Sunday, December 21, 2014

Reading Comics 142 "Snyder Eternal?"

via Big Easy Comics
This year has seen something of a remarkable turnaround for me.  I think everyone experiences it, realizing an opinion you've held for a while and have felt pretty strongly about might be easier to change than you'd have thought.  In the case of Scott Snyder, I actually started out as a fan, back when he first showed up in the pages of Detective Comics and launched American Vampire with Stephen King and Raphael Albuquerque, but somewhere along the way, probably at the launch of the New 52 and the apparent assumption by everyone that Snyder had somehow supplanted Grant Morrison as the most significant contemporary Batman writer, in the middle of Batman Incorporated, which always seemed a little galling.  And I found the work Snyder produced at the time to be less inspired than I'd hoped.  So I tried my best to give up on him.

But I kept checking in.  The first time I thought I might reconsider was when I believed he was ready to do something very radical with the Joker, after "Night of the Owls" concluded on a cryptic note concerning a possible brother of Bruce Wayne.  "Death of the Family" has since proven to be a prelude, actually, to another Joker story, "Endgame," which began a few months ago.  Once word got out that this mysterious arc involved the Joker, I knew I'd have to give Snyder another chance.  Even if he reaches different conclusions than I thought he might, suddenly Snyder seems quite interesting again.

I checked in earlier this year during "Zero Year," the obligatory origin story every creator who wants to make a permanent mark on the Dark Knight must attempt.  When a character who showed up in the arc later appeared as a possible new Boy Wonder in the pages of Batman and Robin: Futures End, I got to thinking of another new character Snyder had introduced and has been making headway to becoming a significant addition to the mythos, Harper Row.  From the start, fans assumed she was being primed to become Robin.  Snyder threw a curveball in Batman #28, a prelude to Batman Eternal.

I assumed the issue would be a pretty big deal, but when it showed up months later in a value bin at my local comics shop, I had to assume either than readers in my area either weren't very savvy, or this is a development that has lost some of its luster since word originally spread.  I didn't scoop up the issue right away, but finally I bought it, along with my first sampling of Batman Eternal itself.  Eternal is one of three weekly series DC launched this year.  When 52 debuted in 2006, its creators wondered if such a project could succeed.  When it did, DC continued with various other weekly comics.  Now it seems there's no stopping this trend.  Eternal has a chance of being one of the most important Batman stories in Snyder's mounting catalog.  Like Futures End it takes place in the future, but seems to be a lucrative chance to revisit pieces of the lore that have slipped by the wayside, and even an opportunity to expand it.  In the preview issue, for instance, Stephanie Brown (Spoiler, Robin, Batgirl, all-around missed character from previous DC continuity) finally made her New 52 debut.  And Harper Row was unveiled as Bluebird, the start of a new tradition.

The Batman Eternal issue I sampled was #26, which recaps Hush's origin.  Hush, of course, originally appeared in the bestselling arc of the same name, part of Jim Lee's original DC experience from more than a decade ago.  Later, Paul Dini further explored his story by revealing how Tommy Elliot first became Hush, in the pages of Batman: Streets of Gotham, which is what the issue echoes.  Characters with consider history like Batman become increasingly difficult to build new material around, but Hush has been one of the most welcome additions in recent times, so it's always nice to see him again, and as far as I'm concerned, his presence in Eternal is a sign that it's doing something right.  As I understand it, though the real villain is Jason Bard, a character Snyder may be repackaging but otherwise has been around for nearly fifty years.

Batman #37, meanwhile, is the third installment of "Endgame," and apparently has suggested disturbing new things about the Joker, a character who has always been disturbing, but in an absurd way.  When the '80s made him into a killer, it changed him considerably, and most of his appearances since have tried to reconcile that with the kind of ultimately harmless goof that is necessary for repeat performances.  Snyder has been doing his level best to complete that transformation.  I've begun to realizing it's this instinct that distinguishes his work.  And may well be worth praising after all.  He's adding to the Batman legacy.  It's becoming easier to see that now.  And that's a good thing.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Annihilator #4 (Legendary)

via Previews World
writer: Grant Morrison
artist: Frazer Irving

Morrison's latest bid for immortality continues with an issue that goes a long way to unlocking the entire story.

Hollywood screenwriter Ray Spass has met the lead character of his latest script, Max Nomax, who tells him he's real and that Ray needs to finish the story so that he can remember how he defeats the cosmic forces working against him, which include Makro, who has begun impersonating Ray.

Makro shows up at the door of Ray's ex-girlfriend Luna, but thankfully Max and Ray intervene in time.

And then we learn from Luna more about Ray, and we see more about Max, and then Max's full story is explained, and by the end of the issue, Makro's impersonation has reached true crisis proportions...

So yeah, a pretty big issue.  It also continues the thread of what I picked up with the last one, with Annihilator acting as a kind of therapeutic release for Morrison.  This is not just another Morrison-does-a-story-about-a-character-meeting-his-creator thing, as one of the comics blogs I follow recently concluded.  This is one of those culmination projects, a sum of everything Morrison has sought to accomplish in his career.  It reminds me of Kid Eternity, in some respects, which when I read it became another signal project that unlocks much of what Morrison has tried to do in his career.  

And as it currently stands, I've pegged Annihilator as the best comic of 2014.

Reading Comics 141 "Django/Zorro"

via Indie Wire
When Matt Wagner first began doing Zorro comics for Dynamite, in 2008, I saw for the first time a classic pulp character masterfully resurrected in comics.  Wagner was certainly no stranger to the medium at the time, having already crafted his own legacy with creations like Grendel and Mage.  Outside of DC and Marvel, the effort to create distinctive comics with established characters has been a constant goal for publishers over the past thirty years.  Some have tried to come up with their own creations, others have grabbed at the many existing properties that drift through the hands of whoever has paid up to have them for that given moment.  Wagner's Zorro was a perfect confluence.  Of course, I was already a sucker for the Zorro character after an equally inspired 1998 film revival starring Antonio Banderas, The Mask of Zorro, yet Wagner had an equally fine grasp of the concept.  It's rare enough when known superheroes like Batman and Spider-Man find ideal creators to breathe new life into their adventures, rarer still for anyone who has to wait much further in between them for a shot at continued vitality.

In 2012, Quentin Tarantino released Django Unchained, a bombastic twist on the Western genre, aside from everything else that can be said about it.  I became familiar with it, initially, in Vertigo's adaptation, however.  It was another perfect fit.

To see Wagner's Zorro and Tarantino's Django come together is a fever dream beyond my wildest dreams.  Having read the first two issues, I can say that it definitely lives up to its potential.  The first issue heavily draws on the basic framework of Django Unchained, a foreigner traveling across America who happens to come across Django and from thence their journeys join together.  The clever thing Wagner does (he works from a story he and Tarantino hammered out together) is that he has aged Zorro to a ripe old age, probably older than Schultz in Tarantino's film but otherwise comparable enough so that Django can't help but notice the similarities between two remarkable individuals he's had the good fortune to meet.  Django himself is working as a bounty hunter, so this is very much a sequel to Unchained or at least part of his continued adventures.  Reading Wagner's dialogue for Diego de la Vega (Zorro, naturally), he's reminiscent of Schultz to a remarkable degree while remaining his own man.  This is a fantasy team-up that is very much aware that it follows a legacy, and doesn't just happen for crass appeal.

The second issue harkens back to Wagner's original Zorro comics, as it paints a portrait of the menace our two heroes are on their way to confront.  This is a comic that can literally be enjoyed by fans of Tarantino's movie and Wagner's prior work, and it can also be appreciated on its own merits.  It's worth noting that of course there have been many other Zorro stories besides, and Django existed before Tarantino as well.  Django/Zorro continues many traditions admirably.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Quarter Bin #64 "Binge-worthy IX: An Indulgence"

Air #8 (Vertigo)
via Vertigo Comics
From 2009.

Air is the genius series that first introduced me to G. Willow Wilson, who has staged a remarkable comeback with Ms. Marvel.  You see, even though I love Air, there wasn't much of that going on during its original publication.  I named it twice to the top of my annual QB50 list.  I passed on scooping up this random issue a couple of times before finally deciding to buy it.  And once again I was reminded why I love Air so much.  Blythe has just experienced mystery lover Zayn's life firsthand, but there's very little time to reflect on that, because piloting the hyperprax method takes great concentration.  Did I mention Amelia Earhart was involved?  The whole experience was like following pirates of the imagination whose goal was to try and invent the future.  Hopefully Wilson's current success will help readers rediscover her masterpiece.

Detective Comics #648 (DC)
via Comic Vine
From 1992.

I picked this one up in part because of that gorgeous Matt Wagner cover, and also to hopefully catch a little of that early Tim Drake era, after he'd become the new Robin and before the whole Bane business threw everything into chaos.  I ended up gifted with an early Spoiler appearance.  Stephanie Brown's journey to becoming a permanent institution in the Batman mythos has been incredibly complicated.  At one point she succeeded Tim as Robin, was unceremoniously killed off, revived, and apparently rejected from the New 52 landscape until she showed up in the pages of Batman Eternal.  She's also been Batgirl, by the way.  But Spoiler is iconic all on her own, thank you very much.

Daredevil #323 (Marvel)
via Comic Vine
From 1993.

The only reason for me to have gotten this one, as it turned out, was because of the Scott McDaniel art.  Yeah, that cover promises Venom, and Venom was pretty big business for a while, but that's no reason to read this.  The Daredevil costume inside the issue is one of those variants Marvel tried in the '90s, including a return to his original look, but that simple red one is really all you need.  I had my first experience with McDaniel in the pages of Nightwing, which in a lot of ways might have been deemed in that first incarnation as a kind of DC version of Daredevil, complete with Blockbuster reinvented as a Kingpin figure with a similar singular focus on ruining the life of a pesky vigilante that went on to epic proportions (and under two creators: Chuck Dixon and Devin K. Grayson).  So to finally see McDaniel in the pages of Daredevil itself was worth the trouble of ignoring everything else about the issue.  And as it turns out, his work certainly evolved over the years.  I mean, I guess it figures.  But it's interesting to see it when it was less distinctive, though certainly recognizable.  I still can't believe that McDaniel has apparently angered the comic book gods and now can't get a regular penciling gig.  It boggles the mind.  He's got insane talent.

Elongated Man #1 (DC)
From 1992.

via Pinterest
After Identity Crisis, Ralph and Sue Dibney took on iconic proportions, for reasons most comic book characters probably wouldn't want to have associated with them even if it meant immortality.  Elongated Man is a peculiar relic of the Silver Age, a costumed detective who along with Plastic Man and Mr. Fantastic is best defined for an admittedly wacky superpower.  Being married always gave him special distinction.  This mini-series, spinning out of the infamous Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League era, is quite shocking for post-Identity Crisis readers, actually.  This debut issue sees the Dibneys in considerable discord.  The art is from the late Mike Parobeck, who would later achieve his greatest recognition in the pages of the comics spinning out of The Batman Adventures TV series.  I first saw his work in the pages of an attempted Justice Society relaunch from around the same time, and I always liked it.  Another crying shame in comic book creators taken too soon.  At this point he's been dead nearly twenty years!

Global Frequency #12 (WildStorm)
From 2004.

via Full-Page Bleed
Warren Ellis is the acknowledged master of the big concept in comics, the writer Jonathan Hickman and Rick Remender have been chasing and what Grant Morrison would look like if he weren't the personification of caffeine in the medium.  Maybe it's because his reign in that regard began while I wasn't reading them, but I always found it difficult to get into him.  Every now and then I'll check in with what he's done, and if I'm honest about it I'll admit I've never been disappointed.  Global Frequency is another such instance.  This is the conclusion of the story, with various characters converging in a sequence that in a movie would definitely have left my heart pounding as they try to disable a fail-safe weapon the United States military put in place years ago.

Grendel: War Child #1 (Dark Horse)
via Comic Vine
From 1992.

This is also technically Grendel #41.  Grendel, along with Mage, is the defining work of Matt Wagner's insufficiently-heralded career.  Wagner is one of the kings of the indy scene, a pioneer who helped pave the ground for Image (where Mage unfolded at one point), but now can't seem to get work unless it's related to some licensed property or another, which in itself is not a bad thing, but for a guy who's already struck gold twice on his own, it kind of comes off as a slap on the face.  Anyway, this issue is brilliant, explains the whole concept perfectly (instantly makes me want to read more), and somehow the issue is still stolen by an account of Grendel's recent print history at that time, being tied up in legal hell after Comico went out of business until Dark Horse finally came to the rescue and the issue you've just read has been made possible.  Anyway, Wagner is currently doing Grendel vs. The Shadow...

Justice League Europe #7 (DC)
From 1989.

via comiXology
Here's the Giffen/DeMatteis era in full bloom, two series strong and crossing over for the first time.  After Jurgens did his version and then later incarnations diluted the potential of having a non-all-stars version of the Justice League and we (happily) got Grant Morrison's JLA, it began to seem as if the whole run had been repudiated, but then the reunions began (and now we have Justice League 3000, which I've finally read for the first time).  It might be sometimes hard to remember that not only was Batman present in these comics, but he was definitely the Batman you are probably thinking about, not Adam West and definitely the Dark Knight.  Other than the "One punch!" moment with Guy Gardner, yeah, he was still around.  And in this issue, doing his level best to counteract...everyone else.  For me, it's inconceivable to even try to pretend these comics didn't happen.  The line-up is classic in the same way the New Teen Titans were, and the many times Booster Gold and Blue Beetle have popped up together prove all over again that it's not all just "Bwa-ha-ha" but rather a solid era that left a positive impression on the landscape...

Spider-Man Unlimited #8 (Marvel)
via Martwa Strefa
From 2005.

Here's one of those Joe Hill comics.  Hill's the son of Stephen King, and the father helped inspire the son to write books, and I figure the son helped inspire the father to write comics.  This early example is a little goofy, but it does feature the art of Seth Fisher, another comic book creator who left us far too soon.  Dying at the very start of 2006, which made much of his last work, Fantastic Four/Iron Man: Big in Japan, published posthumously, he was also known for Green Lantern: Willworld and The Flash: Time Flies.  The issue also contains the work of Ryan Sook, whose clean work I've always admired, and is perfectly suited to Spider-Man.  Sook probably comes closest to evoking the Stuart Immonen I know and love from his Superman era.

The Spirit #6 (DC)
via Comic Vine
From 2010.

I picked up a couple of Spirit comics because at the time I was reading a book that reminded me that there were Spirit comics that were probably similar to it.  Yeah, so this issue in particular I grabbed because of the backup from Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso, the 100 Bullets team that have otherwise worked together a number of other times as well, and now I've caught a few of those instances for myself, even though I never got into 100 Bullets itself (when it reached the hundredth and final issue, I tried to catch that, but didn't manage to).


The Spirit #8 (DC)
via Xplosion of Awesome
From 2011.

But to speak of The Spirit itself for a moment, of course this is the legendary Will Eisner's most famous creation, a pulp fiction vigilante who has since joined a whole collection of migratory characters constantly shuffling from company to company.  It's not that this isn't good material, because it is.  I wonder if it had been published under the Vertigo imprint that it might have had a different fate, or perhaps simply unconnected to the rest of the "First Wave" line.  Who knows?  One thing is for certain, however, and that the sneak preview included at the back of the issue for Scott Snyder's Batman debut in the pages of Detective Comics was another recent reminder that I've probably way too harsh on Snyder in recent years.  Expect friendlier coverage on that front in 2015...

Superboy #82 (DC)
via Scans Daily
From 2001.
I read Superboy pretty religiously after it launched in the wake of "Reign of the Supermen."  Karl Kesel and Tom Grummett did some truly excellent work (to say nothing of the brilliant Superboy and the Ravers spin-off).  When I gave up reading comics in 1999, the series was in the middle of its "Hypertension" arc that was one of the first times DC had allowed the concept of the multiverse return after Crisis on Infinite Earths theoretically ended it forever.  I'd highly encourage DC to print up some trade collections from the Kesel/Grummett years.  This particular issue doesn't involve Kesel or Grummett (except the latter on the cover), but it at least continues the feel of that era in its story, unlike later issues (before its eventual cancellation with #100, in which it had transformed into a completely unrecognizable series, alas).  The highlight is a conversation between Roy Harper (known variously as Speedy, Arsenal, and Red Arrow) and Jim Harper (known as Guardian), something I'm not even sure had ever been thought of before, but there's Jay Faerber doing it, at the moment he had his apparently fleeting moment to work in the mainstream.

The Adventures of Superman #476 (DC)
via Boosteriffic
From 1991.

The "Time and Time Again!" arc was something I remember seeing advertised when it was later republished in a trade collection.  It was the first notable arc Dan Jurgens orchestrated, and it involved Booster Gold, his most famous creation, and the Linear Men, and even the Legion of Super-Heroes.  I wonder in hindsight if there was any discussion among fans that maybe this material was a little similar to the far more famous "Days of the Future Past" arc from X-Men, because there are definitely similarities.  Either way, it's a reminder of how much Jurgens used to have fun with his Superman.  When he wasn't, ah, killing him...

Superman #193 (DC)
via We Shop
From 2003.

Here's Scott McDaniel again, being far more familiar in his art this time than the previous Daredevil work, because of course this is after the Nightwing material I remember so fondly (among other work, including The Great Ten).  The writer for the issue is Steven T. Seagle, whose most notable Superman story is actually a Vertigo graphic novel entitled It's a Bird..., which was released a year later and details his reluctance to tackle the Man of Steel creatively.  One of the best comics I've ever read, too.  This issue, meanwhile, seems to involve Superman and Lois Lane's daughter.  But I'm sure there was some other explanation...

The Twelve #12 (Marvel)
via Science Fiction
From 2012.

Ha.  Realizing the publication year is just one of those ironies about this issue that is only just now dawning on me.  2012.  Of a series called The Twelve, twelve issues long, and here its twelfth issue.  The other layer is that the series was famously delayed for quite a while two-thirds of the way through, seemed like it was never going to finish.  And now several years later I catch this final installment, again, as a random discovery in a back issue bin.  It remains a favorite comics memory, a variation on Watchmen from a more sober perspective, wondering what would happen to a whole generation of WWII heroes reawakened, years after Captain America received similar treatment, with all their stories opening up again and not to their benefit.  The best I've ever seen from J. Michael Straczynski.  Artist Chris Weston, who at one point cobbled together a one-shot all on his own just to keep awareness of the project alive, also worked with Grant Morrison on The Filth.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Reading Comics #140 "Bull Moose Bargains IV"

Atomic Robo: The Savage Sword of Dr. Dinosaur #1 (Red 5)
via Razorfine
From 2013.

Hey, so I love Atomic Robo.  The genius creation of Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener is, among other things, the perennial highlight of Free Comic Book Day, the headlining act of Red 5 Comics, and the indy answer to Hellboy.  And Dr. Dinosaur is the best thing about Atomic Robo besides Atomic Robo himself.  I missed this whole arc last year, so once again I have to give thanks to Bull Moose's new trend of importing random back issues into its dying comics spinning rack.  Savage Sword opens in a pretty bleak scenario, with Robo having fallen out of public favor thanks to a trumped-up scandal, which adds valuable emotional context to his adventures.  By the time Dr. Dinosaur shows up late in the issue, it gives the story an unexpected twist, which only an Atomic Robo comic could do with the spoiler in the name of the mini-series.  Dr. Dinosaur is a character who breaks the fourth wall all over his dialogue ("It was I!  Behold, the dramatic reveal!"), just a fun character who knocks all pretension out of what comics are supposed to be.  This is exactly what fans are talking about when they ask for comics that younger readers can enjoy without be condescended to and not featuring some previously-established-in-another-medium properties.  That being said, how about an Atomic Robo cartoon?  A live action Robo might even be better!

Black Science #3 (Image)
via Image Comics
From 2014.

Having finally cracked the Rick Remender egg in the pages of his Captain America comics, I've become more interested in exploring his other work.  Black Science is a little like Sliders if it were done in the Fringe manner, a team of scientists who are able to cross between dimensions.  It's pretty interesting stuff, and once again defies my previous impressions of Remender's work.





Green Arrow #26 (DC)
via IGN
From 2013.

"The Outsiders War" is an arc I wanted to have a look at all year.  It's another instance of DC repackaging a concept for the New 52 era.  In other words, this is not the Outsiders as you remember it.  This is a new vision that is tied directly into Green Arrow's mythology, concerning that all-important origin on the island (in a lot of ways, DC has finally realized that Oliver Queen has all along been a kind of Lost figure).  The Outsiders this time are a whole network of clans that are like a human version of the spectrum of power rings introduced by Geoff Johns in Green Lantern.  In the past it's been difficult to define what exactly makes Green Arrow special, and sometimes that answer has been making him a modern Robin Hood, and sometimes a very political, liberal figure, and even sometimes, his unique relationship with Black Canary.  Finally, it seems, they've hit the nail on the head.  A couple years into his New 52 tenure and several creative teams later, the archer is being handled by Jeff Lemire during this arc, and this is exactly what the comic needed to be as relevant as the popular Arrow TV series (the emphasis on the island is the greatest link between them).  Great, great stuff.  I will have to read the whole story at some point.

Imagine Agents #3 (Boom!)
via the Geek Girl Project
From 2013.

I thought this looked pretty interesting, but it kind of degenerated into gibberish and so I guess I was wrong.  It happens.









Katana #9 (DC)
via DC Wikia
From 2013.

Along with Vibe this was one of the risky simultaneous launches along with Justice League of America last year, and it's another series I've long wanted to have a look at.  It's very similar to Lemire's Green Arrow, actually.  Unfortunately, there was only one more issue left in the series at this point.






Saga #18 (Image)
via Image Comics
From 2014.

Okay, seriously, Fiona Staples does the best covers ever.  Just look at that!  Oh, and by the way, that's Lying Cat, who's able to tell when you're lying (as you may or may not have guessed).  Saga is packed with these seemingly simplistic characters who are nonetheless dynamic figures, and always shifting around the story, which this most recent Bull Moose Bargains selection from the series helps fill in a few more of those gaps that cropped up from my erratic experience with Saga last year.  There's a great moment in which Marko tricks Alana into flying, forced to happen thanks to Marko's reunion with Gwendolyn, who's trying save The Will, while Prince Robot IV is walking around desperately needing a reboot.  Is this also The Brand's first appearance?  The Brand is The Will's sister.  A seriously awesome series.

Swamp Thing #26 (DC)
via Pick of the Brown Bag
From 2013.

I wish I had been reading Charles Soule's Swamp Thing all along.  It's the DC commitment he'll be finishing out next year before his exclusive contract with Marvel officially kicks in, and his work in the series has been seriously good, another case of a DC property with a mythology a creator has been able to lucratively crack.  Much of what Soule has done has also been undermined by fans, though, because of the tie-ins the series has had with other comics in the post-Vertigo line.  Batshit insane logic.  Anyway, Alec Holland is no longer the avatar of the Green, which is to say he's no longer Swamp Thing.  His role has been usurped by Seeder.  There's a great sequence involving Animal Man, too (part of that post-Vertigo line).  After the places Alan Moore took Swamp Thing and Grant Morrison took Animal Man, it seemed impossible to do relevant material with either character again that had nothing to do with that material.  Proven wrong.

Thumbprint #2 (IDW)
via comiXology
From 2013.

Joe Hill, in case you didn't know, is Stephen King's kid.  He's also likely the reason King finally started actively dabbling in comics.  Until Hill came along with Locke & Key in 2008, King's efforts were few and far between, and suddenly there were adaptations of The Stand and the Dark Tower series, the American Vampire stint (if you want to be technical, King started these efforts a year prior to Locke & Key's launch, but c'mon), and various other projects.  This issue marks the first time I've read Hill, though he certainly seems to have established a reputable career all his own, in case there was any such fear on my part.  Like his old man, some of Hill's comics are not by Hill himself, but are adaptions of his prose material.  Thumbprint is one of those.  It concerns a hardcase of a woman who was a soldier and now an investigator.  I like this particular bit of narrative: 
"Everyone has a story, a secret.  That's what I want...the secrets.  Most humans are terrible at keeping secrets.  We're storytelling animals.  It hurts to keep things inside and feels good to spill.  The act of confession feels as right as breathing and as good as a kiss.  If you can use your voice to tell your story, you must be alive.  Only dead men are comfortable with silence."

Is there some King in Hill's literary voice?  You bet.  But I like what I've seen...

Trillium #5 (Vertigo)
via Weekly Comic Book Review
From 2013.

Lemire is a heck of a talent, one I've started appreciating in 2014, thank goodness, and Trillium was his latest creator-owned opus that concluded earlier in the year.  The nifty yet tricky first issue I've caught recently, the flip book that introduced the parallel narratives of the story, was adapted to even trickier heights in later issues, it seems, a flip book on every page.  Helpfully, there's always instructions or at least an indication as to which side to read first, and of course it's not always the one you expect it to be.  Maybe not the best way to read Trillium, though, in fits and starts.  I'll have to catch up on this one later, too...

The Unwritten: Apocalypse #1 (Vertigo)
via Yuko Art
From 2014.

Previously I may have suggested that Vertigo dumped The Unwritten at the worst possible moment, after its Fables crossover, just at the moment that readers (possibly including me) might have finally started paying attention.  But it was relaunched, as it turned out, with a concluding mini-series.  And.  Holy.  Crap.  Mike Carey knocked this first issue out of the park.  It's the kind of material I've been expecting from The Sandman Overture, just a creator completely letting loose with full-on narrative fantasy potential.  Instantly became one of my favorite comic book memories of 2014.  And now I'll have to read the rest of Unwritten...




Saturday, December 13, 2014

Reading Comics #139 "November 2014"

Batman and Robin #36 (DC)
via Comic Book Roundup
writer: Peter J. Tomasi
artist: Patrick Gleason

"Robin Rises" continues!  In Part IV, Batman's backup (Red Robin, Batgirl, Red Hood, Titus, and the reluctant Cyborg) has arrived on Apokolips as Batman himself continues to deploy the Hellbat armor to full effect in his rampage through hell as he seeks to reclaim the body of Damian.  I love when Red Hood (Jason Todd) says, "Went a little Red Lantern here, don'tcha think?" as it evokes Tomasi's time in the Green Lantern titles.  It's a full-on action installment of the arc, allowing Gleason ample opportunity to demonstrate how awesome his work is.  The big payoff is on the last page, one of those perfect cliffhangers: standing behind Batman is the shadow of Darkseid himself.  The Dark Knight merely states, "Hrrn.  About time you showed up."  This moment evokes not only the opening arc of the New 52 Justice League reboot, but the dramatic events of Final Crisis.  Tomasi has succeeded in capturing the Batman every geek always knew existed, one who could take on any challenge without sweating it.  December promises big, big things...

All-New Captain America #1 (Marvel)
via Marvel Wikia
writer: Rick Remender
artist: Stuart Immonen

I had already been intrigued by what Remender had been doing with Captain America, but then Sam Wilson, the Falcon, was announced as inheriting the role, a whole reboot of the series was in order, and Stuart Immonen was tapped as artist.  I last caught Immonen's Marvel work in the pages of Brian Michael Bendis's All-New X-Men, and it was the best work I'd seen from him for the company, a subtle return to the form I'd admired so much in his Superman work.  His All-New Captain America may be the closest yet.  Times have changed since Immonen's Superman, certainly.  Coloring has become a major business, adding whole new dimensions to the art, regardless of the artist.  Sometimes the colorist is actually the most prominent contributor these days (on that score, aiding Immonen and inker Wade von Grawbadger are Marte Gracia and Eduardo Navarro), along with more detailed shading (whether attributed to Immonen or von Grawbadger; shading was usually conspicuously absent from Immone's Superman, which was what helped make it so striking).  Visually a very stunning comic, then.  Story-wise is pretty interesting, too.  The last time Steve Rogers, for one reason or another, was replaced as the Sentinel of Liberty it was by James "Bucky" Barnes, the Winter Soldier, who was billed for all intents and purposes as pretty permanent.  There was a giant hubbub about the updated uniform Alex Ross created for the occasion.  Wilson gets a new uniform, too, that looks a little like a cross between his Falcon garb, the S.H.I.E.L.D. design Rogers for a time ran around in, and of course the traditional Captain America look.  Upstaging Wilson's Cap is the son Remender introduced in his clever Dimension Z story, Ian, who is actually Arnim Zola's kid.  Ian, by the way, has adopted the moniker Nomad, which has become a part of Cap lore ever since Rogers himself used it in one of his earlier exiles from the cowl.  The dynamic between Wilson and Ian is unusual, almost as if Wilson is less Cap than Ian is.  Remender provides a one-page review of Wilson's origins in the likely event readers will not have been familiar with it.  It's a darn good issue regardless of all the altered dynamics.

The Fuse #7 (Image)
via Image Comics
writer: Antony Johnston
artist: Justin Greenwood

I became a devoted fan of Johnston's thanks to his soon-to-conclude opus Wasteland, so to see a couple of new projects launch at Image this year was a nice way to see that others have noticed his talent, too.  In this futuristic cop procedural he's joined by Greenwood, who helped on Wasteland but should better be known for Marc Guggenheim's Resurrection.  This issue begins the "Gridlock" arc, which concerns contestants in a reality show.  While I don't read the series regularly, I like reading the letters column featuring those that do, and their observations of the main characters, who are doubtless easier to keep track of when you don't skip around like I do...

Red Lanterns #35 (DC)
via Darkstar Sci Fi
writer: Charles Soule
artist: J. Calafiore

Here's where I interrupt the proceedings for a moment and complain about the unreliability of the pull list service I've been receiving from my local comics shop.  I don't know why they've had such problems, and maybe they have good reasons, but it's certainly been annoying.  I haven't read the Starlight finale because of this and after a few months I've only now just gotten them to produce an issue of Supreme: Blue Rose for me.  And I read this issue of Red Lanterns late because of the same problems. 

Anyway, enough complaints.  This was part of the first month of the "Godhead" crossover event in the Green Lantern titles, featuring the New Gods as they've targeted the various power rings as the answer to the Life Equation.  When we last saw Guy Gardner he'd just defeated Atrocitus and taken a sabbatical.  We pick up with Guy on vacation with his sometimes beau, Ice (not to be confused with Bea, Ice's sometimes bestie, Fire).  The issue is heavily Red Lanterns-centric, possibly because Soule's days, sadly, are numbered in the series and at DC in general (darn exclusive contract at Marvel!).  New Gods show up, and then Simon Baz does, too.  I'm glad to see Baz, who was Geoff Johns' late addition to Green Lantern lore at the end of his tenure (he remains, though, at DC, obviously).  

Superman #36 (DC)
via IGN
writer: Geoff Johns
artist: John Romita, Jr.

Speaking of Johns, arguably his biggest gig at the moment is in the pages of Superman (I check in over at Justice League more than read it regularly these days, alas, after having missed so much of the last few years).  Ulysses, the latest strange visitor, has finally tipped his hand.  For maybe half the issue things still seem exactly as they have in previous issues of the arc, but then Neil Quinn (Ulysses) visits his parents and begins to reveal what's really going on ("I love you both so much.  That's why you can't come with me."  "I don't understand."  "I didn't know you were still alive!  They didn't tell me you were still alive!  I'm trying to protect you!")  It seems the offer he made to humanity at the end of last issue is the ulterior motive most readers were probably expecting from his first appearance.  And soon Ulysses and Superman are fighting, at last.  Romita is a big-impact kind of artist (he did work on Millar's Kick-Ass after all), and he gets to do a good bit of that here.  Wherever Johns is headed with all of this, it remains expertly paced.

Superman Unchained #9 (DC)
via Previews World
writer: Scott Snyder
artist: Jim Lee

Given my complicated feelings toward Snyder, I was reluctant to check out his big Superman story.  This final issue, however, may have proven my doubts wrong in a fairly major way.  It's not even so much how he handles Superman but rather Lex Luthor.  Here's some prime Luthor dialogue to illustrate:

"You look at him, and you see a light leading the way...But instead he is a light lost in the darkness."
[...]
"What I expected to see, looking backwards through time at his efforts, was, as you said, Ms. Lane: someone who stood for something.  I thought a profile would emerge, the profile of someone sure of himself.  Someone sure he knew what was best for all of us.  But I saw that Superman, whoever he is, is trial and error."
[...]
"The point I'm making is that Superman doesn't stand for anything.  He's just a man, stumbling through life.  He's not a great beacon, he's barely a candle, lighting a path for himself the best he can.  And as we all know, eventually...candles go out."
"I reject him," he goes on to say.  In essence, of course, Luthor is equating Superman with America.  It's the first time I've noticed a particular perspective from Snyder, and it's one I completely recognize, as very similar to my own.  It's a revelation.  Regardless of your own perspective, this is Luthor making the same observation that is supposed to have been made of Superman all along ("...and the American way!"), only from a modern perspective.  It's really quite startling.  Bravo, Mr. Snyder.  Lee's Superman is distinct from the work he did in the early issues of Justice League, which is interesting to note.  

Superman/Wonder Woman #13 (DC)
via IGN
writer: Peter J. Tomasi
artist: Doug Mahnke

Charles Soule's year on the title was capped with a statement on the whole concept readers considered pretty definitive.  What can Tomasi add?  Plenty, as it turns out.  When Wonder Woman showed up in the pages of Batman and Robin, it was one of the rare odd notes in that series.  This is proof that Tomasi more than understands the Amazon Princess.  "You fight with too much on your mind.  Who did you train under?"  "My father," Superman responds.  "Obviously," she says.  Fight scenes are rampant in the series, and the contrasting approaches these lovers take as always been a focal point.  Tomasi leaves room for these observations from Wonder Woman, too [spoken to a civilian]: 

"In my culture this fragility would be your downfall.  Here it's practically a virtue.  I've been doing my best to help some of you since my arrival, but how will you ever grow stronger if you need us every waking moment?"  

Superman has this in way of a response: "This man has internal bleeding and needs immediate help.  You should've done something instead of talking to him."

It's the kind of Wonder Woman that Geoff Johns tried to introduce in the early issues of Justice League, who has recently come to what she calls "man's world" and struggles to fully comprehend it, so that what ends up defining her is the gap that exists between herself and those she is theoretically here to champion.  For Superman, there is no gap, and for Batman, the third member of DC's Trinity, the gap is something he's constantly trying to create with his enemies.  One is human but alien (Wonder Woman), one is alien but human (Superman).  Tomasi is excellent at these kinds of interpersonal observations.  He'd perfect for this series.

Umbral #10 (Image)
via Image Comics
writer: Antony Johnston
artist: Christopher Mitten

Hey, remember when I was giving props to colorists earlier, this is definitely a series that owes a huge debt to its colorist.  Otherwise it's a Wasteland reunion between Johnston and once-and-final artist Mitten.  For anyone, and that would be just about everyone, who struggled to understand the appeal of Wasteland, Umbral is your shot to embrace the fantastic vision of Johnston and Mitten.  Like The Fuse I haven't been reading it regularly, so it's a little tough to completely appreciate the proceedings, and because Umbral is a continuing story it's all the harder.  I think of the two, I can see myself making a commitment to this one next year.  Although I may end up reading both regularly.  We'll see!


Sunday, December 7, 2014

Quarter Bin #63 "Binge-worthy VIII: Superstars"

Superstar: As Seen On TV (Image)
From 2001.
via eBay
This is now the best thing I've read from Kurt Busiek.  Busiek made his name on Marvels, the project also known for launching Alex Ross's career, and later as the creator of the sprawling Astro City, relaunched last year by DC.  I've often found that Busiek is best read as a nostalgia writer, though, hesitant to do anything that would break away from his image.  Superstar is a departure.  It was an early millennium attempt from comic book creators in general to do something new.  The lead character is a superhero whose worst enemy is also technically his biggest supporter: his own father.  That's a dynamic that is itself a fresh concept, but the greater concept around that one is one that was actually years ahead of its time: Superstar was made for our social media age, as his power levels are literally fueled by public support.  It's shocking that this was a one-shot deal, and that apparently no one has thought to revisit it (aside from an expanded IDW re-release three years ago).  The main draw for me, though, was artist Stuart Immonen, who at the time was transitioning away from his then-career defining monthly commitment to Superman and embarking on the course that has led to the altered style he's employed at Marvel for years now.  This is pure Immonen goodness, what might be considered now a what-if scenario if he and Busiek had expanded on the concept.  That would've been nice...

Tales of the Unexpected #8 (DC)
From 2007.
via DCU Reviews
The lead in this mini-series was the Crispus Allen version of the Spectre, but I picked up this issue because of the back-up featuring Dr. 13, an obscure occult detective recently somewhat featured in Trinity of Sin, and the reason I was interested was because the creative team for the story was Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang, who recently concluded a three-year arc on the New 52 Wonder Woman.  It's interesting to see how Chiang's art evolved from then to now (positively, which is something I'm still struggling to say about Immonen), from a more cartoony look to...at least a more streamlined version of that look.  The story itself is pretty good, too.  Grant Morrison fans will probably love how it ends.  Maybe it's because I was not necessarily aware of Dr. 13 until recently, but I was surprised to learn that the character of Traci 13, whom I first noticed in the pages of the original Jaime Reyes Blue Beetle series, is in fact Dr. 13's daughter.  Yeah, it seems kind of obvious now...

The New Teen Titans #12 (DC)
From 1981.
via comiXology
New Teen Titans was one of the hottest comics of the '80s, and its legacy still looms large.  My first exposure was a random back issue I found in an antique store, New Teen Titans #39, in which Dick Grayson officially quits his Robin persona; the debuts of Cyborg, Starfire, and the whole "Judas Contract" saga are elements that will always keep the Wolfman/Perez era relevant for fans.  Last year I read a volume collecting the first handful of issues.  This latest random selection was not nearly as lucky as the previous one, however.  I know there are plenty of good Donna Troy stories, but this isn't one of them.




Tom Strong #36 (ABC)
From 2006.
via iTunes
Turns out this is the final Tim Strong story from Alan Moore.  Tom was a kind of pulp hero that was also Moore's quasi-extension of his Supreme work, which was a quasi-extension of the Silver Age Superman (woo!); the headlining act of the America's Best Comics imprint that Moore walked away from once WildStorm was acquired by DC, a company Moore no longer had any interest in working for (despite having made virtually his whole reputation there, with Saga of Swamp Thing, Batman: the Killing Joke, Watchmen, and other projects).  Tom remains in print, however, thanks to original artist Chris Sprouse.  Moore's finale is strong even for those like me who have read very little Tom Strong.  It wraps up his story, explaining certain elements of the mythology, and is arguably a much stronger read than "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow."  If you're curious about the character, you could do worse than to start with Tom "At the End of the World."

Wanted #4 (Top Cow)
From 2004.
via comiXology
Wanted is the project that helped Mark Millar launch his MillarWorld, a unique distinction he's given his work since after having become Hollywood's third favorite comic book writer after Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman.  Wanted was very loosely adapted into a major motion picture, and of course there have been two Kick-Ass movies, and now Kingsmen: The Secret Service.  The movie version of Wanted had James McAvoy run around Angelina Jolie as assassins.  The original comic involves a whole world of supervillains.  I'm convinced Millar originally conceived of this as a DC project, and after DC opted for Brad Meltzer's Identity Crisis Millar revised his idea as a standalone concept.  Who knows?  He'd already helped make history with The Ultimates, and would do so again with Civil War, but my favorite Millar mainstream effort remains "Old Man Logan."  The Wanted artist is J.G. Jones, who would later illustrate boldly the covers of 52, plus the interiors for the majority of Final Crisis.
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