Thursday, October 23, 2014

Reading Comics #137 "Bull Moose Bargains III"

Bull Moose probably won't be receiving any more shipments of comics to sell at steep discount, so this may be the final entry of this series.  So I made sure it was a good one.

Daredevil #33 (Marvel)
I've taken for granted for years that everyone loved Mark Waid's Flash as much as I did.  I've learned recently that maybe this isn't the case.  I know, however, that his Daredevil has been receiving a pretty good following.  It's something I've commented on elsewhere, but for the most part I really hadn't read much of his Marvel work, at any point in his career, until recently.  So I figured I'd finally give it a shot.  This is as random an issue to choose as any.  It seems to feature a bunch of characters Waid cobbled together from the old Universal monster days, a somewhat clever juxtaposition of Matt Murdock's superhero identity and something of what he's always evoked.  You know, actual ghosts and goblins, as it were.  Has anyone ever done that?  He also makes clever work of Murdock's blindness.  It's not a brilliant issue, and there's plenty of material (including the hapless Foggy Nelson's current predicament) that I simply won't be able to completely follow, but it's a decent read with some of that trademark concept work from Waid that others probably hadn't thought of before.  Probably good enough to reconsider my opinions.  Just a little.

Thunderbolts #18 (Marvel)
Here's Charles Soule doing work at Marvel, as opposed to DC.  I figured I'm going to have to get used to the idea, because he's signed an exclusive contract there that'll take effect next year (the one exception is Letter 44, a creator-owned title he does over at Oni that I probably should also have a look at).  Thunderbolts is a series that has somewhat dramatically changed course since it debuted under Kurt Busiek in the '90s.  At that time it was a new superhero team that was secretly the villainous Masters of Evil.  It's since become a sort of Marvel version of DC's Suicide Squad, a collection of hodgepodge characters who aren't necessarily bad guys but also not necessarily good guys.  Soule's team includes Red Hulk (the "Thunderbolt" Ross revision introduced by Jeph Loeb), Elektra, Punisher, Deadpool, Venom (the "Flash" Thompson version), someone named Red Leader, and Mercy, who could be the most interesting one of the bunch.  In this issue she presents the team a considerable problem, because she's a classic rogue element.  She's also the closest tie to Soule's Red Lanterns work I can find.  The tone is more flippant (which you would expect from a title featuring Deadpool) but otherwise it's not completely different from the Soule I've come to expect (his Deadpool is not as random; actually he seems to be somewhat holistic).  It's not a bad issue.  Enough to make me read more of the series?  Maybe not.  But maybe enough for me to not bitterly lament that Marvel contract he signed...

Trinity of Sin: Pandora #5 (DC)
Ray Fawkes won me over recently, and now it appears to be easier to admire his work overall.  This is the second issue of Pandora I've read (the series recently ended, and I've just read the first issue of Trinity of Sin, the catch-all title that now carries Pandora and Phantom Stranger together, along with The Question), and now I'm wondering if I've been as unfair to the series as I once was to Fawkes.  It's not that bad.  This issue even features some of that character work I thought was absent from the series.  It helps to juxtapose Pandora against someone like The Outsider, a character last seen in the alternate reality of Flashpoint (and originally conceived as an alias for Alfred Pennyworth!).  Good stuff.  Glad I stopped by!

The Wake #5 (Vertigo)
Another creator I've been unfair to is Scott Snyder, who is otherwise known as one of the current darlings of comic book fans in general thanks to his Batman and probably also American Vampire.  I long wanted to have a look at Wake, though, because of artist Sean Murphy, who wowed me in his two previous projects Joe the Barbarian (with Grant Morrison) and Punk Rock Jesus (which he also wrote).  But as it turns out, Snyder's storytelling is pretty compelling, too.  It's not that this is a great revelation or anything, but it's a matter of degrees with this guy.  On this project, he seems really keyed in.  That's good to know.  So now I probably want to read the rest of it.
via comiXology

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Wasteland #57 (Oni)

writer: Antony Johnston
artist: Christopher Mitten
via Antony Johnston
We're in the homestretch of the whole series itself.  That means answers.

Answers to how the whole story happened to begin with, the mystery of "The Big Wet," the event that created the post-apocalyptic world of Wasteland, and who exactly Michael, Abi, and others of their kind really are.

This is what Robert Kirkman will be getting around to, as he currently sees it, probably decades from now over in The Walking Dead.  For my money, Wasteland was always better than Walking Dead.

But far more complicated.  This is what fans like me have been dreaming about for years, these answers.  But fans like me have been in short supply, which is why my record of reading the series has been spotty in recent years.  I've tended to read my comics in print, and even though I've started reading them digitally this year, which happens to coincide with Mitten's return to the series for its final chapter, I wanted to read the end of Wasteland the way I began.  Which meant getting my local comics shop to order it for me, which has turned out to be a little more difficult than I thought it would.

But here we are.  I can only say, with this particular issue, that the answers have started to come.  I don't know when, exactly, the answers began, because this is the first issue I've caught all year.  I will play catch-up next year in the trade collections.  I'm already three volumes behind in those, which is also the exact material covering the period where I stopped being able to catch the series regularly, and I guess one or two more to cover the final issues.

I'd say more about what this particular issues does, but I've just read the next one, and that one's pure dynamite, and I'll have a lot more to that about that one and how it reflects on the journey of the whole series.  And after that, there are only two issues left of the series.  The last one will apparently have to wait until next year to see publication.

I can wait.  Probably.  

Bottom line, I consider Wasteland to be among the best comics being published as much today as the day I first fell in love with it.  With the second issue (only because I didn't catch the first).

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.
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