Trouble with Comics
It Takes A Villain #10: Harley wouldn’t last five minutes - Suicide Squad, Vol. 1: Trial by Fire

It Takes A Villain is TWC’s bi-weekly column about comics in which super-villains take the starring role; brought to by your favorite black ops bad-ass, Mick Martin.

What exactly is the point of a work-release team of super-villains?

I’m saying you’ve got the Justice League – often multiple squads of the Justice League- and you’ve got the Teen Titans and the Outsiders and the Birds of Prey and the Justice Society and the Green Lantern Corps; along with gobs of solo heroes jumping rooftops and streaking across the sky. It’s a wonder anyone in either the Marvel or DC universes can do so much as jay-walk without some traumatized jerk in a mask ready to dropkick them for it. So, in a world with this kind of super-hero surplus, why does the United States government then say, “well, we need one more team comprised of super powered murderers, thieves, and rapists; and if they actually survive their missions, we let them out of jail for good?” Or, you know, if not for good then at least until Booster Gold or someone else kicks their ass.

The only obvious answer is that while, sure, the world already has a ton of super teams, the government doesn’t have much control over what they do. The government can’t stop the Justice League from doing something it doesn’t want them to do. And it certainly can’t deploy the Justice League on specific missions. It can ask for help and in times of crisis (actual crisis, not DC crisis), it will almost always get it. If the government needs help fighting off invading aliens or stopping an incoming asteroid or some other Michael Bay horseshit, sure, the Justice League will be there.

But sneaking into Soviet Russia, liberating a political prisoner, and getting her to the States all for the sake of global PR? Yeah, Superman and Batman probably aren’t going to make time for that.


I wasn’t going to review Suicide Squad, Vol. 1: Trial by Fire quite so soon. I ordered it around the same time I started It Takes A Villain, but since I knew my first review would be about the New 52 volume of Suicide Squad, I figured I’d want more of a break between reviewing different volumes of the same title. I thought it might even make more sense to review it sometime late September or early August; close to the release date of David Ayer’s film adaptation.

But once I broke down and read Trial by Fire, I knew I didn’t want to wait to review it.

Suicide Squad is violent. Considering the name of the comic and the premise, that shouldn’t be surprising, but the way the violence is handled is different. That, I guess, shouldn’t be surprising either. The restraints DC Comics had to deal with in 1987 helped make the violence more artful and more interesting. One of the sequences I find the most memorable is in the beginning of the sixth chapter when Deadshot kills a Soviet soldier. Deadshot raises a rifle and says, “No sweat.” We see a panel showing the faces of three Soviet soldiers searching for something, with a BLAM! above them. In the next panel we see roughly the same shot with the flanking soldiers’ heads reacting to the gunshot and a simple red explosion erupting between the eyes of the center soldier and covering most of the top half of his face. The way it’s presented, the explosion could be blood, or it could just be a mark of impact. The page’s final panel has the soldier knocked backward and his comrades reacting to his killing. Most of the panel is colored the same as the previous panels, with the exception of the killed soldier’s head which is completely lost in shadow, with telltale inky spurts exploding from his forehead. 


While I’m sure it’s the gorier, more explosive, and direct style of today that sells, this is so much more elegant and ingeniously subtle. It reveals everything while showing almost nothing. I’d take this over Harley Quinn and King Shark ripping their way through a stadium of cyborg zombies any day.

Compared to more recent shots at the franchise, Ostrander and McDonnell’s Suicide Squad was politically charged and controversial. The team’s first mission in this volume is to take down a Middle Eastern mercenary super-villain group called Jihad. The aforementioned “Mission to Moscow” storyline is the longest in the book – spanning three issues – and follows the team’s incursion into Soviet Russia to attempt to save a dissident Russian writer who, it turns out, doesn’t really want to be saved.


The story so bold I’m surprised to have not heard of it before reading this volume is from Suicide Squad #4. A crossbow-wielding vigilante calling himself William Hell is fighting crime in Central City, but the only criminals he hands over to the cops are the ones who aren’t white. White criminals he recruits into his Aryan Empire. The Squad is sent to infiltrate Hell’s organization and expose him for the racist he is.

More than anything, what impresses me about this volume of Suicide Squad and makes me desperately hope DC keeps reprinting the original series, is that Waller’s Task Force X doesn’t handle things the way they do now.

More recent incarnations of Suicide Squad aren’t much different from straight super-hero teams. Yes, they’re more violent, but super-heroes in general are more violent than they used to be so that doesn’t really mean a whole lot. Books like today’s New Suicide Squad are really just super-hero titles with a little gimmick twist.

Not so with the original Suicide Squad. They were different. They were exactly what they were supposed to be: a super-villain answer to The Dirty Dozen. The Suicide Squad is an elite secret task force that does not accomplish all or most of its missions with big, loud, stupid super-fights. Sure, they have their fisticuffs, but most of the time they’re doing everything they can to operate under the radar. When the team exposes William Hell in Suicide Squad #4, no one has any idea they’re involved. Captain Boomerang is the only team member Hell ever sees in costume. Deadshot, Nightshade, Rick Flag, and Bronze Tiger are all disguised. Chronos – the squad member arguably most instrumental in Hell’s downfall – is never actually physically near the action. And Hell’s defeat has nothing to do with a fight with the Squad. They just trick the stupid, racist sonofabitch. Certain members like Nightshade and Black Orchid operate almost completely from the shadows, never or rarely taking part in any violence. In the “Mission to Moscow” story, squad members like Penguin and Deadshot don’t appear in costume for so much as a single panel in a three-issue long storyline. Because why would they appear in costume? They’re trying to get in and out of the Soviet Union in secret. They don’t want to spread bloody carnage all over the place just for the fun of evil wicked evilness. They want to finish their mission and go home. Compare that to New Suicide Squad which opened in Russia with a huge, explosive, city-rocking battle between the Suicide Squad and Russia’s Rocket Reds.

Ironically, it seems like over the years super-hero titles got more like Suicide Squad while Suicide Squad got more like everybody else. Books like Ultimates and Secret Avengers worked hard to get that military black ops feels that Suicide Squad had. Super hero team books overall have a stronger military feel these days, using military lingo and tactics. In the opening salvos of Avengers Vs. X-Men, the assembled team of Avengers about to invade the beaches of Utopia listened to the military strategy/pep-talk of Red Hulk, even though the lousy derivative bastard had tried to bring down the US government a few months before.

It seems unlikely that Suicide Squad will ever get back to its less fight-y, black ops feel; at least judging by the look of the film and the fact that Harley Quinn has become as much a fixture on the team as Deadshot and Captain Boomerang. I like Harley Quinn. I adore her solo comic. But she wouldn’t have lasted five minutes on the old team. How do you get through a secret mission in Soviet Russia with someone like Harley Quinn? How do you incorporate the Joker face and giant cartoon mallet with a stolen Soviet soldier uniform?

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed the New 52 Suicide Squad. I’m a bit more on the fence with New Suicide Squad. I’ll certainly be checking out the post-Rebirth series and I’m precipitously guessing the film may be the best super-hero flick of the year (or at least close to it). But this original volume is something a bit more different. Something tougher to find in other books, and it’s regrettable that aspect of the franchise is gone. I’m just happy that for now DC looks set to reprint the rest of the original series, and if it’s new to me, it’s new to me.

Suicide Squad, Vol. 1:Trial by Fire is good. Read it.

It Takes A Villain #9: Good but not Great - My Name Is Holocaust

It Takes A Villain is TWC’s bi-weekly column about comics in which super-villains take the starring role; brought to you by your favorite emotionally disturbed crime lord, Mick Martin.

I like titles. Especially when it comes to comics, I will give something a try just because I like the title. I think it’s because, particularly with the still-super-hero-dominated medium, I’m used to very specific kinds of titles. Just a name. Batman. Or an adjective and a name. Amazing Spider-Man. When you get something that’s even just a little off-kilter, I get excited. I Killed Adolf Hitler was my first Jason graphic novel likely because of title. It’s not likely but a goddamn fact that the only reason I bothered to buy the first issue of Vengeance of the Moon Knight was the title. I was actually a little intrigued by all the long titles that sprung up in DC’s line after Infinite Crisis like Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes and Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters

That, I suspect, is one of the reasons why I’ve been chomping at the bit to check out the 5 issue mini-series My Name Is Holocaust ever since I started this column. I knew nothing about it. I had taken a break from comics in the mid-nineties so, other than a few stray issues of Icon and Hardware, I hadn’t read any Milestone comics. I’d never read, or heard of, Blood Syndicate and so didn’t know My Name Is Holocaust was a spin-off of that series. I was browsing through a comics merchant website, saw the title My Name Is Holocaust, correctly assumed a lead with the name Holocaust wasn’t a good guy, and was instantly giddy at the chance to review a super-villain comic with a slightly nonstandard title because that’s the kind of embarrassing shit that makes me giddy.


Leonard Smalls, aka Holocaust, boasts super strength and explosive fire powers; and he wants to be the king of crime in Dakota City. For that to happen, he needs a seat the the Coalition’s table. With help from his super-powered underlings Tarmak and the cyborg Bad Betty, Holocaust takes out Coalition members one-by-one. He plans to either force them into giving him his rightful place at the table, or burning their crooked organization to the ground and owning crime in Dakota all by himself.

 My Name Is Holocaust is good, but not great. But the seeds are there and the main thing that stops it from reaching its full potential is its connection to the Milestone continuity.

Some years ago I reviewed the trade reprint of Mark Waid’s Empire for Comic Book Galaxy. It was the series that got me thinking about super-villain comics because it occurred to me Empire was the first comic I’d read in which a super-villain was the protagonist and yet the writer didn’t pull any tricks to gain reader sympathy. He didn’t gut the villain by turning him into a good guy. He didn’t have the villain forced into heroics like Suicide Squad, Loki: Agent of Asgard or Brian K. Vaughan’s Mystique. Nor did he keep the villain a bad guy, but pit him against someone who was somehow more evil like Mark Millar’s Wanted. Waid kept his protagonist, Golgoth, a sonofabitch from cover-to-cover. And we rooted for him every step of the way.

Published five years earlier, My Name Is Holocaust is not that different from Empire. Like Golgoth, Holocaust is remorseless. We are given glimpses of his humanity as he’s wracked with visions of his abused past, but there’s never any hint that this guy plans on joining the side of the angels. Holocaust charges into everything like a bull and has none of Golgoth’s intellect, but his will is no less indomitable. He won’t stop until he gets everything he wants. Like Golgoth, Holocaust eventually does get everything he wants and just as was the case in Empire, once Holocaust finally achieves his goals, it’s clear he knows it will never be enough for him. And just as Empire ends with one of Golgoth’s lieutenants escaping his grasp and joining the resistance against him, My Name Is Holocaust ends with the cyborg Bad Betty planning on eventually murdering Holocaust for the Shadow Cabinet.

Two of My Name Is Holocaust’s biggest weaknesses lie in its differences with Empire.

First, you don’t like Holocaust and you don’t sympathize with him. He’s abusive, murderous, insecure, and doesn’t seem particularly bright. You don’t ever really want him to win; not when he’s fighting the cops, not even when he’s fighting other criminals. When the captive Juniper holds a shard of broken glass over the unconscious Holocaust but doesn’t kill him with it, you can’t help but hate her a little for it.

Holocaust’s crazy-as-shit determination is his only redeeming quality and the only thing that even comes close to making him sympathetic. When he rallies from almost utter defeat at the has-been hero Tower’s hands in the fourth issue, you have to admire him for it a little.

Second, Empire enjoyed a freedom from any pre-established fictional continuity, whereas My Name Is Holocaust assumes all of its readers are thoroughly versed in Milestone’s narrative tapestry. If you read nothing of Milestone but this mini-series you will learn nothing about Holocaust’s connection with Blood Syndicate. You won’t learn how he got his powers, or how Tarmak or Bad Betty got theirs. You won’t even know the organization that Bad Betty is secretly working for (I only know because of Wikipedia). You will, in fact, be confused in the fourth issue when Holocaust is able to hurt the seemingly invulnerable Tower with his fists because up until that point the only super-power Holocaust  displays is his unpredictable fire power.

A lot of the drama falls short if you aren’t already invested. Holocaust and Juniper – the daughter of the first crime lord Holocaust murders – have a strange, complex relationship. Juniper constantly refers to herself as being just as bad as Holocaust, but if all you know about her is in this mini-series, all she’s ever done is watch her father get murdered and then get kidnapped. If she’s got a lot of “red” in her “ledger,” I sure don’t know about it and don’t even get hints about what it could be.

Perhaps the worst thing is that the series ends with such a weak sigh. I had to keep checking the other side of the last page – only to find reader letters – because I was convinced that last panel couldn’t be the end; that maybe the copy I bought was missing a page. It feels like writer Ivan Velez, Jr. just kind of figured the story would continue in other comics, so why bother giving a satisfying ending?

Still, My Name Is Holocaust wasn’t without promise. Given a few more issues and maybe paying more attention to the Milestone-uninitiated; Velez, penciller Tommy Lee Edwards, and the rest of the creative team could’ve – and likely would’ve – told a much more riveting story. As it is, the mini was impressive enough to spark my interest in other Milestone titles; opening up an entirely new world of super guy continuity for me, my fat ass, and my thinning wallet.

It Takes A Villain #8: On Breathtaker and Why These Villain Comics Are Important

It Takes A Villain is TWC’s bi-weekly column about comics in which super-villains take the starring role; brought to you by the lusty temptress of sinful delight, Mick Martin.

It’s likely I never would’ve heard of Breathtaker if I hadn’t started writing It Takes A Villain. When I first conceived the column, I wanted to make sure I knew about as many villain-led titles as possible. I compiled a list by going through an online comic shop and scanning every single title. Breathtaker’s title probably wouldn’t have grabbed my attention if it wasn’t a DC comic. Since it was DC, right away, I knew it had to be either a villain comic or a Vertigo title. Once I read the description of the series – a woman who kills men with sex is pursued by a super-hero named The Man – I felt lucky to have stumbled upon such an intriguing sounding villain-led title, though I was also a little hesitant. The description said the comic was released in 1990. If the story was really as interesting as it sounded and it came out that long ago, why the hell hadn’t I heard of it? Still, precisely because I knew nothing about the series beside its title put it high on the list of comics I was excited to read for It Takes A Villain. A quick search on Amazon revealed that DC was planning to release a trade collection of the comic in late 2015. Unfortunately, those plans were scrapped. But I was curious enough to do something I hadn’t done in a very long time: I doled out the money for the single back-issues, and I don’t regret a penny lost.

I still can’t answer the question of why I had never heard of it. Maybe because the protagonist was female, maybe because without the Vertigo imprint comics like this fell through the cracks. I don’t know. Regardless, Breathtaker is wonderful and deserves to be talked about and written about more. After reading it, though, I actually questioned whether or not it really belonged in It Takes A Villain. This is a column that’s not just about comics in which villains are the protagonists, but super-villains from the super-hero genre. That’s why you won’t be seeing any reviews of Lucifer or Darth Vader here. But for some very specific reasons, Breathtaker not only fits, but shines a light on something I’m seeing more and more in super-villain comics.

Not to mention, I paid for the damn comics and they’re good, so whatever. I’m writing about them.


Written by Mark Wheatley and beautifully rendered by Marc Hempel and Kathryn Mayer, Breathtaker tells us the story of Chase Darrow: a woman whose love is fatal. The deaths aren’t intentional. Chase doesn’t want to hurt anyone, but her victims’ love is just as much a drug to her as her magnetism is irresistible to them. Her love doesn’t kill instantly, but in increments, and the story opens on the final moments of Chase’s relationship with the rich Paul. Though only in his mid-fifties, Paul looks as wrinkled and spent as a man in his nineties, and all it takes is one kiss from Chase to kill him. Moments after his death, Paul’s grown son Charlie finds Chase. She tells him what happened, and because he is just as spellbound by Chase as everyone else, his only concern is the trauma she’s been through.

Chase goes on the run and soon the violent super-hero The Man is after her. Under fire for thoughtlessly killing innocent civilians while chasing criminals, government agent The Man is desperate for some good PR. Chase’s growing trail of bodies is music to The Man’s ears. He eventually captures Chase, but falls victim to the same yearning as all of Chase’s men. Eventually a group of men related to Chase’s former lovers – men who now all want to be her lovers – find Paul’s son Charlie and hunt for Chase to save her from the authorities.

Everywhere Chase goes, she tries to avoid being the flame that draws in doomed moths, but she can’t help it. Even animals are drawn to her. When Chase helps an elk in the woods whose antlers are caught in a tree’s branches, the elk wants to be with Chase as much as any human man. Chase cannot stop men from wanting her or stop herself from needing them.

When I first read the series description, I was expecting Chase to  be much more deliberate. I kept thinking of the earthbound goddess in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods who literally devours men with her vagina during sex. But while men can’t resist Chase, she’s no temptress. She doesn’t kill men for money, for power, or for kicks. She needs sex to survive. Without it, she quickly ages and, presumably, dies. But she tries to control it. In fact, she doesn’t kill all of her victims. If she only has sex with a man once or a couple of times, they survive, but younger men suddenly find themselves with heads of white hair or even bald. Yet most of those who survive wouldn’t call themselves victims.

This is why I considered not reviewing Breathtaker for this column. Could I really call Chase a super-villain? Sure, she has powers. Sure, she’s got a bonafide super-hero on her tail, but a super-villain? Chase is as much a victim of her situation as any of her men. She’s riddled with guilt and at one point tries to commit suicide because of it. You could even argue Chase is more of a victim than the men. At least she tries to fight her urges and avoid hurting anyone, while the men throw themselves at her without giving a single damn about the consequences. The trucker Lou that Chase meets at the end of the first issue gladly hands over the keys to his truck when he learns the law is after her. Even though he’s got two kids to look after, moments after Chase drives away Lou whips out a revolver and is ready to fire on a pursuing police car; holstering only when sees it’s actually an ambulance.

But I include Breathtaker because, among other reasons, it brings to a head something that seems to be a recurring theme in these super-villain comics I’m reading: addiction.

Chase is addicted to contact with men just as the men become addicted to contact with her. They know she’s killing them and don’t care, just as an addict will knowingly race towards the edge of the cliff. In the very beginning of Breathtaker, Chase sounds like an addict fooling herself about who’s in control. “I can control my need,” she says. “I can pace my need.” And then two pages later her lover is dead.

There is a recurring theme of devouring and overeating in Breathtaker. The Man berates his handler for interrupting him during breakfast. The dedicated but sympathetic Detective Cob who pursues Chase is constantly eating though he’s as thin as a board. At a crime scene, Cob is devouring a burger and asking for seconds. When he meets with the mob of wanna-be-Chase-lovers he inhales a pizza. When Chase stops at the diner where she meets Lou the trucker, there’s a veritable kitchen worth of spent plates, bowls, saucers, and glasses at Chase’s table.

Sounds kind of familiar? Maybe like a guy floating through space and devouring entire planets because, you know, he just has to? To survive?

When I wrote about Superior Spider-Man, I mentioned addiction, and the more I read these villain-led comics and think about the implications of who these characters are and what they do, the more the word “addiction” springs up. It could be projection, I’ll admit that. I have my own addictions. I wrote about that a bit in my Superior Spider-Man column. Addiction is on my mind a lot so it could very well be that I’m just looking at these comics through that lens and naturally see exactly what I want or need or just plain expect to see.

But I don’t think it’s that. Or, if I am projecting, then at most I’m turning up the volume on something that really is there, but maybe doesn’t deserve as much attention as I give it (but it does).

I can’t say I’ve become some kind of expert on super-villain comics. There’s still so much to read and I’m having a ball reading it and writing about it. But if there is any general comment I can make at this point about super-villain comics, it’s that it seems like the central struggle of the super-villain-led comic is the struggle of men and women doing shit that just doesn’t make any goddamn sense.

I’m not saying it’s not believable, mind you. I’m not saying it’s bad writing, no. I’m saying these characters, super-villains, are mostly smart people who make stupid choices, who act against common sense and their own self-interest. You can call it addiction or you can call it obsession. You could just call it insanity. Regardless, it all boils down to men and women who go to unbelievable lengths for stupid and mostly unattainable goals, and for the most part both the efforts toward those goals and even the unlikely realization of those goals will only make their lives suck more.

Just looking at some the titles I’ve written about so far, there’s the Suicide Squad who risk their lives for a woman known for manipulation and lies – who they know from experience will likely never give them the clemency she promises – instead of using their super powers and amazing talents to break the hell out of prison (which every other super-villain seems to be able to do pretty frequently). There’s Astro City’s Steeljack who keeps being drawn back to his criminal roots through plain old habit. There’s the Doctor Octopus of Superior Spider-Man who has finally defeated Spider-Man in every conceivable manner, but actually imprisons himself in Parker’s body and life, and can never be happy with his victory. There’s the Maestro of Future Imperfect who risks all and loses it in attempt to unseat a god. There’s the Penguin protected by wealth and power, almost in the arms of a good woman who impossibly loves him, who throws it all away just to get back at the memory of children who bullied a lonely, ugly child.

No, there’s nothing unbelievable about these people beyond their silly titles and their outfits and their powers. That they rush towards defeat and ruin with eyes wide open is not difficult to believe. We have no Penguins and no Doctor Dooms but we eat ourselves to death, drink ourselves to death, drug ourselves to death, and fuck ourselves to death. We are crushed in stampedes for Black Friday deals. We fly through windshields so we can check Facebook on the highway.

This is why these super-villain comics are so important to me. I love super-heroes, but they don’t happen. They make more sense, but they don’t happen. But what super-villains experience is what we experience in our culture. Futile struggles for worthless treasures. I can’t relate to some caped asshole who spends all his day thinking about what’s the more righter thing to do golly gosh darn it. Sure, I’ve had my moral conflicts, we all have, but if I’m honest then I know that more often than I ask myself whether or not what I’m doing is right, I’m asking myself whether or not what I’m doing makes any damn sense. And the answer usually, of course, is “No, Mick. No it does not.” When my apartment is filthy and my clothes are all dirty and my cats’ litter box looks like a rock garden and my phone’s voice mail seems to only exist for the sake of bill collectors; and because of all this I plan a productive evening tackling my issues; and I stop at a grocery store on the way home from work and buy a bowling ball-sized bag of peanut butter M and Ms and spend the entire night prone on my couch, shoving sugar in my face and binge-watching Parks & Recreation; I’m not worried about whether or not I did the morally right thing. I’m worried about the fact that I know I have a respectable IQ yet everything I do is so goddamn stupid that I should be checking my knuckles for drag marks.

The men of Breathtaker throw themselves at Chase even though for most of them it will only mean their deaths. They fall in love with her in seconds. Detective Cob stands uselessly in the way of The Man to protect Chase, one of his many snacks still clutched in his hands. The Man is shot and almost killed pursuing Chase, but he keeps going, even when one of his legs looks like nothing but chewed up bone.  

I’m going to keep reading these super-villain comics because they have something to teach me. About why you and me act against our own good. About why I have to go to meetings full of strangers to stop myself from doing things that hurt me. About why I do things that make no goddamn sense.

I’m writing this at 2:30 in the morning. For free.  

It Takes A Villain #7: Worse Ways to Live - Future Imperfect: Warzones!


It Takes A Villain is TWC’s bi-weekly column about comics in which super-villains take the starring role, brought to you by the alternate future reality more bad-ass version of Mick Martin.

The army of mini-series rolled out with Marvel’s Secret Wars event had its share of villain titles. The chronicles of Battleworld included M.O.D.O.K. Assassin, Squadron Sinister, and Red Skull. But while It Takes A Villain continues to feed my interest in super-villain comics, my first comic book allegiance was to a certain green-sometimes-gray (never red, not in this house) goliath. Because of that, because of the fact that I write about super-villain comics, and in spite of what was initially a lukewarm interest in the new Secret Wars event, the announcement of Peter David and Greg Land’s Future Imperfect mini-series confirmed that I would be reading at the least one of these alternate-reality-crazy, nostalgia-fueled Secret Wars things.


Now, I have to warn you that this column is filled with spoilers. That’s something I like to avoid normally, but this isn’t an ordinary review. What intrigues me about this new version of Future Imperfect has less to do with how good the series is and more to do with the intentions of the writer. And it’s impossible for me to discuss that without revealing exactly how this series ends. You’ve been warned.

Incredible Hulk: Future Imperfect was released in 1992 as a two-issue prestige format mini-series. During a period in which Banner’s mind occupies the Hulk’s body, the hero goes into the future at the request of a squad of desperate rebels. Shortly after he arrives in Dystopia – presumably the only city left standing in the post-nuclear Earth – the Hulk learns that the super-powered despot he’s been recruited to take down is, in fact, himself.  The radiation that killed so many only served to make the Hulk of the future more powerful, as well as helping to nudge him toward insanity. The Robert Bruce Banner of the future calls himself The Maestro. He sports long white hair and a beard, and a skin of darker green with sick-looking welts rising off its surface.

Incredible Hulk writer Peter David had already won over scores of fans to his redefining of Bruce Banner’s relationship with his alter ego, and his original Future Imperfect series is widely considered one of the best stories in a run that is still a fan standard against which every other Hulk writer is judged. Veteran artist George Perez created visuals in the comic that remain fan favorites; the most memorable being a double-page splash of a trophy room featuring relics from just about every Marvel character you could think of.

Of the many Secret Wars series based on old series and crossovers, Future Imperfect is possibly the only one written by the same guy who wrote the source material. Because of this, there’s something of a metafictional edge to Future Imperfect, particularly to the Hulk fan who remembers David’s groundbreaking run and how it ended.

Like most of the Secret Wars series, Future Imperfect’s opening setting is just another one of God Doom’s kingdoms. This one is Dystopia, of which The Maestro is the Baron. The series opens in the wasteland outside Dystopia, where the mutant Ruby Summers (presumably the daughter of Cyclops and Emma Frost, though I don’t remember if this is ever confirmed) stumbles upon an old, weak man who claims to be a de-powered Odin. Ruby is a member of the anti-Maestro resistance and brings the old man to the rebel hideout. Once there, a psychic scan reveals the truth: the old man is The Maestro, but in Banner’s human form. It’s a brilliant move by David for a couple of reasons. First, when Maestro was introduced, the Hulk did not transform back and forth between his body and Banner’s, so it was always kind of assumed the Maestro was the future version of that specific incarnation of the Hulk. I don’t believe a single appearance of the Maestro exists before this one in which he transforms to human. Second, having Maestro enter the story as a false god is a nice bit of foreshadowing.

Once the cat’s out of the bag, Maestro gets his Hulk on and the rebel leader soon appears: The Thing, but not Ben Grimm. In this Dystopia’s history, it was good ol’ Thunderbolt Ross who got belted by cosmic rays and transformed into the Thing. It’s a huge, bloody battle, and in the end the Maestro is the victor. Maestro takes Ross prisoner, but he has more in mind than torture and death.

Okay, the biggest spoilers are inbound. Again, I consider you warned.

The Maestro, predictably, doesn’t like taking orders from God Doom. He’s found a book claiming that a suit of armor exists called The Destroyer that gives its bearer the power to kill Doom. With the possible outcomes that the Maestro will either succeed and leave Dystopia or fail and be murdered by Doom, Thunderbolt Thing and his rebels agree to join Maestro on his quest to find the armor. They travel to the very Asgard-y Battleworld domain Nornheim. After a tussle in a tavern and fight with Ulik and some of Ulik’s troll buddies, Maestro and his reluctant comrades learn that the aged, wheelchair-bound Rick Jones is the guardian of the Destroyer armor.

Jones happily allows the Maestro to use the armor. Soon after, Doom appears and attacks his subversive Baron. The Destroyer armor is as good as the stolen book promised and the Maestro easily kills Doom and takes over Battleworld.

But, not really.

One moment we see a triumphant Maestro standing amid a crowd of kneeling super-heroes, promising to be a just and beneficent god. The next, we see Ross and his rebels watching Maestro, confused. They see the Maestro standing before the armor, yelling at no one in particular. Rather than giving him the power to kill Doom, the armor simply fed the Maestro the dream he wanted to see and apparently will always see until he dies.

Future Imperfect ends with the deluded Maestro – a false god now as he was in the desert in the beginning of the series – paraphrasing lines from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Ozymandias: “I am the Maestro! King of kings! Look on my works, ye mighty…and despair!”

This is not the first time David has quoted Ozymandias.  He referenced it heavily in Incredible Hulk #467; the powerful issue that ended his 12-year run on the series. The title of the story, “The Lone and Level Sands,” was taken directly from the sonnet.

Reading this new Future Imperfect series with that in mind puts an interesting spin on it.

There are loud echoes not only from the original Future Imperfect, but also David’s original Hulk run and even his one shot Incredible Hulk: The End, in this newer mini.

Some of the references are specific. During his final, delusional battle with Doom, the Maestro taunts Doom by implying the villain’s deadly blasts are serving simply to scratch his back.


Any fan of the fantastic Peter David/Dale Keown era of Incredible Hulk should immediately recognize this gag as a repeat from the Hulk’s battle with the U-Foes in Incredible Hulk #397.


I guess it’s possible to take a less generous view of this and assume David just did something easy rather than coming up with something new. The fact that he uses the same joke in a battle between the Hulk and Avengers of the Secret Wars mini Secret Wars 2099 could support that, but not in light of all the other references found in Future Imperfect to his previous work.

David introducing Maestro as a false Odin, the journey to Nornheim, and all the references to pagan gods are reminiscent of Incredible Hulk: The End. In that one-shot David compared the Hulk and the other, long-dead heroes of Marvel to gods and titans. The Hulk was specifically compared to Prometheus who gave fire to humanity and who was punished by being strapped to a rock and having his insides ravaged by birds every day, only to survive and have the process repeat. To reproduce this in Hulk: The End, David gives us a swarm of irradiated cockroaches who constantly hunt the Hulk and tear him to pieces though he survives because of his healing factor. In that one-shot, David waited toward the end to compare super-heroes to figures of myth, but in Future Imperfect, he does it as early as the first page. As she walks through the desert, Ruby Summers’s narration tells us about the myths of the world that existed before Battleworld: myths she doesn’t believe in. Her attitude is echoed a few issues later in Nornheim’s blind Hoder, who laments the downfall of the gods.

The ending of the first issue is a surprising and clever reference to the original Future Imperfect mini. In the 1992 series, the first issue ended with the Hulk of the present and the Maestro meeting nose-to-nose in the underground rebel base and saying in unison, “Doctor Banner, I presume.” Again, in the 2015 Future Imperfect, the issue ends with the Maestro having found and infiltrated the rebel base, but the issues ends with Maestro not facing another Hulk, but facing Thunderbolt Ross as the Thing.

In light of everything else, this seems like it could almost be a tribute to not David’s own work on Hulk, but to Jeph Loeb’s. Or, if not tribute, then some kind of commentary. The reason why it should have been a surprise to no one that Thunderbolt Ross was the Red Hulk in Loeb’s Hulk was that, through the eyes of Betty Ross, Loeb had portrayed Hulk and Thunderbolt Ross as two sides of the same coin in the first significant work he did on the character: the 2003 retrospective mini-series Hulk: Gray. And here, David puts Ross in the Hulk’s shoes. The absence of a heroic Hulk, like the intelligent Hulk of the 1992 Future Imperfect, is the biggest absence felt in this newer series. We have a Maestro, but no Hulk to counter him. Thunderbolt Thing is the closest we have and he’s a poor substitute. Like the Hulk of the original mini, Thunderbolt Thing’s battle with Maestro ends in his defeat. He is captured, just like Hulk in the original mini. The difference is when the Maestro offers the Hulk an alliance, he tells him to go to Hell, eventually only appearing to give in so he can lull Maestro into a false sense of security. Thunderbolt Thing, on the other hand, isn’t awake five minutes before he bends over and gives in.

The Maestro’s ultimate fate in the 2015 Future Imperfect should remind Hulk fans of one of David’s tie-ins to the 1996 Onslaught event. In Incredible Hulk #445, an egotistical Hulk led a small team of Avengers in hopes of taking down Onslaught, all in defiance of Captain America’s plans. In the scene that unfolded, the Hulk defeats Onslaught, but only after the villain kills everyone else. As the Hulk cheers over his triumph, it’s revealed that the battle never happened. Just like Maestro’s “triumph” over Doom, the battle with Onslaught is an illusion Onslaught psychically created to fool the Hulk. When the rest of Hulk’s team sees him celebrate his victory in spite of what he believes to be their grisly deaths, the last few of Marvel’s heroes who feel any trust toward the Hulk turn their back on him.

The very quest for the Destroyer armor is a reference to David’s original Hulk run. At the end of the original 1992 mini, the Hulk defeats Maestro by sending him back in time to ground zero of the original gamma bomb blast that created the Hulk. The Maestro was so powerful, however, that some piece of him survived the blast. We eventually learned toward the end of David’s original Hulk run that the mysterious call back to the gamma bomb blast Hulk had felt over the years was, in fact, a summons from the Maestro. He was calling the Hulk there to feed off of his gamma energy in hopes of one day resurrecting. In Incredible Hulk #461, the Maestro did return but not in his own body. With the help of some vengeful trolls, the Maestro possessed the Destroyer armor and used it to go after the Hulk.

But the loudest echo back to his original work on Hulk is David’s handling of the ancient, wheelchair-bound Rick Jones.

In David’s Hulk finale, the story is told from the perspective of Rick Jones ten years after the events of the previous issue. David’s departure from the title was not a happy one and was over a passionate disagreement of the future direction of the title. David speaks through Jones of his own situation at many points in the story. Speaking of the disagreement in the title’s direction, Jones says the events of the previous issue were, “the day the Hulk started down the road he never wanted to travel.” Toward the end of the issue, he says, “I could keep on telling stories about the Hulk…keep on going…but there’s other things in life, you know?”

It’s tempting, then, and perhaps fitting to see Jones’s words in the same light at the end of Future Imperfect. Maestro’s quoting of Ozymandias certainly seems like a direct signal that we should do that. And, if we do, it does not exactly put a positive spin on David’s return to this story.

In spite of working for 12 years on Incredible Hulk, subsequent Hulk writers rarely referenced David’s run. It seems likely this is at least in part due to what used to be some fairly public conflicts between David and Marvel’s Powers That Be. It’s always been surprising to me, for example, that of all the wonderful villains David created during his tenure as Hulk writer, few have popped up elsewhere. It’s only been in very recent years that we’ve seen them surface. Mark Millar killed off Speedfreek in the opening pages of Civil War. Daniel Way brought back David’s villain Mercy for his Thunderbolts revival.  The Maestro, in the meantime, has appeared a couple of times, but considering the success of the original Future Imperfect, it’s surprising how rarely it’s happened. Usually, he’s shown up only because David himself was writing him, like his appearance in a time travel issue of Captain Marvel. Perhaps because the conflicts have cooled over the years, Maestro is just now peeking out of the sand. He appeared in an issue of A+X, and Gerry Duggan gave his new Flowers-for-Algernon version of the Hulk nightmarish visions of his transformation into the Maestro. And now, with Secret Wars over (again), and Amadeus Cho replacing Banner as the Hulk in Totally Awesome Hulk, we have a Maestro appearing regularly in the mobile game tie-in Contest of Champions. In the pages of Totally Awesome Hulk, we so far we have been given only snapshots of what happened to Banner, and it seems like a good possibility we will eventually learn that the reason Cho replaced Banner as the Hulk is because Banner has finally become the Maestro. That’s only speculation, but the evidence fits.

You might think that this would give David some satisfaction; that his stories are finally being honored and acknowledged. But the ending of the 2015’s Future Imperfect may make you question that.

Once we learn that Maestro’s battle with Doom has been nothing but an illusion, Maestro transforms back to human form. We learn that the quest for the Destroyer armor has been an elaborate trap that Doom set for the Maestro. The now ancient Rick Jones is there on Doom’s orders. Just as she appeared in the original mini, Jones’s granddaughter Janis Jones is one of the rebels who accompanies Maestro to Nornheim.

When Janis asks Rick to leave with her and the rebels, Rick tells his granddaughter that Doom has tasked Jones to stay and watch over the deluded Maestro. “Me and him. Until the end of time.”

“That sucks,” Janis says.

Jones answers, “Eh. There’s worse ways to live.”

If we consider David speaking through Jones in Incredible Hulk #467, consider Jones’s appointed task, and consider the very fact that this new Future Imperfect series even exists, it casts a pretty dismal light on David’s opinion of the whole thing.

Jones says he has to stay with the Maestro until “the end of time.” Likewise, here’s David, tasked to return to a story he wrote over 20 years ago, with a character he set aside before the current century began. Not just tasked with writing the same character, but the same story. Not a sequel. Write Future Imperfect, David. Write it again.  

It Takes A Villain #6: Forgotten Gold - Penguin: Pain and Prejudice

It Takes A Villain is TWC’s semi-whenever-the-hell-Mick-wakes-up column about comics in which super-villains take the starring role, brought to you by your favorite cartoon animal, Mick Martin

Batman’s rogues’ gallery is a gold mine. The dark knight’s franchise has produced some of the most memorable and enduring bad guys in comicdom. Ask any random comic-book-uninitiated civilian to name as many super-villains as he/she can, and you’re likely to get at least half Bat villains. Joker. Riddler. Catwoman. Penguin. Bane.

There’s a lot of sexy and a lot of cool in Batman’s villains, but neither the sex nor the cool has touched Oswald Cobblepot. There are a few reasons for that. There’s his physical presence. He’s short, fat, and ugly. There’s his age. And there’s the fact that in the group therapy session that is the rogues’ gallery of Batman, Oswald Cobblepot doesn’t have as obvious a place. The villains of Batman - particularly the Joker - owe a large part of their popularity to their insanity. Whether they actually are as free as they want us to think, characters like the Joker evoke ultimate, unbridled freedom in their insanity. But Penguin has never seemed a true part of that fraternity. Sure, he’s eccentric. He’s got the outdated FDR thing going on and there’s the crazy gadgets and the penguin motif, but he’s always seemed like a gangster who was just slightly off-kilter because, after all, it’s a comic book so he needs a little crazy. He’s always seemed much more concerned about the dollar-and-cents than the likes of Joker, Two Face, the Riddler, or even Catwoman (whose motivation for crime is at least sixty percent thrill). Not to mention that while the villains of Marvel and DC are flush with animal themes, those bad guys usually pick a beast that’s scary or tough or at least sneaky. The Rhino. Doctor Octopus. Man-Bull. Hell, Catwoman. The predators. The behemoths. Oswald Cobblepot picked a short, squat bird that doesn’t fly. He seems like he should be in the world of The Tick and Squirrel Girl. He’s ugly, old, uncool, and unscary. He’s not the Joker. He’s a joke.


For those reasons - and because the wonderful mini Penguin: Pain and Prejudice was released around the same time as the dawn of the New 52 and was drowned by it (it’s actually not clear to me if this is a New 52 book or not; there was no “NEW 52” on the cover of the trade or the single issues, yet in some panels Batman’s outfit looks like his New 52 get-up) - there’s a good chance you never heard of Penguin: Pain and Prejudice. And that’s a shame. On the back cover of the trade is a pull quote asking if this is “Penguin's Killing Joke.” Look up the trade on Amazon and half the reviews make the same comparison. Most of them even use “Penguin's Killing Joke” as the review title. It’s kind of an annoying comparison. It’s easy. It’s obvious. But it’s not wrong.

The story opens on Cobblepot’s birth, and the first two pages tell us so much that if that was all novelist Gregg Hurwitz and artist Szymon Kudranski showed us of the villain’s childhood, that would be enough. Oswald’s father is so shocked by his newborn son’s strange face, he drops Oswald the first time he holds him. The toddler survives perhaps only because of the love of his doting mother, who is as blind to his ugliness as the literally blind woman Penguin falls in love with later in the story. His mother’s embrace is the only love Oswald knows and so, on the second page when we see the child forced to lay at the foot of his parents’ bed as they have sex, we see exactly how and where the Penguin was born.

Interlaced with Penguin’s past is his present. He rules over the Iceberg Lounge while dealing vengeance with the sadistic cruelty of a Keyser Soze; punishing not his transgressors, but their families, friends, lovers, etc. Batman gets the villain’s scent when Penguin hires some pros to steal unique, priceless jewelry from the rich and famous of Gotham. In fact, at least part of the first scene depicting one of the robberies – a man in a ski mask trying to tear a necklace from a rich woman’s neck – makes it tough to not think of the birth of Penguin’s greatest enemy. We learn that the bloody robberies are for nothing more important than providing treasured presents to Penguin’s aging – and seemingly vegetative – mother. While lording over his particular corner of Gotham’s crime world, Penguin meets a lovely blind woman named Cassandra who he romances. He refuses, however, to let her touch his face. She falls for him just as hard as he falls for her, and though he tries to protect her from the dark aspects of his life, eventually the authorities’ pursuit becomes impossible to avoid. His humiliation drives him to a self-destructive assault on Batman, Gotham, and the ghosts of tormentors long dead.

Kudranski’s art is gorgeous, and rather than letting the Penguin’s ugliness work against him, he uses it to great effect. The Penguin has never looked more chilling, more dreadful, or scarier. One of the most memorable sequences is in the first issue, when Penguin is tormenting a young man who insulted him earlier in the evening. He isn’t tormenting him physically, but describing to him all the things his small army of thugs and killers have done to his loved ones while he’s been oblivious. In one panel, Penguin is looking at his watch. In the next, he looks from the watch to the man who is crying on the floor. The only difference between the two panels are the lack of a dialogue bubble in the second panel, and the movement of the eyes. It’s simple, perfect, and quietly terrifying.

Sometimes – though not often – John Kalisz’s color choices take away from the art. Usually, they work perfectly. There are distinct differences between scenes in the present and those in Penguin’s tortured past. The scenes of Penguin’s childhood have a kind of faded amber hue. But everywhere, especially the present scenes, is saturated with shadow. Perhaps oversaturated. This is the only way the colors take away from the art, as it can sometimes confuse the action.

Batman is smartly kept even more in shadow than normal. We hardly even see his mask in most scenes, much less his skin. Batman is not only a target of Oswald’s envy, but he is the adult manifestation of the bullies who helped to make Penguin’s childhood a living hell. In the beginning of the second issue, after Batman crashes into Penguin’s Iceberg Lounge and questions him about the attacks, Oswald is literally transplanted to the past as we see Batman as one of Oswald’s bullying brothers and Oswald as a young boy cringing against a tree. After Batman leaves, the scene ends with a memory of a young Oswald cradling the broken body of a bird one of his brothers shot and killed just for fun.

Batman’s portrayal in the story is almost perfect. My only (very minor) complaint is a scene toward the end of the series. Talking with Gordon, Batman says something that seems to partly uphold Penguin’s argument that Gotham pursues him while ignoring the crimes of others. It’s not that I don’t think Batman would be that thoughtful, but that I preferred to see Batman through Penguin’s eyes for the duration of the series. As an unforgiving bully.

I don’t know if I would’ve necessarily doubted someone if they told me a skilled writer could render Penguin sympathetic and tragic while still being deadly honest about the monster he is, but it’s still a wonderful surprise. Hurwitz’s Penguin is ruthless, abominable, horrible, and yet exactly the man none of us could blame him for becoming. His treatment at the hands of his father and brothers is disgusting and absolutely believable. I wouldn’t say it makes you root for him. It doesn’t, and if it did it would make itmuch less of a story. The Penguin’s history is as real as it could be.

Just as Thomas Wayne is such a giant figure in Bruce Wayne’s history, Oswald’s mother is a giant in his. Similar to how Kudranski treats Batman, we never fully see Oswald’s mother. Most prominent are her full, red lips. We see them kissing Oswald’s cheek when he impresses her with a toy gadget that springs out a bouquet of roses like a jack-in-the-box. We see them framing her smile in the reflection of a snow globe he makes for her. While it is never inappropriate, the image of her lips is clearly suggestive. Oswald’s story is as Oedipal as you can get.

Just as Hurwitz’s story humanizes Penguin, Kudranski’s art makes the sillier aspects of the villain genuinely intimidating and scary. When Oswald launches rockets at Gotham filled with violent birds, we don’t think of the comical clockwork Penguin bombs of old. We think of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, and the terror seems all too real.

One interesting little touch that at first annoyed me but which I eventually warmed to were some well-timed Joker cameos. A couple of times, Penguin accidentally walks in on a private room in the Iceberg Lounge that Joker has apparently rented for some “private time.” We see the clown prince in situations as depraved and deadly as we would expect; like wearing women’s underwear while standing over a live goat tied to a spit. At first, it annoyed me because I thought it was just some easy humor. Then, because I thought “Oh of course we have to have Joker in it a little bit, don’t we?” But as I read on I saw a sharper point. As I wrote above, Penguin’s never truly seemed fully a part of the more truly deranged Batman villains. Penguin: Pain and Prejudice proves, I think, that we’ve always been wrong about that. Cobblepot is no more about the dollar-and-cents of the thing than Joker or Riddler or Catwoman. Penguin’s brief stumbles into Joker’s depraved little exercises are more than cheap gags. They’re occasional reminders to Oswald – whether he heeds them or not – just how batshit crazy he really is.

Penguin: Pain and Prejudice is forgotten gold. Find it. Read it.

It Takes A Villain #5: No Sympathy for the Devil - The Hood

It Takes A Villain is TWC’s bi-weekly column about comics in which super-villains take the starring role, brought to you by your henchman-for-hire, Mick Martin

The challenge of making an evil bastard sympathetic is one of the aspects of writing super-villain stories that interested me enough to start It Takes A Villain. There are different devices. You can tease the possibility of your leading villain becoming a hero, or at least more heroic. You can keep your villain unashamedly villainous, but pit him against a bad guy whose evil douchebaggery society holds in even less regard and let your readers naturally choose between the lesser of two evils. You can - and in many cases this choice represents the absolute best of super-villain-led stories - keep your bad guy unfiltered and unwashed, trusting that the readers relate to a fellow human even if that human’s morality repulses them. 

Or, alternatively, you can just give the readers an evil jerk, interrupt the character’s otherwise reprehensible actions with contrived and extreme shows of sympathetic emotion, and trust your readers will go along with it whether or not it makes sense.


Parker Robbins doesn’t seem like an evil jerk right away. The Hood opens with Parker visiting his mother in some kind of rundown mental health facility. Our opinion of this caring son changes quickly, however, after Parker pulls a knife on an orderly. With a pregnant girlfriend at home, a Russian prostitute he visits nightly, and a life experienced between criminal scores and back-alley beatings, Parker doesn’t seem very impressive. You wouldn’t expect to see him headlining his own comic. At most, you might expect to find him dressed as one of Joker’s freak clowns, or some anonymous thug pressing buttons for Wilson Fisk.

One night Parker and his cousin John - thinking they’re on their way to a lucrative score - stumble upon a seemingly necrotic creature in a magic cloak and boots. Parker incapacitates the creature with his gun and, disappointed at the lack of the merchandise his cousin promised, steals the creature’s cloak and boots without any idea of the abilities they bestow; he just doesn’t want to go away empty handed. Parker soon learns the boots allow him to fly and the red cloak can make him invisible for as long as he can hold his breath.
Armed with these more formidable items from what may very well be the basement of Hogwart’s, Parker and John decide to take it to the next level and rob a shipment of priceless gems. Unfortunately, the gems’ owners are ready for trouble and have enlisted Marvel bad guy D-listers Shocker, Jack O'Lantern, and the Constrictor; along with a woman with no apparent powers beside a killer sword and the talent with which to wield it named Madame Rapier. Soon the cops, the mob, super bad guys, and the FBI are all gunning for New York City’s newest bad guy, The Hood.

The best thing about The Hood is Kyle Hotz’s art. I’ve seen his work a few times, mostly from series published after The Hood, and here his tone and storytelling style find the most fitting home. There is an inky quality to his art, not like blotted, but fluid. Like, I could picture the ink dripping onto the page and just naturally forming these dark, tendriled corners of the Marvel Universe.

I usually like Brian K. Vaughan’s writing. I enjoyed what I read of Ex Machina, Y: The Last Man, Runaways, and I just recently jumped on board Saga. But if you were to sweep together all the little problems - nitpicky or otherwise - I’ve ever had with Vaughan’s work, what you’d find assembled in the dustpan would look something very much like The Hood.

There are a lot of problems with The Hood, and every single one of them feeds into the same unfortunate outcome: I don’t give a shit about Parker Robbins.

Part of the problem with The Hood is that it’s auditioning for an ongoing monthly, but going about it the wrong way. Vaughan writes The Hood as if it already is an ongoing monthly and he has all the time in the world to introduce us to his characters. As much as we follow Parker, we know very little about him. He’s a crook and he’s young. He’s apparently unemployed though is able to dish out large sums of money for his cousin’s rehab. His father was a soldier for the Kingpin and his mother doesn’t know a clear green field from a cold steel rail. We get a couple of mentions of interest in the piano. But we really don’t know much more about him than we would some anonymous henchman who showed up for two panels to get dropkicked by Daredevil. And the series ends with little resolved. We get almost no hints about the mastermind moving the Golem and his underlings against The Hood, nor do we have any better idea about the origins of the cloak and boots that changed Parker’s life. It’s good to tease your audience into wanting more, I suppose, but you need to give them something. Give them crumbs, at least; not Polaroids of crumbs. 

Vaughan’s characterization of Parker is inconsistent and sometimes just plain confuses me. Parker and his cousin John often come off as total blockheads: stupid, ignorant, selfish, clueless, and hopeless. But then in the blink of an eye, they’re freaking geniuses. Parker is outsmarting veteran mobsters and super-villains while his cousin is giving him academic lectures about blood diamonds and the history of the western world’s exploitation of Africa. Sure, there are different kinds of “smarts,” but Parker and John are randomly shown to be simultaneous geniuses and dunces in every way that could ever matter, and I was left with the inescapable conclusion that from moment-to-moment their characterizations were dependent on nothing more than what the plot needed to move forward.

One of the ugliest moments in the mini-series is also one of the most confusing. Right before they go on the job that lands Parker his magic cloak and boots, Parker and John are hanging out in a bar that may or may not be a super-villain hangout. A Hydra agent in plainclothes approaches them with an offer of work. Parker and John seem interested at first and follow the agent into the alley behind the bar. Once there, however, Parker and John beat the crap out of him, calling him a terrorist and implying that Hydra is no different than the murderers who brought the World Trade Center down. The scene feels like a hate crime, like a gay bashing or a Muslim bashing. I’m not implying Vaughan was trying to push some bigoted agenda, but regardless the scene is ugly and I still don’t really get why the hell Vaughan included it. Is it supposed to make us more sympathetic with Parker and his cousin because they delivered a beating for ‘Murica? Is it it supposed to differentiate them from the villains we’re used to? Make them more complex? Because all it does is make them seem even more stupid, more petty, and more angry. Especially considering about five seconds before they beat this nameless Hydra agent nearly to death for being a terrorist, they’re eyeing Elektro in civilian clothes and talking about him like he just stepped off a cross.

Not to mention, by the way, that there’s absolutely no consequences to the beating. Without provocation, they beat up an at least moderately important agent of one of the world’s deadliest organizations, piss on him, and rob him, and no one ever comes looking for retribution. 

When Parker does manage to show us some reason to care about him, it comes off as contrived. It doesn’t match the evidence. After escaping a quartet of super-villains, Parker unintentionally shoots a pursuing police officer in the throat. The series ends with the news of the officer’s death and Parker’s response. In spite of freeing his cousin from prison and escaping death and punishment from the law and a gaggle of super criminals, Parker is struck utterly speechless. The final scene has Parker visiting his mother in the hospital again, and we get the idea he is overburdened with sadness, regret, and guilt.

For absolutely no reason that makes sense.

Before all this happens, Parker does the John Woo double-fist pistol thing at a gun shop owner whose establishment he’d just robbed. He doesn’t hit him, but not for lack of trying. He shoots both Jack O'Lantern and the Shocker in the back. When he finds the Golem’s office, he shoots one of his goons in the scrotum and seems absolutely tickled by the whole thing. While trying to rescue his cousin from jail, he shoots a federal agent in the shoulder. He indirectly causes the violent death of one of the super-villains pursuing him. Yet somehow shooting a cop who was pointing a gun at him sends him on his trip through the long, dark night of the soul? I don’t buy it and I don’t buy him. 

An issue I have with Vaughan’s work in general, including The Hood, is the profanity. I don’t mind profanity. It’s fuckin’ great. But sometimes in Vaughan’s work, it seems like just about everyone in his books - no matter what age or what position in society - talk like drunken sailors and it isn’t the “obscenity” of it that bothers me. It’s the laziness. One of the best examples is when the fifth issue opens with a doctor saying, “What the fuck is going on in there?” The fuck that is going on is absolutely unremarkable and totally unworthy of the doctor’s response. “In there” is a hospital room containing a police officer in a coma and a wife who is reading a Jack London novel to her comatose husband. The doctor’s response was due to the fact that she was apparently “talking about slashing throats and shit,’ because most MDs talk like 16 year old boys in earshot of the traumatized families of comatose patients. 

If you’ll forgive a rant, I think Vaughan is part of a group of writers - including Bendis and Robert Kirkman - who grew up on Quentin Tarantino, Kevin Smith, Joss Whedon and Aaron Sorkin; all writers who - though all accomplished and deserving of that accomplishment - tended to each have their own idea of how a person should ideally speak and wrote, to greater and lesser degrees, almost every character they created with precisely that voice. It’s why Bendis’s popularity continues to mystify me (though I will admit that when I like Bendis’s stuff, I love it, but that is rare). It’s why on the rare occasions I read the Walking Dead comic, there are conversation scenes in which the speakers could be of the most varied races, genders, orientations, class backgrounds, educations, whatever; and to me the whole thing will read like one person having a town hall meeting with himself. 

My impression has been that The Hood was generally well received when it was released. I might be wrong. Though it never got its monthly run, the mini had enough of an impact that Bendis revived Parker Robbins as a major antagonist in some of his 653 Avengers titles. Maybe it was relevant in a way then that it just isn’t now. Maybe it was giving readers something that doesn’t matter so much now. Or maybe different people, different strokes, different boat floating techniques, etc. I don’t know. 

Read Saga. Great book.

It Takes A Villain: Putting The Octopus to Bed - Superior Spider-Man

It Takes A Villain is TWC’s (when I’m not a lazy moron) bi-weekly column about comics in which super-villains take the starring role, brought to you by your favorite sea monster, Mick Martin

Superior Spider-Man was refreshing in ways it had no right to be. At this point in the story of Marvel and of big company super-hero comics in general; an idea this mineable, this smart, this new yet classic, and this good seems almost criminally wonderful.

A dying Doctor Octopus does the ol’ brain-switch with Spider-Man. Ock’s mind goes in Spider-Man’s body, while Peter Parker’s mind is saddled with Ock’s dying shell. When Ock’s body dies, Peter Parker’s mind presumably dies along with it, leaving one of Spidey’s greatest enemies in control of the hero’s body without anyone realizing it. Octavius is transferred Parker’s memories and with the transfer comes at least a fraction of Parker’s sense of responsibility. Otto vows to live the rest of his life as Spider-Man, and as a better Spider-Man than Parker ever could be. The story of Otto’s attempt at the life of a hero is chronicled in Superior Spider-Man.

There’s a lot of great stuff in Superior Spider-Man I could talk about.

I could talk about writer Dan Slott’s masterful storytelling; how he knows our expectations, tickles them endlessly, and dashes them against the rocks. He knew, had to know, that as soon as the premise of Superior Spider-Man was announced that – along with the mobs of angry-email-writing fans who have been reading Marvel Comics for decades and somehow still manage to believe it when the writers tell them they’re killing off a headlining character for good – there would be mobs of nay-saying fans predicting the whole thing would last about five minutes before Peter Parker returned. So, Slott fed those expectations. By the end of the very first issue we learn that Peter Parker – or at least some remnant of his memories – has survived and follows Otto like an angry ghost. “I am Peter Parker,” the ghostly Peter tells us. “And I swear I will find a way back!” Ghost Peter follows Otto around the city, sometimes able to subconsciously affect his usurper and make him do good in spite of himself, and eventually is able to gain a fraction of physical control over his body and even make Otto hear his voice. Slott builds the story we’re expecting – the story of Parker regaining control of his life and his body through sheer force of will – and then he tears our expectations down around our ears, laughing. He stages a psychic battle between Otto and Parker in which Peter is not only defeated, but his memories are wiped from him utterly and we watch him die a second time, not heroically, but pathetically, stammering, unable to remember his own name as a psychic mountain crashes on top of him.

He does it again and again when the Superior Spider-Man clashes with the Avengers and later when he runs into Spider-Man 2099. We keep thinking, “Oh, this is it, he’s toast this time,” but Otto keeps the wool firmly pulled over everyone’s eyes. And what’s truly genius isn’t that Slott is keeping his new status-quo intact, but eventually we realize – like it or not – he’s got us rooting for Otto.

I could talk about how even though this is just about as new and refreshing a Spider-Man concept as you could expect, in some ways it returns the character to its roots. Over the years, plenty of characters have learned Spider-Man’s secret identity: lovers, allies, enemies and friends. Civil War made Spider-Man’s identity public, but then there was something with Mephisto where it all got rebooted, I don’t know, I blinked for that. Regardless, with Superior Spider-Man we get a Spider-Man who is once again juggling the dueling responsibilities of his personal life, his professional life, and his crimefighting life with literally no one in his life who knows his secret. Hiding your secret identity? It’s been done to death. But hiding your secret identity’s secret identity? That’s new. Otto may not share Parker’s sense of good or responsibility, but just as Peter was in the beginning, he is utterly alone.

I could talk about the art which, especially considering how quickly artistic teams shift these days, was remarkably consistent. Most of the series is penciled by either Ryan Stegman, Giuseppe Camuncoli, or Humberto Ramos. Stegman’s and Ramos’s styles are similar enough that in some cases when I wasn’t paying attention, I didn’t realize the penciler was different. Camuncoli’s style is the most distinct of the three. Stegman and Ramos share a Superior Spider-Man who is thinner, lankier, more naturally bent into his unnaturally wild and cool mid-swing impossible poses. Camuncoli’s Otto-Spidey is more buff. The overall design of Superior Spider-Man’s outfit is impressive. I didn’t even really notice at first that there was that much of a difference. Rather than going all dark like the classic black symbitoe costume, they keep red prominent while shifting most of the classically blue areas to a black that could, without close inspection, very well be just a darker blue. The way Stegman draws the eyes of Otto’s Spider-mask is one of the most distinct and interesting differences. Otto’s Spidey-eyes aren’t just cloth, but some kind of goggles that display info or allow Otto to see in different spectrums; kind of reminiscent of Batman’s goggles in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. Stegman draws the eyes more prominent on the mask than usual, and very white, and ironically in spite of the fact that this isn’t the “real” Spider-Man, it has the effect of making his eyes seem more like an insect’s than ever.

But rather than a pure pros and cons review, I want to talk about what Superior Spider-Man may very well be about even though I doubt Slott never meant for it to be.

See, from start-to-finish, there was something about Superior Spider-Man that I found simultaneously compelling, frustrating, and impossible to define. There was just something about it; something that I felt like it was telling me, that maybe it wasn’t necessarily meaning to tell me, but was coming through anyway. It was on the tip of my mind. It was only when I remembered the following story – a personal story that I will tell as briefly as I can – that I realized what it is that, more than anything, stands out for me about Superior Spider-Man.

I have an addiction and the object of my addiction was something I was trying to avoid when, on the way home during heavy, traffic-killing snow in the winter of 2013, I stopped at a liquor store and bought a bottle of crème liqeur and a bottle of tequila. To be clear; I have an addiction, but I am not an alcoholic. I have never been a habitual or heavy drinker. I had no conscious purpose to buying the liquor. I just had money and it was on the way home. By the end of that week, I had been drunk at home, alone, every single night. One morning, at the end of the week, finally honest with myself that what I was doing was scaring me, I dumped the remaining liquor in the sink.

When I talked to my therapist – a recovering addict herself – she said it was more than normal; it was expected. When you put one addiction down, you try to replace it with something else. It was like, she said, “putting an octopus to bed.” You tuck one arm under the covers and seven more pop out.

Now I’m not saying Superior Spider-Man is about addiction. I don’t think it is about addiction.

I think it’s about insanity.

The series opens with a scene that quickly becomes a joke. Not funny ha-ha, but just plain ridiculous. Otto Octavius in Peter Parker’s body stands over his own (Otto’s) grave. “I’ve come to say goodbye to my old life,” he tells us in the narration. “From now on my name is Peter Parker.” Otto’s symbolic rebirth is interrupted by an emergency alert that draws him into his first super-battle with the newly formed Sinister Six, and his reaction to the new Six is just the first of many signs that Otto’s promises that he is letting go of his own life are empty. Rather than a heroic battle cry or a Spidey-quip, the Superior Spider-Man swings into action pissed off that the name of his old team has been co-opted: “Well, I guess they’re letting ANYONE call themselves the Sinister Six these days.” He battles the vigilante Cardiac to a standstill – almost causing the death of a little girl in the process – when he learns Cardiac has stolen one of his old Doc Ock inventions. He literally doesn’t know how to not act like a super-villain. On a date with Mary Jane he says about the date, like a Bond villain, “Everything’s proceeding according to plan.” After his first battle with the new Sinister Six, he commandeers their robot, The Living Brain, for his own personal assistant. He creates a horde of “spider-bots” to patrol the city, watch the populace, and alert him of any crimes. When he learns that Peter Parker never earned a doctorate, he shoves all of his priorities aside in order to get that D and R back in front of his (such as it is) name. When he takes on the Kingpin, he doesn’t accost Kingpin’s underlings or sneak into his home to snoop for clues. He attacks Wilson Fisk’s base of operations with an army of mercenaries supported by giant freaking spider robots. Toward the end of the series, when Green Goblin – who has learned Otto’s secret – offers Otto the chance at a partnership, Otto’s refusal has less to do with any moral dilemmas or even any grudges, but at the indignation of being offered the chance to be Green Goblin’s “second.”

Most interesting is the Superior Spider-Man’s takeover of The Raft. The villain Spider-Slayer is scheduled to be executed at the super-prison right before its decommissioning. Jonah Jameson requests Spider-Man’s presence at the execution. Just before he arrives at The Raft, Otto tells us in his narration, “I’m the Superior Spider-Man. And I will be free.” Otto was a prisoner aboard The Raft when he took over Parker’s body. Before the execution and the inevitable escape attempt, Otto tours the prison, remembering the indignities and pains he suffered there. Regardless, after the smoke clears, Otto blackmails Mayor Jameson into letting him keep The Raft as his own headquarters.

So, right after declaring his freedom, Otto not only willing goes to a prison where he was once an inmate, but he willingly makes that prison his home. He actually goes out of his way to blackmail a public official into making it his home.

Earlier in the series, Otto corners the mass murdering villain Massacre; a villain with no powers but also with no apparent capacity for emotion. After Massacre casually lives up to his name dozens of times, Otto incapacitates him and gets ahold of his gun. Massacre suddenly feels afraid, and in doing so is amazed he is capable of such an emotion. The Ghost Parker – not yet defeated at this point – tries to stop Otto from killing Massacre. But seeing Massacre’s fear and the resulting tears of joy, Otto says, “This changes nothing. You are who you are. The killer will always be hiding inside you. There is only one solution here.” And he murders Massacre, shooting him point blank.

When he says what he says to Massacre, it feels distinctly like Otto’s talking about himself. But how could there be “only one solution” when Otto is claiming to have solved the problem of his own life by usurping Parker’s and trying to be a better hero? How could he say this unless he knows that he’s living a lie inside a lie?

The tragedy of Superior Spider-Man is that, from start to finish, Otto Octavius is a prisoner. He’s a prisoner of his lies, a prisoner of the role he’s usurped, and a prisoner of his own identity. Even though he shows us good qualities, even though he genuinely cares for people like Aunt May and Anna Marconi, Otto can’t be the hero and his failure really has nothing to do with morality or weakness of character. Otto is the villain because Otto is the villain. He does not know how to operate differently. He is a prisoner of himself, he knows it, but he keeps going to the inevitable crushing end.

But he’s not the only one.

One of the most truly surprising and clever elements of Superior Spider-Man is just how valid that “superior” can seem at times. Not in terms of Otto’s more brutal style, we all expected that. But particularly in the beginning of Superior Spider-Man, Otto seems not only able to handle the hero/real-life balance better than Peter ever could, but he’s actually able to act as Spider-Man much more sanely than Peter in spite of his obvious insanity. He knows things Peter doesn’t. He knows that the world does not revolve around him and he can’t fix everything. When Otto races across the city to save MJ from the Vulture’s goons, Ghost Parker goes with him. Otto spots a mugger accosting a man in an alley, and while Ghost Parker characteristically invisibly urges Otto to stop the mugger, Otto pushes on saying “A petty crime at best. I must focus on the task at hand!” In spite of Ghost Parker’s constant urgings, Superior Spider-Man will contact the fire department about blazes or the NYPD about crimes rather than necessarily tackling them himself. Even in the middle of the manhunt for Massacre, Otto makes time for a dinner with Anna Marconi while Ghost Parker screams at him, “Go on patrol you idiot! Chase down leads! Do something! Nothing’s more important than this! Nothing!”

Otto, in other words, demands time for the personal life that Peter so quickly tosses aside for the sake of dropkicking another mugger. He knows he can’t save everyone. He knows he doesn’t need to. It is not what we expect from the Hollywood or comic book kind of heroism when heroes save – or at least try to save – every last person, puppy, and twig, but Otto’s approach initally is closer to sanity than anything from Peter’s own web swinging.

When Superior Spider-Man first came out, I saw it as something of a conceptual spawn of Kraven’s Last Hunt: the classic JM DeMatteis/Mike Zeck crossover in which Kraven the Hunter not only shoots Spider-Man and buries him in a grave, but takes his costume and briefly acts as Spider-Man in order to prove that he can be better than his prey. Now, I see it as more of a child of Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s Batman: The Killing Joke.

While I don’t guess it was Dan Slott’s intention, what Doc Ock’s hostile takeover of Peter Parker’s life most successfully exposes – like the Joker’s flashlight punchline at the end of The Killing Joke – is the mutual, endless, and futile insanity of the super-hero and the super-villain. Peter Parker’s life is so insane that even Doctor Octopus can run Parker’s life better than Parker can. Doctor Octopus is so insane that even when he finally defeats Spider-Man in every possible way, it isn’t enough, it’s never enough. Both are not only prisoners in their roles, they embrace their prisons. They demand their prisons.

There’s that quote that’s attributed to so many different people (Mark Twain, Ben Franklin, Albert Einstein) that I may as well say it was Stephen Wright. Or even me. The quote about the definition of insanity being doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. That’s why addiction is insane. Because you keep doing the same thing you know is killing you, that you know will never produce the result you want, from which you eventually don’t even take even the most temporary pleasure. Otto describes something like it as early as the second issue of Superior Spider-Man. When he finally breaks things off with MJ, he says, “Because the two of us—together—it’s insane. I can do the math. You love me as Peter and Spider-Man. But you can’t be with me because I’m Peter and Spider-Man. It’s a recursive loiop. An equation that can never be solved.”

And so go the good guy and the bad guy. Round and round and round. And the octopus gets no sleep tonight.

It Takes A Villain: Like an Old Shoe - Astro City: The Tarnished Angel

It Takes A Villain is TWC’s bi-weekly column about comics in which super-villains take the starring role, brought to you by the future ruler of the Moon, Mick Martin.

In “The Long Treadmill,” the second chapter of Astro City: The Tarnished Angel, the paroled super-villain Carl Donewicz – a.k.a. Steeljack – gives us a glimpse of his morning routine. He wakes up in his tiny apartment in Astro City’s notorious Kiefer Square, runs a shower almost hot enough to feel through his steel hide, has the usual at a diner, pays his bill, gets a coffee to go, and walks out into a light rain. “That’s the thing about doing the same stuff every day,” Carl’s narration tells us. “It’s dependable.” Though fairly innocuous on its own, the scene is a lighter reflection of the first chapter, “The Big Lockdown,” when Carl  is released from jail. Though blessed with a genuine desire to stay on the straight-and-narrow this time around, as soon as his ferry from Biro Island drops him in Astro City, Steeljack ignores the appointment with his parole officer and heads straight for Kiefer Square. “Without meanin’ to, I’m back where the tenements are close together and there ain’t much sky to see.” Telling himself again and again that he shouldn’t be there, Carl sits down for a beer at a bar, where likely he is breaking parole just by being around so many felons. But it’s “like an old shoe.” It’s “dependable.” Later, Carl stumbles across a trio of muggers about to shoot an uptowner who made too many wrong turns, Carl stops the bullet with his steel palm and scares the muggers away. He says he doesn’t know why he bothers to do it, that maybe he just, “wanted someone to be able to go home tonight an’ feel like things coulda been worse.” The uptowner is grateful at first, but when he recognizes Carl as Steeljack, his gratitude turns to fear. He quickly scoops up his wallet, fishes all the cash from it, shoves the cash in Steeljack’s hand, and runs away as fast as he can. Sure, Carl is $400 richer, but the scene shows us the impossibility of his situation. He is so stuck in the role of super-villain that even when he tries to save someone, he mugs the victim without even meaning to. The world won’t let him be the hero. Not even the victim will let him be the hero. Or even an innocent bystander. He’s the villain. That’s what’s required; what’s dependable. Like an old shoe.

In case you’re regretfully unfamiliar, Astro City is the creation of Kurt Busiek. Flavored with nostalgia, awe, and young wonder, Astro City is a comic set in a fictional metropolis with a skyline filled with heroes and villains. Rather than following a set character or group of characters, Astro City’s only dependable constants are its setting and its creative team. The focal characters change from story to story; sometimes following a super-hero, a super-villain, or just a perfectly non-super resident of the fantastic city.

The Tarnished Angel is a hard-boiled detective story transplanted to the super-hero world. The super criminal Steeljack, freshly released from jail and unable to find any legitimate work, accepts a job he hardly feels up to. The bodies of super-villains are piling up in Kiefer Square. Goldenglove, The Chain, Handgun, Tackle, and more; all old colleagues of Steeljack and all low on the super-bad-guy food chain. The cops don’t care and the super-heroes don’t know. With no one else they can trust, the victims’ families hire Steeljack to find the Black Mask Killer. With few options of his own, Carl agrees. With a mind that never thought of detecting, an education that never broke the surface of high school, and the help of the secretive and manipulative old villain-broker Donnelly Ferguson, Carl starts searching for his friends’ killer. He runs afoul of super-villains and super-heroes alike, risking both his parole and his life, and like the hard-boiled sleuths of old, it’s a dogged determination and the ability to stir the pot and anger the right people that gets Carl his answers more than any Holmesian deductive genius.

It isn’t long before Carl learns that all of the victims share a few things in common. All were broke, all were nowhere, all left their families with next to nothing. Yet they kept working jobs, kept doing what they had always done, because it was dependable. Like an old shoe.

If I  ever write up a Top 10 list of the best super-villain-led comics (and I suppose that’s a possibility if not an inevitability), Astro City: The Tarnished Angel will definitely be somewhere on there. Steeljack is a likeable and absolutely believable hero; wanting at every moment to quit, never feeling even remotely able to redeem himself. When the cops, the heroes, and the villains are all gunning for him (another detective trope; the authorities are always an obstacle to our hero, never a help), we would hardly blame Steeljack if he were to quit. Also, Astro City is the title that brought me back to comics after a long break, and this story is impressibly unique in the Astro City mythos in its matching of length and scope. Usually when it comes to these longer storylines, Busiek mixes the personal with the super; jumping back and forth between the personal story of one or a couple of characters – like the aspiring sidekick Brian Kinney in Astro City: Confession or the brothers of Astro City: The Dark Age – and the larger story of whatever malevolent forces are threatening the city. But The Tarnished Angel is almost all Carl’s story (though there is a wonderful and bittersweet chapter – “Voice of the Turtle” –  following an English villain called The Mock Turtle that Busiek ties in to the rest of the story). Sure, we get a little bit of the usual Astro City wideshot at the very end of The Tarnished Angel. When the villain’s plans finally hatch in the beginning of “The Wow Finish,” the first two pages show Astro City bad guys like Glue Gun and the Unholy Alliance locking horns with good guys all across the country. We see the streets of Astro City engulfed in flames – real and illusion – but it’s nothing like the double splash pages of Confession, for example, making the spectacle of the alien invasion as much a focus as Brian Kinney’s own story. Here, the flames and the fighting exist only to create a Hell-on-Earth into which Carl descends in order to confront the Black Mask Killer; a villain who is a clear reflection of Steeljack. In fact, that battle is, itself, unique not only in Astro City but in Busiek’s work as a whole. The battle between the Black Mask Killer and Carl is a nine page long one-on-one battering of metal fists. There is little strategy, little dialogue, few tricks or super innovations of super powers; they just hit each other and hit each other until one of them falls. That isn’t the kind of super-violence we’re used to seeing in Busiek’s work or at all in Astro City. Hell, most fights in Astro City don’t last more than a panel or two or, more accurately, we don’t see more than one or two panels of them. Artist Brent Anderson gives us brief snapshots of different combatants and combats, weaving them into the larger story rather than making them the point. But this nine page flash of silver skin, metal arms, and neon green energy blasts is no snapshot. It’s part of why this is one of my favorite super-fights in comics. It’s got the flash and bash, but at the same time the mindless battering is part of the point. Even though it’s so purely a super-hero genre fight, it’s part of what connects the story to its detective noir heart. Just as the heroes of Raymond Chandler and Dashiel Hammett got their bad guys more through their guts than their brains, it’s Carl’s passion and stubborn determination that save the day, “And in the end,” his narration reads, “it ain’t about smart. It ain’t about clever. It ain’t even about right. Unless somehow bein’ right – is what makes me tough enough.”

At its core The Tarnished Angel is about redemption. Redemption is a recurring theme of Busiek’s. He wrote about it in The Liberty Project for First Comics, in his original iteration of Thunderbolts, and I believe even one of the heroes from the short-lived Power Company was a felon looking to prove himself on the side of the angels. I think it’s telling that someone who is more than a super-hero comic book writer, but an intense fan of the genre, is so interested in the potential of super-villains to change their stripes. The redemption of the super-villain isn’t something that’s handled often, and it’s often handled badly, but the very notion of it is true to the metaphoric promise of the super-hero story; perhaps even more poignant than the stories with which we’re more familiar. It’s one thing for Peter Parker to change after his inaction signed his uncle’s death warrant. It’s another when we see someone become a hero who we already know him as a thief, a murderer, or worse. For a super-villain to become a super-hero not only upholds the super-hero comic ethos, but in another way, it smashes it absolutely. It means the borders between the armies of good guys and bad guys are meaningless, that anyone of them could be either, and that in the end all that really matters is who’s telling the story.

The physical realization of Steeljack is interesting. Aged, tired, and without a drop of confidence left, Steeljack doesn’t come off as someone who will be striking muscular poses or tearing through tanks. You get more of the sense he’s like a walking wrecking ball, but without a chain to swing him. Fittingly, in the penultimate chapter, “The Only Chance,” it’s the leaning of his steel weight – not his strength – that frees him from the high-tech helicopter transporting him back to prison. Again, it adds to the connection with hard-boiled heroes like Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe in that it’s his ability to withstand punishment that saves him more than a talent at dishing it out.

And then there’s that skin; that smooth, steel skin that says so much about Carl. His skin’s reflective surface is used well and often. In the second chapter, when Carl wears a green plaid shirt, there is a constant green sheen on Carl’s face. Fittingly, many of the story’s characters are reflections of Carl; El Hombre seeks the same redemption as Steeljack but from the point of view of a hero, Yolanda – the murdered Goldenglove’s daughter who wants to take up his mantle – is a reflection of Carl’s youth, and even the conniving Ferguson mirrors Steeljack in that he seeks redemption without even knowing it or being able to admit it openly. Ironically, while Ferguson is clearly much smarter than Carl, in terms of who he is or who he wants to be, Ferguson is much more confused than Steeljack. The very fact that Carl’s skin is reflective and takes on the visual properties of the world around him, added to the fact that his home – Kiefer Square – is a home to so many villains, could be a signal that Steeljack is a product of his environment, that he takes on the qualities of whatever surrounds him.

One of the most interesting visual moments comes in the beginning of Chapter 3. Carl and Ferguson slump lazily outside a stoop by a bar. Because so many felons are in the bar and associating with them would be a violation of his parole, Carl pays a kid to run beers from the bar to his stoop. Carl’s hit a dead end with no more leads and no more money, and in the narration he tells us, “the world feels as sour and bitter as the beer I’m drinking.” For the next six pages, and for the only time in the story, the colors dull to an almost metallic hue, as if now the world is reflecting Steeljack rather than the other way around. The same scene carries a quiet but telling moment when a stray cat happily lets Carl’s steel fingers pet him, while recoiling and hissing at Ferguson.

It’s Steeljack’s skin that tells us exactly who he is. In spite of the title (in part it references another character, and it’s also part homage to the 1957 film The Tarnished Angels), the Steeljack that Anderson, colorist Alex Sinclair, inker Will Blyberg and cover artist Alex Ross create has no tarnish and no rust. Though old and drooping, always looking tired – like if Robert Mitchum had been the Silver Surfer, or maybe the X-Men’s Colossus, but without the ridges – Steeljack never looks tarnished. While he may be weary – looking so weary that it is a shock when his eyes come alive in action scenes – nothing about his skin reflects it. Carl always looked up to the super-heroes – who his mother told him were angels of the Lord – and wanted to be one of them. And there’s plenty of angel/demon imagery; particularly in the penultimate chapter. When Steeljack breaks into the Honor Guard’s floating headquarters to enlist their aid, it’s nestled in the clouds like a pie wedge of Heaven. When he escapes them and emerges from from the flames of the Honor Guard’s crashed aircraft, he looks exactly like the fallen angel he sees in himself. There are numerous angelic “falls.” The penultimate chapter opens with Steeljack falling from a police helicopter into the ocean. It ends with him crashing an Honor Guard aircraft into the ground. And in the final chapter Steeljack leaps into Astro City from a propeller pane (more homage to the 1957 The Tarnished Angels), and it’s worth noting that of all these falls, it is only after the final one that Carl lands on his feet.

“So I wasn’t an angel,” Carl  tells us, “I was one of the guys they fought. So what did that make me?” Whenever Steeljack runs into heroes, though we might expect it, he never seems hateful, resentful, spiteful, or angry with them. He doesn’t even seem to dislike them usually. At worst, he envies them for a heritage out of which he feels cheated. Mostly, he looks at them with the same awe and wonder you would expect from a tourist to Astro City. But as much as he sees himself as a demon in contrast, his skin betrays the truth. He is the angel he always wanted to be, and he was never anything else. He is, after all, literally a Man of Steel.

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TWC Question Time Special: Do Comics Matter? By Mick Martin


The question feels too big for me. Unanswerable.  Do comics matter? To what? To who?

I mean, I don’t know. Clearly, they matter to popular culture. It seems like without them, there’d hardly be any moves in the theaters beside rom-coms.  

Even if I were the type to believe that comics were inherently “low” culture and had little or no potential for artistic merit beside shallow distraction, it’s clear they would matter for the inspiration they’ve fed to artists working in mediums I would feel – if I were of that condescending and dismissive mindset – were somehow more worthy and genuine forms of expression.

But that’s all subjective, right? I mean, if someone disagreed with me about comics mattering, no proofwould sway them. Comics matter to me. That’s all I can say with which no one can build an argument. Comics matter to me, and they matter hard.

I’m an addict. I’ve been in recovery for the past couple of years. I’ve had success. I’ve relapsed. I’ve had more success. I’m on an upswing right now. Hulk willing, I’ll stay there. Like a lot of us, I learned a lot about addiction from movies and most of I’ve learned is stupid. Well, maybe that’s not fair. It’s not that it’s stupid, it’s that if you take what they show you as the whole picture – or even most of it – then you’re dumber for it.

What I’m thinking now, what made me write that, is what happens when you relapse. See, usually in TV or in the movies, when the addict relapses some kind of situation develops in which you can hardly blame him. A loved one dies. THe loses a job. Or all his hickens come to roost all at once. His car dies on the way to his favorite parent’s funeral and the extra time he takes to get home is time his spouse thinks he used having sex with someone else so she leaves him and burns their house down on the way out. Then he loses his job because he doesn’t have a car to get there. And his dog dies. And the cops think he’s the one who killed his favorite parent. And maybe the dog. It’s just complete insanity. Every bad thing in the sky falls on them at once and we’re all left to think, “well how the hell could he not use?” And of course, he uses. Because drama.

That hasn’t been my experience and that isn’t the experience I usually hear from other addicts. I mean, sure, if all that horrible crap did come down on you at once, there’s a good chance it would make you want to to use. But nine times out of then, when I know I’m about to do the thing I know I have no business doing, it isn’t some big, dramatic thing that sparks it. My relapse comes with a whisper, not with a battle cry. Relapse comes when I’m just fine and all my bills are paid and my girlfriend’s happy and everyone in my life is healthy and bubbly and there isn’t a dark cloud in the stupid sky. Or there is and no one cares because it’s in the shape of a goddamn unicorn. And then I just relapse. Bam.

There’s no emotional upheaval. No conflagration of extreme circumstances that shove me up against the wall and force me to either use or lose my shit. It’s just that when you do the thing you’re not supposed to do every day for years, then that is what you’re used to doing. When I relapse I am not tempted to relapse. I am not stressed into it. We are addicted to something because that thing is something we used as a tool to fill the unbearable void that is produced by the question of what the hell you are going to do with yourself while your eyes are open and you’re not at work. How will you fill your life? How will you spend your time? You have to spend it doing something. And if you’re not going to spend that time using the object of your addiction, then you have to find something else that replaces it. You have to find it fast, because otherwise you get turned back to factory settings and you go to the thing you know to go to.

I’m telling you, really, it’s not temptation. When I find myself about to use the thing I know I’m not supposed to use, that I absolutely cannot use if I want to be healthy and sane, every inch of me knows there will be nothing in the positive column. I will lose money on it. I will lose hard-won days of sanity. When I go to my meetings I will have to tell everyone what I did. I will have to tell my sponsor.

And worse than anything, it will not even make me feel what I want it to make me feel. It will not even numb me. It will make me feel like shit in every way. And none of that matters. I still relapse because it is what I do. It is what I know to do to fill my aching, agonizing minutes; to turn myself off.  

The worst time is always the drive home from work. It’s not a long drive. It can take anywhere from 5 to 7 minutes depending on the traffic. Not exactly an epic journey. But as soon as I get out of the office and start heading toward the satellite parking lot, I am faced with the inescapable truth that I now have to face the hours when no one is watching me but me. I mean, I could do anything I want. It’s a big world, I have a car, and once I leave that office there’s no shortage of things I could do to replace my addiction, but I don’t know those things. They aren’t in my programming yet. My addiction is already there. Default settings. There’s no waiting time. No lines. No additional training necessary. I’m a fucking black belt in my addiction. I’m the Bruce Lee of my own self-destruction, and we do what we know because we know it.

But I know comics, too.

I’m doing this thing about comics in which super-villains are the protagonists. I have a bi-weekly column here about it called It Takes A Villain. Now, when I get home from work, if there’s nothing else, no meeting, no gathering with friends, no hanging out with my girlfriend, then there’s comics.

And I’m not talking about escapism. Sure, maybe I’m escaping something, but this isn’t distraction. I’m not losing myself in a fantasy world. I’m freaking working, man. I’ve got my Suicide Squad or Astro City or Magneto or Superior Spider-Man or Sabretooth or Deathstroke or whatever graphic novel on one side, and I’ve got the fat five-subject notebook I got on sale at Rite Aid on the other. I’m taking notes. I write, “colors are vibrant until drunk scene,” or “the use of yellow in Golgoth’s costume is interesting,” or “the art is reminiscent of whatever blah blah blah.” Then I get to write the article, I send it to Alan, he posts it, I get feedback from the other TWC writers, a bunch of my friends read it and dig it (hopefully), even people who couldn’t give a hard shit about comics, sometimes complete strangers reply with praise or just commentary and that’s awesome. It’s awesome. I get to fill my time writing about something I know, if not doing it well then at least usually not doing it too godawful, and I get to be made to feel useful and appreciated by friends and colleagues.

I had almost six months clean before the last time I relapsed. I’ve got a little over a week now, and I will not subject you to some hyperbolic BS that comics saved my life. But the fact that my recovery is arguably in synch with my level of involvement with TWC and comics commentary is no mistake and no coincidence.

Like, I think, a lot of us here at TWC I can be best described as having written “on and off” about comics. And I’d say a lot of the “off” side of it comes from times when I told myself that the fact that I loved reading and writing about comics wasn’t enough. That if I was going to spend this much time, effort, and money on something involving my writing, it should be something for which someone will pay me. Otherwise, as clever and informed as I like to think of myself, I’m full of it. This is all, as Archer would say, babytown frolics.

For now, though, I’ve come around to think that if it’s babytown frolics, then that’s just fine. What the hell else am I supposed to do here but go after the thing that seems going after? If looking at Daniel Way’s many super-villain comics ignites my passion more right now than figuring out a way to get Cracked to pay me for a list of things you didn’t know ere in your butt, then Cracked can wait; I’ve got some goddamn Venom comics to read.

This is all extremely self centered, of course. I’m answering the question of whether or not comics matter by saying of course they do, because writing about them makes me happy and helps to keep the wolf from my door. I’m not telling you how comics positively impact popular culture, literature, art, politics, our understanding of gender, how the clouds part, how the clocks tick, how to they’re going to save the rainforest or the Greek economy.

What can I tell you? I am self-centered. I’m, hopefully, not myopic but the first step I take in answering why anything matters is to ask whether or not it matters to me. And if the answer is yes, then why bother going further than that? Comics matter to me. They do. And while I’m self-centered, I’m not arrogant enough to think I’m so singular that I’m the only one. If they matter to me, they must matter to someone else. There are plenty of people who haven’t been writing “on and off” about them, but just plain “on,” with little or no monetary gain to show for it, so why the hell are they playing with the same babytown frolics if comics don’t matter? Not to mention the people creating them in the first place.

Sure, we all work or have worked or will work jobs in which we find little to no enjoyment, which do not matter to us beyond the financial security they may bring us, but answering phones or filling Big Map wrappers are not jobs that require creating something from nothing but inspiration. To do that, it has to matter to you. It has to.

I can’t tell you that comics elevate art or elevate any discussions or change anything for the better. I don’t know. I hope they do. I know comics are one of the things that save me. And if they save me, they’re saving other people. And in how many other ways does something need to matter?

Click here to read all of the TWC Question Time: Do Comics Matter essays.

It Takes A Villain: Pain and Hate – The New 52’s Suicide Squad

So in the second half of Suicide Squad, Vol. 1: Kicked in the Teeth, Harley Quinn – the deliciously demented spurned spouse of the Joker – learns from an offhand and characteristically insensitive remark from the guy in comics most desperately in need of a name change – Captain Boomerang – that the Joker has been murdered (SPOILER: he’s totally fine). Task Force X – better known as the Suicide Squad – is on a mission at the time, but plans simmer in Harley’s twisted mind. Once the mission is done, Harley sparks a riot at the super prison for super people – Belle Reve – where Harley and the rest of the Squad spend their off-time, provided they survive their ops. The riot is nothing but cover for Harley’s escape; an escape with the sole purpose of returning to Gotham where the police are keeping her Puddin’s skinned face as some kind of sick trophy, so she can do whatever things psycho people do with other psycho people’s flayed remains. Naturally, government Machiavelli and all-around bureaucratic bad-ass Amanda Waller immediately sends the remaining members of Suicide Squad to hunt Harley and bring her back in chains or in a box. The Squad tracks her to a warehouse filled with cross-dressed Joker henchmen, and upon finding the warehouse, squad leader Deadshot instructs King Shark – a brutish, vicious, seemingly mindless hammer-headed monster who is the team’s resident strongman throughout the series – to bust into the warehouse. What follows is my favorite single panel in the entire New 52 volume of Suicide Squad. King Shark, as instructed, blasts through the warehouse doors with his fists, screaming what I’d say is the most direct and honest battle cry in comics.


The original Task Force X premiered in 1959 in The Brave and the Bold #25. Back then, the grunts of Suicide Squad were the anti-social and insubordinate soldiers tasked with, judging by the covers, fighting lots of giant monsters. John Ostrander resurrected the Suicide Squad in the 1987 mini-series Legends and the team had its own title shortly afterward, this time with super-villains like Deadshot, Captain Boomerang, and the Enchantress working for the government in exchange for reduced prison sentences. The original volume of Suicide Squad lasted 66 issues and spawned two other series before Supernatural Writer/Producer Adam Glass jumped on board for the New 52’s version of the team.

Glass scripted the lion’s share of the New 52’s Suicide Squad; writing most of the first 19 issues of its 30 issue run. His roster is filled with assassins, psychos, monsters, mercenaries, and ninjas; all indentured servants of government spook Amanda Waller. Residents of the super-prison Belle Reve, members of Suicide Squad are super-villains volunteering their services – and often their lives – in exchange for clemency. Before deployment, all members of the Squad are injected with nano-bombs that Waller can set off should a Squad member try to escape, disobey her, reveal the existence of Suicide Squad to any other authorities, or just plain piss her off. At its best, the series was fun, merciless, bloody, gross; and peppered with intriguing mysteries about the real intentions of Amanda Waller, the true origins of King Shark, and the goals of the secret group Basilisk.

The series was its best as long as Glass was writing it. Glass built a solid team core of Deadshot, Harley Quinn, and King Shark; and that core survives until the end of the series, seeing few issues without all three. Glass’s run also includes the lethal Gotham vigilante Black Spider and the redemption-seeking gangster El Diablo, though unfortunately they disappear after Glass leaves the book. Captain Boomerang leisurely waltzes in and out of the title and the ranks of the team are constantly flushed and refilled with characters like the Unknown Soldier, Cheetah, James Gordon, Jr., and a whole gaggle of villains created for no other reason than to live and die in the pages of Suicide Squad.

The first issue ends with the team deployed (deployed = bound to metal seats and dropped out the back of an airplane) to kill all 60,000 spectators in a megadome, all of whom have been infected with some crazy techno/zombie virus. By the end of the second issue, one Squad member has murdered another on Amanda Waller’s orders and the megadome is a massive slaughterhouse. That sets the tone for the rest of Glass’s run. You never know who is going to turn on who in Suicide Squad or, when they do, if they’re doing it on Waller’s say-so or if it’s just for fun. Though the villains making up the team do so on the promise of clemency and other perks, it’s clear Waller intends to make good on few, if any, of her promises. For example, in-between missions she regularly binds King Shark to the bottom of an empty swimming pool and keeps heat lamps running on him to dehydrate him and keep his memories weak; hoping he’ll never really figure out whether or not he’s already served his time. The missions themselves are contests between extreme, violent, and warring personalities. There’s Harley and King Shark who revel in the violence like none of their teammates, Black Spider who is happy killing villains but clearly wouldn’t mind turning his attention on his colleagues, poor El Diablo who keeps grasping for redemption only to be slapped down by reality, and the ruthless professional Deadshot. Few missions end with any sense of glorious victory. After the murders and dismemberments and gushing rivers of blood, most missions conclude with the Squad at gunpoint, shepherded into the belly of some armored vehicle on their way back to prison.

While the series delivers on the kind of  brutality you expect from a title about leashed super-bad-guys, it isn’t heartless. The drama of El Diablo’s search for redemption is tragic and feels genuine. Deadshot and Harley Quinn develop a relationship though it seems as undefinable as a coupling between those two killers could be. Harley Quinn’s struggles with her identity and her past with Joker – including an eventual bloody reunion with the clown prince of crime – are surprisingly engaging. In fact while I came into the series largely seeing Deadshot and (especially) Harley Quinn as overused, overdone bad-asses, I left the title with a stronger appreciation for both.

Of course, overseeing them all is Amanda Waller, who constantly seems to be tiptoeing a razor’s edge as far as what she can get out of her squad, what her superiors should or shouldn’t know, and the plain physical threat of constantly being surrounded by psychotics with the powers of gods.

It’s a good series. It isn’t great. It doesn’t rewrite the rules, but it keeps you guessing and wanting more. Ironically, while I can’t decide whether to put this in the plus or negative column, Suicide Squad thrives on precisely what makes creating a successful villain-led title for DC or Marvel so challenging.

If someone taps you tomorrow to write, I don’t know, a Doctor Doom ongoing monthly for Marvel, how do you do it? How do you get your readers to sympathize with Doom? Do you neuter him; turn him into a good guy? Do you have a government agency or maybe a super-hero blackmail him into doing good instead of bad, and if so how long can you keep something like that going? Do you just put him up against villains who are somehow more evil? Or do you just keep him an evil bastard doing evil things? And if you keep him an evil bastard doing evil things, where’s the payoff? You can’t have him murder the Fantastic Four or conquer the globe. It would affect the entire Marvel line.

I don’t know how you do it, and taking a look at the numbers doesn’t make me think many other people know either. It’s why the Joker’s monthly series in the ‘70s never reached its tenth issue. It’s why neither Marvel’s Super-Villain Team-Up nor DC’s Secret Society of Super-Villains cracked their respective twentieth. It’s why, as far as I know, not a single DC or Marvel villain comic has seen the other side of its hundredth issue in one volume unless you count Thunderbolts (and considering Marvel’s constant reboots and renumbering – not to mention how many times Thunderbolts was reinvented as something utterly different – saying the runs of Kurt Busiek, Fabian Nicieza, Warren Ellis, and Jeff Parker were all in the same volume is at least eighty percent bonkers).

Adam Glass found a way for Suicide Squad to thrive on the fact that it was a part of a shared narrative. Or, if not thrive, then at the very least his Suicide Squad wouldn’t be possible without it.

See, in Suicide Squad, no one tries to escape. At least, not for good. Harley Quinn escapes briefly but only to have her sick romance with her dead (not really) lover’s skinned face. No one tries to use the same revolving escape door every Bat-villain finds in Arkham Asylum. No matter how many times Amanda Waller proves she could not give one solid crap about the promises she’s made, no one tries to turn on her for the sake of revenge or escape. In other words, the villains of Suicide Squad just accept their situation. Belle Reve, Amanda Waller, Task Force X and the likely death that all of those things will bring; to people like Deadshot and Captain Boomerang it seems like nothing more than the price of doing business. Like super-villain summer school. Like detention.

I’m not decided about whether or not I like that about Suicide Squad. On one hand, it seems implausible. It seems like the series is really nothing more than seeing what Harley Quinn and Deadshot are up to when they’re not busy getting beaten up by Batman. Kind of a super-villain behind-the-scenes. On the other, doesn’t the fact that they’re risking their lives for clemency that is likely a fantasy render them a little bit more human? Isn’t a repetitive, futile march toward death part of the human condition? Doesn’t that even give the series potential to make an honest-to-Hulk statement about something? Maybe that could be what the “Suicide” in Suicide Squad really refers to; not the near-impossibility of their mission objectives or their chances of not coming back, but the absolutely futility of it all since even if they do come back, they only have another mission waiting for them.

I do, you know, think that’s a little bit deeper than Glass and co. intended. Still, I also think it brings the characters closer to us, and more relatable, whether we consciously recognize it or not. Reach for your cheeseburger or your beer or your cigarette and tell me you can’t relate to someone who repeatedly refuses to break out of a cycle that he knows will only lead to his destruction.

One thing this summer school aspect of Suicide Squad contributes to that I definitely don’t like is a great deal of confusion about the history of the team. This series was a part of the New 52, which was supposed to be a reboot. Sort of. Mostly. I guess. Yet there is constant confusion about whether this Suicide Squad is a new team or if it’s been going on for years. The mission in the megadome is supposed to be their very first mission, yet as early as the following issue, characters are saying things that imply they’ve been doing this a while. Harley says to Deadshot, “Y’know, you’ve been acting weird since that last mission,’ as if there had been a few. In the eighth issue, one character actually refers to the megadome mission as their first, and on the same page Deadshot makes a comment implying he’s an old Suicide Squad veteran. I got the impression that Glass may have simply been occasionally forgetting that this was a book in a rebooted continuity and no one called him on it.

There’s a constant series of major deaths and resurrections during Glass’s run that get annoying. His run on the book is collected in Suicide Squad’s first three trades, and the third trade is aptly subtitled Death is for Suckers. Glass wants to cultivate the idea that no one is safe in Suicide Squad but, yeah, clearly plenty of people are safe. When a villain or hero shows up who’s never been in any other comic, or maybe in just one, yeah you know their number’s up. Probably a good time to borrow money from them. But everyone else is going to be just fine. A major character dies at the end of the first volume only to come back in the beginning of the second. A different major character dies at the end of the second volume only to come back in the beginning of the third, die again at the end of the third, and come back in the beginning of the fourth. Oh, and the villain the character who dies at the end of the second takes with him? He comes back too. In fact, the Squad member murdered by his own teammate in the second issue returns in Death is for Suckers, but as little more than a mindless zombie. We’re all used to death and resurrection in comics, but Glass really pushes it to its limits, then pushes 50 miles past the line.

Still, there was a lot to like about Glass’s run and, unfortunately a lot of that gets forgotten when Ales Kot takes over in Volume 4, Discipline and Punish. The morally struggling El Diablo, the crippled villain Iceberg, the clandestine organization Basilisk and all of its unrevealed machinations just get dropped. He puts the Squad in some kind of weird adventure in Las Vegas that has something to do with billboards and a giant zombie made of corpses and a Project Mayhem clone that really makes no coherent sense. King Shark turns into a wise guy and Deadshot sounds more like a hero from a Joss Whedon TV project than the cold assassin we’re used to. The one interesting thing Kot adds to the mix is serial killer James Gordon, Jr. who acts as a kind of consultant to Waller, though he doesn’t really seem to do much. He just, kind of, sits with Waller and acts creepy.

The fifth volume, Walled In, is a lot more engaging. And though El Diablo, Iceberg, and Basilisk are still MIA, writer Matt Kindt does his best to finish the mysterious subplot regarding King Shark’s origins. Unfortunately, the feel of the book is completely derailed by the events of DC’s company-wide event “Forever Evil.” Though freed from prison; Deadshot, Harley, and Captain Boomerang return to Belle Reve in order to help Waller fight off the Crime Syndicate’s forces. The final issue brings Aquaman villain Black Manta into the fold and sets the stage for Sean Ryan’s New Suicide Squad.

Throughout the series, there is a real lack of consistency in the art. There are so many fill-ins, I’m not even sure if the series ever had a regular penciler. As early as the second issue, the penciler changes mid-story and the styles are so different that it can’t help but take you out of the story a little bit. Still, none of the art is particularly bad, so I could call that a minor complaint. Maybe.

The New 52’s Suicide Squad wasn’t perfect, but despite its faults it’s pretty damn good. It keeps its villains villainous and waters down nothing, nor does it turn into sadistic, childish, Wanted-flavored kill-porn. It’s made me a fan of the franchise, and it’s certainly one of the best New 52 titles I’ve read so far. I’ve read a little of New Suicide Squad and liked it, and I’m excited to dip into Ostrander’s first series from the eighties.