Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Superman: Futures End #1 (DC)

writer: Dan Jurgens
artist: Lee Weeks
via Superman Homepage
We interrupt your regularly scheduled Geoff Johns/John Romita, Jr./Ulysses Superman for this special Futures End issue featuring...none of those guys.

Instead there's Dan Jurgans, Lee Weeks, and Shazam!

This is an issue pulled directly (metaphorically speaking) from the pages of Futures End itself, where the mystery of the masked Superman (similar to Supernova in 52) was somewhat quickly resolved, with the erstwhile Captain Marvel revealed as the would-be Man of Steel.

(Somewhere the ghost of Fawcett Comics is groaning.)

It wasn't a bad way to spend an issue of the series, mind.  Actually, it was a fun reminder of the "Reign of the Supermen" era from twenty (!) years ago, with Lois Lane pulling interview duties the same way she did for "Cyborg Superman" all those years ago, within the pages of Superman, naturally.

Jurgens is something of a revelation.  I don't know how often he's been writer but not artist simultaneously.  The constant knock against him in recent years is that his art style seems hopelessly dated (I'd say that it's more that he's simply lost his edge; Superman #75 stands up quite well, thank you).  Even I've sort of jumped on that bandwagon.  It's one of the reasons I haven't really been able to read Futures End itself as regularly as I thought I might.

Lee Weeks is artist instead, and he does his reliably excellent work.  He's another artist who's worked almost exclusively for Marvel throughout his career (Daredevil is a highlight) and now popping up at DC.
via Comic Box Commentary
One of the big mysteries of Futures End is what exactly happened to Superman to make him disappear.  I can tell you one thing: thankfully Jurgens and Weeks had something to do with it.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Saga #23 (Image)

writer: Brian K. Vaughan
artist: Fiona Staples
via Image Comics
There's a bunch of stuff that happens in this issue, but the crux of its impact is in this line from Hazel, the narrator of the series who speaks in retrospect because in the present she's the toddler offspring of lead characters Alana and Marko:
"This was the story of how my parents split up.  But it's not the end of our story."
You see, I can't decide if Brian K. Vaughan has pulled a bait-and-switch or not.   You see, back in #19, she originally declared the first part of that quote.  I was devastated.  Who wants to suddenly discover that you're reading a romantic tragedy when all along you think you've been reading the galactic Romeo & Juliet (oh, wait...)?

Did he reconsider?  Or is it a matter of potentially disgruntled readers to decide?

It's not a deal-breaker, mind.  I can imagine some readers considering it one.  If this were a TV series, it might even be considered a jump-the-shark moment.

I'm making a big deal about this because this is exactly what this issue should be remembered for, a crucial moment in the series.  There's a chance I've been misinterpreting these developments because I missed vital moments from issues I haven't read.  But for what it is, for the span of these past five issues (nearly half a year), it's seemed as if Vaughan had flipped the script on the whole story.  It's not as if Alana and Marko have had an easy ride to date.  In fact, the whole series is about how rough they've had it.  But the idea, seemingly, was that they always had a chance at a happy ending, or at least boom-boom death, which would therefore remove their fates once and for all from their own hands.  For Vaughan to have spent a span of the series suggesting otherwise might be considered reader manipulation.

I'll keep reading regardless.  But now there's an inkling of doubt in creator credibility.  In literature, Hazel might be considered an unreliable narrator, but she certainly took her sweet time reaching that point.  It's at a juncture like this that I begin to wonder how long this series will actually be.  The comparable Starflight is apparently ending after six issues, a fact I just learned.  Mark Millar tends to do stories like that, though (and if it's really popular, like Kick-Ass, a few additional mini-series to follow).  Vaughan sticks around for longer.  How much longer this time?

And do I have to worry about something like this again?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Red Lanterns: Futures End #1 (DC)

writer: Charles Soule
artist: J. Calafiore
via Comic Book Resources
Aside from the brilliant Grayson: Futures End, no other one-shot from the event last month, so far as I know, took the opportunity to explore the parent title's continuity as richly as Red Lanterns.

There was good reason.  Just as the new series Grayson saw a chance to help define a new series, the Red Lanterns effort was one of Charles Soule's final issues and therefore a way to flashforward to an ending that might otherwise never happen.  

When he debuted in the series, Soule brought Guy Gardner along with him, and he used this crucial element to transform Red Lanterns into a focused character study, with the rest of the established characters free to evolve the same way. The greatest beneficiary was Bleez, the demonic-looking lass originally introduced by Geoff Johns in Final Crisis: Rage of the Red Lanterns #1.  (The other way of describing her would be to take Farscape's Scorpius, make him female and add bone wings.)  It's fair to say that Soule helped make her into one of the most fleshed-out characters Johns has created.

Along with Gardner and Bleez there's Rankorr, the human introduced in Red Lanterns as an intended bridge character for readers who might otherwise have been dubious about the series when it originally launched.  It's fair to say that Soule vastly improved him, too.  Eventually an unwitting pawn of Atrocitus, the original star of the series (fans weren't never quite convinced by that one) until the events of the recent "Atrocities" arc finally concluded that arc, it's Rankorr who serves as the the third necessary character to conclude Gardner's journey.

Soule's work has transformed Guy Gardner from a frequently combative hothead to someone who has finally made peace with himself, and therefore been able to function profitably among others.  Anyone who knows the character's history would probably have never seen that coming.  This issue makes a compelling case for Gardner as a Blue Lantern.  He's been a Green Lantern, a Red Lantern, even had Sinestro's yellow ring (someone still has to revisit that in the new Johns context).  Who would've thought that the formerly rage-defined Red Lanterns would've put him on the path to inner peace?

Soule is joined by regular Red Lanterns artist J. Calafiore, another reason to accept this as part of regular series continuity regardless of how Futures End concludes.  Five years into a future that probably won't exist in that form by next year.  Not that you'll care after reading something like this. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Green Lantern/New Gods: Godhead #1 (DC)

writer: Van Jensen, Justin Jordan, Robert Venditti, Charles Soule, Cullen Bunn (script: Jensen and Jordan)
artist: Ethan Van Sciver, Martin Coccolo, Goran Sudzuka, Chris Cross, Pete Woods

The biggest thing Geoff Johns did for Green Lantern, other than greatly expand the mythos and it importance to the DC publishing schedule, was establish the event trend, from "Sinestro Corps War" to Blackest Night.  When Robert Venditti replaced him as torchbearer, clearly this trend was retained as the common denominator between them.  

Venditti's latest is also his biggest.  This time the New Gods are involved.  Jack Kirby's iconic if popularly-challenged creations were immediately cast as intrinsic to the New 52 thanks to Johns' own opening arc in Justice League, and they've been working their way back to the forefront thanks to the "Robin Rises" arc in Batman and Robin.  The second and more prominent salvo in this campaign likely to end with next year's Crisis event is Godhead.

It's a great way to go, too.  Venditti and the whole crop of current Green Lantern writers (although the script is from Green Lantern Corps and Green Lantern: New Guardians writers Van Jensen and Justin Jordan specifically) have figured out a way to reimagine one of Johns' major contributions to the mythos: the idea of the White Lantern.  

Now, Johns created a whole spectrum, but for the purposes of Blackest Night and its followup Brightest Day he posited that the combined might of all the rings created the White Lantern (the Green Lantern version of "one ring to rule them all").  The current holder of this title is Kyle Rayner in New Guardians.  I haven't been keeping tabs on any of the series besides Charles Soule's Red Lanterns, so I had no idea that Kyle's been missing from action, as far as everyone else is concerned, for a year (the last writer, Cullen Bunn, is responsible for Sinestro).

But the thing about the White Lantern is that he's in possession of the Life Equation.  For as long as Darkseid's been rampaging through comics, he's obsessed over the Anti-Life Equation.  So it's interesting to see the good gods led by Highfather pursuing its opposite number for a change.  Except this is hardly good news for the Lanterns!  (I also had no idea what was happening with Saint Walker these days.  Apparently he's lost hope, which is a bad thing for a Blue Lantern!  More complications for him, as well as the perennially-hapless Mogo.)

It's good for the New Gods to be approached from a fresh perspective, and Godhead does exactly that.  Highfather has likely never been this vital (except maybe under Kirby himself), and he's surrounded by familiar and new figures who are equally compelling.

The good news is that if you have no real experience with Green Lantern or the New Gods, this issue serves as an excellent primer, too, catching up on concepts and characters with lightning precision.

The art's interesting too.  I love the design concept for the Godhead covers.  The interior here features new Green Lantern work from Rebirth artist Ethan Van Sciver, who shares the workload with a number of others.  There's also some splashes of that indy style that Marvel's been exploiting in series like Hawkeye and Moon Knight.  It's unexpected and effective.

Green Lantern has long been a favorite comics sandbox for me.  I feel guilty for having all but abandoned the sandbox with the departure of Johns.  Fortunately his successors know some fun games to play.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Reading Comics #136 "And I Wonder, Still I Wonder..."

It's beginning to feel as if Wonder Woman really belongs in the Big Three at DC.  Much has been made of her inclusion in the upcoming Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice.  DC just announced a fourth series, Wonder Woman '77 (based on the TV series, like Batman '66), her second after Sensation Comics.  There's also Superman/Wonder Woman besides her eponymous series.  Pretty unbelievable.  There was a period, oh...a three quarters of a century or so, where it seemed no one believed she could handle that kind of load.  She handled quite a lot in her earliest years.  But when the comics bubble burst at the end of WWII, so did her widespread popularity.  She persisted, along with Superman and Batman, but at a reduced capacity.  Her placement in the Big Three always seemed more a concession to the fact that she remains the most prominent female superhero in comics.

Things are changing.

In September I caught Superman/Wonder Woman: Futures End and Sensation Comics #2.  I figured it was a good chance to see how things are going.  Brian Azzarello's Wonder Woman run is concluding this month, and then we're headed into Finch territory, and at some point I hope to read the complete Azzarello, but I fell too far behind to have done so already.  But Wonder Woman: Futures End was actually a tie-in with Superman/Wonder Woman (some creators opted in, some out).

Charles Soule wrote this adventure, which doesn't seem to have much to say about his own just-concluded run on the series except that Superman and Wonder Woman are both involved.  It's more about Wonder Woman, and actually, something of a rebuttal to some of what Azzarello did, the whole Goddess of War thing.  Soule's conclusions make a good amount of sense and end the issue well.  Superman's arc in the overall Futures End story is more complicated than can be covered here, but that's another thing Soule gets around.

Damn.  I'm going to miss Soule at DC.  You'd better be good to him, Marvel!

It's Sensation Comics, which like Wonder Woman '77 will be is digital-first, that provides a little more to talk about.  There are a couple of stories inside the second print issue.  The first is from Ivan Cohen and plays around with the fact that like Shazam, Diana owes a lot of what she is and does to gifts she's been given rather than what she inherently is.  It's another difference between this particular icon and other superheroes.  It's probably easier to think of her as an ambassador (which was certainly fruitful material for, say, Greg Rucka), but Wonder Woman's biggest strength is her belief in herself.  Batman's obsessive quest makes him what he is, Superman's origins from another planet and subsequent adoption.  Cohen does a little trickery in his story but circles around to what truly makes his lead who and what she is.

But that's not the best story in the issue.  (It is the longer one, though.)

The second story comes from Jason Bischoff.  (These are both relatively new names in comics, I assume.  That's another difference for Wonder Woman.  Very often in the past twenty years or so, DC has tossed one big name after another at the character.  There's been some good material.  But maybe for someone like her, a fresh voice is needed.)  A few years back, Ben Caldwell presented an innovative take on Wonder Woman's origins within the pages of Wednesday Comics.  It was one of the best comic book stories I've ever read.  Now it has a rival, at least in terms of versions of Wonder Woman's origins.

Strangely enough, I've got to evoke another favorite comic book memory.  Two Septembers ago Peter Tomasi presented his version of Damian Wayne's origins in Batman and Robin #0.  Damian was the son of Batman and Talia al Ghul, raised by Talia as a perfect warrior for the League of Assassins.  To "graduate" he had to be able to defeat his own mother in combat.

Cleverly, Bischoff does the same thing between Diana and her mother Hippolyta.  The story is narrated by Hippolyta, leaving the young Wonder Woman free to struggle toward her destiny on her own.  The result is another story I've read recently that could easily be expanded upon in the future (the other being the masterful Grayson: Futures End).  Gail Simone had her strongest material when she revisited Themyscira and the origin material, while J. Michael Straczynski's best work in "Odyssey" was exploring the teenage Diana.

That's another difference for Wonder Woman.  Batman as a boy (besides a subject currently be explored in the new Gotham TV series) isn't nearly as interesting as Batman as a young man.  Superman as a boy is pretty much Superman discovering his powers one by one, otherwise it's really just a story about the Kents, while Superman as a teenager is basically exactly Smallville.  It's Wonder Woman who has the most potential as a little girl.  And writers like Caldwell and Bischoff are finally getting that.

What I'm saying is, Diana didn't need to become Wonder Woman for her story to begin.  She didn't need a catalyst; regardless of the version of her birth you choose, that alone was all she needed.  She won a contest to earn the title and leave her home behind, but her whole life was already headed in that direction.

So that's what Bischoff got me thinking.

It's a good time to be a fan of Wonder Woman.

The Multiversity: Society of Super-Heroes (DC)

writer: Grant Morrison
artist: Chris Sprouse
via Weird Science DC Comics
I've been reading Grant Morrison for years, and am still figuring out how to read him.  Today, while looking at Multiversity #2 (which is what this basically is), I realized he's a little like Quentin Tarantino by way of Indiana Jones.  He technically started writing comics in the late '70s, but he's a product of the '80s, the decade that saw popular culture become acceptable.  Or in other words, the birthplace of everything we know now.

The thing that really makes Morrison distinctive, though, is his ability to synthesize whole experiences.  Famously, he did that as a personal challenge with Batman, and his version of the Justice League was the start of, somewhat curiously, everything that Marvel has done ever since, including its wildly popular Avengers movies.

What he does is accept that every insane thing comic books take for granted and then approach them from that perspective.  He doesn't just follow the general template, like so many other writers.  He incorporates.  He incorporates like crazy.

This issue of Multiversity is the Justice Society issue.  Like the opening issue of the project, it's apparent that he's trying to make good on his Final Crisis ambition.  You may remember how he opened that, with the character Anthro, who's the narrating lead in this issue.

Incidentally, another character, used opposite Anthro/Immortal Man, is Vandal Savage, repackaged as a sort of prototypical Ra's al Ghul.  Now, why hasn't anyone else made such a connection?  And how cool would this version of Anthro be in a more extended capacity?  Although, of course, history has shown that other writers don't always approach Morrison's versions that same way he does.  Not to knock the new Klarion!

Morrison's Atom is more interesting than I've ever seen Al Pratt.  He does Dr. Fate better than anyone.  His Green Lantern is Abin Sur (with a new look that is justified in the story).

Overall, this is a great issue.  He clearly had a lot of fun creating it.  Artist Chris Sprouse (who's best known for his Tom Strong work with...Alan Moore) is a great collaborator for this content.  I don't know what to say.  I'm loving Multiversity.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Ms. Marvel #8 (Marvel)

writer: G. Willow Wilson
artist: Adrian Alphona
via Comic Vine
The first part of the "Generation Why" arc continues the Inventor arc, introduces the Inhumans dog Lockjaw as Kamala's new pet, and helps further explain what G. Willow Wilson hopes to accomplish with the series.  It also sees the return of regular artist Adrian Alphona.

The Inventor is the default villain at this point, the problem our hero is still trying to figure out.  At this point Ms. Marvel is learning everything he's been doing, starting to clean up the mess, and is working toward the inevitable final confrontation.  For this issue, it's probably the least interesting aspect.

Moving on, Lockjaw's debut puts yet another element into the ongoing narrative.  Usually a move like this is done because someone's getting anxious for people to discover the series and they've started looking for gimmicks.  In this case, it's a kind of subtle tie-in to Kamala's heroic origins (as figured out by Wolverine last issue, a by-product of the recent Inhumanity event) without advancing the series arc too quickly.  The friendly dog is a gentle reminder, is all, a placeholder.  It's also a chance for Kamala to interact with her family in matters other than faith.  That's important, too.  Every kid wants a pet.  Comics sometimes forget that.

By the time Kamala shows up for class late in the issue, she has to explain away a few things.  Her teacher tries to prove that she's a bad student, but Kamala quickly turns the tables on her with this insightful comment:

"Well...giving up on the next generation is like giving up on the future, right?  And...and sometimes the next generation has to deal with all the problems the last generation left for it to fix, and that means getting up really early in the morning --"
It amounts to a mission statement for the series.  Some of it's pretty obvious, standard talking points, but Wilson also puts Ms. Marvel's context firmly in the very argument you always see but never see played out.  Quite literally, she's going to be dealing with problems (the ongoing Inhumans saga) that her predecessors have never figured out, and forging her own future, and by extension a new generation of heroes.

These days, new characters never seem to last.  If they stick around at all, they end up in a group and therefore don't really amount to much, compared to the legacies of characters created decades ago.  The last time there was a significant expansion of the superhero landscape was in the '60s, the whole reason we still, well, marvel at the Marvel Age.  Image came close in the '90s, but it's fair to say that no character from that time has become a true icon (Spawn, Savage Dragon, and Witchblade come close, but they still have yet to prove they can exist in contexts other than how they were originally presented).

Sometimes someone comes along and makes a clear effort to do something new.  Often, that's done in relationship to some established character.  That's what Wilson has done, but she's also made an effort to distinguish her efforts.  She's trying to make the character relevant as a kid growing up, and as someone entering the greater superhero community.

So far so good.
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