Monday, February 16, 2015

Birthday & Hiatus

It's my birthday today. I turned 28.

As a present to myself, I'm going to have Comics Matter go dark until sometime in the second week of March. At the beginning of that month, my wife and I are spending a week in Mexico, and between now and then I have a fairly tight schedule between work things, preparing for the trip at home, and getting my PopMatters and CSBG stuff finished ahead of time so I'm not writing them during my vacation. As such, the simplest, easiest thing to cut out of my calendar is this blog, since it's just my personal jam. So no new Weekly Action Comics Weekly reviews until I get back from my trip, and February's Monthly Dose will be heavily belated, and nothing else is going to get posted here for a bit, either. Once I return, I damn well ought to be recharged enough to get back to something resembling regularly scheduled programming.

Happy birthday to me. See you all in less than a month, but not much less.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Weekly Action Comics Weekly Review: Issue #616

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 (give or take) for 42 weeks. This is the sixteenth of those reviews.
For what I think is the first time ever, the order of the stories this week was exactly the same as last week. Weird.
I really liked seeing Hal Jordan use his powers in innovative ways to escape the safe, but I was not such a big fan of the scenes with the villains. The as-yet-unseen head villain is annoying with her arrogance and lack of a face, and the rest of the bunch are gratingly childlike. They also look terrible, just bizarre character designs that seem to neither have a function nor make any real statement about who they are. They look strange for the sake of it. So these characters don't do it for me, but that's alright, because all the better for Jordan to ultimately stomp them into the ground. The highlight this week was his escape, though, as I said. He chips the yellow paint away with his ring, using it as a physical tool rather than an energy conductor/manipulator/whatever the right word is, which I thought was a clever little detail from Peter David. Just because Jordan's powers are negated doesn't mean his ring is useless, and that's nice. He then creates a green drill to make a hole in the un-yellowed part of the safe, through which he shoots a beam out and makes a Hulk knock-off construct that frees him. It's a series of smart, quick-thinking moves by Jordan, making me like him and believe in him as a hero in a way I don't know I ever have in this series before. Of course, he then verbally beats the crap out of Arisia, and even though he feels bad afterwards, he doesn't really do enough to try and make up for it because he's in such a hurry to track down the baddies. That was disappointing behavior, an soured me on him only moments after I'd been so staunchly in his corner. Between the Arisia business and the 3 pages worth of obnoxious villains, this story ended up being mostly a letdown, but it opened with a very interesting and entertaining use of its main character.
Blackhawk is boring this time around. Martin Pasko doesn't have the same zippiness or humor in his writing as Mike Grell did, which makes the narrative move much more slowly. Also, this story is not nearly as intriguing—it's a conspiracy/murder investigation rather than a treasure hunt, and the man hiring Blackhawk here (Leslie Richardson) doesn't have any of the mystery of the nun from the first story. Leslie lays it all on the table right away, which makes me care less about what happens, because he's just a talking plot hook instead of a real character. On top of the actual mission being dull, the opening three pages have pretty much nothing to do with it. They're just sort of check-in scenes where we see what the rest of Blachawk's crew is up to right now, which mainly consists of them talking about what they're up to amongst themselves, so that's a decent amount of wasted space. Especially considering Blackhawk later repeats to Leslie almost all of the info those first few pages provide. This is not unclear or even badly written, it's just progressing at a crawl and not capturing my interest. Hopefully there will be some action next week, and things will pick up from there.
It sounds insane when I say it in my head, but Wild Dog may have been my favorite story in this issue. It did squander its first 2 pages, spending more than 25% of its total space—for some reason this was only 7 pages instead of 8—on inefficiently recapping last week's events. But the heart of the narrative was what came next, when Daniel Crown, the kid who witnessed Wild Dog shooting some robbers, got in an argument with his friends at the comicbook store about whether or nor Wild Dog is a "real" superhero. It's a debate I imagine took place in real comicbook stores at the time, and certainly several of my problems with the character were brought up by Daniel's opposers. It was good to see these complaints addressed in the actual comic; that display of self-awareness made me more forgiving of Wild Dog's bad points. He may be flawed and not fit into everyone's definition of "hero," but he knows that and so do his creators, and they're doing their thing anyway, which is admirable in its way. The rest of the story sees Daniel equipping himself with his own mini version of Wild Dog's battle gear, getting cash from his neglectful, alcoholic mother and buying his weapons from pawn shops. This naturally leads to him going out on his own patrol (he has a moped) and finding Wild Dog in the middle of a hostage situation. Daniel decides his hero needs back-up, so chances are he's about to involve himself directly in the violence, which can't possibly go well for anyone. I look forward to seeing Wild Dog being he's forced to face the negative influence of his methods and message. I don't expect him to change his mind, but it might, at least, add some much-needed depth to his character.
Not surprisingly, it turns out Superman didn't kill the man he threw against a wall last week. There was, evidently, some sort of transceiver implanted in his brain that allowed someone to remotely listen in on him and also kill him from a distance. No sooner do Superman and the doctors figure all that out then the transceiver is used to blow the dead man up, which Curt Swan, inker Murphy Anderson, and colorist Petra Scotese draw like the Sun firing confetti. Everything that happens here feels important to the unfolding mystery of the obscure evil organization who supposedly killed Bob Galt's fellow Superman worshippers. That said, this isn't a very compelling chapter, since it's mostly just information being delivered to Superman by two random doctor characters, who could easily have been only one person, instead. Supes no doubt needs to know these details, and both of these pages were needed in order to properly explain them to the audience, but even so, just learning about the transceiver and what it does without anything else happening was not all that thrilling a read.
There's a whole lot of fighting in this installment of Nightwing, and Chuck Patton makes it all look great. Speedy fights Wen Cheng, and then Nightwing fights Cheshire, and in both cases, the good guys don't do so well. The villains get the drop on them, and Speedy ends up knocked out, while the last panel of the whole thing is Nightwing's face only inches away from Cheshire's poisoned fingernails. Even though this narrative hasn't totally grabbed me so far, I liked this beat because it was brisk, action-packed, good-looking, and tense. Things are heating up all over now that Nightwing knows Speedy lied to him and they have both finally come face-to-face with their foes. I can't imagine there are too many chapters left in this arc, actually, because this felt like the beginning of the end, with little left to do but have Nightwing somehow best Cheshire, and then save and simultaneously confront Speedy. These might be wild assumptions on my part, but it seems like the only logical development, though I guess Nightwing might get beaten and then he and Speedy would find themselves captured together. Then they could deal with their personal shit, rally, and win the day together. Either way, a final battle in which one or both good guys get free from the bad guys' clutches can't be too far off, and based on this, I'm rather looking forward to it.
So I'm still not positive I understand what the hell happened in this Black Canary story, but I am positive of this: Vincent Scales was the main bad guy, and he basically gets to win, because by the time Dinah figures out what he's up to, she also learns that he has terminal cancer and will die within months. That may not sound like a victory for Scales, but he never has to pay in any direct way for the wrong he's done, and as vague as that wrongdoing may be from my vantage point, it would've been nice to see some kind of consequences. This story wasn't strong or well-built enough to pull off an ending this morally ambivalent; if nothing else, it needed to land on a solid beat of Black Canary winning, so we could've had some meager payoff despite the befuddling lead-up. Without even offering that, this narrative concludes just as unsatisfactorily as it moved all along, and thought I'm not sure of all the details, I definitely know I was never convinced to care.

In conclusion, here are all the stories from this issue, listed from worst to best:
6. Black Canary/"Bitter Fruit - Conclusion"
5. Blackhawk/"Mission: Implausible"
4. Green Lantern/"Safe at Home"
3. Superman"Dead Men Tell no Tales"
2. Nightwing/"The Cheshire Contract Chapter Four: Counterpoint"
1. Wild Dog/"Fatal Distraction Chapter Two: Battle Gear"


Two weeks ago, PopMatters put up a piece I wrote about Toyo Harada from Harbinger and Dario Agger from Thor, a pair of supervillains who are also CEOs, but who wield both their business powers and superpowers in different ways and to different ends. This week, at the same site, I had a column about Ales Kot, Morgan Jeske, Sloane Leong, and Ed Brisson's Change, talking largely about how tough a nut it is to crack. Also, on CSBG, my new 1987 And All That was posted looking at two issues of Daredevil. I swear I didn't pick that title because of all the hype around the upcoming Netflix series, but it was certainly a happy accident.

Something I Failed to Mention
I got nothing. Usually when I write a post, even for this blog, I find myself leaving something out that I initially meant to include because there's no space for it and/or there's no comfortable way to fit it into the rest of what I've written and/or I can't find a good way to articulate it clearly. With the three pieces above, though, I pretty much covered al the ground I wanted to when I began. This is not to say that there's nothing more to say about those topics than I already have, but the points I wanted to make were made satisfactorily in every case, at least by my own standards. I still have a Weekly Action Comics Weekly Review to bang out today, and I haven't yet read all my new comics from the past two weeks, so...I'm going to stop wasting time writing this paragraph and get into some reading or other writing now.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Weekly Action Comics Weekly Review: Issue #615

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 (give or take) for 42 weeks. This is the fifteenth of those reviews.
So what started as a typical delay quickly turned into a full week off from this Action Comics Weekly project, but just like Wild Dog and Blackhawk, I'm back!
Green Lantern kicks off what is essentially a whole new arc. Yes, Arisia's new career as a model is a thread that began a few issues back, but here we jump to it being in full swing. Hal Jordan, meanwhile, has left Chicago and all the fear-about-no-fear stuff behind, and is ready for a brand new threat to introduce itself. Which, of course, it promptly does. At a technology expo of some kind where Arisia is working as a spokesmodel, two supervillains named Siphon and Castle show up to steal things and cause mayhem. Hal gets into uniform and engages with the bad guys, but Castle ends up trapping him in a new hi-tech safe of some kind. Castle gets thrown in their first, but his power, which is simple yet impressively powerful and effective, is to switch places with any other person. So he teleports Hal into the safe and himself to freedom, which ends up being a better move than Castle even knew, since the inside of the safe is entirely yellow. So Hal is stuck with limited air in a box nobody can open and that his powers won't work against. That's where the story ends, a strong cliffhanger considering Hal was totally fine and hadn't even met his new foes at the start of the issue. Between the solid ending and Castle's cool superpowers, there's plenty to like in this story, though none of it breaks any ground. It is decent, middle-of-the-line superhero comics through and through.
Most of this Blackhawk story centers on him hiring Natalie, a woman he knows from his past but is new to me, and for all I know is a brand new character. She's a former/failed model/actress with a sweet red eyepatch to go with her Communism. I think that's what she hinted at, anyway...she and Blackhawk have a playful but cryptic patter that, while fun to read, isn't always all that easy to follow. This may be due to Martin Pasko being the writer for Balckhawk now instead of Mike Grell. Pasko originally wrote Secret Six for Action Comics Weekly, a story with a lot more mystery than Grell's Blackhawk had, so perhaps Pasko is trying to infuse some of that into his turn with this character. Whatever the case, Rick Burchett's art is still the main selling point for Blackhawk, as it has been all along. He does such a nice job of making Blackhawk into someone who's lovable despite his crassness. That's what makes Blackhawk's adventures so entertaining, his carefree attitude and constant good humor, and it's not his dialogue that captures that spirit, it's the art. If he looked more serious, the same words might come across as overly aggressive or callous, but with Burchett it works the way it's supposed to, as the simple humor of a warrior who's amusingly wrapped up in his own machismo.
I still don't care for Wild Dog one bit as a hero, but this time Max Collins pulled out a storytelling gimmick that I actually liked. Granted, having Wild Dog keep a "combat log" only highlights what a Punisher rip off he really is, since it's an obvious stand-in for the "war journal." But then at the end of the story, we see a young boy who witnessed Wild Dog shooting some robbers writing about it excitedly in his diary, followed by a page of the Quad City's newest serial killer writing in her own diary about why she's decided to become a murderer. So all together, there are three journal entries from three different characters, all serving similar purposes. Both Wild Dog's log and the young boy's diary show us the underlying craziness and potential danger of a "hero" like Wild Dog, and the woman's diary gives us some insight into the mind of another killer who believes she's acting in the name of justice. It's all about the psychology of those who feel they have the right to decide who lives and who dies, and the influence that kind of thinking can have on other people. As much as that worked for me, the scene where Wild Dog unloads his gun at the legs of three guys holding up a gas station was a perfect example of why I just can't get into this character. His methods are so excessive, especially considering the low-level crime he tends to fight, at least compared to the typical comicbook vigilante. Seeing one maniacal man with a gun shoot up a bunch of arguably less insane men with guns just doesn't connect with me, unless there are going to be actual consequences. So far, there are few-to-none for Wild Dog, so he has no reason to stop the madness, which continues to grate my nerves.
Superman saves a life, but then—gasp!—he may have taken one as well. It's a straightforward one-two narrative punch, and though I'm sure there's more to the man's death that meets the eye, it's nice to end on a beat of doubting Superman's control of his abilities. Up to now, he's pretty consistently played the expected role of the perfect, streamlined do-gooder. Even the suggestion that he might've used excessive, lethal force is something new for this narrative, a nice refreshing splash of negativity. And boy, the dead guy sure does slam his head hard against the wall, so maybe Supes killed him after all. Both Roger Stern's script and Curt Swan's art leave room for doubt, is what I'm saying, and that was a smart new direction to move in, surprising but still fitting easily into the establish flow and momentum of the narrative.
After hinting at it a few times before, and then implying it heavily for a couple more pages this week, it is finally confirmed that Roy Harper is not, as he claimed, working for the C.B.I. He quit two months ago, and this whole mission to stop Cheshire that he's pulled Nightwing into is, in fact, entirely personal. Again, I say, this is a Speedy story more than a Nightwing one, but at least now Nightwing's got some stakes of his own. His best friend got him involved in a very dangerous situation, without allowing any of their other friends to help, all based on lies. Sadly, other than a pretty stellar opening page and then the final-panel reveal of Speedy's deception, the rest of this chapter held little of interest. Cheshire as a loving mother was alright, and so was seeing Speedy coming unhinged, but both of those scenes were truncated so we could get more of Nightwing talking to some British government official and then, later, with the rest of the Teen Titans. Those conversations were both largely dull, as was Nightwing's phone call with Speedy in between, and all told this boring chatter took up around half the page space. I'm hoping now that Speedy's lie has been exposed, the pace can pick up a little, because so far this story has been dragging, and this week was probably the dragging-est of them all.
I have so little to say about Black Canary that I haven't said already. This week, a character I was sure I knew was a villain, the guy with the goatee, behaved in a way that made him seem like he might in fact be fighting for the good guys. To have one of the few things I felt certain about get turned on its head like that only further cemented for me how poorly I have managed to decipher this narrative all along. After it concludes next week, I should really take the time to go back through it from the beginning and see if I can figure out just where/how I got so damned lost. The real headline here, though, is that it's ending next week. I'm looking forward to that.

In conclusion, here are all the stories from this issue, listed from worst to best:
6. Black Canary/"Bitter Fruit Part 7"
5. Wild Dog/"Fatal Distraction Chapter One: Night Patrol"
4. Nightwing/"Tracks of a Killer!"
3. Green Lantern/"Freaks!"
2. Blackhawk/"That Was no Lady..."
1. Superman/"Fatal Flaw?"