Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Star Trek #7 (DC; 1st Series)

"You belong at your captain's side, Mr. if you've always been there and always will."
Edith Keeler said that in "City On The Edge of Forever."  To Star Trek fans, as well, the idea of the adventures of James Tiberius Kirk without his Vulcan science officer, and closest friend, seems almost unthinkable.  Yet Trek fandom has faced that possibility a couple of times.
Before Paramount executives; casting about for a science fiction franchise to compete with Star Wars in theaters and realizing, ultimately, that  they already had one; upped the budget and hired a big name director the story that became Star Trek: The Motion Picture began life as  a teleplay entitled "In Thy Image."  It was to be the pilot of a second Trek series known as Star Trek: Phase II, which was envisioned as the cornerstone of a Paramount owned and run fourth TV network.   The original cast was on board for the new series with the sole exception of Leonard Nimoy.  Spock was to replaced at the science station by a full Vulcan named Xon and as first officer by Will Decker.  However, when plans for the Paramount network were scrapped and the project morphed into a feature film, Nimoy was persuaded to return to his most famous role. 
By the time of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Nimoy was once again ready to leave Spock behind him. This set the stage for the character's dramatic sacrifice at the end of that film.  Ultimately, Nimoy changed his mind yet again.  He continued on as Spock through the final original cast film and beyond, appearing in episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and J.J. Abram's 2009 re-imagining of the original series.
Yet there is one set of ongoing Star Trek adventures that provides a glimpse of a Spock-less Trek.  DC Comics' first Star Trek series debuted in late 1983, more than a year after the release of The Wrath of Khan and several months before the debut of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, picking up the story of Kirk and crew immediately following the end of the former film.
With Spock gone, his duties were divided up between Saavik, the new science officer, and Sulu, who was elevated to second in command.  At least  one letter writer wondered why Scotty, who was shown in the TV series to be third in line after the captain and Spock, wasn't made first officer.  Based on my understanding of the character, however, it isn't hard for me to speculate  that were he offered the post at all, he would have turned it down, preferring instead to remain in engineering overseeing his precious warp engines.
While Marvel's licensing deal with Paramount ostensibly allowed them use of only the characters and concepts seen in the first movie, DC was free to draw on the entire Trek canon.  Initial writer Mike W. Barr made ample use of this freedom. His debut storyline worked in elements from "Errand of Mercy," "The Savage Curtain," and even "The Trouble With The Tribbles."  A later storyline would pay a lengthy return visit to the alternate reality of "Mirror, Mirror."
The two part tale begun in #7 contains echoes of "Amok Time" and "Where No Man Has Gone Before" and even throws in a sly nod to the aborted Phase II project while at the same time setting the stage for assimilating The Search For Spock into the comic's continuity. That seems like a lot to cram into two issues and still tell a coherent story, but Barr, along with guest penciller Eduardo Barreto, filling in on #7 to give regular artist Tom Sutton time to work on the double sized adaptation of the third film which took the regular comics place on DC's schedule the following month, and inker Ricardo Villagran, manage to pull it off fairly decently.
The story begins in #7 with Saavik in her quarters and obviously in great agony.  Naturally enough, as this comic was published prior to the release of Star Trek III, she is drawn as Kirstie Alley, the actress who originated the role in The Wrath of Khan.  Interestingly, however, aside from the movie adaptations, where she is quite properly drawn as replacement actress Robin Curtis, Sutton would continue to draw Saavik to resemble Alley until the character exited the series in the wake of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.
Meanwhile, Admiral Kirk's son David Marcus has come on board the Enterprise to be transported to a rendezvous with the ill-fated U.S.S. Grissom to conduct a survey of the Genesis planet.  At a banquet in David's honor, Saavik makes an uncharacteristic emotional scene and storms off to her quarters.  She is followed by a concerned Kirk and Dr. McCoy.  The ship's surgeon quickly surmises that Saavik is in the grip of the Vulcan mating urge known as Pon Farr, which, by the way, is mistakenly spelled in the story title and throughout the issue with only one "r".
The readership of this comic, at least the ones who troubled themselves to write to the letters column, seemed to consist in large part of hardcore Trekkers who had followed Kirk and company since the debut episode, "The Man Trap," first aired on September 8, 1966.  Apparently, many of them wrote in questioning Barr's basic premise that Vulcan women as well as men experience Pon Farr.   There is some evidence to the contrary.  T'Pring certainly acted purely out of cold, rational logic as she hatched her scheme to screw over Spock and have the man she truly wanted in "Amok Time."  Nonetheless, the question has, to my knowledge, never been addressed in any Star Trek movie or TV episode.  Thus there is no "official" answer, so Barr was not out of line in suggesting that Vulcan females also feel the call to return home to mate.
Which is precisely what Saavik does, as Kirk, just as he had done all those years ago for Spock, puts his current mission on hold and diverts to Vulcan.  First, however, Saavik relates for Kirk and McCoy the tale of her early years as one of the few hearty survivors of an abandoned Romulan colony, a story that tracks quite closely with the version of Saavik's past related by Vonda N. McIntyre in her novelization of the second movie.  The young Romulan-Vulcan half-breed is discovered by a Vulcan expedition led by Spock.  He takes the girl in and leaves her on Vulcan to be raised by his parents while he goes back to the Enterprise.  There she is betrothed to a young man named Xon.
Now, because Saavik was Xon's second future wife, his first having been killed by a wild sehlat (the Vulcan "teddy bear with six inch fangs" first mentioned in "Journey to Babel" and later shown in the animated episode "Yesteryear"), apparently the bonding didn't quite take for him.  Thus, when Saavik arrives on Vulcan, she discovers that Xon has not felt a similar call home and is nowhere to be found.  Spock's father Sarek reveals that Xon is away on a top secret mission and Sarek may not reveal his whereabouts.
Saavik engages in a bit of computer hacking to learn where Xon is, then steals a spaceship and lights out for the rim of the galaxy.  Sarek, meanwhile, wants to chat with Kirk about Spock's katra.  Kirk begs off, saying that finding Saavik must take priority at the moment.  However, the admiral promises that he and Sarek will speak of the matter in the future. 
Trailing Saavik to the energy barrier that surrounds the galaxy, as shown in "Where No Man Has Gone Before", the Enterprise finds itself unexpectedly under attack.  The final panel of #7 reveals the attacker to be none other than Saavik herself, in the grips of the Plak Tow, or "blood fever", that comes in the later stages of Pon Farr. 
The story wraps up two months later in #8, as Sutton returns to the pencilling chores.  After her fevered attempts to destroy her own ship are thwarted, Saavik eventually is reunited with Xon, who has infiltrated a top secret Romulan scientific outpost near the galactic barrier.  The Romulans are attempting to use the energies of the barrier, the same ones that elevated Gary Mitchell to near godhood in "Where No Man Has Before," to create an army of invincible super  warriors with which to challenge the Federation.
These two issues, even with the spelling errors and continuity issues, comprise a fairly decent Star Trek tale that provides a neat, though not entirely seamless, segue into The Search For Spock.  After all, in the movie continuity the events of the third film follow those of it predecessor almost immediately.  The comic book, however, had the task of working in several months of stories in between them, and some dissonance between the two continuities is to be expected. 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Superman 2001

For this, my 300th post on this blog, I thought it would be appropriate to review Hellblazer #300.  Unfortunately, I have yet to acquire a copy.  I fell quite ill around the middle of last week and by the time I was able to rouse myself from my sickbed each of the two comics shops I visited was sold out.  Apparently I'm not the only lapsed reader who came back for the final storyline. Perhaps all those copies were snapped up by fools who are still under the delusion that comics are sure-fire investments that will put their grandchildren through college.   The Laughing Ogre assures me they'll have more copies soon, so there will be a review forthcoming.  For now, however, I am forced to turn to another 300th issue, one already in my possession, for today's post. 
Superman #300 presents "Superman 2001", an "imaginary story" positing what would happen if young Kal-El, last survivor of the doomed planet Krypton, landed on Earth in the then present day of 1976 to emerge as Superman in the futuristic society of the year 2001.
Rather than crash-landing in the American Midwest, the rocket from the stars splashes down in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, leading to a race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union to claim the alien artifact from which the Americans ultimately emerge victorious.  The rocket's youthful passenger is dubbed Skyboy and raised in secrecy at a top secret U.S. military installation.  
As of 1990, an unnamed "third world power" has emerged with dreams of world conquest and a plan to start a devastating nuclear war between America and the U.S.S.R.  that will leave them as rulers of the world in its wake.   Skyboy goes into action to prevent the conflagration and, following the close call, America and the Soviets begin peace talks.  Thus, peace reigns for the next eleven years.  Following the averted war, Skyboy disappears.  He leaves the military base, adopts the name Clark Kent and vows never to use his powers again.  
On January 1st, 2001, the world celebrates the dawning of a new century and milennium--unlike the real world, where we marked those events a year early.  Clark Kent has become an anchorman for the Planet-Wide News where he recieves a report of a strange, four-armed creature suddenly appearing in Times Square.  Calling itself Moka, the beast claims to be the saviour who saved the world from nuclear destruction over a decade earlier and demands the world give him its allegiance and make him their ruler.  Surprisingly, the crowd in Times Square, at least, seems ready to go along with him.  Moka, it turns out, is a robot controlled by agents of that same "third world power" that almost caused the aforementioned nuclear destruction. 
Knowing that Moka ain't what he says he is, Clark dons his Skyboy costume for the first time in years and, now calling himself Superman, flies off to do battle with the would-be usurper.
It's amusing to read speculative stories like this one from a vantage point several years beyond the "futuristic" setting of the tale.  As futurists, writers Cary Bates and Elliot S! Maggin make fine comic book writers.  There's little that is original in their vision of the future, which seems mostly derived from The Jetsons and other pop culture projections of the world to come.
By 1990, the United States has a female president who lives in a White House entombed within a giant transparent dome for her protection.  While women seem to have made great strides in this world, African Americans seem to have all but disappeared.  The only black faces in the entire issue show up in a crowd scene toward the end of the story.  Even the leaders of the mysterious "third world power" are shown as old white guys.  In our world, a third power has risen, but its run not by old white guys, but old Chinese guys--since its China to which I refer. Of course, the whitewashing of reality was pretty typical for comics, and most entertainment, of the day and remains so to a large extent today.
As the new milennium dawns, Americans relax in their homes in floating chairs while they watch something called "Tri-Vision".    I assume that's meant to be some sort of 3-D holographic future version of television.  Meanwhile, as Clark Kent reports, the large cities of America's West Coast from Boston down to Washington, D.C., have merged into giant urban area dubbed "Metropolis." Which, this being a Superman comic and the city of Metropolis being an integral part of the charatcter's legend, makes sense, at least for the story.  Although most of the other seemingly integral parts of the character's legend, such as Lois Lane, the Kents, the Daily Planet and Lex Luthor, have been abandoned.
In contrast to its futuristic setting, Superman #300 seems to me like something out of an earlier time.  The era of Superman comics under editor Julius Schwartz was concerned with humanizing and modernizing the character, most notably by having Clark Kent move into broadcast journalism, and "imaginary stories" were one of the remnants of the reign of former editor Mort Weisinger that had been cast into the dustbin of history.  Thus, "Superman 2001" feels more like the belated last hurrah of the Weisinger era than a celebration of the Man of Steel as he existed in 1976.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Vibe? Really? What's Next?

One comic that came out last week that I didn't buy, nor have any intention of buying or reading, is Justice League of America's Vibe, the JLA prefix having been added, or so I've read, to forestall action legal action from Vibe magazine.  I have, to my surprise, read several positive, if not exactly glowing, reviews of the debut issue.  However, what really puzzles me is why DC would want to revive one of the least loved characters it has ever published.  
My theory is that it all began with a drunken bet between Dan DiDio and Geoff Johns.  After downing a few too many, Johns began boasting: "Look what I did with Green Lantern.  And Aquaman.  Aqua-freakin'-Man, f'Chrissakes.  I'm a freakin' comics god.  I can take any lame character and make it a freakin' bestseller.  G'wan! Gimme a character."
DiDio thinks for a few seconds, then says, "OK.  How about Vibe?"
"You know.  Vibe.  From back when Conway f***ed up the JLA." 
"Oh. Right. Vibe.  Are you freakin' serious?"
"Hey, man, you said any character."
"OK, then.  Vibe. Look out, 'cause I'm gonna make him a freakin' star."  At which point, Johns falls off his barstool and passes out.
Now that's all speculation, of course.  What is true is that with the revamping of Vibe and the resurrection a few years ago of Jason Todd, DC has brought back two of the most reviled characters of the 1980's.  This leads me to wonder who could be next--Danny Chase, perhaps?
Yes, I said Danny Chase.
I was recently reading through the letters columns of some old issues of The New Titans (I read the stories as well, of course, and may be writing about them later), and it seems that absolutely no one liked the little brat.  The only half-hearted defense of the character that I read expressed no great love for him, but simply excused his obnoxiousness as a realistic portrayal of the behavior of thirteen year old boys.   Having been a thirteen year old boy, I can vouch for that.  Oh, I, of course, was a perfect angel, but all my peers were jerks.
Anyway, given DC's the lack of new ideas in most of DC's comics these days, it probably is only a matter of time 'til we see old Danny again.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

THE GLORY DAYS OF THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD: Bob Haney, Jim Aparo, Murray Boltinoff and B&B #'s 98-131 (Conclusion)

(For the edification of those who may have missed my last post, I shall reiterate the explanation and history of this two-part series of posts as it appeared previously: The following long--for a blog post, at least--piece was written a couple of years ago for Jim Main's fanzine Comic Fan.  Shortly after I submitted it, however, Jim decided to suspend publication of CF in order to concentrate on comic books.  Thus, other than the select few trusted friends whom I sent copies to for proofreading and kibitzing, this masterpiece of comics history and journalism has gone regrettably unread.  Until now, that is.  Due to the aforementioned length of the article, I found a natural breakpoint about halfway through and split it up into two posts.  Part one can be read by going here.)
Now let's take a closer look at some of the individual stories that made the Haney/Boltinoff/Aparo B&B era so great. 

Friday, February 22, 2013

THE GLORY DAYS OF THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD: Bob Haney, Jim Aparo, Murray Boltinoff and B&B #'s 98-131 (Part One)

(The following long--for a blog post, at least--piece was written a couple of years ago for Jim Main's fanzine Comic Fan.  Shortly after I submitted it, however, Jim decided to suspend publication of CF in order to concentrate on comic books.  Thus, other than the select few trusted friends whom I sent copies to for proofreading and kibitzing, this masterpiece of comics history and journalism has gone regrettably unread.  Until now, that is.  Due to the aforementioned length of the article, I found a natural breakpoint about halfway through and split it up into two posts.  The conclusion will appear here in a day or so.)
In the December 2004 edition of BACK ISSUE magazine, editor Michael Eury called THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD (B&B) the most influential comic book put out by DC during the Silver and Bronze Ages. While Eury admits that his claim may be somewhat overblown, the evidence that he offers to support his theorem, in the form of a listing of important characters and concepts that first saw the light of day in B&B, is nonetheless compelling.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Reading Harry Potter

Recently, after having heard for years from people whose opinions I respect that they are actually pretty good and definitely worth reading, I have finally embarked upon a reading of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter novels.  Though I've only read Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone so far, I'm looking forward to the continuing adventures of the young wizard.
I want to give credit to Rowling, in her first novel, for pulling off something that more experienced writers have botched badly.  The "everything you know is wrong" ending is a tricky thing to do right, and very often it ends up not making sense in the light of the events leading up to it.  A prime example is Brad Meltzer's The Millionaires, in which a character the reader has been led to believe was killed early in the novel is revealed at the end not only to have been alive the whole time but also to be the criminal mastermind behind the whole organization that the book's protagonists have spent the entire story running from.  However, this shocking revelation also renders most of the events of the book meaningless and nonsensical.  The book has numerous other flaws, of course, but the badly executed twist ending is the worst.
Rowling, on the other hand, does it right and makes it look effortless.  She spends the entirety of Sorcerer's Stone leading us to believe that one character is the story's main villain, then in the final chapter reveals the villain to have been someone we thought was merely an innocent dupe.  Yet everything that's gone before still makes sense in light of the last minute reveal and the reader doesn't have to rack his brain trying to figure out for himself how to reconcile the new status quo with what has gone before.
You know, its kind of strange reading Sorcerer's Stone now, after the series became such a wildly popular phenomenon.   For the past decade and a half, you could not escape hearing about Harry Potter nearly everywhere even if you tried.  Therefore, even though I'm reading the book for the first time and have never seen any of the movies, there's a sort of sense of deja vu, since I couldn't help but absorb certain details of the characters and plot just through the zeitgeist.  Still, it wasn't enough to spoil my enjoyment of the book.  
I just picked up a copy of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and I'll be starting in on that one soon.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Elvis Mandible

I am fascinated by Elvis Presley, not as a singer--though I'll admit he was one of the best--but as the pop culture icon he evolved into, especially in the years following his death.  It was this obsession that attracted me to The Elvis Mandible, a comic written and drawn by playwright and former National Lampoon cartoonist Douglas Michael and published by DC's now defunct Piranha Press imprint in 1990.
The comic really isn't about Elvis, however, or even the eponymous fragment of his skeleton.  That's merely the MacGuffin that drives this tale of board games, mystic architecture and CIA conspiracies centered around the intertwined fates of two men who come into possession of the King's severed jawbone.
The Elvis Mandible is, without a doubt, one of the strangest comics I've ever read.  In this case, at least, that is meant as high praise.  Michael's wonderfully simple cartooning style and straightforward matter of fact narration lend an odd documentary feel to the story, which only serves to increase the comic's overall surreal atmosphere.
I will admit that The Elvis Mandible is probably not for everyone.  It takes a certain off-kilter sensibility to fully appreciate this odd little gem.  However, if you think that applies to you, then I would wholeheartedly recommend seeking out a copy. 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Before Watchmen: Dollar Bill Reviewed

Well, as I predicted in my previous post on the subject, Before Watchmen: Dollar Bill DOESN'T suck.  It isn't brilliant, or groundbreaking, or anywhere near as good as Watchmen, but it doesn't suck.  What it does is provide a few moments of mild, if inconsequential, entertainment with an ocassionally clever script by Len Wein and typically lovely art from Steve Rude.  Hardly a ringing endorsement, to be sure, but overall Dollar Bill is a pretty good comic.
"There was Dollar Bill, originally a star college athlete from Kansas who was actually employed as an in-house super-hero by one of the major national banks, when they realized that the masked man fad made being able to brag about having a hero of your own to protect your customer's money was a very interesting publicity prospect.  Dollar Bill was one of the nicest and most straightforward men I have ever met, and the fact that he died so tragically young is something that still upsets me whenever I think about it.  While attempting to stop a raid upon one of his employer's banks, his cloak became entangled in the bank's revolving door and he was shot dead at point blank range before he could free it.  Designers employed by the bank had designed his costume for maximum publicity appeal.  If he'd designed it himself he might have left out that damned cloak and still be alive today."
 That one paragraph, from the faux-memoir of first Nite Owl Hollis Mason, "Under The Hood", which comprises the text section at the end of Chapter II of Watchmen, is the extent of the characterization or background that Alan Moore gives us for Dollar Bill, leaving quite a bit of leeway for Wein to fill in the details.  Wein begins by giving the character something Moore neglected to--a real name.  We are introduced to Bill Brady, an exceptional high school athlete who gains a football scholarship from Dartmouth, leading to eventual fame, as well as hot prospects for an eventual pro career.  All that is ended when he is injured during a game.  Bill barely graduates and finds himself living in New York with no job and no prospects until he decides to cash in on his good looks and become an actor.  When that doesn't pan out, he answers an ad placed by National Bank.  He discovers that the job would require him to play the part of National's resident protector.  His bosses eventually direct him to join the Minutemen for the publicity.  Through his interaction with his fello masked adventurers, Bill eventually comes to be the hero he was at first only playacting as.  Then, inevitably, comes his fateful encounter with that revolving door...
Wein deserves credit for not attempting to emulate the style of storytelling Moore used in Watchmen.  In fact, he makes a couple of storytelling choices that I find somewhat daring, at least for a Watchmen prequel.   The first is the lighthearted, even comedic at times, tone that he gives the story.  He invokes the old "Dewey, Cheatem and Howe" routine familiar to Car Talk listeners and Three Stooges fans and includes a scene reminiscent of those old Legion of Super-Heroes tryouts, featuring a dozen or so lame wannabe heroes, when Bill shows up to join the Minutemen.  There's nothing laugh out loud hilarious here, but there are bits that do raise a smile or a light chuckle.  That's certainly more than you get from Watchmen.  For all its virtues, and they are myriad, there just aren't a lot of yuks in Moore's graphic novel.
Even odder is Wein's choice to have Bill narrate the story in the first person from beyond the grave, which brings a sort of whimsical fantasy tone to the story that Watchmen also lacks.
Both of these choices work, however, allowing the story to stand alone, on its own merits, apart from the work that inspired it.  They also give the book a distinctly Bronze Age feel, which, I suppose, given that it was written by Len Wein, one of the writers whose work defined the Bronze Age, isn't at all surprising.
All in all, Dollar Bill is a pleasant little super-hero comic that in no way denigrates or descecrates Alan Moore's beloved and revered classic.  Given how doomed from the start the whole Before Watchmen project initially seemed, I suppose that's something of an achievement in and of itself.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Card Game

Once again, DC Comics seems to be living by the old cliche that there is no such thing as bad publicity.  The latest flap involves the authorship of a segment of the company's digital Adventures of Superman anthology.
It seems to me that Orson Scott Card; of whom, until this week, I knew nothing other than his name and the titles of some of his books that I'd never read and now likely never will; has joined the club of creative individuals, which includes Steve Ditko and Dave Sim, whose extreme and unpopular political views have overshadowed, and at times overtaken, their creative output.  In Cards case, it is his outspoken stand against gay marriage rights that has lowered him into pariahship. Thus, DC's engaging of this controversial author to script a tale of its flagship character has been met with much outrage in the world of Internet opinionating.  There is an on-line petition, although likely too late to do any other than symbolic good (yet I've signed it nonetheless), urging DC to reconsider its decision to hire Card, and a few retailers have announced their intent not to carry the print edition of the comic when it ships in May
When contacted by The Advocate, a spokesman for DC spewed out the following half-assed, have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too, corporate double speak statement that seems to be trying to split the difference between defending the decision to hire Card while simultaneously distancing the company from his more controversial views:
 “As content creators we steadfastly support freedom of expression, however the personal views of individuals associated with DC Comics are just that — personal views — and not those of the company itself.”
Now, I figure that someone at DC must have realized that this controversy would occur.  Thus, it seems highly likely to me that, following the above stated dictum that there is no such thing as bad publicity, the prospect of the expected outrage drawing media attention to DC and this particular comic, which is exactly what has happened, may have played some part in the decision by the company to hire Card.
As I probably was not going to anyway, this controversy and my discovery of Card's true colors hasn't influenced my decision about whether or not to purchase or read Adventures of Superman.  It has, however, pretty much wiped out whatever vestigial desire I may have harbored to read anything else the man has written.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Book Review: Doctor Who and the Keeper of Traken

In his introduction to the unofficial fan-published novelization of the Doctor Who serial "Revelation of the Daleks", author Jon Preddle states, "There are only two ways to write a Doctor Who novelisation - the proper way and the Terrance Dicks way."   I really don't know what he means by that.  After reading Dicks' official adaptation of the Fourth Doctor adventure "The Keeper of Traken," I can't tell you what exactly Preddle sees as wrong about Dicks' approach.
The story begins as the Doctor and his young companion Adric are returning to "N-Space"; the "N", I shall assume, standing for "normal"; from a parallel dimension called "E-Space"; with no indication given here just what the "E" is for; where one of the Doctor's companion's, Romana, along with the robotic dog K-9, had chosen to remain.  Immediately upon their return, the pair are diverted from their planned journey to the Doctor's homeworld of Gallifrey to the Union of Traken, a planet with a reputation as one of the most peaceful and serene in the universe, by the Keeper, the centuries old ruler of Traken. He warns the Doctor that a great evil has come to Traken in the form of an alien presence the Trakens have named the Melkur, but which is in reality an old enemy of the Doctor's, who seeks to influence the passage of power as the  ancient Keeper prepares to step down and pass on the mantle of Keeper to one of the members of the planet's ruling council.  This old enemy, who is near death, seeks to use the power of the "Source", which is, as the name implies, the source of the Keeper's power and longevity, to renew, or (big SPOILER), "regenerate", himself.
"The Keeper of Traken" was the penultimate serial in Tom Baker's seven year tenure as the Fourth Doctor.  From a continuity standpoint, it is important for the introduction of Nyssa, the daughter of one of the Traken council members, who would begin traversing time and space alongside the Doctor and Adric in the very next story,  and Tom Baker's last, "Logopolis", thus being, I suppose, more associated with the Fifth Doctor, as well re-introducing the aforementioned old foe (OK--I'll just come out and say it, spoilers be damned.  It's the Master), who would figure prominently in the next couple of story arcs.
At 124 pages; and I've read that the publisher of the Doctor Who novelizations was at the time imposing a limit of 128 pages on the length of the books; Doctor Who and the Keeper of Traken appears, although I admit that I've never seen the original serial, to be a straightforward, no-frills accounting of the events of the TV episodes.  Little time is spent introducing the reader to the main characters, although with this being, as the title page tells us, the 37th in a series of novelizations of a TV show that had by time of the book's publication in 1982 been running for nearly two decades, it can reasonably be assumed that the target audience for the novel was no doubt quite intimately familiar with the Doctor and needed no such exposition.
Keeper of Traken is a quick--you could probably devour it in a single afternoon if you weren't distracted---yet entertaining read.  I still don't know what Mr. Preddle, as quoted above, sees as deficient about Terrance Dicks style or approach. In fact, I wouldn't mind reading more Doctor Who novelizations by him--and he did write quite a few I understand.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Unfinished Business: Justice League--Generation Lost

If you've been reading this blog for some while, you may remember that a couple of years ago I was buying the bi-weekly limited series Justice League: Generation Lost and, for awhile, reading and reviewing each issue as it came out.  Eventually, I decided to set the issues aside until the series was completed, then read it all at once and review it for you at that time.  While I did read the whole series upon publication of the final issue, I failed to get around to reviewing it here.  Until now.  While I make no promises that it was in any way worth the wait, here is my long delayed review/overview of Justice League: Generation Lost.
In retrospect, the point at which I decided to put off reading the series is really the point at which I just should have stopped buying it.  Ultimately, Gen Lost turned out to be a year long waste of time and money.  Some of the individual issues were enjoyable on their own, but taken as a whole the story was a massive disappointment.
I feel like I've been the victim of a bait-and-switch scam.  I began buying  the comic because Keith Giffen was co-writing it, returning once again to the characters he'd done such great work with back in 1980's.  However, by the eighth issue, Giffen was gone, leaving co-author Judd Winick to alone to write the bulk of the series. 
I do not hate Judd Winick's writing, at least not all of it.  I really like The Adventures of Barry Ween Ween, Boy Genius, which established Winick as one of the best humor writers of the 90's.  However, when he turned his attention to super-heroes the results have been, at best, bland, and, at worst, stupid and offensive.  
One of the big problems with the story is the pacing.  While the early issues, which, not coincidentally perhaps, were the once Giffen was involved in, moved at a pleasing pace, once on his own Winick seemed to realize that he just didn't have enough plot to fill the allotted number of issues.  Thus, the series fell into a pattern of issue long huge fight scenes followed by an entire issue of the cast sitting around talking followed by another issue long fight scene, and so on.  Occasionally, he'd throw in an issue where Captain Atom would be thrown into the future, there to witness the dire consequences if Maxwell Lord should succeed in his evil scheme.
Speaking of said evil scheme---and here is where the consensus rules of blogging require that I insert the words "Spoiler Warning", though I feel no compunction about revealing the ending of a story I'm trying to dissuade you from reading anyway---that's where the story really fell down.   After an entire year of chasing Max Lord around the globe and building him up as the greatest evil since Lucifer fell, the former JLI organizer's big top secret evil master plan turns out to be building a giant robot to beat up on Wonder Woman.  My reaction to that revelation was something like, "Are you serious? That's IT?"  It was, as I said above, a massive disappointment.  Compounding the feeling of being let down was the fact that the evil giant robot was rather easily defeated. 
Overall, Justice League: Generation Lost was not worth the money I spent on it, or the time I spent reading it, or really even the time I've spent thinking about it while writing this review.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Reading the Sunday Paper

This has absolutely nothing to do with comics, but I wanted to comment on a couple of things I read in Sunday's Columbus Dispatch
The first is a note of a linguistic nature to one Ms. Caroline Whitacre of THE Ohio State University (that should make Gordon Gee happy), who is quoted in an article on the possible impact of the looming mandatory federal budget cuts known as sequestration:
I'm pretty sure, in fact I'm fairly positive that "cooperativity" is not an actual word, at least not in English.  
I find myself wondering if the writer of the article failed to realize this, or if she ran with the quote as she got it in the interest of journalistic integrity or objectivity or some other outmoded concept like that. (By the way, for those who may have trouble recognizing it, that last bit was sarcasm.)
On the editorial page, I was shocked, and not in the Claude Rains in Casablanca sense, but genuinely surprised, to read bow tied conservative commentator and well known baseball fan George F. Will actually endorsing unashamedly liberal Ohio senator Sherrod Brown's notion that financial institutions that might be considered "too big to fail" should be broken up.  This is clearly not easy for George.  Witness the rhetorical gymnastics he performs in order to convince his conservative readers, and perhaps himself as well, that government stepping in to break up big businesses is actually perfectly compatible with the tenets of the Grand Old Party:
"By breaking up the biggest banks, conservatives willl not be putting asunder what the free market has joined together.  Government nurtured these behemoths by weaving an improvident safety net, and by practicing crony capitalism.  Dismantling them would be a blow against government that has become too big not to fail."
Seriously, you don't often see someone bending that far backwards outside of a limbo contest.
Getting to what is ostensibly the topic of this blog, I did read the Sunday comics.  Rather than launch into yet another diatribe about the sorry state of modern newspaper comics, I'll simply state that out of over 30 strips, only one elicited so much as a snicker from me, and it wasn't Judge Parker.  It was, in fact, Agnes, by Columbus, Ohio's own Tony Cochran.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Super Sunday III: Jay's Big Day

(I actually wrote this post some time ago and was holding on to it in order to post it last Sunday as part of my sort of annual--I skipped last year altogether--"Super Sunday" feature, in which I would talk about an old Superman story while the rest of the nation was pretending to be interested in a football game that most of them were probably only watching to see the commercials.  However, when the time came, it completely slipped my mind, so, rather than wait another year, here is the Gutter Talk kind of almost annual Super Sunday post one week late:)
The other day, I was rereading Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' classic Superman tale "For The Man Who Has Everything" and, when I got to the end, I realized something about this story.  Not only is it one of The Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told (which just happens to be the name of the book I was reading it in), but it is also THE single greatest Jason Todd/Robin II story ever.
Let's face it, when you get right down to it, poor old Jason didn't really have a whole lot of shining moments in his brief career as Robin.  He was, and remains to this day, in my mind at least, a character most notable for having died.  Specifically, its the way he was killed off that made him noteworthy.  I am not, you realize, referring to the Joker savagely beating him with a crowbar then blowing him up, but to the infamous phone poll that left his fate up to the readers.  Given the way that the character was handled, or rather mishandled, in the Batman books, its perhaps fitting that his sole shining moment occurred in a Superman annual. 
Jason is the real hero of "For The Man Who Has Everything", after all.   Superman spends most of the story in a trance, and gets distracted at a crucial moment in the climactic battle with Mongul.  Wonder Woman just manages to get herself beat up.  Batman is pretty much useless.  He does manage to pry the Black Mercy off of Superman, but then ends up getting ensnared by it himself.  Therefore it is left to Jason to free Batman and face down Mongul, throwing the parasitic plant at the would be world conquerer, ensnaring him in his own trap.
Yet, after risking his life to save not just his friends but the whole damned world, Jason gets no credit or gratitude.  No "Good job, chum" from his mentor Batman; no "Uh...thanks for saving my life back there" from the guy he saved from getting pounded into pudding by an angry yellow alien. Even Dave Gibbons doesn't give the poor kid any respect.  Despite his major role in the story, Jason's barely even on the cover, mostly obscured by the UPC symbol. 

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Earth 2 and Green Arrow Reviews

As promised in an earlier post, on my trip to the comic shop this past Wednesday, I picked up copies of Green Arrow #17 and Earth 2 #9 and now sit before my keyboard in order to share with you my thoughts upon them.
One thing that you get from reading monthly comics that you don't get from waiting for the inevitable trade paperback collection is the thrill of anticipation that you get when you come to the last page of a really good issue and can't wait to know what happens next.  Earth 2 has, more often than not, been providing that sensation throughout its run.  The pleasant surprise for me this week was to find myself looking forward to a new Green Arrow comic for the first time in about a decade.
As advertised, the latest issue of Earth 2 introduces the new Dr. Fate, although he apparently has not yet adopted that name.  He is not, as I sort of expected, Kent Nelson, the alter ego of the Golden Age (and pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths Earth-Two) Fate, but a young man named Khalid Ben-Hassin.  Since the story of Dr. Fate has always been rooted in a sort of pseudo-Egyptian mythology, it certainly makes sense to have the new Fate be, I presume, Egyptian.  Although I assume that the name Kent Nelson, either as a separate character or perhaps as a pseudonym for Khalid, will pop up eventually.
Anyway, we first meet him at his home when Hawkgirl pops in for a visit and it is revealed that they both received their powers at the same time.  Again, not all that surprising, as the Golden Age Hawkman was a reincarnated Egyptian prince, thus linking the  two origins now makes perfect sense.  Hawkgirl persuades Khalid to teleport over to Michigan and keep an eye on Jay Garrick, the Flash, as he goes home to visit his mother.  Needless to say, chaos ensues as Atom Smasher and Wesley Dodds and his Sandmen show up to apprehend Jay.   With Khalid's help, Jay and his mom escape, but they're really jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire as they find themselves confronted by an even greater menace.  
As I said, I am definitely looking forward to seeing how this story plays out over the coming months.
As for Green Arrow #17, I can boil down my review to just one sentence:  This is the best issue of any Green Arrow series that I've read since Mike Grell left the character's first ongoing series.  
Yes, I enjoyed the Kevin Smith written issues, but I think that your enjoyment of those really depends on how much you like Kevin Smith.   Jeff Lemire has crafted a story that can be enjoyed by any fan of the character, weaving together echoes of the character's pre-Flashpoint continuity with plot points from the Arrow TV series while taking the story in an exciting new direction.  
I picked up this issue with expectations so low as to be nonexistent, but found myself really liking it. If Lemire can sustain the level of quality storytelling on display in this issue, I won't be surprised in the future to see "The Kill Machine" ranked alongside The Longbow Hunters as one of the great Green Arrow stories.