Sunday, December 25, 2011

Power Pack Holiday Special (1992)

(Yea, I know it's been a while since I posted, and after the New Year I plan to resume my look at Firestorm as if nothing happened.  For now, here's a Christmas Day look at a holiday themed book from the House of Ideas.)
In 1991, one year after the end of the original Power Pack series, Marvel published the Power Pack Holiday Special.  For the most part, this was one of those "Holiday" comics that qualifies as a Christmas issue simply because it was published in December.  Of the three stories in this issue, only one really has anything to do with the holiday.
The lead story reunites series creators Louise Simonson and June Brigman for a story that  seems to serve mainly to tie up all the dangling plotlines left when the series ended. Thus, this is not a story for the uninitiated, like myself. Simonson does a pretty decent job of filling in the gaps for any new readers who might have picked this up by mistake.  However, I didn't really understand what was going on until I went back and read a couple of the older issues.
From what I can gather, when the series ended, the Power children's father had gained superpowers himself, the revelation of her children's powers had caused their mother to go into a catatonic stupor, and oldest child Alex had been transformed into one of the aliens who gave the children their powers in the first place. 
Or so it seemed.
The story opens with the family traveling to the home planet of those aliens, the Kyrellians, where the truth of these changes is revealed.  As they near the planet, the children discover that what they thought were their parents and older brother were actually duplicates made of something called pseudoplasm.  The doppelgangers were created by an evil Kyrellian called the Technocrat, who resents the Powers for leading his people to a new world where they no longer need his technological expertise.  Technocrat has allied himself with the Pack's old enemy, Maraud, queen mother of the Snarks.  The rest of the story follows the groups efforts to rescue their real parents and brother and defeat Technocrat and Maraud. 
During the course of the series, the kids' had switched superpowers a couple of times, and now they find that they can swap powers at will.  This effect proves to only temporary, and at story's end the children all have their original powers.  Also, despite all that has happened, the Power Pack's parents still don't know about their kids' super-heroic identities, thanks to a so-called "mind-lock" implanted by the Kyrellians which allows the adults to accept such strange events without question.
Thus, the story also effectively hits the reset button on the series, wiping out almost all of the changes that occurred during the course of the series and giving future writers a clean slate when the series would eventually be revived.
There is at least a mention of Christmas, as the family returns to Earth and sees the giant Christmas tree in New York City, and realize that they've arrived home in time for the holiday.
The second story, by Mindy Newell and Steve Buccellato, doesn't even make that much of a nod toward the season.  If I were to hazard a guess, I'd say this was an inventory story that Marvel decided to finally publish while they could. It's a pretty routine tale of teen angst with Julie Power pining over a boy who barely notices that she's alive.
The third story, featuring Jack Power and some of the earliest work by current Amazing Spider-Man writer Dan Slott, is the only one that could really be called a Christmas story.  Jack conspires to reunite his teacher with her family for Christmas in order to get out of a test.  It's a cute little story, but I can't really buy the basic premise.  I find it hard to believe that even the meanest, most embittered, old maid of a school teacher would make a student take a test on Christmas Day.
As a farewell to the original Power Pack series, this special works well.  As a Christmas themed comic book, and a stand alone issue, it fails to make the grade.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Focus on Firestorm: Firestorm #1 (1978)

The germ of a notion that eventually evolved into the character we know as Firestorm struck writer Gerry Conway, he claims, during his run as the author of Marvel's The Amazing Spider-Man.  What if, Conway wondered, it had Flash Thompson, the football star, rather  than Peter Parker, the science nerd, who had gotten super-powers?  He filed the notion away in the back of his mind until several years later when he found himself working at DC, where, in late 1977, it found expression in the debut issue of Firestorm
That issue's origin tale, "Make Way for Firestorm," opens with a colorfully clad figure whose head appears to be on fire reveling in his new found super-powers before heading off to confront the bad guys responsible for turning him into the creature he had become.  From there we fade into the obligatory flashback and meet Ronnie Raymond, new student at Bradley High, on his first day at his new school, where he meets two other students who will become the backbone of the books supporting cast, Cliff Carmichael and Doreen Day.  Completing the role reversal, Conway makes Cliff, the class brain, the bully, belittling Ronnie's intelligence and making him look foolish in class.
With his insecurities about fitting in at his new school, his attempts to impress Doreen, and hints of problems at home, Ronnie actually seems to have more in common with Peter Parker than Flash Thompson.  Perhaps that was the point that Conway was making; that all of us, jock and brain alike, have the same insecurities and problems.  
Nobel Prize winning physicist Dr. Martin Stein certainly has his share of problems when we meet him.  He has just designed and built the world's first fully automated nuclear power plant, but the machinations of his disgraced former assistant, Danton Black, who sues Stein, claiming that Martin stole his ideas for the plant, threaten to keep the facility from going on line as scheduled.  
Meanwhile, Ronnie gets the fool notion in his head that joining a group, headed by a shady looking guy named Eddie Earhart, protesting the new nuclear plant will somehow make Doreen like him.  It turns out, however, that the protesters have a little more on there mind than carrying signs. In fact, Ronnie hooks up with them just in time for Earhart to decide to use him as the fall guy for their plan to blow up the new power plant.  
Events move quickly from this point as our cast converges.  Stein decides to defy the court order and activate the reactor early, even as Ronnie and Earhart's group arrive and Danton Black sneaks back into what he believes to be an empty facility to sneak a peak at Stein's plans for the reactor.  
Earhart knocks out Ronnie and the Professor, set their bomb, and flee.  Ronnie wakes up and attempts to drag the still unconscious Stein to safety, but doesn't get to far before the dynamite explodes, just as Black arrives.  
This being a comic book, getting caught in a nuclear explosion, rather than killing the trio, turns out to be a good thing.  Ronnie and Stein find themselves merged into the super-powered being whom Ronnie decides to call Firestorm, while Black will return in future issues as the super-villain Multiplex.  (With a name like Multiplex, it sort of seems like his evil schemes should involve forcing small one or two screen movie theaters out of business, doesn't it?)
As much as I love Conway's writing, I've always thought of his work on Firestorm as one of his weaker efforts.  Perhaps that because I first encountered the character late in his run on The Fury of Firestorm and he might have been a little burned out and running out of ideas.  However, Firestorm #1 is a good, solid super-hero origin tale. There are certainly a lot of good and original ideas in this debut issue.   The characters powers of matter transmutation are something that hadn't been seen before in super-hero comics, as is the idea of the hero being a merger of two people.  Even more interesting, is the concept that, because he was unconscious at the time of the initial merger, Stein doesn't remember anything that happens while he's part of Firestorm and, at first, has no idea what happens during his mysterious "blackouts."  
The weakest part of the issue, for me, can be summed up in one word: Milgrom.  I've never been a big fan of Al's work, and he's very inconsistent in this issue.  Some panels look better than any I've seen from him, while others are just awful. Still, he tells the story well enough.  He also came up with a nice costume design and you've got to love the awesomely bad late 70's facial hair on Cliff Carmichael and Eddie Earhart. 
Of course, as we all know, 1978 was not a good time to launch a new super-hero comic, no matter how original or innovative.  Four issues after this promising debut, Firestorm would run smack dab into the infamous DC Implosion.  The Nuclear Man didn't spend too long in Comic Book Limbo, however.  Conway, who was also the writer of DC's premier super-hero team book, Justice League of America, soon drafted him into that group.  Shortly thereafter, Firestorm would return to solo adventures as a back-up feature in Flash and eventually earn another shot at his own monthly comic.
I'll take a look at the first issue of that series, The Fury of Firestorm, in my next post.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Potpourri for 1000, Alex (A Hodge-Podge of Seemingly Unconnected Random Thoughts)

Here are a few things that have been on my mind over the past few days.
A couple of weeks ago, I asked the rhetorical question, "What does Sheldon Cooper (of The Big Bang Theory) think of DC's New 52?"  That was meant as a joke, but, having a fairly mindless job that allows me to ponder such things as I perform my menial tasks, I found myself thinking more about the question and coming up with  a partial answer.  Sheldon strikes me as someone who doesn't deal well with any sort of change, so I assume that he was quite distressed by the initial announcement.  However, as Green Lantern seems to be his favorite character, he was most likely at least partially reassured by the fact that that character's continuity has escaped the reboot essentially unaltered.
Speaking of Big Bang Theory, I was watching an older episode in which Leonard states that he has 2600 comic books in his apartment.  For a serious geek of Leonard's age, that number actually seems kind of small to me.  Perhaps he was referring to the comics that he actually keeps at home, with the bulk of his collection stored elsewhere.
Moving on, then, based on what I've read so far, it seems to me that DC's relaunch isn't so much a bold step forward into a new future for comics as a giant leap backwards to about the early 80's.  Co-publisher Dan DiDio has apparently recently announced that Crisis On Infinite Earths and all subsequent "Crisis-level" events never occurred. The upcoming Justice Society series will be set on Earth-2.  The Huntress may once again be the daughter of that parallel world's Batman.  On Earth-1, if that's what they're calling it, Barbara Gordon is Batgirl again and Supergirl is once again Superman's Kryptonian cousin (although that retro move actually occurred a few years ago). Over in Superman, Morgan Edge looks like he will once again be a major supporting player and there are hints that Clark Kent may once again be taking a job as a TV news anchor sometime in the near future.  Edge is now a bald, goateed African-American man, but other than that minor cosmetic change, he  appears to be the same character who was a thorn in Kent's side throughout the Bronze Age.  Now, if Clark were dating his childhood friend Lana Lang, who was also his co-anchor on the nightly newscast, then it would be 1983 in Metropolis all over again.
I can only fervently hope that DiDio's revelation that all stories with the word "Crisis" in the title never happened includes Identity Crisis.  If any story ever needed to be negated by editorial fiat, it's that one.  I would love to see Ralph Dibny show up alive somewhere with his girlfriend Sue Dearborn. With the apparent exception of Buddy Baker, it seems that super-heroes aren't allowed to be married in the new DCU.  Most famously, the marriage of Clark and Lois Kent has been retconned into oblivion, while in Flash, Barry Allen isn't even dating Iris West anymore.  But, as far as I'm concerned, they don't need to be married as long as they're alive.  
By the way, it sort of reveals what a huge geek I am that I actually know Sue Dibny's maiden name, doesn't it?
I've found myself wondering if, in this new continuity, Batman has yet caught up with the killer of Thomas and Martha Wayne.  In the pre-COIE continuity, Batman found Joe Chill fairly early in his career, and, though  the details changed, in the post-Crisis DCU he also encountered Chill fairly early.  However, after the DC Universe was destroyed and restructured for the second time in Zero Hour, it was decided that not only had Batman never found his parents' killer, but it wasn't even Joe Chill.  I was unaware of the change, though, until I read "Public Enemies," Jeph Loeb's first storyline in Superman/Batman.  The change was undone soon after "Public Enemies" in what was basically a throwaway line of dialogue toward the end of Infinite Crisis.  Now, with the latest restructuring of the DC Universe in the wake of Flashpoint, the issue may once again be up  in the air. 
I recently ran across this old interview on-line in which Denny O'Neil, editor of the Bat books at the time, defends the initial continuity change thusly: "It was done because we thought that Batman's motivations--and therefore his saga--are stronger if he never learns who killed his parents."
I have to disagree with Mr. O'Neil here.  To me, it makes Batman a stronger, and saner, character if he discovered and caught the Waynes' killer and still continued being Batman.  He becomes less of a revenge driven psycho and more the public spirited crimefighter that I feel he was meant to be.  Bruce Wayne's being Batman, after all, isn't really about finding his parents' killer, or revenge, but about making sure that no one else ever has to go through the ordeal that he did.  It's about helping other people, not making Bruce Wayne feel better.
Finally, it appears that DC may not hate me as much as I'd initially thought.  They are sort of giving me a Christmas present.  As of December's issue #4, J.T. Krul will no longer be writing Green Arrow.  He cites some mysterious new project as the reason for his leaving, but I honestly don't care as long as he's gone. The new writers will be Keith Giffen and Dan Jurgens, who will continue as penciller with George Perez inking.  
I still have a few reservations.  I'm assuming that Giffen and Jurgens' working relationship will be similar to that of Giffen and other collaborators, with Keith plotting and Dan writing the dialogue.  Unfortunately, dialogue is, to me, the weakest of Jurgens many weak points as a writer.  Also, from what I've read, it seems that the Green Arrow of this new series isn't quite the same character I fell in love with back in the 70's.  Apparently, he's closer to the character as portrayed on TV in Smallville than the O'Neil/Adams version. I only saw a couple of episodes  with Green Arrow in them, but I wasn't exactly thrilled with their depiction of one of my favorite characters.  Still, I do plan on picking up Green Arrow #4 the first week in December (provided that it stays on schedule) and I will, of course, report my impressions to you here on this blog.
Well, it certainly feels good to get all that off my chest.  Now, I've got some old Firestorm comics to re-read so that I can tell you all about them. 
Talk to you later.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Action Comics #2 Reviewed

Heed my words, children, for here lies wisdom.
In the dark days before the Great Reboot great uncertainly lay over the legions of fandom and there was upon them much wailing and gnashing of teeth.  To them in these days the prophet did speak, and spake he thus: "...Grant Morrison will be writing Action Comics and that's going to kick ass."  And lo, did it come to pass that in the first week of the second month of the Great Reboot were the words of the prophet fulfilled, for, verily, the second issue of Action doth ROCK!  And throughout the land of the fanboy there was much rejoicing.
Can I get an AMEN, brothers and sisters?!
Ahem...Sorry.  I really don't know what came over me.  
You might get the idea from that outburst above that I kind of liked Action Comics #2 just a little bit.   You would, of course, not be wrong.  With this issue, Action begins to live up to the awesome potential inherent in the combination of the names "Grant Morrison" and "Superman," and the end of the issue indicates that it's only going to get better in the months ahead. 
Truly, the best parts of the issue, at least for veteran Superman readers, are the hints dropped about future plot developments.  Storywise, "Superman In Chains" is pretty simple and straightforward.  At the end of last issue, you may recall, a trap set by Luthor and General Lane had succeeded in capturing Superman.  As #2 begins, he is being held in a top secret military facility and "interrogated" (a polite way of saying "tortured") by Luthor.  It really isn't such a spoiler to say that he escapes.  He may not be as powerful as he's been depicted in the past, but he IS Superman after all.  Along the way we encounter a couple of "new" characters whose names will be familiar to those versed in the old continuity, a Dr. Irons--John Henry, I presume--and Sgt. John Corben.  Though we know, or think we know, what's going to happen to them, the fun will be in seeing how Grant gets them there.   When we last see Corben, he looks about ready to don a high tech battlesuit and take on Superman in an attempt to impress Lois Lane.  On top of all that, the issue ends with a shot of a menacing looking spaceship that I'm assuming--'cause Grant isn't telling just yet--belongs to none other than Brainiac.
Action #2 is a fast paced and exciting story in its own right, and promises even more excitement to come.  It's pretty much every thing a good super-hero comic should be.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Superman #1 Reviewed

For me, it really doesn't take a lot to make a decent Superman story.  Just give me Kal-El flying around and throwing a few super punches, battling a ludicrous super-villain or a giant monster, and I'm good.  On that count, the new Superman #1 delivers.  The first few pages move quickly to establish the Man of Steel's new post-Flashpoint status quo before getting into the meat of the issue, which is Superman's battle with a giant creature made of living fire.
If DC really wants to appeal to non-fanboys with the New 52, it would behoove them to have an entry level title that the casual reader can pick up every now and then and get a satisfying single issue reading experience.  If this debut issue is any indication, Superman might just be that title.  This would be appropriate, since everyone knows who Superman is.  He's not only DC's most famous character, but one of the most recognizable fictional characters in all of literature.  Therefore, you don't really need to spend a lot of time introducing the characters to new readers.  If you were in a comics shop about to pick up your first ever comic book, wouldn't you be more likely to go for a character you already know from movies and TV? 
This issue, more than any other of the New 52 titles I've read, is very accessible and new reader friendly. There are subplots and hints of things to come, including a possible crossover with Stormwatch, but it ultimately delivers a complete single issue story with everything the reader needs to know to enjoy and understand the story contained within the story itself. 
Visually, the book is an interesting hybrid.  Writer George Perez does breakdowns, and the storytelling, with multiple small panels on almost every page, is pure Perez.  It's dense, but never confusing.  The pencil and ink art by Jesus Merino looks like an accomplished Jim Lee impersonation.  Actually, I like Merino's art better than Lee's.
All in all, this is a good start to the Man of Steel's new adventures.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Focus On Batgirl: Batgirl #1--Must There Be A Batgirl?

This is not going to be a review so much as a dismissal of this comic. I'm not going to spend a lot of time talking about the artistic merits of Batgirl #1.  It's basically a fairly good comic.  The art by Ardian Syaf is nice.  The foreshortening on Batgirl's leg on the splash page looks a little off to me, but otherwise it's a lovely looking book.  It's also well written, but then I'd expect no less from Gail Simone, although this really isn't her best work.  
The biggest flaw of this comic, as far as I'm concerned, is that it fails to make a compelling case for why there needs to be a Batgirl in the DC Universe and why it needs to be Barbara Gordon.  Given the controversy surrounding Barbara Gordon's return to action, I really think that this is something they needed to do.  This story, in fact, accomplishes just the opposite, pointing out why it was a mistake to bring back the Barbara Gordon version of Batgirl.
I can understand DC's reasoning for reinstating Barbara as Batgirl, though I can't say that I agree with it.  Much like they did a few years ago with Supergirl, following several not all that successful attempts to introduce a new version of the character, they finally decided to go back to the original.  Then there's the company's perhaps somewhat fanciful notion that the new 52 will bring in readers outside of their core demographic of middle aged fanboys.  To that larger public, due to the 60's Batman TV series and, to a lesser extent, recent animated outings Batman: The Animated Series and The Batman, Barbara Gordon is Batgirl and Batgirl is Barbara Gordon.  However, the fact remains that Barbara Gordon as Oracle was a unique and interesting character who filled a niche within the DC Universe at large, not just the Batman titles, while Barbara Gordon as Batgirl is just another chick in a batsuit, especially in the current DCU.
Simone even refers to this in the story when someone that Batgirl has just rescued says, "Bless you, Batwoman."  Maybe that was meant to be a joke, but to me it just serves to underscore the redundancy of Batgirl in a world where you've got not just Batwoman, but the Huntress, not to mention Batman himself as well as Robin, Red Robin and Nightwing.
Compounding the problem is that the characterization of Batgirl in this first issue seems to be picking up the doubt plagued and uncertain heroine from 1988's Batgirl Special.  She freezes, flashing back to the Joker's shooting her, when a gun is pointed at her right where the Clown Prince of Crime's bullet landed.  This is certainly understandable given what Barbara's gone through, but not the kind of behavior you want in a costumed crimefighter.
This review is a tad less than timely.  The second issue of this series is due to hit comic shops today.  I'll be heading over to the Laughing Ogre shortly after I post this.  I'm going to get the new issues of Action Comics and OMAC, but I'll be giving Batgirl #2 a pass.   As I said at the outset, overall the first issue is a decent enough comic, but one that ultimately fails to justify its own existence, at least to my satisfaction. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Focus On Batgirl: "The Last Batgirl Story" (Batgirl Special #1; 1988)

The decision to retire Batgirl seems to have been made as early as 1985.  Her brief appearance in Crisis On Infinite Earths #4 shows her questioning her own role as a hero even as she watches Supergirl save a plane load of people from the encroaching anti-matter cloud.  This portrayal was taken to the extreme in the Batgirl Special that formally ended her crimefighting career, for the time being at least.   When writer Barbara Randall named this story "The Last Batgirl Story" she wasn't kidding around.  The last page of the story is followed by a house ad for The Killing Joke, the Alan Moore penned tale that left Barbara Gordon in a wheelchair for the next twenty-three years and paved the way for her career as Oracle.
"The Last Batgirl Story" opens with a flashback to Batgirl's encounter with a hired killer known as Cormorant.  It was Cormorant's attempt on her life that forced Barbara to confront her own mortality and realize that she could get killed playing super-hero, bringing on the self-doubt and uncertainty that plagued her.  Flashing forward to the present, a man is murdered in the Gotham City Library where Barbara works and she becomes convinced, on the flimsiest of evidence, that Cormorant is the killer. Her obscession with Cormorant blinds her to mounting evidence that the real murderer is a female serial killer, dubbed "Slash" by the media, who is targeting men who've committed crimes against women.  At the same time, she's afraid to confront Cormorant.  Meanwhile, childhood friend Marcy, having deduced that Barbara is Batgirl, shows up hoping to convince Babs to hang up the cape.  She agrees to do so, but only after closing the books on the Cormorant case.
When she finally does confront her nemesis, she's about to get herself killed for real when Slash shows up because Cormorant just happened to be next on her list of intended victims.  Batgirl is reduced to little more than a spectator as Slash and Cormorant, with an assist from Cormorant's abused spouse, take each other out.  Nonetheless, Cormorant is finally captured and Barbara keeps her promise to retire from crimefighting.
The reason I didn't enjoy this story has little to do with its actual quality.  It's well written and features nice early work by artist Barry Kitson. (from a survey of Kitson's credits at the Comic Book Data Base, it appears that this was his first work in American comics.)   My problem is with the portrayal of the title character.  Batgirl is shown as confused, willfully blind, inept and ultimately useless.  If the intent was to make the reader agree with Barbara's decision to stop being Batgirl, then it was successful.  The Batgirl of this story isn't the type of super-hero I really care to read about, and Barbara did herself, Gotham and comics readers a favor by packing it in. 

Monday, October 3, 2011

Focus On Batgirl: "Enter Batgirl; Exit Penguin"

You might say that Batgirl is the Cousin Oliver of the DC Universe.  You might say so, that is, if you're an incurable smart-ass with a freakishly extensive knowledge of old TV shows.  If you're me, in other words, and thank whatever gods you may worship that you're not.  In the mid-60's, the Batman TV series kicked off a phenomenon that came to be called "Batmania", bringing renewed interest and popularity to DC's Batman comics and rescuing them from the brink of cancellation.  However, as it embarked on a third season, the TV series itself teetered on the edge of that very precipice.  So they did what many ailing series did in their waning years, they added a new character, just as, several years later, Robbie Rist as Cousin Oliver joined the cast of The Brady Bunch in its final season. Though, and I promise this is my final Cousin Oliver reference for this post, I never understood just who that character was meant to appeal to, the logic of bringing in Batgirl is inescapable.  The girls in the audience got a role model to identify with, and the boys didn't have to wait for a Catwoman appearance to have a spandex clad hottie to ogle.
"Enter Batgirl; Exit Penguin", Batman's third season premiere, opens to a typical day in Gotham City, as the Dynamic Duo return from rounding up Catwoman yet again and change back to their civilian identities of Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson for a night at the opera with Commissioner Gordon, Chief O'Hara and the Commissioner's daughter, Barbara.  The TV show, by the way, actually bothered to come up with an explanation for why we hadn't seen or heard of Barbara Gordon before this.  It seems that she'd been off at college for the past four years.  She must have taken some time off after high school, as Yvonne Craig, the actress portraying Barbara, was thirty years old at the time.
Next we meet Barbara herself, heading home from her job at the Gotham Public Library to prepare herself for the aforementioned night at the opera when she is kidnapped by the Penguin and held captive in an empty apartment right next to her very own.  The Penguin's latest somewhat ill thought out scheme is to force Barbara to marry him, thus making him the police commissioner's son-in-law and thus, or so he believes, above the law.
Pengy  sends two of his henchmen out to snatch a minister to perform the ritual, and they happen to find pick one who happens to be having tea with Batman's butler Alfred, who tells the goons that he's the minister and gets nabbed in the real reverend's place.  Alfred is locked in the bedroom of the vacant apartment, where he sees Barbara climbing out the window in order to go back to her place and change to Batgirl, thus learning her secret identity.
Summoned by an emergency signal activated through a switch hidden in Alfred's belt buckle, the Dynamic Duo arrive on the scene and are just as surprised as the Penguin and his gang when a third caped crime fighter shows up.  Penguin and his henchmen are seemingly defeated, after which Batgirl disappears.  However, Penguin recovers and overcomes Batman and Robin, then packs up the Caped Crusaders, Alfred, and a dummy that they take for an unconscious Barbara Gordon and head off for their alternate hideout.
To make a long story short, if it isn't already too late, Barbara breaks out the Batgirl-cycle, trails the bad guys to their new lair, frees Batman and Robin and helps them defeat Penguin and swears Alfred to secrecy regarding her secret identity.
Despite the bad rap it has among comics fans for making a laughing stock out of their beloved hero, viewed objectively, Batman is actually a really well done TV show, and "Enter Batgirl; Exit Penguin" is one of its better episodes.  Due to declining ratings, the series, which had aired twice a week, was cut back to one episode a week for its final season, yet this episode delivers just as much fun and excitement as a typical two-parter, without all the extraneous silliness.  The highlight of the half-hour, as it should be, is Yvonne Craig's performance as Batgirl.  She perfectly portrays a young, sexy female crime fighter who does what she does not because of some trauma in her childhood, but because it's fun.  Lou Grant would hate her, because, by God, she's got some spunk.  Burgess Meredith's typically over the top performance as the Penguin, a role he seems to have been born to play, is also worth mentioning, and Commissioner Gordon's love and concern for his daughter give Neil Hamilton something other to play than a confused and buffoonish caricature.
The addition of Batgirl may not have saved Batman from its eventual cancellation, but creatively, she was quite a shot in the arm for the series.  

Sunday, October 2, 2011

'Tec Support: "The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl!" (Focus On Batgirl)

Created by a trio of comics legends, editor Julius Schwartz, writer Gardner Fox and artist Carmine Infantino, at the behest of Batman TV series producer William Dozier, who was looking for a female character to appeal to that segment of the TV audience, the new--and "real", as we're told in a caption--Batgirl (there had been a previous character called Bat-Girl in the late 50's and early 60's) met the comics reading public in the January 1967 issue of Detective Comics, #359, in a story entitled "The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl!"   The introduction of Batgirl, incidentally, was not the first change made in the comics to accomodate the TV series.  One of Schwartz's first moves on assuming editorship of the Batman books was to kill off Bruce Wayne's butler, Alfred.  However, he and Fox were compelled to bring the character back to life when the producers wanted to include him in the show.
The story moves quickly, giving us just a two panel introduction to Barbara Gordon, the previously unseen and unmentioned librarian daughter of Gotham City Police Commissioner James Gordon, before she dons her Batgirl costume and is off to the Policeman's Masqerade Ball.  Setting off  for the ball, Barbara thinks that "...tonight will be the highlight of my life!"  She's right, of course, but not quite in the way she was thinking of.  A funny thing happens on the way to the party, when she sees Killer Moth's minions attempting to put the snatch on "...Daddy's millionaire friend" Bruce Wayne.  Proving that "clothes make the woman," she leaps into action to save Wayne, allowing the millionaire to slip away and change to Batman.  The Caped Crusader ends up having to rescue Batgirl while Killer Moth escapes. Her costume messed up in the fight, Batgirl tells Batman she won't be going to the masqerade after all, but holds back on telling him her name, despite thinking to herself that this might be both Batgirl's "...debut and farewell appearance..."
She soon finds, however, that after her brush with crimefighting, the fast paced life of the librarian just doesn't thrill her the way it used to.  Then one night, Barbara goes to deliver a rare book to Bruce Wayne and sees him apparently murdered by Killer Moth.  She once again goes into action as Batgirl, but soon learns that her interference has spoiled the Dynamic Duo's plans to follow Killer Moth back to his hideout.  Nonetheless, it turns out, somewhat predictably, I'll admit, that despite her initial blunder, it is Batgirl whose nick of time arrival at Killer Moth's lair serves to save Batman and Robin's bacon and capture the villain.
If, as the conventional wisdom among comics fans holds, the intentionally campy tone of the TV series had infected the comics, it is not much in evidence in this issue.  True, Killer Moth, with his themed henchmen Larva and Pupa, is a silly villain, and Robin spouts a couple of truly dreadful puns, while, at one point, daring to criticize Batgirl's "terrible puns."  For the most part, however, "The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl!" is a fairly straightforward, serious minded adventure story, thanks to Fox's fast-paced and witty script and Infantino's suitably dark and moody artwork.
Quite a few of the "important" stories of the Silver Age--the first appearance of the Teen Titans springs to mind--are worth reading only for their significance to comics history.  Detective #359 is not one of those issues, though.  "The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl!" stands on its own, aside from its place in history, as an entertaining and fun Batman story.
In a future post, I'll take a look at Batgirl's second first appearance, in the third season premiere of the Batman TV show.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Things To Come--I Hope

So, I recently wasted spent an entire afternoon downloading and listening to all the extant episodes of The Fire and Water Podcast, a show devoted to Aquaman and Firestorm and hosted by Rob Kelly, author of the blog The Aquaman Shrine and The Irredeemable Shag of the Firestorm Fan blog, who, by the way, has been known to check in on this blog occassionally and has left a comment or two in his wake.  Anyway, there's a point in each episode where   the pair tell the listener about all the other blogs and podcasts that they do on top of having jobs and families and lives outside of cyberspace.  This left me feeling a little bad about not even being able to keep up one blog on anything resembling a regular basis recently.  Of course, there have been "real world" events that have kept me away from the keyboard, but I think those are now under control to the point where I can devote a little more time to spouting off about the funny books for the half dozen or so people who actually care about my opinions. 
Sitting on the floor beside my computer desk is a pile of comics that I want to write about and taped to the wall in front of me is a long list of topics to cover, so I've got more than enough material to carry the blog through the end of the year if I can just overcome the the forces of inertia and start writing. That's part of the reason for this post.  I figure that if I tell you about some of the stuff I  want to write about, I will then be obligated to actually do it.  Here's just a sample of what's in the pile and on the list:
photo by Max Ink
Thanks to Jonathon Riddle, who gave me First Issue Special #4 for my birthday a few weeks ago, I now have the complete run of that quirky little Bronze Age book and hope to write about the entire series issue by issue.
I managed to lay my hands on a copy of Batgirl #1 after all.  Before I get to reviewing it, however, I want to look at a handful of significant Batgirl stories, including her first appearances both in print and on the tube. 
Earlier I said that I might pick up Superman #1 if I had $2.99 burning a hole in my pocket.  Well, it turns out I did.  Actually, it was a twenty dollar bill that I found lying on the ground in the parking lot of the office building next to where I work and which I proceeded to blow entirely on comics.  
In addition to Superman, I also purchased two The Fury of Firestorm #1's.  That's two different comics, by the way--the new one and the one from 1982, which I probably paid too much for because the Laughing Ogre tends to overprice their back issues, but it was found money, so what the hell--and not two copies of the same book.  With that acquisition, I now have all four of Firestorm's debut issues, and plan on reviewing them in chronological order. 
Dark Horse recently released a trade paperback collecting all fifteen issues of John Arcudi and Doug Mahnke's Major Bummer, originally published by DC in the late 90's.  I didn't buy it, in part because I didn't really have thirty dollars to spend on a comic book right then, but mainly because a few days before it was released I had found nine of the fifteen issues in the clearance boxes at Half-Price Books for a quarter apiece and subsequently tracked down the remaining six for a buck each at Packrat Comics.  Thus, I managed to acquire the contents of a thirty dollar trade paperback for $8.25, which, even if I never get around to writing the review, I just felt like bragging about. 
Also, even though it's now almost two months since their release, there are still a couple of the DC Retroactive one-shots that I'd like to write about. 
If you actually see the list I wrote of above, you'd see that what I've described is just the tip of the iceberg. Therefore, it's time to quit yapping about what I plan to do and actually do it. 
Talk to you all soon.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

What Would Sheldon Think

Thursday night on CBS is the fifth season premiere of The Big Bang Theory.  Last season, as you may know, ended with Raj and Penny getting drunk and sleeping together.  This will, it most likely goes without saying, result in comical complications and hilarity, as is its wont in such circumstances, will undoubtably ensue.  Of course, if not handled right, fans may one day look back at this as the moment that BBT "jumped the shark."
All that aside, however, what I'm really curious about is this:  What does Sheldon think about DC's "New 52"?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Calling B***S*** on DC

A few weeks ago, in a Comics Shop News cover story on DC's New 52 that pretty much just regurgitated the company's press releases, I ran across this little gem of particularly egregious self-serving corporate double speak attempting to rationalize the decision to restart their two longest running titles with new first issues: "Counting issue numbers is focusing on the past, not the future."  Now, it struck me that if the editorial poobahs at DC really believed the swill that their public relations hacks apparently expect the average drooling fanboy to swallow whole without questions, then why are they even bothering to number the new series?  If issue numbers really are as irrelevant as they say, then why not, instead of  52 new #1s, simply put out 52 new "November 2011" issues?   If they really want to shake things up and usher in a new age of  comics, then why not just eliminate issue numbers altogether?  This would drastically alter not only the new comics market, but the secondary collectors and back issue scene as well.  Just as DC's previous launches and relaunches of its super-hero books have ushered in the the beginnings and/or endings of the various historical ages of comics; with Action Comics #1 and the debut of Superman ushering in the Golden Age, the second Flash's first appearance in Showcase #4 heralding the arrival of the Silver Age, and the conclusion of Crisis On Infinite Earths sounding the death knell of the Bronze Age; so is there potential, most likely doomed, sadly, to remain unrealized, for the latest relaunch to truly change the landscape of American comics. 
Of course, it doesn't seem as if DC is really all that interested in changing things quite that much.  In fact, the whole relaunch, rather than being the harbinger of a bold new era in the industry, seems pretty much like business as usual.  I read an article somewhere on-line, and I wish I could remember where so that I could link to it, that referred to the 90s and the first decade of the new millennium as the "Age of Reiteration," marked by the two major publishers endlessly revising, revamping, rebooting, reconfiguring, relaunching, and rejiggering their tried and true, shop worn old wares.  The DC relaunch just might, therefore, in spite of itself usher in a new era by virtue of being the logical and inevitable end result of that process, thus forcing the publishers to find new methods to temporarily increase interest in the same old super-hero tripe.  
I doubt it, however.   The comics industry is in a rut.  "Business as usual" has kept the comics industry's head just barely above water for the past quarter century. The so-called "Modern Age" of comics has lingered like a bad odor since the mid-80's, longer than any of the previous ages, and the publishers seem to lack the vision to come up with a truly viable alternative to the old ways.   This probably isn't the last renumbering we'll see.  Despite all of DC's vociferous protestations that they in no way ever intend to revert to the old numbering, I can't imagine that in about eight years they'll be able to resist hyping the 1000th issue of Action Comics.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Random Thoughts on the DC Relaunch at the Halfway Point

DC is only half way through the rollout of their New 52, but I think that as far as I'm concerned, it's over.  The only titles that I was really interested in checking out, because of the involvement of Grant Morrison and Keith Giffen, two of my favorite creators, came out the first week. 
I'll admit to being a little curious about Blackhawks.  I've always liked the Blackhawk concept, and I'm kind of wondering how DC has brought it back into the modern DC Universe and what the connection, if any, is between this new series and the classic World War II team.  Still, I think I'm going to wait until the reviews are in before I decide whether or not to pick up an issue. 
Maybe if I've got three bucks burning a whole in my pocket in a couple of weeks, I'll spend it on Superman #1 to check out the present day new incarnation of the Man of Steel and how it compares to the version in Action Comics. 
I'd actually considered buying Green Arrow #1, even though, being written by J.T. Krul, I knew that it was going to suck, simply because I have every other Green Arrow #1 that DC has published over the past thirty years.  Fortunately, however, I came to my senses in time.
I flipped through Hawk & Dove #1, and promptly put it back on the shelf.  There may be a decent story somewhere under Rob Liefeld's art, but I have no desire to find out.  Liefeld's drawings are....well, they're Liefeld's drawings.  If you like his work--and the fact that he continues to get work attests that he must still have some fans out there somewhere--then you'll like it in Hawk & Dove.  If you have taste, then you won't.  
I'd already decided, because of Krul writing it, that I was going to pass on Captain Atom, and this preview of the first issue confirms for me that I've made the right choice.  Apparently, Krul has never actually read a Captain Atom comic before.  He has, however, seemingly read quite a bit of Firestorm, as that is who he seems to think he's writing.  Not only is Captain Atom drawn with Firestorm-like flames popping out of the top of his head, but on the second page of the preview, in the course of battling an erupting volcano, Krul has Cap transmute the lava into snow.  Since when can Captain Atom transmute matter?  Since NEVER, that's since when, because he isn't friggin' Firestorm.  The new DCU already has a Firestorm comic, and it doesn't really need another, especially not one written by J.T. Krul. 
I did decide to check out the new Batgirl, based on Gail Simone's writing it, but by the time I went back to the Laughing Ogre to pick up a copy, they were sold out of it and several other New 52 books.  I suppose this bodes well for the success of the relaunch.  I wonder, though, who's buying these books.  Is it the new and/or lapsed readers that DC hopes to attract or is it just the same folks who come to the Ogre week in and week out?  More importantly, how many of the people who snapped up those first issues are going to buy subsequent releases? 
If DC is really hoping to attract new readers to comics, then I think that redesigning Superman's costume might have been a bad idea.   Not only is the new look kind of hideous, but won't people who know Superman only from his appearances in other media be expecting him to look like the guy they've seen on TV?  It also occurs to me that this theoretical new reader might be slightly confused by the presence on the stands of both a Batgirl and a Batwoman comic.
There's one thing I'm wondering about future developments in OMAC that I didn't mention in my post on the first issue.  I'm curious to see if the presence of Mokkari deep in the bowels of Cadmus means that OMAC is going to come into conflict with Darkseid.  Now I don't think Mokkari had any connection with Apokolips in his previous incarnation, when Jerry Ordway brought him into The Adventures of Superman in the 90's, but the character was introduced in Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen by Jack Kirby in the early 70's as a servant of Darkseid.  I also hope his partner Simyan shows up sometime as well.
Anyway, to wrap up this rambling and disjointed post, I'll be sticking with Action Comics and OMAC for a while, so for me the relaunch was pretty much a wash.  I was buying two DC books before the change, and I'll still be buying two DC books, just different ones.  It's basically a case of the more things change, the more they stay the same. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

OMAC #1 Reviewed

Prior to OMAC #1, the only other comic written by Dan DiDio that I'd read was the Metal Men feature in Wednesday Comics a couple of years ago.  It was alright.  The sequence of events made sense and the characters acted in character.  That may seem like damning with faint praise, but that minimal standard appears to be setting the bar too high for some writers. (Yes, I'm looking at you, Brad Meltzer and J.T. Krul.)  Of course, given the rather ambiguous, Lee/Kirby-esque credit of "Story and Art by" DiDio and Keith Giffen, I'm inclined to believe that the lion's share of the credit for OMAC being as good as it is lies with Giffen.  
Giffen's involvement in the project is what led me to pick up this issue.  I've always been a fan of his work, and I really like his current art style.  Here he manages to evoke OMAC's creator Jack Kirby while remaining unmistakably and uniquely Giffen. 
The story, "Office Management Amidst Chaos," begins with the headquarters of genetic research firm Cadmus coming under attack by a super powered intruder who identifies himself as OMAC.  As he fights his way past Cadmus security down to the top secret lower levels and his real goal, the Cadmus Mainframe computer, we get a high speed tour of the world of this new series, introducing us to the characters, concepts, settings and a few mysteries that will, we assume, be fleshed out in future issues. 
The main mysteries revolve around the orbiting satellite calling itself Brother Eye.  Who or what is he and what's his beef with Cadmus?  And why has he chosen Cadmus employee Kevin Kho to be his champion in the guise of OMAC?
As of now, I plan to be around for awhile to see  these mysteries played out.  This was a good, old fashioned solid super hero action tale with great art that left me wanting more and looking forward to next issue.
One other thing I'm wondering is if Giffen and DiDio are going to keep up the conceit of having the first letters of words in the individual issue's story title spell out OMAC.  I hope they do.  It would be one more thing to make this series stand out from the rest of the so-called New 52. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Action Comics #1 Reviewed

A couple of weeks ago, on the blog Has Boobs, Reads Comics, Jill Pantozzi posted a fan produced "commercial" for the DC Comics relaunch that featured a distressed fanboy ranting about the upcoming changes to DC history, continuity and characters.  It ended with this assurance, "It's going to be okay, Guys.  And remember, no matter what else happens...Grant Morrison will be writing Action Comics and that's going to kick ass."
Action Comics #1 is very good, though I don't know if I'd go so far as to say that it kicks ass.  Not yet anyway, though the potential for future ass kickage is definitely there.  Grant is rearing back his leg and winding up to kick some ass you could say, if you really felt like stretching that metaphor to the breaking point. 
Taking place as it does in the early days of Superman's heroic career, "Superman Vs. The City of Tomorrow"lacks the epic scope and mythic grandeur of  Morrison's earlier work on All-Star Superman.  Instead we get a more down to earth, and, dare I say it, "realistic" take on super heroics, at least in as much as those terms can be said to apply to a man who can catch bullets in his hand. 
Back in '86, on the occasion of the last major reboot of the Man of Steel, John Byrne made a lot of noise about his version of Superman being, as he wrote in his introduction to The Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told, "...closer to the Superman of Siegal and Shuster than he had been for decades," but he never quite delivered on that boast, at least to the degree that Morrison does.   True to his word, Morrison presents the reader with a character who is more similar than not to the one who debuted in the first Action #1 over 70 years ago.  Coming on the scene as a champion of the innocent, the oppressed and the common man, he is less super-hero than super powered vigilante.  Though he's not quite as super powerful as he will someday become, and is still getting around by taking giant leaps rather than actually flying.  As Clark Kent, meanwhile, he works, as he did back in the 1938 original, for editor George Taylor at the Metropolis Daily Star, a rival of the Daily Planet, where Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen work.
While Superman has for many decades been portrayed as the "establishment" super-hero, here he finds himself in conflict with the police, while the military, represented here by General Sam Lane, father of Lois, fear him enough to hire Lex Luthor to deliver the strange being to them. 
The conception of Luthor as corrupt business mogul, rather than the bent on world domination run of the mill mad scientist that he debuted as back in the forties, is the one major change made by Byrne and company back in the 80's that seems to have resonated enough with fans and creators to have stuck around in this latest update of the legend.  He certainly makes a fitting opponent for Morrison's vision of Superman as man of the people.
By the way, although I haven't mentioned them, there are pictures in this book.  They're by Rags Morales and they're quite good. 
With the new Action #1, the revised saga of the Man of Tomorrow is off to a great start, with the promise of even better to come and I  plan to stick around for awhile. I hope that Morrison's exploration of Superman's early years isn't going to be confined to just this initial storyline, but that he takes the time to show us Kal-El developing into the legendary, nearly god like figure portrayed in All-Star Superman.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

'Tec Support: Detective Comics #1

Detective Comics #1 is, if not the worst Batman comic ever, at the very least the worst that I have ever had the deep misfortune to have read.  From the laughably bad narrative captions on the first page to the repulsive image on the final page, the combination of idiotic plot, bad writing and poor art make reading this book a painful experience.
Writer/artist Tony Daniel's misguided attempt at writing a tough guy internal monologue for Batman goes awry almost immediately, lapsing into unintentional self-parody with this groaner, "His modus operandi changes with the wind....
"...and it's been windy in Gotham City."
Later, Batman delivers this gem, "I've always been in Gotham.  I AM Gotham."  That's actually presented as dialogue, yet Commissioner Gordon, to whom he is speaking, surprisingly neither bursts out laughing nor backs away slowly from the sort of madman who would say something insane like that.
Daniel even dishes up tired cliches such as "I own the night," and even has Batman actually think at one point, "I'm Batman."  Thanks for telling us, Tony, as if by that point in the story we hadn't already figured it out for ourselves.
Why not "I'm the Goddamned Batman?"  After all, it seems as if Daniel is trying to imitate Frank Miller, but the only Miller Batman comics he's actually read are All-Star Batman and Robin or maybe Spawn/Batman.  At least All-Star can be read as Miller parodying the very type of Batman story he himself inspired with  The Dark Knight Returns, which actually makes it somewhat less unbearably awful, but there is no hint of irony whatsoever in Daniel's deep purple prose.
Truthfully, the art isn't completely awful.  The biggest flaw is that familiar characters are rendered virtually unrecognizable.  Commissioner Gordon looks like he's wearing a bad wig and fake moustache, while Harvey Bullock doesn't even look human.
The issue ends with the introduction of a mysterious new villain called the Dollmaker, but, as you've probably guessed, I shall not be coming back for future issues to discover what his invariably lame criminal scheme might be.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Thoughts On A Comic I Haven't Actually Read

I considered picking up DC Retroactive: The Flash--the 70's, mostly since, not owning a lot of Flash comics and none from the 70's, I figured that the reprint included, unlike the ones in the Green Lantern, Superman and Justice League volumes, would be one I didn't already have.  No such luck, however.  It turned out that the reprint was of DC Comics Presents #2.
This seems like an odd choice for a couple of reasons.  The main one is that DCCP was a Superman book.  It was DC's second and most successful attempt at creating a Superman team-up, after briefly converting World's Finest Comics to that format in the early part of the decade, and Flash was the guest star in the debut two parter.  That's another reason this seems like an odd choice, as it is the conclusion of a two part story.  However, back in the 70's most DC comics were written with sufficient recaps of previous issues that the story can be read and understood on its own.  Finally, there's the fact that "Race to the End of Time" was written not by longtime Flash scribe Cary Bates, who wrote the new lead story, but by Martin Pasko.  Of course, this sort of balances out the fact that the reprint in DC Retroactive: Superman--the 70's, accompanying a lead story by Pasko, was written by Bates.
Still, "Race to the End of Time", along with "Chase to the End of Time" in DCCP #1, is one of my favorite Superman stories by Pasko and well worth reading if you haven't already.  However, I'd recommend getting the trade paperback that was released a few years ago containing all of Superman's races with the Flash, which includes both parts.  (That's if you're just interested in the older tale, of course, as I note in the title of this post, I haven't actually read the new story, so I can make no recommendations as to whether its worth reading, though reviews I've read on other blogs have been quite positive.)
Bates, of course, was the logical, in fact the only, choice to write a 70's Flash story, as he wrote the character's title for the entire decade.  It seems to me that when comics fans talk about long runs by writers on a single series, such as Chris Claremont's sixteen years on Uncanny X-Men or Peter David's twelve year stint on Incredible Hulk, Bates' fourteen year run on Flash is hardly ever mentioned. Perhaps that's because, unlike Claremont and David's runs, which brought their respective titles to new heights of popularity, Bates' tenure ended with the book's cancellation and the title character's death.  Still, that era seems to be fondly remembered by fans today and fourteen years doing anything is an achievement worthy of some recognition. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

DC Retroactive: Green Lantern--the 70's Reviewed

What you are reading now is my second attempt at writing a review of DC Retroactive: Green Lantern--the 70's.  I really wanted to write a positive review, but I realize that was based more on my affection for the characters and for writer Dennis O'Neil than on the story at hand, which was, to tell the truth, fairly unimpressive.  
Before I get to writing about the new story, I want to waste a paragraph or two bitching about the reprint in the back of the book.  When I saw what story had been selected, my first thought was, "Green Lantern #76? Again? Seriously?"
As I've noted before, "No Evil Shall Escape My Sight" has to be one of the most reprinted super-hero stories ever.  It's certainly one of the most reprinted DC stories.  The most recent reprint was just a couple of months ago in Showcase Presents Green Lantern Volume 5.  Does DC really think that anyone who would be interested in the Retroactive books doesn't already own a copy of this story or has at least read it?
I would have preferred to  see a lesser known and perhaps never before reprinted story spotlighted.  Since the new story was drawn by Mike Grell, it might have been nice to see a story from the period when he was drawing the regular Green Lantern title. Actually, that would have been more appropriate as the new material is closer in tone and structure to those later issues than to the "Hard Traveling Heroes" era of social relevance drawn by Neal Adams.
In 1976, when Green Lantern was rescued from four years in limbo with issue #90, Green Arrow was still on board as cover billed co-star.  However, while they shared a magazine, the two heroes quite often did not share their adventures.  Instead, an issue might be comprised of two separate and unrelated stories of the two Emerald Crusaders. 
Thus it is in "Nightmare Planet," with the two heroes going their separate ways for most of the issue, only getting together at the end to compare notes on their recent exploits.  
Green Lantern's story has Hal Jordan coming to the aid of an alien whose ship has crashlanded in an unnamed hostile foreign country.  Meanwhile, Ollie Queen pursues a disturbed young man who is trying to prove his worth, apparently to both Green Arrow and his deceased father, by shooting people close to Ollie with a bow and arrow from long range, thus supposedly proving himself the superior archer.
Despite having chronicled the character's adventures for the entire decade of the 70's, O'Neil never quite seemed comfortable writing Green Lantern.  He seems far more comfortable with more "down to Earth" characters like Batman and Green Arrow.  Thus its no surprise that Green Arrow portion of the issue is slightly better than the Green Lantern arc.  Slightly.  Just. 
The big problem with both stories is their ending.  The Green Lantern story seem to be attempting to convey a typically, for O'Neil, ham-fisted moral message about the savagery of the human race or something like that, but it is undercut by a ridiculous and unintentionally hilarious conclusion.  Green Arrow's story starts off strong, but comes to a rather abrupt and unsatisfying stop.  Perhaps if GA's story had had been given some of the pages wasted on the Green Lantern story, it might have turned into a good story.
The one good thing about the comic is the art of Mike Grell.  Still, that's not enough to make DC Retroactive: Green Lantern--the 70's worth the five buck cover price.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

DC Retroactive: Superman--the 70's Reviewed

When I first heard about the DC Retroactive series of nostalgic one-shots, my reaction was mixed.  One the one hand, the cynic in dismissed as a crass attempt by DC to exploit its core readership of aging fanboys  by cashing in on their nostalgia for a simpler and better time that existed only in their collective imagination, or maybe on the pre-Crisis On Infinite Earths Earth One.  That makes it somewhat ironic that DC is following this event with the launch of its "New 52" relaunch/reboot, a move that, if not specifically designed to alienate those very same aging fanboys, certainly seems to be having that effect nonetheless.
On the other hand, being one of those aging fanboys, I could no more resist a new Superman story by my favorite Superman writer, Martin Pasko, than Bill Clinton could resist a chubby intern bearing cold pizza.  
If the purpose of the DC Retroactive books is, in fact, to appeal to fanboy nostalgia, then DC Retroactive: Superman--the 70's succeeds admirably.  While I was reading this book, it felt as if the three decades since Pasko's original run on Superman never happened and I was a kid just discovering comics once again.  Pasko successfully picks up the themes and plot threads of those Bronze Age stories to weave a new tale that can stand beside his finest work of that era.  
I have a couple of minor quibbles.  The first is the coloring.  It's a little too "21st Century" if you get my meaning.  Obviously done on computer, its full of the subtle shadings and gradations of color characteristic of modern comics.  Recreating the flatter, brighter colors of Bronze Age comics, as seen in the reprint at the back of the book, would have the completed the illusion of a "lost" issue form my childhood. So would art by Curt Swan, but that was, unfortunately, impossible.
Then there's the reprint itself.  I was under the impression that the DC Retroactive books would feature vintage tales written by the same scribe responsible for the new material.  However, in this case we are treated to "Superman Takes A Wife" from Action Comics #484 written by Cary Bates.  I'm not saying it's a bad story, quite the opposite, in fact, but it's just that I was expecting more Pasko. Since Mr. Mxyzpltk (I just amazed myself by spelling that correctly without looking at the comic) is the "villain" of the issue, I sort of expected to see a reprint of Superman #335 or #349, Pasko's previous Mxyzptlk stories.  Of course, this is kind of a silly complaint coming from me, as there are very few, if any, Pasko Superman stories that I don't already own copies of.  The lead story is sufficient to give readers unfamiliar with those tales a taste of what they were like.
All in all, I'd say that DC Retroactive: Superman--the 70's is definitely worth picking up.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Just Sit Right Back and You'll Hear A Tale...

I believe that I can aver with a certain degree of confidence that I would be a different man today if not for Sherwood Schwartz.  Who can say how I might have turned out if I had not been exposed early and often--every afternoon at either four or four thirty--to reruns of Gilligan's Island.  I might even have actually made something of myself.  
I wouldn't classify Gilligan's Island as a guilty pleasure, for I am not ashamed of it in the least.  I offer no apology for my love of Gilligan, the Skipper and the passengers of the S.S. Minnow, nor can I really explain it.  It simply is.
My affection for the show is common knowledge to readers of my on-line comic strip Wasted Potential.  The strip was peppered throughout its four year run with allusions and references to Gilligan's Island.  Early in the strip's run I mentioned Schwartz by name, dedicating the following installment to him for all the hours of entertainment and escape from reality that I found in his most famous, and ridiculous, creation.

(click to enlarge)
Sherwood Schwartz, creator of Gilligan's Island, The Brady Bunch, and several not so well known TV shows such as Dusty's Trail, which reunited Schwartz with  Gilligan star Bob Denver and was, essentially, Gilligan's Island in the American Old West, died early this morning at the age of 94.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Not So "Indestructible"

In honor of Independence Day, which I fully realize was four days ago, today I look at the Bronze Age adventures of a certain flag draped champion of America's liberties in the face of Nazi aggression during the dark days of the Second World War.  I speak, of course, of none other than...
Steel--The Indestructible Man!
Those of you without an encyclopedic knowledge of the DC Universe and obscure, short-lived Bronze Age comics are probably scratching your heads and saying to yourselves, "Wha..? Who?"
Hank Heywood, the eponymous star of DC Comics' 1978 series Steel, The Indestructible Man, is perhaps best described as a cross between Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America, and Steve Austin, the Six Million Dollar Man, that is--not the professional wrestler.  Accompanying his mentor, the famed biochemist Dr. Gilbert Giles, to a medical conference in Munich, Germany in the summer of 1939, Heywood becomes convinced that, despite resistance by the majority of the American public, the United States would eventually have to enter the fight against Hitler.  Upon learning of the invasion of Poland, Hank acts on his convictions and enlists in the Marines.  One night, he encounters minions of Nazi costumed villain Baron Death breaking into his base.  In attempting to stop them he is caught in an explosion that kills the saboteurs and leaves him barely alive.   Dr. Giles uses his discoveries in the field of organ transplants to rebuild Hank's shattered body, installing a steel reinforced skeleton and an artificial lung.  Hank emerges from the procedure with enhanced strength and endurance. so he naturally decides to don a red, white and blue costume and take the nom de guerre "Steel" in hopes of inspiring the American people to join the fight against fascism while battling spies, saboteurs and super-villains.
The "DC Implosion," the mass cancellation of nearly half of DC's line in late 1978, was particularly unkind to writer Gerry Conway, who had three titles cancelled out from under him.  Two, Steel and Firestorm, The Nuclear Man, were retired after five outings apiece, and one, The Vixen, was axed before its debut issue even went to press.  Firestorm proved to have legs, enjoying a quite respectable 100 issue run after his book was revived as The Fury of Firestorm four years later after a run as a back-up feature in The Flash and his induction into the Justice League of America, which Conway was also writing at the time. 
Steel, on the other hand, was most likely destined for obscurity from the outset and probably wouldn't have lasted much more than five issues even if the DC Implosion had never happened.  The concept was derivative and the stories rather uninspired.  Furthermore, I don't think that the zeitgeist of  late 70's, post-Watergate America was right for a patriotic themed hero.
The art by Don Heck probably didn't help Steel's cause, either.  I've never been a fan of Heck's, but I will admit to liking his work at Marvel in the 60's a tad more than the 80's material that was my introduction to him.  By '78, whatever gifts he displayed in his Marvel output had not yet entirely deserted him, but they were edging slowly toward the door.  The figures are stiff and awkward and the storytelling is unclear in spots.  Older comics are often chided for having characters utter expository dialogue telling the readers exactly what is going on in the picture, but there are spots in Steel where you need that exposition to tell you what you're supposed to be looking at. 
Just as he had with Firestorm, however, Conway used his position as writer of Justice League of America to rescue the Indestructible Man from comics limbo.  A contempory version of the character, the grandson of the original--also named Hank Heywood, would eventually, along with Conway's other DC Implosion casualty, Vixen, join with new creations Vibe and Gypsy to form the core of what is generally referred to as the "Detroit League" following the disbanding of the original JLA.   The second Steel was no more popular with readers than his grandpop had been, however, and was killed off in the final issues of the League's first series.
Now, I haven't really been following the Justice Society's recent series, but I believe I read on-line somewhere that another descendant of the senior Hank Heywood has recently taken up the mantle of Steel.
Given the characters utter failure to catch on with readers in any incarnation, it's no surprise that the '78 series has never been collected or reprinted.  However, if you really want to read it, the back issues aren't hard to find and are pretty cheap.  I encountered copies of Steel #1 at at least a half dozen dealers tables at the last Mid-Ohio Con and paid no more that a quarter for each of the three issues I eventually purchased.  For that price, it's worth checking out at least one issue, I suppose.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Why, DC. WHY?

The biggest question raised in my mind by DC's upcoming line-wide relaunch is: 
WHY DOES DC HATE ME?
Okay, you're probably thinking to yourself about now that I'm taking this too personally being frickin' paranoid.  To that I counter that if DC doesn't hate me, why, then, do they not want me to read their comics?  The entire relaunch, and the list of titles that will be part of  it, seems calculated to keep me away from the comics shop.  
Consider that among the titles not returning in September are the only two comics that I'm currently buying on a monthly basis, Xombi and Secret Six.  The latter I discovered only a couple of months ago, with the Doom Patrol crossover, but it became one of my favorite comics almost from the first page I read and I will miss it.  Still, I did only start reading it with #30, so I've got the first two and a half years of the series to catch up on either through back issues or trade paperback collections.
The end of Xombi after only six issues serves to give credence to J. Caleb Mozzocco's speculation over at his blog Every Day Is Like Wednesday that the whole relaunch idea couldn't have been in the works for all that long despite the claims of DC's Unholy Trinity (Didio, Lee and Johns) that they've been planning this for a couple of years now.  "After all," Caleb asks, referring to the recently concluded retelling of the history of the DCU in DC Universe: Legacies, "why bother making and publishing this comic if you knew you were going to change the history it covered anyway in about a year?"  Similarly, why would they launch any new title in the spring of this year knowing that no matter well it sold or what the critical reception was that they were going to cancel it a mere six months later?  Neither move seems to make much sense unless Dan Didio just woke up one day last month and said, "Hey, this brilliant idea just came to me in a dream. I gotta tell Jim and Geoff.  They'll love it." (Actually, now that I think about it a little, it's far more likely that the whole fiasco was the idea of Fanboy-In-Chief Johns.)
I think this is meant to be Captain Atom
With one exception, which I'll get to later, the list of 52 titles that DC will be publishing doesn't really hold any attraction for me.  True, there will be titles featuring my two favorite super-hero characters, Green Arrow and Captain Atom.  Regular, or even casual, for that matter, readers of this blog are no doubt aware of my love of the Emerald Archer, to whom I have devoted two whole months worth of posts over the life of the site.  I became a fan of Captain Atom back in the 80's due to his eponymous series by Cary Bates and Pat Broderick and his leading role in Justice League Europe.  Unfortunately, and further proof, to my mind, at least, that the company hates me, DC has handed these characters to perhaps the worst writer they have ever employed, J.T. Krul.  Krul's already been making a mess of Green Arrow's legacy for over a year now, and I can't even begin to imagine the horrible train wreck that his Captain Atom series will no doubt turn out to be.  I'd venture to guess that Captain Atom's book will be among the first of the new 52 titles to go on the chopping block.
The one title that I just might consider picking up is Action Comics, which will be written by Grant Morrison.  Morrison is my favorite writer in comics, and anyone who's checked out All-Star Superman knows that he can tell a hell of  a story about the Man of Tomorrow.  On the negative side of the equation is the announcement that Action will be one of only four of the 52 relaunched titles that will be priced at $3.99 rather than $2.99.  Whatever happened to "holding the line," guys?  Still, this probably means that it will have a few more pages than the other books, and it's not like I'm going to buying anything else, after all, unless its more comics from smaller publishers.  

Sunday, June 26, 2011

They Finally Did It: The DC Relaunch

Jim Lee's Justice League
I can picture Marv Wolfman sitting at bar nursing a drink and saying to the drunken middle-aged businessman next to him for the umpteenth time, "The whole thing was my idea, y'know.  I wanted to do it 25 years ago," as the man tries to ignore him and concentrate instead on how he's going to tell his wife that he has lost his job, faces indictment on multiple charges and just lost the house and kids in a poker game.  
What Marv is talking about in the fictional scenario above is the news that has had the comics blogosphere abuzz with speculation for the past couple of weeks:  the recent announcement by DC Comics that they are going to be re-starting their entire line with 52 new #1 issues come September.  I'm coming a little late to the game, as its been at least two weeks, an eternity in cyber-space, since DC dropped this particular bombshell, but below are some of my thoughts on the news.
Wolfman did, in fact, propose such a line wide re-numbering to follow his re-alignment of the DC Universe in 1985's Crisis On Infinite Earths.  As we know, DC higher ups rejected the idea at the time. In retrospect, it might have been better to go ahead and reboot the entire line at once rather than revamping each character one by one over the course of the next decade.  Ultimately this practice made DC's continuity even more convoluted and confusing than it supposedly was before Crisis.  
Truthfully, I didn't find DC's pre-Crisis Universe, or, rather, Multiverse, confusing at all.  I was ten when I first encountered a JLA/JSA crossover and the concept of multiple Earths with different sets of heroes, and I had no trouble grasping the concept at all.  I thought the Multiverse was a really cool concept.  In fact, at first, I thought that eliminating it in Crisis was a really bad idea.  What made me accept it was that Crisis turned out to be one of the greatest super-hero comics ever published.
Anyway, getting back to the topic at hand, since '85, DC has sort of flirted with Wolfman's idea a couple of times.  In 1994, following the absolutely horrid Zero Hour crossover, they had "Zero Month" in which every DC Universe title published that month was a #0 and featured a new beginning for the characters or a re-telling of their origin or some aspect of their past.  Then following the even more horrid Infinite Crisis (or, as I refer to it, Infinite Crappiness), DC pulled the "One Year Later" stunt, which, as the name suggests, jumped all the DCU titles forward in time by one year.  The slightly less horrid 52 was then published to fill in the story of that missing year.
Now, of course, they have, for some reason, decided that the time is right to at last take the plunge and restart the whole kit and kaboodle from the beginning.  Like the stunts mentioned above, this move is tied to a big crossover, occurring on the heels of the currently on-going Flashpoint event.  
What would have been a daring and radical move had they done it back when Wolfman wanted to these days seems more like the natural progression and logical end of the trends in the comics industry since that time.  Nearly every title from both major publishers has been renumbered, rebooted, revamped , reconfigured or rejiggered at least once in the past quarter century.  You could probably fill a longbox just with all the various Captain America first issues alone. 
Yes, if I'm going to be perfectly frank (and if I'm not, what's the point of writing a blog), rather than being the bold, visionary step that the DC Unholy Trinity of Dan Didio, Jim Lee and Geoff Johns  obviously want us to see this relaunch as, the whole stunt carries about it just more than a slight stink of desperation; a last ditch effort to generate the fan interest that the actual comics themselves consistently fail to and get the non-comics reading world to pay them some atttention.   DC could, as they did with Crisis, win me over by producing some really great comics.  However, based on the info they've released about the 52 new titles so far, I see few chances for that to happen. I'll get into some of my thoughts about a few of the new titles in a future post.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Gene Colan: 1926-2011

My mind is simply reeling at the enormity of the talent that the world of comics lost yesterday.
Gene Colan self-portrait from 1967's Daredevil Annual #1
Born on September 1, 1926, Colan began working in comics at the age of 18, embarking on a career that spanned from the Golden Age into the early 21st century.  His best known, and arguably flat out best, work was for Marvel in the late Silver and Bronze Ages, where he was one of the company's most prolific pencillers.  If you had a complete collection of Marvel's black and white Essentials series of reprints, it would include just as much art by Colan as by Jack Kirby, if not more. He created the definitive look of Daredevil over the course of a run spanning more than eighty issues, drew every one of Tomb of Dracula's 70 issues, and made a talking cartoon waterfowl in the world of humans seem perfectly natural and believable in the pages of Howard the Duck.   Among his other credits at Marvel are Sub-Mariner, Captain America, The Avengers, the short lived Howard the Duck newspaper strip, and Iron Man, which he began drawing in 1966 under the pseudonym "Adam Austin."
At DC, he re-united with Tomb of Dracula author Marv Wolfman to create Night Force, and had memorable runs on Batman  and Wonder Woman.  
In 1980, Colan and his collaborator on  Howard the Duck , Steve Gerber, teamed up again to create one of the earliest independent graphic novels, Stewart the Rat.
Honestly, if I tried to list all of  Gene Colan's many credits and accomplishments in this post, I wouldn't get any sleep tonight.  (Today's post at Sequential Crush spotlights his work in the romance genre.)
Gene Colan, the man, will certainly be missed by those who knew and loved him, though his work will live on for a very long time to come.