Tuesday, April 30, 2013

On Moonstone's Black Bat, and the importance of comic shops

This is one reason comic shops are so important.

You're all familiar with the old pulp character The Black Bat, right? He was introduced in 1939 and was featured in Black Book Detective, and his origins apparently informed at least two major superheroes who are still kicking around. He wore a cowl and bat-wing shaped cape like Batman, and was a lawyer who was blinded in an accident, giving him enhanced sense, not unlike Marvel's Daredevil.

I had first read about him several years back in an old encyclopedia of superhero characters (the name of which I've forgotten), and like so many of the masked men of the 1930s and 1940s I knew only by a name and a few potent images, I was intrigued by the character.

So a few years after that, when I read that Moonstone was publishing a Black Bat graphic novel as part of their "Return of the Originals" event—which seemingly involved resurrecting the handful of Golden Age masked crimefighters that Dynamite hadn't already resurrected for their Project: Superpowers project, I was pretty excited to check it out.

All I had to go on was the title (The Black Bat), what little I had gleaned of the character from reading an entry in an encyclopedia about him, and a pretty swell-looking cover, in which hero seems to be interrupting a coupla bad guys who are about to do something quite horrible to a scantily-clad woman.

The week of release I was disappointed to find out that the comic shop I was patronizing at the time, the only one within driving distance I knew of, didn't order any copies of it (This is the shop that generally only orders rack copies of Marvel and DC comics, and if you wanted something from a small, independent publisher like, oh, Saga #1 from Image Comics, you'd have to special-order it. And they may or may not remember to ever get around to ordering a copy for you).

So I added Black Bat to that long, ever-growing list of trades I plan to order from an online book-ordering service someday, and it lingered on that list for about, oh, maybe a year or two before I found myself ordering other graphic novels and needing an eight-dollar one to push me up over the $30 mark in order to qualify for free-shipping.

Man I wish I could have seen it in a shop though, so I could have been able to flip through it, see the quality of the interior artwork versus that of the pretty strong cover (by Tom Grindberg, as it turns out) and read a few lines of dialogue, rather than simply buying it sight unseen.

Because this comic is not very good at all.

The $8.99, 80-page trade is in the same basic format as DC's old "prestige format" ad-free comics with spines, although it's in black and white rather than color.

It contains five different stories with extremely generic titles ("Black Death," "In The Dark," "Hung Jury," etc) and they are all by the exact same creative team of writer Mike Bullock, artists Michael Metcalf and letterer Josh Aitken...with the exception of one drawn by Fernando Peniche.

Of these stories, two of them are illustrated prose stories, although the prose appears in big, comic book lettering font over gray pages decorated with slightly darker gray blood splotches. Large, horizontal drawings fill the tops of the pages. I didn't read these, as they looked unreadable—that's not a knock on their quality, just the presentation. They didn't look like things I could force myself to read. Not when I had a stack of comics including Marble Season, Unico and 1,500 pages worth of old DC comics in the form of Showcase Presents collections just sitting there, waiting for me to set down Black Bat.

Of the others, one stars the title character, another stars Bullock's original character Death Angel ("Also Starring Death Angel," the cover does blurb) and the third sees them team-up.

Black Bat looks a lot less batty then on the old Black Book covers. His cowl lacks eye-holes, which is fine since he doesn't really need to see out of it, but while Grindberg draws it as a smooth mask, Metcalf and Peniche draw it so it's all veiny and knotted, so it's difficult to tell that it's even made out of some sort of material, and not that his face is just sorta fucked-up.

He retains the bat-wing shaped cape, but it doesn't flare as dramatically or Batman-like as it does on that cover, and in many panels looks more like he has a pair of folded umbrellas under his arms. The suit looks more practical and tactical, as well. This is, by all appearances, Ultimate Black Bat.
The other character, Death Angel, is a huge winged, clawed, skull-faced grim reaper-looking antihero, one that uses technology to make herself look scarier through some sort of electronically induced mild mind-control. And yes, I said she, so the parallels to the title villain in Batman: Mask of the Phantasm really couldn't be much stronger (Here's a quibble: The woman who is Death Angel, Rebekah Killian, was "raised in a seedy Catholic orphanage" where "The Reverend brutalized Rebekah physically, spiritually and sexually on a routine basis." Why was their a reverend working in a Catholic orphanage, instead of a priest?).

The stories are pretty rote and, despite the precise vintage of the Black Bat, seem extremely derivative of Batman comics; Bullock sure didn't go out of his way to distinguish this bat-themed crimefighter from the more popular one, and must have known that even if plot elements that occurred in the stories of both characters occurred in Black Bat stories first, as far as most readers are concerned, Batman is the the more familiar story. Technically some of this isn't ripping off Batman comics, but it can easily read that way.

So Black Bat, who here suffers from multiple personalities who play the roles of attorneys and a judge, so that he acts out trials for his victims while fighting them (If they're guilty, they get summarily executed; guns are another way this Bat is distinguished from the other guy who rocks a serrated bat cape). He fights some dudes and flashes back to his confusing, muddled origin, which evokes that of Two-Face, even though the whole acid-to-the-lawyer's face thing happened in a Black Bat prose story over a decade before it happened in a Batman comic.
Then, Death Angel kills some dudes.

Then they are in a bar fight together, and both kill some guys.
The end.

Despite the similarities to The Phantasm and The Reaper character that inspired The Phantasm, I do kinda like the Death Angel character's design, which looks extremely early Image, although the image is iconic; it's a Medieval vision of death as filtered through an early Spawn aesthetic. Metcalf's art seems to be at its best during scenes featuring this character too; perhaps its merely an attempt to reflect Death Angel's light-based, electronic "powers," but there's a lot more white space and thus fewer scribbly black lines in Death Angel scenes. The effect is brighter, poppier art work.

Black Bat, naturally, gets a lot of scribbly black lines in his stories, and the busy re-design work saps him of any unique imagery. Rather than some weird mix of The Shadow, Batman and Daredevil, he looks a bit like G.I. Joe Beachhead in all-black.

The stories and dialogue are all superhero 101; dark, violent, self-important and derivative. Were this my first, fifth or fifteenth superhero comic, I probably woulda liked it okay, but at this point, it's nothing I haven't seen before, and it's not saying anything that hasn't been said better before a billion or so times.

Ah well. According to Wikipedia, Dynamite is working on a Black Bat series of their own now, and I see there is a collection of the old pulp prose stories available. Perhaps one of those would be a better way to sate my curiosity about the character.

In the mean time, I'm going to look at this is a teachable moment regarding why it's almost always better to buy comics from a brick-and-mortar store, where you can give them a flip-through first, rather than through a book-selling website.

Monday, April 29, 2013

I know how you feel, Huey from Marble Season.

I know exactly how you feel.

No update on EDILW tonight, on account that I'm enjoying some of the books in my current To Read In Order To Review pile, like Gilbert Hernandez's excellent new Peanuts by way of Love and Rockets book Marble Season, to stop reading comics right now in order to blog about them.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Review: Justice League of America: The Rise of Eclipso

Writer Geoff Johns kicked off the latest volume of a Justice League of America title just a few months ago, and while it's still early days, given the commitment he's shown on other titles he really wants to write, I can't imagine this volume won't prove to be much more stable than the last volume, which was probably the most erratic, confused and poorly-managed Justice League title in the franchise's history.

That volume of the JLoA title, you'll recall, began in 2006 and lasted almost exactly five years, finally reaching cancellation with July 2011's issue #60. In that time, the book had four writers: Brad Meltzer (13 issues), Dwayne McDuffie (22), Len Wein (a three-issue fill-in) and James Robinson (24). Its artists were too innumerable to count without spending a very long time doing so, but the "regular", announced and promoted-by-the-company artists included Ed Benes, Mark Bagley and Brett Booth...plus plenty of last-minute fill-ins and unexpected, un-solicited substitutions.

The team roster was in constant flux, rarely lasting longer than an entire story arc, with characters constantly being pulled out of the book due to the circumstances in other books or for entirely inscrutable reasons; cross-overs constantly intruded. Perhaps the best example of how short-lived a team line-up could last on the book was during Robinson's run. In #41, he introduced an 11-member team roster, but within two issues, eight members of the team were gone (Green Lantern Hal Jordan, Green Arrow Oliver Queen, Atom Ray Palmer, The Guardian, Cyborg, Dr. Light, Mon-El and Starfire), and a handful of replacement characters in less demand arrived (Supergirl, Jade, Jesse Quick and Starman).

Justice League of America: The Rise of Eclipso is the final collection of this volume of JLoA, which was canecelled to make way for the new, New 52 Justice League title, Johns's Justice League (the Justice League OF AMERICA title resurfacing a bit later to attach to a JL spin-off). It includes the last seven issues of JLoA, plus an issue of Justice Society of America that serves as an epilogue between the JLoA/JSoA crossover story that Robinson and Bagley created ("The Dark Things," reviewed here).

It's a pretty good example of what was so bad about this volume of the Justice League title, especially after Meltzer left, and scripting duties fell to writers much more at the mercy of a fickle editorial staff than the successful prose novelist and Idenity Crisis writer was.

So first there's that issue of JSoA, drawn by Jesus Merino and Jesse Delperdang. It's an issue-length conversation between Green Lantern Alan Scott and his son Obsidian, in which the former gives the latter a tour of The Emerald City, a Green Lantern construct city on the moon that was a sort of refuge for magical creatures from throughout the DC Universe.

That's followed by "Eclipso Rising" part one, drawn by Brett Booth and Norm Rapmund (Between the two issues, Alan Scott was apparently terribly injured and had his head shaved, so that the guy we see talking to Obsidian in one chapter is next seen looking completely different, hairless and wearing a hospital gown, with only dialogue clues revealing his identity; apparently his injury took place in an issue of JSoA, which was not collected).

The next issue, "Eclipso Rising" part two is devoted mostly to the "Return of Doomsday" crossover storyline from the Superman titles, and features a newer, smarter Doomsday attacking Supergirl and Green Lantern Boodika, who was unwittingly hosting The Cyborg-Superman. It ends with a cliffhanger, in which Supergirl and Batman Dick Grayson find themselves caught between the Cyborg-Superman and Doomsday alone on the Justice League sattelite...but part three of "Eclipso Rising", the next issue collected, skips over that conflict, which was actually resolved in Superman/Batman Annual #5, which is not collected here either (It and "Eclipso Rising" part two are collected in the Return of Doomsday trade, however, which I reveiwed here).

The Booth/Rapmund team makes it through two more issues solo, before two art teams—Daniel Sampere and Wayne Faucher being one, Miguel Sepulveda the other—take over for the fifth chapter. The sixth chapter is all Sampere and Faucher, as is the final issue of the series, a done-in-one story entitled "Adjourned."

So here we have eight issues of a trade, one from a completely different title, one a tie-in to a crossover (complete with a plot that disappears between issues), and four different art teams, each working in very different styles, from Merino's strong, bold, detailed figures to Booth's elongated, stylized, shojo-by-way-of-early Image style to Sepulveda's photoreference-riddled Colorforms style to Sampere's air-brushed Howard Porter art.

Obviously, it looks like hell, especially when read in trade format. It's drawn by committee, but not by a committee talented enough to learn to fake one another's style. Despite all 190 pages being scripted by Robinson, it also reads like it was written by committee, with Robinson still affecting the same everyone-narrates-in-their-own-personalized-narration box style established by Meltzer at the book's beginning, and apparently writing around such mandated things as the Doomsday crossover and the JSoA writer's plans for Alan Scott and so on.

If one ignores the visual component of the book—and, if one is in that positionw with a comic book, then the comic book has already failed pretty spectacularly—then the writing isn't all that bad. Robinson is almost aggressive in his name-dropping of obscure characters, so that at times it feels as if he's parodying Roy Thomas and/or his own Starman run and, at other times, like he's co-writing the series with a sentient stack of Who's Who in the DC Universes.

For all of that, and for all the reference to and reliance on older comics and their storylines (particularly in the "Rise of Eclipso" storyline), that is one of the pleasures of shared-universe comics, and while some of the references seem like lilies so gilded their stems can't hold them upright anymore, I must admit I enjoyed seeing Eclipso talk to and about the angel Zauriel, which recalled and connected some favorite series of mine from the 1990s DC: John Ostrander's Spectre and Grant Morrison's JLA (What's weird about the current direction of DC is not that the publisher is so aggressively aping the style and aesthetic of the 1990s, and looking to creators last popular in that decade to refurbish their line for the 21st century, but that they're patterning their line off of the Image and Marvel Comics of the '90s, rather than their own line, which actually featured a lot of quite excellent mature, sophisticated comic books).

The aforementioned JSoA issue is, as I also mentioned afore, just a conversation, but Robinson gives his characters something to do while talking, and varies their conversation between exposition, their feelings, what just happened to them, and what they think, fear and hope might happen next. So it's a conversation issue, but it's not a Brian Michael Bendis conversation issue—it's what comics in which two super-people converse should read like.

"Rise of Eclipso" is, as I mentioned, pretty aggressive in its mining of DCU continuity, picking up on the enmity of the Eclipso character towards God, as he was a fallen angel of sorts, explored in The Spectre and the short-lived 1992 Eclipso series (initially written by Keith Giffen and Robert Loren Flemming, with Flemming finishing up the series sans Giffen), and tying it in to the events of Darkest Night/Brightest Day...after recapping the original, Silver Age origin of Eclipso and referring to the character's recent history in JSA and the post-Identity Crisis DCU (Whew!).

First Eclipso recruits The Shade and a bunch of shadow-powered characters (plus a fake Lovecraftian Elder God named "Syththunu" that is drawn to resemble Cthulhu so much that I don't know why they didn't just use Cthulhu...unless Syththunu is a pre-exisiting DCU analogue...? If so, I've never heard of him). Then Eclipso invades The Emerald City.

A mess of superheroes join the fray, some Eclipsed and some un-Eclipsed, but ultimately it's up to the current Justice League of America and guest-stars Blue Lantern Saint Walker (who likely would have joined the team if the series continued many more issues), The Atom Ray Palmer (ditto...I think), Obsidian and Alan Scott (who, mysteriously, grows all his hair back between issues).

Zauriel, Animal Man, Cyborg, Tasmanian Devil, Dr. Light, Red Tornado, The Bulleteer, The Spectre, Captain Atom, Superboy, Wonder Girl, Knight and Squire, The Guardian, Red Star, The Rocket Reds...it's a pretty cameo-riffic storyline, all considered. And that's not counting a fantasy sequence in which Eclipso is temporarily trapped remembering a future that didn't actually happen, in which he Eclipsed half the DCU and sicced it on the other, giving Sampere the opportunity to draw pretty much the entire DCU, from everyone appearing in their own titles to most of the major Bat-villains to such relatively obscure characters as The Tattooed Man and Ragman and the first non-cowboy version of The Vigilante.

It's all a lot longer than it needs to be, and it really lacks an emotional core or character arc—beyond the conclusion of Robinson's "Why's Donna Troy so angry all the time?" sub-plot—but, as the best Justice Leauge stories do, it ramps the odds and stakes up to insane levels and then has our heroes pull off an unlikely win, by each doing something only they could do.

The final story, "Adjourned", is by far the best in the book. It consists mostly of the final version of the League—Batman Dick Grayson, Supergirl, Donna Troy, Jade, Starman, Jesse Quick and Congorilla—all deciding to quite the League simultaneously. Each state their reasons for doing so, while, along the way, recounting some of their most recent, off-panel adventures.

In a way, it reads like Robinson simply using up some story ideas he thought of but never got to use, although they might also have been plots he brainstormed but didn't think worth pursuing for the space of a story arc. These give the artist—Sampere, who lucks into the pretty sweet gig of drawing the last Justice League comic of the DCU before the New 52 U replaced it—the chance to go nuts drawing scores of heroes and villains over a few huge splash pages between the regular, grid pages of the Leaguers giving their various reasons for quitting.

These include a robot war in which this League—plus Cyborg—must defeat every robot on earth, which old League villain The Construct has possessed (Mr. Atom, The Duke of Oil, G.I. Robots, Bozo The Iron Man, Gonzo The Mechanical Bastard, etc); the "Saturn-Thanagar War", in which they teamed up with Jemm, Son of Saturn to repel the Thanagarians from invading our solar system; and the self-explanatory "Battle for Gem World."

Robinson clearly knew what was happening to the DCU and the DC line as he was scripting this issue, as Donna Troy's last lines include these:
I want them to forget. Me, anyway. I want the world to forget Donna Troy ever existed. I'm certainly going to do my best to disappear.
Dick, meanwhile, seems to be speaking for Robinson when he says "the next incarnation of the JLA can be someone else's problem" and, of course, "It's been a blast...but all things must end."


So, where are they now...?

—Well, after this series ended, Robinson's next major release was his Shade maxi-series, which was apparetnly still set in the old DCU, but was released during The New 52 roll-out. His next ongoing monthly was Earth 2, in which he reintrouced DC's Golden Age heroes as contemporary heroes in their own alternate universe. Nicola Scott was the aritst he was working with on that one.

—Brett Booth was the artist for Teen Titans, which he may have left JLoA to begin work on.

—Miguel Sepulveda moved to StormWatch, a decent enough book which he ruined (in my opinion).

—Sampere...I don't know. Have we seen Sampere again...?


And the characters? Well, I haven't been reading much of The New 52, or even following the goings-on all that closely, so correct me if I'm wrong or ignorant.

—Dick Grayson gave up being the Batman of Gotham City in order to become Nightwing again, getting a new costume and his own Nightwing title again after a few years without one.

—Supergirl was re-introduced (agian) in her own title, Supergirl.

—Donna Troy has apparently been erased from DC continuity. As far as I know, the same goes for Jade and Obsidian and Jesse Quick; as the adult children of Golden Age heroes, those three shouldn't really be able to exist in the current New 52U.

—I don't think Starman Mikaal has appeared in the New 52 U at all, although he was one of the many guest-stars in Robinson's The Shade.

—I don't think Congorilla has appeared at all, save for a cameo in a big group shot of random superheroes in Justice League International #1.

—I've heard there is a scientist named Ray Palmer in the DCU, and workimg with SHADE (the SHIELD analogue organization Frankenstein works for, not the James Robinson-adopted shadow villain), but he's not The Atom.

—Blue Lantern Saint Walker still exists, and he and other Blue Lanterns have appeared in the Green Lantern titles (New Guardians, mostly).

—Eclipso still exists, and has appeared in various forms in various titles, apparently building towards...something.

—The Spectre still exists, and on the main Earth of The New 52U, rather than Earth-2, where the majority of Golden Age-derived charaters who aren't Superman, Batman or Wonder Woman were exiled to. I believe he's appeared in Phantom Stranger.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

So here's what I look like in chibi form:

That's my chibi avatar for Good Comics For Kids, as drawn by Dan Hess, who is responsible for all the chibi avatars of the various GC4K's contributors you've probably seen at the blog.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Comic shop comics: April 17-24

Daredevil #25 (Marvel Entertainment) F-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-ight!

In this twenty-fifth issue of the Mark Waid-written series (25 issues already? Man, time flies when you're reading great comics!), Daredevil faces the ultimate creation of...whoever the end-level boss bad guy who has been making his life (more) miserable for much of Waid's run has been. That creation is a new character (I think; his face is masked), who has all of Daredevil's skills and powers, and an unseen advantage that Waid and artist Chris Samnee do a great job withholding from the reader until the most dramatic possible moment (By the way, I'm guessing Mister Fear is the end-level boss, based on some of the portentous dialogue at the end of this issue).

So this issue is mainly one big, long fight around the city at night, between two guys dressed in Daredevil costumes with radar sense. The way Waid writes Daredevil combat though, and the way Samnee creatively illustrates DD's use of his enhanced senses, it hardly reads like just one big, long fight.

I really like this comic.

FF #5-#6 (Marvel) Whoever is in charge of pulling books to put in customers' pull files at my local comic shop forgot to pull the last issue of this series and put it in my file, so I missed #5 the week it came out but, on the plus side, this week I got to read two issues of Matt Fraction and The Allreds' comic.

In the fifth issue, the old Johnny Storm from the future freaks out, Medusa's son Ahura joins the Future Foundation, Darla tries on hats, The Daily Bugle runs a funny headline (if it's not an intentional tweak at DC, it's a well-timed coincidental one) and Willie Lumpkin attempts to teach the kids the most important lesson they'll ever learn in a great background gag.

And, even better, there's old-timey photographer for the Bugle running around who makes me laugh every time I see him.

In the sixth issue, Mike Allred is MIA—gasp!—but it's not so bad, as the incredibly talented Joe Quinones is there to fill-in, and Laura Allred still provides the color art, making for pretty damn consistent fill-in art.

There's so much good stuff in here, I'm not even sure what to mention as the most important bit—the Doombot/Herbie hybrids? The Moleoid that discovers she, formerly he, is actually a girl on the inside? (Where was all the media coverage about this transgender character in a mainstream superhero comic book?) Or that Lockjaw is apparently going to be joining the cast?

Classic Popeye #9 (IDW) I liked this comic book, even if it was a little heavy on the Sappo and Wottasnozzle, and a little light on the J. Wellington Wimpy this time around.

Superman Family Adventures #12 (DC Comics) And so ends Art Baltazar and Franco's Superman comic, which I hope is being canceled either because DC wants to publish another, different all-ages Superman comic (because not having a Superman comic appropriate for kids being published the same year as Man of Steel is in theaters is kind of idiotic), or because Baltazar and Franco want to concentrate on their creator-owned work, which they sneak a pretty good advertisement for into this issue.
I was wrong about how the series would end. Thus far, the creators had been introducing Superman villain after Superman villain, and having Lex Luthor collect them all. Meanwhile, ally after ally was being introduced. So I thought maybe this would end with a big Everyone vs. Everyone climactic fight.

Or, since the JLA is on the cover of this issue, I thought maybe Baltazar and Franco would be transitioning into a new, all-ages JLA gag comic, as the last issue of their Tiny Titans prominently featured Superman.

Wrong on both counts, though. This issue features Superman, Steel and the New 52 Justice League (sans Cyborg; can't have two black dudes on the League at the same time! No, actually, he's probably absent because on Earth-AwYeah, he's a Titan, and quite a few years younger than the adult Leaguers) fighting Darkseid atop a fiery meteor speeding toward Earth.

The good guys win, obviously, with an assist from The Super-Pets and the Superman Family. Lex Luthor, Alfred, Robin, Beast Boy and Bumblebee all make brief appearances, Pa Kent is introduced, and the issue of whether Lois Lane knows Superman's secret identity or not is resolved.

Wonder Woman #19 (DC) Brian Azzarello's ongoing quest to alienate each and every Wonder Woman fan continues unabated! So, you know how Azzarello's Orion has been king of a Guy Gardner-y sexist jerk toward Wonder Woman, calling her "Legs" constantly and even slapping her butt (to extract her DNA! Somehow! Ew!), and the super-strong, super-tough, super-fast warrior Wonder Woman has pretty much just taken it, never giving Orion much more than a dirty look and the first half of an objection...?

Well, in this issue, she finally retaliates!

After he calls her "Legs" again and winks at her, Wonder Woman leans down and passionately kisses the seated Orion for three panels, her hand trailing down his torso until she grabs his testicles, apparently roughly enough for him to shout "AAAH!"

"Respect me, or I'll rip them off," she threatens.
Then, when she releases him/them and walks away, he tells her she's cute when she's mad, at which point she sucker-punches him so hard she knocks his disguise off, revealing his true, son-of-Darkseid face for the first time.

So, you're probably thinking, why didn't she just sucker-punch him in the first place? Or, if she wanted to grab his balls and threaten to rip them off, why didn't she just do that without making out with him first...?

I don't know, and I can't think of a rationale beyond "Because she wanted to," or "Because Azzarello wanted her to."

And hey, as long as we're asking questions, why has this book been 19 issues of various Olympians talking about the same goddam baby and prophecy, while Wonder Woman kinda wanders around, barely getting a word in edgewise while her vastly more interesting supporting cast and enemies outshine her in every conceivable way?

I don't know that either.

Young Avengers #4 (Marvel) Oh my God: Pages two and three. Pages two and three.

Page five is pretty awesome too.

Thursday, April 25, 2013


First up, I contributed to this week's "What Are You Reading?" column at Robot 6, although most of the books I mentioned there I also reviewed more fully here on EDILW before or since (But click the link anyway, to see what James Hornsby, Brigid Alverson, Tom Bondurant and Carla Hoffman have been reading).

Then at Good Comics For Kids, I reviewed the fifth and sixth books in Graphic Universe's Little Prince comics series.

And at ComicsAlliance, I reviewed Lucy Knisley's Relish: My Life in the Kitchen

And, finally, I reviewed Mars Attacks IDW at Robot 6 today. That's where the two-panel sequence atop this post is taken from.

Well that's interesting.

The title page of the latest (and, sadly, last) issue of DC's Superman Family Adventures not only contains the credits of the folks who made this issue and the traditional "Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster" credits but, if you read between the panels, you'll also see these new credits:
Superboy created by Jerry Siegel.

Supergirl based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

By special arrangement with the Jerry Siegel family.
That's a lot of creation credits. I guess I'll wait for someone like Jeff Trexler to explain what this means and why it's happening now at The Beat.

That last bit about Supergirl being based on Superman (and, I suppose, 'boy) is particularly interesting though, because that character is singled out by name, whereas this particularly issue is filled to bursting with Superman characters (Both sets of his parents, Lex Luthor, Jimmy Olsen, Lois Lane) and characters based on Superman in the same way Supergirl is (that is, wearing red capes and Superman logos, and, in some cases, coming from Krypton and having his powers, like Steel, Krypto, Streaky, Squeaky and, um, is that Super Turtle...?)

The issue also contains plenty of other characters who generally earn "created by" credits, like Batman and Wonder Woman and, to much more occasionally, Aquaman (Darkseid, the Justice League and a handful of Super Pets also appear).

I've always been curious about the whys and hows of creation credits, as, from a reader's perspective, they seem quite arbitrary. The last DC trade I read, for example, was Secret Six: The Darkest House, and I noticed it had a "Doom Patrol created by Arnold Drake and Bruno Premiani" credit on the title page, as the Doom Patrol appear in two of the seven issues collected in the trade. Other guest stars, like, Jack Kirby's Etrigan the Demon or Keith Giffen's Ambush Bug didn't have "created by" credits, nor did the Secret Six (which may be understandable, as it's basically just a repurposed name from a completely unrelated comic book concept), nor did any of their more prominent individual members, like Bane, Catman or Deadshot.

Should be interesting to keep an eye on the credits pages of DC comics, particularly the ones starring characters who wears capes and S-shields, in the near future...

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

I don't get it.

I mean, I get the words at the bottom, and that the implication is that Dr. Pepper, like Captain America, is one of a kind.

But I don't understand what the image, slash and number are meant to communicate, exactly. Is it...a fraction gag, of some kind...? Or math...? That Captain America can't be reduced further than Captain America...?

I don't know. But now I associate Captain America and Dr. Pepper with forgotten grade school math and overall confusion, and therefore would prefer to avoid them both. It's Batman and Mr. Pibb for me.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The last two times I saw John Byrne art

Whatever one may think of his art, aesthetically, or his online persona, personally, it's probably difficult to overestimate John Byrne's influence on modern American comic books, at least a generation of which he helped define, particularly through his work reinventing Marvel's X-Men from a rare Lee/Kirby flop into a direct market-shaping, top-selling book (along with Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum) and his reinvention of the post-Crisis Superman.

He's been drawing comics professionally for about 40 years now, and his style is about as mature and refined as it's likely to get. Comics readers, even those of us who didn't start reading comics until well after the conclusion of his time on Superman, should recognize his artwork at a glance, now (I think some yellowing issues of 1986-87 miniseries Legends, pulled from a quarter bin in the early aughts and fragrant with decay, accounted for my first prolonged exposure to his artwork).

I was surprised to encounter it in some unlikely places not once, but twice this week—both times in trade collections of IDW comics.

The first was the above image, the cover for Popeye Vol. 2, collecting issues #5-#8 of the Roger Langride-written series. I stared at that cover for a bit, as there was...something about it. I knew it wasn't the work of Bruce Ozella, who does an uncanny impression of E.C. Segar's work, but it was very tightly adhering to the Segar designs. And yet there was something about the line, particularly in the Popeye, Wimpy and Olive figures. I was pretty surprised to look at the title page and see that was actually John Byrne covering Segar so well that I couldn't recognize his work (although once I knew what it said, the signature was a lot easier to read).

As with the previous volume of IDW's new Popeye series (both volumes of which I recommend), there's a gallery of variant covers in various styles from relatively unlikely IDW variant cover providers. One of these is drawn by Byrne as well, although it seemed even less like his work than the cover image. Do note the Segar-ized characters our one-eyed hero seems to be punching out:
The other IDW trade I read this week was Mars Attacks IDW, collecting the quintent of Mars Attacks one-shot crossovers with other IDW franchised characters. Byrne drew that cover too:
I think that would have been an interesting cover no matter who drew it, as it would mean a single artist drawing characters whose designs come from such diverse sources: A 1960s trading-card series (adapted into a 1996 live-action movie and, of course, comics), a 1980s cartoon based on a 1980s live-action movie, a 1980s cartoon based on a 1980s American toy line adapted from a Japanese toy line, a comic strip character introduced in 1929 (and made popular in classic age animated cartoon shorts), the stage personas of a real life 1970s rock band and a character from a 21st century comic book by artist Ashley Wood.

Here are all those divergent designs as filtered through Byrne.

Perhaps the most fun part of this trade is the cover gallery in the back, as IDW commissioned covers for books that don't actually exist, like Mars Attacks Cerebus (drawn by Dave Sim!), Mars Attacks Opus (by Berkley Breathed!), Mars Attacks Rom, Spaceknight (by Sal Buscema...hey, can they do that?) and so on. Byrne provides one of these, too, a Mars Attacks Rog-2000 pin-up, featuring a character of his own creation that I had to look up on Wikipedia, as I'd never heard of him, because of my ignorance.

Where will I next encounter Byrne's art when I'm not expecting it...? I don't know. The next thing on my To Read pile is Osamu Tezuka's Unico, though, and I'm fairly confident there aren't any Byrne pin-ups in the back of that, but I guess I'll find out soon enough.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Review: Secret Six: The Darkest House

As I mentioned the last time I wrote about a Secret Six trade, I drifted away from the title around the time its initial artist Nicola Scott left and it became apparent that J. Calafiore was going to be her permanent replacement; looking back, I guess I read 16 of its 36 issues in the serially-published, comic book-comic book format, and just recently started rounding up the last couple of trades worth of issues (Thanks, Ohio public libraries!).

This past week I read two collections, Secret Six: Danse Macabre (#15-#18, plus Suicide Squad #67) and Secret Six: The Darkest House (#30-#36, plus Doom Patrol #19). The former was no damn good, consisting of a single issue in which writer Gail Simone introduces her Birds of Prey character Black Alice to the team (an issue featuring some of the worst published art I've ever seen), a Ostrander-written time-waster starring Deadshot and then the Ostrander/Simone Blackest Night arc, in which her Six fights his Suicide Squad—plus Black Lantern versions of deceased Squad members.

The latter was much better, and a good chunk of it would have made a pretty strong climax to Simone's run on the title...and the characters and concept, which she actually started writing a few years earlier than Secret Six #1 with some miniseries and specials.

There are three stories contained in this trade.

The first is a crossover story with the short-lived, Keith Giffen-written 2009-2011 Doom Patrol series (How short-lived? I actually totally forgot that series existed, despite having read the first few issues, until I saw an issue of it in this trade). That's called "Suicide Roulette," and the first half is by the regular Secret Six team of Simone and Calafiore; in it, a young, put-upon slacker inherits his grandfather's secret criminal empire and decides to use those resources to become a 1950s-style, Rat Pack-esque super-ganster. In order to secure an island HQ, he hires the Six and sics them on The Doom Patrol, who were defending Oolong Island.

The second half appeared in DP and was written by Giffen, with rushed, uneven art by a trio of different pencil artists.
It's basically just a big, 40-page fight with no real impetus or conclusion or stakes. Apparently, the crossover was meant to buttress the sales of one or the other title by introducing the few readers of one to the other. Or something.

As a nothing-but-fighting and a few jokes story, it's fine. It's the the eight-memember Secret Six (Bane, Scanal, Deadshot, Catman, Ragdoll, Jeannette, Black Alice and King Shark) versus the new and improved Doom Patrol (Robotman, Elasi-Woman, Negative Man, Bumblebee and Ambush Bug).

It's followed by the three-part title story, which is devoted to two threads. In the sub-plot, Scandal's current girlfriend, a stripper who works at a strip club where she dresses and dances as Scandal's dead ex-girlfriend Knockout, is abducted by a crazy guy in an extremely red jacket, who wants to convert her from lesbianism and stripping by pouring hot sauce in her eyes.

In the main plot, Scandal and Ragdoll fight over the Get Out of Hell Free card from the very first Secret Six story arc and, when he's mortally wounded, he uses it to transport himself to hell. The Scandal and the remaining team (sans Black Alice, who was already in Hell and did not care for it enough to go back).
DC's Hell is a perfect playground for Simone and the black humor and black melodrama that she seems to delight in the writing of in this title. It also serves as the ultimate example of the bad guys-versus-worse guys premise of the series, as hell is literally full of the worst of the worst. Our heroes, who are all villains, actually seem like heroes again when compared to the devils and demons they face down there.

The setting also serves as a super-heated pot where the long simmering sub-plots can all come to a full, roiling boil, and story elements from throughout the run are revisited and resolved: Not only the use of the card, but we also see the return of deceased original members Knockout and The Parademon, Catman checks in on his parents (who Simone has crafted a nicely mythological fate for, and there's a neat twist regarding one person's heaven being another person's hell) and the various characters all expressly determine what they mean to one another and their perception of themselves.

It also gives Calafiore the opportunity to draw lots of ugly, fucked-up shit, which he's pretty damn good at. I"m not into his art, but his drawing of Catman's mom was nicely disturbing, and the demonic forms the Six take while in Hell are pretty intersting.

It would have been the perfect ending to the series, really. But the last issue of the arc must have shipped in the summer of 2011, and Simone still had to keep the title going for two more issues before "The New 52" canceled and replaced the universe that Secret Six belonged to. So there's one more story in here, the two-part "Caution to the Wind," which follows up on at least one plot point from "Darkest House": Bane, the villain who once defeated Batman and conquered Gotham City, realizes that he's going to hell anyway, so there's no point in trying to live by a noble code, and, also, he doesn't want to be the joke character Simone has been writing him as anymore, but would rather go back to being Batman's archenemy.

So he goes back on venom, and talks his teammates into helping him re-break Batman and re-conquer Gotham City.

Now, his plan in "Knightfall," when he first beat Batman, was to a) study Batman and his methods, until he knew everything about him, including his secret identity, b) break every single one of Batman's enemies out of Arkham Asylum simultaneously and heavily arm them, c) wait for Batman to run himself ragged fighting and re-capturing them all, and then d) chill out in the Batcave and wait for the exhausted Batman to come home and then beat the living hell out of him and break his spine.

His plan here is a) capture The Penguin and force him to give up intel on the Bat-family b) Kill the random assortment of Bat-hangers-on Red Robin, Batgirl (Stephanie Brown), Catwoman and Azrael (Not Jean-Paul Valley, the newer one) by having two members of the Six double-team each of 'em and c) hope that demoralizes Batman into quitting. Or something.
It's not a very convincing turn for the character, and the plan is kind of dumb, ill-formed and poorly-communicated. Simone seems to have been going for a twist ending, but in order for that twist to land at all, it needs to seem genuine, but Simone never has Bane make a good case for his turn back towards supervillainy, nor for the rest of the Six—all of whom just escaped hell and got a pretty good idea what awaits people who continue to act like total bastards and doing stuff like killing teenagers for no real reason—to go along.

It ends with the eight members of the Six holed up in a wareshouse, surrounded by just about every superhero in the DC Universe, and having to decide whether to surrender or go out fighting. As in the climax of The Dark House, they choose fighting-to-the-deah over surrender, but it's a pretty weak, false choice here, since obviously they're not going to go out in a blaze of glory, since it's not like Batman and Superman are going to cut them down as they try to plow through them.

Oh, and Bane gives 'em all venom before they make their charge, which means Calafiore draws the ladies with cleavage veins and Catwman with a severe case of Liefeld mouth:
Not cool, Calafiore.

I suspect the trunctuated ending might have had something to do with the abrupt end of the DCU and replacement with the New 52, and that this was a later, longer story that got smooshed into fewer pages and scheduled before Simone would have liked (something seriously seems missing between the end of "Darkest House" and the beginning of "Caution to the Wind"), but, whatever the reason, it's a whimper of an ending after the bang of the previous story arc.


So, what happened to the individual members of the Secret Six in the New 52?
I've seen Deadshot and King Shark on the covers of Sucide Squad, and see that King Shark was rebooted from a Great White shark to a poorly-drawn hammerhead shar (Actually, he looks like a Great White with alien eye-stalks, as if the peron who designed him never saw a picture of a hammerhead, and wasn't sure how to go about finding one).

I've also heard Deadshot doesn't have a mustache in the New 52.
I'm pretty sure I've seen Bane on the covers of some Batman comics too, so obviously he still exists.

Scandal appeared in a Vandal Savage arc of DC Comics Presents, right? Or was that another female descendant of the immortal caveman villain...?

What of Ragdoll, whose status as a legacy villain I assume means he's not allowed on Earth-New 52, but must rather belong to Earth-2...?

What about Catman...?

I assume Jeanette and Black Alice, as Simone creations, haven't turned up in the New 52 yet. I also assume Knockout hasn't, since we've only seen a handful of Fourth World characters so far.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Look and marvel at Pete Woods and Paul Cornell's Mister Mind!

They say a hero is only as good as his villains, which is one of the reasons I think Captain Marvel is one of the greatest superheroes ever—he's got the best villains! In addition to his archenemy Doctor Thaddeus Bodog Sivana, he's got Mister Mind, an evil alien worm determined to conquer and rule the world.
He was first introduced in Fawcett's Golden Age Captain Marvel comics, as the unseen mastermind behind the Monster Society of Evil that was bedeviling Cap and the whole world. The revelation that he was just a little worm, who wore glasses to see and a little radio around his neck to talk, was a surprise twist. He was put to death in a tiny little electric chair, mounted atop a regular electric chair, and then stuffed and mounted.
But he returned, repeatedly!

After DC bought Fawcett and absorbed their characters, Mr. Mind was relegated to Earth-2 and Earth-S, but was introduced into the post-Crisis DCU in a short-lived miniseries it's probably best to pretend never happened (in that, he was the worm in the bottom of a tequila bottle Sivana was drinking on) and then better and more thoroughly by Jerry Ordway in his Power of Shazam series. Ordway's Mister Mind was a Venusian evil alien worm determined to conquer and rule the world, the vanguard agent of a race of Venusian worms. Ordway's was less cartoonish and more realistic in appearance, looking much more like a caterpillar.
Mind played a big and surprising role in the weekly series 52, during which he had grown from his larval form into a "Hyperfly," an evil butterfly-like cosmic creature that feeds on entire universes.
Writer Paul Cornell and artist Pete Woods brought Mind back in another surprising appearance during their Action Comics story arc, "The Black Ring" (reviewed here).
Mind appears in a splash panel on the last page of the first issue (#890), emerging from the head of one of a trio of mind-controlled kidnappers who have attempted to capture Lex Luthor:
As you can see, Cornell and Woods' Mind looks an awful lot like Ordway's, although now he's bigger—about the size of a large stuffed animal—and while his body is rounder and fatter, his legs and mandibles are pointer and more menacing looking—sometimes. Depending on the context. Here he's dripping with gore, and meant to be a bit scary.

He still talks via a radio or "talk box," although it's a little more modern and space-age in design. While the original wore spectacles, and Ordway's had big, round eyes that visually echoed the original's glasses, this one was the segmented eyes of an insect, save with one in the middle being black, suggesting a pupil. The result is an eye that looks insect-like and cartoonish at once.

Cornell usage of Mind is as the first of many villains Luthor is juxtaposed with throughout the year-long storyline. Mind is working for someone else, although he himself doesn't know who or what he's working for. He (and we) just know it's something incredibly powerful, so powerful its made a lackey out of a villain who has organized Monster Societies, attempted to conquer the world and once almost ate the whole Multiverse.

He engages Luthor in a sort of mental combat, psychically imprisoning Luthor in a series of absurd fantasy sequences, including ones in which Luthor is a Promethean caveman stealing fire from super-gods, another in which he is a playing the role of Doctor Frankenstein from the James Whale movies, another in which he's a Godzilla-like giant monster and Luthor is a Superman-like superhero and, most adorably, a wild west sequence in which Mind wears an adorable cowboy hat and wields a shooting iron:
That gives you a good idea of this Mister Mind's size, and how having him emerge from your head would be the end of you.

Unfortunately, it also means he's not much for hand-to-hand combat. This sequence shows what he did to the poor sap whose skull he was occupying (note the prone, headless body in the first panel), and how easily Luthor defeats him once they've escaped the mental plane for the real world:
As to how he returned after his time as a Hyperfly in 52, he attempts to explain to Luthor that he's actually the offspring of the original Mister Mind, but "our consciousness is passed down on a strand of eight-D R.N.A."

He returns again before the story ends (in a chapter drawn by Jesus Merino), when his unseen master is finally revealed and their relationship can be explained without really spoiling anything.
He appears in outer space alongside Lex, the "Lois-bot", the cosmic entity and Superman in the climax of "The Black Ring", although he's not really there-there, but sends a "four-dimensional holographic projection" of himself...meaning either Mister Mind survived being punted off a building or, just as likely, reproduced a "grandson" of the original Mister Mind in the same manner that the new Mister Mind at the beginning of the arc was created and shared the consciousness of the original.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Review: "The Black Ring"

There's a lot of anticipation, excitement—and, I'd wager, no small amount of anxiety—swirling around the upcoming Superman Unchained comic book series, which will be drawn by DC's co-publisher and super-comics' most popular artist Jim Lee will be written by the publisher's emerging most popular writer Scott Snyder, and will see release the same year as the plenty-riding-on-it Man of Steel movie, which just so happens to be the 75th anniversary of DC's publication of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's Superman, Lois Lane and Lex Luthor characters.

If Snyder and company want to make one of the best Superman comics since All-Star Superman though, one of the stories they'll have to beat is going to be "The Black Ring," a 13-part storyline written by Paul Cornell and drawn (mostly) by Pete Woods, which ran through Action Comics from mid-2010 to 2011 (and spilled into an issue of Secret Six and an Action annual) and which has been collected in a pair of books, Superman: The Black Ring Vol. 1 and Vol. 2.

The titling of those collections are somewhat amusing, as not only did the story unfold in Action rather than Superman, but Superman is barely in it—he doesn't appear until the very final chapter. That's a result of some behind-the-scenes stuff going on at DC at the time. Part of J. Michael Straczynski's deal with writing Superman was that he'd be the only person writing the character for the span of his storyline, the truly, incredibly terrible "Grounded" story, in which Superman walks around America (That's the one Straczynski famously quit writing mid-way through, and left it up to Chris Roberson to finish the work from his plot). And so Cornell got to write Action, but he had to to it without its star, an interesting obstacle he overcame with great gusto, turning the book into a Lex Luthor title for the space of a year.

And while Superman isn't on very many of its pages, and is only occasionally even mentioned (including a snide remark about the plot of "Grounded"), it is very much thoroughly, remarkably and incredibly a Superman story. It's also one of the better ones and, without a doubt, the best Lex Luthor story.

Cornell picks the characters up after the events of DC's Blackest Night miniseries—that's the one with the Black Lantern rings reanimating the corpses of dead superheroes and villains, if you're not a regular DC Comics reader—during which Luthor briefly wore the orange Lantern ring of avarice, which infected him with a more active id, making him needier and greedier than usual. After that brief encounter with cosmic power, he decides he wants it back, and discovers a power ring of a different sort.

When the Black Lantern rings were destroyed, they left a strange trail of a super-science nature, creating a series black energy orbs of an unknown nature. The act of studying them changes them, and Luthor discovers that if he can find and change each of them, he'll gain an unbelievable level of power, making him godlike (a status he successfully achieves in the climax, just in time to confront Superman).

Part of Cornell's setting Luthor up as an anti-Superman is giving him his own Lois who, in this case, is an android Lois Lane that Lex patterned on her DNA to provide him with a verbal sparring partner to help him think, a dirty secret that, in one of the book's several running gags, necessitates her wearing Old Hollywood movie star disguises around the rest of Luthor's team of recurring characters, so they don't recognize the fact that he's kinda sorta dating a robot duplicate of one of his city's most prominent journalists.

Luthor is indeed the star of the book, but Cornell writes the book as a sort of villainous version of the old DC Comics Presents Superman team-up title, as almost every issue sees Luthor somehow crossing paths with a major villain of the DC Universe: (Another) new version of Mr. Mind, Deathstroke, Gorilla Grodd, Vandal Savage, The Secret Six, Brainiac, The Joker, Orange Lantern Larfleeze and, most surprisingly, Neil Gaiman and Mike Dringenberg's Death of The Endless, making a super-ultra rare (but welcome and surprisingly well-done) appearance in the DC Universe. Action Comics Annual #13 features two short stories, in which we learn bits of Lex Luthor's secret origin, and each of those stories shows a very young Lex apprenticing under different villains: First under Darkseid on Apokalips, then under Ra's al Ghul.

The effect of having all those guest-stars, aside from making the book a ton of fun and giving DC readers of just about every franchise affiliation a reason to look in the book's direction for at least an issue or so, is that Cornell can establish a sort of scale of DC super-villains, and place Lex Luthor within it. This is what he's like compared to The Joker, this is what he's like compared to Vandal Savage and so on.
Luthor emerges as the alpha dog of the DC Universe's villains—in many ways—but it's not so much about hierarchy as comparison and contrast. This isn't a fight comic, not really, so he doesn't fight each of those characters. Some he outsmarts, some he hires, some he fights physically and a few he just talks to. In fact, the issues devoted to The Joker and Death are little more than issue-length conversations, and yet they're still compelling. We get deep looks into Luthor's character and psyche, but not simply because Cornell has Luthor and the other characters telling us things about Luthor's character and psyche, but because the dialogue they're speaking reveals hints and aspects.

If heroes are only as interesting as their villains, Batman's had it over Superman for quite a while now. With this book, Cornell demonstrates that Luthor is every bit as compelling a character as anyone in Batman's rogues gallery—or, at least, he can be—and is a villain who deserves the status of archenemy to the first and greatest superhero.

Part of that is that unlike most comic book villains, Luthor genuinely, truly believes he's the good guy in his story (at least, the modern, post-Crisis Luthor does) and that Superman's the bad guy, and that he's doing the right thing. Even when he does bad things, like murdering his own employees, it's generally in service to what he sees as the greater good. And yet Luthor's not deluded; he's not a crazy person. He just sees things differently than the reader, and that makes him an awfully scary, awfully realistic villain—those are the kinds of villains he have hear on Earth-Prime, after all.

The climax of the book, which I've actually written in about before in passing, as DC also collected it in Superman: Reign of Doomsday, features Luthor integrating the nigh omnipotent powers of The Zone Child, and becoming not just a god but, for all intents and purposes, God-God. The only catch is that he can't use that power to do anything evil and, if he keeps trying to, say, kill Superman, he'll lose it. And so Luthor's faced with the ultimate dilemma: Having ultimate power but not being able to do the one thing he wants to do more than anything, or losing it all but being able to continue pursuing (even if fruitlessly) his life's ambition.
You know how it turns out, but it's a hell of a dramatic moment nevertheless, and remains one of my favorite and, I think, one of the best definitions of the Luthor/Superman relationship.


Pete Woods draws much of the book/s; he was the main artist on Action during Cornell's run. He has a nice, clean, smooth style, one that's realistic without ever sliding into faux photorealism. It often reminded me of Kevin Maguire's art in terms of style, although one wouldn't mistake the art of one of those gentlemen with that of the other.

I imagine this would have been a blast to draw. Luthor and Lois (a Lois who turns into a robot!) are visually interesting characters, and Woods got to draw much of the DC Universe (and the now rarely-drawn Death) and got to confront some interesting design challenges, like putting together the Zone Child and coming up with a new Mister Mind (I may return to his Mr. Mind design in a future post, as I love Mr. Mind, and love what Woods does with him).

The work of several other artists appear within, but the story and book is structured so that when a different artist comes in, it's for a clearly defined space of time and a easily identifiable purpose, justifying it. Compared to the last Superman graphic novel I read—Action Comics Vol. 1: Superman and The Men of Steel—this seemed like a masterpiece. Editing is, I suppose, one of those aspects of comics you only really notice when its done badly. Of course, I suppose it's also possible that if one sees editing so badly for so long, one does begin to notice good editing as the anomaly, as I did here.

The art team of Marcos Marz and Luciana del Negro draw 22 pages of this collection, pages that Gail Simone (and not Cornell) have written. That's Secret Six #29, the second half of the Luthor/Savage "team-up". When Savage attacks Luthor's corporate headquarters, angry that Luthor seems to have circumvented the fulfillment of a prophesy Savage heard long ago in his immortal life, Luthor calls on the mercenary team of The Secret Six, which, of course, includes Vandal's own daughter, Scandal Savage (I also read a few Secret Six trades this week; Marz and del Negro are a pretty damn great compared to those who provided much of the art in Secret Six after Nicola Scott's departure).

The stories in the annual each have different artists. Marco Rudy draws the Metrpolis/Apokalips story, full of highly showy lay-outs that seem perfectly appropriate, given the outsized, Kirby-scaled emotions inherent in a Fourth World story. Ed Benes draws the Ra's al Ghul story, inking himself. The best I can say about it is that it doesn't look like Benes drew it; it's probably the best work I've ever seen from the artist.

It's not until the penultimate chapter that Woods gets a fill-in artist, and while the shift in style is quite noticeable—it's Jesus Merino, whose work is much more rendered than that of Woods, so the cleanness and smoothness that defined the look of the story until that point is lost—it's not all that jarring considering the shift in setting (that issue takes place in outer space, and Luthor has traded in his suits and lab coats for a space suit version of his battlesuit) and the fact that the final issue is full of guest-artists.

That issue was Action Comics #900, so DC had artist aplenty show up to draw a page or so apiece, the justification being that the Zone Child-empowered Luthor is forcing Superman to relive painful moments from his past. Dan Jurgens and Norm Rapmund, Rags Morales, Ardian Syaf, Jamal Igle and Jon Sibal and Gary Frank contribute art to that issue, which is otherwise all drawn by Woods.

One final note on the art: The covers are horrible. They are all by David Finch, and while they're the worst art inbetween the covers of these two collections, style and quality aside, they are really, really bad at defining what's inside each issue, and what's inside the collections.
The first issue featured a very old, very angry-looking Luthor with the Orange Lantern ring on the cover—an image that gets one panel in that issue. Strangely, that's what they went for with the cover of Black Ring Vol. 1 too; Luthor wearing an orange ring, in a one-panel flashback to Blackest Night.
They're all kinda like that. The second issue features Luthor battling Mr. Mind in his own brain, which is full of weird imagery (Luthor as a Promethean caveman, or Mr. Mind and Luthor dressed as cowboys, for example). The image of the cover takes one of those scenes—Luthor as Dr. Frankenstein—renders Luthor completely unrecognizable (compare the Luthors on those two consecutive covers), and throws in a Frankensteinian Superman for some reason.
Most of the covers are just Luthor fighting someone in background-less background-lite spaces, and they generally do a rotten job of distilling the story inside into an image. Maybe the best example being the Gorilla Grodd issue.

I believe it was Grant Morrison who first posited that Grodd ate human beings, although it's possible Geoff Johns beat him to it, and I just remember Morrison because of this awesome Ed McGuinness cover—
—but Cornell runs with it. His Grodd collects human brains in jars, and eats one when he needs to gain the knowledge from it (He's not only a talking gorilla from a highly-advanced civilization of talking gorillas, he's also psychic; maybe that's how his biology works. I'm sure I don't know).

And when he goes into battle with Luthor, he brings his "biggest combat spoon-- --To eat your tasty brains!!!.
Here's Finch's cover:
Instead of the "Ha ha, the man-eating super-gorilla brought silver ware to a fight," reaction, I had more of a, "What did Finch draw? Is that a spoon?" sort of reaction.

So, in conclusion: Pete Woods rules, David Finch drools.


I suppose it's worth mentioning that this particular story is virtually un-tellable in The New 52, as it necessitates a long history of enmity between Luthor and Superman, and is built on the backstories of Luthor's interactions with many of these characters, including some that I don't think have even been introduced into the New 52 yet (Mister Mind? Some members of the Secret Six, like Ragdoll and Catman and Black Alice? Certainly not Death...).

One could tell it, but then, one would have to fairly thoroughly introduce all of these characters in a manner that explains them and makes them interesting to readers who are either completely unfamiliar with them, or familiar with them, but not to the new versions of them in the New 52.

After reading this, I was a little flabbergasted as to why Cornell wasn't writing a Superman comic in The New 52. They had Morrison for Action yes, but Superman was a mess from the get-go, with George Perez announced as the writer/lay-out artist and that lasted, what, three issues? That was one of the many more musical chairs-like books in The New 52.

If Cornell did this well writing a Superman story in which he wasn't even allowed to use Superman for a year, imagine what he could do he could write a Superman comic with Superman in it!

Instead, Cornell was given Demon Knights, a fun, quirky series about a Dark Ages version of the Justice League, and StormWatch, an Authority-in-the-DCU series, neither title of which he's still writing. For both he was given terrible artists to work with, and the results were books that were hardly even readable.

Thursday, April 18, 2013


I reviewed the seventh and eighth books in the My Boyfriend Is a Monster series for Good Comics For Kids this week. That's the graphic novel series from Lerner devoted to teenage paranormal romance, in which human girls become entangled with inhuman boys. These two are He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not (a Jekyll and Hyde sorta thing) and A Match Made in Heaven (an angel).

If you follow me on Twitter (Hey, you should follow me on Twitter!), then you've probably already heard me rave about the work of of He Loves Me artist Kristen Cella. I do want to take a moment here to point out that the other book, Match Made in Heaven, is written by Trina Robbins, and its heroine is an aspiring comics artist.

The above is a page from that book, in which her angelic beau tries to hide his true nature from her after catching her mid-fall and carrying her safely to the ground on a his giant, feathery wings.

But this, this is my favorite image from the book, and from almost any book I've read in the last month or so:
Please excuse the poor quality of the scan (it was a two-page spread in a digest-sized book), but that's the famous war in heaven that lead to the fall. You know, Lucifer rising up with the rebel angels, Michael and the rest of the angels kicking their asses and throwing 'em out of heaven?

What I love about this image is the various combatants that artists Irene Diaz Miranda and Laura Moreno Fernandez fill up the battlefield with. It's not just angel-on-angel violence; the good angels have a bull and a unicorn on their side, while the bad angels have a three-headed horse and a three-headed giant cobra on their side as well.

Kinda makes me wanna re-read Paradise Lost, because I don't recall there being any Pokemon-esque creatures in there.

And hey, speaking of magic horses! Today I have a short review of Grant Morrison and Darick Robertson's miniseries Happy, which was just collected into a trade paperback, in this week's issue of Las Vegas Weekly.

It's a pretty strange little comic. Had almost anyone else written it, Happy might have seemed like a pretty decent, if somewhat cynical and desperate, read. But coming from Grant Morrison? It's kind of hard to overstate how disappoint it is (I think one great advantage Morrison has had the last few years is that he's been writing DC super-comics almost exclusively, and his work is always judged against, say, other Batman comics, or other corporate, direct market-addressed super-comics, and, in that small, often fetid pond, even mediocre can seem pretty damn good. But when he's building something out of whole cloth like this, and has an excellent collaborator with whom to work, then the work gets judged against itself, or all comics, not just Marvel and DC super ones, and thus doesn't fare as well).

A few things worth noting that I didn't have room to get to:

1.) Grant Morrison may be the single worst writer of profanity in all of fiction. There was hardly a line in the comic that didn't have at least one F-word in it, and man oh man, did it seem strange and unnatural. There was even one sentence, that came at a fairly climactic moment, that I just read over and over again trying to decipher its meaning, and I couldn't do it. The words were all English, but they just didn't make any sense at all.

2.) I was downright flabbergasted that a comic by two such great comics-makers, guys who have been making comics for much longer than I've been reading, turned out a narrative in which there were a few spots that didn't make sense, visually. There was some disconnect between the pair, I suppose, and the result was a scene that didn't make much sense.

The one that sticks with me a few weeks after reading was the one where the guy with the hammer is about to kill the prostitute servicing him. I guess he's supposed to be dressed in a cockroach costume, for some reason...? It's really unclear when you're reading it though; I couldn't tell if he turned into a cockroach in the middle of a sex act ,or if the prostitute turned into a cockroach and started devouring him with her insect head during oral sex (It turns out he's dressed like a cockroach, for some reason, and he gets shot in the head by our hero, and the shifting coloring and the way the scene is set up makes that unclear.

3.) The trade is actually a super-good value, though. It's only $13, which is only a buck more than the cost of reading the comic serially (Four issues at $2.99 a pop).

Finally, today at Robot 6 I have a review of Tom Gauld's You're All Just Jealous of My Jetpack, which is a very, very good collection of some very, very good comic strips, like the one above, which isn't necessarily one of the best, but does involve one of the ways I spend a much of my time (writing) and one of my favorite punchlines (bees).