Thursday, May 20, 2010
Saturday, May 15, 2010
Justice League: Generation Lost #1, DC Comics
by Judd Winick (writer) & Keith Giffen (writer/breakdowns), Aaron Lopresti (penciller), Matt Ryan (inker), Hi-Fi (colorists), Sal Cipriano (letterer)
I was lucky to collect the entire Keith Giffen/J.M. DeMatteis Justice League International run when a comic book shop in Placentia, California shut down and sold its back issues for 10 cents each. I devoured their entire run, including some Justice League Europe crossover issues, and developed an affinity for many of the characters, those lesser known in the DC Universe but still at one time a part of the prestigious JL . . . well, I, but the League nevertheless. Giffen and DeMatteis' dialogue made the characters believable, approachable, and more human than super -- an innovation that took what Alan Moore did in The Watchmen and infused it with the emotion he forgot: humor. The Justice League International has become a retrospective inside joke among fanboys, but Giffen and DeMatties resurrected comics' first super-team, before Morrison did, before Meltzer did (and that's New York Times best-selling author Brad Meltzer). That's no laughing matter.
I confessed on Wednesday that I didn't read "Final Crisis," nor did I read "Identity Crisis," but the ramifications of those tales still ripple through the DC Universe, and know that they've essentially deconstructed everything Giffen and DeMatties developed in Justice League International. How many of those key characters were tortured and killed? The Elongated Man and his wife . . . Blue Beetle . . . Max Lord -- Were writers using the JLI roster to target characters that would have just enough emotional resonance with readers, but not destroy the sanctity of DC's core properties? Just as I enjoyed seeing these characters in their heyday, I grieved for them. I didn't grieve their deaths -- because they aren't real, you know -- but I mourned that loss of realism. In the mix of a cosmic crisis, they were simply less like me.
In the wake of "Brightest Day," I think Justice League: Generation Lost is trying to reclaim that spirit. Max Lord, JLI benefactor turned mind-controlling super villain, is back from the fatal neck twist he experienced by Wonder Woman's hand, and all of the earth's heroes are on the look-out for him. Booster Gold feels neglected in the search, but he also knows Lord best and actually succeeds where even Batman fails -- and finds the guy. Of course, he's too late, and Lord accomplishes the seemingly impossible: he makes the world at large forget he ever existed. Only Booster, Captain Atom, Fire and Ice know of Lord's legacy now, which will undoubtedly make them look a little nuts -- like the laughing stocks they were before, perhaps? Either way, by putting them against their more mainstream counterparts, Winick and Giffen have made them more like us again. Really, they're the only four heroes in the DC Universe that know what we know. Talk about being able to relate.
I enjoyed this issue, and though it isn't of the "bwah-ha-ha" variety, it was just light-hearted enough to maintain the spirit of the superhero genre that I love. Whatever Max has in store, I think it has the potential to bring out the best in everyone, including this creative team. If this truly is a brighter day, I may be on board. An entire Giffen/DeMatteis run on Justice League International? Ten cents an issue. A series that drags me back into the DCU at large? Priceless.
Friday, May 14, 2010
Thursday, May 13, 2010
This week commemorated new beginnings and bittersweet endings for many of my favorite comic book characters, most notably including Bruce Wayne in the highly anticipated Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne. I confess, I didn't read "Final Crisis," and if you didn't, either, we can both share in the general knowledge that the story supposedly ended with Batman's death by Darkseid's Omega beam -- and the general ignorance of whatever that means. Apparently, Bruce Wayne wasn't killed, just sent back in time, where he's now destined to fight his way back to the present. In this first issue, he mumbles and stumbles his way through Vandal Savage's tyrannical reign over primitive man, harnessing the superstition of a bat-god and recruiting a faithful sidekick along the way. It's a relatively straightforward tale by Grant Morrison standards, beautifully choreographed by Chris Sprouse. In my opinion, Sprouse succeeds in the heroic chin department, from his depiction of the Midnighter, to Tom Strong, now to Batman. The Morrison formula rings true, almost to a fault in such an anticipated storyline: supposedly, according to a time-jumping Justice League, if Batman makes it back to the 21st century on his own, "Everyone dies." Morrison used this motif in JLA many times: if the heroes win, they really lose, and in this case, we can only imagine what kind of cosmic ju-ju hangs in the balance of the Dark Knight's return. The proof is in the pudding, though; we know Bruce Wayne will return, hence the title of the series, so the fun isn't in the destination, but the journey.
Savage Dragon #160 concludes the six-part "Dragon War" story arc, with the now evil Dragon fighting his worst enemies, infused with his blood and powers. The past few issues have had Dragon eating easily besting his foes and eating his doppelganger's brains, and this issue really isn't that different, but the action is all kinds of bloody fun. The only significant development is Dragon sparing his children's lives -- this time -- despite the anticipation for their inevitable, potentially fatal confrontation. Despite the absence of plot in favor of unadulterated violence, the lingering questions is, what happens next? The lack of development results in endless possibility, a tool Larsen uses in his favor. Consider me a hopeless fin-addict.
This week's most bittersweet issue is The Sword #24, the series conclusion. I've been following this series from the beginning, a remarkable two-year run that inspired me to find the Luna Brothers' other works, including Ultra and Girls. This is their most impressive story to date, one I hesitate to summarize because I highly recommend it. I will say, The Sword is the perfect modern mythology, exploiting the timeless power of words and our inherent need to feel in control despite the circumstances against us. Dara is one of the most durable characters in comics, in more ways than one, and her journey is one of tragedy and victory and tragedy again. Despite her fantastical circumstances, we wonder if we wouldn't do the same thing in her place, and we both envy and feel sorry for her. You could almost say it's a double-edged sword.
That's this week, in a nutshell. Solemn endings and exciting beginnings -- thanks to the engaging mythos of comics.
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Monday, May 10, 2010
Who cares about Superman?
I mean, really? Superman is to comics like The Simpsons is to South Park -- just when you think you've thought of something new for a superhero to experience, you realize Superman has already done it. First of all, he's comics' first orphan, so the whole "avenge me" theme is taken -- and technically was before even Batman, as you can say Supes' heroism is his attempt to make sure another planet isn't destroyed under the weight of its own ignorance. Further, how many times has Clark Kent's identity nearly been compromised? That story's been done to death. The love triangle? The fallen teammate? The reformed nemesis? Death itself? Superman's been there, done that . . . and survived, not only as a franchise, but as the first and most well known superhero of all time. So, why should I care about him? No matter what you throw at the Man of Steel, I know he'll pull through.
Enter War of the Supermen.
I haven't read a Superman title in years, but based on this Free Comic Book Day preview, I understand that the bottle city of Kandor recently burst from the bottle and a full fledged civilization again, somehow ruled by Superman's enemy, General Zod. Therein lies a blatant defiance of one of Kal-El's trademark characteristics -- he is no longer unique. Sure, readers were introduced to Supergirl, Krypto the Superdog, a few super cats and horses and monkeys here and there, but Superman was really the one and only of his kind, an alpha male with god-like powers among men. Zod and the thousands of other Kandorians now affected by Earth's yellow sun diminishes that strength completely! When everyone else is super, too -- you're really just a man, Superman.
Now, these Kryptonians are waging war on Earth. Even the Justice League has just one Superman, so what hope do they have against an army? And will Superman be willing to take the life of a fellow Kryptonian in battle, knowing every casualty marks one more step toward his being an endangered species -- again? Perhaps that's what's best, after all -- not so much "a world without a Superman," but a world with only one Superman, the one with the moral compass that points in humanity's favor.
This free zero issue doesn't address these questions directly. No, it's just the launching pad for the inevitable multi-title epic assured to consume the Superman titles this summer. Sure, Zod and Supes bandy about punches and philosophies, but asute readers can tell some crises of conscience are on the horizon, and with writer James Robinson at the helm, I hope the best is yet to come. Yes, I'm interested. I actually care about Superman again.
Sunday, May 09, 2010
by Paul Tobin, Craig Rousseau, Veronica Gandini, Dave Sharpe
Iron Man: Supernova, Marvel Comics' all-ages Free Comic Book Day offering, starts with a side-by-side series of panels contrasting the respective starts of Iron Man's and Nova's day -- specifically, Tony Stark's luxury versus Richard Rider's dorm room squalor. The dynamic is fun and interesting, with the implication that despite the differences in their personal lives good guys will always have a quest for justice in common. Well, unfortunately, the implication ends there as our heroes don't pursue justice but the Red Ghost's villainous monkeys loose in the city. Aided by another, shape-shifting chimp, of course Iron Man and Nova save the day, but it's a strange story, and not in the classic "DC Superheroes Fight Super Gorillas" kind of way -- just in a "monkeys are awesome so let's put 'em in a comic for kids" way.
If the point of including Nova was to introduce him to new readers, I don't think they'd be interested, because he contributes little to the story aside from a few quips and a little inadequacy, something Spider-man could've easily delivered, too. Nevertheless, I won't be surprised if a New Warriors cartoon is on the horizon now -- a property that could contend with DC's forthcoming new Teen Titans 'toon. Otherwise, this issue was only monkeying around.
Finally, as expected, Iron Man 2 dominated the box office this weekend. I'd hoped it would beat The Dark Knight's record, but I guess The Avengers need something to assemble for . . .
Saturday, May 08, 2010
by Matt Fraction, John Romita, Jr., Klaus Janson, Dean White, VC's Joe Sabino, Alejandro Arbona
I'm going to celebrate this weekend's release of Iron Man 2 by looking at Marvel Comics' Iron Man-centric Free Comic Book Day offerings. Interestingly, Marvel released two issues featuring the armored avenger this year, teamed up with another character undoubtedly to prime the general audience for their inevitable cinematic debut. This issue, for instance, costars Thor, as he and Iron Man discover that a corporation terraforming the moon is inadvertently causing climatic havoc on earth. Of course, the scientists are a bit too mad to see the error of their ways, so our heroes have to smash things up. That the tech used to make this moon city possible is cribbed from Stark Enterprises makes for an interesting dilemma with Iron Man, but it also gives him the right to bash up an apparently otherwise sovereign nation. So goes politico-innovation.
Matt Fraction writes our heroes in a way that presumes they aren't very familiar with each other -- that they aren't longtime team mates. If they weren't actually called "the Avengers" at one point, I'd think this issue was intended for the movies' continuity -- and maybe it is, just in a broader context. As a reader that avoids multi-title crossovers like the recent Civil War, I appreciate these stand-alone tales; they preserve the characters' spirit sans context. Also, we get to explore issues without fear of said context; a rogue city on the moon could be a big deal in the Marvel Universe, but this is just a Free Comic Book Day one-off, so we can put it out there without really worrying about it again. Finally, Romita just absolutely nails it as always; if he isn't a millionaire by now, handling some of Marvel's most successful properties, it's a crime.
While I was waiting in line to see the Iron Man sequel Thursday night, I read this issue, and a little kid nearby asked to see it. He asked me who Thor was, and as I briefly explained, I realized this issue had done its job. Now, when the Thor movie comes out next summer, he'll at least recognize the character. You can't buy that kind of marketing . . . and I didn't! The comic was free!
Friday, May 07, 2010
Of course, I use the term "masterpiece" loosely. This isn't Hamlet, or Pride & Prejudice or even (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) -- it's a movie based on a comic book about a guy in a cool robot suit, but like the first Iron Man film, Jon Favereau puts some heart in this summer blockbuster . . . by having his lead character take out and put in his own fake heart, over and over again. Apparently, the ARC technology Tony utilized to save his life is now also a techno-cancer, killing him slowly unless he finds an alternative power source. Meanwhile, the son of his father's former, dishonored partner has recreated the ARC tech and aims to dethrone Stark, first on his own then with the resources of competitive corporate tycoon Justin Hammer. It's a multi-layered plot incorporating espionage, legacy, and redemption, not to mention good old fashioned comic book good guys versus bad guys stuff.
However, I dare say the movie drags in the middle, exploiting the subtleties that made the first Iron Man film a truly stirring character piece. Stark's morality is still in question, jeopardized now by his fledgling mortality. Couple that with the omnipresence of S.H.I.E.L.D., an inside joke turned full fledged subplot here, with the Black Widow only so much window dressing until the end . . . like anyone's gonna complain about that. Pepper Potts becomes both an icon of the modern woman and the subject of bipartisan ridicule, and James Rhodes rides the line between confidant and Judas so delicately, he may be the film's only truly uncompromised hero, standing up for absolutely everything he represents. Even Favereau gives himself a bit more screen time, thankfully as well paced comic relief, but since all of these players need their fair share of our attention, the space between explosions threatens to drag.
Fortunately, the explosions are loud and really cool, culminating to an action scene that should please fans of Iron Man's frequent "armor wars" and casual popcorn munchers alike. I was afraid Don Cheadle would look too diminutive in his War Machine armor, and in the shadow of Terrence Howard's understated performance as Rhodey in the first film. In fact, I think Cheadle's doing his best Howard impression until the middle of the film, when the character truly goes out on his own. Mickey Rourke's Russian accent is impressive, too, and his stone-faced Whiplash/Crimson Dynamo foe is one obviously at peace with his tragic lot in life, which is ironically a life of constant war. He's actually a well-centered contrast to Downey's desperate Stark, who we only really root for because we want to be him, flaws and all if it means hanging with those women, wearing that suit. Downey is simply the best casting in comic book movie history. 'Nuff said.
And, Garry Shandling steals the show. His bloated face should win Best Supporting Actor, and I mean that in the best way possible
If this sequel exploiting its original's subtleties, it also totally subdued a few of its predecessor's strengths, namely the international subplot that made Iron Man a hero with global roots. In the first film, Iron Man is born in the Middle East and returns there when he sees terrorism at its worst. This film is very Stark-centric, including the secret to his father's legacy, which is slated to change the future -- for right now, anyway, it's just changing him. We almost need one more film to put it all together -- so, okay, maybe this isn't a masterpiece. It's definitely the brush stroke of some master storytellers -- with a masterpiece in the making.
Ah, but that's the point of these Marvel movies now, isn't it? The Iron Man franchise, the Hulk, Thor, Captain America (all of whom appear ever so briefly one way or another here) -- the if the side-by-side fight with Iron Man and War Machine are any indication, a capable director should be able to handle multiple heroes on the same battlefield, each with their own strengths and talents in play. Tony Stark may be a may divided, but something tells me all of the pieces of his puzzle will come together . . . when the Avengers assemble!
Thursday, May 06, 2010
Wednesday, May 05, 2010
contributors: Michael Allred, Laura Allred, Tim Daniel, Bryan Talbot, Camilla d'Errico, Edison Ya, Ed Brisson, Doug TenNapel, Alexander Grecian, Christian Ward, Derek McCulloch, Anthony Peruzzo, Ted McKeever
Image Comics' Fractured Fables is the company's latest themed hardcover collection, akin to its 24Seven and Popgun, featured warped and/or deranged interpretations of beloved fairy tales. From short nursery rhymes like Hey, Diddle Diddle to more linear tales like Little Red Robin Hood, apparently no nursery rhyme is safe from the dementia of the modern comic book artist, including personal favorites like Doug TenNapel. His "Rumpelstiltskin" rivals Bryan Talbot and Camilla d'Errico's "Red Riding Hood" for my favorite of this sample issue, as they parallel the spirit of the original fairy tale with just a little crack in their integrity (a fracture, if you will) that makes them fun and modern. The all-ages appeal of this collection makes it an ideal Free Comic Book Day teaser, as kids enticed by the Iron Man fare might pick this one up, too, and taste what less mainstream comic art looks like. The timelessness of these fables makes them vulnerable to equally timeless interpretation, and since their original language is so vivid, the comic book is the perfect place to recreate that original magic. It's like the wolf in grandma's clothing -- sweet on the outside, but packing a bite if you get too close.
Sonic: Hide & Seek & Destroy, Free Comic Book Day Edition, Archie Comics Publications
by Ian Flynn, James Fry, Jim Amash, Matt Herms, Teresa Davidson
I didn't know Sonic the Hedgehog was still around, at least in comic book form, but here he is, just as zippy as ever. This sample issue is a little too mired in back story for my tastes -- wait, back story?! In a comic book inspired by a video game about a hedgehog that runs fast? Believe it, considering this title has thirteen trade paperback collections and at least one spin-off series (ha, pun) -- and, as I wrote, this issue carries that history forward, referencing past events to tease about things to come. Fortunately, it kind of reads like a video game level, too, as Sonic infiltrates a boss's lair to encounter a big baddie -- in this case, a amalgam creature of previous big baddies, an homage to Sonic legend, no doubt. Fans of the character will probably dig this issue, but as a layman to the Sega franchise, it was just a fun but fleeting read.
Interestingly, characters like Sonic represent the modern fairy tale. The game console is like the Brothers Grimm, or the Mother Goose, and the franchising that results is akin to the constant retelling. I mean, when Sonic first came out, I was a kid; now, at 30, I can only assume kids as old as I was then are picking up this Free Comic Book Day offering with the same of fervor I had holding that video game controller. More power to 'em. Somebody has to carry these stories forward.
Monday, May 03, 2010
by Mark Waid, Peter Krause, Jean Diaz, Belardino Brabo, Andrew Dalhouse, Ed Dukshire
Imagine, superheroes are real. You know, Superman, Batman, Iron Man, and the rest. People flying, fighting crime, trying to make the world a better place. Pretty awesome, right? Now, imagine that Superman goes totally nuts. Who could stop him? Welcome to Mark Waid's Irredeemable. Many writers have tried to explore dynamic themes within the superhero genre by creating archetypal parallels to Superman, Batman, Captain America, etc., from Kurt Busiek's Astro City to The End League, just to name a few, and the corrupted ubermench isn't new, either, from Miracle Man to Supreme . . . So what makes Waid's story so different? Well, he isn't pulling any punches, that's for sure, as we watch his proverbial Superman lobotomize his teammates or murder their families. Further, we can only presume his sudden villainy the result of mankind's relentless selfishness, but his motives really aren't clear. Fortunately, if this series' title is any clue, we'll have plenty of time to figure them out. The dilemma is, if the world's greatest hero suddenly became its most dangerous threat, would you hope for his defeat or redemption?
Interestingly, Waid pursues that inquiry in Incorruptible, a sister title that has the world's most notorious bad guy suddenly reformed and determined to stop his nemesis from killing the rest of the superheroes and destroying the world. Ironically, on the surface, these two men are still just fighting each other, something they were doing before the paradigm shift, but now with totally different goals in mind. What would it take to redeem an established super-villain? Exactly how many times would he have to save the world? The overarching theme is really one of power -- namely, if you have it, what do you do with it? And how long before it changes you? Are standing irredeemable or incorruptible your only ultimate options?
G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #155 1/2, IDW Publishing
by Larry Hama, Agustin Padilla, J. Brown, Robbie Robbins
In G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #155 1/2, writer Larry Hama picks up where he left off with Marvel Comics G.I. Joe #155 lo those many years ago, via the creative freedom and adoration of IDW Publishing. I wasn't a big G.I. Joe fan as a kid, so many of this issue's nuances are lost to me, but I appreciate Hama retaining the timelessness of this potentially dated franchise. Since the Cobra of the '80s, America has seen terrorism at its worst, and the potential to take a military-themed franchise down that road exists -- thankfully, not here. Sure, this issue begins with Cobra storming the Senate chambers, but it's an assault as fantastical as Skeletor charging Castle Greyskull. Ultimately, it doesn't matter, because it's all make believe. Hama also maintains a dark sense of humor throughout, playing to the child in any G.I. Joe fan. I'm not chomping at the bit Hama's return to the franchise, but it's nice to know Joe's in good hands, and Free Comic Book Day was a good time to celebrate it. After all, just knowing is half the -- okay, okay. I won't go there.
Ultimately, these two issues have something in common : a spotlight on the bad guy. Well, much to my delight, reading about the bad guy can be a good thing . . . and they'd appreciate that, at free, these comics were a steal.
This just in: I've read the Flash and some Jedi guard were available to help capture this mastermind. This is turning into a multi-title crisis, for crying out loud!
Sunday, May 02, 2010
contributors: Kevin Smith, Phil Hester, Jonathan Lau, Ivan Nunes, Simon Bowland, Jai Nitz, Colton Worley, Romulo Fajardo, Jr., Matt Wagner, Aaron Campbell, Francesco Francavilla, Brett Matthews, Ariel Padilla, Giovanna Guimaraes
Dynamite Entertainment has developed its niche in the comic book industry by developing classic, beloved properties like the Lone Ranger, Zorro, and Red Sonja for a modern audience, and based on the advertisements in this preview issue of their Green Hornet franchise, the Phantom and Vampirella are soon to come. In just a few months' time, though, the Green Hornet has become a powerhouse for Dynamite, its main title producing four spin-offs, with names like Kevin Smith, Matt Wagner, Phil Hester, and Brett Matthews at the helm. Their FCBD offering is a glimpse into all these titles, and with so much material to spotlight, I'm afraid the result is all splash and no substance. Kevin Smith's wise-cracking Green Hornet sets the tone, but if anything stands out throughout this issue, it's a city besieged by crime and its need for a hero. The supplemental titles under the Green Hornet umbrella, specifically the ones featuring Kato, seem to explore the legacy of said needed hero, but again little content offers the stories' context. Am I interested in learning more by picking up an issue? Oh, absolutely. May this also be a fleeting thought that passes as soon as I move on to the next free comic of the day? Quite possibly, with so many series to choose from and little to help discern them. Sensory overload may have harshed this Hornet's sting.
Archie's Summer Splash #1, Archie Comics
by Dan Parent, Rich Koslowski, Jack Morelli, Glenn Whitmore
Archie has attracted a lot of press lately, thanks in large part to his forthcoming wedding and the ironic timing of a new gay character, but this free issue is rather bland in comparison, ever struggling to make this classic cast relevant to today's youth culture. When Pembrooke Beach is closed for the summer due to an oil spill (a device undoubtedly devised before current events, though strangely timely), the snobby Cheryl is forced to slum with our friends in Riverdale. Then, as Archie and his band practice for the Zowie-palooza concert, Cheryl gets jealous ans wants a piece of that action, too, so she forms her own girl band, Blossom. Fortunately, Archie and his pals turn the tables on Cheryl by tricking her into a change in venue, leaving Blossom to perform to an empty beachfront. It's a straightforward tale of adolescent jealousy, one part Mean Girls, one part The Heights -- a dated reference, but seemingly appropriate for an Archie story. Frankly, the only reason we care about the Riverdale gang is because they've been with us for so long. Equally interesting, though, is the presumption that they might not be missed if they were gone. Perhaps growing up and getting married is the best thing for Archie . . . Maybe he'll finally give up comics.
So, today's theme was classic characters and their sticking power. Apparently, the lesson is, presentation is a powerful tool in the battle for contemporary significance -- finding the balance between too much and too little substance.
Saturday, May 01, 2010
Honorable mention goes to Jesse James Comics; he must've given away as many comics as he sold, which was a lot by any indication of the line at his cash register. Drawn to Comics and Atomic Comic Phoenix had impressive sidewalk sales, with guest artists galore. Hero Comics hosted the colorful characters depicted above -- and the geeks seemed more excited to take photos with them than the children did!
By midafternoon, I was bumping into other ambitious travellers trying to collect all the designated FCBD swag, but I don't think we were all successful. In the coming days and weeks, I'll review the issues I scored and lament over the ones I didn't. Overall, though, I was grateful to spend the day with my fellow fanboys in Phoenix. If the multi-generational gathering was any indication, comics may yet rise from the ashes, like that fiery bird itself.