Thursday, August 21, 2014

Dysphoria #1 (Hollow Tree Entertainment)

writer: Allison Torrey
artist: Liana Sposto
via Cargo Collective
One of the perks of visiting a local comics shop is the chance to catch some local comics talent, stuff you likely won't find anywhere else (unless you've heard of the Internet, and really, who has?), lucky finds if you're really lucky.  I happen to love chance discoveries.  I think I've made a lucky one indeed.

Dysphoria is about a futuristic resistance movement and the guy who's destined to be its hero.  Okay, so not hugely revolutionary in concept, but as always it's execution that's key.  Allison Torrey and Liana Sposto are a dynamic combination.  Torrey's scripting is fairly minimalist, so that leaves ample room for Sposto's expressive work to shine.  It really is shocking to discover talent this good on such a low-key title.  I predict big things ahead for both of them, whether it's in this series or elsewhere.  

It's a kinetic read from start to finish and instantly hooks you into wanting more, all very perfect for a comic book, where classic serial storytelling soars.  

The lead character's name is Malcolm Reed, which for me is an instant link to something else I love, Star Trek: Enterprise, which featured a tactical officer of the same name.  I've been trying to remember another place I've caught the name, unless I've come across Dysphoria before.

I'll definitely be keeping my eyes peeled for further issues...

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Batman and Robin #33 (DC)

writer: Peter J. Tomasi
artist: Patrick Gleason
via Inside Pulse
In this follow-up to the Robin Rises: Omega one-shot, Batman maneuvers his way over Justice League opposition to an invasion of Apokolips in order to retrieve the body of his dead son Damian (and maybe Talia's, too).

It's great fun, Pete Tomasi tackling the Justice League, which is depicted in its current incarnation (which is why I chose to represent the issue with that particular image, featuring post-Forever Evil members Lex Luthor and Captain Cold, their exchange in that final panel a brilliant encapsulation of the new dynamic) as the big Batman and Robin event continues.

So often we're told that Batman has ways to defeat everyone, even his best and most powerful allies.  Most often, however, verbally he's reserved.  This issue is all about confrontation, however, a war of words.  Even when Superman shows up, Batman still has his way with the situation, acting contrite, conciliatory, and...then the final image leaves that whole conversation spun around.  Scott Snyder took such pains in "Death of the Family" to shatter the Bat-family trust, which was immediately turned around in the "Requiem" issues following Damian's death.  Lately I've been reading gushing recaps of Snyder's "Zero Year" arc, and everyone still seems pretty convinced that the top-selling Batman is the best Dark Knight comic being published at the moment, an instant classic.  But for me, Batman and Robin is the undisputed best and best-argument-for-instant-classic series in the family.

Is it a gimmick book?  It's a team-up book, now more than ever, but unlike most team-up books Batman doesn't necessarily actually team up with his guest-stars, as exemplified all over the place in the past year.  These are stories Tomasi gets to tell as he explores a more intimate look at Batman and how he relates to the world around him.  If he's still grieving the death of his son and still trying to find a way to get over it, whatever that happens to mean, I applaud the effort.  Too often, comics can be like a lot of television, episodic, one story completely unrelated to the next.  For a character like Batman, who's been around for three quarters of a century, the temptation is great to keep the storytelling like that, so as to not damage the franchise, tie it down with developments that can't easily be disentangled without being outright ignored.  And yet, what Tomasi is doing here has its roots in Batman's own history, following the second Robin, Jason Todd's death and eventual rise of the third, Tim Drake (as explored in the "A Lonely Place of Dying" arc), except this time, Batman is being pushed further and further past his comfort zone, into the very territory that until now was really only the subject of fanboy fever dreams.  Now it's real.  And it's better than you ever imagined.

Like Tomasi, Gleason plays by his own rules.  He can play larger-than-life (his Kalibak) or a low-key Bruce Wayne in a cemetary, a Superman cape that dangles loosely around the neck, a montage of iconic images featuring Batman's colleagues forging the so-called Hellbat armor, Frankenstein in a minimal appearance speaking a thousand words with three while walking away from the reader.

DC is ramping up the Fourth World once again across numerous titles.  It seems presumptuous for Batman to declare war on Darkseid when this could provoke the annihilation of Earth, but Tomasi captures his reasoning perfectly.  How it all plays out could tie in with what happens elsewhere.  Then again maybe not.  It's doesn't matter.

It's good stuff. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Atomic Robo: The Knights of the Golden Circle #2 (Red 5)

writer: Brian Clevinger
artist: Scott Wegener
via comiXology
Hey, so I love Atomic Robo.  This is his ninth mini-series.  Yeah!  The only one I haven't caught at least one issue of is the previous one, Atomic Robo and the Savage Sword of Dr. Dinosaur, which sucks, because Dr. Dinosaur is easily the second best thing about Atomic Robo other than, of course, Nikola Tesla, I mean Atomic Robo!

The draw of this particular arc is, besides a Western gimmick (most of Robo's stories are centered on genre gimmicks, which is fine, because being an ageless artificial lifeform, he not only can be in pretty much any setting, but this is a concept that readily embraces the strange), is that it is, to my mind, the first time our hero has been in an actual life-threatening scenario.

Now, Robo's actually in the past.  He's been thrust into the past.  Just to make that clear.  But he's been cut off from anyone or anything that can sustain his robotic body.  If he's somehow damaged or runs out of power, that's it.  One of the many, many Free Comic Book Day releases Red 5 has put out over the years (Robo is this publisher's bread and butter) hinted at dire possibilities once, but this is a departure from the usually lighthearted, brainy-but-in-a-fun-way adventures he and his fans have enjoyed in the past.  Not a huge departure, because it's still a wonky idea, but in the world of Atomic Robo, that's an exceptionally, reliably good thing.

Because he's the star of a tiny publisher, Robo doesn't have near the exposure he deserves.  Anywhere else he'd be a household (a geek household, anyway) name by now.  He'd have a cartoon.  Maybe even an extremely awesome movie!  But here he is, the star of Red 5.  This is his ninth mini-series, and he's at sixty issues, mini-series and FCBD releases considered, which is quite an achievement.  He's becoming a legitimate icon, even if in a minor context.  I'm proud to call myself a fan.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Reading Comics #130 "Bull Moose Grab Bag IV"

Local physical-things shop Bull Moose has recently changed the way it sells comics.  It remains to be seen whether it will be selling comics much longer.  But until recently it sold new comics and then slightly-less-new comics in grab bag form.  I like grab bags, and on the whole I liked what I got in these Bull Moose grab bags.  This is the last official Bull Moose grab bag, though I get to continue this sub-feature in future editions of this column as Bull Moose Bargains.  More on that when it happens!  Until then, the contents of the last grab bag.

Batman '66 #12 (DC)
The comic based on the '60s TV series that has swung back around to being culturally tolerated remains amusing for what it is.

Bravest Warriors #21 (KaBOOM!)
One of those cartoons clearly inspired by the success of Adventure Time.  Bull Moose Grab Bag did me wrong in giving me two copies, thanks to there being two different covers for some reason.

Chew #42 (Image)
I read some of the earliest issues of Chew, liked them well enough, but it was also fairly easy to...not read Chew anymore.  When John Layman wrote Detective Comics I was actually more impressed with him.  In his own sandbox, Layman is free to do what he wants...and I don't know, I guess he just wants to screw around.  These days I compare this kind of comic to Atomic Robo, and bottom line is, Chew doesn't seem as inspired.  Weirdo concept though it sports and the ability to exploit said weirdo concept, Chew is ultimately fairly throwaway.  Hey Layman, feel free to jump back into the mainstream.  Or find something more interesting to do with Chew.  Apparently he's one of the Batman Eternal writers, but does that really count?  I guess I'll keep myself posted...

C.O.W.L. #2 (Image)
A few years back I was ready to consider myself a pretty big fan of Kyle Higgins.  These days I'm wondering what happened.  Something that bothers me is that he often has a co-writer.  This is not in itself a bad thing.  He first burst onto the scene with Scott Snyder as co-writer (Batman: Gates of Gotham).  Given Snyder's reputation these days, that's not a bad association at all.  (Even Snyder had a co-writer tagging along when he worked on Severed for whatever reason.)  With C.O.W.L., Higgins is working alongside Alec Siegel.  I have no idea.  What I've read of this project, Higgins has been getting all the credit.  As far as the need for co-writers goes (it should be noted even Geoff Johns worked with James Robinson in his early years, and Robinson worked with a co-writer, too, for part of Starman), I'm wondering if this is something he really does need.  Maybe as a kind of focusing lens?  Because as far as his Nightwing ended up going, I wonder if he needed such a lens, and just never got one.  C.O.W.L., like the final issues of the Nightwing run, is set in Chicago.  There's been speculation that this is, in fact, what Higgins would have done if given the chance in his mainstream effort.  Well, maybe?  Anyway, regardless of my personal feelings on its (co-)writer, this series has gotten a fair bit of hype.  "C.O.W.L." is short for Chicago Organized Workers League, otherwise known as the World's First Superhero Labor Union.  That's interesting and all, and this is even a period piece, for whatever reason.  Maybe I just can't figure Higgins out.  Maybe I'm approaching this wrong from the start, but as with my Higgins experience in general lately, I...just wish there was as much on the page as I wish there was.

Deadly Class #6 (Image)
Speaking of Image series from writers I really wish I could like as much as it sometimes seems I should, this one's from Rick Remender, who's recently impressing me with the scope of what he's doing in Captain America.  Apparently, Deadly Class is a personal project for him.  I wish I could say I loved it and totally understood how it's so important to him, but I can't.  This and C.O.W.L. are the kinds of disappointments I think I probably need to reread.  Maybe I will.  (I generally don't do a lot of that.)

All-New Doop #3 (Marvel)
Peter Milligan is a writer I feel guilty for not liking.  He's like the advanced stage of where Higgins and Remender could be years from now.  Milligan has been around for years, a kind of junior member of the British Invasion who helped forge the early years of Vertigo.  His most recent prominent work was nearly the first two years of Red Lanterns, a series I've recently fallen madly in love with...under the auspices of Charles Soule.  As for what Milligan is doing now (not meant as a pun, but there's that, too), I...guess this is related to his earlier X-Statix, a cartoony corner of the X-Men franchise that was much cult-loved at the time.  But Doop reads like instantly pointless drivel.  I'd read Chew over this.

The Flash #32 (DC)
And what is this, a trend or something?  Another writer I wish I liked is Robert Venditti, who happens to have been the guy who took over Green Lantern following the historic near-decade Geoff Johns run.  I haven't read too much of that.  Sometimes I wish I did, because I've liked what I have read.  But then I read something like this.  I have great history with The Flash.  For some reason that history ended with the New 52 relaunch.  No disrespect to the early run, because I just never really got around to reading it, probably because I was disappointed that Johns ended a pre-New 52 run prematurely following the excellent Flashpoint event.  So I wish I liked what I read here.  But I just didn't.  The best material is still pretty weak, Barry Allen bonding with the new version of Wally West.  I don't know if Veditti's heart just isn't in this title, but it just reads so tepidly, a very far cry from Johns or Mark Waid.  For a Flash reader who wishes The Flash would always be a must-read, as it certainly was under Waid and a slightly lesser extent Johns, this is not just disappointing, it's kind of disheartening.

Justice League Dark #32 (DC)
I actually like this series.  I'm waiting to be really wowed by it.  Hollywood was wowed enough to option a movie based on it, so there's that.  Frankenstein is usually featured in it, but not this issue.  As referenced during his recent appearances in Batman and Robin, he's been on a sabbatical.  We've got Zatanna, Deadman, and we-have-our-own-titles-too guys Constantine and Swamp Thing.  J.M. DeMatteis is a writer I greatly respect, but he doesn't always write to potential.  He's someone who's better than the lot I've been grappling with in this column, but I sometimes wish he'd be better.  If this were a truly dark series, maybe that might be the case here.  I don't know.

The New 52: Futures End #8 (DC)
Futures End badly wants to be a new 52.  I know, with wording like that, I could easily confuse you.  52, as opposed to the New 52, was the 2006-2007 weekly series that helped prove possible the modern viability of such a format.  I loved it.  I mean, I loved it.  (It ranked fourth in my list of all-time favorites.)  I've been trying to make comparisons between Futures End and 52 since the newer title launched, based on my sporadic experience with it.  Maybe if I read it every week my opinion would be different, but I just don't see it as hitting the mark quite as truly as its predecessor.  This is disappointing, too.

...Yesh.  With all these disappointments, is this because this was all part of the final Grab Bag?  The world may never know...

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Quarter Bin #53 "Grant Morrison, Hawkworld"

Comics in this column were not necessarily bought in a quarter bin.  This is a back issues feature.

Animal Man #19 (DC)
From January 1990

This is a very famous issue in the Grant Morrison run thanks to this page:
via Any Eventuality
The thing about the issue, and the greater story surrounding it, available in the Animal Man: Deus Ex Machina collection, is that it may be the essential Grant Morrison story, the one by which he should be forever known.  It's awkward, this defining thing being in an extended run (after this issue there are seven more before his departure from the series).  A writer like Alan Moore, you can point to all these standalone works, many of which have become movies at this point, real iconic stuff that's allowed many observers, including Moore himself, to be able to say [given title] and like a famous historical author it's a classic you can point to and read by itself and say, that's why he's so respected.  With Morrison, especially with something like this, it's not so easy.

This is an issue filled with philosophy, in a story that famously breaks the fourth wall.  But it's not just about metafiction.  It's about life in general.  Moore has written any number of stories that are memorable stories, and to a certain extent they've made their readers think, but Morrison, especially in this story, has the potential to make a reader think and rethink, not just the story but their life as well.  It's real meaning-of-life material.

Buddy Baker, the erstwhile Animal Man, whom Morrison resurrected from obscurity and comic book limbo for this run, has this to say about what he's experiencing, including the above moment ("you" being the reader, as Chas Truog's expressive art hopefully conveys well enough):

"I saw into another world, and it was worse than this one.  It was like I glimpsed Heaven and...and it wasn't paradise.  It was more like Hell.  What if God, or whoever it is, created us to be better than himself?  What if God's reality...Heaven, if you like...what if it's so bad that he had to imagine us to help make his life bearable?"

Now, in later issues, Buddy indeed meets "God," who is of course the writer of Animal Man, Grant Morrison himself.  This takes nothing away from the thoughts expressed above.  The fact that Buddy breaks the fourth wall and that isn't the end of the story, that's the beginning of the impact this run has in the career of Morrison, in fiction, not just comics.

Deus Ex Machina is a large part of why I love Morrison so much.  I didn't read Animal Man in its original run.  I wouldn't even read comics regularly for the first until a few years after it was done.  I read Morrison for the first time when he began JLA above five years after the end of the run on Animal Man.  I had a break from reading comics, for about five years, right around the time the JLA run was ending.  Wanting to read how he ended that was part of how I worked myself into the kind of reader I am now.  Reading Seven Soldiers of Victory was another part.  But I still wasn't the fan I am now, or close to it.  I realized what Soldiers was, its incredibly ambitious scope, but I didn't realize who Morrison was.  But then I read Deus Ex Machina for the first time.

And I became a Grant Morrison fan for life.  There's something about the way he approaches superheroes that's different from other writers, even Moore.  Most British writers seem to have a kind of distance from the concept that their American counterparts don't.  That'll always be the biggest difference between Morrison and his closest contemporary, Geoff Johns.  What Morrison and Johns share is an expansive view of the mythology, and an interesting not only in exploring but expanding it.  What Morrison does that Johns doesn't is write his stories as if he's deconstructing, reconstructing, and constructing all at the same time.  It's dizzying.  It's not for everyone.  It seems completely impossible.  Most writers can manage a few of them.  Some of them do so quite brilliantly.  But Morrison manages to do all three, and he's been doing so for years.

Deus Ex Machina is where he puts all of his ideas to their biggest test.  In this issue, he even talks about a second Crisis, as in Crisis on Infinite Earths, a famous crossover event that at that point was...five years earlier.  (Everything is in five-year intervals!)  A second Crisis did happen.  It was written by Johns.  Morrison wrote the third (Final Crisis).  He was the first to identify the idea of the Crisis as a seminal comics moment, not just for DC as a publisher, but as a story, an event in the lives of the characters themselves.  Marvel will always have its "Phoenix Saga," and DC its Crisis.

If you read only this issue, you would even have a Buddy Baker origin story, a Buddy Baker crisis, and the fourth wall being broken.  Collapse the whole run into this one issue, and I think it would still be the defining point of Morrison's career.

Glad I had a chance to read it again, just this issue.  But I think the whole arc deserves more attention.  Could it be a movie?  Could we push the experience to that point?  Maybe.  After The Matrix, which itself is something Morrison always liked to say probably owes a huge debt to his Invisibles, maybe.  I'd love for someone to tackle the idea.  With the current popularity of superhero movies, maybe something like this could slip in.

Animal Man #23 (DC)
From May 1990

As the arc continues, we spend some time with Psycho Pirate, a villain who happens to be the only character who intrinsically remembers that the first Crisis happened.  It's not easy being him.  Buddy is spending time with the Phantom Stranger trying to figure things out.  I think Morrison writing more Phantom Stranger would be a good thing.  This issue becomes a little like Neil Gaiman's more famous Sandman.  (Another series that took a loose interpretation of a superhero, by the way.)  Buddy and Phantom Stranger talk to a group of immortals, and so there's more talking about the nature of life itself.

Doom Patrol #21 (DC)
From April 1989

This is the third-of-four chapters from Morrison's opening arc in Doom Patrol, "Crawling from the Wreckage."  The whole idea was that the previous writer had blown the team to bits, you see.  And they didn't relaunch the series for this arc.  I know.  Seems strange, radical.  Last time I talked a little about the fourth chapter and wanting to know what previous ones were like.  I've read a good bit of Morrison's run on this series, but never the opening arc.  I probably need to just go ahead and read the whole arc.

Hawkworld Book Three: Phoenix Flight (DC)
From 1989

Since this was one of those prestige format mini-series, there is no indication of exact publication month.  I could do the research, of course, but I'm not going to.  Hawkworld was part of a trend at the time of allowing characters who had slipped through the cracks a little to be explored as properties other than as merely superheroes.  Aquaman got the same treatment.  Aquaman and Hawkman are two of DC's perennial candidates for reboot treatment as they're both fairly iconic but have never proven as popular as even Flash or Green Lantern, although moreso than the New Gods, sort of third-tier characters.

Anyway, while I was reading this one, which is sort of an urban crime mystery on an alien planet (Thanagar, the erstwhile Hawkworld), I realized that Brian K. Vaughan's Saga is in some ways a pastiche of this particular version of Hawkman, the one who's an alien, who gained his wings from a whole planet filled with cops who wear them as part of their uniform.  When in this mode, Carter Hall is known as Katar Hol.  Exotic sounding! 

It's pretty good stuff from respected veteran Timothy Truman, a nice reminder that Hawkman doesn't just have to be the muscle who also happens to be in an endless cycle of death and rebirth with his one true love, Hawkwoman.  Since Hawkman is one of those characters who is frequently stuck in a team book for wont of something else to do with him, how about hooking him up with one of the Green Lantern corps?  I'd suggest the Red Lanterns, personally.  

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Star Trek Special: Flesh and Stone (IDW)

writer: Scott and David Tipton
artist: Sharp Brothers
via Seven Sees
I haven't read a lot of Star Trek comics lately, but I've generally liked the material IDW has published since it acquired the rights to the franchise in 2006.  The reason I wanted to read this special was the dude on the right-most side of the cover image.  That's Phlox from Enterprise.  His role in the episode "Divergence" was referenced in the Blood Will Tell mini-series that to my mind remains one of the best Star Trek comics ever (it was a Klingon saga).  Yet Flesh and Stone is now the most prominent appearance by an Enterprise character in a comic book.

Yeah, I love Enterprise.

Part of this achievement is blunted by the fact that pretty much every chief medical officer from throughout the franchise is featured in the special.  There's McCoy from the original TV series (and his Next Generation-era version), Crusher and Pulaski from Next Generation, Bashir from Deep Space Nine, and The Doctor from Voyager.  Missing would be Boyce, featured in the original pilot "The Cage" and Piper from "Where No Man Has Gone Before," the second pilot (yes, this is nitpicking).

This idea of including all of the casts has been done before, notably in several Pocket Books crossover events.  This was before Enterprise, of course.  IDW has done plenty of comics based in the original series era, as well as comics in the Abrams era, Next Generation comics, and even a Deep Space Nine mini-series.  Voyager has had a comic, too, from the second time Marvel had franchise rights.  During Enterprise's TV run, there were basically no comics being published, by the way, although admittedly it's never been a favorite among the fans.

Flesh and Stone isn't one of IDW's best.  In the effort to come up with a gimmick that includes all these doctors, few of them have much more to do than help move along the medical mystery at the story's heart.  Characterization, then, isn't really key.  If this is your introduction to any of these doctors, you won't really end up knowing a lot about them.  Pulaski, who was featured in Next Generation's second season (and is sometimes referred to as "the female McCoy" and has mostly been dismissed and forgotten) is depicted perhaps most distinctly, and accurately.  That's pretty ironic!

The Tholians who show up, by the way, are based on a design featured in Enterprise.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Red Lanterns #32 (DC)

writer: Charles Soule
artist: J. Calafiore
via Comic Box Commentary
This was a series I reconnected with thanks to some grab bags I'd been getting.  It's a New 52 launch, one of four Green Lantern titles from that time.  I'd sampled it before but hadn't really been able to get into it despite thinking it was a better idea than fans generally considered it.  It seems time has been kind to Red Lanterns.

It doesn't hurt at all for emerging superstar Charles Soule to have taken the helm.  The scene above features Rankorr, the human recruit who was introduced early in the series as someone who might be more sympathetic for the reader than other members of the rage corps originally led by Atrocitus, who was the first of the Red Lanterns introduced by Geoff Johns.  Atrocitus has been undergoing a crisis since the start.  Recently Guy Gardner revamped the Red Lanterns entirely, making it possible for them to control their rage and thereby retroactively making the red ring more comparable to the more familiar green one.  He's also successfully negotiated control of patrol over Earth from the Green Lanterns.

Oh, and that blonde in the foreground?  It's Supergirl.  That was a whole recent event.  She didn't stay a member for long, but it was certainly an interesting and key development for this version of the character.

This issue begins the four-part "Atrocities" arc that brings the conflict of leadership between Gardner and Atrocitus to a head.  It's a perfect point to recognize how great the series has become.  In fact, it's the only Green Lantern series I'm interested in reading on a regular basis these days.  As a long-time fan of the franchise, I didn't really see that coming.  The thing is, Red Lanterns gets that the franchise is a sci-fi franchise.  I know.  This is kind of weird.  It's also a lot like Guardians of the Galaxy, actually.  One might say that the Red Lanterns themselves, or their Sinestro Corps predecessors, played a huge part in laying the comic book ground for the GotG revival and current movie incarnation success.

Big epic stuff in a totally unexpected corner.  I like that.
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