Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Bullet Review: Justice League 3001

Justice League 3001 #1 came out last week and I picked up the book mostly because I knew that Supergirl would become a cast member next month. I thought I should jump on board at the beginning. I also knew that comic readers whose opinion I value had read the first series JL3K. Those bloggers said the book was irreverent but engaging.

I will be honest, while Howard Porter's art is a draw, I was a little concerned about the writing tandem of Keith Giffen and J. M. DeMatteis. It has been a while since either has hit a home run for me. I often find the humor attempts a bit too forced for my taste.

So I am happy to say that I enjoyed this book and I am glad I am on board. I have complained in the past about how there is nothing but deconstruction of super-heroes, giving them feet of clay and gray morals. And this book is steeped in that. But somehow, thrusting it into a possible future, having the characters run the spectrum of heroic ideals, made this one a bit more palatable. I also went in with the idea that this was meant to be a serious look at super-heroics but more like a farce. And they make old-timers like me happy by name dropping people like Andy Helfer and Murray Boltinoff in the story.

I will also say, this is a great first issue in terms of grabbing the reader. I hadn't read any JL3K before so I was very happy that Giffen and DeMatteis get us caught up without falling back on something lazy like a recap page. I also think the backstory and key plot points are brought up organically in the issue rather than having someone act solely for exposition.

And Howard Porter's art is pretty electric here. His expressions are strong. The setting and character styles feel like something from a grim future. And the action is palpable.

The book opens with something of a parable, L-Ron talking about 'The Five' saving a Camelot planet and staying to guard over the people. There is no mention of the JL or the characters specifically but you get the sense that this League has done something wonderful for the people.

But then that rug is pulled out from under me as a new reader. We learn that Ariel Masters is the League's handler, sending them to fight evils around the galaxy. And then, another reveal, Masters is actually housing the genetic code of Lois Lane. And this Lois hates the League, befriending them, and sending them on missions she thinks will be fatal.

Lois Lane! Queen of the Universe! Love it!

But why does she want them dead? And is this the first time we learn that she is Lois?

The League is on Widon-3, a planet taken over by Starro. When the League arrives, the Starros have already killed another set of freedom fighters. Squint and you'll see it is the Legion. I suppose this mirrors Giffen's recent interviews saying he is sick of the Legion and didn't want to visit Bgztl.

The League hardly seem like best friends but want to save these folks from mental slavery. Except, the main Starro tells them that this takeover is legal! The papers have been filed. The League's hands are tied.

New League member Guy Gardner, genetically rewritten onto a woman host, decides to check things out.

I like that the League might be defeated by lawyers! Reminds me of The Incredibles, when the heroes are forced into retirement by lawsuits.

We get to meet these Leaguers and learn very quickly that these aren't your standard archetypes. Batman comes the closest to being 'classic'.

But it is clear that Superman is an egotistical moron. He brags. He talks in the third person. He has little knowledge of gender issues, and little empathy for it.

I know on this blog I tend to complain about the shabby treatment of the mainstream Superman. But in something like this, basically an Elseworlds, I don't mind. This sort of 'rock star' narcissistic persona is, for me, a warning of what consistently writing heroes grim and dark will result in.

I am glad that Batman calls him out on it.

But then a new wrinkle gets revealed.

Fire and Ice, from the early 'bwa-ha-ha' JLA, are also characters in this book. I will admit I am a bit confused about these two as their backstory isn't fully explained. They lived on Camelot (the planet from the opening fable). Fire was consort to Etrigan, who ruled the planet with demons until the League defeated them. Ice also lives on the planet, in a different area.

The two are friends and decide they should leave Camelot and head to Earth (renamed Takron-Galtos in this world). Maybe they can set up a foothold there.

Nice to see these two again and love the new looks.

Even though the paperwork is up to snuff, Guy forges some writs that state that Starro has illegally run over Widon. Ariel/Lois loves the idea of an all-out irresponsible war by the League would both weaken and discredit the team.

Lois decides not to do anything and let this play out. Even if the League is victorious, they will be softened up enough that an Injustice League she is working with could finish the job.

One thing I do like is that L-Ron actually has his original programming intact, to help the League. He tries to override Lois/Ariel's reprogramming without success.

This is all fascinating.

And this war isn't going to be easy. Every Starro drone is a potential soldier in Starro's army but is also an innocent. Where is Snapper Carr and lime when you need him?

Nice splash here showing the scope of the problem. And nice Ambush Bug cameo.

And then the majestic splash page. A rocket sense Kal-El's presence and so veers to intercept. It is time to revive Supergirl!

This has to be the Silver Age Kara. And I have to assume that Giffen/DeMatteis is going to make her the caricature she was then, sugary sweet, innocent and naive, quick to tears and eager. Such sensibilities will be a foil to the darker tones here while showing that either extreme is prone to being silly. Knowing this Superman, he is going to hit on her. I worry about this as a skewed version of the Trinity can happen without sullying the main hero. There are people out there who still think Supergirl is an saccharine fool and this might just cement that.

There is stuff I still don't get. The Fire/Ice stuff needs fleshing out. We hear about Firestorm but we didn't see him. But this was grabbing enough to make me ... gasp ... seek out the back issues of the old series.

I won't read this series with the same discerning eye I read others, in the same way I don't watch Evil Dead 2 with the same critical eye I watch The Exorcist.

Overall grade: B/B+

Monday, June 29, 2015

Darick Robertson Commission

Darick Robertson, artist on most famous for Transmetropolitan, The Boys, and Happy,  was in the area last week and had a signing at a local comic book store. As luck would have it, the signing occurred on a rare afternoon off.

A buddy and I headed to the store with a handful of issues to get signed and my sketch book. I had contacted Robertson ahead of time who said he did do commissions at store signings if time allowed. Luckily, and maybe because it was 3:30 on a Wednesday afternoon, there was absolutely no line. There was my buddy, another fan, and me.

As a result, I was able to obtain this fantastic commission of Supergirl, looking strong and determined while in the clouds. There is no doubt that this is a Robertson piece, the face is completely evocative of his style. Really just wonderful.

And since no one else was really there, my buddy and I got to chat with Robertson for a while. My buddy is a huge fan of Transmetropolitan and got to talk about specific issues. And we got a sneak peek at some upcoming projects which just look beautiful.

I am psyched to include this piece in my collection.

And I'll call this mini-event the beginning of my convention season.

Thanks again to Darick for doing the piece!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Review: Superman #41

 The review for Superman #41 will happen soon. But first a small rant.

All I want is a good Superman story.

A story where an aspirational hero with powers far beyond mortal men fights for truth, justice, and the American Way. Where he battles one of his rogues. A story where, disguised as a mild mannered reporter for a great Metropolitan newspaper, we see him value his humanity and cherish his friends.

I don't think that is what DC wants.

Because it seems that what DC has been trying to do for too long has been to do something different with Superman. It seems like DC thinks Superman as a concept is stale and needs to be freshened up. So we end up with stories where he walks across the country acting aloof. Or where he becomes Doomsday.

And now we have The Truth, a story where he loses his powers and his secret identity.

Superman #41 is the first part of The Truth, an issue that precedes the identity reveal, showing us the events that lead to Lois telling the world about Clark. It is the first issue by writer Gene Luen Yang. And it isn't very good. The whole thing is basically derailed by the shoddy portrayal of Clark, both in his civilian identity as well as when acting as Superman.

Sadly, the first issue released in The Truth was Action Comics #41, a sort of throwback issue that gave me some optimism. But each subsequent issue has been worse than the last, leading to this issue with a Superman/Clark I simply don't recognize.

The issue starts with Clark and Jimmy planning on heading to a sporting event. Before they can head out, Clark gets a text from an unidentified caller saying they know the source of an influx of technically advanced weapons. Maybe Clark should investigate.

Now I suppose that Clark, as an investigative journalist, might get anonymous tips directly to his phone. But would he trust them, drop all his plans to follow-up? And wouldn't he be a bit more curious about how someone got his number?

But he decides to investigate.

Now here is where things get wonky, almost nonsensical.

Clark has gotten a tip about the factory of advanced weaponry. Rather that do a fly by using xray vision, rather than going directly as Superman, he decides the best thing to do is sneak in, as Clark, with Jimmy! Jimmy knows he's Superman! Why not be prepared and go in as Superman? Or reconnoiter? Jimmy could still get the story from the outside, from safety.

Instead, Jimmy is there, in his bright yellow tank top, as some slick arms dealer is showing off a three dimensional printer capable of making individualized weapons.

No big surprise, Clark and Jimmy are discovered. Clark has to change into Superman in order to rescue Jimmy. He then begins to dismantle the place.

At least we get one tiny sliver of proof that the concept of Superman still exists. A flunky is surprised to be saved by Superman but Jimmy reminds the thug that saving people is what Jimmy does.

But then, in another one of those moments I don't quite understand, Superman uses a more controlled solar flare to destroy the giant 3-D printer which has become a sort of attacking robot.

Why the flare? Hasn't he fought giant robots for years before he knew about this power? Isn't it like using a bazooka to swat a fly.

But the inanity and insanity continues.

First off, we see him getting dressed in his Clark garb in the middle of the planet staff area. Not a broom closet. Not the roof. The main floor. Lois approaches as he is buttoning his shirt.

Lois hears about Clark and Jimmy's story and shows them that the arms dealer in the factory was their recently elected Senator.

Why didn't Clark recognize him? Well, it seems when he ran for office he wore a fake mustache. What??
And while we hear that Clark was on assignment when the election was won, you think he would still know the man from the primaries or lead up to the election.

And why would this guy wear a fake mustache? Why not put on a mask when acting as an arms dealer.

Regardless, the story breaks and the Senator is arrested. It is a story so big that even Perry toasts Clark and Jimmy.

At least here, Lois is written pretty well. Although I think the 'fooled by fake mustache' line is a jab at her being fooled by Clark's glasses.

The next day, Clark gets another text from his anonymous informant. They want Clark to turn over a woman coming into the Planet to the authority. And to not believe what she has to say.

And he better do it ...

Because whoever it is has the goods on Clark. Pictures of him changing back and forth from Clark to Superman. A side by side comparison of their faces, the works. And Clark better obey their demands ... or else.

What is Clark's first thought? That Jimmy has betrayed him. He practically throttles Jimmy, shaking him while accusing him of the reveal. That's not the Clark I know, immediately thinking the worst of his friends.

It is only then that Clark remembers that when he uses his flare power, he is slightly depowered. Maybe his speed isn't what it was, allowing these pictures to be snapped.

As stated, the woman walks into the Planet. But before Lois can spirit her away (she has more news about the arms dealing), Clark turns her over to some Federal Agents who just happen to show up at the same time.

This isn't the Superman I want to read. This isn't the Clark I want to read. He would allow a threat to himself interfere with the truth. He doesn't even check to see if these are actual agents. He just lets them take her!

At least Lois puts up a fight here.

This is wrong.

Especially when the anonymous tipper starts to sound like a blackmailer.

The clenched fist shows it. Clark knows he screwed up.

But how would he feel if the next day they found this woman dead? Would he ever just turn her over? Listen to this person and potentially hurting someone else?

But once again we see some absurd ideas by Clark.

He has to rescue this woman. So instead of going as Superman, he dons a ninja suit. He is still somewhat depowered from the flare attack that destroyed the robot-printer. He jumps on their moving car, telling the informant that he is there to help (an attempt to sound like Superman at least).

With the woman in his arms, he runs back to Jimmy, waiting in a car. Lois shows up, having tailed Jimmy. Then Clark shows up, bleeding and battered from his 'Captain America' style rescue.

The bad guys follow along and shoot the car up with machine guns. Everyone could be dead.

Isn't this an idiotic rescue mission? Ninja clothes? Jimmy is again squarely in the line of fire. This whole thing sounds like a bad idea. After his years of heroing, this was his best idea?

I just don't know what to say. Incredibly, for the first time in a while, I was very pleased with how the supporting characters were written. Lois and Jimmy were written well. The characterization of Clark is so foreign to me in this issue that I don't know who I am reading. It might say Superman on the cover, but at least in this issue, it didn't read like Superman.

Overall grade: C-

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Back Issue Box: Adventure Comics #402 - Supergirl Vs. Starfire

Last week I wrote a bullet review about Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner's Starfire.
A while back, on another blog, I wrote about one of my favorite characters from the 1970's Starfire.

So I thought I would review my least favorite Starfire, the organized crime boss who tormented Supergirl in the early 70s in Adventure Comics. These stories were written and drawn by Mike Sekowsky and frankly, I don't think he had any love for the character. He didn't seem to have much knowledge of Superman mythology or Supergirl history. He has Kara be at her most juvenile at times. And, the worst part of his whole Starfire story arc, he depowers her.

I always felt that part of the push for Supergirl to basically lose her powers was the storyline happening in Superman at the same time. Adventure Comics #402, cover dated February 1971 and which also introduces us to Starfire and the depowering plot, came out just one month after Superman #233, the famous Kryptonite Nevermore arc which, at the end, significantly weakened Superman. Had Supergirl not been depowered, she would have been without a doubt the most powerful person in the DCU at the time.

The issue starts with 'two strange people' having a beachside picnic and discussing nefarious plans.

One is Starfire, a wicked woman and leader of an organized crime family comprised solely of women. She is ready to take the next step in her plan of world domination. Her colleague Dr. Kangle has developed a pill which will remove the powers from super-heroes. And Starfire will use her boy toy associate Derek to test the pill on her first target - Supergirl.

The book is a wonderful time capsule of 70's fashion from the Starfire's rhinstoned eye patch to Derek's voluminous locks.

But the plan hinges on one thing. Supergirl has to become so smitten with Derek that he will be close enough to slip her the pill.

Starfire has all the angles. She'll enroll Derek in Stanhope knowing that Supergirl frequents the place.

And despite looking like a huge big toe, Derek is confidant he will be able to woo the Maid of Might.

To lure Supergirl to his side, Starfire orchestrates a phony mugging of Derek.

To make it look real or perhaps realizing what an oily creep Derek is, the muggers get a few good shots in.

Derek yells out some loud screams. Linda Danvers hears, switches to Supergirl, and rescues him.

With Derek seemingly injured, Supergirl allows the muggers to escape so she can tend to him.

The trap is sprung. Derek plants a kiss on Kara's lips to thank her for saving him.

We see the title and its significance. 'Love conquers all .. even Supergirl.'

But then we get Sekowsky's take on Supergirl and it isn't good.

Supergirl is momentarily helpless because of Derek's magic lips. But then we learn 'she even likes the helpless feeling'.

Not exactly what you want your writer to say about your strong female lead.

And that one kiss is enough to have Derek invade Supergirl's mind. He is all she can think about. And he is playing the part right, leaving signs around campus that he needs to meet her.

But it is that first panel that I find odd. When had she ever said 'I can't let myself be emotionally involved with an ordinary human.'? That was about 45% of her stories in Action Comics. Poor Dick Malverne! Sekowsky doesn't seem to know or care about her history.

But what could any girl do against Derek's suave nature and relentless pursuit? According to Sekowsky, any girl gives in and goes out.

I do like how in this time period, Kara does sport different outfits. This 'formal dress' costume is nice.

Derek brings her to a ball where he says how dating her is making him look better. What a creep!

Finally Supergirl says that she cannot see him anymore. That her mission, her pursuit of justice has to come first. He agrees that he won't bother her again ... except for one last picnic date.

I can't believe that any Kara would fall for this tripe.

But she can't resist him.

She goes out on the date. She says that sometimes she wishes she didn't have powers so she could live a normal life. But she does have her powers and she has to use them to help people.

And with that, Derek slips the 'depowering pill' into Supergirl's drink.

Before the picnic is over, Starfire sends a goon squad over to test her scheme.

Supergirl loses her powers.
The gunmen let loose with a hail of bullets.
Supergirl falls.

She apparently dies.
And Derek is all too happy.

It appears that Starfire has won!

Things get all the more wonky after this issue. Powers that flick on and off. Kandorian exo-skeletons. Starfire beating up Supergirl. Female clown gangs.

It is a rough period in Supergirl's history ... a history unfortunately marked by rough periods. Sekowsky seems to have a low opinion of Kara, having her fall for Derek immediately, craving a helpless state, a life without powers.

But Starfire is such a thorn in Supergirl's side that she has to be included in Supergirl's rogues gallery. With nothing but a shrewd calculating mind, she almost defeats Kara. How about Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner resurrect this Starfire to fight a team-up of Starfire and Starfire?

As for this book, since Starfire is a long-standing villain and this powerless arc is pretty long for the time. As a result I must begrudgingly label this as being of moderate importance to a Supergirl collection. Even if she is treated shabbily, it is a key chapter of the early 70's.

Overall grade: D

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Mike Maihack At HeroesCon

I have been talking recently about how summer is my convention season and that as the time grows near I get more and more fidgety. I guess I am still a kid at heart, getting excited over these events, and preparing way too early.

One of the things that feeds the fire for me is the temporal proximity of Heroes Convention in North Carolina to the Boston Comic-Con, my 'home' con.

Heroes-Con is a pure comic convention, drawing big names, and close enough that I can dream about one day going. It also seems to draw a number of guests that have yet to come up to the New England area. I always peruse the list and wish that I could interact with some of the names there. For example, this year Richard Case, Matthew Clark, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Matt Fraction, and Doc Shaner were all there. I would love to meet those guys.

Twitter allowed me to go the con vicariously. 

Mike Maihack was also there. And I have to say that I can only hope that I will run into him at some point. I love his interpretation of Supergirl. And Maihack tweeted a lot of stuff that I felt I needed to share.

First off, Heroes Con held an art auction for charity (I believe the Hero Initiative). Maihack did this painting, on canvas, of one of his favorite subjects, Batgirl and Supergirl.

Per twitter, this piece went for a cool $1600. Way to go bidders!

But the Maihack posted some of his commissions.

I love this one the most, Supergirl in her DCAU white shirt costume. Maihack does a lot of Supergirl pieces but the 'white shirt' version is pretty rare. Love it! Love the big smile!

Then this piece, a 'selfie' Supergirl piece in a more classic blue shirt/red skirt.

Again, joy!

And then some doodles on coasters! I'd buy a set if printed on something sturdy!

Why aren't we getting an All-Ages monthly 'worlds finest' by Maihack and these two?

Head to Maihack's twitter feed to see all his commissions (@mikemaihack). It isn't just Supergirl. There were plenty of Batgirls as well (particularly the Burnside version). But of the non-Supergirl ones, I loved this Wonder Woman the most. Just fierce!

Boston Comic-Con is 5 weeks away!!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Con Prep: Source Material

We are about 6 weeks away from the Boston Comic Con, so I thought I would continue my run of posts talking about my convention preparation.

The first post discussed predominantly commissions, discussing materials and decisions. That can be found here: http://comicboxcommentary.blogspot.com/2015/06/con-prep-commissions-and-decisions.html

I figured I would continue the commission discussion this time focusing on source material.

Source material is art you provide to the artist you are getting the commission from so they have a reference for the character you want.

Now in this era of smartphones and the internet and Google images, where many images of a character are a few keystrokes away, you would think that having source material would be an anachronism but I am here to tell you differently. If you have an image in mind, or a particular costume in mind, you should definitely have something with you that you can give the artist.

And here is why:
1) In this era of multiple costumes, if you have one you prefer, it is better to be exact about things
2) Smartphones run out of power, con centers probably have spots of poor wifi connectivity
3) It provides both you and the artist some assurance that you will be happy with the piece

Source material can me almost anything that conveys the look you want. So if there is an issue that has great art showcasing the character, bring that. Or you can print up a picture from a comic that has the costume you are looking for. On the internet, you can sometimes find style sheets that other artists use. I have made sheets with multiple pictures on it which I tuck into the sketchbooks and bring with me to cons.

But here is the most important thing, this also means that you need to have an idea of the character you want to have source material ready. And that doesn't always work out. I'll talk about this a bit more in the next post, which talks about artist decisions. If you aren't certain, at least have a vague idea in mind so you can guide an internet search or rummage through a dollar box to buy an issue at the con for source. (For example, you might say 'Mike Kaluta Madame Xanadu' or 'Guy Davis Sandman' or 'Chris Bachalo Shade the Changing Man' all of which are different than Amy Reeder, Alex Saviuk, and Steve Ditko respectively.)

And remember, this is reference material. The artist has the license to embellish, accentuate, deviate.

This is my source sheet for my main Supergirl sketchbook and the Matrix version of the costume. For me, key portions of the costume are the pointy sleeves, the pointed belt, and the 'full shirt'. So this sheet, with poses from Gary Frank, Jackson Guice, and Art Thibert highlight those. And I will point out the small things I like to the artist. I could just as easily brought an early issue of the PAD Supergirl for source as well. But this has worked nicely for me.

I recently have started to branch out a bit and I have got a couple of more 70's style Supergirl commissions with the hot pants and puffy sleeves. The first time I decided to get one ... you guessed it ... I didn't have source material. Since she wore that costume for a decade, it was pretty easy to head to a quarter box at the convention and buy an early issue of Daring New Adventures to give the artist.

I have since made this reference sheet and will bring it to Boston. Here we have Rich Buckler, Dick Dillin, and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez shots. For me, the key thing is the boots and shorts since earlier versions of this costume had elf slippers and shorts with beaded edges.

But as I said, style guides are out there as well. Here is the Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez style guide for that very same costume.

If Garcia-Lopez is sketching at the convention, I might try to get a 'head band' Supergirl from him and would probably use his own style guide as source material for him!

But to reiterate the importance of source material, if you asked an artist to do a commission of Jean Grey, they might as which one ...

So better to be prepared!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Bullet Review: Alter Ego #133 & Jim Mooney

Alter Ego is a comic magazine publised by TwoMorrows which focuses on golden age and silver age creators. Edited and basically run by comic legend Roy Thomas, the magazine is really a treasure trove for amateur comic historians like me.

Last week, Alter Ego #133 came out and included a very long interview of Jim Mooney done before his unfortunate death several years ago. Mooney drew the first first years of Supergirl's adventures in Action Comics, starting with her second adventure in Action Comics #253 and continuing for almost a decade.

His career started long before his work on Supergirl and continued long after he left Action Comics but for me he is the definitive Supergirl artist. So I was eager to hear what he had to say, especially about Kara.

Get ready for a surprise. The word he used most about her is 'bored'! So sad.
Now I suppose that doing anything for 9 years would get monotonous. But I was hoping he would have a love for the character, especially given the apparent love that he put into the books.

Later in the interview, he does say that he got bored with many of the comics he was put on because the stores became repetitive and boring to him.

The article/interview is nearly 40 pages and includes a lot of stunning pictures including this personal commission Mooney did for someone. Just beautiful.

And also this commission and print focusing on Streaky!

So fantastic!

I do like that he put in that knowing little nod to readers at the end of the stories.

And hearing about his approach to commissions was also interesting.

I have to be honest, I forgot he actually worked on Ms. Marvel for a while. The Danvers girls! Two of my favorite characters!

We also get a little Streaky history as well.

Mooney created Streaky and modeled him after his own cat!

It is telling that he felt he needed to move on from DC because of the influence of Neal Adams and realism in the book. I am pretty sure that Kurt Schaffenberger, maybe even more cartoony than Mooney, worked there through the early 80s.

As a Supergirl fan, even hearing how bored he was with Kara, I enjoyed reading this interview. And as a comic buff, it was truly fascinating to see his earliest stuff, including Batman stories from the Sprang/Robinson era and even characters he created in the Golden Age. And while I think of him as a DC guy because of Supergirl, his time at Marvel was pretty prolific. That is also covered in the magazine.

Great stuff!