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 #13 (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.