Thursday, December 21, 2006

Random Reading: A Whole Lotta Stuff

Mostly a positive post this time, because the majority of the stuff I got today is from my pull list--and I don't keep buying stuff I think is crap (usually). So, let's get on with it:

The Boys #5

I've actually been enjoying this title more than I thought I would. The first issue didn't hook me right away, but subsequent issues have done a better job. You know why this book works? Garth Ennis has never been the over-the-top writer people like to label him. Yeah, those elements are there, but there's also a strong sense of humanity that grounds everything he does. Do you think Preacher would have worked without the relationships between Jesse, Tupil, and Cassidy? Hell, my favourite moments from that book were the emotionally-driven stuff.

Same here. Yeah, there's the fucking with superheroes stuff, but Ennis is very wisely keeping all of that grounded with Hughie, a very likable and relatable character that puts everything into perspective.

This issue ups the ante as the Boys fuck with Teenage Kix more and leads into a confrontation between the two groups that will play out in the next issue. Looking forward to that--finally seeing what this group can do, especially the Female.

Desolation Jones #8

What I said about Ennis? Same goes for Ellis, by the way. But people never pay attention to that--which is why people who rip-off Ellis and Ennis always fail, the same way people who ripped off Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen produced utter crap.

Jones is probably the most damaged character Ellis has created so far. Every issue, we get a new bit of information that makes you pity him and kind of hope in his next confrontation, someone will put a bullet in his skull just to end his miserable life.

But, not really, because we all want to see Jones find out what happened to his old spy buddy. Typical of the series, the issue is slow, but probably gives far more information than we realise now. Lots of Philip K. Dick stuff, too, which I love.

Still on the fence over Danijel Zezelj's art--but that's probably because following Williams III is a damn difficult task.

Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. #10

Holy fucking shit, Stuart Immonen is a great artist. Wow. Five styles featured here, all great.

Not much to say here. Another great issue. Either you get it--and love it, or you don't--and hate it. The ending was a little obvious, but who cares? I don't.

The Stan Lee and Jack Kirby "Easter Island" heads in the Captain's alternate life is a nice touch.

newuniversal #1

Speaking of great art, when did Salvador Larroca actually get good? Last time I saw his art was in a Peter Milligan-penned issue of X-Men and it was butt-fucking-ugly. Flat, uninspired and covered with shitty, shitty, shitty, SHITTY digital painting or something. So, I open up this comic and suddenly, Larroca's art was depth and . . . well, is good. Surprise, I guess.

The story itself is alright. Not much to go on here. Various people, white event, superpowers, yay. Nothing to rock my socks off.

Casanova #6

I've only read this issue once, so I got, like, a third of what was going on. The third I got? Loved. My words cannot sum up how awesome this book is. In the Previews for February (I think), there's a solicitation for a set of all seven issues of this first volume: BUY IT (unless you've been buying this book). It's cheap and would still be a steal if it were double the price. But, so I actually say something:

Russian missile silo, robots with the same brains meet, fake girly group assassins, undercover superspy fashion photographer, BIGFUCKINGBOOM!, giant Japanese robot.

Plus, much MUCH more. Buy the book.

Punisher War Journal #1

More Matt Fraction? Hells yes.

Really enjoyed this. The Punisher here isn't the Punisher in Ennis' book. He's a bit more cartoony, but it works because he's in a cartoony world. Lots of great moments here, but one bit made me laugh for, like, two minutes solid. A huge fucking bellylaugh with tears and everything. It's after Punisher saves Spider-Man in the sewers and Spider-Man (totally out of it) says he needs to hit an ATM to pay for the ride and Punisher says it's free and Spider-Man says:

"OH, AWESOME. ACTION IS MY REWARD, TOO."

I love Matt Fraction.

The Immortal Iron Fist #1

Ever MORE Matt Fraction? With Ed Brubaker? Life is good, sometimes.

I can't think of anything I didn't dig about this comic. It did everything a first issue should do: tell us what we need to know about a character, give a kickass story, and set things up for the future of the book. Plus, David Aja's art is amazingly gorgeous.

My only complaint is that, well, there's an ad for this issue in the issue. That's just not right. I generally don't pay attention to ads, but advertising for the comic I'm reading while I'm reading it? Kind of stupid, Marvel.

Criminal #3

A little breather of an issue. Mostly character development and slight plot movement. But, it works really well. Solid all around.

New Avengers: Illuminati #1

Yeah, I'm going to buy this series pretty much because I dig the concept--and issue four is "Marvel Boy issue" and, as we all know, I'm a Marvel Boy geek. Shut up.

As for this issue, it is all kinds of mediocre. The one cool moment, where Black Bolt speaks and blows the fuck out of the Skrull's main ship? Yeah, taken away when we discover that SOMEHOW the king of the Skrulls, who was ten feet away, was somehow not killed. The fuck? Yeah, a voice powerful enough to blow up a giant spaceship doesn't kill a guy ten feet away? How does that work, exactly?

Utterly mediocre. I hope future issues step it up a bit.

Gødland #14

Am I the only one reading this book who feels like every issue is a strange remix of a Kirby-drawn comic where the old word balloons have been replaced with new ones?

Not much happens here, which is a pretty bad thing considering this is the second issue back after the little three-month hiatus the book took. The first issue back had all sorts of action and fun, but this one? Snoooooooooooooooooooooooooooooozefest. I love the book and even I found it boring. I read this book for action, snappy dialogue and mindless (but smart) fun. This issue was lacking.

All-Star Superman #3-5

And now we get to the third thing that everyone else seems to love, but I don't (the first two being Jim Lee's art and DC: New Frontier). I still can't figure out why. Normally, Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely means I'm so fucking hard that a slight breeze will push me over the edge (or, something a lot less graphic and over-the-top). All-Star Superman leaves me cold.

In issue three, Lois Lane is given Superman's powers and . . . well, does nothing with them. Instead, she flirts with other superguys (one of whom looks exactly like Superman, just with longer hair) to make Superman jealous.

In issue four, Jimmy Olsen is all cool and saves the world or something.

In issue five, Lex Luthor is all evil and tells us how he killed Superman in issue one on purpose.

All full of mad ideas and lots of Silver Age-esque fun--except it's not the, you know, Silver Age anymore and I just don't give a fuck. The only thing that did anything for me was in issue four where Olsen becomes Doomsday. There's an interesting idea.

I think my problem is that I've seen Morrison do much, MUCH more with the character in his JLA run. Hell, his Lex Luthor there was at least interesting. This version is a flat, one-note character. Every character is. It's all surface here, nothing more. And DC has recently released multiple volumes of Superman-related Showcase reprints full of that stuff.

(Actually, flipping through the issues again, issue four pointed to something that's bothered me about the Superman titles: we have Perry White praising Clark Kent for his journalism--except, we never see him do any. Ever. Anywhere. That's always bothered me.)

Civil Wardrobe

I saw this and figured I'd give it a look. I laughed once. That says it all.

Punisher: From First to Last

A trio of Punisher MAX specials . . . faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaantastic.

The art in all three is lovely. The writing is great, too.

The first story, "The Tyger" gives us Castle's first killing as the Punisher and part of his childhood where he sees various examples of people getting "justice" of one form or another through violence.

The second story, "The Cell" has Castle getting himself thrown in jail so he can kill a group of mobsters. This is mostly a bunch of violence, but done well--and showcases how good he is at what he does.

The last story, "The End" is one in a series of stories Marvel has put out about the possible end of a hero/group of heroes' careers/lives. Instead of some extended bullshit like Claremont's ending for the X-Men, Ennis gives us a story of Castle killing the last people on earth because they are utter fucking bastards. Pure and simple.

Makes for a great last-minute gift for a comic fan, I think.

And that does it for 2006 most likely. Merry Christmas, happy new year, happy all those other holidays and blah blah blah.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Random Reading: Wizard #183

It's been a good five or six years since I've read a new issue of Wizard (although, I did find back issues make for decent bathroom reading, especially the "rumours" section of the news just to see what happened, what didn't). I was, at one point, a subscriber, but I gave it up once I had steady access to the internet at home. As Warren Ellis once said, if you've got the internet, you're buying Wizard for the price guide. And during the time there was overlap, I did find Wizard to be pretty useless, except for the occasional preview or random sidebar where Ellis or Garth Ennis tells us which heroes they would have sodomised for 22 pages given the chance. Otherwise, I got my news, interviews, reviews, solicitations, everything online--hell, I interacted with creators directly online.

But, that was then and this is now. I still don't need--or want--Wizard in my life, but let's see how the old girl is holding up. Is it still a waste of paper or does it hold some value?

I chose the year-end issue very specifically since it was always my favourite issue of the year. It was always bigger, full of longer articles, usually a giant interview with someone important and other fun stuff.

This issue isn't like that. It has the usual year-end awards, but is arranged in such a hap-hazard way that I don't know what the point is.

A break-down of the issue (in which I also spoil all of their awards):

* Editorial
* Letters
* News
* "Man of the Year": Joe Quesada
* "Event of the Year": Civil War
* "Artist of the Year": Steve McNiven
* "Single Issue of the Year": New Avengers #22
* "Breakout Talent of the Year": Charlie Huston
* "'What The?' Moments of the Year": ten random moments where Wizard asks "The fuck?" They're divided equally between Marvel and DC with five each (four for each in the comics, one movie moment each). But, funny thing, ALL of the Marvel moments come from a comic relating to Civil War, the event of the year.
* A comparison between Punisher MAX and Punisher War Journal
* A preview of Olivier Coipel's sketches for the new Thor series
* "Boldest Move of the Year": 52
* "Writer of the Year": Brian K. Vaughan
* "Book of the Year": Daredevil
* "Hero of the Year": Superman
* "Cover Artist of the Year": JG Jones
* "New Characters of the Year"
* "Comebacks of the Year"
* "Villain of the Year": The Governor (from The Walking Dead)
* "Mini-Series of the Year": B.P.R.D.: The Universal Machine
* "Movie of the Year": The Descent
* "TV Show of the Year": Lost vs. Battlestar Galactica
* "Animated Series of the Year": Justice League Unlimited
* "Video Game of the Year": Ultimate Alliance
* "DVD of the Year": Superman: The Ultimate Collector's Edition Box Set
* "Collection of the Year": Absolute Kingdom Come
* A chart on who is leading the villains against the Justice League
* An article on New Avengers: Illuminati
* An article on the Metal Men
* An article on Zod
* An article on Green Lantern: Year One
* An article on X-23: Target X
* A profile of the Inhumans as it relates to Silent War
* Three writers argue who is the best Flash (guess who Alex Ross champions)
* Five reason you must read The Lone Ranger (the guy at the shop told me that he loves this book and I should keep an eye out for this article)
* An article on Kaare Andrews and Spider-Man: Reign
* An article on The Darkness
* A section called "MEGA!" where they discuss movies, DVDs, games, manga, toys and other random shit (for some reason, the anime and manga stuff of the year is in here, but DVD of the year isn't--odd)
* "Book Shelf" (reviews of collections--a place where collection of the year might have gone)
* The indie section--where indie book of the year (Scott Pilgrim) is located
* Price guide--with sidebar lists of shit like hot ten comics, hot writers/artists, blah blah blah
* Graded comics guide
* Shows and cons
* Final page goof, this time with Iron Man's Myspace page

Now, every article from "Man of the Year" until "Boldest Move of the Year" also has a "Civil War Report" tag, so you would think they're organised that way, BUT the articles on New Avengers: Illuminati and Silent War ALSO have that tag, so they obviously aren't organised that way--the "'What The?' Moments of the Year" also has that tag for some reason even though it's half DC stuff. Is it just me or should all of the "best of the year" awards go together as they used to?

As well, why do DVD of the year and collection of the year warrant articles independent of their respective sections, while other awards don't?

It's just sloppy, sloppy layout.

Looking at the issue in a more linear way, let's start with the letters. Same old shit, really. People write letters, they get half-assed responses that are supposed to be funny. What really annoys me is how in one letter, the author apparently spelled title "tittle" and the staffer feels the need to mock him for this. Now, am I to expect that this was the only typo found in EVERY letter printed this month? If it is, fair enough, Wizard has the readers who can spell; if not, it's just amateurish dickery. You don't pick and choose which words to edit and which words not to edit (the only exception being if the letter writer is writing in to point out mistakes you made, then you get to point out their mistakes). And, it was a legitimate question posed, but totally ignored because this jackass felt the need to be . . . well, a jackass.

Today, I got the latest issue of Chart in the mail. It's a Canadian music magazine and on its letter page, it doesn't edit a single thing in the letters/e-mails it receives and answers most of them in a very tongue-in-cheek, confrontational way. Except there it works. Why? Because they don't edit any letter and respond to the letters appropriately. Sure, the answers are very asshole-like, but so are the letters. It mostly comes down to this: Chart's letter page is entertaining, while Wizard's is not. Proof, I submit the last letter found in the new Chart (title underlined, response bolded):

NO YOU ARE
You are an idiot! --(person's name)
And your mom, too.

See, with letters like that, you can be an ass. With letters where a reader questions why a feature in your magazine has been removed, yeah, you don't come off looking that great by being a jerk.

Moving on . . .

The news section isn't that bad. It begins with a summary of events/books/whatever coming up in 2007 to look out for. There's a solid mix of news items and fun little features like a history of Robin versus the Joker. This is probably the section of the issue that works the best, mostly because it seems like it has patterned itself on other magazines.

The actual articles of the issue are . . . fine. Not much depth usually. But that's fine, I suppose. The Civil War article summarises the series, hitting the major plot points--oh, it also contains an "editor of the year" award for Tom Brevoort.

My largest complaint with regards to most of the awards (especially the ones relating to specific people) is that Wizard used to get quotes from OTHER creators. If Kurt Busiek was writer of the year, they didn't talk to Kurt Busiek, they talked to other writers who would tell you why Kurt Busiek is so good. You save talking to the specific creator for interviews and profiles. As cool as it is to see some of Brian K. Vaughan's thoughts on his work, that doesn't exactly show me that he's writer of the year--whereas, his peers telling me what they love about his work does.

The JG Jones article is particularly good, only because it has every cover of 52 up to #35 with commentary by Jones and various creators like Mark Waid, Andy Kubert, and colorist Alex Sinclair among others. This technique of changing up how some of the awards are presented works well in the JLU article, which has the ten best moments of the past season and even the Lost versus Battlestar Galactica one.

The non-awards articles are more of the same. They change up the style and format to keep things somewhat interesting, but rarely go beyond the minimum as far as depth goes.

The "MEGA!" section works as well as the news section, giving you information and not much else. It does the job.

"Book Shelf" is an interesting move for the magazine as it acknowledges the importance of trades as ONLY collections get reviewed--no single issues. All but three reviews are a couple of hundred words, but they do a decent job. Again, Wizard seems to have looked to magazines like Rolling Stone and Spin, which also contain large review sections, and aped the format. And it works. The reviews are to the point and give you a good sense of what you'll be getting.

That just leaves the price guide and the less said about it, the better.

Overall, it wasn't a bad read. It certainly has its share of problems and I have no desire to buy another issue (especially with the hefty $7.99 Canadian price tag). I really do think the editorial staff should look to other specialty magazines like Rolling Stone or Sports Illustrated and see what works there and what doesn't. It seems like they already have to some extent.

Oh, and you'll notice that I didn't really talk about how Marvel and DC dominate the content and that's because I don't see the point. That's Wizard. They could definitely improve in that area, but I'm not going to harp on that when they have more basic issues to deal with.

The next few weeks will be really random with updates, just so you know. The holidays and all, I definitely won't be buying something every week. You'll probably get one or two giant posts instead.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Random Reading: Justice Society of America #1, Midnighter #2, New Avengers #25, Deathblow #2, Welcome to Tranquility #1, Punisher X-Mas Special 2006

Very much a random reading because I went to local shop here in Windsor wanting two specific comics, Immortal Iron Fist #1 and newuniversal #1, but they didn't have a copy of either. So, I pretty much stood in front of that rack for five minutes and picked various titles, some I'd read before, others just because. So, let's get this under way.

Justice Society of America #1

Didn't World War III happen at the end of Morrison's JLA run? You know, Mageddon gets closer to Earth, every country in the world starts attacking every other country until the heroe step in and shut the ancient war machine down. Oh, I am such a geek it's not funny.

Anyway, never read a single issue of JSA and never really got the attraction to a superteam based around old people who should, by all rights, be pretty easy to kill. But, it got a lot of praise by a lot of people, so what do I know?

I do know this issue is all kinds of mediocre. It's not bad, it's just not great. I'm sure there are all sorts of people who read it and creamed their jeans, but I just didn't give a fuck.

The basic plot is: sometime during the missing year in the DCU that 52 is telling, World War III happened and the JSA saved the day, except the team was broken up or something, so now they need to get it together again, except bigger, better and with more young people because the old guys are really fucking old and can die any second.

So, much of the issue is recruitment of young people, like the angry Damage or the hyper-fan who talks too much or the guy from the future who lives in a mental institution. This is played off against a story about some guy named Mr. America whose entire family is slaughtered because of his connection to the JSA and he uses his dying energy to try and warn them.

See, it's not bad, it just did nothing for me. That seems to my general feeling about most of Geoff Johns' writing. I can see where he's coming from and why some people would like it and appreciate that it accomplishes what it sets out to do, but it's not my thing. It's kind of like critiquing the writing in a creative writing class: you don't comment based on taste, but on what they're trying to do and how to make that better. Johns is doing everything he sets out to do here.

The basic idea that the JSA exists to train and give a sense of connection for younger heroes is good. I was thinking while walking home that the basic idea that's used for the Legion of Super-Heroes where ANYONE can be a member would work really well here. A real Justice Society of America. But, maybe that's where the title is moving.

The only thing I don't like is the last page and the four-panel "preview" of what's "Coming this year in Justice Society of America" because it gives the sense that this issue isn't enough to keep me as a reader interested enough to pick up #2.

If this sort of title seems like your thing, you'll almost certainly enjoy this debut issue. Me, I just don't care.

Midnighter #2

Midnighter is sent back to World War I to kill Adolf Hitler because killing him there will stop him from rising to power, but also not attract any unwanted attention. It's kinda smart.

There's actually not much to this issue. Midnighter is sent back, kills various German and French troops, tries to kill Hitler and is stopped by time-travel police or something. We're also told why Paulus has kidnapped Midnighter to do this.

The art is good, the pacing is fine, the dialogue is solid. Ennis is obviously playing to his strengths by sticking Midnighter in World War I. It's an entertaining issue, but light on plot--which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

New Avengers #25

This is the third straight issue of New Avengers I've picked up. I got the Spider-Woman #23, the Sentry #24 and now Iron Man #25. I mostly picked this up to see if Iron Man is a total fucking dick here, too. Every other tie-in to Civil War I've read has had him as a prick, so in his Bendis spotlight, does he come off alright?

Um, not really.

It begins with a disgruntled employee of his, one of his designers/engineers/armour builders breaks into Avengers Tower and shuts Tony down, pissed off that Stark would use his work like this. Tony argues that he paid for it, so fuck off. The employee, Kenny, tells him to fuck off with that bullshit because he wasn't just an employee but also a friend and he was never told his work would be used this way.

At the same time, SHIELD tries to save Stark.

The thing is, Kenny has an anti-matter generator and he's going to take the entire building out to stop Stark. Except Commander Hill, the director of SHIELD, stops him.

Yay. Day saved.

The end has her suggesting that Tony become the new director of SHIELD because it would piss people off or something.

Stark actually isn't portrayed as an asshole, he just comes off as one through the eyes of Kenny. And I guess it depends on your politics, too. If you're like me and don't think money is a good enough excuse, Stark is an asshole. If you're of the mindset that Kenny got paid, so who cares what he thinks, you'll side with Stark.

Still, a more balanced portrayal than . . . everything else I've seen.

Deathblow #1

If I understand what's going on, Azzarello is doing something very cool with this book. Michael Cray has been presumed dead for six years. That means he's missed the huge shift in global military practices, especially American military practices. And now, he's being caught up through psychological conditioning in the only place that can catch someone up: New York City.

They alter his mind a little, stick him with a family he doesn't remember, tell him his wife he doesn't remember has been killed and wait for him to respond.

At least, that's what I think is happening. I'm definitely going to keep buying this title. Fuck the trades, this issue makes me want to see how Azzarello handles things as quickly as possible.

Like with the first issue, I find the art to be horribly ugly and barely able to tell the story.

Welcome to Tranquility #1

Um, why is it that only, like, two of the characters on the cover actually appear in the comic? And the two that do aren't the young heroes that are featured in the background anymore. One of those design things that annoys me.

First off, the art is passable. It's nothing special and didn't do much for me.

Second off, same goes for the writing.

Some interesting ideas like the elderly Captain Marvel-esque hero who can't remember his special word, so reads from dictionaries of all languages constantly in an effort to stumble across it.

Or . . . well, I guess the central idea of elderly superheroes.

But, otherwise, there's nothing here that interests me. There's the requisite "old hero wants to relive glory days and causes damage" and "new asshole superperson versus old heroes" scenes.

This issue seemed to suffer from the problem with most first issues these days: it didn't feel complete. It felt like that if I'm going to have to pick up five more in order to actually be told the full premise of the book and, fuck it, I don't want to.

I assume those characters on the cover are going to show up, but they didn't appear here and nothing here makes me want to stick around and find out who they are.

Punisher X-Mas Special 2006

I love CP Smith's art. Have since his work on Stormwatch: Team Achilles and he's grown a lot since then. So, the book looks fantastic.

I haven't had much exposure to Stuart Moore except through the titles he edited back in the day.

The story is basic: it's Christmas, which means all of the big mob bosses are surrounded by family and, thus, the Punisher can't kill them because the Punisher doesn't kill innocent people. So, he's left dealing with the lower-end scumbags that he normally doesn't have time for.

In this case, it's Jimmy Nouveau, some asshole who's started his own little new age cult type thing except operates out of a strip club and was tied to the death of a cop and a small boy.

It's a decent enough story. A little cutesy at points with Punisher making a "naughty" and "nice" list. But, the ending is pretty messed up and speaks to his character well.

It won't fill you with holiday cheer, but it's the Punisher, so what do you expect?

Sometime in the next few days, I'll be doing an update where I guide you through the year-end issue of Wizard. It's been five or six years since I've read it, so let's see if it's still the shitty rag it was then.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Random Reading: Legion of Super-Heroes: Death of a Dream, and Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes: Strange Visitor from Another Century

Mark Waid and Barry Kitson's Legion of Super-Heroes is a series I've heard a lot of good things about. It seems to be one of those series that everyone has accepted as good and moved on, because you don't hear much about it anymore. Lots of praise near the beginning and then not much. But, the bookstore had volumes 2 and 3, so I figured I'd pick them up and see what the big deal is.

Legion of Super-Heroes: Death of a Dream

OMG! The ftr iz all stpd & adlts rul evrythng!!!11!!!!!

Shit, that was lame, wasn't it? I can't even fake "netspeak" I'm so old. 23 and I'm too old to type like a moron. That's odd.

Anyway, it's the 31st century and parents control every aspect of their children's lives through something called the Public Service, a big-ass computer system of some sort. But, luckily, the Legion of Super-Heroes are here to shake things up and be all "We're wearing stupid costumes, mom and dad!" because somehow, the message they got from the legends of Superman, Batman and the JLA was to fight against the status quo. You know, the same heroes who have all had at least one story where they look around, realise that the world sucks ass and they have the power to change it only to have every other hero say, "You have to let people do that themselves!" and then fight to maintain the status quo.

If that was my first thought, my second was, "If this Public Service is such an intrusive and all-powerful system, how the fuck did it ever occur to these kids to rebel when the parents would just, I don't know, USE IT TO STOP THEM?" Maybe this was answered in the first volume. I suspect it as something to do with Brainiac 5 since he's the one who creates the Legion's flight rings, which also shields them from the Public Service.

Anyway. The story here is that there's this guy who has the power to erase himself from both organic and computer memories and he's trying to rip apart the United Planets by destroying planets. He's already destroyed Super-Rich World and next up? Super-Smart World! Isn't it really stupid of the future to make it so every world only has one thing going for it and thus when something bad happens to that one world, it fucks everyone else over big time? Like Super-Rich World gets destroyed? There goes the economy because all of the fucking money was there! Smart thinking. Couldn't Super-Smart World have foreseen something like that happening? Or maybe Future-Seeing World? WHERE THE FUCK WAS FUTURE-SEEING WORLD, PEOPLE?

So, Brainiac 5 and a few of the other Legionnaires go to his home planet of Super-Smart World and find that everyone has some sort of retard virus. That means Brainiac 5 isn't just the smartest person in the Legion (as he tells us every damn time he opens his mouth), he's the smartest guy in the universe.

Now, this is where a lot of stories falter, because, let's face it, Mark Waid is not the smartest guy on the planet or anything. Not his fault, but it makes writing a character who is, far FAR more intelligent than he is problematic. Like I said, this is a problem for a lot of writers. How do you write a character whose intelligence is beyond us as much as ours is beyond a dog's? (And shut up, dog lovers, we are smarter than them. They're pretty fucking dumb.) Would you trust a dog to accurately write a human character? But, this is something that probably only bothers me--same thing with Q in his various Star Trek appearances.

Actually, almost all of my problems with this book are problems I generally have with science fiction. All-seeing computers that for some reason never see the rebellion until it's too late, every planet except for Earth filled with completely homogeneous races that all think exactly alike, beings that supposed to be far more advanced than us intellectually but never really are--oh, and Earth as the centre of the fucking universe. The undying belief that humans are somehow unique and innately superior somehow.

Ignoring all of that stuff, this is a pretty good read. Waid handles a large cast well, moves the story forward at a good pace without rushing it, and doesn't explain every little detail. He trusts to readers to fill in some of the blanks and throws a few surprises our way. There's also the best "David & Goliath" moment I've seen in a long while.

Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes: Strange Visitor from Another Century

My first thought: Why didn't they use the cover of issue 18 for the cover of the trade and have it continue the design of the first two trades with a member of the team facing the camera, right hand out, Legion ring prominent? Am I the only one who thinks that would have worked much better than Supergirl-leaning-up-against-a-pillar-leg-bent-looking-all-cool-and-shit-while-the-Legion-hangs-out-in-the-background cover from issue 17? Or how about the fact that it doesn't continue the volume numbering? These seem like stupidly obvious design elements that should have been included.

This picks up right where the last volume left off with the Legion having saved the universe from war, their headquarters destroyed and the adults looking like idiots for ever criticising the Legion. So the adults offer them a deal where the United Planets will fund the Legion, which interim leader Lightning Lad takes them up on, which makes the Legion look like sell-outs.

And then Supergirl shows up and everyone is all "OMG! SUPERGIRL! WHOO!" except for Light Lass, who's all "I don't trust her!" And so on.

To his credit, Waid has given the whole Supergirl introduction a cool twist: she thinks she's still living on Krypton, dreaming everything that has happened since it exploded. So, she has a very flighty and superficial attachment to what's going on, which I hope is exploited further in future issues.

There's also a big problem since Brainiac 5 has stolen the dead body of Dream Girl, hoping to bring her back to life, which puts him at odds with the rest of the Legion who is being yelled at by the people on Future-Seeing World because they want to bury her.

Again, Waid handles the large cast well, has some interesting stories, blah blah blah. The art is solid in both volumes, too.

This volume also has a special treat of various 4-6 page letter column comics from past issues. They're pretty damn funny at times. My main problem is that you think this trade has issues 14-19, but REALLY has 14, 16-19 because issue 15 was a letter column issue or an out of continuity issue or something. I only found that out by checking online. Something telling the reader this--hell, including the cover to issue 15 would be a big enough clue. I was left wondering "What the fuck happened to issue 15?"

Hell, the whole packaging of this trade leaves me wondering about the people putting these collections together.

Oh, and even more nit-picky point: the addition of Supergirl happened at the same time as the whole "One Year Later" thing at DC and thus, the Legion title had "1001 Years Later," but (and this shows me to be a total dork) if this title takes place 1000 years after the current DCU and it jumped a year forward, but this title didn't (and it didn't, just to be clear), isn't it really 999 years later? Wouldn't it need to actually jump TWO years ahead to be 1001 year later? Just wondering.

So, while my review may not say this well enough, I did enjoy these books. They were engaging reads that never bored me. Most of my problems are those nit-picky things that don't actually make the reading experience less enjoyable--and are, often, problems with most stories involving the future. I do plan to pick up the first volume over the Christmas break and the fourth volume when it comes out this spring.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Random Reading: Ms. Marvel #7 and Hellblazer: Empathy is the Enemy

Discovered that the 7-11 right by campus sells comics, so I'll probably hit random Marvel titles over the next while that way--what is it with every store selling just Marvel comics? The bookstore, 7-11, the Mac's near my house . . . all Marvel, no DC. How odd.

Ms. Marvel #7

Another "Civil War" book, except it's a pro-registration one. And Iron Man still comes off as a dick. Seriously. I find that funny. In this whole thing, no matter WHAT side is presented, Iron Man is a dick. "Civil War" should be subtitled "Everybody Hates Tony."

Hell, while we're at it, let's look at the pro-registration side we've got here. The last experience I had with Ms. Marvel was back in Kurt Busiek and George Perez's Avengers run where she was drunk off her ass and got booted from the Avengers for trying to save the world drunk. Apparently she's sober now and has, well, no personality as far as I can tell.

She's one of the heroes who's sided with Iron Man, along with Wonder Man and the hero formerly known as Spider-Woman, but is now Arachne, I'm assuming, because Bendis decided he liked the original Spider-Woman and that meant someone had to change their name.

The plot of this issue is pretty boring. Teenage spider-themed hero Arana is brought in by the Amazingly-Named Duo while her father is all "This is America, you can't just arrest people for no reason!" And she decides to register. Yay.

Meanwhile, Arachne is on the run with her boyfriend, Shroud, who she was supposed to arrest (seriously, why would you send the guy's girlfriend to arrest them besides wanting to set up a fugitive story?). They steal some clothes and a car and have an argument about going to Colorado to get her daughter, all the while being tracked by S.H.I.E.L.D. Fools!

And now we get to Iron Man's a dick time: a big meeting is called and Ms. Marvel brings the Spider-Girl chick with her and Iron Man's all like "This is big time classified government business, so if she fucks it up, your ass is grass!" and Ms. Marvel is all like "No shit, asshole." So they're all sent to capture the fugitives in the green car, which means the top secret classified info is suddenly a big fucking fight on a freeway where the trained superheroes cause a bunch of civilian cars to crash. Yeah, the "professionals" sure are great at what they do.

It ends with Shroud all captured and Ex-Spider-Woman riding atop a big rig in a "Dazzler" t-shirt. Oooh, I can't wait for next issue!

For a pro-registration book, I came away thinking that side was full of even bigger idiots than I did going into it. Let's see, they abduct teenage girls, their best heroes are Ms. Marvel and Wonder Man, Iron Man is a dick to his own people, they sent one of their heroes to arrest her lover and are surprised when she decides to take off with him, they claim to be trained professionals but cause just as much carnage and civilian destruction as always, and they can't even catch someone so lame she couldn't even hold onto the name "Spider-Woman."

*claps slowly* Bravo, Marvel. Not too obvious which side you're on.

John Constantine, Hellblazer: Empathy is the Enemy

I've been waiting for this to come out for a while. Usually two or three times a week, I would check the bookstore's website to see if it had come in yet. I blame Warren Ellis for getting me into Constantine and loving to see how different writers do him. Now, I am torn about Vertigo's decision to release the first collection from Denise Mina's run before fully collecting Mike Carey's run--although, it looks like they will be collecting both at the same time, which is odd. But, I do understand why they've done it. It's obvious, just looking at the cover where Mina's name is the biggest type except for the word Constantine. Mina is a well-known crime novelist, so trying to sell the book with her name is smart--and Hellblazer is one of the few books in the mainstream where I could see people picking up more collections (and liking them). It seems in all the rush to give people every other Vertigo book under the sun, people always forget about this one even though, it tends to be one of the best-written titles they have at any given time. Because everyone who grew up east of the Atlantic in the mainstream worships old Johnny boy the way the rest of us cream our jeans over Spider-Man, but with more respect and reverence, the quality never dips too far.

In this book, Constantine has a problem. He helped a guy out by wiping his memory, but that meant taking on the problem himself, which is feeling empathy. So much empathy for everyone that it hurts so much you want to kill yourself. But, Constantine is a bit of a bastard naturally, so he can handle it, right?

Peppered throughout his journey to find out how the guy got his name and what it all means are flashbacks to various points in the past, beginning with 6th century and some monks building a monastery on an island near Scotland. They sacrifice one of their own as part of the custom, but three days later, one of them receives a vision from God to dig him up--and they find that he isn't dead. The not-dead monk tells them about how Heaven and Hell aren't what they think they are and they've got it all wrong, so everyone assumes he's a puppet of Satan and buries him alive.

What it comes down to is that there is a third place that has been taking the souls of the dead and a cult wants to shut it down by creating an empathy engine that will make everyone love one another and they want Constantine to willingly sacrifice his life to make it happen. And the bastard does.

The story is engaging, is well-structured, always giving the reader new information, but not too much. It does jump around a bit near the beginning, but that's to be expected since this is Mina's first comic work and no one gets a handle on the mechanics right away.

The art is also fantastic. Leonardo Manco has long been a favourite of mine and his style is perfect for a horror book like this.

The only downside is that there are a few spoilers of what happens in Mike Carey's run for anyone who has been following that only in trades (like me). Big details that are shocks, but also don't actually tell you WHAT happened, if you get me. In a way, the spoilers just make me want to read the next few collections of the Carey run even more now.

As for Mina's John Constantine, I like him. He's a bit too nice and engaging for much of the story, but that's because he feels empathy towards everyone. The John at the very end is one we all know and love, and makes me want to read the next collection of this run as well.

One problem I saw with this collection is that I'm never told anything about Denise Mina aside from the "Author of . . ." blurb under her name on the cover, nor are there any of the usual promo pages that list the other Hellblazer collections available. If the goal of this trade, as I figure, is partly to bring in Mina's readers, pointing them to specific titles would be beneficial and every other trade on the planet usually has bios of creators, so why not here? The only person who gets any bio is Ian Rankin following his introduction. Odd.

But, it's a good read with a fantastic ending. Pick it up.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Random Reading: Superman Confidential #1, American Virgin: Head, Human Target: Strike Zones

I had no idea that I would be buying any of these books today. I just went into the bookstore and picked up what I felt like getting.

Superman Confidential #1

Wow, the bookstore had a DC comic. No idea why this is the one actual issue released from DC they've gotten since I've been here.

This is an odd issue. I'm not sure if I hate it or love it. I must say that the beginning bit where kryptonite narrates, I rolled my eyes and wanted to get to an actual story.

Jump ahead to Superman only two months into his superhero career and he's up against the Royal Flush Gang. And it isn't much of a fight because Jack is a moron and fucks it up. What I don't understand is whether or not Ace is killed by an ice shard. That's never really explained. I sat up and was like "Shit . . . did Superman just participate in that guy dying? The hell?"

The rest of the issue is Parry White getting his three best people (which somehow includes Jimmy Olson) to help take down some businessman who is probably all corrupt and shit.

Basically, this issue was either boring as hell or somehow very subtle and brilliant. I'm thinking the former because I ws bored as hell with it. Tim Sale's art was nice, but I just cannot get into Darwyn Cooke's writing--I must be the only one who thought New Frontier sucked. Ah well.

American Virgin: Head

I don't understand the point of this book. Maybe if I talk it out things will become clear.

Adam is a youth minister who preaches virginity until marriage. He's suave, charismatic and could be the next big thing for the religious right.

He's also got a girlfriend who's saving herself for marriage too, but is in Africa doing aid work. Until she gets beheaded by some terrorists or tribe or rebel group or something, I dunno.

So Adam gets his sister and they go to Africa to find her killers and bring her body home. While there, he finds out she was cheating on him and kinda freaks out and . . . well, not much else.

There's some stuff about being angry at God and guilt over masturbation, but nothing much else here. I have no idea where this series is going and I can't say I care too much.

Human Target: Strike Zones

While wandering around, I found a few trades on sale and this was among them, so I picked it up. And I am glad I did, because it saved the day.

This is first of two trades from the 21-issue series that ran in 2003-04 written by Peter Milligan and it is some good shit.

The first issue begins with Christopher Chance, the Human Target, dead and his last client, Frank White (a movie producer) receiving threats from an irrate fan upset with the violent films he makes. Except none of that is actually true.

What I liked the most about the first issue collected was that it just jumped in, sink or swim, fuck the reader, on with the story. You get caught up over the whole issue, but never feel lost. I presume what happened before was Human Target: Final Cut, but whatever, I followed along fine.

The second story is about a man who fakes dying in 9/11 and makes Chance re-examine what it is he does. The third story takes a good look at the world of baseball and also shows us just how fucking good Chance is at what he does.

Milligan's writing here is superb and mature. As I said, he doesn't take time to explain things, but he also doesn't confuse. It is a confident style that pays off, but does demand a lot from the reader. Quick jumps, two-panel scenes, and a lot of subtext.

Javier Pulido's art is fantastic. Both realistic and cartoony, he never drops the ball and also gives some interesting layouts.

This trade was so good that I am definitely going to buy the other three collections (collecting the first mini, Final Cut--OGN, and Living in Amerika, which collects issues 6-10 of the series) plus hunt down the 11 uncollected issues of the series.

Next week: who knows? I was eying the second Legion of Super-Heroes trade along with the one that introduces Supergirl into the cast, so I may pick up those.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Random Reading: Five Worldstorm First Issues

The 1999-2003/2004 (maybe) period at Wildstorm was amazing. I loved what they were doing, particularly the Warren Ellis and Joe Casey stuff plus Adam Warren's Gen13, but then those titles faded away mostly and reboots happened and I lost interest, except for the odd title (Ed Brubaker's Authority series was decent). So, now that Wildstorm is rebooting its entire line, I thought I'd give it a look, picking up five of the first issues over the past month or so. Granted, this isn't a complete selection of the titles offered (I didn't get Wetworks because I never read it and didn't care, while the Stormwatch PHD because it looks like shit--which probably should have made me pick it up, but ah well, I'll survive). So, here we go:

WildCats #1

Before I begin, I should mention that I am one of seven people alive and reading comics that hates Jim Lee's art. I find it ugly, superficial and ineffective at conveying the story. But, I did my best not to let that get in the way. Figured I should get that out of the way, though.

I expect more from Grant Morrison. Compare this to various other books he's done--which, despite some people's views, is a fair thing to do--and this feels like a third of a comic. Maybe.

I like the little introduction to the universe, especially since this is the flagship title of the line. That works fine, but the rest is just.

So.

Slow.

Morrison puts us in a world that builds on Joe Casey's Wildcats Version 3.0 with Hadrian/Jacob Marlowe running Halo, expanding the technology of the world with Spartan robots and his own Carrier. Beyond that, there's nothing here. A few semi-interesting concepts and not much else. There's some hints of a renewed Daemonite conflict, but not much else.

The Grifter scenes are nice, but not really. They do the job, but there's no much there to do.

I don't know if Morrison altered his style to fit with Lee's or what, but this is, by far, the most unsatisfying thing I've read of his in a long time. For the supposed flagship book, this is a weak start.

The Authority #1

Now, this is more like it. I've read reviews that bash the issue for not having a member of the team appear in it, except the team does show up--firstly, on the cover, which I think is integral to the end of the issue--and, secondly, at the end of the issue (maybe).

But, it's made very clear that the world we see here is meant to be our world, not the Wildstorm universe. We are introduced to Ken who is having marital problems--as in his wife is leaving him--and work problems--as in he's at the bottom of the ocean investigating a terrorist attack on a submarine and there's an artificial craft 50 miles by 20 miles by 8 miles there.

I rather enjoed this issue and its set-up. Granted, the team does not appear here, but judging by the cover and the final pages, something fucked up has happened and the Authority now find themselves stranded in a world much like our own. It could make for an interesting take on the title, especially in comparison to what's come before. They've tried fixing worlds with superpeople, what about a world without them?

As well, Gene Ha's art is amazing. Top notch. The realistic style suits the material perfectly, especially the one-page splash of Ken's wife leaving. Amazing.

I look forward to future issues.

Gen13 #1

Holy stupid teenage cliches, Batman!

To be fair, Gail Simone didn't invent these stupid cliched characters, but she is playing right into those early years of the original book where they were nothing more than walking cliches.

Luckily, she attempts to make that part of the story. But, she fails.

It's hard, actually, to know how much of the lameness of this issue on Simone's shoulders and how much on the original book. The very, very, very basic premise of government-created superpeople is good and even done in a semi-original way here. The rest, though . . .

The art is 90s image lame, which goes to Wildstorm's roots, I suppose, but is just unattractive. For some reason, it has this weird squiggly line effect to it that I cannot figure out since the lines are straight. It baffles and annoys me.

The only time I enjoyed this title in its former incarnation was under Adam Warren, who balanced the campy aspects of the title with more serious emotional content. Simone seems to be trying to walk that line, but fails here. Maybe it's just too much vying for so little space, but I won't be reading this title from now on.

Deathblow #1

Speaking of bad, pseudo-90s Image art . . .

This is the first time I've picked up something written by Brian Azzarello and hated the art (the first trade collecting his Superman run aside, because I know why Jim Lee was on that book). I don't know why Carlos D'Anda is on this book other than the fact that he's a Wildstorm mainstay.

In fact, the art gets in the way on the second and third page when Cray is tortured and I cannot figure out what happened. I think his hand was hit with a big fucking knife, but other than some blood (and a lack of fingernails), the hand we're shown looks normal. What happened?

The story is engaging enough, I suppose--about as engaging as any single issue of an Azzarello-written story, actually. We get the details of Cray's rescue from a prison in some Arab nation. People die, he talks tough, some general tells him that they can't trust him, he's in Gitmo.

Not a whole lot goes on here, but I trust Azzarello to deliver a payoff. I'll probably pick this up in trade, mostly because that's the only way to read Azzarello.

The Midnighter #1

I rather enjoyed this issue. Ennis gives us a Midnighter that feels right. The bastard soldier who tries to play hero and husband and father, but is really just a killing machine.

He begins by taking out some tanks in Afghanistan and killing the American military liason who delivered the tanks to the Mujahs. There's the standard "make fun of Midnighter because he's gay" line, which feels oddly out of place, mostly because it's really tired.

Midnighter is captured by someone who's turned off his abilities and needs him to kill people for him. I never get stories like this. Somehow, we have a guy with the means to capture and deactivate the greatest killing machine ever built, but only so he can use it? Why can't he use his amazing resources to just do it himself somehow and not risk getting his skull punched in later (which I expect to happen--or some variation of)? I can never buy plots like this.

The last page is strangely amusing in that way that makes you both groan and anticipate what's coming next. Because it's Ennis, I trust him.

Sprouse's art is good here. I was concerned that he may not be the right guy to draw the title given the character and the writer, but he does it well, especially the movement Midnighter has in attacking the tanks. Very fluid.

Overall, these launch issues were good. None were perfect and most had their share of problems. The biggest flaw of the bunch is that nothing here rivals the period of greatness Wildstorm had in the 99-03 period. Maybe Morrison's Authority, but that depends on what happens next. Rather disappointing, actually. How does a line-up of Grant Morrison, Brian Azzarello, Garth Ennis and Gail Simone not at least compete with Warren Ellis, Joe Casey and Adam Warren?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Random Reading: Futurama Comics #27, Simpsons Comics Presents Bart Simpson #31 & Simpsons Super Spectacular #3

I stood in front of the comics in the bookstore and thought, "Well, shit, I guess I'm going to have to review Blade #2 . . ." and then I noticed these three Bongo titles. This brought to mind a question: "Since Futurama is no longer on TV, do the comics act as a solid substitute?" I decided to buy the two Simpsons titles as well since that show has sucked for a while now and maybe--just maybe!--the comics will fill that need too. So, did any of them?

Futurama Comics #27

First off, from the cover, I expected a story about Fry and Bender hitchhiking to Mars since the cover shows them doing that. But, no, it's a story about how Bender sold some machine the Professor made to some aliens a few years back and now they're using it to the destroy the Earth. And . . . well, that's it.

The comic isn't funny. It has a lot of Futurama lines and characteristics, but only the most broad ones that we've seen dozens of times before--nothing is added in the way the show would always add stuff. The only point where I kind of chuckled was when Zoidberg says "THE RO-BUT HAS A POINT." and that's just because the spelling immediately made me think of Zoidberg's voice. The rest? Useless.

Especially these bullshit lava aliens. They have no personality the way aliens in the Futurama universe always do. They seem like lame villains Stan Lee would have used back in the '60s when short on ideas.

One particular painful moment is when an attempt at Bender's patented "surprised but don't have any liquid in my mouth, so I'll drink something to do a spit take" spit take is attempted, but it doesn't work here. It simply fails to land and the writer knows it, so adds a line where Bender explains what he just did. If you need a character to explain a visual gag, DON'T DO THE VISUAL GAG!

Utterly forgettable (I hope), don't bother with Futurama Comics for your Futurama fix. Just watch reruns and your DVD sets until those DVD flicks arrive.

Simpsons Comics Presents Bart Simpson #31

You know what makes this comic the saddest of the bunch? The best part of it is a story that doesn't involve Bart at all.

The first story is all about Bart winning a contest at Krusty's toy store (as there's a Krusty toy store chain apparently) where he gets five minutes to fill his shopping cart. At first, he's excited until everyone begins asking for him to get them stuff and even threatening him.

Amazingly, Homer is funny in this story with his total self-centred thinking towards everything. While in the show, it comes off as painful and unfunny, when he's put in a context where he's a secondary character, it retains some charm.

Following that story are a couple of two-page fillers that kind of suck. The first is Comic Book Guy's "Handy Pop Culture Quotes For All Occasions," which isn't funny. Or even uses the best quotes. The other is how you can use school supplies to be a total jackass at school. *yawns*

The last story, though, is called "The Maggie & Moe Mysteries! In Color! Tonight's Episode: The Disappearing Duchess!" and features Maggie and Moe as detectives. The first page is worth it since it copies a TV theme song with shots of them in an airplane, fingering a mother and baby in court, and of Maggie showing Chief Wiggum how to solve a murder.

The story itself is kind of lame. Moe takes Maggie to Wall E. Weasel's, but the Duchess of Dorinia has rented the play area, so Maggie can't play. That is, until the Duchess suddenly disappears and Maggie & Moe are on the case!

Except, they have competition in the form of Titania and Baby Gerald, another bartender/baby crime-solving team! What follows is pretty typical, but the inclusion of those two characters made me laugh, because it's just so perfect. I just wish they amped up the competition a bit.

This story also includes a few choice lines from the Wiggums:

Ralph: I BREATHED MY BOOGERS.

Chief Wiggum: THANKS TO MAGGIE AND MOE, THE ONLY THING YOU'LL BE KIDNAPPING IS JAIL!

Classic.

On the whole, a passable attempt that is actually slightly better than the show right now, mostly because of secondary characters, or putting Homer in a supporting function--he's a parody of himself currently and works better on the sidelines.

Simpsons Super Spectacular #3

A trio of superhero stories. The first, "The Coming of Gastritus" is a play on Galactus with Homer in that role. Bart does the Silver Surfer and makes a lame Uranus joke. Marge is Air Walker and makes a better joke about eating a heavily forested planet with no animals since it's a healthier meal. Moe is Nova . . . and naked. Naked Moe.

Extra points to artist John Delaney for drawing Gastritus in a solid fusion of Groening and Kirby. Actually, I should mention that the art in everything I've been talking about is fantastic. Everyone looks like they do on their respective shows and even the angles reflect the shows well. But, the art on this story stands out the most.

The second story works for the first page and then dies. It's a funny concept that makes fun of Adam West Batman (although, I must say: Still? Seriously, move on) with Lure Lass and Weasel Woman taking on . . . THE CRAZY CAT LADY! It doesn't get better than that, but still goes on for eight pages.

The third story is about Stretch Dude, Clobber Girl and Bouncing Battle Baby (Maggie got powers, I guess). They cause so much damage in a recent battle that the city outlaws superheroes (but not supervillains because they wouldn't listen anyway). There's a good "Spider-Man no more!" shot of the three kids walking away with their costumes in a garbage can. Plus, they get in trouble at school for using their powers when they can't help it.

Turns out, Agnes Skinner was replaced by an alien and everything works out, but there are a few good jokes.

Overall, these comics aren't that great and I have no intention of picking up more (especially of Futurama Comics), but I can see why some would. They usually do have a few good jokes and offer a wider variety of stories than TV--in length and content. So, pick one up and see for yourself if it works for you.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Random Reading: Young Avengers & Runaways #3

A few weeks back, I skipped picking up the second issue of this series because I didn't know anything about these characters--or cared. But, the pickings were slim at the bookstore and it features Noh-Varr from Marvel Boy, so I wanted to see how they've butchered him.

The intro/recap page is shit. There are fourteen characters that we are told about, except we're not told anything of any actual interest. Oh, we know their names now, good, but who cares? For the Runaways, we're told who each one is a kid of; for example, Chase Stein is the "Son of Mad Scientists." Great. Now, what the fuck does that mean? Does he have some cool mad scientist technology? He is a mad scientist himself, but in a good way? The only character that makes sense is Old Lace, who is a genitically engineered dinosaur. I understand what that means.

For the Young Avengers, we get their codenames and then their real names, which, again, tells me nothing. I can make guesses, but I don't know any of their details really. This group's example: Hulkling. I'm guessing he's like a teenage version of the Hulk (the retarded name tipped me off--seriously, he's called Hulkling?), but how exactly? He's green and looks maybe strong? Is he a rage freak too? A mindless destroyer? What?

The actual story recap: it's the whole Superhuman Registration Act thing again and apparently both groups chose no. So, the Young Avengers find out the Runaways need help and are all like "They're teens too! We have to save them!" Except, there's a misunderstanding and both groups are all like "I hate you!" But before they can kill each other, Noh-Varr shows up all mind-controlled by the warden of a superhuman prison called the Cube (where Marvel Boy left him--but I will discuss that shortly--oh I will discuss that shortly) and he's going to fucking kick their asses.

So, we jump into the story and what happens? Noh-Varr kicks their asses.

The opening sequence is rather cool and well done. Writer, Daniel Wells, brings back a concept Morrison introduced where Noh-Varr is able to go into a mental state where he's basically on automatic and everything around him is white, so he can focus on the activity he's doing. In Marvel Boy, it was running. Here, it's kicking ass. In the first two pages, we see Nov-Varr in various action poses totally alone in the white. On the next two pages, we get the externals filled in in exact duplications of what we already saw.

The rest of the issue is just fighting as Noh-Varr overcomes every attempt to injure or stop him and these kids realise they're fucked. Interspaced are random shots of the evil warden who is overweight and balding and just looks evil--which helps the reader know he's evil, of course.

What we don't get is any more of a clue who these kids are. But, that kind of works for the issue--at least, it did in my case because I was hopin Noh-Varr would kill the whole lot of them. And I'm pretty sure the only reason he doesn't most of the time is the standard "We can't kill off these characters!" argument.

As for Noh-Varr himself, I'm going to have to call bullshit on the whole thing. Not his actual fighting abilities as that seems right, but the whole brainwashed by the evil warden shit. It makes for a nice story where you get an unstoppable killing machine already created, but, um, how did this warden manage to accomplish brainwashing Noh-Varr exactly? It was mad very, very clear in the Marvel Boy mini series that Noh-Varr is much, much, MUCH more advanced than humans. He's millenia above us, mentally and physically. As Morrison ended the series, he would be running that place within six months.

But, I have to admit that thinking that is limited only to myself and anyone else who read that series. A fan of Runaways or Young Avengers or the average reader may not know that stuff and won't have their reading experience affected negatively as a result.

Mine was, though. And I guess I'm showing my fanboy colours, but, seriously, it's bullshit. This evil warden is basically a bad Midas rip-off (complete with the love of dissecting aliens and superpeople) and Noh-Varr defeated Midas, but gets broken by this greasy fat guy with a bad haircut? Seriously: bullshit.

At the end of the issue, the evil warden has taken some prisoners, picked up Noh-Varr (who has Vision's arm stuck in his chest and doesn't care--seriously, he has a robot's arm phased into him and doesn't notice, but was broken by lame villain guy?), and the remaining teen heroes are all like "We're gonna get our buddies back and kick ass against that organization who has the weird alien guy who we were lucky to survive a fight with! We're not at all morons! Joss Whedon is writing some of us soon and Allen Heinberg said he's doing more Young Avengers, so you know we're gonna survive somehow! We rule!" Actually, the exact speech, said by the son of the mad scientists, is (begin cringing now, by the way) "After Gert I never wanted to see another one of my friends die. I would have given anything to say out of this silly 'Civil War.' We tried to run away from it, because we thought it was just between the adults. But they never asked us what side we were on . . . they just attacked. And took our friends. Now we're in it. Like it or not. The time to be runaways is over . . . it's time to do some avenging." Yikes. Horribly melodramatic speech in the best Stan Lee tradition--complete with the final shot of all of the characters standing shoulder-to-shoulder as if they weren't all just standing around like regular people would two seconds previous.

The art in the issue is well done--although I'm not a fan of that digital inking/straight to colours style that's used here. For all the chaos, it never gets confusing as to what's going on and, basically, you could understand what happens without reading a single word. Despite that final shot of the characters--no doubt in the script--Stefono Caselli does a great job.

Fans of the two teen hero series will possibly like this--I can't say since I know nothing about them beyond some basics. People who don't know anything about either group will probably wonder who the fuck they are. Fans of Marvel Boy will throw the book across the room in frustration.

Surprisingly, I think I'm going to get the next issue just to see where things are left with Noh-Varr--because I'm a glutton for punishment.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Random Reading: Superman 656

I've been in Windsor for well over a month and today was my first time visiting the closest comic shop to me. It's a nice little place called Rogues Gallery Comics and the owner was very friendly, offering me help almost immediately (even though, I pretty much look like the archetypal comic fan). Will definitely stop in there this year when I can.

I only got a few things, some back issues of Adventures of Superman from Joe Casey's run on the book, WildCats #1 and Superman #656, which I got for the purpose of this random reading.

My first thought is: who says comics don't teach kids anything? You want to teach your kid what deus ex machina is, hand them a copy of this comic. But, I'm getting ahead of myself.

Superman is in Serbia, fighting some weird looking creature called Subjekt-17 that is giving him a good fight. He's in Serbia as Clark Kent because an old friend asked him to come or something (why, I don't know--to do a story, maybe?), and his friend is in some burning military base, hunting for the details on this Subjekt-17.

Here, writer Kurt Busiek does something slightly interesting, almost Planetaryesque (yes, I just invented that word), with Subjekt-17's origin. You see, in 1949, a spaceship crashed somewhere in Russia. The pilot was dead, but further inside the ship was a pregnant female alien. She died on the operating table, but the child lived and was subjected to all sorts of nasty experiments over the years.

The interesting part is how it's described. Supes' friend tells him, "But in Earth's atmosphere, under our sun, her skin was growing harder, her musculature more dense . . . The infant began developing super-powers as well. But slowly, perhaps due to his youth." Sound familiar?

However, Busiek ruins it by having Superman narrate, "My heart goes out to him -- and I know that had my spaceship landed in the wrong place so many years ago, had been found by the wrong people--" Because subtle, allusive storytelling is somehow worse than being downright obvious about it. In fact, most of Superman's narration is obvious, overwrought and unnecessary. It helps set the stage at the beginning and recap the story, but after, it reminds me of old comics where the narration described what the character was doing in the panel. Busiek should know better, especially when he has someone as skilled as Carlos Pacheco providing the art (which is nothing but gorgeous throughout).

The story itself gets interesting as Subjekt-17's intelligence grows and he becomes angry at Superman for being an alien like him, but helping the humans that spent decades torturing him. And not only that, Subjekt-17's powers are growing and it's looking more and more like the only way to stop him will be to kill him--that is, until some weird time-traveller shows up and ends the fight on the second-last page.

Sorry, I spoiled the totally unanticipated ending that I didn't think Busiek capable of producing. It's hack work. He had a compelling, interesting story and ruined it with a deus ex machina in the form of someone named Arion of Atlantis, who says he's here to help Superman prevent a living hell created by Superman's "own ignorant hand." Okay, I'll admit this is interesting, but was it worth ruining the other story? Couldn't there have been some way for the Subjekt-17 story to be resolved and THEN have Arion show up and tell Superman he's an idiot (which he outright does)?

I would like to see Subjekt-17 return, because it's an interesting twist on Superman's own origin and could make for a great recurring villain. But, who's to tell, because Arion sent him somewhere and there's no telling what that means.

Overall, the story was interesting, the narration irritating, and the ending a fucking joke, but the art was fantastic. I'm actually tempted to pick up the next issue because I'm on board with any story that's about how Superman is stupid and fucks up the world. But, damn, Busiek, that ending? Come on, man, you're better than that.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Not-So-Random Reading: Identity Crisis

Picked up the trade edition of Identity Crisis today and figured it would be a good book to discuss here. I knew last week I would get it today. I was actually going to pick it up last week, but since the bookstore had both volumes if Authority: Revolution, I didn't want to take my chances that both volumes would still be there this week.

I read Identity Crisis when it first came out since my dad was buying it. Can't say that it impressed me at the time. I didn't hate it, but I didn't like it either. Mostly, it made me just sort of shrug in apathy--except for the Batman mindwipe thing, which annoyed me a lot (but I'll discuss that in a few moments). But, reading a story like this when it comes out in serial form isn't the same as reading it in one sitting. It was obviously designed to be read in a single sitting (or something approximating one, similar to a novel--not spread over seven months--if it came out on time, which I can't remember if it did the entire way through).

I will say this: the first issue really got me this time. It is engaging on both a plot/story level and an emotional one. You feel for Ralph. It's obvious what's coming--and Meltzer is self-conscious about it in Ralph's narration--but even so, he puts it in a solid emotional context.

The only downside, really, of that first issue is the art because Rags Morales draws the dumbest-looking eyes I've ever seen. Throughout the entire book, I was constantly distracted by goofy, way too big eyes. Goddamn, I hate them.

I don't know where the story lost me, but it was somewhere in issue two or three. Probably when the focus shifted to the villains. Took me right out of the story. In the larger structure of the story, I can see why Meltzer did it, but I don't think it works. In a story about family and superheroes, giving the other side a voice like that kills the point. It doesn't matter if you're trying to show that they have the same concerns (as in the Captain Boomerang subplot) because, as is pointed out several times, the villains would use the heroes' families to hurt them, while the heroes wouldn't do that.

The narration throughout, actually, posed a problem for me. The only real constant voice we get is Green Arrow's plus whichever voice is convenient to the story. Here's a quick breakdown of narrators:

Issue one: Ralph, Superman, Nightwing, Green Arrow, Bolt, Sue, Robin, Black Lightning, and the Atom. Plus, the omniscient voice that tells us the where, when and who of the scene.

Issue two: the Atom, Green Arrow, Merlyn, Dr. Mid-Nite, and the omniscient voice.

Issue three: Green Arrow, Robin, and the omniscient voice.

Issue four: the Atom, Green Arrow, Batman, Lois Lane, and the omniscient voice.

Issue five: Green Arrow, the Atom, either Captain Boomerang or his son (it isn't clear as there are only two captions with this voice, and either could be thinking it), Robin, and the omniscient voice.

Issue six: Batman, Green Arrow, and the omniscient voice.

Issue seven: the Atom, Green Arrow, Superman, and the omniscient voice.

As a whole story, it comes across as fragmented and uneven. Perhaps, as individual issues, it isn't as jarring--I certainly didn't notice it when I read it as a serial. This time, though, it was painfully obvious. As the list shows, certain narrators showed up a lot, especially Green Arrow. In fact, Green Arrow's narration is the only one that rarely lasted for more than a page or two. Most shifts in narration only lasted for a page or two (or, in the case of the Captain Boomerang/his son, one panel).

This problem stems from the fact that Meltzer tries too hard to make it a universal, affecting everyone story when it isn't that kind of story. Okay, it is in the sense that it does affect everyone, but those viewpoints are often showed through Green Arrow's narration--so why bother with the others? Meltzer seems to realise this after the first Dr. Mid-Nite narration where he begins the autopsy, because the next time we see him, Mr. Terrific is there so there's someone he can talk to instead of using first-person narration. I'm certain most of the other excess narrators could have been excised, focusing the story more and giving it a consistent voice.

While I'm on stuff that bothered me: how did the heroes not check the Dibnys' phone records? Mister Miracle says, after Jean (Atom's ex-wife) is "attacked," that there are seventeen ways to get past the defences these houses have and I'm certain he knows the phone is one. Shit, how many episodes of Law & Order include checking phone records? Um, like all of them (probably not all, but a very large majority). "Shit, she got a call from the Atom's ex-wife right before dying. Maybe we shoul check that out."

Actually, while checking on the murder just now, I'm confused how it actually happened. In the first issue, Sue is talking to Alfred (Batman's butler) on the phone, hangs up, hears a noise elsewhere in the house and then later we see her attacked and burned--and had apparently called for help using the JLA signalling device. And then, in the final issue, we see that Jean got into Sue's brain through the phone (so what was the noise Sue heard in the house?), causing a blockage--which, strangely enough, still gives Sue enough time to signal for help somehow. That, and the fact that the various showings of the murder have conflicting ideas. First, she's seemingly thrown onto a table, but then it's because her brain is all fucked up (with the phone on the table exactly as she left it in the first issue), but then she's on her knees convulsing because her brain is all fucked up (right after she answered the phone and let Jean into her brain, which apparently fucks her up immediately--so how did she place the phone down calmly on the table?).

Maybe it works, but I'm not seeing it.

Now, for the Batman problem. When I first read the series, I didn't believe Batman would give a fuck about Dr. Lite and the League messing with his brain. To me, Batman has one line: murder. He won't kill a bad guy, but he'll do anything and everything else. But, Green Arrow says something that I missed before (and a friend I debated the issue with hinted at, but I dismissed--so I was wrong): "Bruce would never stand for it. Not without his say-so." A good line that invalidates my argument. Batman doesn't care, he's just an asshole control freak. Fair enough.

For the most part, the story was good. I especially enjoyed the fight with Deathstroke in issue three (although, why didn't Green Arrow just stab Deathstroke in his working eye and, you know, get rid of a villain/assassin--I know, because that would be like killing him off, in a way, and you can't do that--except to minor, supporting characters like Sue Dibny and Jack Drake). The mystery was compelling and did make sense, with a few lines and panels early on that seem more ominous if you know Jean is the killer already.

But, shit, the narration (which, even though I don't like the technique Meltzer uses, is always well-written), goofy eyes and the murder itself bugged the fuck out of me. Definitely enjoyed it more than the first time I read it, though, and would recommend picking it up.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Random Reading -- Blade #1

Here's a funny thing about the bookstore at the University of Windsor: they stock a lot of small press graphic novels, some manga and a lot of DC published (including Vertigo, Wildstorm) graphic novels, but only stock Marvel, Dark Horse and Bongo singles. No Marvel trades, no DC singles. How odd.

Anyway, this week, I grabbed a copy of Blade #1. I've never read a Blade comic before, never seen the movies or TV show and have generally had no interest whatsoever in the character. Not since I was, maybe, nine have I had any interest in vampires either. Not my thing. Although, judging from writer Marc Guggenheim's intro/letter column editorial, that is what he wants from a reader (or, an ass in the seat as it were).

Holy shit! Spider-Man's a vampire! And . . . what's the point? We get two pages of a barely seen fight and that's it. Blade shoots him in the kneecaps and suddenly, Spider-Vampire poses no threat, but don't worry because Dracula is here to start some shit, except he's killed right away, too. I guess the point is that Blade is the fucking Man.

And the rest of the issue supports that. All of the threats he encounters are shown briefly (if at all) before he eliminates them. It would be wrong to call this book an action comic, because there's little actual action here. Most of what you would like to see if off-panel. Teenage vampires? They're established as existing, but then nothing. S.H.I.E.L.D. taken over by vampires? Two or three panels and they're taken out. It's like Guggenheim gives the reader a handjob, but always stops before ejaculation. And then begins tugging on the dick again, but oh no, so sorry, no cumming for you!

There's also brief flashes back to Blade's birth and him as a kid. These are the only parts of the issue that work because, well, they don't need to be complete. The rest of the issue lacks a completeness. Guggenheim says he wants to tell two stories per issue, but he only tells one of them well. Wanting a complete story is fine, as is compression, but there has to be a payoff at some point. And, here, there never is.

As well, Howard Chaykin's art is good most of the time, but looks really stiff in some scenes, especially when Blade falls in on the vampire S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. Actually, his Blade is the worst-looking character in the book. Everyone else looks fine, but Blade looks off. Maybe he just hasn't gotten a handle on him yet.

I won't be picking up any future issues. Maybe if I hear Guggenheim's worked out some of his problems, I'll flip through an issue in the shop.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Random Reading: New Avengers #23

I've never done it before, but I'm rather drawn to the idea of randomly getting an issue of a comic you've never read before and judging the entire series as a whole based on that single issue. So, today, I grabbed a copy of New Avengers #23 at my campus bookstore (yeah, they actually sell a few comics there--I almost went with Young Avengers/Runaways #2 since I know even less about it than New Avengers).

Apparently, this is "New Avengers: Disassembled" part 3 as the JLA-esque version of the Avengers is split down the middle because of the events of the Civil War crossover. Each issue focuses on a specific member of the team and this time out, we get Spider-Woman.

The first thing that caught my attention was in the little recap of what has already happened. It says, "After being called upon to hunt down heroes in defiance on the Registration Act, Captain America goes underground and begins to form a resistance movement." Now, does this mean that Captain America actually agrees with the Registration Act, but not with hunting down his fellow heroes? Because I thought he simply thought the whole thing was a dumb idea.

Also on that page, there's a little America-centric thinking when S.H.I.E.L.D., which I always thought was a division of the US government (because they sure as hell seem to answer to it) not "the world's peacekeeping taskforce." But, that could be some sort of strange technicality where they're a division of the US government, but have UN sanction or something. Although, a set-up like that firmly places this book in the realm of fiction in ways that superheroes never will.

Getting to the actual story . . . Spider-Woman, or Jessica Drew, is lying in bed having just awoken after a night of drinking cheap beer (the empty cans littered around her) in a dingy motel room. She's obviously distraught about recent events, okay.

She gets a visitor in the form of Nick Fury, the guy at S.H.I.E.L.D. she answers to (she also works for a terrorist organisation called Hyrda), and he's wondering which side of the conflict she's on. So she shoots him in the back with some sort of weird electro-shock power I didn't know she had. And we get a close-up of her ass.

But, Nick Fury isn't hurt because it's not Nick Fury! It's a robot version and Spider-Woman is a traitor to America! Enter armoured troops with guns and a cofusing panel layout that's meant to parallel the chaos of the scene but really just confuses the fuck out of me! What the fuck is going on?

Oh. She's been captured and is in a dark room, tied to a chair. She's the very first traitor in the very first superhero war. Wait. Even people in the MU are calling it a war? That seems premature somehow. I understand calling the story "Civil War," but having the characters call it that? We only see if as such because we exist outside of their little universe and see the entire picture. In our minds, all of the heroes are best good friends and this is, like, the most shocking thing ever. In their minds, they were allies in only the loosest sense and decided to kick the shit out of one another over a political disagreement.

There's some plot stuff. Blah blah blah traitor, blah blah blah double agent, blah blah blah parents were terrorists so you're a terrorist, blah blah blah you answered to Nick Fury but since he's not in charge here anymore we're going to lock you up.

And then, here is Iron Man to make sure Spider-Woman knows she's fucked. And to once again show that Iron Man is a total fucking dick. Because he is. Iron Man is a total fucking dick.

Just when Spider-Woman is at the end of her rope, ready to bitch Iron Man out, the lights go out and Hydra launches a fullscale assault on the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier to rescue Spider-Woman.

So. Say you're a big terrorist organisation and you have the ability to attack the main headquarters of the "world's peacekeeping taskforce" aka the guys trying to capture and kill you, wouldn't you do so for the reason of just killing them all rather than rescuing a person who may not even be loyal to you? Shit, they basically rush in, get her and then get off, leaving the helicarrier to crash into Rhode Island--except it doesn't. Why the fuck not? What kind of shitty, half-assed terrorist organisation doesn't make damn sure the flying military base they just crippled kills a shitload of innocent people and is destroyed? I call bullshit on Bendis. Especially since bigtime Hydra dude tells us later that this was a one-time only tactic. The message? Marvel's terrorists suck ass. And they're also Nazis (head S.H.I.L.D. lady says they are). And communists (one of them makes sure that Iron Man knows that this is all because of his "war profiteering"). Which makes sense, because Nazis and communists are the same thing.

Anyway, Spider-Woman is taken to Hydra Island or some other lame as fuck named place and is told they want her to replace the current leader of the group. See, it's like, a parallelism to the civil war going on with the heroes. War between heroes, war between terrorists. Except Spider-Woman makes a lame speech and blows the fuck out of the island.

The last page has her finding Captain America's resistance group and asking the join. My only thought is, Captain America and his group have shitty security as she basically just walks into their little warehouse and they're all just standing around. A military guy like Captain America would surely have some sort of perimeter guard(s) to make sure that a potential threat (like Spider-Woman, who may or may not be a terrorist, government agent or superhero) doesn't just walk right in. Oh, and then she cries because she has nowhere else to go. Next issue, the Sentry is focused on and I wish I had that issue instead of this one.

On the whole, it actually wasn't a bad read . . . as long as you check your brain at the door, which I imagine was the intent. I know it's strange to quibble about "realism" in a book involving a lady who can stick to walls and shoot electricity out of her hands, but that's just part of the internal logic of the genre. Maybe dumb, highly ineffective terrorists are too. Actually, of course they are! Nice job, Bendis!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

How Civil War is Politically Relevant - A Snippet

Before I begin, I should mention that I haven’t been reading Civil War, because, well, it simply doesn’t appeal to me. However, one cannot help but follow the major plot points simply by being online and viewing a comic-related site, so I have been aware of what has been going on. As well, before writing this, I asked a few people who have been reading it some questions just so my facts are straight. What this all means is, if you disagree with me, you can simply write me off as some jackass who doesn’t know what he’s talking about because he hasn’t read it.

Civil War is supposed to be a politically relevant story. This has been said by pretty much everyone involved. It’s all about America’s problems balancing personal liberties with national security. The superpowered people living in the Marvel Universe’s America are given a choice: register with the government, give up being a hero, or go to jail. Not exactly a new idea and not even that relevant, I would argue. In the most abstract of interpretations, yes, it does reflect the current political situation in America, but not in any broad sense. Now, if superpeople were being rounded up, declared non-persons and held for an indeterminate amount of time, tortured and never released, you might have some relevancy.

Or, there’s the simple relevancy that most have missed (and maybe someone else has caught it, but I haven’t see that, so apologies if you said this first). It has been alluded to in a few places, but never explicitly stated.

When I first heard of Civil War, my main problem with it was the fact that because of this piece of legislation, fellow heroes and friends would not just be on opposite sides of a political issue, but would also being beating the shit out of one another over it. Surely, there would be at least one character on the pro-registration side who would say that while they agree with the legislation, there was no way they would hunt down their fellow heroes. You know, a voice of moderation and reason.

Nope.

No such voice appeared, except until possibly after the recent death of Goliath. Before that, it was simply a jump from disagreeing over a political issue to beating the shit out of one another. And that is where Civil War reflects the current political climate of America. No one discusses politics in a reasonable and moderate fashion. It is simply “You disagree with me? FUCK YOU, YOU FUCKING RETARD!”

In Civil War, the anti-registration side is led by Captain America. Come on, you mean to tell me that no one on the pro-registration side would say, “I disagree with him, but I’m not going to fight Captain America. It’s . . . it’s Captain America, people! Captain. America. No way. Count me out.” Rather it’s “Fuck Captain America! Fucking brain him!”

The closest you get is the Thing, who decides to leave the country rather than participate in the whole nonsense, but he is more akin to frustrated Americans who choose not to vote rather than a voice of reason.

As well, the tagline for the series, “Whose side are you on?” cannot help but echo George Bush’s statements of either being with the terrorists or with America, allowing for no middle ground.

One side is the left, the other the right and the only way to resolve anything is to destroy the other side. No rational attempts at conversation, no attempts at compromise, nothing but extremes. In that way, Civil War accomplishes its task to be an analogy for the US. The question if whether or not it is because of the tradition of superheroes being quick to fight rather than talk, and the need for an exciting, conflict-filled story, or a deliberate move on the part of the creators. Personally, I opt for the latter.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Isotope Challenge for August--part TWO

Day 16 of August is dedicated to one of the greatest teams to come out of the '50s, the Challengers of the Unknown!

Four strangers are on a plane together: Ace--the pilot; Red--the daredevil; Rocky--the boxer; and Prof--the scientist. The plane crashes under mysterious circumstances but they all miraculously survive. now declaring themselves to be "living on borrowed time," they decide to form a group of adventurers, going about solving mysteries and investigating weird phenomena.
Since their inception in the '50s, the Challs have always been B-listers, but if not for popularity of their adventures into the weird and spooky, superhero comics might not have seen the resurgence they did in that time period.

Of course I am much too young to have read any of those adventures, although I greatly look forward to the release of their Showcase edition in a few months (the cover of which is pictured first in this entry). No my first introduction to them was in the above issue of Secret Origins. Dunno how I ended up with it, but I did, I read it and I loved it. I wanted more Challs, so I tracked down a few old issues of their 70s revival from garage sales and flea markets.

And then Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale brought the Challs into the present day with an eight-issue mini that began with their HQ blowing up and the team being blamed for the deaths this explosion caused. It was mindblowing stuff for me, and it spawned the love I have for Loeb/Sale collaborations to this day.

This eight issue mini by the way is available in trade, and here's what it looks like:

One of my favorite superman stories of the 90s featured the Challs, who have time-travelled from the 50s to the modern era while on the chase of an evil villain from the future:

I've been with the Challs for years, following them into the late '90s when a new team took the name:

And although that book didn't last too long, I loved it while it lasted.
More recently Howard Chaykin revamped the team yet again, but I actually have yet to read this version (available in trade, I'm told) so if anyone has advice for me on that series, please let me know.

And finally when Andy Kubert said at the DCU panel on Saturday of Chicago Con that he would LOVE to do a Challs revival, my heart raced. The team is still out there adventuring; their borrowed time has yet to run out. And it warms my heart to know I may be reading more of their adventures soon.

Fallen Angel is my pick for Day 17 of August

Fallen Angel is one of the few books I'm willing to buy from IDW. The publisher insists on overcharging for their books by about a dollar an issue, but my love for this book is so great that I willingly followed it when it was cancelled at DC and moved to the indie publisher, even though the book was then a bit more expensive than I'd like.

It's definitely worth the money though, because here Peter David is firing on all cylinders as a writer. I've been a fan of PAD's for years, ever since I read his earliest Star Trek: TNG books (that's right; recovering Trekkie in the house), and his Hulk will always be the definitive Hulk for me. He's written a few stinkers in his day too, however, and I'm not always that fond of his public persona or his rabid fanbase (which is almost Byrne-esque in proportion). Yet when he's at his best, he's capable of some great stuff... and Fallen Angel's probably the best stuff he's ever done.

This book is everything JMS wanted Midnight Nation or Book of Lost Souls to be and more. It explores the metaphysical ideas in a much less clumsy fashion than either of those books has, and throws in a bunch of action to boot. Great character development also abounds, as most of the characters (including the titular "fallen angel") in the book are not purely good or evil but instead fall somewhere in the gray areas between. So if you liked the ideas behind those books but don't like JMS (Matt), Fallen Angel might be the book for you.

OR if you're a big Joss Whedon fan, then you might want to try this book as well, for it uses a couple of scenarios that echo those in the Buffy-verse. It focuses on a hard-edged woman with powers beyond that of mortals (Lee/Liandra) fighting against the evils present in a small town named Bete Noire. The town is secretly controlled by mysterious higher powers known as the Hierarchy, who work through the mayor of this town Dr. Juris, who is himself involved in a relationship with Lee.

Personally I preferred the art of the DC version of this book to the IDW continuation. David Lopez was the original artist and his style reminded me a great deal of Kano or Jesus Saiz, with his solid pencils really making the characters seem human. Meanwhile, the current artist, JK Woodward, is a digital painter and his work is a bit too photo-referenced for my tastes... but it's still very pretty to look at it and it's very clean, easy to read stuff.

Two trades exist, collecting the first six DC issues and the first five IDW issues. Unfortunately the majority of the series will probably have to be something you track down in back issues, because I doubt DC ever reprints issues 7-20 of this series. But it's really worth the effort to chase them down because the book is really fantastic stuff.

Day 18 of August brings me to my salute to the nerdiest of the nerds: the comic academics! For years in academic circles it was taboo to discuss the idea of comics as a legitimate artform, but thanks to these noble pioneers, many people have changed their perspectives on comics, seeing the literary and artistic merit within them and acknowledging their place as a valid storytelling medium.


This is James Sturm, director of the Center for Cartoon Studies. This school is devoted to studying every aspect of comics, not just the art and how to make a comic but its publishing history as well. He also founded The National Association of Comics Art Educators, a discussion group and online resource for anyone interested in teaching comics in any form, from an entire course to one particular unit.

And this guy here would be John A. Lent, founder of an academic journal called the International Journal of Comic Art. Released twice a year this journal publishes scholarly articles on comics from around the globe, exploring a myriad of topics from an analysis of social satire in Tim Truman's Scout to a history of comic art in Colombia.

Similarly, academic conferences on comics have been popping up all over the country over the past ten or fifteen years. One of the oldest is known as the International Comic Arts Festival, which is usually held in conjunction with the Small Press Expo and which I will actually be attending this year. Of course there are several other notable conferences strictly on comics, including the Comic Arts Conference, held annually in conjunction with San Diego Comic-Con, and the Univ. of Florida Comic Conference. Also, there are several other conferences that focus on all of pop culture and include areas on comics.

And of course there are scholarly texts by the dozens, that range in subject from the culture of comic book fandom to specific areas of comic history such as the underground revolution or comics of the Cold War era. Two particular works I've enjoyed include Comic Book Nation by Bradford Wright, a very general overview of the history of comics publishing, and Richard Reynolds's Super Heroes: A Modern Mythology, which basically does what it claims in its title.

I'd also highly recommend more specialized books like Men of Tomorrow, which focuses on the creators of Superman and their publishers Harry Donenfeld and Jack Liebovitz, or Hanging with the Dream King, a series of interviews with various artists on Neil Gaiman. Will Eisner: A Spirited Life is a fascinating bio on the man who shaped modern comics, and Considering Maus collects a number of essays on Art Spiegelman's seminal work.

Finally, just today I bought the book on the left, Alternative Comics, which looks to be a pretty interesting exploration of the indie scene in comics in the past thirty or so years. Meanwhile a friend of mine, Pete Coogan, just published a book called Superhero: The Secret Origin of a Genre, which I can't wait to get a chance to dig into.

So please don't think that just because they're written by scholars they are by nature boring. Many of these books are really entertaining as well as enlightening, so perhaps search your local library to see if they might be able to pass one or two of these books your way.

Day 19 of August brings us to the Shakespeare or the Orson Welles of comics, a man whose name is revered by all: Mr. Will Eisner.

You know you're a big name when the biggest award for excellence in the industry is named after you, and Eisner is certainly deserving of such an honor. but he's also one of those creators that, I have a sneaking suspicion, few people have actually read that much of, so I'd like to point you to a few books of his that youy might enjoy.

To the Heart of the Storm is one of Eisner's books in which he puts a very thin veil of fiction over his own life experiences involving war. Eisner worked with the military for years in various capacities, and so the subject of war crops up in his work often. but in this story as in his others, war itself is merely the framework for some very human drama. While on a train to boot camp having newly been drafted to fight in WW2, "Willie" flashes back to his home and school life as he grew up and the various prejudices he faced.

A Family Matter skips the framework and simply focuses on a family that is breaking apart. The patriarch of the family is 90 years old and has just suffered a stroke that has rendered him incapable of speech. The rest of the family must make the decision of how to care for their father, and in the process almost all the bad blood in the family, a history of death and abuse, is dredged up over the course of the evening. Heartwrenching stuff.

Of course Eisner is best known for his work through the 40s and 50s on The Spirit, the masked crimefighter whose adventures graced newspapers around the country every weekend. If you've never read any Spirit stories, then the above trade, The Best of the Spirit, is probably the place to start. While not all of the stories in it are MY personal faves, they're still pretty good. I especially enjoy "Gerhard Schnobble" and "Two Lives" which are pretty inventive little stories that really aren't ABOUT The Spirit at all.

Eisner is frequently given credit for creating the graphic novel with his work A Contract With God, and although that's a subject of debate among some, the quality of his work is not. The recent hardcover collecting that book, Dropsie Ave., and A Life Force would be good to check out if you end up enjoying any of the titles I list above. But if that doesn't work for you there's plenty of other Eisner stuff out there for you to try, and some of it is certain to rouse your interest. Personally, I've never read The Dreamer, his semi-autobio look at the industry's early days, but it's one I hope to check out soon myself.

Day 20. Two-thirds in. Still a bit behind but pressing on.

I'm devoting today to what is probably my favorite comic publisher, the one that I have derived the most joy from over the course of the past ten years than any other: Vertigo.

I've already mentioned in a previous post my love for a few Vertigo series. Animal Man and Doom Patrol came up while discussing Morrison's work and although those books weren't technically Vertigo books, since Vertigo didn't exist at the time, they certainly were in the Vertigo vein and helped pave the way for the DC imprint. Of course even though those books already existed and switched to Vertigo when the imprint was founded, Sandman Mystery Theater was the first official new series Vertigo created. And when I spoke of Ellis, one of the two books of his I featured was Orbiter, a book I remember hearing Colleen Doran discuss at my first ever Vertigo panel several years ago at Wizard World Chicago.

And you all undoubtedly know already about the various classic series that defined the company: Swamp Thing, Sandman, Shade the Changing Man, Transmet and Preacher. currently running series like Lucifer, Y the Last Man and 100 Bullets are sure to enter that group once a few years have passed from their conclusions.

And all of thse series share some common traits, despite their obvious differences in storylines and genres. They all stand out as having a bit more depth of character than other comics; the people feel more real. People tend to think of Vertigo in regards to its comics being for "mature audiences," meaning swearing, violence and sex. But really those things are only part of the story because they're what real people see and do every day. It's part of the framework, just as much as the fantastic or supernatural plots, to delve into the humanity of their main characters.

When Vertigo began years ago, they were rather well known for producing a number of short miniseries such as Enigma, Sebastian O, Scene of the Crime, Moonshadow, Chiaroscuro, Industrial Gothic, and Terminal City. I've read a number of these minis from a variety of writers who today are considered among the best in the business: Peter Milligan, Ed Brubaker, Grant Morrison, and on and on.

Currently Vertigo is publishing more OGNs than minis but they're still by the best in the biz. Gilbert Hernandez recently released his book Sloth, which joined Harvey Pekar's The Quitter and Dave Gibbons's The Originals on bookstore shelves. I've not yet read Rick Veitch's Cant Get No, but I am eager to, and Brian K. Vaughan's Pride of Baghdad definitely intrigues me.

Vertigo has also seen a number of new ongoing series begin in the past year as well, and many of them fit quite well in the grand tradition of Vertigo. While I've enjoyed the future war series DMZ or the Western Loveless, the best new Vertigo series in my opinion has been American Virgin, the story of a young man who took a vow to wait to have sex until he married his girlfriend, only to have his girlfriend killed while in Africa.

In the end this post has basically just ended up being a laundry list of excellence. I haven't said much about any of these series, because there's just too much to try to cover. If you have questions about any of the books mentioned here, please ask. Similarly, I've skipped a few Vertigo titles that I'll follow up on in the next few days, in part because I want to give these books special highlights... but also because it's awfully hard to condense an entire imrpint's publishing history down to one brief article, especially when almost all of it has been brilliant and innovative stuff.

(And since we're on the subject of Vertigo: If someone could point me the way to copies of the Vertigo minis The Extremist, Goddess, Witchcraft or The Last One or the second issue of Gaiman's Black Orchid mini, it would be greatly helpful to me.)

My Vertigo love continues into Day 21, as I post to express my love for a character who in essence embodies everything Vertigo is all about. He's the quintessential Vertigo character, one foot in the DCU and one in the mature reader realm, a man involved in all kinds of shady business, both criminal and supernatural.


He's John Constantine. Chain smoker. Magus. Anti-hero.

Created by Alan Moore in 1985 in Swamp Thing #37, Constantine as a character has passed through many authorial hands since then, including Jamie Delano, Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman, Garth Ennis, Paul Jenkins, Warren Ellis, Brian Azzarello, Mike Carey, Peter Milligan, Rick Veitch... the list goes on and on, and that's just the writers.

And in all of these interpretations by these various authors, one constant has remained true: Constantine has always been a bit of a bastard. He can be selfish, reckless, a bit of a thrillseeker. If you owe John Constantine a favor, don't expect to ever be finished paying him back.

But on the other hand another dominant characteristic of Constantine is that he's not as much of a bastard as he thinks he is. Mostly due to an overzealous sense of guilt, Constantine is haunted by the deaths of those close to him. He feels responsible for them, blames himself, when in many cases he was not really at fault. His worst experience with magic came at Newcastle, when a little girl's soul became damned to Hell after she summoned a demon to kill her adult abusers. In the end, Constantine simply got in over his head and failed to save her, yet to hear him tell it, he was responsible for everything that happened.

Rather than being the horrible person he believes himself to be, Constantine is compassionate, sympathetic. He is frequently seen helping others, if not outright saving the world from destruction. If he was really the bastard he believes himself to be, he wouldn't CARE about the mistakes he's made, about the friends who have died all around him. But he does care, perhaps even caring a bit too much.

The definitive trade paperback of course is Dangerous Habits, which collects the storyline in which Constantine develops lung cancer and has to make shady deals with demons in order to ensure his survival. But of course all of Ennis's run is brilliant stuff, well worth reading. Pick up Delano's run if you like '80s horror comics. Pick up Ellis or Azzarello's runs... if you like their stuff in general.

Really, there's no bad Hellblazer comics. John Constantine is just too cool a character to let anyone write him badly.

Day 22 of August concludes my Vertigo-specific entries with a book that didn't start out as a DC book at all, but has eventually been enveloped by the Vertigo imprint. It is a book that it was inevitable that I speak of here, for it is my favorite graphic novel of all time.

It is V for Vendetta, a book that is reprinted today by DC from their ten-part series of 1988, which in turn was made up of reprints of work originally seen in England in the early 1980s in the magazine Warrior as well as new material to close the story out.

It pains me to hear from people that have seen the movie and not read the book, for the book is infinitely better than the film, sheerly for its depth. It also pains me to hear people say Moore's greatest work is Watchmen, without having read V for Vendetta. Yes Watchmen is brilliant, and yes it is quite possibly the best exploration of the superhero that has been or can ever be written. But Moore's best work? Not by a long shot.

Rather, Moore's best work comes in the form of a novel about the fascist government in the England of the future and the man who rebels against the system, a man named only V. V for Vendetta is not only my favorite graphic novel but quite possibly also the best work written to date in this medium. To me it seems a person cannot call himself or herself a comic book afficionado without having read this book.

Now admittedly, I am quite biased in claiming it is the best comic ever written, because my love for it is so deep. V for Vendetta marked a first for my collection, as it was the first book I owned as both individual issues and in trade paperback form. I have given away my trade paperback before, only to buy a new copy when I missed it so much. I hope to someday own the original Warrior issues and I fully intend, sometime in the next few months, to purchase a copy of the book in hardcover as well, sheerly for durability's sake.

You see, V for Vendetta is also the only comic book I read repeatedly. I can say without exaggeration that I have probably read V for Vendetta at least twenty times if not more, and I know that I shall read it again. Very few books I read in any form are deemed worthy of repeat perusals. Breakfast of Champions is one, A Prayer for Owen Meany another, Catch-22 yet another-these are all books that I come back to many times to read again and again, gaining new perspectives on both the text and myself each time we cross paths. And V for Vendetta is among them, a book I cannot go more than a year without opening anew.

Shall I give you tons of reasons why I think it's so brilliant? Shall I tell you of the deep philosophical mind of the main character V, a man who takes a meaningful stand against the system for the betterment of mankind? Shall I inform you of the beautiful portrayal of Evey, a young girl who has lost all to the system and whom V takes under his wing? Shall I tell you of David Lloyd's exquisite artwork which makes the cityscapes of London seem familiar and which, through the use of his muted colors, creates an almost tangible atmosphere of the dim, dull existence of life under this fascist regime?

I could. I could expound upon the type of analysis I do when I've taught V for Vendetta in the past (and which I will do again this spring) about whether or not V is a terrorist, about whether the main character of the book is V or Evey, about whose face lies behind the mask and if that question even matters.

But I won't. Instead I shall choose not to spoil your reading experience and leave you to discover these things for yourself. Even if you've seen the film, there is much more to discover in the novel.

Just one warning, though: do your damnedest not to cry when you read Valerie's letter, composed on toilet paper. It gets me every time.

Day 23 of August, and we're getting closer and closer to the end of my month in the challenge. I've devoted entries to my two favorite publishers, to my favorite graphic novel... I think it's fair to spend a little time discussing my favorite genre of comic: autobio comics.

Ever since I first read Maus back in college, Art Spiegelman's classic tale of his father's experiences in a concentration camp, I've been gaga for biographical comics, esp. those told in the style of memoirs. Maus's draw for me was not just that it told his father's Holocaust narrative, but also that it focused on his relationship with his father as well, honestly and without comment.

Of course I have not been the only one who went nutso for autobio. It seems that the mainstream media has picked up on this trend in comics, and every memoir that has been released over the past few years has been met with great hype. Luckily most of that hype has been deserved, as was the case with both Blankets and Persepolis.

But you've doubtlessly heard of those books at the very least, and since I've already discussed the autobio work of Jeffrey Brown with you, I want to talk about two others that you might not have read: I Never Liked You by Chester Brown and Fun Home by Alison Bechdel.

A series of short vignettes that span Brown's teenage years, I Never Liked You highlights his relationships with four different women. there's , who Chester doesn't like too much but for times when they can be alone and talk without interruption. there's Carrie, 's younger sister, who has an extremely huge crush on Chester, but who Chester all but ignores. there's Sky, who Chester adores, mostly because he is obsessed with her large chest.

And there's Chester's mother, and his relationship with her as her mental and physical health slowly fade informs his relationships with the other girls. It's a very subtle book all told. Because of the fractured nature of the narrative, it's hard to see the arc of the plot as a whole at any given point, but really it's not about plot as much as it is character and how Chester's life changes as he grows older and learns from the numerous mistakes he makes along the way.

Finally there's Fun Home. Fun Home is about Alison Bechdel coming of age and realizing she liked girls. Add in the fact that for years her father has been repressing his own homosexuality, and you've got an interesting parallel if nothing else. Add in that her father died about a month after she came out of the closet, and you've got the makings of a very interesting story.

Fun Home is chockful of symbolism and strange juxtapositions. We see Bechdel throughout the book in various stages of development; in one scene she may be in college, and the next she's eight years old. Meanwhile she's analyzing her parents' lives, reading a vast amount of literature, exploring the world around her. It's multilayered and it hits a homerun on every page. It's gripping stuff, really, and should be on everyone's must read list.

These examples are only two of the great autobio comics out there, and hopefully if neither of these appeal to you, you might still be inspired to seek out another work in this genre, for I feel it is one area that comics really have a lot going for them at the moment.

Day 24 of the Challenge is devoted to the most brilliant man working in comics today: Scott McCloud!

No work of "sequential art" has changed my way of looking at comics specifically and the world in general as much as McCloud's fantastic book Understanding Comics. I can't even begin to explain how much my mind was blown all those years ago when I happened into the nearest comic shop to my hometown, Scottie's Comics, one Saturday afternoon when I was home from my freshman year of college for the weekend. The title alone was enough to make me grab it off the shelf, and even after a brief flipthrough, I knew it was going to be phenomenal and had to buy it straight away.

The book's discussion of how words and art work together to tell stories in comics is absolutely revolutionary. Its analysis of word/art combinations, including various types like duo-specific and parallel, will change the way you look at each panel of the comics you read. and similarly its exploration of panel-to-panel transitions, including its emphasis on closure, will forever alter how you read each page.

Beyond just its application to comics, McCloud raises some interesting points that speak to the human condition in general, especially regarding our inclination to be drawn to iconography. Often waxing philosophical, McCloud explores how comics reflect the fact that we as a people gravitate towards symbols, we identify with those things that most resemble ourselves, and we form our own identities based not only on the ways we perceive ourselves but how others perceive us.

And I'm very excited about McCloud's newest book Making Comics, which comes out on September 5. I wasn't as big a fan of Reinventing Comics because it explored webcomics a BIT too much for my tastes, but I think this one will see him returning to form a bit more. Can't wait to pick it up, and I know that the second I do, it'll jump right to the "to read" stack of books.

Of course the really great thing about his new book coming out is... he's doing a book tour in support of its release, including an appearance at SPX this October. I cannot WAIT for the opportunity to meet him and hear him speak in person. It will quite possibly make my year.

"Hey Steve!" comes a voice from out of the crowd of challenge readers. "I'm tired of reading your thoughts about random indie books and the like. I prefer my comics to have guys in capes and tights in them! Give me some superhero recommendations, wouldja???"

Well, I'm glad you mentioned it actually, random heckler, because Day 25 begins the last week of my part of the Isotope Challenge, and I started out the challenge knowing I was going to hold the hero books off to the very end. So here begins my last week, my tribute to the superheroes.

And what better place to start with the costumed crimefighters than with one of my favorite hero books ever, Batman The Long Halloween?

Every writer of Batman for the past twenty years or so has been living in the shadow of Frank Miller. With both Batman: Year One and The Dark Knight Returns, Miller nailed down a reputation as one of the best creators to ever tackle the mythos surrounding the caped crusader, at the same time setting a standard for quality stories that, to be honest, few have even come close to reaching since.

But this seminal miniseries, in which writer Jeph Loeb collaborates with his frequent partner artist Tim Sale, stands out as the best story involving the character in the past fifteen years and one of the greatest Batman tales told of all time.

A mystery told in 13 parts, The Long Halloween spans over three hundred pages and not a one of them is wasted. Taking place over the course of one year in the life of Batman, the story follows shortly after the events of Batman: Year One, when Batman first arrived on the scene in Gotham City. It even involves a few of the minor characters seen in Miller's work, as it details Batman's hunt for a serial killer who strikes each month on a major holiday at major crime figures in Gotham. As each month the bodies pile up, Batman becomes more and more driven to find the killer's true identity and end the bloodshed. Loeb uses the whodunit aspect of this story to keep readers guessing until the very last page, and even beyond the book's end.

But far more than being a tale of the mob in Gotham or a simple murder mystery, The Long Halloween is an in-depth character study of those people that populate the world in which Batman operates, not the least of which is Bruce Wayne himself. Through his narration we are given such incredibly deep insight into his motivations that, when he acts, we see the logic behind each action from his point of view. We see him gradually driven to the point of obsession in finding Holiday, and we realize that he could not have behaved in any other way.

Those characters usually relegated to minor status are also allowed to come out in full force. Selina Kyle, Harvey Dent, Jim Gordon-all have been a part of Batman's life for years, but here we get to see how these relationships started, what molded them into the shape they are today. Even Johnny Viti, one of those minor mafiosos Miller threw into Year One, Loeb gives a chance to shine in this tale, although his time on the page is almost as brief. The characters draw readers in, truly engaging them in the narrative much more so than a mere four-color fistfight or a soap opera in tights can.

The art too is absolutely exquisite. Tim Sale is an artist who can really make characters breathe, and his action sequences truly come to life. Too often comic artists make many of their characters look the same, but Sale really makes his characters stand out from one another. Harvey Dent is not just Bruce Wayne with lighter hair; he has a look all his own, created not only through facial expressions but posture as well. When Alberto Falcone and his father The Roman stand side by side, we can see a family resemblance, but they are not carbon copies of each other. Sale is sometimes criticized for over-using the splash page and the two-page spread, but here the images deserved the treatment they got and every picture is worth thousands upon thousands of words.

Thematically the book transcends the conventions of either the superhero or crime genres and ends up meaning so much more than a typical tale of good versus evil. By the end of this story, everyone has suffered from being a part of it; in the end, no one wins. This concept is a constant in Batman's life, that his crusade is not actually spawned by the death of his parents, but by the consistent losses he has felt in his life ever since that fateful day. For Batman, and for everyone else that crosses his path in this story, the losses continue here as well.

The Long Halloween is one of the quintessential Batman stories, and no one can lay claim to the label of a true Bat-fan without having partaken of the sheer brilliance crafted here by Loeb and Sale.

Over the years, it seems that many of my favorite hero books haven't lasted. either they've got a limited run from the start (like my favorite hero book ever, which will be mentioned in the final challenge entry) or, more frequently, they get cancelled before their time (such as another book which will be mentioned in my next to last entry--how's that for teasing you for future entries?).


Anyway, I want to devote a little time today, on day 26 of the August Isotope Challenge, to some of my favorite comics which got the axe.

One such book was John Arcudi's revision of the Doom Patrol in 2001. Drawn beautifully by Tan Eng Huat, the book explored a number of pastiches of hero books, including the teen hero group, the group of heroes who feel like "outsiders" from the rest of the world, a hero team with corporate sponsorship, and so on. Arcudi managed to juggle all these ideas, to create some interesting new characters who really stood out from the typical superheroes, and to pay homage to previous continuity. It really was an amazingly fun little book, and I was very sad to see it go.

Next up is a great hero book called Chase. Named after the main character Cameron Chase, the book focused on the adventures of a government agent who hates superheroes and whose assignment... is to patrol and police superheroes. Brilliantly written by Dan Curtis johnson and illustrated beautifully by JH Williams III, Chase was a book that filled in many of the gaps in the DCU and did so with such style and with such an interesting lead character that it's no wonder that Chase herself has long since survived the cancellation of her own series, popping up over and over again in the DCU in the interim years.

Cancelled at the same time as Chronos was another fun book I loved dearly called Chronos. It was about a time-travelling "hero" who had been mentored by a Silver Age supervillain and who had many misadventures throughout the history of the DCU in his very short run. Paul Francis Moore brought the character to life with his words and Paul Guinan handled artistic chores deftly.

Finally there's HERO, a recent book by Will Pfeifer and artist Kano. It follows the Dial H for HERO premise of a magic device that bestows powers on anyone who uses it, and as the book progresses we follow it from person to person as it gets passed around the DCU to a variety of regular folk who then have to decide how best to utilize this wonderful gift they've been given. And of course the answers to that question usually involves less heroic acts and more mundane ordinary activities.

There are plenty of others I could have mentioned, like Breach or Hourman and the list goes on and on. I don't know why it is that I tend to be drawn to these marginal heroes, but I think each of these examples shows that just because a book doesn't sell well doesn't mean it's not a quality book.

Doom Patrol reached issue number 22 of its run; Chase had ten issues, including its final issue, the million issue. Chronos similarly had a million issue, even though it only totaled 12 issues, and HERO went all the way up to issue 24, if I'm not mistaken. It actually mustered enough support to see a TPB released of its first four issues, whereas the rest of the books weren't as lucky. But any or all of them should be easy to find on Ebay or in quarter bins for very low prices.

Good luck scavenging!


There's just something about a good retro hero book to bring out the childish glee in me, so I dedicate my entry for day 27 to these modern works set in the days of yore.

Perhaps the granddaddy of all retro hero books is The Golden Age, a four issue mini by James Robinson and Paul Smith. (Thanks to Lyons for bringing this book up in another thread and inspiring this entry, by the way.) It captures beautifully the time period of the late '40s and early '50s, adeptly utilizing and characterizing some lesser known golden age heroes like Captain Triumph and Manhunter, fully fleshing out these characters who had never been given their due.

I particularly love the "love triangle" of sorts we see between Johnny Quick, his ex-wife Liberty Belle, and her new boyfriend the Tarantula. the relationships struck me as the most realistic I had ever seen in comics up to this point. The pitfalls that Libby must deal with as John Law suffers through writer's block and drifts into an alcoholic haze are only compounded by Johnny's repeated attempts to win her back... it's heartbreaking stuff.

And if Robinson did this well with the minor characters, it should be obvious that he shone even more brightly with the big guns like Alan Scott as Green Lantern and of course Ted Knight as Starman. The issues that Scott has to deal with in regards to blacklist and Knight must face regarding his role in the Manhattan Project root the story in the real world, and by extension the characters take on more realistic personae. By placing them firmly in a recognizable historical context and showing how these characters deal with the changing times, we see them as very real and human.

And amazingly the plot device that is revealed in the end does not seem contrived or absurd at all; despite the realistic setting of the book, or perhaps because of it, when the book veers into Twilight Zone territory in the end, we accept it without the slightest issue. Brilliantly executed.

Robinson announced his intention at the time of Golden Age's completion to do a follow-up book entitled The Silver Age, that basically would place the Justice League in a similar historical context as he had done with the Justice Society. However this plan never came to fruition, due in no small part to the fact that Mark Waid and Barry Kitson eventually produced JLA Year One, a book that fulfilled many of the same objectives.

A bit less concerned with history and more with continuity, JLA Year One was a modernized retelling of the origins of the Justice League, a retrofitting that served to clear up confusing issues of DC history lingering from the Crisis and Zero Hour. While an excellent and fun superhero book, it's not *quite* in the same vein as Golden Age, owing more to the "continuty clean-up" style of story that Waid would eventually use for Superman Birthright as well. Despite having enjoyed JLA Year One (and Superman Birthright as well), I would have much preferred to have Robinson's version.

A more direct forebearer for the torch Golden Age lit would be Darwyn Cooke's New Frontier. Focusing on the Silver Age era heroes such as Hal Jordan as Green Lantern and Barry Allen as the Flash, it was a story set in the late '50s, reimagining the DCU as if the heroes had debuted in their original historical context. Hal Jordan ends up as a fighter pilot in Korea, and many heroes end up run out of business by McCarthyism.

With the same excellent level of character development that Robinson displayed in Golden Age, Cooke does a fantastic job of crafting his story, and it doesn't hurt either that his art is frickin' gorgeous. the book is paced to perfection as each vignette perfectly depicts one small aspect of this world, eventually leading us to a grand finale that pulls all of the various pieces together in the end. And that finale is epic in scope, even if, like Golden Age, it verges into some B-grade science fiction material.

Both The Golden Age and New Frontier represent the best that retro hero books have to offer, really capturing the look and feel of the time period they are set in (even if they're not always one hundred percent historically accurate). Check them out in trade paperback, or wait until the Absolute edition of New Frontier is released next month. Either way, you won't be disappointed.

Enough of the past and those golden halcyon days. Let us look now on day 28 to the dark times of the present and the even darker future timelines that make up the dystopian hero stories. Ever since Claremont and Byrne first gave us a bleak glimpse into the X-men's future in Days of Future Past, comic creators have used this story device to comment on the world around us or to let us see what our favorite heroes' lives might be like if it all went wrong. And who can forget the most famous look into the future life of a hero of all, Dark Knight Returns? Still brilliant all these years later, even if it's a bit dated in places.


one of my favorite books that explores what could potentially happen to our modern heroes would have to be Kingdom Come. Now I know there are those out there who aren't the biggest fans of this book, but I have to admit that I still find the book riveting. In the story, the modern big guns of the DCU have all gradually slipped from the public eye, leaving a more violent ilk of hero in charge in their absence.

Eventually however Superman returns to the spotlight when a group of new heroes, tracking down a villain who is frightened for fear of his life due to their shoot-first-ask-questions-later tactics, accidentally trigger a nuclear explosion that wipes out his home state of Kansas. but rather than returning and restoring the status quo, the return of Superman and his compatriots only serves to increase the rift between humanity and their superpowered protectors.

The book highlights this rift by featuring as its protagonist a regular man, a priest, named Norman McCay. The Spectre is yet another hero who, though once tied to a human host, has lost touch with any human qualities he might have once had, and so he enlists Norman to help him pass judgment on what transpires. Thus, as an observer outside of the action, Norman serves as both the character the audience can identify with and a narrator/commentator on all the action.

In the end the book makes the point that in order for superheroes and normal humans to coexist, the heroes must remain in touch with their humanity. Over the course of the book we see more and more heroes who seem inhuman: the Flash patrols Central City at such high speeds he is little more than a blur and Batman doesn't patrol Gotham City anymore, instead controlling giant crimefighting Bat-bots from the safety of his batcave. But after an final confrontation involving Captain Marvel, a hero who successfully bridges the gap between hero and human for he is both, the heroes learn from their mistakes and change their ways once and for all. It's a final battle that is perhaps one of the most gripping action sequences I've ever seen in comics, and it still overwhelms me with emotion when I read it today, for the umpeenth time.

Of course one of the longest-running books that focused on the future of the DCU went dark toward the end of its original run. But that's another book I'm saving for my final entry of the month.wink.gif

Instead I'll end on a final dystopian book that is not set in the future but the present day, Squadron Supreme. In this book, the heroes decide that we humans need someone to make decisions for us. So they usurp the government's power, take over America, and start fixing things the way they see fit. Now that description of the book makes it seem like these heroes are bad guys, but they're not. They're good people, heroes with the best of intentions. But you know what they say about the road to hell, right?

Pretty quickly one of the heroes speaks out against the rest of his team. He objects to the ideas of these heroes, stating that by taking control away from the common man, they are trampling on all the freedoms America stands for. But this hero is voted down by the rest, who say that a few of the individual's rights lost are nothing in the face of what will be gained by society as a whole. So this hero resigns from the team and starts planning a way to show the Squadron Supreme the error of their ways. And that hero is Batman.

Well, actually it's Nighthawk, but it might as well be Batman. It is well-documented that writer Mark Gruenwald was a huge fan of the Justice League and that, when he created the Squadron Supreme at Marvel, he was openly aping the DC team so he could play with the other company's toys in his own backyard. Even reading the names of some of these heroes you can see obvious parallels. Hyperion, Power Princess, Amphibian, Whizzer, Dr. Spectrum-the list goes on and on.

But Gruenwald takes the characters and makes them his own, drawing on the archetypes we're familiar with and taking their personalities to the inevitable conclusion. Each character stands out from the creation they were originally carbon-copied from. Golden Archer's obsessive love for Lady Lark stretches into darker corners than Ollie and Dinah's relationship ever did, and Nuke's youthful impetuousness is at times incredibly destructive, a far cry from Firestorm over in the JLA.

Apart from making the characters his own, Gruenwald similarly pulled no punches with the plot and showed that even the actions of superheroes have very real consequences. This story is mired in tragedy and heartbreak; as the story unfolds over the course of a year in this utopia, members of the Squadron Supreme quit the team, are forced out, and even die. The inevitable conclusion to the story is very much a predecessor to the widescreen action style we see in comics of today, yet its violence is not sensationalized or especially bloody. Characters are killed in horrific ways in this melee, not just for a cool fight scene but for a logical purpose, to drive the theme of the story home for the reader.

Dozens of stories since 1985 have taken this idea and run with it, and I freely admit that those books, books like Kingdom Come or The Authority, did the concept a bit better than Squadron Supreme does. The art here is uneven and juvenile at times; the dialogue is similarly a bit cheesy, as characters break into long speeches to debate the larger moral issues behind their actions without a hint of subtlety. But still this work is groundbreaking and many stories of today owe Squadron Supreme a great debt of gratitude. For this reason, and for many others, this book is worth your attention.

entry 29 of the August Isotope Challenge brings me to one of my favorite creators ever to grace comics with his presence: John Ostrander.


John Ostrander’s work for DC in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s is often heralded as some of the best comics of the time period. Especially in regards to his run on Suicide Squad, his ability to mix genres into intriguing and engaging plots while adding depth to previously flat second-string characters stands out above many of his contemporaries. Formerly insignificant or one-note villains like Captain Boomerang and Deadshot were given the opportunity to shine in this book and develop personalities all their own

In the late '90s, Ostrander applied this same pinache for fleshing out B-listers to Martian Manhunter, the consummate benchwarmer and second fiddle, in his own solo book. Not only did he add a great deal to the mythos of the character over his 30-odd issue run in the title, but he also rounded out the entire DCU by illustrating how J'onn had interacted with many heroes in various guises over the years, inspiring them to be more and do more. The issue in which J'onn revealed himself to have been one of Clark Kent's grade school teachers is an especially interesting and inspired touch, if you ask me. during this series J'onn popped up all over the DCU, going to Apokolips with the JSA and meeting Cameron Chase and the DEO, illustrating for us the fact that, despite the fact he is not a big name, Martian Manhunter in many ways is the glue that holds the DCU together.

But often overlooked in this praise is the work Ostrander did with his wife Kim Yale on the book Manhunter. Published for only twenty-four issues starting in 1988, the book was a spin-off from the DC crossover event Millennium, and it centered on the character of Mark Shaw, a former villain trying to redeem himself by working as a bounty hunter. Although he was looked down upon by the police for being essentially a hero for hire, he was also motivated strongly by his own moral code. The book followed not only his battles with various villains, but also his personal struggles with his family, with love, and with his own ethics.

For me, however, this series will always be special, for it represents a number of firsts in my comic collecting career. In many ways, Manhunter was my first fanboy obsession. DC’s books had been carrying an ad for the comic for a while, offering a special subscription at a discount rate. Just looking at the character, with his red and blue jumpsuit and his high-tech mask and baton, I was already enraptured. I knew I could not miss one of this character’s adventures. Never before had I had such an immediate response to a character I knew nothing about, but this time I was hooked.

Thus, this book was the first series that I got a subscription to, with my own money, which I earned by delivering complimentary copies of a special section of the newspaper to all the local businesses who had advertised in it. It was only one day’s worth of work, but it was hard-earned as I had to trek all over town. Still it was worth it when the issues finally came. As a gift for my subscription, the first issue had been autographed by the writers and artist. It was the first autographed book I ever got, and it still is one of the prizes of my collection.

Sadly, Manhunter was another first for me: the first book I collected that was cancelled. I remember I was devastated when I saw the cover of the final issue, which boldly announced “Manhunter No More!” Then later when I read the farewell lettercolumn and my fears were proven true, my little fanboy heart was broken. I had guessed that the end was coming, since prior to the final issue the series had been engulfed in a six-issue epic story pitting Shaw against his arch-nemesis Dumas one last time. All the while copies were becoming harder to find in those spinner racks, but I refused to read the handwriting on the wall. Once the book had ended, I was crushed.

Looking back on the series now, I still find it as strong a read as I recall (unlike so many other hero stories that I read when a child, which when read today smack of being the cheesiest examples of superhero storytelling known to man). Perhaps the main reason the book has stood the test of time, why it reached me then and today, is the take on the main character. He was different from all the other superheroes around at the time. He didn’t have tons of powers, fighting crime through the use of a few gadgets and his wits. He didn’t have grand reasons for being a hero, like the death of his parents or favorite uncle. Instead he did it for money, even if he was at heart a good person.

And the stories went beyond the “epic battle of good versus evil” to explore the more human aspects of this character, really rounding him out and making him seem like a real person to me. His supporting cast too really stood out; in fact to this day one of my favorite comics of all time is issue five of this series, an issue written solely by Kim Yale. This issue focuses not on Mark Shaw but on a woman named Sylvia who works a desk at the police station Mark Shaw brings his busts to.

A later issue had a back-up story by Yale and artist Sam Keith called “Fairy Tale” that also stands out in my memory. This story focuses on the captain of that police department, who doesn’t like Shaw much, and his daughter who adores Manhunter. In that story, the captain tells his daughter a bedtime story, transferring the events of a recent bust Manhunter made into a fairy tale setting, a truly innovative change in tone and point of view for the time. Manhunter explored various themes of political intrigue with its ties to Suicide Squad. It involved aspects of Japanese culture in its major stories, especially the first and last stories which featured elements of the Yakuza. Whenever guest stars showed up, it was always to serve the story, not just to sell more issues, and they always added new dimensions to the characters that I had never seen before. The two issues which were part of the Invasion crossover guest-starred the Flash, making him out to be a hotheaded young punk that caused trouble for Shaw rather than helping him.

In short, it was everything normal superhero stories were not, which is the type of superhero story I find myself drawn to even today. Perhaps it was just too off-beat for it to survive, and it truly is a shame it was cut down after such a short time. I still look on those twenty-four issues as one of the best runs of a book I’ve ever read.

(If anyone can help me find out more, or in fact find copies of, Ostrander's Spectre run, which I'm told is his masterpiece, I would greatly appreciate it.)

day 30. after this, only one day left in my version of the Isotope challenge. And I figured, since so much of my challenge has been spent on old series and trades I've loved over the years, I'd spend this next-to-last entry talking about a few ongoing hero titles I'm reading at present.

And perhaps the best hero book on stands today, for my money, is Invincible by Robert Kirkman, Cory Walker, and Ryan Ottley. It has been called the most popular comic to come out of Image since Spawn, and it's very much deserving of that acclaim. The book focuses on Mark Grayson, the son of a famous superhero. Mark too develops powers of his own during his senior year of high school, and he finally is able to live his dream and follow in his father's footsteps as a hero.

But the great thing about this book is that it manages to be so many different types of hero books all rolled into one. It's a hero legacy book. It's a teen hero book. It's a team book, as Invincible joins, temporarily at least, the Guardians of the Globe. It's a book about a government sponsored hero. It's about the perils of superheroics on the real lives of the heroes in the secret identities, both literal dangers and emotional traumas. There's characterization a plenty, plots and subplots and slow developing storylines... this book literally has everything you would want from a hero book, and more.

Now as for the best hero book being published by the Big Two, I'm going to be a little controversial and say 52.

Week in and week out, I've been enjoying the heck out of 52. Plain and simple, it's just a darn fun read. Is it the best superhero story ever told? no, of course not. But it's bankably good every issue, with decent character development and intriguing mysteries that keep you coming back. And with a creative team like Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Geoff Johns, Mark Waid and Keith Giffen, you're basically assured of some quality work.

of course it's not afraid to shake things up by introducing new characters such as the Chinese heroes The Great Ten, Isis or of course Batwoman, by changing the status quo of established characters such as Adam Strange (now blind), or by even killing off fan favorite characters like Booster Gold. Now again, I know this book has its share of "haters" but I think if you just sit back for the ride, it's a fascinating look at the DCU as a whole, told through the lens of some minor characters who are left to fill in the gaps when the big guns disappear.

My last entry.
Devoted to things I wanted to talk about but didn't, for one reason or another. Lots of brief entries below.

If Morty hadn't written a fantastic entry on Starman during his version of the challenge, I surely would have. Starman is my favorite comic of all time and it's positively fantastic, particularly the first two years worth of issues. you MUST track down the trades.

And then Goody came along and stole my second favorite series of all time: the five year gap Legion. Actually I have been a Legion fan in general since my early years, thanks to the DC digests I picked up at the local grocery store when I was a kid. I got to read the reprints when I was young, and as I grew up, so did the comic. Loved this gritty era, again especially the first three or four years.

I purposefully chose not to write about a couple of books--Camelot 3000, Ronin, 300, Born Again, and Age of Bronze--because they are all books that I have covered before. A few years back I wrote a weekly review column called A+ Graphic Novels and every week I spoke about a TPB I adored. I wrote about all of the above books there, and I didn't want to repeat myself. So if you want to know why those books rock, go to the link above and read.

(I should also point out that I did repeat myself a bit with some of the entries in the challenge: TLH, V for Vendetta, and Squadron Supreme. Sorry.)

I didn't get a chance to talk about a mini I'm loving at the moment, Escapists by Brian K. Vaughan, nor a non-hero ongoing that is actually the only comic my wife is willing to read, the romance book True Story Swear to God by Tom Beland. Just couldn't squeeze them in; since they weren't hero books per se (Escapists is about people who are creating a hero comic, but isn't a hero book itself), I ran out of room for them.

Nor could I fit in some GNs that are in the realism mode, Mother Come Home and Jar of Fools. Wanted to try to stretch the autobio entry to fit them but couldn't because... they're not. They're just damn good stories about real people with real problems, Mother Come Home about a boy who takes car of his father after his mother dies and Jar of Fools about a retired vaudevillian escaping from his nursing home to run around with his failed magician protege.

If it were after September 13, my Vertigo entry would have included Pride of Baghdad. If it were after September 15th, my autobio entry would have included Three Paradoxes (a book by Mother Come Home author Paul Hornschemeier that I have been looking forward to for quite some time). And were it after Oct. 16th, my Eisner entry would have included his new hardcover collection Eisner's NY--Life in the Big City, which will contain NY: Life in the Big City, The Building, City People Notebook, and Invisible People. That's one I'm really looking forward to.

And finally there are a number of cool books coming from the big Two in the next few months: Mystery in Space, Tales of the Unexpected, Omega Men, Criminal, and Omega the Unknown. Really looking forward to all those minis, and I'm glad to see the big Two branching out a bit from superhero books.

But I didn't have time to explore any of those. It's a shame that my month has ended. I'll miss posting; I just have way too much comic love to contain in 31 days, I guess.

thanks all. Looking forward to reading your entries in the future.