Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Ms. Marvel #9 (Marvel)

writer: G. Willow Wilson
artist: Adrian Alphona
via comiXology
Kamala Khan learns all about her Inhuman origins, meets more Inhumans than just the giant-dog-with-a-tuning-fork-on-its-head Lockjaw, and tells them, Thanks but no thanks I'll defeat my supervillain on my own.

And then hears her mother say this:
"We came here so our children would be safe -- safe from the chaos and corruption and bombings back home.  Only after we arrived did we discover school shootings, date rape drugs and gangs.  And now giant robots!"
Apart from giant robots, that's a pretty accurate assessment, I think, from G. Willow Wilson concerning what immigrants experience coming to America these days, and that's one of the signal insights from Ms. Marvel that has brought it so much deserved attention.  It's not just a superhero series, or even just "that Muslim series," but an integration of a lot of elements, and it's interesting watching as they all play out.

Also, lots of Star Wars references this issue.  That's good, too!

And a twist ending.  Twist endings are good, right?  Kamala learns a vital piece of the puzzle she's been missing about the Inventor saga that will surely make things very interesting next issue, and perhaps even shed additional light on the whole series.

This series remains infinitely intriguing.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Grayson #3 (DC)

writer: Tim Seeley, Tom King
artist: Mikel Janin
via Comic Vine
So this is my first regular issue of the series.  After the intriguing preview in the last issue of Nightwing from Tim Seeley and Tom King and then the brilliant Futures End edition, I decided to give it a shot despite reservations that it might not as an ongoing experience work as well as I might hope.

Now I'm thinking, what was I thinking?

I love spy capers.  Alias remains one of my all-time favorite TV series, and as it turns out, Grayson reads a lot like that (minus Rambaldi), especially in the early days when Sydney Bristow was still trying to figure out loyalties.

And I also realized something about Grayson.  It's actually a lot like one of my favorite storylines from Dick Grayson's past.  It involves another Grayson, Devin K. Grayson, her "Renegade" arc from the Infinite Crisis era (which is more or less the secret origin of what happened to Dick in Forever Evil and this subsequent reboot, which makes it all the more appropriate).  In that arc, Dick went undercover for an extended period of time.  It was gangster stuff, but still the same general idea.

Seeley and King seemed to understand from the start that Dick's sense of identity is fluid, although he himself remains constant under all his guises.  The point is, he's a character who can handle different personas, whether it's Robin, Nightwing, Batman, or an agent of Spyral.  It's the conflict this always brings him, his ongoing identity crisis, that defines Dick best of all.  It's inevitable that at some point he'll stop being a spy, but it's suddenly such a smart move to have finally moved him past his Nightwing days, that it's surprising to realize all those years where I knew subconsciously the character had grown stagnant led to this moment.

Will most issues feature one-off villains like the guy in this one who uses his guns as his eyes?  I guess I'll see (heh).

Monday, October 27, 2014

Batman and Robin #35 (DC)

writer: Peter J. Tomasi
artist: Patrick Gleason
via NerdBinge
"Robin Rises" Part 3 sees Batman reach Apokolips, but also Alfred formally, once again, inserting himself into Batman's business by recruiting Red Robin, Red Hood, and Batgirl to help rescue Batman after he'd previously rejected their assistance in his quest to reclaim the body of his son Damian, the late and most recent Robin.

It's an issue that, like the recent "Hunt for Robin" arc, highlights Pete Tomasi and Patrick Gleason's ability to seamlessly adapt themselves to a given context.  The obvious one is Apokolips, home of the bad guys with the New Gods pantheon, usually headlined by Darkseid, but since he's sidelined after the events of the opening Justice League arc and hasn't yet returned, his son Kalibak and Glorious Godfrey.  Like Frankenstein previously, seeing Tomasi and Gleason with these characters is a revelation, and yet another wish for a future project from the duo.

Also in the mix is Cyborg, the only Leaguer involved even though Batman has gone over the heads of the whole team to take his Hellbat suit to Apokolips.  Alfred's Army (which I dub them as of now) tricks Cyborg into using his boom tube to follow Batman through the looking glass, but not before an interlude involving Batwoman.  Since her origins in 52, Batwoman has slunk away to her own corner of the playground, but at least that allows for fun cameos like this one.

It's a great issue in the arc, the series, and the emerging New 52 version of the New Gods.  Really, there's very little not to love about it.

Quarter Bin #56 "Binge-worthy I: Alan Moore"

These comics were sixty cents each.  The title of this column is inaccurate.

Recently the good folks at Zimmie's in Lewiston, ME (my history with this shop stretches back to 1992) indulged one of my worst habits: scouring bargain bins.  One week they had a whole table of long boxes filled with cheap comics.  I've made multiple surveys of their contents and come up with some fun reading.  This is the first in a series that explores what I found.

1963: Mystery Incorporated (Image)
From April 1993.
via Wow Cool
Alan Moore has become known for two kinds of comics: mature works that helped redefine the potential of the form, and nostalgic projects that looked backward at its most stereotypical instincts.  1963 comes from the latter instinct.  After Moore left DC and mainstream superheroes behind, he began a journey toward finding a new platform, which would eventually lead to Tom Strong and then League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the ongoing project that has become his most notable recent output.  1963 is probably his thickest nostalgia act, something he pulled out for the budding Image line that was probably among its first material not to heavily rely on the reputation of its artist.  It's also the closest he's ever come to doing Marvel material.  For whatever reason, although he famously holds a grudge against DC, for which he created Watchmen, Moore has never even worked for Marvel.  Clearly, though, he was once a reader.  Mystery Incorporated is a pastiche of Fantastic Four, with four characters who have equally fantastic powers and little interest but quipping their way through the given crisis.  That's about all there is to find here.  That may be why only die hard Alan Moore fans even know about this particular effort.

Alan Moore's Awesome Universe Handbook (Awesome)
From April 1999.
via Comic Book Realm
The bridge between 1963 and Tom Strong (as well as the rest of America's Best Comics) was laid down by, of all people, Rob Liefeld, whose Image offshoot imprint had a number of different titles but should best be remembered (and it should be remembered) as Awesome Entertainment.  Moore had previously helped relaunch Liefeld's Supreme as one of his nostalgia acts, a version of the Silver Age Superman (as last seen in the famous "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?"), which led to his involvement with a rejuvenation of the whole Liefeld landscape.  This release detailed his plans for the whole thing, a rare public look at project proposals that only the name Alan Moore could possibly have justified.  There's Supreme, of course, plus Suprema (patterned after Supergirl), Glory (revamped as his version of Wonder Woman), and Youngblood (once and always the Avengers).  Alex Ross, still riding high at the time thanks to his Marvels breakthrough (with Kingdom Come yet to, well, come) provides the preview images of Supreme and family (including a Krypto equivalent).  The Moore version of Supreme remained relevant for years (in fact, Tom Strong and the whole ABC line was based off this work) and recently Warren Ellis has started building on this legacy within the pages of Supreme: Blue Rose (I've yet to read an issue, but am very eager to correct that).  This is really the only time I've been a first-hand fan of Moore.  The whole thing fell apart rather quickly when Awesome itself disappeared, and that was disappointing.

Albion #1 (WildStorm)
From August 2005.
via Comic Book Realm
This one was plotted by Moore but scripted by the team of Leah Moore (daughter of Alan Moore) and John Reppion (husband of Leah Moore), whom I've previously experienced in the excellent Complete Dracula adaptation.  It's sort of the British LXG mixed with Watchmen.  The title refers to an ancient designation of England itself, a sort of mythic version of the country.  This is the part where I admit I probably should reread this issue because it's pretty interesting, and this was my first exposure to the project.  Truth is, I tend to talk a lot of smack about Moore (Alan Moore, you understand), and this is in large part due to the fact that Moore himself has made it difficult to like him.  He's got a huge chip on his shoulder, a sense of entitlement he actually technically deserves as the most respected comic book writer of the past quarter century, which is also to say the most respected writer in comic book history itself.  But I also think he cashed in his chips far too early, burned bridges (on his end) at a point when he was really only beginning to explore his potential.  If you think his work as it is is impressive, it's my contention that his legacy could have been better if he'd simply gotten out of his own way.  An Alan Moore who continued to evolve, who looked forward (even if he mixed in looking backward, too) would deserve the contempt he holds over everyone else in the industry, whose viewpoint on superheroes doesn't look like it was frozen in the Silver Age and only looks otherwise at his say-so.  In short, someone who respects his contemporaries, and possibly even his own readers.

American Flagg! #40 (First)
From May 1987.
via Cover Browser
Although the series was created by Howard Chaykin, there's an Alan Moore connection, since he wrote material for a few issues.  Those were the days when Moore still played well with others, which curiously, as you've already seen me indicate, ended with Rob Liefeld (which would seem, by reputation, to be self-explanatory).  Chaykin, ironically, is the creator you get when you do everything right and you become a legend, but no one really seems to notice.  That's American Flagg! in a nutshell, too, one of those '80s projects that fell outside of the Big Two, that didn't involve superheroes, and wasn't written by Alan Moore (for the most part).  (Dean Motter's seminal Mister X is another example, although Dark Horse has been doing a commendable job at trying to correct this.)  The title of the series refers to Reuben Flagg (no relation to Stephen King's Randall Flagg!), who probably has more significance in a post-Girl with the Dragon Tattoo world, a man who tries to fight back against a corrupt system.  (Like Moore's fascination with Nixon, who's still president in Watchmen, this is a concept that probably made a lot of sense back then, and actually means more now than it has in a while.)  Chaykin still pops up regularly with new projects, but his profile is so far diminished that only the comic book industry itself still thinks he's important.  He's been forgotten by fans.  This issue wasn't written by Chaykin, however, but by the team of J.M. DeMatteis (who remains relevant as he works on various superhero projects at the Big Two) and Mark Badger, making it a creator-owned title that could also thrive in the hands of others (which is always rare).  If I'd had options, I'd have wanted one written and drawn in the inimitable style of Chaykin himself, though.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Annihilator #2 (Legendary)

writer: Grant Morrison
artist: Frazer Irving
via Previews World
I'm officially really starting to love this one.

Here's Grant Morrison with a big idea again.  Here's Grant Morrison writing a comic about a screenwriter with an inoperable brain tumor trying to complete his latest script, and realizing that the biggest obstacle is actually going to be the lead character, who has manifested himself in front of the screenwriter!

The screenwriter is Ray Spass and the lead character is Max Nomax.  Together they have some great back-and-forth dialogue.  I think that alone, which was an element that also helped distinguish Morrison's earlier Happy!, might be one of the biggest selling points of Annihilator.  That's best thing to take away from the second issue, regardless of whether it continues to be a running feature for the length of the mini-series.

Ray, of course, doesn't believe he's actually talking to Max.  It's crazy, right?

Morrison famously said years ago that his work was the result of trying to channel actual experiences he'd had, meaning The Invisibles was interpretation as much as story.  The Filth had a similar vibe to what Annihilator is doing, but it lacked the streamlined quality Morrison later perfected within the pages of the brilliant We3 and especially Joe the Barbarian.  It feels as if Annihilator is Morrison's attempt to explain what he meant all those years ago, but in a more straightforward, concise way.  There are elements that are typically gonzo Morrison, but they're analogous to sci-fi concepts you'll be familiar with (Aliens, Terminator, even Inception), presented from a standpoint of a real world situation that's taken a slight deviation.

As in, Ray is dying.  Are his subsequent experiences to be believed?  Is he hallucinating (another central question of Happy!) or can he take Max at face value?

But more to the point, Morrison has found a pair of characters who work really well together and can sell all of this quite easily.  Frazer Irving helps keep all of it visually mesmerizing.  He's part of a recent trend that has reemphasized the role of art in comics storytelling, the polar opposite of what Image was doing twenty years ago, when it was only about the art and the story didn't matter, something creators worked against for years until the art didn't really matter anymore.  Now we have artists like Irving and Fiona Staples (Saga), taking big ideas and presenting them that way, playing in concert with the writer and helping to make the whole thing a complete experience, the way comics are always supposed to be.

Long story short, Annihilator is developing into another career-defining work for Morrison.

Digitally Speaking...#20 "Archeologists of Shadows Vol. III"

Archeologists of Shadows, Vol. 3: The Alter Egos (Septagon Studios)
From 2014.

The third of six volumes, meaning we're halfway through, Archeologists of Shadows: The Alter Egos explains the underlying mythology of the concept in greater detail than its predecessors and thereby enriches the whole experience.

And as always, AOS itself remains a revelation of the graphic novel form.

Patricio Clarey's art is a direct manifestation of the ambitious nature of the saga, which becomes all the more clear in The Alter Egos.  It wasn't until now, for instance, that I made an association between Clarey's work and Indian mythology.  As explained in this volume, that's a vital connection indeed.

It's intricate reading.  Lara Fuentes presents the continuing plight of heroes Alix and Baltimo (neither name is actually referenced this volume, so it increasingly pays to keep reading, which isn't too difficult at this point), who are at once hero quest journeyers and symbols.  They've been identified as Alter Egos, or in other words avatars, real world manifestations of the gods, and they've been trying to believe that themselves, too.  This is a large part of what's accomplished in the new volume.

It's a little like The Matrix but exploded to truly mythic proportions.  The Alter Egos is a little like the part of The Matrix Reloaded where we meet The Architect, but this time the heroes are being pushed to fulfill their destiny instead of being rejected.

There are matters of philosophy and faith to be considered.  At this point the full scope and ambition of the project stand revealed, and it's pretty breathtaking.

As a crossroads, this is the point where everyone has to decide where they stand, how they will react to the crisis.  Enemies play their hand, allies prove their worth.  You think this might actually be the end of the story, but it's not.  And thank goodness.

At its heart, AOS is a manifestation of the classic modern fever dream of machines eventually taking over the world, except in this vision, we're the machines, like the Borg in Star Trek we'll be transformed, piece by piece, because that's the only way to reach our ultimate goal and finally figure out what it's all about, making peace, establishing a lasting order, all of that.  There's also the Sun used, as it once was, the primal source of all things, a little like a vision Grant Morrison had in the pages of DC One Million.

This is at once familiar and totally unique material, and it's completely fascinating.

It remains highly recommended.

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
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