Thursday, August 24, 2006

This week's column

in Las Vegas Weeklyfeatures reviews of The Drifting Classroom, Phonogram and The Psycho. You can read it here. If you happen to be an editor of an English-language North American altweekly, you can syndicate it by emailing me at the address in the upper right hand corner.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Weekly Haul: August 23rd

Despite what Mae West said about too much of a good thing, I think I’ve found my limit for reading freshly-released comic books on a Wednesday: It’s about 500 pages. Having done nothing between 11 a.m. and 6:30 p.m., and then another hour and a half of reading after a short break, I can stand to read no more—506 pages is more than enough for one day. I blame Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie, as I didn’t expect to see the crate full of their Lost Girls waiting for me at my local comic shop today, on top of my normal purchases. After my non-Lost Girls haul, I read 160 pages of the three-volume book before I grew so tired of looking at Gebbie’s drawings of vaginas I had to call it a night…

52 #16 (DC Comics) This week’s issue is probably the closest thing to a Captain Marvel comic DC has put out in quite some time. As Black Adam prepares to wed Isis, he calls on the closest thing he has left to a real family to attend the ceremony. Cap, functioning as the new Shazam, oversees the wedding, Mary Marvel is the maid of honor and Junior works crowd control. Bonus: Tawky Tawny! While most of the issue belongs to the Marvels, Montoya and the Question manage to save the day from a would-be suicide bomber, and the space heroes get two pages that amounts to a sweet impotence joke. The back-up is the origin of Black Adam, the perfect choice for the issue. Perhaps DC has straightened out the editorial problem that has had origins of characters who have nothing to do with the preceding stories running?

Action Philosophers! #6: The People’s Choice (Evil Twin Comics) Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey’s sixth issue is full of plenty of little pleasures, just as the first five were. I particularly liked Dunlavey’s Wittgenstien, who’s so intense that waves of intensity radiate out of his forehead at all times, and his Kierkegaard, who looks like a total nut. But as funny as AP!, I always find myself learning something. The most shocking thing I learned this issue? St. Thomas Aquinus was fat. Really fat. I never learned that in college, and I went to a Catholic school.

Astonishing X-Men #15 (Marvel Comics) Best. Kitty Pryde. Cover. Ever. As for the rest of the issue, well, John Cassaday’s art is still gorgeous, but increasingly I find myself wishing I’d waited for the trade. Joss Whedon just doesn’t pack much story into each issue, and when a book publishes as infrequently as this one does, you need an incredibly dense read to keep caring.

Batman #655 (DC) The gut-punch of a conclusion comes as a bit of an anti-climax, at least if you’ve read the solicits for future issues (and took the title of this story arc literally). Writer Grant Morrison does have one great idea here, however, and that’s to stage a Batman fight in an art gallery showing off comics-inspired art, so that huge, Lichtenstein-esque canvases read “Blam!” in the background of the panels. Morrison plays levels of reality and their interaction with each other like a piano in this fight scene, and it overshadows virtually all other aspects of an otherwise solid comic book—Andy Kubert’s art, Batman’s sarcastic narration and the dozens of ninja Man-Bats he fights. (Wait, what's the plural of "Man-Bat?" Is it Man-Bats, or Men-Bat?).

Batman and the Mad Monk #1 (DC) Is it just me, or has DC been going out of it’s way to have characters smoking ever since Marvel E.I.C. Joe Quesada announced their company’s anti-smoking policy? Regardless, this instance comes with an anti-smoking message: Captain Gordon goes out to the roof for a smoke, and gets attacked by corrupt cops. Luckily this is a Batman comic and not a Jim Gordon solo title, or else the captain might not have had a guardian vigilante to save him. Matt Wagner continues his Year One era story of Batman right where he left off, nicely decorating this issue with a gorgeous homage to one of the best covers in Bat-history.

Birds of Prey #97 (DC) As much as I love Dayton, Ohio-based heroine Black Alice, this current story arc started fairly weak, and ends even weaker. Four Birds fight three Society villains with Alice caught in the middle, and there’s so much stuff going on that it feels like nothing.

Doc Frankenstein #5 (Burlyman Entertainment) Frankenstein begins to find his faith just as one of his enemy priests begins to lose his. In this issue, Steve Skroce draws all kinds of ultra-violent madness in the past and present as Doc slays packs of werewolves, and we learn the secret origin of Jesus.

Eternals #3 (Marvel) Come one Marvel, I know you guys are really pushing this Civil War story, but does it have to be in every comic? I mean, you get Neil frigging Gaiman to write a miniseries for you, and you have to have civil war crap here too? I suppose we’re lucky they allowed this issue to ship without the special CW trade dress.

JSA: Classified#16 (DC) Is being omnipotent worth it if your obesity directly correlates to your power? Would you still want to be all-powerful if it means you’d have a third chin like a bullfrog’s swollen throat? Amos Fortune apparently would. In the final chapter of Steve Englehart’s weird, messy JSA story, things get weirder and messier. Vixen and Gypsy show off superpowers you never knew they had, Wildcat is the greatest fighter in the world (boxer, maybe), Stargirl knows all kinds of stupid-looking martial arts and The Wizard’s a weakling. I think I’ll be keeping this story arc with my pile of kindling rather than in my longboxes…

Justice League of America #1 (DC) I had a lot of reservations about Brad Meltzer taking over a book that used to be my favorite superhero comic, and I mean a lot of reservations, from my worries that he’d simply revert to the Satellite Era line-up, or simply ignore the last 20 years of continuity, or how on earth you can justify the “of America” making any sense in 2006, tor that he might “break” the concept as he broke some DC toys (I still can’t look at Hal Jordan and Black Canary and much of the “Power Pact” in a positive light after Identity Crisis). But his first, over-sized issue was pretty engrossing. I could babble about it endlessly, but I’ll save it for a full review elsewhere, and here simply accentuate the negative. The covers? Reeeeeee-diculous. All three are bad, but the two I was forced to choose between, each showing half a picture, are just awful on their own. DC should have kept the picture in one piece and used it as a wraparound. Secondly, while it’s fantastic to see Roy “Arsenal” Harper get the nod, and finally join the big league, his new costume and his R-shaped belt buckle on two of the covers points to him going by “Red Arrow” in the near future (Unless that “R” is simply for “Roy,” or, even better, “Roy Arrow”). When he changed his name from "Speedy" to "Arsenal," he began using his superior aim with other weapons beside the bow and arrow, differentiating him from his mentor. If he puts "Arrow" back into his name, he loses that something special that differentiated him from Green Arrow, making him just one more archer. It's a little like Nightwing changing his name to Batguy or Tempest changing his to Aquafellow.

The Last Christmas #3 (Image Comics) Santa finally starts to get his shit together, but it may be too late to save the few human survivors left in San Francisco, let alone Christmas. This issue is most notable for the disturbing detail writers Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn add to zombie lore. Everybody knows that the only way to kill a zombie is to destroy their brains, but did you know that zombies feared images of Dr. Phil with breasts? Now you do.

Lost Girls (Top Shelf Productions) I’m not even done reading this thing, let alone thinking about enough to review it here yet. All I can say at this point? The packaging is gorgeous, it’s as wonderfully complex and challenging as Alan Moore’s best work, and even though it’s by far the most expensive comics-related purchase I’ve ever made, I don’t feel ripped-off in the least.

New Avengers #23 (Marvel) God, I hate this book. So why can’t I stop reading it? Anyway, despite the title, the only Avenger to actually appear is Spider-Woman, unless you count Iron Man, who appears in a few panels being a total dick. Nothing terribly pertinent or interesting really happens, other than we find out which side Jessica Drew lands on (Cap's; there, I saved you three bucks). The thrust of the issue is simply Brian Michael Bendis un-building the build up he had built up in New Avengers #14 amd #15. His artistic collaborator this time out is Olivier Coipel, whose line work is wonderful, but he and Bendis completely lost me on two separate occasions in this same issue, the confusing battle spiral on pages five and six and the conversation on pages 17 and 18 (I followed the top tier all the way across).

Ultimate Spider-Man #99 (Marvel) God, I love this book. Brian Michael Bendis has written 98 issues of it already, and yet this one has more “Holy shit!” moments than all of them combined. His willingness to stay on this title so long repeatedly pays off, as it does again in this issue—when a twist has been building for this long, it hits you that much harder. If he can end this story arc on the same high notes that he started it, the words “Clone Saga” may not be dirty ones to Spider-Man fans for much longer.

Wonder Woman #2 (DC) Oh yeah, DC has this superheroine named Wonder Woman with her own title, don’t they? I’d nearly forgotten, it’s been so long since #1. This issue is jam-packed with action and guest stars, as Batman, Robin and Wonder Girl join Wonder Woman, “Diana Prince” and Nemesis to do battle with amped-up Wondy rogues Dr. Psycho, The Cheetah, Giganta, Dr. Posion, Osira and Dr. Cyber. Whew! Plus, there’s a totally out of left field guest-star appearing at the end, one wearing a fantastic costume redesign. Terry Dodson’s design work and wonderful rendering (inked by Rachel Dodson) continue to be the selling point here. As for the story, it’s surprisingly simple, and requires perhaps too much suspension of disbelief even for a Wonder Woman comic book (Diana, one of the most well-known superheroes and political figures on the planet, adopts a secret identity and a Clark Kent-simple disguise to go to work for a federal government agency whose sole job is to study metahumans…like Diana).

"We hope your holiday is ruined whenever you read it."

So says Gerry Duggan, who, with Brian Posehn, has written the completely crazy post-apocalyptic Christmas tale The Last Christmas. To read an interview with Duggan, and TLC penciler Rick Remender, be sure to click to It goes kinda like this:

And speaking of "Christmas" vs. "X-Mas," why didn't you go with the latter? Comics with "X’s” in the title have always sold better than comics with the word "Christ" in them.

I just decided that any sequel will be titled: "X-Mas Men"…everybody knows that Gary the Snowman is the new Wolverine. I read it on a message board.

Fred Van Lente, man of action...and philosophy

Get thee to to read my interview with Fred Van Lente, the writer behind the hilarious Action Philosophers! comic. I was pretty bummed when I learned it's winding down, ending with #9. At least until I learned what Van Lente and his AP! co-creator Ryan Dunlavey have up their collective sleeve. Be sure to check it out. Here's a sample exchange to whet your interview-reading appetite:

This week's issue is the "People's Choice," in which the most requested philosophers to get the Action Philosophers' treatment. When you were collecting suggestions and votes for it, did you get any that really threw you?

Oh yeah, like every week—still! (laughs) Somebody writes in recommending someone who I guess turned them on in college but Ryan and I have never heard of before, usually obscure lefties. People have also suggested we do an All-Vegetarian Issue and an All-Feminism Issue, but it doesn't look like that's going to happen.

The one name that keeps coming up is the Marquis de Sade … Jesus, I'm like, people, people: Wanting to fuck everything that moves is NOT a philosophy!

It's an important life goal.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Delayed Reaction: Batman: Under the Hood

Batman: Under the Hood (DC Comics), by Judd Winick, Doug Mahnke, Tom Nguyen and others

Why’d I Wait?: Writer Judd Winick has been responsible for some great creator-owned work, particular Pedro and Me and The Adventures of Barry Ween, Boy Genius, but his DC work all seems to fall somewhere between mediocre (Blood and Water, Green Lantern), bad (Green Arrow, most of Outsiders) and downright repulsive (“Lightning Strikes Twice,” the John Walsh-guest starring issues of The Outsiders). So despite the stellar art team inside and out, this seemed like a story to avoid—particularly once rumors started circulating that it would be about the resurrection of Jason Todd, perhaps the one character in the entire DC Universe that should never be resurrected for any reason.

Why now?: Since they really went ahead and resurrected Jason Todd (I was so sure they wouldn’t actually go through with it), morbid curiosity made me want to find out exactly how well executed The Worst Idea In DC Comics History actually was. Plus, I’d just put down the first volume of The Winter Soldier, which I guess put me in the mood to read about resurrected boy sidekicks.

Well?: This is a hard book to read, and a harder book to review, because the central idea—Jason Todd, back from the dead!—is so hard to get past. It’s just so wrong on so many levels, from the fact that he suffered the most unequivocal death in comics (beaten to near-death by a crowbar, then dynamited), to the fact that Batman comics don’t have the sort of science fiction or supernatural underpinnings that so many other comic books do, to the fact that Todd’s death was the result of a 1-900 phone poll (making Jason Todd’s death perhaps the only one in comics history that the fans decided on, rather than the writers and editors) to the simple fact that the death of the second Robin has been a pivotal event in Batman’s history, leading to some 20 years worth of character development.

Well, putting all of that aside, Winick does weave a fairly dramatic reveal here. The volume opens with Batman fighting a new Red Hood, who unmasks off-panel, and then we flashback to what lead up to the battle.

There are an awful lot of unanswered questions here, including why Jason Todd is still alive, why he’s a grown man instead of the age he was when he died and why he’s suddenly become evil. He sets himself up as a relatively nice crime boss (You can sell drugs, but not to kids), but he has a savagery that makes him seem as bad as, if not worse than, the villains. When he takes over a racket, for example, he does so by handing the old bosses a duffle bag full of the severed heads of their associates.

Winick writes some fairly exceptional character moments between Batman and Nightwing, particularly during their fight with an Amazo android, and there are some wonderfully sharp exchanges between Batman and members of the so-called “Power Pact” that mindwiped him in Identity Crisis.

Winick’s Black Mask has a nice, rhythmic sense of black humor in his back-and-forths with his underlings, even if his character is simply Winick Stock Villain Boss. And his use of Mr. Freeze is criminal. He writes him as Winick Stock Mercenary Villian, which is a damn shame, considering the character’s potential (The best use of which was in the first season of Batman: The Animated Series).

The main problem with this graphic novel as a whole, however, is that it relies too much on other stories. If you haven’t read at least “Hush,” Identity Crisis and Batman: A Death in the Family, little of this story will make sense. What separates a decent story arc from a great one will always be how readable it is on its own, and Under The Hood just doesn’t stand up by itself.

Regarding the art, the team of Doug Mahnke and Tom Nguyen (responsible for a fine run on JLA and the underappreciated Justice League Elite) have simply done the work of their careers here, and Matt Wagner’s covers are all exceptional.

Confidential to DC: Ever put any thought into a Matt Wagner omnibus? Maybe “Faces,” Trinity, his Demon miniseries, his random Batman short stories and all the covers he’s done over the years? Think about it.

Would I travel back in time to buy the original issues off the shelf?: Oh, hell no.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Don't cry for Booster Gold

You’ve probably already heard about what happened to Booster Gold last week. In an attempt to save countless innocent lives in downtown Metropolis (and/or his own flailing reputation), Booster pushed his power suit to its absolute limit, lifting a nuclear sub high into the air where it detonated.

When his rival Supernova flew up to rescue him, all he found was a skeleton.

According to DC’s Dan Didio, dead really does mean dead this time. Booster Gold is really, permanently dead, he told last week.

I don’t buy it. Maybe I’m just experiencing the first stage of grief over a beloved B-List character, but I don’t think Booster Gold’s really dead, and, if he is, I don’t expect him to remain dead very long.

For starters, he died in the fifteenth issue of a 52-part story, and there are plenty of unknowns swirling around him within that huge story, including how he has apparently damaged the time stream and who exactly the guy calling himself Supernova is (Popular speculation: He’s another version of Booster Gold).

But assuming Didio’s being straight up and that really was the end of Booster Gold we saw last week, Booster’s eventual return isn’t just likely, it’s inevitable.

For starters, he’s a fictional character in a fictional universe, the laws of which are constantly being written and revised by scores of writers. As Grant Morrison pointed out in the brilliant climax of his Animal Man run, the killing and un-killing of people in the DCU is a piece of cake, even if the resurrection scenarios aren’t always the most believable (“Why can’t you just say…I don’t know…say it was all a dream or something?” Animal Man pleads with Morrison when he asks him to bring his family back to life. Morrison responds, “Are you joking? That old cop-out went out with the ark,” before he eventually does just that).

Secondly, DC seems to have a major problem with killing characters off. Though the current crop of writers and editors seem downright eager to kill characters these days, the very same writers and editors are constantly resurrecting characters that other writers have already killed off. It’s not just those of Hal Jordan and Oliver Queen’s popularity. The most minor villains, from Major Force to Copperhead, can die and return to life without so much as an explanation (My favorite totally haphazard resurrection was that of minor Robin rogue Lynx, who died in “War Games,” only to return to life in a recent issue of Robinand die all over again).

And as for Booster Gold, perhaps no death in comics history has looked so easily reversible. When it comes to our suspension of disbelie as readers, there are degrees of how much we’re willing to buy. Some resurrections are fairly easily accomplished, such as Firestorm’s in Identity Crisis, Zauriel’s in “World War III,” or any of Red Tornado’s several dozen deaths over the decades. Others are more difficult, but they merely require more plot contortions on the writer’s part, like Jordan’s in Green Lantern: Rebirth or Queen’s in Green Arrow: Quiver. And of late, DC has even shown a willingness for extremely lazy resurrections, of which Jason Todd’s takes the cake—he simply came back to life, and if you want to know why, well, it was a continuity error (Um, caused by Superboy-Prime. Punching the walls of the multiverse. Swear to God).

Booster Gold was a time traveler; he was born in the 25th century and traveled back to the 20th with advanced technology to try to become a superhero and make a killing on self-marketing (lottery fraud might have proved safer). So, if he died last week, is he really dead? After all, if time’s linear, he still hasn’t been born yet. He’s traveled back and forth from the present to the future before, and there was some speculation that the Booster Gold who said he was leaving the 21st Century at the end of The OMAC Project wasn’t the same one who returned in the pages of 52.

With access to time travel technology, it’s very easy to avoid one’s own death, at least in DC Comics. Parallax pulled that trick in “Emerald Knights” (I never understood while he only pulled that trick once), and Bary Allen, one of the few DC superheroes to stay dead more or less permanently so far, has repeatedly returned for adventures set long after his death through the magic of time travel.

While some resurrections are so complicated they need a whole story arc (Hourman I, Green Arrow I) or miniseries (Jordan, Donna Troy) to explain, a time traveler’s death can be done in a sentence or two.

In fact, it’s been done. In Brad Meltzer’s Identity Crisis #2, Merlyn notices the recently deceased Chronos over at the next table.

“Don’t ask,” the Monocle responds. “He says he’s the one from twenty-seven seconds pre-his-own-death.”

“I hate time travelers,” Merlyn says. But love ‘em or hate ‘em, you can never really kill ‘em.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Actually Essential Storylines: Steel

This week’s 52 back up feature told the origin of Steel, in eight panels drawn by the character’s co-creator Jon Bogdanove (Man, when was the last time you saw him draw anything?). Writer Mark Waid uses necessarily broad strokes, but seems to have left out some of the most key elements of Steel’s character and history, including his pivotal role in the “Reign of the Supermen” arc and his years with the Justice League.

Perhaps most disturbing was the last panel, which summarizes Steel’s current state—rather than a normal man wearing a suit of super-armor of his own design, he currently has the ability to transform his skin into stainless steel. This is a plot point in 52, but one I had hoped would be resolved before the maxiseries ends. Not only was his armored, caped look much more distinctive, but it seems quite key to his character.

It’s no coincidence that his creators Louise Simonson and John Bogdanove named him after the steel-driving American tall tale hero who died striving to defeat a machine. As a normal man fighting among supermen, John Henry Irons was, like his namesake, a symbol of the awe-inspiring potential within the human body and will. As a normal man wearing technologically advanced armor, he seems to have bettered his namesake—he isn’t competing against a machine, he’s conquered machinery, and it now serves him.

What troubles me about that last panel is that when DC eventually collects 52 into a trade (and oh, what an ugly graphic novel it will make, with the constant shifts in art style and quality), they’ll leave these back-ups out, probably publishing them in their own Secret Origins or Who’s Who trade (With “The History of the DCU” being a feature kicking the book off). It would certainly make for a nice reference guide to the current state of the DCU’s characters (or at least 42 of them). But if they’re thinking that far ahead (and they should be) then that means they’re thinking Steel will still be like this then, right?

Regardless, let’s get to the point of this piece, the ruminating over whether the “Essential Storylines” listed are actually essential.

Here’s what DC lists:

The Return of Superman: No arguments there; this is reallytheSteel story, including his first appearances, his origin and his alliance with Superman. In the wake of Superman’s “death” at the hands of Doomsday, he was one of the four men who stepped up to take Superman’s place, and was easily the most heroic. If you read one story about Steel, this should be it.

Steel: The Forging of a Hero: I wouldn’t really recommend this trade paper back collection (the cover of which is above), but I can understand why it’s on the list. It’s the only trade collecting any solo Steel stories. I’ve read his monthly sporadically, and while I liked some single issues, it’s hard to recommend any particular storyline from it (The Christopher Priest run, which closed out the monthly series, however, was probably the best). The Steel monthly suffered the same fate as its sister books Supergirl and Superboy: constant reinvention. Steel repeatedly changed villains, supporting casts, settings, costumes, missions and his very reason for being; he would gain powers and lose them. This trade was released to coincide with the release of the film featuring the character, and, were it not for the film, I doubt this trade would have ever even been considered.

52: Well, obviously this is an essential storyline starring Steel. But it seems rather odd to list it as such, in the back of 52, doesn’t it? Obviously Steel fans who want to follow the advice listed in the title’s “Essential Storylines” feature are already reading this particular storyline, right?

And here’s what they missed…

Team Superman: This is the name that Superman’s three S-wearing allies occasionally went by for a time. In The Mark Millar-written Team Superman #1, Steel, Superboy and Supergirl help save Supes from an alien hero-killer. In the “Trial of Superman” storyline, they form a “Superman Rescue Squad” to help save him from aliens who have put hi on trial for the destruction of Krypton. In four-part “Critical Condition”, they shrink down to microscopic size (with help from the Atom) to go inside Superman and save him, Fantastic Voyage-style.

The JLA: I consider all of Grant Morrison’s JLA run—the trades, DC One Million, JLA: Earth 2 and JLA/WildCATS—essential reading, but as far as Steel goes, he joins the team in JLA #16, and stays with it through the end of the Morrison, Howard Porter and John Dell run in JLA #41 (Volumes 4, 5 and 6, in terms of trades). Of those, perhaps the most Steel-centric single story is the lead feature from JLA Secret Files & Origins #2, by Christopher Priest. It features Steel’s niece Nat and her friend “Boris” climbing into Steel’s League transporter and helping themselves to a tour of the Watchtower, eventually convincing John Henry he belongs on the League. I agree, and it’s a shame he ever left it. I hope once 52’s over, he gets his seat at the table back again—the League needs a tech guy, and Blue Beetle’s dead and the Atom’s missing. Outside the main monthly, Steel also appeared in Mark Waid and Brian Hitch’s wonderful over-sized graphic novel JLA: Heaven’s Ladder, and in Len Kaminski, Val Semieks and Prentis Rollins’ weird but fun JLA: Foreign Bodies, a Freaky Friday riff in which John Henry Irons and Kyle Rayner trade bodies (as does the rest of the League).

Crises: In Zero Hour, Steel teams up with Guy Gardner (revealed to be an old college buddy), time lost Barbara “Batgirl” Gordon and Supergirl. He teams with the Teen Titans, Aquaman and other heroes who had low-selling books at that point to help Superman Red and Superman Blue defeat the Millennium Giants near the conclusion of the much-maligned “Electro-Supes” storyline. He plays a somewhat more important role in DC One Million, which is essentially just a JLA story that sucked the rest of the DCU into it. When the Big Seven travel to the future, their counterparts attack the Watchtower, and Steel leads the rest of the League’s JV squad against them. In Our Worlds At War, John Henry Irons is slated to die and death actually comes for him (in the form of the Black Racer, the Grim Reaper as a skiing Black Knight), and ends up in Apokalyptian armor. Steel continuity goes goofy after this storyline, which is probably why DC didn’t list it as “essential;” they pretty much just ignored it at the outset of 52 anyway.

Other Universes: In Mark Waid and Alex Ross’ Kingdom Come, Steel has switched alliances between Superman and Batman. How or why isn’t ever explained, and Steel’s role is nothing more than a cameo, but he gets new Bat-shaped armor and a Bat-shaped battle axe in place of his hammer. The switch in loyalty makes sense from the perspective that Steel is more of a Batman-type hero than a Superman-type; that is, he’s just a normal, powerless joe who uses his mind and body to elevate himself to the level of a natural born superman. Darwyn Cooke also includes Steel in his New Frontier story set in the late ‘50s, and that particular time period in American history results in Steel being a very, very different sort of hero.

Other media: John Henry Irons met Superman in Superman: The Animated Series, and was a member of the JLA in Justice League Unlimited. There was also a 1997 Steel movie starring Shaquille O’Neal, but don’t you dare watch it. I’m serious, no matter what—don’t watch that movie!

Hard knock lives

This week's column looks at three biographical graphic novels (biographic novels?) whose protagonists deal with reality at its harshest: War Fix and Brownsville from NBM and Soft Skull Press' Siberia.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Weekly Haul: August 16th

52 #15 (DC Comics) As the cover of this week’s issue spoils, Booster Gold doesn’t seem like he’ll live to see week sixteen. Is this the final nail in the coffin of the Giffen/DeMatteis Bwa-Ha-Ha League? I wouldn’t bet on it. There’s little DC could do that would surprise me at this point, after watching Jason Todd get resurrected and Batgirl II turn evil on a dime, but 3/4 of the writers involved with this story are just too damn good as storytellers to have ended Booster Gold’s storyline with so many dangling plot threads. And, though we do see a body—a skeleton, actually—there are just too many outs left for Booster to come back, including another version of himself stepping out of the timestream (he may have “died” this issue, but he won’t be born for hundreds of years yet) or Supernova unmasking to reveal himself as the Booster Gold from the past, future or an alternate Earth. Other than the big, splashy death, this particular issue is notable for having perhaps the best art of the series so far, provided by penciler Shawn Moll and inker Tom Nguyen. This team’s a real keeper. The back-up art comes courtesy of Jon Bogdanove, the perfect guty to draw the origin of Steel, though this seems like the wrong issue to run this feature. Steel doesn’t even appear this week; wouldn’t the origin of Booster Gold have been more appropriate?

The Boys #1 (WildStorm/DC) The teaming of Garth Ennis (co-creator of Vertigo’s Preacher) and Darick Robertson (co-creator of Vertigo’s Transmetropolitan) is an inspired one, as is the concept: An elite team who’s job it is to keep track of and administer beatdowns to all of the world’s super-people when they need it. Unfortunately, there’s nothing in here that we haven’t seen from Ennis before. If you’ve read any of his Kev stories—and/or The Pro, Hitman and the Marvel Knights Punisher—then you’ve bloody well already read this issue too.

Conan #31 (Dark Horse Comics) And speaking of repetitive, Conan and another, less taciturn thief break into a temple, steal a magical phallic object and fight some undead treasure keepers. Ho hum.

The Drifting Classroom Vol. 1 (Viz) The title and the first eleven words on the back cover are all it took to sell me on Kazuo Umezu’s early-‘70s horror series: “In the aftermath of a strange earthquake, an entire elementary school vanishes.” This is the exact sort of thing I used to fantasize about when I was in elementary school, though my fantasies just weren’t as gritty, visceral and dark as Umezu’s. I eagerly await the second volume. Love the way Sho runs, too. That kid’s got a sweet stride.

Marvel Adventures Avengers #4 (Marvel) Spidey says “Pwned!” at the end of a fight. What else can you ask for from a comic book?

Phonogram #1 (Image Comics) I picked this up on a whim, as it was a pretty light week, expecting another pretentious hipster indie rock wankfest of a script with decent black and white art, by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie actually have something much more interesting up their sleeves, regarding the intersection of pop music and magic. And they mean that literally, not figuratively. This series could go either way, but based on the first issue, it definitely has the potential to go somewhere pretty awesome.

Robin #153 (DC) I sincerely meant to drop this title last issue, but I forgot to inform my comics shop, so it was in my pull file this week anyway. This is the team-up issue between Robin and Captain Boomerang Jr., whose fathers killed each other in one of the more ludicrous parts of Identity Crisis (Um, how did Jean Loring know Robin’s secret identity was Tim Drake, exactly?) Writer Adam Beechen repeats that exact same ludicrous mistake here, having Cap Jr. know Robin’s secret identity as well, but Robin doesn’t seem to even notice that). Together the pair search the abandoned hideouts of Bat-villains seeking a nuclear bomb to diffuse, and these scenes are pretty fun, as each villain leaves themed booby traps, and Beechen reaches pretty deep into Batman’s rogues gallery (Dr. Double X, The Cavalier and The Glass Man, anyone?) Beechen writes Robin as a pretty unlikable prick—he comes across more Dark Knight than the Dark Knight here—but some of the traps are pretty fun, and I do like artist’s Freddie E. Williams II’s interpretation of the Boy Wonder. Not enough to get this added back into my pull list though.

Runaways #19 (Marvel) Geez, what is it with female magic users and androids in the Marvel Universe? Gravity artist Mike Norton fills in for Adrian Alphona, and though things don’t seem the same without Alphona, Norton’s a good choice for a fill-in (Hmm, a Gravity/Runaways crossover could be pretty cool…). In this issue, we check in with each of the Runaways to see how they’re dealing with Gert’s death last issue, and none of them seem to be doing so hot. Luckily, a giant demon monster is going around destroying Starbuckses (Starbucki?), so maybe they can take out some of their negative emotions on it next issue. Line of the week: “Yes! It’s cobblering time!” That’s probably just what Ben Grimm’s great-great-great grandfather said when he sat down at his workbench to make a pair of shoes…

Strange Westerns Starring the Black Rider #1 (Marvel) Well, they sure named this title well—It just doesn’t get any stranger than a vigilante gunfighter who disguises himself as a meek, Clark Kent-like bespectacled milquetoast and who rides a horse that similarly disquises itself as a meek, broken down old nag. That’s the title character, who stars in the main feature by Steve Englehart, Marshall Rogers and Al Vey. It’s not bad, but I preferred Joe R. Lansdale and Rafa Garres’ much shorter, creepier, cooler tale of a man who sold his soul to the devil to be the fastest gun in the world going up against Gunhawk. The two original tales are followed by two Stan Lee/Jack Kirby back-ups featuring the Rawhide Kid. The first one, in which everyone in town is prejudiced against the Kid (presumably because he’s a gunfighter), takes on a different meaning entirely now that the Kid’s been officially outted by Marvel.

Testament #9 (Vertigo/DC) Liam Sharp sure draws some scary-ass “lean” cows, doesn’t he?

Transformers: Evolutions #2 (IDW) This second chapter of “Hearts of Steel,” a period piece which posits what would happen if the Transformers were active on earth during the late 19th Century (and if John Henry Irons was a real man and Mark Twain and Jules Verne were involved) is better than the first, but I still prefer artist Gudio Guidi’s awesome re-design sketch covers better than the actual story inside the book.

Ultimate Fantastic Four #32 (Marvel) Oh, thank God it’s finally over. It’s too bad Mark Millar’s off the book already, considering how troubled this book has been in terms of keeping creators and a consistent look, feel and story, but it also means I won’t have to sit through Greg Land’s weird, out-of-place, poorly “acted” artwork each month anymore. Confidential to Land: Ultimate Wasp is Asian, not Caucasian, and she has short, spiky black hair rather than a brunette bob.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Who's Your Founding Father?

Click to Bam!Kapow! to read my Q and A with Ben Lichius, the co-creator and co-writer of the just-concluded miniseries The Black Coat: A Call to Arms. It's a straightforward swashbuckler set in 1775 New York, starring a masked hero who is one-part Thomas Jefferson, one-part Batman. The lavish black and white art by Fracesco Francavilla is worth the price of admission alone (That's the first page of the first issue posted above).

Monday, August 14, 2006

Delayed Reaction: Batman: War Games Act One

Batman: War Games Act One (DC Comics), by Various

Why’d I Wait?: I didn’t exactly wait, at least not on every single page of this trade paper back collection. I read some of the issues contained herein—Batman: The 12 Cent Adventure, Robin #129, Batgirl #55—but was unimpressed with the kick-off and overall concept of this Bat-book crossover, and decided I’d just read the chapters that are contained in books I was already reading anyway.

Why Now?: After seeing how radically different the Batman family’s status quo is “One Year Later”—Batman and Robin Gotham’s only heroes, Cassandra Cain an insane villain, Oracle and her team totally estranged, Nightwing in New York being messed with by an absurdly resurrected Jason Todd—it seemed like a good time to revisit the previous status quo, when Batman was a sort of general commanding a vigilante army.

Well?: My reservations about this story were only confirmed with reading the entire first act at once. In a very real way, it was a perfect illustration of everything that was wrong with such crossovers, making for a particularly uninviting read.

First and most glaring was the vast differences in the styles of the artists involved. And there are a lot of artists involved—nine pencillers, ten inkers. All of them are competent artists, with Paul Gulacy, Sean Phillips , Pete Woods and the Brad Walker and Troy Nixey team topping the list, but few of the styles mesh well, and each penciller seemed to be free to do whatever they wanted with character design, as if no one were even editing the book.

Just look at the Penguin throughout this book—in one chapter he’s an enormously fat, long nosed monster in the Batman Returns mold, in the next he’s just a slightly overweight looking joe, in the next he’s a tiny little midget; his hair is long, his hair is swept back into rockhopper penguin style, his hair is clipped short.

Six different writers contributed to this “Act” of the story, but again, there’s little consistency—sometimes Stephanie “Spoiler” Brown narrates, sometimes Batman narrates, sometimes Nightwing narrates, sometimes Catwoman narrates, sometimes no one narrates. Sometimes Batman’s narration is in one color box, sometimes in a different colored box. Read as a trade, it’s quite schizophrenic.

Also, there is a lot of past continuity going into this. The beauty of the Batman family of characters in general is that everyone knows the story in broad strokes; you can pick pretty much any trade off the shelf and know who Batman, Robin, Catwoman and maybe even Nightwing are and what they’re all about. This story, however, involves a lot of complicated and pretty specific continuity, and demands that you were paying attention to Robin’s monthly title, Nightwing’s monthly title and that you had read the miniseries Batman: Orpheus Rising. Spoiler, the Trantula II, Orpheus, Onyx and Hush all pop up and bring bits of their backstory with them. I've been reading Batman books for about 15 years now, and I was still confused by some of the characters.

As for the story itself, it involves a gang war breaking out in Gotham City. Basically, every crime boss in the city is called to a meeting anonymously, and each one stupidly shows up, each with one body guard a piece, coincidentally. Unlikely as this sounds, they all mill around until tensions get high enough that they all kill each other, leaving a power vaccum in the city that sends the various gangs, syndicates and supervillains into open warfare with one another.

This initial spark to the war involves some pretty hardcore suspension of disbelief—you’d think guys smart enough to run criminal empires would be smart enough not to accept anonymous invitations to shady areas in the middle of the night, and that simply putting enough bad guys in one place at one time wouldn’t be enough to simply make them fall down dead like dominoes. But the late in the volume revelation as to what they were all doing there and why, which comes during the Catwoman issue included within, doesn’t make a lick of sense—the narration in the first chapter seems to directly contradict the revelation of who the “mastermind” behind the criminal extermination really was.

It’s too bad this crossover was so bad, because there are a lot of talented folks involved with it, and it has the ring of historical importance, given the significant changes to the Gotham setting it ushers in—Batman, Batgirl and Nightwing are seen on the TV news, for example, ending the Batman-as-urban legend status quo that’s existed since at least Batman: Year One. Plus, a supporting character is about to die and another is about to become a villain, though not until future "Acts," which I'll get to as soon as I can get them from the library.

Would I Travel Back In Time And Buy The Books Off the Racks?: God no. In fact, if I hade access to time travel tech, I’d probably use it to go back in time and stop myself from buying any of the issues I had previously read; but I don’t think my past self would believe my self from the future, and would have gone ahead and bought them anyway. Which just goes to show that you can’t change the past. Unless you're Superboy-Prime.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Fairytales That Are Merely Fair

This week's column takes a look at two new continuiations of fairy tales you enjoyed in your youth, The Oz/Wonderland Chronicles #1 and Return to Labyrinth Vol. 1. Neither was anything better than average (with the former being quite below average), but they both feature gorgeous covers, particularly Labyrinth, posted above for the David Bowie fans in the audience's viewing pleasure

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Weekly Haul: August 9th

52 #14 (DC Comics) Steel and Nat get the beautiful J.G. Jones cover this week, as we check in with Dr. John Henry Irons to find out why he hasn’t been in the title much lately (Is anyone in the DCU having a good year?), but most of the issue is devoted to Montoya and the Question’s story, which is about to run headlong into Black Adam’s. It’s glaringly odd that Montoya narrates her own scenes, while we don’t see the thoughts of any other character in the entire series; I may be alone in this, but I do wish good comics followed the same rules of point of view and narration consistency that all other forms of good fiction do. Word of the week: Unelongated. This week’s back-up is the origin of Metamorpho, illustrated by the born-to-draw-Metamorpho Eric Powell. It’s an odd week for this particular origin to run, as Rex was in last week’s issue and isn’t in this weeks at all, and it seems odd that Powell didn’t draw either Simon or Sapphire Stagg in any of the eight panels he had to work with, but at least we got to see the one-eyed alien the Thunderer, from the highly recommended Showcase Presents: Metamorpho Volume 1.

A Man Called Kev #2 (WildStorm/DC) A very talky issue of the continuing adventures of ex-S.A.S. homophobe Kev Hawkins. Writer Garth Ennis can do no wrong, just right and less right. This series has been a bit of the latter thus far.

Civil War: Frontline #5 (Marvel Comics) In Paul Jenkins’ A story, “Embedded,” both Sally and Ben seem to get evidence that there’s a conspiracy involved in the Superhuman Registration Act, and both are about to pay a price for their discoveries. No idea where this is going yet, but it gets more exciting each issue. In the B story, Robbie “Speedball” Baldwin gets shipped off the S.R.A.’s version of Gitmo, a robot-run institution in the Negative Zone. The C story, “Sleeper,” has SHIELD calling in Wonder Man, and the D story, one of those insulting and pointless comparisons between real wars and Marvel’s superhero crossover, I just simply ignored.

Conan and the Songs of the Dead #2 (Dark Horse Comics) Joe R. Lansdale was born to write Conan, and Timothy Truman was born to draw him (um, among the other things the two men were no doubt meant to accomplish during their time here on earth), so thank God Dark Horse gave them the chance to do so and, better yet, to do it at the same time. I didn’t hear any songs in this issue, but there were plenty of dead, most of whom Conan and his current sidekick proceeded to kill somewhat further.

Devi #2 (Virgin Comics) After a somewhat slow start in back story heavy #1, things get more interesting in #2. If nothing else, it’s educational (I learn more and more Indian mythology and slang with each Virgin issue), and has great art from Mukesh Singh. Oh, and a nice Greg Horn cover this time around.

The Escapists #2 (Dark Horse) Maybe it’s just the Cleveland setting and the many familiar Cleveland references—The Cinematheque! The Flats! Parma! The Indians!—reacting predictably with my Northeast Ohio roots, but I love this book. Brian K. Vaughan, who seems to be writing half of the best comics on the shelves right now, has done the seemingly impossible in updating and adapting the basic story of Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay to a modern setting. Confidential to Vaughan: I’d buy a Bridge War of 1836 comic.

JSA: Classified #15 (DC) Okay, it’s only two issues into this story arc, but I’m already bored to tears by it, perhaps because I’ve already read a half-dozen issues about “stellaration” and Amos Fortune this summer, or perhaps because I’ve seen the members of the JLA and/or JSA fighting one another in arenas three times too many already.

Martian Manhunter #1 (DC) I went into this book expecting to hate it: Writer A.J. Lieberman has written some of the very worst Batman stories of the past few years, the new re-design for the title character hurts my eyes and seems ridiculously out of character, and the teaser in Brave New World was terrible. So I suppose the fact that I didn’t hate this issue is something of a recommendation in and of itself. I don’t quite understand why J’onn decided to change his look into a sort of Skrull/Conehead/BDSM hybrid all of a sudden, particularly when he notes it makes his job a lot harder, and I’m still unenthused about the “Everything you know is wrong!!!” approach, but Lieberman builds a decent atmosphere of paranoia and acknowledges past history rather than simply ignoring or rewriting it (See The Creeper #1). Sweet logo, too.

Secret Six #3 (DC) It took Gail Simone a little too long to bring the conflict into focus (it was never really explained why the Six remain together, and what they’ve been up to all missing year), but the main antagonist makes himself known here. The best part of the series, even at it’s worst (last issue) has been it’s wonderful characters and Simone’s wonderful way with them. Here we get plenty of that loveable lunatic Ragdoll, and some of the coolest Mad Hatter scenes I ever read. Seriously, committing hat-themed crimes is one kind of crazy, but making tiny hats to put on all of the fruit in the kitchen? That’s stone cold, crazier than the Joker on laughing gas psycho. I love it. Not only do I want a Secret Six ongoing when this mini wraps, I think I want Ms. Simone to do a Mad Hatter ongoing as well.

She-Hulk #10 (Marvel) Awesome cover. I wish this title would go back to ignoring Civil War now, but even if it seems much less focused now, it’s still a pleasurable enough read.

Spider-Man Family: Featuring Spider-Man’s Amazing Friends #1 (Marvel) Okay, I’ll just get my gripes out of the way first: I wish Marvel would have just called this Spider-Man Family #2, and that they could have kept the number of artists on writer Sean McKeever’s original feature story down to one (and Nick Dragotta at that), but otherwise this was a fun blast of Spider-Friends nostalgia, a must-read for anyone who grew up with Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends like, um, me. Adding bang to your almost-five-bucks are a “Mini-Marvels” tale by McKeever and Chris Giarrusso, a reprint of an old Kurt Busiek-scripted Untold Tales of Spider-Man (basically, what Ultimate Spider-Man would have been were it in continuity), another reprint issue of Peter David’s Spider-Man 2099, and another of Fred Hembeck’s weird Petey Parker gag strips. Buy ten copies, and maybe we’ll get a Spider-Friends ongoing.

Superman #655 (DC) Arion of Atlantis?! In Superman?! I don’t understand it, but I like it. He travels to the future from his past to lend Superman a helping hand, and it looks like he’ll need it. An old colleague seems to have guessed his secret identity, and some sort of unstoppable alien is making life hard on him. Its name is Subjekt 17. Not as catchy or properly spelled as “Doomsday,” but Subby sure seems to hit about as hard as the gray goliath did.

Ultimate Spider-Man Annual #2 (Marvel) God, I love annuals, as long as they’re well done, and this is one hell of a well-done annual. (In general, sharing a writer with the monthly seems to go a long way towards doing them right). It lacks the emotional highs and dramatic pay-off that last year’s annual boasted, but it recaptures the wild, anything-goes spirit of Brian Michael Bendis’ recent “Warriors” story arc. When Ultimate Kangaroo makes a move on Ultimate Kingpin’s territory, Ultimate Punisher, Ultimate Daredevil, Ultimate Moon Knight and Ultimate Spider-Man are literally falling over one another to smack him down. Plus, another appearance of fan favorite Ultimate Shocker, plus, is this the introduction of Ultimate Speedball? Still not as goofy as Mark Millar’s Ultimate Power Man, Bendis.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Marble madness

Debbie Huey, the writer/artist responsible for AdHouse Books' all-ages adventures Bumperboy Loses His Marbles and the just-released Bumperboy and the Loud, Loud Mountain took some time out of her weekend to chat with me about the origins of Bumperboy and Bumperpup, and their latest, weird adventure. You can read the whole thing over at Bam!Kapow! right here. Among the subjects covere is the weirdness of the stories:

I noticed when I was writing a review of Loud, Loud Mountain how, in simple prose synopsis, it seems really, really weird (What with the sentient mountains, armless, deaf marshmallow people, a slave labor soda operation). But when you're actually reading the book, it seems completely natural. Where did the idea for this particular story come from?

I feel the same way when people ask me about Bumperboy's stories! I always feel a bit strange when I describe things like borping, marble tournaments and a lonely mountain to complete strangers.

Again, I get most of my ideas from random doodles in my sketchbook. One time, on a late night road trip, I saw a silhouette of a mountain in the distance. All of a sudden, two distant lights (street lamps, perhaps?) matched up to the mountain perfectly to form eyes. That's when the idea of a living mountain popped into my head.

I recorded a sketch of the mountain with eyes in my sketchbook so that I could use it for a future story. So when it was time to start thinking of ideas for my next Bumperboy book, I flipped through my sketchbooks, and thought the mountain would make for a great story. This is also when I found my marshmallow guys, and incorporated them into the story as Grums.

Sean McKeever's Spider-Friends

The greatest Marvel Comics writer in the entire city of Columbus, Ohio will have a new comic book out this Wednesday, Spider-Man Family: Featuring Spider-Man's Amazing Friends #1. Sean McKeever is writing the lead feature of the book (one of those reprint-heavy, great value comics you'd have to be nuts to pass up, something like two million pages for $4.99) which will reunite the stars of the 1981 cartoon series Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends (one of wee Caleb's favorite cartoons), Spider-Man, Firestar and Iceman, in the Marvel Universe—for the first time! I spoke with McKeever on Bam!Kapow!'s behalf over the weekend. Check it out here.

At last! Gorilla Man and Human Robot return...

If you enjoyed last week's Agents of Atlas #1 half as much as I did, be sure to check out Bam!Kapow! today for an interview with its writer, Jeff Parker. We discuss AoA as well as Parker's Marvel Adventures Avengers, the all-ages Avengers book with the A-List line-up to die for. Here's a sample, including my two most juvenile questions:

We haven't seen much of Marvel Boy at this point, but he's gotta be pushing seventy by now, right? Is he going to go by Marvel Man when we do meet him?

He's only a little older, and that will be covered in issue #3.

Is it immature of me to laugh at Marvel Boy for being from Uranus?

You're no different than Gorilla Man, who snickers every time it comes up! Bob Grayson eventually has to say "the Seventh Planet" just to avoid that.

Friday, August 04, 2006

This is what you're missing

this week if you're an alternative weekly newspaper not syndicating my easily syndicatable comic book review column: Reviews of the Black Panther/Storm nuptials, Shark-Man #1 from the writer of the Aliens film franchise, and Bumperboy and the Loud, Loud Mountain.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Actually Essential Storylines: The Elongated Man

This week’s 52 featured the second of the now-weekly back-up origin stories, each one ending with a head shot of the hero, a breakdown of their powers and a section marked “Essential Storylines,” giving new readers suggestions of where they can seek out more on the hero featured.

Last week it was Wonder Woman, and, as bitched about in “Weekly Haul,” most of the storylines recommended were out of continuity, and thus not canon.

This week the star is Ralph “Elongated Man” Dibny, and while the two-page, nine-panel story was tightly written by Mark Waid and gorgeously illustrated by Kevin Nowlan, the “Essential Storylines” section again seemed inadequate.

So I spent some quality time with my longboxes (But then, isn’t all time spent with one’s longboxes quality time?) for some more suggestions. I suspect this will be a regular EDILW feature.

Here's what DC reccomended:

Showcase Presents: The Elongated Man: No arguments there. While I’ve yet to read this particular volume (see black-and-white version of the cover above), I’ve also yet to regret buying a single one of the Showcase Presents books. Offering over 500 pages of the Ductile Detective action for less than a single $20 bill, it’s certainly the most essential value.

Identity Crisis: Again, no arguments. This is a murder mystery centering on Ralph and Sue Dibny, and it's awfully brutal to them both, in at least one scene going to a place that struck me as rather inappropriate territory at the time. And I'm still a little uncomfortable seeing what happened happen on the Justice League's meeting table. It is a beautifully drawn book though, and writer Brad Meltzer's story is six-sevenths of a great one (he cheats on a few points at the end, and it completely falls apart). For better or worse, it's not only the most pivotal Dibny story, but the most important one DC’s published in a while, as pretty much the last two years’ worth of their stories (including 52) spin out of the events of IC.

Here’s what they missed…

Starman: James Robinson’s entire run on Starman is essential reading, of course, but for our purposes here the two graphic novels’ worth of comics featuring the Dibnys are Stars My Destination and Grand Guignol. The Dibnys come to Opal City to help protect it while Jack is off in outer space, and they end up playing a pivotal role in cracking a mystery and saving the city. They decide to relocate from Midway to Opal, and Ralph serves as one of the city’s protectors (along with Black Condor, The Phantom Lady and The Shade) once Jack hangs up his cosmic rod and goes into retirement.

Justice League Europe/Justice League International: Ralph was a founding member of Justice League Europe, the book that spun out of the success of Keith Giffen and J. M. DeMatteis’ Justice League America/International book. In fact, he was on the team from it’s early days (When Giffen, DeMatteis and Bart Sears were at the helm) until it was renamed International and writer Gerard Jones took over. Criminally, none of these issues have been collected into trades, but a good quarter bin is likely to have ‘em. Keep your eye’s peeled for Justice League Quarterly #6, as it’s lead feature is a story by then still up-and-coming writer Mark Waid, and it details one of Sue’s infamous birthday presents for her husband: An elaborately staged mystery.

The “Superbuddies” books: Giffen, DeMatteis and select members of their old cast got together for two reunion special-style stories, in miniseries Formerly Known as the Justice League and a JLA: Classifed arc entitled “I Can’t Believe It’s Not the Justice League.” Both have been collected into trades.

JLA: Incarnations: This fantastic series by John Ostrander and Val Semeiks focused on a different incarnation of the League in each of it’s seven issues. While the Elongated Man didn’t get a very big role in any of the issues, #4 dealt with the end of the “Satellite Era,” during his initial tour of duty with the League, and #5 focused on the so-called Detroit League, on which Ralph was one of the four elder Leaguers training four newcomers. I have no idea why DC has yet to collect this mini into trades, when even the most abysmal, unreadable arcs from the monthly, “Pain of the Gods” and “The Tenth Circle,” have gotten the trade paperback treatment.

Other universes: In Frank Miller’s DKU (Dark Knight Universe), a cigarette-smoking Ralph was hawking Viagra-like Gingold Plus with the slogan “Elongate your love life,” until Batman recruits him to his team. He basically needs him for one task—to hold down a completely insane Plastic Man until they can talk sense into him. Miller has some really great images of Ralph scaling the walls of Arkham and wrestling with Plas. In the Rossiverse (Alex Ross’ version of the DCU, where all of his favorite heroes are on the JLA), Elongated Man has a bit part in the over-sized graphic novel JLA: Liberty and Justice , and he and Sue both make cameos in the ongoing Justice.

Other media: Elongated Man is probably the least successful stretchy superhero when it comes to breaking into other media, but he is a member of the Justice League on Justice League Unlimited. His conversation with Booster Gold in “The Greatest Story Never Told” is probably the highlight of the episode, one of the funniest in the series.


I know what you're thinking: "Gee Caleb, I sure do love listening to you ramble on endlessly about comics here at, as well as weekly in Las Vegas Weekly and Best Shots at, but I sure wish I could get still more of your opinions on comic books." That's what you're thinking, right? Well guess what? Now you can! Check out brand new comic book-related site Bam!Kapow! for updated-daily goodness.

I'll mostly be contributing reviews of DC and indy books there, and it will probably be the main venue for future creator interviews I do. Site editor Michael McDaniel will be handling Marvel reviews, and he keeps the site regularly updated with comics-related news and some interesting miscellanea(Like check out the production art from Tim Burton's still-born Superman Lives! movie, which eventually evolved into Bryan Singer's Superman Returns). So go ahead and bookmark the site, and check it out whenever your boss isn't standing right behind you at work.

Weekly Haul: August 2nd

52 #12 (DC Comics) This is the issue of the series I’ve been waiting on for months now, ever since I first glimpsed J.G. Jones’ beautiful cover for it online (I do hope DC is planning a prestige format, 52-page collection of all of Jones’ covers for the series, with an original wraparound cover, for early 2007 release). The bulk of this issue is devoted to Ralph finally busting up the resurrection cult, with assists from formerly resurrected Leaguers Green Lantern Hal Jordan, Green Arrow Oliver Queen, Zauriel and Metamorpho. It’s a nice mix of characters, culled from different eras of League history, and, as one of the world’s 14 Zauriel fans, I was happy to see Z back in action. There’s a bizarre twist at the climax, one that should make the next 39 weeks very interesting for Ralph’s character. Cult leader “Devem” seems to have been on to something, or Ralph’s gone a little crazy, or the 52 braintrust actually has done the impossible, and actually thought of a way to include Brother Power the Geek in this year-long epic story.

Nitpick-o-rama: Shouldn’t Zauriel have taken his big pointy gold helmet off to better his disguise? His eyes are also mis-colored throughout the issue. But more importantly, so now Zauriel and Metamorpho know Batman’s secret identity too? Why does Batman even bother wearing a mask anymore?

Agents of Atlas #1 (Marvel Comics) The weird, extremely dated superheroes of Marvel’s “lost years” return in this new miniseries by Jeff Parker, Leonard Kirk and Ken Justice. Gorilla Man, The Human Robot, Venus and pre-Morrison Marvel Boy, the hero from (giggle!) Uranus hook up with their old boss, SHIELD agent Jimmy Woo to take on the villainous Asian Stereotype—I mean, the Yellow Claw. Honestly, they had my $2.99 me at the word “Gorilla Man.”

The All-New Atom #2 (DC) The new Atom, Dr. Ryan Choi, and his fellow eccentric Ivy U scientists, experiment with modes of tiny transportation, and the little guy has his first superhero adventure. I’ve decided to simply ignore writer Gail Simone’s criminal abuse of the asterisk, which makes this closer to the perfect comic book it has the potential to be. And I love the alien invaders’ alien grammar and agreement: “You have your orders! It is disintegrate him!” Awesome.

Detective Comics #822 (DC) With Batman: The Animated Series producer Paul Dini finally writing a comic set in the DC Universe proper, I suppose it was only a matter of time before his creation Roxy Rocket (who appeared in both the Batman and Superman cartoons and the Batman comics based on the cartoons) appeared. But did it have to be his second issue? She’s only on the first page though. The issue revolves around Batman and a reformed Riddler trying to crack the same murder case. Pay close attention to the weird details penciller Don Kramer fills the background with in the underground BDSM club. Best part? Page 12.

Marvel Team-Up #23 (Marvel) Aunt May vs. Wolverine, with the fate of the New Avengers’ gallon of milk at stake! Iron Spidey and Wolverine vs. The Iron Maniac, with snide remarks about Spider-Man’s stupid-ass costume redesign! And new hero Freedom Ring teams up with his nosey neighbor and trains to be a proper superhero. Robert Kirkman’s script is full of fun, light-hearted moments. I’ll be sorry to see this title go, as it was just recently announced to be on the cancellation chopping block.

Ultimate Spider-Man #98 (Marvel) Wait, how many times has Brian Michael Bendis seen Waterworld (once is too many times) to be able to write that opening scene with the FF? The Ultimate Clone Saga continues, and the shock of finding out that Ultimate Scorpion was a clone of Peter Parker was nothing compared to the trio of shocks that come in rapid succession this issue.

The Oz/Wonderland Chronicles #1 (Buy Me Toys) Nice cover by Joe Jusko, featuring a grown up Alice surrounded by a grown-up Dorothy in Judy Garland drag and the denizens of Oz. It’s pretty much all downhill from there. Casey Heying’s art has a strange artificiality about it (I suspect the foul touch of computers), like art that’s striving so hard for realism that it overshoots and looks faker than the most expressionistic art would have (he does do a mean lion and tiger in this style, though). The story is a perverse mess, about grown-up Alice (of in Wonderland fame) and grown-up Dorothy, now both sporting D-cups and living with other grown-up versions of girls from public domain stories in Chicago, encountering creatures form both of their fantasy worlds. The Wizard of Oz appears packing two six-guns, and sends them both to Oz to stop a new Wicked Witch’s plan to destroy all three worlds. Ugly art aside, writer Ben Avery and Heying (who also has a writing credit) have plundered two classics, but in a willy-nilly, nonsensical way, that doesn’t adhere to the rules of either of the fictional universes it draws on, and ends up seeming intellectually lazy (For starters, shouldn’t these ladies be senior citizens, if they’re still alive at all? And shouldn’t Alice be English? And hasn’t anyone in Chicago ever read a book or seen a movie before?). After seeing the melding of these two story-scapes done so horribly wrong again, I’m even more excited for Lost Girls than I was before I read this mess.