Wednesday, August 31

The Gods of Mars (The Barsoom Series #2, 1913 serial, 1918 book)

Art by Frank Frazetta
By Edgar Rice Burroughs

Picking up the Dynamite Warlord of Mars comic book series inspired me to take back up with the original prose series. I read them all many years ago, at least twice that I know of. First in the Ballantine paperbacks with the Gino d'Achille covers, then in the Science Fiction Book Club edition of the 1970s with the great Frank Frazetta covers and interior art – which is the very copy I'm reading now, the second volume in that edition, containing both the first and second stories, a copy I acquired (according to my note on the inside front cover) on 6 September 1977. I had actually started rereading the series early last year, 2010, with the first story, A Princess of Mars, via the Kindle app on my iPod Touch, but finished it about the time we headed off for a family vacation/historical tour of England and Scotland (June 2010) which meant I was wanting to read something more British – so I set The Gods of Mars aside at that time after only a chapter or so in favor of Sherlock Holmes stories during those few times I had a little while to actually read during that very busy couple of weeks. So a couple of weeks ago I picked Gods up again.

Art by Gino d'Achille
There are so many places you can find good synopses, reviews, and the like for this monumental and foundational series of “planetary romance” (so I've seen the genre called) that I'm not going to go into a lot of detail. Wikipedia gives a pretty good overview. Basically, in this story Burroughs' fictional persona and framing narrator discovers that his “granduncle” John Carter, believed dead for the last dozen years, had instead been back adventuring on the red planet, discovering that the strange religion of the Martian or “Barsoomian” peoples was based on a great lie from which he himself manages to escape – discovering his son Carthoris along the way. But John Carter then discovers that his princess, Dejah Thoris, after ten years of grief for her vanished prince, had herself fallen captive in the hellish Barsoomian “paradise,” and he leads a coalition of the red and green Martians to rescue her and expose the great deception for all to see. However, in the end John Carter and Dejah Thoris are reunited for only moments before treachery rips her from him, consigning her to a prison which is only accessible on one day per Barsoomian year. His last glimpse is of a fellow prisoner, madly jealous for “love” of John Carter, plunging a dagger toward the breast of Dejah Thoris, while a third prisoner, who no less loves John Carter but recognises that his heart beats only for his princess, makes to cast herself between the attacker and her victim. As the chamber closes, John Carter hears a scream, and must wonder in whose fair bosom the dagger had found its mark.

Interior art by Frank Frazetta
What a cliffhanger! This story and the next, Warlord of Mars, are the two most integrally connected of the Barsoom novels, essentially continuing right one from the other. 34 years since my last reading, I remember very few details of the story, only the broad strokes, and am consequently enjoying it all anew. Among other things, I had forgotten that Thuvia, Maid of Mars (the title and central character of the fourth novel in the series) had actually made her first appearance in this story.

Scanning the IMDB entry for the upcoming John Carter movie reveals that other characters who only make their appearance in this second novel (e.g. Matai Shang) are part of the cast of characters. I guess that movie is incorporating characters and story elements from more than just A Princess of Mars. I'm not sure how I feel about that. It seems to me that that novel alone has plenty of material for an epic film, which could be the beginning of a great series of films. I hope they don't try to cram too much in and end up with a confused mess. This is of course, a movie I will approach with my usual cautious, hopeful hesitance. Never underestimate Hollywood's ability to screw up a great story – which seems to happen all too often in this kind of adaptation.

Like the story, I'll be proceeding directly into Warlord of Mars.


DCU to DCnU: Vale atque Ave!

I don't usually reblog, but I do particularly like this bit of perspective on the DC Relaunch that hit today.  Cheers!

Tuesday, August 23

Fall of Eagles, Disk 4 (1974)

Created by John Elliott

This disk has only the thirteenth, final episode as well as three interviews with members of the cast and crew – Charles Kay (Nicholas), Gayle Hunnicutt (Alexandra), and David Cunliffe (who directed three of the episodes). See my comments on Disk 1, Disk 2, and Disk 3.

“End Game”

By August 1918, the ultimate outcome of the War is pretty clear to all but the deluded Emperor Wilhelm, especially now that the Americans have been provoked into the War. By this time the Russian imperial family has been murdered by the Bolsheviks and the new Austrian Emperor is suing the allies for a separate peace. Insincere pleas by the Germans for an armistice (during which they plan to regroup for a renewed fight) are rebuffed even as the once-mighty German army crumbles. Wilhelm's ministers urge democratic reforms on him, but it's all ultimately too late. Although a faltering assault on Germany by its enemies emboldens some among the military leadership, desertions mount as riots and uprisings spread across the country and it becomes clear that the only way out of the debacle is for the Emperor to abdicate – which is announced preemptively without the Emperor's consent. Initially vowing to fight to the last bullet in his “cottage,” Wilhelm finally quietly boards a train and seeks refuge in Holland. Field Marshall Hindenberg throws his support behind the social democratic government to preserve what's left of the army and save Germany from Bolshevism, which has spread rapidly from Russia. And he hopes for “favorable terms from the peace treaty.” As he arrives in Germany, Wilhelm learns that the Austrian Emperor has fled. It is “the end of an epoch” as he retires for … “a cup of good English tea.”
* * *
Well, I made it. I can't say that this was the most engrossing docudrama I ever saw. It's not for a lack of good actors – in fact a few of them deliver quite good performances. Patrick Stewart as Lenin comes most readily to mind, but especially in this final episode Barry Foster as Wilhelm II manages to convey very effectively just how little of a grasp on reality the German Emperor really had. How he commanded the loyalty that he did among some of his senior military officers who knew long before he did that Germany was spiraling down into defeat I'll never know. But beyond the main characters, I need to qualify what I wrote just above – many of the secondary characters' performances were pretty wooden. For those main characters, however, I think this series does one thing very well, bringing to some measure of life the human side of these last generations of autocratic, all-but-absolutist rulers utterly convinced of their divine right to their positions and with an overweening pride that blinded them to all reality. Wilhelm is the poster child for that phenomenon, but Nicholas of Russia comes in a close second.

As far as other production values … Well, some of the sets looked pretty good, but nothing spectacular. And as I mentioned in my blog on the first disk, the interspersing of original, grainy, jerky, black and white newsreel footage with scenes from what were for all intents and purposes a stage play made for some odd dissonance. It was downright annoying at times. I have no idea what kind of budget this had or what that amounted to in 1974, but the effect (barring the newsreel stuff) was reminiscent of other English productions of the period that I remember – or even have seen recently, such as the great British spy series The Sandbaggers, “the best damned television show you never saw,” from just a few years later, although the overall result there was much more pleasing. I've read some reviews of Fall of Eagles online that are very critical of the production values, but I think some of them go a little overboard. It is what it is, and for telling the basic story and – as I indicate above – getting at the very flawed humanity driving some of the most momentous events of the end of the 19th, early 20th centuries, it does all right. I think it could have been better, though.

As to the history, well, I have a better than average but hardly a specialist's knowledge of the period, and one that's been largely dormant for over a decade. I didn't pick up on anything that was obviously wrong. It seemed pretty on-target for the most part, and I think I'm coming away with a somewhat better understanding of certain aspects of the period. It's been a long time since I studied it, and even then it was largely “book-l'arnin',” and there is nothing like seeing events come to (even if somewhat stilted) life. So would I recommend this? If you're really interested in the period, yes. If you're expecting to be – to use the word I started this commentary on – engrossed and drawn into the events … no. I am glad I finally got around to watching this through, however.

By the way, I did not bother watching the interviews. I'm just not that interested, although perhaps the issue of the production values is addressed, perhaps by Cunliffe. I don't want to find out badly enough, though.


Teen Titans #97 and Justice League of America #59 (Sep 2011)

“A Call to Arms”

The multi-part story of the Titans vs. demons straight out of Hindu mythology comes to its end in an issue that I enjoyed a bit more than the ones leading up to it. I can't say exactly why other than it seemed more straight-forward. Most of the issue is a straight-up fight that culminates, as it kind of has to, with the new hero Solstice saving the day. I mean, it seems like this story was basically about introducing this new character into the book. Too bad she's coming in just in time to be wiped away after next month.

Along the way we do get some good character moments, such as between Connor and Rose, between Gar and Raven – and the latter's seeming betrayal of their new teammate with whom she seems to have had some kind of problem from the beginning. Raven swears she didn't intentionally leave her behind when “portalling” the others back into the real world – but the only one who overtly accepts her word is Tim. I'm pretty sure we won't get to see this stuff play out, though.

“Next Issue... The Titanic Return of Superboy-Prime.” Sigh. Not him again. One benefit (hopefully) of the Relaunch that's coming up is that maybe we can be done with this guy. Since his “turn to the dark side” in Infinite Crisis he has had few appearances that I haven't found annoying as all get out. He was okay as the Big Bad in Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds, and his appearance in the two-part Adventure Comics end of Blackest Night had its moments, but other than that.... I wonder if the ending of that Blackest Night story will even be taken into account here.

Eclipso Rising, Part Six”

Blue Lantern Saint Walker, empowered by his proximity to Alan Scott Green Lantern and Mikaal Tomas Starman, is able to go beyond showing Eclipso his heart's desire to make him believe he has actually attained it. Such as killing Donna Troy. That's right – her death at the end of last issue didn't really happen except in Eclipso's mind. Where it's just the beginning of his ultimate conquest of the universe and the eradication of all life so that only himself – and Bruce Gordon's mind – are left. Really, it's all to keep him distracted by his “success” as Donna keeps whaling at him, and the others continue to fight, as Atom and Starman fight to free The Shade from Eclipso's control. When they succeed in that, it likewise breaks his control of all the others, bringing Alan and Jade and all the rest back into the fray on the side of light. When the light fades, Bruce Gordon is left in his own native form.

But the crisis is only half-averted – the moon must now be put back together before the effects of its shattering wreak irrecoverable harm to the Earth. Supergirl – absent for most of this arc, shows up just in time to help out (a note places this after the “Reign of the Doomsdays” story going on in Action Comics) and the deed is accomplished. The adventure ends on a high note, with the Atom Ray Palmer essentially giving his blessing (as an old-time member of the “classic” Justice League) to this most recent, sometimes dismissed as “B-list,” Justice League….

a high note that falls flat when you turn the page and see that, five weeks later, Dick Grayson Batman is formally adjourning, “[f]or us, for our version anyway … the last ever meeting of the JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA.” “Well, I must say this is a surprise,” Bill the Congorilla speaks for us all. That something has happened to bring this sudden decline in fortunes about is obvious, not just from the passage of time, but from whatever injury Starman has suffered to put his arm in a sling. He seems okay the just previous page. “... To Be Concluded.”

I do wonder if we'll find out in the next – the last – issue of this run of Justice League of America. Without looking the solicitation up, from what I remember it's some kind of “crisis of confidence” issue, but is it the events leading up to Batman's statement, or the fallout? I've read “rumblings” on the internet, while avoiding any outright spoilers, that there's a good bit of metatextual commentary in that last issue by James Robinson on the difficult conditions that have been imposed on all the writers of this run from the beginning. Rather than being the center, the flagship, of the DC Universe as it arguably ought to be, too often the writers have had to accommodate their stories to whatever other big events were going on, with characters being jerked out of their title with little notice, with the League itself seemingly being jerked all around, to the detriment of any writer really being able to develop any kind of story momentum. Perhaps most famously, a couple of years ago his public complaining about that is what led to the late, great Dwayne McDuffie being sacked from this book. One would think that a writer of Robinson's stature would have been able to control his own book's destiny rather than having all those other tails wagging the big dog back and forth, but especially in the early part of his run it sure didn't seem to be so. Heck, even in this arc, witness Supergirl's absence and her explicit statement that she had to be elsewhere – in Action Comics. Really, trying to coordinate “continuity” at that level, where characters are pulled here, there, and yonder and interfering with good stories elsewhere, is just ridiculous. Apparently Robinson has some choice, albeit veiled, words on the subject. I am so looking forward to seeing just what people are talking about here.

Sunday, August 21

Superman #713 (Sep 2011)

“Grounded, Part Eleven”

Oh my. And I mean this in a totally different way than I did at the beginning of my previous post. There it was good. Here, not so much.

Since I get my comics pretty much all at once in a shipment at the end of the month due to the lack of a local comic shop in the town where I live (and the regular almost weekly trips to my home town a hundred miles away where there is one are not a normal occurrence), I am always behind most of fandom in reading each month's adventures. I generally try to avoid reviews and spoilers for what I'm going to be reading, but sometimes the hue and cry on the 'net is so raucous it's unavoidable. As it was this time. I'd heard that this issue is pretty bad. I'd heard right.

Actually, as a reaffirmation of the need and value of Superman in today's world it's not so bad, except in its execution, mainly in the total mischaracterization of the hero that makes that reaffirmation necessary. What's worse is how out of nowhere it comes, given the major redirection that Chris Roberson had brought about in the story arc since he had J. M. Straczynski's plot and outlines to run “Grounded” given to him about halfway through. And making it even worse is how obviously we are missing part of the story. Remember that there was controversy surrounding the previous issue, how a solicited story that apparently had as a plot point a Muslim super-hero was replaced at the last minute by a file story about Krypto set several years in the past. Well, whatever happened in that untold chapter must have affected Clark deeply, because at the beginning of this story he announces to a dumbstruck Connor and Kara that he's throwing in the towel, abandoning the Superman identity in favor of returning to a life of secrecy, helping people and doing his heroic deeds in anonymity – to put things inevitably in Smallville terms, going back to being “The Blur.” And he all but commands Superboy and Supergirl to do the same – as he changes clothes right in front of them.
(There's been much made of Kara's "facepalm" at the bottom of page three – which would be an appropriate reaction, to be sure – but I'm not sure that's what we're seeing. For one thing, I do a facepalm with the palm to my forehead and fingers pointing up – and a bit more forcefully. Second, look at the overall context: I think she's covering her eyes because Cousin Kal has stripped down to his tighty-whiteys right in front of his teen-age girl cousin … Waitaminute – Superman wears his underwear on the outside, right? (For now, at least!) – Oh, my! – No wonder Kara's demurely shielding her eyes!)

Anyway, Clark goes off morosely to a coffee shop in Portland, Oregon, where he begins work on an article, “Must There Be a Superman?” on his laptop. 
A fellow patron sees what he's up to and the rest of the issue is that patron basically trying to convince him that he's wrong – finding person after person to counter Clark's whining that “People are scared of Superman”; “People are envious of his powers;” “People don't trust Superman”; and so forth – until the last couple of pages where they see a news story of the mysterious New-Kryptonite-powered woman who's been stalking Superman now holding Lois captive in Seattle and threatening to kill her if he doesn't come to her. WHOOSH. “To be concluded...”

The most interesting thing about all that is that the coffee-shop patron who's arguing with him is, according to the internet consensus although he's not named as such in-story, none other than Bronze-Age Superman writer Elliot S! Maggin (no, that's not a typo), writer of a story entitled … “Must There Be a Superman?” (Superman #247, Jan 1972).

Anyway, when I saw the furor raised by this issue a month or so ago, I couldn't resist peeking at Anj's review on Supergirl Comic Box Commentary, and here was my comment at that time: “I haven't read the issue, being on a monthly mail order service, but based on your description my gut reaction is that this HAS to be an issue more heavily 'plotted' by JMS and mandated as 'crucial' to the 'Grounded' story arc. I bet the next is the same and that pre-Flashpoint Superman will go out with a whimper rather than a bang.” My basic assessment hasn't changed. What a shame. Chris Roberson should have insisted that his work on this issue be attributed to “Justin Thyme.”  (By the way, it was that comment-thread that clued me in that Coffee-Shop Guy was meant to be Maggin.  I suspected it was someone, but had forgotten about that forty-years-gone story and didn't make the connection.)

I do hope I'm wrong about next issue, however. (If it's out, I've managed to avoid seeing any spoilers.)

Saturday, August 20

Detective Comics #879, Batgirl #23, Red Robin #25, and Birds of Prey #14 (Sep 2011)

“Skeleton Key”

Oh my. For my money, the current storyline in Detective Comics, focussing on James Gordon Jr., is the best going right now. Wow. Between Scott Snyder's wonderfully atmospheric writing and Francesco Francavilla's clean yet moody pulp/noir art – perfect for Batman – I swear they just don't miss a beat. It wasn't until I was flipping through this issue a moment ago before I sat down to blog it that I realized – Batman doesn't even appear! And I didn't even miss him.

So what happened? Briefly, we find that Barbara's conviction and James Sr.'s fears are right on target. James Jr. is a psychopath – worse, he's a diabolical genius psychopath far more fearsome than even The Joker because he's so detached. At least for me. I mean, as wonderful (gosh that comes out really sick when I see it written) as The Joker's madness is – graphically shown in this very issue in a sequence that runs parallel to Barbara and her father discovering James Jr.'s plan – Junior's comes across as even more creepy. We've come to expect such from The Joker. We've hoped (okay, maybe not as a reader for the sake of a good story, but in empathy with his father which is another sign of Snyder's writing ability) that James Jr. would not turn out as I'm sure we knew it would. And when he does … whoa! And yet it's all so understated in contrast with The Joker.

I can't recommend this enough, and I am so glad that Scott Snyder is staying with Batman in the New 52 … I just wish he remained paired with Francesco Francavilla.

Here Endeth The Lesson”

Well, fanboy stalker superhero wannabe Grey Ghost got his – issue before last, I believe, because of the mission in the UK (that we only saw the beginning of last issue – which was to be continued in Batman Incorporated #9, which I've not read yet). That diversion is dealt with in a rather heated exchange with her GCPD detective contact, who demands of her, “Why in the hell would you leave town in the middle of an investigation?” “I didn't really have a choice – ” Stephanie shrugs, “ – it's not like I wanted to go.” “Since when do you listen to anyone?” “This wasn't just 'anyone'.” Of course, their confrontation has a deeper meaning – his hitherto undisclosed connection to their case – as well as that they are standing over Grey Ghost's broken body. They listen to his last message, that brought them to the scene – “You look like you're going to throw up,” the detective tells her. “Haven't felt … this … this guilty in a very long time,” she responds.

Of course, then it's his turn to look sick as they learn that the three goons in high-tech combat suits have just ravaged a station downtown (we got to see it in the opening pages), killing several good people and stealing the fast dude's (can't remember his name) speedsuit from several issues back. And now they're breaking him out of Blackgate while sparking a riot to keep everyone occupied while they find and murder their “client.” Stephanie drops in, fights them and holds her own long enough to coax out of them what's up, then … “Any famous last words?” the grey-armored one asks. “Just one,” Steph grits out before shouting, “'SHAZAM'!” Not what he'd expected to hear – “Wait … guys, she isn't magic, right?” Pleastellmeyouheardthat Pleasetellmeyouheardthat Stephanie thinks, but says, “Depends on who you ask. Or is that 'whom'?” as an INCOMING. SIDEWAYS. SIGNAL. PLEASE. STAND. CLEAR. frazzles their electronics. It's Stephanie's backup – call 'em the “Junior Birds of Prey” (that's just me): Stargirl, Bombshell, Miss Martian, and Supergirl. The odds are a bit more evenly matched. Well, not really. The teen girl heroes make short work of the Reapers. Then Stephanie rushes to find out who “the client” is … “DADDY?!” Oh my.

This is just so good – in a very different way from Detective Comics. There's just such a sense of fun in Stephanie Brown's adventures as Batgirl. I've said it before – I'll say it again next month – I'm going to miss the hell out of this title come September! Bryan Q. Miller is such a good writer. I quoted only snippets of the snappy dialog that this issue just bursts with. Pleasetellmehe'sstillwritingforDC Pleasetellmehe'sstillwritingforDC

7 Days of Death, Part Three: The Bigger Picture”

The Assassination Tournament comes to an end – with Timothy Drake as the winner.... This is a very good issue, but I fear for where the next (last issue) of Red Robin is going to take him.

It opens immediately from last issue with the babe assassin about to have her way with him. I'm about to get attacked by a “Daughter of Acheron” – half sister of Ra's al Ghul. And by 'attacked' I mean, “A Very Special Episode” kind of attacked. The worst part: I keep thinking, “Isn't this pretty much how we ended up with Damian?” ROFL. Of course, Tim has brought “protection” – in the form of Cassandra Cain, one-time “Batgirl,” now The Black Bat, Hong Kong operative for Batman, Inc. – who makes short work of Tim's captors. Before herself skewering him through the heart from behind.

Honestly, not the image I thought I was going to see turning the page – rarely am I so startled when reading a comic. Anyway, Tim's blood activates the doorway opening a chamber deeper into the catacombs – but of course it all turned out to be a scam. Tim and Cass faked his death to gain entrance. Then they have an interesting exchange with the still-unseen master of the Tournament, who it seems has been at this for a very long time. “An immortal?,” Tim asks, “Vandal Savage?” “I've met the man. A bit too … neolithic for my tastes.” Uh … no, Vandal's way older than that – paleolithic by several tens of thousands of years. But anyway, it's all for the greater good. The Tournament is meant to draw “lethal killers out into the open. Many are captured or identified. The deadliest of them, potential scourges of their age, wind up dead in the catacomb.” And now he means Tim, who beat the game, to be his replacement. But not necessarily yet – discovered, it's time to blow this joint, and self-destructs leave a big crater in the city of Paris from which Tim and Cass barely escape.

Back in Gotham City, it is revealed that Lucius Fox is still alive (which we knew) – but Tam has seen a new side of Tim, one that she doesn't like, and she walks out of his life, maybe forever...?

Then there's an odd page, that I think may be a relic of what was planned and then truncated by the Relaunch – a page recounting a teamup of Red Robin and Black Bat in Hong Kong. I am glad that the writers were given enough time to gracefully bring their main story arcs to an end by August, but I think that meant some sacrifices in preplanned stories along the way, things that needed to be skipped or (as in this case) summarized quickly. In any case, that adventure left Tim pretty beat up – a broken arm, dislocated shoulder, three cracked ribs and a dislocated jaw.

Then there's the closing couple of pages, where we find that Tim maybe is taking a darker turn – toward what the “Assassination Tournament Master” intends.... Six weeks later, still beat up from Hong Kong but surveying the new underground base he's used the time to put together, he ponders what that mysterious voice had said, and wonders: Does the beginning of everyting I'm going to become mean the end of everything I've always wanted to be? He presses a button. Guess we'll find out … considering I just assassinated Captain Boomerang. The man who killed his father. “To Be Concluded!”

War and Remembrance, Part One”

Well, Birds is going out with a two-parter by Marc Andreyko, presumably giving Gail Simone a jump on getting ahead on the new Batgirl as well as Fury of Firestorm. In my opinion, he would have been a good writer for Birds in any case, having proven he can write strong heroic women through his run on Manhunter. He also proved he has a great respect for DC's rich heritage, incorporating into that series Sandra Knight, the original half-dressed super-heroine Phantom Lady, as the grandmother (I believe) of Kate Spencer. Both of those characters appear in this story, along with the Birds of Prey, especially those having ties to the World War II era when the original Phantom Lady had her adventures – Lady Blackhawk, herself a time-transposed native of that era, and Black Canary, whose mother and namesake fought in the same period. And the plot transcends the eras as well, having its roots in a “black ops” mission undertaken in 1950 by Phantom Lady, Lady Blackhawk, and the original Black Canary on behalf of the US government against a fugitive Nazi in Argentina (“for plausible deniability”). Basically this issue just sets the story up, with Dinah, Zinda, and Sandra appearing at the Gotham Veterans' Hospital's Greatest Generation Charity Auction. By the end of the issue Sandra and Zinda have been abducted and hooked into some apparatus the purpose of which is to facilitate the resurrection of their captors' “creator and bring about a new Reich.” It's clearly a “filler” story to play out time, but on that level the story's pretty good.

My main complaint with this issue is the art. There's been a lot of this lately at DC, presumably also related to the shakeup in preparation for the Relaunch, but sometimes the use of multiple artists in a single issue is pulled off better and sometimes worse. This time it's decidedly “worse.” The contrast between the beginning of the issue, which is pretty good – I think it's by Billy Tucci with his own inks – and the end – Adriana Melo with J. P. Mayer inks, I think – is jarring. I don't know quite how to characterize the latter art except for “bad.” Kate Spencer in particular looks nothing like she appeared in her own series or the Detective Comics co-features. It looks like some weird blend of Gil Kane on a bad day and some Manga sensibility. Whatever. I did not like it. I hope they got somebody else for the next issue.


Friday, August 19

Superboy #9, Adventure Comics #528, and Booster Gold #46 (Sep 2011)

“Rise of the Hollow Men, Part Two: In the Underworld”

Far beneath the Luthor farm outside Smallville, The Phantom Stranger leads Superboy, Krypto, Simon, and Psionic Lad to a huge cavern in which dwell the “zombie undermen with a collective hive-mind.” Is it just me that gets a definite vibe of Klarion the Witch-boy's Limbo Town in Grant Morrison's reimagining for Seven Soldiers? Probably. Anyway. In this issue Simon and Psionic Lad (whom Simon thinks ought to be called simply “Psion” – Being from the future, Psionic Lad “tried to choose a name that reflected the heroes of the past.” “Well, that's just it,” Simon responds. “You went too far into the past. It sounds … old. Corny.” Watch it, boy!) manage to find Lori, but she's just disappointed that it wasn't Superboy who found her – which pisses Simon off a bit. As they're having a bit of a tiff, Psionic Lad takes a mental call from the future and we finally find out that the “Prime Hunter” he'd been sent back to kill is Simon Valentine! (I thought Connor, with the “Prime” bit being a misunderstanding/red herring.) Even as The Stranger leads Connor into a vault where there are hundreds of clones of himself (clones of clones, how 'bout that?) Connor finds his vagueness and obfuscations increasingly annoying. Meanwhile, Simon, Psionic Lad (who's refusing orders – “He's my friend. … There is good in him!”), and Lori find themselves attacked by The Parasite. The Phantom Stranger tells Connor, “These clones are still simply vessels. Not yet alive. They're waiting … Waiting for the life essence … the very souls of Smallville to be transferred into them.” (That's how his speech is written, white font in purple word-balloons.) But Connor's got even bigger problems – because it turns out The Stranger is actually “the one responsible, of course” – or rather whatever has imprisoned The Phantom Stranger and taken his place! Overall a good, solid issue. “Next: Our Wierdest Issue Yet!”

Graduation Day”

Some of our characters from the past few Legion Academy issues – Power Boy, Lamprey, Crystal Kid, and Nightwind – graduate, but “only” to the Science Police, which is not terribly thrilling to them. Nor is that prospect appealing to the cadets remaining for another term – especially Dragonwing and Chemical Kid. Variable Lad and Gravity Kid are a bit more sanguine about it, although Grav is a bit upset anyway that his friend Power Boy is leaving. Meanwhile, a shadowy figure breaks into Legion Headquarters – Cosmic King of the Legion of Super-Villains. The headquarters alarm sounds at the academy – reservists/instructors Duplicate Girl, Bouncing Boy, and Night Girl respond – as do Comet Queen, Chemical Kid, and Dragonwing. The reservists go up against Cosmic King, who trounces them in short order, just as the cadets arrive. “Ulp,” exclaims Chem; “Burn out!” is Comet Queen's outburst as they face the villain, who snarls: “What a shame the Legion didn't have a more powerful group of reserves. Maybe Superman would have been challenging ...” “Next: The End of the Academy?”

Turbulence, Part Three”

Booster Gold is facing the creature who, in his native time-line, beat the hell out of him before going on to kill Superman. He knows Doomsday's been dug up and turned into a weapon … but “[t]hey have no idea what they've unleashed. Death on wheels, with no Superman to stop him. That means it's up to me.” Who says Booster Gold is not a hero – well, almost everyone, but that's just because they don't really know him, which is of course part of the magic of this title in any time-line – “The Greatest Hero You've Never Heard Of.” Booster gives it his all against the creature that is no longer under General Adam's control. Of course the general doesn't suspect that his losing contact created a berserker – he thinks without his control the creature will just “stand there until it's torn apart.” Thrown through a Wayne Casinos sign and across Gotham, Booster is out cold for a time – awakening to the not-unpleasant visage of his new best friend Alexandra. “How – ? How did you get all the way to the Gotham suburbs from California?” Turns out (as we already knew) she has powers – “When I touch someone, I sort of gain whatever … talents they have. … I touched you at the cabin. You can fly, so I could too, for a bit. Same with those death rays you shoot.” Hmpf. Except that Booster Gold's “powers” are not his own, but rather technological in nature. Maybe Alexandra doesn't understand the nature of her own power. I speculate it must depend on what she believes the person whom she touch's powers are rather than what they really are. Anyway, they observe the monster leaving a path of destruction along the road to Metropolis. “History repeating itself,” Booster grimaces. “Doomsday on the march. Willing to kill anything and everything in sight,” as he launches off in chase yet again. As he flies, carrying the cyber-helmet that had previously controlled, he ends up in contact with Adam – who believes he has taken control and sent Doomsday off on its rampage. Booster plows into Doomsday, employing his force field in a new way, to enclose the creature in a bubble. It holds for only a moment then Booster's being pummelled when Alexandra shows up – Doomsday turns on her and Booster desperately slams the helmet back on its head – “A controlled Doomsday is way better than this!” Well, maybe – but the thanks Booster gets is that Adam, now back in control – and now feeling the monster's own rage and thirst for blood – lets it loose “to tear him apart”! “Continued Next Issue – we hope!”

Wednesday, August 17

Ghost Story (The Dresden Files #13, 2011)

By Jim Butcher

Stars and stones, I love this series! It may well be my favorite ongoing series of novels at this time. Luckily, as I understand it, there's a lot more on the way for me to enjoy in coming years, because the author has the story of Harry Dresden, the only consulting wizard to appear in the Chicago Yellow Pages, planned out for a total of about 24 novels and at least one more collection of short stories (there's been one already). Which is no mean trick considering the just previous novel, the twelfth in the series, entitled Changes, ended with the shocking twist of Harry shot dead and sinking into the cold, dark, November waters of Lake Michigan.

Of course, when there is no body – the tombstone pictured on the cover, proclaiming “HERE LIES HARRY DRESDEN. HE DIED DOING THE RIGHT THING,” is as described inside, actually a relic of a previous battle, thoughtfully provided for him by an enemy who did not succeed in putting him into what remains an empty grave – one has to wonder. Don't. He really is. In this book Harry appears as an insubstantial ghost, unable to touch or be touched, unable to communicate except through certain spiritually sensitive mediums and other supernatural means not of his own doing, because he is also – at least for a large part of the story – bereft of his magic. And yet he has been sent back to Chicago because, he is told, three of those he loves are in danger and their safety depends on him solving his own murder.

It is of course, not that simple (even the being dead part), and this book does a very good job of completing the major shift in this series that began in Changes. Going forward, I'm not sure what the overarching story is going to be, but it promises to be even grander than the escalating story of conflict between the various supernatural races and realms that most people don't even suspect are out there that constituted the first half of the series. I can't wait to read the next book – already announced as Cold Days – but with the typical year (this time it was a little more – like fifteen months) between volumes it's going to be excruciating.
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To say a few more words about this series as a whole, the best way to think of it is as the cover blurb from Entertainment Weekly puts it, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer starring Philip Marlowe.” I find it an even more compelling story overall than the stories of that other wizard named Harry – which I like as well, don't get me wrong. Unlike some other series I've read which seem to fall into a rut after a few volumes – and here I'm holding modern series to a higher standard than the pulps I'm currently revelling in, where the formula is in fact part of the charm – sometimes becoming downright unreadable at a certain point (*cough* Cornwell's Scarpetta novels), Jim Butcher just seems to get better and better as a writer. His characters, Harry included, have developed into fully fleshed out people whom seem as real as any I've ever seen in fiction (heck, more real than some students I see in my classes) – even some of the denizens of faerie such as Harry's (literally) fairy godmother the Leanansidhe (I think it's pronounced “LANNin-shee,” but Harry calls her “Lea” for short). The systems of magic, the political and cultural geography of the supernatural (drawing from traditions and folklore around the world), and in this book the “reality” of being a ghost are wonderfully thought out and portrayed with internal consistency in which there are rules. That Butcher plays fair with. Sometimes creatively, but fair.

As to the supernatural/mystical world that Butcher has crafted, one thing that impresses me – as a Christian – is that unlike the Harry Potter series which can be read with all kinds of religious meaning and allegory but which in itself sidesteps any direct mention of Christianity or any other religion, Butcher includes major characters whose Christianity is fundamental to who they are. Harry's best friend, and father of his apprentice, is Michael Carpenter, a modern-day Knight until recently entrusted with one of three Swords bearing the Holy Nails from the Crucifixion. (Here's a very good short commentary on Michael.) A recurring character is Michael's priest, Fr. Forthill of St. Mary's of the Angels in Chicago (it's a real church!), a gentle soul yet powerful spiritual warrior in his own right (although I have to wonder why a Catholic priest  keeps a “well-worn” King James Version Bible beside his bed..., p. 238). The faith of Fr. Forthill and the Carpenter family is treated with great respect, both by Harry himself and by Butcher. (Here's an interesting blog post on the subject. I once read a really good article on-line about it, but can't seem to find it now. I printed it out. If I can find it, maybe it has the URL. [Sure enough, it was stuck between a couple of the books on my shelf, but the URL domain seems to be to something totally different now.  Pity.  I'm tempted to retype and -post it, making clear that it's not my own work, just because it's such a good treatment that it deserves to be out there.]) And some of the supernatural beings are straight out of Christian tradition. A guide and sort-of mentor in some of the later books (Ghost Story included) is the Archangel Uriel (don't just call him “Uri” - p. 453). Some of the Big Bads are explicitly Fallen Angels.  Harry himself is not a Christian, but I'm curious to see how his spiritual growth is going to progress going forward.

I really could go on and on about these books, but I won't. I do recommend them highly. If your only exposure to Harry Dresden is through the short-lived Dresden Files series that ran on the Sci-Fi channel a few years ago, do yourself a favor and pick these books up. Do start from the beginning, with Storm Front. Even though threads of what develops into a building story arc really start being weaved together in the third and fourth books, plenty of background and introduction of crucial characters comes virtually from the beginning. And it's all written in a very engaging, first-person narrative reminiscent of the best of noir detective novels, with plenty of humor and pop culture references thrown in – for geeks like me comic book and sci-fi references abound. The first book that I ever actually read by Butcher was a Spider-Man prose novel, and Spider-Man and X-Men seem to pop up as Dresden's standards for just about anything cool (such as the various “powers” that he now has as a ghost – walking through walls like Kitty Pryde, teleporting like Nightcrawler) if Star Wars hasn't come to mind first. He apparently is not a Star Trek guy – which is itself a plot point. He has the famous Hildebrand movie poster for Star Wars on the wall of his apartment (until … well, that's a spoiler). He does make an odd statement in this book, though: After his friend-in-a-skull (read the series to find out) Bob points out that “Spider-Man teamed up with the Sandman before. Luke and Vader [vs.] the Emperor,” Harry retorts, “Spider-Man is pretend and doesn't count.” –?! (p. 308) The point is, there are laugh-out-loud moments all over the place – and yet the sense of suspense and menace just build and build. It's a driving narrative that always keeps your interest right to the end, and keeps you wanting more.

I think you get the picture. I love The Dresden Files.


Tuesday, August 16

Green Lantern #67 (Aug 2011), Flashpoint #3 (of 5) and Batman and Robin #25 (Sep 2011)

“War of the Green Lanterns, Conclusion”

This is it – the conclusion of the “War of the Green Lanterns” which has been going on for several months across all of the GL titles … delayed from when it should have come out the month before until last month, so it's been a while since I read the penultimate chapter. Luckily this last part is pretty straightforward.

The climax of the story focusses on Hal Jordan convincing Kyle Rayner, the artist, that the key to defeating Krona, who has empowered the Guardians with the emotional entities of the color corps is to literally draw the representatives of the other color corps out of the Book of the Black where they've been imprisoned for several chapters in this saga. What a wonderful and uniquely comic-booky plan! No, I'm serious. But instead of returning to their owners, the various power rings flock to Krona himself! Oops! Little Blue Guy (did we ever get an explanation for why he shrunk?) attacks and starts torturing Hal, as the newly freed Sinestro looks on. Then Sinstro comes to the aid of his enemy – and a green power ring chooses him! Together, Hal and Sinestro overwhelm Krona, putting the lie to his last words: “I am all-powerful! I am a Guardian! I am immortal!” “No,” Hal retorts. “You're just old.” Technically, it appears that Krona's last word is, “AAIIEEE!!!” The emotional entities are freed. And what is Hal's reward for saving the universe yet again? To be stripped of his own ring and booted out of the Corps. It seems that the Guardians haven't learned a damn thing. “This isn't how it's supposed to end,” mutters Hal as he appears somewhere on Earth. “Coming in September: Green Lantern #1 Starring Sinestro?!”

But I won't be there. I've decided I'm a bit burned out on Green Lantern for now. In order to keep my number of titles down to a reasonable number (somewhere around 20-25), I've decided that with the DC relaunch I'm leaving off GL as a monthly at least for the time being. Another reason is the end of Emerald Warriors and its replacement with The New Guardians starring Kyle Rayner (whom I've always been rather indifferent to) and the addition of Red Lantern Corps (which I have aggressively no interest in). If you haven't picked up on it already, I tend to be a bit obsessive-compulsive. One way that manifests is, when I get one title in a group, I've gotta get them all – all the Batman Gotham City titles, all the Superman titles, etc. Since I don't want two of the Lantern group titles, I'm dropping them all. I'll go back to getting individual collections as they come out, as I was doing up until the beginning of Blackest Night a couple years ago.

“Flashpoint, Chapter Three of Five”

Cyborg has to take a bit of a dressing down from the US President (who looks a bit like Barack Obama – man the Flashpoint world does suck, doesn't it?) on the first page for not being able to rally the super-humans and for having someone on the inside working against him (I doubt it's the girl eavesdropping since it looks like she'll be a Flashpoint character carried over into Justice League), then we see the aftermath of Barry Allen's encounter with a lightning bolt atop Wayne Manor – he has “third degree burns over seventy-five percent of [his] body.” But he's determined to try again – he feels his memories reorienting themselves from his native universe to the new Flashpoint universe. “If we don't fix this soon =KKKFF= I won't even realize it's wrong. … I won't remember my wife … or your son.” The blast of the second bolt of lightning – KRA-KKOOOMM – blasts Thomas Wayne completely off the roof, but before he breaks his neck (or maybe is impaled on a wrought-iron fence) Barry zooms down the side of the manor and grabs him. He has access to the Speed Force once again.

Meanwhile, in New Themyscira (“formerly known as the United Kingdom”), Lois Lane encounters The Resistance, which includes among others the Canterbury Cricket (that's just so bizarre I was tempted to pick that special up, but I resisted). With his speed restored, Barry's body heals itself and he reconstructs a Flash constume. He and Thomas work to make contact with other members of the Justice League (except there's no such thing in this world). Barry learns of the disastrous arrival of Kal-El's spaceship – right in the middle of Metropolis rather than in the fields outside Smallville, to the tune of 35,000 dead – but no one knows what became of the ship or its occupant. Thomas knows who can find out, though – Cyborg. Victor Stone doesn't recognize Barry either, of course, but in return for Thomas joining his cause, Cyborg hacks into government files and learns of Project: Superman as well as two subsequent rockets that landed on Earth.

Vic, Thomas, and Barry break into Project: Superman – and pass the remains of “Subject 2” – “It looks like a canine skeleton.” Then they find Subject 1, Kal-El himself, a pale, emaciated shadow of what we're familiar with. “This is the most powerful being on the planet?” Thomas growls. “His skin … it's so pale,” Barry observes. “I don't think he's ever seen the sun.” And we know what that means, right? Anyway, they break him out even as the guards respond to an alarm. They make it to the surface, where Subject 1 sees the sun for the first time in his life – and launches into the air. His heat vision kicks in just about as quickly, but he seems horrified at the result, and zooms away. Facing a squad of a dozen guards, armed for bear, Thomas observes: “There goes your big savior. So what NOW?

Okay, Reverse-Flash seems able to change history in some interesting ways. I'm not reading most of the Flashpoint titles, but I've wondered how far his reach extended. For instance, apparently he kept Abin Sur from encountering whatever extraterrestrial menace that mortally wounded him before he crashlanded on Earth and bequeathed his ring to Hal Jordan. Somewhat similarly, Reverse-Flash managed to change where Kal-El's rocket landed on Earth. How exactly does that work? That's not something that seems like it would have been consequent to some event in the Earth's past that he could have changed. Was he able to travel into space and divert its trajectory? Or change the speed of the Earth's rotation so that its “target” had moved? It seems to me that simply changing events in Earth's history would not change events elsewhere, or the trajectory of an interstellar ship. It's similar to what I thought about after seeing the “rebooted” Star Trek movie a couple years ago, which began with a changed event about 25 years before the Enterprise's first mission. Based on that one change, what events from the series could we expect to still play out in the revised future – or at least begin as they did “originally”? For instance, the S.S. Botany Bay should still be out there at that point. The same for the Yonada from “For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky.” And the Jack the Ripper entity is still out there. And that's just three things that come to mind first – there are many more examples I'm sure. Those events are remote enough either in time before the branching point or in space not to be affected by the premature death of Kirk's father. Of course, from that point there should also be an ever-widening divergence and not only in areas that you might think about at first. (Thomas and Barry briefly discuss “the butterfly effect.”) For instance, who knows what kind of little, subtle events differed in the new time-line that resulted in Spock and Uhura apparently being lovers (something I don't think there was much hint of in the original series). What I'm saying, however, is that there should be some logic to what changes and what does not. And maybe there is and I just don't see it. Anyway, just thought I'd comment on it.

We've seen what happened to the occupant of the second Kryptonian space craft to land on earth. Poor Krypto. What about the third? I wonder if we'll find out what happened to Kara?

“The Streets Run Red, Part 3 of 3: Boys' Night Out”

I haven't really cared for this story arc so I'm not going to give it much treatment here. We mainly get to see Jason Todd working with and doing his best to piss off Dick and Damian – and succeeding. It looks like he bails on them at one point to meet up with the villains on his own, but it's all part of a plan. We get to see more commentary by Jason on Dick as Batman. Jason manages to rescue his “sidekick” Sasha and get away by activating some bombs he hid away months ago – “Y'never know when you're going to need to buy some time!” – and gives “Batman” (his skepticism) a choice – “Me or the deaths of a few hundred people?” “This sucks!” rages Damian. “No one knows it more than me,” responds Dick – which is pretty much where the previous issue ended as well.   Just one more issue to go ....

Saturday, August 13

“Fall of Eagles,” Disk 3 (1974)

Directed by John Elliot

Have now finished the third disk of four in this BBC “docudrama” about the collapse of the ancient dynasties that had ruled Central and Eastern Europe for centuries. (See what I had to say about the first here and the second here.)  There's only one more episode to go, and I'm not sure what “special features” are on the fourth in addition to that last episode.

“Dress Rehearsal” – Focusses on the1908 Balkan Crisis sparked by Russia's eternal quest for a warm-water port, or at least convenient access to such, and a proposed deal between Russia and Austria-Hungary centered on the latter's ambitions in the Balkans. Political machinations and betrayals abound, resulting in Austria-Hungary annexing Bosnia in the Balkans and a new hostility erupting between Austria-Hungary backed up by Germany vs. Russia (which gains nothing), France, and England.

“Indian Summer of an Emperor” – In the summer of 1914, elderly Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph, for health reasons although he still keeps an astoundingly busy daily routine obsessively concerned with protocol, reluctantly delegates a visit to the province of Bosnia to his disliked nephew and heir Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Ghoulishly, Franz Ferdinand and visiting Kaiser Wilhelm review the former's already-written speech eulogizing the “deceased” Emperor – little realizing that the ancient Emperor would outlive his nephew by two years. As a result of Franz Ferdinand's assassination on that trip, those last two years of Franz Joseph's life would be marked by a devastating World War. This episode has a wonderfully ironic closing line, the British Undersecretary of State dictating a communique to the ambassador in Russia: “The tragedy which has just taken place in … Sarajevo – S-A-R-A-J-E-V-O … will not, His Majesty's Government trusts, lead to further complications ….”

Tell the King the Sky is Falling”

Quickly recounts the early days of World War I with its line of dominos which were the various declarations of war, then focusses on Russia and the tensions within the Russian Imperial Family due to the demonic influence of the mad, debauched “holy man” Rasputin on the Tsarina, and her consequent interference in the government and military. (By the way, this actor just did not capture the crazed, penetratingly spooky gaze of Rasputin.) Over time the people and even the army start losing faith in the Tsarist order as Nicholas shows himself irresolute and indecisive, and thinking the unthinkable.

The Secret War”

Two and a half years in, the war is going badly for Germany. Wilhelm's advisors push him to use U-Boats to cripple England and to foment revolution to get Russia out of the war. He reluctantly agrees even as he foresees that these actions will bring America into the war and create a monster in the East that will be a far worse threat to Germany. Even with the “mad monk” Rasputin assassinated by an aristocratic conspiracy, calls for a change of government and even the Tsar's removal increase. Hearing of revolution, Lenin returns from exile in Switzerland with the help of Germans – aiming to take control in the name of the “proletariat” from the “bourgeois.” He finds a joyous reception.
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Really, I have to say that I imagine this series is pretty incomprehensible to someone coming to it without any knowledge of the events. You really get only the highlights, isolated vignettes with a great deal of important development overlooked – or simply mentioned in passing in dialogue (sometimes seeming forced in the doing). I did a minor field in Austrian history long ago, but I haven't taught the latter half of Western Civ survey in about a dozen years, I've not really reviewed these events in a long time, and I had to pause frequently and do a quick bit of research just to keep up with what was going on.

One thing this series does fairly well is humanize the rulers as ordinary men, perhaps even overemphasizing just how unsuited such men as Nicholas and Wilhelm were for rule. They in particular just come across as pathetic incompetents here – Nicholas basically a good man but indecisive, Wilhelm more a blowhard than anything else. Even Franz Joseph comes across as hopelessly stuck in a world that had long since left him behind.

In my previous post on this series I mentioned the various imperial eagles and the possible significance of one- vs. two-headed eagles – per the wikipedia article on Wilhelm II, a single-headed eagle looking leftward (westward) is the arms of the House of Hohenzollern/German Empire. Double-headed eagles are either the arms of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine – Austria – per the article on Franz Joseph, or the arms of the Russian Empire. As to specifically which is which for the latter two, I have no idea. But to venture a guess as to symbolism, perhaps the single-headed eagle looking westward signifies that Germany has always firmly conceived itself part of western Europe while both the Austro-Hungarian and especially the Russian Empires have sort of a dual, western and eastern, nature. I'm pretty sure that's not any original insight on my part.

Oh, and last time I identified the persons shown on the DVD cover.  They are not the same as the actors' names listed below - of those shown, only Patrick Stewart is listed by name.  John Rhys-Davies (a wonderful actor I most identify with Indiana Jones' buddy Sallah in Raiders of the Lost Ark) plays one of Lenin's companions in his Swiss exile.  Gemma Jones played Empress Victoria (Princess "Vicky") way back in "The English Princess" on Disk 1.  And Michael Kitchen played Leon Trotsky.

Dosvidanya or Auf wiedersehn!

Batman: The Dark Knight #3 (Aug 2011)

“Golden Dawn: Part Three”

I can't even remember when issue #2 of this series appeared, but it was months ago. This series seems to have become one of the poster children for delay after delay after delay. I'm not looking back to confirm this, but I'm pretty sure issue #3 was solicited for much earlier this year, delayed to the point it was resolicited, then canceled and resolicited yet again – and come September there will be a new Batman: The Dark Knight #1 as part of the new 52! If I recall correctly, both the first and second issues were delayed from their originally-announced release dates. I have previously referred to the erratic publication of this series as “disgraceful.” I want to moderate that slightly. Yes, I have a real problem with the current and growing trend of sometimes infinitely delayed issues, even projects as a whole, and the apparent disregard for the reading audience on the part of the creators and publishers that it shows. There are too many examples to start listing them (but one of the comics news sites has been running a recent series of articles – Newsarama, I think). Some I doubt will ever see the light of day. In this case, it's been widely known that the blame lies squarely at the feet of writer/artist David Finch, and although I have really liked his art (it's not outstanding, being very much in the Jim Lee style, but very solid), it's not in and of itself worth the wait. (Here I'm contrasting it with the delays on Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds – I may have been disappointed when issues ended up delayed, but the wait for George Perez working on the Legion was well worth it.) In any case, in one of the panels at San Diego Comic Con last month, Finch publicly accepted that blame and apologized – explaining that he discovered by this experience that the duties of drawing and writing a series was more than he could handle, and that he now has a whole new respect for writers. He seemed quite sincere – and I respect a man who can stand up, admit his fault, and accept the blame. When Dark Knight comes back he will be working with a writer, and he promises that the days of delays are behind us. That is in fact apparently a DC editorial edict for the new 52, and I hope they live up to it. I firmly believe that besides the disappointment and frustration such delays inflict on the loyal reader they have at least contributed to the seeming death-spiral of comic sales over the past generation.

Anyway, by the time I received my July comics (and, after a delay because I've been both reading the latest novel of what may be my currently favorite prose series, The Dresden Files, and this week I've started ramping up toward the fall semester starting in about ten days), I barely even remember reading the first two issues of this series. Heck, sometimes I have trouble remembering what happened last month in stuff that comes out on time, given the number of series – the number of Batman series! – that I'm getting, much less something that cliffhangered three or four months ago (if that recently)! And I didn't dig out #1 and #2 to review them first. I went into #3 cold. Let's just say that I'm sure it will be a better experience reading all the parts together. I think there's a pretty good story here, but there's no way to appreciate it piecemeal.

Basically, there's a seemingly unconnected opening scene that I can't figure out concerning The Demon, followed by a scene with some girl who has somehow stolen the Batmobile being in over her head given the high-tech nature of the vehicle (driving it is more apparently more like flying a jumbo jet) and having to rely on Alfred's remote tutelage – and counselling; then Bruce Wayne Batman, previously captured by Killer Croc on behalf of The Penguin both hears why The Penguin has it in for yet another of Bruce's army of former lovers, one Dawn Golden (it does not reflect well on her), and manages to survive a death trap, escape, and rescue said former lover; ending with a scene wherein The Penguin seems to be making some kind of deal with a demonic creature to “open the Gates of Hell.” What's it all mean? Hell if I know. Hopefully we won't have to wait much longer to find out, because DC seems bound and determined to get everything pre-DCnU out by the end of August and it's my understanding that this storyline ends with issue #4.


Wednesday, August 10

Warlord of Mars: Fall of Barsoom #1 (July 2011)

“Book One: The Tide of Battle”

Readers of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars novels know the basic story: Long ago a great and ancient civilization barely staved off the dying red planet's absolute extinction by creating the great atmosphere plants as well as the famous canals what what little water remained in the ice-caps to agricultural regions. Nonetheless, that civilization itself fell, to be replaced by Burroughs' red Martians and the roving hordes of barbarian six-limbed green Martians. This is the story that promises to be told in Fall of Barsoom, which I'm not sure is an on-going series rather than a five-issue mini-series. (The solicitation text for issue #4 calls it “the penultimate chapter in the Fall of Barsoom!”) Whichever, it is a tale told hitherto only in retrospect. For the first time (that I know of at least), we are given insight into those events – at least according to Dynamite Entertainment. The details given here, of course, cannot be considered any more “canonical” with respect to ERB's novels than can other “enhancements” or expansion of the mythos such as appear in Warlord of Mars #1 and 2 or the separate series devoted to the adventures of Dejah Thoris five hundred years in the past. Nonetheless, Robert Place Napton's version of the story is intriguing in its own right.

100,000 years before John Carter was mysteriously transported to Mars, the red planet was very a very different place. The long, slow death had begun with the oceans drying up, the atmosphere thinning away. In this first issue, a precarious alliance between the Orovars, a Caucasian-looking race that has ruled the seas of Barsoom from their capital of Horz, and the yellow-skinned Okarians and the black-skinned “First Born” of the north and south polar regions respectively, is broken by the Orovar Jeddak Xan Mu Xar. “Tell me,” he queries the Okarian and First Born representatives, “what has this alliance brought to us, the Orovars? How has our survival been assured? The mingling of our peoples has brought us nothing but a new race of red Martians that competes with us for the very resources this alliance was supposed to protect.” And he sends them packing even as a young scientist, Tak Nan Lee reports his latest findings on the worsening situation – which it seems that the Jeddak means to capitalize on, ordering Tak not to return until “the [atmosphere] plant is operational ahead of schedule” … “He who controls the air will control Barsoom.” But the atmosphere plant is Tak's design, and he means it to benefit all the peoples of Barsoom. He sets off to continue construction – then on the journey he comes upon a battle between red and green tribes outside the city of Thark. He uses his flier to drive the attacking green horde away, then lands to render aid to the red men. But it seems that the only survivor is a beautiful but wounded woman ….

One question: Why is it established in Horz that the atmosphere is degraded to the point that outside the buildings oxygen masks must be worn, and yet at Thark the Orovar general and his men seem perfectly fine without them? They seem to be outside the city. Explaining why the green and red Martians on the open land seem fine is easier – Tak himself says to a colleague regarding the First Born and the Okarians that “They are better adapted for the changes this planet is undergoing – as are the green hordes and the reds.” Perhaps the Orovar soldiers are not outside, but it's definitely not clear.

Second, in my summary above I make an assumption that may not be correct – that the battle Tak comes upon is outside the city of Thark where General Van Tun Bor and his men have been preparing to repulse an onrushing horde of greens that outnumber them five to one. We transition from the general and his men observing the approaching army, through a great double-page spread of the ravening greens, directly to Tak overflying the aforementioned encounter between the greens and the reds. If those events are not to be linked, it seems a real narrative failure to me.

Overall, however, I enjoyed this issue and look forward to seeing what happens next.

I will say that this series is visually different from the other two titles – the cities of Horz and Thark stand majestic and whole, not long-decayed; the technology looks subtly more familiar or at least more in line with what we expect in a high-technology advanced civilization (more familiar – Tak is riding in what looks for all the world like a dune buggy at the beginning; more “standard sci-fi” – he later sets off in a plane that looks for all the world like Queen Amidala's gleaming Naboo starship in Star Wars Episode One); perhaps most noticeable is that the Orovars at least are wearing clothes. The general depicted on the cover above is not necessarily the best example – it seems the military attire is vaguely “Roman” in style, while the civilians are wearing (again) more “standard sci-fi” garb. Never fear if you're looking for eye-candy, however – when the barbarian red Martians come on the scene they are more scantily clad, especially the injured woman that Tak finds on the last page, and of course she gets the cover for next issue. I'm not familiar with the interior artist, Roberto Castro, but he does a good job overall.  Truthfully, I like his basic style slightly better than what we're getting on the main Warlord of Mars series.

Nothing against the artist for the main cover that is pictured above, the great Joe Jusko, but take a look at this variant.  That is a great retro feel! I'm getting to be very much a fan of Francesco Francavilla – see his Pulp Sunday and separate Sketch Blog on my blogroll at right. He's done some great atmospheric work on Detective Comics lately, as well as earlier on Dynamite's own Green Hornet:  Year One series.  I think Francavilla's providing an alternate cover for each issue of this series; at the very least he has posted one for issue #4. Unfortunately I doubt I'll end up getting one of his covered issues. It seems that they are offered on a 1-in-10 basis, so there are a bunch more copies of the Jusko covers out there than there are of Francavilla's. The alternate covers may even be sold for a premium. I'm not sure.

In any case, I've finally caught up with all the currently published Warlord of Mars series published by Dynamite.  I've liked what I've seen; I'm continuing with them all.