Comics Ate My Brain

August 31, 2004

Not a bad sendoff

Filed under: star trek — Tom Bondurant @ 8:32 pm
James “Scotty” Doohan received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame today. Over the weekend, he said goodbye to fans at a Los Angeles Star Trek convention. He suffers from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases and was in a wheelchair.

It’s said that many of today’s scientists were inspired by Star Trek to enter their chosen fields. The featured speaker at Saturday night’s dinner honoring Mr. Doohan probably wasn’t one of them. In fact, his greatest achievement came about 6 weeks after the original Trek’s last episode aired. On July 20, 1969, he became the first human to walk on the Moon.

Yes, the chief engineer of the fictional Starships Enterprise was toasted by Neil Armstrong — who, as I understand it, doesn’t come out for just anybody.

Very cool. Very, very cool indeed.

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August 29, 2004

Supreme Power, Part 2

Filed under: supreme power — Tom Bondurant @ 9:16 pm
The cover of issue #3 shows Hyperion in his super-suit. It’s red, white, and blue, but the tunic is a sky (or “Carolina,” if you prefer) blue — not so much the deeper blue of the American flag. (More United Nations, actually.) No cape, naturally. The “H” symbol forms his neckline. (Also, the Hyperion costume has a fly, which is an innovation I kind of wish more traditional costumes would adopt. Just for the sake of practicality. Even the Superman and Batman costumes could hide it under the briefs-on-the-outside, you know?) He’s holding a tattered American flag. The background is a sort of dingy bronze/parchment color, and the lighting reminds me of the portrait of George Washington. Very “archival” looking.

Page 1: Synopsis.

Pages 2-3: Mark meets Bush 41 at the White House. Bush wants him to soften up the Iraqi military before Desert Storm begins. This puts the issue at the end of 1990/beginning of 1991, about 14 years after the rocket landed. Lots of exposition on page 2, with only two unique panels (the White House, and Mark sitting). Mark hears everything they say. More talk about how powerful Mark is — strong, fast, and invulnerable, and he was probably holding back so as not to blow out the instruments. Slightly less exposition on page 3 describes Mark’s job for the military.

Another potential error which could just be a slip of Bush’s tongue: the operation in the Middle East which responded to the invasion of Kuwait was called “Desert Shield” until the air assault began, and then it became Desert Storm. By using “Desert Storm” in front of Mark, Bush is getting ahead of himself. (Just an observation.) On these pages, Mark’s expression hardly changes, but we get the feeling that going up against the Republican Guard would be about as hard for him as getting a box of crackers from the top shelf. Like, “Okay, if you say so; I’m just looking for something to do.” Needless to say, this is not an unusual expression.

Pages 4-5: In mid-January, 1991, Mark destroys the Iraqi military, although we never see it directly. Given what we have learned about the real Iraqi military, both in 1991 and 2003, it would have been interesting to see if the U.S.’s intelligence was accurate. It would have fit this series for Mark to encounter an undersized, underequipped Republican Guard, destroy their tanks, and send them fleeing into the desert. I doubt Mark would have killed any of them (especially not after Spot).

A footnote: At this point Mark is at least 14 years old. When Superman’s teenage self, Superboy, announced himself to the world at around the same age, one of his first public appearances was as a target for Army gunners.

Page 6: Jason Scott, a suspicious reporter for a great Washington D.C. newspaper, thinks something’s fishy about the easy success of Desert Storm. It’s another Superman parallel, since regardless of the iteration reporter Lois Lane always has one of the first public encounters with Superman. However, Jason’s involvement with Mark won’t go as far as Lois.’ (Now that would be a MAX book!)

Pages 7-9: It’s now at least 1995, and Jason defends his Muldering to his editor. He’s investigating weird occurrences in various military actions. This is similar to John Byrne’s Superman origin, where Clark Kent left Smallville at age 18 and traveled the world for 7 years, saving lives in secret. Here, Hyperion acts invisibly for the government — including in Haiti and Somalia, two places where the real U.S. military faced pretty stiff resistance. In single-panel, rapid-fire montage style, Jason interviews assorted weirdos, including Ma Kent and two people who have heard of “Project Hyperion.”

Page 10: Jason does a FOIA request on “Hyperion” and gets a heavily-blacked-out file.

Page 11: Jason confers with a Deep Throat who looks a lot like Joe Ledger. It can’t be Joe, because we already know he’s in a coma. Actually, it looks a lot like Buzz, an unsavory character Gary Frank drew in the late Supergirl book.

Page 12: Jason is freaked-out by what he learns. The panels show him isolated from others, which is probably how he feels — “isolated” in the “singled out” sense, like something was watching him.

Page 13: Jason visits Ma Kent, who we learn is named Cavenaugh. Elsewhere, in some red-lit situation room, Bill Clinton says it’s time to tell Jason the truth. That way, the government can control how the story gets out.

Pages 14-15: Naked Jason is visited by Hyperion. MAX moment: full frontal male nudity for Jason. Page 15 is a splash panel of Hyperion in a black leather X-Men-movie-type jumpsuit.

Page 16: Montage of world news people reacting to Hyperion. The inevitable televangelist gives thanks that God has blessed America thusly. One of the high-school girls reveals she really liked Mark all along. (Tramp!)

Page 17: In the red sit’ room, government people plan how to market Hyperion and use him for political advantage.

Page 18: Clinton’s news conference, intercut with Mark (in the Hyperion suit) floating above the clouds.

Pages 19-20: Intercut Clinton with Hype’s memories (Clinton says he was “raised in an environment of love”) as he swoops down to the press conference. Here we do see one panel of Hyperion destroying a tank, but also one of him frying Spot. I bet page 20, panel 2 is an homage to the famous “pointing down” pose from the cover of Superman #1 (1939).

Page 21: Hype appears at the press conference in a tasteful V-neck sweater, shirt, tie, and slacks. “May we ask you a question?” He replies, “Of course. Freedom of the press is one of the foundations of the American system.” (This last is juxtaposed with Jason Scott.)

Page 22: Hype wraps things up with Jason. Despite his strange answer on the previous page, and his perpetual stoicism, Jason compliments him on his social skills. Hype is bummed because he doesn’t know his origins.

Pages 23-4: Jason and his editor talk about Hype. Jason thinks he’s been played by the White House to distract him from other superhumans. In fact, Jason hears reports of a speedster in Atlanta.

When I first saw issue #4‘s cover, I focused on the “arrowhead” and figured this must be the SP counterpart of Green Arrow. Wrong, obviously. Nighthawk looks suitably creepy here, what with the glowing yellow eyes and the sharp-looking “beak.”

Page 1: Synopsis of issues #1 and 3.

Pages 2-5: Intercut a meeting at a military base with Mark saving a plane. General Casey is releasing the Fa-Kents from their duties and sending them to retirement in Amsterdam. Everyone at the meeting comments on Mark’s public image and the need to keep him connected to the country. The Fa-Kents each receive Presidential Medals of Freedom.

My hat is off to Gary Frank, Jon Sibal, and Chris Sotomayor (color) for the splash panel on page 3. Hyperion rescues the plane with the sun behind him. It’s really beautiful — a “look! Up in the sky!” moment if ever there was one.

Of course Mark enjoys using his powers to help people, but we know (thanks to the general) that this emergency was staged by the military. It does offer a rare look at Mark happy, or at least satisfied. That’s not ego smiling faintly out of page 4, panel 3. However, something creepy is behind the eyes of that woman in the last panel. Yikes.

But again with the ’80s-Alan-Moore aping! Casey says “You’ve given America a new star” right under a big closeup of a star on the flag! We get it, guys. Every time I want to like this series, it chaps my hinder. These anvils are starting to hurt!

Pages 5-7: An insensitive white accountant tells Kyle Richmond how rich he (Kyle) now is. Kyle indicates that the guy’s mere presence reminds him why he’s getting his parents’ inheritance. (In case we’ve forgotten, there’s a newspaper clipping of the hate crime on the wall behind Kyle.) Meanwhile, the TV blares an “Entertainment Today” report on Hyperion. On TV, Hype says “you can’t break [his feelings] down into black-and-white terms.” Wham! (Oww!) Once Kyle is alone, he dresses in the Nighthawk suit. The closeup of Nighthawk’s goggles reminds me of Nite Owl’s goggles in Watchmen.

Page 7 does have a weird panel that I honestly didn’t notice until now. In panel 4, Hyperion makes what sounds like a joke about kids not jumping out of windows to be like him. It’s punctuated like a joke, but Hype has this downcast look which makes me wonder if he’s referring to an actual event. Otherwise, the words and the picture just don’t go together. Anyway, it’s all in the service of telling us again that Hyperion feels alone, and contrasting that again with the existence of another masked mystery-man. Thanks, folks, I missed the ends of issues #1, 2, and 3.

Pages 8-11: Nighthawk saves an African-American woman from white attackers. It’s all very bloody, including an arrowhead to the eye and the ripping off of ears. (Two ears! Up yours, Reservoir Dogs!) Nighthawk isn’t interested in scaring these thugs in order to give him an advantage; he knows he can take each one of them without it. Frank does a good job with the fight, using some traditional “Batman moves” (only showing parts of the hero, keeping him in the background, emphasizing the glowing eyes) without trying to make Nighthawk look like Batman. The victim’s expression at the end of the fight also captures her mood — a cautious “take that,” I’d call it.

Pages 12-14: At the Fa-Kents’ house, Casey tells Mark to look into the Atlanta Blur rumors. But Mark and Pa were supposed to go fishing! Too bad, but maybe Ma can go instead. By the way, the “Miltons” are named Mason and Elizabeth. Mark wants to reschedule the fishing, but Pa really wants to go. Mark hears Pa’s heart beating abnormally fast; and on his way out, notices the big red “X” over “Fishing” on the calendar.

Page 15: Fans have camped outside the Fa-Kent house (just past the barbed wire). One OMIGOD!s when she sees Hype lift off. This little scene makes sense — Mark’s parents were under constant scrutiny by the government, so naturally after he went public they’d be under constant scrutiny by fans and the media and the government scrutiny might not seem so bad.

Page 16: The Fa-Kents leave as Hype flies away.

Pages 17-18: Hype hovers over Atlanta, listening — but does he hear the Fa-Kents’ deception? (Nice little joke about Atlanta’s obsession with “Peachtree” street names.) He hears the Blur and chases after.

Page 19: Hype catches the Blur, but Blur gets away.

Page 20: At long last, Hyperion realizes he’s not alone. No time to dwell on that, though, as soldiers arrive to tell Hype there’s been an accident with his parents.

Pages 21-22: Hype searches the ocean and finds the wrecked fishing boat.

Page 23: Hype mourns as the Fa-Kents split up in Amsterdam. From his footsteps on the beach we can tell he just flew away, but for some reason we also see quite a few fish washed up on the shore. What does this mean? Is it some side effect of his being in the ocean? Is it yet more irony, that the fish were literally coming out of the ocean but the Fa-Kents weren’t there to catch them? Does Hyperion realize this? Did he put his dad’s racing heartbeat together with the X-ed out calendar and deduce they were leaving? Is he sad because he thinks they’re gone or because he thinks they went fishing just to get away from him? Either way, he’s sad because he knows they’re not coming back. He really is alo– oh, wait….

Comments

These issues introduce Hyperion to the world and show him doing traditional superhero stuff. Not only is Hyperion a celebrity, he’s also apparently pretty glib. Considering how much exposition went into convincing us how powerful he was, and how screwed-up his childhood was, I’m surprised we’re asked to accept his newfound social skills so readily.

In fact, that’s one of the big potential problems with this series. It’s drummed into our heads that Hyperion was raised under a microscope, in virtual isolation, by people who were supposed to love him without having any genuine feelings for each other. From this environment he learned the concepts of “love” and “trust.” He’s able to articulate both of those to his “dad” in order to have a normal day at school.

Now, I am willing to accept that the Fa-Kents gave him enough semblance of an ordinary upbringing so that he knew to call one feeling “love” and the other “trust.” (And how, exactly, did they do that by themselves? Were there no grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, etc.? Did Mark spend the first dozen years of his life with his parents, assorted teachers, and the TV?) I can accept that his upbringing allows him to function in normal society. It is much, much harder for me to accept that he can charm the White House Press Corps.

These issues set up Mark’s desire basically to be a superhero. He is fulfilled by using his powers to help other people, perhaps because he knows it’s right, but also because he sees that he can make people happy, instead of nervous, for a change. This is half of the Clark/Superman equation, with the other half being the need for a normal life. (That’s coming, don’t worry.) For now, Mark enjoys serving people, without much thought for how that could be abused. I suppose we can infer that his foster parents provide him with enough privacy and “down time,” but at the end of this issue they’re gone. This leaves the government/military (SP seems to treat them interchangeably) free to step in as a parental figure, and as we will see, that will end up backfiring on it completely.

I’m not really commenting on Nighthawk because he raises some sensitive issues about which I have no experience. He’s basically Batman with a racially-charged origin, but he goes entirely for the violence with none of the theatrics. To me this makes him less interesting visually than Batman, and more of a “street fighter” like Daredevil. There’s more with him coming up soon as well.

That’s pretty much it for these two issues. None of the Spectrum, Zarda, or Amphibian plots were advanced. Remember, it’s 1/3 of the way through the first year, and 2/3 through the first paperback, and the only plot which has formed so far concerns Hyperion’s journey of self-discovery.

And maybe the dead fish.

August 28, 2004

And yet I still feel inadequate

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom Bondurant @ 1:28 am
Checked out Give Our Regards To The Atom-Smashers! from the library yesterday and cracked it open tonight. Among other things, it contains a neat American Flagg! essay by Steve Erickson and an autobiographical “Judas Contract” essay by Brad Meltzer. Great minds think alike, I suppose.

August 27, 2004

Supreme Power, Part 1

Filed under: supreme power — Tom Bondurant @ 8:07 pm
After spending a year with Supreme Power, I still don’t much like it. I didn’t really like it after the first issue, but wanted to give it a fair shot. 12 issues should be enough to attract and hold a reader, and I like to think I have an open mind.

Still, every time I’d get around to writing exactly how I feel about this series, I’d always get blocked. Therefore, I’m going through the existing 12 issues, 2 at a time, and giving them one last shot. I will honestly try to be fair.

Let’s get on with it, shall we…?

Cover of issue #1 features the child Mark Milton wrapped in an American flag, standing on a marble slab, glowering at the reader. It says to me now, as it did last summer, “this kid is controlled by the United States government, and he hates you.” Oh, the kid probably has superpowers; otherwise he’d just be a kid and you wouldn’t be scared — but this cover makes you feel like you should be scared of him. Ironically, as we’ll see, Mark neither wraps himself in the flag (other people do it for him) nor actively hates people without good reason.

Page 1: Mark’s rocket crashes as the “Kents” listen to “Cruel To Be Kind” on their pickup’s radio. (By the way, according to NickLowe.net, the album from which that song comes was released in 1979. We’ll later learn that Mark landed in 1977. I want to be a little picky about real-world facts, because the series is supposed to be set in the real world as much as possible.) Reference is made to Mark’s ship “singing” of its journey, and singing to Mark that he will never be alone. There are a few layers here — both the ship and the radio are singing; the “Kents” are going through some marital problems, and the song’s about handling a lover’s quarrel; and Mark’s “never being alone” will turn out to be a double-edged sword. He will never be alone, although he will want to be left alone.

“Cruel To Be Kind” also refers to the theme of the 1985 12-issue Squadron Supreme maxiseries, which showcased the characters from which these characters were based. The Squadron Supreme was the Marvel equivalent of DC’s Justice League, with analogues for Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, etc. In the SS maxiseries, following a tremendous battle with supervillains, the Squadron started rebuilding the global infrastructure and ended up becoming its de facto government. Because they were a little on the totalitarian side, but had good intentions, there were conflicts within the group and none of it really turned out well. Thus, “Cruel To Be Kind” is appropriate here.

Page 2: Splash page of Mark’s rocket crashing in front of the “Kent” pickup truck. The only dialogue is the radio singing “Got to be cruel to be kind.” I might have been willing to give the Stephen-King-esque use of song lyrics a pass on the first page, but having them emphasized on this page is too much. Unfortunately, that’s going to be the pattern from here on out. (Also, the indicia box covers the truck’s screeching tires as it swerves towards the ship; otherwise, the truck might have gotten a little more attention.)

Page 3: The “Kents” find Mark in the wreckage of his ship. He’s covered in chrome life-support equipment and looks like the bejeebus has been scared out of him. Contrast this with the happy, giggling Kal-El who emerges from the crater in Superman (1978).

Page 4: “Ma Kent” sees this as a miracle and a sign that their marriage will be healed. “Pa” isn’t so sure, looking at the chrome and green goo of the life support. Mark is happy to be out of the machinery. Don’t get used to the happiness, kiddo.

Page 5: A silent series showing the pickup driving away and black helicopters tracking it.

Page 6: Jackbooted government thugs show up at the “Kent” household. At this point the series could have really used an Elian Gonzales shout-out panel.

Page 7: Jimmy Carter gets briefed on Mark and orders that he be raised as a child of the United States. Oh, the irony that Jimmy, with the kindest public image of all our recent leaders, sentences Mark to a Truman Show adolescence! By the way, Mark sits on a marble table that looks like the same material from the cover. He is not wrapped in a flag here, though. Exposition briefs the President about Mark’s alien origins, his “skin density,” and his strength.

Page 8: More exposition, as Mark’s second set of foster parents (who I like to call the “Fa-Kents”) receive their mission. They are specifically warned not to get emotionally involved with each other or with anybody on the “outside.” In other words, 15-20 years without a romantic relationship with another person. (Isn’t that DC and Marvel’s target audience anyway? Thank you, I’m here all week.) I’m guessing that conjugal visits will involve lots of hookers and porn? Nice. Ma Fa-Kent still affectionately puts her hand on Pa’s. Careful, kids, no nookie!

Page 9: Yet more exposition on the government origins of how “Project Hyperion” and “Mark Milton” were named. One of this series’ obsessions is explaining how everything works. In a playroom, Mark gets fed a bottle on a stick by a woman dressed like Jane Goodall. Cut to Mark celebrating a birthday with the Fa-Kents behind barbed wire.

Pages 10-12: For his birthday, Mark gets Spot the puppy. The Fa-Kents both leave the room to get the rest of his presents, Spot starts yapping, Mark gets startled, and Spot gets fried with heat vision. Now, I don’t have kids myself, but isn’t the first rule of toddlers that you never leave them unattended? Especially kids you found in spacecraft who are super-strong and invulnerable? Of course, this traumatizes Mark. Is this why the series got the MAX treatment?

Page 13: Ma Fa-Kent is traumatized too, so Pa suggests they slip away from the cameras for a little backdoor action. Oh, that’s why SP got the MAX treatment.

Page 14: Next day, it’s a lot colder in the Fa-Kent household, as Ma tells Pa he’s not getting into her cabinets anymore. In the news, Pol Pot’s regime ends, and the Shah comes to the U.S. That means it’s January 1979.

Page 15: Mark grows up in front of the TV. From events I’m guessing this compresses about 9 years — the end of 1980 (Reagan elected; John Lennon dies) until June 1989 (Tiananmen Square). We see that Mark is home-schooled. Couple of potential errors in the 1989 scene — Mark refers to Chinese leadership as “Mousey Tung,” but Mao died in 1976; and there is a widescreen broadcast when commercial HDTV wouldn’t start for at least another 7 years. Probably a government channel anyway.

Pages 16-18: It’s 13 years after the rocket was found, so at least 1990. George H.W. Bush examines the rocket and the prism which powered it, and his naughty thoughts about a garter-belted scientist are manifested in the prism. Records from the rocket show it was escaping from a space battle. Bush wants to know who made the records, and what do they mean about Mark’s arrival?

Pages 19-20: Mark and Pa have a heart-to-heart. Mark wants assurance that Ma and Pa love each other. Mark describes his super-senses, says he knows about the guards, and reveals he can fly. Nothing can keep him in that house, but he will stay if he knows his parents love each other. He assures Pa “I love you just as much as you love me.” See, more irony!

Pages 21-2: Bush 41 tells us about the Doctrine of Unintended Consequences as a segue into the introduction of the Atlanta Blur. Blur’s sonic boom makes his neighbor think “there’s a storm coming.” Spooky.

Issue #2‘s cover features Joe Ledger, who we will later know as Dr. Spectrum, the Green Lantern analogue. His upraised fist shows off the power prism embedded in the top of his right hand. He wears a green-and-black quasi-military outfit which reminds me of the Silver Age Green Lantern costume. Ledger is staring intently at the glowing prism with a mixture of caution and awe.

Page 1: Synopsis of issue #1.

Pages 2-4: Mark fries a history book with heat vision. Mark and Pa have a talk about how Mark needs to meet other kids. Mark wants an opportunity to be trusted, because imagine what he’d be like if he didn’t work on his social skills. There is so much irony in this statement I could pick it up with a magnet.

Pages 5-6: Logistics of getting Mark to school involve using a tank for his “bus.” Mark shows that the tank won’t hold him. I have a feeling the tank bits are supposed to be funny, but even after one issue the mood has been so unrelentingly grim and solemn that it just comes across as more of the same.

Pages 7-11: Amphibian’s dad reveals the horrible secret of her birth, 14 years ago. Back then, Mom watched a shooting star streak overhead and dislodge a few smaller “streamers.” Later, she gave birth to a non-human child. (Mom wanted a boy, ironically enough.) Seeing the child, Mom drowns herself (singing “When You Wish Upon A Star”), but the baby’s fine. Dad goes into a mental institution.

Pages 12-13: The Richmonds are killed by racists, but their young son Kyle survives.

Pages 14-17: Joe Ledger receives the power prism and learns how to use it. It bonds to him, but he goes into a coma. He is a military assassin who considers himself like a “surgeon” or “doctor.”

Pages 18-19: A mother and son take food to a (presumably) aged, wrinkled crone who hasn’t been seen in a long time. They call her “the Princess.” After they leave, a wrinkled hand appears and announces “something is stirring.” MAX moment: full frontal female nudity in the wall art outside the Princess’ chamber.

Pages 20-22: Mark’s day at school; nobody likes him and the girls think he’s creepy. He sees and hears it all.

Page 23: Schoolday wrap-up with the Milton family. When they say they don’t know if there’s anyone else like Mark, we see shots of the other future Squadroners.

Comments

By the end of issue #2, we’ve seen the basic origins of those we will know as Hyperion, Nighthawk, Amphibian, Doctor Spectrum, the Blur, and Zarda/Power Princess. Most of these 45 pages are devoted to Mark/Hyperion. It is made abundantly clear to us that the government is doing a horrible job raising him. I used to think that Supreme Power was Marvel’s way of saying “Superman would be cool if we did him, because he would work for the government and he wouldn’t have that dopey secret identity with the glasses.” Now I’m not so sure.

I think SP tries to have it both ways – first, by saying “look how we’ve made Superman relevant by taking away Clark and the Kents”; and second, by saying “look how screwed up Superman would have been if he hadn’t been raised by the Kents.” Clark Kent has always been Superman’s way of hiding from the world, precisely so people like Mark’s one-time classmate won’t treat him like plutonium and screw up his worldview. In its twisted, bass-ackwards way, Supreme Power reinforces that.

SP also ties its other paranormal individuals to the arrival of Mark’s ship. This hearkens back to Watchmen, which used its lone superpowered character as a springboard for all the changes in its world. However, where Watchmen (and many other “real-world superhero” stories) started with the changes and used flashbacks to show how they were made, Supreme Power shows the progression in a more linear way. It also devotes paragraphs of expository dialogue to its characters’ details.

In the mid-to-late 1980s, Watchmen, The Dark Knight, and Squadron Supreme all showed superheroes as tools of the government. (Of course, in SS, they were the government.) This ushered in a whole slew of “realistic” takes on superheroes, many of which involved secret government and/or corporate projects from which the heroes escaped. (John Byrne’s Next Men, DNAgents, Gen13, The Liberty Project, and even Watchmen‘s Dr. Manhattan himself are all examples of this.) Supreme Power hardly breaks new ground to suggest that Supes/Hyperion could have been part of such a project. The extent to which it explains his early years comes across as overcompensating.

In other words, I’m not convinced that Supreme Power believes in its story or its characters enough to let them stand on their own. It invests so much time, energy, and dialogue in making sure everything is plausible that it sucks all the joy out of what made these characters popular in the first place. Heck, none of the characters seems to be having much fun except the Blur, and we barely get to know him in these two issues.

So where do we stand at the end of issue #2? Mark’s an alienated teen with an uncertain past, but he has four potential colleagues waiting to be introduced to him. Ominous portents surround all of them. There is no joy in Mudville. Did I mention there was a storm a-comin’?

Credits:

Written by J. Michael Straczynski, pencilled by Gary Frank, inked by John Sibal, and edited by Mike Raicht and Nick Lowe (probably not the same one).

New comics 8/25/04

Since I already talked about the grand implications for this week’s “War Games” installments, I’ll start with comments on how those books worked as individual issues.

Catwoman #34: Written by Ed Brubaker, pencilled by Paul Gulacy, inked by Jimmy Palmiotti, edited by Matt Idelson. The book opens with a car chase, which is a little confusing, but I blame that on Gulacy. After that it’s dialogue-driven, as Selina has illuminating conversations with Leslie Thompkins (mad at Batman for being part of the cycle of violence; and mad at herself for not raising Bruce better) and Stephanie Brown. In between Catwoman fights Mr. Freeze, but even that is more dialogue than action. Gulacy is a fine artist whose figures can be a bit “sharp,” but Palmiotti softens his pencils. Faces and bosoms are still pointy enough to be distracting, though. At certain angles Selina looks like Shannen Doherty.

Batman #631: Written by Bill Willingham, pencilled by Kinsun, inked by Aaron Sowd, edited by Bob Schreck. Batman, Batgirl, Nightwing, and Tim Drake free the hostages at Tim’s school. This issue succeeds at portraying Batman from almost a Marvels/Astro City-ish “normal person’s” perspective. Although we go behind the scenes to see the Bat-crew prepare for combat, they stay in the shadows long enough that when Batman finally bursts through a skylight to start kicking ass, it feels like an actual payoff and not just a glamour shot. Since the point of the issue is that yes, Virginia, there is a Batman, the creators did a good job in “finally” revealing him. However, I have to fault this issue for its Greek chorus of newspeople jumping to a questionable conclusion at the end. We’ll see if the crossover as a whole agrees with them.

DC Comics Presents Justice League Of America: Two good stories again in this final Julius Schwartz tribute issue. The first is plotted by Harlan Ellison, scripted by Peter David, and drawn by Joe Giella. It once again makes Julie a protagonist, but this time he gets to fight (and in some cases, humiliate) the Justice League, so how can you go wrong? At the end, Green Lantern, speaking for the League, says “We love you, Julie. You gave us life.” The second is written by Marv Wolfman with art by Dustin Nguyen and Richard Friend, and concerns the present-day JLA traveling back in time to defeat their Silver Age ancestors. Although Julie isn’t a character in this one, Wolfman gives both Flashes complimentary dialogue that clearly is directed at Schwartz. I get sentimental easily, perhaps, but I did like this book, and the series as a whole.

JLA #104: Written by Chuck Austen with art by Ron Garney; edited by Mike Carlin. J’Onn J’Onzz gets the spotlight this issue, as he strikes out on his own to get away from the overwrought emoting of his teammates. He joins a private detective agency and gets involved in an uneasy romance with a colleague, but the League eventually tracks him down. I thought this was a well-written issue, and the art was good as always, but it goes against years of J’Onn’s characterization. As a shapeshifter, he has (or had at one time) multiple identities all over the world into which he can slip at a moment’s notice. Why not focus on one of those? And why would he think the League’s pain is any less sincere than his own? As an adult, J’Onn lost his family, so Grant Morrison had him bond with Batman and Superman, both orphaned in childhood. If I hadn’t read a Martian Manhunter story before this one, I’d think this was a lot better. As it stands, it is better than its predecessors in this arc.

Flash #213: Written by Geoff Johns, with art by Howard Porter and Livesay. Wally West’s first problem of his second secret identity phase surfaces, as he’s accused of attempted murder. (Always reminds me of that Sideshow Bob quote — “Do they give the Nobel Prize for attempted chemistry?”) He still manages to defeat the Turtle without letting the cops know he’s the Flash. Also, plotlines involving the Rogues’ Gallery are advanced. The fight with the Turtle is handled deftly both by Johns and Porter, and the subplots don’t overwhelm the issue. All in all, an improvement over last month’s unpleasantness with Mirror Master, and that wasn’t so bad itself.

Green Lantern #180: So I hear Ron Marz has become associated with mistreatment of female characters. Therefore, this issue, featuring Kyle Rayner having a heart-to-heart with his sweet, saintly mother, provides an opportunity for Mr. Marz to introduce a female character and not have some horrible fate befall her. To underscore the point, Kyle visits the graves of two other girlfriends before confronting Major Force (who last issue swore to kill him). Other than the event which kicks off Kyle and Force’s fight, this is a pretty well-done issue. (By the way, art was by Luke Ross and Rodney Ramos.) I just don’t know what Marz was thinking with the one thing. Next issue is the series’ end, so something final will probably happen to Kyle one way or another.

Legion #38: Speaking of final issues, here’s the last before the Waid/Kitson reboot starts. It finishes the Gail Simone/Dan Jurgens/Andy Smith arc in slightly rushed fashion — who knew that’s all you needed to do to get Metropolis’ power back on? — but maybe that was an editorial dictate. It doesn’t seem like The End Of The Legion As We Know It. The book is neither extra-sized, nor does it feature appearances by the entire Legion. I don’t even know if it makes a nice lead-in for the upcoming Teen Titans/Legion special. Anyway, Dreamer comes off pretty well, so there’s that.

Wonder Woman #207: Written by Greg Rucka, with art by Drew Johnson and Ray Snyder, and edited by Ivan Cohen. A good transitory issue, featuring two views of villainess Veronica Cale. We see Medousa and her henchwomen visit Veronica while Wonder Woman tries to stop the body-hopping Dr. Psycho from making people commit suicide. Psycho also tells WW about his involvement with Cale, which gives us the second perspective. I like the art a lot, and Rucka is good as a matter of course, so it’s quality all around.

Superman #208: Written by Brian Azzarello, with art by Jim Lee and Scott Williams; edited by Eddie Berganza. In the aftermath of a second “Vanishing,” Superman confronts Mr. Orr, a shadowy assassin-type, and has to deal with criticism both global and from within the Justice League. Along the way, Supes realizes he’s losing his grip on his humanity, as the Kryptonian Fortress of Solitude starts to feel more like home. It leads up to a confrontation with a fellow Justice Leaguer which should give Jim Lee the opportunity for big fight scenes next issue. The arc is picking up steam after a few meh issues, and I am cautiously optimistic about it.

Star Wars Empire #23: Written by Jeremy Barlow with art by Brandon Badeaux; edited by Kilian Plunket (and assistant-edited by Jeremy Barlow). A smuggler who professes neutrality helps a beautiful paramilitary type escape from Rebel forces. The smuggler refuses to choose up sides in the Galactic Civil War, but since we know how black-and-white the Star Wars universe is, we’re pretty sure that 1) everybody has to choose and 2) if the Rebels don’t like you, maybe it’s because you’re not on their side. It’s a predictable story whose suspense comes from wondering how the hero is going to find himself on the “right side.” In other words, the reader is probably smarter than the hero. Not really a happy ending, and for that I have to give it credit, but it might have been nice to see what a happy ending would have looked like.

Astonishing X-Men #4: Written by Joss Whedon, with art by John Cassaday; edited by Mike Marts. The X-Men break into Benetech to get the secret of the mutant cure. Meanwhile, the new villain confronts two students at the X-mansion. It reads like an early Buffy episode, and that ain’t bad; but since I am more of a Whedon fan than an X-Men fan, perhaps the Big Surprise at the end doesn’t carry the emotional heft with me it might with others. Also, because I am a Whedon fan, I would not be surprised for the Big Bad of this arc to be unstoppable until the heroes figure out the one very simple way to render him totally powerless. I still say that Firefly is Whedon’s best work (outside of Toy Story, and that’s just because I don’t know how much credit to give him for that) because by and large it doesn’t rely on people using superpowers to get themselves out of world-threatening jams. I wish Astonishing felt more like Firefly and less like Buffy.

August 25, 2004

Pre-review thoughts on "War Games"

Filed under: batman, robin — Tom Bondurant @ 7:00 pm
Oh, how I want to like “War Games.” Today’s comics (the new Catwoman and Batman) each featured stunning revelations — one about who called the “mob summit,” and the other about the Batman’s long-debated public image — and while I want to believe they will give the Batman books a creative spark, I just don’t know.

Here is the SPOILER warning, so proceed with caution.

5

4

3

2

1

So, Item One: Stephanie Brown lit the match by appropriating a Bat-plan which relied upon the intervention of Matches Malone. Not only did she not tell Batman (because she’d been fired by that point), she had no reason to, because she didn’t know Matches is one of Batman’s undercover aliases.

The first phrase into my head was naturally “Tower of Babel.” That JLA story brought up a number of issues which will undoubtedly be explored by “War Games” — among them, Batman’s paranoia, obsession, and need to be in control. However, “ToB” had Talia al Ghul break into the Batcave and steal the “JLA protocols.” How did Stephanie, who was Robin for around 6 weeks, a) find and b) steal these plans? Did she know Tim so well that she could guess code words unique to him? (That’s my theory of the moment.)

Doesn’t Batman recognize his own plan in action? I’ll have to go back through the books to see.

I fully expect Batman to be hit with the kinds of accusations and recriminations from the Bat-family that he received from the Justice League. If someone doesn’t at least mention the JLA protocols, however, I’ll be very disappointed, because it will signal to me that the Bat-creators continue to hang their dramatic hats on Batman being an unapproachable paranoid obsessive. Both “Tower of Babel” and the “Bruce Wayne: Murderer/Fugitive” storylines were based on the notion that Batman Keeps Things From Those Closest To Him. (“Murderer” hinted that Bruce/Batman might actually have killed Vesper Fairchild because she had crossed some final line for which he was not prepared.) “M/F” was supposed to signal a new openness and make Batman realize how much he needed his colleagues, if only to keep him from becoming completely engulfed in darkness.

Now, if Batman puts it all together and realizes this is Plan #9 in action, tells his associates about it, and at least one of them says something like “Holy crap! Plan #9 without Matches would be disastrous!” then I will know that somebody in the Bat-office has been paying attention. I am not holding my breath for this to happen. (Still, what about the Mystery Villain talking to Hush in last week’s Gotham Knights?)

Item #2 is the incredible — but not implausible, unfortunately — leap of logic which accompanies the end of “War Games” Act 1. Batman, Batgirl, Nightwing, and Tim Drake have successfully defused the standoff at Tim’s high school. This has apparently resulted in the largest “Batman sighting” on record, and given the Gotham TV press a shot of Batman in the daylight — thus proving that he is not an urban legend. (This is something which should have been settled oh, about 10 years ago, when Tim Drake saw Batman and Robin on the local TV news and was inspired to learn all about them, but as my grandmother used to say, nobody asked me.)

Because Batman emerges from the school carrying a dying girl, and helps load her onto a stretcher, the reporters state pretty unequivocally that his intervention caused her death. Never mind that nobody “official” — police, firefighters, etc. — seem to want to question Batman, Batgirl, or Nightwing, and pretty much let them leave without any trouble. The second act of “War Games” will now get to focus on Batman being Hated And Feared By Those He Swears To Protect.

The “Batman as outlaw” bit has been done before, of course. It was actually the status quo for the first 2 1/2 years of Batman’s career, until he and Robin were made special deputies in “The People Vs. Batman” (1941). In his seminal Detective run in the mid-’70s, Steve Englehart had the Gotham City Council re-outlaw Batman and Robin, but they were under the influence of Rupert Thorne. Thorne did it again in the Bat-books of the early ’80s; and the Batman: Outlaws miniseries from a few years back had our heroes hunted by federal authorities. And, of course, it was a big part of both Dark Knight miniseries.

I don’t expect it to last very long here. For one thing, Batman is pretty well known to a lot of police and firefighters, and they’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. Moreover, when does Batman have any meaningful interactions with the ordinary citizens of Gotham? The Batman who inhabits these books now doesn’t care what people think of him, only that he saves those who need it. A “ban on Batman” will have little effect on his crimefighting. Finally, those who were rescued — including Tim Drake, who was there when Darla got shot and can testify that Batman wasn’t the proximate cause — might have a more positive view of Batman and his associates.

Again, this was explored in slightly different terms in the “Murderer/Fugitive” issues — only that time it was Bruce Wayne’s public image under attack, not Batman’s.

Ultimately, these plot twists do a lot to enliven what was looking like a pretty punishing event. It takes some guts to make Stephanie Robin at the beginning of the summer and have her cause a gang war at the end. (It would have taken more guts to make it Tim, Nightwing, or Batgirl….) I just hope the creators find new ways to explore their ramifications.

"Do you spell that C-R-I…?"

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom Bondurant @ 5:46 pm

So, it’s 50 LY from Earth and about 16 times larger, eh? Mu Arae is a yellow-orange star, so I guess whoever gets rocketed here when it explodes won’t be that much more super.

Still comes pretty close to hitting the geek trifecta.

August 23, 2004

More TV titles

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom Bondurant @ 2:39 pm

For what purpose is a blog if not to get random thoughts out of one’s mind?

Following this post:

60 Minutes –> Hourman (clever, no?)

Saved By The Bell –> a sequel to that Alan Moore Green Lantern story about the Lantern with no concept of light

I feel much better now.

August 22, 2004

Teen Titans "Aftershock Part 2"

Filed under: animated, tv — Tom Bondurant @ 7:15 pm
Well, “Aftershock” was no “Judas Contract,” but there was no way it could have been. It’s fitting that “Teen Titans”‘ take on what is probably the most famous New Teen Titans story arc is a perfect example of how the show is different from the comic. The show has to be different because the medium demands it.

“Aftershock” gave Terra a pretty final fate while not crossing any lines inappropriate for younger viewers. (I was very surprised that it also seemed to say goodbye to Slade in a pretty definite way — although I think that will be reversed before too long.) I found the end touching, perhaps because it is a more palatable way to deal with Terra than the comics did.

The comics had more time to set up Terra, and thus more material from which to draw pathos and tragedy. Terra’s story began in New Teen Titans #28 (1982) and lasted about 16-17 issues. Because that Terra wasn’t manipulated, abused, or misunderstood, her story turned out seedier and more disturbing. At the end of “The Judas Contract” (the 4-parter which wrapped up the arc), the Titans were reeling not just because they’d lost a friend and teammate, but also because they felt violated by the whole series of events. It was therefore fitting, and perhaps a way of healing for both characters and creators, that Wonder Girl’s wedding in Titans #50 — probably the happiest moment in Titans history — took place six months after the end of “Judas.”

Since such long-term arcs wouldn’t have worked for a half-hour cartoon, I’m impressed that “Aftershock” packed as much emotional impact as it did. The animated Terra was more rebellious than dangerous, and her journey to the “dark side” was less voluntary than her counterpart’s. As a teen hero on a show which glorifies teen heroes, she couldn’t be completely evil (which made the comics’ Terra even more daring, especially 20 years ago). The cartoon Titans don’t deal in subplotted angst like their print ancestors, nor should they. For what it accomplished, “Aftershock” honored “Judas Contract” as well as it could.

Besides, before too long the cartoon will take on the saga of Raven’s father Trigon, and we’ll see how it deals with another Titan’s literal dark side….

August 20, 2004

Unfortunately, "Leave It To Beaver" was already taken

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom Bondurant @ 7:39 pm

Shane plays “Rename a comic with the title of a TV show,” and I guess I will too.

Survivor –> Identity Crisis

The Apprentice –> Robin

Big Brother –> OMAC

The Amazing Race –> The Flash

Fear Factor –> Man-Thing

Moonlighting –> Batman

Yes, Dear –> Hawkman, ideally with the Silver Age Hawks

My Mother The Car –> a miniseries about the child of Superman ex-villainess Maxima

Those Amazing Animals! –> Kamandi

Brimstone –> The Demon or Lucifer

V.R. 5 –> D.P. 7 (retooled, of course)

Family Ties –> Fantastic Four

Friends –> Teen Titans

The Clubhouse (an actual CBS series coming this fall) –> Legion of Super-Heroes

The People’s Court –> Vigilante (the old Marv Wolfman/Keith Pollard series)

Pinky & The Brain –> the long-awaited post-Crisis Luthor/Brainiac miniseries





I got a million of ’em….

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