Sunday, June 29, 2008

The "What If...?" FF's snazzy new costumes

My sole disappointment with last year's Jeff Parker and Mike Wieringo collaboration Spider-Man and The Fantastic Four was that when Reed Richards went off to space and asked Spidey to fill-in as a member of the Four for him, he handed him a little press-on FF badge (seen above).

In my head, I was imagining how cool it would have been if Spidey got a special Fantastic Four-ized version of his costume to wear with the team, in their blue-colors and with a "4" instead of a Spider icon.

So I was downright giddy when I saw the "What If?" FF of Spider-Man, Wolverine, The Hulk and Ghost Rider don their own versions of FF uniforms in Wednesday's What If This Was the Fantastic Four?: A Tribute to Mike Wieringo.

The premise of the story, also written by Parker with art begun but sadly never finished by the late Wieringo, is that Reed, Johnny and Sue died and Ben gave up super-heroing to raise Franklin Richards, leaving Spidey, Wolvie, Ghostie and ol' Jade, ol' Gray Gams to fill set up shop in The Baxter Building and slap down the likes of Blastaar and Dr. Doom on the behalf of their predecessors.

Here's a wonderful little sequence in which they go into action in their new uniforms for the first time. Peter Parker and Johnny Blaze/Danny Ketch (it was supposed to be the latter, but is drawn like the former; it's explained in the book) are at an oudoor cafe when The Sandman appears, and Ghost Rider vomits out a signal flare for his commrades:

(The first two panels were penciled by Alan Davis; the third one is by Casey Jones)

Here's the best look at all four of the costumes at the same time, from the original cover by David Williams and Arthur Adams (They ended up re-purposing a splash page Wieringo drew as the cover for the project, once it transtitioned from just another Marvel What If? special into a tribute book):

Pretty cool, huh?

In the upper lefthand corner is another group shot of the team in their uniforms. He's not credited with it on the page, but that sure looks like Wieringo's work, doesn't it?

Here's a closer look:

Finally, Chris Giarrusso contribued a one-page Mini Marvels strip to the book, featuring the "random group of four heroes" filling in for the official Four. In the last panel, they also adopt Fantastic Four-ized versions of their costumes:

I like the way the other costumes match one another better, but these are kinda fun too, particularly Hulk's and Ghost Rider's.

Hey, check it out:

Looks like Ghostie is a Guy Gardner fan. It works for him.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The most mind-blowing moment in Showcase Presents: The Brave and The Bold Vol. 2

I know it seems odd to say this about a book containing almost 500 pages worth of Batman comics written by Bob Haney, including stories in which Batman and Sgt. Rock fight the devil or Batman gets possessed by a pirate and tries to bring his mad scientist father back from the dead—but the scene that blew my mind harder than any other was this one:

It's drawn by Jim Aparo and it's from 1973 story "The 3-Million Dollar Sky" in Brave and the Bold #107. It should have been the sexiest issue of Brave and the Bold ever, as it does include Black Canary going undercover as a stewardess to fight skyjackers and this scene of her changing into her battle-lingerie, but please, join me and looking closely at Black Canary's legs, particularly the upper-thigh/hip area.

Note that the's apparently pulling her right fishnet stocking up over her bare leg, and that she's already wearing her black one-piece bathing suit costume thing.

Does this mean that Black Canary puts that on first, and then puts on her fishnets? Is that even possible? Look, I know I'm not the Internet's leading authority on ladies wear, but my whole life I always assumed that Canary had to put her tights on first, and then get into her body suit. I assumed they'd have to be a single pair of tights—the kind that look like stretchy little pants—instead of two individual stockings. But if they are individual stockings, as this image seems to indicate, does that mean she just kind of tucks them up into her bathing suit-looking thing? Or are there, like, snaps on the top of her tights that keep them in place? Maybe some kind of tiny little garter-like system, invisible to the human eye from this distance?

It just doesn't make any sense!!!

Of course, it could just be that Aparo drew the panel however he wanted without stopping to think too hard about how ladies would wear fishnet stockings with their superhero costumes.

Like how Green Arrow probably doesn't really wear his quiver full of arrows under his two suit coats when he's in his Oliver Queen secret identity despite what Dick Dillin might have drawn in JLoA #163...

Friday, June 27, 2008

Batman, The World's Greatest Detective

(From DC's Batman: Gotham After Midnight #2 by Steve Niles and Kelley Jones)

Thursday, June 26, 2008


ON THE SUBJECT OF DAN DIDIO: I don’t really have much to say about the will he/won’t he/should he/shouldn’t he go discussion regarding Dan DiDio that’s been such a hot topic on the comics blogoshpere this past week, but I did sigh so hard my soul slipped out of mouth for a few minutes when I read about DiDio at the state of the industry panel at Charlotte, North Carolina’s Heroes Con.

I’ve read this quote a couple of different places at this point, but the first place I read it was here. Apparently DiDio said, “We have the same characters…there’s only so much you can do with them. You’ve seen it all, you’ve heard it all.”

That is absolutely the most depressing thing I’ve ever heard.

ANOTHER DEPRESSING THING DIDIO SAID: In this con report from Comic Book Resources, writer Brian Carlton quotes DiDio saying, “Let’s just say Bruce Wayne goes away. Who should step into Batman’s shoes?”

According to the coverage, fans gave answers, and DiDio prompted others.

For example, should it be Dick “Nightwing” Grayson who temporarily replaces Batman, just like in “Prodigal”? Should it be Jason “The Robin Who Died Twenty Years Ago But is Now Back and Kinda Evil” Todd, which would give us a darker, more hardcore and violent Batman, like when Jean Paul-Valley was Batman in “Knightquest: The Crusade” and “KnightsEnd?” Or should it be Tim “Robin III” Drake, which would give us a teenage Batman, like in cartoon Batman Beyond?

(Note: Oh hey, Chris Sims already pointed much of that out, huh?)

I’m assuming it will be Tim Drake at this point. Mostly because he’s the only character “Batman R.I.P.” writer Grant Morrison has included in his run on Batman so far. Nightwing has a couple lines in the one issue with a guest artist even worse than Tony Daniel, but that’s it; Jason Todd hasn’t appeared at all. So it would be awfully weird for either of them to suddenly show up and start being Batman (Damian’s probably too little to be a candidate; although a little kid Batman might be kind of cute. Maybe he’ll be Tim Drake’s Robin, proving the “Batman and Robin will never die!” opening line of “Batman R.I.P.”)

This also “fits” with things like Chuck Dixon leaving Robin and Batman and The Outsdiers (“Oh geez Chuck; we’re glad you worked ahead six months and all but did we forget to mention that Tim Drake is going to Batman for the next five months? Would you mind, like rewriting all those issues for us?”) and Robin not appearing in this teaser image from this week’s DC Nation column.

Although just because making Tim Drake temporarily Batman seems like the best of the three bad options offered, and the least unoriginal of the three, that doesn’t make it a good idea. If they’re going to temporarily replace Batman again, I’d prefer they go with someone totally out of left field, like, say, John Henry Irons or Aquaman or Anarky or Dr. John Eagle. At least then it would be interesting.

AND SPEAKING OF SIMS: If anyone in the DC Showcase Presents-making department is, like, scouring comics blogs to gauge interest, I’d totally by the hell out of a Showcase Presents: Sugar and Spike.

ON DIRK DEPPEY ON DAN DIDIO Deppey’s was one of the most fun of the DiDio-related posts I’ve read, in part because of the colorful description of DC’s editorial structure (“Unlike Marvel, where power is relatively centralized under a strong editor in chief, DC’s editorial structure is notoriously Balkanized, with multiple fiefdoms competing for attention and funding, all the while attempting to keep other departments from intruding on their turf”) and his likening to all commentary on the inner workings of DC as “Kremlinology” (DC’s Paul Levitz seemed to like it himself, if his latest Blog@Newsarama contribution is anything to go by).

Deppey did say two things I wanted to address, beyond noting how much I like reading Deppey’s writing.

First, there’s this:

The notion that DiDio’s alleged incompetence has hurt DC assumes that DC was competently run and produced top-quality books before he took over. One has to ask how much evidence is there to support this. Aside from the occasional Ed Brubaker Catwoma, were DC’s books really all that great before DiDio’s reign began? Remember, he became executive editor around the same time that Joe Quesada and Bill Jemas had begun turning a notoriously damaged Marvel Comics around earlier in the decade. While superhero fans who decry the loss of quality in DC’s output shouldn’t be ignored — they are the ones buying the damned things, after all — we shouldn’t discount the notion that the recent improvements over at Marvel also serve as significant factors in the current gap between the two companies, either.

As one of the persons who buys the damned things, I feel qualified to answer this: Yes.

Or, at least, DC was producing more top-quality books, or the quality across the line was generally higher.

This is, of course, merely an opinion, but the quality on almost all of the franchises seems to have plummeted the last few years, whether that’s DiDio’s fault or not.

It was Morrison’s JLA run that got me into the Justice League, but since then I’ve been able to read any Justice League book out of a back issue bin and find something to like in it. Even the valleys between the peaks of the Giffen/DeMatteis and Morrison-followed-by-Waid era always had something to offer (Dan Jurgens’ art, weird-ass characters like Maya, Lionheart, El Diablo, Blue Devil and The Yazz, whatever) and were, at the very least, readable.

I can’t even force myself to read JLoA now. The art isn’t even competent anymore; it’s like you’re a teacher and a kid hands in hand-written homework with penmanship so illegible you can’t make even figure out what he’s trying to say.

DC has always had shitty, line-wide crossovers. But, again, I can pick up even the most maligned of these—Millennium, the New Blood annuals—and find them legible, consistent and at least somewhat limited in scope, so that if even if I’m not enjoying it, I know it will be over soon.

For example, if the The Joker’s Last Laugh or Our Worlds At War sucked (I think they both had their moments, actually), at least they only sucked for a few months, and any damage they did to the line was limited to those months. Countdown sucked for an entire year, and dragged many books down with it—it’s over and it continues to cause massive story damage (and thus, indirectly, sales damage) to books.

The biggest thing that seems to have changed, however, is my confidence with DCU products. I used to believe that someone, somewhere at the company knew enough about the characters and their history that I did; that the things that happened to them made at least a superhero comics amount of sense.

If an always heroic hero were to suddenly turn into a villain, it would be given an in-story explanation I could believe because I wanted to believe it, not just occur at random in an event contrary to everything everyone knew about the character (Compare Hank Hall or Hal Jordan’s turns to the dark side vs. those of Max Lord, Dr. Leslie Thompkins, Captain Atom or Batgirl).

If a dead hero were going to come back to life, it would have to happen within the bounds of what’s been established as semi-plausible in the context of the setting, again keeping in mind that the audience is more than willing to meet you half way as long as you give us something (Compare Oliver Queen and Hal Jordan’s resurrections to that of Jason Todd).

These are just individual, too-specific examples, however; probably waaaayyyy to specific for ayone who doesn’t buy the damned things. Let me put it this way instead. DC no longer seems to have any sort of plan, and it shows in a way that, if they have always been flying by the seat of their pants, I didn’t really start noticing until around the time of Infinite Crisis. And here the examples are legion, and seemingly occurring more and more frequently.

Take the death of Spoiler, killed at the hands of Dr. Leslie Thompkins. And then the story about how she never really died because, come on, Thompkins killing someone? That’s stupid, we’d never do that.

Or Supergirl, a title that changes creative teams every few months.

Or the bizarre relaunch, de-launch, relaunch of The Flash franchise.

Or altering Wonder Woman’s fictional history for a story arc that never really panned out, and the, what, half-dozen writers on her title since it was relaunched?

Or what exactly happened to the Multiverse in Infinite Crisis being changed between the time the seventh issue shipped and the time the series was collected in a trade (and its contents altered).

Or Adam Beechen being announced as the new Teen Titans writer, writing a whole one issue solo, and then surrendering the title to Sean McKeever.

Or Sean McKeever bein announced as the new Birds of Prey writer, doing a whole story arc, and then surrendering the title to Tony Bedard, whose prior “fill-in” run was as long as McKeever’s “ongoing” run.

Or Tony Bedard setting up a run on Batman and the Outsiders, only to be replaced by Chuck Dixon (after Peter Tomasi was announced) who is leaving after his first story arc to be replaced by Frank Tieri.

Seriously, one need only read the comics—or the solicitation copy for them—to realize things are a lot more chaotic than they were one, three or five years ago.

It’s clear that too few writers, artists and editors have been paying attention to what’s been going on in the recent past, but that no one’s particularly paying attention to what’s going on more than a few months away, either, and that disconnect from fictional history (if “continuity” is a bad word) and inability to make any status quo at least feel somewhat semi-permanent is deadly to a shared fictional universe.

And then there’s this from Deppey: “The last DC golden age that I remember was in the mid-to-late 1980s, and a proposed ratings system ended that one by chased the talent away. Have DC’s mainline titles ever really shined since then?”

I know the expression “ the ’90s” is a dirty one when talking comics (and with good reason), but whatever the state of DC’s line in aggregate, the decade gave us Grant Morrison’s JLA run, James Robinson and company’s Starman, Garth Ennis and John McCrea’s Hitman, high-quality DCU books like Tom Peyer and Rags Morales’ Hourman, John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake’s The Spectre, hell even Martian Manhunter, Resurrection Man, Chronos and much of Impulse were great comics. It was an exceptional decade for the Vertigo imprint, and even WildStorm still had some genuine hits—creative and commercial—at the time.

Now, I didn’t pay much—okay, any—attention to sales back then, but I know a lot of the DCU books must not have found audiences, based on how long they lasted. But a few of those—JLA and Starman—were somewhat commercially successful.

ON STEVEN GRANT ON DAN DIDIO: This is a really good piece, and likely to be the last one on DiDio for a while. I think/hope.

ON WHY NO ONE WOULD WANT DAN DIDIO'S JOB ANYWAY: In the aforementioned DC Nation column for this week, DiDio has to pretend that he actually likes and is excited about shit like this:
If that isn't the hardest job in the whole history of the world, I don't know what is.

I WAS WRONG AND MARVEL WAS RIGHT: In discussing Marvel’s upcoming “monkey variant” covers on some of their books last week, I kinda made fun of the idea that the company assumed any kind of variant—zombie, Skurll, monkey—would be worthwhile.

Well, let me take my mild derision back. See, no one told me the monkey variants were going to be awesome (There’s a slideshow here, which I heard about here).

I hope these are the normal sort of 50/50 variant rather than one of those order 10-get-1 sorts of variants, as the former sell for cover price at my shop while the latter are usually prohibitively expensive. Because I might really want to get some of these, even from books I don’t normally read (Daredevil, Punisher: War Journal).

Except the Cable one. Man, even turning him into a gorilla can’t make Cable look cool.

I sincerely believe: Bear variants and hobo variants would be even better than monkey, Skrull or zombie variants. And Marvel won’t be able to prove me wrong unless they go ahead and make bear variants and hobo variants. So get cracking, guys.

Film Review: Wanted

My Wanted review is now up at This is, of course, the big summer movie based on obscure 1947 crime series Wanted Comics:

Angelina Jolie plays the guy in the top hat.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Weekly Haul: June 25th

Avengers: The Initiative #14 (Marvel Comics) Given my disappointment with Secret Invasion proper (and the Avengers titles by its architect Brian Michael Bendis), I’m kind of surprised how much I’m enjoying some of these tie-ins.

This issue of my favorite Avengers title that doesn’t start with the words “Marvel Adventures” begins its Secret Invasion focus, following three different story threads that all crash together at the climax.

We’ve known Hank Pym was a Skrull since SI #1, and here we get re-see some of the events of the book with that knowledge (And learn President Bush’s nickname for Pym). We also get inside The Crusader’s head a little bit; he’s a Skrull posing as an Earth hero that was introduced in a Marvel Team-Up arc by Robert Kirkman and Andy Kuhn (available in trade), and suspects Pym is too, but isn’t sure how to out a bad Skrull without outing himself as a Skrull, even if he is a good Skrull. And then we follow Triathalon, the new 3-D Man, as he meets his Hawaiian Initiative team…right after getting a pretty important gift from his predecessor.

Good stuff, as always. I hope the SI tie-in brings in some readers from the other two Avengers books and they stay on permanent-like, because here’s an Avengers title that deserves some high readership.

Batman: Gotham After Midnight #2 (DC Comics) It’s the “scary second issue,” according to the cover, of the new Batman maxi-series hell-bent on evoking happy memories of the 1995-1998 Moench/Jones/Beatty run on the title. I could use some happy Batman memories, given my (relative) disappointment with the current Batman and TEC runs (That is, while neither of the “real” Bat-books is exactly awful, neither are as good as one would expect Morrison and Dini-helmed runs would be).

In this issue, Steve Niles spends some time illustrating an aspect of Batman’s character I’ve always liked—the lengths to which he goes to pose as a scary creature of the night to scare crooks straight—and give Jones plenty of opportunities to do what he does best—draw crazy, ultra-exaggerated Batman shit. This time this includes Man-Bat, Batman looking a bit like Zebra Batman in a light-through-the-blinds color effect, and a cool-looking clock.

Final Crisis #2 (DC) Biff! Bam! Pow! Holy Curse Words, Batman! Comics aren’t just for kids anymore! Dan Turpin totally calls The Mad Hatter an “asshole” on page 11. Not an “@#$%hole” or an “@$$hole” but a straight-up “asshole.”

I didn’t know you could say that in DC Universe comics. I mean, Superman’s in this one and everything. Maybe that’s reflective of the darkening and coarsening of the DC Universe, which is part of the plot for this story? After all, that panel is one in which Turpin has severely beaten with a sobbing villain with a toilet seat, and he had expressed some surprise that he was getting turned on by “the sound of breath whistling through smashed cartilage.”

As with the first issue, Grant Morrison’s script reads like a welcome mixture of his JLA run mixed with bits of Seven Soldiers and 52. Considering how great all those comics are, that’s definitely a good thing. The problem is, this is a flagship miniseries to a line-wide crossover story, a reported “third act” to decades worth of DCU stories, and, whoever’s fault it is, it just doesn’t make any goddam sense.

That’s a pretty big problem for DC and loyal DC readers, as Final Crisis assumes the only way to enjoy it is to be someone who doesn’t read any DC Comics…or at least any that aren’t Seven Soldiers, 52 and maybe a few issues of Green Lantern (the ones introducing the Alpha Lanterns) or Battle For Bludhaven (did they introduce Atomic Knights on Dalmatians in that storyline?).

So yeah, this continues to be a pretty great story that’s completely broken, or a great Elseworlds. Even the big, Geoff Johnsian “Holy shit!” last page is anti-climatic, since DC Universe 0 already told us to expect to see Barry Allen, and in a more dramatic capacity than the old running-out-of-the-time-stream method we’ve seen in all the other times Barry Allen’s returned from the dead.

I’m sorry to say that I’m not even feeling J.G. Jones’ art as much as a lot of other online-talkers-about-comics seem to be. There’s a scene where John Stewart is attacked by someone, and I had to read it over and over to figure out what was going on—I think I know who attacked him, but in the panel itself it seems to be a disembodied arm that attacks him. But I think we’re supposed to think it was Hal Jordan? I don’t know.

This comic is so far just making me sad, something I didn’t think a book showing Dr. Sivana’s sweet-ass ride and a character named Most Excellent Super-Bat could do. It’s a sadness born of disappointment and frustration; I mean you can see how good the story should be, but know that it isn’t. Kind of like with Morrison’s Batman, except instead of the shittiest possible art being responsible, it’s a few years worth of editorial incompetence bumping up against inflexible writing.

Green Lantern #32 (DC) Introducing the Red Lanterns’ oath…I think. Are all the Lantern Corps going to get their own oaths? Because if so, Geoff Johns still has a lot of bad poetry to write.

Hero Initiative: Mike Wieringo Book #1 (Marvel) I’m actually not sure what the title of this book is. This is what’s written in the legal indica; the cover makes it look more like What If This Was the Fantastic Four?: A Tribute to Mike Wieringo. You’re recognize it when you see it though; it features the temporary Fantastic Four from waaaay back in Fantastic Four #348—Spider-Man, Ghost Rider, (Gray) Hulk and (Costume-less) Wolverine —on the cover, as drawn by the late, great Mike Wieringo.

The contents are the results of Wieringo’s unfinished last work, a What If? special with Jeff Parker, his collaborator on the wonderful Spider-Man/Fantastic Four series you should all totally read. Wieringo only finished seven pages of the story, and a cadre of friends and fans among his fellow creators finish the rest of the art. Pencillers include Art Adams, Stuart Immonen, Cully Hamner, Alan Davis, Humberto Ramos, Barry Kitson, Mike Allred and others; the majority of the inking is done by Karl Kesel.

The story would have been a really fun one, if it weren’t haunted by Wieringo’s absence (Parker and Wieringo would have made a hell of a Spider-Man or FF team). This story posits the FF having been killed, and their temporary fill-ins becoming their permanent replacements…even getting awesome-looking matching FF uniforms.

The book also includes a one-page “Mini Marvels” strip featuring this FF and some of Wieringo’s Tellos characters, and prose remembrances from Parker, Todd Dezago, Chuk Wojtkiewicz, Scott Hampton, Mark Waid, Richard Case and Wieringo’s brother Matt Wieringo.

It’s the comic book equivalent of a wake; mourning the person who was lost, while at the same time celebrating his life in an event that is of course sad, but also a bit fun and certainly cathartic. At least for me as a reader and a fan; that was the extent of my relationship with Wieringo and, not having known him at all, I still feel a degree of loss. After all, I won’t have his next project to look forward to anymore.

The New Avengers #42 (Marvel) As much as Brian Michael Bendis seems to over-explain things to readers, I have to admit some of these “explanations” leave me even more confused than I was before I read them.

In this issue, drawn by Jim Cheung, he goes way back in time to summarize the life of Spider-Woman/Skrullder-Woman from before the first issue of New Avengers, and I’m still lost on what happened to the real Spider-Woman, what exactly happened on the four-page ritual in which the Skrull boss assumes Spider-Woman’s form, and what on earth the last few pages are supposed to indicate.

The one thing Bendis and Cheung do make clear is that everything that’s been happening since Bendis started writing these characters—House of M, “Disassembled,” New Avengers, Civil War—can be laid at the feet of this Skrull plot. I’m not sure if they’re also claiming responsibility for the Genosha disaster in New X-Men or not too, or if they’re talking about some later X-Men story I didn’t read.

Anyway, another issue of New Avengers in which a bunch of pretty tedious explaining goes on. Perhaps this week’s issue of Mighty Avengers would have provided a nice counterpoint to this issue, but I don’t know, I completely forgot to buy it until I got home. I think it was the fact that I’d already bought three other books with the word “Avengers” in the title that made me think it was part of my stack already.

Runaways #30 (Marvel) Fourteen months after his six-issue run began, superstar deadline-ignorant writer Joss Whedon presents the final chapter of “Dead End Kids,” with call backs to plot points you’ve probably long since forgotten. Like that old lady and the scarred guy with the wings in the first part? Remember them? It will all make sense in the trade, anyway.

My enthusiasm for this title was been killed, a stake driven through its heart, and the head cut off its corpse over the course of the last year, and now I’m unsure how to proceed. I’m so used to not reading Runaways, that I don’t know if I should quit the monthly and simply start picking up the eventual trades of the upcoming Terry Moore/Humberto Ramos run. (Whedon similarly convinced me to quit reading Astonishing X-Men in serial format, and just wait for the trades…although I’ve yet to get around to actually reading any of those trades yet).

At any rate, there’s some fighting, and they get back to the present okay. Molly punches out some guys while wearing a bonnet, and it is adorable.

Project Superpowers #4 (Dynamite Entertainment) This remains the least interesting, most boring, entertainment value-lacking book that I just can’t seem to bring myself to drop yet. I might have to struggle to get through it, but I’ll be damned if I don’t love seeing The Yellow Claw plummet to his death while Daredevil flies by in a WWII-era plane in one panel, or those back-of-the-book two-page sketches of Golden Age heroes by Alex Ross, where it looks like everyone is about to have sex with everyone else.

Secret Invasion: Runaways/Young Avengers #1 (Marvel) Given the Ultimates-like delays on Runaways, and Marvel’s refusal to publish an ongoing Young Avengers without its deadline-challenged creator/writer Allan Heinberg at the helm, a special miniseries re-teaming the two teams would, theoretically, make for a nice substitute for Runaways and Young Avengers; something to keep the characters in their fans’ attention until Runaways writer Joss Whedon gets the hang of this whole “monthly deadline” thing and Heinberg clears room on his schedule for some more comics writing.

So it seems odd that this miniseries debuted today, the same week that both the new, quarterly Runaways and an issue of the other Young Avengers project, Young Avengers Presents.

Oh well; I suppose it was decided that this title couldn’t launch before Whedon’s Runaways run wrapped up, or else readers would be surprised to find out that the team both survives their big fight in the year 1907 (now 101 years ago, thanks to Whedon’s delays) and made it back to the future.


This story is by writer Christopher Yost and artist Takeshi Miyazawa, and both are incredibly well suited to the characters. I’m not at all familiar with Yost’s work (at least, if I have read any of it, I don’t remember having read it), but he gets all of the characters’ voices down, and kept them all in tact while thrusting them into the middle of a scene from Bendis and Yu’s Secret Invasion #2 (specifically, the Skrull invasion of New York City, which Molly heralds with a cure “It’s raining Xavins!!”)

Miyazawa has plenty of history drawing teens, super and otherwise, so its no surprise at how great his work is here. I love his apple-cheeked, whide-eyed, skinny-bodied versions of the Runaways, and his versions of the Young Avengers actually look like teens, something I don’t often notice in stories featuring them (Their original artist, Jim Cheung, tended to just kind of draw them as small adults).

Kudos too to colorist Christina Strain; colorists usually don’t get name-checked unless they do an exceptionally good or exceptionally bad job, and this is definitely a case of the former. She makes the kids’ eyes gleam and their cheeks shine, there are several awful nice panels in which an old-school dot effect is employed in the background or over “special effects,” and the art looks like comic book art, instead of murky photo reference.

Sure, this is a tie-in to an already over-long line-wide crossover, and yes, it does have a title that makes me tired just reading, but it is exceptionally well crafted and a lot of fun. I don’t mind tie-ins like this one bit.

Superman #677 (DC) I was pretty nervous about James Robinson coming on to Superman, not because I don’t trust the guy who wrote Starman as much as I was a little sketchy about any big change to the Super-books, which, under Kurt Busiek, Geoff Johns and, occasionally, Fabian Nicieza’s care, have been in great shape since “One Year Later,” one of the few DC books that have been (The “Last Son of Krypton” story failing to match up with, um, the rest of them in any way aside). So any messing with success seemed risky to me.

Well, so far, so good. Robinson employs multiple narrators, on top of providing narration, getting us inside the heads of a member of Metropolis’ Science Police and Krypto. I loathe this story-telling technique, but Robinson uses it quite gracefully, or at least much more gracefully then Jeph Loeb or Brad Meltzer tend to.

As for the story, Superman chats with Green Lantern Hal Jordan in space while throwing a giant metal Frisbee to Krypto, the science police fight a monster, and then this guy shows up.

I’ve been pretty curious about him since I read his brief entry in The DC Comics Encyclopedia and, hell, he’s a Kirby DC creation, so there’s gotta be at least a little appealing weirdness to him, right? (Hey, how did Atlas manage to escape the fate of his fellow Kirby creations suffered in Countdown To Final Crisis (But it’s Just a Title it Doesn’t Really Have Anything to Do with Final Crisis So Get Off Our Backs Already)).

Of course, Atlas just kinda shows up and punches stuff while bellowing for Superman, which makes his appearance here not any different than the other few dozen times a strong guy appears bellowing for Superman, but hell, there’s not a damn thing wrong with this comic, and a lot that’s right.

And pencil artist Renato Guedes is really, really, really good. I hope he’s on the book for the long haul…and that Robinson has plans to stick around for a while too.

On a nerdier note, if I’m reading the Green Lantern passage correctly, it would seem that what’s missing in Hal’s life is a dog he can team-up to fight super-crime with. So I hope he gets a dog soon. Or, barring that, has G’Nort come live with him on Earth. He could pose as an Earth-dog, and then, when it’s time to go into action, activate his ring and…Ah, who am I kidding? I would hate to see Geoff Johns writing G’Nort, wouldn’t I?

Trinity #4 (DC) Confidential to Mark Bagley: Batman’s bat-ears look cooler longer rather than shorter. Just a heads-up. You’re doing fine otherwise.

Ultimate Spider-Man #123 (Marvel) This is probably the second best Venom story I’ve ever read, but don’t feel bad, Brian Michael Bendis and Stuart Immonen. The first best one was this one:

And really, who could hope to compete with that masterpiece?

So this is a highly accessible, exceptionally well done done-in-one featuring Ultimate Eddie Brock/Venom letting readers know what he’s been up to since we’ve seen him last.

Bendis employs one of his I-have-to-keep-trying-new-ways-to-tell-these-stories-over-and-over-or-I’ll-lose-my-mind approaches, having Eddie frame this story as a one told to a series of unfortunate strangers/victims who share a park bench with him. It’s great stuff, and Immonen really makes Venom look cool in a way the Marvel Universe version never manages.

The last page of this issue is just pure comic book perfection.

Wolverine First Class #4 (Marvel) This is a conclusion to the first multi-part story arc in the title’s short run. Multi-part stories isn’t the only way in which WFC differs from the Marvel Adventures line; this veers closer to Marvel Universe territory with a bit of continuity (The High Evolutionary and all that jazz) and even the death of a character. And it’s a cute character too. Interior artist Salva Espin’s work is quite good, particularly for a title directed more towards kids and new readers than toward Marvel’s regular fanbase (Kitty’s cat-armor is exceptionally well desgined), and, hell, you can’t go wortng with a cover by Alan Davis and Mark Farmer. Especially if it’s a cover of Wolverine holding a battle axe.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Batman's dad was a mad scientist and now he's in hell

If you're reading Grant Morrison's current Batman story arc, "Batman R.I.P.," then you know that the mad Scottish writer has had an unseen villain taking apart the pieces of the Batman mythos as a way of striking against our hero. In the latest issue, #677, we learn that his parents weren't the saints he and we always thought they were. In a meeting with some guy whos never identified but is probably supposed to be the mayor, Commissioner Gordon learns "the sordid secret history of Thomas and Martha Wayne."

The Wayne patriarch "evidently transformed into a brutal, foul-mouthed degenerate on booze and hard drugs," may not have actually been Bruce's dad (implying that Alfred Pennyworth was sleeping with Martha Wayne as well), and might have had her killed and faked his own death. Gordon is also shown a picture of the Waynes, and is told "The girl with the brain-dead expression and the needle tracks in the middle is Martha."

If you're not reading it (and given how poor pencil artist Tony Daniel's work is, I can't say I blame you), you may have read about this plot point over at Blog@Newsarama, which linked to a few sentences in the Glasgow Sunday Mail about it.

Morrison is quoted as saying: "People have killed off characters in the past. What I'm doing is worse than death." It's certainly a clever way to get at Batman, right up there with Mark Waid's idea to have a villain kidnap the Dark Knight's parents' corpses.

Is this all just a smear by a villain to challenge Batman's core understanding of himself, or did the Waynes really go to drug-feuled orgies before they were murdered?

I'm going to assume the former. Mostly because I already know what Thomas Wayne was really all about before his murder: He was a mad scientist who tried to play God and sunder the veil between life and death, and he's been languishing in pirate hell ever since because of it.

And I know this because Bob Haney told me, and Bob Haney wouldn't lie.

That's the Neal Adams-drawn cover for 1972's Brave and the Bold #99, featuring "The Man Who Murdered The Past" by Haney and Bob Brown (Handily collected in Showcase Presents: The Brave and the Bold Batman Team-Ups Vol. 2.

The story begins with a pretty bizarre premise. Batman has a strong desire to suddenly visit a New England island where he and his parents used to summer, so he drives right up from Gotham City..."Didn't even change the old Bat-suit!"

After a ferry ride there, he visits the cobweb-filled home, remembering fishing and playing tennis with his dad. As a storm brews outside, he pushes asid the portrait of his father, opens the safe hidden behind it and then finds...his parents' ashes?!

The Waynes were cremated? But then, who's buried in their coffins? And why are their ashes kept at their abandoned summer home, instead of at Wayne Manor?

The wind throws open the door, and when Batman goes to close it, something strange happens: "a shudder shakes his every inch, and with a strange stiff-legged gait...he suddenly lurches out into the storm!" He stomps and klumps his way to a little building, and says: This being the Haney Batman, that's not even that weird a thing for Batman to say, but the men notice the accent and funny walk remind them of "Old Manuel the Port-a-gee," a pirate who died in a storm just like this one...50 years ago!

Batman snaps out of it, and the men ask if he was imitating Manuel as a joke. He responds with characteristic smoothness, "Ha! Ha! My friend, Bruce Wayne, told me about him!"

Deciding he must just be tired, Batman returns to the Wayne summer home and decides to get a good nights sleep, laying out his Batman costume right next to his bed.

Woah. What's going on here...?

The next day, he puts his costume back on and wanders around the town in it, until he's suddenly seized by the spirit of Manuel again. He throws a harpoon through a sign, and then heads toward an abandoned light house, where he punches out a cop, and then comes to again.

He's taken to court, made to realize he should probably keep a few benjamins in his utility belt, and then bailed out by his fellow hero Barry Allen
who's sporting some awfully goddam long hair for Barry Allen. You're not going counter culture on us, are you Barry?

As the two walk back towards the summer home, Batman explains his trouble with possessions, and Barry explains just what it is he's doing there: He was lab instruments began picking up "certain strange vibrartory signals...from another dimension...a world beyond our own!"

And they're originating from the island; specifically—The Wayne house!

Since their problems are originating from the same source, they agree to stay together to work them out.

That night, Batman dreams of his moustache-less father, and adopts the classic sleep-walking posture to follow the apparition into his father's secret lab:

And what was his father working on?

Why, a method for returning to life after death! It's now clear to Batman that his parents are trying to come back, and Manuel is somehow involved.

Over coffee the next morning, Barry's a little less convinced in the wisdome of Batman's plan: "Bruce, I understand your desire to... your dead parents-- but what if it should fail...or backfire somehow?"

Batman sudies the notebooks until he's convinced he's supposed to do something, as Manuel, in the lighthouse, and so he simply waits until he's possessed again. This time Manuel-in-Batman's-body makes it all the way to the top of the lighthouse, but is thwarted at super-speed by the Flash.

The next day, Barry is more forceful in arguing against Batman trying to bring his parents back to life: "I'm thinking of my friend, Bruce Wayne-- The Batman...

Wait, "becoming?" Like, just now? All of a sudden?

The Flash realizes something in the house is attracting the attention from the other world, and searches in vain for it. Ultimately, he picks up Batman and uses his vibratory powers to transport the pair to "another world." This other world is a dismal place, filled with fog and transparent figures everywhere. Atop a rock, a wooden-legged man speechifies to the other spirits about how the "sins we did in life have locked the door to the land of eternal rest--and we are trapped in this valley of limbo."

In other words, Manuel and the others are in purgatory. And among those others? Why, none other than The Waynes.

Manuel's plan is for them to invade the world of the living, and inhabit the bodies of the living, just as he has been inhabititing Batman's. Barry de-vibrates the two heroes back to the real world, and is sure this at least will discourage Batman, but no dice.

While Barry continues to investigate the beacon he assumes is somewhere within the house, Batman again succumbs to possession, and this time Manuel is able to repair the lighthouse, the beam of which allows the spirits of the other world to enter the world of the living. Somehow.

The spirits parade right up to the door and start knocking. Manuel and Batman struggle for control of his body; the former wants to open the door and let the dead in, the latter asks Flash to kill him before he can. Manuel-in-Batman brains The Flash with a candlestick, which apparently inspired him, as he suddenly realized Thomas Wayne hid the beacon in the one place he knew his son would never look—the urn full of their ashes!

(In the days before Google Image, photoreference was harder to come by, which might explain why this ankh looks absolutely nothing like an ankh).

The Flash hurls the ankh into outerspace (super-speed, I guess?), thus severing the other world's connection to the house, and Manuel, The Waynes and the army of ghosts disappear.

Batman has finally realized the error of his ways, but is pretty bummed out about having come so close to being reunited with his parents, only to lose them again:

Real sensitive, Flash.

But don't worry, they're not doomed to languish in purgatory forever, as The Flash theorizes. For that very night, while Batman sleeps peacefully, we the readers are assured that everything worked out okay for The Waynes:

The next day, Batman has finally found the peace he's sought his whole life:

And he never obsessed over the death of his parents again.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Wanted and race

As comics fans will find this Friday, the film Wanted falls closer to From Hell and League of Extraordinary Gentleman than to 300 or 30 Days of Night, in terms of how closely it adapts its comic book source material. Like those two bowdlerized versions of Alan Moore books, Wanted bears so little resemblance to its source that its somewhat puzzling that the studio bothered adapting it at all, instead of just giving it an original name.

Gone are the supervillains and superheroes, the costumes, most of the characters, the worldwide conspiracy controlling the nature of reality, the amorality, the metafictional aspects and, um, the plot. All director Timur Bekmambetov and his three-man screen-writing team keep are the title, the names of two characters, and two brief scenes (Wesley shooting flies with a gun; Wesley shooting corpses on meat hooks).

Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

Neither, really; it’s just an observation (For an assessment of the virtues of the film, I should have a review up at on Thursday afternoon).

I think losing so much of it—particularly the superhero/supervillain content and the big idea that the DCU multiverse is really real and the real world is really a fiction, but Lex Luthor and company made us think the opposite—loses what makes Wanted Wanted, but it doesn’t necessarily make the movie itself bad (or good).

The moral point of view of the movie is also almost opposite of that expressed in the comic; the film’s Wesley is a bit arrogant and a total badass assassin, but he’s still the hero; he’s not a murderer, rapist and villain, as he is in the comic.

Movie-Wesley also isn’t a racist.

Is Comic Book-Wesley? I’m not sure, but the case can certainly be made that he is. Or, at the very least, that the white character has some issues with characters with darker skin than his. Or should the case be made that it is the character’s creator, the guy filling his head with thoughts and his mouth with words, who has some issues?

I hadn’t reread Wanted since it’s release about four years ago, and, when I reread it last week after seeing the film, I was pretty shocked at some of the ways race plays out in the book.

During 2006’s Civil War, Millar wrote a scene in which a clone of an Aryan, blonde-haired, blue-eyed Norse god murdered a black hero, and some folks jokingly pointed out the symbolism online. While I was a little bummed about Goliath getting killed, and thought the scene was a turning point for the quality of the series, I certainly didn’t see anything racist, intentionally or unintentionally, about it.

In Kick-Ass, the third issue of which was just released a few weeks ago, Millar has a white kid playing vigilante attack some black kids in the first issue, fight some Puerto Ricans in the second issue and then attack some black dudes in the third issue. I gave up on the series due to its exceptionally poor writing, but simply attributed the white guy-fighting-minorities story thread as tone deafness on Millar’s part, akin to his clumsy, out-of-touch pop culture references and complete divorce from how the human body responds to punishment.

But the questionable aspects of Wanted are harder to dismiss.

Here’s a scene from #3, in which the leaders of the five crime families meet, and neo-Nazi supervillain The Future tells off Vandal Sava—er, Adam One:

Now, The Future is not just a supervillain, but he’s a Nazi supervillain, so the fact that this evil jerk is also racist hardly seems like a shock or surprise. He also complains that he was promised the Jews by his fellow evil rulers of the world, and, in the very next panel there, talks about how women fantasize about being raped by fascists.

So yeah, not a good guy. Him hurling racist epithets is pretty much to be expected.

But what about this? Here’s Wesley narrating a scene from #1:

I’m not sure what to make of this scene. He points out that she’s African-American in the narration, and in the next sentence says “I’m embarrassed by the situation.” Embarrassed that he’s being yelled? Or that he’s being yelled at by his “African-American boss” as he says, or that he has an “African-American boss” at all?

I don’t know. But including the words “African-American” to the narration at all encourages one of the latter readings. The art clearly indicates that the woman he’s talking about is African-American, so why redundantly mention her race if he was only embarrassed by the fact that he was taking shit from his boss?

Then, two panels later:

The meaning of the word “cholo” has changed over the years, but is apparently most often used to refer to poor Mexicans or immigrants from anywhere south of the U.S. border these days.

And in #2, there’s this:

I’m not sure what he means by “Spike Lee extra;” is he simply referring to New Yorkers? Because that’s kind of a weird thing to say: “On the way home from work tonight, every New Yorker in the entire fucking world will have spat on my back again.” What does that even me?

Or does he mean “black guy,” like the guys in the panel seem to be?

After Wesley is recruited by the supervillains of The Fraternity and butches up, we get this charming sequence, which is an awful lot like the scene at the climax of Kick-Ass #1:

So Wesley’s a racist, even if he uses softer terms like “Spike Lee extra” and “African-American” instead of dropping N-bombs or terms as crass as The Future used.

That by itself wouldn’t be all that troubling either, as Wesley is, like The Future, a villain too. One of the subversive aspects of Wanted the comic book is that it’s a superhero book without any real superheroes; just villains. Wesley’s a better supervillain only in that he’s smarter and tougher than the other villains, and that he rapes women instead of children and animals, like The Joker Mr. Rictus.

Complicating that reading, however, is this panel:

Wesley’s boss isn’t a supervillain. She’s just a civilian, one who appears in about two panels of the whole six-issue series. And she’s giving Wesley shit, not about his job performance, but about being white. She unfairly stereotypes Wesley as being a member of the KKK and having a small dick just because he’s white.

I don’t understand this panel at all. What’s Millar trying to say? That she’s racist too, and that there aren’t really any innocent civilians in the world? Because it’s a weird example. One would imagine she wouldn’t be able to be in any kind of position of authority if she was always publicly ridiculing her white underlings for their whiteness, you know?

The only other black character in the book is Catwom—er, Halle Berr—er, The Fox, and while she has substantially more panel-time than, say, The Professor or Mr. Rictus, her character is hardly more developed: She likes having sex (to the point that she regards both Gibsons as life support systems for their cocks, which is all she’s interested in about them), she likes money, she likes killing people and she never, ever lets her nouns and verbs or tenses agree.

Considering these scenes, it’s understandable why the filmmakers wouldn’t want to stay too faithful to the source material—some of it is pretty ugly, and would give the film a lot more baggage than anyone would reasonably want to invest millions of dollars into lugging around in public.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Multiple choice question

The above image is a detail from a splash page in last week's Justice League of America #22, featuring Dr. Niles "The Chief" Caulder, the world's foremost super-surgeon and the wheelchair-bound leader of the Doom Patrol.

To what should readers attribute his suddenly heavily muscled torso?

(a) Caulder's been working out. A lot.

(b) By applying the same surgical skills that allowed him to preserve Cliff Steele's brain in a robot body to the field of cosmetic surgery, Caulder created a whole new torso and set of arms for himself.

(c) Pencil artist Ed Benes can only draw one sort of male physique.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Hawkman vs. the vaguely Muslim, crypto-Arab bad guys

Thursday night we checked out the Namor portion of the 1965 edition of Jules Feiffer's The Great Comic Book Heroes, so now let's turn our attention to another Golden Age great who's been active superheroing for decades, despite his inability to make purchases from most convenience stores (on account of those blasted no service store policies).

That's right, Hawkman! This is, of course, the original, Golden Age version of Hawkman, not the alien policeman Silver Age version or the amalgated Confusing Version I Don't Understand which is currently part of Justice Society of America's sprawling ensemble cast. Despite the seeming simplicity of his schtick—Hey, what if we took one of the hawkmen from Flash Gordon and made him a hero named, uh, Hawkman!—he actually has a double gimick, laid out in the two sentences in that little box. In addition to dressing up and flying like a hawk, he also "fights the evils of the present with the weapons of the past."

But what he really had going for him was how fucking weird he was. Look at that mask. Look at it. Does it make any sense? There's a bird mouth, right above his person mouth...he's like a two-mouthed bird man. I love this helmet. There's something to be said for the Silver Age Hawkman, with his creepy giant hawk eyes, but the eccentricity of this particular costume really can't be beat.

But enough about costuming; let's see what Sheldon Moldoff has in store for the Winged Wonder...

The adventure begins with Carter Hall—The Hawkman—wearing a robe and reading the newspaper. "Strange, this attack" he thinks. "One was made last month on the king of Emporia. And before that an attack on the premier of Frappe! I wonder what's behind them..."

I wonder if we'll find out in the course of this story...

Soon—as in, the very next panel—Hall is at the opera:

Yes, this fresh air feels so good, why not foul it with some pipe smoke? If only you'd brought your cigars! Please note that Golden Age Hawkman is blonde and wears a green suit with a bow tie. He looks an awful lot like his contemporary, the much-maligned JSA member Johnny Thunder, doesn't he?

In the next panel, he engages in some Golden Age racial profiling:

"Same sort of fellow," eh Hall? What "sort of fellow" is that, exactly?

According to the newspaper he was perusing, the attacker was merely described as "a fanatical Easterner":
(Above: an example of the yellow journalism of the period. I believe that's canary yellow journalism, in fact).

Of course, perhaps there's somethign to be said for racial profiling, as before Hall can even exhale his first lungful of pipe-smoke, the bearded, be-turbaned fellow pulls a huge blade from somewhere, shouting,

"The crazed Easterner leaps for a young blonde..." the caption reads, as we get a tight close-up of a screaming blonde girl, but "Carter Hall interferes!" by elbowing the crazed Easterner in the beard and saying "This'll hold you!"

And that was all on the very first page of the story. Man, comics sure didn't mess around back then.

On the next page, Hall identifies the dagger as a "Khanjur," and talks with a policeman who has arrived to take "the Easterner" away. When he turns to find the girl, she's completely disappeared, but hold on, what's this in his pocket?

Why, that's rather forward of her... I like the last panel of this sequence. Hall looks like he's about to strike her with his wave, and she flinches.

She immediately starts telling our handsome, bow-tied hero that she's going to "Araby to-night," and that the sect of assassins formed by Hassan Ibn Sadah in 1070 has been revived. They plan on murdering those in authority and all countries and seting up their own rulers. So, a pretty ambitious plot. But how does Ione Craig know all this?

Well, she's oviously not that secret an agent, if she blabs about her status to a complete stranger she just met. Hall stalks off, smoking another pipe, and decides on a plan of action. Once home, he straps on his fannypack and prepares to shadow the pretty agent:

This leads to a pretty comical page of The Hawkman flying behind Craig's ship, day and night. At night, he holds on to two ropes attached to the back of the ship and apparently sleeps in the air while being pulled behind it.

Once in Cairo, he presents himself to Craig and offers her his assistance. Showing the shrewd, suspicious mind of an international spy, she decides to trust this second, masked, shirtless stranger, giving him a map of the area and the assignment of finding Alamut, the city of assassins.

It proves an easy enough task for a man with wings. Craig finds her own way there, when she is accosted by two assassins in a dark street. Hawkman is sneaking around the grounds of the palace when he spies Hassan Ibn Sadah, the descendant of the original Sadah, who plans to be "the first ruler of all the world!"

Hawkman thinks to himself, "If I can lay low that Hassan nut! I can end all this nonsense!"

But just then...

Hawkman's unable to hit Hassan without endangering Craig, so he uses his sling to kill the guy next to Hassan, and then retreats until nightfall. Then he creeps through the palace, beaning guards with his sling, until he enters the "lavish feasting room" of Hassan, puts his hands on his hips, and announes, "Good evening gentlemen...sorry to disturb your party!"

Sure, she thrills to the sight of the Hawkman against a hundred, but Moldoff doesn't show us this thrilling scene, simply an image of Craig thrilling to it. Hmm...perhaps he chose wisely; that is a pretty sexy panel. For a panel in a Hawkman strip, anyway.

Only eleven panels left! Better wrap this story up! Hassan screams, "Kill him! Kill him!", Hawkman grabs a scimitar from the wall, he fights with the power of ten men, slashes the chains that hold Craig, and take us home, Shelly:

And so ends...Hey!
Watch the hands, Hawkman!