Saturday, June 29, 2013

365 Comics...180: Before Watchmen: Rorschach #1 (2012)

I have little more to say about Before Watchmen as a concept that I haven't said already.  So I guess all there is to write about is the work itself.

Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo's Rorschach is a great looking book about a street-level vigilante who isn't necessarily that smart, or strong, or that great a fighter, but he's tough and tenacious and angry.  This is a story that could be any character (Wild Dog, Vigilante, Moon Knight, Punisher, X etc), it doesn't have to be Rorschach.  It doesn't hurt that it is, but it also doesn't add much.  He feels adequately familiar but but it's such a quick, frivolous read that beyond Bermejo's stunningly grimy visuals it's hard to connect with or feel the purpose of the series.  It doesn't feel like a story anyone was really itching to tell, it feels like a story that was created for the opportunity that presented itself.  Unlike Dr. Manhattan, the set up for this arc doesn't instill any desire to continue reading.  The epitome of inessential.

365 Comics...179: Before Watchmen: Dr. Manhattan #1 (2012)

I'm thinking the rancor and outrage about Before Watchmen has generally died down.  The people so vehemently opposed to any extension of Watchmen seemed to successfully ignore the whole thing, or have been vindicated in having their preconceptions validated by most critics and reviewers.  The general temperature of Before Watchmen, from the reviews I've read, is even the best of the series are inessential reading and do little to add to Moore and Gibbons' original work, which isn't to say there isn't some good reading if you can get past your own misgivings.
I'm a fence sitter when it comes to the whole thing.  I see little requirement for them beyond corporate greed.  These weren't made for comic fans, they were made for the book store, to have additional material available to the now millions who have purchased the original and don't know anything of its context or importance or, even, it's standalone nature.  On the other hand, they have some creative talent involved that has to raise eyebrows.  Adam Hughes, Darwyn Cooke, Azzarello, Steve Rude, Jae Lee,  JG Jones among others.  They certainly didn't shy away from approaching top notch creators (I can only imagine who said no, if these were the people who said yes).  There's also the curiosity factor.  I love Watchmen, and appreciate it more every time I read it, and no manner of extensions or additions are going to damage that greatness for me, even after all this time.  The same with Star Wars, the questionable prequels (though I do like some aspects of them), can't damage my dozens of viewings of the original trilogy or the near perfection of Empire (now if Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons went back and "special editioned" Watchmen, shoehorning in new scenes from Before Watchmen, then it might start tainting that original experience).

My stance has been, pretty much from the outset, that I want to read them out of curiosity but I don't really want to pay for them.  Basically, I've been trade waiting for them (and then waiting for them to pop up at my library).  With Comixology's 99cent sale on Watchmen and the first issues of Before Watchmen, I thought it was cheap enough to at least sample a few of the books I was curious about.

Dr. Manhattan probably piqued my interest the most, because I don't even remember the last time I saw Adam Hughes do interior artwork.  The long promised All-Star Wonder Woman he was supposedly doing never materialized (what a bust the "All-Star" concept ultimately turned out to be) so eyebrows were raised when he was counted among the Before Watchmen team.  Well, I can say his artwork looks great, and is worth the price of admission.  The story from J Michael Straczynski is readable but as suspected it doesn't feel like Watchmen.  It effectively plays with timelines, integrating events Moore constructed with new threads and trying to weave in new background elements that theoretically influence the character, but it feels inauthentic.  It takes until the last page before it gets to the crux of the story, what precedes it is at times laborious set-up.  It's not a bad read altogether, and given that final page, I would like to see where it goes (and see more Hughes art), but I'm not exceptionally excited about it all.  Frankly, I realized this isn't a character (nor were any of the Watchmen) I was wanting to read more about.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

365 Comics... 178: Five Ghosts: The Haunting of Fabian Gray (2013)

In the backmatter Barbiere writes "I once read an article where Dave Gibbons said that the typical person looks at a comic book page for about seven seconds...I certainly hope you've taken the time to appreciate the amazing work done by Chris & Lauren".

Oh I have Frank.  I'm enjoying the story greatly but I'm buying it for the art.  Like The Black Beetle it's great entertainment but the art is something really worth getting excited over.  The previous 3 months I've been agog over Mooneyham's inks but this month colorist Lauren Affe really steals the show, especially in the opening test sequence where she takes the general pallette of the book and pastelizes them to a subtle and beautiful effect.

Even four issues in, I'm still surprised by how great this book is.

365 Comics...177: Batman/Superman #1 (2013)

Two things are bothering me about Batman/Superman:

1) The logo.  Terrible. Dull. Boring. Uninspired. General bleh all around.

2) Two artists. For serious?  I mean it is entirely possible that this was a sort of last-minute addition to the New 52 in order to bank off of Man of Steel's success and thus Jae Lee didn't have the lead time to pull the issue together on his own in full, but it doesn't inspire a lot of confidence when your series artist can't finish the first issue on his own (also possible: extenuating circumstances).  At least Ben Oliver's work seems to compliment this new-ish style Lee is working in.  Should we be taking bets on whether Lee survives this first story arc?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

365 Comics...176: Herobear and the Kid Special #1 (2013)

When I came across Mike Kunkel's work in Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam a few years back,I became an immediate fan.  His cartooning style ' is unique, expressive, detailed and very appealing in a "reminds me of every great cartoon and comic strip" kind of way.  I was vaguely aware of his previous work, as "Herobear and the Kid" is memorable a title, sounding iconic, like ''Smokey and the Bandit" or "Jacob Two-Two and the Hooded Fang" or "Scarecrow and Mrs. King".  While I knew the name, l hadn't read the book, a) because it was a kids book and b) despite the praise/Eisners it got was a hard-to-find indie. 

After BB&TMOS I was looking for the Herobear trade and or comics for years (partially because my stepson really dug the Shazam book and commented on Kunkel's absence after the 4th or 5th issue so l thought he might like to read Herobear too) without much luck. Last Summer I came across it for the first time, finally, at a street book fair, but at a premium price of $50.  Despite my hunt I felt it was too steep (even after a 20% discount).  A few weeks later I found another copy (among many copies!) at our local specialty kids comic book store for cover price and snapped it up. I brought the trophy home and presented it before my kids with the pride of a cat placing a dead mouse at its owners feet... and the kids really didn't seem to care.  I tried to express to my stepson the significance of the book, the artist's relationship to that Shazam book he loves so much, but he kind of flipped through its pages with disinterest and a shrug.  I left it out for weeks for him to read and unless he snuck it in when I wasn't around,I don't think he touched it.  Too much time had passed I suppose.

Anyway,I haven't gotten around to reading it either but I'm still excited to see Kunkel back in Comics starting with the Free comic Book Day issue and this Special.  It's a visual feast. Too bad it's about the adventures of some entitled kid who sleeps in his house's library and has a butIer (who isn't taking care of him because his parents were murdered before him).  Is this part of the fantasy for kids reading?  Kunkel dealt well with Billy and Mary Batson as orphans so he obviously has the ability to write more complex kids stuff without getting too heady.  Shame that the status of this otherwise well-meaning kid got in the way of we otherwise enjoying the book.

365 Comics... 175: Quantum and Woody #4 (1997)

This is the infamous "Noogie" issue of Quantum and Woody. And by "infamous" I mean I have only the vaguest recollection of any stir it may have caused, and even that might be a faulty vague memory. The opening 3 pages of the book "speckle" the fourth wall, having Quantum, Woody and an Acclaim lawyer address the audience discussing this issue's use of the "n-word" and the unease it caused the editorial staff when the script was submitted.  Their solution, "to help manage their liberal guilt" (as Priest via Woody explains)) was to substitute the word "Noogie".  "A cop out?  You bet."

I'm trying to figure out if Priest was annoyed or amused by the situation, or if he just concocted this whole preamble as part of the issue from the outset or if he then truncated his own script by 3 pages.  The conversation never did lead there in the book, but isn't using a substitute, like "noogie" or even "n-word" just semantics for using the damn word anyway?

The word is "in the news" recently because of the "Paula Deen scandal" (scandal? Didn't know who she was before, care even less to know now), and I'm hardly the guy to start, or lead a conversation on the subject, because it makes me uncomfortable, much like the editors at Acclaim.  It's not "white liberal guilt", because I don't have anything to be guilty about, but like most words that are used primarily (or only) in a derogatory manner (see also, any other ethnic or sexist slur), it's just not a word I want to use or perpetuate.  That said, I'm not going to avoid the topic, just don't look to me for answers.  A cop-out?  You bet.

Many of us get exposed to these types of words when we're kids from other kids, and hopefully, if we're lucky, we have parents who will explain that they are inappropriate and hurtful, and if we're even more lucky, we can understand why.  Kids pass these words around casually usually without knowledge of what they even represent, never mind the historical context.  For the a duration of time I naively thought "nigger" was just another word for "tiger" because of the whole "eenie meenie miney moe" thing that was going around the schoolyard in grade one, seemingly innocuously.  My mom set me straight with a polite conversation, and even though it didn't make a whole lot of sense I understood that it wasn't in the same league as "shit" or "hell" (those words I got in trouble for using, having a polite conversation was a game changer).  It wasn't a bad word, it was a wrong one.

I don't recall hearing the word much growing up, definitely not at home, not in the pop culture I was taking in, and not by my friends.  But it was around.  It kind of assailed me in my teenage years, making me uncomfortable when I started getting more and more into rap music in the early 90's (I was exclusively listening to hip-hop through the first three years of high school).  It's hard to sing/rap along to a song when there's words in there that you just can't be saying as a white kid, y'know.  I mean, most of the stuff I was listening to was fairly light on the usage of it, at least at first... up until about '93 when Tribe brought out "Sucka Nigga" on Midnight Marauders, then it seemed to be everywhere, like its use was suddenly authenticated for the consciousness hip-hop crowd.  I'm not sure that's true, but it definitely heightened my awareness of not just its use but how it was used.

"Sucka Nigga" is a track about how the black youth of America were taking this hateful word and turning it on its head into a term of affection.  That's how the character Willie Maye uses it in Quantum and Woody, Priest using it to craft quite the hilarious scene.  I got that, and I also got that, in that sense it was still off-limits, for me anyway, which was more than fine.  It still disarms me, though I can be entertained by it's use when it's being twisted and skewed and subverted to expose and/or undermine the racists and it's visceral impact, like it is here, or in a Chris Rock or David Chappelle bit, or in a Tarantino film. But at the same time, like Quantum says in this book, "I think it's a word that should absolutely die" and even if it meant being deprived of some great comedy or quality drama, it'd still be worth it (because of course it would).

But when the world gives us straight-up racist a-holes who think the word, and apply the word, it's good that they're called out on it, exposed, and publicly shamed.  And I think it's a good thing to talk about where we are as a society with it, if only as a benchmark to gauge against the next time.  We've not progressed that far since the Michael Richards incident, but I think were Priest to want to do this issue of Quantum and Woody today, I'm doubtful the 3-page preamble would be necessary, nor would "Noogie".  We have the context today that Tribe spoke about which wasn't anywhere as prevalent in 1997.  New Q&W writer James Asmus, though, would obviously be a lot less likely to get away with it.

This has been a public service announcement.
Well.  Not really.

Monday, June 24, 2013

365 Comics... 174: Quantum & Woody #3 (1997)

The first arc of Q&W concludes with a delightful amount of superhero farce with the odd couple tweak.   Priest wants you to engage with the characters but this is first and foremost a comedy book.  Straight-out superhero comedies (not lampoons or spoofs) are rare, and really good ones even more so. 

But beyond really digging the book, I'm getting an eyeful of 1997's Valiant reboot, and you know, it doesn't look all that dissimilar to today's Valiant.  Acclaim basically bright in a creator-friendly EnC in Fabian Nicieza and a lot of great upper-mid-rung talent (Augustine, Peyer, Kaminski, Delano, Velluto, McKone, Eaton. Maguire etc) and let them loose on the properties (or with Troublemakers, Quantum & Woody and Trinity Angels, let the creators make their own).  There's some curious stuff in the mix like Waid & Augustine's ore-shot "Operation: Stormbringer" about a Nazi X-O armor or Jamie Delano paired with Walking Dead's Charlie Adlard (I knew him as X-Files Charlie Adlard back in he day) on Shadowman.  I might have to go dig out some of this stuff from the quarter bins at the next con.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

365 Comics...173: Batwoman #21 (2013)

Just to assuage any concerns Killer Croc fans might have had after the events of the last few issues, he gets the spotlight here in a pretty great character profile.  The tendency for these types of stories is to show the bad guy in a redemptive light, to show them as sympathetic, heroic even, in some way.  Blackman and Williams may elicit a little sympathy, but there's little here that's redemptive for Croc, he does whatever he needs to do to survive, and doesn't seem to have much of a conscience about it.  From a criminal psychology standpoint it really comes down to an insular and selfish world view, only by the end Croc understands that he has more responsibility than himself.  It's not that he inevitably does the right thing, but he does the smart thing, which is to get out of the game of duking it out with the Bat-family.

Though Blackman and Williams focus on Croc, there's still a great injection of Batwoman, Hawkfire and Maggie Sawyer into the story, the writers not forgetting to advance their story, if only a littlebit and from a third person perspective.

Francesco Francavilla guest illustrates this issue, which I would have thought cause for celebration (given my affection for the Black Beetle) but while his layouts are intriguing as always, the figure work and general finished product seems like a rough draft, like the rough thumbnails blown up to full page size.  Disappointed there, but still a solid read.

Friday, June 21, 2013

365 Comics...172: Sweet Tooth Vol. 6: Wild Game (2013)

whatever reservations I have had about this series have been largely dispelled by what is an amazing finish.  This final volume truly does wrap up the series not only in bringing a close to the mystery of the origin of the hybrids and the contagion but also presenting a beautiful and affecting epilogue to the series, an elaborate and all encompassing look at what happened to all of the survivors.  That coda alone is one of Lemire's best works.

What I kept thinking about though was how cinematic it all was, and indeed it worud make a great notion picture.  I was looking at the characters and wondering who I would cast and I realized, to my own horror that I am now an old person and I really do not know young actors at all (unless they're on Game of Thrones, which seems to be the only show I watch with a young cast).  So I really dont have any recommendations for Gus (perhaps Mason Vale Cotton who plays Bobby Draper on Mad Men) or Bobby (who are we kidding, it's Andy Serkis) or Wendy (Arya Stark Maisie Williams?)

Even beyond the kids, my frame of reference of actors for most of the characters is 10 years out of date. 

Like for Jepperd Nick Nolte would have been perfect 10-15 years ago.  I'm afraid studios would want to go with Bruce Willis, who could do the job depending on which Bruce took the gig... actor Bruce or paycheck Bruce.  It would be a name draw but I'm sure I can do better.

Lucy and Becky are easy, Kerry Washington and Carrie Mulligan.

Dr. Singh ... I have the perfect visualisation of the actor in my mind but I can't remember the film (or was it TV? I bet he's a Canadian character actor...).  Irrfan Khan would definitely do in a pinch though...

Then there's Johnnie and Dougie Abbot.  Johnnie is definitely Martin Starr while Dougie is Jon Gries.

Jepperd's old hockey buddy, Jimmy Jacobs, John C. Reilly, and that creep Haggerty is Tim Blake Nelson

That's most of the main players. Sheesh that looks like a hard sell.

365 comics...171: JL8

JL8 is a daily-ish web comic about the Justice League as 8 year olds.  It's adorable and entertaining, often funny but it really lives and breathes because of the characters (Bruce, Clark, Diana, Hal, Barry, Karen and J'onn).  Writer/artist Yale Stewart definitely uses some shorthand with these well-known characters but really gets into inhabiting their minds as 8 year olds.  His Diana is as good as anyone who has ever written the character, and his constantly bickering Hal and Barry are delightful.  The series is 131 strips long so far, originally starting as a 4-panel style but very quickly using us many panels (or pages) as it needs.  Stuart abandons the straight newspaper strip joke structure in favour of storytelling, including dealing with schoolyard bullies, Diana's birthday party and the Clark /Diana/Karen puppy love triangle.

Its a really sweet and addictive read.  It fills the Tiny Titans gap but in a much different way. I think I'll load it up for the 11 year old tomorrow to read.  It's for everyone.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

365 Comics...170: Wonder Woman #21 (2013)

Well, that was...
that was...
Awesome doesn't even begin to describe it.

The cover telegraphs Orion's return but his arrival and role in the fight with the First Born is amazing.  Wonder Woman continues to be written as awesome as she ever has been and the supporting cast is fantastic (Lennox is such a punching bag, it's great that he seems to enjoy it).  I love how the battle with the First Born climaxed with the Boom Tube... so obvious an idea it's a wonder it's never been done before.  And where Diana & crew wind up... huzzah... been waiting for this for half a year.

Instead of a Superman/Wonder Woman team-up book a Wonder Woman/New Gods team-up book would be super-awesome (and cancelled in 15 issues I'm sure).  Written by Paul Dini, illustrated by I dunno... haven't figured that out yet... thoughts?

365 Comics...169: Batman & Batgirl #21 (2013)

Yeah, I know I'm doing a terrible job at keeping this daily and that writing most of the posts in my smart phone is creating type-ohs and formatting errors a plenty.  Sigh.  There really isn't enough time to do everything nevermind just doing some things right.  Bah.  Plus, I just loaded Vine [user: geekent] onto the ol' phone and am fascinated by it.  Another time suck..

Anyway, Batman and Robin, or rather Batman and Bellyachin'... I'm really not enjoying grim asshole "I hate you all cause my son is dead and I/ you are not" Batman and didn't intend to pick up this series anymore but for some reason did so today and put it at the top of my pile.  I'm still genuinely disliking grumpy Batman but Pete Tomasi really has a nice handle on Barbara... whose intentions are good but her approach vector is way off.

Cliff Richards art here I don't like at times but really like in other panels. He sometimes has an Alan Davis sensibility, but then it could be one of the inkers (Mark Irwin or Marlo Aquiza) has a Mark Farmer sensibiIity.

Monday, June 17, 2013

365 Comics...168: Action Comics Weekly #610 (1988)

What has surprised me about re-reading ACW for likeIy the first time since I first bought them 25 years ago how readable it is. Sure it's an anthology series and I have a long history of difficulty with anthology Comics, but its a rare long-form anthology where (almost) all parts are regular features.
This issue has an exception for the series, featuring a one-off Phantom Stranger story that carries on after that notable Mike Mignola-illustrated mini series with Kyle Baker subbing in. I couldn't make it past halfway through the second issue of that mini and this story is as direly dull.  But, hey, if you're going to have a dry and boring story why not have it illustrated by exciting young artists.

The Deadman arc has been a tedious body-jumping adventure.  Mike Baron took this story everywhere, to hell and back, aliens, angels and demons, but still it's been, frankly, exhausting and a little ridiculous to read (I perked up most during Boston's trip through hell with D.B. Cooper, which was strangely familiar, with some minor similarities to the Oni Press series The Secret History of D.B. Cooper.)  The Deadman feature runs two more issues and returns in #618 (by Marty Pasko this time).  So unlike Showcase in the '90's this anthology really is a series of regular, rotating features.

Last month Black Canary took over for Blackhawk (he'll be back too) and her story here is a very small one at street-level as Dinah plans to hire an at-risk young woman in her flower shop (remember when Dinah had a flower shop?) only she turns up at her place bruised after defending her brother from some guys he owes money to. So its time to let the Canary fly.  After burning her tacky 80's Justice League costume last issue, she puts on her rather modest new duds which look more like Bond villainess than superhero. As a young lad this story really bored me but Sharon Wright's (who?) script is sharply dialogued and mature if not exactly fresh. Randy DuBurke is a quintessential 80's artist for me, he was never a superstar but in him I see style and cleanliness, the prototype for Jamie McKelvie.

The Superman story that runs through every issue suffers from being only two pages each week.  lt's taken 10 issues to get to the crux of the story about a cult people worshipping Supes as a god... compared all the Christ allusions in Man of Steel its a little tame and feels old fashioned with Curt Swan on art.

Then there's Green Lantern... James Owsley is out, Peter David is in. David's writing is a bit less focussed than it is these days (largely from taking over someone else's story) but it feels like David's work, in his sense of humour and his exploration of the character's concepts... particularly Hal's fearlessness.  Does he have a psychological disorder?  I prefer galaxy-spanning GL but this works okay too.

Finally, there's the Secret Six. This was my favourite part of ACW 25 years ago and it still is today.  The original Six in the 60's was a spin on the adventure/spy series like Mission Impossible at the time and this is a very '80's-modern update.  A group of differently handicapped but disparately talented individuals are each given an apparatus to overcome their disability but in return they are at the service of Mockingbird, and Charlie's Angels -style must execute his mission plan to expose corrupt corporations across America... It's a bit of a stretch to have this crew suddenly start performing amateur espionage hour, but its not like they're perfect at their new roles and seeing them adapt and improvise is where the fun and excitement is.  Plus there's the whole "did Mockingbird murder the original Six?" mystery.  Fascinating, well executed stuff from Martin Pasko with great visual storytelling from Dan Spiegle.  This should be on TV.

365 Comics...167: Batman #21 (2013)

Man, I love this book.  I should be annoyed by a flashback book that takes place roughly 6 years ago (and then keeps flashing back to other time periods beyond that) but the only reason it's taking place "6 years ago" is to separate it from the continuity of today.  I'll have to look, but I don't think Morrison kept referring to "X years ago" in Action Comics, but that started its run off with the conceit of being years ago, whereas this is issue 21, so, "6 years ago" quickly sets the stage, while Greg Capullo establishes the scene of a trashed out Gotham with broken buildings and flooded subways.  Some shit went down.

Five months earlier Bruce Wayne is in disguise, but his latex appliance has torn off so his cover seems to be blown... oh yeah, the Red Hood Gang has their guns trained on him, so obviously his cover is blown.  He's in a cargo truck with a half dozen men in the back, on the roof of a multi-story parking lot with nowhere to easily go.  He makes a naturally daring escape (despite Alfred's protestations in his ear), and saves the day.  The Red Hood is impressed multiple times over, he even applauds this mystery man's latest feat.  Bruce meanwhile throws him the bird.

Afterward, Bruce has a work out, during which he and Alfred have an exchange about how his return is not as Bruce Wayne, heir to the Wayne Enterprises, but as a tool of justice.  Bruce's Uncle, Philip Kane, current chair of the company, has been keeping a watchful eye out for any sign of Bruce, and greets the boy at his door, leading to a very wordy but important conversation about just where things are at in the company, and just who the heck this never-before-heard-of-family-member is anyway, and who he is to Bruce (not much... Kane... any relation to the Kane family of Batwoman?).

Another flashback to Bruce's childhood, shortly before his parents murder, establishing the "Robin"  "R" as a symbold of something else (Thomas wears it on his ballcap), but that's background noise, more forward looking is that Thomas is a bit of a grease monkey in his spare time and already Wayne Ent is on the cutting edge of technology, so Bruce is introduced to super-tech at a young age.  He's given a portable 360 degree camera by his dad, which, by the final page, it looks like he's going to drop down an abandoned well he finds out back.  It's all so very nice, the little details of the influences in his youth that form him as a man!

Later that day, Uncle Philip has a chat with an employee, one Edward Nigma, so things are blossoming in very interesting ways in this issue and I bloody love it. There's even a quickie back-up by Snyder, James Tynion IV and Raphael Albuquerque that shows how Bruce learned to drive.

This book seems to takes some influence from the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight trilogy, as it feels very much like it could fit within the first two films.  The only difference is, there's a bit of playfulness here that the films largely missed out on.  The Joker's playfulness was dark and twisted, but here it's actually quite fun.  Capullo's style lends itself well to presenting a brighter past, and Bruce's daytime interactions.  With the exception of the introduction to Edward Nigma, there's virtually no heavy shadows in this book, and it's a wonderful change of pace from all the dead son, grieving father business of the past few months.

Snyder's set up is dense (given that this is to be a year-long arc, it's apt), introducing at least three separate story threads, as well as the character arc that Bruce/Batman faces, so I'm definitely excited and intrigued, not to mention entertained.

And the cover design? I dig it, though I'm getting so many grubby fingerprints all over its glossy coat.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

365 Comics...166: The Black Beetle #4 (2013)

Francesco Francavilla, over the 5 issues (0 issue plus 1-4) of The Black Beetle, has become one of my favourite artists in comics.  I wasn't necessarily all that enthusiastic about him when he would take over for Jock on Scott Snyder's Batman run, but that was more a result of the shock between differences in the artist styles, and since I was more familiar with Jock's work, I preferred it at the time.  But through the Black Beetle, where Francavilla has designed a story to cater to his own strengths as well as his own interests as a storyteller, and as a result he's really exploded all over the page.  The reader gets a full sense of Francavilla's talent, his ingenuity and creativity, his sense of humour and his darker tendencies, and a bevvy of artistic, literary and cinematic influences, not to mention his impeccable design sensibilities.

If you're a studier of sequential art, this is a must read.
If you're a fan of pulp vigilantes, ditto.
If you just enjoy a fun romp of a comic, check it out.
Thank me later.

Friday, June 14, 2013

365 Comics...165: Masters of the Universe: The Origin of Hordak (one-shot, 2013)

It's funny how "origin stories" are so essential in the superhero genre.  How did they come to get their powers?  How did they decide to be a hero/villain?  Where did they come from?  We don't seem to care as much about the "origin stories" in other genres.  The western and spy genres seem to largely thrive upon having characters of mystery.  Dramas are so very often fit to show us the characters as they are today without needing to understand the past so much, while action/adventure tend to define their characters more by their deeds than whatever brought them to that place (they're a cop/soldier/firefighter/archaeologist etc in a profession that puts them in such scenarios).  Fantasy and sci-fi least of all require an origin story, as what's more important and interesting is the world building and how the characters fit into that world and are affected by that world, than where they came from (they came from that world, so... you know).

A great many cartoons, particularly the cartoons of the '80's that were largely based on toy lines, would rarely, if ever bother to provide an origin story for their characters, instead we join their conflict with their one (and often only) enemy in progress, with more and more characters being introduced, but only as a display of whatever funky action the toy performs, or to present them as yet another distinct figure in the line.  As kids, we accept that whatever story is being told that week is what we care about, not character growth.  By the nature of the old animation cycles, it seemed characters had to remain stagnant so that their adventures could go on forever and appear in any order without confusion.  But it's such an outdated way of dealing with characters, and not one adults really abide by, we need at least the perception of growth and change in our heroes and villains (whereas the story-of-the-week seems more about peripheral 3rd-parties learning a lesson).

Masters of the Universe, well, it was a hybrid sci-fi/fantasy cartoon that was flat-out no-progress characterization... He-Man, Teela, Orko, Cringer, Man-At-Arms, Skeletor, Beast Man, etc.  They never changed from episode one through to episode 130, they all pretty much act the same, despite any of the events occurring along the way.  So few of them were of a personal nature anyway (perhaps the reveal that the Sorceress was Teela's mother... Duncan, you dog... but even that had no lasting effect on the characters).  Were there origin stories... only one that was episode-length, which was Cringer's origin (though even that episode refused to explain why he could talk or become Battle Cat, rather only showing how Cringer became Adam's pet).

With the latest Masters of the Universe revival from DC Comics, we got an astounding Origin of Skeletor that hinted at some epic sword-and-sorcery drama, a He-Man origin that I now can't even recall, and now a Hordak origin, which quite frankly, lost me from page 1.  I have no idea what's happening in this book besides an epic war between good and evil that was whittled down to a mano y mano between Hordak and his brother Zodak a million and some years ago.  In reality, it's an 8-page story stretched to 20 in which the bad guy triumphs but, the consequences of his victory are, well, I guess TBD. 

I'm not reading Giffen's MOTU series, so I can't say whether this is set-up for that series.  I just don't know (just as I don't know whether he's used any of Joshua Hale Fialkov's awesome set-up from the Origin of Skeletor).  I was intending to pass on this book but I was drawn in by Giffen's artwork, as I so often am.  Giffen's back to using his sloppy-style which he adopted in the late-1980's and early 90's, but bringing into it much of the exaggerated Kirby that made his recent OMAC work so great.  It's certainly much better than his Trencher-era shenanegans, but not quite as great as his early-80's Legion or that recent OMAC work.  He owes a lot here to the colors from Hi-Fi which are appropriately cosmic.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

365 Comics...164: Smallville Season 11 #14 (2013)

I surprisingly don't have much to say about this (except to reinforce how fantastic it is).  Superman, Supergirl, the Legion of Super-Heroes, and Booster Gold all in one book?  Yeah, that's a fun time right there.

My biggest thought was Supergirl's costume design for the 31st Century (in the Smallville Universe at least), mostly in how much it reminds me of the current Captain Marvel outfit Carol Danvers is wearing.  It's got a tinge of the New 52 Supergirl but it really is more Captain Marvel.  I wonder how intentional that was?

365 Comics...163: Superman Unchained #1 (2013)

First off, that title... it's a terrible title for an ongoing series.  DC's tried to play it off as something, anything other than a riff off Django Unchained, hearkening back to the iconic image of Superman busting out of chains on the cover of Superman #11 (1941, July/August) and then countless times since (most notably Neal Adams' cover to Superman #233 (1971, January)).  But it's really just owes it's existence to the success and popularity of Quentin Tarantino's Oscar winning slavery/western/revenge epic, which in that like makes it somewhat, I dunno, co-opt-y (like it was made for the WPCBC Network from Mr. Show).

Adventures of Superman, Action Comics, Superman: Man of Steel, Superman: Last Son of Krypton, Superman: Man of Tomorrow, Superman of Metropolis, Superman: Big Blue Boy Scout, ... You know, historical titles, or titles relating to or about the character.  This Unchained thing seems like a flash in the pan, a mini-series title.  I could be wrong, this one could last a decade, but somehow, once the star writer and artist leave the book, it probably won't last more than a year or two after.

(But seriously, with Man of Steel also hitting theatres this week, why not "Man of Steel" as a title?  Seems so utterly logical, moreso than aligning with Django.)

Anyway, enough grousing about the title, what about the book?  Well, it's a 22-page book for $4.99.  We'll 22-pages plus a "tipped-in" four-page fold of two images that could have just as easily been two normal splash pages, bringing it to a 24-page book at an easy $2.99 if, you know, they wanted to create value for the fans.  But I get it, nothing reads "special" like a gimmick, and a poster-sized fold-out page is quite the gimmick... but in story it feels completely unnecessary and from a reader standpoint, it doesn't deliver anything all that spectacular or inspiring (and in fact it's kind of annoying to unstick it from the rubber cement and unfold it.  Wasn't there a comic a while back that required one to unfold it... Arrowsmith or some fantasy book from a few years back?  Wednesday Comics was like that and it worked well.  It might have been interesting for all of Superman Unchained to be a completely fold-out book.

Whatever.  This tipped-in poster business, not a great idea, but also it could be used to a pretty interesting effect, such as, say, the Trinity war if an artist wanted to cram in a couple dozen heroes and villains into a fight scene... or given to someone like JH Williams III to do some crazy innovative panel stuff with the structure, or Geoff Darrow to really blow someone's brains out with an intense amount of detail.  I could think of a dozen different artists who would probably do something more interesting than two poster-sized splash panels.  But it could also be a sign of Scott Snyder, as a writer, not exploring that space in his script.  The moment itself in the book was a signature Superman-rescue moment, like the space-shuttle rescue in Superman Returns... it's a defining element of his character, that he uses his might for heroic deeds, not just fighting, but it's not a special moment, certainly not special enough to warrant a massive fold-out page.  Think of Superman Beyond, from Final Crisis, how trippy that story was and how Grant Morrison and Doug Mahnke could have used it, or Morrison and Quitely in All-Star Superman... there I go again.

Jim Lee has never been a favourite artist of mine (perhaps I retain some bitterness over the 38 copies of X-Men #1 I naively bought 23 years ago) but I find his style less appealing every time I see it.  These days, it's looking dirty with all those excess lines, and any panel that isn't solely focussed on a character pose looks more sketch-like than a finished image.

But the story itself in Superman Unchained is one I can get behind.  It feels like a Superman story, but not a pre-Flashpoint one... it takes that foundation that Morrison laid in Action Comics, expands on top of it.  Superman is heroic, intelligent, inquisitive, honorable, friendly (or intimidating, depending)... he's is the icon he should be.  I won't say it's perfect, but it's definitely the Superman the New 52 has been searching for and hasn't had yet.

Also, the best part of the book was a Clark Kent/Jim Olsen moment, which goes a long way.  You know what, even at five bucks and a less than awe-inspiring fold-out I still feel like I got my $5 worth, which, given how uninspired I've been by the Superman of the new 52, is saying a lot.  I won't pay $5 bucks monthly, but this once, I'm fine with it.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

365 Comics...162: Action Comics Weekly #608 (1988)

Hey, remember that time Green Lantern appeared on Oprah? 

I'm sure she doesn't either.

Was this before Oprah had herself copyrighted and trademarked, or does this establish precedence that Oprah is part of the DCU?  Wonder what the New 52 Oprah is like.  Probably like Tyra Banks.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

365 Comics...161: East of West #3 (2013)

Well it only took 3 issues but I think I've finally gotten a handle on what this book is about... maybe... correct me if I am wrong:

It's some alternate time where the United States is no longer united, and technology has advanced but society has regressed to old west-type with a mix of retro-feudalism (that's probably just bullshit big words on my part).  A group of elite masters-of-society types are trying to bring about the apocalypse.  They have called forth the Horsemen but Death refuses to join them, so there's tension there.  Turns out they have Death's wife and now he's coming for her... and stuff.

To be honest I don't think the book is all that complex, but it's just complicated enough for someone like me who is already juggling about 40-50 different stories in his head every month.  This'll be one of those books I amass and then binge on.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

365 Comics...160. Pacific Rim: Tales From Year Zero HC (2013)

Buying a comic prequel to a film that hasn't been released yet is a gamble.  For starters you have to operate under the assumption that the film the comic is setting up is going to be any good or that you we actually going to like it.  Second the comic has to measure up to the film once it does come out, although the expectation most times is the comic will be passable fan service at best. Finally, it all has to be worth the time or money, altogether.  The money you put into buying the comic plus the price of the movie ticket has to total a certain amount of enjoyment to make it worthwhile.

Pacific Rim better be one hell of a movie. I'm banking that it is as I've been terribly excited by the trailers and the concept is a natural for me to squee over.  But with this book I'm already into the property for $25 and I don't feel I got my money's worth so the film better make up the difference.

Tabs from Year Zero its a good read but it's not extra special hardcover material.  Its good background matter, good set-up stuff for the world and some of its characters (l swear though if this film has a running narrative that is basically a news story or article, as this book sets up that it might, I'll be very peeved) but it's not monumental. It's deleted scenes, and not the ones that you wonder why they weren't in the film.

Mainly though, the art doesn't live up to the format or price.  Were this a $10 collection or 3 $4 comics I would be less harsh but an original graphic novel at $25 needs to look amazing, which this doesn't. Serviceable, yes... but it needs a detail artist, one that knows how to really nail the collateral damage of a mech vs kaiju fight.  Art Adams, Gene Ha, Phil Jimenez... these kind of guys.  It's a pretty bland looking book as is, though decent reading.

Compare this to James Stokoe's Godzilla: The Half Century War and the difference is palpable... and disappointing.  Come on del Toro, make a believer out of me.

365 Comics... 159: Supermag (2013)

I like Jim Rugg. His first notable comics effort, Street Angel, was a divine slice of indie pie, a 5 issue series of a kickass skateboarding teenaged girl appealing to anyone with any sort of outsider tendencies.  His hardcover "graphic novel" (because it's not really) Afrodesiac was less a story than a scrapbook of items related to a "lost" blaxploitation superhero, a wonderfully visual and impeccably designed assembly of characters focussed art that convincingly implied a long and rich history for something that heretofore did not exist.

Supermag is a step removed from Afrodesiac, containing a vast assortment of art pieces, experiments in graphic design, and more than a few exercises in excerpt storytelling (Rugg did this a bit in Afrodesiac where he would show only a single page of what would probably otherwise be a short 8 page or even book length story) but they are really random, completely unfocused. 

For fans of the avant garde there's a lot here to appreciate as he toys with style, mimicing Charles Burns or Paul Pope or adopting a cartoon animal style, showcasing his diversity working in digital media or ballpoint pen or traditional pen and ink, applying all manner of color schemes to the work.

There's a humorous tendency to Rugg's work, or a playfulness at least, that were it harnessed fully would put it on a parallel with Kupperman's Tales Designed to Thrizzle.  There's a delightfully absurd but fully realized piece, Duke Armstrong: The World's Mightiest Golfer (written with Brian Maruca and colors by Jasen Lex), that feels like a sibling project to Thrizzle's Einstein & Twain serial that I could do with more of.

Not quite a comic anthology, not quite a fine art magazine but somewhere in between.

Friday, June 7, 2013

365 Comics...158: Green Arrow #21 (2013)

Holy shit!
Pardon my language but... holy shit!
This issue of the miraculously revived Green Arrow doesn't feature your conventional "holy shit" moment, like a, say, Red Wedding or Avengers Arena #10, but instead it features what can only be described as a revelation for Green Arrow as a series, character and property that quite bluntly points out what the Oliver Queen has been - - missing for 80-ish years: a mythology.

Thanks to Jeff Lemire Green Arrow is now part of something bigger, and I don't mean the Justice League. No, with this issue Lemire introduces The Outsiders "seven houses, seven clans, all formed around a totem weapon --the arrow, the spear, the fist, the shield, the sword,the axe, and another long ago lost and forgotten".  Andrea Sorrentino (who gets more amazing with each issue) provides each of the clans its own icon, a simplified sigil representing the weapon and the the family, all of which excites me in a way I rarely yet excited about when Green Arrow is involved.

The Arrow television programme has redefined the character, rebuilding him off of Andy Diggle's excellent Year One series.  Aways a B-lister at best having his own successful show raises his profile to Wonder Woman, Hulk and Captain Marvel (Shazam) levels so his comic really needed to match that, making him younger, more reckless... the old Ollie Queen was an extreme leftist, a crusader and TV Ollie is much of the same.  New 52 Ollie is in search of his, but it seems to be finding him wheter he's prepared or not.

  Diggle's Year One island is now the centerpiece of the character.  On TV the island represents a third to a half of the show.  Here Lemire uses it as well as integral background for Ollie's transition from society lad to vigilante.  But now he's on a quest of discovery and Lemire is bringing something new to the table which could be as important an addition to him as the Lantern spectrum was to Green Lantern.

It will be interesting to see what DC characters fill in the slots for the totem weapons, although Ollie meets minor DC character John Butcher (the axe) here.

I love where this is headed.  DC's not doing too much right these days but they have a winner here.  This is new, fresh, interesting relaunch of a character the best they've done so far outside of Wonder Woman.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

365 Comics...157: Avengers Arena #10 (2013)


Oh boy, I honestly didn't feel bad for the backlash Dennis Hopeless was receiving when he started this Avengers Arena gig, back when I though it was *just* a cheap-thrills book/excuse for making dead teenagers, but now that I see that there's more to the series than just that, now that I can see much of the craft Hopeless is putting into the book, I feel a little bad for the backlash he's now receiving and going to continue to get, except that I shouldn't, because this is what the reaction should be.

Many of the characters in Avengers Arena were created by Hopeless for the series with ties to Marvel-at-large (Kid Briton, Bloodstone, Death Locket), others cam from minor parts throughout the Marvel universe (Cammi, Juston, Darkhawn), others from the Avengers Academy (this series' direct predecessor) and of course the female Wolverine clone X-23.  Oh yeah, and the Runaways Nico and Chase.

I stopped reading the Runaways after Brian K. Vaughn and Joss Whedon finished their runs, and to me their story kind of stopped there.  I know they were pushed around a bit and integration into the Marvel U was forced a bit more, but they seemed like a true clan of outsiders, and Hopeless has sustained them as such in this series, having Nico and Chase keep to themselves for the most part.  They're not superheroes, really, they're not trained ones at least, and their school-of-hard-knocks experience doesn't count for much against a likeminded group of scared and/or duplicitous teenagers, nor their homicidal warden, Arcade, the proprietor of the deathmatch they found themselves in.

Nico was apparently killed this issue by the villain of the piece, the one teenager who has made it known that she's fully accepting the terms of Arcade's game and she intends to win. Apex is able to control technology, and as such, she killed Juston last issue to steal his Sentinel, she's hijacked Death Locket, and she's also taken over Chase's inherited Darkhawk armor.  It's through controlling Chase that she got the jump on Nico, slicing her arm off, severing her from her staff.  Cold brutality, yes, and oh, for fans of Nico (as I am) a harsh blow.  This is not quite Red Wedding level of shock and awe but the result is kind of the same.  Much of the AV Club's essay Why the Red Wedding Has Such An Emotional Impact can carry over to what Hopeless has done here.

Bleeding Cool has assembled some Tumblr reactions to Nico's death, and the results are knee jerk and hysterical, because of course they are. My favourite is this one :


I did not, until just now, really look at the last pages preceding Nico’s death.

She sees Chase show up. She is relieved. She goes to apologize, and has her arm blown off, the staff (which should not break) broken, and is then dropkicked off a cliff.

By her best friend.

Hopeless didn’t just kill Nico.

He used Chase to do it.

If I sounded angry over the last few days, that was nothing compared to how I feel right now.
This is my favourite reaction because it's spelling out exactly what makes this death so well orchestrated.  There's the duplicity as Nico thinks she faces a friend, only to find out too late that it's not really her friend at all.  But at the same time, Chase is not performing the action, and he's helpless to stop it.  So if he actually does murder his best friend, he's going to have that hanging on him... Chase, the perpetual fuckup, the one without powers, the one who couldn't save the day, again.  It's unfortunate, truly, that Nico was the victim of this and that it wouldn't work as well (or at all) the other way around... and given that Nico's final word to her staff was "HELP", a spell I'm not sure she's ever cast before, perhaps it's not her final word afterall (I hope Hopeless has indeed gone through all of Nico's appearances to catalog her spells, or at least ensure she hasn't said this one before...also "help" might not necessarily mean Nico still lives, but it may alert the outside world to this seemingly hidden Murderworld).

It's all rather sharp writing from Hopeless, who wants this kind of visceral, emotional outpouring from readers.  It's a brave (not in like fireman/policeman/soldier brave, but like challenging the establishment brave, shaking up the status quo brave) move, particularly because it may wind up alienating readers (as so many are reacting that they're quitting Marvel or comics for good), but at the same time it's captivating storytelling and I'm sure most of these people will be back again to see how it all plays out.  Afterall, if their favourite character dies, and they don't find out what it was all for, then didn't their favourite character die in vain?  And if it turns out that what it's all for is just some stupid crap like an Avengers VR training simulation and everyone's still alive, all used to root out which trainees are not capable of being truly
heroic, then sure, it's worthwhile to get upset.  Actually wait, that's actually perfectly acceptable, if quite a cheat ending to all this, although you'd have a lot of really PO'd teenaged heroes (those Avengers Academy kids were already deceived once before).

365 Comics...156: The Steam Engines of Oz #1 (2013)

I submitted my review for the Steam Engines of Oz for Thor's Comic Column last Friday morning, and not 10 hours later I was flipping through my Flipboard to see that the Steam Engines of Oz is Kickstarting for an OGN which seems to have already have met its goal.  It would appear that the series is only lasting 3 issues (or 4, with the Free Comic Book Day issue) before it's collected, and the OGN is picking up where it left off.

It's good news, I think, since I found the first two books quite enjoyable (small issues around the art, but hopefully with a full graphic novel's worth of work, those kinks will get ironed out).

Yeah, I'm on an Oz kick this year.  Don't expect it to slow any time soon.

365 Comics...155: Fearless Defenders #5 (2013)

If I'm to be perfectly frank (Hi, I'm Frank), it was because of this cover that I started picking up Fearless Defenders.  It was partially the awesome Street Fighter riff, with the 18 various selectable Marvel female superheroes, but even more it was the tantalizing fact that She-Hulk was the 2P selection, facing off against player 1's Valkyre (at least on the cover).  Now, I'm not a Shulkie fanatic but I do like her a whole hell of a lot, so it doesn't come as a total surprise that her appearance on this cover drove me to pick up the past 5 issues (including the Age of Ultron extra-pricey 4A special), but it is kind of nuts, isn't it?  To pick up 5 comics solely based on the promise of seeing a guest appearance of a well-liked character 5 issues down the road, even if she's buried amidst a dozen and a half other guest stars? 

I have problems.

One is an inexplicable attraction to potato chips, and uncontrollable consumption thereafter (Cookie Monster-style, nom nom nom).  Another is my love for comics, and a desire to read all the good stuff, wile also reading all the stuff featuring characters I like or from creators I like.  It's a completist mentality that got me into trouble when I was younger, and now just drowns me in comics on a regular basis.

If I'll be perfectly honest, I don't even know how much I really like the Fearless Defenders.  I mean, I really dig a lot of Cullen Bunn's writing, but perhaps it's just all this Asgardian stuff that's just not doing it for me.  I've never been a Thor fan, and this is somewhat akin to that, so it stands to reason I'm not really enjoying it to its fullest level.  Meanwhile I don't care all that much for Will Sliney's art... his faces, his character poses, his line weight and shadows, they all kind of put me off.  Personal preference mind you, he's a solid storyteller otherwise.  Really, it's Mark Brooks' covers that are selling me on this, month after month, and I'm finding some surprises along the way (the Age of Ultron 4A tie-in endeared me to Hippolyta rather quickly in a way the previous two issues hadn't).  I like the deluge of guest stars here, and I'm kind of wondering what Bunn's post-arc gameplan is, to see if ultimately this series is worth hanging onto or if it's just not going to be enough for me.

It seems to be finding a fan base though, which is great, because Bunn should have the success his talent demands, and there needs to be more female-centric books on the stand.  With all the talk lately (because of Michelle Rodriguez's comments recently) about strong female heroes (including Joss Whedon's more educated input) it's cool to have titles on the stand like this (and Wonder Woman, and Batwoman, and Captain Marvel, and
the new X-Men title) that have kick-ass, unobjectified heroins.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

365 Comics...154: Spider-Men #4 (2012)

Spider-Men represents the first crossover between the Marvel 616 and Ultimates universe, and as big an epic as it could have been, it's instead a really nice character piece for Peter Parker, which is rather disappointing if only because Miles Morales kind of gets slighted in the equation.  Peter gets to learn about his Ultimate counterpart's death, he gets to meet Gwen Stacy and Aunt May (Brian Bendis' affection for Ultimate Peter's supporting cast is evident).  Miles, meanwhile, tends to stand in awe of his crimefighting namesake.  I was hoping that with Ultimate Comics Spider-Man creative team of Bendis, Pichelli and Ponsor on the mini that it would be more Miles Morales focussed.  I suppose the intent of the series was to use the "real" Peter Parker as a draw for new readers into the Ultimate side of things, acting as tour guide a little bit.  My favourite part of the mini series however is the gab session Gwen, Miles and Peter are engaged in as Aunt May wakens from her fainting spell.  It felt like a real moment despite the surreality.  I found the Peter and Aunt May scenes genuinely affecting...Bendis works so well on the human level of interaction.  The cover, with Peter cradling a dying/dead Ultimate Spidey in his arms (must've been something he said?) is a terrible fake-out, one that doesn't even come close to occurring in the books.  It's a talking heads book (a talking heads series for that matter) and it's pretty great... I just wish that we got more of Miles' perspective. This really would have made for a great arc in the current run.

Monday, June 3, 2013

365 Comics... 153: Action Comics Weekly #602 (1988)

Sure signs that ACW #602 was made in the 1980's

Green Lantern: Star Sapphire downs a fighter jet and hands the ejected pilot a phone book which he gives to GL; Coast City White Pages

Wild Dog: reporter Susan King shows her boss her latest lame report about how nobody has seen Wild Dog for a long time... and the chief presses ''STOP" on a VHS player
Deadman: was sexism an 80's thing?

Superman: actually everything Curt Swan draws looks like it's from the 60's.

Secret Six: "There's a cassette player somewhere-- Can'tcha hear it whirrin?"

Blackhawk: Actually, this one is set in Singapore in 1947 but has an unforgettable Rick Burchette illustrated sequence where Blackhawk fights a bunch of dudes but he's fully in the buff having had his bath interrupted.

365 Comics...152: Superman: The Man of Steel #30 (1994)

There was a time when Lobo appearing in a comic was a special event.  That time was 1992. Mutants over at the House of Ideas were taking over in extreme ways and dominating the sales charts and little outside of killing off their major characters was DC able to reach the same level of interest.  Wolverine --violent, indignant and a total badass-- at that time could seemingly double a sagging book's sales orders (for one month at least).  Anti-heroes like Ghost Rider and the Punisher were part of the comic book zeitgeist, and it was this darker, grayer area that distinguished quite easily Marvel's heroes from DC's.  In 1990 the Alan Grant/Keith Giffen/Simon Bisley Lobo mini series become a shocking mature readers hit and subsequently Lobo became DC's first real entry into the anti-hero game.Two years and a bunch of guest appearances later (although in in L.E.G.I.O.N. he was a regular) he was hot commodity, one of the biggest things at DC. 

Two years even further on tough, Lobo had already started to wear out his welcome... part of it was that he worked best as a mature readers action comedy, part of it was he was fairly complicated to draw well (Simon Bisley was the only one to truly draw Lobo with any biker/punk authenticity).  The biggest part of it was that he's a fairly one-note character and only really good for providing heaps of violence.  He was the Deadpool of the 90's.

For some reason, in 1994, Lobo appearing in a Superman book was considered an event... or at least event enough to merit a gimmick cover. Of course at this point in time, the gimmick cover was as prolific as sales booster as "guest appearances" by hot characters, and a publisher would use any excuse to trot out another one and charge a few bucks more in doing so.  Plus, the speculator boom was in full swing so a ginmick cover would stand out to them.  Combined with a "hot character" appearance, it was a theoretical cash bonanza.
 Gimmick covers these days are, by wary fans of old, considered a waste of money.  Put the money in good story and art.  But given that in the 1990's the material in the books was so mediocre (if not outright terrible) that the gimmick cover was at least something interesting for the buyer to look at (or sometimes play with).  Man of Steel #30 was not, and still is not a good story... it's a thoroughly inorganic meeting between Supes and Lobo that leads to a pointless fight and an unlikely truce at the end.  Bleh.  But the cover... that's fun.

Touted as the first ever do-it-yourself cover, this special polybagged issue came with a couple dozen colorforms of Superman and Lobo in different poses and some other scenery bits. The reusable vinyl sticker-ish shapes applied nicely 19 years ago but they aren't so nicely reusable now.  I wonder had I kept them on the sticker sheet instead of cramming them all onto the cover, would they be any better?

As far as I know, the only other use of this gimmick was a few months later in the one-shot finale to the "Worlds Collide" crossover between the Superman (well, Man of Steel, Superboy and Steel) with the Milestone universe (I don't think I took the appliques off the sheet on that one so I'll have to dig it out and see if they still work at all).