Sunday, March 29, 2015

Superman & Batman: Generations

Title: Superman & Batman: Generations

ISBN: 1563896052
Price: $14.95
Publisher/Year: DC, 2000
Artist: John Byrne
Writer: John Byrne
Collects: Superman & Batman: Generations #1-4

Rating: 3/5

Working on the biggest guns in any company’s publishing stable is like being King Canute. You get the major gig, make your irrevocable, industry-shaking refit of said star-vehicle and then as time passes, watch it get inevitably changed or as with DC in current times changed back to suit the restless drive of the fickle fans.

After Crisis on Infinite Earths the myriad alternate Earths that had housed different eras of DC heroes as well as providing handy accommodation for the company’s acquisitions such as Fawcett’s Marvel Family and retinue or the Charlton Action Heroes line had been amalgamated into one bulky, homogenous whole, and the company took the opportunity to retrofit their major stars into the bargain.

Batman got darker, Wonder Woman was culturally re-cast and Superman had all the charming Mort Weisinger/Murray Boltinoff/Julie Schwartz additions and contributions to the original Siegel & Shuster paraphernalia jettisoned by revamp architect John Byrne. Out went the friendship with the Caped Crusader, the entire career as Superboy and all the tenuous, wondrous baggage of fifty spectacular years.

And then he decided to bring it all back…

In the four-issue Prestige format miniseries Superman & Batman: Generations, An Imaginary Tale published under DC’s non-continuity “Elseworlds” imprint in 1999, Byrne posited a world where the Man of Steel and the Caped Crusader began just as they had in the dog-days of the 1930s, and by sampling all the eradicated material prior to Crisis, explored how the pair would have fared had they aged like us relatively real people.

Written with obvious affection and referencing the magnificent alternate-continuity flights of fancy dubbed “Imaginary Stories”, but with a more mature modern sensibility the saga progressed in decade-wide jumps that followed the family and friends of the World’s Finest Heroes in an epic struggle spanning the years 1939 to 1999, with a punchy postscript set in 2919 but revealing a secret origin in 1929.

Beginning with ‘The Vigilantes’ where two new mystery-men, Superman and Batman first meet to defeat the mad scientist Ultra-Humanite at the New York Word’s Fair, jumping to ‘Family Matters’ in 1949 where the Joker and Luthor kidnap Clark Kent’s wife Lois, the ‘Strange Days’ of 1959 where aging Dark Knight and Metropolis Marvel battle Bat-Mite, Mr. Mxyzptlk and a host of weird aliens and monsters whilst their children prepare to succeed them or tragically fall the turning point comes with the ‘Changing Times’ of 1969.

Now elder statesmen of the heroic community Batman and Superman watch their children deal with such complex issues as corrupt US President Nixon, the Vietnam War and massive social unrest, only to lose one of their own to the ageless madness of the Joker.

‘Twilight of the Gods’ in 1979 introduced the eco-despot Ra’s Al Ghul to the saga as triumph and tragedy continued to dog the heroes’ descendents and one of their oldest foes struck his most telling blow, whilst ‘Crime and Punishment’ a decade later found the revenge-crazed Superman a disgraced and hunted felon for taking the law into his own hands, with the epic proper ending in 1999 with ‘Beginnings and Endings’ as the fragmented survivors of the twin heroic dynasties reunited after years at odds.

The epilogue ‘1929’, using the magic of comic-books leapt into the 30th century to reveal the actual first meeting of Superman and Batman, a rather saccharine conclusion that was clearly meant to presage the inescapable sequel…

Complex and professional yet somehow inadequate and unfulfilling, the time-girdling circularity and touchy-feely happy-ending is strongly reminiscent of Robert Heinlein’s later Lazarus Long novels (but lacking the satirical bite), as Byrne focused far too hard on adding everything Silver-Aged-and-the-Kitchen-Sink to the mix, but for all that this is still a hugely readable piece of sweetened fluff, beautifully engaging and thoroughly engrossing, and might well act as a gateway tale for new readers and young fans to try the older material for themselves.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Infinity Gauntlet

Title: Infinity Gauntlet

ISBN: 9780785156598
Price: $24.99
Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2013
Artist: George PĂ©rez, Ron Lim
Writer: Jim Starlin
Collects: Infinity Gauntlet #1-6

Rating: 3/5

Comic book events are an interesting bunch. Back then, it would be like, "My gosh, they're all there. I need this, it's going to be so awesome." Today it's like, "Oh great, hopefully it'll be better than the last one." What happened here? You would think as the years went by, Marvel would get better with their events. But that's not case, with recent follies such as Secret Invasion and Fear Itself, it seems that the company just doesn't know how to do a good event these days. The Infinity Gauntlet is the second major Marvel event, the first being Secret Wars. It's about how an evil titan gains unlimited power and seeks to win the affection of Mistress Death. Twenty-one years later, it still holds up amazingly.

As you all know, that mad titan is Thanos. Thanos is one interesting villain. He seems to be truly evil, but only wanting Mistress Death's affection. Issue One is proof of this, he eradicates half of the universe's population for her in a single snap of the fingers. No, this isn't Dragon Ball Z. And if you think that's insane, later in the event, some of two Celestials hurl whole planets at Thanos as an attack. Wow. They really went all-out for this event. (Seriously, whole planets are hurled, you will have to read it to believe it.) The first issue of this event did a perfect job of captivating the scope. The writing in this issue is just great, Mephisto explaining to Thanos about how great the titan is, among other things. Mistress Death has a pretty quiet role in this event, until the surprising turn of events when she turns on Thanos. That was a great moment, and just one of the many great moments in this event.

Fear Itself wanted to be bound in reality, to be realistic, from the public's point of view. It failed. It failed miserably in that aspect. So here we have The Infinity Gauntlet, an event where whole planets are hurled as weapons, that does a better job of being grounded in reality than Fear Itself. A great example would be the scene where Black Widow attempts to save a woman, fails, and falls to the ground, defeated. Then some bystanders pick her up saying "You did all you could." Good stuff. Then the whole earth moving out of orbit moving into a new ice age was felt. As the issues went on, the scope got bigger, and bigger, I don't think any Marvel event has reached the level of scope this event did. I'll explain why in the coming paragraphs.

I don't think I've ever read a comic where the situation looked so bleak for the Marvel heroes. As they go into space to confront Thanos, you can tell that they all feel an impending doom. As they're getting beaten up, it's just hard to imagine how they could win, cause they literally can't. Thanos literally destroys a bunch of heroes. (Cyclops, Nova, Thor.) Their deaths don't feel thrown in for shock value. It's shocking, but surprising, genuine shock. Thanos controls everything, and actually wins, but made a mistake, which I'll address soon. There are some great moments in the line of battle. Wolverine face to face with Thanos was great, and the scene with Spidey webbing the titan's face had me laughing out loud. The greatest scene, however, is when Captain America walks up to Thanos. A great quote is "As long as one man stands against you, Thanos, you'll never be able to claim victory." Then they have a short, dramatic fight. Cap, a man, against a being with a god's power. As you might expect, Thanos breaks Cap's shield. I like the scene soon after when Cap lets Thanos have it with a punch to the jaw, then Thanos slaps him to the side. Another wow. There are so many great scenes in this event.

One must wonder how the Silver Surfer failed in Issue Four. C'mon, the words were that he 'misses his mark.' You're going to tell me that a being as smart as the Silver Surfer will miss with all that's at stake? This event is also famous for bringing back Adam Warlock. He has his fans, but I found him incredibly dull throughout the whole event. The emotionless type, which is fine, but he just comes off as rather dull. The scene where Thanos becomes the new Eternity was both awe-inspiring and probably the most scary moment for the Marvel universe. He didn't realize his one fatal mistake: Leaving his mortal body with the Gauntlet on with a supposed unconscious Nebula, his granddaughter. Nebula then seizes the Gauntlet for what might be the biggest turn of events in all of comics. What follows is Nebula becoming an all-powerful being, the only problem is that she isn't too smart. Though what follows happens a bit too fast. Thanos gets warped back as Nebula makes everything as it was twenty-four hours ago. I'm surprised at how fast it goes that the heroes ally themselves with Thanos, it all happens a bit too fast.

It was great seeing Odin bring some of the other gods to the Asgard table. (Yup, he has some dialogue with Zeus in this one.) It was great, but the sad part is that they don't contribute to the fight against Thanos at all. They get stuck in Asgard, it almost feels like the whole scene with them was a waste. However, the thing that brings up the scope like no other event has done is the inclusion of, well, the universal beings. Galactus. Kronos, Love, Hate, Order, Chaos, two Celestials, they're all there. Their battle with Thanos defines "epic." (Remember the hurling planets? This is where it happens.) One of the early and most dramatic scenes was when Eternity tells the Living Tribunal about the unbalance Thanos is causing, then the ladders says, "The strong replace the weak. It is as it should be. No cosmic crime is being committed. The Living Tribunal shall not become involved in this manner." Then he just leaves, it's amazing stuff. Thanos has apparently surpassed Eternity and will reign supreme, and that's how the balance works, according to the Living Tribunal's logic. Then after the great battle, Eternal reveals himself, saying that he's here to reclaim control of that reality. After some great dialogue, they go at it, and then an explosion. Thanos winning didn't come as a surprise, but the fact that he was the new Eternity and that he left his mortal body was just incredible.

Did I mention that Dr. Doom is the only villain to join the heroes? It's quite interesting, but I find it rather odd that after getting blasted from the Gauntlet, his first thought is "I will not be denied those gems!." The pacing is great, with Issue One, Two, and Three building up for the confrontation in Issue Four. "The Cosmic Battle on the Edge of the Universe" was a satisfying issue, that's how you do big event fights. I still don't get why Hulk didn't want to help the Avengers, I mean, if it was a smaller threat, it's passable, but c'mon. This is a world-changer. Really, the two characters that made this event was Cap, for bravery, and Thanos, for being a perfect villain for this event.

Overall, The Infinity Gauntlet is truly an "event." It feels like "the end of the world" and that the heroes have no shot at winning. You have a greatly developed villain who has character, and the scope is huge. The fights were great, and the writing by Jim Starlin is great. This is how the wring should be be done. The art is crisp and clear by George Perez and Ron Lim, whose art easily beats what we're getting in the current Avengers series. The point is, this event is twenty-one years old, and some of Marvel's modern events pale, and I mean PALE in comparison. This event had the scope, the villain. the battles, everything. While it may have some questionable characters, (Drax and Pip being nothing but duds) it's an event filled with amazing character moments. The Infinity Gauntlet is a highly recommended read, it has everything a Marvel event is supposed to have. Did I mention that it has planets being hurled as weapons?

Monday, March 16, 2015

Cherry City Comic Con 2015 - I'll be there!

http://www.cherrycitycomiccon.com/

At the beginning of 2015, I wasn't even sure that Cherry City Comic Con was actually going to happen. My loyal readers heard about what happened with the former ownership. Things have changed quite a bit since then!

I have spoken to several friends who are signed-up as vendors or artists for this years event, which is under new management, and I am incredible enthused by all the positive feedback I've been receiving. I decided to take a chance and request a press pass for the event so I can provide you with my unbiased Point of View on it, and today it was made official.

I'll be attending Cherry City Comic Con in April to give you my inside look as to how this little comic con that almost wasn't has fared.

I want to personally thank John Roach, the Director of Cherry City Comic Con, for allowing me this opportunity.

To those readers who will also be in attendance, if you happen to see me there... feel free to say "Hi" and let me know how you're enjoying the con.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Witch Doctor, Vol. 2: Mal Practice

Title: Witch Doctor, Vol. 2: Mal Practice

ISBN: 9781607064411
Price: $14.99
Publisher/Year: Image, 2013
Artist: Lukas Ketner
Writer: Brandon Seifert
Collects: Witch Doctor: The Resuscitation, Witch Doctor: Mal Practice #1-6

Rating: 3/5

Brandon Seifert and Lukas Ketner’s Lovercraftian Horror-cum-medical drama is every bit as funny, inventive, and engrossing in the second trade as it was in the first. For those unfamiliar, Witch Doctor stars supernatural physician Vincent Morrow, former army paramedic Eric Gast, and anaethesiologist/demonic killing machine Penny Dreadful, as they treat possessions, curses, and demonic rituals with the same medical methodology that Gregory House treats biological illness. To Morrow and his assistants, they represent a sickness caused by pathologies (represented by the ghosts and ghoulies we all know and love) assaulting or feeding off of a person’s spiritual immune system, better known as their soul.

 The adventures collected here are no less fun and creative than before. Right off the bat, Morrow meets a supernatural pathologist attempting to graft the mummified kidney of an Egyptian death god onto a human host in hopes of reviving him. Later on, there’s an awesome homage to Fantastic Voyage as the good doctor astraly projects himself into his own body in an attempt to treat his own illness. The quick wit, well-thought out analogies to traditional biology, and Ketner’s gorgeous art make me want to go back and re-read the whole thing again just from mentioning it.

 Mal Practice isn’t all lighthearted horror-adventure, though. In this volume, Seifert  hints at unexplored depths for many of his supporting characters. Though only present in a panel or two, he does an excellent job at showing that Eric’s time on the battlefield is not completely behind him, adding a new dimension to his actions that wasn’t there before. I won’t spoil too much, but the development for Penny is particularly interesting, tying her more intrinsically into the shadow cast over the book by the potential for imminent Cthuloid doomsday.

 It’s also worth mentioning that Seifert has REALLY done his research here. In the second trade of the series, he starts delving into the even more obscure monster mythos, including creatures who harken back to legends of Baba Yaga and the Strigoi of Russian and Romanian lore. It’s really, really cool how he manages to mold them to fit within Morrow’s mystical medical model while maintaining the spirit of the original source material. On the back of this trade, Publishers’ Weekly describes Witch Doctor as reading “a bit like a mashup of Doctor Who and Lovecraft”, and I couldn’t agree more. The precarious balance between levity, darkness, and science fiction that the creators strike here make it a super-enjoyable read for anyone who digs horror.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Witch Doctor, Vol. 1: Under the Knife

Title: Witch Doctor, Vol. 1: Under the Knife

ISBN: 9781607064411
Price: $12.99
Publisher/Year: Image, 2011
Artist: Lukas Ketner
Writer: Brandon Seifert
Collects: Witch Doctor #0-4

Rating: 3/5

Under the Knife is the first collection of Brandon Seifert and Lukas Ketner's charmingly demented graphic novel Witch Doctor, which concerns th travails of Dr Vincent Morrow, a metaphysical epidemiologist who specializes in tracking down and eradicating transdimensional pestilences, ably assisted by Penny Dreadful (a possessed former art students whose internal demon feeds on pandimensional horrors) and Eric Gast, a paramedic who's learning the metaphysics trade.

Ketner and Seifert's sensibility is perfectly potty, and their titular doctor is a blend of Doctor Who and Spider Jerusalem. The metaphysics they reveal through the gruesome adventures in this volume has a weird internal consistency, but it's so cockeyed and frankly revolting that I can honestly say it never occurred to me before they scarred me with it.

This is a fine debut, and I can't wait for future volumes.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Ultimate Spider-Man Vol. 3: Double Trouble

Title: Ultimate Spider-Man Vol. 3: Double Trouble

ISBN: 0785108793
Price: $17.95
Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2002
Artist: Mark Bagley
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Collects: Ultimate Spider-Man #14-21

Rating: 3/5

After Marvel’s problems of the mid 1990s, the company came back swinging, and one new concept was the remodeling and modernizing of their core characters for the new youth culture. The ‘Ultimate’ imprint abandoned the monumental continuity that had been Marvel’s greatest asset and the company’s major characters were given a separate universe to play in and makeovers to appeal to a contemporary, 21st century audience.

Collecting issues #14-21 of the ultra-updated Ultimate Arachnid, this volume amps up the angst with the newly modified Doctor Octopus and the Australian TV star Kraven the Hunter, each setting their sinister sights on the spindly neophyte superhero: One for revenge and the other for publicity and a movie contract.

The convoluted silliness of the original Spider-Man is just beginning to creep into these tales, but quite frankly, that’s unavoidable if you’re producing soap-opera super-heroics. For the moment however there’s still Peter’s developing relationship with drop-dead-gorgeous girl-next-door Mary Jane, the introduction of stunning – and possibly psychotic – bad-girl Gwen Stacy, loads and loads of glossy action and a running stream of people who might have deduced Spider-Man’s secret identity…

Frantic fun with a sharp edge to it, this version of Spider-Man is very similar to the movies and that must surely be a benefit to all those converts from celluloid to paper adventuring.