Monday, August 31, 2015

Monthly Dose: August 2015

Monthly Dose is a semi-regular column where I read one issue each month of long-completed series.  

So wow...it's been a whole month since I've posted anything on here. There are lots of reasons for this, most of which center on the fact that m'lady and I are having a baby in November, and this means several other things are happening in our lives between now and then, like having half of our house redone, me getting a new job, etc. The result is that I have way less time for comics. I've already stepped away from writing for PopMatters (much love to them and to Shathley Q in particular for giving me the opportunity) and my 1987 And All That posts on CSBG have also slowed a bit recently (for instance, there should be a new one this Thursday, but it's going to be delayed until next week for sure). So my output has dwindled in all the spaces where I write, and this blog, with its tiny readership and with me as the sole content generator, is no exception. Blah blah blah, the point of this paragraph is mostly to say that, normally, I'd be starting to read a new third series for Monthly Dose, having finished Automatic Kafka last month, but my current living situation doesn't grant me much access to my comics collection, so it's just going to be the 2 titles for now. Hopefully next month, there'll be 3 again, and in an ideal world I will also get back on my Action Comics Weekly reviews then, too.

100 Bullets #34: Brian Azzarello's writing can be extremely clever, but sometimes it's too clever for its own good. This issue is a prime example of that, for two reasons: 1. There are way too many tortured puns in a row, and 2. There is the illusion of narrative progress when really, mostly, we get spinning wheels. The very beginning tells us that Monroe Tannenbaum is dead, which leads Megan Dietrich to provide Milo with a few more details about his current case. From there, we get a lot of Milo making plans that fall through, and then at the end he sees the word "Croatoa" on the painting that this entire arc is based on, and it seems to trigger him as we've seen it do with other Minutemen in the past. So we know that Milo is a Minuteman, though we still don't fully understand the significance of that fact. Point being, the first few pages and final page of this issue actually do push things forward, but the rest is a bunch of idly stewing in Milo's hard-boiled personality. I love him as a character, but I'd much rather follow him while he was doing something important, instead of, for example, staring down Lono for 4 pages before Lono gets up and leaves, making the entire scene feel mostly pointless. It was, at least, very dynamic visually, because Eduardo Risso is in his element doing this sort of gritty noir, and because Milo and Lono are each extremely interesting to look at in their own ways. Not a bad chapter altogether, and Milo being activated as a Minuteman by seeing the painting definitely works as a cliffhanger and makes him an even more compelling character than he already was, but I feel like some fat could definitely have been trimmed here, and Azzarello 100% needs to reign in the wordplay.

The Maximortal #4: In this issue, we learn that, in the reality of The Maximortal, the titular character was used by the U.S. government in WWII to destroy Hiroshima, not an actual atomic bomb. It's an interesting idea, placing a Superman imitation character in that role, because Superman himself certainly has a history of fighting for America, it's just that he's never done anything so extreme as this. Also, of course, in this comic, Wesley isn't in control of himself but is, instead, the captive of the military, their tool as opposed to their ally. Rick Veitch structures the scene of Hiroshima's devastation efficiently, showing us images of the plane moving in, the Japanese citizens living their everyday lives, and then, in the end, Wesley being used t blow everything up. While these are the visuals, though, we get text in the margins showing a transcript of a meeting between President Truman, two members of his team, and Dr. Uppenheimer (an Oppenheimer stand-in, duh). Uppenheimer explains to everyone else that they are not attacking Hiroshima with a bomb as believed, but with the alien child, and he also proposes further studying the child to use him in other ways down the line. Veitch adds a bit of darkness to what is already an extremely dark event in the history of the world, making the bombing of Hiroshima even more morally questionable that it already was by introducing the notion that a living thing, captured by America, was used to destroy the city. Before and after that sequence, the issue focuses on Jerry Spiegal and Joe Schumacher, creators of True-Man, the in-comic comicbook series that features a character very similar to Wesley. Spiegal and Schumacher discover that, contrary to what their publisher Sidney Wallace has told them, their comic is a tremendous success, and that they've been completely screwed out of the resulting profits. This, along with a request from the FBI to use True-Man as a tool of propaganda, moves Spiegal to quit, which in turn lands him in the army since the only thing stopping him from being drafted was Wallace wanting him to keep churning out True-Man scripts. Schumacher decides to stay on as an artist, committing himself to being Wallace's whipping boy if it means he can draw professionally. It's a tragic state of affairs all around, with Wallace as the hyper-greedy villain getting everything he wants and suffering zero consequences. Indeed, this issue may be the most depressing in the series, and certainly up to this point. It's a fairly relentless storm of horrible shit happening to innocent people at the hands of wicked men who seek only to advance their own power.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Monthly Dose: July 2015

Monthly Dose is a semi-regular column where I read one issue each month of long-completed series.  

100 Bullets #33: Something struck me when Megan Dietrich showed up in this issue that has been running underneath this arc from the beginning: we know Milo was in an accident, but ever since this story kicked off, there's been a feeling that the accident isn't over. The crash was just the beginning, and he's been feeding off of the momentum of it even as it propels him toward whatever worse fate awaits him than a fucked-up face. I'm not saying Megan's arrival is the other shoe dropping, at least not yet or not fully, but we already know how connected and powerful she is, and we know Milo has no idea, which means he's about to get in over his head if he isn't drowning unknowingly already. Seeing Lono is the first issue was, I suppose, the first hint of dark days ahead, and Milo's determined brand of self-destructive behavior in the name of revealing hidden truths is always going to cause problems, but it was someone as high-up and precise as Megan who finally brought into focus just how screwed Milo is or will certainly be soon. It's exciting and sad, because Milo is one of the most stylized and stand-out characters, in his dialogue and appearance both, to have graced the pages of this title up to now. But he can't possibly survive going up against Megan without knowing how much wool is in front of his eyes, and he's not a careful or good enough detective to remove all of that wool before it's too late, if he ever does. The rest of what happens in this issue is largely exposition as Milo goes over the facts again, plus a small bit of him dodging a nosy but friendly and seemingly stand-up cop, but that all ends up as background chatter to the growing dread of what's in store for Milo at the end of this storyline.


Automatic Kafka #9: The final issue of this series goes full-on meta, and also unfortunately drops many threads that are never to be picked up again. Basically, based on what's here, the comic got cancelled, and so since they knew they weren't going be able to finish the way they wanted, Joe Casey and Ash Wood decided instead to insert themselves into the book so they could talk the titular hero through the end of his reality. It's an entertaining conversation, and I particularly enjoy the bit where Casey and Wood make it clear that they're doing this mostly to prevent other creators from getting their hands on Kafka in the future and misusing or mishandling him. They wanted some real finality, so they unmake him completely, send him into the oblivion of cancelled comicbook characters. It's a good way to bring closure to the title even without wrapping up the narrative, and this is a good story in which to do something like that. Sure, there were some throughlines established, like the baby bombs that the Warning was making or the Constitution of the United States becoming a porn star (which they make reference to in this final issue but don't exactly resolve). But mostly, Automatic Kafka tried to tell new, short, complete stories in every issue, so there's no sense of a master plan being undone by the cancellation. It's definitely a shame this book didn't get to last any longer, because there was some truly ambitious, hilarious stuff that came out of it, but at least Casey and Wood got to say goodbye, and no amount of truncation can undo the material they did get to produce. I revisit this book every so often and, while it's definitely flawed, it's also a very worthwhile read, especially if, like me, you find superheroes equal parts fantastic and ridiculous. Automatic Kafka celebrates both of those aspects, and Wood's controlled chaos art style complements both of them perfectly.


The Maximortal #3: This issue contains three short stories, related to one another through Wesley/True-Man but not directly connected. First, and somewhat confusingly, we see an elderly, mostly retired Sherlock Holmes take the case of the little boy who murdered an entire old west town, and it kills him. He summons with his violin both the "angel" from earlier issues who seems to have created Wesley, and El Guapo, the mystery man who somehow seems to be fighting against the angel, and who is the biggest connection between the stories in this issue. Those two beings indriectly cause Holmes to fall into his beehives, and the bees he so loved attack and kill him. It's a nicely written, haunting, beautifully disturbing bit of comics, but I'm not sure what Sherlock Holmes has to do with anything. Next we see the origin of True-Man as a comicbook character, which is quite similar to Superman's own history in the real world, and feels like the first part of a larger commentary on comic creators' rights in general. The two earnest creators of True-Man sign a contract without reading it, which is never good, and the assumption is that, in the future, they're going to get as screwed out of ownership of their creation as Siegel and Shuster and so many others like them have over the years. The person they sell the idea to, however, is Sidney Wallace, who we met last time as the wannabe stuntman who got his testicles crushed during an encounter with the real Wesley. So Wallace having dealt with a real, warped version of Superman makes him an interesting person to buy the rights to a fictional Superman knock-off, and is bound to provide some strong storytelling possibilities down the line. In the context of a series examining all the angles of Superman, this middle story is the most obviously relevant, as it switches from following a twisted take on Superman to following a twisted-but-less-so take on Superman's creators and publishers. Finally, we see Wesley get discovered in a secret bunker where the military is holding him, uncovered as part of a semi-fictionalized version of the Manhattan Project. This feels like a tale only half-told so far, with Wesley's discovery and the discovery of his heat vision are the end of this issue, but clearly only the beginning of his significance for a group of scientists trying to build the ultimate weapon. Wesley is the ultimate weapon, so this is clearly setting up for things to come. These stories are ordered chronologically, but also logically, with the strangest and most distant first, the most thematically connected coming second, and the most narratively connected and biggest cliffhanger closing things off. A well-done example structural play, and I'd say the best overall issue of the first three in the series.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Weekly Action Comics Weekly Review: Issue #628

In 1988-89, DC changed Action Comics from a monthly Superman-focused series to a weekly anthology, also changing its name to Action Comics Weekly. It lasted 42 issues before reverting to a monthly format. I am going to review all 42 of those issues, one per week (sort of) for 42 weeks. This is the twenty-eighth of those reviews.
I should maybe change the name of this series of posts, since they are not weekly anymore by any stretch. Then again, "Randomly Scheduled Action Comics Weekly Reviews" doesn't have nearly as nice a ring to it...Anyway, this is late and I have kind of a lot to do today so I'm going to burn through these super-fast. Watch me.
Green Lantern is an ass to Captain Atom and feels kind of bad about. Captain Atom is a slightly bigger ass to Green Lantern and feels just as bad about it. They both desperately try to find the destructive alien intruder with no luck until, at the end, they figure out that it is responsible for causing a building to collapse. While GL holds the structure in place, CA prickishly decides to take out the alien on his own, and that's where things end. So not a lot of action here, but some very nice character work from both James Owsley and M.D. Bright, who make GL and CA seems like two sides of the same coin. They're both a bit arrogant, they both have trouble working well with others, and they both want to do what's right but aren't sure how in this case. It's tricky trying to be a professional good guy, and that's what this story is all about. In that sense, it worked, though it was admittedly not the most thrilling installment, what with the alien itself never being on the page.
Uh-oh. Black Canary is starting to slip into the kind of confusing territory it spent so much time in on the last go round. I think my biggest issue is it's hard for me to keep all the characters straight from one week to the next. There are a lot of players involved, it's not clear how everyone's connected, and they all spend a fair amount of time at least partially obscured by shadow, so remember who's who is not the easiest task. I probably should be better at it, and it's not as thought the creators do a bad job of distinguishing between people, but for whatever reason I'm not quite keeping up. That said, this is still a nicely moody story, and I'm really enjoying Black Canary as the stoic detective, so this is still a good read. I just need to trust that the befuddling bits will be clear soon, and enjoy the rest of the show in the meantime.
Alright, an all-Speedy chapter of the Nightwing and Speedy story. I like that there's no obligation felt to include both characters in every section. They're physically separated right now, so why not follow each of them individually for a bit? Here we see Speedy save himself and his daughter from the mysterious Friends of the Empire, the criminal organization that our heroes crossed paths with last time. As serviceable as that is, it's also a bit poorly paced. There's a certain amount of Speedy rushing through the action without any time to properly react to what's going on. He gets upset when Lian is taken from him and is of course happy once he saves her, but the real urgency of a father losing his child doesn't come through here, and as far as I can see, there's no attempt to make it do so. The story is concerned with banging out the plot points more than making each one or even any one of them count for anything. That's too bad, because it's not a bad plot for a simple superhero tale, but it's played all wrong here and ends up being too subdued to be interesting.
I forgot Bob Galt had a superpower, which made it doubly exciting to see him use it here. It was also real progress in the narrative, because now Superman and Galt have enemies they can question and not just run away from. I am feeling the limitations of the two-page chapters a lot more in this part of the story than I did before. Now that the heroes and villains are so close to fully confronting one another, and because Galt and Supes have been on the move for so many issues in a row, I find myself wishing hard that I could get a bit more story each week than I do. Even two more pages might suffice, just something so I didn't have to consume this one scene at a time. Or not even...it's like one-half or one-third of a full scene at best. Roger Stern and Curt Swan handle their tiny space well, as they have from the beginning, but things are heated up enough now that it's always a little frustrating to have the story end so abruptly. Still, as I said, this week something significant actually went down, so it was better than the last few.
No big surprise, Mockingbird is Rafael's father. Sort of an inevitable reveal, actually, and for sure the most expected option for his identity, considering Rafael stopped being pissed off as soon as he saw Mockingbird's face last time. This story is clearly in its final act, which has been a long time coming and is, so far, quite good. It's moving fast now, and there's a pervasive sense of imminent danger that pushes things forward and carries the reader along. Plus this time, the Secret Six got to kick all kinds of ass, taking down baddies and blowing shit up and just generally pulling off everything they wanted to without much resistance form the opposition. They're clicking as a tea on a whole new level, and Mockingbird is being more transparent than ever, so the heroes are definitely on the upswing while the villains, we see, can't even get along with one another. With the promise of answers next week and the villains so badly beaten this week, I feel like the conclusion can't be more than 1-3 chapters away. I'm going to miss the Secret Six in this book. It's been a reliably entertaining ride.
Blackhawk is back(hawk). Picking up pretty much exactly where it left off several issues ago, the team discovers that Marcia was hit during the plane-on-plane firefight from the last chapter, while Blackhawk tries to turn down an offer to be part of the newly-formed CIA. We also see some Germans doing some kind of horrible medical stuff to a guy who's strapped to a table, followed by one of those Germans going to deliver something somewhere but getting show to death by soldiers instead. So...no idea what that was about or where it will lead, but it happened right in the middle of everything. Oh, and at the start of the story we see Blackhawk's newest team member, whose name I forget—I forget the entire cast's names except for the title character—upset over how far away she has to be from her son. A lot of moving pieces in this story and several plotlines that at this point have no obvious connective tissue, but we'll see where it goes. My hopes are not super high, but I do always love seeing Rick Burchett draw these characters and this world, so that's something.

In conclusion, here are all the stories from this issue, listed from worst to best:
6. Nightwing and Speedy/"Rocks and Hard Places Chapter Three: Arrival"
5. Blackhawk/"...And a Time to Gather Stones Together"
4. Black Canary/"Knock 'em Dead Part 5"
3. Superman/"Wipeout!"
2. Secret Six/"Remains to be Seen"
1. Green Lantern/"Heroes"

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Elsewhere

Two weeks ago I wrote on PopMatters about John McCrea's artwork for Mythic, then this week I wrote on CSBG about 1987's 3-D Three Stooges #3. While McCrea's art is a blast, the rest of Mythic has yet to find its footing, and 3-D Three Stooges #3 was a letdown in all ways, so...not the most exciting material overall, but that's how it goes sometimes, as we all know.

Something I Failed to Mention
I think I said all I wanted to about both of the above topics in each of the above columns. They were more narrowly focused pieces than I often write, so not as much got missed as usual. I did just watch the episode of House where Kutner kills himself, and I must say, it seemed like a completely pointless death that they threw in because they needed an easy excuse to get rid of Kal Penn before he left for his job at the White House. The whole storyline centers on House being bothered by how out of nowhere the suicide was, how there was no evidence or reason for it, and I totally agree. Now, of course, I understand that there have been suicides like that before, that not everyone's depression is obvious and that not all suicides have explicit reasons or specific motives behind them. But any deaths of characters in fiction, no matter the cause, ought to have reasons in-story, even if not in-world, and they ought to fit with the established truths of the character's life. This was not that case with Kutner at all. This has nothing to do with comics, but it's where my head's at right now.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Weekly Action Comics Weekly Review: Issue #627

In 1988-89, DC changed Action Comics from a monthly Superman-focused series to a weekly anthology, also changing its name to Action Comics Weekly. It lasted 42 issues before reverting to a monthly format. I am going to review all 42 of those issues, one per week (sort of) for 42 weeks. This is the twenty-seventh of those reviews.
For the first time ever, this issue only had five stories, the last one being double-sized. Or, technically I guess it was two normal-sized chapters back-to-back, but that's pretty much the same thing. To celebrate/honor that fact, I'm only going to write five sentences per story, just like I did that other time. For this cover, I've got nothing. It's boring, and the decision to do a close-up of Nightwing's face as well as a shot of his full body, both making similarly serious but not exactly the same expressions, is truly baffling.
A guest appearance by Captain Atom? Sweet, I love that guy! I was not wild about what a tremendous, overly-zealous ass he was here, but I do like that the alien's vessel was destroyed because it makes the whole situation more dangerous and complicated, and I'm glad it wasn't Green Lantern who did the destroying. He needs to be able to be the hero of his own story, so this seems like a good way to keep that intact while still worsening the circumstances. And while all the action was good, the moment of the alien ship's destruction was the best, elegantly simple while fittingly bombastic.
Mockingbird removing his hood is the headline here. The reader still doesn't get to see his face (I am saying "he" because everyone else has so far but I would bet it'll actually be a woman, not sure why just a hunch) but the fact that Rafael now knows Mockingbird's identity means we ought to be filled in very soon. That mystery has been central to the Secret Six from the start, and coupled with just how much the team seems to have uncovered about their enemies and Mockingbird's ultimate goals by now, things appear to be coming to a close. I'm going to miss this narrative when it wraps up. It wasn't always the best, but it's been solid fun and extremely well-paced all along, especially considering it's a bunch of seven- or eight-page installments.
I really enjoy the tense darkness that pervades this story. It's the atmosphere that both Sharon Wright and Randy DuBurke seemed to be shooting for last time Black Canary was in this book, but back then they kind of lost their way while with this arc they are nailing it. There's just as much mystery as before, but it's more compelling now, and easier to follow. I also loved seeing Black Canary do some old-school, beat-cop-style investigating. She makes a great noir detective, because she's as hard-boiled as anyone but more noble than most.
The bulk of this is Superman imagining what might happen if he chose to fight his foes. That's lame. Don't spend a whole chapter showing me something that doesn't count while literally zero progress gets made. There's some value to gaining insight into Superman's thoughts, but we've had that all along, and the balancing act between saving Bob Galt without encouraging his worship is the entire point of this storyline, so not much new gets added here, if anything at all. That said, it was high time we got to see Curt Swan drawing Superman in costume and in action again, so yay for that, but boo for it being fake.
Nightwing and Speedy are on a boat to Ireland, Speedy hoping to take a six-month vacation to connect with his daughter and his roots, but of course things don't go as smoothly as planned. The young heroes end up involving themselves in some kind of drug smuggling operation, and becoming targets for whatever criminal organization is behind it. The story is a bit boringly straightforward thus far, but I dug Tom Mandrake's art. It was moody and grounded but still fantastical at all the peaks in action. The best example of this is when one bad guy gets his head blown off by another to keep him from talking, and rather than being gory and horrible, it's a literal explosion, the man's skull bursting apart almost comically but with such force and suddenness that it still has the intended impact.

In conclusion, here are all the stories from this issue, listed from worst to best:
5. Superman/"Panic in the Sands!"
4. Nightwing and Speedy/"Rocks and Hard Places"
3. Green Lantern/"And Now...Captain Atom"
2. Secret Six/"A Bird in the Hand..."
1. Black Canary/"Knock 'em Dead Part 4"

Monday, July 6, 2015

Weekly Action Comics Weekly Review: Issue #626

In 1988-89, DC changed Action Comics from a monthly Superman-focused series to a weekly anthology, also changing its name to Action Comics Weekly. It lasted 42 issues before reverting to a monthly format. I am going to review all 42 of those issues, one per week (sort of) for 42 weeks. This is the twenty-sixth of those reviews. 
Paul Chadwick cover. Nice. Not the greatest image, but still cool that he did it.
Well I was wrong about the creative team changing again, but who cares? I loved this story. I'm always a fan of narratives where the villain is neither evil nor good, but simply a powerful force who has no sense of morality. This is about an alien who just wants to fix his ship, but because of what he sees on a TV and how little he understands human culture, he kills a bunch of people and steals their materials to use for his repairs. He's terrifying but also somewhat sympathetic, insofar as we know that he means no harm, that he's acting not out of malice but ignorance. And because Green Lantern, in their brief interaction at the start of the story, tries to hard to communicate with this alien, I'm excited to see how this all resolves. It may end up being just another fight, but my hope and expectation based on this initial chapter is that it'll be more about Green Lantern finding a way to explain morals to this alien than simply beating him with violence. It's an awesome set-up wherever it leads, and I dug M.D. Bright's design for the all-wooden spaceship, too. It was recognizably wood and also recognizably a spaceship, neither aspect taking precedence over the other. That plus the close-up on the alien's face right before he eye-blasts a random human to death were the high points of the art here, all of which was as great-looking as any of Bright's previous work on this book.
This story ends as it always had to, with Billy Batson breaking free of his bonds, becoming Shazam, and stomping all over the Sons of Valhalla and their infuriating Captain Nazi. What I liked about it, though, was that even with the largely predictable conclusion, the story managed to swerve a bit at the end, because Shazam has to admit to himself that it wasn't a perfect victory. Sure, he stopped the water supply from being poisoned, but there's damage already done to all the young men who the Sons of Valhalla recruited, Captain Nazi is temporarily defeated but still technically out there, and the death that started all of this can never be reversed. So Shazam did as much as he could, but there's still plenty to be upset by in the big picture, and I appreciate that Shazam openly acknowledges this, and that it doesn't really get him down. He says, "maybe all victories are really only partial ones. But that sure doesn't mean we can afford to stop trying for 'em." That's kind of the perfect attitude for a superhero, able to handle the small losses in the name of fighting for the greater good. In the final panel, there is a teaser for the (at the time) upcoming Shazam monthly comic, and I must say that if I had been reading Action Comics Weekly back when it was new, this would 100% have sold me on the Shazam title, too. It's been a fantastic narrative since the start, and it made me like this character more than anything I've ever seen with him in it before.
Though it only happens in the last two pages, the headline here finally see Rafael again, after he got kidnapped many issues ago. We pretty much knew it was Mockingbird who had him, but now it's confirmed, and the two characters are face-to-face at last, which is bound to lead to some real, solid answers about Mockingbird's identity and motives. There's also a lot of excellent action throughout this story, Frank Springer and Frank McLaughlin getting to shine in a way they haven't previously. The best sequence was Lucas attacking his captors, using his handcuffs and bionic legs both as weapons, really taking full advantage of every part of his situation. The three panels where he uses his metal knee to deflect a bullet and then kicks the shooter in the face with the same leg is excellent. At this point, the Secret Six narrative has found a consistent groove, and a lot of the essential information is on the table, so things are coming to a head in all directions. Bad guys are dropping left and right, we're finally seeing Mockingbird in real life instead of on a screen, and Rafael is a factor again. It's an exciting time, close to the end but with plenty of mystery left to bring things home in an entertaining and enthralling way.
Yet another chapter in which Clark Kent and Bob Galt travel while the villains try to track them, but this time we get a brief burst of action at the end, so things are looking up. Basically, I found this boring and repetitive, the weakest section of this issue overall, but it's a sure thing that next week will be more exciting, so that's something. I did get a chuckle out of Kent being described as a "media stooge," but other than that this seemed like mostly wasted space. I feel like if that last few Superman parts had all been part of the same issue, if this character got 7-8 pages like everyone else instead of just 2, it would've made for a solid, brief, enjoyable road trip portion of this larger narrative. The problem is that splitting it up 2 pages at a time makes each part less effective or compelling. That said, the final panel here is great, particularly the way Kent pushes Galt's head down to protect him. It's a small touch but it fits perfectly with Superman's whole deal and especially his relationship with Galt, who needs extra protection, since he's at risk not just because of his enemies but also from his own faith in Superman. This is still a story I'm enjoying immensely, but this week was just one too many chapters where all that happens is travel without a destination being reached or any new info being revealed.
I am so sick of reviewing this Deadman story, so thank goodness it's over. I have nothing new to say; the problems of this final installment are the same as everything that came before. It's unfocused as hell, right down to the very last, extra confusing and unsatisfying scene. Luckily, this did have the most and the best Kelley Jones artwork so far. Just look at the page above to see how fucking incredible Jones' Deadman looks. He is gloriously bony, ghastly, and fierce. With a stronger script, or even just a story that followed some kind of logical forward progression, this might well have been my favorite part of ever issue of Action Comics Weekly in which is was featured. But Mike Baron doesn't seem to even know what he wants out of this story, which means I don't know what to take from him, so all I can do is enjoy the visuals and be grateful that, for now at least, this is over.
The last page of this Black Canary story is chillingly beautiful. As I sit here typing this, I'm kind of kicking myself for not scanning it, too, but it didn't occur to me until now, and I'm mere minutes away from being done writing this, and I really, really don't feel like getting off the couch just to scan another page. It's separated into three rows, the top of which is the tallest and is sectioned off in thirds. Three long rectangles, each with a close-up of Black Canary's hand holding something against a solid black background: first her bared hand holding her gloves, then her gloved hand holding her belt, and then her gloved hand again holding her wig. This then leads to the second row, a single panel, shorter than the top row but also longer. It also has a black background, and is a short of Black Canary from the chest up, her body facing front and her face looking to the reader's right. She is in full costume now, her blonde wig flowing behind her face and being cut off by the panel's right border. She looks so intense, prepared, intimidating, and heroic, it makes you want to cheer. The final row is another single panel, shorter than either of the rows above and not quite as long as the second, placed at the bottom almost as an afterthought. It's a punctuation mark, a cityscape against a blue background, just a place to hold the caption that says, "Continued..." As insignificant as it is, its inclusion is important, because it gives us a place to come down after the pure awesomeness of what comes before it. It's a wonderfully constructed page and Randy DuBurke's best moment with this character so far, and ditto inker Pablo Marcos and colorist Gene D'Angelo. A perfect page by the whole artistic team. The rest of the story is good, giving us some insight into the murder from last week but still letting some mystery hang over the whole thing. This round of Black Canary has done a much better job of balancing the questions and answers than last time, and this week is no different. But the last page is what I remember most and liked best. It was a doozy.

In conclusion, here are all the stories from this issue, listed from worst to best:
6. Superman/"...Into the Fire!"
5. Deadman/"Finale"
4. Secret Six/"Capitol Offenses"
3. Shazam/Untitled
2. Black Canary/"Knock 'em Dead Part 3"
1. Green Lantern/"Bethel"

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Elsewhere

Two weeks ago I wrote about all the things I love the most in Nonplayer. That's a book I've been anxiously waiting to see a second issue of for years, and now that it's finally in my hands, I can say confidently that it did not disappoint in the least. This week, I wrote another 1987 and All That column on Comics Should Be Good about the first ten issues of Captain Atom. Considering how minimal my experience was with that character before, I had almost no sense of what to expect, so it was quite a delight t find the book to be an exceptional take on the complexity and fluidity of human morality.

Something I Failed to Mention
Thought my Nonplayer piece was fairly comprehensive in terms of discussing the series itself, there was a more personal reason for writing it at this time that I didn't get into. I mean, the main reason is obviously because issue #2 just came out last month, but I was inspired to focus on that title in particular because lately I've been unexpectedly getting into video game culture. I have never been a very serious gamer. Growing up I had a Nintendo 64, and I played it with some regularity, but it was never a real passion of mine. I did beat Quest 64, but that's the only game I ever played all the way through. Later, in college, one of my roommates had an Xbox, and I got briefly obsessed with both Fallout 3 and Oblivion, logging many, many hours on each of them. Other than those 3 games, though, I never played anything too seriously, and my main exposure to video games was watching my friends play them while we hung out and ate junk food and shot the shit together. I would spend hours watching my buddy Aaron play World of Warcraft, or a group of us would get together at Brad's house and take turns wreaking as much havoc as possible in Grand Theft Auto III. Stuff like that. Video games have always been a tangential part of my life, something I enjoyed but never cared about too deeply or paid any serious attention to. Over the past few months, that has started to change little by little. I am still not a gamer myself, nor do I ever expect I will be. Too much money and time goes into that hobby, and I've got comics for that already. But I'm a huge fan of video game podcast The Indoor Kids, and I've been getting really into some Let's Play stuff, specifically Cry and the Late Night Crew. For instance, just last night I stayed up until 3:30am watching the livestream of Late Night with Cry and Russ (which, to be clear, was not when it ended, that's just when I tapped out from exhaustion). It was awesome and hilarious. So all of this newfound interest in video games, even though it's all based on other people playing them, was picking up steam right when Nonplayer #2 came out, so it seemed like the perfect time to get that issue at last, and I almost couldn't help but write about it.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Monthly Dose: June 2015

Monthly Dose is a semi-regular column where I read one issue each month of long-completed series. 

100 Bullets #32: Kind of a slow issue, but it works because of the lovely pulpy tension Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso are infusing into this arc. Milo is such an over-the-top hard-boiled guy that it's fun to watch him work, constantly smoking, being aggressively sexual, threatening to shoot people in the genitals if they don't tell him what he wants to know. He's hilarious, practically a caricature, his internal darkness spilling all over the page even when he's getting laid. There's not a ton of new info, but the little bit we get is super valuable. Milo figures out that Lono, who caught only a glimpse of last issue, is responsible for killing Karl Reynolds. The why of it all is still a total mystery, except that it is in some way connected to a painting Karl was trying to get his hands on. So Milo's got a solid start, a lead that led to another lead that hopefully will help him put all the pieces together. Things are progressing, however slowly, and through it all he's a fantastic character to watch, especially with the bandages all over his face. It gives him a baseline look of intimidation and meanness that helps him in his work and makes him all the more entertaining. It does feel like it's about time for something to break, though, for a major reveal instead of more tiny odds and ends. After two full issues of him as the star and narrator, I have a pretty solid handle on Milo, so now it's time to really put him through the ringer and see if he makes it out. Luckily, his last line is one of intense foreboding, so next month we ought to some some shit connect with some fans. If so, it'll come at just the right time, and might help push this arc officially into my favorite so far in this book.


Automatic Kafka #8: After playing a bit of a back-up role for a few issues in a row, Kafka himself becomes central again here, which was nice. The issue is basically spit into two halves, the first centering on Kafka's new show as well as the suicide of Diesel Quake, his drug dealer/assistant. The second half deals with Kafka confronting the Warning about the latter's various shady dealings, with a splash of the Constitution's adventures in professional pornography thrown in as well. I much prefer the opening, where we see Kafka going through the motions of his continued celebrity while reading in captions the body of Diesel's suicide note. The note provides a nice bit of insight into the psychology of a character who's been two-dimensional at best up to now, and it's a nice reminder that everyone thinks they are the good guys, even the supervillains. Diesel doesn't necessarily try to take the moral high ground or present himself as a misunderstood do-gooder, but he does point out that the $tranger$ operated in less-than-righteous ways, that Kafka in particular seemed to take a weird joy in causing his enemies pain, and that he and all of his former teammates ultimately took fairly significant falls from grace, ending up with lives that reflect their biggest flaws rather than their greatest deeds. All of that is compelling to read, and Joe Casey writes it well. He also takes away Kafka's source of nanotecheroin, meaning we get to see what it looks like when a robot suffers from withdrawal. It's not all that dramatic, but it does lead Kafka to question the Warning, though as with most people who try to challenge the Warning, things don't go very far. In the end, we see Kafka approached by some kind of magical/hallucinatory/who-knows-what caterpillar that turns into a gorgeous bright butterfly and offers to save Kafka from yet another "story arc." So things get crazy meta as we prepare to head into the final issue. The butterfly is probably my favorite single visual from Ash Wood in this series so far. It stands out starkly and fits in perfectly at once, a tough trick to pull off, but Wood does it no sweat.


The Maximortal #2: While less directly tied to Superman's history than the debut issue, this is still a pretty spot-on imagining of how a superpowered child might act and influence the world. After finally killed his adoptive father, little Wesley Winston sets to work on his "farming," meaning pulling people's heads clean off their bodies and dumping them into a silo. While there's no specific reason given for why he chooses human heads as the thing to farm, it works quite well in the context of this gleefully morbid book. Rick Veitch seems to have a lot of fun in making the decapitated bodies as cartoonishly gruesome as he can. They're not excessively gory but they are effectively unnerving. As for Wesley, he's innocently and amusingly content with his labors, even proud of himself for how efficiently he's getting his farming done. Ultimately, his activities lead the citizens of Simpltown to try and attack him, blowing up his silo full of heads while Wesley is inside. The child, of course, survives the blast, and then proceeds to throw a tantrum, as children are wont to do when you ruin their games. Only Wesley's tantrums are intensely destructive and fatal. All of this death and devastation leads to the U.S. military showing up at the very end of the issue to claim Wesley as their own, a terrifying proposition than can't lead anywhere good. Meanwhile, at the beginning and in the background of this issue, we meet El Guano, a mysterious figure who seems to have some magical insight into the world. The narration refers to him as a warrior and also as a man-of-knowledge, and we see him have a startling premonition of Wesley as a full-grown superhero, cape, spandex, and all. Exactly what El Guano's role will be in the narrative is still unclear, but he does show up at the end to fight with the "angel" who we saw give birth to Wesley last time, so it's clear El Guano plays a significant part in these proceedings. Similarly, we're introduced to Sidney Wallace, a young, brash, self-important jerk with dreams of making it big in the movies. These dreams appear to be purely financially motivated, though, as Wallace tries to steal Wesley himself once he realizes the money-making potential such a powerful creature might possess. Everyone wants a piece of Wesley, is the point, from his mother to Wallace to the government to El Guano. Their interests in Wesley and approaches to dealing with him vary, but everybody's invested. What will all of this attention mean for Wesley in the long run? That's the central question, but based on what we've seen so far, there will no doubt be more terrible things in Wesley's future.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Elsewhere

Two weeks ago, I wrapped up my three-part series on The Names over at PopMatters. This week, my newest 1987 And All That column went up on Comics Should Be Good, covering Fantastic Four #304-307. I liked those comics quite a bit, but evidently they and the rest of Englehart's run on the book don't have the best reputation, as you can see in the comments. I totally understand the criticisms, but for me, those issues touched on my favorite part of the Fantastic Four, examining the drama and dysfunction that comes with them being a family as well as a superhero team.

Something I Failed to Mention
In my Names pieces, I was focusing on the stuff I liked about that series, what it did best and why it left an impression on me. And I touched on, in at least one of the posts, the fact that the whole series centers on Katya Walker trying to find her husband's killer, and that she does not accomplish that goal by the time the book comes to a close. I don't really have a problem with that ending, because I think the entire creative team handled it quite well, but I will say that it's a bit frustrating to have nine issues worth of a mystery that never gets solved, that was never going to be solved. It's not a bad ending, but it's a drag of an ending, because the reader wants to know who murdered Kevin Walker and why just as much as Katya does. Like her, we have to learn to live with not knowing, and there's value in that to be sure. All the same, I'm still curious, and as much as I enjoyed The Names from start to finish, it's hard not to wonder if I might've enjoyed it even more had the central question been answered.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Weekly Action Comics Weekly Review: Issue #625

In 1988-89, DC changed Action Comics from a monthly Superman-focused series to a weekly anthology, also changing its name to Action Comics Weekly. It lasted 42 issues before reverting to a monthly format. I am going to review all 42 of those issues, one per week (sort of) for 42 weeks. This is the twenty-fifth of those reviews.
Spoiler alert: Deadman does not wrap it all up.
A very weak ending to what was already a not-so-strong Green Lantern story arc. We suddenly cut to a peace talk between the two warring alien races who Hal Jordan is supposed to help out, even though, to the best of my memory, there was no mention of any peace talk before this issue. Predictably, thing devolve into violence pretty fast, so Hal powers up his ring and joins the fray, only to get his ass pretty well handed to him. As chaos ensues around him, he decides to put an end to the madness all at once by letting loose a huge blast from his ring that all but demolishes the building he and the aliens are in. He then strong-arms them into making peace, which is about as obnoxious and ineffective a tactic as I can imagine. Want proof? The story ends with the two alien races agreeing to combine their technology to build a super-advanced weapon, which they will then use to kill Green Lantern. So he united them only their hatred for him, which is a shallow victory at best. I did love Mark Bright's art, which began with a Kirby-esque, New Gods kind of feel while Hal was disguising himself (see above) and then the moment when he flies into the fight in full GL glory is maybe the best panel Bright has drawn in this title so far. It's a drag this narrative is so boring and gets wrapped so quickly, because Bright did a great job with the designs of the aliens, and he seems to just get better and better at drawing Hal with each new issue. So I would've liked to see more from him before this concluded. I'm guessing I will eventually, though, since it seems like the strategy is to always have Green Lantern be part of Action Comics Weekly, but with James Owsley and Bright only doing every other arc. I suppose I'll get a confirmation or denial of that assumption next week.
Still loving this Shazam story all over. It's fairly simple but with just enough complexity to remain compelling, like the unexpected arrival this time of the real Duane McCullers who shows up to out Billy Batson as an impostor. This ends with Billy bound and gagged in a burning gas station, a solid cliffhanger but, again, a straightforward one. And that's true of every detail here. Captain Nazi could not be a more easily understandable villain; it's all right there in his name. But it's precisely because he is played so straight that he works as a bad guy. He's scarier because of his simplicity and single-mindedness, basically just a walking, talking tool for the rest of the baddies to use. If he had a detailed backstory and a full mind of his own, who knows where the story might lead, but when he's just a weapon in the shape of a man, it's easy to imagine the damage he'll cause. I will say that I didn't love the exposition dump that happens in the middle of everything, where one of the white supremacist group's leaders reveals to Billy (as Duane) all the organization's secret plans, past and future. It was a little hard to believe they'd tell all that to one of their kids, especially the one whose father died because of the lies they told, but it was important info for the reader to have and I'm not sure where else it could've been included. At any rate, that wasn't enough to ruin all the good material that surrounded it. There's nothing brain-melting about what's going on in this Shazam tale, on either a story or art level, but it is all very clear, fun, classic superhero fare that I can really sink my teeth into. It's just hitting all the right notes from my perspective, and I look forward to seeing how it ends next week.
This Secret Six section was middle-of-the-line, but that's still better than a lot of what you get from this series. The Secret Six are probably the most reliably good of all the characters featured in the comic, but they rarely ever wow me, either. It's just solid, enjoyable, good-looking espionage action and suspense, and I appreciate that tremendously. This week, there are a lot of moving pieces as the Secret Six and their enemies both prepare to engage with one another. It all feels like it's building to something pretty explosive, and I'm eager to see that, but I'm also enjoying the slow burn as we get there. Martin Pasko does a good job of reminding us of the previously established facts and introducing new ones at the same time and in a very natural way, so that every line of dialogue is believable even if it's just recapping old info. He also juggles the large cast skillfully, as do artists Frank Springer and Frank McLaughlin. Everybody has something to do this week, and they all look good doing it, and even with all the location changes and the numerous characters involved, it's all easy to follow. Again, there's nothing here that's truly amazing, but it's all better than average for Action Comics Weekly, and that fact is kind of amazing in its own right. I always enjoy the Secret Six, and this is no exception.
Sometimes this Superman story gets too mundane, too hung up on showing us every tiny bit of narrative progress. This is definitely one of those times, with Superman and Bob Galt still traveling, having left point A last time and not even making it to point B this time. They do land their plane and rent a car for the rest of their journey, and that is significant because the car rental company employees are members of the villains' group so they plant a tracking device on the vehicle Supes and Galt rent, meaning all of this is still clearly leading to some kind of significant confrontation between Superman and the baddies. But for an entire chapter to just be that they rent a car from their enemies seems weak at best, and pointlessly wasteful at worst. Also, it is so much like last week's chapter, where we saw them get onto a plane and take off while one of the bad guy henchman reported it back to base. The last two weeks worth of Superman have had their final panels be a low-level villain calling into the higher-ups to give them an update on Superman and Galt's location, and I can't help but feel like all of this could've been condensed into one two-page section rather than two. But hey, at least things are moving forward and not just standing still, meaning that, as exceedingly dull and uneventful as this was, we are technically that much closer to seeing something truly exciting happen when Superman and the villains finally collide.
At long last, Kelley Jones gets to actually draw a whole lot of Deadman is his natural form, and boy was it (just barely) worth the wait. Jones nails it, stretching out Deadman's body so it is eerily long and gaunt, and there's a nice fluidity to his movements that really captures the undead spirit walking through the living world aspect of it all. Plus there are a few panels where Deadman is legitimately terrifying, which fits in with this horror narrative perfectly. I still find it difficult to give one single damn about what's actually happening in this story, although I did enjoy watching two zombies get snippy and violent with each other over their egos. I always prefer a zombie with a personality over the mindless, shambling monsters you usually see, so that got a smile out of me. But the Brogden twins and their slow-moving plan to take over New Orleans with an undead army are extra super boring, especially since the twins themselves don't seem all that invested in it. They're just, like, having fun being semi-annoying ghosts inhabiting the bodies of two young sisters, and the rest of their scheme seems secondary to the fun they're having being alive again. Still, if Kelley Jones is going to draw Deadman like this, the rest of what happens barely matters. I would read eight pages of Deadman learning how to dance if he looked this amazing. That might actually be better than what's on the page. With the Brogden's moving into new host bodies at the end, and nobody else around for Deadman to possess, I am really crossing my fingers that he spends the entire next chapter in his true form, looking awesome in Jones' hands and, with any luck, being a badass horror hero to boot. Even without caring about the plot, I am excited to see more Deadman in this book for the first time in a long time, all thanks to Jones' fucking perfect depiction.
While I still have almost no sense of what the Black Canary narrative is about, I could at least follow each individual scene this time around, and it all looked fantastic. Randy DuBurke has been a great fit for this character and her world all along, but he added a dash of a certain dreamlike quality to his visuals this time that really struck a chord for me. It added a lot of atmosphere, be it the quiet calm of Black Canary resting after falling through a wooden floor, or the creeping dread as the reader realizes that the unnamed woman in the hotel bar is going to murder the unnamed man from the same bar she's been flirting with the whole time. We still don't understand the reasons for this killing, or how it relates to the guy sitting alone getting drunk and reading a letter composed of cut up magazines that promises he will soon be dead. Nor do we know how any of this ties into Black Canary. But unlike the character's first arc in this title, or even the first chapter of this arc from last issue, here I find I don't mind the mystery and, in fact, that it adds to my enjoyment. I think, again, this is mostly do to DuBurke's drawing. He makes everything so beautiful, detailed, and moody that I can get pulled into each moment even without seeing how they're tied together. We'll need answers and context eventually, of course, but for now it's more than enough to simply steep in these dark, heavy, isolated moments and let them be just what they are and no more.

In conclusion, here are all the stories from this issue, listed from worst to best:
6. Superman/"Out of the Frying Pan..."
5. Green Lantern/"The Law"
4. Secret Six/"For Whom the Toll Builds"
3. Deadman/"Tickle, Tickle"
2. Black Canary/"Knock 'em Dead Part 2"
1. Shazam/Untitled

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Weekly Action Comics Weekly Review: Issue #624

In 1988-89, DC changed Action Comics from a monthly Superman-focused series to a weekly anthology, also changing its name to Action Comics Weekly. It lasted 42 issues before reverting to a monthly format. I am going to review all 42 of those issues, one per week (sort of) for 42 weeks. This is the twenty-fourth of those reviews.
And we're back! Took me a little while to get myself resettled after we returned from Florida, but hopefully now I can do this on a regular weekly basis again, at least for a while.
I read this comic last night, and when I looked at the above title page for this Green Lantern story just now, it took me a second to even remember any of what happened. Mostly, Priest lies to Hal Jordan in an attempt to prove a point about Hal not needing a power battery to charge his ring, but Hal, in his childish, stubborn anger, refuses to learn the lesson. It makes them both seem like jerks, with the most sympathetic characters this issue being the "dreadnaughts," the forces against whom Priest is fighting and whom Hal is training to fight as well. They try to stop Hal from messing with their property, something he only does because of Priest's manipulations, and then he blasts them about with his ring anyway. It does seem like Hal himself is starting to wonder about the morality and honesty of his new ally/coach/captor (Priest), but he doesn't do very much about it yet, so most of this story has them both behaving frustratingly. At least Mark Bright's pencils are extra sharp, with Hal looking particularly strong and bold and consistent, as well as subtly expressive in a few key moments. The page where Hal thinks he's lost his power and is on the brink of suffocating in space is very nicely laid out, Bright including a total of 15 panels (though two of them are all-black and extra skinny) to really hammer out each beat of Hal's struggle.
I am loving this Shazam story, and more specifically Billy Batson's personal brand of heroism. He really goes for it, he uses the full range of his skills as both Billy and Shazam, and he's super wry and funny and sharply observant about the whole thing. Roy and Dann Thomas have made me a huge fan in only two chapters. This week, Batson infiltrates the Aryan Acres camp, pretending to be Duane McCullers, the son of the guy Shazam accidentally killed last time. We get to see how intense this racist organization really is, and just when it seems like they couldn't be any more despicable or brainwashy, at the end we get our first glimpse of Captain Nazi, their homegrown supervillain. I could not be more excited to see Captain Nazi and Shazam go toe-to-toe, because it's bound to be a pretty gloves-off kind of fight, both men truly, deeply hating what the other stands for. I don't know what else to say, really...I'm totally hooked, I can't wait to see what happens next, and I love this protagonist. For a character I've always fairly actively ignored in the past, Shazam is turning out to be exceptionally entertaining in this comic.
This installment of the Secret Six is all built around its final reveal, so there's not a ton of forward progress, but what's here is handled very well. We see Tony reject Shelley's advances for all the right reasons, and then he tells her the story of how he became deaf. As a reporter, he was investigating possible corruption within a Pennsylvania coal miners' union, and he went into one of the mines along with photographer Tom Pearson. Tony says that he and Pearson had "certain tensions" that distracted him, so when they came across a live explosive device, Tony missed it. Tom saw it just in time to push Tony out of the way and save his life, but not his hearing. As for Tom, he died, sacrificing himself to keep Tony alive. That's a rough enough story to hear when Tony tells it, but then at the end, Tony stops by a graveyard to leave flowers on Tom's grave, and the groundskeeper tells a passerby that he comes and does so every month because Tom was his lover. It's a nice little surprise at the end, because the assumption earlier (or at least the one I made) was that Tom and Tony didn't get along, and that this was the source of their tension. To have them be a couple makes their tale all the more tragic, and that detail is delivered in a smart and heartbreaking way. This is the most I've cared personally for a member of the Secret Six so far, and I'd like to see more of their backgrounds down the line if there's room for it.
Because we only get two pages at a time, these Superman section are occasionally boring in the name of getting from point A to point B. This is one of those times, where all that happens is Clark Kent and Bob Galt get on a plane together, and the still-mysterious bad guys see them do it. It's not all that exciting, we don't get any new information about what's happening, and Superman never appears as himself, just as Clark. (Ok, we do get a glimpse of the S-symbol as Clark gets dressed, but I'm not counting that for what I think are obvious reasons). Honestly, my favorite part of this was that in one panel, Clark and Bob pass by a Fresh Juice stand in the airport that seems like a random background detail, but then in the last panel it is the Fresh Juice vendor who is reporting their flight back to the villains, so it turns out he was an enemy agent all along. It's subtle and funny, and I kind of hope it comes back later, though I doubt if it will. Anyway, even when they're dull, these Superman installments are pretty solid, Stern and Swan both very comfortable and on point when working with this character. It's unremarkable, but not at all bad.
A confusing and mostly pointless Deadman chapter, fitting in perfectly with the general aimlessness of this narrative and my subsequent lack of interest. Suddenly, after several issues of zombies, this time the problem is ghosts, but weird ghosts that don't make sense, or do anything, or matter to the larger plot. I feel like Mike Baron is writing this stream-of-consciousness style, just throwing out whatever idea tickles his fancy from moment to moment without worrying about everything having a purpose. The main point here seems to be that Madame Waxahachie figures out how to convince the Brogden Twins' dad that he's dead, but that doesn't do anything to the Twins' power or plans as far as I can tell, nor does it held Deadman and Waxahachie in any obvious way, so who cares? Why include it? That's where I stand on most of the Deadman material this week. It all smacks of randomness and meaninglessness and it pretty much amounts to nothing. At the end, we're back to an army of zombies, so all this ghost stuff is a total waste, filler thrown in inexplicably and frustratingly.
Black Canary is back and as hard to follow as ever. Just like last time, Sharon Wright does this thing where she shows us glimpses of characters we don't know doing things we don't understand, yet still tries to give those moments weight. Maybe there will be more payoff this time around; it's only the first chapter so it's too soon to tell. But I'm admittedly nervous based on how baffling the initial Action Comics Weekly Black Canary narrative ended up being. Plus this opening chapter doesn't even try to explain itself. No matter how much I want to, I could not possible tell you what this story is about yet. The only thing that happened that I fully understood was that at the very end, Black Canary is in some big empty building to do some practice/training, and she accidentally falls through a wooden floor. That's alright as far as cliffhangers go, because our hero is suddenly in unexpected danger, but it's not as good a hook as, say, a proper introduction to an interesting plot would've been. It's not that I hated this, it's that it made me feel nothing, not even boredom. It was basically just a collection of ok-looking comic pages that didn't even connect to each other in any obvious way, a few of which featured a character I like getting herself into trouble, and the rest of which I can't judge yet because I just haven't seen enough. Hopefully some insight will be offered next issue.

In conclusion, here are all the stories from this issue, listed from worst to best:
6. Deadman/"Wildwood"
5. Black Canary/"Knock 'em Dead Part 1"
4. Green Lantern/"Faith!"
3. Superman/"Pin the Tail..."
2. Secret Six/"The Sound of a Silent Heart"
1. Shazam/"Chapter 2"

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Elsewhere

This past Thursday my latest 1987 And All That column came out, looking at Wild Dog. I just keep writing about that character even though he drives me crazy. I am thinking I may do one final, glorious reread of everything Wild Dog-related, once I am done reviewing all of Action Comics Weekly, and put up one last thing about it somewhere. Anyway, I have also had two out of three planned pieces on The Names published over on PopMatters, one looking at the various tribes that form throughout the series, and another focusing on the artwork. I expect the final installment of that group of posts to be up in the next week or two.

Something I Failed to Mention
I've mentioned on this blog before about how I sometimes get extra wrapped up in D&D and it makes me neglect my comics, and vice versa. Right now is a big-time D&D period for me, which is part of why the blog has been so slow to update lately, and also why I'm going to continue to fail to produce new material for it right now, by not putting anything other than this explanation here. I'm in the middle of working hard on some D&D stuff and writing this post was basically just a quick break from that, but it's been long enough that I am itching to get back to it (meaning all of 10 minutes), so that's all for now.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Monthly Dose: May 2015

100 Bullets #31: Now we're talking. Kicking off a new arc, "The Counterfifth Detective," this issue is pure hard-boiled pulp noir gold. Main character Milo Garrett sounds like every classic P.I. rolled into one, and he looks tough as nails, too, with his crumpled suit, bandage-covered face, and the cigarette that's pretty much always hanging out of his mouth. Both Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso do a good job of keeping this story right in the sweet spot, not over-the-top with the clichés but still very much utilizing the tropes of the genre. Milo is both likable and a schmuck; there's drinking, murder, intrigue, and plenty of stylized, metaphor-and-similie-filled narration. It's all quite familiar, but fresh enough to pull the reader in, and the added detail of Agent Graves giving Milo one of the attaché cases that he's been handing out since this series began makes things that much more interesting. There's not a ton of narrative meat on the bones so far, because this first chapter is more about introducing Milo and getting us in his corner. In that, it's a major success, and there's enough of a story hook at the very end to bring people back for more. This is the sort of finely crafted issue that 100 Bullets was full of at first, but that's been missing for a while, so it ended up being a fabulous return to form that reignited my enthusiasm for this title.


Automatic Kafka #7: Automatic Kafka goes out to lunch with one of his old supervillain foes, Galaxia, a scientist who replaced his head with a tiny spiral galaxy. Kafka has a good deal of leftover animosity toward Galaxia, but the former bad guy is ever the gentleman, politely and intelligently talking Kafka into letting go of their shared past. They even manage to reminisce a little together, and though they don't exactly become friends, they pretty much bury the hatchet before their meal is over. It's impressive how Joe Casey manages to write their conversation so that the reader can be genuinely invested in them working things out, even though we haven't ever seen any of their previous conflicts, since they all took place in an off-panel time period. The hero-villain dynamic is so universally accessible, Casey can do something like this even in a brand new continuity and it still works. It helps that both Kafka and Galaxia have such strong voices, of course, and that they each have such fascinating looks. Even their speech bubbles are different colors, not just from one another but from everybody else, so their exchange offers something on every level, from script to art to letters. This was not the most exciting issue of Automatic Kafka, but it was one of the most thoughtful examinations of what life might be like for a retired superhero like Kafka, and it had a lot of heart and humor along the way. Also, in the end, the Warning uses Galaxia to power up a bunch of the baby bombs that have been an ongoing thread in this book, which was a nice way to conclude this, tying an otherwise isolated chapter into what's come before.


The Maximortal #1: I just wrote about this issue a couple weeks ago as part of a PopMatters column on three of my favorite debut issues. And in the early days of this blog, a did a short post on the whole of this series. But I wanted to do it for Monthly Dose because its a dense book, and every issue sort of touches on a different aspect of the Superman mythology and/or history, deconstructing that character, superheroes as an idea, and the comicbook industry as a whole. It's an ambitious, weird, well-done passion project from Rick Veitch. This first issue doesn't actually set up that much of what's to come, focusing instead of doing Veitch's version of the Superman (or True-Man, as he's called in this comic) origin story. A couple named the Winstons finds a baby boy inside a bizarre fallen meteorite, and they try to raise him as their own, but his superpowers make him well more than they can handle. The child destroys their house with his strength and heat vision, bites of his adopted father's finger, and in the end he uses the threat of further violence to get his dad to carry him away from the farm and into an unknown future. It's a much more brutal, darkly comedic take on this well-known superhero story, casting Superman as something of a menace, but only because he's too young to know or even want to use his abilities responsibly. He's just a kid throwing superpowered tantrums that his simpleton parents have no way of controlling, so he ruins their lives and takes over. The events of the story are pretty tragic, but Veitch's art and the exaggerated, caricature-like personalities of the Winstons make it work as parody, too, so we get both a funnier and a much bleaker version of Superman at once. That's the mission statement of The Maximortal, and it couldn't be clearer here.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Elsewhere

It's been like a month since I did one of these posts but I always like to wait until I have ore than one thing to link to and it just took that long this time around. So 2 weeks ago I published a 1987 And All That post about Iron Man #219-221, a.k.a. the first story arc to feature classic villain the Ghost. He's a character I fell in love with only recently during Jeff Parker's Thunderbolts/Dark Avengers run, and even though the initial appearance of the Ghost is very different, there's a lot about him that has lasted over time, and his first storyline was an exceptional one. This week, another 1987 column went up, looking at Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #122-130. I was not wild about them, but as you'll see in the comments, part of that may have been that I was simply starting too late in the series' history and/or stopping too soon. Finally, this past Monday I wrote about three awesome debut issues on PopMatters: The Maximortal #1, Deep Sleeper #1, and Rebel Blood #1. Super-attentive readers will note that I've written about the each of those series on their own at some point in the past on this blog.

Something I Failed to Mention
I literally got back to my house 2 hours ago from the wedding I mentioned in my last post, so you'll have to forgive me if I can't think of anything to put here right now. I guess I could've held off on this until I had something prepared, but I like to do the Elsewheres on Sundays, and I've got enough other stuff to do this week, comics-blog-related and not, that I figured I should just bang this out while I could.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Please Hold

I am exhausted today. I got two poor nights of sleep in a row, mostly because of my dogs deciding to wake me up in the middle of the night several times for various reasons, like needing to go out or wanting to snuggle me in strange, uncomfortable positions. I love them to death, but they can be super obnoxious when they want, and the past couple nights have been prime examples of that. My dogs are not the point of this, they're just part of why I'm so tired right now. Other factors include my wife being in the early days of her second trimester of pregnancy, and the on-again-off-again insomnia I've had for years.

Why am I talking about my tiredness? Because it's my main excuse for not having anything new on the blog this week. Between being wiped out and needing to get myself ready to go to a wedding in Florida over the weekend (we leave in the wee hours of Thursday morning) I've had neither time nor energy recently to do much in terms of comics writing lately. Also, I've got to get started ASAP on my next 1987 And All That column, because that's scheduled to go up on Thursday and, as I mentioned, I'll be on a plane to Florida then. So tonight I've got to get my notes in order, then tomorrow I'll write the actual review.

As such, there's not going to be anything on Comics Matter (other than this flimsy nonsense) until next week when I'm back from the wedding. I should be able to jump back into the Weekly Action Comics Weekly routine at that point, plus I've got a couple other pieces I've been meaning to write for ages that I need to get off my plate. Little things like a post about a particular issue of Harbinger and a review of a weird, old, sexist-in-ways-you-might-not-expect romance comic from the 70's I bought on a lark a while back. So there's stuff in the pipeline, and after this little mini vacation I'm hoping to finally put it all out in the world.

Anyhow, I'll be back in a week with real material. Until then, go read Injection #1. It's hard to tell how good the series is going to be yet, but the first issue has such tremendous potential it's almost frightening.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Weekly Action Comics Weekly Review: Issue #623

In 1988-89, DC changed Action Comics from a monthly Superman-focused series to a weekly anthology, also changing its name to Action Comics Weekly. It lasted 42 issues before reverting to a monthly format. I am going to review all 42 of those issues, one per week (sort of) for 42 weeks. This is the twenty-third of those reviews.
The cover image of this issue actually comes directly from a panel within it, which is a rare event for this book, if indeed it has ever happened before at all. Not the most exciting moment to pick, but I appreciated it nonetheless, especially after last issue's wholly disconnected cover.
I feel very blah about Green Lantern in this book right now. I know this is primarily because I was just barely starting to get invested in Peter David's narrative when he rather suddenly got replaced by James Owsley, the writer who David replaced initially. Owsley is a great talent, and he does this character well, but even several weeks later, I'm still more curious about the Freak Show characters David left behind than the new alien war we are introduced to here. I'm also not wild about stories where the hero is pulled into someone else's conflict unexpectedly, forced to participate because they are needed rather than choosing to because they want to help or feel some kind of obligation. If the protagonist isn't especially committed to the central struggle of the narrative, why the hell should I be? On top of that, the thing where Green Lantern needs to get to his battery before the recharge clock runs out feels tired. I realize this is an old comic so maybe that wasn't as trite at the time, but reading it with modern eyes, it just seems like yet another one of those stories for this character, with nothing new added to it. Maybe this will pick up now that Lantern knows what's going on, but at this point, I'm not sure it matters. Unless we go back and get some resolution on the Freak Show, I may be perpetually uninterested in Green Lantern's adventures in this series.
Though it moved somewhat jerkily, I enjoyed the Shazam story a whole lot. The idea of a superhero not just feeling guilty about causing the death of a criminal but actively working to make up for it is right up my alley, and it was a good way for me to get into a character with whom I've had minimal experience in the past. To be honest, when I saw that Shazam was going to be included in Action Comics Weekly, it seemed like a drag, not to mention redundant since Superman is involved every week. But right away, Roy and Dann Thomas found a hook that worked, and sold me on it in only seven pages. I also appreciated how Shazam actually spends most of his time as Billy Batson. I love a good secret identity, someone who can have a whole life of their own and can have stories center on them without the reader merely waiting for them to switch to the super-persona so the real fun can start. This story is just as meaty when Batson is on-page as when Shazam is, and it seems as though both will be key to what's to come, so that's a good sign. Are white supremacists the most fascinating foes? No, but they are at least easy to hate, and I do look forward to Shazam trying to pull someone out of their clutches. I'm this will involve some amount of deprogramming, and I'm curious to see how Batson/Shazam handles that.
This Deadman story, which I didn't miss for one second last issue, returns with the dullest installment yet. It's almost pure exposition, Madame Waxahachie just explaining to Deadman the history of the Peckshaw twins. It seems like this information could've been provided while there was, say, some action taking place, but instead we just get and infodump via dialogue as Waxahachie and Deadman drive around looking for someone he can inhabit other than Clara. When they finally do find that someone, there's a scene of Clara understandably freaking out over being used more than once as the vessel of a dead guy. This ties into the one aspect of this story I cared about at all, which is the idea that Deadman may cause permanent psychological damage to the people he possesses. I hope that thread isn't abandoned as we dive deeper into the voodoo zombie junk, because it's a compelling conflict for Deadman to grapple, and I'd like to see it explored more completely and maybe even in some other contexts. I'm not holding my breath based on how unfocused Mike Baron's Deadman has been in Action Comics Weekly from the very beginning, but time will tell.
I was not expecting the bad guys to be motivated by crazy faith-based beliefs in the same way Galt and his group are. I assumed the villains would be anti-Superman because of his morality, that they feared he'd get in the way of whatever corrupt capitalist schemes they were cooking up. But no, it turns out they think Superman is the legit anti-Christ, which was an interesting wrinkle to add. One side sees Superman as a savior, the other as a harbinger and bringer of doom, and all the meanwhile Superman himself only recently learned these two factions exist, and wants nothing to do with either of their beliefs. I'm eager to watch this all play out, to see how Superman handles not only the folks who view him as a messiah but also those on the other side. My guess is that he'll want to show both groups the error of their ways and the danger of their extremism, but whatever he does, it's bound to be interesting.
Secret Six is a blast right now. It seems to have, at least for the time being, fully embraced the action side of its spy-action mix, and this week had some of the best material yet in that regard. Acrobatic gunfights and daring last-minute rescues involving multiple vehicles are perhaps cliché, but Frank Springer and Frank McLaughlin make it all hum and maintain the mood of high-octane excitement. The plot is still a bit muddy, and it isn't progressing all that quickly, but I don't mind one bit. I'm loving the adventure, and Martin Pasko is careful to add at least a tiny bit of relevant info every time. It's not always new for the reader, but at the very least we will see one or more characters discover something they didn't know before, so it's all forward movement, even when it's minor. Also, "Standard Allowable Abductions" is very much my kind of title, appropriate and descriptive while also silly and fun just like the story that follows.
I like the done-in-one Phantom Stranger tales that pop up in Action Comics Weekly every so often, and I absolutely love José Luis García-López as an artist, but this particular story underwhelmed me. For one thing, it tried to have a stick-tight-to-your-faith-and-all-will-be-well message, which isn't necessarily something I support. If you have faith, great, but faith should be flexible and reasonable and something that adapts to circumstance. Whatever...even if I agreed with the story philosophically, it fails to deliver its message convincingly anyway. The devil shows up at a church in the form of a baby, he and the Stranger struggle for a while, then the priest of the church smashes the baby to death with a giant cross. A cross may be a symbol of faith, but it is not faith itself, so the real takeaway here is that violence can solve problems better than simple, passive belief. Also, it makes me wonder why the Stranger had such a hard time in the fight if all it took to win was anything big and heavy enough to crush an infant. The imagery of the terrifying, sadistic baby was effectively creepy, and that was where García-López shined as he always does, but it wasn't nearly enough to make up for the other weaknesses and botched landing of the narrative.

In conclusion, here are all the stories from this issue, listed from worst to best:
6. Deadman/"Seventeen"
5. Green Lantern/"Priest"
4. Phantom Stranger/"The Devil was a Baby"
3. Superman/"Revelations"
2. Shazam/"My Week in Valhalla: Chapter One"
1. Secret Six/"Standard Allowable Abductions"