Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...
It's an AICN Comics overload today, with all sorts of excellent review to read in addition to Alexandra DuPont's sensation BONE interview. Dig in! There's more than you can handle!!
Cormorant here! Comics are exciting and you should read them! Here's what we've got this time around…
We open with Ambush Bug telling us that SUPERMAN: BIRTHRIGHT is dangerously close to being a good Superman story for non-fans of the Big Blue Boy Scout. Then out comes Lizzybeth with her review of the Norwegian murder mystery, THE IRON WAGON, and she's all like, "If you read only one comic this summer, this should be the one, sucka!" Later she reviews AGE OF BRONZE, a sex-and-violence-packed tale of the Trojan War that will make you wonder what kind of stick was up your history professor's ass to make it seem so boring. Next up, Village Idiot has the gall to suggest that Ed Brubaker's run on DETECTIVE might curb stomp Lee and Loeb's populist BATMAN run. Vroom Socko finds himself uneasy about Marvel's "Aunt May was a ho-bag" miniseries, TROUBLE. Jon Quixote offers up a furshlugginer translation of a German's look at ENEMY ACE: WAR IN HEAVEN. And rounding things out, badboys Ambush Bug and The Comedian double-team on FORMERLY KNOWN AS THE JUSTICE LEAGUE, one of the few 80's nostalgia projects worthy of your hard-earned money. Bug's "Casting Call" for the project may be his most epic ever, and all old-school JLI fans better recognize.
SUPERMAN: BIRTHRIGHT #1
Writer: Mark Waid
Pencils: Leinil Francis Yu
Inks: Gerry Alanguilan
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Ambush Bug
SUPERMAN: BIRTHRIGHT #1 begins with an extended prologue featuring a retelling of baby Superman’s first flight from Krypton to Earth. This sequence is as epic and dramatic as any summer blockbuster. It’s an extremely powerful scene where Superman’s parents debate whether they should send their child into space to be the sole survivor of Krypton or have him perish with the rest of their race. Beautifully rendered and patiently paced, these opening scenes are things I would love to see in a Superman film. Krypton is an expansive city-planet, not unlike Metropolis, which brings up an interesting question. Is it a coincidence that Clark Kent is drawn to Metropolis when he becomes a man? I think not, given the skyscraping cityscape of Krypton that we are shown in this opening sequence. The attention to detail and high technology is top notch, but I’ll get to the art later in the review.
I dive straight into my critique with this attention to the prologue because it was my favorite part of the book. Mark Waid does an extremely effective job of re-telling one of the most retold origin stories in comics and makes it all seem fresh and new. The big budget feel and interaction between Superman’s parents are nice additions to the story, providing new depth and emotion without taking away from established continuity. It has been said that this book is Waid’s attempt to “Ultimize” the Superman mythos, an attempt to make Superman hip for the new comic book reading generation who seem to love those Ultimate books over at Marvel. I can see where some may think this to be true, but Waid sticks pretty close to the origin, veering away with details only a long time fan would notice. Then again I am not much of a Superman-fan. My knowledge of the hero and his origins is mostly based on a few comics I read when I was very young, the WB cartoon, and of course, Christopher Reeve’s films, so forgive me if I don’t know specifically what was changed and what remained intact in Waid’s version.
What is important was that this opening sequence actually made me care about the Superman character. It made me wonder why I had avoided reading mostly anything that involves Superman. Ideally, I love what Superman stands for. He’s a great character for others to play off of. Maybe that’s why I loved reading DC COMICS PRESENTS where Superman would team up with another hero of the DCU from month to month. Or why I enjoy his presence in the JLA’s monthly adventures. I think it’s interesting to see a perfect hero play off of less than perfect heroes or heroes with less idyllic personalities. But for the first time in a long while, I wasn’t bored when I saw the Superman insignia by itself and I think that is an important thing to consider if you’re deciding to buy this book. I’m a non-fan and I liked this part of the book. If you’re a fan of the Big Blue One, you probably have picked this up already. But to those people out there who wonder what all the hubbub is all about when it comes to Superman fandom, this might be the book to clue you in.
But enough about this grand opening sequence. What about the rest of the book?
Well, that’s where things start to get tricky. After the opening, we flash forward 25 years. Clark has grown up and is now traveling abroad, experiencing the world outside of Smallville and doing what every lad in his mid-twenties tries to do: he’s seeking to find out what kind of man he wants to be. Clark is faster than a speeding bullet. He can use his heat vision. He flies. He’s got all of the powers of Superman. He just doesn’t have the name and costume yet.
This section of the book is decently written. There’s a great discourse about masks and Clark’s feelings about wearing one. It offers a little insight into why Superman doesn’t wear a mask later on down the line. I really like little snippets of detail like that. Waid peppers them in here and there without making it seem like filler, although one might attest that the glasses Clark Kent wears is a form of a mask, since Clark Kent might be considered as the “made up” persona hiding the “real face” of Superman. But I digress.
I didn’t dislike the writing in this section of the book, but I must say that it didn’t sit well with me that Clark doesn’t go directly from Smallville to Metropolis. To me, Waid’s choice to have Clark “walk the earth” to find himself before he settles down in Metropolis goes against something I believe to be a core aspect of the Superman character. I always saw Clark as the wide-eyed farm boy, experiencing the world for the first time in Metropolis after living a quiet life in the farmlands of Kansas. I always thought it was in the big city when Clark actually had the opportunity to use and perfect his powers. Forget all of the exploits as seen on the SMALLVILLE TV show. The worst thing Clark had to face in Hicksville was tornadoes and bad crops. That’s the way I always saw it. It made sense that someone with amazing powers would move away to a place where he was needed more. If Smallville was the hotbed of horror and crime as it is depicted in the TV show, I can’t see why Clark could or would ever choose to leave. He was a super boy in Smallville and became a Superman in Metropolis. Life got complicated once Clark left the farm for the big city.
But now, thanks to Waid, all that has changed. Now Clark will waltz into Metropolis with a little experience. He’ll be a bit more wise as to what goes on in the real world and how bad it can actually be. I think this takes away from some of the impact of Clark’s decision to live in the big city later in life and his first experiences while getting accustomed to such a different environment. Metropolis is where I want to see Clark come of age as Superman, not in some African country in the middle of civil unrest. Waid may (and probably does) have a master plan behind this addition to the Superman mythos, but this is the part of the book that started to slide into “standard Superman fare” for me—the kind of stuff that makes me zone out and become disinterested. The dialog was crisp and interesting and the action was okay, but that “oomph” from the opening sequence quickly died for me after the 25 year flash forward and got me thinking about the above rant concerning the transition from Smallville to Metropolis instead of what was going on in the book.
Art-wise, this book cannot be topped. The previously mentioned Krypton scenes are awe inspiring. The people behind the production of the new Superman film NEED to consult Leinil Francis Yu as a production designer. The buildings are monumental. The people are statuesque, but filled with emotion. Yu’s attention to facial _expression with so few lines is something that should be noted. The opening credits panels as the ship flies from Krypton to Earth is original and epic in scope. The splash page depicting the key moments in Clark’s time in Smallville is poster worthy. Aside from the cover, we haven’t seen Superman in costume yet, but based on the art in the rest of the book, Yu may be THE man to go to when you want to see Superman drawn correctly. This is truly one of the best looking books I’ve read in quite a long time.
This was a good, although uneven, read. The seventeen page prologue made the book for me while the latter half kept this from being a completely positive review. It started out (literally) with a bang, but the rest of the book had me questioning the writer’s motivations more than caring about the plot. I’ll buy the next issue though, just to see if it can surpass the quality of the first few pages. Check it out. For the most part, it held the interest of this non-Superman fan, which is something I can’t say about the rest of Superman’s monthly titles.
THE IRON WAGON
Reviewed by: Lizzybeth
It was suggested in last week’s Talkback that a comic book review should not be any longer than the text of the book under scrutiny. In the case of Jason, this would be the first time such a review could be longer than these two sentences. Minimalist in both art and dialogue, the Norwegian known only as Jason can portray a story of devastating impact in a few simple, wordless images. The majority of his work, and all of it that has been translated into English previous to this, has demonstrated an extreme economy of storytelling. No narration, few words, bare minimum dialogue, and a swiftly-paced, deeply felt tone. HEY WAIT is a heartbreaking volume about childhood friendship and the lingering effects of tragedy, and SHHHHHH! is a wordless graphic novel depicting a string of alternate turns one character’s life can take. Both projects have used anthropomorphic (read: animal) characters to personalize universal situations. As many cartoonists have discovered, characterizing your protagonists as animals rather than extensively developing specific quirks or personal histories can in a strange way make them easier to identify with. The plot, in both volumes, is hard to pin down since much of it can be symbolic – which actions actually happened, and which scenes are dreams or thoughts or emotions? And how much does it matter which is which?
THE IRON WAGON, on the other hand, has real, plot-driven dialogue, and it falls into a much more familiar format of storytelling: the mystery yarn. It’s a detective story, a murder mystery, but not exactly typical: the story is adapted from the century-old novel by Norwegian Stein Riverton. Obscure even by Norwegian standards, the novel predated Agatha Christie’s wilder plot twists by decades, and as Jason would have you believe, carried them off with equal aplomb. Since the novel itself was never translated, it’s hard to tell where the storytelling skills of Jason end and those of Mr. Riverton begin. But if the full novel has anything of the subtle unease and skillful misdirection of this comic, it must have been a lost classic. It’s possible, though, that Jason’s minimalism makes some of Riverton’s hat tricks more palatable, underplaying those details that would leave me with some sense of a cheat.
The story is set in 1909, where a huntsman is murdered on a country estate – the first in a string of violent confrontations that may or may not have to do with the legendary “Iron Wagon” that is heard in the woods whenever someone is about to die. Detective Asbjorn Krag (helpfully explained in the editor’s notes to be pronounced to rhyme with “pass turn now”) takes over the case, but is maddeningly unpredictable in his investigation, much to the discomfort of our protagonist (a friend of the deceased). On top of all this, characters who seemed to be dead are appearing to the living, though what they want is unclear. The answer to what exactly is going on is not nearly as clever as the way it is revealed – but that’s something you’ll have to debate in the Talkbacks, as I won’t be spoiling it here.
I wouldn’t want to see Jason turn entirely away from his personal, silent dramas, but the change of pace is welcome, and suits him. The book even gets wordy at times, a little exposition being necessary to any detective story, but it is never more than necessary, and the most powerful moments once again are entirely wordless. The secondary red coloring brings an unsettling, occasionally chilling effect, particularly in the nighttime scenes with skies the very color of blood. The connecting thread between these projects seems to be the specter of death – not in the special issue A Hero Falls!! manner where the most expendable character gets the hook and shows up two years later in a more appealing costume - but death as a force, almost as a character in itself. The iconic, skeletal death’s head image shows up here again to plague a character perhaps wracked by guilt, perhaps haunted by the possibility that it will come, one day, for him too. Each of Jason’s works is deeply affecting in its own way; THE IRON WAGON is troubling in the manner of Edgar Allen Poe, demonstrating that there is no real way to cheat death.
If you were only going to buy one single comic this summer, I would say: make this the one.
TROUBLE #1 (of 5)
Mark Millar: Writer
Terry and Rachel Dodson: Artists
Marvel Comics: Publisher
Vroom Socko: Troubled
Sixty years from now, a thirteen year old boy is going to be visiting a friend's home, when this friend says he has something he wants the boy to see. They'll sneak into the friend's elder brother's room, where the friend will pull out a mini-HD/DVD from behind the headboard. They'll go into the friend's room, turn on the 2D holograph monitor, and put in the disc, labeled "Girl's Gone Wild!"
The boy will be entranced; oh my god, TITS! One girl in particular draws his attention, a lusty vixen who not only takes off her top, but strips down to a g-string, shakes her ass, and then starts getting REALLY wild. The boy and his friend will rewind this section a good three or four times, entranced by this girl's "magic swirling ass."
The instant this boy realizes the girl he's watching is his grandmother, he'll know just what it feels like to be a lifelong Spider-Man fan who's read Trouble #1.
SAME DIFFERENCE (AND OTHER STORIES)
Derek Kirk Kim
Reviewed by: Lizzybeth
I wonder if it’s a breach of etiquette to repeat another writer’s pull-quote in your review? Well, this is just too interesting to pass on:
"Rocketing out of obscurity in 2001. A powerful storyteller in 2002. No American cartoonist has more promise in 2003 than Derek Kirk Kim."
First of all: whoa. That’s some high praise there, especially from the comic industry’s envoy to the literary world (via UNDERSTANDING COMICS, an essential part of your collection I hope). I’d be a little surprised by this praise for such a low-key project as this, if I didn’t already know where the interests of these two artists converge. Scott McCloud became very enthusiastic about the internet as a future distributor of comics back when most folks were still trying to figure out how to work their e-mail, and has been one of the preeminent supporters of online comics projects (including web versions of his own ZOT comic and other projects at his homepage). Derek Kim is publishing some of the most consistently high quality online comics content around, with attractive site designs, steady updates, and polished artwork. His site, Small Stories, has serialized his short stories for the last few years, including most of the stories included in this first print collection. Online, his comics stand out against the still-developing and often erratic field of self-publishers.
In print, however, the competition is a little more stiff, and indie quarter-life crisis comics a dime a dozen. Probably literally, at your local comics convention. And while I may relate fairly well to self-obsessed twenty-somethings (*ahem*), your average comics reader may not be automatically thrilled at the thought. My recommendation is perhaps a little duller than McCloud’s, because I’m firmly placing SAME DIFFERENCE at the Semi-Autobiographical Aimless Young Adult Short Story table – at the good end, approaching Adrian Tomine and Jessica Abel. These are the comics that may appeal more narrowly to that certain crowd of young adults, but I’m sure that group will love this comic.
What Kim offers that puts him above the pack is a combination of unique perspective and refreshing honesty: his Korean-Californian-American background, unusual to this tradition of comics, and a willingness to examine himself and his peer group, not just to come out on top in the misery competition, but to genuinely observe, reflect, and question. The title story in this collection, “Same Difference”, was serialized on Kim’s website over a period of many months, adding as little as a single panel daily. It’s a slightly different experience to read it in collected form, and maybe a little less satisfying. Reading the story all at once, I’m sure many will wonder how people managed the patience to read so slowly, and stick with it so long. The installment format, however, really gives you an appreciation for the details of each panel, and gives you a chance to think about what’s happening. It’s not that the story is particularly complicated, but you really come to identify with the characters given some time for each development to sink in. Here, reading straight through makes a few plot details more superficial, and makes you spend less time with the characters, which is too bad. Nancy and Simon, the two main characters, have a really believable friendship, and their repartee is fun to read. Here’s one conversation from the book:
Simon: “just what the heck is ‘Oriental Flavor’? Is there one specific flavor that encapsulates the entire Oriental sector of the world?”
Nancy: “It’s very simple, Simon. Here you got Chicken Flavor and here you got Beef. Deductive reasoning would indicate that they grind up “Orientals” into that one.
Simon: “Ah. But that still doesn’t answer my question – what does “Oriental Flavor” taste like?”
Nancy: (bites his arm) “Let’s find out! Gah, very greasy with a hint of pork rinds apparently.”
I like these characters; I enjoy the time with them and I feel like I know them by the time the story’s done. And their situation is all too familiar. They’re mired in those years between the end of school and the beginning of something else, trying to decide whether to fix the past or to forget about it. By the end of the story, both of them are forced to admit things about themselves that no one really wants to think about. Maybe they’re not so nice after all. Maybe they have been stagnating, while other people have moved on. Maybe they’re the ones who are clueless, not everyone else.
There are a number of short pieces included in this collection as well, two of which are nearly as effective: “Hurdles”, a two-pager with a sucker punch, and “Pulling”, where a guy copes simultaneously with the relationship and the yardwork that’s gotten away from him. Kim shows a nice range of artistic styles in this book, with varying levels of detail and originality. Several pieces are laugh-out-loud funny, especially the self-deprecating autobiographical bits. I’ve enjoyed reading his website for some time, and I hope to see more material from him, both print and web-based, in the future. Potential he’s got - we’ll just have to see what he does with it.
Same Difference can be ordered directly from Small Stories, or ask your retailer to order you a copy.
DETECTIVE COMICS #784
Ed Brubaker – Writer
Patrick Zircher – Penciller
Aaron Cowd – Inker
Jason Wright – Colorist
Published by DC Comics
Reviewed by Village Idiot
Back during the days of the proposed Andrew Kevin Walker-scripted, Wolfgang Peterson-directed, Jude Law and Colin Farrell-starring SUPERMAN VS. BATMAN movie - AKA “The Dodged Bullet” (how I like to think of it, anyway) - the inevitable comparison that has plagued Batman throughout his history in the wider DCU came up, yet again: “Superman versus Batman? How exactly is that a contest?.” Batman is a very effective hero, but there’s just no escaping the fact that at the end of the day, he’s a regular, non-powered human being. On a very sound ostensible basis, he’s really no match for the powered DC “meta-humans” like Superman, Wonder Woman, and basically the rest of superhero pantheon; a pantheon with which he’s nevertheless expected to hold his own and pull his own superhero weight.
I’ve noticed two strategies to deal with this dilemma. The first is to simply ignore the rest of the DCU, and keep the battles local. Most of Batman’s classic rogues gallery (Joker, Penguin, Two-Face, Riddler, even Bane) aren’t really meta-human. They’re essentially just human beings, either really crazy, really evil, or both. The scale of this kind of villain is safely proportional. These kinds of stories usually appear when Batman is in what could be called “Detective Mode,” when he draws on more of his low-key detective skills.
The other strategy is to bring in the rest of the DCU and give Batman the de facto superpower of biggest smarty-pants in the world. Well, okay, that’s overstating, but the key is to give Batman enough cunning, smarts, and skill to play with the big boys. Sometimes it stretches, but it generally works. Ironically, Batman’s intelligence in these stories is almost a little too facile, and often takes a seat to the more action-oriented elements. I’ve noticed that these types of stories naturally tend to occur in the JLA stories, thus this Batman is could be said to be in “JLA Mode.” Generally speaking, in the BATMAN title, Batman seems to be more in JLA Mode.
I bring all this up because in DETECTIVE COMICS #784, the story has the meta-human presence you’d expect in a JLA mode story, but it’s played distinctively in a Detective Mode tone. And I liked it. Brubaker and Zircher created an interesting, nicely-drawn tale that’s leading me to believe that while BATMAN may be giving off the smoke, DETECTIVE COMICS is where the fire is.
In DC #784, the guest meta-human is Sentinel, the original 1940’s Green Lantern; a character about as powerful as you can get these days in the DCU. His appearance wasn’t an intrusion; it was a presence that felt very organic, and very much part of this world. Perhaps this came from the fact the Sentinel’s history in Gotham was presented with little self-consciousness. Gordon, the most human character in the book, and perhaps our reality anchor, so fully took him for granted, I did too. Also, Sentinel/Alan Scott is himself presented as quite human, and at times, quite vulnerable.
Or perhaps the plot kept me distracted. A gruesome body with some particularly disturbing markings shows up in Gotham Park, markings that turn out to have a connection with Scott. As I said, Batman is in Detective Mode on this one, tracing down the leads brought by the evidence. I already have some hunches as to what’s going on in the story, but there’s enough Thomas Harris-like mystery to the situation to keep me curious as to where the story is headed. Also, I’m anxious to see how Batman and Sentinel interact. (Although both present throughout the issue, their paths only cross at the end of the story.) Moreover, the issue makes a suitable jumping-on point, not only because it’s the beginning of a new arc, but because the story seemed like pure Batman, with very little baggage brought to the table.
One of the main selling points of BATMAN is Jim Lee’s art, and there’s no denying it’s some pretty snazzy stuff. On the other hand, and forgive if this sounds grossly unsophisticated, but I thought Zilcher and Cowd’s work packed as much punch. Really. There was a nice realism to the presentation, and the story seemed to move economically, but not hurriedly. Jason Wright’s colors were pretty effective too, whether bringing out the peach ambiance of Gotham in the morning twilight, the reds of a demented dark room bulb-lit room, or the greens in Sentinel’s majestic appearance. The issue looked great.
After I reviewed BATMAN #616 last week, one of the recurring comments in the Talkback forum was that as good (or bad) as Loeb and Lee’s BATMAN may be, the best and most undeservedly unsung writing going on with Batman right now is in DETECTIVE COMICS. I investigated, and guess what? I think they’re definitely on to something. I enjoyed DETECTIVE COMICS #784 a lot, at least as much as I’ve enjoyed most of Loeb and Lee’s BATMAN outings. Granted, this was only my first issue, so it’s a little early to be breaking out the champagne just yet. Nevertheless, it was a well-drawn, well-plotted mystery, that in one issue has me sucked in pretty good. I’m looking forward to next month.
Oh yeah, Josie Mac Back-up: a nice jumping-on point for that story too.
ENEMY ACE: VAR IN HEAVEN TPB
Herr Ennis – Vordzmit
Herr Westen, Alamy, Heath – PensilSkratchens
DC – Publichtenscher
A Baron Von Quixote Judmenkation
So, you don’t vant to read ze ENEMY ACE comikbooken, ja?
We have vays of makink you read ze comikbooken.
First, we explain zat ENEMY ACE is about ze Great Deutschland Aereopilot Hans Von Hammer, ze Hammer of Hell. In ze First Var of ze Bullies against Deutschland, Von Hammer ruled ze clouds vith ze Iron Mitten of a Kaiser over his royal spankenfrauleines. Ze evil Allies vould be flyink over Germany, droppink zeir bombs on our worshipvenchurches and chocolaterians, and zen Von Hammer vould take the air, so ze Bullies vould tuck tails betveen legs und run home.
Ze Legend of Von Hammer vas so powerful he vas not to be restrikted even by ze powerful Propaganda of ze Amerikan Government. In ze 1960’s, comikbookens started documentink his exploits. Amerikan kinders vould see Von Hammer vinnink battle after battle, and zen say “Ven I grow up, I vant to be German!” vich made your governments panic. “Oh No! Our kinders vant to be German! Already zey all drive the Volkswagon! Vhat to do?” They make the Hogan Heroes on the television and zen all the kinders see zat dirty lie instead.
But now ze ENEMY ACE is back in the comikbooken and if it is stronk enough to overcome ze Amerikaner Propaganda, you must be impressed, ja? Von Hammer has returned, and he is fighting now Commies und Nazis! You should be readink ENEMY ACE to continue ze impressiveness.
Sekondly, we tell you ze wordinks are typeted by Garth Ennis, a great Vestern typeter. And then you think “vhy vould ze Vestern typeter vant to storytell ze story about ze glory of ze Paterland?” But is ze draw of Germany to be denied? Nein! Zis Ennis, he is smarter, he knows more than ze bleating swinehunts of ze Anglo vorld.
We Deutsch, we are not ze monsters your Bands of Brothers or your Indyvana JÃ¶nes pretend we are. We are zimple volk; all we ever vanted vas to sit in our lederhosen, read some Goethe, and be served weinerschnitzel by French slavenses. Ennis, he is understandink zhat. He shows ze Hammer of Hell to be noble man, who fights vith honor and courage because he is good Deutschland soldier, not Nazi swine. We Germans, even in ze Sekond Var of ze Bullies against der Paterland, vere not all Nazis. I vasn’t a Nazi. Mein mother und father vere not Nazis either. Ve had a neighborman who was a Nazi, but ven summer barbequeink time come around, ve all took turns spitting in his frankenfurter. Das is gÃ¼t, ja?
Ennis he shows zat during ze war, zere vas good people on both sides, und zere vas bad things done on both ze sides. Und vhile ze Nazis vere very very bad for vhat zey did to ze Judens, ve said ve are sorry. Now we show ze world we are a peaceful, kindly country, wit no more killinks, and we are friendeschiens vit ze Amerikaners again. In ze spirit of friendenliness, you should be buying ze ENEMY ACE.
Zirdly, if you do not buy ze ENEMY ACE, we vill invade Poland. You don’t vant us to invade ze Poland. We don’t vant to either, but we vill if we haf to. Our Chancellor, he has been craving the Kielbasa anyvay.
So buy the comikbooken! Schnell!!!
AGE OF BRONZE #17
Reviewed by: Lizzybeth
AGE OF BRONZE is one of those titles that I’ve eyed from a distance but not really delved into, mostly because I tend to have low expectations for adventure comics, especially historical adventures. I don’t know much about Eric Shanower, the writer/artist behind this project, and looking in from the outside I wondered if a project this complicated would actually be any fun to read. Shanower is attempting to unite the existing versions of the Trojan War myths into one narrative, setting it as realistically as possible in the Bronze Age by visually modeling his comics according to the archaeological record (the style of the ships, clothing, facial structures, etc.) and by focusing on the human participants rather than cutting away from them for the antics of the Greek gods. It’s a pretty ambitious project, tying in everything from the works of Homer on through the plays of the great Greek dramatists, up to relatively modern writers such as Jean Racine and William Shakespeare. To my delight, not only does the comic successfully accomplish its goal of drawing together disparate (and sometimes contradictory) sources to tell one focused story, it is also involving and exciting.
Well, I know it’s exciting if you already have some background in Greek history, myth and literature, which happens to be another of my geeky areas. Picture how a superhero fan reacts to the idea of the next Marvel movie having the Hulk, Spider-Man and Daredevil teaming up against the Kingpin - that’s me looking through these comics and going: “That’s Oedipus’ grandson! This includes Herakles and his original sack of Troy! More references to the Orestia! Cool!” So I get a kick out of seeing what Shanower does with the source material. Since there are so *many* stories about the Trojan War, and so many interpretations of these stories already, it’s interesting to see how he makes them all work side-by-side. There’s so much to tell that even now, six years and seventeen issues in, the characters haven’t gotten to Troy yet.
Because Shanower refuses to censor the material, there are plenty of aspects to these stories that you didn’t cover in your high school chapters of The Odyssey, and if you aren’t well versed in ancient myths, you may be surprised to find how racy their stories really were. There’s a good amount of sex (tastefully depicted here), fairly gruesome violence (most of which is still to come) and some fairly shocking traditional beliefs such as, for an example most pertinent to the current storyline, human sacrifice.
The current story arc, “Sacrifice,” has the Greek troops gathering at Aulis to sail for Troy. Agamemnon, General of the Greek fleet and one of the most interesting figures in the tales of the Trojan war, has angered the goddess of the wind. According to his trusted prophet, to pacify the goddess and secure the victory of the troops at Troy, Agamemnon must sacrifice his only daughter, Iphigenia, something he is extremely loathe to do. Still, he summons the girl to join the fleet under the excuse that she is to marry the great soldier Achilles. Unfortunately, nobody told Achilles about this, which is going to lead to some confusion. Like the tale of Abraham and Isaac, the father is finally persuaded to perform the sacrifice for the greater good, with a number of traditional outcomes to the tale. In some versions, Iphigenia is sacrificed, pleasing the gods but enraging her mother Clytemnestra (to dire consequences once the war is over). In other versions, Iphigenia willingly undergoes the sacrifice to save the fleet; in still others, a goddess steps in to removes her from harm, swapping her for a stag in the completion of the ritual. This is just one example of the complications involved in compiling the many tales of the Trojan War into one narrative. I’ll be interested to see how he handles this particular juncture. So far, I have been impressed with Shanower’s ability to create something that's both old and new, the sum of its sources and something other, as well. What we’ll have when this is finished will be entirely unique, and something I think that the industry can be proud of.
AGE OF BRONZE does its best to accommodate newcomers to the story, including a story summary and a guide to the characters in each issue. While #17 could be a disorienting first issue even for readers who remember their mythological figures, being part 8 of a long storyline, I suggest you have a look at the artwork depicting the agony of Agamemnon. Many of the images are very traditionally drawn, sort of a Prince Valiant Goes Classical look when the images include many characters, but Shanower does astonishing close-ups, with facial features and expressions that just leap off the page. Never is this stronger than when Agamemnon is wrestling with his duty to his army and to his family. The masterful pencils really bring these ancient characters to life, justifying the effort of condensing so much prose text into the comic page.
The first AGE OF BRONZE collection, A THOUSAND SHIPS, is still available from Image comics.
FORMERLY KNOWN AS THE JUSTICE LEAGUE #1 (of 6)
Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis
Illustrated by Kevin Maguire
Review by The Comedian
On a hot summer’s day back in 1987, an impressionable 11 year old walked into a 7-11 for a Slurpie and a pouch of Big League Chew (remember that shit, the bubble gum that was packaged like chewing tobacco?). Next to the checkout, a crazed, red-headed, lunatic in an ugly green costume, eyes blazing full of hatred, stared angrily at the boy from behind a plastic wrapper on a revolving comics rack. He tried to ignore the stares of the thuggish Irishman (he had to be Irish, the kid thought, with the red hair and the green outfit), but the kid couldn’t look away. Shazam and some green guy with a big forehead were the only ones keeping this freakish crack-head Leprechaun from jumping from the page and doing God knows what. “Batman Vs. Guy Gardner: SHOWDOWN!!”. “JUSTICE LEAGUE”. “You mean the Superfriends?” the kid thought to himself. “Who the fuck is this Guy Gardner? I wanna see Batman kick his ass.” The kid thought as he picked the book from the rack. And thus a four-color habit that has lasted some 16 years began.
My cousin Alan gave me his comic collection in 1985 after he’d decided to join the Marines. He was a hardcore Marvel junky, through and through: X-Men, The New Mutants, Starbrand, The Fantastic Four, Web of Spiderman, The Silver Surfer. He was trying to pass his habit onto me but it didn’t really take. I was only 9 and trying to follow all these characters I’d never heard of confused the hell out of me. The following summer my mom threw out Alan’s collection while I was away at camp. I wasn’t even all that mad about it.
Justice League was the first book I cared about. It was the one that hooked me into this stupid hobby in the first place. The characters were not just “funny”. They were fully realized. They acted like normal people and did awful, incredibly stupid things to each other, still managing to save the world on more than one occasion. In my pre-adolescent mind I thought this was what superheroes would be like if they actually existed. For all the comedy there was just as much deep human drama involved. Even an icon like Batman wasn’t let off the hook and allowed to simple fall into the grim and gritty cookie cutter Miller-mold every other writer was doing with him. This was a book that pushed a whole different kind of “realism” in superhero comics, one without all the doom and gloom. You can see Justice League’s influence in every comedic superhero book that’s come since, including titles like Milligan and Allred’s X-Force (when it was still readable).
So now 16 years later this 27-year-old man is here to tell you that you can "BWA-HA-HA" your way home again! Formerly Known As The Justice League is a godsend. It’s not laugh-out-loud, spray-milk-through-your-nose funny, but it sure as hell is just as charming as the original series. There was actually one moment during the Captain Atom fight with an alien that did make me laugh pretty hard and loud: “Goodbye Captain! Or as my people say, “BlkstBlgmfGlbrnklGLK!” The scenes with Booster as a gigolo and Fire as an internet-fetish-porn queen were just the kind of happy-go-lucky subversion I’d loved so much in the first series. Artist Kevin Maguire’s uncanny use of facial expressions is just also animated as it’s always been. My fellow reviewer Village Idiot swears he almost saw them moving. The one thing that’s jarring for me is that Max Lord doesn’t look like Sam Neill in Omen III any more.
The one minor critique I have is that they’re only (as of now) using these seven characters. I hope Oberon and Mr. Miracle find their way into this book at some point, if just for a cameo. It’s not like there’s anything going on with the 4th World characters right now and Scott and Oberon are never used in those crappy books anyway. As for everybody’s favorite belligerent, obnoxious former ring jockey - from a characterization stand point I’m sure Max, Beetle and the gang probably wouldn’t want Guy Gardner anywhere near this new venture of theirs. Which would make it all the more funny if he just showed up one day or better yet tried to start his own hero for hire business, “just to spite those gutless pansies!”
Formerly Known As The Justice League isn’t merely a nostalgia book. It’s actually just the break from “dark, decadent, deconstruction” that we need right now in comics, almost exactly the same way that its predecessor stood in stark contrast to the grim and gritty books of its time. I’m sure you newer, younger, hipper readers who missed out the first time around will dig the shit out of this book too. All you people who stopped buying X-Statix two months ago should pick this baby up. The characters might not be “too cool for school” like Milligan’s but shit actually happens in this book.
@$$HOLE CASTING COUCH (click on the links to see the actors!)
Hey there Talkbackers, Ambush Bug here with another @$$hole Casting Couch. This week we have a special couch to commemorate the release of the first issue of FORMERLY KNOWN AS THE JUSTICE LEAGUE. Do you notice that when reviewers focus on re-launches they tend to get all nostalgic? Comedian did in the last review, didn’t he? And I couldn’t hold back the waves of nostalgia when I read FORMERLY KNOWN AS THE JUSTICE LEAGUE #1 either. I guess it’s kind of like that first cassette or CD you ever owned. I know I get a warm feeling in my heart every time I hear the hauntingly beautiful melodies of TWISTED SISTER.
To me, the JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL of the 80’s was the best of the best. They may not have been as powerful as the "Big Seven" JLA of today, but what they lacked in force, they made up in personality. The JLI writing team of Keith Giffen and J. M. DeMatteis, along with the amazingly expressive art by Kevin McGuire, put the 'funny' back in funny books. It was interesting to see these larger-than-life characters squabble about the pettiest of things. It humanized the heroes and shattered their iconic status. Some hated the use of heroic mainstays such as Captain Atom, Blue Beetle, Green Lantern, and Captain Marvel as comic relief, but I saw it as a way to tear down all of the grim and grittiness that plagued the 80’s and 90’s comics. It poked fun at a genre that, when you really looked at, was a bit ridiculous. Well, the grim and gritty has been toned down these days in favor of deconstructionist fiction that takes apart and examines every aspect of being a hero. Just like the grim and gritty comics of old, these books are taking themselves way too seriously. So what better time for the JLI and their dream team of creators to stage a comeback in FORMERLY KNOWN AS THE JUSTICE LEAGUE?
With all of the comic book films out there today, I think that a team of heroes who can’t stop arguing in order to save the day would be a refreshing look at the superhero genre. This film should be heavy on the comedy and character interaction, with some fun and thrills thrown in for good measure. A talented director able to handle a truckload of extremely different personalities going through offbeat situations is necessary. I can’t think of anyone more qualified to handle the world of the offbeat than THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS director, Wes Anderson.
The story: A major off-world catastrophe forces the Justice League to leave the planet. Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Flash, and Green Lantern disappear, leaving the Martian Manhunter to recruit a new team of heroes to carry on the good fight. But since J’onn J’onzz is from another planet, he doesn’t exactly understand this culture and the heroes he recruits are not your average icons. The team assembled is less than successful at carrying on the good name of their predecessors and more than successful at entertaining us all while driving each other insane. So let’s cast a good old fashioned JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL film. Shall we?
For J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter, many people would go for a CGI creation, but I don’t think that’s necessary. I feel that the Martian in the Martian Manhunter should be highlighted and a talented actor could pull it off without looking like Lou Ferrigno in need of Propecia. Actor Tom Noonan’s name may not ring any bells, but if you’ve seen MANHUNTER, you know his performance as the truly bizarre Tooth Fairy would give J’onn the creepy alien vibe needed for this role. He’s extremely tall with a prominent brow line. His speech is gentle and strange. The guy may not be built for the part, but he’s got the size and weirdness factor going for him. Seeing him in a cloak floating around and shooting fire beams from his eyes would make me forget all about his lack of physique.
Sure, J’onn J’onzz is the one leading the team, but the real man with the plan is the slimy Maxwell Lord. This billionaire bureaucrat wants a super team in his back pocket and he wants the JLI to be that team. The Comedian suggested it earlier and I was thinking the same thing: Sam Neill is the man to play this part. Kevin McGuire’s Max Lord designs in the original series were a dead ringer for Mr. Neil, so why not cast him for the part?
The wacky hijinx of the Blue and the Gold were one of the highlights from the of those old JLI stories. Booster Gold was always the opportunist, looking to make a quick buck and get his picture in the paper. Blue Beetle was always dragged along for the ride, knowing that “this is definitely not a good idea,” but helping Booster nonetheless. The actors playing these characters are going to have to work well together. Hell, they could even be brothers. And since Wes Anderson is directing this faux pic, Tannenbaum alum, Luke and Owen Wilson would be the perfect match for this less-than-dynamic duo. Luke could play up Beetle’s neurosis while Owen could exasperate everyone with his energy and vapidity. It’s a match made in heaven.
Another memorable pairing made their debut in JLI. Fire and Ice were exact opposites in every way, but they had one thing in common: these two girls were tough enough to hang out with these morons. I’d cast half-Puerto Rican actress, Rosario Dawson, as Fire because she’s hotter than a tamale on fi-yahh! Here’s another picture of her because…well…DAMN. And although the movie sucked, Milla Jovovich kicked ass in RESIDENT EVIL and showed her more innocent side as the alien Leeloo in THE FIFTH ELEMENT. These are the qualities I’d like to see in Ice. She can do the accent too.
Aside from pissing Sleazy G off and casting a Jack Kirby’s Fourth World film, I don’t think I’m ever going to have a chance to cast Mister Miracle again, so I’d better make this one good. I love the dynamic between married couple, Mister Miracle and Big Barda. There’s something about the pairing of a nebbish escape artist and a muscle bound warrior-goddess that makes me laugh uncontrollably. I’d go with minuscule actor Giovanni Ribisi and WWF she-monster Chyna for this happy couple. Just picture these two together. Can’t…hold…back…BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!
Ahem. And then there’s Mr. Miracle’s manager and the team’s crusty coach, Oberon. Who wouldn’t want to see a CGI shrunken down Gene Hackman trying to whip this team of losers into shape?
What’s a JLI without a little cheese? The Big Red Cheese, that is. In my second ever @$$hole Casting Couch, I cast Billy Zane as Captain Marvel. And I think I’ll do the same this time around too. He works well with comedy and drama. Something needed for this role.
Every comedy needs a straight man. The guy who just doesn’t get the jokes. The guy who takes himself and his job too seriously. Captain Atom is that guy. He wants to be a big gun. One of the icons. And now he has his shot, but he’s surrounded by idiots. I’d go with versatile character actor, Gary Cole, to rattle off clichÃ©d lines with a straight face. He did it as Mike Brady in THE BRADY BUNCH MOVIE and I’m sure he could do it in this film too.
For sheer fanboy glee, I’d have to include a cameo from Batman. His purpose would be to check in on the League to see if they are up to snuff, but the real reason he is there would be to have a dramatic reenactment of the classic “one punch" fight between The Dark Knight and Guy Gardner. That is one of my most favorite comic book moments ever and I’d love to see it onscreen. Let’s go with fan pick, Christian Bale, to don the bat ears and wind up for a KABLOWIE right in Guy’s kisser.
And what about Guy Gardner? He hasn’t appeared in FORMERLY KNOWN AS THE JUSTICE LEAGUE yet, but you just know he’s right around the corner with a whole lotta attitude. He’s the O@, Original @$$hole, and I think Matt Dillon would be the best actor to bring this dumb but brave, idiotic but well-meaning, insensitive but noble, one-of-a-kind character to celluloid life. Check out Matt slingin’ brews at Warriors. Yup, that’s our Guy.
Now, this group would be really busy fighting each other throughout the film, but we’ve gotta have a bad guy. So how about that intergalactic entertainer, David Bowie as Manga Kahn. This tin-plated, would-be world conqueror was the closest thing to an arch-nemesis the JLI ever had. Bowie’s eccentricities would make this villain just the type of world threatening menace needed to have the team prove themselves capable of protecting the planet.
Whew, what a cast. The chances of a film like this being made is slim, but wouldn’t it be damn cool if it came together like this? As always, I invite you all to agree, disagree, tear us a new one, or put together your own cast. I’m sure every @$$hole in the Talkbacks has an opinion or two. Let ‘em rip.