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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Spoiler Reviews for Comics released May 30, 2012

Amazing Spiderman Annual #39 - 9/10

Writer Brian Reed has put good use of Spider-Man's current position in the Marvel Universe into play with this Annual.  Shunting the webhead out of time during a experiment in Horizon Labs with the all-too-innocent chubby scientist Grady, we catch a glimpse of what the world might look like without Spider-Man. Penciler Lee Garbett does a solid job in all respects, giving a friendly tone to a world that seems in some ways better off (Norman Osborne cures cancer, Mary Jane Watson is a superstar) and in others quite ordinary (Spider-Woman and the Avengers seem much the same).  What makes this issue stand out more than anything is the temporary return of Uncle Ben, who Peter Parker couldn't help but visit. If you want to pick up just one Spider-Man comic this year, this would be the one.  It's clutter-free despite the chronal catastrophe at the outset, and it fleshes out characters without attempting to go overboard.  Nearly perfect in execution, and so far as "the new status quo" goes, well-placed in continuity, and Reed has clearly done his homework regarding key points along the Spider-Man timeline, played up throughout.




Animal Man Annual 1 - 9/10

Ongoing series writer Jeff Lemire has been running with the same "Animal Man's family on the run from the Rot" story for nearly a year, and this Annual, the first for Animal Man's new series, fits into that, hinting at the upcoming team-up with Alec Holland, Swamp Thing and last knight of the Green.  The story stands on its own, in a fashion, being in great part a flashback to a team up between warriors of the Green and the Red to stave off The Rot. This Annual features glorious art by Timothy Green, whose alternation between sparsity and complexity of line-work suit the story quite well.  The mythology brewing in the "Vertigo import" titles of the New DCU, Swamp Thing and Animal Man, has been venturing into interesting new places, breaking ground for newer and older generations of readers to enjoy.  So far as intrigue goes, it has come to a point where the final battle or battles will have to match or exceed the build-up, as lengthy and pleasantly meandering as it has been.  This issue, a pause of reflection, in some respects, compounds that feeling.  Still gloriously done. Leaves the future for these characters wide open in terms of potential development.




BATMAN Annual #1 - 8/10



Mister Freeze has not warranted a decent reappraisal since Schwarzenegger turned him into a joke so many years ago.  This Batman Annual, however, written by Scott Snyder and James T Tynion IV with impressive art by Jason Fabok, pulls us into the character with an ease that some might not expect.  Tying into the "Night of the Owls" storyline wrapping up all the Batman related titles at the moment, Mr. Freeze breaks out of Arkham in a somewhat novel fashion, goes on a brutal rampage up to and including the semi-legitimate Penguin's casino (to get his freeze guns) and returns to his object of obsession, his precious Nora.  In previous continuity, this was rather straightforwardly (read: dully) played out as his wife.  There is now a twist, potentially coupled with details of his family background, that gives the demented tragedy of Mr. Freeze a deeper resonance than was previously thought possible.  At the end of the day, of course, this can only wrap up in a limited fashion, but the trip to the inevitable end has some good and even surprising moments along the way.



Star Trek The Next Generation/Doctor Who #1 - 9/10


Here we have a crossover that fans of both series should take a moment with, something quite unexpected but highly enjoyable.  With storywork by Scott Tipton, David Tipton, and Tony Lee, the cross-over starts out in the Star Trek Universe (are we to assume both universes are one and the same? If so, would Q and the Doctor have an interesting interaction or what? Perhaps later issues will clarify this.) where the Cybermen have teamed up with the Borg and are laying siege to planets, Starfleet seeming helpless to stop them. We're carried to the Doctor's universe (with Rory and Amy) where they are just wrapping up a lovely set-to with ancient Egyptians and alien scum in disguise. J.K. Woodward's arts and colors have a clean yet almost ethereal quality to them, somehow fitting.  We finish this issue in what is quite obviously the anachronistic setting of early twentieth century San Francisco a la Enterprise Holodeck.  There were a hundred ways in which this story could go wrong, but it has a strong finish and looks to be well paced.  Here's to the future, eh?



Supercrooks #3 - 8/10

These days, Mark Millar writes superhero stories that seem as punchy as a wide-screen cinematic experience.  One-liners and dramatic fights play out amongst characters that could easily have celebrity sit-ins.  The premise for this story, obvious from the get-go, is "Oceans Eleven starring supervillains" making that last big score to get their old mentor out of trouble with a casino owner.  Since his work on Superior, also with Millar, artist Lenil Yu seems determined to make his characters and settings as clean and crisp as is humanly possible, even when covered in muck and gore.  This issue is the one in which the titular super criminals case the joint, in this case a villa for a retired super-villain known as The Bastard. From start to finish it's text-book longing for cinematic pick-up.  With each page you can practically see Millarworld spin off emails to grubby producers, pitches lined with clips where some textured baddie is growling and chewing the scenery.  Let's just never make another movie like WANTED. Please.



Wolverine #307 - 7.5/10 
With story by Cullen Bunn and art by Paul Pelletier, this issue marks another chapter in an ongoing arc involving Wolverine tracking down Dr. Rot, a homicidal surgical villain lurking behind the scenes for nearly as long as Wolverine's interminably normal boring girlfriend.  She's been looking for Wolverine with the Feds, who think Logan, James, whatever, has been going on a rampage.  Well, this issue, we get to meet Dr. Rot's "extended family" (Wolvie mercy-killed the dad and disemboweled a "cousin" last issue)... who are supposed to pack the same punch as the Texas Chainsaw Massacre family, perhaps, but end up coming off ghoulishly unrealistic and flat.  When these second-tier blood encrusted yahoos manage to one-up Wolverine, lobotomize, brainwash, and give him a tour of their facilities, the reader, if not already numb, can pull out of the muck long enough to predict the final page, wherein Wolverine's girlfriend and the Feds are closing in on the Rot compound, and Rot gives Wolverine orders to kill them.  Let's predict next issue. Wolverine doesn't kill his girlfriend. He doesn't even manage to kill any of the Rot family.  Somehow these people, grossly brutal villains that he has let off the hook before, will be let off the hook again.  Then the next level of status quo will be eminently achieved when Wolverine's dull awful ethnically confusing girlfriend tells him he's not an animal, or something to that effect.  Dialogue's decent enough and some instances of old tropes replayed are even novel, but ultimately this gruesome tale can only be re-examined in so many ways.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Spoiler Reviews for Comics from May 23, 2012



ASTONISHING X-MEN #50. The gimmick of the week is here...
***

Ignoramuses are likely none too pleased with this turn of events, but Marvel Comics is making a bold and timely move with the gay interracial marriage of Northstar in the next issue of Astonishing X-Men.  The lead-up to it (oddly out of synch with "regular continuity" but understandably so) involves the corruption and eventual murder(?) of long-standing X-person and mind-dominator Karma, and the fifteenth death of The Marauders.  Overall, plot pacing is standard and the art is at times oddly discomfiting, but this series, kicked off by Joss Whedon and John Cassady, then carried by Warren Ellis for a time, is now in the hands of writer Marjorie Liu and artist Mike Perkins, who seem more than capable of handling this hodge-podge stable of mutants.  This issue stands out because Jean Paul proposes.  Interesting that the choice to make the subplot of Northstar's lovelife brings it to issue 51 rather than the more milestone-ish 50th issue.  Whatever happened to the days of silver foil fold out 50th issues? Ah, budget cuts.


PROPHET #25 - Hints indicating an interesting new take on an Image throwback.
****

Remember the early days of Image Comics?  It's possible you don't recall the first appearance in Youngblood #2 of a certain John Prophet, headgear-sporting quasi-religious fanatic with strangely disproportionate physical features, who went on to carry his own series for a time.  Well, he's back.  And with new issues, it would seem that the direction, in terms of storyline as much as art, has gone in the proper direction.  Issue 25 is part two of the new reboot, apparently being co-written by Brandon Graham, Giannis Milonogiannis and Simon Roy, with Giannis Milonogiannis taking a hand at the art, bearing hints of Barry Windsor Smith's good old days thrown in with something entirely new and different.  I'd long since written off Prophet as a goofy junket from the days when Stephen Platt's art was raging and crashing in useless storylines that involved no substance whatsoever. The story here is still a lot of scenery chewing and Heavy Metal type fantasy tech, but it has a surprising depth, intriguing enough for what it is.




THE MIGHTY THOR #14. Why is it that this happens EVERY time Enchantress makes you breakfast in bed?
****

When you see a writer in mainstream comic books working with characters that he loves, you have to wonder where he will head with the next step, and when he will run out of steam.  Matt Fraction, who spanked the whole planet with FEAR ITSELF, seems most invested in Iron Man (his run with Invincible Iron Man stands as one of the best Marvel's had for old shellhead) and Thor.  The Mighty Thor has been for some time running as the sidequest of Thor returning from death.  With the official return cleared up, we can see that he's exploring Donald Blake's character, apparently a construct by Odin to house the essence of Thor.  Bereft of these godly energies, he's gone in league with long-standing villainess Enchantress to regain his deity status.  As with every single bloody time that someone falls under the sway of Enchantress, he's going to suffer dire consequences.  Meanwhile, Thor is trapped in a dream by nightmare creatures that might take the world tree Yggdrasil by force.  Matt Fraction writes these characters with a steadfast love, and that lends the stories a strong sense of presence.



BATMAN INCORPORATED #1 : Sometimes, Grant Morrison's humor bleeds out all over the floor.
****

You would think that eventually Grant Morrison would run out of ideas for the dark knight. But here, years after reintroducing his son Damian as the new Robin, overseeing Batman's death and Nightwing's attempt at the mantle, and ongoing hints of a world-wide "Batman Incorporated"... we have, at last, Batman Incorporated. It's not immediately clear if it runs in pure current continuity on the "New" Batman comics (it doesn't tie into the Court of Owls), but that doesn't matter. Leviathan, a villain fit for a board room full of nervous supervillains, has set his/her/its sights on Gotham, and that means, in classic Morrison style, a lot of detective work, dramatic battle sequences, and dramatic cliff-hangers.  Keep this series going for as long as Morrison has the ability to write it. 



TEEN TITANS #9: Blah blah blah blah.
**

I swear to God, I'm not sure why I keep picking Teen Titans up.  Nostalgia? False hope? Stupidity? If you developed a drinking game for the comic where every time someone said "Culling", "Harvest", or "Ravagers" you took a drink, you'd be drunk in two pages.  I get that there are divergent writing styles and even divergent readers (perhaps the main audience for this title are teenagers who need plot points repeated ad nauseum), but the storyline in this new run of Teen Titans is abysmal (and the art, while flashy, is uninspiring).  Somehow a government agency has been co-opted by Harvest, a megalomania-flavored supervillain with zero common sense or character-depth, and superpowered teens are being collected and pitted against one another in "the Culling" to create a team called The Ravagers (coming soon).  There are few, if any consequences to actions in the comic, not counting the introduction and pointless death of Artemis.  A brief hint at certain elements of Vertigo's Doom Patrol (remember the Men from N.O.W.H.E.R.E.?) lured me in, but this exposition-addled constant slugfest (drawing in the conversely more interesting Legion Lost into its mess) has lost me for good.  I feel nothing for any character or action in the series, and the break-neck pacing and unnatural dialogue hardly gives a reader time to.



JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK #9: Don't say the s-word.
****

This issue does a fine job of old-school comic book pacing mixed with the hard edge one should expect from Justice League Dark.  Steve Trevor enlists the aid of John Constantine and his occult friends in undoing the mystic dowager Jack Faust's schemes.  This issue also introduces Black Orchid to the team (last seen being brutally murdered in the pages of Swamp Thing long long ago), and reintroduces the Books of Magic to the DC Universe.  Jeff Lemire's script gives each character a distinct voice, and Mikel Janin's artwork lures us into re-evaluating each page over and over.  Still a solid comic book, despite a brief bump in the cross-over of previous issues, it seems like this title could outstrip many others in the universe in terms of captivating audiences with unexpected twists. Just don't call it "a superhero book" to its face.



IRREDEEMABLE #37: The final issue and a metaredemption.
*****

Mark Waid is evil. He said so himself. He plastered a comic book convention with the words.  The final issue of his interesting twist on heroes and villains, Irredeemable, was unpredictable but not in an upsetting way.  The villain of the story, once the world's mightiest hero The Plutonian, saves the day with assistance from his supergenius friend Qubit (now modified with Modeus), and in the end, after brutalizing the planet for issue upon issue, is somehow redeemed.  The manner in which this happens is reminiscent of the series penchant for metanarrative and lo-cal social commentary.  So far as superhero genre-busters go, this was a fine run for Waid, who when he finally got to the point (destroying city after city along the way), proved why he's an industry heavyweight who can stand apart from the mainstream and still genuinely love and invest in its tropes.

Remember when Grant Morrison had a similar scene in All Star Superman?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Dealing with the Overman: Brief Notes for a greater treatise regarding Superman the Icon





In this work, we will examine the icon of Superman, the first comic book superhuman that stuck.  We will also take a look, in somewhat chronological order, at the correlations, commentaries, and myriad takes on the mythology that arose around this concept.

We'll start with Superman, the infant sent in a rocket from a doomed world, raised by a childless couple in the American heartland of Kansas.  He first exhibited his abilities from a young age, leading to his gradual growth into the persona of Clark Kent, mild mannered reporter for The Daily Planet.  His creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, had no part in anything but the scantest part of the tremendous capital generated by Superman as a phenomenon, translated to moving pictures and countless streams of merchandise, far outweighing any competitor by sheer force of presence as an icon.

Years pass strangely between comic books and the real world, and after spawning a swamp of imitations and assimilating those that even came close in appearance (Captain Marvel of Shazam! fame will be explored shortly), Superman finally found his nemesis in a Kryptonian-bred superweapon known as Doomsday.  After his death and the subsequent universal re-imaginings of DC Comics, he is today another creature altogether, but pausing along the timeline at All Star Superman and the Final Crisis crossover, organized and largely written by Grant Morrison, we find a bleeding-edge meta commentary to the quality of the work, referencing the many worlds and timelines where a flying caped hero with invulnerable skin and a strict moral code to protect the innocent can be found hard at work, saving the universe and the multiverse.




Interestingly, one of the heroes from an alternate reality that Superman meets in his adventure with other "supermen" was Captain Marvel, a hotly contested lawsuit-settlement-won character from the earlier and more litigious days of DC Comics, then known as National Comics.  Captain Marvel,  created by artist C. C. Beck and writer Bill Parker, started out as Captain Thunder (later used for a 1980's African-American iteration) and then Captain Marvelous. His similarity to Superman beyond a superfical level was always nil, but after years of devastating litigation, Fawcett Comics settled the matter with National once the case was bumped back into lower courts.  His character was transferred to the DC stables, represented as having magical powers, standing in place for a little boy with a alliterative name whenever he spoke a magic word.  The cutting off of Captain Marvel comic books to England gave rise to Mick Anglo's Marvelman, but more on that in a bit.




Superman Beyond 3D represents Grant Morrison's ultimate take on Superman's mythology, putting into story a universal formation around the pearl of Superman, in fact a construct in a multiversal orrery, a doomsday weapon to fight a cosmic vampire.  In Superman's group of Monitor-collected alternate reality companions, we find the aforementioned Captain Marvel, Ultraman (a psychopathic reverse-world version of Superman), Captain Adam (a superman with interesting correlations to Doctor Manhattan from Watchmen or Captain Atom from the New 52), and Overman, the requisite Nazi Superman.  It is here, as well as a moment in All Star Superman, that Grant Morrison draws directly from Nietzche to reinforce his meta-commentary on the iconography of the Superman.

In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, the √úbermensch, or Overman, holds a position in Zarathustra's presentation as the creator of new values after the twilight of piety and nihilism that man stews in. The √úbermensch forms a new moral standard, well apart from the squabbling infestation that ordinary man, in his eternal ignorance, helps perpetuate.  It is here that the development of the superhuman standard can be seen at work in comics, moving beyond dot matrix printed slugfests and soap-opera dramatic back doors, into a more philosophically varied position of moral development.  In essence, mankind is something to be overcome, and in our attempts to understand ourselves we may form a creature that sees us as a laughingstock.  This mirrors the attempts in recent years of comic books to validate their own existence and prove themselves more than they once were, beholden to a higher standard than initially expected.





To the end that Superman was and will always be an icon that draws in a goodly sum of cash, ebbing and flowing given standards of society, it would make sense that the creators at Marvel Comics, mainstream competitor to DC Comics, would at some point capitalize on the concept in their own fashion.  The result was Hyperion, Marvel's first answer to Superman.  Created by Roy Thomas and John Buscema, this provided a leader for the Sinister Squadron, arguably a villainous Marvel-looking glass take on the Justice League of America, designed to fight The Avengers.  An alternate reality version of these villains were also created by Thomas and Buscema, the Squadron Supreme of Earth 712.




However, in the years following George W. Bush's horrific first term in office, Hyperion resurfaces, this time an Earth-31916 version.  J. Michael Straczynski and Gary Frank craft a superhuman that crashed in a similar fashion to Superman, but the kindly couple that discovers him never gets a chance to raise him.  Instead, the U.S. military puts him in a foster home with the expressed intent to develop him as a superhuman weapon of mass destruction.  When, inevitably, this Hyperion breaks free of his imposed position, the military meetings describe his capabilities for murder in Megadeaths.  This imagined graphic carnage is jumping a little ahead of ourselves, hearkening in some ways back to Miracleman, who we will now address.






For all his personal foibles and fables, Alan Moore works at his best when he is reworking the concepts of other creators, tweaking and paring down the essence of a character he did not himself create.  No better example of this than the little-seen Miracleman, first known as Marvelman.  As previously mentioned, the gap left to Britain with the passing of Captain Marvel Comics out of circulation was filled by a blonde imitation courtesy of Len Miller and Mick Anglo, just as wholesome as the Fawcett creation yet distinctly more British.  The origin story was tweaked (astrophysics replaces magic) and the series went on to great success, even in Italy.  Years down the line, a British comic book called Warrior was printing Mick Anglo stories framed by a story Alan Moore developed out of the original content, creating yet another interesting metanarrative, and perhaps the first of its kind within superhero comics.  The reality of previous continuity was in fact a virtual reality simulation concocted by an evil scientist who reverse engineered the "Miracleman family" from a fallen spacecraft.

The storyline for Miracleman consists of too many ground-breaking moments in superhero comics to go into in the space we are provided, but suffice it to say, much as Moore's later work in Watchmen, Miracleman proved to be a game changer when it first hit the industry's bigger editorial bullpens.  After decades of work inside and out of courts, it was announced not too long ago by Joe Quesada that Marvel now officially owns the rights to the stories, although given Moore's current standing and reputation in the mainstream, his work, along with a nascent showing by Neil Gaiman, may never see the light of day, proper.  The crux of the series must be noted, however, as Kid Miracleman, sidekick of Miracleman, speaks his secret superhero word while being sodomized in a school bathroom, then goes on a killing rampage in London, at superspeed.

Here we see a grandiose act of terror resulting in very distinct loss of human life on a grand scale, but moreso, on a superhuman scale,  still not topped in terms of graphic wholeness in any comic to this day, at the hands of a deranged superhuman reverting to the basest of human instincts, the direct opposite of the morally refining/annihilating Overman.  Miracleman tricks Kid Miracleman into saying his name, then snaps the neck of the inner host child, sobbing in the ruins of London.




What Moore went on to do with Miracleman was take the step towards superhumans tactically rearranging the world's affairs to the next logical level.  But with his work in Watchmen, we see only one true superhuman in a world where moral quandries are the norm, and human affairs muddled.  Dr. Manhattan is Alan Moore's final commentary on the superhuman.  Taking elements of an old episode of the Outer Limits for the overarching plot and this character's personal microcosm, mixing some of the chrono-synclastic infundibulum experienced by Winston Niles Rumfoord in Kurt Vonnegut's Sirens of Titan, and throwing in glowing blue for good measure, Dr. Jonathan "Jon" Osterman is a being that stands outside of time.  The morality of his actions escape him early on, and he's used as America's nuclear deterrant and the solution to the Viet Nam conflict.  His seemingly infinite power is undercut by a lack of emotional perspective, brought back into play only through finding interesting correlatives within human bonds, via his lover the Silk Spectre.  In the end, he leaves the world to "create some life of his own" and reverberates in comics, in all his blue nudity and glory, to this day.




Along the lines of interpersonal relations, when Warren Ellis formed the wide-screen superhero team Authority in the late nineties, he brought on two petri-dish experiments known only as Apollo and The Midnighter, homosexual tangents of Superman and Batman.  Outside of his role as solar-powered strongman, Apollo's character depth never developed a comfortable and personable niche, although he did end up in a collection of the multiverse's "Superman Squadron" in the final issue of Final Crisis.  Not flamboyant but certainly a controversy to some small minds, at the present moment Apollo represents a social commentary regarding the status of the Superman iconography. His costume's triangle could clearly be seen as a direct reference to his homosexual status.  Not often has the issue come up, but with the recent revamp of Apollo into the DC mainstream, it will be interesting to see how DC might handle him potentially being "outed" in the future, or how social norms mind lend him some room to build actual personality in the momentum.




Another take on the idea of Superman's iconic status is Omniman, from the comic by Robert Kirkman known as Invincible.  Omniman is a soldier of an empire of superhumans, Spartan-like and merciless in their expansionist scheme.  He bred with a human and had a child, the comic's titular teen hero, and is outed for murdering the "Justice League" proxies of their Earth.  His character represents an extreme of old-school humanity, his people all being combat-oriented dominators, first and formost.  He's a wolf in sheep's clothing, or worse still, a wolf in a herd-dog's clothing. It should be noted that Dragonball Z might have some influence on this title, though it cannot be directly confirmed at this time.  In that long-running  anime series, the central and most moral hero Goku is initially sent to Earth to clear out the population for his race of war-hardened Saiyans. They, much like Omniman's Viltrumite race, become more powerful the more they fight. Omniman develops a conscience in the midst of fighting his son after being found out as a villain.  He, more than any other character in the Invincible series (a cast of hundreds), undergoes a radical moral conversion and develops interestingly as a character, the more human-like he becomes.




A Superman-shaped flaw in the Marvel Universe worked itself out as a character named Sentry, created by Paul Jenkins and Rick Veitch, originally pitched as "an over-the-hill guy, struggling with addiction, who had a tight relationship with his dog, and also was a guardian type, with a watchtower."  Sentry insinuated himself into the Marvel Knights line of comics, a realm between mainstream and Marvel MAX, and retroactive continuity placed him as a creature with a scope of powers akin to Superman's that struggled with a duality within himself known only as The Void. His very presence became increasingly unstable, as he fell as pawn and puppet to the Green Goblin.  He murdered the gods Loki and Ares in an assault on Asgard, and begged to be put down.  Thor threw him into the sun.  His background, a muddied mix of over-the-top power and under-performing subplots, lent him an unstable mix of characteristics. He tended to blend into the background or overpower any foe he faced, with little actual characterization in-between. With the giant S on his belt buckle and the mental illness he dealt with on a day to day basis, he was difficult for readers and heroes alike to relate to, but his story once again hints at the frailty of the superhuman dynamic in the face of lesser human manipulations.




This plays itself out once more in Supergod, a comic put out by Avatar Press and written by Warren Ellis, with art by Garrie Gastonny.  In the way Warren Ellis put it, Supergod was meant to depict what an actual superhuman arms race would look like.  It escalates quickly and smacks of the old ultraviolence.  It was also a frank commentary on the human trait of identification and deification, side by side with weaponizing technologies that we can barely understand given to creatures so inhuman they crap radio waves.  This bleak world shows nations running secretly funded projects to develop not just the next level of nuclear destruction, but a god to worship.  Ellis explores the absolute amorality of the subject with the dry wit of a brilliant drunk in an English pub. The issues of transhumanism and posthumanism skirt the edges of the bloodbath and planetary havoc that is wreaked in the course of the story, but again, and this would seem to be a recurring theme among the standards and practices of superhumans in these different permutations, it's the core of man's goodness that is returned to, directly before complete annihilation and assimilation into fungal eternity.





The Boys, written by Garth Ennis and  illustrated by Darick Robertson, is an insider's send-up of the ridiculous nature of superheroes, while at the same time more black humor commentary on war, politics and corporations.  The closest Superman-type we can find is the blond puppet known as Homelander, a government bred experiment, terribly flawed in execution, who in recent issues went berserk and killed every person in the White House.  The Homelander is parody of the bleakest sort, a living breathing confrontation of the ineptitude of certain government officials concerning 9/11, a tarnished Aryan bootlick draped in an American flag and given no social conscience.  His berserker rage was started when the deterrent designed to stop him if he ran amok (a clone of him, in fact) posed as him doing horrific acts to innocent families, to trigger him and fulfill its purpose.  Manipulated from start to finish and given only the slightest redemption after being soaked in presidential blood, the Homelander is so distantly removed from Zarathustra's tulpa what became Superman we could almost laugh bitterly when comparing the two, which is of course the point. Garth Ennis has sent up this sort of parody flag before, with a character known as The Samaritan in his comic The Pro, illustrated by Amanda Conner.    




After all exhaustive inquiries into this realm of material, the well has not run dry.  Mark Waid's Irredeemable, in his own words from 15 Minutes with Mark Waid: "What if you go from, you know, Captain America to Doctor Doom? What if you go from Superman to Lex Luthor? How do you go from being the greatest hero in the world — someone that everybody knows, and everybody loves, and everyone recognizes — to the greatest villain in the world? What is that path? It's not a light switch, it's not an on-off switch, it's not something that you wake up one day and just become evil."  Here we have an idea running counter to the stable "silver age" sensibilities that some would have once accused Waid of (addressed by Grant Morrison in a Foreward in the first Irredeemable trade paperback).  The Plutonian is a character whose origin involves cosmic happenstance, infanticide and repeated attempts at infanticide, then an orphanage and numerous failed foster families.  He is a frustrated superhuman that finally gives up after taking years of overhearing snide remarks from people he saved and, once he works up the nerve to reveal his secret identity to his girlfriend, watches as she tells the rest of the people at the radio station they work at.  He turns utterly evil, murders an entire city, then sinks Singapore, all while hunting down old allies and enemies and systematically exterminating any human that talk about him behind his back (a benefit and curse of super-hearing).  The story moves along and he is stopped, thrown into an intergalactic insane asylum, meets his cosmic parents and evolves, but still remains unredeemed.  He stands in stark contrast to one of his former villains turned hero, Max Damage, featured in Incorruptible, also by Waid.  Here we have the unfolding and destabilization of the Superman mythology and indeed an exploding of the Overman application to comic books altogether.  Nihilism compounded with superhuman abilities, tinged with impiety.  Super-psychokinetically charged pettiness and rage do not make for a character worth saving, most days of the week.  Hence the title.




We might conclude, given the nature of the material presented here today, that the role of a Superman-type in the comic book industry has lost  some of its moral fiber and gained some realistic turpitude.  The easy answers of times gone past are no longer permissable.  Once we begin our descent on the slippery slope that these cascading permutations allow (and here we have not even named all), we can fall into endless speculation on the scope of this or that plotline if inflicted on reality's fabric, and this or that moralistic spin on the caped invulnerable hero.  The New 52 released by DC Comics gives us Clark Kent's parents only in flashbacks, as they are dead in present time, and this is a shame, though likely new books featuring these heroes behind the hero could come up.  These two, Jonathan and Martha, are the very center of Superman's moral code and immanence as superhuman perfection.  Lending somewhat to the nurture vs. nature argument, we can see that all the good of Superman comes from his grounding in what makes him a man.  His code of conduct, far from being imposed by another authority, comes from an understanding of human nature instilled by his parents, along with an unflagging optimism, a certainty that good will triumph over evil, that the petty squabbles of mere mankind can be overcome, and that in the end, however trite it may sound, the Overman may in fact dwell within us all.



[A final moment, a brief comment, an afterword, concerning the development of a character in the Marvel Universe using the presupposition that Superman's parents are the core of his higher moral standing.  Apocalypse has traditionally been a villain, repeatedly ressurecting to fight in the various books concerning mutants in that universe. His relatively recent death at the hands of Weapon XIII, Fantomex, while still just a child, were offset recently to some degree.  A clone is placed in a virtual reality containment unit (mirroring Miracleman's VR existence), where he is raised by a simulated mother and father, "Ma and Pa" on a farm in Kansas (obvious relations to Superman's origin via Baudrillard's Simulacrum and Simulation).  He is taken out somewhat early from this simulation and set to fight against Archangel, the heir apparent to the legacy of Apocalypse.  Given the codename Genesis, he is currently attending the Jean Grey School of Higher Learning, where he is just beginning to question his origins.  We can extrapolate that his turn away from morality might come when he learns that his childhood and family were a fabrication of some faux French anti-hero.  What better means might one deal with this potential omega level threat simmering on Marvel's backburner?  Could Genesis, if he had followed the simulation to completion, have become redeemed for all the evil done in the name of Apocalypse?  There are many things still to be said for the mythology that Superman gives us, and they will be explored so long as man is still committing ink to paper (or pixels to screens) in the name of comics.]    

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Reviews of Comics from May 16, 2012

Fantastic Four 605.1 is a testament of perfection in comics.
*****


With one single issue of Fantastic Four, Jonathan Hickman does wonders.  We're given a Nazi Reed Richards that ended up with an Infinity Gauntlet, one of the Council of Reed Richards that built Bridges to seek out other universes.  Yeah, the guy with a beard that a mad Celestial killed a little while back. This is set up for the forthcoming Doom storyline, which given Hickman's forthcoming departure for the series is likely to be grand.  Doom has the Nazi Reed Richard's Infinite Gauntlet now.  Great read. Buy it. Buy it forever. Or at least until Hickman has moved on to his next project. 



Avengers vs. X-Men delivers exactly what it promises and a bit more.
****


Avengers vs. X-Men 4 was a bit like a hectic hyped-up world tour issue, but the important thing is that it ends in the Blue Area of the Moon.  As ever, the fighting that is reserved for AvX is cut down to basics, here. Captain America's off-handed dismissal of Gambit is particularly disappointing comparatively, but perhaps that's understandable. The Avengers have won most of the battles, and the cover for the next issue indicates that the Phoenix, after brutally beating Thor into a crater, has arrived. And there's Hope. We'll see where all this macho posturing and plot twistiness gets us into, on a large scale.



Incredible Hulk 7.1 lets Hulk sow some wild oats.
***


Meanwhile, The Incredible Hulk 7.1 shows great strides in dealing with the serious heaviness of preceding issues.  The tortured soul of Banner lives on in Hulk, even though Hulk made a deal with Dr. Doom to separate the two of them in body and mind.  Banner went all Island of Dr. Moreau and ended up dying in Hulk's arms at the heart of a Gamma Bomb explosion.  But now Hulk is independent of Banner. And he spends weeks just cooking sharks and riding Triceratops in the Savage Land.  Good enough to be a point one comic, anyday.  But they cooked up something special for us, specifically Betty (Red She-Hulk) Ross beating Hulk down and sexing him in the wreckage they created in their fight, making an eyeball-hunting villain watch while they do.  It seems like Hulk writers always have had the dilemma of Banner, but just this once, Hulk, not Banner, got what he'd yelled for for years.  He got to be alone. Then he got to bone. Red and green Hulk baby, anyone?



JLA will get better soon, I should hope.
**


Justice League of America is a convoluted mess, in terms of plot, and the art still feels like the failed universe of Wildstorm got ahold of icons.  It seems bereft of years of DC history, and rather than adding to the myths of these characters we have a Steve Trevor subplot indicating the military's extreme role in the JLA's sanctioned actions, the old villain The Key in a confusing role with none of the brilliance exhibited, only the crazy, and a dying writer who apparently wants to get the JLA's attention. It feels like a lot is packed in, but it doesn't pull through, too clogged with splash page battles and pointless confrontations and demotivating motives.  The back-up storyline with Shazam! seems somehow bitter and mean, with no hint of the frivolity and gee shucks attitude that Captain Marvel once possessed.



Green Lantern Corps 9 just reinforces that the Guardians are scum.
***


 Green Lantern Corps. has recently seen shakeups, and out of all the Green Lantern titles it is the one that, until recently, directly addressed the fact that the Guardians of the Universe are complete scheming monster scumbags that must be stopped at any cost.  John Stewart, or if you like, the black Green Lantern, recently killed a fellow Corps. member that was about to divulge secret codes to Oa's power battery to save himself. Snapped his neck, only brief hesitation and fair warning. The Alpha Lanterns bring him in, and the truth of his actions come out.  Green Lantern Corps. is an intriguing continuation of the political and the military bounds that are part and parcel for the Green Lantern's mythology and position in the Universe. The Green Lantern titles as a whole show a certain stability of universe somewhat lacking from a few other titles in the New 52, approaching the Second Wave.


Captain Atom 9 is a very well composed work.
****


The storyline in Captain Atom continues to grow and pique interest, thanks to an stable writer J.T. Wells and an evolving artist in Freddie Williams III.  Arguably the most powerful superhuman in terms of potential, the character has come into his own since several attempts over the years to revamp him from his Silver Age roots have failed or been rendered moot. Currently, the Captain is meeting his future selves, and the world that they have turned into a virtual paradise.  To cultivate such a powerful hero is to often to court editorial disaster. When split open in Kingdom Come he took out the midwest. When transported to the Wildstorm Universe he heralded its imminent destruction. Cosmically, if he can expand beyond brainwashed militarism or perhaps even team up with Firestorm, his powers could prove most interesting, especially given that The Doctor of the Wildstorm Universe has yet to appear in the New 52. The Captain would have an interesting lesson to learn, there.

X-Men Second Coming: or, The Meta that ate Itself

If you are going to discuss the X-Men war across America known as Second Coming, you will have to get Nightcrawler's death out of the way first.

Let's do it as glossy as possible. Great, thanks.


There, was that so bad?

In all seriousness, the first arc of the storyline focused on the supreme Nimrod-like Bastion and his gang of resurrected racists taking out the X-Men's resident teleporters.  Ariel, the Vanisher, and Illyana Rasputin fell before a jet missile, a hail of bullets, and an arcane banishment payload, respectively.  All of this due to the arrival of Hope from her junkyard future in the 31st century with Cable, of Liefeld ages gone past.

Bastion, being from the future, has insider information on Hope.  He knows what the end of Avengers vs. X-Men will be. He's also a mutant-hating robot with a mission to exterminate the mutant race.  He wants her dead because the x-gene will activate more if she is left alive.  The Gold Celestial's proximity to San Francisco is no coincidence.  Kurt teleports her there after Bastion puts his hand through him.

Not a dry eye in the house there, guys.


As we can see, the cost of messianic fervor is paid by the moral conscience.  Nightcrawler represented, in many respects, the team's heart. He held a relgio-spiritual status among a band of blatant outcasts. He internalized the weight and responsibility of a Catholic sense of morality.  Directly prior to his death he discovered that Cyclops had sanctioned a mutant hit-squad led by Wolverine, good old X-Force. Nightcrawler of course took issue with the blatant killing of innocent or helpless enemies, no matter how bad.  In the course of Second Coming, morals are continually compromised, and murder happens at an alarming rate.  A human supremacist begging Wolverine for his life is gutted.  X-23 pops a helpless man in the brain with her claws during interrogation.  Warlock is convinced by Doug Ramsey to steal the lifeglow of Cameron Hodge and his smiley face followers.  Archangel, having become dominant for Warren Worthington III, cuts people to pieces and never even changes expression.  

When this was first drawn on a bar napkin, it seemed cool. In 1986.


When I see all this mutant carnage I call to mind the old Chris Claremont era, where in one instance Wolverine gutted and nearly killed a confused Rachel Summers (Phoenix by proxy from parallel timeline) for wanting to murder mutant witch Selene for enslaving her.  Claremont wrote in an odd moral code for a man whose power is constant regeneration and unbreakable claws.  The X-Men of that era would often say "X-Men don't kill."  Once the ingratiating  and peaceful influence of Charles Xavier gave way, in recent years, to the crashpad of Magneto, that motto seems to have long gone by the wayside.  Since Scarlet Witch's heavy trip, Mutants are a desperate aberrant in the Marvel Universe once more, nowhere near the scope of evolutionary step predicted in Grant Morrison's Planet X.  

Foreshadowing, anyone? With red eyes, grr. We're tough, our eyes are all red. Grr, moral dubiety.


Throughout the X-Men's long standing career nigh coming on about forty some odd years now, they have undergone dramatic shifts of cast and presence of mind within the framework of what constitutes a story. When mutants bottomed out after the last reality warping schizophrenic lost their grip (felt like the subtle influence of Sublime behind the scenes), and relocated from the bombed-out Xavier estate and come correct with Magneto on Asteroid M turned mutant sanctuary Utopia. 

Seemed like so much recycling of old fears and worries for the same characters that once found themselves faced with a nightmarish Holocaust-level scenario.

For all the brightly colored spandex of the past we can see hints of mixing and matching old Claremont storylines in the midst of all this.  New Mutants meets Days of Future Past meets the myriad Sentinel hunts, the Master Mold of a dystopian tomorrow, personified in a brick wall plastered with those inefficient posters of dead mutants, disturbingly current in their appearances.  Which brings us to the idea of this whole storyline being metaClaremont.

The precise moment that this trope jumped the shark.



The Claremont era of X-Men has been the most fertile grounds for future storylines for decades now. To revisit that waterhole again and again compounds itself, as stories continue emerging from stories and characters develop and react throughout.  Once you've committed yourself to sending up or rooting out Claremont's old pastures, you're muddy with backstory.
Recent issues of the X-titles, leading up to and in fact catching its stride in Avengers vs. X-Men, have worked towards a new set of myths to create templates of arcs off of.  Easy examples come from the Morrison, Whedon, or even the fairly recent Fraction era, where new villains and challenges emerged, blended, and were ably handled.

In Second Coming, the other end of Messiah Complex, the refinement of new "big deal" Hope continues, as it will soon be coming to a head in current continuity, and we should take a moment to acknowledge other odd-run revamps being called forth in the war (everyone says the entire series run that it's a war), Professor X's schizophrenic son of an Israeli mother, Legion.  Legion did, some time back, spawn the Age of Apocalypse universe by accidentally killing his father when he went back in time to kill Magneto.  His imprisonment/rehabilitation in Utopia was played out in another alternate reality he spawned, The Age of X.  So when Professor X calls upon him to unleash his multiple personalities to defend San Francisco, it's an interesting throwback to remind Marvel readers that all powerful characters have ultrapowerful offspring (Scarlet Witch, Jamie Braddock, and Franklin Richards come to mind).      

Actually, pretty cool set up in your head. But that hair...


2011 was the year that all of 2012 X-continuuty and the Avengers vs. X-Men was laid out, with the return of Hope, sent to the 31st century with Cable, son of Cyclops and a clone of Jean Grey, who is dead but died at least three times, rose as a Phoenix and was killed again by a clone of Magneto run amok on mutant power enhancing drugs. But I digress. Hope is blatantly the forthcoming Phoenix by the end of this series, but I am going to appraise its overall structure and hope to make sense of the plot, which expects the reader to have kept reasonable pace with the story and all of Chris Claremont's run including the New Mutants, for the past ten to thirty years. Nimrods and Bastions and recycled plots via recycled characters via constant Resurrection countered by constant death. Officially, Professor X has also died at least three times, too.

The X-Men are the most ridiculously injured by and least affected by death in the Marvel Universe. The avatar of this odd trope is of course the nearly unkillable Wolverine. His ubiquitous nature in the Marvel Universe expresses this as well, as characters live, die, are ressurected by contrivance of plot, and Wolverine can outlive them all and fight the Hulk in the ashes of civilization.  In the Ultimate Universe, Logan, or James Howlett, actually, was mutant zero in the human creation of mutants through attempted weaponization of mutants via Weapon Plus, the outcropping of Captain America's super soldier program.

In any event, the plot plays itself out in various psychodramas that emerge from the team dynamic and whatever confrontation the team must face.  Second Coming, in all of its metaglory, is worth a reassessment after the final throws and lashes of Avengers vs. X-Men dies down.  In the meantime, see it as a (hopeful) last hurrah for direct sips of the Claremont pool, at least until other water sources, or better yet, a running river of fresh concepts can be located, perhaps even in as recent and well refined an example as Rick Remender's bizarrely perfect Dark Angel Saga.


And sometimes the foreshadowing is just like a mallet upside the head.


Friday, May 4, 2012

15 hour Avengers Party.


The idea was simple.  For twenty American dollars plus tax apiece, Mr. So and I would partake of fifteen hours of comic book movies.  The offer stood as Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America, and finally, at midnight, the long-anticipated Avengers (in 3D), written and directed by this summer's cinema success story, Joss Whedon.

I got this swag.


When the first film (Iron Man) ends, a sweaty female attendant with a broken voice informs the theater that parking will only be validated for four hours.  A mild panic rises in the crowd when a rumor passes around that the show is going to exclude The Avengers itself. A quick check on the cell phone confirms the film is indeed playing.  Calm returns.

The crowd consists of much as you might expect: largely male population, with standard skinny bespectacled nerds, geeks that choose to wear their Captain America hoodies or thrift-store condition Avengers t-shirts (thus being the guy at the concert that's wearing the t-shirt of the band that's playing at the concert), a handful of stoner stereotypes, dorks that bred and brought their precocious children, and of course, samples of America's grossly obese, providing the sour milk fat flesh fold smell that over the course of the day sinks into the theater like scared-skunk stink.  Swag in the form of buttons and posters are passed out.

We're all sold on it.


What's not to like?


Admittedly, the only movies of the bunch that I go into the event having already seen are the Iron Man films, due in one part due to an odd affection for Jon Favreau, in another part because of an active attempt to avoid the genre of superheroes as much as humanly possible.  So often one gets burned. Ask anyone that has ever seen Spider Man 3.  In the cocaine-fueled executive rage for commercial success, many comic book adaptations could easily be viewed as escapism done wrong, a less refined, mostly immature attempt at pandering to the lowest common denominator, resulting in critical flip-floppers.

Most of all what I never enjoyed was the preening sense of inevitability concerning militarism that the Marvel franchise seems to endorse in each film it makes, while simultaneously (and only sometimes) pretending it does the opposite.

The Edward Norton version of Hulk doubles down on the concept of military run amok to the point of absurdity, blowing up a college campus with no accountability, while the Thor movie mythologizes it with a sanitized and shiny Asgard run by Anthony Hopkin's master Kenneth Branaugh (and in this you could extrapolate Thor being the brutish America proxy, Loki being the snotty British Gog, and the entire Middle East as a frosted mirror-glass land of the Frost Giants).

This uneasy feeling of being sold a toy of the military industrial complex is reinforced as we are treated to the same opening sequence of commercials six times at the event.  An ad for the Navy, an ad for the Navy-sponsored boardgame-turned-film Battleship, an ad for the same film, this time sponsored by Coke Zero, an ad for the Marines, an ad for the Hatfields vs. the McCoys on TNT (Kevin Costner in a bloodfeud), an ad for the new remake of Dallas (the words BLOOD and FEUD and BATTLEGROUND flash on the screen, almost subliminal), then a review of each preview, plus an oddly racist Ultrabook ad.  All of that, six times over.


Imagine an army of Purple Hulks.


So the twelve hours and five movies pass, with twenty minute breaks between films, and we devour the food we snuck in, sip on caffeinated beverages loaded with vitamin B and Guarna and Taurine, and I can feel myself becoming accustomed to the changing eye-patches of Nick Fury in each post-credits teaser, and I can see that the people involved are attempting to make something more than a two hour long advertisement for the military industrial complex, but at the end of the day, they're stuck in a system they never named, but were made by, much as in the Captain America movie, where after being dosed as a super-soldier, he spends the first stretch of his career spinning propaganda on the newsies.

When a true subliminal flashes after the word "compassion" at a certain point (Thor, I believe), I recall the recent Star Trek remake, where James T. Kirk's older father-proxy tries to convince him to join Star Fleet after a bar fight. I flash across the crass, commercialized, and crypto-fascist overtones of 300 and the Transformers franchise.  Michael Bay conditioning pods.  Though certain elements of Captain America call to mind the best elements of Star Wars as well as the quality of film making from the era it depicts.  Captain America is the best, most refined of the Marvel movies leading into The Avengers.

About midway through The Avengers, when the S.H.I.E.L.D Hellicarrier raises out of the ocean, I find myself compelled to join the Navy, for some reason.

I also find myself cheering with the crowd around me.



The Avengers, it should be said, calls forth all the elements of a comic book superhero team, and paces them in an order that should be just complex enough to satisfy critics and just simplistic enough to appease brohams.  It's a crowd pleaser. It will break box-office barriers.  I love comics. I know comics.  My conscious attempts at avoiding comic book movies came after a dissatisfaction borne out of constant disappointment.

The Avengers gets it right, in a big way.

[Perhaps that lengthy an exposure to such materials was never intended for public consumption. Perhaps I have overdosed.  I need to start a blood feud, right after I join the Navy.]

I'll admit, all of my resistances were worn down to some degree in the twelve hours leading up to The Avengers, but this is a first rate A+ film for being a comedy, an action movie, and a superhero movie that puts all others to shame.

The Tesseract (which sounds better than Cosmic Cube, perhaps) is our movie's objective correlative, first introduced in Captain America, a limitless power source, and a source of interest for the villain Loki and his unnamed benefactor Thanos (who we only see in the first of two post-credits scenes).

The entire film, I wanted Samuel L. Jackson, playing Nick Fury, to start screaming a litany of curse words, out of nowhere.  SHIELD Agent Phil Coulson (calling to mind Charles Colson) played by Clark Gregg, is the thread running from Iron Man through the rest of the films and on up into The Avengers, where he plays the part of Captain America's biggest fan and, later on, "the avenged".  Scarlett Johansson manages to explain why Black Widow is essential to the team dynamic by being the world's best interrogator.  Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye gets only a few spots to shine in the film, but he uses them effectively.  Bruce Banner is played for the first time by Mark Ruffalo, who does a bang-up job playing the eccentric gamma-irradiated scientist.  Better by far than any previous actor that filled the role, if you want to come down to it.  Tom Hiddleston is the core of the movie as Loki, and in the final analysis is one of the best actors in the film.  Something about Chris Hemsworth as Thor strikes me as a little too simple. Maybe that's the point. He has a good laugh for Thor, it's just that he walks with just the wrong degree of swagger to pull off "god of thunder", in my humble opinion.  Chris Evans, on the other hand, manages to sell Captain America's soldier boy appeal effortlessly, and of course, Robert Downey Jr. embodies Tony Stark to the extent that at certain points it doesn't feel like he's bothered to read the script, he's just channeling a genius billionaire philanthropist from a parallel reality.

Part of what can tell you how good a band is is how well the audience responds to their performance. By that measure, and given that the entire theater withstood fifteen hours of cinema for The Avengers, the movie is a rousing success. Big laughs from the audience.  Spontaneous applause. Bigger action.

Joss Whedon has proven something great about himself this summer.  He's the current nerd king of Hollywood, and we shall all bask in his light until the cycle of cinema degenerates again, in a new flashier more gimmicky Tour de France.

I want to give him a firm handshake for a job well done, right after I sign up for basic training.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Stormwatch and the Construction of the New DC Universe



Quick, identify the ONE character on this cover that's still alive.



Some time ago, Image Comics started a series known as Stormwatch.  It seemed, at first glance, to be an upgraded version of Rob Liefeld's Youngblood, put out by the same company, with a Jim Lee twist.  Team of superhumans works for the United Nations, as opposed to the United States, for the betterment of mankind, fighting alien invasions, superhuman terrorists, and the like.  Team swag includes orbiting satellite, a dozen plus tech-fitted members representative of countries from all around the globe, snappy banter to spare, and plots with slightly more personality than hatchet-marks.

The Stormwatch series ran through a good number of issues, with peaks and eddies, finally falling into the hands of one Warren Ellis, a relatively new comic writer at the time, who sought to take the characters in different directions than they had previously explored.  One gaseous and cybernetically enhanced model hero by the name of Fuji, for instance, confessed during Ellis' run that he had an orgasm every five minutes.

Then, in the grand tradition of writers seeking to breathe life into stale franchises, Ellis had nearly every member of the main team murdered in a WildC.A.T.s/Aliens crossover.

The remaining members, those in Stormwatch's Black Ops division, went on to form the Authority, a team of megapowered individuals including one Jenny Sparks, the living embodiment of the 20th century, and fittingly, quite British.  The Authority represented every liberal creed given the power to take over the world.  This team was given over to Mark Millar once Ellis had moved his attention in the Image Universe towards his hit-series Planetary (which will never ever ever re-emerge in the DCU, so don't ask).  Millar went on to become megastar supreme burning bright in the sky with projects like Kick Ass, Ellis went on to other projects with other companies like Avatar and Marvel, and the Authority, Stormwatch's child, in a fashion, floundered through a series of hedonistic, convoluted, bizarre and massive storylines, culminating in the near-total destruction of the planet Earth.  At one point, Grant Morrison signed on to do a limited series run, which died after two issues. Jenny Sparks, who died on December 31, 1999, was replaced by Jenny Quantum, who followed a grand tradition of ultrapowerful kid superheroes (see Franklin Richards) by hyperaging herself.  Regardless of the Authority's melodrama, the mantle of Stormwatch was taken up once again by the excellent Team Achilles, whose writer, Micah Ian Wright, apparently lied about his background and got it cancelled.  There was a cheery effort made with Doug Mahnke  and Christos Gage with another Stormwatch iteration, Post Human Division, but that lasted only about a year.   

In the background of all this, at some point, perhaps reflected in the time that the Wildstorm iteration of Earth was utterly annihilated, DC Comics bought Wildstorm.  When the New 52 revamp/reboot occurred a short time ago, many heroes and villains of the Wildstorm stable of characters were transferred into the new universe.  The first arc of Stormwatch centers on the team's mission to recruit Apollo and Midnighter, lovingly referred to at times as "the gay Superman and Batman", and stop a monster in the moon from destroying the planet.  

The story of Stormwatch never got the coverage that the Authority or even WildC.A.T.s seemed so prone to getting.  Great artists come and go, but a stable writer for "wide-screen" superheroics can make a lasting impression on an entire universe world of characters, at least until a massive revision renders it moot.  Stormwatch outstrips the Justice League in the new DCU in terms of power, potential, and personality.  We know Superman from so many angles we can likely predict his every line. Even the most DC oriented character in the new Stormwatch, the Martian Manhunter, is a far cry from the Justice League staple he once was.  The background for this title is rich for mining, so long as the people in charge of making these donuts remember that people like their donuts fresh, not day-old.  

To that end, it's nice to see Peter Milligan and Miguel Sepulveda working on the title again.  During their brief break, the "Gravity Miners" storyline, reader interest was already in danger of waning, if only for the fact that some characters weren't jelling properly, in character or overall tone.  There's a stability to this title with Milligan writing it. He knows the voices of each character and knows the plot threads for this title set a year from now.  Miguel Sepulveda's artwork seems to get better with each passing issue, and the chops he earned with cosmic characters in the Marvel stables seems to serve him well in this series.


Jenny Quantum forms a new use for her powers, Martian Manhunter mindwipes witnesses, and Jack Hawksmoor sweet-talks a city into putting itself back together. The first covert superhero team that's actually, you know, covert.


The new Stormwatch deals almost exclusively with extraterrestrial threats and near-cosmic incursions. They are based in a ship with Daemonite A.I. that orbits Earth in Hyperspace.  They are the best at what they do, and what they do is a secret that nobody, not even the other superhumans of the planet, is aware of.  This, coupled with the nostalgia one might feel for certain characters and the well-paced development of storylines, could lead to great success, in the long run.
The most recent issue of Stormwatch sees a fight with the Vitruvian Man and a Red Lantern.  The Vitruvian Man reveals he was a member of an older iteration of Stormwatch who was denied his true love when the "Shadow Lords" that run Stormwatch (far more intriguing than a U.N. subcommittee) had her murdered.  The Red Lantern Skallox, a being of few words, was recently one of several "upgraded" from mindless killing machine in issues of Red Lantern.  Stormwatch, being comprised of the best superhumans possible, delves into these two stories in the same amount of pages it takes some heroes, writers, and artists to deal with a conversation between two characters walking down the street.


The Da Vinci Coda sums it up, yeah.


In some ways, the New DC Universe feels rushed and crawling at a snail's pace at the same time.  An odd paradox, figuring that one out.  But there are hints at the unfolding universe that never seem to flesh out completely.  Marvel guru Joe Quesada recently said something to the effect that DC "burned down their house" with their new DC lineup, but it's a bit more complex than that. The DC staff took a beautiful old house that had been remodeled a few times already (Crisis on Infinite Earths, Zero Hour, 52, Final Crisis) and, after careful study, razed it, reconstructing it to be a near-match, with a few minor additions and aesthetic alterations.  But the rich and complex tapestry of years of stories, crossovers, and character interactions is still present, we can assume?  Giving the assembly of the Justice League a marker at "Five Years Ago" presents a universal timeline that confuses at the same time as it clarifies. There are a whole spectrum of rings present in the DCU, but did the events of Blackest Night and Brightest Day actually happen? Impossible, if the Martian Manhunter, who died in Final Crisis and arose at the end of Blackest Night, played anything resembling a pivotal part, as he's a secret member of Stormwatch and has been for years, in new continuity. Or are we dealing with a clean slate, of sorts? Will the gaps be filled in, the furniture of the rooms in this new house, be uncovered with deft maneuverings or simple sweeps?  How is a world of heroes such as the ultraviolent homoerotic Midnighter able to merge with the restrained vigilantism of Batman?  Only the more talented writers in the DC offices will be able to pull it off, and only careful editorial work can make it stick.   



When we all look back on this after they get in a big fight, we'll chuckle.

Teen Titan's most recent annual (the series has a lot of quirks and flaws for me, but I think it's geared more towards teens, go figure) actually seems to be indicative of the positives and negatives of the new universe we just mentioned.  Here, the Legion Lost title crosses over, and there is a lot of talk about a Culling, and new/old characters (including Fuji from the old Stormwatch team and Warblade of WildC.A.T.s)... but it seems to be centered, almost maniacally so, on the present, discarding the past.  It's this spirit that seems to inhabit the final page of Stormwatch (before we digress too wildly) where we see the thread of the Midnighter's running monologue, wherein he muses over his bloodlust and, very clearly, for the first time in any comic book ever, sees Batman with his own eyes. Whether this is a hard-light hologram or a vision, it is not a ham-fisted or puerile point being driven home. The restraints of certain characters are exchanged, echoed, or distorted among the various other characters in the multiverse. As the DC New 52 moves into the final stretch of its first year, old fans and new see crossovers popping up here and there, a new history being written on a fresh page, rather than the old page being erased and scribbled over.  It's moments of intrigue, such as those that can be found in Stormwatch, that keep readers coming back.  Everyone working at DC would do well to keep this in mind, no matter who they are or what their role is...