Friday, August 12, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 8, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 4, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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