Sunday, August 13, 2017

Reading Comics 208 "Understanding Mister Miracle #1"

Mister Miracle #1 (DC) has finally seen print after months of hype.  DC has been remarkably kind to Tom King since he started writing comics for them.  His little-read masterpiece Omega Men was un-cancelled back in 2015 and allowed to complete a twelve-issue run (this from a company that heartlessly chopped off the tenth issue of The Great Ten!), and then in one of the genius risks of all time he landed Batman as his follow-up assignment, which has proven to be just as popular as Scott Snyder's run (if eternally frustrating for every reader who simply wants something straightforward, like the Court of Owls, a group of villains who stayed hidden for years but now you can't get rid of them).  DC then started suggesting that King's Mister Miracle was a classic in the making. 

Part of this is because during the midst of King's ascension, he scripted a critically-lauded twelve-issue run on The Vision over at Marvel, and DC probably decided, let's get him to do something like that here.  Readers who still can't puzzle out what the hype was about at least know how beloved Vision was, because everyone talked about that one.  It's probably his most straightforward comic to date, an existential tragedy full of inevitability. 

King and artist Mitch Gerads have collaborated a few times already, most notably in another twelve-issue run, Vertigo's Sheriff of Babylon, a story about life on the ground in post-Saddam Iraq.  Every great writer needs a signature artist or two with which to collaborate, and Gerads has become King's.  That's what DC is saying with Mister Miracle.

So what about the comic itself?  I loved it.  I love how much King works into it.  There're plenty of juicy references.  There's Legends' G. Gordon Godfrey (Darkseid minion Glorious Godfrey in disguise) as a talk show host.  There's big bad Orion, who's depicted as shorter than Big Barda.  There's King depicting the casual progression of war (as in Omega Men, Sheriff of Babylon) as the fate of Highfather is referenced offhand.  There's Oberon, who's been absent from visible continuity for so long, readers (like me) will assume he was mostly associated with the Justice League (circa the "Doomsday" era), when in fact he started out as Mister Miracle's assistant.

But mostly, I love this constant refrain, of which this is an example:
I'm speaking, specifically, about "Darkseid Is."  It repeats like a drumbeat throughout the issue.  Readers with a casual relationship of comics lore will think it's just King doing his repetition thing with inscrutable rhyme or reason, but there is a reason, and it looks like this:

That's from Grant Morrison's JLA #14 (part of the "Rock of Ages" arc).  That's been one of my favorite comics since I read it.  At the time, I was a fan of Morrison mostly because of the JLA hype (he's making the team relevant again!), and not so much because I was a fan of Morrison or particularly aware of what he'd done previously (or in the case of The Invisibles was still doing).  I became a fan of Grant Morrison years later.

That issue, the refrain of "Darkseid Is" repeats, and that final page drives home its impact, just how thoroughly the villain dominates Apokolips.  I would go out on a limb and assume King is actually using Darkseid as a stand-in for Saddam Hussein (again, Omega Men and Sheriff of Babylon are both war stories, but specifically the Iraq War).

The whole issue also sets up Mister Miracle's next big trick: beating death.  It certainly looks like a suicide attempt, and maybe it is, but it's interesting, too, because again, King is following in the footsteps of Morrison.  After that issue, Morrison went on to reconnect with Jack Kirby's New Gods in the pages of Final Crisis, a version of a conclusion to that saga Kirby himself never got to create.  As in Final Crisis, King has Darkseid finally attain his much-loved "Anti-Life Equation" in Mister Miracle.  The whole issue is strongly suggested to be the result of Darkseid manipulating reality (at one point, Mister Miracle asks Big Barda whether her eye color has changed). 

Before Final Crisis, Morrison used Mister Miracle, too, the Shilo Norman version, in one of the Seven Soldiers of Victory mini-series.  In it, Mister Miracle has to beat death.  I don't find that to be a coincidence.

I love how King is able to play with expectations so brilliantly.  He knows that comics have changed over the years, that the way they're written has drastically evolved.  He himself is at the vanguard of another revolution, of course.  But the way captions used to be hyperbole, how Marvel used to build up its hype in the comics themselves, playing up the cosmic significance, or maybe just plain comic...King's reputation is that he's too dark, and yet I'm hard-pressed to name another writer who can so effortlessly shift between moods.  Mister Miracle himself, when wearing his mask, seems like a truly comic personality.  Gerads is equally comfortable presenting him that way as he is Scott Free as a normal individual who doesn't seem like superhero material at all.

I love it. 

Reading Comics 207 "August 2017 LCS Trip"

Here's a brief look at my latest check-in:

Descender #22 (Image)
Remains a favorite, even if I'm not reading it all the time.  The metaphorical knife that was stuck into poor Dr. Quon so brutally early in the series just keeps getting twisted.  In a lot of ways, that makes this his story almost more than Tim's...

New Gods Special (DC)
Shane Davis (Superman: Earth One) turns in a thoroughly competent look at Orion.  He seems to come off best when he's in the spotlight (Orion, I mean).

Nightwing #26 (DC)
Tim Seeley continues extending Grayson's legacy, and Dick Grayson's legacy in general, bringing back Huntress into the fold.  I know fans like to imagine Dick and Barbara Gordon (Batgirl) will one day officially declare a relationship, but between Grayson: Futures End (one of my all-time favorite comics) and the Nightwing/Huntress mini-series from two decades money's on them.

Revival #43-47 (Image)
Speaking of Seeley, I decided to finally have a look at this, and as it turns out, these are the final issues of the series.  While he's working from a familiar playbook (the most famous recent example being The Walking Dead, which you may have heard of), Seeley injects enough into the intricacies of character dynamics that Revival reads as a distinctive piece.  I'm sure anyone who'd read the preceding 42 issues will take away a lot more, but it was surprisingly easy to get into, with or without the short recaps inside the front covers. 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Quarter Bin 115 "Comics from Target grab bags"

Stopped in at a Target for the first time in about a year, and discovered that they've joined the retail crowd offering discounted comics grab bags.  So I grabbed a couple.  I think the results were pretty good:

Deathmate: Yellow (Valiant/Image)
from September 1993

Deathmate was one of the projects that helped spoil the Image mystique, galvanizing the complaints of the company's inability to keep a publishing schedule.  But it also gave Valiant a spotlight.  Twenty years later Valiant was rebooted, brilliantly, but in this incarnation, it was just trying to get its concepts out there.  It's strange, because there are repeated WildCATs crossovers in here, and sometimes they're obvious and other times they're not.  I know most of the Valiant characters who appear, other than HARD Corps.  Shadowman comes off...incredibly '90s.  Ninjak should really be better exposed than he is.  Toyo Harada continues to be the best name in comics that doesn't really have the spotlight worthy of it.  Archer & Armstrong...I guess this is a buddy concept that's really just about the buddy concept, because other than the basic setup I never really get why I should care about them.  The best any Image character comes off is Zealot, mostly because she gets the best spotlight, even though as far as I can tell there's absolutely no effort to explain her WildCATs context.  Grifter's here, but his mask looks terrible.  Makes me wonder why anyone ever thought it was a good idea.  If it can be made to look like a face curtain, it's a bad idea.  So I don't think this comic would've made me interested in either company, if it'd been my first exposure.  After a while, the idea of the companies locked in a death match (hence the title) gets old, especially since no effort is made to explain why it's happening.

Fantastic Four: 40th Wedding Anniversary Special (Marvel)
from January 2006

After a rocky start, this ends up being an incredibly charming look at the relationship between Reed Richards and Sue Storm.  It features a premise where they end up meeting versions of themselves from throughout their lives, including points in the future.  Any Marvel editors really struggling to understand the concept could do worse than read this again.  It also features a reprint of the 1965 wedding, with an embarrassment of guest-stars (read: just about everyone).

House of M: Fantastic Four #3 (Marvel)
from November 2005

This proves that the recent Secret Wars drew a lot of inspiration from House of M, the famous "no more mutants" event that saw the Scarlet Witch decimate both the Avengers and X-Men.  This spin-off features Magneto (the "M" of House of M) at war with Doctor Doom, because they're the two most iconic villains of Marvel comics.  It's kind of strange, a comic where you're forced to root for a bad guy because they're your only options.  But it's kind of neat, too.  Subtly, even though it doesn't feature the actual Fantastic Four, Ben Grimm ends up the central character, who turns out to be the real winner in the mayhem.

Starman #20 (DC)
from March 1990

The later James Robinson Starman basically reduced any Starman who didn't have the Knight surname to a supporting player in the saga, making this incarnation all but meaningless, which readers of the run, as represented in the letters column, would surely have found shocking, because even if they were small in number, they ate this stuff up. 

DC Comics Presents: Superman and OMAC #61 (DC)
from September 1983

OMAC was one of Jack Kirby's many later DC creations, from the same period as the New Gods.  The original version was later adapted into the Infinite Crisis era OMAC army (kind of ironic, as Kirby envisioned OMAC as a "One Man Army Corps") controlled by Brother Eye (where Kirby's was kind of like Booster Gold's Skeets).  Watching the original in action, even if it's not Kirby running the show, is fascinating.  Later, the New 52 revived the original (pretty much).  But let's talk about Dick Giordano's Meanwhile...column.  In it he lists DC's projects for the coming year, as well as stuff that was happening at the time.  I love reading old comics almost because of stuff like this.  Frank Miller's Ronin was being published.  This used to be one of DC's perennial classics, until Miller's legacy collapsed into his Batman work.  Omega Men had just launched, and I recently talked about its final issue (heh).  Star Raiders is listed as DC's first graphic novel.  Apparently this was an Elliot S! Maggin comic, based on an Atari game.  The real historic draw would be the art of Jose Garcia Lopez.  Superman III was being released in theaters (the prizes listed for a contest advertised in the issue are pretty neat; they include for some reason Superman peanut butter).  Someone honestly thought it was worth mentioning the JLA/Avengers crossover project, which wouldn't actually happen for something like...thirty years.  Anyway, later Giordano projects into 1984 and attempts to guess what projects will become a reality.  He references DC's recent acquisition of the Charlton superheroes, which nearly became Watchmen, but later became the successful integration of characters like Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, and the Question.  He seems to reference what became a renaming of Firestorm's comic.  He mentions Greg Potter joining the company (misspelling his first name with one too many "g"s).  Potter launches Jemm: Son of Saturn in 1984, which ends up being...his only significant contribution to the company.  He references a Robert Loren Fleming mini-series in development, probably Ambush Bug.  The biggest scoop?  Mentioning Marv Wolfman's upcoming mini-series ("Some of the creative people have promised me bodily damage if I divulge too much..."), which is probably the continuity-restructuring Crisis On Infinite Earths.  Also interesting to note that readers in the letters column responded passionately to a different continuity-restructuring, that of the Atomic Knights, who'd later get a revival post-Infinite Crisis (that's called irony).

WildStar #2 (Image)
from May 1993

This was part of Image's second wave of titles.  Most notable, as far as I'm concerned, for its Jerry Ordway art.  I'm familiar with Ordway from his Superman and Power of Shazam! work, so it's neat seeing it in a different, very Image context (as far as the storytelling goes).  The character lasted two mini-series and then...drifted into obscurity.  Ordway didn't work on the second one.  Fascinating to see him associated with Image at all, though.  His work is pretty much the opposite of what you'd associate with Image's early days.

X-Factor #76 (Marvel)
from March 1992

Seems about par for the course with Marvel comics at the time.

New X-Men #145 (Marvel)
from October 2003

Slowly catching up with Grant Morrison's X-Men.  By the time it was wrapping up I was getting back into comics, but I made no effort to read it.  I had been a huge fan of Morrison's JLA, but it wouldn't be until the Seven Soldiers of Victory project that I got back into him (just a few years later), so I didn't really appreciate how much I would actually be interested in it, later.  I don't know if I've read this one already, but the material with Wolverine reading his Weapon X profile, and learning for the first time who he used to be (before Origin spelled it out) looked familiar, however I'd seen it previously.  Obviously Morrison had a much different idea than what Marvel ended up doing (as with the rest of his New X-Men), as reflected in X-Men Origins: Wolverine.  But Marvel's loss was once again DC's gain, and he's never looked back. 

Reading Comics 206 "The War of Kings and Seeleys"

Tom King and Tim Seeley established their mainstream cred together in the pages of Grayson, and it seems they're still creating some of my favorite comics, several years later.

I've talked a lot about King already.  I became hopelessly devoted to him thanks to Omega Men, and have been reading his comics as faithfully as I can ever since.  In Batman #27, the latest issue I've read from the run, an interlude in the "War of Jokes and Riddles" arc, he finally gets around to explaining Kite Man.  Kite Man has been making appearances throughout the run, and he's always saying his name, "Kite Man!"  Now, Kite Man is hardly an iconic Batman villain.  That King has been using him at all has probably been the most notable thing Kite Man has ever done.  This issue gives him a tragic backstory and origin.  Some readers have found it needlessly dark.  King has kept Batman a bestseller, and with that has found plenty of readers who find his work incomprehensible.  I think this issue, which is the first of two, is absolutely brilliant, full of time jumps of the kind that first made King notable (Grayson: Futures End) for me.

The issue also includes a preview for King's Mister Miracle, which promises to be the DC version of his breakthrough Vision at Marvel, the run that introduced other readers to his talent.  I can't wait to read more of it, although it seems somewhat likely that I'll either be playing catchup (as I did with Omega Men) or wait to read the trade collection.  I'm still nowhere near a point where I can read comics regularly again, no matter how fascinating some projects are.

I finally played catchup with King's Sheriff of Babylon, his previous project with Mister Miracle artist Mitch Gerads.  If I ever managed to copy my Goodreads reviews to this blog, you'd know how much I loved that.

Seeley, I kind of thought was just trading on King's greatness, there to help him transition into writing comics regularly.  But the more I've read his solo work (have yet to catch an issue of Revival, alas), the more I realize I was wrong.  Nightwing #25 is brilliant, in a different way than King is brilliant, but it's the latest example of how much I love Seeley's Nightwing.  It's becoming my all-time favorite Nightwing.  This issue wraps up a Blockbuster arc.  Blockbuster was the dominant villain of the first Nightwing ongoing series, the DC Kingpin to Dick Grayson's Daredevil (as the analogy always seemed to be).  This of course means that Dick has been running around Bludhaven again.  Seeley has made Bludhaven more real in one issue than Chuck Dixon and Devin K. Grayson (as awesome as they were for a combined hundred+ issues) ever did.  He's envisioned a reason Bludhaven exists, other than to create a Gotham for Nightwing, and a working framework with its own internal logic.  His Blockbuster combines the version who previously battled Nightwing with the original conception of the character, before he got smart via Underworld Unleashed

The result is that both King and Seeley are innovating superhero mob comics.  I have no idea if they talk about these things with each other, if it's a coincidence, if there's competition, what have you.  Even if King is getting all the attention, Seeley deserves just as much, from a character perspective, literally synthesizing all of Nightwing's recent history to create a cohesive whole.  He's no longer jumping from concept to concept in an effort to find something that works, but rather drawing from what's worked and finding ways to help it keep working.  He's not only continued his and King's Grayson material, but Grant Morrison's Batman saga, and of course the Bludhaven era.  And this is going to make Seeley the new touchstone on the character. 

Like I said, he's giving King a run for his money.  They're both doing definitive work.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Quarter Bin 114 "Omega Men #38"

Omega Men #38 (DC)
from May 1986

So this is how the story originally ended.  I love that cover.  As a huge, huge fan of Tom King's Omega Men, it looks relevant.  Reading the actual comic, the contents are relevant, too.  Surprisingly relevant.  There's Primus and Kalista leading a popular revolt against the Citadel.  I mean, that's the crux of the story even in King's version.  Put aside everything else, and King was telling exactly the same story.  I mean, clearly he tells it differently, but it's the same story all the same.  So that's really, really good to see.  I mean, there's plenty I don't recognize, whole characters, but there's also Tigorr and Doc, regardless of how different they are here.  Planets in the Vega System like Karna and Euphorix.  I mean, obviously King was drawing on existing material, but it's just...really great to see some of that stuff, and identify it so easily, and see the connective tissue...

It's fascinating, it really is.  So I get to the letters column, and I see what readers were thinking, and...

"Today I found out DC is cancelling..."

"It lacks direction."

"Even I felt my loyalties waning after the poor showing this issue."

To think even when everything was done absolutely right, Omega Men still suffered poor sales, it's kind of like the concept is cursed, really.  The letters and their responses from the editor present a heartbreaking portrait.  It's easy, in letters columns, to see how passionate creators really are, which is half of why they're so valuable.  I mean, sometimes they're clearly just the creators blowing smoke up their readers...well, you know, creating a cult-like atmosphere (which has become all too common in the columns being put together these days), but sometimes they seem absolutely genuine.

Or maybe it's just me reading into this one, because I know what happened next, well, several nexts later, and I find it so easy to find parallels...

The creators of the original Omega Men series have interesting legacies.  Todd Klein, the writer, ended up having a hugely distinguished career as a letterer.  He's singled out in these letters, as indicated above, as failing to present a clear picture of the series, which is kind of funny, since King clearly picked it out years later so effectively, and this issue proves that he didn't have to look very hard to find it.  Which means it's sad he never really got a chance to pursue writing in comics, even though he now seems like a visionary.  Still, legendary status in any creative capacity is no small potatoes.

Shawn McManus, the artist, did "A Game of You" in Neil Gaiman's Sandman, and so he's guaranteed to be remembered, too.  Seems he caught a number of bad breaks while working on Omega Men, necessitating apparently inadequate fill-in replacements on a number of issues.  But that cover...! 

So I'm very, very glad I found this issue and decided to read it.  Knowing the Omega Men existed before Tom King is one thing, but to see what they actually were, and how they originally ended their stories, is quite another. 

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Reading Comics 205 "Trips from the past month"

Here's a rundown of what I've been reading lately, sort of a hodgepodge of new and slightly less new material (new titles in bold, slightly les new titles in italics):

Batman #23, 25, 26 (DC)
Tom King is still doing wonders in this title.  The first issue is the Swamp Thing issue, while the latter two are the beginning of "The War of Jokes and Riddles".  I was thwarted in my attempts to find a copy of #24 (the proposal issue) and Batman/Elmer Fudd, alas.

Dark Knight III: The Master Race #9 (DC)
Miller/Azzarello/Kubert finally delivered the conclusion of this story.  I like how the ending is basically that Batman is finally acknowledging that he can learn from someone else.  Seems like a metaphor, Miller's concession that it was okay for Azzarello to help out.

Codename: Baboushka #1, 3 (Image)
What with Atomic Blonde hitting screens soon (based on his Coldest City graphic novel), I figured it was time I had a look at another Antony Johnston spy comic.  It's good stuff.

Dark Days: The Forge (DC)
The title of this event and the manner of starting it are peculiar things that still elude me, but this particular piece struck me as pure Scott Snyder.  He may not be my favorite, but I'm glad he's finally getting to tell a DC event comic.

Earth 2 #24 (DC)
Funny to go back to the early days (relatively speaking) of Earth 2 and read the story where this reality's Superman first reveals his costume.  Also interesting to see the Thomas Wayne Batman in action.  That's honestly one of my favorite Earth 2 elements to this day.

Earth 2: World's End #7 (DC)
The weekly comic spinoff got crapped on ten ways to...Wednesday, I guess.  But it reads okay to me, every time I sample it.  Includes a nice nod to the "lost" Alan Scott gay storyline from Earth 2's early days.

The Flash #14 (DC)
It's, I don't know, hilarious or sad, but I was reminded recently that Josh Williamson worked on Captain Midnight, a Dark Horse comic that received a Free Comic Book Day back in Williamson's pre-DC days, and a collection I received from one of those crate companies a few years back.  I was not a fan.  I outright dismissed it both times.  So this is one of the more remarkable turnarounds I've experienced as a reader, because I remain a fan of Williamson's recent work.  I'm torn about rereading the Captain Midnight collection.  What if I dismissed it for all the wrong reasons?  What if I convince myself I like it now just because I now associate good things with Williamson?  Anyway, this issue begins a Rogues arc.

Green Valley #1, 2, 3 (Image)
Max Landis made a name for himself writing the movie Chronicle, but I became a fan reading Superman: American Alien.  I'm glad I got around to reading some of his original concept comic Green Valley, about knights being confronted with what as of the last issue I read seems to be a time-traveling dude from more or less the present with future tech he doesn't really understand. 

Justice League Dark #35 (DC)
Focuses mostly on Zatanna.  Honestly, if her main distinguishing feature weren't casting spells by speaking backwards, Zatanna would be so much bigger.  Also glimpsed: Frankenstein and the lead from I, Vampire, two relatively short-lived New 52 characters whose series I caught up on in their collections a few months back.  Also, Zatanna's Identity Crisis actions are coming back to haunt her in the Rebirth era.  That's cool.

Justice League #33 (DC)
Funny to see what's become of the concepts Geoff Johns was exploring in this issue: 1) the Doom Patrol, in a different incarnation, now stars in a Young Animal series, 2) Jessica Cruz now stars in Green Lanterns, and 3) Lex Luthor has continued his strange heroics in the pages of Action Comics.  Clearly fruitful ideas, Geoff!

Justice League vs. Suicide Squad #1 (DC)
Love that DC gave Williamson a soft event book.  He deserves it.  Also love that Max Lord is revealed as the villain on the last page.

King #1 (Jet City)
I really wish Joshua Hale Fialkov could enjoy greater exposure.  This thematic update of Kamandi, however, is probably not the best way to go about it, entertaining though it may be.

Monstress #1, 12 (Image)
This is one of those books I've heard and heard and heard about, and so I figured I should finally have a look at it.  The extra-length first issue was reprinted at $1.99, so I scooped that up, plus what's counted as the most recent issue for a few months now (returning from hiatus soon!).  Marjorie Liu actually kind of interests me more as a creator who like Gene Yang is bringing an international voice to the table.  Seems a lot like Saga, insofar as it includes random elements of mature material.

Saga #43 (Image)
Speaking of which!  This special twenty-five cent issue (it's Image's 25th anniversary, yo!) was practically a gimme on two scores: 1) the price, obviously, and 2) the price combined with the fact that I've been a faithful reader in the past, but've lapsed in recent years.  So here was my chance to catch up.  Again the series seems almost as interested in cheap shock tactics as decent storytelling, which is what bumped me off the bandwagon, the seeming increased inability to balance these instincts.  I guess at this point it seems necessary, the cheap shock tactics.  The tactics this issue, of all issues (!), where potential new readers might have no idea what they're in for, include what's apparently a flippant trip to an abortion clinic, which is such a galvanizing issue, where you'll either get people to love or hate you depending on your conclusions.  And what's become typical of Saga, it reaches different conclusions (probably) than what they initially seem.  So I don't really know if I should care about this series again...

Saucer State #1, 2 (IDW)
I could not have been happier when Paul Cornell announced that his short-lived Vertigo series Saucer Country was due for a revival at IDW.  So when I had a chance to scoop it up, I scooped it up.  Funny that artist Ryan Kelly seems to have somewhat changed his style since the last time he drew these characters, but colorist Adam Guzowski does what he can to keep thing fairly consistent.  The story itself remains intriguing, by the way!

Superman: Doomed #2 (DC)
I've been trying to track this down (not too hard, but y'know) for a while, so I'm glad I finally succeeded.  This update of Doomsday not only led to the short-lived Doomed series that saw an updated Alpha Centurion debut in the New 52 (!), but also featured Brainiac a relative handful of months before his big New 52 event, Convergence, which this issue, knowingly or otherwise, alludes to.  There were so many complaints about Superman in the New 52, but I think a lot of them were a result of previous complaints that just kept snowballing rather than had a real basis in the comics themselves.  This was good stuff.

Superman #33, 42 (DC)
Speaking of Gene Yang (a little earlier; feel free to scroll up a little!), the latter issue is one of his, while the former is Geoff Johns'.  I think this was an especially good time to be reading Superman, personally, and yeah, it was New 52 material.

Wonder Woman #1 (DC)
Greg Rucka got a lot of hate, surprisingly, for his Rebirth run.  I guess he was too ambitious.  He ruffled feathers by contradicting Brian Azzarello's New 52 run (even though it wasn't all that popular...until fans didn't much care for the Finch run that followed it).  I still want to get around to reading more of it.  It's funny that the origin story is being revisited so much lately. Just goes to prove how neglected the character has been.  If she were as popular as she is important, this would not be happening.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Quarter Bin 113 "Wildcats/X-Men"

Wildcats/X-Men: The Modern Age #1 (Image/Marvel)
from August 1997

I was really hoping this comic would help explain the Wildcats a little better.  I mean, I get the premise, but I wanted more about the characters in the team, what helped make them stand out individually.  James Robinson, I think, didn't have the same interest.

But Adam Hughes at least makes everything look really nice. Hughes was a superstar artist in his own right, maybe not what one thought of as the Image model, but the Marvel/DC equivalent in the '90s.  His work here looks more traditional than his later covers, which really ramped up the Hughes appeal.

For what it's worth, the X-Men don't come off much better. Fans will say that's because the '90s weren't particularly kind to the X-Men, but it was a distinctive era.  Just not one that's reflected in this comic.  It seems to have wanted to present an iconic version of both teams, but in doing so glossed over what made either of them special.  That's always the risk with team books, let alone team-up books, trying to squeeze too many characters into the story, so none of them really get a chance to shine.  I mean, the Hellfire Club gets more of a shout-out than anyone...!

Well, it was worth a try.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Quarter Bin 112 "Teen Titans Turning Points"

Tales of the Teen Titans #59, 78 (DC)
The New Titans #71 (DC)
Teen Titans #16 (DC)
from November 1985, June 1987, November 1990, November 2004

Each of these issues kind of encapsulates a turning point for the Teen Titans, so that was pretty neat.  Tales #59 is a reprint of their first adventure under Marv Wolfman and George Perez, the start of a wildly popular run that rivaled the X-Men in the '80s.  Tales #78, meanwhile, features the team apparently splitting up.  New Titans #71, as you can tell from the cover, is an anniversary celebration.  Teen Titans #16 kind of once again reintegrates Superboy into Legion lore (long complicated history, there).

I don't think the Wolfman/Perez run ages particularly well.  I've read "The Judas Contract," and that did age well, but a lot of the soap opera elements that made the run so popular don't work as well today.  Reading Geoff Johns' Teen Titans again is always interesting, because that was one of the runs where he cut his teeth, that and JSA, as DC's resident continuity guy, which is funny because his Titans drastically revamped characters like Superboy [insert classic anecdote about the letter here] and Kid Flash while also giving the team its first successful run in more than a decade.

New Titans #71 also has the distinction of having Tom Grummett art.  Grummett went on to be a Superman artist, and in that way helped introduce the modern Superboy.  By 1990, apparently, his style was already set, so there was no trouble recognizing his work.

It's kind of amazing that Wolfman thought in the '80s that a Titans movie was imminent, which is far more humbling in 2017 than Stan Lee hyping a Spider-Man movie in the '90s.  But that's one of the many reasons to read back issues, to see what people were thinking back in the day...

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Quarter Bin 111 "Whitman Star Trek"

Star Trek: The Psychocrystals (Whitman)
from 1976

Some of the early Star Trek comics, before the franchise revival.  Technically at this point not only the original series but The Animated Series existed.  But this comic is pretty rubbish.  It barely seems to care about characterization.  Scotty's accent comes and goes, for instance, depending on whether or not the writer cares to make the effort. 

Whitman was repackaging Gold Key material, by the way:

Gold Key is the publisher history knows better.  Marvel briefly had rights to Star Trek around the release of The Motion Picture, but DC had gained control by Wrath of Khan, and held onto it for years.  At the moment, and on the whole doing a really good job, is IDW.  But Star Trek comics have never been as famous as Star Wars comics.  There the rights have always been pretty clear-cut: from Marvel (Howard Chaykin! drew the original adaptations) to Dark Horse to Marvel again.

But if you like the original series, Gold Key/Whitman's output would probably satisfy you.  The intent seems to have been to closely mirror the spirit of the TV adventures.  No doubt helped fans keep in touch with the spirit of the TV show.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Quarter Bin #110 "Will Eisner's Spirit"

The Spirit #60 (Kitchen Sink Press)
from October 1989

I confess to not having a lot of experience with Will Eisner, one of the giants of the comic book medium, whose creation of The Spirit influenced the artistry of comics all the way to the present.  These days a lot of fans will associate that impact with Frank Miller's Sin City, an association made more potent by Miller directing The Spirit (a movie that didn't get a lot of love, alas).

But as I read this issue, a different association came to mind.  Granted, this is with limited exposure, but I immediately thought of Jeff Smith, specifically RASL.  Have a look for comparison:


It's in the storytelling, the lettering (both apply to Smith's Bone, too, naturally).  I can't help but see parallels, and I wonder how many other fans have made the connection over the years.  Smith's biggest acknowledged source of inspiration was always Pogo, which I've likewise never had the pleasure to read.

Hmm.  Seems the lettering is the same.  But I haven't seen this lettering style outside of these examples.  I don't know. 

It's certainly worth considering, anyway.  Fascinating, in the issue, is the inclusion of creator notes on each included reprinted story.  Eisner, it seems, felt strongly about all of them.  Makes you wonder what comic book creators today would be saying about their work.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Quarter Bin 109 "Rocketman"

Rocketman #4 (Innovation)
from 1991

So apparently this was based on a classic serial, one that has been lost to history, much like this later comics adaptation.  The idea of the movie might have inspired the Rocketeer.  The comic, in its final issue, barely features the hero, but it seems pretty relevant, on the whole, to modern times, the age of terror.  I wonder if anyone else noticed that.

(In case you thought the serial wasn't real.)

The Rocketeer, meanwhile, was a kind of comic book version of Indiana Jones, insofar as it was an update of classic serials developed in the '80s, and later it became a movie, one of the '90s attempts at cashing in on the superhero success of Tim Burton's Batman, well before anyone was really ready for a lot more superheroes.

Maybe Rocketman (kind of reads like Dean Motter's Mister X, in some ways) will be revived again?

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Quarter Bin 108 "Alan Moore's From Hell"

From Hell #7 (Kitchen Sink Press)
from April 1995

I'm not an Alan Moore fan.  I appreciate the guy's legacy, but...I'm not an Alan Moore fan.  So I haven't gone out of my way to read his work.  When I see it in a back issue bin, I'll scoop it up, which is what happened here, but I've yet to find the thing that will change that basic fact.

From Hell was adapted into one of the many movies that disappointed Moore, and that's mostly how I even knew it existed.  It's a Jack the Ripper story, which seems right up Moore's alley, so it's not at all surprising that he wrote it.

The art, if I were to pick this up on the basis of the art alone, I think anyone would agree, not factoring Alan Moore into the equation, does not sell this material. So it's good that this particular issue seems important to the overall work.

In it, Moore has his Ripper perform a gruesome murder and mutilation.  During it, his Ripper loses his grip on reality.  I have to say, it's riveting.  Then Moore explains his creative process at the end of the issue, and that's worth reading, too. 

I didn't end up changing my opinion of Moore, but it was probably the best Moore I've read since Watchmen

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Quarter Bin 107 "Aron Wiesenfeld"

Deathblow and Wolverine #1 (Image)
from September 1996

Wow.  So I guess I'm not the first person to wonder whatever happened to Aron Wiesenfeld.  Read about that here.  Because the minute I saw this art, I had to wonder why he never became a comics superstar.  That art is positively phenomenal.  The coloring is itself completely out of the ordinary, but the level of detail is astonishing.

And the whole issue is like that.  Unbelievable.

The best thing I stumbled upon that day, by far.  This was one of those team-up comics between Image and various other companies that happened throughout the '90s, right about the point everyone was wondering how long the Image revolution was really going to last.  Deathblow in 2017 means absolutely nothing, and weirdly enough he barely registers in this issue, too, and maybe that's one of the reasons why.  Wolverine, though: not only does Wiesenfeld draw an exceptional Logan, he writes one, too. 

Here I'll acknowledge that Richard Bennett apparently "finished" the art, something that happens in a lot of Dan Jurgens comics, and I guess I'm still a little shaky on the concept.  Was Bennett merely the inker?  Or was he more involved?  Should I be heaping the Wiesenfeld praise on Bennett?  Or sharing it?

Either way, Wiesenfeld abruptly left comics, and became a traditional artist.  I suppose it's not unexpected.  Comics in some respects represent the formative development of any artist, learning perspective, detail, the "rules."  Which artists then tend to break.  I'm sure Wiesenfeld doesn't miss comics at all, but I gotta say, comics surely miss him...

Friday, June 9, 2017

Quarter Bin 106 "Challengers of the Unknown"

Challengers of the Unknown #5 (DC)
from July 1991

This was a series I originally discovered, randomly, rummaging through back issues, so it's always nice finding it again that way, even though eventually I read the complete story in the trade paperback collection that ought to be reprinted, perennially, as the classic it is.  Unfortunately it's mostly remembered, if at all, as the first pairing of Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, who later ended up collaborating on Batman: The Long Halloween, and a host of other stuff that brought them far greater acclaim.

Reading an issue again, now, is to be reminded just how special it really was, a truly inspired work of art in which Loeb felt free to write exactly as he wanted, completely untethered.  I became an amateur fan of the Challengers after discovering this, and sampled later versions, but beside the fact that none of those could ever hope to compete with it, I'm still surprised that DC hasn't even tried to bring them back recently, whether in the New 52 or, so far, in Rebirth.  Heck, even in the new Young Animal line.  Loeb's Challengers, like disgraced Gerard Jones's Green Lantern: Mosaic, was Vertigo material that was never identified as Vertigo material, even though in hindsight it clearly was, as Vertigo was in its nascent days, when Grant Morrison was doing Animal Man and Doom Patrol, and not so much The Invisibles

Reading these original issues also helps me keep tabs with what readers were thinking.  And you know the concept is doomed when the editor is begging those readers to spread the word, "and with any hope there will be more!"  This never means anything good.  And it's a shame to report, more than a quarter century later, that this stuff is still waiting to be discovered.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Quarter Bin 105 "Bone"

Bone #20, 22 (Cartoon, Image)
from October 1995, February 1996

I'm an avowed fan of Jeff Smith's Bone (and Jeff Smith in general), so I read the complete Bone saga some time ago, finally, in the handy One Volume Edition.  I have a friend to thank for turning me on to Bone in the first place, because otherwise such a comic would never have been on my radar, but I started reading around the time Smith ceded publishing to Image, for a time.  These issues actually catch the series in transition, and that's pretty fascinating in and of itself.  Smith finds himself justifying the business decision in the letters column.  History shows he later brought Bone back to its self-publishing roots at Cartoon Books, and later still reprint rights at Scholastic, where it found a whole new audience.

I stopped reading Bone regularly well before the end of the series, so reading the One Volume Edition was a way for me to find out just how much the story evolved, over time, how it became truly epic fantasy.  That's still developing in these issues, but in hindsight it's already apparent, although there's still plenty of the Bone cousins being the Bone cousins, more Peter Jackson's Fellowship of the Ring than his Return of the King, in terms of the hobbits. 

This is a series always worth revisiting.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Quarter Bin 104 "Detective Comics #627"

Detective Comics #627 (DC)
from March 1991

The New 52's Detective Comics #27 was one of my favorite single issues from that particular era, so it was pretty interesting to get my hands on a similar issue from an earlier era.  Like the later one, this celebratory issue reprints Batman's origin, but it also has other interpretations.  In fact, that's the whole issue, different eras presenting their versions of the classic first appearance of Batman.

Yeah, it's interesting.  You can tell each team based its versions on whatever it thought defined their particular age.  There's nothing particularly timeless about any of them.  This was before DC allowed its creators to deviate from the typical superhero script, something that didn't really happen until the lessons of Alan Moore and Frank Miller had become internalized and brought back from Vertigo, where they'd incubated. 

So suffice to say, this is one of those comics that's tough to read from a modern perspective.  You know there are different creative impulses at work, and you know there are different creative eras represented, but the best way to approach it is as a curiosity.  It doesn't really stand the test of time.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Quarter Bin 103 "Moon Knight"

Moon Knight #4, 7-10, 13-17 (Marvel)
from August 2014-September 2015

So, inspired by Jeff Lemire's recently concluded Moon Knight, and remembering I'd once read the last issue of Brian Michael Bendis's run, too, and last year so other back issues (I could check to see how much I may have duplicated my reading, but...nah), I decided to have a look at some older stuff, from the likes of Warren Ellis (I figured if anyone was comparable to Lemire it'd be him), Brian Wood (I have a spotty history with him), and Cullen Bunn (not the biggest fan).

And Greg Smallwood, by the way.  He illustrates the Wood issues.  It's clear he hadn't yet developed the intricacy of what he'd later bring to Lemire's run, but it's still fun having that continuity.

Of course none of them were ever going to do exactly what Lemire later did.  That would kind of diminish Lemire's work, I think.  But there's stuff here and there. I mean, it's the same character, who long ago developed a reputation for multiple personas. 

Ellis has Declan Shalvey on art.  Shalvey has kind of become a big deal recently.  Bunn doesn't have anyone with name value doing his run, and he has the least distinguished storytelling, the stuff you'd expect from someone who has a far more generalized concept of the character, who recognizes the trappings but can't quite exploit them. 

It was interesting, reading more Moon Knight.  That's about all I can say about these issues, seeing where the character came from immediately before Lemire.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Moon Knight #14 (Marvel)

The final issue of Jeff Lemire's Moon Knight sort of follows its own logic.  I struggled a little to find resolution with it, but here it is:

Lemire originally set out to explore Marc Spector's state of mind.  He started the series with Spector in an asylum, once and for all questioning his sanity.  Subsequent issues explored Spector's various identities, while distancing him from Khonshu, the Egyptian moon god who made him a superhero. 

(In a lot of ways, Moon Knight is more a DC kind of character than he ever was Marvel.)

But then Lemire decided, if there was to be any kind of resolution, Khonshu had to come back.  The issue details Spector's decision that he doesn't have to confront Khonshu at all.  All he has to do is quit giving Khonshu so much power over him.  If this were any other writer, Khonshu could just as easily say, "It ain't that easy."  He'd exert his control over Moon Knight all over again, the way he did in the first arc.

But the thing is, Lemire's Spector is defined by the relationship between his separate identities, how this is something he's had since he was a kid, and has gradually found some use for, especially as a superhero, where compartmentalizing comes in handy.  He never had to deny himself, but rather finally become comfortable. 

And so he's able to take Khonshu's power over him away.  It really is that easy.  Does that solve all of Spector's problems?  Well, no.  But at least he no longer has a moon god usurping his sense of control, even if he isn't always in control. 

Greg Smallwood's art, as it has been throughout the series, is sensational.  It used to be, I loved the covers first and foremost.  I mean, it's kind of a Saga thing.  But the interior art has become more impactful, I think. 

One of my all-time favorite creative runs.

Quarter Bin 102 "Road to Flashpoint"

Flashpoint was a seminal comics moment for me, and it remains one of my happiest memories and favorite stories.  I'd been bummed that Geoff Johns started writing The Flash again, only to end after twelve issues, but I never got to finish reading those issues until now.  Of course, I was happy once I read Flashpoint, and even happier about his New 52 work (Justice League and Green Lantern were highlights of many a year), so I gave up being upset that these were the final issues.

The Flash #10-12 (DC)
from June, July 2011.

Drawn by Scott Kolins (who'd done a lot of Johns's Wally West Flash series) and Francis Manapul (who'd launched this one with Johns, and would lead the New 52 reboot), these are "Road to Flashpoint" stories that teased a character called Hot Pursuit, who turned out to be Barry Allen from an alternate reality (he probably needs to return at some point, despite his fate here), only to feature the return of Eobard Thawne, the Reverse-Flash, ahead of his role in Flashpoint.

There's a strong emphasis on Bart Allen who I enjoyed reading so much in the '90s as Impulse but who Johns transformed into Kid Flash in the pages of Teen Titans, which was nice.  The new 52 version of the character totally revamped the concept, which angered a lot of fans, but I never let it bother me.

Ironically, this was the last time DC had letters in its comics, and in the last two issues apparently Flash finally joined the bandwagon, only for the idea to go away again and never (so far) return.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Digitally Speaking...58 "Neil Gaiman's Eternals"

Okay, so I've been doing a pretty lousy job of talking through my comiXology library, but really it's because there hasn't been much to speak of.  I guess the material was kind of top-loaded or something.  But the good news is that very shortly I'll have finally read all of it, all the Submit stuff and the Image stuff that came in those massive bundles and everything else I got several years back.  What I'm talking about today, actually, is something I added recently because of that dwindling supply, something I'd read when it was originally released but hadn't thought that much about at the time, but having now reread it...
So yeah, I wish I'd read the whole thing.  I guess I wouldn't have appreciated it at the time, but at least I'd have read it.  I'm talking about Neil Gaiman's Eternals, a rare Marvel project from about a decade ago, when he was dabbling in comics again, figuring out where he might still fit in after having left the medium for a full-time career writing books.  Part of why I had a look at the freebie first issue comiXology had available was that I've now read the complete Sandman, and that's a great feeling in and of itself.  Part of it is that I've read a few issues of the comics adaption of American Gods, which is the Neil Gaiman book (along with its sequel Anansi Boys) that to date is my Neil Gaiman prose standout, and reading American Gods in any medium made me realize what Neil had done with it all over again, and so why not have a look at Eternals again, right?
I remember thinking, at the time, that Eternals didn't seem to live up to the reputation Neil had based on Sandman.  I don't know if it's Marvel's typical inability or lack of interest in keeping its back library visible, but Eternals seemed to blink in and out of existence.  It was Neil's version of a Jack Kirby concept that the King developed as his Marvel answer to his DC New Gods.  I thought that it was merely Marvel handing Neil something that seemed vaguely expansive in the Sandman sense, but that Neil didn't seem to have found as interesting as that, and so the result was easy to dismiss.
Well, I found it a great deal more interesting this time. It's a different story from Sandman, of course, although in a lot of ways you might consider the Eternals to be comparable to the Endless Ones.  I didn't really know much about the Endless Ones before actually reading Sandman, so I didn't know that.
But what really struck me was the art, from John Romita, Jr.  At the time he did Eternals, John was still very much a Marvel guy, and I was still very much a DC guy trying to figure out Marvel.  In fact, probably a large part of the reason I found it so easy to reject Eternals was because it was a Marvel project, and John was definitely a Marvel artist, whose style was something I'd never really tried to figure out.  Then I had a chance to associate it with something else, Mark Millar's Kick Ass, and still later, Superman, because John eventually became a DC guy. 
It's not because he became a DC guy that I suddenly started liking John's work.  I know plenty of DC readers who struggled a great deal with his Superman.  But it probably didn't hurt.  I know it was impossible to think of anything else when reading that issue of Eternals again.  All I could think was, I love this art!  And maybe that helped get me into the story, too.
Yeah, though, it's the combination of the plot, and my affinity for the writer and the artist.  I think that's a good equation for liking anything, really, what it is and who's responsible for it, and I guess whether they brought their best material to the table. 
Well, I guess at some point I will have to read the rest of it...

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Superman #12, 13 (DC)

Anyone unfortunate enough to be following my lengthy Goodreads reviews knows I recently read the two collections of the New 52 series Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E., which was the first time I read the series.  I'd previously read the New 52 Frankenstein in the pages of Pete Tomasi and Patrick Gleason's Batman and Robin, and fell in love with the guy all over again (he originally debuted in this incarnation in Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers of Victory).

So flipping through back issues of Tomasi and Gleason's Rebirth series Superman, I was reminded that Frankenstein makes appearances here, too.  I couldn't have been happier that Tomasi and Gleason were given the Superman assignment.  I knew instantly that DC was rewarding them for knocking Batman and Robin out of the park, even if readers didn't seem to have notice.  But I haven't so far been much of a dedicated reader of their Superman because...I really want Gleason on art.  Every issue. 

Which on a biweekly basis, is never going to happen.

And it really doesn't have to, either, as I've gradually come to accept.  It doesn't hurt to have ringers like Doug Mahnke.  Mahnke has been working at DC since the turn of the millennium, and his stock has consistently risen, even as his profile has remained consistent.  If that makes sense. Anyway, he remains important to the company, and that remains true in the pages of Superman.

He's the artist who did Frankenstein for Seven Soldiers, by the way.  But he's not doing the character the same way in these pages.  He's been softening his style for years.  Some readers think his Superman now contrasts with Gleason's nicely, and I wonder if that has become the point.

Frankenstein himself, though, remains a joy to read.  The version who appears here is once again an agent of S.H.A.D.E., and seems to have become an intergalactic agent of said agency.  By the second issue, however, the point becomes finally resolving something from the old New 52 series, the status of his relationship with the Bride (no, not Uma!).  In that series they'd parted ways, and that was a big part of the reason why Frankenstein was in the shape he was when Tomasi and Gleason found him in Batman and Robin.  So the four of them (five, I guess!) come full circle in the pages of Superman.

Yes, the whole two-part episode is a metaphor about Superman's new status quo as both husband and father, but I can't help but appreciate this nod to Frankenstein, and his previous appearances.

Moon Knight #9 (Marvel)

This is kind of the issue where Jeff Lemire lays out the rest of the series, and so it's fun reading it now after having already read four of the remaining five (the fifth being published on Wednesday) issues, seeing how he immediately delivers on its promise.

I love how easily he explains each of Marc Spector's personalities, especially the sci-fi one that for all I know Lemire actually invented for this series.  I admit that I don't know Moon Knight well enough to answer that mystery for myself, but the letters column seems to suggest that he did.  And can I just say how glad I am that this comic has a letters column?  I know he's had one in the pages of Descender, so clearly it's an important legacy for Lemire, a way for readers to know what other fans are thinking, and clearly Moon Knight inspires a lot of interest, and even a lot of interaction between readers, who are reading the letters columns too, responding to printed letters, so that actually becomes part of the fun.  The responses Lemire and the editors give are kinda weightless, going for the positive no matter what, sometimes outright ignoring what a letter actually said just to plug this or that, but that's a part of letters columns, having a response (I hate it when they don't), so the actual content of the responses doesn't really matter.

Well anyway, this issue is all about Marc deciding to take on Khonshu, the moon god who made him Moon Knight.  The early issues I loved so much actually featured Khonshu pretty heavily, and I'm just now realizing that he's largely absent in later issues.  Those earlier ones had Khonshu talking a lot about how he was using Marc's mental issues against him, which in hindsight sounds kind of bad, so to see Marc in a position where he seems in control, even when he isn't, is actually more fun to read, and so all over again I'm glad I made the decision to keep reading. 

And all the more curious as to how Marc resolves this conflict with his creator...

Green Lanterns #18 (DC)

Not reading this regularly since last summer, there are things that've happened in the pages of Green Lanterns that I've missed, obviously.  But thankfully, there are always back issues available in comic book stores. And thank goodness, because Sam Humphries finally told the secret origin of the First Lantern, Volthoom.

Volthoom was a character Geoff Johns introduced late in his run on Green Lantern, in the relaunch volume during the New 52.  Johns introduced or revamped so many elements of Green Lantern lore it can be tempting to overlook or underestimate some.  Volthoom seemed particularly throwaway, barely a sketch, just an excuse for another overblown event when it seemed Johns had maxed out with Blackest Night

But fortunately, Humphries is able to handle this one, too.  He's already been breathing new life into the Johns creations Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz, the lead characters of Green Lanterns, the two actual Green Lanterns that Johns created, characters who seemed like they were going to head into the scrap heap of history while Robert Venditti did seemingly everything else.  But Venditti was doing what DC wanted him to do, which was to chart new waters, same as Humphries, which is to explore the known again.

And again, thank goodness, because what he does with Volthoom is fascinating.  He actually completely rewrites the origins of the whole concept.  He has Volthoom come from the year 3079, on a parallel Earth.  So yes, Volthoom is actually human.  And he and his mother create the first lantern to try and save the world.  Only, things backfire and Volthoom has to search the multiverse throughout time to try and salvage their efforts.  In so doing, he encounters the Guardians before they were the Guardians.  And he has the Guardians remove their emotions into a new battery, and in the process the first ring is created, and it is given to Volthoom.  But it's too much power for him, and so the Guardians create seven Green Lanterns to defeat him.  (Will we get to meet these guys?) 

And then, fast-forward to the present, when Humphries presents the next chapter in Volthoom's story, to be explored in other issues.

Venditti's Green Lantern never really clicked with me.  He's still writing it in Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps, but I'm so, so glad Humphries is writing Green Lanterns, for stuff like this.  Maybe he can't be the concept engine Johns was, but he's eminently capable of exploring the world Johns created.  And that is more than good enough.  For a lot of readers, this will actually be their first exposure to it, to Volthoom and Simon and Jessica, and everyone benefits from that.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Moon Knight #7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13 (Marvel)

Last year Jeff Lemire launched the latest Moon Knight series, and I had a look and it was absolutely brilliant.  I mean, one-of-my-favorite-comics-of-2016 brilliant.  I read the opening arc, and...that was it, until a few days ago.

It was nothing against the series, obviously.  But as you can probably tell I haven't been spending huge amounts of coinage on comics these days.  I figured, I'd read one genius Jeff Lemire Moon Knight story, and that was good enough.  Well, I finally reconsidered that policy.  I'm missing three issues of the run to date at this point, but otherwise I think I've caught up nicely.  Apparently the next issue is released on Wednesday, and it's the last issue.  But what a powerful creative legacy Lemire and pals will have left behind.  This really has become one of my all-time favorite comics.

I'm not a Moon Knight fan.  I mean, I've never sat down and read the character in any dedicated fashion, until Lemire.  I've dabbled in back issues (and have a few more queued up), but as far as I'm concerned right now, I've just been reading the definitive Moon Knight.  I don't see the point of humoring a wildly different approach, any approach that treats him as just another superhero. 

Because Lemire writes a very specific version, one that completely embraces Moon Knight's given idiosyncrasies, his multiple personalities (paging fans of M. Night Shyamalan's 2017 blockbuster comeback Split), and spends the entire series keeping readers guessing about how much of it is mental illness and how much the poor guy being screwed around with. 

But never for a minute does Lemire slack on keeping the focus incredibly tight.  It's always very specifically about Marc Spector's perspective, which plays so well to Lemire's strengths as a writer, his perennial interest in isolated people constantly having the rug pulled out from them, new information being revealed, the story constantly being elevated and never diverging from the original vision...

It's good stuff.  It really, really is.  And the art, from Lemire's many collaborators, is astounding.  As far as Marvel is concerned, I have to wonder if anyone has done anything this stellar recently.  I mean, I loved Matt Fraction's Hawkeye, which was a master class in exploring superheroes at a casual level, and Tom King's Vision, which was a master class in total character deconstruction, but Moon Knight goes well, well beyond them both, Lemire (and company) in total creative control.  King's Vision, I can never quite equate with his DC stuff because the whole story is inevitable.  Fraction's Hawkeye, it's so casual it never feels like it has any weight.  But Lemire's Moon Knight, it's both unpredictable and heavy storytelling.  I mean, you know Lemire will keep you guessing, but in a really, really good way. 

Well, apparently one issue remaining...

Earth 2: Society #22 (DC)

This is the final issue of Earth 2: Society, as well as the conclusion to the whole New 52 version of Earth 2.  I'm glad the series stayed on the publishing rolls well into the Rebirth era, that Dan Abnett was given a chance to give the concept a proper ending.  I may not have been a dedicated reader, but I loved that Earth 2 was always an alternate to the New 52, right from the start, an Elseworlds book, in some respects, in which alternate versions of characters and concepts were given a chance to breathe, for quite a lengthy period of time.

I know plenty of readers complained about the quality of the material over the years, especially after James Robinson left and World's End seemed to entirely dilute a product they no longer saw as worth the attention.  But DC, to its credit, kept the concept alive, and World's End as a weekly companion series still led to an actual Earth 2 event, Convergence, that ended up leading indirectly to Rebirth.

Society ended mostly because DC decided to bring back the classic Justice Society concept.  Earth 2 was always an alternate JSA, an effort to reinterpret some of DC's oldest characters, to take them out of the Golden Age and make them contemporaries in every sense to their successors.  It's a shame, actually, that we never got a proper team-up between Earth 2 and Justice League.  Just imagine...!

But Abnett ends it perfectly.  Quietly.  Just a meditation on things finally settling down, and the last rolls of how Earth 2 diverges from the rest of continuity.  Dick Grayson's son has become Robin.  Helena Wayne, Bruce Wayne's daughter, has become Batman.  If this were Marvel and if Helena had been in her own series, that would've been a huge problem for some fans.  But Earth 2 kind of became DC's Astro City, a self-contained story with a huge cast of characters, each with their own legacies (which is to say, different from the Legion of Super-Heroes).

Abnett probably realized that of all the characters appearing in the final issue, the new Batman and Robin most deserved being singled out.  In a lot of ways, Batman had become the unspoken lead of Earth 2.  In the original concept, Bruce Wayne was among the icons to die in the alternate version of how the first arc in Justice League played out.  But another Batman later emerged: Thomas Wayne's.  This was one of the most clever things Earth 2 did over the years, creating an ongoing version of a character who first appeared in Flashpoint.  But eventually, even Thomas died, and Dick Grayson took over.  Apparently Dick died in the penultimate issue of Society, and so Helena's ascension to the role is something that happens between issues.

Well, like I said, in some other reality, Earth 2 and Society itself continues, because that's the kind of storytelling that made it all worth it. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Flash #22, and thoughts on "The Button" in general

The four-part "Button" arc concludes with the dramatic return of Jay Garrick, the Golden Age Flash, as well as prelude to Doomsday Clock, Geoff Johns's November-launching DC Rebirth event that finally delivers on the promise of integrating Watchmen into regular company lore.  I know at least one fan who thinks this is inherently a terrible idea.  Spent a great deal of time last year arguing against his brick wall about the sacredness of Alan Moore's iconic original story.  Alan Moore has a way of inspiring that kind of lunatic devotion, and I can't say I'll ever really understand that.  As far as I'm concerned, the guy is a hypocrite.  He thinks he operates by a separate set of rules just because in the '80s he was considered the greatest comic book writer of that time, a reputation that more or less still persists.  He borrowed the creator rights crusade other creators from that time staked a lot more of their careers on, creators who spent their time creating original works as a matter of course, rather than spending it working very deliberately on the ideas of others, as he very demonstrably did, regardless of what else can be said about his work...

But that's neither here nor there, really.  Let's talk about some creators who are proving vital in 2017.  (Jerusalem may be an eminently worthy piece of literature.  Moore's ego will probably prevent me from judging for myself anytime soon.  Shame.  That's the first rule of literature, that you don't put the cart before the horse.  But then, there's also a tradition of writers attempting to make themselves more famous by reputation than by their actual creative prowess.  Seemingly to give their work a little attention.  Except with Moore he seems to begrudge attention.  And that's the real problem, here.)

I'm talking about Geoff Johns, who is given conceptual credit for "The Button," because it follows DC Universe Rebirth, and leads to Doomsday Clock, so naturally he has a vested interest in how "Button" worked out.  I'm talking Tom King, who wrote one of its four chapters.  I'm talking Howard Porter, who since JLA has never really had the spotlight put on his art.  I'm talking Josh Williamson, whose work in the pages of The Flash has been excellent all along, but whose role in writing three of the four chapters of "Button" has suddenly thrust him into a new level of significance within the elites of DC creators.  As is, he's becoming one of the elites.

Even at four chapters, "The Button" is a story that progressed so deliberately that there seems to have been very little actual story to it, but as a sequel to Flashpoint along with every other thing that can be said about it, everything about it seemed inevitable, except the skill and finesse of the storytelling is actually what makes it read so smoothly, and again, that falls completely at the feet of Williamson.  Anyone can be told what's expected of them, what elements to use, what's supposed to happen, but if they don't make it work, that's pretty clear.  Williamson makes it work.  He makes it work so effortlessly, the result is that he seems to have done hardly anything at all.  Yet he's done a truly incredible job.  Superhero comics can be such thankless storytelling, with a long tradition of generic storytelling, adventure quests filled with scene after scene of good guys and bad guys doing their thing, and yet, even Williamson's Reverse-Flash, who ends up making a comeback of his own, aside from everyone else making splashy appearances, it's just as easy to overlook his significance as everything else.  Reverse-Flash, the classic one who caused Barry Allen hell not only in Flashpoint but "The Trial of the Flash," one of the longest Flash stories ever, until a few years ago virtually forgotten in the face of Barry's death in Crisis on Infinite Earths, who actually becomes a kind of new Psycho-Pirate, the character who remembered Crisis happened when everyone else forgot.  And you can see where even that's significant, how it ties everything together.

Williamson, in just the material I've read so far, has been telling excellent Flash stories already, but "The Button" has put him over the top.  I loved Flashpoint.  At the very start of this blog, it saved me as a reader.  I love that it has once again proven important (and also in the Flash TV series in the just-concluded third season, which presented its own interpretation of Flashpoint and its consequences). 

I love that kind of resonant storytelling.  I'm glad Moore was able to write things that connected so powerfully with readers.  But I'm sorry it came at the expense of his willingness to stay connected with the stories that made it possible.  He closed himself off.  What I value so much about storytelling is the ability to make connections, not wall them off.  That's what Moore loves, too, but he seems incapable of admitting it at this point.  He thinks everything exists in isolation, unless he says otherwise.  Things like "The Button," and the work of Josh Williamson in general, prove otherwise, as far as I'm concerned. 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Reading Comics 204 "Fifth Trip 2017"

American Gods #2 (Dark Horse)
Amazingly, this adaption of the Neil Gaiman book still really hasn't reached the actual concept of the story.  Although Spider does drink an amazing amount of mead, and beats up a rather tall leprechaun.

Bane: Conquest #1 (DC)
Chuck Dixon and Graham Nolan reunite and return to the chronicles of Bane.  The results may baffle readers who are less familiar with Vengeance of Bane (parts 1 & 2) and more "Knightfall," Dark Knight Rises, Tom King's recent "I Am Bane," or any manner of terrible Bane appearances over the years, but they're entirely in-character, especially, again, for the Bane of Vengeance of Bane (parts 1 & 2).  The luchadore mask Nolan gives Bane for this comic is a fun little nod to the fact that the character is, technically, Latino, even though that never seems to come up other than his base of operations and/or origins.

Batman #21 (DC)
The Flash #21 (DC)
Batman #22 (DC)
Parts 1-3 of "The Button" see Tom King and Josh Williamson collaborate on a sequel to Flashpoint (the importance of this classic story to yours truly is chronicled in the early period of this blog) that also helps set up later DC-wide storytelling first introduced by DC Universe Rebirth.  Very, very good storytelling here.

Blue Beetle #8 (DC)
Giffen/DeMatteis have apparently taken over the title as of this issue, and bring a strong Larfleeze feel to the proceedings.  I loved the original Jaime Reyes series post-Infinite Crisis, and so it's great to read his Blue Beetle again.  The big draw for the issue, however, is that the magical scarab that has granted him powers (and/or de facto Iron Man suit) all these years has been taken from him.  So he and Ted Kord (the second and most famous Blue Beetle) make a bold decision: Jaime will now, even if temporarily, revive Ted's classic costume.  Yeah!

Divinity III: Stalinverse #4 (Valiant)
Matt Kindt will be moving on to Eternity, a sequel rather than continuation to Divinity, so this is the conclusion of this particular vision.  And I think, having read it twice, he came up with a good one:
"This world you've built may be real.  But you know it is not true.  You read books when you were younger.  Just as I did.  Do you not remember?  We are similar, you and I.  We were not forced to read.  We were encouraged.  But my adoptive parents raised me.  Treated me as their own.  They gave me books.  Science fiction was my favorite.  I read everything they gave me.  It wasn't until much later that I realized what they'd really done.  My parents couldn't force me...or anyone to be good.  Just as the Soviet Union cannot.  All they could do was present me with their example.  And with stories.  With writing.  With ideas.  Through those books I learned the danger of power.  I learned of the terrible effects of violence and conflict.  Of the unending cycle of war that we should be working to break.  And I learned the importance of love and to be loved.  Earth...humanity?  They are our children, Kazmir.  They can't be forced to learn.  They must learn by example.  They must be taught with stories.  With experience.  We have the power of gods, Kazmir.  Yet you choose to live a parasitic life inside Myshka.  And you choose to obey a small-minded oligarch.  But there is an entire universe out there for you.  Worlds to see.  Galaxies to explore.  Just like in the books we read when we were younger.  I am sorry for what happened to us out the unknown.  I am sorry I did not bring you back when I returned.  And I am sorry that Myshka broke your heart.  I understand why you came back for revenge.  What I don't understand is why wouldn't you stay out there?  Why wouldn't you go further?  Why wouldn't you want to see more?  Our conflict will have a winner and a loser.  That is the nature of the game.  But why should we confine ourselves to the game?  Ti these pieces?  To this artificial boundary?  To Earth?  When there is the unknown all around us?  Waiting to be explored?  I tell you all of this, Kazmir, not to "win."  But to set you free."
That's the best argument an hero has probably ever made to their enemy, in a comic book.  It's an argument that can only be made in a comic book, I think.  It's a perfect synopsis of superhero logic, as has Divinity been from the start.  I don't know why Divinity hasn't become more important among comic book readers.  It's the Watchmen of intellectual superhero storytelling.  It's surely one of the most fascinating comics I've ever read.  Every issue has someone involved in creating the issue provide commentary.  Most of it is somewhat hugely overblown praise. Most of it seems to miss the point.  It's not just how it's executed that makes Divinity great, but its ideas.  I'm hugely glad to have read along.  And to see where Kindt goes next.

Planet of the Apes/Green Lantern #3 (Boom!/DC)
This latest mash-up is about as good as Green Lantern/Star Trek (which is to say, good), but it's the art I came to see.  Omega Men's Barnaby Bagenda, to be precise.  That guy deserves to reach the stratosphere, like his collaborator, Tom King.  Hopefully it'll happen at some point.

Green Lanterns #22 (DC)
The adventures of upstarts Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz have now reached the stage where they're actively interacting with the rest of the Green Lantern Corps.  Continues to be what I've long hoped to read in a Green Lantern comic again.

Nightwing #19, 20 (DC)
Well, hot damn.  Tim Seeley has turned Nightwing into a must-read after all.  Nightwing has been so hit-and-miss since the Dixon/Grayson years, a lot of creators coming in hot and then sort of sputtering out.  This includes Grayson, Seeley and Tom King's bold revision that saw Nightwing become a spy for a couple years.  But to take Nightwing away from Dick Grayson is to take away the essential part of the character, no matter how intriguing the results.  Too many of these writers have tried to forget this or that element of the character.  Seeley seems to have built not only on the Grayson momentum, but folded Dick's Batman and Robin days back into his adventures.  "Nightwing Must Die" is a Dr. Hurt story (the whole thing plays nicely with Batman and Robin, Grant Morrison memories), but it remembers that Dick's whole history is what defines him, perhaps more than any other superhero.  Possibly the two best issues of Nightwing I've ever read (Grayson: Futures End notwithstanding).

Savage Dragon #223 (Image)
If you were to read, in 2017, only one comic book series in its entirety to figure out what superheroes are all about, I think Savage Dragon would have to be that series.  Erik Larsen is the Image creator who never gave up on the original vision of the company, who never decided to pursue other interests at the expense of the creative freedom and opportunity his vision gave him.  The letters column is almost more important than the comic itself this time:

"Change is inevitable and being more stuck in the past is no solution. Styles change, people change. You loved that old stuff because you were 12 and that was your sweet spot. You may not want change but I crave it. Doing the same drawings the same way for decades is mind-numbingly monotonous. I love nothing more than finding new ways of tackling a similar problem. I look at the older issues and see all the mistakes. I see all the poor drawings and attempts to hide my deficiencies behind a wall of crosshatching and it doesn't do much for me. The lines aren't defining shapes and establishing light sources. They're lines for the sake of lines. Emulating that seems insane. 

Strong iconic poses are great, sure, but ultimately, I'm trying to tell a story here, not compose pictures to be popped onto T-shirts and lunchboxes. And given the choice of repeating a familiar shot or finding something new--nine times out of ten I'll go with the new.

It's not an easy path. Some artists get stuck in a rut, forever repeating and emulating their old work. Readers get bored and move on. Others keep trying new and different approaches but that can alienate old readers who liked the way things had been. There's no simple solution, clearly, but in order to preserve my sanity, I need to keep moving. If I'm not kept engaged, I can't expect my audience to be. If I'm bored, it's reflected in the work. So I tend to try something new. Sometimes it's successful and sometimes it's not, but hopefully it's worth your attention.
And honestly, it's important to unlearn what you've learned. A lot of what made earlier work vibrant and full of life was the learning process. I was figuring stuff out. And part of that involved screwing up. I can look back at old art and see where arms were clearly too long or faces were constructed poorly, where compositions and anatomy and perspective are all skewed and line work makes no sense. It's hard to recreate that--and why would I want to? It would be like going back to high school."
To my mind, it reads like Larsen becoming the Bill Watterson of comic books.

Superman #22 (DC)
I really need to read more of this run.

Old Man Logan #22 (Marvel)
Jeff Lemire continues his concluding run with Wolverine exploring the character's fictional past, brilliantly, literally revisiting famous stories (at one point his origin in the pages of a Hulk comic, complete with the original dialogue).  If anyone had to tell Old Man Logan stories as a surrogate to actual Wolverine stories, I'm glad it was Lemire.  He proves why it was such a good idea all over again.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Thoughts on FCBD 2017

Well, Free Comic Book Day 2017 is in the books.  How was yours truly's experiences this year?

I'd say pretty good.  The turnout at Zimmie's (Lewiston, Maine), at least at the point I went, was fairly tepid, but that was because of the weather.  For the preceding few days rain had been predicted and I think most people were driven away even by the drizzly conditions that actually surfaced.  I got in line with about a dozen minutes to spare, and it wasn't an especially long line, based on past experience.  It was mostly families with small kids (a reliable presence any FCBD), plus a few typical comic book store patrons.

The most shocking thing was that no one seemed particularly interested in excited chatter.  That's the biggest change from past FCBD experiences.  I blame, again, the weather, although again, I wasn't in line for very long.  I like to get there early, try and be the first one there, or among the first, and that didn't happen this year.  I don't know if all the chatter died during the wait, in the anxious anticipation of the last few minutes until the store opened.  The most exciting thing that happened was someone behind me dropping a little rubber ball they'd been playing with, the ball rolling under a car, and someone they were with saying that was for the best.  But yeah, the ball rolled back into reach, in case you were worried.

Then the store opened, and the cosplay presence, at the opening hour, was a New Hampshire Ghostbuster.  Ghostbusters have showed up at this store's FCBD in the past, so that wasn't a big surprise.  Their display in the store included several books, encompassing both the original movie era and the new one, two of them the "real" books referenced in the movies.  So that was fun.

Shuffling up to the offerings, I'd already decided what I wanted to get, and that's exactly what I got, so there wasn't much of a surprise or debate there.  This year I decided to be happy to not even have a shot at just anything that looked interesting.  I didn't plot to go to another participating store (there aren't any in the area anyway), or become upset about missing one or another release. 

Besides, I took advantage of the sales in the store, too, and treating the visit as another of my sporadic trips to the store, catching up with stories I wanted to read, and anything else that caught my eye.  I got a lot of good stuff, but I'm going to talk only about the freebies here.

So here's what I got and what I thought:

I Hate Image (Image)
Yeah, I wouldn't have predicted, just a few weeks ago, that I would've been interested in this.  Skottie Young was an artist I loved passionately a few years ago, when he was doing the Oz adaptations with Eric Shanower, but then those comics ended and he moved on to I Hate Fairyland at Image.  I Hate Fairyland, to all intents and purposes, looked like a release valve, a way for Skottie to express how much he hated doing the Oz stuff.  And I was greatly taken aback.  Shocked!  But then a few weeks back, I revisited the Oz stuff.  Time and distance and all that.  It became less precious.  Artists like to stretch themselves.  Skottie had become tied down to one particular association, and it was kind of bigger than him.  Even as he was making his name doing it, it was also as much if not more about the material than Skottie Young.  So of course he wanted to distance himself from it.

I Hate Image, meanwhile, is part of the company's 25th anniversary celebration.  In the same way Skottie skewers fairyland tropes in the series this special is based on, he viciously skewers Image.  Kind of refreshing!  Definitely fun to read!  And it also kind of shows what Skottie thinks most fans will know about Image's legacy in 2017.  Here's what I learned:
  • Lying Cat really is the star of Saga
  • The Walking Dead has kind of become the most famous thing Image ever did.  It's referenced twice by Skottie, once for the comic and once for the TV show.
  • There are a ton of references to other material, some more obvious than others.  You kind of really need to know more about them to really get the more obvious ones.
  • Chew has reached the status of definitely standing out from the pack.  In just three panels the concept is sold better than another one a few pages earlier that I assume references Jason Aaron's Southern Bastards, but wouldn't know without looking it up.
  • The Wicked + The Divine, which has been one of the company's biggest buzz books in recent years, doesn't seem to rate anything more than a kind of mocking reference about a dance club that actually spends more time referencing recently deceased pop music acts than the comic.
  • Which brings about a montage of semi-famous Image superheroes.  For whatever reason, Savage Dragon is lumped into this scene, even though he's one of two company-existence-spanning characters still in print today.  More on the other in a moment.
  • Yeah, the other's Spawn.  He gets one of the featured acts of the comic, even though he's been about as irrelevant as Savage Dragon for years, despite the fact that both are two hundred plus issues into their runs.
  • Then Skottie ruthlessly mocks famous Image creators themselves.  Apparently Todd McFarlane really loves to call people "bud."  The mot hilarious scene of the whole comic.
I came away loving Skottie Young all over again.

Keyser Soze: Scorched Earth (Red 5)
Red 5 used to be known, at least by me, for releasing a new Atomic Robo FCBD story every year.  But Red 5 doesn't publish Atomic Robo anymore (that would be IDW).  But the company still managed to interest me this year.  Keyser Soze is the infamous lead character of Bryan Singer's breakout movie, The Usual Suspects, the character Kevin Spacey is playing all along but you don't know it until the end.  (Edward Norton is actually the actor who attempted to make a career out of characters like this, starting the year after Usual Suspects was released, in Primal Fear.)  You might think doing a Keyser Soze follow-up is about twenty-two years late, but the character and the concept behind the character totally holds up, as this comic demonstrates.  It's the mystique of Keyser Soze that makes him so fascinating, his ability to dominate even in his (apparent) absence, a storytelling idea that still remains largely absent in fiction today. There's some hoodoo in the story, Keyser lighting his glove on fire and eventually leaving a highly visible calling card for investigators, including one who considers Keyser his "white whale" (Moby Dick reference).  It's not perfectly executed, but it gets the job done.  It proves all over again what a great idea Keyser Soze is.

Secret Empire (Marvel)
Like Skottie Young, I wouldn't have guessed I'd be interested in this one just a few weeks back.  But the Captain America Is A Nazi!!! controversy has only heated up in recent weeks and it's made it impossible to ignore the existence of Secret Empire.  Much has been made about Marvel's creative choices, but none of it means Marvel isn't telling good stories.  I learned that all over again last year, with FCBD itself, when I dove into Civil War II, which turned out to be one of my favorite comics of 2016.  I don't know how much of Secret Empire I'll actually read, but I love that Nick Spencer, well before the results of the 2016 election could have possibly been known, had struck on an idea that so closely mirrors the turmoil of the times (much as Civil War II did).  The idea of Captain America being a secret agent of Hydra, no matter how it happened or how it's ultimately resolved, is absolutely perfect, suddenly.  A lot of Americans woke up to a different country, in their minds, the day Trump won the presidency.  This story is like a metaphor about that. 

I've had my problems with Nick Spencer.  I've read a little of his Captain America, and found his creative merits somewhat dubious as a result.  I've read Nick Spencer before.  He was the guy responsible for "bowtie Jimmy Olsen," and he's been tinkering around Image for a few years, too (Infinite Vacation, Morning Glories).  But this FCBD edition of Secret Empire is absolutely pitch-perfect, the best stuff I've ever seen from Spencer.  He's in total narrative command, and he sells the concept like crazy.  That's exactly what you want to see from any creator, much less one deep into one of the biggest controversies in recent comics.

He's also got Andrea Sorrentino on art, and that's a huge plus.  Sorrentino has quietly been producing some of the best art in comics for years now.  He knocked I, Vampire out of the park.  He knocked Old Man Logan out of the part.  It's high, high time everyone notices how fantastic his art really is.

So I was pretty happy to read this one.  There's also a preview of Chip Zdarsky's forthcoming Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man, which brims with spidery greatness.  No offense to Dan Slott, but Chip's material here harkens back to the gloriousness of the "Brand New Day" era, still my personal touchstone for the character.

X-O Manowar (Valiant)
This presentation of Matt Kindt's relaunch of the character isn't substantially different from what's found in the recently launched series itself, so instead I'll focus on the other material in the release.  There's a preview of Secret Weapons, which among other things features Nicole Finch, who can talk to birds.  Among a host of characters trying desperately to strike on a current sensibility, I think she fits it as well as anyone else.  I'd read a Nicole Finch, Bird Talker comic, easily.  The series also touches on the new era of data leaks, which is brilliant.

There's also a look at Jeff Lemire's latest evolution of Bloodshot, Bloodshot Salvation.  Lemire has become one of the best writers working in comics today, and his Bloodshot is a leading example of how that happened, and he shows no signs of slowing down.

There are also incredibly vague references to other stuff Valiant will be publishing in the future, none of which I found particularly effective.  Would love more Death-Defying Doctor Mirage, though...