Trouble with Comics
TWC Question Time #25 Romance!

This week’s question: What’s your favorite romance in comics?

Logan Polk: Thanos is one of my favorite characters. I think he’s endlessly compelling when handled right, and a big part of that is his love life. So, my favorite romance in all of comics has to be Thanos and Death. Okay, it’s more of an obsessive and unrequited love than an actual romance, but it’s a story that I’ve followed for most of my comics reading life, and one I still find completely fascinating. To want the approval and affection of someone so much that you would seek godhood and attempt to wipe entire portions of the galaxy out of existence? That’s an epic love story. What can I say, I’ve always been a fan of the bad guys just as much (or more) than the good guys.

Tim Durkee: Even though it is not as popular as his first fling with the human Lois Lane, I enjoy the chemistry between Superman and Wonder Woman. I was first introduced to their relationship with the Kingdom Come miniseries, an Elseworlds tale. That is a story that does not take place in the current time frame of stories in the DC Universe. I’m not sure if he was seeing the Amazon on the side and decided to go full-time after Lois Lane’s death, sorry for the spoiler. They both are also an item in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight universe. More spoilers: Superman and WW have a child together and another on the way. The impression is that there was still a relationship between Clark and Lois before Lois’s death. I can understand Lois being all gaga over the Man of Steel, I just can’t see him seeing any interest in her, so having him with the most powerful woman in the DCU makes more sense to me. Now, the new 52 universe has them together, so I’m told. I have read some reviews about them together. Some love hate, more hate it. I am curious what direction the DCU films will take with the introduction of Wonder Woman.

Mike Sterling: I never really paid much attention to romance in comics when I was younger. Generally, that was for good reason; in most of the superhero comics, it wasn’t so much “romance” as “plot point” or “character description.” You know, “Lois is Superman’s girlfriend” or “Iris is Flash’s wife” or whatever. Love interests existed to be threatened by villains, or to be nosy about secret identities, or to be pined over, or whathaveyou. It was a technical point, not an emotional connection.

So, as will come as no surprise to most of you who are familiar with my online shenanigans, it was the romance that popped up in, of all places, Swamp Thing that caught me off guard.

Yes, Swamp Thing, the comic about a monster who fights other monsters while hangin’ out with pals who are related to monsters or are monsters themselves. That’s where a comic book romance finally hit home with me, and yeah yeah make your jokes, but it was one of the most totally out-of-nowhere-but-yeah-of-COURSE moments I’d ever read in a comic at that point. I’m talking about Saga of Swamp Thing #34 (March 1985) by Alan Moore, Steve Bissette and John Totleben, where Abby tells Swamp Thing of her feelings for him, exclaiming “how could you love me?” Swampy’s response: “Deeply…silently…and…for too many…years.”

That pair of awkward admissions between a couple of characters I’ve been reading about for so long…that was the sort of honest emotion that’s not present in the eternal running-in-place of Superman and Lois, or most other superhero books. Particularly for someone like me, who’d been invested in these characters and was suddenly blindsided by this step forward, a change in the status quo in a storytelling industry that doesn’t like changes in the status quo.

Naturally, the relationship was fuel for melodrama, as this is comics, after all. Abby getting up to some plant-lovin’ becoming fodder for tabloid journalists, losing her job as a result, etc. etc. – all part and parcel of the soap opera style of funnybook storytelling, but through everything, Swamp Thing and Abby felt like an actual, and oddly normal (or as normal as they could manage) couple.
It didn’t last, sadly. Now, a couple of Swamp Thing series and a line-wide reboot of the shared DC universe later, Swamp Thing and Abby's life together is no longer at the center of Swampy’s adventures. It's nice, though, to recall a time when I could be genuinely surprised at a turn of events in a comic book. And not the usual "THIS ISSUE - SOMEBODY DIES!“ type of nonsense that’s no longer really working anyway - but just a couple of characters that you’ve read about for several years, quietly and shyly admitting their feelings to each other.


Joe Gualtieri: Growing up, I was the weirdo in your group of comic-loving friends, the one with really weird taste. You see, I vastly preferred Cyclops (Scott Summers) to Wolverine.

As the kid in your class who literally would remind the teacher to give the class homework, I suspect this is part of why Scott Summers appealed to me, along with the hyper-competence. I suspect it’s also worth noting that my first X-title was X-Factor #65, and I started regularly reading with X-Men #1, so more than five years after the ugliness with Madelyne Pryor occurred, and a couple years after Pryor was firmly established as a clone of Jean Grey created by Sinister, so that controversy was essentially a settled matter when I began reading. So I was Cyclops fan, and I was really into his relationship with Jean Grey. When John Byrne and Fabian Nicieza teased an affair with Psylocke, I didn’t take it seriously as storyline (nor, rereading those issues, should I have. There’s nothing there, really). Years later though, when Stephen T. Seagle hinted at real cracks in their relationship, I was apoplectic, and wanted him off the comic, which happened not long after, and after a few terrible issue by Alan Davis, I dropped the X-Men comics for the first time in about eight years. I soon started buying them again, as Davis finally did “The Twelve”, a story the X-books had teased since the late 80s. That arc ended with Cyclops apparently dying after being possessed by the soul of Apocalypse (this is all actually relevant). That was basically it for Davis, as Chris Claremont returned to the X-title for a disastrous run both creatively and n terms of sales. Marvel’s Editor in Chief Bob Harras was basically fired over it, he was replaced by Joe Quesada, who brought in Grant Morrison to revitalize the X-franchise. Oh, and Scott Summers returned from the dead prior to Morrison’s run starting in New X-Men #114.

Morrison’s run infamously begins with the line, “Wolverine. You can probably stop doing that now” foreshadowing how the series would focus on the idea of change and nowhere would Morrison affect more change than in the character of Cyclops. Following his resurrection, Summers’s marriage to Jean Grey is in tatters, the two not having touched each other for five months. Cue Emma Frost joining the team. She almost immediately hits on  Summers, and Morrison leaves the result of her come-on ambiguous at first. Gradually, it’s revealed that the pair involved, but only psychically, as a sort of sexual therapy for Cyclops. Jean Grey-Summers learns about it at the end of “Riot at Xaviers”, and the fallout carries into the first part of “Murder at the Mansion”. To Jean, the affair is just as real even if it’s happening on the psychic plane, and it soon turns out that despite her detached demeanor, Frost has real feelings for Summers. The reveal comes on one of my all-time favorite pages (drawn by Phil Jimenez) as she break down in Wolverine’s arms, the panel layout narrows until she has to ask, “Why did I have to fall in love with Scott Bloody Summers?”

The relationship hits the back-burner for the series from there until the final arc, “Here Comes Tomorrow” (the title an allusion to James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake), a new take on “Days of Future Past” where the key moment is Summers walking away from Frost at Grey’s grave (she died at the end of the previous arc). Jean Grey, in a superhero afterlife, heals reality, urging “Live. Scott.” Which prompts him to embrace Frost, after answering her question, “Don’t you want to inherit the Earth” with “I… yes.” The “yes” and scenario reads as a gender-flipped allusion to Molly Blooms long soliloquy that closes Joyce’s Ulysses:

[…]how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will yes.

As the Blooms do not have a perfect relationship, but love each other, the allusion suggests that rather than the story-book, “perfect” romance of Scott Summers and Jean Grey, Summers and Emma Frost will have a more realistic and messier relationship. Subsequent comics certainly bore this out and while the relationship seems to have run its course (plus Cyclops is dead again), the beginnings of their relationship make it my favorite in comics.

DC Week Three – Birds, Bats and (thankfully) Some Wonder

To be honest, DC almost beat me to the ground with their insulting Catwoman / Red Hood and the Outlaws combo punch to my four-color inner faith, but the rest of the books for this week couldn’t be that bad, could they?  Could they?!?

Well, thankfully, the answer is no.  So in UPC order…

Supergirl #1 manages to be a pretty good start to the series but having said that it feels wafer thin.  Supergirl crashes to Earth, fights a bunch of guys who are wearing armor and her cousin arrives on the scene.  The End.

But as thin as the story was, it does manage to capture the confusion and fright that this young alien feels as she arrives on a strange planet and finds herself with all these amazing powers.  Hopefully her origin has been well thought out, because in recent years Supergirl has had more reboots than the Legion of Super-Heroes.  Hopefully this one will stick.

Ahh Wonder Woman.  Ahhhh Cliff Chiang.

Writer Brian Azzarello does a great job of introducing Wonder Woman because he assumes, rightfully, that we know who she is.  She’s tall, she’s an Amazon and she’s got some connections to the Greek Gods.  Anything else (and anything that’s been changed, enhanced or modified) about the character doesn’t need to be established this issue because, as I said, she’s Wonder Woman.

Wonder Woman #1 is a strange book because not only does it read better the second time, it almost demands a second reading.  Azzarello expects the reader to keep up with the story and if you don’t know who the weird guy is on page one, well you can re-read the issue and it will all come together.  And after comic after comic that spoon-feeds everything about the characters, his style is refreshing.

As for artist Cliff Chiang – his stuff is simply gorgeous.  Some people aren’t huge fans of his art and I don’t know what they’re not seeing.  The Wonder Woman he draws conveys compassion, power and strength.  He even manages to make a nude Princess Diana appear majestic and powerful rather than the bimbo-ized and lobotomized cheesecake we had to endure with Catwoman and Starfire.  Diana is nude in bed because she’s an Amazon; Catwoman has her breasts exploding from beneath her costume because the creators didn’t know what else to do with the character.

Wonder Woman and Batwoman don’t make up for the awfulness of Catwoman and Red Hood, but at least they have characters that are strong and intelligent rather than the awful wish-fulfillment fantasies of the latter two books.  If Wonder Woman could now lose the ridiculous (and probably Jim Lee mandated) necklace/choker/WW thing around her neck – that would be a good thing. 

DC Universe Presents #1 is the awkwardly named anthology series that will have mini-series after mini-series featuring a character not quite strong enough for their own on-going book.  This issue presents Deadman and while there is some really good stuff going on, it fails in one aspect.

Boston Brand is back as Deadman and the issue explains what a wretched human being he was while he was alive and how he is given a chance to redeem himself.  The part of the book that deals with him meeting with ‘god’ is powerful and moving as he is shown how his soul teeters on the edge, but there is an opportunity for him to redeem himself.

The problem is this: it’s never made clear what Deadman is doing now that he’s back and temporarily taking possession of the living’s bodies.  The old series had Deadman trying to find his killer and then he would pop around the DC Universe as a guide or to help some hero out.  Most recently he had a starring role in Brightest Day that had him alive and then dead again.

But now that he’s back to being just plain old hopping-from-body-to-body Deadman, we have no idea what purpose he has.  This issue is just intriguing enough that I’m curious to see where it goes, but hopefully the next issue will show us where the character is heading.  The concept of Deadman has always been great, but they need to show why the character matters, otherwise he’ll always remain a secondary, background hero.

Batman #1 is what a good Batman comic should be: a fight scene or two, some interaction with Alfred and the other cast members, a sense that Bruce Wayne is on the cutting edge of technology and that Batman is always twenty steps ahead of everyone else. 

Scott Snyder proved that he could handle the character (even when it was only Dick Grayson) in Detective Comics and his transition (and graduation?) to Bruce Wayne is flawless.

The artwork by Greg Capullo is a bit of a mixed bag: utterly gorgeous at times (his depiction of the villains in Arkham and, later, a double-page spread of the Batcave are stunning with one being monstrous and the other feeling huge and isolated), but confusing at other times (the heights of Dick, Tim and Damian seem wildly out of proportion, and a mayoral candidate could be Bruce Wayne’s double if it wasn’t for a slightly different hairstyle and a difference in the ties they’re wearing).

But it’s a very promising start to the series.  And, yes, this Batman once again has the police co-operating with him, which again makes me wonder what went wrong with Detective Comics.  But since I’m quite happy to forget that comic, it makes the quality of Batman #1 even more enjoyable.

Birds of Prey #1 is, like a lot of the new DC books, filled to the brim with our heroes exposition-ing their way through the entire issue.  The book serves as a nice introduction to Black Canary (who is obviously not married to Green Arrow anymore because he would look like a child next to her—but having said that, I shouldn’t give DC any ideas for their next spin of the wheel for the unlucky winner of “Who’s the next heroine we can turn into a busty, bra-breaking bimbo”?)

Unfortunately because the issue focuses so much on establishing a backstory for Black Canary, the other characters are left out in the cold and, for instance, there is no attempt to explain who this Starling character is.  I’m sure if I read the previous books or if I searched around the internet I could find out, but the point of these books is to introduce and then pull new readers into the stories.  There’s no mystery about Starling, she’s just never explained. 

Put it this way: I’ll happily hop on-line to enrich my reading of a Grant Morrison book because that’s part of the reading experience with his works.  But I don’t feel inclined to do so with Birds of Prey because I don’t think it will add anything to the story, it will just clarify something that the writer didn’t bother to explain.

And the final book of the UPC-guided week is Green Lantern Corps #1.  And you can tell this book belongs in the Geoff Johns corner of the universe because a couple of Green Lanterns are slaughtered in the first three pages of the book: one character has her head cut off one character while the other is sliced in half.

There was once a time when the death of two members of the Corps, even two obscure Lanterns on the edge of nowhere, would be a cause for alarm and a signal would be sent across the galaxy for everyone to hunt down the killer. 

But in this book the murders occur early in the story, and then the rest of the issue has Guy Gardner and John Stewart moaning about how tough it is for them to lead normal lives (a theme that was echoed by Hal Jordan in Green Lantern #1).  It then isn’t until the last four pages of the book that anyone seems to care that someone is wiping out members of the Green Lantern Corps and the characters finally spring into action to find out what’s happened.  All of this paced for the climatic, final page where the body count just mounts and mounts and mounts.

Under Geoff Johns’ guidance, the various Green Lantern books have become more and more morbid, as if there isn’t any drama in the story unless someone gets a hand sliced off or a Red Lantern is vomiting on someone or an entire planet is wiped out solely for the purpose of leaving the Green Lanterns a message.  The books are teetering on the edge of becoming parodies of themselves as each death, slaughter or maiming has to top the one before it.  And considering the fact that one of the books is populated with characters that puke red energy onto their victims, the slide towards utter and inescapable farce doesn’t seem that far away.

Since the various Green Lantern books are a cornerstone of the new DC (with four books being published), I’m not sure if self-parody is what they’re hoping to achieve, but I believe that they’re just a vomiting budgie away from being there.

–Kevin Pasquino

The New DC 52 Week Three, Part Two - Turn Me On, Deadman

So now that we′ve covered the Batman related books of the week, what about all the rest? As usual, there are some old standbys and a few solo books for characters who have never been able to support them for long. First, though, we′ve got a book starring one of the heavy hitters of the DC Universe.

Wonder Woman #1 by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang is, as expected, a train wreck. The posturing, macho Azzarello would seem an odd choice to write Diana, and indeed, shows very little aptitude for her here, relegating her to a detached role, the focus more on the human Zola, a pretty, short-haired blonde who finds herself menaced by centaurs and other creatures from Greek mythology because she is apparently carrying the child of Zeus. She is saved by Hermes, who is later wounded terribly. One of the villains has charcoal skin and would seem to be an angry son of Zeus, but as much as I loved the Robert Graves book as a kid, his identity didn’t jump out at me. 

I find mythological elements can be nice in contemporary stories but it′s easy to overdo them, and Azzarello goes full court press here, jamming the pages with magic and symbolism so that there is barely time to meet a sleeping Diana and get her dressed in a silvery, non-patriotic variation on her classic attire. How soon do I miss the ′90s leather jacket of last year′s muddled, aborted Straczynski reboot. 

Cliff Chiang does a terrific job, but with one more bad career choice like this it is getting harder to drum up sympathy for why he isn’t a superstar. As for Azz, I will say that by the end, he has stood by the courage of his trumped-up portentous bullshit enough that it almost gets over, but one comes away from this book scratching one′s head and wondering why it was more important to him to explore the mystery of how Zeus fucked this human girl and she didn’t know it, than to try to make the star of the book interesting.

Captain Atom #1 by J.T. Krul and Freddie Williams III makes me think I misjudged Krul unfairly by the secondhand reviews of his previous Green Arrow and Arsenal miniseries. Well…that Arsenal thing really did sound awful, but hey, this marks two good books from Krul this month. Part of the appeal is Williams′ art, which has evolved to a freer, sketchier style that is surprisingly refreshing when depicting all the nuclear energy blasts and such. It′s like he′s making science fun. And I′m not saying Krul is knockdown brilliant or anything, but as with Green Arrow #1 he is using a formula that works: 1) see character in action; 2) present his supporting cast; and 3) present the ongoing problem, which in this case is the reliable premise of the hero whose powers may end up killing him. I like that he gets away from the overly militaristic hardass or government stooge role that Atom is often given, and the energy hairdo lifted from Firestorm actually looks pretty good on him.

Blue Beetle #1 by Tony Bedard and Ig Guara defines workmanlike. Unimpressive artwork, a get-it-out-of-the-way flashback explaining the origin of the scarab that will give Jaime Reyes his Blue Beetle abilities, and several uninteresting scenes leading up to that contrived moment. I think the Beetle redesign from a few years back, which hasn’t changed much here, is terrific, and I′ve liked Jaime fine the few times I′ve seen him, but this was not a good start for, Jesus, is this Volume 9 of Blue Beetle?? Volume 10 should be just around the corner. 

Supergirl #1 by Michael Green and Mahmud Asrar presents a Supergirl who doesn’t know where she is, fighting for her life against guys in mech suits trying to contain her. Naturally, she′s freaked out and we are sympathetic to any creature who doesn’t know why something unpleasant is happening to them. Kind of reminds me of something John Byrne would do, and I mean that as a compliment. Simple, but good storytelling, and I like Asrars style. Hey, maybe I won′t like the character once she assimilates into the DCU, but for now, good start.

DC Universe Presents #1 by Paul Jenkins and Bernard Chang is one of the nicer surprises of the week, a mature take on Boston Brands karmic balancing journey. You may well ask why such an admitted jerk in life as Brand would get the opportunity to live on through others after death, but its clear that this is, if not a curse, certainly a burden he will have to carry for a long time until the goddess Rama finds him sufficiently enlightened and selfless. I could take issue with an Eastern deity being so on-the-nose and really spelling out for Brand what he has to do, but overall it looks like Jenkins has a good handle on things, and Chang is a good choice on art, as he is can handle the everyday stuff as well as the more mystical or superheroic elements.

OK, so while I missed getting this week′s Green Lantern Corps #1, I did find last week′s Superboy #1 by Scott Lobdell and R.B. Silva and liked it, certainly a lot better than Lobdell′s Red Hood book. I don’t know Superboy too much, so maybe having him as a kind of lab project combo of both Superman′s and Lex Luthor′s dueling DNA has been explored before, but I get the feeling the patient, calculating genius aspect of the character is new, and I like it. Silva is kind of stiff but it does fit the character so far, and the idea of Superboy in a virtual reality his creators aren’t aware he knows is fake should be good for a lot of mileage. 

Legion of Super-heroes #1 by Paul Levitz and Francis Portela was my least favorite book of the week, which may be surprising to read after how I tore into Wonder Woman, but at least that caused a strong reaction. I want to be sensitive because I know what its like to follow an artist for a long time, long enough that you can find bits of their old magic where someone less familiar cant. Like, take new Bob Dylan or Van Morrison records and old fans may fine wonders while new listeners hear croaks, grunts and wheezes. 

So Im just saying that I missed the time when Paul Levitz was good enough on LOSH to create all the warm memories that fans have of his run. In reading this (and I did read the first couple of his last LOSH as well), its not even like the feeling one may have from reading a past-prime Claremont or Miller where the style is so distinctive that if you give in you can maybe get swept up in it even if its ridiculous. I don’t really see much of a Levitz style, unless you call metronomic, low impact character introductions a style. Here is this guy talking about why he is upset to this girl who misses so-and-so and this guy cant be a Legionnaire anymore and this girl is married to this guy and this guy has almost the same powers as this other guy but lets just seem them both anyway because some folks are fans of one and some prefer the other and this one is complaining that they need to recruit more Legionnaires because we have only seen a dozen so far and theyre all sitting around doing nothing except the really smart one who is doing something with his computer and this Legion must be made of money because they can afford to keep two dozen or more heroes sitting around and waiting for something to happen that usually requires the efforts of five or six of them. 

Listen, there is something cool about the Legion. I have read pretty good runs from four or five writers, and I would give Levitz the benefit of the doubt that back in the day, his run was good, too. But it is just not happening here. This is just formula without fire. I don’t understand how you can put out two Legion books with dozens of characters and tons of history to draw from, and they can both be botched so badly. I don’t get any passion here, any attempt to do something fresh or sincere or layered or anything. ZZZZ.

–Christopher Allen

Cover Run: The DC Comics Art of Adam Hughes

DC Comics. $39.99 USD

Man, you can really take some folks for granted. 

I’ve been aware of Adam Hughes’ artwork from pretty early on–not his Maze Agency stuff but Justice League and onward. At the time I thought, this guy is a pretty good replacement for Kevin Maguire! Since then, I guess I developed an attitude where guys like Hughes and Brian Bolland–guys who started doing interiors and now only do covers–were somehow not really living up to their potential. It’s like, by not portraying the exploits of our beloved superheroes in sequential form, they weren’t really contributing to their history, weren’t really connected. It’s nonsense, I see that now.

I picked this book up in my local library on a whim. I do get to some comics late in the game but don’t live under a rock, so I’ve known for many years how good Hughes was as a cover artist, even if I was mainly experiencing it in thumbnail-sized solicitation copy or a quick scan at a comic shop shelf of new releases. That he has had a long, venerable run depicting Wonder Woman wasn’t lost on me, but clearly, I didn’t really appreciate how good he is.

This volume is an eye-opener into not just how good Hughes has been and for so long, but how hard he works to keep getting better. With a witty, self-deprecating tone, Hughes walks the reader through cover after cover, including preliminary sketches. We learn where he feels he went wrong, where he picked up a valuable bit of insight into, say, how best to depict the values of metallic clothing, or how Diana’s lasso can be not just an Art Nouveau design element but also one that serves a storytelling function, leading the viewer’s eye along an intended path. With each image, one comes to appreciate the fierce-yet-joyous, vaguely Mediterranean face of Diana, and where Hughes cops to making her too harsh here, too busty there, and boy, those boots are hard to get quite right. It’s amazing; the guy really has a strong opinion about those boots, and he’s sorry but he’s going to keep drawing them that way. Technology like Photoshop has by Hughes’ own admission been a godsend to his work, but the tools and toys are absolutely in service to a real artistic vision, a thoughtful and often humorous journey for beauty. I’ve surprised myself, but I really need to own this book. 

–Christopher Allen

Christopher Allen Reviews Wonder Woman #603 & 604

Wonder Woman #s 603 & 604

Writer - J. Michael Straczynski

Pencilers - Don Kramer and Eduardo Pansicca

Inker - Jay Leisten

Publisher - DC Comics

Whatever new phrase has replaced “hot mess,” well, this series is it. Although, I guess something has to be more compelling to follow to be a true hot mess, right? These two issues continue JMS’ first WW arc, “Odyssey,” where Diana has been rebooted as a sassy, jegging-clad Amazonian chosen one, on a journey to find purpose. JMS mixes the expected Greek-based mythology here, including a quick trip through Hades, with a kind of non-Hebrew desert exodus for the Amazonians. They’re on the run from some army who conveniently can’t seem to use their vehicles to track down a bunch of women walking on foot through a desert. It may have been explained who these guys are in a previous issue, but a month or two later and I’ve forgotten.

Diana is injured by harpies called Keres, who steal her soul, and this plunges her in Hades, where the ferryman Charon explains that with his master Hades gone, he just doesn’t have the heart to ferry all the lost souls over the River Styx to get their punishment. It’s an odd scene that doesn’t seem to have much of a point, and has the effect of making this version of Hell really silly. Adding to that is that Diana has to cross over and pass Cerberus to get back to her world (I guess she grabbed her soul back at some point?), and this potentially dramatic moment is utterly ruined by confusing storytelling. The three-headed dog creature looks fierce, then sniffs at her, and goes to sleep, or dies, or just gets reallly relaxed. I’m not sure what JMS wanted to convey here–Diana smells really good? She’s so pure of heart that it knocks Cerberus out, as he’s used to smelling only corrupt souls? Dunno.

#604 is maybe a little worse, as it spends a lot of time on a burned up, supernaturally powered adversary who apparently killed Diana’s mother and took her lasso of truth. Diana patiently waits several pages for his origin story, then yells at him that she couldn’t care less about his origin, and they fight. She’s about to kill him but the spirit of her mother steps in to do the job, cautioning Diana that she cannot kill because she must be the spirit of hope to her people. 

Straczynski seems uneasy with the stiffness of speech normally associated with mythological beings and noble foreigners, so whenever he can he defaults to the stammering and sarcasm more typical of middle class Americans 45 and under. It’s not a bad idea for Diana, who can use any trick in the book to try to make her more accessible to readers, but the smugness is tiresome on the villains as it’s been so overdone. He also laces each issue with some doozies that apparently no editor can question, like the Keres sneering at Diana for not knowing “the language of trees” (there were no trees nearby and the Keres seemed to have no visible association with trees, nor were trees ever mentioned again), and the double negative of, “…for this did not begin, nor will it not end, with his death.” So it will end with his death? No?

The silliness would go over a lot easier with artists who were more than teeth-grindingly mediocre. Neither Kramer nor Pansicca can keep a consistent face on Diana, nor are they able to draw action scenes with any verve or imagination. The best that can be said of them is that it’s a rare case where two pencilers on one book isn’t that jarring, but that’s only because they’re both similarly poor. 

About the only thing JMS has gotten right is presenting a Diana who is strong-willed and capable but still finding herself. The idea of her going on his journey and picking up her necessary tools (shield, lasso, discovering she can fly) is fine, and really, unavoidable, but so far there amid all the tough talk and posing there has been no attempt to give her any interesting supporting characters, nor much exploration of how she feels to be going through these changes, to suddenly be the savior for a race of people she hardly knows. Instead we’re getting tepid rewrites of Greek myths and unmemorable enemies. It’s not working.

–Christopher Allen

Daily Breakdowns 094 - They Got Mixed Up

Wonder Woman #600

Writers - Gail Simone, J. Michael Straczynski, Amanda Conner, Louise Simonson, Geoff Johns

Artists - George Perez, Don Kramer, Amanda Conner, Eduardo Pansica

Publisher - DC Comics

I’ve sampled Wonder Woman precious few times in my 30+ years of comics reading, and often not “representative” runs. I mean, I’ve never read George Perez’ or Greg Rucka’s runs, but I’ve read John Byrne’s and the Denny O'Neil/Mike Sekowsky “mod” period. I’m no Wonder Woman expert, nor am I beholden to a specific characterization or focus for the character. Emphasize her mythological roots and Paradise Island conflicts, or go single woman alone in the city, whatever. Just give me a good story.

Gail Simone gets to conclude her run with a short story that finds Wonder Woman leading a huge group of female superheroes into battle. They talk about her, as a way for Simone to establish Diana’s status as the most esteemed herone in the DCU. Then, Diana cuts things short in order to attend the graduation of Cassandra, a young woman I seem to recall from Byrne’s run, who was turned into a winged creature as well as feeling abandoned by Diana (probably because successive writers didn’t want to deal with Diana as surrogate mother). George Perez pencils it, and it’s nice, though inker Scott Koblish mutes some of the more recognizable aspects of Perez’ style. I guess I should give the story a pass as it seems to be a sincere attempt to wrap up some old continuity with emotion. Still, there’s not much going on in the story. I was also a bit confused to see some unfamiliar characters like “Miss Martian.” Is there a female version of every DC male?

Amanda Conner’s team-up with Diana and Power Girl is cute, and closer to what a Wonder Woman book targeted for girl readers should be, although Conner leans hard on a joke about Egg Fu (now called Chang Tsu) looking like a “manga monster.” I suppose even if she wanted to, DC wouldn’t let her use the word, “hentai,” but that’s really the origin of the joke. 

Louise Simonson and Eduardo Pansica follow with an inoffensive team-up with Superman, and then Geoff Johns and Scott Kolins offer what appears to be an attempt to provide a bridge between the past run and Straczynski’s new take on the character: more urban, confused, on the run, and wearing a controversial new costume. I’m curious why Straczynski didn’t write the bridging story himself, but then, it actually serves to undercut the shock of his changes by giving the impression Diana just ended up down a continuity rabbit hole and things might get back to normal really soon.

Straczynski’s story itself is intriguing enough, but it would be hard not to be when you take a handful of pages to show that a 70 year old character’s whole history has now changed. The proof of the pudding will be whether readers like what Straczynski choose to replace that history. Although Don Kramer’s art is resolutely DC house style–bland faces, thin lines, overrendered–there’s nothing really wrong with it. I’m more concerned with Straczynski and his need to make a splash–was “Couture Shock” the best title anyone could come up with? It puts too much emphasis on the costume change than the events of the story, and believe me, you don’t want readers thinking about that garish, busy, uniconic costume any more than necessary. 

The rest of the issue is padded out with a background feature on the costume design, a pleasant Introduction by Lynda Carter, from the late ‘70s Wonder Woman TV show, and lots of pinups of Diana in her classic costume. Some nice work there, though in between Adam Hughes, Perez and the like it would have been nice to see some less typical artists chosen.

Captain America: The 1940s Newspaper Strips #1 (of 3)

Writer/Artist - Karl Kesel

Publisher - Marvel Comics

This doesn’t work for me at all. The premise for a faux, old-time Cap strip with simple, patriotic wartime tales is fine, but simple shouldn’t be so boring. Rather than Cap and Bucky in intriguing, globe-spanning adventures a la Terry and the Pirates, Kesel seems to think readers want to see more of Private Steve Rogers peeling potatoes at Camp Lehigh instead of taking out Nazis. It doesn’t even look like '40s strip work in any way, from the un-newspaperlike “two on two” panel layouts for the “dailies” (the “Sunday” strip is a full comics page, to the sophisticated coloring, to the contemporary, if lighthearted, drawing style. Thankfully, unlike real newspaper adventure strips, Kesel doesn’t waste one of those four precious panels on a recap of what happened the day earlier, but even with covering more storytelling ground than the average '40s serial would in the same length of time, it really misses the mark.

Sea Bear & Grizzly Shark

Writer/Artists - Jason Howard & Ryan Ottley

Publisher - Image Comics

When creative people get together, especially during conventions, fun ideas often happen. It’s just that once everyone gets back to their normal, paying work, sometimes those fun ideas never come to fruition, or sometimes they do and the results just don’t live up to that can’t-miss premise.

It’s amusing that Robert Kirkman, Howard’s and Ottley’s writer on The Astounding Wolfman and Invincible, respectively, offers to write the explanation behind the switcheroos for these two animals, Kirkman does best finding fresh takes on well-worn genres like superheroes and zombies, rather than coming up with killer premises himself, and in fact the origin in his Introduction is labored and unnecessary.

Howard’s “Sea Bear” is the better of the two efforts here. Though rough, his artwork is sturdier, and the mix of revenge story with secret society story works pretty well, although he tends to try to overcome any problems with the story by turning the volume up with lots of gratuitous gore. He draws it very well, but I would have preferred if he trusted in his weird ideas and fleshed them out a bit more.

Ottley’s “Grizzly Shark” is played even more for laughs, and while that makes the more cartoonish style he uses here more appropriate than what he uses in Invincible, I didn’t care for how it looked. I didn’t find it funny, either. It would have been better at about half the size, and maybe in comic strip form. In fact, while the book is harmless enough, at $4.99 it’s a bit expensive for 48 pages of black-and-white self-indulgence. 

Bart Simpson #54

Writers/Artists - Peter Kuper, Carol Lay, Evan Dorkin, Sergio Aragones

Publisher - Bongo Comics

This issue features a talented group of professional cartoonists being, well…professional. The creators here mold their typical concerns into stories suitable for the world of The Simpsons and hopefully get a couple laughs out of them. Kuper (cofounder and coeditor of World War 3 Illustrated) explores his fears of our noisy, selfish, consumerist culture in a tale where a firecracker mishap leaves Bart looking like Chaplin’s Little Tramp, with a visual nod to Modern Times. Credit Kuper for bringing a point of view, though it’s out of character for Bart to recoil from this world. I also found Kuper’s cameo gratuitous, but I can’t say I wouldn’t do the same if I had the chance.

Evan Dorkin is more on point with his Bart story, probably because Dorkin’s work has always shown he still connects to his nerdy, pop culture obsessed youth. Here, Bart and Milhouse purchase a long-awaited video game only to end up destroying it when they can’t open the packaging. Not top drawer Dorkin, but I wished there was more than just the couple pages.

Aragones manages to just do his thing, a silent one-pager about Maggie’s daydream in a sandbox, and it’s cute, off-model and totally Sergio. And Lay’s story, a prank Bart plays on Lisa at a carnival, is about as gentle and whimsical as Aragones’ but with more pages feels flabbier.

–Christopher Allen