Thursday, June 30

Fall of Eagles, Disk 1 (1974)

By John Elliott

I've been working my way through this old BBC “docudrama.” It's something I should have tracked down and watched years ago, given my fascination with the Habsburgs even to focusing on Austrian history as one of my doctoral minors. I've had a book of the same name by C. L. Sulzberger for years; I thought it was published to accompany the series but apparently not. I only got around to the miniseries recently, and now thanks to Netflix.

It is an experience. It's not quite like any docudrama I've ever seen. Objectively, it's a bit boring in its execution. A good bit of narration; typically it is like watching a filmed version of a stage play; any large vistas and scenes such as of battle are conveyed by means of panning across paintings. Decent history, just saps it of vitality. I'm going to persevere, I'm sure – seldom do I start something like this without trudging on to the end, and it's only thirteen episodes, I think.

The “eagles” are symbolic of the three great imperial dynasties of late 19th-early 20th-century Europe: Austria under the Habsburgs, Germany under the Hohenzollerns, and Russia under the Romanovs. These three ancient divine-right absolutist states (the German Empire may only have been formed in the course of this series, ca. 1870, but it was built on the militarism of the Hohenzollerns who had ruled expanding Prussia for centuries) did not adapt well at all to the changes that were coming to European society through the 19th century, and ultimately failed in the conflagration of World War I – shattering old Europe in the process, with consequences that echoed through the 20th century.

There are four episodes on this first disk: Briefly, they are:

“Death Waltz,” which sets the scene for the entire pre-World War I era by telling the story of the ill-fated love- (infatuation-) match of Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria and Empress Elisabeth (“Sisi”), the Princess Diana of the 19th century. I'm not the first to make that comparison – a quick Google search found multiple references in book descriptions, reviews, and message board postings, including this by Manuel on 10 August 2009 at the Goodreads forum which sums it up pretty succinctly: “Both were incredibly young beautiful women who married emotionally distant husbands. Both had a hard time fitting into court life. Both found a niche in the public eye and bothwere known for extended vacations through Europe and beyond. Both died tragically while traveling away from home.” The way I saw it in the mid-90s (prior to Diana's death) was that both Sisi and Di were absolutely unsuited to the public role they attempted to take up. Luckily Diana's sons seem to have turned out better than Elisabeth's did (as seen in the fourth episode on this disk, see below). “Death Waltz” refers to the upper crust and rulers of Europe dancing their way toward tragedy, oblivious to the societal forces that were making their way of life obsolete.

“The English Princess” continues the theme, somewhat, focusing on Queen Victoria's daughter of the same name, “Vicky,” marrying Prince Frederick “Fritz” of Prussia. Her – and his – more British liberal-constitutional view of monarchy clashes with the aggressive, militaristic “Blood and Iron” philosophy of rising Prussia.

“The Honest Broker” continues the story of Prussia, detailing the career of the Iron Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, who more than any other man built the German Empire of 1871. We also get to see the accession first of liberally-minded Frederick – who had been barred from any leadership role while his father ruled under Bismarck's thumb until an advanced age, but who already when he came to the throne suffered from a throat cancer that would cut his reign short after a matter of three short months – as well as that of Fritz and Vicky's son Wilhelm II – blustering and bellicose, overcompensating for a crippled left arm – whose first act of state virtually is to dismiss Bismarck.

“Requiem for a Crown Prince” returns to Austria for a snapshot of a single scandalous event in the inexorable collapse of the monarchy – the murder-suicide of Crown Prince Rudolf and his lover Mary Vetsera in January 1889, and the royal cover-up at the highest levels that follows. Whatever was the cause, Rudolf was one odd bird, very much caught up in a contemporary Viennese fascination with death, manifested in such things as elaborate ceremonies surrounding All Souls' Day, the lionizing of actress Sarah Bernhardt who “could perish more beautifully before the footlights than anyone else” (Frederic Morton, A Nervous Splendor: Vienna 1888/1889 [1979] – which I read long ago as part of that Habsburg minor – p. 151), but above all in a horrendous suicide rate. Rudolf paid morbid attention to the press accounts of suicides. According to Leonard Wolf (ed., The Essential Dracula: The Definitive Annotated Edition of Bram Stoker's Classic Novel [1993], p. 211 n. 9), there was a “late nineteenth-century cult of female invalidism … [which] culminate[d] in the notion that a dead woman is more beautiful than a living one.” Maybe this is the reason Rudolf needed a female companion in death? - because he had actively sought such a companion among other lovers as well as his wife. They all refused. And after he shot Mary in the evening, he sat with her body through the night, writing letters, before blowing his own brains out. None of this would be consonant with the divine-right Catholic monarchy of the Habsburgs, hence the scramble to cover up the tragedy.

And so the “death waltz” continued....

* * *
Note:  Yes, that is Patrick Stewart at top right.  He played Lenin in the later portion of this series.

Wednesday, June 29

Flashpoint: Kid Flash Lost #1 of 3 (8/11)

“Kid Flash Lost, Part One”

As described here, I decided a bit belatedly to pick up this ancillary miniseries to the Flashpoint event because it's centered on a denizen of the “real” DCU somehow transported into the Flashpoint universe – like Booster Gold in his series and Barry Allen Flash in the main Flashpoint mini. Kid Flash is Bart Allen, the grandson of Barry Allen, born in the 30th century but for reasons I've never been entirely clear on because I've never read his early stuff as “Impulse” resident in the present. Just go with it. He's been “Kid Flash” I think since the opening of the current Teen Titans series about a decade ago, after a decade when he went by “Impulse.” The consensus is that he seems to be the Kid Flash that will be featured in the post-Flashpoint Teen Titans title. (Where does that leave Wally West, the first Kid Flash, for a long time the Flash? That's not been answered. Some see an ominous hint in the solicitation copy for the new Flash #1: “The Flash knows he can’t be everywhere at once, but what happens when he faces an all-new villain who really can! As if that’s not bad enough, this villain is a close friend!” [my emphasis] I hope not.)

In this three-issue series Bart somehow finds himself in his native future era, now the 31st century, held captive by Brainiac, who in the Flashpoint universe has ruled over Earth for several years. He breaks free, but finds that he cannot access the Speed Force and is effectively powerless. He's rescued by a now-female Hot Pursuit (!), but then finds himself starting to fade from existence: “[W]e've got to … get back home fast … we're not supposed to be here … because I saw this movie with Cassie [fellow Teen Titan Wonder Girl] … if we don't get hit with some Speed Force lightning … I'm history.” I think the movie is Back to the Future.

Sterling Gates performed an admirable job the past couple of years taking a somewhat unlikeable and pointless character in Supergirl and quickly developing her into a likeable and heroic young lady (DC apparently erasing that achievement is probably the most egregiously wrong-headed aspect of the coming relaunch/reboot – it's said here much better than I can). I consider him one of DC's better writers and he does a solid job on this issue. Not sure where this story is going to go or how relevant it will be to the overall event, but I'll stick with it. The art by Oliver Nome and Trevor Scott is not really to my liking, but passable. It reminds me a lot of my first exposure to Olivier Coipel's art when he took over Legion of Super-Heroes in the “Legion of the Damned” arc about a decade ago – which I didn't like at all. The figures often look distorted, their features almost bestial – the example that jumps at me here is in the last panel of the next-to-last page where Bart's face is horse-like with a nose about three sizes too big!  (Note:  The cover above is by Francis Manapul.)


Monday, June 27

The Spider vs. the Empire State, Book Two: The Spider at Bay (2009)

By Norvell Page (writing as Grant Stockbridge). Second book of “The Black Police Trilogy,” originally published in The Spider #61 (October, 1938).  See first book here.

Original magazine cover
It is now three months since tyranny descended on New York. Richard Wentworth has continued leading a resistance from his camp hidden in caves in the Catskill Mountains. But a mysterious new plague like leprosy has begun striking those opposed to the criminal regime, sapping their will. Wentworth makes a desperate and dangerous dash for Washington, DC, where he finds the President in sympathy with the people of New York but powerless to intervene as long as the elected state government adheres to the forms of law. He is, however, able to call a special election. Wentworth works tirelessly and at great personal risk to try to get the people out to vote. Ultimately this leads to his capture, show trial, and condemnation to a horrific death - and the election is stolen.  Wentworth's execution is interdicted at the last minute by deposed NYPD Commissioner Stanley Kirkpatrick leading a rescue – in the guise of The Spider! Together, Wentworth and Kirkpatrick lead a raid back into New York City to capture a supply of antitoxin for the plague which the Black Police have been spreading among their foes, and to take back police headquarters, and ultimately to lead a mass uprising by the people marching on City Hall to the tune of The Battle Hymn of the Republic. But the Master eludes Wentworth's grasp once again ....

One of the running conceits of the Spider series is that Stanley Kirkpatrick, while a superb police commissioner in so many ways and a tacit ally of Richard Wentworth, is a man of absolute integrity sworn to bring the Spider to justice and certain execution. Time after time he must overlook the obvious connection between Wentworth and the outlaw vigilante. Always some plot twist allows Kirkpatrick to seize onto some shred of doubt. At times, this makes him seem somewhat obtuse. Really, there is no doubt that Kirkpatrick knows – but as is stated time and again, only with irrefutable proof will he admit it, even to himself. Should that proof come, however, it is clear that he will unflinchingly do his duty.

In these stories especially it seems that the game is up. All but openly Wentworth comes out as the Spider in this time of need, becoming a symbol around whom the people of New York, even Kirkpatrick, can rally against the Black Police. But always Wentworth maintains the facade that he is acting merely as an agent of the Spider. A prime example comes early in this middle book of the trilogy, pp. 191-4. Wentworth leads a daring raid to rescue a captured Kirkpatrick. In the commissioner's presence, to the commissioner's fellow captives he identifies himself - “The Spider has come to rescue you!” (p. 191). Having penetrated their prison in normal garb, to lead the breakout he adopts the guise of the Spider - “Wentworth turned to find men staring at him with wide, half-frightened eyes. He sent the flat, mocking laughter of the Spider at them, abruptly switched to his normal tone of voice. 'You'd almost think I was the Spider, wouldn't you,' he laughed” (p. 192). … “'Charge!' Wentworth shouted. 'Death to the Black Police! The Spider leads you!'” (p. 193). In the first story he had set this up, proclaiming that others too would be given the Spider ring to leave the tell-tale crimson seal on dead criminals.

I discovered a wonderful website designed to accompany the publication of this book, taking the form of a memorial “to the brave men and women who gave their lives during the New York rebellion of 1938” - Fight the Empire State. Several pages proceed to tell the story of this “neglected chapter in U.S. History” in mock documentary form, including a series of period photographs. One of those, although identified only tentatively as such, obviously purports to show Richard Wentworth along with Nita van Sloane and the faithful Ram Singh. 

Friday, June 24

Flashpoint #2 (of 5), Superboy #8, and Adventure Comics #527 (8/11)

Usually, I get my box of comics within a few days of the last Wednesday of each month – Wednesday being the weekly on-sale day for new comics. But through my mail-order service that monthly shipment may be delayed to accommodate an occasionally late-shipping issue of Previews, the monthly pre-order catalog from Diamond Distribution. And so it was last month since Previews didn't hit until the following Wednesday. When that happens sometimes I get two issues of those comics that customarily come out that first Wednesday of the month – such as these three titles.

“Flashpoint: Chapter Two of Five”

I gave a very short gist of the first issue as part of this post. As I explained there, this is going to be the first such DC “event” that I'm not all in for, that I'm just getting the main miniseries plus a couple of the ancillaries. It will be interesting to see how it holds up.

Briefly, the Flashpoint-universe version of Slade Wilson, a.k.a. Deathstroke the Terminator, who seems to be the leader of a band of pirates, strays too far into flooded northern Europe and encounters Aquaman. It looks like he's going to regret it. Meanwhile, Thomas Wayne Batman is not reacting well to Barry Allen's invasion of the Batcave. And we discover that Barry's memories are slowly changing to reflect the Flashpoint “reality.” But Barry's convinced that his old enemy Eobard Thawne (“What kind of name is 'Eobard'?” Thomas asks - “One from the future.” And that's not the only good line Thomas Wayne gets on that page – when he has seen a Flash-costume expand out of Barry's ring, he mutters, “[H]ow the hell does it even fit in there?”), a.k.a. Professor Zoom, the Reverse-Flash, has changed history. And he manages to convince Thomas Wayne – whose first question is, “What about Bruce?” - his son whom he had seen brutally killed, whose death launched him on his war against crime. “If you're telling the truth, can you change this? Can you change it back so that … I died and Bruce lived?” Barry needs his speed back – but their attempt to recreate the lab accident that gave Barry his speed goes horribly wrong. Lastly, Wonder Woman and the Amazons in London, now “New Themiscyra,” capture an American agent, Steve Trevor, and by means of her lasso of Truth force from him the news that there is a spy embedded within the ranks of the Amazons – journalist Lois Lane.

I really don't have much to comment on here. It's too soon. Story and art are both good as I expect from these creators. Any more than that will just have to wait until I can see the story as a whole.

Rise of the Hollow Men, Part One: Into the Broken Silo”

The cover blurb says it - “The Secrets of Smallville.” That's been the subplot being established by this series ever since the first issue, and now Jeff Lemire starts bringing little hints into play and the set-up starts to pay off. Not that we get any real answers just yet. In fact, there appears to be more of a mystery than I was aware surrounding the new character of “Psionic Lad.” Who is “the Prime Hunter”? I'm still not sure whether Simon Valentine is going to end up on the side of the angels or the devils or what. The Phantom Stranger makes a couple more appearances, freaking Krypto out – well, Connor as well – and Lori Luthor* makes a disappearance. But we learn that the mystery underlying the “quiet little town” of Smallville has roots going back a century and a half, all the way back to when the Kent family first showed up – and were associated with the Valentines. What's it all going to add up to?

* Random thought:  Lori is Lex Luthor's niece.  She's got the hots for Connor.  Connor is a clone in which the Kryptonian DNA of Superman was stabilized by the human DNA of Lex Luthor; therefore he's in a sense Lex Luthor's son - I figure that would be the closest analogy since an offspring genetically gets half its DNA from each parent (a clone strictly speaking would genetically be equivalent to an identical twin).  So, wouldn't Connor and Lori be effectively first cousins?  Can first cousins marry in Kansas?

A Comet's Tale”

What happens when a super-hero groupie decides to go out and duplicate the kind of accident that gave her idols powers? Well in Flashpoint #2 we saw that doesn't necessarily go well even when the hero tries to duplicate his own accident! But in Grava of the Extal Colony's case, you too get super-powers! (I'm sure there have been stories where such an attempt met with tragedy, but none comes to mind right now - BUT KIDS, DON'T TRY THIS AT HOME!) This is basically a stand-alone tale where Comet Queen relates her story (with a lot of 31st-century slang thrown in) to fellow Legion Academy cadet Glorith. There are also interspersed some scenes of the cadets in training. The main thing that we learn is that the “tragic origin” blurbed on the cover is really more about what happened later. This is actually Comet Queen's “do-over” through the Academy – she had previously graduated, not into the Legion of Super-Heroes itself, but rather into the Legion of Substitute Heroes; then, called into duty during the Titanfall Catastrophe that opened the current Legion series, she encountered Saturn Queen – and was essentially mind-wiped back to her childhood. Tellus had managed over time to recover most of her memories, but not all, so here she is, keeping on keeping on. When she asks Glorith in turn what her story is – Glorith reveals that she doesn't know, obviously leaving us wanting to know more....

This is good stuff. It's Legion. It's Levitz. Thank heaven by all accounts the main series is coming through the September relaunch basically unscathed. Unfortunately Adventure Comics with the tales of the Legion Academy won't be part of that, although it will be part of the recent continuity and it looks like at least one of the current cadets will make the jump to the big leagues.

Spiritual Meaning in Speculative Fiction

I don't intend to make a practice of using this blog simply as a referral service, but this is just so well put I have to share it.  Playing off a quotation from Disney's Beauty and the Beast, Chawna Schroeder has written a wonderful elucidation of the spiritual meaning that can be found in fantasy, science fiction, heroic fiction, what have you.  Follow this link to go to that post, or this link to go to the Speculative Faith blog in general.


Thursday, June 23

Gotham City Sirens #23 and Justice Society of America #51 (7/11)


As this title winds down to be essentially replaced by a new Catwoman solo series come September, we get to witness the Sirens (another “unofficial” name, for the trio/uneasy alliance between Batman "villains" Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, and Catwoman) spinning apart. A plot throughout this series has been the other two trying to break Harley of her seriously disturbed codependent relationship with her “Puddin',” the Joker. She's seriously fallen off the wagon in this issue, which even though it's a “Part One” comes directly on the heels of the previous issue which showed her using her psychoanalytical skills and intelligence – remember, Harleen Quinn is Doctor Quinzell, criminal psychiatrist; she's nutty as a fruitcake, but by no means stupid - to penetrate Arkham Asylum and spark a riot to free “Mr. J.” Catwoman had previously had enough of this nonsense, causing a rift between herself and Ivy when she refused to accompany the latter in an effort to save Harley from herself, and at the beginning of this issue is engaged in her own caper when Batman Dick Grayson approaches her to give her a heads up that he's about to put the escalating situation at Arkham down – hard – and “Anyone I find in there … I'm going to make sure they stay there.” Catwoman's inner monologue: “You want me to save Harley from one of her 'I'm in love with Mr. J' episodes, and stop Ivy from ripping Arkham apart.” She initially refuses, but Selina Kyle is consistently played as basically a good person albeit a thief, essentially an anti-hero, and guilt gets the better of her. They did, after all, help her to get back on her feet at the beginning of this series. By the end, she's shown up, to find not Dick, but Bruce, leading to a funny exchange: “You knew I was coming?” “Who do you think you're talking to?” “I was expecting Dick.” “Anything involving the Joker, I take care of personally.” “That right? Or did you show up because you knew I was coming?” But there's an undercurrent in her exchanges with both Batmen (that just looks weird). She knows of something Dick did before he won the cowl....

Anyway, meanwhile, as Arkham explodes in chaos around them, Harley and Joker are reunited and set about having one of their “Game Nights” - which involve a great bit of sick, twisted humor and torture – only to be interrupted first by former director now inmate Jeremiah Arkham taking up his guise as Black Mask and working to put down Joker before Batman can show up and ruin all his own carefully-laid plans, then by Poison Ivy, who gives Harley an ultimatum - “I saved you from him – and from yourself – too many times. I'm sick of it. So what's it gonna be? Him? Or me?”

I have really enjoyed this series, from its beginning under Paul Dini, through the present writer Peter Calloway's tenure. It's generally been a fairly lighthearted romp. It's been a bit darker for the past couple of issues as Harley has basically decompensated before our eyes. But still a well-told story. I do miss the art of Guillem March on interiors (he provided the cover), but Guinaldo and Ruggiero are passable. I'll be sort of sorry to see it go, but always did like the Catwoman solo series that preceded this title, and hopefully she will continue to be the bad-girl anti-hero ally of Batman.

The Secret History of Monument Point, Chapter One: Weird Worlds”

This is a followup to Marc Guggenheim's first story arc which culminated in the big anniversary issue #50. There are two story threads going. The cover puts the attention on the resolution of a loose end from what's gone before – that team-member Lightning, the daughter of Black Lightning, is dead. Well, actually only mostly dead. Team mystic Dr. Fate somehow preserved her soul in another dimension long enough for Dr. Midnite to repair her body, and now it's time to bring them back together. It's a pretty standard story where a small team heads off into that dimension but ultimately their job seems to be to convince Lightning's soul that it has the will to make the journey back on its own. Meanwhile, the original “Golden Age” Flash Jay Garrick is getting a dose of political reality now that he's consented to be the mayor of some city we'd never heard of a half-dozen issues ago but that is purportedly very important in the DCU, Monument Point, mainly taking charge by “not being a politician” (which is all mildly amusing, but ho-hum), then is taken by his aide to be shown “The Secret History of Monument Point.” This is one of those times when the annoying habit they sometimes have of putting off the issue title and credits to the very end I guess was necessary, because there just wasn't much about any such “Secret History” until that cliffhanger ending. It certainly didn't feel so much like a “Chapter One” as a “Prologue.”

Frankly, I've been left increasingly unsatisfied by the Justice Society's flagship title over the past few issues. I didn't like Scott Kolins' art on the previous story arc, and Tom Derenick's is not much of an improvement. Both of them are way too “gritty” and dark for this team. Story-wise, Guggenheim's first arc “Supertown” which introduced Monument Point didn't succeed in demonstrating its alleged importance to me, and didn't leave me hungering to know more about its “Secret History” as I guess I was supposed to. I miss Geoff Johns on this title! Or even Bill Willingham (Guggenheim's predecessor), who did a pretty good job. Well, as I commented re the last issue of JSA All-Stars, as unsatisfying as these titles have been lately, come the post-Flashpoint era I might be looking back to now as “the good old days.” Because I really do like these characters. I say again – I hope DC does have some worthy plan for its elder ranks of heroes.

Wednesday, June 22

Detective Comics #877 (7/11)

“Hungry City, Part Two of Three”

Over the past several months, Scott Snyder, better known as the author of the DC-Vertigo title American Vampire (which I don't read), has been doing a stupendous job writing Detective Comics. Featuring Dick Grayson Batman, his first story arc here began before DC's beginning of the year reduction of price and page-count from $3.99/30 pages with a lead and “co-” feature to $2.99/20 pages single feature title, juggling what were parallel stories of Batman and Commissioner Gordon that converged into one. It was masterfully pulled off and brought a long unused but (it turns out) very creepy part of the extended cast back to the fore – James Gordon, Jr. - with ramifications that remain to be worked out. Snyder has been one of the earlier and more forthcoming DC creator reassuring the fans after the announcement of the September relaunch that his stories would still be in continuity, part of the history of the characters going forward, even though he will from September on be writing the adventures of Bruce Wayne as the only Batman in the title of that name. The present issue is the middle part of his second story arc, bringing Dick Grayson face-to-face with a shadow from his own past – the daughter of crime boss Anthony Zucco who murdered the Flying Graysons and thereby launched him on his career as the Boy Wonder all those years ago. So far she seems to be an innocent trying to escape the stigma of being Boss Zucco's daughter (she changed her name), but the past is catching up with her. And there does seem to be some inadvertent spark between her and Dick (he even gets a little good-natured ribbing from Tim about it) – so this looks to be an interesting relationship.... I'm sure that cover has all kinds of symbolism.

Cover aside, I'm not sure if I like Jock's art or not … and I've been in the same undecided state for well over a year since I first noticed it on a much earlier issue of Detective Comics. His figures seem to be an odd combination of chunky and gangly. It does set a very appropriate mood for Batman. It is easy to see the more lithe, athletic, acrobat Dick Grayson in that role as drawn by Jock. And yet something that I can't quite put my finger on bugs me. Oh well, at the very least it works....

Bronze New World (The Bronze Saga #6, 2006)

By Mark Eidemiller. Available as a free download here.

In this sixth offering in the fan-fiction epic “Christian Adventures of Doc Savage,” the action gets a bit more fantastic. That Eidemiller envisions Doc, or “Clark Dent,” as sharing a world with other figures from pulp and adventure fiction has been apparent from the very beginning, when Lamont Cranston, a.k.a. The Shadow, appeared albeit somewhat ambiguously in the “pages” of Bronze Refined as Silver. In the fourth adventure one of the literary prototypes for Superman appeared as an integral part of the story – Hugo Danner from Philip Wylie's Gladiator. (Doc Savage himself is, of course, another inspiration for the Last Son of Krypton.) Now 1960s sci-fi television gets into the act, providing the very springboard for this adventure – Irwin Allen's The Time Tunnel. I must admit that I have only the haziest of memories of this show. I was just too young to get into it, and I never encountered it in later years in afternoon reruns where I saw both Lost in Space and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Nevertheless, a little research on the internet gave me the gist – two scientists lost in time, bouncing from year to year in past and future, able to be observed from the present but unable to be retrieved to their own time – enough to be able to envision the characters and appreciate the story.

Doug Phillips, Ann McGregor, and Tony Newman
A quick overview of the plot of Bronze New World: Taking up very quickly from The Bronze Battlefield, we are guests first at Clark and Bonnie's wedding then aboard a yacht where the wedding party accompanies the newlyweds on a cruise to the Mediterranean. Suddenly a man falls out of the sky – Doug Phillips, who had been lost in time along with fellow scientist Tony Newman ever since the 1960s. In an effort to rescue Newman, who remains stuck in the past, Clark and his new companions track down the retired Dr. Ann McGregor and assemble a new team to infiltrate and reactivate Project Tic-Toc, which had been shut down in 1975. But a miscalculation in retrieving Newman results in a change in the time-line – and Clark and Perry Liston find themselves in a world where Doc Savage is President of the USA and Perry Liston is a hunted terrorist. And that's only the beginning of the differences.... Their efforts to get back to the Time Tunnel and home allow Eidemiller to explore this “Bronze New World” that resulted from Doc Savage not being trapped in suspended animation for fifty years, with some consideration given to philosophical questions surrounding the nature of God, multiple time-lines, and so forth. It makes for an interesting story and I don't want to go much more depth into the details so as not to spoil it.

I do want to make a few comments, however. Eidemiller is not shy about including some unexpected plot elements. Key to the plot and the way history had developed in his alernate timeline is the impact of Christian terrorism. Now, for all that the political left feigns as much fear of “religious extremism” on the part of Christians as of Muslims (e.g., just this past week) in total contravention to observed reality, the fact is that under different circumstances the darker side of humanity could well be provoked and unleashed among Christians. It is part of the fallen human condition. Facing that fact head-on is, in my opinion, a brave choice for a writer of Christian fiction.

Similarly (and I'm going to be intentionally vague so as to avoid a spoiler here), I thought his depiction of his Christian characters nonetheless giving thought to suicide at one point, given the circumstances that they faced, was quite realistic. It's easy to idealistically state that suicide is “wrong in the eyes of God” (Clark's words) – in traditional parlance a “mortal sin” – but to give it serious consideration when facing the horrific kind of death that at that point in the story seemed certain would be only human.

I thought about getting into a discussion of time travel, the possibility of multiple time-lines, etc., as to how those relate to God, His omniscience vs. His omnipotence, predestination vs. free will, and so forth, but frankly it all gives me a pounding headache. Without going into any depth or justification, let me just baldly state that while I have a pretty well-developed ability to suspend my disbelief for a good story, even seeing a lot of value in speculative fiction and “what-if” scenarios, nevertheless just as I don't really believe there are any extraterrestrial intelligences out there, nor do I believe that there are any such things as time travel or alternate time-lines. I readily admit I could be absolutely wrong about any or all of that – but that's my opinion for a variety of reasons. Specifically with regard to alternate time-lines, my position would be that taking the extreme proposition that some do, that each decision point in history (of which there would be an infinite number) gives birth to an alternate time-line (therefore an infinite number), and accepting that all things work according to God's plan, would that not mean that God has an infinite number of plans for the universe (multiverse? Infiniverse?), which effectively would mean that He has no plan. If all things are, without distinction, then what is? So the angel's (yes, for the second time in this series there is an angelic character) answer to Perry's (the “real” Perry's) question, “[W]hich is the real timeline to God?” that “They all are …. Remember, God is unlimited,” seems to me to be effectively meaningless. Reword it as “Which timeline is in accordance with God's plan? … They all are ….” What then is a “plan”? (<The Prof reaches for the Tylenol again.>)

Whatever – it's just a story, and it is a good story. Sure, radical conversion seems to come just a bit too readily to be realistic, but that's to be expected in this genre, I guess. I am left with one final question, however, that seems to go unaddressed – How does the final resolution at the end of this story itself change the history that seems to stand at the beginning?

One point I can't let pass: Pope Archibald XIV? Sure, Eidemiller's not Catholic, but simple reference to an encyclopedia would seem to have been warranted here, especially when positing a Papal name with such an advanced number! If the point of departure between the “Bronze Saga-universe” and the “Bronze New World-universe” is only 55 years in the past, that's hardly time for there to have been thirteen prior Pope Archibalds. Perhaps the “Bronze Saga-universe” itself is more radically different in that respect from our own world – because although there was a medieval Scottish bishop of that name, there's never been a Pope Archibald.

Next up in “The Bronze Saga” … “Up, up, and away!...”


Tuesday, June 21

Perry Rhodan #2600!

I was just surfing the 'net and came across this bit of news that had slipped past me.  The original German Perry Rhodan series published issue #2600 last Friday, 17 June 2011.  Wow!  What an achievement!
The Thanatos Program by Uwe Anton
Cheers! ... and Ad Astra!

Perry Rhodan #13, The Immortal Unknown (1972)

Jump over to my other blog to read all about it if you're interested.  If not, just move along....

Monday, June 20

Teen Titans #95, Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors #10, and Action Comics #901 (7/11)

I don't have a whole lot to say about any one of these – more just short impressions, random quips.

“How the Mighty Fall”

I jumped onto reading Teen Titans as a monthly a while back after reading most of this current run in collected format, mainly because after a series of rather lackluster, critically-panned writers J. T. Krul was coming aboard along with Nicola Scott and Doug Hazlewood on art. Frankly, however, despite the fact that I really liked Krul's work on the Titans in their Blackest Night miniseries a while back and have good memories of Scott's art from when she was paired with Gail Simone on Birds of Prey several years ago, there's been nothing terribly impressive here. Nothing really bad, just nothing really memorable. Nothing that, in retrospect, I wouldn't have been just as happy to have waited to read in trade where it may have even read better. I'll finish this series out, but the new post-Flashpoint Teen Titans is not currently on my list of probable continuances despite it apparently being the only place I'll be able to get my Tim Drake fix. Even his return to the team a couple months ago, despite occurring in the context of a couple of Krul's better issues with the brief introduction of Damian Wayne to the mix, didn't really seem to go anywhere. Tim's out for the count throughout all this issue.

War of the Green Lanterns, Part Nine”

The four Earth Lanterns (Hal, Guy, John, and Kyle) finally come back together in the aftermath of Part Eight's cataclysmic ending, which allows them to make contact with the only Guardian willing to get his hands dirty as a Lantern himself, Ganthet, and free the Green Lantern Corps from the control of Krona. Along the way we do get a little insight into the character of Guy Gardner. The little blue bad guy (has it been explained why Krona's so reduced in stature in this event where he's previously been pretty imposing?) thinks it's all going according to his plan, but I'm sure he'll find out otherwise in the concluding Part Ten next month.

Reign of the Doomsdays, Part One”

After the big anniversary issue last month “concluded” the “Reign of Doomsday” cross-over story-arc, now we find that things are much worse than just the big savage crystal-encrusted Kryptonian monster that long ago “killed” Superman beating the tar out of all the Superman “family.” It seems that there are a whole bunch of Doomsdays, and our heroes are now trapped in a pocket universe with them – which is on a collision course with Earth. (–? Yeah, me too.) Apparently this will finish out the pre-Flashpoint run of the highest-numbered super-hero comic of all. Paul Cornell, who rapidly endeared himself to a lot of fans with his brilliant “Black Ring” saga of the past year in which Lex Luthor took the starring role in Action Comics, deftly mixes action with characterization in this issue, so I'm fairly sure it will be a worthy send-off. Why oh why are DC gutting this venerable title's numerical accomplishment, however?

A couple of specific comments on this issue: Obama's President of the United States in the DC universe? Huh? I thought it had been fairly long established that our “real-world” presidents are nowhere to be found, rather a string of “DC” presidents including Lex Luthor and Pete Ross (briefly). And Obama sure doesn't seem to know anything about Superman “renouncing” his US citizenship (the notorious short story in the back of issue #900 – to be fair, that story is not anchored in time and obviously could not take place where it did in sequence! Perhaps it hasn't happened yet. More likely it was just a story to make some kind of “point,” garner publicity [which it did], and was never meant to become a story element in future) - “Superman – your country needs you now!”

I've read some comments praising Kenneth Rocafort's art on this issue (most of it), specifically in contrast to the more “pedestrian” sequence in the middle by Jesus Merino (not really my word, nor a quote, just my characterization of what the internet commentators have been saying). Really? I didn't care for Rocafort's interiors at all. I don't like sketchy, angular, cluttered, overly rendered art. Some specific images were good, but could have benefited from “smoothing” out. A lot can be and is accomplished by colorists these days providing highlights and depth to the image. There's no need to outline in black things like the little reflection of light off the tip of Supergirl's nose in panel three of page seven! (Man, I wish they still numbered pages so I wouldn't have to count these things.) There are plenty of other examples. For me, the shift to Merino's more “natural” art was noticeable – and welcome. I'm glad he's going to be the finishing artist over Perez's layouts in the new Superman title.  By the way, notice I said "Rocafort's interiors" - he did the cover as well, and it frankly looks much better, more "finished," than much of what you see inside.

Legion of Super-Heroes #13 (7/11)

“False Hopes”

See previously at my post regarding Adventure Comics #526 for a brief history of my devotion to the Legion of Super-Heroes, my all-time favorite comic book series. (Or series of series....) Ironically, after my comments there about Levitz's skill at done-in-one issues within larger ongoing stories, this present issue reads very much as a middle chapter of a longer story arc. Oh well. Briefly, Levitz continues the tale of the Legion of Super-Villains that began in the special of that title a few months ago in which the bad guys, led by Saturn Queen, search for an Immortal World of the Wise. We get to see the first of a reborn Green Lantern Corps of the 31st century, the Legionnaire Mon-El, also acting as the duly-elected Legion leader, and learn there's even more of a mystery exactly who Harmonia Li is (I think that's her name).

I find it interesting that five of the seven Legionnaires who will in a few short months find themselves trapped in the past (the 21st century) in the new Legion Lost #1 are featured in this issue – Timber Wolf, Gates, Dawnstar, Wildfire, and Tellus (all missing are Chameleon Girl and Tyroc). I wonder how some kind of statistical analysis of Levitz's use of these characters over the course of his latter-day run would come up? I haven't looked back, but my impression is that (except for Chameleon Girl, whom I don't remember appearing recently at all, but I could be wrong) these have been pretty prominent. Makes me wonder. Did DC editorial or whoever came up with the post-Flashpoint apportioning of the Legionnaires consciously rip out Levitz's more common “stars”?

I am going to miss the art of Yildiray Cinar on this book. I find it very reminiscent of Steve Lightle's during the 1980s heyday of the Legion. It fits the futuristic milieu very well.

Supergirl #64 (7/11)

“Good-Looking Corpse: Finale”

After a long, excellent, character-defining run by Sterling Gates and Jamal Igle, this is the first of what would end up being two shorter story arcs by other creators to finish out the pre-Flashpoint series of Supergirl. The actual genesis of this five issues is shrouded in a bit of mystery – intially it was announced to be written by Nick Spencer, and he is indeed credited along with James Peaty on the first issue. The events surrounding his rapid departure are unknown – at least to me. But at the time this caused all kinds of consternation in the Supergirl fan-community, because her titles just seem to have been cursed through the years. As it turned out, however, after a bit of an uncertain start, doubtless connected to the sudden shift in authorship, Peaty has produced a pretty good story and a worthy continuation of Gates' accomplishment. It reads like the same teenage hero maturing as a hero. That is in fact the major satisfying development in this issue, seeing Kara as an effective leader of a group of her peers, the younger generation of “legacy” heroes – Damian Wayne Robin, Jaime Reyes Blue Beetle, and Miss Martian. Kara gains confidence and matures as a leader by acting as a leader.

I'm not as taken with the art of Bernard Chang on this arc, however. I generally have liked his style in the past, but somehow here the finished product seems unfinished. Also annoying to me was the nagging question of why Supergirl suddenly here has the uncharacteristically short hair. In fact, per the preview art for the next issue after this, her hair undergoes a noticeable growth! It's a little thing in itself, no more than an annoyance, but bothered me nonetheless.

Incidentally, the present cover is by Mahmud Asrar, the artist on-deck for the post-Flashpoint Supergirl #1. It's good.  It almost looks like a "finished" example of Chang's style inside.  He even takes care to match the hair-length to Chang's.  A little "fuller," less "Manga-esque," however.  Reassuring … although I still hate the new costume that's been previewed. It's a shame that story-wise it sounds like the character-development of the past couple of years, continued through this issue, will be lost in favor of the angry brat reminiscent of the earlier years of this present series. Who's bright idea was that?

Sunday, June 19

The Spider vs. the Empire State, Book One: The City That Paid to Die (2009)

By Norvell Page (writing as Grant Stockbridge)

Some works of fiction manage to transcend their own genre, speaking to a wider audience on a deeper level than the vast majority of their fellow works. In comic books, there is Watchmen. In fantasy, there is Lord of the Rings. In science fiction, there is Star Trek. I would argue that in the hero pulps there is “The Black Police Trilogy,” three consecutive tales of The Spider published in 1938. Now published under one cover as The Spider vs. the Empire State, these adventures marshal the lurid, escapist violence and mayhem of the pulp genre into a political allegory bringing home to America what was happening in the rest of the world and would very shortly give rise to World War II.

Original magazine cover
This post deals only with the first book of the present volume, originally published  in The Spider #60 (September, 1938).  In this adventure, a vast criminal conspiracy calling itself "The Party of Justice" effects a political takeover of the city and state of New York and establishes a fascist dictatorship. They empty the prisons to fill out a Black Police enforcing a reign of terror, shaking down a cowed citizenry to finance their totalitarian scheme. Only one man can stand against them, but now even the Spider cannot act alone. Richard Wentworth must abandon his one-man war on crime to organize an army of freedom fighters. The Spider finds himself fighting shoulder-to-shoulder alongside his usual adversary NYPD Commissioner Stan Kirkpatrick. By the end of this first third of the overall story, they have accomplished their first victory, saving a group of fellow resistance fighters from execution and setting back for a time the plans of the mastermind behind the coup, a mystery figure known only as “The Master.” The villain escapes the clutches of the Spider, however, leaving the hero wounded ….

I will doubtless have some kind of commentary on the trilogy as a whole once I have finished all three stories. There is, in fact, a wonderful historical introduction as a foreword by Thomas Krabacher, a political geographer at California State University, Sacramento, entitled “Blackshirts on Broadway,” which discusses the world of the 1930s, pulp fiction in general, and the backgrounds of the original publisher, editors, and author that gave birth to this story. A short but useful “Further Reading” list appears at the end. The modern, slicker cover illustration with its stark red, black, and white loses much of the character of the original pulp covers; those are reproduced inside, but only in greyscale. The original story illustrations are preserved as well, but not in their proper contexts, rather brought all together at the beginning of each book. All in all, I'll probably eventually acquire these stories in the Girasol Pulp Doubles reprint series as well, but it is interesting having them in what for all intents and purposes verges on a scholarly edition. Few pulp stories will ever merit such exalted treatment.
* * *
As a medievalist, I can't let Kirkpatrick's exclamation on p. 97 pass:  "That's something out of the Middle Ages!"  He's speaking of the new law allowing an individual to be declared an outlaw, whereupon he may be killed by anyone on sight, and by bringing proof of the death the killer can get a portion of the victim's wealth and property.  Nooo.....  It's really something out of the "Classical Period"! - Republican Rome, in fact.  A few lines further on, the correct historical term is used - "proscription."  It was instituted by the Dictator Sulla ca. 80 BC, but was used perhaps most infamously by the Triumvir Marc Antony to murder the great orator, statesman, and perennial thorn-in-his-side Cicero on 7 December 43 BC, a day that will live in infamy....

Saturday, June 18

Batman #710 (7/11)

“Pieces, Part One: Lost”

There are a lot of Tony Daniel-haters out there. I'm not one of them. I've generally liked both his writing and art from when he first appeared in the Batman 'verse a few years ago. He might not be the absolute best at either, but he's solid at both, always, for me at least, delivering a good, well-paced story well-integrating the words and pictures. One aspect of his writing that I have really liked is that he draws a lot of his plot elements from that Batman:Year One/Loeb & Sales corpus of works looking at the early years of Bruce Wayne's career and making them work for stories about Dick Grayson. And so he does here, with the shocker ending of this story hearking all the way back to The Long Halloween by Loeb & Sales. I don't think we've seen the character revealed here since then. Of course, looking at the next issue tag-line, is it really that character at all?

Actually, I just realized that Daniel only wrote this issue; Steve Scott did the pencils, with Ryan Winn inks. Oh well. Still looks good.  I'm still reassured by the fact that Daniel is hanging around for post-Flashpoint, just swapping with Snyder on Detective Comics.

Briefly about this story: Two-Face is on a murderous rampage across Gotham, trying to find his “Preciou---” err, his coin, which has come somehow into the possession of the currently aspiring Boss of Gotham, Mario Falcone (like I said, hearking back to the Crime Families at the center of those early-Bruce stories). There also begins what's surely to be a (how long will it last?) subplot about a demagogue congressman trying to get tracking devices implanted into all of Gotham's felons, to take security “out of the hands of the vigilantes.” Of course, he's doing it for the children “who idolize these so-called 'heroes'.” And another purely Daniel subplot advances (winds down?) as Dick and Selina (Catwoman) work together to try to get Kitrina Falcone (the “white sheep” of the family who has set herself up as “Catgirl”) out of the dangerous game of Gotham vigilantism.

Batman: Gates of Gotham #1 of 5 (7/11)

“Part One: A Bridge to the Past”

This is to be a miniseries to explore the past of Gotham City, supposedly laying the groundwork for upcoming stories as well. I'm not sure exactly how that's going to work out given the post-Flashpoint shift that's coming, but it is written by the current writer of Detective Comics, Scott Snyder, who seems to have been the most forthcoming in saying that for the Batman franchise everything we currently know should still be part of the characters' histories, and he is moving over to the flagship Batman title come September. Anyway, the Batman of this series is Dick Grayson, mainly working with Tim Drake Red Robin. Damian shows up late in the Bunker. Notably, Cassandra Cain (the former second Batgirl – nobody really counts Bette Kane before Barbara Gordon, do they?) but now the Batman Inc. agent in Hong Kong, shows up as well. There is a large and fairly vocal group of Cass fans out there, whose hopes were dashed when the latest relaunch of Batgirl gave the mantle to Stephanie Brown; I'm not one of them. I liked the character, and consider the path they took her on a few years ago to have been really crummy, but was really indifferent to the prospect of her going back to Batgirl. I've really liked Steph. Which is all beside the point here. So far either one's been noticeably absent from any announcements for September going forward.

As to this story, the “Gates of Gotham” refers to an archaic term for the bridges connecting the island to the mainland, all originally built by founding families of the city – now being blown by agents unknown. The families mentioned here are the Cobblepots, the Waynes, and the Elliots; the tag for the next issue is, however, “The Four Families of Gotham!” A solid first issue for a story arc but in no way a done-in-one.

The art? Meh. Not really to my liking. I don't mind Manga-esque art per se, but I found this sketchy and distorted, and hard to follow in a couple of sequences clearly “written” in such a way that the art was supposed to tell a clear sequence of events. Maybe I'm simple, but it didn't carry me. The static cover image is kind of cool, though. (Come to think of it, in general composition it's like the latest issue of Batgirl – the hero in front of stained glass, this time a roundel of various allies of the Bat.)  Here's an "uncluttered" image:

Friday, June 17

Green Lantern (2011)

Directed by Martin Campbell.

Just got back from the matinee. I'm not quite sure what to write about this movie. I went in expecting to be very disappointed, and I was not. Nor did I think that it was all that great, either. Special effects wise, it looked stunning – mostly (I saw 2D – we don't have 3D in the little town I live in, and frankly I'm just fine with that. I'm not a big fan of 3D in any case.) It did look very much like the art of the recent past (last-decade, the “Geoff Johns era”) brought to life. The ring constructs looked fantastic. The controversial costume worked on screen. A couple places it looked like a video game, however, and I don't mean that in a good way. (Near the beginning, when Abin Sur falls through several levels of his spaceship, for one.) My biggest quibble is the story, which could have used a few more rewrites. It just seemed sketchy and underdeveloped despite extensive exposition. I still don't think that Ryan Reynolds was the best choice to play the character of Hal Jordan, although I can't say I have a better suggestion. Just not a big fan of his, for no particular reason. He just really didn't make me care for Hal Jordan, by which I mean care what happened to him. Nor did Blake Lively as Carol Ferris.  She looked good.  Nothing more to say about that.  She looked good.  (Oh yeah - she got the best line in the movie:  "Hal?!  We grew up together!  You think I wouldn't recognize you just because I can't see your cheekbones?")  Certainly, there's no way to do Hector Hammond without it being grotesque – he's that kind of character. But seeing it on the screen is a different experience than seeing it on the page – pretty revolting. Sinestro I thought was quite well played, except insomuch as they didn't really sufficiently lay the groundwork for what us fans of the comics know is coming (and anybody else, I sure – how could it be otherwise for a character named “Sinestro”? And see below*). As I said, not developed sufficiently. The Guardians? – properly detached, aloof. Parallax? Really I would rather have seen the insectoid creature from the recent comics rather than another smoke monster (Lost; Galactus in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, even [and I saw this in another review, unfortunately can't find it again] V'ger from Star Trek:  The Motion Picture) – not that I think an insect would have come off looking better, indeed probably would have looked silly, but another smoke monster? Ho hum.

* Yes, there is an aftercredits – or rather a “mid-credits” scene – that actually drives home what I say. Spoiler here (highlight to see): Sinestro takes up the yellow ring, which regarbs him in the “Sinestro Corps” uniform. Yes, he was earlier advocating harnessing the power of fear to combat Parallax, but he didn't advocate it aggressively enough to give the viewer a sense that he was willing to harness this power even without the threat of Parallax. Although I liked the actor's portrayal of Sinestro overall, this was a general problem with the movie as a whole for me – the actors just didn't seem that into the parts they were playing.

Overall, this movie just was not Thor. A sad thing for this DC Comics fan to say. I do not expect this movie to be well-received by critics. I hope it does well in the box office, nonetheless, mainly to keep some kind of DC Comics movie program going.  And putting the story shortcomings aside, it was cool to watch.  The many alien Green Lanterns of all shapes and sizes, many of them readily recognizable - Tomar-Re, Kilowog, Salaak, even little Bzzt.  (I didn't see Ch'p, nor Mogo, alas.)

Part of DC's Big Announcement a couple weeks ago was that with the new more intimate relationship between DC and parent company Warner Brothers there is to be a more aggressive multi-media marketing program than has ever before been seen for comic books. It was announced a few days ago that an actual advertisement for comic books and comic shops would be attached to this comic book movie.  (Such an obvious thing to do, and to my knowledge it's never been done before beyond the little attribution during the credits "Based on characters published by DC Comics.")  There is indeed such an ad. At the very end, after all the credits, a single still frame shown for about ten seconds. ... Guys, it's going to take more than that. Something with a bit more pizzazz. And a lot better placed – immediately after the “mid-credits” scene mentioned above would have been far better. As soon as that scene (which I'm sure people had waited on) was over, out went the audience. By the time the ad blipped up there, I and a friend who'd happened to show up at the same showing were the only people left. And I think he only stayed because I said there was supposed to be something there. An ad nobody sees is useless. Far better to do like, I believe it was, the opening of the Superman/Shazam!: Return of Black Adam Direct-to-DVD animated feature of a few months back, which if I recall correctly opened in a comic shop, focusing in on a spinner rack, as if what you're about to see is itself a comic book – and close out the movie with something similar. Make it clear what the source material is, and that this stuff is still available. (Believe it or not, some people are aware that these characters are from comic books, but not that they are currently still being published!)

Justice League of America #57 (7/11)

“Eclipso Rising, Part Four: Wrath & Vengeance”

This has not been the best of times for the Justice League, either as a title or as a team. As far as the title goes, I've enjoyed it overall, but without the “Big Guns” (Superman, Bruce Wayne Batman, Wonder Woman) it just doesn't seem like the “Justice League” (this Batman is Dick Grayson, whom I've come to love in the role, but still...). It has been an interesting experiment by James Robinson, to fill the League with second-tier “analogues” of the “Big Seven” in Dick, Donna Troy (for Wonder Woman), and Supergirl for her cousin (but she's been written over into another story line and hence is absent in this issue and presumably for the ending stretch), along with second- (and lower-) tier heroes such as a Blue Lantern (do I need to explain?), Mikaal Tomas Starman (the alien, like Martian Manhunter), Jesse Quick (for the Flash), and Congorilla … Congorilla--?!  (I guess, sort of like Aquaman - animal related in some way.)  (Some may quibble at my ranking Dick, Donna, and Supergirl as "second-tier," but frankly ask anyone who Batman is and who are they going to say?)  And Robinson's not been shy about throwing them against first-class threats – the Crime Syndicate (evil alternate-universe analogues of the Big Seven), and here Eclipso … Eclipso--?! Sorry, I never really got that character, no matter how threatening he's been written, he just doesn't seem higher than C-list. Oh well. It was apparent that this incarnation of the League was not long for this world even before the Big Announcement, further back in mid May when the on-line solicitation descriptions for books to ship in August proclaimed that issue #60 would have this team “fac[ing] an uncertain future” and “decid[ing] whether they have anything left to offer the DC Universe.” I guess not. (Incidentally, I see from the solicited cover image that Supergirl will be around for that final issue of the pre-Flashpoint series.)

Anyway, in this issue, Eclipso keeps rising as he will until they figure out a way to take him down. (You know they will.) His endgame is finally revealed – basically, he is some kind of Fallen Angel, and he wants to kill God. I like how Robinson nods toward DC's oft-used euphemism for God, “The Presence” - while openly acknowledging the identity of The Presence as God, most notably as I remember it, but not exclusively, in Congorilla's shocked protest, “He's planning to murder God? That's insane!” How does Eclipso plan to do that? (Okay – this is not theology here – it's a comic book universe playing by its own made-up-as-they-go-along rules) Robinson plays on the recently emphasized centrality of the Earth in the DC universe. “God loves no one without a reason,” Eclipso proclaims – and it seems that reason is pretty selfish, that God subsists on the love returned to him by the universe and that love is channeled through the Earth. (Say again, this is not theology here....) So he plans to destroy the Earth. First he destroys (right – this is a comic book, he'll be back I'm sure) God's Agent of Vengeance, the Spectre, taking his power – then he uses that power to split the Moon in two. An interesting way he paces this on the last couple of pages is to have Eclipso hearken to the Qur'an just before the reader flips to the last full-page image - “the End of Days” - showing the Moon cracking in half with a big “To Be Continued” tag. And indeed, Surah 54:1 reads, “The Hour of Doom is drawing near, and the moon is cleft in two” (The Koran, trans. N. J. Dawood, Penguin Classics, p. 374).

All that takes place in an extended fight/debate between Eclipso, his human host-body Bruce Gordon, and the Spectre (until he's “cleft in two”) …. What do our heroes do? Tell you the truth, not much of anything. They talk. And not much more. They better get it in gear, for God's sake! (Actually, Robinson uses a similar bad joke in the story....)

All in all, an … interesting … issue. Brett Booth's art looked good. Nothing spectacular, but good enough. Depending on how it's pulled off, and depending on exactly what story/continuity changes are wrought in September, and depending on whether Geoff Johns and Jim Lee can really pull off a monthly title given their other duties at DC, the return of the Big Seven (except for Martian Manhunter, apparently) is something I'm tentatively looking forward to.

Booster Gold #44 (7/11)

“Turbulence: Part One” (Flashpoint)

To be honest, I have been a big fan from the beginning of this current series. Sure it was only the apparently critical role it's going to have in the Flashpoint event that kicked me over the edge to getting it as a monthly rather than waiting for the trade as I've been doing, but this is another of those titles that has quite simply been fun from beginning to the rapidly closing end – incredibly steeped in DC mythology. A character that has grown from a glory hound to a protector of the time-stream, Booster Gold has consequently provided something of a unifying thread for all the various strands of DC history, revisiting key events often and providing in-story ways to reconcile the little inconsistencies here and there. He's in an interesting situation – a bit of a wastrel now being (unknowingly) mentored in his development as a hero by his own son. Gave away a bit of a spoiler for the series there, but it's okay because the reader finds this out fairly early even though Booster himself remains oblivious to his paternal relationship to Rip Hunter, Time Master, whom he finds an annoyingly strict taskmaster. It's another series I'll be sorry to see end – just after I finally made the jump to monthlies. Sure, we'll still get to see Booster in the upcoming Justice League International series (the other historic context for his adventures – actually, way back when, “misadventures” - that incarnation of the Justice League is often called the “Bwah-ha-ha” League!) written by the same writer who has done most of Booster's solo appearances through the years – his very creator from the 1980s, Dan Jurgens. We'll have to see if any of the charm of this current series is maintained. In my opinion, they could have kept Booster as a guardian of the time-stream, and used it as a vehicle for exploring the new post-Flashpoint DCU. So far at least, Booster is one of the few in the Flashpoint universe who retains memories of the “real” time-line; perhaps he could come out of Flashpoint with his history intact and that could provide a touchstone for future stories exploring the differences. He could stand proxy for many readers such as me as we slowly adjust to the "DCnU."  I guess maybe such a mission would not fit well with DC's intent of “simplifying” things, however.

Briefly, in the present issue, soon after noticing the mysterious chalkboard in Rip's headquarters covered with scrawlings giving various hints of Flashpoint (that originally appeared in the last panel of the mini-series Time Masters: Vanishing Point from which this issue takes up immediately), Booster and Skeets (his little floating computer buddy) find themselves transported into that world – actually, they only slowly come to understand that they are in a different world from their own. The surface world and Atlantis are at war – and the US military assumes that Booster is Atlantean! (“Look at him! He could be Aquaman's brother, for all we know!”) Various attempts to take him down fail, but then the military unleashes its Doomsday weapon – literally – Doomsday, the creature that in Booster's own history gave him and the rest of his Justice League a drubbing then killed Superman!

The one and only quibble that I have with this issue – and it's minor – is that yet again a couple pages are given over to retelling Booster's origin. (Get that several times in a trade paperback collection and it's really annoying.) It's a precarious balance that must be maintained, I understand, between driving the story forward and bringing new readers up to speed (“Every comic book is somebody's first comic book,” and they should be written with the first-time reader in mind). A limited page-count has to make it hard. And I guess in this issue, which because of the Flashpoint connection stands to have a higher than normal readership, drawing in new readers based on that connection alone, DC felt the need to tell us once again. It's minor, and understandable in this case – but even so, I hit that sequence that began with the internal monologue, “For me, this is the past. The distant past. I was born in the 25th century … the year 2442, to be exact,” and sighed, Here we go again....

Other than that, another good issue. Cheers!