Sunday, May 31, 2015

Monthly Dose: May 2015

100 Bullets #31: Now we're talking. Kicking off a new arc, "The Counterfifth Detective," this issue is pure hard-boiled pulp noir gold. Main character Milo Garrett sounds like every classic P.I. rolled into one, and he looks tough as nails, too, with his crumpled suit, bandage-covered face, and the cigarette that's pretty much always hanging out of his mouth. Both Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso do a good job of keeping this story right in the sweet spot, not over-the-top with the clichés but still very much utilizing the tropes of the genre. Milo is both likable and a schmuck; there's drinking, murder, intrigue, and plenty of stylized, metaphor-and-similie-filled narration. It's all quite familiar, but fresh enough to pull the reader in, and the added detail of Agent Graves giving Milo one of the attaché cases that he's been handing out since this series began makes things that much more interesting. There's not a ton of narrative meat on the bones so far, because this first chapter is more about introducing Milo and getting us in his corner. In that, it's a major success, and there's enough of a story hook at the very end to bring people back for more. This is the sort of finely crafted issue that 100 Bullets was full of at first, but that's been missing for a while, so it ended up being a fabulous return to form that reignited my enthusiasm for this title.

Automatic Kafka #7: Automatic Kafka goes out to lunch with one of his old supervillain foes, Galaxia, a scientist who replaced his head with a tiny spiral galaxy. Kafka has a good deal of leftover animosity toward Galaxia, but the former bad guy is ever the gentleman, politely and intelligently talking Kafka into letting go of their shared past. They even manage to reminisce a little together, and though they don't exactly become friends, they pretty much bury the hatchet before their meal is over. It's impressive how Joe Casey manages to write their conversation so that the reader can be genuinely invested in them working things out, even though we haven't ever seen any of their previous conflicts, since they all took place in an off-panel time period. The hero-villain dynamic is so universally accessible, Casey can do something like this even in a brand new continuity and it still works. It helps that both Kafka and Galaxia have such strong voices, of course, and that they each have such fascinating looks. Even their speech bubbles are different colors, not just from one another but from everybody else, so their exchange offers something on every level, from script to art to letters. This was not the most exciting issue of Automatic Kafka, but it was one of the most thoughtful examinations of what life might be like for a retired superhero like Kafka, and it had a lot of heart and humor along the way. Also, in the end, the Warning uses Galaxia to power up a bunch of the baby bombs that have been an ongoing thread in this book, which was a nice way to conclude this, tying an otherwise isolated chapter into what's come before.

The Maximortal #1: I just wrote about this issue a couple weeks ago as part of a PopMatters column on three of my favorite debut issues. And in the early days of this blog, a did a short post on the whole of this series. But I wanted to do it for Monthly Dose because its a dense book, and every issue sort of touches on a different aspect of the Superman mythology and/or history, deconstructing that character, superheroes as an idea, and the comicbook industry as a whole. It's an ambitious, weird, well-done passion project from Rick Veitch. This first issue doesn't actually set up that much of what's to come, focusing instead of doing Veitch's version of the Superman (or True-Man, as he's called in this comic) origin story. A couple named the Winstons finds a baby boy inside a bizarre fallen meteorite, and they try to raise him as their own, but his superpowers make him well more than they can handle. The child destroys their house with his strength and heat vision, bites of his adopted father's finger, and in the end he uses the threat of further violence to get his dad to carry him away from the farm and into an unknown future. It's a much more brutal, darkly comedic take on this well-known superhero story, casting Superman as something of a menace, but only because he's too young to know or even want to use his abilities responsibly. He's just a kid throwing superpowered tantrums that his simpleton parents have no way of controlling, so he ruins their lives and takes over. The events of the story are pretty tragic, but Veitch's art and the exaggerated, caricature-like personalities of the Winstons make it work as parody, too, so we get both a funnier and a much bleaker version of Superman at once. That's the mission statement of The Maximortal, and it couldn't be clearer here.

Sunday, May 24, 2015


It's been like a month since I did one of these posts but I always like to wait until I have ore than one thing to link to and it just took that long this time around. So 2 weeks ago I published a 1987 And All That post about Iron Man #219-221, a.k.a. the first story arc to feature classic villain the Ghost. He's a character I fell in love with only recently during Jeff Parker's Thunderbolts/Dark Avengers run, and even though the initial appearance of the Ghost is very different, there's a lot about him that has lasted over time, and his first storyline was an exceptional one. This week, another 1987 column went up, looking at Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #122-130. I was not wild about them, but as you'll see in the comments, part of that may have been that I was simply starting too late in the series' history and/or stopping too soon. Finally, this past Monday I wrote about three awesome debut issues on PopMatters: The Maximortal #1, Deep Sleeper #1, and Rebel Blood #1. Super-attentive readers will note that I've written about the each of those series on their own at some point in the past on this blog.

Something I Failed to Mention
I literally got back to my house 2 hours ago from the wedding I mentioned in my last post, so you'll have to forgive me if I can't think of anything to put here right now. I guess I could've held off on this until I had something prepared, but I like to do the Elsewheres on Sundays, and I've got enough other stuff to do this week, comics-blog-related and not, that I figured I should just bang this out while I could.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Please Hold

I am exhausted today. I got two poor nights of sleep in a row, mostly because of my dogs deciding to wake me up in the middle of the night several times for various reasons, like needing to go out or wanting to snuggle me in strange, uncomfortable positions. I love them to death, but they can be super obnoxious when they want, and the past couple nights have been prime examples of that. My dogs are not the point of this, they're just part of why I'm so tired right now. Other factors include my wife being in the early days of her second trimester of pregnancy, and the on-again-off-again insomnia I've had for years.

Why am I talking about my tiredness? Because it's my main excuse for not having anything new on the blog this week. Between being wiped out and needing to get myself ready to go to a wedding in Florida over the weekend (we leave in the wee hours of Thursday morning) I've had neither time nor energy recently to do much in terms of comics writing lately. Also, I've got to get started ASAP on my next 1987 And All That column, because that's scheduled to go up on Thursday and, as I mentioned, I'll be on a plane to Florida then. So tonight I've got to get my notes in order, then tomorrow I'll write the actual review.

As such, there's not going to be anything on Comics Matter (other than this flimsy nonsense) until next week when I'm back from the wedding. I should be able to jump back into the Weekly Action Comics Weekly routine at that point, plus I've got a couple other pieces I've been meaning to write for ages that I need to get off my plate. Little things like a post about a particular issue of Harbinger and a review of a weird, old, sexist-in-ways-you-might-not-expect romance comic from the 70's I bought on a lark a while back. So there's stuff in the pipeline, and after this little mini vacation I'm hoping to finally put it all out in the world.

Anyhow, I'll be back in a week with real material. Until then, go read Injection #1. It's hard to tell how good the series is going to be yet, but the first issue has such tremendous potential it's almost frightening.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Weekly Action Comics Weekly Review: Issue #623

In 1988-89, DC changed Action Comics from a monthly Superman-focused series to a weekly anthology, also changing its name to Action Comics Weekly. It lasted 42 issues before reverting to a monthly format. I am going to review all 42 of those issues, one per week (sort of) for 42 weeks. This is the twenty-third of those reviews.
The cover image of this issue actually comes directly from a panel within it, which is a rare event for this book, if indeed it has ever happened before at all. Not the most exciting moment to pick, but I appreciated it nonetheless, especially after last issue's wholly disconnected cover.
I feel very blah about Green Lantern in this book right now. I know this is primarily because I was just barely starting to get invested in Peter David's narrative when he rather suddenly got replaced by James Owsley, the writer who David replaced initially. Owsley is a great talent, and he does this character well, but even several weeks later, I'm still more curious about the Freak Show characters David left behind than the new alien war we are introduced to here. I'm also not wild about stories where the hero is pulled into someone else's conflict unexpectedly, forced to participate because they are needed rather than choosing to because they want to help or feel some kind of obligation. If the protagonist isn't especially committed to the central struggle of the narrative, why the hell should I be? On top of that, the thing where Green Lantern needs to get to his battery before the recharge clock runs out feels tired. I realize this is an old comic so maybe that wasn't as trite at the time, but reading it with modern eyes, it just seems like yet another one of those stories for this character, with nothing new added to it. Maybe this will pick up now that Lantern knows what's going on, but at this point, I'm not sure it matters. Unless we go back and get some resolution on the Freak Show, I may be perpetually uninterested in Green Lantern's adventures in this series.
Though it moved somewhat jerkily, I enjoyed the Shazam story a whole lot. The idea of a superhero not just feeling guilty about causing the death of a criminal but actively working to make up for it is right up my alley, and it was a good way for me to get into a character with whom I've had minimal experience in the past. To be honest, when I saw that Shazam was going to be included in Action Comics Weekly, it seemed like a drag, not to mention redundant since Superman is involved every week. But right away, Roy and Dann Thomas found a hook that worked, and sold me on it in only seven pages. I also appreciated how Shazam actually spends most of his time as Billy Batson. I love a good secret identity, someone who can have a whole life of their own and can have stories center on them without the reader merely waiting for them to switch to the super-persona so the real fun can start. This story is just as meaty when Batson is on-page as when Shazam is, and it seems as though both will be key to what's to come, so that's a good sign. Are white supremacists the most fascinating foes? No, but they are at least easy to hate, and I do look forward to Shazam trying to pull someone out of their clutches. I'm this will involve some amount of deprogramming, and I'm curious to see how Batson/Shazam handles that.
This Deadman story, which I didn't miss for one second last issue, returns with the dullest installment yet. It's almost pure exposition, Madame Waxahachie just explaining to Deadman the history of the Peckshaw twins. It seems like this information could've been provided while there was, say, some action taking place, but instead we just get and infodump via dialogue as Waxahachie and Deadman drive around looking for someone he can inhabit other than Clara. When they finally do find that someone, there's a scene of Clara understandably freaking out over being used more than once as the vessel of a dead guy. This ties into the one aspect of this story I cared about at all, which is the idea that Deadman may cause permanent psychological damage to the people he possesses. I hope that thread isn't abandoned as we dive deeper into the voodoo zombie junk, because it's a compelling conflict for Deadman to grapple, and I'd like to see it explored more completely and maybe even in some other contexts. I'm not holding my breath based on how unfocused Mike Baron's Deadman has been in Action Comics Weekly from the very beginning, but time will tell.
I was not expecting the bad guys to be motivated by crazy faith-based beliefs in the same way Galt and his group are. I assumed the villains would be anti-Superman because of his morality, that they feared he'd get in the way of whatever corrupt capitalist schemes they were cooking up. But no, it turns out they think Superman is the legit anti-Christ, which was an interesting wrinkle to add. One side sees Superman as a savior, the other as a harbinger and bringer of doom, and all the meanwhile Superman himself only recently learned these two factions exist, and wants nothing to do with either of their beliefs. I'm eager to watch this all play out, to see how Superman handles not only the folks who view him as a messiah but also those on the other side. My guess is that he'll want to show both groups the error of their ways and the danger of their extremism, but whatever he does, it's bound to be interesting.
Secret Six is a blast right now. It seems to have, at least for the time being, fully embraced the action side of its spy-action mix, and this week had some of the best material yet in that regard. Acrobatic gunfights and daring last-minute rescues involving multiple vehicles are perhaps cliché, but Frank Springer and Frank McLaughlin make it all hum and maintain the mood of high-octane excitement. The plot is still a bit muddy, and it isn't progressing all that quickly, but I don't mind one bit. I'm loving the adventure, and Martin Pasko is careful to add at least a tiny bit of relevant info every time. It's not always new for the reader, but at the very least we will see one or more characters discover something they didn't know before, so it's all forward movement, even when it's minor. Also, "Standard Allowable Abductions" is very much my kind of title, appropriate and descriptive while also silly and fun just like the story that follows.
I like the done-in-one Phantom Stranger tales that pop up in Action Comics Weekly every so often, and I absolutely love José Luis García-López as an artist, but this particular story underwhelmed me. For one thing, it tried to have a stick-tight-to-your-faith-and-all-will-be-well message, which isn't necessarily something I support. If you have faith, great, but faith should be flexible and reasonable and something that adapts to circumstance. Whatever...even if I agreed with the story philosophically, it fails to deliver its message convincingly anyway. The devil shows up at a church in the form of a baby, he and the Stranger struggle for a while, then the priest of the church smashes the baby to death with a giant cross. A cross may be a symbol of faith, but it is not faith itself, so the real takeaway here is that violence can solve problems better than simple, passive belief. Also, it makes me wonder why the Stranger had such a hard time in the fight if all it took to win was anything big and heavy enough to crush an infant. The imagery of the terrifying, sadistic baby was effectively creepy, and that was where García-López shined as he always does, but it wasn't nearly enough to make up for the other weaknesses and botched landing of the narrative.

In conclusion, here are all the stories from this issue, listed from worst to best:
6. Deadman/"Seventeen"
5. Green Lantern/"Priest"
4. Phantom Stranger/"The Devil was a Baby"
3. Superman/"Revelations"
2. Shazam/"My Week in Valhalla: Chapter One"
1. Secret Six/"Standard Allowable Abductions"

Monday, May 4, 2015

Weekly Action Comics Weekly Review: Issue #622

In 1988-89, DC changed Action Comics from a monthly Superman-focused series to a weekly anthology, also changing its name to Action Comics Weekly. It lasted 42 issues before reverting to a monthly format. I am going to review all 42 of those issues, one per week (sort of) for 42 weeks. This is the twenty-second of those reviews.
I don't have a ton of time tonight, but I really want to get this post up because it's "due" today, so I'm only going to give myself five sentences for each section of the issue. Probably good for me to practice some brevity anyway. The cover image above is a lie—nothing even remotely like that happens in this issue. I'm fairly certain this cover was originally supposed to be used during the time when Green Lantern was in Chicago, and for some reason they held onto it until now. Whatever the explanation, the cover is ridiculously far removed from the interior.
This was a weird one, with much of the story devoted to Hal Jordan musing on his relationship with Superman. Hal first tries to track the energy beam that broke his power battery last time, but the trail leads him to the edge of his space sector, i.e. the border of his jurisdiction as a Lantern. So he considers asking Supes for help following the beam deeper into space, but then thinks about a not-so-friendly encounter they had in the recent past, as well as Superman's general holier-than-thouness, and decides against it. Hal compares himself to Superman, saying they are both essentially boy scouts, but that Superman is an exemplary one while Hal is is a more of a screw-up. It's an apt enough observation, but I fail to see what purpose it serves at this point in this narrative, a story that barely started to get rolling at the end of last week, and then this week derails itself to hold two superheroes up next to each other and then go nowhere with it.
Despite myself, I ended up liking the conclusion of this arc. Wild Dog I still hate, even though he admits here that he may be doing the wrong thing, because I've always assumed he understands that he's as bad or worse than his enemies, so him stating so aloud did nothing for me. However, twisted as terrible as it was, I enjoyed what the story's resolution did for both the Night Slasher and Wild Pup. They were each able to give the other something healing and comforting, if perhaps a bit warped, and it was satisfying that the main villain of this narrative didn't have to be killed by Wild Dog, since up to now that's been his solution to every problem. As flawed and crappy as it was all the way through, the final chapter of this tale hit the mark, ending unexpectedly and in a way that was heartwarming and dark at the same time.
Why is this Starman and not Deadman? I have no idea, but I also have no complaints. This was a nice, tight, well-structured story, one half a televised anti-superhero tirade, the other half a smart, simple example of the value of superheroes in their own worlds and ours. It's a discussion of both the best and worst of what superheroes offer, and a generally fun, funny, fast-moving tale that looks good and is easy to follow. At the very end it reveals itself to be primarily an ad for the Starman ongoing series, but it earns it by being so solid and complete in so few pages.
I was right about Superman's reasoning behind switching back to his Clark Kent identity before reveling himself to Bob Galt, so it felt nice to have called that correctly. Superman is dealing with the whole situation rather impressively, working hard to help Galt while still doing everything he can not to feed Galt's unhealthy hero worship. The best part of this week's chapter, though, was at the end when it promised to tell us the bad guys' motives next week. I've been anxiously awaiting some insight into just what the hell is going on for a couple months now, so it's legitimately exciting to know that I'm finally so close to answers. I have one more sentence, so...Curt Swan still rules all!
I walked away from this chapter with two main thoughts in my head. First, I like how the Secret Six title pages come way late in the chapter, because they're always used as a way to amp up the drama in a key moment. And second, LaDonna is a damn badass. There's been a lot of the Secret Six sort of half-assing and faking their way through missions, but this time LaDonna gets to pull some full-on, secret agent awesomeness in a way I don't think anyone has before. Of course, in the end, she still stumbles right into enemy hands, but even that isn't enough to detract from how freaking cool she looks and acts right up until that last moment.
I found myself barely paying attention to this story as it raced toward its conclusion, which may be part of why the ending so confused me. Margaret, the woman who Blackhawk and crew were supposed to save, the entire reason for them being there in the first place, dies somehow, and it's not clear to me if it's an accidental death, if the bad guys get her while they are shooting at Blackhawk's plane, or if it is her co-agent/brother who kills her as part of his efforts to get Blackhawk's team to join the newly-formed CIA. Also, I mostly don't care how she died, because however it happened, it's a lame way to end things. She's the catalyst, she seems to be the most informed and competent of all the good guys, and she therefore provides the only truthful exposition; so basically, she's the most important character, and then her death happens off-panel and is given almost no weight or space after the fact. Weak.

In conclusion, here are all the stories from this issue, listed from worst to best:
6. Blackhawk/"The Big Blowoff"
5. Green Lantern/"The Edge of Forever"
4. Wild Dog/"Fatal Distraction Chapter Eight: To Help a Child"
3. Superman/"Seeds of Doubt"
2. Secret Six/"Big Dead Man on Campus"
1. Starman/"Starman"