Friday, October 30, 2009

Silver Linings-UPDATED!!!

In the DC Universe, we all know who's the greatest of any one thing:

SHAZAM! is The World's Mightiest Mortal.

The Flash, The Fastest Man Alive.

Batman, The World's Greatest Detective.

So what happens when you're second to the best? Where's your recognition?

We here at Second Printing respect the technique needed to stand out in a universe full of "bestest" of any one thing. Yes, we celebrate it!

With Batman, undoubtedly, being the greatest martial artist of The DC Universe,... Wait for it....

So, in a rolling feature, much like DETECTIVE: COMICS, we'll ask you the loyal reader to decide the second best, starting with:


Feel free to explain why you came to your decision in the "COMMENTS" section.




Friday, October 23, 2009

Pillars of The Comics Community

Full disclosure:

I'm weird that way.

I've never really had a desire to write Superman. (No one's asked lately either so, we're good.)

Batman? Hell, everyone's got a Batman story in 'em.

Spider-Man? When I was younger I'd have pegged this as my dream book. Teen, smart-ass with superpowers. Now?

The current problem with Spidey's that if you wanna live through him, you have to do so through a twenty-something guy who can't pay his bills and has an open invitation to live with his auntie.

"Hey, kids! COMICS!"

So, a question I was asked the other day led me to this post.

The question asked was, "Devon, why don't you write comics?"

The answer was sorta threefold:

"Um... because," and seriously, it seems that unless you've written for TV or film, or done novels, or published independently, you don't have much of a shot.

The other was, to me, the more interesting reason:

"Well, on any given day, I have more Krypto The Superdog stories in me than Superman stories."

I simply am in love with supporting characters.

If you were crazy enough to let me write any book I'd want, I'd come back the next day with one full year's worth of Krypto plotted and it would be glorious.

I know it's sort of wrong to assign "humanity" to an animal but I guarantee you, you give me Krypto and I could redefine your very understanding of the word "humanity" using a fictional, cape-wearing dog who shoots lasers from its eyes.

I could. I know the story engine power of a superdog.

That interests me more than the idea of figuring out who Superman will fight in January.

Lois Lane? Phhhphpt!!! Don't get me started!

There are so many stories to be told with these characters. They live in-between the panels and are called into action depending on the needs of the story...

and that's what excites me as a comics fan. The untapped storytelling potential of the supporting character. Sadly, the strength of the supporting character lies in its limitation: the edict put upon them to simply enhance and usually nothing more. They serve to hold up the hero's humanity, acting as a sounding board for the hero's worries and more often, a marker for the hero's journey. Where Superman and Batman are the meat of the story, a Jimmy Olsen has become the steaming, cheesy potato on its side.

That sort of saddens me. If you could watch three seasons of a Veronica Mars, could you not read the monthly adventures of a Lois Lane or a Jimmy Olsen?

Could you not? Seriously?

If anyone needs me, I'm here. At this blog. ;)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Unsung Heroes of Comics: Will Pfeifer

For over five years, I've been part of a comic book review collective with Devon and numerous other talented writers (we're on hiatus now, but will return soon) and during that time I've come across more than a handful of reviews from the gang that made me say "hmm, I need to check that out". Will Pfeifer's run on Catwoman was one of such, covered by a few of us in a more than favourable light, including Devon's bittersweet review of the "final" issue (more on the "final" in a moment). Hell, at one point I even picked up a random issue myself (#59) to review just to see how accessible it was, noting "writer Will Pfeifer has multiple balls in the air, and he skilfully juggles them, creating interesting character and plot turns, fitted underneath on-point dialogue and a general sense of knows-what-he's-doing-ness." And that, ladies and gentlemen, is Will Pfeifer in a nutshell. A criminally underrated talent who weaves intricate, yet immensely enjoyable and accessible stories that are endlessly readable, filled with solid characters, some incredible action and an alternating sense of cleverness and excitement.

In the same year (2006) that I sampled his Catwoman, I had also amassed the complete run of HERO, the comic book series based on the Dial 'H' For Hero concept which Pfeifer wrote 22 issues of, ending in 2005. I still insist it's one of the greatest superhero epics I've ever read, funny, exciting, and utterly imaginative, just what comics should be. There's a circular nature to the structure of the series which is best left discovered, rather than told, and it's absolutely brilliant. Also 2006 saw Captain Atom: Armageddon conclude, in which Pfeifer brought a recently 'sploded Captain Atom (from the Superman/Batman: Public Enemies" storyline, iirc) into the Wildstorm universe and masterfully used him as the paragon of the DCU, contrasting starkly against the Wildstorm hordes, and highlighting exactly what the differences in the two universes were, without beating you over the head with it.

I've been trade-waiting on the Catwoman series for years now, having picked up three of the four Brubaker trades that were made that are criminally out of print (pun intended). I'm still missing "Crooked Little Town" and the completist in me hasn't wanted to move forward without it... that is until I realized that there's a huge gap between the last Brubaker trade ("Wild Ride", "volume 4" ending with issue 24) and the first Pfeifer trade ("The Replacements", "volume 5" starting with issue 53), and that "The Replacements" picks up at the "One Year Later" jumping on point that followed Infinite Crisis, making it as good a place to start as any. And so, in recent months I've reprised my interest only to find that like the Brubaker trades, the Pfeifer Catwoman trades are by and large out of print and it's not so easy to collect a set of five. "The Replacements" ("volume 5") and "The Long Road Home" ("volume 9") are the most readily available of the trades but the middle three have been a pain to track down, and I'm happy to say, after scouring a dozen book stores (used and new), a comic convention and comic shoppes in Toronto I've just completed my set and am now gleefully working my way through them.

They don't disappoint. I'm reminded why the series landed on my radar in the first place, and it's not that I'm a Catwoman fan. It's all about Will Pfeifer. Every ounce of energy I've expended is more than worth it for the rather incredible, shockingly so, events of Pfeifer's story. To wade into his Catwoman trades is to find Selena Kyle adopting a new name, giving birth to a baby girl, her protege Holly donning the costume and fighting crime alongside Wildcat, her grizzled P.I. friend Slam Bradley losing a battle with the bottle, an obsessed cop trying to nail her for the death of the Black Mask, an obsessed Angle Man (yes! Angle Man!) trying to do the same, a necessary intervention by Zatanna, and the introduction of the new and absolutely ingenius Film Freak, which if you've ever made your way to Pfeifer's blog you'd know is a maniacal reflection of the writer himself. And that's just the "The Replacements". It carries on even more in-depth into "It's Only A Movie" ("volume 6") wherein the Film Freak becomes one of the most clever serial killers in the Bat-books in recent years.

Whilst still writing Catwoman, Pfeifer did a fill-in issue on the new Wonder Woman series when other-media writer Allan Heinberg dropped the ball and the relaunch became something of a laughing stock. Pfeifer's issue dealt with how Wonder Woman was seen as a symbol of strength for women who were survivors of domestic abuse. It was a well crafted, intelligent, and most of all an honest use of a superhero facing an intangible, real-world opponent. Compared to what came before, and Jodi Picoult's maligned story that followed, it was a tragedy that Pfeifer wasn't handed the series.

Equally, when John Rogers finished his brilliant run on the re-launched Blue Beetle, a well-suited Pfeifer stepped in for two issues only to have the series handed over to Matt Sturges (who has done a fine job but I was looking forward to Pfeifer's layered take on Jaimie and co.).

And who's written the absolute best Aquaman storyline in the past decade? Will Pfeifer's "American Tidal" story in which San Diego fractures off the mainland as a result of an earthquake and sinks into the ocean. The man has ideas.

Of course, most fans, perhaps even more than those familiar with his Catwoman work, will likely remember him for Amazons Attack the maligned "event comic" that wasn't and likely shouldn't have been. It was poorly received and, from everything I've read (as I didn't stay with it beyond the first issue myself) poorly executed, marred by bad timing, having been bumped from it's original publishing date to a period in the DCU history where it just didn't make much sense, and its editorially-forced cross-overs into other series annoyed fans more than anything. We haven't seen Will Pfeifer's name in a new comic since August of 2008 when Catwoman ended, and I think Amazons Attack is the reason why. Should he be blamed? Was it his bungle? Hardly. Karl Kesel, Geoff Johns, John Byrne are only a few of the writers that have put together rather unfortunate DC "event" books that failed, yet their names didn't go missing from comics racks. And, really, the recent and awesome Secret Six storyline was partly borne out of AA, so it's not all a failure.

In January, DC is resurrecting a handful of cancelled titles to tie into the "Blackest Night", bringing them back for one more issue. Catwoman #83 will be appearing on comic stands on Jauary 13 written by Fabian Nicieza, with art by Julian Lopez and Bit. It's solicited as "Catwoman faces a dead villain that she was responsible for killing – the original Black Mask!" The murder of Black Mask, and emotional effect it had on Selena was a key element to Pfeifer's run, and that he wasn't asked to return to write it is shameful (understandable given the business of comics, but still shameful). At frist I was glad that at least Pfeifer's artist for 30+ issues would return as well, only to realize it not David Lopez, but Julian, leaving yet another bitter taste.

Will Pfeifer's blog post regarding the end of Catwoman stated "I don't have anything else lined up right now, but I'm guessing it's just a matter of time. And when I hear about my next project, I'll make sure you hear about it, too." I only hope that it's not too long before he's back in the fold. Will Pfeifer is a true unsung comics hero.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Everything I Learned Was From Getting A Lot Of ASS

The titles that led me to become the huge DC Comics fan I am today?

Who's Who In The DC Universe, Crisis On Infinite Earths and the comic that started it all for me, All-Star Squadron. As a young kid, there was nothing better than the sudden rush of information and the sense of discovery that every issue seemed to bring.

Who knew there was such a thing as The Golden Age?

In the grand scheme of what we know as The DC Universe, as it stands today, ASS (a better acronym you'll never find) was its corner foundation.

Recently, caught in a wave of nostalgia, I bought the first year's worth and...

How the hell did I ever become a DC Comics fan.

This stuff was pretty impenetrable, an American comics history lesson taught by the guy who wrote Conan The Barbarian.

Lots of character introduction and story-wise, just a bit all-over-the-place.

"Hey, Roosevelt needs us."

"Let's go get Robotman."

"Hey, Robotman! Wanna fight Nazis?'

"Sure! I hate Nazis. Let's go to Philadelphia and find Liberty Belle, she hates Nazis, too!"

And that just may be the problem I have reading The All-Stars as an adult is the over-explanation of everything.

Writer Roy Thomas takes a lot of care in explaining the various threads and connections to the WWII period in which these DC Comics mainstays were created. While its fascinating, it slows the storytelling down to a crawl, leading me as an adult to wonder what I saw in these comics.

As I read further, I felt my resistance dropping, simply coming to appreciate exactly what it was I was seeing:

Someone's simple love of comics. And something even greater. (More on that in a moment.)

The realizations that:

Yes, there was a Robotman before there was a Doom Patrol Robotman. Plastic Man as a cornerstone of comics' Golden Age. The wanting to address Aquaman's long, continuous comics history, yellow gloves and all. The belief that even The Red Bee should have a place at the heroes table.

With characters occupying a space in one of history's most infamous of times and origins comprising varying degrees of nebulousness, Thomas was charged with making sense of something that had been ignored for quite a while at DC Comics:


All-Star Squadron was the book that taught me about inter-connectivity and the role it can play in fiction and most importantly, history.

At that point in my life, I had no idea of the scope of the second World War. Living under a Cold War generated mentality, I never knew the unthinkable had happened and that America was once allied with... *gasp*... Russia! I had no idea what The Spear of Destiny was much less its importance in Western/Judeo-Christian history.

These are things I learned about while reading the shared adventures of men and women who wear tight clothes and fire heat blasts from their eyeballs.

When you really think about it, you really have to ask yourself, "How the hell could I NOT have become a DC Comics fan."

Monday, October 19, 2009

Sunday, October 18, 2009

This Is Awkard...

Full disclosure: This post is not about comics. If you're looking for thoughts on Adventure Comics or Blackest Night, this is not the post for you. But I have to get something pop culture related off my chest.

Here goes... I think it's possible that the show 'Glee' was literally created with me in mind. I hate those bastards at Fox... my hatred for them burns like the fire of a thousand suns, but they've got themselves a winner with 'Glee'. It's no secret that I love teen drama. I watch 'Gossip Girl' and '90210' and somewhere in my apartment there's a season of 'Degrassi: The Next Generation' on DVD. But none of those shows capture my imagination like 'Glee'.

Now, I would never ever tell anyone what constitutes good taste. I'm the guy who defended Joe Kelly's run on 'Supergirl'. But I would at least like to offer some explanation as to why I like the show. Allow me to quickly break down the elements of this show that make Big Mike such a fanatic:

1.) Dark Comedy - 'Glee' has ridiculously good cred as a satire. Jane Lynch is stellar as the evil cheerleading coach, and even the sympathetic characters provide us with a bitingly comedic look into the darker side of human nature. The show also uses funny cutaways and other tricks that are reminiscent of great shows like 'Arrested Development'.

2.) Not-So-Dark Comedy - Like I said, the show has great cred as a satire and a dark comedy, so at the same time it also has a little bit of wiggle room to be at times cheesy and uplifting. It's also cool because you never know which way a certain plot thread is going to go... it could end really happily or it could all go to hell in a handbasket... makes the show unpredictable even in its cheesiest moments.

3.) Songs and Dancing - I was watching 'Hitch' tonight with my fiance, and I realized that the only reason I like that movie is because they dance during the closing credits. I also really like the dance to 'Hey Mickey' at the end of 'Bring It On.' Short story long: Songs and dances are awesome. The rendition of 'Don't Stop Believin' in the 'Glee' pilot? Chills, man... chills. And let's not even get started on the episode where the football team dances to Beyonce. Brilliant.

I did not expect to like this show. I hate Fox networks and everything they stand for. But those evil bastards managed to carve together a show that just works for me. I know this has nothing to do with comics, but frankly, I started going to grad school at night a few months back, so I pretty much don't read anything that doesn't involve math. So in order to compensate, I watch more TV than a man my age probably should, and I gotta say it: 'Glee' is my favorite show.

Please, Second Printers... tell me I'm not the only one.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Blogging is....

time-consuming but rewarding. Look for new posts soon.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Unsung Comics Heroes: Joe Kelly, Part 4

Across the world, evil is met with regret and one hero has emerged utterly without fear. In Gotham, The Joker pleads for a death sentence and The Manhunter has taken his leave. As the world is turned upside-down, The League calls J'onn back out of retirement, looking for help, only he comes back devoid of one thing:


The League returns from a mission and is forced to witness, in my opinion, one of the most visually stunning images in comics history:

A battered Superman, phased through and INTO the marble of The Justice League meeting table.

It doesn't take Batman, The World's Greatest Detective to know that only one (person) could do this to The Man of Steel and he is one of their own.

The Martian Manhunter has been unleashed.

Where other writers focused on just how "human" The Manhunter could be, Kelly brought into focus on just how not-of-this-world he truly is. The visual artist Doug Mahnke provided of J'onn grilling hot dogs in a polo shirt played to this in spades. In the baffled faces of The League, one sees just how much of an enigma The Manhunter's always been. The sight of him presented in that most American of images, the male at the grill, only serves to bring this point home.

He's a 7' green alien with a pronounced brow who chooses to where a a bright red harness, blue briefs and swashbuckler boots. I am none of these things but if I appeared as any of the above, I believe most would hesitate to embrace me. Let's face it, he's weird and that's what makes him glorious while holding him back.

In J'onn you have the entirety of The Big Three and more:

He's the equal in strength to Superman and sharing alien origin, notched but tenfold.

He has the regal bearing of Wonder Woman.

In his guise of John Jones, detective, we have skills that compliment Batman and as The Manhunter, the somber solitary nature brought on by loss, only thousands of times over.

J'onn J'onnz in his being all has nearly made himself irrelevant. And what Kelly did was exploit this, sending a clear message that if unleashed, J'onn J'onnz, The Martian Manhunter is and always has been a thing unto himself and more importantly, the character find of 1955.

In those Space Age roots, that could have been a problem.

With Kelly, it was turned out it was always what it should have been: an asset.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Unsung Comics Heroes: Joe Kelly, Part 3

So what does the guy who wrote the ultimate Superman do?

Write the... ultimate Martian Manhunter story?

Let's face it, the Martian Manhunter has never exactly been known as a story engine. His main function, since days of the BWAHAHA-Justice League has been to be "the heart" of The Justice League. What that mostly entailed was being... in The Justice League.

And talking about the human condition.

Or lifting the stuff Superman or Wonder Woman aren't lifting at any given moment.

Or using his Martian vision on stuff.

That is to say, The Martian Manhunter has become to The League what the hat became post-Kennedy inauguration, a lovely piece used to accent the ensemble but wholly unnecessary to complete it.

Until Joe Kelly and one story. J'onn J'onnz, The Martian Manhunter's one weakness has always been fire, the reasoning being that all heroes need some sort of weakness for a villain to exploit i.e. Superman and Kryptonite.

So, what happens when a hero conquers his weakness and goes on to become what he is: the most powerful member of The Justice League.