Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Lives and Deaths and Rebirths of Superman

Superman # 51/52
Batman/Superman #31/32
Action Comics #51/52, #957
Superman/Wonder Woman #28/29
Superman: Lois and Clark #1-7
Superman: Rebirth #1

---
"The Super League Is Forged"...
uhh, what does that even mean?

After Grant Morrison's Action Comics run ended with issue 18, I didn't pick up another Superman solo title until Convergence: Superman last year.  It's kind of telling that it took the return of the pre-New 52 Superman to draw me back to the character.  If you had asked me then specifically what  was it about the New 52 Superman that I wasn't interested in, and I know I wouldn't have been able to tell you.  Today, though, I'm very close to being all-in on Superman because of Rebirth, and I think I have an idea of what kept me away from the character's published exploits for almost 4 years.

But I'll get to that.

Let's start here.

Past Lives

I know Superman.  I grew up with him.  I had some random pre-Crisis issues of World's Finest, Superman, and Action Comics comics, but DC Comics Presents were my favourite.  In DCCP Superman would team up with heroes (and sometimes Villains) across the DC Universe.  What spoke to me about these books as a youngling was how effortlessly Superman interacted with every corner of the DC Universe.  He was the heart of the place.  It felt like he belonged there, everywhere, always had and always would.  Hell, one of my favourite Superman stories is still Superman vs. Muhammad Ali (my beaten and battered oversized treasury edition one of my most favored childhood keepsakes and it's really just the best DC Comics Presents story they ever made), where two very different worlds collided and yet these two great heroes, one fiction and one real, managed to both feel at home together.

Lex's computer tells him Clark Kent is
Superman and Lex literally cannot
believe it...in issue #2!
I was a fairly steadfast reader of Superman Post-Crisis.  Before I discovered comic book stores, I would truck on down to my local dirt mall and jump between the smoke shop and the book store looking on the magazine and spinner racks for the latest issues of Superman, Action Comics,  Adventures of Superman, and Justice League (and the occasional dip into something else, but those ...those were my must buys).  They had literally just relaunched Superman into three new titles, and depowered him, started from scratch.  And yet, the costume was Superman, the character was Superman from the get go.  This was not a reluctant hero.  This was a man of confidence and ability..  He just felt right.  He fit the DC Universe perfectly and he felt refreshed.

Those first 6 years were glorious for the character.  Not perfect by any means, but they felt like the character at his best.  By 1991 Superman was basically weekly, with a fourth Superman title added (Man of Steel) and a tighter continuity between books.  This saw the introduction of the infamous weekly triangle, which would show the story order number for each year (a feature which persisted until 2002).  The stories through this time saw Superman kill some evil Kryptonians and have a serious emotional crisis as a result, disappearing into space.  He also lost his powers to Red Kryptonite for a short stint, and bounced around time for a while.  There's are some tremendously fun (if very 90's) stories that efficiently established this character as the preeminent hero of the DCU (and it's worth noting the character continued to grow in popularity even during the marketing chaos of Tim Burton's Batman).

By the time Superman faced Doomsday and was killed late in '92, it felt like this character had earned the hype that the event was receiving.  It was a very big deal, because this was a character who was the epitome of "hero" in the DC Universe.  His loss was Earth-shaking.  Less than a decade into the post-Crisis DCU and it had already been established that the GALAXY knew and respected Superman.  John Byrne, Marv Wolfman, Dan Jurgens, Jerry Ordway, Louise Simonson and numerous others, through fleet, exciting storytelling, built a Superman that was legendary without relying upon scraps from the past, but also not completely discounting his heritage either. 

He returned to life, revealed himself to his true love, got married, and after about 10 years, entered a weird holding pattern.  The storytellers had put him (and the audience) through the wringer with the character, so it was only natural that he hit a lull.  But for me, like for a great many, I'm sure, that lull persisted for some time.  I wasn't much of a regular Superman reader again after that.  I would check in for certain story arcs or just hop back on an issue for fun, but the thing was it was always a Superman I could recognize, and it would take no time at all to feel at ease with the character.

A New Life

The New 52 completely rebooted the character, turned him into something unrecognizable.  Here wasn't the Superman we recognized as the guardian of Metropolis, protector of Earth, hero to the galaxy.  It was almost as if DC was resistant to building him up as a hero, like they didn't want to shine the spotlight on him and make him stand out in any way.  He wasn't even a familiar Clark Kent.  And we had three very different writers in Grant Morrison, George Perez and Geoff Johns approaching the character from completely different angles.

Morrison's Action Comics was building the character in the past, exploring his origins, what brought him into the public eye.  But at the same time, Morrison was exploring concepts of heroism and toying with elements of the archetype's past, which made for fascinating reading but didn't quite build an inspirational hero fans could glom onto.  It was a little to heady, a little to scattershot, and a lot too condensed to be meaningful.

Perez was playing in the "5 years later" present-day of the New 52 (the dual timeline did the New 52 no favors at all) and seemed more interested in building around Superman than building Superman himself, putting focus on rebuilding supporting players.  Perhaps it's so he wasn't conflicting with Superman's depiction in Johns' Justice League where he was a lot more aggressive and angry than Supermen past, a signature flaw of the New 52's many missteps.

I quit Perez's Superman after only a couple of issues (Perez quit soon after himself) and I rode Morrison's whackadoo story through to it's conclusion, after which I put Superman on a shelf.  I wasn't sure I'd ever return.


He just didn't feel like my guy.  He wasn't completely mishandled like Zack Snyder's Superman, but he didn't feel at all familiar.  Brooding and kind of angry, aimless...he wasn't the epitome of heroism, and I didn't admire him as a character.  There wasn't really a bright beacon to the New 52 and this Superman was most assuredly not trying to be it.

A Return of Sorts

In Convergence: Superman I was reintroduced to Clark and Lois of pre-Flashpoint.  I hadn't seen them in years... even before New 52, it'd been a while.  As crappy as the overall Convergence event was, though (I reviewed Convergence, painfully, week-by-week for Bleeding Cool last year, links to week 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8), what it had going for it was that it allowed the writers to advance the pre-Flashpoint characters.  I mean, Lois and Clark got married in 1996 and for 15 years their story barely advanced.  Richard Donner and Geoff Johns wrote a wonderful arc around 2008 which gave Lois and Clark an adopted Kryptonian son (the product of Zod and Ursa in the Negative Zone) but it was short lived.  Apparently DC editorial didn't want Lois and Clark to have a kid.

With Convergence: Superman, Lois and Clark were trapped, away from home, and Clark was depowered.  They were adjusting to their new life in a bottled up Gotham (yes Gotham), although Superman had never given up hope, nor stopped exploring the possibilities of returning home.  Lois was pregnant.  The New 52 said that happiness was a suckhole of good storytelling, so they didn't allow happy couples, and definitely no weddings, and no kids.  But with just those two Convergence issues of seeing Lois and Clark together, a content, unified couple, it was a tidal wave of exactly what was missing from the New 52, and the New 52 Superman specifically.


The Post-Crisis Clark's interest in Lois comes from her as an inspirational figure, of the strength of humanity to fight injustice even without superpowers.  Superman is a god amongst men, but Clark doesn't see himself like that.  He's a human being first, Kryptonian/Superhero second and third.  Lois is his match.  Oh, post-Crisis Superman had a moment with Wonder Woman (see Action Comics #600) but they understood a relationship based on the fact that they were the strongest man and woman on the planet wasn't a solid foundation for a relationship.


Like Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, the New 52 didn't start Superman out properly.  They didn't establish him as a human first... and Superman shouldn't be just any human, but the best of them.  Altruistic and good, selfless and caring.  This New 52 Superman distanced himself, was a bit of a loner, and felt different in such a way as to keep him at arm's length from people.  I don't know/remember how the New 52 really detailed his relationship with Jonathan and Martha Kent, but pre-Flashpoint, they were his home.  They were always there for him, and they were even there for his extended family...Kara, Connor...  Clark Kent is the reflection of his parents.  Take them out of the picture or mishandle their parentage and you get a Superman who's not quite right.

Spinning out of Convergence came Superman: Lois and Clark, an 8-part mini-series which jumps ahead a few years from the end of Convergence where pre-Flashpoint Lois, Clark and baby Jonathan have escaped obsolescence.  In Lois and Clark the family has been living on the New 52 Earth in secret, taking the last name "White".  Lois had been writing copy for local Northern California press, while Clark was taking on odd jobs and doing a little clandestine superheroing on the side.  They weren't home, but they weren't commiserating about the loss of their entire reality, they were making due and they were happy.

As with Convergence: Superman, here Dan Jurgens gets to the beating heart of this couple.  They're two incredibly strong people who are even stronger together.  The loss of one's entire reality may drive some to madness or depression, not these two.  They soldier on and continue to fight the good fight.  Clark can't help himself, he has to do good.  It's what he was born to do.  He's realized that coming out in public wouldn't be good for him or his family, so he's taken a page from his old friend Batman and operated in the shadows.  Lois, meanwhile, is taking on the Intergang of this Earth, both acknowledging for all this reality's differences from their own, there's a lot the same too.

I haven't finished reading Superman: Lois and Clark, because I came late to it and I'm trying to catch up.  I really should have added it to my pull when it came out, considering how much I liked the return of these characters in Convergence: Superman, plus how amazing Lee Weeks' art was.  I just didn't want to keep being reminded of the old DCU and how little it really mattered in the world of the New 52.  My Superman wasn't the Superman anymore, so it didn't seem worthwhile to pick up this mini-series.

Then came the news, the news of Rebirth and solicitations which seemed to indicate that old-DCU Superman was once again going to be the Superman, and "The Final Days of Superman" was going to be the death of the New 52 Clark Kent.  I had to get on this.  I had to see this transition for myself, else I wouldn't believe it.

Death

I returned to New 52 Superman for his final days... and it was ...I dunno...  I can't say disappoitnting, because I had no real investment in this Superman.  It was eye opening though.  Peter J. Tomasi spends 8 issues with Superman saying goodbye (the return of the weekly triangle, at least for this short stint was a welcome sight), and despite the best of intentions, it still felt like there was no heart there.  In the first page of the first book, Superman #51, Clark says "I'm dying".

It's a perfect storm, he realizes, having fought in the fire pits of Apokolips, been subjected to A.R.G.U.S.' kryptonite room and battled Rao (I didn't read this, but was this supposed to be a personification of the Kryptonian god?).  By page 6 Superman has given up.  He's stopped fighting.  He's accepted his fate, and from there he's out to say his farewells.

First stop was Lana, to tell her his final wishes, then to Lois, to give her the life story of Clark Kent: Superman.  He's then off to see Batman, to tell his friend of his situation, but it's a dual-purpose visit, since he needs Batman's help to find Supergirl.  Their dynamic still feels young, and there's still more than a bit of playful antagonizing going on.  Batman wants to fight for a cure but Superman waves it off.  They find Supergirl in National City where she's enlisted the DEO to help get kickstart her powers (to tie the comics closer to the Supergirl TV show).  Apparently Kryptonian powers on this Earth are pretty sketchy in their consistency.

Wonder Woman shows up at the Fortress of Solitude, kind of pissed.  "Am I the last to know?"
"Batman told you," Superman accurately guesses.
Their conversation from there doesn't feel like that of a couple who really knows each other.  There's no sense of comfort between these two.  These scenes feel like characters who are attracted to each other and have an emotional investment, but they don't feel like a part of each others' lives.  They fight together, they kiss...but they both have whole other lives, other lives that really matter to them, other lives where they don't fit together.

As I was saying earlier, Superman and Wonder Woman don't work because for Superman, she would be alien to him.  He's a Kansas farm boy, she's an Amazon Warrior.  She is the god he shouldn't see himself as. That doesn't fit.

There's so much awesome 1970's
Super-Team Family/DC Comics Presents
flavour to this Yannick Paquette cover.
Love it.
I missed Batman/Superman #32.  By this point people had caught on to the fact that they really were killing off New 52 Superman, and, like me, their curiosity started driving up demand.  I did the rounds at a half dozen local comic shops just prior to the end of this 8-part arc, and all of them were void of most back issues of this storyline.  Batman/Superman #32 the scarcest of all since it introduced the New Superman of China, and some of those types (meaning comics speculators) snatched it up, hoping it'll jump in value very quickly.

[A, ahem, second printing just came out of B/S #32, and it is by far my favourite issue of "The Final Days of Superman" arc.  Any appearance by the Morrison-created Chinese super-team, the Great Ten is welcome.  If they're a supporting player to The New Super-Man series I may just have to check it out.  Tomasi seems to have a great feel for the characters, and Doug Mahnke is just a monster this issue.  It looks sooooo gooood.]

Throughout this story, Tomasi had a thread of an escaped convict who wound up with Superman's solar flare power, as well as gaining some of Superman's memories in the process.  He was confused into thinking he was Clark Kent as well as the one true Superman, but through his confusion his true nature meant his ego couldn't handle there being other Clark Kents or Supermen, so he sought to eliminate them.  He kidnapped New 52 Lois and took her to the White's house, where he threatened old-DCU Superman's family.  It's worth noting here that above all, Old Clark's priority is his family's safety.  So even though he could help Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman take on this Solar Flare guy, his initial impulse was to secure his family in a makeshift Fortress of Solitude he built in the Colarado rockies.  Afterall, surely this Earth's trinity can handle a rogue Superman on their own at least for a little while?

He does return to help, but New 52 Superman needs to do it alone and fights him off.  Defeating the Solar Flare dude, he's exhausted himself.  Old Superman helps bring him to Earth gently, but he's in his dying moments.  The kryptonite poisoning consumes him from within, and he turns to...dust?  Stone?  Can't really tell.  In the process of dying, a surge erupts from Superman's body, knocking over Lois and Lana (given that there's a "Superwoman" comic comic starring Lois lane, there was a power transfer happening here...because transferring Superman's power to other people is a thing in the New 52).

Superman's death in the New 52 is literally a whimper.  A cough, and the spark goes out.  Some people are there to say goodbye, and it's sad, but it's not the tragedy it should be.  Old Clark is there, watching his doppleganger succumb, Batman too.  Superman dies before them and then Batman turns to old Clark and says "There's lots of questions...."
Old Clark replies "Which I'll answer at another time," and flies off.  It's such a draw away from the moment.  It's like Tomasi and DC in general were saying "your focus is on old Superman" here.

New 52 Superman's death is kind of nothing at this point.  Certainly nothing like the epic 22 splash pages of Superman #75 and the palpable sacrifice Superman made in a kill-or-be-killed tussle with an unstoppable creature. This was a cumulation of sacrifices made to be a hero, but there was no drama to this death, and equally no fanfare.  I'm not hearing much in the way of lamentation over New 52 Superman being killed off.

Rebirth

There's a 2-page spread in Rebirth, heroes and media have gathered at the site of Superman's death.  Cyborg seems to be looking for something while Shazam strokes his chin in puzzlement.  Wally West's narration states "Someone's died... Superman, or... I can't see him clearly for some reason."  It's as if there's some confusion over the validity of this Superman.  There's a Mr. Oz character, who apparently trained the New 52 Superman, states "You and your family are not what you believe you are.  And neither was the fallen Superman."

Mr. Oz is neither friend nor enemy, terms that are "too simple...when you consider the long game.  Some might call this that."  If Mr. Oz is Ozymandias, Adrian Veidt, it's possible that he and Dr. Manhattan are playing a game in universe creation for their own science or amusement, like some ersatz Rick Sanchez (from Rick and Morty).

Superman Rebirth was scripted by Tomasi, and paves the way for Old Clark's reintroduction as the Superman.  In this story he looks to take Superman's remains to the Fortress of Solitude, where he can be put into the regeneration matrix.  He's surprised to find Lana Lang already at the memorial monument stealing the remains, fulfilling her promise (form Superman #51) to take him home and bury him next to his parents.

Tomasi's script here is at times completely on-point, and at others a complete mess. In the early pages old Clark is so cagey about some things to Lana.  "It's a long story that I'm not able to talk about for a variety of...personal reasons."  One panel later he reiterates "Like I said, there are personal reasons at play here that prevent me from revealing too much about...".  But then he goes on to spill his guts about alternate realities and his own, somewhat different past, Tomasi inserting a wholly unnecessary 7-page recap of the death of Superman.

Old Clark gets into it with Lana about his decision to stay out of the affairs of this world, to keep himself secret, to stay out of New 52 Clark's life.  But he knows a world like this needs a Superman, a hero to inspire the best in others, to right wrongs, and to help those needing help, doing the best one man can do.  "I came back from certain death -- which means so can he."
"You seem so sure of yourself that I want to believe you," Lana replies.
"Why don't you?"
"Because Clark was my closest friend.  I can feel in my heart that he's gone."
Once again, the old DCU Superman talks of hope.  The New 52 character accepts the tragedy.

The best moment here is old Clark realizing that his doppleganger had made some improvements to the Fortress.  "Never occured to me to do it in my fortress...but how obvious... he honored both."
Right next to the crystal statue of Jor-El and Lara holding Krypton aloft is a giant statue of Jonathan and Martha Kent holding up the Earth.  The reason it didn't occur to you, old Clark is because your Ma and Pa Kent were still there for you (Jonathan Kent died not much before Flashpoint).  Even still, even if they were alive still, a tribute to both sets of parents is a great idea.

But old Clark has to succumb to the brutal realities of the New 52 Earth, and accept that he can't bring this world's Clark back.  There is no regeneration matrix in this reality.  In a way, old Clark has to accept his own mortality along with the other Clark's as well.

For the past year, combining Convergence Superman and Superman: Lois and Clark, Jurgens has been the shepherd of old Clark into the new DCU, just as he was the shepherd of Superman into both his death and rebirth 20 years ago (I just felt a shiver up my back at the realization of how long ago that was).  Jurgens has been tied to the character ever since, despite having gone on to do countless other projects (including a triumphant return to Booster Gold in the late aughts, a character he created).  He's not necessarily a beloved figure in that association.  All the scrutinizing of "The Death of Superman" over the years has called into question how good a story it actually was (and to be fair, it's not the best ever, but you cannot deny it's place in comic book history) or how good a villain Doomsday is (he's fairly one note, but he served a purpose and has been way overused since), but it sits uncomfortably on Jurgens, like it's his only contribution to the character, when his contributions are voluminous.

Action Comics #957 serves a dual purpose: to bring old Clark back into the fold as the Superman (based on Tomasi' groundwork in "The Final Days of Superman" and Superman: Rebirth ) and to put Lex Luthor in some power armor and adopt the role of Superman of Metropolis.

On of the immediate problems (and not just here but in Rebirth as well) is the continuity flow.  Has Superman been reported dead?  Or missing?  There seems to be confusion between the Rebirth books exactly what the public knows.  Hell, Jimmy Olson seems surprised by the news for some reason.  I mean, they built a monument with a statue having been commissioned.  It's just weird that there's this much confusion around what Superman's status is.  Not that it's important, long term, but it makes for a messy transition.

There are, however, two bigger problems with Action Comics' Rebirth.  The first finds Clark shaving the beard (or, rather, singeing it off with his heat vision...that bathroom's gotta stink) and putting on the old red and blue tights (only they're not the old ones, there's no red underroos and no red booties.  But the Nehru collar is gone as is all the ornate piping, so it's not quite classic, but also not trying so hard to be "new").  He flies off to Metropolis to publicly show that there is still a Superman and to call out Luthor as a villain, despite the fact that in all their investigation of this Earth's Luthor he and Lois have not found any dirt on him.  Superman -- MY Superman, remember -- then slanders Luthor publicly and assaults him, pawing at the "S" on his chest like a madman.

I don't know what kind of relationship Lex and New-52 Superman had...I think Lex was even in the Justice League for some reason...but for MY Superman to do this is way out of character.  He's the bad guy in this scene, and in front of the cameras, he's the one in the wrong.  MY Superman is smarter than that.  He would stare Luthor down, take the measure of this man, and play the long game.  He would shake Luthor's hand, announce their cooperative spirit to the public and keep an even closer eye on him as a colleague.  Keep you friends close, and your enemies closer, no?

Man, add this one to the "Superman's A Dick" blog.

"Making it appear like I attacked you? Tricky as ever Luthor."
No, I don't like this, don't like this one bit.  I know this is Action Comics, but out-of-character action is not what we need.  Luthor's responses are all on point here, this "imposter" is indeed an imposter, and the instigator.  Superman's ego is not so big as to let another world's Lex try and fight in Superman's image.  Surely he remembers Alexander Luthor form Earth-3?


The next big issue is where this ends, and where the solicits for upcoming issues have already noted where it's going.  Doomsday.  Again.  Bloody again. And again and again and again.  Each appearance of this mindless, characterless beast dilutes his initial appearance, taints the threat he represents.  Because he killed Superman once should make him such an immense threat always, but that's the very reason why he's not so scary.  He's already killed Superman, and the writers aren't going to let it happen again.  So he's not a stakes raiser.  He's just a tiring obstacle.


It's the best and worst of Jurgens here.  I mean, he made it through 10 issues of Convergence and Lois and Clark presenting some pretty challenging obstacles in old Clark's way, but the character triumphed a Superman's triumph, with smarts, and patience.  Throwing him back in the red and blue seems to have given Jurgens a seizure and he doesn't know what else to do but have him fight both Luthor and Doomsday for no good reason.

I like the family scenes, and the mystery of another Clark Kent showing up at the Daily Planet and meeting Jimmy in the crowd of the Superman/Lex tussle... that's a nice lil' mystery to set up.  Enough with this Doomsday malarky.  And we've had our aggressive Superman.  He died.  Let the real hero please stand up, now, thanks.

And the End

Those differences, between pre-Flashpoint Superman and New 52 Superman.  They were actually fairly tangible.  A lot of it had to do with the relationships the man had, and even more had to do with the actions of the character.  And hope (really leaning on the meaning of the "S" shield from Man of Steel, perhaps the best new idea in the film).  As I said, I didn't stick with New 52 Superman very long, so I may have missed some incredible character growth there.  During "The Final Days..." I was surprised that Lois was Superman's best friend... but all the other connections, Batman, Wonder Woman, Steel, Supergirl, they all felt like relationships with impediments.  I want old Clark's return as Superman to be as open and outgoing.  I want characters to notice how much more hopeful he is, how much more resolved he is. MY Superman has been a mentor to everyone from day one, and it's going to be amazing watching him inspire his own son as a hero.  I wasn't even considering it, but now a Super Sons book, with a 13-year-old Damien babysitting a 5-year-old Jonathan... that seems exciting.  The trinity book, where Wonder Woman and Batman have to learn to work with a Superman different from whom they knew and loved...that's all the more fascinating.  There's a whole new world for Superman to inspire, perhaps even Lex Luthor.  Let's remember part of Rebirth is to change the way we look at the modern DCU (and perhaps our own world), and a Superman from a brighter past seems like a logical guide to take us forward.

Catching up on Comics with CGraig: Fight Club 2 #8-10

2015-16, Dark Horse Comics

I read Fight Club 2 in four separate chunks.  First, 1 and 2 together, then 3-6 (thinking it was only a 6-issue series only to be perfectly confused by such a non ending that I had to take to the unternet to find out what was up).  I then read issue 7 but decided to wait for the series to complete before I finished reading (now a common habit of mine).  Unfortunately, that trip to the internet only further confused me, since I thought for some reason it was a 12 issue series.

When I was checking upcoming releases last week, I noticed the Fight Club 2 hardcover was on its way this week, and I was a bit confused, a bit angry...how could the collected edition be published before the final issues? I only had issue 10 to that point.  That didn't seem right at all.  But I decided to check the last page of the most recent issue, and yeah, that seemed pretty conclusively to be an ending.  So I dove in.

I saw Fight Club in Toronto at the Varsity.  This was back in '99, before I lived here.  I was living in Barrie at the time, and I had made the sojourn into the big smoke for the first time on a bus.  My hermano Gary was playing host and tour guide.  The walk from his apartment (just off Carlton) up to the Varsity was like a maze of bright lights and back roads.  The Varsity was a movie theatre in a skyscraper.  The seats inside were red velvet and the whole experience was just out of this world to me.  Not to mention it was David Fincher's mind fuck of a film, promoting counter-culture action, and glorifying violence as a creative outlet for stress relief.  Watching the towers fall at the end of the film while sitting in a theatre inside of a tower blew my feeble small-town mind.  The cinema was an integral part of the experience, as was the company.  We went up to the restaurant on the 51st floor afterwards for cocktails I definitely couldn't afford on my maxed out credit card, the whole evening was surreal.

So Fight Club holds a very special place in my memories, but also it's just a film I loved thoroughly.  The Dust Brothers' soundtrack is a unique work that stands tall on its own merits, not just as cinematic accompaniment.  For as much as I love the film (and I still do, even though I haven't seen it in quite some time, and much of it has been strip-mined down to cliche at this point) I never bothered with the book.  As the guy who writes on a comic blog, you may have guessed I'm not much of a reader.

Fight Club 2 is a rather remarkable piece though, in that Chuck Palahniuk caters both to the fans of the film and of the book.  It acknowledges the film is responsible for much of people's awareness of the title, but also notes that this comic is a direct sequel to the novel.  It's a goofy, warped adventure, one that posits Tyler Durden as a kind of genetic virus, more than a mental disorder.  The worry of Sebastian (Jack in the film) is that his son (with Marla) will be Tyler's new vessel. 

By issue 8, things have gotten way off the rails, with Marla having militarized her support group (a support group for children with progeria, who all look like they're in their 80's) and Sebastian impersonating Tyler to gain control of his extremist group and get his son back.  Meanwhile, Robert Paulson is actually still alive, though missing half his brain and is a brute force vegetable. 

Yeah, like I said, it gets weird.  But I'm okay with weird.  It's actually quite like Grant Morrison weird, which is apt given that Palahniuk here collaborates with Cameron Stewart, one of Morrison's go-to artists.  

Issue 8, however begins a thread (or maybe continues a thread, my staggered reading has left me unable to fully recall) of metacommentary where Palahniuk addresses his writers circle about the trouble he's having resolving the central conflicts and dovetailing the separate threads.  It's a hoary cliche and smacks of the easy way out, especially when everything that happens from there on out is almost entirely deus ex machina at its most blatant. Yet, it's still kind of fun.  I tried to go with it, but it still bothered me.

I've skipped the letter column every issue, which features a lot of lunatic ramblings from people who seem to take too much joy (or not have enough separation from) the world of Fight Club.  Photos of people placing "Tyler Lives" in public areas seems almost sad in a way.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Toy Talk -- Wonky Legs and Inconsistent Sizing: Hasbro's Troublesome Miniverse

Two years ago Marvel decided to test the weight of their box office behemoth of a name and deep dive into a quintet of characters that even hardened Marvel readers would be somewhat unfamiliar with.  The gamble on a talking raccoon and a sentient tree paid off, Guardians of the Galaxy has become perhaps the most universally accepted and beloved of Marvel's cinematic output.

Soon enough the film's unusual characters started popping up in toy aisles everywhere, as Lego sets, as wearable costumes and play accessories, and, of course, as action figures.  Only, just like the film was a gamble, Hasbro gambled on trying something different.  Instead of 3 3/4 in figures -- the standard set by Kenner's Star Wars in 1978, and upheld by G.I. Joe for the decades to follow -- Hasbro introduced a 2 1/2" line.  Oil prices were high, but smaller figures meant smaller vehicles and accessories which meant they could price things cheaper.


I still see piles of Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: Winter Soldier action figures all over the place.  Obviously they weren't gargantuan sellers, so the shift seemed at least worth a shot. Honestly, I can't tell you whether the 2 1/2" Guardians sold well or not.  They appeared to languish a bit on the shelves, but not at all like Thor:TDW or CA:WS...  I'm not still coming across them everywhere, so they obviously cleared through all right.  I know personally, as an action figure fan, they didn't appeal to me.  The five points of articulation, the poor detailing, the awkward-looking limbs, the rudimentary painting... they weren't very attractive.  The ships, however, were gorgeous, and I contemplated a long time on buying a Milano.  I never did.  (Note that the CA:WS and Thor:TDW figures weren't all that appealing either...bad sculpts were the primary culprit).


Mega Rigs dudes
Marvel's next film after Guardians was Avengers: Age of Ultron and I was sad to see in the advance promotion of the toys for the film that they were sticking with the 2" figure.  One thing caught my interest though... a three-tiered playset.  In actuality, three different playsets, sold separately (but with figures) that formed one large Avengers tower playset.  That...that was cool.  I was intrigued.  When they finally hit the shelves, though... I couldn't must the enthusiasm anymore.  These wee 2-inch figures just weren't doing it to me.  They looked like the action figures that come with Matchbox Mega Rigs... and I didn't consider them action figures at all.  Plus my kid wasn't playing with Mega Rigs anymore so the crossover appeal wasn't even there.  I gave them another hard pass.  These guys didn't seem to linger on the shelves as long as the Guardians did, though you can find the odd two-pack of hero+"Sub-Ultron" occasionally.  The playsets especially seemed to disappear quickly

Fast forward another year.  Captain America: Civil War was basically another Avengers film, and so I awaited the toy onslaught, only to find that stores, at least local Toronto stores, seemed a bit more wary of carrying Marvel stuff.  Stock for Civil War at Toys R Us and Wal-Mart (pretty much the only first run toy retailers we have outside of specialty shops) were pitiful.  Not like "we've sold out already" pitiful, but "we didn't bring that much in" pitiful.

The wife is a huge Winter Soldier nerd and likes to pick up most things Bucky (and anything Cap that looks good too), so when I came across the "Miniverse" (which Hasbro officially started calling this line with this release) Civil War Winter Soldier/Ant Man 2-pack, I just had to get it for her.

As soon as I got my hands on them, I knew they were trouble.  These bitty little action figures are both adorable and cool.  Ant-Man in particular -- who has become a favourite of mine through his movie, Civil War and Nick Spencer's great current run in the comics -- I just love.  And he comes with this little armor boost stuff...hearkening back to M.A.S.K.  I was never a M.A.S.K. kid but now I feel like I missed out on something great.  This tiny size is kind of awesome.

  A Falcon/War Machine 2-pack followed quickly by a Black Widow/Iron Man 2-pack, followed by a Captain America/Crossbones 2-pack.  Suddenly the Black Panther/Hawkeye 2-pack has become our holy grail.  Easily the most difficult to find.  I kind of love that Black Panther is hot right now.  He's finally getting the recognition he's long deserved.  And in this mini form, he's just the bestest.





Actually, the Giant-Man/Ant-Man 2-pack is my holy grail right now:



I was wrong about these mini guys.  They turned out to be pretty awesome.  And, as my collection-obsessed brain does, it started to go into overdrive, thinking back upon Age of Ultron and Guardians of the Galaxy. 

So I hit up eBay ...and it's always a dangerous thing when I decide to start "collecting" via eBay.  eBay must be fantastic for my American friends.  Things are dirt cheap, and in-country, shipping is pretty tight.  But in Canada, most things are sold in US dollars, even if they're a seller from Canada, which means biting the exchange rate bullet (+25%, thanks! ugh).  Shipping within Canada is okay, but shipping from the states is a nightmare.  A $6 toy will cost almost $30 to ship.  It's totally cost prohibitive.  Anyway, I found a quartet of Age of Ultron figures totalling $12 (+$8 shipping) and a lot of all the Guardians figure releases plus two ships (no Milano sadly) for $40 US (even though the seller was Canadian).  Shipping was priced at $18 US.  So it wasn't a bad deal, in US money, but converted to Canadian and it was probably a little more pricey than I'd have liked.

I later found an Age of Ultron Quinjet on the Toys R Us website for $17.95 (on sale from $40) but thought I'd spent enough.  The next day I found myself in Toys R Us (as I said, I get a little obsessive) and found the Quinjet in store, same price, no shipping fees.  Bonus. 

(SIDE NOTE : The longer I writer about this topic, the less proud of myself I feel)

So immediately I unpack the Quinjet, I put the decal stickers on and I figure out how it plays, and then I go and grab some of the Civil War figures and...well...the Quinjet is supposed to seat four, and it's tight with just Iron Man and War Machine in the cockpit.  This doesn't make much sense.

I take hunched-over Cap off his motorcycle (technically it's Black Widow's cycle...ahem) and compare the size of Iron Man to him.  It's just not looking right.  Iron Man is noticeably bigger.  I started to wonder... did they change the sizes on the figures between Age of Ultron and Civil War?  That wouldn't make much sense, given how unusual the size is and how there wouldn't be much backwards playability as a result.

Yesterday the Age of Ultron eBay order arrived, and my suspicions were confirmed.  The Age of Ultron figures are noticeably smaller than the Civil War figures.  The AOU figures are a true 2 1/2", while the Civil War figures are 2 3/4" - 3".  I was beyond disappointed.  My aspirations of collecting all the Age of Ultron figures (and more on point, getting those awesome Avengers Tower playsets) were dashed on the spot.  What would be the point?  It's obvious Hasbro wasn't sticking with the dimensions, the figures and vehicles and sets would we obsoleted by any new releases.

Today the Guardians of the Galaxy figures came, and it only got worse.  These figures aren't even true 2 1/2".  They're actually smaller than the Age of Ultron figures (except Groot, who is a 3" figure, but scrawnier than the Civil War guys), averaging around 2 3/8".  So over three releases of Hasbro's mini-figure toys and playsets they've adjusted the size by 5/8ths of an inch.  That's a noticeable difference especially when it comes to placing figures in vehicles... which is most of the fun of having vehicles.
Above is the Nova Corps dude from GotG, Nick Fury from AoU and War Machine from Civil War.  You can see Nick has slight height above the Corpsman, while War Machine towers over them both by a full head.  Now, these mini figures are scaled pretty well within their lines.  Some figures are taller or shorter than others (like Groot is much taller than all the other GotG figures and Rocket is much smaller) but each of the above represents the average heights of figures in their lines.  So AoU guys are all a little taller than GotG guys, and Civil War guys are huge compared to both.

Look at Civil War Iron Man next to the Corpsman, or even AoU War Machine beside Civil War War Machine.  That's some insane sizing differences for what should be compatible lines.  Groot looks so scrawny.

Having just got the GotG and AoU guys over the past two days, I'm reminded why I didn't buy them in the first place.  They don't look good.  They look flimsy and junky.  The Civil War guys in comparison are stury and feel good in the hands.  As annoyed as I am about the inter-compatibility of the figures, the Civil War line is literally and figuratively heads above the previous lines.

It just makes me wonder what's going to happen when Guardians 2 comes out next year?  Are they going to keep going with the Civil War line, and make a new Milano that fits the larger figures, or are they going to shrink the line again so that at least there's consistency within the Guardians line.  I actually hope it's the former, because they're nicer figures all around.  And I like the weirdo fractal armor (to borrow a term from total justice)

One of the problems that plagues all three lines is wonky molding, particularly the legs.  There's a lot of inconsistency.  Civil War War Machine's left leg is 1/8 of an inch longer than the right.  The base of his left is sturdy enough that you can bend back the right and make him stand, but you shouldn't have to fiddle so much to get an action figure to balance.  Nick Fury, likewise, has a shorter left leg than right.  You can see in the pictures above him leaning to the right (his left).  And the Corpsman also has a right leg longer than the left.  It's more like a club foot, and it's almost impossible to get him to stand because of how the plastic has bent outwards.  I'm curious to know if these are consistent flaws for these figures or a product of the way the plastic is cooled or something technical like that.

In any case... Civil War Miniverse is where it's at...except their playsets (still unseen around these parts) are so uninspired compared to the Age of Ultron tower sets:

And whither Spider-Man?
Comic Book Movie shared this article earlier this year, and yet, I've no idea where this set with Spidey is.


 The Target exclusive multipack doesn't contain him.  But then they seem to be two different packs. The one above has no Winter Soldier, Vision or Hawkeye either.


I wonder if last minute, they realized they don't have the rights to distribute Spider-Man within the Civil War brand, only under their Spider Man brand (which they also have the rights to).

Okay, I've embarassed myself enough for today.
Nerd -30-

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Don't Call It A Comeback... (because they're calling it "Rebirth", dummy)

I have not been this into a DC comic in a long, long time.

I've read through rebirth three times completely, and flipped through it at least a dozen times since, just marveling at it (no pun intended).

This is a brilliant, brilliant work.  It has behind it the weight of years of fan disappointment, years of lagging sales, years of questionable creative decisions, years of wrong directions and years of character (and universe) mismanagement that it aims to address and course correct, all in one shot.  And that's just the metatext.

Beyond that, writer (and Chief Creative Officer at DC) Geoff Johns had to craft a story that will not only resonate as something meaningful to the characters, but also excite the lapsed and new fan base alike.

He nailed it.
Gary Frank cover

As frustrated as one can get with him, one can also forget Johns is a good writer, in fact a great writer of characters in a superhero universe.  It's easy to get frustrated with him, for his most notorious achievements were also spitting in the faces of fans who grew up in a post-Crisis DCU.  The charges laid against him are that he only wants to play with what he knew as a kid, and that he always wants to reset things back to the Silver Age in the DCU, hence Green Lantern Rebirth and Flash Rebirth.  This makes sense. Though Johns' is only 3 years older than I am,  Wally West and Kyle Rayner and Barry Allen's death and Hal Jordan's insanity...these are things that he should have equally grown up with in the DCU.  As he became a teenager, these character's (as well as the universe's) evolution should have happened alongside his own.

But then we tend to look upon the things we liked as teenagers with a jaded eye.  There's a pureness to what we like as a child, but when we're teenagers our emotions run rampant and it's hard to see the forest for the boobs or the sky for the violence.  Especially as boys we tend to like more extremes in sex and violence as we process the world with our expanding brain, a better sense of the way things work but also a reluctance to discarding childhood naivety or a rejection of adult responsibilities. We do a lot of stupid things as teens and the things we like at the time can, later on, sometimes be seen as an extension of those stupid things.  Johns may have thought Wally and Kyle, and Zero Hour and the like to be some of those stupid things, and Hal and Barry were the purity from his childhood that needed to be restored.

For a great many of us, though, Wally became our guide for growing up.  He was just a kid superhero, though after 20-ish years as a Teen Titan, he was starting to outgrow the "Kid" part of his Kid Flash moniker.  Taking over as Flash meant he had to grow up... he had a legacy to fulfill.  But in fulfilling his legacy, he also forged his own path.  Suddenly super-villains became friends.  He accepted a role in the Justice League Europe where he was class clown, but eventually he had to grow into a truly reliable teammate. He discovered things about his powers even Barry never new, thus exceeding him in the role, running out of his shadow.  Wally quit chasing girls and found true love.  He became a mentor and then a father.  For over 20 years Wally was the Flash, almost as long as Barry was, or as Jay was before him.  He went from being a kid to defining the role.  (Barry was a very milquetoast character, quite dull in fact.  Wally-as-Flash is the benchmark for the character.  Even today, much of Grant Gustin's character of Barry Allen owes more to Wally than traditional Barry)
Ugh, Barry and his dull-ass crew cut

Bringing back Barry was a slap in the face to all of those who grew up alongside Wally (of course we can't forget that the Flash had been kind of broken as a title for a couple years, with writers not knowing how to deal with Wally's family life, or making Bart the Flash).  Like when you finally feel like you've grown up, only for something to happen at work that makes you feel small or shamed.  An authority figure can put you in a place sometimes, a place which you thought you outgrew.  And Barry's return meant Wally was being put in his place.  Or, rather, he didn't really have a place anymore.  All seemingly because Geoff Johns wanted his childhood back.

But the charge laid against Johns, about wanting the DCU to be exactly like it was when he was a kid rings false.  Even bringing Barry and Hal back were just the first steps in massive thrusts forward, such as the amazing Lantern Spectrum cycle, starting with the "Sinestro Corps War" and ending with "Blackest Night".  Even working with his old boss Richard Donner on Action Comics, Johns introduced a young Kryptonian refugee, born in the Phantom Zone to Zod and Ursa, whom Lois and Clark were set to adopt since the logistics of them having a child of their own were ...complex (see Mallrats).  But it seemed DC didn't want Lois and Clark to have a child and that story was dropped.


Yes, marginalizing Wally (and turning Impulse into Kid Flash) had vilified Johns in many people's eyes. In some ways, DC Universe Rebirth can be seen as an apology.  From the opening panel we're provided a narrator, the text box yellow with red border.  If it's not immediately clear page 6 spells it out, a full page showing our narrator is Wally West, emerging from the Speed Force where he's been trapped for 10 years, the memories of his existence erased from everyone's memories but our own. (He emerges in the Batcave...not unlike a similar scene from Dawn of Justice, which itself is a nod to Crisis on Infinite Earths)
I love that man right there.


This whole issue is Wally's cry to be remembered, but it's not just about remembering him, but remembering what it was he brought to the DCU over his 20 years as Flash: legacy, love, and life.  Mike Wieringo was the first to prominently bring the lightning to Flash comics (in conjunction with the arrival of the Speed Force) a visual symbol of the crackling vitality Wally brought to comics.

Johns breaks the book up into four thematic chapters, the first "Lost", then "Legacy", "Love" and "Life" follow.  He's identifying first that DC had lost its way with "The New 52" and that the key components that were missing were the latter 3-Ls.

In the first chapter, Wally is a reminder of what was lost but also reminds us what the DCU lost when they rebooted after Flashpoint.  Through Wally, Johns delivers a fairly concise recap of 80 years in the DCU prior to the reboot, all through the eyes of what was most important to Wally.  Rebirth really is a character-driven epic.

In the second chapter, legacies are reintroduced.  Wally is pulled towards Johnny Thunder (because of his pet lightningbolt...?  Clever choice on Johns' part if so), while the Legion (looks like Saturn Girl..but should have been Lightning Lass or Lightning Lad if the theme were being stuck to), a few years dormant in the DCU, are paying the past a visit once more.  The Atoms Ray Palmer and Ryan Choi are both back as professor and student, Ted Kord plays mentor to Jaime Reyes, Damian Wayne turns 13, there's a new Green Lantern on Earth (finally, a woman) and Aqualad (sadly not Kaldur from Young Justice) are shown.

The chapter ends with Pandora, one of Johns' "Trinity of Sin" characters, whom he wanted to make a major cosmic player in the New 52, like the Phantom Stranger and Spectre have been in decades past.  Pandora represents the idea of setting the evil free, and one of the major events of the modern DCU was "Forever Evil" where the bad guys take over.  That's just case-in-point of how far off the path DC has strayed.  Pandora speaks, but there's no one around her.  We're to think that she's talking to the mysterious orchestrator of the DCU's darkening in the New 52, whom we're led to believe by the touches of blue and the cosmic reach and Watchmen imagery, is Dr. Manhattan...and yet, I think Johns is having Pandora speaking directly to him.
Though I'm not sure if Johns truly represents the statement, "Skepticism, doubt, corrpution.  All things your cold heart believes in", he at the very least feels responsible for how dark things got.  Just look at the wholesale slaughter in Infinite Crisis and the imagery of a crazed Superboy ripping people apart.  If there's a mea culpa in this book, this would be it.  Johns blows up his agent of darkness, his desire to explore evil above hope and good manifest in a single character.  He obliterates the cause of evils, disintegrated into pink smoke.  It's an extreme gesture, signifying that she's no longer needed, perhaps even a bad idea to begin with.

The "love" chapter starts by dropping a bomb in two panels, more explicitly a word balloon and a text box.  Diana has a twin brother.  One panel later, we see a baby with glowing red eyes (and Kirby crackle), Darkseid is reborn (by his own daughter it would seem...ick).

Turn the page, a two page spread, Superman is dead, and yet no one really seems to be mourning.  Wonder Woman and Supergirl look sad, but Mari McCabe seems to be flirting with Steve Trevor, and Oliver Queen locks eyes with Dinah Drake for the first time in this DCU.  Lois and Clark from the pre-Flashpoint DCU have been living in hiding on a world not their own, but also not completely unfamiliar.  Lois asks Clark "is he going to return from the grave like you did?"  Clark kisses Lois sweetly on the forehead, "Let's hope so."

Hope.

It takes the pre-Flashpoint Superman to return hope.

Arthur Curry is the reluctant king, and not "the terror of the oceans" which legend have made of the lord of Atlantis.  He hopes to take a warrior for his queen.  It's all about setting up love, even amidst loss.  So it's all the more heartbreaking when the love of Wally West's life, the woman who has saved him, the hero, multiple times, no longer recognizes him, and cannot save him this time.  The DC directive for the New 52 was no weddings (causing Greg Rucka to leave writing Batwoman as he was planning Kate Kane and Maggie Sawyer's nuptials) and no kids.  Happy families make for boring stories, apparently, and yet, family was what the DCU was about for such a long time, most prominently with Barry and Wally

Life.  Life is finite.  Wally's life is fading.  He's desperate, reluctant, a fighter.  He sees old enemies, colleagues, friends... all have forgotten him.  He sees his replacement, another Wally West with superspeed destined to become Flash's sidekick and a Teen Titan. But he's also family, and a hero.  The world could use two Wally Wests, but it doesn't have to have them.

And then there's his uncle.  Barry Allen.  His mentor.  A better father figure than his own.  Here Wally sees a man who reflects his ideal, he reflects who Wally ultimately became, a hero with a smile on his face, a compassionate man with a sense of justice and honesty.

Here we see a Wally who's seen the world change before his eyes, the light is returning to the DC Universe.  He's ready to give in, but with every last ounce of effort he needs to see his own hero again, to let him know what it all meant to live the life he did.  Even if it didn't matter anymore, even if no one remembered, Wally was still grateful.

Can I give you a hug, Wallace? You look like you need a hug.
Those pages (and this whole chapter) so masterfully illustrated by Phil Jimenez, inked by Matt Santorelli and vibrantly colored by Gabe Eltaeb as the lightning erupts around Wally, electrifying Barry, shocking him with the memories of a forgotten lifetime... they're beautiful.  Barry pulls Wally from the Speed Force at the last second ("every second is a gift"), and Jimenez conveys perfectly, with one panel of Wally's reaction just how grateful, and yet shocked, he is.  The expression of incredulity is so palpable on his face.  And Barry's reaction, as a flood of memories return, the guilt he feels for not just forgetting Wally but ultimately letting him down for so long...in a flash, it's forgiven.  Wally is a hero, he knows this world of heroes and what happens.  There's no grudges, just a lot of losses to accept and lost time to make up for.

I shed genuine tears...of both happiness and pain.  With each reread, or even just staring in to Wally and Barry's faces on those pages, I well up.  Comic books excite me and make me laugh, even horrify and disgust me.  They're potent, more than capable of eliciting a reaction.  But, I don't remember the last time one made me cry.

Nope.
The book starts and ends with Watchmen iconography.  A happy face pin with blood spatter.  A watch's inner workings messed up by a missing tooth on a rusting cog.  The watch taken apart and repaired.  Mars.  Dialogue between, supposedly, Adrian Veidt and Dr. Manhattan.  I don't have a problem with this.

I like the meta commentary here, that the Watchmen and its contemporaries unintentionally ushered in a dark wave into comics.  I don't get the sense that Manhattan is a villain here, but at best an experimenter.  The fact that Adrian Viedt (and a "Mr. Oz"..short for Ozymandias?) is at play, a man who considers himself the world's smartest without any humility, could he be the manipulator, and Manhattan the one trying to set things right?  Adrian seems to be taking ownership, "I did the right thing, didn't I?"   There's plenty of possibilities.  The Watchmen are welcome in the DCU, so long as their exposure within it is kept to a minimum.

Also, that missing tooth in the cog on Page 1, it's repaired on the third last page.  The tooth is Wally, and the watch is restored...but... the problem with the watch on page one seems to be time is going backwards, and yet it's still moving backwards even after the tooth is repaired.  It's moving backwards from 5:00 (or "V").  Is this to indicate moving back in time, away from "V" (for Vendetta) and other misinterpreted lessons from Alan Moore?  Did Alan Moore unintentionally break the DCU, not personally but through the influence of his works?

But when the watch flips to a Watchmen-style clock face, time is at midnight, with the blood spatter on the inverse side from where it is on the button Batman finds.  Why?

Every panel in this book has intent, meaning and/or purpose.  Even if it doesn't make complete sense to everyone, the tone, in its entirety, feels meaningful.  Even if you don't know DC's rich past, or even if you're not going to follow along in the future, you can feel it all change here.  You can feel the rich past colliding with a brighter future.  You can feel a heavy world get lighter, the darkness turned vibrant.

Somehow the fact that Gary Frank can't not make smiles
look goofy only makes it work better for Ted Kord
Smiles, how many smiles.  Once we get past lost (where the only smiles are of Evil and in the past, w get a Legionnaire's smile, Ted Kord's smile, Damien Wayne's smile all up close and personal, followed by Green Arrow and Black Canary, wry and hesitant, Aquaman and Mera, Wally and Barry...the pleasure of another's company.

DC's execs -- Didio, Lee, and Johns -- said this wasn't another reboot, this was a shift in philosophy.  A return to form.  An acknowledgement of what was done wrong, and a path forward for a better, more engaging, more meaningful stories.

What makes a shared universe great is not that every event affects everyone, but that every event could affect everyone... and not just today.  A shared universe allows for a building of history, a sharing of history, and the changing of history.  It provides a framework that's rigid enough to withstand pieces being removed or moved around without it all falling apart.  Flashpoint and The New 52 took the whole thing down and started again, and attempted to rebuild it without a plan.  And as such their design started to take shape like the structure before it, but warped and twisted, sometimes in interesting ways, but mostly in not good, fragile ways.  With 80 very carefully crafted pages, Rebirth moves the new structure onto the old foundation, instead of the soft ground beside it.  Rebirth has found some of the pieces of the old left in tact and is using those to brace a creaky design.  There's still a lot of work to be done but this is an excellent start.

This is, to me, Johns' best work to date.  It's honest and personal , yet grand and sweeping, full of easter eggs and devilish clues around his intentions.  It's past, present and future colliding, allowing for new possibilities for all.  It's not trying to be provocative, or change things just for change's sake as he's so often done in the past.

As a standalone work it's wondrous.  As a turning point, it's like hitting five bullseyes with one shot: not just skill but a miracle.  Johns has reinvigorated the DCU, restoring it to a point where it can legitimately challenge Marvel once again as a place you want to spend your time (and money).  With 80 pages it's gone from being a barely familiar place I once cared about to an exciting and revitalized venue to which I wish to return.

Thrilled about Wally, not so thrilled
about Brett Booth
When I first read about Rebirth, I was jaded.  I couldn't believe Didio, Lee and Johns would steer the ship right after colliding with icebergs so long.  For the first time I want to know where things are going, I want to follow Superman as a father and as a stranger on another planet (yet again).  I want to see my Superman integrate into the heroes of this DC Universe. I want to go wherever Wally West is willing to take me.  He looks younger but has the weight of a lost life riding on his shoulders.  Even with his spark of light returning, there's still some heavy clouds that follow.  (And I want to see Wally and Superman meet again, the last remaining survivors who remember a whole other universe).

I want to know what happened to Ray Palmer, and I want to accompany Ryan Choi on his journey as he finds out.  I want to see my two favourite Blue Beetles occupy the same air.   I want more Supergirl, more Legion, more Vixen and Batwoman and Stephanie Brown.  I want the history, the legacy, the Justice Society to return.  I want my comics to be better than the TV shows they spawned.

The electricity is back.  It's not the same world I grew up with, but it doesn't have to be.  It just needs to be true to where it came from in order to mean something going forward.

---
STRAY THOUGHTS

- I'm not so sure about this Spectrum version of the Shazam Family


- What's up with the letter from Thomas Wayne, is that a Flashpoint remnant?  I didn't read Flashpoint.  Did Flashpoint Batman send Barry back with a letter for Bruce?

- That the Comedian's button wound up in the Batcave makes ZERO sense, though, right?

- I love the story as it played out, but if Wally went to Clark and Lois White, problem solved, right?  I look forward to their reuinion.

- What was the "help against the capes" that Swamp Thing speaks of to Constantine.  Is that past tense?  I'm intrigued.

- Poor Linda.  Hopefully Wally doesn't go all Carter Hall-like stalker on her, talking about destinies and junk.

- Mr. Oz apparently trained New 52 Superman (showing up in a Johns-written issue of Superman).  He kind of sucks, visually. A cloak and a scythe?

-  Ivan Reis' lazy scale on Aquaman's tunic really annoys me.

- I love Ray Palmer's very Lost-like video, particularly how it cuts off at the most important point.  So cliche, yet so effective.

- Johnny Thunder's pained "I didn't mean to throw you away!"  That's a gut punch of a scene.  He'll always seem like the kid who screws everything up, even as an old man.

- I'm not sure how I feel about three Jokers.  Is the Comedian supposed to be one of them?  That would be bad. 

- Wait.  Thomas Wayne in Batman v. Superman was played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who played the Comedian in The Watchmen.  Is that supposed to be part of the connection here between Thomas Wayne's letter and the Comedian's blood-stained pin?  If it's just an easter-egg, then it's fun, but if it's supposed to be something more meaningful than that, it's kinda dumb... like the Comedian is Thomas Wayne on Earth 41 or something.

Catching up on Comics with CGraig: Midnighter #11-12

The Wildstorm Universe never felt like a home.  It felt like one of DC or Marvel’s alternate earths, one where you could pop in for a curious visit, but not somewhere you'd care to stay too long.  It came to be in the 90's during a time when artists and their "hotness" were the driving force of comics, and a time when tits and violence were getting so much more of the focus than the actual stories being told.  

Wildstorm was a reflection of all of that.  It was not a place I went very often.  It wasn't for me.  The characters didn't make much sense, they didn't really look that great either, and it wasn't until the whole "hot artist" thing died that it got creative over there... with Alan Moore, Joe Casey, Warren Ellis and Ed Brubaker pushing the limits of a shared continuity.  Once the writers took over, it was more their show. It was a place where writers could do things to characters that the Big Two wouldn't allow.  Similar to when the artists dominated, the characters didn't quite matter, there was no preciousness to the continuity that the company was trying to protect.  Wildstorm was always a bit of a wild west show that way. Their characters weren't iconic and had no real defining aspect to them, so once the writers took over anything could happen.  But it was still hard to really care.  It's fairly telling that the two characters that tend to persist since Wilstorm folded into DC were the Superman and Batman analogs, Apollo and Midnighter.

I never liked their pairing as the "gay Batman and Superman".  I have no problem with them being gay, nor Batman or Superman analogs, but their pairing always seemed like a dumb 1-note joke of the Mark Millar variety, one which seems smug and self congratulatory in its supposed cleverness.
So even though their rekindled relationship in these two issues is written very,very well (as an extension of M's growth as a character and not for whatever negligible shock value remains in Batman and Superman kissing) it's still not something I like for the character, or, for that matter, a series which managed to fully invest me in a Wildstorm character for the first time in it's 20-something year existence.  (I know, Wildstorm is no more and is now an amalgamated part of the DCU, perhaps a contributing factor to the darkening of DC over the past few years...instead of brightening the Wildstorm characters to fit, perhaps they darkened the DCU instead?)

M's story over these 12 issues has been about dealing with his past, which is a nice thing to force on a character who is always looking forward, calculating all the possible outcomes.  It's also been about fighting and flirting and dating and most importantly, character growth.  Mighnighter isn't a psychopath... but he does really enjoy hurting people who deserve it.  Writer Steve Orlando has defined this character over 12 issues, made him so much more than a more than a brutal, sci-fi Batman.  He's got no dual life, he is who he is in and out of costume and Orlando's run had him coming to terms with that.  (The only difference is that when he's out of costume he's very dapper and more charming, rather than threatening).  

Orlando has told the best story of a gay male in mainstream superhero comics to date.  There's nothing in twelve issues that feels sensationalistic.  It's natural and honest depiction of a gay vigilante's life, abandoning all stereotypes, and never deigning to say that this gay life represents all gay life as so many mainstream stories written by straight men (or women) feel the need to do.
It was a great run, cut far too short, and one that I'll need to do a second read through on just to a better sense of the larger picture that Orlando had in mind.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Catching up on Comics with CGraig: Astonishing Ant-Man #7-8

2016, Marvel

A tremendously weak Canadian dollar meant the prices of comics were starting to skyrocket.  A $3.99 book was now over $5 which meant my monthly pull suddenly was costing 25% or more.  Changes had to be made.  Some books had to be dropped.  A cold hard assessment of what I actually wanted to read, and what I enjoyed had to be performed, and in the process the Astonishing Ant-Man fell victim to the chopping block, being put on the "going digital" list.  The problem with the "going digital" reality is that I don't have a good platform for reading digital comics, and, as I showed with the Nameless a few posts back, there's an actual tangible difference between physical and digital such that I prefer the former pretty much always.

I've never cared all that much for Ant-Man.  Being a DC kid, he just was a pale imitation of the Atom, like Namor was a nudist iteration of Aquaman and Hawkeye was just lame Green Arrow.  But with Marvel Studios bringing little dreams to big life on the silver screen, one can't help but be charmed by these cinematic iterations, and perhaps look at them in a different light.  The fact that they've gotten to the big screen, and successfully, well before their DC counterparts has given them a tremendous edge in cool factor, intrigue and bragging rights (especially given DC's otherwise general mismanagement of their characters in the comics over the past half decade).

I was particularly charmed by Paul Rudd as Scott Lang, as Paul Rudd tends to charm in any role he's in.  And with the Ant-Man film we also ventured into my favourite superhero terrritory: legacy.  Having Michael Douglas as Hank Pym trying to find a successor for the Ant-Man role, all the while his daughter Hope was vying for the part and his once-protege Darren Cross was attempting to figure out the whole shrinking thing on his own...it's all kinds of legacy swirling about.  It's not a perfect film (there's a lot of "why would they do that?", or "what's the logic here?") but I loved it tremendously.

 Shortly after Ant-Man came out in the cinema Marvel launched The Astonishing Ant-Man comic, and of course I ignored it.  I don't read Ant-Man comics.  I read a trade of the Irredeemable Ant-Man by Robert Kirkman and Phil Hester quite some time ago, and I loathed it.  I pretty much swore off Kirkman after that (Phil Hester, meanwhile, is a tremendously underrated writer, and I tend to perk up when he's writing something...but he only drew that Ant-Man series).

Three months later though, I happened to notice while reading Marvel solicits that Nick Spencer was writing The Astonishing Ant-Man and that in the series Scott Lang was employing reformed (or supposedly reformed) supervillains in his new Miami-based security agency.  I knew immediately this was a book I had to read.

Anyone who read the Superior Foes of Spider-Man (and there were far too few of us for a book of such tremendous quality) knew that Spencer + D-level super-villains equals superhero comedy gold.  And I have an incredible soft spot for D-level super-villains.  It stems back to the Dark Side Bar from I think issues 43 and 44 of the Giffen-DeMatteis Justice League America with Wally Tortellini winning a bunch of gear off of super-villains in a poker game and downright shaming he JL.  Actually, it predates that even, with the introduction of the Injustice League, a group of lackluster villains (Major Disaster, Big Sir, The Cluemaster, Clock King, Multi-Man and the Mighty Bruce!) much earlier in the series.  Or maybe even before that with Suicide Squad.  Regardless, these were comics where the writers and artists were plumbing the depths of the DC pantheon and pulling out the dullest, most tarnished, impurest of nuggets and polishing them into gold.  Spencer did the same in Superior Foes, and continues to do so with the Astonishing Ant-Man.

Not only that but Spencer is dealing with Ant-Man legacy in a much different way than the Ant-Man film.  It's not so much about Hank Pym and Scott Lang, but rather about Scott Lang and his daughter Cassie, who was in the Young Avengers as the giant-lass Stature.  Darren Cross stole her heart, literally, and now she has no powers and has lost a tremendous sense of her identity, while Scott has the poorest of coping skills for all these events, and mishandles pretty much everything.  But then he always has... and he always faces the consequences... such as his short-lived relationship with Darla Deering, aka Miss Thing, in the pages of Matt Fraction and Mike Allred's run on FF (I thought I was missing something, as I read all of Jonathan Hickman's FF run, but did not carry forward with Fraction/Allred's) that has reared its head again in Spencer's book.

Meanwhile there are two competing smartphone apps for hiring supervillains at the touch of a button, not only that, but the creators of one of the apps is able to bestow superpowers upon willing new recruits.  Cassie herself enlists with one, gaining new Wasp-like powers, and the moniker "Stinger".  Her task is to infiltrate Darren Cross' organization and corrupt his competing super-villain app.  Scott's all too aware of the danger his daugher is in, and needs to enlist a group of super-villains himself to infiltrate Cross' org and get his daughter back.  (Spencer has carried the latest incarnation of the Spider-Man villain Beetle over to Ant-Man as a quasi-love interest for Scott).


I'm not sure why I dropped this from my pull, but I was so very wrong to do so.  Watching Civil War, my favourite part of the film was Scott Lang's transition into Giant-Man.  It's one of the most giddily delightful things I've ever seen.  It reminded me how much I liked the comic and I felt that I had made a huge mistake in dropping the title.  Thankfully, it was easy to catch up on and it's great.

io9 pointed out today one of the greatest highlights of the series so far: the group of Scott's super-villains showing the new guy the ropes, dropping knowledge on all the pain points of the Marvel U.