Sun - November 12, 2006

Spider-Man 3 Trailer


On Thursday Sony released the new trailer to Spider-Man 3. See it here.

There's Sandman! The symbiote! Gwen Stacy! (One brief shot.) Tofer Grace looking so much like Tobey Magurie it's a little eerie!

But where's Venom?



There he is, in this unfinished trailer that somehow made its way to YouTube. Check it out now before it disappears in a puff of litigation.

How very odd that the Venom CGI is finished, but the Spider-Man stuff isn't. Either Sony planned on revealing Venom early and changed their minds, or this is the most clever bait-n-switch ever.

Posted at 09:42 PM        

Mon - August 21, 2006

My Newest Resolution


Behold, Frank Miller's variant cover for All Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder #5.



I don't think I'm going to make fun of Frank Miller anymore. He's making it too easy.

Posted at 09:34 PM        

Sun - July 30, 2006

Weenie in the Water


A couple of days I referred to Aquaman as "the lamest of super heroes." I think that I should explain that statement a little.
 
I didn't literally mean that he's the lamest super hero, if you look at every super hero every company has ever produced. I meant that he was the lamest super hero people – normal people – have heard of. I'd like to think there are some people who read this blog who aren't hardcore comic book geeks. Unlikely I know, but please allow me hang on to my illusions.
 
Now let's look at some of the leading arguments for why Aquaman isn't lame, and my responses.
 

These stamps were released by the USPS this month, proving that anyone can lick Aquaman.
 
#1 Aquaman has dominion over 75% of the earth's surface. As King of the Atlantis and all the oceans, this is true. It is also true that 100% of the world's population lives on the other 25%, with the possible exception of Ringo Starr. Being king of the oceans is like being the king of the moon or the king of Australia: No one lives there, so who cares? More germane to the subject of comic book stories, there are only so many stories you can tell set under the sea.
 
Aquaman has cool superpowers. Like talking to fish? Do fish have that that many interesting things to say? How useful is controlling fish when fighting other super powered beings? Not very. You can throw a million fish at Superman, and he'll throw back a million fish worth of boiled fish paste. Seriously, if my superpower was talking to fish I'd just leave it off my job applications.


"The 'L' is for League, dumbass."
 
Aquaman is a member of the JLA. Traditionally, yes. But how often can he really help stop an alien invasion? If the aliens land in Santa Monica Aquaman will be on that like tartar sauce on scrod, but ten miles inland what can he do? Hell, he can't even fly, so he has to get a ride from Green Lantern if he wants to go anywhere. Scratch that, these days he mostly gets toted around by Wonder Woman. That's supposed to stress the fact that they're both from similar backgrounds (royalty, lost civilizations), but it also highlights that even someone wearing star-spangled panties is more useful than Aquaman.
 
Aquaman was on the Super Friends. That makes him less lame, how? I suppose that by comparison Aquaman looks pretty good compared to comic relief like the Wonder Twins, but when it came to being helpful in a non-whale-related crisis, he still paled compared to Black Vulcan, Samurai, and Apache Chief. Apache frikkin' Chief!
 
Unlike that punk Superman, Aquaman can't be killed by a chunk of rock. But Superman can sit through an entire episode of Smallville without having to visit the swimming pool. If you're young enough you may never have run across it, but Aquaman used to only be able to spend an hour out of the water at a time or he'd die. Like Green Lantern's inability to affect anything colored yellow or Wonder Woman losing her strength if her bracelets are tied together, this particular weakness of Aquaman's has been downplayed in recent years to the point that I'm not sure if it even applies anymore.
 

"Bite my ass, Sub-Mariner!"

Aquaman has a really cool costume. He's king of the oceans, but he dresses like a pumpkin. An upside-down pumpkin.
 

Posted at 10:54 PM        

Mon - June 12, 2006

Some observations on Wonder Woman Vol. 3, #1


Another Crisis, another new Wonder Woman series. DC's preeminent female hero got a new #1 this week, and the I thought it was interesting that in some ways the issue is addressing some of the specific complaints about the character I mentioned in the Stomp Tokyo podcast over the last couple of weeks.

The issue opens with Donna Troy as Wonder Woman, eschewing the star-spangled panties costume for a much cooler armored look.


"Classic" costume.


Donna Troy as Wonder Woman.

I like Troy's costume, the cover of this issue suggests it won't last.



There are a couple of points of difference with the "classic" costume, including the transformation of the Girdle of Gaea into a "WW" logo, and the chest plate taking on more of a eagle look.

For the most part the book serves to introduce us to the one thing that I've always thought Wonder Woman lacks: A good rogue's gallery. The picking are slim, and here's what they gave us in the issue:



The large redheaded woman in the back is Giganta. The original 1940's version of the character was supposed to be a hyper-evolved gorilla. Later they used her in the Challenge of the Super Friends cartoon and gave her the ability to grow to giant size, apparently so Apache Chief had some sort of archenemy. In the 1980's her origin was revamped again so she was a scientist who had transfered her mind into the body of a sideshow performer and she could grow to giant size like the cartoon version, though it was never explained how she gained that ability. In this most recent #1 they suggest the sideshow performer had that superpower, though that still doesn't explain where it came from originally. Maybe she was just a mutant?

The woman with the cheetahs is Cheetah. Recently she's been some sort of human/cheetah hybrid, but they've made her human again. I'm not sure why. Without any superpowers she's not much of a challenge to someone who can fly and bench press a national monument.

The little person is Dr. Psycho, who in the 1940's was mad scientist but has been morphing over the years into a sociopath with mind-control powers. Now he looks kinda like Anton LeVey, but short.

So, it's Wonder Woman vs. The 50ft. Woman, a big Garfield fan, and Mini Me. Oh yeah, this'll be good.

Posted at 11:19 PM        

Thu - April 27, 2006

Frank Miller's Robocop


Back in 1990 Robocop 2 came out. It wasn’t a very good movie, and it was all the more disappointing for the fact that the credited screenwriter was comic book legend Frank Miller. Miller complained that his script hadn’t actually been used, and it was pretty obvious if you saw the movie that he was telling the truth. Other than a 10-year-old drug kingpin and a line about how all that was left of the real Murphy was a couple of chunks on the coroner’s table, the movie didn’t resemble Miller’s writing at all. Miller also got a credit on Robocop 3 (1993), though I don’t think he did any active work on that movie at all.



We finally got an idea of what Frank Miller intended Robocop 2 to be last year when Avatar Press released the first issue of Frank Miller’s Robocop, an adaptation of Miller’s script by Steven Grant and Juan Jose Ryp. It’s safe to assume that this 9 issue series is close to what Miller intended both by the style and that Miller endorsed the series enough to provide alternate covers.

In outline the plot is almost identical as Robocop 2. When OCP decides Robocop is becoming a liability because of an overdeveloped sense of social justice the company cripples the cyborg by adding a gazillion new directives to his programming. Meanwhile a new Robocop is prepared, this one with more weaponry and what is intended to be a more obedient personality.

Perhaps the single biggest addition to the comic book is an entire subplot about the police being on strike and OCP bringing in a force of military mercenaries to provide security for the Delta City project. Mostly this gives Lewis (Nancy Allen’s character) something to do, because things get violent and Lewis leads the fight against the mercenaries. These scenes are probably also responsible for Miller’s credit on Robocop 3, because there are some similar scenes in that movie.



Another difference between the movie and the comic book is the identity of Robocop 2. In the movie it was a drug dealer who it was theorized could be controlled through his addiction to the new drug “Nuke.” His being chosen for the job was mostly the decision of an OCP psychologist, who it was implied was in love with the drug kingpin in some sick way. In the comic book it’s one of the mercenaries who becomes Robocop 2 (at least for a while), while the equivalent psychologist character is a pop psychologist who is never given any motive for why she hates Robocop. She hates him so much, in fact, that she transfers her personality into Robocop 2. That, plus the fact that she dresses like a high class hooker but pointedly spurns male attention, makes her one of the most flamboyantly misogynist characters I’ve seen in fiction recently. I’m not sure if that’s the way she came across in the original script, or just the comic. Without Miller’s original script in front of me it is hard to say which is more likely. On one hand Miller’s Angel/Whore complex is well documented, mostly by Miller himself. On the other hand Avatar Press isn’t generally known for its positive portrayals of women, in much the same way that Saudi Arabia isn’t generally known for its delicious pork products.

This last point brings me to the execution of the comic book itself. The art by Juan Jose Ryp resembles Geof Darrow’s in that it is hyper-detailed, but the flat coloring and poor storytelling makes it tough to tell what’s going on sometimes. Take this page:



Good luck trying to figure out what's happening there.

Being an Avatar book all the women all look like they walked of Penthouse (Lewis looks more like Jenny McCarthy than Nancy Allen in print) and gratuitous gore abounds on nearly every page. Even worse, the two fights between Robocop and Robocop 2 are repetitive and not very interesting. Basically Robcop 2 has four different tricks (identified via a helpful menu) and it just uses them again and again. As bad as the movie Robocop 2 may have been, at least the final fight was memorable.

Posted at 10:37 PM        

Mon - April 17, 2006

All Star Superman


All Star Superman, by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitley, is a cute little out-of-continuity series about Big Blue. In the first issue Lex Luthor (widely known to be a super villain but working for the U.S. government) manipulated Superman into performing a rescue too close to the sun. This supercharged Superman, tripling his strength but guaranteeing that he would die within a year. Faced with his mortality Supes revealed to Lois that he was really Clark Kent. In the second issue Superman took Lois to the Fortress of Solitude, which in this reality appears to have been decorated with Batman’s help.



In the third issue Superman gives Lois a potion that gives her superpowers for a day. On that day Samson and Atlas (as in the mythological characters) show up in Metropolis and start macking on Lois. In the end it turns out they really want Superman’s help because the Ultrasphinx (like the regular Sphinx, but he keeps colors from fading) is after them, but some of Samson’s bravado with Lois is because he has a newspaper from the future featuring the headline “Superman Dead.” The issue ends with a cute little last panel joke that tweaks any assumptions I had about where this is going.



This series has been wonderful to read. How could DC get this so right yet let Frank Miller run riot on the all-but unreadable All Star Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder?

Posted at 10:33 PM        

Wed - March 8, 2006

The Ultimates 2 #10




Some people have been complaining about how long it is between issues of this allegedly bimonthly series. I say, Are you on crack? Sure, it’s a wait, but Bryan Hitch’s artwork has been spectacular in every single issue, and issue #10 is probably the best yet. Hitch can include epic action scenes, tense stand-offs, quiet conversations, and even a boardroom briefings all in the same issue and it all looks great and works with the story writer Mark Miller is trying to tell.



It’s probably worth mentioning that the current Ultimates storyline is more or less the same as Miller’s last storyline on The Authority (the superteam is ambushed and replaced, but fights back against impossible odds) , though the end of that series was badly marred by inconsistent art. The stakes also seem a lot higher, mainly because I think the characters are more interesting. Also, it may be that the faux-Athority team never seemed like that much of a threat.



I noticed an odd thing about the Colonel’s origin. We see the young man who was enhanced the same way Captain America was, but the sequence appears to specify they operated on his brain in some fashion. Are they perhaps implying that that the Colonel has is someone else’s brain in the young man’s super-soldier enhanced body? I’m not sure who would qualify to be the brain, Ultimates has been pretty self-contained without too many extra characters. I also couldn’t help noticing that considering he’s supposed to be behind everything, Loki hasn’t received much attention.

Posted at 10:26 PM        

Mon - February 13, 2006

Infinite Crisis Action Figure Spoiler


You may want to skip this if you don't what to know what's going to be happening in an upcoming issue of Infinite Crisis:












Spoiler Space
















Check it out on the left there: You just can't keep a good continuity nightmare down. I guess that after appearing to die following his fight with the Titans' "b" squad (a.k.a. coffin-stuffers) Superboy-Prime will be back, probably possessed/animated by the Anti-Monitor.

I'm still not sure why Superboy-Prime is supposed to be so powerful. Is it just because he's pre-Crisis Superman strong? Could pre-Crisis Superman really push planets around? I mean, I know that was the joke, but did he actually do it after the 1950's?

I wonder about the two Alex Luthor heads. He hasn't sported the Disco-Luthor look in Infinite Crisis, so did they just include that so he could do double duty as the Crisis on Infinite Earths figure? Or are we in for another shocking plot twist? Probably the first one.

Posted at 10:28 PM        

Thu - November 3, 2005

Infinite Crisis and the Two Luthors


After seven months of labeled build-up (and a couple of years of less obvious stage-setting) DC’s next big event, Infinite Crisis is here. I have only one thing to say:

Wha-huh???

A little background. The direct Infinite Crisis tie-ins began with the cryptically titled Countdown to Infinite Crisis. In this book Blue Beetle discovered that Max Lord had remade the secret organization Checkmate into his own personal tool for fighting metahumans. Beetle’s first clue? That would be when Lord fatally shot Beetle in the head.



From there the story split into four miniseries.

In The Rann-Thangarian War, interstellar war breaks out due to the events of Adam Strange: Planet Heist. The Thangarian demon Ominar Sinn tried to take advantage of the situation, but was defeated. As the series ends the war is still going strong. How this will tie into what’s going on earthside is not clear, but it will keep the Green Lantern Corps and all the Hawkperson heroes pretty busy.

In Day of Vengeance the new Eclipso, actually the insane Jean Loring from Identity Crisis, convinces the Spectre to destroy all magic in the universe. A small cadre of magical heroes stop him, but the wizard Shazam is apparently killed and the Rock of Ages is destroyed over Gotham City.

In The OMAC Project Max Lord continues his war against anybody with superpowers using Brother I, an artificial intelligent spy satellite he commandeered from Batman, and strange nanotech powered sleeper agents called OMACs. In the related Sacrifice crossover (which ran through Superman and Wonder Woman) we learn that Lord can control Superman. Superman goes on a near-homicidal rampage while under Lord’s control, but Wonder Woman incapacitates Big Blue and kills Lord to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Finally the OMACs are all activated, though most of them are destroyed, and Brother I takes his revenge on Wonder Woman by publicly airing Lord’s death for the whole world to see.


So Wonder Woman opened a chiropractic practice, what the big deal?

In Villains United we see Lex Luthor form the Society, the newest attempt to organize super villains into a force that will far less vulnerable to superheroes. The main difference this time it seems to be working. However, a mysterious figure calling himself Mockingbird organizes the Secret Six, a group of super villains who oppose the Society.

All this came to a head last week with the release of the last issue of Villains United and the first issue of Infinite Crisis. Spoilers follow.

In Villains United #6 it was revealed that the Society’s Lex Luthor was secretly holding Pariah captive. Pariah was a character from 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths, the original all-universe crossover DC used to simplify their labyrinthine continuity. Pariah, who I didn’t know was still around after Crisis, is drawn to scenes of great destruction. Luthor tortures Pariah to find out what the immortal being knows about the upcoming crisis, and Pariah reveals that there is another Lex Luthor.Luthor says, yes, I know that because I’m him, and kills Pariah. (Hey, I thought he was immortal!) In the face of this shocking revelation it isn’t tough to figure out what happens next. Mockingbird is the other (original?) Lex Luthor.



Infinite Crisis #1also had a big reveal at the end. As the DC Universe goes to hell in a hand basket (magic disrupted, alien races at war, villains united, and the three central heroes all pissed at each other) the situation is discussed by unseen people. At the end of the issue those people are revealed: The Superman of Earth-2, his wife Lois, Alexander Luthor (the only survivor of Earth-3 and the son of that Earth’s Lex Luthor), and the Superboy of Earth-Prime. All these characters disappeared at the end of Crisis on Infinite Earth, shunted off to a paradise of Alexander Luthor’s making that we were told they could never return from. Basically, these characters coming back cements something that was suspected but until now not confirmed: Infinite Crisis is a direct sequel to Crisis on Infinite Earths.



First let’s deal with the two Luthors in Villains United. From the dialogue we get the sense that the Luthor who formed the Society is the out-of-place one (I’ll call him Luthor-GQ, because he seems to prefer polo shirts) and the one in hiding and calling himself Mockingbird (we’ll call him Luthor-PA for the “classic” purple and green power armor he wears) is the original. This is rather confusing, because the idea that Luthor was replaced would make a lot more sense if Luthor-GQ was the original. For years Luthor has been very low key in his villainy, becoming so respected that he even managed to get elected President of the United States back in 2000. However his administration ended in 2003 when he suddenly started shooting up Kryptonite steroids and decided it would be a good idea to play super-powered Rochambeau with Superman. (All this happened in Superman/Batman: Public Enemies.) Yet apparently Luthor-PA is the one who was elected President, and Luthor-GQ started the Society while Luthor-PA was in hiding after Superman kicked his power-armored butt.

So how is there a second Luthor? Three possibilities come to mind.

- The second Luthor is a clone that got aspirations to replace the real thing. Luthor has generally been mad for clones. He created the flawed clone of Superman called Bizarro, he cloned himself when he got cancer and pretended to be his own son after he died, and he recently created the hybrid clone of himself and Superman that is the current Superboy.

- The second Luthor is the “Antimatter Universe” version of Lex Luthor that showed up in JLA: Earth-2. The problem with this is that this Mirror, Mirror version of Luthor was good. Maybe that’s changed, or maybe the Antimatter Universe version of Luthor thinks he’s doing good work by forming the Society. Maybe. I should also mention that the JLA recently went back to the Antimatter Universe in JLA: Syndicate Rules and Lex Luthor was conspicuous in his absence.

- The Second Lex Luthor is the pre-Crisis (Earth-1) Luthor. On one had, it really shouldn’t be possible. When the Crisis of Infinite Earths ended the people still living in the newly unified Post-Crisis universe were supposed to be physically the same people who had been there Pre-Crisis. Therefore there should not be a separate Pre- and Post-Crisis Lex Luthor. But (and it’s a pretty big “but”) there has always been an odd disconnect in how things appeared in the last two issues of Crisis on Infinite Earths and how they translated into the actual Post-Crisis DC universe. In issue #11 of Crisis on Infinite Earths, shortly after the universe has been unified, Superman visits Luthor in prison, and Luthor appears to be same old Earth-1 Luthor; slim, megalomaniacal, wearing grey work clothes and clearly used to being in prison. Yet when Luthor was reintroduced to the DC universe a few months later in John Byrne’s seminal The Man of Steel miniseries he was a completely different character; portly, fairly dignified and a respected business man who had never been in trouble with the law. This discrepancy was never explained, though as time has gone by the white collar criminal Luthor has transmogrified into the bald, mad scientist Luthor people are most familiar with.

Now that Infinite Crisis is out, it’s pretty obvious that the correct answer is the third one. A bunch of the discrepancies left over from Crisis on Infinite Earths have been cropping up recently, and Earth-1 Luthor would fit in with that nicely. Perhaps the most important of these, and this ties into the reappearance of the Earth-2 Superman, is Power Girl.

Pre-Crisis Power Girl was Kara Zor-L, the cousin of the Earth-2 Superman and therefore the equivalent of the Earth-1 Supergirl. Post-Crisis it was decided that Superman was the only survivor of Krypton, so Supergirl had never existed (another problem by itself) and Power Girl was given a new origin that involved Atlantis and sorcery. Recently a new Supergirl has shown up, and Power Girl has begun to show signs of being Kryptonian again. This mystery may have been settled last week when JSA Classified #4 comes out, but I haven't read it yet.

At the end of issue #1 of Infinite Crisis someone who isn’t quite identified, but is probably Alexander Luthor, whispers to Earth-2 Superman’s ear that if he intervenes now “you can even save her.” This may be a direct reference to Power Girl. Perhaps all of the crap that’s going down in the DC universe right now is the cosmos trying to wipe out all vestiges of pre-Crisis continuity, and only the Pre-Crisis fugitives like the Earth-2 Superman can stop it. I guess we’ll see over the next seven months.


Oooh, snap!

I also reread the collected Crisis on Infinite Earths recently. I was struck this time by how many of the big DC heroes get shafted. Sure, Superman and the Flash play major roles in the story, but where’s Batman? He gets one scene in the first issue, and then doesn’t get another important line of dialogue until issue #10, where he basically comments on the fact that he’s completely useless. As all the superpowered beings are getting  their collective groins kicked by the Anti-Monitor at the dawn of time, Robin asks Batman, “What can we do?” Batman replies, ”We can lend them our hope.” That’s great pointy-ears, but I’m betting Superman and friends would appreciate it even more if you’d learn to shoot laser beams out of your nose or something. Poor Wonder Woman also gets no good scenes, unless you count the many times when something surprises her and she yells, “Great Hera!” The Green Lanterns are also sidelined constantly, for reasons that are probably only clear if you read the issues of Green Lantern that were being published at the time.

Posted at 06:03 PM        

Sun - October 2, 2005

All Stars Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder


How does the saying go? Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me? Well, shame on DC for letting Frank Miller fool them twice.

The first time was the much hyped Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again, a semi-sequel to Miller’s seminal graphic novel Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. Despite allegedly paying Mr. Miller $1 million to produce it, the book was embarrassingly primitive when it came to the art and half-formed when it came to the story. And worst of all from my perspective, one of the villains was revealed to be Dick Grayson, the original Robin. There was no particular reason given for why Grayson became a psycho killer, though Batman mumbled something about “always knowing he’d betray me.” With nothing in any portrayal of Grayson to back this up the only conclusion I could come to was that Frank Miller just hated the character of Robin and decided to take this opportunity to smear him.



Imagine my surprise that when Frank Miller was tapped to write DC’s new “All-Star” series about Batman he insisted that “Robin, the Boy Wonder” be included in the title. Could I be wrong? Was there some Robin story Frank Miller really wanted to tell?

Nope, judging from the first two issues of All Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder, this is another character assassination. This book is terrible. Miller fooled DC but good. Basically he just took a draft of an unpublished Sin City story and retrofit it to tell his version of how young Dick Grayson became Batman’s partner. Look at the car chase, the corrupt cops, the captions about how the city looks pretty but is really rotten delivered while the main character is driving on a street that mysteriously overlooks the city even though we never see any mountains in the background when we’re in the city, even the panel showing a lizard almost getting run over; this could be a Sin City book.

In the first issue we see young Dick Grayson’s circus aerialist parents murdered right after a performance. For some reason Miller decides that they should be shot, which really undercuts the whole element of their being in the circus in the first place. Vicki Vale is at the circus that night, and apparently the Gotham Police are a trying to cover up the very public murders. The police take Dick, apparently intent on killing him. Enter the Batman. In the second issue Batman effectively kidnaps Dick himself and starts brainwashing him into becoming Robin. Yep, no free will for Dick Grayson in this version of the story. Batman appears to be obsessive and cruel for deciding to turn a grieving kid he doesn’t know into a vigilante.

Ever since he wrote Spawn/Batman I’ve questioned if Frank Miller can write good superhero dialogue any more. Everything he writes now sounds like a parody of his earlier books, or like something the drug-addled child of Raymond Chandler and Andrew Vachss would come up with. This style worked okay in the Sin City books, which are supposed to be jokes anyway, but it’s been getting increasingly annoying in everything else he writes. This loopy dialogue is pushed to new extremes with the Dark Knight’s line, “Are you retarded or something? Who the hell do you think I am? I’m the goddamn Batman.”



The only bright spot in All Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder is the art by Jim Lee. Lee is probably getting paid an awful lot to do this book, and unlike Miller he’s acting like it. His art here is on par with earlier Batman series Hush.

Posted at 10:41 PM        

Fri - September 9, 2005

The Incredible Hulk: Tempest Fugit




Peter David wrote Incredible Hulk for something like 10 years back in the 80’s and 90’s. Recently he returned to the character with Tempest Fugit, a six issue storyline.

The story opens with the Hulk coming ashore on a mysterious island. The island is infested with stranded castaways, various monsters, previous incarnations of the Hulk, aliens, over-exposed X-Men, and time-traveling dictators. The story also features flashbacks to Bruce Banner’s time in high school, suggesting that his damaged psychology and split personality goes back to long before he was irradiated by the Gamma bomb.

This story is really Peter David’s commentary on the ABC show Lost. A bunch of weird stuff happens on an island, and the castaways take time out to theorize that they may already be dead or part of an alien experiment. Later the Hulk goes through a period where just about every possible explanation appears to be true, at least for a page or two. Needless to say, the real answer is the only one that can explain everything, and it's right there in the title of the book.

The structure of the story lends itself to a series of setpieces starring a bunch of the more visually interesting denizens of the Marvel Universe. Luckily, the artist is Lee Weeks, an excellent, detailed artist with a great eye for making fantastic things look realistic. He’s perfect for this story.

Posted at 11:42 PM        

Sun - August 21, 2005

The Flash: The Secret of Barry Allen




I’m not a big fan of the Flash. Before now, I’ve probably only read two complete Flash storylines, The Return of Barry Allen story arc that was collected in a trade and a strange one where Wally West was wandering around a desert, got killed, and was rebuilt by an alien machine.

Anyhoo, I picked up the most recent Flash collection. It’s titled The Secret of Barry Allen, and my interest was piqued for three reasons.

1.) It’s written by Geoff Johns. I’ve been reading some of Johns’ other titles recently, most notably Green Lantern and JSA, and he has a fun style full of nostalgia for when comic books were bright and bold. He’s also become DC’s point man when it comes to cleaning up tangled continuity. He’s recently rehabbed both Carter Hall (Hawkman) and Hal Jordan (Green Lantern).

2.) All the issues are penciled by Howard Porter. I’ve liked his stuff since his run on the most recent incarnation of JLA, and it was easy to tell that he enjoyed drawing the Flash.

3.) The issues in this collection came out during and after the recent DC Universe “big event” Identity Crisis, and deal with a lot of issues relating to that miniseries.

The trade starts out with a brief text summary of some of the events that precede the stories within. The speedster Zoom (a.k.a. the second Reverse Flash) attacked Wally West and his pregnant wife Linda Park, causing Linda to miscarry. Distraught and guilty, Wally decided that the fact that he didn’t have a secret identity was too risky. Wally asked the Spectre (who at this point is Hal Jordan, formerly Green Lantern… it’s complicated) to make the world forget that he was the Flash, and the Spectre complied – but with an unexpected consequence. The entire world forgot, but so did Wally West! Eventually Batman made Wally West remember his identity, and West told Linda. That’s where this collection picks up.



The first part of the collection deals with the fall-out of the forgotten identity. Wally goes around letting other DC heroes in on his secret, but when he gets home he finds out that Linda has left him, unable to deal with the sudden revelation that her husband is a superhero. In his new civilian job as a police mechanic Wally makes a mistake that results in another cop nearly getting killed. Making thing worse, Wally was known not to like this particular officer (she’s Zoom’s ex-wife), so Wally has to deal with the suspicion that it wasn’t honest mistake on his part.

Meanwhile two well known features of Keystone City come into play. One is the Flash Museum, a monument the citizens of Keystone have built to celebrate the Flash legacy. A new museum has been built, and Gorilla Grodd attacks Flash there. The other location is the Iron Heights penitentiary, the prison where all of the Flash’s enemies are incarcerated. Much like Gotham’s Arkham Asylum, Iron Heights operates more like a retreat than a prison in that it doesn’t seem to be able to hold any of the criminals for very long. In this collection a villain called the Turtle escapes (he can freeze time), and there are hints that Zoom will escape soon. Or maybe he already has. He also twists time, so it’s hard to tell.

The collection really hits its stride when we get to the stories that directly tie to Identity Crisis. Johns manages to use the events of Identity Crisis in a bunch of interesting ways.

You can read my insanely long, very nerdy post on Identity Crisis here. I never did a follow-up on what happened in the last issue, so here it is. The killer was revealed to be Jean Loring, ex-wife of Ray Palmer (the Atom). That’s basically all that happened in the last issue. The rest was wrap-up and reaction involving the various superheroes. I can’t say I was very happy with the solution to the mystery.



I’m not a big fan of the hoary superhero cliché where a mystery villain is revealed to be some normal person who never showed any villainous tendencies. Also, Loring’s involvement should have been ruled out by the timeline of events established in the first issue, so there was a bit of cheating involved. In total I really enjoyed Identity Crisis; it was an excellent exploration of the how a world with superheroes would work in a logistical and emotional terms. It’s just a shame author Brad Metzger punted when it came to the mystery.



Johns lets the events of Identity Crisis impact the Flash in many ways. With Linda gone and no one able to find her Wally worries that she’s become the killer’s next victim. Wally also comes into possession of a letter from Barry Allen (the previous Flash, and Wally’s mentor) where Barry confesses to using Zatannna’s magical mind-whammies to reform one of the villains of his rouges gallery. That villain was the Top, quite possibly one the silliest bad guys ever. While the Flash could run really fast, the Top could spin really fast. Oh, and the Top wore this costume:



The Top was Barry Allen’s crime fighting partner for a short time, then disappeared. Wally sets out to find out what happened to the Top, which leads to some interesting revelations about the nature of the Top’s powers and why Keystone City’s villains are the way they are.

All in all, a terrific collection of issues. I’m probably going to go back and pick up some of the trades of Geoff John’s previous Flash issues.

However, this book did highlight for the extreme inconsistency of DC Comic’s policies when it comes making collections. The second half of The Secret of Barry Allen is tied so tightly into Identity Crisis that you'll certainly enjoy it more if you've read that series, but DC has yet to release that highly publicized series as a collection yet. Moreover Identity Crisis kicked off a series of developments across the DC Universe, including Prelude to Infinite Crisis and the upcoming Infinite Crisis. DC is advertising Infinite Crisis as being a huge Universe changing event and are clearly hoping on getting some mainstream press for it, but by the time it begins the Identity Crisis collection will only barely be out. And don't get me started on how DC sometimes cherry picks issues, or parts of issues!, before putting them into collections. There's a little of that in The Secret of Barry Allen. Flash #212 is missing form the collection. That issue was apparently a standalone about the rogue MirrorMaster, so it doesn't effect the over all story, but there is a subplot about the character in the issues leading up to #212 that never appears to go anywhere in the collection.

Posted at 09:35 AM        

Sun - December 19, 2004

What is a "Gothic Lolita"?


Last week Newsarama had an interview with one of my favorite comic book creators, Adam Warren. Warren wrote and drew the Dirty Pair series for Eclipse and later Dark Horse, The Bubblegum Crisis series for Dark Horse,  the Titans: Rock, Scissors, Paper one-shot for DC, and had brief writing stints on Fantastic Four and Gen13. Most of his work features pop psychology, high concept physics, super-advanced technology, beautiful curvy women, and lots of making fun of people who like to look at beautiful curvy women.

In the interview he’s pimping the upcoming miniseries Livewires from Marvel which he will be writing and Rick Mays will be illustrating. The series is about cadre of nano-powered artificial humans engaging in covert actions against other high tech groups. It sounds like this series will be another exploration of the classic Adam Warren themes.

One of the characters is named “Gothic Lolita,” a diminutive but highly destructive android which Warren says is based on a “cosplay fashion trend.” Not only is Gothic Lolita a remarkably on-the-nose description of a certain kind of person you will see at science fiction/comic book conventions, I wouldn’t be surprised if the character is based on a specific person. That person would be Yaya Han, a woman who is at every large sci-fi convention I got to, dressed as any number of costumes calculated to make nerds slobber. Below is a sketch of Gothic Lolita by Adam Warren and a picture of Yaya as a "Fetish Geisha" at this year's Dragon*Con. And here's a more overtly Goth Yaya from her website. And as Dave Barry would say, wouldn't "Goth Yaya" make a great band name?


Posted at 11:29 PM        

Thu - December 2, 2004

Identity Crisis - Summary and Speculation


Identity Crisis is the biggest comic book event going on right now in the DC Universe. It’s a seven issue mini-series that was hyped by promising big deaths and big revelations. The first six issues have come out and it’s delivered on both of those, helped by clever writing from Brad Metzger and strong art from Rags Morales. I’ve got some speculations about what will happen in the last issue (out some time in December), so allow me to summarize the series up to present. Major spoilers follow.



The plot kicks off with the murder of Sue Dibny, the wife of Ralph Dibny (The Elongated Man). It appears she was burned to death after a struggle. The murderer somehow entered and left the Dibny apartment without setting off the apartment’s security system, a formidable combination of alien technologies designed specifically to protect the families of heroes who are or have been members of the Justice League. After Sue’s funeral the various heroes follow up leads in the murder, concentrating mostly on super villains who can teleport. One group of former Justice Leaguers (including Green Arrow, Black Canary, Hawkman, The Atom, and Zatarra) secretly vow to find the man they are sure committed the murder – Dr. Light. What no one else knows is that years ago Dr. Light raped Sue Dibny, and even after the League captured him he vowed he’d kill her, pointing out that even the League can’t protect someone 24/7. A vote was taken among the League for what to do about Light, and in the end the sharply divided League used Zatarra’s magical powers to essentially lobotomize the bad guy. From that point on, Light was always more of a buffoon than a serious threat.

Somehow Dr. Light gets wind that these former Leaguers are after him so he hires Deathstroke (Slade Wilson) to protect him. The Leaguers (with the Flash and Green Lantern in tow) find Light, but Deathstroke is ready for them. In the ensuing fracas Deathstroke nearly lays all the heroes low, though a desperate (and brutal) action by Green Arrow turns the tide. It still doesn’t end well for the heroes though, because in the course of the battle Dr. Light regains his memories and previous personality and escapes.



With the situation clearly getting out of control Green Arrow explains to Flash and Green Lantern (both younger men who replaced heroes currently dead) that Dr. Light wasn’t the only villain that his league tinkered with, just the only one whose personality they changed. In fact, the League had been using Zatarra’s powers to erase bad guy’s memories for years. In a world with magicians and telepaths and magic artifacts that could swap people’s minds around, this magical amnesia was the only way to keep heroes’ secret identities secret.



To some extent this is a bit of satire on the entire idea of secret identities. The masks and such that super heroes use to disguise themselves are woefully inadequate, unless you believe the old joke about having to see the bridge of the nose to recognize someone. Revisionist takes on the origin of Superman (Man of Steel, Superman: Birthright) have taken great pains to explain that Clark Kent changes his demeanor so totally as Superman that people don’t recognize him, but that’s always going to seem like a stretch. It’s also probably not a coincidence that this whole speech is given by Green Arrow, who somehow protects his secret identity as businessman Oliver Queen with nothing more than a tiny domino mask, despite his ludicrously distinctive facial hair. Under these circumstances magical amnesia is more logical than believing that everyone in the DC Universe is that stupid and unobservant.



The mysterious killer isn’t done yet. His next victim is Jean Loring, ex-wife of Ray Palmer, better known as size-changing hero Atom. The killer attempts to hang Jean in her own apartment, but the Atom arrives (via telephone, one of his favorite tricks) in time to save her. The killer managed to outwit all the security systems in her apartment, and she didn’t get a good look at him. The incident actually causes the two former lovers to reconcile to some degree. Meanwhile the autopsy has found that Sue Dibny was dead before she was burned, which seems to exonerate Dr. Light. All the heroes are getting on edge, especially when Lois Lane receives a note revealing that the author knows Superman’s secret identity.



Meanwhile the washed-up Flash villain Captain Boomerang has been trying to get back in the game, begging for help from Calculator, a lame villain who has reinvented himself as a super villain equivalent of Oracle (Barbara Gordon, who was formerly Batgirl and now provides information support to Batman and other heroes), except Calculator wants to paid for his information. Calculator has lead Boomerang to the illegitimate teenage son he’s never known because the child was put up for adoption. Boomerang gets to spend some time with his son, who shows a certain natural ability at throwing stuff… and the very unnatural ability to move at supersonic speeds. “Golden Glider isn’t my mother, is she?” asks the son, referring to the tabloid newspaper story that informed him of his heritage. “No.” replies Boomerang.



Calculator gets a chance to help Boomerang by setting him up with a job, paid for anonymously. The job is to kill Jack Drake, who just happens to be father of Tim Drake, the current Robin. As Boomerang clumsily breaks into Drake’s mansion (he’s Bruce Wayne’s neighbor) Drake finds a package and note. The note says “Jack Drake - Protect yourself” (with an ‘r’ circled to make it look like the Robin insignia) and the package contains a gun. When Boomerang attacks that’s exactly what Drake does, and both men end up dead. Tim Drake joins Batman and the two previous Robins as an orphan.

The heroes are left to conclude that Captain Boomerang killed Sue Dibny and attacked Jean Loring. The Flash has one more question for Green Arrow about the night Dr. Light was lobotomized. Flash has reason to believe Batman was there, but Green Arrow didn’t mention him participating in the vote. As it turns out Batman showed up after the magical procedure was started and was so enraged that the League had to erase his memory! Finally, the autopsy finds the cause of death in Sue Dibny’s murder. She was killed by a tiny brain injury, and extreme magnification reveals that the wound is in the shape of tiny footprints. Meanwhile Ray Palmer is preparing to get into bed with Jean Loring…



That brings us up the end of issue six. What’s going on here? Is Ray Palmer really a cold blooded killer? We’ll get to that in a minute. But first I’d like to talk about Captain Boomerang’s son.

The dialogue I quoted about his mother not being Golden Glider is key. Obviously we’re supposed to assume that the son (his name is never stated) got his speed powers from his mother. But who would that mother be? There aren’t many female speedsters in the DC Universe. There’s Jesse Quick and Lady Flash, both of whom are too young. But what if the speed powers came from his father… not Captain Boomerang, but his real biological father… Barry Allen, the second Flash!. There is a resemblance. My theory is that one of those times when the villains switched bodies with the heroes, Captain Boomerang, in his arch-enemy’s body, got busy with a Flash groupie. If there’s any doubt that Barry had groupies, I point out that in issue one Ralph describes being around in Barry Allen in Central City as being “like competing with Sinatra.” And it certainly isn’t out of character for Boomerang, who is described by one super villain as “a letch… even by our standards.” The resulting child was put up for adoption, and it appears that Boomerang had a crisis of conscience recently and had Calculator place the tabloid story to help him introduce himself to his own son.



With this major subplot so dependent on the mind-swapping stories of comics Silver Age, I suspect that the same is true of the main murder mystery. The evidence that The Atom killed Sue Dibny does look conclusive. It’s established that Sue was on the phone right before the murderer appeared (The Atom can ride telephone signals) and Ray Palmer’s first appearance in the first issue is an hour after the murder, and he’s “more than an hour late” for a meeting. Palmer isn’t the best suspect for the other crimes, however. Obviously we’re supposed to think he faked the attack on his ex-wife to force a reconciliation with her, but when he saves her there is narration from his perspective that indicates real fear for Jean, and whoever attacked Jean appears to be really good with knots, as far as I know not a specialty of the Atom. The only other possibility I see is that Ray has some sort of super-multiple personality disorder (a different kind of identity crisis?), perhaps brought about by the period of time in recent years when he was regressed to the age of a teenager. Even so, I’m inclined to assume that someone else was in Ray Palmer’s body when Sue was killed, possibly attacked Jean himself, and (maybe) arranged for the hit on Jack Drake.

What I don’t have is the slightest idea who the real killer is. If he (or she) is switching bodies with Atom that might indicate he’s one of Atom’s rogue gallery, but I have no idea who Atom has fought on a regular basis. I assume that in keeping with the rules of good mystery writing the villain is some character that’s been introduced in the series already, as opposed to a mind-jumper that hasn’t been mentioned (Jericho, for example, the non-corporeal son of Deathstroke who recently fought the Titans) or something out of left field (the ghost of the second Robin, Jason Todd, has been mentioned as a suspect on some message boards).

Perhaps the biggest red herring is the idea that the killer knows superhero secret identities. That may not be the case. Sue and Jean were publicly known as superhero wives, so finding them wouldn’t be a problem, though how the killer broke into Jean’s apartment remains a mystery. The only person associated with a truly secret identity who has died is Jack Drake, and there is no real evidence that the hit on him was arranged by the same person who attacked Sue and Jean. The same is true of the notes Lois Lane and Jack Drake received. Perhaps those notes have nothing to do with the mind-jumping killer. Perhaps the note writer is really benevolent. He (or, again, she) may have warned Lois Lane as a way to make her be more careful, and he did provide Jack Drake a gun to defend himself. The whole note writer subplot also puts me in the mind of someone who can see the future (a superpower that’s represented in the series by Chronos, a villain from the future) and is taking actions with effects are not clear in the present.

There are also other hints of unseen character(s) operating, who may or may not be related to the killer. Some examples:

- Dr. Light is tipped off that Green Arrow et al. are coming for him and flees to the Injustice Gang satellite just before the heroes arrive to find a bodyguard. It’s possible that The Calculator warned Light (upon arriving at the satellite Lights says “Calculator sent me…”), but I’m not sure where the profit for Calculator would be in that.

- Right before Jack Drake is killed we see someone observing him from outside and talking on a cell phone. Perhaps it’s Captain Boomerang, perhaps not. Even if it is, who is he talking to?

- We aren’t sure who arranged for the murder of Jack Drake. We’re supposed to think it’s the same person who killed Sue, but it may not be for reasons I stated above.

- Someone outfits Boomerang’s son to be the new Captain Boomerang. We don’t see who.



One last observation. The first scene of Identity Crisis has Ralph Dibny and Firehawk staking out two thugs preparing to sell a crate. The transaction goes badly, and the contents of the crate is revealed to be the green “Pre-Crisis” armor Lex Luthor used to use to fight Superman back in early 1980s. The armor has been re-introduced to the DC Universe a few times post-Crisis, usually as a LexCorp product worn by Luthor flunkies, rather than Luthor himself. The recent Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, however, ended with Luthor donning a new version of the armor, apparently provided by Darkseid, and fighting Superman and Batman directly. After being defeated and avoiding capture the last time we saw the injured Luthor his last words were “There will be a reckoning… a crisis...”  I’m not sure if that thruway bit was supposed to tie Luthor into the upcoming Identity Crisis however tangentially, or if Superman/Batman writer Jeph Loeb was foreshadowing something that will happen in his own title.

Posted at 09:34 PM        

Mon - August 30, 2004

I Am Legion: The Dancing Faun




I read a fair amount of comic book news, so it’s rare that I can pick up a book from a major publisher and have no idea what it’s about. DC’s I Am Legion is one of those rare books, which I bought mostly on the strength of artist John Cassady. I was also curious because the book is a property from Humanoids that DC is reprinting in America. I don’t really know anything about Humanoids other than that they are a European publisher, and it was a pretty big deal that DC got the rights to reprint their books. The back of I Am Legion has a listing of some of the other DC/Humanoids books, and they look mostly like macho sci-fi of various flavors.

I Am Legion: The Dancing Faun (goofiest title on a book I’ve bought this year) is sci-fi of a kind. It’s set during WWII, with most of the action taking place in Britain and Nazi occupied Romania. The British secret service is trying to solve two mysteries that just happen to be related. On one hand there’s the death (murder?) of a British industrialist who was found in the bombed-out wreck of his mansion, the only wound on his body being a long, deep cut on his arm that must have been self-inflicted, yet the corpse contains no blood. Over the past year the man had been quietly liquidating his assets, and now his servant has disappeared. Meanwhile in Romania a Nazi general named Rudolf Heyzig is running a work camp that exists only to provide fodder for strange experiments that revolve around a little girl named Ana. A British agent known only as "Trinity" wants the general eliminated, or he will stop providing information.

Most of I Am Legion is made up of surprisingly dry conversations between intelligence agents trying to figure out what's going on. But we as readers know what's going on; we're show that Ana's blood injected of ingested by other people allows her to control them totally, and we find out that she has a "brother" who is probably leaping from body to body in the form of blood. It's kind of a vampire story in reverse, where the blood is the vampire. I found the book a bit of a slog because so much time was devoted to the intelligence agents trying to figure out what we already knew, and there are some unexplained digressions about a Romanian resistance fighter. Moreover the book just ends in the middle of the action. This is only the first part of a longer story, but there's no indication when the second part might be published. maybe this all makes more sense when read as a whole, but I can't recommend buying this first part by itself.

Posted at 09:01 PM        





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