Saturday, September 15

The DCnU 52: One Year Later!

Here follow some random ramblings on the “DCnU One Year Later,” actually compiled over the course of several weeks as ideas came to me. It is by no means systematic, although I have reordered a good bit into some semblance of order. Some points I develop out fairly fully. Others I don't. For a better understanding – and examples – for a lot of them, you'd have to troll back through my various blog entries on the books of the New 52 that I've published on this blog over the past year. There's a lot here that only a DC Comics reader will understand!   In any case, just because I don't mention something here doesn't mean I'm not getting or liking it. But these are the thoughts that sprang most to mind as I reflected on the past year.

Single favorite title (so far): Action Comics (with honorable mention given to newbies Worlds' Finest and Earth 2 – in fact sometimes I wonder if I'm really liking that little corner of the DCnU better even than Action)

Most gratifying to me personally: Aquaman. Nuff said. My first favorite superhero.

Biggest surprise: Batwing. I didn't even consider buying it at the beginning, figuring it would be the first to go. The name sounds a bit stupid and frankly the idea of a “Batman for Africa” didn't sound appealing. I quickly heard such good things about it on the Internet that I tried it out digitally – a convenience for which I thank DC, but the fact is they themselves benefited from it, at least in my case – and was preordering the print copies by issue 4 or 5 – and have picked up the print copies back to #1 to boot!

Most relief I felt at how a title developed as opposed to my fears based on the original solicits: Supergirl – and while the solicits continue to present it as if she's the angry super-brat that we first feared, that ain't the way Green and Johnson are writing what we're actually getting. Usually I don't like such a degree of dissonance between solicit and product, but in this case, Thank God!

Another major relief – that we didn't lose the recently “retrobooted” “original” Legion of Super-Heroes so soon after recovering them, and that Levitz is still at their helm.

Biggest disappointment: Justice League – I think everyone had huge, high hopes for this, but it's been a train-wreck on virtually every level, albeit a good-looking train-wreck. Not really gee-hawing with other titles featuring the same characters, not making a whole lot of logical sense – as currently portrayed, supposedly in the present now, there is no damn way those heroes have been working together as a team for five years!

Biggest disappointment – runner up: Their decision to renumber even Detective Comics and Action Comics. I've read and understand their reasons. I do not agree with them.

Biggest frustration: Increasing evidence they didn't have this thought through very thoroughly – Teen Titans (how many such teams have there been?, or is this the first?), Robins (how many have there been? - in five years?!, was Tim Drake one of them?); Also, the radically different presentations of characters from one book to the other, especially the Justice League characters between their own books and the team book. Now that as of issue #7 JL is ostensibly present-day, there's no excuse for the radically different flavor to Wonder Woman between her own book and JL – and even more so, Green Lantern, which is written in both places by the same individual. Is Geoff Johns himself schizophrenic? Does he know how they connect?

I'm currently reading my way through the titles DC published in August – by and large the #12's – and in a one-off appearance of Kid Flash Bart Allen in DC Universe Presents #12 (which I'll be reviewing later as part of my monthly round-up), on the first page, Bart's typically hilarious recap of events leading up to those depicted here end with what I think is pretty much dead on regarding DC's attitude toward “continuity”: “Continuity doesn't really matter! Clarity is overrated!” In the context of the story it comes off as something typically “Bart.” Unfortunately, I get the feeling that's really DC Editorial's position!

Character(s) I miss most from before Flashpoint: Stephanie Brown Batgirl, Supergirl by Sterling Gates and Jamal Igle, Conner Kent Superboy, the “guardian of time” Booster Gold, the marriage of Superman and Lois, Oracle.

Favorite New 52 character(s): Starling in Birds of Prey – the girl next door as a badass fighter and secret agent. Don't change a thing!

Favorite New 52 version of an old character: Vandal Savage in Demon Knights – Paul Cornell has made me like a character I couldn't stand before

Worst New 52 version of an old character: Billy Batson Shazam … but there's a lot of competition. There are opposing views, among them Paul C.:  "Why The Curse of Shazam is the right move for Captain Marvel"

Most consistently laughably stupid – and worst – title I get: Detective Comics – which has converted me from wondering why there were so many “Tony Daniel haters” to joining their ranks. Not really true. I don't hate him – but I now have no use for his writing, and frankly have become embittered toward what objectively is generally pretty good, if chaotic and lacking in story-sense, art. In fact, his name has become a disincentive for me to buy something, much as Azarello's work on Wonder Woman has. That latter is a funny case – I didn't initially plan to get it, decided to just because she's “the third person of the trinity” (dodging lightning now), and really liked the first issue. Or, on reflection, the ideas put forth in the first issue. But it dropped like a rock in my estimation after that. And I finally dropped it like a hot potato. In any case, Tony Daniel is leaving Detective fairly soon, but not soon enough, and hopefully things will pick up for DC's eponymous title.

Philosophical aspect of the pre-Flashpoint world that I miss most: The sense of legacy and the elder heroes of the Justice Society

Philosophical aspect of the DCnU that I like the best: Superman was the first public super-hero … “public” has to be included as a qualifier because it's apparent that Batman must have been active if only in secret before five years ago … but I like at least some primacy being given to Superman

Yes, I know those two things are mutually exclusive, but they didn't have to be. Return to the Multiverse with the Golden Age Super-heroes on an older Earth would have been a better way to go, regardless of the fact that I'm really digging James Robinson's Earth 2. You could have eventually even brought in a third “Middle Age” Earth based on the Silver-Bronze Age conceptions. Imagine that!

Stupidest constraint on the creators: The Five Year Timeline.

Stupidest way to effect a Reboot: The way they did it, as a partial Reboot, trying to have their cake and eat it too, keep a couple of franchises virtually unchanged while so radically changing everything else. Also, beginning in media res as they did, making the creators beholden to a continuity that hasn't been established yet. Even worse, as much as I like Action Comics, which is set in the past, to then make Superman in the present beholden to stories that are being concurrently told in the past, so that the creators here have no real idea what might be published next month there in Action that will invalidate what they created this month in Superman. And this is made worse by Grant Morrison's notorious reticence what he's up to, and editorial's hands-off attitude toward him – which led to their being forced to continually tamper with the product of one of the industry giants in George Perez on Superman because of Morrison's whims. I like much of what Morrison does ... when I can get my mind around it! (I find him one of the most "rereadable" writers out there) ... and really like what he's done in Action.  But it is a position that Perez never should have been in, especially if he was not informed from the beginning what the situation was. Rob Liefeld's experience seems to corroborate the feeling that it's pure chaos there, but then continued developments give me the impression the latter must be really hard to get along with in any case.

Better way to effect a Reboot: A clean slate. All in. Oh, but that would alienate some existing readers who like what was being published before? Duh – that happened.

Better-still way to effect a Revival: Good stories respectful of the past but not chained by specific timeline. Be vague as to the passage of time. Don't pin yourself down. That's how comics were written for decades, and it worked for the most part. The artificial adherence to some kind of seamless continuity is never going to work – especially when not everyone agrees from one day to the next what the continuity actually is. See the first part of my “Biggest frustration” above.

Most consistent irritant: The design esthetic (or lack thereof), both in the heroes' uniforms – way too busy and complicated – and in the villains' – among whom it seems quasi-zombies in bad makeup predominate, along with quasi-Lovecraftian horror-movie Cthulhu-wannabe rejects. As far as heroes' uniforms, Superman's gets special mention. In and of itself, it isn't bad although it could (a) lose some of the extraneous lines, and (b) tone down the overly complicated belt, which could also be helped with an accent of gold, but try as I might a year into the New 52, I don't see this as Superman. Make fun of it as much as we might, the red trunks are, after seventy years, an intrinsic part of his image. It would be easier for me, I think, to accept some modification to the S-shield than it has been to accept ditching the speedos. Ditch every other hero's briefs, but not Superman's. If they've gotta go, see the much better design over in Smallville Season 11.

Most disconcerting (? word choice? ) development: Removing some bits of diversity in physical type for certain characters – the most notable example of course being the “healing” of Barbara Gordon, removing her as a shining example of a character heroically dealing with and overcoming a disability every single day of her life, but also the “fashion modelization” of former obese characters Amanda Waller and Etta Candy. DC's trumpetted its new diversity in such areas as Cyborg now being a founding member of the Justice League, which I have no problem with, but also by reimagining certain other established characters in “sexy,” trendy, politically-correct ways as “race-bending” Morgan Edge from white to black (also Etta Candy, so she's a twofer, I guess) and recreating Alan Scott, the Green Lantern of Earth 2 (originally the Golden Age Green Lantern), as homosexual. You want more minority characters, create more minority characters, don't fundamentally change previously existing characters. (Note: As far as race goes, I personally think you've got a bit more latitude when it comes to casting a live action movie, e.g. Laurence Fishbourne for Perry White in Man of Steel, as Pete Ross in Smallville, for supporting characters. Main characters, it's a bit more iffy, since that is a fundamental change to the very nature of the central character. Like it or not, we are not and will not be for some generations, I believe, a totally color-blind society. But when you change the race of even a secondary character – or the sexual orientation of a main character – the change itself makes that character into a statement rather than a person. Aren't we supposed to see people as individuals, without these qualities becoming their definition? That is, a person should described as white or black (adjectives) rather than identified as a white or a black (nouns) (ditto regarding sexual orientation). To do otherwise is to implicitly dehumanize them.)

I could add in here what I call the “Marvelization” of the DC nUniverse – the idea that the super-heroes are feared and hated rather than looked up to by society, the general darkening of the stories and overall atmosphere – but that had really been happening for some time before so I don't necessarily identify it just with the DCnU.

Overall assessment. Although I am reading and enjoying much of what I'm seeing in the New 52, I miss many elements of the old DCU and question whether such a radical reimagining as so many characters received was really necessary. One thing goes without question. Overall, from a financial standpoint, at this juncture it must be judged a success, with ramifications that extend beyond DC Comics itself. The overall comics industry got a much needed shot in the arm, and the effects have endured. Perhaps the same effect could not have been achieved without such a radical shift. That's a hypothetical question that can never really be answered definitively one way or another. But one thing goes without saying. For all my ranting, I am a fan of DC Comics, and I likely always will be, to one degree or another. I will be with them until the bitter end, which now seems slightly less likely to occur within my lifetime than I feared before. As long as I live and breathe – and have the financial wherewithal, of course – I do not see myself ever giving up comic books completely. I derive too much enjoyment from them, even if I do not agree with certain directions they have taken through the years and most recently in the DCnU Reboot. As with everything, there is good to be found with the bad.

There have been too many other such reflections and ruminations on the success or not of the DC Relaunch of 2011 for me the list here. A few noteworthy ones are, however:

The Comic Geek Speakers look back on the year in their podcase:  "DC's New 52:  One Year Later."

Siskoid's Blog of Geekery: “The New 52 and DC's Communications Failure” including the comments which are similarly excellent.

Paul C, the Last of the Famous International Fanboys – always thought-provoking and worth reading even if I often disagree with him – mounts a defense: “The New 52 Continuity: It Ain't So Bad!

And for laughs, something I've not seen any of the many other such reflections on the past year do:

Title that I'm most anxious to see introduced: DCnU: The Lost Generation – the adventures of Stephanie Brown, Donna Troy, Wally West, Garth – suddenly appearing in this new world and wondering what the hell happened. With the thematic substitution of Steph for the original Teen Titan Dick Grayson Robin, you could even call it Titans Lost.  This could be the cover:
Think about it – their double-take on meeting the now red Beast Boy; Starfire sexually mauling Wally as Donna stands there shocked and speechless at the change in her old roommate. Those two scenes could be worth the whole New 52! [I unfortunately did not note where I first came across this image – I think it was shared by someone on Facebook, but I can't be sure. Whoever it was, Thanks!]
* * *
Just for comparison's sake, here are side-by-side comparisons of what I was/am buying from DC before and after Flashpoint ushered in the New 52 last August-September 2011:

January 2011 
– a few months before
January 2012 
– a few months in
October 2012 
– about a year in
  1. Action Comics
  2. Adventure Comics
  3. Batgirl
  4. Batman
  5. Batman and Robin
  6. Batman Incorporated
  7. Batman: Streets of Gotham
  8. Birds of Prey
  9. Detective Comics
  10. Doc Savage
  11. First Wave
  12. Flash
  13. Gotham City Sirens
  14. Green Lantern
  15. Green Lantern Corps
  16. Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors
  17. JSA All-Stars
  18. Justice League of America
  19. Justice Society of America
  20. Legion of Super-Heroes
  21. REBELS
  22. Red Robin
  23. The Spirit
  24. Superboy
  25. Supergirl
  26. Superman
  27. Teen Titans
  1. Action Comics
  2. Aquaman
  3. Batgirl
  4. Batman
  5. Batman and Robin
  6. Batman: The Dark Knight
  7. Batwing
  8. Batwoman
  9. Birds of Prey
  10. Catwoman
  11. Demon Knights
  12. Detective Comics
  13. Justice League
  14. Justice League Dark
  15. Justice League International
  16. Legion Lost
  17. Legion of Super-Heroes
  18. Nightwing
  19. Stormwatch
  20. Superboy
  21. Supergirl
  22. Superman
  23. Teen Titans
  24. Wonder Woman

  1. I, Vampire
  1. Action Comics
  2. Aquaman
  3. Batgirl
  4. Batman
  5. Batman and Robin
  6. Batman, Incorporated
  7. Batman: The Dark Knight
  8. Batwing
  9. Batwoman
  10. Birds of Prey
  11. Catwoman
  12. Demon Knights
  13. Detective Comics
  14. Earth 2
  15. Green Lantern
  16. Justice League
  17. Justice League Dark
  18. Legion Lost
  19. Legion of Super-Heroes
  20. Nightwing
  21. Stormwatch
  22. Superboy
  23. Supergirl
  24. Superman
  25. Sword of Sorcery
  26. Talon
  27. Team 7
  28. Teen Titans
  29. Worlds' Finest

  1. I, Vampire
  2. Phantom Stranger
  3. Ravagers
  4. Superman Family Adventures
  5. Young Justice

Digital Weeklies
  1. Legends of the Dark Knight
  2. Smallville Season 11

So, although I started out about at parity in number of titles I was getting before and after the “Relaunch” (especially if you discount the “First Wave” fiasco titles First Wave, Doc Savage, and The Spirit, which were tanking in early 2011 and clearly weren't long for publication anyway), by about a year in I have increased the number of titles I'm getting from DC somewhat. Not by a huge amount – about 20% – but somewhat. And they've managed to keep me with most of the titles that I jumped on at the beginning. In that sense, even with me the New 52 is a success.

Cheers! – and Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, September 11

We Must Remember, and Take Heed

Before I republish my post of last year musing on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, let me also call your attention to blogger Wolf Howling's post of yesterday, "9-11 Its Aftermath, Eleven Years On."  He frames things much more starkly, and it's well worth a read although I give former President Bush more credit.

My own comments have not changed in substance.
* * *
The Long and Short of It

As everyone knows, this is the tenth anniversary of the Islamic terrorist attacks on the United States, "9/11," a date that has indelibly impressed itself upon the psyche of every American. In some ways it seems as if it happened yesterday, so clearly do I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when news of a plane hitting the World Trade Center started trickling to me that Tuesday morning soon after I arrived at my office for what seemed like just another day of teaching.  In other ways it seems a lifetime ago, so radically did the world seem to change.  It was about a fifth of my own lifetime ago; but my fifteen-year son has lived two-thirds of his lifetime thus far in the shadow of that day.  But did the world really change on that September day ten years ago, or did some of us at least simply wake up to a new reality that already existed?

As a historian, one of the things I teach my students is how we periodize history.  Division of history into various "ages" and "periods" is, of course, a product of the human mind's need to impose order on chaos, to organize information into easily comprehensible form.  It is always retrospective, an attempt to understand the past, to establish periods that have some common theme that set them apart from what went before and what came afterward.  Although my own specialty of study is the so-called "Middle Ages" or "Dark Ages," of necessity since I have at times had to teach much wider spans of time, basically from the beginning to the present day, I have given some thought to the matter of periodizing modern history.  As of yet I have remained uncertain exactly what is the significance of 9/11 in that context.

Commonly, "Modern History" is considered (or at least I consider it) to be the period from 1789, the French Revolution, to the present.  Before that, basically back to ca. 1650, is "the Early Modern Period."  (You can use "history," "period," and "age" somewhat interchangeably in these terminologies; e.g. "the Middle Ages" vs. "Medieval History" vs. "the medieval period.")  Of course, you can always subdivide periods.  A common division of the Modern Age is to count 1789 to 1914 as "the Long 19th Century," because the French Revolutionary Period and the Napoleonic Wars that followed finally reached an equilibrium ca. 1815 that established a balance that would endure more or less until it shattered in the beginning of World War I.  The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on 28 June 1914 sparked a conflagration that through not one but two World Wars would quickly destroy that world of the 19th century with its great European Empires essentially dominating the globe and by 1945 leave the United States and Russia in the form of the Soviet Union as opposing forces for most of the next half century -- the "Cold War."  But, of course, between 1989, the Fall of the Berlin Wall, and 1991, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, that new balance that waxed and waned in favor of one or the other side finally was itself ended.  Usually, on the big "Periodization of History" sheet that I give my students even in the Early World Civ survey as a tool of orientation, I count 1914 to 1989 as "the (Short) 20th Century," followed by 1989 to ? as "the 21st Century."  I first concocted that periodization in the 1990s at the beginning of my teaching career, informing my students for the first few years that they were already living in a very different world from that of their parents.  What exactly would be the nature of that world, I said, remained to be seen.  Since 11 September 2001, however, I have added a parenthetical note to that "21st Century":  "The Significance of 9/11?"

Basically, the question would be, was 9/11 itself a demarcation point in history that is of such significance that it literally brought a changing of the ages, or was it "simply" the defining moment in a new age that was already in progress?  My money would be on the latter.  I think it was at that moment that the nature of the new post-Cold War world became clear.  Islamic terrorism was already rising in the 1990s in the wake of the fall of the Soviet Union as well as the first US action in Iraq, the Persian Gulf War of 1990-1991, in a somewhat under-recognized crescendo that would culminate in the attacks of 9/11.  It was, in my opinion, only then that some recognized that the United States was already in a war that had been raging for a decade or more.  Many, however, to this day refuse to recognize that fact.

I have some profound differences in political ideology from President George W. Bush, but one thing I give him credit for is that, however imperfectly he might have framed and prosecuted the subsequent "War on Terror," President Bush more than just about any other leader of the day -- indeed almost alone among them -- recognized that reality and took action whatever the consequences to his own political fortunes.  Because the reality is that there are people out there who want to kill us.  Whether we want to admit it or not.  And furthermore, whether we would prefer to frame it in such terms or not, from their perspective the conflict is at least framed as a religious war.  I personally believe they are largely sincere in that conviction.  Sure there are cynics among their ranks willing to use believers' faith as a tool for their own ambitions, but there are a lot of those believers who become willing tools.  That fact gives our enemy a clarity of purpose that is unfortunately lacking in our own resistance.  A few years ago, in an article that appeared in our local newspaper (The Natchitoches Times, 28 January 2005) about the recent publication of a couple of my scholarly publications (to be found here and here if you're interested in a peek at my professional life), I said this:

"Both of the just-published articles focus on the 10th century, the period in which notions of Christian service and sacrifice crystalized in a desperate defense of Christian Anglo-Saxon civilization against pagan Viking invaders.  Similar ideas, a century and more later, would motivate the first crusaders in their efforts to retake the Holy Land from the Muslims.

"Faith has always been a powerful motivating force.  Throughout history, religion has always provided one of the essential foundations for societies and states, and conflict against other societies and states has often been framed in religious terms when religion was not the outright cause for such conflict.  In the modern context, we need look only at the clarity of purpose displayed by Islamic terrorists who conceive theirs as a conflict against a western society that they identify as Christian.

"To draw a parallel, the 10th-century Anglo-Saxons knew against whom they were fighting, and why; Osama bin Laden knows against whom he is fighting, and why; in the war against terror, do we know against whom we are fighting, and why?"

To this day, I'm still not sure if as a nation we really know.  And if we don't figure it out, this may be the last days of Western Civilization regardless of whether they began in 1989 or 2001.  For my part, I believe that our hope, perhaps our only hope, is in recognizing, embracing, and defending our civilization's traditional self-identification as a Christian civilization.
11 September 2011

Thanks for reading.  We must remember, and take heed.

Sunday, September 9

Wayne of Gotham (2012)

By Tracy Hickman

This is a very difficult prose novel to write about. I don't know if ultimately I will decide I liked it or loathed it. I have very mixed feelings about it. I had been looking forward to it ever since I'd seen it announced, and rather than avail myself of the cheaper SFBC edition as I usually do these kinds of things, or even wait until a cheaper paperback edition appeared, I ended up paying virtually full cover price – a whopping $26.99 (I find hardcover prose book prices even harder to swallow, oddly enough, than graphic novel prices in which you objectively get far less story. But I also recognize that there are significantly different economic realities underlying the two genres) less a membership discount at Books-a-Million. But then I found it a very hard book to get through. In fact, I put it aside a couple of times for rather lengthy periods and ended up being almost six weeks from start to finish. And then have let it sit for some time before deciding I have to write something and get it off my back. So here it is – most likely even more than typically rambling.

The overall plot is a parallel story of Bruce Wayne in the present discovering horrible things about his own, his parents', and Gotham City's past with Thomas Wayne in the past participating in a rather dubious secret program of medical experimentation, “Project Elysium,” with the aim of reforming criminals into model citizens via behavioral engineering by means of viral-borne DNA modification that goes grotesquely wrong and ultimately results in his own and his wife's deaths and the creation of the Batman. Of course, those long-buried events are now having repercussions in the present leading Batman to confront the reality of a father who was far less than the paragon he always believed him to be. And along the way Martha Wayne doesn't come off much better. I'm conflicted in how to feel about this. To a real degree it cheapens the ideal for which Batman has always fought, but the reality is that he only saw his parents through the eyes of a child who witnessed the center of his life ripped away from him in a moment of violence and to believe that his memories of perfection were but an idealization is reasonable. But for almost three hundred pages this book rubs the reader's nose in it, from a very off-putting opening with a repulsive depiction of the abuse that young Thomas suffered at the hands of his own father to the revelation that in a real sense Thomas Wayne contracted his own murder!

And it's carried off very inconsistently. On the “cool” side, Hickman very effectively depicts Batman's technology, his ever-evolving equipment and constant upgrades, and at first glance seems to use a lot of canon in this tale of an aging Batman who is now feeling the effects of a lifetime of crime-fighting. At first glance it seems very much a post-Crisis, pre-Flashpoint continuity, perhaps set in the future. The “present” is not specified, although 9/11 is more than a decade in the past (p. 31). Seemingly hard dates are established for the past sequences, but there is considerable inconsistency – Thomas Wayne is said to have been born on 26 November 1935 (p. 293), but in the second paragraph of the prologue, set on 21 September 1953, reference is made to “his fifteen years of life” (p. 1); the murders of Thomas and Martha Wayne are dated at 15 August 1971 (pp. 292-293) and 26 June 1974 (pp. 43-44). (Along the same lines of sloppy editing, I noticed several instances of bad word usage, although I only jotted a reference to one – p. 214, “site” for “sight.”) Regardless, Bruce's own birth is placed in 1963, which would necessarily put him in the range of fiftyish years of age at the unspecified “present” date.

There is considerable use of the rich Batman mythology with regard to the Rogues Gallery – a wide range of villains appear or are referred to in the course of this story – but there is nary a mention of any of Batman's many allies and proteges, under either their “civilian” or heroic identities. The closest is Bruce's spur-of-the-moment use of the name “Gerald Grayson” when he needs a quick alias. He is truly alone here. The geography of Gotham City is, as far as I can tell, pretty consistent with the map established around the time of No Man's Land – although I don't think that cataclysmic story was ever referencedwith frequent mention of the various streets, avenues, parks, and so forth named after the many creators of the Batman mythos over the past seventy years such as has been common, I think, in the past decade's comic stories (e.g., Moldoff Avenue, Robinson Park, Wayne Manor is in Burnley just across the river to the north of the island on which is built Gotham City, and so forth). So what you have here is a mixture of what seems very familiar but distorted so that it's almost unrecognizable as if seen through in a funhouse mirror, especially the relationship between Bruce and Alfred as a result of the latter's vigorous efforts to maintain a cover-up that was begun by his father to keep knowledge of Thomas Wayne's actions secret from the world and most importantly from his son. And we are asked to believe that it was so effective that Batman knew nothing of a period of intense chaos in Gotham City that resulted from those same actions – a reign of terror on the underworld carried out by a group of mutant super-humans called “The Apocalypse” – the misbegotten progeny of Project Elysium.

Sitting down and trying to write something about this book has not helped me to come to my own consensus, either, and I'm ready to give up on it. The reviewers on seem to be as a whole conflicted as well. Probably the best review I've found of it is by one Eric Garneau at The Mind Hut and I might as well refer you there and be done with it. It's not a book I can recommend.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, September 8

Dynamite Comics – Oct 2012

Reviews, commentary, general reactions, and random notes on the Dynamite Entertainment comics that were released during August that I received at the beginning of September. Caution: Spoilers ahead.

The Shadow #4
The Fire of Creation, Part Four” [ previous issue ]

Aboard a junk in Shanghai harbor – or possibly somewhere else on the Yangtze River (I think) – , the Japanese criminal Kondo tells the Chinese crime warlord Wong and a Chinese general the story of one Kent Allard, basically the story of the origin of the Shadow without intimate knowledge of the details of what happened to transform a wastrel into a supernatural arch enemy of crime. Meanwhile, Lamont Cranston and Margo Lane are accompanying a military expedition searching for Kondo and Wong – and following the Shadow's wake of destruction. Margo as well as a implicitly “invert” (Cranston's term) British diplomat get a graphic introduction to the realities of the atrocities the Japanese are inflicting on the Chinese, leading Cranston to soliloquize to Margo on the evil that is growing in East and West. Their boat catches up with their prey only to see it blown up by a mine. I'm enjoying the pieces and parts of this story without being able to really see the overall picture yet.

Lord of the Jungle #7
7: The New Guy / The Concrete Jungle 1 of 2” [ previous issue ]

This is the first half of an apocryphal story occurring between Tarzan of the Apes and The Return of Tarzan, set in Baltimore where Tarzan is working manual labor to earn his way back to Africa. He has by now become a minor media celebrity. Inevitably he comes into conflict with the crime boss whom he's already humiliated, Canler – and again humiliates him in front of his men. Canler knows how he can strike back at Tarzan, though – through Jane Porter. Not a good idea, as I'm sure we'll find out along with him next time! Canler is also involved in some plot with an unnamed Russian who's obviously the villainous Rokoff of the next two novels. Tarzan's unacknowledged – to say the least – cousin Cecil continues to show himself an ass. Esmeralda continues to show herself more perceptive than the white aristocratic Porters and Greystokes put together. And Jane is obviously having second thoughts about the choice she made. A good filler tale.

Warlord of Mars #20
Worms of Mars, Part 2 of 2” [ previous issue ]

This completes the apocryphal bridging story between Gods of Mars and Warlord of Mars (ERB's novel). John Carter, Carthoris, and company, with the help of the deceased “goddess” Issus' granddaughter Linea find and destroy the anti-Atmosphere Plant, but Linea is fatally injured in a fight with its guardian “worms of Mars” – really sea-serpents called silians. In the end, she professes regret for her haughty treatment of Carthoris, who had so obviously fallen for her … despite her color. That's an interesting, perhaps metatextual twist – John Carter, the one-time Confederate officer, now married to an oviparous non-human (strictly speaking), sees great advantage in a prospective dynastic union of the royal houses of Helium and the Black Pirate First Born of Barsoom in reply to a rather glum (having just again been figuratively kicked in the balls by Linea) Carthoris' comment, “But she's … you know, she's … / black...”. Anyway, as she dies, Linea does also order the First Born, as the last command of the last descendant of Issus, to make peace with the red men. From John Carter's journal: “All First Born resistance ceased shortly after the deactivation of the Doomsday Factory. / My son never spoke of Linea again, but I do not think it was because he wished to forget her –no. / It was because remembering was too painful.”

50% alternate cover
(Somebody's getting poked!)
Last time I made a snarky remark about how annoying sideways covers are. Maybe equally annoying are the covers that have absolutely nothing to do with the contents. I guess I should count myself blessed that I didn't get the other 50% alternate cover, however.... (And it is just luck of the draw – one of my friends also gets this title from the same monthly on-line service, and he did.) … Anyway, I greatly prefer covers that have something to do with the specific contents of the issue, no matter how symbolic that correspondence might be.

Warlord of Mars: Dejah Thoris #14
[“The Boora Witch, Part 4”] [ previous issue ]

In Helium, the possessed Dejah Thoris seems to triumph over her father and grandfather, but at the moment she is about to execute them, Kantos Kan returns. He had discovered the truth in the Toonolian Marshes, bringing back the Boora Witch's body. “Dejah Thoris” tries to bluff him, but he calls her on it – and beheads the body. This destroys the witch and restores Dejah Thoris' soul to her own body. The Boora Witch was originally an Orovar woman who obtained forbidden knowledge to prolong her own life through possession of a series of bodies. In the end, although nominally forgiven, Dejah Thoris exiles herself from Helium. I'm not sure if the next issue will be considered a continuation of this arc or the beginning of a new arc – or a bridging story before a new arc takes up. In any case, this has been the end of a very disappointing, very un-ERB-like tale, and hopefully we can look forward to something better. ERB did not write Swords and Sorcery tales – at least in his Mars series.

Warriors of Mars #4
[“Gullivar Jones and John Carter of Mars, Part 2”] [ previous issue ]

Our heroes make their way to the Thither People city in the southern wastes of Barsoom, intent on rescuing the abducted Dejah Thoris. But meanwhile Zar-Hap casts the princess of Helium into a pit to coerce her into revealing the secret of Gullivar Jones' carpet. There Dejah Thoris longs to see her deceased mother – and the carpet brings Heru to her. When John Carter and Gullivar Jones attack, they are all united and escape with Dejah Thoris commanding the carpet, which now responds only to her. Gullivar Jones and Heru are reunited, but she cannot stay. With his lost Barsoomian love fading back into the dead, Gullivar Jones determines to see the future of Mars. Dejah Thoris commands the carpet to respond to him … and he reappears one thousand years later [caption] – on an ocean. Besides the fact that this is all utterly uncanonical, it's not a bad story this go'round. I've not been terribly impressed with the past couple of issues, but this one was fine. One random comment: John Carter on p. 3 looks so much like Russ Manning's image of Tarzan that I did a double-take.
Russ Manning's Tarzan
vs. Jack Jadson's John Carter

Cheers! – and Thanks for reading!

Friday, September 7

Quick Hits

Very quick notes on some stuff I've read or watched of late that I've not blogged about for whatever reason....

Father Joe: The Man Who Saved My Soul, by Tony Hendra (2004)

I read this about a month ago at the suggestion of one of the members of our Monday night Bible Study group. I should have written something up before now, and I really didn't take good notes, so here you've got mainly just some long term memories and impressions. The author is a former writer and editor of National Lampoon – and probably more recognizable as the band manager in Spinal Tap – an unlikely spiritual writer if there ever was one! – telling the story of how he initially found faith through the inspiration of a particularly holy if somewhat unorthodox Benedictine monk of Quarr Abbey on the Isle of Wight, was for several years heady with the conviction that his own vocation was to be a monk of Quarr, suddenly found his faith as mysteriously vanished as it had appeared, devoted himself to another god, that of Comedic Satire, for a couple of decades during which he continually felt a draw back to Quarr and always needed the approval of Father Joe with whom he maintained contact and who never, ever, judged him, and eventually found his way back to a more mature faith. It is a fascinating story, although frankly I do not believe I would like Hendra at all – and find aspects of Father Joe's theology a bit dodgy. (Bear in mind, however, that here we do not get a direct picture of Father Joe, but rather Father Joe filtered through the lens of Tony Hendra.) And yet the book as a whole is quite touching, especially the ending, when after Father Joe's passing Hendra discovers that there was far more to this simple monk than he ever dreamed.

There is one line I noted from the book and want to pass on.  "You only parody what you once loved, and now loathe" (unknown page number as I long since returned the book to my friend).  I think there is a tremendous amount of truth to that statement, and I think it helps me understand why I have quite seldom ever cared for parody or satire.  

Green Hornet: Year 1, Volume 2 – The Biggest of All Game by Matt Wagner and Aaron Campbell (Dynamite 2011)

I read the first volume about a year and a half ago, not long before I started this blog. I should have gone back and reread that one before picking this one up, but managed to pick up the story pretty well starting at the mid-point of the twelve-issue series as I did. I could quibble over a few details where I know the status quo here doesn't match that of the radio show – not that I've heard that many episodes, but one that I have listened to is one where Britt tells his father what he's been up to, only to have his father tell him of another such masked man in their ancestry. With the William Tell Overture fading in and out as he did so, although some kind of legal reasons kept the radio show from invoking the name of that masked man, you know who it is. Unfortunately, the website where that episode was available in mp3 is gone now – probably, again, for legal reasons. Anyway, in this comic series, the death of the elder Reid is part of the story and occurs before Britt assumes the identity of the Green Hornet. Overall, however, writer Matt Wagner evokes very well the pulp-noir world of the 1930s, complemented very effectively by the art of Aaron Campbell.

Batman: Earth One by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank (DC 2012)

I surprised myself by enjoying Superman: Earth One immensely when, after a considerable amount of time post-publication I succumbed to a Science Fiction Book Club offer and picked it up cheap. “Surprised” because – as highly as I regard Babylon 5 – I've not been much of a fan of J. M. Straczynski's comic book writing. You can see more of my thoughts on that here. Anyway, I went ahead and preordered Batman: Earth One and received it along with my July month-end comics. I figured, as it was by Johns and Frank, it would have to be good. Boy was I mistaken. If you've not bought it, don't bother. The characterization of Batman here is unrecognizable. And the story continues certain trends in Geoff Johns' writing – and the new DC Comics in general – that are becoming more and more annoying to me. One being that he seems to no longer be able to write adolescents that are not annoying snots that you want to punch in the mouth. That's Johns. You can't even explain it as young Bruce's understandably angry reaction to the murder of his parents, because it's the kid's own rude arrogance that helps to bring about their deaths. I also noticed the continuation of the trend that established characters with significant “flaws” or departures from our cultural ideal of attractiveness are being reinvented as more cardboard punchout images of “perfection.” Here it's the famously slovenly Harvey Bullock recast as one suave dude who I figured, at initial glance, must be the equally famously handsome Harvey “Apollo” Dent before getting half a face-full of acid. Alfred also, to a degree. I have some more to say about this in my “New 52 One Year Later” retrospective that is in the works, so I'm going to leave it at that for now. Think about it, though, and you'll come up with plenty of examples before I even mention them. Anyway, the story's pretty sucky too, with a stereotypical sadistic monster who preys on children for the story's shock value. Don't waste your time or money.

Alphas (2011 ff.)

Who says advertising doesn't work? I'd heard of this show but not much more, until last month's stack of DC comics with its full-page advert brought it to mind again. I did a little research, found out that the first season of eleven episodes (twelve TV-hours) is available for streaming on Netflix, and checked it out. Why have I not heard more about this show? It's great! Nothing quite matches the first season of Heroes, which the basic premise is most like, but this is easily light-years better than the second and subsequent seasons of that show. And Rachel … whoa. We were only a couple of episodes into the second season currently appearing on the used-to-be-Sci-Fi-Channel (I refuse to use that new name), so with a minimal cost to purchase those episodes from iTunes, I'm pretty much up to speed.

One interesting little fact that I've learned – Alphas occurs in the same universe as the same channel's recently wrapped up Eureka! (which a friend has been encouraging me to watch) and Warehouse 13. I caught the first couple of episodes of the latter on Netflix streaming and surprisingly liked it – I say surprising because the commercials had never piqued my interest. But when I found out there have been character cross-overs I thought, what the heck, it doesn't cost anything to check it out. And I will get around to Eureka! – eventually.

Mad Men (2007 ff.)

Actually, I watched the first season of this before I fell into Alphas. I can't blame anything except my own ennui for not picking it up before. There's a lot of well-deserved buzz about it. Several of my fellow professors are devoted viewers. Netflix, you're wonderful. I'm just old enough that the world portrayed is very much the world of my childhood … well, not the big city rat race, of course, but the early 1960s. When I run out of Alphas I'll be jumping back into it – with classes going again, I don't have nearly as much time to work my way through TV series, so it may be Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks. Unless something else strikes my fancy (cough – Warehouse 13 – cough).

The Tudors (2007-2010)

Can you tell it was summer break? I had actually started this over Christmas break, I think, watching BBC America reruns that I'd DVR'd. I think I actually finished it out via Netflix as well, before I took up Mad Men. Really good, in most respects. I know just enough of that period in English history (I'm more a medievalist than a Ren-Ref/Tudor guy) that I could catch them in historical faux pas, but not quite enough that they messed it up for me. I could doubtless have written more, but it's been a couple of months since I actually finished it up, so let's just leave it as something I would recommend. I particularly liked a very believable depiction of a sweet young girl warped by the repeated emotional traumas she was subjected to through the years into what history would know as Queen "Bloody" Mary Tudor.  And Sir Thomas Boleyn is probably the single slimiest, most evil character I've ever seen – anywhere.

The Books of Magic, by Neil Gaiman and Company (DC-Vertigo 1990)

No, that's not Harry Potter.

I've had this volume for several years but never got around to reading it. Since Tim Hunter and the Books of Magic are showing up in Justice League Dark these days, I figured it might be a good time to try to get up to speed. Gaiman, of course, is most famous in comic circles as the author of the long-running title, Sandman – which I've actually only read in the first two trade volumes. Something else I keep meaning to get around to. Actually, I'm investing in the current deluxe hardcover volumes of The Annotated Sandman and may well tackle it that way. There are a lot of arcane references that annotated versions can help the reader appreciate. In fact, I found it helpful to dig up a set of annotations to get the most out of this volume here.

Briefly, The Books of Magic was originally published as four “Prestige Format” issues wherein one after another four representatives of DC Comics' supernatural genre took a young English boy – whose mother is dead, who wears glasses, and has a pet owl (although it predates Harry Potter, Gaiman himself professes no belief that J. K. Rowling was even aware of his character when she came up with her own) – on a tour of the supernatural side of the DC Universe. They are, in order, the Phantom Stranger, John Constantine, Doctor Occult, and Mister E, and Timothy is faced with a choice, to live a normal life or to live a life in constant danger – but as the most powerful magician in the universe. Although Gaiman did not continue with the character, the foundation he had lain was firm enough that it resulted in a fairly long-running and highly regarded series following Timothy's further adventures – because you know what he chose. I'm anxious now to acquire the bound volumes of the Books of Magic ongoing series.

Caprica (2009-2011)

I almost forgot about this prequel/spinoff from the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica that I watched early in the summer. I actually intended from when I finished it to give it an in-depth post, but it looks like that will never happen so this will have to do. It is a show that makes you think. I think it says some interesting things about our own society, and even more so the culture of the Hollywood creators behind it. It's too simple, I think, to say that the overall spirit of the show is “anti-religion” or results from the typical liberal/atheistic predisposition to disdain religion. It's more a result of the clueless modern liberal/atheists' total misconception of religion. I think the most telling line in the series comes about half-way through, in episode 11, delivered by their archetypical evil religious person, Sister Clarice: “I offer you a religion that removes the need for faith.” Isn't this our modern world's idea of a true, pure religion … that would ultimately mean nothing?

As a prequel to Battlestar Galactica, unfortunately I think this series fails. I just don't see how you can get from here to there. There are too many discrepancies. And falling back on the shock value of killing off the kid, Willie Adama, whom we'd sort of been getting to know over the course of the series and assuming would grow up to be Admiral Adama (although I'd already suspected there was something wrong with their time-line), in the last episode and giving lip service to a younger brother being subsequently born and named in his memory is just lazy and manipulative. Didn't they do the same thing with Jimmy Olsen on Smallville?

And I think that actually catches me up, more or less, at least with regard to those things I consider “blog-worthy”....

Cheers, and Thanks for reading!