Thursday, June 29, 2006

Meanwhile, in Las Vegas...

This week's column takes a closer look at Marvel and Neil Gaiman's new series The Eternals.

And has there been enough media discussion of the new, lesbian Batwoman yet? What about media discussion of the media discussion? I don't know, maybe we should discuss it.

Recommended Reading: Superman Comics For People Who Saw the Movie and Still Haven't Gotten Enough Superman

Superman is the Adam at the root of the superhero family tree—there’s a reason superheroes are called superheroes, after all—and as such, he’s been adapted, reinvented and reinterpreted more times than any other comic book character in history.

He’s starred in every medium imaginable, from radio, to TV, to film; from silver screen animation to small screen animation to Internet credit card ads co-starring Jerry Seinfeld. There are novels written about him and inspired by him; he has his own flavor of ice cream, and is mentioned in more song lyrics than any other fictional character.

In one sense, it always seems like Superman is everywhere all the time—like Jesus, Mickey Mouse and Dracula, you don’t have to look hard to see him somewhere. These days though, with his first feature film since X-Men ushered in the latest boom of superhero movies, he really is literally everywhere. A trip to the grocery store or mall will guarantee you see the red and blue, spit-curl-rocking figure staring back at you everywhere you look.

While finding Superman-flavored Captain Crunch, Superman toys or Superman-branded Pepsi shouldn’t pose a problem this summer, finding Superman comics can always be somewhat challenging—or, at least, finding the really good ones.

After all, the guys been in comic books as long as there have been comic books, and there are literally thousands of Superman comics filling up book stores and comic shops, from hundreds of different writers and artists. How’s a fan of the new film who wants to read great Superman comics supposed to know where to start?

Funny I should ask. In an effort to help separate the super-wheat from the super-chaff, here in no particular order are some of the greatest Superman stories ever told.


DC recently began releasing bargain-priced, phone book-sized collections of their old archives, and the first Superman volume started with Superman circa 1958, his so-called Silver Age stories.

These were written by writers who hardly stopped to think about realism and logic (let alone do research) because, honestly, they’d rather be doing anything else, and they were writing not for obsessive compulsive adults, but kids with dimes to waste at the newsstand.

The results were a weird kind of stream-of-conscious, almost automatic writing; sci-fi tall tales that seem so bizarre and surreal when read in the early 21st century that they become almost avant garde.

This is the version of Superman of the George Reeves TV show, and the one most people are familiar with: The one built like a tree-trunk, the one Lois Lane kept trying to trick into marrying her, and the one stuck in a strange love triangle with his own secret identity.

DC has published two 500+ page Superman volumes thus far, as well as Showcase Presents: Superman Family, mostly consisting of even weirder issues of spin-off comic Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen.


In the late ‘80s, DC prepared their most ambitious reinvention of their fictional universe and it’s 50-year-old timeline, essentially rebooting Superman’s story and starting over from scratch. This gave the company the unique opportunity to tell the “last” Superman story, closing out the character’s first half-century worth of history to start all over.

The writer they turned to was a kid named Alan Moore, who had just started his revolutionary work on Swamp Thing and Watchmen, which would soon come to be regarded as the greatest comic book ever written (and Moore the medium’s greatest writer).

In this epic story, Moore exposed Superman as Clark Kent to the world, necessitating him to move his friends to the safety of the Fortress of Solitude, just as all of his villains, suddenly turned darkly murderous, lay siege to it. It’s Superman’s last stand, and Moore reinvents virtually every element of the mythology while laying waste to it in a sort of Super-Ragnarok.

The long out-of-print story was recently included in DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore, a collection of Moore’s DC work, which also includes the hard to find “For the Man who has Everything,” in which Wonder Woman and Batman try to celebrate Superman’s birthday, and a meeting between Superman and Swamp Thing.

Moore still hadn’t said everything he had to stay about Superman, of course, and he would later pen two graphic novels worth of stories about “Supreme,” a thinly-veiled Superman analogue, both also well worth reading.


This 2004 graphic novel is what they used to call “an imaginary story” back in the Silver Age; one that didn’t star the official Superman, and thus didn’t really “count.”

In it, writer Kurt Busiek introduces us to the dark-haired, blue-eyed son of David and Laura Kent of a small town in Kansas. They, of course, name him Clark, and he spends his childhood being made fun of for being named after the fictional Superman.

And then one day he discovers that, like his fictional namesake, he can fly. Helped tremendously by the photorealistic art of Stuart Immonen, Secret Identity is probably the most realistic Superman story ever told, as it’s set in the real world and tries to answer questions like what would happen if there really was a Superman in our world, and what we’d do to him.


The Superman Adventures series of the late ‘90s was a strange animal, being a comic book based on a cartoon (the Bruce Timm-produced Superman: The Animated Series) that was based on a comic book.

Such comics are rarely any good for much more than introducing kids to comics, but this particular one was an exception, as it was written for a time by Mark Millar.

At the time, it was about the best regular writing gig he could get, but Millar would go on to write The Authority, Ultimate X-Men, Wanted and The Ultimates, one of the best superhero comics of all time.

Capitalizing on Millar’s later popularity, DC began releasing trade digest collections of Millar’s run on the series, and it’s pretty astounding stuff—though produced for the kiddies, it was head and shoulders above most of what was being written in the “real” Superman comics at the time.

Short, usually just-one-issue-long stories would constantly find new angles to Superman’s well-explored world and new takes on one of the most written about characters ever.

In these stories, Millar squeezes in the entire Superman mythology: Lois, Jimmy, Perry and the Daily Planet gang, Supergirl, Krypton, team-ups with Batman, Lex Luthor, Brainiac, Bizarro, Mr. Mxyzptlk, Darkseid, Parasite, Metallo, Toyman, Superman’s difficulties with magic, the Fortress of Solitude and even team-ups with relatively obscure characters like Dr. Strange and Lobo.

Of special note is “This is a Job For Superman,” in which a little boy “prays” to Superman to help him find his lost dog, as we see a very busy night in the life of an omnipotent hero.

The Millar run on the series has been collected into four volumes so far. Millar would later take another crack at the Man of Steel in graphic novel Superman: Red Son, an intense “imaginary story” which posits a world where the rocket that brought infant Superman to earth landed in the Soviet Union, he was befriended by Stalin and ended up fighting for truth, justice and the way of America’s rival superpower.


Comic book writer Steven T. Seagle was offered most comic book writers’ dream job when his editor asked him to write the monthly Superman comic book, but Seagle didn’t quite see it that way—he could never really wrap his head around the character, and associated him with a painful childhood memory.

He eventually took the assignment, churning out about a year’s worth of mediocre stories. And, one year later, this beautiful graphic novel, a semi-autobiographical story about a comic book writer named Steven T. Seagle who was just offered the monthly Superman comic book while his whole life is falling apart around him.

Seagle is struggling with a dark family secret, a fatal, incurable genetic disease that has strained his relationship with his parents and is now straining it with his lover, as he’s afraid to risk condemning a child to possibly suffering from it.

Along the way, Seagle explores Superman in a variety of startling ways as he relates to his own life and struggles. It’s a strange story, in that it doesn’t star the “real” Superman; that is, it doesn’t star Superman as a character in the graphic novel, but it does feature the real-world Superman, the one that exists in our world, as a character in a comic book.

It’s painted by Teddy Krstiansen in a heartbreaking storybook illustration style, though Kristiansen employs dozens of various styles and tones when he and Seagle get side-tracked into visual essays about an element of Superman, and how the fictional superhero relates to the real world.


Recognizing that the extremely complicated back story of the monthly Superman comics (an inevitable byproduct in any serial medium) could be so daunting as to scare some potential readers away, DC launched new series All-Star Superman late last year.

The idea was to get fresh, new reader-friendly takes on the Superman franchise; a more or less filmic approach that would turn out comics that read like little paper blockbusters.

Visionary writer Grant Morrison and artist Frank Quitely were able to tell the first Superman story to successfully blend the spirit of the character’s early Silver Age adventures, written primarily for kids, with the level of realism and quality expected by today’s adult audiences, picking up on some elements that worked well in Superman’s previous TV and film incarnations.

Only three issues of the bi-monthly series have been released so far (it takes Quitely a while to draw that well), and each has told a dense, imaginative, compelling story that seems to synthesize the strengths of all the previous Superman stories, while excising all the weaknesses.

The Apocryphal Superman: Humorist Mark Russell's look at a hero who's less super and more man

Superman is the first and most well-known superhero. Everyone knows all about him, how his parents sent him to earth in a rocket ship to escape the destruction of Krypton, and how he’s dedicated to fighting for truth, justice and the American way.

And how much Superman enjoys bowling. That his worst enemies include Lex Luthor, Dr. Simius, robot criminals, leopards and circuit judges. That his best friend is Aquaman, but that they’re currently not speaking to one another over a disagreement regarding democracy versus monarchy. And, of course, that Superman once turned a yellow Labrador retriever named Ketcham into Superdog using Kryptonian science, but he had to put him down when he proved to be a greater menace than the crimes they fought.

Sound about right? If not, you obviously haven’t read Mark Russell’s The Superman Stories, a self-published, 48-page prose parody about Superman. It’s a comedy, but an existential one—Russell purposely, even gleefully gets most of the details of Superman’s fictional life wrong, from the name of his best friend back in Smallville to Superman’s growing problems with loneliness, alienation and anger management.

It’s a comedy and a parody, but it’s also a story of existential panic and, by tale’s end, a story with an important lesson about human nature. And Kryptonian nature. And Kryptonian/canine hybrid nature.

Or, as Russell puts it, it’s a novella “kind of about Superman suffering from stressed cop syndrome.”

Russell calls Portland, Oregon home, and, when not working at his day job, is a cartoonist and humorist, who self-publishes The Penny Dreadful. His work has also appeared in McSweeney’s and Too Much Coffee Man Magazine, but in the wake of the release of the new Superman story that is Superman Returns, I wanted to know more about his super-work.

Can you tell me a little bit about the origin of The Superman Stories, and why you chose to explore Superman like this as opposed to some other superhero. Is this sort of look at Superman’s life inherently funnier than it would be if you were dealing with, say, Batman or Spider-Man?

Other superheroes may or may not be funnier source material, I don’t know. The reason why I’ve latched onto Superman is because he is so powerful and iconic.

I got the idea to actually to start writing The Superman Stories after watching an episode of the old George Reeves TV show. It was about these mobsters who got the bizarre idea to dress up like robots in order to rob banks.

I immediately thought, “Bad idea. If Superman thinks you’re a robot, he’s liable to tear your head off without realizing it’s just a costume.”

It occurred to me that while Superman has all these godlike physical powers, his power to make good decisions or understand what’s going on around him really isn’t any better than yours or mine. Which is a scary proposition, if you ask me. This disparity kind of lies at the heart of a lot of the problems Superman encounters in the book.

The note at the beginning refers to “the good-natured people at DC Comics.” Have you ever had any interaction with anyone at over the existence of The Superman Stories?

I have not. In fact, I put that bit of appeasement in there in hopes of avoiding such contact. Kind of like how someone who comes face to face with a man-eating kodiak might pet it nervously on the head and say, “Nice bear!”

Do you think the fact that these are prose stories in a little black and white ‘zine instead of comics-comics helps differentiate them from their Superman?

I think so. I’m approaching Superman as a literary character rather than as a comic book character. And legally speaking, I think my work constitutes parody and thus is protected free speech, but I’d hate to have that opinion tested in the expensive battlefield of jurisprudence. It’s never really been a big ambition of mine to become a First Amendment martyr.

What about fans of Superman’s? Have you had any negative reactions from that quarter?

I get a few people who are irritated by the liberties I’ve taken with the Superman canon. You know, someone who wants to argue about whether or not Superman keeps extra capes around the house, things like that. But most people seem to understand that mine is not a traditional depiction of Superman.

It occurred to me when reading that note that if Superman were a real person, one wouldn’t have to be so careful about potential legal repercussions—it seems much easier to parody real public figures than fake public figures, even though someone like Superman or Mickey Mouse are much more popular and well-recognized than someone like the president or the pope.

Well, for one thing, Superman is somebody’s intellectual property whereas somebody like, say, Abraham Lincoln is not. You can write a book accusing Lincoln of being a serial killer who made time machines out of the buttocks of his victims. Nobody’s going to sue you. But also in terms of the public’s imagination, I think it’s easier to make a sacred icon out of something that’s obviously fake.

Would you be able to pick Krishna out of a lineup if not for the fact that he’s blue? Christ spent most of his time talking, and said some wonderful things, but would anyone care if it weren’t for his magic tricks? The less real a figure seems, the easier it is to make an enduring icon out of them. And once such an icon has been established, you mess with it at your own peril. Write that book about Lincoln and write a similar one about Mickey Mouse and see which one gets you the most angry letters.

As you noted in your introduction, there are some pretty big differences between this Superman and traditional Superman lore, like there not being any Clark Kent, for example. Were these differences all more or less conscious ones on your part, or did some just stem from ignorance of the minutiae of Superman history?

I did embarrassingly little research. I worked largely from my memories of Superfriends cartoons, old comic books and the black and white TV show. Most of the differences between the Superman of my book and traditional Superman lore result from the fact that I’d simply forgotten so much. And this was partly intentional. I didn’t want to do much research because I wanted to avoid being too tied down by the holy scripture, if you know what I mean.

One difference which was entirely intentional was the lack of a Clark Kent alter ego, which never made much sense to me. Britney Spears could put on a beekeepers’ outfit and she’d still get mobbed by fans the second she stepped out the door. The notion that a world famous and damn near omnipotent guy like Superman could put on a pair of glasses and a bad gray suit and simply melt into the crowd just struck me as ridiculous.

I’m currently at work on a sequel and there’s a part about how Superman once tried to forge a separate identity in the form of Clark Kent, but it was a miserable failure. Kind of like when Garth Brooks tried to perform under the name Chris Gaines. Nobody bought it.

It seems these differences only add to the humor of things too—like, it’s just inherently funnier to hear a couple having a discussion about their relationship, and Lois referring to her partner as “Superman” instead of “Clark.”

Yeah, that too. There’s also a brief moment in the sequel where his parents tell him that calling him Superman makes them feel weird.

I was struck by how deep things get in The Superman Stories, like Superman’s lecture from a circuit judge about the nature of evil and the bits with God and Heaven and Hell near the end. When you began the project, did you see it as something that would occasionally get existential, or did it start out as a sort of a gag thing and veered that way on its own?

As a boy, I grew up on Superman comics and the Bible. It was easy to get them mixed up. Just as God always seemed like a superhero to me, Superman has always had these deep theological and moral implications.

Does being all-powerful make you worthy of veneration, even if you do some crummy things? If you have absolute power, is it better to use that power to make things right, or to refrain for fear of becoming a tyrant? I’m not sure that I have a snappy answer, but those are the kind of questions I wrestle with when I think about Superman, God, politics or the law.

You wrote in your introduction that as a kid being punished at recess, you’d wish Superman was there to secure justice for you. Having thought about what Superman would really be like if he were real, do you now find yourself glad there is no Superman? Would we be better off with or without Superman, do you think?

I think we’re probably better off without Superman. He’s certainly better off without us. As much as he might like us at the moment, eventually he would get sick and tired of human beings. I feel that way sometimes and I am one.

Superman would go through periods of depression, despair and cynicism, as we all do. And during those times we’d just have to hold our breath and hope he didn’t do anything rash.

Of course, if I found out that there was a comet hurtling towards Earth from which only Superman could save us I might very well change that answer.

You mentioned that you’re working on a sequel? Can you tell me anything about that?

Superman’s relationship with Lois Lane undergoes some changes. Lex Luthor starts working out in order to compensate for his lack of hair. The supernatural storyline continues. God, who sees Superman sort of as the popular, good-looking, varsity-quarterback son he never had, asks Superman to take Jesus under his wing in hopes that Superman’s manliness and derring-do will rub off on him a little.

To get a copy of The Superman Stories, you can send $4 to Mark Russell at 3148 SE Salmon Ste #C, Portland, OR, 97214, or click to

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Weekly Haul: June 28th

52 #8 (DC Comics) As J.G. Jones’ fantastic, propagandastic cover implies, this issue focuses on the Steel/Natasha/Luthor plot, and things don’t look good for the good guys on that end. The other big development involves the first appearance of this “Supernova” character. A minor development: Green Arrow’s bolo arrows look really, really, pornographic, don’t they? I don’t think he should be able to shoot them outside of Vertigo books. As for the back up, part million of Dan Jurgens’ “History of the DC Universe,” it’s overstayed it’s welcome. Infinite Crisis rebooted DC continuity in certain ways, but rather than elucidating what those ways are, this story has been simply telling us what hasn’t changed. If you’ve read DC comics prior to IC, you’ll learn nothing new in this interminable back-up feature.

Action Comics #840 (DC) Thus wraps up writers Geoff Johns and Kurt Busiek’s eight-part story reintroducing readers to Superman and setting up a new status quo for the Man of Steel. If you missed it the first time around, don’t miss the trade collection—an all around perfect Superman story.

Batman #654 (DC) I believe I mentioned that I love Simone Bianchi’s Batman covers with a level of affection usually reserved only for women before; in fact, I believe I mentioned my desire to marry his last Detective Comics cover. Well, if I was able to marry that cover, I think I’d have an affair on it with this cover. A few thoughts, not pertaining to unnatural romantic feelings for paintings of Batman: Why on Earth is Commissioner Gordon smoking again? It’s nice to see that particular villain reappear, but it’s not much of a reveal, since there’s no way anyone could have suspected him, given the complete lack of clues, or his even appearing in the first seven parts of this story. And as for the big development between Bruce and Tim, that oughta give Cassandra Cain one more reason to be pissed at them both.

Brave New World #1 (DC) If you were in a comic shop today and you didn’t buy this comic book, you must be a complete maniac. It was only a dollar—for 80 pages! DC obviously had success with their last 80-pages-for-a-buck publication, Countdown to Infinite Crisis #1, but this move is a ballsier one, since it is simply an intro to six new minis, rather than a hotly-anticipated miniseries. Ballsy, and smart—DC should really do these sorts of books more often, as it practically forces you to sample a bunch of series that you would have to be an insane maniac not to sample (80 pages! One dollar! That’s like four comic books for the price of 1/3 of one comic book!) Now for the bad news: There’s something unappealing about each and every one of the series previewed herein. I’ll be covering this particular book at greater length in next week’s “Best Shots,” but here are some immediate reactions. Martian Manhunter: After his Gotham Knights, A.J. Lieberman would have to pay me to read a series by him. I didn’t care for the “Everything you know is wrong!” angle of this story, and the costume redesign (and skull-shape redesign) hurt my eyes. Pass. OMAC: I find it hard to believe that the one DC character that everyone is sick of at this point is getting its own series. Nice art, though. Pass. Uncle Sam & The Freedom Fighters: I was expecting to hate this series, as I love the original FF and loved their ‘90s iterations, but this series features a whole new team. But after reading this story, in which Uncle Sam recruits Firebrand—what, IV?—to take on the government's new FF, I may be converted. Even though artist Daniel Acuna’s Phantom Lady hurts my eyes almost as much as the new Martian Manhunter. Sold...probably. The Creeper: Love the character, love the writer, love the artist—hate the pointless continuity reboot (The Creeper’s only been around for two months now?) And what the hell, Jack Ryder is a lefty TV pundit/blowhard? Does anyone at DC watch cable news? Don’t they know how long lefty TV pundits last? Pass. The All-New Atom:This is the weirdest of the relaunches, as it’s based on “ideas and concepts developed by Grant Morrison," but is actually written by Gail Simone. It was a blast, and the highlight of the issue. Not sure about how long I can actually make myself read a book with John Byrne art—it’s awfully hard separating the man from the work at this point—but that’s my only reservation. Sold! The Trials of Shazam: I’ve read more than enough Judd Winick-written DC comics to know to avoid anything with his name and a DC bullet on it, but I am pretty conflicted about it that guideline here—not only is this book about Captain Marvel, a favorite who hasn’t had a good book in way too long, but Howard Porter is handling the art chores, and seems to have developed a brand new personal style to do it in. It’s the work of his career. Pass (reluctantly).

Civil War: Front Line #2 (Marvel Comics) Paul Jenkins follows up on Civil War #2’s jaw-dropping cliffhanger with the reaction among J. Jonah Jameson’s Bugle employees, and it’s surprisingly…weak. Come on, this should be one of the greatest Spider-Man stories of all time, so why can’t Jenkins make it sing? The Speedball back-up is depressing, mostly because if you change “hero” to “Muslim,” it’s a true story. The final back-up, comparing Iron Man to Caeser is a waste of space.

Flight Volume 3 (Ballantine Books) Now that’s an anthology. Wow.

JLA: Classified #23 (DC) See, just ‘cause DC killd Sue Dibney off doesn’t mean she can’t be feature in comics anymore. They just have to be comics set before Identity Crisis. This arc by Steve Englehart is pretty mediocre, especially by the high standards of the previous arcs (four very hard acts to follow), but for fans, it’s still a treat seeing this little seen incarnation of the JLA.

Kingdom Hearts Vol. 4 (Tokyopop) Generally, any more than one "based on" in a work of any medium is a bad sign, and this short manga series by Shiro Amano is based on the video game that's based on every animated Disney movie ever (each of which is based on a fairy tale, myth or work of children's literature). See, you've got three "based on"s right there. But here, the "every" makes up for it somewhat. Sure, the story has been pretty terrible, and this concluding volume seems to go on about 80 pages too long, but it's still a great pleasure to see so many of the Disney characters interacting with one another. In this issue, our hero and his sidekicks finally defeat the Heartless and save the day, plus there's a charming epilogue in which Soru hangs out with Pooh and company in the Hundred Acres Wood for a bit.

The Last Christmas #2 (Image Comics) Despondent over the death of Mrs. Claus and even more despondent that his immortality prevents him from successfully committing suicide, Santa Claus learns he’s only immortal as long as children believe in him. When the number of children who do so dwindles to just one, he readies his sleigh to go slay the unlucky kid, but zombies and mutants stand between him and the death he craves. A holiday classic in the making.

New Avengers #21 (Marvel) Guest artist Howard freakin’ Chaykin joins writer Brian Michael Bendis for the first chapter of “New Avengers: Disassembled,” a series of solo stories showing where the various Avengers stand on superhero registration. In this ish, we follow Cap as he hooks up with his old partner Sam “The Falcon” Wilson and finds out which side Hank Pym is on. Nitpicks: Why does the Cap who was telling soldiers to watch their language in Civil War swear in this issue? And what on earth is up with the sound effects in his battles with the “Capekillers?” There are about 80 “Kzzsshhaa”s per panel, but Chaykin draws less than a half-dozen bullets hitting anything.

Paul Jenkins’ Sidekick #1 (Image) Jenkins’ other offering of the week is decidedly less serious, as Chris Moreno’s cartoony art quickly clues us in on. Eddie Edison is a pizza delivery boy (despite being in his twenties) by day, and a sidekick to Mister Excellent by night. He’s screwing Mr. E’s wife behind his back, but when the boss screws him out of royalty payments for Superior Boy action figures, Eddie decides to launch a revenge plan that involves him playing sidekick for other parodies of DC superheroes. Jenkins’ concept is strong and his dialogue fun, but his heroes aren’t very inspired—his creation The Sentry is a much better Superman parody than Mr. E.

Runaways #17 (Marvel) Damn. Karolina returns to the team, bringing what might be a new recruit with her, but it looks like one of the Runaways is about to leave the team permanently.

Solo #11 (DC) DC’s most inspired ongoing lets the incredibly gifted Sergio Aragones do whatever the hell he wants for 48 pages. Only one of the stories makes use of a DC character—a Batman story penned by Mark Evanier—the rest are divided between fun autobio works, a fairly moving story of feudal Japan and a couple of short, silly stories. Based on the strength of Aragones' story of his first night in New York City, and the stories I’ve heard him tell at Mid-Ohio Con, I do hope someone at DC is already negotiating an autobiographical graphic novel with him as I type this.

Ultimate Spider-Man #96 (Marvel) After an exciting opening chapter, this story of Spider-Man versus vampires sort of just fizzles. Blade is a no-show, and we don’t learn much of anything more about Ultimate Morbius, other than the fact that he seems to be a vampire who fights other vampires. If the story doesn’t go anywhere too exciting, at least the art is fantastic—Mark Bagley and John Dell do their normal great jobs, and colorist Justin Ponsor makes things nice and moody with lots of grays and reds. After seeing Bagley and company draw a vampire in wolves’ form, I’ve got a couple of requests for Bendis: Ultimate Man-Wolf and/or Ultimate Werewolf By Night, please.

X-Factor #6 (Marvel) Forget New Avengers, this is the book to follow when it comes to the aftermath of House of M, as this issue shows who Layla Miller’s archenemy is, and the lengths to which she goes to try to dispose of him. Sweet cover, too.

Superman has landed

There's only one comic book story that anyone gives a damn about today, and that, of course, is Superman Returns. So, what'd I think? Well, that's a movie; this here's a comic book site. If you want movie reviews, you'll have to click here, which will take you to, the locally-owned and operated website where I'm currently serving as a film critic.

You can also click to today, where some of the Best Shots gang and regular 'rama readers are posting and discussing their favorite Superman stories.

And be sure to check back here throughout the weekend for tons more Superman-related stories.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Delayed Reaction: Wimbledon Green

Wimbledon Green: The Greatest Comic Book Collector in the World (Drawn and Quarterly), by Seth

Why’d I Wait?: Sheer ignorance. I honestly had no idea this book even existed until I saw it sitting on a cart at the library I work part-time at, waiting to be put back on the shelf.

Why Now?: With a title like that, what comic book enthusiast could pass it up once they were made aware of its existence?

Well?: Thank Daniel Clowes for coining a term we can use to discuss this work—like Clowes’ Ice Haven, Wimbledon Green is a “comic strip novel,” comprised of individual comic strips of varying length and style which each contain a small part of a an overall, novel-length story.

The technique is not used as successfully here as it was in Ice Haven, yet if this doesn’t exactly feel like an extremely important work, that may be because it wasn’t supposed to be: The cover proclaims it “A Story From The Sketchbook of the Cartoonist ‘Seth’,” and in his foreword, said cartoonist Seth explains “it’s just a send up of comic book collectors.”

And while it lacks the power and depth of Clowes’ best work—and the acid zing of Clowes’ sense of humor—if Wimbledon Green is Seth’s idea of a dashed-off lark, it’s certainly not apparent from the quality of the art. It’s a beautiful looking book, most of the well-designed pages are simply jam-packed with 20-panel grids and colored in different shades.

The title character is a sort of Scrooge McDuck-type of wealthy eccentric, traveling the world on quests to find the oldest, rarest and most valuable comic books. Seth invents plenty of rival eccentrics for him to race to issues of fictional books like The Green Ghost #1 and Corns Bunion. The rich subculture Seth invents feels both real and charmingly alien at the same time, with his comic book aficionados all having collecting pseudonyms that recall the handles of old gangsters—Ashcan Kemp, R. Saddlestitch, “Cuts” Coupon, Pulpy Wise, and so on.

Most of the book is done in a mockumentary style format (a format that’s grown tiresome from it’ over-usage in film comedy), dealing with a legendary collecting scandal and the collectors’ flailing attempts to connect Wimbledon Green to one “Don Green.”

These are broken up with adventure-style strips that include an epic battle over the Green Ghost #1, a detailed account of Wimbledon Green’s queer, Howard Hughes-like personal habits and a delightful section where Green elucidates the virtue of fictional hobo humor series Fine and Dandy (I’m a sucker for hobo humor).

If the whole of Seth’s “comic book novel” is less than transcendental, and it’s overall story rather mediocre, some of the strips that make up that whole are pretty fantastic in their own right. Seth’s natural audience, the comic book community, will especially appreciate “Young ‘Cuts’ Coupon –1949” and “Jonah: A Brief Profile by Ashcan Kemp.”

In the former, a young, foreward-thinking Coupon tells the readers that he understood that “there was deep meaning in these tales of masked men and anthropomorphic animals…while on the surface ‘comic books’ appear to be half-witted stories for sub-normal boys…my ten years of study has revealed much more.” In just 16 panels, Seth distills all the joys and frustrations that come with a life dedicated to comics about as perfectly (and certainly as humorously) as anyone before him as managed.

In the latter, Kemp has equally true, if more cynical, thoughts on the community itself: “For a bunch of guys who like good-over-evil stories…you sure meet a lot of morally bankrupt assholes.”

But its worth the feelings of frustrated societal misunderstanding articulated by Coupon and the morally bankrupt assholes Kemp sees for those brief feelings of nostalgic peace Don Green found in used bookstores and dusty attics. And of course, top notch hobo humor.

Would I travel back in time to buy it off the rack?: Funny I should mention time travel at all, as there’s an intriguing undercurrent of melancholy to the work, about the collectors’ desire to reclaim pieces of their childhood, and how that impulse, in the case of the single-named character “Jonah,” the world's greatest comic book theif, turned him from collecting to villainy.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Seven Better Things For DC To Have Done With Batgirl Than What They Did in Robin

Cassandra Cain was raised by her father, the assassin David Cain to be the world’s greatest killer, at the expense of teaching her anything most human beings would find useful things to know how to do—like speak. Instead, Cassandra “spoke” the language of movement, being able to read body language to the point that she could flawlessly predict the moves her opponent would make.

But after her first kill as a little girl, Cassandra became revolted by her own actions and her father, and fled his care, resurfacing in her late teens in Gotham City. There she became an agent of Barbara Gordon, Batman’s information broker (and the original Batgirl), and, after saving Commissioner Gordon from Cain’s attempts to assassinate him, Oracle and Batman took Cassandra in, making her the new Batgirl.

This happened in 1999, in the midst of the big Batman crossover story dubbed “No Man’s Land,” one of the stronger such Bat events. Shortly afterwards, Batgirl would graduate to her own title, the first 25 issues of which were rather excellent, comprising a grand wuxia-style epic set in Batman’s universe, featuring a unique hero (female, Asian, illiterate, partially mute) and wonderful art by Damion Scott. (They’re collected in trades Silent Running, A Knight Alone, Death Wish and Fists of Fury ). After Scott, and original writers Kelley Puckett and Scott Peterson left the title, it’s quality plummeted, but usually had something recommending it, be it James Jean’s gorgeous covers, or, in it’s last months, Pop Mhan’s fantastic pencil art.

Anyway, back within the DC Universe itself, things were going to hell in a highly flammable hand basket, particularly in Batman’s world (see Identity Crisis, Countdown to Infinite Crisis #1, the five “Countdown” minis and Infinite Crisis). Batgirl was booted out of Gotham and briefly set up shop in Bludhaven (a miserable low point in the series collected in Kicking Assassins, but for God’s sake, don’t read it).

From there, she left the states all together, on a quest to find her mother real mother, who turned out to be the most likely suspect: The world’s greatest martial artist and killer, Lady Shiva (This story is to be collected in Destruction’s Daughter, due in September).

In a battle to the death between Batgirl and Shiva—their third—she snaps Shiva’s neck and impales her on a hook, seemingly killing her, and breaking her promise to herself and Batman never to kill again. But the hook she impaled her mom on is dangling over a Lazarus Pit, so named because it brings those who fall into it back to life.

On the last page of the last issue of her series, in narration, Cassandra Cain tells us that she’s deciding to reject the path of the assassin that is her blood parents’ way (Shiva had just made her the Darth Vader pitch prior to their battle) and the superhero path of her surrogate parents, Batman and Oracle.

Then a year passes, “off screen” as it were. This is the missing year that most of DC’s titles skipped ahead during the line-wide “One Year Later” event, with that missing year currently being told in real-time series 52.

She pops up in Robin, where she’s made a 180-degree turn and taken her mom up on her offer to become the leader of the League of Assassins after all…a year ago, she couldn’t read and was just learning to speak, but she had wrested control of a group of assassins. She now kills without compunction, despite the fact that her first kill changed her life completely and instilled in her a deep guilt that lead for her to wish for her own death. She seems to be wearing her mom’s old hand me downs, and is chatting like a Bond villain.

Basically, DC took one of Batman’s two current sidekicks, turned her evil for no apparent reason, and made her into an antagonist for Batman’s other sidekick, Robin.

What could they have done with her?

1). Left things where they were at the end of Batgirl Cassandra had already relinquished her role as Batgirl and was shown walking off into the sunset, with writer Andersen Gabrych tying up many of the character’s loose ends and bringing a sense of closure to her overall story. He had also, wisely, essentially assigned her to story limbo.

Where is Cassandra Cain? What’s she doing? Will she ever be Batgirl again? Will she grow up to be Batwoman? Will she be a hero? Will she retire and become a civilian, grow up and have a totally civilian life? Will it forever be a mystery? By having her simply disappear at the end of her series, claiming to quit/move on, DC left it so we would never really know. Unless they decided someday that they wanted us to.

From DC’s standpoint, this would have cleared her off the board, making room for a smaller supporting cast in Batman’s life, as well as a new female version of him that is about to debut to much fanfare (You may have heard of a certain lesbian Batwoman by now). But at the same time, this move doesn’t remove her from the board completely—if anyone ever has a great idea with what to do with Cassandra Cain in the future, the character will still exist and the potential to tell that story will be there, waiting to be tapped.

In a big company with a long history and cohesive fictional universe like DC’s, it makes very little sense to ever un-create or de-create a character, as they did by turning Batgirl evil seemingly at random.

2.) Killed her in Identity Crisis This was an epic miniseries in which it seemed, for a while at least, just about any character could actually die. By series end, writer Brad Meltzer had bumped off Elongated Man’s wife and a longtime Justice League supporting cast member Sue Dibney, Robin’s father, Firestorm and Captain Boomerang. Big events? Sure, among certain circles, but none of those characters had a Bat- or a Super- or Wonder- in their name.

Now, imagine if Batgirl were a victim! Sure, Cassandra Cain hasn’t even been around a decade yet, but the name “Batgirl” has more recognition than the majority of comic book superheroes.

Of course, Meltzer and DC editorial in general had been (rightly, I think) criticized for the incredibly brutality to women that occurred in Identity Crisis, a brutality that didn’t always prove necessary and seemed out of place in a DCU comic book about the Justice League—it was revealed that Sue Dibney was raped, and allusions to the villain being raped and molested in prison are made at the end. In light of all that, maybe killing another woman in this series would have only sent more charges of misogyny hurling Meltzer’s way.

3). Killed her in “War Games” Bat-crossover story “War Games” was supposed to be a rather pivotal point in the Bat-cast’s lives, as it essentially split Batman from his sizable support staff, which had grown to include not only Robin, Batgirl and Alfred, but also Nightwing, Oracle, the Spoiler, Catwoman and Dr. Leslie Thompkins.

In another act of rampant Women In Refrigerator-ism, the Spoiler would be brutally killed. This teenaged heroine, former girlfriend of Robin and one-time fill-in Robin was really Stephanie Brown. During the course of the story, she is captured by the villain Black Mask, who tortures her within an inch of her life. She ultimately escapes and is taken to Bruce Wayne’s friend and longtime ally Dr. Thompkins, who allows her to die (I don’t know why, and no, it doesn’t make sense).

Spoiler had her fans, of course, like any comic book character. But she was a minor character at best, one of the most minor in Gotham City. Imagine if it were Batgirl, one of Batman’s closest allies and a widely recognized “name” hero, who had died in the story instead. Again, this would have allowed Cassandra to be removed from the table, and to leave the table essentially the same character she was, rather than simply becoming a villain.

4) Something similar to what happened to the last Batgirl And speaking of brutality to women in DC Comics, what ever happened to Barbara Gordon, that freed up the name “Batgirl” for Cassandra to fill? In Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s Batman: The Killing Joke, the Joker shot her in the spine, stripped her naked, photographed her body and then used a slideshow presentation of her naked, paralyzed body to try and break the spirit of her kidnapped father, commissioner Gordon (also naked, and put in a cage…Ah, the comics of the 1980s! )

Barbara Gordon survived of course, though she retired as Batgirl and was stuck in a wheelchair for life. She essentially entered into story limbo, at least until John Ostrander resurrected her as Oracle in his series Suicide Squad(criminally, still uncollected into trades), one of the worlds most accomplished computer experts, hackers and information brokers. She would rejoin the Batman cast, graduate to her own ensemble book Birds of Prey, and later the JLA and become one of the most important (and interesting) characters in the DC Universe.

What would be the point of having Batgirl II suffer a similar fate to Batgirl I? Well, the attack on the original Batgirl went a long way toward making the Joker seem like the most savage, evil motherfucker in comics, and explain why Batman was such a gloomy, brooding, pissed off son of a bitch compared to the rest of superherodom.

And, of course, it put Barbara Gordon into limbo until someone came up with a great idea of how to use her—one that turned out to make both creative and business sense.

5). Killed her in Infinite Crisis Okay, so “killed her” her or there is coming up a lot, huh? Well, a memorable death can go a long way toward establishing a real sense of suspense and danger in a fictional universe, and certainly beats a random character development like “So I woke up today and decided, ‘Hey, I’m evil now!’”

A lot happened in this series. No less than three (fictional) cities disappeared, continuity was rejiggered and heroes and villains died by the boatload, but the only “big” death was that of Superboy, a-decade-and-change-old character who surfaced in the wake of 1993’s “Death of Superman” story.

He carried his own title for about 100 issues, but it was finally cancelled. He was the second character to use that name (Superman used to go by “Superboy”), and he was a clone of Superman, meaning he was easily brought back to life.

His death wasn’t quite as big a deal as the deaths in the original Crisis on Infinite Earths, which Infinite Crisis was a sequel to—Supergirl and the Flash.

But imagine if Cassandra Cain had died in the Crisis. This would have been a nice parallel to the original, where Superman’s young, female protégé lost her life, and would have allowed DC to do a parallel of the most classic image of the original Crisis, that of Superman holding the dead body of Supergirl and howling in anguish, while saddened heroes looked on. Just switch the “Super’s” to “Bat’s” and voila! Instant Crisis homage.

Where, when and how would the death of Batgirl have fit into Infinite Crisis? In the penultimate chapters, writer Geoff Johns sent Nightwing and Superboy on a suicide mission; the former lived because he’s too popular to die, the latter died. Now, while Nightwing and Superboy are both younger versions of Batman and Superman, they’re not exactly equivalent (Nightwing is a grown-up, former sidekick, while Superboy is still a teenager and very much in the sidekick stage of his development).

Batgirl and Superboy, however, are both teenagers with roughly the same amount of experience. Plus, they once had a minor romantic relationship—very minor, three team-ups, one date and one kiss—which might have given their last battle a sort of Bonnie and Clyde/Romeo and Juliet intensity

6). Killed her at the end of her own title Actually Batgirl did get killed at the end of her own title. She took a knife to save someone else, and she died…but was put in a Lazarus Pit and was brought back to life by her mother, Lady Shiva. So Shiva could fight her to the death. We’ve already discussed how that turned out, but imagine if Cassandra would have died from that knife wound, or was killed by Shiva? That would have been a major shock—after all, how many heroes actually die in their own series? Hell, it was the last issue anyway, they might as well have offed her. A death in any of the aforementioned crossovers or event stories would have been more spectacular, but a death in her own series would have certainly been the bigger surprise.

7). Made her into the “Jade Canary” One of the (admittedly many) strange things about Cassandra Cain’s resurfacing as a villain one year later to menace Robin is that she was missing for a year at all. Given Batman’s rep as “the world’s greatest detective” and Oracle’s ability to find anyone anywhere at any time, it seems odd that they never found her—or apparently ever even looked.

But during that “missing year” in the life of the DC Universe, Lady Shiva struck a deal with Black Canary in the title Birds of Prey. She would send Canary to her former teacher, allowing her the benefit of the experience that made her the world’s greatest fighter. Canary agrees, but only if Shiva fills in for her, working alongside Oracle’s team of female vigilantes. Shiva does so, taking the name “the Jade Canary.”

At the end of the story arc, Black Canary abandons her lessons when she sees they’re making her too cruel, and Shiva leaves the Birds. Why not have Shiva’s daughter, and Oracle’s former surrogate daughter, join the team, using her mom’s now unused name? This would have cleared Cassandra out of the Bat-universe a bit, but allowed her to still be a hero.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Superheroes That Sound Gay But Aren't

Wow, it seems like all anyone can talk about these days are gay superheroes. First is was the new lesbian Batwoman Kathy Kane, who makes her first appearance in this week's 52 #7, and now it's the rumors about the new Superman. You're probably thinking to yourself, "Wow, I love reading about gay superheroes! If only there was somewhere I could read still more about them." Well, don't worry, we here at Every Day Is Like Wednesday (and by "we" I mean "me") have got your back. Today we kick off our gay superhero coverage with an incomplete list of Superheroes That Sound Gay But Aren't Really.

A quick note on the criteria: These are all culled from the thousands of characters that populate the DC and Marvel universes of characters. Most are male, but a few female names have slipped in, as have a few monsters and robots that don't have genders as far as I can tell. And not all are technically superheroes, I've included supervillains as well. This list is horribly incomplete because there are new superheroes and supervillains with gay sounding names being created every day. Feel free to email any names you think belong on the list, which we should really strive to keep updated. After all, it doesn't look like this "Oh my God! We just noticed that superheroes seem sort of gay all of a sudden!" is going away any time soon...


The Mandroids
The Mandrill
The Rainbow Raider
The Unicorn
The Purple Man
Martian Manhunter
Wonder Man
The Whizzer
Iron Fist
The Asgardian
The Swordsman
Sandy, The Golden Boy
The Blonde Phantom
Jack of Hearts
Glorious Godfrey
Elongated Man
Big Bear
Percy Clearweather
Captain Compass
Cosmic Boy
Doll Man
Mark Moonrider
Red Gaucho
Polar Boy
Mister America
Mister Scarlet
Hard Drive
The Golden Dart
The Red Dart
Golden Lad
The Companions Three

Genre mash-ups

This week's column features reviews of Becky Cloonan's post-apocalyptic pirate story East Coast Rising and a Carlos Ezquerra-drawn import story about a vampire platoon in World War II.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Weekly Haul: June 21st

52 #7 (DC Comics) You’ve probably heard about the new Batwoman, right? About how she’s going to be an out-and-proud lesbian, making her the highest profile gay superhero in mainstream comics? Well, this issue marks the first appearance of her secret identity, Kathy Kane, who openly lesbian, former police detective Renee Montoya interrogates in the detective drama portions of this week’s issue. Meanwhile, in the superhero drama portion, Ralph Dibney unleashes eight months’ worth of pent-up rage at Booster Gold. Plus, everyone grows beards.

All-Star Superman #4 (DC) The Only Superman Comic Anyone Really Needs focuses on Daily Planet features reporter and Superman pal Jimmy Olsen this issue, and Grant Morrison and Frank Quietly continue to distill the best bits of Superman history and recombine them into the perfect Super-comic. Recalling the (incredibly dated) adventures that used to dominate Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen (over 500 pages of which were recently re-published in Showcase Presents: Superman Family), Morrison’s “The Superman/Olsen War” features clever reinventions of Doomsday, Bizarro, the Superman signal watch and Black Kryptonite, with several nods to Jimmy’s past adventures, including his infamous temporary superhero identites and sometimes quite bizarre "disquises" that today we call "cross-dressing."

Astonishing X-Men #15 (Marvel Comics) The new and improved Hellfire Club—including someone called “Nagasonic Teenage Warhead” continue to dismantle the X-Men, taking down Wolverine in a rather amusing manner (Even if Keith Giffen and J. M. DeMatteis did the same thing with Guy Gardner in Justice League decades ago. Writer Joss Whedon’s dialogue remains razor sharp, even if his plots are a little too Chris Claremont-style old school, and artist John Cassady continues to draw the living hell out of the X-Men and their world.

Birds of Prey #95 (DC) Gail Simone concludes her first OYL arc of BOP, in which the two Canaries flip flop back to their old vocations, the damage done to the character of Prometheus in Batman: Gotham Knights is undone somewhat and we learn the origin of torture expert The Crime Doctor. Confidential to the Doctor: Couldn’t you have just cut out your eyes to achieve the same effect without sacrificing your life?

Claw the Unconquered #1 (WildStorm/DC) Andy Smith, the artist responsible for Red Sonja/Claw (the series that pitted Dynamite Entertainment’s Conan-with-boobs against DC’s Conan-with-a-weird-hand), is joined by writer Chuck Dixon for the first issue of Valcan Scaramax’s ongoing series. Fans of Dark Horse’s Conan series should likewise enjoy this as a sort of dumbed down version of that superior comic, as it features very similar storytelling and scenarios, and Dixon remains a reliable if often unremarkable master of distracting enough genre stories. If I were the editor of page 8, however, I think I would have pointed out to Smith that he forgot to draw Valcan’s necklace in that last panel, and to Dixon and Smith that either the dialogue or the art during Valcan’s exchange with the witch should be changed, as they don’t quite match up. She appears almost totally naked, wearing nothing but gold barnacle pasties and panties, and he observes, “A woman of fine birth from the look of your dress.” If that’s how women of fine birth dress in the world of Claw, I can’t imagine what the women of low birth wear.

Conan #29 (Dark Horse Comics) Guest-writer Mike Mignola visits, bringing with him a reconstructed fragment from Conan creator Robert E. Howard. Hellboy fans should be delighted, as this feels as much like a story from Mignola’s other Dark Horse series as it does a REH story. In this opening chapter, Conan faces a rival thief, frogs, frogs, more frogs and a monster frog god. The most exciting part? The next issue box, which promises “Balls-Out Barbarity.” I imagine it was only a matter of time before we got exactly that. Conan’s loincloths have been shrinking from issue to issue, and in this ish artist Cary Nord has drawn his leather panties so small that his testicles could pop out at any second. Apparently, any second happens in July.

Conan: Book of Thoth #4 (Dark Horse) Kelley Jones art = automatic sale.

Eternals #1 (Marvel) Jesus, why didn’t anyone think of this before? If assigning Neil Gaiman to recreate a late-Kirby creation like the dream-monitoring, nightmare-fighting superhero The Sandman lead to one of the greatest literary achievements the field had ever seen (Gaiman's Vertigo series by the same name), why not give the guy another late-Kirby creation to play with? In this case, it was Marvel that had the brainstorm, and they unleashed Gaiman’s imagination on The Eternals, which bear more than a passing resemblance to Kirby’s other pantheons, Marvel’s Thor and the Asgardians and DC’s New Gods of the Fourth World characters. The results are intriguing thus far, as is the decision to pair Gaiman with John Romita Jr., the most Marvel-ous artist in Marvel’s stable. Their unlikely team-up makes the story read like something extraordinary for the company’s superhero line and typical of it at the same time. One complaint: There are just waaay too many variant covers on the book.

Giant-Size Hulk #1 (Marvel) Okay, so the title’s a tad redundant, the contents are anything but: Three superior stories featuring the Jade Giant, a steal at just $4.99. The book is book-ended by stories by definitive Hulk scribe Peter David. In the first, Hulk does accidental battle with the Champions, the only Marvel super-team that makes less sense than the Defenders (although after reading this story, I’d certainly buy a David-written Champions monthly series). In the second, Hulk: The End sees reprint, and we see Bruce Banner living in his own personal hell and Hulk living in his own personal heaven—quite possibly one of the best Hulk stories. In the middle is a “Planet Hulk” story by Greg Pak, which is mostly just a fun little dream sequence, full of allusions to other recent Marvel stories (and jokes at their expense). Certainly the best value of the week.

JSA: Classified #13 (DC) Writer Stuart Moore and penciller Paul Gulacy give us a last page which is an absolutely perfect story about immortal caveman-turned-villain Vandal Savage: five pointed panels that paint a more compelling portrait of the character than the preceding four issues in their entirety have. And for God’s sake, that’s four issues in a row where Alan Scott is wearing the wrong goddam ring!

Justice #6 (DC) Pretty amazing what a fresh coat of paint does for the Superfriends, isn’t it? Alex Ross and company re-invent Legion of Doomers Giganta and Toyman, provide another good argument for why Captain Marvel should be on the Justice League and destroy Red Tornado (That’s the fourth time he’s been destroyed this year, by my count). Also in this issue: A guest appearance by The Metal Men, Jean Loring acting sane and non-murderous and the Joker’s worst disguise ever.

Marvel Adventures Avengers #2 (Marvel) The best Avengers title on the stands! Writer Jeff Parker writes pretty much the entire line-up as if they were the exact same character, and the plot is strictly Superhero Comics 101, but he does a nice job with both Spidey and the Hulk, and Hulk villain The Leader. Parker also manages to pack more action and character development (if only for the Hulk) in this one-issue story than any whole arc of New Avengers. Quote of the Week: Now, Abomination…administer the beatdown.”

The New Avengers #20 (Marvel) And speaking of New Avengers… Brian Michael Bendis finally wraps up some plotlines he left dangling in House of M, but I can’t make heads or tails of how this relates to Magneto and “Xorn” from Morrison’s run on New X-Men. Here, you’ll probably need to check this out to understand what exactly is going on. Continuitiverse comics like those set in “the DCU” and “the 616” Marvel Universe are necessarily written by committee, but I fail to understand why so much energy has gone into un-writing Morrison’s New X-Men, especially considering the stories replacing it’s status quo with a new one are almost always much, much worse ones.

Robin #151 (DC) In the last few issues, new writer Adam Beechen has been setting us up to think that Cassandra Cain, Batgirl II, one-time sidekick to Batman and Barbara Gordon/Oracle just one short year ago, had suddenly gone bad, becoming a cold-blooded killer, leader of the League of Assassins, personally killing of Nyssa al Ghul, assassins galore and, finally, her father. Obviously, Beechen’s just screwing with us, right? Because there’s absolutely nothing in Cassandra’s past adventures that would indicate this could actually be her. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. Not only has she sworn not to kill and to never follow the footsteps of her father or mother, not only has she passed up repeated opportunities to kill them both before, but she’s certainly not charismatic enough to become a leader of any group, certainly not one lead by an al Ghul—hell, one year ago, she was just learning to talk and read, but here she doesn’t even stutter, and peppers her dialogue with phrases like “smarten up.” Beechen gives no explanation here as to why the random 180-degree turn in her character, the worst treatment a Bat-character has gotten since Doctor Leslie Thompkins became a killer in “War Crimes,” making this a bad story that’s not even finished yet. Other head-scratchingly weird things: Why is Cassandra dressing exactly like her mom now? Why is the world’s greatest fighter having such a problem beating up on Robin? Why doesn’t Robin call Batman when he’s facing an opponent he knows full well would not only tear him apart, but who he knows is likely a match for Batman himself? Why does Cassandra use car bombs and guns when she can kill more easily with her fingers? Why does Tim think he can give a recording of his conversation with Cassandra, in which she uses his real name repeatedly, to the police to clear his name? And, most puzzling of all, why did Beechen and the Bat-office resurrect Robin’s dead martial artist femme fatale Lynx in the “New Earth” continuity rejiggering of Infinite Crisis just to kill her off again, and then turn Cassandra Cain into a martial artist femme fatale for Robin?

Superman/Batman #27 (DC) In one important way, this is a terrible comic, as it appeals to a rather narrow population of potential readers, demanding that you as a reader are either familiar with the Earth-2 continuity that was done away with 20 years ago in Crisis on Infinite Earths or at least have a passing familiarity with it, and that you are reading DC’s nigh-unreadable new Supergirl series, or at least have a passing familiarity with that as well. Of course, if that includes you, then Mark Verheiden’s first issue as the book’s regular writer is a pretty fun read. A cadre of villains including the Ultra-Humanite transfer E-2 Superman’s and E-2 Batman’s brains into their younger, female analogues, E-2 Power Girl and E-2 Huntress. The transfer that will ultimately kill the two male heroes if they can’t find their real bodies before the issue ends. The selling point here is Kevin Maguire’s gorgeous art. His long association with the writing team of Giffen and DeMatteis has pigeonholed him somewhat as a funny artist, but his sense of design and mastery of facial expressions (his “acting,” if you will) is top-notch, and works in any genre. Not that this isn’t also a rather funny story, of course.

Testament #7 (DC/Vertigo) Thinker and author Douglas Rushkoff continues his thoughtful, relevant, near-future political/sci-fi/religious thriller, concluding his origin of the older generation of characters and the two sets of gods’ roles in human history. Here’s hoping that when DC collects this book into trades, they’ll include some endnotes, as I end up scrambling for my Bible every month after putting this down.

The Ultimates 2 #11 (Marvel) Months of waiting broken up with five-to-seven breathless, thrilling minutes and punctuated by “Oh, dayum!” every couple pages. That pretty much sums up the experience of reading the incomparable team of Mark Millar and interminably-slow-but-worth-the-wait Bryan Hitch. In this issue two key players join the fight between the America-conquering Liberators: A bright light visiting Nordic superhero/Christ-figure Thor and a certain scary-ass “hero” who was supposed to be dead. Guest-starring President George W. Bush.

X Isle #1 (Boom! Studios) If we as a society have learned anything in the past year, it’s that people just love stories about mysterious islands where strange phenomena occur. Writers Andrew Cosby and Michael Alan Nelson assemble a team of characters straight from Central Casting (Tough captain, quiet first mate, neglectful scientist father, his attractive neglected daughter, et cetera) to follow mysterious organic flotsam to an uncharted island, populated by something unknown, alive and apparently hungry for human flesh. It’s well-done suspense hinging on an intriguing mystery, and the characters and creatures alike are all well drawn by Greg Scott. And if you’re afraid you just don’t have enough room in your brain to keep the goings on of two mysterious islands straight, don’t worry—it’s a five-issue miniseries, meaning it shouldn’t take quite as long as to figure out what the hell is going on as it has on a certain television show.

Stream-of-conscious review: Civil War #2

Page 1: Who’s that goofball chained to the Vulture Page 2: Oh, that must be The Grim Reaper. The Grim Reaper and the Vulture. One’s named after an anthropomorphic interpretation of death, the other about a bird that eats dead things and is often used in film as a symbol of impending death. Cute team-up, Millar. Page 3: No matter how many times I see the word “Doombot” in print, it’s always funny to me. Page 4: Okay, so let’s look closely at panel three for a moment. Notice how about 45% of the panel is dominated by She-Hulk’s ass in the foreground, with Tigra (in the background) asking a question of Iron Man (in the middle ground). Why the focus on She-Hulk’s ass in this panel? Did Steve McNiven just think, “Fuck it, I want to draw an ass in this panel, not Iron Man’s stupid metal shoulders,” or does he have some weird fixation on She-Hulk and, having filled the first panel of the page with her breasts, feel compelled to get her ass in there too? Or did Millar’s script actually say “Panel 3: Tight close up on She-Hulk’s ass in the foreground, right, her spandex costume riding up, while in the background…” I hope they publish the scripts for Civil War at some point, so we’ll know which of these two creators has a thing for green asses. Page 5: Huh. Reed said “meta-human.” I thought that was a DCU-only term. Page 6: “Gobbledygook.” That’s a funny word. Not “Doombot” funny, but funny. “42?” Shouldn’t Millar have picked a number that wouldn’t make at least 90% of his readership think of The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy ? Page 7: Oh my God, why does my stomach feel like this? Why is the taste of bile rising up to the back of my throat all of a sudden? Oh, it’s Spider-Man’s new maroon and gold costume, with the spats on it. Deep breath and turn the page, and this feeling will surely pass…Hey, J. Jonah Jameson said “the smart ones” would sign up. Isn’t Peter Parker a smart hero? Is this foreshadowing? Page 9: Woah, two helicopters swoop in to foil a guy foiling a robbery? Pretty dramatic response, and good lord, that’s gotta be a fortune in tranq darts they’re emptying into poor Patriot there. Page 10: Sweet jumping scene…totally, straight-up Hollywood. Page 11: Woah! And a gas bomb, that blows all the glass off a floor of an office building? The U.S. government is being crazy heavy-handed enforcing this law…it’s not like the U.S. government to be crazy and/or heavy-handed, particularly in the wake of a national tragedy, is it? Oh yeah, that’s right—I just remembered the last four and a half years. Nevermind. Page 12: Who the hell is that talking to Daredevil? Luke Cage, maybe? Damn man, get a costume so we’ll knows ya! Pages 13-14: Again with the cinematic, Hollywood blockbuster vibe…how many times have we seen police cars jump like that? But what’s up with Captain America’s excessive force there? He just punched a dude through a speeding truck door and onto the street in front of speeding police cars. I think Wiccan is the dumbest name in the entire Marvel Universe. Wait, let me think for a second…no, Wiccan’s the dumbest. Page 17-18: We get a good look at Captain America’s team. Let’s see, looks like Daredevil, The Guy That Might Be Luke Cage, Cloak and Dagger, Goliath, Hercules and Cable. Dagger must smell awful, as she’s a full 500 yards away from everyone else in the base. Page 19: Yay! It’s Spider-Man’s classic duds! Oh, how I’ve missed them! Pages 20-22: Oh no Spider-Man din’t! Oh my God! What…what’s that smell? Is that the Internet burning? I think the Internet is on fire! It’s burning down! And that cry of agony…are Spider-Man fans screaming in anguish and weeping? My God, they outted Spider-Man! Sweet Jameson reaction…totally worth the change to the character this will do. In fact, I’d like to see a special one-shot entitled Spider-Man Unmasked: Oh No He Din’t! featuring nothing but panel after panel of Spider-Man villains and supporting cast members reacting to the news. Well, looks like Millar just wrote the greatest cliffhanger in the history of comic books…and it’s only issue #2.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Stream-of-conscious review: JLA: Classified #22

Cover: Mike Zeck’s an all-star, number one champion cover artist, but this effort seems really, really off, doesn’t it? It’s not just the suddenly ubiquitous Jerry Ordway’s inks, or the fact that this particular Justice League line-up is probably the hardest line-up of all time to make look cool…even Martian Manhunter looks goofy, and why’s he wearing a gold hoop around his neck? You gotta love whoever writes these dumb-ass cover slugs for DC though: There’s gotta be more than a little sarcasm in “Featuring the World-Famous Detroit League!” At least they’re covering different eras in League history though. Page 1: Wow, Mark Farmer’s inks on Tom Derenick’s pencils are gorgeous! I didn’t care for Derenick’s last League story, but Farmer makes his art really pop! Pages 2-3: I’m no surgeon, but I think when you’re cutting your grandson’s bones out, it’s better to administer the anesthetic before starting the buzz saw and waving it in his face. Page 4:Note to self: Must go re-read Eclipso #13 after this, so I can see Commander Steel die. Hmm, Vibe’s plunging neckline plunges much more deeply than Vixen’s. Page 5: I have no idea what Vixen’s doing in this first panel, but I wish she’d stop it. Looks like what cat’s do after they go to the bathroom. “Magickal?” Is Steel British? And he wears red, white and blue with a star on his chest? Page 8: The King looks awesome in his street clothes, and sorta scary in his supervillain costume, but not nearly as scary as Burger King’s King. But then, no one’s as scary as Burger King’s King. Page 10: If you look at Steel’s costume, the white stripe down the middle meets a white belt that rings his waist, but continues down to his crotch. It looks like an upside down cross…is this intentional? A subtle anti-Christian message? Page 11: Woah! A total, blatant, in your face panty-shot! Of Gypsy! This is weird for several reasons, mainly because I have no idea what’s going on in this panel…Vixen jumps up into a tree, hangs upside down by her knees, then swings a smiling Gypsy up towards the reader. Ostensibly, this is part of a training exercise, but really, the only thing it accomplishes is that it shows the reader Gypsy’s panties. Now, Gypsy wears a really long, almost ankle-length skirt, and yet we get a panty shot of her panties, of all the panties in the DC Universe! Contrast this with Mary Marvel, who wears a miniskirt, or the new Supergirl, who wears a microskirt smaller than some watch bands, and yet we never see their panties…and yet they fly! Plus, I believe Gypsy is a teenager at the time this story is set, which means DC is asking it’s readers to ogle the panties of a minor. Next panel: Another shot of that upside down cross uniform. Geez, anti-Christian symbolism, panty shot of a minor, more anti-Christian symbolism Wertham was right! Page 12: Steel swings a tree at his teammates. Luckily, he doesn’t connect, as it would, um, kill them all. Page 13: “Right now, swimming lengths of the ‘pool’ that is Lake Erie—There’s Aquaman.” Man, Aquaman looks pretty cool in the fourth panel, and as someone who grew up on the shores of Lake Erie, I’m shocked that it’s clear enough down there that you can actually see Aquaman underwater. Anyway, last panel, a walleye swims up to him and says “Your highness! Your highness!,” and A-man responds “What is it, Walleye?” What the hell? Is that the Walleye’s name, “Walleye?” Or does Aquaman call all Walleyes “Walleye?” Or is it like saying, “What is it, man?” to a man? Page 14: “My mob heard men talking,” the fish says. Do Walleye swim in mobs instead of schools, or is this fish a frigging mobster? Wait, he’s still talking: …above them on the docks. The sun was higher—I just learned of it. The Royal Flush Gang goes to Canada to kill your Justice League!” Ha ha ha! Not only does this walleye’s “mob” hang out at the docks, but they understand English? Wow, lucky break, Aquaman! Okay, that’s easily the funniest thing I’ve seen in an issue of JLA: Classified since the Giffen/DeMatteis arc…oh wait, check that—the sight of Martian Manhunter grilling hamburgers in the next panel easily tops the walleye/Aquaman conversation. Page 15-20: Fight scene! Steel picks up a tree to use on the Royal Flush Gang. Trees are Steel’s weapon of choice, apparently. Sort of excessive, especially on people who lack superpowers. Page 20:Vixen puts her hands on her hips, looks quizzically at Steel, and says “Ooohh, my head…” I’m no comic book artist, but I woulda drawn her holding her head in that panel if that was her line; or, conversely, I would have re-wrote the dialogue to say, “Ooohh, my hips…” Page 21: Martian Manhunter disguises himself as Amos Fortune, right? Some cliffhanger.

Delayed Reaction: The Fantastic Four by JMS Vol. 1

Fantastic Four By J. Michael Straczynski Vol. 1 (Marvel), by J. Micahel Straczynski (obviously), Mike McKone and Andy Lanning

Why’d I wait?: I was a big fan of Straczynski’s early work on Amazing Spider-Man (with John Romita Jr.) and was actually looking forward to his run on Fantastic Four…until I learned his artist would be Mike McKone. The guy’s talented enough, but his work’s just not my cup of tea, and seems a little too representational for FF. As the most comic book-y comic book of all time, the "World's Greatest Comic Magazine" should have a more comic book-y look to it.

Why now?: Once again, let’s hear it for the The Columbus Metropolitan Library.

Well?: Now, I read this six-part story in its final, collected form as a single graphic novel, but it was originally planned, written and published as simply six issues in an ongoing, serial monthly.

Which explains why JMS’ story about Reed Richards, perhaps one of, if not the, best Reed Richard stories ever written is diluted with sub-plots featuring the other three members of the Fantastic Four. Neither of the two B plots—Sue’s battle with children’s services, who want to take their kids to a safer environment less prone to attack by Doombots, Ben Grimm suddenly becoming a millionaire and rubbing it in Johnny’s face—have anything to do with the A plot, and neither are anywhere nearly as compelling.

As for that A plot, it’s a story that Marvel writers have told over and over, but never so succinctly and powerfully: Genius inventor and explorer Reed “Mr. Fantastic” Richards is so busy being brilliant and revolutionizing the world on a daily basis that he often forgets to make time for his gorgeous wife and wonderful family.

As a metaphor, JMS has Reed using some sort of typical Fantastic Four doohickey that allows him to peer into the entire histories of other worlds, from beginning to end, while his own life goes on all around him.

When he gets involved in a U.S. military experiment to make an army of super-people by replicating the cosmic ray accident that created the FF, Richards meets a cosmic creature that’s disturbingly similar to him, and things get really weird and deep for Richards and this entity while the others fight off an alien invasion (which all makes sense in context, if not synopsis).

It would have made a wonderful graphic novel, were it written to be one. But because it was a story arc running through the monthly series, and because JMS felt the need to give all four characters a bit of the spotlight each month, it reads like a wonderful graphic novel fighting for attention against a rather mediocre superhero drama.

Would I travel back in time to buy it off the rack?: No. If I had access to a time machine though, I’d travel back in time and try to convince JMS to save his Reed Richards story for a Mr. Fantastic original graphic novel.

Monday morning misfire

This week's Best Shots @ was Caleb-free, as there were some communication problems between Best Shots HQ and Best Shots Columbus. But be sure to check it out: Mr. Troy Brownfield shares some exciting news about the 'rama, and there's the normal message board bellyaching and drama that you know you couldn't live without.

As for what didn't make it into the column this week, I'll post it here, since I've got a lot of space to fill (actually, an infinite amount of space to fill, this being the Internet and all), and I would hate to see that Rawhide Kid gay joke go to waste...

Marvel Westerns: Two-Gun Kid #1
From: Marvel
Written By: Dan Slott, Keith Giffen and Stan Lee
Art By: Eduardo Barreto, Robert Loren Fleming, Jack Kirby and others

The term “mainstream comics” has come to be shorthand for superhero comics published by Marvel and DC, but in the past year Marvel has been dusting off some of their old genres at pretty regular intervals.

Last fall, it was monsters, in which the publisher married old, classic reprints with new, funny takes on some of their old, funny-named monster properties. In February, it was romance comics, a less-successful endeavor that nevertheless brought about some fun stories. Now it’s the Western’s turn, and this event is closer to the monster one than the romance one—right down to having The Goon’s Eric Powell contribute covers.

The main course in this Hungry Man’s portion of comic book goodness comes courtesy of Dan Slott (who, the more I read, the more I become convinced is Marvel’s most under-appreciated talent) and stars the Two-Gun Kid.

It opens in the present, in which hero/lawyer Matt Hawk is helping hero/lawyer Jennifer “She-Hulk” Walters hunt down her husband, John “Man-Wolf” Jameson. All this talk of werewolf hunting reminds the Kid of a similar case 130-years-ago, which we promptly flash back to.

In the past, we follow the Kid as he hunts for cattle rustlers and finds an ornery pack of lycanthropic varmints who aren’t just rustling cattle, but devouring it too.

Slott’s story is pitch-perfect, delivering horror and action with equally strong senses of humor and cool. The comedic high point may be the Kid’s discussion of masked men’s gimmicks; his is that he’s the “two-gun” kid, to which an old man responds, “But don’t all a’ ya got two guns?”

The bookends, set in the present and dealing with Shulkie and Jameson, are unfortunate in that they make the story less than self-contained, but if it drives new readers to Slott’s excellent She-Hulk title, that’s not exactly a bad thing. The art, by Eduardo Barreto, is just plain gorgeous, whether he’s drawing the 1876 portions or the 2006 ones.

But wait, that’s not all! Keith Giffen, intent on proving himself king of all genres, contributes a short story about the shortest cowboy of them all, with Robert Loren Fleming and Mike Allred, and then there’s the classic back-up, by two guys by the name of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

Its star is a guy who’s name you may have heard tossed around a lot lately, given his apparent sexual orientation—The Rawhide Kid. In the modestly titled story, “Beware!! The Terrible Totem!!”, the Kid fights a bizarre yellow, living totem pole. There’s no hint of whether the Kid prefers braves or squaws in this story, of course, unless you want to get all Freudian with it—he does spend the entire adventure wrestling with an especially phallic-looking pole, after all.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Bear-Skinned Lugs

This week's column features a review of Ursa Minors! #1, a comedic comic book about three slacker friends who wear robot bear suits, plus reviews of Marjane Satrapi's Embroideries and DC's Wonder Woman #1.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Weekly Haul: June 14th

52 #6 (DC Comics) This issue of DC’s all-around best superhero comic introduces us to The Great Ten, China’s all-new superhero team (as seen recently in that font of comic book news, The New York Times). Even more exciting, however, is the conclusion of this week's issue, in which one two-page spread shows Booster Gold stumbling into a time-travelling hero's abandoned lab and discovering two chalkboards full of clues for readers to pore over and think about for weeks to come.

Civil War #2 (Marvel Comics) For months Marvel has been talking about the ending of this issue being one of the biggest events to occur in a Marvel comic in 40 years, an event that will set the Internet on fire. They weren’t kidding. The ramifications of this particular event totally overshadow the rest of the issue, which is really quite excellent—Mark Millar continues to give us a big Marvel Universe story that feels relevant to the real universe and unfolds like a summer blockbuster, and the art team of Steve McNiven and Dexter Vines just draw the hell out of everything. But back to that ending: Wow. No one can accuse Millar or Marvel editorial of lacking balls, and this is one big change that is frigging gigantic, a simple-seeming, human-scaled action that makes everything that occurred in DC’s big, cosmic, universe-shaking Infinite Crisis seem trifling in comparison.

JLA #22 (DC) In the first issue of a new story arc, writer Steve Englehart and artists Tom Derenick and Mark Farmer return to the most maligned Justice League line-up of them all—that of the Detroit years. Steel, Gypsy, Vibe and Vixen are so little seen these days that just about any story revisiting their brief tenure on the Justice League seems fresh and welcome.

Red Sonja/Claw #4 (WildStorm/Dynamite Entertainment) There are about forty-two thousand barbarian comic books on the stands right now, and about half of them feature Red Sonja in them. So it was the presence of Valcan, star of the old Claw, The Unconquered comic that made this an attractive series. Given the choice between Conan-with-boobs and Conan-with-a-cursed-right-hand, the latter seems a tad more interesting and rare, but there was precious little about this series that was interesting or rare. Only two things, actually: The fact that the villain violates the sword and sorcery genre rules deeply ingrained in anyone who’s ever played Dungeons & Dragons by being both a fighter and a magic-user, and how unintentionally funny the last panel of this issue is. I’m still down for next week’s launch of a Claw on-going series, though.

Super F*ckers #277 (Top Shelf Comix) It may say “Issue 277” on the cover, but by my count this is only the third issue of James Kochalka’s Super F*ckers series, about a team of Legion of Super Hero-esque super-teens who spend all of their time swearing rather creatively at each other. In this issue, Jack Krak calls a team meeting to make himself team leader, Vortex and Grotessa make out, Burdock gets high on burning paint chip fumes and then tries to follow Abraham Lincoln’s example, and dozens of new combinations of swear words are invented.

Superman #653 (DC) It’s Lex Luthor versus Superman for the ten millionth time, but this time Luthor has a rather unique weapon, and writers Geoff Johns and Kurt Busiek come up with a pretty sweet cliffhanger. I h onestly have no idea how either Superman or Luthor will survive the predicament they're left in, and yet I have absolute faith they both will.

Marvel Westerns: Two-Gun Kid #1 (Marvel) In the tradition of the recent Marvel monster and romance events, the company heads to the vaults to unearth some old non-superhero genre stories and revisit long-neglected characters. In this issue Dan Slott has the Two-Gun Kid fighting werewolf cattlerustlers in the past (and teaming up with She-Hulk in the present); the weird team of Keith Gifen, Robert Loren Fleming and Mike Allred tell a short tall tale about Hugo, the world’s shortest cowboy; and a Stan Lee/Jack Kirby story about The Rawhide Kid fighting a monster totem pole gets reprinted.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Best Shots targets Wonder Woman

It's Monday, which means it's time for Best Shots at . It was a light week last week, so there wasn't much to cover. Plenty of dicussion of the new direction of Wonder Woman in the message board, though.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Delayed Reaction: Dan Slott's She-Hulk

She-Hulk Vol. 1: Single Green Female and She-Hulk Vol. 2: Superhuman Law (Marvel Comics), by Dan Slott, Juan Bobillo, Paul Pelletier, etc.

Why’d I wait?: I’ve always had an aversion to the character She-Hulk, despite never having read any of her comics. From her stupid name, to the inherent weirdness of a sexy, female version of the Incredible Hulk.

Why now?: Another accidental find at The Columbus Metropolitan Library, the best friend a Columbus-based, poor graphic novel addict could ever have.

Well?:Despite having zero experience or interest in the character She-Hulk prior to cracking open the first page, it took Slott exactly 22 pages to suck me in completely.

Having finished the first issue of his She-Hulk, I was suddenly transformed into a fan. Like her cousin the (He-)Hulk, She-Hulk can transform back and forth between a jade-colored giant and a small, pale, bespectacled nobody. At the series’ beginning, she’s spending 24 hours a day in her She-Hulk form, working as a giant green lawyer, living in the Avengers mansion and enjoying/abusing the privileges that come with being on the same super-team as Captain America.

Slott turns her life upside down in short order, giving her a new status quo: She’s kicked out of the mansion, dumped by her boyfriend and even loses her job. She gets hired at a prestigious new firm, however—Goodman, Lieber, Kurtzberg & Holliway (if the names sound familiar, they should), a firm specializing in the new field of superhuman law. The only catch is that She-Hulk must remain in her small, pale, bespectacled nobody body, not her superheroine one.

Slott writes the series as if it were a screwball dramedy—a cross between Ally McBeal and Alan Moore’s Top Ten series—penning episodes rather than story arcs. These he divides between Marvel Universe legal cases (Spider-Man suing the Daily Bugle for libel, a supervillian seeking damages for injuries suffered during an armor car robbery that Hercules thwarted, et cetera) and tightly-written, gently funny character pieces.

Slott’s love of all things Marvel shows through with nearly every issue, as practically the entire Marvel Universe shows up at some point during these two trades, from The Avengers, The Thing and Hank Pym to obscure ones like Beta Ray Bill, Adam Warlock and Titania to really, really, really obscure ones, like Eightball and the Armadillo.

It’s not a perfect book—the switch from Juan Bobillo’s unique style to Paul Pelletier’s more traditional superhero fare can give one whiplash of the eyes, and Slott has a rough time fitting She-Hulk’s “Avengers Disassembled” ordeal into his completely different take on the character—but it’s one of the closest things to a perfect book Marvel was publishing at the time.

Would I travel back in time to buy it off the rack?: I can’t think of a better use of a time machine. Well, maybe one or two. Or three thousand. But yeah, I’d totally pick up Slott’s She-Hulk while I was back there buying lottery tickets.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Science friction

It's Edison versus Tesla in The Five Fists of Science, one of the three books reviewed in this week's comics column.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Weekly Haul: June 6th

52 #5 (DC Comics) Many of the missing heroes who fought on the outer space front of the “Crisis” have returned, but are in extremely bad shape thanks to a teleportation accident. Strong parallels to the Iraq War are evident, as Green Lantern tells Animal Man’s wife that it doesn’t look like he’ll be coming home, Dr. John Henry Irons and Dr. Pieter Cross examine the wounded at what is essentially a field hospital for wounded superheroes, and we see three M.I.A. heroes marooned on a mysterious planet. A colleague from Best Shots @ recently referred to 52 as a superhero Lost, and I’m hard pressed to think of a better way to describe it.

Civil War: Front Line #1 (Marvel Comics) This new series by writer Paul Jenkins, one of the more brilliant writers in Marvel’s creator stable, is intended to focus on “street level” stories involving the war between all of the heroes in the Marvel Universe. The leads are Ben Urich, newsman for the New York Post-like Daily Bugle, and Sally, a writer for the Village Voice-like The Alternative, and we meet them as they begin navigating a political and media climate radically altered by an accident that is for all intents and purposes the superhero version of 9/11. If Mark Millar has been somewhat coy when drawing parallels between the Marvel Universe’s politics and those of our own in the main Civil War title, Jenkins is nothing short of blatant. If you disagree with his criticisms of our media and politicians, the first issue may leave a bad taste in your mouth, but I don’t, so it doesn’t. It’s quite a busy issue, actually, as Spider-Man drops by Sally’s apartment to offer her an interview, Iron Man comes out and reveals his secret identity to the world, Speedball if found and arrested by S.H.I.E.L.D., and artist Kei Kobayashi offers a beautifully illustrated allusion story about one of America’s most infamous abuses of its citizens' civil rights. Whew! That’s a lot of comics for $2.99.

Detective Comics #820(DC) Simone Bianchi’s cover is so beautiful that, if it were a woman, I’d marry it and spend the rest of my life trying to make it as happy as it could possibly be. The story inside, part seven of an eight-part arc by Starman scribe James Robinson, isn’t anything terribly special, and is mainly focused on revealing a new status quo for Batman and company, but Robinson’s run of the mill is head and shoulders above a lot of other writers’ run of the mill.

JSA #86 (DC) Man, what happened to Rags Morales? He was supposed to be providing pencils for this story arc, but here we are on the fourth issue of a five-issue story, and Jerry Ordway is filling in for Morales already. Kind of sad, considering Morales wasn’t even drawing the entire 22-pages of pencil art for theses issues; almost half of each issue has been devoted to flashbacks drawn by Luke Ross. Ordway’s a fine artist, of course, but the story has lost a lot of momentum, and is now missing its main selling point was Morales’ art.

Justice League Unlimited #22 (DC) Page 17, panel three: The worst single panel of art in the usually reliable Rick Burchett’s career? I think so. Otherwise, this made-for-kids comic based on the now-cancelled cartoon of the same name continues to offer fun, easy-to-digest superhero adventures. As someone older than the intended audience, I sometimes can’t help but by it based simply on the wonderful collection of DC superheroes it lines up for cameos—It’s not often you see Aztek, The Atom, Atom Smasher and Captain Atom all sharing the same panel...and that’s just the “A”’s!

U.T.F. #1 (Ape Entertainment) The title is an acronym for Undead Task Force, which should pretty much be enough to tell you whether or not this is a book for you. The U.T.F. is a secretive organization charged with busting undead heads, made up entirely of good-looking people who wear big black coats over skintight black unitards. We meet them cleansing a graveyard of a zombie infestation, just before they’re called to L.A. to deal with a prison riot. A vampire prison riot. Most of the dialogue was pretty wince-inducing, and the genre’s a pretty tired one, but the great thing about genre entertainment of any kind is even when it’s mediocre, it’s still usually readable…at least to fans of the genre.

Wonder Woman #1 (DC) Wonder Woman and her now grown former sidekick Donna “Formerly Known As Wonder Girl” Troy tend to take it in the teeth every time DC editorial messes with their fictional timeline, as they so recently did with Infinite Crisis. This is a Wonder Woman’s first appearance in over a year of DCU time and, so far at least, this relaunch hasn’t been quite as confusing as it could have been. In fact, writer Allan Heinberg (Yes, of The O.C., but also of Young Avengers delivers a fairly action-packed first issue that reintroduces and reimagines a trio of Wonder Woman villains, introduces us to two candidates for the mantle of Wonder Woman (fill-in Donna Troy and “Agent Diana Prince”), Wondy’s traditional male damsel in distress Steve Trevor and an obscure DC character with a new lease on life. There’s still a lot to be resolved in terms of how exactly Wonder Woman fits into the greater fabric of the fictional universe (as her last 20 years’ worth of stories were apparently all moved backwards in time, and the status of her mother, the JSA’s Wonder Woman is unresolved), but so far Heinberg is playing those questions as rather intriguing mysteries. The character has had some incredible artists on her books in the past—particularly George Perez and Phil Jimenez—but I can’t remember it ever looking slicker or better designed than it is right now. Terry Dodson handles pencils while Rachel Dodson iprovides nks and Alex Sinclair colors. The Dodsons have redesigned Wonder Woman’s costume to make it more armor-like and add a neat little lasso holder (I always wondered how it stayed attached to her hip), and redesigned her villains as well (though Dr. Psycho looks pretty lame). The book even sports a new logo, which DC’s so proud of they give it’s designer a credit for. Nancy Ogami deserves it—It is a nice logo.