Mail-Order Mysteries: Real Stuff from Old Comic Book Ads!
The ads in comic books are just no fun anymore.
Video games, movie ads, glossy full-page appeals to whatever dollars the kids have left over after buying the latest and greatest MP3s on iTunes, or whatever kids are spending their money on these days. Mine seem to spend it all on energy drinks. But it’s not like kids are reading comics anyway, right?
When I was 6 years old, I started reading comics, and I was the prime audience for the ads you’ll find all over Mail-Order Mysteries (Insight Editions). Author Kirk Demaris, who appears to have had a childhood much like mine, dives deep into the truth behind the hype of these frequently ludicrous and always dubious little ads, the ones that stick with me after all these years.
How could they not? I was one of the suckers who bought the stupid piece of metal you put in your mouth to supposedly throw your voice. It did nothing. I sent away for the foot locker full of 2-D army guys that weren’t even as entertaining as the ad that promoted them. Sea Monkeys? Of course I bought them. They were freeze-dried brine shrimp about the size of a molecule, and if they lived long enough in your tap water, you might kinda-sorta think you saw one swimming in there, just before they died. These are memories that last a lifetime.
And now in this highly entertaining new collection you can not only relive those nearly-criminal ads (or see them for the first time, if you’re too young to remember them), but find out the truth about the crap your hard-earned nickels and dimes eventually got you (sometimes you mailed in your money and that was the end of it — believe you me).
Demaris has a lot of fun with the subject at hand, showing off pictures of the real stuff you’d get and going into some detail about the swindlers who masterminded this decades-long scam that touched the lives of millions and probably netted the companies hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, which they laughed all the way to the bank with. It’s a brilliantly-conceived trip down a narrow back alley of comics history that was long overdue for exploration, and unless you have no sense of humour or history, you’re sure to enjoy the book. Much more than I enjoyed those flat-ass army guys, that’s for sure.
— Alan David Doane
The publisher provided a copy for the purpose of review.
Writer: Pierre Comtois Editor: John Morrow Publisher: TwoMorrows Publishing
Marvel in the ‘70s is a sequel to the author’s Marvel in the ‘60s (natch), which one would have to say had the easier route to success. After all, it was in the ‘60s that the “Marvel Age” began, with Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and others cutting loose with one fresh new superhero after another, like Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, Iron Man, the X-Men, the Avengers, not to mention the villains and a distinctive, ingratiating narrative style from Lee that was part carnival barker, part pal. A book that chronicles the creation of something that was new and inspiring is naturally going to be fun to read about.
From around 1968 or so, Marvel Comics then went through a period that may be classified as growing pains. The sale of the company to Cadence Communications led to the ouster of longtime Publisher Martin Goodman, with Lee taking over the position. This role, and increasing time spent as Marvel’s ambassador, a real celebrity during this time, as well as the additional duties of expanding Marvel’s merchandizing and expansion into other media, meant that Lee was less hands-on in guiding the comic books. Even without the additional job duties, he would have had to rely more and more on new Editor-in-Chief (and writer of the most titles), Roy Thomas, because he was expanding the publishing line with ideas for new books seemingly every week.
The expansion of the line led to an influx of new talent, some of whom were impressive out of the gate and some who had to grow into the job, and quickly. Among the careers that started or at least took off at Marvel during the late ‘60s through mid-‘70s were Barry Windsor-Smith, Jim Steranko, Neal Adams, Gerry Conway, Marv Wolfman, Len Wein, Mike Ploog, P. Craig Russell, Doug Moench, Don McGregor, Steve Gerber, Jim Starlin, Steve Englehart and Paul Gulacy. At the same time, long-simmering resentments caused by Lee’s power, fame, and editorial interference led to a John Buscema essentially taking his creativity down a gear, and Jack “King” Kirby, the co-creator with Lee (and in the case of Captain America, Joe Simon), most of Marvel’s most popular characters, also gearing down, biding his time, and taking his talents and filed-away characters and concepts to rival DC Comics when the opportunity came in 1970. Other Marvel veterans like Gene Colan, Don Heck and Gil Kane (not there for Marvel’s glory years) were shuffled from one book to another, with mixed results.
It’s a fascinating period in Marvel’s history, with some failed experiments and the collision between the generation of Marvel writers and artists who got into the industry when comics were a disreputable industry where those who couldn’t become successful novelists or commercial artists ended up, and the next generation of kids who grew up wanting to make comics, and had also immersed themselves in other science fiction, fantasy, philosophy and the mind-expanding substances of the era.
Comtois takes this complicated period and reduces it to one dubious thesis, that the period from 1968 to 1980 represented Marvel’s “Twilight Years,” after which they would never again reach the previous heights of creative and commercial success. He further hinders himself with a restrictive format: the story is told within chronological reviews of selected comic books. It’s a workable, even novel, format for the book’s purpose, but requires both Comtois and editor Morrow being able to shape the text into a dramatic narrative that backs up early assertions with the accretion of supporting evidence, and develops story threads into satisfying, credible conclusions. Unfortunately, neither are working up to the level required here.
Case in point: Jack Kirby. Early on in the book, Comtois informs us that for the final 20-odd issues of his venerable run on Fantastic Four, Kirby was basically phoning it in. The geyser of new characters and concepts had dried up, and he was going through the motions with Doctor Doom and the rest, with the same old familiar poses and a decreasing dynamism. I’m not interested in arguing a subjective opinion, and the work has to stand on its own, but would it not have been fair to point out the lack of new ideas and verve on the book were largely due to Kirby’s deteriorating relationship with Lee? It’s one thing to prefer the work of Lee over Kirby, or at least Lee’s ‘70s output vs. Kirby’s ‘70s output, but quite another to gloss over widely reported tensions that contributed to Kirby’s last Marvel ‘60s work not being among his best.
Although Comtois makes little reference to developments at DC Comics or other publishers throughout the book, and indeed does little to place ‘70s Marvel in the context of ‘70s America, he can’t help but throw more darts at Kirby by dismissing wholesale his Fourth World opus, books that, while they were relatively mediocre sellers at the time, have gained in critical stature since. One doesn’t have to like them to note that the passing of time has brought new appreciation for them, or to note that almost all of Kirby’s ‘70s work for both DC and Marvel is currently back in print. It’s just being fair. Comtois complete his specious assessment by noting sales of the books dropped off early on, right after Vince Colletta was dismissed as inker (the implication being that Colletta was doing fine and was an established commodity as Kirby’s inker in the past, and that he took fans with him once Kirby fired him and started working with new inkers like Mike Royer). Comtois also claims that the Fourth World books failed by lacking humanity. There were certainly human characters in the books, like Jimmy Olsen, Guardian, the Newsboy Legion, and Oberon, with Orion’s human friends acting as a Greek chorus for the human race throughout the New Gods series. One might also note that the Orion/Darkseid conflict was just a father/son conflict on a grand scale, but suffice to say, Comtois’ antipathy to Kirby’s work from this point and beyond is a bell rung loud and often in the book, despite Kirby being absent from Marvel for most of the decade discussed.
Comtois’ biases don’t stop with Kirby. He has particular loathing for Gil Kane’s style, with his up-the-nose poses and hand-wringing characters. Only when there is a strong inker he likes, such as John Romita, Sr. on Amazing Spider-Man or Klaus Janson on Daredevil, can he tolerate Kane. There is also a bias in favor of Marvel’s fantasy and horror books and characters, which reveals itself in curious ways. Curious in that, while Comtois constantly beats the drum that Marvel was on the decline, its bread-and-butter books in the doldrums, these negative comments are most often within reviews of the horror and fantasy books for which Comtois clearly has a great fondness. While he can’t help but knock the often-rough debuts of Windsor-Smith, Ploog and others, he delights in discussing when the artists put it together, and spends much more time on favored issues of titles like Conan the Barbarian, Kull the Conqueror, Savage Tales, Frankenstein’s Monster, and Tomb of Dracula. The amount of coverage of these titles, and the short shrift given to any superhero title of the time besides multiple, redundant reviews of high and low points for Amazing Spider-Man, suggests that while Marvel’s superhero line was stagnant, Marvel was remaining relevant by expanding into other popular genres (sword & sandal, Universal monsters), as well as displaying bright young artistic and writing talent. It’s clear where Comtois’ true sympathies lie—he considers the Wolfman/Colan Tomb of Dracula one of Marvel’s best runs, and the Thomas/Windsor-Smith Conan #24 a comics peak no one would reach again. No, really, he writes this. It doesn’t really sound like The Twilight Years, does it?
When it’s a book or creator he likes, Comtois provides capable description and a fannish enthusiasm (there are entirely too many exclamation points in the book) that could have been infectious with better editing and either a more consistent, positive theme of those wild, wacky, obscure Marvel ‘70s comics, or a series of personal essays about same (maybe more in line with Douglas Wolk’s Reading Comics). As it is, Comtois’ persuasiveness rises and falls with how much one already knows about the subject. Kull and It, the Living Mummy look kind of interesting, while the antagonism towards Gil Kane’s Amazing Spider-Man or Steve Gerber’s Defenders is off-putting, and the lack of perspective (the aforementioned Conan #24 comment, or the middling, short-lived The Champions series being “for one brief, shining moment one of Marvel’s best series”) is ridiculous. And Comtois strangely makes his arguments about the quality of the superhero line from a distance, touching frequently on Amazing Spider-Man but very little on other flagship titles like The Avengers, Fantastic Four, Captain America or The Incredible Hulk.
There is also an odd, passive-aggressive tone throughout, not just in the text but in the editing and design. Most of the writers and artists discussed receive small biographical sidebars, with photos, even if the person is discussed negatively. Comtois’ text certainly makes the distinction that relatively forgotten talents like penciler Keith Pollard or inker Tony Mortellaro did not create work as notable as that of Klaus Janson or John Buscema, yet why give them the same sidebars? It’s almost cruel to shine the same light on folks like this, only to note that they didn’t do a good job on this book, or that, in the case of venerable Silver Age DC Comics scribe Gardner Fox, they were over the hill by the time they got to Marvel. And the pictures! Instead of going for the kitsch value of era-specific photos, only some follow that route, with many appearing to be taken from casual snapshots from various conventions of the past couple decades. Surely there are photos available of Klaus Janson (whose good looks were played up in Marvel Bullpen Bulletins in the ‘80s, as I recall) where he doesn’t appear to be recovering from a stroke? And although there is no doubt from the text that Comtois is a great fan of the work of Barry Windsor-Smith, he insists on calling him just Barry Smith, even in the list of creators thanked. Whether Comtois knows this is a source of annoyance for the artist is unknown, but surely people change their names for a reason, and to insist on the previous name can’t help but smack of disrespect.
The use of the review as a format to discuss Marvel in general (or at least the developments and creators Comtois is interested in) becomes wearying after a while. Part of it is the format itself, which would have benefited from the occasional break to offer a page or two to look beyond Marvel’s comics and magazines. This reviewer learned much about Marvel during this time from the crude, late ‘60s Marvel Super-Heroes and Amazing Spider-Man cartoons, the Spider-Man and Incredible Hulk live action television series, the Pocket Books collections of early issues, Stan Lee-edited reprint anthologies like Origins of Marvel Comics and Bring on the Bad Guys, as well as ephemera like the Mighty Marvel Fun Books, or even 7/11 tumblers, ColorForms sets, Spider-Man webshooter toys or Mego action figures. Although the ongoing books should be the main focus, certainly the other items helped Marvel become the publishing and merchandising juggernaut they were in the ‘70s, and at the very least would have added spice and visual appeal to the book.
The other reason the format is restrictive and tiring has to do with the poor editing. Not just the typos, of which there are several (even though a proofreader is credited), but the redundancies. While Stan Lee’s defying of the Comics Code Authority (the body created by comics publishers after the Kefauver hearings to regulate their content with a stamp of approval on all comics available on newsstands) to publish the then-controversial issues of Amazing Spider-Man dealing with supporting character Harry Osborn’s drug use (the story was clearly anti-drug) is worth discussing, and a case can be made that the erosion of the CCA’s power led to a softened stance on previously verboten subjects like vampires, the undead and Satanism led to Marvel’s confidence in expanding into books featuring these subjects, does it have to be mentioned every time one of these books is reviewed? It has to be noted here at least eight times, vying for importance in Comtois’ head with poor old declining Jack Kirby. Mentioned at least three times is the nugget that the “Crusty Bunkers” were the name given to the members of Neal Adams’ studio who were frequently called upon to ink or finish a Marvel issue up against the deadline crunch. It’s a nice nugget, once. The second time, one starts getting distracted and wondering what better (ie, not repetitive) item could have been used in its place. The third time, it’s annoying.
I’m not sure if Comtois was told of a page limit late in the writing or what, but for some strange reason, 1976-1979 (half the decade!) is covered in the final 20 of the book’s 220 pages. This amounts mainly to discussing the transition from Gil Kane to young hotshot Frank Miller on Daredevil, and a little on John Byrne on Jim Shooter’s The Avengers, as well as some discussion of Shooter himself and that great final issue of The Champions, with Byrne inking George Tuska. If one thinks of mid-to-late-‘70s Marvel as a place where superstar artist George Perez first flowered on high profile titles like Fantastic Four and The Avengers, well, you’re out of luck, as Comtois doesn’t even mention him, just like he spends little time on writer Steve Englehart’s ‘70s work on The Avengers, The Defenders or Captain America. Inker Tony Mortellaro, though, he gets a mention.
Comtois has no problem making bold assertions, like Klaus Janson’s inking of Deathlok being “perhaps the best work he’s ever done” (early in a, what, 40 year career?), or that, accusations of plagiarism aside, the prolific but now mostly unreprinted scribe Bill Mantlo was, “in reality, one of Marvel’s best writers, doing exceptional work on Deathlok, Champions and ROM,” but to say the author has trouble connecting threads would be to erroneously suggest he even makes an attempt. Does ROM springboard into a discussion of other toy tie-in books that would be ‘80s hits for Marvel like Micronauts, or G.I. Joe? No. He praises Lee for defying the CCA, leading to the expansion into horror titles, yet doesn’t criticize him for overworking his staff and abdicating his editing and publishing duties to those not fully qualified to do so, leading to “The Twilight Years”. And while Roy Thomas’ writing is routinely praised, his editing and stewardship of the line in the Twilight Years is only mildly criticized. Further, he sees these Twilight Years as an end to Marvel’s creative growth, yet doesn’t seem to recognize that the expansion into non-superhero genres led to not just other rich avenues for Marvel, but also the beginnings of many popular, influential writers and artists. To appreciate the book, one has to force one’s mind into the narrow tracks of the author’s, who feels Steve Gerber’s Defenders run was too subversive and irreverent, contributing to Marvel’s decline, while Jim Starlin’s Warlock, with thinly veiled attacks on Roy Thomas, Stan Lee and the Marvel infrastructure, is too be praised and not at all a contributor to Marvel’s decline. Another factor in the decline, according to the author, is that the monster characters such as Dracula, the Living Mummy, and Frankenstein’s Monster, are all part of the Marvel Universe, thereby undermining the realism Lee & Co had established. This is the same realistic Marvel Universe with several heroes spawned from radiation, Norse and Greek gods on Earth, several alien races, an undersea nation, multiple alternate dimensions, and a master of mystic arts, correct? What difference does Dracula make when you already have Mephisto? Why is using pulp villain Fu-Manchu just fine, when movie monsters arent? Ultimately, Marvel in the ‘70s remains a worthy subject for a book, but unfortunately this is not a worthy attempt at it.
My first thought looking at the cover, which features a long-haired rocker holding a glowing red guitar, was that this book was going to be stupid, and might very well have been written by a musician. Sometimes my instincts are right. With a childishly breathless pace, our rocker hero is carried off by a magical guitar to another dimension, where a demon and his bustier-clad demoness pose and sneer while apparently the whole multiverse is in jeopardy from something. It takes two writers, two pencilers, three inkers and two colorists to produce this unreadable mess. I wondered how it even got made, and the secret might be that it′s just a cynical promotional deal, as co-writer Llexi Leon is a guitarist, with ads in the back of the comic featuring him plugging Ovation guitars and DiMarzio pickups. There′s an ad for a guitar pedal on the back, featuring Lyra artwork (I think she′s the slutty demoness but doesn’t have horns on her head here), with tones programmed by Leon. Industrious guy, just not a writer. This all may make a bit more sense to those who read Vol. 1, but there is no attempt to help a new reader out.
Star Trek/Legion of Super-Heroes #1
Chris Roberson and Jeffrey & Philip Moy offer up a meeting of two beloved franchises, and it really should have worked better than it does. Ive read decent work from Roberson, and IDW has done a great job overall with their Star Trek comics, but this one falls flat. Part of it is underwhelming art, especially after the terrific job on Star Trek #1, and part of it is that the entire issue goes by and the two teams haven’t met. Roberson instead is more interested in cutting between both teams being ordinary until they both find themselves on an alternate 33rd Century Earth. Its delivered as a big cliffhanger, a big surprise to both, but any reader would pretty much expect it would take an alternate timeline or some other typical contrivance to get these characters together. The fun part had to be how these characters relate to each other. Spock to Brainiac-5, Kirk to Cosmic Boy and so on. Me, I want the fun part to start in the first issue.
H.P. Lovecrafts The Dunwich Horror #1
Horror runs in the blood of IDW, so it’s a no-brainer that eventually they would start doing some Lovecraft adaptations. I normally like Joe R. Lansdale, though I haven’t read a lot of him, but its fair to say his style is closer to contemporary, good ol ′boy Stephen King than the Gothic stylings of Lovecraft. And indeed, Lansdale dispenses with Lovecraft′s text entirely, offering an adaptation relying heavily on the common speech dialogue of a group of four occult thrill seekers and the visuals of Peter Bergting to convey the horror of rural New England. I don’t have a problem with iPhones in a Lovecraft story, really, but Bergting is just not up to the task. A 40 foot high mound of desiccated animals should look scarier than this. In fact, Bergting curiously deemphasizes the thing, first showing it far away, then in a small panel, and then only the base of it, always in the background while the characters blather and look only mildly unsettled if they have an expression at all. He draws a nice barn, though.
Robert Weinberg and artist menton3 then begin an adaptation of ″The Hound″ with heavily Photoshopped single page images and white cursive text overlaid. Weinberg keeps chunks of Lovecraft′s narration but the static images fail to excite. It just doesn’t feel like comics, you know?
30 Days of Night #1
Steve Niles has now made his popular series-of-miniseries-and-specials into an ongoing monthly. This should be a special event for fans, but it′s only special in the sense that Niles decides to spend only a little time with the human element, vampire investigator Alice Blood, instead focusing on the infighting of a group of vampires, which I found much less interesting. Not helping matters at all are the chicken scratch letters of Neil Uyetake, with periods and commas so small they′′re almost invisible and the speckled background coloring effect by Jay Fotos that, along with the washed out palette, really dampens the energy of the book. In fact, my first take on Sam Kieth′′s art was that it was some of his laziest ever, but that was after reading the book at night. In daylight, I see that aside from a few flat, needlessly cartoony characters, he does some nice work here, especially on Alice, a trademark Kieth oddball chick. I was pretty underwhelmed by this one, and to be fair, there is so much vampire material around now than when Niles first started the original 30 Days, so the bar has been set higher to do something really different and compelling. Hopefully it will get there.
Cold War #1
Subtitled The Damocles Contract and further subtitled The Michael Swann Dossier, its clear that John Byrne wants to step into the ring with the likes of Ian Fleming, Graham Greene and Robert Ludlum with his own take on a tough, Cold War spy. We meet Michael Swann in East Berlin as he ruthlessly kills a high-ranking Communist and then is chased by soldiers, before he escapes through the checkpoint into democratic Berlin.
Byrne starts piling on the James Bond similarities from this point, as the recuperating Swann finds time to have sex with an appreciative nurse, and his handlers are of course stuffed shirts. Swann quits, blaming his superiors for leaks leading to his capture and near-death at the hands of his captors. Two years later (it′s never clear exactly what year this takes place in, but probably early 60s), Swann listens to a little exposition from a pretty agent about his next assignment (is he on his own now, still with MI-6, the CIA? Who knows), getting to a rocket scientist before he defects to the Soviets. It′s also not clear if hes supposed to neutralize the guy, secure his secrets or talk him out of it, maybe because Byrne thinks it′s better to end the page with the clear suggestion Swann is eating the agent out. My favorite exchange (this is pre-cunnilingus):
Miss Thorogoode: Subject: Professor Rupert Kemp.
Top man down at the QM Rocket Group in Sussex.
Considered by some to be the most brilliant mind in his field.
Swann: His field being rockets and missiles. I′ve heard of him, of course.
Dude, she just said he′s the top man at the QM Rocket Group. We can figure out that he′s in charge of rockets and missiles and not changing the watercooler bottles.
All kidding aside, it’s a lovely book to look at. An engaged Byrne can still deliver, with solid storytelling and a good variety of faces, and Ronda Pattison colors it subtly, maybe a little on the cool side but that could be a thematic decision for cold war, or just to emphasize that this is serious, adult Byrne material. Byrne does seem to be enjoying himself, as is usually the case during his IDW tenure, but I do think the book has some flaws. The sex and violence can′t cover up that every scene is something you’ve seen or read before. And as a lead, Swann is very much a cipher, a cold, amoral killer in line with Fleming′s Bond but lacking the charm the character gained in the films. It’s a handsome book, but so far kind of empty.
Friday the 13th always brings thoughts of bad luck, even to the least superstitious of us. This week we barely avoid the dreaded day, as the 13th falls on Thursday. Good luck for us. Here’s a look at some of the characters with the worst luck in the history of comics…
Uncle Ben Parker — Bucky came back. Jason Todd came back. Gwen Stacy’s clone’s had more revival tours than Kiss. But Uncle Ben?
Despite the occasional tease — such as when writer Peter David and the late artist Mike Wieringo brought him back, kinda sorta in Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, poor ol’ Ben Parker just seems to stay dead, dead, dead.
And staying in the Spider-Man mythos for a moment…
Harry Osborn — You’d think it would be great, being the carefree son of a multi-millionaire
industrialist. The chicks, the cars, the pills…oh, the pills…!
Even better, though, when Harry’s old man — who constantly berated him for failing to live up to his expectations — died as an accidental result of his own misdeeds, Harry inherited his wealth and even his secret identity as The Green Goblin.
But, Harry failed to live up to his father’s dreams even as a supervillain, continuing to never quite reach Norman’s expectations, and finally dying, poisoned by his father’s own Goblin formula.
Even more unluckily, Harry was reborn in Marvel’s “Brand New Day” storyline, which hopefully will be retconned out of memory eventually. Like his dad, Harry is a character who never should have been brought back, as his revival creates far more questions than answers, and stinks of creative bankruptcy.
Joe Chill — Ever heard of this poor fellow? He was directly responsible for the creation of Batman.
Now, Joe Chill lived to a ripe old age and never really suffered the fate due him for the double murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne. But how unnerving would it be if Batman showed up and confronted you with the truth?
So of course, Joe Chill did what any sensible hood responsible for the creation of every gangster’s biggest nightmare would do…he told his fellow criminals.
And, with forgiveness and understanding, those fellow criminals thanked ol’ Joe the best way they knew how.
He’s really chillin’ now.
And, finally, the all-time champion #1 unluckiest character in all of comicdom…
Shermy — Originally one of the stars of Charles Schulz’s Peanuts, Shermy was in fact the first with a speaking role.
Alas, over the years Shermy faded into the background along with (non-Peppermint) Patty, Violet, and other ultimately minor characters as Snoopy, Lucy and Charlie Brown came to dominate the strip. Ivan Brunetti paid tribute to Shermy in “Whither Shermy,” one of my all-time favourite comic strips (available in full-color in Schizo #4).
I always look for Shermy to pop up at baseball games and in line for movie tickets as I read along through the decades in The Complete Peanuts, the great, ongoing reprint project from Fantagraphics Books. Alas, with the series now into the 1980s, we’re well past the point where Shermy will ever play a significant role again (his very last appearance came in 1969). It’s a sad way to end up for the guy who started the whole thing off. And people think Charlie Brown is unlucky.
I’m not a gamer and never have been. There are a few old-school video games I enjoy, like Tetris and Ms. Pac-Man, but when it comes to the wider world of gaming, I have never really delved into the world of casino games.
I seem to have inherited my mother’s disinterest in games of chance. We had few board games when I was growing up — Monopoly and Scrabble are the two I remember us actually playing as a family, but as far as card games and the like, I’m not even sure there was a deck of cards in the house. The Joker would not have liked that.
It’s kind of amazing when you stop to think about all the comic book characters whose origins are somehow related to games and gaming. DC’s Joker and The Royal Flush Gang, and over at Marvel Arcade comes to mind, as does a personal favorite, Jack of Hearts.
I have to admit the glamour and promise of big winnings makes me wonder if I’ve been foolish not to give casino games a chance. After all, by visiting an internet casino I can go at my own pace, play when I feel like it, and do it with no added travel or lodging expenses.
The first thing I’ll have to do is work on my casino strategy to make sure I am fully prepared for the challenges and rewards possible with such an adventure. Wish me luck!
ADD Reviews Little Nothings Vol. 4: My Shadow in the Distance
When it comes to comics, I feel like I don’t know what the hell I like to read anymore. I know it’s corporate superhero comics that have abandoned me, and not the other way around, but it really makes me feel like a bit of an idiot when someone asks me (as they frequently do), “What are you reading these days?” Because they usually mean, “What superhero books do you recommend?” And the answer to that, really, is, not a one. The only thing published by either Marvel or DC that is active on my pull list at the comic shop is Criminal by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, and that’s put out by Marvel’s Icon imprint with, as far as I know, little input or advice from Marvel. Just based on my own observations, Ed and Sean seem to be doing it all themselves, which is fine, because set free of editorial interference, they’re creating one hell of a body of work, there in the only monthly comic book I care much about at all.
But man, I have tried hundreds, if not thousands of times over the past five or six years to re-immerse myself in the superhero universes that introduced me to comics as a storytelling medium. I tried Fraction’s Iron Man for a while, and that was okay as long as it was read in chunks of 6 or 8 issues at a time, but I need more than “okay” to keep my interest. I tried Hickman’s FF for the same reasons John Jakala laid out recently, and bailed out after four or five issues for the same reasons he did. Blah, indeed. Since Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch’s Authority is one of my favourite comics of all time, I gave the first issue of the new Stormwatch a try, and my God but it is fucking dire. If that’s what “The New 52” can do for me, I’ll pass, thanks very much all the same. Hawksmoor and company really never were the same after Ellis and Hitch left the title (and frankly, neither were Ellis or Hitch), and one day I’ll learn to let go of the hope that anyone at all will ever be capable of making good comic books about those characters again.
(Digression: I recently re-read Brubaker and Nguyen’s Authority: Revolutions and realized how harshly I had initially judged it; it’s nowhere near as good as the sacred First 12, but it does actually feel like those characters and it nicely sets up the team for a new era that sadly never was realized. My biggest criticism, really, is I wish Henry Bendix looked more like Henry Bendix as drawn by Raney or Hitch. But other than that, it’s good. If you’re a fan of The Authority but gave it a pass, try it now.)
So, yes, to get back to the point: I’ve loved reading comics since 1972, but I feel like I am a dying man in a desert free of quality comics entertainment. It’s not that there aren’t great comics being published, but that the transition to graphic novels and away from serialized periodical storytelling makes it far less likely in any given week that I am going to be banging down the door of the comic book store on Wednesday, desperate to get at this week’s gem. I’d give anything, really, to return to the days when Eightball, Love and Rockets, Nexus, and Acme Novelty Library, to name a few, were being issued in floppy form, and far more often than we see any iteration of any of them now. Never mind some era (1980-1987, maybe) when DC and Marvel had enough of a critical mass of talented creators working for them that guaranteed at least three or four good titles from each of them every month. As it is now, the “big two” (chuckle, snort) might as well be dedicated solely to publishing pamphlets about, say, country music; or farm equipment; or liver and headcheese recipes. Any of those topics would generate as much interest from me as the current Marvel/DC output in the hands of the current (mis)management and current fan-fiction brigade of creators.
So, yeah — what a delight to read a comic I enjoyed from cover to cover!
Little Nothings Vol. 4: My Shadow in the Distance is just the usual dose of Lewis Trondheim wonder and whimsy — a little slapstick as he tries to figure out how a sink with three knobs instead of the usual two works. A little rumination on mortality as he wrestles with nasal polyps, in a sequence that really clenched my sphincter for me (you’re welcome). A little hanging out with other comics creators, a little travel, and lots — every page, dear reader — lots of gorgeously-rendered pen-and-watercolour illustrations of the environs in which Trondheim carries out all these adventures.
Lewis Trondheim is one of the greatest living cartoonists. It’s not even an argument. His work is immediately accessible, profoundly universal, and deeply hilarious. When he makes you laugh (and he will), it’s not just a sight-gag or well-observed human foible. It’s that you are so invested in his character and his world that it’s as if you are laughing at yourself, because in a way, you are. I can’t think of anyone in comics other than Charles Schulz who so brilliantly and intuitively understood human nature and conveyed it and depicted it as well as Trondheim does.
And I always forget how skilled Trondheim is at the callback. He almost always lets you forget something then hits you with a surprising and delightful reference to it later. There’s one of his best here in this volume, and I don’t want to tell you where it is, but believe me, you’ll know it when you see it, and you’ll love it, and it will make you realize how lucky we are to have comics by Lewis Trondheim in this day and age.
I’ll get my bias out of the way right up front: Artist David Mazzucchelli’s work on the Frank Miller-written Batman: Year One (the comic) is about the best art ever created for a superhero comic book. I love the work of Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and Gil Kane, to name a few great superhero artists, but Mazzucchelli on Year One (and also in the also-Miller-written Daredevil: Born Again) brought a unique blend of dynamism and humanity that is sorely lacking from even the best superhero comics. Mazzucchelli’s brief time as a superhero artist was one of the high points of superhero comics history, and while I love his later, more personal work, I do wish superhero comics these days possessed a hundredth of the visual depth and artistry he brought to the table. So forgive me for wishing Batman: Year One (the DVD) looked a little more like Mazzucchelli’s art. But, I’m nitpicking, and I have to admit it. Batman: Year One is faithful to the mood of the comic, even if it doesn’t always match it frame-for-frame. That said, many scenes in the movie are clearly right out of the book, and the characters look on-model, especially the vile Commissioner Loeb, Lt. James Gordon, and the prostitute Selina Kyle.
The fact is, Batman: Year One is one of the most faithful comics-to-film adaptations ever. Unlike the direct-to-DVD All-Star Superman (which I liked but didn’t love), it really feels like the whole story is there. James Gordon (voiced by the amazing Bryan Cranston) is really the star of the show, idealistic but human, moral but flawed. The movie doesn’t shy away from Gordon’s moral lapse with colleague Sarah Essen, but wrings the same drama and pain from their affair that the comic portrayed.
The arc of a determined Bruce Wayne feeling his way from willful amateur to truly becoming Batman feels genuine and earned, in keeping with the original comic. The ending feels pregnant with a world of possibility, but is satisfying at the same time.
I don’t have a Blu-Ray player, so most of the special features are out of my reach, but the regular DVD in the combo-pack includes a Catwoman short, and multiple previews, including one for Justice League: Doom, which adapts Mark Waid and Howard Porter’s “Tower of Babel” storyline from the Morrison-era JLA run and looks like it will be a fun addition to the DC direct-to-DVD line.
The quality of DC’s direct-to-DVD movies has varied pretty widely, but Batman: Year One is the best one yet produced. The voicework, animation, and committment to keeping the greatest Batman story intact on the screen all make it a must-see for anyone who loves this story, or these characters. The movie will be available on 10/11 for download and 10/18 to buy on Blu-Ray and DVD. Whatever your format of choice, see it. It’s great.
— Alan David Doane
A copy of the DVD was provided by the studio for the purpose of review.
DC 51 Week Four, Part Two - Racing with the Flash to the Finish Line (FIXED)
Here it is, the final part of the four week tour through the new DCU. And while I’ve never run a marathon, I can only imagine this is how a runner feels after the 25th mile of the run: it’s been like a massive endurance test but I… just… have… to… make… it… across… that… line.
And the conclusion, as it moves reverse alphabetically to the very end (just like running a race backwards)…
Green Lantern: New Guardians #1 is yet another new book that manages to screw up the whole idea of a re-launch.
The primary problem with this comic is the fact that the story starts with a flashback that doesn’t reveal that it’s a flashback until it’s seven pages into the book. So what seems like a shocking and amazing beginning actually took place years ago and simply retells how Kyle Rayner got his ring. Initially the comic seems to open with a “Wow!! What the hell has happened?!? This is crazy!!!” moment that is then utterly deflated when it’s revealed that the events took place before “The Present Day”. The flashback doesn’t even explain if Hal Jordan went all Parallax-y in this new universe or what caused these events in the past – it just re-hashes the story of how Kyle became a hero.
This un-announced flashback wouldn’t be such a horrible sin if it served some sort of function in the comic, but it fails to add anything new to Kyle’s origin and does not serve any purpose in this particular issue. The only thing the flashback succeeds in doing is robbing the main story of seven pages. It is not a great start for the comic.
As for the other “new guardians” of the title, they are introduced as jaw-clenching, spandex-clad one-note characters that go by professional wrestler names such as “Fatality” and “Bleez”. Their most distinguishing characteristics: Fatality is a Violet Lantern/Star Sapphire who always displays her large breasts, while Bleez is a Red Lantern who always shows the reader her oh-so-very shapely butt.
To summarize: pointless recap of the hero’s origin; Star Sapphire’s breasts, Red Lantern’s butt and a story about stolen Lantern rings that is a re-hash of what was previously done in the Blackest Night saga.
This comic, like the other three books in the Green Lantern family, lacks focus or purpose. The books aren’t inter-connected at this time but they all read like that they should be and they’re doing their best to resist that almost magnetic temptation (You can almost hear the books collective plea, “Must… resist.. the crossover. Got to… stand… on my own.”)
Geoff Johns might have a masterplan for all the various Green Lantern books, but until that intergalactic emergency reveals itself, all four comics look poised to just meander for a while.
The Fury of Firestorm takes the single best aspect of the character — the fact that two human beings with completely different personalities have to combine in order to make one hero — and jettisons the premise for the notion that two characters can turn into two heroes who can then combine into one bigger hero.
And I simply don’t understand why the change was made. Why ditch the original concept just to create two identical heroes with (apparently) the same name? It’s not like the idea was improved upon. It’s just been changed for the sake of change. Maybe this is all part of a grand design, but after this first issue it just seems to be tinkering with a concept for no reason.
But even if this is only Step One in the character’s journey, it’s difficult to enjoy a story that has part of its focus on teenage angst and a jock arguing with a bookworm, while elsewhere in the book a family is murdered, a man is tortured and a high school coach is killed in front of his students. The distance between ‘jock vs. bookworm’ and ‘terrorists slaughtering innocent victims’ is huge and The Fury of Firestorm doesn’t show how the two can possibly exist in the same book.
Artist Francis Manapul takes over the writing duties with Brian Buccellatto for The Flash and, after reading a ton of books that have been filled with torture, T&A and mindless murders, this comic is a breath of fresh air.
Barry Allen is back as a younger, less experienced hero and the first issue does a good job of presenting him (in Geoff Johns style) as new and yet familiar. He’s still a scientist, still in Central City, but to the creators’ credit, he isn’t doing battle with his traditional Rogues Gallery of villains (well, at least not in this first issue).
This is in striking contrast to three of the four Batman books which between them made sure that every possible villain made an appearance. Manapul and Buccellato deserve praise for crafting a solid first issue without using the old, familiar bad guys as a crutch for their story.
My only complaint: Barry and his wife, Iris, had one of the strongest relationships in the old DC Universe. He battled time, the speed force and death itself to be re-united with her. It’s disappointing to realize all of that has been shoved aside just so he can be single and date different young women. Perhaps it’s silly on my part, but I hope the creators have plans to get the two characters together again. But perhaps that’s just me, because otherwise this was a strong start for the speedster.
Blackhawks #1 suffers the same problem as Men of War: it’s almost impossible to do an action/war comic in a universe overflowing with superheroes.
With Blackhawks it seems that there is a desire to create a S.H.I.E.L.D. equivalent in the new DCU but it’s difficult to imagine what their role is in a world where everyone seems to be invulnerable to bullets, can shoot lasers out of their eyes or is so rich that they inspire and finance followers around the globe. And it’s especially difficult to suspend disbelief when the Blackhawks are supposed to be a super-secret special ops unit that chooses to plaster its Blackhawks insignia on all of its uniforms, planes and helicopters.
The old Blackhawks concept with its international cast of soldiers could make for an great updated story with a sense of intrigue, mystery and danger. But this update sure isn’t the one anybody’s been waiting for.
The fourth Batman book, The Dark Knight, isn’t the weakest of the Batman bunch but it does seem strangely redundant.
In this book Bruce Wayne makes a speech to the ultra-rich elite of Gotham City (just like he did in Batman #1), there’s a riot and escape attempt at Arkham (again, just like in Batman #1) and the final splash page of the comic has a huge reveal about one of the hero’s greatest villains (just like in Detective Comics #1).
Uniquely and bizarrely, there is a one-panel appearance of a woman in a bunny costume whose super-power seems to be the ability to dodge bullets as she flashes her luscious derriere at Batman and various members of the police department. The police don’t recognize her and Batman says something like “She shouldn’t be here.” No one can believe what they’ve just seen: it’s as if the buxom bunny character is like the giant rabbit in the movie “Harvey” but with a much nicer, sexier butt.
The Dark Knight therefore combines the worst aspect of the various Green Lantern books (and their relentless fascination with a woman’s shapely posterior) with some of the best and the worst story elements from the other, recently published Batman stories.
Maybe this issue could be forgiven for its redundancies if those comics hadn’t all been published within the past three weeks,. But I can’t help but wonder why the book’s editor, Mike Marts, didn’t speak to one of the creative teams and say, “Umm, guys, I’ve got a story with a lot of similarities to this in one of the other books. Do you have any other ideas and maybe we can just shelf this one until later?” After all, isn’t that what a group editor is supposed to do?
Because right now, only one month into the re-launch, the four Batman books are already suffering from a “been there, done that” lack of originality.
Before being made DC’s Chief Creative Officer, Geoff Johns was the company’s go-to guy when it came to revamping and re-invigorating old, tired heroes.
Superman, Green Lantern and The Flash were all transformed by his particular style which combines nostalgia with a kind of ‘new car smell’. He takes the character back to his basics and yet somehow makes him seem fresh and vital.
If he was in marketing he would brand his product as “new, improved and classic.”
And now, by turning his attention towards Aquaman and doing the voodoo he does so well, Johns’ immediately elevates the character’s status from the minors to the big league. Aquaman instantly becomes a book that, deservedly or not, fans are interested in.
But having said all that, does it work?
The first issue certainly establishes Aquaman’s role in this new DCU. He is perceived by the public as being more alien than Superman: he’s the guy who lives in the ocean, talks to fish and is the king a country of a mythical undersea country that no one believes exists.
He is also the only DC character that, in the new 52, has managed to keep his marriage intact. Clark and Barry lost Lois and Iris, but after the events in Brightest Day, Aquaman has been allowed to keep Mera. Their interaction in this issue, while brief, indicates that story will be as much about them as the menaces they battle.
In just one issue Johns and artist Ivan Reis manage to make Aquaman majestic and interesting. And the character has been given the best aspects of Superman and The Flash before their reboots: integrity, experience and a strong marriage. In other words, Aquaman is one of the few adults in the new DC Universe and that maturity (it’s kind of sad to note) makes the hero very unique among these re-launched characters.
And the marathon run finally comes to the final book, All Star Western, a comic I wanted to like a bit more than I did, but one that I will still keep reading.
The series that took place before the re-launch, Jonah Hex, was a great comic in the old-fashioned “one and done” tradition. Each issue (with the occasional multi-issue story) told the tale of a man who would ride into town, get into trouble and then, usually after a lot of shooting and killing, he would ride away. The stories could jump to different parts of his life without a need to explain when it took place and how he got there. He was Jonah Hex: wherever he went, trouble couldn’t be far behind.
But it appears this new book is going to settle Hex in the old wild west days of Gotham City, complete with the ancestors of The Penguin and other characters. So rather than being a dangerous and unpredictable force of good/evil/indifference, Hex will become a known commodity and maybe even a common citizen.
I trust writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray with the character, but I do worry about this new concept. The first issue, with Hex riding into town and staying because of the “This time it’s personal” conceit doesn’t fill me with confidence. But as I said, Palmiotti and Gray have done brilliant things with the character before, so I’m sticking around.
Having said that, if Hex becomes the sheriff of Gotham City, I’m exiting faster than a vulture plucks the eyes out of a dead man.
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The New DC 52 Week Four, Part Three – The Dark and the Not So Bright
The Fury of Firestorm #1 by Ethan Van Sciver, Gail Simone and Yildiray Cinar has one good element at its core (I guess that pun is intended) and that’s the issue of race. Before high school quarterback Ronnie Raymond and school reporter Jason Rusch are linked to the Firestorm Protocol, they are just kids who don’t get along because Jason accuses Ronnie of racism. It′s not that Ronnie says or does anything to provoke this, which shows Simones subtlety and sure hand; its that Jason is angry and maybe jealous of Ronnie′s minor celebrity and plays the race card, with the effect of actually getting Ronnie to wonder why it is he and his mother don’t have any black friends, even as he′s angry at Jason for bringing the question to light.
That’s the most interesting part of the issue, with the rest being rather unconvincing stuff involving a threesome of handsome American terrorists tracking the remaining particle to Jason, leading to the transformation of our two male leads into the superpowered version of The Defiant Ones. None of that is very interesting, with average, Bob McLeod style art from Cinar and the same made-up teen lingo (″Ill casket you!″) Simone used to ill effect in Batgirl. I give it credit for trying to be about something for half its length, but its not enough to keep me around.
Teen Titans #1 by Scott Lobdell and Brett Booth is one of many DC books determined to bring back the ′90s. Hey, the title of the issue is even, Teen Spirit, and you’ve got ′90s X-writer Lobdell and ′90s Image artist Booth, looking about the same. Lobdell doesn’t do such a bad job, though gathering just two heroes together for the eventual team seems a little sluggish. Red Robin, the Cassie Sandsmark Wonder Girl, and Superboy—none of these are characters who I feel like I′m missing out on. I actually liked Lobdell′s Superboy debut, so hopefully I can just read that without having to follow this one.
I, Vampire #1 by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Andrea Sorrentino is the most Vertigoesque of the new books, a nod to Twilight and True Blood with its star-crossed lovers and that one special vampire guy who sees humans as more than walking blood bags. This vampire, Andrew, has been (un)living for 400 years with guilt over turning the sweet Mary into what she is today, a bloodsucker about to go to war against humanity with the rest of her kind. This isn’t an original comment, but yes, Sorrentino′s art does look a lot like Jae Lee, and that’s a good thing, as the book calls for a style that’s someber and still, though maybe Fialkov could have broken things up a bit with a flashback to sunnier times. I think Fialkov may be in for a tough go trying to reconcile this world with the rest of the metahuman-filled DCU, but for now, we′re off to a good start.
The Flash #1 by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccelato is a nice-looking book that brought me back a little bit to the first time I ever was interested in The Flash, the Waid/Wieringo run. Oh, its not that Manapul is busting out fresh concepts like the Speed Force or anything, but what as a new writer he may lack in making Barry Allen much more interesting than the norm, he makes up for with an engaging, softer art style that looks like color over pencils, sans ink, and a willingness to play with page layouts and an organic use of sound effects that stands head and shoulders over what we can now say with authority is an overwhelming lack of artistic ambition on the part of 90% of the other DC artists. I think Manapul could do a better job introducing his supporting cast for maximum impact, but I do like that he seems to understand that one way to make boring Barry more interesting is to have two women interested in him.
Justice League Dark #1 by Peter Milligan and Mikel Janin is the most interesting and competent of the many team books DC has unleashed the past month. As he has shown the past few years in Hellblazer, Milligan is expert at damaged characters who still have something to offer, and now, in addition to roping in John Constantine and early success Shade The Changing Man, he has the scarred soothsayer Madame Xanadu, the daft, haunted June Moone, the resourceful but insecure Zatanna, and even the searching Deadman, who are all being slowly drawn together to go up against The Enchantress, who has already defeated the regular Justice League.
Janin is a new name to me, but I like the style, which is dark but grounded. Obviously this is a title that’s going to call for some out-of-the-box storytelling, so hopefully he can keep growing in that regard. I guess my only concern is that Milligan has his work cut out for him trying to make each of these strange loners distinct, but I trust he will be up to the task.
And that’s it, the whole 52 aside from Green Lantern Corps, a title that I missed. I think that’s thorough enough. I can say that the majority of these books are not ones I will continue to follow, but I will say there are more I liked than I expected, so that’s something. The ones I wont stick with mostly fail by being mediocre, the titillating or offensive elements unfortunate but probably overly remarked upon. I don’t think reaching more women, kids or non-Caucasians was ever a serious goal, and the few who are offended are likely to keep reading anyway. What folks should really be more demanding of are better stories, more adventurous art, more risks taken. The relaunch has been considered by many to be a kind of last ditch attempt at new readers and relevance, and so the problem is not that Starfire is a slut or Catwoman and Batman get it on, but that to those writers′ minds, and their editors, this represents risk and a bold attempt at taking the characters into new territory. At the same time, maybe 15% of the books show some inventiveness and fresh approaches that aren’t based on exploitation, with another chunk of the books being familiar but competent entertainments. That’s not a bad average overall.
The New DC 52 Week Four, Part Two - Three Men and a Little Daemonite
Four titles here, and another four in a day or two to wrap up the first month of DC′s relaunches. It′s been a long time since I′ve reviewed this many books in this short a time, and I fully admit it′s probably unfair that books from IDW (a very good Star Trek series just started) and Dark Horse (the B.P.R.D. still going strong) and lots of interesting books from Fantagraphics, not to mention some important reissues. But hey, I felt like doing this, you know? Not because it′s important, just because I wanted to be thorough and fair when in all honesty I thought this would be much more of a disaster. So, without further adieu, and chosen at random…
Voodoo #1 by Ron Marz and Sami Basri is not a title that will last very long. Very minor WildStorm character, journeyman writer and relatively unknown artist. The alien-turned-stripper-turned-superhero didn’t even get Alan Moore′s best efforts way back when he wrote a miniseries for her. But that’s okay. As I′ve said before, the titles no one expects much from are the ones where the creative team usually has more freedom.
When Moore wrote Voodoo back in the ′90s, he perhaps not surprisingly focused on her New Orleans background and the magic native to the region. It wasn’t a bad idea, but Marz sticks more with the science fiction thriller angle, as we are introduced to Voodoo performing in front of a rapt crowd made up partially of two federal agents who have been tracking her. Before we find out much about this, Marz essentially atones for introducing Voodoo in a bikini, stripping, by showing the dressing room backstage, where we learn that these are just young women doing the best they can, trying to make money to take care of children with no father in the picture, or who are earning money for classes to better themselves. There′s no intrigue or competition here, just women trying to look out for each other. Like others, I′ve taken issue with the portrayal of some of the women characters in other new DC books, but Marz deserves a pass here, especially for the higher degree of difficulty of writing a stripper in a non-exploitative way. Basri also deserves credit—Voodoo and the other women are all very attractive but his line is clear and minimal, the naughty bits left to the imagination, and aside from a little cleavage there aren’t really any panels where body parts are the main point.
Instead, Voodoo, or Priscilla as she′s known, is not the most sympathetic character, killing one of the agents once he revealed what he knew about her, but its not unlike the violence Supergirl caused in her first issue; they′re both just trying to survive. The trick is to see how long readers can take it before she turns toward humanity′s side instead of her Daemonite people.
Superman #1 by George Perez and Jesus Merino is a solid B, B+. Yes, for the most part I feel like it’s a book Perez already did back on his Action Comics run about 25 years ago, but I liked those books. Although Perez is only writing and providing layouts, those layouts let him control how much information he wants to get across here, and it′s more than most books. Sometimes the old, non-decompressed ways are best, as I felt like I got my money′s worth here.
We see the Daily Planet building, with its famous gold globe, come crashing down, a victim of changing times. With print on its way to a final death rattle, the Planet has been purchased by Galaxy Communications, to be just a piece of its multimedia empire that also includes the local television station. Seems the new owner has something of a fearsome reputation, and even has a Murdoch-like wiretapping scandal in his recent past, though that is apparently more the fault of the previous owner. Lois Lane has been tapped to head the TV network, which in real life makes no sense, as she is a print journalist with no production, direction or management skills, but for comics drama I guess we can let it go. Or just call it the one big flaw of the issue.
The rest is taken up with reintroducing the cast and showing how they are all reacting to the change in the status quo. Perry White has to get used to a new boss, and Lois has to get used to being a boss immediately, going from the gala announcing the changes to covering Superman fighting a creature made of flame. She has to be resourceful to keep her helicopter crew out of harm′s way, and we find out her boss is more interested in results than safety, so she′s got her work cut out for her there.
The Superman fight ended with no answers, but we do see that this is a cockier, more threatening Superman, although still heroic and concerned with the safety of innocents. He has that in common with Lois, but neither he nor his Clark Kent alter ego have much of a connection with her aside from mutual respect. Clark cares for Lois, but she finds him too distant, and she′s in a relationship with some guy and it doesn’t appear to be much deeper than sex. Comics fans are often pretty puritanical, especially about long-running characters, so Im sure the implication that Lois is getting it on unashamedly in her apartment is going to turn some people off, but I thought it was a good way for Perez to raise the emotional stakes and nudge the book into, I dunno, the 80s? Merino is following Perez′s blueprint here, but clearly his style is a bit different and it looks terrific. Aside from some unsuccessful bits here and there, such as the narrative captions describing the fight that don’t read anything like the newspaper article they are supposed to emulate, this is a solid book with old school craft.
Green Lantern New Guardians #1 by Tony Bedard and Tyler Kirkham is an amiably ho-hum book, which I guess is going to happen when you mandate four Green Lantern books a month. Kyle Rayner now has a little more potential to be cool, since he′s not the #1 GL anymore. Bedard introduces him as a nice, creative guy (although the majority of waitresses would not take kindly to a patron leaving a sketch of them in lieu of a tip), but there isn’t time for much more, as we have to get his GL induction out of the way in rapid, Silver Age style. Before you know it, he′s saving folks and meeting his not-so-adoring public, and then something weird happens where a bunch of different Lanterns have their rings taken away and all the rings go to Kyle. I was confused, because taking the ring away seemed clearly to cause some of these Lanterns to die, either because they were in the middle of fighting or they were in space and using the ring to provide breathable air, but at the end, there′s a bunch of different-colored Lanterns all heading to beat up Kyle. Oh, and in keeping with the Johns model, there is a disemboweling where it would have been just as well to cut away to the next scene. I′m not very interested in the mystery, there are plenty of kinda likable heroes out there, and Kirkham′s Jim Lee-influenced art isn’t enough of a draw. I wouldn’t call this a terrible book, but it’s an easy one to drop.
The Savage Hawkman #1 by Tony S. Daniel and Philip Tan is probably going to bother a lot of Hawkman fans, as Carter Hall is now a rather reckless loser of a cryptologist who finds that when he tries to give up on Hawkman completely, the Nth metal bonds with him, so hes sort of like Venom, with his costume and weapons erupting from his body. This comes in handy on his first day back on the job, when a sunken artifact releases a deadly alien energy vampire thing.
Philip Tan goes for a bit more of a painterly look here, possibly trying to approach an old pulp novel cover, but for now he can add this to the list of styles he hasn’t mastered. I liked it better than what he did on Batman & Robin, but that’s not saying much. Nice creature, though, although Daniel gives him a rather unalienlike name, Morticius, which seems more like the name of a cackling ghoul meant to host one of DC′s old horror books.
It′s kind of funny when were introduced to Carter Hall talking about getting rid of Hawkman, and his narrative caption has a hawk symbol in it, not that there was much doubt he was going to be Hawkman again. That part isn’t Daniel′s fault, but he does louse that scene up with a tendency to go over-the-top. I mean, you can′t just pour gasoline on the Hawkman garb and light a match? No, instead it’s a fifth of bourbon, ignited with a gunshot, which seems like a waste of booze and ammo. I′m not sure how to take the lack of any kind of sexual tension between Carter and his boss′ pretty daughter. You gave the fat old guy a hot daughter for a reason, Daniel—do something with her more than a bland, ″Hi Carter″. I guess this might turn into something as far as the buttkicking aspects, but so far I′m not impressed.
DC 51 Week Four, Part One - Vampires, Strippers & Teenagers, Too!
The final week. Every DC Universe #1 that’s been published. The good, the bad and the embarrassingly ugly. And to help with the process it’s all going to be reverse alphabetical order. So for Zachary, Zoe and all of the Zoological experts out there… this reverse alphabetical journey is for you.
For all of the justified hatred and disappointment brought about by Catwoman and Red Hood, I was expecting to hate the hell out of Voodoo. And yet I found it mostly tolerable.
Yes-yes, that’s faint praise but this book should have been horrible beyond words: it’s set in a strip joint with the main character being a super-powered exotic dancer. A couple of secret agents have been observing her (get it? – ‘observing her’ because she works in a strip joint! They’re keeping their eyes on her! That’s hard work! Get it? – ‘hard work’!!! Cuz, like, they’re in a strip joint, so it’s got to be HARD and… okay, you get the point).
So these two secret agents have to watch her because they suspect she’s an alien and perhaps she’s dangerous and, oh, did I mention that the whole story is set in a strip joint? So there’s lots of semi-naked cheesecake artwork that always shows a lot but is careful never to show too much. Therefore there is lots and lots of cleavage but never a nipple to be seen. Obviously it’s okay to show boobs, buns, g-strings and lots of bras falling to the floor, but show a nipple? – Well, that’s just crazy talk
And yet, having said all of that, for some reason I didn’t find Voodoo anywhere near as offensive as the two previously mentioned fanboy sexfests because at least this story makes sense. The question perhaps should have been posed within the DC brain trust as to whether one of its new 52 books should be set in a strip joint. – “Oh hell no,” would have been the correct response. It’s a ludicrous idea and indicates that the company has no idea what its new audience should be.
After all, this comic is nothing more than a Wildstorm/new DC version of the horrible idea that was Stan Lee’s epic Stripperella . And because it’s one of the few books that headlines a female characters, it’s doubly disappointing that she’s an exotic dancer. It perpetuates the notion that comic book fans are all man-boys who expect heroines to be bimbos who will drop their clothes whenever they need to and especially if they’re being paid to do so.
So it’s not that the book is bad because in fact it’s consistent and true to its premise. It’s just too bad that DC thought that this book was a good idea.
Writer Scott Lobdell is back with Teen Titans #1 and once again he’s been given license to do whatever he wants with the characters. Tim Drake, Wonder Girl, Kid Flash and Superboy – he’s been given a long leash to revamp the heroes as he sees fit.
So in this story some bad guys have tracked down Tim Drake, but it appears that he was never adopted by Bruce Wayne in this new universe because otherwise the villains would know Batman’s secret identity. A news report says Kid Flash has no relation to The Flash, so he might be Wally West or Bart Allen or he might be someone new. And Wonder Girl, while incredibly powerful, initially feigns weakness, then destroys a bunch of helicopters and, in her last appearance in the comic, pouts a lot.
The book’s conclusion ties in with Superboy and it appears that the two comics will intertwine with one another. Unfortunately this issue is nothing more than a “we’re getting the band together” story with not enough of a hook to pull me into the next issue. The climax is the exact same as in Superboy #1 and that just strikes me as being lazy writing. Lobdell’s stock took a nosedive with Red Hood and the Outlaws and this book isn’t strong enough for me to be interested in anything else he has to say.
After reading Superman #1 it becomes apparent that DC does not know what to do with its oldest and arguably most iconic superhero.
In comparison, Batman looks to easy: he’s a violent Dark Knight with an incredible supporting cast and a great range of villains. There are four books starring Batman and at least five books that headline members of the Bat-family. But Superman stars in only two books while a girl and a boy are in charge of the other Super-comics.
Superman is supposed to be the hero that inspires every other hero’s existence in this new DCU, but there is confusion as to how strong the Man of Steel is supposed to be – both literally and figuratively. In this issue Jimmy Olsen comments how Superman seems to be getting even more powerful than he previously was, as if his powers are in flux and still expanding. So how super is Superman? And why should that be treated like it’s a mystery that needs to be solved? Does the character have to be a man of mystery in order to be interesting?
The other problem with Superman is that his creators simply do not know what to do with him. Geoff Johns seemed to have a strong handle on the character, but everyone else wants to send him into outer space or ground him. In this massively revamped book he no longer has Lois in his life and he acts like he’s a loner without any friends. He doesn’t act like the kind of man who could inspire anyone. Instead, he’s an alienated twenty-something who is desperately trying to find his place in his universe.
And while that might be an interesting concept for a comic book like Superboy or Supergirl, it’s shouldn’t be Superman.
The Savage Hawkman #1 stars Carter Hall and reading the comic reminds me what a mess DC has made with a bunch of its books in recent years.
Supergirl, the Legion of Super-Heroes and Hawkman have all had their origins erased, retold and fine-tuned to the point that that the fans all agree to subject themselves to a case of mass hypnosis. Everyone nods their heads obediently and abandons the past like it never happened and then merrily embrace the new next best thing.
So this Hawkman is a character who is an archeologist who maybe has nothing to do with Thanagar or maybe he’s the reincarnation of an ancient hero with some alien power and maybe he’ll eventually have a girl friend who is Hawkgirl, but probably not because he’s a hero and heroes have attachments, and the Nth Metal acts like it’s Doctor Fate’s helmet or Jaime’s beetle from Blue Beetle so maybe it’s an ancient power or maybe it’s a futuristic power. But after reading this issue it could be all of the above or, six months from now, none of the above.
In other words: Hawkman is still a mess.
The next two books take place in the so-called Dark Corner of the DC universe. And while both comics work to varying degrees of success, it’s a shame that they both have been mandated to blatantly acknowledge the universe that they share with all of the spandex clad do-gooders.
Therefore it’s not enough that Justice League Dark and I, Vampire take place in this new shiny universe, they also have to feature appearances by some mainstream heroes or, as in the case of I, Vampire, name drop a reference to some characters who don’t even bother to make an appearance. So Batman appears helpless in one book in order to justify the” Justice League Dark” label, while in the other book the title character warns a fellow vampire that she won’t stand a chance against Superman, a half-dozen Green Lanterns and Wonder Woman.
Writer Peter Milligan gets a great cast of characters to play with in Justice League Dark and his work is so strong over in Vertigo’s Hellblazer that I suspect he will spin a terrific magic-based story as he builds upon this issue. Much like Teen Titans, this book is also an exercise in gathering all of the characters to form some kind of super-team, but with “heroes” such as Shade the Changing Man, Deadman, Madame Xanadu and John Constantine in the book, he won’t be tied to another comic’s continuity or another group editor’s whims. So there’s a good chance that Milligan will be able to do what he wants to do with his team. And that will be something worth reading.
I, Vampire is obviously intended to be a teasing temptation to the whole Twilight fanbase and it has some incredible Jae Lee-like artwork. The book has echoes of the British show Being Human with vampires battling vampires with the world as their battlefield. There’s even a scene that has a swarm of vampires (or is that perhaps a “murder of vampires”?) killing everyone on a subway car that illustrates how bloody the book will be. It promises to be fascinating and powerful stuff.
But the book will lose all of its credibility when Batman or Superman makes an appearance which, unfortunately, seems to be inevitable. Because a hero should start poking around once that subway car is discovered, filled with dead passengers who have had their throats ripped out and have been drained of all their blood. And when one of those heroes makes his inevitable entrance, the whole book will be deader than a vampire being stabbed with a garlic-soaked stake on a hot summer day.
So you want to make comics. A lot of people do, but only a few are ever lucky enough to see their stories get into print. There are few storytelling mediums as visceral and exciting as comics, and nothing as satisfying as seeing your own stories come together and entertain an audience, so if you are thinking about creating comics, here are some points to remember along the way.
How do you get started creating comics? The best thing to do is simply make comics. All you really need is a piece of paper and drawing supplies, or a computer, or some combination of all of those or any other art supplies you can muster to create your story in words and pictures.
I have nearly zero talent for drawing and almost as little desire to write stories, but even I have created comics in this manner. Your supplies matter, but nowhere near as much as your desire to create comics.
There are numerous books that will tell you a lot about how to make comics, but usually those books are skewed to creating the sort of comics that the creator of the book is known for. If you’re looking to be the very best comics creator you can be, the best way to achieve that is just to assemble your tools and start creating stories. Do your best to improve your craft, whether it’s writing, drawing, or both. Tell stories that have the most personal meaning and importance to you as a human being, whether they are autobiographical or fictional.
It’s a truism in comics creation that everyone has to create 1,000 bad pages before they start creating good ones. The more comics you create, the better a feel you’ll have for what types of stories and storytelling modes work best for you. When you feel you’re ready for some input and criticism, show the comics you’ve created to trusted friends, and let them know you want their honest assessment of what you’ve created. Listen to both the positive and negative feedback, and understand that every comment you receive on your work will help you better understand your own creative process and how to improve it.
Compare your work to professionally published comics in similar genres; if you feel your work has honestly reached a level where it might be ready for public consumption (and this evolution could take months or years), then you may be ready to assemble a portfolio of your best pages (editors and publishers want to see examples of your storytelling, not pin-ups and poster shots) and bring them with you to comics conventions in your area. If there are no conventions in your area, check the websites of publishers you are interested in working with, learn their submission guidelines, and follow them to the letter. Be warned that some publishers are not interested in receiving unsolicited submissions, while some are eager to find new talent.
It is crucial that you educate yourself about the pitfalls of working in comics. Since the very beginnings of the industry, creators have suffered low pay, loss of creative rights, few or no benefits, and other unfair practices. Be sure you always watch out for your own best interests. If a publisher offers you a contract, go over it with your own attorney to be sure your interests, and the interests of your family, are protected in the longterm. Corporations will always protect and promote themselves over the interests of any individual creator. This doesn’t mean “don’t work for corporate comic book publishers,” it just means “know what you’re doing before you do.” An informed comics creator is far better prepared for a long career in the industry with fewer heartbreaks along the way.
If you want to publish comics, you’re not alone. Something in the raw appeal of comics storytelling makes a large portion of the audience want to try it themselves.
If I had to guess, I’d say this phenomenon is far more common to comics than it is to other storytelling media. Sure, a small percentage of moviegoers want to direct their own movies, but most people are happy just watching an entertaining film. Something about comics, it seems to me, spurs the impulse in a far higher percentage. So much so, in fact, that those of us that really don’t want to make their own comics, and yet have a prominent voice in the comics community, are often wrongly seen as wannabe comics creators. I wish I had stories to tell, in comics or any other form, but I really don’t have a lot of fiction inside me waiting to be set loose. And I certainly don’t want to start my own publishing company. You’d have to be nuts to want to do that!
So, if you’re one of those crazy people that wants to publish comics, here’s some advice based on decades of observing companies try and fail to establish themselves in the marketplace.
First, realize that no new comics company can be expected to make any money whatsoever within the first few years of its existence. If you want to publish comics, you must have a enough capital on hand to withstand the indifference your initial offerings are likely to be met with. Unless you’ve inherited a boatload of cash from rich Uncle Fred or Aunt Betty, chances are you are going to need to find investors. And those investors are going to want to see a solid business plan. Familiarize yourself with business plans by doing research online or at your local library. Warning: If your eyes glaze over at the many technical details of starting a business, you may not be ready to publish comics.
If you do not have the confidence that your books will be of such high quality as to ensure a large readership that builds over the first few years, and that you’ll be able to stick to your business plan and keep your investors happy, then do not start your new comics company until you can meet those marketplace realities. Wishing will not make it so, and if you build it, history has shown that they will not come. Be especially aware that new superhero universes and American-created manga-style comics are extremely unlikely to succeed. You might want to familiarize yourself with the rise and fall of such companies as Speakeasy and CrossGen Comics, to see where their founders went wrong.
Start small, with just one title. Make sure its creator(s) are able to meet the schedule you plan to release the book on, and make sure that the creator(s) focus on putting together a professional product at every step of the process. Make this as easy as possible by communicating your needs and intents clearly and in writing, and by paying them fairly and on time (every time) for their work. Conduct yourself as an ethical publisher who understands your business depends on the efforts of those you hire to fulfill your desire to publish comic books. Be aware that every issue you publish should contain a satisfying story unto itself, even if it is part of a longer, continuing story. Pay a lot of attention to proofreading, a virtually lost art these days, and be aware of professional lettering techniques. Bad, amateur lettering can spoil the reading experience of even the best-written and best-drawn comics. Warning: If you don’t know when to use the letter “I” with serifs and when without (“sans”), you don’t know enough about lettering comic books.
And how do you pick the creators that will write, draw, and letter (and possibly colour) your comics? Just because you like a writer or artist, that does not mean that readers will like their work. The worst thing an editor or publisher can do is be buddies with the talent they publish. If your judgment is thus compromised, you owe it to yourself, your creators and your readers to seek out blunt, critical analysis of the quality of the work and its likelihood of success before publishing it. Be aware, when looking for talent, that writers and artists professional enough to make your dreams come true will be willing to work with you and for you, provided you are professional enough to help them feed their families and help them pay their rent, again, in an ethical manner and with written contracts fair to all parties. Warning: If you can’t afford to hire a lawyer and an accountant, you can’t afford to publish comics.
If you must publish comics and are not already an established company with a well-known line and a reliable slate of books, then start your new company with one bulletproof book that is so well done and wildly entertaining that it can serve as the foundation of a steadily-growing company over the course of the next few years.
History has shown time and again that this is the most reliable way to build a brand and create a publishing company. Starting a line with a number of titles only dilutes your brand in the marketplace. If Dave Sim had released seven or eight other titles the same month he debuted Cerebus the Aardvark, it’s pretty likely you would never even have heard of that title, never mind the seven or eight others.
Be generous with review copies. Send real copies (not PDFs or other web-based previews) to every competent comics critic you can find, from reputable online critics and bloggers like Tom Spurgeon, Johanna Draper Carlson and many others, to online and print magazines like The ComicsJournal and Entertainment Weekly. It’s absolutely vital that you get the tastemakers talking about your book, and it would be wise to pay careful attention to their criticism and suggestions, as well. Since they don’t know you, they can offer an unbiased assessment of what you’re doing right, and what you’re doing wrong. Trust your own judgment, but listen to the experts, too. Warning: If you can’t take an honest, critical assessment of your comic books, you are not ready to publish or create comics.
Finally, and most importantly, if you cannot afford a full-time publicity department that is dedicated to getting your books the maximum exposure possible — either yourself working many extra hours a day, or a paid employee, then you cannot afford to be a publisher. Hiring the talent and printing the books is no more than 50 percent of the equation that results in a successful book. You must familiarize yourself with publicity and marketing techniques, and be aware that message board posts and banner ads on comic book sites are only a small part of the equation when it comes to publicizing your comics. A professional publicist will have insights and inroads into getting the word out about your book that you never imagined. It will cost you money, but if you want to be a publisher, you must get used to spending money, and lots of it. It will likely be years before you start making a profit, but if the books are high quality and you start small and grow at a considered pace, and comport yourself as a professional business person with an ethical and moral grounding, there’s a chance you could one day be considered a professional publisher.
The New DC 52 Week Four, Part One - Fishing for Compliments
And so we enter the final week of DCs reboots, with about 40 books under our belt and a final dozen to review. For now particular reason, lets start with them in alphabetical order.
All-Star Western #1 by Justin Gray, jimmy Palmiotti and Moritat is an early front runner for book of the week. I liked Gray and Palmiotti′s Jonah Hex quite a bit, so I′m happy they get to continue with Jonah here, though the title of the book suggests we′ll eventually move on to lesser DC Western heroes like El Diablo, Tomahawk and Unknown Scalper. This story brings Hex to 1880s Gotham, hired to help track down the Gotham Butcher, a serial killer of prostitutes. The immediate impression is, damn, Moritat is a fantastic artistic, recalling the old Moebius Lt. Blueberry stories in gritty but precise verisimilitude. Gotham turns out to be no less corrupt than in Batmans time, though here, there be more boobs on display.
Gray and Palmiotti twist a typical Western character—the reporter chronicling the cowboys exploits—into a psychologist teamed with Hex, and the results are even better. Amadeus Arkham not only provides insight into Hex′s character without the writers having to show it, but he has a good grasp on the killer as well. And when the two outsiders find themselves in the midst of a conspiracy, a secret society that may very well shield the killer from their grasp, we′ve got a gripping suspense story on our hands. Excellent.
Aquaman #1 by Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis is better than I expected. I admit, when I saw the toothy, Sleestak-looking fish people on the first page, I was thinking, that Johns just can′t be happy unless someone is getting chewed up and dismembered. But with nary a drop of blood, he changes scene to focus on our boy Arthur, a regular hometown hero guy stopping bank robbers and trying to grab a lunch of fish and chips if some dumb blogger would stop bothering him. Johns does a good job showing Aquaman as tough and heroic, then countering it by having other characters voice the common conceptions and misconceptions about the guy: he has a deep bond with fish, nobody likes him, etc. And yet, he′s going to try to find a place for himself on land regardless. Nothing earthshaking but it′s well-crafted, and this is as good as I′ve seen from Reis.
Batman The Dark Knight #1 by Paul Jenkins and David Finch was okay up until the laughable ending. One-Face? Oh, Paul Jenkins. Taking away Two-Face′s duality and making him a musclebound thug is about as bad an idea as there is. Up to this point, though, things aren’t bad, although Jenkins keeps hammering on about fear being a cannibal and whatnot to the extent not much actually happens. Bruce Wayne is accosted by a GCPD Internal Affairs officer who, by definition, should be grilling other cops, not citizens, and he′s harassing he richest, most powerful man in Gotham on a flimsy premise that a guy not as nice as Bruce would end his career on. But on the plus side, new potential love interest Jaina Hudson is sassy and smart, and Finch doesn’t forget the most important attributes: her ass cheeks. Finch is okay, but still has a very limited repertoire of male faces, and all of them constipated and looking like they had nose jobs. If one more Arkham breakout and one more great lady waiting to get her heart crushed by Bruce Wayne is up your alley, then plunk down your $2.99. Me, I′m hoping for a little more.
Blackhawks #1 by Mike Costa, Graham Nolan and Lashley is like, I dunno, that movie version of The Losers. Looks like it might work, but the script isn’t very good and the talent involved isn’t meshing. Costa is new to me but I know hes written a lot of recent G.I. Joe comics, and this is sort of in that line, a fake military strike team that avoids killing, with a lot of toys and a cool logo on all of them. That logo provides the most risible plot point, as someone with a cellphone takes a picture of the Blackhawk logo on the side of a chopper during what is supposed to be a covert mission.
Something that dumb is hard to overcome, but Costa makes a game effort, introducing two of the team members who are in a secret romance. Kunoichi was bitten during the mission and exposed to industrial waste, and now she appears to be getting meta powers, which would mean DC′s two military-themed books have superhumans in them, which strikes me as not a very good idea, twice.
Graham Nolan returns from an even less promising gig, newspaper comics, to provide layouts for the book, and they′re fine, but finisher Lashley is committed to adding so many extraneous little hashmarks to every character that they look like they’ve been struck with wire brushes. It results in a kind of Whilce Portacio approximation, only with even less restraint.
Other than the public relations nightmare from the logo, and the pending eruption of superpowers, there isn’t much going on in the book, unless you get excited every time you read the word ″nanocites″. This one doesn’t pass muster.
DC Week Three – Birds, Bats and (thankfully) Some Wonder
To be honest, DC almost beat me to the ground with their insulting Catwoman / Red Hood and the Outlaws combo punch to my four-color inner faith, but the rest of the books for this week couldn’t be that bad, could they? Could they?!?
Well, thankfully, the answer is no. So in UPC order…
Supergirl #1 manages to be a pretty good start to the series but having said that it feels wafer thin. Supergirl crashes to Earth, fights a bunch of guys who are wearing armor and her cousin arrives on the scene. The End.
But as thin as the story was, it does manage to capture the confusion and fright that this young alien feels as she arrives on a strange planet and finds herself with all these amazing powers. Hopefully her origin has been well thought out, because in recent years Supergirl has had more reboots than the Legion of Super-Heroes. Hopefully this one will stick.
Ahh Wonder Woman. Ahhhh Cliff Chiang.
Writer Brian Azzarello does a great job of introducing Wonder Woman because he assumes, rightfully, that we know who she is. She’s tall, she’s an Amazon and she’s got some connections to the Greek Gods. Anything else (and anything that’s been changed, enhanced or modified) about the character doesn’t need to be established this issue because, as I said, she’s Wonder Woman.
Wonder Woman #1 is a strange book because not only does it read better the second time, it almost demands a second reading. Azzarello expects the reader to keep up with the story and if you don’t know who the weird guy is on page one, well you can re-read the issue and it will all come together. And after comic after comic that spoon-feeds everything about the characters, his style is refreshing.
As for artist Cliff Chiang – his stuff is simply gorgeous. Some people aren’t huge fans of his art and I don’t know what they’re not seeing. The Wonder Woman he draws conveys compassion, power and strength. He even manages to make a nude Princess Diana appear majestic and powerful rather than the bimbo-ized and lobotomized cheesecake we had to endure with Catwoman and Starfire. Diana is nude in bed because she’s an Amazon; Catwoman has her breasts exploding from beneath her costume because the creators didn’t know what else to do with the character.
Wonder Woman and Batwoman don’t make up for the awfulness of Catwoman and Red Hood, but at least they have characters that are strong and intelligent rather than the awful wish-fulfillment fantasies of the latter two books. If Wonder Woman could now lose the ridiculous (and probably Jim Lee mandated) necklace/choker/WW thing around her neck – that would be a good thing.
DC Universe Presents #1 is the awkwardly named anthology series that will have mini-series after mini-series featuring a character not quite strong enough for their own on-going book. This issue presents Deadman and while there is some really good stuff going on, it fails in one aspect.
Boston Brand is back as Deadman and the issue explains what a wretched human being he was while he was alive and how he is given a chance to redeem himself. The part of the book that deals with him meeting with ‘god’ is powerful and moving as he is shown how his soul teeters on the edge, but there is an opportunity for him to redeem himself.
The problem is this: it’s never made clear what Deadman is doing now that he’s back and temporarily taking possession of the living’s bodies. The old series had Deadman trying to find his killer and then he would pop around the DC Universe as a guide or to help some hero out. Most recently he had a starring role in Brightest Day that had him alive and then dead again.
But now that he’s back to being just plain old hopping-from-body-to-body Deadman, we have no idea what purpose he has. This issue is just intriguing enough that I’m curious to see where it goes, but hopefully the next issue will show us where the character is heading. The concept of Deadman has always been great, but they need to show why the character matters, otherwise he’ll always remain a secondary, background hero.
Batman #1 is what a good Batman comic should be: a fight scene or two, some interaction with Alfred and the other cast members, a sense that Bruce Wayne is on the cutting edge of technology and that Batman is always twenty steps ahead of everyone else.
Scott Snyder proved that he could handle the character (even when it was only Dick Grayson) in Detective Comics and his transition (and graduation?) to Bruce Wayne is flawless.
The artwork by Greg Capullo is a bit of a mixed bag: utterly gorgeous at times (his depiction of the villains in Arkham and, later, a double-page spread of the Batcave are stunning with one being monstrous and the other feeling huge and isolated), but confusing at other times (the heights of Dick, Tim and Damian seem wildly out of proportion, and a mayoral candidate could be Bruce Wayne’s double if it wasn’t for a slightly different hairstyle and a difference in the ties they’re wearing).
But it’s a very promising start to the series. And, yes, this Batman once again has the police co-operating with him, which again makes me wonder what went wrong with Detective Comics. But since I’m quite happy to forget that comic, it makes the quality of Batman #1 even more enjoyable.
Birds of Prey #1 is, like a lot of the new DC books, filled to the brim with our heroes exposition-ing their way through the entire issue. The book serves as a nice introduction to Black Canary (who is obviously not married to Green Arrow anymore because he would look like a child next to her—but having said that, I shouldn’t give DC any ideas for their next spin of the wheel for the unlucky winner of “Who’s the next heroine we can turn into a busty, bra-breaking bimbo”?)
Unfortunately because the issue focuses so much on establishing a backstory for Black Canary, the other characters are left out in the cold and, for instance, there is no attempt to explain who this Starling character is. I’m sure if I read the previous books or if I searched around the internet I could find out, but the point of these books is to introduce and then pull new readers into the stories. There’s no mystery about Starling, she’s just never explained.
Put it this way: I’ll happily hop on-line to enrich my reading of a Grant Morrison book because that’s part of the reading experience with his works. But I don’t feel inclined to do so with Birds of Prey because I don’t think it will add anything to the story, it will just clarify something that the writer didn’t bother to explain.
And the final book of the UPC-guided week is Green Lantern Corps #1. And you can tell this book belongs in the Geoff Johns corner of the universe because a couple of Green Lanterns are slaughtered in the first three pages of the book: one character has her head cut off one character while the other is sliced in half.
There was once a time when the death of two members of the Corps, even two obscure Lanterns on the edge of nowhere, would be a cause for alarm and a signal would be sent across the galaxy for everyone to hunt down the killer.
But in this book the murders occur early in the story, and then the rest of the issue has Guy Gardner and John Stewart moaning about how tough it is for them to lead normal lives (a theme that was echoed by Hal Jordan in Green Lantern #1). It then isn’t until the last four pages of the book that anyone seems to care that someone is wiping out members of the Green Lantern Corps and the characters finally spring into action to find out what’s happened. All of this paced for the climatic, final page where the body count just mounts and mounts and mounts.
Under Geoff Johns’ guidance, the various Green Lantern books have become more and more morbid, as if there isn’t any drama in the story unless someone gets a hand sliced off or a Red Lantern is vomiting on someone or an entire planet is wiped out solely for the purpose of leaving the Green Lanterns a message. The books are teetering on the edge of becoming parodies of themselves as each death, slaughter or maiming has to top the one before it. And considering the fact that one of the books is populated with characters that puke red energy onto their victims, the slide towards utter and inescapable farce doesn’t seem that far away.
Since the various Green Lantern books are a cornerstone of the new DC (with four books being published), I’m not sure if self-parody is what they’re hoping to achieve, but I believe that they’re just a vomiting budgie away from being there.
The New DC 52 Week Three, Part Two - Turn Me On, Deadman
So now that we′ve covered the Batman related books of the week, what about all the rest? As usual, there are some old standbys and a few solo books for characters who have never been able to support them for long. First, though, we′ve got a book starring one of the heavy hitters of the DC Universe.
Wonder Woman #1 by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang is, as expected, a train wreck. The posturing, macho Azzarello would seem an odd choice to write Diana, and indeed, shows very little aptitude for her here, relegating her to a detached role, the focus more on the human Zola, a pretty, short-haired blonde who finds herself menaced by centaurs and other creatures from Greek mythology because she is apparently carrying the child of Zeus. She is saved by Hermes, who is later wounded terribly. One of the villains has charcoal skin and would seem to be an angry son of Zeus, but as much as I loved the Robert Graves book as a kid, his identity didn’t jump out at me.
I find mythological elements can be nice in contemporary stories but it′s easy to overdo them, and Azzarello goes full court press here, jamming the pages with magic and symbolism so that there is barely time to meet a sleeping Diana and get her dressed in a silvery, non-patriotic variation on her classic attire. How soon do I miss the ′90s leather jacket of last year′s muddled, aborted Straczynski reboot.
Cliff Chiang does a terrific job, but with one more bad career choice like this it is getting harder to drum up sympathy for why he isn’t a superstar. As for Azz, I will say that by the end, he has stood by the courage of his trumped-up portentous bullshit enough that it almost gets over, but one comes away from this book scratching one′s head and wondering why it was more important to him to explore the mystery of how Zeus fucked this human girl and she didn’t know it, than to try to make the star of the book interesting.
Captain Atom #1 by J.T. Krul and Freddie Williams III makes me think I misjudged Krul unfairly by the secondhand reviews of his previous Green Arrow and Arsenal miniseries. Well…that Arsenal thing really did sound awful, but hey, this marks two good books from Krul this month. Part of the appeal is Williams′ art, which has evolved to a freer, sketchier style that is surprisingly refreshing when depicting all the nuclear energy blasts and such. It′s like he′s making science fun. And I′m not saying Krul is knockdown brilliant or anything, but as with Green Arrow #1 he is using a formula that works: 1) see character in action; 2) present his supporting cast; and 3) present the ongoing problem, which in this case is the reliable premise of the hero whose powers may end up killing him. I like that he gets away from the overly militaristic hardass or government stooge role that Atom is often given, and the energy hairdo lifted from Firestorm actually looks pretty good on him.
Blue Beetle #1 by Tony Bedard and Ig Guara defines workmanlike. Unimpressive artwork, a get-it-out-of-the-way flashback explaining the origin of the scarab that will give Jaime Reyes his Blue Beetle abilities, and several uninteresting scenes leading up to that contrived moment. I think the Beetle redesign from a few years back, which hasn’t changed much here, is terrific, and I′ve liked Jaime fine the few times I′ve seen him, but this was not a good start for, Jesus, is this Volume 9 of Blue Beetle?? Volume 10 should be just around the corner.
Supergirl #1 by Michael Green and Mahmud Asrar presents a Supergirl who doesn’t know where she is, fighting for her life against guys in mech suits trying to contain her. Naturally, she′s freaked out and we are sympathetic to any creature who doesn’t know why something unpleasant is happening to them. Kind of reminds me of something John Byrne would do, and I mean that as a compliment. Simple, but good storytelling, and I like Asrars style. Hey, maybe I won′t like the character once she assimilates into the DCU, but for now, good start.
DC Universe Presents #1 by Paul Jenkins and Bernard Chang is one of the nicer surprises of the week, a mature take on Boston Brands karmic balancing journey. You may well ask why such an admitted jerk in life as Brand would get the opportunity to live on through others after death, but its clear that this is, if not a curse, certainly a burden he will have to carry for a long time until the goddess Rama finds him sufficiently enlightened and selfless. I could take issue with an Eastern deity being so on-the-nose and really spelling out for Brand what he has to do, but overall it looks like Jenkins has a good handle on things, and Chang is a good choice on art, as he is can handle the everyday stuff as well as the more mystical or superheroic elements.
OK, so while I missed getting this week′s Green Lantern Corps #1, I did find last week′s Superboy #1 by Scott Lobdell and R.B. Silva and liked it, certainly a lot better than Lobdell′s Red Hood book. I don’t know Superboy too much, so maybe having him as a kind of lab project combo of both Superman′s and Lex Luthor′s dueling DNA has been explored before, but I get the feeling the patient, calculating genius aspect of the character is new, and I like it. Silva is kind of stiff but it does fit the character so far, and the idea of Superboy in a virtual reality his creators aren’t aware he knows is fake should be good for a lot of mileage.
Legion of Super-heroes #1 by Paul Levitz and Francis Portela was my least favorite book of the week, which may be surprising to read after how I tore into Wonder Woman, but at least that caused a strong reaction. I want to be sensitive because I know what its like to follow an artist for a long time, long enough that you can find bits of their old magic where someone less familiar cant. Like, take new Bob Dylan or Van Morrison records and old fans may fine wonders while new listeners hear croaks, grunts and wheezes.
So Im just saying that I missed the time when Paul Levitz was good enough on LOSH to create all the warm memories that fans have of his run. In reading this (and I did read the first couple of his last LOSH as well), its not even like the feeling one may have from reading a past-prime Claremont or Miller where the style is so distinctive that if you give in you can maybe get swept up in it even if its ridiculous. I don’t really see much of a Levitz style, unless you call metronomic, low impact character introductions a style. Here is this guy talking about why he is upset to this girl who misses so-and-so and this guy cant be a Legionnaire anymore and this girl is married to this guy and this guy has almost the same powers as this other guy but lets just seem them both anyway because some folks are fans of one and some prefer the other and this one is complaining that they need to recruit more Legionnaires because we have only seen a dozen so far and theyre all sitting around doing nothing except the really smart one who is doing something with his computer and this Legion must be made of money because they can afford to keep two dozen or more heroes sitting around and waiting for something to happen that usually requires the efforts of five or six of them.
Listen, there is something cool about the Legion. I have read pretty good runs from four or five writers, and I would give Levitz the benefit of the doubt that back in the day, his run was good, too. But it is just not happening here. This is just formula without fire. I don’t understand how you can put out two Legion books with dozens of characters and tons of history to draw from, and they can both be botched so badly. I don’t get any passion here, any attempt to do something fresh or sincere or layered or anything. ZZZZ.
There is no artist in the history of comics that I hold in higher esteem than Bernard Krigstein. No other artist understood the inherent potential of the artform better and no other artist ever demonstrated such a grasp of what was needed in order to reach and exceed both his own limits and those of his chosen medium.
As influential as Jack Kirby was on American corporate superhero comics (and others), Krigstein’s influence was more profound. Subtle, yes, but generations of artists have seen comics through Krigstein’s eyes and come away from that revelation understanding that Kirby, as great and fabulous a creator as he was, was the beginning of understanding. Bernard Krigstein and his battle with his art and with his publishers (particularly EC), represent the maturing and growth of the artform. Out of Krigstein’s influence you can trace the artistic struggles of other notable masters of comic book artwork, like Gil Kane, and Dan Clowes, to mention two very different cartoonists both heavily indebted to Krigstein’s innovations.
You can hear Krigstein’s voice whispering in Frank Miller’s ear, both in the times of his greatest successes (Batman: Year One), and even — perhaps especially — when he falls on his face (The Dark Knight Strikes Again). Anyone who thinks Krigstein holds no dominion over modern comics has not a clue what they are talking about. His influence is everywhere, for those of us who seek out comics made with passion and seeking to express truth.
A study of Krigstein’s genius must include careful immersion in his EC work. For it is here where he met his greatest victories, and his greatest struggle. It’s my belief that the intersection of these elements created a moment of artistic growth as yet unequaled in comics.
In an era when graphic novels (both real and so-called) are issued on a weekly basis by writers and artists with not even one-tenth of one percent of Krigstein’s profound understanding of comics’ potential, this is among the greatest crimes the industry of comics has to answer for — not that it ever will. We should be eternally grateful that Krigstein, despite these obstacles, still gave us “Master Race,” “The Catacombs,” “Key Chain,” and other awe-inspiring works. In almost every one of his best works, you see him playing with the form, experimenting with page design, panel arrangement, and perhaps most famously, subdividing EC’s restrictive pre-set panel layouts in order to expand his own storytelling territory within the defined parameters. He was, in a very real sense, a fractal genius of comic art. Where he was not allowed to grow out, he grew inward, like a Koch Snowflake — demanding, as a true artist must, that he be allowed to grow in whatever way humanly possible.
A few years ago, Fantagraphics Books released B. Krigstein: Volume One by Greg Sadowski. This oversized hardcover artbook/biography is one of the finest of its kind ever released, and although Krigstein’s story is largely one of restriction and boundaries, it should be noted that B. Krigstein Vol. 1 is not a depressing book. Its author was meticulous in his creation of a lasting, vital document of the subject, a man who took life and art very seriously and suffered greatly for both. The book is, in fact, a celebration of the life and work of Bernard Krigstein, and even if you think you know who that is, I guarantee you that by the time you get to the end of the book, you’re going to know the man and his work one hell of a lot better.
Sadowski’s book highlighted one of the greatest shames of the comics industry. That is, the crushing effect of the work for hire system on a true artist. On page 187 we see Krigstein lament that “I wanted to edit a book. I wanted to devote one book to a single story.” This was creative mutiny at the tightly-controlled EC Comics, and even though the company turned out many, many masterpieces in their short stories, the fact that the most well-remembered of them is Krigstein’s own “Master Race” (reprinted in its entirety in B. Krigstein Vol. 1 and beautifully recoloured by Marie Severin, as are the other stories included in the book), a story he chopped up and recreated to make it brilliant, says all that needs be said about how tragic it is that Krigstein was never given the simple freedom to do an issue-long story. Think about the artists that have since been given such opportunities, hundreds of mediocre talents, hundreds of times, while Krigstein never once got to, and one very quickly can sink into a dark depression tinged with righteous indignation, if not rage.
I think even of perhaps the most obvious and well-documented case of longform corporate malfeasance toward a mistreated creator, that of Jack Kirby, and I realize that his case is considerably attenuated by the fact that, for all the injustice done him by Marvel (and least a little by DC), at least he was able to create what he wanted largely without interference, at least until a title was cancelled. In B. Krigstein Vol. 1, we got a portrait of an artist who led a brilliant creative existence and created great works of art, but who was never allowed any real freedom in his chosen field to see just how far his skill and imagination could take him.
I’ve said in the past that Krigstein is “perhaps the greatest artist ever to work in comics,” and I believe that his contributions to comic art are the equal of what Alan Moore brought to the artform in his writing. As the years wear on and my appreciation for what Krigstein left us to consider grows ever stronger, more and more I am certain that comparison is apt.
In the same way that Moore’s words and ideas in the 1980s, ’90s and ’00s revolutionized the standard by which comics would be perceived by both reader and creator, Krigstein overthrew the stagnant visual paradigm American comics had been mired in since its inception early in the century. The vast, unmapped canvas Krigstein’s body of work not only suggests but demands still lay primarily before us, unexplored, waiting.
So, good for DC for not only getting some decent sales so far for the relaunches, but generating a bit of controversy as well, specifically with the sexual mores of Starfire and Catwoman in two books that debuted this week. I guess I might as well enter the fray before said fray is all over, so without further adieu…
Red Hood and the Outlaws #1 by Scott Lobdell and Kenneth Rocafort is, to be fair, notable for more than Lobdell¢s recasting of Princess Koriand¢r, Starfire, as little more than a doe-eyed, obedient fembot, ready for superheroing or sex, the former something she seems to do more as a favor and the latter something she does for fun, and does often. Nothing wrong with a liberated woman, of course, although narration mentioning that she had once been a slave raises questions about just how much of her attitude is cultural and how much might be spawned from that experience, and why did she have to be introduced with a joke about her breasts? As others have rightly pointed out, it doesn’t make for a good character (re)introduction because there is literally nothing else here but a hot orange chick in a bikini who has sex with any guy who hoves into her reach. There are interesting things that can be done with that as far as Roy (never called Arsenal or Speedy) Harper and Jason (Red Hood but its really a helmet) Todd, because one of them will probably develop feelings for her, but that’s all about the male characters and their conflicts. Give us something for Kori to do or think about besides humping.
As for Roy, I have never really followed him except secondhand, so I¢m pretty okay with pretending the heroin and lost arm and dead baby or whatever just didn’t happen. But so far he¢s a not-very-interesting along for the ride kind of guy, and since the ride Red Hood is taking him on isn’t clear, well. As for Jason, Lobdell seems to want to make him sort of a Grifter type, with a girls jacket instead of a long trenchcoat over what looks to just be Nightwing¢s current costume, more suave than psycho, with skeletons in the closet but insane revenge against Batman on the backburner. Lobdell moves things along briskly and with a little bit of intrigue, and barring the gratuitous Starfire poses, Rocafort has clear talent, but in order to make Red Hood into a character who could support his own ongoing book, it seems like he has been smoothed out to be pretty indistinguishable from a lot of superheroes.
Catwoman #1 by Judd Winick and Guillem March is the other controversial one, and for good reason, as we first see Catwoman in bra and panties, then shes undercover as a bartender in a hotel suited rented out to Russian mobsters and prostitutes with sheer panties jutting out at the reader, and finally, she decompresses with some wild-but-brief sex with Batman on the roof of her borrowed penthouse. I actually don’t mind this in theory, as I think people are too puritanical about superheroes, as if having an active sex life somehow makes them less noble. Now, an active sex life with a criminal, that’s a different story, especially as Batman is historically the hardest-assed, least forgiving of them all. But that can be really interesting to develop, if Winick avoids the more fanfictiony elements of it seen here. Better to suggest and leave some of this to the imagination, even if March does draw sexy women. As for the rest of the story, with an anonymous gang blowing up her place, her love of cats, and the introduction of a smart, kind older female friend-slash-provider of jobs, its all pro forma. Of course her friend isn’t going to provide any competition for Selina in the looks department. Of course theres a creepy pimp killer guy she can tear to pieces that we wont feel shocked about, because he deserves it. Catwoman works best when shes skirting that blurry line of morality, a thief whos a good friend, mentor, and who steals from those who can afford to replace the item or who maybe stole it in the first place. Winick needs to work harder to explore those moral quandaries, the decisions that turn out bad in one way or another, rather than dwell on the sensational.
As long as we¢re in the Batverse, let¢s look at Batman #1 by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo. I wish I could unremember Kevin Pasquino noting that Scott Snyder has a fondness for characters talking about their fathers, because here we go again with another bit of wisdom, although I¢ll cut Snyder some slack here: it makes sense that Bruce Wayne would talk about his father in a speech looking towards the future of Gotham. And at least Bruce/Batman is written about the same as he is in Tony S. Daniel¢s Detective.
Like many of the relaunches, this one starts with a quick bit of action, followed by a lot of talking to set up the direction of the book. My first impression of 2011 Capullo is that he isn’t much different from 1999 Capullo, but with more of a tepid hybrid of the styles of Jim Lee and former boss Todd McFarlane. From the Batcave on, there isn’t anything here that will wow you, and his Joker is surprisingly unthreatening-looking. I also thought it was odd that Dick Grayson was drawn as looking about 17, not fully grown, when he is clearly an adult in his own book and we know he is just off a convincing gig as Batman. It would hardly be a Batbook without a creepy murder these days, though thankfully Snyder doesn’t dwell on it too much, and he does a nice job dropping a little red herring early on that helps justify Bruces new doubts about Dick, now that Dick¢s DNA has been found under the nails of the victim. I didn’t like this as well as I did Snyder¢s Detective run, but not a bad start.
Nightwing #1 by Kyle Higgins and Eddy Barrows is about as good as it should be. What I mean is, while it will never sell as well as a book starring Batman, a Nightwing series should always be pretty good because you have a character who is more fun and more accessible as Batman. He¢s a lower-budget Batman who also has the same father issues most of us have, but he also gets laid now and then, but always in a non-creepy Red Hood way.
This issue establishes that Dick was Batman for a while on a fill-in basis but is happy to be back as himself again. Of course, being Gotham, a day doesn’t go by when some hero¢s past doesn’t come back to haunt him, which comes in two forms here: 1) an agile but not superpowered hitman trying to kill him, and 2) his old traveling circus is in town, with a childhood friend now grown into a lovely woman. Seems like pretty familiar territory, but Higgins writes a likable Nightwing and Barrows draws him handsome and heroic, nothing very ambitious in the storytelling but very consistent and attractive. I liked it a lot.
Birds of Prey #1 by Duane Swierczynski and Jesus Saiz is no longer a Batbook, as Barbara Gordon only appears briefly to turn down Black Canarys offer to join. Its confusing, because this seems to be the first incarnation of the team, so if that’s so, how do BC and Babs know each other? The team is now Black Canary as the veteran/voice of reason, Starling as the sassy one (she¢s new to me), and Katana as the quiet one/Asian one/one without a bird name. Based on the cover, Poison Ivy will appear at some point, but she doesn’t here.
I like Saiz¢ art a lot. He is able to capture female forms without adding too many lines and getting into gross territory. In fact, I can¢t think of a book he¢s done where he didn’t class up the proceedings a notch.
We meet a reporter who has been trying to uncover the truth behind the Birds of Prey, and they have heretofore tolerated him, until the guy feeding him details on them sets up a meet that is really designed to draw them out in the open to be picked off, whereupon they rescue him, kick some butt, and take off. Three inoffensive, distinct female characters who are good at what they do and work well together, some sort of menace, and an interesting supporting character or two. Nothing astonishing, but this should be the baseline quality of any superhero book, and so far, so good.
I’ve been writing about the artform and industry of comics for over a decade now, and this is one of the most frequent questions to come my way.
On average, if you’re lucky, you’ll get about 12 cents from a dealer for any random comic book. That’s half of what they’ll charge when they throw it in their quarter bin. And while most hardcore comics collectors have an idea what their collection is worth, both individually and overall, if you’ve only got a casual interest in collecting comics, or perhaps have found a pile of old comics in your grandmother’s attic, you will need some guidance in discovering if the books that have come into your possession really have any value — and even if they do, is that value greater than the time and energy it will take you to liquidate your comics into cash?
Make no mistake, there are comics that are worth a lot of money; but the bad news is, the chances are very high that you don’t have them. Because the comics that are worth the most money are some combination of old, in excellent condition, highly desirable, and extremely rare. As a general rule, the older the comic, the more it might be worth. Especially if it was printed before the end of World War II, when paper drives destroyed untold numbers of comics as a part of the war effort. So if you have a comic printed before 1945, it’s already a minor miracle that it is intact and in one piece.
After age, condition is a huge factor. The better care that has been taken of a comic book, the better the chances you will be able to find a buyer for it. Folds, tears, stains, cut coupons or missing staples are all defects that bring down the value of your comic book. They must be desirable, as well, in order for it to be valuable. Believe it or not there are good condition comics from decades past that still sell for just five or ten dollars, because their subject matter, or writers and artists, or some other factor, is not highly sought by collectors. But if you have an old comic book, in great condition, that features the debut of a noteworthy character (Batman or Spider-Man, for example), chances are it’s going to have a number of collectors actively hoping to find a copy.
I always advocate comics primarily as reading material — there’s no greater value to be had from a comic than a great reading experience. But there’s no question that valuable comics are out there, and there are many collectors who put the monetary value of their books far ahead of any other consideration. So, if you must put a price on your comics, go to your library and check out The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide. It is far, far from perfect, but it will give you a rough idea what your books may be worth. Don’t forget that condition counts for a lot, and remember to grade your comics accurately. It’s hard to face facts when you think your comics may be extremely valuable, but you must handle them carefully and be honest with yourself and your potential buyers about whatever flaws they may possess.
Finally, remember that if you try to sell your comics to a comic book dealer, chances are, at best, they will give you 50 percent of the values listed in the Overstreet guide. The reason for this is simply overhead: The dealer has bills to pay, and in order to make a profit, he must pay you less than Guide price in order to be able to sell that same comic at or around Guide price, and be able to stay in business.
If you want to get the maximum return on valuable comics you may own, you’ll have to sell them some other way, such as through an online or real-world auction service. This is much more time-consuming, though, so think about what’s most important to you: Selling them fast (to a dealer, for less money), or getting the most money (selling them to individual collectors). Many comic book-related websites feature “marketplace” sections in their message boards, so take a look around and see what options you have for selling your comics.
Whatever you choose to do with your comics, I hope you’ll take the time to read them, and find the great worlds of wonder and imagination that the very best ones hold within their pages. Ultimately, that thrilling experience of a story well-told is the most valuable thing about any comic book.
My family lived in Florida in the 1970s, and in 1980, when I was about 14, we moved back to upstate New York from whence we came and where we belonged. Now, I had discovered all sorts of wonderful things between, say, 1978 and 1980: The Bud Plant Catalog, Cerebus, Star*Reach, The Comics Journal, hell, the very existence of comic book stores probably hit in there somewhere, in that formative 12-to-14 year old time in my life.
And while there were no “good comic shops” (as I like to call them) where we lived (St. Augustine, Florida — this may have changed since 1980, I’ve never been back and would not know), there was one used coin shop that both bought and sold comics and had maybe 5 or 10 longboxes full of back issues. This was the first store ever where I experienced bringing in my unwanted extras and stuff I no longer cared for and walking out flush with cash.
In my memory, that store paid full guide for back issues, but knowing what I know now, that seems sort of impossible. Maybe they paid some crazy figure like 80 percent of guide and kept a low profit margin; after all, comics were just a sidelight in this shop. But at any rate, I probably sold many hundreds if not thousands of my accumulated comics to that store in a two-year or so time period — all my Bill Mantlo/Sal Buscema Incredible Hulks certainly ended up there: Incredible Hulk by Mantlo and Buscema was one of those comics that seemed awesome at 10 and incredibly lame by 12, you know?
But between that shop and the great number of 7/11s and Jiffy Marts that were in our area (one within walking distance of our home in St. Augustine Shores, a middle-class housing development built on swampland on the outskirts of town — that one was a Jiffy Mart that became a 7/11), I never wanted for comics. They were always available, either new in the convenience stores or used at that coin shop. In fact, not a weekend went by, probably from the age of 8 or 9 right up until we moved when I was 14 that I would not take a buck or three and walk down to the Jiffy Mart (it was Jiffy Mart most of the time we lived there, in my memory) and get some comics, a Slush Puppy (later a Slurpie once it became 7/11), and walk home with my bounty, set for the weekend of reading. And in the early part of those years, when comics were 20 cents? Two bucks bought a lot of comics. Toward the end I think they were closer to 35 or 40 cents, so, then, not so much. But I digress…
So, living in Florida: Plenty of comics to be had. Flash ahead to 1980, back in upstate New York (where my comics addiction had begun, at the age of 6, recovering from having my tonsils out): After she had the good sense to leave her husband, my mom moved us (me, my brother and her) to the very small town (literally one red light in those days; it might be three, now) of Greenwich, in Washington County. And like in St. Augustine, we lived not “in town,” but rather on the outskirts. And rural Washington County is pretty damn rural. Not Deliverance rural, where we were, but closer to that than to any sort of Gilmore Girls small-town idyll.
Greenwich had no comic shops. Unicorn Comics in Saratoga Springs, probably the second most significant comics shop of my teenage years after FantaCo in Albany (40 miles south and reserved for special trips, maybe once a month), would not open for months, so as we settled in Greenwich, I was parched for comics with nothing but desert all around.
Downtown in Greenwich one day with mom and my younger brother, we went into Hughes Newsroom. Ah-ha! There on the bottom tier of a two-tiered magazine rack were the comics. Well, you knew they had to be here somewhere, right? 1980 was still in the beginning years of the direct market, and comics were living out their dying breaths in the mainstream magazine distribution chain, so they generally could be found in most towns, but you had to look.
I grabbed as many as I could afford (read: talk my mom into buying for me) and went up to the counter. The old man, Hughes himself, took the stack of maybe half-a-dozen comics. He put them on the counter. He put the palm of one hand on the bottom half of the cover of the top book on the stack, and then, one by one, he bent the covers back to see the prices and ring them up on the cash register.
Again: He put the palm of one hand on the bottom half of the cover of the top book on the stack, and then, one by one, he bent the covers back to see the prices and ring them up on the cash register.
In my head, a voice screamed: OH MY GOD. HE IS KILLING MY COMICS. STOP KILLING MY COMICS!
In the store, a young teenage boy smiled meekly as the old man, Hughes himself, handed me a bag with my now-ruined comics and no doubt told me to “have a nice day.” A day he had just destroyed by KILLING MY COMICS.
It was no different than bringing a hamster to the cash register of a pet shop, having the clerk break its neck, take your money and hand you the dead hamster in a paper bag. In fact, this is exactly what it felt like.
And I’d like to tell you that I either spoke up next time, or never shopped there again, but as I say, other than once or twice a month trips to FantaCo in Albany, I had no comics and I was hooked on comics. You may be able to relate, but from the age of 6 until, well, now, my whole life in any retail environment is basically where are the comics? Are there comics here? No? Anywhere nearby? Have you any comics? Come on, there must be some comics here someplace! And in those days, that was a successful strategy more often than not. Every garage sale, thrift shop, drug store and supermarket had the comics; you just had to look. And look I did.
But no, it was many weeks — maybe months — before I screwed up the courage to take my stack to the counter at Hughes Newsroom and meekly say to to the old man, Hughes himself, “Could you please not bend them?”
You could have heard a pin drop, as they say.
In my memory, he was smoking a cigar. That may be my brain playing tricks on me, but intimidating and big is how I remember this old man, and I swear to God I think he was smoking a cigar. A short, stubby one. Which he would have had to take out to ask me, “What?”
And there it was, in my first moment of comics consumer activism (that’s right, blame old man Hughes), I repeated my plea that he please not break my hamster’s neck. I mean, please don’t bend my comics.
Boy howdy, did he ever look at me like I was out of my mind. I guaran-damn-tee you that every comic book he ever sold, from probably the 1940s when that store probably opened up until the chubby teenager spoke up in spring or summer of 1980, every comic book that old man ever sold had its spine broken by his checkout method. Palm on lower half of cover of top comic: Check. Comics bent back one by one to verify prices: Check. Comics ruined: Check.
And thinking about it, back then, every damned comic cost the same! Always! Unless you were buying some outsized Warren magazine or Heavy Metal, they were all the same price! All he had to do was count them. But no!
It was some tense moments, there, in Hughes Newsroom there in early 1980. But after I explained, no doubt with many stutters and stammers and a good deal of flop sweat, that he was destroying any resale value the comics might have had (and by then, as noted, I had a good deal of experience reselling my old comics), he came around. Never again did old man Hughes destroy my comics when I checked out there, which I did at least twice a week. See, his distributor dropped off the new comics twice weekly, Tuesdays and Thursdays, I think it was, so I was in there twice a week. And from then on, there were no more broken spines on my comics from Hughes Newsroom.
At least, not for me. I wonder now if he extended the same courtesy to anyone else who bought comics there. If anyone else even did.
I give DC credit: Never did I think I would be reviewing every one of these new #1s, but even when the books aren’t that good, I¢m still having fun writing about them. Note: I wrote in the last review that T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents was canceled before its time, but indeed, it¢s being relaunched. Sorry—hard to keep track of 52 new comics.
Resurrection Man #1 by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning and Fernando Dagnino is the second book of the month with the hero falling out of a plane (is it 9/11 anniversary anxiety?), but other than that, and a sort of Dial H for Hero concept, it feels pretty original. We¢ve got a guy who dies often but keeps coming back, and each time with a new power. The inherent problem, of course, is that this is a hero for whom death is even less of a concern than it is for every other superhero. I kind of liked how D&A wrote about each new power as if it had a certain taste, though hopefully they will slow things down enough soon so we get some idea what this guy is all about, how he feels about these resurrections, how it changes his outlook on life. I could do without the psycho gals torturing people for fun, but am interested in this group of supernatural beings in human disguise who are hunting our hero, and Dagnino has a gritty style that would fit well in Hellblazer if and when this book shuffles off its mortal coil.
Demon Knights #1 by Paul Cornell and Diogenes Neves is an odd but amiable book. I¢m plenty Anglophile, but found Madame Xanadus Sod it s and yearning for a quiet pint kind of low-yield shtick, though I had a great time with similar stuff in Cornell¢s Knight & Squire miniseries. And Neves has his moments, but overall is a little too pedestrian to really bring the Dark Ages to life and make this book a must-read experience. On the other hand, it is becoming quite clear that the more interesting of the DC relaunches have characters and settings off the beaten-Metropolis/Gotham/Star City path, where such and such odd guy and/or gal can do their thing without having to worry about a Justice Leaguer butting in. Cornell has a great opportunity to essentially rewrite a lot of early DC Universe history here, especially as it relates to the immortal and/or magical characters, so I hope he comes up with more than just, Hey, that’s Vandal Savage cameos and The Demon and Xanadu being fuck-buddies. Yes, you read that right. It is kind of funny, but leave it to DC to have all their supposedly relatable heroes never getting off and sexuality only being okay when its between a witch and a demon.
Okay, so I would like to keep the streak going, but I just didn’t get the Scott Lobdell-written Superboy. I hope we will all be able to move on with our lives.
Batwoman #1 by J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman is not only the book with the most aristocratic-sounding creative team, but it is also the best of the week. Williams and Blackman pick up smoothly from Greg Rucka¢s abortive Batwoman storyline in Detective Comics, not skipping a beat or seeming to worry much about this New 52 stuff. Batwoman is Kate Kane, she¢s gay, she¢s cool, and she still is able to shake it out and have something of a normal life when she takes off the tights. The Religion of Crime is still a major focus, but this time out, Batwoman brings her cousin, Flamebird, along for the ride. Not a lot happens, but it¢s only about 14 pages of story. It¢s probably unfair that Williams terrific layouts are a little less impressive now that he is pretty much doing the same thing he did last year in Detective, but hey, it’s a critics job to be demanding. I actually still love the love of the book, and the real shame is that 90% of the books out there don’t have this level of either ambition or execution.
DC 51 Week Three, Part One - Leave My Sex Kitten Alone
With Week Three of the new DCU I decided to once again stick with the random generator method: Week One was alphabetical by title and Week Two was alphabetical by writer. And now with Week Three I’ve allowed the mysterious and unfathomable UPC Code to be my shepherd – and what a cruel guide the code is turning out to be. It wasn’t until the sixth book that I finally got to a title that I had previously been interested in (talk about eating everything on your plate before you get to your dessert!). And then the dessert I had been waiting for turns out to be a disappointment.
In UPC order…
What little I know of the Blue Beetle character has been gathered from TV’s “Brave and the Bold”: he’s a young Hispanic kid who has some sort of super-armor that he can talk to and can only somewhat control. I remember reading the first issue of the series when it came out after Ted Kord got killed, but besides that, the character is relatively new to me.
What I didn’t realize when reading Blue Beetle #1 is that this new issue is a re-launch of the character. As I was reading, I thought Jaime was already a superhero. There was no reason for me to think he wasn’t all-powered up, but upon reflection, there was also no reason to think he already had the armor. It made for a very strange bit of miscommunication and the last two pages made me re-examine the whole issue – not because of an amazing, shocking revelation, but because I had read the whole book wrong.
I like the character of Jaime quite a bit, but I can see a younger reader enjoying the book a lot more that I did. He’s a good kid, he doesn’t quite get along with his parents but he loves them, there’s a bully at school, he likes a girl who maybe likes him, etc. etc. It’s very Peter Parker-esque in its approach and that’s not a bad thing.
One thing did bother me: there’s an editor’s note that reads “*Translated from the Spanglish” when Jaime is talking with his parents. And that makes perfect sense because they would be talking in a blend of Spanish and English in their home. But then the book doesn’t do the actual translation! There’s some dialogue that reads “Pero mami,PORQUE?” as if would give the book more verisimilitude. And I would go with the flow and try to figure it out from the context if that editor’s note wasn’t there, but if they’re going to translate some of it, they should translate all of it?
It’s strange, but flipping through the issue again, I’m actually tempted to buy the next issue. Or to put it another way, I wouldn’t mind re-reading this issue and giving it another shot. And that’s more than I can say for a lot of books in the new DCU.
Very briefly for Captain Atom #1: for some reason the character has a flaming Mohawk for a haircut. The entire book is narrated through captions of what he’s thinking. My UPC guide is making me read four books in a row with the same narrative style. Apparently the UPC code hates me. Oh and Captain Atom might blow up because he’s absorbed too much energy. This seems to happen in every Captain Atom story I’ve ever read before. And now I’ll never know if he really does blow up because there’s no way I’m going to read another issue of this bland book.
Before we dive into the book itself, the cover of Catwoman #1 should be examined.
Selina is outside of a tall building, reclining on a gargoyle-type creature. Her top is unzipped because obviously her magnificent breasts have forced their way free, her goggles are lying beside her looking like a bra that’s been cast aside and she’s pouring diamonds over herself out of a tiny sack that looks like a blue sausage casing. And the spilled, shiny diamonds (which must be glass because she is letting them fall to the earth) look like a special kind of pearl necklace that is cascading over her already-mentioned breasts.
Honest, I wish I was making all of that stuff up.
As for the issue itself gone are the days of class and style that writer Ed Brubaker and artists Darwyn Cooke, Cameron Stewart and others brought to the book. Selina is now a smoking hot hottie in the new DCU. She is no longer a dignified and seductive sex kitten; instead she’s a full-grown, in-your-face-with-her-huge-breasts prowling cougar. On top of that, she’s also a thief, a vicious and cruel thug, and a semi-psycho more than willing to use her Wolverine-like fingernails to slash at any man who gets in her way. And did I mention that she has huge breasts that she is more than willing to put on display over and over again.
As for a relationship that Grant Morrison subtly hinted at in Batman Inc – well, in the new DCU it’s just full tilt hardcore Bat and Cat cosplay action. Discretion is for wimps! Just show them doing it! Give the fans what they want! As Selina so loving narrates, “And most of the costumes stay on.”
The conclusion of Catwoman #1 is a five page Tijuana Bible parody of a porno fanfic wankfest. If anyone besides DC Comics had published this book, they would have sued them for abuse of trademarked characters. As is, it would probably fall under the parody and satire rule. I am truly hoping that there is a bizarre explanation that will eventually reveal that it’s not Bruce Wayne under the cowl. Otherwise I’m hoping it’s just a bad dream that some frustrated sixteen year old somehow slipped into my mind.
Besides, it can’t be Bruce Wayne because Selina tells us “Still… it doesn’t take long…” and we all know from Grant Morrison that Batman is a “hairy chested sex god” and this fake Batman-guy is apparently a quick shooter and …
… Oh I give up. Ed Brubaker must be laughing his ass off over at Marvel Comics and Darwyn Cooke must be just shaking his head with a “Why the hell would they do that?” kind of exasperation. Brubaker, Cooke & company gave Selina some style. And writer Judd Winick and artist Guillem March has flushed it all away. Catwoman #1 is an embarrassment and the worst book so far from the new 52.
Nightwing #1 takes Dick Grayson out of the bat-suit and back to his previous superhero incarnation.
The thing is this: I really enjoyed him as Batman. The relationship between him, Damian, Commissioner Gordon and Bruce Wayne was an interesting and evolving dynamic that gave the bat-books some new life.
Writer Kyle Higgins will have to do some work when it comes to capturing the inner process of Dick’s thoughts combined with his dialogue and what’s happening in the story itself. There is a horribly mis-drawn sequence when two police officers are viciously killed by a villain and Nightwing’s response is “You tell me what this is about and I only break your little claws. And your jaw.” And as I read that I was thinking, ‘Hey Nightwing, did you not notice that he just murdered two police officers? Cuz he just slaughtered them in front of you. Why are you being all funny about it?”
So either Higgins didn’t see Eddy Barrows final art, Barrows didn’t follow Higgins’ script or editor Bobbie Chase wasn’t paying attention to the final product. And it they didn’t care enough to check it, I don’t think I care enough to read the next issue.
DC is certainly trying to tie Red Hood and the Outlaws into the Batman-books because the ‘oo’ of ‘Hood’ has a bat emblem in the title logo. That’s because Jason Todd is the Red Hood and he used to be Robin and even though he could’ve (and probably should have) been written out of continuity in the new universe, someone at DC must like him because he’s now the star of a new book.
And someone must also really like Scott Lobdell because he’s been given this book as well as two others to play with. He’s also been allowed to de-psycho Red Hood, detox Roy Harper and completely lobotomize and bimbo-ize Starfire.
I mean completely and utterly lobotomize and bimbo-ize Starfire. She is now so alien that all humans look alike and they are forgettable and interchangeable. She’s so alien that she will walk up to someone and say “Do you want to have sex with me?” So at least they’re compatible with her sexual needs.
Remember back with Catwoman #1 when I mentioned the porno fanfic wankfest sexual fantasy Tijuana Bible mess that the issue concluded with? – Well, at least this time it happens just nine pages into this comic. I guess that counts for something.
If Starfire once had some kind of alien, warrior pride, it’s all been shoved aside for a whole lot of T&A. The logic must be that character development is all well and good, but it will always be trumped by big orange breasts. As for me, I’m just going to choose to remember her flying in outer space with Adam Strange and Animal Man in 52. Because her portrayal in this book is not the way I want to think of the character. Maybe like Batman in Catwoman #1, Starfire is just some bizarre doppelganger who pretends to be a hero in order to get sex. I can hope.
(Oh and take a glance at that cover. Red Hood, Arsenal and Starfire are rushing into battle and Starfire is ramming her breasts into the back of Roy’s head. Or maybe she’s just using his quiver as a breast-rest. So I’m not sure which book is more of a big breast extravaganza, Catwoman or Red Hood and the Outlaws, but to be honest I’m not willing to re-read either of them in order to find out.)
And now, finally, the UPC guide finally takes me to a book I have been looking forward to. And I find myself… saddened.
Not that I was expecting a lot from Legion of Super-Heroes #1 but I was hoping the book would have taken the opportunity to course-correct itself. Because recently I’ve lowered my expectations with this book and I find myself buying it just because, well, it’s a book I’ve always collected. The recent Paul Levitz Legion series and the almost incoherent Adventure Comics were near-total shipwrecks. So with the new DCU I was hoping the book would be able to turn itself around.
Unfortunately, just like Green Lantern, this book has not been re-booted. It picks up exactly where the old series left off. And I read that old series. And I’m a fan. And I have honestly forgotten all about it. Can’t remember anything except Mon-El was a Green Lantern and then he wasn’t. I was happy to leave the series behind me and move on. Instead, this issue Number One picks up on the plot threads that lost me and I didn’t care about in the old series.
As a matter of fact this book reads as if someone forgot to cc Paul Levitz on the company-wide memo and then no one wanted to admit the mistake. The whole universe rebooted and everyone forgot to inform the former president about the changes.
The sad thing is that this book will never attract new readers if Paul Levitz continues to write it. The book is now so insular that no one but long-time readers will be able to decipher what’s going on. For instance, someone named Oaa has recently died and a bunch of Legionnaires are devastated by the loss, but who this Oaa person is or what they did is never explained. And that is just one of many in-continuity references that make the book impossible for a new reader.
The sad fact is that I’ve been reading the book for years and even I can’t make sense of it anymore. For a comic that is part of a company-wide re-launch and that is hoping to attract new readers, this issue is a brutal blunder.
DC 51 Week Two, Part Three - Not so Terrific or Super and a little bit Lost
The last portion of the alphabetical writer tour of Week Two comes to its conclusion with some mild enthusiasm, a superhero the way he should be done and the end of a habit that’s lasted over 30 years.
Writer Scott Lobdell has three books coming out this month from the new DCU and he seems to have been given his own little corner to play in because he’s going to be responsible for the various Titan-esque characters that don’t have a connection to the main Bat-books. So his new comics are Teen Titans, the awkwardly entitled Red Hood and the Outlaws and this week’s Superboy.
Superboy #1 is a continuation of the Kon-el/Connor Kent version of Superboy, not the ‘Superman as a boy’ concept that probably doesn’t exist in this continuity. A little research shows that the clone version of Superboy has been around for almost 20 years which I found quite surprsing. And if you want a glimpse of bad haircuts and horrible costume design through the years, please feel free to do an image search for the character – it is a scary trip down 20 years of bad fashion memory lane.
This series starts with the captions “They call me Superboy. I have no idea why” as the clone then proceeds to narrate the entire issue from inside a huge life-size test tube. And then, on page two of the book, one of the head scientists utters the first words in the story with this snappy bit of dialogue, “But at least wait for the results of the C Stem scan and tri-phasial bioplasty. The nanoplants injected into his limbic cortex…”
Now, what that scientist is saying might actually mean something in a “I’m so smart that no one in the real world could ever understand me because that’s how really super smart I truly am” but as a reader making his way into page two of a comic book, it’s like stomping through deep, cold mud: as hard as you try to move forward, you still get bogged down, get annoyed and get stuck when all you really want to do is just move on.
The whole book tries really hard to make the scientific gobbledy-gook sound interesting, but it’s really nothing more than over-written mumbo-jumbo. The main character in the comic is supposed to be Superboy, but instead issue #1 of the new series focuses on some red-haired scientist who maybe feels guilty about the teenager in the test tube, or maybe is attracted to him, or maybe is just so smart that she always pouts a lot. For a better take on a very similar scientific character, Grant Morrison’s WE3 is the book that gets it right.
But the biggest problem with Superboy #1 is that everything in this entire issue could have been done in five pages. He’s in a test tube, he’s a “trans-terrestrial clone, the first-ever fusion of Kryptonian and human DNA” and some super-secret and probably evil organization has created him. Fine. Got it. Let’s move on with the story. But no, the whole issue drags out the concept until a final splash page that acts as a teaser for one of Lobdell’s other upcoming comics. And considering how Superboy is going to be center-stage in that book, this issue reads like an unnecessary prelude to something that is going to amount to nothing more than another embarrassing image search in years to come.
The next book comes with a confession: I have been reading the various incarnations of the Legion of Super-Heroes for a very long time. A very, very, very long time. Just as many science fiction fans have their favorite Doctor (mine would be Tom Baker, although I do admit I’m loving Matt Smith’s portrayal of the character), my Legion of Super-Heroes will always be by Dave Cockrum.
Yes, that’s how long I’ve been reading the series. Dave Cockrum drew my Legion. But as for the Legion of today…
Writer Fabian Nicieza has been given the unenviable task of taking a handful of the Legionnaires back to current DC continuity. And I have to admit that this has always puzzled me – why do these books have to be so ‘now-centric ‘that the future always has to come back to our time period? These characters are from the 31st Century. Didn’t anything interesting happen in the next 10,000 years? I understand the marketing appeal and the fact there can be a Justice League/Teen Titans/Legion crossover, but it just seems ridiculous to have a series set in the future to be so incredibly tethered to our present.
Regardless of my time travel quibbles, Legion Lost does indeed bring a bunch of futuristic super-heroes back to the 21st Century where they’ll probably have to go undercover and try not to destroy the time vortex, step on a butterfly, or interact with the present timestream because that would risking destroying their future, create a time disruption and cause dinosaurs to once again rule the universe, etc. etc. etc.
But the thing is this: this has all been done before. As far back as the 1970s with Karate Kid, up to Star Man in the latest incarnation of JSA, and also for a period in the late ‘90s when a bunch of Legionnaires were stranded in the 20th Century, fought beside the Metal Men and were around for the company-wide The Final Night event. For a bunch of superheroes living in the future, all of this has been done in the past.
As much as I love the Legion, I don’t care about this book. I will probably buy the Secret Origins mini-series that is being written by Paul Levitz (and oh it is a horrible realization that I am such a fanboy/sucker that I publicly admit I’m going to buy yet another re-telling of the group’s origin) and I’m definitely going to be there for the Legion/Star Trek book that’s coming out. So I’m still there for the Legion, but this book has lost me.
Peter J. Tomasi manages to write a Batman book that I would happily continue to read as I turn my back on Detective Comics. One of my favorite parts of Batman and Robin #1 harkens back to something I remember Greg Rucka saying while he was on a comic book panel about the character: Batman should be over the death of his parents and he is now fighting crime not because of vengeance but because that is what he does – because he’s Batman.
The dynamics between the Dynamic Duo of Bruce Wayne and Damian might get a little tiresome as the series continues (I think the relationship between Dick Grayson and Damian had a lot more potential) but at least this isn’t the over-the-top Batman from Detective Comics. I prefer to shove the latter in its own little continuity corner that I can happily ignore. If I’m going to read a Batman book, I’d much rather read Batman and Robin. At least it’s a book I could share with someone rather than be embarrassed by another book’s torture porn aspirations.
And last on this week’s journey is Mister Terrific, a book about the third smartest guy in the world who is also ultra-rich and has a tattoo of “FAIR” and “PLAY” on his two biceps.
May I say this: if you’re going to have tattoos and be a superhero, you probably shouldn’t wear a sleeveless costume that shows off the ink because whenever you’re on the beach or at the gym someone is going to say, “Oh my god! You’re Mister Terrific!!” and the whole secret identity thing gets thrown out the window. Or if they’re fake tattoos that are slapped on when you go into action, then maybe you aren’t very serious about the superhero thing cuz fake tattoos are just stupid.
This book, like a lot of the re-launches, tries a little too hard to introduce a substantial supporting cast and unfortunately the plot twist at the end of the issue seems to come out of left field for a character we barely know. At this point the series is trying to be cosmic, political, race conscious and gritty, and that’s too much to do in one issue and may be too much for an entire multi-issue storyline to support.
Having said that, Eric Wallace crafts an interesting introduction to the character (who is now on his own and without the Justice Society in this brave new DCU) and the idea that this guy is so smart that his headquarters is in a different dimension is a great indication of how creative the series might become. After slogging through a bunch of different comics and getting stuck in the mud with others, at least Mister Terrific attempts to do too much rather than far too little. Hopefully a balance and some sort of focus will be found in issues to come. It’s not terrific, but it gets points for trying.
The alphabetical mystery tour continues with the writers of the new DCU acting as the guides for which book comes next on the reading list.
Deathstroke #1 has the return of the DC’s version of The Punisher. He’s still a grey-haired one-eyed mercenary who has enhanced strength, quick reflexes and a very bad attitude.
It’s a strange thing: after the tremendous darkness of Suicide Squad (which was all about establishing characters and nothing about plot) and the disappointment of both Grifter and Resurrection Man (which had a lot of plot but did nothing to make the main character captivating), I found Deathstroke somewhat entertaining.
It’s nasty and bloody and hardass, but it is consistent in presenting the character, establishing his motives and setting him down a path of death, destruction and lots of killing.
Writer Kyle Higgins and artists Joe Bennett and Art Thibert do a good job of making the book interesting as well as making it violent as hell. I could see some people really enjoying this comic. Which isn’t to say I’m going to put it on my ‘buy’ list because it’s just not my cup of tea. But if someone said they enjoyed the book enough to buy the next issue, I wouldn’t try to convince them that they’re wrong.
Much like Dan Didio saying he wanted to write OMAC, it’s got to be good to be the Chief Creative Officer at DC because it means that while every other book gets its creative teams shuffled for the re-boot, the CCO can say, “Um, no. That rule doesn’t apply to me.” Rank has its privileges, it’s good to be the king, and the rules don’t apply to Geoff Johns.
The rules also don’t apply to Green Lantern #1. While every other book in the line (with the possible exception of Batwoman) has had to adjust to the new DCU, Green Lantern just picks up where it left off before the reboot.
Oh there was that major plot change at the end of the “War of the Green Lanterns” that had Hal Jordan kicked out of the corps and Sinestro once again becoming a Green Lantern, but everything else is a direct continuation of the series: Johns is still writing, Doug Mahnke is delivering terrific art and, unfortunately, the book continues on its downward spiral as it gets more and more tired.
Green Lantern worked best when there was just one or, at most, two books in its Guardian-mentored corner of the DC Universe. But in the new DCU there will now be four books dealing with various Guardians and Lanterns.
And with all of the intergalactic adventuring occurring in the other comics, this book suffers because it is earthbound and so very Hal Jordan-centered. Hal belongs in outer space as the leader of the corps, and instead he is being literally grounded. Over the years the character of Sinestro has become semi-sympathetic, house-tamed and neutered. He’s no longer a villain. He just wants what’s best for the Corps and he’ll kill a bunch of people to prove his point. Or he’ll get mad. And then he’ll threaten people. And then not do anything. All of it depends on Geoff Johns’ mood because there’s no consistency to the character anymore.
Geoff Johns only seems happy when a character is getting an arm ripped off or there’s a big sprawling intergalactic crossover event being planned. If there’s not a major catastrophe that will demand that all of the heroes in the universe gather together to battle the Black Sinestro Lantern Corps, then Johns’ heart doesn’t seem to be in the book because his focus is always on The Next Big Thing. So this issue feels like it’s just treading water until something amazing occurs six months from now.
Skipping one letter in the alphabetical author adventure in order to continue with the Lanterns, Peter Milligan is a writer who has produced some amazing work over the years. When he’s good, he’s great: Shade the Changing Man, X-Statix, Enigma, the current Hellblazer and his brilliant six issue follow-up to Grant Morrison’s work on Animal Man are all works to treasure. But when he’s off his game we get Infinity Inc. and Elektra. His crazy Vertigo-esque, off-in-its-own-universe work can be amazing; his superhero stuff is less so.
Therefore it’s not too surprising that Red Lanterns #1 is such a mess. To be honest, the concept itself doomed the book to failure. Because, ummm let’s see, it stars characters that puke blood, they are so filled with rage that they can barely speak, and did I mention they puke blood? The Red Lanterns concept has got to be among the very worst ideas original creator Geoff Johns has ever came up with. I can only imagine what it must have sounded like…
“Hey guys, I know that the Green Lanterns have rings and the Yellow Lanterns have rings and Star Sapphire has a ring or a jewel or something, but what if the Red Lanterns don’t have rings, but they have something like vomit and it’s red and it’s got nothing to do with a lantern but they throw up like Jeff Goldblum in The Fly and they’re mad all the time? Doesn’t that sound great?”
It’s not Peter Milligan’s fault the book is a mess. The concept was a disaster to begin with. And yet someone at DC decided to give those characters their own book. And Xombi isn’t being published anymore. It’s kind of depressing if you think about it.
But then along comes Jeff Lemire to make things feel better. Writer/artist of Vertigo’s Sweet Tooth, writer of the new DCU Animal Man and the writer who is taking Mary Shelley’s monster into superhero magnificence.
Using Grant Morrison’s mini-series from Seven Soldiers as its springboard, Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #1 is a throwback to the monster books of the ‘70s when there were Werewolves by night, Vampires by night and Man, Muck and Swamp Things every time of the day. The artwork by Alberto Ponticelli looks like a terrific amalgamation of Lemire’s own artistic style with some Wrightson, Mahnke, Kirby and Walter Simonson as well. (And just to justify the last comparison, I can’t look at a mummy in a comic book and help but compare it to Simonson’s work. No one can draw a mummy like Simonson, but Ponticelli comes damn close.) Best known in North American for his work on the Vertigo book Unknown Soldier, Ponticelli’s work manages to be both monstrous and superheroic. He is the perfect artist for a book like this.
(We now interrupt this review for a public service request: HEY DC! How about publishing some huge, gorgeous books that collect all of the work Walter Simonson did for your company!! From Manhunter to Doctor Fate to Orion and everything in between. The Mighty Thor – The Artist’s Edition from IDW is a thing of majestic beauty. So how about adding to the love and publishing a couple of omnibus editions of Simonson’s artwork. Please?? à and now back to our regularly scheduled Frankenstein…)
Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. is filled with enough ideas for six month’s worth of material in an average comic book. Yes, much of it builds on Grant Morrison’s ideas and the old Creature Commandos concept, but here’s just a sampling of the crazy goodness in this comic – a microscopic headquarters, a group leader named Father Time who looks like a six year old girl, a monster named Frankenstein who is concerned about the bride who was literally made for him but never truly loved him, a town that will be nuked into oblivion unless our ‘hero’ can destroy the monsters who have taken control and a former superhero scientist who for now at least is only there as an advisor. All of those ideas and the terrific art makes for a terrific first issue and one of the best in the entire re-launch.
As I tuck into the next steaming plate of DC reboots, I find myself sympathetic to the editors and writers in charge of this, let¢s be honest, pretty much impossible mandate to present a refreshed DC Universe that is accessible to new readers while honoring not just existing readers, but also servicing the numerous trademarks of characters a truly fresh relaunch would have made defunct.
Take Batman and Robin #1, by Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason, which reads very much like the pre-relaunch version of the book, except now Bruce Wayne is fully Batman and it is he, not Dick Grayson, teaming up with Bruce¢s son Damian in the role of Robin. Now, although it hasn’t been made very clear, probably by design, but Bruce has obviously been Batman for at least five years. If only five, that means that Dick, Jason Todd and Tim Drake have all not only had brief careers as Robin, but have grown up enough to leave the nest/cave and strike out on their own, with new superhero identities. That’s preposterous, but since DC has to service these trademarks, there you go. Obviously, it would have been better for only Dick to have been Robin, followed by Damian (if you even need Damian). I don’t know intellectual property law, but does DC think that if they don’t use these characters all the time, Marvel or Image are going to publish their own Red Robin or Damian Wayne comics?
Anyway, it¢s a curious issue, with little action, and most of what we see being Bruce trying to get Damian to get what he¢s trying to do with respecting the memories of his dead parents while moving away from being obsessed with their murders, and Damian acting like a heartless little shit. I didn’t mind that, as Damian is often written that way, but of course there is more to him than that. And I like the idea of Bruce now honoring only his parents¢ wedding anniversary rather than the date they died, which is a nice idea of Tomasi¢s and a smart way to sort of shut the door on one era and open a new door onto maybe a brighter one. On the other hand, shame neither Tomasi nor Gleason realized it was sort of dumb to have this bright start result from the same clichéd shot of Bruce brooding in his dark old mansion. How about some renovation to visually sell the new outlook?
Suicide Squad #1 by Adam Glass and Federico Dallocchio is a book I wanted to like, being a big fan of the original series, but it has a lot of work to do to get me past this initial bad impression. We meet Deadshot, Harley Quinn (in a racier, non-harlequin ensemble), King Shark and others, being tortured for what they know about the Suicide Squad. We flash back to the group on a mission, showing what they can do. Back to the present and one guy is willing to talk, which gets him killed. Everyone else is tight-lipped, and we find out it was just a test by a younger, thinner Amanda Waller. Since the remaining victims/prisoners/operatives know how to keep their mouths shut, there is hope for them to eventually earn their release, or at least keep doing the government¢s dirty work a while longer.
Nothing really wrong with the idea or the structure, but Glass¢ execution is gratuitous with the blood and torture, and all the characters are loathsome. Deadshot and Harley have been shown to have dimension in the past, but not here. Sure, it is just the first issue, but there needed to be a reason to care here, and I didn’t find one. And while I can appreciate that Dallocchio went for a different style in the flashbacks than the current time, well, the flashback wasn’t far back enough to need it, and neither style is all that interesting.
Green Lantern #1 by Geoff Johns and Doug Mahnke was entertaining enough, and well-drawn, but almost all of the story beats depend on some familiarity with Green Lantern to make sense, or at least have the desired impact. First, we get someone reciting the famous (for Green Lantern fans) oath, and then, whoa, is that Sinestro reciting it? That’s a real shocker (for Green Lantern fans). If you¢re new to it, it doesn’t mean anything. Then we get the Guardians of Oa, whose role is not explained, agreeing to let the green-uniformed Sinestro go protect his sector with the ring, because the ring chose him, even if they disagree with his methods. Only Ganthet is against the idea, so he is tortured. So, that’s kind of interesting, in that in some way maybe we¢re supposed to root for Sinestro, the nonconformist. Got it.
We next meet broke Hal Jordan, attempting to kite a check for overdue rent, but he is interrupted by a scream for help that makes it through a closed windown in the apartment across the street. It looks like a guy is going to rape or kill her. Hal jumps from his balcony across and through the window, only to find that it’s a (non-porn) movie being shot in the apartment, and its then that he sheepishly realizes he fell for the same thing Peter Parker did 40 years ago.
No worries, because Carol Ferris bails him out of jail, and Johns adds the odd touch that she somehow knows the policeman on duty. Hal explains what he was doing, but Carol tells him he¢s not Green Lantern anymore (why he isn’t isn’t explained), and though he wants to be a pilot again, he¢s uninsurable (as an insurance guy, I would say it¢s unlikely an insurer would dig into the flying careers of each pilot, but whatever), but he has a job in another capacity if he wants it. We find out he had to give up the ring but not why, and that Carol also had a Star Sapphire ring but hasn’t worn it lately and doesn’t plan to (which would only make sense to fans).
We catch up with Sinestro passively watching (via green telescope, which isn’t made clear is created by his ring) a bunch of guys in yellow uniforms restraining, blasting and killing people, and then suddenly he is attacked by one who feels Sinestro betrayed their Corps. Sinestro garottes him and says he betrayed nothing, and for all non-fans know, he may be right. It isn’t made clear that Sinestro used to be in charge of these guys in yellow, but I suppose most readers will at least understand he has been away awhile and needs to put his house in order.
Back to Hal, who has asked Carol to a fancy restaurant, the kind with stainless steel lids over the entrees, waiters in vests, and patrons wearing pearls. What a great place for a guy with no money to ask his new/old boss and apparent friend…to cosign a new car loan? He rightly gets ice water in the face, and in Johns¢ defense, he has no need of continuity crutches to write Hal as a selfish, manipulative asshole.
But that’s okay, because we aren’t supposed to care that much about Hal, right? Its Sinestros book, and that’s why he gets the last, full page word, telling the now-evicted, no-options Hal that if he wants his ring back, he has to do whatever Sinestro tells him.
This part is actually fun (although much moreso for fans), because while I was kidding about whose book it was, it might be a good story to have Hal serving Sinestro, who clearly isn’t a hero in the classic mold. Maybe the humbling will make Hal a better person, and maybe he will have to be resourceful to get out from under Sinestros black-laquered thumb. For this and the clean art, Im in, though it really would have been nice if DC just provided a Marvel-style summary of what went before, so Johns and other writers didn’t have to labor to work in (or in this case, completely blow off) the exposition.
Red Lanterns #1 by Peter Milligan and Ed Benes does a much better job setting up its main character and where he has been before this point, and I have only read one or two comics where he briefly appeared. A big ugly red guy using a power ring fueled by rage, named Atrocitus, is honestly a lot less to work with than Sinestro, much less Hal Jordan, but damn if Milligan doesn’t make him sympathetic and efficiently present characters much less sympathetic, in both the blue aliens trying to kill his loathsome, vomit-spitting cat, Dex-Starr, and the other Red Lanterns themselves, that make Atrocitus look much better by comparison. This is the kind of thing Johns sort of whiffed on in his scene with Sinestro and the Sinestro Corps. I can¢t say I am a big Ed Benes fan, as his skills with big muscles and glinting metal are somewhat undone by his misinterpreting the intent of some scenes. I mean, this inarticulate, vampire/Harley Quinn-looking chick—we are supposed to despise her in this scene, not drool over her great ass. This would seem to be B-level Milligan work, but subpar Milligan is still better than a lot of scribes out there. I¢ll be sticking with this one for now.
As I head into Week Two of the new DCU I find myself asking the question: who would have thought the alphabet would be so cruel?
In Week One the A’s were kind enough to bring Action Comics and Animal Man but then it was a slog (with the surprising arrival of “O is for OMAC”) until I arrived at the alphabetical conclusion with Swamp Thing.
But I know that if I completely eliminate the structure I will skip right to the dessert and never sample the liver, brussel sprouts or sautéed mushrooms. I’d just stick with the stuff I like and never take an honest and open-minded taste of something new and potentially delicious. So, yes, the alphabet will be my guide, but this time it will be writers not titles that lead the way.
Having said that, the books are starting to lose their individual resolution and distinctiveness. For instance…
Writers Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning share a problem with Nathan Edmonson: they’re tasked with writing books that have characters that have been out of service for awhile, both books have a fan base, but neither of the re-launched books manages to make the character accessible to anyone who hasn’t read their previous adventures.
Abnett & Lanning resurrect Resurrection Man but fail to explain what the book is all about. The main character has some kind of weird “Dial H for Hero” power that changes every time he is killed and brought back to life. But who our hero is, who the bad guys are and why all of this crazy stuff is happening – all of it is left unexplained and largely unexamined.
Similar problems plague Grifter #1. The story’s timeline bounces from place to place, the hero is undefined, the villains and supporting cast are a dull mystery and nothing memorable happens in the book.
As a matter of fact as I once again flip through the two of them, it’s amazing how the books have blurred into one. Both books have a character that reacts to something rather than taking action. Both books have sadistic villains who kill innocent people. Both books even manage to have their heroes thrown out of a plane. And, I’m sorry to say, both books have characters that I’m not going to read about again.
Moving down the alphabetical ladder, the next issue is a book that was due at the beginning of the year, was delayed and then previewed in the back of DC books for an April release, was again delayed, and now it’s finally arrived.
Batwoman #1 must have been ready for publication a long time ago, but The Powers That Be must have told the creators that the book had to wait for the re-launch of the whole universe. And, to his credit, J.H. Williams shouldered the scorn of questioning fans and kept quiet about the reasons for the book’s delay. He was a good corporate player and never once said “It’s not my fault! They’re delaying the book! Not me!!”
So, was it worth the wait? Is the artwork as gorgeous as remembered from the Greg Rucka penned Elegy? Is it the best looking book so far from the new DCU? Is it a good thing that Kate Kane has returned with J.H. Williams doing the art and co-writing the book?
Oh hell yes.
To flip through the pages of Batwoman #1 is to sample the work of a stunning artist and amazing craftsman. Simply put, it is a thing of beauty. Over the years Williams has worked with Rucka, Alan Moore, Warren Ellis and Grant Morrison. It’s obvious that he’s learned from some of the industry’s greatest modern writers and his artwork is inarguably among the best in monthly comics.
As for the story itself (because pretty pictures alone do not a comic make), there are some minor problems that co-writer W. Haden Blackman and Williams fail to overcome. Because there are a couple of bumps in the road as the book attempts to re-introduce the character in this new universe.
For instance, there is a photo of Renee Montaya on display on the police department wall as if she was killed in action and it’s uncertain if she’s dead in this new universe or the photo is there solely for its dramatic weight. And since it’s left unexplained, the scene shouldn’t be there. And on the same note, there is the unexplained addition/presence of Bette Kane as Batwoman’s side kick. Plus there is the confrontation between Kate and her father that obviously occurred before her appearances in Batman Incorporated because in that book Kate and her father have reconciled. Much of the confusion with her father might be due to the re-scheduling of the book, but it makes the book feel like it’s been on the shelf, awaiting the okay to finally be released.
Having said all of that, those issues become minor qualms in a comic as stunning as this. The arrival of a certain government agent, not fully explained but wonderfully teased, is a pleasant surprise and Williams has artist Amy Reeder lined up to keep the book looking gorgeous and on-schedule. This is a book that came burdened with perhaps unreasonable expectations and still manages to fulfill them all. It is the best looking book on the shelf.
Writer Paul Cornell has a large stable of characters to deal with in Demon Knights #1 but unlike last week’s Stormwatch he doesn’t have a well-remembered old series to be measured against. And perhaps it is because of that fact this book is more creative and energetic. With this book he manages to reward old readers but still make the book accessible for new arrivals – a task that he didn’t quite achieve in Stormwatch.
Cornell enjoys a freedom in Demon Knights that few other creators in the new DCU are being allowed: set in DC’s past, the book doesn’t feel overcrowded with continuity challenges and that awkward “Who are these characters now?” reboot curse. The Demon, Madame Xanadu and others are quickly introduced (to varying degrees of success) and then they’re thrown into action.
Compare Demon Knights to Suicide Squad #1 and it become apparent what one does right while the other book does horribly wrong.
From the awful revamp of Harley Quinn (who in both costume and character suffers a strained and unnecessary flashback to an editor’s note Detective Comics reference) to the oh-so very bloody introduction of each character, the whole book is just nasty, nihilistic and pointless. One of the key elements in the original Suicide Squad and the more recent Secret Six was that the characters had a chance at redemption with the potential of being something besides just evil. This gang of villains, especially Harley Quinn, is established as being so violent and loathsome that any attempt to portray them as anything besides psychos will be forced and ham-fisted.
Cornell manages to have some fun with the characters in his book. Writer Adam Glass manages to make each character in Suicide Squad an irredeemable maniac. Why DC decided to take Harley Quinn and make her an S&M corset and hot-pants wearing maniac is a mystery. In three panels Cornell does more with The Demon than the entire issue of Suicide Squad does with any of its characters. And it’s those three panels that make me want to read more.
So the first week of DC′s relaunch went pretty well, as Action Comics, Animal Man and Swamp Thing became three series I wasn’t reading that I now want to follow, and a couple more I′m on the fence about. Counting the prior week′s Justice League, which I will stick with a little longer, that isn’t bad at all.
So here we are in Week Two, and here are my first impressions of what I read on the first night, in the order I read them.
Deathstroke #1 by Kyle Higgins and Joe Bennett wasn’t anything I had any real expectations about. Aside from his appearances on the Teen Titans cartoon several years ago, the character of Slade Wilson only registered for me during a brief period in the 80s when I followed the Wolfman/Perez New Teen Titans. But I liked this just fine. Higgins understands that when you have a character who in the minds of most is a villain—a paid killer—you have to give the people some sympathetic quality. The Punisher has the fact he does what he does because his family was gunned down. With Deathstroke, it′s…well, it′s that he′s battling ageism. OK, that’s not a great hook, but I quite liked the old dog having to prove he still has what it takes against a new breed of snotty, classless, high-tech young assassins. Obviously, the series cannot hang on this for much longer, but it made for a good debut, and Bennett′s precise, crisp style matched up well with the material. I liked this one. And you know, as much as the relaunches have taken some heat for some old hat talent, you can put Higgins on the list of fresh names that could help this thing actually work.
Grifter #1 by Nathan Edmundson and Cafu is a book that, quite frankly, I read next because I wanted it to fail in comparison to Deathstroke, the other tough-solo-guy book this week. Who said critics were objective? And…mission accomplished, though it isn’t so bad. We meet Cole Cash in an agitated state on a commercial flight, able to hear the disturbing thoughts of aliens masquerading as fellow passengers and crew. I read enough WildC.A.T.S. to know these must be Daemonites, though I don’t remember if this was always one of his abilities. We get a little flashback action to find that Cole is a, well, yes, he′s a grifter, though it isn’t clear what the deal was, and the vagueness of it suggests writer Edmundson isn’t interested in setting up long cons in the book. Rather, it′s going to be action-packed semi-superhero stuff, and that’s okay, too. I wish we had gotten a little more story here, but even more, I think Cafu is not the right choice as artist, because he draws faces too smooth. I understand from the script that Cole is in only his late 20s, but the hat and muttonchops just don’t fit with the unlined, innocent face. A successful grifter has presumably been around the block a time or two. I appreciate that DC lined up another gig for Cafu after they canceled T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents too soon, but a better choice would have been…
Mister Terrific #1 by Eric Wallace and Roger Robinson presents ″world′s third smartest man″ Michael Holt, a kind of Reed Richards with a touch of Tony Stark who has lost the woman he loves but soldiers on, throwing himself into his scientific work. Wallace presents Holt as a likeable, pragmatic man, but I felt like this was more of a miniseries. There just didn’t seem to be enough to base an ongoing book on, but we′ll see. Robinson′s non-dynamic art doesn’t help. I think you need someone with a cleaner, brighter style, like Cafu. Also, honestly, I think the ″Fair″ and ″Play″ tattoos are ridiculous. What would a multimillionaire industrialist be trying to prove with them?
Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #1 by Jeff Lemire and Alberto Ponticelli was the best of the small sampling so far this week. Lemire strikes gold again after the impressive Animal Man debut with this supernatural team book starring a prissing, 700 year old Frankenstein′s Monster, his kick-ass wife, and at the end, cult favorites the Creature Commandos. That could make for a thin Hellboy/B.P.R.D. ripoff, but Lemire brings plenty of fun ideas to it, like a three inch floating headquarters, courtesy of Ray Palmer′s shrink technology, a mad scientist leader in the body of a young girl, and Frankenstein′s marital troubles, which have apparently been going on for a century. Ponticelli brings enough weirdness in his style while still being able to draw things as cool as they need to be. Very fun.
Legion Lost #1 by Fabian Nicieza and Pete Woods, is not a fun book. Im only a casual LOSH fan, but I don’t think my problem with it had anything to do with only knowing half the team. It just wasn’t compelling. We get a group of Legionnaires appearing on modern, 21st Century Earth, trying to find a villain who is going to unleash some sort of virus that will wipe out humanity or somesuch. Timber Wolf goes off, trying to track the guy, and dialogue between the others lets us know that he isn’t the type of teammate to ever wait or listen to others. Okay. We get to know very little about the other characters, despite most of them getting opportunities to gab with each other. They do find the guy, are unable to stop him, and then fire up their time machine again to go to their timeline, where we suspect the virus will mean that everything has changed. I didn’t have a problem with the plot, but the execuion was uninvolving and Pete Woods has turned in much better art before. Rest assured that there will be another team handling the Legion before too long, and this will be undone or ignored
The New DC 51 - Stupendous, Satisfying or Simply So-So?
As Week Two hovers on the horizon, here’s the conclusion of the alphabetical tour of Week One. And it all wraps up with the letter ‘S’. Stupendous, satisfying or simply so-so? Week One ends here…
Static Shock #1 features the return of a character that I never read who was also the star of a cartoon I never watched. In other words it’s the first book I can sample as a new reader!
In a somewhat daring move, the book doesn’t bother with a back story or origin. There’s a little bit of background on the hero and his family, but it doesn’t get bogged down with the explanations of who’s who and how they came to be. Because of that it reminded me of the DC books from the ‘70s when the reader would just be thrown into the story, “Don’t know who the Seven Soldiers of Victory or the Justice Society of America are? Stick around and you’ll figure it out!”
Writer John Rozum employed a similar method when he brought Xombi back with artist Frasier Irving – a book that was wonderfully creative, gorgeously illustrated and read by nowhere near enough people to ensure its continuing existence.
The tragedy is that if Xombi had debuted during the new 52 it would have received a major boost in awareness. A lot of the new books are receiving unwarranted attention merely because they’re part of this massive re-launch (look at this alphabetical tour of Week One as an example). Had Xombi been measured against Men of War, Hawk & Dove and other lesser comics, it would have had a much better chance of standing out like a true gem.
But lamenting the premature death of Xombi is like crying over a poorly postioned glass of milk: maybe if it had been moved to a better spot, more people would have been aware of its existence, but the damage has been done.
(Having said that, oh please buy the trade paperback when it comes out. The book was tremendous.)
As for Static Shock, it’s an enjoyable enough romp but there wasn’t anything particularly memorable in the first issue for me to be enthusiastic or see myself returning. But of all the books I’ve read so far, it is one of the few that I could see a young reader enjoying. So while it may not be for me, it would be nice to see DC cultivate the market for this book and capture the young tween audience they say they’re hoping to grab.
It is strange, however, that Static Shock has the same “Rated T Teen” classification as every other book this week. According to that rating system, Detective Comics is just as youth-friendly as Static Shock. And that is just plain wrong. If DC really wants to self-regulate their books, they should be more careful about slapping the same rating on every comic they sell.
Stormwatch #1 is the first book to present the recent merger of the former Wildstorm universe with the new DCU. But just like the all-too common story of two people who have known each other for years who then end up hating each other when they move-in together, it’s difficult to see how these two different personalities will live under one roof.
One of the great advantages writer Warren Ellis had with Stormwatch and the follow-up The Authority was that it could be magnificently creative and destructive because it never had to worry about its effect on other books. Super-villains could wreak havoc all over the world because it was in Ellis’s corner of the Wildstorm universe where anything could happen.
But with the re-launch of all these new comics and the apparent intention to unite all of them into one coherent universe, the challenge is to somehow make Stormwatch edgy, relevant and interesting.
Or to put it another way: in a universe populated with the Justice League, Justice League International and Justice League Dark (let alone the Teen Titans and a Legion Lost) what role can Stormwatch possibly have?
There’s no simple answer in the first issue, but from the look of things Stormwatch is going to do the secret, behind the scenes stuff that no other hero or group knows about. Perhaps the book will be left in its own little corner of the new DCU and it won’t have to tone down the Apollo/Midnighter relationship and there won’t be a bizarre Justice League/Stormwatch team-up in the future. It’s hard to say if the editors will keep their fingers out of the pie.
The first issue has a lot of things happening and there’s enough going on to stay interesting for at least a little while. Obviously writer Paul Cornell won’t have the same latitude that Ellis at least initially enjoyed, so it will be a challenge for him to be creative within the corporate confines. Whether those restrictions will force the book to be more inventive as it pushes against those boundaries or it just smothers the series completely remains to be seen.
The return of Swamp Thing would have been a complete non-event if it wasn’t for writer Scott Snyder being in charge.
While the character returned at the end of Brightest Day (with John Constantine tagging along) and he had a rather horrible and ignoble mini-series entitled The Search for Swamp Thing this is the book that matters for the character. How bad was that mini-series? – Constantine cries out, “Superman! Hold me hand, brother!” as they both get pulled into The Green because, I guess, he and Superman are best buds and Constantine always talks that way.
Because had there been just one bad issue, I think there would have been a major uproar with fans. One bad issue would have written the whole series off.
Fortunately Snyder and artist Yanick Paquette seem to know their stuff. The book is filled with tiny artistic nods to the past: an industrial digger is named after the character’s creator, a hotel is named after one of the book’s greatest artists and the combination to a safe happens to be a very good year for comics. So, yes, these new creators know their history.
But that respect for the past would be meaningless if they weren’t going to do something inventive with the character. Swamp Thing lasted almost 100 issues after Alan Moore left the book and had two attempts at a re-launch after that book died. So for this to work, it would have to be something special.
The first couple of pages establish that the character is back firmly planted (sorry for the pun) in the DCU as it features Superman, Batman and Aquaman before it moves to our hero. But, as it turns out, the main character isn’t Swamp Thing, but instead it’s Alec Holland.
(How or why Alec Holland has returned, I don’t know. I suppose it was explained in Brightest Day or Search for the Swamp Thing, but other than flipping through the pages of the mini-series, I don’t know anything about the mechanics of those two books. I trust all will be explained.)
Unlike in Men of War, the juxtaposition of the superhero and a common man actually works. Alec is not overly impressed with the arrival of Superman. He explains that he just wants to be left alone and Superman grudgingly respects his decision. But to paraphrase Abby from Alan Moore’s run on the book, the craziness just seems to follow Alec Holland. I suppose coming back from the dead and having the memories of a monster will do that to a guy.
Of all the books in Week One, this was the one I had highest hopes for and this is the one that delivered. I don’t know how scary and creepy the creators can go with a non-Vertigo book, but if the other releases this week are any indication, they might be able to go as macabre as they want. Snyder had a brilliant run with Dick Grayson as Batman in the pre-new Detective Comics that was dark, twisted and yet somehow filled with humanity. If he has a long-term plan for Swamp Thing, I’m definitely along for the ride.
Looking at the late-August release of Justice League #1 as a kind of preseason game, how did the new season of DC Comics pan out for its first real week?
Action Comics was heavily favored, written by Grant Morrison, with art by the solid Rags Morales. It was okay but very restrained, as if Morrison was trying to hold back the usual torrent of ideas to see what the other kids brought, see if this experiment was going to flop. Could be he is less interested in trying to match or top All Star Superman and is instead playing games with himself, trying to come up with a Superman who is pretty much the opposite of the All Star version and see if that can be compelling, too.
Animal Man was the best book of the book, so let us get that out of the way quickly. The Believer bit was clever, and a good way to get exposition out of the way quickly, leaving room for not just good characterization of Buddy Baker and his family, but a done-in-one menace (of sorts), AND a creepy, suprising twist. Add to that that he honors Morrisons star-making run on the book by somehow introducing Moore Swamp Thing elements, and color me impressed. Artist Travel Foreman makes a mistake or two with perspective, but that nightmare sequence is stunning.
Swamp Thing by Scott Snyder and Yannick Paquette is a solid, attractive book, though one of many where it isn’t clear what is still considered canon and what isn’t. Alec Holland used to be Swamp Thing, but isn’t anymore, but clearly he will be again, or somehow bonded with ST. And Superman knows him. Paquette has some nice Nowlan-style art here and while hes always been a bit stuff, dude does work hard and is always consistent. Some interesting, creepy stuff that oddly enough has some parallels with Animal Man, though unintentionally.
Those were really the three books I will definitely continue with. Ones on the fence or securely on the other side of it…?
O.M.A.C. by DiDio and Giffen is better than I thought, a fun remix of the Kirby semiclassic series, although I wanted D&G to bring more of their own ideas to it. Also, O.M.A.C. himself isn’t very cool. I would rather he had that crazy otherworldly swagger and command of all kinds of crazy weapons and gadgets, but here he is kind of a mindless thug.
Batgirl by Gail Simone and Ardian Syaf suffers from an ugly costume design, awkward dialogue and narration and a character reboot that fails to honor Barbara Gordons time as Oracle, which is to say, the past 20+ years. Honestly, it would have been better to completely ditch her paralysis entirely than make it a spinal injury that she was able to utterly overcome, physically, yet causes her to mentally freeze when someone points a gun at her. If she was mentally strong enough to get herself back in superhero shape, she should be mentally ready for anything. And as far as that costume, isn’t the appeal of Batgirl, and most young female superheroes, that they present a contradiction, a litheness and unpadded fragility and abandon that flies in the face of the danger they are in from bigger, stronger opponents? When you give them armored costumes and clunky boots, it takes the fun out of it. The one positive thing I would say about the book is that at least its somewhat lighthearted and is the only one to even attempt to give the lead character a friend, though she (the new roommate) is pretty unrealistic so far. Is there a lamer attempt at activism than painting Fight the Power on your own apartment wall? Another security deposit sacrificed to the Cause.
Men of War is one I am kind of torn on. I think Sgt. Rock meets Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is a great tag, but not sure theres enough here to make anyone put down their controllers. Also, for a book that spends so much time on military jargon, one would think it would be a heavily researched war series, but all of a sudden it looks like these guys are up against a supervillain? I will give it another issue or two, but I don’t know quite what this book is supposed to be. Im all for war stories of impossible odds, but when that means regular guys against superpowers, maybe that crosses the line from brave patriot to fool?
Detective Comics by Tony Daniel is…well, I give Daniel credit in that I have studiously avoided his Batman run after the first couple of pretty poor issues. His art has improved since then, and he writes a coherent Batman. And yes, I was very surprised by the gross-out twist at the end, both as a reader and as a guy who wonders who oversees how DC handles their franchise characters. So, it may be a good deal of morbid curiosity, but I will be back for issue #2.
Batwing by Judd Winick and Ben Oliver is one of the better-looking books, but Winick fails to distinguish the character enough from Batman. Well, hes more like Jim Gordon as the only good cop on an African police force, who also puts on Bat-armor at night. The character isn’t interesting enough and the setting isn’t used well enough.
Green Arrow by J.T. Krul, Dan Jurgens and George Perez is a pleasant surprise. Krul doesn’t do anything very impressive here—Ollie Queen is kind of Tony Stark, kind of Bruce Wayne, the corporate superhero playboy—but at least the pace is quick and with the Jurgens/Perez art it looks a lot like the comics I read in the 80s and 90s that were probably crap in retrospect, but at least they were my kind of crap. I would prefer Krul get to work developing one interesting villain, though, instead of unleashing a torrent of codenames and powers who only want to bust stuff up and upload it to YouTube.
Static Shock by John Rozum and Scott McDaniel is too energetic and goodhearted to come down too hard on. I generally like teen heroes who are still recognizably teens in their behavior, and Rozum keeps Statics Peter Parkery science nerd thoughts going along rapidly, humorously and pretty endearingly. I didn’t love the book or felt like there was anything new, but its enjoyable.
Justice League International by Dan Jurgens and Aaron Lopresti is thoroughly average. I don’t have anything against Booster Gold, Fire, Ice or the other lightweights on this team, but either make them real interesting real quick, or treat them as punchlines the way Giffen and DeMatteis did back in the day. Jurgens isn’t sure which way he wants to go here so he never adopts a consistent tone, as if hes trying to please everyone. To be fair, with the heavy hitters on the real Justice League, writing these guys is like managing the Pittsburgh Pirates. You cant beat fun at the old ballpark, but theres a lot more talent on other teams, in other ballparks. Having Batman cameo smacked of desperation, and has anyone said anything about the plot? No, because its dull. Team gets together at the behest of two characters we know nothing about, and after farcical meet and greet, go off to find a missing UN research team. Question: aside from the real world value of making this a Justice League title, why would you name your UN-sanctioned team after the independent superhero team with which youre not associated and don’t control?
Stormwatch by Paul Cornell and Manuel Sepulveda is one of the bigger disappointments of the week, although to be fair, that’s partly because at one time I gave a shit about Stormwatch/The Authority and never cared much about Batgirl, Green Arrow, Static, etc. Having the Moon threaten Earth seems kinda like something Warren Ellis might have come up with, although he would have used some science in there somewhere, right? How is this giant Moon-fist going to break out of its orbit? Its like when you put your hand on a kids head and hold him far enough away from you that he cant punch you. Doesn’t that happen to you? Anyway, Cornell is tasked with restarting Apollo, Midnighter et al pretty much from scratch, except now with 100% more Martian Manhunter, and some new would be badass called Eminence of Blades or something. I think he lives through this but gets his ass kicked. I didn’t mind it overall but it was underwhelming, much of which could be laid at Sepulvedas feet, as he fails to make cool what Cornell gives him, while at the same time, Cornell doesn’t do a very good job of reintroducing these characters by having them do or say interesting things.
Hawk & Dove – I didn’t read it. And yeah, Rob Liefeld had something to do with that, but no more than Sterling Gates did. No thanks.
After the huge disappointment of Detective Comics I felt as if I was in the middle of a cruel and disappointing joke: here I am desperately searching through a huge pile of manure because I know that there has got to be a pony in there somewhere.
It couldn’t get worse after Detective Comics, could it? Could it?? The alphabetical journey of Week One continues…
The aged, liberal-leaning, slightly cynical and more than a little caustic Oliver Queen is replaced by a younger, richer industrialist who fights crime as he travels the world in Green Arrow #1. This new Oliver Queen is so good at what he does that he actually phones into business meetings while he hunts for bad guys. Chew gum and walk at the same time? – Hell no, Oliver Queen can make multi-billion dollar business deals as he fights crime and shoots his trick arrows. As he says, “Multitasking is my speciaity.”
On top of all that, he also has a pair of operatives who assist him, there’s a hint of some kind of mysterious past that haunts our hero, and it looks like he’s going to fight a whole ton of villains in the next issue.
After reading the story it is apparent that this new improved Green Arrow is an amalgamation of the TV version of Oliver Queen from Smallville and the movie version of Tony Stark from Iron Man: an ultra-rich, somewhat arrogant ladies man who still finds time to do the right thing as he makes his millions.
But does it make any sense for Green Arrow to be battling a gang of super-villains? The final splash page has ten super-villains looking very pissed and out for some payback.
As I came to that final splash page, the little part of my brain that I usually turn off when reading comic books flicked back on and said, “Hey, shouldn’t those villains be taking on the Justice League and not just poor Green Arrow? – There’s no way he can avoid getting his ass kicked. There are ten of them!” And in no way, shape or form was this my brain squealing in anticipation of next issue. This was my brain saying, “This doesn’t make any sense. I give up. Can we move on to something better?”
And I have to say that sometimes it feels good to listen to my brain.
One more thing: either give Green Arrow a beard of or give him a shave. The chin scruff looks stupid. The front cover makes it look like he’s about to transform into a werewolf.
Hawk &Dove #1 spends almost a third of the issue explaining who the title characters are, how they got their powers, and what their relationship is. And then it wraps it all up with a final page that is so poorly illustrated and darkly colored that I couldn’t figure out if it was supposed to be one of the heroes or it was someone completely different. I ended up having to flip back a bunch of pages to try to figure out what was going on.
The issue also has Dove flying through the city as she has a long chat with Deadman. But after all of the time that the story takes to explain the origin and relationship between Hank, deceased brother Don and replacement Dawn, there is not a single mention of who the bizarre guy is with the red suit and the big ‘D’. And that wouldn’t be such a bad thing if so much of the issue hadn’t been dedicated to explaining Every Little Detail about the main characters. So on the one hand the issue rehashes everything needed to know about Hawk & Dove, but on the other hand it figures that every reader will either know or not care about this Deadman fella.
And they were right, because at the end I didn’t care about any of it.
Justice League International #1 would probably make more sense if readers had a better concept of what the true status of superheroes and the Justice League is in the new DCU. Unfortunately the issues released up to this point have Justice League #1 set in the past, Action Comics #1 set in the past, and Detective Comics #1 seeming to conflict with Batgirl andBatwing in their portrayals of Batman’s status.
This comic starts with a splash page of DC heroes on a huge monitor (including Frankenstein, The Creeper and Congorilla?!?) as a secret U.N. council votes to put together its own Justice League. Everyone gets to both vote and veto potential members for the league. The Russians are pleased that Red Rocket is part of the group, England gets a member, China is represented, etc. etc. But India, the Middle East, France, Mexico, Germany: none of these countries or regions had representatives at this clandestine gathering so they don’t have any heroes in the JLI. (I guess it’s too bad that DC didn’t’ have any pre-existing heroes from those areas that could be pigeon-holed into the group.)
Who the members of this U.N. council are, how they were chosen to vote for the League members and how they have the authority to draft all these heroes is never explained. The whole thing is like an updated version of the Global Guardians concept but it never feels all that updated. The comic itself, with its Saturday morning cartoon cast of characters, seems both unnecessary and blatantly concocted: “What do you mean? How the hell can we only have 51 books?!? We need 52! – Okay, how about dusting off the Super Friends concept, filling it with minor characters but making sure they’re from all over the world and then slapping the “Justice League” label on the cover. That’ll work.”
Oh, and Batman also joins the League for no apparent reason other than it never hurts to have Batman on the cover of a team book. Once again illustrating that DC doesn’t know what Batman’s role is in this new universe.
With regards to Men of War #1: I tried. I really, really tried. I even read the whole book. Made my way through the whole thing.
But the constant footnotes (S.AW. = squad automatic weapon, GOOSE = Carl Gustav recoilless rifle) which explain every bit of military jargon got on my nerves, the cliché about a “young soldier refusing his destiny” bugged my ass, and the pages and pages and pages of explosions became wearisome.
But the book’s biggest fault is that it is set in the new DCU which means that while the main characters are human, non-powered soldiers they are fighting in a combat zone that is being destroyed by a crazed, unknown super-villain. The book is supposed to capture the drama of soldiers as they go into battle, but it turns out that a super-villain is doing all the damage. How are normal soldiers supposed to fight a villain who can fly, appears indestructible and has “done more damage in five minutes than a year of armed men could do.” This juxtaposition of reality and superheroics doesn’t work and the whole thing collapses due to the absurdity of the concept.
And the $3.99 price tag for a war comic? – I’d like to have someone explain the logic behind that one for me. It’s almost as if DC wanted to say there was more than just superhero comics in their re-launch, but they then purposely priced the books to fail.
And finally a comic I enjoyed.
OMAC #1 is an entire issue of Keith Giffen channeling Jack Kirby. And that is a very, very good and entertaining thing.
There are pages and pages of OMAC battling bad guys, ripping things apart and huge sound effects like “FFRRAATZZ,” “PA-THOOM” and “BASSSH” to accompany the destruction. Everything is big and chunky and huge and glorious.
My only complaint with the books (and it’s a surprisingly minor one)is that I wish that someone other than Dan DiDio was co-writing it. DiDio has an annoying habit of shoving redundant descriptive boxes into panels and pages where the finished art has already done the work. For example there’s a terrific double page splash where OMAC is ripping apart a building with a terrific “FRRZTTTZKKK-RRAAACK” and Didio feels the need to insert “In an unimaginable display of raw strength and power, OMAC tears through the final obstacles in his way.”
Yes the book is a pastiche of the classic Stan Lee & Jack Kirby tales, but just because Smilin’ Stan used to shove stuff like that into a comic doesn’t mean that it’s right. I hate to sound incredibly harsh, but I can’t help but wonder what a real writer (rather than DC’s co-publisher) would have brought to the tale.
(Speaking of The King, for some reason the credit “OMAC created by Jack Kirby” isn’t in the book. I trust that was merely an oversight and will be quickly corrected.)
I confess that with OMAC I finally found something worth savoring after seven comics of varying degrees of disappointment. It’s loud and silly and beautiful to look at. It succeeds because it doesn’t take itself too seriously and isn’t a re-boot attempting to deliver something cool and modern. It actually reads like a good idea rather than just another book to get the count up to 52.
I would love for this book to exist in its own Kirby-verse but it seems unlikely after seeing how superheroes were forced into Men of War. Nevertheless I’m hoping that Batman, Superman, Green Lantern and the Justice League never make an appearance in the book. I know that probably won’t be the case, but I can hope.
Continuing the alphabetical tour of Week One of the new DC, the next three books happen to be in the Dark Knight’s corner of the universe.
Batgirl #1 showcases the return of Barbara Gordon, now out of the wheelchair where she’s been since The Killing Joke, back in costume and ready to fight crime in Gotham City.
A small confession: I really don’t care who Batgirl is. I haven’t followed the various Batgirl incarnations throughout the years and I haven’t read the various Birds of Prey books that had Barbara Gordon as their leader.
Having said that, I liked the character of Oracle and I think her absence leaves a void in the superhero world (and, yes, I can’t help but wonder how all of this effects Batman Inc.). I’m hoping that someone has plans for an Oracle-type character. But if Barbara Gordon is the new-old – or is that the ‘old-new’? – Batgirl, that’s okay by me.
Oh and for those who were concerned about the sudden improvement in Barbara’s condition: yes, she was shot by The Joker. Fortunately this Barbara Gordon did not suffer a permanent injury. She recovered. She may have even been Oracle. But she’s all better now. (Writer Gail Simone deftly takes care of that bit of business in a couple of panels, so I hope that I’m not spoiling anything for anyone.)
There. Now that those bits of business are taken care of…
The new-old Barbara has an interesting combination of cockiness and uncertainty as she resumes her career as Batgirl. Simone manages to capture the swagger of someone who has experience with bad guys, but manages to balance that with someone who has been on the sidelines for three years. It makes for a captivating character and allows her inner-dialogue to give us insight into the character rather than just act as a way of delivering exposition.
Unfortunately too much of the issue is spent establishing a new villain, having Barbara say goodbye to a much-younger-than-we-are used-to Commissioner Gordon, search for a new apartment and then getting a new roommate. There’s a lot going on in this issue and much of it is good, but a couple less balls being juggled might have made for a more captivating comic.
I am somewhat curious to see what the story holds for Barbara and where Simone takes the character, but I’m not feeling completely hooked on the book.
Batwing #1 focuses on a new character, the so-called “Batman of Africa”. There’s even a reference to Batman Inc. (and there’s me again worrying how the new 52 effects Grant Morrison’s best book) and how the new character was recruited by Batman to fight crime.
Let me start off by saying that the artwork in Batwing by Ben Oliver is lush, creative and a pleasure to look at.
But the story…
The thing is this: writer Judd Winnick has been given a blank slate to create a brand new Batman-type character. Go crazy, Judd! Go wild! The world is your oyster! Let your imagination soar!
But instead of creating something amazing, fresh and new, we get this: the new character is a cop in a corrupt police force. But he’s idealistic. He’s going to change the force from the inside. But difference is this… he’s in Africa!!!
The young Batwing also has an older Alfred-type assistant and of course there’s a beautiful young cop on the force who is both a romantic interest and is also the only other honest police officer on the force. Add to all of that a group of formerly unheard of old heroes who are introduced as if they’ve always been around but it turns out they all disappeared under mysterious circumstances! Even Batman was unaware of their existence, and he’s the goddamn Batman!
Everything in this book has been done before, been done better and been done to death. Yes, it’s pretty to look at. Otherwise it is a massively wasted opportunity.
Detective Comics #1 is the first full-issue appearance of Batman in the new DCU and after reading the book I have two major problems:
The first is that I can’t make sense if this Batman is like the Superman of Action Comics and the story takes place before all of the other books that are being published.
Having read three Bat-books in a row, I simply cannot get a sense of Batman’s role in this new DCU. In Batwing we hear mention of Batman supplying computers and equipment to his African protégé. In Batgirl Barbara Gordon has a poster of Batman on her door, confirming the aspect of her origin that had her inspired by his heroics years ago. And the first page of Detective Comics has Batman stating that The Joker has been responsible for “one-hundred fourteen murders over the past six years.” So I have to think that the story takes place ‘now’ in the new DCU.
And yet later in the issue the police force are screaming for Batman’s arrest and blowing things up as they attempt to capture him.
So Batman is literally the poster boy who inspired Batgirl and his reputation as a hero is powerful enough that he’s recruited a hero in Africa. But in Gotham City, the police are hunting him and Commissioner Gordon is his only ally? All of this going on while the cover of the soon to be alphabetically read Justice League International has Batman swinging into action with a bunch of other heroes?
I acknowledge and accept the conceit that the various Batman books exist in their own little corner of the world where Gotham City is its own dark, dangerous place. I’ve always approached the books as if these stories take place in a more gloomy, more serious Bizarro Bob Haney mini-universe, and when Batman appears in Justice League he’s a different character in a different alternate world.
But shouldn’t there have been more thought given to how Batman operates and is perceived within the various Bat-books? He’s been a heroic inspiration for years in one book, he’s a financial provider in another, but a hunted menace in his own Detective Comics? I’m not demanding iron-clad and inflexible continuity in the first week of the line’s re-launch, but a tiny bit of consistency wouldn’t have been a bad thing.
The story itself is serviceable and Tony Daniel certainly has some good-looking drawings to accompany his fairly-good words. I’d even go as far to say that the book, while over the top and incredibly self-important in its seriousness, is good until the story’s final pages. But those final pages plunge the issue into a grand guignol of gruesomeness.
And that’s my other major problem with the book: why would an editor allow a book this grotesque to be one of the cornerstones of the entire company’s re-launch? I have to wonder what was going through editor Mike Marts’ corporately-mandated head.
At the book’s conclusion it becomes obvious that the main character in the book is not Batman, it’s The Joker. And instead of Detective Comics being a book for the 21st Century, it’s a book transplanted from the heyday of the Image Comics-inspired Dark Age. It reads as if the worst aspects of Watchmen were its inspiration and Tony Daniel was instructed to top the shock (and shlock?) value of that that classic story.
The final pages of this issue are something out of Silence of the Lambs or its more lurid sequel, Hannibal. It is impossible to reconcile this book’s conclusion with the action in Batgirl. I don’t even know how both books can exist in the same universe.
Scott Snyder’s run on Detective Comics was at times macabre and over the top, but there was always the underlying sense that light was struggling against darkness and that there was always hope that evil could be defeated.
This new re-launch of Detective Comics merely wallows in its own gloom. And because of that, it’s a giant step backwards for this shiny new universe.
So with the new 52 DC reboot/restart/re-imagining and with the joyful enthusiasm of “Hey it worked for Casino Royale and Batman Begins so it can work for us!!”, the big question became this…
What to buy, what to buy, what to buy? 52 re-launches with a bunch of new creators. What to buy?
Fortunately my local comic shop (the legendary and fabulous The Beguiling) was kind enough, like many shops, to lure people like me who were sitting on the fence into making a complete commitment: for one low price I would be able to purchase all 52 issues and save myself the hassle of making a decision.
So I figured “What the heck, why not?” After all, enough of the books interested me that I may as well just kill that annoying curious cat and get them all.
And, yes, that means when faced with making a decision or making a commitment, I went for the non-decision commitment. Oh if only ice cream and women were that uncomplicated.
My critical measuring stick for the 52 books is therefore not equally balanced: there are those books I would have bought, the ones I was somewhat curious about, and the ones I would not have touched even if someone had offered me free chocolate as an almost -irresistible incentive.
To be completely transparent, of this week’s 13 new releases I would have bought 3 of them, flipped through 4 of them, and the rest would not have earned a glance even if Rosario Dawson was giving complimentary foot massages with each purchase:
Would have bought: Action Comics, Swamp Thing and Animal Man.
Would have flipped through: Detective Comics, OMAC, Stormwatch and Static Shock.
Not even with chocolate or Rosario Dawson: Batgirl, Batwing, Man of War, JLI, Green Arrow and Hawk & Dove.
Okay, but now that I have committed to all of them, how to sample them? Do I read my anticipated favorites first, or inverse it and do the more mature and responsible equivalent of eating all my vegetables before I get dessert? (And as I think about vegetables, it’s ironic to note that the is the cover of Swamp Thing (looking very Bissette & Totleben) is right in front of me.)
Well, nothing says random reading quite like ‘alphabetical order’ and so that was how I decided to approach Week One. Which means we start with…
Action Comics #1. Right from the first page and its bottom panel it is very apparent that this is a different kind of Superman.
“I’m your worst nightmare” is a most un-Superman-like statement. Batman, Freddy Krueger or Kim Kardashian might say something like that, but for the Man of Steel to utter those words… well, it certainly indicates that this is a very different take on the hero.
Writer Grant Morrison created the great and now classic All-Star Superman with Frank Quitely, but anyone expecting that kind of homage to The Silver Age is in for a rude surprise. This Superman is younger, angrier and a lot less certain of his place in the world. Reading like a “Year One” take on the character, the traditional majesty and nobility that were synonymous with Superman have been pushed aside for a more working class, “willing to get his hands dirty” kind of hero. And while that’s all well and good, I don’t know how far Morrison and other creators can stray from those classic, defining characteristics and still have him remain “Superman”.
Or to put it another way: I enjoyed the Superman in Grant Morrison’s Superman Beyond from Final Crisis much more than I did this Superman. I would rather have Superman as a leader and a beacon of nobility than yet another angry superhero.
A strange aspect of the story is revealed part way through the issue when one of the characters says that this new “Super-man” has been around for six months and yet he still remains a figure of mysterious menace (very much like the early appearances of Batman in Gotham City). But I couldn’t help but think that six months in today’s world is the equivalent of several lifetimes in the days of old media scrutiny, so I’m amazed that hero hasn’t been You Tube’d, Facebook’d and Google’d to the point that all the mystique is gone.
It’s my understanding that this story takes place several years before the rest of the books in the new DCU (with Justice League being another exception) and maybe that’s why it’s been six months since he first appeared, but it makes me wonder how necessary it was to introduce Superman outside of the current timeline of the other books. It’s often been expressed that Superman should be the first hero, but if it’s this Superman who is the first hero, it’s difficult to imagine him inspiring a lot of other heroes to follow in his footsteps.
The book’s major downfall is the fact that there aren’t any brilliant ideas or terrific new insights into any of the characters. Instead, there’s just a lot of anger, red-glowing eyes and a fairly goofy-looking Jimmy Olsen. And after Geoff Johns’ recent Secret Origins and Straczyski’s Superman Earth One, the launch of this book had to be something spectacular. And it’s not. Action Comics #1 reads like an early issue of Ultimate Spider-Man albeit better-paced and with less of a focus on the hero’s origin.
The bottom line is that I expected Morrison to deliver something more mind-blowing than merely a slightly better Bendis. Having said that, I’ll stick around in the hope that Morrison brings his A-game for the upcoming issues. But if I didn’t have such faith in Morrison, I’m not sure if I’d buy #2.
Animal Man #1. Oh cruel, cruel alphabet: making me move from a slightly disappointing Grant Morrison debut to a book that once had him at his very, very best.
Writer Jeff Lemire certainly has huge shoes to fill with this comic because although Morrison’s take on Animal Man is more than 20 years old, it was his 26 issue run on the series that rescued the minor DC hero from complete obscurity, it remains the definitive take on the character and it also launched Morrison’s own career in North America. So not only does Lemire have to do Animal Man and his family justice, he gets do so as he works in the shadow of Morrison’s classic, creative genius.
Lemire dances the fine line (as do all of the #1’s creators) of introducing the character as if he were completely new but at the same time not completely ignoring the past and risk alienating all of the nostalgic fans of the original series. And he manages the creative dance quite well, establishing (and to some extent perhaps even over-establishing) the fact that Buddy Baker and his family are the main focus of the story and all of the superhero shenanagins are incidental.
The first part of the book reads like something from Pixar’s The Incredibles (although Morrison’s Animal Man predates the movie) with Buddy and his wife debating the challenges and financial insecurities of being a superhero, their daughter screaming for their attention and their son being mildly annoying.
But then Buddy has to do his Animal Man duty and spring into action.
And that is when the weirdness begins to intrude on their lives. While things may have been quite domestic and common at the beginning, it all starts to unravel. And when things go bad, it is terrifying and grotesque and quite brilliant to behold.
I’m not overly familiar with Travel Foreman’s artwork but it is knockout friggin’ gorgeous. There is a black & white sequence at the end of the issue that is glorious. Unfortunately there is also a full page splash early in the story of Buddy in flight that looked like it was Warren Worthington III (aka Angel) from the X-Men circa 1980s John Byrne that simply did not belong in the rest of this beautiful book. While I know Animal Man’s costume is supposed to look less than inspiring because of his low status on the superhero totem pole, I’m hoping the costume design is merely Jim Lee’s bad idea and will get pushed aside very quickly.
Lemire and Foreman do not disappoint with this issue. Well-written and beautifully illustrated, I hope they get a chance to work together for a long time. Because there might be greatness to come.
IDW is continuing the adventures of the young crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise introduced in director J.J. Abrams’s 2009 Star Trek film, and the first issue is just about everything I could have hoped for.
I wrote about my lifelong appreciation for Star Trek a few days ago, on the 45th anniversary of the airing of the first episode of the original series. With that anniversary in mind, now’s a great time for IDW to launch a new ongoing series, and I am pleased that the first issue reflects the same quality and attention to detail that we’ve seen in the publisher’s other Trek offerings. From Countdown, a canonical prequel to the 2009 movie, to the movie adaptation itself, and sidelights like Nero and Spock: Reflections (both of which expanded on and enhanced the events of the 2009 movie), IDW’s creators and editors show that they get what Star Trek is about, and what a comics adaptation of it requires, more than any publisher in the history of the series. IDW’s Star Trek comics are exciting where DC’s were dull. They feel grounded in the world of Trek, unlike Marvel’s quasi-superhero tone; they make sense and the characters look and feel like the same characters we’ve seen on TV and in the movies, unlike Gold Key’s bizarre, atrocious Star Trek comics.
This new Star Trek #1 features a retelling of the second pilot from the original series, “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” That was the first episode produced that featured William Shatner as Captain Kirk, and the story centered on Kirk dealing with a longtime friend and crew member, Gary Mitchell, accidentally acquiring the powers of a god in an accident at the very edge of the universe.
This new comic is and isn’t that story. It’s a perfect evocation of what I want from the new Star Trek from here on out, touching on the events of the “Prime” universe of the original Shatner/Nimoy episodes while exploring the very real consequences of the fact that history has been changed and anything can happen, now. I’m not saying every movie, comic and TV episode (if that ever happens) produced from here on out has to be based on an old story, but what I am saying is that, when appropriate, and when it can be done in a thoughtful and interesting way (as it is here), those old stories should be used as one part of the foundation of exploring the new Trek universe. Yes, new stories can and should be told, independent of all the old baggage, but the opportunity is there to have fun with a lot of the old mythology, and that’s what happens in Star Trek #1.
See, in a new universe like this, branching off from an older reality because of a change in history due to time travel, some things will be exactly the same. And here, they are. Some events proceed exactly like they did in the 1966 TV episode. But some events diverge. Doctor McCoy was not yet aboard in the original episode, the ship’s doctor was a different actor. And as a result of that literally trivial fact, the Gary Mitchell story plays out differently. One key character from the episode is not present, because McCoy’s presence changes things.
Writer Mike Johnson and creative consultant (and 2009 movie co-writer) Roberto Orci introduce this idea organically and for anyone versed in Star Trek history, the result is a delightful divergence from what we know, and an indicator that we’re all coming to this new chapter in Trek history on pretty equal footing. No matter what we think we know, there are surprises ahead, and that feels pretty good. Factor in artist Stephen Molnar’s careful balance of attractive, dynamic artwork with a fidelity to the appearance of the actors who play the characters, and I really can’t imagine anyone who likes Star Trek, new or old, not loving this comic book.
— Alan David Doane
A copy of this issue was provided by the publisher for the purpose of review.
More ADD Auctions: Ditko Omnibus, Infinite Kung Fu, More!
Just posted some more auctions on eBay, a chance for you to get some great graphic novels at less than half of cover price. Your bids help support our efforts here on TWC. Mention Trouble With Comics at Checkout and get FREE BONUS COMICS included with your order!
Newly added titles include a set of The Steve Ditko Omnibus Vol. 1 and The Creeper by Steve Ditko, both in hardcover; Infinite Kung Fu by Kagan McLeod; a set of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century 1910 and Century 1969, and much more!
Chris Staros of Top Shelf Productions has told me that the company is launching a massive $3.00 sale starting tomorrow. I’m jumping the gun to let you know early, because Top Shelf is one of my favourite publishers, and I think you’ll find a lot of great books at bargain prices. Note that Top Shelf is also an advertiser on this site, but I’d be telling you about this sale even if they weren’t, because they’re one of a handful of comics publishers I respect and believe in.
Here are the details on Top Shelf’s Massive $3.00 Sale!
For the next two weeks — through Friday September 23th — Top Shelf is having a giant $3 web sale. When you visit the site, you’ll find 175 graphic novels and comics on sale — with over 100 titles marked down to just $3 & $1! To help us continue doing what we do, please participate in this sale. With the economy as it’s been, it’s getting harder and harder to keep publishing such quality material. But if enough people participate, we’ll be able to finish paying for this year’s amazing releases, and “kick start” a full rollout for next year.
Thanks in advance for your support (as the comics community IS the best community)!
To go directly to the list of items on sale at the Top Shelf website, just click here:
Please note that Top Shelf accepts PayPal (as well as Visa, MasterCard, Amex, and Discover — all secure), and that this sale is good for retailers as well (and comic book shops will get their wholesale discount on top of these sale prices).
Justice League #1 Writer – Geoff Johns Penciler – Jim Lee Inker – Scott Williams Publisher – DC Comics. $3.99 (print)/$4.99 (print/digital combo)
The New 52 starts here, with the flagship title. This is the one that’s the easiest sell: The biggest superheroes DC has, on a team, starting from scratch, as written and drawn by two of their best-loved talents. I am fairly certain there has
not been a positive review of a Johns-written comics on this blog, and it would be pretty easy to rip this one, but it isn’t really that bad. We meet Batman in action, hounded by police, and Lee draws him well, with noticeable but unobtrusive extra seams in his costume as a kind of nod to the Christopher Nolan movies, or perhaps just an ingrained artistic fussiness. And he meets Green Lantern, who performs his shtick to any new readers, though not as impressively as he should, since it looks like too much precious space was used on Batman close-ups. There is a menace of sorts in what appears to be an Apokoliptian parademon, setting off a bomb on behalf of Darkseid, and the mystery of this is the engine that gets GL to abscond with Batman to find the other superhumans that are starting to make the papers, like that guy in Metropolis, who ends up being a little more prone to punching first and asking questions later than we might expect of Superman. And we get a glimpse of young high school quarterback phenom Vic Stone, who has a dad who neglects him. And that’s your twenty-two pages.
Johns does fine with Batman firmly in the arrogant, brilliant loner mold which has defined the character half my lifetime. The Hal Jordan Green Lantern as a cocky hothead is fine, and presumably Superman will be revealed as more thoughtful once introductions are made. There is a chuckle or two in the Batman/GL meeting, but I don’t think many people think of Johns as a really witty writer. It’s a utilitarian effort, and while it makes sense to write a lot of action and big panels for Lee, it also means there isn’t a lot of story here, and nothing we haven’t seen before. For his part, Lee is Lee, with maybe some Neal Adams panel angles in his bag of tricks now, but nothing surprising or ambitious. I get it: this is meant to be DCs most accessible book, so no one is going to experiment in anything but little decorative details, like giving Supermans costume a little collar. I mean, the JL could be in much worse hands than this, and has, many times. That doesn’t mean this is anything to get very excited about.
I frequent a message board that has many comic book readers, most of whom seem to be superhero fans. I polled them and got some interesting results about this week’s Justice League #1 by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee.
Of the 65 people that have responded so far, three people say they liked the book.
58 say they are ambivalent, hated it, or “don’t give a shit.” Not a good sign for the book, as these are primarily superhero fans.
Good news for DC, only 21 of the 65 say they downloaded it illegally. Two people say they paid to download it legally, but both said they were ambivalent after reading it.
One respondent noted:
[I]t looks like more people pirated it than actually bought it — just going from [the responses here]. And at $4.00, I can totally understand why.
It was just a lazy, overly-commercial piece of work. I’m fairly confident the idea to have Green Lantern and Batman feature heavily in the first issue was because they wanted to get some of the sweet sweet Hollywood dollars from the GL film. Sadly, for them, GL tanked badly and nobody gave a shit. The whole adage about “there’s no bad characters, just bad writers” yet again is proven wrong. There are bad characters and they’re all the JLA members apart from Batman and Superman.
When you pay four dollars for the massively hyped first issue of a revamped DCU line featuring their most well known characters and you get this… Well, I just don’t know what anyone was thinking. The whole revamp seems poorly planned. Why not do a Johns/Lee JLA: YEAR ONE series instead? That’d be more honest. In fact, go back and read Waid/Kitson’s JLA: YEAR ONE #1 and see how much stuff he manages to fit in there. Also, I have to agree with most people, Jordan is a dickbag and I have zero interest in reading his adventures. Also also, the entire first issue was just one long bit of shitty exposition. “This ring must work on your mind.” “Yes, it does, Batman - saviour of Gotham City - and it helps me patrol this region of space.” Seriously, when did all of comics forget how to write? It’s filling-in-the-blanks comics. What happened to just telling a good story? And next month — a Superman/Batman fight? Man, it’s been at least two months since we saw that.
What are your thoughts on the book? Feel free to leave a comment and let us know.
I recently warned readers about avoiding an Adirondacks-based comic books show being organized by the comic show organizer wannabe Rick Olney. It occurs to me that I should put my own Olney story out there so you know why I personally don’t trust or believe in the man. If you Google his name, you will find many stories worse than mine, from real people who suffered real injury to their ability to feed their families because of his alleged business practices.
My very first exposure to Rick Olney was an online screed he wrote about me (now apparently removed from the internet) deliberately snubbing him at the 2003 Mighty Mini-Con in upstate New York (one of the few Olney-organized shows he DIDN’T have to cancel, before word had gotten out about his true nature). He made a huge deal out of the fact that I went to the show, which is true enough; I was there with my family, interested in exactly three things, meeting comics writer Tony Isabella in person (here’s his 2003 account of the show), buying comics, and having a nice day trip for my family. What rankled Olney was the fact that I did not have the decency to introduce myself to him. Of course, I only even knew who Olney was after he wrote his outraged screed; I had no idea who was running the show and was a paying guest (four, actually, counting the wife and kids). I had never heard of Rick Olney (if only I could say that today!). It was one hell of a way to be introduced to the guy, and I have been extraordinarily leery of him ever since. Since we are both in upstate New York, he later tried to get me to endorse his efforts, the most recent time trying (to the point of aggravation, after I had said no multiple times) to pay me to line up guests for his convention, even going so far as to admit that he couldn’t do it himself because of his reputation, but realizing neither the irony involved there, or the fact that, whatever reputation I have, I didn’t want it soiled by associating with him and his notorious shenanigans.
Please be aware that a rumoured “Adirondack ComicFest” is bad news, and Google its “organizer” Rick Olney for all the details on why. I live in the foothills of the Adirondack region, and as a resident it really grinds my gears to see Olney trying to ply his toxic wares in my backyard (literally; I can see the Adirondacks from my backyard). Tony Isabella often reminds people of why they should shun Olney and his many various fictional “shows” and “companies,” and his column today prompted me to add my voice to the choir, with a far better idea for anyone interested in comics that might have been sucked in to Olney’s latest scam.
You might consider attending the REAL comic book show of the Adirondack region, the Albany Comic Con. It’s run by honest people that I have personally dealt with for years, and features great guests twice a year, including Fred Hembeck, Joe Staton, Matt Smith, Ron Marz, Joe Sinnott, and this fall, Jim Starlin. Folks like Staton and Hembeck have attended twice a year for years now, so I assume they get paid and are happy with the show, unlike many people who have been victimized by Rick Olney in the past. I write this now in the hopes of preventing future pain to people who love comics. So forget Olney’s latest scheme and plan to attend the Albany Comic Con this October. Details are here:
The Albany Comic Con is only an hour or so from the Adirondacks and the Adirondack Park, so anyone who had been excited about Olney’s show before finding out the truth about him might want to consider coming to the October Albany Comic Con. Please note that the show is an occasional advertiser on this site, but even if they weren’t, I would urge you to attend because it’s a great show, a good time and a wonderful chance to see all the comics-oriented people in the upstate New York/Adirondack region; and I would still urge you to avoid anything at all that is connected in any way to Rick Olney.
* I should link to Tim Callahan more often, both because he’s relatively local ( I see him often at the Albany Comicon) and because he’s a good and balanced writer. He brings those skills to his examination of Dave Sim’s Cerebus The Aardvark. Tim and I had a brief discussion of Sim on Twitter, and the gist of it is that I think Sim’s ideas are toxic and repugnant, and that they torpedo my ability to appreciate Cerebus as comics. Tim takes a more nuanced and forgiving view, and good for him for doing so.
This is my first exposure to the venerable series about the shrewd little Gaulish warrior and his dimwitted oaf buddy, Obelix. I understand it’s the second album (#26 in the series) to be both written and drawn by Uderzo after the death of co-creator/writer Rene Goscinny. I also understand that many prefer the ones where Goscinny was writing.
In this one, the two friends travel to the Middle East to find more “rock oil” (petroleum), as their village druid Getafix has run out and needs it for his various potions. They’re joined this once by Roman secret agent Dubbelosix, who is drawn like late ‘70s Sean Connery and has all manner of steampunk gadgets like a folding chariot. They have many hardships, dangers and all manner of confusion in their search for the oil, though nothing too serious. The copy I was loaned still shows a 1981 copyright and $9.95 pricetag, so maybe later editions have better printing and coloring, but I found it indifferent here, though I can tell Uderzo has a pretty supple line and the art style of bulbous noses, big feet and exaggerated postures works just fine for the humorous set-ups, while here and there he does stop to draw some very nice establishing shots of Arab architecture.
As far as the gags, I was a little surprised, given how successful the volumes are worldwide, that so much of the humor is verbal rather than visual/physical. I like puns better than most, and the idea of using the Gaulish –ix or Roman –ius suffixes afford a few opportunities for at least a smile, with names like Surreptitius, Dubbelosix and such, though Uderzo stretches the idea a bit far with on-the-nose mouthfuls like “Ekonomikrisis”. Uderzo also has pretty low standards for some of these jokes: what’s so funny about a tired camel thinking, “Being humped about really gives me the hump?” What does that even mean? Maybe it’s the translation. There are some witty James Bond bits and an ironic running gag about the nastiness and useless of “rock oil” that contrasts with the modern reliance on petroleum. Reading more about the book, it’s clear Uderzo worked pretty hard, including lots of then-current references and even using a character modeled on Goscinny as a kind of tribute, so no doubt longtime fans, or those still familiar with the current events of 1980, will get more out of it than me. I liked it but aside from a mild interest in reading one written by Goscinny to see if it’s funnier, I don’t feel a great urge to return.
I recently took part in The Hooded Utilitarian’s International Best Comics Poll (my list is here). “Best of” lists are something some critics enjoy, while others (notably Roger Ebert) more or less despise them. I’m kind of in the middle — it’s seemingly difficult to come up with a definitive list of anything relating to something as subjective as art, but the fact of the matter is that a truly responsible critic has to have a discerning taste, the ability to convey it to his or her audience, and the confidence to state his or her opinion boldly and convincingly. I find the latter is something that really aggravates a lot of people — wishy-washy minds hate it when someone expresses an opinion with the force of reason and logic; all the more reason to take joy in the occasional exercise of this type. It’s also useful as a barometer over time of one’s own evolving tastes. When I first started writing regularly about comics in the late 1990s, many of the comics on this list would not have made the cut, while quite a few comics I now hold in far less high regard probably would have had a place of honour.
In any case, as of mid-August, 2011, here’s my list of the best comics of all time.
Amazing Spider-Man, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko - Probably the most entertaining run of superhero comics that any corporation ever published, Amazing Spider-Man set the style and standard for Marvel in the 1960s, even if Kirby’s work comes more immediately to mind when pondering the subject. These were “Pop Comics” at their best, dramatic, funny, and in-your-face. The miracle that Ditko managed to stay simpatico with Lee long enough to create 38 regular issues (and a couple of Annuals to boot) is one that I am profoundly grateful for. Amazing Spider-Man is perhaps the most fun you can have reading superhero comics. (Buy Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus from Amazon.com.)
American Elf, James Kochalka - Other comics creators have dug deeper into their own psyches; Harvey Pekar, Phoebe Gloeckner and R. Crumb come to mind. But no other cartoonist in the history of the medium has documented one moment from each day of his life for as many years on end as Kochalka has, and regularly presented it to his audience. American Elf is a singular accomplishment in the comics artform, and perhaps the most entertaining and effective window into the soul of a cartoonist in the history of the medium. (Buy American Elf Volume 1: The Collected Sketchbook Diaries Of James Kochalka from Amazon.com.)
American Splendor, Harvey Pekar, et al - I make no apologies for the fact that autobiography is my favourite genre in comics. When done right, as Pekar almost always did it, no other storytelling medium can have as profound, immediate and insightful an impact on its audience as autobiographical comics. My very favourite Pekar works are his collaborations with R. Crumb, because each brought out the best in the other, so much so that their collaborations have the same feel and power of comics created by a single creative mind working at the peak of his abilities. But with or without Crumb, Pekar’s work demands attention and rewards re-reading, with its keen observation of human nature and its celebration of the smallest and largest events in life. Pekar’s death marked the end of an era in comics, and it’s unlikely that any other comics creator will ever match the heights Pekar did in the very best of his work. (Buy The Best of American Splendor from Amazon.com.
Daredevil: Born Again, Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli - All that having been said, I’m a lifelong comics fan who was weaned on superhero comics starting in the very early 1970s. So I remain susceptible to the charms of a superhero tale well-told, and the only one told as well as this one is Batman: Year One by the very same creative team. In Born Again, Miller turned his signature character inside out and redefined what was possible in a corporate superhero comic. Mazzucchelli had already demonstrated some pretty decent superhero chops on this title prior to Miller’s return to the title, but he very quickly leveled up to deliver one of the most visually stunning superhero stories ever that was not drawn by Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko or Gil Kane. (Buy Daredevil: Born Again from Amazon.com.
Diary of a Teenage Girl, Phoebe Gloeckner - Not strictly autobiography, Gloeckner’s masterpiece nonetheless carries the weight of reality and the gravity of a troubled life seen with the perspective of years gone by. It’s a comic that defies expectation and challenges easy judgment or callous dismissal. Read it and understand a little bit better what it is to be a girl, to be a teenager, to be a human being. (Buy Diary of a Teenage Girl from Amazon.com.)
From Hell, Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell - The single greatest work ever created in comics, or the best graphic novel of all time. Call it what you will, but if you haven’t read and experienced From Hell, you could be forgiven for saying, as one critic I otherwise respect recently did, that Alan Moore is “overrated.” From Hell is a challenging work, but one that is meticulously constructed, brilliantly conceived, passionately executed, and will turn your fucking brain inside out. Along with his prose novel Voice of the Fire, From Hell is Moore at his absolute best, and at his best, there’s no one else in comics that even comes close. (Buy From Hell from Amazon.com.)
Ice Haven, Daniel Clowes - Clowes’s masterpiece is kind of the flip side of From Hell. It is executed with equal passion and witty, seamless construction. But the subject matter almost defies description. The book is as much about comics as it is a story told with comics. It was a signal moment in Clowes’s development as a storyteller, with everything that followed in some way indebted to or descended from the concerns he unpacked in Ice Haven. I think I prefer the individual issue of Eightball it originally appeared in (#21) to the reformatted and rejiggered hardcover graphic novel version, but either way, Ice Haven should be read and experienced by anyone who loves comics. (Buy Ice Haven from Amazon.com.)
“Master Race,” Bernard Krigstein and Al Feldstein - Appearing in the first issue of Impact, “Master Race” is the most brilliantly executed short story in the history of comics. I’ve opined at length elsewhere about how and why Bernard Krigstein was the greatest artist ever to work in comics, but immersing yourself in “Master Race” is really the only argument needed. (Buy B. Krigstein Vol. 1 from Amazon.com.)
The New Gods, Jack Kirby, with Mike Royer, et al - Kirby is rightly touted as the genius of corporate superhero comics, without whom we’d very likely have a very different artform and industry on our hands today, or perhaps none at all. That said, many of his great works (Fantastic Four, The Fourth World stories) are either compromised or unfinished. New Gods falls into the latter category, but despite that, the series manages to convey better than any other the sheer power and, yes, maturity that Kirby could bring to his comics. Re-read New Gods and be amazed at the pictures, but be even more astonished at the subjects and themes that Kirby was exploring, sometimes so close to the surface that one need not even call it subtext. From almost the moment he started making comics, Kirby was ahead of his time, and many years after his passing, he remains so. It’s all of comics — especially the corporate superhero comics ghetto he toiled in — that needs to catch up, and grow up. Make it right, Marvel. (Buy Jack Kirby’s New Gods from Amazon.com.)
Peanuts, Charles M. Schulz - No one saw the bittersweet sadness of life the way Schulz did, and no one ever made the reader feel those same feelings with more grace or immediacy. For fifty years, Schulz bared his soul in comics, and while he more often than not did so with a clever gag or punchline at the end, ultimately what we all think of when we think of Peanuts as a whole is the way Schulz could take the little agonies of his own life and make us remember what it is to be hurt, to be slighted, to grin and bear it and keep moving despite the pain. I think that’s the ultimate message of Schulz’s life work, and the example he set for us all. He kept going, kept working, up until the absolute last moment possible, and then he left us, and left behind a monumental lifetime of work that will be enjoyed and talked about as long as there are people left to think and talk about comics. And maybe even a little while longer than that. (Buy The Complete Peanuts Vol. 1 - 1950-1952 from Amazon.com.)
Another issue (volume?) of TCJ apparently means another opportunity to screw with Tom Crippen’s head, as three editors and eight interns couldn’t spell his name correctly in the Table of Contents. Ah, well. Those who pick up the book will see that it’s gone through another format change, this time close to the dimensions and paper used in Dash Shaw’s Bottomless Belly Button, a brick of newsprint under a gray blow-up of an image from R. Crumb’s adaptation of The Book of Genesis, the gray really underselling the idea that a bunch of folks are being bombarded by fireballs from the sky. Be careful setting the book down, as the cover is so thin a breeze may fold the cover back without you knowing, as happened to me.
Knowing me, if I wait until I’ve finished all 624 pages of this issue, I’ll never get around to reviewing it, so I figured I’d just do it in parts.
After a solid Introduction by Editor-in-Chief Gary Groth, in which he extols Crumb’s virtues as a cartoonist, and explains the reason Genesis deserved TCJ’s lengthiest critical symposium ever (the reason is that Groth thinks the book deserves it), we get a long and surprisingly warm and easygoing chat between Groth and Crumb. Neither has ever come off this…normal. In Crumb, Groth has a subject he likes so much he not only isn’t compelled to trap, bait or attack him, he actually goes a little too easy. It seems that one reason Crumb decided to do this literal comics adaptation of Genesis was money ($200,000, which seemed like a great deal until it took four years to finish). Fair enough, but I did wish Groth probed more at why Crumb kept so rigidly to a strategem of keeping his own thoughts, his own id and obsessions, his own writing, completely out of the book, even choosing what some feel is a fustier translation source than some others.
Crumb does admit he has some regrets about it, and opines that many other cartoonists could have come up with pretty much the same thing. Personally, I’m sorry if he felt he wasted his time, though it’s really refreshing to hear. I wish more artists, high and low, would cop to taking a creative dead-end, or doing something for money that they wished they hadn’t. Not that many fret overmuch about the feelings of George Lucas or Stephen Spielberg, but don’t you think they look back on Indy 4 as squandering some of their winter years? Or back to comics, do you think Paul Hornschemier is pleased with his choices of the past few years? Eric Shanower may have ended up feeling like his laborious story of the Trojan War, Age of Bronze, was something like a death sentence, a project that would take up the rest of his career.
So Crumb maybe made a bad, and very time-consuming, move. Artists do this. Really, anybody does this. Did you take a job in an industry you find you don’t like that much? It’s hard to get out, isn’t it? Anyway, at the very least, it seems that the project improved Crumb’s already amazing drawing skills, and who knows, maybe the discipline he had to exercise will lead to more fruitful, personal and even longer-form work than before.
It would make sense to go right into the various critics (well, five critics, a theologian and maniac Kenneth R. Smith) and their takes on Genesis, but instead I skipped right towards the back of the issue, a color reprinting of Dell Comics Gerald McBoing Boing, based on Ted (Dr. Suess) Geisel’s cartoon of the same name, which is adapted for the first issue, the rest of the stories playing out the diminishing comedic returns of a tyke who speaks only in sound effects. This highlights that rotten, gooey center at the heart of Groth’s TCJ, the idea that crappy comics are okay if they’re all ages and at least forty years old. Sorry, no. Unless you’ve read every John Stanley-written comic already, there’s no need to waste time on this drivel.
The last piece in the issue is actually a sort of reprise, a brief and fair, even kind piece on Crumb by Tom Crippen that presents the man as a very talented artist who doesn’t have a lot of original ideas, and whose style has settled into something much heavier than in his freer, more experimental days, but what he does, he still does well. In an odd way, it’s a lovely way to end the book, putting the focus back on an artist who’s always worth writing about, even if the book chosen to write about for half this issue is already turning into a career blip or footnote, the book that’s curious by not being curious, interesting mainly for its artist’s choice to govern himself and produce something less interesting.
I recently reviewed Marvel’s Thor Omnibus here on Trouble With Comics. That’s likely the last time you’ll find on this blog a review of a Marvel Comics product that stems from the original work created by Jack Kirby, unless Marvel Comics changes its corporate policies enough to do the right thing for the heirs of Kirby’s legacy. I’ve discussed this with my colleague Alan David Doane, and we agree that, even though we’re just one small part of the online comics discussion, we’re going to be true to our own values and not continue to endorse Marvel’s profoundly unethical treatment of the Kirby family.
The older I get, the more I prefer to just read and review comics and leave the punditry to others. And let’s face it, being a pundit/industry commentator is a fulltime gig, and who wants someone like me only piping up a few times a year to touch on the issues that dozens of others are already addressing quite capably. When it comes to the recent Kirby heirs vs. Marvel lawsuit, which found in favor of Marvel but is now set for appeal, luminaries like Tom Spurgeon and Stephen R. Bissette have written eloquently on the issue, more towards the moral and ethical aspect rather than the legal side.
As far as my own opinion, I just wanted explain where it comes from, and then explain how it will affect future content on this blog. My day job is underwriting Workers Compensation insurance. While it’s a legal requirement for employers to carry such insurance, the layperson probably doesn’t know just how subjective it can be to set pricing. Some of it’s driven by competition, some by analysis of the information that varies based on each underwriter’s knowledge and experience. You may think superhero comics are grim ‘n’ gritty, but how about a job where it’s better if an employee falling from a scaffold dies rather than becomes paralyzed, because death claims don’t cost as much? Some lives are worth $5MM, some $500. My world is not one where there is good and bad but where everything has its price.
Is it fair to hold Marvel Comics to a higher standard than a corporation whose products are not of the intellectual property variety, just because Marvel’s properties are characters who represent the triumph of good over evil? I’ve wrestled with that. I don’t think Marvel is evil or horrible because of some bad policies, and obviously it’s no coincidence that Marvel’s good fortune in being bought by Disney, having successful films, etc., leads to them being targets of lawsuits like this, but opportunism doesn’t by itself invalidate a position. I tended to always follow the precept that whatever a court of law decided in the case of creative ownership lawsuits, that was good enough for me. Wolfman’s Blade? He had his day in court, he lost, end of story. But the impact that Jack Kirby’s co-creations have had on Marvel Comics over the past 70 years is just too overwhelming for me to continue that stance.
I’m no paragon of virtue, and will get off the soapbox now, but the fact is that Marvel/Disney have the resources to make things right with the Kirbys without it hurting them substantially. It’s the right thing to do, it’s good PR, and quite frankly, it seems rather shortsighted to continue thinking that you can keep these old characters going forever with work-for-hire deals with talent who keep their original ideas to themselves. Legality and morality are fluid. What seemed fine in the ’60s doesn’t work now, just like we no longer own people like chattel, marry our 13-year-old cousins, etc. Marvel likes to be an industry trend-setter and seem progressive. Day-and-date digital comics are fine and all, but wouldn’t this be a more significant way to put their money where their mouth is?
Until such time as they make things right on this issue, Trouble With Comics will no longer be commenting on or reviewing Marvel product that derives wholly or in part from the efforts of Jack Kirby. We urge our fellow writers-about-comics to consider making the same commitment.
Writers - Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Robert Bernstein
Pencilers - Jack Kirby, Al Hartley, Joe Sinnott, Don Heck
Inkers - Joe Sinnott, Dick Ayers, Al Hartley, George Roussos, Paul Reinman, Chic STone, Vince Colletta, Frank Giacoia
Publisher - Marvel Comics. $99.99 USD
It’s appropriate that Thor finally gets the Omnibus treatment, as this book weighs as much as a sledgehammer. The Mjolnir-wielding Norse god made his first appearance in Marvel’s anthology series, Journey Into Mystery #83, starting a long, unbroken run that first had him in just half the book, but within a year or so the main Thor adventure was backed by the beloved Tales of Asgard. All the Thor material from #83-#120 and Annual (“Special”) #1 are here.
Jack Kirby had done a version of Thor in one DC comic before this, but the basic set-up of having Thor sort of sharing the body of lame (in both definitions) Dr. Donald Blake seems like more of a Stan Lee “hero with feet of clay” device, perhaps inspired by the Fawcett Captain Marvel/Billy Batson idea (and which would inspire Marvel’s own Captain Marvel/Rick Jones set-up). Blake finds a cane through improbable means and when he strikes it, he turns into the God of Thunder, aware of what happened while he was Donald Blake and yet not sharing or at least not interested in Blake’s knowledge; ie you wouldn’t ask Thor to perform surgery on you.
There’s the added gimmick that Thor cannot be separated from his hammer for more than 60 seconds (Asgardians measure time the same as us, even if they are immortal), or he turns back into Blake. Lee handled a lot of Marvel books back then, so he only plots many of these stories, letting brother Larry or Robert Bernstein script them, and of course it’s difficult to determine how much Kirby himself added. Even at his angriest, most anti-Marvel/Lee period, Kirby probably wouldn’t want to take a lot of credit for the first year or so of Journey Into Mystery’s stories, as most were pretty poor. Blake’s medical practice was left vague enough that one day he could be performing surgery in a hospital, while another day he could be working at a clinic, or as a kind of proto-Doctor Without Borders in a banana republic. Whatever happened, he would have some reason to become Thor, who so excites his beloved nurse, Jane Foster, but she is always kept at arm’s length due to misunderstanding or a desire to keep her safe from his dangerous double life.
This romantic thread is often irritating, and invariably gets in the way of what should have been a grand, mythological adventure book from the start, though I suppose something can be said for Lee’s ability to make even godlike characters relatable with dating woes, or Thor’s difficult relationship with his dad, Odin. Odin is basically a bigot: he loves his son, but can’t understand why he wastes his affection on Jane Foster, a human woman, and thus beneath him. There is something charming about Thor pining away and moaning in public over his girl trouble. And of course, Loki is a classic villain, the evil stepbrother who might have been better if he had been the favorite son…but probably not.
It takes quite a while for the series to get going. Aside from Loki, who appears constantly, Thor’s rogues gallery is pathetic, with losers like “Sandu the Supernatural” and “The Carbon-Copy Man.” Even decent villains such as The Radioactive Man, The Executioner, The Enchantress, The Cobra and Mr. Hyde aren’t all that interesting in their first appearances. Lee really misses an opportunity to draw parallels between Thor and The Executioner, both saps for love. It has to be said, though, that unlike, say, the Superman books of this period, Lee/Kirby & Co evolved the series beyond its confining status quo. Little by little, the Tales of Asgard become not just abbreviated versions of myths, but original adventures themselves, and also the main series draws more inspiration from the wonders of Asgard, making room for characters like Balder the Brave and Heimdall to play more of a part in Thor’s life.
Marvel continues to grow their film version of the Marvel Universe with this period adventure, which of course tells the tale of scrawny young patriot Steve Rogers, who becomes the burly, superpowered Captain America, WWII hero who is eventually thawed out by the end with the promise of modern era adventures as one of the mighty Avengers.
Director Joe (The Rocketeer) Johnston knows from period adventure, and he also knows how to create believable, likable characters. Although star Chris Evans isn’t the most nuanced or even charismatic of actors, he knows how to deliver his lines effectively, and fortunately Johnston gives him plenty to work with. Rogers isn’t just a hero but a good friend, shy with women, and filled with compassion for the little guy, because he’s just a little guy at heart. That’s what ultimately sells the movie, though the action sequences and old fashioned romance at the heart of it are pretty good, too.
As far as the rest of the cast, Tommy Lee Jones walks through his role, but his walking through is better than most actors, and Haley Atwell is a comely, fierce Peggy Carter, probably a stronger character than she has been portrayed in most of her comics appearances. Steve’s friend and eventual sidekick Bucky isn’t given as much to do as comics fans would probably wish for, nor are Sgt. Fury’s Howling Commandos much more than winking Easter eggs, but still, they’re fine. Hugo Weaving is a terrific Red Skull, and I only wished we caught a glimpse of Arnim Zola in his Kirby-designed, face-in-chest version, but maybe next time. Dominic Cooper as Tony’s dad, Howard Stark, has real presence, and is very enjoyable as essentially a more focused version of his son. I can’t imagine many comics fans objecting to the change in continuity here to closely tie Stark with the origin of Cap, since it’s done so well. Also look out for the nod to Phineas Horton and the Human Torch, but no Namor. A solid effort that even my mom, never a superhero fan, thought was good, old-fashioned fun. As always with the Marvel films, stay through the credits (a terrific title sequence) for a sneak peek at the next film, in this case Joss Whedon’s The Avengers. Do not bother with the 3D version—the film wasn’t shot in 3D and almost no shots take advantage of it.
New Round of ADD eBay Auctions - Cheap Reads for You!
Just added more deeply discounted graphic novels to my eBay auctions, including the Krazy Kat Celebration HC, Joker HC, Ed Brubaker Secret Avengers HC set, Fighting American TPB, Joe Simon’s autobiography in hardcover, and more!
You can view all my auctions on one page by clicking here. Check out my feedback rating, and bid with confidence! Mention Trouble With Comics at checkout and I’ll throw in some great bonus comics absolutely free! And thanks, as always, for supporting our efforts here at Trouble With Comics!