Comics Ate My Brain

June 29, 2007

Friday Night Fights

Filed under: captain atom, friday night fights, marvel family, meme — Tom Bondurant @ 12:51 pm
Bahlactus is the sponsor, Roulette provides the venue …

… and a mind-controlled Mary Marvel throws down on Captain Atom!

[From “Dead Man’s Hand,” Formerly Known As The Justice League #3, November 2003, written by Keith Giffen & J.M. DeMatteis, pencilled by Kevin Maguire, inked by Joe Rubenstein.]

Thursday Night Thinking

Filed under: doom patrol, meme, thursday night thinking — Tom Bondurant @ 12:26 am
Diamondrock celebrates THINKING!…

… but poor Mr. Morden shows that it can be taken just a smidge too far!

[This sequence freaked me out 18 years ago, and it freaks me out today. From “Nowhere Man,” Doom Patrol vol. 2 #26, September 1989. Written by Grant Morrison, pencilled by Richard Case, inked by John Nyberg.]

June 26, 2007

New comics 6/20/07

We begin this week by picking up a spare from last week, Outsiders #48 (written by Judd Winick and Greg Rucka, pencilled by Ron Randall and Matthew Clark, inked by Art Thibert). It’s Part 4 of the 6-part “Check/Out” crossover, and as such it features the Outsiders/Checkmate strike force’s attempt to survive Oolong Island. Therefore, most of the issue is given over to shouting and fighting and movement and explosions and frantic dialogue. I was kind of surprised that I could follow the issue as well as I could, considering the fact that pencillers Randall and Clark seem to have divided up the issue pretty equally. Randall uses a thicker line, and I think his figures and composition are a bit more stable as a result, but really I couldn’t tell much of a difference just reading the book. I ascribe that to inker Art Thibert, who’s done his share of pencilling as well.

My main problem with the issue, and the crossover in general, was that it didn’t make me any more sympathetic to the Outsiders themselves. I’m familiar with the well-established characters (Nightwing, Katana, Metamorpho), but I have to remind myself that “Owen”/”Boomer” is the new Captain Boomerang from Identity Crisis, and I know nothing about the two strong women (Grace and Thunder) beyond the broad strokes an action plot like this divulges. The book doesn’t go out of its way to explain any of these people to this particular reader-just-along-for-the-crossover. (Each team having its own young red-haired guy doesn’t help either.) This crossover also hasn’t justified Outsiders‘ existence beyond being a random team of attitude-rich superheroes. Well, maybe it did a little, at the beginning, when there was some sense that Checkmate could take advantage of the group’s cavalier approach to superheroics. Still, this title’s got one more issue before Everything Changes with a new roster, and then it gets relaunched at some point in the future with Batman in charge. I guess what I’m saying is that this crossover could just as well have been a biweekly Checkmate arc for all it’s made me care about the Outsiders. Still, this was a decent dumb-fun action issue.

Checkmate #15 (written by Rucka and Winick, pencilled by Joe Bennett, inked by Jack Jadson) presents Part 5 of “Check/Out,” in which Nightwing, Boomer, and Sasha are tortured by Chang Tzu (can we call him “Egg Fu” anymore?) while the Checkmate high sheriffs negotiate with China for some assistance. In terms of craft, this was a better issue all around than Outsiders #48. Bennett and Jadson are a more solid team, and Rucka does a good job of laying out the various political issues and assigning their presentations to the appropriate characters. Checkmate has a much larger regular cast than Outsiders, but there they all are in roll-call format on the first page.

The one thing that I did not like about the issue, and it is not an insignificant complaint, is the attention paid to Boomer and Sasha’s torture. The issue plays a darkly clever game with the reader by putting Nightwing — who we know is “safe” from any permanent harm — in a cell next to the torture chamber, thereby making him listen to his friends’ anguished cries. In this way, and especially on the last page, “Check/Out” seems to set up pretty clearly the end of Nightwing’s tenure as team leader. This is a particular blow to Nightwing’s character, because for years, if not decades, it was the thing that most significantly separated him from Batman. As Titans leader, he was either rescuing his teammates (see “The Judas Contract” or “Titans Hunt”) or sacrificing himself for him (i.e., in a few of the Brother Blood storylines). He’s presented here as an ineffectual failure. Thus, while the issue does a good job of dramatizing just how deep these three are in their particular hole, the overall effect is not pleasant, and in fact kind of sickly voyeuristic.

I got a similar feeling reading The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive #13 (written by Marc Guggenheim, pencilled by Tony Daniel, inked by Daniel, Jonathan Glapion, and Marlo Alquiza). It was a gut-punch of an issue that apparently wanted to leave little doubt about Bart’s fate. As I said on Thursday, I felt bad for Bart, but a lot of that had to do with the editorially-mandated aspects of his death. The fact that I didn’t think he needed to die also contributed to my sadness that he did. Guggenheim and Daniel put together a decent issue, just in service of an unfortunate cause.

The other part of the Flash re-relaunch was, of course, Justice League of America #10 (written by Brad Meltzer, pencilled by Ed Benes, inked by Sandra Hope). While I am very, very happy at the return of Wally West — I actually teared up a little; don’t judge me — this was an incredibly haphazard way to end “The Lightning Saga.” First of all, it’s not really over, because it obviously sets up more Old-Legion adventures in Countdown and other DC titles. Second, what in the name of little baby ducks does Wally West have to do with the Legion anyway? Third, I understand the Legion not wanting to tell the JLA and JSA that one of them will die when “whoever” is brought back, but that just means this is the old “Why didn’t you ask us for help in the first place?” plot. Fourth, do I really have to list all of the ways in which Meltzer and Benes use innuendo and shorthand to create an illusion that things are happening? There were no real resolutions in this issue, at least not to the larger plot elements presented at the beginning of the crossover. Meltzer has some appealing ideas, but he treats them so reverently that before you know it, five issues are up and nothing’s really gotten done.

I could probably say the same thing about Captain America #27 (written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Steve Epting and Mike Perkins), but the difference is that the character scenes are hung on a plot that makes sense within the larger story arc. The Winter Soldier wants to reclaim Cap’s shield, Sharon Carter struggles with her role in Cap’s death, and she and the Falcon figure out where Bucky’s headed with the shield. Oh, and Bucky reconnects with the Black Widow, his old Soviet-spy buddy. Epting and Perkins do a collectively fine job overall. I don’t like their Tony Stark, but that’s just me. Also, I wasn’t sure it was “the” Black Widow, Natasha Romanov, because dialogue calls her “Natalia” and I don’t know if that’s an acceptable nickname. Other than those nitpicks, though, a really fine issue that advances the plot while still keeping the reader guessing about when any Captain America will headline his eponymous book again.

I continue to enjoy The Brave and the Bold (#4 written by Mark Waid, pencilled by George Perez, inked by Bob Wiacek), probably because it is unashamed of being a light, fun superhero title. This issue begins and ends with Batrok, and features a Lobo/Supergirl story which is fairly predictable but still enjoyable. It does appear that Supergirl has gotten more mature around Lobo than she was around Green Lantern a couple of issues ago — Waid writes her as (let’s say) early-20s, as opposed to late-teens — but I like her better this way, so it works out.

In the same vein, Marvel gives us Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four #3 (written by Jeff Parker, pencilled by Mike Wieringo, inked by Wade von Grawbadger), which finds Spidey and 3/4 of the FF fighting aliens and dropping in on Dr. Doom and the High Evolutionary. There is nothing objectionable about this book.

You can guess the obvious segue into Countdown #45 (written by Paul Dini and I think Tony Bedard, although Palmiotti & Gray are credited; pencilled by J. Calafiore, inked by Mark McKenna). Actually, I kind of liked this issue, because it shows Donna Troy as a competent superhero for the first time in a while. An incongruous scene of her blasting away with an automatic rifle notwithstanding, she comes across believably as an Amazon warrior. However, the rest of the book is still in setup mode: Jimmy Olsen investigates Sleez’s old tenement, Holly shows up when Jimmy leaves, and meanwhile the Legionnaires stuck in our time after JLofA #10 whine some more about being stuck on the JLA Satellite. Also, there has got to be a better way to distinguish between Monitors than their hairstyles. I’m begging you, DC: symbols, numbers, tattoos, whatever — I just can’t keep ’em straight anymore.

Finally, The Spirit #7 features three guest creative teams, and is largely successful. The first story, written by Walt Simonson and drawn by Chris Sprouse and Karl Story, concerns a no-good socialite (we know she’s no good, because she’s obviously reminiscent of Par– I mean, She Who Must Not Be Named) and the Spirit’s search for a missing diamond. It’s pretty fun. The second story, written by Jimmy Palmiotti and drawn by Jordi Bernet, is more of an Eisner pastiche, because it features the indirect effects of a Spirit chase on the lives of tenement dwellers. Bernet’s style is perhaps even more successful than Darwyn Cooke’s at capturing the sort of organic cartoonishness of Eisner’s work, so I think this is the most successful story in the issue. The last one, a sort of Spirit/Frank Miller mash-up parody by Kyle Baker, is rather an acquired taste. I thought excerpts of it were funny when I saw them online, but even for a short story the joke gets a little old. Still, like the man said, two out of three ain’t bad.

June 24, 2007

Sunday Soliloquy

Filed under: sunday soliloquy, wonder woman — Tom Bondurant @ 6:23 pm
No, Heracles — you picture the audience in its underwear!

You’ll note that he doesn’t have to remind the Amazons where his eyes are….

[From “For The Glory Of Gaea,” Wonder Woman vol. 2 #14, March 1988, plotted and pencilled by George Perez, scripted by Len Wein, inked by Bruce D. Patterson.]

June 22, 2007

Friday Night Fights

Filed under: friday night fights, justice league, meme — Tom Bondurant @ 12:35 pm
The flying figure in the distance is J’Onn J’Onzz …

… slamming into Ultraman at Mach 11.

Thanks, Bahlactus, for letting me play!

[From JLA: Earth 2, written by Grant Morrison, drawn by Frank Quitely. Click to embiggen.]

June 21, 2007

Thursday Night Thinking

Filed under: flash, meme, thursday night thinking — Tom Bondurant @ 10:57 pm
This week, there was only one choice: Bart “Impulse” Allen, contemplating his lofty social status.

Maybe not the kind of brainpower usage Diamondrock intended, but for Bart’s streamlined synapses, this was practically meditation. Until we meet again, Bart….

[From “Water Rat,” Impulse #13, May 1996. Written by Mark Waid, pencilled by Humberto Ramos, inked by Wayne Faucher.]

June 20, 2007

The time-traveling crossover plok didn’t quite demand

Filed under: star trek — Tom Bondurant @ 2:35 am
Okay. First plok suggested a Big Crossover meme, and I couldn’t think of anything good for that. Now he’s added a Time Travel meme. This is not exactly either one, but it has elements of both. It’s probably also not very good.

… Yeah, like that’s ever stopped me.

It’s a Star Trek idea which goes back almost twenty years, to the first few weeks of “The Next Generation” in 1987. Back then my biggest question about TNG was when its crew would meet the originals.

This idea didn’t quite do that … or at least I don’t remember the crossover being the point. I do remember it was a decades-spanning story which started with Sulu’s promotion to Captain. It was therefore something like The Last Original Trek Story, told from the perspective of The Next Generation.

Since then, of course, most of the TOS-folk’s fates have been revealed. Kirk dies twice (only to be revived in the 24th Century in the “Shatnerverse” novels), Spock becomes an ambassador, Bones and Sulu stay with Starfleet well into their old age, and Scotty gets 70-odd years in the transporter. I like to think that Uhura and Chekov finally got their own ships, but probably not.

Anyway, we begin aboard Picard’s Enterprise, responding to an auto-distress signal. The SOS’s communication protocol is so old (how old is it?), it takes the ship’s computers a dramatically appropriate length of time to translate it. (The distress call transmits a coded signal instead of name and registry, to prevent enemy ships from pinpointing casualties. Enough technobabble.) The mystery ship is otherwise lifeless and drifting. However, as Data/Worf/whoever gulps, “It’s … the Enterprise” — oh, like you didn’t see it coming — the Constitution-class ship’s lights blaze on, its warp core powers up, the whole deal.

Here’s the kicker: it is indeed the Constitution-class U.S.S. Enterprise, refit for the movie era, but as Picard et al. can plainly see from the lit-up saucer, it’s the oh-riginal NCC-1701. No bloody A, B, C, or D.

Doesn’t matter. Yellow alert! Whatever this is, the chances of it being the actual NCC-1701 are … actually, Data offers a statistic, but that proves the point. Picard’s been burned by old starships before. Nevertheless, as Picard and Riker bark battle-stations-style orders, not five seconds pass before the mystery ship signals; and on the screen appear Captain Will Decker and Lieutenant Ilia, the ship’s only apparent crew. Dun dun dunnn!

Decker begins, “Sorry for the theatrics, Captain, but these aren’t the best of circumstances. There’s a war in Heaven, and we need your help.”

My thinking was that if Gene Roddenberry really wanted to replace the Omnipotent Alien Teachers of the Week (i.e., the Organians, the Melkot, Trelane’s parents, the Metrons, the Excalbians) with Q, then what did happen to all those OATOTWs? Specifically, why didn’t one of the OATOTWs come to the defense of the humans against the Q? And why weren’t the Organians more involved in the movies’ Klingon storylines?

So we jump back to 2293 and the then-new Enterprise-B, gearing up for a special diplomatic mission to Alderaa– sorry; to Khitomer, along with Excelsior (so the Sulu-promotion scene is gone now, obviously), the new Constellation (prototype for Picard’s Stargazer) and at least one other Easter-egg ship. Kelsey Grammer’s, maybe. They’re there solely for symbolic purposes. With the previous Enterprises’ (yes, even NX-01) histories with Federation-Klingon relations, it doesn’t matter whether Harriman drools on himself the whole way there and back. Besides, Sulu, Spock, Uhura, Bones, and Chekov are there too, again basically to be seen. Also Sarek, Curzon Dax, Tuvok, and even old T’Pol.

As the first day winds down, Spock’s in his room doing the meditation thing, when Ayelborne the Organian fades into view. Spock’s been expecting him. They’ve been talking secretly for a while (perhaps since before the events of Star Trek VI, but I don’t want to get too retcon-y) and Ayelborne’s come to offer clandestine congratulations. Except he pulls his non-corporeal mask off, and it’s not Ayelborne, it’s Trelane! Surprise! “I’ve seen what’s coming for you Federation types,” he says. “It’s not pretty at all. You’re going to need the Klingons’ help, and the Romulans’ too, before it’s all done. After the Organians disappeared, I knew I had to step in. You wouldn’t have listened to me, though, so I had to disguise myself.” He tells Spock this was his own little project — he needed to prove to himself and to his parents that he’d grown up.

Spock’s still focused on the Organians: Trelane doesn’t know what happened? Nope, just that it happened about ten years before. The Organians were always pretty hands-off, and the Feds and Klingons never did anything too provocative, so neither side really noticed. Besides, how could a lasting peace be forged if it was forced on the two sides by omnipotent pan-dimensional beings? Trelane/Ayelborne was just a cheerleader, so therefore the mortals really did do all the hard work. “You should be proud,” Trelane says as he fades away.

Spock is flummoxed, which of course is saying something. He wakes up Bones, who naturally wants to investigate. “Won’t we be missed?” Bones wonders, but as soon as he says it the two exchange a knowing look. “Aw, hell,” Bones mutters, with a familiar smirk, “I should be used to jail by now.”

That’s about as far as I’ve gotten in terms of details. Basically, I’m thinking that the conspiracy revealed in Star Trek VI succeeded in destroying/neutralizing the Organians through the use of an Ultimate Weapon. Specifically, the conspirators took just about every powerful alien race encountered in the Original Series and gave their super-soldier all of those powers. Thus, s/he’s got Gary Mitchell’s mental powers, Lord Garth’s shape-shifting, maybe even Charlie Evans’ Thasian-taught powers, etc. Yes, it’s basically Sylar in the 23rd Century, but the Organians would detect any technology sent to destroy them. Thus, “Sylar” was able to sneak up on them.

After taking out the Organians, Sylar was caged before he could cut too big a swath through established continuity. A Q stopped Sylar, but in a moment of mischief, left a loophole — a get-out-of-jail-free card that could be triggered by just the right circumstances. (Kind of a Black Adam/”Kltpzyxm” solution.) Everything lined up perfectly in Picard’s time, freeing Sylar to wreak havoc in the higher dimensions again. One of the Omnipotent Aliens he attacked was V’Ger. The attack weakened V’Ger so much that it couldn’t maintain its pan-dimensional status and had to “downshift” back into our universe, in the much smaller and more manageable forms of Decker, Ilia, and NCC-1701.

“So what’s the problem?” asks one of the more pragmatic Enterprise officers (I’m thinking Beverly) after everyone’s been introduced and set up in the conference room. “Won’t the Q just stop Sylar again?”

“No, and that’s the problem,” Decker explains. “The Continuum is split over whether to stop Sylar. One faction thinks this is the mortals’ punishment for creating him in the first place, so they’re just as happy to let him do what he will. I’m sure you’ve noticed that irony is very big with the Q.”

The story would then go off on a few tracks: a technobabblicious subplot where Data and Geordi try to come up with god-killing science; an attempt to communicate with the familiar John de Lancie Q; and an investigation into what exactly Sylar did to the Organians, including whether it could be reversed.

As cheesy as it sounds, I think it does invoke some classic Star Trek themes. The relationships between “higher” and “lower” beings in this case would force Picard et al. to put themselves in the position of the “primitive culture” — if the situation were reversed, would the Prime Directive permit them to intervene? There’s also the classic Kirk-esque struggle to shake off the influence of those higher powers.

Thinking about the bones of this story, much of which I’ve put together over the past week or so, naturally reminds me of the Could/Would/Does axes and how they relate to fan fiction. I can’t just blatantly make the Q Continuum the bad guy in all of this, because Trek didn’t make the Q evil. “Voyager” also did some weird things with the Q, so that’s why this is set more in the TNG-series time period. (Maybe it would work better on the Enterprise-E, after the Q Civil War, but I haven’t done enough research.)

Obviously this story extrapolates heavily from the setups of both the Original Series and TNG, and tries to find common ground between them. Its main indulgences are its image of Decker/V’Ger/Ilia divided again into separate beings, and the plot gymnastics required for that to “work.” I’m also fascinated by the “Lost Era” between NCC-1701-B’s first flight and the beginning of TNG, so that’s another indulgence.

Really, that’s what it’s about, right? A fanfic writer knows what should happen and what s/he’d like to happen and connects the dots. The trick is to make the connection plausible in terms of the existing work.

Anyway, there it is. I’m sure if I ever did get around to writing something up — maybe in comic-script format; you never know — it’d either be massive and self-indulgent, or a poorly-fleshed-out short story. Either way, it’s been bouncing around my head for too frickin’ long, and I’m just glad it’s out now.

June 17, 2007

New comics 6/13/07

Filed under: batman, countdown, green lantern, justice league, star wars, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 6:48 pm
We begin this week with Star Wars: Rebellion #7 (written by Brandon Badeaux & Rob Williams, drawn by Michel Lacombe), a decent second chapter for “The Ahakista Gambit.” Our rag-tag group of lowlifes recruits its last member, a onetime Jedi Knight squirreled away in seclusion, and everyone then makes their way to Ahakista. So far there’s just a lot of tension being built and mood being set. I’d rate this higher, but it uses caption boxes inappropriately. See, not only do the thoughts of the main character, Wyl, appear in caption boxes (with red letters), he’s got a little speaker in his head that pipes in the taunts of the guy who sent him on this suicide mission. Those caption boxes have green letters. At the risk of being a Luddite who hates cool innovations like caption boxes, I think it would have been clearer to use differently-shaped thought balloons for these “tracks” of narration.

Other than that, the book does a good job of using Star Wars elements and design aesthetics. A particularly effective sequence has AT-ATs destroy a neighborhood like a kid stomping out sand castles. I also like the looks of our heroes’ starship — kind of a Y-Wing crossed with the Millennium Falcon. Overall, an appealing book, but it’s a shame about those caption boxes.

Next is JLA Classified #39 (written by Peter Milligan, drawn by Carlos D’Anda), Part 3 of “Kid Amazo.” The eponymous character isn’t unsympathetic, but he does seem to tread the familiar ground of “must I follow my evil programming?” In this respect, making him a philosophy student was cute. I like D’Anda’s art, and Milligan’s dialogue is good too. There seem to be only a few ways this story can go, though, and I think we’ve seen them all already.

Batman Confidential #6 (written by Andy Diggle, pencilled by Whilce Portacio, inked by Richard Friend) finishes a bad story that never even touched on its goofy potential. At one point, Batman apparently reveals his secret identity to Lex Luthor (a reference to “my,” i.e., WayneTech’s, robots). I would much rather have read the story of how a novice Batman, whose most advanced bits of equipment were the hang-glider and sonic bat-call he had in “Year One,” cobbled together the first Batmobiles, Batplanes, etc., and used those to fight Luthor’s giant robots. Alas, this devolved pretty quickly into something better expressed with action figures. Portiaco’s and Friend’s art was not especially suited to the parts of the story not dealing with robot-combat. Characters just in this issue look manic when they’re supposed to be inspirational, and sleazy when they’re supposed to be noble. I expected more, especially from Diggle.

Countdown #46 (written by Paul Dini, Justin Gray, & Jimmy Palmiotti, pencilled by Jesus Saiz, inked by Palmiotti) was a weird mixed bag. Mary Marvel fights a demon made out of babies, which is all kinds of bizarre and should be Exhibit A to the “line between Vertigo and DCU is B.S.” complaint. Jimmy Olsen visits Sleez, an Apokoliptian pornographer, who’s killed before he can give Jimmy information on the late Lightray. There’s another Tarantinoesque scene with the Rogues’ Gallery, and the week’s cliffhanger centers around Jason Todd, Donna Troy, and new villainess Forerunner. The art is good, although Jimmy looks a lot older than he probably should. However, it never quite comes together as a cohesive single issue. We hear a lot about Countdown‘s master plan, “bible,” etc., but again, my fear is that it’s a 900-1000 page story told in 52 unequal installments, and not a 52-week journey. In other words, even if this discombobulated opening actually starts to pay off in 6-8 weeks, the series hasn’t earned a lot of goodwill on the way there.

Finally, Green Lantern Corps #13 (written by Dave Gibbons, pencilled by Patrick Gleason, inked by Prentiss Rollins & Tom Nguyen) finds Guy, Soranik Natu, and a few other Lanterns on Mogo, curing it of the disease that’s been mind-controlling their colleagues for the past few issues. Everyone gets used well, especially Guy, Natu, and Mogo’s insectoid partner. The cause of the disease is pretty clearly the Sinestro Corps, but the issue works well too on its own terms. Everyone involved with this book is doing fine work — it’s a well-executed space opera.

Sunday Soliloquy

Filed under: new teen titans, sunday soliloquy, superman — Tom Bondurant @ 5:31 pm
Although his consciousness has returned to his own body, the danger isn’t over — Superman is attacked by speech balloons!

You know, “mute” isn’t quite the hurdle I’d pick for Joey to have overcome. The whole “childhood kidnapping by terrorists/being rescued by costumed mercenary dad/having throat cut as a result” thing would put me off superheroics more than not being able to talk.

Then again, I am neither mute nor a superhero, so I could be wrong.

[From Action Comics #584, “Squatter!”, written and pencilled by John Byrne, inked by Dick Giordano.]

June 14, 2007

Thursday Night Thinking

Filed under: green lantern, justice league, legion, meme, thursday night thinking — Tom Bondurant @ 12:36 pm
Because Diamondrock demands it!

One of Young Tom’s absolute favorite comics stories was the 1977 Justice League/Justice Society/Legion of Super-Heroes team-up. Here, Saturn Girl prepares to take out Hal Jordan through the power of THINKING!

Update: Yes, SallyP, Saturn Girl’s THINKING pays off!

[From Justice League of America #148, “Crisis In Triplicate!”, November 1977; written by Paul Levitz & Martin Pasko, pencilled by Dick Dillin, inked by Frank McLaughlin.]

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