Thursday, June 30, 2011

Review: Superman #712

Boy, a lot has been said about Superman #712, mostly about what wasn't in it ... the intended 'Grounded' story by Chris Roberson involving Muslim hero Sharif.

First, there was this very good article by Jill 'The Nerdy Bird' Pantozzi where she lays out why she thinks the story was dropped:
Given the recent concerns about Superman's patriotism (Goyer's story in Action Comics #900) and some concern about DC's lack of commitment to diversity, this would have to be a perfect issue not to put Superman into a tempest within a teapot.

Shortly after that Newsarama story, Bleeding Cool broke another story about the issue change here:  Now the book was pulled not because of patriotism or Muslim issues but instead because Superman rescued a kitten a tree, a symbol of Superman that DC didn't like. Could this image be that awful as to scrap the whole issue? After all, there have been some pretty lousy images earlier in Grounded than that.

And then Comics Alliance put out there story about the change: CA wondered if this kitten story was a sham, a snow job to move away from the fact that DC pulled the issue because of the recent kerfuffle with Superman's American leaning. This, of course, after Roberson's last issue being very pro-American doesn't make much sense. Nor does it make sense for DC to do this when they have been under the magnifying glass with the announcement of the reboot and the concerns by some of a lack of diversity.

As for me, I worried about this issue when it was announced. Much like other pieces of Grounded, it is tough to have Superman in a story centered around prejudice. Superman can never win that war and in the end usually comes out looking inept. Also, it sounded from the solicitation that Superman was going to be facing the ire of Americans who don't trust Sharif as a hero. That means once again we would have a story with people hating Superman and Superman feeling hated. And that wouldn't feel right given the turn around in the tone of Grounded these last 3 issues.

I am not saying I am against comic stories centered around the issues of race or sexuality or prejudice of any sort. It is just they need to be very good stories ... or else they come out as cringe-worthy as an after school special. Given what I have seen in Superman, I probably would trust Roberson more than Straczynski to pull this off. I guess we'll never know.

Instead of that story, we have the release of the Busiek/Leonardi Krypto story promised and shelved years ago. I am glad that we got to see this story finally.

With so much talk about this issue, I will be brief with the review of this sweet story.

The story is called 'Lost Boy' and shows us how Krypto is mourning the loss of Superboy. It starts out with a flashback of Conner playing frisbee with Krypto ... ultimately settling on a manhole cover as the sturdiest 'frisbee' he can use with a super-powered dog.

I am pretty blown away with Leonardi's art throughout the book. I mean his flying Krypto looks so natural flitting and darting around the skies.

The thing is the impact of this story has faded a bit. If this was released when Superboy was still dead it would resonate more than now when we have seen the two of them horsing around together again.

Of course, I think Krypto is probably going to be retconned away in 2 months so I am glad this was dusted off.

The remainder of the issue shows Krypto wondering why Superboy isn't around. We see him looking to the sky for Con. And then finally, he decides to follow any scent he can get of Superboy. And at each site we see him reliving memories of him and Superboy.

That brings him into to the Titans Tower in San Francisco.

Back to Smallville and the Kent's barn where she remembers Con and Cassie sharing a quiet moment. That top panel is one of those 'nice flying dog' panels.

And then finally to the Arctic, the site of Alex Luthor's vibrational tuning fork, and the site of Superboy's death at the hands of Superboy Prime.

This is a great scene, Krypto finally realizing why Superboy isn't around and then letting out that funereal howl. We see the howl on several places around the world, a super-howl of mourning.

But this panel with a small Krypto surrounded by the wreckage just feels sad.

And with that realization, Krypto heads to an asteroid to quietly grieve, his favorite toy by his side.

So a sweet story with a somber ending, simple and pure. But we know things change pretty quickly and Conner comes back. I don't know the whole story about why this story was scrapped way back when.

Why did DC scrap the Sharif story? We may never know the reason. But this was certainly my favorite 'Grounded' interlude.

Overall grade: B+

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Does The Comic World Really Want An Immature And Irresponsible Supergirl?

I have tried to remain optimistic or at least even-keeled about this DC Relaunch, specifically how it relates to Supergirl. But it is getting harder and harder to maintain that outlook. It is difficult when I read that the powers at DC seem to have no understanding of the character and are talking like they haven't read the book in the past couple of years.

The latest sound bite, and maybe the one that has put me over the edge was this one from the Manhattan DC Retail Roadshow. Here is Bleeding Cool's coverage:

Now there is a lot in that article where DC seems to be trying to alienate existing fans. In particular, it seems like every Batgirl fan has some legitimate gripe with the future. But here is the Supergirl blurb:

Supergirl- Another area of improvement DC is looking for is characters to sound true.  Supergirl, as she has been written, sometimes comes across as mature and responsible as a 40 year-old adult.  She shouldn’t.  She’s a teen who is still finding herself and her character should reflect that. 

So this initially struck me as utterly wrong and insulting to the writers who have written Supergirl so wonderfully since Supergirl #34. It makes it sound like she was some super-mature boring character.

But then I thought about it some more and frankly I think all this means is that Didio (or whoever is responsible for this blurb) has not read the book for the last two and a half years. Because yes, there were some times that Supergirl acted mature and responsible ... isn't that we want from our heroes? Isn't that true of all teens ... that SOMETIMES they are mature and responsible?  

The above statement sounds like the 'powers that be' think it is wrong that Supergirl sometimes acted mature and responsible ... sometimes. What does that mean? That they think Supergirl should never be mature and responsible?? 

Who would want to read a comic where the main character is immature and irresponsible all the time?

But most of all, it shows they either didn't read or had no respect for Sterling Gates' run and subsequently Peaty's and DeConnick's. Because, after all, she never acted like a teen discovering herself during their run ... (rolls eyes).

She was angry, even at those who she cared for. Sometimes she lost her temper and didn't do what was right. Like here punching Superman ...

Or snarking at Thara...

Or realizing that life isn't always rosy ...

Or angrily walking away from Thara again ...

Or punching out Dr. Light ...

Or taking off when her mother was yelling at her ...

Or confronting Lana about her illness ...

Or almost killing General Lane ...

And sometimes she was happy ...

Sometimes she was sad. She went through tremendous emotional trauma. Here she mourns Zor-El ...

And mourns Lana ...

And wishes her mother was dead ...

Sometimes she shirked her duties. 

And sometimes she was impulsive ...

And sometimes she pounded the snot out of people ... 

But always, always ...

And this is key ...

She came back to try and do what was right ... to keep moving along that hero's journey.

It did not take long to find all these examples. They remind me how lucky we have been these last couple of years.

What Supergirl am I going to get in September? 

Someone with no affection for humanity so 'don't piss her off'? Someone where that statement represents their perceived 'core' of the character? Someone that DC thinks needs to act less responsible? Is that who Supergirl is? 

Maybe Michael Green and Mike Johnson will be able to pull this off. Maybe their stories will be similar ... a young woman becoming a hero and making some mistakes along the way. Someone always striving to be a better person, a better hero.

But ...

But ...

But if she is always immature, irresponsible, irrational ... 


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Review: Justice League Of America #58

Justice League of America #58 came out last Wednesday, the penultimate chapter of the Eclipso Rising storyline. The second to last chapter of story arcs like this are crucial for me. I have to feel at the end of these issues that the arc is teed up to be completed. If there is too many plot threads hanging, I worry that the conclusion will be rushed, that plot points will be glossed over or unanswered.

James Robinson does a good job here lining everything up for next month's conclusion. He even adds a number of small flourishes that show just how extensive his knowledge of the DCU is. I enjoy hearing some of the crazier or more esoteric DC stories referenced in stories like this. And they are never crucial to the story; the newer reader can just move on without wondering what is going on.

But more importantly, Robinson continues to show just how this League is growing together. There has been something of a formula in these stories, the team regrouping somewhere in the middle of the arc and Dick coming up with a great plan. But here, Dick uses his knowledge of prior adventures as well as characters other skills to put together a solid plan. And Robinson plays out the plan slowly, flashing back to the strategy discussion and then moving to the actualization of that part of the plan. It works better than hearing the whole plan and then seeing it play out.

Miguel Sepulveda (who did the recent Superman/Batman Annual) and Daniel Sampere split the art here, presumably to give Brett Booth some lead time for his new Titans book. It is a very different look than Booth's but it is solid, with a lot of wide action shots of the brawling on the moon.

We only have 2 more issues of this JLA moving forward ... heck we only have 2 more months of 'this' DCU ... but I have enjoyed this group a lot.And how wonderful has it been to have Supergirl in the League!

Now last issue ended with Eclipso splitting the moon like an avocado, the culmination of his plan to destroy Earth and therefore kill God.

As I have said before, Robinson has really ratcheted up the threat levels that the League has fought. From the Starheart to the CSA and the Omega Man to Eclipso, it has been world threatening to universe threatening to deity-threatening villains that need to be squashed.

In one of those small moments, Robinson shows us that the Eclipso's ascendancy to ultimate Shadow power has effected the universe, the people of Talok VIII (and long lost LEGION member Lydea Mallor) are suddenly overwhelmed with bliss, succumbing to the evil shadow wave. I know this was a page taken away from League action but it showed just how encompassing Eclipso's plans are. This truly is a universal threat. I thought this added something to the story.

Meanwhile, on Earth, the splitting of the moon is wreaking havoc on the planet. We see heroes scrambling to save people from all manners of disasters while Eclipso sits smugly on the moon. That is, until the League comes over the hill for one last assault.

While we see most of the Leaguers struggling against Eclipso's army, we flash back to Batman discussing his plan.

He realizes that The Shade and his mastery of Shadows is how Eclipso is controlling so many people. And the Shade, who has turned over a new leaf, must be being dominated by Eclipso in a more subtle fashion. The Shade seems like he is self-aware but Batman realizes that is a sham. The Shade is under Eclipso's control ... and if that control is broken, Eclipso's army will stop fighting.

So how to stop the Shade? The first step is to get the Atom up to the moon.

And then shrink the Atom and Starman down, put them into a blue energy bullet, and have Congorilla shoot the Shade in the head. Again, I like how Dick uses Bill's skills as a hunter to his advantage.

Dick reminds the Atom how he 'kick started' Batman's brain waaayyy back in The Brave and the Bold #115, an issue from the 70s where The Atom keeps Batman from brain death with direct physical intervention. Maybe the same can be done to the Shade's brain.

While I think it is silly and awesome that Robinson brings up this pre-Crisis story as though it happened a short time ago and is in continuity, I am pretty sick of the Atom (or others using his powers) walking on people's brains.

Didn't we see enough of that in Cry for Justice and Identity Crisis? And kicking the brain into right thinking?

Once in the brain, Starman and the Atom begin walking, trying to find the focus of Eclipso's control. Again, Robinson drops a nice Silver Age reference, the Atom meeting Edgar Allen Poe way way way back in 1964's The Atom #12 ( 'The Gold Hunters of '49'). How does Starman know about that story?

I don't know what the heroes are breathing in there ... but if I can buy that they were shrunk, put in an energy bullet, and shot into a super-villain's brain, I guess I have to buy that they can breathe something when shrunk and walking inside someone's skull.

And I wanted to include the panel below where Batman talks about how while the Atom and Starman are dealing with The Shade, the rest of the League will try to free Zauriel.

I include it to show that the panel and some dialogue is repeated ... this time with the added element that Zauriel is not the goal, but a decoy. Again, by slowly revealing the plan, Robinson let's the reader be as surprised as Eclipso is when the League changes tactics. Up until that point, I thought Zauriel was the goal. But I was wrong. Nice use of repeat panels and dialogue ... I usually find it lazy but this time it worked.

And it turns out that the real plan is to get Donna one on one with Eclipso. Remember last month, Saint Walker said he detected that someone had the power to defeat the villain. It turns out it is Donna. Walker knows that Donna can unleash her anger and pain onto Eclipso, let her 'bright energy' shine.

Now I have been a Donna fan since forever. I thought she was such a steady influence in the Wolfman/Perez Titans, probably where I really latched on to her. I really think that putting her through the mill has become almost cliche with every possible tragedy foisted upon her. And yet, through that, she has remained a fierce hero. Even when bristling with anger, she has always channeled it into heroics. Robinson had her defeat Prometheus in Cry for Justice. I am glad she had a chance to be the big hero here.

While I guessed just about every female character last month when Saint Walker talked about this hope, I did think it would be Donna. Here were my thoughts last month:

My best guess is Donna. Somehow it will come out that her ability to persevere and carry on, to continue to look to the light despite the horror in her history, is able to dispel Eclipso. Okay, it's a stretch ... but I am a Donna fan.

Well, even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Now another comic tradition I like is having germs or body-invading organisms take on human or animal characteristics. Here Eclipso's control of Shade takes the form of large spiders. So the Atom and Starman have to eradicate these things to free the Shade. It is sort of reminiscent of the climactic battle in The Incredible Shrinking Man.

My favorite version of this is when the Kryptonite germs in Superman's body in 'Critical Condition' took the form of K-Supermen. Look at how beautiful that Matrix costume is!

And for a second, it looks like Donna might win. She just takes it to Eclipso, focusing all the negativity in her life into her fists.

I have to say, I thought this was great. I was really hoping that Donna would stop being the cursing, always angry hero we saw. I wanted her to have the quiet dignity I have seen in her before. And it looked like this might have been some catharsis. Donna-tharsis??

Until this ...

Donna dies ... again!?

Well, she is pictured on the cover of Justice League of America #60 so maybe not? Maybe somehow she survives this? And, of course, there is no mention of her in the reboot! Knowing we might not see her in the near future, I hope she survives this and leaves the current DCU on top, as a hero. But if she dies here, at least Robinson has treated her as the warrior she is.

So the table is set for next month's finale. The Shade will get freed. Eclipso's army will desert him. And then, I think, Jade has to be the one to ultimately defeat him. She has been trumpeted throughout this run as stronger than ever, massively powerful. Freed from Eclipso's control and seeing Donna, I bet trounces him. Now, as for the moon, I bet the Starheart somehow undoes the damage to recreate the mystic city.

As much as I am looking forward to seeing how all this wraps up, I actually am looking forward to JLA #60 more, Robinson's epilogue/love letter/finale to this team. I constantly remind myself that I only came to this book because Supergirl was on the team. I am glad I came because this has been a year plus here, bringing this quasi-'Big Seven' team together.

Overall grade: B

Monday, June 27, 2011

R.I.P. Gene Colan

Late last week, the comic industry learned that legendary artist Gene Colan had passed away after a battle with liver cancer. It is sad to know that another icon of the field has left us.

There have been unbelievably touching eulogies throughout the internet about Colan and his storied career but I thought that one more couldn't hurt to honor this great man. Colan was best known for his work at Marvel. He was crucial to the early feel of Daredevil and Iron Man and had epic runs on Tomb of Dracula, Howard the Duck, and Captain America, as well as the character Blade.

As for me, as a DC reader, I had a more limited interaction with Colan's work but I can remember how much it struck me. When it seemed like every other artist was tied down to solid lines and standard action poses, as a young collector I was struck with Colan's more ethereal style. He seemed so comfortable with brush lines, blurred margins, and fantastic scenarios.

My first encounter with Colan's art was the Phantom Zone mini-series he did with Steve Gerber in 1982. It is a wonderfully trippy mini-series with the Phantom Zone villains freed from the zone and Superman trapped within it.

This blog being what it is I thought I would include some Supergirl scans from that series that really showcase Colan's skills nicely.

First, from Phantom Zone #2, Supergirl stopping some nuclear missiles. The Phantom Zone villains have quickly set the world powers against each other.

And here, from Phantom Zone #3, Supergirl recovering from being overwhelmed by all the escaped villains.

And lastly, teaming up with the freed Superman in Phantom Zone #4 to destroy a giant Phantom Zone projector cannon the villains were planning to use on Earth. Nice to see the cousins team up!

But it is in the other worldly storyline within the Zone that Colan really gets to shine. In the series, the story becomes more psychedelic as Superman travels the chaotic and hellish environment of the outer limits of the Zone. I mean this insane story really shines with Colan's flair for the bizarre and horrific. And the Zone changes over and over ... from this scene to a castle to a more Hell-like landscape to more.

Finally Superman and his comrade Quex-Ul discover that the Zone is a living entity called Aethyr. These fantastic and terrifying landscapes really blossom under Colan's pencil. I don't think Colan worked on the Super-family that much outside of this series.

But the Colan series that stays with me the most is his work with Marv Wolfman on the short-lived horror series Night Force from 1982. 1982 was a big year for me as a collector as I decided to start collecting series on a monthly basis rather than simply looking for the most interesting cover on the spinner rack. Night Force was one of those first titles (along with Swamp Thing, Fury of Firestorm, and the New Teen Titans).

The first arc of Night Force has a team of a hard drinking journalist named Jack Gold, a paranormal scientist named Donovan Caine, and an innocent but emotionally tortured medium named Vanessa Van Helsing all positioned by Baron Winters to try and stop the physical entity of evil from overwhelming the world. The series shows the miasma of evil erupting into our world, the perfect sort of chaotic environment for Colan's style.

At the end of the story, Caine has been maimed, losing a limbs. Van Helsing has been shown to be the conduit for evil into this world and as a result must be kept happy all the time or else wickedness will overhelm her and flood the planet. And Gold is stuck pretending he loves Van Helsing to placate her even though he hates her. It scared the socks off me, much of that because of Colan's eerie and horrifying pencils. Those images remain in my brain to this day, easily recalled. That is the sign of a true master.

I know this is an odd review of Colan's prolific career, two minor forays in the DCU amidst the classics he touched. But these are the works of his that effected me and it shows how much love he poured into all his works.

Rest in peace Gene Colan. The world has lost a master artist.