Sunday, July 31

Batman: Gates of Gotham #2 of 5, Detective Comics #878, and Gotham City Sirens #24 (Aug 2011)

“Part Two: The Four Families of Gotham”

At the end of the previous issue, in which bridges named after the Waynes, the Cobblepotts, and the Elliots were blown, I noted the title of this the next issue. Here we find that the fourth family is indeed named “Gates” – nineteenth-century stepbrothers who were the architects and builders of the eponymous bridges. The narrative jumps back and forth from the past to the present, telling the story of the brothers and the origins of Gotham City as well as the Bat-family – Dick and Tim in one team, Damian and Cassandra in another – dealing with the current threat. And it generally works well, giving the story a good bit of depth. I like this incorporation of a sense of history into the story – which will by all accounts continue into Snyder's coming run on the relaunched Batman title. There's some good interaction between typically obnoxious Damian and laconic Cass, as well as between her and Tim. And Dick is forced to make a choice between saving the Wayne Tower and saving arch-enemy Tommy “Hush” Elliot – a choice that leads to the startling revelation of the final page.

Hungry City, Part Three of Three”

Dick Grayson Batman manages to survive his confrontation with the villainous Tiger Shark – who attempts to feed him to a killer whale (is it supposed to be a tiger shark? If so, it's drawn incorrectly) while telling him of his own heritage as an heir to the Sea Peoples of antiquity. The bad guy gets away – to return in the future, I'm sure. Dick manages to make his appointment with his old friend James Gordon Jr. – an appointment made at the behest of James' father the commissioner who still has his doubts about his son. A little reminiscing recalls a bully, Ben Wolff, who had tormented James when they were younger – but who James now reports is a pharmaceutical rep and “nice as could be.” But something he says clicks in Dick's mind regarding his confrontation with the Tiger Shark, bringing Batman into a final confrontation with Sonia Branch, who it turns out had manipulated the investigation of her friend's death to pit him against her own enemies first, who were harrassing her to launder money for them.  This is a new kind of criminal very different from her own gangster family in the past she is indeed, it appears, trying to put behind her - against whom, she believes, normal law enforcement would be no help.  Dick berates her for misleading him - but I think Snyder means us to see that there's some truth in what she says.  They part rather awkwardly:  “Goodnight, Ms. Zucco.” “It's Ms. Branch.” “That's what I said.” I think we'll see her again.

Running through the story is Dick's inner dialogue recalling a high-diver in Haley's Circus, who had emphasized that the situation much be judged before taking action – whose one lapse in such judgment had led to his own death. That revelation opens the bombshell of the last two pages, where we find out that James Gordon Sr.'s instincts about his son are horrifyingly on target – and that Dick won't be seeing Ben Wolff ever again – or if he does Wolff won't have it all together at least.

I am so glad Snyder is helming the Batman title come September ... I just hope the plot elements concerning Dick are followed up in Nightwing as well.


Very apt title – the “end” of the “friendship” between the sirens – Catwoman, Harley Quinn, and Poison Ivy. Calloway continues to emphasize that, as goofy as she may be, Harely Quinn is herself an insane genius to be reckoned with, as she continues a skillful psychological manipulation of her opponent, in this case Poison Ivy, taking her out. But then Harley and “Mistah J” go against Bruce Wayne Batman and Catwoman – and lose. As Harley and Joker are being taken back to their cells, Bruce and Selina have an interesting exchange: “I know she has to be here,” Selina tells him. “She's made progress in the past,” Bruce replies. “She'll make it again.” “Still … she was never the problematic one,” Selina muses. A few moments later, Bruce thanks her for helping out and says, “I might make a true hero out of you yet.” She scoffs, “Don't hold your breath. I've still got a few treacherous acts up my sleeve.” Which sets up her confrontation with Ivy, who has apparently been out cold since Harley put her down: “I could let you go,” Selina tells her. “I could let you escape down these tunnels. But I won't. You are a mass murderer. A cold-blooded killer. But that's not why I've doing what I'm about to do. I'm doing it for revenge.” Selina recalls when Ivy, back at the beginning of this series, was tortured by Ivy in an attempt to get the identity of Batman: “A long time ago, you tried to steal something from me, take it by force. Did you think I'd forgotten? That I'd forgiven? ... Goodbye, Ivy. Enjoy your stay at Arkham.” Wow!

What a way to end the series! – But it's not the end. I think there are two more issues – I guess they'll essentially be Catwoman stories. Oh well – this was a great issue nonetheless, with a lot of good dialogue as well as artistic flourishes, particularly a single page image paralleling Joker and Harley with Catwoman and Batman: 
- as well as a double-page spread framing the battle in opposing silhouettes of Joker and Batman:  
I repeat, Wow!

I confess that I didn't really care for the direction the first part of this three-parter was taking - obviously headed toward the break-up of the sirens.  This series overall has been a lot of fun, and the darker turn was unexpected - until the news of the "DCnU" hit.  But in light of where the September relaunch is taking the characters, it was necessary.  I don't think we know where Poison Ivy will end up, but the end of this issue gets Harley in position for Suicide Squad #1 (although I won't be following her there), and Catwoman will have her own solo book.  I wonder what changes we'll see to her situation before Catwoman #1?


Saturday, July 30

The Astounding, the Amazing, and the Unknown (2011)

By Paul Malmont

“The future begins in the imagination” (p. 24).

I knew going in that I would enjoy this novel, having last year devoured Malmont's earlier Chinatown Death Cloud Peril (which helped inspire this year's current obsession with pulp heroes). As much as I loved that earlier work, I think this one is even better. It's not necessary to have read Peril before AAU, but I think doing so will add to the reader's enjoyment because all of the main characters return, plus others.

In Peril, Malmont took the writers of the great hero pulps of the 1930s – mainly Walter Gibson (The Shadow), Lester Dent (Doc Savage), and L. Ron Hubbard (westerns) – on their own rousing pulp-style adventure. What began as an investigation into what turned out really to be the 1937 murder of horror writer H. P. Lovecraft ended up through various hair-raising adventures thwarting an international plot to supply poison gas to a Chinese warlord fighting against the Japanese.

The Astounding, the Amazing, and the Unknown takes place a few years later, in 1943, as the popularity of the hero pulps was waning against the backdrop both of World War II and the early rise of science fiction. The title, of course, is taken from the triumvirate of science-fiction pulps – Astounding Science Fiction (later Analog), Amazing Stories, and Unknown. It's well known (at least I knew it, since I long ago read Isaac Asimov's autobiography In Memory Yet Green) that several early science fiction writers who were also scientists were brought together during the war to work in scientific research at the Philadelphia Naval Yards. Along with Asimov there was L. Sprague de Camp and Robert Heinlein. 
Heinlein, de Camp, and Asimov
They are tasked with developing various fantastic weapons and defenses such as they have written about. Then the mysterious death of Nikola Tesla (turns out to be murder, of course) sends the group on a mission to rediscover a death-ray anti-aircraft defense that the genius had allegedly created long before. Hubbard – still basically a con man and opportunist but now in the navy albeit recently court-martialled for attacking Mexico on a wild-goose chase for a German U-boat only he ever saw – ends up along for the ride, as do Gibson and Dent. And more madcap, pulpish antics ensue! I'll leave off the summary with that – I don't want to spoil the story – but I will say that one of the major incidents around which this story revolves is the so-called “Philadelphia Experiment,” which we find out literally has more to do with magic than it does with science (he says cryptically). And looming in the background there is another, much more secretive scientific program under way – a little thing called the Manhattan Project.

Along with the main adventures, in addition to learning a lot about the orgins of science fiction literature, we learn a lot (sometimes more than we really want to know) about the personal lives of the early giants of science fiction and pulp. The wives of Asimov, Heinlein, de Camp, and Dent are major participants in the action. A whole slew of “minor” characters move in and out of the story as well – from Tesla at the beginning (indeed looming over all) to Hugo Gernsback and John W. Campbell, Jack Parsons, Forrest J. Ackerman, Norvell Page, Albert Einstein, and even Jimmy Stewart. It's all framed, interestingly, as Richard Feynman at the beginning of the book telling Robert J. Oppenheimer a story he hears from L. Ron Hubbard at the end of the book.

Like we did for Gibson and Dent in Peril, here in AAU we get insight into the personalities of the writers, most notably Asimov and Heinlein. In the case of the former his emotionally stunted nerdishness, in the case of the latter his disappointment at having been forced out of active duty as a military officer by tuberculosis and his longing to break out into more prestigious publication – even real books, the holy grail of the pulp writers. Hubbard continues to be a charming rogue, impossible to really dislike even knowing that his fundamental nature as a con man is within just a few years going to give birth to his biggest con of all, the creation of his own new religion. We actually see the germination of that development in discussions of the role of science fiction – science itself as a new faith. Along with such discussion of the nature of science fiction a recurring theme of this book is, as maybe best expressed in the quotation with which I opened this blog entry, the intersection of science fiction and scientific advancement in the wonders of the human imagination.

It's great stuff!  Cheers!

Friday, July 29

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Directed by Joe Johnston

Sometimes you go into a movie expecting to be disappointed despite hopes otherwise and you end up with Green Lantern – getting about what you expected. But sometimes you get Captain America. I confess that I was worried about this movie – I've learned never to underestimate their ability to mess up a good story, especially on these “summer blockbusters.” But I really liked it. It wasn't perfect, by any means, and frankly the “third act” faltered quite a bit – I got totally confused as to what exactly was going on as Cap and his squad were making their assault on the Red Skull's base in the Alps – but the first half of the movie was well-nigh perfect and the last part recovered nicely.

One thing concerning me was the fact that it was a period piece.  That can be difficult to pull off with this type of material, but in my opinion Joe Johnston was the right director for the job. I had some faith that this might be the case going in since he was the director of one of my favorite although sadly underrated “light” movie adaptations of a story set in the same general period, The Rocketeer. The first half of Captain America had, for me, much the same “feel” as The Rocketeer despite being a very different type of story.

Although I might still have preferred seeing my own favorite for the role of Steve Rogers, Ryan McPartlin (“Captain Awesome” on Chuck), and I was a bit worried about the prospect of Chris Evans as Captain America, those worries were unfounded. He did more than “just fine.” He owned the role. And the effects that made him “skinny” (the general's word) before he received the “super-soldier” treatment appeared flawless to me.

Running down a few things at random, things I liked and didn't like:

The story overall was just what was needed and explained convincingly just why Steve Rogers in particular was chosen for the super-soldier treatment. Very quickly his heroic character that is much greater than his innate talents and abilities will allow him to be is developed, as is his relationship both with his friend (and protector) Bucky Barnes and with Professor Erskine. When the latter two are killed – I don't consider myself “spoiling” anything here since this basic story is decades old! – you feel something despite their relatively brief times on-screen.

The supporting actors – those who played Bucky and Prof. Erskine as well as Tommy Lee Jones as the general and the actors playing Howard Stark and Peggy Carter – all did well with their parts. Can Tommy Lee Jones do anything less than “well”? I liked the way that Stark was somewhat similar in character to his son in the Iron Man movies and yet not just a carbon copy. Hugo Weaving maybe hammed it up a bit much as the Red Skull – but how could he not? That was, of course, encouraged by the cliched use of Wagnerian overtures as his “theme” – but what the heck, I like Wagner. 
The geek in me got a kick that our introduction to Dr. Zola was seeing his distorted face looming large in some mechanical instrument in clear homage to his (unworkable on screen) appearance in the comics as a huge face on a torso rather than a head. Another “geek-out” moment was seeing the original Human Torch (not the same character played by Chris Evans in the Fantastic Four films, but that's just too much to explain here!) standing inert in his glass cylinder at that “World Science Expo” early in this movie.

Always a matter of grave concern in a “comic book” movie is how the costumes are going to work in live action. Cap's was perfect – it looked “real.” Hilariously, they had a good bit of fun with the campy nature of traditional superhero attire by using it first as Steve's costume when he's relegated to promoting war bonds as part of a travelling show. As written, that role made sense – the general believed that one super-soldier was of little use to him in the field once Erskine was dead and with him the prospect of a super-soldier army. And getting to see the on-screen logical development of that public relations drive into comic books and movie serials to promote the image of “Captain America” was great!  As to the costume, soon enough we were rewarded with what looked perfect and functional for Cap's military missions.

Overall, I thought they did a very good job of making a movie that is essentially just a prelude for next year's Avengers movie stand on its own as well. This despite the fact that of all the “Marvel Movie Universe” movies to date this one stands most explicitly as just part of a bigger story. There were all kinds of little links to Thor – not just the “Cosmic Cube” (although I don't think it's ever called that), but the Norse gods motif, the brief glimpse of Asgard – and to Iron Man (Stark of course) as well as directly setting up Avengers in the last few minutes.

But as I said at the outset, the movie's not perfect. A few things bugged me:

I saw it in 2D. And as I understand it, it was shot in 2D with post-production computer conversion to 3D. But it obviously was shot with that in mind – and frankly repeated shots of Cap's shield coming edge-on directly at the viewer got tiresome. That's one thing I don't like about the very idea of 3D, that shots often seem overly contrived just to make use of that “depth.”

Since this was a period piece, although I guess in the context of the story the bad guys having what were essentially “laser guns” made sense ultimately it just kept nagging at me. I'm sorry, but laser guns and World War II just don't mix for me.

There were some narrative failures as well. As I mentioned above, the “third act” I found to be an incomprehensible mess, especially when it came to the assault on the Red Skull's headquarters. I just couldn't follow what was going on. Also, how did those reconnaissance flights miss the huge column of men that Cap led back from his first real mission rescuing Bucky's captured unit?

Granted that I'm not a huge Marvel reader and have only a sketchy knowledge of the characters and universe overall, but I am passingly familiar with the Howling Commandoes. Maybe it had no place in this movie, but I recognized that they were there. But that's about all. Nothing was really made of them. Most importantly, wasn't it “Sgt. Fury and the Howling Commandoes”? Thus the same character who keeps popping up with the eye-patch in the set-up scenes for Avengers (as played in repeated walk-ons by Samuel L. Jackson) should have been here as a much younger character. Actually, given the time-gap that's now developed between World War II and the present, that could have been problematic for thinking audience members (he'd have to be ninety- to a hundred-years-old now) – but it could have been handled very easily to instill a sense of mystery about S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury. I think that was a missed opportunity.

Ultimately, however, the shortcomings do not in any way ruin this movie. Man, I'm looking forward to Avengers (with that same sense of hopeful anticipation tempered with fear that it may be a big disappointment)! Luckily, I have a lot of faith in its director, Joss Whedon.

Cheers! … and Avengers Assemble!
* * *
(One thing that unfortunately was beyond the control of the filmmakers did interfere with my total enjoyment of this movie. Parkway Cinema in Natchitoches, Louisiana, please fix the speaker on the right in your right-hand stadium screen! It warbled dreadfully at certain points, whenever the volume reached a certain point or most annoyingly during the music over the closing credits – through which I sat knowing that I would be rewarded with the preview for Avengers.)

Monday, July 18

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 (2011)

Directed by David Yates

Went with a group to see “HP 7.2” this afternoon. Since 3D was the only option at the theatre our group went to, I saw it in 3D although I would just as soon have seen it in 2D. Actually, the experience wasn't bad. I just don't think it really added that much to the experience of the movie. Sure, there were a few places where the effect was noticeable and kind of cool, but overall my feeling about 3D is still “meh” and frankly I found the glasses annoying after a while. Oh well – not like I had a choice this time.

As to the movie itself, it was a very worthy ending to the Harry Potter saga. I was not in any way disappointed. (Well, I was disappointed in that the preview of next year's John Carter [of Mars] rumored to be attached to this movie was was not shown, at least in this theatre, but that's a separate issue.  I've seen it here, but wanted to see it on the big screen.  Happened to me last year when the first Green Lantern trailer was supposed to appear with HP 7.1.) All the major story beats of the epic confrontation between good and evil in the wizarding world were hit, although it generally moved at a breakneck pace that would, I think, leave the unsuspecting viewer totally bewildered – but if they expect to come into a “Part 2” without seeing at least Part 1 and knowing what's going on before, shame on them. It is not a separate movie; it is very much a jump-right-in-and-take-up-where-we-left-off continuation. It would also help immensely to have read the book. Frankly, had I not (or at least, in my case, had I not heard the audiobook) I would have been lost in a few places. Members of our group who had not read the book but had seen Part 1 were mystified by such things as the hat that Neville found – they thought it was McGonagle's and signified that she had been killed. One thing I think we were all in agreement about was that the significance of Dumbledore's sister was totally missed. But there's no way everything could possibly be included in any movie adaptation of this book. I think all of the major characters and even some secondary characters got their chance for one last moment in the spotlight, fleeting though it might have been. Neville in particular got to shine as a hero on a par with Harry, Hermione, and Ron.

One measure of how much better a movie overall that this was than, say, Green Lantern – not to pick on the latter, just that it is the most recent movie I saw in the theatre – is that coming in at just over two hours this one did not in any way feel that long. Green Lantern came in, I believe, at just under two hours, and yet it felt longer … and I do not mean in a good way! 

It is a bit bittersweet to know that this is the end of a decade-long movie experience that, I think, could be watched from beginning to end and would hold up very well as one long story, as the books were meant to be and do indeed. That is a theory I mean to test at some time in the future, when this last movie makes its appearance on DVD/Blu-Ray, with a closely spaced viewing of all eight in succession.

* * *
I've been on the road here, there, and yonder for the past few days - plus had to close out a three-week summer internet class I taught - and thus have had little time for blogging.  I have several things finished reading and just waiting for me to put my thoughts down and out there, however.  Maybe I'll get a chance to catch up over the next few days.

Tuesday, July 12

Action Comics #902 (8/11)

Reign of the Doomsdays, Part 2”

Takes up immediately from the previous issue. Doomslayer – some kind of highly-evolved version of Doomsday – is trying to rid the universe of the blight of the Doomsdays, and any knowledge of them whatsoever. And because humans seem to keep resurrecting and cloning the original, Earth must be destroyed. That's the basic gist of why he has his “space station” on a high-speed collision course with Earth to wipe out human civilization. The Superman family is our only hope! But Doomslayer has already almost effortlessly disintegrated the Eradicator. Several pages are given over to our heroes fighting to slow the crashing station. They manage to deflect it away from Metropolis out into the ocean – where the impact creates a hugh tsusami. Superboy, Supergirl, and Steel had sheared off at the last minute to stand in the way, leaving Superman alone to slow the station in the last seconds; the combination of Kara's super-breath, Connor's tactile telekinesis, and Steel's gravitron blasters save the city. Superman staggers out of the surf and collapses. Doomslayer himself has survived, however, and leads minion Doomsdays in a direct attack! “Next: Doomsdays +One.” (Is that a shout-out to the old Charlton Comics series by John Byrne?)

Paul Cornell is a crack writer – his characterization of the Superman family is as spot on as his characterization of Lex Luthor in that year-long story arc that preceeded this one. Superman's devotion to the ideal of life comes through clearly in his opposition to Doomslayer's intention: “Why should you be the judge of what Doomsday deserves?! He may be a mass murderer – but the fact that you have achieved intelligence says he has the potential for change, for redemption. Nobody else dies today.” This in defense of the creature that “killed” him. And as Superman stays with the crashing station all the way to an impact that may well kill even Kryptonians, he's thinking to himself: “The Doomslayer targeted Metropolis. Lois. I could get there first, fly her away. Then to Ma's – NO! You don't get to choose one life over another. Never mind one over millions.”

I've given a good bit of consideration to the art of Kenneth Rocafort since last issue. Once again he doesn't do the entire issue, just the first half. The second half, by Axel Gimenez, is more traditional. But I think I've identified what I don't care so much for, and see an easy solution. Rocafort is inking himself, and that's the problem. Actually, I like a lot about the overall effect of his art – the layout, the poses, the basic imagery. It's actually quite good in those respects. But then at that final stage he just goes a bit wild, feeling it necessary to ink every little detail, outlining such things as reflection points, over-cross-hatching shaded areas – again, as I said in my last little writeup, things that modern coloring techniques really don't make necessary. It makes it look almost like a simple pencilled image that's been scanned and then colored. But the effect is that faces and bodies end up looking angular – chunky in places - scratchy, like Bill Sienkiewicz on a bad day. On p. 4 the outlined patches of reflection on his face almost make Superman look like he's got a bunch of bandaids on it. And again, the tip-end of everyone's noses have little round inked highlights that look more like warts.  Like last time, Rocafort's cover simply looks more finished – almost painted in fact. He's a real talent, no question – but the interior art as it appears is not very pleasing to the eye.

To continue with the axe I was grinding yesterday, however, I've got to point out another instance of a heroine's torso being illustrated in a totally unrealistic – and titillating – manner (pardon the pun). Page 16 (this is Gimenez, not Rocafort, by the way): 
Her blue belly-shirt and red S-shield look more like they are body-painted directly onto her skin – again, like a Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition model. There's no way real fabric would form itself to her breasts so perfectly. That normal bunching and wrinkling of the fabric does occur is obvious – just look at her collar/shoulder, armpits, and bicep areas. And if the cloth does adhere that skin-tight, wouldn't her nipples show? … Okay – remember that Kara is supposed to be, what? – seventeen years old? Talk about oversexualizing youth! – and making old guys like me feel creepy for noticing, although the way it's drawn there's no way not to notice. … Again, I guess I sound like a prude, but that's just inappropriate. In my opinion.

Monday, July 11

Justice League of America #58 (8/11)

“Eclipso Rising, Part Five: The Destined and the Dying”

Begins with a one-page prologue that I'm not sure what it has to do with the rest of the story. Probably just not following it closely enough. It does feature Lydea Mallor of Talok VIII – an interesting shoutout to DC continuity – Legion of Super-Heroes' Shadow Lass, Lydea herself part of the old 1990s L.E.G.I.O.N. series … one of the other Talok planets is where Mikaal Tomas the blue Starman in the JLA is from, and I do seem to recall that being a point in an issue a couple back ….

Anyway, the Earth is experiencing devastation due to the splitting of the moon (last issue) – and on the sundering moon the Justice League is going directly up against Eclipso and his thralls in the Emerald City. Here it gets a bit confusing. At least this time the League isn't just standing around talking like last time … at least for the whole issue. No they do so intermittently in a series of discontinuous flashbacks that I can't quite put in any logical narrative order (seriously – at one point it seems to branch off in two separate directions!) - but the gist is that Batman (Dick Grayson) and Obsidian have figured out that Shade is not held in thrall by Eclipso in quite the same way as all the others, so Congorilla (who is also big game hunter Congo Bill) shoots a bullet from one of Blue Lantern Saint Walker's ring constructs into Shade's brain as a carrier for the Atom (who at times looks vaguely Asian – did the artist think he was drawing Ryan Choi, R.I.P.?) and Starman so they can do something to break the control. Meanwhile, as a feint, the rest attack as if to free the captive angel Zauriel while the real attack is by Donna Troy, directly on Eclipso himself. The reason, according to Saint Walker, is that somehow the almost infinite load of grief and sorrow that Donna carries with her can be marshalled into a power of light that can overcome the darkness. It doesn't work – on the last page, Eclipso literally slashes Donna's silver lasso to pieces and then brutally impales her on a broadsword. “Now, who's next?

So – Donna Troy appears to be dead – again. It's happened before. Depending on her rather fluid backstory, maybe a well-nigh infinite number of times. I really didn't see it coming, however. Not that I expect it to “stick” - or would have expected it to stick were this continuity to … er … continue. But there has been no indication that there will be any Donna Troy in the DcnU or any “Wonder Girl” except a blonde that I'm sure (maybe even announced as) Cassie Sandsmark (in the solicit for Teen Titans #1). Even so, the way this death was carried out I'd be surprised if that's all there is to it even within this story arc. Or maybe this is meant to be a departure from the normal “epic” death in comics or any other heroic literature – just a quick, meaningless, ineffectual casualty of battle as most are in the “real world.” But then there's the tone of the first few editorial lines of the letter column: “Whew, what an issue! We can't believe our Donna is dead. Again. Sigh. She just has the worst luck, doesn't she?” Might as well just say it ain't gonna stick. And they point toward Flashpoint where “[m]aybe she'll fare better ….” Just have to wait and see.

One thing I do like about James Robinson: He brings in all kinds of DC lore and backstory – even a decades-old issue of The Brave and the Bold which had Atom taking a journey into the brain of Bruce Wayne Batman to give it a kickstart when he was essentially brain dead. He also (I guess it's the artist following his directions) brings in all kinds of obscure characters – I refer to Lydea Mallor and her connections above; there's also the hot chrome-skinned Bulletwoman from Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers of Victory; and a bunch of others I can't even name. Of course he plays a lot with his JSA and Starman characters – e.g. the Shade as well as Mikaal Tomas – but he also keeps very clear that this is a distinct Batman from Bruce Wayne. That leads to probably the funniest line in the book: He's outlined his plan for Atom and Starman to invade the Shade's brain, but it won't be by the normal method. Atom is delighted: “No swimming through a sea of snot, tears, or earwax? Guys, I love this Batman.”

The art by Daniel Sampere, Miguel Sepulveda, and Wayne Faucher (but solicited as by Brett Booth and Norm Rapmund – at least they did change the cover copy to reflect reality this time) is pretty good overall. One thing I must comment on, however – this has annoyed me with the way Donna's been drawn from the beginning of her appearances in Justice League – doubtless longer, and not unique to her, just for some reason more apparent. It's front and center on the cover this time – really, what woman would go into battle wearing a top like that, with the V-neck cut down practically to her navel? Yeah, it's comics and I don't mean to be a prude – and I know that the overendowed heroines skimpily dressed is pretty much de rigeur – but Donna always looks like she's going to fall out of her costume at any minute and breasts will then be flopping all around. It's made more ridiculous by the fact that, for all artists' skills (generally) it also usually doesn't look remotely realistic. I'm not talking about the fact that women's costumes often look more like what appears in the body-paint section of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition than real fabric of any kind. Using the cover again (but there are more extreme instances inside) look at the inconsistent width of the sections coming down from Donna's neck across her breasts. The part that's facing the viewer is unrealistically narrow, not much more than a strap (gotta show as much cleavage and outside as possible!), while the cup that's “covering” the breast that's more in profile looks like it's twice as wide! The artists really need to work on getting their perspectives right. They also need to work on consistency from panel to panel – Donna evidently has time between pages 6 and 7 to run off and change into a new costume because in two poses from almost the same angle (from behind and to the right of her) on the former page her costume has two over-the-shoulder straps coming straight down her back, on the latter page it's now a halter top with no such straps! Uhhh... What's the job of an editor? Is it to say, “Oh well, it doesn't matter – fanboy's too dumb to notice anyway?”

Actually, I did enjoy this issue as I generally have all of Robinson's run on Justice League of America. I don't think he's been announced for anything in the DCnU, but there is a long-rumored Shade series he's supposed to be working on.  I wonder how that will fit into DC's plans for the future - especially as it plays out of his renowned Starman series that right now is in a sort of limbo as to its status in DCnU continuity along with all the old Earth-2/JSA/"legacy" characters.  Hopefully it's not been scuttled.

Saturday, July 9

The Spider vs. the Empire State, Book Three: Scourge of the Black Legions (2009)

By Norvell Page (writing as Grant Stockbridge). Third book of “The Black Police Trilogy,” originally published in The Spider #62 (November, 1938). See first book here and second book here.

Original magazine cover
Taking up mere hours after The Spider at Bay, the triumphant recapture of New York City from the Black Police proves shortlived as federal forces finally move in – on the side of the “lawfully” elected government. The Spider and his supporters are forced to flee once more. Desiring to stand out more as a symbol for the resistance to rally around, Richard Wentworth – still “pretending” to be the Spider – dons a green cape, which of course also makes him a target. After freeing a young woman in Westphalian who, along with others, is being used as a human shield, and rallying the town to resistance, Wentworth is brought down by a sniper's bullet. Word goes out that the Spider is dead! His supporters are rounded up. The resistance appears doomed. It is not, of course – so far that's just the first few chapters!

But darker days ensue, even as Wentworth is found to have survived, recuperates quickly, and frees his closest band of supporters once again. But the federal forces in the state of New York are hampering the freedom of the totalitarian regime to complete its program of pillage, and Wentworth discovers a horrific plan to divert the federal government's attention elsewhere into dealing with a disaster.  A desperate flight – a mismatched dogfight in the nighttime sky above a Pennsylvania dam – but one bomb dropped from an attacking plane gets through and starts the inexorable crumbling of the dam. A desperate race through darkness – by car, finally by horseback – and Wentworth manages to save a pitiful few from a single town as the dam breaches altogether and a wall of water inundates the region, drowning thousands. Dogged determination continues to drive Wentworth back to New York and the fight – which seems lost yet again as his dwindling army is once more captured – and once more rescued – and again captured – and freed ... – a spiraling cycle of loss that ultimately brings a once-more wounded and flagging Wentworth face to face with the man in the mirror, the Master, in a final confrontation against the backdrop of a popular uprising in Albany itself.

Somewhat incredibly, in a short appendix, we see that the status quo has been restored (as it must be for this formulaic series to continue) with legitimate government restored and Stanley Kirkpatrick back once more as Commissioner of the NYPD. A once-more robust Wentworth's facade is even secure - “Of course, I'd like the [sic – recte to] claim credit for that kill in Albany – the Master, I mean. The doctors will tell you, I was found unconscious in the streets, and there was no green cape, no face of the Spider, nothing. No, I guess the Spider put one over on us after all, Kirkpatrick” (p. 417). And Kirkpatrick goes along with it – swallowing the story that the Spider, long inactive while Wentworth merely acted the part, had returned in the end. Their adversarial alliance against evil – two good men standing shoulder-to-shoulder on either side of the thin line between lawful authority and outlaw vigilantism – will continue for another five years through almost sixty more adventures.
* * *
I had thought I might develop some deep historical commentary on this fairly obscure allegory of the 1930s, when parts of the world were indeed succumbing to totalitarianism and there were indeed such leanings even here in the United States. But upon finishing this story I went back and reread Krabacher's historical introduction and he does it much better than I could. This is definitely not my area of historical expertise – even though I do live in Louisiana where Huey Long, invoked again and again through this tale, ran an ostensibly similar political machine. It was very interesting following a couple of Krabacher's leads off into a little (fairly superficial) research. Concern about a developing “home-grown fascist” sentiment inspired a number of cautionary tales similar to this – one main difference I'm sure being that such things as Sinclair Lewis' 1935 novel, It Can't Happen Here, couldn't possibly reach the heights of outlandish melodrama and over-the-top pulpish escapades that Norvell Page excelled at – page after frenetic page! The one difference I think to be immediately apparent between the “Party of Justice” and “The Black Police” state in New York and anything in the “real world” is that there is no political or social ideology underpinning the former. It is a criminal enterprise, pure and simple – a band of thugs marshalling the example set by Mussolini and Hitler – and Long, pretty explicitly – into the service of monstrous greed. Perhaps I'm naïve, but I doubt that without some kind of deeper, albeit perverse, “ideal” driving it such an undertaking could possibly reach the horrific heights that this one does. But I have no doubt that the refrain of “It couldn't happen here” has been chanted in many times and places as driving events give way to the dread realization that it has happened here.

The one quibble that I have with Krabacher's valuable introduction is what I consider to be an erroneous although as I understand it prevailing equation of “fascism” with “right-wing” ideology - “The Party of Justice is clearly taken from any of a number of the American right-wing organizations, such as the National Union for Social Justice, that flourished at the time” (p. 16). For what it's worth (and a colleague of mine who does specialize in modern history rather than my own ancient/medieval period deeply disagrees with me here), accepting the common usage of “left-” and “right-wing” as “liberal” and “conservative,” I consider such movements to be more malignant outgrowths of the “left-wing” of the political spectrum than the “right-.” (Perhaps I'm overly sensitive. I'm pretty conservative, and I'm not infrequently flogged with the label of “fascist” by my liberal colleagues. Generally, it's done good-naturedly, but it does get annoying at times and does, I believe, betray how some terms lose most if not all of their true meaning in common antagonistic discourse.) A succinct summation of the connections between “left-wing” ideology and Nazism as well as other pernicious movements can be seen in the customer review of Erik von Kuhnelt-Leddihn's Leftism Revisited: From De Sade and Marx to Hitler and Pol Pot entitled “Demagogues can choose the class, the race or any other flag,” dated 17 September 1999. I believe I was present at the exchange between “A Customer” and Professor von Kuhnelt-Leddihn in 1998 mentioned therein – I'm pretty sure it followed a presentation by the good professor at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. The timing is about right; I'm fairly certain I know the writing style of that unnamed reviewer; and I do remember the subject being addressed at that time, when it left a deep impression on me.

That bit aside, The Spider vs. the Empire State has been a fascinating read overall. Let me end by quoting Krabacher's conclusion to this volume: “[T]he Black Police saga demonstrates that for all their escapist elements the pulps could also be more complex, reflecting the events, concerns, and anxieties of their times. A bit distorted, perhaps, by the need to thrill, but nonetheless recognizable even today” (p. 17).

Friday, July 8

Brightest Day Aftermath: The Search for Swamp Thing #1 of 3 (8/11)

Okay. Another drawback of the pre-order system that I use: Had I known that this Brightest Day Aftermath as it was announced several months ago would end up being The Search for Swamp Thing, I would not have gotten it. I've never cared for that character. (He doesn't even have a cool, funny name like “Man-Thing,” his Marvel Comics counterpart … whose name was even funnier with the publication of Giant-Size Man-Thing!)  
Nor have I ever cared for – mainly because I have absolutely no familiarity with – the character of John Constantine who it turns out is front and center. But one of the twists at the end of the year-long biweekly series Brightest Day a couple months ago was bringing these two characters who have not been properly part of the DC universe but rather part of the “subset” DC-imprint “Vertigo” universe, back into the mainstream. (Get this: John Constantine's own title, Hellblazer, is poised to become the oldest unrenumbered DC comics title in a couple of months when Action Comics, Detective Comics, and Batman reset the odometer to #1 – Hellblazer will be at issue #283, if I'm counting right. If that's not a hell of a note...? – forgive the pun....  To show how old I am, I remember Superman #200 coming out - both it and Batman are well into the 700s now, at least for a couple more months.)

So. I got it anyway. How is it as an issue? Meh. Basically, Brightest Day left Swamp Thing, the embodiment of “the Green” or some kind of life-force of planet Earth, as the embodiment of the White Lantern force of Life (because green is the color of Will, you see … no? …). But Swamp Thing, who (if I understand it correctly and I probably don't) was once a reanimated vegified (?!) scientist named Alec Holland, before he wasn't (John Kerry: “I voted for it before I voted against it...”), has apparently gone all eco-terrorist.... Zzzzzzz.... Oh! … uh … Constantine's trying to track him down, invades the Batcave and assaults Alfred trying to get Batman's help, further endears himself to Batman (I think it's Dick, but who knows or cares?) by smoking in the Batmobile, 
who also calls in Zatanna, who apparently has a history with Constantine that didn't end well.... Zzzzzzz....  Huh? ... Wha-? ... Oh ... Yeah, Superman's on the cover, but he doesn't appear in the issue – Oh, wait – Superman is in a couple of ads. And a very annoying Subway sandwich shop advert-comic-insert right in the middle of all or most of this month's DC comics.   I guess that counts.
 And besides, at one point Hawkman was supposed to appear on the cover in Zatanna's place … did Constantine and Hawkman have some kind of relationship in the past? That might've been interesting... Is that your mace or are you just happy to see me? (I'm kidding, Dr. Norge!). Well, the point is, Hawkman's nowhere to be found either.  There were also several other variations previewed with various figures blacked out. Gotta cultivate that mystery, right?

I'm not familiar with either the writer or the artists on this issue. Both are passable – actually, the art is not bad at all. And Vankin takes a story that was doubtless dictated to him, at least in its broad strokes, and does a workmanlike job with it.

One other thing I'm noticing on the cover. Who's the only one casting a shadow? Batman. Why? Because he's Batman! (Say it with Christian Bale's voice from The Dark Knight - “I'm Batman.”) (Actually, that brings to mind another clever bit in the Batgirl issue I read a few days ago. Stephanie and Beryl [the English heroine "the Squire"] are chatting after their adventure - which will cause Stephanie to be late to her rendezvous with Batman ...
... Imagine her voice lowered in an appropriately gravelly manner.)
Hey, sometimes in this hobby you do end up feeling like you let the publisher pick your pocket. When that happens, all you can do is find some kind of fun in it.  But when I find myself entertaining myself more than this comic did, well.... 

Final Launch of the Space Shuttle Atlantis

11:26 am ET, Friday 8 July 2011
In about two weeks, ever how long this final mission lasts, the United States will no longer have an active manned space program. That is something I never thought I would see. I've said it before, I'll say it again. When a nation turns its back on its frontiers, it inevitably goes into decline. The Roman Empire is the best example. When Roman expansion ended, about the time the Empire was proclaimed, it was only a matter of time.  

Thursday, July 7

Legion of Super-Heroes #14 and Teen Titans #96 (8/11)

“False Dreams”

This is a continuation from the previous issue of a multipart story pitting the Legion of Super-Heroes against their nemises the Legion of Super-Villains, led by Saturn Queen. Things are starting to come together in the various story threads. Harmonia Li is still intent on taking Star Boty and the multiversal energies to save her own world. Where is she from? Well, we find that she is from the “World of Wisdom,” “Utopia.” The world that is the object of the Villains' quest. Why? Well, it seems that Immortus – some kind of android construct that Ultra Boy and Wildfire are still fighting – previously had “a vision of three worlds that balanced the universe that it wished to destory. One of faith that it thought already shattered – one of will, beyond its power for the nonce [Oa?] – and a world of wisdom ….” By her own admission, Li's “foolishness at the Time Institute has placed [her world] in mortal peril.”

Saturn Queen and the Villains do gain access to the power of the blue flame (another object of their quest in issues past) to open a path between worlds and appear at Utopia. They are greeted by a figure who identifies himself as “Master Kong” - shocking the Coluan villain Questor: “B-but you're dead … for thirty-five hundred years as measured on your homeworld … thousands of them before Terrans even discovered space flight.” “Master Kong” - “Kung Fu-tsu”? - “Confucius”? In any case, they are not here in search of wisdom, but to bring destruction.

Nonetheless, Green Lantern Mon-El via a ring-construct that he can dispatch on independent missions (!) brings the various groups together at the end – but along the way Dream Girl has a vision that seems to indicate that it will be Star Boy who gives his life (as rumored will happen, mainly because one or more Legionnaires always bite it when the Heroes face the Villains – Karate Kid way back in the first story arc of the “Baxter series” in the 1980s, more recently several of the “Threeboot” Legion in Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds). And the next issue is named “False Victory” ….

One idea that has been bandied about on the message boards is that “Immortus” is one and the same as the old Doom Patrol villain General Immortus. Having no exposure to him, I have no idea. I have faith it's going to all make sense in the end.

Beast of Legend”

I guess if I knew much of anything beyond the fact that the Ramayana is a great Hindu epic poem having something to do with duty and the requirements of dharma, this story incorporating its mythology might mean something to me. Of course, it might also help if one of the main characters' names was not mysteriously changed here - “Rankor” appears to be the character called “Ravana” in the Ramayana. Ravana is the primary antagonist of the poem, who kidnaps the hero Rama's princess Sita, but is ultimately defeated by the light of Rama and his ally the monkey-king Hanuman.

Ravana ... er... Rankor
... er, whatever ...
We find all this out in a rather ham-fisted way on the first page, which recounts a time in the past when the father of the new character Solstice (“light”) is telling his young daughter the story: "At his throne sat the Lord of Darkness. Rankor was – in a word – a monster. A demon with ten heads – each one more evil than the next. … The great Rama sensed anxiety in his heart as Rankor's gaze burned with hatred. But Rama found strength in his ally, the monkey king Hanuman. He held his ground, steeling his resolve. His light would endure.” And of course it's all echoed in Solstice's lines at the very end of the issue: “... [M]y light will endure …!”

Of course, along the way we've got to get a “monkey king” – look at the cover. Beast Boy unleashed. Takes him a while to hit on that transformation, however. Basically, this issue is a big fight for the first half until Garfield turns into a big green ape. To make sure we get the point, Solstice cries, “You look like … a monkey king!” They free the team, who have been out of action for the past couple of issues, and are still weakened as the enemy rallies and attacks. And Raven still has some unidentified problem with Solstice. How long are we going to drag this out? Actually, I think it's just one more issue....  Please tell me it's just one more issue.

Frankly, I've not been that impressed with the Teen Titans book since I started picking it up monthly a few issues back. If it weren't ending anyway in just a few issues I'd probably drop it. That's sad. It was so good, for so long, but it's just been cruising for so long after that....

Oh yeah.  How about a little truth in advertising on the cover?  The inside art is not Scott and Hazlewood.  It's Jose Luis pencils and a couple of inkers.  It's okay in itself, but there's entirely too much of this  disparity between solicited story and what appears, between solicited creators and who actually does the work.  It gives a real impression that they're flying by the seat of their pants up there at DC Comics.

Wednesday, July 6

Batgirl #22 and Supergirl #65 (8/11)

Batgirl: Batman Incorporated – Five Minutes Fast”

It seems months ago (because it has been) that news was dropped in-story that the returned Bruce Wayne Batman's assignment for Stephanie Brown would take her to the United Kingdom – the implication was a full-blown relocation which (as Anglophile as I am) I would not be in favor of given the slow but successful building of a supporting cast in the Gotham City setting that has been accomplished. Well, now (with only a couple issues left in the series anyway, which is a separate issue so to speak) it appears that this is merely a mission. In this issue Steph exits Heathrow directly into an all-but-impromptu team-up with Beryl Hutchinson, the Squire, sidekick to the Knight, another element of the “Batmen of All Nations” that Grant Morrison brought back into continuity in the last couple of years, last seen in the wonderful little 6-issue mini-series by Paul Cornell, Knight and Squire. And madcap antics ensue as one of Britain's own rather colorful villains, the Orphan (because “he always wants some more”), steals the Greenwich Mean – which we discover is not just the standard upon which the world bases its time, but is actually a plug sealing a crack in time opened by “a nasty bit of business during the Blitz.” By stealing the Mean, Orphan freezes time so he can kill his defenseless arch-enemy, the Knight. Batgirl and Squire are caught in the effect, however, therefore are not frozen in time and are able to thwart the Orphan's dastardly plan – which makes Stephanie late for her meeting with Batman. “Care to explain...?” To be continued in Batman Incorporated #9.

It's another winner of an issue. Dang!, I'm going to miss this series. I don't think Bryan Q. Miller is currently associated with any post-Flashpoint series that's been announced. Huh-wha-? Don't let this guy go, DC! Here we're treated to, among other things, typically witty dialog (and monologue - “No, Ms. Brown, I don't care about the slap*. Uh-huh,” Stephanie mutters as she realizes she has “apparently twenty minutes to cross a city I've never been to before with someone I've never met to get to a hotel I never knew existed. … After ten hours in coach.” [Editor's note:  *Check out the Bruce Wayne: The Road Home trade A.S.A.P. (the Prof's hint – Bruce had it coming)]), character development and humorous repartee between two teen heroines who have a lot in common but some real differences in their cultural backgrounds as well as their situations (Stephanie is jealous of how close a team-mate Squire is to the Knight; Beryl is jealous in her turn because Batgirl is “most certainly not a sidekick”).  And the issue rounds off with a nice reduplication of the first page that by its structure conveys as well as anything could how Stephanie, tired and longing for a bit of shut-eye at the beginning of the issue, still does so but is no more likely to get it any time soon at the end.

This is Not My Life, Part 1 of 3”

This is the first part of the last story-arc for this title before September. I was frankly a little disappointed. It's not bad. It's just not that good either. I'd had higher hopes that this title might go out on a high point, having read good things about DeConnick's writing (but never read anything by her). Everything just seemed a bit off – characterization of Kara and Lois for one, but also the art which is almost charicaturish at times [hmmm, my computer didn't balk at that “word” so maybe it is a word...], a weird blend of overly detailed – downright ugly finger-knuckles that were so prominent as to be distracting – with cartoony poses and distorted facial expressions. Maybe it will all work out in the next two issues, but ….

The plot, in a nutshell: Lois convinces Kara (as Linda “Lane” - why not just go with her existing earthly identity, Linda Lang?) to go undercover on the campus of Stanhope College (nice throwback to the pre-Crisis Supergirl) because someone is abducting students of a certain profile. Turns out (of course) the plot is deeper than the five missing students Lois knows about. Kara quickly meets a rather creepy dude who has figured out an algorithm to predict the victims, the next of course being himself, who promptly disappears.

There are a lot of potential new and quirky supporting-cast members introduced here – was this initially conceived before the “relaunch” was firmed up? And I get the feeling that given time, DeConnick could get her feet on this book. If so, maybe one reason it's just not grabbing me is that we know she's not going to get time, and it's all going to mean nothing in a couple more months.

Otto von Habsburg, R.I.P.

A few days ago I posted about beginning to work my way through the 1970s BBC docudrama miniseries, Fall of Eagles. I awoke this morning to news that the last living link to that late-19th-early-20th-century age has passed. Archduke Otto von Habsburg, eldest son and heir to the beatified last Austro-Hungarian Emperor Karl I, died peacefully in his sleep on Monday 4 July 2011 at age 98. Requiescat in pace.

Young Otto with granduncle
Emperor Franz-Josef, 1916
Last Crown Prince of Austria, lifetime statesman and tireless advocate of a united Europe, defender of traditional values, the family, and the Faith, the Archduke will be remembered by many of my students from an anecdote I share to illustrate the thoroughly Catholic identity of the Habsburg Dynasty. Otto von Habsburg is considered the father of the European Parliament, as a member of which in 1988 he participated in one of the more colorful incidents in that body's history. Pope John Paul II was speaking before the Parliament. Ian Paisley, Northern Irish Protestant firebrand, unfurled a sign proclaiming, “The Pope is the Antichrist.” Among those manhandling Paisley from the Parliamentary chambers was 70-some-odd-year-old Otto von Habsburg, upholding his family's centuries-long tradition of defending Holy Mother Church.

Some links:

Tuesday, July 5

Batman #711 (8/11)

“Pieces, Part Two: The Long Way Back”

Two Face claws his way out of a shallow grave, refusing to believe that Gilda is really alive and working with Mario Falcone. He is captured by the Riddler but they end up in an alliance because Riddler tells him that Gilda is being held by Falcone against her will. Harvey needs his coin. Meanwhile, Dick Grayson Batman is on their trail – but finds that Catgirl didn't get out of the Gotham vigilante game and is indeed right in the middle of things.

A few things: 1) One thing that I don't really like that Tony Daniel is doing is reverting Riddler back into a criminal. I really liked him better as he was for the past several years, skirting the line between law and outlaw, setting himself up as a consulting detective and a bit of a foil for Batman. When played right, that has been pretty entertaining. I've always found the Riddler to be no more than a ho-hum villain. 2) The addition of this putative daughter Enigma is not really helping things either. Catgirl kind of grew on me, but the exponentiation of numbers of costumes in Gotham sometimes gets a bit ridiculous. 3) Although I'll surprisingly miss Dick Grayson's tenure as Batman (who would have thought? - sounded like a dumb idea when first floated a couple of years ago), I will not miss always having to identify whether this Batman is Bruce or Dick. 
4) On the other hand, you've got to give it to a hero who punches the bad guy in the gut so hard he instantly projectile barfs last week's lunch! You don't mess with Batman, whether he is Bruce or Dick!

Monday, July 4

Batman and Robin #24, Birds of Prey #13, Red Robin #24, and Superman #712 (8/11)

“The Streets Run Red, Part 2 of 3: Exit Strategy”

Continues directly from last issue. The overall theme is that the ultimate aim of the grueling training regimen that the Bat-family endures is to be adaptable. They never know what threats they may be faced with and must be prepared to “think quickly and act quicker.” It's a lesson Jason Todd recalls from his youth as the second Robin, and that Dick Grayson Batman emphasizes to Damian Wayne, the current Robin. By the end of the issue, being adaptable has led to the latest Dynamic Duo entering into an uneasy alliance with their sometime opponent, Jason, who takes up again his identity as the Red Hood. “This sucks,” Damian proclaims. “Nobody knows that more than me,” agrees Dick.

“Hostile Takeover, Part Two of Two: No Sentence Shall Be Commuted”

Continues directly from last issue. Since Oracle has lost contact with the team infiltrating “Junior's” headquarters, it's up to Huntress and the Question to head to the rescue. Meanwhile, Junior beats the snot out of Dove and Black Canary – seriously injuring the former. She seems all but immune to the Canary cry. We find a little more about Junior – “that she was some awful prodigy that ran the entire west coast crime syndicate, with nothing but a phone and a notepad. … That's the problem. There's nothing. No e-trail, no paper breadcrumbs... She's done exactly the thing I can do the least about.” (See more about this truly sick character here – even though I read the first collection of the current Secret Six series a couple years ago, I didn't make the connection right off.) Desperately, playing on Catman's obvious feelings for Huntress, Oracle consults with him, and is finally inspired to another avenue of attack: “There's only one thing that Junior hates,” Catman informs her. “Exposure. She hates to be seen.” - Oracle's monologue: “Okay. Okay. The who freaking weirdo unmappable building is offline, not computerized... No data flows in or out. But it still has the basic human needs covered, and they are computerized, by the grand municipality of Gotham. That's heat, water, sewer, and … And the lights.” The lights burst on – blinding Junior – just as Huntress enters the fray and kicks her down a stairwell shaft. The Birds get Dove to medical attention in time. The issue closes with Oracle relieving Canary of field leadership (“You haven't been the same since … well, since the divorce [from Green Arrow]”) in favor of Huntress – and vowing that they will take on Junior again: “We ... have one good reason to go back. She hurt my girls. And if it takes forever, she's going to pay for that. Who's in?”

But it won't be next issue, apparently – which is announced as a two-parter by another writer, Mark Andreyko, who spotlights “the original Phantom Lady's return to Gotham City!” The preview cover image looks like it will be either set in the past or at least recall the earlier World War II era as part of its plot. A two-parter will run out the pre-September issues. Looks like this was Gail Simone's swan song on the Birds.  Will this hanging plot thread ever be taken up again? Things like this will be a litmus test as to how much a “reboot” the post-Flashpoint relaunch will really be.

“7 Days of Death, Part Two: It's Not Paranoia...”

Finding himself the real target of the “Assassination Game” (last issue, not that I really gave much of a synopsis there) – fighting for his life, Tim Drake muses over the question of “why do so many people make killing their life's work--?” Thoughtful young man, although maybe this isn't really the place...? By the end he finds that it's his inquisitive nature that has led to him being “targeted for death in this tournament....” Captured by a couple of babe-o-licious assassins (if you ignore the brunette's black-void eyes with dark energy pouring from them), he finds that it's because he “seek[s] to learn too much. The secrets surrounding the ancient art of killing are meant as a divine promise to knowledge and power – and can not be usurped by one who strives for order. It is unexpected irony that to obtain these ancient secrets, you must die tonight … because I wanted nothing more from you than the very essence of life, Timothy. Though your flesh dies now, know that your spirit will be honored – and you will live on – through the child you are about the give me...” She drops her clothes and Tim's eyes bug out … “Next: What a Way to Go!”

“Lost Boy: A Tale of Krypto the Superdog”

This is a rather irritating practice that seems somewhat more prevalent these days than in times past, although that may be more of an impression created by us simply having more information about upcoming issues than was once the case – a last minute change from the solicited story to a “file” story. I first suspected that what happened here was that DC realized at some point that their current schedule was going to have “Grounded” ending in July, with a “lame duck” issue coming out in August before the “relaunch” of September. Oops. Way to guarantee sales in the tank! Better to pull a “bait and switch” in June and put the “lame duck” issue out then, with the climax of “Grounded” coming out as the climax of the current series – I thought that may have been their reasoning. But inspection of the solicitations doesn't really support that theory. Here are the original solicitation texts:

Original solicitation for Superman #712 to appear in June: Meet Los Angeles’s newest super hero in the latest Chapter of “Grounded”: Sharif! But Sharif discovers that in today’s current cultural climate, some people don’t want his help – they just want him gone. Can Superman aid Sharif and quell a prejudiced public, or are there some problems too big even for the Man of Steel to solve?

Original solicitation for Superman #713 to appear in July: What could possibly make The Man of Steel decide to stop being Superman? Superboy and Supergirl catch up with him in Portland, Oregon, and they want answers!

Original solicitation for Superman #714 to appear in August: Superman hits Seattle for his last stop on his “Grounded” walk across the country, and it is in that city where everything will come to a head! The mysterious woman who has been following Superman all year makes a desperate final move, one that may cost the Man of Steel that which he holds most dear!

Three more parts of “Grounded,” three more months (June-July-August) to get them out. I really don't know what's up. If there are really three more parts to the “Grounded” story, DC has a scheduling problem if they don't want the conclusion to be delayed until after the relaunch. Or, I have seen some speculation online that DC is not wanting the controversy that will doubtless attend the publication of a story with a Muslim/Arabic hero encountering American prejudice – a story that arguably would be meaningless in a couple months anyway. Whatever. We'll see if the “Sharif” story actually appears.

Anyway, the current issue as it stands was written and filed away some time ago by Kurt Busiek. It's a charming little tale of Krypto's anguish after the death of Connor Superboy in Infinite Crisis and the subsequent disappearance of Superman during the gap between that story and the “One Year Later” period that followed. A lot can be done without dialog (since Krypto can't talk, and we don't get the “cheat” of listening in on his “thoughts”). Makes you really feel for the pooch, especially in the last panel which has him lying morosely on an asteroid next to where the Smallville DPW manhole cover had come to rest when he and Connor last used it to play Frisbee-catch. If it had still been J. Michael Straczynski scripting “Grounded,” this probably would have been a superior story to that … but Chris Roberson has been doing very well picking up the pieces there so maybe not. Oh well. It's a good story in itself, but just another interruption to "Grounded" (this is the third or maybe fourth - I'm not bothering to look it up).

Just because every time I read a Krypto story I always think of it, here's a link to a great one:  Starwinds Howl, by Elliot S! Maggin, who also wrote a pair of great Superman prose novels back in the late 1970s-early 1980s.