Thursday, June 24, 2021

Marvel's September previews reviewed

I like this cover for Alien #7, but I wonder if it would be more effective with just one of those aliens on the barn, making for a sharper contrast between the bucolic setting and the aliens from Alien...

Oh come now, a darker color might go better with Jennifer Walters' skin tone—be it white or green or red—but I'd hardly call going blonde being "transformed into something terrifying," as the solicitation copy for Avengers #48 does...

Conan The Barbarian #25  is apparently in the neighborhood of an anniversary issue, and so it's a $5, 40-page anthology issue. Writers include Larry Hama and Christopher Priest, while one of the artists involved is the great Marcos Martin. As for the cover, that's obviously by long-time Conan fan Kevin Eastman, who I still haven't gotten used to seeing drawing non-TMNT characters. I suspect seeing  him drawing Marvel and DC super-comics characters is always going to be a thrill for me.

Dark Ages #1 The solicitation copy  for writer Tom Taylor and artist Iban Cohello's six-issue crossover event series implies that this time everything the heroes have just isn't enough to save the day, and that "The world outside our about to end." 

It reminds me a bit of DC Comics' 1996 event Final Night (recently-ish reviewed here) where the heroes spent a significant time trying to come to terms with the idea of not saving the day and managing the fall-out of their failure, and  the cover image, the word "dark" in the title and the "The lights are about to go out" slug in the solicit further suggests Final Night, in which Earth's sun was being extinguished. 

If this really does turn out to be rather Final Night-ish, well, this won't be the first time a modern Marvel crossover event series has borrowed a plotline from an old DC one, but that's just mere conjecture on my part. One has to  assume that whatever threat the Marvels are facing here, it's not as simple as the sun being extinguished, as whipping up a new sun seems to be the sort of thing Mister Fantastic, Tony Stark and T'Challa could handle in an afternoon.

I guess we'll see. So far, at least, there aren't a million tie-in issues listed so, if that ends up staying the case in the months to come, then it's already a refreshingly different kind of Marvel crossover event series...

Aw, look how sad Dr. Strange's cape, the best character from 2016 film Dr. Strange, is on this cover of The Death of Doctor Strange #1 by Jed Mackay and Lee Garbett.

Speaking of Doctor Strange, that's a pretty neat cover for Defenders #2 by (I'm going to guess) Joe Quinones... 

I can't look at the cover of Infinite Destinies and not think of the TV show Friends. I assume that is not the effect they were going for. 

I also like this cover for Kazar: Lord of The Savage Land #1. I'm sort of interested in Marvel's Ka-Zar, the publisher's answer to Tarzan (who lives with his pet saber-toothed tiger in a land of dinosaurs), but this series by Zac Thompson and German Garcia apparently follows-up on details from the Empyre crossover, which Ka-Zar was barely in (at least, the main series proper, the only part I read; I guess he died in a tie-in, and is now being resurrected with new powers...?). 

Miles Morales: Spider-Man #30  marks the 10-year anniversary of the character, if you would like to  feel old. Marvel is celebrating with a 40-page, $5 anthology special issue, plus a "facsimilie edition" reprinting of his appearance in Ultimate Fallout #4 and a bunch of variant covers guest-starring Miles. 

Why here's one now! This is Todd Nauck's variant cover for Thor #17; I dig Miles wearing his winter gear over his costume. 

Look, it's Squirrel Girl! By Gurihiru! That's exciting! 

But don't get too excited; it's just a cover image. The interiors of W.E.B. of Spider-Man #4 and #5 are by artist Alberto Alburquerque.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

DC's September previews reviewed

Nice cover on Aquaman: The Becoming #1, the first issue of a miniseries starring Aqualad Jackson  Hyde, the Aquaman of DC's near possible future Future State setting. Not sure if the interiors will look anything at all like that, though. Brandon Thomas is writing, and Diego Olortegui is handling the pencil art. 

Not sure which artist is responsible for this variant cover for Batman #112, but I like it. 

There are a lot of moving parts that I am still unfamiliar with when it comes to this "Fear State" crossover event story in Batman and related books, but I guess it's refreshing that they're doing a crossover event story in Batman and related books and featuring a villain other than The Joker for once. 

Is it wrong to say "Fuck yeah!" when you see a solicitation for a kids' comic...? Because that was my first  thought when I came across The Batman & Scooby-Doo Mysteries #6, in which Sholly Fisch and Scott Geralds present "the first historic meeting" between "a young Batman and a pup named Scooby-Doo!"

I've long thought DC was way too conservative with their use of the Scooby-Doo characters, sticking to just one version of the characters (that goofy adult comic aside) in all of their comics, and doing so at the expense of all other, equally valid versions of Scooby-Doo and the gang from the many other takes that have existed in different cartoons and movies over the decades. Like, for example, the A Pup Named Scooby-Doo version. So this should be fun...and it will be interesting to seejust how a pre-Baatman Bruce Wayne fits into the proceedings. 

Mr. Mxyzptlk and Calendar Man? In the same comic? Gene Luen Yang writing Batman/Superman #22 just for me, or is it just a happy coincidence? I guess we'll have to wait and see if Calendar Man gets his cool costume back or not; then we'll know for sure. Heck, I even really like the work of this issue's artist, Paul Pelletier!

After the character has starred in a couple of miniseries, John Ridley and Olivier Coipel will launch a new ongoing Batman comics featuring Jace Fox, the first-ish* black Batman with I Am Batman #1. I don't much care for the costume, with the face plate over his mouth. I mean, I guess that makes the costume more pandemic-safe, but it seems kind of...counterproductive? have a character be the first-ish black Batman and then cover every inch of his black skin, so that you can't tell he's black, you know? Of course, perhaps that will be an element of the storyline...

Have any of you been reading this series serially? If so, how is it? I'm sort of ambivalent about writer James Tynion IV—I didn't care for his Detective Comics run, but was more impressed with his Batman—but I'm a huge fan of artist Guillem March, who I think is the best Batman artist of the last decade or so. (Um, unless you count Kelly Jones, who has drawn some great Batman comics, like Kings of Fear, this decade, too. Nick Derington's work on Batman Universe was dynamite too, but, like some great Batman artists, it was too short to really stand out as a real "run" on the character, you know?) 

Legends of The Dark Knight #5 by Brandon Thomas and Giannis Milonogiannis promises...more Calendar Man! It's a Calendar Man-aissance! 

I'm really rather stressed out about The Milestone Compendium Vol. 1. The 1,320-page, $60 anthology includes the first story arcs from the Milestone titles Blood Syndicate, Hardware, Icon, Static Shock, Xombi and an issue of Shadow Cabinet #0. I'm interested in all of those comics on one level or another, but I'm not a fan of such huge books, and would really rather prefer title-specific collections, like ones devoted to Icon, to Hardware and so on. 

Those are some mighty sensible slacks for a super-villain on the cover of Suicide Squad: King Shark #1

*Do we want to count Grant Morrison and company's 2011 Batman of Africa, Batman Incorporated's  Batwing David Zavimbe as the first black Batman? That's the character inspired by one of the possible Batmen that appears in a story-within-a-story in 1973's Batman #250. As a member of the Club of Heroes-turned-Batman, Inc, he was technically a Batman, even if his name wasn't, you know, "Batman." Same goes for his successor, Batwing II Lucius Fox. 

Wednesday, June 09, 2021

"Bloodlines", "Underworld Unleashed" and Primal Force: On a stack of various '90s DC Comics

Green Lantern Corps Quarterly #1-#2 (1992) It's hard for me to imagine there was ever a point where the Green Lantern concept was popular enough to sustain not only an ongoing monthly (or two...or three), but also a 64-page quarterly book. More remarkable still, the Earth-born Green Lanterns Hal Jordan, John Stewart and Guy Gardner are all but absent from these issues, appearing only in the framing sequences, in which it's explained The Book of Oa contains the stories of all Green Lanterns ever, and that the comics that fill these quarterly anthologies are being seen through that sacred-ish text. 

Instead of those guys, Golden Age Green Lantern Alan Scott and comedy character G'Nort had ongoing features within the series (courtesy of Roger Stern, Dusty Abell and Steve Mitchell and Scott Lobdell and various artists, respectively), and the rest of the short stories are an assortment of one-offs, some featuring extant Green Lantern Corps members, others featuring original characters.

I should here note that these issues are now rendered rather problematic, thanks to the contributions of writer Gerard Jones, a prolific comic writer and writer-about-comics who was arrested for possession of child pornography in 2016. It's difficult to read anything he's written with that knowledge at this point, and I would prefer not to write about him at all, so I'm going to skip over his contributions to these issues, which include the framing sequences and a couple of short stories, one of which features an icky plot point from a previous writer made all the ickier with Jones name attached (That is, 13-year-old Arisa using a power ring to give herself an adult body with which to seduce Hal Jordan...and then becoming a scantily-clad model on Earth; "There I was... ... A bombshell on the outside and a baby on the inside!").

It was the Alan Scott stories I was most interested in. I'm particularly interested in the series' sixth issue, as that's when Alan officially becomes Sentinel for the first time (and gains a cool new costume), but I figured I would work my way there (If DC Comics wants to collect all the Alan Scott stories into a trade paperback, maybe with some Sentinel-focused later comics though, and save me the time and energy, I'd be much obliged! With a new TV show on the horizon, I think we oughta get some Alan Scott trades on the shelves, anyway). These first two chapters are fine, if unremarkable; his origin and early adventures are recounted as he tracks down some neo-Nazis (in the first one) and encounters Silver Age GL villain Hector Hammond (in the second one). His wife Molly and superhero children Todd Rice/Obsidian and Jennifer-Lyn Hayden/Jade appear in supporting roles. 

The G'Nort stories, in which he finds himself unceremoniously kicked out of the Justice League and taking on a homeless girl with a saxophone as his "sidekick", aren't terrible, but the humor feels a bit forced compared to that of the Justice League comics of Giffen/DeMatteis, which wasn't exactly the most subtle of comedic comics already.

Of the other shorts in these two issues, the first issue's introduction of Green Lantern Jack T. Chance in a story by John Ostrander features some pleasingly out-there art by Flint Henry, which is some of the most detailed, crazy-looking Green Lantern art I've seen prior to Liam Sharp's just-concluded collaboration with Grant Morrison, and each of the two issues features a Dough Moench-written, Paul Gulacy-drawn story with great art. 

The second issue also features a Mark Waid-written, Ty Templeton-drawn story about a Lantern arguing the rules of Green Lantern rings with his own ring as it rapidly runs out of energy, a story that feels like a fan conversation that has been masterfully transliterated into a short story.

All in all, other than the retroactive ickiness of Jones' presence, these were remarkably accessible quality comics, and unless DC announces a collection of the Alan Scott material in the near future, I guess I'm going to try tracking down the rest of the series in the near future.

Speaking of Green Lantern Corps Quarterly, however, I wonder if DC might want to revisit the concept. After all, these days there are so many heroes from Earth with GL rings* and only one place for them to appear on a regular basis (the Green Lantern title), a quarterly featuring short, solo adventures might be particularly welcome...

Guy Gardner : Warrior #36-#37 (1995) I was actually looking forward to Guy Gardner: Warrior #36, the first of two issues tying into Underworld Unleashed, based on the strength of Daryl Banks' cover. I've never before encountered this cyborg version of Guy before, but as evil duplicates go, it's a nice design, and the red anti-GL symbol is a nice touch; we've seen so many Corps symbols over the years now, and they have generally been complicated designs, so much so that this one looks elegant in its expression of anti-Green Lantern sentiment (compare it with the symbols for the Sinestro Corps or the Red Lantern Corps, for example).

Unfortunately, Banks' contribution to the book ends with the cover, and the interior art is penciled by Marc Campos and inked by Dan Davis and it is not a good-looking, easy-to-read book. I had forgotten how much many DC superhero books of the era attempted to do Image Comics styles with various degrees of success, just as I had forgotten how, well, nasty and mean-spirited writer Beau Smith's Warrior book could be, a mixture that had made the few issues I had read pretty unpleasant experiences, even if the premise of the book was a solid one.

Now, I never much liked Guy Gardner as a character; he does have his charms, but it takes the right writer to make him into an asshole with a heart of gold, rather than just an asshole. 

At this point, he was no longer a Lantern, and was no longer slinging Sinestro's ring, but had discovered his body contained ancient alien DNA. Activated by a drink from a magic chalice, it gave him dumb and gross-looking powers: He was covered with primary colored tattoos and could morph weapons directly out of his body, turning his hands into big guns or blades or whatever (It wasn't a terrible idea for powers, but, because of the era, the weapons were generally ugly-looking in their design, and usually accompanied with some body horror like crawling of flesh). Also, he pretty much stopped ever wearing a shirt.

Not too far into the series, however, Smith had Guy Gardner open a superhero-themed bar, Warrior's, in New York City. That was, as I said, a pretty solid premise, and it allowed Smith to bring back a mess of obscure or too-little-used DC superheroes as employees or patrons. In this particular issue, Warrior's seems a bit like the Planet Krypton restaurant from Kingdom Come without the commitment to the theme, while Wildcat, Lead from the Metal Men, a machinegun-toting Lady Blackhawk and Arisa are on duty as bouncers.

In issue #36, a silhouette we're meant to think is the old Guy Gardner shows up, blows a hole in the wall and enters, revealing himself as the guy on the cover in a splash panel that distills everything wrong with the art, from the way the character is drawn, with a coloring effect covering his entire right arm so it's unclear what his weapon is a or how it works (I eventually pieced together that it somehow makes ring constructs?), to the exaggerated flaring of his collar covering up his anti-Lantern symbol, to the bizarre anatomy of the a waitress in the foreground, in which she seems to be all breast, her head, torso and tiny baby-hands looking like they belong to someone else. The rest of the panel is just a mess of people and objects one might find in a bar.

The rest of the book is a fight scene. The Guyborg brutally kills a pair of huge bouncers who aren't name superheroes, but he does it in such a poorly drawn way its not entirely clear what happened—it looks like there's a plasma construct of a curving brick wall, plus lots of spikes...? Anyway, they definitely get impaled. A few panels later, a waitress decides that this Guy is definitely not the real Guy. 

Then some villains attack, fresh off their deal with Neron: There's Cheetah, someone calling himself "Blackguard--The Human Killing Spree" and The Earthworm, who has a whole series of odd powers, including the ability to jump into the ground and tunnel like Bugs Bunny and command armies of "vermin" which here includes rats, snakes and, for some reason, alligators. The bouncer, the villains and the Guyborg all fight for the remainder of the issue, and I lost count of how many bar patrons died during the course of the issue. I'm going to guess maybe all of them...?

The issue ends with the villains defeated and the evil Guy being lead to a black candle by Neron's voice; he lights it and disappears.

You know, a 16-page superhero bar brawl might sound like a lot of visceral fun, but because of the way the book is drawn, it consists mostly of the characters tossing around childish insults while Campos puts them in seemingly random poses, and the reader is left to figure out what was meant to be happening. glad I didn't waste $1.75 on this in 1995, and feel a little bad about wasting about $2 on it now.

As for the real Guy, Smith, Campos and Davis find him at the climax of a crossover with Darkstars in issue #37, the Paul Pelletier-drawn cover of which has a good example of how gross Guy's power can be, as the blades he threatens John Stewart with rip out of his skin. 

In the pages within, Guy looks more like then-WWF wrestler The Ultimate Warrior more than ever, as he has a long mane of hair. He and Darkstar Ferrin Colos (the one with the pink head) are in a fight with Evil Star and his Starlings and...well, that's the whole first ten pages, really. 

In the second half of the book, jut as Guy's cutting his hair with a giant knife that grew out of the palm of his hand, Neron appears to him and offers him a cold beer. Neron tempts him by making his every wish come true, laying it on incredibly thick: He'll restore Coast City, bring back dead loved ones like Ice and so on. And all he wants Guy to do is kill John Stewart who is, at this point, a Darkstar himself. Neron even makes killing John seem like no big deal, saying that John was supposed to have died already, but because of Extant's messing around with time during Zero Hour, John was spared, and the result of that was a bunch of the bad things that happened in Guy's life.

Guy doesn't buy it, of course, and he goes no farther than to shoot a bunch of knives out of his hand and almost hit John.  The last page checks in with Guyborg, and we see the results of his deal with Neron: He got a...goofy hat? I guess? Maybe more? The next issue box reads "The End?", but Wikipedia didn't list issue #38 as an Underworld Unleashed tie-in, so I'm not sure if or where the story of Guy Gardner's evil robot clone and hi new Satan-gifted hat is picked up on. 

Manhunter #0-4 (1995) The first four issues of the Steven Grant-written, Vince Giarrano-drawn series looked a little like this:

The series only lasted 13 issues, but, whatever the reason, it couldn't have been that the art wasn't insane enough. 

Primal Force #13 (1995) I suspected that this issue might be a fairly direct tie-in to Underworld Unleashed, given the appearance of one of DC's devil surrogates on the cover, and the fact that it was visually alluded to in Underworld Unleashed: The Abyss—Hell's Sentinel, but to my surprise there's no talk of Neron, no black candles, no temptations or deal-making. Rather, this comic appeared to be about fancy fonts, more than anything else (I should here note that I read the tie-in first, before all of the other issues of Primal Force I recently acquired, which is why I am writing about it before the others). 

Red Tornado speaks in a red dialogue balloon with a shadow balloon behind it, the red coloration fading into blue near the bottom and the font looking like that of an old-school computer.

Claw's claw speaks to him in a thick, bold balloon with a jagged outline, colored purple to match the color of the claw itself, I guess. 

The leader of a weird cult The Church of The Holy Cataclysm speaks in even more jagged balloons, which also casts a sort of shadow like Red Tornado's, and while his balloons are white, the area behind the words are colored in as if with a highlighter, a sort of sepia color that seems designed to match the coloration of the character's skin and robes.

The Tornado Tyrant, Satanus and a lightning-powered member of the team whose name I didn't catch also speak with showy special fonts and balloon design. It's...a lot, and it really overpowers the narrative, given that the way the characters dialogue appears on the pages tends to be far more colorful and dramatic than almost all of the characters (Red Tornado and Black Condor being the only characters in this issue that look like they belong in a superhero comic; even Tornado is visually drowned out by his dialogue bubbles, though).

The way this ties in to Underworld Unleashed seems to be that the team, who seem to be called "The Leymen" within the pages of the book rather than "Primal Force," are dealing with the world-gone-mad elements of Neron's plan, as one of the characters tries to get Claw to a hospital after he chops off his claw, and they keep running into riots. Meanwhile, the Church of the Cataclysm disgorges its congregants into the streets toting weapons...
...and Satanus has been posing as a normal-looking human, but Claw and the others can see him for what he is.

And—well, never mind all that for a second. How on Earth do you think Satanus gets that helmet on over his horns? I've been thinking about it for a while now, and it just doesn't seem possible, unless it was forged over his head, or he was wearing it before his horns grew and he just never takes it off...

Where was I? Oh, anyway, this is a weird comic to walk in on. Martian Manhunter stops by to visit Red Tornado, who looks oddly naked without his cape, but then he flies off to fight the Tornado Tyrant, who looks weirdly out of place in the book, which is rather amateurishly drawn in a  rough '90s style, but with a Vertigo palette that makes everything look somewhat dull and brown. Except for all those garish. dialogue bubbles, of course. 

Primal Force #0-#7 (1994) The title of the book would seem to indicate that the name of this brand-new, post-Zero Hour super-team was Primal Force, but within the book they are referred to as The Leyman, the new iteration of a secret society lead by Dr. Mist to protect the Earth. They might as well have gone with The Forgotten  Heroes, given how obscure some of these guys.

In addition to Mist, who was first introduced in a 1978 issue of Super Friends as one of the Global Guardians, there's a new legacy version of Mist's former Guardians colleague Jack O'Lantern; Golem, who seems to be a character from the '90s Ragman comics based on a single flashback featuring a Ragman cameo; a new version of 1970s sword-and-sorcery character Claw The Unconquered; brand-new character Meridian, who can teleport herself and others around the world using the ley lines; and Red Tornado.

Ironically, while Red Tornado is by far the most popular member of the group, writer Steven T. Seagle's portrayal of him in the first eight issues of the series is as little more than an empty shell. Tornado doesn't talk, doesn't always seem to understand what's going on, and frequently emits a series of rattles and clanks. At one point the team checks into a hotel, and Torando, with just a tuft of his blue cape still clinging to his shoulders, just sort of floats around scraping the ceiling, like a helium balloon starting to lose its air.

Seagle connects the new team book to Zero Hour by stating that a half-dozen of Mist's Leymen were killed off by Extant, and so when a new threat arises, he has to recruit a new team in a hurry. The surviving members of the old Leymen encourage him to recruit superheroes this time, to deal with the new super-threats facing the world, but the calling that goes out seems pretty random, as it pulls these five in (Mist rejects Meridian on account of the fact that she's a lady, but she ends up sticking around through circumstances as much as anything else; despite her defiance of his sexist rule, this is hardly patriarchy-smashing book. I mean, Meridian spends the entirety of the first four issues in a bathing suit, before teleporting home to grab a pair of tights, half-tank top and boots to wear over it). 

Thus Primal Force starts with a #0 issue, complete with the silver ink on the logo and the "The Beginning of Tomorrow!" slug on the cover.  Tomorrow, alas, didn't last all that long for the Leymean/Primal Force; their book was canceled after the 14th issue. It's sort of too bad. While nothing revolutionary, these comics are certainly all sorts of okay, and God knows there were far worse comics being published in 1994.  Hell, it's certainly the first time I've enjoyed Red Tornado in a comic book!

After initially being brought together to face Cataclysm, some sort of supernatural horror that has the unfortunate name and look of an X-Men villain, the team gets somewhat lost along the ley lines, as Meridian teleports them to a variety of trouble-spots, first to an island in the South Pacific where they square off against a huge minotaur; then to Hong Kong, where Claw continues his interrupted mission to rescue some victims of human trafficking from a supervillain and a crime lord that turns into a were-cat (and, interestingly, has erected his own labyrinth through which to hunt his prey; this comes right on the heels of a story featuring a minotaur, oddly enough); and, finally, to Australia, where they're recruited to help solve a murder that involves people who can turn into half-human, half-animal monsters (Australian superhero Tasmananian Devil gets a shout-out). 

Jack O'Lantern, who is probably the closest to a traditional superhero despite his terrible costume that looks like it quite literally consists of a bag over his head, is separated during this last adventure, and finds himself in another world with a mystical water lady who has appeared off-and-on throughout the series. 

This leads to issue #7, which seems to be pretty clearly written to boost sales on the book, as you can see from the cover: 
The magic water lady and Jack travel like Christmas Carol ghosts through time and space, checking in on other, more popular superheroes who give him inspiration on how to be a better hero, or, in the case of replacement Batman John-Paul Valley, how not to be. So in short vignettes, penciled by guest artists Nich Choles and Greg Larocque, they revisit the death and rebirth of Superman; the challenge of Artemis that temporarily lost Wonder Woman her title and costume; Hawkman battling a bird monster; Green Lantern Kyle Rayner trying to juggle being an artist, superhero and member of the new and short-lived iteration of the Titans lead by Arsenal (a line-up I have a great deal of fondness for); and then see Valley roughing up some car thieves, firing a big, metal, bat-shuriken into one's leg for the hell of it.

Obviously the plot didn't work that well, but heck, maybe it staved off cancellation for a bit. It certainly provides a neat window into the DCU circa '94 when read at this point. When Jack returns to the real world, he finds his team somewhat changed, as he had been out for far longer than he thought, and now there are two new members (including the '90s Black Condor) and Golem has changed form. It turned out to be a good stopping point for a chunk of the series, but I hadn't meant to read the first half so much as I meant to read up until the point with the intriguing cover, so I guess they got me on that.

The artwork on the series is generally provided by pencil artist Ken Hooper, inker Barbara Kaalberg and colorist Phil Allen, with Choles guest-drawing twice and a couple of guests helping out with lay-outs or assists here and there.

The style isn't overtly that of a superhero comic, particularly one for the early '90s, and the art tends to be quite representational. The result is, as I said of the Underworld Unleashed issue above, a DC super-comic that looks an awful lot like a Vertigo comic. Maybe that was the wrong look for the series, and it would have lasted longer had it leaned into the superhero genre harder visually. I guess we'll never know now. 

Anyway, I look forward to reading the second half of the series...and seeing if that Underworld Unleashed tie-in is better in context than read on its own.  

Steel #21 (1995) Some of these Underworld Unleashed tie-ins certainly seem to fall under the "red sky" category of tie-ins, as there's nothing to connect this to to the event series beyond the fact that a villain shows up with new and different powers than he had in previous appearances (Here there's a single page in which said villain spends four panels telling the hero about the supervillain convention in hell where Neron upgraded various villains with new powers). 

This issue is from about halfway through the book's 53-issue run. Steel's co-creator Louise Simonson is still writing, and the book is now being drawn by pencil artist Paul Gosier and inker Rich Faber. 

Steel is flying around his hometown of Washington, D.C. doing regular superhero stuff like stopping looters and rescuing people from fires when he's attacked by the new and improved Superman villain, Metallo. Steel knocks Metallo's head off of his body, which is the usual way to stop Metallo, but it seems Metallo has a new ability: He is now able to control metal, growing new bodies from whatever is nearby his head. 

And, um, that's all there is to it, really. Metallo ultimately makes the mistake of incorporating a bomb into the final body he grows in this issue, only to realize too late that the metal casing of the bomb surrounds plastic explosives, and he detonates himself. In the final pages, Alpha Centurion appears to pick Steel up to participate in a Superman crossover.

Like most of the handful of issues of the series I've picked up from back-issue bins, I found the book disappointing...I like the character of Steel a lot, but outside of a handful of the Christopher Priest-written issues, I haven't really liked any of his solo comics. 

Of course, it's perhaps unfair to judge the series by this issue alone, as it really feels like Simonson was writing around the mandates of a crossover tie-in—which were apparently to work in a differently-powered Metallo into this month's issue, whatever else she might have planned. As for the art, it is far more legible than, say, that in Guy Gardner: Warrior, but Gosier seemed to be far more comfortable drawing super-people in action than regular people, as any scenes not featuring the metal guys hitting each other look forced and unnatural.

Steel Annual #2 (1995) The theme for DC's 1995 annuals was "Year One," which, by that time, had essentially become shorthand for a character's origin, more than the rather literal meaning of Frank Miller and company's "Year One" arc in Batman, which detailed the character's first year. There were almost 30 annuals published that year, and the Steel one was among a relatively small group of them that were faced with a particular challenge: The star character was himself more-or-less brand-new, Steel debuting in 1993, and we had already seen his origin and the first year of his superhero career.

Writer (and Steel co-creator) Louise Simonson gets around this by interpreting "Year One" quite broadly. Most of the 46-page story is set well before he dons the armor he would be introduced in during the "Reign of the Supermen" storyline (Indeed, that happens on page 45). Instead, Simonson begins his origin when he is still a child, on the day his grandparents were murdered.

This launches the throughline of Simonson's story, as people close to young John Henry Irons die in a variety of tragic ways—first his grandparents, then his parents, then his younger brother—inspiring him to seek out power and wealth however he can in an effort to keep his family safe. He begins by pursuing sports, stumbles into physics and ultimately gets a well-paying job as a ballistics expert and weapons engineer. 

Simonson mostly fills in the blanks of things we already know about the character from this appearances in Superman comics, his own title and elsewhere—that he befriended jock Guy Gardner in high school, that he had a relationship with a morally dubious fellow weapons engineer named Dr. Angora Lapin, that he went into hiding and took a job in construction, that Superman saved his life during a fall and left him with the words to make sure his life "counts for something", that he descides to try to fill in for Superman as a literal Man of Steel when Doomsday seemingly kills Metropolis' hero. 

Along the way, Simonson fills in blanks, including the development of Steel armor which wasn't, after all, put together in his garage during an inspired all-nighter or anything. (The prototype for it is seen on Phil Jimenez's cover; I like the fact that Irons decided to install a chest plate featuring fake pecs and a six-pack on it.)

There's some janky bits, including one wherein a young Irons randomly shifts through time only to see his future self as Steel fighting villains in the skies above Washington, D.C., and essentially unknowingly inspired by himself before ever being inspired by Superman, but it's overall the portrait of an admirable, self-made man with just enough flirtation with folklore to make for a potent superhero character (Named for the famous steel-driving man who never gave up, Steel is essentially a modern-day John Henry who teams up with the machine to fight for justice). 

If the story leaves something to be desired, the art leaves far more. There are four different pencillers and three different inkers involved, and none of them produce particularly distinguished work, although Joe St. Pierre and Dave Bednar do artist (and Steel co-creator) Jon Bogdanove's original armor design justice with a reveal of it on the penultimate page. Obviously, the style shifts throughout the book, and thought it's generally easy to read, it's far from the best the character and his adventures have looked. Reading it today, I couldn't help but wish Jimenez managed to draw the interiors as well as the cover. 

All in all though, it's a decent-enough introduction to the character. Maybe not worthy of the "Year One" name, as its hardly comparable to Miller and David Mazzucchelli's seminal Batman arc, but I imagine it got the job it set out to do in 1995 done. It's kind of too bad there isn't aren't many Steel comics available to newer readers today; outside of the big Superman crossovers collected in trade paperbacks and his JLA appearances, of course. The character seems ripe for an original graphic novel, and I do hope DC has someone working on one. 

Superboy Annual #2 (1995) As a character, Superboy was in the same difficult spot that Steel was when it came time to craft a "Year One" annual: He had debuted in a comic book just about two years earlier, and we had watched the entire first year of of his career unfold before us in the pages of his own book and various Superman comics. 

In fact, Superboy presented a bit more of a challenge to the writers of his annual than Steel would have, since Steel, at least, had a life before he became a superhero, whereas Superboy was literally "born" during his first appearance. A teenage clone of the real Superman, he was freed of his clone tube and began life with the body and mind of a 16-year-old, but no past beyond gestating in said tube. 

Co-writers Karl and Barbara Kesel solve this problem in a pretty interesting way, one in which I'm somewhat reluctant to spoil here, even though the book is 26 years old now (and, outside of a back-issue bin, there's no real way for someone who hasn't already read it to read it today; although I do kinda wish DC would collect it, either by continuing their collection of the '90s Superboy comic** or by collecting some of 1995's "Year One" annuals, at least some of which could still be releveant-ish in terms of the ever-shifting DC continuity). 

The issue ends with a surprise first birthday party for Superboy, capping off the first year of his life. In that regard, the Kesels treat the characters adventures up until this point as his "Year One," and the annual is simply the punctuation calling attention to that fact and offering a marker between the first and second years of Superboy's superhero career.

The story does still focus on his origins, though, and reveals a never before known aspect of them. At this point, Superboy was still based in Hawaii, where he lived with his manager Rex Leech, Rex's daughter Roxy, psychic "DNAlien" Dubbilex, another escapee from the Metropolis-based facility Cadmus.

A psychic flash summons Dubbilex and Superboy back there, where The Guardian, the Newboy Legion, their adult selves and other Kirby-inspired characters have discovered a dozen or so tubes containing earlier attempts at creating Superman; essentially, other, failed versions of the title character. One is accidentally released, and becomes a short-lived Bizarro Superboy (at that time, the real Bizzaro was still a failed clone attempt at Superman, rather than a visitor from Bizarro World, or a conjuree of a Mxyzptlk-empowered Joker). 

After a great deal of skulking and running around Cadmus, and a few pages of battling the bizarre cloned Superboy, the characters all learn who the other DNA donor that created Superboy really was: Former Cadmus Executive Director (and bad guy) Paul Westfield, (Geoff Johns would, of course, later retcon this so that rather than being created from the DNA of Superman and Westfield, Superboy was the result of the DNA of Superman and Lex Luthor; notably, Johns would have Superboy struggling with the same feelings that he does here later during his Teen Titans run).  

The artwork isn't nearly as strong as that of the regular Superboy title, provied by Tom Grummet and Doug Hazelwood, but it's not bad, either, and has the benefit of consistency, created as it was by a single pencil artist, David Brewer, and a quartet of different inkers.

Read today, some of it seems a little foreign, given how much of the book is based on the goings-on of Superman comics of the day—that is, Cadmus, the clones of The Guardian and The Newsboy Legion, etc—but it's relatively self-contained, and offers a decent enough origin of the character and his status quo as it existed in the first phase of his superhero career. 

Team Titans Annual #1
It's not a big surprise that I skipped this book the first time around, despite buying a decent-sized chuck of 1993's "Bloodlines" annuals. Or the second time around, when I went back and bought some other issues featuring intriguing-looking characters from the back-issue bins. Sixteen-year-old Caleb wasn't a fan of the New Titans fan (although I did buy New Titans Annual #9, which introduced New Blood Anima), he certainly didn't care about the Team Titans, a New Titans spin-off starring, if I've got this right, are a Teen Titans team of freedom fighters  from a dark alternate future where Donna Troy's son is a dictator who have traveled back in time and gotten stuck in the present.

Luckily, this annual by writer Marv Wolfman and artists Art Nichols isn't too terribly concerned with the lives of the characters or plotlines from the ongoing Team Titans series, so what I read mostly made sense to me, and it wasn't too difficult to follow along (the bits about Mirage's past and the repeated rape threats she faces, which come out when she is temporarily trapped in a nightmare, are pretty out-of-left-field though and, well, gross; Wolfman's Titans run apparently had several problematic patches in which the rape of heroines was used as a plot point). 

I suppose it helped that I've read so many other of the "Bloodlines" annuals that I knew who the villains were and the basic formula that the annuals all adhere too: One or more shape-shifting Parasite aliens appear. They attack human beings, sucking out their spinal fluid. Some small percentage of their victims, about one per annual, survive and gain a super-power or two. They join forces with the heroes whose annual it is to drive the Parasite off.

Wolfman's plot is a little different in that the Parasites aren't the main threat...or, at least, the heroes quit dealing with them relatively early on and instead struggle against the powers of the New Blood they create.

The book opens with the Team Titans' vampire character, Dagon/Nightrider, in his dumb-looking were-bat form, engaged in battle with one of the Parasites (the winged one). The rest of the team goes to rescue him, save for Redwing, who is at a school dance, hoping to meet her friend Sanjeet. With her super-hearing, she overhears that Sanjeet is on drugs, and when her friend steals a car and drives recklessly away, she pursues her—until she crashes into the gut of the Parasite Glonth (the fat one). 

Redwing flies her to the hospital, where she's put in the bed next to Dagon. And then weird shit starts to happen, as Sanjeet apparently has the ability to conjure dream worlds full of solid illusions that can hurt those trapped in them.

So, for example, Dagon wakes up to find himself in Oz, where he's hassled by the Wicked Witch of the West and her flying monkeys. Later, after, he escapes, the other watch Sanjeet, now outfitted as she is on the cover, generating worlds that seem to be a danger to herself. The girls go in to save her, while the boys go out to bust heads, trying to find who gave her drugs and was thus responsible for predicament I guess. 

The conflict is ultimately resolved when the heroes bring the ultimate villain behind Sanjeet's suffering and her mom to the hospital room, helping break her out of the coma she's in, and from which she is assaulting the Team Titans with conjured creatures, like the monstrous versions of various DC heroes seen on the cover. 

At no point is she ever referred to as "Chimera," the name given to her on the cover, and I'm unsure of what became of her after this annual (although she seems to have made it into at least one issue of Team Titans).  

I have to assume the character appeared in previous issues, as Redwing seems to know her already when this annual starts, but obviously, like most of the New Bloods, she didn't catch on (Although perhaps "catching on" is asking a lot of that crop of 30 or so brand-new heroes; I mean, the Team Titans themselves never really "caught on", their series lasting only 24 issues, after which they basically all disappeared, save for Mirage and Terra). 

Still, it's noteworthy that as far back as 18 years ago, when DC was making an effort to created brand-new heroes, they made an effort to try and diversify their very white character catalog. Sanjeet/Chimera was of South Asian-American descent, and was one of several Asian-American New Blood characters, including Ballistic, Nightblade and the unfortunately named Mongrel. Those other three failed to catch on too, but I think they all have some degree of potential. (Of those four, Nightblade is probably the most interesting, although Chimera's powers make her a potentially fun one to use in comics stories, for the artistic possibilities she presents). 

*If you only count the Earth-born Lanterns, that's still Alan Scott, Hal Jordan, John Stewart, Guy Gardner, Kyle Rayner, Simon Baz, Jessica Cruz, Far Sector's Jo Mullein, Young Justice's Teen Lantern Keli Quintela and Green Lantern: Legacy's Tai Pham. 

**DC released Superboy Vol. 1: Trouble in Paradise, collecting Superboy #1-10 and the #0 issue, in 2018. No Vol. 2 has yet to follow, however. Which is too bad. The next batch of 11 issues would have included guest-stars Loose Cannon, The Legion of Super-Heroes, Green Lantern Kyle Rayner and, most marketably, the Suicide Squad, featuring King Shark (for the first time).