Thursday, July 21, 2016

Series Run: The Titans #14

2000, DC Comics

Omen, aka Lilith,has been held prisoner by Tartarus for months, with Vandal Savage using her powers of precognition to form his villainous team and pressuring her into dishing out all the hot gossip on her former teammates.
 She manages to reach out to Aqualad in his sleep (he sleeps in the pool in the Titans Tower basement, and in the nude) and call for help. Aqualad rousws the team (waking up Donna in Roy's bed so I guess Droynna is *still* a thing).  I would love to jote interesting things about the respecive rooms of Damage and Argent and Starfire but guest arist Cully Hamner as fantastic as he is, doesn't paint them with ay exceptionally curious or notable details (though there is plenty of detail)...although Arsenal's room is indicated by a drawing Lian did.  Nightwing left a note on his door.

With Dick out and Jesse gone, there's no defacto leader so the team banters a bit to decide who's in charge of the mission.  Aqualad states his case and really it's only Roy giving him a hard time about it.  But, strangely enough, Aqualad seems ready.  Aqualad is clear, it's an in and out mission, not there to take out Tartarus but just to rescue Lilith (who was apparently a member of Dan Jurgens' Teen Titans with Argent).  The rescue goes fairly smoothly until Lilith (who's really seeming like Raven-red) can't teleport everyone because she's too weak.  Aqualad as leader elects to stay behind and survives only because Tartarus implodes with in-fighting...which was Lilith's plan by suggesting incompatibile teammates with her precognitive abilities.  Kind of a cheap, yet fun way for that gang to go out.

Meanwhile Dick turns to Bruce for advice about his many responsibilities and many many many lady friends. Bruce's advice? "I trust you'll make the right choice." Hilarious. And Wally's back.  Hopefully next issue we get an explanation of who that other guy was (knowing Devin Grayson, she'll have it covered)

Co-written by Brian K Vaughan, after two issues with co-writers I'm actually starting to miss Grayson's off-beat, overly dense story structures.  Hopefully back at it next issue.

Bryan Hitch's cover makes it look like Aqualad is fighting alongside underwater Atoms in their red and blue scuba suits

...and that forced pun feels like swallowing
shards of glass.

Kory in her wetsuit...uh, where has her hair gone, exactly?

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Series Run: The Titans #13

2000, DC Comics

This is exactly what I was expecting after the events of the last storyline, and exactly what I wanted.  

I love when the big battles start revealing character flaws and exacerbate intra-team conflicts which lead everyone to a situation like this, where unity hangs precariously from a thread.  Everything comes to a head here.  Nightwing and Kory are in a bad place, Vic is basically under watch from his friend because, you know, he tried to destroy the world, and Flash just can't seem to sit still.  

Nightwing calls out Flash on his inability to trust them with his identity and secrets and yet, not long after Jesse calls Nightwing out on the same thing (so much for the "Quick-Dick" 'ship) and Jesse Quits..  Donna's about had it with everyonr coming to her with their problems, like she doesn't have any of her own.  Everyone worries Dick is becoming too much like Batman and nobody can stand to really look at him for too long these days.  Roy tries to visit a hospitalized Cheshire with Damage's help (and fails spectacularly in that Roy Harper way).  Vic goes back to visit Sarah but it's Gar who sets him straight.  The DRoynna 'ship is still a thing, but just barely, and there's strong insinuation that Garth married Dolphin because of the baby and that there's some regrets all around there and that maybe a GArthgent (Garth/Argent) affair is percolating.

DeShaun is a regular joe nice guy who's even got superheroes envious of him.
Just an all-around solid TCB issue that propels things forward for most characters.  Grayson is joined by Jae Faerber this issue on the story, which is interesting to note since he takes over the series by the close of its second year).  Fill in on art from Patrick Zircher who had already been kicking around for a few years since the mid-90s.  He's a top notch artist in today's comics world (has been for almost a decade) but he's still growing here so there are still plenty of unclean edges. There are scenes that stand out but it's a talking heads issue which he manages it just fine, and managing a talking heads issue is a true test of an artists ability to keep an audience interested visually.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Series Run: The Titans #10-12

1999-2000, DC Comics

A three-parter with a double-sized finale that basically brings most of Devin Grayson's story threads together, almost like she's wrapping up her time here completely.

"The Immortal Coil" opens with Slade Wilson waking up in Titans Tower on the Titans' couch (yep they didn't take him to a medical bay, but to their couch) and in the time he was unconscious they called in Gar Logan, still called Changeling here (but Beast Boy on the cover of issue 11...I forget if the Teen Titans cartoon had started yet, as it was their reverting to calling him Beast Boy that made it happen in the comics....the Wolfman/Perez run on Titans had long otherwise cemented the Changeling moniker in the comics).

Grayson uses the first page to introduce the team roster ala classic Justice League of America comics and then gives a rather detailed two-page splash of Slade's troubled history... at least all the relevant points required for her story here anyway.  It's classic comics flashback stuff and actually quite concise and very useful (I had forgotten a lot of this stuff, like Slade and his ex wife becoming immortals). Slade was on a mission to stop Vandal Savage but he's not revealing who he was working for (as a matter of principle).

Grayson humorously dredges up the fact that Slade has had romantic entanglements with both Cheshire and Terra in a simple three-panel aside.

The whole "Roy loving Cheshire" thing really comes to a head these three issues, and it's not just a "she's the mother of my child" thing... he genuinely has feelings for her.  Roy is one messed up dude. He even abandons his teammates in the middle of a fight to try and get her medical attention much to Donna's dismay (oh no, is "DRoynna" finished?)... but returns to save Donna's life justin time, which I guess keeps the whole "DRoynna" 'shipping alive for another issue at least.

Kory takes Damage and Argent to the hall of dead Titans (Terra, Jericho, Kole and I suppose that's Jason Todd Robin but he was never a Titan, was he?) to teach them about Slade's connection to the Titans and in the process explain how death works to Argent. Cyborg laments not having a human body and that his "Omegadrome" body kindof has a mind of its own. Jesse has it out with nuFlash.  The team, with Slade head for the nation of Zandia where Vandal Savage and Co are hiding out while HIVE plant bombs everywhere (Zandia looks pretty its a city state like the Vatican).  As the Titans attack HIVE they all are attacked by Savage's Tartarbots (they're either good with fish sticks or meant for cleaning teeth).

Savage's whole ploy is to draw Cyborg to him as well as The leader of HIVE (aka "Mother" ) who, if you hadn't guessed from the obvious hinting in Slade's flashback is none other than his crazy and immortal ex-wife Adeline. Savage's ploy is to use Victor's Omegadrome body to synthesize Adeline's immortal blood into a serum that he can use to make other immortals or, at least, extend life spans.  He hopes to entice Cyborg to help by offering him a human body (presumably a clone... not sure hoe he's going to transfer the consciousness/soul between the two...probably should have the Ultra-humanite on his team instead of, well, pretty much everyone else in his "Tartarus" group (not sure where I got "Panopticon" as the name for his group earlier...?)  In fact, Savage and Damien Dahrk have a rather clever seriescof back-and-forth barbs about what being a super-villain means in the modern day... a fun exchange right up until Savage has Lady Vic run Dahrk throughbwith her sword . 
 Unlike in Arrow, Dahrk is not a magic wielder, but by the end of this all he does become immortal (through a very sketchy and unsanitary blood transfusion... I don't think you can just scoop up handfuls of blood and push them into an open wound...not sure that's actually a transfusion...unless they're saying Adeline's immortality is more like a virus...?)

HIVE's plan was to cause major disaster in Zandia to draw all the super heroes there and then drop a  bomb on them.  This situation finds Dick, Kory, Jesse, and Vic to jocky for position of who gets to save the day.  Vic somehow can't crack the bomb's computers so he Metal Mens/Plastic Mans/Metamorphos himself around it and absorbs the blast.  It's a pretty intense explosion but with ZERO drama about Vic's fate as he turns up three panels later on the opposing page all glowing green. Roy, of course, is worried about his nuts.

So yeah, Grodd had slit Adeline's throat to put pressure on Cyborg to make a decision about helping them, and Cheshire was shot by Savage to try and manipulate Roy into forcing Vic's decision (as the immortality serum would save her)... Kory however has other plans.  Having heard Addie's pleas to Slade to kill her, Kory does it herself and makes no apologies for it. Then when Dick tries to say something about it, she unloads on him about ignoring her and avoiding the team for months on end. Real appropriate timing.

I know, I'm running this all out of order... the second and third chapters of this story are truly chaotic, but in a crazy fun comic booky way.  A lot of what's going on is just complete absurdity, just a hair's breadth away from being a complete farce.  I think Grayson genuinely wanted to do classic superhero punch-'em-ups but her impulse seems to be rationalizing things in terms of continuity and character. Instead of just letting it go large on its own terms she has to get arch about it or overly playful with tropes or over-explain/overshow to the point that she seems at odds with herself in what she's trying do do with the story.

Damien Dahrk seems to be her creation for facilitating the unexpected, the anti-tropes.  He's the guy who speaks out against Savage's Bond-villain speechifying and talks about the "new school" of villain who cares about things other than money, revenge, or taking over the world.  He kills Red Panzer cold ("you always have a second weapon and you shoot anyone who asks stupid questions.... I don't make traps, I don't cut deals, and for god's sake, I don't form a team full of members who hate each other.") and for some reason Savage tries to recruit the dumb eco terrorist Justin from issue 1 as his new Red Panzer ("Aren't you supposed to be a Nazi fascist to wear this?")
The good guys win.  HIVE is in ruins, and Zandia is saved. Tartarus escapes though but on the plus side Dick and Jesse, eh eh?

Friday, July 15, 2016

Catching up on Comics -- Series Run: The Titans #9

1999, DC Comics
Dan Jurgens draws a shirtless Roy with a hairy chest
but inside Ale Garza draws him hairless.  They thought
no one would notice, but I did!

Forced into doing a tie-in to that year's event (as it was during the 1990s and 2000s), Devin Grayson brings Raven back to the Titans Tower, interrupting Donna and Roy just as they're about to get down to business.  Through Raven, Donna once again has to face up to her troubled history and her insecurities, but each time she does so, she seems the stronger for it.  Raven meanwhile is having difficulties of her own, but Donna extends to her an open invitation to join the Titans whenever she's ready.

Meanwhile, Goth is out on the loose again, having busted a kid out of juvenile detention.  He's got a sidekick that he doesn't really want in this annoying little nihilistic twerp (he's way too high energy to be a nihilist).  Goth doesn't see himself as a villain, per se, but sees that he could be so he explores the possibility.  Goth, being some form of demon creature, should be particularly interested in the whole "Day of Judgement" event and happenings, but when the annoying kid wants to go to Dis, Goth kills him to send him there, only to have the kid (his name is Rodman) immediately return and tell him Dis is closed and nobody's around.  Goth should be more concerned, but I guess, as is fitting for a demon of malaise, he could care less.  This is all weirdly played for laughs, particularly the scene where Goth slits the kid's throat and then his ghost form immediately returns to bitch about the afterlife.  It shouldn't be funny, but it actually is, but almost in an ironic way rather than an intentional one.

Meanwhile, Nightwing talks to Oracle about getting burned out defending Bludhaven, being on call for Batman's many predicaments, and having to deal with the Titans.  The latter is, for him, like falling back into a rut.  I'm unclear if Grayson means Dick and Kory or if he means Dick and the Titans as a whole.  He's not happy whatever it is.  A good, tight, one-page scene.  Grayson increasingly excels at those.

Meanwhile, Roy has it out with his babysitter (who, to his face says "you're great eye candy") as she tries to quit because she just can't reconcile Cheshire being Lian's mother (nor can she reconcile Roy's relationship with her).  Did Roy just admit to still loving Jade?

Meanwhile, Deathstroke is being hunted by Vandal Savage's band of goons.  Why, exactly?  Not sure.  Guess maybe he turned down their offer to join them.  He gets the holy hell beaten out of him and then somehow winds up on the doorstep of Titans Tower (which here, once more, looks like a proper tower, and not a hologram as was stated back in issue's another fill in artist so he may not have all the details of what's what with this series), making a pithy comment about hoping Lian is not one of the Titan's latest recruits before collapsing.  Deathstroke was in his anti-hero phase at this point still, I believe.

Meanwhile, Cyborg and his ex-girlfriend Sarah have a heart to heart, with hers trying to convince Vic that it's moved on, while Vic's still aches, feeling like the only thing human left in him.  It's a sweet and painful scene...again another nicely written one pager from Grayson.

Meanwhile, Damien Darhk is back, in that weird HIVE space with his mother, on the phone again.  I'm honestly not sure what's happening in this scene.  I think his mother, the head of HIVE just gave him whatever he wanted from the HIVE coffers, causing him to drop the cel
I can't explain it, but she's just...yeah.
phone that's almost permanently affixed to his ear.

The art here is from Ale Garza, with inks by "Cabin Boy" (seriously).  Garza gets all the details right, but his characters are all wildly exaggerated, disproportionate, unreal... it's less refined Humberto Ramos, in a way.  I'm not against this style of character illustration but I never like it for superhero comics.  It's too cartoony, better suited for funnybooks or fantasy.  And yet, even though I can't stand the style, I've still got the hots for Donna in her star-spangled Troia outfit.  Something about that costume, it's not that it's at all revealing or in any real way designed to insinuate sex, but I just love it.  It's so striking and powerful and eye catching.  My wife and I dressed up as Star Boy and Donna Troy one Halloween in matching spandex starfield costumes, and we looked great (sadly we somehow have no pictures).  Perhaps I just associate Donna with my wife (which I'm sure she won't be happy to hear, because she's not a Donna fan), but yeah, I used to love Donna in her old Teen Titans red catsuit too, so I guess I kinda think she's awesome. I supposed I'm a Donna fanboy.

Trade Weight: Thor: God of Thunder Vol 1: The God Butcher

Trade Weight is a quick look at the heavy stacks of trade paperbacks (graphic novels, etc) that were purchased with excitement but left on the shelf, unconsumed for too long. 

2013, Marvel

Of all the big-name writers in comics today, Jason Aaron is the one name I'm most woefully inexperienced with. I've only read a few excerpts of his work but, of what I have seen, I've been impressed... with one notable exception : Star Wars.  And unfortunately it's his run on Star Wars (because I'm an old school nerd) that I've read the most, and it 's displeased me greatly from the second issue in (I've dropped reading the book after 20 issues... his stories read like overblown fan service rather than actual chapters in the Star Wars Saga).

His run on Thor has become the series he's most identified with. I had read a random issue years ago and loved it (despite finding Thor to be one of the most boring characters in comics).  I put his Thor run on the list of things I needed to get back to. 

I don't quite remember the chain of events, but I bought vol1 of his run, "The God Butcher" well over a year ago.  I believe my wife read it and said "I think my Dad would like this", thus outing my father-in-law as a Thor fan.  

We passed the book off to him an he loved it, and I took some extra effort to seek out the second volume ("Godbomb") which, for some reason, was incredibly difficult to find.  I picked up the second oversized collection (containing volumes 3 & 4) months before I finally found "Godbomb" (I love that title so, so much).

During this time however, volume 1still resided with my father-in-law, and due to various concerns on the homestead, we hadn't mafe a visit to my in-laws for over half a year. 

Finally, a couple weeks back, we made it there. I brought "Godbomb" and the still-shrinkwrapped volume 3/4 collection for him to read, and in turn get "The God Butcher" back.  In morning of the day we were leaving I sat dow and just blasted through "The God Butcher", truly one of the best mainstream comic book stories in recent memory.  Jumping backwards and forwards in time it's an epic about an evil, evil entity murdering Gods from pantheons throughout the universe.  It explores deities and weird hierarchical structures of Godhood, as well as belief systems and how the affect a population.  It's high fantasy, action, horror, mystery and science fiction all in one  and it's gorgeously illustrated by Esad Ribic.  What Aaron does so well is juggle the multiple genre facets...and not just juggle, but blend them seamlessly together.  How he manages to skip across multiple tielines without any confusion  is a marvel in itself, but what's more is how it exemplifies the immortal life that the gods have.  It's both storytelling convention and world/character building.

When I finished devouring volume 1 I'm was ravenous for more, but we had to leave the in-laws and venture home and I had to leave behind "Godbomb" and its follow up.  I guess it just forces me to go back to the in-laws sooner, rather than later.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Catching up on Comics with CGraig: Miracleman Book Four The Golden Age #3-6

2015 - 2016, Marvel 

I get more than a little embarrassed by some of the things I loved with a fairly blind passion when I was young.  As a awkard, sensitive, introspective teen, I held up writers, artists, actors and directors as kings and queens and gods, their every output an infallable gem.  Yet, it was obviously all a lie, nobody's perfect all of the time.  No, not even Neil Gaiman.

Like a devout Catholic who shockingly discovers doubt in everything they've held as truth, so too did my gods and goddesses fall once I started to see their cracks, their faults, their humanity.  Neil was "the best" for so long that once I started to see that he wasn't always "the best", even those things I could justify as "the best" (like Good Omens, Coraline or Sandman) were suddenly shadowed by doubt. 

Gaiman has a thing, a thing he does when he writes, and its a thing I picked up on in my own writing, which is tackling a story from the fringes instead of head on.  Tell the story from side observations, build the world around the main story rather than just tell the story straight.  He doesn't always tell stories this way, and he's a clever, ingenious fellow at times too (his poetry can be particularly crafty but also too cheeky by half). 

I really used to love the guy, now I tend to avoid him.  The turning point was standing in line circa 2004 with his devoted followers ahead and behind me.  It was an eclectic crowd to say the least, and frankly, in the end, a crowd that put me off...too devoted, too attentive, too worshippy.  I didn't like seeing that and realizing I was that too.  There's a lack of critical thinking in being a fan. I find it hard to just be a fan a lot of the time these days, because I note in myself the tendency to become blind and addicted to the fandom without really taking the time too see what it is I'm really drawn to.  I want to avoid cults of personality.  The Kevin Smiths and Tori Amos' and Neil Gaimans.  All talented individuals who I once created shrines to but no I can barely look at without cringing.  It's like leaving the cult and looking at it from the outside.  You remember what it felt like to be in it but you're mote glad to be free of it's thrall.

Miracleman: the Golden Age is a good read, but it's not as good as I remember thinking it was 10 (well, 12) years ago when I first read it.  Again, it's Gaiman tackling the story and the world from the sides... of course it's well written and the ideas are fabulous at times, but it's almost a little too precious in avoiding the title character and giving him any story or thrust.  After 25 years it's still only a placeholder, a starting point for the as yet unfinished trilogy of the Golden, Silver and Dark ages.

And whither The Silver Age?  The promise of Marvel’s rights disputes settlement over the character was that we'd see the completion of the trilogy.  I mean issue 6 of The Golden Age announced The Silver Age for March of this year.  Still waiting.  For even if Gaiman isn't God amongst menly writers, even if l am tad disillusioned with him and the cult, l still admire his talent, and to have this long unfinished work brought to completion is something worth getting excited over.

Catching up on Comics -- Series Run: The Titans #7-8

1999, DC Comics

Another two-parter that highlights the growing strengths and diminishing weaknesses of Devin Grayson's Titans run.  With issues 5 & 6, Grayson's comfort with the team dynamics of the book increased almost exponentially.  With these two issues, she's showing even more capability in juggling the multiple character stories and making the stories relevant to more than one character at a time in certain circumstances.  She's also gotten far away from throwing the whole team at a problem, realizing that they do have lives of their own, while also negotiating continuity in a non-obtrusive, nor overly pointed manner.

Uh, nobody, it turns out.
For instance, this issue starts where last issue ended, with Lian gone missing.  Donna and Roy are still on their "date" and are unaware of the situation, while the rest of the Titans at the Tower are freaking out.  They contact Nightwing in Bludhaven who obviously can't make it there in time to help.  Aqualad's freaking out the most, primarily because, he reveals, he's knocked up his girlfriend, Dolphin (her name is Dolphin, she's not a dolphin, just to be clear) so he's going to be a dad.

Meanwhile, Lian is back at her babysitter Chandra's apartment, where Chandra's roommate is all hopped up on Velocity 10, a new drug on the street that gives people superspeed, but it's addictive and the side effects can be lethal.  One of Grayson's less attractive traits is her continued use of coincidence (and it's particularly flagrant this issue) to bring characters and storylines together.  Jesse's been busy working at her CEO job (and traveling through time over in The Flash with other speedsters) but when her co-worker's purse is stolen by Chandra's speeding roommate, Jesse's on the case, which brings her back to Titans Tower, which in turn leads them to Chandra's apartment where Lian is safe but now they have this whole speedster-drug to deal with.

Meanwhile Damage and Argent are back at Argent's parents home (and it's here I realize that my statement from the issue #1 write up that Argent was a former Team Titans member is totally wrong, she was actually from Dan Jurgen's short-lived Teen Titans series where the Atom led a team of young, newly created heroes, IIRC) where there's been more than a little strife.  Argent's dad is a criminal and a big asshole, giving his wife shit for getting impregnated against her will by an alien, and giving Argent shit for not being his blood child.  Also, turns out he's the supplier of Velocity 10.  What a coincidence!  Ugh.

In trying to save Chandra's roommate from the side effects of V10, they take her to S.T.A.R. Labs where Vic runs into the love of his life, who has moved on since Vic was possessed by an alien entity and tried to destroy the world.  Fancy that one, huh?  Her new man is fairly understanding, and wholly not threatened by the return of this superhero to his special lady's life.  He's quite the standup guy, this DeShaun.

Meanwhile (as I said, Grayson's gotten rather adept at juggling things), Vandal Savage recruits some goofy-looking sword-wielding chick named Lady Vic (which sounds like a type of razor for women...does she come with a lotion strip?).

Issue 7 ends with the Titans all being injected with V10, which makes for a pretty good spotlight of Jesse Quick's, erm, quick thinking at the start of issue 8 when she takes charge and her and Cyborg manage to stop things from getting too out of control.  Next to Lian, Grayson has a steady bead on Jesse Quick, and she's a total breakout character.  It's just too bad that instead of shorts or full pants, the character's costume design is a bikini cut with total floss butt.  It really detracts from an otherwise powerful character.  I can't imagine that running at half the speed of light with your costume up your crack the whole time is comfortable.

So anyway, Argent figures out her Dad is involved in the whole Velocity 10 business, but so does Jesse.  Jesse, in an act of mentoring, let's Argent make her own choices about how to handle the situation, and praises her for making the right one in the end, even though it meant sending her parents to jail.

Two further "meanwhiles"... Cheshire joins Vandal Savage's "Panopticon", while a new Flash shows up at Titans tower (I forgot all about this new Flash, who I think was introduced in Grant Morrison and Mark Millar's ill-fated run on the series).  Grayson handles this continuity demand decently.

I'm actually getting a sense at this point that contrary to my earlier statements, that Grayson's run on Titans was maybe not so forgettable and maybe had a bigger impact on DC Comics that I ever knew.
Again, Damien Darhk (I'm never going to spell that right) debuted here, we have Velocity 10 (which arguably is a piggyback off of the Velocity 9 story from the Flash some time before) which was featured in Season 2 of The Flash TV show, and the Vandal Savage assembly of supervillains which seems kinda like what showed up in the Young Justice series.  Just maybe Greg Berlanti is a big fan of this run?

And now: I hate "Metal Men" Cyborg.