Saturday, January 13, 2007

Comics! 52, GLC, and JSA!

A comics-heavy time here at Stevereads, and it's Elmo who's to blame! Every three or four days, he slips me a small package of comics, and every such package manages to have stuff demanding to be written about. This time, it was just three issues - but they were three issues of such joy-inducing merit that we here at Stevereads can't let them pass in silence, even though some of you are, you know, girls, and so not interested in comics (especially with Kevin out there earnestly recommending crap).

Our first issue under consideration is the latest issue of 52, a rip-snortin hootenanny of an issue mainly due to DC's most consistently hilarious character, Lobo. The fun is increased here because in this series we've been presented with a Lobo who's convinced himself that he's converted to pacifism - we readers have known all along what a running joke that was, and in this issue it all comes crashing down.

In this issue Lobo and Starfire and Animal Man are brought into the presence of our new cosmic super-villain, the Lady Styx. Lobo's pretended to be turning the other two in for a bounty (in order to get them all inside Lady Styx's lair), but when he demands it, what he gets isn't to his liking one little bit. She tells him (through interpreters, of course) that he's not getting any bounty, that he AND his supposed prisoners are going to be chopped up into chuckroast and FED to her.

The killer part is that even that isn't enough to tip him over the edge. Sure, the idea of being served for brunch irritates him, but it's the final taunt that really gets to him:

"She says ... she says your god's ... gulp ... a big, fat prancing coward who licks his own! Just ... just like you, main man!"

Naturally, right after that follows a whole heaping LOT of decapitations. Lobo informs our villainess that he killed everybody on his homeworld AND Santa Claus (this last is true and hilariously so - the issue where Santa gets his smackdown is, quite possibly, the comic book comic highlight of the last quarter-century), and he proceeds to basically hurl her into a Sun-Eater.

There were other interesting parts of the issue, don't mistake: Animal Man DIES, for instance, and more importantly, we all get a GLORIOUS four-page demonstration that there should be a monthly Power Girl comic, and that it should be drawn by Adam Hughes. Not OUR Adam Hughes, who's perhaps the slowest comic book penciller in the entire world (we surely don't know any OTHER candidates, do we Kevin?) - no, some altenate-universe Hughes who pencils one issue in the same amount of time it took Jack Kirby to do Fantastic Four, X-Men, Thor, Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandoes, and Rawhide Kid. Every month. For years.

But the main attraction here is Lobo handled exactly as he should be - hilarious, over the top, and as a guest star (his regular monthly role in the otherwise-fantastic and severely underrated 'L.E.G.I.O.N.' series very nearly torpedoed it).

The second issue of our trio is the latest issue of 'Green Lantern Corps,' written for adults by Keith Champagne and drawn with weird, wonderful nuance by Patrick Gleason.

We here at Stevereads are as shocked as anybody by how much we love this title - and not just this one! 'Green Lantern' AND 'Guy Gardner' are every bit as great, constituting a genuine high-point renaissance in the whole mythos of Green Lantern.

The surprise-factor here comes from the fact that the whole Green Lantern concept has always left us fairly flat. The rings can do virtually anything, yah, yah - makes for convenient exposition in the odd Justice League issue, but beyond that? We never really got it.

Clear now what the problem has always been: Hal Jordan. Hal Jordan, the handsome, wavy-haired Wonderbread so-called 'greatest Green Lantern of 'em all.' I see now that the problems I've had with the whole Green Lantern concept have derived from my boredom with just this one individual guy.

The central Green Lantern concept, though, the idea of a galactic police force, is and always has been rock-solid (naturally so! It was stolen from an impeccable source, and the first of you to name it gets a fun gift in the mail! Shall we call it a Steve-prize?). For the first time, the concept of the Green Lantern Corps is being given the gritty, operatic, thrilling treatment it deserves.

'Green Lantern Corps' is, at least for this current Champagne/Gleason 'Dark Side of Green' story-arc, the hands-down best title DC is currently publishing. You should go to your nearest comics shop and buy both issues of this arc and savor them.

This issue features a deliciously hissable new villain who rips apart Green Lanterns like CD wrapping, and it also features Guy Gardner, who, when handled correctly (here and in Howard Chaykin's recent two-part mini-series, he's handled perfectly), is the ultimate antidote to Hal Jordan-style bland perfection: he's the Ben Grimm of DC comics, wonderfully flawed and brutishly heroic.

But as good as those two titles are, neither one of them holds a candle to the second issue of Geoff Johns' relaunch of 'Justice Society of America.'

It's a little disenheartening, actually, watching this title unfold with such amazing confidence and vigor while Brad Meltzer's Justice League relaunch continues to struggle in its own mire, going nowhere.

Still, pity only mutes so much, and it doesn't take a bit from this magnificent issue. In the first issue, we saw the Society trying to pull itself together after the events of the latest Crisis ... recruiting new members, undergoing a new, mysterious assault (so far on one of its potential recruits, the lamely-named but wonderfully-rendered Mr. America), and grappling with the mysteries of its own new members.

This issue has too many good things to enumerate - Hell, the artwork alone is worth an aria of praise, and there are lots of other factors in play. Johns' writing is sharp and note-perfect, and the action of the plot is convincingly moved along on multiple fronts. As noted, there's a sad, melancholy comparison to be made between this title and Brad Meltzer's efforts over in Justice League - in both books, a broken team must gather old and new members in the shadow of a growing threat. In JLA, the gathering takes a comically long time, and the threat is almost instantly mockable. In JSA, the new recruits are in place at the end of the first issue, and the threat - well, the threat here is twofold: Nazis (considering that this is the team that actually fought in DC's WWII, this is a delightful given)(although please, Powers That Be over at DC - give us a JSA book SET during the war! It's been more than 20 years since you did, and all us fans are wanting to see these great characters in their prime) and a nebulous approaching future threat.

'Future' being the key word. Because of course the, as Elmo would put it, pants-wettingly good 'big surprise' in this issue is the final-page revelation that our Cosmic Boy is THE Cosmic Boy, and not the version we know from the Legion of Super-Heroes but the adult version we all saw in the background of our most holy text, 'Kingdom Come.'

'Kingdom Come' of course being the fantastic 'imaginary story' of a future DC universe in which the super-heroes have retired from the world stage and super-powered anarchy reigns unchecked. That graphic novel stands as one of the six greatest superhero books ever made (and the single best portrait of Superman - in words and pictures - ever made, with the possible exception of 'Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?' by Alan Moore, Curt Swan, and George Perez). In this possible future, we glimpse this grown-up version of Cosmic Boy in the backgrounds, and maybe we wondered what his story was (disregarding, of course, whatever story was given in any of the million pages of 'Kingdom Come's supporting materials over the years and concentrating only on what's in the book itself).

This issue's final page introduces the mouth-watering prospect not only of Legion involvement but of dipping back into that potential future universe.

In short, 'Justice Society of America' is ripping forward on all cylinders! We shall certainly report on its next issue!

It's been brought to our attention here at Stevereads that our thoughtless omission of the patented Stevereads comics-quiz from our comic book posts caused consternation in certain quarters. In truth, we omitted it in order to give Kevin time to re-assemble the tattered shards of his dignity, but we see now that we must serve higher ends than the self-regard of one bosom friend! So here are a few puzzlers for you all!

First: well, it seems that serving in the Legion of Super-Heroes can be hazardous to your mental health! Cosmic Boy is of course the nutjob in question in the latest Justice Society, and here's our question: name three Legionaires who've pulled a nutty! Your only restrictions? A: it can't be FAKE insanity, and B: it can't, of course, be Brainiac 5, whose predilection for insanity has been a standard Legion plot-device since the Crimean War.

Second: for all its strengths, this latest issue of JSA contains one salient MISTAKE. Be the first to name it and win a Steve-prize!

Third: Speaking of the Legion, who among you can offer decipherments for the largest number of Cosmic Boy's cryptic utterances? One in this issue is easy as pie, two others not so much so - any takers?

In any case, many thanks to Elmo for providing this wonderful little batch of comics! We should all give thanks that he's not Pepito!


Michael said...

Pssst... it's Starman/Star Boy, but you of course knew that and just accidentally typed Cosmic Boy over and over.

steve said...

um, yes... my bad .... so: any CONSTRUCTIVE to add, Michael? Care to try your hand at the quiz, perhaps?

steve said...

Perhaps you didn't understand the RICHES you might acquire! A slightly used basset hound is yours for the asking!

Kevin Caron said...

Great - now I get to be prodded by you and Mike Baron for drawing too slowly... If only I drew as slow and as well as Adam Hughes (who is, hands down, the nicest guy in comics I've ever met). I would be thrilled to see a monthly AH book (he said something was in the works, through DC, when I spoke to him last, which was a couple years ago in San Diego). I loved the art on his Justice League run.

I have to ask you, Steve, as a fan of the original Star Trek - did you enjoy the Adam Hughes/Chris Claremont Star Trek graphic novel?

As for the quiz, as entertaining as you must find my attempts at mastering them, I hearby refrain from participating until the last comic you promised me materializes from the Phantom Zone - I'm assuming in 1,000 years or so.

(In other words, I don't know the answers. Though I'm pretty sure Mon-El has gone crazy at least once.)

Kevin Caron said...

Okay, okay - Matter Eater Lad lost it after eating the Miracle Machine, and Sun Boy once got a case of the 'Space Crazies'.

But that's it - no more jumping through hoops for your amusement! (plus, I don't have the JSA issue in question, so questions 2 & 3 are out for me).

Beeps said...

Kevs - I'm about to start reading "A Thousand Ships." The others will have to wait until Miss Terious cleans up my library account.

I'll let you know what I think.

And didn't you know, Steve lives to make us jump through his hoops.

locke said...

"And didn't you know, Steve lives to make us jump through his hoops."

Centuries from now, when future Web Historians are slogging through all these blogs on their Space Computers as viewed on their Brain Screens, searching for photos of Britney Spears' pooter, they'll find this line and yelp "Eureka! We've finally unlocked the key to the Great S.T. Donoghue Conundrum of the Late 20th and Early 21st Centuries!"

And then they'll go back to looking for ancient porn.

locke said...

I gotta say, the whole Legion Fandom thing fascinates me. (And by "fascinates," I mean, "passingly catches my fickle and cynical interest.")

I've been a part of many geeky communities: Trekkettes, Star Wars nerds, Lord of the Rings nuts, even Buffy-Angel freaks. And I reserve a certain portion of my brain for vaguely remembering convoluted plotlines and character family trees from a variety of (mostly Marvel) comic books.

But I grew up Marvel, not DC, and didn't catch up with the Legion until the Giffin masterpiece of the early '90s (and then, yes, only at Steve's recommendation). And even since THEN, the Legion has undergone--what? Four? Five?--continuity reboots. Still, mostly due to my sporadic contact with the author of this blogg, I catch whiffs of not only the amazingly convoluted and often silly "continuity" of the Legion, but also the fact that there is a whole highly dedicated (ie wild-eyed nutty) fan sub-base that is devoted to the Legion not in SPITE of the Legion's spastic, sprawling past, but BECAUSE of it.

Let's face it -- the fascists are right: people LOVE to be immersed in complex, illogical webs of mythology and ritual and arcane knowledge (exhibit A: The DaVinci Code). And when it comes to geeks and fanboys, the only dick-measuring that counts is a combo of a) how arcane and complex is the mythology of your particular object of geek adulation and b) how deeply are you personally learned in it? (Along these lines, I'm gonna call the Roman Catholic Church out as the Biggest Geekfest in Western Civilization -- although the Hindus would give them a run for their money.)

So when I meet a LOTR fan who just likes the movies, I KNOW I'm a superior lifeform because I've read the books and studied the maps and the appendixes. However, should I accidentally wander into a LOTR Convention hall and smack up against a guy in a High Elf or Ent costume, I know that I will have to surrender my Alpha Geek status as they begin rattling off Aragorn's genealogical tree, or reciting Elvish poetry in the original Elvish.

Thomas Disch once wrote a very controversial article (especially with Geeks) about how love of science fiction and fantasy was rooted in a stunted obsession with puzzle boxes. And we all harrumphed at his betrayal (he wrote the article to signal his leaving the ghetto of genre fiction), but he did have parts of it right: we geeks (comic book, sci-fi/fantasy, etc) love our labyrinthine tangles of continuity and characters.

And no MOREso than our bloghost, who squeals in indignation every time some "upstart" (ie "under 50) comic book writer dares pen a Spider-man versus Rhinoceros story without fully familiarizing himself with each meeting of the two since 1963. (Um, and yet, "Cosmic Boy" -- go figure. The memory is strange and treacherous place, eh, Steve?)

So Legion fans are the Geekiest of the Geeky -- and I only half mean that as a mean-spirited putdown. They seem drawn to the Legion mostly BECAUSE they know that, after 10-20 years of studying and memorizing the bat-shit crazy Annals of Legion-dom, THEY will be in possession of knowledge that will send all lesser comic book geeks trembling behind their Mylar-bagged Liefield X-Men #1s.

But like I said, I'm the same way -- the very complexity of one genre epic that might turn me or others off, once it catches me in its snare, usually holds me. Farscape (another Steve indoctrination) would be a good example, as would the X-files (and, like most X-files fans of the '90s, I lost all interest in the show when it turned out that Carter really didn't have ANY idea how his much-ballyhooed "mythology" all fit together), and nowadays, Galactica. (However, I am not, before someone asks, a Lost fan, even though it is the very definition of a genre puzzle box -- it's just too dull, too stilted and stuffy and humorless.) And the very Giffen "5 Years Later" epic that introduced me to the Legion drew me in, again, BECAUSE it was so damn hard to sort out on first read.

But all of which is to say, I would have a better chance at guessing at solving the Riemann Hypothesis than I would answering any of Steve’s Legion quizzes. On the other hand, the “inspiration” (as long hotly argued over and denied) for the Green Lanterns were Doc Smith’s Lensmen books, right?

Kevin Caron said...

To me, the Geek syndrome has less to do with whether I can out-geek another fan, and more to do with enjoying a work that rewards the attention you've paid. For instance, when reading the '5 years later' Giffen run, you're constantly rewarded for knowing who's from Braal, who Thom Kallor is (hint, Steve - not Cosmic Boy!), etc (though, in the case of that series, the book was equally capable of throwing you for a loop, dropping you in the deep end of unknown (and unknowable) continuity, and letting you piece it together - then you're rewarded for figuring that out).

Other aspects of the Legion I've always enjoyed:
The mix of Star Trek and Superhero (and they mesh so nicely, somehow! Setting the thing in the distant future can silence so many things about the tights & cape genre that trouble one's suspension of disbelief), and the fact that there is no really over-used, overly popular character to get sick of (it's like the mutant menagerie of X-men, without Wolverine and several others).

Michael said...

As immersed in Legion fandom as I am - I've been a fan since my first issue in 1975 - I can no more explain my Legion geekiness than I can explain X-Fans. I just revel in the geekiness. I even run the Legion Omnicom, which covers the Legion and nothing but. How much niche-ier can you get?

I think Kevin got all three of your Nutjob Legionnaires. Great question, though!

For your third question, Star Boy refers to a number of pre-Crisis events, such as his self-defense killing of Kenz Nuhor and his being booted from the Legion by a 10-9 vote because of it. He also refers to a Lightning storm, which is the name of the JLA/JSA crossover (see the previews over on my site, among other places), a doctor (I'm still working on that one), and Power Girl bouncing around through time (probably another upcoming storyline).

steve said...

a) On the whole Star Boy/Cosmic Boy snafu - I'm as mystified as anybody! Guess I should go back and fix it, but then Locke's future historians would wonder what the bloody nass all these references were about!

b)OK, Kevin, what comic did I promise again? I'm sure it's in the mail ...

c)Locke: yes indeed, the Lensmen! Good call!

d) Kevin: yes, the Legion features no over-used, over-popular character NOW; some of us remember wading through the tedium-years when every storyline had to revolve around Superboy! Every long-time Legion fan will vividly recall the first issue they read where something happened - some piece of dialogue or plotline - that made them realize there was Legion life OUTSIDE of Superboy ...

e) Holy sprock! The eminence gris of the mighty Legion Omnicom posted a comment on MY BLOG!!! Michael, a hale and hearty welcome! I've been reading your blog forever! How on Earth did you find my little Balkan kingdom?

f) That having been said, what could you have meant by that 'all three' comment? Yes, Kevin got a few - but as you well know, there are LOTS he didn't mention! Care to come up with three of your own?

Anonymous said...

Locke, there are no photos of Britney Spears's pooter on the Web. One is almost certain of it.


Kevin Caron said...

I was gonna put the parenthetical "(other than Superboy)" in my bit about overly popular characters, but left it out by mistake - must have got a case of the 'Space Crazies".

You guys have sufficently intrigued me with this Star Boy stuff - I am officially going to pick up JSA 1 & 2 this week.

Kevin Caron said...

Read JSA 1 & 2 - they were alright, but I can't say I was terribly impressed. Both the writing and the art were pretty flawed. I think I'll be stopping at #2.

steve said...

Art thou MAD???

The writing, flawed? The ARTWORK, flawed?

I'm very nearly speechless.