Sunday, March 25, 2018

On a few collections of DC comics from the '90s: Aquaman, Green Lantern, Robin and Superboy

Aquaman By Peter David Book One

Peter David started writing Aquaman almost as soon as the previous ongoing series had ended. The thirteenth and final issue of the Shaun McLaughlin-scripted series shipped in 1992, while Peter David's four-part miniseries, Aquaman: Time and Tide, was released in 1993, paving the way for David's ongoing series, which began in 1994.

So hardly any time at all had really passed between the end of one series and the start of another, and yet reading David's Aquaman, it felt more like an entire age had passed, he so completely reinvented the character. His Arthur Curry--whose real Atlantean name Orin is used more and more--is a brooding, grumpy, self-pitying misanthrope, a former king more or less forced to continue his career as a superhero, because no one will leave him alone.

It is the visual shift that occurs in the early issues of Aquaman that are best-remembered, though. This is when Aquaman grew his hair long and grew a beard--it's more or less impossible to imagine Jason Momoa having been cast to play Aquaman in the Warner Bros live-action movies without this run of Aquaman comics having been published--and it's when he lost his left hand in perhaps the most ironic fashion imaginable, replacing it with a harpoon. By the end of this first collection of David's run on the character, he is wearing his new costume, too, his makeover complete.

The visual changes were all quite intentional, signalling not only a break with the character's clean-cut, Silver Age past, but an attempt by David, as he has his protagonist explaining within the scripts, to come up with an iconic symbol of his own, in the form of a weapon...specifically a weapon that surface-dwellers used against the creatures of the sea, repurposed and turned back on them by the sea's greatest defender.

Say what you will about the darker, more bad-ass take on Aquaman, it certainly worked. The series was the longest-running one Aquaman has ever had (David left after the 46th issue, but it continued under writers Erik Larsen and then Dan Jurgens, making it all the way to 75 issues). It was also, in my opinion, the best. This is the version of Aquaman that appeared throughout Grant Morrison's JLA, and has been around ever since...to a degree. During the New 52, Geoff Johns reasserted the character's original, Silver Age origins over those of David, Robert Loren Fleming and other Aquaman writers of the 1980s--in addition to upping his power levels to Golden Age Superman levels--but otherwise kept much of the character's chip-on-his-shoulder surliness.

Much of the strength of David's run came from neither reinventing the wheel--this isn't the self-conscious, revisionist, "Ultimate Aquaman" of Johns' more recent run, for example--nor jettisoning continuity, but rather of picking the character up where he was last left, giving him something new and life-changing to deal with (not the hand thing, so much as his discovery of The Atlantis Chronicles and coming to terms with what he learned in them), while fashioning for him interesting adventures dependent on interpersonal drama and as much mythology as superheroics. David never fell into the trap of recycling Aquaman's rogue's gallery--in this volume, Ocean Master and Black Manta both only appear briefly, and in flashbacks or dream sequences--or thinking of him as a reactive superhero who had to deal with, like, sea-going crime.

There was also a great deal of rewarding long-term plotting, some of which you can see here, as the events of Time and Tide inform those of the first year or so worth of the ongoing, as well as just good old-fashioned, shared-setting comic book scripting. The first issue of Aquaman I read monthly was #26, although I was easily coaxed into the series by well-executed guest appearances, each of which felt organic to an ongoing narrative, while also doing the job of drawing eyeballs to the book (For example, in this volume, Aquaman fights Superboy in one issue, and Lobo in another; the former is there because his turf is Hawaii, where there happens to be a pretty big naval base that Aquaman has business with, while the latter comes to Earth in order to avenge some dolphins, the only thing he cares about in the universe).

It also helped that David had a hell of a creative partner in Martin Egeland, the pencil artist who draws the bulk of this collection. I really liked Egeland in the 1990s, and his work remains pretty solid today, too. His characters are all quite expressive, and though he is prone to the excesses of the era--and there's an image or two where the muscles get out of control  and one shouldn't look too long at them or one will wonder why said pages were ever even allowed to go to print--there's a nice, fluid grace to the characters' implied movements. There are some incredibly dynamic scenes of Aquaman and Aqualad swimming, leaping and, in one memorable image, sort of skipping along a tunnel.

Looking back form 2018, I see a bit of Todd McFarlane in Egeland's style, although his fundamentals seem far better than McFarlane's ever were. (Does anyone know whatever happened to Egeland? I searched the name on comics.org after finishing this volume, and found relatively little beyond Aquaman and some superhero work from that time. Did he quit comics, or is Egeland a pseudonym, or...?).

This Book One collection begins with Time and Tide, which was drawn by pencil artist Kirk Jarvinen and inker Brad Vancata. The premise of the series was that Aquaman had retreated to his Aquacave in an attempt to continue the Atlantis Chronicles by writing about his own life, leading to a series of flashbacks. The first issue depict his first encounter with a superhero--The Flash Barry Allen--at the dawn of the Silver Age.

The second is devoted to his childhood, in which he is rescued from Mercy Reef as an infant by Porm, a friendly dolphin, who raises him as her own among her pod. It's a very Tarzan of The Apes sequence, and, in fact David takes quite a bit of inspiration from Tarzan in his portrayal of Aquaman, who he sees as something of an Atlantean answer to Lord Greystoke.

In the third, he is a teenager, and visits an Inuit village in Alaska, where he befriends--and inadvertently makes a baby with--a young woman named Kako. He also fights a polar bear and the first of the mythological deities he'll face during David's run.

And finally, in the fourth, we see Aquaman and Aqualad at the height of their Silver Age status quo, as they encounter Ocean Master who, at that point, is just another supervillain to Aquaman.

When Aquaman begins, Garth pulls Aquaman out of his cave--where he's sprawled like Conan on a throne of coral--to help him investigate a downed nuclear submarine for the US Navy. It turns out to be a trap set by new, short-lived villain Charybdis, who has already captured a minor DC aquatic adventurer, Dolphin. It's in this battle with Charybdis that Aquaman ultimately loses his hand.

After he's slightly healed--or at least has managed to affix a harpoon to the stump--he and his new running crew head to Pearl Harbor in order to get answers about the trap the Navy sent them into, where they have to fight Superboy (whose Spider-Man-like fight chatter makes him a better fit for David than Aquaman, whose jokes sometimes feel out of character). Before they get their answers, they are sent to Japan in order to rescue Porm, and there meet Lobo.

The last four issues of the collection are an arc of sorts in which Aquaman returns to Kako's village with Dolphin, only to discover the son he never knew he sired--Koryak, who will become a supporting character in the series--and a group of Fourth World villains, The Deep Six. Meanwhile, Garth goes off on a mission of his own, to follow a lead that he thinks might indicate that his late girlfriend Tula (or Aquagirl, as you and I know her) is still alive, meeting Letifos, who will play a role in the Tempest miniseries. It's during these issues that Jim Calafiore's work appears for the first time; he's just there to fill-in for an issue or so, but he will eventually take over as the series' primary artist...to the detriment of the series, if you ask me.

This collection, which includes 13 issues altogether, also includes a new introduction from Peter David, in which he describes how he approached the series and how he tried to sell it. I was glad to read it; as I always say, all trade collections should have introductions. If they don't deserve introductions, then maybe they don't deserve to be collected at all, you know?


Green Lantern: Kyle Rayner Vol. 1

I was a fan of the Kyle Rayner version of Green Lantern, DC's sole Green Lantern for much of the 1990s and the one that was featured in the Grant Morrison, Mark Waid and Joe Kelly runs on JLA. I could go on at some length about the virtues of the character versus that of his predecessor, Hal Jordan, but the two main things that attracted me to the character was that 1) he was new and debuted around the time I started paying attention to the DC Universe outside of Gotham City and 2) a coffee-obsessed, twenty-something, freelance artist based in New York City was a lot more appealing to me than a middle-aged, former test pilot-turned-space cop from a blandly generic imaginary city.

I never quite understood the vehemence with which so many Hal Jordan fans hated the change at the time. Of course, the very first issue of Green Lantern I read was 1996's Green Lantern #76, which featured Kyle Rayner soaring through the sky above Gotham City, the bat-signal in the background. This was the first issue in the three-part "Hero Quest," in which the green Green Lantern went from city to city seeking some form of guidance from his more established peers: Batman and Robin in Gotham, then Captain Marvel in Fawcett and, finally, Wonder Woman in Gateway (He had already met Superman, The Flash, Donna Troy and the Titans in his adventures).

That issue, for what it's worth, was a good 20 issues of Green Lantern into Kyle's career, plus Zero Hour and several issues of New Titans and whatever other appearance he made in his first two years or so wearing the ring. While I read earlier issues too, I did so out of back-issue bins, meaning out of order. I had never read Kyle Rayner's first year or so as Green Lantern in the way it was meant to be read, the way it was published. DC is making that possible though, collecting his adventures into Green Lantern: Kyle Rayner, which begins with his very first appearance...that means three issues of "Emerald Twilight," in which Hal Jordan was still officially the Green Lantern of the title.

These issues are rough. It's not until #57, when Kyle moves to New York City, that the book starts to feel like the Green Lantern I knew, and thought the book was; that's a good six issues into his time as Green Lantern. Writer Ron Marz is the poor guy who had the job of turning stalwart Silver Age hero Hal Jordan into a cosmic-scale villain, doing away with the Green Lantern Corps and The Guardians of the Universe and all the trappings of the franchise from the past few decades and introducing a new character--in just three issues.

He doesn't do as good a job in the space allotted as I always assumed he had done, but then, I think Dan Jurgens also did a lot of the work in (retroactively) justifying Hal Jordan's heel turn in the pages of Zero Hour. I guess I had just filled in the blanks in my imagination, or imagined that they were filled in in the pages of Green Lantern.

So the book begins with "Emerald Twilight." The first issue, penciled by Bill Willingham and inked by Romeo Tanghal and Robert Campanella, is really quite good. In the crater that was Coast City, utterly destroyed in the events of "Reign of The Supermen," Hal uses his wish-granting ring in an attempt to bring it back...although this mostly amounts to his conjuring holograms or hard-light constructs of it as he remembered it, and having conversations with his loved ones...though he's essentially just talking to himself through the medium of his ring. Anyway, it's all handled pretty well; I've always thought having your city completely erased from existence, including just about everyone you know except your friends from work (with "work" being "the Justice League" and "The Green Lantern Coprs") is as good as any other contrivance to drive a fictional character mad more-or-less overnight.

In the last few pages of part one, the Guardians tell Hal to quit fucking around and come back to Oa. Pissed at them, them streaks off to comply, while Kyle makes his first appearance; seeing Hal in the distance, he thinks he sees a shooting star.

The next two chapters? Things get dicey. (Visually, as well as in the story. Part two is penciled by a Fred Haynes, in a very '90s style with lots of splashes. Darryl Banks, who draws much of the rest of the book and is the artist most closely associated with Kyle, comes on during the third chapter)

During the second chapter, Hal is confronted by a series of allies from the Corps, each trying and failing to either calm him down or beat him up, as at this point it's pretty clear his trip to Oa isn't going to be a friendly one. He fights and defeats eight Lanterns, stealing each ring and adding them to his own fingers, increasing his power as he collects rings. When he gets to Oa, he's faced with Killowog. He tells Killowog that he didn't kill any of the Lanterns, but left them with enough power to survive. The two of them fight though, and The Guardians play their last, desperate attempt to stop Hal: They release Sinestro, newly empowered with a GLC power ring.

The bulk of the last issue is a fight to the death between Hal and Sinestro, with our hero breaking his archenemies neck and then killing Kilowog and destroying the main power battery and, apparently, The Guardians...?

In the last pages, the lone surviving Guardian, Ganthet, meets Kyle Rayner in an LA alley, seemingly at random, and hands him the last power ring in the universe, then disappears forever or so.

And the torch is thus passed.

Regarding "Emerald Twilight," what surprised me most is how few Lanterns Hal actually faces. It was my understanding that he killed the entire Green Lantern Corps which would have meant some 3600 Lanterns, right? Although I have absolutely no idea what was going on in Green Lantern comics just prior to this storyline, so maybe there were only a handful of Lanterns left at that point...? Or did destroying the battery somehow kill everyone? I have no idea.

Things stay rough for the next five issues, the first of Kyle's career. These issue's are pretty notorious, mostly because of what happens to Kyle's girlfriend, Alex DeWitt--this is the storyline from which the term "women in refrigerators" came from. And while it doesn't read any better in 2018, I do now wonder if perhaps this story wasn't a sort of necessary evil? Like, if it wasn't so egregious that it served as a sort of straw-that-broke-the-camel's back, drawing so much attention to the trope, giving it a name, that it was easier for other creators to avoid in the future? (Not that the phenomenon of killing off or visiting violence upon the female loved ones of male heroes as a way to motivate their actions went away afterwards, of course, but it's always easier to address a problem once that problem has been named.)

I'm also a little curious about how on-the-fly these decisions were made (This comic book series at this time in comic book history is a nexus for so many aspects of the mainstream comics industry and fandom that followed, that I think there could probably be a book written about it). The Kyle Rayner that seems to be getting introduced in the first few issues is a completely different one then the one who emerges a few issues later. When we first meet Kyle, he's a slacker in LA with a girlfriend trying to break into news photography, making for yet another superhero-with-a-media girlfriend pairing (Superboy, introduced just before Kyle, would also get a media girlfriend, in the form of Tana Moon).

She is killed off-panel and infamously stuffed inside of a refrigerator within issues of her first appearance, however, and after Kyle contemplates killing her killer in an act of vengeance, he ultimately leaves the city to begin a new life, at which point what would emerge as steady aspects of his turn as the main Green Lantern would emerge: His job, his city, his landlord, his relationships with super-women (First Donna Troy, then Jennifer-Lynn "Jade" Hayden). It makes me wonder if the sharp change in direction was intended to be subversive, or if Marz was making it up as he was going along, reacting to input from his editors.

In the middle of all that, DCU events intervene. Kyle briefly meets long-haired Superman and teams up with him against Mongul, the guy responsible for Coast City's destruction in the first place. Directly after Alex's death, Kyle finds Green Lantern Alan Scott--or perhaps he was Sentinel Alan Scott at that point?--waiting for him in his dark apartment, wanting to recruit him into helping with the whole Zero Hour thing (He does, but you have to read Zero Hour for that; here Scott does give Kyle a quick history of the Green Lantern Corps, told across four very full pages).

In Green Lantern #0, which seems to follow immediately on the heels of Zero Hour, Kyle and Hal battle on Oa, and there's a pretty interesting fake-out where it seems like Kyle might return the ring and legacy back to Hal, as if maybe his time as Green Lantern was meant to be more story-line specific, like when Jean-Paul Valley replaced Bruce Wayne as Batman, rather than when Wally West replaced Barry Allen as the Flash.

The collection includes two issues of New Titans, part of a crossover with that series that initiated Kyle's brief stint as a Titan (This era of Titans comics weren't all that great, but that was honestly my favorite line-up of Titans, with the possible exception of the Devin Grayson-written team), and the first issue of REBELS '94.

I suspect the next volume will be when the series starts to get pretty good, but these issues are all still intensely interesting, particularly from the perspective of what was going on with DC comics in the early 1990s, and various trends that were waxing and waning. Knowing how things have changed since only make some elements of these comics even more interesting too. For example, it's easy to imagine a young Geoff Johns reading these comics and getting pissed off, daydreaming about one day being able to undo all of the changes Ron Marz wrought.

And young Geoff Johns' dream came true!


Robin Vol. 5: War of The Dragons

One problem with these complete packages of particular series is evident from the first pages of the fifth issue of Chuck Dixon and company's long, healthy run on the Tim Drake version of Robin. This particular collection covers Robin #14-22, Robin Annual #3 and Detective Comics #685 and #686. Robin #14 was part of the four-part "Troika" story that introduced Batman's then-new costume and ran through the four main Batman books of the time. Actually, Robin #14 was the fourth part of it, so this collection opens with the conclusion of a story; it's beginning and middle somewhere else, probably uncollected (The solution, I suppose, would have been to either stick the first three chapters in here, or just collect "Troika" as its own, 90-ish page trade).

There's another multi-book arc collected in this trade, the title one, but the two Detective Comics chapters of "War of The Dragons" are included, perhaps because that entire arc was written by Dixon, who was then writing 'Tec as well as Robin, or because of how Robin-y that story was, as the warring dragons were King Snake, Lynx and The Ghost Dragons, the villains from the very first Robin mini-series.

So after the opening, in which Robin must try and hold his own against The KGBeast, there's a two-part story penciled by Tom Grummett featuring Batman, The Spoiler and Cluemaster; the three-part "War" featuring art by penciller Steve Lieber and inkers Klaus Janson and Enrique Villagran (Huntress and Nightwing put in guest-appearances, and The Silver Monkey is introduced) and then the volume contains the transition from Grummett to new pencil artist, the late, great Mike Wieringo, which accompanies a series of extremely well-made shorter one and two-issue stories, which are something of a relief after the relative chaos of the Bat-family titles up to that point, with their years worth of inter-book crossover epics.

The unfortunately also late, but also great Mike Parobeck and Stan Woch draw "The Mouse That Ate Gotham," in which Robin meets an unlikely foe that causes chaos by attacking key points of key infrastructure. Ringo then takes over as penciler for a two-parter involving the return of The General (a badly bowlderized version of whom has been appearing off and on in the James Tynion-written Detective), which is followed by a second two-parter, this one sending Tim undercover to infiltrate a ninja-themed summer camp in order to stop a string of robberies by faux ninja second-story men (and women).

The final chunk of the book is the third Robin annual, one of 1994's Elseworlds-themed annuals. In this one, Batman is a samurai in feudal Japan, and Robin is his orphaned apprentice, who must try to complete his final mission after Batman is killed off. There are a clan of cat-eared female ninja , but beyond those Batmanly touches, it is mostly just a pastiche of samurai flicks. Villagran handles the art.

Reading and/or re-reading all these comics today--the annual, The Mouse and the ninja camp stories were the only ones I hadn't read when they were originally published--what seems most striking to me is how much effort Dixon put in to trying to make the teenage characters seem semi-realistic as crime-fighters. Batman was very protective of Robin, and Tim had to be very careful about who he fought and how, so as not to risk his life needlessly; when he confronted someone like The KGBeast, it stuck out as a dramatic moment because it was so relatively rare. In this volume, for example, he mostly deals with younger opponents, and/or the sorts of crimes that might not necessarily warrant Batman's undivided attention.

Dixon's Spoiler is as different from Tynion's Spoiler as his Tim Drake is; rather than hyper-competent, she's very much an amateur and work-in-progress, and it's a lot more fun to see her arguing with the Dynamic Duo, as, on the one hand, she's totally right to call Batman and Robin out for being sanctimonious jerks to her, but, on the other hand, they're proven right that she's really not ready to be a crimefighter (as when Robin takes two in the chest due to her recklessness, for example; thank God for Kevlar!)

I was also struck by how much The General--a ridiculously brilliant and mature military strategist who just so happens to still be a little kid--seems like a precursor to Damian, right down to his look. Here he basically looks like Damian with a different haircut. All of which kind of makes me want to read a comic featuring the current Robin and the original version of The General, although I suppose the New 52 reboot and Tynion's version of The General would make that impossible-ish.

Robin was in pretty great hands with Grummett handling the art for so much of the first year or so of the book, but Ringo was pretty much born to draw the character, and it is great to see the energy he pours into these early issues. I can remember being a teenager and finding myself much more excited about the book when Ringo's art started appearing under the covers. My esteem for all of these artists have only grown in the years since then, but yeah, there's a pretty clear line in the book's look as Grummett gave way to Ringo.

Looking ahead, it looks like the next dozen or so issues will contain the "Underworld Unleashed" tie-in (during which Killer Moth becomes Charaxes, something I recall hating and writing a letter to the editor about), a few issues of "Contagion" and probably "Legacy" tie-ins, and guest-appearances by Green Arrow Conner Hawke and Wildcat.


Superboy Book 1: Trouble In Paradise

DC begins its perhaps belated collection of the 1994-2002, 100-issue Superboy series with this 270-page, 11-issue trade paperback. The particular Superboy in question is, of course, the '90s one, the clone who was introduced in the post-"Death of Superman" 1993 storyline "The Reign of The Supermen" and then graduated to his own title, by his creators writer Karl Kesel and artist Tom Grummett.

This volume makes for some curious reading, as it starts off with what appears to be four issues of a very solid ongoing comic book series, then detours into four issues of almost impossible to make sense of crossovers, before getting back on track for a few issues.

Kesel writes all 11 of the issues included herein, and Grummett pencils most of them, usually inked by Doug Hazelwood. As for those first four issues, they are most remarkable in for how quickly they establish a premise for the series, which needed a pretty dramatic form of differentiation from the then-four Superman monthlies, and how quickly the creators start filling out Superboy's cast with new characters.

That differentiation turned out to be geographic, as Superboy, his manager Rex Leech, his manager's teenage daughter Roxy Leech, and Superboy's Cadmus-appointed chaperone Dubbilex, a psychic "DNAlien", arrive in Hawaii for the next leg of their "Superboy National Tour," an attempt to turn a buck on Superboy merch, and they more or less decide to stay...in large part because Superboy's crush Tana Moon has relocated there from Metropolis, where she firstmet and was covering Superboy for a time.

We immediately meet Sidearm, a low-level bad guy whose gimmick is a couple extra robot arm attachments; Silversword, the curator of a Hawaiian cultural museum who comes into the possession of a super-powered "animetal"; The Scavenger, a collector of mystical and super-powered artifacts (not to be confused with the Aquaman villain of the same name) and, of course, Knockout, a super-powered stripper who develops a sort of Batman/Catwoman sort of relationship with the Teen of Steel. In the first issue we also meet Sam Makoa, a federal agent working on the islands to combat villainous organization the Silicon Dragons.

Again, all of those new characters appear in just the first 80 or so pages. Then things get a little messy. This is a problem with all of these collections. On the one hand, if the goal is to make them complete collections, then naturally they should include all of the issues of the series. On the other hand, because comics of the time so frequently included crossovers to other books--and Superboy, like Robin, would find this happening a lot, as in addition to line-wide crossovers like Zero Hour, it would also participate in the family-specific crossovers--that means including random chapters of larger stories that sometimes don't make much sense when read alone.

So by the fourth issue, Superboy is showing signs of the "clone plague," and heads to Metropolis to participate in "The Fall of Metropolis" crossover in the Superman books (there is no participating issue of Superboy though; he just heads off to Metropolis in one issue, and then the story picks up with Superboy cured).

Then there are two issues from "World Collide," the 14-part, 1994 Superman family/Milestone crossover that ran through seven different titles, and a one-shot. The third and eighth parts appear here, and they don't really make much sense at all read like this; the first of these is mostly intelligible, involving Superboy and Superman fighting The Parasite in the ruins of Metropolis, but the latter finds the storyline in full-swing. Superman and The Blood Syndicate are dealing with the results of a towering, omnipotent giant's attack on one side of a dimensional rift between the DCU's Metropolis and Milestone's Dakota, while Superboy teams up with Static and Rocket to tackle the giant head-on. There's some nice interaction between The Kid and his fellow teen heroes from the Milestone-iverse, but plot-wise? It reads a lot like the eighth issue of a 14-issue storyline. (I'm not sure what the market for it would be, but if DC's going to go ahead and publish these little slices of it, they might as well release "Worlds Collide" as a trade paperback of its own.)

And then we get two issues of Zero Hour tie-ins. As I've noted before, as tie-ins to line-wide crossovers, the Zero Hour tie-ins are generally pretty easy to read on their own, as most of them deal not with the plot mechanics of the main miniseries per se, but with the fall-out of those mechanics, which mainly means a standalone story in which the title character must deal with time going crazy. Those issues were then immediately followed by loose, thematic tie-ins--#0 issues recapping the heroes' origin stories and setting up future storylines. They were, essentially, jumping-on point comics.

For the tie-in, Kesel and Hazelwood introduce Superboy to the original Superboy; pre-Crisis Clark Kent when he was a boy. That Superboy arrives in Smallville, Kansas just as a plane carrying Dubbilex and our Superboy crashlands outside of town, and his Smallville occasionally appears and overwrites modern Smallville. It's a pretty great comic, really, and includes my favorite page in this whole book. Clark is confronted with the modern Superboy, and then walks off panel saying "Excuse me. I'll be right back." Just as our Superboy turns to the adult Lana Lang to ask what's up with Clark, he comes streaking back on to the scene, now in his Superboy costume, and clocks his modern incarnation. It's a wonder that guy even had a secret identity so long...

For the zero issue, Superboy has a rematch with Sidearm, and then he and Tana Moon spend some time with vacationing Metropolis super-scientist Emil Hamilton, who runs tests on Superboy as his origin is retold...including his first encoutner with Sidearm, from Metropolis on his first night outside of Cadmus. This is the issue in which Superboy acquires his special sunglasses--the first bit of tinkering with what would prove to be a very flexible costume--which gives him X-Ray vision, as well as approximating other Superman powers (Remember, at this point, Superboy was a clone whose sole super-power was tactile telekenisis, which he used to approximate Superman's strength, speed, invulnerability and flight, but didn't grant him Superman's various visions; Geoff Johns would later retcon the character to be an actual clone of Superman, with all of Superman's powers).

It is there that the series resumes the momentum Kesel had planned for it, free of crossovers. The final two issues collected herein introduce King Shark, one of the characters most formidable and, perhaps, longest-lived villains (although Kurt Busiek, Gail Simone and others would rather radically change his personality and, ultimately, his design, in the next decade or so), and a shape-changing character named B.E.M., who can transform into monsters based on whatever the last thing he touched was. These two issues were penciled by Humberto Ramos, whose style was a sharp departure from that of Grummett's, and was, at this point in his career at least, still rather rough. Ramos would get a lot better rather quickly though, and would eventually become a favorite of mine.

These comics are now almost 25 years old, and it certainly shows. The art, particularly that of Grummett, aged quite nicely...if anything, it looks better today, compared to what you might see in too many other DC Comics on the shelves at the moment (seriously, compare this to the insides of the New 52 Superboy or Teen Titans, originally starring a new version of this character, for example). The costume design, well, that's another matter. Superboy's fashion choices look downright bizarre now, and if you scan the covers of the series on comics.org, you'll see him gradually adopting differing costume elements as artists try to find something less 1994 for him to wear. Other than the main character, though, most of the other new characters look more or less timeless; certainly compared to the Milestone heroes, almost all of whom look as early 1990s as super-characters can look (Even poor Icon, who should have a pretty iconic costume, has that weird thing going on around his eyes).

Kesel's use of slang--and Superboy was very much in the constantly chattering, Spider-Man mold of quipping superhero--is dated to the point where it can be kind of crige-worthy, although, perhaps ironically, we are now so far removed from 1994 that it's easy to assume that maybe that's just how people all talked back then...? Like, when I read Silver Age Stan Lee-written comics, I just assume every one in the 1960s talked like, say Benjamin Grimm and Johnny Storm, you know?

Somewhat intriguingly, this collection is more thoroughly designed than the others in this post. While the figure of Superboy on the cover is re-purposed from Grummett and Hazelwood's image from Superboy #1, the background of that image is removed, the figure is enlarged so that his extremities extend beyond the borders of the space, and even the logo has been redesigned. There's a sort of Trapper Keeper aesthetic to the collection, which is...well, which is appropriate.

I had previously only read two of these 11 issues--Superboy #1 and Superboy #0; my comics budget was a lot more limited in 1994 than it is now--and I enjoyed this book immensely. I do hope DC continues collecting Superboy. Looking ahead, it appears that the next 11 issues includes "Watery Grave," a Suicide Squad story, in which Superboy, Knockout, King Shark and Sidearm work alongside Captain Boomerang and Deadshot, and, depending on whether or not they include Superboy Annual #1, guest-appearances by New Blood Loose Cannon, Green Lantern Kyle Rayner and maybe The Legion of Super-Heroes.

4 comments:

Nicholas Ahlhelm said...

Egeland worked on a few Marvel books (Heroes for Hire) as a fill-in artist after DC dumped him in favor of Jim Califiore. After that he did the Adrenalynn: Weapon of War limited series at Image (with Tony Daniels) and a few Star Wars books around Episode I's debut. Doesn't look like he's had any credits since 2000, but he has made Wizard World appearances.

Brian said...

To answer your GL question about numbers, the Corps wasn’t at 3600 at the time, having been broken apart not lon* after Crisis and still being rebuilt (there were probably a few hundred Lanterns at this point, the rings not being shown with the sort of AI they have now and so the bearers needing to be chosen individually). As for Hal killing them all, it’s been shown that killed a few dozen but depowered the rest when he destroyed the Battery. That act killed a bunch more (those in space or dangerous environments), but many former GLs survived depowered and ended up joined groups like LEGION and the Darkstars.

Daniel Von Egidy said...

Does your copy of Green Lantern have the pages shuffled in the first of the New Titans issues? Mine dies and I'm trying to see if it's just my copy.

Caleb said...

Thanks, Brian! I guess in my head I imagined him fighting his way through 3600+ Lanterns, so I was a little surprised and even disappointed that he only actually fought a handful. They don't really communicate how big a deal the extinction of the GLC is during "Emerald Twilight," I guess; it's big dealedness was apparently conveyed to me through repetitions of narrators and characters saying that Kyle is the only Lantern left over the months and years.

Daniel: Yes, yes it did, which I actually completely forgot about until I saw your message just now. As I was reading, I didn't notice at first, it just seemed choppy, and then it became clear what happened.