sandman of Spider-Man 3 might almost have been better replaced with Vulture, who still has yet to appear in the movies. 

Starman #45 (DC)
From August 1998.
For a lot of fans, James Robinson's Starman was the comic that redeemed '90s DC as something that wasn't merely reacting to the scene around it but producing something new, a commentary on the superhero tradition.  Which admittedly, for me, already existed in the pages of Mark Waid's Flash, but Robinson's efforts were perhaps easier to spot because he began them in a fresh title, with a fresh, new character in Jack Knight, who as of this issue launches himself into space, which someone observes in the issue is only appropriate for someone calling himself Starman.  His task is to locate one of his predecessors in the role, and he's accompanied by another of them, an alien who happens to also be gay.  For me, I always kind of saw Starman as being perhaps a little too impressed with itself, although its role as the DC equivalent of what had previously resulted in the birth of the Vertigo line remains a unique achievement, duplicated in brief by such efforts as Chronos and Primal Force, and most recently by Tom King's Omega Men, but on the whole a lasting testament to what's possible when a creator is allowed truly free reign in a mainstream comic, has the talent to pull it off, and seizes the opportunity.

Superman #57 (DC)
Action Comics #667-668 (DC)
From July, August 1991.
The truly sensational thing about the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths Superman was that it was allowed to break all the rules.  Superman reveals his secret identity to Lois.  Lex Luthor dies.  The death.  The wedding.  And now, because of the Convergence rebirth, even a child.  There was also the time Superman executed some of his foes, and the Eradicator, a Kryptonian menace that presaged Doomsday, and in fact was incorporated in the monster's aftermath.  The first two of the three comics above feature the end-battle with the first humanoid version of the Eradicator, who originally appeared as a robotic relic with a mission similar to what later played out on the big screen in Man of Steel.  The replacement Superman with the visor?  That was the Eradicator, too.  First, Superman engages in mortal combat with this foe, and is probably the moment this generation of creators first dreamt of going all the way with such a scenario.  The last issue features the specter of Lex Luthor, who had died, ironically, due to Kryptonite exposure, having worn a ring embedded with a chunk of the stuff.  Later, the clone would be introduced, and later still, be magically reborn following a lethal clone illness back into the familiar bald form we all know (the clone, "his son," had the youthful look of the vision of the villain's father as portrayed in Smallville).  The issue is fascinating, because it opens the door to the perception that among ordinary citizens of Metropolis, Lex Luthor really was seen as the good guy, which is usually impossible in comics that relentlessly feature his war against Superman.  The creator involved include Roger Stern and Dan Jurgens, both classic members of the '90s generation, Stern near the end of his career and Jurgens near the beginning.  I'd known the post-Doomsday comics I enjoyed the rest of that decade were a direct continuation of material I hadn't read, and so every now and then I like to have a look at the earlier stuff.  And now, this period gets little respect, but it deserves it.  For anyone who started reading at, and only ever cared about, Doomsday, the lasting impression probably makes perfect sense.  But it really doesn't.  This was truly a rich vision, an impressive tapestry, a whole era that saw some of the best-ever Superman stories told, a cohesive, comprehensive story that didn't end until the end of the millennium, when DC started looking at ways to "make Superman relevant again."  The stories changed, the vision changed, but it took a while for anyone to even approach getting better than what had come before...

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Reading Comics 191 "DC Rebirth Week Four, Divinity II, Totally Awesome Hulk, Justice League, Robin"

Covered this edition: Divinity II #3, The Flash #1, The Totally Awesome Hulk #7, Justice League #52, Robin: Son of Batman #13, Action Comics #958, and Wonder Woman #1.

Divinity II #3 (Valiant)
Matt Kindt continues the second volume of his visionary superhero saga, in which Russian cosmonauts Abram Adams and Myshka engage in the ultimate duel, across time and reality, as they attempt to determine whose will triumphs in this high-stakes game of god-like beings.  For the second straight issue, it seems the villainous Myshka has once again come out on top, but there's a telling moment when Abram visits the young Myshka, years before the mission that was to change their lives and the whole world, and whispers something into her ear.  Abram has taken great pains in explaining to the adult Myshka that you can't change the past. The suggestion is that whatever he said to the girl is more crucial than the adult currently realizes.  I assume something of that sort will be involved in the conclusion next issue...

The Flash #1 (DC)
My name is Tony Laplume, and I am the happiest Flash fan alive.  Well, maybe one of them, because this debut issue of the series proper lives up to the promise of the Rebirth preview, as Josh Williamson sets up a bold new arc in which the gift of the Speed Force starts spreading around.  Williamson's best bit of storytelling is actually the whole issue, which starts out explaining Barry Allen's origin again, while inserting a key new player, who by the end of the issue is the first (there will be others) to experience the expansion of speedsters.  This series is in excellent hands.

The Totally Awesome Hulk #7 (Marvel)
Easiest some of the best Marvel comics I ever read were Incredible Hercules and its several continuations, which featured Amadeus Cho as the Hulk's (and yes, Herc's) biggest fan.  This shouldn't have worked, right?  In the modern era, the "kid sidekick" idea is passe, but Cho's enthusiasm, not to mention his smarts, puts him in a league all his own.  And in this era where every Marvel superhero is being replaced by their biggest cheerleader (of various extractions), this is the best variation possible.  But the issue actually puts the focus on Bruce Banner, who is totally free of the Hulk for the first time ever, and he's struggling to deal with it.  You'd think it would be a good thing, but when you're Bruce Banner, it's much more complicated than that.  If you like your Hulk to be good for something other than smashing (although that's good, too), then this is a good time to be a fan.  Spearheading this new era is Greg Pak, who knows a thing or two about the big green guy.

Justice League #52 (DC)
The final issue of the series strangely harkens back to the very beginning, as a new hero is introduced to the world.  This time it's Lex Luthor, presenting his version of Superman.  The writer is Dan Jurgens, providing a bridge between where Geoff Johns left off with Luthor and where Jurgens picks up again in the pages of Action Comics.  Lex Luthor was one of the characters who benefited greatly from the New 52, and Justice League.  It's only appropriate to give him the nod like this.  What I love perhaps even more is that the artist is Tom Grummett, making this a mini '90s Superman reunion. 

Robin: Son of Batman #13 (DC)
The final issue of the series, which I decided to read so I could say I was fair to the creators not named Patrick Gleason who worked on it.  (Okay, so technically it would have been more fair to read more than one issue, but still...)  As it turns out, Ray Fawkes is once again better than I seem to have given him credit for, as his version of Damian and friends fits in wonderfully with Gleason's, and even serves as a truly fitting finale.  Nice one, Fawkes.  I'll try to remember next time.

Action Comics #958 (DC)
Jurgens, Lex Luthor, and Superman, and Doomsday, and Clark Kent, oh my!  Clearly there are things going on that aren't quite what they seem, but I love, love, love that Jurgens is getting the chance to further expand on his Superman legacy, which admittedly he's had many chances to do over the years.  I think he's really nailed it this time.

Wonder Woman #1 (DC)
I thought Greg Rucka would be fixating somewhat exclusively on Wonder Woman's origins, despite the alternating storylines ahead, but this issue presents a wrinkle in that idea, as the end of the issue reveals that she's been locked out of Themyscira, and she's had to turn to Cheetah, of all people, for help.  I also like Rucka's characterization of Wonder Woman's reluctance to fight, and Steve Trevor's reclassification back into a military guy.  All around good stuff here.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Quarter Bin 83 "Sandman, Shattered Image, Shockrockets, and Skrull Kill Krew..."

Yes, it would be safe to assume that these particular comics were, in fact, bought in a literal quarter bin.

Sandman #39 (Vertigo)
From July 1992.
This is the last issue in the Annotated Sandman Vol. 2 so at some point in the next year, hopefully, I'll be reading and talking about it again.  (And just as hopefully, I will eventually collect and read the third and forth volumes in this version of the series.)  It features Marco Polo in a dream sequence (naturally), the young boy version of the famous explorer, so we get a peak at his less-publicized origins traveling with his dad.  Also present, G.K. Chesterton, naturally.  This is a classic example of what made Sandman so great, how Neil Gaiman could do just about anything he wanted and it made perfect thematic sense.  This is the epitome of comic book storytelling.

Shattered Image #1 (Image)
From August 1996.
This Image version of the superhero crossover event is a hot mess, even though it's written by some fairly well-established and well-respected creators, Kurt Busiek and Barbara Kesel.  I can only imagine they felt pressured to present the Image version, which at that time, still only a handful of years after the company's infamous founding, was still infused with the arrogance of attempting to ignore everything that made superhero comics great, and just try and be cool and hope (as it was for a while) that was good enough.  Still, it's interesting to remember that Tony Daniel made his name in this period, and that he's probably the creator whose work evolved the most, and most positively, in the past twenty years.  Busiek has been doing Astro City all this time, and it's been increasingly less relevant ever since, which is not to say anything about the quality, but that it's a shame that of the major superheroes created at Image in those early years who're still operating, that one big attempt at true respectability has become so easy to ignore.  Then again, maybe it's because he is still working at it.  After Marvels, Busiek became known for his interest in defining the tradition of the superhero.  I wonder if anyone still believes he's interested in that. 

Shockrockets #6 (Gorilla)
From October 2000.
Speaking of Busiek, Shockrockets was kind of his take on the Rogue Squadron pilots from Star Wars, but set in near-future Earth.  For me, it was always more notable as one of Stuart Immonen's first big projects post-Superman.  Between this and his early Legion of Super-Heroes, his later Star Wars, and his current Empress, Immonen may have established himself as a go-to sci-fi artist, which I find pretty interesting, because yeah, I still think of him for his '90s Superman.  Which Immonen obliquely references in Gorilla promotional material from the issue: "My ideas, drawings, and designs are not only met with approval but I feel valued and appreciated as a person!"  I have to admit, the end of his Superman run had DC take him off art (by that time he'd become a writer/artist, which he's never again been) but also had Mark Millar punch up his scripts by providing dialogue.  And then he was somewhat obviously asked to move aside so that a new generation could take over, or otherwise made the decision himself.  Which is sad, because I still think he's never gotten the respect he deserves for his Superman work.  Also included is a preview of Busiek and Immonen's Superstar graphic novel, which was actually pretty great.

Skrull Kill Krew #2, 5 (Marvel)
From October 1995, January 1996.
This was a Grant Morrison project I'd long wanted to see, as it was one of his earliest Marvel projects.  Teamed up with then-frequent collaborator Mark Millar, I found the concept to be kind of a Marvel version of Morrison's Invisibles, his first widely-known creation.  The second issue features a heavy Pulp Fiction vibe, in which the character of Ryder closely matches up with Samuel L. Jackson's Jules in his speech patterns (no epic biblical quote, alas, at least not in this issue).  I wonder if that's how people really viewed Pulp Fiction, in the guise of the character Jules (which wouldn't be a terrible thing, but it isolates the experience far too much), or how they viewed United Kingdom creators, the punk Vertigo impression that took years to shake and was in part inspired, naturally, by Morrison's Invisibles.  (Clearly Gaiman's Sandman didn't have punk so much as Goth in mind, while spiritual predecessor Alan Moore had horror as his guiding Swamp Thing principle.)  Morrison eventually distanced himself, for the most part, from this style, somewhat dramatically in his major superhero debut with JLA nearly a year later, but I wonder if Millar kept it in mind longer.  Certainly, he became enamored with the concept of the mini-series, a style he works in almost exclusively these days.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Quarter Bin 82 "Return of the Duck Knight, Dixon & McDaniel's Nightwing, Pandora's Futures End, Rucka's Queen & Country, Dixon's Robin"

Not always, but this time the title of this column may be taken literally.  Thank you for reading this.

The Midnite Skulker #2 (Target)
From August 1986.
This issue, as you can tell, is dubbed "Return of the Duck Knight," which makes this a vintage parody of Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns.  I just had to read it.  We live in an age where anything that's parodied isn't taken seriously (it's funny because literally anything can be made to sound ridiculous, right?), but there was a time where it was taken for granted that anything was fair game, including something that was just beginning to become a touchstone.  E. Larry Dobias delivers a pretty spot-on parody, down to panel structure and emphasis on TV reportage.  The whole Duck Knight thing was later absconded by Darkwing Duck, but...Dobias get there first!  Midnight skulkers, meanwhile, also exist in the comic strip B.C., which means you have to be pretty specific to find this on Google.  I know people who aren't fans of superheroes find it very hard to take them seriously, so it's not surprising that someone instantly showed up to make fun of Dark Knight Returns, but it's pretty funny, observing how much pain Bruise Wane, I mean Bruce Wayne would be in if he really did try and resume a young man's career when he was anything, anything but.  I mean, if you were to make a movie about Old Man Bruce, I wonder if anyone would take him seriously.  I remember critics pointing out how Jack Bauer probably couldn't absorb relatively easy jumps at his age when the last 24 revival happened.  And Jack would still be young compared to the Bruce Wayne of Dark Knight Returns!  Clint Eastwood had some hits as an old man adventure star (Unforgiven, Gran Torino), but again, no real comparison to Miller's vision.  Apparently, only ducks can pull it off otherwise...

Nightwing #26 (DC)
From December 1998.
When I quit reading comics before heading off to college, I quit cold turkey, unlike what I've managed to do in this Comics Readr era (although I'm hoping to make a better go of it in a few months).  The transition was during my senior year of high school, and I guess it was more staggered than I now remember, because I don't remember reading this issue back in the day, in which Huntress enters the series proper (there had been a mini-series team-up previously) under the auspices of Chuck Dixon and Scott McDaniel, who somehow managed to turn Dick Grayson's first ongoing series into their own little creative showcase, especially McDaniel, who parlayed this work into higher profile stuff with Batman and Superman, before gradually be used less and less, to the point where you'd hardly know the poor guy's still working in comics...Anyway, I loved this era, and it's always worth revisiting.  Clancy's still there, Soames is still there, Tad is still there, and even Cisco!  It's easy to forget Cisco, because he wasn't as well defined as some other characters, but this was such a rich vision of Dick's further crime-fighting career, I wish it got more respect later.  There are always reprints, and back issues...

Trinity of Sin: Pandora - Futures End (DC)
From November 2014.
I continue to pick away at the Futures End and Villains Month comics DC put out, since there's such a wealth of material to be found.  The latest is Pandora, who was seemingly intended to be the major new character of the New 52, and who was killed off in DC Universe Rebirth, and apparently in this story, too.  It seems that was always her fate.  As part of the "trinity of sin" (along with the Question and Phantom Stranger), she ended up inhabiting one of the more obscure corners of the DC landscape.  These are characters who recur in the comics with some regularity, but they're rarely around for much more than a visit.  Pandora was inhabiting, at first, the role of Harbinger from Crisis on Infinite Earths, and so it can actually be said she had remarkable staying power.  It's time to put aside the notion that she was a creative failure.  The surprisingly dependable Ray Fawkes, still looking for a true breakout project, was responsible for this.

Queen & Country FCBD (Oni)
From May 2002.
This was one of the releases from the very first Free Comic Book Day.  (Read a little about that here.)  With the recent return of Greg Rucka to the pages of Wonder Woman (and DC in general), it's worth remembering that he's got a pretty long history in comics at this point.  His first creator-owned success was Whiteout (adapted into a 2009 film), but Queen & Country is what, besides his Batman work, put Rucka on the map (for me, he'll always be best remembered as part of the writing dream team of 52).  Until now, I'd never read any of it.  Turns out it's pretty good.  It's also worth noting, with some amusement, that Bryan Lee O'Malley, who would later launch the innovative Scott Pilgrim series of graphic novels at Oni, appears listed as artist for someone else's project.  You just kind of expect someone like that to have emerged fully formed, but apparently that wasn't the case.

Robin #75 (DC)
From April 2000.
This was from later in Chuck Dixon's long run on the title he helped launch (he had nearly twenty-five issues left to go after it, reaching the hundredth issue, and then a few more later).  By this time, Tim Drake is about ready to take his break from being the Boy Wonder, and Stephanie Brown will assume her ill-fated turn, in what is still a shockingly downplayed part of the Robin lineage.  But that's about fifty issues and two writers later.  It's not surprising that Dixon would be the writer to shepherd Tim away from the Dynamic Duo partnership, as the beginning of the series had Tim breaking away from "AzBats" and thus a Robin striking out on his own for the first time.  Tim kind of remains in that mode, actually.  The artist is Pete Woods relatively early in his career.  I can't believe I'm just making a label for the guy.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Quarter Bin 81 "Starlin's Infinity saga, Loeb's Iron Man, Moench's JLA, Hitch's JLA, Waid's Offspring, Moore's LXG"

Although this is a back issues feature that doesn't necessarily always feature comics literally found in a quarter bin, this time you can once again safely assume that.

The Infinity Entity #1 (Marvel)
From May 2016.
I love that my local shop puts damaged new releases in the discount bins.  It makes it incredibly simple to sample stuff I might have otherwise overlooked, such as Jim Starlin once again revisiting his Infinity saga.  Starlin's the guy who has been guiding this stuff from the beginning.  You have him to thank for Thanos, that guy who's kind of the big bad in the Avengers movies, and basically, the Infinity saga is Starlin's ongoing narrative of the further exploits of Thanos, and other interested parties, such as Adam Warlock.  This mini-series actually takes place between two Starlin graphic novels, Thanos: The Infinity Relativity and Thanos: The Infinity Finale, which was released this past April.  Infinity Entity focuses on Adam Warlock as he reintroduces himself following one of those untidy comic book deaths.  It's amusing, seeing him interact with the original Avengers.  These are Marvel comics I eagerly anticipate reading at some later date, the older and newer stuff.  This is, you understand, not something I usually say about Marvel comics...

Iron Man #9 (Marvel)
From July 1997.
I think so much of what Marvel was doing in the '90s came off as desperately trying to look cool (possibly because, oh, the fate of the entire company was in the air thanks to potential bankruptcy) that it ended up alienating older fans and leaving newer fans with the impression that none of this mattered, once the company shifted focus back to more familiar ground.  I rarely read Iron Man comics (I've just never been interested), but I figured I had to read this one, as it was written by Jeph Loeb, during that whole period where he was writing Marvel comics without anyone realizing it was Jeph Loeb, because being Jeph Loeb didn't matter until fans got excited about him thanks to DC work like Batman: The Long Halloween and Superman/Batman (which is ironic, because he never gets the same respect at Marvel, and yet that's where he's been for about a decade now).  This story features an old Tony Stark colleague who was actually partly responsible for the original set of Iron Man armor, and has since kind of gone off the deep end.  Naturally, the guy is totally unknown in today's lore (didn't see him in 2008's Iron Man, right?), and so he's been lost to the same comic book vagaries and/or '90s amnesia that are so easy to rely on with fans.  I didn't find it to be such a bad read.

JLA: Act of God #3 (DC)
From 2001.
Doug Moench was one of the lead Batman writers in the '90s (among other things, helping spearhead "Knightfall" and the vampire saga with Kelley Jones; he also created Bane and Black Mask, as well as Deathlok and Moon Knight over at Marvel, where he did most of his formative work).  One of his last projects with DC was a prestige format JLA mini-series, Act of God, where he imagined what it would look like if all superpowered heroes suddenly lost their superpowers.  By this finale, several of them had banded under the direction of Batman, while Superman and Wonder Woman struggle with finding new meaning in their lives.  It's not terribly hard, in retrospect, to read it as Moench's swan song statement, and so I'm glad to have read it.

Justice League of America #8 (DC)
From May 2016.
Bryan Hitch's Rao saga continues in this issue, and I suspect the next one finally explains why all those dead Superman bodies kept showing up, as depicted in the first issue of the series.  Hitch's art was once known for its hyper realism, but in this series it's been simplified so that it kind of looks like the work of Stuart Immonen.  As a fan of Immonen, I find this acceptable.  Hitch is the writer of the Rebirth Justice League (along with art from Tony Daniel), and I think this was a good choice.

The Kingdom: Offspring (DC)
From February 1999.
The Kingdom was Mark Waid's follow-up to Kingdom Come insofar as it depicted many of the next generation heroes from the original story, and featured the menace of Gog, who was responsible for next generation hero Magog.  The Kingdom was split up between bookend issues where the overall story was told, and several one-shots.  This may be the first time I've read Offspring, which features the son of Plastic Man.  Both of them are struggling with the idea of being taken seriously, and as such Offspring makes for a good standalone story in and of itself.  It doesn't hurt that Frank Quitely provides the art, because Quitely isn't really capable of doing ho-hum work. 

It's interesting, though, The Kingdom, because it's an example of what DC always wanted to do, and eventually did, with Watchmen.  I've talked far too much recently about Alan Moore (elsewhere), but suffice to say I find it disappointing that he left mainstream work the way he did, and wanted no part in revisiting Watchmen.  For a lot of fans, that's become axiomatic, which strikes me as interesting, because this is the comics medium, the place where storytellers are most free to reinterpret, the basic job of storytellers everywhere, ever.  And yet, there's Waid, doing it with Kingdom Come, not very long after.  I mean, it makes sense from a business standpoint.  DC, and its parent company Warners, would understandably be interested in maximizing the profitability of a proven hit.  That's just basic business sense.  I never thought The Kingdom was or was intended to be the same kind of creative statement as its predecessor, but it still provided room for material like Offspring, which represents excellent material in and of itself.  To assume that this is impossible is, to my mind, to completely misunderstand the art of storytelling.

It's interesting, too, just to reconsider Kingdom Come, thanks to something like Offspring.  This was something that was a major deal twenty years ago.  It's not inconceivable to think that fans really did think this was something akin to Watchmen or Dark Knight Returns.  Yet, twenty years on, you really don't find anyone talking about it like that anymore.  I find that odd.  The more I think about it, the more I wonder, have we just lost the ability to conceive new touchstones as actually existing?  Without Kingdom Come, you wouldn't have Civil War.  I mean, Mark Millar's Civil War, when you strip it down to its essentials, is essentially Kingdom Come, done in regular continuity.  Tragedy strikes, and the superhero community is forced to decide what to do next.  Isn't that argument enough that Kingdom Come is still important?  It's just, we stopped trying to see it as important, when it proved about as important as a superhero comic could get.  DC had Identity Crisis, later, and Marvel finally jumped on the bandwagon.  Civil War was clearly a creative watershed for the company.  And you wouldn't have it without Kingdom Come.  I'll leave it at that for now.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen #6 (ABC)
From September 2000.
Alan Moore's last significant creation was LXG, in which he envisioned a unified Victorian literary canon, which infamously was adapted into a 2003 movie that not only proved to be Sean Connery's last, but the straw that broke the camel's back in terms of Moore's ability to interact positively with the mainstream.  (The movie also made it important among fans that movies not treat, to their mind, adapted material with disrespect, which actually had the result of superhero movies after that time being more important in terms of mainstream crossover appeal than appealing directly to fans, which in 2016 seems to have taken on new wrinkles thanks to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, in which fans have once again sunk their teeth into the debate).  Anyway, reading LXG itself is something of an odd experience.  Creatively it's not much of a statement.  More seems to have been put into the novelty of packaging the comic in vintage ads and, in the letters column, being wonderfully droll than in distinguishing the story experience itself.  At this point Moore had started to retreat into the familiar comforts of home, and yet the comic doesn't read as particularly British (that's why Paul Cornell's Knight & Squire was such a delight to read), and even if that wasn't the intent, just tossing familiar characters together reads like a cheat.  I mean, the old Allan Quatermain makes a fascinating subject, surely, in the same sense that comics with old superheroes (say, The Dark Knight Returns) tend to be, but it's odd to juxtapose him with, say, Moore's somewhat racist impression of Captain Nemo.  Quatermain (best known as the protagonist of King's Solomon's Mines, and as a cultural predecessor of Indiana Jones) and Nemo (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea) are surrounded by Mina Murray (Dracula), although for what reason, if not a vampire (as in the movie), I have no idea, at least as depicted in this story (more sense would have been Van Helsing, who was the subject of Van Helsing, which like LXG served as a template for Marvel's Avengers), the Invisible Man, and Jekyll/Hyde, plus Professor Moriarty as the antagonist (by the end, as much of a genius as Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan's Khan), a predecessor to James Bond, and some Chinese characters who perhaps deserve about as much speculation as Moore's Nemo...

I feel I have to reiterate that I don't come by my impression of Alan Moore lightly.  I haven't read everything he's done, and wouldn't particularly care to, even if the best of it is better than the worst that I have read.  I'm just irritated, irrationally, by the notion that to some fans Alan Moore is a god, and that his views and his work can't stand criticism, when to my mind not only is it possible, but necessary for any true reader.  I mean, it's not like I'm not used to people picking on the stuff I like.  I know how it goes.  Maybe some of this logic is best left to fanatics.  We all form strong opinions, and to give voice to them, whether in the privacy of friends or in the wide reaches of the Internet, is to invite contrary opinions.  To dismiss the opposite as an idiot is maybe the easiest response.  But just maybe, it ought to have you reconsider why it is you formed those strong opinions in the first place. 

Well, we all reconsider our thoughts, eventually.  Hopefully.  I guess I really shouldn't worry about it. 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Reading Comics 190 "DC Rebirth Week 3, 4001 AD, DKR: The Last Crusade, Dept. H, and catching up with Secret Wars"

4001 AD #1 (Valiant)
Valiant's latest event series takes a look at the future courtesy of the ever-resourceful Matt Kindt, imagining the tyranny of New Japan and the rise of a new Rai to challenge it.  Once again Valiant has proven that its unique superhero vision, the first comprehensive ongoing revision of the 21st century, has incredible legs, where just about anything's possible, and it nearly always seems completely plausible, not to mention remarkably cohesive.  It's not like others haven't tried, but it helps to have talent like Kindt and Jeff Lemire leading the charge.

Batman #1 (DC)
Tom King's first regular issue of the series once again demonstrates his remarkably analytical mind, as Batman and Duke Thomas pull back the curtain on what it takes to pull off the impossible.  Of course, it's also Batman doing so at the expense of his own life, in yet another layer of King showing that Batman isn't like other superheroes.  When an out-of-control plane threatens to crash in Gotham City, he can't just fly in and guide it safely down.  No, for someone like Batman, it takes considerably more effort.  If this were the movies, you might expect something like this from the show-stopping exploits in the Mission: Impossible series.  Few writers would be bold enough to expose Batman's limits in this way.  King is merely setting himself up for that moment you though you'd never see: some other hero calling Gotham his home, someone who can fly, who represents everything Batman can never be.  This ain't no Superman.  Is King preparing to White Martian us?  Time will tell...

The Dark Knight Returns: The Last Crusade (DC)
This prequel to the original Dark Knight Returns depicts the circumstances in which Batman originally retires.  It's in effect his last statement on Robin, the Boy Wonder, too.  In the Dark Knight universe, Frank Miller offered up his judgment quite effectively: Dick Grayson goes insane.  Yet there was also, before "A Death in the Family," a dead Robin to account for.  The Last Crusade is a rephrasing of "A Death in the Family," actually, the Joker once again being responsible for the death of Jason Todd, under the same circumstances, the second Robin increasingly demonstrating that he isn't mentally prepared for Batman's crusade.  And yet, unlike "A Death in the Family" and its follow-up, "A Lonely Place of Dying," Miller (along with co-writer Brian Azzarello, around so Miller can't go wildly out of control again) has determined that the problem isn't Jason's attitude, but Batman's notion of having a kid sidekick in the first place.

This was what he was getting around to explaining in All Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder, I think, and as I'd hoped, The Last Crusade is the finishing statement we'll probably never get from the earlier project.  All Star Batman became a joke among readers for its brutish portrayal of the Dark Knight, a true maniac who was difficult to root for, in a story featuring Dick Grayson's initiation into crime-fighting.  Miller never conceded that it was a good thing.  Comics fans never really picked up on that, and they probably still won't with The Last Crusade, even though by this point his conclusions are unmistakable.  The Batman of this story is aging, and his body is fast betraying him.  He reveals that he hoped Robin would prove to be his successor.  On the second try, he's proven brutally wrong.  You can only duplicate so much of what created Batman. 

It's an incredibly bold statement.  I think the whole concept of the Dark Knight stories is creating a reality where Batman exists in a finite world, where he can't escape consequences.  This can never exist in the ongoing comics, because fans will always clamor to see old favorites return, and creators will always be there to help them in that goal.  In Miller's reckoning, Batman is human, and as such is completely fallible, and bad things happen as a result of his actions, whether to himself, to those around him, or in the world around him, not because of anything he does, but because that's just a fact of life. 

As a summation, The Last Crusade may be the most crucial element of the most important Batman story ever told.

Dept. H #2 (Dark Horse)
Matt Kindt again, in his creative follow-up to Mind MGMT, his innovative look at the spy world.  Dept. H seems to be an unrelated story, but Kindt is once again handling writing and art chores, so the look is the same, and so is the storytelling.  In this second issue, someone has died, and someone else, burdened with a perfect memory, realizes that it could only have been murder.  Clearly, Kindt continues to have the mind on the mind, and this continues to be a good thing.

Green Arrow #1 (DC)
I tended to skip Green Arrow in the New 52, but figured I'd give the guy another shot in the Rebirth era.  Not only is Black Canary back in the picture, but so is Oliver Queen's moral compass.  At his best, Green Arrow will always be the Batman whose inner Bruce Wayne dominates his goals more than his crime-fighting.  This is one of those rich guy characters whose transformation into a superhero made him socially conscious for the first time in his life.  This issue does a good job of bringing that back into focus.

Green Lanterns #1 (DC)
Jessica Cruz and Simon Baz don't play well together.  They have conflicting mindsets, and as rookies, they both have plenty to prove.  That rounds out to good Green Lantern storytelling, as we learn more of what makes Baz stand out (we now have him deemed the bearer of Emerald Sight), which is an important distinction for all these human Green Lanterns, as the new Red Lantern threat continues to unfold.  I'm so glad DC is letting this franchise return to its recent Geoff Johns roots.

Secret Wars #9 (Marvel)
Flashing back to the last Marvel event, and its ending, we find Jonathan Hickman closing out the book on his Fantastic Four adventures, imagining the last conflict between Dr. Doom and Reed Richards.  Doom had found himself in possession of ultimate power, and decides Richards is, once and for all, jealous of him, because he could never do as good as Doom.  Someone decides to put that to the test, and so the Marvel landscape is reshaped (to its current state), and Richards retires from the superhero game to act as a kind of gatekeeper (thus allowing Marvel to remove the Fantastic Four from its lineup).  Hickman was always a big game hunter, and I guess it was appropriate that he wound up telling the biggest Fantastic Four story ever, so we'd see what that finally looked like. 

Superman #1 (DC)
Tomasi and Gleason reprise their Batman and Robin act, this time on the grand stage.  Once again, a DC icon has a son struggling with his place in the world, and once again, Tomasi and Gleason are ready to knock it out of the park.  I couldn't be happier for them.  The story starts out pretty heavily focused on Superman, but then we meet his son Jonathan, who is struggling with his new powers.  This was something Tomasi and Gleason touched on in Batman and Robin, when Damian briefly gained superpowers in the wake of his resurrection.  It's one thing to have an indomitable youth on your hands.  It's another when it's Superman's son.  All these years, whenever someone wanted to tell a story about the young Superman, it was always the exception, and then more often than not something glossed over until he hit puberty and, in some continuities, became Superboy.  This is the first time we'll see it play out in an ongoing capacity.  Framed as Superman's son, this is an intriguing opportunity, and again, Tomasi and Gleason are well up to the task.  They know when they need to provide dialogue, and when the story speaks for itself.  Anyway, I'm hugely, hugely glad this is happening, no matter how long it lasts.

Titans: Rebirth #1 (DC)
The return of Wally West continues, as he reconnects with his oldest friends, the original Teen Titans, in a series of encounters that prove all over again how personal these DC stories are to these characters, and how they can connect on an emotional level with fans, too. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Quarter Bin 80 "Mark Waid's Flash, Generation X, Guy Gardner, Harley Quinn, and Caleb Monroe"

No, not all comics featured in this feature were literally bought in a quarter bin.  But these were.

The Flash #93 (DC)
From August 1993.
From the files of Mark Waid's excellent run on The Flash comes this second issue of Bart Allen's introduction.  Waid was literally the guru of the Speed Force, and if any character greater embodied his philosophy than Wally West, it was Bart, who would variously be known as Impulse, Kid Flash, and even the Flash himself (it...didn't go particularly well, however).  Bart was the grandchild of Barry and Iris Allen, raised in the future but mistakenly caught up in a program that sought to study him, which accidentally accelerated his growth because no one actually knew what to do with him.  (Waid cleverly explains that in this issue.)  Later the star of Waid's second Flash series, Impulse, Bart would appear in a more sinister version within the pages of the New 52's Teen Titans (which was one of the many things that angered fans about the New 52).  I revisited this issue hoping for some sweet art from the late Mike Wieringo, but if I'd read the cover more closely, I'd have noticed that Carlos Pachelo was filling in for him.  Somewhat ironically, while Ringo gained a massive cult following before and following his untimely death, the letters column for this issue features a decidedly cautious interest in his work. 

Generation X #25, -1 (Marvel)
From March and July 1997.
Scott Lobdell's contributions to '90s X-Men lore have largely been marginalized in recent years, mostly because fans have generally marginalized '90s X-Men in general.  His Generation X (which famously forced Gen 13 to come up with its alternate title, which didn't stop it from becoming one of Image's signature '90s hits) introduced, as the title may indicate, a new generation of mutants, who have since largely vanished.  I just don't get it.  Lobdell has been working with DC since the New 52, and he still doesn't get any credit, even though he's generally one of the best character-driven storytellers in the business.  The "-1" issue was Marvel's response to the "0" issue phenomenon, part of a whole flashback month.  Neither issue actually features the new generation too directly, but that was okay.  It was still good stuff.  James Robinson wrote the "-1" issue, and Carlos Pachelo, in his first signature work, was on art for both.

Guy Gardner #1, 2 (DC)
From October and November 1992.
Gerard Jones was absolutely on fire with the Green Lantern franchise during this period.  He not only dominated it, but expanded it as never before.  Besides the lead series, there was also Green Lantern: Mosaic (previously discussed here), and Guy Gardner, which launched with Guy having just acquired Sinestro's yellow ring, but would later feature him gaining different powers entirely.  Geoff Johns would expand on the mythology of the yellow ring, but at the moment, it was just something that wasn't a Green Lantern ring, and still allowed Guy to run roughshod on the concept of superheroes.  Basically, Guy was one of DC's answers to the burning '90s topic of breaking from tradition, and boy was his ready for it, even if his nifty new ring, in these issues, didn't feel like fully cooperating.

Harley Quinn and Power Girl #6 (DC)
From February 2016.
The creative team of Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti, and Justin Gray had previously collaborated on a pre-New 52 Power Girl ongoing series (which featured the dubious distinction of Vartox's debut), and so it was nice to see them taking the opportunity provided by Harley Quinn's massive popularity to reprise the act (with Vartox!).  This is irreverent storytelling pure and simple, with Harley literally acting the part of the jester as Power Girl tries to once and for all end her Leela/Zapp Brannigan relationship with Vartox.  Good luck with that...

Hunter's Fortune #4 (Boom!)
From January 2010.
As with Skipper Martin and Drew Melbourne, Caleb Monroe was a budding creator I came across a decade ago, and when he scripted this series I enjoyed watching him find success.  (Despite how it can sometimes seem, I don't actively wish ill on any creators.  Everyone's work has an audience.)  The concept, developed by Andrew Crosby, is basically Indiana Jones/National Treasure/Lara Croft without a sensational lead character.  Hunter is merely the recipient of a fortuitous bequeathal.  Monroe's signature gift to his fellow budding creators was setting up a list of submission guidelines, which was above and beyond what you'd expect from someone basically at the same level as you.  He's remained active in comics, at least as of two years ago, when he was still writing stuff for Boom!, and that was good to see. 

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Reading Comics 189 "DC Rebirth Week Two, Empress, Superman: American Alien"

Aquaman: Rebirth #1 (DC)
The big push Dan Abnett takes in this Rebirth reintroduction issue is poking fun at all the people who make fun of Aquaman, the superhero who "talks to fish."  As Abnett points out in the captions, "This is untrue.  He has a telepathic gift that allows him to compel marine life, but fish do not possess enough intelligence to conduct meaningful dialogue."  But such subtleties are hardly likely to convince people who like their reactions pithy and pointless...

Empress #3 (Icon)
The adventures of the escaping queen continue in this Mark Millar/Stuart Immonen comic rife with breakneck adventure.  Look, I read Saga for years, but after a while, it kind of seems like a soap opera, like The Walking Dead, where the thrust of the story is lost in just kind of keeping it going.  Empress is punchy, even while at its heart it kind of is a soap opera.  Millar is far too impatient for full-on soap opera, though, so there's not a chance of Empress becoming another Saga.

The Flash: Rebirth #1 (DC)
I was kind of shocked that DC allowed this property to all but go to complete waste in the New 52 era, after reviving Barry Allen with Geoff Johns at the helm just before it.  The New 52 Flash was one long attempt at struggling to catch up with better material that had come before it.  Josh Williamson, previously best known for Image comics like Nailbiter, seems to have been chosen precisely because he's both capable and willing to reverse this trend.  And thank god, because as the issue fans will be reading post-DC Universe Rebirth to see what happens next, we don't need another post-Flashpoint disappointment.  A story that makes Flash look like one of DC's most important characters needs a decent follow-up.  This time that's exactly what happens.

Superman: American Alien #7 (DC)
The finale of this mini-series sees Max Landis brilliantly reimagine, essentially, the scenario J. Michael Straczynski featured in his first volume of Superman: Earth One, wherein an alien comes to Earth, causes a lot of trouble, and helps Superman find out where he came from.  Where Straczynski settled for a surprisingly dull new creation, Landis chooses Lobo, as fans recognize him from pre-New 52 continuity (the good ol' bounty hunter bastiche with the bike and everything).  It's brilliant, as everything has been about American Alien.  Lobo is here to send a message to Hawkman (alluded to, which is even better), and ends up provoking Superman into his first big brawl.  I know I tend to sound fairly dismissive of Straczynski's creative output, but in this instance, a clear parallel can be found, and I think Landis does it better.  However, I'd still recommend Straczynski's Superman: Earth One work for those interested in less complicated Superman continuity.

Action Comics #957 (DC)
Interestingly, Lex Luthor is the star of this title, but the Convergence (and new Rebirth) Superman is a co-star, too, so Dan Jurgens gets to continue his recent storytelling along with Tomasi & Gleason's Superman, which I hadn't really anticipated.  The rivalry between Luthor and Superman has kind of been turned on its head, which is brilliant.  There's also Clark Kent running around (how? this continuity's Superman is dead, right?), and the threat of Doomsday once again.  After "Doomed," is it too early?  Who cares!  This is Jurgens' (ugly, ugly) baby.  It's about time he gets to revisit him again...

Wonder Woman: Rebirth #1 (DC)
It's interesting that so many Wonder Woman stories, from about Jodi Picoult onward, have dealt with a fairly insular world, and that once again, her origin (kind of like Donna Troy, actually) is causing all sorts of continued drama.  That's what Greg Rucka, returning after too many years to follow-up on his brilliant Infinite Crisis-era work, will be dealing with, all over again.  I trust he'll have some interesting stuff to say about all of this.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Vision #3 (Marvel)

I read the first few issues of this series last year, but decided to skip going further, because I had already made a commitment to one Tom King story (Omega Men), and didn't want to entangle myself with another such commitment (I'm really trying not to spend all my money on comics).

The gist of this one is that the Vision, the robotic Avenger, built himself a family, but it's not turning out as he would've thought.  Of course, he doesn't know it yet.  And that's the rest of the story.  I assume the conclusion will be him finding that out.

It's a story that's familiar to me already.  In Star Trek: Voyager's "Real Life," the holographic Doctor creates for himself a holographic family.  His colleagues suggest that he's made it too perfect, so imperfections are introduced, and tragedy ensues.  It becomes a learning experience.

In a classic sense, this is how family life always turns out in a Marvel comic.  It implodes.  I mean, it's written into Vision's backstory.  Like Buddy Baker in DC's Animal Man, family tends to mean trouble for superheroes.  The Vision previously had a family with the Scarlet Witch.  King acknowledges this. 

As a lead character, the dispassionate Vision presents a unique opportunity, one that King is playing out to its logical conclusion.  Like artificial life in Star Trek, can such an individual truly understand the ramifications of what he's committed to experiencing with this family?  Like I said, Marvel superheroes tend to have worse family relations than DC.  That King, who has written the majority of his comics for DC, and recently signed an exclusive deal with the company so it'll remain that way for a while longer at least, The Vision represents a unique opportunity indeed.  I'm told there'll be twelve issues, like his Omega Men.  I guess that's the magic number, a full year to explore a given scenario.  This is the first time he's focused on a story like this.  In a lot of ways, it's the classic wartime narrative, too.  What effect does Vision's life have on his family?

I don't know, though.  I'm still not convinced to read the complete story.  The Marvel partisans at my local shop suggested this issue would do the trick.  It's got some valuable insights, but I wish there were more moving parts.  King's Omega Men worked so well because it worked in the opposite fashion as his Vision.  It was constantly bold.  His Batman, at the outset, seems to be bold, too.  The Vision reads tentatively.  As an offbeat character study, as Marvel does a lot these days, it gives King a chance to experiment.  Hopefully it'll at least lead to something greater.

Then again, maybe it's just me.  Maybe The Vision already is great.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Quarter Bin 79 "Black Canary, Cerebus, Ultimate Daredevil & Elektra, Drax, Earth X, and Geoff Johns"

More comics from a real quarter bin!

Black Canary #6 (DC)
From February 2016.
So apparently the previous Black Canary I picked up from this sale section is among the back issues I haven't talked about here.  I'm beginning to form the opinion that Brenden Fletcher's Black Canary is DC's equivalent of Matt Fraction's Hawkeye over at Marvel.  This was a bold creative risk, but one that took the more intimate approach than is typical for bold creative risks at the Big Two.  Fletcher's Black Canary is probably what the Batgirl of Burnside, the creative revamp that inspired the DCYou approach that led to Fletcher's Black Canary, was supposed to be.  This is a version of a classic DC character that kind of ditched the superhero model altogether and made it into a rock band fronted by Black Canary  Granted, I don't think rock bands in 2016 are quite what they would have been, say twenty years ago, but as a creative vision, it's still one of the most interesting choices for a Big Two superhero concept that's come down the pike in years.  Of course, it was completely overlooked, too, just like Fraction's Hawkeye.  These were punk comics created for fans who think punk comics don't have to look like what punk comics usually look like.  They can just try something new.  It probably doesn't hurt that both Hawkeye and Black Canary featured the art of Annie Wu.  Coincidences like that just don't exist...

Cerebus #80 (Aardvark-Vanaheim)
From November 1985.
With all due apologies to the story featured in the issue, I'm not really going to talk about that.  (Right, and that's always been the exception...)  What interests me is the letters column, in which Dave Sim engages in a dialogue with Neal Adams over the issue of creator rights.  I know a thing or two about that lately.  Just ask John Seavey.  It's interesting, because it was almost literally the same conversation I had with Seavey, but more than thirty years earlier, and between two far more famous individuals.  It's the conclusion, from Adams, that I'll quote in full:

Dear Dave:

Thanks for letting me reply to your letter, and relative to your letter and [its] basic direction, I agree with you totally.

There is a small point that might be made at this time.  I have never really disagreed with contracts between parties.  In truth, I have never disagreed with contracts which are unfair to one party or another.  (Most contracts usually have at least one signer thinking he got a raw deal.  Sometimes both.)

I have never actually disagreed with the concept of standard contracts, although they are viewed by some as unfair.

What I have disagreed with from the moment of [its] inception, is the fact that the Congress of the United States created a copyright law which includes the concept of work-made-for-hire.  The insertion of work-made-for-hire in a contract removes the possibility of there being fairness in a contract.  It literally turns the publisher into the creator and owner of the work.  Any additional rights spoken about can only be rights returned back to the original creator from the new creator (publisher).  This is base hypocrisy, and that it was able to be slipped into a law, basically in two sentences, a law that is book length, and that it permeates ours and other graphic industries is an example of how a lack of alertness or caring on the part of the people involved, can lead to ethical disaster.

(Incidentally, if we get rid of work-made-for-hire and its contracts, they'll simply be replaced with other unfair contracts.  Right folks?)

Yes, I agree with your letter Dave, but there's a world of difference between the standard form contract which I have never argued with, and a work-made-for-hire contract, which I have always felt was a betrayal by our highest government institutions of the creative community of our country.  People in other countries have been struck incredulous when I have told them that by contract, publishers in America can become the "creator" of a work and that right is written into our law!

And, just in case the idea has gotten across to you and your readers that I (and my white horse0 somehow stand for truth and justice in all [its] myriad forms, that's not the case.  I simply try to point out gross injustices that, on real examination, are obvious and clear to thinking people.  For example: the return of Jack Kirby's artwork.

Neal Adams
Continuity Graphics Assoc., Inc.

...Anyway, I just thought that was interesting.

Ultimate Daredevil & Elektra #4 (Marvel)
From March 2003.
This is Greg Rucka's version of the Daredevil Miller Narrative, and because it's Rucka, it focuses more on Elektra than Daredevil.  With Rucka returning to Wonder Woman in the DC Rebirth era, it's certainly worth revisiting classic Rucka, and I think this one's probably been lost in the shuffle, especially because Marvel's Ultimate comics kind of got summarized, in the grand scheme, by the Ultimates, Spider-Man, and X-Men, even though there were a few other stories worth remembering as well.  This comic was created at the same time the Daredevil movie was released, at the height of the backlash against Ben Affleck.  I always liked the movie, and how it helped return focus to Elektra, one of Marvel's worthier women.  Rucka's Miller Narrative doesn't even feature Kingpin, but rather a stand-in creation, which was nice to see.  Definitely worth checking out.

Drax #2 (Marvel)
From February 2016.
I suppose I should have seen this coming.  This is the same issue I already read, and talked about here.  It was in the same sale section, presumably because of some shipment mishandling.  At any rate, it was as much a pleasure to read the second time as it was the first, and CM Punk's thoughts were just as worth reading in comics form.  He's such a natural, it's scary, and this comic is such a perfect fit, I'm glad it happened.

Earth X Wizard Special Edition, #0, 3, 4 (Marvel)
From 1997, March, June and July 1999.
Now, I've given poor Jim Krueger a slagging, in the past, as Alex Ross's stooge, writing what Ross can't write himself, because Ross is busy reliving his glory days in endless regurgitations, but that's not really fair.  (It's probably not fair for Alex Ross, either, but that's a topic for another day.)  But Krueger has his own credentials, too, including Foot Soldiers, which was a pretty fair creative statement itself, too.

The real kicker is that Earth X is Krueger and Ross's first collaboration, and it's probably the best Krueger I've read to date.

It came about because of Wizard magazine.  Wizard was that great bastion of comic book geekdom that was, in some ways, the Internet before the Internet really exploded.  It was the biggest cheerleader around, and it could even be the launching pad for new projects, such as when it helped Marvel introduce Sentry, or Kurt Busiek create a new villain for Astro City.  It also helped inspire Earth X, when it asked Ross what Marvel's version of Kingdom Come would look like, which is kind of ironic, because it was Marvel's Marvels that inspired Kingdom Come, and fans still haven't given Kingdom Come its due, and apparently even Earth X has a hard time getting respect.

Earth X isn't Kingdom Come.  The Wizard brainstorming special where Ross detailed his ideas makes that clear.  It wasn't until he reveals his version of the X-Men that I was sold on the concept as creatively viable.  But Krueger's interpretation made it clear that this was truly a project I could get behind.

Ross's X-Men have a lot of interesting new mutants on the team, including Double Header, who literally has two heads.  If I ever got to write a Marvel comic, I would definitely write an X-Men story with Double Header.  It's perfect!)

Krueger's dystopian future revolves around a conversation between the Watcher and Machine Man.  This seems completely improbable and perhaps equally inexplicable, right?  All three issues I read are dominated by this conversation.  The concept itself has every human having gained their own mutant powers, thus negating superheroes, right?  It further alienates Marvel's famously alienated superheroes, and pushes everything forward, in a very classic Marvel way.  Previous to reading this, my ideal Marvel comic was Dan Abnett's Conspiracy.  Krueger takes a different stance, but the results are equally fantastic.

This is not the Marvel that exists today.  Today, Marvel is going after the movie crowd, and the idea that cuter, more kid-friendly comics will probably help ensure the continued viability of the medium, but creatively, it just doesn't compare to a mindset where things like Earth X, like Conspiracy, is possible.  When Marvel does a smart comic now (and maybe this was always the case?), it's the exception.  I wish that weren't the case.  You have things like Tom King's Vision, Jeff Lemire's Moon Knight, and yes, even CM Punk's Drax, but then, you also have Nick Spencer's Captain America.  You can see that the mainstream titles don't get the same kind of freedom.  Say what you will about Scott Snyder's Batman, and I've said plenty, but that was a mainstream title that took the right kinds of creative risks.

Eye of the Storm Annual #1 (Wildstorm)
From September 2003.
There are a bunch of short stories in this one, all of them exploring various facets of Wildstorm's landscape, but the one that I bought it for is written by Geoff Johns in one of his increasingly rare excursions away from DC proper.  As with a lot of Johns material from this period, his story of a team of bounty hunters is not afraid to be a little sexy (although as in The Possessed, it's kind of incidental, as in art-driven).  But like his later Ghosts short, Johns is experimenting with concept more than anything, playing against his type, having time unexpectedly be a factor in the story, which is to say, have a surprise element be as important as anything else.  I hope he has time to do more experiments like this in the future.

Superman: Rebirth #1 (DC)

I've made few bones about how much I loved Tomasi and Gleason's Batman & Robin.  As far as I was concerned, it was the definitive Batman of the New 52 era.  This went against the grain, for fans obsessed with Snyder's work.  I never cared.  I didn't overlook Gleason's follow-up in Robin: Son of Batman, either.  And neither did DC.  Because now Patrick Gleason is joining Peter J. Tomasi as co-writer in a more high-profile project.  Namely, Superman.

This launch issue features the art of Doug Mahnke (always a stand-out), but the series will feature Gleason pulling double duty as co-writer and artist.  For now, you can forget about the fact that the series will feature Tomasi and Gleason creating father-and-son comics again, because this one's all about the father, and bridging a few gaps.

The Convergence Superman, last featured in the pages of Superman: Lois & Clark and Tomasi's Superman #52, is the '90s Superman in his next logical incarnation: as a father.  The post-Crisis on Infinite Earths Superman reboot saw the Man of Steel finally get married to Lois Lane.  The big thing that never happened was the happy couple rounding out their family with a child.  The soft post-millennium reboot that preceded the New 52 broke off from the continuity that had guided the '90s, effectively postponing if not outright removing that possibility from ever happening.  Then Convergence happened, and the '90s Superman returned.  In Superman: Lois & Clark, he adopted a black costume variant not unlike the one he sported in the wake of his return from death at the hands of Doomsday.

Tomasi and Gleason don't go over all of that, but they acknowledge the Doomsday event, something that for all intents and purposes didn't exist in the New 52 (fans tend to ignore that Grant Morrison alluded to it in his Action Comics run), and how the Convergence Superman is forced to reveal himself more than ever before on a world he's tried to stay out of the way of in deference to its Superman.

If that sounds complicated, it really isn't, and Tomasi and Gleason explain it probably better than I could. 

The issue is all about how the old Superman must decide to take up his replacement's mantle, more or less.  It's the ongoing series that will delve into his parental adventures.  Which is just as well.  If I made it sound complicated, it's because it really did need to be explained.

The problem with a lot of the New 52 Superman stories is that the continuity was frequently getting in the way, even though the results were supposed to be exactly the opposite.  I mean, that was the whole point of the New 52.  But a series of creative teams meant continuity was an issue.  So having a backup Superman, with a backstory rich enough but also suddenly streamlined (you won't have to worry about everything that came before) means a Superman who will once again be easy to follow.

And if that's not good enough, Tomasi and Gleason will be doing what they do best: stories about family.  Really, that's what's always made Superman great.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Reading Comics 188 "Reading that Civil War II FCBD story again, and suddenly it makes perfect sense"

I have no idea if Brian Michael Bendis and/or Marvel did this deliberately, but suddenly it's my favorite comic book experience of 2016 so far. 

So I went back and reread, like you may have read in the title, the Civil War II Free Comic Book Day story.  This comes after reading Civil War II #1, the first issue, technically, of the series itself.  If you remember, I thought the FCBD story was pretty random, originally.  The only thing I took away from it was the character of Ulysses, the precog who would end up being at the center of Civil War II's conflict.  I had no idea why Thanos was being tossed into the middle of the fray like that.  Thanos stories typically are huge deals in and of themselves.  Just look at the very circuitous way the Avengers movies are taking to get back to him, after his debut in 2012's Marvel's Avengers and subsequent appearance in Guardians of the Galaxy.

As it turns out, that missing scene I talk about in my Civil War II #1 review is actually the FCBD story.  Which is to say, Civil War II #1 is explained by FCBD Civil War II, and vice versa.  Again, I don't know if this was deliberate, but in hindsight, it works like gangbusters.

The thing that makes it so brilliant is that, if you read these the way I did, incomprehension first and then with a reread, you realize what happened, and the depth just keeps getting deeper.  In Civil War II #1, you get the conflict around Ulysses spelled out, and the aftermath of the fight in FCBD Civil War II.

If you then go back and reread FCBD Civil War II?  You realize the full tragedy of the situation Captain Marvel has found herself in.  She's the one who sides with the idea of using Ulysses in the war on crime.  But we learn that this support is coming at a price, because we learn that Jim Rhodes' death isn't just personal for Tony Stark, but for Carol Danvers, too.

Maybe all this reaction from me is unique to a reader who doesn't reside in regular Marvel readership, but comes and goes, because I didn't know Carol and Jim had a thing going on.  It doesn't matter.  It gets the impact it needs.

And the thing is, if I'd made all the connections I'd needed, right from the start, I don't know if the impact would have been the same.  Clearly I'd read FCBD Civil War II first, but I'd forgotten most of that by the time I read Civil War II #1.  I don't do a lot of compulsive rereading.  There are fans out there who read and reread the same issue.  I don't.  I read it and move on.  Usually, if I reread something, it's not because I'm trying to figure something out, but because I just happened to read it again, or generally like the material. 

This is a first for me.  I've read a lot of comics in my day, and this is a first for me.  I can appreciate the significance of that.  Bravo, Bendis.  Bravo, Marvel.  I don't always give you the props you deserve, but this time, you've absolutely earned them.  You made a pretty deliberate creative choice.  It took me a while to figure it out, but that choice was indeed a very, very good one.

Moon Knight #1, 2, 3 (Marvel)

Moon Knight is one of those odd Marvel characters that has been looking to define his niche for years.  When Deadpool showed up and stole the spotlight from a lot of what had made Moon Knight stand out, Marvel started looking elsewhere.  There have been a lot of recent attempts to find it.

Well, look no further.  I've been a fan of Jeff Lemire for a while now, so it's no surprise that he's the one who figured it out.  The gimmick about Moon Knight is that he's probably insane.  Lemire takes that pretty seriously.

In these opening issues, Lemire has the hero, in his most basic guise, Marc Spector, locked in an asylum, because his Moon Knight adventures are one massive delusion.  The Egyptian god Khonshu, however, suggests to him that madness may not be a handicap, but an asset, because it leaves Marc in the unique position of interceding in a pending war with the gods that have lost their ability to directly interact with humans, except Seth, who of course is planning nothing good.

It's kind of like the Marvel version of Warren Ellis's Supreme: Blue Rose, which similarly took advantage of a muddled mythology to produce something great.  The art is in the best Marvel tradition of allowing low-profile characters to have an indy look (this time courtesy of Greg Smallwood).  There's every indication that Lemire has been granted all the leeway he needs to give Moon Knight the story he's always deserved.

I'm assuming all the supporting characters who aide Marc will be familiar to long-time Moon Knight readers, of which I am not.  I've been a dabbler.  This is a character who even got the Brian Michael Bendis treatment, and even that didn't leave an impression on fans.  So in its desperation, Marvel turned to Lemire, perhaps one of the few writers who could have finally figured out that the answer was there all along.  Lemire is fearless.  Of course he'd put Marc in an asylum.

Which makes it all the more rewarding when, in later issues, he's once again running around in that neat white sport suit variant that makes him look like the deranged Spirit.  Perfect.  Is all this in Marc's head?  Probably not.  But it could be.  That's why you have a writer like Jeff Lemire taking the helm.  Because he just might be crazy enough to give Marc Spector the opposite of a fairy tale ending...

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Green Lanterns: Rebirth #1 (DC)

I haven't really been interested in Green Lantern comics for a few years now.  This coincides directly with the end of the Geoff Johns run and the beginning of Robert Venditti's.  Venditti had some really interesting ideas, but by the end he'd gone in a completely alienating new direction that bore no resemblance to anything I cared to read in a Green Lantern comic.  It just never seemed relevant.

So I'm pretty darn happy about Green Lantern: Rebirth.  (For those Venditti fans, he's got his own book, where he continues to write Hal Jordan comics however he sees fit.)

Finally, Johns' two Green Lanterns, Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz, will be featured in their own stories, on an ongoing basis.  Both have been presented as more controversial than any previous human ring-bearer (that's saying something, Guy Gardner fans!), but Johns is around to guide Sam Humphries into introducing a reason why: because they're necessary.

Like Johns before him, Humphries has tapped into the past for inspiration, finding a Guardian with a secret weapon (hopefully better than the gauntlet Venditti trotted out to little mythology significance) and a desperate mission.  He also brings the Red Lanterns back into the mix, after a New 52 era that saw them operating in an admittedly increasingly fruitful vacuum, even when they came to Earth.  Well, they're coming again, and this time it will mean trouble.

Baz and Cruz are interesting characters.  Humphries explains Baz's situation again (it was pretty well covered by Johns already), and then starts in with Cruz (Johns only ever got around to sketching hers out).  This is a Green Lantern tradition.  Those who aren't familiar with it will only see a lot of Green Lanterns.  On the first page of the issue, we have the tradition spelled out.  The best Green Lantern comics have always emphasized the troubled lives these ring-bearers tend to have.  They have the greatest weapon in the universe, but that doesn't make their lives any easier, with or without the powers.

The New 52 was about giving people like Venditti an opportunity to do something new.  He ended up telling his rogue gauntlet stories.  And now Rebirth is putting things back into classic patterns.  For Green Lantern?  Absolutely a good thing.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Civil War II #1 (Marvel)

For any fans reading this who's like to see an alternate take on this same basic story, watch the movie Minority Report, or the Philip K. Dick story that inspired it.  In this second Civil War, Marvel is tackling the matter of punishing the offender before they commit the crime.

You could argue that this is also within the realm of the surveillance debate that various high-profile leaks in recent years have provoked, and maybe it would be a good case to make, but I'm not sure I would buy it.  In the end, this is another excuse to get superheroes to fight each other.  It's a comic book tradition, and Marvel has admitted to that.  It's the fan classic: who would win?  The question, when making an event out of it, is how to justify it?

DC Versus Marvel was to that point the biggest such answer, and then came the first Civil War, which tackled the classic question of accountability, and then AvX, which was about exploring the issue of too much power, and now we have Civil War II.

I've decided that it's kind of just an excuse to explore the new Marvel landscape, to meet the new power players.  This isn't a bad thing.  Captain Marvel and Ms. Marvel, Nova, the Inhumans, these are all characters who have emerged in recent years as the new generation of Marvel icons.  It's Captain Marvel who is leading the charge to support the Inhumans and their new resident precog, Ulysses, while Iron Man leads those who think all this could end badly.

The Free Comic Book Day preview that baffled me did feature Ulysses, but gave no indication that he would have such a significant role in the event itself.  Interestingly, while the preview was filled with random action, Civil War II #1 itself leaves most of that action off-panel, so that it's the discussions and character conflicts that drive the plot.  That's typical Brian Michael Bendis, the king of conversation comics.  It's a little shocking when this means James Rhodes (War Machine) dies off-panel, or that a big event like the Thanos takedown was not in itself the big event of this big event (it's really, really odd how Marvel has been using Thanos, both in the comics and movies, considering his significance).  We also get the apparent death of She-Hulk, but that just seems like overkill (if you'll pardon me for saying that).

All of which means I still don't know why the two sides will, y'know, fight, but I can see this Civil War for what it is, which for once is fairly straight-forward.  I still have no idea what Secret Wars was all about, or what it accomplished, other than give Jonathan Hickman his big event. 

Bendis is reuniting with Ultimate Spider-Man artist David Marquez, and that seems like another indication that Civil War II is really about that next generation.  I don't know.  I don't know what I'll miss if I don't continue reading this one, but I'll at least keep tabs.  If the last Civil War proved anything, these things can take pretty dramatic turns...

Friday, June 3, 2016

Quarter Bin 78 "Seagle/Sale, Drew Melbourne, Archer & Armstrong, and Bizzare New World"

This is a back issues feature.  However, these particular comics were found in a quarter bin.

The Amazon #3 (Dark Horse)
From May 2009.
And, from 1989, because this was a reprint of a twenty-year-old comic, one of Steven T. Seagle's first projects, and only one project removed from Tim Sale's first collaboration with Jeph Loeb.  I find the latter factoid perhaps more relevant, because it might further explain how their overlooked masterpiece, which I know by its collected title, The Challengers of the Unknown Must Die!, came to be.  A few years back I noticed tonal similarities with Andrew Helfer's Shadow.  As it turns out, Sale and Loeb may have taken inspiration from Sale's own work, too.  Seagle, I think, has remained one of the true comic book mavericks.  A lot of creators try to wear that face, but Seagle lives it.  He's been able to, I think, do it quite successfully.  It also makes him hard to pin down, so every time I spot him, it's a nice little treasure. 

The title of this project refers to the Rain Forest, not the Greek myth that eventually gave birth to Wonder Woman.  It's an '80s environmental message (so of course it resurfaced again).  More significantly, at least creatively, is the unorthodox approach Seagle takes in telling the story.  As far as I could tell, because one out of three issues, even if it's the conclusion of the story, can't quite explain everything, the two sets of captions indicate that the narrator has presented both his initial thoughts and the ones he later publishes for the reader.  Whatever else it is, the story is the guy's reactions, which leaves an impressionist feel to the proceedings.  Those who like straightforward storytelling would probably just throw their hands up in frustration.  I loved it.

But the thing is, that's the kind of storytelling Loeb later adapted for his Challengers comic with Sale.  It's unorthodox, and you can tell how their relationship evolved, to better fulfill superhero expectations, as the years went by.  That first effort, to me, remains the most pure.  So it's nice to see a little more of how it happened.

ArchEnemies #4  (Dark Horse)
From July 2006.
I snatched this up as a reread, because I originally reviewed this mini-series when I first wrote about comics on the Internet (so this would be a ten-year-anniversary kind of deal for me).  The reason I read the comic was because writer Drew Melbourne had won a contest put together by Top Cow back in 2004, when I first pursued the task of breaking into comics.  Drew's winning pitch, Future Heroes, never got made, but I assume the connections he made by winning the contest helped make ArchEnemies happen. 

It's interesting to reread this.  Today, I know that Drew's comics career went no further than this issue, which is kind of sad.  I mean, I really started to root for the guy!  But that's the catch-22 about contests and/or new creators.  Just because you break in, doesn't mean you'll make it.  The guy maintains his fascination with steak (read about it here!), but I guess he fit in that model of trying to look at superheroes differently, that's so attractive to comic book publishers other than DC and Marvel (well, normally; you can never tell with Marvel these days), only too well.  Because that's what ArchEnemies is, a tale of roommates who unbeknownst to each other are actually a superhero and his arch-foe.  It's a great setup.  Drew decided that the villain was, perhaps, a more interesting character to explore.  This final issue makes him pretty human.  (I honestly don't remember the rest of the story at this point.  Part of the comic's marketing campaign was creating a Myspace profile for one of it's characters!) 

The art just makes everything so much harder to follow than it needs to.  Yvel Guichet, directly before this, had been working steadily in mainstream, DC comics.  After this, he didn't.  His last notable work was, once again for DC, Trinity of Sin.  Clearly the guy has mainstream chops, but he seems to have approached this particular project as obtusely as possible.  On the other hand, the covers cleverly acted as the first page of the issue, so that was pretty cool.

In the end, I think the whole idea wrote itself out of relevance.  I think if Drew had been a little more established, this could have been a cool little Image ongoing comic, where the premise itself would have worked.  But instead he convinced himself, or allowed himself to be convinced, that he could try for something deeper, which he just wasn't ready for, and neither was this comic.  But again, Drew still loves steak, so there's that!

Archer & Armstrong #4 (Valiant)
From November 2012.
At the opposite end of that spectrum is Valiant's latest incarnation, which has proven to be a fruitful platform to present the kind of comics readers of Marvel's Ultimates line, and maybe what DC's New 52 era was supposed to be, kind of expected to happen to superhero comics.  The thing that Valiant's done is not overstretch itself.  I can't say whether every project has been a hit, but this is a cohesive, clever universe it has constructed.  The more I read of it, the more, generally, that I love it.

I read the first issue of this particular series digitally a few weeks back, and loved it.  Previously, I had no idea what Archer & Armstrong was supposed to be about.  I thought it might be fairly throwaway buddy nonsense, like Quantum & Woody turned out to be.  But as it turns out, it's actually essential to that core narrative that Valiant has been building.  Concepts like Ivar, the Time Walker (which is another concept that I previously had no idea about) or The Eternal Warrior, or the Geomancer, which was key to the excellent The Valiant mini-series, come from this.  Armstrong is a long-lived guy who's trying to project ancient secrets that bad guys would just love to get their hands on.  Archer is an adept who's been used by the bad guys to get the job done.  Together, they realize they are a great combination, once they sort their differences out, and so goodness ensues.

This is the kind of buddy comic Quantum & Woody only wishes it was.  (Quantum & Woody is a thing because it was the most popular thing from that era of '90s Valiant comics.)  The writer, Fred Van Lente, is a guy I always like to see at top form, because at top form, he's a true pleasure to read.  Valiant tends to collect writers like him (Matt Kindt, Jeff Lemire, Jen Van Meter), who in the best of all possible worlds would be the most sought-after writers in the medium, but for whatever reason don't tend to connect at the Big Two.  So it's Valiant's gain, and Valiant knows exactly what to do with writers like this.  And Valiant, in turn, gets to publish some of today's best superhero comics.

Bizarre New World #1 (Ape)
From 2007.
This is another flashback from a decade ago, Skipper Martin's baby, about an average man who learns he has the ability to fly.  Like Drew Melbourne's take on the traditional superhero archetype, Skipper chose to skew the topic.  In an essay at the back of the issue, he somewhat uncomfortably makes a case that the superhero formula, today, probably looks ridiculous.  This will, of course, be the argument for anyone who no longer subscribes to an opinion they once held, or perhaps never held it.  It's also a textbook case of a fan (he references a closet-full of comics) who perhaps never understood it.

I have no beef with Skipper.  Like Drew, his career went nowhere.  I maintain Facebook contact with him (the sucky thing about social media is that it's a lot of illusion), and so it's especially weird to be talking about the project where I first heard about him, and having to question his thought process.  Then again, it's kind of how the Internet goes.  I don't think he'd be the type to stumble upon this and flip out, but you never know.  (Then again, what did I just do with Drew's comic above?)

The problem with presenting an average's man's experience with learning he has the ability to fly, in the real world, is that it can quickly spiral out of control.  Later comics saw the whole world gain the ability.  This issue sees the lead character grapple with the implications, and then, more directly, how it might affect his relationship with his son.  It ends up being a bonding experience. 

That, I imagine, is what set Skipper's story apart.  Sometimes, writers can't really tell where the heart of their story is.  It happens all the time.  Some of the writers responsible are bad, and that's the reason why, and others just didn't really think about it.  Skipper, in the essay, talks about the six years it took for him to develop the story, and he seems to have focused almost exclusively on how the guy got the powers, if that was even relevant, and none on what the story, ultimately, should be about: an intimate family drama.

Live and learn?  Well, maybe some day, Skipper can learn from it.

Captain America: Steve Rogers #1 (Marvel)

This is the comic that revealed the big bad secret about Steve Rogers.  I figured I should read it for myself.

Now, I've read Nick Spencer before.  This is the guy who famously gave Jimmy Olsen his bowtie back.  (Trust me, people talked about it.)  True, I lost track of Spencer for a few years, but I never forgot about him.  Now I'm wondering if that was a good thing.

The Nick Spencer who shows up in the pages of this comic has either been neutered, or has willingly embraced the Marvel ideology of putting in as many irreverent elements as possible.  Baron Zemo is made into a joke.  I have no affinity for Baron Zemo, but it makes little sense for him to have been relegated to comedic beats in the issue.

But what bothers me more is that to get Steve Rogers to the point where he ends the issue uttering, "Hail Hydra!," Spencer uses a series of flashbacks to find out what his parents were like.  Now, for a DC guy, family background can usually be depended on to have played a pretty important part in a character's moral development.  In Marvel comics, the only such character is Uncle Ben, who is famously sacrificed in Spider-Man's origin story to flesh out the "great powers, great responsibility" mandate.  Otherwise, families don't mean much for Marvel.  It's a superhero clubhouse where you either get along, or don't (Civil War).

Spencer's idea is that Rogers' little-seen parents do have a significant impact on him.  His father is a bum, and his mother is an overworked woman who finds solace in a friend who eventually introduces her to the wonders of Hydra.  It's implied, though not spelled out at this point, that she takes up the membership offer, and that Steve has thusly been an agent of Hydra the entire time we've known him.

It's not even the Hydra twist that bothers me, but how Spencer runs roughshod over the Rogers family to reach that point.  The Steve Rogers we've always known has had a stronger-than-average morality, which is the while reason he was chosen for the Super Soldier program in the first place.  I know they make a big deal out of this in Captain America: The First Avenger, anyway.

The Hydra presented by Spencer is a movement geared toward the terrible economy of today, and those willing to exploit it for their own ends.  He trots out Red Skull (the sad part about Captain America is that he seems to inspire an incredibly limited rogues gallery, one that invariably trots out Nazis, because that's who the bad guys were when he first became a superhero) as a recruiter in the present day.  If this were a DC comic, the Rogers family status as immigrants would have been relevant.  I mean, DC is full of immigrants.  DC wouldn't have missed that.  Spencer ignores this, however, and looks for shortcuts like what he does to Steve's dad.

I know all this sounds like I'm merely reiterating that I'm a DC guy and not a Marvel guy, and playing into my own prejudices.  And maybe it is.  But this is a whole story about prejudices, that completely ignores the role prejudice plays in it.  You can see how Hydra ended up inspiring Cobra in the G.I. Joe comics.  But even Cobra has better characterization than Hydra these days.

It's simplistic storytelling.  That's what bothers me.  It speaks to fans who like simplistic storytelling.  That's the only reason why Marvel would tell stories like this.  It focuses on the big twist, and ignores any other calls for subtlety.  Marvel is a place where you'll find a comic for every reader (and there are some for me), but it presses hard for the hardcore fan, the one who will unquestioningly accept anything, and so to shock these fans, they have to do truly outrageous things.

Well, one would be to ask their writers to hold themselves to a higher standard. 

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Batman: Rebirth #1 (DC)

It's the dawn of the Tom King era in Batman comics.  Although, basically, it's King and artist Mikel Janin reprising their Grayson act.  (It'll be the same for Tomasi and Gleason in Superman, and thank goodness!)  If this is what Rebirth will be like, I can see that DC has indeed learned where its best talent has been. 

Scott Snyder is ostensibly along for the ride.  As with Geoff Johns in Green Lanterns: Rebirth, I think it's a purely ceremonial act, meant to assure wary fans that the old guard was there to make sure the new one knew what came before them.  Because this doesn't read like Snyder.  Snyder was all about diving into what King avoids in this issue, which is the chaos of Gotham around Batman's adventures.  King's Calendar Man, in fact, reads almost exactly like Snyder's Mr. Bloom, unleashing spores that cause chaos.  There's even Duke Thomas (assuming a new, as-yet unnamed heroic persona) along for the ride.

King's an emerging force for psychologically strong superhero storytelling.  His Batman is prone to pushing his limits in the classic sense (one of Snyder's best Batman comics involves a scenario very similar to what is presented in these pages, in Batman: Futures End as he sets about the clone agenda Snyder had previously explored in Detective Comics #27).  Otherwise, King's vision of Batman's strength of character remembers that Bruce Wayne still exists, too, and that his business acumen, and persistence, amount for something, too, the allies he made there, and what they have to say about where all of this came from.

The best lines in the issue come from Lucius Fox, who remembers this about the late Thomas Wayne:

"I once tried to talk your father into coming into the business.  Told him being a doctor drives you crazy.  Whatever you do, people just get sick again.  You make no progress.  He looked at me for a bit, got real quiet, stern almost.  It's a look I've only ever seen once again.  And it was in the face of a masked man [Batman].  Finally, in a dark voice, he said, 'You're right, Lucius, I am crazy.  But the sick need someone crazy enough to believe they can be better.  So what else could I be?'"

Now, recently, in the pages of a Marvel comic, Nick Spencer decided that Steve Rogers needed a neglectful father, that it would somehow help make his origin better.  (This is to say nothing about Hydra.)  That's the difference between Marvel and DC right there.  Steve's dad has been a nonentity all this time.  You can do whatever you want with him.  Thomas Wayne has never had that luxury.  Rarely seen, but every time he's brought it, it counts for something.  Is it a shortcut to make Batman's dad a good guy, too? 

Absolutely not.  Welcome aboard, Tom King.