Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Breaking DC Comics news: Every costume to have dumb collars now

Okay, that's probably not going to be the popular takeaway from DC's announcement in USA Today that they'll be re-booting their entire line—even Action Comics and Detective Comics—in September, with Geoff Johns and Jim Lee on a new Justice League book and most heroes in new, Jim Lee-designed or tweaked costumes.

The first thing I did, of course, was look closely at the image running with the story (above), and noted that everyone has those dumb collars that Aquaman's new, post-Blackest Night costume has. Even Green Lantern Hal Jordan's, which is widely regarded as one of the best superhero costumes ever, and Superman's, which defines superhero costuming. Wonder Woman has a little necklace echoing the effect too.

The closer I looked, the less I like, including Jim Lee's second Wonder Woman costume in as many years, a messed-with S on Superman's shield (!), what looks like a lack of shorts over his tights, and longer sleeves with a weird cut to them. (Superman looks oddly young too, less like the ideal dad and more like someone I would see loitering somewhere).

I hate to be that fan, the one who starts complaining right out of the gate because some things have changed, so I will applaud the audacity of messing around with Superman's costume design—it's less dramatic than the change to Electric Superman, of course, but, in a way, more dramatic because that change was always understood to be temporary, whereas this looks like it's not.

At the same time, there's something off-putting about someone thinking overly seriously about what's wrong with Superman, and deciding that it's the fact that he wears undershorts over his tights. If only he didn't have those shorts, he'd be selling 100,000 books a month again, you know?

It's also rather audacious that it's Lee that was given this gig. As fine an artist he is—and I've really grown to like his 21st century work—and as popular an artist he is, he's not exactly known for his costume-design chops, as the reaction to his Wonder Woman redesign attests.

I think I'll wait to my post on DC's September solicitations to get too deep into any of this, but for now, my immediate reaction is this...

1.) I can't wait to see what creators are doing what books and what the costumes on the various characters will look like

2.) I hope DC thinks better of renumbering TEC and Action, given the historical importance of those titles (the comic they're named after and the comic book that gave birth to the superhero genre, respectively), as I don't think numbering really has all that much to do with either keeping folks away from books or, in the cases of a new #1, driving readers to try something new (Especially keeping in mind that a major portion of comics readers experience these books in collections anyway, where trade dress and volume number are more important than issue number)

3.) I hope this doesn't get too bogged down in continuity, and is neither a hard reboot a la Crisis On Infinite Earths or any sort of soft reboot—the DC Universe has been in a more or less constant state of soft reboot since a few years before Infinite Crisis, with various mistakes being sold as the in-story result of Superboy-Prime punching the walls of continuity. The effect has been that DC has kept the drawbacks of tight continuity, while losing its benefits. Rather than wiping the slate clean here, I hope the focus is on making stories accessible, and writing around continuity conundrums where they arise (Which means knowing the comics that came before. Which is pretty damn easy if you have an Internet connection). (From DC's perspective, a hard reboot bringing about a clean slate can seem appealing, as it's an easy way to get the Batman franchise back to "normal" after Morrison's Batman Inc. plan to sweep way things like JMS's runs on Superman and Wonder Woman, that stupid David Finch Batman book that never shifts, everything they did to Green Arrow and Roy Harper, etc., but it also disincentives readers to read anything published before September 2011, and DC has a gigantic backlog of great comics).

4.) I hope this leads to DC publishing more serial comics I want to read. Right now my regular pull-list of ongoings consists solely of Tiny Titans, The All-New Batman: The Brave and The Bold, Green Lantern, SpongeBob Squarepants and Orc Stain.

UPDATE: I've only read a few reaction posts so far, but it sure sounds like this is such a big move it has the potential to really screw with the direct market in a way that can't be healthy for it. That seems like a bad idea too, but, again, kudos for audacity, I guess. Check out Linkarama at Blog@Newsarama tomorrow for a reaction round-up post.

UPDATE #2: Oh Jesus God. Comics Alliance has the whole piece of art, which also features Batman, The Flash and Cyborg. Here's that half:
The good news is that it looks like Cyborg is finally joining the Justice League for longer than two issues and that Batman is abandoning his dumb-looking David Finch re-design (Just as I was getting used to it...or at least liking the way Chris Burnahm drew it). The bad news is that the new-new Batman costume looks kinda lame and movie-like/Arkham Asylum video game-like, and Lee even messed with The Flash costume, another one of those perfect superhero costumes that has never really been approved upon (This isn't costume-related, but Lee gives Hal ring-generated guns too...as I've mentioned before, it always depresses me when a hero who can create whatever he can imagine ends up with guns).

Man, these costumes are gonna take a lot of getting used to...

Monday, May 30, 2011

My favorite thing about "Dark Knight, Dark City"

In the 1990 Batman story arc "Dark Knight, Dark City," writer Peter Milligan and pencil artist Kieron Dwyer have our hero following bizarre clues and running a gauntlet of strange encounters set up by The Riddler, who is manipulating Batman for a mysterious purpose.

One such clue leads him to a house of mirrors.
Batman's questions is answered by a grinning thug with a yellow flattop and a flame-thrower, one of The Riddler's henchmen. He proceeds to fire at Batman.This goes on for a few panels before the thug disappears, leaving Batman alone with the goat and a kidnapped baby. From there, Batman heads to the next location, although since he's sure it's a trap, he enters cautiously.Ah ha! That clever Batman, he brought the goat with him, and used it to draw the thugs out so he could ambush them before they could ambush him!

Now, between those two scenes we see Batman rushing from the fun house to the next stop on his trail. This is how Milligan and Dwyer depict his ride there, first from outside the Batmobile, so the reader can't see through the opaque windshield, and then a tight close-up of Batman in the driver's seat.So in those panels above? Batman is totally driving around with a goat in the Batmobile. Even though it's only retroactively suggested by the scene with the thugs that follows, I like the idea of Batman driving around with a big goat in the passenger seat of his notoriously cramped car.

My second favorite thing about "Dark Knight, Dark City"...? The expressions Dwyer has the goat make in that last page featuring it: Wow. That is one emotive goat.

While Milligan and Dwyer make it clear that Batman is triumphant and The Riddler and his cronies are brought to justice, the final fate of the goat isn't made clear at all. It is last seen at the bottom of the page in which it makes those fantastic faces, scampering off-panel as Batman beats on the guy with the flame thrower. I imagine it ends up at a Wayne Enterprises Petting Zoo, although I suppose it's always possible that Alfred made it a little cape and cowl and they sent it off to the country to fight barnyard crime.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Michael J. Nelson on some first wave superhero movies (and me on Nelson on movies)

On Barb Wire:
When the film was over, I had the overwhelming urge to shower. A good, hot shower with mounds of antibacterial lather. The kind of shower than Meryl Streep got in Silkwood.

On Batman:
Burton pulled off a nice trick in that he used almost no lights in the film, dispensing with the need to actually show the audience anything. With the actors obfuscated by utter blackness, Burton was free to not tell any kind of story or create any characters worth caring about, simply because no one could see them!

On Batman Returns:
Why anyone thought that the sight of DeVito ramming alewives into his twisted, purple maw was something to be projected onto a large screen for viewing by other human beings was a good idea, I’ll never understand.

On Batman & Robin:
For those of you who were scared away by the abysmal reviews of Batman & Robin, let me lay to rest some of the prejudices you might have about the film. It’s not the wost movie ever. No, indeed. It’s the worst thing ever.

On Blade:
Unless you’re actually scooped up and put into a hopper of discarded animal innards, Blade is probably the bloodiest and most gruesome thing you’ll ever see in your life…However, as dark as it is, it should be admitted that there are quite a few outstanding dance numbers.

On Judge Dredd:

There are many digital effects in the film, and when you see them, you’ll say, “there are many digital effects in this film.”

On Spawn:
I recently rented Spawn ("that's your own damn fault," I hear you saying, and you're absolutely right), starring Martin Sheen, aka Ramon Estevez. Now, Spawn is not the worst move ever made. Wait...yes it is. It is the worst movie ever made.

All of the above quotes are from Mike Nelson's Movie Megacheese (Harper Entertainment; 2000), of which I am not going to talk about for a few hundred words).


You may recognize the name of that author. He was the head writer for Mystery Science Theater 3000 and also one of its stars—he played the funny, smart alec movie-watcher Mike Nelson (Quite a stretch, I’m sure).

The above quotes were all taken from reviews Nelson wrote for Home Theater and Entertainment@Home magazines, which form the basis of Movie Megacheese.

I was aware of the book’s existence for a great many years now, remembering that killer blurb about Batman & Robin from a publicity interview with Nelson, but I was never able to actually track down a copy of the book until just recently, inspired by my viewing habits over the last few months.

I stumbled across some MST3K clips on YouTube, and quickly discovered that the entirety of just about every episode was available on YouTube. Seeing some I had never seen, despite my fanhood of the series as a teenager, so I’ve been working my way through the episode guide backwards, finding plenty of episodes I had never, ever seen before (When I went away to college in 1995, I went through an almost four-year period during which I saw almost no television, and thus missed most of the last few seasons of the ten seasons of the show).

The certain knowledge that there is not, in fact, any more MST3K naturally made me want more of it, so I started searching for post-MST3K stuff from the creators, and started by looking for Nelson’s book (He’s written at least two more too; similar essay collection Mike Nelson’s Mind Over Matters and Mike Nelson’s Death Rat: A Novel).

The book is broken down into chapters by subject matter, mostly film genres—action, sci-fi, chick flix, etc.—although there are also some chapters dealing with odds and ends, like television, families of actors, acting legends and even a chapter of “Very odds and ends.”

Within each chapter are short reviews of film or pairs of films or bodies of work, the emphasis on the films’ shortcomings, and the ways in which Nelson can wring jokes out of them. This is as much a book of humor as it is a book of film criticism; perhaps it’s more accurate to say it’s a book of humor in the form of a book of film criticism.

Nelson’s sense of humor is probably fairly evident to anyone who’s seen any MST3K, the main difference between his prose writing here and his joke presentation there is volume—while the TV show would bombard one with constant jokes from as many as three different sources almost simultaneously (not to mention whatever weird thing was going on in the movie the viewer was watching the three main characters watch), here the jokes come at a more leisurely pace. There are a lot of them, of course, but they are encountered one at a time, and with a reader’s full attention.

That may go a long way toward explaining some of the weakness of the humor in Megacheese. The jokes aren’t terrible or anything, and, in fact, the worst thing I can say is that Nelson’s writing here occasionally reminds me of that of Dave Barry and similar newspaper humor columnist (which in certain circles is actually high praise I’m sure; me, I’d rather watch an episode of MST3K than read an hour’s worth of Barry’s prose).

Another thing that jumped out at me was how hard to please Nelson seems—in fact, almost every review in this book is negative, and I found myself struggling to figure out what, exactly, Nelson would consider a good film.

That’s ironic, of course, because he is functioning as a critic, and that’s what critics do—criticize. I’ve functioned as a professional critic—of film and other media—for my entire adult life, and I’m constantly complaining. As a reader of this blog, you’re no doubt well aware that most of what I discuss in a critical, review capacity could be considered negative.

With Nelson, it was a little more difficult to make sense of though, because the lack of examples of good film made it difficult to establish a spectrum with which to contextualize his comments (As you may have gathered from the quotes above, he hated the Tim Burton Batman films every bit as much as the Joel Schumacher films, for example). It’s made even more difficult by the fact that Nelson’s always joking.

For example, in the introduction, he discusses the “unifiying theory that informs [his] writing on cinema,” and it is this:
What I really believe is that a film should be judged on how well it comes off when compared with the Patrick Swayze film Road House. For Road House is the single finest American film. Certainly it stinks, but I believe the filmmakers meant it to, and succeeded grandly.

He likes The Three Stooges, but hates Adam Sandler and Jim Carrey. He has nothing nice to say about the work of such men as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Sylvester Stallone and Steven Seagal, but is extremely knowledgeable in the work of each of these men (I think Van Damme’s name is mentioned more than that of any other actor in the book, even Swayze’s).

In addition to the work of the Stooges, he has quite a few good things to say about Jackie Chan, the joint review of the American releases of Rumble in the Bronx and Supercop being the closest thing to a rave in the book.

He recommends Broken Arrow and Executive Decision wholeheartedly (the latter, he says, “is my favorite move ever, if only because it killed off Steve Seagal early into the film”).

He calls William Forsyth’s films like Gregory’s Girl, Comfort and Joy and Local Heroes charming and quirky.

Anaconda, Twister, The Postman, The Blair Witch Project, The Bridges of Madison County, My Best Friend’s Wedding, Snake Eyes, Face/Off, The Edge, Ed, Lost In Space and dozens of others, however…

As those titles have no doubt tipped you off, the contents of the book are rather dated. Well, it is some eleven years old now. That dated nature, however, turned out to be a big part of what I enjoyed about the reading experience. It was a nostalgic reading experience, not simply because it was written by one of the writers and actors of one of my favorite televisions shows of my youth, in a voice that was comforting and familiar to me, but also because the subject matter was so nostalgic.

I don’t really talk too much about movies on EDILW, save for when they intersect with the world of comics, but film criticism is what drew me into professional writing in the first place, and film critic is still one of those dream day jobs I’d love to have some day.

My very first professional writing assignment was for the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s teen-written N.E.X.T. section (I forget what that was an acronym for); they gave 17-year-old Caleb $25 for 500 words about Kenneth Branagh’s 1994 Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein.

At the time, I was living in my hometown, a very, very small city of about 25,000 (and shrinking!) and for much of my teen years, my friends and I would go to the movies every weekend.

After I started submitting reviews to the local paper and the Plain Dealer’s teen section, I started going even more. When I went off to college, I reviewed movies for the school paper.

And in 2000, after flirting with a few part-time jobs to support me while I wrote the great American graphic novel—mall janitor (11 days), part-time library assistant (4 months), freelance feature writer for local community newspaper (2 months), staff writer for local community newspaper (9 months), grocery store clerk (9 months)—I eventually got a gig as a staff writer for an altweekly paper in Columbus, Ohio.

It was a small enough staff that everyone could and did write just about everything to fill up all those pages every week, and one of my responsibilities was film reviews; the arts editor handled the bulk of them, and I’d write what she didn’t have time for, which often included dumb action and dumb horror movies (she nobly accepted the dumb romantic comedies).

I got booted out of that job in 2005 when the big, evil daily paper consumed it and integrated it into its own publishing empire, and continued reviewing for a local blog for a while, but film criticism isn’t all that rewarding a gig when you’re not getting paid to do it. (Incidentally, that was just before I started EDILW, as for the first time in years I found myself without a place to deposit thousands of words of writing every week, and suddenly had free time again).

I’m not sure how this turned into my memoirs. My point is that from the early ‘90s to the mid-aughts, I saw movies pretty much constantly; and after the turn of the 21st century, I actually made very serious efforts to see everything that was released in a given calendar year.

The films in this book cover the films of the nineties, so in addition to enjoying Nelson’s discussion of them, in the back of my head I was often remembering seeing the films being discussed, who I saw it with, what the occasion was, and so on. Of the 57 films that are given somewhat length consideration in the book, I saw over 30 of these in the theater, and remember deciding not to see the others. I wrote reviews of a few of them as a teenager (Judge Dredd, Waterworld, The Edge). And I vividly remember seeing Sleepless in Seattle with a girl I liked in high school, laughing my way through Face/Off and Anaconda with my friends and forcing a friend and a girlfriend to sit all the way through The Postman with me, because I never, ever walk out of a movie after I’ve started watching it, even if it is as interminable as The Postman.

For many years, The Postman was my personal yardstick by which I would measure bad movies when discussing them with my friends; no matter how bad a movie may be, I could usually find one good thing to say of it—“Well, it was shorter than The Postman.


I laughed out loud once while reading the book. It was during Nelson’s review of Twister and Independence Day: “Twister is the story of an actor named Bill Paxton and how he’s not very good.”

Eh, maybe you had to be there. And be me.


This book bears a blurb from Leonard Maltin on the cover: “Mike Nelson just might put some ‘legitimate’ film critics out of work! His writing is both film-savvy and very, very funny.”

Maltin has appeared on MST3K before. He guest-starred in the Gorgo episode (he appears at the 4:10 mark here) in which he helps Pearl Forrester choose a movie with which to torture Mike and the ‘bots. In previous episodes, they ridiculed his star rating system by pointing out the high ratings he had given to some of the terrible films that have appeared in the series in his movie guides, and noting far better films with similar or worse ratings.

In at least one episode, Nelson donned a fake beard to impersonate Maltin (He does a pretty good Maltin voice, too).

While reading through this, and after having been reminded of Maltin by that blurb, I realized how much I’d like to see Nelson (or Nelson and his MST3K/Film Crew/RiffTrax collaborators Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy) produce their own version of Maltn’s annual encyclopedias of films. I’m not sure if you’ve ever spent much time with those books, but they’re good reference (better reference before the advent of IMDb; not they’re kinda superfluous) although pretty damn useless in terms of making recommendations. I sure wouldn’t mind having a funny version that would replace the uselessness with humor and trivia.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Comic shop comics: May 18

DC Comics Presents: Batman: Dark Knight, Dark City #1 (DC Comics) I read the title story in this collection not long after it was originally released. And I read all of Grant Morrison’s Batman comics. And yet I never realized just how directly Morrison was referencing this Peter Milligan-written short story that involves a demon that influenced Gotham City and claims to have kind of helped create Batman.

I guess I just forgot the exact details, and assumed Morrison was simply referencing Milligan’s idea of dark sentience applied to the city of Gotham (something Garth Ennis dealt in one of his story arcs for The Demon as well).

In actuality, Morrison took the name of that demon from this story, and even used scenes from this comic during his Batman run, particularly during Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne.

I guess one tends to forget details to certain comics stories over the course of 20 years or so.

Fans of what Morrison has done with the character in recent years then may have a little extra incentive to pick this up, although the title story certainly stands on its own as a more-clever-than-most Batman story which flirts rather strongly with the supernatural, but still sticks to that certain one-foot-in-reality sweet spot that editor Denny O’Neil established during his run—ther might be a demon and a ghost involved, or maybe Batman was just more paranoid than usual, and thought he saw and heard some things he might not actually have seen and heard at the climax.

The Riddler has returned after a something of an early retirment, still providing clues to make Batman jump through some hoops, but this time his crimes are more brutal, and the hoops are very particular and very peculiar. As Batman runs The Riddler’s gauntlet in order to stop him, we eventually learn he’s helping the archvillain perform an elaborate ritual that will release a demon, a demon that claims to have helped create Gotham itself and, especially, Batman.

Kieron Dwyer and Dennis Janke provide the pencil and ink art, respectively, and it’s great stuff. Very post-Burton in its portrayal of Gotham City, and of-the-time in its portrayal of Batman, and with extremely well-contructed lay-outs and realistic, representational art that gets exaggerated in design only for occasional, expressionistic effect.

To fill out the page count—“Dark Knight, Dark City” is only three issues long—there’s a random issue of Milligan’s short run on Detective Comics featuring art by Tom Mandrake. What it has in common with “Dark City” is its exceptional cleverness.

If I have any complaints about the comic, their minor ones dealing with presentation. The covers aren’t included, which is kind of too bad considering two of them are by much-more-popular-than-he-was-then Mike Mignola (they’re here and here, if you’re curious), and the logo for this collection isn’t as cool as the original logo that ran on those original covers.
Oh, another neat thing about this story?

Multiple Bruce Wayne shower scenes!And Batman-fighting-zombies, from long before fighting-zombies was even cool:

DC Universe Online Legends #8 (DC) This is by far the best looking issue of the series so far, perhaps because it was drawn—penciled and inked—by a single creator, Mike S. Miller, who has so far only done portions of previous issues.

Unofrtunately, this is the eighth issue in the series, and that’s an awful long time to ask readers to wait for a book to get decent-looking.

Tiny Titans #40 (DC) I don’t like the Kroc character who occasionally appears in this series. For one, I don’t really understand him.

I always thought he was supposed to be a version of Bat-villain Killer Croc, although I now note that his name is spelled differently. Additionally, I’m not sure if he’s supposed to be a kid or an adult, based on his scale to Batman.

See, here's Kroc, adult Alfred and elementary school student Robin all in the same panel:But here's Kroc in the same panel as Batman:So what gives? Is Kroc a Bat-villain, the grown-up who occasionally wrestles Batman, or is he a young relative of that guy? (Of course, we probably shouldn't look at Kroc's size comparison to Alfred for clues; previous issues have suggested that either Batman is gigantic, or Alfred is teensy).

Additionally, the jokes centered around Kroc usually aren’t very funny at all. Art Baltazar and Franco originally started using him as the Goofus-type character in Goofus and Gallant formula strips, demonstrating the right way to do something and the Kroc way to do something.

Here Kroc invades various familiar Tiny Titans scenes and behaves in random, absurd fashion. For the entirety of the issue.

I’m afraid I didn’t really care for this particular issue of what has gradually become my favorite DC comic book serial.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Justice League's basic black uniforms from Son of Superman

In the dystopian future of Son of Superman, the 1999 graphic novel by Howard Chaykin, David Tischman and J.H. Williams III (which was just recently reprinted in a DC Comics Presents edition, and even more recently discussed by me here), Superman has gone missing, and the remaining six member of the Justice League have gradually been corrupted in their efforts to maintain the status quo.

This alternate, future version of the League serve as the antagonists of the series, with various members exhibiting various degrees of culpability for the negative state of the Superman-less world. The most obvious change between this ineffective, conservative League and the "real" Justice League of 1999 was visual. Artist Williams gave the team new costumes that were personalized versions of the same basic black costume, with chest-icons and colored stripes terminating in arrows.

"Costume" perhaps isn't the best word though. I suppose "uniform" is more fitting, as this League is a team on which the various members wear clothing that resembles that of the others. Not unlike a sports team, only instead of the names on the back of the jerseys differing, they retain their icons and most iconic costume elements (Batman keeps his cape, Wonder Woman her bracelets, etc.)

This wasn't the first time a super-team was outfitted with a sports-team like uniform. Certainly the X-Men have gone through several iterations where the characters wore matching costumes, certainly in their first appearance and the First Class era. The cartoon series X-Men: Evolution similarly gave the X-people matching but individualized costumes. During the second half or so of 1993-1996 series Justice League Task Force, Martian Manhunter J'onn J'onnz outfitted his team of trainees with matching uniforms. I believe The Avengers went through a period where they wore matching jackets too.

Because of my interest in superhero costume design, I actually really like the idea of a team with matching costumes, if only to see what artist might come up with to unify disparate costumes worn by different characters created by many different artists over the years, although it's often difficult to imagine an in-story reason why a team of individuals like, say, The Avengers or Justice League might actually don them.

A one-off Elseworlds book like this is a neat opportunity to costume the Justice League in matching outfits, as it helps differentiate them from the real, regular version of the characters, and the change need not stick around very long.

Here's what Williams came up with:That's Green Lantern Kyle Rayner and Flash Wally West; their costumes are fairly identical, save for a few signifiers, like Kyle's ring and Flash's little Mercury-like wings on his mask.

This League's Aquaman is a much greater departure than either its Flash or Green Lantern:Most obviously perhaps (at the time, anyway) was that he was once again clean-cut looking, with short hair and no beard (Remember, the Aquaman of 1999 looked like this). He retains a bit of the fishs-cale/chain-mail material that the classic Aquaman's shirt, and the '90s's Aquaman's pants, had, but now it is blue instead of orange or green (save for in one panel, where it was colored orange). His color is neither orange nor green, but a light blue, which matches his new symbol, a simplified wave design instead of the traditional golden A.

Also worth noting is his hand. This Aquaman has a futuristic-looking prosthetic, like the kind he adopted a few years after he took to wearing a harpoon on his hand, but Williams has it on his right hand; Aquaman lost his left one.

J'onn J'onnz had one of the more dramatic redesigns. His costume is much more conservative, showing relatively little green flesh, at least compared to the shorts, harness, boots and cape combo he usually wears. It does still have short sleeves though, to show off his arms. (J'onn looks good in short sleeves). Interesting choice with the chest icon, too—J'onn is the one who gets to use blue and red (Wonder Woman and Superman both wear white instead), and he gets a big "M" for a symbol, instead of an X to echo his harness, or the astrological symbol for Mars, or a red planetoid to represent Mars.

The most dramatic redesign is Batman's: How strange Batman looks without his cowl...I think his cowl, with its white-triangle eyes, pointy nose and, especially, pointy-bat ears may be his main visual signifier, even more important than the scalloped batwing-like cape or Bat-symbol on his chest.

Interestingly, his secret identity is still secret at this point, despite the smaller mask that reveals his hair and more of his face. At the risk of spoiling something form a 12-year-old story, I'll note that once Superman does return and comes into conflict with the League, Batman leaves their ranks to ally himself with Superman, and he does so wearing a costume more closely resembling his original one, with the Bat-cowl, scalloped-gloves and a Bat-symbol without a yellow arrow attached.

Here's what Superman dons when he rejoins the new League: Little more than the color-scheme has actually changed. He lost the trunks and belt, and the sleeves extend all the way over his hands to form gloves, but otherwise it is his originally costume (It looks incredibly similar to the costume that an evil version of Superman from the Justice League cartoon would wear in a 2003 episode featuring the fascist "Justice Lords")

Finally, here's Wonder Woman's costume: The main thing differentiating her black body stocking from that of the boys is the presence of her bracelets (here white to match her color scheme) and the lasso on her side.

I actually like this one a whole lot, as it contains the most basic Wonder Woman signifiers while remaining completely different from he regular costume.

It occurred to me while looking at this that it would actually make a really great costume for Donna Troy to wear in the DCU. The costume she's been wearing for the last decade or so, which shares the same black and white color scheme and certain elements (bracelets, white boots) suffers from its plunging neckline and lack of sleeves, which some artists use to as an excuse to plunge her neckline so deep it becomes a bellyline. Troy's costume also suffers from the star-spangle effect; its supposed to resemble the night sky, but because of computer coloring, it generally just looks like a cheap special effect that projected onto a black jumpsuit.

Later in the book, either due to coloring, or simply Williams drawing it differently in close-up than he did in medium or longshots, it appeared as if Wonder Woman wasn't wearing a single body-stocking type of garment, but actually had a pair of tights on under it, of a slightly different shade of black. That works too.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Ignore for a moment the strange and awkward conversation that Corporal Yo is attempting in the first panel:

Let's instead contemplate Sarge's reply. What does it mean, exactly? Is he telling Yo that his relationship with food has become so dysfunctional that it is now impossible for him to be sexually interested in another person, or interested in them in any way, really, aside from their potential to perhaps feed him, or did he just confess to Yo that he is, in fact, a cannibal, and which of those two possibilities is the most disturbing?

This expression of Snoopy's cracks me up:

Here's a rather poor scan of the strip that image is taken from, for context:That is apparently the face Snoopy makes when he's feeling sick from having had too much to eat and drink. That may explain why the face looked so strange to me, as it's certainly not one that shows up in many Peanuts strips, unlike the expressions he makes in the third and fourth panels.

The strip was scanned from the May 25 issue of the Ashtabula County Star Beacon.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Warning: I'm going to talk at very great length about the next Justice League line-up

A few weeks ago, DC’s year-long bi-weekly series Brightest Day, which brought long-time Justice Leaguers Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, Hawkman and Firestorm back from the dead and gave them slight redesigns and adjusted status quos, came to a close with its 24th and final issue.

Around the same time, DC’s other year-long bi-weekly series, Justice League: Generation Lost also came to an end—it also tweaked some former Justice Leaguers’ costumes, powers and origins, and gave them a new status quo (see the very last panel of the series, above).

Meanwhile, Superman’s year-long exile in outer space doing New Krypton stuff and his seems-like-ten-years-long walk around America, a story arc so dull the guy who thought of it checked out halfway through to do more interesting things, is coming to a close, and DC’s letting Superman star in Action Comics again for the first time since 2009.

And Wonder Woman is similarly coming to the end of her J. Michael Straczynski-driven unavailability, and Batman Bruce Wayne has, of course, been alive and returned to the mainstream, present-day DC Universe for quite some time now.

So what’s up with the Justice League of America right now?

The team’s current monthly comic is up to its 56th issue, although during those past 56 issues the roster never really seemed to settle down to something stable for more than an arc or two. After a rough start, writer James Robinson and DC finally have seemed to be able to stabilize the team, using a roster consisting mainly of younger and mostly female versions of the classic Big Seven line-up plus a few Robinson favorites.

It’s a decent line-up, for the most part, but it’s starting to feel wrong with all these other Justice Leaguers now hanging around the DC Universe not being on the Justice League.

One night earlier this week, while I lay in awake in the darkness of my bedroom, waiting for sleep to come, I was thinking about this. Sleep was slow coming that night, so I probably spent a good hour or more lying there in my bed, thinking about the Justice League. Yes, sometimes I the state of the Justice League line-up keeps me up at night, what of it?

What I was mostly thinking was this: If I were, I don’t know, Jim Lee, Geoff Johns and Dan DiDio, and all of me sat down to reinvent the Justice League for a hit series right now—Like, right now, Sunday, May 22—what might that Justice League look like?

As a refresher, here are the pools of Justice Leaguers we’re dealing with:

1.) Blackest Night/Brightest Day returnees Martian Manhunter, Aquaman, Hawkman and the new Firestorm (Original Firestorm component Ronnie Raymond fused with Firestorm II component Jason Rusch), plus some other characters newly returned to the spotlight and roles of prominence in the DCU.

2.) Justice League: Generation Lost stars set to appear in an upcoming (but still unsolicited) Justice League International series Booster Gold, Fire, Ice, Captain Atom, Blue Beetle III and the new Rocket Red, and maybe Power Girl, who was hanging around a lot near the end (as were Batman Bruce Wayne and Wonder Woman).

3.) The current, official Justice League of America at the moment, Batman Dick Grayson, Supergirl, Donna Troy, Jade, Jesse Quick, Congorilla and Starman Mikaal Tomas, and maybe Blue Lantern Saint Walker (I quit reading it when Brett Booth took over). So then here’s the League I’d put together right now. Note this isn’t, like, my favorite or ideal League or anything (for one thing, Plastic Man and Captain Marvel aren't on it), it's just what I’d put together if I were DC looking at the pieces as they currently stand and with the idea of putting together what would hopefully be a top ten book and the publisher’s undisputed, must-read flagship team title.

SUPERMAN: Back on Earth and done walking around like a chump, there’s no good in-story or real-world reason not to have DC’s flagship character and perennial JLA character and the DCU’s natural leader back on the team. He left in spring of 2009, by the way, due to the goings-on in his own books, and has since just popped up as an occasional guest-star, as in Len Wein and Tom Derenick’s JLA vs. The Royal Flush Gang fill-in arc, and during one of Robinson and Mark Bagley’s stories, to give his personal seal of approval to the current line-up.

BATMAN DICK GRAYSON: While Bruce Wayne is back from being time-lost and considered dead at the end of 2008-2009 series Final Crisis, and while he’s only starring in a couple Batman books, writer Grant Morrison continues to have big plans for him, plans best isolated from the month-to-month business of a million other guest-appearances. In-story, he’s also busy building his own Justice Leaguer, or perhaps his own Global Guardians, with his international Batman Inc venture.

Additionally, I think that, within the stories, Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson and all of their peers would agree that Grayson is a more natural leader, a better team player and easier to be around than Bruce, and if they’re going to have two Batmen for a while, why not have Dick’s Batman be the JLA’s Batman for a while longer?

It would also have more dramatic possibilities than just putting the regular old Batman back on the team, as we’ve got to see Dick lead a few different incarnations of the Justice League so far, but they’ve all been second-stringer Leagues. It would be fun to see him working with or butting heads with the likes of J’onn J’onnz, Aquaman, Wonder Woman and other, older heroes who know him better as a sidekick.

Bruce could and should show-up whenever he’s needed by the characters or creators—Geoff Johns has used the Bruce Wayne Batman instead of the Dick Grayson a few times for “League business” already, consulting with Superman at the climax of Brightest Day or offering the League’s help to Hal Jordan in the “New Guardians” arc of Green Lantern—but I think I’d have Dick be the dude dressed like a bat who’s sitting in the silver chair with a bat-symbol on the back at the League’s official meeting table.

WONDER WOMAN: Like the other points of the Trinity, she left the League in spring of 2009, although the reasons why weren’t very clear or easy to understand (She wasn’t temporarily bumped out of present DCU continuity by JMS’ story until August of 2010. The JMS status quo is coming to an end, which would presumably put her back into play with the rest of the DCU. Donna Troy, a thoroughly unlikable character who’s hard to explain to people, is currently filling Wonder Woman’s role on the team. From the earlier parts of Robinson’s run, it seemed like he was very much writing her as a fill-in Wonder Woman, so it would be nice to have the real one back in the League.

MARTIAN MANHUNTER: What else is J’onn going to do? Given his activity with the Justice League since at least Crisis on Infinite Earths, it’s usually strange to have J’onn in the DCU and not on some Justice League or other. J’onn has been dead for about a year or two, killed early on in Final Crisis, but he hasn’t actually been on the JLA since the “Crisis of Conscience” arc in JLA #115-#119 way back in 2005. (2005!!!)

I believe he didn’t rejoin the Brad Meltzer-assembled team due to whatever nonsense he was doing following Infinite Crisis—he absorbed too much of Black Adams’ pissy attitude while fighting him in World War III, and then was involved in some government experience in a crappy miniseries, maybe?—but he’s got a new lease on life now, and, following the end of Brightest Day, is more committed to preserving Earth than ever.

So why wouldn’t he be on the team that saves the world every day, the team he founded and spent more time on than just about anyone else?

AQUAMAN: Like J’onn, Aquaman left the team in 2005 in the same story, and never rejoined—he mutated, lost his memory, died and came back to life. Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis are apparently launching a new Aquaman comic, which is probably the best thing DC can do in an attempt to make the character marketable again, but it wouldn’t hurt to put him back on the Justice League. That’s the place most comics readers met him, and the place where he belongs if the idea is to keep him among the top tier of DC superheroes. Also like J’onn, in-story, he founded the team, spent an awful lot of time on it, and doesn’t have another, alternate home book (aside from the Johns-written project, which may not last all that long).

GREEN LANTERNS HAL JORDAN AND JOHN STEWART: I don’t really like Hal Jordan as a character and, despite his co-founder status and the amount of time he spent with the league pre-Crisis, I don’t think he really fits in with the team as well as John Stewart or Kyle Rayner do (In fact, Hal’s not playing well with others and dealing with structure have become an inherent part of his characterization of late).

That said, it seems completely insane to not have the only DC superhero with a movie out this year, the DC superhero with the best-selling comic and the most visible DC hero on the Justice League—especially since he’s a rather natural fit on the team.

I think it would also help keep Hal Jordan more involved with Earth and standard superheroing in general. Lately it seems like all he does is deal with Lantern intrigue in space, and he doesn’t do things, like, go on dates with his supposed girlfriend or fight supervillains or anything anymore.

However, those are mostly real-world reasons. In-story, John Stewart is a better Green Lantern to have on the League. Especially since he hardly ever shows up in Green Lantern…and he’s also the Green Lanterns a lot of folks expect to be on the League, thanks to the cartoon series. And there’s the fact that he’s black, and the JLA needs more color. It’s 2011, green and blue skin or golden gorilla hair don’t count as diversity anymore.

So I’d put both of them on the official roster, leaving it to the particular story to dictate which of them shows up for which mission or whatever. And when something really big is going on, they can both be there.

Hal Jordan hadn’t been on any Justice League for years, due to the fact that he was dead for so long, but he joined the Trinity-led League at the start of the Meltzer/Benes run in 2006. John, meanwhile, left around the time of “Crisis of Conscience.” In 2007, Hal bowed out and gave his slot to John, but John’s membership didn’t last any longer than Dwayne McDuffie’s run on the title. After the aforementioned Wein/Derenick 2009 fill-in and a Blackest Night tie-in arc, John disappeared from the book. Hal briefly rejoined for about four issues at the beginning of the James Robinson/Mark Bagley run in spring of 2010, and then he too disappeared.

Jade has been filling in as the team’s Person Who Controls Green-Colored Energy ever since.

THE FLASH: I honestly don’t care which, Barry Allen or Wally West, but I’m baffled why neither of them is on the League at the moment. I can see DC wanting to keep Barry confined to his own title for a while after his return so that writer Geoff Johns might want to keep Barry Allen in the Flash title only for a while so that he can clearly establish the new old Flash's status quo, new personality and particular take, but, if that is the case, I can’t guess why Wally West isn’t on the League instead.

Basically, there are two dudes named the Flash with identical powers and nearly identical costumes (they tweaked Wally’s Flash costume to better distinguish it from Barry’s during Flash: Rebirth) who have both spent years and years on the Justice League, but currently neither is on the Justice League.

I think either would be fine for use on the team. Barry would be interesting because it’s been so very long since he’s been on the Justice League—decades, our time—while Wally has a personality. Barry’s the prime, “head” Flash, and thus seems deserving to be among The World’s Greatest Heroes for being the original legacy Flash, although if Barry is going to be headlining the next Flash monthly comic, then it would make sense for the book-less Wally to get a part in the JLA cast.

At any rate, both are preferable to Jesse Quick, the former Titan who left the Justice Society of America to serve on the JLA as their speedster.

Wally’s place on the team has been uncertain for a long time now. He left around the time of “Crisis of Conscience,” briefly appeared early in the Meltzer/Benes run before officially joining around #12 in 2007, disappeared for awhile, recommitted in 2008’s #20 and then disappeared again a few months later.

There’s our Big Seven, with Dick in for Bruce, John sharing Hal’s spot and the identity of the guy in red pajamas left undetermined due to ambivalence of me and I assume most readers. But seven is the most boring number! Let’s make this League huge and exciting!

HAWKMAN: I never really cared for this guy, and like his current Conan-dressed-like-Hawkman characterization even less, although it can be occasionally hilarious (I seriously love that scene of him literally striding through pools of blood in Brightest Day). Oh, and some of his Golden Age headgear was funny.

I’m sticking him here because I’m assuming he’s going to be on the next League line-up, based on where his story left of at the end of Brightest Day. Ditto the next dude on the list.

FIRESTORM: Since his story strand ended with a cliffhanger, I assume DC already knows where he’s going next, and I have to imagine it’s a post-Flashpoint Justice League (along with Hawkman, Aquaman and Martian Manhunter).

The original Firestorm had a kind of Kitty Pryde function when he first joined the Justice League, as a younger, point-of-view character, and now that he’s formed by two different people combining, the character again has a new learning curve that hanging out with the Justice League solve.

Like John Stewart, he’d also provide much-needed color to the team. The superhero is now formed by Jason Rusch and Ronnie Raymond combining; the former’s black and the latter’s white. What color Firestorm’s skin is changes from appearance to appearance, and is sometimes hard to tell because the coloring and art on the Firestorm sequences in Brightest Day were so poorly done. It would be nice if their Firestorm identity had black skin though.

Firestorm has been on a couple different Justice Leagues, including the Satellite Era team and the one featured in Extreme Justice. His last stint on the League was a brief one, between JLA #69-#89 or so (2003-2004).

CONGORILLA: The former big game hunter whose mind is trapped in the body of a giant golden gorilla didn’t officially join the team until around JLoA #41 in spring of 2010, after having an adventure that intersected with that of some other Justice Leaguer ins Justice League: Cry For Justice (don’t read it). Around that time he also gained superpowers, including the ability to grow to various bigger sizes, a power apparently inspired by Cry artist Mauro Cascioli’s inability to maintain the character’s scale in relation to other characters.

Unlike much of the current line-up, Congorilla doesn’t duplicate the powers of another, more popular Justice Leaguer. And since he just got there, it would be a shame to kick him out so soon.

STARMAN: Alien Mikaal Tomas appeared in a single 1976 issue of 1st Issue Special, until writer James Robinson made him a fairly major part of the cast of his critically acclaimed 1994-2001 series Starman. He joined the Justice League at the same time as Congorilla (although he did have a very brief, single-issue stint on Superman’s short-lived Justice League of Aliens). Also like Congorilla, he just got on the League, doesn’t duplicate any more popular characters who make sense being on the team more than him and seems League-worthy, so why not leave him around? Additionally, keeping Congorilla and Starman help validate the current team to a certain extent–that is, they weren’t just a time-wasting, lark of a line-up to keep a JLA comic on the stands until the rest of the line could reorganize itself enough to allow for the “real” Justice League to return.

MERA: I don’t think Aquaman’s on-again, off-again wife Mera has ever actually been a member of the Justice League, not even an honorary one, but she’s certainly appeared in the book and rubbed shoulders with the characters for a long time.

Starting with Blackest Night, Geoff Johns devoted a great deal of attention on the character, transforming her from simply the love interest of a hero into a hero in her own right. After Blackest Night, she appeared alongside Aquaman throughout Brightest Day as his partner.

Why not now have her join the Justice League alongside her husband? Her powers are pretty different than his, so it’s not like there would just be two Aquamen on the team all of a sudden, and her addition would be a fresh one, opening up possibilities for lots of different types of character interactions. The best Justice League line-ups, in my opinion, are the ones that mix the biggest, best-loved characters with new (to the League) characters.

Additionally, Mera is a woman, which would help keep the League from sliding into a default, A Bunch of White Guys and Wonder Woman mode.

DEADMAN: After being alive for a year serving the White Lantern, poor old Deadman got killed again and returned to (almost) the exact same status quo he had at the beginning of Brightest Day. That seems kind of lame. I assume he’ll have some more stuff to do in Brightest Day Aftermath: The Search for Swamp Thing, but maybe this would be a good opportunity to put him in a new, more superheroic role for a while? Like membership on the Justice League (whom he’s worked with repeatedly, but never earned official membership from).

Of course, the fact that he’s a ghost who can’t bee seen or heard by anyone unless he’s possessing the body of a living person could make serving on a team kind of complicated. Unless…

HAWK AND DOVE: Bird theme aside, I think they fit in with the superheroes of The Justice League moreso than the vigilantes of Birds of Prey. Hawk is a totally asshole, which could make for some interesting interaction with the rest of the team (depending on whether or not Hawkman is on the team; two assholes named after Hawks might be too many on a single superhero team), and Dove is another woman whose kinda sorta pacifism could bring an interesting perspective to the team. Of course, the main reason to put them there would be so that Dove could translate for Deadman, as she is apparently the only person who can see and hear him at the moment.

SWAMP THING: If you’re going to put him in the DC Universe again, why not really put him in the DC Universe? He’s probably the least likely character on this list to actually ever make it on the team, but I think he fits my personal criteria for League membership just fine, and his role in Brightest Day cemented his centrality to the DCU of the moment.

Additionally, this is for all intents and purposes a brand-new Swamp Thing, one without the memories and personality of the Alan Moore-written Swamp Thing, so there’s no reason he can’t be a more superheroic swamp monster.

I don’t know that he would necessarily have to show up for meetings or have monitor duty, but I think putting him on the Justice League would be an exciting, bold move.

Finally, I would officially make BOOSTER GOLD, FIRE, ICE, BLUE BEETLE, ROCKET RED and CAPTAIN ATOM members of the Justice League, even if they appear in their own Justice League International monthly comic instead of Justice League of America. They could function as their own team-within-a-team, or their own distinct sub- or side-League, and still have JLA membership, appearing alongside the other Leaguers and in the main Justice League book as needed. Not every member of the team needs to be in every single issue, after all.

That gives us a pretty big, and pretty exciting, Justice League, stocked with A-List heroes, the folks you expect to see when you open up a comic book called Justice League of America, a bunch of surprise character you wouldn’t expect to see and a some emerging characters who would benefit from the shared esteem of being around all those other heroes.

That’s the Justice League I’d put together tonight, if I were the person at DC in charge of putting together the new Justice League.

Wait a minute. While that is a big League, consisting of 23 superheroes (unless I miscounted), and while there are some hints of diversity there—including five female Leaguers—it’s still a pretty white team, isn’t it? There are more aliens (Martian Manunter, Starman, Superman) and former human beings (Deadman, Swamp Thing, Congorilla) than black folk, of which we’d only have part-time John Stewart and Firestorm, who is actually only half-black.

That’s why I would include some combination of STEEL, BLACK LIGHTNING, CYBORG and VIXEN. All four have been members, and all four left under mysterious (and, frankly, dubious) reasons, and could easily be brought back at the drop of a hat.

No in-story rationale was ever given for Steel’s disappearance from the team. He joined the League in 1998’s JLA #16 and was on the team through 2000’s JLA #42 and JLA: Heaven’s Ladder. When Grant Morrison left the title and Mark Waid replaced him, Steel was simply no longer there (I recall reading that Waid would have used him, as he did in Heaven’s Ladder, but had believed that Steel and a few others weren’t going to survive Morrison’s final arc, “World War III”). No in-story eason for Steel leaving and never rejoining the team was ever given to my knowledge, although he would appear as a guest-star here or there.

Black Lightning never officially joined the Justice League until the current volume of Justice League of America, around 2006 or 2007. His tenure was ridiculously short though. He was gone by 2009, apparently to star in The Outsiders. The title has since been canceled, so it’s not like Black Lightning the character has another book to be appearing in. If the idea is to keep him on The Outsdiers in-story, there’s no reason he can’t also be on the League is there? They have teleporters, after all, and in a JLA with a roster of almost 30 heroes, it’s not like they’d need Black Lightning on every mission.

Poor Cyborg was there even less time. He joined the team in JLoA #41, and was gone by #44. He did appear in some back-up strips in JLoA for awhile, during which he was offered a job at STAR labs. I’m not sure if that is why he disappeared from the team or not (If so, he’s lazy; Superman holds down a full-time job and can be on the Justice League. And jeez, can you imagine how busy Batman Bruce Wayne and Aquaman and Wonder Woman must be?). I don’t see why Cyborg can’t be on the League now, especially since he’s not appearing anywhere else, and there’s no Titans book with a line-up that needs him at the moment.

Finally Vixen had a healthy run on the team back in the ‘80s during the Detroit era League, but rejoined the team at the same time Black Lightning did. She lasted just a few issues longer than he did though, deciding to leave during the Blackest Night tie-in arc that ran in 2009’s JLoA #38-40, after the damage she sustained in Cry. Broken bones heal though.

So I think that’s the League I’d put together right now, if it were my job to do so. Maybe only a third to a half of those characters would ever actually appear in each story arc, unless there were arcs so big a whole army of Justice Leaguers were needed, though, with some of them being only part-timers (Hal and John Stewart) or getting their own League book (the JLI stars).

I’m quite curious to see DC’s post Flashpoint plans, as it does seem like JLoA is going to be canceled and relaunched, almost definitely with a new roster hewing closely to the Big Seven formula. I wonder what line-up they’ll ultimately choose will be, whether J’onn will appear in the main book or in JLI and who will be writing and drawing it.

They screwed up the last book pretty badly by launching it with a poor creative team, including a writer who was only around long enough to write two story arcs (“The Tornado’s Path” and “The Lightning Saga”) and two one-issue stories (JLoA #11 and #12) and an artist who was an unfortunate combination of ill-suited to the material, not very good and unable to keep a deadline.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Comic Shop Comics: May 4-11

The All-New Batman: The Brave and the Bold #7 (DC Comics) The team-up with Green Lantern Alan Scott is somewhat book-ended by two smile-inducing scenes involving DC super-teams.

The first begins with a toddler Batman declaring “The Time Trapper turned the Justice League into babies!” to set-up a space-wasting (but swell-looking) double-page splash team-up by the Teen Titans. The second references a neat addition to the Batman history from the cartoon this comic is based on—that the hero was trained in part by the Justice Society of America (Here, they specifically trained him on how to battle super-powered foes, since he already had a handle on crushing conventional crime by the time they meet him).

The story in the middle is one I’m pretty sure I’ve read at least one or two times before—retired Gotham superhero Alan Scott doesn’t like what he hears about this new Batman kid busting heads in back alleys, so he suits up and flies in to see his successor for himself, and they both end up learning something in the process.

I wouldn’t expect this version of that set-up to get any deeper than any of the others I’ve read, but I do think there’s a good story in there somewhere about how Alan Scott pretty much killed Batman’s parents by being such a lousy superhero.

Sure, he didn’t pull the trigger, but where was he when they were getting murdered? Enjoying his retirment? (Or in Valhalla? I can’t keep DC continuity straight after all the reboots of the last five years).

Remember what a hole Gotham City was in Batman: Year One? And it never really got too much better. I think city government got less corrupt as the years went on, but the city also began leading the country in the most supervillains and serial killers per capita and was visited by an unlikely string of national disasters and terrorist attacks, including the Arkham Asylum break-out, multiple plague outbreaks, an earthquake, exile from the United States and descent into a post-apocalyptic, feudal society and on and on.

Basically Alan Scott is the worst superhero protector a city has ever had, in that he gave up after awhile, and when he does get around to doing some actual superheroing, he usually commutes to New York City to do it there.

I don’t blame Alan Scott for not being there to save the Waynes with his magic wishing ring that can do anything at all except affect wood—no one can be everywhere all the time, he might not have been on the same plane of existence as them at the time—but Batman’s not always rational about things like Gotham City crime, the proper conduct of superheroes and the death of his parents, you know?

Huh. That was a weird tangent. Sorry.

While I’ve seen this story before, Scholly Fisch does a fine job of tellint it again, and focusing it to appeal to an all-ages, not-necessarily-mired-in-the-minutae-of-these-characters’ audience.

My favorite part of the issue, however, was seeing Rick Burchett and Dan Davis’ art, in particular their version of the cartoon’s version of the costume Batman was wearing in his first appearance.

Parciularly, I liked how they drew his ears, which approach the length of Kelly Jones’, but are broader, less-pointy and less antler-like.

In fact, he looks like rather rabbit-like:

Avengers Academey Giant-Size #1 (Marvel) This was probably the best super-comic of those in this batch, with the similarly priced and sized DCCP volume below offering the only real competition.

It’s by writer Paul Tobin and pencil artist David Baldeon, a great, underappreciated talent, who is here inked by Jordi Tarrangona and colored by Chris Sotomayor. Baldeon’s work, either because of his collaborators or simply because of a leap in his abilities that just happened to fall while he was drawing this, has never looked better.

This is serious superior super-comic drawing.

I’m completely unfamiliar with the characters, having never read an issue of Avengers Academy or The Young Allies, some of whom guest-star, but I imagine this must be pretty damn new-reader friendly, as I had no trouble following it.

A handful of the Avengers Academy kids, who are apparently the post-Siege iteration of the Avengers Initiative program as seen in the since-canceled Avengers: The Initiative comic, are give the day off to roam around New York City (Reptil, Veil, Striker and Finese, if that means anything to you).

They are kidnappd by one of my favorite Marvel villains, the nefarious, insanely bad with money Arcade—the number of robots and death traps he built expressly to take out these characters, which he is only doing as a sort of advertising effort to drum up business, has got to be in the billions. He also captures Spider-Girl, Firestar and Toro, all of the kinda sorta superhero team seen in Young Allies.

Will Arcade, who set his sights intentionally low this time, finally succeed in killing a bunch of superheroes? Or will good triumph over evil?

Well, I imagine you can guess how it turns out. Tobin has come up with some pretty imaginative traps to stick the various heroes in, and some pretty imaginitvie escapes and strategies. The dialogue, whether Arcade’s rants and wordplay or the kids’ conversations with one another, is all top-notch, and, as I mentioned, the art is pretty amazing.

The book also benefits from its size and scale. It’s an 80-page story (and will cost you $7.99, although that’s only the cost of 44 pages of most Marvel comics, so that’s actually a hell of a volume), and it was great fun to be able to sit and enjoy one, big superhero adventure from start to finish, without having to wait months between chapters, or for months to have passed from when it was published before it was collected into a trade.

I realize this book had sort of an unusual path to publication—it was announced in a few other formats before ultimately coming out in this one—but I’d love to see more comics like this one.

Especially if they are this well-made.

Batman: Arkham City #1 (DC) I suppose I shouldn’t complain too much or too lady about the relative quality of this comic book, as it is a series I kinda sorta requested exist, since I was curious about the experiencing the story of the popular Arkham Asylum videogame (and its upcoming Arkham City) and seeing the sometimes quite dramatic redesigng of all the Bat-characters without having to actually play the videogames, as that’s a medium I just can’t get into anymore, due to my advanced age/being confounded by techonology.

This isn’t actually an adaptation of either of the games, but a miniseries serving as a bridge between the two. I can understand why they chose to do that; it better positions the book as something more likely to appeal to people who have played the game than to people who read Batman comics but haven’t played the game; certainly the former is a much larger potential audience than the latter.

It’s written by Paul Dini, who apparently worked on the videogame, and artist Carlos D’Anda, who is credited as “Illustrator” and who also worked on the video game in some capacity. (Word just underlined that sentence in green, because it is a passive sentence. Sorry Word; I’m not writing up to your expectations. I’m letting you down, aren’t I?)

It opens with a sort of a recap of the climax of the game it’s continuing from, which was surprising in its strangeness. Apparently The Joker was turned into some sort of gigantic, steroridal monster using a Venom-like drug called “Titan” instead of “Venom,” and Batman defeated him using his “Bat-spray dynamite.”

Meanwhile, the warden during what the characters are referring to as “the Arkham riots” is now the mayor of Gotham City and being helped by a mysterious, off-panel puppetmaster of some sort (presumably its Hugo Strange), who has also hired two twins to get hopped-up on Titan and the suicide bomb city hall.

The plot is therefore a lot more superhero-y than I would have expected, and while there’s little to it that’s fresh or new, the script has no real major problems either.

D’Anda’s art is similarly fine. I was surprised the degree to which it reminded me of Ed McGuinness’ art; many of the characters have the size and shape of McGuinness designs, only with more and rougher details.

The design is what I was most curious about, and while we do see a fair amoung of the videogame Batman’s more movie-like, armor-as-costume look and a gadget or two, there are only a few villains who appear: The Joker, Two-Face and Harley Quinn. The first two are so bandaged up—I guess from the beating they took in the first video game?—that I didn’t really get a sense of what D’Anda had in mind for them, and Harley is wearing an Arkham-issued jump suit.

Personally I was disappointed (and am now thinking maybe I shouldn’t have preordered the whole series), but I realize that has more to do with my expectations than the execution. As for that execution, it’s serviceable—I see no reason for someone looking for a so-so Batman comic series to avoide it, but, at the same time, I see nothing here to really recommend the book to anyone either.

DC Comics Presents: Son of Superman #1 (DC) I’m not sure what the logic behind DC’s decisions to reprint certain material in the $7.99, 100-page, spine-bearing-like-a-trade, but ad-having-like-a-serial-comic format is, but I imagine the presences of J.H. Williams III’s artwork in this had a lot to do with it, given a previous DCCP volume was seemingly organized around Williams’ art (as is the upcoming Chase volume), and the fact that his star has been on the rise since his stint on Detective Comics with Greg Rucka.

This particular volume isn’t comprised of single, un-collected issues of a comic, however; it’s a straight reprint of a 1999 original Elseworlds graphic novel. It’s written by the Howard Chaykin and David Tischman writing team, penciled by Williams and inked by Mick Gray (as lovely as Williams’ more recent work looks, I really love seeing his fine line and represenatational art in the more organic, less-fussed-over pages of this than in the elaborately, even baroquely desgined pages of the TEC Batwoman stuff.

The story is set in a mildly dystopian future (I say mildly because the economic strife in which the super-rich get richer while the poor suffer is basically the way the world is today, only are fashions aren’t as dumb and we don’t have superheroes).

Superman has been missing for years, Lois Lane is a screenwriter with a teenage son who looks a lot like Clark Kent, Lex Luthor is kind of a jerk, the JLA all have neat costume redesigns but are essentially all sell-outs (and one of them is rather randomly evil because, hey, Elseworlds) and Peter Ross and Lana Lang lead a terrorist group called The Superman that lashes violently out at the Luthor-lead status quo.

It’s a graphic novel that actually reads quite a bit like a graphic novel—well, a novella anyway—it’s Elsweworlds premise allowing it to have an ending that makes it a distinct unit in a way most comics featuring these characters or their like just can’t ever really be. And, of course, it’s about 100-pages of Williams and Gray drawing the Superman characters and the Justice League.

To give you a sense of what their art looks like, here’s a two-page sequence in which Batman sneaks into Wonder Woman’s room to talk to her: Jeez, Williams is good. Look at those faces! And this is a pretty good example of sexy art that is a) very well drawn b) representational of what a real woman looks like in real live and c) drawn rather than lightboxed/Photoshopped/overly-referenced/Greg Land-ed (not sure what the best verb is really, but I’m sure you know what I’m talking about).

I think I’m going to post a bit about the JLA’s costume designs in this later, as I really like ‘em. You can kind of see one of Batman’s costumes in the above scene though. After a few years of Hal Jordan and Barry Allen being alive again and eight years since Green Lantern Kyle Rayner left the League line-up (Eight years?!), it was kind of weird to see Wally West and Kyle Rayner on a seven-person, “Big Seven” iteration of the Justice League again.

DC Universe Online Legends #7 (DC) It occurred to me while reading this so-so issue of the generally lousy series that of the seven comic books I purchased during my last trip to the comic shop, six of them included Batman among their casts, and they were six different versions of Batman, from six different continuities/sources (Two Batmen based on videogames featuring him, one based on a cartoon series featuring him, one from aan Elseworlds alternate reality story from the nineties, one an alternate reality version from an altered DC Universe and the other the “real” Batman from the DCU).

Just an observation.

In this issue, there’s a scene with The Joker that made absolutely no sense to me; like, I couldn’t figure out what was supposed to be communicated by the scene. And then a bunch of generic superheroes that Future Luthor created (probably in the model of the generic superheroes you can create to play in the game…?) save the dying Future Batman and turn him into a cyborg Superman.

The art’s sub-par, though the relative quality vascilates depending on the artist and the page. One to three more issues to go before my stupid subscription runs out.

Flashpoint #1 (DC) So here’s the first issue of DC’s next big story/event/crossover thing.

You know what frustrates me about these sorts of comics most? I have no idea what to call them. Like, it’s not really “a” story, but will end up being a bunch of stories. It’s not really a comic; well, Flashpoint is, but it’s also like 20 other comics, too, most of theme specially created to be part of Flashpoint, some not. It is an event, but an event what (Story? Crossover?). And it is a crossover, but not of pre-existing comics (save a few), and it’s not just a crossover.

So I always have to refer to things like this and, worse, branding effort-style tie-ins like “Brightest Day” or “Dark Reign,” by using a bunch of slashes. I really feel like after so many of these I should know exatly how to refer to them, but I don’t.

Anyway, this is the first issue of the plain, old Flashpoint comic; the main part of the story, which is unfolding in a five-issue miniseries by a single creative team.

The premis is remarkably, refreshingly straightforward: Barry “The Flash” Allen wakes up and finds himself in a world he doesn’t recognize. He’s no longer The Flash, he has no super-powers, his dead mom’s not dead, his wife’s not his wife, no one knows who Superman is, Batman’s not Bruce Wayne and Aquaman and Wonder Woman are at war with one another, a war that’s already claimed 132 million civilian lives (?!) in Europe.

What’s going on? That is apparently what Barry’s going to spend the next four issues working on—figuring out what’s going on, and how to fix it.

The beginning is a bit rocky, with a narrator whose identity isn’t revealed until the end of the book, and a herky-jerky introduction to Barry Allen’s status quo and a pretty dumb-looking two-page splash of DC’s most valueable IPs running over a hill together for no reason, but after that things are pretty straightforward.

Writer Geoff Johns does an admirable job creating a very different Elseworld-style world for Barry to wake up in. Rather than just tweaking costumes and such, there are some pretty huge, wholesale changes to characters and concepts, which we get a brief tour of when Cyborg, who is here the Superman of this DCU, calls a meeting of all the superheroes to try and talk Batman into hanging out with them.

There are classic DC characters with slightly different roles or costumes, like Green Lantern Abin Sur, Piper, Citizen Cold (nee Captain Cold), The Sandman, Element Woman and The Enchantress. There’s some new (?) guy called Blackout. There’s someone called The Outsider, whom Tucker Stone says is supposed to be Grant Morrison (Give that Stone and Stone conversation a listen when you’ve got time; it’s great) and then there’s what I thought was a pretty clever new version of Captain Marvel (until Tucker ruined that for me by pointing out to Nina that it’s basically just Captain Planet).

That take? Six individual kids each get one of Shazam’s powers, and when they say the magic word they all six combine to form “Captain Thunder” (Whichever kids got the wisdom of Solomon a and the courage of Achilles got screwed in that deal; those might be pretty great attributes to have, especially the former, but aren’t really all that useful all on their own. Like, so you have the courage of Achilles, but you don’t have anything to back up that courage? Doesn’t that just make you kind of a maniac, like, I don’t know, Scrappy-Doo?).

Oddly, one of the kids, a fat kid (artist Andy Kubert draws fat kids poorly; this may be the first time in his career he had to draw an overweight character, though), is shown walking a tiger on a leash. When they say “Shazam,” the tiger turns into an armored sabertooth tiger. Basically it’s Mr. Tawny as Cringer/ Battle Cat from the He-Man cartoon, and he was the dumbest part of that very dumb cartoon.

Kubert’s art, here inked by Sandra Hope, is quite good, and it was nice to see so much strong art by a single, talented creator in a single issue of a big, hyped story like this. I grew depressed reading it, however, as I don’t think I’ve ever read five consecutive issues of anything by Andy Kubert—certainly not anything that published during five consecutive months.

I hope against hope that he’s been drawing this series since about two years ago, and will actually be able to finish the whole thing by himself.

Justice League: Generation Lost #24 (DC) The resolultion to DC’s second bi-weekly, year-long limited series actually leaves quite a bit unresolved.

No, villain Max Lord does not succeed in his plan to kill Wonder Woman, whose own status in the DCU is pretty murky at this point in the story, although he built a special big OMAC with Amazon powers to do just that. And no, the heroes formerly known as the Justice League don’t succeed in bringing him to justice—they do, however, help save Wonder Woman and get the world to remember that Max Lord existed, undoing the worldwide mindwipe that offered the premise for the series.

On the other hand, this particular grouping of superheroes will apparently be showing up in “the new monthly series: coming soon!”, so perhaps they’ll continue to battle Max Lord and his Checkmate operation there.

I’m going to miss this series now that it’s over. For one thing, with both this and the other bi-weekly, year-long series now over, that’s four less issues of serial comics I’ll be reading each month, although I did like the assurance that there would be a comic with characters I liked in it, written with professional skill and drawn more often than not tolerably well.

I’ll certainly try out the new series that follows this. Hopefully it will look even better, as a monthly schedule will allow for a single artist to draw it (hopefully Aaron Lopresti, who does a fine job on this particular issue...and I sure wouldn't say no to a Dustin Nguyen-drawn JLI comic either, after seeing his covers for this series, like the one above).