Monday, February 22, 2021

Marvel's May previews reviewed

Marvel's May plans are dominated by a new iteration of Heroes Reborn, a small-ish event series seemingly spinning out of Jason Aaron's Avengers in which the latest version of The Squadron Supreme are the only heroes on Earth, and the likes of Tony Stark and Carol Danvers never became Iron Man and Captain Marvel. Blade is the only one who remembers the way things are "supposed" to be, and one imagines it will be up to him to reawaken the Avengers, who will then be "reborn." Occasional Avengers artist Ed McGuinness will be joining Aaron for the first issue, a 56-page $5.99 affair, but that's hardly all there is to the event. The next three issues of the series will also see publication in May, as will one-shots Heroes Reborn: Magneto & The Mutant Force #1, Heroes Reborn: Young Squadron #1, Heroes Reborn: Siege Society #1, Heroes Reborn: Hyperion & The Imperial Guard #1, and Heroes Reborn: Peter Parker, The Amazing Shutterbug #1. After Heroes Reborn #1, all of the tie-ins are $5 a pop, so this looks to be a pretty pricey event for those who read these things serially. 

My initial reaction to artist Cory Smith's Predator variant cover for Amazing Spider-Man #65 was that it's probably not that fair a fight, as Spidey's various super-powers should make him more than a match for the alien hunter. But then I remembered all the trouble Kraven The Hunter has caused Spidey over the years, and that guy's just a normal human with amazing fashion sense, and lacks super-camouflage abilities and a shoulder-mounted laser cannon, so maybe the Predator would give Spider-Man a run for his money after all. 

I'm seriously excited to read any and all Predator hunts various Marvel characters comics, whenever Marvel gets around to publishing any, but then, I'd read just about any Predator crossover.  

Okay, but Superlog's variant cover for Fantastic Four #32 is in no way a fair fight. At the very least, there should be four Predators, or maybe a Super-Predator with the powers of all four members of the FF...

Now a Guardians of The Galaxy vs. Predator match-up, like the one suggested on Chris Sprouse's variant cover of Guardians of The Galaxy #14 is more like it. Sure, Gamora and Nova could smack a single Predator around pretty good, but the Guardians are a space-based team, so it's easy to imagine them stumbling onto a game reserve planet like the one from the film Predators, and facing various traps and being stalked by a team of Predators. 

Reptil #1 sees the return of Avengers: The Initiative's dinosaur-powered young hero, courtesy of writer Terry Blas and artist Enid Balam. I always liked that character, even if I wasn't crazy about the name. As to why there's a four-issue Reptil miniseries all of a sudden, it seems to be tying into the events of Champions, wherein young heroes are now outlawed in the Marvel Universe. 

Gene Luen Yang and Dike Ruan's Shang-Chi miniseries must have proved a success, because May will bring Shang-Chi #1, which looks like it will be the start of a new ongoing series. The solicitation copy alludes to the hero "using an evil secret organization as a force of good," which sounds an awful lot like the premise of Agents of Atlas, but I suppose we'll see.

Has anyone read any of Yang and company's mini-series yet? If so, how is it? 

Star Wars: War of The Bounty Hunters Alpha #1 kicks off a Star Wars crossover event, in which Boba Fett has Han Solo in carbonite, ready to transport to Jabba the Hutt on Tatooine: "Sounds easy. What could go wrong?" That's...a pretty good idea for a Star Wars comic. In the movies, it seems like Boba Fett made it from Cloud City to Jabba's Palace more or less immediately, with the heroes arriving hot on his trail, a matter of days later—weeks, tops. 

But in the comics, like the original Marvel comics, it seemed to take for-fucking-ever, with Luke, Leia, Chewbacca and company scouring the galaxy for Boba Fett and never really finding him, for issues after issue after issue. It was as if he was walking Han to Jabba. 

This was, of course, because the comics had to kill time until the next movie came out, but re-reading the comics after having seen Return of The Jedi—as I did—the wheel-spinning seems particularly obvious. Maybe it is in the new comics set between Empire and Jedi' too, I don't know; I fell behind on the earlier volume of Star Wars and just never caught back up. 

Anyway, things going wrong to complicate Boba Fett's errand seems like a pretty inspired idea to me. 

Sunday, February 21, 2021

DC's May previews reviewed

There are a lot of talented, popular and exciting contributors to Batman: Black and White #6, but the one I am most excited about is Elsa Charretier, a regular contributor to IDW's various Star Wars comics. If you asked me who would be the best artist to draw a Batman comic, Charretier would be one of the first suggestions I had. Her art is dynamic and graceful, and has a classic, almost stately feel to it; it reminds me a bit of Alex Toth's art, and I think she would be perfect for a very particular vision of Batman, that of the dashing, two-fisted, adventuring detective, a guy in tights and a cape rather than the brutal, unstoppable warrior in body armor we too-often get these days.

Last month DC solicited new comic by Tom Taylor and Andy Kubert entitled Batman: The Dark Knight, which I thought was a terrible title for a new Batman comic, given how many comics already exists with some formulation of that title. This month they're solicited Batman: The Detective #2, so they appear to have renamed the title. That's good. Batman: The Detective is a much better title for a new and original series, and will, in the long run, make it easier for people trying to find and read this book. 

I'm not sure I like Earth-3's Starro, which seems to come in the easily wearable tank top form, rather than the classic face-hugger form. That's David Finch's cover for Crime Syndicate #3, by Andy Schmidt and Kieran McKeown. There's also a variant cover by Babs Tarr...
...which I like much better, but then, I'll always take Babs Tarr over David Finch. Do note the look on that cheetah's face on the cover. How evil is Earth-3? So evil that even the animals are total assholes!

Um, so there's a solicitation for DC Comics: Generations HC, which collects January's $9.99 Generations Shattered and February's $9.99 Generations Forged (plus the short story from Detective Comics #1027 in which time-traveling Kamandi recruits First Appearance Batman), and the whole thing will cost you $29.99. I guess I'm glad I didn't trade-wait this storyline...? I sure hope there's a fuckton of bonus material to justify the price, or even just an afterword explaining what DC's continuity is. I'd sure pay $10 to know that continuity is settled once and for all.

I'm a little surprised that that's all there is to the story though, because, as I said at the time, Shattered didn't feel like the first half of a story so much as the first quarter or sixth of a story. 

While the cover for DC Festival of Heroes: The Asian Superhero Celebration #1 isn't quite a full-blown self-own, it's certainly in that general neighborhood, drawing attention to how few prominent characters of Asian descent DC Comics has in their vast character line-up, how relatively little-used in the comics they are and, in some cases, how ill-served the characters are by those comics. 

The character front and center, the "star" of the cover, the one that is, if we're being honest, probably DC's most high-profile character of Asian descent, is Cassandra Cain, seen drawn here by Jim Lee in a slightly off-model version of her Batgirl costume. But the volume of Batgirl that she starred in was canceled in 2006; the Batgirl name was reclaimed by a succession of white girls starting in 2009, at which point she stopped wearing that costume (Occasional out-of-continuity appearances of it in comics like DCeased: Unkillables aside.) Cassandra has been operating under the name "Orphan", and wearing a different costume, since 2016. She does still appear in comics, though, having been part of the ensemble team featured in Detective Comics from 2016-2018 from and then in the most recent volume of Batman and The Outsiders from 2019-2020 (and in the 2020 out-of-continuity original graphic novel Shadow of The Batgirl she got to go by that name again).

Some of these other characters, though? They're not appearing anywhere, wearing any costumes or under any names. Let's go around the cover clock-wise. There's Green Lantern Tai Pham from the 2020  out-of-continuity original graphic novel Green Lantern: Legacy.  There's Super-Man Kong Kenana from 2016-2018's New Super-Man and 2018's New Super-Man & The Justice League of China.  There's a female Red Arrow from the pages of Teen Titans and, I assume, some of the post-Flashpoint Green Arrow comics (none of which I've read; sorry). Just behind her is some character I couldn't even guess at (again, sorry). There's The Atom Ryan Choi from 2006-2008 series The All-New Atom (he was also a member of the short-lived 2017-2018 volume of Justice League of America). There's Katana, a perennial team comics character most recently seen in Batman and The Outsiders. There's the villain Cheshire, most recently seen in Batman arc "Their Dark Designs." There's Grunge—fucking Grunge!—from Gen-13; I honestly have no idea the last time DC published a Gen-13 comic. And who could forget OMAC Kevin Koh, aside from me, as I completely forgot that the character even existed, but he was apparently the star of the eight -issue New 52 OMAC from 2011. And I guess he was Asian, so there's that!

So yeah, the cover doesn't look so hot. As for the interiors, the solicitation promises stories featuring The Atom, Cassandra Cain, Damian Wayne, Dana Tan from Batman Beyond, Green Lantern Tai Pham, Katana, Lady Shiva, the New Super-Man, Red Arrow and more. The creators include Gene Luen Yang, Greg Pak, Dustin Nguyen and, most exciting to me, Trung Le Nguyen, the creator responsible for The Magic Fish, one of the best graphic novels I read in 2020. 

DC really needs to do better when it comes to representation in their comics. I have plenty of suggestions but, um, I don't work there. Here's some super-easy, immediate ones, though. 

I think making Cassandra Batgirl again, even if it's just a Batgirl, and making use of Super-Man in the Super- books or Young Justice/Teen Titans adventures would be a good start. So too would creating new heroes; if you've got the likes of Gene Luen Yang on your payroll, then you've certainly got the talent to create new, compelling superhero characters. I mean, just look what he did with The Green Turtle in Shadow Hero; I imagine he could reinvent some of the heroes of Asian descent laying around the character catalog like, I don't know, Dr. Light, Striker Z, Tsunami, Nightblade, Judomaster, Wing, Deep Blue or others in compelling ways.  

Heck, seeing what Trung Le Nguyen did with a handful of fairy tales in The Magic Fish, I think it would be well worth asking him if he saw any potential in any of DC's un-used characters of Asian descent too...

It's not at all surprising that, if DC was going to continue publishing an ongoing series set in their Future State setting, it would be this one: Future State: Gotham #1. Joshua Williamson and Dennis Culver are writing and Giannis Milonogiannis is drawing it. The insanely detailed cover comes courtesy of the great James Stokoe, who I am quite happy to see is spending more time in Gotham City. 

Well, this is kind of cool. Green Lantern: John Stewart—A Celebration of 50 Years gives the third Green Lantern his very own hardcover "Celebration" collection, rather that simply relegating him to a chapter or so in the previous Green Lantern "Celebration" hardcover, which had Hal Jordan on the front and collected comics starring all of the Lanterns. 

I usually just skim these volumes to see what the editors chose to include, as I've usually read all of the contents, but this is one I might actually read cover to cover, as I've read relatively few of John's historic appearances, not really encountering him regularly until he started appearing as a supporting character in Green Lantern during Kyle Rayner's turn as the title character, after which point he got his own ring and began appearing in the pages of Justice League and Green Lantern comics pretty frequently. 

Darick Robertson does the honors of reviving the Batman anthology series with Legends of the Dark Knight #1, the first chapter of a three-issue arc featuring The Joker, Mister Freeze and The Penguin, the latter of whom Robertson does a particularly fine rendition of, as you can see from the cover (He also draws a good gargoyle).

The solicit mentions a half-dozen or so other upcoming creators. I've got my fingers crossed that we'll get to see arcs from James Stokoe, Elsa Charretier, Kyle Hotz, Ramon Villalobos, Corey S. Lewis,  Tom Scioli, Kelley Jones, Guillem March, Sophie Campbell, Jerry Ordway, Rick Burchett, Matt Wagner, Trung Le Nguyen and Jill Thompson, but hey, that's just me. 

Hmm, I'm not so sure about Icon's new costume—that is Icon front and center, right?—but Milestone Returns: Infinite Edition #0 will feature art by Denys Cowan and Bill Sienkiewicz, so that's definitely going to be worth a look.

The cover for Stargirl Spring Break Special #1 by Geoff Johns and Todd Nauck appears to tease a new, eight-person line-up for the Seven Soldiers of Victory, a line-up that's constantly shifting thanks to DC's constant continuity rejiggerings. Now it looks like Green Arrow is back, and with a Red Arrow instead of Speedy Roy Harper. 

I'm somewhat confused by this book's existence, as I'm still not sure if DC has its Golden Age back yet or not—Flash Jay Garrick appears in this month's issue of The Flash, and Alan Scott was on the cover of Infinite Frontier, suggesting probably and maybe some Golden Agers are still around in the present DCU—nor am I entirely sure why there's a Stargirl comic being published now, instead of in conjunction with the debut of her TV show, which was some time ago. 

Suicide Squad: Casualties of War collects the entire 12-issue revival from 2001, written by Keith Giffen and drawn mostly by Paco Medina. I only read the first issue, and found it rather wanting, but I did find myself wanting to revisit the series around the time the film had come out, and at that point I only had my copy of the first issue and a handful I found in back-issue bins. I'm definitely keen to read this, although I'm not sure it's a book I need to own, so I might look for it at the library if I remember to in the spring.   

Superman: Red & Blue #3 will include contributions from both James Stokoe and Michel Fiffe, among others, so you're not going to want to miss that. 

Uh-oh. The fact that Future State's Wonder Woman Yara Flor will be starring in a book called Wonder Girl #1  by Joelle Jones doesn't bode well for the future of Wonder Girl Cassie Sandsmark, last seen in the pages of the just-cancelled Young Justice. Not that there can't be more than one person using the same name at the same time, of course, but it does seem to indicate a lack of worry on DC's part about confusing would-be readers, meaning I don't think we'll be seeing a whole lot of Cassie any time soon. 

I could be wrong, though. She could be guest-starring in the second issue of this series, for all I know. It does seem odd that they are calling Future State's Batman "The Next Batman, "while it's Wonder Woman is going to be going by Wonder Girl, though...

Sunday, February 14, 2021

A Month of Wednesdays: January 2021


Batman Annual #5 (DC Comics) Although I've mostly abandoned serially-published super-comics in favor of trades, there are always exceptions, and this is one: It's drawn by the great James Stokoe, who I would argue is one of the very best comics artists working today (in addition to being one of my favorites), and an extremely unlikely candidate for an issue of the main Batman comic (How unlikely? Well, despite the fact that Stokoe provided all of the art for the issue, from pencils to colors, they slapped a cover by an entirely different artist on the front of the book, so it looks less unique and more like a standard Batman comic). 

Stokoe did not disappoint. His work is saturated with detail in a way that seems downright foreign to superhero comics now. Instead of manipulated photos of buildings or cars, he drew the hell out of a Park Row street front in the first panel, every brick seemingly drawn with pen and pencil and carefully shaded. In the last panel, as we see Batman soaring into the sun rising over the Gotham skyline, Sand tokoe draws some twenty skyscrapers crowd together, each full of windows and fire escapes and chimneys and signs and the design elements of buildings.   

It's definitely, totally, unabashedly Stokoe's work, from the curious but effective use of colors, to the grace note details like the face on Leslie Thompkins' teapot, from the the characters in the Mortal Kombat-esque video game that the protagonist plays, to the montage of Batman vs. Joker battles that suggests a half-dozen stories each as epic as "Joker War".

Stokoe is working with regular Batman writer James Tynion IV, whose work I sometimes have some concerns with, but who has been doing a pretty great job on his Batman run, from what I've seen of it so far (the major downside of his first arc, "Their Dark Designs", was the lack of a single artist to give the story shape, style and mood; here, a done-in-one annual, that's obviously not an issue). 

Stokoe's version of the title character appears a couple of times. First, as a sort of nightmare version during Leslie's recounting of the murder of the Waynes (yes, we see that again, but Stokoe's version is unlike any of the other dozens we've seen, as he draws flocks of bats pouring out of the exit wounds of Bruce's parents as they are shot), and then these flocks of bats all seems coalesce into a giant figure made of bats, with glowing red eyes. 

Batman appears briefly in two other scenes, talking to the other main characters. Stokoe's version of the character is a bit of a big, black triangle with two points at the top; he's all scalloped cloak, his mouth the only really human-looking part, and there's a suggestion of an armored helmet around his mask and cowl. His ears are pretty long too, somewhere between Breyfogle and Jones on the Sprang-Jones scale

Finally, during the montage of Batman vs. Joker encounters, we see him in a few more superheroic poses, and Stokoe seems to give him a big, Dark Knight Returns-like build, but, again, he's mostly exaggerated cape and horn-like ears. 

All in all, it's a take I quite like.

Stokoe's Joker is also pretty damn scary, centered on a smile that is just too damn big not only for his face, but for his own head, as if the mouth is from an entirely different, far larger person. 

Tynion's plot construction is fairly simple. Leslie is walking to her clinic through Crime Alley one night, narrating about the area and Batman's origin—tiresome to many of  us, perhaps, but necessary here, as Tynion is quite intentionally using it to parallel the origin of Clownhunter—and there she gets an unexpected, but not entirely unexpected, visitor. 

This visitor is Clownhunter, a teenage vigilante who is more Punisher than Batman (dude even talks about punishment in one panel) and who kills Joker henchmen with his bat-bat, a razor-sharp Batagrang Batman once gifted him tied to the tip of a baseball bat. 

Batman had given him Leslie's card, and he is there to get stitches and talk about the way the world doesn't seem to work, while recounting his origin.

 He was a fairly ordinary teenager until Harley Quinn, The Joker and their gang come into his parents pho restaurant one night. At meal's end, The Joker kills them with Joker gas, and tosses a $100 bill to young Bao, telling him, "Parents just get in the way."

Batman visits Bao at the crime scene, and promises to stop The Joker, but in the intervening years, Bao grows resentful, watching Batman catch The Joker again and again, but never actually stopping him by killing him, or, as he tells Leslie, finding some way to lobotomize him or paralyze him or "just something."

When "The Joker War" storyline unfolds, and gangs of clowns terrorize Gotham while Batman is missing (I'm trade-waiting Batman, so this is the first I've read of the Joker War), and people in clown masks start killing his neighbors, Bao throws together a costume and goes out to murder a clown. And then he keeps doing it, although we only see the one killing here.

Leslie seems pretty chill about his confession to multiple murders, but their conversation about the nature of the world, the effectiveness of violence, and human beings' capacity to change is all pretty engaging stuff, and probably would have seemed quite insightful to a teenaged Caleb. 

I have a few questions about the character still, including how on Earth he's so good at fighting, and why Batman and Leslie don't seem to be trying to get him help in the system given that he is, you know, a confessed serial-killer and both of them have objections to that sort of vigilante behavior, but maybe those explanations occurred in one of his other appearances I haven't caught up on yet. (As for the fighting, the first clown he kills, he basically sneaks up on and hits with his bat-bat before burning him alive with a his own Molotov cocktail. That's all fine and good. But, directly after that, he runs and leaps into a crowd of at least a half-dozen armed men and, well, killing whole gangs at once seems to require a bit more skill or training than playing violent video games, you know? Kid goes from zero to Punisher in the time it takes to turn a page).

But, those quibbles with the superhero story aside, this is a really beautifully rendered Batman comic, and one of the best-looking ones I've seen in a while. Here's hoping Stokoe gets to do more Batman work in the near future; I'd love to see him do something where he writes as well as draws, perhaps in an issue of Batman: Black and White or the upcoming Legends of the Dark Knight revival. 

Batman: The Caped Crusader Vol. 5 (DC) The latest volume of early 1990s Batman comics collects Batman #466-473, plus the two issues of Detective Comics that make up part of four-part "Idiot Root" crossover. 

That's one of the two arcs included within, the other being writer Chuck Dixon and pencil artist Tom Lyle's "Shadow Box," a three-part direct sequel to their 1991 Robin miniseries, in which the villain King Snake is revealed to have survived his battle with Lady Shiva, and he and his lieutenant Lynx make a play for Gotham City's Chinatown.

That's a pretty interesting story to re-read now, considering just how many Batman comics Dixon would end up writing by the end of the decade, and it still holds up rather well, as does the late Lyle's artwork, inked by Andy Mushynsky and Scott Hanna. 

"Idiot Root" is the more interesting of the two, though, in large part because of how wild it is; with it's sci-fi elements, it's like nothing else in this book...or most other Batman comics. Written by Peter Milligan (a few months ahead of his own short run on Batman) with alternating chapters penciled by Norm Breyfogle and Jim Aparo, it finds Batman chasing a brutal serial killer named The Queen of Hearts to Rio De Janeiro, and stumbling upon something far worse than a madwoman who removes hearts with a power drill.

A doctor experimenting with a local hallucinogenic root psychically connected four of his patients, inadvertently creating a fifth personality that calls itself The Idiot and exists in "The Idiot Zone," the "place" people visit when ingesting the root...or the drug derived from it that the doctor  has created and is selling on the streets of the city.

If The Idiot can get strong enough, which it does by eating the minds of victims who have ingested the drug, he can cross over into the real world and become real himself, something he does at the climax, using the brains of people as portals, so that he bursts out of people's skulls (the comics are remarkably, even shockingly careful in their staging of these events, as Breyfogle and Aparo mostly draw reaction shots of those watching, the gore almost always appearing off-panel; I guess that's the difference between making comics that you can sell to kids in drug stores and making comics that only sell to adults in specialty shops. I am completely confident that the various instances of exploding heads would have been on-panel if this were being drawn today). 

Aparo and Bryefogle are among the all-time greatest Batman artists, although their styles are so different that they're something of a poor fit for alternating chapters of a single story (Breyfogle, obviously, draws all the weirdest, trippiest shit, although I think Aparo's more realistic, staid art has the benefit of drawing attention to any divergence from reality affected by The Idiot's powers). I'm also kind of glad this story is in here, as the pair of them sort of establish a style range, and Lyle's Batman falls directly in the middle of the poles they represent.

The rest of the book consists of done-in-one stories from the Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle team. 

The first of these is "No More Heroes," which is set at Gotham amusement park Heroworld, where the Dynamic Duo chase a couple of desperate criminals; meanwhile, a would-be sniper has set up atop a giant cowboy statue with plans to kill the gang members who hooked his brother on drugs (as is so often the case with Grant's comics, drugs are the greatest villain in Gotham City). Though this stars both Batman and Robin, it's one of my favorite Robin stories, and is perfectly representative of what makes this creative team so special.

Inker Rick Buchett joins them for "Of Gods and Men," Batman's red-sky tie-in to War of the Gods, in which Batman and Robin attempt to recover a special chalice from Maxie Zeus at the behest of Wonder Woman; aside from a few mentions of her and the appearance of a supporting character of hers (Oh, and a harpy!), it's basically just another done-in-one (The harpy seems a relative rare instance of something super or supernatural intruding upon the Batman comics of the era; it's always really weird when they do). 

Finally, there's "Requiem For a Killer," in which Batman tracks down the escaped Killer Croc, and finds him living fairly happily among a group of homeless people beneath the streets of Gotham. It's a pretty great "last" Killer Croc story, one of two I can think of, although of course it couldn't last, because what do you want, comics creators to create their own characters to use in their comics? 

All in all, this was the best $30 I spent on comics this month, even though I've read most of them already, the Aparo-drawn portions of "Idiot Root" being the only parts I had never read before.

The cover credits are interesting. Peter Milligan gets the top credit, having written four issues to Grant and Dixon's three apiece. From there they move to artists, with Breyfogle being the obvious choice, having drawn a full half of the book, but Aparo penciled just two issues to Lyle's three, and yet he gets the third credit.

Generations Shattered #1 (DC) DC once again turns to Dan Jurgens to un-fuck their continuity, for at least the third time following 1994's Zero Hour, which held for a time, and 2015's Convergence, which was all but ignored at the time it was being published. That DC needs to keep  un-fucking their continuity, and keep turning to Jurgens to help them do it, seems to point to problems. Basically, DC just needs to pick a continuity and stick to it, rather than the more-or-less constant state of reboot we've had over the course of the last decade (Just looking at these three Jurgens projects, it's worth noting the time that has passed between them, and that the rate seems to be accelerating).

It is may be unfair to pick on Jurgens here. He is, after all, simply the co-writer of the one-shot, along with Robert Venditti and Andy Schmidt (and he's one of the 15 pencil artists involved with the $9.99, 80-page issue). On the other hand, this is very Jurgens-y, prominently featuring Booster Gold and Skeets (two versions of each, actually), Waverider and even Dominus, and the basic plot seems so similar to Zero Hour that reading it, it suggested Zero Hour redux. 

Various parts of the familiar DC history are apparently being eaten by a white void that comes on like a wave. This is all part of a plan by a powerful villain to unmake all of creation and rebuild it to his liking. The villains have changed, but the imagery is identical, as are some of the bit players; I clearly remember Time Trapper, for instance, reflecting on the goings-on in Zero Hour, and here he does so for a panel as well. 

I...have no idea where this is going, and am, in fact, not even sure where it continues, but it offered a degree of old-school super-comics pleasures, not just in its execution and its revisiting of many, many familiar settings (most of them in passing) from various DC publishing eras, but also in the jam nature of its art. As noted, fifteen different art teams handle the art chores, changing just about every time a new time period is visited. It's obviously a bit of a visual mess, but it's a fun mess, and the nature of the narrative justifies the presence of so many teams. 

To combat Dominus' plan to reboot DC continuity for the seventeenth time, Old Man Booster Gold and Skeets, now in convenient gauntlet form, are setting out to recruit a special team (seen on the cover), but things go wrong almost immediately, with Booster dying and passing Skeets on to Kamandi. From there, the pair time-hop around plucking recruits from various continuities (First Appearance Batman, Green Lantern Sinestro, "Reign of The Supermen"-era Steel, etc), occasionally screwing up and needing to pick up substitutes, as when Kamandi accidentally saves Superboy Clark Kent from the 31st Century, rather than picking up Brainiac 5, or when they miss Superman from late 1980s Metropolis and have to settle for young Booster Gold.

A great deal of time is spent assembling the team from their various eras, after which point they fight Dominus' new Linear Men, all repurposed and brainwashed characters as various as Ultra-Humanite, Major Force, The Eradicator and so on, which they do in various time periods. Then, our heroes are all banished to random time periods. And, um, that's it. It's presumably to be continued in February's Generations: Forged #1 and...maybe elsewhere....? It certainly doesn't seem like a story that's half over. Rather this seems like the first part of a 3-6-part storyline.

But whatever. In the mean time, it was nice to see some semi-forgotten characters (look, there's The Hourman of the 853rd Century!) and the work of some great artists we don't see nearly enough from, like Kevin Nowlan and Rags Morales. 

Justice Society of America: The Demise of Justice (DC) This hardcover collects 1991's eight-issue Justice Society of America miniseries, an early attempt at a JSA revival that must have done its job well enough, as an ongoing JSA series was launched the following year. 

The series is notable for just how action-packed it is, as the plot that writer Len Strazewski comes up with seems to be a fairly simple, even flimsy one to sustain a series of this length. Vandal Savage uses Starman Ted Knight's new observatory to summon living constellations to Earth, and he then directs these energy giants to do away with the forces that power modern civilization: Electricity, radio and television waves and atomic energy. The Flash, Black Canary, Green Lantern and Hawkman attempt to stop the giants, first solo, then in pairs, and then, finally, as a team. Naturally, they are successful. 

And that's it, really.

Strazewski doesn't get too deep into the characters' backgrounds, origins or inner lives; the series manages to fill so many pages without ever seeming to slow or drag because so much time and attention is devoted to the superheroes engaged in their super-feats. The second issue, for example, finds Black Canary seeking to thwart a break-in at a Gotham museum, and about half of the issue is devoted to her fight with some thugs and Solomon Grundy. The issue, like the series, feels refreshing today, given how little space most super-comics writers afford for actual action. 

Art is provided by a relay team of pencil artists: Rick Burchett, Grant Miehm, Mike Parobeck, and Tom Artis (the covers are courtesy Tom Lyle). It's perhaps little wonder that Parobeck was chosen to draw the ongoing that followed in '92; while all of the art in this collection is strong, his work is head and shoulders above the rest, demonstrating a great deal more personality than is seen in the other chapters.

Speaking of that series, which I kinda wish was collected in trade already because as soon as I finished this I wanted to read that, this collection begins with writer Mark Waid's introduction that ran in the first issue of the 1992 series, a sort of introduction to the JSA and its members (five of whom don't actually appear in this volume, save for in a team photo Starman regards at one point).

There are also a pair of other "last" stories of the JSA. There's their actual last story, 1951's All-Star Comics #57 by John Broome, Frank Giacoia and Arthur Peddy, in which four of the world's greatest detectives disappear, and the JSA members must not only find them, but also solve four crimes they were meant to solve (The villain of the piece, interestingly enough, is called "The Key," but he's an entirely different The Key than The Key that the Justice League regularly fights). 

And then there's a retroactive last story from 1979's Adventure Comics #466 by Paul Levitz and Joe Staton set on what was then a pretty richly-developed Earth-2; in this, The Huntress tells Power Girl why the JSA disbanded in 1951, and although the blame is put squarely on Senator Joe McCarthy, he goes unnamed (but not un-drawn). 


Star Wars: The Rise of Kylo Ren (Marvel Entertainment) Making new Star Wars movies featuring the original cast members reprising their roles necessitated setting these movies some decades after the end of Return of The Jedi, which of course meant there was now a huge gap in the Star Wars story to fill in, explaining how the setting went from Jedi's happy ending to a place of similar (too similar, if you ask me) conflict at the beginning of The Force Awakens. While some of the expanded universe novels, comics and, now, TV shows have filled in some of those blanks, what I have seen has dealt mostly with explaining how The Empire became the First Order, and the lives of Princess Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca and especially Luke Skywalker have been barely touched upon, despite seemingly being the core of the saga. 

Well, this miniseries by writer Charles Soule and artist Will Sliney seemed like it was meant to address some of that, explaining how Han and Leia's son Ben Solo became the First Order's Kylo Ren, a story only alluded to in the the film trilogy in a flashback when Luke explains to Rey how he raised his light saber over a sleeping Ben one night, a night that saw the end of his dream of reviving the Jedi order.

Somewhat frustratingly, this slight four-issue miniseries doesn't give us a whole heck of a lot more than that. There are a few scenes of Ben as Luke's padawan (um, though I don't think they use that word; that word didn't outlive the clone wars, did it?), and flashbacks to Ben's time with some other students learning from Luke at the fledgling Jedi temple, but the bulk of the story is set in a present that begins with the movie's flashback; Luke is already buried under rubble, the temple is already in flames and Ben has to decide what to do next.

That's when a trio of other students, who were off-planet at the time, return and confront Ben. There's an argument and a brief battle, after which Ben leaves to figure out his next move, and the other three pursue him, seeking to either to learn what really happened, bring him to justice or kill him to avenge Luke, depending on the student. 

As for what Ben's next move is, it involves visiting with Snoke and then seeking out The Knights of Ren, a barely-there group that dress funny and sometimes follow Kylo Ren around  (and seem like a bunch of fucking dorks ) in the movies, but here are fleshed out as some sort of nihilistic gang that Ben seeks induction into...even eventually gains leadership of. 

What's here is all fine, but it's disappointing how little of it there is. There's still so much...story missing, just in the lives of the first trilogy's heroes after Jedi, and this story arc gives us a glimpse, but only the slightest of glimpses. There's also a degree of artificiality about it too, I suppose, as Soule pretty clearly has to write around the events of the new films, so that the three surviving Jedi don't even, like, confirm that Luke is dead or look for survivors among the burning temple, but take off after Ben immediately after he kicks all three of their asses, with no real plan other than to try again. 

Sliney's art is...awkward. I've some of his previous Star Wars work before, but here he seems particularly hampered by trying to make a young Ben Solo look as much like Adam Driver as possible, and he seems to be using adult Driver as reference, so there are all these images in which a too-big, adult-looking head rests on a slimmer, more child-like body. He would have been far better off just drawing a generic kind with long black hair than trying to reverse engineer a celebrity likeness into a teenage version of himself. 

The action scenes, of which there are several, are all of the frozen pose variety, so despite the fact that there are multiple light saber fights, the bits that are sometimes the most thrilling parts of the movies, they are here just static images, sometimes several following another.

I'm interested enough in Star Wars to have really wanted to read and like this, but it was ultimately a disappointment. Perhaps it will be the novels that will fill in the most intriguing blanks between the original trilogy and the newest one; that's certainly where the most and most interesting stories from that time period have emerged so far. 

Young Justice Vol. 3: Warriors and Warlords
(DC Comics)
It would be a reach to say that the new Young Justice ongoing series began with a bang and ended with a whimper, but it's tempting. The series, which relaunched in 2019, did begin with a surprisingly strong and effective arc from writer Brian Michael Bendis, who has had vast experience writing popular superhero teams, but generally not doing so particularly well, and it does just sort of listlessly peter out with this volume's collection of issues #13-#20.

I'm obviously not privy to what happened behind the scenes, but it certainly seems like Bendis' workload was outgrowing his ability to keep up—which would explain the presence f co-writer David F. Walker on this series—and the narrative of these last seven issues certainly feels like the pair were given a particular issue count with which to wrap up everything they had planned for the ongoing,  which would explain why so many of the last few issues felt like a series of resolutions to storylines that might have been teased, but never quite played out in the book proper (Particularly the narrative strand involving Wonder Girl, a strand not touched upon since it was introduced in the first volume).

This reads, quite awkwardly, as the climax of the storyline of the previous volume...followed by almost a half-dozen different "final" issues, in which Bendis and Walker use their outlines for whole future story arcs as the bare bones of a bunch of epilogues, one for each of the main characters (save for Amethyst, with whom nothing is done in these seven issues, and Jinny Hex, who has a special one-shot coming up and will presumably tie-up her loose ends in the way that Bendis and Walker tied up those of the rest of the team).

It's all tremendously disappointing, but only because of how much promise the series had for the first year or so.

The book opens with Superboy once again marooned in another dimension, this time in the hollow Earth fantasy world of Skartarsis, setting of Mike Grell and company's old Warlord series, and Young Justice must once again unite to save him, this time calling in plenty of new recruits, including the rest of the heroes of the Wonder Comics "pop-up" line (the stars of Naomi, Wonder Twins and Dial H For Hero), but also Spoiler, Arrowette (who apparently still exists), on-again, off-again Teen Titan Aqualad and, for some reason, Sideways. 

It takes a few issues, but this massive, extended Young Justice line-up manages to rescue Superboy again and defeat the rouge STAR Labs program that put him through the wringer; it's an extremely annoying few issues though, as Bendis' tendency to have everyone talk alike gets worse the more characters are added and, for the most part, none of these new characters have a whole lot to add to the proceedings. There's barely enough for Amethyst to do to justify her presence among the seven heroes that made up the team in the first volume, and now the line-up has swollen to an even greater amount of mushily defined characters. 

After that, the various epilogues begin. There's a story explaining why Impulse is still Impulse, and though it takes many pages, its essentially the same reason why Superboy is still Superboy: He was temporarily not in the "real world" of the DCU during Flashpoint and similar reboots, and through time-travel, plane-shifting and the cosmic rejiggerings, he's pretty much lost (I skipped the New 52 Teen Titans because it looked like garbage, so I'm not sure if or how one reconciles the fact that there was a Superboy and a Kid Flash in that series separate and distinct from this Superboy and Bart Allen, but I guess I don't actually care; not if it means having to read those comics). 

There's an issue tying into the events of the Superman comics, which I wasn't reading, so it's not entirely clear what's going on, aside from the fact that Young Justice seems to have teamed up with the Justice League to do something in Metropolis, and this issue is devoted to the various YJ members talking to their League counterparts (Batman taking Tim Drake aside to tell him that his new "Drake" identity and costume is the worst atrocity he has ever witnessed, I assume, Teen Lantern chatting with Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and Wonder Girl huddling, etc). 

There's an issue devoted to Spoiler and Drake taking on and taking down Cluemaster. There's an issue devoted to Wonder Girl's issues with the Greek pantheon. And then there's an issue where the core team returns to their Happy Harbor headquarters from the original Young Justice series, where Green Lantern John Stewart confronts Teen Lantern and Red Tornado gets re-added to the team. 

As for the various mysteries of how this team exists given Flashpoint's collapsing of the DCU timeline into a single generation of heroes, with just a five-year timeline, it's essentially that for various reasons, the characters all remember their "old" lives before the reboot/s, and they will all be apparently resuming them, as the last image is of the extended Young Justice line-up, the one that includes the other Wonder Comics heroes, at a  Happy Harbor cookout, Red Tornado flying above them all, and the words "Never The End!"

If the narrative in this volume is a mess, it's nothing compared to the artwork. There are four artists drawing these seven issues, and their styles very as much as Michael Avon Oeming's extremely simplified cartoony art (my favorite, and I kinda wish he drew all 20 damn issues of the series) and Mike Grell's extremely realistic art; for some dumb reason, the two co-draw the Warlord issues, for maximum aesthetic whiplash (Warlord's presence in this book a tall simply seems to be because Bendis or someone was a fan, and wanted to get Grell drawing the character again; there are way too may pages devoted to recapping the story of Warlord than is necessary in a Young Justice comic, especially given how little time the team actually spends with him and in Skartarsis). 

I'd be lying if I said I didn't like this, in large part because I am a fan of these characters and have been for about as long as I've been reading comics—they even put Drake back in his Robin costume by the end, because I am assuming DC heard the universal condemnation of "Drake"—but just because I love soemthing doesn't mean I can't tell where it falls down.

As is, this reads like a book that needed a stronger editorial voice whipping it into shape, narratively and visually, but, like I said, I suspect this was actually plotlines for another 12 issues or so all getting boiled down into whatever story beats Bendis and Walker could fit into the last half-dozen or so issues they had to wrap the series up. 


Batman Adventures: Robin, The Boy Wonder (DC Comics) This collection includes a half-dozen Robin-centric stories from older comics based on Batman: The Animated Series' cartoons (well, five Robin-centric stories, anyway), all of which hold up remarkably well. There are some familiar names among the contributing writers and artists—Rick Burchett, Chuck Dixon, Scott Peterson, Craig Rousseau—but the best of the bunch is probably Gabe Soria and Dean Haspiel's "Deathtrap-a-go-go," which is something of a tour of Batman's cartoon rogue's gallery (And if you're wondering what Haspiel's version of Bruce Timm's version of Batman looks like, that's it on the cover, and the answer is, of course, "pretty awesome"). 

The League of Super Feminists (Drawn and Quarterly) Ideally, Mirion Malle's slim graphic novel simply explaining concepts as various and complex as consent, intersectionality, privilege and representation should find its way into the hands of everyone. Or at least everyone in the comics industry. 

Super Mario Manga Mania (Viz Media) Don't read my review at Good Comics For Kids. Read Joe McCulloch's review at The Comic Journal. It's much more thorough and offers better context, in addition to being better written.  

Swamp Thing: Twin Branches
Oddly enough, I had zero problem with writer Maggie Stiefvater and artist Morgan Beem making Abby Arcane a Black girl rather than a white woman, but changing her hair style did seem a bit too far to me; Abby's race might not be essential to her character, but the white hair with a single black streak in it is how I'd pick her out in a crowd of superhero love interests, I guess. Stiefvater and Beem take enormous liberties with the Swamp Thing character and stories in their Twin Branches, perhaps as many as any of these YA-focused DC books have done that don't also include a high concept in their reimagining (Take, for instance, Gotham High), but it made for a very intriguing read. Beem is awesome, and an artist we should all keep an eye on. 

The Wizerd Vol. 1: And the Potion of Dreams!
(Oni Press)
Michael Sweater and Rachel Duke's fantasy comedy is a blast. Don't sleep on it. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

A bit more on Justice League Unlimited: Hocus Pocus

Justice League Unlimited: Hocus Pocus is the third of DC Comics' recent collections to take its title and most of its content from the 2004-2008 series based on the Justice League Unlimited cartoon series. Each of the collections has been organized around a theme, rather than collecting issues in order, which works just as well, as Justice League Unlimited and its related titles all feature standalone, done-in-one stories that don't need to be read in order. 

The theme for this one is, obviously, magic, and thus each of its half-dozen stories—from Justice League Unlimited #11, #14, #25, #33, #37 and #40—deal with magic in some form or another. Sometimes the threat facing the assembled Leaguers is mystical in nature, sometimes the hero starring in the story is magical, oftentimes both. 

I wasn't a regular reader of the series when it was originally being published, only picking up a copy here or there when I was particularly interested in the characters being featured, and so most of this volume was completely new to me—I had only read issues #11 and #14 previously, because of my fondness for 1990s Aquaman, who the cartoon's version of mirrored,  and Zauriel, who appeared to make his "animated" debut in the latter issue, having never appeared on the TV show proper.

 While I reviewed the collection already at Good Comics For Kids, I wanted to spend a little more time picking at details here.

Justice League #11 (2005) by Adam Beechen, Carlo Barberi, Walden Wong and Heroic Age

1.) Excellent Atlantean world-building... The first issue finds a Justice League contingent consisting of Superman, Wonder Woman, Steel and Stargirl visiting Aquaman in Atlantis to celebrate the annual Coronation Day festival. This is Stargirl's first time meeting Aquaman, and it doesn't go well, but fortunately the pair get to bond while stopping a giant monster from destroying Atlantis when it slips free of its magical bonds. Writer Adam Beechen frames the story as a letter being written from Stargirl to her stepdad/sometimes sidekick Pat "Stripesy" Duggan, aka STRIPE (He'll briefly appear in his robot battle suit in a later issue in this collection). 

In the opening sections, Beechen does some interesting world-building regarding Aquaman's kingdom. Atlanteans are all vegetarian, eating only kelp and seaweed, fish being "like those sacred cows in India." (Good! I always think it's super-weird when Aquaman is shown eating fish, as he is so often depicted being able to engage in back-and-forth conversation with them. Human beings have to do some weird acts of cognitive dissonance to get to the point where we've decided that some animals are food animals and some are companion animals, but imagine if we could, like, converse with pigs and cows. Something tells me they wouldn't end up on our plates.)

Light is provided by phosphorescent algae that they coat their buildings in.

As for the individual Atlanteans, they all have short hair (save Aquaman) so it doesn't get in their eyes underwater. Those eyes are large ( the script says but the art doesn't show) so that they can see better in the dim world of the ocean floor, and they are all extremely strong and heavy, the result of evolving to the ocean pressure (That last bit, at least, seems borrowed from Peter David's '90s run on Aquaman). 

2.)...Although it's still not good enough. It's all but impossible to make Atlantis seem like a realistic place...or, at least, I haven't seen a comic book, cartoon or movie achieve it yet. While Beechen admirably put some thought into various aspects of the Atlantis in this comic, the fact remains that it is basically depicted as the surface world, with just some bubbles and fish floating here and there.

Artist Barberi has various characters' hair floating a bit, but just as if there's a gentle wind, not as if they are underwater. The characters all stand, walk and even sit in chairs, rather than float or swim; I think the bit about how heavy Atlanteans was meant to explain why they are all shown standing around rather than floating in the water, but it doesn't explain why the visiting Leaguers walk around, nor does it explain how exactly a dinner party works in Atlantis, with Aquaman and his guests sitting in chairs around a table, upon which seaweed and kelp stay on plates, rather than floating above the plates...which float above the table...

I was also a little disappointed in the technology that Stargirl and company wear. In the third panel of the story, just as she and the other Leaguers step off the Javelin, she mentions "the little doodad that The Atom and Steel came up with that lets us breathe and communicate underwater." 

As you can see above, it just looks like a microphone headset. How it would help them communicate is obvious, but how exactly does it help them breathe? I'm obviously A-OK with the hand-waving explanation of "It's super-science, you wouldn't get it, Caleb," but I wish  Barberi would have gestured in the direction of something that looked more effective, like a clear mask that fit over their noses and mouths, for example. 

As for the make-up of the League visitors, they are basically there because they are powerful, and if the threat is big enough to take out Superman and Wonder Woman, than it's one that Aquaman and Stargirl must take very seriously. I think they are all pretty good choices for characters who could survive underwater easily, too (Steel's super-suit acting like a skin-tight submarine, of course), although in this regard Stargirl seems to be the odd one out. (She explains that her cosmic converter belt protects her from the pressure, although that wouldn't explain why she doesn't float on the sea floor, as she's obviously not as heavy as Steel or as dense as Superman and Wonder Woman). 

I suppose an easier solution would have been to have Doctor Fate or Green Lantern with them, and then Beechen could have used a magic spell or GL's power-ring as an explanation for how the Leaguers could breathe, talk and even walk underwater...

3.) As seen in Metal Men #48, the year before I was born! The particular threat is a giant, humanoid creature named Umbra, and as it's rising from the sea floor, Superman notes, "I've heard of this creature! The Metal Men stopped him once before when he nearly escaped!"

It's an oddly specific statement, specifically since the Metal Men don't appear in this issue...or this comics series...or in the cartoon the comic is based on (At least, not in my memory). I assumed that meant Beechen and Barberi borrowed this particular giant monster from an old Metal Men comic. A quick google reveals that Umbra is the name of a god that Eclipso was trying to revive in1976's  Metal Men #48, but he didn't make the cover, which is dominated by Eclipso and the title characters.  

A shout-out a decades-old story in a comic whose audience consists of kids and new readers might seem odd, but I actually prefer Beechen noting even in an oblique way that he didn't create the character. I've grown increasingly uncomfortable with how often some DC writers use other creators' characters or concepts in such a way that a reader can be lead to believe they are original. 

Justice League #14 (2005) by Adam Beechen, Carlo Barberi, Walden Wong and Heroic Age

4.) Wait, how many trenchcoats does it take to make a brigade...?
This issue actually isn't very good, and rather actively annoyed me in its presentation of Zauriel and Etrigan's equivocal speech at the end, but it is of great interest for several reasons. 

The one thing that Beechen did that I thought was really effective though was handling the exposition through a whispered conversation between Booster Gold and The Flash Wally West. The Leaguers would have a conversation regarding the conflict, and whenever they would mention something that needed explained—Deadman, Limbo, etc—Booster would repeat it in the form of a question, Flash would rattle off the necessary exposition, and Booster would reply, "Oh. Sure."

As for that conflict, The Demons Three have apparently taken over Limbo, bricking off the passages to Heaven and Hell (neither of which is named directly here), leaving the souls of purgatory stuck there. Deadman has possessed Wonder Woman—the event that dominates the cover, even if it's only a couple pages at the beginning of the issue—to ask the League for help. They agree by assembling the "Trenchcoat Brigade," which is another thing Booster asks Flash to explain. 

This is one of those interesting things I was talking about, as the Trenchcoat Brigade hail from the 1990 mature readers Books of Magic series, and would later appear in various Vertigo books. This informal alliance (their name being merely a joking reference made by John Constantine), consisted of Constantine, Dr. Occult, Mister E and The Phantom Stranger. 

The "brigade" that appears in this comic is short on trenchcoats...and original members. Doctor Occult and The Phantom Stranger are the only two who appear, and the Stranger is wearing his traditional formal wear and cape look, not the trenchcoat design he wore in his Vertigo appearances. This line-up is really closer to a Sentinels of Magic/Shadowpact/Justice Leaguer Dark kind of line-up, but I guess Beechen wanted to work in the very unlikely name drop, and so this trenchcoat-light brigade includes Doctor Occult, Doctor Fate, Zatanna, Etrigan The Demon, Zauriel and the Stranger. 

5.) The only reason I bought this single issue 16 years ago. I love the Zauriel character, his introduction to the League in the early issues of Grant Morrison, Howard Porter and John Dell's JLA remains one of my favorite Justice Leaguer stories and, indeed, favorite super-comics in general, and I think he has enormous unrealized potential (although I do think he works best as a team character rather than a solo character). 

So I bought this in part just to see the character again, who at that point had long been out of the pages of Justice League comics (he disappeared from the team along with much of the line-up when Morrison handed the baton to writer Mark Waid in 2000), and in part just to see what he might look like when put into the context of the Bruce Timm design-inspired universe of DC's animated universe. 

As  you can see, cover artist Kelsey Shannon's design for the character on the cover is inspired by his original look, as he's wearing what he was wearing upon arriving on Earth from heaven in JLA #6 and #7. Inside, he's dressed in his superhero "costume," the armor he acquired in the pages of 1998's JLA: Paradise Lost, the not-very-good miniseries that is notable for being written by one pre-Ultimate X-Men Mark Millar, who would go on to some fame and riches for writing many, many very popular, usually awful comics*. 

That armor was white and gold, and covered in various sigils. As you can see from the image above, for his appearances in the Justice League Unlimited comic, Barberi basically just scrubbed his suit of sigils and excess filigree, and gave it a very clean look. That is, I imagine, just how he would have appeared on the cartoon, had he done so: There was no way that all those fussy design elements would have translated to animation, nor seemed to fit in with the sleek and simplified look of all the other heroes' costumes. 

As for Etrigan, his was a familiar face in DC's animated universe, and his design was thus fairly well-established before this issue came out. Barberi retained his thick, short, stocky, ape-lie appearance, including the fact that he sometimes rests  with his knuckles on the ground. 

Justice League #25 (2006) by Adam Beechen, Rick Burchett and Heroic Age

6.) Scary stuff.
Maybe the best single issue in the collection is Justice League #25, in which Beechen is joined by Rick Burchett, whose figures are a bit slimmer looking than Barberi's wider, more muscular heroes (the above cover is by neither artist, however; Ty Templeton drew that).  

The script sure gives him a lot of cool stuff to draw, however.

The story is a pretty simple one starring Blue Devil. He's among a team of Leaguers helping address a burning building, and is hurt when his infernal appearance frightens a little boy. He has a long-ish talk with Doctor Fate about how his origin and how he wishes he wasn't so scary-looking, even if it meant relinquishing his powers, when the pair of them are summoned to address a bigger crisis: Doctor Destiny has used his dream powers to take over a city with an army of nightmares. 

The above page shows the heroes teleporting into a street filled with such monsters, and the next five pages feature Blue Devil trident-ing his way through swarms of similarly designed scary-but-not-too-scary-for-a-kids-comic monsters. It's a really bravura sequence, and one of those that, after reading, I felt like standing up and applauding the artist.

Justice League #33 (2007) By Jason Hall, Carlo Barberi, Bob Petrecca and Heroic Age

7.) The Crimson Avenger?!
According to his Wikipedia page, The Crimson Avenger appeared on the Justice League Unlimited cartoon repeatedly in brief, usually dialogue-less cameos, but I'll be honest, I don't remember seeing him in the show at all. That's why I was so surprised to see him turning up here, which makes this one of only two comics I can think of that I've read in which the original Crimson Avenger stars (the other was from a one-shot the title of which escapes me; but he receives a vision of Superman fighting Doomsday, in some weird-ass way to keep the Avenger's then in-continuity status as DC's first superhero but also, have Superman inspiring him; anyone remember what comic that was? It was either a Secret Files & Origins or an 80-Page Giant, I think). 

In this issue, written by Jason Hall, he and Stargirl are set-up as foils for one another, each complaining about the other in ways that seem particularly mean and, well, nasty, particularly on the part of Stargirl, since she's insulting an honest-to-God senior citizen (although the Avenger seems more like someone in his sixties than his nineties here). 

The issue is particularly cameo-heavy, with the two heroes working mostly with characters from the JSA—Sand, Hourman, Doctor Mid-Nite, Mister Terrific, Atomsmasher—to the extent that it seems like the JSA is another little league within the League. 

The version of the character on Ty Templeton's cover wears a tie, but the one in Barberi's interiors wears an ascot. He wields a pair of "pea-shooters out of some old black & white movie not  even worth colorizing," in Stargirl's words,  but rather than a pair of pistols, Barberi draws his guns as some sort of high-tech blasters, and the few times we see them being used, they seem to shoot some kind of laser beams rather than bullets, although that could just be the way in which they are rendered and colored (their sound effect is "BLAM! BLAM!", which is the sort of sound one would expect from a standard gun).

The two characters interrupt a spell that Morgaine Le Fey is attempting to restore her son's eternal youth, when something goes wrong, and...

8.) Freaky Friday Wednesday. 
...they swap bodies, Freaky Friday-style! There are some amusing moments to this, of course, the first of which is when they try to figure out how to wear one's regular clothes, but a pretty uncomfortable question comes up immediately, given that unlike Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster (or Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan), they are members of the opposite sex. 

So, um, how does the Crimson Avenger go a week or so without seeing teenage Stargirl's naked body, given that we see them change clothes repeatedly? I...don't know, but I was surprised to see Hall mention the dilemma pretty directly in one scene, when Avenger-in-Stargirl's body is shown wearing a cheerleading outfit in a girls locker room with a few other cheerleaders, covering her eyes and saying, "Uh... I'll just change at home,:

This, of course, elides the fact that Avenger-in-Stargirl's body must have changed into that cheerleading outfit herself.

As one might expect, both characters learn a lesson from their experience, and are much nicer to one another at the end, with Avenger offering to buy Stargirl a malted and her asking him if that's anything like a frappuccino. 

Justice League Unlimited #37 (2007) by Matt Wayne, Min S. Ku, Jeff Albrecht and Heroic Age

9.) Ha ha, classic Spectre! The next issue features a familiar-ish story line: The Spectre Force has been separated from its host/conscience, John Corrigan, and is on a rampage, seeking to lethally punish all the criminals it can. 

On the opening splash page, he's gigantic, and is leading over the prison wall at Balckgate, grabbing handfuls of convicts to wreak vengeance upon.

Writer Matt Wayne and pencil artist Min S. Ku have The Spectre going old school on his victims, which turns out to be a good way to murder people in a kid's comic, given its cartoonishness: He transforms them into fish, and starts fishing for them with a fishing rod. 

When League heavy-hitters Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter and Superman attack, he makes short work of them, turning Superman into glass and shattering his jaw ("A 'glass jaw' indeed, Superman") and the other two into candles. He then picks up one of the convicts-turned-fish when a crackling frying pan appears in his other hand. 

Deadman, Batman, Hawkgirl, Doctor Fate and Rama Kushna eventually save the day, reuniting The Spectre with Corrigan—just as he has turned another bunch of convicts into balloons and made a pin appear in his other hand—and undoing all his damage. 

This is my favorite way to depict The Spectre and his acts of vengeance, as semi-cartoony, sometimes ironic bits of weirdo body horror. 

Justice League Unlimited #40 (2008) by Ben McCool, Dario Brizuela and Heroic Age

10.) It's a tuxedo or nothing, in my book. The final issue in the collection rather randomly features Green Lantern Alan Scott among a group of Justice Leaguers that Doctor Fate, Zatanna and Flash call in to help him deal with some strange thefts of shadows in Central City. The most likely suspect for thievery involving shadows is, of course, Shadow Thief, but he has a new, magical partner: The Warlock of Ys. At this point, the comic becomes a kinda sorta re-telling of the first Zatanna story from the late 1960s, but what really struck me was how shabbily Zatara is dressed. 

Rather than a sharp tuxedo, he appeared to be dressed a bit more like a ringmaster. In addition to a top hat, ascot and coat, he had a checkered vest, and what look like baggy brown khakis in his first appearance. When he appears later, his pants are the same color as his coat at least, but still, he doesn't look nearly fancy enough for my tastes. 

*While his Paradise Lost wasn't that good, and a disappointment to Young Caleb, who was a fan of many of DC's previous comics featuring angelic and demonic characters and, of course, of JLA and Zauriel, I think Millar's best comics work seems to be his earliest work for DC, although his earliest Marvel work also had a great deal of promise, and some great ideas here and there (enough that they built the Marvel Cinematic Universe on bits of foundation he laid). The more popular Millar got, though, the worse his comics got. I suspect there are a couple of obvious factors at play here, but I think one is that Millar is a writer who needs an editor, and preferably one who can push back against some of his worst impulses and help reign them in if it better serves the characters or story to do so. "Reigning in" isn't exactly Millar's strong point, after all.