Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Five Suggestions for the Next Wave of The New 52

So, I was reading on-line today that it was a year ago pretty much today that DC announced the line wide reboot that is now known as "The New 52." I have found a lot of books to really enjoy amongst the titles that were rebooted/recreated, from the expected (Batman, Batgirl, Justice League, Aquaman) to the unexpected (Demon Knights, Batwing). But as we've just seen with the cancellation of six titles and the introduction of six more, this little project of DC's is going to be a little free form, with books coming and going. So here are five suggestions of some titles I'd like to see.

The Elongated Man and Sue

If some changes can be made to continuity, how about this  resurrection here, huh? The (what I thought was awesome) idea of Ralph and Sue Dibny as ghost detective was never really explored, so how about just bring them back from the dead? Ralph and Sue have probably the best marriage in all of comics. The Dibny’s have a dynamic that is pretty much undeniable. And since the only married hero left in the DCU is Aquaman, this would give the title something else that would make it stand out.

What would I like the book to be? Well, I think it should be just plain fun. One of the main concerns people have had about the New 52 has been that most of the titles are dour and intense. This one would be a wild, world tour of mystery and action.  I think each issue should be a one off mystery, and I think it should be a play fair mystery, where you can play along with Ralph and try to solve the case. Mike W. Barr did something similar with the legendary and much lamented Maze Agency, and I think he’d be great to write this book. But most of all, I want it to be a book equally about both of the lead characters, hence both of them being in the title. Sue can serve as Ralph’s crime fighting partner, or possibly as a social activist, and some of the adventures they get involved in are because of what she’s doing. And without getting maudlin, I want the book to show the two of them as a loving, functional married couple.

 Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E.

I read the original Stars and STRIPE series, enjoyed it, and hugely enjoyed watching Courtney Whitmore evolve from the kinda bratty kid who became a super hero to annoy her stepdad into the senior member of the JSA’s younger generation. With the lack of a JSA in DCnU, this leaves Courtney in limbo, and I think that should be remedied. And this is how.

Courtney’s origin remains pretty much unchanged. She has grown into one of the world’s premiere teen heroes, Stargirl, having mentored with Pat Dugan, her stepfather in his S.T.R.I.P.E. armor. They have been defenders of Blue Valley, Nebraska and a lot of the Midwest, and have learned to respect each other’s abilities. But when Stargirl’s arch nemesis, Shiv, and Shiv’s malevolent father, the Dragon King, made a recent assault on Blue Valley, Pat was injured, and decided to hang up his armor. Courtney continued to fight crime on her own, until one day she saw… S.T.R.I.P.E. Junior? Mike Dugan, Courtney’s stepbrother, has built himself a set of armor and has decided to take up the family business, whether his parents and his sister like it or not. The Dugan’s tell him he can, but only if Courtney will mentor him. Now Courtney has a junior partner who resents her, an arch nemesis still looking to kill her, and her SATs and junior prom only two months away. What is a super-heroine to do?


I continue on with Cancelled Comics Cavalcade with a title that many feel like got the short end of the stick the first time through. If Chase had come out five years later, during a time when Powers and Gotham Central were both running, the story of DEO agent Cameron Chase investigating metahumans would have possibly been the huge hit it deserved to be. And since there have been some paired New 52 titles, like Animal Man and Swamp Thing, this is the first of two titles that will have ties to each other. We've seen Cameron Chase appear in Batwoman, but there she has been mostly Batwoman's tough DEO handler; her own title would show more aspects of the character.

Chase would be a case of if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. This would be a book about an investigator who doesn’t like superheroes having to investigate them and work with them. Cam has her own secret too: that she has the superpower to disrupt the powers of those around her. Working directly under Mr. Bones, current director of field operations for the Department of Extranormal Operations, Chase is his prized agent, the one he sends into the most dangerous and convoluted situations. Her identity is a secret, as is her job, from nearly everyone. But lately, something has been going wrong. Cam feels like she’s being watched all the time. Could one of the metavillains, or heroes, she’s dealt with discovered her identity? The book would also feature occasional appearances by Dylan Battles, Chase’s on-again-off-again boyfriend, and his boss…


Kate Spencer is still Kate Spencer. She’s still the tough as nails attorney who goes out under the cover of night as Manhunter to fight those who escape justice. She still has connections with Cameron Chase, Director Bones, Dylan Battles, Damon Matthews, her family, and all the rest of the Manhunter supporting cast. The one thing I would change from the previous Manhunter formula would be a little more courtroom action that doesn’t end in a brawl. Nearly every major case that Kate tried in her original series ended with the supervillain making some Machiavellian escape attempt and Kate having to make a quick change to fight him as Manhunter. I’d like to see some real legal wrangling. 

I would also (sadly in many ways) have Kate leave her job as Gotham’s DA, and instead be a federal prosecutor in Washington DC, serving as a specialist in metacrimes. She has, of course, brought all of her usual chums with her, and this would allow regular swapping of casts between Chase and Manhunter. Criminals caught in Chase could be tried in Manhunter. Without her background as a legacy character, there would have to be changes made to her family's past, btu her ex-husband and son could still be prominent, and Damon could be another established gay character in the DC stable to be out and about, and possible introduce Obsidian with a new, Alan Scott-less background. But the whole point of the book would be to see the new DC universe from a different angle.

New Characters

I was shocked to see that, with 52 (now 58) titles, there is not a single one starring a new character. There are new variations on a theme (Batwing), there are new characters carrying old names (OMAC, the new Sgt. Rock, the new Dial H), but not a single book starring a brand new character. And don’t tell me there are no new ideas under the sun, because just perusing the racks of indies, I can tell you there are. DC has a wealth of great creators, and wouldn’t it be fun to see them go to town? A bunch of the books I talk about here were completely new ideas when they started, and at least a couple of the new titles are based off of new concepts that appeared in the last, say, twenty years (Grifter, Voodoo, and  Resurrection Man), and new ideas are what really is the lifeblood of the industry. I know that a title with a new character is more likely to fail, but still, where would the legends be if we didn’t try them out?

Monday, May 28, 2012

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 5/23

Batman Incorporated Vol. 2 #1
Writer: Grant Morrison
Art: Chris Burnham

I was concerned going into this issue that it would feel out of place. Morrison controlled the fate of Batman and the whole franchise for a fairly long time, from the end of Infinite Crisis until right before the dawn of the New 52, and since his departure things have changed. Scott Snyder's Court of Owls and the work he's been doing in the exemplary Batman have replaced the Batman Incorporated arc as what drives that Bat books. But fortunately, Morrison has not missed a step since he's been away from the character. He falls naturally into the rhythms of both Bruce and Damian, and continues to develop the creepy Leviathan organization. There are very Morrisonian concepts, like the new villain Goat Boy and his rocket rifle, and the poisoned beef, as well as the return of the Mutant gang from Dark Knight Returns. There are some issues that will drive continuity purists crazy, but frankly, I firmly believe that continuity is a tool, and you take what you can and just have to ignore or fudge the things that don't work for benefit of the story. Chris Burnham's art, which was great during the first incarnation of this series, has improved leaps and bounds. It has an amazing dynamism that carries the book forward. He probably draws the coolest Ninja Man-Bats yet. To top it all off, there is also the first in continuity appearance of Tiny Titans' Bat-Cow. Never thought I'd see that, but it made me smile.

The Guild: Fawkes
Writers: Felicia Day & Wil Wheaton
Artist: Jamie McKelvie

I've been a fan of Felicia Day's hilarious web-series, The Guild, following a group of socially maladjusted on-line gamers as they interact on- and off-line, since it's second season, and was delighted to hear Day would be bringing the series to Dark Horse comics. Each of the one-shots have focused on one member of the eponymous Guild, but this issue instead focused on the Guild's nemesis, Fawkes. head of the anti-Guild,. the Axis of Anarchy. One of the fun things about these one shots has been most of them have been co-written by Day and the actor who plays the character, and so this issue is co-written by former Star Trek: the Next Generation cast member Wil Wheaton. The story is fun, detailing Fawkes's fall from grace and how he arrived at the place he was when we last saw him in season five of The Guild. It's a fun story, full of great character bits, but the star here is Jamie McKelvie. I recently discovered McKelvie's work in some Marvel books, and loved it, and this issue spotlights his talents. He is one of those artists who does tremendous work on characters; he draws incredibly expressive faces, and I could see him drawing a silent issue and using just expression and posture to tell a story. If you are a long time Guild fan, or someone who hasn't ever laughed at their antics, this is a good issue to try out to get a feel for the series.

Near Death #8
Writer: Jay Faerber
Artist: Simone Guglielmini

With Image launching so many high profile titles recently (Fatale, Saga, Manhattan Projects) this title seems to have been a little lost in the shuffle, and that is a real shame. Near Death tells the story of Markham, a hit man who had a near death experience, and seeing that Hell waits for him, now must do his best to make amends for his ways. Most of the issues have been done-in-one, which is something you'll see I like, and have a wonderful noir feeling. Jay Faerber, the writer, is best known for his super hero creator owneds Noble Causes and Dynamo Five, both of which I enjoyed quite a bit, seems to be writing out of his wheelhouse, but clearly he knows his crime stories, because he writes great ones. Simone Gugliemini has an art style perfectly suited to the book, parts Sean Phillips and Michael Lark, but distinct in his own right. This particular issue sees Markham getting in the middle of a vendetta between two men, and tries to find a way to settle things without either dying. Markham is a flawed and fascinating protagonist; questions of morality are central to the series, and the question of whether acting differently without really changing how you think and who you are really means anything is most central. The issue showcases this ambiguous morality and is worth checking out for any fan of crime stories.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Recommended Reading for 5/25: Atomic Robo

Before I get into my discussion of Atomic Robo and all its glory, go and read The Promise from the Robo creators. And while you’re at it, check out a couple of the free stories on the web-site. It’s ok. I’ll wait.

The Promise

Wasn’t that great? Atomic Robo is fun and smart comics. This is a comic you can share with your friends, with your kids, with your grandparents, and everyone would get a kick out of it. If you like action, humor, or history, you’ll find it here. I’m not sure if all the science is accurate, but it sure as heck sounds like it is, so you might learn something. I picked  Robo as my first recommended reading title because it sums up everything that this blog is about: comics that are not full of themselves, comics that are there to entertain, to make you think, to make you smile. Comics that are just plain great.

For those of you who came right back without checking out any of the background information on the site, Atomic Robo is the story of, well, Atomic Robo, a nuclear powered artificial intelligence created by Nikola Tesla, patron saint of historical science fiction. Being pretty much immortal, Robo has long outlived his creator, and now controls Tesladyne Industries, a think tank that he uses to try to better the world.

And that, my readers, is all you need to know about Atomic Robo to go out and pick up any volume of the series. Or pretty much any issue of any volume of the series. Robo is one of the greatly accessible comics. I got my first taste of Robo on Free Comic Book Day in 2009, and was completely hooked. I went out, bought the first trade, and found something that was just… special.

Don’t get me wrong, just because it’s accessible, it doesn’t mean you’re not going to get a reward for being a loyal Robo reader. Robo is an interestingly, for want of a better word, human character. There have been Robo stories set back as far as the 30s, and up until today, and reading them all creates a great tapestry, and you watch the character grow in a way many comic characters, who are by default stuck in time, can’t. Since the stories take place over that length of time, there is also a great use of historical people. Carl Sagan fights Cthulu-esque monsters, Robo trains with Bruce Lee, Robo fights Thomas Edison, both while Edison's alive and as a ghost. You never know who is going to pop up in a Robo story.

I’ve talked about the story here, all brilliantly put together by Brian Clevinger, but a big part of Robo’s charm comes from the art. Scott Wegener, co-creator and regular Robo artist, has a wonderful style. I personally love his faces. He finds a way to make Robo, who has fairly limited amount of expression due to his “construction,” incredibly expressive. And that means his human characters are even more expressive. There is also very few artists in the biz who draw a better action scene. The flow from panel to panel is perfect, and I can think of very few artists with as good a sense of composition and continuity.

So there you go. Atomic Robo. There are six trades out there, as well as a new anthology ongoing, Atomic Robo: Real Science Adventures, so you should go and pick one up. You'll enjoy it.

 Oh, and did I mention his arch nemesis is an insane dinosaur scientist who want to wipe out humanity.

If that doesn't make you want to read, I don't know what will.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

In Which Your Host Explains the Purpose of this Blog in a Crowded Blogosphere.

To start with, I have a confession: My name is Matthew Lazorwitz, and I love comic books. Not graphic novels (although, in point of fact, I love them too), but comic books. Comic Books with gaudily dressed men and women fighting. Comic Books with guys in trench coats trying to find out who is after the femme fatale. Comic Books with shambling zombies. Comic books where people sit down and talk about their feelings. Every kind of comic book.

I’ve been reading comics regularly since I was 9 years old. That’s 22 years of reading. I have worked in comic shop at least one day a week for twelve plus years. Comics are more than a hobby for me; they are a passion. My wife may be my great love, but comics are my oldest, and I intend to read them until the day I can’t read anymore.

I’m starting out by saying this to make a point: there’s a lot to love about comics. I admit there are problems in the industry. There are problems of equality, problems of creator’s rights, problems with distribution. And that is the first, and hopefully only, time you will hear me address those problems on this blog.

You see, as you might imagine, I read a lot on the comics’ internet. I read all the news sites, many other blogs, tons of creator’s twitter feeds, and I see one thing that depresses me endlessly. We are mired in a culture of anger and snark. I don’t understand when fandom began rewarding people for being downright mean. This is not to say everyone is; there are plenty of genuinely nice people who write about and create comics. But there are so many people, especially those who spend time on message boards and posting replies to articles, who seem to do nothing but complain and spew hate. And we spend so much time focusing on the ills of the industry, something I feel has gotten actively worse in the past year or so that we forget what it felt like to pick up that first comic and get swept away.

So, what I propose here is this: a blog that is snark free. A blog that is not about what’s wrong with the comics of today, yesterday, and tomorrow, but about what is right with them. Something where I can share the wonder I feel every Wednesday when I pick up my new books.

Starting next Friday, I intend to update this blog at least twice a week. Monday nights will see an overview of what I bought the previous Wednesday. Sometimes it might be one comic that really stuck out, and sometimes it might be a quick discussion of the whole stack. And on Fridays, I’ll put up a “Comics you should read” post, discussing a series or issue that is something special, and hopefully something you haven’t read or heard about in a long time.

I expect to post plenty in between as well, with theories, comments, or other little things that might occur to me. I also intend to do my best to remember this is a comics blog and try to steer clear of other pop culture things. I know I won’t be able to resist entirely, so there might be some Star Wars or some scifi/fantasy/horror books or movie talk (especially around the time each year’s new Dresden Files novel), but I want to stick to the comics.

Down the line, I’m also hoping to get some of my friends to contribute pieces, or talk to some creators I might meet at cons or doing appearances at the store I work at. And for each of them, I will pose these questions, and so I’ll end this first post with me asking them to myself. As you read the questions, please picture James Lipton asking them. Thanks, and I hope you’ll stick around for some of our regularly scheduled blogging.

1) What is the first comic you remember reading?

Well, Matt, thanks for asking. That would be Who’s Who in the DC Universe #2. I know, I know, that’s a handbook and not really a comic, but I remembered loving that thing, from Azrael (the winged one from New Teen Titans) to Baron Winter, Big Sir and Blackbriar Thorn. But mostly the Batman stuff. Batman of Earth 1, Batman of Earth 2, Batgirl, Batwoman, the Batcave, the Batmobile, Batman’s utility belt. It was so cool. I think reading those entries is when my lifelong love affair with the Caped Crusader began. And by the by, expect tons of posts about Batman and his allies and enemies on here. I just can’t resist the joy of the Bat.

2) What is your favorite comic/series of all time?

I don’t know if I could narrow it down to one. I mean, Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman is a seminal work, one I’ve read and reread, bought and rebought, numerous times over the years, so I suppose that could be it. I also adore Batman: The Long Halloween. I know people focus mostly on the flaws in the story now, but boy, if you were reading it as it came out, there was no way you weren’t drawn into the mystery.

3) What is it about comics that you love?

Other than the scope and the characters, you mean? I think there’s a way of telling stories that you can only do in comics, a way that fires the imagination. And, hey, it’s got Batman. What more can you ask for?