Monday, February 16, 2015

Reading Comics 154 "Blasts II"

My local comics shop tricked me into buying more comics.  Yeah, tough gig.  They were holding a sale on the bins they've been filling with recent comics that needed to be removed from the shelves in order to make room for more comics.  These comics were already discounted.  They told me the discount increased, and so I took another deep dive.  The results:

Batman and Robin #23.1 (DC)
Part of the 2013 Villains Month, that year's version of the annual tradition DC has of celebrating each September as an anniversary of the New 52 launch from 2011.  This one was a tie-in with Forever Evil (surprisingly I had avoided such issues from the month previously), but I wanted to have a look because it was Pete Tomasi writing.  On the cover Two-Face is billed as the star, and what's significant about this is that at the time, Tomasi was gearing up for the Batman and Two-Face arc, "The Big Burn," a detour from the Damian arc that will, post-Convergence, fall to Patrick Gleason to continue solo in the pages of Robin, Son of Batman.  As a visual storyteller, I have full confidence in Gleason.  Hopefully he have as good a grasp with the narrative, because so much has been done in the past year.

Grayson #1 (DC)
Okay, so now I've finally read the first issue!  This was something that initially sold out at the shop, so by the time it was restocked I had a chance to start second-guessing how interested I was in the series.  In subsequent months I've come to various conclusions, but the truth is, Grayson is pretty good.  There's a whole underpinning arc to what Tim Seeley and Tom King are doing in the series, that level alone makes the proceedings intriguing.  It has the proven potential for great individual stories.  But history may be getting made in other ways, too.  More as things develop.  Also, the post-Convergence landscape has already proven one element of Grayson to have borne fruit: a new Midnighter series, after the WildStorm character served as a primary element in Seeley and King's early stories.

Star Trek New Visions: Annual 2013 "Strange New Worlds" (IDW)

John Byrne already has an assured place in comics history.  He's been working at one in Star Trek history as well.  His previous, hand-drawn work has been impressive enough (Assignment Earth, McCoy, and Romulans), but lately he's been working on comic book photo-novels.  This is the first time I've read one of these efforts myself.  (Although the original Star Trek photo-novels are some of what helped me become a fan in the first place.)  The results are impressive.  "Strange New Worlds" functions as a sequel to Captain Kirk's first adventure, "Where No Man Has Gone Before," the second pilot of the original series.  The fact of its place in canon, first Kirk but also featuring some characters who wouldn't appear in subsequent episodes such as Dr. Piper, is Byrne's effort at turning "Strange New Worlds" into a kind of "Menagerie," the two-part episode that repurposed the first pilot "The Cage," which also featured a different set of characters (Spock is the only one present in all casts).  As in "Where No Man," "New Worlds" features the problem of Gary Mitchell, who accidentally develops god-like powers.  Mitchell was Kirk's close friend, and having to eliminate his threat was a considerable challenge on multiple levels.  Byrne presents a deepening of the whole experience, a good one.  There's an essay on the art of photo-novels included, as well as interview with Byrne.

Star-Lord: Annihilation - Conquest (Marvel)

In conjunction with last year's Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel put out numerous special comic book releases reprinting Star-Lord's past appearances.  The last time I sampled one of them featured Peter Quill's earliest adventures, which were generic and as such, to me, terrible.  Thankfully I gave these things another shot.  I just read my digital copy of how the whole Annihilation thing began, so I have some context, but it hardly matters.  This is the only context necessary: Annihilation - Conquest is the secret origin of the Peter Quill and pals everyone fell in love with in the movie.  What a discovery!  And now it only figures that Keith Giffen wrote Annihilation itself, because his more familiar imprint is all over Conquest.  Brian Michael Bendis is generally credited with a lot of what Marvel has been doing at the movies, and rightly so.  He's the one who took up the Star-Lord ball most recently, but without Giffen, he probably would never have thought of it.  Conquest features a somewhat different team line-up, though Rocket and Groot are present and accounted for (second most surprising revelation of Conquest: at least for these specific circumstances, Groot does not only say, "My name is Groot").  This is seriously good stuff, a great, great find.

Action Comics #23.3 (DC)
This is a Villains Month release featuring Lex Luthor!  You'd think there would have been a little more attention given it, given how significant Luthor was in Forever Evil and later, Justice League.  And what's all the more interesting still is that it's written by Charles Soule.  The Luthor here seems far less redeemable than the one in Justice League (as depicted so far), a diabolical one that tracks well with the past and present of the character.  It's also nice to see Lex Luthor star in an issue of Action Comics again, after the Paul Cornell run that helped signal the character's future potential...

Superman: Doomed #1 (DC)
The "Doomed" arc, naturally, features Doomsday, and represents Scott Lobdell's last hurrah writing Superman, working in conjunction with Charles Soule (who had featured the monster in the pages of Superman/Wonder Woman) and Greg Pak.  I still don't get the massive opposition to Lobdell.  I think he does a great job building on existing concepts.  In the post-Convergence landscape, he's got a chance to expound further on his ideas in a whole Doomed series, which speculation must suggest has some relation to this arc and/or Doomsday.  What I read in this issue looked pretty good, a modern take on the Doomsday issue that takes Superman himself to another level.  How exactly the whole infected-with-Doomsday thing played out, is another thing I'll have to find out...

Swamp Thing Annual #2 (DC)
Charles Soule and Swamp Thing.  There's a lot that I need to catch up on, but the bits and snatches I've caught...this stuff is brilliant.  It's almost as if Soule has taken the idea of the avatars Geoff Johns used in Green Lantern and took a more deliberate, intimate approach to them.  Of course, not the Green Lantern avatars themselves, but various elemental ones as related to Swamp Thing.  And it's always fascinating.  I have no idea why I wouldn't have become dedicated from the moment I read it the first time.  This annual explores more about the history of the avatars, and how they affect Alec Holland's future.  I will continue reading more and more of this...

Trinity of Sin: The Phantom Stranger #14 (DC)
This is the the one I most picked up on a lark.  I like the Trinity of Sin concept.  As far as I can tell, it became less interesting when the three characters were finally merged in a single series.  Yet this issue of Phantom Stranger proves it can work.  Good to have in my collection.

Quarter Bin 66 "Just Imagine Stan Lee's The Flash"

Just Imagine Stan Lee Creating The Flash (DC)
From 2001.

Recently Grant Morrison's The Multiversity Guidebook included the Just Imagine... comics as constituting one of the 52 parallel Earths inhabiting DC's landscape.  Seeing this particular comic available in the back issue sales at my local comic book shop made it an easy purchase.

I wasn't reading comics when Stan Lee wrote at DC for the first time in what has since become a forgotten event (except by Morrison), but I did a little catching up years later.  Stan Lee is Stan Lee.  He doesn't know a lot from subtlety, but then, his work with Jack Kirby and others did ignite the popular phenomenon that has since swept Hollywood.

The idea behind Just Imagine... may explain itself at this point, but here it is: Stan Lee creating his own versions of DC icons.

His Flash is a lot like his Spider-Man, for the record.  Except really fast instead of really...spidery.  The most notable aspect of the comic is the art, from Kevin Maguire.  That was the other, less-publicized, gimmick about the Just Imagine... comics, that Lee teamed up with notable artists for each one.  Maguire is still best-known for the Giffen/DeMatteis Bwa-ha-ha League, where he famously had the most expressive faces in comics.  There was a more recent Batman Confidential arc where Maguire drew some sexy Catwoman and Batgirl material.
via iFanboy
What's more amusing is the backup feature with art from Sergio Aragones, the classic Mad Magazine contributor who's also known as the creator of Groo, the...buffoon Conan.  Always great to see his work.

Superman #38 (DC)

writer: Geoff Johns

artist: John Romita, Jr.

Some of the news coming out of DC has been surprising lately.  No, I want to correct that statement.  All of the news coming out of DC lately has been surprising.

I'm not talking about Superman's new superpower, hyped to debut this issue.

What I'm talking about specifically relating to Superman is the fact that this is apparently the penultimate issue of Geoff Johns' run, and that post-Convergence John Romita Jr. will be continuing on, but with writer Gene Luen Yang (author of American Born Chinese) instead.

Yang may actually be a refreshing pick.  The disappointment lies in Johns leaving again so soon.  But he can't do epic runs all the time, and he's currently in the midst of one with Justice League, which he's written since the New 52 began.

This issue also ends the Ulysses arc.  The moment the new character debuted, it was always a matter of how exactly he might continue as part of Superman's mythology.  With this conclusion, he might replace Johns's own Superboy-Prime from Infinite Crisis as a villain with considerable power left to bide his time.

So much power that he forces Superman to unleash a new ability.  And, just as in defeating Superboy-Prime, it leaves Superman powerless.  For a time.

The Superboy-Prime thing belonged to a different mythology.  I'm not sure anyone will miss that anyway.  Recasting the role, in a completely new context, one that once again has direct ties to Superman but plays as an intriguingly well-defined twist (Superman, for all intents and purposes, is Ulysses's Zod, or Doomsday).  There's plenty of room for other writers, or Johns, to exploit this further down the road.

Meanwhile, powerless Superman.  For a day.  The subject of Johns' impending final issue.  If the results of this quirk are half as interesting character-wise as what Superman does this issue...He tells Jimmy Olsen his big secret.  It's a nice twist on a subplot Johns had been weaving in his arc, redefining Jimmy while also underlining his classic role.

And what of that new power?  It's kind of like a star-burst, what Batman describes as what the heat-ray vision was always about, a mere prelude all this time.  As such, Johns does what he always does, takes a classic mythology and expands it.  He makes Superman more powerful, and more human, at the same time.

Romita has apparently gotten a lot of grief for his work in Superman, but I've liked it, so I'm not sad to see him continuing in the series at all.  He's the perfect embodiment of what Johns has been trying to convey.  If Yang writes what I think he'll write, he will be another complement, and if anything as close to a true continuation as Johns has ever had.

So, good surprising news.

Star Wars #2 (Marvel)

writer: Jason Aaron

artist: John Cassaday

A curious thing happened to Star Wars comics recently.  No, I don't mean leaving Dark Horse for the first time in a quarter century, returning to the Marvel fold in conjunction with the franchise being in the hands of Disney and on the heels of Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens.

No, they've become popular.  It's kind of a slap in the face to Dark Horse.  The debut issue of the flagship in Marvel's launch (like the new films, there are spin-offs for individual characters as well) sold like hotcakes, an instant collectors item the likes of which comics in general haven't seen in years.  At my local comics shop, people were buying two and three (etc.) at a time.  I never even saw the first issue.

So here I am with the second.  What're the results?  It doesn't even seem important that the writer is Jason Aaron, an acclaimed member of the Marvel fold whom I personally still know best from his Vertigo series Scalped.

Aaron has placed his series in the aftermath of A New Hope.  Luke wears the yellow jacket he rocked in the awards ceremony.  The Rebellion is trying to capitalize on the destruction of the Death Star.  And Darth Vader ain't happy.  He also doesn't seem to know who Luke Skywalker is.

At first it didn't really bother me, but the more I think about it, this is a sizable plothole.  I mean, Vader isn't just some shmoe, he's a Sith, a practitioner of the Force.  You might explain the gap as Vader's apparent disinterest in either of his offspring, or perhaps simply his understandable confusion about how exactly Revenge of the Sith ended, whether he has offspring at all.  And yet, there's a real argument to be made that he would have known in an instant who the mysterious pilot was, a confusion from the end of A New Hope he would've cleared up much more quickly.

That's the central element of the issue, and whether or not you go along with it probably defines what you think of it.  They'll obsess over it if they're not primed to accept just about anything.  The minute they have reason to reject even one thing, something like this would drive them crazy.

I suspect most fans just won't care.  For me, it's reason enough to give up.

Saga #25 (Image)

writer: Brian K. Vaughan

artist: Fiona Staples

The nature of the conflict between Landfall and Wreath is explored to considerable length this issue, which turns out to be a setup for an ending that adds a new wrinkle to the Saga, um, saga.

Dengo, the janitor from the Robot Kingdom who has been dictating a lot of the action lately as well as kidnapping Prince Robot IV's newborn and Hazel, the infant child of Alana and Marko, has the following exchange with Alana:

Alana: What the hell have you done now, android?"

Dengo: Commenced with Plan B.  I'd hoped to persuade others to join my campaign through words and images, but it's clear the only language people understand is action.

Alana: Dengo, who's out there?

Dengo: A heroic band of freedom fighters dedicated to ending both of your worlds' reigns of terror.

Alana: No.  Please tell me you didn't really bring the Rebellion here.

Dengo: "Rebellion" is for teenage girls.


Which means a bunch of new characters!  One of the great strengths of Saga is Vaughan's ability to create dynamic personalities out of clearly-defined roles.  Beyond that, the Revolution is a clever spin on a sci-fi trope made famous by Star Wars and featured most recently to great success in Guardians of the Galaxy.

Also of note for dedicated readers, as always, is the letters section, in which one correspondent hilariously explains how Saga ruined her relationship with her mother, and another from a prison inmate that continues a different saga entirely, the effects of a different prison inmate who brought the love of comics inside the institution.  Real Shawshank Redemption stuff there, folks.  

Have I mentioned how much I love the name of Vaughan's dog, Hamburger K. Vaughan?

Genius.

Nameless #1 (Image)

writer: Grant Morrison

artist: Chris Burnham

Sometimes there's no Grant Morrison.  Sometimes there's suddenly an explosion of Grant Morrison.  Last year Morrison launched both The Multiversity and Annihilator, both of which are limited series and counting down to their conclusions now.  Nameless has joined those ranks.  Is it as good as them?

And more importantly, because the actual subject is never clear from the start, what's it about?

Actually, the basic setup is pretty much Armageddon, the Michael Bay movie where Bruce Willis is charged with destroying an asteroid before it has a chance to destroy Earth.

But, Morrison being Morrison, it can't be that simple, can it?  Of course not.

The complicated setup is Morrison revisiting a particular aspect of his own mythology.  While writing The Invisibles, he was quite vocal about his personal dabbling in the occult.  It was a time in Morrison's career where he was known for Invisibles, Doom Patrol, and Animal Man, all extremely out-there material that not only helped define Vertigo comics at the time, but who exactly Morrison was, not just as a writer, but person.  This was not the mainstream-friendly Morrison later introduced for the purposes of JLA.  This was a Morrison who happily skirted controversy, helping to form a firm fan support group.

The last such work of this kind was The Filth early in the new millennium.  He's described this kind of storytelling as his effort to explain experiences he's actually had.

Fast-forward to the present, where there really hasn't been much of that talk in years.  Hence, the mainstream-friendly Morrison, the rough edges rounded off.  Almost.  Annihilator has gone a long way in bringing back the classic Morrison, but Nameless seems designed to bring the thing full circle.  Who better to illustrate the tale than Chris Burnham, the Batman Incorporated artist who brought the rough edge back?

Nameless evokes much of Annihilator while making the unusual more apparent.  Our main character, literally named Nameless, is hiding from things happened in the past, but the present is dragging all that back to the surface.  And yes, calling for Nameless to be a hero.

At this point, it's really a case of letting more of it play out, to get a feel of where Morrison is going with it, a little of how far down the rabbit hole he's really going.  At this point it doesn't seem like the kind of transcendent material Annihilator is, but Nameless is similarly interested in plumbing the depths of Morrison's own life for inspiration.  This is a good thing.

Ms. Marvel #11 (Marvel)

writer: G. Willow Wilson

artist: Adrian Alphona

This is the conclusion of the Inventor arc.  Our villain gets to shout, "I am not a bird!" on the first page, and by the last page we see what he really looks like.  And he is in fact, not a bird.  So, truth in advertising.

It's a little disappointing insofar as the disenchanted youths who willingly played into the Inventor's hands previously are now just as willing to play along with Ms. Marvel.  This is kind of the opposite of the intended message, I suspect.

The other point the issue makes involves Kamala Khan's emerging need to protect her secret identity, what she calls "my new normal" and "a parallel life."

A certain amount of that may also be G. Willow Wilson speaking directly through Kamala.  With the massive success of Ms. Marvel, Wilson is having her first real moment of comic book popularity, which goes with expanded demand, which means she's also writing X-Men these days, which is quite a vote of confidence.
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