Monday, September 22, 2014

Superman #34 (DC)

writer: Geoff Johns
artist: John Romita, Jr.
via IGN

The third issue of the Johns/Romita era explores a little of the nature of good and evil.  In comics, this can be a pretty cut-and-dry thing.  The knock against Superman is that he's a character who makes that painfully obvious (which, I think, is pretty much the whole reason, contradictory enough, for why Man of Steel proved to be so difficult for viewers to swallow).

Well, he's met someone who is apparently even more of a good guy than he is.

The story of a new character introduced in a long-existing character's series usually leads to the new character disappearing after the story is finished.  It's all about trying something new, or saying something new about the long-existing character.  In this instance, Ulysses has been set up as a direct counterpoint to Superman.  He's got a similar origin, and as it emerges this issue, his moral character seems if anything more bullet-proof.

The twist in the origin-that's-pretty-much-the-same-as-Superman's is that this time the parents survived.  And Superman has made the decision to reunite the family.  This was the first opportunity to see if Johns would pull the trigger, if there is a trigger, on Ulysses, if he reacts in anger rather than the state of innocence that defines his character so far, to learn that he was basically abandoned.  He reacts, instead, with tearful happiness.  He even quickly decides that the pocket dimension he's been living in probably doesn't need him anymore.  Could you imagine Superman abandoning Earth so easily?  (Read the Superman: World of New Krypton series from the greater "New Krypton" arc if you want to see how it might play out.)

Too good to be true but sticking to it, that's Ulysses, apparently much more interested in hanging out with Superman than anything else, like the old knock once again, Superman being such a difficult character to like because he lacks what Marvel came to identify as the human element in superhero comics.

On the flipside is the villain the Machinist, who appears to be the clear-cut bad-guy answer to Ulysses.  Never mind that even Ulysses appear perfectly willing to use lethal force against him (I'm sure there'll be more on that in future issues), but we learn on the last page of the issue that Machinist thinks nothing of putting innocent victims in harm's way.  This is par-for-the-course villainy taken to another level.

All this is very interesting.  Johns has chosen to challenge traditional notions all the way around in this latest run with Superman.  I think the fact that he's never done an extended run with the character is proof that he doesn't take the assignment lightly.  When he does he has a specific purpose.  It's probably why Grant Morrison approaches Superman the same way.  Johns always goes for the iconic approach, which is difficult to do with Superman.  In the past he's succeeded by reinventing known elements.  Now he's doing it with new elements.  DC is promising some major changes in the new year.  I hope they include Johns sticking around the series for a while longer, seeing the effects Ulysses leaves behind, if he's going away soon, or finding a way to make him a longer-term stamp in the legacy.

We'll see.

The art, I'm sure, will be a problem for anyone who's never considered the John Romita, Jr. style for Superman, who's always had a pretty traditional presentation.  If anything, it's another indication of the risks being taken in the storytelling.  I think that's the absolute right approach, and I'm glad Romita finally came over to DC and with this specific starting point.  Ulysses has a look that probably has more than a few readers scratching their heads, but again, I think even that's deliberate.  All the way around, this is clearly not just another Superman story.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Annihilator #1 (Legendary)

writer: Grant Morrison
artist: Frazer Irving
via Previews World
So, Grant Morrison.  The guy who seems to have gone completely crazy tackling Big Ideas.  Considering that he's been doing that for years means either that he's definitely crazy, or that he can't possibly be crazy.  Of course, that isn't necessarily true for his readers, too...

Morrison is part of the class of the '80s British Invasion that included Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman.  Of the three, he's the only one who has failed to make a mainstream name for himself.  Either he's tackling his Big Ideas or he's merrily competing with Geoff Johns for the title of Most Iconic Writer on whatever major superhero series he happens to be working, be it JLA, Batman, or Action Comics.  His fans consider such work as We3, All Star Superman, and Animal Man to be among the best comics ever published.  He himself considers The Invisibles to be the unacknowledged source of The Matrix.  His Final Crisis was considered too esoteric by just about everyone, even his greatest admirers.

I think he's a genius.  I swear by Joe the Barbarian, personally; think The Mystery Play and Kid Eternity might be his best work, Arkham Asylum the best Batman comic from a period better known for The Killing Joke and The Dark Knight Returns.

But even I sometimes wonder what will happen to his legacy once Morrison stops working.  Will he become too obscure for later readers to discover him anew?  Do his Big Ideas in fact consume themselves?

Then he goes and seems to try and answer that question himself, not for the first time.  That's Annihilator in a nutshell.  It's the story of a Hollywood screenwriter faced with such a task, working on a new script, trying to come up with a Big Idea and failing miserably, swallowed by all the ways he tries to inspire himself.  He has an Idea, but doesn't know where to go with it.  Then he meets his main character.

This character, Max Nomax, has decided he will tackle the ultimate challenge, beating death itself.  In a way, it's Morrison throwing down the gauntlet on his own greatest ambitions, or as Douglas Adams would have said it, the subject being nothing less than "life, the universe, and everything."
via Superhero Hype
The outlet for this effort is an upstart publisher connected to a movie studio.  Does this mean we can expect another stab at Morrison hitting the big screen?  If so, he's got to know critics and audiences don't exactly go gaga for ambition of this kind, unless it comes from someone like Christopher Nolan.  Does that even matter?  There are five more issues to see where he goes with it, see if Morrison streamlines (as in We3, Joe the Barbarian) or verges on incomprehensible (Final Crisis).  At the start, it looks like, at last, he's found a way to blend the two.  This is a very good sign indeed.

The artist on record is Frazer Irving, who's worked with Morrison before (Seven Soldiers of Victory: Klarion the Witch Boy, Batman and Robin).  He's a master of transcendent horror, humanizing the grotesque (he does a mean Joker, then).  Once again, therefore, an ideal collaborator for Morrison.

As a fan of Grant Morrison, I always love to see a new project become available (or, as in the case of Zenith, finally become available again).  Something like Annihilator is a chance to witness, once again, history in the making.  And perhaps this time, the mainstream will start paying attention. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Saga #22 (Image)

writer: Brian K. Vaughan
artist: Fiona Staples
via Image Comics
Have I ever actually read a Brian K. Vaughan comic for any extended period of time?  Well, no I haven't.  I think I read the last year or so of Y: the Last Man.  Never read Runaways.  Read a few issues of Ex Machina.  But I've now read more of Saga than anything else he's done.  And now that I'm getting back into reading it regularly for the first time since its early days, I' to get used to the idea again.

Every issue can't be pure magic, I guess.  Maybe it was just the thrill of the new that made it seem so initially.  There's a lot of soap opera drama between Alana and Marko these days.  This issue deals with the impending split (so our faithful narrator Hazel, their daughter, declared a few issues ago) and how it develops.  It's kind of sad, because in a lot of ways, Saga originally read like an intergalactic fairy tale romance.  Now it seems like Shakespearean tragedy waiting to happen.  Yay!

To matters worse, they're both in hiding.  Alana seems to be the one having a harder time realizing "in hiding" means keeping a low profile.  She quotes from an obscure book on her TV show.  This is considered a bad idea.

Anyway, there's always Prince Robot IV to entertain us!  But even he's got a case of the dramas going on since his newborn was born, his wife dying in childbirth and the baby kidnapped by disgruntled janitor Dengo, who seems to be on the verge of spoiling Alana and Marko's...less than ideal circumstances.  (Maybe he'll actually make things better?  Not for the people he shoots, but y'know...)  We meet Robot King, who has a massive...screen.  And no sympathy for Prince Robot.

Such is the way Saga turns.  At least there's always an excuse for Vaughan to throw Fiona Staples an interesting visual to tackle every few pages!  This book certainly remains gonzo.  And gonzo, as any self-respecting fan of Grant Morrison will have to admit, is always good.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Red Lanterns #34 (DC)

writer: Charles Soule
artist: Alessandro Vitti
via DC Comics News
This is the finale of "Atrocities."  Guy Gardner's version of the Red Lanterns versus the Atrocitus (y'know, the founder) version.  I'll let you guess who wins.

Ha!  Na, it's pretty obvious.  I mean, Guy Gardner not winning?  Not gonna happen.  Guy becoming the headlining act of this series is the best thing to happen to it.  I've got to believe that, since the other best thing to happen to it won't be around for much longer.  That would be Charles Soule, the rising superstar who recently signed an exclusive contract with Marvel.  Best wishes to him.  I hope to find a project over at the House as equally stimulating as a fan of Soule as I have here at DC.

If "Atrocities" is technically his grand finale (this month is the Futures End issue, and then three months of the Green Lantern "Godhead" crossover follow and then I don't know how much longer he's around), then it's certainly a big way to bow, clearing house as it were.  And Soule pulls no punches.

Another member of Guy's Lanterns bites the bullet before victory is achieved (moosehead Skallox), leaving Guy himself (who technically leaves the team to spend time on Earth alone by the end of the issue), Bleez (blue chick with bone wings) and Rankorr (the other human enlistee).

The showdown between Guy and Atrocitus is the kind of event you'd expect between Hal Jordan and Sinestro.  In fact, after "Atrocities," I'd be okay with proclaiming Atrocitus to be Guy's Sinestro.  That would make the arc downright historic all the way around.  As far as I'm concerned, Red Lanterns has become a permanent and legitimate part of the Green Lantern legacy, regardless of where it heads from here or how much longer it lasts.  It's a better Guy Gardner series at this point than the long-running one he had in the '90s.

There's also Soule pulling the trigger on the Judge, one of those mysterious observer/teammate figures.  The standout of that type, for me, will always be Bloodwynd, who was introduced during the Dan Jurgens era of Justice League America and subsequently, mistakenly assumed by fans to have been Martian Manhunter all along.  (It didn't help that after Jurgens left Bloodwynd's significance dropped like a rock, and then he virtually vanished for good.  Although hey! there he is in The Multiversity!  Which is ironic, because Grant Morrison viciously dismissed the character in Supergods.)  I wasn't around enough to see how interesting the Judge actually was as a character, but it's nice to see that arc have speedy resolution.

And can I just reiterate that Guy has never looked better design-wise?  When he debuted, he was basically a red-headed version of Hal Jordan.  And then he grew more visually...obnoxious.  We'll leave it at that.  For the first time ever he actually looks cool.  Another plus for the series, surely.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Reading Comics #134 "Bull Moose Bargains II"

The second (possibly of two) batch of comics I got for fifty cents each at my friendly neighborhood Bull Moose:

Justice League #26 (DC)
I used to have an excellent track record with this series.  I'd like to think I used to be one of its biggest fans (a statement not to be misunderstood as meaning I decided at some point I don't love it anymore).  But I lost track last year and have had a hard time getting back into it.  The whole Forever Evil event was something I failed to follow monthly, and so I skipped the majority of it.  Unfortunately that meant skipping out on a lot of Justice League, too, because throughout the event this series was directly tied into it.  So I've slowly started making my way back in.  This issue features an origin story for Power Ring, which allowed Geoff Johns to write an alternate version of the classic Green Lantern origin.  Obviously he had great fun with it.  Obviously it made me wish all over again that he was still writing Green Lantern.  The other most interesting element of the issue, for me, was the page dedicated to Deathstorm, who of course is the evil version of Firestorm.  This made me nostalgic for the great Stuart Moore Firestorm comics.  Anyway, a lot of fans had a hard time with Forever Evil.  I still don't get that.

The Mysterious Strangers #4 (Oni)
A while back I wondered whatever would become of Chris Roberson, who was part of a flood of writers who fled DC over creative rights issues.  Well, here he is again.  I have to admit, he impressed me here, turned the Beatles into accidental harbingers of a near-apocalypse, based on their Maharishi period (John Lennon receives the brunt of the blame).  The Strangers who help prevent it are a little less distinctive than that, but it was certainly interesting to read another comic based on classic 60s rock (after the Hawkeye issue that spun off from the Smile! project that was such an issue between Brian Wilson and the rest of the Beach Boys).

Nova #5 (Marvel)
You may recall how much I loved the first issue of this series, and how disappointed I was that subsequent issues didn't seem to catch the same vibe (and how I love Starlight so much in part because it does).  The cover to this issue
via IGN
strongly suggests that Jeph Loeb, before he abruptly left the series, actually did what I'd hope he would, and return to the emotional crux of Sam Alexander's quest to reconnect with his father.  But it's basically a case of bait-and-switch, alas.  There's a stronger link to Nova's appearance in the Original Sin prelude.  I suppose there's nothing wrong with the series if it doesn't have what I want to see from it.  You can enjoy it for other reasons.  But for me, if it doesn't feature what for me is clearly it best material, then I personally have no reason to read it.  And besides, Loeb left.  I don't see a point in sampling it again.  Feel free to give me a heads-up if any of that changes in the future, if you haven't given up on it like I have.

Steam Wars #2 (Antarctic)
I caught the first issue back on Free Comic Book Day and was surprised to find that I loved it a great deal.  So when the opportunity came around to read another one, I figured I might as well, right?  As the title may or may not imply to you, Steam Wars is Star Wars as steampunk.  It's from Fred Perry, who otherwise is better known for his long-running Gold Digger.  Alas, once again I am quasi-disappointed.  It's not particularly that the second issue is worse than the first, but I guess, for me, much more so than with Nova, the magic simply wore off.  But we'll always have FCBD!

The Unwritten #51 (Vertigo)
This was a series that perhaps was impossibly high-concept when it debuted.  Mike Carey envisioned Harry Potter as if Harry Potter himself were a real boy whose life inspired his author to create a fictional version of him.  The author disappears and Tom Taylor (our Harry; it strikes me as funny that DC later acquired the services of a writer named Tom Taylor, current writer of Earth 2) has to put up both with his celebrity status and the apparently very real magical life his father left behind.  As I said, almost impossibly high-concept.  When it launched I was hugely intrigued, but I wasn't sure Carey pulled it off, or I simply didn't stick around near long enough to find out if he had.  It's a series I definitely want to revisit in the trades at some point.  And it's also a series that came to an end last year without my realizing it, right around the time of a tie-in arc with the more popular Fables.  Kind of an inglorious end, being told in no uncertain terms you're not as success as that, so we'll bring that in to make the point clear, and then we'll cancel you.  It does seem as if Tom became Harry pretty literally by the end.  I guess I want to see how that happened.  As convoluted as my relationship with Unwritten was, I'm sad to have seen it go so relatively early.  Vertigo already had a Harry Potter kind of comic years ago, before Harry even existed, in Neil Gaiman and subsequent writers' Books of Magic.  Because I'm obliged to reference either Geoff Johns or Grant Morrison as often as possible, I'd love to see Morrison do an out-and-out magic series.  The dude did make himself known as a practitioner of chaos magic at one point...

Wonder Woman #22 (DC)
Clearly these bargain comics were/have been a great way for me to catch up with some series and/or creators I've been meaning to revisit.  Some of them have been ones that in other circumstances I would probably have been reading religiously.  This is one of those series.  I've been impressed with the level of quality Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang have brought to Wonder Woman, not the least for the apparent fact that this is much harder than it seems.  When Orion and/or the rest of the New Gods was brought into the mix, I was beyond intrigued, so it's nice to finally read some of that material.  This is one of those developments that seems like it should have happened a long time ago.  Maybe it's because Jack Kirby created his Fourth World with Superman in mind that someone didn't think of it sooner (although for some reason Darkseid long ago made the jump to Legion of Super-Heroes lore with the "Great Darkness Saga," while this much more logical conclusion remained ignored).  Anyway, half the reason Orion joined the narrative was as a way to link the series with the rest of DC proper, which was always the one stumbling block.  As great as Azzarello's run has been, it's also been isolated.  Orion serves as a romantic possibility, and therefore default rival for Superman, which became a thing last year and then became a whole series (Orion/Big Barda Superman/Wonder Woman).  Wonder Woman as a result also boasted the distinction of getting a jump on the New 52 version of the New Gods, which is fast expanding this year (Batman and Robin, Green Lantern, Infinity Man and the Forever People).  I skipped out initially because I didn't particularly want to see just Orion hanging around.  I wanted to see the whole line-up.  Rest assured, they're here this issue.  

X-O Manowar #13 (Valiant)
This is the series that won Robert Venditti the right to write Green Lantern.  I've meant to sample it ever since I learned he'd be succeeding Geoff Johns (a very tall order, one he's sometimes seemed up to) in that regard.  X-O is one of those heroes who keeps getting revived in the hopes he'll be a legitimate alternative to the DC/Marvel big leagues.  This does not appear to have been the best issue to sample.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Reading Comics #133 "Bull Moose Bargains"

As you may recall, I was enjoying bargain grab bags from local entertainment franchise Bull Moose, until I learned they weren't doing them anymore.  But they didn't stop carrying comics outright (but I haven't gotten a chance to check in a few weeks, so I don't know what the prospects look like now).  Instead they started sticking their discounted comics in one of those old-fashioned spinning racks, so I now had the opportunity to select exactly what I wanted (from the available titles, of course).  Some of them were the same 2013 leftovers I'd find in some of the grab bags, and some of them were new releases (did they know???), all of them marked at fifty cents.  For the first of two trips in this new configuration to date, I scooped up nine titles.  And those were:

Astro City #10 (Vertigo)
When this series was relaunched last year, I was part of the I-don't-know-how-large contingent of fans who was happy to see it return.  The last time the title was in print it was the extended Dark Age arc, which apparently bothered long-term readers, but was at least a version of something creator Kurt Busiek had been intending to do ever since Marvels (twenty years ago).  I've never read Marvels, a giant love letter to (as you may have guess) Marvel history which quickly became known as painter Alex Ross's breakout project (some argue best work, but I hold that for Kingdom Come, which is the one he clearly drew on for the later Earth X comics).  Ross has done every Astro City cover since it launched in 1995 (so! Busiek wasted little time!), and Brent Anderson has been the interior artist.  This is a hardcore nostalgia comic in the Alan Moore tradition, with Busiek versions of pretty much every major superhero.  Did it really take this long for him to get around to a Winged Victory spotlight?  Winged Victory, you understand, is his Wonder Woman.  The story takes off of the Infinite Crisis era of controversy surrounding DC's Amazon taking the life of Maxwell Lord.  In fairness to Busiek, he does craft his pastiches into fairly distinctive variations, so that you don't necessarily have to be thinking WonderWomanWonderWomanWonderWoman while reading this issue (if you so choose).  It's a Winged Victory story, even if you know how Busiek reached this point.  All that being said, I cooled on the whole thing pretty quickly.  I keep wanting him to grab the brass ring, go for the gusto, but Busiek is determined to take a relaxed pace.  These are comics for Silver Age fans (early Silver Age, the lens of what would follow refracted through the 1950s).  Originally Astro City was one of the most acclaimed comics around, but even other readers don't seem as excited about it these days.  Good to have it around again, though.

Kick-Ass 3 #8 (Icon)
The big surprise was this conclusion to the Kick-Ass saga, begun in 2008.  I read the early issues, but lost track of it along the way, after it became a movie phenomenon I inexplicably still haven't seen (despite active interests in the careers of both Jim Carrey, featured in the second one, and Chloe Grace Moretz, whose whole career happened thanks to Hit-Girl).  It might have to do with the fact that the writer is Mark Millar, and for a time I kind of soured on him, not so much because of anything he'd done, but because of things Grant Morrison said.  Morrison and Millar used to be bosom buddies, but they had a creative falling-out, and Morrison subsequently expressed the kind of opinions about his former friend that, well, Alan Moore routinely spouts about Morrison himself.  (Guys!  Guys!  Can't we all just get along?)  Comics Reader readers know I've recently turned the corner on Millar thanks to Starlight, so I was more than ready to read how he ended Kick-Ass.  It seems to be exactly the way it should have, and that's fine.  The art of John Romita, Jr. remains integral to the whole experience.  Romita moved on to Superman with Geoff Johns immediately after concluding this saga, and of course I'm definitely there for that experience.  In this sudden Millar- and Romita-heavy season for my comics experience, it was fitting to catch their mutual landmark as it happened.

The New 52: Futures End #10 (DC)
Contrary to my own expectations, Futures End still hasn't become a new version of my beloved 52 experience.  I'm still keeping tabs on it (the Masked Superman was recently revealed to be Shazam, if you wanted to know), and of course September this year is a whole month dedicated to the event otherwise chronicled in the weekly series, with DC's line decked out in special issues looking at the futures of their stars.  Masked Superman Before He Was Unmasked has encounter with Lois Lane this issue, which is otherwise highlighted by (Big) Barda being asked to suit up again.  Undeniably awesome moment.  Barda is the Wonder Woman of the New Gods.  Come to think of it, I have no idea why there haven't been more Barda/Wonder Woman stories.  Somebody fix that, please?

Saga #21 (Image)
On the opposite side of my recent Astro City experience is Saga.  I lost track of both series over the course of the last year, but returning to Saga was to remember how much I love it.  In the current comics, Brian K. Vaughan is finally putting the spotlight on the Robot Kingdom.  Prince Robot IV (such a deceptively simple, awesome name; I'm a man of uncomplicated pleasures sometimes) has had a baby, and that baby has been kidnapped by a disgruntled Robot Kingdom janitor.  Alana and Marko are still in the thick of their soap opera (call it what it is) otherwise.  I'm once again addicted.

Superman/Wonder Woman #6 (DC)
I don't know if you remember, but I was wild about this series when it launched.  I thought it was a brilliant idea, long-in-coming for Wonder Woman to get a second ongoing series of any form (and now she has a third, thanks to the digital-first Sensation Comics), and it also happened to have part of the early comic crush I've developed over Charles Soule (who unfortunately has recently signed an exclusive contract with...Marvel).  This issue is one of the periodic General Zod stories DC loves to do, these inspired by the Man of Steel version Michael Shannon embodied more than Terrence Stamp in Superman II (but there have been lots of versions over the years).  Zod is presented as a formidable foe.  In fact, Superman/Wonder Woman in general seems to love thrusting its love birds in epic battles they can only hope to survive (although of course they will), valuing their link as warriors, a bond only they can truly experience together (which is the whole point of the relationship).  The art is from Tony Daniel, whom I've greatly admired since his "Batman R.I.P." days, and whose work continues to evolve.  He may epitomize what some fans have called the "New 52 house style," which basically folds around Jim Lee's work.  For a brief moment it seemed as if Daniel had in fact begun to pattern himself pretty directly on Lee, but as I said, this issue is proof that he's still in flux.  This is a good thing.  I still have great hope for his career.  Given the right project, his budding interests as a writer-artist could cement a real legacy.  Next project in that regard is the forthcoming Deathstroke relaunch (which I will be rooting for, obviously).

Trinity of Sin: Pandora #2 (DC)
Ever since it became clear that the New 52 was launching with the secret lynchpin of a new character (who looks like part of the WildStorm legacy that officially became a part of DC canon at that time), I began rooting for Pandora to become an important, lasting creation.  This is a work in progress.  When she got her own book last year, I was rooting for that, too, but kept looking for a way in after I missed the launch.  Well, now I've finally read an issue, just in time for a forthcoming relaunch where the character and her Trinity of Sin cohorts (Phantom Stranger, Question) fold in together under the single, unspecified banner (it could certainly be worse!).  I think this is a good thing.  A character like Pandora kind of needs context.  She was built for context.  Unless someone literally spends a year or more exploring her own story, sending Pandora on random adventures will do her no favors at all.  This issue is a tie-in with "Trinity War," a Justice League crossover event that was supposed to be a big deal but kind of wasn't, a culmination of everything the New 52 was meant to accomplish to that point.  (Failure?  There are fans who've wanted the New 52 to be a failure from the start.  Is this how fans were after Crisis On Infinite Earths?  I hope not!)  The strongest element of the issue is its use of Vandal Savage.  Someone other than Ray Fawkes might have really played that up.  Fawkes is one of the writers who've benefited from the revised creative landscape DC has sought to establishment, and he's one I really haven't formed an impression of, so I hope this isn't completely indicative of his work.  I'd like to see better.

Wolverine #4 (Marvel)
Ah, Paul Cornell.  He's one of those writers who became an instant favor a few years back, and I became a loyal reader for a good long while.  But I wonder if he hasn't lost the thread of what interested him in writing comics along the way.  He's also known for his work with Doctor Who, and as an author.  And also for not really sticking around any one comic book project for long.  Maybe that's why I stopped trying to keep track, or found I didn't care when he started on Wolverine.  I kept almost checking out the run, but never quite doing it.  He's the writer who set up the Death of Wolverine event that...Charles Soule is finishing.  So I finally checked it out.  And...I really don't think I've missed anything.  Sorry, Paul.  Doesn't seem to be among your best.  When Cornell is at his best he's among the best.  So that's why I've been disappointed.

Wonder Woman #23 (DC)
If I hadn't gotten so horribly behind, I'd've been a loyal fan of the whole Brian Azzarello/Cliff Chiang run on this series, which is about to end.  It's brilliant, easily one of the best things that's ever happened to Wonder Woman, and for one of the biggest characters in comics.  This issue is part of the First Born arc.  First Born is a new villain to the mythos, part of the September 2013 Villains Month one-shot line-up and everything.  The one thing that can be held against the Azzarello Wonder Woman is that it feels completely disconnected from the rest of the DC landscape (which, I'm convinced, is half the reason Superman/Wonder Woman happened), and why First Born didn't at all become a household name.  I mean, H'El over in the Scott Lobdell Superman comics from around the same time had a better shot.  Wonder Woman from this era will become known for its particular context.  To read one issue is to read any issue, in some respects.  It's all one continuous story.  (Although I will be contradicting this gross simplification next time I talk about it, which is another tie-in to how Superman/Wonder Woman happened.)  This is a good thing.  I'm already hoping for a Azzarello/Chiang reprise somewhere down the line, an epic mini-series or even crossover event.  Hey, I can dream!

All-New X-Men #24 (Marvel)
This is another series I was once completely hot on but cooled over as time wore on.  This is the Brian Michael Bendis/Stuart Immonen series that spun out of AvX and famously sports the gimmick of having the original, youthful X-Men time-displaced to the present.  I'm about as all over the place with Bendis as I am with a handful of other creators.  He's kind of the Marvel equivalent, for me, of Scott Snyder in some respects.  When I love his work, I think he's brilliant.  But he's not always engaged in ways I think benefit what he's doing.  This issue is all about how he's reached that point again.  I thought the time-displaced heroes would be gone by now.  I really have no idea why they're still around.  In the early issues, All-New X-Men seemed primed to introduce a whole new generation of mutant heroes.  I don't know if I've simply missed that whole development, or if it's been abandoned, delayed, whatever.  That's what I think the series ought to be doing.  And as always, I want Immonen to be doing work that's far less busy.  He's the pen-and-ink version of Alex Ross at his best.  At Marvel he's simply never been given a chance to express that side of his work.  Maybe he's fine with that.  But for me, the same with Bendis, I'm...disappointed.  Bendis and Immonen could indeed be a dynamite combination.  But not this way.  Anyway, "The Trial of Jean Grey Part 5 of 6."  Blah blah blah, "Dark Phoenix Saga," I-can't-believe-we-didn't-remain-innocent-forever, forcing an unnecessary Guardians of the Galaxy connection.  (I never really got why the X-Men ever had to have anything to do with space.  Basically the complete opposite of what makes them relevant.)

Next time, fewer comics.  That's all I can promise...

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Reading Comics #132 "Detective Comics #27 Free Edition and Vertigo Defy"

via Robot 6
Batman is arguably the most famous fictional creation of the past hundred years, and the most consistently celebrated one, eclipsing his closest competition, who is more important, Superman.  This year there've been even more celebrations than usual, thanks to his seventy-fifth anniversary.  One of them was Detective Comics #27, not the 1939 version, but the DC New 52 relaunch edition, an oversized issue stuffed with all kinds of special creators chipping in to celebrate the occasion.  It was pretty great.  Well, DC liked the idea so much it kind of did it again, this time a little smaller, a lot more free, and so here I am talking about that.

The lead story is from the original version, the 1939 one, from Bob Kane and Bill Finger, the very first Batman story in all its dated glory.  Then comes the Brad Meltzer version of that same story, originally presented in that second edition, and a little later a third version, borrowing the captions from the Melzter story and the Finger art from the Kane story, altered by famed graphic designer Chip Kidd, an excerpt from an otherwise exclusive element to a different Batman release for the celebration.  And to round all that out, the Scott Snyder/Sean Murphy story from the second edition, which remains brilliant, one of the best things Snyder has ever written (the best?), and conveniently reminding everyone that Snyder and Murphy also collaborated on the recently-concluded Vertigo mini-series The Wake (which I haven't read, because I've grown leery of Snyder aside from this Batman short).

Anyway, all that being said, if you caught this freebie, that's all well and good.  It's still available at comiXology if you'd like to have a look yourself.

I'd like instead to talk about something that might have been obvious to a lot of other people, but for me was really only obvious after reading through this special: Tim Burton's Batman was pretty much "The Case of the Chemical Syndicate."  Sure, the Joker wasn't in it originally, but everything else is basically exactly the same (no "king of the wicker people" or black rubber suit, I also realize).  Meltzer certainly supports that impression (and he does insert the Joker).  The first dozen or so times I saw the movie, I'd never read the first Batman story, so I can be excused for not realizing that.  Movie critics will certainly never care about that, either.  (They care very little about how accurate a comic book movie is to its source material, although Marvel always seems willing to oblige direct comparisons, at least as soon as they update their own material to match.)  I wonder how much fans really care, either.  But there you go.  I'm not even sure Burton particularly cared that he was making a Batman movie.  It might even be argued that he wasn't making a Batman movie at all (the same can certainly be said about Batman Returns).  He had a look at the first story, figured out the Joker was a perfect figure to insert and build around, and really, there wasn't much else he had to do.  Batman is kind of a creep in the movie.  He's not even necessarily the good guy, just the guy who defeats the villain.  It's a gangster movie.  For some reason, gangster movies made a surge at that time, with Godfather Part III and Goodfellas and The Untouchables.  Even Dick Tracy!  (Is it any surprise that the further the Batman movies drifted obviously toward comic books or even Burton's own tendencies and further from other their own origins, the more audiences questioned them, to that point?  The decade following Batman saw a flood of comic book movies, and virtually none of them was a success.  The decade after that, everything changed.  But then, event movies had finally come to complete dominate the market.)

So let's switch topics and examine what one might learn from browsing through the Vertigo Defy preview:
via Comic Vine
When it was announced that long-time Vertigo chief Karen Berger was leaving, fans kind of assumed that the DC imprint would turn to pot.  It used to be an indication of some of the best comics in the market, having that logo on the cover.  For a good twenty years, it was practically a guarantee.  I think the rise of Image as a mature readers publisher built around The Walking Dead instead of Spawn changed the rules a little.  Suddenly all the cool creators were at Image instead of Vertigo, which became instead a little like the vanity label Marvel has tried to establish for years.  I mean, to a certain extent, Vertigo always was that, but now it seems like there's less to support its credentials, all the hype and none of the substance, or far less of it anyway.  But here's a review of what the freebie presented as the Vertigo of 2014:
  • Bodies from Si Spencer.  This is the listing for a new project with an excerpt.  The only time I've read Spencer I was soundly unimpressed (X-Club).  I can't imagine anyone believing in him as a strong talent, but maybe my experience was unrepresentative, he's grown, what have you.  The excerpt isn't terrible, but excerpts can be deceiving.  It's a mini-series that launched in July, so if you want to have a look at a story about multiple investigations across time concerning the same corpse and hope Spencer pulls it off, by all means, do so.
  • Coffin Hill, a current monthly.  I know nothing about this one other than the one-page ad in this special.  Doesn't seem to have distinguished itself.
  • The Names from Peter Milligan.  This is another new mini-series, complete with an excerpt.  Milligan is a long-time Vertigo talent, although one I personally have never been sold on.  From what I see here, I haven't found a reason to change that opinion.
  • American Vampire from Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque, one of Vertigo's current headlining acts.  Snyder and Albuquerque (an instant favorite when I saw his work in the pages of Blue Beetle a good handful of years back) had the helping hand of Stephen King when they originally launched this project, and I read those issues, and King's work was consistently my favorite work, Skinner Sweet being an instant icon whereas Pearl was just another character experiencing the beginnings of the saga along with everyone else (although that fact that I remember her name was Pearl is probably a point in Snyder's favor).  Is this a shining example of Vertigo at its finest?  I have such a hard time appreciating Snyder the way virtually everyone else seems to, it just seems like the prime example of Vertigo's new vanity image (heh), something he gets to do to give his Batman work greater credibility (because otherwise Snyder remains in a relative vacuum as far as his output is concerned other than the Dark Knight).  
  • Astro City, Kurt Busiek's long-standing metaphor baby, a kind of ongoing Alan Moore-style nostalgia project trading on his Marvels reputation, relocated to Vertigo as a matter of convenience (it's also been published, of course, by Image).  
  • The Kitchen, another new mini-series with an excerpt.  Doesn't much distinguish itself anymore than the other two.
  • The Sandman: Overture, the callback mini-series to Vertigo's formative years and heyday, which is typical Neil Gaiman brilliance and a reminder of what the imprint can do when it's really inspired.
  • Dead Boy Detectives, an ongoing series that spun out from Sandman.
  • Hinterland, an ongoing that seems to be a variation on Fables, the other current Vertigo headliner.
  • Suiciders, a new monthly from Lee Bermejo that seems to be an extended version of the movie subgenre of people killing each other for sport and survival and yes, entertainment.  Seems mostly relevant for its art (heh) and even as a kind of bridge back to superheroes (famously, Vertigo had its origins with alternative looks at superheroes, and the biggest thing to happen to the imprint recently was in fact losing all its most famous superhero projects back to DC proper).
  • Fables, the ongoing that's highly popular in the trade collections and similar to the later-launched TV series Once Upon a Time.  Started out horribly but seems to have leveled out and become an institution, although it's kind of a poor man's Sandman (no offense to Bill Willingham intended).
  • Fairest, a Fables spin-off that focuses on female characters.
  • FBP (stands for Federal Bureau of Physics), an ongoing that launched last year that might actually be the best non-Sandman Overture series Vertigo is publishing at the moment, the one I still most recommend checking out, even though I haven't done so in a good long while (I'm now fearful that I've missed too much, and so I should instead start reading in the trades if I'm so inclined).
Missing from the lineup is The Unwritten, which is probably another series Vertigo can hang a happy shingle on.  I'm not sure why it was left out.  The conclusion I reach from this survey, however, is that the imprint needs a little help at the moment.  (I'd personally love to see what Geoff Johns would do if he finally decided to launch something there.  Maybe give some other DC acts that kind of chance.  Vertigo is always at its best when it's reinventing itself.)  American Vampire and Fables are not terrible ways to headline the imprint, but I'm also not sure they stand up to the best it's ever seen.  The best of what's around doesn't necessarily say much.  Maybe FBP is that series.  It certainly needs more publicity.

Or, like Detective Comics #27, perhaps a lot more repetitions of what's already been said...  

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