Friday, December 29, 2006

December 28th's Meanwhile in Las Vegas...

Yeah, yeah, I know it's December 29th and I'm just getting around to linking to yesterday's Las Vegas Weekly comics column, and I still haven't bothered to post reviews from this week's haul. I blame the holidays. And my devastating head cold. At any rate, click here to read my LVW column, this week consisting of reviews of Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip Book One and Sidescrollers, two excellent books that will likely be showing up again soon in my best of the year list. If I ever get around to posting that.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Actually Essential Storylines: Martian Manhunter

Last week’s 52 origin was probably the most infuriating of the lot, as it only underscored the nebulous nature of continuity post-Infinite Crisis (i.e., no one seems certain of what is and isn’t considered canon anymore), and the “Essential Storylines” suggestions were so off-base that DC seemed to be doing it on purpose.

The subject was Martian Manhunter, who, like fellow Superman-esque caped strong man Captain Marvel, was forced into a bizarre new direction for no real reason in the wake of Infinite Crisis. The entire two-page, eight-panel story has been posted online, and you can follow along here.

The art is provided by Tom Mandrake, the primary artist for the short-lived (but exceptional) Martian Manhunter monthly series, and follows the by now familiar pattern of a splash panel of the hero’s current look, a re-telling of the origin, a one-panel recap of where we left them and a head-shot.

So Mandrake draws J’onn as he’s recently appeared, wearing his new body suit and his new head shape, which is neither his superhero head or his private Martian head, but an entirely new amalgation of the two, one which bears an unfortunate resemblance to Marvel’s shape-shifting, green-skinned alien race.

That’s followed by panels retelling of the plague that killed all the green Martians save J’onn, his abduction by Earth scientest Erdel, and his adoption of a secret identity.

Then things get weird. One panel tells of his finding kinship with the JLA, and the image shows the five founders, the four boys plus Wonder Woman. Pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths, Wonder Woman founded the League with J’onn, Aquaman, Flash and Green Lantern. After the multiverse collapse of COIE, however, Wonder Woman didn’t debut in “Man’s World” until shortly after the Crisis, and Black Canary was retroactively made a stand-in for Wondy.

When Infinite Crisis re-created and re-collapsed the multiverse, forming “New Earth,” it was revealed Wonder Woman was a founder again, which negates about half of her own stories since George Perez relaunched her title in the ‘80s, and threw JLA history into confusion. Does she now replace her replacement Black Canary? Or are there now six founders, with both her and Black Canary founding the League alongside the boys?

We didn’t know, and this is the first time the topic has been addressed. But even this seemingly straightforward answer would be contradicted immediately (see below).

The final panel shows J’onn shapeshifting into his new costume and skull-shape, with the narration telling us, “He has re-embraced his Martian form in hopes of drawing others to him” in reaction to ignoring his “native heritage.” This strikes me as an essentially immature move on J’onn’s part, considering he’s been on earth for about 50 years now, at least ten of those years in his familiar shape. If anything, the radical change at this point in his career seems like a sort of mid-life crisis, like someone turning 50 and deciding to get his ears pierced or plastic surgery.

But lets turn our attention to the nuttiest part of the origin story, the “Essential Storylines.”

Here’s what DC suggests…

JLA: YEAR ONE: In case you, dear reader, have not read this story, it was a 12-issue maxiseries by Mark Waid and Barry Kitson that spun out of the Grant Morrison, Howard Porter and John Dell JLA series, recounting the formation of the Justice League—by Black Canary! It’s an excellent, character-driven story, one that weaves inter-character conflicts between post-Crisis reinterpretations of the classic Silver Age Justice League stories. Now, if Wonder Woman founded the League instead of Black Canary, this entire story is essentially irrelevant and out of canon now. By all means, read it for it’s great art and Waid’s clever takes on DC second-tier heroes and the universe’s history, but the panel on the very same page that recommends it also tells us not to bother with it, as it doesn’t “count” anymore.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #144: This is a puzzling inclusion, as it was a story that was also knocked out of continuity during COIE. Essentially a retcon of the original Silver Age origin story about the Apellexian invasion encouraging the seven heroes to band together to defeat threats too big for any of them to handle solo, this issue featured Green Arrow discovering the League’s true origin story, which involved rescuing Martian Manhunter from other Martian forces (a story riffed on in the animated Justice League series. Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman participated in this adventure, but this was a pre-Crisis story. An issue of Secret Origins, JLA: Year One and the Martian Manhunter monthly would all contradict this story. Post-Infinite Crisis, one of the major contradictions (Black Canary now standing in for Wonder Woman) would be removed, but there still shouldn’t be any other Martians around, unless that too was changed. But even if this pre-Crisis story, which has never been retold and has never been collected into a trade (meaning the only readers who know it are those who were reading JLoA waaaay back in1977), is suddenly canon again, why recommend JLA: Year One on the same list?

FORMERLY KNOWN AS THE JUSTICE LEAGUE: Now this is a puzzling inclusion. This six-issue miniseries by Keith Giffen, J. M. De Matteis and Kevin Maguire, reunited many of the principles from the old JLI era of the 1980s as “The Superbuddies,” but Martian Manhunter was not one of them. In fact, J’onn has a few panels worth of cameo in #5, and guest stars along with fellow Leaguers Wonder Woman, Batman, Flash and Plastic Man in #6, but it hardly amounts to a Martian Manhunter storyline, let alone an essential one. More essential might be, oh, any Justice League story from the 20 years or so between the “Detroit League” era on to JLA: World Without a Justice League or any issue of Martian Manhunter.

COUNTDOWN TO INFINITE CRISIS: This is another puzzling inclusion. True, J’onn J’onnz appears (along with just about every other active DC superhero), but for little more than a cameo. In fact, he gets fewer lines and less panel time here then he did in Formerly Known as the Justice League. And what little of J’onn we see here is not flattering. He’s shown in the JLA’s Watchtower headquarters, blowing off his long-time friend and ally Ted “Blue Beetle” Kord, who has unlocked a conspiracy that will plunge the world into the chaos of Infinite Crisis, but J’onn doesn’t even give this long-time Leaguer a little eye contact, instead focusing on taking calls from Hawkman, Hawkwoman and Adam Strange. Blue Beetle then goes off on his own and gets himself killed.

The inclusion of this story is also interesting because it’s another one that is directly contradicted by a story on this list. Formerly Known As the Justice League is all about how the cyborg Max Lord gathers his friends Blue Beetle, Booster Gold and others to form a store-front super-team known as The Super Buddies. In Countdown, the now human Max Lord is an evil Bond-style villain bent on world domination, one who puts a bullet in Beetle’s head.

And here’s what they missed…

THE JUSTICE LEAGUE: J’onn J’onnz’s record with the Justice League is unrivaled, and he’s done more time with the team than any other character.

He founded the League with Aquaman, the Silver Age Green Lantern and Flash Barry Allen, and either Wonder Woman or Black Canary, depending on what side of which crisis we’re talking about the League’s founding on. And unlike his fellow founders, he never really quit or got killed off, staying with the team right up until the present, only taking occasionally leaves of absence (like a rather substantial one during the “Satellite Era”).

The League’s original adventures are collected in Showcase Presents: Justice League Vol. 1, in which J’onn still looked like a green bald man and lacked his mental powers of telepathy and, seemingly, the ability to change shape or become intangible. At the time, his “Martian vision” was apparently some sort of ill-defined extra-sensory device, rather than his version of Superman’s heat vision.

The story of the League’s founding was re-told in the previously mentioned JLA: Year One, although Infinite Crisis seems to have erased it from the canon. Other now questionably canonical tales of this time period appear in JLA: Incarnations #1 and #2 (in fact, J’onn’s the only Leaguer to appear in all seven issues of the series).

J’onn joined Aquaman, Elongated Man and Zatanna in leading a new generation of heroes consisting of Vixen, Vibe, Steel and Gypsy in the short-lived “Detroit Era,” which was recently revisited in the poorly-written but well-drawn JLA: Classified arc, “A Game of Chance” (#22-#25…don’t hold your breath waiting for a trade).

After Crisis on Infinite Earths and Legends, J’onn was present for the formation of a new Justice League, this one consisting of Blue Beetle, Mister Miracle, Dr. Fate, Black Canary, Captain Marvel and Green Lantern Guy Gardner, all led by Batman. When the team officially accepted sponsorship by the United Nations, Batman surrendered leadership to J’onn, who he explained was, “the one person really qualified to command an international League is the only one of us who really sees this planet as a unified whole.” J’onn became the League’s leader for the entirety of the JLI era, an era that is woefully unrepresented in trades, and only a single one was published, Justice League: A New Beginning. Under writers Keith Giffen and J. M. DeMatteis, J’onn would develop a real personality, often playing straight man to the comedians on the team, and the father figure to the family the League was becoming. He also began his habit of eating Oreos at this time (later changed to “Chocos” over trademark issues).

When Giffen and DeMatteis finally ended their historic run on the Justice League books, JLA’s new writer Dan Jurgens found a way to have J’onn be both on the team and not on the team at the same time (Um, spoiler warning…?).

Later, the Manhunter would find a home in Justice League Task Force, which began as a book featuring rotating writers assembling rotating teams of Leaguers, assembled for specific missions. Usually, it was J’onn and Gypsy plus others. Halfway through the book’s run, when the League splintered into factions led by Wonder Woman, Captain Atom and J’onn, J’onn’s team was the Task Force, and writer Christopher Priest gave J’onn a team consisting of The Ray II, Triumph, Gypsy and L’Ron-in-Despero’s-body.

This League came to and end as Grant Morrison, Howard Porter and John Dell’s JLA was on the horizon, with Total Justice, Justice League: A Midsummer’s Nightmare and JLA: New World Order spelling the transition from several Leagues of minor heroes to a return to the Silver Age “Big Seven” formula.

In the process of repelling a White Martian invasion (another nod to JLoA #144), J’onn joined Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, the Flash Wally West and new Green Lantern Kyle Rayner as the new JLA. Morrison’s entire run (Six volumes, from New World Order to World War III, plus JLA: Earth 2 and DC One Million) is required reading, of course, but the most J’onn centric storyline is probably the first one, although his most bad-ass moment would come in his effortless takedown of Ultraman in Earth 2.

Morrison’s run was followed by a short one by Mark Waid, who played with J’onn’s human alter ego in JLA: Divided We Falland returned the White Martians in JLA: Terror Incognita, and then Joe Kelly, who gave J’onn a love interest, leave of absence and star turn as a villain in JLA: Trial By Fire, in which we learn why Martians are better off not conquering their fear of fire, and how deadly a foe J’onn could be (Kelly also killed off all the White Martians here).

JLA lost it’s focus at this point, shifting from one creative team to another, but J’onn remained front and center for most of the stories, including Kurt Busiek’s “Syndicate Rules” and the various JLA: Classified storylines, up until “Crisis of Conscience,” in which we learn that the so-called “Power Pact” betrayed J’onn as well.

The relaunched Justice League title, Brad Meltzer, Ed Benes and Sandra Hope’s Justice League of America is on it’s fifth issue, and there’s been no mention of J’onn so far; he’s not on the current line up of the team.

MARTIAN MANHUNTER, SOLO: J’onn’s had several chances to fly solo over the years, not counting his Silver Age back-up stories in titles like Detective Comics, but only those in his monthly could really be considered “essential” (1992 prestige format miniseries Martian Manhunter: American Secrets by Gerard Jones and Eduardo Barreto had it’s moments, though).

Taken as a whole, John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake’s Martian Manhunter is probably the essential Martian Manhunter series. Spinning out of Morison, Porter and Dell’s JLA at the height of it’s popularity, the former The Spectre team would tell J’onn’s tale almost as consummately as they did old Moonface’s, though the series seemed to struggle to find a status quo, and was cancelled after 36 issues and two annuals (plus a #0 issue and a #1,000,000 issue).

Still, Ostrander made great use of the wide canvas of the DCU and accentuated that which made J’onn unique, synthesizing various takes on and incarnations of the character. He gave Mars a language, a religion, a history and a culture, and had J’onn live it; he made perfect sense of the on-again, off-again Martian vulnerability to fire; he made some stumbling attempts at giving J’onn a unique rogue’s gallery, refashioning Darkseid and Kanto as recurring villains; he introduced us to the post-Crisis Zook; he established J’onn as the most popular superhero of the Southern hemisphere and Third World; he gave J’onn multiple secret identities through which he could better explore humanityl and he even got J’onn laid.

DC hasn’t collected any of the series, which is a damn shame. The #0 issue thoroughly re-tells J’onn’s origin, and is immediately followed by an epic confrontation with the other last surviving Martian, Malefic that runs between #1-#9 (This is essentially a JLA story, and thus would be a good place for a trade collection to start). Also of particular relevance are the storylines “The Rings of Saturn” (a Sci-Fi space opera about the relationship between J’onn and J’emm, and the Martians and Saturnarians which ran through #13-#16), “In My Life” (and adventure set on Mars and running through #33-#36, with art by Barreto) and “Revelations” (a series of one-shots set in J’onn’s past and covering his first meetings with Batman, Superman, The Spectre and Green Lantern Abin Sur, plus a humorous JLI homage dealing with a Blue and Gold practical joke gone horribly wrong). In addition to these characters and his JLA colleagues, much of the DCU would pass through the pages of Ostrander’s Martian Manhunter at some point, like Fire (#10, drawn by Phil Winslade), Swamp Thing and the Legion (in #11, drawn by pre-Ultimates Bryan Hitch), dead Leaguers Vibe, Crimson Fox, Steel and Ice (#12), Chase and Director Bones (#17), the JSA (#18 and #19) and Gypsy (#12 and #25).

That series was J’onn’s last solo outing until the launch of his current miniseries, the one in which he dresses funny and has a Skrull skull. I only read the eight-page prelude in Brave New World and the first issue, which is about all I could stand of the ridiculous new direction, sub-par writing and so-so art. I expect this direction to be even shorter-lived than the current Shazam-ification of Captain Marvel; the only other appearances of the “New Look” Martain Manhunter have been in Superman/Batman, where J’onn tells Batman he’s invulnerable to flame again (contrary to what this origin story in 52 tells us), and we’re introduced to “New Earth” Zook, who is the same as pre-Crisis Zook, only more of a dick.

MARTIAN MANHUNTER CRISIS: In 1986 crossover series Legends, written by John Ostrander and Len Wein and drawn by John Byrne and Karl Kesel, Darkseid launches a propaganda campaign against Earth’s heroes. J’onn leads Firestorm and the Detroit League against Apokalyptian giant Brimestone at the outset, and they get slaughtered. He pops up again at the end, as part of an impromptu League assembled by Dr. Fate, one which includes Superman, Batman, Black Canary, Green Lantern Guy Gardner, Flash, Changeling, Blue Beetle and Captain Marvel (now that would be an interesting JLA line up!). At one point, J’onn saves President Ronald Reagan’s life by using his abilities to pose as the Commander in Chief, taking a fatal blast in his rock hard Martian abs, then punching his assailants out…while still in Regan’s form! (Hope they got footage of that to run in his future campaign ads). The series ends with J’onn and some of the others deciding to form a new League, one which would become the JLI.

In 1987, weekly crossover series Millennium would introduce the New Guardians, one of several failed attempts to create a new generation of superheroes in a company-wide crossover (see also Bloodlines and Planet DC, of which Tommy “Hitman” Monaghan seems to have been the only one to break out and do something with himself). Today the Steve Englehart script seems horribly dated and hard to read, and the series is most notable for it’s snapshot of the DCU at the time, although I did enjoy seeing all that lovely Ian Gibson art on the DC heroes. J’onn appears, of course, and is sent to the Manhunter homeworld, along with other space-worthy heroes like the Green Lanterns, the Hawks, Superman, Firestorm and Captain Atom. This is another crisis not available in trade.

In 1988, a trilogy of ad-free 80-page giants told the core story of Invasion!, in which an alliance of aliens led by the Dominators sought to take over the planet. Despite the fact that the story stars the entire DCU of the late 80’s and the fact that the first half of it is penciled by Todd Fucking McFarlane (and the rest of it by Bart Sears and Keith Giffen, with P. Craig Frigging Russell on inks), the book is uncollected in trade form. J’onn gets a few pages of the McFarlane treatment, but plays his biggest role in the final book, in which he joins a squad of heroes consisting of Superman, Robotman, Hal Jordan and Guy Gardner in an invasion of the Dominator homeworld to find a cure for the Metagene bomb that’s threatening to kill all the heroes (Spoiler alert! They succeed).

The same year also saw the release of the Jim Starlin written, Mike Mignola penciled miniseries Cosmic Odyssey, in which Darkseid and Highfather enlisted J’onn along with Batman, Superman, Green Lantern John Stewart, Adam Strange, Etrigan the Demon, Starfire, Orion and Lightray to beat back an invasion by the sentient Anti-Life Equation. J’onn teams with John, and the latter fucks up, the former engaging in some harsh words with him that climaxes in a hell of final confrontation between the two. It’s been collected into a trade I’d highly recommend to anyone jonesing for some New Gods or Mignola fans who’d like to see what he’d do with DC’s big guns.

J’onn’s place in the League guaranteed at least a cameo in each of DC’s future crossover stories. He’d face a possible future in Armageddon 2001, journey to the moon to fight Eclipso in Eclipso: The Darkness Within, journey to hell to face Neron in Underworld Unleashed, fight off the Parasites before falling to The Taker in Bloodlines: Bloodbath, become something god-like in the far-flung future of DC One Million, fight a Joker-ized Dr. Polaris in Joker’s Last Laugh and an Imperiex probe in Our World’s At War.

After getting sucker-punched in an attack by Superboy-Prime that leveled the League’s Watchtower, J’onn spent most of Infinite Crisis chained up in Alexander Luthor’s weirdo Anti-Monitor corpse tower, reviving at the end.

J’onn was pretty busy during the first half of the missing year currently being chronicled in DC’s weekly series 52. He appears in #24, and we learn that he’s been using his shape-changing and mind-reading abilities to systematically dismantle Checkmate to avenge Blue Beetle (and atone for blowing him off), a four-page sequence that proves infinitely more interesting than the whole first issue of his current miniseries.

MARS, AND OTHER MARTIANS: Under appreciated 2005 six-part miniseries Son of Vulcan, by Scott Beatty and Keron Grant, featured White Martian A’monn A’mokk as it’s Big Bad. He was part of a pair held in reserve on “breeding duty” during the last invasion, but when his mate was killed he’s forced to resort to fertilizing his eggs with stem cells taken from members of the Secret Society of Super Villains, which result in five Martian/human hybrids. SOV #5 features a lengthy section about the origin of the Vulcans, a line of fire-weilding heroes created specifically to defend earth from White Martian invasion.

The undead hero of Seven Soldiers: Frankenstein follows his foes through an “Erdel Gate” to the red planet in #2 of his four-part miniseries. We don’t see any Green or White Martians there, but we do see some Martian architecture and some of the other indigenous life forms, like the giant, insectoid “man-eating mares of Mars.”

Finally, a new Martian heroine was introduced in the pages of Teen Titans, a green-skinned, red-haired, sailor-suit wearing girl who goes by the name Miss Martian. She’s soon revealed to be a White Martian, wearing a more socially acceptable form. She made her first appearance in the “Titans Around the World” storyline, and has since appeared in 52 and joined the Titans.

OTHER UNIVERSES: The Manhunter’s awesome powers make him something of a stumbling block for a lot of writers to deal with, particularly when they’re looking to destroy or radically remake the DC Universe in “Elseworlds” stories set outside of continuity/canon.

In the DKU, for example, J’onn appears in The Dark Knight Strikes Again as a broken down shell of a man—er, Martian—who has lost his powers (and who is killed off shortly after introduction).

In the Kingdom Come-iverse, he’s similarly broken down, with the explanation being he overreached with telepathy in an attempt to contact too many minds at once and thus lost his own mind.

Alex Ross found better use for J’onn in the Ross-iverse, however, as the green-skinned Superman played prominent roles in JLA: Liberty and Justice and the ongoing maxiseries Justice, the latter of which makes sharp distinctions between J’onn and similarly powered Superman and Captain Marvel.

Darwyn Cooke’s series The New Frontier, which posits a world where the characters introduced in DC’s Silver Age starred in an adventure that actually occurred in the 1950s and 1960s, is hands down one of the best Martian Manhunter stories of them all (just as it’s one of the best Hal Jordan stories). Stranded on Earth, J’onn learns about our culture via the television, then utilizes his shape-shifting abilities to become a private eye, fighting crime and seeking bizarre mysteries in Gotham City. Eventually, he’s taken captive by the U.S. government, and strikes up a friendship with King Faraday. Cooke manages to use all three of J’onn’s looks effectively, and his take on the character’s origin, design and characterization should be mandatory reading for anyone hoping to write the character in the future.

OTHER MEDIA: J’onn J’onnz got the shaft when the JLA came to Saturday morning cartoons in the late seventies as The Superfriends, and didn’t make the cut on any of the incarnations of that show.

In the mid-90’s, he was one of the characters to appear in the pilot for a Justice League live action TV show that was influenced by the JLI Era of the team. Luckily for JLA fans (if not for Martian Manhunter’s mainstream profile) no one saw fit to make an actual series out of it.

He fared far better in the 21st century, being one of the seven heroes to make up the team starring in Justice League (even beating out Aquaman, who was relegated to guest status). In both the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited, J’onn was the team’s de facto leader and factotum, hanging out on the Watchtower all day and playing switchboard operator. In the final leg of the show’s run, that role was taken over by Mr. Terrific, as J’onn adopted a human guise to get to know humanit better. But the damage was done: The Martian Manhunter was a household name at last, earning his own toys and coloring book and T Shirt appearances.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

December 21st's Meanwhile in Las Vegas...

This week's Las Vegas Weekly column covers the exhausingly titled An Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons and True Stories, plus Star Wars: Tag and Bink Were Here and Blank Vol. 1. Click here to read it, and while you're there, check out the cover story too, as this is the year-end issue, covering everything worth remembering (and plenty worth forgetting) from 2006.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Weekly Haul: December 20th

7 Brothers #3 (Virgin Comics) The mysterious Rachel leads the title characters against the King of Hell and his new bodyguard (the scary guy who killed all those gangsters last issue), and they all get killed. I kind of like the idea of the series ending here with #3—how many ongoing monthly comics end after just three issues, with the heroes all getting slaughtered and the villain winning the day? Now that would be something new and different. I think Garth Ennis, a brilliant writer responsible for some of my favorite comics, really needs a good, long sabbatical, as all of his many books have started to feel the same. Even the colorful metaphor about using the world as a condom sounds very, very familiar here, although I can’t place exactly which issue of The Punisher I read it in.

52 #33 (DC Comics) Another week, another great issue. We get Ralph and Fate visiting an Easter egg-filled Flash Museum, Nightwing flirting with Batwoman, the introduction of the new Suicide Squad, the Black Marvel Family making peace with the media and Lex Luthor using his considerable resources to present his Infinitors with lavish Christmas gifts. I have to admit, I was actually somewhat relieved when he ordered a young man in his care murdered and his organs harvested—up until that point, I was really starting to feel sorry for Luthor. This week’s issue has some better art than usual, thanks in large part to Tom Derenick, but also some troubling aspects. First up, I was pretty convinced The Question was pulling a huge practical joke on Montoya to help her quit drinking and become a better person, but this issue we see cancer-induced dementia through his eyes, so it looks like DC might be planning on killing and replacing their, what, 56th character of the year? Also, the S.S. setting its sights on the Marvel’s don’t look like they’d have much chance against Osiris and Sobek, so I can’t imagine what hope they have against Black Adam. Finally, there’s a wonderful two-page spreadin which each of the 14 panels checks in with a different corner of the DCU on Christmas. It’s a nicely written and designed section, but seems poorly executed. What’s going on in the Firestorm/Cyborg panel, exactly? Cy’s supposed to be offline. Who’s the blonde with Ollie? What’s going on in the Hawkgirl panel? And why is Commissioner Gordon smoking his pipe again?! (Don’t make me bust out scanned versions of his post-heart attack anti-smoking ads from the ‘90s, DC!) The less said about the back-up, the better, although I’ll have a lot to say on it later in the week.

Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis #47 (DC) This issue lives up to it’s name better than most in the series. Not only is Aquaman in it—and not just this new kid, but the original Aquaman—but there’s also a sword too. It’s the second part of the half fill-in story which flashes back to the first encounter between King “Aquaman I” Orin and King Shark. K.S. creator Karl Kesel co-plots with Kurt Busiek, and Phil Winslade steps in to handle the bulk of the art chores for terminally late Butch Guice (How behind is this title? Well, the DC Nation column on the back page is dated November 29th, meaning this issue is three weeks late—and this is a fill-in).

The Bakers Meet Jingle Belle (Dark Horse Comics) Two great comics talents, two great comics properties, one great comic book. Twas the night before Christmas, and the Bakers’ household is in pre-Christmas chaos; comic book artist Kyle Baker and his wife haven’t even finished shopping for their three darling, saucer-eyed children, and have little hope of finding a babysitter. Good thing Jingle Belle is in the neighborhood with her dad Santa Claus, and seeking a means of escape from her yearly chore, even if it means posing as a babysitter. Hilarity ensues and, swear to God, I even teared up on the last page. Pretty much a perfect comic book, altough the panels with the sock monkeys lost me.

Birds of Prey #101 (DC) After the radical shift in the title’s focus which kicked off last issue, the new direction is not without some growing pains and, personally, I was very pained by this issue. Gail Simone’s story and way with dialogue is still fairly strong, although BOP seems a little out-of-focus without Black Canary to act as Barbara’s other half. The new team—Manhunter, Big Barda and the new Judomaster II, wearing Katana’s cast-off Land of the Rising Left Breast costume—seems a bit forced and random. New penciller Nicola Scott’s art was by far my favorite aspect of the issue, although I hate her costumes for the new Birds, particularly Barda, whom she’s really tarted up, removing armor and slimming down her helmet to give the Spartan Apokalyptian warrior...cleavage?!

Civil War: Frontline #9 (Marvel Comics) Sally Floyd lands what she tells us is a dream interview, but then bags on it when it sounds like Captain America’s just being sanctimonious (she doesn’t even bother to ask what’s up with his size-changing neck), Spider-Man hangs out with Ben Urich (Guess he’s okay after Civil War #5 after all, then?), Speedball makes an important decision, Iron Man tells Reed Richards there’s a traitor in their midst (my guess is Yellowjacket or that dog hanging out in the lab), and Paul Jenkins compares the silly Marvel story to some real-life tragedy or other for the ninth time in a row (I’ve quit reading the back-ups).

Darkman Vs. Army of Darkness #2 (Dynamite Entertainment) I’d really forgotten what a cool comic book-style superhero Darkman would make, and now that the surprise of this clever mixing of two Sam Raimi-created film heroes has worn off, I find myself wanting more Darkman and less Ash, which I’ve more than had my fill of at this point.

The Lone Ranger #3 (Dynamite) Writer Brett Matthews adds two more elements to the Lone Ranger legend in this re-constructionist, “Year One”-style approach to the character and, like the last two issues, it’s fairly dripping with awesomeness. It’s a slight issue that practically flies by, but it seems building to something quite explosive, based on how incredibly evil Black Bart is and how badass young John Reid is.

The New Avengers #26 (Marvel) After a string of done-in-one stories breaking up the team and showing which side each of them will take in “Civil War,” Bendis turns his attention from his New Avengers to focus on some Old Avengers, namely Scarlet Witch and the resurrected Hawkeye. I read “Avengers Disassembled,” I read “House of M,” and I’ve read every single issue of New Avengers, and I still couldn’t really make heads or tails out of this issue. I suppose the hows and whys are intentionally mysterious, but some elements were so vague they seemed more confusing then intriguing. One thing is for sure though— Alex Maleev sure makes a pretty comic book, handling the art all the way down to the colors in this issue.

The New Avengers: The Illuminati #1 (Marvel) When I first encountered the men who secretly ran the Marvel Universe in Brians Michael Bendis’ otherwise uninteresting “The Sentry” arc of New Avengers, I was intrigued by the idea of an MU version of the Illuminati, and instantly wanted to see more of it in action. Well, you know what they say about being careful what you wish for. We next saw the Illuminati in the weird New Avengers: The Illuminati one-shot which presaged “Civil War” (although none of those who expressed opposition to Iron Man and Mr. Fantastic have done anything to stop their current rampage), and now the team is back in a miniseries which will explore their past history. It sure sounds like a cool idea for a comic book, and BMB teams up with co-writer Brian Reed and Young Avengers penciller Jim Cheung (who has plenty of free time these days with that title on indefinite hiatus) to deliver it. The results, however, are a weird mix of super-specific continuity and off-base characterization. This issue takes place post-Kree/Skrull War (which I never read; before my time), and the Illuminati teleport onto a Skrull spaceship to tell them never to attack earth again or, in Iron Man’s words, “we’ll come at you.” The Skrull ruler responds that they’ll kill everyone on earth, starting with the heroes’ families, so the assembled heroes do what any other hero would do in their situation—they slaughter each and every one of them. Now, given Richards' and Starks’ actions in “Civil War,” taking scores of lives doesn’t seem that out of character for them to me anymore, and Dr. Strange and Namor can be hard, heartless bastards now and then, but no matter how hard I try, I can’t see Dr. Charles Xavier, the Martin Luther King of mutantdom, agreeing to this plan. Of course, on the last page the Skrull king guy isn’t wearing so much as a Band-Aid, so maybe they didn’t kill them all after all? I don’t know; I guess I just don’t know enough about Skrull biology and Blackbolt’s powers to be able to even make sense out of this goddam comic.

She-Hulk #14 (Marvel) This issue is entitled “Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Awesome Andy But Were Afraid To Ask,” which pretty much sums the story up. Andy narrates his life story and comes to a very final decision, one that seems to write him out of the title for the foreseeable future.

Teen Titans #42 (DC) Wow, this may just be the best issue of the entire series so far. Guest artist Peter Snejbjerg is a great draftsman, a great storyteller and a great designer, and I don’t think the interiors of this book have ever looked better (too bad “regular” artist Tony S. Daniel gets named on the cover credits, not Snejbjerg). The story, by Geoff Johns, follows Kid Devil, telling us not only how he became a real Kid Devil, but also re-telling his entire origin. Johns rather deftly weaves a continuous story arc from way back to Blue Devil, one which runs through and recaps events from Underworld Unleashed, Justice League of America, Starman, Day of Vengeance, JLA: Black Baptism, 52 and Teen Titans, connecting all the dots to make for a dramatic story with a great pay off.

Ultimate Spider-Man #103 (Marvel) Holy crap! Brian Michael Bendis has packed brain-blowing twists into this story arc, twists that have been building off of over 100 issues full of momentum and, in this particular issue, we learn that even some of those twists have twists. Confidential to Ben Grimm: Shouldn’t you have said, “Why don’t you take that crappy haircut of yours and shove it up your ass?”, rather than, “Why don’t you take that crappy haircut and shove it up my--?” Because the way you said it makes you sound like a pervert.

Union Jack #4 (Marvel) Christos N. Gage and Mike Perkins end their miniseries pitting the blue collar British Captain American and his international allies against international terrorists and a surprise puppet master. Nothing terribly deep, but still pretty fun. If you missed this ad-tastic story and dig straightforward superhero action, I'd reccomend the trade collection, should it ever earn one.

December 20th's Craziest Covers

Okay, I give up. I have no idea what Black Lighting is doing slinking away on the cover of The Justice League of America Hereby Elects..., but he sure does look guilty, doesn't he? I didn't pick this trade up, so I don't know exactly what happens in the Black Lightning story, but since I know he didn't end up joining the Justice League, I'm going to assume his tiptoe-ing away while the rest of the League is distracted by their crazy pep rally is meant to suggest that he turns them down. But damn, did they have to make it look like he just stole Superman's wallet?

I can't even make an educated guess about the cover of 7 Brothers #3. There is an Asian woman in the story, I think—it's a little hard to tell what Rachel's nationality is given the dark, murky coloring of the book and Jeevan Kang's sytlized character designs—but she never dresses anything like this, nor carries a gun, nor bends over to shoot anyone between her legs. It's an interesting image, and I love Yoshitaka Amano's art, but what the hell is going on here, exactly?

Monday, December 18, 2006

DC's holiday card: Ho ho huh?

DC Comics' website has a holiday card image available for download, and the characters shown frolicking in the snow on it are in sharp contrast to the characters currently starring in DC Comics. The image is a fairly cute one riffing on Wonder Woman's bullets-and-bracelets schtick, with the heroes of the DCU hurling snowballs at the Amazon heroine, who deflects them back in their faces.

You've got the two pillars of the DCU front and center, with a grim and gritty Batman frowning at the fun and Superman wearing a Santa hat. Also present are Hawkgirl and Green Lantern, who both star in their own series and the new JLoA, the new Supergirl, and Robin, wearing a costume that should be unfamiliar to anyone not reading Robin, Teen Titans or either of the two flagship Batman comics.

But as for the rest of the heroes pictured here, you'll have to look awfully hard to find them in DC Comics this holiday season.

In the background, there's Plastic Man, using his shape-changing abilities to look like a snowman. Plas' monthly, written and illustrated by Kyle Baker, was cancelled about the same time Infinite Crisis was rejiggering DC's fictional shared setting, and he's been MIA from the JLA for just as long. His only recent appearance was in the pages of Superman/Batman, where we learn that he is indeed a former deadbeat dad, as Joe Kelly revealed during his JLA run (and Baker undid through some clever tongue-in-cheek time travel in the monthly).

Then there's J'onn J'onnz, the Martian Manhunter, in his classic look. You know, the one he sports in the Cartoon Network Justice League shows, as well as the first, oh, 40 years or so of his comic book adventures. Nowadays, however, he sports a head-to-toe black costume, and has altered the shape of his face and head so he resembles a green Conehead, a Marvel Skrull, or an Aliens alien, depending on who's drawing him and what angle he's shown from. He's also been MIA from the JLA since IC.

To J'onn's left is Hawkman, the hero who lost top-billing in his own title to his partner Hawkgirl, and who has been missing from the DCU since IC.

In the foreground, there's a Flash, who could be Barry Allen, Wally West or Bart Allen. Of course, the first of those is dead, the second (the Flash of the last 20 years and the character in the Cartoon Network shows) is lost in time, and it's the third currently starring in Flash: The Fastest Man Alive, one of DC's most unreadable current titles.

Next to this Flash, whoever he is, you'll find Aquaman, with both of his hands. Aquaman also lost his the starring role in his own title, which was renamed Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis and now revolves around a new Aquaman whose costume doesn't resemble that of the one featured here; that Aquaman has grown a weird beard of tentacles and forgot his own name and identity, going by the name "Dweller of the Deep" and playing Obi Wan Kenobi to the new Aquaman's Luke Skywalker.

Finally, the focus of the image is Wonder Woman, supposedly DC's third most important character. Her title has been rather troubled since it's recent relaunch, coming out on an occasional bimonthly schedule. She appears more often in JLoA, which has managed five issues in the time it's taken Wonder Woman to come out just three times.

I wonder why DC used Aquaman and Martian Manhunter's "classic" looks here, instead of their new ones? Could it be that the classic ones are instantly recognizable, whereas the new ones are strange, unfamiliar and off-putting? Only Santa knows for sure.

The de-DeCarloification of Riverdale

This past weekend, reported that the 60-plus-year-old teenagers of Riverdale are getting a makeover, and gave the world its first look at the new look, complete with the image of Betty and Veronica to the right and a pencilled page featuring Archie himself, courtesy of artist Steven Butler.

The results are...interesting, to say the least. I don't read many—any, actually—Archie Comics on a regular basis. The last Archie-Archie book I read was a Free Comic Book Day giveaway and it was reeeeeeaaaalllly hard to read all the way through, although I do occassionally pick up a Josie and the Pussycats book or appearance if the cover image grabs me, as I have a soft spot in my heart for the group and, especially, the Dan DeCarlo designs. So, obviously, I'm not the target audience for Archie Comics, before or after the redesign, but I figure I better weigh in anyway, given that commenting on comics is my job here (And by "job," I mean what I do after my actual jobs in lieu of doing something actually useful to society, like working with orphans or building homes for the homeless).

If the goal was to go more realistic, I guess you could say these designs hit the mark—they do look more realistic. But that doesn't mean they look very good. I'm a huge fan of the late, great DeCarlo's work, and seeing Archie abandon it doesn't make me happy, nor does it seem to make a lot of sense. The advantage of DeCarlo's simplified designs, in addition to their at this point being synonymous with Archie Comics and the world of Riverdale, is that they're fairly easy for other artists to ape (In the same way that DC's Justice League Unlimited series, like the various Batman, Superman and DCUniverse Adventures titles before it, assigned its artists to stick to Bruce Timm's designs and imitations of his style).

Not only do Butler's designs not look like Betty and Veronica—where's the cute sloped foreheads and pert noses?—but they look hard to perfectly imitate, meaning in the future, the Riverdale gang may be subject to the same variety in design and visual characterization that DC and Marvel characters are. Probably not a smart idea given the fact that the Archie characters are targeted to kids, while the DC and Marvel characters are marketed primarily to adults.

I have a feeing that this will end up being a very, very temporary change, one calculated to draw mainstream media attention and coverage (similar to the introduciton to "Third Choice" Cherry a few years back), a plan that is, so far anyway, working. After all, when was the last time any posters at had anything at all to say about Archie Comics? Keep your eyes on Google News for mainstream coverage of the "New Look" Archie, and start the countdown for the inevitable re-DeCarloification.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

December 14th's Meanwhile in Las Vegas...

This week's Las Vegas Weekly column covers Alison (Dykes To Watch Out For) Bechdel's incredible original graphic novel Fun Home, plus makeover manga Beauty Pop and alien anthology Decoy: Menagerie. Click here to read it.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Weekly Haul: December 13th

52 #32 (DC Comics) There are three story threads in this week’s issue, and the main one is that which is teased by J. G. Jones’ Yeti-tastic cover. Ralph Dibny and the Helm of Fate journey to Nanda Parbat, where they meet up with Rama Kushna after Ralph proves himself worthy, helping a member of the Great Ten take down a Chinese meta-human who would be the Great Eleventh. Meanwhile, Beast Boy and Rave have an open casting-call for new Teen Titans, and Osiris and Sobek the Talking Crocodile make the scene. And then there’s a brief check in with the space heroes, who decide they’re going to risk their lives saving the galaxy. All in all, a strong issue, and one that should hold special significance for Kid Devil and Teen Titans fans, as we see Eddie pre-makeover here. The art comes courtesy of Pat Olliffe and Drew Geraci and it’s fine, but I sorta wished they could have found someone else to handle the Titans scenes, someone who drew nothing but those scenes (current Teen Titans penciller Tony S. Daniel would have been an obvious choice). There’s one of those big, splash panels with a ton of heroes just milling around on it, and while many of the heroes are going to be anonymous ones, I would have preferred to make out who some of the others were. There’s a little guy standing on Argent’s shoulder, for example, who calls her by her first name, but I haven’t a clue who it’s supposed to be.

Blade #4 (Marvel Comics) In a sop to the season, this issue features Santa Claus on the cover, albeit a gigantic, scary-ass Santa Claus with his claws around Blade’s throat. That’s all it took to sell me on this issue. Inside, writer Marc Guggenheim pits the title character against a body-hopping demon who has taken temporary residence in a department store Santa. I imagine it was inadvertent, but the villain and his battle with Blade is pretty similar to an old Son of Satan story I had coincidentally just read in Essential Marvel Horror. Guggenheim continues to make with the two-stories-done-in-one-issue format, flashing back to a young Blade’s earlier life, as well as moving the plot with Lucas Cross forward. I have to admit, this issue I was rooting against Blade; I think he sort of deserved to die for choosing to wear that sweater, whether he was trying to lay low or not.

The Escapists #6 (Dark Horse Comics) Whew! I was sort of worried after #5, which was the weakest of the series thus far, but Brian K. Vaughan wraps up this incredible miniseries with another strong issue, making for an incredibly layered and textured story about fiction, metafiction, comics, the creative process and Cleveland. If you somehow resisted the temptation of reading this miniseries in single-issue format, don’t you dare miss it in the inevitable trade collection.

Ghost Rider #6 (Marvel) Axel Alonso—best thing to happen to ever happen to Marvel Comics? Probably not, but the thought certainly ran through my head as I saw the guest-artist on this issue, none other than horror maestro Richard Corben, which was all it took to goad me into trying out the current GR monthly. According to the title page, the series is operating on a kind of video game-like logic (or perhaps Pokemon-like logic), with the devil being shattered into 666 pieces across the physical world, and it being up to Ghostie to collect ‘em all and send ‘em back to hell. In this issue, he tracks down a piece that has possessed a minister in the act of baptizing the faifthful—to death! Ghostie does battle with Lucifer, whom Corben draws with red skin and horns, while a flashback sets up a story in which Johnny Blaze cuts a deal with another sort of infernal creature of darkness—a lawyer. Great art and an accessible story make this a nice jumping-on (or just trying-out) point.

JLA: Classified #30 (DC) Easily the best Justice League comic of the week. This part five of the six-part Howard CHaykin-scribed story of the “Big Seven” iteration of the League going undercover in the third world to bust up a meta-human arms race. It’s been a lot of political and espionage-tinged fun thus far, and looks like it’s about ready to explode next issue. Chaykin manages to work in plenty of great little character moments, too, like the exchanges between the World’s Finest in a few panels here. I’m sure that other Justice League-related monthly will outsell the hell out of this story, but you know what they say—there’s no accounting for taste.

Justice League of America #4 (DC) Kevin Church over at pretty perfectly summed up one of my main contentions with Brad Meltzer’s recently relaunched JLoA series, so I won’t rehash his comments about the new “Justice League of Emo” direction (although that’d be a sweet team-up with Steve Emond’s Emo Boy). That will cut back at least a little bit on my complaints about this issue, which is just one more ponderous, plodding step toward a story that makes your average New Avengers arc seem as adrenally paced as your average Silver Age Superman story. But let’s start at the beginning, Michael Turner’s godawful cover, easily the worst fucking piece of art I’ve ever seen on the cover of a DC comic book. As far as I can tell, this cover featres three primitive, painted stone sculptures of superheroes being tossed at a giant starfish that is emerging from an even more gigantic kaleidoscope in a cave somewhere (it’s probably not worth mentioning, but there is no gigantic Starro within the issue, nor is Roy Harper wearing this weird “Red Arrow” outfit with a red “G” for a belt buckle). I know a lot of people have said some pretty harsh things about Turner’s art online before (earlier this week, Dirk Deppey’s Journalista blog [facetiously] suggested setting him on fire with kerosene), but I never really minded his artwork too much. Of course, I’ve mostly just seen pin-ups and covers, and certainly nothing as repulsive as this one. On the inside, Meltzer moves his story exactly one step forward. Hawkgirl, Black Lighting and “the Trinity” poke around with a little Starro; Arsenal, Hal Jordan and Black Canary fight some super-thugs; Red Tornado and Vixen fly around. What annoyed me the most about the superheroes calling each other by their first names in this issue, in addition to it being boring, was that most of them are supposed to have super-secret identities (Wasn’t that the point of your Identity Crisis series, Mr. Meltzer? That secret identities are important to protect the loved ones of heroes?) Yet here Black Lighting not only calls Batman Bruce, something he shouldn’t know, and Kendra calls Superman “Clark” in front of B.L., who didn’t know his secret identity either. Other annoying bits of continuity: Hal Jordan mentioning “Bane hits,” though he’s never met Bane or likely heard anything about him; Black Canary talking about her need to avenge the deaths of Steel and Vibe at the hands of Ivo all of a sudden, despite the fact that it occurred about a half-dozen iterations of the League ago and she’s done jack shit about it since; Canary’s bad-cop routine with Ivo; and, finally, Amazo having Batman, Superman and Flash’s powers on file, even though they’re nor present (Um, if Ivo had access to all those powers, why not give those to the Rainbow Tornados?). Am I being overly sensitive to continuity? Perhaps, but then, at the same time, Meltzer keeps name-dropping events in League continuity, so we’re expected to know who Bane is or that Ivo was indirectly responsible for Vibe and Steel’s death (and who they were in the first place), but not that Black Lightning isn’t on a first-name basis with the Leaguers. Despite these littler irritations, the issue reached it’s real nadir on page 17, in the silent panel where B.L. and the Trinity respond to Hawkgirl’s question by posing; Superman punching his palm. That’s was probably the first panel I’ve ever read in a DCU superhero comic where I actually felt an overwhelming sensation of embarrassment after reading it—embarrassment for Meltzer and artists Ed Benes and Sandra Hope, embrassment for the fictional characters, embarrassment for myself, embarrassment for everyone else reading the issue.

The Spirit #1 (DC) I had more reservations than a restaurant when it comes to this new ongoing series from writer/artist extraordinaire Darwyn Cooke. On one hand, a Spirit series without creator Will Eisner seems kind of pointless—Eisner’s characters weren’t the appeal of his Spirit comics, but it was Eisner’s way with those characters. And an ongoing homage to Eisner seemed like a waste of Cooke’s quite considerable talents. My reservations began to thaw with Batman/The Spirit, and continue with this first issue by Cooke and inker J. Bone. Cooke puts together a fine, charming done-in-one, including the mandatory title scene, a visually interesting villain, a beautiful girl in peril with a funny name (“Ginger Coffee”), a running gag, a slow reveal of the mystery man hero, and even manages to update Ebony while making fun of his original portrayal (One signifier of Eisner’s original Spirit stories that didn’t age well at all). I’m not sure how long Cooke’s Eisner homage will remain compelling—I imagine that even if the quality remains this high from now one, at a certain point it will inevitably become tiresome—but today at least it’s a fun, charming comic book adventure with plenty of humor, action and great, great art. At the very least, let’s hope Cooke can stick with it until Frank Miller’s movie version of The Spirit; I’d hate for Miller’s vision to be the only one people associate with Eisner’s creation.

X-Factor #14 (Marvel) Another slow-boiling, character-driven issue in Peter David’s superior return to the X-Factor characters. Jamie Madrox dithers about having accidentally slept with two members of his team (oh, the dangers of being able to duplicate oneself!), and decides the best way of getting himself together is to literally get himself together, reclaiming his lost duplicates, staring with the one that’s working for SHIELD. It doesn’t go so hot. David comes up with a pretty sweet new meaning for the SHIELD acronym given the events of Civil War, having Jamie refer to it as “Super Hero Internment, Elimination and Licensing Division.” Artist Pablo Raimondi is a great new addition to the book, which has never looked better.

No Sale: DCU Infinite Holiday Special

After long moments of reflection, and a very, very thorough flip-through (which included reading the last story in its entirety), I ended up leaving the DCU Infinite Holiday Specia on the shelf this week.

Why, you ask?

I’m glad you asked, let me tell you. At great length.

In general, I love big, fat, giant-sized books like this—annuals, DC’s 80-Page Giants from a few years back, Marvel’s “Giant-Size” specials—and I love Christmas comics. That paired with my enthusiasm for the DCU should have made this purchase a no-brainer for me, but of the seven stories in this anthology, there was a problem with almost every single one of them. I either didn’t care for the character, or I didn’t care for the creators, or I didn’t care for the current take on the character, or, in a couple cases, all three.

Let’s break it down:

Green Lantern by Keith Champagne and John Byrne: Jordan is not my favorite of Earth’s Green Lanterns. In fact, he’s my fifth favorite. Champagne is a fine inker, and, as he proved during his fill-in stories on JSA, a decent writer, too, but I’m already getting stories featuring this Lantern twice a month in Green Lantern and JLoA, so a third dose didn’t exactly excite me. As for the penciller, well, the less said of Byrne’s latest round of DCU work the better, although I will note that the artwork on the story didn’t look like that of John Byrne to me during the flip-through.

Supergirl by Joe Kelly and AlĂ© Garza: No complaints about the creative team here. Kelly is a hell of a writer, and his recent Superman/Batman Annual was cover-to-cover fun. And I do like Garza’s art; he did a fantastic job on Batgirl near the end of the series, although few people seem to have read it (particularly those writing and editing Bat-family books at the moment). But Supergirl? Bleah. I gave the most recent Maid of Might a fair shake, I think. I read the entire six-part “The Girl From Krypton” arc in Superman/Batman, and kept waiting for Jeph Loeb to pull the rug out from under me, as I knew full well her origin couldn’t be as cut-and-dry as he presented it. But he never did. I even read the first five issues of her solo title, which was nothing but a series of fights with other DC heroes, but Loeb still hadn’t pulled the rug out from under me. Then I just gave up, dropping the title and seeking to avoid this vacuous, scantily clad cypher of a character.

Shadowpact by Bill Willingham and Cory Walker: This was one of the more tempting short stories in the book. I never really got Shadowpact, which seemed to be a less clumsy, less necessarry name for the Sentinels of Magic team, and didn’t bother with their monthly series, based on how terrible Day of Vengeance and its Infinite Crisis tie-in special was. I liked the image of Phantom Stranger wearing a Santa hat, and the idea of Santa interacting with Blue Devil, but my aversion to Willingham’s DCU writing outweighed my interest in these images.

Shazam by Tony Bedard and Marcos Martin: Well, I suppose it could be less attractive; it could be a Marvel Family story written by Judd Winick, but, in this case, it’s the direction of the character more than anything else that repels me. I find it ironic that DC has launched this radical new half-assed direction for the Marvel Family, changing Captain Marvel’s name, look, purpose and place in the DCU at the same time that 52 and Justice are making such good use out of the Marvel characters in the classic mold (and Jeff freaking Smith has a high-profile Captain Marvel project waiting in the wings). Cooler heads will eventually prevail I’m sure, and this weird-ass take on the character will soon be undone and forgotten, but, in the meantime, it means ignoring Captain Marvel—er, “Shazam,” until someone smarter than Winick gets a chance to chart his future.

Flash by Ian Boothby and Giuseppe Camuncoli: See above. I was still getting used to the idea of Bart Allen trading his codename and personality in to become the new Kid Flash when DC shunted Wally West off to limbo and rapidly aged Bart into the Flash for absolutely no reason. Unlike the ill-considered new directions thrust upon Captain Marvel and Martian Manhunter, I haven’t even given the Bart Flash a chance, as I expect this direction to be changed even more quickly.

Batwoman by Greg Rucka and Christain Almay: I loved Rucka’s Oni work and much of his Bat-stories, particularly his post-“No Man’s Land” run on Detective Comics, but in the ramp-up to Infinite Crisis, his stories were one let-down after another. Between Superman, Wonder Woman and The OMAC Project, it was increasingly clear that Rucka had very little familiarity with any of the characters he was writing, and next to none with their convoluted histories (what we comic geeks like to call “continuity”). And that would be somewhat excusable if the stories themselves weren’t built on continuity. The surprises, the twists and turns, if you will, of them all was seeing turning points in relationships, betrayals by close friends, and were all precipitated on an understanding of who the characters were and how they related to one another (Max Lord and Blue Beetle’s long relationship in the pages of Justice League comics, Batman and Sasha Bordeaux’s past romance in Batman comics, etc.), which made it all the more infuriating when about 50-percent of that was wrong. For a perfect example, see the last issue of the last volume of Wonder Woman, the whole point of which is an examination of the historic relationship between Wonder Woman and Superman, and which has at least one mistake per page on it. All of these stories were set prior to the Great Continuity Re-Jiggering that reformed Post-Crisis Earth into “New Earth,” and the only explanation for them is that Superboy-Prime’s escape from “The Heaven Dimension” (No, really, that’s what they call it; and sorry, but I can’t type that name without quotes around it) altered the timestream (i.e. continuity), as was half-assedly explained in Infinite Crisis Secret Origins and Files #1. Anyway, long story long, I had resolved to avoid Rucka DCU stories. And that’s what this is.

Superman and Batman by Kelly Puckett and Pete Woods: The “Elseworlds” slug in the hilarious last panel makes over obvious that this Ironic Age take on the Silver Age Superman/Batman team shouldn’t be considered “continuity,” but it’s funny nonetheless. Six more stories like this, and the book would have been a must-buy.

That leaves us with just two more aspects to take into consideration: The cover and the official holiday greeting.

Let’s take that latter one first. The last page featured a splash drawn by...Phil Jimenez?...which shows DC editorial, with Dan Didio front and center with a holiday greeting. Funny stuff, and a very busy image, one that sure beats the hell out of Ralph Machio’s letter in last week’s Marvel Holiday Special (In a DC vs. Marvel sense, this book does seem to be a better value, in terms of story pages to dollar amount ration). Note the female editor embracing the alpaca in the background; I take it that’s Jann Jones, who’s fondness for alpacas is a running joke in Didio’s “DC Nation” columns. (Don’t forget Ms. Jones; I’ve got a sweet proposal for an Alpaca Man comic book!)

Now about that cover. Howard Porter’s new “Shazam style” is an interesting evolution in the artist’s work; it was about the only thing I enjoyed in the Brave New World preview and first issue of Trials of Shazam. This image is in that style, but its composition seems a little off, with the characters sort of randomly situated on it. What really scares the hell out of me is that crazy look on Superman’s face, those rosy cheeks, that glazed look in his eyes. Coupled with the giant sack of presents held above his head. I get the feeling he’s about to hurl the gifts at me, crushing me to death.

Finally, what’s up with the title change? When the project was announced, and discussed with Newsarama, it was called Infinite Christmas Special, which was a play on the name of Infinite Crisis, the logo of which this books logo references. In fact, if you look it up at, you'll find it's still called DCU Infinite Christmas Special. But when it hit the stands this week, it had become the Infinite Holiday Special, which essentially neuters the joke. Not that it was a terribly clever joke, but it was funny in a bad joke sort of way. The new title is simply nonsensical. Bill O'Reilly, John Gibson and maybe even Hawkman would not be amused.

(Not actually an installment of) Actually Essential Storylines: Blue Beetle

The origin told in the back of this week’s issue of 52 is perhaps the least essential one so far, not only for readers of this particular series, but for readers of any DC title, given how long the character starring in it has been around and how few his appearances have been. It’s Blue Beetle III, young Jaime Reyes, who was just introduced in the midst of Infinite Crisis, and whose solo title Blue Beetle is only up to issue # 10.

The art comes courtesy of BB3’s designer and original artist, Cully Hamner. It’s nice enough to look at—Hamner’s design was what originally attracted me to check out an otherwise rather unremarkable superhero pastiche comic—but the two-page story is fairly pointless, considering how little there is to add to Reyes’ story at this point (In fact, his origin is still being told and has not yet been fully revealed in his title yet).

Just take a look at what DC suggests as “Essential Storylines.” There’s Infinite Crisis, which was pretty much required reading for anyone who reads DC Comics already anyway, followed by Blue Beetle: Shellshocked, the trade collection of the first six issues of the series by Hamner and writers Keith Giffen and John Rogers, and Blue Beetle #7, which re-tells Jaime’s role in IC from his perspective.

Or, in other words, there have been about three Blue Beetle storylines so far, all of which are essential.

Aside from the pointlessness of the endeavor, the only other remarkable aspect of this week’s origin is the fact that Waid doesn’t even mention the first two Blue Beetles, Dan Garrett or Ted Kord. If these few panels are indeed your first introduction to the character (and I doubt that anyone is reading about BB3 here for the very first time, given his involvement in IC), you wouldn’t even realize that he is a legacy character, taking on the name of one of the Justice League’s longest serving members.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Marvel's March previews reviewed

Kaare Andrews is awesome, as this cover to Spider-Man: Reign #4 so readily attests.

Pencils and Cover by RON GARNEY
No one’s paid the price for Civil War more than Peter Parker. Now, one of his worst fears has been realized. A tragedy from which he might never recover. And if that weren’t enough – he’s a fugitive, hunted, on the run. Black isn’t just the color of his costume – it’s a state of mind. Get on board here, True Believer, as we gear up for an event that will forever change the life of your favorite web-slinger. There IS no going back.

Yes, no one’s paid the price for "Civil War" more than Peter Parker. Except maybe for Goliath, who had a hole blown through his giant torso, making him the first superhero to fill a mass grave all by his lonesome.

Now this is an interesting cover. I wasn’t sure SMLMJ could or should survive the departure of artist Takeshi Miyazawa, but David Hahn is a fantastic artist and storyteller. The bad news, however, is that this likely means we’ll have to wait even longer for some more of Hahn’s Private Beach series.


Written by ED BRUBAKER
Pencils & Cover by STEVE EPTING


Written by BRIAN REED
Cover by GREG HORN
“THE DEAL” Part 1 (of 2)

Pencils and Cover by LEINIL YU

There’s an art to solicits writing, in which one must try to excite potential readers and entice them into picking up the books without spoiling the surprises within. Just saying “CLASSIFIED INFORMATION!” strikes me as a bit artless.

Would it really be so hard to say something, like, I don’t know, “You won’t believe the changes facing one of Marvel’s biggest heroes in the aftermath of the stunning, critically-acclaimed, best-stelling Civil War! The all-new status quo begins here, and things will never be the same!” To, in other words, say absolutely nothing, but in an excited way that lets readers know you at least give a shit about pretending to be saying something?

In the meantime, feel free to pore over the covers, which reveal some things (Ms. Marvel doesn’t have her face ripped off in Civil War #7, for example; and Falcon seems to survive the last battle as well). Note the field of stars glowing behind Ms. Marvel on her cover, and the fact that her curl of hair seems to form a Captain America shield with the star behind her. Hmm…

There’s probably a smart remark or fifty to make about William Tucci’s cover for Heroes For Hire #8, but I won’t make any of them.

Written by GARTH ENNIS
Pencils and Cover by CLAYTON CRAIN
There has always been a Spirit of Vengeance. Before Johnny Blaze, before Danny Ketch, there was Travis Parham. As a lieutenant in the Confederate Army, Parham thought he’d gotten a full view of the darkness in men’s souls. He was wrong. Someone did something terrible to his friend Caleb, and Parham’s ready to ride through hell to find out who did it. Which is a good thing -- ‘cause he’s gonna have to. Up from the depths comes a force of nature that transcends his wildest dreams -- a fiery wraith that knows a thing or two about evil, and even more about vengeance.

Don’t worry about me; different Caleb.

Written by JEPH LOEB
Pencils and Cover by ROB LIEFELD
Variant Cover by JOE QUESADA
This is it! The heroes have assembled!! And the greatest evil the universe has ever faced is ready to take them on!!! Who lives?!?! Who dies?!?!?! And what will be the final fate of Onslaught?!?!?!?! Will this arch-fiend really be gone for good…or will we see his demonic face again in the Marvel Universe…? Only masters of full-on action, Jeph Loeb and Rob Liefeld, know for sure! All we know is this is the wildest ride on Earth—any Earth!

And you don’t think we over-punctuated this solicit at all, do you?!?!?!?!?!?!

DC's March previews...reviewed!

DC Comics has released their solicits for books shipping in March; you can read them at the company’s homepage, at Comic Book Resources, where you’ll find a more reader-friendly format, or at Newsarama, where there’s the added benefit of pages and pages of nerd commentary (much of it dealing with homosexuality, oddly enough).

Is three months prior to release too early to start commenting on the books? Nah. Here are a couple of the solicitis that really grabbed my attention…

Written by Andy Diggle.
Art and cover by Whilce Portacio & Richard Friend.
Part 4 of the 6-part “Rules of Engagement.” Lex Luthor has supplied his prototype G.I. Robot to the military — and only Batman knows there’s a viper in the Pentagon’s nest. But Lex Luthor knows as well, and attacks Batman in the Batcave to prevent being exposed!

This is one of my favorite solicits of the month, as the phrase “only Batman knows” is followed immediately by one reading “But Lex Luthor knows as well.” You know DC’s continuity problems are getting bad when there isn’t even continuity between consecutive sentences in the solicits.

Mario Alberti sure created a nice cover for Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis. I was a little annoyed that the creative team that launched the title's bold new direction are giving up on it before even bringing said story to a close, but not so annoyed I’d miss a cover like that.

And speaking of covers, how about that Hawkgirl cover? I dropped this title after a one issue, but I don’t think there’s anyway in hell I’ll be able to resist buying an issue with a giant, robot Hawkgirl on the cover.

Written by Paul Dini and Royal McGraw.
Art by J.H. Williams III, Don Kramer, Joe Benitez and others.
Cover by Simone Bianchi.
Don’t miss this all-new collection of mystery stories from DETECTIVE COMICS #821-826 written by Paul Dini (Batman: The Animated Series)! The Dark Knight faces the Riddler, the Penguin and Poison Ivy as well as brand-new villains while pushing himself to the limit to solve crimes.

This trade collection of the first few issues of Paul Dini’s run on Detective will likely be a heavily-read issue. Dini’s done some of the best Batman stories ever on Batman: The Animated Series, and has been no slouch in the comic book department either (Batman: Mad Love, Batman: War on Crime), but why on earth are they even bothering to include the one-issue fill-in written by Royal McGraw? I bought said issue, accidentally, and it was the very definition of a mediocre comic book. I can’t imagine a single person buying this trade thinking, “Sweet! Royal McGraw! I so wanted to read his one issue of ’TEC, but I decided I’d wait for the $15 trade instead!”

If an ideal “graphic novel”/trade paperback has a single creator or creative team (or, at the least, creative vision), than the Mcgraw story sticks out like a sore thumb here.

And if DC is smart about their trades, encouraging their hardcore readers to either read single issues only (or single issues followed by trades collecting the same stories), and targeting different audiences with the trades, why include the McGraw story? It’s a perfect chance to not collect something, and encourage a sense of urgency to buying the monthlies, in essense saying, “If you’re not reading every issue of Detective Comics, you’re missing out!” (Of course, you’re not actually missing out—like I said, that McGraw story is pretty bad—but still).

After all, it’s not like DC is devoted to making sure every single issue of ’TEC is available to readers, so the completionist impulse here seems a little out of place.

ROBIN #160
Written by Adam Beechen.
Art by Freddie Williams Iii.
Cover by Patrick Gleason & Rodney Ramos.
There’s a new drug hitting the Gotham underground, and it’s turned a common street gang into brutal murderers. Now Robin faces two perilous missions: Stop the gang before they strike again, and find the source of the drug before it creates more killers!

I’ve lost count of how many “new drugs” have hit the Gotham underground in the 12 years or so I’ve been reading Batman comics. Maybe the low thirties?

Written by Geoff Johns & Richard Donner.
Art and cover by Adam Kubert.
Part 4 of the landmark “Last Son” story, by Geoff Johns, Richard Donner and Adam Kubert! Superman travels to a place so alien and strange, it could only be presented in a special 3-D section, featuring 3-D effects by Ray Zone! That’s right, the action in ACTION takes on a whole new meaning as this benchmark story takes a sharp turn into the third dimension! Plus, meet the all-new Superman Revenge Squad! 
Retailers: This issue will be available in 2 versions that may be ordered separately. The 3-D Edition is priced at $3.99 and the Standard (non-3-D) Edition is priced at $2.99. They will feature the same cover image. The 3-D Edition will feature portions of the content and the cover in 3-D; 3-D glasses will be included.

This solicit isn’t as elegantly and concisely contradictory as the one for Batman Confidential, but near the end it still manages to say the exact opposite of what it said previously. It says “it could only be presented in a special 3-D section,” but, obviously that’s not the case, if they’re also selling a version of the story that doesn’t include a 3-D section.

Written by Brad Meltzer.
Art by Ed Benes & Sandra Hope.
Covers by Benes & various.
Variant cover by Michael Turner.
Best-selling author Brad Meltzer and super-hot artist Ed Benes deliver what you’ve been waiting for: the debut of the new Justice League of America! This issue features an incredible 4-page foldout you won’t want to miss! Be here for the introduction of the new team headquarters, plus many other cool surprises!
Retailers please note: This issue will ship with three covers. Standard Edition Cover A and B are by Ed Benes & Various; when displayed side-by-side, these covers form a larger image featuring the JLA of the past and present. One copy of the Variant Edition, featuring a cover by Michael Turner, may be ordered for every 10 copies of the Standard Edition Cover ordered in any combination. The full Benes cover image will be revealed on

The solicit for JLoA devotes 50 words to describing the content of the story and the man writing it. Then it devotes 70 words to explaining the variants.

Even more depressing is the fact that it will take us until the seventh issue of this series to have the line-up solidified and their base revealed. Contrast that with JSoA, which solidified the line-up and introduced their headquarters in just 37 pages last week.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Stream-of-Consciousness Reveiw: Justice Society of America #1

Cover: This issue shipped with two covers, as the law apparently decrees all #1 issues from New York City-based comic book publisherst must. The standard one was a gorgeous team portrait painted by Alex Ross, featuring 17 heroes seated around a marble round table in a pose evoking the original, Golden Age images of the JSA, but with an incredible amount of photorealism in the image. Just take a gander at the expressions on the faces of the Flash and Cyclone; they look like real people posing for a family photo, not superheroes posing for a comic book cover. Why on Earth would anyone want the Dale Eaglesham variant? (That's it above). It’s a nice drawing and all, but come on, the Ross piece is a work of freaking art! Plus, it's worth noting the Ross version is an iconic or symbolic image, while the Eaglesham one is a "story-telling" cover, but the story it's telling is inaccurate—those characters don't pore over candiates in this issue. Page 1: Here we have a splash of the “One Year Later” Society (the one featured in the Paul Levitz arc that closed out JSA), rushing through a city in flames, with the caption reading simply “World War III.” Looks like Black Adam’s coalition building early on in 52 ended up having some serious impact on global politics after all… Page 2: The caption reads “Three months later,” so if you’re making a timeline, this would be about three months after “One Year Later.” The “Trinity” of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman approach Wildcat, Green Lantern Alan Scott and Flash Jay Garrick with a pitch, “The world needs better good guys. So what can the League do to help?” In just five panels, Geoff Johns manages to delineate the differences between the League and the Society and give the latter a bold new mission statement. Page 3: Someone in a cape is narrating the hell out of a crime scene. He seems to think it’s still 1989, based on his Rorschach-esque, Dark Knight-ish narration and penchant for violence. Page 4: Well, didn’t see that coming! Ladies and gentleman, Mr. America, wearing a pencil thin moustache that looks even more dated than his costume! Who the hell is Mr. America, you ask? Go read James Robinson’s excellent Elseworlds story The Golden Age. Yeah, it’s out of continuity, but it’s the best—and maybe only—Mr. America story you’re going to find these days. Actually, judging from his name, “Trey Thompson,” this is the original Mr. America’s son or grandson, since the original was “Tex Thompson.” Hmm, wonder what “Tex” is short for? Page 6-7: A double page spread of Alan Scott pinning glossies of members of the new JSA on a bulletin board. Note the ring on his finger; penciller Dale Eaglesham manages to draw it in the correct shape, something Paul Gulacy never did in the Vandal Savage/Green Lantern arc of JSA: Classified. Eaglesham draws the hell out of the team here, packing an awful lot of individual personality into pretty standard superheroes. The text boxes, presumably provided from an omniscient narrator rather than Mr. America or Wildcat, who have been switching narration back and forth, identifies each of the six heroes shown here, and their powers. The intros are rather cheesy, like “Mr. Terriffic—Michael Holt. The third smartest man in the world.” Really? Third? That’s pretty specific. Page 8: Alan, Jay and Wildcat sit around a nice marble table with nice, new patriotic chairs, looking at a bunch of photos. Yes! Photo time! There’s nothing more thrilling about the foundation of a new DC super-team than the time spent looking at photos! In Brad Meltzer’s Justice League of America, the Trinity have been looking at headshots of superheroes for four whole issues. In Johns’ Teen Titans, we got a tantalizing two-page spread of a bunch of Titans from the “missing year.” Even in Birds of Prey, Oracle pored over photos when considering how to replace Black Canary. Now, let’s flip this book over, break out the magnifying glass, and see who they’re considering. Some are hard to make out, but at the very least, we definitely have Catman, the Manhattan Guardian, Hawkman, Black Canary, Sand, Mr. America, S.T.R.I.P.E., Green Arrow Oliver Queen, Obsidian, Damage, Jakeem and the Thunderbolt, Captain Marvel, Obsidian in Shadow Form (I’m not even gonna ask how you photograph something made out of shadow), Zauriel, Skyrocket, Firestorm II, Blue Beetle III, Ragman and Nightwing. Some of these will make the team, based on the cover, and some of them would definitely fit in, since they have Golden Age legacies, and some of them are just plain way out of left field, like Catman, Zauriel and Green Arrow. I assume Johns just asked Eaglesham to draw whoever he felt like. Page 9: Four horizontal panels, each focusing on a moment of JSA history. First, we have the original line up seated around a table. Then we have a scene from—Hey, what the hell? That’s Dick Grayson, Robin from Earth-2 standing between Star Spangled Kid and Power Girl! What the hell?! The grown-up Robin was erased from continuity in Crisis on Infinite Earths! The recent Infinite Crisis brought Earth-2 back, sort of, but only in the memories of Power Girl, Kal-L and Earth-2 Lois Lane. In Infinite Crisis #7, Wildcat mentions memories of Earth-2 returning to him, but DC changed that when they published IC as a hardcover collection. What gives?! Anyway, below that we have the cover of JSA #1, and then the foundation of this team, with Wildcat pouting about having to pick a lineup and read files. Page 10: Okay, there’s only four panels on this page, but a lot to talk abut. Let’s look at the first panel first. Check out Wildcat’s back. Holy crap, right? That’s one powerful looking back. Now, note Alan Scott’s right hand…it’s entirely composed of cocktail wieners. While we’re on Alan, check out his eyes in the first two panels. He lost an eye in 52, and it was established that when he’s in his civilian identity, he wore a patch over his left eye, but when he was suited up as Green Lantern, the missing eye glowed green, the emerald flame apparently filling the socket. In the first panel, one socket is full of a glowing green eye, and the other is empty. In the second panel, he has both eyes back. Come on Eaglesham, you were doing so well! Oh no, and now look what you’ve done in panel 2—Alan’s ring reverted to a Green Lantern Corps ring, rather than the lantern-shaped one you correctly drew earlier. Tch tch tch. As the elder statesmen chat, it comes out that the JLA spent weeks gathering all of this intel for them to pore over, so presumably those glossies are on loan from Batman’s private stash of superhero headshots (last seen in JLoA #0-#3). Finally, in the fourth panel, we get a close up of Wildcat’s face. His costume looks hilariously dirty and amateurishly stitched together here. I really like the implication that this eightysomething former boxer not only made his own cat suit, but does all his own sewing, even though he’s not terribly good at it. Page 11: Do you know the sound of one super-powered guy knocking a brick wall down with another super-powered guy’s face? No? It’s “CHOOOOOMM.” Someone wearing stars and stripes with a do-rag over his masked and hooded head and a tank top over his costume pushes New Look Damage through a wall. Page 12-13: The super guy who’s not Damage is apparently named “Rebel” and based on his comment that “I rule these streets…and I’ll wash them clean of the color that’s destroyed them,” I guess we’re supposed to assume he’s wearing a full body suit shaped like the old Confederate flag. Which raises some questions. Like, why would someone proud enough of the stars and bars to wear them then completely cover them up in shorts, a tank top and bandanna? That’s like wearing a disguise over your costume. And what the hell he’s doing in Philadelphia? That’s hardly the place for a racist “The South will rise again!” style vigilante. Rebel breaks Damage’s right arm—I think; it goes “KRAKK”—and then whispers in his ear that he heard that upon being beaten into a bloody mess and having his face destroyed, Damage “cried like a bitch.” Hoo boy. Okay, first of all, in Damage’s defense, if there’s ever a time when a man can cry, certainly it’s after his face has been destroyed and he’s been beaten into a bloody mess, no? Second, in this last panel, being called a “bitch” doesn’t sit well with Damage, as you can tell from the determined look on his face and the fact that his eyes start glowing. Then, on page 13, it’s apparently enough to rally Damage, as he blows up Rebel’s knee and teeth. So, while we can forgive Johns for using the word “bitch,” and in so derisive a fashion, because it’s not Johns who said it, it was the bad guy, we can’t so easily forgive him for depicting it having such an effect on Damage. Clearly, being called a “bitch” is just too much for Damage who, readers of The Titans know, was once sexually abused. Sigh. (On a more lighthearted note, check out the 52 joke in the background). Page 14: But wait, what’s this? The misogynistic use of a sexist swear word in this all-ages DCU title isn’t over yet! As his fallen foe cries in pain, Damage leans into his ear and tells him, “Now who’s crying like a bitch?” And the soul of the comic book industry dies a little more. Page 15-16: Liberty Belle and Hourman appear to recruit Damage, who’s doing the same sulky, angsty teenager routine he used to pull in his own long-cancelled monthly title and in Titans, but now it’s been amped up to 11. Page 16, which shows why Damage decides to join up, is pretty funny, and well handled by Eaglesham. This guy can sure draw. Page 20: And speaking of drawing. In one four-panel page, Eaglesham introduces us to Maxine Hunkel and completely defines her personality. The following four pages only build on it, but Eaglesham has done more in those first four panels than all the dialogue on these pages does. Make sure you read the text-filled panel…it actually makes sense and is worth the read. Page 25-30: Presenting Starman VIII, or whatever he is—I honestly lost count. James Robinson so perfectly told the tale of the Starmen in his since concluded Starman monthly that there seemed to be little point in introducing a new Starman, this one wearing the costume design of the one in Alex Ross’ Kingdom Come miniseries, but I gotta hand it to Johns and Eaglesham. I did not see this take on the character coming. Some of his speech seems way too Hollywood, but what the hell, it’s a fun and funny depiction. I love how he dances into his sanitarium home, and the little details Eaglesham packs these scenes with (Check out the birthday celebration in the background). Page 31: We get a good look at the new JSA building, and it’s pretty sweet… I dig the stone eagles instead of lions at the front porch. Ma Hunkle, who seems to have lost weight, namedrops two Green Lanterns, and we get a glimpse of Obsidian. Page 32-33: And look at that, there’s the whole lineup assembled, minus the three originals JSAers. And it only took 32 pages. Brian Michael Bendis and Brad Meltzer could learn a thing or two about super-team assemblage from Johns. Page 34-37: Annnd, Johns drops not one but two bombs on us, as a beaten and bloody Mr. America crashes onto the team’s meeting table, and Jay and Alan point Wildcat to a young dark-haired boy about to light up a cigarette and tell him, “His name is Tom. He’s your son.” (Please don’t name him Tomcat, please don’t name him Tomcat, please don’t name him Tomcat…) Page 38: A full-page next issue box, completely with four panels under the words, “Coming this year in Justice Society of America.” In panel one, we have Batman, Sandman and Starman and a fourth, unidentified hero standing infront of Arkham Asylum. The unidentified guy says, “I’ll notify the League,” but who the hell is he? I don’t know, but he has one of those weird masks that cover the whole head except for the hair, like Gambit and Cyclops wear in the next universe over. In the DCU, that can only be, let’s see, Geo-Force, Animal Man, Gunfire, Kid Flash, a couple of the Manhunters. Based on the hair color, costume color and lack of a jacket or shoulder pads, though, it can only be Geo-Force. The second panel has the right arm of Dawnstar from a previous iteration of the Legion, saying “I hvae to go track down Starman.” Panel three, the hand of Kal-L, Earth-2’s Superman, breaking out of his grave in front of a stunned Power Girl. And, in panel four, an Alex Ross painting of someone who looks like Kal-L saying “It never ends—for people like us.” But check out the color of the field behind his “S;” it’s black, meaning that’s the Kingdom Come Superman. Hmm…