Tuesday, October 10, 2006

comics! Doctor Strange and beyond!

The latest little batch of comics to come across our editorial desk here at stevereads comes courtesy of Elmo, not my nemesis Pepito. And what a batch it was! Unlike Pepito, Elmo very seldom buys crap (we'll pass over Agents of Atlas in diplomatic silence).

The latest issue of '52' features more great pencils by Eddy Barrows (hey! let's find a real good writer - I nominate Elmo himself, but I'd be happy to do it if he isn't interested - and match him with Barrows on a re-re-re-launch of the Legion of Super-Heroes! Wouldn't that be FUN?) and more plot-twists than an Irish Catholic Thanksgiving dinner.

The centerpiece of the issue - and the thing I liked the most about it - was the re-introduction of the character Super-Chief (except, of course, for the unbelievably dorky codename). One of the things I'm liking most about '52' is this trend, this introduction or re-introduction not just of makeweight cyphers and minor characters. '52' is introducing a huge number of new characters to the DC universe, and a very large number of them are characters actually worth keeping (unlike the upshot of 'Crisis on Infinite Earths' ... Harbinger, anyone? a guy whose superpower is strategic panicking? Yeesh). The new, superpowered Steel, the huge crowd of new Teen Titans characters, MOST especially Isis (DC, like Marvel, DESPERATELY needs female super-heroes who are genuine heavyweights, power-wise), and now, um, Super-Chief. These are hugely superior to Marvel's bland and utterly forgettable Sentry character, or any of the innumerable new 'more powerful than anybody EVER' energy-casters cropping up regularly in X-Men (the third Summers brother is SO distinctive, and wasn't there a guy whose head was a star?)

Comic companies always seem to be gun-shy of inventing (or resurrecting) characters who are genuine heavyweights - that's why DC's recent re-invigoration of Black Adam has been so completely refreshing, and for me it's the interest that keeps '52' going.

I should stress in the strongest possible terms that NONE of this praise applies to '52's bone-headed, ill-conceived, ill-executed and utterly disasterous re-creation of Batwoman. The Bat-franchise is over-crowded as it is, with Robin, Nightwing, Huntress, Batgirl, Oracle, and fewkin Jason Todd. Adding a Batwoman - with no tragic past, no Bruce Wayne connection, and, above all, no combat training - just to grab a few headlines is a waste of time somebody down the road is going to have to correct. We can only hope the character - lesbian or otherwise - dies a quick death, but I think the opposite is likely ... a monthly title, more disastrous dilution.

We move from '52' to the latest issue of 'Beyond!' - a little series that's turning out to be just fantastic. Its basic premise, although none of the creative folk involved would admit it, is to MAKE GOOD on all the many, many missed opportunities of the original Beyonder storyline.

One of the ways to make this happen - at least, unless you factor in a good writer, as opposed to Jim Shooter, who's only a good writer when he damn well wants to be, which is virtually never - is to limit the cast, and that's what this mini-series does. Our cast is small and wonderfully mixed.

There's Spider-Man, of course, and the new Kraven the Hunter, a gun-happy new character called the Hood, and an altruistic (and certainly doomed) new hero named Gravity, plus Medusa, Henry Pym, Firebird (amazing how even in a small cast, this character is utterly forgettable ... as in, you literally forget that she was there at all; giving her her own book would be hilarious! Nobody would remember buying it or reading it), Venom, and the Wasp.

There's SO much to recommend this series - the new Deathlock, for instance, or the continued badass emphasis on Medusa (talk about heavyweight female characters), or the way this current issue puts Janet Van Dyne's Wasp in unquestioned charge of how the 'team' tactically advances in a crunch situation. This is entirely right and clear in the existing continuity, wherein the Wasp has led the Avengers two or three dozen times and would naturally be the person who'd take military charge of such a heterogeneous group when it's required.

But as good as that issue was, it wasn't the best of the batch Elmo gave - no, top honors go to the first issue of the new Doctor Strange mini-series 'The Oath.' Written by Brian Vaughan and wonderfully drawn by Marcos Martin.

Reading this issue - Doctor Strange's faithful manservant has a rare disease, and the good doctor will stop at nothing to find a cure - brought to my mind how many great memories I have of this character, throughout his various incarnations. Most especially the great run Gene Colan did on the book back in, what? the early 80s? There are few art treats more reliable than Gene Colan inked by Tom Palmer, and their style worked wonderfully for the character (and let's not forget the doctor's er, well-endowed assistant Clea! How many sidekicks have sex with Ben Franklin? I'm guessing just the one).

This mini-series, even on the strength of this first issue alone, deserves a place in those upper ranks. It's full of clever bits and the aforementioned great artwork, but I think the thing I like most about it is Vaughan's choice to make Stephen Strange's MEDICAL background the fulcrum of the story.

The cover of this issue says it's 1 of 5. I don't think I've read SADDER numbers all week. If Marvel had any creative sense (the ultimate 'What If' storyline!), they get this writer and this artist to do a regular monthly series.

Either way, this is certainly one graphic novel I'll happily re-read.


Kevin Caron said...

That Dr. Strange was pretty good.

Hey, did you know that the Legion cartoon has been on since late September? Dang, I've already missed 3 episodes. They're gonna make me turn in my honorary Legionnaire flight ring at this rate.

steve said...

as far as I'm concerned, the Legion cartoon HASN'T aired yet - no fuckin' self-resepecting adult is going to watch anything at 8 fuckin' 30 on Saturday morning ... which means that either a) the cartoon in question isn't meant for adults, or b) it sucks so bad the network is hoping no adults see it

I'll wait for the DVD, and I'll air my full grievances then (if that happens).

In the meantime, unless taught otherwise by you loyal stevereads readers, I'm going to assume the new cartoon is crap - as the network ASSUMES I will, if their scheduling is any tip-off ....

Kevin Caron said...

My Legion peeps dug it - but then, they get a bit starstruck anytime a superhero hits a screen, big or small. Its on at 10 am here, so I should be able to roll outa bed by then.

The time theory is interesting - although, for all we know, the network would rather air some spazzy anime-style cartoon at later times, 'cause dippy A.D.D. ten-year-olds will buy the video game tie-ins... In any case, I'll watch it tomorrow and give you the heads up. Which you can take or leave, depending on your faith in my good taste.

Then, if its good, you're gonna have to buy a VCR and learn how to program it.

Or TiVo.

steve said...

You can PROGRAM VCRs? What is this, the 23rd century?

Kevin Caron said...

I dunno - I was thinking about Lana's sweater on my way back from the 31st century - I may have overshot.

steve said...

yer sprockin' crazy - VCRs are the well-known antecedents of Computo! They have a mind of their own - PROGRAMMING them is best left to higher-level intelligences than us!

Kevin Caron said...

Well, they re-ran the first episode of Legion of Superheroes this morning, and here's my report:

The animation is pretty darn good, and the character designs are enjoyable as well, and relatively true to the (pre-reboot) comic book characters.

The writing is decent - there's no real character developement, but they have handled the 'Superboy' question well - The Legion goes back in time to gather their idol to help them bring the Fatal Five to justice - grabbing him just before he packs his bags to head off to Metropolis. So he's still 'Clark' and not quite Superman (he's never worn a costume or created a codename, and he hasn't learned that he can fly). Needless to say, he becomes Superman for the first time, learns to fly, and defeats the bad guys, but before they send him home (to the exact moment he left), 'Superman' decides to stick around awhile, and help out while mastering his powers.

Theoretically, his whole time with the Legion will be one long visit, after which he will be returned to the second he left, and then head off to Metropolis, and his destiny.

So it minimizes the complications related to time travel, and still serves the purpose of giving Superman a training ground for his future adventuring, at the hands of those for whom he has, in turn, inspired.

The opening credits hints that quite a few (as many as 20? 25?) Legionaires are already members, as Brainiac 5 scrolls through numerous Legionnaire symbols (ala the early Giffen days). Appearing in this episode - Lightning Lad, Triplicate Girl, Braniac 5, Saturn Girl, and Bouncing Boy (all with their proper codenames - no "Triad" or "Livewire" here). Cosmic Boy is mentioned, but does not appear.

The script is mediocre, and you may not like the changes to Brainiac 5, but overall, I was impressed. If only this could lead to another Legion reboot...