Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Weekly Haul: November 29th

52 #30 (DC Comics) The company line is that all four writers involved with this weekly title write every single page as a team; that is, they all plot, they all script dialogue, and they all take a pass on every single page. Having not been involved in any of the meetings, I don’t know if this is true or not, but, this issue in particular, it doesn’t seem to be. Or, at the very least, certain writers’ fingerprints are much more evident on certain scenes than usual. The history of the Batman, for example, sounds an awful lot like what Grant Morrison told in an interview was his vision of Batman’s personal history, and some of the lines read like they poured right out of Morrison’s finger tips (Not only the “Defeat me and the ten-eyed surgeons of the empty quarter will come to slice out your demons,” but even the offhand comment about the Joker being “this crazy, brilliant clown running around”). Likewise, the Question/Montoya segments read like those written by Greg Rucka, in part because he wrote a very similar story about the Huntress and the Question before, and in part because he’s the only writer who regularly uses the detective novel narration.

At any rate, this is a particularly rich issue of 52, from that masterpiece of a cover (muddied up by text as it is), proceeding through scenes featuring all members of the current Bat Family, and a weird new take on half-forgotten rogue The Ten-Eyed Man. In a mostly wordless sequence, artist Keith Giffen and Joe Bennett give us a “greatest hits” version of the personal tragedies endured by Batman, including the crippling of Barbara Gordon, his own temporary crippling at the hands of Bane, a scene that could come from Contagion, No Man’s Land or War Games, the revelation that his dead sidekick Jason Todd came back to life due to an inter-dimensional version of Superman punching along the walls of the “Heaven” dimension he was trapped in and thus altering the time stream, the death of Jack Drake and, finally, holding a gun to Alex Luthor’s head at the end of Infinite Crisis (One of these things is not like the other; can you guess which one?). Notice no mention of Cassandra “Batgirl” Cain anywhere in this issue, or Leslie Thompkins going over to the dark side for, um, whatever reason she suddenly became evil.

Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis #46 (DC) To keep this supposedly monthly series semi-monthly, a guest creative team is called in, sort of. Regular series artist Butch Guice draws the two-page prelude, while Phil Winslade draws most of the story (so well, in fact, that I wouldn’t mind he and Guice switching regular art duties, particularly if Winslade is the faster artist of the two). Regular writer Kurt Busiek gets top writing credit, but Karl Kesel as listed as “co-plotter.” The story is a sort of flashback that King Shark tells himself while training the new Aquaman, about his first encounter with the previous Aquaman. Or, as the title page puts it, this is “a tale of the classic Aquaman…in the days when he was king!” In it, Orin, Mera and Vulko visit a trading outpost, where King Shark has been biting people’s heads off—literally. Seeing how this story fits in with the newer high fantasy, “Swordfish and Sorcery” approach to the book Busiek has been taking since he took over, it does raise the question of why we even needed a new Aquaman. The classic one takes to the setting just as well as the new one.

Batman #659 (DC) After just four issues, the hot, new creative team of Grant Morrison and Andy Kubert apparently needed to take a break and, rather than letting this monthly miss shipping dates, DC drafted the creative team of John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake (responsible for the superlative series, The Spectre). I feel pretty bad for the pair. Individually, they’re great talents, and together they’ve produced one of the best DC series of all time, but following the industry’s hottest writer and hottest penciller is a thankless task. The first chapter of this story sets it up as a fairly unremarkable one. There’s a new bizarrely-themed rogue in Gotham named “Grotesk” who, in addition to not being able to spell very well, is cutting parts of his victims’ faces off and then burning them alive. Mandrake’s art is fantastic, some of the best of his career, and Ostrander’s story is serviceable, but a little cliché-ridden, and too pre-Morrison Batman. The most exciting thing about this title at the moment is the radical things Morrison is doing with the characters, but this could be just another issue of Paul Dini’s Detective Comics, or form any point in the last 20 years worth of Batman stories, really.

Batman/The Spirit #1 (DC) Good Thing About DC Having the Rights to the Spirit #1: It keeps Will Eisner’s work and character in the public’s consciousness. Good Thing About DC Having the Rights to the Spirit #2: This fun crossover. Writer Jeph Loeb has been letting me down quite a bit lately, but he’s in top form here, and this book fits nicely in with his best DC work (That is, everything with Tim Sale). Darwyn Cooke’s art is similarly spot-on; there’s nothing quite like a book so well illustrated that you have to pause every couple of pages just to admire the panel. The story is compact, but does everything you could hope such a crossover would do. Loeb, Cooke and inker J. Bone synthesize the best bits of Batman comics, the Bruce Timm-produced cartoon and even the old live action TV show for a sort of perfect Batman, and Eisner’s characters fit surprisingly well into this world (Cooke and Loeb do an especially fantastic job setting up the title sequence). The story? The two title heroes’ pipe-smoking police contacts, Dolan and Gordon, reminisce about the time their masked allies met one another. The two policemen attend a Policeman’s Benevolent Association ball in Hawaii. Spirit rogue The Octopus unites the Rogue’s Galleries of both Batman and the Spirit in an elaborate plot to bump off Dolan, Gordon and the rest of the country’s best coppers all at once, a plot that Batman, the Spirit and Robin must try to put the kibosh on. I was leery of an Eisner-less Spirit comic but, after reading this, I’m looking forward to Cooke and Bone’s Spirit #1.

Black Panther #22 (Marvel Comics) Any Marvel reader not currently reading Black Panther is missing out. I have some reservations about the title myself, particularly about its highly glitchy continuity and the ever-changing artists, but the “World Tour” story that wraps up here in a “Civil War” tie-in has been one great jumping on point after another. In this issue, Panther and Ororo visit Captain Britain to see if he’s down with joining their Coalition of Kicking Iron Man’s Ass or not, and then head to Washington D.C. to sit down with the president but, as has been the case with every meeting save the one with Namor, end up throwing down instead. Who with? Briefly with Jim Rhodes, a.k.a. War Machine, a.k.a. “The Black Iron Man” (Cool. I’ve been wondering whose side he was on). And then with Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man, a.k.a. “The White Iron Man.” With both Namor and the Panther (and, thus, the respective countries) lining up against Stark, I honestly don’t even see how the final battle of “Civil War” is going to be anything but a rout. I guess we’ll find out in a few more months…

Dead Sonja, She-Zombie with a Sword #1 (Blatant Comics) Well, it had to happen sooner or later, didn’t it? I’m sure Dynamite Comics, who currently own the rights on Red Sonja comics and sell plenty of zombie-related comics due to their rights on Army of Darkness comics are kicking themselves for not thinking of this first. Hell, I know I am, and I don’t even own a comic book company. Writer Rob Potchak Jr. and Blatant certainly get props for coming up with a genius idea and title, but there’s nothing inside the book as remotely clever or well executed as the title, logo and covers (they even have several variant covers, ala Dynamite’s Red Sonja books). The black and white art, by Owen Gieni, Ap. Furtado and Remy “Eisu” Mokhtar (that’s Eisu’s cover pictured) is all decent, and done in a fun, loose style, but few of the jokes are very funny. Of course, seeing as the sixth page of this 48-page comic includes a rape-related joke, it’s hard to find anything that follows even remotely chuckle worthy, as that’s a pretty reprehensible thing to include in any story, let alone one as unserious as this.

Green Lantern #15 (DC) Attention, Justice League fans! This issue of Green Lantern features the first appearance of the new Justice League line-up that’s currently being teased on covers of the JLoA monthly. You know, Black Lightning, Arsenal, Hawkgirl, Vixen, Red Tornado—those guys. Now, they look pretty cool all lined up and posing like that in the snow, but you know where a better place to introduce the team might have been? Their own title, which has yet to formalize the line-up (Four issues in, writer Brad Meltzer is still gathering the team together). They’re in the book for the same reason just about everyone seems to be in it these days—to take down rogue superhero Hal Jordan. Also vying for the honors are a mind-controlled Global Guardians, the faceless hunters of Saturn and the Rocket Red Brigade. Johns throws all kinds of good craziness at readers this issue, including another teasing look at the growing Sinestro Corps (I like how their home base resembles a Santa’s workshop of evil here). My only real complaint with this particular issue is Jordan’s comments about Tasmanian Devil being gay and, during their time on League factions, harboring a crush on Jordan. Our hero blasts him with his ring and quips, “I told you before, Taz. You’re not my type.” Can’t a gay were-Tasmanian devil attack a straight superhero without the straight superhero assuming he’s making a pass at him? It’s in character with Johns’ new, Guy Gardner-ified, post-Rebirth Jordan, but it’s still pretty ugly.

The Immortal Iron Fist #1 (Marvel) I know precious little about Danny “Iron Fist” Rand, other than the fact that his name makes me snicker almost as much as his goofy-ass costume, but the three first names on this creative team are enough reason to check out just about any comic book: Brubaker, Fraction and Aja. The issue itself gives plenty more reasons to check out #2, including Aja’s gorgeously sketchy and dark art (and neat little way of highlighting kung fu action) and Brubaker and Fraction’s terse narration and widening the point of view to make this a story about a dynasty of Iron Fists, not just Danny. Now, about that school picture of Luke Cage…

Stan Lee Meets Doctor Doom #1 (Marvel) The Lee-written lead-ins on this series of one-shots have been mostly hit-or-miss, but this one’s a definite hit. At home working on a model of a ship (I love how Lee presents himself as this old guy who putters around on different hobbies like baking, biking and miniature ship-building all day) one day, he’s summoned to Latveria by Victor Von Doom, who’d like to have a little chat with him: “ I am displeased by the manner in which I am portrayed in American comic books.” He earns his freedom by pointing out that he’s just a guy who cameos in superhero movies. The art on this piece, by Salvador Larroca, is just drop dead gorgeous—Latveria and its doombots have never looked so awesome. Back-ups include a Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness story about Lee once again goading his creations into playing their roles and a classic Fantastic Four story by Lee and Jack Kirby. That’s a lot of good comics reading for just $3.99.

Superman/Batman #30 (DC) Penciller Ethan Van Sciver is a force to be reckoned with. He’s just an incredibly gifted artist, one who’s capable of drawing just about every DC character very well, and rendering some of them so well it’s downright transcendental. Like Green Lantern Kilowog, who looks like some sort of humanoid rhinoceros, with a touch of extinct giant mammal to him. Or Plastic Man, whom Van Sciver gives a strong sense of realism and three-dimensionality, which makes his cartoon-ish shape changing seem all the more impressive. When this Plas is at rest, he seems as real as Batman, Alfred or Superman, but when he stretches a limb, all the detail and line-work fades away, and you can see him stretching his molecules (Page 18, panel 2—tell me that isn’t one of the best Plastic Man panels you’ve ever seen; I dare ya!). Van Sciver’s skills are, unfortunately, a huge liability to a monthly comic book like Superman/Batman should be, as he draws too slowly to keep a monthly schedule. So, what’s he doing as the regular artist on this series? I have no idea. If you’ll allow me to engage in a bit of armchair editing here, if it were up to me, I’d get Van Sciver on an All-Star book or working on an arc to be fit into one of the Confidentials or Classifieds, where he can take his time drawing and the finished product can be fit in whenever there’s an open slot, rather than having him hold up what should be a top seller month in and month out for DC.

Now, back to the issue at hand, this issue of Superman/Batman, we’re in part three of the Bunch of Crazy Shit Happens For No Reason storyline. Superman fights Kilowog, but whatever seems to be controlling Big K’s mind is starting to get into Supes’ too. Meanwhile, Lex Luthor calls Batman in to steal something from the Fortress of Solitude that could be the key to unraveling this mess, and sets him up with Plastic Man (in his first “One Year Later” appearance, Plas fans). For some reason, Batman acts like he barely knows Plas and as if they weren’t on the Justice League together for, what, 95 issues or so? Plas also mentions that he has a son now, which puts the Joe Kelley stories about Plas as a deadbeat dad back into continuity, after Kyle Baker went to the trouble of knocking them out of continuity. You know, I don’t mind Plas being a reformed thief, but I really don’t like the idea of him being a reformed deadbeat. Oh well, I guess we’re just lucky he survived Infinite Crisis and hasn’t been super-punched out of continuity.

Teen Titans #41 (DC) I could have sworn “Titans Around the World” concluded last issue, but I guess not, as the Titans are still fighting Bombshell this issue. Jericho is back from the dead and with a better haircut and costume, and he narrates the issue, as the team takes on Bombshell and her freelance military specialists, who all wear Nazi-style helmets for some reason (To let us know they’re the bad guys, maybe…?). Bombshell gets her butt kicked, naturally, and also gets her top shredded to the point that it’s barely functional. The only other noteworthy story beats involve a surprise guest appearance by Sarge Steel and Agent Diana from the pages of Wonder Woman (no idea where this fits into her story, though), a light bulb going off over Robin’s head about how to resurrect Superbly and Miss Martian and Jericho officially joining the team. The art is by guest painkillers Pico Diaz and Ryan Benjamin plus five inkers, which might explain why it’s so horribly inconsistent. This is a very, very ugly book, and character designs change rapidly from page to page.

Confidential to Deathstroke: There’s no “N” in the word “kid.” Jeez, I thought your special implants gave you the ability to utilize 90-percent of your brain, and yet you can’t spell simple three letter words? How on earth do you ever hope to defeat the Teen Titans?

(Not actually an installment of) Actually Essential Storylines: The Metal Men

This week’s issue of 52 featured the origin of The Metal Men, written (as each origin is) by Mark Waid and drawn by artist Duncan Rouleau. Given what a major role Dr. Will Magnus has played thus far in the series, it’s high time they got around to explaining just who the hell he and his robotic creations actually are.

Unfortunately, I’m not well versed enough in Metal Man history to present the regular “Actually Essential Storylines” feature on the team. Turning my longboxes upside down and shaking yielded few results and, aside from a few random guest-appearances here and there, the closest thing in my personal library to a Metal Men story is their guest appearance in a few chapters of Showcase Presents: Metamorpho Vo. 1.

Apparently, their past isn’t terribly important anyway, as the only things DC lists under “Essential Storylines” is Metal Men Archives Vol. 1 and 52, the series you’re already holding an issue of in your hand.

Looking at the origin itself, it’s clear that Magnus is the star of the Metal Men in the post-Infinite Crisis DCU, as the Metal Men’s names and powers aren’t even all mentioned in the story. As always, it may also be worth noting what Waid leaves out—no mention of the mid-90’s revamp, in which the robots’ personalities were based on those of real people, nor of Magnus’ time as “Veridium” or as part of “Enginehead” in the short-lived series by the same name.

Waid does manage to give the team their very own, distinct mission statement here, which makes this origin a bit of a manifesto for the team—“The Metal Men specialize in defending earth from the unique menace of cutting-edge science gone wrong.”

Rouleau, for his part, does such a fine job in designing the characters and visually imbuing each of them with visible personalities (and making that “responsometer” look so cool) that putting him on a full-length Metal Men story seems like a foregone conclusion.

I’ll be back next week with a full installment of “Actually Essential Storylines.” In the meantime, feel free to peruse the archives:


Black Canary


Booster Gold


Green Lantern Hal Jordan


Elongated Man

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Delayed Reaction: Spider-Man: The Other—Evolve or Die

Spider-Man: The Other—Evolve or Die (Marvel Comics), by Various

Why’d I Wait?: Rage, mostly.

This crossover story spanned all of the Spider-Man titles, and had several different creative teams, two of which I wasn’t terribly interested in (I do like JMS’s work on The Amazing Spider-Man—although I missed the Gwen/Goblin issues, so that might be why I still like it—but dropped it after John Romita Jr. left the series; Reginald Hudlin’s previous arc on Marvel Knights Spider-Man, meanwhile, was an interesting premise horribly executed). But what really repelled me was that one of the titles it would crossover into was a brand-new one, Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, which was to be written by Peter David and penciled by Mike Wieringo. I was very excited when that title was originally announced and eagerly awaited adding it to my monthly reading, but launching a new title with a number one issue that then continued into other titles just left a bad taste in my mouth, and I ended up passing on both the event and the FNS monthly.

Why Now?: Because now it’s available in a hefty trade paperback collection which can be borrowed from the library and read for free.

Well?: This overall story shares a lot of problems with the three Batman trades containing the epic “War Games” story, starting with a ridiculously long title, and then extending to different writers with different storytelling styles, art styles that don’t blend together at all and thus actively clash and mediocre editing that leads to character designs shifting between chapters. These problems seem endemic to these sorts of crossovers in general (and are emphasized when reading the stories in trade, rather than single issue installments), and neither Marvel nor DC seems interested in solving them, though it’s actually not that hard to do. In fact, I can think of two ways.

One is to get one single artist to draw the whole thing. The only real challenge is that you’d have to have the story mapped out far enough in advance that said artist would have the necessary lead time to get it all drawn. The second strategy is to make the story so damn good that no reader would ever dare wait read the trade, but would instead pick up each installment as they came out.

I remember this storyline proving pretty controversial among Spider-fans, in part because it played with and built on JMS’s mystical/magical origins for Spider-Man’s powers (Personally, I didn’t mind them at all, as JMS left them equivocal, and we were basically taking Elijah and Morlun’s word for how definitive that origin was over the more simple, traditional explanation that it was just radioactive spider venom). To be sure, things get very, very weird at the climax (I don’t even understand why the arm spikes appeared at all), but the story is filed with lots of little segments that work well on their own.

JMS has always excelled at handling Spider-Man’s relationship with his family, and I always enjoy seeing his Peter Parker play off his wife and aunt, particularly know that he’s “out and proud” with them, and they’ve all moved into Avengers Tower.

Peter David also provides from nice little scenes, like the horribly named new villain Tracer, and a guest-star packed chapter in which Spidey visits with the Marvel Universe’s most brilliant minds to seek a cure for his condition. Hell, even Hudlin, who writes the weakest points of the story, has his moments, like the Parkers’ use of a time machine, as Peter tries to make his last days with his family ones to remember.

Did I say last days? Yes, I did. As for the overarching story, during a battle in which he gets shot by the world’s slowest bullets, Spidey finds out he’s dying, just as Morlun comes back to eat his spider-powers. After seeking a cure and getting his affairs in order, Peter prepares to die, and Morlun makes sure it’s a very violent death. On his deathbed, Peter gets all spider-y, eats Morlun’s head, and then dies. Only to be reborn, better than ever!

There are some problems in the book that will make your head spin—in one issue, Mary Jane’s arm is broken, in the next, it’s completely fine—but the greatest problem with the story is the context in which it takes place. JMS, Hudlin and David have killed off Peter Parker and resurrected him with a new lease on life, new powers and a new understanding of his place in the universe. There are seeds for stories here that warrant more exploration, but they—and The Other in general—are made completely irrelevant by what followed.

As “Civil War” loomed, the focus switched to Spidey’s relationship with new father figure Tony “Iron Man” Stark, and then he was unmasked, the biggest Spider-Man development in 40 years, and switched sides in the war between Shellhead and Cap. If the Spider-office was going somewhere with The Other, as the certainly seemed to be, the “Civil War” event/story forced it to take a drastic detour.

Bonus nitpicking!: The cover of this trade collection features Spider-Man web-slinging at the reader, with a background formed of tiles of all the variant covers for the various second-printings of the original comics that make up the contents of the trade. The last few pages features all of these variants, including Spidey in his black suit, the Scarlet Spider and various other Spider-Man looks and identities through the years. In the background of each, there’s a pumpkin bomb and a Doc Ock tentacle. However, neither Doc Ock nor any pumpkin bomb-chucking villains appear in the story. Also, please note, that many of the variants have Spidey shooting webs from his wrists, as when he’s wearing his original costume, however, in some of those costumes, like the black costume, the webline should be coming from elsewhere.

Would I Travel Back in Time to Buy These Issues Off the Rack?: No. The story certainly has its moments, and there are plenty of funny bits and good old-fashioned super-hero soap opera drama, but it’s hardly a must-own story, even for the most hardcore Spider-Man fans.

Delayed Reaction: Spider-Man/Doctor Octopus: Year One

Spider-Man/Doctor Octopus: Year One (Marvel Comics), by Zeb Wells and Kaare Andrews

Why’d I Wait?: I remember picking the first issue of this miniseries up off the rack the week it was released, flipping through it, and standing there looking at it in my hand for long seconds, trying to decide whether or not to put it back on the shelf or add it to my weekly haul. I liked at least 95% of Wells’ previous output, some of it quite a bit. I loved Andrews’ art, and bought several issues of Incredible Hulk just for the cover art he provided for it (There’s a dream trade for you, a collection of Andrews’ various Marvel covers). But what I saw in the flip-through (all Otto Octavius, no Spider-Man) didn’t exactly win me over, and I figured I’d check it out in a few months in trade.

Why Now?: Those few months—and a few more—have passed, and it’s in trade. I actually forgot about my interest in the series altogether until I was at the library recently and saw it sitting there.

Well?: Well, it’s an exceptionally poorly named series. I understand giving Spidey top-billing, as he’s the hero and all, but he actually has very little to do with the story, only popping in during the closing chapters.

What I didn’t understand was the subtitle, “Year One.”

I guess I’ve always just assumed that phrase was something DC owned, if not in a legal sense, at least in a cultural sense, not unlike “Crisis” or “Imaginary Story” (Similarly, I’d be stunned to see a DC story with the words “What If?” in the title). Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One kicked off the formulation, being followed by a Year Two and Year Three, and just about every DC hero has had a Year One miniseries or story, it was even the theme for a round of lat -90s annuals, wherein every single DCU monthly had a “Year One” annual.

And the story doesn’t even adhere to that formulation anyway. This isn’t the first year in the relationship between the two title characters, it’s the first, I don’t know, 30 years of Octavius’ life, starting with him as a little boy and working gradually up to his first few battles with Spidey.

All that said, it’s a pretty great story. Wells follows Sam Raimi’s lead and plays Octavius as a sort of tragic figure, a brilliant scientist beset by unfortunate circumstances that eventually turn him into a sympathetic monster. Wells goes further though, in amping up the tragedy—abusive father, very weird relationship with his mother—and in drawing a parallels to Spider-Man.

Peter Parker and Otto Octavius aren’t just two guys who have alter egos named after eight-legged animals; they were both bespectacled little nerds with a yen for science who suffered the slings and arrows of their peers in school.

Wells further ties Octavius into the Marvel Universe as a whole, with his origin relying greatly on radiation, that Cold War weapon that also helped birth the Hulk and X-Men, and he searches for and finds some very nice symbolism in art history with the Da Vincini’s Vitruvian Man. Sure, it’s a character study in extremely broad, often theatrically grand strokes, but the melodrama all works as a sort of science fiction opera plot. If you read one Doctor Octopus story in your life, this is probably the one to read.

Andrews does not disappoint either. He can be somewhat chameleonic in his style, and here his work regularly calls to mind that of Sam Kieth and Tim Sale (particularly the bits dealing with Otto’s childhood, and a few panels of the grown Spidey in action).

He brings some of Well’s weirder scenes to quirky life, like the lover’s embrace/sexual harassment as seen through an X-Ray machine, and he even makes the sight of a fat guy in a tight suit with robot tentacles look pretty cool—not an easy task, to be sure.

Andrews draws some of the best Doc Ock tentacles I’ve ever seen, and the scenes of the villain in his cage, his tentacles unconsciously coiling and uncoiling like those of a real octopus in an aquarium, are simply beautiful.

Would I Travel Back In Time To Buy It Off The Rack?: Knowing what I now know, I might have gone ahead and taken that first issue home with me, but I’m glad I didn’t. At $2.99 a pop, this five-issue miniseries would run you about $15 if you bought it in single-issue installments. But the advertisement-free, easier to store and read trade collection only costs $13.99.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Civil War #5: The Remix

Ah, the things you can do with a scanner and Photoshop these days. After you've read last week's Civil War #5, click here for a re-dubbed version.

Oddly enough, in addition to being hilarious, the story is kept virtually intact (the Daredevil scene is the only real deviation from the original story), and, in some ways, makes a lot more sense than Mark Millar's script (Like, the reason Spidey puts Iron Man through a wall, or Punisher's reaction to Ultra Girl).

November 23rd's Meanwhile, in Las Vegas...

This week's LVW column features reviews of Meathaus Vol. 8: Headgames, Josh Neufeld's The Vagabonds #2 and the long overdue conclusion to Ranma 1/2. The picture above, by the way, comes from Columbus, Ohio artist Phonzie Davis, who's one of the 40 or so artists who contribute to the Meathaus anthology. That's his version of The Creeper. It's not actually in the book, of course, but I posted it anyway cause I like it. Dig Jack Ryder's crazy straw hat...

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Weekly Haul: November 22nd

7 Brothers #2 (Virgin Comics) The latest Virgin launch is a collaboration made in heaven, between filmmaker John Woo and comics writer (and huge John Woo fan) Garth Ennis, with strong art by Jeevan Kang. It’s weakness is the same as all of Virgin’s launches so far, however: It crawls out of the gate, and is front-loaded with exposition. The exposition in this case is a lot more thrilling than that of, say, Devi or Snakewoman and doesn’t have all the question marks that haunt those titles, and it also stands on it’s own as a story. Still, it would be nice of one of Virgin’s lushly illustrated new launches could start with enough of a bang (and a complete story) to let readers know if the books for them or not. Of the four VC books I’ve tried so far, this is the only one I haven’t dropped yet.

52 #29 (DC Comics) It’s the elder statesmen of the JSA vs. the new Infinity Inc., and each seems to have a new recruit—the same old Obsidian and a brand-new Jade. Meanwhile, on the island of mad scientists, it’s Thanksgiving dinner, with chainsaw-carved ptero-turkey and Egg Fu on the menu. There’s one panel that seems a little over the top (page 15, panel 5), but otherwise, it’ s just about a perfect issue of DC’s best title. And have you seen next week’s cover yet? Wow.

Action Comics #845 (DC) Another strong issue of another strong run on another strong Superman title. Geoff Johns and Richard Donner do a straighter Bizarro then I’d like (Shouldn’t Luthor have said, “Don’t fetch me the Super-Boy"), but Adam Kubert draws a battle between the Man of Steel and the Man of Twisted Metal. The discussion between Lois and Clark regarding kids was frank and refreshing, even if Lois changes her mind, and the name they assign “The Super-Boy” is a nice tribute. Doesn’t look like Superman becoming a family man is a permanent change to the status quo, however, judging from the cliffhanger ending. Wonder if we’ll get a “Boy from Krypton”/Damien al Ghul crossover any time soon…

The Amazing Spider-Man #536 (Marvel Comics) Just last week I was bitching about how weird it was that Iron Man just shrugged and let Spidey get away in Civil War #5, and didn’t have the foresight to install a shut-down of some sort in his “Iron Spidey” suit. Well, Millar might not have shown it in the main series, but J. Michael Straczynki does show it here, as well as Iron Man following Spidey out the window and their battle continuing for five more pages. JMS does such a fine job with Spidey that it’s hard to believe he’s the same guy in Civil War; as anxious and stressed as Parker might be, he still cracks wise with Shellhead (Interestingly, if you didn’t read Civil War #5, the Iron Man vs. Spider-Man scene actually makes a lot more sense and reads much smoother than if you’ve been reading both ASM and CW). On page six, something really weird happens, as an asterisk-ed “Some time later…” caption tells us the remainder of this issue is set after Civil War #6, which won’t be out for a month now. Ugh…

Civil War: Frontline #5 (Marvel) Four more short stories adding depth, texture and a few confusing subplots onto the line-wide “Civil War” epic. (The main series’ “A Marvel Comics Event in Seven Parts” sounds a little sillier with each tie-in issue that comes out; shouldn’t it read something like, “A Marvel Comics Event in Seventy-four Parts?”) In “Embedded,” Ben and Sally both work their contacts, the former getting more info on a government conspiracy tied to the new Thunderbolts, the latter getting welcomed to the Anti-Reg fold. In “The Accused,” Reed Richards and Maria Hill talk over Robbie Baldwin’s prone body, about the mysterious changes going on within it. In “Sleeper Cell,” CEO and serial killer Norman Osborne easily infiltrates an international press conference, and there’s more conspiracy theory fodder. Finally, writer Paul Jenkins and Marvel enlist another great artist (Klarion the Witch Boy and Judge Death artist Frazier Irving) for another horribly offensive and nonsensical tale comparing the events of a real war to Marvel’s superhero crossover.

Conan #34 (Dark Horse Comics) New series writer Tim Truman and old series artist Cary Nord finish off their first storyline, as Conan and Jiara fight off hill-men who have no bones and are full of strawberry jelly (I’m guessing, based on how easily Conan cuts them in half). I was a little worried how Conan would fare without Kurt Busiek, but it looks like there’s nothing to worry about: It’s still pulp fantasy at it’s finest.

Connor Hawke: Dragon’s Blood #1 (DC) Connor Hawke, the son of Green Arrow Oliver Queen, was meant to replace his father when the original GA died, and he carried the legacy (and the starring slot in the Green Arrow monthly) for over 30 issues, until it was cancelled to make room for Kevin Smith’s relaunch. I’ve always liked Connor for the unique superhero he is—for starters, he’s a vegetarian and a virgin (unless you count that ghost one time)—and I was pretty excited that DC was giving him another shot at a starring role in his own miniseries. The creative team is a perfect choice. Chuck Dixon, who wrote Connor’s adventures on GA (as well as most of his guest-appearances in the ‘90s), is at the helm, paired with artist Derec Donovan, who’s style so closely resembles those who drew Connor back in the day. The story is a typical Dixon yarn, a big, action movie-style adventure, which seems greatly inspired by Enter the Dragon and slightly inspired by Norse mythology. Connor and sidekick/father figure Eddie Fyers head to China, recruited with the rest of the world’s best archers to compete in an archery competition. Dixon hasn’t mentioned why Oliver Queen, Roy Harper, Merlyn or either of the current Spyders weren’t invited (at least not yet), but Lady Shado and several interesting new characters seem to get invites. My only complaint is the lame title for the series. Connor, like his dad, goes by the name “Green Arrow,” but this isn’t called Green Arrow: Dragon’s Blood, which would have been an accurate and fair title (and probably sold more issues), or even just Dragon’s Blood (every comic book doesn’t need to be named after it’s star character, after all). Other than that, this was a plain fun action title.

The Enigma Cipher #1 (Boom! Studios) A college professor finds an old Nazi code (hence the title) in an old book he purchases, and passes it on to some students as homework, thinking cracking the obsolete code would be a nice group exercise. The government has other plans, however, since said text turns out to still be vitally important—important enough to kill innocent U.S. civilians over. Pretty, bright co-ed Casey is soon the last survivor with a copy of the code, on the run from government killers with no one in her corner save a cope. The story, by Andrew Cosby and Michael Alan Nelson, is straight up Hollywood action/thriller, which is either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how you feel about Hollywood action/thrillers. The art, by Greg Scott, is evocative and effective, though there’s the odd panel here or there that looks awfully photo-reference-y (I swear Casey morphed into Liv Tyler a few times). It’s from the same creative team that brought us X Isle, which is similar to in several respects, feeling like a movie script that got turned into a comic book miniseries. And, like X Isle, there’s a mystery propelling it, one that’s strong enough to keep you interested. The first issue hardly blew me away, but at the same time, I’m dying to know what the code says.

JSA: Classified #19 (DC) Wow, stories by Chuck Dixon and Scott Beatty? On the same week? Beatty is another former Bat-writer we haven’t heard much of lately, and another very reliable talent (I enjoyed his Gotham Knights run despite my desire to leave the title with Devin Grayson, and his two fill-ins on Green Arrow were better than most of Judd Winick’s regular run), and one who often works with Dixon (The excellent Batgirl, Robin and Nightwing Year Ones). With this story arc, he tackles Dr. Mid-Nite, who seems like a natural fit, seeing how the doc has always been something of a Batman Lite. Someone is stealing meta-human body parts, and being both a superhero and a doctor, Pieter Cross is called in to crack the case. The plot is a riff on the kidney thieves urban legend, which is elegantly recreated on the first few pages by the art team of Rags Morales and Michael Bair, but bears an unfortunate resemblance to the John Sublime/Nu-Man plot from Grant Morrison’s New X-Men, which took place in a broader science fiction setting and context where it seemed much more natural than the DCU (we could get into a discussion about if any of these powers are actually biological in nature or not, but let’s skip it). It’s always nice to get more Morales pencils (I always thought he was the perfect penciller for JSA), and it’s cool Beatty doles out cameos to so many DC bit players, some of whom might even live and super-hero again if and when they get their organs back. Icemaiden, however, is pretty much a goner. Best single issue of either Classified series I’ve read in a long, long time now. Confidential to Roulette: You may want to update your computer system’s security files; Cross is actually Dr. Mid-Nite III, not II.

Planetary Brigade: Origins #1 (Boom!) In this spin-off of Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis’ Hero Squared, the writers explain how the Justice League-like super-team Captain Valor came to be. The characters themselves are rather weak—Grim Knight, Earth Goddess, Fighting Man, etc.—and the character designs rather lackluster, but that’s as much a symptom of too many creators doing too many JLA/Avengers riffs, parodies and analogues over the decades as it is of any weakness on Giffen, DeMatteis or their artist collaborators’ parts (This issue is drawn by Julia Bax). If you’ve read any of the writers’ Bwa-Ha-Ha books, you’ll know right off the bat whether this is one for you or not, as it’s the exact same style of humor and execution. As a fan of many of their past Bwa-Ha-Ha books, I say this more in observation than in complaint. The various heroes all convene around an experimental weapons test, which gives rise to foe Mister Master and mutant prairie doges, and destiny seems to be pushing them towards remaining together as a team. Or at least, that’s what Fighting Man passively-aggressively observes while ranting that he wants no part of this “sorry little super-team” they all seem hell-bent on forming, even though no one other than him has suggested any such thing.

Punisher: War Journal #1 (Marvel) Frank Castle’s been pretty much M.I.A. from the mainstream Marvel Universe since Garth Ennis and John McCrea’s “Confederacy of Dunces” closed out the Marvel Knights title, but writer Matt Fraction and artist Ariel Olivetti bring him back in a big way here. The result is…interesting. The Punisher, a superhero distillation of the late-70s, early-80s bad cop/revenge fantasy movies, has always been an inherently silly character. Ennis took that very silliness and made it very scary, by simply putting Castle in more realistic situations. Fraction puts him in the same world as Stilt-Man and Jack O’ Lantern, and also gives him a rather loony sense of humor, which we get to hear a lot of, thanks to the first-person narration (Punny refers to Stilt-Man as an “asshat”, and makes an allusion to Gilligan’s Island that’s so out-of-left-field that Fraction builds a gag around it). Olivetti’s art is great, but his version of the Punisher has arms that look like they’re full of helium, which only increases the comedy of the book, as Castle looks more like The Tick than a nutty Vietnam vet-turned-mobster-serial killer. All in all, it was a lot of fun (the Iron Man robot scene pretty much justified the price of admission alone), and I look forward to #2. The issue also offers us another look at the Spider-Man/Punisher scene from Civil War #5, and there are quite a few little differences, from what Frank’s packing to the contents of Jack’s pumpkin helmet to whether Jester dies or not (here he gets grazed by three shots and takes one in the sternum) to how badly hurt Spidey is (He’s in good enough shape to stand on his own and trade quips with Frank). Line of the week: "Nobody gets me. Maybe it's the big skull on my chest, I don't know."

Runaways #22 (Marvel) Regular artist Adrian Alphona returns, and the title seems to be back on track after the Mike Norton-drawn fill-in story and the Young Avengers crossover. The team goes up against the Silver Bullet Gang (or, as Molly calls ‘em, “Cowboy wereweoofs”), and engage in some melodramatic character building, but the main thrust of the story concerns Chase’s dilemma of how far to go to bring Gert back from the dead. I think I know where this is going, despite the last page cliffhanger, which implies that Chase is going over to the dark side.

Sam Noir: Samurai Detective #3 (Image Comics) Manny Trembley and Eric A. Anderson’s Asian pop culture/Western detective story mash up comes to it’s conclusion much too soon, but we can always hope for a sequel. Sam enters his enemies lobby to kill guys in black suits, makes it to the rooftop for a showdown in a snowy garden, and then on to the big boss himself—er, herself. The creative team references The Matrix and Kill Bill, or, just as likely, the same sources those films referenced, and Sam gets off some more quotable narration, like, “There are a lot of misconceptions about what it’s like when two trained samurai duel…but really, it’s a lot more like two ships passing in the night. Only faster. And then one of those ships die.”

Ultimate Spider-Man #102 (Marvel) The very uncomfortable secret of Ultimate Jessica Drew, Spider-Woman revealed! It’s another exposition heavy issue of the eight-part “Cone Saga” story arc—the second, if you’re counting at home—but the revelations are so big and weird that I certainly don’t mind a bit. This story has just been one out-of-left-field left hook to the reader’s head after another, and I’m punch drunk and loving it. Regarding the Parker clones, I like how the one with the messed-up, half-formed face is given a messed-up, half-formed imitation Spider-Man costume by the high-tech lab guys who made him. I assumed he made it himself, but they show him escaping the lab he was birthed in here—all the others have cool super-suits, while he has what look like Spider-Man pajamas sewn by a junior high Home Ec student.

Wonder Woman #3 (DC) The cover date says “Oct. ‘06” and last week’s DC Nation column is in the back instead of this week’s, so I guess this issue is only about a month late, but it sure seems longer. Perhaps that’s simply because the rest of the DC Universe is moving ahead, while the adventures of this alleged third pillar of said universe has only managed three issues since the last volume of her title ended in the midst of Infinite Crisis. At this point, Wonder Woman has had more appearances in JLoA than in her monthly. I’m not sure where the delays are coming from—The Dodsons’ art is top notch, and they’ve done some impressive design work, but it’s not so detailed as to justify consecutive blown deadlines. And the story, while enjoyable enough, is hardly anything other than Superhero 101. Thus far, it’s simply been a series of super-people fighting, so it’s not as if Allan Heinberg has been laboring over the scripts (and if he has, then DC oughta hire a new writer STAT—if all they wanted was a mediocre story, then they shouldn’t have any problem finding a writer who can deliver mediocre on deadline). In this issue, Hercules fights Wondy’s rogues, Diana and Nemesis recap Hercules’ origin for us, then Wonder Woman fights Circe. And that’s all. Terry Dodson’s design work continues to impress—this is easily the best Circe design ever—but the title remains more irritating than exciting.

X-Factor #13 (Marvel) Writer Peter David rips-off himself with this homage to one of the best-loved single issues of his last series featuring many of these characters, in which the current members of X-Factor Investigations all visit Doc Samson individually for some therapy. In a way, it’s a bit of a cheat, taking the easy way to get us inside the characters’ heads; on the other hand, it does it’s job very effectively, and this makes for a great jumping on point for one of Marvel’s better-written titles. I was a bit lost on some of the X-continuity, particularly M’s story, and was a little unsure as to why Quicksilver is evil and powerless now (I skipped Son of M, where the answers presumably lie), and what he’s even doing in this issue, but overall it’s a great done-in-one.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Actually Essential Storylines: Catman

This week’s 52 back-up story feature the origin of Thomas Blake, a.k.a. Catman. The fact that the cat-themed Batman foe who wasn’t Catwoman got this special spotlight so relatively early in the game (he’s merely the 17th DC character to be featured thusly) is a testament to just how well writer Gail Simone and artists Dale Eaglesham and Brad Walker were able to rehabilitate him in the last year or so.

Let’s ignore the Silver Age Catman, whose motivation involved wooing the old yellow and red-wearing, utility purse-carrying Batwoman, since he (and she) are no longer in continuity anyway, and focus instead on the post-Crisis Catman.

Blake was a Bruce Wayne like wealthy playboy whose boredom led him to big game hunting and gambling. Having mastered the former (and lost his forturne in the latter) he turned to Batman for inspiration and decided to wear a cape and cowl with pointy ears, his tracking and hunting experience coming in handy in his life of crime.

According to this new Mark Waid-written, Eaglesham-drawn, post-Infinite Crisis origin he’s a big game “trapper” (hunting big game is illegal now, yo) who became a Gotham super-villain out of boredom, wearing a “magic African cloth that gave him nine lives.” That’s panel one. Panel two is devoted to his Green Arrow appearances, panel three and four to what happened between then and Villains United, panel five and six to recapping VU and Secret Six.

Now, we’re told, Catman “hunts and punishes those who he believes abuse their power…whether hero or villain.” That sounds cool; hopefully it will actually be the case the next time we see him.

Under “Essential Storylines,” which is probably a bit of a misnomer since there’s no such thing as an “essential” Catman “storyline,” although there are some good reads involving the man who walks like a cat, here’s what DC recommends…

Detective Comics #311: Yes, by all means, this 43–year-old, out-of-continuity story is absolutely essential. If this were a Secret Files & Origins entry on Catman, this book would be listed under “First Appearance,” which it is. Essential storyline? Not so much. I’d still love to have it collected in a graphic novel though. This is the book whose cover features Cat-Man, still using the hyphen back then, astride a giant robot cat. He also carries a “kit-bag,” drives a Cat-Car (the engine even purrs…literally!) and calls his hideout his Catacomb. Before you hit the back issue bins and eBay for this golden oldie, you may want to visit the good people at Scans_Daily.

Green Arrow: The Archer’s Quest: This six-issue Green Arrow story by Brad Meltzer, Phil Hester and Ande Parks is undoubtedly a great Green Arrow story—hell, it’s one of the best—but it’s not really a Catman story. He does appear in two issues of it, but Meltzer’s depiction has little to do with any previous versions of the character. Not only is he a fat slob who wears his old costume around the house under a bathrobe (a costume he lost in a previous appearance, by the way) and have two little dogs, but his hair is the wrong color and he’s apparently in the witness protection program, for ratting out the Brotherhood of Evil off-panel somewhere. Simone did a great job of incorporating this out-of-character appearance into Catman’s subsequent appearances in her Villains United miniseries and the Infinite Crisis: Villains United special, making it all make sense and explaining away what might otherwise have simply seemed like lazy superhero universe writing on Meltzer’s part (For example, he obviously dyed his hair as part of his witness protection program-given new life). It’s available in trade.

Villains United: Simone does the seemingly impossible in this “Countdown to Infinite Crisis” miniseries, making Catman into one of the DCU’s baddest bad-asses. If you missed it, a cabal of villains lead by Lex Luthor (actually, Alexander Luthor in holographic disguise) is organizing every villain on earth into a massive trade union of sorts, killing most of those who won’t play along. These include six villains like Catman, who are organized by the mysterious Mockingbird into the Secret Six, operating out of the House of Secrets. Catman is one of the lucky members to survive the Luthor vs. Mockingbird war, and these survivors decide to band together for, um, some reason. They’re next seen in Villains United: Infinite Crisis Special #1, also by Simone and Eaglesham, mostly avoiding the big superhero vs. supervillain “Battle of Metropolis” seen in Infinite Crisis #7. VU is currently available in trade paperback, and the one-shot special is collected in Infinite Crisis Companion and it’s easily the best of the four stories within.

And here’s what they missed…

Detective Comics #612: As far as my longboxes can tell, Catman’s first post-Crisis appearance was in this 1990 story by Alan Grant, Norm Breyfogle and Steven Mitchell. Simply titled “Cats,” it was a jam-packed, elegantly written, beautifully designed and illustrated one-issue story of one bad night in Batman’s life. Grant’s tale involves Catwoman, Catman, a runaway man-eating tiger, a couple of guys collecting stray cats to sell to a lab and even an old-fashioned cat burglar, all of which gives Grant an opportunity to lay out an encyclopedia’s worth of trivia about cats and the superstitions surrounding them. When one of Blake’s exotic pets escapes and makes a meal out of some poor sap in a park, the sensationalistic media blames Catwoman, who seeks to clear her name. The three masked rooftop dwellers all search for the tiger simultaneously, and it climaxes with Batman fighting the beast hand-to-paw, and Catwoman pitching Catman off a roof. The story was never collected into trade, like so much of the superlative Grant/Breyfogle run on the Bat-books, but once again Scans_Daily comes through. Note the awesome-ness of the Breyfogle designed costume, with the Wildcat-esque floppy ears and the cat-symbol on the chest. I think this one puts the newer costume to shame, but hey, that’s just me.

(And while I’m linking to Scans_Daily like mad, check out Catman being defeated by a Hostess cupcake. Now, I’m no supervillain, but I’m fairly certain it’s just not good strategy to immediately stuff into your mouth any food offered to you by a foe in the middle of a fight. What if Robin had injected that cupcake with rat poison?)

Batman: Shadow of the Bat #7-#9: This three-part 1993 story by Alan Grant featured art by a then still up-and-coming, pre-Long HalloweenTim Sale, and interlocking painted covers by Brian Stelfreeze. Entitled “The Misfits,” it followed losers Killer Moth, Calendar Man and Catman as they form an alliance to gain the respect they were always unable to earn on their own. Into the fold they welcome new character Chancer, whom I don’t think we’ve seen since. Their plot is a three-way kidnapping and ransom scheme, in which they nab Mayor Krol, Commissioner Gordon and Bruce Wayne. Since Batman can't come to the rescue, it’s up to Robin and Nimrod the Hunter (I know how it sounds, but it’s actually a biblical name, I swear) to save the day. Catman swears to Gordon’s wife that no harm will come to the captives once he collects the money, and is pissed at Moth for trying to renege on the deal and murder them anyway. This story isn’t in trade yet either, which seems odd considering the rising star of the artist. Maybe DC will give us a Sale omnibus someday collecting his many shorter stories.

The Secret of the Universe: Man, if you weren’t for Alan Grant, would we ever see a Catman story? This 1995 three-part crossover between Grant’s then-regular title Shadow of the Bat (#43 and #44) and Catwoman #26 might as well have been entitled “Rats, Bats and Cats,” as that pretty much sums up the plot. Catman and Batman battle atop the Cat and the Fiddle (seen in Catman’s first appearance!), while the religious leaders of the island cat cult that Thomas Blake robbed to get his magical cloth hire Catwoman to steal it back for them. Meanwhile, the Ratcatcher—an insane former exterminator who got a severe case of Stockholm syndrome and switched sides in the war between rodents and humans—has a crazy scheme to poison every human being in Gotham and give birth to a super-evolved races of rats he calls “Rattus Sapiens” (See? Crazy.) Catwoman beats Catman up again, and she makes off with his cape. He and his pet panthers give chase, and they all run smack dab into the Ratcatcher’s army of rats. The rodents prove no match for the big cats and cat-people, and Rattus Sapiens are apparently smart enough to realize the ‘catcher is a nutcase, and leave him to his fate. Catman gets hauled off to jail, while Catwoman makes off with his cape and his pets, saying she’ll give him the magic cloth back in a year or so (Blake is next seen rotting away in Gotham's Blackgate Prison during the earthquake that rocked the city in "Cataclysm" and plunged it into "No Man's Land;" Blake appears sans costume in 1998's unfortunately titled Batman: Blackgate, Isle of Men #1).

The story is probably most notable for it’s unique art, which really irritated me back in the day (I’m sure there’s a pissy letter from me about it in the back of a later issue of Shadow of the Bat). Barry Kitson provided the art for the SOTB issues, but the editors chose to highlight Kitson’s unique art process by skipping the inks and coloring the “high contrast” second step of his unique penciling process (Apparently, at the time Kitson would pencil an issue, then go back and re-pencil it to focus on the use of light and shadow during a second pass). It’s kind of cool-looking, making for a highly impressionistic story that would have fared better on a different story (his hordes of rats just look like little brown balls in the last chapter), or at least a story that didn’t feature a middle chapter penciled by Jim Balent, in the regular pencilled, inked and colored method. You could seriously get whiplash reading this story. The SOTB chapters also feature interlocking painted covers by Stelfreeze.There’s just something about Catman that inspires Stelfreeze to want to do interlocking covers, apparently.

Green Lantern 80-Page Giant #1: Catman’s most unlikely modern appearance was in this 1998 GL special. The book was structured as a sort of Green Lantern version of Cantebury Tales, with retired Lanterns Alan Scott, John Stewart and Guy Gardner gathering at Warrior’s to tell tales of their ring-slinging exploits. Though Hal Jordan, Kyle Rayner and G’Nort weren’t present, they each star in a story within the book, as told by one of the others. In “Whatever Happened to G’Nort?” written by Ty Templeton and drawn by Steve Ellis , we learn that the caninanoid Lantern is down and out in New York City. When he spies cat burglar Catman with a dufflebag full of loot trying to jimmy open a window on a fire escape, he assumes he just got locked out of his house, but some instinct deep within him stirs him to chase Catman. “My God! There’s a yeti after me!” Blake exclaims and runs, while G’Nort calls after “Hold on! Stop! I’m not trying to catch you! I’m only trying to chase you!” G’Nort eventually trees Catman, who is then taken down by firemen. Not exactly an essential Catman story, but a fun one.

Secret Six: There’s still one issue of this six-part miniseries left to go, which may explain why it wasn’t on the list of “Essential Storylines” yet. Simone is once again at the helm, but with a new art team consisting of penciller Brad Walker and inker Jimmy Palmiotti (they take some getting used to; I loved Walker's pencils as inked by Troy Nixey during the Bat-books’ “War Games” story, and obviously Palmiotti does awesome work with a lot of the pencillers he’s inked, but I don’t think the pair meshed all that well). There’s also a new Six, as Catman, Deadshot, Scandal and Ragdoll welcome Superboy villain Knockout and Batman villain the Mad Hatter to the fold. The series is a lot of fun, and Simone writes a hell of an awesome Hatter, but it’s also a little confused. It’s unclear if this story is “One Year Later” or not. If so, then it follows right on the heels of VU; if not, one wonders why these guys are all still living together, as they lack the clear mission statement Waid gives them in the 52 back-up. They mostly just play defense, as they fend off attacks from Cheshire, Vandal Savage and Dr. Psycho. If you missed it, don’t worry; a trade collection has already been solicited.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Stream-of-Consciousness Review: Civil War #5

Cover: This scene, cool as it is, doesn’t actually occur within the book, although Spider-Man does run afoul of some of the new Thunderbolts, and there is a flaming jack o’ lantern involved. Pages 1-2: The Storms, currently on the run from their husband and brother-in-law Reed “Mr. Fantastic” Richards, are being pursued by SHIELD agents, whho, we’re told, have flooded the streets of New York City with all their crazy hoverbikes, helicopters and tank thingees (What, no flying convertibles? I thought all SHIELD had was helicarriers and flying convertibles?) Page 3: Outside Stark Tower, former Defenders LVP Nighthawk and Young Avenger Stature are meeting with Happy Hogan, about to make good on their promise to defect from the Anti-Reg side last issue. This third panel is a great example of why Steve McnNiven, Dexter Vines and Morry Hollowell are and unfuckwithable art team. Tell me that’s not the absolute coolest Nighthawk’s ever looked. And yet, this page is the first time in the series I’ve really felt let down by McNiven. Check out all those passersby. Yeah, they’re New Yorkers, but they’re not even glancing at these two masked super-people. Weren’t we lead to believe that the United States was in the grip of some anti-superhero hysteria that resulted in the Registration Act? These civilians aren’t even phased by seeing super-people, which seems a little odd. Nighthawk’s rationale for changing sides doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, either. “We’re living in a different world now, sir. I guess it took Goliath to make me realize that,” he says. Yeahbuwha? It took the Pro-Reg side unleashing a killer clone of Thor to blow a whole in Goliath to make you realize you should be on the side of the people blowing the holes into people, not the side getting holes blown into them? So, is ‘hawk just a big coward or what? Well, maybe he and Cassie are just trying to infiltrate the Pro-Regs….Page 4: If you haven’t been reading Amazing Spider-Man, this scene picks up right after ASM#535, which ended with Iron Man flying through six walls of his own building to flying tackle Spider-Man because he heard Spidey tell Aunt May and MJ, “I realize I’ve been on the wrong side.” And what are Iron Man’s first words to Spidey afterwards, according to this scene? “Peter, you’re acting like a lunatic. Why can’t we just sit down and discuss this like grown-ups?” Iron Man also says of the Negative Zone detention camp that it’s “only a temporary measure,” whereas he told Peter that it was permanent in ASM (or permanent until the detainees decide to sign on the dotted line). Page 5: Iron Man makes an argument I wish he would have made earlier—essentially saying it’s this lousy status quo, or an even worse one—but he takes it a bit too far by mentioning May and MJ. It didn’t sound all that threatening to me, but Spider-Man must have though so, as he puts Iron Man through a wall over it. Page 6: Tony breaks out the repulsor rays, and we get a nice display of spider agility. Odd that Iron Man has to shoot rays at Spidey though, isn’t it? I mean, he built that “Iron Spidey” suit, and he didn’t include some kind of failsafe device in it? Stark kept a hair of Thor’s from their very first meeting just in case he ever needed to clone him, and yet he didn’t think to put a failsafe of some sort into Spidey’s costume? I do hope Iron Man has a means of tracking the costume, otherwise I’ll lose respect for his scheming abilities. Page 7: Avengers Tower has reinforced glass strong enough to stop men in metal spider costumes from jumping through it, but not stong enough to stop men in metal spider costumes being shot through it by a barrage of bullets, as the SHIELD capekillers demonstrate when they come in guns blazing. Page 8: Okay, here’s the second time this issue in which McNiven lets me down, the second panel, which shows us the Thunderbolts. So, what, they’re all just standing around a huge empty room in their costumes posing, waiting to be activated? Page 9-10: The Jester and Jack O’ Lantern are the first to find Spidey, and they come in with yo-yos and gas pellets blazing. Page 11: Did I mention how awesome this art team is? I know I pointed out a few panels where they didn’t seem to think the psychology of the crowds through very well, but man, just look how totally bad-ass Jack O’ Lantern is. Even The Jester looks really cool. Man I could really get used to these villains; they seem pretty cool here. I hope we see more of them in the future. Page 12: Oh, so that’s why two such relatively low-level villains were grouped with the A-List villains on the last panel of Civil War #4. I admit I laughed aloud when I saw Jack’s head smashing, and the pumpkin goop shooting out the exit wound, but, um, that means his head was really a flaming pumpkin? I guess I should look him up on, but I was fairly certain that was just some kind of mask, and that he was a human being in a costume. Guess not. Good news for Jester, it looks like his headshot was just a glancing blow. He might live to throw exploding yo-yos another day. Mark Millar is playing coy with who Spidey’s savior is in this scene so far, with Spidey referring to him as “Skull-face guy” and seeing his chest emblem through a cloud of hallucinogen, but the Michael Turner variant cover has already spilled the beans: It’s The Punisher. Now, what I want to know is, how did he keep those white boots so white while running around the sewer? Page 13: I’m glad Johnny and Sue said it in panel 3, because I started thinking it as soon as I read it in panel 2. By panel four, we’re inside "Captain America’s New HQ”, and we get a look at an Anti-Reg meeting. I have no idea who some of these people are, like the lady talking (a Hero For Hire, right?), or the two women on the far left hand side of the panel. Little help here...?Page 14: Some tantalizing bits of foreshadowing, as Cap talks strategy with his team. Page 15: Okay, now his boots are dirty. Thankfully, it’s just Spider-Man’s blood staining them and not, you know, the other sort of stains one can expect to pick up while stalking the sewers. If he’d just wear black boots, he could avoid this whole problem. Page 16: Some more costumes I don’t recognize, but Punisher seems to, or at least he recognized Ultra Girl. Falcon’s not happy to see Punisher there, and says so: “Since when were you on this team, Punisher?” (No, I don’t know why he didn’t say “Castle” either). Punny responds, “Sine the other guys started enlisting known thieves and multiple killers.” Wait, Punisher spends his time punishing “known thieves?” I thought he was more of an organized crime/drug trade/murderer-oriented vigilante. Page 17: Nope, no idea who that guy with the red and white arrow motif going on is. “Who do you figure’s been running around in a ski mask and covering your backs these past few weeks?” Punisher says, implying that the answer is him. That’s right, Ski Mask Guy is actually…the Punisher? Of all the Big Dumb Moments in “Civil War” so far, this is by far the Biggest and Dumbest. The Punisher was wearing a disguise? He was wearing a ski mask? What on earth for? The Punisher has been breaking laws throughout his entire vigilante career—the dude’s whole M.O. is that he runs around the city avoiding the cops and putting bullets in the heads of bad guys, murdering them. And he’s never done it in a ski mask until Civil War #4 . Why on earth would he be wearing a ski mask then? Is he suddenly afraid that he might be recognized now that the Registration Act has gone into effect? He had no compunctions about breaking all those other laws and doing so without a mask or attempting to conceal his identity, but he’s afraid SHIELD will bust him for running around in a costume murdering people? What the fuck?! It's not the mass murder charges that scare Punishr, it's the SHRA violation? Oh Man, if I think about the Punisher suddently starting to wear a ski mask to conceal his identity for one more second my head will explode like Jack O’ Lantern’s…Okay, let’s pretend that panel didn’t exist and that there never was a Ski Mask Man. Let's just move on to the next panel. What do we have here? Oh, it’s Punisher telling the Anti-Regs that only he has the black ops training necessary to get them into the Baxter Building. Not Captain America, who’s been doing the same shit Punisher’s been doing, only on a grander scale, for even longer, but only the Punisher. Hmm, I wonder if Invisible Woman and the Human Torch, who have lived in the Baxter Building for years, wouldn’t be able to pull that off better than the Punisher? But wait, the craziness of this page isn’t over yet! In the last panel, we see Tigra hiding in the corner, using a Stark-brand cell phone. Since the last time we saw her, she was on Stark’s side, I guess we’re to assume that she simply infiltrated the base, rather than pretended to defect to spy on them for Stark. But what strikes me as even weirder is her tool—a cell phone. Stark, Reed Richards and Hank Pym can build a Negative Zone prison, Thuderbolt-controlling nanites and so on, but the best spy tech they could come up with is a cell phone? I’d ask where Tigra keeps her cell phone when she’s not using it, but I don’t want our discussion to go there. Page 18: Meanwhile, in Hell’s Kitchen, it looks like Daredevil got busted. Hopefully She-Hulk and Mr. Fantastic helped take him down, because if SHIELD did it without their help, DD went out like a punk—or did he allow himself to be captured to free the prisoners from the Negative Zone Guantanamo they’re being kept in? Shulkie rearticulates Iron Man’s argument from earlier on in the book to Reed, who seems pretty bummed out. Page 19: Tony Stark, wearing a suit and tie instead of his armor, talks to DD as he’s being frog-marched into the Negative Zone, essentially asking him to join his side, and dangling his very own super-team in front of Dardevil. Pages 20-21: A two-page spread of the N-Zone facility. I’d prefer not to think about this too long, as I’ll get that same annoying itch in the back of my head that occurs whenever I think too long about the Death Star in Star Wars, regarding who the hell actually builds things this big, and how they do it…Page 22: Daredevil gives Tony his answer. As the Internet might say, “Pwned!”

Weekly Haul: November 15th

52 #28 (DC Comics) Nitpicks first. Again with the interior dialogue from Renee Montoya? Sheesh. Re-reading the opening section twice, there’s absolutely nothing that narration adds to the scene that isn’t there already, and it hurts the overall POV of the series. Also, something to keep in mind for the trade collection: The datelines identifying where certain scenes are taking place seem to come and go. No big deal, but a grating little inconsistency. As for the plot, it’s apparently fight week, as Montoya and the Question team up with Batwoman to take on Intergang, the “New Look” Red Tornado, called “Tornado Man,” fights against uranium development in Australia, and, finally, our space-faring heroes go up against Ekron and his/its passenger. The space story gets more and more complicated each chapter, and they’re starting to lose me completely on it. The most frustrating part of the book this week, however, is this week’s DC Nation column by Jann Jones. The photo of Ms. Jones looks like a live action JLI cover, and I read the whole damn thing looking for some explanation as to who that is dressed in the sweet Blue Beetle pajamas next to her, but no dice. One more mystery for the most mysterious title on the shelves, I guess. Confidential to Jann Jones: Speaking of alpacas, I’ve got a sweet pitch for an Alpaca Man miniseries, if you’re interested.

Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis #45 (DC) Chronic lateness scores another casualty, as I’d forgotten a good half of what was going on the last time an issue of ASOA actually came out. This coupled with the announcement that the current creative team is on the way out assigns an unfortunate lame duck status to the title. Still a good read, but the current readers are asked to swim against just seems to get stronger and stronger.

Astonishing X-Men #18 (Marvel Comics) And speaking of lateness, it’s all but destroyed the best X-Men book on the stands, which I now sincerely wish I was patient enough to have simply waited to enjoy in trade. Joss Whedon’s dialogue is fantastic—I particularly enjoyed the exchanges between Wolverine and Beast, and between Danger and Ord—and his complicated plot seems to be building not only on his previous arcs, but some status quo from the good old Grant Morrison days. But it’s a lot to keep track of in the long months between issues. Confidential to Dr. Hank McCoy: Was an invasion of the mansion the best time to take a break and change into the old three-piece suit and bowtie?

Birds of Prey #100 (DC) One of DC’s most consistent title’s reaches a rather remarkable milestone, made even more remarkable when one considers that almost half of those 100 issues were written by the same creator, Gail Simone. There’s no time like a milestone for a dramatic change to the status quo, and Simone takes the opportunity to dramatically change the successful formula of the book from a Black Canary/Oracle team-up book—a formula that’s seen some tinkering over the years–into a sort of Ostrander-era Suicide Squad or early era Justice League Task Force style book, with Oracle recruiting whatever heroine is needed for a particular job (To borrow a TV metaphor, she’s Charlie, and all the women of the DCU are potential Angles). This time out, it’s Manhunter, the new Judomaster (Um, shouldn’t it be Judomistress?) and Big Barda, in addition to regulars Huntress and Lady Blackhawk. As fun as it was to see so many characters cameo-ing—new penciller Nicola Scott sure gets a workout in her first issue—the story seemed as stupid as it was fun, with a lot of goofy moments that felt far too forced (The thought of seven-foot-tall Apokalyptian alien/Justice Leaguer Big Barda doing undercover work, Huntress and “Judomaster” stuffing their silly masks under baseball caps as disguises, “Judomaster” existing at all). Then there’s the small matter of the new villain, another needless legacy character whose punchline introduction seems funny in a way that’s not organic to BOP’s usual character-driven humor. Better by far is the back half of the book (co-written by Tony Bedard), in which Black Canary essentially tells her life story to young Sin. Paulo Sequiera’s pencil art is a little stiff and overly pose-driven, but it’s a nice Canary story that certainly belongs on this list.

Civil War #5 (Marvel) The last issue of Mark Millar’s Civil War was an especially dramatic one, ending on a cliffhanger that was the controversial series’ biggest, dumbest Big Dumb Moment. It’s quickly eclipsed by the Big Dumb Moments of #5, which, unfortunately, turns out to consist of nothing but Big Dumb Moments. There’s been a lot of online handwringing about how out of character certain characters have been in this series, but throughout the first half, Iron Man, Captain America, Reed Richards, Spider-Man and the others at least seemed to be acting in character within this series itself (if not with storylines from five to forty years ago). But here, even interior logic of the miniseries is rapidly falling apart, and the previously infallible art team stumbles on a few panels.

The Escapists #5 (Dark Horse) Wow, there’s so much great art in this issue that writer Brian K. Vaughan is vastly out-numbered. You have a Paul Pope cover (you can never go wrong with Pope drawing a cute girl), with Jason Shawn Alexander’s highly expressionistic interior art on the Escapist scenes and Steve Rolston’s cartoony art on the creators’ scenes. Now that the plot seems more focused on the conflict over character rights than the character conflicts (and local color, my favorite part of the series), some of the drama seems to have drained out of the series, but the first four issues were so strong, a slightly disappointing #5 is nothing to get too worried about, especially since there’s only one more issue to go.

New Avengers #25 (Marvel) Another issue of New Avengers, another issue that has fuckall to do with the Avengers, New, old, mighty, assembled, disassembled, re-disassembled or otherwise. This issue’s only Avenger is Iron Man, who spends a majority of the issue flat on his back, silent and waiting to die. The real hero of the piece is either his “disgruntled employee” that’s trying to kill him, or SHIELD Director Maria Hill; who you root for will likely depend on how big a douchebag you think Stark’s been since the start of the “Civil War” story. It would have made a decent issue of Iron Man or a theoretical Maria Hill, Agent of SHIELD monthly, but it makes for a bad issue of an Avengers comic, even one like New Avengers, which is fairly often all but Avengers-less.

Omega Men #2 (DC) I’m afraid this will probably be my last issue of the series, as I find myself lost and bewildered, and in a more frustrating than fun way. This issue sees Vril Dox and his recruited muscle—Superman, Green Lantern John Stewart, Cyborg and Wonder Girl—taking on the Omega Men in a slam bang fight, broken up by an interesting creation myth. Even when I thought I knew what was going on, writer Andersen Gabrych would throw in some tidbit that confused the hell out of me—hybrid Guardians? Ganthet’s a dad? What’s this panel with Kyle Rayner/Ion in it doing there?—and pulled me out of the story. Henry Flint’s art is totally top-notch though, and I really dug seeing not only his Omega Men, but also his renditions of more familiar DC heroes, particularly Superman and Wonder Girl. I do hope DC finds more work for him to do when this miniseries wraps up.

Scooby-Doo! #114 (DC) Sometimes, all it takes is a totally awesome cover to get you to plop down $2.50. I didn’t care for the last two-thirds of the book, as the other two artists aren’t as strong at stylized Hanna-Barbera impression as Robert Pope (who drew the eight-page lead story, “Turkey Terror at 2,000 Feet,” and contributed the cover).

Union Jack #3 (Marvel) U.J. is forced to beat the hell out of his mind-controlled comrades, Arabian Knight proves how hardcore dedicated he is to doing his job and Captain America literally phones in a guest appearance. Writer Christos Gage continues the action movie style plotting, and Mike Perkins continues to draw the hell out of everything. It’s a pretty fun miniseries, but I don’t think we’ll see it followed by a sequel or an ongoing anytime soon—four issues seem more than enough spotlight for Union Jack at this point.

November 16th's Meanwhile in Las Vegas...

This week's Las Vegas Weekly column features three reviews of romance-related comics, although the third one might be something of a stretch: AdHouse Book's Project: Romantic, Viz's version of Train_Man and Fantagraphics' first collection of E.C. Segar's Thimble Theater.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Actually Essential Storylines: Black Canary

I make no secret of my love for DC’s 52 series. It’s probably my favorite comic book being published at the moment, and I love almost everything about it.

The one aspect of the book that seems to be the most consistent letdown, however, is the back-up feature, devoted to telling the origins of DC heroes. I can’t complain about the artists involved, as the editors have done a fantastic job of pairing the best possible artist with the character featured (often relying on the characters’ creators), and Mark Waid generally does a decent to awesome job of detailing the characters origins in just six to eight panels.

But what is the point of these stories? I was under the impression that they were re-introductions to the stars of the DC Universe; brand-new readers would get the skinny on who all these characters are, and long-time readers would get to see what, if anything, has changed about them as a result of the latest continuity-rejiggering multiverse crisis.

Granted, I may have been mistaken in that impression. It wouldn’t be the first time. I also thought the editors would pair the origin stories to issues in which the characters actually appear, and that they would make use of the “Essential Storylines” feature to point readers towards other stories worth reading.

In fact, I must be mistaken, judging by Black Canary’s origin in 52 #27. Black Canary is one of the characters whose personal history and place in DC continuity seemed to be most affected by Alex Luthor and Superboy-Prime’s messing with continuity in Infinite Crisis. One of the changes that was made completely explicit was that Wonder Woman was once again a founder of the Justice League.

This is how DC history was originally written, of course, but, during Crisis on Infinite Earths, when DC multiverse became streamlined into a single earth, that changed. Post-Crisis, Wonder Woman didn’t venture into Man’s World until after the Crisis, meaning she was a relative newcomer to the DCU and, as such, couldn’t have been around to help found the Justice League of America.

That was easily solved, however. Black Canary essentially took her place founding the League. This was a fix that seemed to serve both characters better. For Wonder Woman, it put her more on equal footing with Superman and Batman, who were always reserve members of the League, far too busy with their own adventures to make every single meeting (a fact which also gave the Leaguer’s a sort of also-ran vibe; they were the simply the biggest DC heroes who weren’t Superman, Batman or Robin). For Black Canary, suddenly she was one of the most important DC heroes and a founding Leaguer every bit as important as Martian Manhunter and Aquaman, not just Green Arrow’s girlfriend.

So I was a little confused with why IC reverted things back to how they were some 20 years ago, un-fixing a long established fix. What did this mean for the history of the JLA? Was Black Canary no longer a founder? Or was she there at the beginning in addition to Wonder Woman?

I still don’t know, and, increasingly, I wonder if anyone at DC really does. Because Black Canary’s 52 origin says exactly nothing on the subject. It’s also worth noting that JLA: Year One, one of the best Black Canary stories, isn’t included on the list of “Essential Storylines,” which may mean that it’s no longer considered canon (Along with George Perez’s run on Wonder Woman, that’s the storyline that seemed most in jeopardy of being wiped out by IC).

Dinah Laurel Lane was one of the very first legacy heroes in the DCU, adopting her JSA member mother’s name and costume to serve in the Justice League of America. She had one advantage over Black Canary the First, however—in addition to looking good in fishnet stockings and being a superb martial artist, she also had a meta-human sonic scream, which would come and go over the years (depending on how stridently the editors of the time were seeking gritty realism).

As a character, her motto might as well be “Always a Bridesmaid, Never a Bride,” as she’s been a long-time supporting character, but never a star of her own. She was a JLA member in the late Silver Age and during the “Sattelite Era,” she was Green Arrow’s girlfriend and, most recently, she was a JSA member, so she’d regularly appear in all of those titles. Aside from a few flirtations with solo miniseries, the closest she would ever come to a title of her own was Birds of Prey, which she shared first with Oracle, and then with Oracle, Huntress and other heroines.

These are the Black Canary stories that DC recommends:

Black Canary/Oracle: Birds of Prey: I’m not sure if this is referring to the original Birds of Prey team-up between Oracle and Black Canary, back when the BOP name was just the title of the book, not one they used themselves, and Canary didn’t know who Oracle was other than a voice feeding her info to act on. I think they’re referring to the story collected, along with others, in the original Birds of Prey trade paperback, which collects some of the original stories by Chuck Dixon and Jordan B. Gorfinkel, featuring art by Greg Land and others. And which, by the way DC, is out of print, according to your own website. D’oh!

Birds of Prey: Of Like Minds: This trade collects the first Birds of Prey story by Gail Simone, who would become the definitive BOP writer (and, in the process, the definitive Black Canary writer). Featuring art by Ed Benes, who is now drawing Canary in Justice League of America, it details Canary and Oracle’s battle against Savant, and their first steps at recruiting Huntress into the fold permanent like. Well worth tracking down.

Secret Origins #50: Okay, I have no idea what this is doing on the list, as it’s a 96-page single issue from 1990. Best of luck finding it somewhere. I don’t have it in my longboxes either, but according to some quick Internet searching, it includes “the definitive history of the Black Canary,” among other goodies (a prose story of the meeting between Dick Grayson and Batman by Denny O’Neil and George Perez, and a tale of the first meeting of the Flashes by some guy named Grant Morrison).

And here’s an overly-exhaustive list of what they missed:

Green Arrow’s Girlfriend, Black Canary: Canary’s relationship with Green Arrow Oliver Queen resulted in many of her most memorable appearances taking place in books starring the Emerald Archer. Canary was prominently featured in many of the classic Denny O’Neil/Neal Adams Green Arrow/Green Lantern stories, two volumes of which are currently available in trade. They’re from the ‘70s, and show their age, with Canary being referred to by the bad guys as a “frail,” and by O’Neil’s narration as “the Girl Gladiator.” When GA got his own series under Mike Grell, Queen and the Canary moved to Seattle, and their adventures took a very gritty, realistic turn, as the pair of former Justice Leaguers were re-invented as street-level heroines. Canary operated a flowershop called Sherwood Florist, told GA she didn’t ever want to have kids, and was brutally attacked (and maybe raped), and lost her sonic scream power. Very little of Grell’s stories have ever made it into trade paperback, excepting The Longbow Hunters, a highly recommended graphic novel which has since gone out of print (but isn’t impossible to find). A Green Arrow and Canary story from this period by Alan Moore and Klaus Janson is also collected in DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore.

After Queen died and his son Connor Hawke took on the name and starring role in the title, Canary disappeared from the pages of Green Arrow. When Kevin Smith relaunched the title with a new number one a few years later, however, Canary returned, helping Batman and Arsenal track down the mysteriously resurrected Oliver Queen in “Quiver,” and then later going on a date with Ollie that involved Hawkman, the Riddler and some strategically placed T-Sphere obscured nudity (These stories are collected in trade paperbacks Green Arrow: Quiver and Green Arrow: The Sounds of Violence). Smith’s run was followed by Brad Meltzer’s short one, collected in Green Arrow: The Archers’ Quest, which features an almost pivotal moment in GA and Black Canary’s relationship.

Green Arrow wasn’t the only man whose feelings for Canary would translate into an opportunity for guest appearances, however. In the ‘90s, she was courted by her biggest fan, Ray Terril, the light-powered legacy hero The Ray in the Christopher Priest-written, Howard Porter-drawn ongoing of the same name. Canary appeared in some of the earlier issues and shared an adventure or two with Ray. Sadly, none of the series has ever been collected, but it’s worth tracking down in back issue bins, which are often overflowing with issues of it.

Justice League of America: The 12-part maxi-series JLA: Year One tells the surprisingly emotional and character-driven tale of the League’s founding by Black Canary, Green Lantern Hal Jordan, Flash Barry Allen, Aquaman and Martian Manhunter, but it’s unclear how much if any of this story by Mark Waid and Barry Kitson counts anymore. Other recent League adventures set in the team’s past featuring Canary include the first three issues of JLA: Incarnations by John Ostrander and Val Smeiks (which DC should hurry up and collect already), the four-part “Zero Hour” cross-over story that introduced Triumph as a time-lost founder of the JLA, the Mark Waid masterminded event The Silver Age and Legends of the DC Universe #12 and #13 .

Canary would serve as a member of the re-constituted Justice League of America written by Keith Giffen and J. M. DeMatteis and penciled by Kevin Maguire, but she wouldn’t stay long (in fact, I think Canary’s entire tenure on this version of the League is covered in Justice League: A New Beginning, the sole collection of this beloved and influential era of League history. She was missing from the roster from then all the way up until the just-relaunched Justice League of America, but would show-up just about any time League reserves were called in, including intracompany crossovers, the Mark Millar-written battle against Amazo, JLA/Titans, JLA/Avengers and so on.

In Identity Crisis, it was revealed that Canary was culpable in hiding the darkest secret of Justice League history (the mind-altering and memory loss inflicted on Dr. Light, The Top and even Batman), after which point she was more or less a constant presence on the Watchtower, showing up in JLA: Syndicate Rules, JLA: Crisis of Conscience and JLA: World Without a Justice League, plus League appearances in The Flash and Wonder Woman.

Justice Society of America: When Golden Age Sandman Wesley Dodds dies a mysterious death and his funeral is attacked by undead warriors, a mixture of original JSA heroes and their children get embroiled in a struggle against the Dark Lord Mordru, a struggle that would give rise to a new incarnation of the JSA, one which would include Black Canary. She eventually left the line-up after 30 issues, all of which are available in trade (Basically, you’re looking at JSA: Justice Be Done through JSA: Fair Play.

If you’re looking for her JSA appearances in the back issue boxes, that’s #1 through #31, but you’ll also want to keep your eyes out for JSA Annual #1, in which the ladies of the team spend some time training together and meet Nemesis (don’t get too attached to her), and JSA: Our Worlds At War #1, which features the entire JSA reserves (essentially, the DCU of the time’s equivalent to the All-Star Squadron line-up) going on a mission of President Luthor, and sports a nice Jae Lee cover with a beautifully drawn Canary.

Other JSA stories featuring Canary can be found in the exemplary JLA/JSA: Virtue and Vice crossover, in which Canary teams up with her two ex-boyfriends Oliver Queen and Dr. Pieter Cross, the new Dr. Midnight, and the JSA tie-in to the Young Justice cross-over event, Sins of Youth: Starwoman & the JSA #1, in which Canary and the others are de-aged into toddlers.

Birds of Prey: This title hits #100 this coming Wednesday, and it prominently featured Black Canary for the first 99 issues (not to mention all of the miniseries and one-shot specials that preceded the launching of the monthly). It’s gone through several creative teams with varying strengths, but the strongest run to date has been the current one, thanks to Gail Simone’s smart, sharp writing, and her focus on the relationship between Black Canary and Barbara Gordon. Much of Simone’s run has been collected into trade, with more to come. Also of note are Nightwing: The Hunt For Oracle in which Oracle and Canary meet face to face for the first time in their current working arrangement, and Batgirl: Year One, in which neophyte heroine Barbara “Batgirl” Gordon has her first team-up with the Black Canary.

Other universes: Canary has fewer Elseworlds and alternate universe appearances than many of her more iconic peers. In the Ross-iverse, she’s a member in good standing of the Justice League and, naturally, banging Green Arrow. She appeared in JLA: Liberty and Justice and continues to appear in the ongoing Justice. In Kingdom Come, she joined Ted Kord, Oliver Queen and many of the other superpower-less superheroes on Batman’s side of the Batman versus Superman conflict. In the DKU, the original Black Canary didn’t make any appearances in The Dark Knight Strikes Back, but her codename and black bird motif was co-opted. Speaking of the DKU, she’s appeared in the glacially-paced ongoing All-Star Batman and Robin, The Boy Wonder as a bartender who just can’t take it anymore and decides to beat the hell out of all her patrons. In the Alan Davis and Mark Farmer’s goofy-ass (but beautifully drawn) Justice League of America: The Nail, Canary fights alongside the Outsiders. Fabian Nicieza and Kevin Maguire’s even goofier (but also nicely drawn) JLA: Created Equal, which features an earth where every single male except Superman has died due to a mysterious disease, Canary is, naturally enough, among the heroines who have to step up and take over protecting the earth.

Other media: I’m going to continue pretending like 1979 crime against taste Legends of the Superheroes didn’t exist, which limit’s Black Canary’s non-comics appearances to the short-lived (and pretty terrible) live action TV series Birds of Prey and Cartoon Network’s Justice League Unlimited. The former was set in the future, after Batman had quit crime fighting, and it was up to Oracle and teenage heroines Huntress and Black Canary to carry on his legacy—for 13 episodes. Smallville it wasn’t. The latter featured Canary, designed as a typical Bruce Timm cutie in her Silver Age outfit, in several episodes, including “The Cat and the Canary,” “Grudge Match” and “Double Date,” the latter of which was written by Gail Simone.