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'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'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. 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


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


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.