Friday, April 29, 2016

The Games Geek People Play: Power Play: Schemes and Skulduggery

So, this week's entry is the first in a new irregular series. I've mentioned my love of games, both role-playing and board, before, and there are plenty of games based on comic books and genre tropes out there. And, to be completely frank, I was up late last night at my bi-weekly Nerdstorm, that's my gamer group, playing Talisman, the fantasy board game equivalent of Monopoly (not because it's about buying and selling property, but because it goes on forever and no one ever wins. It's about the playing and not the result, for us anyway), and had completely spaced on a topic for today's piece, so I figured, hey, might as well write about a game! So, today is my first game recommendation, and that game is Power Play: Schemes and Skulduggery! I'm not a game reviewer by trade, so this isn't a review of the mechanics, although I'll talk a bit about that by default, but more about the experience of playing, about what makes the game fun and makes someone else try it out.

I stumbled across Power Play at a game store, and reading the description, well, it seemed right up my alley. It's a story telling game, an RPG of sorts, but designed to one session, and doesn't require a gamemaster. You are a super powered villain who is serving a mysterious organization called The Agency to gain power for yourself. Each game one of several object cards is selected, which serves as the MacGuffin you and the others are competing over. You have a specific goal, and a there are a number of locations pulled from a location deck. To play, all you need is the game itself, some scratch paper, and to raid your boardgames or RPG dice stash for some D6's (that's six sided dice for you non-gamers). You progress through the game trying to meet your objective while beating the other characters to the punch through manipulation, cunning, and occasionally main force.

The joy of Power Play is that it allows for infinite creativity, limited only by your imagination and the laws if physics and logic. The goals that you have to undertake are created by the players at the start of the game, shuffled, and distributed at random, so it benefits the player to come up with something tricky but not impossible, as you might wind up with the goal you created, or something else completely different. On your turn, you declare Traits on places, people, and things that will aid you in this or future turns (or interfere with the plans someone else has carefully been setting up), and then take one of various kinds of actions.And those actions are anything you can physically and realistically pull off; this isn't a game where you have specific skills and roll to see if you achieve an action. The challenge mechanic is a "Reality Check" where someone can call you on doing something impossible. For example, if you're at the construction site, you can say, "I jump across the pit that foundation is being laid in," and that just happens. On the other hand, when visiting City Hall, you say, "I pull out my sword and stab the deputy mayor." someone can call you out by saying that there is no way you made it into City Hall with a sword, and there are mechanics to resolve the conflict. It's a clever way to play, and it challenges the players to think creatively.

The game is designed for 4-8 players, which makes it a decent size for a small gaming party or a large gaming group (mine is seven at full attendance, but we usually break out the non-RPGs when we're down a man or woman, so this was played with six). The characters you can choose from are a selection of archetypes,from the pyrokinetic Firestarter, to the physical bruiser The Tank, to the demonic powers of The Devil's Advocate. Last game, I got the unfortunate character, The Garbage Man, who sickens those around him and can break his monster into small monsters to do his bidding. Gross, huh? This basically means you're a supervillain, and while this game doesn't necessarily give you the time or impetus to create elaborate backstories like full-on RPGs do, you're given a couple of character traits to start with to inform how you play, like "A Flair for the Dramatic," or "Unsettling."

Along with the core deck of twelve characters, there are two smaller six character decks for different kinds of games. One set, if you're in the mood for a more horror themed game, are six classic monster archetypes, including the Vampire, the Werewolf, and others. I'm looking forward to playing again because I want to play the Werewolf bad. The other six and Superhero archetypes. Now whether you want to play a game that is more heroic themed, or instead make them heroes who are secretly villains, well, that's totally up to you and how you play!

Power Play is a game for those who enjoy free form storytelling with a side of duplicity. Everyone is working against each other, even if they're allies. It works perfectly for certain types of gaming groups, mine most assuredly among them. If you're a fan of less dice heavy, more story-centric role playing systems like FATE and want a great one night game experience (once you get the hang of the game, you can play it on about two hours), being the bad guy, and a game that makes you think your way through it, I highly recommend Power Play.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Great Batman: The Brave and the Bold Rewatch: "Dawn of the Dead Man!"

Season One, Episode Seven: Dawn of the Dead Man!
Written by Todd Casey
Directed by Ben Jones

Plot Synopsis

Teaser: Hopping across the rooftops of a post-apocalyptic world, Batman follows Kamandi, the last human boy, and his mentor, Dr Canus, towards a time fissure. They are attacked by rat-men, with Batman holding them off while Kamandi and Canus carry a capsule to the fissure. They travel by inflatable raft to the wreck of the Statue of Liberty, where Batman takes the capsule and heads into the rift with the vaccine he needs to save human life, but not until telling Kamandi to check the statue's nostril, where he finds a time capsule with a ray weapon Kamandi uses to save himself and Canus from the pursuing rat-men

Episode: In a London cemetery stands a grave that reads, "Here Lies Batman," and from the grave rises what appears to be Batman's ghost. In flashback we see Batman chasing Gentleman Ghost, who is trying to obtain artifacts that will allow him to raise a ghost army, across London. Gentleman Ghost is able to knock Batman unconscious and bury him alive, but Batman is able to astrally project out of his body.

Out of the grave, he meets a ghost and tells him he has two hours of air before his body will die. The ghost tells Batman he can possess bodies, and offers to use a body to dig up Batman's body, but Batman knows the coffin is booby trapped, so he has to find another way. While Gentleman Ghost acquires the second artifact, Batman and the ghost travel across London. Batman sees a light that is a way to the other side, something the ghost is excited for as he himself is trapped on the mortal plain, and Batman sees his parents beckoning him, and begins to drift towards the light.

At the last moment, Batman decides to stay behind and because his work is not done. The ghost is annoyed by Batman rejecting what he has sought, but they head off to find a nearby hero. As luck would have it, Green Arrow and his sidekick, Speedy, are chasing a thief in London, and the ghost pushes Batman into Speedy, since a ghost needs to possess a living person to speak with the living. After a little experimentation, Batman gets Arrow to believe it's him, and Arrow and Speedy head to the cemetery.

When the ghost hears Gentleman Ghost is involved, he wants out, as Gentleman Ghost is, "bad news," but after Batman tells him to stop wallowing in self pity, he follows Batman back towards his body, and tells Batman his origin: he was a trapeze artist who was shot while performing, and his killer, who has a hook for a hand, was never caught. Batman knows him to be Boston Brand, who performed under the name Deadman, and Batman tells Deadman he's been working his case, and challenges Deadman to help him stop Gentleman Ghost.

At the, "Museum of Torture," Gentleman Ghost gets the final artifact, the noose he was hung with, and the astral Batman confronts him. They battle, and while Batman is the more skilled fighter, Gentleman Ghost's familiarity with fighting as a ghost gives him the upper hand. Deadman arrives to aid Batman, but Gentleman Ghost calls his ghost horse to escape. The ghostly heroes pursue him, and they all wind up heading back to the cemetery, and Gentleman Ghost uses the pen that signed his death warrant, the key that locked the dungeon, and the noose to summon an army of criminal ghosts, who restrain Batman's spirit form and possess skeletons to able to destroy London.

Green Arrow and Speedy are able to beat the booby trap and dig up Batman's body, and Deadman possesses the body, leading Arrow and Speedy into the catacombs beneath the cemetery where Batman's spirit is imprisoned. He goes down to save Batman, while Arrow and Speedy fight Gentleman Ghost up above. The Nth Metal in Batman's tools defeats the ghosts holding Batman's spirit, and Batman retakes his body.

Arrow and Speedy are outnumbered by Gentleman Ghost's army, but Batman arrives, and Deadman possesses Speedy. Arrow uses Nth Metal arrowheads to destroy Gentleman Ghost's horse, and Batman fights him hand to hand with Nth Metal knuckles. Batman knocks off Gentleman Ghost's hat, where the artifacts were hidden, and the spirits Gentleman Ghost summoned drag him back to the afterlife. Batman swears he'll find Deadman's killer, and with the Deadman sees the light.

Flash forward three months, and Batman has been captured by a gang and is about to be killed, when Deadman possesses the leader, having decided to stay behind and find his own killer. Freeing Batman, the episode ends with the two of them joining together to fight the gang.

Who's Who

Deadman (Voiced by Michael Rosenbaum)
First Comic Book Appearance: Strange Adventures #205 (October, 1967)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Seven- Dawn of the Deadman!

Created by Arnold Drake and Neal Adams, Deadman's origin is pretty much exactly what this episode puts forth: Boston Brand was a trapeze artist who was kind of a jerk, who was shot mid-performance by a hook-handed assassin. As he died, the goddess Rama Kushna appears to him, granting him the ability to possess bodies so he can hunt down his killer. Deadman does eventually hunt down Hook, who was a member of the League of Assassins, but does not pass on, instead staying on Earth to continue to do good. He has rarely held his own series, although has had a number of mini-series, and has often appeared in comic alongside Batman, two characters whose visuals were both defined by Neal Adams. In recent years, Deadman has gotten more of a spotlight as he was a featured player in DC's last pre-Flashpoint epic, Brightest Day, and was a member of the Justice League Dark in the New 52. Aside from the ability to possess the living, which allows Deadman a physical form and the ability to communicate with the living, when in a body Deadman retains the physical memory of being a trapeze artist and acrobat, able to perform stunts most people can not.

Green Arrow (Voiced by James Arnold Taylor)
First Comic Book Appearance: More Fun Comics #73 (November, 1941)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode One- Rise of the Blue Beetle

Kamandi (Voiced by Mikey Kelley)
First Comic Book Appearance:  Kamandi: The Last Boy On Earth (October, 1972)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Seven- Dawn of the Deadman!

Kamandi is the last human left alive in a post-apocalyptic world. Years ago, "the Great Disaster," occurred, wiping out most of humanity, and what humanity is left is feral. Emerging from the Command D bunker, from where he gets his name, Kamandi finds a world populated by bipedal animal people, most of them very hostile to humans. The only ones who approve of Kamandi are Dr. Canus, a dog scientist who acts as Kamandi's mentor, Prince Tuftan of the Tigers, and Tuftan's father, Great Caesar. Kamandi travels the Earth, trying to find a way to restore the last of humanity's sentience. Created by Jack Kirby, Kamandi has had limited interactions with the DC Universe proper, although he was used by Grant Morrison in both Final Crisis and Multiversity. Kamandi is a normal human, although one on very good physical shape, and who is clever and a talented fighter.

Speedy (Voiced by Jason Marsden)
First Comic Book Appearance: More Fun Comics #73 (November, 1941)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Seven- Dawn of the Deadman!

Roy Harper was the ward of Green Arrow, Oliver Queen, who took him in after losing both his father, a park ranger, to fire, and his adopted father, Brave Bow, a Native American who taught him archery. An excellent archer in his own right already, Roy took the name Speedy and became Green Arrow's partner, as well as a founding member of the Teen Titans. Roy's life after this was a hard one, as he became addicted to heroin, became a government agent, had a daughter with a supervillain, and various other travails. He took on the adult secret identities of first Arsenal and then Red Arrow, and would spend time leading the Titans and as a member of the Justice League. In the current continuity, he has been a partner of Jason Todd, the Red Hood, and they currently run a heroes for hire business. While having no superhuman powers, Roy Harper is an excellent marksman, one of the best in the world, as well as an inventor of unusual weapons, and a skilled hand to hand combatant.

Gentleman Ghost (Voiced by Jonny Rees)
First Comic Book Appearance: Flash Comics #88 (October, 1947)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Two- Terror on Dinosaur Island!

Continuity, Comics Connections, and Notes

The teaser for this episode is loaded with references to the DC work of Jack "The King" Kirby, on e of the greatest creators in comic book history. A billboard Kamandi stands in front of is a reference to the cover of the first issue of OMAC another Kirby title, and a character who will appear in a future episode of Brave and the Bold. The Statue of Liberty is in the same position that it appears in on the cover of the first issue of Kamandi's own series. Thee ray weapon that Batman leaves behind for Kamandi is straight out of a Kirby design, down the the visual effect is utilizes, called Kirby Krackles, which were a trademark of Kirby's art.

Michael Rosenbaum, who voices Deadman in this episode, has a long resume filled with DC Comics projects. Probably most famous for playing the part of Lex Luthor on TV's Smallville, Rosenbaum also was a regular member of the classic DC Animated Universe voice troupe, starting out with a small cameo in Batman Beyond, before graduating to a larger role in the animated movie Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, and then a starring role a the Flash in Justice League/Justice League Unlimited, where he also voiced Deadshot. He has reprised the role of Flash in a few video games and DC Animated movies, and voiced Kid Flash on Teen Titans as well.

The dialogue Green Arrow uses when doing a Batman impression, "I am Vengeance, I am the Night, I am Batman!" is dialogue lifted directly from the classic Batman: The Animated Series.

Batman says that Deadman was working for Haly's Circus at the time of his death. While Deadman has not been connected with Haly's Circus in the comics,it is connected to the origin of another DC Comics acrobat: Dick Grayson, the original Robin. Dick and his parents, the Flying Graysons, were working at Haly's when Boss Tony Zucco killed the Graysons in Gotham City. Dick would eventually go on to own Haly's Circus in both the pre- and post-Flashpoint continuities.

After Deadman leaves Speedy's body, the sidekick pounds one fist into his open palm and says, "Holy involuntary acrobatics!" an obvious reference both the physical performance of, and the dialogue given to, Burt Ward, who played Robin in the classic Batman series of the '60s.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 4/20

Criminal 10th Anniversary Special
Story: Ed Brubaker
Art: Sean Phillips & Elizabeth Breitweiser

The world of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips's Criminal is not a world for children, either to read or to live in. It's a world where the good and the innocent alike are likely to wind up dead, and where the innocent are few and far between. For the tenth anniversary of the series debut, this double sized one shot revisits the series two most popular characters, Tracy Lawless, the soldier turned hitman, and his petty crook father, Teeg. Set in 1979, the stories from this era usually focus on Teeg, but this is a Tracy story, narrated by a young Tracy as his father takes him on a road trip. Of course, being Teeg Lawless, this road trip has to do with Teeg hunting for a criminal associate, and he's bringing Tracy along because cops will look less at a father and son together than a man travelling alone. And while there's crime in the story,it's mostly off panel. The story instead is of Tracy left alone as his father hunts his cohort, and Tracy making a friend. This sounds like a simple enough story for a twelve year old, but there's nothing simple about Tracy. His father has forbidden him to make friends, after all, because that could get them remembered. But Tracy meets a friendless girl named Gabby, probably a little too smart for her own good, and they develop a friendship. It's a coming of age story in the style of Stand By Me, as Tracy and Gabby just act like kids, which you get the immediate impression is not something Tracy gets to do much of at all (and if you've read other Criminal stories about the Lawless family, you know it for sure). But in the end Tracy learns the hard lesson that just being good isn't enough to survive in his father's world, and he makes the hard choice to protect his one friend, and any innocence he might have had left is gone. Every time I think Sean Phillips and Elizabeth Breitweiser can't get any better as an art team, a new series or story comes out, and I'm blown away. The sheer pathos of Tracy as he rejects Gabby is one of the most emotional scenes I've seen in a long while, and the fact that the kids look like kids, not just small adults, a flaw in a lot of comic art, is impressive as all hell.

As with the last Criminal special, this issue has interspersed in it pages from an in-universe comic. And while the previous comic was a Savage Sword of Conan knock off, this one is a combination of horror and the 70s Kung-Fu craze, "Fang, The Kung-Fu Werewolf." Let me just go on the record as sayong that, if the Brubaker/Phillips/Breitweiser team wanted to do a full on Fang comic for an issue or two, I would be all over it. And also as with the previous Criminal special, this issue comes in both a standard comic and magazine sized format, and while either is a fine, the magazine is such a great package, I would highly recommend it for all readers to pick it up that way.

Divinity II #1
Story: Matt Kindt
Art: Trevor Hairsine, Ryan Winn, & David Baron

Valiant's first Divinity was the first series from the new Valiant to star a new character, Abram Adams, the Russian cosmonaut sent out into deep space during the height of the Cold War to return decade later with god-like powers. The sequel picks up a thread left hanging by the last series: what became of the other two cosmonauts that traveled into space with Adams? This opening issue of the new Divinity series follows Valentina Volkov, one of the remaining cosmonauts and a loyal Soviet. Volkov was a street kid who was taken off the street and raised by a doctor, a man who truly believed that the Soviet system was the best. The story moves back and forth between Valentina on Earth before leaving and her and Kazmir, the third cosmonaut, trapped on the Unknown, the strange world that transformed Adams. We see how loyal to the Soviet state Valentina was, not just in the flashbacks but on the Unknown, where Kazmir tells her he loves her and she shrugs it off, possibly the only person she will ever see again, because it is against the program they were in to develop attachments. And when she removes her helmet and is transformed as Adams was, she mercilessly kills Kazmir to power the pod that will return her to Earth because that's what she must do for the State. Valentina isn't evil; it would be easier if she was. What she is is a true believer,and in many ways that is more dangerous. As she returns to Earth and receives the radio and television signals beamed into space that tel the story of the fall of Soviet Russia, she returns home and goes immediately to Vladimir Putin, who clearly is ready to set her loose on the world. The issue is dense with history and symbolism, as "Little Myshka, " Little Mouse, the endearment that Valentina's adoptive father used and the one Putin knows, the mouse they experimented on to make the perfect Soviet, is prepared to head off and once more help the USSR to rise, or so it seems. Trevor Hairsine's art is gorgeous, both in the realistic and gritty world of the Soviet Union and the amazing foreign landscapes of the Unknown. Valiant has done a great job with their self-contained four issue mini-series, making them easily accessible; everything you need to know from the original Divinity is summed up straight away in this issue, so Divinity II would be a great place to try out Valiant if you haven't yet.

Harley's Little Black Book #3
Story: Amanda Conner & Jimmy Palmiotti
Art: Joseph Michael Linsnner & Hi-Fi

If the Harley Quinn monthly is a fun comic, Harley's Little Black Book, Harley's bi-monthly team-up book, takes everything that makes the monthly great and amps it up to eleven. It's a broad, kooky comic, and this issue has Harley meeting Zatanna as the magician comes to perform at the club that is in Harley's building to get away from the magical chaos of her superhero life, while Harley has guests, the London based super team she met back in issue one. But things aren't that simple, as a trio of ghosts, trapped on the Coney Island boardwalk, wind up taking up residence in Harley's building to avoid a ghost-demon that is hunting them. Zatanna agrees to help the ghosts stop their tormenter, and we learn that Harley can see ghosts for an as yet unexplained reason. The story continues with Harley and Zatanna travelling into the afterlife to find the ghost-demon who is hunting the spirits, and to find the demon who cursed him to stop the whole thing. It's a clever, fun superhero story, made all the better by Jospeh Michael Linsner's art. A famed "good girl" artoist of the '90s, Linsner is best known for having created Dawn, but his work here is lovely. Not only does he draw a stunning Zatanna and Harley, but his demons and monsters are also great, creepy and slithery or demonic. There's a funny gag with the demon behind the whole thing, a name that comes out to the fore with Ztanna's backwards speaking magic. And as a real plus, Zatanna is back in her traditional costume! A comic with magic, comedy, and bunnies hopping around. What more could you ask for?

Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files: Wild Card #1
Story: Jim Butcher & Mark Powers
Art: Carlos Gomez & Mohan

As the wait for Peace Talks, the new Dresden Files novel, stretches out, it's the short stories and original comics that are keeping me sane. The new mini-series, Wild Card is set deep in the thick of the novels, at the height of wizard-for-hire Harry Dresden's powers and friendships, with most of his staunchest allies at his side: his apprentice, Molly; his brother, Thomas; his friend at the M.E.'s office, Waldo Butters; and his police contact; Sgt. Murphy. The exact timeline seems to place it after the events of the novel White Night and the last comic mini-series, Down Town, and before my favorite Dresden Novel to date, Small Favor. One thing the comics can do that the first person narrated novels can't is show things that Harry doesn't see, as this mini-series begins with two women fleeing some sort of supernatural threat that seemingly removes their souls. This seeming is made more evident when Harry, Murph, and Molly go to the morgue where Butters shows them the perfect corpses left behind with no cause of death, Harry begins his investigation with the first soul sucking monsters he can think of, the succubi and inccubi of the White Court of Vampires, of which his brother Thomas is one. The set-up allows readers not familiar with the books to get a feel for Harry and his friends and family as we see Molly's growing skills as a wizard, Harry and Thomas's brotherly affection (and through that, details of the White Court), and Harry and Murphy's sometimes strained relationship, although they are the best of friends in the end, always, which I hope we get to see as well. There's also a great scene with Harry and Molly talking about power and the right and wrong ways to use it, a central theme of the Dresden Files novels. Artist Carlos Gomez has drawn the last handful of Dresden related comics, and his feel for the characters has grown with each one, and the characters are resembling Jim Butcher's descriptions more and more. I'm also very excited for this story because I've read about the series in an interview and known the identity of the big bad, the threat who de-souled the women at the beginning of the issue and attacked a police office in the middle, and it's a character from myth and story I've been waiting to see appear in the Dresdenverse since the Faeries became a major presence back in book four, Summer Knight. I won't say the name here, but, well, lord what fools these mortals be (a little hint if you know your Shakespeare). The Dresden Files universe is rick with story, myth, and character, and these original comics do a great job of telling smaller stories of the adventures of Harry Dresden.

And Dan Grote reviews the new special about everyone's favorite Luchador rooster...

Chew: Demon Chicken Poyo
Story by John Layman
Art by Rob Guillory

First, he saved an English village from a mad scientist making it rain livestock. Then, he freed a faraway fantasy realm from the tyranny of mutant vegetables and was crowned king. He also did a bunch of awesome stuff in between.

Now, after having his neck snapped, everyone’s favorite cybernetic luchador rooster assassin (and all-around badass motherf$&#@%g bird) has taken his rightful place as a lord of hell.

As John Layman and Rob Guillory wind down their amazing, hysterical Image series, they’ve given us one last one-shot featuring Poyo, the poultry-turned-psycho government agent who steals fans’ hearts a little more with each successive two-page spread of him fighting some equally ridiculous monster animal or vegetable (Pengthulu remains my favorite, but this issue’s two-pager against Galaxseal is another feast for the eyes).

In his latest adventure, Poyo stars in his own Christmas-themed children’s tale, in which he takes down a disgruntled Santa Claus and his Seussical henchman, the Grumpass, after Santa declares war on Christmas and breaks the hearts of the children of Blun, as a narrator details Poyo’s adventures in not-necessarily-always-rhyming couplets.

But this children’s tale is a distraction from the framing sequence, in which a priest attempts to exorcise a little girl possessed by an ancient Sumerian demon and of the ability to vomit pea soup with firehose-like force. Poyo arrives in this sequence as well to mete out justice and generally be awesome.

But as always, Poyo disappears to his next adventure before he can be properly thanked for saving the day via ultraviolence.

And also as always, Rob Guillory’s art is a sick delight, brightly colored but with the gross details of John Kricfalusi animation. No one in Chew is attractive, even the people who theoretically are supposed to be. And how could they be with all the vomit and blood and missing limbs and gross food-based powers?

I’m behind on the trades – the last thing I read was Detective Colby snapping Poyo’s neck in issue #45 – so I think a key plot point from the series may have been spoiled for me, but if you just want to read a story about a robot rooster killing all manner of creature with gleeful abandon, well, really, you don’t have any other options.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Lost Legends: DC Challenge!

When I talked about DC's Emerald City Comic Con announcements, I mentioned the original DC Challenge mini-series and that I would get around to talking about it. Well, now's that time. Let's head back to 1985, a simpler time, when there were still infinite Earths, when heroes were heroes, and when it was decided by DC brass to try one of the strangest experiments in comic book history.

Now, remember, this is back in the day when letters pages in comic were not the exception, but pretty much the rule, and through the letter pages of this comic, readers got an explanation of how this particular project came about. Long story short, as the first letters page essay is longer than my average column, A group of comic writers got together at San Diego Comic Con in 1983 and decided to propose doing what they called a round robin, or what some  might know as a game of exquisite corpse, where writers each write one chapter of a story and leave it to the next writer to pick up the story without being told what the previous writer's intention was to wrap up the story. There were specific rules against consultation between creative teams, about not using the, "It's just a dream!" gambit to get out of a sticky situation, and a few more logistical points, but generally, this was no holds barred comics like we rarely get anymore, twelve issues of pure crazy joyful comics.

I've been trying to decide how to write about this series since I realized I wanted to write about it. It's not easy, because it goes in all sorts of crazy directions. While each writer had to wrap up some of the plot points left by the previous writer or writers, some were left to dangle for issues at a time, to the point that I can't imagine reading this in anything but the concentrated burst I did; after all, if the writers were ignoring something for six months, how could readers be expected to remember them? Also, some of the best parts of the series are discovering the random, "Wow, that's a character that I never expected to see in here."

The basic premise, at the start of the series anyway, is that there are djinn-like creatures possessing people and interacting with heroes, while Floyd Perkins, a copy boy at the Daily Planet, is encountering hidden floors on the planet building and dead celebrities seemingly back from beyond. Pretty soon, aliens are involved, as are time travelers seeking mysterious stone tablets, battles between different alien species on the planet Rann, an alternate reality where Hitler won World War II, and Cthulhu like tentacle creatures from beyond. It's everything and the kitchen sink too storytelling.

As for the characters used, well it starts out simple enough with the DC Comics holy trinity of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, as well as their supporting casts, and sci-fi hero Adam
Strange. But issue two starts the spiral of the obscure, by bringing in not just well known western hero Jonah Hex, but Congorilla and B'wana Beast, as well as then little used villain, Mongul, who had only appeared in a handful of DC Comics Presents issues, as well as the legendary Superman Annual #11, "For the Man Who Has Everything." One of the rules the writers were given was they had to work with characters they didn't write on a monthly basis, so by series end, not only had most of the Justice League appeared, as well as many big name DC heroes, characters from other DC Earths of the time like Captain Marvel and Blue Beetle, but lesser known characters like Rip Hunter, Viking Prince, Detective Chimp, Captain Comet, Space Cabby, Enemy Ace, and Doiby Dickles, sometimes sidekick to Plastic Man all had featured roles. Basically, if you're a long time fan of DC Comics, you will find your favorite obscure character on the 60s, 70s, and early 80s somewhere in here.

And as for the creators who worked on this book? Well here's a rundown of each issue (along with the titles that each issue had, which were given to the new creative team by the previous one) and who the creative team was. These are guys who are now legends, some of the greatest writers and artists of the 70s and 80s, and they all worked together on this one project.

Issue #1, "Outbreak": Written by Mark Evanier; Illustrated by Gene Colan & Bob Smith

Issue #2, "Blinded By the Light": Written by Len Wein; Co-Plotted and Pencilled by Chuck Patton; Inked by Mike DeCarlo

Issue #3, "Viking Vengeance": Written by Doug Moench; Illustrated by Carmine Infantino & Bob Smith

Issue #4, "Atomic Nights": Written by Paul Levitz; Illustrated by Gil Kane & Klaus Janson

Issue #5, "Thunderbolts and Lightning": Written by Mike W Barr; Illustrated by Dave Gibbons & Mark Farmer

Issue #6, "A Matter of Anti Matter": Co-Written by Elliot S. Maggin & Dan Jurgens; Illustrated by Dan Jurgens & Larry Mahlstedt

Issue #7, "Don't Bogart That Grape... Hand Me the Gas Pump!": Wriiten by Paul Kupperberg; Illustrated by Joe Staton & Steve Mitchell

Issue #8, "If This Is Love, Why Do My Teeth Hurt?"" Written by Gerry Conway; Illustrated by Rick Hoberg, Dick Girodano, & Arnie Starr

Issue #9, "All This And World War, Too!": Written by Roy Thomas; Illustrated by Don Heck

Issue #10, "Jules Verne Was Right!": Written by Dan Mishkin; Illustrated by Curt Swan & Terry Austin

Issue #11: "How Can You Be In Two Places At Once When You're Not Anywhere At All?": Plot by Marv Wolfman, Dialogue by Cary Bates; Illustrated by Keith Giffen & Dave Hunt

Issue #12: "Fathers Against Suns"

Issue twelve had half a dozen chapters, each from a different creative team, and many of the artists were not involved in the earlier issues, including Tom Mandrake, Denys Cowan, Jan Duursema, and others. All twelve issues were colored by Carl Gafford and lettered by John Costanza.

And while I don't want to talk more about plot than I already have, since it would give away the fun and also take a ton of time to describe all the strange intricacies of the plot, here are a few favorite moments:

- Issue #2's cliffhanger has a time displaced Jonah Hex knock out the gangsters who have abducted him, led by a seemingly resurrected Peter Lorre, only to realize he doesn't know how to drive the car they're in as it screams down the road towards a group of nuns and school children.

- Issue #7 gives us Albert Einstein, who on his deathbed master the Unified Theory and now is the master of time and space, living in the nexus of all reality like a kindly Time Lord.

- Issue #8 is suddenly narrated by the Joker out of nowhere, because why the heck not?

-Issue #11's reveal of the big bad who's been behind the whole series. This is a character that few artists capture as well as Keith Giffen does, and the big splash page is amazing. Actually, that issue's art is possibly my favorite, as Giffen also draws an excellent Batman and Spectre.

While there's a lot of experimentation with form and character in comics outside DC and Marvel right now, the big two like to play it fairly safe. They don't try a lot of new things. DC Challenge might not have been transgressive or world shaking, but it was something that hadn't been done in comics before, and ended up being a project that was wildly fun, and in the still dark era of mainstream comics, I can only hope the new Kamandi Challenge series can recapture some of the glorious insanity of the original.

As with all Lost Legends posts, DC Challenge is currently uncollected, but I found it at a convention as a set not too long ago for a very affordable price.. However, as we near the release of the Kamandi Challenge title, I wouldn't be surprised if a collection was released. I do hope they include all the creator notes from the letters pages in that collection as well, as they added a lot of interesting back story to this unusual project.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Great Batman: The Brave and the Bold Rewatch: "Enter the Outsiders!"

Season One, Episode Six: Enter the Outsiders!
Written by Todd Casey
Directed by Michael Chang

Plot Synopsis

Teaser: Black  Manta fleas across a park in a giant mechanical walker, an armored car in its grip, with a motorcycle riding Batman in pursuit. Also chasing Manta is B'Wana Beast, who uses his ability to merge two animals to  create a horse/spider hybrid that he uses to join the chase. Batman's flying motorcycle, and B'wana Beast's pelican/shark are able to defeat the walker.

Episode: Batman is sparring at Wildcat's Gym with the gym's owner, the elder hero Wildcat,who taught Batman to box. Wildcat's feeling down because people aren't coming to spar or take lessons anymore, and Batman wants him to take it easy after the heart scare, but Wildcat still wants to keep up the fight. An alarm goes off, and Batman and Wildcat ride off to face it.

At a mall, three teens with super powers, Black Lightning, Katana, and Metamoprho, give a speech about the mindless drones of society not accepting outsiders, and begin wrecking the mall. Batman and Wildcat arrive, and Batman tells Wildcat they are The Outsiders, who Batman has been trying to put away for weeks. Batman fights Black Lightning, while Wildcat faces the others, and tries to talk them into doing something constructive with their powers. Batman is able to save Wildcat from being skewered by Katana, but Metamorpho turns to water and Black Lightning conducts electricity through it to stun the heroes and the Outsiders make their escape.

The Outsiders head down into the subway, and Batman and Wildcat pursue on motorcycles. Another fight ensues on the subway platform. Metamorpho lures Wildcat into the path of an oncoming train, and although Batman pulls him out of the way, Batman scolds Wildcat for falling into the trap. Batman and Wildcat fight, and Batman says Wildcat has been doing this for, "Maybe too long." Batman finds the hidden entrance to the Outsiders base, and the heroes follow.

The Outsiders head to their base, and to the person instructing them, a man monster called Slug, who gives a speech about how he's the one who cares for them, and sends them back to kill the intruders. Following a river of toxic waste, the heroes fall into a trap, and Metamorpho is able to knock them out.

Batman and Wildcat awaken tied above a pit filled with giant snapping turtles. Slug again says he's doing this because this is the only place the Outsiders won't be looked on as freaks, and although Batman says he's just using the kids, Slug counters that and begins lowering Batman and Wildcat into the pit. Only now does Wildcat begin to feel his age, and Batman says the only reason he's wanted Wildcat to retire is that he looks on him like a father figure and he doesn't want to lose another father. Emboldened, Wildcat says he has one more lesson to teach.

Lowering slowly, Wildcat begins goading Slug. Slug pulls Wildcat in and drops Batman into the pit. Slug and Wildcat begin to fight, Wildcat taking all the punches. Batman, free of the chains, is able to defeat the giant turtles.Wildcat still taunts Slug, and eventually, as he has exhausted Slug, he's able to knock him out and toss him into the river of toxins. Batman comes out of the pit to find Wildcat victorious and Wildcat gives the Outsiders a speech about understanding them and asking them to come join him and learn to do more. But just as he seems to be getting through to them, a hideously mutated Slug rises from the waste to attack, calling the Outsiders traitors and freaks.

The Outsiders turn on their former boss and attack him. Batman joins the fray, but as Wildcat goes to join as well, he clutches at his chest and collapses. With a little help from Batman, they easily defeat Slug, but find a collapsed Wildcat. The until now silent Katana gives instructions to the others, Metamorpho oxygenating Wildcat's lungs and Black Lightning jump starting his heart. Later at Wildcat's gym, we see the Outsiders smiling and sparring, now on the road to be heroes.

Who's Who

Wildcat (Voiced by R. Lee Ermey)
First Comic Book Appearance: Sensation Comics #1 (January, 1942)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Six- Enter the Outsiders!

Wildcat is Ted Grant, a former heavy weight boxer, who was framed for murder and took up the identity of Wildcat to prove his innocence. Even after proving his innocence, Grant continued to don the Wildcat costume to fight crime. Wildcat became a regular member of the Justice Society of America, and a mentor for many of the team's younger members. He remained on the team long after many of his peers had retired or passed on, teaching boxing and life lessons to anyone who would listen. Wildcat is a champion boxer, strong and fast, with stamina of a much younger man. He also obtained a magical power that granted him nine lives, like cats of legend.

Black Lightning (Voiced by Bumper Robinson)
First Comic Book Appearance:  Black Lightning #1 (April, 1977)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Six- Enter the Outsiders!

Jefferson Pierce was an Olympic decathlete who returned to his home neighborhood in Metropolis, the Southside neighborhood called Suicide Slum, to become a teacher and school principal. But when gang activity grew worse, Pierce donned a costume and used his metahuman powers to become Black Lightning. Black Lightning was DC Comics first African-American hero to headline his own title, and while he has only headlined his own title twice, both for fairly short runs, he has appeared regularly for decades as a member of the Outsiders and the Justice League of America. Black Lightning can channel electricity, firing bolts of lightning and creating force fields with it; originally his power was scientific, coming from a belt that granted these powers, but was later revised to be his own innate metahuman ability.

Katana (Voiced by Vyvan Pham)
First Comic Book Appearance:  The Brave and the Bold #200 (July, 1983)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Six- Enter the Outsiders!

When Tatsu Yamashiro chose to marry Maseo Yamashiro over his brother Takeo, she didn't realize that a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions had been set in motion. The angry Takeo, a member of the Yakuza, acquired a sword called the Soultaker, and challenged his brother to a fight for Tatsu. In the course of the battle, not only was Maseo slain, but a fire started that killed Tatsu's children. Tatsu was able to fight and disarm Takeo, and taking the Soultaker sword, which possessed the souls of all it had slain, Tatsu began a quest for vengeance, taking up the way of the samurai. Along her way, she joined the Outsiders, and continued to fight by their side even after she had her vengeance, becoming a mother figure to Outsider Halo. Over the years Tatsu has also been a member of the Suicide Squad and the Justice League of America. She has appeared in an arc of the third season of Arrow, as Batman's partner in the animated series Beware the Batman, and will be a member of the Suicide Squad in this summer's film. Katana is a master of martial arts and swordsmanship. She possesses the Soultaker, which absorbs the life force of any it kills.

Metamorpho (Voiced by Scott Menville)
First Comic Book Appearance:  The Brave and the Bold #57 (January, 1965)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Six- Enter the Outsiders!

Treasure hunter Rex Mason was working for Simon Stagg, millionaire industrialist, to retrieve an Egyptian artifact called the Orb of Ra when he was exposed to the meteorite that the orb was fashioned from. The meteorite bathed him in radiation, turning him into Metamorpho, the Element Man. While now freakishly transformed, Rex continued to romance Stagg's daughter, Sapphire, to the ire of Stagg and his bodyguard/right hand man, the revived caveman called Java, who also loved Sapphire. He worked for Stagg regularly, until he became first a member of the Outsiders, and then the Justice League International. He would eventually marry Sapphire, and they would have a child, who inherited Rex's powers, although the child was eventually cured. Metamorpho has the ability to turn into and channel any element; while initially he could only change to those in the human body, he can now transform into any element. He is also a shape shifter, who can transform any part of his body onto various shapes.

B'wana Beast (Voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson)
First Comic Book Appearance:  Showcase #66 (January 1967)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Six- Enter the Outsiders!

Created in the 1960's, the character of B'wana Beast can be looked at as somewhat quaint to downright insulting by modern standards, when his origins are considered. Mike Maxwell is one of those characters who was a white man who traveled to Africa and used native magics, in his case a helmet and elixir, to become the hero of native peoples. The character has at this point become more commonly used in animation then comics, as he only has a handful of comics appearances, and the more colonialist aspects of his origins are glossed over, as you will see as you continue to watch Brave and the Bold. Aside from standard super strength, enhanced durability, and tracking powers, B'Wana Beast can telepathically communicate with animals, and can merge two animals into one creature, creating strange animal hybrids.

Black Manta (Voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson)
First Comic Book Appearance:  Aquaman #35 (September, 1967)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Three- Evil Under the Sea!

Slug (Voiced by Alexander Polinsky)
First Comic Book Appearance:  None
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Six- Enter the Outsiders!

Slug is a character created for the show. There might be aspects of a Marvel character of the same name, who was an obese ganglord, and Sleez, a servant of Darkseid who has a similar look.

Continuity, Comics Connections, and Notes

R. Lee Ermey, best known for his performance as the drill instructor in Full Metal Jacket, plays the part of Wildcat, a very different trainer here. The part was previously played by the legendary Dennis Farina in Justice League Unlimited, and while Farina did a great job, I personally love Ermey's bombastic take on the character, making him one of my favorite Brave and the Bold guest stars.

The Outsiders were a team that was created in 1983 to be a team led by Batman. After quitting the Justice League, Batman forms the Outsiders to aid him in a crisis in the fictional Eastern European country of Markovia. Aside from the three members here, all adults in the comic book version, the team also initially included two other characters, both created for the team: Geo-Force, the prince of Markovia who had super strength and other powers based on geological energy, and Halo, who had various powers based on spectrums of light. Batman would leave as leader of the team, and the Outsiders would continue, having multiple series over the years with various members, including, but not limited to, Nightwing, Arsenal, Eradicator, Looker, Thunder (Black Lightning's daughter), Batgirl (Cassandra Cain), and Indigo, who recently appeared as a villain on the Supergirl TV show. Their is a new group called the Outsiders in the current DCU, but they have no connection to the pre-Flashpoint team, except that Katana is a member of both.

Wildcat was not a character created to have any ties to Batman or his extended family. But in the 90s, it was established he helped train both a young Batman and Catwoman. Add in his paternal relationship to Black Canary, who became an extended member of the Bat family due to her membership in Birds of Prey and her close friendship with Barbara Gordon, and Wildcat became a sort of grumpy grandpa figure to many Bat characters.

The Batmobile that explodes apart to reveal a Batcycle has precedent in two Batman films. In Batman Returns, the Batmobile sheds much of its outer armor to form a smaller vehicle to allow it to pass through smaller alleys, and in The Dark Knight, the Batpod, a motorcycle, is hidden inside the Tumbler, that universe's Batmobile.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Review of Comics from Wednesday 4/13

Gotham Academy #17
Story (Framing Sequence): Brenden Fletcher
Art (Framing Sequence): Adam Archer & Sandra Hope

The "Yearbook" anthology arc continues in Gotham Academy this issue with three more stories of time's past at Gotham Central, some within the year, and one thirty years ago. The framing sequence sees Oliver and Maps searching for Maps's stolen "yearbook," her homemade scrapbook of events of the past year, that was stolen by Robin last issue for reasons unknown, and while the frame does have a lot of fun interactions between the two, the draw for this issue is the stories by various creators within it. "This One's For You," comes from series writer Brenden Fletcher, but features characters and artists from one of his other books. Annie Wu and Serge LaPointe join Fletcher to tell the story of Black Canary filming a video on the grounds of the Academy. But the story isn't really about the band, but instead their road manager, Heathcliff, who started out as a cast member in Gotham Academy, and his relationship with the girl he left behind, Pomeline, the Academy's resident expert on all things magic. The story address the relationship, which hasn't been mentioned much since Heathcliff went off with the band, and is a sweet story of teen romance. "A Familiar Story," written and illustrated by Michael Dialynas, sees Maps and Olives on another night when they were wandering the hallways of the Academy after hours, and what happens when they run into a giant cat monster, who is, ahem, familiar to readers of DC's magical line, It's a fun story, and I like when these other DCU characters interact with the Academy kids. The final story, "What Became of the Gilkey Warlocks...?" comes from Mouse Guard creator David Petersen, and tells the story of a group of students in 1984 playing Serpents & Spells, an RPG that Maps still plays in the present stories, and the unfortunate thing that happens when they try to play in one of the Academy's hidden rooms. Whether or not it's an urban legend Maps is telling or something that really happened is left up to the reader. As the New York Times published an article today about the D&D scares of the 70s, this has a resonance as those parents worst nightmare. It's also interesting to see Pederson drawing people, as I'm so used to him drawing animals, but the art, no matter the subject, is as gorgeous as ever. Add in a pin-up from the always wonderful Colleen Coover, and you have a great issue for fans old and new from some amazing creators.

Princeless Book 5: Make Yourself #1
Story: Jeremy Whitley
Art: Emily Martin & Brett Grunig

It's always a good week when Princeless comes back for a new series! Before we get started with this issue, there was a zero issue which you really should track down, as it was a beautiful story about our lead, Princess Adrienne accepting herself, but I missed reviewing it the week it came out as I didn't get it for a couple weeks after it came out thanks to a shipping error, but it was one of the most moving comics I can remember reading in years.

Now, as for this issue, we have two distinct plots running in this issue. One deals with Devin, Princess Adrienne's brother, and his werewolf guide, Kira, encountering some characters who have appeared in the Princeless anthology minis, Tempest the elf and Prince Wilcome. The other plot sees the dwarfs of the dwarf mountain homeland preparing for a dragon attack, and we meet the Dragon Slayers, and I think anyone who knows Princeless knows exactly who the dragon is (and who's riding it), and so we get a very different experience than the Dragon Slayers expected. The plot with Devin and his party is interesting, as werewolves and elves are natural enemies, and Kira seems right on the edge of killing Tempest at any moment, even as Devin gets to know and like Tempest more and more. And Wilcome is a scheming little git who's counting on helping find the "missing" queen so he can earn himself a princess; he's everything the sweet and sensitive Devin isn't, and is one of the character types that Princeless so readily and ably lampoons.

Speaking of the kind of thing Princeless lampoons, the opening scene in the dwarf kingdom sees dwarf guards basically equating femininity to weakness, and when the dragon is sighted and the Dragon Slayers are called, who are the Dragon Slayers? All women. And they kick some serious butt. What follows is a sequence involving climbing, ballistas, and flying suits maneuvering through the snow. It's a tour de Force for both penciller Emily Martin and colorist Brett Grunig. Dragons are fantasy's mightiest killers, but you can absolutely see that these dwarfs could take them. I was kind of surprised when I saw this cover and saw two dwarfs who looked like Bedelia, Adrienne's dwarven best friends, since all the characters are usually so distinct, but I should have trusted artist Emily Martin more than that: they look like Bedelia because they're related to Bedelia. And boy howdy, but Bedelia's family are huggers.

Princeless is always a joy to read, and this new series looks to be no exception, with new friends, new enemies, and some badass dwarfs,

Thanos: The Infinity Finale
Story: Jim Starlin
Art: Ron Lim, Andy Smith, & Guru-eFX

Jim Starlin's most recent set of Thanos related stories comes to a satisfying conclusion in the aptly titled Infinity Finale. The second volume ended with the now godlike Adam Warlock imprisoned by Annihilus and Thanos committing suicide while trapped in a dimension between dimensions. The final volume begins with Thanos awakening in the halls of  Death, having been revived by Mistress Death, but unfortunately it took three months, and Annihilus has run roughshod over the galaxy. The few remaining heroes are hidden on Earth's Moon, preparing for a last ditch attack, while Pip the Troll hides in Annihilus's capital, attempting to free Warlock. There's wild action as the heroes fight the bug army, aided by Thanos who has a plan to stop Annihilus from wiping out the universe entirely. It's cool to see that Starlin either had everything planned out from the beginning, or at least went and made sure to pull in eeleemnts from the previous two volumes, plus the Thanos Vs. Hulk mini-series, the Infinity Entity mini-series, and last year's Thanos Annual. Starlin's Thanos is  a much different character than he is under anyone else's pen; more thoughtful, less hand wringingly evil; he's a protagonist you can root for, at least some of the time. Starlin also plays with the idea of "Above-All-Others," what DC calls The Presence and what most religions call God. Interestingly, while Starlin has always stood firmly against organized religion in his work, his God isn't such a negative figure; they are removed from the existence of the universe, but not against it. the god-like Warlock also gets his time to shine, as he must make amends for what Annihilus used him to do. I don't want to give away too much, as there are some very cool twists and turns at the end of the book, but a major gap in the Marvel Universe cosmology left by the run-up to Secret Wars is filled, and Starlin puts the original Adam Warlock back in play for whatever plans Marvel might have for him in the future. While the previous two volumes featured story and art by Jim Starlin, this volume sees the return of Starlin's old collaborator, Ron Lim, who drew half of Infinity Gauntlet, as well as all of Infinity War and Infinity Crusade. While I'm a fan of Starlin's own pencils, Lim is the guy who I associate most heavily with Marvel's cosmic universe, and his Thanos and Warlock (as well as Pip and other Infinity Watch related characters) are my definitive versions. It was cool to see him drawing Thanos and Thor fighting side-by-side, the armies of the dead versus the armies of the bugs, and the ironic punishment of the true mastermind behind all these events. While I can only hope we will see more Marvel cosmic work from him in the future, this is the last story from Jim Starlin, creator of Thanos and definer of Warlock, for the foreseeable future, and while he knows that he can't write a true ending for these characters, this is a fitting resting place for his versions of them.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Recommended Reading for 4/15: The Sixth Gun

The Weird Western genre has had a resurgence in recent years, and while some of that can be attributed to DC's push on Jonah Hex,as much if not more can go to Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt's The Sixth Gun, a creator owned western out of Oni Press that proved that original Western content had an audience still hungry for it, this writer included (cool fact: issue one of the series was Oni Press's 2010 Free Comic Book Day issue, for which I am grateful, since that's how I discovered the series. Another case where FCBD has done something awesome for me). While Bunn and heart had both done work in comics before (as a matter of fact, they had done a series called The Damned for Oni), this is the series that shone a spotlight on them, and as the series begins its final arc next Wednesday, I wanted to spend some time discussing why you should check it out.

Set in the Reconstruction era American South, The Sixth Gun is the story of a band of unlikely heroes attempting to stop the destruction and recreation of the world using six magical guns. The two main characters of the series are Drake Sinclair, a roguish gunman with secrets in his past, and Becky Montcrief, the innocent young woman who comes into possession of the eponymous Sixth Gun at the beginning of the series, and must keep it out of the hands of undead confederate generals, witches, serpent creatures, and all manner of monsters, or the world is doomed. Throughout the series, a wide variety of deeply written and interesting allies and enemies have lived and died, but Drake and Becky stand at the center of the story.

Before I talk about more plot and character stuff, I just want to address the title and its eponymous weapon. The Sixth Gun has been a tremendous achievement of world building, which I know is one of my favorite phrases, but it's something that draws me to a story. I love when the creators of a comic, novel, movie, or any work of fiction take time to plot out not only a long game, but to give thought to the world around their character, and the objects and locations in it. The Six, the magical guns that are the driving force of the series, are really well thought out. I want to give the description of each gun drawn from The Sixth Gun RPG as they use phrasing from the comic and show that Bunn put thought into each gun as an object on it own, instead of treating them simply as MacGuffins:

The First Gun strikes with the ungodly force of a cannon shell.

The Second Gun spreads the very flames of Perdition.

The Third Gun Spreads the flesh-rotting plagues of old.

The Fourth Gun calls up the spirits of the men and women it has slain.

The Fifth Gun grants eternal youth and the ability to heal from even fatal wounds.

The Sixth Gun speaks to its wielder, revealing the past and the future.

The opening arc of The Sixth Gun introduces readers not just to Drake and Becky, and details how Becky comes to posses the Sixth Gun, but the the current holders of the other guns of The Six. They are a group of former Confederate soldiers who served under the merciless General Oleander Hume, previous holder of the Sixth Gun, as well as Hume's wife. There goal is to retrieve the Sixth Gun so they can return it to the now undead Hume and begin bringing about the apocalypse. Becky and Drake travel, along with Drake's partner Billjohn O'Henry to the Maw, a prison built by Hume, and there, along with one of the prisoners, Gord Cantrell, face down Hume's army of the Undead and the bearers of the Six.

That first arc captures so much about what makes The Sixth Gun a great comic. Not only do we meet a group of fascinating characters, but it's a tense race to keep the Sixth Gun from the hands of General Hume's men, and the final battle at the Maw is a gorgeous set piece, brilliantly put together by Brian Hurtt and featuring monsters and men doing battle.

The series follows Becky and Drake through many different locales, some real or realistic, some decidedly fanciful. The second arc takes place on the streets of New Orleans, but streets populated by Caribbean crossroads gods and demons. There are towns populated by snake people that serve Griselda, the Grey Witch, the mother of General Hume and a powerful sorceress. One whole arc takes place nearly entirely in a supernatural snow storm, with supernatural wolves hunting out heroes. And when Becky goes on a Native American ghost walk, we see the origin of the Six and how they have taken different forms throughout many different ages,

The balance between the western and the weird is another of the charms of The Sixth Gun. While the villains include witches and undead generals, there are also Pinkerton detectives employed to find out heroes. The Native American tribes are always treated respectfully and realistically in their bearing, but there are thunderbirds of myth and the shrunken head of a shaman that possesses his bearer. And while not dwelt on, the social ramifications of the civil war are present, while the possible ramifications of the end of the world always dog the protagonists.

And now it's time to talk about those protagonists. Becky Montcrief is the center of the series, not just as the bearer of the title Sixth Gun, but as she is the character whose emotional journey rests at its core. When we first meet Becky, she is an innocent who has been living with her stepfather away from civilization. But when she comes into possession of the Sixth Gun (which her stepfather had, having been part of the party that liberated it from General Hume), she has to grow up fast. We watch Becky become part of the world outside her limited sphere, and not slowly. She not only has to deal with monsters hunting her, but the weight of responsibility. We watch Becky become a woman to be reckoned with as we move towards the series ending.

Drake Sinclair's path is one of redemption. Drake was part of General Hume's crew during the Civil War, but when he realized just how evil Hume was, Drake broke ties with the General, and tried to live his post-War years as a scoundrel and ne'er-do-well, looking out only for himself, his partner, and his pockets. But when he is drawn into the web of he apocalypse and the Six, Drake does his best to redeem himself for his selfishness and dark actions, and pays repeatedly with his own blood and hat of his friends. I'm a sucker for a redemption story, and Drake is a man who wants to do better, even if he so often falls short.

But if I had to pick a favorite character in the series, it would be Gord Cantrell. Gord is a former slave and a former prisoner of General Hume's Maw prison. He is also one of he few truly and fully good characters in the series. He had dabbled with the dark arts as a younger man, but now has passed through that crucible to be a trusted friend and ally to Becky, using his knowledge of magic to help find a way to destroy the Six. With a past filled with tragedy, Gord is a rich character who feels his own life is worth the sacrifice to save the world.

The final recurring heroic character, and I use the heroic in this case loosely, is Kirby Hale. Hale is a young gunslinger, handsome and charming, and cocky to the extreme. And you're never sure exactly whose side he's on. Kirby's first appearance sparks a romantic triangle of sorts between him, Becky, and Drake. His feelings complicate his life, as he really develops feelings for Becky, which drives him to be a better man and make choices the previously smarmy gunslinger never would have.

The villains of The Sixth Gun are a little more hand-wringingly evil at the time of the series, as most of them have surrendered much of their humanity to the power of The Six or to other forces of evil, but the spin-off mini-series have given us more of an understanding of their times before evil ruled them. The four men who wield four of the guns at the beginning of the series each get a spotlight issue to see what they were after the war and before they returned to hunt the Sixth Gun. Jesup Sutter, a Pinkerton who served Missy Hume and eventually Griselda the Grey Witch, shares a mini-series and we see that he has tragedy in his background. But General Hume and his wife, Missy, and Griselda the Grey Witch, who is revealed as the series big bad? They are more given over the the darkness, and are much less sympathetic figures, which is perfectly fine, if you ask me. When you're trying to bring about the apocalypse, there's a good chance evil is as evil does.

And over the course of the forty-seven issues so far, there are many more fascinating characters. Members of two rival orders, the Knights of Solomon, who seek the secrets and powers of the magical artifacts throughout the world, and the Sons of the Sword of Abraham, a holy order of priests dedicated to destroying The Six, move in and out of the series, the former led by Jesup Sutter, the latter by the noble but driven Brother Roberto. Towards the middle of the series, Becky and Drake gain two Native American allies, the warrior Nahuel and the medicine woman Nidawi, as well as the totem they wield, the shrunken head of the medicine man Screaming Crow, who can possess the bodies of the living and wield his magic through them. And the most odd character of all, Asher Cobb. Cobb was born with gigantism, and after his death was mummified, and whose corpse is now an oracle. Cobb is another character who I found absolutely fascinating, and whose tragic life makes his choices, both good and bad, understandable. And let me boil that down: he's an eight-foot tall mummy who sees the future; if that's not a comic book concept, I never heard one.

 Brian Hurtt's art works perfectly in tandem with Cullen Bunn's scripts. His work captures both the old west and the fantastic elements of the stories, with large and terrifying creatures, like giant white wolves, as well as gunslingers and saloons. The book wouldn't ring with the authenticity without his thoroughly researched work (and if he didn't research the hell out of the period, he's got me fooled).  On top of his excellent character designs, making all the main and minor characters of The Sixth Gun memorable, the monsters and settings make this is visually outstanding series. And on top of Hurtt's excellent work, one of my favorite artists in comics, Tyler Crook of BPRD and Harrow County fame, did three one-off issues focusing on the backgrounds of Kirby Hale, Asher Cobb, and Griselda, as well as my favorite of the the spin off mini-series, the one focusing on Drake's loyal partner Billjohn O'Henry.

The Sixth Gun is a western tale with magic, monsters, romance, and style. If you're a fan of Stephen King's The Dark Tower, another western by way of magic, or traditional westerns of any stripe, it's a great book to try out, and with the concluding arc kicking off this Wednesday, you have three months to get caught up before the big finale.

The Sixth Gun is collected in eight individual trade paperbacks, starting with Cold Dead Fingers, all of which are readily available at comic shops and on-line, that collect the entire series to date, as well as three trades that collect the spin-off mini-series. There are also three over-sized hardcovers to date, but those have not quite reached the most recent arcs, so if you want to get caught up, the trades are the way to go, or if you like big hardcovers, a final volume or two should finish off the series,

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Great Batman: The Brave and the Bold Rewatch: "Day of the Dark Knight!"

Season One, Episode Five: Day of the Dark Knight!
Written by J.M. DeMatteis
Directed by Ben Jones

Plot Synopsis

Teaser: Batman and Green Lantern Guy Gardner bring a prisoner in to the planet Oa. After depositing him, they bump into Kilowog, who is bringing in a tiny and deceptively cute prisoner of his own, who mouths off at Gardner. Gardner dumps coffee on the prisoner, who grows to gigantic size and punches Gardner into the Lantern Corps commissary. Gardner fights with the creature while Batman builds a device to return the creature to its normal diminutive size, leaving Gardner to clean up the literal mess he has made.

Episode: Opening with an explosion at a prison, various super and regular criminals are making their escape when Batman arrives to stop them, followed closely by Green Arrow. The two heroes make short work of the escaping crooks, and find that they have each taken down the exact same number of them. Arrow comments on this, and while Batman says aloud it's not a competition his internal monologue mentions that the two of them are competitive but it never gets out of hand.

One last criminal appears, and both heroes launch their weapons at him, only for him to use magic to stop the attacks and teleport the heroes away. The "criminal" is revealed to be Merlin, who has called the heroes to Camelot to stop Morgaine le Fey, who has conquered the realm. Only "The One Who Is Worthy" can retrieve Excalibur, King Arthur's sword, and use it to defeat Morgaine. Merlin is unsure which of the two is the right hero. Morgaine, watching this, tells Jason Blood that he must stop this, and releases the Etrigan, the demon who is bound to Blood, to do her bidding.

Riding through the forest, Merlin tells Batman and Arrow that he thinks Batman is the one destined to free Excalibur from the stone, just as Morgaine's monsters and Etrigan attack. Batman fights with Etrigan, but Merlin stops the demon, and Batman and Arrow begin competing again at the highest number of monsters defeated. Merlin tries to get Etrigan back under his control, as Morgaine stole him from Merlin, but the demon bests Merlin. Etrigan then turns his attention on Batman and Arrow, and after nearly crushing them with a boulder. they drive him off. Angry at her failed servant, Morgaine heads off to deal with the heroes, leaving a a stone King Arthur behind.

With Merlin recovered, the heroes head out again, with Batman and Arrow bickering over whether or not it was Arrow's exploding Arrow or Batman's Bat-grenade that stopped Etrigan. A frustrated Merlin tells the heroes that they have arrived at the Tower of Excalibur, and the two heroes rush off to reach the top of the tower and get the sword.They find the tower protected by ogres, and when the heroes defeat them, stairs appear to let the heroes into the tower. Arrow grows more frustrated as Merlin continues to favor Batman.

Morgaine appears and after bantering with Merlin, she takes over Batman's mind, garbing him in dark armor, and sends him to retrieve the sword for her. Merlin fights Morgaine and Etrigan while sending Arrow after Batman to prove his worthiness.

Arrow is able to use a trick arrow with a line and pulley to meet Batman, and after a brief duel, Batman nearly defeats Arrow just as Morgaine defeats Merlin. Standing with Arrow hanging off the cliff by one hand, Batman is nearly swayed by Arrow reminding him of their friendship before Morgaine appears and has him step on Arrow's hand, sending him falling. Merlin, with Etrigan holding him and about to kill him, casts a spell that hits Batman with seemingly little effect.

In the tower, Batman and Morgaine reach Excalibur. But Merlin's spell has freed Batman's mind, and he uses a Batarang to knock Morgaine back as Merlin enters, having turned Etrigan back into Jason Blood, who has been freed by Merlin. Morgaine changes into a dragon, and Batman attempts to draw the sword from the stone, only to find he can't; he is apparently not the One Who is Worthy.

Blood changes back to Etrigan, and he and Merlin try to stop Morgaine the Dragon, but fail as she destroys the tower, sending them all crashing down. She turns Etrigan and Merlin to stone, and is about to do the same to Batman when Green Arrow reappears. He is also not able to free the sword, but Batman and Arrow together are able to pull the sword, and Arrow fires it like an arrow into the dragon, who is vanquished, and everyone returns to flesh and blood.

Heading away from the tower, Merlin says Arthur will knight both the heroes, but when they start bickering again, a frustrated Merlin simply sends them back to the present. Batman and Arrow seem to come to peace with their competition, but when an alert comes through of a bank robbery, the two heroes speed off, seeing who can reach the bank first.

Who's Who

Green Arrow (Voiced by James Arnold Taylor)
First Comic Book Appearance: More Fun Comics #73 (November, 1941)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode One- Rise of the Blue Beetle

Guy Gardner (Voiced by James Arnold Taylor)
First Comic Book Appearance:  Green Lantern #59 (August, 1968)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Five- Day of the Dark Knight!

Originally designated as a stand-by replacement Green Lantern for the original Silver Age Green Lantern, Hal Jordan, Guy Gardner was initially a fairly bland character. But in the 1980's, writer Steve Englehart changed Guy Gardner's personality, making him a stereotypical 80s guy's guy, full of arrogance and attitude, a personality made even broader during his time on the Justice League International. Gardner's personality has fluctuated since then, some times becoming even more unlikable than many villains, but in recent years, he has evened out, still maintaining his ego and braggadocio, while becoming  more heroic again. Batman and Guy Gardner's most famous comics interaction took place in Justice League #5, where Gardner challenged Batman to a fist fight for leadership of the League, and Batman knocked him out with one punch before simply walking away. Gardner possesses a Green Lantern ring, a weapon empowered by the Guardians of the Universe to tap into the bearer's willpower to generate constructs and energy blasts. It is only limited by the wielder's will and imagination.

Kilowog (Voiced by Deidrich Bader)
First Comic Book Appearance:  Green Lantern #201 (June, 1986)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Five- Day of the Dark Knight!

Kilowog is one of the most famous non-human members of the Green Lantern Corps. The last survivor of the destroyed planet Bolovax Vik, Kilowog is the drill sergeant of the Corps, working to train new recruits to be the best Lantern they can be. Kilowog has been a fixture in every incarnation of the Corps since his introduction, and a trusted ally of all of Earth's Lanterns and their allies.At a time when the Corps was disbanded, Kilowog, whose home planet was destroyed, came to Earth and worked doing mechanic work with the Justice League, but was recruited immediately back to his old position. Aside from the standard powers of a wielder of a Green Lantern ring, Kilowog is stronger and more durable then humans, and has a genius level intellect.

Etrigan the Demon (Voiced by Dee Bradley Baker)
First Comic Book Appearance:  The Demon #1 (August, 1972)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Five- Day of the Dark Knight!

"Gone, gone, the form of man/ And rise, the demon, Etrigan!" Created by Jack Kirby, Etrigan was the demonic servant of Merlin (and half brother to the wizard in his demonic fathers side), who depending on which version of his origin you read is either transformed into a human named Jason Blood to help control him, or bound to a man of that name who is his own person for the same reason. The two traveled down the centuries together, resentful of each other, as only one can be in the real world at a time, leaving the other in Hell. In modern times, Etrigan is often a reluctant hero, with Jason Blood transforming at times that leave Etrigan no choice but to fight against threats that are worse than him. The two continually attempt to find a way to separate and leave the other, but every time this happens, they are bound together again. Etrigan has all the standard powers of a demon, but at a higher level, as he is one of Hell's most powerful demons, including super strength, immortality, invulnerability, the ability to breathe fire, and is a master of the magic arts. Jason Blood shares immortality with Etrigan as long as they are bonded, and is a formidable magic user and hand-to-hand combatant.

Merlin (Voiced by David McCallum)
First Comic Book Appearance:  The Demon #1 (August, 1972)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Five- Day of the Dark Knight!

Morgaine le Fey (Voice by Tatyanna Yassukovich)
First Comic Book Appearance: The Demon #1 (August, 1972)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Five- Day of the Dark Knight!

Merlin and Morgaine Le Fey are two important figures from classic Arthurian myth; Merlin is the adviser to King Arthur, while Morgaine is his half sister on his mother's side, and often also the mother of his son, Mordred. There are many different comic book versions of both figures across numerous publishing companies, as they are public domain characters, being mythic figures. In DC Comics, they are usually tied to stories involving Etrigan, but Morgaine does tend to appear as a major magical threat fighting various superheroes. Merlin and Morgaine are two of the most powerful mages in the DC Universe, nearly unmatched in their manipulation of magical energies.

Continuity, Comics Connections, and Notes

It might seem an odd choice to use Guy Gardner as the fist spotlighted Green Lantern, but not if you look at the writer credit for the episode. J.M. DeMatteis is a prolific comics as well as animation writer, and one of the projects he's most famous for is the 80s Justice League International, which he cowrote with Kieth Giffen, where the obnoxious Guy Gardner was one of the principal characters.

The episode hearkens back to classic Batman stories of the 1950s, where both space and time travel were common.

This is the first of many episodes that are crammed to the gills with cameos. The teaser on Oa features many comic book members of the GL Corps in cameos, including  Salaak, Chaselon, Katma Tui, Tomar Re, Galius Zed, Arisia, Ch'p, Stel, Olapet, Medphyll, and Larvox.

The opening jail break not only has cameos by many of the villains who have appeared already in the series including Clock King, Felix Faust and Kiteman, but many of the TV versions of, or original villans, from the classic Batman TV series from 1966, including the Mad Hatter, Minstrel, Bookworm, The Siren, King Tut, False Face,Egghead, Louie the Lilac, and Shame.

Etrigan the Demon speaks throughout the episode entirely in rhyme. While this was not a feature of the character when introduced by Jack Kirby (the only rhyme involved there was the summoning chant), in an early appearance in the DC Universe at large, writer Len Wein had Etrigan speak in rhyme. Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and Matt Wagner followed suit, and nearly every incarnation of Etrigan has been a rhyming demon since. The exception is the work of John Byrne, who wrote Etrigan in Action Comics, Wonder Woman, and a short lived series called Blood of the Demon, who is anti-rhyme and has only written Etrigan as rhyming to break the spell cast on him by Morgaine to make him rhyme. This plotline has been ignored by all following writers, who continue to have Etrigan rhyme.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 4/6

The Fix #1
Story: Nick Spencer

Art: Steve Lieber & Ryan Hill

There are a lot of great crime comics out there, that focus on smart criminals pulling of million dollar heists and getting away scot-free with the money and the police left in the dust. The Fix, the new crime series from Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber, published by Image, is... not one of those. At all. It is instead a crime story more in the Coen brothers school, a tale of incompetent and venal criminals in way over their heads. Roy (our narrator) and Mac are literally partners in crime. They're also partners on the police force. They're crooked cops who are also flat out crooks; they don't just take bribes and look the other way, but the opening of the issue sees the two of them committing a robbery. At a nursing home. Because they owe the local mob kingpin a bunch of money because of gambling debts. From illegal robot fights. And not cool future-tech robots, but old school Battle Bots type robots. I know that was an excessive use of sentence fragments, but I wanted to use it to emphasize how completely out there and funny this book is. I don't want to use the words tongue-in-cheek, because that implies a sort of send up sensibility, and this comic doesn't have that. It's not parodying crime stories, but playing the tropes straight while dropping people into them who aren't the usual hard bitten crooks. Despite being a self-admitted bastard, you can't help liking Roy; he might not be the kind of guy you want to hang out with, but he's definitely fun to read about. And since this is set in L.A., you know he's got a movie deal waiting to be optioned so he can get out of the deep doo-doo he's in, and the guy in the movie business he knows? Well, he's not exactly the most stable and normal guy either. Pretty much every character you meet throughout this first issue works against expectations, or in the case of Donovan, the producer, is such a broad stereotype that you can't help but be horrified and amused at the same time. When Lt. Malone of Internal Affairs shows up, you're expecting this to turn into a sorry of these two guys trying (and probably failing if their track record is any indication) to avoid being caught for the nursing home robbery. Only, oops, Malone works for the big mob boss. And Josh, the mob boss? He's this stay at home dad, who cooks organic and is an anti-vaccer. Only when he knows the guys don't have the money he's owed, he begins to discuss, "Carving out their taints." It's darkly funny, very blue, and reads breezily; the first issue has no ads, an expanded page count, and it takes time to read in he best way. here are all sorts of odd little moments too, things involving vintage pornography, Donovan's weird "romantic" life, and a drug-sniffing dog named Pretzels, who may be this year's canine character find, that just add to the air of caper gone bad. Having read and loved this issue, I now need to track down the trades of the creators' previous crime comic, Superior Foes of Spider-Man, which I have heard is a similar crazy caper book, but with capes and tights. If you're going through crime comic withdrawal, waiting for all those books announced at Image Expo to start, you need to go and read The Fix.

Star Wars: Poe Dameron #1
Story: Charles Soule
Art: Phil Noto

While Rey and Finn were the new characters who got the most screen time in The Force Awakens, I felt like every time Oscar Isaac appeared on screen as fighter ace Poe Dameron, he stole the show. I've always been a sucker for Star Wars stories focusing on fighter pilots, and so a new series about the adventures of Poe before the events of the film was something that I've been looking forward to. And with creators with some previous Star Wars credits (Charles Soule wrote the Lando mini-series and is writing the current Obi-Wan and Anakin one, while Phil Noto drew Chewbacca, as well as plenty of spot illustrations for Star Wars fiction), I had set the bar petty high. And while the first issue didn't speak to a lot of the questions about the character many fans have about him, it was a great debut and a fun adventure story. Set directly in the run up to the events of The Force Awakens, this issue sees Poe given the assignment by General Leia Organa to locate Lor San Tekka, the character played by Max von Sydow in the opening moments of the film. The issue does a lot of set-up, introducing members of Poe's Black Squadron, many of whom are drawn from background pilots in the film, and setting them off on their mission. The opening of the issue is actually in media res, as Poe flies through a series of tunnels and caverns, and Noto draws hem ably; dog fighting and flight can be a daunting task to draw, and panels of starfighter flight can easily become confusing, but Noto knows what he's doing. Poe's adventure lads him to meet The Creche, a sect that is dedicated to protecting a giant egg that they believe will birth some kind of cosmic messiah, and who have clues to Lor San Tekka's whereabouts. These interactions allow us to see a different side of Poe, one that is more diplomatic and less action based. But things look bleak when Poe finds a tracker on his ship, and Noto gets in one great shot of the arrival of The First Order, setting the bar high for what will be an exciting battle next issue. The issue also has a back-up story, "SaBBotage," written and illustrated by Chris Eliopoulos, about Poe's droid, BB-8, playing matchmaker for a fighter pilot and a repair technician. It's a cute story, and made me miss he classic Star Wars Tales anthologies from Dark Horse, where this story would have fit perfectly. A solid starting point for more stories set around he events of The Force Awakens, Poe Dameron #1 is a solid Star Wars comic, with a strong adventure, a touch of humor, and interesting new worlds, which is everything I want out of Star Wars.

Steven Universe: Too Cool for School OGN
Story: Ian Jones-Quartey & Jeremy Sorese
Art: Asia Kendrick-Horton w/ Rachel Dukes & Leigh Luna w/Andy Leigh R

Steven Universe gets to have lots of cool adventures, without very having to worry about the mundane, day-to-day stuff most kids have to go through, like school. But when Steven's friend, Connie, takes Steven to school for show and tell because he's bored and wants something to do, well, you can imagine that chaos is in the offing. Pretty soon, the school principal is insisting Steven stay in school to learn to properly socialize with kids his age, and get beyond his fantasies about being part alien and having alien friends. Following on he heels of successful original graphic novels based on Adventure Time and Regular Show, this new Steven Universe story works far better as a full graphic novel than it ever would as single issues; based on a story by animated series produced Ian Jones-Quartey, the narrative would have felt unnaturally choppy as monthly comics. Instead, we get a story that not only explores how Steven interacts with kids his own age, but get an exploration of Steven's relationship with Connie. The animated series has done a great job of establishing that relationship, making it deeper and far more rich than you'd expect from kids in middle school, but this story places them not in Steven's sphere, where they usually are, but in Connie's, and the quiet, usually reserved Connie is not as patient with Steven as he draws attention to her in ways she is unused to. But these are passing storms, as Connie and Steven are the best of friends, and Steven might be a good influence on Connie's social life, as people notice her. But Steven, as is usually the case, is followed by the usual madness of being a part alien, and when a giant snail monster attacks the school, it's not Steven, but Connie, who not only figures out how to stop it, but leads the other kids. I love the spotlight that Connie stands in, and how nicely balanced the story is between the day to day of school and Steven's adventures with the Gems and the monster attack. And the end of the story has a nice message about being yourself, something that is an ingrained part of the Steven Universe, well, universe. The back up story, "Yard Sale," from Josceline Fenton, who is writing the current Steven Universe mini-series, has Steven and the Gems going to a garage sale at the home of Vidalia. It's a sweet story that demonstrates just how nice a kid Steven is, and ends with a punchy little joke, on that fans of the show will appreciate. Hopefully, this volume will be successful and we'll se more Steven Universe graphic novels, as this one was great fun, especially as we wait for new episodes.