Sunday, September 29, 2013

Star Trek The Animated Series: Episode 4: "The Lorelei Signal"

Investigating a series of mysterious disappearances of starships in an uncharted sector of space over the previous one hundred and fifty years, the Enterprise intercepts an odd sub-space radio signal that has a disturbing effect on the male members of the crew, who respond to it as a summons.   Following the signal to the second planet of the Taurean system, Kirk, Spock, McCoy and a redshirt named Carver (don't worry about him too much, this is Saturday morning kids' TV, after all, so he actually makes it through the episode alive) soon find themselves captured by the all female inhabitants of the planet.  Meanwhile, under the influence of a probe originating on the planet below, the men remaining on board the ship grow increasingly weak and lethargic.  Lt. Uhura steps away from the communications panel to assume command of the ship and lead an all female landing party to the planets surface to rescue Kirk and the others.
According to The Star Trek Compendium, NBC's advance publicity for the second season of the original Star Trek promised fans episodes focusing on secondary characters Sulu, Scotty, and Uhura.  I have no idea if such spotlights were ever considered, but the fact is that they never made it to air.  Uhura remains to this day the least developed of the core Trek cast.  She wasn't even granted a first name until J.J. Abrams' 2009 Star Trek film.  Notwithstanding the three episodes where she got to sing, "The Lorelei Signal" is the  closest thing to the promised spotlight on Uhura that Star Trek ever gave us.
In the Wikipedia entry on this episode, it is stated that Nichelle Nichols considers "The Lorelei Signal" her favorite Star Trek episode.  That's certainly understandable, for while its not quite the Uhura spotlight she or fans of her character may have hoped for, it is one of the few episodes in which she got to do more than just sit at her station on the bridge repeating her signature line, "Hailing frequencies open, Captain."
In addition to this episode, writer Margaret Armen worked on three installments of the original series, "The Gamesters of Triskelion", "The Paradise Syndrome," and "The Cloud Minders," none of which are likely to appear on anybody's list of Trek's best episodes.  Its not that they're bad, per se, but that in a series capable of such excellence as "City on the Edge of Forever," "Journey to Babel," and "The Menagerie," and others, they're just a little bit disappointing.  "The Lorelei Signal" is actually rather mediocre, coming off more like a 1950's B-movie rather than an episode of Star Trek, and would ultimately be utterly forgettable without the Uhura sub-plot.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Don't Yield, Back Marvel's Agents of SHIELD

While thinking about the show after watching the premiere episode of Marvel's Agents of SHIELD on Tuesday night, I found an unusual question coming to mind:  Would my dad have liked this show?
While it is definitely a product of the twenty-first century, there's somewhat of a 1960's vibe to the show.  It evokes not only the old Jim Steranko Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD comics, but the original TV version of Mission: Impossible as well.  Mission: Impossible is a show that I remember my dad liking, thus inspiring the question in the previous paragraph.
Like Mission: Impossible, Marvel's Agents of SHIELD focuses on an elite, autonomous squad of agents, each with their own specialty, who take on the most dangerous and difficult assignments.  So far, with only one episode aired, these agents are more stereotypes or archetypes than fully rounded characters.  I expect they'll be developed further as the series progresses.  However, it does seem as if Agents of SHIELD is going to be primarily a plot driven series, with the emphasis on action and high tech gadgetry over characterization.  This is something else it has in common with Mission: Impossible, not to mention those old Steranko comics.
That's not necessarily a bad thing.  If the action is fast paced and exciting and the gadgetry impressive enough, a certain lack of attention to characterization can be forgiven up to a point.  The initial installment suffers a bit from being a pilot episode and having to set up the premise of the series and introduce the characters while also trying to squeeze in a story, the potential is indeed there for Agents of SHIELD to develop into one of TV's best action/adventure series.
One thing that Agents of SHIELD has that Mission: Impossible lacked, but that is a trademark of series creator Joss Whedon, is a sense of humor.  The most oft quoted one-liner of the pilot is Skye's twist on Spider-Man's famous catchphrase when she tells nascent super-hero Mike Peterson that "With great power comes...a whole bunch of weird crap that you are not prepared to deal with."  My favorite line, however, comes from Agent Ward.  While being debriefed by Director Maria Hill, he is asked what SHIELD stands for.  After he gives the correct answer, which, by the way is Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division, Hill asks him what that means to him.  He replies that "...someone really wanted our name to spell out SHIELD."
So, to answer my own question from the beginning of this post, I think the answer is yes, my dad might just enjoy Marvel's Agents of SHIELD.   True, being set in the same universe as many of the Marvel super-hero films gives Agents of SHIELD  more of a fantasy/science fiction feel than a lot of spy dramas, such as Mission: Impossible.   However, I also remember my dad liking Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, which was flat out science fiction, so I don't think those elements would bother him so much.
Oh, and just in case you care, I happen to like the show, too. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

A New Villain is Born "When Heroes Clash!!" in Avengers #158

I occasionally like to tie my ramblings about musty old comics to current events in the comic book world in order to give this site some illusion of relevance.  Thus it is that I have decided to write about Avengers #158 at this time.  To tell the truth, I really wasn't planning to write about this issue at all.  I have nothing good to say about it.  Nor, for that matter, do I have anything bad to say about it.  It is a wholly unremarkable, absolutely average comic book.  However, recent events have made this issue somewhat relevant as a character introduced in it will soon be playing a recurring role on the ABC TV series Marvel's Agents of SHIELD.  
I came across the issue in a quarter comics box at Half-Price Books a couple of months ago and picked it up because:
  1. It's The Avengers.  Who doesn't love The Avengers?
  2. It has a cover by Jack Kirby.
  3. Said cover promises a throwdown between the Vision and his "brother" Wonder Man.
  4. It was only a quarter.
  5. It's written by Jim I mention it was only a quarter?
Obviously, I'm no fan of Shooter's writing, but this is no Secret Wars II.  It is, as I said above, a competently written and drawn (by Sal Buscema and Pablo Marcos) if somewhat unimpressive super-hero comic.
You've probably heard it said that it sometimes seems as if the Avengers spend more timing fighting amongst themselves than they do fighting super-villains.  Well, this issue is about evenly divided between the two, with six pages devoted to intra-team squabbling and seven to battling their newest foe, with four pages in between to introduce the villain. The story opens in the wake of another battle in Avengers mansion during which the team fought a magically animated statue of the Black Knight.  The Vision then proceeds to work himself into a jealous rage over the way Wonder Man and Scarlet Witch are talking to each other and proceeds to slap Simon around.  Their battle further damages the already wrecked mansion until Iron Man steps in an puts a stop to it.  At this point, the team's butler, Jarvis, walks and tells them that he just received a call for the team's help, but he told the caller that the Avengers were too busy beating each other up.
The call came from a scientific research community nestled in the Canadian Rockies, where a man named Frank Hall, who gained the power of control over gravity in an accident that occurred while he was trying to develop a teleportation beam, has taken over and cut the city off from the outside world.  Just as he dons for the first time his garish costume and rechristens himself Graviton, the Avengers finally arrive.  However, Graviton dispatches the heroes fairly quickly, then declares that nothing can now stop him from ruling the world.  Thus ends "When Heroes Clash!!", with the story to be continued in Avengers #159.
Now it has been reported that a character by the name of Dr. Franklin Hall will appear on a regular basis in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. beginning with the third episode.  It is apparently not known at this time whether the TV version of Hall will be calling himself Graviton or even have any super-powers.
If he doesn't at least have the gravity powers, I don't see the point of including the character in the show at all.  If Hall isn't going to resemble his comic book counterpart at least partially, then the producers might as well go ahead and create an original character with a different name.
I'll guess I'll just wait and see how they handle the character.  I'll most likely be watching the show which debuts tomorrow night on ABC.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Star Trek The Animated Series: Episode 3 "One Of Our Planets Is Missing"

"One Of Our Planets Is Missing" begins as a fairly standard giant space monster story, then takes a left turn about half-way through and becomes a somewhat unusual first contact  tale.
A vast cosmic cloud from outside the Milky Way galaxy has been sighted on the outer fringes of Federation space.  The Enterprise, which always seems to have the rotten luck of being the only starship in the vicinity when giant space clouds appear, is dispatched to investigate.  As the ship approaches the cloud, the crew witness it engulf and consume the outermost planet of the Pallas 14 system, then change course for Mantilles, a Federation colony with over 80 million inhabitants.
Intercepting the cloud, the Enterprise is drawn inside.  Spock deduces that the cloud is a living organism and that the ship is, essentially, inside its digestive system.  The science officer locates what he believes is the creature's brain, speculating that it may be intelligent.
With time running out, Kirk decides that the only way to save Mantilles is to destroy the cloud creature's brain.  As it turns out, however, the only way to have enough power to destroy the brain is by self-destructing the Enterprise.  Though hesitant to destroy an intelligent life form, he concludes that "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one," and that the lives of the millions on the planet must take precedence.  Spock convinces the captain to allow him to make a last ditch effort to attempt to communicate with the creature.  Reaching out with his mind to touch the creature's thoughts, Spock shows the creature that the planet it is about to consume contains intelligent beings like itself.  The creature, not wanting to kill, stops its advance toward Mantilles at the last possible second.   Furthermore, Spock convinces the creature that since there are many such inhabited planets in this galaxy, if it truly does not wish to consume intelligent life it should head out of the galaxy and back to where it came from.
Marc Daniels, the writer of this episode, was another Trek veteran, though this was his first time writing an episode.  His previous service to Starfleet had been as director of fourteen episodes of the original series beginning with the first one aired, "The Man Trap," and including some of the series' finest episodes, such as "The Naked Time" and "Mirror, Mirror," as well as the generally acknowledged worst episode of the series, "Spock's Brain."  Bill Norton, in his article on the animated Star Trek for the fan magazine Trek (reprinted in The Best of Trek), chided this episode for its similarity to "The Doomsday Machine," which Daniels directed and which featured a giant planet eating thing, as well as "The Immunity Syndrome," where the Enterprise encounters a giant space amoeba.  For my part, I noticed more of a similarity to Star Trek The Motion Picture, in which Spock similarly attempts to mentally communicate with an alien intelligence at the heart of a vast space cloud that the Enterprise is within and which menaces an inhabited world.  Norton, of course, could not have noticed this, as his article was written prior to STTMP's release.
I like this episode, but it has some flaws.  The dialogue, especially early on, is a little too heavy on technobabble.  Its almost enough to confuse even a hard core Trekkie like myself and was certain to have baffled the young kids watching this on Saturday mornings back in the 70's.   Also, I find the rather tongue in cheek title of the episode to be somewhat inappropriate, leading the viewer to expect a more light hearted outing than that which follows.
One thing I really like about the episode, though, is the characterization of Captain Kirk.  He is faced with a difficult moral choice, and makes it decisively, acting like a true Starfleet captain.  While he has some qualms about destroying a possibly intelligent life form, he doesn't unnecessarily agonize over it, and quite rightly decides that the lives of the millions on the planet must take precedence. 
Overall, "One Of Our Planets Is Missing" is a pretty decent and entertaining episode of Star Trek that emphasizes the Enterprises primary mission to " out new life..." and " boldly go where no man has gone before."

From Caracas to Pittsburgh: The Week In Spider-Man Related News

It has been a couple of years since I've looked at a new Spider-Man comic, so I have no idea what the web-slinger is getting up to these days in the Marvel Universe.  However, as I learned from reading the Robot 6 blog at Comic Book Resources, in what we sometimes ironically refer to as the "real world," your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man has been wreaking all sorts of havoc.
In Venezuela, new President Fredric, excuse me...Nicolas Maduro has apparently concluded, after watching Spider-Man 3, that violent American super-hero films are responsible for making Venezuela one of Latin America's most crime ridden countries, with over 16,000 murders committed last year and 3,400 in the first three months of the current year.  According to Maduro, "That’s the trouble, from the beginning until the end there are more and more dead. And that’s one of the series small children love most … because it’s attractive, it’s from comics that are attractive, the figure, the colors and movements … so much so that we finished watching it at four in the morning.”  To me, this is eerily reminiscent of the periodic attacks on Hollywood that come from American politicians seeking to divert attention from the real problems in this country and focus public anger on an easy target.
Meanwhile, somewhat closer to home, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on Friday, a 21 year old local college student attempted to rob a convenience store while dressed in a Spider-Man costume.  Jonathan N. Hewson, the would be hold-up man, fled the scene empty handed after the store clerk pulled out a Taser.  At least he had the class not to say "Don't Tase me, bro."   However, he apparently didn't have the common sense to go home and change his clothes, as he was picked up by Pittsburgh police officers not too long after the incident only about a block away from the scene of the crime and still wearing the Spider-Man suit.  It kind of makes you wonder what kids are learning in college these days.  Back when I was in school, they taught you how not to get arrested after a failed robbery attempt.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Star Trek The Animated Series: Episode 2 "Yesteryear"

I've seen a couple of printed sources, including The Star Trek Compendium, that mistakenly list "Yesteryear" as the first episode of Star Trek The Animated Series to air.  (Judging from this passage in the Wikipedia entry for this episode, it would seem that the compilers of these sources may have been residents of Los Angeles in the fall of 1973.) A strong case  could certainly be made that it ought to have been.  It is, after all, not only far and away the best episode of the animated series, but one of the finest examples of Star Trek in any incarnation.  
It is no accident that "Yesteryear" was written by Dorothy (D.C.) Fontana, who was likewise responsible for what I personally consider to be the best episode of the original live action Trek, "Journey To Babel."  Like "Journey", "Yesteryear" focuses on Trek's most popular character, Mr. Spock.
In addition to bringing back most of the original Star Trek cast to reprise their roles, The Animated Series utilized, whenever possible, the original actors to play returning guest stars from the original series.  Thus, Mark Lenard makes his second appearance as Spock's father Sarek.  This is third overall Trek appearance, as he first appeared as the Romulan commander in the first season original series episode "Balance of Terror."  He would next be seen briefly as the Klingon captain in Star Trek: The Motion Picture and later would show up again as Sarek in three Star Trek movies and a couple of episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation.   On the other hand, Jane Wyatt, who originated the role of Spock's mother in "Journey to Babel," is replaced by Majel Barrett, who regularly voiced nurse Christine Chapel.  She also provided the voice of an unnamed female crewperson in the early scenes of the episode.  Most of the other guest characters, except for the children, were done by James Doohan, in addition to his regular role as Scotty.
The story begins on the planet of the Guardian of Forever, the sentient time portal last seen in the first season live action episode "The City on the Edge of Forever."  Kirk, Spock  and an unnamed crewman return from a historical survey mission to find that no one seems to know the Vulcan and the Enterprise's first officer is an Andorian called Thelin.
Obviously, the timeline has been altered by Kirk and Spock's trip into the past, but in such a subtle way that the only thing that has changed is that Spock doesn't exist.  A search of recent historical records, reported by another unnamed crewman who bears a remarkable if entirely coincidental resemblance to current Secretary of State John Kerry, reveals that Spock died while undergoing a traditional Vulcan rite of passage known as the Kahs-Wan ritual, which involves the participant attempting to survive on his own in the desert area called Vulcan's Forge for ten days.  Spock remembers being saved by a mysterious visiting cousin when he was attacked by a wild animal during the Kahs-Wan ritual.  It becomes obvious to Kirk and Spock that this "cousin" was in fact Spock himself.
Now, while Kirk and Spock were in the past, other Enterprise crewmen were using the Guardian to review the events of the past thirty years on Vulcan.  Because Spock was somewhere else in the past, he wasn't there to go through the Guardian and save himself, resulting in his being killed as a child.   The solution is simple, of course.  Spock must go back through the Guardian to the 20th day of the month of Tasmeen thirty years past in order to set his timeline right.
Arriving at the appointed time and place, Spock meets his father, Sarek, and learns from his mother, Amanda, that her son is due to undergo the Kahs-Wan the next month.  Confused, Spock ponders what he could have done to alter the timeline further.
It turns out that the problem lies not in the timeline, but in Spock's memory.  He had forgotten that it was not the actual Kahs-Wan ritual during which he met himself.  The young Spock, under pressure from his father not to fail the test and worried that he may, sets out alone across the Vulcan desert to prove himself.  He is followed, despite his commands to the contrary, by I-Chaya, his pet Sehlat, a Vulcan animal described by Amanda in "Journey to Babel" as a giant teddy bear with six inch fangs.
Spock catches up with his younger self just as the child is being menaced by a Vulcan beastie call a la matya.  I-Chaya fights the monster off, but is scratched by the creatures poisonous claws.  As adult Spock comforts the wounded sehlat, the young Spock sets out across the desert back to the city of Shi'Kahr to bring a healer to save his pet.  However, he is too late, and allows the healer to put I-Chaya out of his misery.   After helping the boy deal with his grief over the loss of his pet, and teaching to do the Vulcan nerve pinch, adult Spock returns to his own time where the original timeline has been restored.
The question of whether the events of Star Trek The Animated Series can be considered "canon" has been the subject of ongoing debate among Trek fans and the show's producers ever since the series first aired, however some elements introduced in the animated version, including many from this episode, have found their way into live action TV episodes or movies, and thus into official Trek continuity.  This episode offered the first extensive look at the planet Vulcan, and the city of Shi'Kahr, the design of the sehlat, the Kahs-Wan ritual, and the desert area of Vulcan's Forge would all figure in future episodes of the final Star Trek TV series, Enterprise.   Furthermore, the scenes in this episode of young Spock being taunted by other Vulcan children most likely influenced similar scenes in J.J. Abrams' 2009 reboot of the franchise.
When I watched this episode a few years back after not having seen it for a couple of decades, I was astonished that this was a Saturday morning cartoon from the early 70's.   "Yesteryear" deals with themes of loss and acceptance in a manner that is surprisingly mature and sophisticated for a time and a medium that produced such "classics" as Super Friends, Inch High Private Eye, and Help! It's The Hair Bear Bunch.  In fact, on reflection, the episode seems to be ahead of its time for television in general of that era.   Unlike those and other Saturday morning fare of the era, it did not condescend to its young audience.  Of course, the producers were aware that some part of their audience was going to be adult fans of the original series.
Apparently, NBC executives did, in fact, have some qualms about the episode, worrying that it might be upsetting to young children.  According to the text commentary on the DVD, Gene Roddenberry's response to them was simply, "Trust Dorothy." 
Based on the evidence of this and other Trek episodes written by Ms. Fontana, including "Journey to Babel" and "Charlie X", that certainly seems like sound advice to me, and all Star Trek fans can be glad that the suits at NBC decided to heed it and allow this excellent episode to be seen.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Preview: Green Lantern Sector 2814 Volume 3

It always amused me, during the period in which Hal Jordan, the second DC character to bear the name Green Lantern, was spending a decade dead for tax purposes, to hear or read self professed fans of the character decry how badly DC had treated Hal and demand his resurrection and reinstatement as Green Lantern.  Where, I could not help but wonder, were these supposedly die-hard fans during the twenty five years between 1970 and 1994 when Hal Jordan seemed incapable of supporting a solo series for more than a handful of months?  During that period, lagging sales inevitably would lead the writers and editors of the book to desperate measures to revive interest in the book and lure in new readers.  That quarter century saw Hal saddled with a co-star, replaced as Green Lantern, made part of an Earth bound team of Green Lanterns, forced to share his title with the rotating adventures of  Earth's two other Green Lanterns, replaced again and ultimately killed off.  These ploys met with varying degrees of success.  Let's not forget that during this time, his magazine was canceled twice.
Cover of GL 200 by Walt Simonson, which will serve as the TPB's cover
I mention this because, besides just wanting to get that off my chest, I recently learned that this coming December DC will be releasing Green Lantern: Sector 2814 Volume 3, the third (obviously) in a series of trade paperbacks collecting issues of Green Lantern from the mid-1980's tenures of writers Len Wein and Steve Englehart, including the first time Hal was replaced, that time by his designated back-up, John Stewart.  The issues to be reprinted in this third volume (#194 through #200) include those that crossed over with DC's universe changing Crisis On Infinite Earths limited series, which Englehart used to set up yet another major change in the title's, and Hal's, status quo.  Effectively, these also constitute the final seven issues of the Silver Age Green Lantern title, as the new direction brought with it a new name for the comic as of #201, with the book's second cancellation to follow within two years.
These issues are also significant for re-introducing Guy Gardner and beginning his evolution into the arrogant jerk soon to be a mainstay of Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis' Justice League, and for containing, in what Englehart contends was merely a throwaway line of dialogue in #200, the seeds of DC's third major crossover event (after Crisis and Legends), Millennium.
Green Lantern, I believe, tied in more closely to the events of Crisis On Infinite Earths than any other book not set on Earth 2.  This only makes sense, since the backstory of the Crisis, as related by Harbinger in Crisis #7, is deeply rooted in the Green Lantern mythology.  However, these stories are not so closely tied to Crisis that they cannot be enjoyed on their own.  A comprehensive knowledge of the history of the Guardians and the Green Lantern Corps wouldn't hurt, though Englehart does a pretty good job of fairly unobtrusively filling in the reader on what he needs to know to understand the current proceedings.
The stories in this volume begin with the then current Green Lantern of Earth, John Stewart, being recruited by Harbinger to go off and fight the forces of the Anti-Monitor.  On Oa, home of John's bosses, the Guardians of the Universe, a rift has developed among the immortals as to how to deal with the Crisis.  The main body of little blue guys has decided to stand back and do nothing.  If the Multiverse is meant to end, they reason, then so be it.  On the other hand, a more proactive rogue faction of Guardians decide to take the fight to the Anti-Monitor.  To this end, they bring Guy Gardner, now somewhat brain damaged, out of the coma that he had been in since the latter days of Denny O'Neil's run on the title and bring him to Oa.  As they bestow a ring and power battery upon Gardner, a wave of anti-matter sent by the Anti-Monitor kills all but one of them. (This actually occurs in Crisis #9) The surviving rogue Guardian dispatches Guy to gather up a team of villains including the Shark, Goldface, Sonar and Hector Hammond to destroy the white spot on the black moon of the planet Qward in the Anti-Matter Universe from which the Anti-Monitor arose in hopes of destroying the villain. 
Meanwhile, what with the woman he quit the Green Lantern Corps for, Carol Ferris, having turned into Star Sapphire permanently and gone off to live with Zamorans, the alien Amazons who transformed her, as their queen, Hal Jordan is beginning to regret giving up his power ring.  He is soon recruited by the last surviving rogue Guardian and given a new ring so that he may accompany Guy and his team on their mission.
Then Sinestro shows up. He convinces John that Gardner and Hal have to be stopped, as their mission would cause more harm than good.  John flies off to Oa to get help from the Guardians and the rest of the Green Lantern Corps.  It turns out that Sinestro's offer of an alliance was merely a ruse to get John to take him to Oa so that he could get his revenge on the Guardians. However, after Sinestro is defeated, the Central Power Battery, which powers all the Green Lantern power rings, speaks to the assembled Guardians and Green Lanterns through the person of Tomar Re, Green Lantern of the planet Xudar and the first alien GL that Hal, and thus Green Lantern readers, ever encountered.  The battery reveals that Sinestro was right, and Gardner and company must indeed be prevented from succeeding in their quest.  Thus, the entire Corps heads off to the Anti-Matter Universe to confront Guy, Hal and their team of villains.
After the ensuing battle has ended and the Crisis is over, Hal Jordan is reinstated as a Green Lantern, and the Corps gathers on Oa to hear an announcement from the Guardians that will change the Corps forever...or at least until subsequent writer Gerard Jones reversed the change in the next volume of Green Lantern a few years down the line.
I have read Green Lantern #'s 194 to 200 several dozen times since I first bought them back in 1985.  They are some of my favorite Green Lantern stories, featuring some of Englehart's best writing and the usual beautiful art job from Joe Staton. Many great artists have worked on the various volumes of Green Lantern over the last half century, from Gil Kane to Neal Adams, Mike Grell, Dave Gibbons, Pat Broderick, Mark Bright, Darryl Banks, Doug Manke, and many more, but to my mind, Staton remains THE definitive GL artist. Sector 2814 Volume 3 is definitely something that any Green Lantern fan should want to read, and makes a nice companion volume to Crisis On Infinite Earths.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Green Arrow Volume I: Hunter's Moon Preview

As I noted earlier, next month sees the release of Green Arrow Volume I: Hunter's Moon, the far too long overdue collection of the first six issues of the Mike Grell's Green Arrow series. Since I happen to own the issues that comprise this forthcoming trade paperback, I don't have to wait until next month to review it for you.
With the advent of Green Arrow's first ongoing series, Grell continued in the new direction that he had established for the character in the Prestige Format mini-series The Longbow Hunters.  Grell's Oliver Queen was, as editor Mike Gold termed it, an "urban hunter," who had left behind the fictional Star City for Seattle, Washington, eschewing the boxing glove arrow and other such gimmicks in favor of plain old pointy tipped shafts. Furthermore, Grell banished many traditional elements of the super-hero genre, including colorful costumed super-villains, from the book's pages.  Actually, this last wasn't all that much of a departure from tradition in Green Arrow's case.  If you look at the Silver Age adventures collected in the character's Showcase Presents volume, you'll see that his opponents were more often common street thugs, bank robbers and mobsters rather than maniacal super-villains.  Another indicator of the less, shall we say, "comic booky", for lack of a better term, direction of the book, and one that's so subtle that I didn't actually notice it until it was pointed out to me, is that nowhere in these stories is Oliver Queen actually referred to as Green Arrow.
While Grell's new approach was, for the most part, popular with readers, at  least the majority of those who took the time and trouble to write in to the letters column, there was some scattered opposition to the supposed changes that Grell had made in Ollie's character.   For my part, I consider what Grell did with Ollie not so much change as evolution.  I can plainly see how the character Grell is writing is, in fact, the same anti-establishment defender of the common man defined by Denny O'Neil over a decade and a half earlier.  Grell's version is older and more world weary, if not wiser, and with an outlook on life somewhat hardened by time and experience.
Grell structured the Green Arrow series, for the most part, as a series of two-part stories with the ocassional four parter about once every year.  Thus, Hunter's Moon, reprinting as it does six issues of the series, contains three separate stories.  It is the first of these, "Hunter's Moon," from which the volume's title is taken.
In this inauguaral two parter, a notorious child murderer is released from prison after eighteen years pending a new trial.  Somehow, despite his house arrest and constant police surveillance, he manages to get out to terrorize his sole surviving victim and the only eyewitness against him.  Ollie becomes involved when that survivor, Dr. Annie Green, turns out to be the therapist that he and Dinah Lance, a.k.a. the Black Canary, go to in order to help her deal with the trauma she experienced in The Longbow Hunters.
This story gets the new series off to a strong start, picking up on plot threads from The Longbow Hunters and cementing the new direction for Oliver Queen's adventures Grell established in that mini-series, including, most controversially, the character's newfound willingness to kill when he deemed it necessary.
The second two parter, "The Champion," begins with a top secret space shuttle exploding, causing an experimental biological weapon to fall to Earth somewhere in the vicinity of Washington state.  Oliver is recruited by agents of the Soviet Union (you remember them, right?) to find the vial containing the biological agent before the Chinese, their partners in the secret experiment, can get to it.  The Chinese have recruited to work for them the nerdy looking but nonethess deadly killer for hire introduced in The Longbow Hunters, Eddie Fyers. (Although for some reason, Grell spelled it Fyres in that series.)  While this is a good and exciting story, the premise seems more suited to Jon Sable, Freelance than to this version of Green Arrow.
The final two parter that comprises Hunter's Moon is "Gauntlet," which returns Oliver to the urban jungle to investigate a series of gay bashings that turn out to be related to a gang called the Warhogs which is attempting to expand its terrotory into Seattle.  This is a solid story that is squarely in the Denny O'Neil Green Lantern/Green Arrow tradition of putting Ollie in situations taken from the news of the day.
"Are you still?  A good guy?" Annie Green asks Oliver in the first issue.  The answer is an unqualified yes, and in Hunter's Moon, Grell has put him in three very good stories.  I definitely recommend this forthcoming volume, and hope that it sells well enough to convince DC to reprint the remainder of Grell's eighty issue run on Green Arrow

Monday, September 9, 2013

Superman #200: "Hey! Look At How Different We're Being!"

After I reviewed Superman #300 for my 300th post on this blog, I decided, since I own every centennial issue of Superman/The Adventures of Superman with the exception of #100, which I plan on buying just as soon as I win the lottery, to make that sort of thing a tradition here.  Thus, for the 400th post, I'll look at Superman #400 and so on.  As I arrived at this brainstorm too late to cover Superman #200 in my 200th post, I'll take a look at that one right now here in post #350.
The first challenge in writing about this issue is telling you that, as was the custom with Superman anniversary issues prior to the Byrne revamp, it contains what used to be called an "imaginary story" while resisting the almost overwhelming urge to quote Alan Moore. (And now I don't have to.  I'm willing to bet that most of you are now doing it for yourselves, my referring to it having called to mind the very quote I'm talking about.)  When comics fans and historians discuss the great Superman imaginary stories of the Silver Age, bandying about such titles as "The Death of Superman" and "The Amazing Story of Superman Red and Superman Blue,"  this issue's tale, "Super-Brother Against Super-Brother," written by Cary Bates and drawn by Wayne Boring, never comes up in the conversation.  As you'll see, there is a reason for that.
The story begins like the traditional origin of Superman, with Kryptonian scientist Jor-El, having determined that the planet Krypton is soon to explode, feverishly working to complete the rocket ship that will carry his young son Kal-El to safety.  His plans are interrupted by the arrival of Brainiac, who shrinks Jor-El's home city of Kryptonopolis and places inside a bottle.  The living computer has done this in order to save the city from Krypton's imminent destruction.  Before he can shrink the rest of Krypton's cities, however, the danged planet goes and blows up.
Unfortunately, Brainiac's plans to enlarge Kryptonopolis on a new planet are scuttled by the fact that the only known supply of ZN-4, the rare element needed to enable him to enlarge living beings, has been exhausted.  Thus, he wanders about the galaxy for years looking for a new supply.
Meanwhile, life goes on in Kryptonopolis, and the Els have a second son, Knor-El.  The two brothers grow up and Kal becomes a scientist, while Knor trains to go into law enforcement.
Eventually, Brainiac finds some more ZN-4 and a suitable planet to enlarge Kryptonopolis upon.  Before he can do so a stray meteor collides with his ship, forcing him to crash on Earth, but not before safely depositing the bottle city on the ground.
Surveying their new home on their viewscreens, the Kryptonians notice that, in Jor-El's words, "Earth is overrun with crime."  Soon, Jor discovers that Brainiac managed to teleport to holding tanks in Kryptonopolis just enough ZN-4 to enlarge one person.  He further realizes that the yellow sun and weaker gravity of Earth would make grant superpowers to any Kryptonian who ventured outside the bottle.  Therefore, he sponsors a competition among the city's young men to determine who will get to be Earth's Superman and aid the humans in their war on crime.
Knor-El wins, and takes a job at the Daily Planet under the name of Ken Clarkson so that he will know when Superman is needed.  Soon, aliens come to Earth with conquest on their minds and expose Knor to Kryptonite, seemingly killing him. After Jor-El loses contact with Knor on his video monitor, Kal, reasoning that his brother is danger, uses synthetic ZN-4 that he has made to enlarge himself and go outside the bottle to save Knor.  The aliens use their green Kryptonite on Kal, but instead of killing him, it turns him into a giant, because, for no good, the green K in this imaginary story has the unpredictable effects of red K in the "real" Superman stories.  So, Knor isn't dead after all, just in temporary suspended animation, and he revives in time to help Kal dispose of the aliens.
The story ends with Knor continuing his career as Superman in Metropolis, while Kal moves to Quebec, takes a job at the Montreal Star as reporter Charles LeBlanc, and protects Canada under the name of Hyperman.
Throughout the story, Bates has an annoying habit of exaggeratedly pointing out the obvious changes he has made to the traditional Superman mythos for this imaginary tale, as if we couldn't see them for ourselves.  For example: "Yes, in this story, it is Kryptonopolis, not Kandor, which is stolen by Brainiac!" or "Another surprise! In this imaginary saga, Brainiac is not a diabolical villain, but a life-saving hero!" or, most egregiously, "And so, in this tale, it not Kal-El, but his brother Knor,  who becomes Superman!"  Thanks for clearing that up, Cary, since the image in that same panel of Knor-El wearing the Superman costume kind of left things a little vague.
Aside from Bates talking down to the reader, there are more important reasons why this issue isn't on a par with the classic imaginary stories cited above.  The changes to the legend of Superman that Bates so painstakingly points out seem random and made simply for the sake of being different.  Furthermore, the story offers no fresh perspectives or insight into the character and legend of Superman.   Even worse than that, its kind of dull and predictable, despite Bates' labored efforts to surprise the reader.
Finally, the ending of the story is just plain odd.  Out of nowhere, a caption in the final panel, which shows Kal-El as Hyperman soaring over the Quebec skyline, informs us, "As we celebrate our 200th issue, Canada is celebrating its 100th anniversary as a United Federation.  This is our tribute to our neighbor to the north.---Ed."
What's odd about it is that the country the issue is supposedly paying tribute to isn't even mentioned in the story until the bottom half of the final page.  In fact, the whole issue turning out to have been a salute to Canada is the only real surprise Bates delivers in the entire story.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Star Trek The Animated Series: Episode 1 "Beyond the Farthest Star"

We interrupt our regularly scheduled ranting about old comics to inaugurate a new series of posts ranting about an old TV show.  Beginning today, and for the next sixteen weeks, I'll be reviewing the sixteen first season episodes of the animated version of Star Trek on the fortieth anniversary of their original air dates.  
The animated Star Trek debuted on September 8, 1973, exactly seven years after the September 8, 1966 premier of the original series.  While there's a nice synchronicity to that, it was just a coincidence, that being the date that NBC's fall Saturday morning line up was set to debut that year.
In keeping with the desire of Gene Roddenberry, who held the title of Executive Consultant on the new series, and animation studio Filmation to produce a series that was worthy of the Trek name, story editor and associate producer D.C. (Dorothy) Fontana commissioned scripts from many writers who had penned episodes of the former live action version.  According to Fontana's own testimony in "Drawn to the Final Frontier--The Making of Star Trek: The Animated Series", a special feature on the DVD collection of the series, she was aided in her efforts to lure these writers to work in animation by a Writer's Guild strike that rendered them unable to take jobs in live action television.
One of the veteran Trek scribes returning for the animated effort was Samuel Peeples, whose contribution to the original series had been "Where No Man Has Gone Before," the second pilot episode that finally convinced NBC to buy the series.  Given that, it sort of makes sense that Peeples' "Beyond the Farthest Star" should be the first episode of the animated Trek revival to air.
As the episode begins, the Enterprise is traveling "beyond the fringes of our galaxy," as Kirk intones in his log entry, on a star charting mission when they are pulled off course by the intense gravity of Questar M-17, a "negative imploded star mass", whatever the hell that is.  They avoid crashing into the mass and maneuver themselves into orbit around it, soon discovering that they are not alone.  An ancient starship, more than three hundred million years old, according to Spock's readings, is also orbiting the dead star and emitting a mysterious radio signal, even though the ship is apparently dead.
Beaming over wearing life-support belts to protect themselves from the intense cold Spock has detected within the mysterious craft, Kirk, Spock, Scotty and McCoy soon find themselves trapped in the ship's control where they find a pre-recorded message from the vessel's long dead crew. The ship had been possessed by a being composed of magnetic energy which wanted the crew to take it into the heart of the galaxy.  Rather than unleash a malevolent force on civilization, the crew opted to sacrifice themselves and destroy their own vessel.
When the landing party is finally able to beam back to the Enterprise, they inadvertently bring the energy being with them.  It quickly occupies the ship's computer and attempts to force Kirk to help it escape the pull of the dead star.  Kirk plunges the Enterprise on a collision  course with the star mass, causing the entity, fearing destruction, to abandon the ship and end up trapped by the dead star.  The Enterprise pulls out of its dive at the last minute and slingshots around the negative star mass to freedom, resuming its course "beyond the farthest star."
One of the advantages gained by reviving Star Trek in animation was that  they could do special effects that wouldn't have been possible in live action at the time, especially on a TV budget.  The vast, ancient alien ship and the design of its alien crew member as seen in the warning message are prime examples of this.  Of course, TV animation had its own budget constraints to worry about, as evidenced by the limited animation.  The part where everything is falling apart and the alien control room is exploding looks particularly cheesy.
"Beyond the Farthest Star," while not an example of Trek at its finest, is nonetheless an entertaining science fiction tale very much in the spirit of the original series.  The gambit used to force the energy creature to abandon the Enterprise, essentially a cosmic game of chicken, is vintage Kirk:  bold, brash, unexpected and effective.
All in all, this episode gets the animated adventure of James T. Kirk and his crew off to a fine start.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Owl #1 (Project Superpowers)

As you may remember from my previous post on the character's Silver Age incarnation, the Owl was secretly Nick Terry, a police detective who felt constrained in his efforts to mete out justice by that silly little thing called the law and thus decided that the solution was to put on a ridiculous costume and go beat up crooks on his own time.  Given that motivation for becoming a super-hero, I suppose that it was only a matter of time before someone targeted the character for a grim and gritty Modern Age revamp as an emotionally tortured urban vigilante complete with dead sidekick.  That time has come as of this past July, courtesy of writer J.T. Krul and artist Heubert Khan Michael, with Dynamite's release of The Owl #1, the first issue of a mini-series set in the publisher's Project Superpowers universe.
This is my first visit to this particular super-hero universe.  Fortunately, this first issue provides all the background necessary to understand the events of this series.  It seems that back in the 1940's, the Owl and a whole slew of other obscure Golden Age heroes who'd lapsed into the public domain were imprisoned in a magic urn by one of their own and only recently released to face the brave new world of the 21st century.  His six decades in the limbo of the urn appear to have granted Terry actual super powers, at the very least the ability to fly.
In the premiere issue, Krul follows the Dark Knight Returns template fairly faithfully.  There's the dystopic urban landscape populated by a new breed of criminals who are so much more ruthless than the ones our hero remembers from back in the day, the first person narrative captions, and, of course, that dead sidekick.  The story consists of the Owl recapping his backstory for us, flying around beating up crooks while reflecting on how much more ruthless they are now than the ones he knew from back in the day, remembering his dead sidekick, flying around beating up more criminals, attempting to rejoin the police force but being told they have no budget to hire new detectives, flying around beating up still more criminals, and ultimately encountering a mysterious female vigilante who appears to be his dead sidekick Owl Girl.  She even turns when he calls her by the dead sidekick's name.  However, this can't be the original Owl Girl because she's, you know, dead.   I assume that the mystery of this new Owl Girl's identity and connection to the original form the basis for the remainder of the story in ensuing issues.
I could say that this is the best thing I've yet read by J.T. Krul.  I could, but I won't.   "Best" is too strong a word.  Its not really that good.  Hell, in fact, to be brutally brutal, the story, such as it is, is naught but a by the numbers recycling of the most worn out cliches of the grim and gritty school of comics writing, lacking even the tiniest spark of originality or anything resembling actual creativity.  However, it is the first comic written by Krul that hasn't left me angry and utterly disgusted, which is the reaction engendered by his butchering of Green Arrow a couple of years back.  I'll admit that that is probably because I have, prior to last week, no history with or special affection for this character as I do with Green Arrow.  Nonetheless, I suppose I can concede that this is Krul's least awful comic so far in my experience.
So, to conclude, while The Owl #1 may not quite be the abysmal abomination that I envisaged upon learning that J.T. Krul was attached to the project, it is by no means worth the four dollars and twenty-seven cents, tax included, that I ponied up to the little bald guy manning the cash register at the Laughing Ogre comics shop yesterday afternoon.  I can by no means recommend that you waste hard earned cash and precious moments of your life on this comic.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Quarter Bin Finds: The Owl #1

While pawing through the quarter boxes in the comics area of the North High Street branch of Half Price Books here in Columbus, Ohio recently, I discovered, hidden amidst cast offs from the worst excesses of the 1990s and good size runs from several excellent but criminally under appreciated series of the late 1980s (Hawkworld, Suicide Squad, William Messner-Loebs' run on Flash), a battered and aged copy of Gold Key's The Owl #1 from 1967.  Curious, and almost always willing to gamble a quarter on a totally unknown property, I tossed it onto to my buy pile, figuring that, if nothing else, it would be good for a post here on this blog.
A caption on the splash page touts this comic as the long awaited revival of a hero from what was already being referred to as the Golden Age of Comics.  At first, cynic that I am, I figured this for some sort of put on.  Having never heard of a Golden Age character called the Owl, I thought it possible that Gold Key had created a new character out of whole cloth and were attempting to pass him off as a Golden Age revival, similar to what Marvel tried to do with the Sentry a decade or so ago. 
Of course, I wasn't alive and buying comics back in the 1940s, and just because I've never heard of something doesn't mean it never existed. (Hell, I've probably never heard of most of you reading this piece, but you exist, right?)  So, I did some research and apparently the editors at Gold Key were not quite as clever, or cynical, depending on your perspective, as I would have given them credit for being. There was indeed a Golden Age Owl, one of the few non-licensed properties published by Dell Comics, who enjoyed a brief run during the early 40s.  However, I think the overwhelming demand for the character's return cited in the caption was most likely, at the very least, a bit of an exaggeration.
The creation of an artist by the name of Frank Thomas, the Owl debuted in Crackajack Funnies #25. He was secretly police detective Nick Terry, who, feeling hampered in his efforts to dispense justice to criminals by such trivialities as the law, adopted his costumed identity to allow him to deal with crime his way. As was the fashion in those days, he soon acquired a partner in crime fighting.  In this case, it was his fiancee assuming the costumed nom de guerre of Owl Girl.  When Crackajack ceased publication with #43, the Owl moved over to Popular Comics for a brief run beginning with #72 and concluding with #83, cover dated March 1943.  After that, it was nearly a quarter century before the character was heard from again.
By 1967, the popularity of the Batman TV series had made super-heroes briefly fashionable again, and every publisher of comics was looking for a way to cash in on the fad.  Thus, Gold Key, which by this time had inherited most of the Dell Comics properties, decided the time was ripe to bring back the Owl.  The series was written by none other than Superman co-creator Jerry Siegal and drawn by Tom Gill, an artist apparently best known for his Western comics, most notably The Lone Ranger.
The revived series transported the Owl into the late 1960's with no attempt made at explaining where he'd been for the last two and a half decades or why he hadn't seemed to have aged.  The only major change made to the concept seems to have been the changing of Owl Girl's secret ID from Belle Wayne to Laura Holt.  I can only guess at the reason for this, but perhaps it was because of the similarity of her original name to that of Batman's alter ego, Bruce Wayne.  It happens, by the way, that Laura Holt was also the name of the character played by Stephanie Zimbalist in the TV series Remington Steele two decades later.  This is likely just coincidence, as  there are no other similarities between the two characters.
The first issue's story, "The Attack of the Diabolical Birdmen," pits the Owl and Owl Girl against the Birds of Prey Gang, a group of criminals who wear bird mask, call themselves by the names of birds, and, of course, commit bird themed crimes.   With a solid, entertaining script by Siegel that emphasizes plot over characterization, this is a pretty typical Silver Age super-hero story.  In fact, its actually one of the better examples of the genre from that era.  Despite riding Batman's coattails, Siegel doesn't go overboard in aping that show's "camp" humor.  There is a series of weak bird related puns from the villains, but those are kept to near minimum.  Gill's art tells the story effectively and has a slight Golden Age feel, perhaps appropriate for the revival of a 1940's hero.
Despite its charms, The Owl #1 apparently failed to set the world on fire.  The second, and final, issue would not appear for another year.   After that,  with the exception of a one issue appearance in a 1976 issue of The Occult Files of Doctor Spektor, it was back to comic book limbo for the Owl and Owl Girl...
....Until a couple of months ago.  In July, Dynamite released a new The Owl #1 set in its Project: Superpowers universe.  Out of curiousity, I went and picked up a copy, despite it having been written by my least favorite comics writer ever, J.T. Krul, and a review shall be forthcoming. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Top 5 Comics by John Ostrander

As you have probably gathered from the contents of some of my recent posts, I gots me a mad crush on Johnny O.  He's one of those writers whose name on a project will get me to consider buying a comic about a character that I would normally give a wide berth.  He has a talent for taking lame or under utilized characters and giving them depth and life.  Even his weakest efforts are worth reading at least once.  When he's at his peak, he exemplifies the best that comics as as medium, not just the super-hero genre, has to offer. 
Here, then, is my list of what I consider to be his five greatest accomplishments in the comics field.

5. The Kents--Essentially this is a Western, though it was likely its connections to the super-hero genre, and the Superman mythology in particular, that sold it to DC and to readers.  The 12 issue series, drawn by frequent Ostrander collaborators Tim Truman (issues #1-8) and Tom Mandrake (#'s 9-12), tells the tale of the ancestors of Jonathan Kent, Superman's Earthly father, and how they came to settle in Smallville, Kansas around the middle of the 19th century.  Ostrander uses this framework to dramatize the events leading up to the Civil War by placing members of this fictional family near the center of those events.
4.   Wasteland--Co-written with Chicago theater legend Del Close and drawn by a variety of  artists including Don Simpson, David Lloyd, Tom Artis, Ty Templeton, Tim Truman and William Messner-Loebs, just to list the ones I can name off the top of my head, Wasteland was an 18 issue experiment in reviving the horror anthology, though perhaps editor Mike Gold was more on the mark when he described it in the letters pages as a "black hole humor" book. Eschewing blood and guts for the most part in favor of more psychological horrors, Ostrander and Close produced short tales that were sometimes funny, often disturbing, generally thought provoking and always worth reading.  Among the highlights were the recurring adventures of The Dead Detective, a corpse who was nonetheless capable of thought, and constantly wondering why that was, and of getting involved in increasingly absurd situations, and the frequent biographical sketches showing incidents from Close's colorful past.

3. Deadshot--A dark, disturbing and compelling journey into the life and mind of the Suicide Squad's resident killer with a death wish, Floyd Lawton, a.k.a. Deadshot.  For more details on this one, see my previous post.

2. Hawkworld--Expertly blending super-heroics, hard science fiction and social commentary, Ostrander uses the characters of Katar Hol and Shayera Thal, visiting policemen from the alien planet Thanagar, to show the readers modern day American society as seen through the eyes of outsiders from a repressive totalitarian society, in the process challenging the reader to really think, for perhaps the first time, about the principles on which this country was founded and the rights and freedoms we so blithely take for granted.  This, by the way, is another series about which I have written previously.

1. The Spectre--My choice for the top spot on this list should be no surprise considering the glowing write up I gave this series last week.  By focusing on the Astral Avenger's human side, Jim Corrigan, as a three dimensional character rather than the Spectre entity itself as a cosmic force, Ostrander crafted the finest series of stories ever told about the character in his seven decades of existence, telling the tale of the spiritual growth of a lost soul struggling toward his ultimate redemption. 
This list, of course, represents only my opinion, and yours may vary.  I'm almost certain that one particular regular reader of this blog will take me to task for not including Suicide Squad.  That was the hard part of making this list.  There was so much good stuff that it was difficult to decide what to leave off. If I were David Letterman, and this was a Top 10 list, Squad, as well as Firestorm, Grimjack and even Batman: Gotham Nights would surely have found its way onto the list.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Deadshot: Beginnings

Apparently, I've got some pull with DC Comics.  Yep, the world's oldest comics publisher actually seems to listen to me.
OK, maybe not.  However, for whatever reason, DC has finally begun to grant my wish for more trade paperbacks collecting the excellent work that John Ostrander did for the company back in the late 1980's and 1990's.  Since I first lamented the tragic lack of  collections of Ostrander penned comics on this blog some a couple of years ago, DC has seen fit to release a volume collecting the first several issues of Suicide Squad.  More recently, there are, as I reported a week or so ago, plans afoot to reprint the initial year's worth of The Spectre, as well as a forthcoming collection of his Martian Manhunter series.  This very month is scheduled to see the release of Deadshot: Beginnings, collecting, along with a couple of old Deadshot tales from Batman and Detective Comics, the four issue Deadshot mini-series from 1988 written by Ostrander and his wife Kim Yale and penciled and inked by then regular Suicide Squad artist Luke McDonnell.
The Deadshot mini-series built on the work that Ostrander had been doing with the title character ever since the new Suicide Squad's debut in the Legends crossover.  Ostrander had established pretty early on established that Floyd Lawton (Deadshot) was hanging around with the Suicide Squad because he took the name seriously and harbored a pretty serious death wish.  The mini-series places Deadshot in a situation springing from his sordid past, allowing the readers to see the roots of the character's dysfunction.
The story begins when Lawton receives a message from his ex-wife.  Their son has been kidnapped in an attempt to extort Lawton into committing a murder that he'd refused to two decades earlier.  Lawton vows to get the kid back "his way." Meanwhile, Marnie Herrs, Lawton' entires therapist at Belle Reve prison, the headquarters of the Squad, has become too close to Lawton's case and is removed by her superior and takes a leave of absence, going off on her own to look into Lawton's past in an effort to understand and, perhaps, help him. Things start to go south when the kidnappers leave the child in the care of a known child molester, who inadvertently kills the boy.  Deadshot then vows to kill everyone involved in the whole fiasco, leaving a trail of blood that eventually leads back to his old hometown and a confrontation with the person behind the kidnap plot. 
If I make the story sound pretty dark, that's because it is.  Do not, however, make the mistake of dismissing Deadshot as yet another "grim and gritty" pretender to the Frank Miller/ Dark Knight Returns throne.  This, however, is "grim and gritty" done right.  Miller himself could take a few lessons from  the way Ostrander wrote this series. The darkness of the story is no affectation, but instead grows naturally from the nature of the characters.  There are no heroes in this story, only villains and victims.  That includes Deadshot himself, who, we learn, is a little bit of both.  Floyd Lawton is presented as a severely damaged individual, and, through the events of this mini-series, we begin to see how he got that way. The violence is not glamorized, but presented as just as repulsive as the people perpetrating it.
This is a very dark and disturbing story, and while it is one of my favorite mini-series of all time and I heartily recommend it, it may not be for everyone.  However, it does feature some of John Ostrander's best writing, which is more than enough reason to check it out, not to mention that it contains what I personally feel to be Luke McDonnell's finest art.  
Ok, then, DC, now that I seem to have your ear, where the heck are those Hawkworld collections?

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Superman: Dark Knight Over Metropolis

For most of the company's history, DC Comics' two top heroes, Superman and Batman, have teamed up on a regular basis in a shared title.  However, there was a relatively brief period in the wake of the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths revamp of Superman in John Byrne's The Man of Steel mini-series, when DC's official editorial stance was that the Man of Tomorrow and the Dark Knight should, by virtue of their differing personalities and methods of operation, have a more adversarial relationship.  Man of Steel #3 depicted the "first" meeting of the two in the new continuity and served to solidify the new status quo in the Superman/Batman relationship.  However, blame for the dissolution of that long running friendship and partnership cannot be laid solely at the feet of Byrne.  Hints of the new direction could be seen as early as the final issue of World's Finest Comics (#323 cover dated January 1986), which ended with the former "World's Finest Duo" parting on somewhat less than congenial terms.
Due for release later this month, the trade paperback collection Dark Knight Over Metropolis collects two meetings of the erstwhile "World's Finest Duo" from this period.  The earliest of these, and the one from which this volume's Art Adams drawn cover is taken, is "Skeeter", written by Byrne with pencils by Adams inked by Dick Giordano, from Action Comics Annual #1, which came out during Action's brief stint as a Superman team-up book.  The story has Batman reluctantly calling on Superman for help when he confronts a situation he is forced to concede that he cannot handle by himself; vampires overrunning a small Louisiana town.
The core of the book is "Dark Knight Over Metropolis", three part story that ran through the trio of Superman titles cover dated June 1990.  The first installment in Superman #44 is written and penciled by Jerry Ordway with inks by Dennis Janke. Part two from The Adventures of Superman #467 is written and penciled by Dan Jurgens and inked by Art Thibert.  Roger Stern wrote Action Comics #654's conclusion with art by Bob McLeod and Brett Breeding.  Investigating a mysterious death in his hometown of Gotham lands the Dark Knight in Superman's territory and smack dab in the middle of the Man of Steel's ongoing plotlines.  In between following up leads to the case that brought him to Metropolis, Batman aids Superman in protecting Clark Kent's Daily Planet colleague Cat Grant from attacks by such second rate villains as Chiller and Shockwave (Where, you almost have to wonder, was Bolt?) when Grant is targeted for death by the organized crime outfit Intergang after daring to agree to testify against former Galaxy Communications chief and Intergang operative Morgan Edge.
Also stated to included in the collection are the issues of Action and Adventures that immediately precede the "Dark Knight Over Metropolis" story.  While the events of Action  #653 are a direct prelude to those issues, Adventures of Superman #466 contains only a few panels directly pertaining to the Intergang sub-plot.  The issue's main story is most notable for being the debut of Hank Henshaw, who would go on to infamy as the Cyborg Superman in the post Doomsday "Reign of the Superman" epic.
The ending of "Dark Knight Over Metropolis", does contain, as the Collected Editions blog states, " important event in post-Crisis continuity."  It also serves to wrap up a dangling plot thread dating all the way back to Superman #2.  Furthermore, that aforementioned "important event" signaled the beginning of the softening of relations between DC's two top crime fighters.  Eventually, the two would again become good friends and even come to have shared adventures in a communal title.  However, in the post Man of Steel continuity, instead of being presented with that friendship as a predetermined fact, readers got to see it grow and evolve over time.  "Dark Knight Over Metropolis" signalled the true beginning of that evolution.
I  would definitely recommend that you read these  stories. However, I suspect that if you're willing to do a little digging through back issue boxes you might be able to pick up the individual issues for  somewhat less than the cost of the upcoming trade paperback.