Wednesday, November 23

Teen Titans #2 (Dec 2011)

“Underground and Overwhelmed!”

Well, if it hadn't been confirmed before now, this Kid Flash is indeed Bart Allen – although what relation he is to Barry Allen Flash is not clear. We see right off the bat that after his misbegotten attempt to be a “hero” in the first issue, he was captured by N.O.W.H.E.R.E. He's “working on” a plan to escape. Which means he has no clue.

Meanwhile, Tim and Cassie (not “Wonder Girl”) have retreated to her home, which is filled with “clutter.” “Some of this stuff looks authentic,” Tim observes. “But you'd have to have been stealing from archaeological digs and museums from around the world for years. … That'd be crazy.” – “Yeah, crazy,” she mutters. Hmmmm.... As she hands him bedding for the living room couch, she finally thanks him for helping her out. “Whoever you are … You're a good guy.” – Tim's inner'logue*: “Good guy. … Great. … Just what I was going for. … Missed 'annoying kid brother' by this much.” Well, she did have to keep redirecting his eyes upward to her face.

Anyway, next day, Tim finds a news report of a mysterious creature in Los Angeles – and tracks down a girl who turns out to be the twin sister of this “Skitter” – a normal girl until just two weeks ago. Unfortunately the sister has also given the same information to “those people from the government.” Tim's search for “Skitter” brings him into conflict with another N.O.W.H.E.R.E. agent, brothers who can use each others' bodies to teleport. They break off the fight when one of them finds Skitter – to their dismay. Tim goes to her “aid,” and is about to get skewered for it when she's saved by “Wonder Girl!” (oops.) Tim's inner'logue: “If I'm not careful – I could fall in love with that girl.” But she considers that just evening the score for him helping her out, and makes her exit, leaving Tim to carry the unconscious insectoid Skitter away.

Last scene: Bart makes a break for freedom, but comes across another cell marked “Solstice,” in which is a girl with energy discharges coming out of her eyes, mouth, ears, and various other parts of her body (which looks like it's disintegrating) – pleading, “Please … help me!”

Next: Red Robin! Wonder Girl! Skitter! Solstice! Kid Flash! And now … Bunker! Be there next issue as the final member of the new Teen Titans is introduced.

Taken together with Tim's rumination (“... this was so the shortest incarnation of the Teen Titans. … Ever.”) I think it's pretty apparent that unlike some have speculated, there were earlier groups. I'm glad of that in principle, but imagine how much more it complicates any kind of time-line given the dumb new five-year history of public super-heroics.

I'm still undecided on the long-term prospects of this title for me. Frankly, that's just not a very attractive group of kids, Cassie notwithstanding. Skitter … well, Cassie sums it up: “BACK OFF, ROACH!” Solstice? … well, she was much cuter before. And that's not counting the fact that she's radiating away pretty violently. Bart seems like a bit of an ass. Tim needs to go back to a new costume designer, not Jim Lee. Bunker? … I don't hold much hope. We'll have to see, but this is the title that first comes to mind when I think about which one of these might be cut.

Thanks for reading. Cheers!

* I'm coining a new word with this post – inner'logue = interior monologue (if you didn't figure it out all by yourself).

Batman: The Dark Knight #2 (Dec 2011)

“A Rush of Blood”

I get the feeling that this story takes place a bit later in time than some of the other New 52 comics that are coming out concurrently, although how you reconcile that with the fact that you obviously have some subplot carry-over from pre-Flashpoint I'm not sure. Hmmm... I wonder if there's really anything in the pre-Flashpoint incarnation of this title (all five issues, guffaw!) that would preclude it being all post-Flashpoint … except visually, the style of Bruce's costume, the older appearance of Gordon, and the like. Anyway, during the course of this issue, Bruce calls in all his allies against various “drug-addled sociopaths coming in from all across town....” These include Damian as Robin working side-by-side with Dick as Nightwing (yay!) against 'roid-rage Ventriloquist (who, when his doll is broken, takes up a fallen cop's body and starts using it. It's not often you see Damian with a look of fright on his face: “Uh … I think we're gonna need a little backup.” Of course, their potential backups are busy too – Barbara Gordon Batgirl vs. Zsasz; the Birds of Prey (Canary, Starling, and Katana) vs. Clockmaster (?); Kate Kane Batwoman vs. ?????  (It's just a feeling, but in each case I think we're seeing the characters somewhere past where they are in their own books.)  Before all that, Bruce had been suffering a pretty severe beat-down from the “enhanced” Two-Face until blood started coming out of the villain's eyeballs … not sure what that was about. In context, it seemed like Bruce did, but I don't think so – Gordon intimates it was something to do with the drug itself, which turns out to be the case. Bruce goes to interrogate Dent, who's in the hospital, down off his high, but doesn't get anywhere. Then news comes that the Joker (“back already?” is Bruce's reaction – from where?) has commandeered a commuter train. Bruce boards it, finds dead bodies like usually litter the Joker's wake – the Joker's own people – but there's also the masked Playboy Bunny from Arkham who leads him a chase through the train cars, to face a drug-enhanced Clown Prince of Crime … who utters Jack Nicholson's immortal words, “Wait till they get a load of ME.Next: Catch Me If You Can.

Incidentally, the carry-over sub-plot I mentioned above? The one about Gordon being the subject of an Internal Affairs investigation. If I recall correctly, even though I didn't note it in my write-up of issue #1, that plot was already going on.

Oh, Alfred, you hound dog! Early in the issue, as he and Bruce are consulting via comm-link – “Anything on the girl [who appeared in Arkham during the first issue]?” asks Bruce. – “A half-naked girl in white lingerie. No doubt, the world wide web is replete with such images, Master Bruce,” the butler says, flexing his fingers. “I shall do my utmost to sort through them all.” Which does bring a subtle grin to Bruce's cowled visage. My grin was more than subtle.

Cheers! And thanks for reading!

Superman #2 (Dec 2011)

“Flying Blind”

Some critics didn't like the wordiness of the first issue. I'm not “some critics.” I like having to read my comics, and as I put it in my review of that first issue, it's a sign that George Perez is a comics “old-timer” that there's more substance in one issue of the new Superman than in three or four of most other titles. And it's good. It's refreshing to have a full story in one read for $2.99 rather than thirty-odd panels in twenty pages that take five minutes to flip through and constitute little more than a single scene in a story that's stretched out over five or six issues. Not that this “full story” is not obviously part of a larger arc, but as I-can't-remember-who phrased it, it “begins, it middles, and it ends,” with enough unanswered questions to make you want to come back next time but not a feeling that you didn't get your money's worth. Even at $2.99.

Enough of that rant. Superman ponders the mysterious reference to his birth-world made by the flame-monster in the first issue – that apparently only he heard – in the midst of a rather strained meeting with General Sam Lane, who still doesn't like him but apparently is forced to tolerate him. He also ponders his relationship – or rather Clark's – with Lane's daughter, Lois – obviously friends, but no more at this point. Then he comes under attack by an invisible alien assailant who seems to be having his way with Big Blue … how can you fight an unseen attacker? … until Superman realizes that he's the only one who can't see it. Luckily, he can see its image transmitted on live TV – and Lois and Jimmy, covering the story live on TV, realize the same, and keep the attacker in their cameras where Superman can use his super-vision to keep finding various TVs tuned to the broadcast and thus keep the alien in his sights, so to speak. He manages to beat it down – then it vanishes, but not before it too utters the name of “Krypton.” Next: A Cold Day in Hell.

So far, two for two! An exciting short story with an innovative, original, albeit “comic-booky” plot. What more can you ask? No need for me to reiterate my wishes that the revamp hadn't changed so much of the Superman backstory and current relationships. It did, and frankly the execution in this case (as in Action Comics) is turning out to be quite engaging on its own terms.

Cheers, and thanks for reading!

Tuesday, November 22

Bronze-Tempered Steel (The Bronze Saga #7, 2008)

By Mark Eidemiller, with Barry Ottey (available for free download here)

This is very much a different kind of Bronze Saga entry than the prior six, and it's somewhat difficult for me to review properly for a couple of reasons. One is that I have now read it twice and had somewhat different reactions each time. Another is that, even before I read it the first time, I struck up a long-distance email friendship with Mark Eidemiller's co-author, Barry Ottey. I've always found it difficult to judge the work of friends with objectivity, and sometimes find myself erring on the critical side in an effort not to be too easy on them. Bear that in mind as you read further, and know that whatever criticisms I lay out, I did like this story very much. In some ways it's one of those dream-stories that I wish I had the ability to tell.

But the hesitancy I always feel in reviewing the work of friends is part of why I've now read the story twice. It's not the only reason, to be sure. I've alluded elsewhere to the fact that the summer of 2011 was a busier summer for me than usual, due to circumstances outside of this blog which itself provided something of a self-imposed drain on my time and energy that had not been there before. Then, about the time I finished reading Bronze-Tempered Steel the first time back in July, there came our family vacation with all its distractions, followed by several weeks of traveling here, there, and yonder for various reasons – and suddenly the fall semester was beginning. Just because I wasn't having time to sit down and collect my thoughts about this book and blog it (and was having difficulty doing so) didn't mean I didn't continue reading other stuff, either – which ended up being easier for me to write about – until too much time had passed for me to hope to give it a fair review. So it had to go back into the reading queue. (Same thing happened with Perry Rhodan #14, Venus in Danger, by the way – which I also ended up having to reread before blogging.)

Anyway, I have now finished reading Bronze-Tempered Steel for the second time, and I refuse to let it go unblogged again. On with the review:

It's my understanding that, although Eidemiller's name is given priority as it's part of his series, this book is primarily Ottey's project, conceived during a time when he was serving as a long-distance reader and editor for earlier books in the Bronze Saga series. Having a life-long love for the Man of Steel and having given a great deal of detailed thought to exactly how Superman's amazing powers might actually work in the “real” world, he proposed bringing him into the world of the “Christian Adventures of” the Man of Bronze. The result is quite an entertaining story that, similarly to the first Bronze Saga story with Doc Savage, finds Superman accepting Christ as his Lord and Savior. Imagining such stories of redemption for some of the greatest heroes of popular literature is of course the driving purpose of this series of fan fiction. Along the way Superman – generally called “Kal” in this story to distinguish him from the other “Clark” – reveals the difficulties he had growing up different, an outsider of sorts, having to hide his true nature as his powers developed; his childhood reaction to the preaching by his parents' pastor that there is no such thing as extraterrestrial life; and ultimately his own version of the ages-old question, framed as “How could a loving God destroy the entire Kryptonian race?” Some of those issues I can personally relate to, on a certain level. Growing up Southern Baptist but with an early love for science fiction as well as science, I was always ostracized to a certain degree as being a bit strange because I perceived the disconnect between what science says about such things as the age of the universe, evolution, and so forth, and what a fundamentalist Christian interpretation of the Bible says about those things. I myself was driven away from Christianity for a time before finding it anew in the Catholic Church which I find much more open to the true wonders of the universe God created. Not that I actually believe in aliens, however, as much as they might be a staple of most science fiction ... that's where suspension of disbelief comes in. Maybe I'll post some of my ruminations on exactly why – somewhat honed by a rather lively email debate between myself and Ottey early in the summer soon after we “met.” But that's not really germane to this post. Anyway, those types of issues are addressed very well here.

That story, on its own merits, is quite compelling. Unfortunately, as an entry in The Bronze Saga, Bronze-Tempered Steel falters somewhat on several counts. One is that it is so obviously not written by Eidemiller. Much of it is narrated, as usual, in the first-person by Perry Liston, the street-preacher who took Doc Savage in way back at the beginning, ministered to him, and became the first of his latter-day band of adventurers in a higher mission. But frankly, Perry as written by Ottey doesn't read like the same person, at least to me. But I would think that imitating another author's style, particularly in dialogue, would be a difficult task – and the result passed Eidemiller's muster. Second, it's a bit too “preachy” – and not in the way you think. Well, actually, there is that. I do find the evangelical fundamentalist tone a bit heavier in this story than usual. Eidemiller generally pulls off such a fine balancing act that I found it a bit annoying here since I do not come at these stories from that religious tradition. That's not what I'm getting at, though. Rather it's how Ottey uses this story to grind an axe of his own. He uses the background of one of the characters whom he introduces, an archaeology graduate student from a Honduran cigar family, as a launching point to argue – several times and at length – against the idea that tobacco usage is incompatible with Christianity. Without going into any detail, from our private correspondence I know that this theme is based on Ottey's own experience when, as a smoker, he has been severely criticized by other Christians who even went so far as to presume to question his faith based on his habit and shun him for it. That's a ridiculous position in my opinion, regardless of the health issues involved … but after a while having the arguments against that narrow-minded attitude shoved at you again and again, sometimes in the same verbiage by different characters in different circumstances, it becomes obvious that this story strays from its main narrative thread off into soapbox territory. I lost patience with it during the second read in particular and ended up skipping over a couple of sections altogether. It's not what I come to The Bronze Saga to read.

There are other elements of the story as well that make it more obvious than usual that this is fan fiction rather than a professional product. Not to say that it's generally badly written, although there is what I consider to be a bit of an overusage of commas. (I'm not an English teacher, but it seemed off to me.) That aside, it's well written. Unfortunately, there is quite a bit more of what I would call “self-indulgence” in this story than in the previous six, characterized by too much incidental detail in some places to the point that I just wanted to scream, “Come on! – get to the point! I don't need to know every step that's taken in prepping the plane for takeoff!” and the like. If the capital of Honduras is not the setting for some of the action to take place, why seem to set it up as such with a long discursus of detailed travelogue? The book overall is quite uneven in that respect – in other parts of the story substantial action is just skimmed over where I would want to know more. On a related note, several times we are treated to in-depth lessons such as how cigars are made or explosions play out in real time, fascinating processes I'm sure but again not really what I'm looking for here. Overall, I think this book more than the previous others would have greatly benefited from a heavy, impartial, even ruthless editorial hand.

Another, perhaps inevitable, problem arises from the fact that there is not just one Superman to base this incarnation on. Since the character was first conceived seventy-odd years ago, there have been a multitude of different versions in a variety of different media, with many different details as to his powers, appearance, supporting cast, and so forth. Sometimes those details are mutually inconsistent from version to version, such as whether Jonathan and Martha Kent died before he began his career, or are both living, or whether one or the other has died leaving the other a widow or widower. In the Bronze Saga world our main characters inhabit, Superman is, as in our world, a fictional character who has appeared in all those different ways. Ottey's version is an amalgam that seems primarily based on the Christopher Reeve movies with a healthy dash of the Smallville TV series as well as a good bit of the comic books, seemingly mainly from the 1986 ff. reimagining usually identified with John Byrne. Most notably from the comics the “Death and Return of Superman” storyline from the early 1990s is referred to several times as an important and traumatic event in his past. Which is all fine and good … except that Perry Liston, who by all rights should start out with no firm knowledge of what is the “real” story of the Superman whom he meets in the flesh, instead far too many times knows instinctively which of those multitudinous possibilities is “real.” In my opinion, that should have been presented a bit more tentatively, with Perry acknowledging that there are so many contradictory accounts that it's impossible to know the “real” story … until now. Heck, I'd've been like a kid in a candy shop, pestering Big Blue with all kinds of questions rather than often interjecting the answers as Perry does, answers that pretty much invariably turn out to be spot on.

There are also some minor inconsistencies of detail with the earlier books in the series, mainly in the chronology – for instance he seems to place the wedding of Clark and Bonnie Savage (which occurred at the beginning of #6, Bronze New World), before the events of #3, Bronze Avengers – but I won't belabor that lest I give the impression I did not like this book. I did. It was cool as all get out seeing two of my favorite heroes coming together in an exciting adventure. And just as Eidemiller pretty much nails the characterization of Doc and his band, Ottey does present a believable Superman who is very consistent with the idea that most people have of the character.

There are definitely some aspects of the presentation of Christianity as presented in this novel that I greeted with relief. Quickly perceiving the more overt evangelical tone as compared with the earlier Bronze Saga entries, and given the young graduate student mentioned above being of Honduran heritage, I worried that eventually the issue of Catholicism would be raised – and not in a way that I would find gratifying. Depending on the source – and exactly how religious affiliation is defined – Catholicism is estimated to be the faith of anywhere between 47% and 97% of the Honduran population. Knowing that general fact going in, I started with a strong presumption that Elena was indeed raised Catholic, and the fact that the family priest is referred to as attending the welcome-home party thrown on her behalf during the course of this story would seem to confirm it. Luckily, although I don't think some acknowledgement of the issue would have been out of line, it is without a doubt a delicate subject and I can understand why Ottey avoided being too divisive. It would have been a needless distraction that could have tarnished the whole story in some eyes (mine). He does manage to subtly confirm, at least as I read it, what has become all but canon in the Superman mythos, that Clark Kent was raised not just Protestant but more specifically in a Methodist church environment, in a way that manages to confirm the fundamentalist/evangelical perspective of the characters (and the authors) without being overtly fractious. When Kal (Superman) accepts Christ he asks Clark (Doc Savage) to baptize him, remarking that his parents (the Kents) had baptized him as an infant (as is the practice among Methodists but not Baptists, the other major denomination in Kansas that is occasionally suggested for the Kents) but that he now realizes that that ritual had no meaning as he did not make the decision for himself. Although I disagree with the theology of baptism that gives rise to that statement, it is a realistic statement given the perspective of the characters.

A couple of nitpicks: (1) “Not only had [Doc] read at least four different modern translations [of scripture], he'd also read the Torah in its original Hebrew, and the New Testament in both the original Greek and Roman Septuagint versions.” The Septuagint was a koine Greek translation of the Old Testament which did not contain the New Testament, although the inspired authors of the New Testament did tend to preferentially quote their Old Testament passages from it rather than the original Hebrew and Aramaic. (2) In relating the story of Jairus' Daughter, Perry states that “Peter was a witness, and – in one of his later letters – mentions the incident, stating categorically that the girl was dead, not 'sleeping', and that Jesus restored her to life just as He did Lazarus.” That miracle is related in three of the four Gospels (Mark 5:21-43, Matthew 9:18-26, and Luke 8:40-56), and Peter (along with James and John) is listed as attending it, but as far as I can tell he did not discuss it in either of his canonical epistles. (3) At some point, Doc attributes crucifixion as a form of execution to the Romans. It's actually older than that, practiced by the Phoenicians and the Carthaginians, maybe introduced by the Assyrians. It's actually one of those things that would be hard to pin down, as it's basically a variation of hanging and impalement. Historically, humans have been very imaginative in coming up with ways to inflict torment. As a statutory method of punishment, it is most identified with the Romans these days because of The Crucifixion, but also because the legalistic Romans did tend to regularize and systematize these things.

All in all, I did greatly enjoy this novel despite the lacerations I subjected it to above. And, having looked at the beginning of the next novel in the series, The Trial of Doc Savage, I can say that it is definitely part of the Bronze Saga continuity. In fact, a conversation between Kal and Clark pretty obviously is meant to set up what's coming.

Now for a little fanboy geekiness. At one point early on, Perry sends his wife Dot on a shopping mission. She comes back with “[e]very current-issue comic featuring Superman that the newsstand had on its racks, and some major selections from the fellow's back room. Apparently he does a nice Internet business in the older issues as collector's items.” Perry wants to give “Kal” an idea of how he is viewed in the world in which he finds himself. This passage is dated specifically to 1 August 2005, and making the assumption that the DC Comics being published in the Bronze Saga universe are the same as were published in our own “real world,” I've made use of the wonderful website Mike's Amazing World of DC Comics (specifically “The Time Machine”) to see for myself exactly what Kal would have seen – the covers at least. Of course, there's no way to know what back issues Dot came back with, but private communication with Ottey reveals he really had in mind collected editions, including “one of the complete 'origin' tales, and 'The Wedding Album'.” He admits to a “goof” in using the term “current issues,” but a few “pages” further into the story Kal is perusing an “issue of Action Comics.” Let's assume that Dot came back with a mix. Here are the covers of current issues on which Superman appeared that may have been on the comic racks on Monday 1 August 2005, plus a couple of trade paperback collections based on Ottey's statement to me:

Blood of the Demon #5
on-sale 7 July

JLA/Cyberforce #1
on-sale 7 July

Superman #219
on-sale 7 July

Action Comics #829
on-sale 13 July

Adventures of Superman #642
on-sale 20 July

Teen Titans #26
on-sale 20 July
(okay, Superman doesn't appear, but the big red S does)

Lex Luthor: Man of Steel #5
on-sale 27 July

The O.M.A.C. Project #4
on-sale 27 July

Superman/Batman #21
on-sale 27 July

Wonder Woman #219
 on-sale 27 July

The Man of Steel TPB
(John Byrne's reimagining from 1986)

Superman: The Wedding Album #1
(a back issue from 1996)

Superman: The Wedding and Beyond TPB
(collects The Wedding Album plus some)

As to the current issues, that's ten comics, not counting variant covers! And I imagine they would have given Perry and Kal plenty to discuss. I mean, to start off with – Blood of the Demon being the first listed, in a Christian novel? How ironic is that? Why are Superman and Wonder Woman fighting on several of the covers? Does she exist in Kal's universe? Does Conner Kent Superboy exist (Teen Titans)? What about the other characters depicted on various covers? And what about Kara Zor-El Supergirl (conspicuous by her absence)? If I recall correctly, only in the case of Batman does Bronze-Tempered Steel give us a definitive answer – yes, he does, and Bruce Wayne owns their apartment building. Being a big Supergirl fan, I want to know her status! It seems like it would have been a natural topic of conversation given the parallel between The Man of Steel and his cousin and The Man of Bronze and his cousin. Along the same lines, since we are told that Kal read Doc Savage in the Bantam paperback reprints as a child, did he name his refuge “The Fortress of Solitude” in homage to Clark's? Inquiring minds want to know! Realistically, of course, just because we weren't witness to such conversations doesn't mean they didn't take place.

Anyway, to give just a little context, at least half of those current issues pictured above were part of DC's ramping up to the Infinite Crisis event that would begin later that year 2005. In particular, the Superman titles and Wonder Woman issues together with The O.M.A.C. Project were telling a story (“Sacrifice”) wherein Superman came under the mind-control of the villainous Max Lord, and the only way Wonder Woman could keep Superman from killing her and Batman was to snap Lord's neck – an action that was caught live on TV and broadcast incessantly thereafter to a shocked world! Is this the action of a hero? More to the point – did something like that ever happen in Kal's own world?

Oh, one other point. The question of how a loving God could destroy the entire Kryptonian race is answered toward the end of the story, in a way that resonates both with what was going on in Smallville during the middle part of that series and in some fairly recent stories – I'm thinking mainly of Kurt Busiek's trilogy in Superman #668-70 (Dec 2007-Jan 2008), “The Third Kryptonian.” Imagine if the Kryptonians discovered their godlike powers under other suns and took mind to use them to subjugate the rest of the universe ….

Thanks for reading, and Cheers!

Aquaman #2 (Dec 2011)

The Trench, Part Two”

That cover is cool. In the eyes of the creature we can see a double image of Aquaman attacking as on the cover of issue #1. Properly, it should be a mirror image, but it's cool nonetheless.

Inside: The monstrous creatures from the deep go from ravaging the crew of the fishing trawler to the populace of its home port …. The next evening, miles away in the lighthouse where he grew up, Arthur Curry shows his wife Mera a photo album of childhood memories. She wants to try everything associated with life on land – including “using pieces of wood to slide down frozen water.... It sounds terrible. … When can I try it?” Just as they come across a photo of little Arthur and his father … and someone else – a “picture [that] shouldn't be in there”  a desperate nok nok at the door interrupts this scene of domestic tranquility. “The … the sheriff of Beachrock” thirty miles up the coast is looking for Aquaman – who looks different “without the orange shirt.” “It's scale armor,” Arthur patiently corrects him. I guess he's used to being the butt of such comments after the first issue. By the way, don't call Mera “Aquawoman” – or a “mermaid.” Anyway, said “sheriff” (who will turn out to be no more than a deputy … and not long for that rank either, I think), has been stopping at every lighthouse he finds looking for Aquaman. He brings word of the attack on the fishing port. Aquaman and Mera suit up and accompany him, only to find the Coast Guard and the US Navy already on the case along with the real sheriff (who makes the mistake of calling Mera “Aquawoman” as well). And real sheriff is none too pleased that the heroes are there to “[get] in the Feds' way.” Mera thinks he's impertinent and wants to “educate” him in proper obeisance to royalty, even though her husband plays it down – “I'm not a king to them.” Shortly thereafter, another attack of the creatures ensues – and several pages of combat end with one of the creatures seeming to overpower Aquaman, and proclaim “*************” (their language is represented by a bunch of indecipherable squigglies), which translates as “This food comes home to the Trench.” This after he's wrenched Aquaman's trident from his grip. Next: Secrets of the Trench.

Another good issue, although I'm sure there will be those who say not enough happens. Hey, when it looks this good, who cares? And it's Aquaman! The real Aquaman! Did I mention how happy I am to have “my” Aquaman back?!

Maybe I just missed it in the first issue, but in this issue Aquaman gets the same treatment Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman have gotten for years – identification of his creator on the title page – “Created by Paul Norris.” It's nice seeing those to whom we owe these great comic book heroes given their proper credit. If only they would just throw over whatever unjust legal agreement DC made with Bob Kane so long ago and own up to the reality, that Bill Finger had at least as much of a hand in creating Batman as the glory-hound Kane did.

There is a minor art snafu – and I'll go so far as to call it that, even though the art in this issue is typically Ivan Reis beautiful: Boy, does Mera suddenly go all brachiocephalic at the top of page seven, or what? That profile looks like a totally different person than the portrait shot at the bottom of page six! Otherwise, wow.

Cheers, and thanks for reading!

Batman #2 (Dec 2011)

“Trust Fall”

One hint, guys. If you're going to go with the practice (which I don't care for anyway) of not revealing the issue title (and credits) until the last page, don't put a prominent sound effect like “CRASH” at the bottom of the third page where it's what the reader's eye is drawn toward upon turning that first page.

Anyway, that gripe aside, here we have another atmospheric Batman tale drawing on the richness of the new Gotham history being built from the ground up by Scott Snyder over the past months, both pre- and post-Flashpoint. We also get to see some more cool Bat-tech, this time a two-way virtual/holographic link into the morgue so that once the coroner's done his autopsy, Batman can, with Gordon still there, do the real job. They discover an emblem on one of the first issue's human pincushion's wisdom teeth – an Athenian Owl, which puts Gordon in mind of a nursery rhyme apparently known to Gotham children:

Beware the court of owls, that watches all the time,
Ruling Gotham from a shadowed perch, behind granite and lime.
They watch you at your hearth, they watch you in your bed,
Speak not a whispered word of them, or they'll send the talon for your head.

“I know the nursery rhyme, Jim,” Batman declares. “But the Court of Owls is just a legend.” – “To be blunt,” Gordon retorts, “so were you for a while.” – “They don't exist.” – “And you know that because...” – “I just know.” I think we'll find out otherwise.

Anyway, Nightwing shows up and has (as I'm sure we all expected) a perfectly logical reason Dick Grayson's DNA was under the victim's fingernails. Of course, Bruce had already figured it out from surveillance footage which caught their encounter at a groundbreaking ceremony.

Bruce meets with a prospective mayoral candidate – who seems a bit too heavily developed in a short time for his fate – dead on the third page it seems, another victim of the killer who wears a uniform with an owl motif (are you sure the Court of Owls doesn't exist, Bats?). But he's mainly there for Burce. Fighting his assailent without armor, Bruce takes some of his throwing blades to some critical nerve centers before being kicked through a window – from the umpteenth-storey of Wayne Tower. (That's actually where the initial splash page began, then looped back to tell us how he ended up in free fall.) The assailant follows him out and continues the attack on the way down, but Bruce manages to use a little-known, later addition to the rings of gargoyles – “guardians” – encircling the Tower to arrest his own fall. The assailant falls to his death.

Interior monologue: “Whoever it was that just tried to kill me, he was good. … But he made one mistake. … He tried to use Gotham's legends against me. … But I'm the only legend this city needs. … In many ways it's my oldest and truest friend. … And it knows me better than anyone, just as I know it. … Which is why I can say that there is no Court of Owls. … Not in Gotham. … Not in my city.” … Right. That's why the final page of this two-page monologue covers a scene where another owl-themed attacker kills an EMT. Is Bruce being a bit obtuse here, or what? And ... Next: The Court of Owls Revealed!

Cheers! … and thanks for reading!

Supergirl #2 (Dec 2011)

Reunion”

There's not a whole lot to say about this issue. The cover image pretty much sums it up. Supergirl fighting Superman in their first meeting, because she can't comprehend that the baby cousin whom she was sitting the day before (from her perspective) is now a grown man. But as they battle back and forth across Siberia and the extent of her new powers slowly dawn on her – not that they came to her gradually apparently, just that she didn't know to try to fly (and apparently thinking about it too much can lead to a fall) – and she finally is confronted with the reality that this planet is not her homeworld, rather home to a race of less powerful beings – she finally calms down enough for Superman to get through to her. Unfortunately he has to tell her, in response to her question, “<But why do you stay here? Why don't you go home to Krypton?>,” that “<... Krypton is gone.>”

And there's a one-page coda, as a scientist/aide/girl-Friday brings a shard of what looks like red Kryptonian sun-crystal to an unseen and unidentified man (I'll bet he's bald). “The artifact we retrieved from the pod is clean. … What do you think it is, Sir?” – “They say knowledge is power, don't they? – Well … This is all the knowledge we'll ever need.” Next: Pieces of Home.

Actually, for a slugfest first-meeting issue this one's not bad. We are given enough insight into Kara's confusion that her reaction to Kal-El actually makes sense. It doesn't just seem like a gratuitous fight. And the suspicion is mutual – at one point he warns her that “<The more you fight, the less I believe you.>” And a nice point is made by Kara in her interior monologue: “This guy's accent sounds like he learned Kryptonian from a textbook. No way he's from Krypton...”

Still liking this book despite my worries. Cheers! And thanks for reading!

Justice League #2 (Dec 2011)

Part Two”

I really wish they would give individual issue titles. “Part One,” “Part Two” by itself is just so bland. Not representative of this issue at all. I'm not going to belabor the shortcomings I identified in my review of the first issue – which are still present here – mainly because there's so much else to like here. It is beautiful, and carries the story further a bit. I guess that's all we can ask for, and when we get that much from two of the best creators out there (when they're on top of their game as they are here), the result is fantastic. Maybe it's a bit shallow and predictable, too, but what the hey.  

Anyway – (talk about backhanded praise!) – Barry Allen takes a desperate call from Green Lantern Hal Jordan. Before that we find out that Flash is now the target of a full-on investigation by the Central City PD, taking priority even over murders, to Barry Allen's consternation. The slugfest between Batman and Green Lantern versus Superman has continued, and the former two are looking a bit worse for wear. That's when GL puts through the call to his buddy Barry, with whom he's worked before (“You know what happened the last time the public saw Green Lantern and The Flash together?” Barry asks. “We beat up a talking gorilla and saved Central City,” Hal replies. “And we destroyed the Museum of Natural History doing it!” Barry shouts – hence the “Flash Task Force.” Hal interrupts his rant: “Flash! … This guy … is going toKILL US!” And in a … flash … Flash is there, dancing around Superman … until Supes gets the lead on him and fliks him with his index finger – the length of the street. “He actually hit me,” Flash rubs his head in stunned disbelief, then as an afterthought, “OW.” Luckily, that gives Batman a chance to interpose himself and manage to talk Superman down, realizing that it's been a misunderstanding. Just in time for the military to arrive, so the three take to the sewers.

Meanwhile, Victor Stone confronts his dad about not showing up to his big game, and his father basically tells him that in the new world of super-humans, his talents don't mean dick. Way to go, dad.

The three … is it too soon to call them “heroes?” – the world certainly doesn't recognize them as such, five years ago … regroup in: “An abandoned printing press?” Batman says incredulously, to which Supes replies, “I don't have a base of operations.” Apparently his lack of a mask is doing it's job to an extent, because Batman continues, “So where do you hide? You don't wear a mak so apparently you have no identity to protect.” Meanwhile we also find that even the Ring, drawing on the Guardians' vast database, hasn't a clue what the box is (as it pings away). From Flash's demeanor, Batman does pick up that he “sound[s] like a cop.” “I am. I work in the Crime Lab,” Flash confirms – whereupon GL cautions, “Barry, you're exposing your identity!” – “And you just called me 'Barry,' genius.” Then begins a series of interspersed panels as the two Boxes – the one the “heroes” have, and the one Dr. Stone is studying – both start pinging furiously and giving off energy discharges – BOOOOOOOM – alien creatures pour out into both locations, shouting, “FOR DARKSEID!” – as Victor Stone gets caught in the energy whiplash from the Boxes. Next: Wonder Woman!

To whet our appetite for that, I guess, the back-matter in this issue consists of pages from a “confidential” USAF report, a “Transcript of Interview with Captain Steve Trevor,” who is being interrogated by Agent [Amanda] Waller. We get strong hints of a warrior Wonder Woman. “Don't provoke her,” Trevor cautions. There are also some sketchbook pages, developmental drawings of the DCnU Batman and Superman, both of whom are given with a “first appearance” of Justice League #1 (2011). I guess Batman and Flash's appearance in Flashpoint #5 doesn't count...?

Cheers, and thanks for reading!

Demon Knights #2 and Legion Lost #2 (Dec 2011)

They Shall Not Pass”

DC's New 52 Lord of the Rings fantasy Middle Ages epic continues. As does the battle with dragons that began in the first issue. Not a whole lot to say other than that, and that it goes from one dragon to a horde of dragons – and fireballs – as Mordru and his lady love (her name escapes me – or do we even know?) unleash hell on the town of Alba Sarum. There's a fine mixture of action and humor here – the Demon, as Madame Xanadu is berating him for making to abandon the warriors defending the city: “You may have missed this, my love – but, Demonevil. You always think you can 'reform' me, but – ” – at which point they find themselves right in the path of the dragon horde descending down on the town. “Ah. … That's troubling ...” he muses, “... I can't seem to think of an appropriate rhyme.” Oh, man, things are bad now! And I never thought I'd ever say this, but I like Vandal Savage in this comic! – Like Conan the Barbarian on steroids and crack!

“The Dawn of the Hypersapiens”

We find out some more about how the lost Legionnaires ended up back in the 21st century. We also find out more about the future pathogen that has now been unleashed a thousand years before its time. Unfortunately, the first victim whom they try to help … turns out he doesn't want their help but is rather embracing the fact that he's turning into some kind of Wildfire-esque energy being. The issue itself is narrated by Wildfire – who cannot understand that attitude at all, having lived with the reality.

An okay issue … I actually liked it better than the first. But I can easily see this title becoming a bore if it becomes a Smallville-like “monster of the month” comic. Luckily, I've read enough by Nicieza that I have some faith in him, even though what I've seen so far doesn't look that promising. It is Legion. I'll keep coming back. But I really don't want to have to keep making excuses.

Cheers, and thanks for reading!

Batman and Robin #2, Batgirl #2, and Batwoman #2 (Dec 2011)

“Bad Blood”

The story begins with Bruce and Alfred observing Damian training, with Bruce ruminating on his “new” role as a father … as well as (maybe a bit belatedly?) questioning his own failure in repeatedly exposing kids to the insanity of the life he has chosen. Of course, he then announces a new layer to his own disquiet: “For the first time I'm afraid, Alfred … Of dying. … Of leaving a black hole in Damian's life and … I'm afraid of what Damian could become without me around.” Well, it seems to me that Damian was doing just fine during the period when Bruce was presumed dead (I guess that's still part of continuity – his extended absence definitely is) and Damian was playing sidekick to Dick as Batman. The kid came a long ways during that period. Of course, having his real father ripped away from him a second time would be traumatic, I'm sure, but I suspect he would do just fine. Bruce then takes Damian out on a mission against some gunrunners they've been watching, at the end of which he has the opportunity to give him some typically understated Bruce-style praise for showing restraint: “Refusing to pound these felons with the excessive force you wanted to is commendable.” Which gives rise to a typically acerbic bit of Alfredian commentary: “Did you tell Damian you were proud of him?” – “Of course I did.” – “What exactly did you say?” – “I said his actions were commendable.” – “The words 'great job' or 'I'm proud of you' never crossed your mind?” – “What's wrong with 'commendable'? … It means even more than proud – it means admirable, praiseworthy.” – “->Hnnn<- … I'm afraid it means you have a lot of work to do.” Bruce apparently takes Alfred's words to heart … he eventually does tell Damian, “Nice field work tonight.” Ominously, however, although Damian has been inflicting millions of dollars worth of damage on their training equipment in an exercise in venting, to “keep his killer instincts in line” (as Bruce puts it), once his father is out of sight he snatches a bat out of the air, crushes it in his hand, and lets it fall into one of the Cave's chasms … as Alfred watches from the shadows with an expression of sad disappointment.

Obviously this book is very much centered on the relationship between father and son, as promised. Of course, there's also the subplot introduced in the first issue, where a mysterious figure took out (rather gruesomely as I recall) one of Batman's new international agents in Moscow, then proclaimed it time to meet Bruce Wayne. We see that meeting here, and find out there is some kind of history between said mysterious figure, named Morgan, and Bruce, evidently through Henri Ducard (whose comic history I'm not clear on, except I'm pretty sure he wasn't an alias for Ra's al Ghul as in Batman Begins). He has problems with the idea of “Batman, Incorporated”: “Yes, pushing your Bat brand across international borders was an indirect ultimatum that I couldn't let stand. … You've distorted the clarity of our mission, Bruce.” He further proclaims his appearance not to be an attack, but rather “an intervention” – before disappearing with the aid of a “flash-bang” explosive distraction. Next: Knight Moves!

“Cut Short, Cut Deep”

Barbara Gordon's return as Batgirl after three years as a paraplegic has left her in somewhat less than prime shape for the job – and she has now, in the cliffhanger ending for issue #1, made an enemy of the police detective whose partner was killed by the new villain, Mirror, who then caused Batgirl to freeze by simply aiming a gun at her long enough to kill his real target and make his getaway. Well, almost – Babs recovers and dives out the window after him, but her lack of recent training almost gets her killed again. Meanwhile, the incident at the hospital has brought the return of Batgirl to her father the Commissioner's attention … although whether he knows Batgirl is his daughter is unclear as yet.

Batgirl trails Mirror to a cemetery, where in another confrontation she manages to snare from him a list – that has her name, her father's, the family she shaved from the gang last issue … “All people who should have died recently, but somehow survived.” It turns out that Mirror is a grieving husband and father, a “Federal Agent and War Hero [who was] Sole Survivor of Holiday Crash,” who now believes he is doing other such survivors a favor by putting them out of the misery of this life they should not be living anyway. Exactly how his “mirror power” works, which supposedly shows the victim their “true face” before he kills them, works I'm unclear on – when Babs sees it, it looks to me like she's just seeing her actual reflection but maybe it's meant to be the shock on her face when the Joker was about to shoot her (although she didn't have the cowl on then – he shot her not as Batgirl but rather as Barbara Gordon).

There's also a bit more interaction of Babs with her new roommate, Alysia, who thinks she's a victim of some kind of domestic abuse from the beating she's taken, as well as Babs going on a date with her physical therapist and discussing – somewhat – how she suddenly – miraculously – recovered the use of her legs. It remains a mystery, even to her.

In the cliffhanger, Mirror reveals his plan to bomb a commuter train – killing hundreds to take out one of his targeted survivors. Next: Nightwing!

“Hydrology, Part 2: Infiltration”

After their “visit” from Jacob Kane, Kate basically gives Bette an ultimatum – she can't have both her cousin and her uncle in her life. “Better pick one of us soon, or I'm going to take the decision away from you.” She also reiterates how she's uninterested in being part of “Batman, Incorporated.” In her mind, the issues are linked – “I don't even want to think about all the Daddy issues that might imply...”

Meanwhile, Detective Sawyer has a visit from Cameron Chase, who [on behalf of the DEO] wants Batwoman … in fact is not convinced that Sawyer herself is not Batwoman.

Maggie Sawyer and Kate Kane have a date, then there's another crime scene investigation with Chase horning in on the action (and Sawyer demonstrating how good she is at reading evidence on the ground and imagining the sequence of events that left it). Batwoman formally rejects Batman's “invitation” into his “private army,” although the phrasing “haven't decided to join … yet” means I'm sure she'll end up in it anyway. He does warn her about Chase's tenacity, as well as the dangers of having a sidekick: “Keep Flamebird out of the Weeping Woman case until you know what you're dealing with. Murdered sidekicks tend to come back from the dead. … As super-villains.”

That “Weeping Woman case” continues … culminating in Batwoman breaking into Sawyer's office and finding some a lead just as Maggie comes bursts in on her. “The boathouse … It sarted at the boathouse, didn't it?” Batwoman demands before diving out the window. … And Maggie calls Chase: “I know where you can find Batwoman...” She better get there fast, because the cliffhanger scene has Batwoman under said boathouse just as a wall of water hits her, sweeping her off her feet – “-- AAAHHH!To be continued...

Cheers! ... and thanks for reading.

Friday, November 18

Wow! I hope this turns out to be so....


http://www.nature.com/news/neutrino-experiment-replicates-faster-than-light-finding-1.9393 ... It still seems rather doubtful given how much of modern physics this would invalidate, but if it turns out to be so, I say again, Wow!  Next stop, Alpha Centauri!

Cheers, and Ad Astra!

Saturday, November 12

Perry Rhodan #15, Escape to Venus (1972)

By Clark Darlton.

When the Arkonide woman Thora attempts to escape Earth and make her way back to Arkon via the Base on Venus, the result is that she as well as Rhodan and his companions are stranded on Venus and contending with refugees from the Eastern Bloc forces whom Rhodan previously defeated on that primeval world.

For my full review, see my other blog here.

Cheers!

Friday, November 11

Justice League International #2 and Superboy #2 (Dec 2011)

“The Signal Masters, Part 2”

As Briggs and Emerson, the UN agents who headed up the recruitment of the new multinational Justice League observe the aftermath of the bombing of the Hall of Justice, they learn that their team is getting its collective butt handed to it down in Peru by the mysterious metal giant. As leader – as inadequate as he feels – Booster Gold makes a command decision to retreat, which itself calls into question his adequacy for the job. As news hits the air that among the casualties was Ice, whose injuries are unknown, Guy Gardner Green Lantern races back to take charge. Back in the states, Batman's presence on the team is unwelcome news to Briggs – but Booster again asserts his command to bring the team to focus on the real threat … which consultation with Skeets (yay!) reveals is bigger than they knew, as there is not one, but rather four such metal giants appearing all around the world. Little do they know how bad it really is, for “Far beyond the edge of Earth's Solar System” the appearance of the giants has revealed that “Planet 3-147 is active. An ominous-looking, scythe-wielding alien with a funny-looking headpiece declares, “Not for long. Planet 3-147 dies today.” Continued next issue – we hope!

It's nice to see Booster manning up here, and – as in last issue – Batman giving him more credit than the others are willing to do. Dare I hope that at least something of the previous run of Booster Gold and Batman's knowledge of the true hero beneath the mask of ineptitude is intact? It's great to see that Skeets is still around, although still unseen. I was really worried about him when he didn't appear last issue. The overdrawn nationalistic jingoism of Rocket Red – what can I say except funny in an Ensign Chekov kind of clichéed Russian way. August General in Iron manages to take an air of superiority with the claim that he's the only real soldier there – and throws his support behind the wisdom of Booster's battlefield decision.

I'm still not sure what the purpose – even the power – of Godiva is supposed to be. It looks like she's basically a knockoff of Medusa of the Inhumans with the prehensile hair. But she gets to be part of a Greek chorus peanut gallery made up of the three women in a funny exchange on Briggs' chutzpah in trying to tell Batman what he can't do. All in all, an entertaining read ….

Maybe I shouldn't have been blindsided given the Kirbyesque Medusa-like character of Godiva (who, come to think of it, looks more like her sister Crystal), especially with the very Kirby-looking metal giants, but that that last full-page spread of the alien approaching Earth made my jaw drop! Galactus?! – huh? – wha– ?

“Superboys and Their Toys”

I'm not nearly as taken with this second issue as I was the first issue. Very quickly I do not like the way these characters are developing. Not that the characterization of Superboy himself as an amoral weapon wasn't part of the initial series blurb revealed 'way back in June. It was. But in the first issue the sense was one of an innocent who just needed to discover empathy with others. Here there is more a sense of arrogance. And the supporting characters don't come off that well either.

That creepy agent of N.O.W.H.E.R.E., Templar, takes the Superboy and his “minder,” Rose Wilson, on their first mission, to put down a riot in a facility called Pen 51 which holds aliens suspected of criminal activity. It's a situation … “facilitated” … by Templar as a test. The alien “bait” looks very much like the pre-Flashpoint's old foe King Shark (I think that's the name – I never read that series and didn't develop my liking for the character until Geoff Johns pulled him into his relaunch of the Teen Titans, and his year or so shortly after that in the Legion of Super-Heroes). The aliens end up giving Superboy a beat down that ultimately has him crying out “STOP!” in Kryptonese – written here in the pre-Flashpoint hieroglyphic alphabet that was pointedly not used in Action Comics #2. ? But even in unconsciousness (or is he?) Superboy's tactile telekinesis powers unleash in a burst that destroys the facility altogether – Rose is barely extracted before it implodes/explodes (it's not clear). Next Issue: Freedom's Just Another Word for Nothing Left to Lose!

Honestly, the parts of the first issue that I liked – the sense that this was the same character that I'd grown to like, Conner Kent; the idea that his innate heroism as a clone of Superman was there, just untapped; while there was a mystery as to who provided the human DNA that stabilized it, but that they must be a psychopath – little of that appears in this second issue. I found it a lot less interesting. To me, this is not Superboy. And his “Tron” costume is just ugly. It's amazing how quickly a comic can fall off from the first to the second issue, if not in its quality at least in my estimation of it.

Thanks for reading, and Cheers!