Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Supergirl Episode 406: A Call To Arms

Supergirl episode 406, titled'A Call to Arms' aired earlier this week and was another very good episode in this season's overall arch about prejudice and fear. While a few notes were a little shrill, overall this episode continued to show how complex this topic is. And for a show like Supergirl which has been holier than thou at times with ham-fisted scripts I have to applaud the writers and producers.

While the main theme for the season has been fear of aliens, a clear metaphor for immigrants and racism (or any of the other phobias of 'other' out there), I think a current coursing under the theme is just how far people will be pushed by their fear and anger. And the writers have to be commended for showing us a number of shades of gray.

It starts with the villain Ben Lockwood, pushed towards anger and hate by a series of unfortunate events which left him fearing for his family's life. Warped from a reasonable person to a hate monger, he has a line he has drawn. He won't kill humans. Will his crossing that line show him the errors of his ways?

Meanwhile, the opposite side of the coin is Manchester Black, a man who loved an alien and had become a man of peace through his love. Now with his fiancee killed, he has also been twisted into a hate, killing and torturing his fellow humans to get what he wants.

And there is Kara, the beacon of hope who is constantly being asked to stay out of the mud. She has had moments of self-doubt that maybe she is too optimistic. Will she be dimmed.

But the most intriguing person might be Colonel Lahey, a side character who at times seems like a clear-thinking person, assessing threats. At other times, she is just as slimy as Lockwood. Which way will she turn? Can she be redeemed? Shown the light?

While all this was there in this episode, we also got Helen Slater, Thankisgiving dinner at the Danvers, mysterious stuff about Nia, and a fight with a dragon. Just wonderful.

On to the details.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Julius Schwartz Memorial Lecture - Brian Michael Bendis

On November 8th, I had the luck of driving just a few miles from my place of work to MIT. And there, I was able to take in the MIT Comparative Media Studies Program 2018 Julius Schwartz Memorial Lecture. Past lecturers have been Neil Gaiman and J. Michael Straczynski.

This year it was Brian Michael Bendis.

The lecture was open to the public and held in a big auditorium style class room on campus. It looked like about 100 people were in attendance.

Given that he is now on the Superman books and has written a bunch of books I loved, I was thrilled that I was able to attend.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Review: Superman #5

Superman #5 came out last week, written by Brian Michael Bendis with art by Ivan Reis and Joe Prado.

I have said in the past that Action Comics has been more enjoyable to me recently. But the last two issues, Bendis has really brought it. There is a lot here that I loved. There is humor. There is plot progression. Bendis picks up a plot thread that has been hanging for a while. Heck, I even like General Zod in this issue. I haven't been interested in Zod in about a decade. Just amazing.

Two moments stand out. There is a moment of Ma and Pa wisdom at the end which made me sit up and cheer.  And there is a Lois mention that showed me that maybe Bendis gets the Kent/Lane relationship at its foundation. They happen back to back at the end of the book and I was thrilled. Pitch perfect ... you'll see.

Add to that the usual stand-out art by the team of Reis and Prado. There is something so classic about their approach to the material. Whether gleaming spires or ruined zones, the two bring it. In particular, Superman looks pretty ragged here, appropriate given the fight he has been through. I also love Adam Hughes' cover, riffing on the classic Superman #32 cover from the 40's.

On to the book.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Review: Supergirl #24

Supergirl #24 came out this week and I won't bury the lede. It has Doc Shaner art.

Since I discovered Shaner's art I have wanted to see his take on Supergirl and he doesn't disappoint. That is not to say that Kevin Maguire hasn't been killing it on this book; he has. But there is something just magical, just gorgeous, just grin-inducing about Shaner's art and his take on Kara that elevates this issue tremendously. Expect me to gush throughout the review even though I have already blasted you with superlatives.

The story in the issue is good, advancing the plot of detective Kara trying to uncover what Rogol Zaar and 'The Circle' had to do with Krypton's destruction. I feel like the first three issues have been something of prologue, starting Kara out on this intergalactic journey. Now, out in space, writer Marc Andreyko can start to put the rest of the pieces out on the chess board. A couple of new characters are introduced. And we continue to move forward on Kara's quest to reunite the crystals Appa Ali Apsa.

Sure, Kara seems more of the angry, 'punch first' Supergirl of past years. The cover touts her 'path of vengenace'. It seems like a step back in her characterization. At least, at times, she seems like the bright, inquisitive Supergirl we have seen recently.

But the big win here is Shaner's art. It is just a fill-in. He has no other planned issue of Supergirl ahead. Maybe the hue and cry of the common folk can bring him back as designated pinch hitter?

Onto the book.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Bullet Review: Justice League #11

 I feel like it is a little bit of a cheat for me to review Justice League #11 because I am not getting the entirety of the Drowned Earth storyline. I am not getting the stand alone issues. I am only getting the main title books. So I don't know if it is fair of me to review interval chapters rather than the whole arc.

That said, I have been reviewing and lauding this book since it's premiere and I didn't think it felt right not to review the book.

So ultimately I decided that I would include a review of the issue, at least showcasing the elements that I liked as well as hitting on moments that impact plot points brought up in the earlier issues.

Scott Snyder continues the keep things moving forward at warp speed. A lot of ideas and plot progression happens here. But what I loved about this issue is the sneaky character moments that if you blink or gloss over, you'll miss.

Francis Manapul is on art and really shines here. There is a thicker, harder edge to his stuff. I usually think of breathier, more pencil-y work with Manapul. But the style works here with this world-threatening incident unfolding.

So I won't go too in depth here. But there are moments that are too good to not share.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Supergirl Episode 405: Parasite Lost

I have been very pleased with this season of Supergirl. The first four episodes were quite tight, with good character moments, good action, and very solid story-telling. Prior seasons and prior episodes have been heavy-handed or clunky. And I haven't had to say that this season so far.

Episode 405, titled Parasite Lost, was a decent episode. It progressed the overall plot. There were some nice character moments. Alex Danvers ultimately saves the day with Supergirl acting more as a bystander. While Kara the reporter gets a boost, her role as superhero is again diminished. Kara again isn't the hero in her own show. There was a great moment at the end for J'onn J'onzz which elevated this episode a lot for me.

And once more, there is a nuanced approach to the metaphor of alien as immigrant. We saw a more sympathetic view of Agent Liberty a couple of weeks ago. Here we start to see signs of how hate can drive people deeper into evil. In fact, I think two themes of the season are starting to percolate a bit.

After such a solid beginning, I felt this was a bit of a 'treading water' episode, a mini-step back from the excellence we have seen before. Good is still good. I thought this was solid. Just not as fantastic.

And we don't get a single mention of Mercy and Otis. I still don't know if they are dead!

On to the show.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Back Issue Review: Action Comics #340

Just this week on the Supergirl show, Agent Jensen was turned into the Parasite to vex our hero Kara and the DEO.

Now most people, myself included, jump to Rudy Jones as being the Parasite. So when someone named Jensen was introduced on the show way back in the premiere, I didn't think to much of it.

Then Supergirl fan extraordinaire @kara_querl that the original Parasite, from Action Comics #340 was named Raymond Jensen. Supergirl staff writer Eric Carrasco confirmed this had been planned since the first episode.

Feeling myself like a bad fan for not remembering this on my own, especially given that I actually own the issue in my collection, I decided that a back issue review was warranted. So get ready to read about the first appearance of the Parasite!

Monday, November 12, 2018

Review: The Last Siege #4

The Last Siege #6 came out last week and continues to be an ultra-dramatic story racing towards its conclusion.

I have said all along that this movie has been playing out in my head like a film, Braveheart meets The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly meets Seven Samurai. From the pacing to the panel composition to the plot, it all feels like a Spaghetti Western hopped up on mead. And I have loved every minute of it.

Writer Landry Walker has done a great job bringing this tale up to a roiling boil. After issues of set-up and back story, the pieces are all on the board. And now the board is on fire. Incredible. Along with this deliberate ratcheting up the action, we still get great character beats. We learn the history of Tomislav and Istvan both within the illustrated comic and in the text pieces in the back. We see Lady Cathryn go from innocent silent girl playing with dolls to wounded combat leader rallying the troops. This has been a meaty read from all angles.

Artist Justin Greenwood continues to bring us a bleak gritty landscape with his inky work. But one thing I have appreciated along the way has been his ability to convey information through body language. In this book, you can feel the weariness in the beaten warriors' bones. You feel the nervousness of the characters fleeing the carnage. So much is said without words.

Rounding out the team is Brad Simpson on colors. Given the amount of gore and fire in this chapter, we get a brighter palette than the usual one for this book. We are bathed in yellows and oranges that bring the story out of the shadows. We also have Pat Brosseau on lettering and he brings his usual panache.

I've been thrilled with this book so far. The end is nigh!

Friday, November 9, 2018

Review: Adventures of the Super Sons #4

Adventures of the Super Sons #4 came out this week and continued this hilarious romp through the DCU. From the beginning it was clear that writer Peter Tomasi was going to have fun with this series. Jon Kent was going to be changed by Brian Michael Bendis. This interaction and this duo would never be the same again. So why not just let it rip and have a blast.

I have said in prior reviews that this seems like a tour through the history of the DCU, a mix of Silver and Bronze age pastiche barely held to by a plot. But I don't care. Last issue we got a take on Superman Red/Blue and an appearance from Space Cabbie. This issue we have dialogue that is lifted from movies to a possible Marvel homage to a riff on DC's Bronze age horror anthologies. It's perfect. I am having so much fun with this book. I'm not expecting War and Peace. I am expecting a fun ride. And that is what Tomasi is giving us. It is almost perfect that this book came out a week after Halloween because this was a sweet treat, a confection.

Carlo Barberi continues to bring a zany energy to the book walking the fine line between stylized and over stylized. The somewhat cartoony like look clicks with the Looney Tunes plot. And his Sons are perfect. This is how I picture them in my mind. And that homage to DC's past is evident right from the cover, a classic horror comic motif (see cover of House of Mystery #174 of The House of Mystery treasury).

It is a shame we only have so much of this book and this dynamic left. On to the issue!

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Supergirl Episode 404: Ahimsa

Supergirl episode 404, titled 'Ahimsa', aired this week and was another strong character episode in what has been a very strong season. Yes, there was action, one might say 'Marvel-ous' action. And yes there was plot progression. But this was again about looking at how the plot of alien amnesty and xenophobia is effecting people. I am thrilled with this season so far.

This is also the episode with the suited Supergirl, probably because Melissa Benoist was so far away on Broadway. The DEO is trying to clear the air of Kryptonite. And I might be looking to deep for metaphors, but each character has something weighing on them as well. They need to clear the air, revealing their problems and working through them. Some make perfect sense, like Alex suddenly dealing with the weight of leadership. Or Brainy dealing with uncertainty and how his emotions make working through that doubt difficult. Others make less sense, like J'onn saying he has lived his life 'steeped in rage'. But overall it worked. And that's all that matters.

As for the action, some of the villains' actions and motivations are a little wonky. But they are appropriately scary and nefarious. I like seeing the smooth words and charisma of Ben Lockwood coming to the foreground of the main plot.

On to the episode.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Rhode Island Comic Con Wrap-Up

I consider myself a con veteran. I prepare meticulously and try to be ready. I often have the experience mapped out mentally as I enter. Yes ... I know ... insanity.

And every so often I am delightfully surprised.

I went to the Rhode Island Comic Con this weekend with very little expectations. There weren't many comic creators on the guest list. And I only had a couple of issues for signature from that limited guest list. I honestly went more because it is an annual trip for me and my brother (he is a huge Star Wars fan so we cover a swath of cons like this).

My plans were simple.

Meet Laura Vandervoort again, have her sign a Smallville comic, and not be a nervous blathering idiot like I was the first time I met her.

Meet Kevin Nash, founding member of the NWO and one of my favorite wrestlers.

Get single issues signed by Kevin Eastman and Bob Layton.

A commission wasn't even on my radar but luck favors the prepared so I chucked my main sketch book into my bag and off I went.

Bear with me because the best stuff happened at the end.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Bullet Review: Superman #16

Through cosmic alignment more than cerebral intent, I have been thinking a lot about the reintroduction of 'Supergirl' to the post-Crisis, Byrne-era DC Universe. Much of that probably was born from my recent review of what I will call 'Matrix' in  Superman #19 .

In looking back at the site, I realize that I also briefly touched on her third appearance in  Superman #20, the first time that Matrix met Ma and Pa Kent as she was trying to work her way through her muddled 'pocket universe' memories.

Heck, I've even covered the John Byrne promotional poster.

While I know that an Elseworld's Finest review is due. And a long overdue viewing of the Supergirl movie and a review of that is also due, I think I need to scratch this Byrne itch. In the end, I think I'll need to review the 'Supergirl Saga', the last Byrne storyline which changed so much of the books moving forward. (Hard to believe I haven't reviewed that before either.)

But before I get there, I figured I better cover the first appearance of Matrix in the DCU, as seen in an explosive cliffhanger in Superman #16. And I have to say I have a little movie-based theory about this first meeting.

As many know, I was lucky enough to meet Byrne at this summer's Boston Fan Expo and got some issues signed including this one. I thanked him for 'somewhat' returning Supergirl to comics and he shrugged and said 'somewhat'. And that little interaction meant a lot to me.

On to the book.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Review: Superman/Top Cat #1

 This October had five Wednesdays which meant that there would most likely be slim pickings on the comic shelf. While DC did put Heroes in Crisis #2 and a Batman Secret Files out there, we also got the next wave of goofy team-ups between DC characters and Hanna Barbera properties. Thus Superman/Top Cat #1 by Dan Didio and Shane Davis was available for review.

Now I had a lot of expectations for this book. For one, prior recent DC odd team-ups with cartoon characters (things like the wonderful Bugs Bunny/Legion of Super-Heroes or Batman/Elmer Fudd) were very well done, exceeding what I thought possible.

Also, I am a huge fan of the old cartoon Top Cat, watched on reruns in my youth. Here I met that smooth talking Top Cat, always trying to get rich quick. There was a Phil Silvers analogue; there was a Cary Grant analogue. They always seemed one step ahead of Officer Dibble. Top Cat is a relative unknown these days so I was thrilled to see him back in action with the Big Red S.

Unfortunately, the book was sort of a let-down. Top Cat in this comic could have been any number of cartoon characters. He wasn't 'Top Cat'-ish enough to capture the cartoon. None of the other characters appear here. And outside of some puns and some sarcasm around vegetables and Amazon, there wasn't much fun to be had here.

On to the book ...

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Back Issue Review: Omega Men #3

The solicits for January 2019 were released earlier this month and the solicit for Supergirl #26 had a very interesting line in it.

Supergirl…super-captured! Still recovering from radiation poisoning, Kara finds herself in the clutches of the Citadel and its ruthless leader Harry Hokum, who is eager to experiment on one of the last Kryptonians in the known universe. 

Given the mention of Harry Hokum, I thought I would comb the back issue box and review The Omega Men #3 from 1983, an issue which is notable for being the first appearance of Hokum!

Okay, that isn't true, While this is the first appearance of Hokum, this issue is most famous for being the first appearance of the Lobo. While this is Lobo in look, this is not the Main Man most people are used to reading about. Here he is a calculating bounty hunter who sports a 'Goober Grape' one piece costume, a far cry from the cigar chomping, hog-riding, brutal killer of the current DCU.

Hokum is a pretty impressive villain here, a displaced Earth man who is somehow in the Vega system and a political manipulator from behind the scenes. He looks a bit like Vermin Vundabar of Fourth World fame. But despite his slight frame, he is able to stand up to violent leaders of The Citadel and become part of the inner circle of the fascist regime.

The book is written by Roger Silfer. But the main draw for me is the Keith Giffen art, still sporting his ultra-clean, organic look of his early Legion days. All I can say is 'wow'! I am always amazed at how Giffen's art looked back in the day. And given this was a direct market only book, he is able to get a little more r-rated here and there. I was lucky enough to get the issue signed by Giffen at Terrificon 2 summers ago. (The label is on a comic bag, not the actual book.)

Onto the issue!