Wednesday, December 31, 2014

11:59:59

On Monday, my phone died. And I don't mean my battery had to be recharged—my phone died, shutting itself off for no reason when it had plenty of battery life left, and refusing to turn back on or respond to anything I did to it for the rest of the day. Somehow, the next morning, it came back to life; it's old and the screen has been cracked for a long time, plus I don't have a cover for it but I do drop it constantly, so this bizarre behavior is not necessarily unprecedented or unfounded. The point is, I spent all of Monday night phone-less. At first it made me anxious and tense, but it ended up being kind of nice to be forced to look at something other than my phone screen all night. It also prompted me to get some comic-related reading and writing done, more than I had planned to do that day, which is exceedingly rare. What I'm getting at is that for this New Year's Eve, the closest thing I'm making to a resolution is to try and put my phone away more often, like literally leave it in another room and pretend it doesn't exist. I want to do it every day for at least a few hours, and/or maybe all day Sunday or something like that. And I want to use that time to focus on comics in a more concentrated way than I have of late. I keep letting myself get distracted by other stuff, and games on my phone are a HUGE part of that, so enough is enough. Hopefully by publishing this half-baked plan on my blog, I'll be more likely to actually stick to it. Time will tell, as it always does. Happy New Year y'all!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Monthly Dose: December 2014

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

100 Bullets #26: Mr. Branch tells a woman he's sleeping with, possibly a prostitute, some very vague things about the Trust and the Minutemen that have pretty much all already been hinted at if not fully revealed before. There are two reasons for all of this recapping: 1. It's a useful if unneeded way to get the audience all brought up to speed on this fairly complicated story before whatever comes next, and 2. There are a bunch of splash pages done by various guest artists to go along with different parts of Branch's narration. It's kind of a cool gimmick, but it does make the issue feel crazy light, since not much goes on and little-to-no progress gets made. Some of the splashes are cool, particularly Mark Chiarello's drawing of Cole Burns and J.G. Jones' take on Dizzy's Parisian street fight from an earlier issue. The best guest artist contribution was actually the first one, Paul Pope's awesomely depressing Benito Medici, a cigarette barely hanging from his mouth as he stares at himself with hate and disgust in the mirrored wall of a crowded nightclub. It's a perfect encapsulation of that character and, really, of the spirit of this whole book. On the other hand, Frank Miller's portrait of Agent Graves' floating head was a complete waste of space, and even Eduardo Risso's pages of Branch and the unnamed woman have less going on than usual. It's a sex scene played straight, and Risso does it well for what it is, but there's just nothing important or unexpected happening, even at the end when she robs him and exposes to the reader that she can in fact speak English, not just French like she's been pretending. So there were some strong images, but a few weaker ones, too, and nothing significant took place in terms of plot. All told, a boring but visually varied and therefore occasionally rewarding read.


Automatic Kafka #2: Lots of exposition this issue, but delivered through an amusing interrogation between the National Park Service's Agent Stahl and the Warning, smug genius and super-rich guy. Turns out the Warning was the corporate sponsor and founder of Automatic Kafka's old superhero team, the $tranger$, and now that the NPS is looking for Kafka (we don't know why) they come to the Warning for help. In the course of asking for that help, Stahl and the Warning rehash the past, not only of the $trangers$ but much of the Warning's backstory from before they were formed, the events in his life that led up to him creating his own superhero team. He's an awesome character, cocky in a way he can always back up, and effortlessly funny, almost incidentally so, because he sees the big joke(s) in life that everyone else fails to get or refuses to even acknowledge. We spend more time with the Warning than the title character this issue, but when we do catch up with Kafka, things go nuts, and Ashley Wood's art gets to really blast off. Kafka, still loving the hell out of his new nanotecheroin, makes his supplier come with him to a closed/abandoned amusement park. He then connects the park to his own internal computer systems, and turns everything on remotely while he comes up on his high, experiencing the sights, sounds, and other wonders of the park on many levels, both real and imagined. Eventually he comes down hard, the park collapsing around him, just in time for some huge, terrifying-looking, heavily armored people to show up and take him in. We ultimately learn that these are NPS troops of some kind, as Kafka wakes up in the agency's custody, bringing the issue to a close. Well, actually, first he (and the reader) meets Agent Travers, who is one of his captors but also a self-proclaimed fan of his from his $tranger$ days, an interesting combo to say the least. Her introduction is also the issue's conclusion, a creepy and effective cliffhanger. Joe Casey jumped in with both feet for the debut of Automatic Kafka, so here in issue #2, he provides more background info more clearly, but still leaves room for Kafka to get into some crazy, drug-fueled trouble. It's a strong second beat all over.


X-Force (vol. 1) #26: After the super-sized clusterfuck of excitement and confusion last month, X-Force takes a deep breath and collects itself. Most of this issue is Cable walking around X-Force's home base and thinking about each member of the team one by one, mostly focusing on their emotional damage. Cable is starting to feel guilty and foolish for having assembled such a messed up group of kids, and wondering if maybe he's not equipped to lead and/or teach them the way they need. His fears seem legitimate, based on what we see here. There's a lot of unrequited love, Siryn's heavy drinking, Shatterstar's lack of emotion, and plenty of arguments and insults big and small among the ranks. The dysfunction and unrest are widespread, which helps make this issue compelling despite the relative lack of action. There is some token violence at the end when Reignfire frees the members of the former Mutant Liberation Front from prison so they can form a new Mutant Liberation Front. The art this time is by Mat Broome instead of usual artist Greg Capullo. Broome is a good replacement, his characters just as large and looming as Capullo's, though somewhat more angular in their features. He did make several hilarious clothing choices, most notably a shirtless Rictor in tattered jean shorts. It was extra 90's. I liked this issue, even if it dragged a little, because it was a lot clearer and more carefully put together than the last few, and more thoughtful, too. These little pauses in the action are good for a book that goes so hard at the action so often, letting the cast and readers reset before things get crazy again or, hopefully, crazier than ever before.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Weekly Action Comics Weekly Review: Issue #611

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 eleventh of those reviews.
This cover is pretty good, but it seems an odd choice. I feel like this and the last Superman cover, for issue #606, should maybe have been switched, even though the above image would've been a bit of a late arrival even for issue #606. It's been several weeks since Superman has done any chasing of gunmen in cars, so showing that on this issue's cover, along with the phrase, "...The never-ending battle!" is a tad misleading. The battle depicted has very much ended, even if the story around it continues to move forward. It's not a bad cover on its own—I don't know if this series has ever had a cover that was straight-up ugly or poorly drawn—but it's not the best call for this specific issue.

In other news, I am sick and this is already a day late, so it's going to be a short one.
I'm digging this Mind Games story. It's simple enough for the eight-page chapters in which it has to be told, and high-stakes enough to hold my interest. I did find it weird that Arisia started out calling for Hal to help her, but then once he finally got out of the shower and asked her why she didn't scream for help, she says she enjoyed the thrill of fighting for her life because she's a former Green Lantern. Her perspective changed mid-combat for no real reason, so that wasn't great, but the fight itself was well-done by Tod Smith, and the rest of Peter David's script was solid. I particularly liked the super-brief scene where Arisia was approached by a modeling agent at the police station. That's a nice storyline for Arisia as a character, a chance for her to interact with the culture (and pop culture) of Earth in a fun new way. I also still like the police lieutenant Hal is working with (Renesslear, I think his name is). He's entertainingly gruff, and comes across as a decent, well-intentioned, genuine guy. Mind Games has yet to truly come into his/her own as an antagonist, but turning random innocents into savage murderers is an effectively scary tactic, a classic brand of supervillainy, so it hums for me. I look forward to seeing where it leads, and finding out what motivates Mind Games to do this at all.
Most of the Deadman story bothered me for all the usual reasons; it's unfocused, it introduces a new threat after getting rid of the last one unsatisfactorily, the content is generally dull, etc. There were two things, though, that I liked a lot: 1. the full-page splash of the Devil displaying his true power, and 2. the final two panels which, at long last, brought some elements of this story full circle. The splash page was mostly impressive because of Liz Berubé's glaring reds and oranges, as well as the simple fact that is was a splash page, a very rare treat in this anthology comic. The closing panels saw the re-arrival of two characters I'd thought were removed from the board for good, and because actually referring to and pulling from its past is so extremely uncommon for this Deadman tale, I was excited when to see this kind of connection be made at last. Maybe there has been a plan and a point to this narrative all along, and even if not, it seems Mike Baron is taking a stab at coming up with one now. Better late than never.
This is a pretty middle-of-the-line installment, devoted entirely to the Secret Six's mission instead of splitting up that action with some Rafael Di Renzi material like we normally see. It was good espionage action, and a lot got accomplished in a small space, so I don't have any complaints, per se. But the main draw of this Secret Six story from the beginning has been the bigger Mockingbird mystery, and that part was put on hold for this week, making Secret Six a little less enticing than I've come to expect. I do love the top right panel in the page scanned above—there's a perfect mix of fear, powerlessness, and hopefulness, captured entirely in the character's eyes and the shape of her mouth (somehow, incredibly, I still have not learned the names of anyone on the team except for Vic). Dan Spiegle has been awesome at nuanced facial expressions from the beginning, and that was just one more, especially strong example. Not much else leaps out as noteworthy, but it was plenty enjoyable, and it's always nice when this team is firing on all cylinders.
Seeing the "non-believers" in full uniform, looking like weird space invaders from the 60's, really reinvigorated my interest in this narrative. Not that it ever lost me, but it has slowed down the past few weeks, and now it seems to be gearing up for more excitement, even if this time all we got was a glimpse. I'm also hoping the huge bald guy from Bob Galt's group of Superman worshippers comes back, because he was the best part of both the panels in which he was featured. We pretty much already had enough clues to figure out the bulk of the info provided here, but having Curt Swan's depictions of everything made it a fun read, and it's important for Superman to understand the stakes, too, so this didn't feel at all like a waste. It may not have moved anything very far forward, but it looked great and was a necessary step. I've said it a lot but it bears repeating: Roger Stern is crushing these two-page story beats. They almost all count, and I've got to believe that's a rare talent for a comicbook writer to have, especially these days.
Why was Black Canary's debut given the opening slot and Catwoman's placed second-to-last? I asked a similar question last week about Phantom Stranger, but the more obvious answer in that case was that the Phantom Stranger story was a one-off, told top-to-bottom in eight pages. Catwoman is going to be a multi-part thing, so why no big introduction? She's not the cover, and he story is tucked away near the end. I don't necessarily mind, because the ordering of these stories has always felt largely arbitrary, but it is curious. Was it a specific editorial decision to make a bigger deal out of Black Canary than other new characters? Did they just happen to have that dope Brian Bolland cover for issue #609 so they went with it? Seems unlikely, since the cover image refers directly to stuff from within the issue. I'm not here to say Black Canary is any more or less deserving of attention than Catwoman, but whoever you prefer, it's baffling that they would be treated so differently by this series. The Catwoman story itself is fine but unremarkable. It's a clean, clear explanation of Selina Kyle, who she is and what makes her tick. We also meet the delightful Holly, some random criminals, and a detective who's name I forget and who seems to suspect that Selina is Catwoman but likes her too much to do anything about it. The whole cast is interesting, and Mindy Newell writes each scene well, but it did feel like maybe one too many details got crammed in by the end. The detective character, for example, might've waited one week for the sake of seeing more Holly or adding more drama in the big fight scene. That fight, by the way, was the highlight of Barry Kitson's art, a perfect showcase of Selina's talents. I'm happy to see more of this narrative, because this opening had far more good than bad, but I wouldn't say I'm exactly hooked yet.
I'm still having a hard time understanding this Black Canary story, though this week the confusion came more from Randy Duburke's art than Sharon Wright's writing. There were several unclear panels, but the last panel of the second-to-last page was the most frustrating, because it's Dinah Lance's last panel this week, and I think it's supposed to be shocking and dramatic. It looks like Dinah gets knocked out or at least attacked by the strange man who she had only just agreed to work with, but I can't be sure. The panel is too small, the angle too strange, and image too static for me to be positive what, if any, movement it's meant to be showing. Is Dinah falling over? Getting hit? Being pulled down? Is the other guy her attacker, or is the attacker unseen? The man who's visible doesn't look surprised or upset, but then again, I can barely see his face, so who knows? That's just a single moment, but it's the final moment for the main character, so it ought to at least be apparent what's happening. I guess I'll find out next time. I did at least learn one of the names that threw me off last week—Librado is the last name of Rita's family. I still don't know who the guy is who said it last issue, or why he said it, although he may be the same guy who kills Rita's father this time (I'd have to compare the two issues to confirm, since neither character left that strong an impression on me). The main problem I have with Black Canary so far is I just don't know what it's about, and this week did nothing significant to help that.

In conclusion, here are all the stories from this issue, listed form worst to best:
6. Black Canary/"Bitter Fruit Part 3"
5. Deadman/"Will the Real Devil Please Stand Up?"
4. Catwoman/"The Tin Roof Club"
3. Secret Six/"Bringing Home the Bacon"
2. Superman/"...Beyond Mortal Men!"
1. Green Lantern/"Room Service"

Sunday, December 28, 2014

2014

The highlight of my year, comics-wise, was getting to bring my "1987 And All That" project over to Comics Should Be Good, a blog that has offered me a much wider, more knowledgable audience of comicbook fans than ever before, and of which I was already a regular reader for several years by the time the generous Brian Cronin invited me to be a part of it. A pretty sweet bonus of my being a CSBG writer this year is that I also got to contribute to the annual Top 100 Comics list for Comic Book Resources, the mother site that CSBG is part of. Everyone involved sent in a top 10 list, with a brief explanation as to why each title was chosen, and then the folks at CBR tallied everything up and turned it into a top 100 list for the year. Normally, I don't like to do a formal "best of" list on Comics Matter for various reasons, but because I already put one together this year for CBR, and I was excited and honored to be able to do so, I thought I'd paste my submission for that site's list here in full, copied directly from the email I sent in. Not sure yet where any of these ended up on the final list (or if they made it on there at all), but we'll see as the week unfolds.


10. The Names
Even only four issues in, The Names has already made itself stand out as one of the weirdest and most intriguing series around. Peter Milligan is writing a great conspiracy adventure, one where we get to see all the sides without fully understanding any of them. I'm also crazy about both of the heroes, a dysfunctional duo who each bring their own darkness and comedy to the story. Leandro Fernandez's elastic art is the comic's true driving force, though. It's haunting and emotive, and it perfectly heightens the book's noir sensibilities.

9. Mighty Avengers
Really, Mighty Avengers gets my vote just because of the cast. They are an unusually and admirably diverse team, and they're all fantastic individual characters who Al Ewing writes the hell out of. Mighty Avengers has an idealistic heart, a quick wit, and a serious appreciation for the superhero genre. Plus the current Power Man's superpowers are awesome. He uses the chi of New York City? What does that even mean? I'm not sure I fully get it, or if Power Man himself even does, but Ewing makes it click and I love it. Which could also be said of the whole series.

8. The Wrenchies
The Wrencies is a heavy fantasy tale, overwhelmingly imaginative. Farel Dalrymple is a singular artistic talent, drawing in a sort of warped and muted psychedelic style. It's grittily trippy, and as magical as the novel's story. Themes of childhood insecurity and loneliness are mixed with fun-loving dystopian future demon violence for an uplifting tale of near-hopeless despair. The Wrenchies is, you can tell the first time, a book that requires multiple reads, and will likely never be grasped entirely.

7. Afterlife with Archie
Generally speaking, I am neither a fan of Archie nor zombies, but Afterlife with Archie sold me on both. No doubt, much of that has to do with Francesco Francavilla. The man is a tremendous artist, and for this kind of creeping horror story in particular, his style is the perfect match. The two-page splash of Sabrina the Teenage Witch meeting Cthulu for the first time might be the most memorable single image of any comic all year, and definitely holds a special place in my heart. Robert Aguirre-Sacasa's writing deserves plenty of credit, too. He's telling a pretty straightforward survivors-on-the-run story, but using the classic Archie character dynamics to add tension and complication at every turn.

6. She-Hulk
The biggest comicbook loss of 2014 was when Marvel announced the cancellation of She-Hulk (even though the series itself won't wrap up until January of next year). Charles Soule and Javier Pulido told great superhero stories and great legal dramas in the same space, tying the two genres together seamlessly to produce something that, if not entirely new, was at the very least fresh. It had a strong sense of humor, an impressive cast, and some of the best pop comics art on the shelves. I'm going to miss the hell out of She-Hulk, and I only hope it can continue to find fans even after it concludes, because it deserves much love for many reasons.

5. Harbinger and Harbinger: Omegas
Since it started in 2012, Harbinger has been one of the most interesting, compelling titles around. Joshua Dysart's character work is phenomenal, his villain at once classic and contemporary, and his hero probably the best-written teenage character I've ever encountered. This year, Harbinger reached its conclusion with the three-issue Harbinger: Omegas, and while it's not exactly the end of the line, at least for one character, it was nonetheless a fantastic finale. Indeed, all of the arcs this year—beginning with the introduction of the @x character and leading up to the final confrontation with Harada—were excellent, a mighty fine way for a solid series to make its exit.

4. Moon Knight
Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey, and Jordie Bellaire put together six of the hardest-hitting, best-looking superhero action comics of the year, bar none. Moon Knight isn't a character who is easy to do well, but Ellis found an angle that worked immediately, and Shalvey & Bellaire made it sing. An issue-long fight scene, an extended dream sequence, and deeply ambiguous endings are three things that would normally turn me off, but in the hands of this team they made for immensely satisfying reading. Some bemoaned the short lifespan of this run, but I think its brevity is part of why it belongs on this list. "Leave 'em wanting more" is advice taken not nearly often enough in comics, but Moon Knight is a prime example of how effective that approach can be.

3. Ms. Marvel
To create a new superhero in the either Marvel or DC Universe and have it not only succeed but truly break out is no easy feat. Those companies have such dense histories and so many well-established characters, most newcomers are quickly dismissed or forgotten. Kamala Khan isn't just new, she's in her own book, in her own city, and comes from a culture that is hugely underrepresented in the mainstream comic world. So her success, and the success of Ms. Marvelas a series, is significant for several reasons, not the least of which is that it breaks the mold of what's expected to sell. Also, it is a reliably awesome, entertaining, hilarious, heartwarming, great-looking superhero comic, so even without all other the things that set it apart from the herd, it's a standout series. It may not be my personal #1 pick, but I'd still say it's the one title that most deserves to be on this top 100 list for the year.

2. Revival
Revival is a comfort blanket. Or maybe it's more accurate to call it a pillar. My point is, you can count on it to always, always deliver. While other titles, even the great ones, have an off month here and there, Revival maintains its impeccable quality throughout. With Tim Seeley writing and Mike Norton drawing every issue, it's also one of the most cohesive and consistent books being published today. The story burns slowly but is still white-hot, a horror tale but also a small-town soap opera of the highest caliber. There isn't a single character in the expansive cast who comes across as shallow or underdeveloped; they are all full, complex, flawed, engaging people, meaning no matter who we're watching or what the situation is, our full attention is always demanded. I look forward to each new issue of Revival more than any other title I follow, and that has been consistently true since it debuted more than two years back.

1. Flash Gordon
Jeff Parker and Evan Shaner's Flash Gordon has so, so many things going for it, but above all else it's fun. And it has fun being fun, the characters and creators all enjoying themselves unabashedly. There's not nearly enough of that in comics, and what's so wonderful about this series is that it manages to have its fun without in any way detracting from the stakes of the stories it's telling. We care deeply about all three of our heroes, even as we laugh at their antics. Flash Gordon is an old-school character, and both Parker and Shaner respect that, giving the book a retro feel, yet simultaneously making it undeniably modern. It's the kind of series that makes you remember why you fell in love with comics in the first place, and at the same time gives you hope for the future of the medium. Hands down, I get more pure, unfiltered enjoyment and pleasure from reading Flash Gordon than anything else coming out right now.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

12/25

This Christmas has been my most relaxed, least Chistmas-y Christmas ever, and I've enjoyed it thoroughly. As has become an annual tradition (or is becoming one now, since this is the third consecutive year I've done it) I'll tell you how I spent the day.

I started reading Pascin. Alec Berry sent me a copy a few months ago but I slacked off and didn't actually get to it until today. It's very funny so far, if a little over-the-top and growing repetitive. It's early yet, though, so there's plenty of time for things to shake up. Sfar's art is stretchy in a way that works for the jittery, off-the-walls personality of the title character. Pascin is a man I know nothing about, so the book is interesting from an educational perspective, too. It's late and I'm beat, but I'll try to burn through a handful of more pages tonight for sure.

I went to my in-laws' place in Plymouth, MA for the day. Had an awesome brunch and an even more awesome dinner—beef wellington, as prepared by my wife's brother's professional chef girlfriend. Thanks, Julia (who will likely never read this)! It was insanely, perhaps dangerously delicious.

We watched Armageddon on TV, starting like 10-20 minutes in and going to the end. I don't know if I have ever watched that movie all the way through from start to finish like this ever before, but I've seen it all in chunks over the years. It's pretty laughable all over, and some of the performances are dreadful. Liv Tyler always looks like she's straining to act, and Ben Affleck seems uninterested in being there, which makes their scenes together and whole romantic subplot pretty blah. The animal cracker thing has stood out as the worst part of the movie since the first time I randomly saw it as a kid, and seeing the movie in order today didn't change my opinion. He sticks an animal cracker into her underwear. What is that? Who's idea was that? Has anyone ever found that moment legitimately sexy or romantic? If so, I'd love to know about it, because to me it's like the most awkward, least funny joke of all time, but being played as straight romance. The rest of the movie is ridiculous, too, make no mistake, but the animal cracker bit is the peak of the ridiculousness.

We also watched The Interview, which my brother-in-law actually purchased to own through YouTube. Good on him for that, says I, because I suspect the success of this movie via its online sales will have a pretty major influence on whether or not other movies get released this way in the future, and if that were to become a trend, I'd watch way more movies. Way more. Seriously, movie companies, you're leaving my money on the table by sticking with the theaters. Sadly yet predictably, The Interview blew, and was not worth even a modicum of the hype it's generated. That this is a movie which will forever be historically significant is sort of a drag, and also amazingly hilarious. So much funnier than anything in the film itself.

Most of my presents were warm clothes. I also got warm sheets from my parents, so I am super prepared for winters to come. As far as comics gifts, my in-laws got me The Essential Batman Encyclopedia by Robert Greenberger. I read the preface, which was interesting in that it was all about DC's many, many continuity reboots and how they complicate the task of compiling the history of a character like Batman. Because the Encyclopedia was published in 2008, and doesn't cover any comics that came out after September 2007, the preface ends with a reference to Countdown to Final Crisis, and of course makes no mention at all of the New 52, since that was not a thing yet. It's amusing how a thing written entirely about the constant churning up of the DCU's status quo would be dated and rendered partially obsolete by that same thing. I haven't dug any deeper than that, but I skimmed through everything, and it seems pretty comprehensive. Also, there's some fantastic art.

Now I am home, watching The Office on Netflix with my brother. I'm about to go eat some of my wife's cookies with candy bars baked into the middle. It's been a very merry Christmas this year.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Weekly Action Comics Weekly Review: Issue #610

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 tenth of those reviews.
I like this cover but it has nothing to do with anything that happens inside. That's fine, I guess, but unusual for this book. Also, I forgot to mention this last week, but Action Comics Weekly #609 was the first time ever the Green Lantern story didn't come first. It started with Black Canary, presumably because it was her debut in the series, and then Green Lantern went last, typically a slot reserved for Blackhawk, the character Black Canary replaced. This week, Green Lantern was up top again with Black Canary coming last as expected. Weirdly, though, Phantom Stranger debuted here, too, but came second. I'm guessing this is because it was a done-in-one story, so it's less of a big deal. Black Canary also got the cover of her first issue, but Phantom Stranger not, so he's treated with less fanfare front to back.
After a few weeks of self-reflection, Green Lantern goes classic superhero, and I love it. Hal Jordan dukes it out with the crazed swordsman, and then works with a local wise-cracking cop, Lt. Rensaleer, to figure out what caused the man's rampage. Turns out, it was the work of some new villain calling him/herself Mind Games, who sends a letter to the police taking credit for the crime demanding money to prevent it from happening again. Rensaleer refuses to take this threat seriously, but at the end of the issue, we see a hotel employee who's about to deliver food to Hal and Arisia go suddenly insane, preparing to stab Arisia with a steak knife as she opens the door. So Mind Games is obviously legitimate, and even though it's not the most original of evil schemes, I am interested to see how this plays out, and how it might end up tying to Hal's recent worries over his own lack of fear. After a rocky start, Peter David seems to be in full swing now, writing a smart, entertaining, and often funny superhero comic. Tod Smith is on point, too, particularly during the opening fight scene. I also loved the panel of Hal ordering room service, holding both the base and handle of the phone with ring energy in the shape of hands while his human hands held a book. Or maybe it was the menu? Seemed like too many pages for that, but it hardly matters, anyway. This wasn't an astounding chapter, but I have no real real gripes about it, big or small. The same cannot be said for any of the other stories in this issue of Action Comics Weekly. See below for details.
Without question, Kyle Baker's work on this Phantom Stranger section is the best and most original art Action Comics Weekly has had yet. It was energetic, wild, and deliberately rough, fitting the mania of Paul Kupperberg's story. I did not, however, love the resolution of this story. The plot is that Kenny Bushmiller, vulnerable because of how lonely he is and how sick of being trampled on by the rest of the world, gets tapped by some kind of machine-related demon. Kenny becomes connected through his own computer to other computer networks all over the world, causing all kinds of grand-scale problems in an instant. The Phantom Stranger finds a way to stop Kenny, and while it makes sense within the context of the story, I was not a fan. The Stranger attacks Kenny's memory, since memory is fundamental for any computer to operate, and it works, but with undesirable side effects. Kenny cannot remember his time under the demon's influence, or, as the Stranger describes it, "You recall nothing of what you had become...of the choice given you between good and evil...of the wrong choice made." Someone choosing to give in and commit to their dark side isn't something to be stolen from them, removed from their mind. The idea of taking away anyone's memories of anything without their consent seems cruel and unfair. It crosses a certain line that I'd rather not see my superheroes cross. Then again...what was the Phantom Stranger to do? Kenny's memory is where he was weak, the one spot where he could be hurt, so for the greater good I guess it was the only real option the Stranger had. All the same, having the bad guy be erased like that, and a semi-innocent man left confused and with a piece of his own past undone by someone else, it just didn't quite sit right with me. Again, though, the art was amazing, and the rest of the story clicked, so all told I enjoyed this, I just might've preferred a different, less personally invasive solution to the conflict.
First of all, the title "Catfight" is sexist. Secondly, it makes no sense, because last issue was when Nancy Reagan and Raisa Gorbachova, possessed by Satan and Deadman respectively, actually traded blows. This issue, Raisa challenges Nancy, but before they actually do anything to one another, both Satan and Deadman jump out of their bodies and into new hosts. The title is misleading and offensive, so it's a weak issue for Deadman from the start. With Wild Dog no longer appearing in this series, Deadman takes the role of the narrative I expect the least from, having been so weirdly unfocused and boring up to now. Both of those problems are abundantly present here. Yet again, the threat changes, this time because "Satan" is revealed to be a relatively minor demon, after someone claiming to be his boss shows up, disguised as D.B. Cooper, and takes him off the board. This is the most frustrating sudden change yet, because this supposed Satan character has been Deadman's main enemy for quite a stretch now, longer than any other antagonist, so for someone else to arrive out of nowhere and dispose of Satan so easily is anti-climactic and disappointing. It also means everything else that happens in this issue is pointless, since it all gets undone in an instant when the new villain—or whoever this second not-really-D.B. Cooper person is—arrives. Though Dan Jurgens continues to draw Deadman well, the perfect mix of gaunt and athletic, everything else about the Deadman story has been underwhelming, and gets more so each week.
So Bob Galt has powers of some kind. Did not see that coming. Apparently he can show other people things he has seen, a pretty damn useful ability, which he believes he gained due to his belief in Superman. It's kind of a long walk to get to the point where we learn about Galt's power, with him and Clark Kent first going to the Daily Planet so Galt can meet Perry White for some reason. Why White needs to get involved isn't obvious to me, but I guess if Superman is going to treat this whole case as a legitimate news story and actually cover it as Kent, he'd want his boss to know about it. Still, it feels like kind of a stalling tactic by Roger Stern, filling a few panels to pad out the script so it could end with the reveal of Galt's powers and what seems to be some kind of Superman cult. What's weird is that the panel showing the cult, even though it's already the biggest panel included, feels kind of cramped, so the story might have actually benefitted from giving that ending more room. In a two-page chapter, I can see why they wouldn't want to take up half the space with a single visual, but Galt's powers and the existence of others who worship Superman like he does are both significant developments, so I think the creators could've gotten away with giving that stuff a wider berth. As it stands, the ending is still satisfying, it just shows up after a slight drag in the middle. P.S. Kent's coat still looks crazy comfy, even seen much closer as it is here. I want one. Curt Swan, please tell me who made that coat for Kent, so I can have them whip one up for myself as well.
Now that we're in the thick of it, I'm finding this meat-packing mission pretty blah. For one thing, it's too similar to the first mission the Secret Six had, but without the interesting detail of the child CEO named Elvis. Also, the mission starts to fall apart for lame reasons this issue. One of the people who the Secret Six knocked out and impersonated wakes up sooner than expected, and we don't know why. Maybe an explanation is coming, but for now it comes across as a random fluke, a stroke of bad luck for the team not because of anything they did wrong but just because the story needed a splash of drama and difficulty for the heroes. Other than that, all we see are various members of the Secret Six successfully infiltrating the meat-packing place, but they get no useful info before things go awry. There is also a brief check-in with Rafael, which is probably the strongest scene. He makes a bold move to try and flee his captors, and their response is to drop an electrified metal door in his way. When he collides with it and gets full-body zapped, it's a brutal panel, as is the one that follows with Rafael's body sprawled out on the floor. Very good art from Dan Spiegle all around during Rafael's escape attempt. I also enjoyed the last page, visually, when Vic, grasping a pig carcass, starts falling into the blackness. It was comical and effectively scary at once, a nice, memorable final image. Secret Six always looks good, and Martin Pasko writes the team well, working together efficiently and believably. It's just that I'm not hooked on this meat thing, at least not yet, and I'd much rather see more of Rafael or find out something about Mockingbird than simply watch the Six go from one corporate foe to the next.
Much of this story was baffling. The entire first page, for example (seen above) as well as the entire last page. Neither of them made any sense to me; I had no idea who the characters were or what the hell they were talking about. On the first page, who are Scales and Librado? On the last, what does "My career with fish and game is going nowhere as an animated scarecrow" mean? Is it that his job is to scare of certain animals, so he thinks of himself as an animated scarecrow with a career that's going nowhere? Or is it that his career, whatever it is, is going nowhere the same way an animated scarecrow goes nowhere? And either way, who is he and why do I care about his career? So there was a lot of confusing dialogue on either end, and in the middle we hear Rita's story about her brother Luis being beaten up by well-known local criminals. Hearing this tale, Dinah decides to suit up as Black Canary, and there is one truly amazing panel where Randy Burke draws Black Canary with the new, more practical look she promised last week, looking intense and formidable and ready for action. It's a powerful and intimidating image, and sells me all over again on Black Canary as a hero. Sadly, that single beat isn't enough to save the rest of the story, which is half inscrutable and half a pretty standard, none-too-captivating explanation of Rita's familial issues. Burke does good work all the way through, and I'm really impressed with the acting of all the characters. They have very subtle, soft, realistic expressions and body language, which helps even the most confusing scenes. Sharon Wright's scripts are going to need to get a lot clearer soon, though, or I may end up too lost to ever find my way back to a place of understanding.

In conclusion, here are all the stories from this issue, listed from worst to best:
6. Deadman/"Catfight"
5. Black Canary/"Bitter Fruit Part 2"
4. Secret Six/"...Another Man's Poison"
3. Superman/"Show & Tell"
2. Phantom Stranger/"Kenny and the Demon!"
1. Green Lantern/"Risky Business"

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Weekly Action Comics Weekly Review: Issue #609

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 ninth of those reviews.
Brian Bolland has got to be one of my top 3 cover artists ever, and this cover is easily the best Action Comics Weekly has had yet, so...score another one for ol' BB. Also, some of the scans of this issue are super crooked, which, once again, has to do with the misshapenness of my beat up old copy.
I liked this opening chapter of the new Black Canary storyline, even though it didn't really offer much of a story hook. Instead, it introduced the very beginnings of several threads: Dinah Lance burning her Black Canary costume in favor of going old school, and also becoming more practical; Rita, a friend of Dinah's, getting into some kind of violent trouble, the details of which are still vague—someone named Luis gets chased, caught, and pummeled by three other men, and Rita comes to his aid with a baseball bat, but we don't know any more than that; a cop named William B. MacDonald is trying to round up immigrants who are known criminals in their home countries; and finally, there's a news story about a man suing a chemical company, claiming they caused him to fail his physical and thus lose his job as a pilot. Other than Rita and Dinah being friends, none of these ideas are connected yet in any apparent way, but they all have potential, and I definitely want to know more about each of them. There are a lot of questions raised by these brief, cursory glances at the various stories being set up by Sharon Wright, and I am excited for the answers to start rolling in. In the meantime, Randy Duburke produced very grounded, lifelike art, and made some interesting choices in terms of angles and flow. The momentum of the story was jerky yet smooth, every panel placed and constructed with obvious care, but not always leading super naturally from one moment to the next. It made the action very bold, what little there was of it. None of that action involved the title character, but she was drawn exceptionally, both herself and Oliver Queen being the most detailed in their design and emotion. Once that in-depth physicality is combined with Duburke's flair for unpredictable action, there should be some stellar fights involving Black Canary herself, so that's one more thing to look forward to. Basically, this whole section is about giving the reader stuff to look forward to, and while it borders on throwing too many balls into the air too early, it's effective as a whole, and I am sincerely looking forward to seeing where the story goes.
Deadman and Satan jump into the bodies of Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, respectively, and after some badly-written, dull arguing that goes nowhere, they switch to Nancy and Raisa, also swapping countries during the transition, so Deadman ends up in Raisa's body. At that point, Satan explains his hyper-inane evil scheme: he's going to make Nancy Reagan into a TV star, and use her fame to encourage American women to starve themselves. Not only is that convoluted as shit, it's surprisingly low-stakes and narrow in scope for a villain like the Devil. This Deadman narrative has never done a great job of holding my interest because of its lack of focus, but this installment lost me because it was fundamentally boring on a conceptual level. Also, the first two pages were Deadman as the CIA director having an argument with the director's mistress, Lynn, before realizing that it was completely pointless to stay in the director's body any longer and bailing. So Lynn, who was the center of the conclusion last week and takes up the first 25% of this week is a totally unnecessary character, a distraction that the story and its protagonist abandon in an incredibly awkward fashion. I'm beyond tired of Deadman in Action Comics Weekly by now, with this being my least favorite chapter to date, trying to force tension and excitement into a drawn-out conversation about an unimpressive threat.
Secret Six seems to be in a pretty good groove right now, one it slipped into a few weeks ago, around the time Rafael first infiltrated the Six's HQ. His storyline, the mission with the meat-packing plant, and Vic's personal drama have all been developed pretty steadily since then, and all three are compelling in their own ways. Vic's story has had the best art from Dan Spiegle, the fistfight between Vic and his ex-wife's new husband having a few new great moments this issue (see above for more than one example). That thread is also the most in-depth individual character development Martin Pasko has done, and all of the Secret Six seem like interesting people, so it's been a nice little arc to follow for that reason as well. It seems to be resolved now, with Vic returning to the team in San Francisco, but it was fun while it lasted. Rafael's story is basically the central plot, all tied up in the tangled web of Mockingbird's hidden identity and motives. This issue, the Secret Six gets close to finding where Rafael ran off to, but not in time to get to him before some other, previously unseen agents of Mockingbird's do. Those men kidnap Rafael, but also say something about Mockingbird not wanting him hurt, so it's still tough to say just how Mockingbird views Rafael, or what he wants from the whole situation. We also still don't know if he was responsible for killing the original Secret Six, or which one of them he is (if they were right about him being one of the team). Pasko has successfully stretched out the mystery surrounding Mockingbird all this time, keeping much about the character unknown without it slowing things down or getting frustrating. I feel very close to gaining some insight now, since it seems Rafael may get to meet Mockingbird in person at last. The meat-packing stuff continues to be the least interesting, but the end of this chapter has the Secret Six ambushing two reporters in their car, and I liked the style and teamwork employed in that scene. It was a nice moment of excitement at the end, in a chapter full of exciting bursts, in a story that's reliably solid nowadays. As I said, it's in a groove.
Superman slightly deceives a citizen in the name of tracking down the people who tried to have said citizen murdered. That works for me, especially since Roger Stern makes sure to have Superman think to himself how uncomfortable he is taking advantage of Bob Galt's belief in Superman as a god/savior. Supes is on the edges of his typical boy scout morality, and I always prefer to see him sticking to that straight-laced attitude. I'm not big on the character overall, but when I see him, I want him to be the Superman I know, the supreme do-gooder, the lawful good paladin of the DC Universe. This is that version, but with just the right pinch of flexibility, willing to lie a little if it can lead to helping a lot. Not much else goes on this week; Superman (as Clark Kent) accompanies Galt out of police custody, then uses his heat vision to send Galt a message from Superman saying, "Trust Kent." That way, he figures, he can get the info he needs from Galt about the people who were after him without needing to expose that Kent and Superman are one and the same. It's a smart plan, easy to execute quickly, cutting right through Galt's hesitation and getting to the point. That directness is another thing I expect and enjoy in Superman. It's been true from the very first issue of Action Comics Weekly, where Curt Swan drew the best Superman hair curl I've ever seen—this Superman is the ideal Superman, a take on the character that's classic without being dated or stiff. The story is also a lot of fun, maybe it's best quality.
Wild Dog finally concludes, and it mostly sucks for all the usual reasons, but the very, very end got a giggle out of me. Wild Dog, as he's wont to do, reveals that he is only pretending to be down, getting the jump on the guy guarding him. He then demands to know where the Legion of Morality is headed, but the guard insists he doesn't have that information. One page later, Wild Dog shows up at the museum which the Legion had just finished attacking, saying that he "gathered" that it would be the target location, but there's zero explanation beyond that, so it's a weak-at-best plot point. Six men then unload automatic weapons at Wild Dog, who slides under the bullets. I wish I were kidding, but he seriously just drops to the ground and slips beneath the shots, before gunning down all of his attackers in one motion. Wild Dog has always been one of those inexplicably bullet-proof heroes, but this was a new level of insanity and unbelievability. Continuing to defy logic, he then decides he cannot trust a confession from antagonist B. Lyle Layman at gunpoint, but he can believe Layman if he's strapped to explosives. Seems crazy to me, because threatening a person's life is threatening their life, no matter the method you choose, but I guess we needed one final example of how insane and extreme Wild Dog likes to be. Ultimately, there's not enough evidence for the police to hold Layman, but one of the victims of the museum attack turns out to be the son of Helen Scournt, the woman Laymen recently started sleeping with, and the very last panel of this story is Helen, with a crazed look in her eye, sneaking up on Layman in bed and wielding a knife. So we can pretty safely assume she kills him, and as dark as that is, I liked it better as an ending than Wild Dog being the one to do Layman in. Helen as Layman's executioner is considerably less expected, and indeed was something I would never have anticipated at all, so I give the story credit for surprising me in it's closing beat. Otherwise, though, it was pretty awful stuff, okay-looking violence that I neither supported nor believed, all in the context of an uninteresting story with a fairly flimsy cast.
I loved this. The Oprah audience challenges Hal Jordan's assertion that he has no fear, and the points they make are well thought-out and convincing. It's human nature to be fearful, they say, and a truly fearless person would have trouble surviving into adulthood, because children are already more reckless as it is. There's also a woman who challenges the idea that a hero can really be fearless, because heroism necessitates doing something in spite of the fact that it's scary, real bravery requires facing fears, not lacking them. I buy that as a valid definition of "hero," even if I don't entirely agree, and it shakes up Hal for sure. He doesn't have much to say in response to any of the audience's ideas, and after the show is over, we see him actively doubt himself. Even during the show, actually, there's a moment where he's asked if his fearlessness also means he's mentally unstable, and though he denies his own insanity, he has to (internally) admit that Guy Gardner, another Green Lantern, is frighteningly crazy. Hal's post-show self-doubt gets interrupted by a madman attacking a café full of people with a sword, but when Hal swoops in to save the day, his ring leaves him. I'm guessing this is because all the questioning of his fear has made Hal fearful, suddenly afraid that he does feel fear or that he should feel fear, and this new fear of fear makes him no longer worthy of being a Green Lantern. If that's the case, I'm in. If not...I'm still interested to see what is going on. Peter David is clearly quite interested in the whole fearless thing that has long been a part of the Green Lantern mythos, and based on this issue, I'm happy to be along for the ride as David examines the ins and outs of it. Hal feels like the best Lantern to do this with, too, because he's always been the most eager to prove himself, the most determined to do the job right, do it better than anyone. Now he's ringless and fearful for the first time, so it should make for some entertaining comics.

In conclusion, here are all the stories from this issue, listed from worst to best:
6. Deadman/"Faux Pas"
5. Wild Dog/"Moral Stand Chapter Nine: Red Pencil"
4. Secret Six/"Canned in Boston"
3. Superman/"And There Will be a Sign!"
2. Black Canary/"Bitter Fruit Part 1"
1. Green Lantern/"Cutting Remarks"

Elsewhere

Two weeks back I put out my new "1987 And All That" on Comics Should Be Good, looking at the first four issues of the first-ever The Punisher ongoing series. Also, CSBG celebrated its 10th anniversary a few days ago, which is freakin' awesome, so a big congrats to them. This week, I wrote for PopMatters about the differences between big cities and small towns, as interpreted through several comics I've read lately. That column was inspired by Sometimes a Great Notion, my all-time favorite prose book and something I recently reread.

Something I Failed to Mention
Obviously for the PopMatters post, I focused on the comics themselves, and only briefly nodded to Sometimes a Great Notion as the story that brought all of this city-vs.-country stuff to the front of my mind. I didn't dig into the novel in any way, partly because the bulk of my writing is always devoted to comics, and partly because Sometimes a Great Notion is supremely dense and complicated, so I don't think I could've given it a proper analysis, even just looking at one specific theme, and still had room to discuss comics at all. That's still true, but there is a single bit of praise I'd like to give to Sometimes in a public forum, the one thing about it that makes me claim it as my favorite book above all others forever. Joe Ben's death scene is the best, most impactful, most heartbreaking, most effective fictional death I've ever experienced. I can still remember reading it for the first time, alone in a hotel room in Madrid, where I'd spent the last three in solitude plowing through most of the novel. When Joe Ben finally died, after many excruciating pages of the water rising around him, his body pinned down by a tree, his cousin and best friend Hank standing there helplessly and watching it happen...I had to take a nap. It shook me to my core. On this most recent reread, that scene got to me all over again. Of all the crazy, deeply personal, truly tragic shit that goes down in the story, Joe Ben dying is the moment that burns most brightly in my memory. It rocks me every time I revisit it.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Terminal Hero #4 Review

Obviously this review is coming in pretty late. This whole blog is running late these days. I meant to do a Dirty Dozen on Hinterkind weeks ago, which is like the easiest thing I ever write, but somehow I never got around to it and now issue #13 is out. Don't fret, though, because I think I'm just going to do a piece on that title for PopMatters instead. I've got lots of reasons for my tardiness that aren't worth getting into, but please don't think Terminal Hero is the only comic I'm neglecting. On to the actual review!
     It finally hit me in this issue that Terminal Hero isn't a narrative with a strange pacing problem like I've thought all this time. It's more like a thought experiment in comicbook form, and therefore it intentionally rushes from one idea to the next, since its top priority is idea generation, not storytelling. Part of my realizing this was the phrase "thought experiment" being used in the dialogue, and the rest came from the fact that this issue represented yet another sudden turn in the direction of Rory's life. I've been thinking of the constant status quo shake-ups as Peter Milligan moving too quickly through the narrative, but now I'm convinced that what he's doing is letting all the ideas he has for this central concept (a guy suddenly getting unlimited power from his cancer treatment) spill out of his head freely into the comic. Rather than finding a specific interesting angle an then developing something around it, Milligan is looking at all the possible the angles one by one, and that's fine. It's not what I expected and maybe not even what I'd prefer, but at least I feel like I get it now.
     While I was having that minor epiphany, here's something that confused me: I thought Mia and Minesh were a couple, but evidently he's never seen her naked before, since she reveals her body and its many self-inflicted scars to him in this issue. So now I'm not clear on what their relationship is, exactly, or how they even know each other. Maybe we were told that when they originally met with Raza, but I can't remember seeing any explanation of who they are to one another, which I'm assuming is why I assumed they were romantically involved. I'll have to go back and find out what their connection is before issue #5 comes out.
     The moment where Mia exposes herself is handled nicely by Piotr Kowalski, who continues to be a great fit for this book. His ghost Dr. Quigley, who is essentially the center of the issue's main conflict, is somehow even more terrifying and gross-looking than the original Quigley, who was an unnerving, over-inflated freakshow in his own right. I think it's the paleness that really pushes the ghost version over the edge, so kudos to Kelly Fitzpatrick on that one as well. Terminal Hero found its look right away, so I won't continue to praise the art repetitively in these reviews, but some other visual highlights from this issue were Rory running through the woods with while freaking out and letting his powers do the same, and the moment where the agent in charge of handling Rory—I forget her name right now...I think of her as "Sir" because that's what the other agent calls her in like every one of his lines—looks at the table full of alcohol bottles and prepares herself for some big-league drinking. She hasn't been developed much at all aside from being a fairly typical hardass secret agent type character, and while someone like that having a drinking problem isn't exactly new ground, I was glad to get some insight into who she is when she's off the clock. Of course, it was Milligan who chose to include that scene, but Kowalski made it work in a single panel, perfectly capturing the resignation in her face, the surrender she finally allows herself. It's an important bit of characterization done efficiently.
     I don't have tons of new stuff to say about Terminal Hero #4. Basically, it was much like the previous three issues, except that the rapid-fire tempo of the series finally clicked for me this time, whereas it has always rubbed me the wrong way before. That makes me look forward to what's coming down the pipeline more than I ever have previously, and Rory being on a collision course with Mia and Minesh now only adds to that anticipation. Maybe Terminal Hero #5 will be the one that makes me fall in love.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Weekly Action Comics Weekly Review: Issue #608

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 eighth of those reviews.
Green Lantern gets a new writer! Blackhawk concludes! Wild Dog almost concludes! Deadman, Secret Six, and Superman all keep on keepin on!
After Tod Smith replaced original artist Gil Kane last issue, Peter David takes over the writing duties from James Owsley this week, and it's a very weird story to be the first of his run. Hal Jordan sleeps in the day of his Oprah interview, stops a few small-time robbers on his way there, and makes it just in time. Then, during the show, when he says he was chosen because he has no fear, the whole audience bursts into laughter, which seems to throw Hal for quite a loop. That's the story's ending, a much less exciting beat than, say, when Jordan makes a gigantic green gorilla to scoop up the robbers' vehicle and swallow it whole. So I didn't love the conclusion, and the entire affair was bizarre inasmuch as the notion of Green Lantern going on Oprah struck me as odd right away when it was brought up last time. Not to mention, there's very little talk during the actual interview about the whole mess with Star Sapphire and John Stewart, even though supposedly the main reason for Hal to be on the show was to clear all that up. Oprah does ask a question about Star Sapphire, and when Hal starts to answer, we suddenly cut to a half hour later. The details of what he said, how he tried to save his friend from being wrongfully imprisoned, and how effective any of that was all remain a mystery, and I'm a little worried we'll never get answers. I have to trust David not to merely drop threads established by Owsley, but the final scene of this story is about people laughing at Hal over his fearlessness, a completely new problem introduced, perhaps, too soon, as little else has been resolved yet. This wasn't a bad chapter of Green Lantern, but it was blah and a bit off, and not at all the strongest introduction for David.
The best part of this Wild Dog story is that it promises to conclude next week. I'm excited for that. This issue sees main villain B. Lyle Layman finally make his move on Helen, the woman he was leering at in the earliest issues but who hasn't been seen since. I had sort of forgotten that their potential future relationship had even ever been hinted at, and all of a sudden here they were sealing the deal. When talking with the police, Helen seems to remember something she saw that I bet will be important in catching Layman in the end, though she won't admit it yet, not when their romance is still so fresh. Still, for someone who has been mostly ignored by this story, Helen is in a possibly very powerful and influential position. The rest of the story centers on Wild Dog's injury from last week's gunfight. After he and Lt. Flint talk about the wound for a page, Wild Dog meets back up with the Legion of Morality and finally gets to be part of one of their outings. However, as he's suiting up to join them, one of the team leaders spots his bandaged arm, and this reveals him as Wild Dog. So Layman pistol whips him real good right in the face, and the Legion heads out to do their evil deeds unhindered while our hero is trapped and unconscious in their clutches. It should be the height of tension and drama in this story, but I'm not feeling much of that, because a) I'm not super invested in this story overall, and b) Wild Dog has been seemingly taken out once before, and he just woke up and blasted his way throw the bad guys effortlessly that time like he always does. His skill and luck in every fight are so ridiculously good, I don't worry about him even when it looks like all is lost. The dude is nigh-invincible, and I have no doubt he'll shoot his way out of this pickle per usual. Whatever happens, next week is the last week of Wild Dog for a stretch, and I could use the break.
All-in-all, this was a fairly average installment of Secret Six, but it was my favorite section of the issue because of a few key panels as drawn by the talented Mr. Dan Spiegle. In the opening page above, you can see Rafael Di Renzi looking like a shocked muppet in the lower right corner, an expression that gets repeated in the same space of the last page but by a different character (someone in the Secret Six—I still don't know most of their names). Both of those images made me laugh, and even if comedy isn't what Spiegle was going for, the point is the characters' emphatic looks got a reaction out of me, their emotions coming through so forcefully that I was disarmed. Spiegle has in the past done some excellent horror stuff, and there's a panel in here of Vic being fitted with a latex face over his vision-restoring helmet that I enjoyed on a gross-out level. But the best visual in this story, and indeed in this entire issue, was Vic punching his ex-wife's new husband through a window and onto a table. The panel where he hits the table, his limbs flailing, glass flying everywhere, people freaking out all around him, it's fantastically chaotic. There are no sound effects or dialogue, yet all the sounds of madness are still present somehow, because Spiegle just nails the sight of it so perfectly. It might be the best single panel in Action Comics Weekly yet, combining the fun of comicbook physics with Spiegle's generally more grounded style to create an entertaining, eye-catching, hard-hitting image. Do I care much about Vic's difficulties with his ex? Not particularly, but if it's going to lead to more of this level of artwork, I'm all for it. Meanwhile, the Secret Six continue to prepare for their next mission, exposing an evil meat-packing place that's making people sick, and the throughline of the investigation into the original Secret Six's plane crash moves slightly forward, too. So there's a lot going on, and while none of it makes a great deal of progress this week, it all looks great.
The plot thickens, as we get a glimpse of the people behind the attempted murder of Mr. Galt, whom they call "the Courier," whatever that means. He in turn refers to them as "non-believers," and since we know Galt worships Superman, and the baddies also say something about not planning on encountering Superman for months, it's starting to look like this whole thing is more directly tied to the Man of Steel than it originally seemed. Things are starting to develop more and more quickly now that there's a decent amount of information available, and since it's a fairly safe assumption that the silhouette who wants to talk to Galt at the end of this chapter is Superman, chances are we're going to learn a good deal more next week. The real headline here, though, is how comfy and cool Clark Kent's jacket looks. Is it wool? It seems like it might be, and whatever it's made of, I want one. Something about the loose-yet-snuggly fit of it and the visual appeal of the little black dots...Curt Swan, John Beatty, and Tom Ziuko all come together to make it one of the coziest-looking articles of clothing I've ever come across, comicbook or otherwise. I'm not sure if that was the intent, since Clark is wearing it at work so it's probably just a sports jacket, but whatever they were going for, it was, no jokes, my favorite part of this week's Superman story. Also, I liked that despite having no action and no in-costume Superman, this was still a fun, captivating read. I keep getting a lot out of this Superman narrative, which manages to advance just the right amount almost every week.
Dammit, Deadman! Why must you continue to be so disjointed? This week, we see Deadman escape Hell, only to discover that the Devil (or whoever it is that claims to be the Devil) got out first and is on the loose, killing people and doing who knows what else. So Deadman jumps into the body of the director of the CIA as a means of getting his hands on the special alien weapon he believes will be able to capture the Devil, just like it did to him. From there, things go nutty and get mostly boring. We get a few pages worth of Deadman trying to deal with the CIA director's personal problems, namely his wife leaving him over his numerous affairs. Part of that ordeal involves one of the women he cheated with, Lynn, calling him to say his wife found out about them somehow and confronted her. Deadman engages with Lynn at first, but quickly decides he doesn't have time to care about that stuff, which is basically how I felt about it while it was happening. He also "has a feeling" that the Devil is going to attend a gala reception that night for a visiting Soviet premier, though why the Devil would make that move is unclear to me and never properly explained. Mostly Deadman seems to choose that spot because the CIA director already has an invite, so it's a convenient place to start, but you've got to figure that in service of the story, the Devil will be there, so I'm curious to see if it ends up making sense for Deadman to have predicted that once we find out what the Devil's motives are. The cliffhanger this week is Deadman running into Lynn, the CIA director's girlfriend, at the gala, which might be exciting if he hadn't been so dismissive of her earlier, and if his dismissiveness hadn't matched my own feelings. I mean, better to have her show back up than for the initial conversation between her and Deadman to have been wholly pointless, but I'd kind of prefer if the CIA director's own life wasn't part of this story at all. Unless...Lynn's probably the Devil, huh? I'm just thinking that for the first time now, and there's no real evidence besides her having red hair, but I'll make that prediction anyway, because it seems like the only good reason to include her. Regardless, the whole story was annoying because, once again, it represented a totally new situation for Deadman to deal with, and the frequency with which that happens is becoming unpleasantly dizzying.
The ending of the Blackhawk narrative, while satisfying in its results, felt rushed in its execution. There's a ton of exposition from Cynthia about the history of the statue she came to retrieve, and none of it is all that interesting. It's the typical history of religious art in wartime, thing changing hands several times and records being lost, and while that is certainly a sad reality of war, it's not the most compelling material, especially when delivered in info dump format. Once that's all been explained, Blackhawk and Cynthia's lives get saved because of a random lightning strike toppling a tree and causing a cave-in, which is a pretty lame way to get the heroes out of trouble. If not for a perfectly timed and placed act of nature, they'd be dead and Red Dragon would still have all her money and power. Instead, she gets shot out of the sky by André, who we knew had to show up last minute to save the day based on his set-up. He's surprisingly joined by Chuck Sirianni, who I'm assuming is an established Blackhawk character but had never been mentioned before in this story as far as I can remember. So that was a random addition to the cast right at the finish line, and it fed into the generally sped-up feeling of this whole conclusion. Even the central plane fight was a bit hard to follow, not given enough room to do anything all that fun or explosive. The very, very end, where Blackhawk and Cynthia take a few parting, friendly jabs at each other worked nicely as a topper, as their dynamic has always been the best element of this narrative, and now that all their secrets are out they can be even more at-ease with one another. I'm guessing she won't come along when Blackhawk returns in Action Comics Weekly #615 (as promised at the end of this issue), which is too bad, but I appreciate that she and he had one final, enjoyable exchange. This ended as I knew it would end, with Cynthia's past exposed, and both she and Blackhawk barely escaping with the gold and their lives, so in terms of the facts of the plot, I liked this as much as I expected to. It moved a little fast, so I sort of wish that Blackhawk had gotten one more issue, but what can you do? It worked, just not quite as smoothly as I'd hoped.

In conclusion, here are all the stories from this issue, listed from worst to best:
6. Wild Dog/"Moral Stand Chapter Eight: Winged Dog"
5. Deadman/"Gala Reception"
4. Green Lantern/"Where the Heck is Green Lantern?"
3. Blackhawk/"Another Fine War - Conclusion"
2. Superman/"Questions and Mysteries"
1. Secret Six/"Blind Impulse"

Monday, December 1, 2014

Monthly Dose: November 2014 [Belated]

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

100 Bullets #25: There is an awful lot of talk about the Trust and the Minutemen in this issue, way more conversation on those topics (and somewhat less cryptic), than we've seen in this series thus far. Brian Azzarello isn't providing many concrete answers, but we get a considerable amount of insight into how the Trust operates, and what their relationship was and is to the Minutemen. Exactly why and how those two groups parted ways remains unclear, and what either side wants now is hard to suss out, too, mostly because it doesn't seem like the Trust even knows what Graves wants, and Graves is the Minutemen, for all intents and purposes. The air of mystery surrounding these characters is enticing, but at the same time, a good chunk of the dialogue in this issue felt empty because of its ambiguity. The members of the Trust took various shots at one another and at Graves, but it didn't amount to much, and most of it was too vague to carry any real weight. The most enjoyable part of seeing the Trust all together was the variety Eduardo Risso brought to their designs. Physically, they're quite the unusual bunch, but they all share the smugness and self-importance that comes with being insanely wealthy and powerful, and all of their body language speaks to that, even if they all have different body dialects. The Trust felt like the center of this issue, but the real thrust of the arc has always been Benito's plotline, and it concludes here in a fairly spectacular fashion. Benito offers his would-be killer a choice: either take the cash he thinks he's owed, or risk everything by taking a bet on a basketball game for significantly more money. It's an intelligent play by Benito, presenting him as much smarter, more aware, and more concerned for others than he's been up to this point, yet it still fits with what else we've seen of his character. He's a more layered figure than he appeared initially, and this arc did a lot to build him up, as well as adding depth and intrigue to the overarching Trust-Minutemen story that we'd gotten only glimpses of before.


Automatic Kafka #1: Right away, Automatic Kafka is a trip, yet Joe Casey and Ashley Wood take pains to make it comprehensible, too. You get a full hook: android and former professional superhero/celebrity Automatic Kafka has spent his whole life trying to find some kind of humanity for himself, and finally touches it when he tries nanotecheroin, a drug/nanobot hybrid designed specifically to get androids high. Most of the issue is us watching Kafka experience that high, revisiting parts of his past, both specific and symbolic, guided by a nude woman who claims to be death but is probably really just a powerful, perhaps even supernatural hallucination. It gives Wood ample opportunities to draw some crazy, near-abstract stuff, since it's all essentially Kafka's dream, so it doesn't need to abide by any rules. Casey can go a little nuts, too, and that's the whole spirit of this book from the cover to the backmatter—free-flowing creativity. It makes for an incredibly fun read, and a bit of a challenge in places, more a comment on or exploration of the comicbook medium than the superhero genre. Kafka being a hero is, for the debut at least, largely incidental. It helps explain his existence and gives him some rich material for his high, but his being a robot is more important, and so is the mere fact that he's on drugs. This issue does what a first issue ought to do, introducing the story's protagonist and inserting him into an interesting situation, and it does so with style. Casey's writing is verbose without being dense; Wood's art is chaotic without being unclear. It's a damn impressive opening move.


X-Force (vol. 1) #25: The big 25th-issue extravaganza sees Cable return to X-Force, and it's a pretty big disappointment from my point of view. I've been loving this series since it switched gears and became all about a group of young, angry mutants trying to forge their own path, but with poppa Cable back in the mix, I'm not super optimistic about where this comic is going anymore. It took such a long time for the old, Liefeld-era crap to be disposed of, and just when it seemed like we were done with that for good, here comes perhaps the most classically Liefeldian character of all time. The story's fairly weak, too, all about the team trying to reclaim Graymalkin (or at least its programming) from Magneto, which, again...it's just all Cable shit, the comic's past showing up and taking the reins again. I was also sort of confused by everyone's behavior...Exodus arrives suddenly with a weird offer to take a specific set of X-Force's members to someplace called Heaven (it's Graymalkin), and the reactions from the heroes seem off to me. Cannonball, rather than being all "Fuck you" like usual, agrees to go with Exodus, but only if certain extra people from X-Force can come along. Then that the whole thing turns out to be sort of a scam, because Cannonball gives Cable the means to track him when he leaves with Exodus, which feels like it defeats the purpose of his going in the first place. If Cannonball is legitimately interested in what Exodus has to say, then why have Cable and the rest of the team do a track and rescue thing? If Cannonball's not interested, why not tell Exodus to shove it? I have a hard time understanding the motivations, and it's all immaterial, anyway, since the real point of all that is just to get Cable to Graymalkin so he can be pissed off at Magneto for stealing it. Oh, and the reveal of Magento, as well as the much earlier reveal of Cable, are both about as unsurprising as possible. I'm sure there's more I could say, but I'm finding I don't have the energy to keep going, because this issue was more deflating than anything else. I disliked it passionlessly.