Saturday, July 06, 2024

A Month of Wednesdays: June 2024


Shazam! Vol. 1: Meet the Captain!
(DC Comics)
 When it comes to an attempt to salvage DC's Captain Marvel character after nearly twenty years of often ill-conceived reboots and changes in direction, is there any creative team more deserving of trust than writer Mark Waid and artist Dan Mora, who have been responsible for what is pretty much the ideal Big Two super-comic in the form of Batman/Superman: World's Finest...

A few names may come to mind, but not many, especially if the book is going to be an ongoing affair, and one embedded in the broader DC Universe shared setting.

Waid does seem to be working with current continuity here, which means acknowledging and honoring Geoff Johns' New 52 reboot of the character and concept (at least in some manner), though he makes some changes. 

This means the wizard Shazam is still black (although MIA from the Rock of Eternity, and from this story, save in a brief flashback), Billy still makes his home in Philadelphia (well Fawcet City, anyway, which is now a suburb of Philly) and he has five other foster siblings he can share his powers with (well, he used to be able to share his powers with them; as a result of what an editorial box tells us was "The Lazarus Planet event," wherein "the world went kaflooey", he now can't share his powers...although Mary, now called Mary Marvel, has since gotten her own set of SHAZAM powers from her own set of feminine patrons, presumably in the pages of New Champion of Shazam!, which I confess I did not read).

Waid also, as the sub-title of the collection alludes to, tries to address the name of Captain Marvel/Shazam which, again, is something that's been going on for about 20 years now. The character's name is, of course, Captain Marvel, but ever since DC's revival of the character in 1973, they've been putting him in comics entitled Shazam! because, as I understand it, Marvel Comics copyrighted "Captain Marvel", applying it to a character they created while the original was in publishing limbo. 

The compromise DC had been using, at least between 1973 and the turn of the millennium or so, was to title books starring their Captain Marvel as something with Shazam in it (Shazam!: The Power of Hope, The Power of Shazam!, Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil, etc), while the character was named and called "Captain Marvel" within the pages of those books.

Around the time Geoff Johns was writing the character and his villain Black Adam in the pages of JSA and Judd Winick tried to revamp the characters in The Trials of Shazam!, DC seemed to make it official policy that the character's name was now going to be "Shazam", same as the name of the wizard who granted him his powers...and the magic word that transforms him.

I...don't know why this is. I think it's because Johns thought a lot of people thought the character's name was Shazam anyway, based on the Saturday morning live-action TV show that existed for a few years in the mid-seventies, but that strikes me as—what's the word?—dumb. All DC has done by giving in to the perceived ignorance of the broader audience is to reinforce the fact that said audience no longer knows the real name of one of the longest-lived and all-time most popular superheroes in publishing history. 

With Marvel recently reviving the name to apply to their Carold Danvers character, it seems like DC has finally ceded the argument to Marvel. Which, again, I think is dumb. Keep calling him "Captain Marvel" inside the books (and movies and cartoons).  Readers and viewers are sophisticated enough to understand that Batman isn't named Detective Comics, and they realize DC and Marvel share a few (granted, minor) characters with the same names; they can deal with two Captain Marvels, especially if one can claim to be the original. 

Anyway, Waid does try to address this, as it does need addressed, given that a Captain Marvel named "Shazam" can't even say his own name out loud, and the name-change has spillover effects onto his supporting cast. What were readers/viewers supposed to call Mary and Freddy's superhero identities, if not Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel Jr.? (Mary Shazam and Shazam Jr?) What about the other three "lieutenant" Marvels, Hector, Darla and Eugene? Did they ever get superhero codenames? (Confession: While I did read Johns and artist Gary Frank's Captain Marvel reboot, I didn't follow Johns' delayed 2019, 15-issue "ongoing" series; did the other kids ever get superhero names?)

Well Waid's compromise is that the hero formerly known as Captain Marvel and Shazam is now called simply "The Captain." 

To justify the change in-story, Mora draws a picture of Captain Marvel standing on a beach as a wave crashes near his feet, looking sullen and soaking wet. Behind him, Mary Marvel is saluting him and Freddy, here dressed in his old Captain Marvel Jr. costume rather than the New 52 costume he was wearing last go-round, is laughing.

Cap's narration kinda sorta explains, with just-get-it-over-with brevity:

My superhero name used to be "Shazam," same as the word. Which confused some people.

Freddy and Mary started calling me "Captain" after a little...maritime accident I really, really do not feel like getting into right this second.

I'm still annoyed by the mocking, but the name has caught on, and at least it's one I can say out loud.

Well, it's better than "Shazam", I guess, but I still say they should just call him Captain Marvel. Especially since they're apparently using the M-word in Mary's superhero identity (If you look closely at the text accompanying a panel depicting the Captain fan page that Billy and Freddy run, this apparently being the 21st century answer to Billy being a boy radio reporter, the words "Captain Marvel" appear a few times.)

With all that out of the way, how's the comic itself? Well, as one might expect given the track record of this particular creative team, jointly and separately, it's a pretty great comic starring a character that seems to prove pretty difficult for most creators to tackle...perhaps because so many of them feel a need to distinguish him from Superman as dramatically as possible.

Having revamped elements of the franchise as it was when he found it, Waid then proceeds to tell a story that would only work for this particular hero; that is, one derived from the hero's nature itself, rather than one of an external conflict attaching itself to him.

Waid has also settled on a tone that is somewhat lighter, perhaps even sillier, than most modern DC Comics, even his own World's Finest, which seems to be set in some sort of New Silver Age, an indeterminate amount of time in the two leads' past (Weirdly, Captain Marvel appears in the third volume of that series, suggesting he's been around at least since the days when Dick Grayson was Robin, although this book, if keeping Johns' Shazam! Vol. 1, New 52 origin would seem to suggest Captain Marvel's relatively new on the block).

For example, the very first panel has the Captain riding on the back of a rampaging dinosaur...who, it turns out, is a juvenile from a family of space dinosaurs whose spaceship, resembling a classic flying saucer, has crash-landed on Earth. To thank him for rescuing their young, they serve him tea. Later, a lawyer from the planet of space dinosaurs visits Billy's foster home, wearing a suit, top hat and monocle.

Later, talking gorillas will be heavily involved in the plot (Although, this is the DCU, and talking gorillas aren't all that unusual; the pages of The Flash have long-since established a secret city of them). 

The bit with the dinosaurs is presented as something of a typical adventure for the Captain, after which he retires to The Rock of Eternity, here presented as something akin to his own version of the Fortress of Solitude, where he meets Freddy. (And also narrates to us, giving us a quick rundown of his origin, the particular nature of his patron-based powers, the status quo for the franchise and the story quoted above about how he started being called "The Captain.")

Later, during another fairly typical superhero outting—saving people from collapsed buildings during an earthquake—he makes a very out-of-character outburst on live television. What's causing this? Psycho-Pirate? No, he discovers it's not that particular bad guy's fault when he busts the villain during a museum robbery, an adventure that also involves the Captain acting wildly out-of-character.

It turns out that his patrons—Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury—aren't terribly pleased with the way he has been representing them on Earth, and they are taking turns in the "driver's seat" when Billy is using their powers in Captain mode. When doing so, their own flaws and faults seep into the Captain just as their powers do, with usually disastrous results. 

Billy doesn't figure that out until in the middle of an adventure on the moon involving the aforementioned talking gorillas, old Justice League villain The Queen Bee, old Doom Patrol villain Garguax and Mary Marvel...and her wisdom of Minerva. 

It's then up to Billy and his siblings, who have raided the Captain's trophy room for the tools and weapons of other Fawcett Comics characters absorbed into the DCU, to take on the six mostly divine Shazam patrons for control over the champion. In the end, it's the wisdom of Solomon that helps Billy and the Captain resolve the conflict. Not just the fight, but the patrons' original objections, and their attempt to meddle with the Captain. 

As ever, Waid proves himself a fairly ideal writer for universe super-comics, possessing an encyclopedic knowledge of trivia (which one need not share to enjoy manifestations of, just know that when Waid mentions something like, say, "The New Squadron of Justice," rest assured he's making a reference to a comic from a lifetime ago) and a near unrivaled ability to "write within the lines" of continuity without having to "cheat" by modifying the characters or their histories to get to the  pre-determined Point B he wants. 

He also just seems to "get" and to genuinely like the character of Captain Marvel, and thus doesn't feel compelled to reinvent him or reinterpret him; long-time fans should be pleased with the results and find this a fairly seamless update of the matter how far back you want to go for comparison's sake.

Mora similarly doesn't seem to be attempting to redefine the character visually. There's not much space between his version of the Captain and, for example, variant cover artist Samnee, who is very much working from the original C.C. Beck version of the character. 

While the Captain has his classic accessories to differentiate him from DC's other caped strongman character, the suit itself isn't rendered as anything armor-like or practical, but as a tight bodystocking that might just as well be spandex or body paint. 

The lightning bolt on his chest now resembles the classic icon, and no longer looks like some sort of weird battery compartment in a hollow barrel chest. Nor does it shine luminescent white, emit Kirby dots, or constantly generate fields of lightning (though you'll not a lightning bolt crackling across it on Mora's cover to the trade, taken from the cover for issue #1). Finally, the cape has a collar, not a hood, so DC has relaxed on that weird element of their New 52 design for the character.

Although one could argue that Captain Marvel could perhaps use a cartoonier style applied to him, Mora's fairly realistic style stretches and jolts in just the right ways, placing this firmly within the spectrum of a DC house style, and looking well within the bounds of a DCU comic. The realism is especially effective when it comes to drawing the spectacular, like the tiger head atop Mr. Tawky Tawny (who is apparently now a manservant, er, tigerservant for Billy's household) or the ferocious-looking space dinosaurs, for whom the addition of a top hat or monocle are only all the more striking. 

I don't read nearly enough DC comics to confidentially assert that this is the best or even one of the better ones they publish these days, but I know I had the most fun reading this than I've had reading any super-comic since Waid and Mora's own work on World's Finest

It's certainly nice to see a take on the Captain Marvel character that genuinely works for DC. Let's hope the publisher—and the rather busy team of Waid and Mora—can keep it going for a while now. 


Batman: Wayne Family Adventures Vol. 4 (DC Comics) The latest collection of writer CRC Payne and artist Starbite's Webtoon comic strip Wayne Family Adventures seems somewhat more focused on the extended Batman family than the previous collections, as indicated by the huge swathe of the DC Universe that appears on the cover (some of whom, it may be disappointing for Martian Manhunter or Booster Gold fans to learn, do not actually appear in any of the comics contained within). 

So we have Red Hood bringing "The Outlaws" Artemis and Bizarro to the Batcave for a quick stop that ends up turning into a long visit. We have Batman teaming up with Green Lantern Hal Jordan (the latter of whom is annoyed by the seemingly endless contents of the former's utility belt) and Aquaman tracking Black Manta to Gotham and meeting a host of Batman's lieutenants ("So all those times you said you worked alone..."). 

We have Nightwing and Flash Wally West (wearing an out-of-date version of his costume, of course; Wayne Family Adventures apparently being frozen somewhere in the late "Rebirth" period of DC continuity) experimenting with new ways for speedsters to carry their friends, beyond the standard "cradle" or "piggyback". We have Black Canary recruiting Catwoman and the Birds of Prey to pull off a heist. We have off-duty "Super Sons" Jon Kent and Damian Wayne visiting Clark Kent and Lois Lane at The Daily Planet

We even have a completely Bat Family-free "Superman: Kent Family Adventures" strip, wherein Clark Kent visits the Kent family farm to teach Superboy Conner Kent how to shave with heat vision (which no, doesn't actually make sense if it's heat and not a laser, but whatever).

As ever, Payne uses the short, comic strip format of the webcomic to tell either funny stories built around the characters' personalities, or sharp, insightful stories that get to the core of a character or explore some dramatic conflict in their background. Sometimes she even manages to do both in a single strip. 

That's a large part of what makes this particular volume so appealing, as we see Payne's skills with characterization extended to new characters beyond the core cast. 

As much as I would enjoy seeing what Payne could do with a full 20 or 22-page comic book script at some point, or seeing the feature updated a bit to match the current status quo of the characters (Cassandra resuming her Batgirl codename and costume, Tim Drake resuming his Robin codename and costume), I would hate it if Wayne Family Adventures ever actually ended.

It remains, in my opinion, the one Batman comic everyone should be reading. 

And the good news? Everyone can do so for absolutely free by clicking to But me, I can't get into reading the comics in that weird, spacious, scrolling format. I'm more than content to wait for the trade, in which DC assembles the art into a more traditional, easier-for-me, grid-like comics format. 

Dark Crisis: Young Justice (DC) I picked up this collection of the 2022 miniseries, a tie-in to line-wide event series Dark Crisis-turned-Dark Crisis on Infinite Earths, because of the niggling sense of missing something I experienced while reading Kenny Porter and Jahnoy Lindsay's Superboy: The Man of Tomorrow collection (reviewed in the previous column).

That post-DCOIE series was premised on the fact that Superboy Kon-El/Conner Kent had been bumped out of the universe at some point and returned, only to find that the world had moved on without him and he was no longer sure of his place in it. Despite having read comics featuring the character off and on since his 1993 debut, I had no idea what they were talking about, and assumed the place to look would be this six-issue miniseries starring Conner and some of his Young Justice teammates, which did include he, Impulse and Robin Tim Drake all being temporarily extracted from the main DC Universe.

Well, the Meghan Fitzmartin-written, Laura Braga-drawn series did not seem to satisfy that niggling feeling from the Superboy series, as it doesn't really explain that book's premise at all. Superboy was MIA from the DCU between issues of DCOIE, and for less time than Superman and the other Justice Leaguers were presumed dead (the series begins with the Young Justice heroes among a crowd gathered at the Hall of Justice to mourn the JLA, lost during the events of Dark Crisis, I guess, and it concludes with this book's iteration of Young Justice, missing the characters picked-up during the Brian Michael Bendis-written last volume of the series, going into the climactic battle at the end of Dark Crisis).

While there's no real count as to how long they're gone, it's closer to days than weeks, and, if the world had moved on without them during that time, then Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and the others would have all been in the same boat as Superboy. 

So while it didn't answer my continuity questions, how was it taken on its own terms as a story?

Well. Let's just so say "not great"...and that's despite offering a degree of nostalgia for a time when I was an attentive, engaged and excited regular reader of DCU comics and most thoroughly invested in the shared setting of the publisher's comics line (The late '90s, when Grant Morrison was still writing JLA and Peter David, Todd Nauck and Larry Stucker first launched Young Justice). 

The boys—Robin, Impulse and Superboy—all suddenly vanish from the Hall of Justice, seemingly mid-conversation with Wonder Girl Cassie Sandsmark and Cissie King-Jones, the now-retired from superheroics Arrowette (Other members of the original Young Justice, and members from the latest iteration are missing for some reason.) The boys then all reawaken in what would seem to be the late-nineties of their own continuities, a fact reinforced on the reader when Impulse uses his super-speed to do a quick lap of America and sees Artemis, Zauriel, Green Lantern Kyle Rayner and Green Arrow Connor Hawke.

No sooner do they meet up and try to figure out what's happening to them then they're called into battle, with The Mighty Endowed, an extremely minor, and not terribly well-conceived, villain from Young Justice #1. Then Wonder Girl, looking like she did around issue Young Justice #20 or so (post-wig), shows up and puts down the bad guy. 

It quickly becomes apparent that there's something wrong with the world the boys find themselves in—Robin can't search back in history farther than the Death of Superman, Impulse glimpses fundamental problems with its nature when moving at super-speed—but there is a temptation to just give in to the world. After all, isn't it the way things could have been, or perhaps should have been?

Fitzmartin cranks up the too-good-to-be-true nature of the world during a visit to the JLA's lunar Watchtower, where Superman, Batman and The Flash all tell the boys in three parallel scenes that they are going to be their chosen successors (Batman also makes a creepy comment to Robin about how marrying Spoiler is Robin's destiny, and his dating Bernard is just a phase). That's followed up almost immediately with an attack by a trio of villains that seem gathered together just so the three young heroes can get their revenge on them: Deathstroke, Lex Luthor and an old and out of shape, Identity Crisis-style Captain Boomerang). 

While all of this is going on in a strange parallel world, the other Wonder Girl, the one we saw with Cissie and the boys in the first issue, has been desperately trying to find them. The other heroes don't seem too incredibly concerned about the fact that they're missing, mostly assuming that they've gone off to be alone to process their feelings about the Justice League dying...that, or the heroes are all too busy trying to defend their cities and world now that the League is no more (These scenes kinda reinforce the eventually-revealed bad guy's point that the real world hasn't done right by the Young Justice heroes, to the point that it sometimes almost literally forgets about them in its churn of new stories...and, of course, Tim Drake going missing isn't as noticeable today as it might have been in 1998; now he's not Batman's only sidekick, but one of, like, a dozen or so...he's not even the only Robin). 

Cassie recruits a reluctant Cissie to help her—a Cissie who is written so reluctant, and so down on the old days in general that I suspected she was actually the villain in disguise, trying to throw Wonder Girl off the trail in the same way the other world's Wonder Girl seems to be trying to distract the boys—and eventually they recruit one-time Young Justice mentor Red Tornado in their quest.

The villain of the piece, which I knew before I ever cracked the cover of this book because the solicitation for issue #5 spoiled his identity on the cover, is, of course (and you should stop reading this sentence if you don't want to be spoiled) Mickey Mxyzptlk, the son of Superman villain and nigh-omnipotent fifth-dimensional imp Mr. Mxyzptlk.

Apparently, Mickey is a big fan of the original Young Justice line-up—as in, like that of the first three issues, as he says they started to go wrong when the girls were introduced, but that was the fourth issue of the series—and he thinks the DCU has treated them unfairly over the years. 

So he created a brand-new world for them much like theirs was at one point, and then tried to make it into a perfect world for them, one where they weren't shoved aside by new Superboys and Robins and Kid Flashes, and where they didn't get lost in a crowd of new sidekicks. 

There also seems to be a bit of a negative reaction to the diversity of the current DCU on his part, as when Mickey gives a speech about the fact that the Young Justice guys have been replaced "with people who don't have any right to be here...I'm sorry, I don't care about these guys", the background is filled with mostly gay or trans characters (Batwoman, Green Lantern Alan Scott, Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, Dreamer, Bernard) or characters of color (Nubia, Batman Tim Fox), all characters who emphatically did not replace them in the same way that, say, Damian Wayne, Jon Kent and the new (and black) Wally West did replace them.

So Mickey is meant to be a stand-in for readers who complain about the evolving DC Universe and explicitly want stories like those they had when they were younger, featuring the same heroes, but while Fitzmartin is on relatively strong ground using him as a symbol for a certain kind of reader (albeit a clunkily obvious symbol), there's an implied criticism attributed to Mickey and, by extension, nostalgic readers like him: That they're sexist, racist and intolerant of LGBT people....or, at least, characters. One wonders why Fitzmartin didn't make that criticism a little stronger, especially considering the anvil-drop subtlety of Mickey being a nostalgia-obsessed fanboy. 

(To give the character a little more solid, less-meta reason for his actions, Fitzmartin also has Mickey say at one point that his father Mr. Mxyzptlk promised to give him control of the Fifth Dimension when his generation of heroes, meaning Superboy, Robin and Impulse, grew up and assumed the mantles of Superman, Batman and The Flash...something they're no longer even in line for anymore). 

The criticism that Fitzmartin (and publisher DC) level isn't limited to just a certain type of fan or reader, though. Fitzmartin also seems to have a somewhat embarrassed if not negative view of the original Young Justice series itself, as the three male leads gradually but continually notice the ideal, just-for-them world they awoke in is a little crasser, a little more juvenile, and a little more sexist than the "real" world, the current DCU. 

It's not just Batman dismissing Tim's bisexuality as "a phase," which is certainly meant to be the influence of Mickey on "his" version of Batman, but you see it in the character's unearthed (The Mighty Endowed, for example) and the boys themselves (Impulse says something about enjoying the view when he sees the fake Wonder Girl wrestling The Mighty Endowed, and then catches himself with "Woah. Wait. What? What did I just say?", to which Superboy merely replies "The old Bart is back!" Which is...weird, because the "old" Bart was mostly pre-pubescent and not terribly interested in girls, not like the girl-obsessed and at-times even lecherous, though still chaste, Superboy of the '90s).

A lot of Cissie's commentary, which ends up being genuine and not the work of Mickey trying to manipulate the real world in the same way he manipulated the one he created, is genuinely bitter, and her memories of her time in the Young Justice series are almost uniformly negative. It's honestly...weird. Particularly since they don't seem to line up with her views as she expressed them during the time that the series played out. It's almost as if Fitzmartin only read the first handful of issues of the original title.

The meta-criticism of the negative aspects of fan culture and of the original Young Justice run aside (and yeah, that's a lot to put aside) Fitzmartin and Braga's book just isn't too terribly good, whiffing on the basic stuff like superheroes fighting one another that a comic targeting other comics as not-up-to-snuff should make sure it gets at least as right as those comics did.  If your superhero comic book is going to be about how other comic books weren't that good, in other words, you better damn well make sure it's a better-made comic. 

And it's not.

For example, the fake Lex Luthor compliments Superboy's left hook...right after a panel in which the art shows Superboy punching him with his right hand. 

Or the rather interminable scene where Superboy, Robin and Impulse fight the combined might of the Morrison-era JLA and the late-nineties, adjective-less Titans, and, somehow, manage to hold their own for, like, a dozen pages. No one uses any of their powers in any way that is imaginative, or even interesting. They all just trade punches, the Young Justice boys talking to each other while batting down Martian Manhunter, Big Barda and so on. Sure, they have home-book advantage, and maybe Mickey is putting his thumb on the scale to keep them in the fight, but Superboy, Robin and Impulse taking on the entire JLA and Titans should at least be...something to read, not just background noise. 

In the end, after the characters all apologize for the way they treated one another and/or were written over the years, Bart, who has been vocally upset about his characterization, unspools a deus ex machina of a plan that sounds a bit like the sort of science gobbledygook a Silver Age DC hero might come up with to end their story, and the team unites to put it into action, trapping Mickey. (Having repeatedly boasted that he was smarter than his father, they don't really attempt to trick him into saying his name backwards but instead fight him with brute force until Impulse comes up with a plan; this is, to say the least, lame. The whole appeal of a character like Mxyzptlk is seeing new riffs on an established theme).

That finally settled, the six heroes—the boys, Wonder Girl, Red Tornado and a plainclothes Cissie—join a battle already in progress at the Hall of Justice, apparently part of the climax of Dark Crisis on Infinite Earths

Structurally, the book is sound, and it's written in a way that it can be consumed without one having to know much of anything about Dark Crisis beyond the fact that the Justice League is presumed dead, but it's messaging is...I don't know. It's awkward, and stridently critical, without being quite strident enough in places (That is, Mickey's anti-gay stance being implied on that one page). 

As someone who has been with Young Justice for two volumes and thirty-some years now, a Young Justice-branded comic taking umbrage with the first, foundational volume and the last few decades worth of characterization of these characters in that book and others (Teen Titans, their solo series, etc) felt sort of...icky to me.

Was Peter David's series perfect? God no. How about what Geoff Johns and others did with the characters after David's light-hearted, comedically toned book ended? No, no, certainly not. But did DC really need to make a book apologizing for David's, Johns' and others' work on the characters? Not really.

I mean, the best way to make up for the deficiencies in past books is to just make new, good comics featuring those concepts and characters. That's what Bendis and company attempted in their Young Justice revival and, I think, succeeded at doing more than they failed (Again it's worth noting that this book seems to take place in a continuity where Bendis' run never happened, the characters he added to the team being conspicuous in their absence. Did Fitzmartin not know there was a second volume of the series, one that introduced several more female characters and another one of color?). 

Comics about other people's comics, using the shared characters as such obvious mouthpieces for the writer, just feel a little wrong to me. Especially when they are critical of those other comics creators' works, and especially when they don't have anything to add, or even much in the way of unique virtues of their own—cool fight scenes, imaginative plotting, insightful characterization—to justify their own existence. 

Instead, this is a competently made comic with confounding messaging. In part, it seems to be a criticism of fan nostalgia for late-90's comics like Young Justice, but it also reads like a Young Justice comic book whose moral is that Young Justice comics suck.

I certainly wouldn't recommend Dark Crisis: Young Justice to any fan of Young Justice....or of Robin, Superboy, Impulse or Wonder Girl. 

But then, who else would even be interested in such a book...? 

Nancy's Genius Plan (Andrews McMeel Publishing) If you've been checking out my blog over the last few months, then you know I've been reading a lot of works related to cartoonist Ernie Bushmiller and his comic strip creation Nancy, mostly in preparation for or reaction to Ohio State University's Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum's Memorial Day weekend Nancy Fest

Well in scouring my local library for whatever Nancy books they happened to have, I came across this book, which looked to be a Nancy picture book from current, controversial Nancy cartoonist Olivia Jaimes. So what the hell, might as well be a Nancy completist, right? I went ahead and ordered it. 

It turns out that the 2019 book is a board book, meaning that it's geared towards a very young audience; if not babies, per se, then at least young readers who are awfully rough on books, up to and including putting them in their mouths.

The plot is simplicity itself. Auth Fritzi has just made cornbread for Nancy and her friends to share (Here that means not only Sluggo, but also Jaimes' additions to the strip, Esther and twins Agnes and Lucy). Nancy would rather eat it all herself. To do that, she had a "genius" plan, one that involves the complicity of the young reader, who, in typical interactive board book fashion, in asked to play their part by doing things like knocking on a picture of a window, turning the book upside down at one point, and violently shaking it at another.

In the end, though Nancy's plan succeeds, she realizes eating the cornbread alone would be lonely, so she again enlists the reader's help to summon the other characters to the kitchen to join her.

It's not terribly funny, but it does have what Jaimes would say is a "nice shape" to it, and it manages to be both a Nancy story and an appealing interactive book for the youngest of readers. 

Jaimes' Nancy art lacks the perfection and draftsmanship of Nancy's creator Bushmiller, and it has a thin-lined, almost mechanical look to it, which is easier to appreciate and dissect in the bigger format offered by this board book, where each implied "panel" is the size of a page of the book, or in one instance, a two-page spread. 

Recommended for Nancy fans who want to try to inspire the youngest readers to become Nancy fans themselves, and/or Nancy completists. 

The upper left-hand corner of this collection's cover proclaims that it is "Written By Sci-Fi Icon And The Voice of Steel: Michael Doran!" "Ooh," I thought, "Sci-fi icon? Is this some famous science-fiction writer I've never heard of, with a podcast about Steel that DC recruited to write a comic about the character?"

I thought that, of course, because of one of my own significant geek-culture blindspots. Shocking as it may be for a guy whose been reading and writing about comics for over 30 years now, I have absolutely no experience with any iteration of Star Trek

Micheal Dorn is, as I imagine many of you already know, the actor who played the popular Klingon character Worf in Star Trek: The Next Generation (as well as its film adaptations and several later Star Trek series).  As for "The Voice of Steel" bit, he literally voiced the character in the 1996-2000 Superman: The Animated Series, where the character appeared in all of two episodes. 

I was not as excited as whoever wrote the cover blurb seemed to be. Creators from outside of comics are a notoriously iffy group of individuals to tackle the super-comics subgenre, as they occasionally do. Skill (and sometimes quite significant skill) in one type of writing doesn't always translate to the comics medium. And here Dorn isn't even a writer, but an actor (Although, according to his IMDb page, he did write a 2002 made-for-TV movie, Through the Fire, so scripting a Steel mini-series wouldn't exactly be his first time in front of a keyboard or anything).

I was therefore quite pleasantly surprised to find that Dorn showed no tell-tale signs of a new-to-comics writer, and that the comic with his name on it wasn't just quite readable, but of quality quite comparable to any of the other recent DC Comics collections I've read of late (Say, for example, any of those reviewed in this column; Hell, Steelworks was head and shoulder above Dark Crisis: Young Justice, written by one of those writers who came to comics from another medium, TV and animation writer Meghan Fitzmartin, who seemed pretty unfamiliar with the characters she was writing and the books hers was commenting on/criticizing). 

Though Dorn gets top billing on the cover, alongside artists Sami Basri and Vicente Cifuentes and colorist Andrew Dalhouse, the collection of the six-issue Steelworks mini-series actually opens with a 30-page prequel story ("Steel: Engineer of Tomorrow") taken from a series of back-ups that ran in Action Comics #1054-#1056

These are written by Dorado Quick and drawn by Yasmín Flores Montañez, and they detail elder Steel John Henry Irons and his niece (and the younger Steel) Natasha Irons attempting to set-up their new Steelworks headquarters and project, which involves fighting a cyborg named Amalgam, pitching an energy-generating forcefield and an army of helpful robots (?!) to a board of businesspeople and a meeting with Mr. Terrific Michael Holt, who it is revealed is both a friend of Steels as well as an investor in his new company. 

This flows quite seamlessly into the first issue of Steelworks, which opens with John Henry Irons unveiling Steelworks, with an appearance by Superman and the whole Super Family in their matching uniform jackets (a six-panel column on the lefthand side of a two-page spread would briefly recount Steel's origins in a few words and iconic images).

One therefore expects a strong editorial guiding hand was involved in the book, given that it fits into the Superman line of comics so easily, and even seems to involve the extremely messy Superman continuity of the oh, say, last eight years or so, not only following on the heels of the Superman-on-Warworld epic, but also the events of 2016-2018 Superwoman series, which established John Henry as a supporting character of star Lana Lang's...and her romantic interest. 

With Steelworks, John Henry is attempting to unveil a new, limitless, free energy source that will power the city of Metropolis (and/or the world), a technology apparently based on something Superman brought back from Warworld. He's also trying to prepare for a time in which superheroes are no longer necessary, which means not only he and Natasha hanging up their hammers, but the whole Super Family eventually hanging up their capes and spiffy new matching jackets. 

Some of that is a direct result of the nature of the energy source, which seems to have adverse effects on the Super-people's powers, and some of it is the result of Steel contemplating his future, a future that involves him marrying Lana, who is now his fiancée. (There's a pretty neat moment wherein Steel contemplates the story of his namesake, folk hero John Henry Irons, and the message of that story. Is it really about never giving up and humanity's power to challenge the machine or is it the story of a man throwing his life away in a battle he was never going to truly win?).

Making energy free will, of course, attract the attention of the powers-that-be who profit off of selling it, and here they are personified by Charles Walker III, who, when he first appears in the back of a limo, I took to be the Toyman, whom he looks like a cleaner, more dressed-up version of. In fact, he is apparently the CEO of Amertek Industries, the company that John Henry Irons worked as for an engineer and would make the "Toastmasters" guns based on his designs and, in the pages of the old Steel ongoing, later make battle-suits based on the Steel suit designs. 

Amertek would apparently eventually go belly-up after Irons very publicly left due to moral concerns, and Walker continues to blame Irons/Steel for his business failures. He recruits another former Amertek employee, down on his luck Shawn Kerry, and gives him phasing super-powers, a costume and the new name The Silver Mist to attacks Steelworks and steal the energy source before it can be unveiled.

This will eventually result in a climax in which Steel must fight a giant robot piloted by Walker, one whose energy source is too dangerous for the other members of the Super Family to tackle, meaning it's up to the two Steels and the newly re-powered Superwoman to tackle it. 

The Super Family seems to all blend together into a colorful but indistinct character blob a bit, although I don't think that's a unique fault of Dorn's, as it was also a bit of a problem in the trade paperback introducing them, Joshua Williamson's Superman: Action Comics Vol. 1—Rise of Metallo. I'm not sure DC has quite figured out how to juggle this new super-team, which, for all I know, is a temporary status quo that's meant to feel a bit unwieldy (what they could really use is their own version of CRC Payne and artist Starbite's Wayne Family Adventures). Of them, only Superman and Superboy Conner Kent/Kon-El seem to get much in the way of panel-time or stand-out moments (Superboy prominently appears alongside Nat in the opening story, the one from the Action Comics back-ups).

Sam Basri starts out as the solo artist in the book on the first issue but will eventually pick up Vicente Cifuentes and Max Raynor as fellow artists, as soon as the second issue. All of the artists seem to have a strong handle on the character designs of the expansive cast (although it can here be a challenge to keep the various teenage Supermen Conner Kent, Jon Kent and former "New Superman" Kenan Kong visually distinct).

The interiors of Steelworks, where much of the book is set, have an expansive, airy feel to them, and Metropolis feels like a nice, clean big city with one foot in the future. 

Overall, this seems like a fine spotlight for a great character, re-positioning him not as a sort of secondary or lieutenant version of Superman (although that's how he seems to appear in the Super-books), but more as a sort of good guy opposite version of Lex Luthor: A brilliant scientist and businessman (and bald guy) devoted to reshaping Metropolis in his image, and occasionally donning a high-tech battle suit to go into action himself. 

The original issues of the comic of course shipped with several variant covers, as all comics seem to do these days, and two of special note include a first issue one by Steel co-creator Jon Bogdanove (above), featuring a fairly straight but iconic version of the character in flight (Bogdanove would also contribute a cover to issue #6), and another by artists V. Ken Marion, Danny Miki and Brad Anderson, depicting Steel leading a whole host of '90s DC characters, including Green Lantern Kyle Rayner, Green Arrow Connor Hawke, Warrior Guy Gardner, Jade and others...even Bloodwynd!
(Seriously, when was the last time you thought about Bloodwynd?)

Titans Vol. 1: Out of the Shadows (DC) The latest entry in a long line of comics premised on the grown-up version of the Teen Titans reuniting as adult heroes differs from the previous series in a couple of important ways.

Perhaps most importantly is that this time the Titans are reforming, they are doing so in a world without a Justice League, which makes them the world's premiere superhero team for the first time in their history, a passing-of-the-torch moment that will seemingly finally realize the characters' never-meant-to-actually-be moment of taking over for their mentors (Whether the League is no more because of a plot point in the Brian Michael Bendis-written run on the last volume of Justice League, which I didn't read, or the Joshual Willamson-written "death" of the team in the final issues of that title that tied into Dark Crisis, which I also didn't read, I have no idea; Nightwing simply refers to the League as "disbanded" at one point.)

The other difference? This iteration of a Titans book is being written by the same guy who's currently writing the Nightwing solo series, giving the book a more tied-in and official feel than other past books, where the writer was destined to be, if not hamstrung, then at least bound by what was going on in the Batman books at any given time (Indeed, the text on the back of the trade paperback refers to Titans as a sort of spin-off of Nightwing.)

That writer is, of course, Tom Taylor, a fan-favorite who has some extremely solid work on his resume at this point, including the much-better-than-it-ever-had-any-reason-to-be video game spin-off series Injustice, which often featured very sharp, insightful characterization among its hammer-dumb plot points. 

Unfortunately, Taylor doesn't seem to have done much with the whole taking-over-for-the-Justice League thing, at least not in this first volume. Assembling a team to replace the JLA, Nightwing just picks his friends, and the characters you would expect to find in such a Titans revival, some of the team's founders (Codename-less Donna Troy, The Flash Wally West) and the characters from the popular The New Teen Titans/New Titans era (Raven, Cyborg, Starfire and Beast Boy). 

As for Tempest, he's in the book if not on the team yet, and as for Arsenal, he's completely MIA and goes unmentioned; last time I saw him, in the pages of the new Green Arrow, he was apparently shot to death. 

The new version of Swamp Thing, Levi Kamei, does make a surprise appearance at one point, and is asked to join the team, at least on a part-time basis ("We're not expecting you to move into the tower and hang out on our couch," Nightwing tells him).

The team is about to move into their latest T-shaped tower headquarters, this time based in Bludhaven, when Oracle calls them away on a mission: Titano is attacking a nuclear power plant. They solve the problem, but then have a tense conversation with Peacemaker (who is now apparently Amanda Waller's number one lieutenant). He tells them that "unknown forces are attempting to cause enormous ecological damage to the world," and not much later, they're summoned to another such attack, this time in Borneo, where there's a huge burning crater in the rain forest.

Meanwhile, between missions they find Wally West's dead body at the tower...just before a very much alive Wally West shows up (Apparently, The Flash was murdered a few days in the future and traveled back in time so his friends could solve, and hopefully prevent, that murder.)

As for the villain of the piece, it is somewhat disappointingly an old Titans villain, Brother Blood and the Church of Blood, now claiming to have gone legit and rebranded as Brother Eternity and the Church of Eternity. To help make his case, he has allied himself with former Titan Tempest, who was first seen in the book rejecting Nightwing and Donna's efforts to recruit him to the new team ("I'm already working with someone," he rebuffed them). 

The one place where the book does seem to address the Titans' new roles as the world's protectors—and to differentiate itself from most such super-team books—is in Beast Boy's encouraging the team to do more in an attempt to save the world, which Tempest says at several different points is in great danger, if not headed toward certain doom, because of environmental degradation and the threat that continued use of fossil fuels poses for the climate ("We're supposed to protect the world," Beast Boy tells his teammates. "Well, we put out a fire. But the forest is still gone. Is this all the Titans are going to do? Fight the symptoms?")

It's admirable that Taylor brings up the fragile state of the world and writes superheroes attempting to address it, although his messaging doesn't seem to be urgent enough. The world really is in great danger and it (and humanity) may in fact actually already be doomed; it would be nice to see a super-book really tackling those problems, but none of the characters really talk about fossil fuels or capitalism or denialism or anything. Instead, they recruit Swamp Thing to help them regrow the parts of the forest that were destroyed in an earlier scene. 

Like I said, it's heartening to see Taylor addressing the environmental problems facing the real world at all, but it would be even more heartening if he went harder on this subject.

Overall, it's quite well-written superhero drama, with a lot of potential, given both the long history of these characters with one another, what one assumes must be the inherent weirdness of re-teaming (imagine moving into a house with all of your childhood best friends and starting a new job together), and the whole idea of being the new iteration of the Justice League and the world's primary heroes which, like I said, is touched on a few times, but not really explored in this first volume.

(One niggling thing I didn't get though? Beast Boy's powers seem to be different than I remembered them, or what I thought them to be. I thought he could just turn into any animal he wanted, so long as that animal is green. Here he is apparently able to become many different animals at the same time, including a swarm of bees, a bunch of ants and, near the climax, a forest full of different insects. Is this new? Also, there are at least two occasions where he simply seems to change his own default, humanoid shape, becoming a much bigger, stronger and toothier-looking version of himself.)

Visually, there is absolutely nothing to complain about. Taylor is paired with Nicola Scott, whose pencil art I enjoyed back during her run on Secret Six with Gail Simone, and who has only got better and better since, to the point where she's now head and shoulders above her own previous high standard. 

Not only is she a consummate super-comic artist, but she's excellent at rendering people's faces, to the point that all of her characters look like real people, and all look as different from one another as real people do. Such a realistic style evokes the work of Phil Jimenez and George Perez, and there is, of course, no better tradition for the artist of a Titans book to be working in.

I look forward to the future of this book, and hope both Taylor and Scott stick it out for a while yet—an occasional guest artist giving the latter a break now and then, of course. I understand Taylor's wrapping up his run on Nightwing, and I hope that doesn't impact his writing of the character in this book. 

Oh, and hopefully DC decides to keep the DCU Justice League-free for a while longer. Not simply because it seems like the franchise can use a rest, but because Taylor (and the publisher) have barely begun to explore what it might be like for another team and another set of heroes to try to fill the void not having a League creates, and that's a very rare, very interesting bit of storytelling geography to explore. 

World's Finest: Teen Titans (DC) Mark Waid apparently so enjoyed writing original Robin Dick Grayson and the original Teen Titans in the pages of his Batman/Superman: World's Finest series—particularly in the second volume, Strange Visitor, when the kids worked with new teen character Boy Thunder—that he spun them off into their own mini-series, keeping the "World's Finest" branding.

Rather than artist Dan Mora, who drew them in the pages of Batman/Superman, Waid is here working with artist Emanuela Lupacchino (Artists Chris Samnee and Evan "Doc" Shaner, both of whom would seemingly be ideal artists for such a series, contribute covers. How perfectly do the two artists seem to fit the book's vibe? Well, it's a Samnee image used for the collection cover, rather than one by Lupacchino). 

Like Mora, Lupacchino has a really realistic style, but with enough dynamic flexibility within it that she excels at both superhero action and occasionally over-the-top character acting. She's a pretty perfect collaborator for Waid on a book like this, if Samnee and Shaner are going to be limited to covers.

The story seems set relatively late in the run of the original 1966-1977 Teen Titans series, after both Mal Duncan and Bumblebee have joined the team.

To better orient one the series in Titans history, in the pages of this series, Bumblebee is already a full-fledged member, while Mal is a friend of Donna's who Bumblebee has an eye on. He does suit up as a superhero in the pages of the book, but not until after Bumblebee kinda sorta recruits him, so obviously Waid is playing with the ever-mushy continuity here. 

(As to the why of the change, I assume it was to get another woman and a person of color on the otherwise all-white line-up, given that this series isn't set in the 1960 or 1970s, but, like, 2014 or so, given DC's sliding timeline. They have cellphones, hashtags, drones and one of them even uses the word "sus" once...!)

Lilith (introduced in 1970) and Gnarrk (1971) both put in brief appearances, Robin referring to them as "Titans advance scouts." And the Titans' social media guy is Charley Parker, the one-time Golden Eagle who now refers to himself as "retired."

Waid presents the team, however many years they have been together at this point, as composed of five relatively self-confident, well-adjusted heroes, most of whom have good working relationships with their mentors...and then Speedy Roy Harper, who obviously has lot of issues, here seemingly stemming from his mentor Green Arrow's relative absences in his life (In a scene showing the other founding Titans all talking to their mentors, Speedy talks to a target dummy, pretending it's Green Arrow; as for the mentor-less Bumblebee, she chats with Parker). 

Though they all seem fairly fully formed as individuals, and as part of a team with their mentors, as the Teen Titans, they still seem riven with conflict (Despite easily taking down a weird cult in a matter of four pages in the opening chapter).

Speedy is openly derisive of Aqualad and seemingly covetous of Garth's new relationship with Wonder Girl. He's also the first to bring up the fact that they've all shared their secret identities with one another...except for Robin, who keeps his secret from them at Batman's insistence (Batman still doesn't seem sold on this whole Teen Titans team idea in the pages of this book). His showboating, like using drones to record the Titans' fights, grates on Robin, and Speedy is quick to point out to all the others that he's rich, so everything with him is fine. 

Despite having so much in common on paper ("They both come from mystical, magical realms steeped in deep-cut mythology," Bumblebee tells Roy, who calls the relationship "inexplicable."), as people, Garth and Donna seems worlds apart at this point, and are drifting even further. 

Meanwhile, Kid Flash Wally West keeps insisting that everyone's friends, a view of the team not all of his teammates seem to share, particularly Robin, who is having trouble holding them altogether.

Admirably, it's these relationships and the melodrama between the players that Waid focuses on, and Lupacchino seems so adept at drawing, rather than the exterior, fairly generic exterior superhero conflicts driving the plot.

These include a teen hero-turned-villain with an axe to grind against the Titans, the electricity-powered Haywire who doesn't mind breaking rules of law or morality in his pursuit of putting down villains (He seems to be a new, original creation of Waid and Lupacchino's, with no relation to the character who starred in a short-lived 1988 series by that name). He's putting together a new, anti-Titans team called "The Terror Titans", a team name borrowed from the Sean McKeever run on the 21st Century Teen Titans, here comprised of a mix of new characters who fight the team in this book (mage Toyboy) and others from the DC catalog (an upgraded early Teen Titans villain Ant, Infinity Inc villain Artemis). 

Along the way, there are some fun scenes like the team (sans Robin) attending a Teen Titans-specific convention and Wally hosting a sleepover with Garth and Roy (despite the fact that his parents don't know he or they are superheroes).

Though some of the conflicts driving the drama in the series are resolved (The team not knowing Robin's secret identity, Garth and Donna's relationship), others are left unresolved, perhaps because they are addressed in other storylines (Roy's sense of emptiness and relationship with Green Arrow presumably leads to his drug use in the pages of 1971's Green Lantern #85-#86 (during the time Hal Jordan was sharing the title with Green Arrow). As for a scene where Bumblebee seems to panic at the thought of being publicly unmasked ("Okay, there is definitely a story here", Wally says to Garth), I'm not sure if that was answered somewhere in pre-Caleb-reading-comics Titans history, or if it's something Waid might get to somewhere in the future, perhaps a second World's Finest: Teen Titans series.

I certainly wouldn't mind a second series exploring this less-seen part of Titans history, between their "Year One" origins and the famous New Teen Titans reboot of 1980. Nor would I object to Waid spinning off any other characters he writes in the pages of Batman/Superman: World's Finest into their own mini-series. World's Finest: Supergirl, World's Finest: Jimmy Olsen, World's Finest: Doom Patrol, Worlds' Finest: Metamorpho, World's Finest: Metal Men, World's Finest: Justice League, whatever. 

This volume includes a couple of character design sketches and a healthy, 18-page variant cover gallery including work from EDILW favorites like Mike Allred, Dan Mora and Jill Thompson.


Barda (DC Comics) What a time to be a fan of Jack Kirby's Big Barda, a fairly popular but relatively minor player in his New Gods/Fourth World saga. Not only is she now a member of the seemingly well-received latest iteration of Birds of Prey by Kelly Thompson and company, she also just got her very own solo story, in the form of an original YA graphic novel by acclaimed cartoonist Ngozi Ukazu (Check, Please!). I won't repeat myself gushing about it here—you can and should read my review at Good Comics For Kids—but it's a great story, and a relevant, interesting and (key for me) reverential take on Kirby's corner of the DC Universe. 

After I finished reviewing it, I poked around the Internet a little, as is my wont (I generally like to see if other people saw what I was seeing, on comics both good, like this one, and "Huh, they really published that?", like Dark Crisis: Young Justice...the latter of which I was glad to see I wasn't the only one who had...questions about).. 

What I found was a rather lovely essay by Ukazu at about being introduced to Barda and Mister Miracle via a DC animated adaptation (and then, when she set out researching the book, becoming a Kirby super-fan), and a nice interview with her at Comic Book Couples Counseling

The story of her work on the characters and on the book (and in Kirby's shadow) seemed pretty interesting. Like, did you know she's the first black woman to both write and draw a comic for DC? And that she's only the third person to both write and draw the New Gods/Fourth World characters, following Walter Simonson (on 2000-2002's Orion) and Kirby himself? (Is this true? That sounds crazy. Are there not even any short stories by cartoonists tucked away in anthologies or back-ups over the last fifty-some years?)

Reading those above linked-to posts kinda made me wish I had pursued an interview with Ukazu instead simply reviewing the book (I'd like to ask about streamlining things like Barda's crazy hat, for example), but in the end I'm glad I wrote a review of it. For all of the interest in comic books on the Internet, there are way too few good places to find reviews of comics, especially super-comics, online these days. Believe me, I look all the time! (Feel free to give me recommendations, in case the Google algorithm isn't showing me the good stuff anymore). 

Anyway, if you have any interest in a re-interpretation of Kirby's singular vision for a new audience, check out Barda

Plain Jane and The Mermaid (First Second) Storyboard artist and children's picture book creator turned cartoonist Vera Brosgol offers an epic undersea adventure based on folklore and fairy tales, a tale that also serves as a meditation on the relative importance of one's physical appearance. More here

The Worst Ronin (HarperAlley) Maggie Tokuda-Hall and Faith Schaffer's original graphic novel offered me a pretty good reminder about judging books by their covers. I wasn't a big fan of Schaffer's art at first; there's a roughness to the character design and the rendering I found a little off-putting, and the fact that one of the main characters appears both in flashback and in the present, but with an entirely different look in the former, took me longer than I would have liked to realize they were just who was who. I'm glad I stuck with the book past the first few scenes though, as it is a rather winning one featuring female samurai and people of color in a remixed version of feudal Japan that is quite effective (and Schaffer's story-telling chops are superb, regardless of what I thought of her style at first.) More here

On Drawn & Quarterly's Nancy: Vol. 1 (2009)

Oh, you thought that I had already written as much about Nancy comics as any comics blogger possibly could in the last few months? Well, I found another Nancy book, this one on one of the bookshelves in my ancestral home, where it has stood since publisher Drawn & Quarterly sent it to me as a review copy way back in 2009.

I thought it might be worth re-visiting the book, a collection of writer/artist John Stanley's work on the character culled from the comic strip's comic book spin-offs, having just recently read so much of Ernie Bushmiller's original Nancy, not to mention Paul Karasik and Mark Newgarden's How to Read Nancy and Bill Griffith's Three Rocks. And attended a two-day event devoted to Bushmiller and his Nancy that those same authors spoke at. 

Simply put, I am much, much, much more familiar with the source material for the comics collected in this book then I was when I was originally presented with it in 2009, and I therefore thought it might be worthwhile to re-read it now (to regular EDILW readers sick of Nancy talk, let me reassure you that this is the last post I have on the subject for the foreseeable future, and the post following this will be almost completely devoted to something you probably better associate the blog with, reviews of DC Comics' super-books). 

The cover design for this beautiful hardcover comes courtesy of Candian cartoonist Seth (Clyde Fans and It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken), who similarly handled the book design for Fantagraphics' Complete Peanuts publishing project. Here he highlights the iconographic perfection of Bushmiller's ultimate Nancy design, focusing on her signifiers, like the bow, the weird spiky helmet of hair and the punctuation mark elements of her face (In a new essay in The Nancy Show: Celebrating the Art of Ernie Bushmiller, Karasik and Newgarden show how easy it is to reproduce Nancy's blank, staring face with just a handful of punctuation marks). 

In the three Nancy volumes that followed this first one, Seth would produce another cover providing a similar close-up view of hat-less Sluggo with Nancy icons dancing in his eyes (Volume 3), and then a pair of covers featuring Nancy walking side-by-side with the John Stanley-created character Oona Goosepimple (Volume 2) and then with Sluggo (Volume 4), those latter two featuring the characters in Seth's own, distinct style. All four volumes are part of Drawn & Quarterly's "John Stanley Library", which also included collections of his Tubby, Melvin Monster and Thirteen Going on Thirty

Though D&Q's website solicitation copy for the first volume referred to it as "kid-friendly" and a companion to Dark Horse's collections of Little Lulu (and Tubby), the John Stanley Library editions all seem more adult-focused, being handsome, book shelf-ready hardcovers that demand a sense of importance and care in their handling and reading, unlike Dark Horse's digest-sized trade paperback format collections of Stanley's Little Lulu comics. 

As for the comics collected within this volume, they are Nancy #146-#150, presumably of the Dell Comics series, and were originally published in 1957 and 1958. Stanley handled the scripts and layouts, while Dan Gormley finished the art. 

Like many kids comics of the time, each issue was essentially an anthology, with comics of various lengths filling up the space between the covers. Some of these are very short, only a page long, and these function a little like a Nancy Sunday strip, I suppose, while many other stories go on for pages and pages.

That's a lot of space for a Nancy story, given that Bushmiller, in the height of his comics-making powers, worked in extremely short, simple, standalone, several-panel narratives, endeavoring to make each as efficient as possible, with no word, line or dot employed if it wasn't necessary, giving his best visual gag strips a sort of instantaneous impact. (There's a famous quote from Wally Wood about how "it's harder to not read Nancy than to read it.")

Given the panels and pages that Stanley needs to fill, however, this is, of course, impossible (Unless, one supposes, he turned the issues of the comic book series into a Bushmiller pastiche, imitating a collection of Nancy comic strips of his own creation, with each page full of three to a half-dozen two-, three- or four-panel strips.) 

All of that narrative space is enough to warp Bushiller's Nancy into something weird, even off, not unlike what similar comic book spin-offs did (and continue to do) to Charles Schulz's Peanuts (Boom published a Dell Peanuts Archive in 2018, collecting the publisher's Peanuts comics from the 1950s and '60s, and Boom continues to publish comic book-format comics based on the characters). 

The things that fans and aficionados most appreciated about Bushmiller's newspaper strips, then—the aforementioned simplicity, the spare but precise draftsmanship, the instantaneous gag delivery—were pretty much by necessity missing from the contents of the comic books. 

What is there are the core characters and their relationships. Nancy and the rest of the characters from the strips pretty much all look like themselves, as Stanley and Gormley perfectly imported their designs, and it is only infrequently that a certain expression or pose appears that looks too terribly un-Bushmiller-like. 

So Nancy and Sluggo look and mostly move like themselves. There's also Aunt Fritzi, who, true to the comic strip, is drawn in the old glamour-girl style that makes it seem as if she doesn't belong in the same world as Nancy and the others at all. The bully Spike puts in plenty of appearances, as does rich kid Rollo, here given the surname "Haveall" (I'm not sure if this comes from Bushmiller's strip or was an addition of Stanley's; this is the first time I've ever see it). Phil Fumble even makes a brief, one-panel appearance. (The many background characters, meanwhile, all tend to look more like Stanley designs than Bushmiller ones.) 

While these characters and their basic dynamics are all carried over from the comic strip, it is interesting how much Stanley's Nancy reads like Stanley's Little Lulu, both featuring as they do a smart, precocious young girl, with her male best friend/rival/frenemy (with Sluggo in for Tubby), as they have humorous but mundane adventures in a typical, even generic mid-twentieth century small town America (There are even further parallels, if one wants to look, including the fact that Nancy occasionally babysits little kid Peewee, just as Lulu babysits Alvin). 

In fact, reading this was an awful lot like reading Little Lulu, only with different actors playing the characters. 

The stories, due to their length, must obviously forego the sight gag format that Bushmiller perfected, and which his best strips all revolve around, for tales in which a premise is explored and types of gags are riffed on repeatedly until the stories run out of panels.

So, for example, Sluggo takes Nancy ice fishing, and there are a series of verbal jokes centered around Nancy's misunderstanding of various types of fish. Or Nancy and Sluggo attempt to make dinner for a running late Aunt Fritzi and experience a series of mishaps. Or Nancy adopts a big dog, and it causes various acts of trouble. 

Stanley also introduces some original characters, and these are involved in the most dramatic departures from the world of the Nancy comic strip. 

The first of these is the previously mentioned Oona Goosepimple, a creepy little girl who makes people nervous, and who lives in a big, weird house with her witch-like grandmother and her uncle Eek, a mouse-sized man who was shrunk by a rival magician. There are a pair of stories in which Nancy visits Oona's house, and Oona makes a couple of other appearances in shorter stories.

There's also a burglar named Bill Bungle, who appears in a pair of stories with Sluggo. In the first, he sneaks into Sluggo's house in an attempt to rob it, only to end up recruiting Sluggo to help him find Rollo's house. In a later story, Sluggo goes to visit Bill on the day he is to be released from prison, only to find that a weird mishap led to Bill being replaced in his cell by a gorilla.

Coming from a master of kids comics, these are all, of course, pretty good comics, but boy are they different from prime Nancy. If one had access to the older Nancy strips, in which Bushmiller handled the strip as an old-fashioned continuity strip and sent Fritzi and the kids on longer adventures (a handful of which are included in Brian Walker's 1988 collection The Best of Ernie Bushmiller's Nancy), it might make for a better comparison to what Stanley was doing with the comic book stories. 

In the end, then, Drawn & Quarterly's Nancy Vol. 1 is good comics...but weird Nancy

If you're interested in checking them out for yourselves, it looks like the first three volumes of the Nancy collections are still in stock at, as is Tubby, featuring a favorite character of mine. 

Thursday, June 06, 2024

A Month of Wednesdays: May 2024


The Best of Ernie Bushmiller's Nancy (Henry Holt/Comicana) This 1988 book has long been out of print, but when its editor and writer Brian Walker noted during his curator's talk on the first night of Nancy Fest at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum (see the previous post) that he had found a few extra boxes of it in his garage and that they would be on sale the following day during the book sale portion of the event, I knew I had to try and get one (And, indeed, it bumped Nancy & Sluggo's Guide to Life, below, off my shopping list).

The book, perhaps the beginning of popular culture's reevaluation of Bushmiller and his career, now seems like something of a Rosetta Stone for so much Nancy work to follow (And for Nancy Fest in particular), including as it does Paul Karasik and Mark Newgarden's "How to Read Nancy" essay (which they would expand into a 2017 book of the same name) and a Zippy comic strip by Bill Griffith in which the future Ernie Bushmiller biographer drew his character interacting with the cartoonist and his creations. There are even some mentions of the Bushmiller Society, the first public meeting of which would kick off Nancy Fest!

(I do believe the book has spent some years in a box in a garage; my copy has a slight bend in the upper righthand corner of the cover, and it has a basement-y, old book smell about it. It was still a worthwhile purchase, though!)

The 230-page book is divided into heavily-illustrated prose sections written by Walker, between which are plenty examples of Nancy strips...and quite a few Fritzi Ritz strips (Bushmiller's career started with him inheriting the Fritzi Ritz strip from another cartoonist, but, not too long after introducing Nancy as a supporting character in the glamor girl's strip, Nancy and Sluggo took over, and the strip's name was officially changed to Nancy).

In Walker's introduction, "Confessions of a Nancy Fan," he shared a somewhat different story about his conversion than the one he repeated at Nancy Fest. He admitted to reading and liking the strip as a child, but as he grew up and began to consider himself more sophisticated, he found it "offensively" dumb, and an insult to his intelligence.

He then recounted finding himself at a cocktail party, where he was engaged in conversation with an art snob who told him he never read the comics; "Most of them are so out-of-date and boorish. Particularly Nancy." 

Walker found himself defending Nancy, and, through it, the honor of the comic strip medium. Which makes sense, given that Nancy is in some ways the very definition of a comic strip (In fact, Walker shares a quote from Art Spiegelman, in which the latter points out that if you look up the definition of a comic strip in Webster's Illustrated Dictionary, there's "a postage stamp-sized reproduction of a Nancy strip" right next to the definition of a comic strip).

Walker recounts his journey to reassessing Nancy, meeting with various appreciators of the strip as well as Jim Carlsson, a neighbor and friend of Bushmiller's and, by the time the introduction is over, it's clear that Walker has had his own conversion experience on the value of Bushmiller's Nancy

A biography of  Bushmiller and an appreciation for his working methods follows, in prose sections entitled "From Copyboy to Gag Man", "The Comics Craftsman", "The Public and Private Bushmiller" and "The Sixth Decade," each broken up by generous collections of these strips. 

In addition to a great deal of what we might term "peak" Nancy strips, many of these organized into thematic sections ("The Classic Years," "Nancy Grows Up," "Passing the Time," "Anything for a Laugh"), the book contains an awful lot of Fritzi Ritz (in the sections "Fritzi Ritz Becomes a Star" and "Fritzi Goes to Hollywood"), the latter featuring an awful lot of Nancy, who, at a certain point, becomes a supporting character in her aunt's adventures.

It's quite interesting to see these strips, and those that follow in the section "Nancy and Sluggo Take Over," as they show Bushmiller working in a continuity strip format, rather than the gag-a-day format he would become especially known (and revered) for. It's still Bushmiller's Frtitzi, Nancy and Sluggo, but not how we're used to seeing them, or even thinking about them. 

Of note in these strips are a few instances of Bushmiller drawing racial minorities, as his strip is generally dominated by white folks. In one Fritzi Ritz strip, the title character is seen sitting in a theater gazing at her date Mr. Van Sheek while a cartoon heart appears between them; in the background two men, one white and one black, both holding cleaning implements to show they work their in a custodial capacity comment on them; the black man's skin is all inky black, save for the wide whites around his eyes and his huge white lips. This is the only instance of a black person I've ever seen in a Bushmiller comic, and I've read a lot of 'em these past few months. 

In one of the early, continuing stories, Nancy runs away from home, ultimately hopping the rails. She ends up...really far away, and is found and briefly adopted by a Native American family. The patriarch, named Mr. Tomahawk, is introduced saying "Ugh."

I wonder if these strips would have made it into the collection were it being put together today? There are a few other instances of racial jokes that appear later in the collection, long after it's become Nancy and settled into its gag format. 

In one, Nancy and Sluggo see a new kid standing in front a Chinese laundry, and decide to get acquainted with him. Nancy opens with "Hello-- Me Nancy-- Him Sluggo-- We velly glad to meet you telly us your namee!"

The boy responds with "My name's Floy Floy-- And you twerps can skip that corny talk--If you don't mind--delighted to meet you!" 

Nancy and Sluggo are then drawn only a few inches high, walking away in embarrassment.

The same page contains a strip in which the kids duck into a butcher's shop for relief from the cold. In the second panel, Sluggo sees a child running towards the door; "Here comes Oogy the Eskimo on the run too!" When Nancy asks him if "even" he had to come in to warm up, the boy responds with "No warm up--" and proceeds to position himself in the walk-in freezer, saying "Coolum off!"

In addition to the previously mentioned inclusion of the Karasik/Newgarden essay and the Griffith strip, there's also a brief essay by John Carlin about the fine art world's embrace of and appropriation of Nancy, a section on merchandising, a section on the Mad magazine parodies and Mark Newgarden's strip "Love's Savage Fury" starring Nancy and Bazooka Joe (a piece that also hung in the "Beyond" half of the Billy Ireland's The Nancy Show: Bushmiller and Beyond show).

Granted, it feels a little weird reviewing a 36-year-old, long out-of-print book in this particular feature on my blog, in which it is designated as a book strong enough to be worth purchasing, rather than just borrowing from the library (My library system doesn't even have a copy!), but it is a comic I bought in May, so I guess it qualifies. 

I guess if you find the opportunity to buy it for yourself, I'd recommend it as an important book in Nancy and Bushmiller's history, even though there are other more recent and much easier books featuring the great cartoonist's greatest works to buy these days (as you'll see as you keep reading). 

The Nancy Show: Celebrating the Art of Ernie Bushmiller (Fantagraphics/Sunday Press Books) Not everyone is lucky enough to live in Ohio, which means there are a whole lot of comics art fans who aren't within easy driving distance of Ohio State University's Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum in Columbus, Ohio, which is currently hosting the two-gallery exhibit The Nancy Show: Bushmiller and Beyond

For those who can't make the trip, Sunday Press Books and Fantagraphics have the next best thing: The show's catalog and companion book, edited by Peter Maresca and Brian Walker, the latter of whom curated the show.

The book begins with a section on Nancy creator and cartoonist Ernie Bushmiller, including the 1948 comic strip autobiography that he drew for an issue of Collier's Magazine (the rather famous one, ending with the punchline "I wanna be a man of distinction") and its accompanying text, plus a short biography by Walker (son of Mort Walker, the creator of Beetle Bailey and Hi and Lois, both of which Brian continues to work on, as well as the author of the seminal 1988 book on Bushmiller and Nancy, The Best of Ernie Bushmiller's Nancy). It's illustrated by Bushmiller cartoons and a few photographs of the man himself. 

The book's heart is the section labeled "The Artwork," featuring over 100 strips from Bushmiller, beginning with Fritzi Ritz and Phil Fumble comics and then leading into a substantial collection of Nancy strips. These are broken up into various subjects, just as they are in the gallery: "Social Studies," "Relationship," "The Fourth Wall" and so on.

The strips presented in this section aren't presented as they would be in a regular comics collection, but appear to be original scans of the original art. They are mostly yellow-ish in color and include various things that would usually be cleaned up in a comics collection, like pencil markings of the date, title of the strip or other notes, visibly pasted-in titles and copyright information and, in at least one case, a smudge and some coffee stains.

The result? It reads like both a great collection of Nancy strips and an intimation of what seeing the originals hanging on the gallery walls is like.

This section is followed by one titled simply "The Strips," which includes about 40 color Sunday strips, and then one entitled "Beyond Bushmiller," which contains strips from Bushmiller's successors on the strip (Mark Lasky, Jerry Scott, Guy and Brad Gilchrist and Olivia James), some try-out strips Ivan Brunetti did when he was attempting to get the gig (along with a few paragraphs of commentary from him about the process) and various spoofs and homages. 

There's also a section called "The Collector", in which comedy writer and Bushmiller collector Tom Gammill (who shared his collection with the Billy Ireland for the show) shows off his collection of Bushmiller strips (and weird Nancy merchandise), complete with commentary.

And, finally, How to Read Nancy writers Paul Karasik and Mark Newgarden are back with a new, four-page feature, "How To Read Nancy's Face", in which the pair share insights on the design of the character's face and then walk readers through the evolution of that design, from "The Dawn of Nancy" in 1932, through "Autopilot Nancy" in 1976, to the Nancy faces of Bushmiller's various successors. 

All told, it's an irresistible package for fans of Nancy and Bushmiller, and a must-have edition to any comic strip fan's Nancy bookshelf. 



Green Arrow Vol. 1: Reunion (DC Comics) Guys, I have a confession to make: I did not read the last DCU continuity-altering cosmic event series, the one that was announced as Dark Crisis but ended up being called Dark Crisis on Infinite Earths. Not even in trade. Not even in a trade borrowed from the library, in which case reading it costs me nothing but a little of my time (Of course, if you read EDILW monthly, you already know this, since you didn't read a review of Dark Crisis, and I tend to review almost every comic I read here). 

I just couldn't muster up enough interest to care about such things anymore. The New 52 really and truly broke me from the spell of thinking of the DCU as a real, if malleable, shared universe setting whose history and major events I needed to keep up with. The fact that Dark Crisis was so close on the heels of Dark Nights: Death Metal, another crises dealing with the state of the DCU and its continuity (and which also had the word "dark" in its title), certainly didn't help any. 

Which brings us to this collection of the first six issues of a new Green Arrow series, written by Dark Crisis writer Joshua Williamson himself, and drawn by artist Sean Izaakse (with former Green Arrow artists Phil Hester and Ande Parks helping out near the end of the arc, their appearance coming at a logical point, and guest artist Trevor Hairsine finishing the book's last pages).

It's basically the definition of a continuity comic, detailing what Green Arrow and his now-extensive family's status quo is and what their history was (The first issue cover, which serves as the cover of the collection, was actually a wrap-around one, with another dozen or so characters on the back, only some of whom actually appear within this arc).

As far as I can tell, it looks like "everything happened" (the same approach that Grant Morrison took for Batman during his run on that character's main book), even some of the New 52 stuff, which would seemingly contradict so much of went before, and appears to count now (younger sister Emiko, created during The New 52, is mentioned by Green Arrow in a passing snatch of dialogue, but doesn't otherwise appear within the book). So basically, all the Green Arrow comics you've read before "count," even if the events in some of them must have happened differently than they did on the page...something of an act of cognitive dissonance, I realize, but one that should be familiar to DC readers who have been reading the publisher's output for more than a few years at this point.

Whatever happened to Green Arrow during Dark Crisis—I'm guessing Doomsday was involved at some point, as he appears in several flashback to GA's history, and I'm not familiar with any other meeting between the two, and a flashback panel complete with editorial box asterisk citing DCOIE #6 explains that Green Arrow went missing during the time the rest of the Justice League returned from an otherwordly prison—he is now missing, lost in time and space (He's first seen washing up on a shore and fearing he's back on his origin island, only to discover he's actually on a weird alien world). 

His allies Black Canary, Roy Harper (wearing his brown, red and yellow Arsenal costume from Devin Grayson, Rick Mays and company's 1998 Arsenal miniseries) and Connor Hawke (now with long hair worn in a bun and sporting a new costume keeping his original color scheme) are riding motorcycles through Gotham, looking for him. 

There they meet a teenage Lian Harper, calling herself Cheshire cat, who is both mysteriously alive (so James Robinson's dumb Justice League: Cry For Justice apparently still happened) and mysteriously older than she should be.

No sooner do they say hello, however, then Lian and Connor disappear, seemingly teleported away from the others, with the fading out Lian giving them their only clue: "Find.. ...Amanda Waller."

And that's the basic premise of the series. The lost Oliver Queen believes his family can never be reunited or a terrible disaster will occur, and someone or some thing seems intent on enforcing their separation, occasionally teleporting offenders somewhere else.  Roy and Canary go on the hunt for Waller, while Ollie, Connor and Lian travel through time and space, Ollie only gradually beginning to question the prophecy he has been given by an older version of himself as to why this is the best way to handle things (It's obviously bonkers, as he will learn.)

Along the way, we see various significant characters from Green Arrow family history, like Count Vertigo, Brick, Cheshire and even Parallax (not sure how he's still around, but I admit I lost track of him during shortly after Convergence), plus some more unexpected characters, like the current iteration of the Legion of Super-Heroes and Peacemaker.

Eventually Ollie is found and all seems to end happily...although one member of his family seems to be shot to death on the last pages. I say seems to be because although the character is laying in a pool of their own blood after catching several bullets, it seems completely insane to resurrect and reunite the whole Arrow family while killing one of them off. 

I'm assuming it's a classic-enough cliffhanger, and I'll have to wait for a second volume to see how it turns out. I'd welcome reading one; I really like these characters, particularly Oliver Queen, Roy Harper and Connor Hawke, and though this plot seemed more superhero than street-level (the characters generally working a little better in the latter mode), it was a pleasure to hang out with them all again.

It's somewhat disappointing that Izaakse was unable to draw the entire arc himself, but, like I said, the Hester and Parks team is pretty well employed, drawing a section where Green Arrow is sent back to his own past, the time right after his resurrection in the pages of the 2001, Kevin Smith-written "Quiver" arc, which was of course originally drawn by the team. 

Nancy & Sluggo's Guide to Life: Comics about Money, Food and Other Essentials (New York Review Comics) As I mentioned above, I had every intention of buying this new collection of Ernie Bushmiller's Nancy strips when it came out, until the surprise availability of Brian Walker's out-of-print 1988 The Best of Ernie Bushmiller's Nancy bumped it off my to-buy list. It helped that I found out it was available at my local library ("Why not just by both?" you ask. I probably could have afforded to do so, but I'm basically at a crisis point with my comics collection now, where it has all but filled up all the available space I have for it, and thus I'm trying to limit buying new books as much as possible. At least until I buy a house. Which, um, isn't on the immediate horizon.) 

So, what have we here? Just about 150 pages of Nancy strips, dailies and Sundays, all presented in black and white. The strips included are, according to the back cover copy, culled from "the beloved Kitchen Sink Press editions," which were published in five volumes between 1989 and 1991. There are also some "newly selected" strips.

These are all broken into three broad categories, which make up the chapters of the collection: Money, Food and Sleep. I'm not entirely convinced this was the absolute best way to organize the book, as it leads to a lot of similar gags appearing near one another (especially in the sleep chapter, where Nancy and Sluggo tend to have a lot of crazy dreams, one of Bushmiller's weaker gag motifs), but heck, I wouldn't know how to go about organizing a Nancy collection myself, so I suppose this is just as well.

The new collection includes a brand-new foreword by Nancy fan and the publisher of those Kitchen Sink Press editions, Denis Kitchen. 

In it, he describes how the comics industry that lauded him for Kitchen Sink Press' decades of collections of classic comic strips recoiled when he started publishing Nancy:

Oblivious to the opinions of industry philistines, I followed my own instincts, publishing five volumes of Bushmiller's Nancy. Despite resistance in the core comic shop market, they sold in the mass market. Further evidence of having no conventional marketing sense, I also produced Italian-made silk Nancy & Sluggo neckties, with matching tie tacks, directed to an audience whose idea of dressing up was a clean T-shirt. 

"Flash forward a few decades," he wrote. "The world has changed in countless ways, but nowhere so profound or dramatic as the views toward Nancy." Kitchen then goes on to explain several signs of the world's changing attitudes towards Bushmiller's Nancy, mentioning how well his merchandise is now well-received (especially by young ladies, often with Nancy and Sluggo t shirts and/or tattoos) at various comic shows (he mentions Cartoon Crossroads Columbus among several others) and, later, both the Bushmiller Society and the just-passed Billy Ireland Nancy Fest in Columbus: 

I've learned there is a Secret Bushmiller Society, with members expressing almost worshipful adoration of Bushmiller and his most famous creation. It is an organization with cells scattered across North America and portions of Europe. The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum—part of the Ohio State University, in Columbus—has announced a Nancy festival for 2024; an entire event devoted to our favorite character. An esoteric cult that runs so deep? Who knew

That's two mentions of Columbus in one introduction. Not bad! Kitchen goes on to state that this is a "best of" collection including strips from Kitchen Sink's Nancy Eats Food and Dreams and Schemes, "along with a large number of freshly curated never-before-reprinted Nancy strips about money."

What follows are many pages of examples that go a long way towards explaining that shift in attitudes about Nancy, and why there is a Bushmiller Society, a Nancy Fest and so many younger fans of Bushmiller's masterpiece of a gag strip. 

Here's hoping it sells like hotcakes—um, I guess I coulda done my part by buying a copy rather than just borrowing one from the library, huh?—so we'll get a future volume, maybe taking the strips from the intriguingly-named Kitchen Sink editions How Sluggo Survives! and Bums, Beatniks and Hippies

Superboy: The Man of Tomorrow (DC) They sure don't make these things easy to read. 

This book stars the 1993-created, teenage clone version of the character, eventually named Conner Kent or Kon-El, and part of its premise is that the character feels out-of-place and marginalized in a new version of the DC Universe that didn't include him. Which was news to me, as he—or a version of him—seems to have survived the 2011 hard reboot of the DCU that was "The New 52" (That was him in the horrible looking Teen Titans reboot, right? I didn't read it because, well, it was horrible looking), and he featured prominently in Brian Michael Bendis and company's 2019 Young Justice reboot. Heck, he was even alive and well and definitely extant in the first issue of 2022's Dark Crisis: Young Justice series, which I read by accident (I assumed it was a one-shot, not the first part of a six-issue series...which I guess I missed the collection of...?).

What I did not read was 2022-2023 series Dark Crisis-turned-Dark Crisis on Infinite Earths, where I'm assuming the DC Universe must have been un-created and re-created once again (even though that just happened in the Scott Snyder-written 2020 Dark Nights: Death Metal series, the gist of which seemed to be the broad severing of much of the New 52 reboot from the DCU timeline/continuity, and the resumption of post-Crisis continuity...?), this time without Conner Kent/Kon-El, at least for a the span of the series...?

Really, you shouldn't have to pick up a standalone Superboy graphic novel and be overly burdened with questions of whether or not you've read enough previous comics to make sense of it.

To writer Kenny Porter's credit then, while there are references to Superboy being new to the DCU and forgotten by much of the world, the writer doesn't dwell on it, mostly using it for a springboard to send Superboy in a new least for the span of a mini-series. Mostly a reader like me is just left with a nagging feeling that he missed something. 

So Superboy is back, I guess, but feeling out of place. He's living with the Kents on the Smallville farm, but when he tries to help out with a Doctor Polaris attack in Metropolis, he finds that Superman, Supergirl and the other Superman (Jon Kent, who very much replaced him as Superboy for several years, though Porter doesn't emphasize that here) have the situation well in hand. 

When he visits the Fortress of Solitude and asks Kelex to show him current distress signals and disasters on Earth ("The world's bigger than Smallville and Metropolis," he narrates), he sees various heroes fighting various villains in different parts of the world, including a panel showing his Young Justice teammates Wonder Girl, Robin and Impulse, the first two wearing their costumes from the last Young Justice series. (This of course begs the question of why he's not with them, and makes me wonder if they too were similarly bumped out of the DCU during Dark Crisis; I just ordered the Dark Crisis: Young Justice collection from the library as I've been writing this, so maybe I'll find out when I read that.)

It's then he decides to think bigger, and asks Kelex for galactic distress signals. Finding a planet under attack by Dominator warships, the leader of them shown in hologram to have a weird reverse coloration scheme, with a reddish-pink head and a big yellow circle on his forehead, Superboy grabs a teleportation bracelet and zeta-beams himself right into the middle of the battle.

He quickly finds the attackers aren't just Dominiator ships, but rather genetically-altered clones bred to be weapons—which of course hits home to Superboy, given his origins—and he also finds they're not unopposed. Enter the Cosmoteers, a trio of renegade experiments of the same sort that have made it their mission to shutdown Dominator X's living weapon creation operation. 

Although the Cosmoteers are super-powered teens with a seemingly noble goal, there's one key difference between them and Superboy—they kill their foes. After the required ritual of fighting-and-then-teaming up, Superboy lends his strength to the Cosmoteers, fighting alongside them in the hopes of teaching them that it's better to leave their enemies tied up for the police—here, the Green Lantern Corps—to pick them up, rather than killing them all the time.

All seems to be going well for a while, but not all of the Cosmoteers are so eager to adopt the Earth superhero method of fighting evil, and Superboy eventually finds himself in a life-and-death struggle against a Cyborg-Superboy.

After his adventures in space, a good portion of the last issue is devoted to establishing a new status quo on Earth, where Superboy finds the whole, extended Superman Family—the one seen in Superman: Action Comics Vol 1: The Rise of Metallo, reviewed here a few months ago—waiting to see him, and eager to give him his new jacket, denoting him as part of the team. Mid-cookout he teleports away to space, however, Porter seemingly suggesting this will be this Superboy's beat now, bringing the House of El style heroics to those in need on other planets.

Jahnoy Lindsay handles both art and colors and, somewhat remarkably for a series of this length in this day and age (though it shouldn't be), he manages to draw and color the entire series himself. The style is very much in the range of DC house style, but it's high-quality work, and the colors are notably bright and flashy, with an awful lot of pink throughout (that's the way Lindsay depicts Superboy's tactile-telekinesis power, which in this series seems more like an all-purpose energy field, as a sort of pink aura). 

Though in the long run it amounts to little more than a side-quest for the character between two radically different status quos, it's diverting enough, and I enjoyed the time spent with a favorite character of mine. I guess it will remain to be seen if Superboy is continued to be depicted as a space-faring superhero, as he is here, or just part of the Superman Family crowd, as he was in that Action Comics arc introducing everyone as a matching jacket-wearing team. 


Cat Out of Water (RH Graphic) Prolific cartoonist Art Baltazar has an unenviable task in this, the first book in a new line of graphic novels based on Dr. Seuss' work: Not only is he translating the work of one of the most famous, recognizable and well-read writer/illustrator of the 20th century into a new medium, he's doing so in his own style. He doesn't choke. More here

Fake Chinese Sounds (Kokila) Grade-schooler Měi Yīng's life seemed happy enough until she got to fifth grade, and encountered a relentless bully who seemed to make fun of every aspect of her life, singling her out because she's of Taiwanese descent. Can the examples set by her grandmother and mother help her find the inner strength to deal with it? This remarkable graphic novel by picture book illustrator Jing Jing Tsong features highly expressive, sharp, jagged, abstracted art with a powerful use of color. More here

Unhappy Camper (HarperAlley) The Measuring Up team of Lily LaMotte and Ann Xu reunite to tell the story of Michelle, a young girl whose parents are forcing her to attend a special Taiwanese-American summer camp to get in better touch with her heritage...and, hopefully, grow closer to her older sister, who has always enthusiastically embraced her culture. Will Michelle learn to be herself, or will she continue to do whatever it takes to fit in? Yes, this is indeed the second book about a young Taiwanese-American girl struggling with identity issues at school that I read this month. Yes, it seems odd that 2/3 of the books I've reviewed for Good Comics For Kids this month or on that subject, but then, May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, so that might explain the timing of the releases. More here