Review: Infinity Inc.: The Bogeyman trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, August 31, 2009

Writer Peter Milligan concludes the series' final collection with Infinity, Inc.: The Boogeyman, and in the process demonstrates a curious cross-section of what this curious title might have been.

The Boogeyman contains two stories, "The Influencing Machines of Metropolis" and "The Bogeyman," and they offer two conflicting pictures of the character of Infinity Inc. "Bogeyman" shows the members of Infinity, Inc. as a more traditional superhero team with costumes, codenames, and an intended mission; "Influencing Machines" reflects the amorphous, accidental Infinity Inc. group we saw in the first volume, Luthor's Monsters. Of these, I much preferred "Influencing"; while I'm a fan of artist Pete Woods who arrives at the end, the wide-eyed, mildly cartoony work of Matt Camp in the beginning seemed the more zany tone Infinity, Inc. craves.

In the two stories, Milligan's tales remind the reader ever more of early Smallville seasons. Here, the refugees from Lex Luthor's Everyman program, joined loosely together more as friends than a superhero team, track other Everymen (or, in Smallville's case, "meteor freaks") with the goal to help them, though low and behold they often end up having to fight them. Though Milligan limited Infinity's adventures mostly to suburbia so far, I'd have been interested to see a globe-hopping Infinity Inc. perhaps, that chased down Everyman across the four-corners of the DC Universe.

Infinity, Inc. ends after issue #12, however (though unfortunately issues #11 and #12 aren't included in this book), so it's tough to know whether Milligan would have kept the traditional superhero tone or returned to the team's loose roots. Personally Milligan didn't quite sell me on the Infinity superhero team, if that was his goal; Nuklon, one of the more interesting team members, makes fun of the team uniforms and also the truly awful codenames that the hero Steel bestows on them, and the reader can't help but do the same. Having powers has been demonstrated so far in this title as a liability rather than a boon, so it's hard to picture the characters satisfied as traditional heroes.

Part of the shame of Infinity, Inc. ending is that Milligan did create some memorable characters here. There hasn't been a triplicating hero in the DC Universe since Triplicate Girl, and I was eager to see how Nuklon's troubles with his unexpected triple would play out; I was also intrigued by how the gender-bending powers of Fury (one guesses Pete Woods never thought he'd been drawing a character mid-transformation between man and woman). Milligan also gave depth to Superman character Mercy Graves, bestowing a personality beyond just Lex Luthor's bodyguard, and it's unfortunate that her leaving the team is a plot thread Milligan can't follow through (in addition to why the character Lucia, suddenly, has wings).

The Boogeyman continues Milligan's focus on the psychological aspect of superheroics (one villain's powers, Steel expounds, have to do with his using introjection as a defense mechanism), and there's an entertaining teen-horror-movie vibe to this volume. Unfortunately, I think the series fell short of reaching its intended audience, and this collection falls short without the two concluding issues of the series. Nothing earth-shattering here, but a generally satisfactory read.

[Contains full covers]

A review of Final Crisis: Rogues' Revenge coming Thursday!

Review: Infinity Inc.: Luthor's Monsters trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

When I think of Peter Milligan, I think of Doop. I never actually read X-Statix, but the image of those Mike Allred-rendered mutants is near seared in my brain, along with the idea that Milligan is a writer of not-quite-traditional superhero comics. And that's what I found in Infinity Inc.: Luthor's Monsters, the first volume of the series -- a meta-interpretive take on superheroes through the lens of pop psychology, profoundly creative but likely too smart for its own good.

Milligan takes Infinity Inc. as an opportunity to critique our culture's predilection for analyzing -- or perhaps over-analyzing -- ourselves. Late in the book, in a moment maybe too on-the-nose, one character muses "maybe the whole business about ... talking it all through is a passing fad" and "we're the most psycho-analyzed ... behaviorally readjusted people ... so how come there are more crazy people out there than ever?"

Milligan populates the book with characters in need of, and being failed by, therapy. Those teens recently released from Lex Luthor's defunct Everyman program include the self-replicating Nuklon, diagnosed with "pathological narcissism," who dreams of posing naked for himself, and also the shape-changing Fury, who struggles with a predilection for his mother's clothes (the abandonment issues faced by Natasha, niece of the hero Steel, seem mundane by comparison). It's only when each of the characters leave therapy and come together in a shared apartment that they find an aspect of normalcy; this suggests an anti-therapy theme that the only people who can understand one another are those with specifically shared experiences.

I won't argue here the benefits or drawbacks of talk therapy here, but I will say Milligan's story doesn't quite convince me of what it suggests. Certainly Milligan writes a brainy superhero comic (where else would you find an explanation of "negative hallucination?"), but it relies too much on standard tropes -- the therapists are all stodgy adults who "just don't understand" where the kids are coming from. The debate isn't even-handed -- there's no protagonist on the side of therapy -- so the discussion never rises above basic ideas of good/bad and right/wrong.

My sense of Infinity Inc. (cancelled after the second volume) is that it probably needed an art team like Mike Allred to attract the audience it required. Max Fiumara and Matthew Southworth's art is perhaps only slightly moodier than what you'd find in a standard issue of Teen Titans and suggests traditional teen superhero fare, when perhaps the real audience of this book is instead those who might've enjoyed Milligan's Shade, the Changing Man or Animal Man, and the art doesn't set the book apart in that way. Also, that these characters make up a new Infinity Inc. might've been important in 52, but here it might lead the audience to expect a kind of teen Justice Society, when really these characters would better lend themselves to the Doom Patrol.

I did enjoy that Milligan accomplishes what writers of teams like Outsiders and Extreme Justice have tried for years -- that of a super-team which is indeed not a super-team, but rather just a desultory gathering of heroes. Though the book is called Infinity, Inc., what we find is actually the remnants of the team, and they're not teammates here so much as roommates. The book evokes Smallville's "meteor freaks" in that the characters don't formally fight bad guys, but rather reunite with other Everyman cast-offs and ward off attacks from their own as they go.

I'm also pleased to see (even for a short time) Steel appear again in what's essentially his own title; Milligan portrays John Henry Irons just right as both doting uncle and resident mechanical genius. Milligan also picks up on a loose thread from the early 2000s Superman titles, spotlighting Lex Luthor's bodyguards Mercy and Hope, the latter of whom defected from Luthor roundabouts the "Our Worlds at War" storyline. The characters' appearance is random, to be sure, but I appreciated that Milligan didn't forget the totality of Steel's Metropolis roots.

It doesn't surprise me that next volume ends Infinity, Inc., and the brevity of the series hardly gave it room to become required reading, but I imagine fans of Peter Milligan won't be disappointed with these collections that demonstrate not quite business as usual.

[Contains full covers.]

We'll look at the second Infinity Inc. volume coming next week.

Review: The Question: Five Books of Blood hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, August 24, 2009

[Contains spoilers for The Question: Five Books of Blood]

Five which are three which are one -- sounds like a case for the Question. And such is the case of Greg Rucka's The Question: The Five Books of Blood, which in five nearly self-contained chapters tells a story that works on three levels (the Question's hunt for the Religion of Crime, the Question's growing seduction by the Religion of Crime, and the origin and status quo of the new Question), combining to form one incredible tale. Five Books of Blood is a perfect fusion of superheroics and hard-boiled crime novel, and the last page left me hungry for the next time out.

Rucka sends the new Question, Renee Montoya, on a globe-spanning search for the Religion of Crime in Five Books of Blood, and in that way quickly demonstrates the new Question under a number of different circumstances. We see Renee both undercover and interacting as herself with her old life, and we see the Question solo, as part of the larger superhero community, and interacting with the first Question Vic Sage's life.

Most importantly, the new Question fails to prevent at least three people from dying in this story, demonstrating the character's inexperience and imperfection. Much like Daniel Craig's new James Bond, there's a certain attraction in following a Question without Vic Sage's skill, but rather one still finding her way.

There's an aspect of Five Books of Blood that's not unlike Heart of Darkness, where the deeper the Question searches, the more she's affected by the evil around her. Rucka weaves this quite subtly in the second chapter, where the Question's affair with one of the Religion's prostitutes can be written off as the cost of an investigation -- but by the third chapter, we see the Question has almost an addict's need for one of the Relgion's artifacts, and perhaps for the Religion itself. The Question's descent becomes all the clearer on the book's last page when we find her now the head of the Religion of Crime; Rucka charts the Question's journey in Five Books of Blood so carefully it almost bears reading the story a second time with the whole book in mind once one finishes.

Perhaps my favorite chapters of the book were the third and fourth, where the Question visits Gotham and Hub cities respectively. Even as Rucka builds Renee's new life as the Question, he remains expertly aware of where she's come from, including not just Gotham Central's Captain Sawyer in the book, but also recognizing how long it's been since Renee has seen Commissioner Gordon and -- best of all -- addressing Renee's tarnished partnership with Harvey Bullock. I'm not as familiar with Vic Sage's old supporting cast, but the fact that Rucka includes them (as writers have done in the new Blue Beetle, Manhunter, and other series) enhances the legacy element of the character.

The Question's interaction with Batwoman in this volume make me eager to see her with the rest of the DC Universe. As an urban detective, the Question straddles the line of just not quite fitting in with the superhero pantheon, but Renee Montoya's spent so long as a civilian that I'd be interested to see her grasp the full implications of her costumed identity in an adventure with, say, the Justice League. She's hardly membership material, of course, but for so long Renee was not a "cape" that I'd be interested to see how she deals with the recognition that she is a "cape" now.

As described on Vic and elsewhere, articles from Renee Montoya's journal made their way from the DC Universe to the real world. In an end of the book section, Rucka describes the considerable difficulty to which he, his wife Jen Van Meter, and constant co-writer Eric Trautmann went in order to prepare these documents; if the story alone doesn't convince you that Five Books of Blood was a labor of love, a look at the journal will. I only wish Rucka had the space to describe a bit more how the journal fit in to the Five Books story overall; we learn about the suspicious death of the lead singer of a band called Darkseid's Bitch, for instance, but not what role the Religion of Crime played or why they killed him.

Indeed in speaking of extras and production value, while there are plenty of collections for which I'm content to wait for the paperback instead of the hardcover, The Question: Five Books of Blood is worth the hardcover cost. DC stamped the faux leather binding with faded red lettering, and this combined with the Crime Bible pages that introduce each chapter evoke a tome from the Religion of Crime itself. It's these kinds of moody extras that suggest to me a collected edition done right.

[Contains full covers, "Montoya's Journal" section by Greg Rucka]

Starting Thursday, a two-part look at fan-favorite Peter Milligan's Infinity Inc. series. Don't miss it!

Review: Green Lantern Corps: Sins of the Star Sapphire trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

With The Sinestro Corps War and Final Crisis very swiftly behind them, both Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps begin gearing up for Blackest Night. Green Lantern tackles the Red Lanterns, while Green Lantern Corps: Sins of the Star Sapphire focuses on the "don't call them Pink" Lanterns. Of the two titles this go-around, I found Green Lantern Corps to be the more effective; writer Peter Tomasi struggles sometimes in his dialogue and interaction between the Lanterns, but wraps it up in a plot that, like his last volume, I found imminently gripping.

Tomasi's big accomplishment in this collection is to make me fear for the character's lives. The Star Sapphire story has less really to do with the Sapphires than with the Lanterns' search for the baby-stealing Sinestro Corps member Kryb. That Kryb kills the Lanterns and kidnaps their babies is creepy enough, but Tomasi introduces Kryb's mind-control power that, at one point, forces four Lanterns to hold down a pregnant fifth Lantern as Kryb prepares to slice her open. As in the previous volume, Ring Quest, Tomasi combines well superheroics and science-fiction horror, and there's no lack of adrenaline as the Lanterns fight Kryb for their lives and the lives of their children.

As Geoff Johns does in Green Lantern, Tomasi uses the emotional spectrum of the new Star Sapphire corps, "love," as the underlying theme of the story. The married Lanterns fight to protect each other and their children, Lanterns Kyle Rayner and Soranik Natu consider a relationship, and Guy Gardner reunites with long-time love Ice. Somewhat predictably, the Guardians outlaw love between the Corpsmen just as these storylines reach their climax, but Tomasi surprised me in the end with the unexpected fallout of the Guardian's decision.

Even as the plot of Sins of the Star Sapphire held my interest, I found that Tomasi still struggled getting in to the story, especially in his dialogue between Kyle Rayner and Guy Gardner. Guy, as we know, is a "guy's guy," and Tomasi seems to try to write "guy dialogue" here, but it comes out rather flat and unreal -- as in Ring Quest, the character's repeat one another ("Helluva first night, buddy," Guy says. "Helluva first night," Kyle repeats, in two panels we could have done without). Similarly the attraction between Rayner and Natu is meant to drive the end of the story, but as they've rarely interacted all that much so far, it seemed more something "told" to the reader than something we actually felt.

There's only one more Green Lantern Corps collection (the controversial Emerald Eclipse hardcover) before Blackest Night, and my hope is that Tomasi will turn his attention away from the Lanterns he's spotlighted so far. Rayner and Gardner headline the series, we know, and we've seen Natu, Arisia, and Sodam Yat, but early favorites Isamot Kol and Vath Sarn, the Rann/Thanagar odd couple, are nowhere to be found, nor have we ever learned much more about Natu's supposed partner Iolande. Here's hoping Tomasi gets a chance to feature them before the crossover takes hold.

[Contains full covers]

In all, Tomasi's Green Lantern Corps promises to be a worthy companion to Geoff Johns' Green Lantern, even as the book still works to find its footing. I'll be curious to read Tomasi's Outsiders not too long from now and see how that holds up.

Review: Green Lantern: Rage of the Red Lanterns hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, August 17, 2009

I find I like Geoff Johns' Green Lantern title increasingly not for the story itself, but for the issues Johns uses the story to address. Sure, Green Lantern: Rage of the Red Lanterns is about a burgeoning War of Light fought by a bunch of new Corps, leading up to Blackest Night -- but it's also a story about police officers and soldiers, and about capitol punishment, and it's those aspects that give this book my recommendation.

I didn't "get," at first, Green Lantern Hal Jordan and renegade Lantern Sinestro's friendship. To me, Sinestro's always been this weaselly-looking guy with a pencil mustache who taunted Hal and acted superior, evil just for evil's sake. But the Green Lantern: Secret Origins collection opened the two men's early friendship to me in a way I hadn't seen before, and now their every interaction drips with the love/hate often saved for Professor Xavier and Magneto, or Smallville's Clark Kent and Lex Luthor.

To that end, Red Lanterns finds Hal Jordan at the door of Sinestro's prison cell, post-Sinestro Corps War, letting him know that Sinestro will be the first prisoner executed on the Green Lantern Guardians' new death row. The scene drips with Hal's indecision, mourning the coming execution of his once-friend even as he tries to convince himself Sinestro is too far gone to rehabilitate. In true Geoff Johns-ian fashion, the interior of this story is also the exterior, and later the new Blue "Hope" Lanterns and Red "Rage" Lanterns represent Hal's warring loyalties.

Most superhero comics can be separated into Superman or Punisher camps: those heroes who do kill and those who don't. Indeed, even when we have an instance like the recent where Wonder Woman killed Max Lord, her action came with a great deal of soul-searching and consequence -- the Superman camp. What I enjoy about the debate Johns has opened with the Guardians allowing the Green Lanterns to kill is that without punishment, the Lanterns choose whether to kill or not based on their own belief systems, and must deal with their own moral feelings on the issue, as must any police officer or combat soldier. Killing isn't a given (nor forbidden) but rather something being discussed, and that seems to me a new layer in superhero comics.

(Of course, the fact that this decision by the Guardians was in some way influenced by Sinestro, a fact only Hal Jordan knows, only deepens the delightful tension.)

The meat of this collection ought be the new hues of Lanterns populating Hal Jordan's world, but personally I found these confusing. I think the Red Lanterns spit their ring creations, but I'm not sure; it seemed that in trying to make the other Lanterns different from the Green Lanterns, Johns doesn't give us much to recognize. It didn't help that the Blue Lanterns apparently lie to Hal about their powers, such that in the end I wasn't certain what was true and what wasn't.

I did enjoy the complication of the Green Lanterns having to side now with the Sinestro Corps against their joint foe the Red Lanterns with a sense of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." I also liked that Johns name-checked the 1990s DC Comics space series Darkstars -- any old Darkstars characters that Johns wants to use in Green Lantern, I'm happy to see them -- and will use the Controllers from that series to head the Orange Lanterns. Only, it's strange that in all the hues and all the Lanterns, only Green Lanterns are the good guys. Perhaps I might feel more of a connection to some of these new Lanterns if they had some purpose other than the Sinestro Corps' mindless conquest and the Red Lanterns' equally-mindless rage.

DC released the first part of the "Rage of the Red Lanterns" storyline (chapter four here) as a Final Crisis tie-in, but be advised the ties are minimal at best. Hal Jordan references the beginning of Final Crisis, but the two stories don't meet again; the Alpha Lantern characters that appear in Final Crisis get an origin in this volume's first story, but the Alpha Lantern central to Final Crisis doesn't appear here either. I imagine that readers who bought Final Crisis: Rage of the Red Lanterns the first time around might've been disappointed, though it's a good story nonetheless.

[Contains full covers]

In all, this remains quality Green Lantern work from Geoff Johns -- not earth-shattering necessarily, but certainly a well-written and enjoyable comic.

Review: Essential Nova Volume 1 trade paperback (Marvel Comics)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

[This review comes from Chris Marshall of the trade paperback blog and podcast Collected Comics Library.]

2006 was a big year for Marvel Comics. Three major events were held that year: Civil War, Planet Hulk and Annihilation (Neil Gaiman's 12-issue series The Eternals also debuted that year but is not considered to be as big of an event). I latched on to Civil War without any hesitation. But when it came to the other two, I had no interest. That is, until I read the positive reviews of what I was missing.

Now since I’m in the class of the “Wait For The Trade” kind of reader, I did exactly that. The Planet Hulk Hardcover was simply awesome. The story, the art and the extras that were included in the collected edition made it one of my favorite collected editions that were published in 2007. As for Annihilation, I was intrigued as to what all the fuss was about. My knowledge of Marvel Cosmic is limited at best, but Keith Giffen and Andy Schmidt, who plotted the massive series (three hardcovers total) made it easy to get on board and up to speed with all the characters involved. I have since purchased the sequel, Annihilation Conquest, and both spinoffs, The Guardians of the Galaxy and Nova, all in hardcover form.

Nova, aka Richard Rider, was of particular interest. He was a thirty-year-old character that, for the majority of his career, had been either misused or forgotten altogether; but not anymore. Nova has turned out to be a surprising bright spot in the myriad of over 100 titles that Marvel sells each month.

Blazing through the truly extended Marvel universe, I craved more of this character. So I went back to the roots and picked up the black-and-white Essential Nova Volume 1 (original series from 1976-1978), which was published during Annihilation to garner more sales. I did come to find his origin and rouges, but sadly I did not find a history of the Nova Corp and a deeper understanding of Nova, himself. After reading the more modern version, I guess my expectations were too high. What I did find was a mash-up of Spider-Man, a troubled teenager with extraordinary power, and Green Lantern, a human that gains a gift from the stars.

And just like Abin Sur falling to Earth, the dying Nova Prime, who is flying his space ship past Earth, must find a successor. The task falls to Richard Rider, a typical high school kid with typical high school kid problems. Ryder takes on the “Peter Parker/Hal Jordan” role and gains power and knowledge beyond his comprehension and since Nova Prime is dead, there is no one to guide him. Rider, now simply called Nova, attempts to emulate his idols like The Avengers and becomes another superhero in New York City.

Like the other Marvel comics being published in the 1970s, including Luke Cage and Iron Fist, Nova battles second rate criminals and for the most part finds himself in some sort of cliffhanger predicament at the end of the book only to find a way out in the first few pages the following month. Some of his rouges are Condor, Powerhouse, Doctor Sun, Diamondhead and The Sphinx, who turns out to be the magician of Pharaoh Ramesses II who tried and failed to help defeat Moses. As punishment, he was immortalized and banished to roam the Earth for all eternity. Strangely, I found myself wanting to watch The Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner.

Possibly the hardest thing for me to grasp out of this was that Nova never tried to learn more about the Nova Corp or how to control his suit even though the data was inside the Nova Prime ship which was still in orbit. It took the doings of the villains (twice!) to get him aboard.

Overall, the comics books contained in the Essential Nova Volume 1 are fine and I don’t think you need the color or inks to get the full story. The monthly books move at a good pace but I could do without the Page-1 recap at the beginning of each installment, a common practice at the time. You can also tell that the Marvel editors predicted that this series may have a slow down in sales and to counter that they inserted heavy hitter characters like Thor, Iron Man and teamed him up with The Thing. Nova even had a two-part crossover with Spider-Man.

The biggest disappointment comes not with the cancellation of Nova’s series, but with The Essential Nova Volume 1, itself. Due to poor sales Nova ended abruptly with issue #25 in 1978. The ongoing plot was continued in Fantastic Four #206 (1979). Although Nova only made two more appearances in Fantastic Four (#208 and #209) it would have been nice to of had those included. On a side note: the Nova plot and the Fantastic Four plot merged; the complete Fantastic Four story ran from #204-#214 (that complete storyline has not been collected). Another book that is missed is Rom #24 (1981), but due to copyright issues it cannot be reprinted. Nova made a few brief panel cameos in Daredevil #142, Thor #271, and The Defenders #62, but not enough to warrant an inclusion in this Essential.

So if you are a fan of the current Nova series and want a little history to get you up to speed, pick up Annihilation Classic, which reprints the first appearances of Nova and his Marvel Cosmic friends. Then, and only then, if you have time to kill, pick up this book.

The Essential Nova Volume 1 collects Nova #1-25, Amazing Spider-Man #171, Marvel Two-In-One Annual #3 and Nova and Sphinx character bios from The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Vol. 1); 528 pages; $16.99 US

Collected Edition Blog Link-Browsing for 8-12-09

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

* We'll borrow a note from our friend Chris Marshall at the Collected Comics Library because Chris will be gracing us with a guest review here tomorrow. Don't miss it!

* A much-belated note that The Weekly Crisis celebrated it's two year anniversary this week. I know I was thrilled a few months ago when their detailed Multiversity post received well-deserved notice from the New York Times. I meant to mention this while Kirk and company were still giving away some fantastic prizes, but nonetheless you should stop by and sample their blog if you're not already a reader.

* Which brings me to my next point, an admission: when I was installing the new Collected Editions template this summer, I accidentally blew away my blogroll, and I don't entirely remember everything that was on there. I've already added back a bunch of websites, but I know I'm missing some.

So to repopulate my blogroll and in the spirit of general comics blog good-naturedness, let me ask any interested parties to mention the name and URL of someone else's blog that you think should be on the blogroll (though I guess I won't know if you pitch your own anonymously), and eventually I'll collect them all and add them to the blogroll. That way we can spread the love and let everyone know about all the hard-working comics bloggers out there.

Aw, heck, plug your own site too if you want.


Batman, New Krypton, and DC Comics's Exit Strategy

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

[This post on the modern DC Universe spoils just about everything if you're not up on current DC Comics storylines.]

In a good way, DC Comics finds itself in upheval these days, pulled both forward and back. Back, in the classic Green Lantern Hal Jordan and Flash Barry Allen having re-taken their respective roles; forward, in that former Robin/Nightwing Dick Grayson has taken the role of Batman after Bruce Wayne's death, and Superman lives among a planet of resurrected Kryptonians.

But the down side to DC's forward movement, however, is that we know as readers that it's temporary. When writer Geoff Johns took over the Green Lantern title and introduced the spectrum of different Lantern rings, we knew that was a change that could hold, because it didn't alter the core of what the Green Lantern hero was -- he could still appear in Justice League, for instance. But one day Superman is going to be the Last Son of Krypton flying over Metropolis again, just like one day the one, true Batman will be Bruce Wayne.

The issue is, however, that as unrelated as the Batman Reborn and Superman: New Krypton storylines are (the forthcoming World's Finest miniseries notwithstanding), they're connected in one specific, important way: Nightwing. Batman died, Nightwing became Batman, and meanwhile the Kryptonian Chris Kent became the Kandorian Nightwing (thus completing a circle where, years ago, writers took the Dick Grayson Nightwing name from a former Kandorian hero). So for Bruce Wayne to come back and be Batman again, there has to be some place for Dick Grayson to go, which means Chris Kent needs to have abdicated the name by that time.

Which means DC Comics needs, and probably already has, an exit strategy.

Tom Bondurant put this well in his recent Robot 6 "Grumpy Old Fan" column, "The New Normal":
I’d think Dick would be more than happy to ditch the Batsuit for his comfortable Nightwing duds and his old solo title. Still, what about the other Nightwing, not to mention Flamebird? Do they get their own book when Superman moves back to Earth, or do they stay in Action Comics? Would Batman and Robin continue without Dick and Damian?
Essentially, DC has a bunch of loose heroes on their hands. And when all of this is said and done, as Tom speculates in his column, it's unlikely everything will go back where it was -- unlikely former Robin Tim Drake will be Robin again, unlikely Dick Grayson will be Nightwing again, unlikelies all across the board. It's a puzzle with too many pieces -- some of them won't fit on the board.

I wonder whether "the Nightwing conundrum" isn't a sign of a larger sea change among the DC Comics titles. For a couple years, DC has had a Titans problem -- what to do with the original generation of Teen Titans that are now no longer interesting sidekicks nor heroes in their own right: Nightwing, the Flash Wally West, Donna Troy, and others. An earlier "thirtysomething" Titans series didn't last, and the current Titans series has received mixed reviews; for a while, DC seemed on track socking these characters either as mentors in the new Teen Titans or in their Outsiders title, but neither the former nor the latter are currently the case.

Indeed, it seems to me the de-Arrowing of former Green Arrow Connor Hawke is an example of this sea change. When DC killed Green Arrow Oliver Queen in the mid-1990s, his son Connor Hawke took over as Green Arrow, representing this new "middle generation" much the same as Kyle Rayner did taking over from Hal Jordan. But Ollie returned (as Hal did a few years later) making Connor as Green Arrow repetitive, and in a recent storyline Connor became Green Arrow no more. (Seriously. He can't even throw trash accurately in a trash can.) Geoff Johns managed to integrate Kyle Rayner into the Green Lantern mythos without doing away with him, but many fans are concerned Barry Allen and Wally West won't both be able to coexist as the Flash, especially since there's already a new Kid Flash.

Wally West -- not the Flash? Dick Grayson -- not Nightwing? Connor Hawke -- not Green Arrow? I don't necessarily advocate the following, but it's possible DC could be gearing up for a new "thirtysomething" title, taking all these former sidekick heroes and putting them on a new team. And would that bring new superhero identities? It's been so long since former Green Arrow sidekick Speedy became Arsenal (and now Red Arrow) that his new name seems natural, but right now I think I'd have a hard time thinking of Wally West as, say, Red Lightning, or Dick Grayson as the Target. Me, I can't see that getting off the ground much better than other Titans series.

All of this, I think, is good. All of this is to say that DC Comics is changing, DC Comics is innovating, and DC has a long-term plan for their characters that I can't forsee and that has my attention. But mark me down as one of those very curious what DC's exit strategy is going to be.

Review: Final Crisis Companion trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, August 10, 2009

DC Comics set up Grant Morrison's Final Crisis unlike the crossovers that immediately preceded it. Rather than cross into monthly titles like Infinite Crisis did, the story limited itself to a small selection of one-shots and mini-series. Unlilke The Sinestro Corps War, which also featured companion one-shots, the Final Crisis specials for the most part told side stories the reader didn't need to understand the main story itself. DC did some reconfiguring of the Final Crisis hardcover before it's release, moving the more important Superman Beyond and Submit to the hardcover; what remained for the Final Crisis Companion was Resist and Requiem, along with the Final Crisis Secret Files and Sketchbook.

Constant readers know what a fan of Greg Rucka and Eric Trautmann's Checkmate I was, so for me this essentially a collection of the Checkmate-focused Final Crisis: Resist with a couple other things thrown in. While Resist doesn't entirely have an opportunity to approach some of the political issues of the Checkmate series -- it's hard to step in between China and North Korea while Darkseid's taking over the world -- White King Mr. Terrific plays a lead role and has to make an enjoyably wrenching moral decision that's picked up, I understand, in JSA vs. Kobra.

Being a Checkmate side tale, Rucka and Trautmann also take the opportunity to focus on a lesser-known Checkmate operative, Snapper Carr. Keith Giffen revealed Snapper as a Checkmate agent in 52 Aftermath: The Four Horsemen, but we haven't seen Snapper and his teleportation powers in Checkmate-proper before. I also appreciated that, as in the Checkmate series, the writers populated the story with random DC Universe guest stars, including Firehawk and the Wonder Woman villain Cheetah.

Resist takes place between the pages of Final Crisis and only barely makes a ripple in the main story; the rest of the contents of the Final Crisis Companion coincide even less. Len Wein's depiction of Darkseid in the Secret Files story inexplicably plucking Libra from obscurity only deepens the mystery of why this character was necessary for Final Crisis; one guesses this had more to do with Grant Morrison appreciation for Len Wein (who created Libra and also wrote the Seven Soldiers-inspiring Justice League story). And while I enjoyed the sketchbook and script pages, I might've liked to see more of Morrison and J. G. Jones' commentary on the series in the main hardcover than just their comments on issue one here.

Final Crisis: Requiem offers the other bright spot in this book, as Peter Tomasi relates the death and funeral of the Martian Manhunter. Any sorrow here is overshadowed by any reader's clear belief that J'onn J'onzz will be resurrected before too long (as opposed to Superboy's shocking and sad death, at the time, in Infinite Crisis), but Tomasi makes up for the lack of emotion with a good helping of nostalgia. Tomasi remembers and includes J'onn's good friend Gypsy, believably sets up Green Lantern and Green Arrow for JLA: Cry for Justice ("My favorite Martian," indeed), and combines well the various disparate Martian Manhunter series. I enjoyed Tomasi's work on Nightwing, and his contribution here is equally as good.

(Let me insert a completely random note here about Brad Meltzer's DC Universe: Last Will and Testament, which was to be included in the Final Crisis Companion and was later removed. The story is a brilliantly haunting homage to Meltzer's Identity Crisis in turning again to Batman, Robin, Nightwing, and Starfire; and also in a moving confessional scene between the Outsider Grace and Rocky of the Challengers of the Unknown. Most of the issue follows Geo-Force, however, taking revenge for Deathstroke's corrupting of his sister some twenty years ago (our time). It's not a terrible concept, and it plays out in a shockingly violent manner, but Geo-Force has been so off the radar of late, even despite Meltzer's Justice League stories, that this feels terribly random and mildly fannish, as if Meltzer himself has been waiting to avenge Terra all this time.)

Readers wanting the full picture (and Checkmate fans) will find some pleasant stories in the Final Crisis Companion, but this book is not quite the companion that some other volumes have been.

[Contains full covers]

Thanks for reading!

What's included in Morrison's JLA Deluxe?

Friday, August 07, 2009

Here's an initial solicitation for the contents of the collected JLA Deluxe Vol. 3 (i. e. what my comics library is drooling for):
Grant Morrison's incredible run on JLA continues in this new hardcover.

First, the JLA's very first foe, Starro the Conqueror, returns in a new guise as the Star Conquerer! The JLA is powerless to awaken a slumbering world trapped in the endless nightmares caused by the menace formerly known as Starro. But help arrives in the form of an unexpected ally: Daniel, The Lord of Dreams, from the pages of The Sandman. And in the tale "Crisis Times Five," the Justice League of America meets the Justice Society of America as only Grant Morrison can write it!

When Earth is threatened by beings of seemingly unlimited power -- beings reminiscent of the genies, and fairies of ancient myth -- members of both the JLA and the JSA rush to answer a challenge that may be beyond their power.
This essentially confirms that we'll see the "It" and "Crisis Times Five" storylines in JLA Deluxe Vol. 3. Between those two is the three-part Ultramarines storyline, so likely that's in there as well. That means JLA issues #22-26 and #28-31, or nine issues.

In comparison, JLA Deluxe Vol. 1 contained JLA #1-9 and a story from JLA Secret Files #1 (ten stories), and JLA Deluxe Vol. 2 contained JLA #10-17, New Year's Evil: Prometheus, and the JLA/WildC.A.T.s one-shot (ten stories).

It's possible, then, that JLA #22-26 and #28-31 may be all JLA Deluxe Vol. 3 contains. It seems a little on the thin side, but only a little. This would leave seven issues (JLA #34 and #36-41) for JLA Deluxe Vol. 4, suggesting that volume might contain Grant Morrison and Frank Quietly's JLA: Earth-2 graphic novel as well. It'd be nice, too, if perhaps some annotations by Morrison might round out the series.

Of course, all this suggests terribly bad news for anyone hoping to find the JLA aspects of the Morrison-written DC One Million crossover in the JLA Deluxe volumes -- probably isn't going to happen. It's understandable, not only because DC One Million has already been collected and because it doesn't feature art by Howard Poter as does most of Morrison's JLA run, but also because it generally didn't win the same acclaim as JLA or Morrison's Seven Soldiers did.

I understand that DC took some pages out of the original JLA trade paperbacks so as not to confuse readers where One Million crosses over, but it'll be tough to do that later on in the Deluxe volumes. Unfortunately, that may turn out to be a place where the JLA Deluxe editions don't read as well as they should (but I still want them).

If you've been reading JLA Deluxe so far, how have you enjoyed the volumes? Any drawbacks?

Further thoughts on Final Crisis from the Collected Editions blog

Thursday, August 06, 2009

[Contains spoilers for Final Crisis]

Being in addition to my official review of Final Crisis, some looser, free-floating thoughts on the book:

It took me about a week to read Final Crisis. Lately I've been annoyed at how quickly I can read some trade paperbacks, often an evening, which I chalk up not to the speed of my reading but the thinness of the trades. I blanched at the cost of this hardcover, higher than most, but I feel I received my money's worth in time spent reading.

That Final Crisis took me longer to read I credit both to the amount collected, ten issues, but also to the complexity of the story. Ultimately I enjoyed the story, and managed to glean some meaning from it beyond the superheroic plot, but certainly this was one of the most complicated comics books I've read in a while. Grant Morrison mentioned in a Newsarama interview that he wanted to "leave our boring ... connective tissue" in the story, but it often seemed the story became the most sparse at the complex moments it needed most detail -- the end of Superman Beyond, for instance, or the last chapter of the book.

I debated (and ultimately omitted) a paragraph in my formal review of Final Crisis that considered whether the comic was subjectively "appropriately complex," or too complicated. Oftentimes a comic book's complexity is considered commensurate with its value -- comics have been for so long considered the playthings of children that for a comic book to "talk up," even over the head of its audience, is a sign of worthiness. In Final Crisis, I vacillated between admiring Morrison's genius and suspecting the book was a collection of overblown nonsense. Are we so desperate to say "look how smart comics are" that we'll trumpet anything that uses big words, even if the joke's actually on us?

I've read Morrison's work long enough to know he's got something here, of course. But I wouldn't hand Final Crisis to a new comics reader. Though not as steeped in DC Comics lore as its immediate predecessor, Infinite Crisis, Final Crisis demands so much of the reader's understanding (rightly or wrongly) of the interaction between comic book words and pictures that a new reader would be lost. When a comic isn't accessible to new readers, I feel it's not "supporting the cause," if you will -- but don't comics readers deserve once in awhile a book that rewards dedication? There's "hard novels" and "easy novels"; why not the same for comics, even DC comics?

It's this uncertain space that Final Crisis occupies. I want to recommend it wholeheartedly, even feel that I should, but a part of me wasn't completely sold. (I feel guilty even as I write this.)

The packaging of Final Crisis certainly presents itself as not quite superheroics as usual. Compared to the wildly colorful Infinite Crisis hardcover jacket and the equally colorful Infinite Crisis printed case, Final Crisis is very stately -- a moody JG Jones image on the front jacket, a couple small faces on the back, and a paper case with bright red stamping. I'll be curious to see the inevitable Blackest Night hardcover collection -- will its case, too, suggest "I'm a book, not just a comics crossover," or back to business as usual?

DC's made a controversial decision to put a great big spoiler on the front cover of this book. In my opinion, it's to tie the book that much closer to Morrison's Batman RIP without actually saying so, but certainly it greatly separates the reading experience of those who read this in monthlies from those who read this in the trade. In the Internet age, I knew what was coming, but I wonder if anyone avoided spoilers all along just to get to the front jacket and groan. As it is, Batman's unfortunate incident isn't really the penultimate rising action of the book anyway; that comes in a rather unlikely fight between Supergirl and Mary Marvel, and Kalibak and Tawky Tawny (which works, amazingly enough).

Indeed the whole of the Final Crisis collection has a sort of uneven tempo -- Final Crisis #1-3 are sort of traditional superheroics, then WHAM! Superman Beyond blasts cosmic hyper-realism all over the page, then WHAM AGAIN! Final Crisis: Submit is a gritty tale of social politics, before rejoining a more natural flow from superheroics to cosmic action. Morrison writes each of these genres well, but there's a scattershot feel to the first six issues that, again, I'm not sure a new comics reader would know how to handle.

Infinite Crisis had ground-breaking moments, as did Green Lantern: Rebirth, but I believe I can point to them on my shelf and say "there, comics." Not entirely so with Final Crisis; I find myself looking slightly askance at the book, not unlike with Identity Crisis (though even that I'm more sure where it fits in the canon than Final Crisis). "I liked Final Crisis," I say, with a pause ... but then again?

Review: Final Crisis collected hardcover/paperback (DC Comic)

Monday, August 03, 2009

[Contains spoilers for Final Crisis.]

You almost destroyed the universe. Yes, you.

Well, maybe not you, and maybe not the universe. But Grant Morrison argues in Final Crisis that collectively, we all came pretty close to doing DC Comics irreparable harm.

Whether dense or confusing, repetitious or ground-breaking, one thing I'm sure about Morrison's Final Crisis (the seven issues of which are collected here along with Final Crisis: Superman Beyond and Final Crisis: Submit) is that it earns its place as the conclusion of DC Comics's "Crisis" trilogy. The 1985 Crisis on Infinite Earths removed from continuity DC's Multiverse concept of multiple Earths, deemed too confusing by fans and creators, and introduced an era where comic book stories had to clearly fit into established continuity or bust. 2005's Infinite Crisis resurrected the Multiverse after twenty years, offering fifty-two worlds where nearly every DC Comics concept could peacefully coexist. As a coda, Final Crisis sends one clear (well, mostly clear) message: Don't mess with the Multiverse again.

Through the omnipresent Monitors of DC Comics mythology, Morrision directly implicates the reader in a failure of imagination. Morrison describes in Superman Beyond that the Monitors had no concept of story or imagination until they encountered the DC Universe (in the artwork, we see specifically Crisis on Infinite Earths). The power that imagination might have, Morrison writes, on the Monitors' "immense awareness without limits or definition" is so great that they built a statue of impenetrable metal around the concept such that story-telling ought not spread unchecked "like contagion." Morrison, who himself proceeded to ignore the 1985 "no more Multiverse" edict in his run on Animal Man, points his finger at the reader just as his fourth wall-breaking characters often do -- so afraid were we of the power of infinite possibility that we allowed a twenty-year walling off of DC Comics' Multiverse concept rather than let our imaginations run wild.

In Final Crisis this fear of imagination manifests itself in the vampire Monitor Mandrakk, and Mandrakk's defeat only comes when the characters allow themselves to imagine again. Captain Adam -- similar to Watchmen's Dr. Manhattan -- realizes the nature of the Multiverse isn't pejorative "dualities" but rather "symmetries" only once he "let[s] go of limits [and] expectations." The Monitor Nix Uotan forgets his Monitor powers, and Morrison delivers Uoton's reminder in the form of a mysterious hairy-armed creature (a monkey with a typewriter, possibly), who intones, "If your superheroes can't save you, maybe it's time to think of something that can. If it don't exist, think it up. Then make it real." That Morrison resurrects here the Flash Barry Allen, long considered a symbol of the wildly imaginative Silver Age of comics, personifies the statement.

Indeed Final Crisis presents what it preaches -- a miniseries with no lack of wild ideas, from vampire gods to tunnels through universes, miracle machines run on song and humanity protected from destruction in ice trays. That the term "Kirby-esque" (for legendary wild-idea-ed comics creator Jack Kirby) is applied to Final Crisis is no coincidence, since Morrison's story centers on and then builds from Kirby's creation of Darkseid and the Fourth World New Gods, OMAC, Kamandi, and others.

So omnipresent are Kirby's creations in DC Comics that they may very well (at no fault to Kirby) limit new writers' ability to conceive of new concepts -- that Morrison hides the entropic Darkseid within police officer Dan Turpin, long considered a stand-in for Kirby himself, is no coincidence. Morrison's Final Crisis not only challenges the limits of imagination, but also ends Kirby's Fourth World in favor of a new, modern Fifth, clearing the cobwebs both within and without. Unlike Crises before, Final Crisis does not retroactively fix DC Comics continuity; rather, it seems to celebrate that continuity as fine just the way it is, in all its limitlessness (witness the Multiuniversal gathering of Supermen in the end, and Morrison's ode to previously-erased Batman stories in his parallel tale, Batman RIP).

Though the storytelling within Final Crisis is perhaps at times unnecessarily complex, it is at its heart an ode to comic books. At the end of the story, a few Monitors still fear the Multiverse unchecked, but Uotan reminds them, "We almost destroyed this beautiful living thing in our midst. This Multiverse of life deserves its freedom from our interference." This is not nearly the first time Morrison has argued that the DC Comics universe has a life of its own, if nowhere else than in the collective minds of those who read it. Just before Superman faints from exhaustion after fighting the vampire Monitor, he scrawls on his tombstone "To Be Continued," the veritable life-blood of long-form sequential comic book storytelling (and the opposite, to be sure, of "The End").

We find that Darkseid's first weapon in subjugating humanity is the Internet, cell phones, and GPS systems. In the end, humanity can only communicate through newspapers. Lois Lane dispatches to the stars papers which tell of Batman's heroic battle against Darkseid -- in essence, a comic book. In Final Crisis, Morrison tells us, when all else fails, it's the comic books that survive.

[Contains full covers and variant covers, introduction by Jay Babcock, brief sketchbook section]

Join us Thursday for some additional thoughts on Final Crisis, including the trade dress, package presentation, and a broader perspective on the series.