(Click title to go directly to the review)
ESSENTIAL KILLRAVEN VOL. 1
SILENT DRAGON #1
JLA: CLASSIFIED #10
RUNAWAYS VOL 2 #6
THE PULSE #10
FANTASTIC FOUR #529
DOOM PATROL #14
Indie Jones presents SUPER REAL #1
ESSENTIAL KILLRAVEN VOL. 1
Written by Don McGregor, Gerry Conway, Roy Thomas, Bill Mantlo, Marv Wolfman
Art by P. Craig Russell, Neal Adams, Howard Chaykin, Herb Trimpe, Gene Colan, Rich Buckler, Sal Buscema
Published by Marvel
Reviewed by Buzz Maverik
No, it's not essential. Not with so much beautiful Marvel history uncollected. But I'm glad it's here and here's hoping for ESSENTIAL DEATHLOK, too!
Reportedly, Marvel Suit and deluded movie producer Avi Arad is a big Killraven fan. We all have our favorite obscure characters. When you run the company, yours becomes Essential. That's okay. AMAZING ADVENTURES FEATURING WAR O' THE WORLDS STARRING KILLRAVEN was a fun piece of bronze. Let's face it, it's not like Marvel would launch a comic based on a classic novel now unless they inserted the same old superheroes they insert into everything.
If you're familiar with H.G. Wells' novel or the recent Tom Cruise debacle, you know the back story of Killraven. The Martians invaded. They had those tripod things that you apparently can't take out with any number of weapons that should be able to do the job. They started snacking on the human race.
"Not my blood. Not my blood."
Shut up and go be liberal, Tim.
Here, though, they didn't die out from the germs. They took over and started using humans as overseers, gladiators, and the like. Jon Raven was raised to be a gladiator, but rebelled, escaped, and lead the usual ragtag gang of survivors in the resistance.
This series was created by Roy Thomas and artist Neal Adams, whose art is slightly less spectacular for the lack of color (unlike that of Gene Colan, who has turned out to be even better in black and white). Most of the series was written by Don McGregor, who did fine work on BLACK PANTHER and LUKE CAGE stories as well. Mr. McGregor never met a caption he didn't like, but that's a strength in his case. Read his work here and you'll see that modern comics have missed many opportunities to take us inside the character's minds, except for the now over-used first person voice over captions.
The real treat is a ton of art by Craig Russell, who added the "P" initial after AMAZING ADVENTURES was canceled. Mr. Russell never did much Marvel work in those days, probably because even then the House of Ideas leaned more heavily into the superhero camp. His artwork is exceptional and amazing. While it might be even better in color, it looks damned fine in black and white.
The best thing included is an entire, full length graphic novel by Mr. McGregor and Mr. Russell. The worst thing, sadly, is the front cover by the great John Romita Sr. It's good artwork, but Killraven looks like a male stripper from the 1980s.
As we all know, the type of Martian invasion here never took place. Mars' only act of aggression toward the planet Earth was a scouting trip of Edwards AFB near Boron, CA, in 1954. Many famous USAF fighter pilots such as Leroy G. Cooper and Virgil I. Grissom participated in the skirmish, in which the Martians held the upper hand until Chuck Yeager downed one craft. While the Martian crew was killed, the craft was still operable and was soon hotwired by one Neal Cassidy, a beatnik who was in the desert just "being" with a group of pals that included Jack Kerouac, Alan Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs and Cassidy's wife Caroline.
In a matter of public record that was, strangely, never classified, the Beatniks repelled the Martians and prevented the kind of events depicted in ESSENTIAL KILLRAVEN VOL. 1.
SILENT DRAGON #1
Writer: Andy Diggle
Penciller: Leinil Yu
Publisher: DC Comics/Wildstorm
Reviewed by Humphrey Lee
When I first saw this title solicited in Previews a couple months ago, it immediately triggered in my mind that this could just be the greatest thing ever. You've got easily the best action writer in comics today doing essentially a samurai story. You've got an artist with some of the best dynamics and details in all of comicdom as well. Add in some futuristic stuff and a love story and you've got yourself the perfect mix for a great read. But sometimes things just don't always work out how you would hope.
Now what we have here is a book that still has great potential, but it’s off to a shaky start. The main problem that I personally have with the book is that while it looks and feels original due to the way it's set up, a lot of it comes off as typical material throughout. We've got a lead character, Renjiro, who is big on honor. We've got a crime boss hungry for more power and territory, and we have a love interest, Lady Takara, that is of course involved with said Crime Lord, also Renjiro's Boss. As the book develops the main focus is showing us how honorable and loyal Renjiro is, even to the point where he denies his true feelings of love towards the wife of our resident baddie, Lord Hideaki. Lady Takara, though, isn't going to stand idly by. She wants Renjiro, and is unhappy being lorded over by Lord Hideaki and plans on doing something about it. Something fatal. So Renjiro is forced to decide between her or his Oyabun, his lord he has sworn fealty to.
But there is hope. See, the book is set up so that the first few pages are in the "present" (which is about 60 years in our future) with the events of the rest of the book being a start of the unfolding tale. What's so interesting is that in those first pages our Protagonist is, well, not our Protagonist. You see, the Renjiro we see for the majority of the book, well, he doesn't really have the greatest of luck when Takara tries to nix her husband. Needless to say, it backfires and our boy Renjiro gets caught up in a scale nine shitstorm that, well, he just plain doesn't survive. So now we have a hero that's apparently back from the dead and with a huge mad-on for somebody. Therein lays a nice little twist to what could have been a typical romp of betrayal and forbidden love.
So there you have it, we have a book that still has a tremendous amount going for it, but is somewhat diminished. We have a solid story that isn't the most original but does have a nice twist to it. And like I said, Diggle is probably the best action writer in all the business now, but that action is sorely lacking in this issue. But then again it is a set up for something bigger. And I think the setting--a mix between futuristic spires and older Japanese Architecture--is a fun one, and one that looks absolutely gorgeous in Leinil Yu's very capable hands. All said and done, I think this was a very enjoyable read that still has a great road ahead of it.
Writer: Joe Casey
Artists: Tom Scioli
Publisher: Image Comics
Reviewer: Prof. Challenger
”Jack Kirby lives monkeymugger!"GODLAND is not what I expected. Based on the title alone, I expected pretty much a straight-forward parody of Jack Kirby's NEW GODS concept. Co-creators Joe Casey and Tom Scioli surprised me by taking Kirby as a genre unto himself and presenting an original concept within that genre while not making their comic a direct pastiche of any previous Kirby comic. GODLAND looks a whole lot like a Kirby comic. It's got some Kirby-esque names throughout. It's got an astronaut lead hero, Archer, whose body is covered from head to toe in patented Kirby-crackle when he goes "cosmic." There's a grizzled army general named Brigg, who looks a good deal like Kirby. Archer and his adventurous sisters operate out of the middle of Manhattan from their skyscraper headquarters called "The Infinity Tower," which is an appropriately Kirby-esque name.
-- Vroom Socko paraphrased
This is an origin issue, but it doesn't dwell on the origin. Instead, the story kicks off like FANTASTIC FOUR #1 where the characters and headquarters are already set up and going strong. The origin of Archer's powers is shared through flashbacks. This adventure, though, indicates that the mysterious Mars-based origins of Archer's cosmic powers are intertwined with his current encounter with a cosmic-powered alien dog that just knocked a big hole into the Great Wall of China. At the same time, we get the barest glimpse into the outside universe of continuity that lets the reader know that there are other superheroes and super villains in this world, including a hero named Crashman and a villainess named Discordia. And remember that old Captain America villain with the huge face for a torso? Well, Basil Cronus is kind of in the same bizarre design mode. He's got this big fishbowl for a head that has a green skull floating around in it...sideways! Great visual!
Everything from the design of the cover, to the logo design work, to the paper stock made this an attractive publication that I thoroughly enjoyed. Casey's writing kicks off the story with a kind of informal 70s-style narrative where the omniscient storyteller speaks as if he's directly addressing the reader. It's a nice way of immediately evoking a different tone for this book in a crowded marketplace of indistinguishable titles. The story is told through lots of two-panel and four-panel pages, but not in the "wide-screen" storyboard style that's so popular nowadays. I halfway expected Casey to start throwing in lengthy expositions and lots of pointless Kirby-style quotation marks in his bubbles and captions, but he didn't go that route with his writing. He did throw in a few very un-Kirby-ism exclamations like "Good Christ!" and "Jeezus Christ!" Those kind of took me out of the moment, so to speak, just because they seemed out of place in a "Kirby" comic that looked and read otherwise like a comic from some 20-25 years ago.
Scioli's artwork is a pretty good Kirby homage, especially the scenes on Mars and that full-panel shot of Archer blasting into the sky out of the Infinity Tower. Nice. Critically, though, I'd say that he suffers from an all-too-common Kirby-copier problem that dates at least as far back as when Keith Giffen Kirby-cribbed onto the scene in THE DEFENDERS – a bit too much Kirby-squiggling. It's a true art, I admit, to be able to replicate the look of Kirby without falling into the trap of packing each awkwardly put-together figure with Kirby-squiggles. I think Steve Rude would be my pick of those guys who is able to look like Kirby without burying his figures in abstract squiggles. But, even with that minor criticism, Scioli's really good at telling the story in such a way that a cursory glance, even by the well-informed, would cause the reader to think this was a new Kirby comic. I retroactively wish Topps Comics had brought in Scioli when they tried to introduce Kirby's posthumous SECRET CITY SAGA and .... Which reminds me, how come nobody's done anything with those concepts since Topps went under? I'd be interested.
GODLAND is a visual throwback not to the days of Kirby's work at DC or Marvel. It's more of a throwback to the days when he was pumping out CAPT. VICTORY and SILVER STAR for Pacific Comics. And for this reviewer, that's not a bad thing. GODLAND's not a perfect homage to Kirby, but it's sure good enough for me. Can't wait for issue two and beyond.
JLA: CLASSIFIED #10
Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Butch Guice
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewed by Dave Farabee
I like having a book like JLA: CLASSIFIED around. It’s not overtly out-of-continuity, though it seems it can be (anyone expecting to see subsequent references to Morrison’s Batman-in-a-UFO or Keith Giffen’s wacky “Super Buddies”?), and it also allows for some slightly skewed continuity (this issue occurs when Luthor was still El Presidente in the DCU). That kind of flexibility is ideal for fickle readers like myself. Provides a venue to enjoy some DC superheroing even at a time when all of DC’s other books are pockmarked by a level of continuity so obsessive that reading ‘em makes me feel like I’m in a straitjacket.
An itchy straitjacket.
This time around, it’s Warren “Pissy Bastard” Ellis who’s unleashed on the JLA. And the issue is just laden with Ellisisms, from cynical reporters to rampant smart-assery and even an opening suicide where the victim just has to fall through an American flag on his high dive from the top of a building. Subtle, Warren! And yet it works. JLA: CLASSIFIED seems to be defining itself as an esoteric book, and in that context a JLA story with heavy creator personality works. In fact, it’s probably what I liked best about the issue, with a little competition from Butch Guice’s classic-illustrator artwork. Is this guy the modern Alex Raymond or what?
So how cynical is the book? Well for starters, Ellis writes Clark Kent as cynical, if that’s any indicator! But I dig this Kent. He’s a take-no-bullshit newspaperman – a characterization that’s occasionally existed in the past, though usually as a backseat to the Milquetoast Kent or the NaÃ¯ve Farmboy Kent. As Kent and wife Lois Lane investigate the suicide, it’s Kent who surprisingly puts the heat on a dismissive investigator for information, even going so far as to threaten working up a police expose if he doesn’t get some answers he likes.
“See,” Lois Lane notes with an innocent smile, “People always think I’m the bad cop.”
I have to admit, I loved it. Loved seeing Clark played as smart and assertive, and loved the sharp banter between he and Lois back at the Daily Planet. Lois winds Clark up by gabbing about a hunky new intern, Clark cracks wise about cooking the intern with his heat vision (“…and then I stole his coffee.”). It’s almost a revelation that these characters can get a little smart-ass and edgy without losing their central “goodness.” Clark goes hardboiled as a reporter, but it’s after a scene where we see he’s genuinely upset that he wasn’t around to prevent the suicide in the first place. I sure hope other writers will pick up on this approach.
And Guice is there to back it play-by-play, drawing Clark with steely resolve and a Lois made all the more attractive for the fact that her hair gets a little rumpled during the course of a hard day’s work. I swear, between Gail Simone’s Lois and Clark work on ACTION COMICS and Ellis’s work here, I can almost forget how wrong the whole marriage thing is. Was. Might be.
Now Warren does almost slip up once or twice, notably in characterizing Perry White as a cartoonish J. Jonah Jameson type (“Lane. Kent. I am your editor. Prepare to die.”). But it’s just so “Warren Ellis,” and yes, such a nice change of pace to see some energy bouncing around the familiar newsroom that you end up forgiving it. I did, anyway.
The central Lois and Clark plot revolves around the jumper, revealed to be a Lexcorp employee and the latest in a series of Lexcorp suicides. Interleafed with this mystery is Batman’s investigation in Gotham of the murder of a defense contractor. Batman’s scenes let Warren do his hi-tech thing and showcase Batman’s criminal profiling chops. There’s a slightly awkward action sequence that might be on Guice’s end, might be on Ellis’s end, but it’s nothing terrible. And Wonder Woman rounds out the Big Three triumvirate, hosting a study group visiting Paradise Island. Even Wonder Woman’s got a little snark, joking to the newcomers about the boring ritual gift exchange to come. Her sub-plot’s the one I’m most nervous about, and not for that, but for an act of sabotage that struck me as one of the worst clichÃ©s you pull on Paradise Island. Got my eye on that one.
The net effect, though, of these three sure-to-link-up plots, is a compelling mystery and a refreshingly arch take on a trio of heroes who are, frankly, a little too whitebread most of the time. Making these characters interesting needn’t mean writing ‘em as assholes or compromising their values, but showing ‘em as human? Having them let their guard down or crack a joke? Man, that I really like. Has me really looking forward to this arc in spite of perpetual reservations about how much Warren gets the superhero ethos. Right now, optimism far outweighing reservations.
Addendum #1: The story’s title, “New Maps of Hell”, seems to be taken from an early ‘60s book that was an overview and defense of science fiction as a genre. The connection? Who knows, maybe Ellis just thought it was a cool-sounding title. I see that the title’s also been used by some bands, so there’s another possible connection. Speculate away!
Addendum #2: Pay no attention to this issue’s skeevy CGI cover. I don’t know why DC put an ugly-mask on such a sexy book, but don’t let their Machiavellian art experiments deter you.
RUNAWAYS VOL 2 #6
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Penciller: Adrian Alphona
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewed by Humphrey Lee
Oh my, how the mighty have fallen.
Okay, I'm exaggerating, but after last month’s tour de force, this issue is a little bit on the anti-climatic side. To recap, last issue we discovered who exactly was the father of one Victor Mancha, a teenager destined to become one of the Marvel Universe’s greatest and most powerful villains, and who would end up murdering the future line up of the Avengers, which is basically our little band of RUNAWAYS all grown up. That and we got more insight into the lives of team Excelsior, a band of once teenage superheroes all grown up and hoping to help those who are in the same shoes that they used to be, and see if maybe they can steer them from "the life."
This is by no means a bad issue, but it shows some proverbial "chinks in the armor." The biggest problem is the lead-in. Last issue’s revelation of Victor's father was an absolutely fantastic twist, both totally unexpected and yet inspired. And as I said in my review of that last issue, it ended with a very powerful and dread-inducing panel. But this issue doesn't lead in right off of that moment. No, the theme of this month’s start is exposition, exposition, exposition. Pretty much the first third of the book is dedicated to Victor's papa telling Vic how it came to be that he met his mother and how Victor came to be birthed, with plenty of word balloons to match. And no, this isn't some Birds and the Bees type tale so it is pretty original, but my does it drone on. And then, after said exposition, the conflict to take down Father dearest is way too swift, given the power level of the villain and how easily he handed our heroes their asses last issue.
But then our Mr. Vaughan brings us back from the brink of a *gasp* potentially "bad" issue with some developments that again just bring back the fun and joy reading this book can be. We finally get the reveal of just who team Excelsior's benefactor and financer is, and again it's a great reveal, one I had no clue to, but it just makes a lot of sense. Plus we get some great dramatic bits once the violence is all over as Victor starts to come to grips with just what and who he is, and the death of his mother from last issue finally sets in his head. Combined with what appears to be the reappearance of "The Pride", the group of baddies that started it all for our RUNAWAYS, and again I'm back to being glued to my seat in anticipation as to where this book is going next.
Writer: Geoff Johns
Artists: Howard Porter/Livesay
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Prof. Challenger
"Lisssten to himmmFlash. Listen to the PROFESSORRR."Why thank you for the recommendation, Zoom.
What an intense comic. Geoff Johns excels at building tension in his stories. I would equate the feeling I had reading this comic positively with the experience I had watching Spielberg's WAR OF THE WORLDS. WOTW was not by any estimation a "great" movie. It was, however, a "good" movie simply because Spielberg knows how to direct a movie and build tension in the audience. With a lesser director and the same script, the movie might've been unbearable to sit through. However, with Spielberg using sound and imagery to heighten audience anticipation throughout the movie, he turned it into a watchable flick that was more than moderately successful in a weak summer of movies. Now, here's Johns kind of pulling the same trick here in THE FLASH. He's taking a story idea that in other hands (I'm unfortunately thinking about that awful creative team that crapped out HOUSE OF "M" #1) would be dull, witless, and derivative. Instead, under Johns' skilled writing the penultimate issue of this 6-issue ROGUE WAR story arc roars through a tour-de-force story that pulls the reader right into Wally’s harrowing encounter with both Reverse-Flashes and never lets go.
For those not in the know, Zoom/Hunter Zolomon is the Flash's BIGGEST obsessive fan. He's so fanatic about his respect for the Flash that he believes that Wally can only become the hero Zoom thinks he SHOULD be by causing him to experience great tragedies in his life. You know, the "whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger" mindset filtered through the brain of a crazy man. In the past, Zolomon has killed Wally's unborn baby, for example. This time, Zolomon has plucked the original Reverse-Flash, Prof. Zoom, out of the time stream before his death at the hands of Barry Allen. Appearing in front of Wally, Zolomon has got Kid-Flash in a death grip and Prof. Zoom has got Jay Garrick. Now Wally's faced with a horrible Sophie's Choice-type decision – can he save both of them at once when both of the villains are essentially just as fast as he is? I won't spoil it for you, but Johns is pretty smart about what these speedsters can and can't do. Hint: Some of these speedsters can tap into that mystical speed-force, but not all of them. And those who do, might, just might, have an advantage over those who don't. The story doesn't stop there, though, it's in continuous movement along with these speedsters. We wind up reaching a point where all three speedsters (Flash and both Reverse-Flashes) are whirling into the past on Barry's old Cosmic Treadmill. Zolomon uses Prof. Zoom to power the Cosmic Treadmill so that he can force Wally to live through his greatest tragedies over and over and over. Wicked evil.
Porter contributes wonderfully to the relentlessness of this story. Every panel with a speedster on it is moving. Never a wasted static image. He really makes me feel like there is energy and movement on and off panel. Which is how it should be in a story like this. It also looks like Johns is taking advantage of this all-important venture backwards through the time stream to adjust and fix a few things. Geoff "Mr. Fixit" Johns at work once again. Let's just say that Johns does something with Capt. Boomerang that has left this long-time FLASH reader still smiling. Where he's ultimately going with this trip through time I don't know, but I have my suspicions. That last panel, though, is dynamite. Oh yeah. Memo to DC Comics: Please send Prof. Challenger a preview copy of FLASH #225 today! Thirty days is way too long to wait.
THE PULSE #10
Brian Michael Bendis: Writer
Michael Lark: Artist
Marvel Comics: Publisher
Vroom Socko: Hawkeye Lives, Motherfucker!
What sort of issue of THE PULSE is this? No Jessica Jones, no Luke Cage, just a bunch of new mutants running things at the Daily Bugle. Except for Kat Farrell, that is. And then there’s our cover boy, Clint Barton. How can I dislike a book that showcases my favorite Avenger? That’s right, Hawkeye lives, motherfucker! And boy is he pissed.
This is the first tie-in book to the big House of M event that I’ve read, and I must say that as a stand-alone issue, there are a lot of blanks to be filled in. If you’ve been keeping up on all things M, however, then there are still a lot of blanks to be filled in. Mostly it’s little things, like Hawkeye not believing a word of what Logan was telling him in issue #4, yet now he inexplicably remembers dying. Still, Clint’s returned memories give us the best line of the issue. “I thought I died a hero in a blaze of glory. Seems I died a spaz not knowing who was pulling my strings, which sucks by any measure.”
Hey Clint, I’ve been saying that for fucking months, man!
In any case, this issue does its job as an ancillary title to the HoM miniseries, giving us a measure of insight into the mind of one of the major players. Clint is one messed up archer here. Of course, you would be too if you could remember two lives, one where you were a subjugated minority and another where you get blown up. This certainly explains why Clint is now a cold-blooded killer, with a particular murder on his mind. I can remember a time, (well, an issue actually. #22 of Thunderbolts,) when Hawkeye stopped Hercules from killing Atlas, the man who beat him into a coma in the classic Under Siege storyline. Hawkeye said then that the Avengers aren’t killers, and that murderers are never heroes. I lament the fact that this is no longer the case, (both here and in the current Crisis at the other “big event,”) and yet I can’t help but notice that everyone who’s remembered life before the House of M has had the same reaction. Perhaps their minds aren’t as free as they think.
If there is anything I can recommend unequivocally about this issue, it’s Michael Lark’s artwork. The book gets darker and moodier as the issue progresses, and it’s all thanks to what Lark brings to the table. That last page, goddamn it’s a doozy.
In the end, however, this is only a book for those of you who are already neck deep in the House of M, as anyone who hasn’t been keeping up will be totally and completely lost. Then again, if you’re a dyed in the wool Hawkeye fan you’ll probably want to give this a look see. If anything, it’ll reassure you to know that even Hawkeye thinks he died like a fucking chump.
Writer: Mike Carey
Penciller: Leonardo Manco
Publisher: DC Comics/Vertigo
Reviewed by Humphrey Lee
Y'know what reading this current arc of HELLBLAZER has made me realize? We just don't see enough of Hell in comics anymore. And really, it seems like only Mr. Carey here is the one willing to give us our glimpse of damnation in comics each month, between this and his god-like opus, LUCIFER. And that's just a shame. Where else are kiddies going to be scared back onto the straight and narrow each month by giving them visceral images of damned souls being tortured, torn and rendered, drowned, and other such nasty things for all eternity? At the very least, I think HELLBLAZER should be used as a public service announcement to the youngin's of today. But I digress....
This issue continues the rundown to the end of Mike Carey's stellar HELLBLAZER run with part four of an arc called "Down in the Ground Where the Dead Men Go." And what we have here is a nice little story showing us the typical HELLBLAZER thoroughfare, y'know, demons, witchcraft, possessions, disembowlings, and the occasional bit of dry British wit. This issue takes us, and Mr. John Constantine, further into the bowels of Hell as John traverses the landscape to make his way towards the house of Nergal to hopefully put down the demon, Rosa, and her offspring that have been making his life "hell" (yay for puns) since the landmark 200th issue. But as always with Constantine, things can't even be that simple in his life. You see, the demon at hand is the daughter of Nergal, a demon who has a particular bit of hatred for Constantine due to past aggressions, but has been deposed of his territory by his own offspring. Now John and Nergal have to work together as they make their way to Nergal's former home to teach Rosa a lesson, and to reclaim the soul of John's own sister.
Yes, I know that all sounds a bit complex, but it’s in no way overwhelming, really. In fact, Mike Carey takes the time today to give us a bit of history on Nergal as he, attached to John, makes his way to take out his wayward daughter. And if there has been anything I have loved about Carey's run on this book is that how he seems to revel in the lore and history of John Constantine. Seeing him give background on a character that has been around since the beginning of the book but never really had much else going for him besides that is very welcome. Add in Manco's fantastic renderings of the Hellish landscape around them, and this book has just been dead on in oozing the horror and dread that made this book so special in the beginning. I could definitely use much more of all of this, as Carey has hit a stride on this book that to me is only rivaled/surpassed by the legendary Ennis & Dillon efforts that helped define this book, and the Vertigo line, over a decade ago.
FANTASTIC FOUR #529
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Pencils: Mike McKone
Inks: Andy Lanning
Reviewer: Ambush Bug
Okay I wanted to start this review out by noting that this is the very first time I wrote J. Michael Straczynski’s name without having to look at it in print. You’ve gotta give me some props for that, folks.
Now on to the review (where I will more than likely misspell JMS’ name numerous times).
I really don’t understand the phenomenon that is J. Michael Straczynski. Loved MIDNIGHT NATION and SUPREME POWER. Hate DOCTOR STRANGE. Had a torrid up and down affair with the inconsistent but brilliant RISING STARS. Loathed AMAZING SPIDER-MAN to it’s very core. Now JMS has been unleashed on FANTASTIC FOUR and my thoughts on his stint on the book so far are complex.
That’s right, folks. Prepare thyself for one of them thar mixed reviews.
JMS is all about the high concept. Like few others in the industry, the guy really can hit a homerun in the big pitch department. In FF, JMS has been mapping out a complex storyline involving the resurgence of a storm of cosmic rays that have the exact same properties as the one that created the Fantastic Four in the first place. The government, of course, wants to take advantage of this and recruits Reed Richards to oversee the project since he’s the Big Brain in the Marvel U and has been through this type of thing before.
Meanwhile, two subplots have been interspersed with varying results. There’s a dull one and an amusing one. The dull one involves a social worker visiting the Baxter Building and evaluating the Richards Family to see if they are parents fit enough to take care of two young children. This is one of those supposed real world subplots that simply opens a can of worms that shouldn’t really be opened. Hell no, Reed and Sue should not have custody of their kids. In the last few years, both have been kidnapped by Doom, Franklin has been terrorized by demons in hell and Valeria was possessed. These kids should have been brought to the attention of DCFS long ago. But given the parameters of the story and the ongoing theme of family in that permeates this book, Franklin and Valeria should always be with their parents. But apart from that minor annoyance with the real world treatment of this situation, the scenes involving the caseworker and Sue are just plain dull and I found myself forcing myself through these panels in order to get back to the other plots. On top of that, to see Sue diminished to that of frantic protective mother is a disservice to a character who has proven herself to be one of the strongest in the Marvel Universe.
Now the second subplot involving the Thing and his recent discovery that he is richer than Bill Gates piqued my interest and had me chuckling throughout. This is a light-hearted challenge for the Thing that is befitting for his character and offers new obstacles for the heart of the team to take on. The only character who gets shortchanged in this most recent story arc is Johnny, who doesn’t have much to do other than tag along with the Thing as he discovers how his new money will affect his life.
But the star of this issue (and this arc so far) is Reed. In his run, Mark Waid admitted that Reed was his favorite character and it appears that he may be JMS’ as well. One of the main problems I had with the first few issues of this series is how easily Reed went along with this government project to harness the cosmic rays. I mean, this is the same stuff that has cursed his family for years and now he flippantly agrees to oversee an operation which, if successful, would result in the creation of a Fantastic Forty or even Four-Hundred. In this issue, we find out that is just not the case and Reed is acting more true to form than he has in previous issues. Plus we get a re-appearance by the Fantasticar in all of its cheesy glory. Great stuff.
One of the things that impressed me the most about this issue was the escape sequence. The army acknowledges Reed as one of the smartest people on the planet, but is very quick to dismiss him as a threat because “as far as powers go, he got sort of the short end of the stick. He can stretch. Big deal.” Well, I had to smile as JMS cleverly makes these guys eat those words and proves that Mr. Fantastic can truly be that when he wants to be.
Mike McKone’s pencils and Andy Lanning’s inks only add to the pleasure of this reading experience. I like the way he has rendered the main scientist to look just like Paul Giamatti. This is a good looking book and McKone sure can stage a nice action sequence. It’s just too bad that he makes the Thing look like a midget.
All in all, this issue was a great change of pace from the talkity-talk issue that preceded it. Despite the annoying social worker subplot, this issue was filled with some big ideas and has some great moments of high action and depthy character. Top it off with a hell of a cliffhanger, and you’ve got a winner of an issue.
DOOM PATROL #14
Writer: John Byrne
Artists: John Byrne/Terry Austin
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Prof. Challenger
Stick with me here. This is a positive review. But I've got to place it in a bit of historical and personal context.
I have a real fondness for the DOOM PATROL. I'm too young to have read the original DP during their original run, but I caught a number of their adventures in reprints back in the 70s. While many longtime hardcore comics fans have expressed a love for that original DP, it was cancelled after 5 years while competitors like FANTASTIC FOUR and even JLA have continued publishing on into today. Anyway, what I saw in those reprints was an unusual team of heroes who were all normal human beings until accidents turned them into physical "freaks." Sort of like the Fantastic Four if all the members were like the Thing. Weird enough of a concept back then to intrigue me. Then around 1977, SHOWCASE PRESENTS hit the stands with the NEW DOOM PATROL (I believe, if memory serves, that it was written by Paul Kupperberg and drawn by Joe Staton). I totally bought into it. This attempt at reviving the DP concept sprung out of the last adventure of the original team where they were all blown up by the villainous Gen. Zahl and Madame Rouge. So, Robotman was revived with a funky new body (provided by Doc Magnus, right?) and he pulled together a new multi-ethnic DP made up of the African-American TEMPEST, the Indian CELSIUS, and the Russian NEGATIVE WOMAN – you know, the blond with the extremely plunging neckline. I'm guessing that the SHOWCASE run didn't sell enough to warrant a new DP ongoing series and the characters sort of disappeared outside of a cool Keith Giffen drawn guest-star appearance in DC COMICS PRESENTS. Well, except for the Robotman and Mento appearances in a NEW TEEN TITANS story that finally dealt some good old-fashioned retribution to Gen. Zahl and Madame Rouge for the death of the original DP and returned Robotman to his old-style body.
Fast forward a few years and John Byrne, hot on the heels of his career highs of X-MEN, FANTASTIC FOUR, and SUPERMAN drew an excellent retelling of the origin of the DP for SECRET ORIGINS ANNUAL as a sort-of prologue to Paul Kupperberg and Steve Lightle's upcoming relaunch of the DP. I'm not sure what happened there. It started off well. In that new series Kupperberg kind of found a way to bring back the original DP and sort of combine them with the new DP. But the narrative just fell apart over the course of about a year/year-and-a-half for some reason and rather abruptly Kupperberg was gone. The series continued without him though, and that's when DP started their first and only rise to a true level of popularity among fans since the first few years of the original series: the Grant Morrison era. Morrison turned the DP surrealistically upside-down and inside-out taking the basic concept of "freaks" as heroes and seeing just how "freaky" he could make them. At this point, I tuned out – too freaky for me – and other than knowing vaguely about his incorporation of the most bizarre superhero character ever, Danny the Street, I don't know too much about Morrison's DP other than that it got bizarre enough for DC to move it into the Vertigo line for the duration.
Back in 2001, DP re-launched once again, this time with Robotman and a group of new heroes. Somehow, for god knows what reason, the title actually lasted almost two years before it was cancelled. The less said about that run, the better. Within six months of this incarnation's demise, word leaked out that John Byrne was going to reboot the DOOM PATROL.
Now, this is why Byrne pisses me off sometimes. Reboot? OK. OK. Don't want to get anal about that. I figure, if anyone can do it right, he can. After all, he's the man who returned the FF to a level of greatness unparalleled since the Lee/Kirby days, rebooted Superman post-CRISIS, and produced DANGER UNLIMITED – a top-notch series that owed a lot to the DP and the FF. Here's the problem, though: the original DP characters have consistently proven to be non-sellers in the marketplace. The only version of the DP that has ever sold well other than immediately spinning off from MY GREATEST ADVENTURE was Morrison's version, and it was "DOOM PATROL" in name only. So, truth be told, mulling it over between the time of the series announcement and the time the first issue hit the stands, I came to think Byrne should've avoided the reboot and simply relaunched with a new team made up of pre-existing DC Universe freaks. Imagine Robotman reforming the Patrol with other DC freaks like Metamorpho, Creeper, Shade: The Changing Man, and Rose/Thorn. Something like this would've at least had some goofy, fun potential and provided ample opportunity to, say, pluck the original DP out of the timeline or something and reintegrate them into modern continuity without a frustrating reboot. However, as the series was launched I was onboard with a "show me" attitude, daring Byrne to prove my unsettled instincts wrong.
Unfortunately, it turned out to be a reboot full of creative missteps.
Misstep Number 1: Byrne introduced the characters in a multi-issue story arc in the JLA.
Misstep Number 2: He made the villain of that story an unthreatening fop of a vampire who looked like George McFly with fangs.
Misstep Number 3: The DP relaunch kicked off with the END of the JLA story. What?
Misstep Number 4: Rather than focus the first year, if not at least the first story arc, on reintroducing modern readers to the original four members, he pads the series out with uninteresting new characters with stupid one-word verb names like Nudge and Grunt.
Misstep Number 5: Making one of his new characters a four-armed gorilla.
Misstep Number 6: Obnoxious narrative story-telling schtick involving anti-climactic time-jumps. Nothing worse than repeatedly ending a comic on a cliffhanger then neglecting to resolve that cliffhanger immediately in the next issue, or worse, starting the next issue with a "three hours ago" plottus interruptus. And doing it over and over and over.
Misstep Number 7: In his redesign of Robotman's armor, Byrne gives him a golden metal groin area shaped like, well, pubes. Very distracting visually, in my opinion – and pointless.
Misstep Number 8: Giving the new DP costumes that look nearly identical to the original X-MEN costumes – even going so far as to assign them the black and white color scheme originally intended for those X-MEN costumes.
But I hung in there waiting for them to "patrol" some "doom." By issue five I bailed. I was bored by the vampire crap that kicked off the series. I hated the rehash of JOHN CARPENTER'S THE THING story that followed. And I was angered by the stupidity of the Battle-bots story that followed that. DOOM PATROL is a comic that Byrne should've hit out of the ballpark on the first page and never stopped going and as a fan I felt burned (pun intended). So, other than seeing the covers I've not been exposed to an issue of DP since issue five. But I caught the advance press for issue 14, thumbed through it, went "hmm" and bought it. Well, well, well, I may have been too hasty in my criticism. It's pretty darn good.
Unfortunately the first page includes Grunt and that's always a bad thing. Worse, apparently Grunt has some old couple's little boy Henry's brain transplanted into his four-armed gorilla body. All I could think while looking at that was "Look at you. You baby gorilla." (You Howard Stern fans know what I'm talking about - the rest of you, sorry for the esoterica.) Apparently, however, Byrne's already taken some corrective steps in the interim between the issue I bailed on and now, because Negative Man is sitting there all wrapped in bandages rather than the sado-masochistic leather mask he was wearing back at the beginning. That's a good thing. (Though, I still hate the Negative Skeleton, and I know I'm the only one – but I ask you, why on Earth would NEGATIVE Man be a skeleton? Shouldn't he be X-RAY Man? Just askin'.) Anyway, by page three Byrne kicks into high gear and never lets up. I was hooked from that point on wondering where he was going.
You see, it's an old tried-and-true Byrne plot-device – time-travel. Motivated by reciprocated romantic love for Rita (Elasti-Girl) Farr, Robotman has gone all love-crazy and hooked himself into a time-travel doohickey of The Chief's. Robotman wants to go back and prevent himself from crashing his race car and ever being forced to become a robot in the first place. That way he can have human lips to properly smooch Rita with. Robotman's time-traveling causes ripples in time that allow Byrne to play with various DP timelines. This means we, the readers, get to finally see the "real" Doom Patrol again when Robotman interacts with the team back on the infamous island right before they get blown up. But there's a clever twist this time that longtime fans should be pleased with. We get to see a post-apocalyptic version of the DP where Rita's running around mostly naked in leather with a butch cut and the Chief is a villain. Then the real fun occurs when Robotman winds up in Byrne's GENERATIONS continuity circa mid-60s with Dick Grayson as Batman and Bruce Wayne Jr. as Robin. Not only does it offer up another glimpse into GENERATIONS but it allows Byrne an opportunity to indulge us with a glimpse of the DP in their original green costumes. I for one appreciated everything about these time jumps.
Ultimately, Robotman has to make one of those heart-wrenchingly horrible time-paradox decisions that only a superhero could really do. The ending was touching and not trite. DOOM PATROL issue 14 was really a very good issue all on its own. The inks by Terry Austin were very good as well. He didn't overwhelm Byrne's pencils; neither did he take an overly light touch. There's a tendency among lesser inkers to allow some of Byrne's more recent figure-drawing to come off as weightless or rubbery. Not so with Austin's pen. Backgrounds and figures were consistently weighted appropriately. I also appreciated the little things, such as the textures Austin would bring to the art like the white flakes in Negative Man's skeleton or the designs on the sofa and curtains.
Now, the charm of an issue like this is that it puts the "reboot" into a context that allows it be a part of current continuity but also acknowledge the old-school readers out there who get frustrated by a perception of needless continuity trashing. Even though Byrne didn't say as much directly, this comic was an exploration of Waid’s HYPERTIME concept. The paradoxical ramifications of an issue like this are such that the reader can internalize it a number of ways. One person can take it to mean that all the old stories they enjoyed, pre- and post-CRISIS are still out there in one of the ripples. Another person can take it to mean that the reboot itself was the unexpected result of Robotman's time-tampering. In other words, this series' own continuity folded in upon itself. The old DP stories existed, then Robotman time-tampered and this caused the DP to retroactively disappear out of the main timeline and reappear "for the first time" many years later than they had before. Which is where the characters stand right now.
This issue should've hit the stands some eight or nine months ago.
SUPER REAL #1
Written and Drawn by: Jason Martin
Published by: www.superrealgraphics.com
Reviewed by: superhero
If you’ve ever gone to the Newsarama.com message boards you’ve more than likely seen Jason Martin’s posts that have a signature graphic advertising his independently produced comic book SUPER REAL. If you’re like me the graphic may have even caught your attention enough to click on the banner and go to his website and see what his book was all about. The basic fact that Martin was smart enough to add this banner to his posts shows me that I’m dealing with a creator who’s savvier than the average bear. It’s a brilliant ploy and I have to say that I’ve got to give Martin props just for devising that gimmick to suck people into his world.
So when I hit the floor this year at the San Diego Comic-Con SUPER REAL was very much a book I wanted to check out. I liked Martin’s quirky manga-like art style and the concept of the book itself seemed really interesting even if a book like Image Comics’ WILDGUARD had explored the idea of a superhero reality show before.
So is it any good? Was this an independent book with something different? Would I be ultimately disappointed in another independent comic book that seemed to offer a decent amount of promise?
Well the answers are: Yes, Yes, and No.
As I stated before, SUPER REAL is a comic about a reality show about superheroes or, I should say, superheroes to be. While the Image comic WILDGUARD focused more on a reality show where individual superheroes showed up to join a team based on their power sets and the strength of their character, SUPER REAL seems to be taking a different approach. SR sets up the situation as several reality shows such as “Survivor” and “The Apprentice” do: winner takes all. Not only that but the contestants aren’t superheroes to begin with. See, as part of agreeing to participate in the show, all of the individuals signing up must subject themselves to a possibly risky experimental procedure which may, or may not, give them super powers.
Now that would probably be enough to scare many people off from participating in the contest but Martin is smart enough to realize what type of person the “average” reality show attracts. This is a big part of what makes SUPER REAL a really good book and sets it apart from not only WILDGUARD but other comics as well. His protagonists aren’t particularly likeable. As a matter of fact, some of them are downright vapid and if any of you out there have ever watched a reality show you’ll know that Martin’s characterization of reality show contestants isn’t too far off the mark.
The thing is, even though some of these characters come across about as smart as a thumbtack, Martin is able to keep interest in them because of the fact that their lack of intellectual capacity can make for character quirks that come across as quite funny. Martin’s artwork sustains this because his style is energetic and original enough to make the characters pop to life even though there are no major action pieces throughout the book. His artwork is eye catching and different from almost anything out there right now and it’s able to suck the reader into his world where a lesser artist might lose their interest. Kudos go to Martin for trying something different with his style and actually being able to succeed with it.
Now, I’ve mentioned that the book contains no major action pieces. As a matter a fact, there’s no action in this book at all. This first issue functions mostly as set up to what will hopefully be a much longer story, but the set up is solid. You’re introduced to all the major players, you get the lowdown on the whole show’s concept (including the mechanics of how it came to be), the dialogue is tight and amusing, and it gets you interested enough to want to know what’s coming next. This is pretty much mostly what I want a first issue to be like. Sure, I could’ve dealt with a slam-bang bout of fisticuffs, but that would have ruined the flow of the story as presented and, quite honestly, the book doesn’t need it.
My only complaint (and it’s a minor one) was that the books that Martin was selling at the convention were all black and white interior when SUPER REAL, when it’s released, is actually going to be in full color. I was able to see an advance of the full color run and it looked to me like it’s going to look great when it comes out in shops on November 5th. I actually love black and white comics, but the copy I got was obviously meant to be printed in color so the quality of some of the images were lacking. Either way, it didn’t hinder my enjoyment of the book at all and I’ll be sure to make sure that my retailer pulls me a copy of the full color SUPER REAL when it hits the stands. Sure, I already own the black and white copy, but I’m willing to buy another if only to support a truly independent creator who seems to have a good thing going.
Remember, if you have an Indie book you’d like one of the @$$holes to take a look at, click on your favorite reviewer’s link and drop us an email.
Remember, if you have an Indie book you’d like one of the @$$holes to take a look at, click on your favorite reviewer’s link and drop us an email.