Wednesday, June 09, 2021

"Bloodlines", "Underworld Unleashed" and Primal Force: On a stack of various '90s DC Comics

Green Lantern Corps Quarterly #1-#2 (1992) It's hard for me to imagine there was ever a point where the Green Lantern concept was popular enough to sustain not only an ongoing monthly (or two...or three), but also a 64-page quarterly book. More remarkable still, the Earth-born Green Lanterns Hal Jordan, John Stewart and Guy Gardner are all but absent from these issues, appearing only in the framing sequences, in which it's explained The Book of Oa contains the stories of all Green Lanterns ever, and that the comics that fill these quarterly anthologies are being seen through that sacred-ish text. 

Instead of those guys, Golden Age Green Lantern Alan Scott and comedy character G'Nort had ongoing features within the series (courtesy of Roger Stern, Dusty Abell and Steve Mitchell and Scott Lobdell and various artists, respectively), and the rest of the short stories are an assortment of one-offs, some featuring extant Green Lantern Corps members, others featuring original characters.

I should here note that these issues are now rendered rather problematic, thanks to the contributions of writer Gerard Jones, a prolific comic writer and writer-about-comics who was arrested for possession of child pornography in 2016. It's difficult to read anything he's written with that knowledge at this point, and I would prefer not to write about him at all, so I'm going to skip over his contributions to these issues, which include the framing sequences and a couple of short stories, one of which features an icky plot point from a previous writer made all the ickier with Jones name attached (That is, 13-year-old Arisa using a power ring to give herself an adult body with which to seduce Hal Jordan...and then becoming a scantily-clad model on Earth; "There I was... ... A bombshell on the outside and a baby on the inside!").

It was the Alan Scott stories I was most interested in. I'm particularly interested in the series' sixth issue, as that's when Alan officially becomes Sentinel for the first time (and gains a cool new costume), but I figured I would work my way there (If DC Comics wants to collect all the Alan Scott stories into a trade paperback, maybe with some Sentinel-focused later comics though, and save me the time and energy, I'd be much obliged! With a new TV show on the horizon, I think we oughta get some Alan Scott trades on the shelves, anyway). These first two chapters are fine, if unremarkable; his origin and early adventures are recounted as he tracks down some neo-Nazis (in the first one) and encounters Silver Age GL villain Hector Hammond (in the second one). His wife Molly and superhero children Todd Rice/Obsidian and Jennifer-Lyn Hayden/Jade appear in supporting roles. 

The G'Nort stories, in which he finds himself unceremoniously kicked out of the Justice League and taking on a homeless girl with a saxophone as his "sidekick", aren't terrible, but the humor feels a bit forced compared to that of the Justice League comics of Giffen/DeMatteis, which wasn't exactly the most subtle of comedic comics already.

Of the other shorts in these two issues, the first issue's introduction of Green Lantern Jack T. Chance in a story by John Ostrander features some pleasingly out-there art by Flint Henry, which is some of the most detailed, crazy-looking Green Lantern art I've seen prior to Liam Sharp's just-concluded collaboration with Grant Morrison, and each of the two issues features a Dough Moench-written, Paul Gulacy-drawn story with great art. 

The second issue also features a Mark Waid-written, Ty Templeton-drawn story about a Lantern arguing the rules of Green Lantern rings with his own ring as it rapidly runs out of energy, a story that feels like a fan conversation that has been masterfully transliterated into a short story.

All in all, other than the retroactive ickiness of Jones' presence, these were remarkably accessible quality comics, and unless DC announces a collection of the Alan Scott material in the near future, I guess I'm going to try tracking down the rest of the series in the near future.

Speaking of Green Lantern Corps Quarterly, however, I wonder if DC might want to revisit the concept. After all, these days there are so many heroes from Earth with GL rings* and only one place for them to appear on a regular basis (the Green Lantern title), a quarterly featuring short, solo adventures might be particularly welcome...


Guy Gardner : Warrior #36-#37 (1995) I was actually looking forward to Guy Gardner: Warrior #36, the first of two issues tying into Underworld Unleashed, based on the strength of Daryl Banks' cover. I've never before encountered this cyborg version of Guy before, but as evil duplicates go, it's a nice design, and the red anti-GL symbol is a nice touch; we've seen so many Corps symbols over the years now, and they have generally been complicated designs, so much so that this one looks elegant in its expression of anti-Green Lantern sentiment (compare it with the symbols for the Sinestro Corps or the Red Lantern Corps, for example).

Unfortunately, Banks' contribution to the book ends with the cover, and the interior art is penciled by Marc Campos and inked by Dan Davis and it is not a good-looking, easy-to-read book. I had forgotten how much many DC superhero books of the era attempted to do Image Comics styles with various degrees of success, just as I had forgotten how, well, nasty and mean-spirited writer Beau Smith's Warrior book could be, a mixture that had made the few issues I had read pretty unpleasant experiences, even if the premise of the book was a solid one.

Now, I never much liked Guy Gardner as a character; he does have his charms, but it takes the right writer to make him into an asshole with a heart of gold, rather than just an asshole. 

At this point, he was no longer a Lantern, and was no longer slinging Sinestro's ring, but had discovered his body contained ancient alien DNA. Activated by a drink from a magic chalice, it gave him dumb and gross-looking powers: He was covered with primary colored tattoos and could morph weapons directly out of his body, turning his hands into big guns or blades or whatever (It wasn't a terrible idea for powers, but, because of the era, the weapons were generally ugly-looking in their design, and usually accompanied with some body horror like crawling of flesh). Also, he pretty much stopped ever wearing a shirt.

Not too far into the series, however, Smith had Guy Gardner open a superhero-themed bar, Warrior's, in New York City. That was, as I said, a pretty solid premise, and it allowed Smith to bring back a mess of obscure or too-little-used DC superheroes as employees or patrons. In this particular issue, Warrior's seems a bit like the Planet Krypton restaurant from Kingdom Come without the commitment to the theme, while Wildcat, Lead from the Metal Men, a machinegun-toting Lady Blackhawk and Arisa are on duty as bouncers.

In issue #36, a silhouette we're meant to think is the old Guy Gardner shows up, blows a hole in the wall and enters, revealing himself as the guy on the cover in a splash panel that distills everything wrong with the art, from the way the character is drawn, with a coloring effect covering his entire right arm so it's unclear what his weapon is a or how it works (I eventually pieced together that it somehow makes ring constructs?), to the exaggerated flaring of his collar covering up his anti-Lantern symbol, to the bizarre anatomy of the a waitress in the foreground, in which she seems to be all breast, her head, torso and tiny baby-hands looking like they belong to someone else. The rest of the panel is just a mess of people and objects one might find in a bar.

The rest of the book is a fight scene. The Guyborg brutally kills a pair of huge bouncers who aren't name superheroes, but he does it in such a poorly drawn way its not entirely clear what happened—it looks like there's a plasma construct of a curving brick wall, plus lots of spikes...? Anyway, they definitely get impaled. A few panels later, a waitress decides that this Guy is definitely not the real Guy. 

Then some villains attack, fresh off their deal with Neron: There's Cheetah, someone calling himself "Blackguard--The Human Killing Spree" and The Earthworm, who has a whole series of odd powers, including the ability to jump into the ground and tunnel like Bugs Bunny and command armies of "vermin" which here includes rats, snakes and, for some reason, alligators. The bouncer, the villains and the Guyborg all fight for the remainder of the issue, and I lost count of how many bar patrons died during the course of the issue. I'm going to guess maybe all of them...?

The issue ends with the villains defeated and the evil Guy being lead to a black candle by Neron's voice; he lights it and disappears.

You know, a 16-page superhero bar brawl might sound like a lot of visceral fun, but because of the way the book is drawn, it consists mostly of the characters tossing around childish insults while Campos puts them in seemingly random poses, and the reader is left to figure out what was meant to be happening. I...am glad I didn't waste $1.75 on this in 1995, and feel a little bad about wasting about $2 on it now.

As for the real Guy, Smith, Campos and Davis find him at the climax of a crossover with Darkstars in issue #37, the Paul Pelletier-drawn cover of which has a good example of how gross Guy's power can be, as the blades he threatens John Stewart with rip out of his skin. 

In the pages within, Guy looks more like then-WWF wrestler The Ultimate Warrior more than ever, as he has a long mane of hair. He and Darkstar Ferrin Colos (the one with the pink head) are in a fight with Evil Star and his Starlings and...well, that's the whole first ten pages, really. 

In the second half of the book, jut as Guy's cutting his hair with a giant knife that grew out of the palm of his hand, Neron appears to him and offers him a cold beer. Neron tempts him by making his every wish come true, laying it on incredibly thick: He'll restore Coast City, bring back dead loved ones like Ice and so on. And all he wants Guy to do is kill John Stewart who is, at this point, a Darkstar himself. Neron even makes killing John seem like no big deal, saying that John was supposed to have died already, but because of Extant's messing around with time during Zero Hour, John was spared, and the result of that was a bunch of the bad things that happened in Guy's life.

Guy doesn't buy it, of course, and he goes no farther than to shoot a bunch of knives out of his hand and almost hit John.  The last page checks in with Guyborg, and we see the results of his deal with Neron: He got a...goofy hat? I guess? Maybe more? The next issue box reads "The End?", but Wikipedia didn't list issue #38 as an Underworld Unleashed tie-in, so I'm not sure if or where the story of Guy Gardner's evil robot clone and hi new Satan-gifted hat is picked up on. 


Manhunter #0-4 (1995) The first four issues of the Steven Grant-written, Vince Giarrano-drawn series looked a little like this:





The series only lasted 13 issues, but, whatever the reason, it couldn't have been that the art wasn't insane enough. 

Primal Force #13 (1995) I suspected that this issue might be a fairly direct tie-in to Underworld Unleashed, given the appearance of one of DC's devil surrogates on the cover, and the fact that it was visually alluded to in Underworld Unleashed: The Abyss—Hell's Sentinel, but to my surprise there's no talk of Neron, no black candles, no temptations or deal-making. Rather, this comic appeared to be about fancy fonts, more than anything else (I should here note that I read the tie-in first, before all of the other issues of Primal Force I recently acquired, which is why I am writing about it before the others). 

Red Tornado speaks in a red dialogue balloon with a shadow balloon behind it, the red coloration fading into blue near the bottom and the font looking like that of an old-school computer.

Claw's claw speaks to him in a thick, bold balloon with a jagged outline, colored purple to match the color of the claw itself, I guess. 

The leader of a weird cult The Church of The Holy Cataclysm speaks in even more jagged balloons, which also casts a sort of shadow like Red Tornado's, and while his balloons are white, the area behind the words are colored in as if with a highlighter, a sort of sepia color that seems designed to match the coloration of the character's skin and robes.

The Tornado Tyrant, Satanus and a lightning-powered member of the team whose name I didn't catch also speak with showy special fonts and balloon design. It's...a lot, and it really overpowers the narrative, given that the way the characters dialogue appears on the pages tends to be far more colorful and dramatic than almost all of the characters (Red Tornado and Black Condor being the only characters in this issue that look like they belong in a superhero comic; even Tornado is visually drowned out by his dialogue bubbles, though).

The way this ties in to Underworld Unleashed seems to be that the team, who seem to be called "The Leymen" within the pages of the book rather than "Primal Force," are dealing with the world-gone-mad elements of Neron's plan, as one of the characters tries to get Claw to a hospital after he chops off his claw, and they keep running into riots. Meanwhile, the Church of the Cataclysm disgorges its congregants into the streets toting weapons...
...and Satanus has been posing as a normal-looking human, but Claw and the others can see him for what he is.

And—well, never mind all that for a second. How on Earth do you think Satanus gets that helmet on over his horns? I've been thinking about it for a while now, and it just doesn't seem possible, unless it was forged over his head, or he was wearing it before his horns grew and he just never takes it off...

Where was I? Oh, anyway, this is a weird comic to walk in on. Martian Manhunter stops by to visit Red Tornado, who looks oddly naked without his cape, but then he flies off to fight the Tornado Tyrant, who looks weirdly out of place in the book, which is rather amateurishly drawn in a  rough '90s style, but with a Vertigo palette that makes everything look somewhat dull and brown. Except for all those garish. dialogue bubbles, of course. 


Primal Force #0-#7 (1994) The title of the book would seem to indicate that the name of this brand-new, post-Zero Hour super-team was Primal Force, but within the book they are referred to as The Leyman, the new iteration of a secret society lead by Dr. Mist to protect the Earth. They might as well have gone with The Forgotten  Heroes, given how obscure some of these guys.

In addition to Mist, who was first introduced in a 1978 issue of Super Friends as one of the Global Guardians, there's a new legacy version of Mist's former Guardians colleague Jack O'Lantern; Golem, who seems to be a character from the '90s Ragman comics based on a single flashback featuring a Ragman cameo; a new version of 1970s sword-and-sorcery character Claw The Unconquered; brand-new character Meridian, who can teleport herself and others around the world using the ley lines; and Red Tornado.

Ironically, while Red Tornado is by far the most popular member of the group, writer Steven T. Seagle's portrayal of him in the first eight issues of the series is as little more than an empty shell. Tornado doesn't talk, doesn't always seem to understand what's going on, and frequently emits a series of rattles and clanks. At one point the team checks into a hotel, and Torando, with just a tuft of his blue cape still clinging to his shoulders, just sort of floats around scraping the ceiling, like a helium balloon starting to lose its air.

Seagle connects the new team book to Zero Hour by stating that a half-dozen of Mist's Leymen were killed off by Extant, and so when a new threat arises, he has to recruit a new team in a hurry. The surviving members of the old Leymen encourage him to recruit superheroes this time, to deal with the new super-threats facing the world, but the calling that goes out seems pretty random, as it pulls these five in (Mist rejects Meridian on account of the fact that she's a lady, but she ends up sticking around through circumstances as much as anything else; despite her defiance of his sexist rule, this is hardly patriarchy-smashing book. I mean, Meridian spends the entirety of the first four issues in a bathing suit, before teleporting home to grab a pair of tights, half-tank top and boots to wear over it). 

Thus Primal Force starts with a #0 issue, complete with the silver ink on the logo and the "The Beginning of Tomorrow!" slug on the cover.  Tomorrow, alas, didn't last all that long for the Leymean/Primal Force; their book was canceled after the 14th issue. It's sort of too bad. While nothing revolutionary, these comics are certainly all sorts of okay, and God knows there were far worse comics being published in 1994.  Hell, it's certainly the first time I've enjoyed Red Tornado in a comic book!

After initially being brought together to face Cataclysm, some sort of supernatural horror that has the unfortunate name and look of an X-Men villain, the team gets somewhat lost along the ley lines, as Meridian teleports them to a variety of trouble-spots, first to an island in the South Pacific where they square off against a huge minotaur; then to Hong Kong, where Claw continues his interrupted mission to rescue some victims of human trafficking from a supervillain and a crime lord that turns into a were-cat (and, interestingly, has erected his own labyrinth through which to hunt his prey; this comes right on the heels of a story featuring a minotaur, oddly enough); and, finally, to Australia, where they're recruited to help solve a murder that involves people who can turn into half-human, half-animal monsters (Australian superhero Tasmananian Devil gets a shout-out). 

Jack O'Lantern, who is probably the closest to a traditional superhero despite his terrible costume that looks like it quite literally consists of a bag over his head, is separated during this last adventure, and finds himself in another world with a mystical water lady who has appeared off-and-on throughout the series. 

This leads to issue #7, which seems to be pretty clearly written to boost sales on the book, as you can see from the cover: 
The magic water lady and Jack travel like Christmas Carol ghosts through time and space, checking in on other, more popular superheroes who give him inspiration on how to be a better hero, or, in the case of replacement Batman John-Paul Valley, how not to be. So in short vignettes, penciled by guest artists Nich Choles and Greg Larocque, they revisit the death and rebirth of Superman; the challenge of Artemis that temporarily lost Wonder Woman her title and costume; Hawkman battling a bird monster; Green Lantern Kyle Rayner trying to juggle being an artist, superhero and member of the new and short-lived iteration of the Titans lead by Arsenal (a line-up I have a great deal of fondness for); and then see Valley roughing up some car thieves, firing a big, metal, bat-shuriken into one's leg for the hell of it.

Obviously the plot didn't work that well, but heck, maybe it staved off cancellation for a bit. It certainly provides a neat window into the DCU circa '94 when read at this point. When Jack returns to the real world, he finds his team somewhat changed, as he had been out for far longer than he thought, and now there are two new members (including the '90s Black Condor) and Golem has changed form. It turned out to be a good stopping point for a chunk of the series, but I hadn't meant to read the first half so much as I meant to read up until the point with the intriguing cover, so I guess they got me on that.

The artwork on the series is generally provided by pencil artist Ken Hooper, inker Barbara Kaalberg and colorist Phil Allen, with Choles guest-drawing twice and a couple of guests helping out with lay-outs or assists here and there.

The style isn't overtly that of a superhero comic, particularly one for the early '90s, and the art tends to be quite representational. The result is, as I said of the Underworld Unleashed issue above, a DC super-comic that looks an awful lot like a Vertigo comic. Maybe that was the wrong look for the series, and it would have lasted longer had it leaned into the superhero genre harder visually. I guess we'll never know now. 

Anyway, I look forward to reading the second half of the series...and seeing if that Underworld Unleashed tie-in is better in context than read on its own.  


Steel #21 (1995) Some of these Underworld Unleashed tie-ins certainly seem to fall under the "red sky" category of tie-ins, as there's nothing to connect this to to the event series beyond the fact that a villain shows up with new and different powers than he had in previous appearances (Here there's a single page in which said villain spends four panels telling the hero about the supervillain convention in hell where Neron upgraded various villains with new powers). 

This issue is from about halfway through the book's 53-issue run. Steel's co-creator Louise Simonson is still writing, and the book is now being drawn by pencil artist Paul Gosier and inker Rich Faber. 

Steel is flying around his hometown of Washington, D.C. doing regular superhero stuff like stopping looters and rescuing people from fires when he's attacked by the new and improved Superman villain, Metallo. Steel knocks Metallo's head off of his body, which is the usual way to stop Metallo, but it seems Metallo has a new ability: He is now able to control metal, growing new bodies from whatever is nearby his head. 

And, um, that's all there is to it, really. Metallo ultimately makes the mistake of incorporating a bomb into the final body he grows in this issue, only to realize too late that the metal casing of the bomb surrounds plastic explosives, and he detonates himself. In the final pages, Alpha Centurion appears to pick Steel up to participate in a Superman crossover.

Like most of the handful of issues of the series I've picked up from back-issue bins, I found the book disappointing...I like the character of Steel a lot, but outside of a handful of the Christopher Priest-written issues, I haven't really liked any of his solo comics. 

Of course, it's perhaps unfair to judge the series by this issue alone, as it really feels like Simonson was writing around the mandates of a crossover tie-in—which were apparently to work in a differently-powered Metallo into this month's issue, whatever else she might have planned. As for the art, it is far more legible than, say, that in Guy Gardner: Warrior, but Gosier seemed to be far more comfortable drawing super-people in action than regular people, as any scenes not featuring the metal guys hitting each other look forced and unnatural.


Steel Annual #2 (1995) The theme for DC's 1995 annuals was "Year One," which, by that time, had essentially become shorthand for a character's origin, more than the rather literal meaning of Frank Miller and company's "Year One" arc in Batman, which detailed the character's first year. There were almost 30 annuals published that year, and the Steel one was among a relatively small group of them that were faced with a particular challenge: The star character was himself more-or-less brand-new, Steel debuting in 1993, and we had already seen his origin and the first year of his superhero career.

Writer (and Steel co-creator) Louise Simonson gets around this by interpreting "Year One" quite broadly. Most of the 46-page story is set well before he dons the armor he would be introduced in during the "Reign of the Supermen" storyline (Indeed, that happens on page 45). Instead, Simonson begins his origin when he is still a child, on the day his grandparents were murdered.

This launches the throughline of Simonson's story, as people close to young John Henry Irons die in a variety of tragic ways—first his grandparents, then his parents, then his younger brother—inspiring him to seek out power and wealth however he can in an effort to keep his family safe. He begins by pursuing sports, stumbles into physics and ultimately gets a well-paying job as a ballistics expert and weapons engineer. 

Simonson mostly fills in the blanks of things we already know about the character from this appearances in Superman comics, his own title and elsewhere—that he befriended jock Guy Gardner in high school, that he had a relationship with a morally dubious fellow weapons engineer named Dr. Angora Lapin, that he went into hiding and took a job in construction, that Superman saved his life during a fall and left him with the words to make sure his life "counts for something", that he descides to try to fill in for Superman as a literal Man of Steel when Doomsday seemingly kills Metropolis' hero. 

Along the way, Simonson fills in blanks, including the development of Steel armor which wasn't, after all, put together in his garage during an inspired all-nighter or anything. (The prototype for it is seen on Phil Jimenez's cover; I like the fact that Irons decided to install a chest plate featuring fake pecs and a six-pack on it.)

There's some janky bits, including one wherein a young Irons randomly shifts through time only to see his future self as Steel fighting villains in the skies above Washington, D.C., and essentially unknowingly inspired by himself before ever being inspired by Superman, but it's overall the portrait of an admirable, self-made man with just enough flirtation with folklore to make for a potent superhero character (Named for the famous steel-driving man who never gave up, Steel is essentially a modern-day John Henry who teams up with the machine to fight for justice). 

If the story leaves something to be desired, the art leaves far more. There are four different pencillers and three different inkers involved, and none of them produce particularly distinguished work, although Joe St. Pierre and Dave Bednar do artist (and Steel co-creator) Jon Bogdanove's original armor design justice with a reveal of it on the penultimate page. Obviously, the style shifts throughout the book, and thought it's generally easy to read, it's far from the best the character and his adventures have looked. Reading it today, I couldn't help but wish Jimenez managed to draw the interiors as well as the cover. 

All in all though, it's a decent-enough introduction to the character. Maybe not worthy of the "Year One" name, as its hardly comparable to Miller and David Mazzucchelli's seminal Batman arc, but I imagine it got the job it set out to do in 1995 done. It's kind of too bad there isn't aren't many Steel comics available to newer readers today; outside of the big Superman crossovers collected in trade paperbacks and his JLA appearances, of course. The character seems ripe for an original graphic novel, and I do hope DC has someone working on one. 


Superboy Annual #2 (1995) As a character, Superboy was in the same difficult spot that Steel was when it came time to craft a "Year One" annual: He had debuted in a comic book just about two years earlier, and we had watched the entire first year of of his career unfold before us in the pages of his own book and various Superman comics. 

In fact, Superboy presented a bit more of a challenge to the writers of his annual than Steel would have, since Steel, at least, had a life before he became a superhero, whereas Superboy was literally "born" during his first appearance. A teenage clone of the real Superman, he was freed of his clone tube and began life with the body and mind of a 16-year-old, but no past beyond gestating in said tube. 

Co-writers Karl and Barbara Kesel solve this problem in a pretty interesting way, one in which I'm somewhat reluctant to spoil here, even though the book is 26 years old now (and, outside of a back-issue bin, there's no real way for someone who hasn't already read it to read it today; although I do kinda wish DC would collect it, either by continuing their collection of the '90s Superboy comic** or by collecting some of 1995's "Year One" annuals, at least some of which could still be releveant-ish in terms of the ever-shifting DC continuity). 

The issue ends with a surprise first birthday party for Superboy, capping off the first year of his life. In that regard, the Kesels treat the characters adventures up until this point as his "Year One," and the annual is simply the punctuation calling attention to that fact and offering a marker between the first and second years of Superboy's superhero career.

The story does still focus on his origins, though, and reveals a never before known aspect of them. At this point, Superboy was still based in Hawaii, where he lived with his manager Rex Leech, Rex's daughter Roxy, psychic "DNAlien" Dubbilex, another escapee from the Metropolis-based facility Cadmus.

A psychic flash summons Dubbilex and Superboy back there, where The Guardian, the Newboy Legion, their adult selves and other Kirby-inspired characters have discovered a dozen or so tubes containing earlier attempts at creating Superman; essentially, other, failed versions of the title character. One is accidentally released, and becomes a short-lived Bizarro Superboy (at that time, the real Bizzaro was still a failed clone attempt at Superman, rather than a visitor from Bizarro World, or a conjuree of a Mxyzptlk-empowered Joker). 

After a great deal of skulking and running around Cadmus, and a few pages of battling the bizarre cloned Superboy, the characters all learn who the other DNA donor that created Superboy really was: Former Cadmus Executive Director (and bad guy) Paul Westfield, (Geoff Johns would, of course, later retcon this so that rather than being created from the DNA of Superman and Westfield, Superboy was the result of the DNA of Superman and Lex Luthor; notably, Johns would have Superboy struggling with the same feelings that he does here later during his Teen Titans run).  

The artwork isn't nearly as strong as that of the regular Superboy title, provied by Tom Grummet and Doug Hazelwood, but it's not bad, either, and has the benefit of consistency, created as it was by a single pencil artist, David Brewer, and a quartet of different inkers.

Read today, some of it seems a little foreign, given how much of the book is based on the goings-on of Superman comics of the day—that is, Cadmus, the clones of The Guardian and The Newsboy Legion, etc—but it's relatively self-contained, and offers a decent enough origin of the character and his status quo as it existed in the first phase of his superhero career. 


Team Titans Annual #1
(1993)
It's not a big surprise that I skipped this book the first time around, despite buying a decent-sized chuck of 1993's "Bloodlines" annuals. Or the second time around, when I went back and bought some other issues featuring intriguing-looking characters from the back-issue bins. Sixteen-year-old Caleb wasn't a fan of the New Titans fan (although I did buy New Titans Annual #9, which introduced New Blood Anima), he certainly didn't care about the Team Titans, a New Titans spin-off starring, if I've got this right, are a Teen Titans team of freedom fighters  from a dark alternate future where Donna Troy's son is a dictator who have traveled back in time and gotten stuck in the present.

Luckily, this annual by writer Marv Wolfman and artists Art Nichols isn't too terribly concerned with the lives of the characters or plotlines from the ongoing Team Titans series, so what I read mostly made sense to me, and it wasn't too difficult to follow along (the bits about Mirage's past and the repeated rape threats she faces, which come out when she is temporarily trapped in a nightmare, are pretty out-of-left-field though and, well, gross; Wolfman's Titans run apparently had several problematic patches in which the rape of heroines was used as a plot point). 

I suppose it helped that I've read so many other of the "Bloodlines" annuals that I knew who the villains were and the basic formula that the annuals all adhere too: One or more shape-shifting Parasite aliens appear. They attack human beings, sucking out their spinal fluid. Some small percentage of their victims, about one per annual, survive and gain a super-power or two. They join forces with the heroes whose annual it is to drive the Parasite off.

Wolfman's plot is a little different in that the Parasites aren't the main threat...or, at least, the heroes quit dealing with them relatively early on and instead struggle against the powers of the New Blood they create.

The book opens with the Team Titans' vampire character, Dagon/Nightrider, in his dumb-looking were-bat form, engaged in battle with one of the Parasites (the winged one). The rest of the team goes to rescue him, save for Redwing, who is at a school dance, hoping to meet her friend Sanjeet. With her super-hearing, she overhears that Sanjeet is on drugs, and when her friend steals a car and drives recklessly away, she pursues her—until she crashes into the gut of the Parasite Glonth (the fat one). 

Redwing flies her to the hospital, where she's put in the bed next to Dagon. And then weird shit starts to happen, as Sanjeet apparently has the ability to conjure dream worlds full of solid illusions that can hurt those trapped in them.

So, for example, Dagon wakes up to find himself in Oz, where he's hassled by the Wicked Witch of the West and her flying monkeys. Later, after, he escapes, the other watch Sanjeet, now outfitted as she is on the cover, generating worlds that seem to be a danger to herself. The girls go in to save her, while the boys go out to bust heads, trying to find who gave her drugs and was thus responsible for predicament I guess. 

The conflict is ultimately resolved when the heroes bring the ultimate villain behind Sanjeet's suffering and her mom to the hospital room, helping break her out of the coma she's in, and from which she is assaulting the Team Titans with conjured creatures, like the monstrous versions of various DC heroes seen on the cover. 

At no point is she ever referred to as "Chimera," the name given to her on the cover, and I'm unsure of what became of her after this annual (although she seems to have made it into at least one issue of Team Titans).  

I have to assume the character appeared in previous issues, as Redwing seems to know her already when this annual starts, but obviously, like most of the New Bloods, she didn't catch on (Although perhaps "catching on" is asking a lot of that crop of 30 or so brand-new heroes; I mean, the Team Titans themselves never really "caught on", their series lasting only 24 issues, after which they basically all disappeared, save for Mirage and Terra). 

Still, it's noteworthy that as far back as 18 years ago, when DC was making an effort to created brand-new heroes, they made an effort to try and diversify their very white character catalog. Sanjeet/Chimera was of South Asian-American descent, and was one of several Asian-American New Blood characters, including Ballistic, Nightblade and the unfortunately named Mongrel. Those other three failed to catch on too, but I think they all have some degree of potential. (Of those four, Nightblade is probably the most interesting, although Chimera's powers make her a potentially fun one to use in comics stories, for the artistic possibilities she presents). 



*If you only count the Earth-born Lanterns, that's still Alan Scott, Hal Jordan, John Stewart, Guy Gardner, Kyle Rayner, Simon Baz, Jessica Cruz, Far Sector's Jo Mullein, Young Justice's Teen Lantern Keli Quintela and Green Lantern: Legacy's Tai Pham. 


**DC released Superboy Vol. 1: Trouble in Paradise, collecting Superboy #1-10 and the #0 issue, in 2018. No Vol. 2 has yet to follow, however. Which is too bad. The next batch of 11 issues would have included guest-stars Loose Cannon, The Legion of Super-Heroes, Green Lantern Kyle Rayner and, most marketably, the Suicide Squad, featuring King Shark (for the first time). 

Monday, May 31, 2021

A Month of Wednesdays: May 2021

 BOUGHT:

The Batman & Scooby-Doo Mysteries #2 (DC Comics) Scooby-Doo and the gang were investigating a haunted fun house, and ran into the Joker, his gang of clowns and Batman and Robin. The Dynamic Duo managed to capture the Joker—by the second panel, in fact—but that's when this adventure actually begins. 

Batman and Robin invite the kids back to the Batcave for a tour, when they discover a "ghost" claiming to be "The Spirit of The Cavern"...! Is the Batcave haunted? No, of course not. But if someone is able to hoax up its haunting, then that means someone might know the location of the cave, and thus figure out Batman and Robin's secret identities!

This issue is by writer Sholly Fisch, artist Randy Elliott and colorist Silvana Brys. When Robin appeared in the first issue of the series, he was wearing his traditional, original red, yellow and green costume, and it was pretty clearly meant to be Dick Grayson.

The Robin in this issue is wearing the red, black and yellow costume that Robin Tim Drake wore in The New Batman Adventures, but this Robin seems far taller and older than that version of Tim. Additionally, while the Joker design more closely resembles that of The New Batman Adventures one, the Batman costume is that from Batman: The Animated Series

I suppose each issue of this series is meant to be read individually and not necessarily be connected to what came before, but given how rock-solid DC's designs are for Scooby-Doo and the gang (right down to recycling the same poses constantly), it's sort of striking that there's isn't a comparable sense of design consistency applied to the Batman characters. 


DC Festival of Heroes: The Asian Superhero Celebration (DC) I confess that my first reaction to the announcement of this special was one full of cynicism. Of the ten characters on the cover, none of them are regularly appearing in any DC Comics at the moment (with the possible exception of the one character in the background, who I didn't recognize, but, having now read the book, I realize she's likely a supporting character from Catwoman). Some haven't appeared in years (Grunge, for example), another appeared in a handful of comics before disappearing (O.M.A.C., the blue guy with the mohawk). The cover seems to call attention to the fact that DC Comics might have a lot of heroes of Asian descent, but none of them really appear all that often.

Of those on the cover, Katana was part of the ensemble cast of the latest (but since canceled) iteration of Batman and The Outsiders, Red Arrow was part of the ensemble cast of the previous (and now canceled) iteration of Teen Titans and Cheshire appeared in the "Their Dark Designs" arc of Batman. The most prominent character is Batgirl Cassandra Cain, who just recently resumed that name and that costume after years of appearing as "Orphan" in the pages of various Batman comics, having lost the title to the returning Barbara Gordon during the New 52 reboot that did away with several of the characters that appear in the stories within. 

These include Grace Choi, Green Arrow Connor Hawke, and Lian Harper (Oddly, Doctor Light Kimiyo Hoshi, who just starred in Generations Shattered and Generations Forged, isn't on the cover nor does she appear in any story within). I guess the results of DC's latest tinkering with continuity, Dark Nights: Death Metal (see below) was to semi-un-reboot Flashpoint/The New 52, so that we're back to some version of pre-Flashpoint continuity, but, honestly, it's all but impossible to make sense of. (Take, for example, "Family Dinner," in which Grace Choi and Anissa "Thunder" Pierce meet Black Lightning Jefferson Pierce for dinner; here, Black Lightning once again has two grown super-powered daughters, whereas in his last series his daughters were his cousins. If this story is mean to be read as canonical, then it knocks 2018's Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands out of canon.)

The word "self-own" isn't quite right, but Jim Lee's cover really does seem to call attention to how few prominent characters of Asian descent DC has and makes much use of (And for what it's worth, of the ten on the cover, only Grunge and Cheshire aren't "legacy" characters, a tried and true if somewhat cheap and easy route to diversity in superhero universe comics), and the characters appearing in the stories within only highlight that the New 52-boot reduced diversity in the DC Universe to a pretty shocking degree (Like, we might have gained an Asian O.M.A.C., but was that worth losing Cass as Batgirl, Connor Hawke, Grace Choi, and so on...?)

All of that said, I was actually pretty excited about this 100-page super-spectacular, and I grew more excited the more I learned about it...like, for example, that it would feature the work of Trung Le Nguyen, the artist responsible for The Magic Fish (one of the best comics I read in 2020), or that Connor Hawke would be appearing for the first time in forever, or that Gene Luen Yang would be introducing a new DC hero based on the legend of The Monkey King.

So, expectations aside, what do we actually have here? 

There are eleven short stories ranging in length from just three pages to 12 pages, each starring a DC character of Asian descent and each produced by creators of Asian descent. Additionally, there's a two-page prose introduction by Jeff Yang, who edited Secret Identities: The Asian American Superhero Anthology, eight pin-ups, and five pages of character bios featuring many of the characters that appeared in stories or pin-ups (and a few who didn't, like the aforementioned Dr. Light).

The characters who appear in the stories are Batgirl Cassandra Cain, Green Lantern Tai Pham, Green Arrow Connor Hawke and New Super-Man Kenan Kong, Robin Damian Wayne, Cheshire and Cheshire Cat Lian Harper (?!), Cassandra Cain again, Grace Choi, Red Arrow Emiko Queen, Katana, The Atom Ryan Choi and new character The Monkey Prince.

It's hard to quibble with any of the character choices, even if a few of them struck me as odd. I feel a little weird about the al Ghul family identifying as Asian, given that Ra's is from some made-up Middle Eastern city state lost to history, and even if Damian's story is only three pages long, he's one character who gets enough attention in the various Bat-books. Grace Choi is also an odd choice, if only because DC so pointedly wrote that era of its comics out of existence; on the other hand, I imagine she's someone's favorite character, and it was probably a welcome return to fans of hers to read a story featuring her that seems to restore that old, ignored continuity. 

As I alluded to earlier, Dr. Light is the only character who seemed conspicuously absent to me. What do you guys think, is there a character of Asian descent who you think should have been included that wasn't

The strongest story in the collection was probably the Gene Luen Yang-written, Bernard Chang-drawn "The Monkey Prince Hates Superheroes," which introduces the brand-new character of The Monkey Prince, the son of The Monkey King of Chinese myth. When we meet him, he's  using his shape-changing powers and posing as Captain Marvel Shazam in order to get close to Dr. Sivana, who has been possessed by an ancient Chinese demon.

It's only 12 pages long, so there are more hints and allusions to the character and his story than anything actually definitive, but apparently the Monkey Prince is the Monkey King's biological son, something he's only recently learned and not super-enthusiastic about. He has his father's various magical powers and his magical staff, and is under the tutelage of Journey To The West's Pigsy, who he calls sifu. He's very powerful, but his powers seem closely tied to his emotions, and if he loses control of his emotions he'll lose control of his powers as well. He also hates superheroes. And is classmates with Billy Batson.

His story ends with "The Adventures of The Monkey Prince continue later this year," which makes me curious if there will be a miniseries or original graphic novel by Yang later this year (Chang's art is fine, but I'd prefer to see Yang paired with Gurihiru for a future Monkey Prince comic, given how strong their collaboration Superman Smashes The Klan was). If not, then I suppose the Yang-written Batman/Superman or the pages of the upcoming Shazam ongoing series would be the most likely places for the Monkey Prince to show up.

I'm not entirely sure about the "M" on his chest-plate, but otherwise I like the character's design just fine, and it seems to be just superhero-y enough to belong in the DCU without looking like the sort of thing a superhero might wear (other than the "M", of course). Which is a good thing, since he, you know, hates superheroes.

The other candidate for best story is probably the opening Batgirl story by writer Mariko Tamaki and artist Marcus To. It covers ground and strikes notes that are familiar from the old Batgirl series that starred Cassandra, but  it does so quite well, and works as an evergreen, portrait-style story of the character (Dustin Nguyn writes and draws the other Cass story, a short, three-pager that is basically just a slice-of-life moment).

I was most looking forward to seeing Connor Hawke again, and he technically appears twice: First in a pin-up with Traci 13 by Cliff Chiang, and then in the prosaically entitled "Hawke & Kong" by writer Greg Pak and artist Sumi Kumar. In that story, Connor is using his acrobatic skills to bring kimchee home to his mom and grandmother in full costume for...some reason. He happens to run into Super-Man Kenan Kong, who is city-sitting Metropolis for the other Superman while he's out of town, and they team-up to fight a giant robot dragon. Their personalities naturally clash, but Connor reluctantly invites Kenan to have dinner with his family anyway. There's not much to it, and I had some quibbles, but it was nice seeing Connor again.

The best-looking story in the book is undoubtedly the Le Nguyen-drawn "Dress Code," written by Minh Le. It's just three-pages, in which Green Lantern Tai Pham (from Le and Andie Tong's original graphic novel Green Lantern: Legacy) is battling a Sinestro Corps member who makes fun of his "dress," which calls to mind a conversation he had with his grandmother (who was a Green Lantern before him). It's a nice, cute, punchy little story, and its fun to see Nguyen's style applied to superheroics; along with Victoria Ying's "Kawaii Kalamity!" this story stands out for its drastic departure from what is otherwise the more generic house style of the other stories. 

All in all, this was a fun collection, and well worth the $10 to see some favorite characters and meet a new character. I hope DC continues to strive to keep these characters in their books and that this isn't just a one-off affair. That is, filling 100 pages with heroes and creators of Asian descent is relatively easy at this point (and the publisher has enough characters of Asian descent in their massive catalog that they could have easily done a 200-page book). The real challenge will be keeping them in their books in the weeks and months and years to come, and remembering that representation matters, both in the heroes on the pages and the creators telling their stories. 


Milestone Returns: Infinite Edition #0 (DC) You know what I would like to read, maybe a few months after the new Milestone books gets going? A smart thinkpiece about what the Milestone brand and characters mean in 2021 versus the early '90s. Like, I have to assume it's something very different. Back then, the Milestone universe's shared-setting and publishing line was a real curative to the lack of black (and all other kids of non-white) representation in mainstream superhero comics, compared to today, when there is a real and genuine effort at the big two publishers to do much, much better than they were doing on that front in, say, 1990. 

Certainly having Icon as a black Superman analgoue is going to seem different now, on the other side of the Black Panther movie, after we've had a black Captain America and there are casting rumors about a black Superman in the next movie to star that character, than it did back then, when publishers were still struggling to find black characters to include on various super-teams, you know?

In comics, in film and on television, there are more black superheroes then ever before, and the Milestone characters no longer seem as special just for being there and being black.

I am not the person to write about such things, though, in part because, as a cis white guy, I've never had trouble finding superheroes that looked like me, and in part because my own experience with the Milestone characters is so extremely limited (I read the first Icon trade paperback and...that's about it, really; maybe some random issues of various books fished out of dollar bins over the years). 

Anyway, this special kicks off a reboot of the various Milestone characters, with a particular focus on Static, Hardware and Icon and Rocket, the characters who will be starring in the three ongoing Milestone titles in the coming months. As a comic book, it seems...fine, but nothing remarkable. 

Reginald Hudlin writes "The Big Bang," the 24-page lead story featuring artwork by Denys Cowan, Nikolas Draper-Ivey, Bill Sienkiewicz, Chrisscross and Juan Castro. There seems to be little interest in making sure the various art styles mesh or at least complement one another.

The experimental tear gas that gives folks in Dakota City their powers is now fired during a Black Lives Matter protest. The teenager who becomes Static is there; the scientist who becomes Hardware works for the company that made it; Icon and Rocket are...well, they've already met and begun their partnership, which seems somewhat unfortunate, as their origin is in large part the most fun dynamic between the two. 

Following "The Big Bang" is something called "Milestone Returns: Fandome Preview", also by Hudlin (with two pages of it credited to writer Greg Pak). The art here is even more all over the place, and comes from Ryan Benjamin, Cowan, Scott Hanna, Don Ho, Jim Lee, Jimmy Palmiotti, Khoi Pham and Sienkiewicz. The story has Icon and Rocket essentially spying on various other characters, allowing for introductions to them. Some of the sequences repeat what we saw in the preceding story, although oddly enough, the designs of various characters not synching up with those in the earlier story.

Also of interest is the way in which the costume designs vary from when they were initially introduced in the '90s; Icon, for example, looks dramatically different  (and dramatically less '90s), whereas I couldn't really see a difference in Hardware's costume. There's probably an engaging piece someone somewhere could write about that too, how the quintessentially '90s characters no longer reflect the comic book superhero styles of their point of origins, and now look a little more screen adaptation-friendly but, again, I'm not the person to write that piece. 


Poison Flowers & Pandemonium: A Richard Sala Omnibus (Fantagraphics Books) Sub-titled "A Richard Sala Omnibus", this posthumously published collection includes four distinct books, each capable of standing on its own, although, in fact, three of them are rather slight, and only the first book seems to be a completely and fully realized narrative, the other three falling into various states of self-commentary.

That story is a sequel of sorts to 2017's The Bloody Cardinal, the tale of a masked crime-fighter turned murderous master criminal. Entitled "The Bloody Cardinal 2: House of The Blue Dwarf", its titular star isn't really the protagonist, although he drives the plot and, at one point, menaces the Judy Drood-looking psychic who stars. 

A group of Sala's typically colorful criminal characters, each so suggestively designed as to imply interesting backstories and gimmicks, whether they get presented within the comic or not, have convened to try to find and kill the Cardinal once and for all. Meanwhile, young Phillipa Nicely has been having strange, realer-than-usual dreams involving a large, killer, South American mummy of sorts; a little, grinning blue man; and a scary cat-head's symbol.

Trying to ghost the institute that is studying her, Phillipa takes some sketchy work with a minor psychic talent, and gets involved with the plot to find the Cardinal...which turns out to be nesting a plot by one of its members to kill off the rest of the circle by use of travel to the astral plane and body transference. Plenty of room is allowed for Sala' pulpy movie interests, creepy character designs and drawings of attractive young women—a sequence involving a band of amnesiac female pirates especially seems to come out of nowhere. 

Next are a pair of themed series of pin-ups beaten into the shape of stories, thanks to framing devices. The first of these is "Monsters Illustrated", followed by "Cave Girls of the Lost World".

The former has Pelicula, Sala's short-haired, purple-dressed heroine from the pages of Evil Eye and Pelicula and The Groon Grove Vampires, wandering into a creepy bookstore to browse. Accosted by the owner while she's flipping through the title How To Kill Ghosts, he hands her "a folio by an obscure artist who created a number of watercolors depicting creatures described to him by a famous occult investigator." 

These are 50 Sala paintings, each depicting monsters from folklore or pop culture, in the act of killing or otherwise menacing pretty young girls like Peculia herself (a more savvy critic could probably annotate the source material for Sala's creatures, which range from trolls and withes to the Krampus and The Green Man to movie monsters and even Star Trek creatures, although I am not that savvy critic*; interestingly so many of the monsters seem so specific that it's difficult to tell if some come from particular films, like Tabonga, for example, or if they are borne of the sorts of films that existed only in Sala's mind, like many of the images in his 2019 Phantoms In The Attic, for example)

The very last entry is entitled "Stranglers of The Forbidden Bookshop," and shows the man who handed Peculia the book and two old women strangling young girls in a book store while mad-looking cats watch. The story then resumes the framing device, as Peculia looks behind her to see one of those women reaching for her.

"Cave Girls" is probably as close to my ideal comic book as exists. Like, if a few years ago, you were to ask me, "Caleb, if you could commission any comic book project in the world, what would it be?", there's a pretty good chance I would have answered, "Maybe Richard Sala drawing a comic in which half-naked girls fight dinosaurs," as there is little that interests me more in modern cartooning than Sala's drawings of half-naked girls, and nothing that interest me in the world as subject matter quite so much as dinosaurs, a type of movie monster that Sala's not really drawn much of.

The framing device here is that a boy finds a manuscript entitled "The Unbelievable yet True Saga of the Cave Girls of the Lost World" in a bottle at the beach and takes it to an older professor type, who shares it with a young woman not much older than the Cave Girls.

Between the framing sequences are spreads featuring a water color on the right, depicting college-aged women in various cavegirl outfits, often with their breasts exposed, having various adventures in a prehistoric lost world filled-with dinosaurs, cavemen and other strange monsters, like a cult of bat-headed men and a race of doll-sized pygmies. On the left is the narration, written in Sala's familiar lettering and in the voice of one of the nameless cave girls. The basic story is that a group of thirty girls on their way to an exclusive private college suffered a plane crash and found themselves "stranded on a strange plateau," and have various adventures until the plateau is destroyed in a volcanic eruption, as lost worlds so often are in movies on the subject. 

Their adventures are extremely episodic, without any real characters or narrative ever taking shape, and the stories that are described in the text all seem extrapolated from the images after the fact. The cave girl adventures are regularly interrupted by commentary provided in the framing sequences. 

"It's the dumbest thing I've ever read," says the girl the professor shares the manuscript with. "It's like it was written by a thirteen-year-old boy who wanted to fantasize about half-naked chicks."

Half-naked chicks fighting dinosaurs, to be precise, but hey, all of us grown men with the minds and the same prurient interests we had as thirteen-year-old boys have our things. 

It ends with a typically exciting and evocative Sala twist. 

The final inclusion in the book is "Fantomella," about a violent heroine of some sort fighting her way through a tower of masked fascists, each level bringing her a new and different "boss" to colorfully slay, one of the last being The Writer, a character in goggles, bandages and a fedora seated before a computer, discussing the problems with Fantomella's story and various storytelling goals and problems facing creators—"We must murder their imagination and originality, crush their creativity...That way they are satisfied with whatever we give them." She shoots him through the head and climbs up to the next level to kill the villains there.

The section with the writer sort of makes up for the weaknesses of the story, but in a transparent way that makes its meta-fictive element a rather obvious bit of fig-leafery.

Still, it is but one of four stories in the book, which overall offers a nice overview of Sala's talents, the different types of work he's engaged in over the years, and, obviously, his passions and obsessions. I'm not sure if this will end up being the very last new work we see from the late cartoonist or not but, if so, it's a pretty well curated last book, and not a bad bit of punctuation for his career. 

If you'd like to read a more formal review of the book from a better writer, I'd recommend Tegan O'Neil's at The Comics Journal


She's Josie Vol. 1 (Archie Comics) Before the Pussycats, Josie was the title character in the 16-isssue, 1963-1964  She's Josie, a fairly typical teen comedy series, elevated to must-read status by the masterful work of artist Dan DeCarlo. Reading these issues in 2021, which Archie has made easy by collecting the first nine issues, it's particularly interesting to see the Josie cast at this early, nascent point, knowing how they would all end up.

Among Josie's best friends is Melody, a dim-witted blonde bombshell who already speaks with musical notes in her dialogue balloons, and among her friend group is her occasional suitor Alexander Cabot III, an absurdly wealthy millionaire who comes off as a riff on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis' Chatsworth Osborne Jr. Alexander's twin sister Alexandra won't be introduced until the seventh issue, and, like Alex, she looks very different than her more iconic later look; here she's remarkably thin and has plain brown hair, which falls Veronica Lake-ishly over one eye. 

There's no Valerie or Alan M.; instead there's the brainy, bespectacled, short-haired brunette tomboy Pepper (although for all her professed boyish qualities, DeCarlo seemingly can't help but draw even the plainer characters with a degree of va-va-vaoom) and Albert, Josie's more-or-less boyfriend, seen on the cover. 

There's no hint of Josie and Melody's future in rock 'n roll, although Josie does sprout little hearts whenever Albert strums the guitar she bought him and starts to sing (badly). Instead, the all-over-the-place adventures include the girls launching campaigns to get their classmates interested in physical fitness and to stop believing in superstitions, various interactions with the boys and their shifting affections, the girls getting mixed up in a jewel-smuggling ring and later kidnapped by criminals in what is rumored to be a haunted house, and trying to win free passes to the world's fair.

It's all quite well-executed, and, again, it's drawn by DeCarlo at the height of his powers, so there's hardly a panel in the collection that isn't worth lingering on. I don't think that the comics overall have aged particularly well—there are a lot of jokes about ogling and outright chasing Melody—so I wouldn't necessarily recommend the book to today's young readers, but it's certainly well worth a grown-up's time and attention. 

There are enough issues of She's Josie that Archie should be able to do a She's Josie Vol. 2, and then the title changed to just plain Josie from 1965-1969, continuing the series' numbering until it ended with issue #44. Personally, I hope Archie collects them all. I'll definitely buy them. 


Stargirl Spring Break Special #1
(DC)
Perhaps I'm just not reading the right comics, but it seems like most of the DC Universe comics I've read lately have dealt with either breaking the shared setting's continuity, establishing new continuity, or engaging in some sort of attempt to reconcile varying versions of it. This $5.99, 37-page special pairing original Stars and STRIPE writer Geoff Johns with old Young Justice artist Todd Nauck is of the reconciling variety, something that has long been Johns' specialty, but, like too many DC Comics of late, it comes with the downside of being about the DC Universe's continuity as much as it is anything else. There's a pretty high-level of concern for what is meant to be canonical and what isn't radiating in the background; it can make even the most light-hearted of adventures somewhat exhausting, and this isn't just a light-hearted romp; rather, it seems to set up future stories involving DC's Golden Age heroes, all of whom have just returned to continuity after about a decade of being banished by the New 52-boot.

Though Stargirl is the title character, this is something of a Seven Soldiers of Victory story. The original Seven Soldiers dated from 1941, and featured Green Arrow, his sidekick Speedy and lesser lights Shining Knight, The Vigilante, The Crimson Avenger, Star-Spangled Kid and Stripesy. After Crisis On Infinite Earths rejiggered all DC-owned characters into a single timeline and universe, that meant Green Arrow and Speedy were moved forward in time to the modern age (like Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman) and so, when Johns wanted to write about the Seven Soldiers during his short Stars and STRIPE run, Vigilante and Crimson Avenger's sidekicks Stuff and Wing were present to keep the line-up's number in the right ballpark. (So too is the archer The Spider.)

Now things have changed again. The story opens with Green Arrow Oliver Queen and current Red Arrow Emiko Queen talking about "the first Green Arrow...the clean-shaven guy from the '40s," at which point Ollie reveals that that Green Arrow was him; during a fight with The Clock King, he and his original sidekick Speedy were shunted back in time to the 1940s for a while. That's...a pretty elegant solution, actually, although I can't help wishing Johns had thought of it way back in 1999, so there wasn't that awkward, other post-Crisis version that this one grates against. 

And although Johns writes this in a very accessible manner, with, for example, the two Arrows casually describing their origins during conversation with one another, this isn't exactly the most new-reader friendly work. In fact, it seems specifically targeted for fans of DC's Golden Age characters and their legacies.

Beyond the work done to restore a version of the Soldiers to modern consciousness, the book teases a future storyline involving Wing and other "lost" teenage characters, and the return of Per Degaton and a new version of the JSA (as well as new versions of past JSAs, for a brand-new JSA continuity that seems to restore the pre-Crisis, Earth-2 version as a link in the chain that began with the Golden Age and continued into the JSA and Justice Society of America titles that Johns was a writer for pre-Flashpoint/New 52). 

It's spring break, and high schooler Courtney Whitmore is off to Myrtle Beach with her stepdad Pat Dugan, the Golden Age hero Stripesy who now fights evil in a robot suit designated "S.T.R.I.P.E." They're not there for fun though, but to meet one of Pat's old Seven Soldiers colleagues. Meanwhile, the latest Crimson Avenger, introduced in a 2000 issue of Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. and later appearing in JSA, is gathering the remaining members of the original Seven Soldiers to enlist their help in rescuing the original Crimson Avenger, who disappeared into the time-stream, and is about to reappear.

The new Avenger wants to leave Red Arrow and Stargirl out of it, because the Soldiers' adventures haven't exactly been kind to their teenage sidekicks (as far as anyone knows, the original Star-Spangled Kid, Wing and Speedy/Red Arrow/Arsenal Roy Harper are all dead). They disobey, though, and end up saving the day. (The mystery Soldier teased on the front, then? That's original Crimson Avenger Lee Travis and not, as I had hoped, Shining Knight's steed Winged Victory). 

But the main event seems to be teasing the future. After the new Seven Soldiers defeat Clock King, we find that the guys have all established a weekly routine of getting together for dinner, and Emiko and Courtney are developing a friendship, the Nauck-drawn story ending with a "To Be Continued in Stargirl #1" (which hasn't been solicited for release yet, so don't expect it before September at the earliest). 

That's followed by the really fun bits: A two-page portrait of the original, 1941 Seven Soldiers line-up as drawn by Jerry Ordway, a three-page section drawn by Bryan Hitch in which Per Degaton confronts Clock King and a new Justice Society is seemingly revealed, and then a one-page "Where's Stripesy?" feature by Fred Hembeck in which the whole All-Star Squadron, Infinity Inc and some others are shown enjoying a day at the beach. (It's not until I actually found Stripesy and saw his shirt that I realized this was a gag noting the similarity in style between Stripesy and the Waldo of  "Where's Waldo?", because I am dumb).

The two-page splash featuring the JSAs is pretty noteworthy. In the background there seem to be two distinct teams, the original Golden Age team (with a black Wildcat, I think...? Which...just add Amazing Man for some color, you dopes!), a legacy team featuring Huntress (can't wait to see how that gets explained, given all the various post-Flashpoint Huntresses we've had so far!) and Power Girl (ditto, although I think we've only had one of those) and, finally, what looks like it's meant to be the modern/pre-New 52 team, featuring characters from Johns' run on the characters (some of them in new costumes), plus add-ons like Jade, Obsidian and female versions of Wildcat and Doctor Mid-Nite, who I am guessing are going to end up being Beth Chapel and Yolanda Montez in new costumes, but I guess we'll see (I did like Dr. Pieter Cross, so I hope he's not thrown into oblivion). 

As to where this plotline and the new JSA will appear, I have no idea. I assume there will be a new JSA title at some point but, again, nothing has been solicited just yet. 


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Last Ronin #3
(IDW Publishing)
This series is beginning to lose me as it stretches into its middle section and the focus shifts to bridging the gap between revealing the invented past that gets us to this far-flung future present. 

Here more of the blanks are filled in regarding how the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles characters we know became those of The Last Ronin—specifically, how Michelangelo became the last Turtle standing, and April the last of his allies—which basically means the book's large creative team's focus is on killing off characters. (That is the real extent of the world-building; there's less talk of how Oroku Hiroto became the undisputed god-king of New York City, or when the flying car was first introduced, for example). 

So this issue's flashbacks kill off a few more characters, and they don't get the dramatic death that Raphael got in the previous issue, but instead are killed off-panel in an explosion. Fugitoid and Doctor Baxter Stockman are introduced into the narrative as well, and it becomes increasingly clear that this isn't a future of the original Mirage version of the Turtles, as I at first (mistakenly) thought (given that Peter Laird gets a "story" credit), but that this is either the future of the IDW Turtles, or a future of a version of the IDW Turtles, as the looks at the past we're shown don't involve Jennika, Alopex and all the other mutant characters that have gradually been introduced over the years. 

The art is still of interest, but I remain rather perplexed at how Eastman's pencil work is deployed, as he illustrates a few black-and-white flashback portions, while other flashback portions are drawn by the artists of the present portions, Esau and Isaac Escorza. 

It's fine, I suppose, but it lost the mystery and urgency that the first issue had, when the setting was first introduced and we knew there was a ninja turtle left alive, but not which one, and the second issue, in which the Turtles characters were apparently just beginning to be killed off. At this point, a degree of predictability has set in—surely in the next issue Splinter and Donatello will be killed off—although I hold out hope that the last act will contain some surprises. 


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Urban Legends Vol. 2
(IDW)
IDW employed an unusual strategy for their collection of Image Comic's "Volume Three" of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (following the original Mirage 1984-1993, 62-issue volume one and the full-color, Mirage-published, 1993-1995, 13-issue volume two). Rather than just collecting the entire 23-issue series into a pair of trade paperbacks, they decided to instead colorize and re-publish them issue by issue under the new title of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Urban Legends, and give the original creative team of writer Gary Carlson and artist Frank Fosco two brand-new issues to wrap up the unfinished storyline (this being the 21st century comic book industry, all of these issues included new variant covers, so the series produced quite a bit of new work from Kevin Eastman, who was completely uninvolved with the title when it was being produced and released by Image 20-ish year ago). 

So this collects the last 13 issues of the Urban Legends series, 11 of which were originally produced in black-and-white way back in 1998 and 1999, and two of which were produced especially for IDW just recently. 

Knowing what to expect this time around, there were fewer surprises for me here than in the first volume, which I obviously liked well enough to purchase this one (the biggest of which, for me, was that this volume continue the original Mirage continuity, rather than restarting from scratch, as IDW's "Volume Five" does).. The creators continued their work to visually differentiate the Turtles, having given Raphael an eye-patch and made Donatello a cyborg in the first half of the series, here they make Raphael the new Shredder, and he spends most of the volume wearing a new version of the Shredder costume, while Leonardo has his hand bit off and eaten, eventually replacing it with a metal cap with a retractable blade in it. 

All in all, that's all much more dramatic than simply giving them differently-colored masks.

Mirage characters Leatherhead, the Triceratons, an Utrom alien and Karai all make appearances, as do Savage Dragon/Image Comics characters Horridus, Vanguard and the Special Operations Strikeforce (Dragon himself is a no-show this collection, however). 

The creators manage to do a fairly good job of wrapping this up in a way that feels quite quick and also transparent—that is, the last few issues very much read like they were coming in after the fact to wrap up as many dangling plot-points as they could in so short a space—but not so quick and transparent that it feels abrupt or dramatically cheap. They essentially put the characters back together as much as possible, with Donatello shedding his robot parts and Leonardo even re-growing his lost hand, resolve the ongoing conflicts with the volume's biggest villains and even give them a happy ending of sorts which feels natural enough in TMNT comics, with Splinter and the Turtles retreating back to the North Hampton farmhouse, this time in triumph rather than defeat.

I have mentioned it before, but I would not be adverse to a third Urban Legends collection, filled with the following, and any other Savage Dragon/Image Comics appearances of the era, maybe with a foreword or article by Erik Larsen giving some context to how the Turtles were used as Image characters during those years: 




I've read those first two, but not those that follow. The Big Bang issue was actually referred to with an asterisk in the first Urban Legends collection, as it tells how the Turtles first met the character who would grow up to be Knight Watchmen, who guest-stars in an issue of TMNT. Anyway, if there's anyone at IDW in the reading audience, and it's worth whatever trouble it would take to negotiate the rights with Larsen and/or Image and/or anyone else involved...


 BORROWED: 


Chainsaw Man Vol. 1 (Viz Media) Manga-ka Tatsuki Fujimoto's comic takes a while to get going on account of the nature of the world being built and the protagonist's place in it, but then, a rather casual pace is a luxury that can be afforded when your first installment is over 190-pages (Well, the first installment available to US readers, anyway; the feature began in weekly Japanese anthology Shonen Jump). 

That protagonist is Denji, who lives an incredibly sad life in a Japan where dangerous supernatural beings called "devils" live side-by-side with human beings, whom they regularly prey upon. Devil hunters are employed to exterminate the creatures—there are both freelance, bounty hunter-like devil hunters as well as police-like one's employed by the state—and Denji becomes a rather unusual devil hunter. 

Worse than dirt-poor, he is in astronomical debt to the yakuza, and he's trying to work his way out of it by teaming up with a nice devil that looks like a cute, plump puppy with a chainsaw nose to hunt the less-cute, more-evil devils.

That's not the premise, though.

Eventually killed by one of those devils, Denji and his pet perform a contract ritual, in which the little chainsaw dog replaces Denji's heart, restoring him to life and giving him the power to transform back-and-forth between a human being and "the devil of chainsaws," the title character seen on the cover. Seeing potential in an easy-to-control guy who can turn into chainsaws, one of the state sponsored devil hunter's hires him and adds him to a particularly oddball squad of devil hunters.

And that's the premise. 

Denji is an appealingly simple and somewhat dim lead character for this sort of boys' fight manga, his motivations gradually growing more mature as he takes step by tentative step into normal society (when we first meet him, his dream is to one day eat a piece of toast with jam on it; by the end of the first volume, his dream is to touch a pair of breasts). The themed devils are, at least in the first volume, all either kinda cool (the bat devil) or extremely gross (devils of blood, zombies and muscle), but all of them are viscerally arresting in conception and design. The action is, obviously, rather violent and occasionally gory, but then, one would expect as much when the hero has chainsaws protruding from his arms and face.

Though somewhat slow to get going, I grew increasingly intrigued during this volume, to the point of being actively excited for the next one. 

Dark Nights: Death Metal: The Deluxe Edition (DC Comics) More like Death Meta, am I right...?

Writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo return to well-trod territory in another crisis story from DC, in which DC Universe continuity itself is the subject of the story (How well-trod? Well, this is a sequel to their own 2017 event series, which was also about DCU continuity). 

Following the abrupt ending of Snyder's Justice League run/mega-arc, in which the League rushes off-panel to fight the dark goddess Perpetua in a final battle, Death Metal opens with Wonder Woman, Batman and Superman all trapped on a world scrambled into a new nightmare reality, ruled over by The Batman Who Laughs and his army of alternate reality Batmen and his horde of goblin Robins. (Much of the rest of the League is all but MIA throughout the main series; Flashes Barry Allen and Wally West, Harley Quinn and, surprisingly, Swamp Thing and Jonah Hex co-star, while the members of  Snyder's Justice League's League get little more than cameos in the actual series).

This is really more of the same, which, given the positive qualities and the great reception that the original got, probably isn't a bad thing. The curation of this particular volume is somewhat wanting, though, as it includes all seven issues of the main series, but some important parts of the narrative seem to have happened in tie-ins, as there's at least one point where it skips over various missions Wonder Woman and her allies take in one of their first attempts to beat back The Batman Who Laughs and restore the multiverse. 

As for those positive qualities, Capullo draws the hell out of the story, his character-packed pages detailed enough that it is rewarding to study the backgrounds and find specific characters (Every current DC character starring in a book from the last few years seems to appear, as do a whole bunch of more obscure characters, many of whom were technically dead, thanks to Batman's possession of a Black Lantern ring; I was particularly delighted to see Red Bee raised for the final fight, and hey, Zauriel and  Batgirl Cassandra Cain appear in a "Dark Multiverse" version of Final Crisis visited by Superman).

Snyder's meta-commentary is also fairly clever, including his depiction of the DC multiverse fictional setting as one that "eats" other settings (reflected in DC Comics gobbling up settings and characters from Fawcett, Charlton and so on over its history, establishing them in their own, original multiverse, with its constellation of designated Earths). 

I'm not entirely sure how the resolution worked out, in part because it's left a bit undefined within the pages of this book, aside from the fact that now everyone remembers everything, and so the Flashpoint/New 52 changes all seem to be reversed (that is, previously, pre-Flashpoint events were apparently meant to have still happened, just differently than readers might have originally experienced them; now, the opposite seems true, so that some of the events of The New 52 era likely still happened, but they will have happened differently than we read them).

If none of that makes any sense at all, then much of the book might prove somewhat tedious to you. 

One would hope that DC now has a continuity that it can stick with, and this is the last time we'll need to read such a crisis story in which the reorganization of continuity is the the subject of a big event series, but, well, I've been hoping that since at least Zero Hour, and that was so many crises ago that I've lost count; hell, I've lost count how many times DC's tried to finesse the changes of Flashpoint, and that was only a decade ago.

For more on Death Metal, I created a thread on Twitter while I was reading it, but it's mostly just me complaining about the Watchmen tie-ins and celebrating the appearances of Jarro and The Red Bee. 


Dark Nights: Death Metal—The Darkest Knight (DC) This companion collection to Darkest Nights: Death Metal includes five different one-shot tie-ins—Dark Nights: Death Metal—Legends of the Dark Knights, Dark Nights: Death Metal Guidebook, Dark Nights: Death Metal—Speed Metal, Dark Nights: Death Metal—Trinity Crisis and Dark Nights: Death Metal—Multiverse's End—and while they are all distinct stories with differing formats and focus, the result of them all being collected in a single volume is that they appear to one big anthology, a feeling further fostered by the fact that the various books aren't labeled within and, in fact, if one didn't read the fine print on the title page, one might not know exactly where all these stories were originally from. 

Not that it matters overmuch, of course. They are tie-ins to the big event series in which various nightmare versions of Batman re-invade the DCU, cosmically rejiggering the status quo into another temporary nightmare reality that the real Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman and their allies must struggle to reboot into a new continuity for the sake of DC Comics' publishing future. Everything this collection contains comment on or play off that story in some way, be it offering up the origin of a minor character or detailing what a particular player was doing at a particular time or telling a story that happens around the edges or just off-panel of the main series.

They are notable for two things, really. The first is their tone, which tends to be a compromise between the modern overblown DC Crisis mode defined by Geoff Johns in many such stories over the past 20  years or so and a semi-sarcastic, darkly humorous commentary on heroics mode familiar from popular turn-of-the-century creators like Garth Ennis, Warren Ellis and Mark Millar (the first of whom has a brief, silly story in here and the second of whom was also supposed to...until the story of his sexual harassment history broke, making him persona non grata). 

Humor—or, more often than not, attempts at humor—don't help as much as one would hope, and the book can be a real grim slog, although this particular style of dark DC Comics is popular enough that I am sure the intended audience ate it up with a spoon. 

I found the first chunk particularly difficult to get through, as it started with Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV and Joshua Williamson—no less than three writers!—summarizing the biography of The Batman Who Laughs while a couple of alt-Alfreds are in the process of transplanting his brain into the lobotomized body of a Batman-who-is-also-Watchmen's-Doctor-Manhattan, whom they actually refer to as "Batmanhattan," something I love even more than I hate (it sounds like a bad joke a comics blogger would have made 15 years ago, so I obviously find it endearing). That is accompanied by illustration work from Tony S. Daniel.

That's followed by multiple stories in which alternate Batmen have their consciousness transplanted into different bodies: A dinosaur, a monster truck, Gotham City itself (which seems to owe a nod to Peter Milligan's "Dark Night, Dark City" arc) and, in Ennis' contribution, a newborn baby. There's also a story in which a cruel and psychotic child Bruce Wayne gleefully kills his own parents (after slitting Joe Chill's throat and stealing his gun), and in which this Bruce becomes "The Robin King," a fact that makes little sense if you stop to think about it. So don't! There's an awful lot of talent involved in the Legends of The Dark Knights one-shot, devoted to differing riffs on the same basic gag. In addition to those already mentioned, there's a script from Peter J. Tomasi and art by Riley Rossmo, Francecso Francavilla, Daniel Warren Johnson and Joelle Jones.

(It was around the point that an eight-year-old Bruce Wayne caves in Alfred's skull with a bust after the butler says "Go straight to hell, Master Bruce" and the boy answers, "After you, old friend," that I questioned what the hell I was reading and decided I needed to read this book in smaller chunks, as it was too much of a wallow in a fever swamp of dark superheroes for me.) 

That's followed by the rather similar Guidebook, which also opens with a long summary story written by Snyder, Tynion and Williamson and drawn by Doug Mahnke and Jaime Mendoza, in which Lex Luthor explains what's been going on since the end of Snyder's Justice League; this summary/story at least has the advantage of being more sharply drawn, and being in comics format (the one from Legends of the Dark Knights only adopted panels during the "Batmanhattan" sequence, when Watchmen's nine-panel grid appeared for a page). 

That's followed by super-short stories in various corners of the new, scrambled DCU setting, checking in with, say, Harley Quinn in the wastelands or Poison Ivy in Wonder Woman's prison. The best of these stories are a short four-pager by Becky Cloonan in which her very handsome-looking version of Aquaman, complete with a nice jacket, confronts a water monster of Japanese legend and makes a moral compromise, and a Priest and Eduardo Risso story teaming Batman (also in a jacket now) with a resurrected Jonah Hex. (I think Capullo did  a fine job on the main series, but man, its hard to read these shorts and not imagine how awesome the series might have been had Cloonan or Risso drawn the whole dang thing).

The remaining three stories are all ones that are taken from the "missing" part of the main Death Metal series, where there's a very obvious section in which the heroes split up to attempt various parts of a plan to save the day, and then the action picks up after those actions had already occurred off-panel. One of these—Trinity Crisis—probably should have been collected along with the seven issues of Death Metal in the book discussed above. In addition to detailing how the Trinity get from point A to point B in their task, invading Castle Bat to journey to three different crises, it's written by Snyder himself, and is in quite close keeping with the events of the series (Francis Manapul draws this story, in which the The Robin King menaces Harley, Swamp Thing, Hex and Jarro). 

That leaves only Speed Metal, by Williamson, Eddy Barrows and Eber Ferreira and Multiverse's End, by Tynion and Juan Gedeon. 

The former has the Flashes on the run from The Batman Who Laughs/The Darkest Knight, as they attempt to keep Wally's Watchmen-derived energy away from the villain, and it's overflowing with talk of Flash continuity that I had mostly tuned out, having not paid very close attention to Flash comics since Barry Allen came back to life (There is a nice moment where there's a brief reunion with, like, all of the Flash supporting characters, and it was nice to see characters I am fond of like Impulse, Max Mercury and Jesse Quick again, if only briefly).  

The latter has Tynion rather loudly and clumsily telegraphing the sort of meta-superhero writing that Grant Morrison has done rather elegantly throughout his career and that Snyder has engaged in off and on with varying degrees of success in his crisis writing (Seriously, the story hinges on an Owlman telling off a baby Batman with the words, "I'm going to live forever...I'm too good an idea. But you... You're a dumb idea. And nobody is going to remember you.")

It's an extended Morrison homage, with the Green Lanterns teaming up with the Justice Incarnate team from Mutliversity on a version of Earth-3 that owes everything to Morrison and Frank Quitely's now 21-year-old JLA: Earth 2 original graphic novel, in which the heroes are all aware of the rules of how the various Earths work. The heroes are on various dark Earths to destroy maguffin towers, but they run into a roadblock on Earth-3, where the original dark version of Batman, the Crime Syndicate's Owlman, has captured Green Lantern John Stewart, and is extravagantly trying to decide who to side with. 

It turns out that Morrison's old ideas have more than enough steam in them to power a section of modern crisis crossover, and Gedeon's art is potent enough to make it all look amazing. With a style that seems to be something of a compromise between Mahnke and Dan Hipp, his figures are big, expressive and just cartoony enough. 

Stories like this one, and the occasionally strong art, make The Darkest Knight collection worth while, but only just. At least to a reader like me. Were I reading this at, say, 14, I too would have probably been eating it up with a spoon, and perhaps been completely unaware of how much it owes to decades old Grant Morrison comics, and decades-older-than-those DC crossovers going back to the original Crisis on Infinite Earths and Gardner Fox JLA/JSA team-ups...


REVIEWED: 

Before They Were Artists: Famous Illustrators As Kids (Etch) Elizabeth Haidle's collective comics biography of a half-dozen influential artists of various kinds is a great read, and should be of special interest to comics fans not simply because it's comics, but because two of the subjects are comics-makers themselves: Tove Jansson and Hayao Miyazaki. But it was the presence of Wanda Gag, a woman of some degree of fascination for me, which pushed me over the edge with wanting to read this book. All six subjects could carry a biography of their own of course, and most have, but it is nevertheless fun to experience these short, fleet summaries of their lives and careers, and it's particularly interesting to see Haidle's version of some iconic imagery, like her Moomins, Wild Things and Totoro, for example. 


Metropolis Grove (DC Comics) Drew Brockington's original graphic novel set in a neighborhood in a suburb of Superman's hometown secretly-ish stars one of the DC's greatest characters, who you will identify if  you just flip through it or look at the back cover, but I'm still slightly hesitant to spoil it. Rest assured it is not Superman, although it is someone you might confuse for Superman in the dark. From far away. If he was moving pretty quickly and didn't stop to chat. I liked it a lot. 


Shang Chi By Gene Luen Yang Vol. 1: Brothers & Sisters (Marvel Entertainment) Oh, if only this collection of a recent miniseries really was just by Gene Luen Yang, who has drawn much of his own best work. It's not, of course; that's just the silly way Marvel tends to title their collections, using the generally more marketable writer's name and ignoring the contributions of the artist or artists. Here those artists are Dike Ruan, who draws the bulk of the comic, and Philip Tan, who draws the particularly hard-to-read flashback scenes. Once again Yang's writing is severely hampered by his artistic collaborators, something that seems to happen more often than not with his mainstream super-comics work (Superman Smashes The Klan being the exception that proves the rule). The character work is strong, and the premise Yang comes up with seems sufficient to build a Shang-Chi ongoing series around, but the artwork is a real let-down, particularly when it comes to depicting martial arts action, of which there is, obviously, a lot of in the series. Review here. 


EVERYTHING ELSE:


I interviewed teenage author Evan Ponstingle about his book King's Island: A Ride Through Time (Rivershore Creative; 2021) for Cincinnati CityBeat, which you can read here, if you're so inclined (Or here, if you'd prefer the digital print version of the issue). Given that, I probably shouldn't say too much more here, but I'm including it for completeness' sake. The book is basically an oral history of the Cincinnati-area amusement park, chronicling its history from conception to the latest rides, with special attention paid to the various marquee and record-setting roller coasters. As someone adverse to both travel and roller coasters, I've never actually spent a day at King's Island, but it was actually a pretty fascinating read. 

I listened to the audiobook version of Connor Towne O'Neill's That Devil's Bones: A Reckoning with Monuments, Memory, and the Legacy of White Supremacy (Algonquin Books; 2020), in which he wrestles with the Confederate monument issue by looking at one particular general, how he is honored and the various attempts to remove his name and likeness from various places throughout the south. That Confederate general is Nathan Bedford Forrest, and he's an interesting case for several reasons, not least of which is that he's likely not one of the first two or three Confederate generals you're likely to be able to name if you're not from a place that still holds him in high esteem for some reason. On the one hand, he seems to have genuinely held a high degree of marital prowess of the sort that those who support Confederate monuments often maintain is the reason they do so (despite the fact that he was, you know, on the losing side of the conflict), on the other hand his biography is particularly despicable when it comes to white supremacy, having made his fortune in the slave trade, presided over a massacre of black union soldiers and been a leader in the Ku Klux Klan after the war.

O'Neill tells Forrest's life story while visiting and investigating his various monuments, from statues to a school building bearing his name, all of which have attracting efforts to have them taken down, and ignited counter-efforts to fight for them, often for unconvincing, quixotic reasons. It's insightful and well-reported, and includes some real gut-punching realizations from O'Neill that will likely transfer to many white readers. Front of mine for me, a few weeks after finishing the book, is the realization that, like it or not, support it or not, Forrest was fighting for the primacy of all white people, and though many (most, I hope!) of us would disavow him as such, Forrest was our champion. It can be a sickening at times, but, as O'Neill points out, the ability to not be sickened. to, in fact, not even think about race at all, if we choose not to, is a luxury that comes along with being white, from the belief that whiteness is the neutral, default state comes from America's own white supremacy history. It's a tough read (or listen), but, I think, a valuable one. 




*Although for $50 I'd spend a Sunday afternoon googling them all and checking with Fanta PR people and emailing friends to compile an annotated Monsters Illustrated blog post. Sadly, no one is paying $50 for such work.