Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Hey Kids! Comics!

(Panel from 52 #43, illustrated by Keith Giffen, Dan Jurgens and Norm Rapmund)

Weekly Haul: February 28th

52 #43 (DC Comics) With the Ralph Dibny and Steel/Everyman plotlines a wrap, the remaining storylines that feed into one another are all steaming toward a conclusion. This issue, we check in with Buddy Baker and Lady Styx, but spend most of our time looking in at a very intense meeting between the Marvel Family and the Black Marvel Family. I’ve really dug the concept of a reverse Marvel family, right down to their own talking animal mascot, but the writing’s been on the wall all along that their existence as a unit was never more than temporary. Still, I was pretty surprised at just how grisly their break-up is. I sometimes wonder what would have become of Geoff Johns if he weren’t a comics writer…a serial killer, maybe? Nice art by Giffen, Jurgens and Rapmund, even if the panel-to-panel mis en scene is a little jumpy. Ethan Van Sciver joins Waid for the back-up origin, featuring EDILW favorite Plastic Man, and it’s a complete mess, but we’ll look at that later in this week’s edition of “Actually Essential Storylines.” Line of the week? I’m gonna have to go with: “I’m about to lose the space dolphin powers I sampled…”

Action Comics #846 (DC) The oft-delayed next installment of Donner, Johns and Kubert’s Superman II-tastic story arc finally arrives, and my immediate reaction was along the lines of, “For this I waited so long?” (How late is it? Well, the Next Issue Box mentions the weeks-old Action Comics Annual, which was itself a stop-gap to the late issues). Kubert’s art is great, yeah, but he’s hardly the only artist capable of rendering a punch ‘em up between Superman and the escaped Phantom Zone criminals. Johns and Donner get props for the scale of the threat, though—just as I was nodding off seeing Superman trade blows with P.Z. escapees for the ten millionth time in my lifetime, Zod answered Supes' “You and what army, General?” comment with a well-timed “This one.” I know we’ve seen that very exchange in different situations repeatedly over the years in DC comics, but just like references to “fastball specials” in Marvel comics, it still makes me smile every time.

Black Panther #25 (Marvel Comics) Okay, add this issue of BP to the list of “Civil War” tie-in issues that do a much better job of concluding the main Civil War series’ story far better than Civil War #7. I know I (and much of the Internet) had a lot to gripe about regarding CW #7, but one of my many complaints was the one I made over at this week’s "Best Shots” column—that Millar and company spent six issues (and almost a year) lining up all of Marvel’s toys for a big superhero fight, and then neglected to actually show the superhero fight (Seriously, go flip through #7 again if you don’t believe me; there are exactly two splash pages of more than one name superhero exchanging blows with another, and neither occurs during the Battle of Manhattan).

After Storm tells Reed Richards off and T’Challa and Captain Marvel/Photon/Monica Rambeau figure out how to bust into 42, we flash forward to the big fight scene. It doesn’t match up with what actually occurs in CW #7 terribly well at all (but hey, how many of the tie-ins actually do?), but it’s full of fun little moments, like Falcon and Nighthawk mixing it up, Storm and Clor dancing before first Sue Richards (“You’re my husband’s abomination… And I’m here to abort you!”) and then Hercules cut in to help finish him off. The last page includes two pretty awesome moments, one which makes fun of the ridiculousness of the news media (I’ve got to assume writer Reginald Hudlin is making fun of their tendency to exaggerate when he has an anchorman reporting that, “The streets of New York were as violent as the fields of Gettysburg as the final battle of the ‘Civil War’ between superheroes seems to have peaked today”), and of Millar and company’s story, when Storm responds to the news of Caps’ surrender with an incredulous, “What? You can’t be serious.”

Marcus To’s pencil art is pretty strong, even if there are some oddly static panels of the fighting heroes all just kind of standing around talking in the middle of the big battle, and colorist J. D. Smith gives everything a nice painted veneer.

Civil War: Frontline #11 (Marvel) The relative strength of Paul Jenkins’ Frontline series has been overshadowed by certain sucky elements pretty much all along. I found the “Here are the ways in which our superhero crossover is just like real world wars” back-ups clumsy, repetitive and more than a little offensive; the Dark Speedball story’s last chapter was a weird U-turn of the narrative; and issue #10 was a horribly embarrassing exercise in on-panel time-wasting. Now we finally learn who the traitor on the Pro-Reg side was (it’s the only person it could be) and learn Tony Stark’s true motivation (which is the only mildly heroic one he could have, and, it’s worth noting, is a completely different one than he gave in Civil War #7). The plot involves Ben Urich and Sally Floyd interviewing the incarcerated Captain America (which turns into Sally, The Worst Reporter Ever, yelling at him), and confronting Tony Stark with what they’ve learned, essentially a parlor scene for the ten issues that preceded this one. I’m not sure I understood what the hell all that was about Atlantis and how it benefited Tony Stark or the ideal of Pro-Registration, but the rest of the speech at least makes the idea of Iron Man as a hero in the Marvel Universe going forward somewhat palpable (although, again, this is a case that Millar probably should have been made in Civil War, since it is, essentially, the character’s entire motivation for everything that he did in that series after #1). Three things really stood out, however, and I will proceed to list them numerically, because this is already a pretty long paragraph.

1.) In the Battle of Manhattan, there were apparently “fifty-three killed…only six of them super-powered.” That’s one-twelfth of those killed at Stamford, and more than the Hulk killed before Stark and the Illuminati decided to shoot him into space for the good of earth. Who are these dead heroes? (Other than Typeface, of course, whose body we've seen, and maybe Triathalon and Coldblood, whom Amazing Spider-Man said were among the missing). Who are the heroes who accidentally killed people? And why didn’t Millar and Marvel think it might be important to show us any of this?!

2.) We learn that “Three days after the end of the war, the Sentry publicly announced his support of the Registration Act, much to everyone’s surprise.” Except for readers, who saw him register twice in different comic, and will therefore not be even slightly surprised to see him take a stand again. And this is the first John Q. New Yorker has heard of where Sentry stands? Did he not even make it out of the Negative Zone fight in CW #7 then? God, what a pussy.

3.) I love that the story ended with Tony Stark crying. It provided a nice sense of balance to Captain America crying over in CW proper.

Connor Hawke: Dragon’s Blood #4 (DC) Connor Hawke’s heterosexuality so firmly confirmed last issue, writer Chuck Dixon gets back to what he does best—big action and plenty of action movie-style banter. This issue was a lot of fun, and, as I’ve said at least three times before, I totally love Derec Donovan’s art.

Doctor Strange: The Oath #5 (Marvel) Brian K. Vaughan, Marcos Martin and Alvaro Lopez bring their wonderful Dr. Strange story, by far the best I’ve ever read (but then, I’ve only read a relative few Strange stories), to a close. The ultimate fate of Wong and even that last panel were predictable enough, but it was certainly pleasurable to see them occur anyway. I hope this thing sold like hotcakes, and that BKV has more Strange stories to tell, because I would love to read a book like this every month. Confidential to Brian Michael Bendis: I do hope you’ve been reading this series, and plan on incorporating the last few pages worth of changes in Doc’s status quo into your New Avengers title.

Eternals #7 (Marvel) Worst. Neil Gaiman-written series based on a lesser Kirby creation. Ever. Of course, the other Gaiman-written series based on a lesser Kirby creation was The Sandman, so perhaps expecting a repeat here was a little too optimistic. The long delays, slow pace and ponderous inclusion of “Civil War” into the proceedings didn’t help endear Gaiman’s latest visit to the Marvel Universe sandbox, but with the series finally wrapped, and reconsidering the story in it’s entirety, it’s not a bad set-up for a Marvel series to follow at some point. Although I get the feeling it will be someone other than Gaiman that’s assigned to write a potential Eternals monthly, and someone other than John Romita Jr. drawing it, so I can’t imagine such a series would interest anyone. I’d almost certainly pass.

Firestorm: The Nuclear Man #33 (Marvel) Okay, the thirty-third issue of a series which has already been announced as cancelled probably isn’t the best place to start reading, but, well, they didn’t have Dwayne McDuffie on scripting duties until this very issue, did they? That and the appearance of the New Gods, whom I’m currently completely confused about (I can’t make heads or tails of how Seven Soldiers: Mister Miracle fits into New God-itunity), were more than enough to get me to try out this series for a second time (I tried the “One Year Later” issue. I didn’t like it). McDuffie is in top form here, as he was in FF #542, and this feels like good, plain, fun superhero comics. We get nice, solid intros of both Mister Miracle (still Shiloh Norman; no clue where Scott Free is here, either, although he’s repeatedly mentioned, so he obviously still exists on this New Earth) and the title character, plus Orion showing up to punch them both, and then the Female Furies doing the same.

Green Lantern #17 (DC) Panel two shows us J’onn J’onnz using his super-powerful telepathy to de-brainwash the Global Guardians at what I assume is a JLA headquarters of some sort (We’ll have to wait until Brad Meltzer gets around to finishing their origin story to let us know where that may be). I’d really like to hear what follows that scene, once J’onn’s finished up: “Well, I’ve used my completely unique Martian power of telepathy to deprogram these superheroes so that they will no longer do the bidding of the Faceless Hunters for you. I guess since I’m not on your Justice League anymore, I’ll just go hang out with all my friends and family, maybe stop by the office and get some work done. Oh wait, I’m the last surviving member of my race! And my only friends are members of the Justice League! And my fucking job is just saving the world with the Justice League once a month! But you guys didn’t want me on the team because Meltzer already assigned the green narration boxes to Hal or some such bullshit. Guess I’ll just go sit by the phone and wait for you guys to call me the next time you need some telepathic help. Dicks.” The rest of the book? Batman gets offered a place on a brand-new team he wants no part of (sweet costume though!), John Stewart finally makes the scene, Hal punches an alien in the face and the newest, sluttiest Star Sapphire appears. (Stupid question—Why does she wear pink if her name is Star Sapphire?)

Helmet of Fate: Black Alice #1 (DC) Missed it! I love exactly two things about Black Alice, the teenaged goth girl magic-stealer that writer Gail Simone introduced in one of her earlier Birds of Prey stories. One, she’s from Ohio, which really, more superheroes oughta be from. And two, she’s a character that lends herself to almost constant character redesign and riffs on classic DC costumes, as each time she borrows a characters’ abilities, she gets a personalized version of their costume (My favorite thus far was her “Black Lantern” Alan Scott get-up in the Villains United Infinite Crisis Special). Simone joins artist Duncan Rouleau for Alice’s turn in the Dr. Fate spotlight, and while Rouleau’s design style is well suited to the character, the outfits aren’t exactly inspired (I didn’t even know Giganta’s powers were magical). This was probably the weakest of the Helmet one-shots so far, but is still competently done; after all, those first three one-shots were pretty damn good. Confidential to colorist Mike Atiyeh: Goth kids just dress and act like vampires, they’re not actually vampires, so they should be pale, but not chalk-white with a hint of blue like week-old drowning victims.

JLA: Classified #35 (DC) This is the fourth chapter of “The Fourth Parallel,” but it’s labeled “Part 2C” because, for the third issue in a row, we explore a possible sequence of events that is occurring at the exact same time as the last two chapters, only in a parallel dimension (and with a third “finisher” inking scripter and lay outer Dan Jurgens’ art). Pretty clever, huh? On this world, villain the Red King kills the members of the Justice League, but he accidentally destroys the Earth in the process. That’s all there is to it really, a complete routing of the Justice League in a reality that doesn’t really exist. But hey, it could have been worse—J’onn J’onnz could have had a conical head, for example.

Justice #10 (DC) Fight, fight, fight! That’s the plot of this superhero and supervillain-packed issue, which brings this totally awesome series—which has been little more than gloriously illustrated fan service—close to climax. The League, many of them wearing cool new costumes and/or the Metal Men, launch their strikes against the Legion and their own brainwashed sidekicks and second bananas, the Joker shows up and the League keeps pulling secret plans out of their collective ass. I dig the Plas/Ralph rivalry, the Superfriends-style seating arrangement at the Legion of Doom’s after party, the Riddler’s power suit and going around that table and imagining what Black Manta, The Scarecrow and the Toyman intend to do with their glasses of wine. In fact, the only things I didn’t like about this issue were a few clunky lines of dialogue, Green Arrow’s narration, and Braithwaite and Ross’ Clayface design, which resembles a horribly deformed, naked old lady-cum-burn victim. Yeee-uck!

Runaways #24 (Marvel) Creators BKV and Adrian Alphona bring their second volume of Runaways to a close, and they do so in a nice, circular fashion, giving us a conclusion that recalls the conclusion of the first volume, and checks in with at least one character we didn’t expect to see again. I’m pretty bummed that the pair are leaving, and while Joss Whedon is the perfect BKV successor (Vaughan’s dialogue on this series has long been peppered with Whedon-esque invented slang), I’m not sure how and Alphona-less Runaways will read. I aim to find out next month though. Also, while there’s a lot to bitch about the characterizations in Marvel’s “Civil War” event, I kind of like the thought of Iron Man being a villain…he’s certainly used to swell effect as such in this issue.

X-Factor #16 (Marvel) It’s issues like this that make me wish Peter David were writing Madrox, The Multiple Man instead of X-Factor. The storyline involving Jamie tracking down a dupe that’s gone off to marry and start a family was wonderful, and the sub-plot involving Siryn and Monet busting out of a Parisian prison and rescuing a French mutant was fine, but was something of an unwelcome intrusion compared to the A story.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Actually Essential Storylines: Green Arrow

This week’s 52 origin story features Oliver Queen, The Green Arrow, as drawn by current GA penciller Scott McDaniel.

It takes Mark Waid an awful lot of verbiage to get this particular origin out, and there’s not much to it by way of history. Three panels recount Ollie’s island adventure origin, three more detail his superheroic lifestyle. There’s no mention of Speedy, Hal Jordan, Black Canary, Seattle, the Justice League or even his death and resurrection.

But the “Essential Storylines” suggestions are actually quite strong this week (Has DC been listening to little old me?), and if you follow up on these, you’ll be pretty up to speed with the high points of Green Arrow’s fictional career.

But in the interest of obsessive compulsive completionism, I’m going to proceed with a feature on Ollie Queen storylines anyway, because although space in a two-page origin is limited, space on the Internet is infinite (as are the lengths I’ll go to procrastinate doing real work).

Anyway, here’s what DC suggested…

MORE FUN COMICS #73 and #89: DC continues to consider the first appearances of characters as “essential storylines,” which accounts for #73 making the list; #89 is one of GA’s origin stories. I can’t imagine either is really worth hunting down and purchasing, although I’ve only read the latter (Which was collected in this awesome book).

SHOWCASE PRESENTS: THE GREEN ARROW VOL.1: The Showcase books are all pretty much required reading in my book, although I haven’t gotten to this one yet. It’s over 500 pages of Green Arrow and Speedy adventures starting in 1958, and although they’re pretty much just a bargain basement version of Batman and Robin at the time, this book collects stories that account for GA’s “early years,” which you’ll often see glimpsed in flashbacks in later, better tales.

GREEN ARROW: THE LONGBOW HUNTERS: Writer/artist Mike Grell’s late-80’s reinvention of Green Arrow as an urban hunter of criminals signaled a creative high point in the character’s career. For the first time, GA was a true star capable of carrying his own title, rather than a team member, co-star or back-up feature filler, and he became even more greatly differentiated from Batman. It’s also the start of Green Arrow as a somewhat mature title; the Grell-helmed monthly that spun out of this series was never quite Vertigo mature, but it was certainly more so than most of the rest of the DCU at the time.

This four-part prestige series is probably the best Green Arrow’s adventures have ever looked, and is full of important moments. Ollie and his lover/partner Black Canary move to Seattle; Ollie takes a new costume; Shado is introduced; Canary is brutally attacked (when people mention her on the list of DC’s rape victims, this is the story they’re referencing, although the rape is implied rather than explicit, and it’s actually somewhat up in the air if she was sexually attacked at all or not); and Oliver Queen crosses that superhero line and kills a foe.

Re-reading it today, it’s interesting in that it shows Ollie having something of a mid-life crisis and expressing his desire to have kids with Black Canary, who flat out refuses (she recently left Birds of Prey recently to raise an adopted daughter, although those circumstances are somewhat unique). And it is an eloquent reminder that there’s a big difference between mature and sophisticated storytelling for adults and crass, clumsy and exploitive stories about violence and “issues,” which is what the current Green Arrow series has quickly devolved into since writer Judd Winick took the reigns.

Although DC recommends reading the trade collection, it is, in fact, out of print at the moment. Let’s stop and think about this for a moment: Longbow Hunters is currently unavailable in trade paperback, but you can walk into a big-box bookstore and purchase a trade of Heading Into the Light right now. How fucked up is that?

It’s moments like this that I wonder who’s in charge of DC’s trade program; I can only assume that it is a ravenous, perhaps even rabid wolf that was captured from the wild, dressed in a suit and given an office, where it runs around snapping at things and trying to escape, while those lower on the DC totem pole interpret its actions as decisions regarding what to collect and what not to. Seriously, there is no other explanation. None.

GREEN ARROW: QUIVER: This is the high profile story arc that returned Oliver Queen to the land of the living after his mid-90’s death, and launched the current volume of Green Arrow (which Winick’s been fucking up pretty much ever since). Now, Oliver Queen was really, totally, unequivocally, no-way-around-it, dead-as-a-doornail dead-dead; he was handcuffed to an airplane which was carrying a huge bomb and he got blown to kingdom come (um, that’s just expression; I’m not referring to Kingdom Come. At least, not yet). That particular storyline isn’t available in trade, but is recapped sufficiently here in Quiver that perhaps it doesn’t need to be.

Writer Kevin Smith, with artists Phil Hester and Ande Parks, had the task of bringing Ollie Queen back from the dead, and he did so in a convoluted but spectacular process (the resurrection story was somewhat similar to Green Lantern Hal Jordan’s, in that he was totally dead, and had to be brought back in a very complicated way to make it feasible).

Smith’s story called upon the supernatural, and included plenty of guest-stars: Batman, Aquaman, Green Arrow Connor Hawke, Arsenal, Black Canary, The Spectre Hal Jordan, the JLA, the Demon Etrigan, Black Manta and even Spoiler. In the process, Smith introduced Mia Dearden, returned Ollie Queen to his late Silver Age/Bronze Age costume and brought back the trick arrows and the Star City setting. Oh, and Stanley and His Monster are totally introduced into DCU continuity (although I’ve only seen ‘em once since, in an Infinite Crisis cameo). This epic was originally collected in two trade paperbacks and a hardcover collection, although currently lists the hardcover as “out of print” and there’s no mention of the trades. See? A wolf.

GREEN ARROW: THE ARCHER’S QUEST: Or, as I like to call it, “the only really good comic book Brad Meltzer’s ever written.” Returned to the land of the living, Ollie sees a photo of his own funeral, and something seems amiss, so he and Arsenal (whom he forces to wear a domino mask instead of sunglasses) go on a quest that involves collecting some very special items from some very special locales (JLA HQ, The Flash Museum, the Arrowcave), for a very special purpose that isn’t revealed until the rather satisfying ending.

Meltzer’s ignorance of post-crisis continuity shows through here and there, particularly in his treatment of Catman (Gail Simone would later have to go way out of her way to fix what Meltzer does to him here), but this makes for a very fun, satisfying story, one which drops a bombshell regarding Ollie’s relationship to Connor (Which I don’t think anyone’s followed up on yet, have they?), an almost big moment regarding his relationship with Black Canary, and a great bit between Green Lantern Kyle Rayner and Ollie. Other guest-stars include Oracle, Solomon Grundy, The Flash, Superman, The Shade and J’onn J’onnz, and the story clearly presages Identity Crisis in several ways, most notably its focus on modern superhero death rituals and Meltzer’s treatment of Villains Who Aren’t Deathstroke.

And here’s what they missed…

THE GREEN ARROW BY JACK KIRBY: Some (maybe all?) of these 11 stories are collected in the Showcase volume, but there they’re diluted by a bunch of not-Kirby art. This slim, 70-page prestige special from 2001 collected all of Kirby’s GA work, and it’s a revelation seeing all those weird monsters, supervillains, spaceships and unmistakable angles and anatomy applied to Green Arrow instead of Marvel or Fourth World characters. If you see it in a back-issue bin, buy it.

GREEN LANTERN/GREEN ARROW VOLS. 1 and 2: The most surprising no-show on the “Essential Storylines” list are these two recently released trades, which collect the classic GL/GA team-ups by Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams. While O’Neil’s issue-oriented scripts and dialogue haven’t aged terribly well (although one can draw a direct line between the preachier of these stories and the preacheir of Winick’s, like the all-HIV issue), Adams’ art is timeless, and these are the tales where Green Arrow’s modern personality began to take shape.

They’re also somewhat of a watershed in terms of DC stories addressing real-world politics and social issues, making this an important series of stories in terms of the DCU as seen from the outside (Herein you’ll find the Speedy hooked on Speed story, as well as my favorite Hal Jordan moment of all, in which an elderly black man asks him why he never helps black people, but is always flying around space helping green and purple people).

As far as GA story history goes, this “Hard Traveling Heroes” era is constantly being referenced, from the many different iterations of the GL/GA team-ups over the years (Connor and Kyle, Connor and time-lost Hal Jordan, Connor and Jade, Ollie and Kyle, and most recently Hal and Roy) to Hal and Ollie’s oft-explored bond of friendship.

GREEN ARROW, JUSTICE LEAGUER: Historically, Green Arrow was the first new hero to be inducted into the Justice League after the original seven, and he served on the team pretty much continuously until the end of the Satellite Era (of which there are no real trade collections off; which is odd, considering current League scribe Meltzer’s affection for the era), usually as a foil to Hawkman and the voice of the common man among the superheroes.

Showcase Presents: Justice League of America Vol. 1 contains some of these early Silver Age stories, but for modern stories set during GA’s League years, you can’t go wrong with Mark Waid and Barry Kitson’s maybe no-longer canon JLA: Year One, John Ostrander and Val Smeiks’ JLA: Incarnations #2 and #3, the Christopher Preist written Legends of the DCU #12 and #13 (a great story featuring GA in several different states of mind over the years), the Tom Peyer and Mark Waid’s co-scrpited The Flash and Green Lantern: The Brave and the Bold, JLA 80-Page Giant #1 (Which featured “For Sale—The Justice League!” By Tom Peyer, Mark Pajarillo and Walden Wong, a story in which Hawkman argues with GA, at one point throwing out, “What are you, a communist?”) and JLA 80-Page Giant #2 (In which Len Wein and Sal Velutto again show Hawkman and GA acting, as Aquaman puts it, like one another’s “arch-enemies.” Usually I side with GA over Hawkman, who has been a total asshole of late, but Hawkman makes a strong argument against Green Arrow in this story, when he mentions “that ridiculous looking beard.” I think it looks cool on paper, but I bet if I knew a dude like that in real life, I’d hate him too).

GREEN ARROW: THE SOUNDS OF VIOLENCE: Kevin Smith’s run lasted longer than he had originally intended, and the issues he wrote after the “Quiver” storyline fill this trade. Ollie tries to rekindle his romance with Canary, and this involves visiting her at JSA headquarters in the middle of the night (where we see his first meeting with Hawkman post-resurrection) and going out on a dinner date which gets disrupted by The Riddler.

Later, new and cleverly conceived comic book villain Onomatopoeia is introduced, and he is apparently a serial killer of totally human, non-powered superheroes. He takes out Virago and Buckeye (a former Ohioan who has taken up hero-ing in Pennsylvania) before heading to Star City and putting a bullet in Connor’s head. I was genuinely worried about Connor during this storyline, since there were now two super-archers named Green Arrow in the DCU, and the younger one had failed to make fans forget his dad during his chance as the sole star of the last volume of the Green Arrow comic.

IDENTITY CRISIS: Say what you will about this story (and I know I’ve said a lot already), it does make for a pretty strong Green Arrow story, even if it completely falls apart at the end (and, much like Civil War, the longer you think about it, the more problems you’ll find). As a member of the so-called “Power Pact” of Bad Leaguers who opt to lobotomize Dr. Light and mind-wipe Batman, as well as being the Everyman character Meltzer best associates with, a good chunk of the story features and/or is narrated by Ollie, who manages to bond with Connor and make an enemy out of Deathstroke, The Terminator (heh!). Rags Morales draws a really great GA, but then, Morales draws a really great Just About Everybody.

GREEN ARROW, LOITERER: Ollie was seemingly in no hurry to re-up with the Justice League after returning to life, but he sure did hang around the Watchtower a lot. When the Big Seven were lost in The “Obsidian Age”, Ollie joined the replacement League led by Nightwing. When Batman and Superman gave Sister Superior the chance to reform the Elite into a force of good, Ollie, the Flash, Major Disaster and Manitou Raven joined the Elite in 12-part maxiseries Justice League Elite.When the Big Eight needed help against the Crime Syndicate and Qwardian Invaders in Kurt Busiek’s “Syndicate Rules,” Ollie joined with other reservists to lend a helping hand. He appeared in the first modern JLA/JSA crossover (and, the following year, showed up at the Brownstone in casual clothes to make fun of Hawkman), teamed-up with Kyle Rayner to fight Sinestro during Hal Jordan’s rebirth, joined other Satellite Era alum in sticking their noses in Wally West’s business, and got in a lot of annoying arguments with other Leaguers in the last two story arcs in the recently concluded volume of JLA.

THE JUDD WINICK ERA: Ollie, Kyle Rayner and their supporting casts teamed up to bust up a ring of alien drug dealers. Then Ollie slept with Jefferson “Black Lightning” Pierce’s neice, resulting in her being killed by a bad guy and Black Canary dumping him. He fought construction workers who were being turned into trolls. He fought a mystical army of demon policeman. He borrowed The Riddler from Batman, teamed up with The Outsdiers, teamed up with Black Lightning, fought Dr. Rape, the resurrected Jason Todd, Deathstroke the Terminator (hee hee!) and new villains like kung fu guy Drakon and The Kingpin-meets-Blood Syndicate’s-Brick rip-off named Brick. Mia Dearden became Speedy II, became HIV positive and joined the Teen Titans. Oliver Queen ran for mayor of Star City and won, and no one suspected that Oliver Queen and Green Arrow were one and the same, despite the fact that they are the only two men in America with that weird little beard (outside of Uncle Sam and Deathstroke, of course).

I’ve read it all in trade up until the first issue of “Crawling From the Wreckage” (borrowed from the library, so as not to pay for it anymore), and it’s all been really, really, really bad (Except for the issue where Roy and Connor bond, however, was pretty great; further evidence that Winick doesn’t have to suck, he just tends to).

Does DC agree? Seems like. If not, why aren’t any Winick-written storylines listed as “essential?” Particularly since his run is better represented in trades than any other run?

Word on the street (and by “street” I mean’s “Lying In the Gutters” column) is that the current volume of Green Arrow is going to be cancelled and replaced with Green Arrow/Black Canary some time this year, as the two heroes are supposed to tie the knot (Yeah! A big event comic that doesn’t involve a death!). I have my fingers crossed that the new series will be written by Black Canary expert/capable writer Gail Simone.

THE BEST OF THE REST: Detective Comics #549 and #550 featured a two-part Green Arrow/Black Canary story entitled “Night Olympics.” It was illustrated by Klaus Janson and written by some guy named Alan Moore. It’s been collected in DC Universe: the Stories of Alan Moore, which is absolute required reading for any and all DC fans.

Scott Beatty, aka The Guy Who Should Have Taken Over Green Arrow after “Archer’s Quest,” presented two excellent done-in-one fill-ins during the current volume of the series. In #22, he joined series artists Hester, Parks and cover artist Matt Wagner to retell Ollie’s origin and check in on longtime antagonist Count Vertigo. And in #33, Beatty joined guest artist Shawn Martinborough to tell a flashback involving Speedy and the Arrowcar, while Mia, Batman and The Scavenger all duked it out on eBay for a bit of expensive GA memorabilia.

And while not strictly an Oliver Queen story per se, JLA #8 featured Connor Hawke’s first day on the job as the League’s new Emerald Archer, and he finds them all in the clutches of The Key and his killer androids. His own quiver destroyed, Connor is forced to use his father’s crazy, impossible to fire trick arrows pilfered from a trophy case to save the day. It’s a brilliant little story that manages to be about both Green Arrows at the same time.

That’s all I can think of. I know there were Legends of the Dark Knight and Legends of the DCU stories featuring a young Ollie Queen, and an appearance in Adventures in the DCUniverse that were all decent, but not great. If anyone has any must-read suggestions, feel free to give ‘em a shout out below.

OTHER UNIVERSES: In the DKU, Ollie was one the only DC heroes aside from Superman to play an important role in The Dark Knight Returns, in which we see how scary a radicalized Oliver Queen is, and exactly how many arms he needs to be deadly with a bow and arrow. He’d rearm to join Batman’s forces in less-awesome but still great fun sequel The Dark Knight Strikes Again!

Alan Davis’ Elseworlds epic The Nail played off of Frank Miller’s version of a one-armed, half-deranged Oliver Queen, although this Ollie is in his current state do to getting fucked up by Amazo (Black Canary, meanwhile, leads The Outsiders). Not much of a story, but fantastic art.

On the Elseworlds tip, one of my favorite alternate Ollies is surely the one that appears in Batman: The Doom That Came to Gotham, the Lovecraft-ified Bat-tale written by Mike Mignola and Richard Pace, with pencils by Troy Nixey (and covers by Mignola).

Ollie would again join forces with Batman in Kingdom Come, when he, Black Canary and Ted Kord sign up with Bats and his human team against the forces of Superman and Wonder Woman (Even if Roy Harper grew his own stupid beard and sold out to Superman, going under the name “Red Arrow.”)

In Darwyn Cooke’s New Fronteir, we get some Arrow action toward the end, when young, smooth-chinned Oliver Queen takes the Arrowplane up against the menace of flying Dinosaur Island.

In the Ross-iverse, GA is a member of the JLA, along with his live-in girlfriend Black Canary. His origin is retold in the Paul Dini/Alex Ross collaboration JLA: Secret Origins, and he guest-stars near the end of their JLA: Liberty and Justice. In the still ongoing Justice, Green Lantern is one of the ten thousand heroes on Ross’ Justice League.

Thanks to his appearances in the Justice League Unlimited cartoon, GA is of course a member of the JLU in the Johnny DC JLU series. My favorite Green Arrow moment came in #17, in which GA punches Uncle Sam in the super-strong jaw, saying “Nice beard, old-ti--yeow!” Sam responds by punching him across the room, while saying “I was gonna say the same thing to you, youngster… only without the 'yeow' part!”

Man, is there anything better than two guys with the exact same beard getting in a fistfight?

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Manpurse Off

Above: The dragon in a Sunday Terr'ble Thompson strip by Gene Deitch, cirica 1956ish, and his manpurse.

Above: My manpurse

Analysis: The Dragon's manpurse is one of the oldest manpurses in existence. This story may have been written and drawn in the mid 1950's, but it's a flashback set during caveman times, meaning this dragon was wearing a manpurse many eons before manpurses were cool. It's also the only piece of clothing or accessory he's wearing, which shows a certain level of confidence in his manpurse. While pink is always a poor choice in manpurse (it's already a purse, and thus girly enough), The Dragon's is clearly labeled with the word "Maidens," which is exactly what he carries it for—To stuff maidens into.

My manpurse is a more manly black color, and has more pockets, but what are in those pockets? Certainly nothing as important as maidens. In fact, you couldn't fit a single maiden—even a really, really small maiden—into my manpurse.

Winner: The Dragon

Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Brutal Violence of Plastic Man

Considering how long DC has been portraying Plastic Man as the Justice League's court jester now, it can be somewhat surprising to revisit his original Golden Age adventures and see just how incredibly violent they were.

For example:

Child abuse!

Child abuser abuse!

Bad guys dying in creatively savage ways!

More bad guys dying in creatively savage ways!

Children seemingly drowning!


More child abuse!

More child abuser abuse!

Even more surprising? All of those panels are from the same 15-page story (In 1943'sPolice Comics #22, by Jack Cole). Man, Geoff Johns only wishes he could figure out a way to have one man's neck get snapped in a bear trap and another man's jugular vein ripped open by a dying man's bare teeth in a single superhero story!

But don't worry, after all this brutal violence and dark subject matter, the story manages to end happily:

Dear Darwyn Cooke,

Please make this happen:



P.S. A scene featuring a bucking bronco formed from the word "crime" wouldn't be mandatory, although it would be appreciated.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Wisdom of Solomon

I'm fairly certain that when Shakespeare referred to the "milk of human kindness" he was not, in fact, referring to milk's ability to douse raging infernos when you lift a tanker car full of it over a buring airplane and shake, as Cap does here in this panel from Whiz Comics #9, by Bill Parker and C.C. Beck.

February 22nd's Meanwhile, in Las Vegas...

This week's column features reviews of Drawn and Quarterly must-read Aya and the cumbersomely titled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Soul's Winter—The Collected TMNT Work of Michael Zulli (Trust me, it's as good as the title is long), plus some more thoughts on Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil.

And as long as I'm posting links...

Matt Brady and Tom Brevoort chat in detail about Civil War #7, and Brevoort brings along Millar’s outline for the end of the series, apparently just to prove nothing got changed along the way (And what, that the deadlines were missed simply because Steve McNiven draws slow, not because of rewrites?). The ending in the outline is actually pretty good, and it’s too bad Millar strayed from it so bad. Also, they forgot to make the fight spectacular, as the outline says it should be (and n all caps, no less).

The fact that so much of the interview revolves around what actually happened in the book is pretty telling about how poorly executed said book was. Should we need to check in with the editor on a comic book news site just to know what the characters’ motivations were after a goodstory?

The Invincible Super Blog once again proves it’s super-ness by presenting Civil War in 30 seconds. Add this to the list of parodies that are better-written than the original. There are some really sweet character designs in there, too.

Finally, Abhay makes fun of Civil War #7 much better than I could, although he seems to have really enjoyed it. Here's a sample: "There's this awful panel of superhero silhouettes falling from a giant cloak hovering over New York. It is very funny. Also, there's a panel of a superhero punching another superhero and saying 'That's for screwing up the plan, creep.' I like both those panels because they both feel like they came from a 4th grader's notebook. "

Civil War's Crimes Against Logic

After reading this week's concluding chapter of Civil War and before writing my contributions to next week's Best Shots column, I re-read the "Marvel Event in Seven Parts" cover-to-cover in one sitting. See, I was pretty disappointed with the conclusion of the story, and thought that may have been in large part do to how long we were kept waiting for it, thanks to several delays. The longer you wait for something, the higher your expectations get, naturally.

But even read as a whole instead of in gradual installments, there are problems with the story. Ignoring the steady drop-off in the quality of the art (and number of characters per panel and existence of backgrounds), the story itself seemed to get worse and worse as time went on.

There were several rather glaring, logic-defying holes in the story (And I don't mean things like Reed Richards protesting the Mutant Registration Act a decade ago in a different comic book, I mean within the seven issues of Civil War proper). And such holes seemed to appear more and more frequently with each passing issue.

Here are the ones I noticed, along with some other story problems that make it hard for me to believe that this Mark Millar is the same guy who did that amazing run on Superman Adventures back in the day:

1.) In Civil War #1, Goliath refers to the Stamford disaster as “the straw that broke camel’s back.” Eight pages later, Daredevil says, “Stamford’s the straw that broke the camel’s back. That’s kind of a weird coincidence isn’t it? (By the way, does Spider-Man have a villain called “The Camel?”)

2.) Why does Maria Hill have her SHIELD “Cape Killer” squad attack Captain America in #1? I can see him being angry with her and refusing to follow the order to take down his friends and allies just because she says so, but at the beginning of the scene, she says that registration “could be law in as little as a month.”

Or, in other words, it’s not the law yet. And even if it were, Captain America is an Agent of SHEILD; they already know his "secret" identity, and probably have his W-9, forwarding address, social security number and a couple of years' worth of performance evaluations on file. The man’s pre-registered for the hypothetical future law.

So what’s Hill busting him for, exactly? Refusing in advance to obey a potential order that she might make a month or so from now?

3.) When Captain America lands on the cockpit of a jet plane, the pilot says, “Jeezus!” Captain America responds by saying, “Keep flying son— And watch that potty mouth!”

A few pages earlier, Captain America says “Damn you to hell for this, Hill…”

Later he says, “Damn SHIELD Units” in CW #5 and “What the hell is going on here, Diamondback?” in CW #6.

Just saying.

4.) In Civil War #3, Reed Richards travels to Wakanda to ask King T’Challa, the Black Panther, to come back to the U.S. with him to help him hunt down Anti-Registration heroes. When the Panther points out that he’s the head of a foreign state, Reed says, “The president requested this of you personally…”

Let’s pause to think about this for a moment. Not simply that the federal United States government is approaching a foreign head of state to help them enforce a law, but that President George W. Bush is personally behind the request. Mr. Go-It-Alone. Mr. With-Us-Or-Against-Us. Mr. “Old Europe.” Mr. "Eat It, Kyoto!" Why am I having a hard time believing this? (If I were going to point out the ways in which Civil War doesn't match-up with the rest of the Marvel line, I might point out that relations between the U.S. and Wakanda are strained; the former invaded the latter recently, and is currently performing war games near its borders while plotting an invasion. But if you're not reading Black Panther, you wouldn't know that).

5.) I think my favorite part of the entire series is the panel where Hercules reveals that his secret identity is of “an I.T. consultant for a major international finance corporation,” despite the fact that he still uses the word “thou” instead of “you.” Good luck keeping that identity secret, Herc. This is one of two points in the series where I think Mark Millar's just screwing around. The other, oddly enough, also involves Hercules:

6.) Also in Civil War #3, Captain America’s entire “Secret Avengers” movement shows up at a burning chemical plant because they heard there are “three or four hundred” people trapped inside it. They mill around the empty factory, which harbors no trapped workers or emergency personnel or vehicles. Couldn't Millar have come up with a rationale that would trick me into thinking superheroes were needed there, let alone Captain America? Maybe something like The Red Skull and Dr. Doom are meeting there or something?

7.) During their fight, Iron Man totally knocks one of Captain America’s teeth out, but in the next shot we see of Cap’s mouth, all of his pearly whites are still there. Long-time Marvel fans can bitch about continuity all they want over this series, but how about a little panel-to-panel continuity between the pages of the same comic book story? Like, if you lose a tooth in one panel, it’s still lost in the next panel?

(Above: Please note Cap's teeth)

8.) After that dramatic splash-page appearance in the end of #3, Civil War #4 explains how it is that Thor is alive and teaming up with Iron Man to beat up his former friends. It turns out, he’s not actually Thor, but a clone of Thor spliced with cyborg technology.

Let’s stop and think about this for a moment. Not that Tony Stark and Reed Richards built this Clor character; cyborgs, androids and clones are a given in the Marvel Universe. But federally-funded clones created for use by the United States government? There’s suspension of disbelief, and there’s suspension of disbelief.

The Bush administration (all pictured on the last pages of Civil War #1) is against stem cell research, of course they’re against cloning too. Hell, President Bush has specifically mentioned his opposition to cloning research. There’s no way that the United States government would greenlight the creation of Clor.

Now, go ahead and tell me it’s just a comic book—I fucking dare you!

Oh, it’s just a comic book, and not about current U.S. politics, you say?

That’s funny, because in Marvel’s house ad for Civil War #7, they chose to run a quote from The Miami Herald saying, “Civil War is intriguing because of its pointed, albeit allegorical, exploration of a question that faces us in the present era of surveillance, detention and the Patriot Act.” During his high profile appearane on The Colbert Report, Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada framed the story as one premised on the very relevant debate of security vs. liberty. Additionally, Mark Millar and Paul Jenkins (in Frontline) have repeatedly called upon the imagery and language of 9/11, the Patriot Act, Guantanamo Bay, Cindy Sheehan and the Iraq War protests.

Now, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. It’s a great idea for a comic book story, and it’s definitely one I’d like to read. But if you’re going to create such a political story, why not at least take some time to get the politics right?

9.) In Civil War #4 we see a blue-eyed man in a ski mask and trenchcoat holding a pistol and hiding on a fire escape, looking down at a couple of defecting heroes. It turns out this The Punisher, as we learn in #5. So, why on earth is The Punisher wearing a mask? His entire career has been one of murdering people; he’s a wanted man who breaks dozens of laws a day, and yet he’s never felt the need to hide his face from the authorities before—in fact, he even wears a gaudy uniform with a skull on his freaking chest to clearly identify himself. So, who’s he disguising his identity from here exactly? Us. The readers. Why? Who knows. The fact that Punisher sides with Captain America was common knowledge about four months before this issue was released, and there are other ways to show a mysterious stranger lurking around without revealing their identity. Why not a sillhouette, or a close-up of his feet in the foreground and the people he's spying on in the background, either of which would imply someone standing there, without revealing their identity and without having to resort to cheating the readers.

10.) Susan Richards is upset with her husband because he helped build a killer clone of one of their friends that killed another of their friends. She also thinks he’s being “fascistic” and doesn’t pay attention to the kids (“[I] beg you to give them the time you have so often denied them in the past”).

So she does the only sensible thing she can think of; she has a romantic dinner with him, does it with him, then splits to join the team fighting against him, leaving the children in his care.

Now, what exactly is Susan Richards’ plan for the future at this point? Best case scenario is that she evades capture and lives the rest of her life on the run from the law until such point as it’s overturned and a president promises to pardon her or something. Worst-case scenario is that she gets arrested and spends forever in a Negative Zone prison. Either way, she’s not going to get much quality time with the kids.

11.) The New Thunderbolts are a bunch of mass-murderers who have had microscopic nanobots injected into their bloodstream. If they get out of line (try to kill a good guy, for example), the nanobots can fire off an electric shock. Ignoring the ethical and legal implications, it is a very odd move for Richards and Starks to make pages after their las technological achievement malfunctioned and killed one of their peers. If the “don’t blow holes in people” program in their clone/cyborg hero didn’t work, what makes them so sure their nanobots won’t similarly malfunction, and they’ll be turning Venom, Bullseye and Taskmaster loose on their former friends, allies, teammates and, um, Reed’s wife and brother-in-law?

12.) Perhaps the biggest head-scratcher of the series occurs in Civil War #5, when we see Spider-Man and Iron Man arguing in front of a huge hole in a wall for some reason.

Seriously, what the fuck is happening?

We went from Peter Parker expressing doubts to shouting at Tony about something. If you don’t read Amazing Spider-Man, you won’t realize that they’ve already come to blows over the Negative Zone prison. Of course, if you do read Amazing Spider-Man, you’ll see that there it was Tony Stark who was the aggressor, while as in CW it was Spider-Man. Just as in ASM Tony tells Spider-Man that the NZ prison is permanent solution, while in CW he says it’s temporary.

13.) SHIELD arrests Daredevil and take him to prison, but they don’t take him out of his devil suit, unmask him, or even identify him as anyone other than Dardevil (Tony calls him “Daredevil” while talking to him). So, why not? Do they let you keep your secret identity a secret up until you register? And if you don’t volunteer to register and they catch you, they hold you indefinitely without a trial in an alternate dimension…but they let you keep your secret?

14.) Underwater visiting Namor, Susan Richards stands completely erect, with both feet on the floor. Even though the room is full of water. Her hair and Namor’s billowing robe sometimes float in the water, and sometimes don’t. I know this is comic books, but I demand that they at least adhere to the science I knew by the time I was in sixth grade. If they want to make up a bunch of crazy physics that’s fine, I won’t know any better, but people and objects not floating in water, like people talking in space, is one of those things that just bugs the hell out of me.

15.) So, what is Captain America’s plan in #6 and #7 exactly? He’s supposedly a brilliant tactician and field leader, right? What’s he up to? It appears that he’s gathered his entire force and brought them with him to the Negative Zone prison. Why? Presumably to rescue the prisoners there, but then, he had Hulkling impersonating Hank Pym, and Hulkling has already managed to free the prisoners all by himself anyway, so Cap and his forces aren’t needed for that.

Of course, Cap knew Tigra was a mole, so perhaps his plan was to feint like he was attacking the prison, have Iron Man’s forces show up (Of course, he didn’t even tell Spidey about it, if that was the plan), and then surprise Iron Man in a pincer attack, with Cap’s forces attacking from the front and the rescued prisoners attacking from the rear.

But then what? Say Cap’s team totally beats the hell out of Iron Man’s, what do they do with them then? It’s not like Captain America was going to summarily execute each and ever Pro-Reg hero, right? And it’s not like he has his own giant prison complex he could throw Iron Man and the rest in. So why would Cap ever bother pressing the offensive against Iron Man? I just don’t get what the hell is going on here.

16.) In the climactic battle, Black Panther sends Cloak coordinates to teleport everyone to the Baxter Building, which is located in downtown Manhattan. Why does the Panther do this? Why not just fight it out in the Negative Zone? Or why not teleport them all to Wakanda and let his forces make the difference? Or why not teleport them to a desert, where no innocent bystanders will get hurt? Better yet, why not have Cloak teleport all of his team out, and leave Iron Man’s team stuck in the Negatize Zone until SHIELD can get the portals open for them?

17.) Why is the Sentry such a total pussy? I thought he had “the power of a million exploding suns!” He should be able to wipe the floor with Cap’s team all by himself. But he only appears in one panel, in which Hulkling and Hercules punch him in the face simultaneously. And that’s the end of Sentry. Even Bishop got up again to keep fighting after Cap stomped his head into the ground.

18.) What happens to Namor in the fight? He makes a big splashy apperance, She-Hulk refers to how Namor and Atlantis will be enough to turn the tide of battle, and then Namor completely disappears. We don’t see him at all throughout the rest of the issue. Did he and the forces of Atlantis retreat or surrender when Cap told everyone to stand down? (As if!) Why didn’t Namor take Iron Man’s head off like he almost did in New Aventers: Illuminati? Is Atlantis at war with the U.S. now?

19.) Seven ethnically diverse policeman, fireman and EMTs rush through the big superhero battle and tackle Cap simultaneously. He says he doesn’t want to hurt them, and when they point out it’s a little late for that, Cap looks around and sees sompe property damage and realizes he’s not fighting for the people, he’s just fighting.

Apparently, being tackled by uniformed emergency response people is the wake-up call Cap needs to see he’s gone too far.

In the first issue, he beats up at least 15 SHIELD agents escaping from the SHEILD Helicarrier.

In the second issue, he throws a SHIELD agent through the door of a speeding truck while on the highway in front of a few speeding police cars, causing a three-car pile-up and almost certain injuries to New York City police officers (one of the cars goes airborne and sideways in the crash).

20.) What happened to Storm? She was in the big about-to-fight two-page spread in #6, but she doesn’t appear at all in #7.

21.) In Reed Richards’ letter to his estranged wife, we learn that she has accepted the “general hero amnesty given in the wake of Captain America’s surrender.”

Who else took the amnesty? Was it offered to every Marvel hero? If the latter, what was the point of all the fighting, anyway?

The series doesn’t answer this question. We know that Lady Deathstrike, Taskmaster and Captain America are in jail, and that Luke Cage, Spider-Man, Doctor Strange and Spider-Woman “remain readicalized in the underground movement.”

As for everyone else on the anti-reg side that got significant panel-time—Cloak and Dagger, the Young Avengers, Hercules, Falcon, Dardevil, Black Panther, Monica Rambeau—no word.

22.) And on the subject of that letter, did Reed Richards really write the words "old school?"

23.) Hank Pym was named “Man of the Year” in Time magazine. Not Tony Stark, but Hank Pym. Okay, fine, whatever. What makes this so weird is that the cover shows an image of Pym shaking hands with the Black Panther, who not only fought against Pym in the “Civil War,” but did so specifically because Pym, Stark and Richards’ side killed Black Panther’s friend Goliath. (Bonus: Does this mean the story wrapped up in December after all?)

24.) As Tony Stark, the new director of SHIELD, brags about his accomplishments in the last scene of the story, he smiles, “Do you really think I’d let anyone else guard my friends’ identities?”

So, is that what this was all about? If so, I’ve got two questions.

How many of Stark’s (former) friends and allies even have secret identities? Seriously, think about the number of old, New or Mighty Avengers with secret identities. All I can come up with are…Sentry and Spider-Woman...maybe?

And if that was Stark’s motivation, why on earth did he push Spider-Man to unmask on live television?

Well, that's only 24 problems with the story, or less than four per issue. Huzzah!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Weekly Haul: February 21st

52 #42 (DC Comics) This issue brings a conclusion to another of the series’ ongoing storyline—that of Ralph Dibny. After he and the Helmet of Fate journey to Fate’s tower and perform a ritual, they lay all their cards on the table in a wonderful, exposition-filled sequence that’s chockfull of surprises, even if some of them were so obvious that Newsarama posters have been correctly guessing them for months now (And editor Michael Siglain totally lied about one of those things just last Friday). It was an enormously satisfying conclusion though, one that takes us all the way back to the first appearance of Ralph in 52 and shows us that nothing was really as it seems. While I’m a big Elongated Man fan, even more so after wending my way through Showcase Presents: Elongated Man and now 52, after the events of Identity Crisis, he’s a little like Batman without Robin or Superman without Lois Lane—just not as much fun as he was. If he doesn’t get back up in the next ten issues—and remember, time is broken, and there’s magic and metafiction afoot—I’m okay with it. The only other storyline touched on in this issue is Montoya’s, which includes some more first-person narration, and hint # 2,765 that she might become the Question II (Please don’t maker her the Question II, please don’t make her the Question II, please don’t make her the Question II…). Stronger than usual art is provided by Darick Robertson, and Green Arrow penciller Scott McDaniels joins Waid for the origin of GA in the back-up slot.

Amazing Spider-Man #538 (Marvel Comics) Writer J. Michael Straczynski and penciller Ron Garney have given us the “Civil War” story of the week, an issue that devotes much less space to the climactic Battle of Manhattan than Civil War #7 did, but gets much more mileage out of it. On pages three and four Garney gives us the sort of money shot that was completely missing from CW #7—sure, it’s not as slickly drawn, inked and colored as anything in CW, but at least it’s dynamic and seems to be depicting an actual battle consisting of many heroes, rather than a few random characters posing. In the next few pages, we even see an acrobatic Captain America blocking one of Iron Man's repulsor rays with his shield—you know, the sort of thing you’d expect to happen in a fight between the two. JMS gives us some interesting reactions to the battle as well, including Wilson Fisk’s and J. Jonah Jameson’s, but it’s the last panel that is the biggest moment in the world of Spidey—the sniper assassin paid to kill either Peter Parker or Mary Jane and Aunt May takes his shot and tags one of them. It's a wound rather than a deathblow, but that doesn't mean the victim won't die in the next issue. Spidey's gotta be wearing black for some reason, right?

Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis #49 (DC) Thus concludes the two-part story reinventing The Fisherman as a scary customer, and Kurt Busiek’s too-short run on the title. Busiek was on to something with his reinvention of Aquman as a swordfish and sorcery story, but he never went anywhere with it, and seems to be bailing way to early; if the story of the transformed and amnesiac Orin and the new Arthur “Aquaman” Curry is going anywhere, it will be up to someone else to see it get there. This issue is full of dream sequences from the various hosts of the Fisherman’s sentient hood, which is revealed to be a sort of scout for the old gods of H.P. Lovecraft’s cosmology. Lovecraft and Aquaman go together surprisingly well (see JLA: Seven Caskets, and the Aquaman episodes of Justice League Unlimited), as do artists Mike Manley and Ricardo Villagran.

Birds of Prey #103 (DC) Writer Gail Simone takes a step back to reveal the past between Barbara Gordon and Katarina Armstrong, the lame-ass new Spy Smasher. Not sure about the ending, though—if Oracle doesn’t want to break her dad’s heart by getting arrested, how about she just avoid getting arrested and beat Katarina at her own game? Hero up, Babs! I haven’t been into the re-relaunch much (though I really dig new artist Nicola Scott) and would probably finally drop the book with this issue, but with Ragdoll and Catman on the cover of next issue, how can I quit now?

The Brave and the Bold #1 (DC) The ultimate team-up title gets relaunched with the ultimate creative team at it’s helm, writer Mark Waid and artist George Perez. It’s classic, old-school comic book writing with modern sophistication, paired with the best art you’ll find in any superhero comic book on the shelves this week. Perez simply draws the hell out of everything; each character is as unique and distinct as a real person, no details are skimped on (even full-page splashes have crazy amounts of detail in them), and most pages have panel counts that would make most superstar artists cry just thinking about. As for the story, Waid plays it as a sort of cosmic cop show, with Hal Jordan calling Batman in to consult. It’s simply packed with awesomeness; the scene of Batman whipping exploding Batarangs in rapid succession is remarkable, but it’s eclipsed by the one in which undercover Bruce Wayne and Hal Jordan visit a casino looking for clues. In this new era of event comics, this is the series I’m suddenly the most excited about, the one that promises strong characterization, interesting stories and wonderful art on a monthly basis.

Cable/Deadpool #37 (Marvel) This is only my second issue of this series. Fabian Nicieza delivers another witty, fast-paced, Cable-free script with a fairly wacky plot—The Rhino has Deadpool shrunk to keychain-size and uses him as a keychain—but penciller Staz Johnson’s work is rather unremarkable, and I’m not exactly sure what this title offers that She-Hulk and now Punisher War Journal don’t already offer.

Civil War #7 (Marvel) To wildly inappropriately co-op a line from T.S. Eliott, this is the way Civil War ends, not with a bang but a whimper. After almost a year of build-up throughout the Marvel line, there was precious little blow-up in this climactic issue, and even less by way of resolution to, well, anything (After finishing #7, it’s clear that Marvel hasn’t scheduled all those codas and epilogues simply to cash-in, but because readers might like a little clarification on what exactly happened at the end of this story). Millar brings Sue and Reed back together just as lazily and clumsily as he broke them up, announces Tony Stark's new role in the Marvel Universe (Um, didn’t we all see him get the job offer a couple months back in New Avengers #25?), and three characters go to jail. Other than that, it’s unclear which heroes end up where and why. What’s more disappointing, however, is how poorly written and drawn the action is, which means even the visceral thrills one might expect from an 18-page fight sequence are missing. Penciller Steve McNiven is joined by a small army of inkers again, but things still seem sparse and unclear—there isn’t a single panel along the lines of the two-page spread in #6 that set up this battle (reprinted on the recap page), no single image that grabs your eye and forces you to look at the battle and consider its enormity (Even the unfinished, ugly-ass spread of the Battle of Metropolis in Infinite Crisis #7 featured an actual army of characters). Most panels just have a half-dozen heroes or so in random poses punching one another, and then trading partners at random. In one panel, for example, Captain America literally smashes Bishop’s face into the pavement, but six pages later he's up and getting kicked in the face by Spidey. A whole background-less splash page is devoted to Namor appearing (in the company of Atlanteans who seem to be literally falling out of the sky), and then he promptly disappears for the rest of the issue. When Cap orders his team to stand down, why the hell would Namor or the Atlanteans obey him? What happens to Cap’s forces, anyway? We know a couple end up on the run in New Avengers (and this issue shows four of them), but where are Falcon, or Hercules, or the Young Avengers now? Why didn’t Sentry or Captain Marvel (whose one-panel cameo among Hank Pym's artificially created heroes must have been quite the “What the fuck--?!” moment if you skipped Civil War: The Return) do anything in the course of the fight? Shouldn’t the “power of a million exploding suns” be worth a little more in a fight than, say, Spider-Man’s flying kicks? I enjoyed exactly three panels of this issue, and those were the ones featuring Hercules’ goofy god-speak political allusion.

The Immortal Iron Fist #3 (Marvel) Writers Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction have a hell of an art team to work with. Flashbacks come courtesy of Travel Foreman and Russ Heath (!), with the bulk of the issue being drawn by David Aja, whose graceful page lay out is a beauty to behold. The way Danny Rand leaps through the nine-panel grid on page 14? Simply sublime. Unfortunately, it’s right next to a big, garish ad for Hellboy Animated, which isn’t even the most obnoxious ad in the book (Who in God’s name is the Amazing Spider-Man Express for, exactly? The same people who are going to go see a month-old horror movie that’s advertised in this issue for some reason?). I’ve really dug Aja’s character designs and action sequences, as well as the string of guest artists contributing flashbacks, but I think I’d prefer to enjoy them in an ad-free trade collection, so I’ll be bidding this book farewell for now.

Marvel Adventures Avengers #10 (Marvel) Ah, just what I needed to cleanse my soul after Civil War #7. It’s another action, story and joke-packed issue of Jeff Parker’s Avengers series, still the best Avengers series Marvel is currently publishing. Cap, Iron Man, Bruce Banner and Wolverine journey to a nearby Renaissance Fair (“Yon newbs have confused Ren Fair with a Hero Con,” a regular remarks) to investigate a strange energy signature. Could it have something to do with the presence of Morgan Le Fay and the Black Knight? That's probably a safe assumption. While it can’t compete with the all-MODOC issue (can anything?), this was still a really fun story, from the image of Wolverine seemingly threatening his steed with his claws on Cameron Stewart’s cover image to Tony Stark’s revelation that in college he “majored in making battle suits.”

The New Avengers: Illuminati #2 (Marvel) The Marvel heroes turned mass-murderers who make up the Illuminati take a break from wholesale slaughter to split into teams and quest for the Infinity Gems. This issue contained the best sound effect of the week, called upon to simulate the sound of a mentally-created sea monster snapping at Namor: “KACHOMP!” Question: Does Doctor Strange’s cape appear when he’s in his astral form? I thought the cape didn’t follow him into the astral realm, as its shown to do here. Maybe we should wait for Neilalien to weigh in on this important matter.

Punisher War Journal #4 (Marvel) Okay, so we’ve seen villains all gather to mourn the passing of one of their own before (most recently in Geoff Johns’ Flash), and we’ve seen the bar where all the loser villains hang out together before (Identity Crisis, JLI and JSA leap most immediately to mind), but it’s always fun to see the likes of The Prowler, The Gibbon, The Armadillo, The Rhino, The Eel, The Grizzly and a reprogrammed Doombot all in the same room at the same time, isn’t it? That’s the rough plot of this issue of PWJ, as the villains all gather to pay their respects at a wake for Stilt-Man, and Punny takes advantage of the situation to cross some more names off his “to kill” list. The story is very well done, but the art, by Mike Deodato, seems dark, murky and a little too serious—tonally, it doesn’t fit the characters or the story well at all.

She-Hulk #16 (Marvel) Okay, so I know Greg Horn does nice cheesecake pin-up art, but is there any chance we can get Rick Burchett to handle covers as well, so we can avoid future images like this? The insides of the book are much, much prettier, thanks to Burchett’s wonderful line work. Shulkie continues to hunt down Hulk’s rogues in “Planet Without a Hulk,” and she and SHEILD journey to the frozen north to tackle the Wendingo. Wolverine is tracking the beast too, which leads to a hell of a team-up and the least gay fastball special in a while. Plus, back in the city, Two-Gun Kid cleans up for a night on the town, and we learn the truth about whether or not Shulky and Juggy ever hooked up or not.

The Spirit #3 (DC) Darwyn Cooke retells the origin of the title character in this installment, which gets inside the various characters heads to allow each of them to narrate a scene or so from their own perspective. I’m not a big fan of this novelistic approach to comics (particularly after seeing Brad Meltzer abuse it so bad in JLoA), but if Cooke can do wrong, I’ve yet to see it.

Superman #659 (DC) Is Superman really an angel sent from God? That’s what church lady and neighborhood activist Barbara Johnson sincerely believes when Superman coincidentally answers a few of her prayers in this well-told done-in-one by regular Superman writer Kurt Busiek and his occasional collaborator Fabian Nicieza.

Wonder Woman #4 (DC) Writer Allan Heinberg and artists Terry and Rachel Dodson deliver only their fourth issue in eight months (The series debuted in June of last year). What’s taken them so long? No clue, as this issue of WW, like the three before it, is hardly very complex, but is rather pretty much as straightforward as a superhero comic can get (Terry Dodson’s costume redesigns continue to be the strongest attribute, and in this ish he gives us Circe an Evil Wonder Woman costume). The timeline makes zero sense, but perhaps editor Matt Idelson didn’t want to point that out to Heinberg, for fear that rewrites might take a few more months. Check it out, in JLoA #0, Diana is all decked out as Wonder Woman and meets with Superman and Batman for the very first time since Infinite Crisis. In JSoA #1, she, Superman and Batman meet with the elder statesmen of the old JSA and ask them to build better superheroes, which results in their creating a bigger team, including the likes of Liberty Belle, and getting a new headqurters. In this issue, set before JLoA and JSoA, Diana, who has yet to regain her Wonder Woman powers and costume, visits the new JSA headquarters and the new team, including Liberty Belle. No wonder DC’s decided to give up on this story altogether.

The Week in Wolvie

I can't decide which is my favorite Wolverine panel of the week.

This image from She-Hulk #16 by Rick Burchett and Cliff Rathburn, which depicts Wolvie and She-Hulk getting ready to hit Wendigo with a very special "fastball special" (Nevermind the bit about butt-touching, I just love the site of Wolverine curling up into a perfectly balanced little ball like that)...

...or this image from Marvel Adventures Avengers #10 by Juan Santacruz and Raul Fernandez, which shows Wolverine indulging in some of Jarvis' tea.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

52 II: The Sequel

So you’ve no doubt heard the news that DC’s long-rumored sequel to weekly series 52 has finally been announced (If not, check out Rich Johnston’s Lying in the Gutters and, for news, discussion, and an image…and while I hate to suggest it, Wizard does have the best look at an image, as well as an interview with Dini*).

I’m not surprised at all by the news, and not simply because Johnston’s been posting rumors about it for so long. Look at any sales data from the last forty-some weeks, and it’s clear that 52 is DC’s, if not the entire American comic industry’s, biggest and most consistent hit. While most DC titles struggle to break 50,000, 52 gets in the ninety-thousands and one-hundred-thousands every month…four times!

And it does this without any big-name stars (or even guest-stars…it was 30-some issues before Batman even appeared), nor any big-name artists. The art is usually competent and consistent, but it’s certainly not the best in the biz, giving lie to the fact that readers demand super-rendered, slow-to-produce art like that of the Jim Lees, Adam Kuberts and Ethan Van Scivers on the company’s roster.

DC is a business, so of course they will want to continue their biggest hit in some form, preferably with as little downtime as possible (in this case, no downtime).

That fictional universe is Marvel and DC’s greatest assets, why not tell a story set in it? It makes keeping your trademarks current easier, it rewards fans who love seeing the likes of even Professor fucking Milo pop up, and it tells a trade paperback-busting story that can only be told in your sorts of comics (I think that, properly utilized, such a comic book would also be the perfect way to advertise the rest of the line; why not have new characters like Aquaman II and Blue Beetle III show up in a series that 90,000-100,000 of your readers are already picking up? Certainly Vic Sage, John Henry Irons and Ralph Dibny have more fans now than they did a year ago).

An ongoing weekly series set concurrently with the rest of the DCU or Marvel U, instead of the pocketed “missing year” that 52 has been detailing, would additionally cover the companies’ asses when screw-ups like the Wonder Woman relaunch occur. Were it not for Justice League of America and Manhunter, much of the last year would have passed without Wonder Woman even appearing in the DCU; Batman, Superman, Supergirl and Green Lantern are also characters whose titles have had a hard time coming out once a month of late. But if they’re all appearing in DC Weekly or whatever, well, at least we can get fixes, right?

From a consumer’s perspective, I welcome more 52; there have been very few weeks this past year when it wasn’t the book I read first, and I like—no, love—knowing there will be at least one superhero comic book I’m genuinely excited about every week.

From a creative standpoint, I think this is exactly the sort of title both Marvel and DC should be publishing. In it’s very best issues—#1, #24 and the Christmas issue spring immediately to mind—especially, 52 has been the story of a year in the life of a fictional universe.

Looking backwards, it would have been great to have such a title in place for older events like “The Death of Superman” and the year in which he was dead (we saw relatively little of the universe mourning Superman back then, or how his fictional world would change without him in it), or “No Man’s Land” in the Bat-titles; a book where we can see the B-through Z-List responding to universe shaking events like, I don’t know, the temporary death of Wonder Woman or the world-wide war that occurred mostly off panel in Grant Morrison’s final JLA arc.

All that said, I find myself pretty unenthusiastic about the little information we have thus far:

Written by Paul Dini and others
Breakdowns by Keith Giffen
51 written by Paul Dini; art by Jesus Saiz
50 written by Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray; art by Jim Calafiore
49 written by Tony Bedard; art by Carlos Magno
48 written by Adam Beechen; art by David Lopez
Covers by Andy Kubert & Tim Townshend

The event of the year is here! This brand-new, year-long weekly series features a cast of hundreds where anything goes! With head writer Paul Dini and a rotating team of some of the industry’s best writers and artists, COUNTDOWN will serve as the backbone of the DCU in 2007.

When a character dies in COUNTDOWN 51, it sets off an unexpected ripple that will touch virtually every character in the DC Universe.

The COUNTDOWN is on…so begins the end!
COUNTDOWN 51 on sale May 9
COUNTDOWN 50 on sale May 16
COUNTDOWN 49 on sale May 23
COUNTDOWN 48 on sale May 30
32 pg, FC, $2.99 US”

Now, 52 had a writing team that was simply unfuckwithable. Long-time DC editor, writer and fan Mark Waid; current golden boy Geoff Johns, who was writing half the line; Grant Morrison who has written some of the best DC super-stories of all-time and fill notebooks with ideas for relaunching characters; and Greg Rucka, whom is a good writer who apparently just started reading DC comics the month he started working there (and even then, only the Bat-titles).

Yeah, I’m not a Rucka fan, and his horrible OMAC Project drained my dwindling respect for his abilities (His Detective Comics run and “No Man’s Land” work, however? Top-notch!)

But each of those other three bring an awful lot to the table when it comes to universe building. Morrison’s worked on all of the DC’s biggest characters, has encyclopedic knowledge of it’s fringe characters, and is brimming with new takes on old concepts. “Encyclopedic” does a disservice to Waid’s knowledge of the DCU minutae; I’ve seen the guy do trivia at cons, and it’s downright scary. Johns has developed a rep as something of a broken character doctor, and while he’s yet to deliver a masterpiece or even, really, really, really great comic book work, he’s one of the most reliable workman in comics, and has the benefit of knowing where all of the characters were coming from and where they were going.

These new writers? I’m not exactly excited. I loved Paul Dini’s collaborations with Alex Ross, but those were all out-of-continuity. Ditto Mad Love, one of the best Batman stories ever, but again, out of continuity. All we really have to go on of Dini in the DCU is his ’TEC run, and maybe Zatanna: Everyday Magic. How will he fare with the rest of the universe? I have no idea.

The other writers mentioned include Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray, a solid and reliable team, but then, I’ve dropped every series of theirs I’ve started (in the case of Jonah Hex, I just moved to trades, but still); Tony Bedard’s a decent writer who is rumored to be taking on a book featuring one of the JLA’s Big Seven, but I have a hard time recalling more than a book or two of his that I’ve even read; and as for Adam Beechen, the bulk of his experience has been in the fun but usually overly preachy JLU; thus far, his DCU work has been among the worst writing I’ve ever read in a DCU book, and is certainly riddled with more continuity errors and off-portrayals than any DCU book.

Not mentioned in the solicitation copy shared on is that Columbus’ own Sean McKeever will be involved (at least according to Dini in Wizard). This is great news, I think. McKeever does pretty incredible character work, and it’s nice to see him getting to work on a guaranteed hit like this. But as great a writer as McKeever may be, he’s still no Waid or Morrison, nor does he have the background with the DCU that Waid, Morrison or even Johns had.

Perhaps most disheartening though, is this: “When a character dies in COUNTDOWN 51, it sets off an unexpected ripple that will touch virtually every character in the DC Universe.”

Yeah, I know, it’s just a super-vague, one-sentence description, but isn’t that the way that Countdown to Infinite Crisis and it’s four tie-in minis started? And Identity Crisis? And Infinite Crisis? And JSA started? And JSoA? And Titans/Young Justie: Graduation Day? If it’s not a murder mystery, it doesn’t have to start with a dead body.

And not every superhero comic has to be a murder mystery. Among the things I liked best about 52 is that rather than a story of who killed Sue Dibny or who will die next, there was positive types of suspense. Who is Supernova? What are the mad scientists up to? Who’s their ringleader? What did the space heroes see that they weren’t supposed to? Will Ralph be able to bring his wife back from the dead? What does “52” mean, exactly? Yes, there have been dismembered corpses and people torn in half and dangling viscera, but at least that wasn’t what was driving the whole story.

I’m also surprised to see Andy Kubert doing covers. Outside of Jim Lee, he’s probably DC’s “hottest” artist, but can he draw 52 covers? Thus far, his entire DC outuput has consisted of just five DC covers, one page of JLoA #0, and 88 pages of Batman interiors. Isn’t asking for 52 covers just going to keep him from drawing any more issues of Batman?

That aside, Kubert’s a great artist, but is he a great cover artist? I would have preferred to see J.G. Jones keep at it, or someone like Dave Johnson, James Jean or Kaare Andrews, whose covers are usually so strong it’s the only incentive you need to buy the books they’re on.

I hope DC doesn’t do this in real time, because the characters are already growing up too fast and also because the “Week 1, Day 4” crap is distracting and, ultimately pointless. 52 could just as easily been a real-time story with a looser time table; we know it’s winter because theres’s snow on the ground, not because it’s 30 weeks since spring or whatever. Those who pay attention to the datelines just find plenty of mistakes there, as they open up opportunities to question the stories (Nat hasn’t changed clothes for two days? The Horseman’s grand entrance involved three weeks of hiding out?), and it doesn’t really add thing.

Finally, lets’ take a look at that image.

Come May, Captain Marvel will still be all Shazamified (and wearing the same outfit as Mary Marvel—awk-waarrd!), Martian Manhunther will still be rocking his stupid new look, the original Aquaman will still be missing and an OMAC is still running around the DCU (Seriously? Someone’s actually reading that series?).

Adam Strange, Starfire, Black Adam and Steel all seem to survive 52 after all (Sweet! Now get Steel on the JLA already). No sign of Isis, Elongated Man, The Question, Booster Gold or Animal Man, though.

Kyle Rayner totally runs like a girl; you can fly man, get up in the air already!

And hey, look, there’s Batgirl in her Batgirl costume! Considering everyone here’s a good guy (I guess; is Red Hood a good guy or a bad guy or what now?), does this mean Cassandra Cain is a good guy again?

*And why does DC give this “scoop” to Wizard instead of an industry media outlet that is much less offensive to the eyes, brain and soul than that juvenile embrassment? Good question, Caleb. I wonder if it has something to do with Wizard apparently agreeing not to stray too far from a list of questions DC provided them. Seriously, look at the first few questions on the second page, it looks like Dini is saying, “Okay, no ask me this” between his answers and their questions.