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.