Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Green Valley #9 (Image)

writer: Max Landis
artist: Giuseppe Camuncoli

Having caught up with the premise and first few issues earlier this year and been such a fan of Superman: American Alien, I was happy to catch the final installment of Green Valley

Obviously, I missed a good chunk of the story, but other than not knowing where a given element came from, it made perfect sense, not only from what I'd read but also on its own.  This is a good thing.  I was able to recall the pertinent details and keep up with the emotional rewards at the conclusion.

The problem is that I'm not sure the landing was really nailed.  It's not in the scripting or the art, which from Camuncoli remains stellar, but that the pacing seemed wrong.  You know how people complain about all the epilogues in Peter Jackson's Return of the King, and they just seemed to drag on and on?  Here it's kind of the opposite.  It feels rushed.  There's really no chance to breathe between celebrating victory and then finding out the two big things waiting for our heroes when they get back.  Plus there's a whiff in explaining what's supposed to come next.

It's not even so much that the ending is essentially a reboot.  Some fans loathe the idea of a reboot because it cancels out the emotional developments that helped make a story work in the first place.  I've seen plenty of reboots to know that this isn't really the case if you know the reboot is inevitable.  The problem here is that this is literally the first story featuring the Knights of Kelodia (that's my other main beef with Green Valley; "Kelodia" is a lousy name).

But given all that, I still love the ambition and the skill brought to the table.  Landis ought to be celebrated as a wildly talented new writer in the field.  Camuncoli has already worked at DC and Marvel; he did two issues of 52, plus scores of Spider-Man (including Superior Spider-Man), and Batman: Europa.  He ought to be considered a superstar in the making.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Reading Comics 216 "Kings Cross"

I'm about to relocate again.  Don't know what kind of impact this will have on my admittedly at present sporadic comics reading, but it's certainly worth noting.  This batch of comics represents what could be my last trip to Zimmies in Lewiston, Maine, which is a shop I've been visiting in its several incarnations since I bought my first comics nearly a quarter century ago. 

Batman Annual #4 (DC)
This one's from 2015 and is set during Snyder's Commissioner Batman era, when Bruce Wayne has amnesia.  It's James Tynion writing Bruce as he returns to Wayne Manor, which at the time had just finished being used as the new Arkham Asylum.  It's interesting, story-wise insofar as it posits Bruce Wayne as a target for Batman's enemies, who may have mistaken him as the Dark Knight's financier.  But it's the cover and the art that really interests me.  The cover is from Sean Murphy.

Murphy has been a favorite since he collaborated with Grant Morrison on Joe the Barbarian, and I've tried to keep track of his work ever since, whether Punk Rock Jesus or the Detective Comics #27 (New 52 era) story he did with Snyder that rumor has it they'll be returning to soon.  Murphy also has Batman: White Knight coming up, and that sounds fascinating.

The interior is from Roge Antonio, whose work looks like Snyder's American Vampire collaborator Raphael Albuquerque.  Have a look at it yourself:

Apparently he's been on the Rebirth series Batgirl and the Birds of Prey these days.  A career well worth tracking, too, I think.

Batman #30-31 (DC)
The first is "The Ballad of Kite Man Part 2," which is apparently hugely controversial, both parts, as it seems way too heavy for some readers.  I just don't get that.  This is literally the most relevant Kite Man has ever been.  I don't expect Tom King is done with the guy just yet, sort of like Gotham Girl.  The second is the penultimate chapter in "The War of Jokes and Riddles" itself, which promises an explosive ending (and apparently whether or not Catwoman accepts the proposal).  I think the arc's been brilliant.  This is a Joker who has been every bit the savage beast he's sometimes been depicted to be (The Killing Joke) but in a context where he's "lost his smile" (quotations thanks to Shawn Michaels).  This is a Batman who has apparently been forced to ally himself with the Riddler.  This is a story that once again feels, if Batman were every to be taken seriously, and his whole world around him, like this is what would actually happen.  Too often these characters only exist one story at a time, or locked up in Arkham.  What if Batman's foes were forced to take sides?  What if Batman himself was forced to take sides? 

Birthright #19 (Image)
This is from 2016, and is Josh Williamson's main interest outside of DC and The Flash, and I figured I'd finally have a look.  Naturally it's a little difficult to know exactly what's going on, but it seems pretty fascinating.

Black Hammer #2, 13 (Dark Horse)
A kind of alternate DC from Jeff Lemire, in which the aftermath of a crisis left the heroes trapped in a kind of pocket dimension (wonder if Infinite Crisis will be reflected).  These particular issues feature a kind of Shazam in a kind of I Hate Fairyland situation, the Skottie Young series where a young girl has been a young girl for far too long in a scenario she is well and truly over.  I've been hearing that this is Lemire's best work.  I'm a huge Lemire admirer, whether his recent Moon Knight or Descender, which I wish I were reading regularly.  I'm not ready to declare Black Hammer in that league, but I suppose for fans wanting him to reflect superhero comics, in a way that makes sense to them, this is a good option.

Mister Miracle #2 (DC)
Like his Batman, King is finding readers who don't understand what he's doing in Mister Miracle.  But I'm loving it.  He is absolutely one of my all-time favorite comic book writers at this point, and I look forward to having this whole thing to relish.

Nightwing: The New Order #1 (DC)
I was quite happy when I heard this one announced.  It's a Nightwing mini-series, the kind usually only Batman and Superman, and once in a while Wonder Woman, get.  It's also Kyle Higgens returning to the character.  He was the writer who launched the New 52 series and was at one time Snyder's running mate, the role Tynion later assumed.  So I'm glad to see that The New Order was worth the interest.  This first issue isn't really going to be able to explain how Dick Grayson ended up deciding superpowers are a bad thing.  What it does instead is bring the focus to Dick's relationship with his son.  This is a scenario previously featured in the Earth 2 comics, and an interesting continuing consideration for Nightwing's further legacy.  We find out at the end of the issue that the mother is Starfire, which begs the question...is Dick's position based on heartbreak?  Either way, I'll definitely want to read more of this.

Rise of the Black Flame #2 (Dark Horse)
This is another comic from 2016, part of the Hellboy universe.  I bought it mainly for the Christopher Mitten (Wasteland) art.  Always glad to see more!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Quarter Bin 117 "More DC 3-Pack Comics"

I love these DC 3-packs.  I love that I can find any comics in retail stores, even if they're grab bags, but the consistency of these 3-packs has been a continuous joy for the past few years.  So here's what I got in the last two:

Batman and Robin: Futures End (DC)
from November 2014

I love reading these Futures End issues.  I love that so many writers ignored, and possibly at editorial suggestion, the Futures End event itself and just had a look at whatever was most probably five years down the line in whatever was happening in the titles at the time.  Ray Fawkes was riffing, here, on Damian's death, and Batman's penchant for going gunshy on his new partners because of things like that.  This time he's pulling it on Duke Thomas, who in this Futures End timeline actually did become Robin, as so many fans long anticipated (Snyder has instead opted to give him his own identity: the Signal).  The art is by Dustin Nguyen, with inks by frequent collaborator Derek Fridolfs.  It's funny to see Nguyen presented as a traditional artist again, after getting so used to his Descender water colors look.


What's funny is that it makes his work look like Jorge Corona's.

 

Yeah, Corono drew Duke, too, as a kind of Robin, in the pages of We Are Robin.  Seems appropriate, anyway.

Here's what Nguyen looks like in Descender, by the way:



The story, by the way, involves Batman's showdown with a revived Heretic, most likely a clone, the villain who killed Damian in the pages of Morrison's Batman Incorporated.  I'm sure I've read it before, but it's another of the excellent Futures End specials. 

Green Arrow #1 (DC)
Wal-Mart reprint from July 2017

This is a reprint of the Rebirth debut issue from the ongoing series, and does an excellent job of spotlighting Benjamin Percy's vision for the series, integrating a lot of different elements of Green Arrow's publishing history, including his social views, relationship with Black Canary, and penchant for having a sidekick, except this one...It becomes a wonderful development for the character, having Ollie take on a half-sister, whose mother turns out to be his enemy Shado.  Makes me think I really should've made this series a priority read at some point.  Will have to check back in...

Justice League #36 (DC)
from January 2015

This is the first chapter in the "Amazo Virus," where Geoff Johns started amping the series back up to its "monthly event book" (my designation) status as it geared toward "Darkseid War."  The art of Jason Fabok was an immediate sensation, and certainly helped drive eyeballs back to the title. 

Justice League United #2, 5 (DC)
from August, December 2014

I never did get around to sampling this series at the time, but I'm glad I finally have.  Jeff Lemire (writer of Descender, by the way!) launched it, and these issues make it clear that United helped launch the New 52 version of Adam Strange, which was fun to read, especially for someone who's just finished rereading 52.

Batman and the Justice League: Outbreak #1 (DC)
Wal-Mart reprint from July 2017

This is what's really fascinating about these 3-packs, that the comic in front is always the newest, and often features a custom Wal-Mart cover and even, with some of them, custom titles.  Batman and the Justice League is actually the Rebirth Justice League from Bryan Hitch, and this is actually #10 from the series.  It's kind of funny, too, or maybe calculated, that the issue is related to the above Justice League, as it also features Amazo.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Quarter Bin 116 "JLA"

JLA #8 (DC)
from August 1997

This is the setup to the Key revamp Grant Morrison pulled early in his run, but I remember it best for Green Arrow Connor Hawke's memorable statement: "Dad.  Oh, dad.  You're going to be the death of me."  He's referencing having to use his then-late father Oliver Queen's infamous trick arrows.  I used a similar line for a story I later wrote. It's just perfectly executed, and still one of the most memorable endings to any single issue I've ever read.  It's also worth noting the excellent art of Oscar Jimenez, which he seems incapable of delivering on an ongoing basis.  How about signing him up for a limited series, folks?  Also, worth noting that Morrison's Key uses tactics that are very similar to The Matrix, an irony, as Morrison's The Invisibles has long been said to be an unacknowledged source of inspiration for the movie.  I don't know Invisibles well enough to offer a judgment about that, but clearly Morrison was on the right wavelength somewhere...

JLA #14 (DC)
from January 1998

Yeah, so I mistakenly thought this was the "Darkseid Is" issue (it's on the cover an' everything!), but it's the one after it.  It's also "Part 5 of 6" in the "Rock of Ages" arc, but for all intents and purposes, is probably to be considered, along with its immediate predecessor, the best stuff in the arc.  It's Morrison's first crack at Darkseid.  C'mon!  He responds with possibly his best JlA material.  Howard Porter provides art.  It's crazy to think Porter, when JLA launched, was instantly considered an elite artist, but has never received another elite assignment.  What the Apokolips is up with that???

JLA #88 (DC)
from December 2003

Truth be told, after Morrison left the title, I didn't really see much point in trying to see what his successors were up to, despite the fact that there's a lot more non-Morrison JLA issues than ones he actually wrote.  This one's from Joe Kelly, who at the time was threatening to become one of DC's most important writers.  Instead he and a bunch of his pals went and did their own projects, not in the Image way, but bigger, arguably.  Anyway, I chose this issue because the cover promised a strong Martian Manhunter spotlight ("vs the Martian Manhunter! and J'onn Jonzz! and John Jones!"), but as it turns out, Plastic Man is the one who receives the best spotlight.  Plastic Man was Morrison's most outlandish addition to the League, so it's really good to see that his presence in the team wasn't overlooked or forgotten years after the fact.  Kelly spins some poignant material that segues nicely with the Offspring character Mark Waid envisioned as Plastic Man's son.  Waid apparently considers Offspring the best thing about The Kingdom.  You'd really think there would've been more with these two.  There's always the future...Also quite fun to see Doug Mahnke's work, as always.  He seems to have developed, by this point, more or less the style he still uses today.

Reading Comics 215 "Azrael, Negative Flash, Super Sons, Manapul's farewell"

Checking in with a few Rebirth titles...

Detective Comics #960 (DC)
Tynion's work in this series has been well-received, and with good reason.  Finally given a chance to prove he can succeed, on his own, in a Batman title, he's done it.  Here he gets to handle Azrael's reintroduction, and in those scenes he's quite artful.

The Flash #28 (DC)
I think Josh Williamson's been doing a Flash renaissance in this run.  I like the idea of complicating Barry Allen's usual tardiness with a reason other than heroics, because of a twist to his speed.  Seems like something Mark Waid would've done.  That's as high a compliment as I can give.

Super Sons #7 (DC)
This is the first issue of the series I've managed to catch, but I think Tomasi has absolutely made good on the concept.  If anything, it seems more natural than his and Gleason's Superman.  Even if the Teen Titans take up considerable real estate in the issue, clearly Jon and Damian are the stars.  Actually, the only thing capable of rivaling their appeal is the shock at seeing Jorge Jimenez's art, which clearly has evolved since I last saw it in Earth 2: Society.  In a good way!

Trinity #11 (DC)
This was Francis Manapul's final issue as writer/artist of the series, and it's sad to see him go.  Although, whatever's going on with the art, he seems to have lost the essence of what that aspect of his output so distinctive, and that was kind of sad to see, too.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Reading Comics 214 "Understanding 52 - Part 6"

I began my commentary on 52 explaining its origins.  Well, here's what followed in its immediate wake, the spin-offs and sequel material:

  • WWIII #1-4 (2007) Running concurrent with 52 itself, expanding on Black Adam's last rampage.
  • The Helmet of Fate (2007) Including Black Alice, Detective Chimp, Ibis the Invincible, Sargon the Sorcerer, and Zauriel one-shots, this was a follow-up to that empty helmet following Ralph Dibney around for most of 52.
  • Black Adam: The Dark Age #1-6 (2007-2008) A follow-up to his experiences in 52
  • 52 Aftermath: The Four Horsemen #1-6 (2007-2008) A follow-up on Oolong Island.
  • Crime Bible: The Five Lessons of Blood #1-5 (2007-2008) Incredibly, the only solo spotlight Renee Montoya ended up having as the Question.  Later collected as The Question: The Five Books of Blood.
  • Countdown to Adventure #1-8 (2007-2008) Although nominally tied into DC's second weekly series effort, Countdown to Final Crisis, this is actually a sequel to Animal Man and Starfire's adventures in 52.
  • Infinity Inc. #1-12 (2007-2008) This one was the biggest disappointment for me, failing to live up to Steel's new potential as demonstrated by 52.
  • Booster Gold #1-47 (2007-2011) Clearly the longest-running spin-off, this one lasted all the way to and was involved in Flashpoint, the next DC revival project.  
  • The Great Ten #1-9 (2010) This is a personal favorite, from Tony Bedard and Scott McDaniel, which each issue explored the origins of the team's members.  Inexplicably, the concept hasn't been revisited in the pages of Gene Yang's New Super-Man (as far as I've been able to determine, at any rate).
  • The Multiversity #1-2 (2014-2015) Grant Morrison's latest megaproject (including Guidebook, Mastermen, Pax Americana, The Just, The Society of Super-Heroes: Conquerors of the Counter-World, Thunderworld, and Ultra Comics) explores the 52 worlds created during 52.
  • The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage #1-5 (2014-2015)
  • The Death Defying Doctor Mirage: Second Lives #1-4 (2015-2016) This was a Valiant comic, but I think it illustrates the untapped potential of Ralph and Sue Dibney as we last see them in 52

Reading Comics 213 "Understanding 52 - Part 5"

52, the 2006-2007 series written by Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Geoff Johns, and Mark Waid, with art breakdowns by Keith Giffen and covers by J.G. Jones, was instantly a favorite of mine as I read its weekly installments, and I recently completed a reread of the whole thing.  The following is the conclusion to a commentary, covering the fourth collected volume, including #40-52:

  • #40 - Steel suits up in his armor to confront Lex Luthor once and for all, plus rescue his captive niece, Natasha Irons.  He brings with him a new contingent of Teen Titans, to confront the remnants of Infinity Inc.  He loses his armor before he even reaches Luthor, but that doesn't stop him.  Luthor believes his powers make Steel easy pickings, but Steel's hammer is encoded with a kind of off switch for Luthor's powers.  Steel emerges triumphant in their war.  The chaos in Kahndaq leaves Osiris to conclude in a conversation with Sobek that he's the one responsible for the country's ills.  He resolves to do something about it.  The artist is Chris Batista.  Giffen and editor Michael Siglain offer commentaries.  Giffen is surprised that Steel's arc climaxes so early; Siglain explains that the title of the issue is from the famous John Henry folk ballad that gave Steel, John Henry Irons, his name, and that Morrison pulled off one of his obscure references in the script concerning a "Planet Lexor."  For me, it's a defining moment of 52, as Steel had always been a favorite character of mine, but one that had never really gotten his moment to shine.  His fifty-two issues of a solo series in the previous decade had seen him marginalized after "Reign of the Supermen" (where he was equally neutralized), and even in Morrison's JLA, once he'd joined, he served little purpose as the team's Vulcan.  It wasn't until Natasha armored up when they'd returned as supporting players in the pages of early 2000s Superman comics that he was allowed to develop into a conventional superhero rather than a token black character who stuck around for a while.  Cyborg in Johns' Justice League later had the spotlight Steel hadn't had in JLA.  Morrison brought him back in his New 52 Action Comics run, which is the last time Steel has been seen.  Pitting him against Lex Luthor in the pages of 52 is tacit acknowledgment of Steel's true potential.  It's also Luthor's last major run in his classic role as a straight-up villain putting on a positive public image, something he'd already struggled against in the pages of The Final Night a decade earlier, and would reclaim later in a pre-New 52 Action Comics starring role and finally as a surprise member of Johns' Justice League
  • #41 - Adam Strange  and Starfire struggle against a remnant of Lady Styx's horde.  Renee Montoya struggles in the aftermath of Charlie's death.  Richard Dragon forces her to confront what she's become.  Ralph Dibney reaches the end of his journey with the Helmet of Fate.  Montoya has a conversation with Wonder Woman in Nanda Parbat.  She asks Montoya, "Which will have greater rule over you...your fear...or your curiosity?"  Strange and Starfire rally each other's spirits.  They land on Mogo.  Giuseppe Camuncoli provides art.  Rucka and Siglain provide commentaries.  Rucka admits that the writers were beginning to face the prospect of figuring out how to give enough space to each arc before the end of the series.  He credits Waid with helping figure out Wonder Woman's appearance, this following his "embassy" era and before his Rebirth era return to the character, so Rucka certainly knows enough about her.  Siglain is clearly a guy who can dig as well as Morrison into the DC canon, as he demonstrates in his thoughts.
  • #42 - Renee Montoya: "You're going to have to look.  And you want to.  You know you do.  Shine the light into the dark corners.  Gaze into your self-made abyss.  See what stares back.  Don't be scared.  That's right, that's it...Just open your eyes...What do you see?  Good question."  Ralph Dibney's arc concludes as he reveals, like Booster and Skeets before him, his actions this whole time were an elaborate conceit.  Turns out Fate was really Felix Faust all along, attempting to trick Dibney into giving up a pure soul Faust needed for a bargain with the demon Neron.  The gun?  A wishing gun.  The stuff in the flash?  Gingold, what Dibney used to use to stretch as Elongated Man.  He gladly sacrifices himself to trap Faust with his Faustian deal, trapped with Neron for eternity...Fire, whom we've seen in glimpses throughout the series, is there to give Dibney a proper hero's farewell at his grave.  Darick Robertson provides the art.  Dan DiDio provides commentary, explaining how he asked Giffen to rework Dibney's death after the writers had finished their effort, a risky editorial move that sheds further light into the delicate creative process.
  • #43 - Osiris and Sobek visit the Rock of Eternity and the Marvel Family, Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel Junior and Mary Marvel.  Black Adam and Isis arrive.  They argue over Osiris's contention that his powers are a curse.  Osiris becomes increasingly belligerent, but eventually claims he's reconsidered his conclusions.  The aliens who originally gave Animal Man his powers complete his revival.  He comes with increased awareness of his abilities.  Lady Styx is reborn.  Sobek is revealed as a double agent.  Osiris gives up his powers, and his talking crocodile friend...eats him.  Dan Jurgens provides art.  Johns provides commentary, explaining how Black Adam's arc in 52 developed in its conception, and how Giffen, who never liked Osiris, helped make his death more impactful.  Of course he would.  It's ironic that Jurgens, who had become an archetypical superhero artist a decade earlier, and who gets to feature his Superman style with Captain Marvel and related characters this issue, also does the honors for what seems like the most unlikely Dan Jurgens sequence ever, the grim death of Osiris.
  • #44 - Sobek is revealed to be Famine of the Four Horsemen of Apokolips, and he leads his brethren against Black Adam and Isis.  Isis is killed in the resulting battle.  Renee Montoya realizes she's dead, and it's just the impetus she needs to finally leave Nanda Parbat again.  (Richard Dragon: "You're going to find, like Sage [Charlie, the Question] did, that some questions can only be answered by wearing a mask.  Just as there are some that can only be asked when you remove one.")  Eddy Barrows provides art.  Rucka provides commentary.  He remarks that Johns has Isis actually confirm that Black Adam reverting to form is the proper response to what's just happened to him.
  • #45 - Black Adam and the Marvel Family attend the funeral.  Renee Montoya is there.  They don't see eye-to-eye.  Bruno Mannheim betrays Bialya, home of the remnants of the Four Horsemen.  Black Adam begins his rampage there.  Green Lantern Alan Scott begins marshalling a response; Amanda Waller attempts to convince Atom Smasher to do the same.  The rampage continues.  The Great Ten realize they will have to confront Black Adam, who defeats Death.  On Oolong Island, Sivana celebrates Black Adam's imminent arrival.  Chris Batista provides the art, with an assist from Jamal Igle.  Giffen provides commentary.  He remarks, "Life is made so much easier for those of us pushing pencils when writers think visually."
  • #46 - T.O. Morrow, Will Magnus, Egg-Fu and the others at Oolong Island brace for Black Adam's arrival.  Veronica Cale (I've kind of glossed over her appearances) has her most significant appearance of the series in an impotent reflection of her role in all this.  Morrow incapacitates Black Adam.  Sivana salivates on the prospect of finally getting his hands on a Marvel.  Morrow wins a bidding war for the head of Red TornadoClark Kent helps Steel and Natasha Irons prevent Lex Luthor get away with murder one more time, exposing Everyman as a stand-in and bringing Luthor himself into custody.  Green Lantern Alan Scott and the Justice Society remnant investigate Black Adam's carnage in Bialya.  Atom Smasher offers to help them find him.  Pat Oliffe provides the art.  Giffen provides commentary.  He says Rucka had to make an unpopular argument to save Cale's life, as she'd been slated to die.  Another reference to Jones's genius on covers.
  • #47 - Wonder Woman converses with Tim Drake, Robin, in Nanda Parbat.  Bruno Mannheim and the others in Intergang's Crime Bible cult realize they can trap Batwoman in her guise as Kate Kane.  Will Magnus wrestles with his conscience on Oolong Island.  Animal Man and his benefactors discuss how easy it'll be to get home, where he believes his wife Ellen Baker is seeing someone.  Steel and his niece Natasha Irons unveil a hopeful new project.  Nightwing greets the returning Renee Montoya, who's just found out Kate's indeed been caught.  Wonder Woman has an epiphany: "Diana of Amazonia, beloved of the gods.  Of purest purpose.  You who sought to teach.  When did you ever know guilt before this [murder of Maxwell Lord]?  Or doubt or regret?  Or what it is to fail?  When did you, in all your perfection, ever share the pains mortals feel each day of their lives?  Until now.  Welcome to the world, Wonder Woman.  Here is wisdom."  Bruce Wayne emerges from his ordeal reconciled to his role as Batman.  Giuseppe Camuncoli provides the art.  Rucka provides commentary.  He attempts to argue that the conclusions he thinks Morrison wrote concerning Wonder Woman.  He thinks she didn't get enough time to explain her arc, that her problem amounts to not being "human enough."  I totally disagree.  It's a true breakthrough for the character.  Morrison later wrote Wonder Woman: Earth One, a seminal reexamining of her origins.  Clearly creative differences.
  • #48 - Renee Montoya and Nightwing launch their assault on Bruno Mannheim, Intergang, and the Crime Bible cult.  (Nightwing: "Would you really die for this?"  Montoya: "Good question.  Wouldn't you?")  It's her official debut as the new Question.  They save Batwoman, who kills Mannheim with his own ceremonial dagger, which he'd previously stabbed her with.  Sivana and Egg-Fu ransom the life of Black Adam, with Green Lantern Alan Scott preparing a response.  Darick Robertson provides the art.  Rucka and Siglain provide commentary.  Both gush over Jones's cover.  Rucka admits he tends to think in human scale for his stories, which he thinks he mitigates this issue with "turning Gotham into a mini-Apokolips." 
  • #49 - Green Lantern Alan Scott leads the response against Egg-Fu's mad scientists.  The Great Ten claim sovereignty to stymy him.  Will Magnus employs the Metal Men against Egg-Fu.  Scott realizes the Great Ten are covering for the fact that Egg-Fu is an associate of theirs.  T.O. Morrow confronts Magnus, then vacates Oolong Island.  Sivana continues torturing Black Adam.  The Great Ten strike a deal with Scott.  Magnus obliterates Egg-Fu.  Atom Smasher sets Black Adam free, believing Bialya to be a giant mistake.  That's the giant mistake...Eddy Barrows provides the art.  Giffen and Siglain provide the art.  Giffen explains Barrows' mix-up with the Great Wall of China appearing in both the Oolong Island sequences and Alan Scott's confrontation with the Great Ten.  Siglain doubles down on that.  For what it's worth, I think both make a mistake themselves in believing that.  The only problem is assuming Scott and the Great Ten are on Oolong Island.  Presumably, it's in the South China Sea.  Problem solved.
  • #50 - Black Adam barrels through Captain Marvel and the Marvel Family.  Green Lantern Alan Scott and the reconstituted Justice Society  debate Black Adam's actions.  The Great Ten prepares a defense against him.  The Society is refused entry into China to aide in the battle.  General August-in-Iron concedes that the Great Ten can't defeat Black Adam on its own.  Scott, Captain Marvel, Atom SmasherSteel, and Natasha Irons are among the heroes who answer the call.  Booster Gold steals Steel's weapon.  Infinity Inc. runs away from the fight.  Captain Marvel devices a way to steal Black Adam's powers by changing his magic word.  A depowered Black Adam wanders trying to figure out the new word.  T.O. Morrow tinkers with the head of Red Tornado, but Booster and Rip Hunter arrive to claim it.  The head continues to babble "52."  Justiniano provides the art.  Waid provides commentary, giving full credit to Johns for the issue, with a few of his own ideas thrown into the mix.  I give a lot of credit, personally, to Justiniano, who has since served time in prison for possession of child pornography.  A shame, as he's a truly sensational artist.
  • #51 - Animal Man finally returns home.  Donna Troy and Wonder Girl are observed by Wonder Woman in her new role as a secret agent in her civilian life.  Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent talk.  The Teen Titans form a new lineup.  Adam Strange gets a new pair of eyes (yeah, never mentioned that, sorry).  Lobo realizes he can free himself from his religious obligation once the head dolphin finally reveals the whole thing was a trick to neutralize the one weapon that can kill him: the Emerald Eye of EkronStarfire arrives just in time to save Animal Man's family from a remnant of the Lady Styx horde.  The head of Red Tornado ("52"), T.O. Morrow, Booster Gold, and Rip Hunter prepare to confront Skeets, who's really been Mister Mind this whole time...Joe Bennett provides his last solo artwork of the series.  Waid provides commentary, plugging Starfire and Animal Man's continued adventures in Countdown to Adventure.  He also confesses the writers spent a lot of time trying to decide whether or not the mature Mister Mind wears the same goggles as his caterpillar incarnation...
  • #52 - The multiverse in its present 52 worlds incarnation debuts.  The head of Red Tornado, Rip Hunter, and Booster Gold pursue Mister Mind across all the worlds created at the end of Infinite CrisisSupernova returns, revealed to be Daniel Carter in this incarnation, rescued by Rip from oblivion.  Booster reunites briefly with his old pal, the late Blue Beetle Ted Kord.  Sivana, the initial cause for Mister Mind's rampage, also becomes the solution.  Booster becomes the greatest hero history never knew.  There's a montage with Green Lantern Alan Scott, Steel, Natasha Irons, Wonder Woman, and Black AdamRalph Dibney is reunited with his wife Sue as ghost detectives.  Renee Montoya settles into her career as the Question.  Batwoman, Kate Kane, has recovered from her ordeal.  "Are you ready?"  Art is supplied by Justiniano, Barrows, Batista, Oliffe, Robertson, and Mike McKone.  Waid and Siglain provide some concluding thoughts.
The end!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Reading Comics 212 "Understanding 52 - Part 4"

52, the 2006-2007 series written by Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Geoff Johns, and Mark Waid, with art breakdowns by Keith Giffen and covers by J.G. Jones, was instantly one of my all-time favorite when I read its original weekly installments, and I recently did a complete reread.  Here are my continuing thoughts, based on #27-39 from the third collection.

  • #27 - Ralph Dibney and the Helmet of Fate make their most harrowing stop on their journey together, visiting Jean Loring, the ex-wife of Ray Palmer and murderer of Dibney's wife Sue in the pages of Identity Crisis, with the assistance of the Spectre.  Skeets confronts Waverider and attacks him, claiming his metallic shell is derived from Waverider's later corpse.  And after all, why wait?  Renee Montoya continues her training with Richard Dragon in Nanda Parbat.  Charlie, the Question, begins to cough.  Montoya realizes he has cancer.  She also realizes that Kate Kane, Batwoman, is in mortal danger thanks to the Crime Bible and its adherents within IntergangIdentity Crisis is listed as eighty-four weeks in the past, thanks to Dibney dragging Jean Loring back to the moment she murders Sue.  He's prevented from exacting wicked revenge by his own conscience, and thereby learning for himself the toll magic takes on its users.  He decides he has to go to Nanda Parbat.  The artist is Shawn Moll.  Waid provides the commentary.  He says Johns wrote the Waverider scene.  This opening issue in the volume is bookended with the one that closes it, beginning and ending Charlie's final arc (he later returns in the New 52 as part of the Trinity of Sin, but as with the rest of New 52, those events are entirely unrelated to 52).  As such, it's one of the most essential moments of the whole series, and if you somehow only read one of these four original collections (a later series pared it down to three, and so the culling becomes harder), this would be the one to read.
  • #28 - Renee Montoya and Charlie, the Question, are back in Gotham, where they reunite with Batwoman.  (Montoya: "I hate it when he coughs.")  They warn her about the prophecy in the Crime Bible.  In Australia, Red Tornado has been repackaged as someone's personal bodyguard.  He continues spouting "52."  He's dismantled and his head is tossed away for scrap.  Animal Man, Adam Strange, Starfire, and Lobo flee from Ekron, from whom the Emerald Eye of Ekron comes from.  Batwoman strikes at the Intergang thugs, including Bruno Mannheim, who following the Crime Bible.  The space heroes discover Ekron is actually a Green Lantern.  They realize the bigger problem is whatever Ekron was guarding against before his eye was taken from him.  Art is from Drew Johnson.  Rucka provides commentary.  He says he labored on this script throughout what was supposed to be a vacation, then praises Jones's cover, and admits he hates the naming scheme of "Crime Bible" and "Religion of Crime."  I never had a problem with "Crime Bible."  Batwoman's first solo adventure was in a spin-off mini-series called Crime Bible: The Five Lessons of Blood, which I did have a problem with, if only because the title was needlessly long and not particularly compelling and...why didn't it feature "Question" or "Batwoman"?
  • #29 - Green Lantern Alan Scott and the remaining old guard decide to officially end the Justice Society.  Infinity Inc. is having a far happier Thanksgiving, as it introduces a new Jade, unrelated to Scott's deceased daughter.  Scott's volatile son Obsidian predictably reacts poorly to this development, confronting the disrespectful Everyman project team that includes Natasha Irons.  Scott cools the situation down.  At Oolong Island, Sivana and the mad scientists are carving up a mutant turkey (I seem to remember saying this last volume; I'll have to go back and check on that).  Will Magnus begins an acquaintance that ushers a downward spiral.  Egg-Fu is paranoid about being left out of the dinner because people are, er, calling him that behind his back, and not his preferred moniker, Chang Zhu.  He says T.O. Morrow vouched for Magnus, who doesn't seem to have contributed to any of the experimenting going on. The suggestion is made to take away his medication.  Magnus is dragged away kicking and screaming.  Steel's Everyman steel skin comes off.  Art is from Chris Batista.  Commentary is from Michael Siglain, who successfully took over editing duties from Stephen Wacker at around this point.  Both deserve a significant amount of credit for 52 working out.  He mentions how Giffen slipped in Spider-Man during the parade.  It's also worth wondering how much of Will Magnus's arc is Morrison writing about his ability to slip into the "madness" that so often typifies his best work, or is he merely remarking on where his weirdest stuff comes from?  Does he sometimes feel comfortably muzzled? 
  • #30 - Nightwing reflects on Batman's state of mind.  He's talking to Tim Drake, Robin, as all three of them participate in Bruce Wayne's year of soul searching.  Renee Montoya reflects on the cost to Charlie, the Question, of returning to Gotham, leaving the sanctuary of Nanda Parbat, where he was last feeling well, before the cancer started eating him alive.  Kate Kane, Batwoman, offers to let Charlie stay at her house indefinitely.  His main concern is whether or not Kate is still pursuing their Intergang enemies.  "You should always...ask the question."  Nightwing decides he's leaving the world tour.  Bruce confronts the Ten-Eyed Man, who symbolically cuts the darkness out of him.  "It's over.  Batman is gone."  Nightwing meets Batwoman.  The art is from Joe Bennett, first time this volume but certainly not his first go-around in the pages of 52.  Rucka provides commentary.  He says Batman's experience here is long overdue.  He also says Charlie and Montoya share one of their most important moments of the series this issue.  Waid chimes in for a little background on the Ten-Eyed Man.  Material from this issue ought to be considered part of Morrison's complete Batman sequence.  He was really only getting started on a long Dark Knight run at this point, too.
  • #31 - Captain Comet, plus a few Green Lanterns, try to hold the line against Lady Styx.  Comet is captured by her minions and desiccated.  Natasha Irons starts to have an idea that there's a rotten apple within Infinity Inc.  We learn well before she does just how rotten the Everyman of the Everyman project really is.  Ralph Dibney, who appears to have begun drinking booze out of a flask, and the Helmet of Fate visit Wonder Girl.  They all agree that the guy running the Cult of Connor was a con artist.  Dibney also admits that his wife was brought back from the dead for a moment during the aborted ceremony that ended the con artist's run.  Wonder Girl admits she believes Supernova is Superboy.  Dibney confronts Supernova.  He knows who he really is, and it isn't Superboy.  We see Captain Comet's corpse, and Lady Styx properly for the first time.  The artist is Chris Batista.  Commentary is from Giffen, who admits he's officially lost count of which writer is responsible for what by this point.
  • #32 - Ralph Dibney and the Helmet of Fate come across the Great Ten on their way to Nanda Parbat.  Osiris and Sobek audition for the Teen Titans.  Captain Marvel Junior tells him he has to prove he's worthy, after the way Black Adam was behaving at the start of 52Animal Man, Adam Strange, Starfire, and Lobo decide they're going to tackle Lady Styx.  Dibney finds himself deposited in Nanda Parbat.  Accomplished Perfect Physician of the Great Ten explains his background.  (Honestly, I think the Great Ten mini-series worked so well for me because each issue did this, and it's also the reason so few readers queued up for it.  Together they tame the Yeti, an associate member of the Great Ten.  In hindsight, the ending of this issue is a cryptic way to explain Dibney's whole arc in the series.  Pat Oliffe provides the art.  Waid provides commentary.  He admits Morrison wrote the Dibney sequences this issue.
  • #33 - Ralph Dibney and the Helmet of Fate visit the Flash Museum to pick up a special souvenir, a gun that will be explained later.  (Perhaps a continuity problem, here, unless it was deposited at some point during the 52 year.)  Batwoman and Nightwing meet.  He gives her an official batarang, thereby welcoming her into the family.  Lex Luthor (first time we see him this volume) gives Infinity Inc. presents.  He sacrifices another Everyman project participant in the hope of finding a way to benefit personally from the project.  Renee Montoya finds Charlie, the Question, increasingly delirious from the effects of cancer.  Kate Kane, Batwoman, consoles her.  We see Ellen Baker (Animal Man's wife), Clark Kent and Lois Lane, and the head of Red Tornado in a montage of holiday celebrants.  We actually see Hawkwoman having gotten better.  I stand corrected from previous comments.  We glimpse the space heroes closing in on their destination.  Black Adam, Isis, Osiris, and Sobek give the world a glimpse of them at their most vulnerable, transformed back into their mortal selves for a moment.  Amanda Waller and Atom Smasher's Suicide Squad stands poised to attack.  Joe Prado and Tom Derenick provide the art.  Rucka provides commentary.  He admits to lifting much of Charlie's delirious comments from Denny O'Neil's old Question series.  Waid chimes in to explain a Moonlighting reference. 
  • #34 - The Suicide Squad prepares to strike at Black Adam, Isis, Osiris, and SobekAtom Smasher attempts to get Black Adam to turn himself in .  In the heat of the moment, Osiris murders the Executioner.  (Somewhat poetic, that.)  Steel attempts to explain to his niece, Natasha Irons, the error of her ways once more.  This time he appeals to her with facts and asks her to figure it out for herself.  Clark Kent is interrogated by Lex Luthor about the identity of Supernova.  He's able to honestly say it's not Superman.  Renee Montoya witnesses Charlie, the Question as it deteriorates further.  Luthor has his own New Year's countdown, the results of which we'll see next issue.  Charlie sings "Danny Boy."  "...the pipes, the pipes are calling...from glen to glen and down the mountainside...summer's gone and all the leaves are turnin'...now you must go away and I must - must - and I bide."  Joe Bennett provides art. Rucka provides commentary.  He says Johns wrote the Suicide Squad sequence (I imagine he wrote much of the Black Adam material), and admits "Danny Boy" was another thing he lifted from O'Neil's Question.  Needless to say, but of the whole Montoya/Charlie sequence from the volume, this one is the most heartbreaking.  Rucka says some readers thought Charlie dies at the end of the issue, what with the body on Jones's cover and all.  No, not until the end of the volume...Waid chimes in to praise Wacker and Giffen for juxtaposing his and Rucka's competing material at the end of the issue.  I personally think the Rucka material should've closed the issue, made it more impactful.  As it is, it gives too much weight to Waid's material, and not enough to Rucka's.  But I'm okay with not crying about this particular cancer tragedy, really...
  • #35 - Lex Luthor shut off a wide swath of Everyman project beneficiaries on New Year's, sending them plunging to their deaths.  It's his challenge to Supernova.  The mysterious hero saves who he can.  Natasha Irons and the rest of Infinity Inc. experience the carnage. She realizes her uncle Steel was right about Luthor's duplicity.  Various heroes converge to help out.  Animal Man, Adam Strange, and Starfire discover that Lobo has been leading them straight to Lady Styx all along.  Phil Jimenez and Dan Jurgens provide the art.  Waid and Siglain provide commentary. Waid expresses regret for The Kingdom.  I don't think he needs to.  Jurgens in an issue where we're still trying to decide whether or not Supernova is Superman is pretty genius.
  • #36 - Animal Man, Adam Strange, Starfire, and Lobo take on and defeat Lady Styx, at the apparent cost of Animal Man's life. Renee Montoya continues to observe Charlie, the Question's decline.  She realizes all over again that taking him from Nanda Parbat was a deadly mistake.  She resolves to take him back.  Kate Kane, Batwoman, thinks it's an equally terrible mistake.  Sobek comforts Osiris, distraught over what he did two issues ago.  Supernova and Rip Hunter attempt to hide from Skeets.  Good luck with that.  Jamal Igle provides the art.  Giffen provides commentary.  He admits to simplifying Morrison's stage direction during the Lady Styx sequence.  Funny that a big bad dies so easily.  He compares Siglain to J.D. (Zach Braff) from Scrubs.  I love that Igle got to work on 52.  At the time, he was knocking Firestorm out of the part, and is just one of the reasons I wish that series had gotten better buzz. 
  • #37 - Booster Gold explains to Skeets the Supernova charade he pulled off with the help of Rip Hunter.  Booster and Rip begin the process of defeating the wayward drone.  Green Arrow and Black Canary discuss Ralph Dibney (it's kind of a callback to the beginning of Identity Crisis).  Adam Strange and Starfire hold a memorial service for Animal ManLobo says his goodbyes.  Adam and Starfire leave Animal Man's body behind.  Animal Man wakes up!  Pat Oliffe provides the art.  Waid provides commentary.  He likens Booster's Supernova arc to Frank Grimes from The Simpsons, providing some alternate dialogue from #15 to prove it.  Hilarious.  Obviously, this is the biggest development of 52 to this point, the first time it reaches a climax. 
  • #38 - Renee Montoya and Charlie, the Question, struggle to find their way back to Nanda Parbat.  Will Magnus and T.O. Morrow converse again, Magnus now fully giving in to his impulses.  Egg-Fu announces the dawn of the Four Horsemen of Apokolips.  Montoya is totally lost.  Natasha Irons lets her uncle Steel know that she's finally seen the light.  Montoya has a final lucid conversation with Charlie.  He dies just outside of Nanda Parbat.  Joe Bennett provides the art.  Rucka provides heartbreaking commentary.  I guess this is why they didn't let Rucka have the conclusion to that other issue to himself.  Once it really sinks in that this is the moment Charlie dies..."The 'uuuuuuuuu' sound that Charlie is making for several pages comes from personal experience.  It is a distinct sound, and those who have heard it will never forget it.  It's the sound of a body preparing to stop, a vocalization made by the dying, and it is a truly awful, endless noise, so horrible and painful that when it does, finally and literally terminate, one is almost grateful for the silence."
  • #39 - One of Lex Luthor's Everyman project scientists has been faking test results that show Luthor as incompatible with the process.  He attempts to complete this by killing himself and destroying his notes.  Ralph Dibney and the Helmet of Fate visit Aquaman, who is temporarily lost to himself.  (The Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis series with his son is worth reading.)  At Oolong Island, Sivana continues his experiments with suspendium, so-called artificial time.  T.O. Morrow suspects Will Magnus has been working on his Metal Men again.  Magnus insists he couldn't because he's been watched the whole time.  But of course he has been.  Black Adam, Isis, and Sobek realize the earth in Kahndaq is dying.  Natasha Irons discovers the truth about the shapeshifting Everyman at last.  Luthor gains powers and unleashes them on Natasha...The art is from Andy Smith.  Siglain provides commentary.  He suggests Osiris was supposed to die this issue rather than several issues later.  He also says the de facto S-shield Luthor sports on the final page (echoing one Steel has when he first gains his Everyman steel shell earlier in the series) is something Giffen and Smith had included but then the idea was second-guessed and it was taken out and put back again later when it was third-guessed...The fun of peeking behind the curtain...
One volume to go!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Reading Comics 211 "Understanding 52 - Part 3"

52, the 2006-2007 series written by Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Geoff Johns, and Mark Waid, with art breakdowns by Keith Giffen and covers by J.G. Jones, has been a personal favorite comic since it was being published every week.  Here I continue my look back, covering material from the second original collection, #14-26...

  • #14 - Renee Montoya and Charlie, the Question, fly to Kahndaq.  They arrive amidst great jubilation.  Steel has been working on a new suit of armor for his wayward niece, Natasha Irons, but fears he may have driven her away permanently.  Will Magnus tries to reanimate Mercury of the Metal Men at the behest of government agents.  His use of medication to suppress the effects of bipolar disorder  doesn't impress them anymore than his refusal to work with them.  He goes to visit T.O. Morrow, only to discover that he's become the latest missing mad scientist.  Montoya and Charlie are mistaken for Intergang thugs.  We discover Mercury still works.  The art is by Dale Eaglesham (who would later collaborate with Johns in the pages of Justice Society of America).  Rucka provides the commentary.  He appears convinced that there's a major continuity mix-up this issue, as the Kahndaq sequence seems to exist within the timeframe of two issues later (in 52, two whole weeks later, as the series plays out in real time), although the happy citizens could just as easily be celebrating the happiness of Black Adam and Isis.
  • #15 - Booster Gold continues reacting poorly to the existence of Supernova, demanding Skeets find him something spectacular to help rebuild his image.  In Kahnaq, Renee Montoya is finding prison life particularly troublesome, but shows greatest concern for her friend Charlie, the Question, who for the first time in the series is worn down, thanks to the beatings they've been getting.  The guards aren't crazy for his blank face.  Clark Kent (easily the Big Three with the biggest presence in 52) realizes Supernova will soon be making another heroic rescue and races to the scene ("Ah, store room, my old friend...I miss you already...").  Booster is already there and struggling to contend with the problem.  Supernova arrives and further angers Booster.  He ends up making an apparent mortal sacrifice to prove he was just as good as Supernova...The art is from Shawn Moll.  Waid provides commentary.  He talks about Johns writing exchanges between Booster and Supernova that in hindsight are just one of the many disturbing indications of the psyches creating all this, and that Clark's appearance confirming the impact of Booster's death adds the right amount of weight to the moment, meaning that this right here is why he's in so many early issues of 52.  There's also more Giffen breakdown art included than at any other point in the four-volume collection, proving how tough it was to visualize Booster's death.
  • #16 - Black Adam and Isis are wildly in love.  He proposes to her to seal the deal.  Renee Montoya and Charlie, the Question, realize Intergang is probably going to hit the wedding.  Mary Marvel (who becomes a prominent element of DC's second weekly series, Countdown) and Isis talk about the pending nuptials.  Black Adam similarly converses with Captain Marvel.  Black Adam frets about the blood staining his cape.  Montoya realizes the bomber is going to aim for the crowd.  Captain Marvel Junior (who will soon star in The Trials of Shazam! as he graduates to Captain Marvel) addresses Talky Tawny, his talking tiger companion, a nod to the later addition of Sobek the talking crocodile as Osiris's companion.  The wedding happens.  Montoya finds the suicide bomber, who's just a kid.  She's forced to kill the kid and immediately regrets it.  Animal Man, Adam Strange, and Starfire finally leave the cursed "paradise planet" they'd been stranded on.  The art is by Joe Bennett, who more than anyone can at this point claim to be the artist of the series.  Commentary is from Rucka, who explains his theory of why there's a big continuity problem two issues ago. 
  • #17 - Infinity Inc. makes its public debut.  Lex Luthor watches the TV footage along with Natasha Irons and the rest of the team.  He keeps giving her special attention.  One of the team members is experiencing "buyer's remorse."  Starfire, Adam Strange, and Animal Man come across Devilance the Pursuer again.  Lobo comes to their rescue.  He reveals he's found religion.  The torso of Red Tornado is discovered by Australian aboriginals.  He's uttering "52."  The art is by Chris Batista.  The commentary is by Giffen.  He talks about how reluctant he was to use Lobo, and how he tricked Morrison into figuring out how to make him work in a way he'd never been used before.  This is one of the issues featuring virtually none of the characters 52 was ultimately known for, but ones I consider essential to the experience.  (Ah, heck.  I consider every element essential to it.)
  • #18 -Detective Chimp travels to the House of Mystery, where he encounters the abandoned Helmet of FateBlack Adam and Isis are eager to show their gratitude to Renee Montoya and Charlie, the Question, who two issues ago saved their wedding.  Black Adam is less than pleased at Montoya's deteriorated mental state, and where it's left her.  Isis argues for them to put their differences aside.  The matter of Intergang is discussed.  Detective Chimp consults with Ralph Dibney (first time we see him this collection) concerning the Helmet of Fate.  Clark Kent attends the funeral of Booster Gold (an irony, considering the circumstances of the first issue, where Booster is grandstanding at Superboy's memorial service, and Clark puts him in his place).  Skeets recruits Booster's ancestor, Daniel Carter.  Detective Chimp and the rest of the Shadowpact observe Dibney as he holds a conversation with the Helmet of Fate they can't hear, in which he sets out on a new journey...Eddy Barrows provides the art.  Waid provides the commentary.  He mentions that Shadowpact should not have been able to appear in the issue, given that Bill Willingham had made the team in its namesake series lose a year of its life during the 52 timeframe (every series had a "One Year Later" gimmick in which they skipped over the 52 timeframe).  I read Shadowpact religiously at the time, so realistically this should've bothered me, too.  But...there are different ways to interpret "losing a year," maybe.  They might simply have been forced to forget everything they experienced that year.  Also, apparently there's a lost Waid story featuring Abraham Lincoln.  Kinda need to read that...
  • #19 - Skeets finds Daniel Carter to be not so different from his future descendent, Booster GoldAnimal Man, Adam Strange, and Starfire are mystified to witness Lobo (and his dolphin companion; somewhere Seaguy is looking on, jealous) hailed as an actual hero by his fellow believers.  We glimpse the Sheeda Lady Styx and the Emerald Eye of Ekron for the first time.  Supernova defeats Weather Wizard, finds himself confronted by Wonder Girl (like Ralph Dibney, first time we see her this volume), who's convinced he's really Superboy.  Skeets and Daniel visit Rip Hunter's bunker.  We realize for the first time that Skeets has been corrupted.  The artist is Pat Oliffe.  The commentary is from Waid, who credits Morrison with the Skeets breakthrough.  "Grant's big contribution to 52 wasn't that he was the 'idea' guy.  It was that he's fearless."
  • #20 - Supernova visits the Batcave.  Steel prevents a building from collapsing during a fire.  He then learns that the Everyman project is giving powers that can just as easily be taken away.  Lobo reveals to Animal Man, Adam Strange, and Starfire that the Emerald Eye of Ekron comes from Ekron himself, who...wants it back.  The art is from Chris Batista.  Johns provides one of his rare commentaries. 
  • #21 - Natasha Irons meets with Lex Luthor in order to argue for the return of an exiled member of Infinity IncRalph Dibney and the Helmet of Fate strike a bargain to enter Hell.  Luthor sets up a fight for Infinity Inc. against Blockbuster.  The Teen Titans, as they've cobbled themselves together at the moment (a similarly improvised Justice League shows up later in the series), confront the team to question its legitimacy (which is also not the last time this happens).  The wayward Trajectory, who was the member having problems, has her powers shut off and dies as a result.  Steel attempts to confront his niece Natasha again at her funeral.  The head of Red Tornado continues to make the rounds (heh) in Australia.  The art is from Joe Bennett.  Johns again provides commentary.  He talks about the Teen Titans, whose book was one of his early signature long runs.  He also mentions how Bennett nearly drew a male character with fishnets (totally understandable, really!).  Lastly, he notes how Rucka wrote the speedster Trajectory's scene where she's gushing over her hero the Flash.  Johns, and Waid, also had a lengthy run with that character.
  • #22 - Lex Luthor is convinced that Supernova is in fact Superman.  (Ironically or not, a later weekly series, Futures End, has a mystery masked Superman, who turns out to be Captain Marvel.)  Super-Chief briefly joins the list of signature 52 creations.  Luthor, ironically, is told he can't gain powers from the Everyman project.  Super-Chief's origin is explained.  Steel is in the shadows as Luthor tries to sidestep the emerging controversy of temporary powers from the Everyman project.  Will Magnus becomes the latest mad scientist to be kidnapped.  The art is by Eddy Barrows.  Dan DiDio provides commentary, referencing the 2007-2008 Metal Men mini-series as something he was looking forward to, as he's a huge fan of the team.  He credits Morrison with the concept for the mini-series, although artist Duncan Rouleau writes it as well.  Even though Super-Chief exits so quickly from 52, I'm still glad he appears and has a whole issue as a spotlight.
  • #23 - Will Magnus arrives at Oolong Island, where all the mad scientists have been taken.  T.O. Morrow greets him.  Renee Montoya and Charlie, the Question, spy on a Religion of Crime ceremony where they find Amon, the future OsirisBlack Adam and Isis (Amon's sister) arrive.  Black Adam transforms Amon into Osiris, and the Black Marvel family is now complete.  Drew Johnson provides the art.  Waid briefly chimes in on commentary, but Rucka quickly takes over.  He discusses the hindsight poignancy of Charlie telling Montoya, "There are some things you just have to accept, Renee."  He also admits Morrison wrote the Oolong Island sequence.  In anyone else's hands (Salvation Run), Oolong Island would've been a trainwreck.  But instead, Morrison.  It also strikes me, in hindsight, that Osiris debuts more or less at the midpoint of 52, but his arc quickly becomes a defining one (whether or not Giffen likes the kid), and sort of the whole point of Isis, who seems like so much a bigger deal. 
  • #24 - Elliot S! Maggin, a classic DC writer, is referenced as Green Arrow decides to seek political office ("What can one man do?").  Super-Chief is revealed to have been headed to the formation of a new Justice League, along with Bulleteer (Seven Soldiers of Victory, the other Morrison megaproject from this time), Ambush Bug, Firehawk, and Firestorm (the latter two have much greater chemistry in the pages of Firestorm around the same time).  Ambush Bug, famous for breaking the fourth wall, randomly references "52" while...breaking the fourth wall ("Hello, room service?  Send up a plot and three pages of dialogue right away!  The weekly grind is tearin' me apart!  Fifty-two!!").  Martian Manhunter, at the time famous for having been in just about every incarnation of the League, is not a member.  Instead, he's attempting to honor the memory of Booster Gold by eradicating Checkmate, the organization once headed by Maxwell Lord and therefore responsible for the death of their Justice League friend and ally, Blue Beetle.  (Victory proves short-lived.  But I still can't understand why no one has been able to pull off a Martian Manhunter series centered on his deliberate use of various aliases.  Mr. Biscuits surely comes close.)  Black Adam, Isis, and Osiris confront the Great Ten, who feel Black Adam is reneging on their previous compact.  The League's first mission is a bust thanks to the meddling of the many Everyman heroes who show up with no clue what to do.  Also, Skeets shows up and betrays them.  Super-Chief does not survive.  Turns out he was really just a cautionary tale the Helmet of Fate helps Ralph Dibney experience ("Magic never comes without a price.").  Martian Manhunter's hard work is immediately undone thanks to these events.  Amanda Waller puts together a Suicide Squad team, starting with Atom Smasher, about to confront his old Justice Society ally, Black Adam.  The great Phil Jimenez provides art for the issue.  Waid provides commentary.  He says Morrison actually complained about Bulleteer's appearance in the issue.  She's not the first Seven Soldiers of Victory character to appear in 52 (Frankenstein was at the Superboy memorial way back in the first issue).
  • #25 - Bruno Mannheim makes his first appearance of the series (I thought he was a 52 original, but turns out he comes from the '70s and is a Jack Kirby creation).  Captain Marvel Junior and Mary Marvel meet the Black Marvel family, Black Adam, Isis, and newest member OsirisRalph Dibney and the Helmet of Fate tour victims of magic.  It's the first time we see Felix Faust.  We glimpse Klarion the Witch Boy from Seven Soldiers of VictoryNatasha Irons and Infinity Inc. are in action.  Green Lantern Alan Scott and Mister Terrific don't join in on the jubilation of kids impressed by them. Instead, they discuss the future of the Justice Society.  They decide to join Checkmate instead to, well, keep it in check.  Will Magnus and T.O. Morrow have another discussion, this time on Oolong Island.  Morrow begins plotting to have Will's medication taken from him, so he can be a proper mad scientist.  Mannheim arrives and greets Egg-Fu, who here insists on being called Chang Tzu.  The art is from a combined effort between Bennett, Eaglesham, Jimenez, and Oliffe.  Giffen provides commentary, amazed at Jones' cover and that Egg-Fu is being taken seriously.
  • #26 - Black Adam, Isis, and Osiris provide Renee Montoya and Charlie, the Question, a ride to Nanda Parbat.  Probably one of the most crucial developments of the whole series right here.  Charlie introduces Montoya to his ally Tot and mentor Richard Dragon, whom he hopes will help her become his successor.  Jack Ryder, the erstwhile Creeper, delivers an in-joke introduction to his TV show, parodying the old Marvel Bullpen columns.  It's actually to help remind everyone that Steel still has great reservations about the Everyman project.  Ryder hosts another awkward confrontation between Steel and his wayward niece, Natasha Irons.  We see a different Ryder, Waverider, very briefly as we catch a look at the alarmingly '50s style family of Doctor SivanaBlack Adam, Isis, and Osiris pays the family a visit.  On Oolong Island, Sivana, Will Magnus, T.O. Morrow, and the other mad scientists celebrate Thanksgiving with a mutated turkey.  Osiris meets Sobek at the Sivana compound.  Pat Oliffe provides the art.  Johns provides the commentary for this final issue in the volume.  He mentions how he and Rucka were writing each other's characters this issue.  Waid briefly chimes in on a note that actually belongs to the previous issue...
Two volumes to go!

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Reading Comics 210 "Understanding 52 - Part 2"

52, the 2006-2007 weekly series written by Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Geoff Johns, and Mark Waid, with art breakdowns by Keith Giffen and covers by J.G. Jones, remains one of my all-time favorite comics.  I recently completed a reread of the complete story, and wanted to undertake a sketch commentary for it.  This part will cover issues from the original first collection, meaning #1-13.  So here we go...
  • #1 - The first page evokes the ending of Infinite Crisis, to which 52 serves as a sequel.  By the end of the series it'll be explained as the birth (or rebirth) of the multiverse.  Then we segue into vignettes introducing three of 52's main characters: Ralph Dibney, Renee Montoya, and Steel.  Dibney's house was destroyed during the Crisis, Montoya is drinking herself to an early grave thanks to the death of her partner Crispus Allen, and Steel is helping out with recovery efforts.  Then we meet Booster Gold, introducing the gimmick of trying to fill the void left by Superman by being a corporate sellout and all-around phony.  Eventually we return to Dibney, who appears suicidal, as we remember that his wife Sue was murdered viciously in the pages of Identity Crisis.  We'll discover much later what's really going on with him.  Then we meet Steel's niece, Natasha Irons, in her armor, for the first time in the series.  Steel is frustrated that Natasha is taking being a superhero for granted, complaining about being late for a Teen Titans meeting rather than helping the cleanup effort, so he takes her armor away.  Then we head to Kahndaq as Black Adam explains how he intends to set a new standard for international justice, immediately demonstrating it in the most vicious way possible.  Doctor Sivana and Mister Mind are the first mad scientists we meet, and the first mysteriously kidnapped.  Well, Sivana is, anyway.  We don't catch up with Mister Mind until...later.  Booster nearly crashes a memorial service for Superboy and other heroes lost in the Crisis, with some abetting from Skeets, but Clark Kent helps set him straight.  Finally, the Question begins his recruitment of Montoya.  The artist for the issue is Joe Bennett.  Paul Levitz provides the first commentary explaining how the idea for 52 happened, with Giffen and Waid offering additional brief insights. 
  • #2 - Ralph Dibney visits his wife's grave, which in the first issue he'd been told had been desecrated.  Booster Gold visits Will Magnus, attempting to find out why Skeets was so wrong about the events of last issue's memorial service.  Magnus then visits T.O. Morrow, who's noticed the disappearance of other mad scientists.  The Question pays a visit to Renee Montoya.  Booster nearly botches another incident thanks to Skeets.  Montoya decides to take the Question up on his enigmatic begin a stakeout.  Dibney visits Wonder Girl, who has joined a cult believing Superboy will be resurrected.  The cult was responsible for desecrating his wife's grave.  The artist is again Joe Bennett.  Dan DiDio provides the issue's commentary. 
  • #3 - Lex Luthor appears for the first time, but the Alexander Luthor from Earth-3 Luthor killed at the end of Infinite Crisis.  So, a corpse, indicating Luthor's typical duplicity will once again be at work in 52.  Power Girl pursues Terra-Man, but ends up in Kahndaq, where Black Adam intervenes, claiming sovereignty.  Natasha Irons is once again stymied by her uncle Steel, increasing the growing rift between them.  Arianna, the future Isis, debuts, brought before Black Adam as a "gift" from Intergang.  Black Adam refuses their offer, violently.  Terra-Man mistakenly believes they're on the same page.  Booster Gold and Skeets continue their shenanigans and win another corporate sponsor, but this one is shut down by the government and so Booster loses the deal.  He gets mad at Skeets for failing to know that.  Steel assists in examining the Luthor corpse, and helps identify the hoax.  The real Luthor appears, and the showdown with Steel begins.  Black Adam, with Adrianna in the crowd, makes a violent demonstration of Terra-Man for the world to see of how seriously he's taking his new dedication to justice.  The issue ends with a look at Mister Mind, apparently having woven a cocoon around himself.  The art is again by Joe Bennett.  Rucka provides commentary, the first time one of the writers does so at length.  He remarks that Crispus Allen, who clearly died at the end of Gotham Central (kind of the whole reason for Renee Montoya's state of mind during 52) was mistakenly drawn into the script by Bennett.
  • #4 - Renee Montoya  begins the stakeout requested by the Question.  We get the first indication that the heroes who went into space, including Animal Man and Adam Strange, during Infinite Crisis are going to be returning.  Booster Gold has an unhappy reunion with former Justice League teammate Fire, who expresses her disappointment in his conduct.  The Question shows up in Montoya's card.  She blows smoke in his, er, lack-of-face, which is something she'll regret later.  Steel begins to show signs of having been infected by Lex Luthor in their encounter last issue, foreshadowing the Everyman project.  Ralph Dibney and Wonder Girl attend a Cult of Connor (Superboy) ceremony, in which Dibney is the subject, and his wedding ring is stolen.  Montoya and the Question find the first evidence, namely a monster goon and a fancy gun, that Intergang has come to town.  Survivors from the space heroes, including Green Lantern Alan Scott, contingent arrive via Zeta Beam, much worse for wear...Joe Bennett is once again artist.  Rucka again provides commentary.  He mentions that Montoya chewing aspirin is probably a detail Giffen came up with, an old alcoholic's trick.  He also references a sequence that Morrison clearly was responsible for.  Waid chimes in briefly to agree that Montoya and Question's interactions in this issue are a key sequence in the whole series, setting the tone for the development of their relationship.  Well, see what I wrote above...
  • #5 - Animal Man's family opens the issue, losing hope that Buddy Baker is coming home.  Green Lantern Alan Scott, who was in the space mission with him, appears and offers new hope.  Lex Luthor announces his Everyman project (Booster Gold takes a quick dig at Skeets for failing to tell him about it; Renee Montoya appears with a bandage over the wound she received last issue; Clark Kent appears).  Steel is called in to consult on the returning space heroes, many of whom are in critical condition, none of whom in the pages of 52 receive any significant follow-up past what we see here.  Alan Scott again offers his thoughts on whether Adam Strange survived; he's not hopeful.  In a glimpse at the chaos that created all the carnage, we see Red Tornado exploding, as well as Animal Man and Starfire near Strange.  He also mentions the loss of his daughter Jade.  Montoya is seeming downright chipper for a change as Maggie Sawyer visits her, trying to figure out where her head's at.  Montoya pulls out the fancy gun she acquired last issue after Sawyer leaves.  Mal Duncan, one of the space hero survivors, is the first to utter "52" in the pages of 52, thanks to the bits of Red Tornado lodged in him.  Then we finally meet up with Animal Man, Starfire, and Adam Strange, apparently stranded in paradise.  Chris Batista provides art for the first time.  Waid provides commentary.  He says this particular script was mostly Morrison with a little Rucka. 
  • #6 - Booster Gold opens the issue by officially revealing he's been supplementing his heroic adventures with some outright shams, including a fake villain-for-hire.  The Great Ten debut, informing Green Lanterns Hal Jordan and John Stewart that China is not their jurisdiction.  The Great Ten are the first significant new creations to appear in 52Will Magnus and T.O. Morrow have another discussion, this time veering in the direction of the missing mad scientists.  We get a glimpse of Egg-Fu, who's responsible.  As the Green Lanterns continue their showdown with the Great Ten, Black Adam appears, bringing with him his emerging global coalition, including the Great Ten and Russia's Rocket Reds.  Booster visits Rip Hunter's bunker, where he and Skeets find chalkboards and other notes full of clues about the future.  We're led to believe that Rip has pegged Booster as the biggest real threat, while we learn later...Joe Bennett is again on art.  Giffen provides commentary, including the first glowing praise of a Jones cover.  Waid also chimes in concerning Rip Hunter's clues, stating for the record that some of them will never be addressed. 
  • #7 - Animal Man, Starfire, and Adam Strange begin to discover that their paradise isn't what it seems.  Renee Montoya realizes she's got to find some sources outside the enigmatic Question if she's going to get to the bottom of their mystery.  She decides it's probably going to be Kate Kane, the future BatwomanBooster Gold is visited by Ralph Dibney, who like Fire before him is greatly disappointed by him.  Montoya visits Kate, and it's awkward, as they're former lovers.  Booster is exposed as a fraud by the fake villain-for-hire from last issue.  Starfire comes face-to-face with Devilance the Pursuer, whom we first glimpsed two issues ago.  The art is by Ken Lashley.  The commentary is by Waid, who discusses the finer points of ratcheting up the drama between Booster and Dibney. 
  • #8 - Steel and his niece Natasha Irons aren't getting along any better.  Natasha mentions interest in the Everyman project for the first time.  Steel's Everyman infection continues to evolve.  Ralph Dibney visits Green Arrow to discuss the Cult of Connor.  Steel gets his DNA analyzed to find out what's going on, realizing that Lex Luthor deliberately infected him with the Everyman metagene.  We get our first glimpse of Supernova, who becomes a signature new superhero of 52 (until we learn who he really is).  Booster Gold angrily confronts Skeets about this latest unannounced bit of significant history; Clark Kent is on the scene to catch the rant.  Natasha becomes convinced that Steel has become involved in the Everyman project he's previously warned her to stay away from, and their relationship further deteriorates.  Animal Man, Adam Strange, and Starfire fall further into Delivance the Pursuer's trap.  Luthor personally recruits Natasha to the Everyman project, and begins the process of giving her powers.  Eddy Barrows provides the artwork.  Rucka provides the commentary.  He mentions how Barrows gives Natasha cleavage in a welding sequence, whether by his own initiative or an editor's, a sexy look the script did not call for.
  • #9 - Lex Luthor explains his vision of the future, "where every man becomes a super man."  Steel, his skin now fully encased in, well, steel, angrily confronts him about Natasha's disappearance.  She shows up with the rest of the new Infinity, Inc. and angrily rejects her uncle.  Adam Strange, Animal Man, and Starfire work on escaping Devilance the Pursuer.  They succeed, for now.  The Question shows his face (heh) inside a lesbian bar to chat with Renee Montoya.  He calls himself Charlie for the first time.  We catch our first glimpse of Batwoman.  Shawn Moll is the artist.  In commentary, Giffen laments his initial design for Infinity Inc.'s costumes.  He also gives Morrison props for the deep cull of Devilance the Pursuer. 
  • #10 - Black Adam's posturing before his new allies is interrupted by Adrianna, the future Isis.  Perry White chews out Clark Kent (who lost his powers at the end of Infinite Crisis) for losing his reporting edge.  This inspires Clark to pull a Lois Lane so he can get the scoop on Supernova.  Black Adam and Adrianna talk, in which she's the first to succeed in piercing his hard exterior.  Clark and Lois talk about Supernova, whom later observers will be convinced is Superman.  Clearly not.  Booster Gold and Skeets wonder who's under the mask, too. Ironically, as it turns out.  Will Magnus and T.O. Morrow again chat.  Morrow produces the husk of Mister Mind's cocoon.  Chris Batista is the artist.  Rucka provides the commentary.  He declares the Clark/White confrontation to be one of his favorite 52 moments, and admits it was written by Waid. 
  • #11 - Ralph Dibney begins to lose his cool over the Cult of Connor, attacking some kids for wearing a button emblazoned with its symbol.  Renee Montoya and the Question, Charlie, chat about smoking.  Kate Kane, Batwoman, provides some useful information.  Charlie tries to get Montoya to admit her biggest problem.  They discuss key Intergang figures, and then are confronted by them.  They survive thanks to Batwoman's full debut.  Montoya realizes Batwoman and Kate are one and the same.  Dibney visits a storage shed that's been ransacked, with only an outfit of his late wife Sue's missing.  We see Wonder Girl at a Cult of Connor ceremony with a wicker figure wearing the outfit, and Dibney's stolen wedding ring from the fourth issue.  Joe Bennett and Todd Nauck provide the art.  DiDio and Rucka provide commentary.  DiDio laments that Batwoman in the media was dismissed as a lipstick lesbian.
  • #12 - Renee Montoya chats with Maggie Sawyer again, her old boss from Gotham Central, who advises her to quit playing detective.  The Question, Charlie, naturally disagrees, and suggests they visit Kahndaq, where we've previously seen Intergang surface.  In Kahndaq, meanwhile, is a suddenly benevolent Black Adam, thanks to the influence of Adrianna.  They visit the Rock of Eternity and Captain Marvel, who's having a rough time replacing Shazam as its main occupant.  Ralph Dibney visits Wonder Girl, suggesting he may want to take the Cult of Connor's attempts to resurrect his wife Sue seriously after all.  Adrianna is transformed into Isis, another signature creation of 52.  The art is by Eddy Barrows.  Jones provides the commentary, explaining how he came up with this issue's cover.
  • #13 - Ralph Dibney attends the Cult of Connor's ceremony to resurrect his late wife Sue.  He brings with him Green Lantern Hal Jordan, Green Arrow, Metamorpho, and Zauriel, all of whom have either been themselves resurrected or have intimate experience with the afterlife.  Wonder Girl is also in attendance as she hopes for the eventual resurrection of Superboy.  Isis helps Black Adam continue redeeming his image, and in the process they begin the search for her brother, Amon, the future Osiris.  Dibney has decided that the ceremony is a fraud, but...was it?  Did he act too hastily? The issue and the volume ends with Dibney having apparently gone mad, clutching at the wicker husk of his late wife...The art is from Todd Nauck.  Waid provides commentary.  He mentions how original series editor Stephen Wacker caught a continuity mistake before it happened, replacing Hawkwoman in the Dibney sequence with Zauriel, Hawkwoman being one of the space heroes on the mend and last seen...supersized.  As I said, they didn't really follow up on those guys...He also mentions the real menace in Dibney's arc throughout 52 appearing in shadow for the first time this issue. 
Only three volumes to go!

Monday, September 4, 2017

Reading Comics 209 "Understanding 52 - Part 1"

I've attempted to provide commentary on DC's ambitious 2006-2007 weekly series project 52 twice before, once here (which I aborted for various reasons) and previously when it was being published each week (when I was writing about comics for the aborted Paperback reader website).  This time, I hope to do it true justice.

That means providing some context, explaining where its storylines came from.  Some are obvious enough, but I still feel it's necessary to spell them all out.  Here we go...

  • Animal Man #1-89 (1988-1995) This is one of the less obvious ones, but arguably one of the most significant of the whole concept: 52 was Grant Morrison writing Buddy Baker for the first time since his breakthrough run on Animal Man itself.  Morrison's last issue was #26, but obviously the series continued for some time.  The whole thing was the first time the character had truly been relevant since his creation (Strange Adventures #180 from 1965).
  • Steel #1-52 (1994-1998) One of the "Reign of the Supermen" characters, John Henry Irons, along with Superboy, is also an enduring legacy of the concept (begun in 1993's Adventures of Superman #500).  Yeah, his solo series lasted 52 issues, but it also established the existence of his niece Natasha Irons in its first issue.  In their later, early 21st Century appearances in the Superman comics, Natasha first wears her own armor, although as supporting players it's tough to point to these appearances as anything other than precedent. 
  • JSA #1-87 (1999-2006) This is the Justice Society series that featured Black Adam (first modern appearance: Shazam! The New Beginning #1 from 1987) setting up his kingdom in Kahndaq.  Written by Geoff Johns.
  • Gotham Central #1-40 (2003-2006) The series that explains what happened to Renee Montoya.  This was a character made famous in Batman: The Animated Series (first comic book appearance: Batman #475 from 1992), but whose significance increased exponentially in Gotham Central and then 52.  In fact, she transitioned directly from the former to the latter.  Series written by Greg Rucka.
  • Identity Crisis #1-7 (2004-2005) Features the death of Sue Gibney, wife of the Elongated Man, Ralph Dibney (first appearance: The Flash #112 from 1960), which sets off his quest for closure in the pages of 52Identity Crisis also features the same tone 52 has, a more intimate look at superhero life than is usually seen in mainstream comics.
  • Countdown to Infinite Crisis (2005) The death of Blue Beetle had a profound effect on Booster Gold (first appearance: Booster Gold #1 in 1986); these two were the backbone of the so-called Bwa-ha-ha era of the Justice League.  Booster subsequently appeared in The OMAC Project mini-series before his life takes a drastic turn in the pages of 52.
  • Wonder Woman #219 (2005) This is the issue where Wonder Woman murders Maxwell Lord, which helps set the tone for Infinite Crisis and 52 itself.
  • Infinite Crisis #1-7 (2005-2006) 52 is an immediate sequel to this.  Written by Geoff Johns.
  • Rann/Thanager War: Infinite Crisis Special (2006) This Infinite Crisis special explains where Animal Man, Adam Strange, Starfire, and a host of other characters affected by the cosmic conflict were coming from.