Tuesday, May 27, 2014

I’ve Got the Runs: Larry’s Hama’s Wolverine

Larry Hama took a lot from Logan: the reliability of his memories, his adamantium, that “snikt” sound he makes when his claws pop, his greatest enemy’s mental faculties (just kidding!), and for a time his nose. That’s a lot of deconstruction for a character who still managed to show up in what felt like almost every Marvel book in the 1990s. (Although certainly, by making Wolverine an Avenger in the 2000s, the company was determined to double down on that glut)

Hama, also known for his work on G.I. Joe, Bucky O’Hare and a number of Venom miniseries, wrote Wolverine’s solo title from 1990 to 1997, with a few hiatuses in between, writing issues 31 to 53, 55 to 57, 60 to 109 and 111 to 118.

But let’s drill down a bit, because if I’m being honest, my Wolverine’s a little rusty. Strike that; rust implies metal, and when I started reading the book in 1993, he had just had the metal sucked out of him during a pretty sweet fight with Magneto aboard his orbital space station (because every few years, a mutant leader is required to have a floating space station or island utopia).

The great adamantium-suck gave Wolverine some time to go wandering, to leave the X-Men, to fight old enemies so they could say, “Holy crap, where’d your adamantium go? And why do you still have claws?”

Lady Deathstryke, who was all set to kill Logan, Heather Hudson and Puck when she shows up at Hudson's house in Ottawa, takes pity on him and walks away. The pseudo-vampire Bloodscream stalks him across Canada, to Muir Isle and back, teaming up with the androids Albert and Elsie Dee in a subplot that disappears after issue 86. Cyber stomps off half of Wolvie's claws on one hand (which slowly heal, issue by issue) and pumps him full of hallucinogens and poison. The Hand walk away from him, after Yukio logics them into thinking they had the wrong guy with the same haircut and speech patterns. Maverick goads him into attacking him, but only because the Legacy virus has made him suicidal.

There's a recurring theme of Wolverine dropping in on old friends and being trapped by a killer. He's taken to Muir Island and is hunted down by Cyber, then two arcs later visits Alpha Flight’s Mac and Heather Hudson in the arctic and is trapped at a research station by creatures called the Hunters in Darkness.

Finally, he returns to the X-Mansion in issue 90 to find nobody’s home but us Sabertooths (the team was off trying to stop Legion from going back in time to kill Magneto, resulting in the death of Xavier instead and the creation of the Age of Apocalypse timeline). Logan and Creed have one of their more epic tussles, which ends with Wolverine jamming a claw right through Sabertooth’s brain just as their timeline unravels.

90 is one of Hama's best issues. He does a great job of contrasting Wolverine and Sabertooth's fight in the mansion with the on-TV police beating and arrest of a serial killer who has numbed himself to pain to allow him to resist arrest, much like Creed keeps zapping himself on the force field of his containment unit to get used to the pain and make good his escape.

When the X-books return four months later, Sabertooth is being cared for by the X-team as a simpleton and Wolverine becomes an outside dog, living on the grounds of the estate as opposed to inside with the more trusted members of the team, like the Cajun who can’t help but give off a rape-y vibe and the blue-skinned guy who’d done time as the embodiment of death.

It’s at this point that Hama begins building toward what we think will be the return of Logan’s adamantium, as it’s revealed that Cable’s son Tyler Dayspring, now going by Genesis and wearing Apocalypse’s old armor, has busted Wolvie’s old enemy Cyber out of prison to steal his adamantium and bond it to Logan. In issue 100, the bonding process fails, leading Wolverine into such a feral state that he LOSES HIS NOSE! Let me repeat: The X-Man known for his superior sense of smell LOST HIS NOSE. Comics, everyone! Don’t worry, it got better, but mostly only because artists either forgot or tired of drawing him in a bandana with a face that looked like it had been stepped on by the Juggernaut.

Marc Silvestri drew the issues in the early part of Hama’s run. Adam Kubert took over starting with 75. I was a big fan of the Kubert Bros. back then, between Adam on Wolverine and Andy on X-Men. Also, issue 80 features early work by Ian Churchill, who went on to draw a four-issue Deadpool mini and was the regular penciller on Cable for a time.

Kubert uses a lot of vertical layouts, requiring the reader to flip the book every few pages.
Issue 90 also experiments with gatefold pages. Again, an interesting idea, but when the fold breaks right on a word bubble it can be hard to read. Combine that with vertical layouts, and reading can be an exercise in patience. I can only imagine how they dealt with this in collected editions.

New friend: Issue 79 marks the first appearance of Zoe Culloden, expediter for the interdimensional firm of Landau, Luckman and Lake, who would go on to play a big role in Joe Kelly's Deadpool run as well.

Crossover interruptus: While "Fatal Attractions" sets up the adamantium-free Wolverine story quite nicely, 1994’s "Phalanx Covenant" kinda jams its way into a story in progress about Wolverine in Canada and Bloodscream tricking Albert and Elsie Dee into helping him find Logan. And of course 1995’s "Age of Apocalypse" interrupts a perfectly good Sabertooth fight. Onslaught comes calling in 1996 just as Logan loses his nose, and Hama's run ends with 1997’s "Operation: Zero Tolerance."

Easter egg: a video from a scientist in issue 80 talks about a sample of Wolverine's tissue labeled “Logan X #23.” COINCIDENCE?

Funny ad alert: A comic shop in Virginia announced it was holding a memorial service for Professor X, after the events of "Legion Quest." Wonder if they did the same thing in 2012?

Hama’s run is available in Essential Wolverine Vols. 2 through 6. Vol. 6 also includes a four-issue story by Warren Ellis titled “Not Dead Yet” that sticks with me because, well, Ellis is my jam.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Recommended Reading for 5/23: The Star Wars Comics of Jeffrey Brown

Things this week have been hectic, and I'm running a bit behind, as well as prepping for another exciting weekend at Dewey's for our annual back issue clearance sale (which you should all come and check out) and planning to get to Days of Future Past tonight so I can review it over the weekend, so I'm going to write up something short and sweet.

Cartoonist Jeffrey Brown had a reputation for writing stories of coming of age and superhero parodies. And then a couple years ago he put out a book of cartoons inspired by fatherhood. Only instead of just illustrating himself and his son, he went to a galaxy far, far away and created a series of one panel comics and some short strips featuring Darth Vader and a pint sized Luke Skywalker doing father/son activities under the title Darth Vader and Son. The strips vary from the heartwarming to the hilarious, with scenes of Vader and Luke playing games together to Vader trying to use the Jedi mind trick to convince Luke not to buy a Jar Jar Binks toy. The book is liberally sprinkled with quotes from the movies, and Brown's beautifully detailed backgrounds feature plenty of character cameos and Easter Eggs for the die-hard Star Wars fan. But it's the heart the Brown brought the project that made it a major hit. I'm being brief and general about the books simply because trying to explain a joke is probably the least funny thing you can do, and so many of the strips are great self contained jokes. I'm not a parent, but I am an uncle and a godfather, and if you've ever spent time with a little kid, Brown catches the flavor of some of those interactions perfectly, and does it in a way that fits seamlessly with the world that he is using.

Brown's follow-up naturally has Vader with Luke's twin sister. Vader's Little Princess is a slightly different book, as it takes Leia from her childhood into her teen years. While some of the strips are similar in tone to Darth Vader and Son, the book features a rebellious (yes, the italics are pointing out a particularly bad pun) teen Leia pushing the boundaries, going out in her slave costume, hanging out with a boy Vader doesn't approve of (a young rogue named Solo), and crashing Dad's big vehicle (a Death Star). While there feels like there's more of a through line in this volume, as Leia grows up, each page or strip still stands alone on its own and features the same elements that made the first a hit.

Last year's Star Wars book from Brown was a different thing entirely. I haven't read the Diary of a Wimpy Kid or My Dumb Diary series, these incredibly popular series that mix journal entries, spot illustration and comics to tell the stories of kids, but it seems Brown took a page from those books and his new book was a narrative, featuring Padawan Roan Novachez. Roan really wanted to get into pilot school like his big brother, but is turned down and instead sent off to the Jedi Academy. The school isn't anything like he expected, but Roan's school year is full of adventure, friendship, some problems, and in the end more than a little success.

Roan is an endearing protagonist, a good kid who really tries hard and even when he fails he dusts himself off and tries again. The book is a cute slice of school life in the Star Wars universe, and as Yoda says he is seven hundred years old, it takes place in uncharted territory of the timeline and could be EU canon. Brown mixes the Star Wars elements, using various different species and craft movie fans would recognize, while also including some great EU references like ysalamri, the force repelling lizards. But while using these fantastic elements, he never loses sight that what he's telling is a story about a kid growing up. Roan experiences all sorts of things that we do in the real world, like making new friends, his first crush, bullies, fear of the big test, and more.

All of Brown's books are charming to the extreme, and are perfect for reading with little ones. I write this in time for those of you who haven't read them to catch up before July, when both the second volume of Roan's adventures, Return of the Padawan, and the new picture book from Brown, Good Night Darth Vader will be released. All the volumes that have been released are available at your finest comic shop, and the two new volumes are available for pre-order now. Oh, and you might want to pick up Brown's new non-Star Wars volume, Kids Are Weird and Other Observations from Parenthood, which was just released a couple weeks back.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Reviews of Comics from 5/14 & A Special Announcement

Abe Sapien #13
Story: Mike Mignola & Scott Allie
Art: Max Fiumara

This is not a normal issue of Abe Sapien. This is not a normal issue of most mainstream comics. While our titular protagonist does appear in the issue, he is by no means the center of the story. This is a story in the classic Eisner Spirit vein, where Abe steps into a situation and it is more the story of the people who are in that situation. This is the story of a man driven mad by his own past and by the changes in the world that have been wrought in the past few years throughout the books featuring the B.P.R.D. and their allies, and the woman he has kidnapped. He believes they are the last man and woman on Earth, and she has been broken by the losses she suffered when the horrors came out of the ground. The issue has no dialogue; it is told entirely through narrative that goes into the head of these two characters. It isn't first person narrative either, but a sort of third person omniscient that allows you to see without the bias of a first person narration. Throughout the issue, you get to know these two characters well, you see the man's background and the woman's pain. You see him first spot Abe and view him as the serpent in his new garden of Eden. The art of Max Fiumara is dark and perfect for this particularly dark story. Abe Sapien has been the most introspective book in the Mignolaverse since its inception, and this issue does such interesting things with point of view that it is something well worth checking out.

Batgirl #31
Story: Gail Simone
Art: Fernando Pasarin

So, first a quick discussion of the actual issue. This is a great creepy horror movie kind of story, with people trapped in a building with a monster chasing them. Barbara has a reunion of sorts with her sorta boyfriend Ricky, only to have things go very wrong; I guess when your dad shoots your boyfriend, things aren't going to go so well. And the issue ties nicely with both the rivalry between Batgirl and her main nemesis in this current series, Knightfall, and the new mastermind from the recent annual, Mr. Rain. And the story is done in one, so it makes a good starting point for new readers. But, as good as any issue of Gail Simone's Batgirl is, let's talk about what I came into this issue really excited for: Ragdoll! For those of you who don't know Ragdoll, and shame on you, Ragdoll was created by Simone as part of her Villains United mini-series, which lead into the ongoing Secret Six. Ragdoll is a man who had extensive surgery dome to himself to allow all his joints to move freely in any and all directions, making him the ultimate contortionist. He is also completely out of hiss mind, having little to no morality and saying things that qualify at best as random and at worst as creepy to the extreme. Being his first full appearance in the New 52 (he has appeared in the background in Arkham scenes before), I was a little worried. Despite being written by his creator, I admit to being worried that he might be changed in this new world. Boy was I wrong! Ragdoll is still the complete, unpredictable madman that he was before the change.Simone hasn't lost any of the voice, and artist Fernando Pasarin draws a creepily bendy Ragdoll. If you loved Secret Six, or just like great, weird villains, this is a great issue to jump on.

Tales From the Con: Year One
Story: Brad Guigar
Art: Chris Giarrusso

This issue is a collection of comic strips published on the website of Emerald City Comic Con. They're fun little one offs poking gentle fun at fandom and con culture. It's hard to write a full on review of something like this, since there's no continuity or continuing narratives, and trying to describe the strips would be like explaining a joke; it just doesn't work. But I can say writer Brad Guigar writes some very funny material without sinking into snark or nastiness, like so many strips about comic book culture do.And the art is by Chris Giarrusso, best known for his amazingly funny Mini-Marvels strips that appeared in Marvel comics throughout the 90s and for G-Man, his all ages creator owned superhero comic published through Image. His art is a delight, fun and whimsical, and its what got me to pick up this book. I'm glad to say the words lived up to the art, and if you're in the mood for a good laugh, Tales from the Con is a good book to sit back and chuckle your way through.

Now, for this week's special announcement: over the weekend, Matt Signal contributor Dan Grote and I joined the regulars on the Shut Up Kids Podcast for their superhero extravaganza. Check out the podcast here at talkbacker.com to hear a discussion of comic books, movies, and TV, as well as super hero music and the madness of Alan Moore. Oh, and for those of you who read this blog at work (and I know some of you do, don't deny it) there's is some stronger language than I use here and some suggestive dialogue, so plug in those headphones or wait until you get home before you listen, k? Thanks to Dan Milczarski, Nick Nightly, and the Colonel for having us on!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Lost Legends: The Flash by Mark Waid

"My name is Wally West, and I'm the Flash, the fastest man alive." That was the way that Mark Waid began nearly all of his issues of The Flash, a nearly one hundred issue run (0, 62-129, and 142-159, plus various annuals and specials) that redefined Wally West, the third hero to bear the name of the Flash, and my personal favorite. After seeing the impressive trailer to the upcoming Flash TV series, it got me to thinking about my Flash, and about this definitive run, and so I thought I'd settle in today and talk about it. I'm going to be doing a whirlwind tour of the run, hitting the high points along the way. There are plenty of one-off issues and great smaller stories in here too, but I want to spend as much time as I can talking about the things Waid was doing with character and theme, so excuse me if I miss your favorite issue. I probably loved it too.

Born to Run (#62-65)

Waid began his run on Flash by giving the reader a retelling of Wally's early days as Kid Flash, but told specifically through Wally's eyes. We see some interesting information about how Wally's powers worked when he first received them, information that explained in some ways why Wally's powers didn't work as well as Barry's. We also got a good glimpse in the present of Wally's life with his then girlfriend, Linda Park. The previous creators of the book had Wally as a sort of fun time superhero, coming in and out of fortunes, flirting with every pretty girl he came across. This was a nice counterpoint to Barry Allen, the previous Flash, who was (and still is, in the current series), the straightest of straight arrows; heck, his haircut is even square. While William Messner-Loebs, the previous writer, had Wally beginning to mature into a grown up, Waid is the writer most responsible for this, and he began it right out of the gate with this story. It's also fun to see a young Wally as the everyman sidekick. Dick Grayson was a boy acrobat, Bucky Barnes a boy soldier, and heck, even Aqualad was an Atlantean, But Wally was a fanboy, the biggest Flash fan out there, and so there's a special kinship for fan's to read about one of their own becoming a hero.

The Return of Barry Allen (#74-79)

This is possibly the definitive Wally West story, and if it's not that, it is at least the story where Wally absolutely came into his own as the Flash. Since he became the Flash, Wally has lived in the shadow of his mentor, the previous Flash, Barry Allen. And Wally has always wished that Barry would come back. And when he does, things aren't exactly what he hoped they would be. Barry isn't exactly how Wally remembers him; he's quicker to anger, more violent, and acts superior. And when he tells Wally that he is the only Flash, Wally is crushed. But as Barry grows increasingly unbalanced, Wally must step up and find the speed that he's never had to stop the man who claims to be Barry Allen. Wally finally comes to terms with the loss of Barry and with his place in the superhero world. The story also really cements the new supporting cast that Waid is building and will continue to build. Most of the regular supporting characters of the previous run have been phased out (Linda being the exception), and Waid begins to really establish the community of speedsters and their families as Wally's family and backbone. Jay and Joan Garrick, the original Flash and his wife, Johnny Quick, another golden age speedster, and Max Mercury, a somewhat minor speedster also from the golden age, recreated by Waid as the Zen master of Speed, all join Wally in his battle against Barry, and all join the rotating cast of speedsters that populate the rest of the run.

Reckless Youth (#92-94)

Now that Wally is his own hero, there's one more thing he needs: a sidekick. After all, Wally started out as Kid Flash, so shouldn't he be a great mentor? Unfortunately for Wally, the young speedster he has to mentor doesn't want to be mentored. He's Bart Allen, Barry's grandson from the future (it's a time travel thing), and a speedster who is running out of time, since his speed is accelerating his aging. Wally spends the beginning of this story chasing Bart down and helping him control his out of control powers. If the introduction of Impulse, as Bart would be come to known, isn't enough, this story also features the return of Iris West-Allen, Wally's aunt and Barry's wife, to the present, and the villainy of Abra Kadabra, one of the lesser Silver Age Flash rogues who Waid took and made the greatest thorn in Wally's side for his run. These issues also featured art by the late great Mike Wieringo, who made his first big splash in comics on Flash (he started with issue 80, and all these issues are great), and some very early work by X-Men mainstay Salvador Larroca. These were the first Flash stories I read, as they were part of the lead up to DC's Zero Hour event, and the title became a favorite of mine right from the moment I read my first issue.

Flashing Back (#0)

While I said at the beginning I wanted to stick to the tent pole stories of Waid's run, this one off issue is one of  my favorite comics of all time, and so I needed to stop and briefly discuss it. Waid and Wieringo tell a story of Wally West travelling back through time, revisiting important events of his own life. It's a beautiful issue, with some of  'Ringo's best art. Waid's story is one that still warms my heart, as Wally revisits some of his best memories, and gets to solve one of the great mysteries of his life, one Waid seeded at the beginning of his run: who was the mysterious family member who came to him as a young boy and told the lonely boy with the parents who wouldn't stop fighting that things would get better? That ending, as Wally talks to himself, is a truly touching scene, and that heart is one of the things that made this book one of the keystone comics is DC on the 90s.

Terminal Velocity (#95-100)

After returning from his trip to the past, Wally has to live with two realizations: one is a vision of the future he must avert. And one is that he is dying, changing into a being of pure speed energy. Now under a deadline, he must prepare a new Flash to take his place while protecting Keystone City, his home, and Linda from the forces of the terrorist serpent cult, Kobra. This story introduces Jesse Quick to the title, the daughter of Johnny Quick, who first appeared in the wonderful but short lived Justice Society of America series by Len Strazewski and Mike Parobeck, becoming an important member of the Flash family and the longest running female speedster (pun absolutely intended). We are also given the origin of Max Mercury and through him, the introduction of the concept of the Speed Force, the extra-dimensional energy field that powers all speedsters. Introducing this concept allowed for speedsters to have a more integrated history, and explaining how odd chemical accidents involving lightning kept happening. But most important to the story Waid was telling, this story cemented Wally and Linda's relationship, first showing how far he would go to save her, and then showing that their love is the anchor that would always bring Wally home. This is a story element that would prove important for the rest of Waid's run. Also, aside from more early work by Salvador Larocca, this story also features early work by Carlos Pacheco and Oscar Jimenez, so its a real murderer's row of artists.

Dead Heat (#108-111, Impulse #10-11)

While Wally had fought Professor Zoom, Barry's arch foe, and a few other minor evil speedsters, Wally hadn't fought a speedster on his level. And then Waid introduced Savitar. The leader of a speed force cult, Savitar had discovered ways to both grant and steal Speed Force energy to others, and had grown jealous of Wally's direct connection to the Force. Sending his speed powered ninjas after Wally's allies, he lured Wally into a confrontation so Savitar could gain access to all of Wally's speed powers and the Speed Force itself. It's an action packed story, and the concept of super speed ninjas is just too cool to pass up. There are castles; super speed battles, and all the things that you can only really pull off in your wildest imagination and on the comic book page. We also get a guest appearance from XS, Bart's cousin from the future and another speedster. Aside form being an all around cool story, this is also a crossover with the Impulse ongoing, so we get some early work from Humberto Ramos. It amazed me, looking back, how many A-list artists really rose to prominence within this run.

Race Against Time (#112-118)

After Wally disappeared at the end of his battle with Savitar, all his friends expected him to return. Instead, the man who appeared was John Fox, a Flash from the 27th Century (a character introduced in the Flash 50th Anniversary Special, a comic that was Mark Waid's first foray into Flash writing). Fox proves to the the Guy Gardner of the Flashes, arrogant and preening, and with a serious desire to take Wally's place. Fox finds himself in the middle of a scheme of Abra Kadabra, Dr. Polaris, and Chillblaine, and not exactly up to the task. Meanwhile, Wally has been bounced into the future by a near miss with the Speed Force in his battle with Savitar, and is making his way back to Linda, bouncing from era to era, knowing that his anchor only exists as long as Linda is sure he is coming home to her. Wally stops off at various relevant temporal points, including a meeting with John Fox in his native 27th century and with the Tornado Twins, Barry's twin son and daughter, living in the 30th Century. This story builds the Flash legacy far into the future, an element that will become hugely important in Waid's next big arc. It also firmly establishes that Wally isn't a Flash who can easily be replaced by any speedster-come-lately who might appear.

Chain Lightning! (#145-150)

After a series of shorter stories and a year off (with stories written by Grant Morrison and Mark Millar filling in), Waid returned (with co-writer Brian Augustyn) with the wedding of Wally and Linda, just to have Linda disappear from time. Reality reordered itself, and Wally was single and no one knew Linda. Wally then met a new villain, Cobalt Blue, who had appeared once before on a one shot called Speed Force, and it was revealed he was Malcolm Thawne, ancestor to Eobard Thawne, the Reverse Flash, and long lost twin brother of Barry Allen. These stories led to "Chain Lightning!" a story where Wally and his allies traveled into the future to meet all the Allens and Flashes of the future to give them fragments of the blue gem that powered Blue to help them fight their own Coblat Blues, to help stop Thawne from fulfilling a prophecy that says he will kill Barry Allen a thousand years in the future. The story takes all the aspects that Waid had spent years building and paid them all off in one big story; the Allen/Thawne family feud, the Flash Legacy, the Speed Force. And at the end, Wally travels to the future and meets Barry again, who gives Wally the affirmation he never received in the present, and the two Flashes fight one final battle against Barry's dark twin. And in the end, without Linda to return to, Wally passes into the Speed Force to find peace...

The Dark Flash (#152-159)

... Only for a new flash to appear in Keystone. In a silver and dark red costume (which I always thought looked really cool), this Flash displayed powers Wally never had, and hid his identity from his family and friends. Eventually, it was revealed he was the Wally West of a different timeline, who had encountered our Wally when Linda had slipped from the prison outside time Abra Kadabra had placed her in and had wound up in his timeline, calling Wally from the Speed Force where he had been left after his final battle with Cobalt Blue. In the end, Wally and Linda return, and the two Wallys team up to finally defeat Kadabra. While "Chain Lightning!" tied up most of the big story and plot elements Waid had been building, this final story tied up most of the personal ones. Wally and Linda finally get their happy ending, and Abra Kadabra, who had been regularly plaguing Wally for nearly one hundred issues is finally defeated. Waid also used it to build up the mythos of Hypertime, his replacement for the multiverse, which DC quickly forgot, which was a shame, since it was a cool concept.

As I said, there are some other great stories in this run, including issue 91, where Wally gets stuck in an accelerated speed and the world freezes with some great 'Ringo art and Annual #8, telling the story of Wally's first days as the Flash. But the thing that makes this series stand out in comparison to so much of what DC is putting out today is that Waid embraced the idea of legacy. With James Robinson's Starman, which I wrote about before, I feel like this is a title that made the DC Universe feel like a place that was lived in, that had a long and noble history of heroism and one that would continue into the far distant future. Mark Waid clearly loved superheroes, and loved Wally West, and that showed through in this run.

While many of these stories were available in trade at one point, they are all now sadly out of print. You still might be able to track some down at a comic shop, and the back issues are readily available.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 5/7

Batman: Eternal #5
Story: James Tynion IV & Scott Snyder, Tim Seeley, John Layman, Ray Fawkes
Art: Andy Clarke

I still plan on doing a catch up on this series with individual issue analyses, but I had to talk about this issue because it made me ever so happy. This issue moves away from the Jim Gordon plotline that was the driving force of the first month and introduces or fleshes out a few more characters. We get to see Vicky Vale, the reporter who is probably best known for her appearance in the first Tim Burton Batman movie, but is a much older character than that, as well as introducing her new associate at the Gotham Gazette. We also get to see Harper Row and her brother Cullen, the characters introduced as new supporting characters by Scott Snyder in his run on Batman. I love Harper; she's smart, tough, and a nice addition to the Bat family. But the thing that made this issue for me, really made it, was Tim Drake. Yes, it really feels like Red Robin is back in the Bat titles, after only a few appearances here and there throughout the tenure of the New 52. And this feels like my Tim Drake. I'm not going to start bashing Teen Titans here, but I will say that the Tim Drake there has not really rung true to someone who has pretty much every appearance the character has ever made. But this issue works beautifully. Tim is the tech savvy detective he always felt like he was supposed to be; he looks at the bigger picture and figures out something Bruce hasn't, and then he gets into a fight with a bunch of nanobots. Andy Clarke's art is solid throughout the issue, but the creepy tentacles of nanobots are really a great visual. I've been enjoying Eternal so far, but if this issue is an indication of the Red Robin to come, this book is going to be high on my reading order each and every week.

Cyclops #1
Story: Greg Rucka
Art: Russell Dauterman

I love Cyclops; I've written about that before. I love Greg Rucka. So the combination of a Cyclops ongoing written by Greg Rucka was a surefire hit with me. This series features the young Cyclops, the one brought to the present in All New X-Men on a space adventure with his dad, the space pirate Corsair. Cyclops here is sixteen, and someone who thought he lost his dad years before. Now he's trying to not only navigate being out of his own time and away from everyone he knows, but with the father he thought he lost and a crew that includes a giant lizard man, a bird alien, a cyborg, and a cat/skunk woman his dad is dating. Rucka paints a great picture of Cyclops, one that is fully fleshed out; he's a confused teenager without being whiny about it; Corsair gives his son the advice that, "everyone sucks at being sixteen," and I have to say, Rucka remembers that feeling and knows how to make it work really well. Aside from all that introspection and character beats, we also get some hints about exactly how Corsair is back from the dead (no, not the time Cyclops thought he was dead. That time he was just abducted by aliens. The time he seemed really dead), we get to meet Corsair's crew, the Starjammers, and we get an action piece involving boarding a Badoon ship. One of the things that makes this a strong first issue is you get pretty much an entire story in one issue. Marvel has had some great first issue's lately, especially She-Hulk and Daredevil, both of which did exactly this. While I understand trying to build a series around the first issue and having it spin into a huge arc, I always feel a strong stand alone first issue helps lure the reader back for more. While it might not have the direct agency of a "To be continued," you can get a better feel of exactly what the book will be if the first issue stands on its own. I find this especially true with mainstream superhero books, where the world building isn't as difficult since you're building a house of a pre-existing frame; books where you have to build the whole world get a bit more time from me, and I'll get to that in a minute. The issue wraps with Cyclops and Corsair heading out on their own in the captured Badoon ship for a tour of the galaxy's great sites. I'm a sucker for father and son stories, and this is a cosmic road trip thrown in. It looks like a fun, action series with a strong core relationship, and is a series I'm looking forward to watching develop.

Nailbiter #1
Story: Joshua Williamson
Art: Mike Henderson

Speaking of issue ones that have to spend some time doing world building, here is the horrifying (in the best sense of the word) Nailbiter, from the writer of my favorite Image series I feel like needs more attention, Ghosted, Joshua Williamson. Imagine one town produced Ed Gein, Jeffrey Dahmer, and Jack the Ripper. If it existed, that town would be Buckaroo, Oregon, a creepy little town that has produced sixteen serial killers. After a brief introduction to one of these "Buckaroo Butchers," the titular  Edward "Nailbiter" Warren, we are introduced to the character who seems to be our protagonist, Nicholas Finch, an army intelligence agent who seems about to take his own life. Only a call from a friend of his, an FBI profiler, stops him. His friend tells him that he has discovered the secret of Buckaroo, and that Finch needs to get out to Buckaroo now. Finch arrives, only to find his friend missing and the town creepier than he imagined. Quickly he meets the local goth girl who local toughs harass with comments about her becoming the next Butcher, the guy who runs the local serial killer souvenir shop, and the local sheriff. Sheriff Crane, who knew Carroll, Finch's friend, was also looking for the missing man, and the two go to meet the person Carroll was in touch with: Nailbiter Warren, who is free and living back in town. The first issue is wonderfully atmospheric, with gorgeous dark art from Mike Henderson. This first issue works very differently than Cyclops did; while we only get sketches of the characters (well wrought ones; I'm curious to see more about Finch's past and his anger issues, for instance), this issue establishes mood and setting perfectly. Buckaroo is going to be as much a character as any of the people in this series, and it is the thing I feel like I know the best after this first issue. And frankly, that's a character that made gooseflesh break out on my arms, which for a horror comic, is a very good sign.

The Sixth Gun #40
Story: Cullen Bunn
Art: Brian Hurtt

I feel bad that I haven't written about The Sixth Gun more. I've commented about other books that fall in a similar range, a book that is so consistently good that I don't reach out and address it as I should. Frankly, as we run down to the end of the series, I'll probably do a full on recommended reading for it, but for now, let's look at issue #40. For those unfamiliar, The Sixth Gun is a weird western that follows six magical guns that can bring about the apocalypse, and those who bear them, some trying to destroy the guns, some trying to use them for their own nefarious purposes. After most of our heroes were killed over the past few issues, those few remaining, Beckie Montcrief (the bearer of the Sixth Gun), Drake Sinclair (the bearer of four of the other six guns), and Nidawi (bearer of the spirit of the shaman Screaming Crow), are being chased by serpent men and Jesup, the bearer of the Fifth Gun and servant of Griselda, the Grey Witch, who plans to use the guns to remake the world. It's another brutal issue, where more of our heroes fall by the wayside, and features a great battle between Jesup and Drake. Drake is becoming more and more affected by the guns he bears, and when Jesup gets his hands on a couple of them, things turn badly for Drake. Series artist Brian Hurtt does a tremendous job in the scene where Drake must face down the golems created by the Fourth Gun. Becky's use of the Sixth Gun to travel back in time to talk to her fallen friend, Gord Cantrell, to learn what he knew of the guns is poignant and painful, as Gord knows the only reason Becky would be coming to him in this form. With only ten issues left before the finale, The Sixth Gun continues to ramp up the tension, with the supernatural elements all coming together to what I'm sure is going to one final great battle between good and evil.

Oh, and a couple general notes before I go:

- I was still recovering from a wonderful and exhausting Free Comic Book Day last week (thanks to everyone who came out and made it an amazing day), so I didn't take notes as I was reading my books and thus don't have the info to write a full review here, but you should all check out Southern Bastards by Jason Aaron and Jason Latour. Deep South crime done amazingly; if you liked Scalped, Aaron's last crime book, this is well worth checking out.

- With network upfronts now hitting, we have seen not only the renewal of the two current major network comic book based series, Arrow and Marvel's Agents of SHIELD, but the pick up of five more: iZombie, Flash, Constantine, Gotham, and Marvel's Agent Carter. The trailers for two of these have hit, and I enjoyed both quite a bit. I remain optimistic about Gotham, and Donal Logue was born to play Harvey Bullock, but Constantine knocked me off my feet. There's a clear reverence for the source material, the opening shot of Ravenscar Asylum shows that right off the bat, and Matt Ryan looks like the DC Direct John Constantine action figure come to life. And he's British! I know three minutes can't tell you too much about a series, but that was a fine three minutes, and I'm on the hook for this one, no doubt.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Page 616: The Dated History of the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, Update ’89

A few years ago - I can't remember specifically when or where - a comic shop gave me a free copy of the Essential Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Update ’89. I don't know if this was a case of one particular store trying to unload surplus books or a more widespread promotion a la Free Comic Book Day.

Anyway, it sat on my shelf unread for a long time, passed over for many a novel, graphic or otherwise. As happens though, eventually I ran out of things I genuinely wanted to read and grabbed any old printed material I could find. So, the handbook.

The ’89 Update served as an appendix to the Deluxe Edition printed from 1985 to ’88. It included new-at-the-time characters and all the nonpowered characters ignored by the Deluxe Edition. Finally, all my questions about Willie Lumpkin and Dr. Valerie Cooper answered!

Seriously though, reading the ’89 handbook in 2014 is like reading a history textbook that pats the U.S. on the back for funding Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War in the ’80s. Here a few of my favorite observations about the book:

EVERY ENTRY INVOLVED INFERNO: OK, not every entry, but a fair number reference that year's major X-event, which affected New York City as a whole and therefore drew in many non-X characters, such as Spider-Man, Power Pack, the Fantastic Four, Daredevil and the Avengers. So the handbook was filled with entries for involved characters such as S’ym, N’astirh (all the cool demons had apostrophes back then), Magik, Madelyne Pryor, Nanny and Orphan-Maker, Wiz Kid, Cameron Hodge, Hobgoblin (who was possessed by a demon somewhere in all this), Mr. Sinister, etc. Many of these characters, of course, ceased to be relevant not long after this crossover. I hadn't read Inferno until it was printed in Essential Uncanny X-Men Vol. 8 in 2007, and I just remember thinking it had more endings than Return of the King. “Now, let’s tie up the Limbo demons thread. Now, let’s tie up the stolen children thread. Now, let’s tie up the Mr. Sinister thread. Now, let’s tie up the Madelyne Pryor thread. Now, let’s tie up the this-is-the-first-time-the-X-Men-and-X-Factor-have-seen-each-other-since-the-X-Men-were-presumed-dead thread.”

EVEN IN THE 80s THERE WERE TOO MANY X-BOOKS: My comics-reading career having started in the ’90s, I thought my generation cornered the market on market saturation. After all, the speculator bubble burst on our watch. We were the reason you couldn't throw a rock without hitting a copy of New Mutants 98. But we had to learn that behavior somewhere. The mid-to-late ’80s gave us X-Factor, which in turn gave us X-Terminators and Fallen Angels, both of which were breeding grounds for new mutants not quite good enough for the New Mutants, until some of them actually joined the New Mutants. Relevant characters include Ariel, Boom-Boom, Chance II, Rusty Collins, Devil Dinosaur, Gomi (and his cybernetic lobsters, Don and Bill (no, seriously)), Leech, Artie Maddicks, Moon Boy, Rictor, Skids and Wiz Kid.

NO POWERS? NO PROBLEM! One of the big holes in the preceding deluxe edition was the lack of nonpowered characters: the Aunt Mays and Mary-Jane Watson Parkers of the world. Now, I'm not saying these characters aren't important. I'll go to bat for Dum-Dum Dugan or Moira MacTaggert any day. But I still have to laugh at information such as "Willie Lumpkin possesses the normal human strength level of a man his age, height and build who engages in moderate exercise." Besides carting around a mailbag that looks like a prop from the courtroom scene in Miracle on 34th Street, I don't quite picture the Fantastic Four's mailman hitting the gym. I mean, bro, do you even lift?

ROBERT REDFORD HAD A MULLET IN THE 80s: Redford's character in the most recent, most excellent Cap movie was Alexander Pierce, a SHIELD higher-up who (eye-muffs, spoiler-phobes) leads an insurrection within the organization. In the 1987 series Nick Fury vs. SHIELD, a brunette-mulleted Pierce is a member of a very small, Fury-led SHIELD team that takes down a robot insurrection from within. Think of it as a reverse Victoria Hand, if you've been watching Agents of SHIELD. Seriously though, look at this dude's picture. It's like GI Joe's Duke starred in Roadhouse.

SPEAKING OF CAP, I FOUND SOME STUFF BRUBAKER LEFT OUT! In my March 18 post on Ed Brubaker’s Captain America run, I praised Bru for thoroughly mining the hero’s past to weave his overarching plot about Bucky’s return, Cap’s death, Bucky taking Cap’s place, Cap’s return and the two Caps working together. With all that history, some stuff had to get left out, though, and in this case, it was the era of John Walker, the man who would become U.S. Agent, and his trio of sidekicks, the Bold Urban Commandos, or BUCkies, all of whom got their powers from the Power Broker and came up through the Unlimited Class Wrestling Federation, because watcha gonna do, brother, when fervent patriotism runs wild on you?! This Mark Gruenwald-helmed era wasn’t all washed over, however. The homegrown terrorist outfit Walker fought at the time, the Watchdogs, feature prominently in Brubaker’s “Two Americas” storyline, starring the crazy 1950s Cap, William Burnside.

JOE ROBBIE ROBERTSON HAS AN ARCHNEMESIS! While Daily Bugle publisher J. Jonah Jameson has long thought Spider-Man a menace, it’s editor-in-chief, Joe Robbie Robertson, has a history of being menaced by an actual bad guy, the Spidey villain Tombstone. The handbook tells us the two first crossed paths when Robertson was editor of Harlem High School’s newspaper and was trying to uncover the criminal activities of Tombstone, then an albino fellow student named Lonnie Lincoln. To repeat, a high school student was intelligent enough to write hard-hitting crime exposes about another high school student, who was intelligent enough to organize an extortion racket without being sent to detention, let alone the police. Tombstone assaulted the young Robertson and got him to pull the article (and, I guess, the newspaper’s faculty adviser didn’t bother to pursue the matter? What a great school!). The two would go on to have run-ins in Philadelphia, where Robertson worked for the Inquirer and Tombstone was the Kingpin’s regional crime manager, and then again in New York, because high school never ends, really.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Free Comic Book Day 2014: Where You Should Go and What You Should Read

So, another year has come and gone, and we are once again back at that most amazing day! Yes, it's International Werewolf Day! What is that you say? I'm mistaken and there's no such thing? Oh, well, I guess I just have to talk about Free Comic Book Day instead. I wrote a similar post to this last year, but what's good to do once is good to do again, so here we go.

Free Comic Book Day is an industry wide holiday of sorts, held the first Saturday in May every year, where comic retailers buy special comics available at a tremendous discount to give out to you, the comic reading public, for free. That's right, FREE. I can't speak for every retailer, but my store, Dewey's Comic City, really tries to do it up right. Other than having one of the widest selections of free comics, we also have goody bags for the first hundred or so customers, raffles, cosplayers from the local chapter of the 501st Legion (the Star Wars costume guild), face painting for the kids, and our biggest Artist's Alley yet, including Dewey's favorite Fernando Ruiz (Life With Archie and the lead story in this year's FCBD Archie digest), Charles Paul Wilson III (Wraith: Welcome to Christmasland), and Keith Giffen (More credits to count, including the current Justice League 3000 and this year's upcoming New 52: Futures' End, the 0 issue of which is one of this year's FCBD selections from DC). My boss likes to say that nobody gives you more on FCDB than Dewey's, and while I can't say that quantifiably, I know it sure feels that way. So you should come on by. Check out the details HERE; we'd love to see you.

Now, I know you love free stuff. I love free stuff too. But Free Comic Book Day is about a lot more than just free comics. For retailers, this is a huge investment of time and money (just 'cause they're free for the customers, it doesn't mean it's free to the retailers), but it's worth it to bring people who might not usually come in to a shop to come by and pick up some comics. And it's important to the industry because it allows publishers and creators to get their books into the largest possible number of hands, hands that might not normally try that kind of comics. I personally discovered one of my favorite series of all time, Atomic Robo, on its first FCBD outing. So what I'm saying is, if you're a DC/Marvel sort of reader, pick up an indy. If you usually would never touch a super hero comic, pick up something from the Big 2. It's not costing you anything, and you might discover something you really like.

So, below find my recommendation for eleven books I think you should try. I haven't gotten around to reading all of them, I admit, but this is a decent cross section of the books I enjoyed so far.

2000 AD

2000 AD is the long running British anthology series that is probably most famous in the US for spawning Judge Dredd. Every year, there's a great collection of classic 2000 AD stories as part of the FCBD selections, and this year is no different. Headlined by a story featuring Dredd, there are also stories about the barbarian Slaine, Dredd's sometimes partner, psychic Judge Anderson, supernatural copper Absalom, and more. If you've never tried these, gritty UK comics, you should. It's not like anything we have here in the States. This one is very much for grown ups only.

Atomic Robo

As I said above, I discovered Atomic Robo on his first FCBD appearance, where he first fought his archnemesis, the deranged Dr. Dinosaur, and has been the free comic I look forward to most every year since then. Usually, FCBD Robo stories feature the mad raptor, but since this year's mini-series for Robo was a Dr. Dinosaur story, we instead see Robo once again confront the cryptid called the Yonkers Devil. Action and comedy ensue. The issue also features pages from Red 5 Comics series Haunted (the first issue hit this past Wednesday) and a very funny story of Bodie Troll, the troll too adorable to scare anyone. The issue is appropriate for readers 12 and up, mostly because the preview of Haunted is creepy; both Robo and Bodie can be read by all ages.

Avatar/ Itty Bitty Hellboy/ Juice Squeezers

I'm recommending this one not for the main story (which is good, but Avatar isn't one of my core fandoms), but for the two back ups. The first is a fun two page Itty Bitty Hellboy story where Hellboy tries to get the ghost of Rasputin to act a bit more ghostly, and then a new short tale of the Juice Squeezers, the kids who protect the town of Weeville from giant bugs. Here, we see exactly what happens to a bully when he picks on one of the Squeezers. As a high school nerd, there's some wonderful wish fulfillment there. This is a all ages book.

The Dumbest Idea Ever!

This issue is an excerpt from the recent graphic bio by cartoonist Jimmy Gownley, best known for creating one of my favorite all ages books of all time, Amelia Rules!. I'm ashamed to say I have this book on my shelf of to be read books, and have since it's publication a few months back, waiting to be read when I have time. After reading this charming excerpt, I am unsurprised that this has moved right to the top of my read pile. A perfect slice of life for anyone who remembers being in their teens, no matter how distantly. This is an all ages book.

Giant Size 4 Comic Bundle

This is one of the two "most bang for your non-existent buck" books this year, since it's technically four comics in one pack! Red Giant Entertainment is looking to start releasing weekly, ad supported free comics, and this pack has one issue of each of the four. The four individual books (with two stories each) are Giant Size Action, Giant Size Adventure, Giant Size Adventure, and Giant Size Thrills. They vary in quality from book to book from just ok to pretty darn great, and my favorite was Giant Size Action, since one of its features is Tesla, a Nicola Tesla action story, and I love me some Tesla. Other highlights were the crime/superhero/conspiracy mash up Duel Identity in Giant Size Fantasy, and the all ages fantasy story Magika in Giant Size Adventure. The ratings on these range from a teen and up to an all ages. Probably best to look each one over before you hand them to the little ones.

Mouse Guard, The Labyrinth, and Other Stories

And the next big value is Archaia's free hardcover, featuring a headline story from David Petersen's Mouse Guard. The story is a beautiful place to start if you've never read Mouse Guard before, a perfect microcosm of the series beautiful art and poetic language. Other stories include one set in the world of Farscape, Jim Henson's Labyrinth, a tale of a boy and his friend a dinosaur called Bolivar: The Golden Door, and others. I'd place the age recommendation here to be ten and up, but if you feel you seven or older year old can handle a little bit of scary, go for it.

Project: Black Sky

Project: Black Sky is the name of mysterious organization and the event that is tying together Dark Horse Comics various superhero titles this year, and this issue serves as a sort of primer, giving you an idea of what the project is up to, and who some of the heroes who will be facing them. The heroes here are Captain Midnight, the time displaced World War II era flyer, and Brain Boy, the psychic secret service agent. Written by Fred Van Lente, who has been writing the mini-series that chronicle Brain Boy's adventures, it's a light, fun super hero adventure featuring heroes fighting genetically altered apes. And we all know comics are better with apes and monkeys. I'd go with a ten and up on the reading age here.

Rocket Raccoon

The sure to be star of this summer's Guardians of the Galaxy movie, Rocket Raccoon gets to star in Marvel's all ages offering this year. It's a breezy little story of Rocket, along with his fellow Guardian, Groot (I AM GROOT!), and his fellow anthropomorphic animal Wall Russ (I Am The... oh, I get it!), rescuing a princess from captivity by a group of mercenary rabbits. The story fits better into the pre-Marvel Now! continuity, but is completely not dependent on any continuity for your enjoyment, and is a great introduction to Rocky and Groot. The issue also features a fun back-up from the world of the animated Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon with some excellent Ty Templeton art. This is an all ages book.

Scratch 9

I wrote an advance review of the new Scratch 9 series a couple of weeks back, and now's your chance to get your own sneak peek. The first half of this issue is some pages from that issue, while the second half of the Scratch segment features Scratch teaming up with First Pet Bo Obama to help save the president from an evil robot. The other side of the flipbook features a new story by Scratch creator Rob Worley, Run & Amuk, featuring a young boy nicknamed Run and his giant friendly monster companion called Amuk travelling through time. It's as fun and crazy as it sound. This is an all ages book.

Sherwood, Texas

The beginning of a series that is resetting the classic Robin Hood story in modern times, this is sort of Robin and the 7 Hoods (which if you've never seen, look it up on Netflix. It's the Rat Pack as prohibition era Chicago Robin Hood and his Merry Men) meets Sons of Anarchy. It's got that neo-western vibe that I like, and it's playing just fast and loose enough with the classic Robin Hood story that I'm not exactly cure where it will go when it becomes a regularly published comic. This is a book geared for adults.

Skyward/Midnight Tiger

Action Lab's ongoing Skyward gets a FCBD issue that, like last year's, gives us a glimpse into the future of the series. If you've never read Skyward before, it's a fantasy series, and this issue features new characters that I assume will play a part in the next arc of the series, so this issue is a fantasy adventure history of a tribe of barbarians. It's a good backstory, and I'm excited to see where this goes in the ongoing. Midnight Tiger is the origin of a new superhero who will be getting his own title from Action Lab this summer. It's a very Peter Parker/teen hero sort of origin, but there are some interesting aspects that will be fun to watch play out if I choose to pick up the mini-series. If not? It's a good self contained origin that does a lot of world building. This is all ages, unless you're one of those people who wants to ban Bone, in which case it's not all ages and what are you doing reading my blog?