Thursday, December 13, 2012


ComicsAlliance has some info on 2013's Free Comic Book Day offerings, and among them is this, from the bizarre outfit that is Antarctic Press:

(W) Robby Bevard (A/CA) Fred Perry

Kid the Adventurer and Bro the Kung-Fu Pegasus are back in an all-new story for Free Comic Book Day! The fan-favorite best buds will face fierce forests, soaring snakes, nincompoop ninjas, doofy dinosaurs, and vile villains all in the name of fun! Don't miss out on this growing hit!
Did this come out before? Like, ever? Because I've certainly never heard of it. But it's nice to see such a shameless ripoff of "Adventure Time" with a dash of "My Little Pony" thrown in there. Antarctic Press was already a strange duck with its biographical comics, and then there was the attempt-to-cash-in-too-late-on-Internet-memes Honey Badger comic, but now it seems like they're branching out into the Asylum Studios of the comic book world, putting out cheap knockoff comics that someone's grandma might mistake for the real thing.

Stay classy, Antarctic.

Looks like I confused Antarctic and Bluewater. So I guess ignore the bit about biographical comics and my points still stand.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Some recent random comic thoughts

I'm going to make a bit of an effort to do more blogging here, even if it's just the sort of microblogging stuff I do elsewhere. Here goes!

I love "Action Comics" (vol. 1) #775. I bought it for the fourth (fifth?) time today, in digital form, because I wanted to finally watch "Superman vs. the Elite," and wanted to re-read the story first. I probably wouldn't have dropped the $1.99 if I remembered that it was downstairs in the easily-accessible "Superman: The Greatest Stories Ever Told" trade, but I didn't.

The story is admittedly preachy. The metatext of it becomes explicit in more than one place. And frankly, I don't mind. In fact, I'd feel it was kind of hypocritical to mind; what's preachier and more metatext-as-text than Grant Morrison's "Animal Man," which I love? Superman stories have some leeway in terms of preachiness, I think. Moralizing is part of the character, and I don't think that's a bad thing. Superman should be the moral center of the DCU (and Captain America, for the Marvel Universe), and with that comes a bit of preachiness, a bit of allegorical storytelling.

It helps, of course, that I largely agree with the allegory. But you know, people have been clamoring for more violent, take-no-prisoners heroes for decades, and other people have been responding to it in kind for the same amount of time. There's a big part of "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow" that's this same kind of statement, and it's the subtext underlying the whole "Death and Return of Superman" story. That's leaving aside the "Astro City" story with Supersonic, or "Knightfall," which are saying similar things.

And considering that two of the main characters in the original Authority are riffs on Superman and Batman, it's not like the pastiche and allegory began with Joe Kelly.

"Superman vs. The Elite" was quite good. I love George Newbern's Superman, and I wish he didn't get such short shrift on the character in favor of Tim Daly. About the only problem I had with it was the animation, which just felt kind of weird. The places where it tried to ape the grittiness and brutality of Mahnke's original art fell fairly flat. Otherwise, the stylization was fine, but it was just weird to see the disparity between the two styles.

Today, I finally read through "Superman: The Secret Years," a series I've owned for some months now without managing to read. It's an interesting take on Clark Kent's college years (and the awkward transition from "Superboy" to "Superman"), melding classic Silver Age elements with the social consciousness that comics tried (to varying degrees of success) to adopt in the '70s and '80s. And it's all topped off with Curt Swan art, which fits better than I might have suspected.

One neat thing, though, is how it deals with Clark's relationship (whirlwind though it may be) with Lori Lemaris, where it's clear that he never even considered looking at her with his X-ray vision, or he would have learned her secret (spoiler: she's a mermaid) on day one. Clark Kent, paragon of virtue.

Read, for the first time (except maybe in "The Phantom Zone"), a comic with Dr. Xadu and Zeda, the telepathic Kryptonian villains with the Cosmic Power-Grip. There's a cool couple of villains who deserve to make a resurgence in the DCU.

Of course, that could be said about a lot of villains.

Oh, hey, the Man of Steel trailer hit today. I'm as disappointed as anyone about another origin story, and I'm not thrilled at all about Deadliest Catch Superman, but a lot of what's there looks pretty snazzy, and hopefully the other two hours of the movie contain a decent amount of excitement, and maybe Superman punching some people/things.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Putting the puzzle together

You've probably heard that Gail Simone was rather unceremoniously fired from "Batgirl."

There's a crossover--"Death of the Family"--going on in the Bat-books right now, promising to end with an "unspeakable tragedy" that puts Batman on the brink of "losing his humanity." Nightwing also loses "so much," according to solicits.

When Mike C. Nelson tweeted Gail "did you not put enough women in refrigerators or something?" she responded, "Funny you should say that."

So putting it all together: what character, probably female, is dying in "Death of the Family"?

After reading that Batman solicit, I would have guessed Alfred, and I still think that's the most likely situation. Who else's death would have such a major impact on Batman and Nightwing? He's not exactly a woman in a refrigerator, though, except in a very metaphorical sense. Unless Joker actually stuffs him in a fridge.

The other person that makes sense is Commissioner Gordon. He has the stronger ties to Batgirl, but what would they do in the wake of his death? We've barely seen any other GCPD characters, so it's not like there's someone they're grooming to take over. Still, might make sense that Gail would have something to say about this decision.

It might be Barbara Gordon, Sr. instead, which makes the most sense from a Gail-off-Batgirl perspective, if not a big-Batman-crossover perspective. Neither Bruce nor Dick have much connection to her, but Gail's been building her up as a supporting character in "Batgirl," and she's definitely "family." I can see where "oh, hey, we're killing Barbara Sr." might lead to some friction. But if Barbara Sr. is one of several casualties, it actually makes the most sense.

If not for the solicit that explicitly said Barbara was alive and confronting her brother, I'd guess that Barbara herself would be dying, in part as a "be careful what you wish for" to those annoying (to DC, anyway) Cass/Steph/Oracle fans.

Maybe I'm wrong, but it sure looks like this is the direction things are headed. Someone is dying in "Death of the Family," probably multiple someones, and the result is Gail Simone being kicked off a book that owes its popularity largely to her presence. Apologies to Ray Fawkes, but I don't think I'll be following his tenure on the character.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A story of nerdrage past

I remember a time in 8th Grade, I think it was. I was walking to my lunch table, probably to talk about Star Wars or something with my equally geeky friends, when some girls at their table talked to me. I don't remember really if they just said hi or asked me how I was or asked me to sit with them or what. What I do remember is blowing them off with some rather rude language.

I was on to them.

Even some of my friends were surprised by my conduct, but I knew better. Years of taunting and bullying had put me on-guard. I'd naïvely entered enough seemingly-innocent conversations or answered apparently innocuous questions that inevitably led to embarrassment and humiliation; I may not have always known a trap when I saw one, but I'd had enough experience that I wouldn't walk into such a blatantly obvious one. Better to ignore it or fire a warning shot. I wasn't going to let them mess with me, not without a fight, anyway.

I mean, really. Those girls really thought I'd believe they wanted to talk to me? What kind of idiot did I look like?

This is just one of far, far too many examples of how being the target of bullying messes up your entire approach to the world. It's only been within the last couple of years that I've actually been able to understand how screwed-up some of my instincts are. I still can't take a compliment without wondering if it's meant sarcastically, can't stop imagining that people who are friendly to my face are actually laughing at me behind my back. When your formative years are dominated by dysfunctional, abusive relationships with your peers, it's hard to break out of the negative, cynical, paranoid thought processes that develop as a result.

And all this is a roundabout way of saying that I completely understand why the "Fake Geek Girl" meme has taken root in the collective male nerd consciousness. I know why the notion exists, and I know why it's alluring, because I've been subject to the same basic thought-biases myself.

Which is not to say that I can explain the whole thing; I'm no psychologist. But I know what it's like to have that suspicion-bordering-on-certainty that anyone who's being nice to you, anyone who's entering your conversation or trying to engage with you who isn't clearly an outcast in the same way you are, is working with sinister ulterior motives. Humans are very good at recognizing patterns--patterns like "this cool/attractive person wants to talk to me/be my friend -> no, turns out they just wanted to humiliate me in front of everyone"--and it doesn't take long for those patterns to get ingrained. And once you've got those patterns in your head, you start comparing every experience to them, and you learn pretty quickly that making a type 2 error--a false negative--is far more costly in the short-term than a type 1 false positive error.

Consequently, you become a jerkass to anyone outside your clique, which you don't realize at the time is exactly the original problem. You withdraw. You become like an abused animal, flinching at every outstretched hand, and sometimes lashing out with a preemptive strike.

This doesn't make the "Fake Geek Girl" meme any less sexist or otherwise terrible, not by a longshot. After all, you don't see this kind of backlash against self-professed geeky guys like Vin Diesel who would have been equally out of place at the lunch table. It perpetuates negative stereotypes on every end, and continues a cycle of negativity, abuse, and bullying that should never have begun in the first place, and certainly should never have extended beyond the bounds of the junior high. But the magic of the Internet is that abuse, bullying, and cliqueishness can encompass the whole world, and the increasing popularity of aspects of "geek culture" means that geeks can maintain this weird cognitive dissonance that simultaneously assumes that geeky stuff is stuff that no one would genuinely like unless they were an outcast, but girls only like it because they're jumping on this huge bandwagon. Naturally, typical nerd entitlement and a dash of MRA misogyny keep the whole thing at a nicely disgusting level of discourse.

I sympathize with the folks who dreamt up this "fake geek girl" meme, I really do. I know where they're coming from, and I've been there myself. Which is why I feel justified in saying they need to knock it the heck off. Grow up. See a therapist. Work out these issues, because the cost-benefit analysis that kept you alive in junior high isn't applicable in the real world. Constantly assuming that every nice gesture disguises malice, constantly assuming that no one would want to be in your situation (and yet thinking that people are pretending to be in your situation) denies you real human contact and relationships, and turns you into something twisted, bitter, self-absorbed, and entitled. And that really is someone that no one should want to be.

And what's worse, it makes you into a bully yourself. When you scoff derisively at someone who just wants to join the club, who just wants to be part of the group, you're perpetuating the cycle that led you to be the suspicious, bitter cynic you've become. Remember how crappy it felt to know that you were on the bottom of the social hierarchy? It doesn't feel any better to the people you're trying to shove down there, and it shouldn't make you feel better that you've managed to elevate yourself at the expense of others.

I mean, didn't you ever watch a teen sitcom in the '90s?

The social hierarchy that sucked in high school doesn't actually have to be perpetuated outside of those brick walls. Society has its own crappy caste system without you inventing new cliques to keep people out of.

Cut it out. Get some therapy. Work out your problems. And burn the damn "No Girls Allowed" sign.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Not the Daily Planet!

New revelations from "Superman (vol. 3)" #13 suggest that Clark Kent will be quitting his job at the Daily Planet1. This is, of course, an entirely unprecedented change, since Clark has always worked for the Planet.

Well, except when it was the Star. But it's been the Planet since the radio days, and Clark has always worked there.

Oh, except for that 15-year span where he anchored the WGBS newscast. But he's worked for the Planet ever since the Crisis.

Except for that time when, under the influence of the Eradicator, he quit the Planet to work for Collin Thornton's Newstime magazine. And the time when Lex Luthor bought the Daily Planet, dismantled it, and fired Clark (and most everyone else) as he rolled it into his multimedia news service, LexCom. And the time when Clark was fired from the Planet for writing a true-but-unprovable story about President Luthor's involvement in the Imperiex War.

Look, I'm on-board with thinking that the New 52 reboot was largely unnecessary, and that a lot of the changes have been for the worse (cf. briefless Kryptonian armor). But I just can't work up a nerdrage over this one. Newspapers are struggling, and the traditional media is having a crisis of spinelessness (and these are not unrelated problems). The principled, idealistic, ascetic Clark Kent of this new DCU is the kind of person who might strike out on his own to do real, hard-hitting journalism, unhampered by corporate sponsorship or the need to turn a profit. As someone who can see and hear everything, who doesn't need to eat or sleep, who isn't necessarily reliant on a regular paycheck, who can't be physically threatened or intimidated, and who is unflaggingly honest3, Clark is actually the perfect person to take on this kind of job.

At worst, it'll be a temporary change, shaking up the status quo for a little bit. At best, it'll be something that actually works really well and sticks around for awhile, like the WGBS job in the '70s-80s. If nothing else, I hope it leads to some interesting new stories, and that it means there'll be more focus on Clark Kent doing Clark Kent things than there has been in the last several years.

1. They also suggest that Clark's only been a reporter for 5 years, when he was working for the Star at least 6 years ago in the current timeline. And that's assuming no time has actually passed since "Action Comics (vol. 2) #1"

2. That said, the troubling part of all this is the article I read that referenced Matt Drudge in the context of Clark's blogging career, which seems like the exact opposite of anything Clark should be doing. Part of it, sure, is my decidedly liberal political bent. But part of it is also the fact that Drudge has a history of ideologically-motivated and heavily slanted stories, factual errors, and the precise kind of scandal-sheet celebrity-stalking "news" that Clark decries in the preview pages. I hope the treatment ends up, ironically, being better than the reporting.

3. Except for that whole secret identity issue.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

With one magic word...

I didn't read "Justice League" #0, but I've read plenty about it. I haven't cared for the characterization of anyone, nor the arbitrary changes, nor even Gary Frank's art this time around. I can't think of many artists who I'd find less suited to a character like Captain Marvel than Gary Frank. It's not that he's not a good artist, it's just the same reason I wouldn't put Steve Dillon on a Care Bears comic.

It might be naïve optimism at this point, or it might be that Geoff Johns has made his writing so clichéd and nuance-free that it's simple to extrapolate the plotline, but I think I see where he's trying to go with this. Billy Batson is a jerkass, but he's a jerkass with a heart of gold. Gaining the powers of Shazam--and particularly the wisdom of Zeus--will eventually force him to become a better person and a hero and whatnot. I suspect that's the endpoint of this story, showing how Billy grows as a person into a true champion. It's a redemption story, it's the story that "Amazing Fantasy" #15 told in like twelve pages. It might even be a worthwhile story, but it's not a story I want to read.

There are two reasons for this. One is that, in order to tell this story, Johns seems to think that he needed to make the protagonist a generally unlikable dick, so that his eventual redemption would be that much greater. That's anything but necessary; I honestly think it's lazy. It's easier to write characters at the extremes than characters who actually have some semblance of recognizable humanity. Moreover, it's forced Johns to generate characters who are even more extreme jerkasses, so that there's some contrast between the protagonist and the villains. So the rich jackass dad in the story, who would otherwise be the transplanted smarmy jerk from any '80s underdog movie, has to be a Snidely Whiplash-type who would assault a child in broad daylight. It's sloppy, it's lazy, it's unnecessary.

But the other reason is a larger one, one exemplified by the rest of the book that "Shazam" has been a backup in. If Billy Batson were the only character who had fallen so far so he could pick himself back up, it wouldn't be quite so unpalatable. But Geoff Johns' whole approach to the New 52 has been to make the heroes arrogant, unlikable, abrasive jerkasses, to the point where it takes them five years to realize that, hey, maybe they should learn some teamwork. Making Billy Batson a jerkass only blends him into the morass of unlikable assholes that the Justice League has become.

I know there's an audience for this version of Captain Marvel. The guy who works my LCS loves it. But I'm getting sick and tired of reading about "heroes" who behave like villains, and I'm getting sicker and tireder of what the villains have to become to provide that contrast.

I finally dropped "Justice League" this week. I won't be looking back.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Focused Totality

Reading "Justice League" #12 finally gelled for me the big problems I have with the book. It's not just that it's bad, it's not just that it's melodramatic and poorly-written and incomprehensible and generally unattractive and wholly inconsequential to the rest of the universe. It's that it's all those things in very familiar ways.

In short, it's an early '90s X-Men series.

I may be being unfair with this comparison, since I read only a handful of X-Men comics in the early '90s (barring the beat-up copy of "The Dark Phoenix Saga" that I read repeatedly around the same time). But then, there's a reason I couldn't get into those comics, and that reason is that I had no idea what was ever going on with them. I remember trying to parse out what the heck was going on with Psylocke and Revanche and eventually just going back to Spider-Man and Moon Knight.

But when I read the overwrought exchange between Superman and Wonder Woman and how they both just felt so alone, right before kissing, I couldn't think of anything besides Scott and Jean or Gambit and Rogue. All the focus on infighting and drama and personal conflicts and relationships, all the villains who don't do much beyond monologuing or standing and looking menacing, all the references to past events that I'm not familiar with, all the Jim Lee art, and suddenly it all clicked together. Geoff Johns is trying to be Chris Claremont, and while it's been clear from the start that he was trying to focus this book like an exposé, only now has it become clear why.

It's not really surprising, the Claremont/Lee X-Men being among the best-selling comics in history. The entire New 52 seems to have been an effort in sympathetic magic or cargo cult comic creation, as if acting like it was the '90s again would bring back the prosperity the industry had during that time. It's just...weird. And it's certainly not the Justice League comic I want to be reading.

And so I'm done with it. Finally. Sealed with a kiss.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Parallel Posters

Awhile back, some organization did a deal where you could send away for copies of the movie posters of the five Superman films, and naturally I jumped on it. I framed two of them (mostly because even cheap frames are kind of expensive) and had them both hanging up in my apartment. There was this one:
And this one:

Yeah, yeah, I know, I'm the only person alive who liked "Superman Returns." For all its flaws, it still had gorgeous effects, some great moments, and I'm a sucker for Superman and messianic imagery. I wouldn't want every Superman story to do that kind of thing, but I'm fine with it occasionally.

Plus, I like the poster a lot. The only Superman movie poster I like better is this one:
Which I'll probably be framing next. What can I say? It's dynamic, it has Superman on it, and it doesn't have Richard Pryor.

Now, you may be aware that the first teaser poster for Man of Steel came out. I thought it was kind of cool when I saw it online, but seeing it in person at the movie theater made me realize that I needed to get it. So I found it on eBay and overpaid for it. But it's a pretty cool poster, and I suspect it won't be the only one I get before the film comes out.

That said, I've got it up in the same room as the Superman Returns poster now, and I noticed something weird having them right near each other.
So, um, something really dangerous happening down and to the right, there, Superman?

Friday, August 10, 2012

Exposé Comics

I've realized recently that a lot of the problems I have with modern comics have the same genesis. I know I've done a bunch of reading of (and listening to) folks like Chris Sims and David Brothers, and that's influenced a lot of this, but I haven't been careful enough to document links or anything. So I apologize if I'm referencing other people's ideas without linking attribution, and if anyone wants to point out where some of these thoughts have originated, I'll be happy to add in the links.

That's assuming anyone still reads this blog, of course.

Anyway, it's clear that a lot of comics writers these days, mostly (inasmuch as I notice it) at DC have this weird sense of shame and embarrassment regarding comics of the past. Unfortunately, this seems to be tied into an overbearing sense of nostalgia, and desire to have comics be like they were back in that past.

And so there's this tendency to tell stories that attempt to justify those comics from the past, to show that they weren't just kids' stuff, that they're just as mature and nuanced and adult as comics are/can be today.

The way they accomplish this is by showing that there was stuff going on behind the scenes in those comics--mature stuff, grown-up stuff, not that silly four-color kiddie nonsense, no way. And so we get "Identity Crisis," showing that behind the simple stories of the '70s League, there were secrets and conspiracies and conflicts and rape. We get "Countdown to Infinite Crisis" which does much the same thing to the Bwa-Ha-Ha JLI era. We get "Flash: Rebirth," showing us that behind silly stick-in-the-mud Barry Allen was his mom's tragic death, that even his goofy outdated bowtie had an origin. We get Geoff Johns' "Aquaman," where people confront the character with comments taken directly from real-world message boards (which make no sense in the context of the New 52 DCU) and he shows that, no, Aquaman is totally badass.

And we get "Justice League," which makes the whole thing almost literal. Most of the action in "Justice League" happens off-panel, giving the reader a behind-the-scenes view instead. We've seen, from the hints here and there, that the familiar Justice League battles seem to all be happening--they've fought Starro and Amazo and the Key and so forth--but in our behind-the-scenes look, we see that the League is not a coalition of Super Friends, but a loose organization of powerful people who mostly can't stand each other, being coordinated by a put-upon government agent trying desperately to keep up their public façade of being chums.

And in their second storyline, their main villain is the guy who chronicled their first adventures, trying to show the world the "truth" about the League. Presumably, that truth is that they're a bunch of jerks who don't actually work well together.

It's all so...tabloid. Hence "exposé comics"--comics designed to publicize the seemy background behind what otherwise seem like innocuous, innocent events.

They're not new, really. Martin Pasko's Internet-infamous "Superman" (vol. 1) #330 is the same kind of thing, trying to show that something silly has a totally reasonable explanation. It's also not something that can't be done well; I'd argue that Mark Waid's "JLA: Year One" is kind of like this as well, fleshing out the characters (and doing a bit of retconning) between the scenes, adding in new conflicts and so forth. But there's no rape there, no murder, none of those cheap, tawdry plot devices that modern comics writers see as shortcuts to "mature" storytelling.

No, those come from the ur-example, Alan Moore's "Watchmen." "Watchmen" is the exposé comic, giving us a world where there are two ages of heroes. One seems simple and colorful and bright and optimistic, the other more dingy with shades of gray. But, we discover, that bright and optimistic era wasn't actually so. We learn, through flashbacks and Hollis Mason's exposé autobiography, that the "heroes" were flawed people with serious conflicts and--hey presto!--rape.

And so it seems like the lesson that Dan Didio and Brad Meltzer and Geoff Johns took from "Watchmen" is that the bright, four-colored comics of the past were unrealistic, and that lack of realism is something shameful and embarrassing. The way to make it more realistic was to expose the seedy background of interpersonal conflict and damaged people and murder and rape, and that would justify its existence, would validate their fandom and nostalgia, and would make the whole effort worthwhile.

"Watchmen" is a great book. I've read it multiple times. I've liked it every time. I'm getting to the point where I wish it was never written, where we could wipe it from history, rather than spend the rest of eternity trying to emulate it.

Superheroes are silly. There's no escaping that silliness. Slathering rape and murder on top of it only makes it silly in a more disgusting way, and makes the slatherer look silly for thinking that rape and murder, rather than depth and quality, are what make something "mature." I'd like to see DC Comics wake the hell up and embrace some of that silliness again. I'd like to see the sort of things we're getting from Marvel--the Pet Avengers, Atlantean hillbillies, "what if the Hulk had a Hulk?"--at DC again.

I wish we could get back to before "Watchmen."

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Brief Thoughts

Okay, a month without posting. Sorry about that. To make up for it, here are some things I've been thinking about recently.

Most of my free time right now has been devoted to Mass Effect 3 (except what's been devoted to watching the Olympics), and I'm right up against the last mission. It's actually timed really well, since I have to start working on stuff for work soon. The only thing keeping me from marathoning my way through it right now is that BioWare announced a new single-player DLC mission coming later in the summer, and I'm not sure I want to try beating the game twice. If I knew when Leviathan was slated to hit, I could make a more informed decision. Arrrgh. First world problems, I guess.

I finally managed to get "Love and Capes" vol. 3 recently, and I've been working my way through it today. It's fantastic as always, and touches on some oddly familiar territory with its real estate subplot, since my wife and I recently bought a house. I got to wondering if Thom Zahler would be willing to do a Superman book if DC offered one, but realized it just wouldn't be the same without the Lois & Clark marriage (or at this point, even a relationship). That led me to think that, like Tom Beland, he could do a great Spider-Man story...except Spider-Man isn't married anymore either.

Which got me thinking about married couples in comics, and...holy crap, there aren't many left, are there? The New 52 broke up everyone but Aquaman & Mera and Animal Man & Ellen Baker. Marvel has Reed & Sue Richards, Crystal & Ronan the Accuser, and the newly-married Northstar & Kyle Jinadu. From what I understand, even Storm & Black Panther are splitsville. Five married superhero couples in the entirety of the Big Two? That's pretty sad. It's getting to be that spouses are as absent in superhero comics as parents.

I really enjoyed "Action Comics" (vol. 2) #12, but I think it's super-weird that New 52 Captain Comet has Conduit's origin.

I'm going to check out the zero issue, but it looks like "Superboy" is going to be the first Superman-family book that I've dropped since "Superman/Batman." Superboy is a cipher, and the tie-ins with Teen Titans and so forth have left him without anything even resembling a supporting cast. I don't feel any connection with him as a character, largely because he has no real personality, and I have pretty much zero desire to read about whether or not he's going to be a hero. He's got an S-shield on his chest (and now, his bicep), of course he's going to be a hero. The fish-out-of-water naïveté is being done much better over in Supergirl, and she's actually got a story going on. Superboy is treading water, and much as I like Tom DeFalco, I don't think he's going to improve much on that.

But I'll give the zero issue a shot. It's only fair. I mean, he wrote Spider-Girl, right?

I really ought to watch "Superman vs. The Elite" one of these days. "All-Star Superman" too, for that matter. And "Justice League: Doom." The list of movies I've not watched because I've been playing Mass Effect all summer is rapidly increasing.

That's good enough for now, right? I've got some thoughts on digital comics I should write up soon. Maybe I'll do that this week.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Phalangeal Comics

Oh man, I just read Mark Waid and Yves Bigerel's Cthulhu Calls. It was great. You should also read it.

That's all.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Spider-Man and Superhero Torture

Various folks in the comics blogosphere have been talking about a recent Spider-Man issue where the titular hero tortures Sandman for information about Doctor Octopus and the Sinister Six, by allowing Silver Sable to pour on him and threatening to destroy the single sand-grain which contains his consciousness.

I'll admit that the scene didn't even register with me when I read the issue, but I've been pretty cursory when it comes to my comic reading lately. But I agree that it's a pretty indefensible scene.

Okay, not entirely indefensible. "Ends of the Earth" isn't over yet, and there's the chance that there will be some fallout from this (though sadly, it doesn't look like a big chance). The charitable view is that Peter's been put in a position where the distrust of the global community and his own certainty that Doctor Octopus is one of the baddies, is forcing him to take desperate measures that he wouldn't otherwise take. I'm reminded of "Maximum Carnage," of all things, where Peter was almost driven to let Firestar kill Carnage. He calls her off, but it's a difficult decision, and as Peter is the Marvel Universe everyman superhero, it's not surprising that he'd make mistakes and struggle with the difficult decisions, as anyone would.

Unfortunately, I don't think this is being portrayed as Peter struggling with a difficult decision. It's Peter allowing someone to torture his enemy for information, and bluffing that he'd allow it to go further. It's especially problematic given who he's torturing. The Sandman isn't just some run-of-the-mill villain. He's a former Avenger. In fact, he used to work for Silver Sable, who's pouring the acid. Sandman's not a good guy, but he's not relentlessly evil or insane; there is literally no reason that Peter shouldn't be able to reason with him.

But he doesn't reason, he interrogates. And in a storyline that's been all about Peter Parker using his brains to outsmart and out-tech the enemy, this doesn't feel like a use of his intellect. A smart guy like Peter should know that torture doesn't produce reliable results. A smart guy like Peter should appeal to Sandman's humanity and general decency and his own intellect. A smart guy like Peter shouldn't be resorting to this base thuggery.

And yet...

And yet I have a hard time finding the major difference between Peter's actions here and the steps that Batman takes on a regular basis to extract information from criminals. Is there a difference between "acidboarding" and dangling a criminal off a rooftop or breaking a few bones to find out where the Joker's hideout is? Or for that matter, Superman jumping off a building with a criminal way back in Action Comics (vol. 1) #1? Is the main difference that Batman's character is built around inciting fear, while Spider-Man's is not?

We accept, as the central conceit of superhero stories, that there are some people in these fictional universes who we allow to have privileges and freedoms that we do not permit in the real world, specifically to act outside or above (and sometimes against) the law in order to achieve a greater good. If, say, a real-world police officer went after criminals the way that Batman does, we would censure him for excessive force, false arrest, and violation of any number of Constitutional rights. We would strip him of his badge and possibly lock him up, no matter what greater good he may have thought he was serving.

And yet, we allow Batman to do that within the context of his fictional world, and Superman, and Spider-Man, and Wonder Woman, and every other superhero. In fact, in many cases, we would consider them deficient if they didn't act above, outside, and sometimes against the law. It is a bad thing when Peter Parker tosses his tights in the trash, when Superman hangs up his cape, because we feel they are shirking their responsibilities.

In part, I suppose this is because these superheroes typically have greater abilities than mortal humans, they have more power to do good than the average people, even than the real-world authorities, and so we expect them to do a commensurate amount of good.

In part, it's because the superheroes, in the context of their universes, are necessary in ways that they are not in the real world. They are required to work for the greater good in part because there is a greater evil. The police can't stop the Joker or Brainiac, the army can't take down Dr. Doom or the Skrulls, and so we leave those extraordinary jobs to the extraordinary individuals who populate those fictional universes.

But I think we also accept this in part because we know, based on the conventions of the medium, that the heroes are right. We often have even more information than the heroes do, and given our status as well-informed outside observers, we can tell that the hero is on the right side and working toward a greater good.

And I think that presents a problem when we have larger-than-life heroes employing tactics that, in the real world, are problematic at best and morally reprehensible at worst. Based on the story, we know that they're right, they're working for the greater good, but we also accept that there are lines--sometimes wholly arbitrary ones--that heroes shouldn't cross.

The other problem is one of outside applicability, the "Jack Bauer problem." When the torture debates were raging in the political arena a few years back, one scenario that kept popping up was the typical action movie one--there's a ticking time bomb somewhere in the city, and the hero has a terrorist/henchman/whatever in custody who knows where the bomb is. He just has to extract the information somehow, and as time slips away, the honorable methods just aren't working quickly enough. The only choice is to torture the villain, so he'll give up the information.

This may be good for narrative (though I think it's awfully lazy), and it works in the context of the action flick. But it works because of factors that do not exist in reality. We know that the prisoner has the information because we saw him get the information, but the hero didn't see that (if he did, he wouldn't need to torture him, only to remember what he saw). We know that the torture will produce reliable information because otherwise they wouldn't waste screen time on it (unless the point of the scene is to show that torture produces unreliable information, but then we usually have a very different film).

In reality, we have none of those assurances. We don't have the luxury of an omniscient camera that periodically peeks in on the villain's hideout. We don't have the luxury of being assured that any methods used are reliable and useful, because otherwise they'd be edited out. We don't have the narrative certainty that the good guys are good guys and the bad guys are bad guys. And so we can't apply these fictional tactics to the real world, not if we expect to keep the fictional morality intact.

And so when Spider-Man uses real-world(ish) torture in that typical fictional scenario, we're left with the conflict between the real world and the narrative world, a conflict that primarily exists because the narrative world wants to emulate the real world. I don't know how exactly to solve this conflict, not in a way that's actually applicable in any kind of universal sense, but I think a good step would be to keep the moral paragon characters from engaging in torture. It's a thought, at least.

Monday, June 11, 2012

DC's Third Wave

So, DC has announced a spate of new titles coming this fall as the New 52 hits its one-year mark and celebrates by pretending it's 1994 again and giving every series a zero issue.

On one hand, okay, I'll admit: the Zero Hour zero issues did get me to check out a bunch of new series back in the day (Batman titles, Superboy, Justice League of America, JL: Task Force, and probably a few others), but I can't say that I actually stuck with any of them. Maybe that's not true for everyone, though.

That said, I'm not nearly as excited for these four new titles as I was for the Second Wave. Here's the list, with my thoughts:
  • Phantom Stranger: Boy would I like to be excited about this one. I like Phantom Stranger, and Dan Didio, despite his past history and editorial position, just came off OMAC, which was a great series. That said, I think giving the Phantom Stranger a definitive origin--especially one that makes him out to be Judas Iscariot--was a terrible mistake, and this comic sounds like the epitome of editorially-mandated books, existing only to lay foundations for the upcoming Trinity War nonsense. I might check out the first issue, but I doubt it at this point.
  • Sword of Sorcery: Not keen on the title, but I'll give any Amethyst comic a shot, especially with '80s cartoon writing icon Christy Marx at the helm. I really hope there's a push, either by DC or intrepid fans, to get this comic into the hands of young people.
  • Talon: On one hand, I'm really enjoying the Court of Owls storyline. Scott Snyder is rocking the house on Batman and Swamp Thing, so I'm seriously tempted to buy anything he's involved with, even if it's just co-plotting. On the other hand, I don't have any real interest at all in the adventures of a Talon super-soldier fighting back against the Court. I'll probably check out the first issue of this, but it'll have to be pretty amazing to keep me interested.
  • Team 7: You might recall that I gave every Wildstorm-relaunch title of the New 52 an honest shot. None of them remain on my pull list. I've learned my lesson, both with Wildstorm properties and teams of miltary-related metahuman-types (Firestorm, Men of War, StormWatch).
But the more interesting thing about this is that the adherence to "New 52" means that four titles are probably ending to make way for these new four. Possibly more; is the National Comics anthology series a New 52 title? Justice League International is already gone, which leaves three more on the chopping block. I originally started writing this post to speculate on those three, but since I started, the official word has come down. The ending books are:
  • Voodoo: Which I dropped like a hot iron after an abysmal first issue. Glad to see it's going away.
  • Captain Atom: Which is disappointing. Despite my trepidation with J.T. Krul, I was really enjoying Capt. Atom and its take on the semi-omnipotent superhero. But it was on the bottom of the heap, so it's not surprising to see it going away.
  • Resurrection Man: Which I'm disappointed by, but not too much. I really wanted to like this series, but it never really found its feet, and never really explored the depths of the concept. With a character like Mitch Shelley and a whole new world to explore, this book really shouldn't have languished so much in lightning powers and Mitch's past. It would have been nice for this to be a gateway into the New DCU, but instead it set up grand cosmic stakes that it never could cash in on.

So I'll likely net negative-one title. Not bad, since I've been looking to drop some books anyway, but it's kind of a shame that this world can support three Rob Liefeld titles and not a single Resurrection Man.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

eBayer Beware: Plumcircle, LLC

As you know, I've been selling some stuff on the eBay. Thing is, I've also been buying some stuff, scratching that Marvel Comics itch I've had since seeing Avengers. And I've found some great deals, between eBay and Amazon and a few other places.

But one of the best sellers I've found on eBay for low prices has been a group called Plumcircle, LLC, who also have an Amazon Marketplace store (which, as it turns out, I'd ordered from before without realizing). The first thing I ordered through their eBay store was a copy of the second Waid/Wieringo Fantastic Four volume, listed as "Very Good" condition, which on eBay translates to:
A book that does not look new and has been read but is in excellent condition. No obvious damage to the cover, with the dust jacket (if applicable) included for hard covers. No missing or damaged pages, no creases or tears, and no underlining/highlighting of text or writing in the margins. May have very minimal identifying marks on the inside cover. Very minimal wear and tear. See the seller’s listing for full details and description of any imperfections.

This is what I got:

Needless to say, I wasn't super-pleased. So I contacted the seller, described the crumpling and creasing and tearing, and asked if I could work an exchange (since they had multiple copies for sale) or, failing that, get a return. I got a response the next business day that was very apologetic, and that they'd sent out a new copy that the customer service rep personally checked out to verify its condition. I received the book, was happy, and left glowing feedback.

And proceeded to order another four books from them, one through the Amazon Marketplace. The Amazon one, Incredible Hercules: The New Prince of Power arrived without any incident, and I look forward to reading it. Yesterday, I received two of them: The Thanos Imperative and Atlas: Return of the Three-Dimensional Man. Thanos Imperative had some creasing on the cover, but it was fairly minor and easily overlooked. Atlas, on the other hand...

It's a little hard to tell from the pictures, but the crease there on the front cover runs its entire length and is throughout the book, and the second creasing higher up split the spine. I don't expect perfection from stuff I buy online, I really don't, but I do expect "like new" to mean:
A book that looks new but has been read. Cover has no visible wear, and the dust jacket (if applicable) is included for hard covers. No missing or damaged pages, no creases or tears, and no underlining/highlighting of text or writing in the margins. May have very minimal identifying marks on the inside cover. Very minimal wear and tear. See the seller’s listing for full details and description of any imperfections.

So now I was in the uncomfortable position of looking like a colossally stupid scammer trying to get free comic books from an online merchant. So I sent this message:
Two of my orders from you guys arrived today; one was great but the Atlas book had some pretty severe crumpling/creasing along the corner and cover. I hate to say this, since I had the same situation with my first order, but I can provide pictures if you want support. Is there a chance of replacement, or should I start the return process?

Thanks! I hate to be a squeaky wheel, but obviously I wouldn't keep ordering from you if I weren't pretty satisfied.
And it was the truth. I think you can really judge a business by how they handle complaints and errors and so forth, and I was very pleasantly surprised with how easily my Fantastic Four problem had been handled.

And then this is what I got back:
We have issued a full refund.

You state you are satisfied, but it must be with just the price since you have stated your dissatisfaction with the condition of our books, 2 out of 4 purchases. I'm going to guess you are a collector & might be better off buying these books in a local store so not to have to worry about bumping & bruising causes by shipping.

Thanks you for your orders.
It's true that the prices were a major consideration. It's also true that for most of these orders, the shipping has been free, so I got what I paid for in that regard, I suppose. I'm not thrilled with passing the buck onto the Post Office, though it's certainly possible that this is damage from shipping. However, it's weird that damage from shipping would tear a cover (FF) or crease the center of a cover (Thanos) without damaging the thickish plastic bubble-wrap packaging. It's also weird that I've had problems with 2/6 orders (3, I suppose, if you count Thanos, and I guess there's still the opportunity for the Black Widow trade to be damaged) from this company, but no problem with any of the other merchants I've been ordering from in the last few weeks.

It's also weird that two items shipped from the same place in the same very short span of time that arrived on the same day (rubberbanded together, no less) would arrive in such disparate conditions. But I guess that's possibly what happens when you take no care whatsoever to make the packaging for a paperback book rigid or difficult to bend, up to and including not putting a "do not bend" stamp on the outside.

But I resented the implication that somehow I was at fault for deigning to think that an item described as "like new" should be, you know, "like new." So I admit it, I turned on the snark in my reply.
Five purchases, actually; I also ordered from your Amazon Marketplace store. The price was certainly a factor, but the shipping speed, the nice packaging, and speed/care with which my previous problem was dealt with, also left me fairly satisfied. I am something of a collector, but I have a hard time believing that only a collector would be unhappy when the item they've purchased "like new" arrives anything but. Thank you for the refund; once the last book arrives, I won't bother you with my business again.

Maybe I overreacted. Maybe they under-packaged. Either way, I doubt I'll be buying from them again.

So to those of you who buy graphic novels and trades on eBay or Amazon Marketplace, Plumcircle has excellent prices and free or very cheap shipping in most cases. They also have prompt customer service who will gladly issue you a full refund if you're unsatisfied. But if you care at all about condition, realize that you're rolling the dice.

So, anyone want a couple of damaged Marvel trades?

Saturday, June 02, 2012

My big comic sale!

Okay, so I'm moving in a few weeks, and I'm trying to unload some comics before I do so, so there's at least a little less to move. I've got 42 lots up now, and some are ending in just a couple of days. here's the full list, and these are the individual items:
Also some books
So go, bid, and help me move! And many thanks to all who plan to bid or have bid already.

Friday, June 01, 2012

What I've Been Doing

Since I'm going to post later about the giant house-moving sale I'm having on teh eBays, I figured I ought to blow the dust off the blog with something a little less shameless first. So, a brief update on my geekery, in my usual bulleted list format.
  • I've been playing a lot of Mass Effect, and just finished the bit with Kaidan and Ashley. Spoilers, I guess, but whatever. As I mentioned before, it's been a bit of a shock going from Bioshock, where your character was a cipher and you only had one choice to make (consistently) throughout the game, which had only a minor apparent effect on the ending, and no appreciable effect on the plot, to ME where I'm scrutinizing every choice and really feeling like Shepard is a fleshed-out character. I pick verbal options based on what I think Shepard would say, and that's pretty cool, because a different Shepard would understandably act very differently. I might someday have to play through the game as a total bastard.

    Anyway, it's interesting how easy that particular choice was to make, because the game had gone to such great lengths to make Ashley Williams out to be a totally awful person. I never used her in missions, so maybe that's part of it, but every conversation with her showed her to be a xenophobic asshat. She sacrificed her life for the crew--and for a bunch of Salarians--, and that's commendable. But in doing so, I think she made the ship a better place, because now there's no one that I consistently want to throw out of an airlock.

    Anyway, I'm excited to see where the game (and series) goes from here.
  • The only break I've taken from ME (aside from all the work I've been doing) was to play the new Batman: Arkham City DLC, Harley Quinn's Revenge. It was fun, even if I'm way rusty with my Batman skills, and I think my only complaint is that there weren't roles for Nightwing and Catwoman. I'm going to have to check it out now that I've beaten it to finish off the balloons and see what the free-roam is like. It'd be great if it meant I could free-roam as Robin, but I haven't seen that yet.
  • I've finally had a little time to read, and while monthly comics are kind of piling up, I've been making my way through some Marvel books I otherwise missed out on. I read through the pre-"Death" run of Brubaker's Captain America, and I'm taking a little breather before I plow through the Death/Man with No Face epic (and ultimately force myself to buy the rest of the trades). I've been reading the first (enormous) volume of the Busiek/Pérez "Avengers Assemble," which is pretty fantastic, if dense as all hell. I like the old-school feel of the storytelling, with mostly one- or two-issue stories that tie into a larger arc, and characters doing little recaps at the beginning. It's something that gets lost a lot in modern comics, and it's a little shocking to see that it was in full swing just fifteen or so years ago.

    It's also a reminder that, for all the flak DC takes about rebooting its continuity, Marvel has done the same thing multiple times. The difference is that Marvel tends to be less sweeping in its reboots, wanting to have some cake and eat it too, and I think that's a part of why they have fewer really successful reboots. DC's only had four that really changed things--the Silver Age "reboot" that showed Golden Age characters as comic books and reintroduced Flash, Green Lantern, etc; the Multiple Earths reboot that set DC's Golden Age on alternate Earths, allowing them to keep the history but setting it on a different Earth; the Crisis on Infinite Earths reboot that tried to merge everything into a coherent timeline; and the New 52. People always count Zero Hour and Infinite Crisis, but the changes offered by those were, at most, cosmetic--Joe Chill didn't kill the Waynes, Jason Todd was no longer dead, etc. Each instance saw some success, but ultimately complicated things as people tried to mine the pre-reboot past for continuity and so forth. Marvel's reboots--aside from the constant sliding timescale that means the modern history of the Marvel U is always about 10-15 years old--have been more piecemeal, trying to rewrite the histories of the main Avengers or Spider-Man (twice, at least) without altering the rest of the universe. And they've all ultimately been more-or-less undone (except One More Day/Brand New Day) and led to more confusion than they solved.

    So it's been interesting to see this book clearly set in the post-Heroes Reborn Marvel Universe, dealing with the fallout from that event and integrating the characters back into the universe, is what I'm saying, I guess.
  • I've also been reading the first volume of Agents of Atlas, and I think I'll be picking up other volumes soon. It's a ton of fun, and it's interesting to see these characters who aren't very familiar to me.
That's about all I've got for now. Check back later for details on my big eBay sale and tell your friends to buy my stuff!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Comics and "The Avengers"

It's become a frequent punchline that, despite the more-than-a-billion-dollars made by "The Avengers" at the box office, the film probably won't cause many people to check out their local comic shops or buy any of the books. But while all that cynical ire (disguising a desperate hope) is directed toward the millions of non-comic-reading moviegoers, it raises in my mind what seems like an obvious question:

Has watching "The Avengers" changed your comic buying habits?

After all, if it hasn't affected the people who are already most inclined to purchase Avengers-related comics, then how could we reasonably expect the same from legions of people who don't enter a comic shop on a weekly basis?

For me, the answer is "apparently." "Avengers" ignited my interest in the characters again, so I pulled the "Red Menace" collection of Brubaker's Captain America comics off the shelf and started reading (and then went back to "Winter Soldier" when I realized I didn't quite grasp what was going on). I purchased "Death of Captain America" vol. 1 and "Avengers Assemble" vol. 1 over the weekend, popped "Korvac Saga" into my Amazon cart, and ordered a couple more Cap books. I also looked around for Hulk stories, though nothing really stuck out to me--though I am planning to get that Hulk/Punisher issue that's coming out soon.

Monthly-wise, it's not going to have any real effect (unless I really like Incredible Hulk, which is a possibility), but it definitely inspired me to pick up the rest of Brubaker's Cap run and finally get into some of the better Avengers arcs. I know I can't be the only one. So, what about you?

Wednesday, May 09, 2012


In a somewhat astounding bit of being behind the curve, I just finished "BioShock," a game which came out in 2007. I enjoyed the game a great deal, with its slowly-unraveling story and spooky atmosphere and gray-shaded morality. It's definitely a game that I can see myself revisiting, just to discover more of the story and get it all in a more concentrated dose. I was a little surprised, though, to learn at the end that the only difference made by your choices (spoilers, I guess) to rescue or harvest the Little Sisters was in the ending cutscene. I had a kind of hard time believing that, even if I'd harvested every one, Tenenbaum would have helped me along regardless. It's hardly a fatal flaw--the story is good enough that it doesn't really matter that the game is on rails, so to speak. I have the same feelings about the Portal games or the recent Batman games. Your choices don't make a whole lot of difference to the story, but the entertainment is in uncovering the story along the way.

So it's been a little bit of a shock to start playing Mass Effect (the first one), where I've heard that your decisions actually have major impacts on the rest of the story. I'm only fourteen minutes or so into the game, but I already like that the choices (dialogue so far, mostly) are more nuanced than BioShock's "kill the innocent little girl, or not?" Or even the "Jerk/Not as much of a jerk" dialogue choices in "Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2." It has me really scrutinizing the options and considering the kind of character I'm trying to play.

Needless to say, I'm excited to be jumping into this series, and I hope the summer brings oodles of time to actually play it.

Every Week I'm Shufflin'

It happened quietly, but it seems that DC's New 52 books have been shuffled around a bit--odd, given the focus on timely shipping and so forth. I didn't notice until this week, when "Batman" and "Batman & Robin" hit on the same day, but "Batgirl" and "Batwing" appear to have swapped weeks. I haven't noticed any other real changes, but I'm a little surprised that after the fiasco with Justice League's lateness a few months ago, no one seems to be mentioning this.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


So, Adult Swim's Mego-animated show "Robot Chicken" is going to be airing a DC Comics Special.

That would be "Robot Chicken," the show that basically spun out of the Mego-acted "Twisted MegoToyFare Theatre feature in the Wizard magazine that remained readable the longest.

That would be the same "Twisted ToyFare Theatre" that DC issued a cease and desist order to stop using their characters in any way, shape, or form, requiring ToyFare to replace DC characters in the strip reprints, often in ways that killed the humor and made no sense.

I like how DC growing a sense of humor is, itself, unintentionally funny.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Superman Classics: "Red Glass"

You're no doubt all familiar with Miracle Monday, the holiday celebrated universe-wide on the third Monday of May, to commemorate Superman's triumph over evil itself. There's a lesser-known Superman-related holiday, though, and one with a bit of the...opposite tone. That's right, ladies and gentlemen, April 15th shall live on in infamy as the anniversary of Superman's Day of Wrath, commemorating the day when the Man of Steel began a three-week-long crusade to eradicate his enemies from the planet.

Andy Kubert covers!"Red Glass"
Superman (vol. 2) #56, Adventures of Superman #479, Action Comics (vol. 1) #666
Cover date: June 1991
Writer: James Hudnall
Penciller: Ed Hannigan
Inker: Willie Blyberg

Synopsis: Superman returns from a trip into space, and immediately foils a mugging. But when both the muggers and the muggee are afraid that he'll kill them--and when the muggers are vaporized by a "sonic blast" coinciding with Superman yelling, it begins to look like their fears are justified. Superman follows the mugging victim, straight into the "Museum of Dead Villains," where he learns about the aforementioned Day of Wrath. The museum houses macabe reminders of Superman's departed foes--Brainiac's broken spaceship, Prankster's gadgets, what's left of Metallo's body, Mr. Mxyzptlk's crystal-encased skeleton, and a host of wax dummies on loan from Mme. Tussaud's. In his rampage, Superman apparently killed everyone from Brainiac to Maxima to Darkseid to the Joker. Even Otis's skull is on display. When Superman leaves, he's confronted by a livid, wheelchair-bound Lois Lane. He tries his X-ray vision, to make sure she's not an elaborate android, and ends up heat-vision blasting her to death. This sort of thing continues until Jimmy Olsen kills Superman with a chunk of Kryptonite.

And then things get weird.

I would be okay with a Superman-shaped aquarium.

Superman wakes up, and whaddya know, he's destroyed Metropolis.

No words.

He gets ambushed by J'onn J'onzz and Guy Gardner, who he kills, though kind of accidentally. And then the army shows up. And it's not long before Superman goes full-on Plutonian.

Love the Mumm-Ra cape there, Supes.

But surely Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol will save the day, right?

The ending of the little saga reminds me of something out of a Star Trek episode, and I won't give it away entirely. These issues aren't too hard to find, and they're worth checking out.

Thoughts: This was definitely the trippiest Superman comic I've read since the Steve Gerber/Gene Colan "Phantom Zone" miniseries (which I may post on later, since it was a recent acquisition and is great). It's not just because of scenes and captions like the ones above, or huge full-page shots of the ruined Metropolis, though those qualify. It's because of what it does to you as a reader. I compared Superman to the Plutonian of "Irredeemable" above, and there are definite similarities--how could it be avoided? Both are stories asking "what if Superman went nuts and killed everyone?"

The big difference, and I think it's what made this story so powerful for me, is in reader identification. We the readers enter the universe of "Irredeemable" after Plutonian's heel turn. Outside of flashbacks, Plutonian is never the hero to the reader; we always identify Plutonian as the villain and the ragtag bunch of rebel heroes and villains as the protagonists. So when Tony incinerates children or commits other atrocities, we're recognizing him for the horrible person he is, and hoping that the heroes can eventually stop him.

"Red Glass" is different because it's not a Superman-analogue character. It's Superman. And the story uses Superman's long history and the reader's familiarity with the character as an advantage. The reader already sees Superman as a hero, knows that he would never kill, and so forth. So we assume that something's up, something's wrong, someone is manipulating Superman with a grand mind game. It doesn't hurt that Superman thinks the same thing, and we're primed to agree with him. And so we're rooting for Superman all along, to triumph and figure out what's going on. Even after we see him flash-fry Lois Lane in her wheelchair, we're rooting for Superman. Even when he accidentally kills the Martian Manhunter, we're rooting for Superman.

And when he starts taunting his enemies, bragging about his kills? Well, that's when the dissonance really hit me. That's when I finally started to see that maybe this guy who's just murdered five Justice Leaguers wasn't necessarily the hero of the story. That's where it got uncomfortable. We see superhero vs. superhero battles so often, see them turn out to be misunderstandings or pass by without lasting consequences, that I think they lose their impact. This one really, actually impacted me, and even though it seemed like something larger was clearly going on, by the end even I was wondering if I should be on Superman's side.

So, yeah, hit your back issue boxes and give "Red Glass" a shot. It's good comics.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Superman Classics: Action Comics #582

I recently did a little back-issue binging, and with my recent post about great Superman stories fresh in my mind, I figured I'd write up a couple of thoughts. I hope to do this periodically, since I have a big ol' stack of older Superman comics taking up space on my desk, and it's not like I'm not going to read them.

Today's issue is:
Superman's lesser-known 'bring my parents back to life vision' was another casualty of the Crisis."The Strange Rebirth of Jor-El and Lara"
Action Comics (vol. 1) #582
Cover date: August 1986
Writer: Craig Boldman
Penciller: Alex Saviuk
Inker: Kurt Schaffenberger

Synopsis: Superman's having strange dreams about Krypton's destruction, which lead him to the revelation that Jor-El tried an experimental machine to store his and Lara's brainwave patterns inside young Kal-El's mind before launching him into space (shades of "Wrath of Khan" there). Superman consults the universe's greatest medical minds and develops a machine that will use his cells (which have a genetic record of his ancestors) to build new bodies to house the mind-patterns stored within his brain. And so Jor-El and Lara are re-born.

Way to throw the Kents under a bus there, Clarkie.

I'll chalk Clark's "real parents" line there up to exuberance; after all, these are people he hasn't seen since infancy, barring the occasional trip back in time. Of course [SPOILER ALERT], as it often is with these sorts of stories (Spider-Man would get the same plot a decade later), it's too good to be true. Superman has a fight with his super-parents at the Fortress of Solitude, which ends with them strapping him to his rocket with his indestructible cape, rigging the Kryptonian fuel inside to super-explode and super-kill him. Naturally, Superman escapes, and it turns out that his "parents" were actually noncorporeal entities captured and reprogrammed by a pair of gambling aliens, betting on whether or not Superman would break his code against killing (which, you'd think, would be a dangerous bet to win). Superman traps his "parents" in a noncorporeal state, and imagines that they'll soon forget their foray into corporeality.

Thoughts: I enjoyed this story as a nice done-in-one, and a look at what Superman would do if his birth parents really could be resurrected. In fact, this story would have been great except for one thing: the cop-out at the end. Under normal circumstances, sure, that genie needs to be put back into the bottle. Bringing Superman's parents back to life removes a driving source of pathos, and while it opens up new story avenues, it runs the risk of being seriously problematic (see also: Jor-El in "Superman II," "Smallville"). But this wasn't a normal circumstance. One month later, in "Action Comics" #583, was the second part of a story that began in "Superman." A story called "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" Which means this was the very last pre-Crisis Superman story in Action Comics. Why not let Superman have his semi-happy ending? Why not let Jor-El and Lara be resurrected as the coda to Superman's Silver Age adventures? Any other month, and this story's circuitous alien plot would have been not just expected, but necessary. In August of 1986, though, it just seems cruel.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Let the power...return!

So, news broke recently that DC is publishing a new He-Man comic series. As a He-Fan from way back, I'm fairly excited by this. I'd be more excited if it were someone other than James Robinson at the helm, and I really don't have an opinion on Philip Tan. That said, it could hardly be worse than some of the issues that came out from the last series at Image/CrossGen/MVC, which I say with the utmost love and respect for the creators, knowing that their hands were largely tied with corporate red tape. The premise sounds a little like a fanfic I'd started years ago (and a little like the plot to She-Ra), but it could have some promise.

It doesn't really matter too much. If there's any character besides Superman whose comics I will definitely at least try, it's He-Man. Much to the detriment of my pockets.

Top 10 Superman Stories

Eric, my one-time supplier, long-time friend, and erstwhile editor at Nerdy Nothings, posed me this question on Facebook:
With all your Superman fan-dom, do you have a top 5/10 Superman stories list, either published or in your brain? I'm trying to come up with mine now, and I'm curious what'd make your cut, since you've read a lot more
Strangely enough, it's not something I think I've blogged about before. So I thought I'd sit down and put together a top ten (because top five was too limiting). Based on the questions, here are the parameters I set for myself:
No Film: Eric said "read," so I omitted the various other-media adaptations. None of the movies, no Animated "Legacy" or "Destroyer" or "Mxyzpixelated."
No "Elseworlds": Nothing explicitly an imaginary story. Superman's fairly unique, I think, in that some of the best stories with the character tend to be the imaginary ones: Red Son, Secret Identity, Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow, etc. I wanted to focus on the relatively canonical Superman. With one arguable exception.

With that out of the way, here's my list.

Honorable Mentions
  • The Death & Return of Superman: I would love to include this in the list proper. It begins with a huge battle, showcasing Superman's strength and willingness to sacrifice anything for the safety of others. It continues by showing how Superman inspires those around him, from his would-be cousin to his fiancée to the rest of the superhero community, to four who would try to fill his shoes. It shows, perhaps even more subtly than other stories, what makes Superman who he is and why attempts to modernize him, to make him fit better with passing fads, are problematic at best. It also has some amazing art. But as a Superman story--and specifically, as a Superman story I could give to someone as an example of how great the character is, I think it largely fails. The character is present only through impact for the majority of the saga, but even before that it's mired in the continuity of the early '90s, with the extradimensional shapeshifting clone Supergirl, the clone of Lex Luthor posing as his own son but actually housing the original's brain, the inhabitants of Cadmus, and all that. The main story is a good one, but the peripheral material is all but impenetrable.
  • Action Comics (vol. 2) #1-8: I really enjoyed the story, and I should re-read it soon to get a better impression of the arc as a whole. In time, it may make its way into the list. But especially with that two-issue digression in the middle and the art shifts, I'm not sure I can pop it into the top ten yet.
  • Final Crisis/Superman Beyond: A great story, but as much a Batman story as a Superman one. And as a Superman story, it's a little hard on the brain.
  • Superman (vol. 1) #1: A great introduction to the character, and a look at what Superman was like in the Golden Age. Just not a lot of depth.
  • Hitman #34: A good, introspective Superman story, but one that's mostly just narrated.
  • "Must There Be a Superman" (Superman #247): A good, classic story that examines the continuing question of what Superman's place is in the world, and whether he does more harm than good. It's a story that's been done multiple times since (immediately following "Our Worlds At War," Roberson's "Grounded"), and I think it's a little too short and too pat to really make it into the top 10.
  • "A Hero's Journey" (Action Comics #800): This one only just barely didn't make the top ten. Mostly it's because I kind of wanted to cut down on Year One/Origin stories there. Honestly, though, this should be collected in a TPB along with "Man of Steel" and "For All Seasons" because it fills in and retells parts of those stories, interspersed with stories about how inspirational Superman really is.
  • DC One Million: One of the best crossovers of all time, and a good Superman story besides, but it's really only about Superman on the fringes.
  • Man of Steel: I would have finished this post hours ago, but I had to re-read "Man of Steel" and "Birthright" to be sure. The former is great for its brightness and vibrance, for how it touches on so many different important parts of Superman's history to update them for a modern age, but it dwells more on how Superman's powers work than who he is, and spends so much time reintroducing characters and elements from the past that it doesn't always work as a coherent story. Plus, Magpie?
The Top 10
  1. Emperor Joker: There are a lot of stories that probe what Superman does when stripped of the abilities and status that make him who he is. There are a lot of stories that examine the friendship between Superman and Batman, and what makes it work. There aren't a lot of stories that do it in a way that's as entertaining and heartfelt as this one tends to be. To be honest, though, this #10 spot could go to a lot of stories, and would probably be the one most likely to change depending on my mood.
  2. The Challenge of Luthor (Superman vol. 1 #4): The first appearance of Lex Luthor, where the arch-villain challenges Superman's brawn against his own brains. It's a great showcase of the conflict that has raged ever since, and reading it now makes it clear that it inspired quite a lot of the first Superman/Luthor confrontation in the more recent Action Comics (vol. 2) #2.
  3. Camelot Falls: It's "Must There Be a Superman" writ large, Superman faces the accusation that he is actively harming human progress, and also fights Cthulhu. It doesn't hurt that the art is amazing.
  4. Up, Up, and Away!: The Busiek/Johns story arc from the "One Year Later" event is about as good an introduction to Superman as anyone is likely to get. It's a whirlwind tour through the Man of Steel's friends and foes, along with a great deal of heart and understanding what makes Superman tick.
  5. Miracle Monday: Superman vs. the Devil. While I thought the end was a bit anticlimactic, this story gives insight into Superman's mind and morals better than most, and also shows just what kinds of amazing things both Superman and Lex Luthor should be capable of. I wish more Superman stories would showcase both their intellects as well as this one did.
  6. Superman For All Seasons: I don't think it's hyperbole to call this Jeph Loeb's best work, at least of what I've read. This is Superman at his most earnest, and it makes for a calm, sincere portrayal that ought to be to Superman what "Year One" is to Batman.
  7. For the Man Who Has Everything: A story of what sets Superman apart, even next to the rest of DC's trinity, and what the Man of Steel can do when pushed to his breaking point. One of the true classics.
  8. What's So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way? (Action Comics (vol. 1) #775): People say this one's overrated, but I have a hard time thinking of any other stories in the modern age that better showcase who Superman is, what he can do, and what he never would do, better and more succinctly than this one. Plus, Doug Mahnke is a hell of an artist.
  9. Superman: Birthright: I had been saving this one until I reached it in the "Superman Sunday Origins" series, but that's been on hiatus for awhile (even though I totes have the next post and a half already done). So I finally went back and re-read this series, having grown quite a bit as a person and a Superman fan since 2003, and having shed a lot of the attachment to continuity that impeded my ability to enjoy this series when it came out. And it is great. I don't know that I've ever been so wrong in my opinion of a comic book as I have with this one. What this has over "Man of Steel" is not just a consistent story thread, but a whole lot more characterization and emotion. Everyone here has a complex motivation and a consistent, sympathetic characterization, and it's all wrapped up in an action-packed story about hope and legacy and doing good.
  10. All-Star Superman: I kind of hate All-Star Superman. Not because it's a bad story, but because there's not a whole lot of places to go when you're done with it. Almost anything else is a step down in terms of story and art quality. I don't know that there's ever been a better Superman story, but it gives me hope that there still might be.

A side-note: I'm still reading. There are nearly seventy-five years worth of Superman stories for me to catch up on, and I know there are still classics ("The Luthor Nobody Knew" comes to mind) that I don't remember well enough to include. There's also a shocking and tragic lack of Curt Swan on that list. If you asked me again in a year to come up with another Top 10, I suspect at least a few things would be very different. But this little exercise has inspired me to do a little more revisiting of some stories, and visiting-the-first-time of others, which may filter its way down to additional posting. Hooray!

Friday, April 06, 2012

The Future of Comics

I'm not a big adopter of digital comics. I don't own any type of tablet computer or e-reader, and since the only real reason I'd get one is to read digital comics, I really can't justify the expenditure. But I do have a ComiXology account, and I have the app on my iPhone, so I read some comics that way. Other people with more insight than me have talked about the hurdles that digital comics need to overcome--the current pricing model, for one, and the lack (at least with ComiXology) of having an actual downloadable file vs. having everything stored in the cloud, as well as other things.

But I recently read Mark Waid and Stuart Immonen's "Avengers vs. X-Men: Infinite" #1, and I really enjoyed it, particularly how it played with the medium. Using the digital platform to vary how the reader is able to encounter the page is a good move, and one I hope takes off as digital comics become their own thing.

I think that's a big part of it, too: realizing that digital comics are not just paper on a screen. This week also saw the XKCD webcomic's "Umwelt," an April Fool's Day installment that changed its content depending on a reader's browser, location, referrer, and other variables. That was the kind of amazing, interesting use of the digital comics medium that I hope we see more of as artists learn its strengths and limitations.

And that's my big hope for digital comics in general: that it gets the comic-making community thinking more about the medium of comics in general. What are the things that make comic books unique? What kinds of stories can we tell in comics and not elsewhere? What assumptions are we making about comic-construction that are simply practical limitations imposed by old-school printing methods? These are the kinds of questions that need to be addressed for comics and digital comics to further evolve as distinct media.

It's nice to see that some creators are asking those questions and pushing those boundaries, even at the Big Two. Or one of the Big Two, anyway.