Sunday, November 30, 2014

Weekly Action Comics Weekly Review: Issue #607

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 for 42 weeks. This is the seventh of those reviews.
I found this issue rather dry. All the stories felt like they were spinning their wheels a bit.
I can't decide if I love or hate that Hal Jordan books himself on Oprah. I always find it weird when real celebrities get used in fiction, though it can work if there's a reason for it. In this story, I feel like Oprah could've been any talk show host, so I wasn't crazy about her inclusion. I'm assuming she'll be back next week when we see Hal actually go on the show, so we'll see how that goes, but I wouldn't exactly say I'm looking forward to it. Beyond that, this issue is mostly recap, with Hal flying around the globe remembering things that have happened in this comic's previous issues. He then discovers that, due to the bad publicity surrounding his recent run-ins with Star Sapphire, he is feared and hated all over the world, everyone now believing Green Lantern is a murderer. This fact, along with a playful suggestion from Arisia, inspires Hal to call Oprah in an effort to clear his name, and hopefully get John Stewart out of jail. The concept of a superhero using P.R. as a tactic is something I feel like I've seen a lot of recently, so kudos to this story for being ahead of the curve, but it doesn't actually happen here, we just get told that it's going to happen. Nothing much happens here at all, is the problem, the whole eight pages being either regurgitated information or set-up for upcoming events. The headline is really that Gil Kane has been replaced by Tod Smith for some reason, and I'm sad to see Kane go. Smith delivers a good-looking issue, and his style isn't too distant from Kane's, but there is definitely some energy missing from the artwork. It's missing from the script, too, making this an altogether low-energy affair, which is a particularly bad way to kick off any anthology.
Turns out D.B. Cooper isn't D.B. Cooper, but the Sensei—Deadman's murderer from when he was alive—in disguise. I guess that pretending to be Cooper is a tactical decision, posing as a famous person to throw off suspicion, but I have to question once again why Cooper of all people was chosen. Considering he acts as a guide for Deadman to get out of Hell, some recognizable explorer or adventurer would've made way more sense, and Cooper just seems like an arbitrary call. We don't even know if he's dead in the real world, right? Not positively. It's minor but it really bugs me. Meanwhile, this Deadman narrative keeps jerking me around, though at least the focus is still on Deadman escaping Hell. By bringing in the Sensei, it does change from a self-contained story to one pulling more heavily from Deadman's continuity, and it also highlights the thing I think has been troubling me all along about the Deadman sections that I have tried but mostly failed to articulate precisely: the conflict changes every week. Though there is a forward momentum to the narrative that makes it all one thing, each week sees Deadman facing a different threat/villain. The reader gets no chance to root against anyone for very long, or to care about Deadman accomplishing anything because he always does it so quickly and then it gets replaced by the next thing right away. The Sensei revealed himself and I felt nothing about it, because it was just one more new obstacle I knew would be disposed of post-haste. I was right. Though it's not very often the worst individual part of any issue of Action Comics Weekly, I think I'm most eager for this Deadman story to be resolved and swapped out for some other character.
Wild Dog continues to do its usual thing, and I continue not to be into it. This time around, there is that classically frustrating action cliché of the hero who cannot be hit by bullets no matter how many get fired at him, but then turns around and hits the bad guys immediately. A very weak piece of storytelling there. Other than that, it's just a bunch of the typical violence, and then we learn that Wild Dog's old college friend and current local newspaper reporter Lou Godder has known his secret identity for a while, which is significant I guess but doesn't really feel like a shock, as even Wild Dog's reaction is fairly understated. My favorite thing about Wild Dog this week was the mistake in the page above. You'll notice that the head of the Legion of Morality team has the line, "Task force leader: shoot him!" which makes no sense because is the task force leader. Also, last issue that same guy just said, "Shoot him!" So I'm guessing this is a situation where letterer Gaspar Saladino saw the script and accidentally included the name of the character in his dialogue, a mistake which editor Mike Gold then missed. It took me a few seconds of blank staring to figure that out, and once I did it genuinely amused me, something Wild Dog has failed to do much before now. Of course, for an error to be what I liked best about the story is not a good sign, but at least this was no worse than usual; it as exactly as uninteresting as I expected it to be.
I've always been attracted to this story in part because it's a mystery, and Superman isn't usually a mystery-solving type of hero in my mind. He comes from Action Comics, while Batman comes from Detective Comics, and to me that's always been kind of the key difference between DC's two most well-known characters. That said, I found myself having an "Oh, right..." moment when reading the part in this story where Supes refers to himself as, "The Daily Planet's top investigative reporter." Because, yeah, of course Superman is equipped to solve a mystery, since that kind of thing is what he does in his day job constantly. It brought Superman and Batman a bit closer, and underlined for me an important set of skills and resources Superman has access to that, for whatever reason, I've always more or less ignored in the past. Just getting to that point was almost half of the story this week, with the back half being Superman finding the name of the man who blew himself up a few issues back, Charles Culpepper, then learning that Culpepper is supposed to have died that same morning somewhere far away from where Superman actually saw him die. It thickens the plot by demonstrating the true reach of whoever was behind Culpepper's suicide and the mugging that set it off—if the primary villain can so quickly change the story of how one of his/her agents died, then he/she must have some significant pull. Roger Stern continues to add a bit more spice to the narrative recipe every week, even with his two-page limit, and though the progress was minimal here, it served to point out an aspect of Superman's character for this particular reader that I never previously gave any real consideration.
Sadly, the reveal of who the intruder was from last issue held no surprise. It was Rafael di Renzi, who I suppose it basically had to be, but I was hoping to see someone unexpected underneath his mask. He tells his backstory to the new Secret Six, explaining how his father Carlo was forced to work for Mockingbird in order for Mockingbird to keep providing the pills that keep Rafael's bone disorder in check. In other words, Carlo did it for his son, so now his son is trying to do something for him by figuring out the truth behind the plane crash that supposedly killed off all the old Secret Six. Many of the specifics of Rafael's story were new information, but the broad strokes were all well-established, so this wasn't the most interesting installment. It was important for Rafael and the current Secret Six to transition from enemies to allies, and that got accomplished in a believable and efficient fashion, but it meant explaining to the Secret Six a few things the reader has known for a while now. I did enjoy how their next mission was also introduced; Martin Pasko has done a good job of keeping more than one ball in the air at a time in this story, and keeps it up here. The idea of the team going after a corrupt meat-packing plant isn't all that gripping, but I do like how Mockingbird's whole deal seems to be ending corporate dishonesty, holding businesses accountable for the damage they cause and exposing them when they lie or cut corners in a way that hurts innocent people. That's an interesting focus for a vigilante to have, so I'm curious to see what other types of enemies this group might face in the long run. For now, having them and Rafael working together is bound to complicate things, and with those characters finally together, it's harder than ever to predict where this story is headed.
As I mentioned up top, this issue was perhaps the least exciting yet on the whole, but the Blackhawk section was the exception that proved that rule. Cynthia Hastings finally reveals that she's not just seeking Red Dragon's gold but a specific item within the collection, Massie shows exactly what a scumbag and villain he truly is, and then Massie and Blackhawk finally get to have an all-out brawl before Red Dragon shows up to put everybody's lives at risk. It's a lot of development and peak-reaching back-to-back, with some tight action from Rick Burchett and Pablo Marcos, colored perfectly in brash oranges, reds, and blacks by Tom Ziuko. At the end, we're promised that next week will be this story's finale, which makes sense considering there's not a lot left to do. The gold is on Blackhawk's plane, Cynthia has shown her hand, and that in turn has caused both Massie and Blackhawk to show theirs. With the cards fully on the table, Red Dragon seems to be in a super-advantageous position, and considering the isolated location, our heroes are in a tense, apparently impossible situation. Mike Grell got us to this point at a quick but steady pace, and he's done a pretty amazing job of developing the cast along the way, so that I'm legitimately curious as to how this will shake out for all four people, invested in their outcomes equally. I want different things for each of them, and I wholly despise Massie whereas I like the others to different degrees, but I care about them all, which is what matters most. While I hold out hope that Deadman and Wild Dog will wrap up ASAP, I'm bummed to know Blackhawk is on its way out. It's been reliably entertaining, and it's perhaps the most unlike any of the other stories in this book.

In conclusion, here are all the stories from this issue, listed from worst to best:
6. Deadman/"Escape from Hell"
5. Wild Dog/"Moral Stand Chapter Seven: Legionnaire's Disease"
4. Green Lantern/"Guilty!"
3. Secret Six/"Gino"
2. Superman/"Familiar Face?"
1. Blackhawk/"Another Fine War Chapter 7"

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Weekly Action Comics Weekly Review: Issue #606

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 for 42 weeks. This is the sixth of those reviews.
Sorry if all my scans are extra crooked this time. My copy of this issue is kinda warped. It also has a weird, long black splotch on a handful of pages that obscured small parts of the panels, which was annoying. Not enough to impede any comprehension, but an ugly distraction nonetheless.
The premise of this Green Lantern chapter is super simple, and I totally love it. Hal Jordan, having the briefest respite in the midst of all the crap he's been going through lately, decides he needs some support. With his whole life coming to pieces around him, he wants a friend, if not to help directly then at least to prop him up emotionally for a minute so he can get back to Green Lantern-ing properly. John Stewart has been furious with Hal since the end of the first issue of Action Comics Weekly, and things have only gotten worse for John since then, so he's angrier than ever. So Hal makes a list of his other allies in the superhero community, and reaches out to them one by one. He's extremely open and honest about how bad things have gotten and about his need for help, but despite his vulnerability, he cannot find anyone who's willing to lend a hand or even a sympathetic ear. Bruce Wayne gives Hal a harsh colder shoulder, Clark Kent scolds him for letting things get so out of hand, and Oliver Queen, Hal's oldest and most trusted friend and former crimefighting partner, no longer seems interested in having anything to do with Hal. Ollie's got his own life in Seattle with Dinah Lance/Black Canary, and would rather not let any outside superheroics rock the boat. Ultimately, Hal crumples his list of names and throws it into the street despondently, feeling more alone and hopeless at the end of the story than he did at the beginning. The reason I like this so much is that, in a shared reality like the DC universe, the question of why all the heroes don't help each other more often gets frequently ignored. When it is addressed, the solution is typically to explain why one or more other good guys are unavailable/otherwise occupied, rather than to give them an in-character, emotional reason not to get involved in another hero's business. In this Green Lantern tale, though, there is no imminent threat that Hal needs assistance with, just the general collapse of his world. So no explanation was even called for as far as why he's all alone. Yet James Owsley took the time to explicitly point out how unsupported Hal is right now, anyway, an unexpected and especially brutal new trial to put him through.
This is a transitional chapter for the Secret Six, officially putting the lid on the Technodyne mission they completed last time, and more fully launching the plotline of Rafael di Renzi going after Mockingbird to figure out what caused the plane crash that seemingly killed the original Secret Six. It's a necessary beat, I think, with Martin Pasko taking his time letting the story unfold, and also taking a minute to remind us that Mockingbird can disable the special equipment he provided the Secret Six that allows them to operate as an efficient team. The scene (which you can see most of in the page scanned above) where all their stuff turns off and they have a minute of group panic is the most exciting part of the story, including the ending when the Secret Six gets attacked by a masked intruder. I'm guessing we are meant to assume the intruder is Rafael, but I'm not placing any bets yet. We do see Rafael find his father's old communication watch, which allows him to listen in when Mockingbird contacts the current Six. So at the very least, Rafael knows the team is in San Francisco, meaning even if he's not the guy who attacks them at the end, he will undoubtedly cross paths with them sooner than later. In the meantime, Mockingbird has promised a second mission, two federal agents have been introduced to the story, taking over the investigation of the plane crash, with the indication being they know something about Mockingbird and/or the Secret Six. So things are getting more tangled and fresh players are being brought onto the stage, but it's all part of developing the existing threads, which I like. This has been a reliably good story to follow, and the more details that get stirred into the mix, the more captivating it becomes.
I've grown rather tired of this Deadman story. I've mentioned a few times now how it jumps from one thread to the next too quickly, and that happens again here, though to a slightly lesser degree. The entire story is technically about Deadman being trapped in Hell, but it starts off with him being given a tour of the place by the Devil, then suddenly shifts gears and has him approached by D.B. Cooper who wants help with an escape plan. Choosing Cooper seems random, especially since the plan to get out has nothing to with planes. It's a pretty standard "get to the summit of a mystical mountain" set-up, which could've been introduced by literally any character at all, so the significance of it being Cooper is thus far lost on me. An interesting guy, no doubt, and I'm sort of into the notion that his mysterious disappearance had to do with a deal he made with Satan, but that's only mentioned off-hand, not actually explored, and otherwise he's a generic white guy whose only narrative purpose is to know more than Deadman about how to exit Hell. I loved Dan Jurgens' art when Deadman challenges the Devil's gender ("Why are you male? What if women had written the Bible?) and the Devil responds by first becoming a sultry nude human woman, then a terrifying nude demon woman. It was a funny and pseudo-psychedelic moment, and Jurgens did a good job with the other inhabitants  of Hell as well, cutting a little loose with his designs for the demons and imps and such that populated the backgrounds. Other than that, though, there wasn't much going on that I cared about, and once D.B. Cooper showed up, it was three full pages of boredom leading to a less-than-stellar final beat.
I'm very into the story of Superman being worshipped as a god. I know this kind of thing has been done by others, and I don't know enough about Superman history to accurately place this particular take on Superman as a deity in relation to any others. What I'm saying is, I don't have a strong sense of whether or not Roger Stern was one of the first writers to tackle this concept or not, but I like his (so far) simple approach. Certainly some of that has to do with the fact that he's telling the tale two pages at a time, but whatever Stern's motivation for keeping things straightforward, the character who sees Superman as his savior in-story has fairly obvious reasons for doing so. Superman's origins, falling from the sky as he did, and his incredible powers and squeaky-clean personality, make for a pretty compelling messiah story. It's easy to imagine that if a Superman-like figure emerged in the real world, some group would crop up to worship him/her. That's all we have so far in the comic, a logical extension of the whole Superman idea, and the directness is nice, especially in such a tight space. All that praise aside, it is sort of a drag that this issue's cover more or less covers the same ground in a single image. It's not exactly the same, narratively speaking—the cover has a whole Superman cult, whereas the actual Superman pages have just one guy, but the basic idea of people deifying Superman and him being surprised and extremely uncomfortable with that is summed up perfectly in the cover by Kerry Gammill and John Nyberg. That's about as far as Stern and Curt Swan get in their two pages this week, and it's also basically something they already established in the final panels of last week's issue, so...not a ton of progress, and maybe not the most efficient use of the space, but still an enjoyable if slight advancement of what continues to be an interesting story.
Oh Wild Dog...I just have very little new to say about you. This continues to be a weirdly low-stakes conflict, moving at an uneven pace, with the conclusion of each chapter being awkward and abrupt. This was the worst ending yet, because it was confusing on top of everything else, and it ended right at the beginning of a fight that hadn't gotten good yet. Wild Dog shows up to stop the Legion of Morality from blowing up the local newspaper. For some reason, there are buckets of something (paint? ink? water?) in the room. It looks like paint, but that makes the least sense, because why would a newspaper have a stack of paint buckets lying around? Whatever it is, Wild Dog opens up one can and pours it out onto the floor, and apparently it spills and spreads so fast that three different Legionnaires of Morality are caught off-guard and slip in it, falling on their asses. Maybe it's oil? I can't figure it out for the life of me, and it seems some laws of physics get disobeyed or at least stretched beyond belief when Wild Dog uses the strange dark liquid as a weapon. Something you pour onto the floor doesn't aggressively spread out and knock your opponents over, does it? It reads like nonsense. Also, the more I look at those pages, the more I'm convinced it's supposed to be ink, because the next weapon Wild Dog improvises from the environment is a giant roll of paper, and those are the two key ingredients in a newspaper. But ink would flow even more slowly out of its container than something like water or oil, right? And it'd be sticky, rather than slippery. So what the hell? Anyway, that final fight confused me, and ended way too quickly, and everything else in this issue was painstakingly slow build-up to that scene, so...another big whiff for Wild Dog.
That's an excellent title page, no? The page that follows features some pretty great-looking brawling, too. That fight between Blackhawk and Massie was the highlight of this Blackhawk section, which was a pretty strong installment overall, complicating everyone's relationship with everyone else. Blackhawk impresses the Red Dragon and the two of them go to bed together, all a part of his manipulations to try and steal her gold. We can see that she's genuinely impressed by and attracted to him, so his plan works to a degree, but in the end she states out loud that she still doesn't trust him, and proves herself to be one step ahead of his scheming. He offers to fly her and her goods out of the jungle so she can have a better life in the civilized world, and she agrees, but adds the stipulation that Cynthia will have to be left behind to keep Blackhawk honest. She makes him think he's successfully tricking her right up until the final bit of negotiation, then twists the knife by revealing she's smarter and more cautious than he gives her credit for. Meanwhile, Massie comes to Cynthia to warn her that Blackhawk and Red Dragon getting together is bad news. Massie says that he and Cynthia are now expendable, and that the Red Dragon has a history of using people up and then ruthlessly casting them aside when they stop being useful. Massie wants to form an alliance with Cynthia (and probably to sleep with her, too, though she seems disgusted/terrified at that thought) but she's a little hesitant, still wanting to trust her original partner but aware that she's somewhat out of her depth. It's a tense situation full of dishonesty and mistrust, and Mike Grell has done a good job of constructing such fraught circumstances. Rick Burchett's art has been essential, too, because there are a lot of subtle and secret facial expressions from all four of the major players that inform the hell out of this story and provide a great deal of subtext to the dialogue. I feel like Blackhawk is the most hit-or-miss story in this book, but when it hits, it hits hard.

In conclusion, here are all the stories from this issue, listed from worst to best:
6. Wild Dog/"Moral Stand Chapter Six: Stop the Presses!"
5. Deadman/"This is Hell"
4. Superman/"The True Believer"
3. Secret Six/"The Sins of the Father..."
2. Blackhawk/"Another Fine War Part 6"
1. Green Lantern/"The List"


I wrote a piece for PopMatters last week about Ms. Marvel and how its star handles the many changes in her life in an exemplary fashion. That's a mighty fine series and an important one for many reasons. Go read it. This week I published my latest "1987 And All That" on Comics Should Be Good, looking at Blue Beetle #8-19, specifically focusing on its optimistic outlook. I enjoyed the heck out of that comic, and found myself wishing more modern series could find the balance between comedy and drama that Blue Beetle got so right. Certainly those books exist, but I feel like there's greater importance placed on the serious stuff these days, and less willingness to have some silly, simple fun. Flash Gordon is probably the closest current parallel I can think of.

Something I Failed to Mention
I zeroed in on Blue Beetle's propensity to use sympathetic or at least relatable villains, and it's true that most of the bad guys in the issues I read had some amount of likability. There were exceptions, the most obvious of which was Carapax, a super jerky guy whose mind gets zapped into a giant robot, making him even jerkier. I didn't see the initial introduction to this character in the issues I read (Wikipedia tells me he debuted in Blue Beetle #1) but I did watch him go from full human to human-mind-trapped-in-a-machine, essentially witnessing his origins as a supervillain, if not as a self-important ass. He was gratingly full of himself from the start, and soon as he gained any amount of power, he started murdering people mercilessly. So Carapax was a full-blown, clear-cut villain, with nothing redeeming about him in a single panel of what I read, a rare exception to the series' normal take on its antagonists. That said, the story of Beetle discovering and battling Carapax is also the story of him and police detective Lt. Fisher becoming friends instead of enemies. Fisher had problems with both the Beetle and his secret identity Ted Kord, but over the course of their fighting Carapax together, the two men managed to form something of an alliance. They're not best buds or anything, but they start to work together rather than against each other. Even when the main villain of an arc is a evil as they come, then, Blue Beetle shows its readers that not all opponents are bad, and that trusting in one another produces better results than the opposite approach, since Fisher and Beetle win in the end.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Weekly Action Comics Weekly Review: Issue #605

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 for 42 weeks. This is the fifth of those reviews. 
Now that's a cover!
I loved the parts of the Green Lantern story where Hal Jordan was trapped on Golgotha, but was less crazy about the bits where Star Sapphire got attacked by a mysterious alien. Golgotha is, in Hal's own words, "a barren planetoid that exists outside of the time continuum," and thus a pretty brutal place to be stuck. Hal has no real sense of how long he's been there, and he gets frequently zapped by lightning, making any real focus or escape planning near-impossible. It's a shitty situation, and Gil Kane superbly captures the devastating toll it takes on Hal. He looks equal parts crazed, hopeless, hurt, and furious, which is just the right mix to convince the reader how bad things are but also make it believable when Hal finally rallies and manages to break free with his power ring. That's an important moment, and it works on all fronts, which is especially impressive considering there's only four pages worth of Hal between first seeing him on Golgotha and watching him free himself. For Kane and James Owsley to express in full the horribleness of Hal's torture so quickly is awesome, and totally makes up for the more boring other half of this story. That plot involves Star Sapphire emerging from her own grave after faking her death last issue, only to be ambushed by a random, pretty great-looking alien creature. It steals the gemstone that gives Sapphire her power, and zaps her with it but good. We next see her when Hal finds her unconscious in the graveyard, but no sooner does she wake than something (presumably the alien) hits Hal from behind and, when he comes to, Sapphire is gone. I don't like having the hero's nemesis be beaten and then stolen away by a new, unknown threat. Hal and John Stewart both deserve their shots at Star Sapphire for what she's done to them, and while she may come back eventually, Hal's closing line ("And yet, why do I have the sneaking suspicion...the war is over...?") indicates otherwise, and either way this seems like we're being robbed of a satisfying climax to the Lanterns' struggle with Sapphire. She gets away with all her messed up schemes, and as soon as Hal manages to do something unexpected, to get some small victory`, some other force shows up to take care of Sapphire first. That's a drag, but the alien is another visual triumph for Kane, so some good comes of the less-good sections, and the Golgotha stuff is pure gold.
This Deadman story just cannot stick to an idea for long. Starting off as a prisoner of the CIA, which is where we left him last time, Deadman discovers over the course of this chapter that there's another entity being kept in the same building. He then breaks free, locates the other entity, and gets trapped by it, learning at the very end that it is apparently the Devil. While I guess technically the CIA still has him, Deadman's got a whole new problem on his hands now, and he's trapped in a whole new way. There's been a lot of jumping from problem to problem already, and I was sort of looking forward to seeing Deadman deal with just the CIA for a while. As it is, I didn't like his solution to getting out—he scares a dimwitted guard and gets him to bump into some random button that releases the glass tube containing Deadman, causing it to shatter. That's too convenient an answer, and the chances that the guard would hit exactly the right thing with his elbow to set Deadman free must be slim at best. It just feels like a hand-waving way to get Deadman out and about again so he can be in the same room as the jar holding the Devil (or whoever it really is in there). That's sort of been the problem with Mike Baron's writing all along. It meanders, leap-frogs, and stumbles from concept to concept without ever getting to build up any real momentum. Each installment has interesting stuff in it, but none of that is followed for very long before the narrative gets diverted again. Dan Jurgens and Tony DeZuniga draw a mean Deadman, so I enjoy watching his adventures every week, but I couldn't really explain to you what it's about, even five weeks in. The best summary I can offer is that Deadman gets involved with the CIA, and it leads to various troubles and battles for him. I suppose that should be enough, but I'd rather there was a bit more by now, a clearer direction. I'm not totally invested yet because the few times I've come close, the story has turned too quickly for me to hang on.
The first panel of the second page of this story is Wild Dog's response to the last panel of the page seen above, where one of the villains says, "Burning flesh smells bad..." Wild Dog, who is pretending to be unconscious, suddenly comes to and says, "I like it!" with a frightening enthusiasm displayed in both the deeply crazed look in his eyes and the thick, jagged lines of the speech bubble. It's a one-two punch from artist Terry Beatty and letterer Gaspar that, in a single panel, speaks volumes about why I'm not into this character.'s one thing to think killing bad guys is acceptable or necessary, but to relish in your own madness and bloodlust is just going a step or two too far. Maybe it's a tactical choice, scaring his enemies so they'll be easier to gun down, but it comes across as more something Wild Dog does for himself, a little moment of fun before getting back to business. That's unsettling at best, to have a hero who enjoys being a murderous lunatic, and it turns me off. After that burst of violence, this story mellows out considerably, with both the good guys and villains dealing with the aftermath of Wild Dog killing three Legionnaires of Morality. While the baddies hide the bodies, Lt. Flint and Wild Dog make some progress toward determining how the Legion recruits its muscle, a minor but important step in the effort to bring them down. Then, at the end, with way too much ease and not nearly enough proving himself, Wild Dog's secret identity, Jack Wheeler, is welcomed into the Legion by its leader, B. Lyle Layman. Basically they let Wheeler in because he is rich and a former marine, but for a shadowy bunch of violent militants, the Legion sure is trusting of strangers who suddenly show and interest in joining up. Maybe they can't afford to turn people away, but it seems more likely that Max Collins simply wanted to get Wild Dog inserted into the heart of the enemy as quickly as possible, so he came up with an unconvincing reason for that to happen and threw it into the script. As is now typical of the Wild Dog sections, it makes for an unexciting conclusion.
I can understand why, when telling a story two pages at a time, you might want to take a beat now and then to recap what's happened so far before moving onto the next phase of plot development. This story is forced to advance rapidly because of it's limited space each week, so ensuring that everyone is on the same page before introducing something new makes sense. That said, for someone who totally remembers what has gone down thus far, this felt mostly like wasted space to me. The cop is an obvious and easy excuse to have Superman deliver exposition, and that exposition was overly simple and direct. It fits Superman's voice, which is good, but it had no narrative flair, which is bad. The meat of this story is all in the final two panels, where the guy Superman saved back in issue #601 bows down to Supes like he's a god. The man's dialogue also seems to be deifying Superman, which the Man of Steel is obviously not comfortable with at all. I can't wait to see where that goes, so it's a nice cliffhanger hook like Roger Stern has delivered every time, but literally everything leading up to it is a boring retread I could've done without, though I recognize its purpose and practicality.
While the new Secret Six successfully finish their first assignment, the plane crash that caused the deaths of the former Secret Six starts to move to the foreground of the narrative. Rafael di Rienzi was the son of one of the original Secret Six, and his father, Carlos, told him all about what they did for the mysterious Mockingbird. Soon after Rafael learns his father has died, he is contacted by Mockingbird, which immediately makes him suspicious since it has always been believed that Mockingbird must be one of the old Secret Six. The fact that Mockingbird still lives makes Rafael think the crash might not have been an accident, and he vows to uncover Mockingbird's identity and kill him if he is indeed responsible for the rest of the team's demise. At the very end, Rafael takes a package out of a safe that his father left for him "in the event of my death." Whatever that package holds will no doubt inform the direction this story goes next, and Rafael seems like he's going to make a compelling additon to the cast, even if only temporarily. He's entirely sympathetic, and his motivations are good, but he is an enemy of Mockingbird's and may therefore find himself working against the new Secret Six, who are the protagonists of this tale. It could make for some nicely complicated drama. For now, we see the Secret Six finish ruining the evil corporation that killed a bunch of people with acid rain. Two of them first have to fight their way out of being captured and killed, which is an awesome action sequence from Dan Spiegle and colorist Carl Gafford. The helicopter falling out of the sky and into other panels before finally crashing was a highlight not just of this story but of the entire issue, and I can't get enough of the panel on the preceding page where one of the villains grabs onto the helicopter in a desperate final attempt to stop the Secret Six from getting away. The ferocity on his face and dark, suffocating lighting of that panel make it a strangely stirring moment, full of intensity and foreboding. After the fighting is over, all that's left is for the Secret Six to reveal to the world the video confession about the acid rain they got out of child CEO Elvis Brockman last issue, and their work is complete. It's satisfying to see them get a job done after overcoming the appropriate amount of difficulty and resistance, and Martin Pasko intelligently weaves in Rafael's plotline along the way, so there's still a reason to come back to this story despite the titular team's definitive victory. Tight storytelling all the way.
Another bit of a snoozer for Blackhawk. The main function of the story here is to introduce the Red Dragon, the primary villain. She's an alright character but not particularly original or interesting. Half-Irish, half-Asian (she doesn't specify the country), she had a hard time being accepted as a child, and this hardened her and made her hungry for power. "If you have enough power," she says, "people no longer care who or what you are." That's a classic attitude for a bad guy to have, and while her origins aren't exactly cliché, they're not entirely new, either. I do always enjoy a hospitable captor, so Red Dragon treating Blackhawk and Cynthia to fresh clothes and a decent meal is pleasantly, humorously tense. And Cynthia's genuine horror at the situation, her fear and overall out-of-her-depth-ness, is all played quite well by both Mike Grell and Rick Burchett. She's reasonably terrified for someone so new at this, but never loses her core strength and self-assuredness. Meanwhile, Blackhawk is so completely in his element, he seems to be having a blast, and that works nicely, too. He and Cynthia are still a good balance, but for different reasons than before, and their opposite reactions to Red Dragon's behavior help show her range, too. So all the character work is strong, but that's pretty much all there is here: we meet Red Dragon and see how both our heroes initially deal with her, end of story. It holds my attention but never demands it. I did rather enjoy the one page of André and his lover, which I know I complained about last week, but when it's not in the middle of a bunch of other sexually charged scenes, André's excessively suave seduction methods are entertaining to watch. Plus, as a last stray thought, the pale-blue-and-black coloring used by Tom Ziuko really puts that André page over the edge.

In conclusion, here are all the stories from this issue, listed from worst to best:
6. Wild Dog/"Moral Stand Chapter Five: Sleeping Dogs Lie..."
5. Superman/"Aftermath"
4. Deadman/"Deadman Goes to Hell"
3. Blackhawk/"Enter...Red Dragon!"
2. Green Lantern/"Golgotha"
1. Secret Six/"If that Mockingbird Don't Sing..."

Sunday, November 9, 2014


At PopMatters this week, I wrote a quick piece about my personal preference for hard copy comicbooks, and how I have of late been forced to face the fact that digital comics are here to stay and will inevitably become the norm before long. I also had a new "1987 And All That" column on CSBG covering the first four issues of Silverblade. It was a seriously trippy comic, and I definitely intend to get the rest of the series as soon as I can and see what other madness it has in store.

Something I Failed to Mention
I'm sure there are a million things about Silverblade that I ignored and could bring up here, so I'm going to go with the first one to pop into my head. I didn't really get into Mr. Vermillion and Miss Hothgard, a pair of villains who have a weird relationship (is it romantic? boss-employee? professional partners?) and who hate Jonathan Lord and Bobby Milestone because of an old grudge from Vermillion's childhood. In The Silver Blade, the film that originally made Lord famous and which also featured a young Milestone, Vermillion was an extra who was asked to fill in for Milestone in a key stunt scene, and ended up with a severe injury as a result. I guess the young Vermillion wanted to be or was already a dancer, and the injury he sustained ruined that career for him by fucking up his hip so that he could no longer dance. For decades he's been pissed about it, and in Silverblade he's back for revenge. Writing it out right now, he sounds like an interesting character if perhaps bordering on the overly familiar, but in the comic itself Vermillion comes across as more of a distraction than anything else, an oddball interruption to the already oddball narrative. He's not the main threat of the series, or at least he doesn't seem to be, though I suppose in later issues it may be revealed that they have a connection, and Lord defeats him (or, more accurately, his henchmen) pretty easily in the couple of encounters they have in the issues I read, so Vermillion's presence is somewhat out of place. I don't mind him; he's got some significant damage, not just physically but internally, too, including delusions/hallucinations of dancing again that make for nice visuals. But his importance is unclear. Hothgard, for her part, is barely a character, mostly there just so Vermillion has anyone at all to talk to, and to keep him from losing himself completely when his crazy dancing spells take hold. Again, she may become more important later on, but in Silverblade #1-4, neither she nor Vermillion seem essential to anything else that's happening. They do kidnap Milestone in the debut, and rescuing Milestone from them becomes Lord's first act after he gets his powers, so it's not as though Vermillion and Hothgard have zero influence on the narrative. It's just that they represent side quests for Lord, separate from the real evil he's meant to be fighting, and it's difficult to fully understand their place in the larger scheme. Which I guess probably has to do with the fact that I don't totally know what the larger scheme is yet, since I've only read 33% of the story. So maybe I'm just making a half-baked point based on incomplete knowledge, and this whole thing was a waste of time. But like I said above, it was the first thing I thought of that I didn't discuss in the original column, and now I've said my piece, so...g'bye.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Weekly Action Comics Weekly Review: Issue #604

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 for 42 weeks. This is the fourth of those reviews.
Overall, I'd say this was probably the strongest issue yet. With all the stories now fully up and running, there was more room for action and advancement across the board.
In eight pages, the Green Lantern story managed to go in two directions I wasn't expecting. Though the idea of John Stewart being blamed for something Hal Jordan was involved in was set up last issue, I wasn't prepared for it to be the focus of this issue. That was a sudden turn, and it worked wonderfully, building the tension of Hal's own thread by leaving his whereabouts and status a mystery, and introducing a whole new can of worms by making John a public enemy and the new target of Star Sapphire's vengeance. I am a little hazy on exactly what she does here, though I assume we'll find out more in later chapters. She shows up in court as Carol Ferris, her former or true identity, depending on who you ask, and when John sees her he freaks out and attacks. She then fakes her death in some mysterious way, making him look like a murderer. How she pulled that off is unclear, and even less clear is what happens when he goes to see her body in the morgue later. She wakes up and taunts him, but then he just walks away, which seems like the wrong reaction to something as intense as a formerly fake-dead enemy revealing themselves to be totally alive. That part irked me a bit, but it led right into the second surprise, which I loved. Turns out Hal is chained to a distant planetoid, barely clothed and all alone in a hostile environment. The details of his new location and seeing how he ultimately escapes it are both things I'm looking forward to, so it was a strong final beat. Basically I loved the opening and closing but had some trouble with the middle of this story.
Wild Dog continues to be the character I'm least interested in, but there's a lot more doing and less talking this time, which makes for a more entertaining issue than Wild Dog has had before. For one thing, he actually gets to be in costume, and even engages with villains directly, something he hasn't done the past couple weeks. I'm not wild about a hero who throws a Molotov cocktail back at the bad guys just because they throw one first, though Terry Beatty does draw a pretty good guy on fire. Wild Dog has always been down with killing his enemies, and I suppose gas and fire aren't any more fatal than bullets, but it still seems especially harsh. Though I'm not sure what else I excepted him to do with a lit Molotov cocktail, either. That speaks to my whole problem with Wild Dog, or one of my biggest problems, anyway. I can't decide exactly how I feel about him and the way he operates. It's like, yes, obviously anyone who thinks that automatic weapons and serious explosives are appropriate tools for fighting smut is an extremist and a legitimate threat that needs to be squashed immediately. Any censorship is rotten, but condoning violence in the name of it is despicable. So the Legion of Morality are a terrible group, and because they're mostly nameless and faceless, wearing blank white masks, it's not hard to watch them die since I feel no particular attachment to them. They're barely people. At the same time, Wild Dog is such a guns-blazing maniac, I have a hard time being in his corner. Is all-out warfare any better or more fitting a tactic against crime than blowing up comicbook shops is against porn? Isn't Wild Dog just a different kind of menace, a potentially more dangerous one because he has cops and the media and the public on his side? If these questions were asked by anyone in the comic, that'd be interesting, but the most we get is Lt. Flint's slight unease at the thought of Wild Dog existing, which goes right out the door in this issue because Flint likes the idea of an easy fix to the problem of the Legion. Within the world of Wild Dog, the character of Wild Dog is portrayed as a 100% good guy, fighting the good fight in the most/only effective way. I don't buy that, and that makes it impossible to get fully invested.
Dan Spiegle can draw some excellent horror material. This was a good Secret Six chapter tip to tail, with the team in the field and making moves the entire time, but without a doubt the highlight was the horror movie special effects they used to scare a confession out of Elvis Brockman, the child CEO of the evil corporation they're working to bring down. It's only a couple pages worth of stuff, and really it's just one fake monster, but it does things like change the look of its face and pull its head off to spray out its innards, all of which looks convincingly terrifying, especially considering Elvis' age. It helps the story's believability, and it's gripping imagery for the reader, hard to look away from or forget. Most of the story centers on setting up and then deploying the monster, with the rest focused on two of the Six looking for hard evidence that the recent acid rain was not an accident but an intentional move made by Elvis' company to help push sales of their new protective substance. Those two get caught at the end, and then there's the obligatory minimal progression of the subplot about the original Secret Six being killed in a plane crash. That subplot gets only a few panels each issue, but they are always the final panels, indicating that it's going to be important eventually even though it can't be given too much attention now. It's not all the interesting yet, since it is so disconnected from the main story, so I'm glad that Martin Pasko isn't spending a lot of time on it. I also appreciate his commitment to including it every time so it's never completely forgotten. We'll see where that ends up later, but for now it's been nice to see the team in action, and they've hit their first major snag, so I'm excited to watch that unfold, too.
Man I love these Superman two-pagers. They are so fast-paced, and they make Superman look freaking awesome without things ever being too easy for him. He has to use the full range of his powers to handle these random gunmen, and in this issue, one of them manages to get the drop on Superman even after being caught. That villain's self-sacrificial attack also hints at a larger plot, a strong hook delivered at just the right moment. For all the awesome action and plot development, though, the best part was the panel of Superman flying toward the rearview mirror, with "Objects in mirror are closer than they appear" underneath. I don't know if that was something Roger Stern included in his script or if it was a Curt Swan gag entirely, but whoever's idea it was, Swan's the one who sells it. Superman's pose and size are both perfect, and the furiousness in his face underscores the humor of the moment, and just how fucked the bad guy is about to be. I'd love to have that panel as a poster or something, because it's probably the most I have ever liked Superman, a character who I've never had any particular affection for historically. I love him in this series so far, and this was the most fun he's been yet, and probably the most progress his narrative has made in any issue. Supes has got a genuine mystery on his hands now, springing out of what seemed at first like a pretty standard street crime, and considering that transition was made naturally and interestingly in only eight pages, the future of this story has pretty tremendous promise.
I'm sort of torn on this one. There are a few ideas that really interest me here, and being able to fit so many into so few pages is impressive. However, it also means none of them get explored very deeply, and a few are abandoned outright almost as soon as they're introduced, and that's a drag. Talaoc's temple is destroyed, and as such he fades out of existence, and as he does so he tells Deadman that he's the lucky one for no longer being stuck in the insane world of the living. This seems to bother Deadman, who is himself still very much stuck here, but he doesn't have time to react to it with any more than a one-panel frown (rendered expertly and hilariously by Dan Jurgens) before moving onto the rest of the story. Even before that, there's a more interesting concept that gets dropped in a hurry, when one of the C.I.A. agents accidentally flies the alien spaceship hidden in Talaoc's temple out into space. Deadman jumps into the man's body to try and help steer the ship back to Earth, but he can't figure it out, so he puts the guy in a trance state and leaves him to drift through the stars indefinitely. I want so badly so see where he ends up, but I can't imagine I ever will, since it seems that the end of his tale is never going to be more than, "He drifts through the stars indefinitely." Instead of following him, or thoroughly discussing Deadman's turmoil over being trapped among the living, we move ontp the C.I.A. accidentally capturing Deadman through the use of other alien technology. That's where things end, and it's a compelling situation for Deadman to be in, so I like it a lot. But it's not as interesting as either of the concepts that won't get to continue next week, and I like that less.
This was the horniest installment of Blackhawk, and I wasn't into that aspect of it. First Blackhawk hits on Cynthia super aggressively, which she of course shoots down in no uncertain terms. No sooner are they friends again than he makes mention of a friend in Saigon, and we cut to that friend, André, in the middle of his own over-eager seduction. Finally, Blackhawk and Cynthia make it to where they think the gold they're after is being kept, only to be promptly imprisoned. One of their captors, Massie, shows up and proceeds to grope Cynthia, claiming to recognize her and saying, "I never forget a breast." It's pretty much non-stop men hyper-actively chasing women, and even though, to be fair, Mike Grell always gives the women power to say yes or no—even bound, Cynthia does all she can to pull away from Massie—it's still annoying behavior to watch back-to-back-to-back like that. Besides which, this is a boring chapter anyway. Blackhawk and Hastings travel for five pages, we see one page of André and his unnamed lover, and then there's one page of the capture and groping followed by the final a full-page splash reveal of the Red Dragon. Or, I am assuming that's who she is, since she is clearly in charge of the operation, and the Red Dragon is supposed to be that person, according to earlier issues. Also she has red hair, which seems like an obvious clue. However, it never gets said explicitly that that's who she is, we just see her whip Massie and then strike an I'm-the-boss pose with her pet tiger. It's a fine enough image on its own, but not the best conclusion, a silent dud at the end of an already not-so-interesting story. Now that our heroes are in the belly of the beast, maybe next week will have more zip. This week was dry and uncomfortably sexually charged, so I did not care for it.

In conclusion, here are all the stories from this issue, listed from worst to best:
6. Blackhawk/"Another Fine War Part 4"
5. Wild Dog/"Moral Stand Chapter Four: Unleashed!"
4. Deadman/"Genie in a Bottle"
3. Green Lantern/"I, the Jury"
2. Secret Six/"Haunts of the Very Rich"
1. Superman/"Final Escape?"

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Some Comics that Made me Happy Recently

Today was a day about politics, and politics are depressing. Here are some comics that made me happy recently:

1. Flash Gordon #6: This is fast becoming my favorite series, having spun out of Kings Watch, which was already one of the best books of the year. What a delight, then, to look at the credits for this issue and see that one of my new favorite artists, Greg Smallwood, would be contributing. It ended up being only two pages, but it's a quiet character study of the villain, and apparently it will continue next time, so I'm excited. Also it's written by colorist Jordie Bellaire, easily the best colorist in comics right now, so good on her for stretching another muscle. I don't know if she's written before, but this is definitely the first time I have read anything by her, so...double excited. A good issue of a great series with an amazing and unexpected bonus in the final two pages.

2. garfield minus garfield: Remember this? I was telling my wife Katie about it the other night, and it prompted me to check and see if it was still going. It is, and it's as wonderful as ever. I laughed and laughed. For the unfamiliar, garfield minus garfield delivers exactly what the title promises. That is, Garfield comicstrips with Garfield removed from them, so they are just Jon Arbuckle talking to himself and being super-duper extra depressing. It's a legitimate hoot.

3. The Wrenchies: Farel Dalrymple's graphic novel about a magic comicbook, time travel, a demon invasion that destroys the world, and a million other weird and wacky ideas explored in a dizzying but controlled way. Dalrymple tells his story arrhythmically, and his art is like an earthy, gritty psychedelia, bleak and bright at once. I will be rereading this several times, and I have no doubt that I'll discover new details, themes, and connections with each pass.

4. Drumhellar #10: This seems to be the end of the series...? There's no issue #11 solicited anywhere I can find, it says "The. End." on the final page, and it reveals Drum's origin story, the "truth" of who/what he is and why he can see what he sees. I know this title wasn't everyone's cup of tea; I've read some scathing and dismissive reviews. And I'm not going to say it was a perfect piece of graphic storytelling or has some plot holes, and even when delivering information it could be vague or cryptic to an obnoxious degree. But Riley Rossmo cutting loose on a passion project about a guy who regularly hallucinates his head off? It was one of those books that felt tailor-made just for me, and so soon after Rossmo's Dia de Los Muertos had already filled that role in my life. I'm going to miss it, and didn't know it was ending (though I wondered if it might, since Rossmo just started doing Rasputin), but now that it's over, I'm really looking forward to rereading Drumhellar front to back and seeing what shakes out.