Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Justice League #30 (DC)

writer: Geoff Johns
artist: Ivan Reis
via Reddit
I chose that for the image from the issue because of that last panel.  I forgot about that moment, but looking back, it reminds me of Shazam (the erstwhile Captain Marvel) and Lex Luthor's relationship in Kingdom Come (which, I suppose, the former's comments to Superman do as well).

This is what I love about Justice League, about Geoff Johns, about DC in general.  As far as I can tell, in a Marvel team-up book, the characters are busy falling all over themselves making quips (such as you'll find in one of their movies).  In a DC book, especially one written by Johns, relationships matter.  Not because you want to remind people about the "fastball special" or somesuch callback nonsense like that, but because even when things change, they stay the same.

(Say that with me, Internet fans who still can't understand the appeal of the New 52.)

Anyway, this issue is also known as the first one since the end of Forever Evil.  It features the immediate and most obvious fallout of the event, Lex Luthor in his new context, being viewed as a hero, and as such his decision to draft himself into the League.

There's a moment where Wonder Woman's lasso of truth is used on him to reveal his motives, too, in case you were wondering.  Unless he's found a way to subvert the lasso, this change of heart seems to be genuine.  He admits to having a massive ego.  But even he sees the crisis hinted at on the last page of Forever Evil as being reason enough to continue working on the level.

Well, for now.

Other plot points worth mentioning: Captain Cold as he makes his own transition to League membership.  The Doom Patrol continuing to work its way into the New 52.  Jessica Cruz making her debut.

Wait, who's Jessica Cruz?  She is going to be the first bearer of a green ring on Earth.  (Technically Jade had Kyle Rayner's ring for a hiccup.  But we'll overlook that.)  She's gaining possession of the Crime Syndicate's Power Ring ring.  As of this issue, she's paralyzed with fear over the prospect.  (A bit ironic, that.)  But you would be, too, if that ring were telling you this:

"You have been chose, Jessica Cruz -- to annihilate the Earth."

Yeah, so things will be interesting.  Did I mention that Luthor figured out that Bruce Wayne is Batman during Forever Evil, and as of this issue isn't taking that information quietly?  He's the kind of guy who will casually visit Wayne Manor and request an audience with Batman...

Good times.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Star Wars #8 (Dark Horse)

writer: J. W. Rinzler
artist: Mike Mayhew
via First Comics News
"Love?! Now I remember why our clans have fought for a thousand years!"
That's Prince Valorum speaking to Annikin Starkiller.  It's the greatest deviation, perhaps of the whole original draft now concluded in comics adaptation with this issue.  And I love it.

The ending has a lot of famous New Hope moments, from a character struggling to find Storm Trooper armor comfortable to rescuing Princess Leia from prison to getting trapped in a garbage shoot to the destruction of a giant space station...

And sneering at the concept of adhering to the ways of the Force (of Others).

Like the whole project, it's strange and wonderful to see so much that's otherwise familiar presented in slightly (though in fact, significantly) altered context.  That being said, I have to spend the bulk of this final review talking about the most interesting moment of the issue, which is a Sith choosing to side with a Jedi.

Really???  That happened???

It happened.  Valorum is stuck in the Vader position under a Tarkin-like figure (or rather, that one Imperial goon who ended up getting Force-choked for his efforts).  And again, mind, Vader himself (or his equivalent) is there, too, and is right along with this belittling of what amounts to the "ancient religion" that seemingly has no bearing in the present.  Starkiller ends up prisoner, and is bound for a bad end when Valorum switches sides (maybe that explains the vote of no confidence!).

The whole thing even makes one reconsider the prequels in a way (from a certain point of view).  By the time Starkiller, Valorum, and Leia end up in the garbage shoot, Valorum has become a Han Solo figure.  Starkiller, despite his first name being Annikin, is another would-be Han Solo.  (A lot of Han Solos running around!  Including the Swamp Thing version!)

Anyway, Valorum and Starkiller evoke Anakin and Obi-Wan in the prequels.  One of the things fans unconsciously missed the most in those films was the lack of a Han Solo.  In a way, Anakin was that figure.  I always thought so.  I always figured George Lucas thought so, too, and here's a kind of proof.

Disentangle and that's what's in this issue.

Of course, it also features a dynamic between the Jedi and Sith that's completely different.  That's what's so fun about this whole thing.  

The last interesting note is that the issue ends with a closing scroll (which actually references a sequel, entitled Saga of the Ophuchi, which Dark Horse will never have a chance to make; Marvel's acquisition of the property has recently been expounded on with three titles set after the events, naturally, of New Hope).

It'll be great fun reading the whole thing back.  (It's, ah, worth noting you can read the whole thing in a collected edition as of last week.)

May the Force of Others be with you!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Saga #19 (Image)

writer: Brian K. Vaughan
artist: Fiona Staples
via Henchman-4-Hire
I love Saga.  When it originally launched I scrambled to catch up and continue reading, one of the few series I followed like that at that time (I've been in survival mode as far as reading comics goes for a few years now).  Everyone said how awesome it was and they were right.

That's not always the case, mind.

But it certainly was with Saga.  I've realized recently that Brian K. Vaughan's latest epic, this time a sci-fi epic, is kind of like Hawkman.  If you're at all familiar with Thanagar, you know what I'm talking about.  There's nothing wrong with that.

But since I read with such horrible consistency these days (there were days of yore when I read dozens of series faithfully every month!), there are always sacrifices.  Even series I adore I can't/don't read regularly.  So the fact that my recent record with Saga has been spotty at best is no negative judgment on the series.

The saga of Saga revolves around the flight of Marko and Alana, members of warring alien species with a classic Romeo & Juliet romance going on.  Lately they've gone into hiding.  As the above panel suggests, they have different ideas of what that means.

(I should note that the panel is not the greatest representation of Fiona Staples' work.  She's brilliant.  Like this:
via comiXology
The, ah, opening page of the issue involves the birth of one of these robotheads.  It's one of many examples that this is a matures readers comic.  The robotheads, as represented by Prince Robot and his growing family, are just an example of the quirky awesome supporting cast of Saga.)

One of the great things about Saga is its narrator, Hazel, who is the daughter of Marko and Alana, who as the series progresses has just been born, so she's kind of like Richard Dreyfuss in Stand by Me or Bob Saget in How I Met Your Mother.  The last page of the issue offers a startling development that is heartbreaking if I'm interpreting it correctly.  I probably am.  It's awful!

But again, Saga is awesome!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Nightwing #30 (DC)

writer: Tim Seeley, Tom King
artist: Javier Garron, Jorge Lucas, Mikel Janin
via Bleeding Cool
Among the many fake controversies to be found recently on the Internet was the one surrounding the final issue of Nightwing (this one).  Apparently there's a whole alternate, original version that exists and does the elegiac, retrospective, reverent look that fans might have wanted to see otherwise, and this one has been seen a crude patchwork, poor substitute.


I'll admit, it's not a perfect issue.  But it's a far better one than it could have been.  As you may or may not know, Dick Grayson ended up being a pivotal player during Forever Evil after he was kidnapped by the bad guys and exposed to the world as being the face behind the domino mask of Nightwing.  By the end, he "died."  Not in the typical comic book fashion.  More like a cliffhanger.  In the final issue of the crossover event, he was alive and hardy.

And repositioned.  And so his ongoing series, Nightwing, was cancelled, and was just relaunched as Grayson.

Dick Grayson was originally introduced in 1940's Detective Comics #38.  He is of course the original Robin, Batman's sidekick, the Boy Wonder.  Over the years his role has evolved.  He was the original reader surrogate, the Spider-Man prototype if you will.  Eventually he struck out on his own, starting when he helped form the Teen Titans.  In the '80s he adopted a new superhero identity, Nightwing, and a new costume.  In the '90s he donned the cowl of Batman for the first time.  He was scheduled to die in Infinite Crisis.  Grant Morrison had him reprise his time as Batman.  And now this.

I've long been a fan of the character, thanks to Burt Ward's depiction in the classic '60s TV show.  (Holy glove-fidgeting, Batman!)  I was too young and unfamiliar with the actual comics at the time to know it wasn't Dick who was killed off in "A Death in the Family."  I was devastated when I saw the news in the paper.  I wondered why he wasn't in Tim Burton's Batman.

And, eventually, I thrilled when Chuck Dixon and Scott McDaniel launched the first Nightwing ongoing comic.  I loved that run.  I loved Devin K. Grayson's run.  And I wondered why it was so hard for subsequent creators to sync up with Dick the way Chuck and Devin had.  When the New 52 came around and Kyle Higgins launched the next Nightwing ongoing comic, I thought someone had finally figured it out.  And for a brief moment, he had. it reached the point where Dickwas once again expendable.  Or, malleable.  A trait that has become perhaps Dick Grayson's defining characteristic.  The ability to be "who you need me to be."

That's from this issue, by the way, those very words, the final ones of this final issue.  It's not a perfect summation.  It's something a character in transition would say in lieu of something more definitive.  But that's what's unique about Dick.  He's an icon who's free to evolve.  Always looking for that chance to define his legacy.  All over again.  Because he's always changing, it's hard to think of him in the same way one does, say, Batman or Spider-Man.

That lost version of Nightwing #30 might have been that statement.  Who knows?  What I love about this version is that it's a final issue that actually speaks to the next issue.  Directly.  You have no idea how rarely that happens.  Is this actually the first time?  Correct me here, folks.

So often, the final issue of a series, or sometimes just a creative run, is self-reflective, self-referential.  Most of the time it's be a different creative team than the one that was last best known, and is incongruous.  Or dismissive.  What have you.

You will note the absence of Kyle Higgins in the credits.  No Chicago (Dick's last context prior to this and/or Forever Evil).  I don't have notable history reading Tim Seeley or Tom King, both of whom write Grayson, along with artist Mikel Janin.  They're all here.  A lot of the issue is representing the new context, Dick as an undercover agent infiltrating a criminal organization known as Spyral.  His new context is being a spy.  Actually, it's not terribly different from Devin K. Grayson's Renegade arc (so there's even precedence!).

There's also Batman beating the stuffing out of Dick.  And Dick fighting back.  We get Dick's version of the mission statement Christopher Nolan had Bruce Wayne's father give him in Batman Begins ("And why do we fall, Bruce?  So we can learn to pick ourselves up."):

"We fall because someone pushes us.  We get up to push back."

I consider this a pretty good time to be a fan of Dick Grayson.  I think the more DC's writers are forced to think about him and work with him, rather than merely write more adventures (which is what it might seem they're doing now), the better he is.  So I'm happy that an issue like this exists.  I'm happy that it tries to reconcile the present with the past.  I'm happy that the ending is the same as the beginning.

But I'm strange like that.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Ms. Marvel #4 (Marvel)

writer: G. Willow Wilson
artist: Adrian Alphona
via The Daily Crate
This is the big turning point issue.  Technically, it could easily have served as the first issue of the series, and a lot of other creators might have done exactly that.

By the way, G. Willow Wilson is not a lot of other creators.

Funny thing is, her Ms. Marvel in this issue looks a lot like Mark Millar's Kick-Ass (thanks to Adrian Alphona's art looking a little like John Romita Jr.'s in some respects), just an ordinary girl (our girl Kamala Khan) trying to be a superhero without any of the usual finesse.  Yes, this is an origin story.  Superheroes in origin stories don't usually have a lot of finesse (just look at multiple versions of Batman's).  But this is the start of a series, and that's not typical for an origin story at the start of a series.  So, Kick-Ass, or Brian Michael Bendis's Ultimate Spider-Man.  Stories that don't jump right into typical superhero material.

The thing is, last issue Ms. Marvel was shot.  So this issue she's got to figure out if that, y'know, fatal.  It isn't, just so you know, or this new series will have had some strange stories in the last two issues I've read.  The twist is that these powers Kamala is still trying to figure out have a lot to do with altering her body.  To this point she's been in superhero form in basically a different body.  The typical, blonde white girl body of Ms. Marvel.  This is the issue where that changes.  She changes back to Kamala, and learns that the bullet wound doesn't travel with her.  

So the panels above are a little of what follows.  This is also the issue where Kamala's good friend Bruno finds out her little secret.  When the cops show up at the crime scene (Bruno's brother has attempted to fake a robbery of the Circle Q where Bruno works and this was the result, Kamala being shot), and Ms. Marvel has once again become Kamala (to her benefit!), she and Bruno scramble to provide a cover for her.  It's not impressive, and not convincing when Kamala tries explaining that she is Ms. Marvel.  She doesn't look like her, right?

Another understated moment in the series.  The whole point so far has been that Kamala is definitely not the Ms. Marvel you know.  The draw was always the Muslim Ms. Marvel.  Except Wilson hasn't just written the Muslim Ms. Marvel.  To even conceive of the Muslim Ms. Marvel was always going to be risky.  Perhaps it helps that she lives in a fictional Jersey City.

So I love this series more and more.  This issue, this strange new Ms. Marvel begins to embrace herself, her own image, as a superhero.  Her unique costume begins to take shape.  If you're going for the hat trick of superheroes (bucking stereotypes, being a woman, and wearing a costume that doesn't exploit a woman's body) then you've finally arrived at the moment you've been waiting for.  (It goes without saying, but Alphona probably doesn't even know what "brokeback" is.)

It's a goofy series.  It's lighthearted.  But as with the best of Wilson, it's a constant revelation, and its appeal only grows.  I don't know how long it's going to last.  I don't know if this Ms. Marvel ultimately has a chance at being embraced by the larger Marvel landscape.  Outside of her own comic, she would probably be just another bumbling teenage hero.  (The whole Avengers Arena thing is the proof in the pudding about how far that goes.)  That's too bad.  But then again, she could also be like a new Spider-Man.  If she proved popular enough, that would not be too big of a stretch.  Who knows?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Forever Evil #7 (DC)

writer: Geoff Johns
artist: David Finch
via Inside Pulse
That's actually the last page of the issue.  This counts as a spoiler?  But this is my approach to talking about what's really important, ultimately, about Forever Evil and its finale.

Quite frankly, I'm bored with the reaction I've read about DC's latest crossover event.  It's really the same fan outrage nonsense that seems to have finally overtaken the general Internet reaction (and has caused a number of sites I follow to also comment on it recently).  I've seen this before.  It happened to Star Trek at the turn of the century.  (The difference is that at the movies, superheroes are still undeniably king, which means regardless of what Internet fans say, comics will be safe for the foreseeable future, which is something Star Trek couldn't say at that time.  Other things were popular.  Other things got all the positive chatter.  So Star Trek went away for a while.  And, incidentally, came back in a big way.)

Anyway, the fake controversy of Forever Evil was that it was all about villains.  I have no idea what that's about.  It's the same logical nonsense as with all these other "controversies."  You can't even blame event fatigue anymore.  DC hadn't had an event to any major extent since 2011.  That's a major gap, folks.

What Forever Evil actually did was allow Geoff Johns to do what he did when he was working on Green Lantern, which was turn his current run into a crossover event.  This time it was Justice League's turn.  Which is hugely appropriate.  I've been calling the series a monthly event book from the start anyway.

Yes, Forever Evil is about villains.  But ironically, these villains were working toward a shot at redemption the whole time.  Since I haven't to this point read the whole story, I don't know how obvious that was.  Probably not to be considered a surprise twist, however.

The best part about it is that Johns had a chance to do something different.  (Admittedly, there are certain parallels to a couple of Marvel events, such as Secret Invasion and Siege.  Good creative writing doesn't need to quibble over these things, only bad critical reactions.)  And he embraced the opportunity.  That's apparent in how he ended the story.

Basically, the evil Justice League that has been featured in such stories as Grant Morrison's JLA: Earth 2  took over for a while, and then Lex Luthor figured out how to beat it.  It's ironic that Johns has now written two major events outside of regular continuity (Flashpoint was all about an alternate reality, after all), although as the final image suggests, Forever Evil leads to very specific continuity indeed, both the New 52 version and DC's continuity as a whole (for those who don't know, that's Anti-Monitor, the villain of 1985's Crisis on Infinite Earths, the seminal crossover event of all DC crossover events).

When Justice League launched, the revamped continuity had the team forming in response to the first appearance of Darkseid.  (Earth 2, unrelated to Morrison's comic and in fact a revamped Justice Society of America book, is all about an alternate version of how those events played out.)  If Johns is suggesting what I think he's suggesting, it would be his greatest revision since Green Lantern: Rebirth.  Darkseid has always been obsessed with the so-called Anti-Life Equation.  Repositioning the Anti-Monitor into this context is classic Johns genius, figuring out how to look at something differently, similarly, but in an elevated state.

The issue is about winding down the current story, of course.  Alexander Luthor, who happens to be another Crisis creation, turned out to be the big bad of Forever Evil (he was also featured in Johns's first effort at a Crisis sequel, Infinite Crisis).  Villains to a certain extent in comics have always been defined as characters who pursued having powers from a a more negative way than superheroes.  That's what Alexander was all about.  And it was his undoing, because once they were taken away, he was easy to eliminate.  His alternate self, "our" Lex Luthor, figured this out.

Forever Evil is a Lex Luthor story.  He's since gone on to headline Justice League itself.  This won't last.  But it's an interesting repositioning all the same.  I think Johns has more nuance in his characterization than, say, Marvel had for Norman Osborn.  At one point he bellows, "But he was my monster," when Bizarro is killed and someone tried to understand why he's so upset about it.  Luthor has classically been portrayed as jealous of Superman.  In his current incarnation he may have finally found a way to get over his jealousy.  He's transcended the situation.  He'd have to revert to what the Internet thought this story was like to fall significantly.  I don't see that happening.  It's far less interesting.

Besides, Johns has already proven he probably won't do that, with how he's handled Sinestro recently.  Who, incidentally, has his own series now.

It's just good storytelling.  Johns has taken the opportunity to do a lot of repositioning.  Ted Kord is back.  Kord was famously killed off in previous continuity in the run-up to Infinite Crisis.  Now he's a younger character who may serve as the useful counterpoint to Lex.  There's the final fate of Nightwing.  There's been outrage concerning that, too.  Whatever.

As far as I can tell, this is nothing but Johns doing himself better.  That doesn't happen often.  He's been at his game, and at the top of the DC game, for years now.  One might expect a little apathy.  Except the challenge of representing the face of the New 52 has seemed to energize him.  New opportunities.  Revisiting old stories, seeing new possibilities in them.  This is all right up my wheelhouse.  His, certainly.

So, don't believe what you've heard.  Forever Evil is apparently pretty fantastic.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Batman and Robin #31 (DC)

writer: Peter J. Tomasi
artist: Doug Mahnke
via Reddit
The penultimate chapter in "The Hunt for Robin" sees Batman come up against Frankenstein for the first time since #19.  As suggested in the above sample from this issue, Frankenstein hasn't forgotten what the grief-stricken Batman did to him previously.

It's a perfect issue.  One of my big regrets from the early New 52 was not reading Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E., which stars the character originally introduced in Grant Morrison's ambitious Seven Soldiers of Victory project and also featured in Flashpoint: Frankenstein & the Creatures of the Unknown.  Hopefully these latest appearances will cause more fans than just me to remember how awesome Frankenstein is.

The artist with Peter Tomasi this time around, rather than regular collaborator Patrick Gleason, is the always excellent Doug Mahnke, who it might need reminding helped create The Mask (I'm continually surprised that no effort has been made to relaunch this character).  
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