Sunday, October 29, 2006

comics! justice and action!


Once upon a time, years ago, when we were both students at State University, my nemesis Pepito came across me rummaging through his midden-heap pile of new comics (if you're a possession of Pepito's, there's a 99 percent probability you'll end up on the floor around his ankles, unless you require some degree of refrigeration). He said 'Why don't chu buy your own comics, puta?'

I apologized gracefully, and I thought the matter was closed. It was only a month later that that Pepito was caught in the lab explosion that disfigured him and turned him to a life of crime and world domination, but I never forgot his earlier question.

In fact, I DO sometimes buy my own comics - always from the good folks at Comicopia (insert hyper/hot link here). The Weekly Dig (ditto) recently voted them the Dig This comic shop of Boston, and I couldn't agree more. The store's owner is funny, wry master of realpolitik, his goateed lieutenant knows that successful retail means smiling at everybody even when you don't feel like it, and best of all, the shop boasts that rarest of subspecies: the FEMALE comic-geek. And the cherry on the pie here is that she's gorgeous - avid, luminous eyes, rings in her lower lip, and a joyfully adept command of the English language. I can't count the number of times I've lingered in the stacks just to listen to her 'geek out' with some customer about some title she loves, just for the joy of hearing passion at work.

The point is, I bought some comics this week. Let's go issue by issue, shall we?

* The New Avengers #24, written by Brian Michael Bendis and magnificently drawn by Pasqual Ferry - this issue kinda-sorta addresses the question of what you do if you create a half-assed knockoff of Superman (in this case, the Sentry) and need him to take a position in the ongoing Civil War storyline.

Make no mistake, the Sentry is a suckass character, no matter how his various writers decide to gussy him up (psychological problems, basically, are the only thing that stop him from being the only superhero the Marvel universe would ever need).

The problem is generational - i.e. company-based. It's only in the DC universe that HEROES have Sentry's kind of virtually unlimited power. Wonder Woman, who's as strong as Hercules; Green Lantern, who can make anything he imagines happen; Superman; the Spectre.
Marvel has always been different. Its heroes have always been less-powered and more vulnerable (even Thor, a god, reverts to human form if separated from his hammer - and not just any human but, of course, a CRIPPLED human). At Marvel, it's always been the VILLAINS who were all-powerful (Molecule Man, the Beyonder, Mephisto, Galactus, etc).

So of course it's awkward that Marvel would invest some weight in this Sentry tool - AND then have no feckin idea how to deal with him when its big crossover event occurs.

The issue finds Sentry on the moon, mooning over whatever. The Inhumans, who live on the moon, attack him and then invite him to dinner. Throughtout the issue, Bendis' writing is wonderful and adult and evocative, and it's nothing to Ferry's fantastic artwork.

The key development of the issue is Iron Hitler's visit to Attilan, where he tries to make the case for his putsch against super-beings who disagree with him.

I like the sense of restraint. I like the fact that the Inhumans aren't portrayed as saints (or simps - the important thing to remember about these people is that they aren't third world refugees: they're older than mankind, ruled by a man who - despite the somewhat disparaging entry in the Official Handbook - 2 tons indeed!), and, simply, I like the Inhumans

Still, you just KNOW that the ramifications of this issue won't be played out. If they were, a character who's able to find and crush any opposition would end the whole Civil War pretty quick.

*Next up is a shame-faced admission of error on the part of the good folk here at stevereads. As you all know by now, we're usually completely infallible - but for some reason, Alex Ross' ongoing Justice League title, Justice, sent a crazyworm up our butt pretty much immediately, and it's stayed there ever since.

I don't know why the latest issue caught my eye at all. Not only was there the aforementioned crazyworm, but there was also the fact that the cover, thought beautifully drawn, features the Flash bearing down on Captain Cold at super-speed. This was certainly not a mark in its favor: the Flash is a boring character. He runs fast! Big feckin deal! So he has the best rogues gallery in the DC universe, so what? You know how he defeats each of them? By running fast! Yawn.

For whatever reason, I bought the issue - and am well reprimanded for the aforementioned crazyworm resentment of the title. This is fantastic stuff, epic and delightfully true.

This storyline, the big, ungainly storyline, is, I now see, entirely under its writers' control (Jim Krueger and Alex Ross). And more than that: this is the great, all-encompassing JLA storyline those of us reading the title in the 70s dreamt of.

Everyone's here. Not just the core magnificent seven, but everybody - the Hawks, Ray Palmer's Atom, fishnetted Zatanna, Green Arrow and Black Canary, the Elongated Man, even the Phantom Stranger ... and there are wonderful additions that we certainly never saw in the 70s: the Doom Patrol, the Metal Men, the Marvel Family, even the hints of Kirby's Third World.

For me, the best single part of this issue was the very first page, a dialogue between Superman and Batman that's as deep, as worthy as anything found in our sacred text, Kingdom Come.
Other great moments?

Batman's interrogation of Captain Cold - again, perfect characterization, in a way we actually seldom saw back in the 70s, when DC was still indecisive about how to 'do' Batman: grim avenger the character started out as, or the happy-go-lucky TV goofball from the 60s TV show who put so very much money into DC's coffers.

Green Lantern's very stirring rebirth, reciting that dorky oath over his power battery

and

The final sequence girding of our heroes, realizing they'll have to fight their own kin and proteges, and furthering the reader's confidence (some of us belatedly) that this entire thing is under tight control, the ultimate dream-story actually playing out for us every month.

Along the same lines, kinda sorta, was the Geoff Johns/Richard Donner/Adam Kubert relaunch of Action Comics . My hesitations came from three sources: 1) the weird, Freemasonry coincidence of having a Kubert brother apiece drawing Batman and Superman, 2) the fact that arc-relaunches start to get a little tiring when they happen so often, and 3) one of the only aspects of John Byrne's disasterous reconception of Superman (HOW could DC EVER have been that desperate?) I liked was the idea of Superman being the ONLY survivor of Krypton. In recent years that concept has been seriously blurred (the Eradicator, Krypto, Zod, two or three Supergirls, etc) - and this issue gets even blurrier, introducing a little-kid 'superboy' only moments after poor Kon-el's corpse was in the ground. We'll see what comes of it, but I'd rather Johns (and Donner, who I'm sure had about as much a part in writing this thing as I did) found some other plot-device to goose up his new graphic-novel-in-the-making.

Still, this is grand stuff. Mainly that's due to Adam Kubert's elaborately fantastic artwork. It feels wonderful, actually looking forward to both Action Comics and Superman again - now if only something could be done about the Legion, I'd be one happy blogger.

17 comments:

Kevin Caron said...

I TOLD you Justice was good! Well, maybe not in so many words, but I mentioned I was reading it, that should have been enough for you. I am a comics snob, you know.

(Speaking of which, I can't wait to receive my 'anti-no-prize' comic in the mail - maybe it'll arive on my birthday - wouldn't that be somethin')

Oh, and an update on the Legion cartoon - it rules! The characterizations are getting better and better (in the third episode, our villain is a spoiled but beautiful, uber-rich decendant of Lex Luthor, and only Phantom Girl sympathizes with her (subtly), as she comes from a privledged background herself...) - The animation/character design is superb... This is out ticket back to a good Legion title, if it catches on. The creaters CLEARLY love the Legion (enough to insist on using the name 'Lightning Lad' over 'Livewire' or somesuch) - and, ultimately, this is quickly becoming one of my favorite versions of the team. I shit you not!

steve said...

a) Hold on a minute there, buckaroo! Who said anything about an 'anti-no prize' for Kevin? Just because you were right about 'Justice'? Hell, if I handed out prizes to people for being right, I'd be doing it all day long - to myself!

b) if this Legion cartoon is so great, why is only being shown at an hour on Saturday when all right-thinking citizens are still abed with their hot teen prostitutes?

c) since you say 'only' Phantom Girl sympathizes, can I assume the cartoon isn't using Princess Projectra?

Jeff E. said...

I believe Kevin is referring to the time you promised him a book here
(3rd comment from the end).

steve said...

Kevin Kevin Kevin! If you love him so much, why doncha MARRY him?

Kevin Caron said...

a) I know, I coulda been more clear there (maybe I was getting to excited about free SteveEndorsed comics!) but as a registered Cape Zombie, you gotta love the way that Jeff swoops in to my defense, from out of the night sky, wanting nothing more than to see justice done...

b) I don't know what to tell ya - out here its on Saturday morning @10 am, right before 'the Batman' - a pretty choice slot. I guess you're gonna have to bribe Jeff with a bacon egg and cheese sandwich to come over and program your VCR, or sit there all pouty-faced and jealous until it comes out on DVD.
(Just for laughs, picture Sebastian coming over to program your VCR.)

c) No, Projectra wasn't there (though she might be less sympathetic, as she, while weathly, is from a backwards planet, not one of the Metropolis high society girls - but I digress), so far, we've seen Lightning Lad, Triplicate Girl, Bouncing Boy, Saturn Girl, Brainiac 5, Phantom Girl, and Timberwolf (who joins in episode 2) in action - and when TW gives his Legion pledge upon being granted membership, the camera spins around the ship, showing Blok, Sun Boy, Colossal Boy, Cosmic Boy, Element Lad, Dream Girl (?), Shrinking Violet, and Tyroc watching via the monitors. Not to mention the fact that what seems to be ALL of the Legion symbols scroll across the screen in the opening credits.

Tell me that's not the coolest.

steve said...

a) if Jeff WERE a super-hero, his codename would be Hotlink Boy, since he invariably does just that in his corrective responses, even though he KNOWS I can't do it yet myself ('Who was that masked man?' 'I don't know, but I can find out WITH ONE CLICK!')

b) the thought of Sebastian trying to program a VCR IS funny, but there's a vein of horror threading through it too, right?

c) so this cartoon Legion was voted what, Weakest-Ass We Could Put Together? Take Superboy out of the equation (and, by the by, how do you get AROUND doing just that? There's no costumed, caped Superboy in the current continuity ... yet ...), and the members you name might, just might be able to handle Spider-Girl on an off day. Even WITH Superboy in the equation, the writers will be hard-pressed to come up with weak enough villains. Triplicate Girl, Phantom Girl, and Saturn Girl - great! So the female half of the team is represented by members who can a) wear three different outfits at once, b) fade away, and c) eavesdrop. THAT's a great message to send to all those tween boys and girls who might be tuning in!

You think they'd learn from the example of Justice League: more powerful characters make for BETTER stories, not worse!

Jeff E. said...

Didn't I send you an e-mail with extremely explicit instructions on hotlinking? Your overall competency at life, the universe and everything is belying some kind of overt anti-technical bent with this. You should be hotlinking with the best of them by now.

But, speaking of programming VCRs, what ever happened to the new season of TV shows? You had in-depth reviews of the not-yet-aired shows. How well did they live up to expectations? What do you think of "Heroes", for example?

Kevin Caron said...

a) & b) LOL

c) A few things about weaker Legionaires:

1. The whole concept of why they got young Superman in the first place is because they needed more muscle at that particular time (to defeat the Fatal Five, of course), so having the current group be on the weaker side suited that plot.

2. The solution to the Superboy problem put forward here is quite good, I think, and causes next to no continuity problems, if used in the actual DCU: Its not Superboy, per se, but SuperMAN, plucked from his timeline mere months (one would assume) before he actually assumes the idendity on 20th century Earth. He doesn' go back and forth, just spends a year or whathaveyou with the Legion, before (we assume) being returned home to the instant he left it.

3. How is Saturn Girl not powerful? You of all people should appreciate the power of the mind! (She does, at one point, utilize a sort of telekenetic mind burst, though the use of it leaves her dazed). I have to agree with the other two, though seeing Phantom Girl in animated action really helps see what her potential is, in ways difficult to achieve in the static images of a comic. She swoops under foes, and hurls them off their feet from below, goes intangible to get in close and strike while an opponent's guard is down, etc.

4. There seem to be two schools of thought on the 'more powerful/less powerful' characters (its almost a DC/Marvel thing, like you said)... I've always leaned toward the more quirky, less omnipotent characters, but I certainly have friends who swear by the bruisers. I don't know that I would insist that one makes for better stories than the other, but that they make for different stories. On one hand, you have the epic (but sometimes cumbersome and tough on the willing suspension of disbelief), on the other the more down to earth (its easier to empathize with a character that has at least the risk of being hurt, who has to use their head to make great things happen...).

steve said...

Jeff DID send me an email with 'extremely explicit instructions' ... don't remember anything about linking being involved ... I'd rather not talk about it ...

steve said...

Kevin, you illustrate my point for me: Saturn Girl (the 'real' one) doesn't have telekinesis... don't tell me, let me guess: she used this 'mind-blast' against enemies that HAVE no thoughts - zombies, machines, or any other of the fifty dozen threats she could be expected to face on any away-mission ... Geez ... how can you have a Legion without Cosmic Boy? Without Ultra-Boy? Without a shape-shifter, for sprock's sake? And if you're going to have female legionaires, what about Shadow Lass? Or even Andromeda, if it comes to that?

steve said...

Jeff, I must say - I'm amazed at your restraint, not commenting on the Next Generation-bashing I do in 'Book to the Future' ... very mature of you, knowing when you're licked...

Jeff E. said...

or, knowing when I'm being baited . . .

The fact is I know you actually love NexGen, so there is really no argument to make.

Jeff E. said...

If I could have accompanied that last post with the sound of Picard playing the flute from that culteral time capsule, you know there wouldn't be a dry eye in the house.

Kevin Caron said...

Your point is well taken, regarding Saturn Girl (they were fighting either beasts or robots, can't remember which). I'm not going to be overly critical of the lineups they're choosing quite yet, as there has been every implication that it will shift as the show goes on (the only constant characters throughout the first 3 episodes, other than Superman, have been Lightning Lad, Brainiac 5, and Saturn Girl) - I'm certainly eager to see them drop more characters into full episodes (Cosmic Boy for sure - my personal favorite - not to mention Cham and Jo). We'll see.

steve said...

Flute, flute, flute! EVERY time some fanboy is called upon to defend the Next Generation, they ALWAYS go straight to that episode! It's like they KNOW they don't have ANY other episodes to point to!

Yes, it was a great episode. But 'Star Trek' had about TEN great episodes, and it was only on for three years!

Kevin Caron said...

I hope you aren't counting "Trouble with Tribbles".

My favorite Next Generation episodes (off the top of my head):

The "Warp Bubble" episode, the "Altered Present" episode (where the Enterprise C comes through a warp in spacetime, when it should be destroyed protecting a Klingon settlement, thus changing the course of history), and "The One Where the Ship is Stuck in a Time Loop, and Has to Leave Themselves a Clue To Break Out Of It" (Sorry, not enough of a Trek Geek to know the actual titles).

I've never seen a Star Trek episode from any of the other incarnations that I enjoyed as much as those.

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