It's a story as old as time itself—or at least as old as ongoing, in-universe superhero stories. A writer whose run on a book is either seminal, or at least considered the defining one for the characters or title. He leaves—either as a result of executive meddling or the creator getting bored and running out of ideas—and ultimately you're left with two negative results: First, the guy who takes over is nowhere near as good; and second, any dangling plot threads left by the maestro vanish completely into oblivion. Sometimes, though, the stars align, the readers' voices are heard and the writer in question gets back on the horse and takes another shot at the story. It doesn't always work, particularly when the same factors that forced him out in the first place are still in effect at the publisher…but sometimes you strike gold.
[Note: Since this story discusses dangling plot threads both resolved and unresolved, please not that SPOILERS ARE ON. And since not all comebacks yield the results the creators want, I'll be editorializing a bit on whether or not these stories worked. Remember that your mileage may vary and try to remain calm when commenting. And last but not least, remember that I'm only considering creators who were gone from the books for at least a few years. That means Brian Michael Bendis' relaunch of Ultimate Spider-Man doesn't count, and neither does Marc Andreyko's on-again, off-again relationship with Manhunter. This list is in no way meant to be complete or comprehensive, but instead a representative sampling prompted by the recent conclusion of arguably the most fully successful such stories—my first example below.]
One such example is Mike Grell, whose DC Comics title The Warlord ran for more than 130 issues between 1976 and 1988. Considering some of the titles that came and went while The Warlord endured, that's pretty impressive, and given that he was an original character without any existing connection to the larger mythology of that universe…well, those numbers start to stack up against titles like Savage Dragon, eclipsing fan favorites like The Walking Dead and Birds of Prey along the way. Even in all that time, though, he never got to resolve the primary conflict of Travis Morgan's heroic career—the apparent death (actually a kidnapping) of his son by his archenemy. Even a miniseries by Grell during the nineties didn't tie up this (relatively major) loose end, or bring the series any closer to what Grell has recently said was always its intended conclusion—for Tinder (the son) to step into Morgan's role as The Warlord. A 2006 miniseries by Bruce Jones and Bart Sears completely revamped the concept, starting over from Morgan's arrival in the underground world of Skartaris, but the book was greeted with hostility from many longtime fans and indifference from everyone else. Not entirely unlike the next year's Countdown [to Final Crisis], the story was forgotten and retconned more or less before it was even over. The summer of 2009, however, gave Grell another shot, and he took it with gusto. During the 15 issues it took for the book to get canceled again, Grell managed to wrap up the Joshua/Tinder storyline, much to the delight of longtime fans (and Grell himself).
Grell himself discovered a young artist in the early eighties who has not only gone on to become one of the most recognizable names in the comics industry, but who has had his share of comebacks. Dan Jurgens, the creator of Booster Gold and the writer/artist behind 1992's best-selling Superman #75 (The Death of Superman), has actually come back to one character over and over again over the years—Booster Gold. After a 25-issue run that cemented Booster as an important part of the DC Universe, introduced Jurgens as a creative force to be reckoned with at DC and gave readers a very different kind of superhero (at least for its time), the title was canceled—but that wasn't the end of the story by a longshot. Toward the end of the series' run, Booster had been introduced as one of the characters on Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis' Justice League International, a series that is remembered fondly by many twenty years later, and lives on infamy for almost as many others. When Giffen and DeMatteis left the title, Jurgens picked up Justice League America and, other than a few minor roster tweaks, left the Giffen/DeMatteis squad more or less intact—meaning that he got to write Booster again. Elevating Booster and Blue Beetle Ted Kord's relationship from the jovial, jocular thing it was under the previous writing team and adding some real depth to it (particularly when Kord was rendered comatose and Booster powerless during the aforementioned Death of Superman storyline), Jurgens was working toward reclaiming his creation only a year after the departure of the team that had reinvented him as a bwa-ha-ha character had gone. From there, Booster's "powers" (really a specialized, high-tech battle suit from the future and a floating robot sidekick) would be returned to him during Jurgens' and Ron Frenz's run on Superman (a place where Booster was no stranger already, having featured somewhat prominently in Jurgens' popular Time and Time Again storyline).
Years later, after the character had experienced another series of changes and setbacks, Jurgens was brought on board to draw the series written by Geoff Johns and Jeff Katz. When the pair of superstars left, Jurgens was given charge of his creation once again—only to have the reins taken from him by Giffen and DeMatteis once more when DC called upon him to work on a series of other "high-profile" stories (such as DC Universe Legacies, and the upcoming Sony/DC collaboration). Notably, though, even that was short-lived as one of those special projects has turned out to be Time Masters: Vanishing Point, a story that promises to tie up loose ends not only from his run on Booster Gold, but also to revisit many of the themes and issues raised during Superman's time-travel adventures during Jurgens' run on that book.
Another notable issue of Dan Jurgens' Superman run was #86, which featured Superman squaring off against a crazy old man called Rik Sunn. Sunn, it turns out, had been chasing a villain through space and time for decades, and now that both of them were withered and old, he was finally ready to kill Karvis Khun until Superman got in the way. Who are these people, you ask? Sunn was the central protagonist, and Khun the main villain, of Sun Devils, a little-known DC maxiseries from the early '80s that featured Jurgens' first job as a writer-artist on the same title. When the story ended after 12 issues, it resolved the major plot points—but left just enough of an opening for a sequel if sales and/or critical response warranted it. They didn't, which is pretty unfortunate for the title's fans—or rather, fan, since when I told Jurgens I enjoyed the book a few years ago he told me that he wasn't sure he'd ever heard anyone say that before. Still, the dangling plot threads, as well as some of the series' smaller character beats, were resolved in the Superman issue, even if the characters—who were from Earth's future in the original series—ended up stranded in the mid-'90s at the end.
Jurgens was the creator of one of DC's most successful fifth-week events of the '90s: The Tangent Universe. Unfortunately for another '90s comics mainstay, when editorial decided to bring back the Tangent Universe for a third round (after stories in 1997 and 1998), they did so at the expense of what was meant to be his comeback. Ron Marz is best known among most comics fans as the guy who drove Hal Jordan crazy, killed almost all of the Green Lanterns and created Kyle Rayner to fill the gaping hole left in the DC Universe by Hal's sudden absence. As polarizing a figure as his creator, Kyle Rayner was (is) both loved and hated by many, and the debate over which character is the more interesting to follow is more or less DC's version of the Coke-Pepsi debate. People just get stubborn and entrenched, and you're never going to win anyone over to your side. That said, Marz wrote about 150 issues of the Kyle Rayner/Green Lantern monthly, an absolutely epic run by today's standards, especially for a title he didn't start at #1. Still, when he left the book there were a few niggling things he didn't get to do and the writer was given a chance to revisit his most well-known creation in a 12-issue Ion maxiseries spinning out of the events of Infinite Crisis. What happened there? Well, Ion became little more than a launching pad for Tangent: Superman's Reign (by Marz and Jurgens—in itself kind of a comeback story) and The Sinestro Corps War, with bits of Countdown thrown in for good measure. In what truly has to be one of the more frustrating returns to a character he helped to define, any sense of direction that Marz was meant to give Kyle through this story seemed completely lost by about halfway through the book, and only Kyle's (or Marz's) die-hard fans actually read the whole thing, which ended on a depressing and seemingly arbitrary cliffhanger so that Kyle could play into The Sinestro Corps War, his unique identity as Ion stripped from him and his personal life and supporting cast now completely swallowed up by The Borg that is Geoff Johns' epic Green Lantern mythology.
If the Ion maxiseries was disappointing, though, it was nothing next to Chris Claremont's much-ballyhooed return to the X-Men titles around the time of the first feature film in 1999. While Claremont and John Byrne crafted some of the most memorable X-Men stories of all time, and created many of the characters fans associate most with the title, his return to the X-Men monthly in 1999 and 2000 was poorly received by fans and critics, and lasted only about 20 issues. That might not be a bad run by the standards of most modern-day X-writers…but after Claremont's previous fifteen-year, history-making run with the characters it seems a little anemic. He returned to Uncanny X-Men again in 2004-2006, and while the run was a little longer, the readers' perception of it was pretty much the same. Without clearing up any of the myriad X-mysteries he'd set up during his first epic run (many of which, in fairness, had been run so far into the ground by other writers at that point as to make them basically impossible to clear up), he seemed to want to build and build on his own mythology until it became bigger than the story itself, creating the kind of bizarre, confusing mess that made the last few seasons of the X-Files so difficult to watch. Luckily, his recent X-Men Forever stories seems to have largely redeemed him in the eyes of many fans, as he returned to the characters and era that he made famous, with a top-notch art team, and told some solid, entertaining stories.
Another "X"-ample is Peter David, whose recent return to X-Factor has been notable in that it's returned credibility and energy to the long-languishing and often-mediocre title. He had written some of the team's best and most popular adventures in the '90s, and his return to the book has been met with much rejoicing from fans of the characters. Oh, so much greater, though, is the number of times that David has returned to The Incredible Hulk family of books. As arguably the most well-known and well-loved writer of The Hulk since Stan Lee, David's run on the title featured the art of some of the most popular artists of the '90s, including Dale Keown, whose take on the character remains the definitive work of his career and possibly the most popular Hulk art of the last 25 years. While his current run on X-Factor, though, has dwarfed the initial run that associated him with the characters, any subsequent returns he has made to The Hulk or She-Hulk have been comparably short-lived and, while popular, not exactly standard-shattering or anything—and even more tellingly, have happened in miniseries or one-shots as opposed to in the actual monthly title that he steered for ten years in the '80s and '90s.
In a Mark Waid-scripted issue of The Brave and the Bold, a group of time-traveling heroes passes through a montage of images featuring characters from DC's past and future, as well as other time-travelers. In it, Dan Jurgens' aforementioned Sun Devils are pictured—so as the only other writer to acknowledge those characters in the last 20 years, it's probably not surprising that Waid himself has had unfinished business over the years. While it stretches the time limits mentioned in the note above, his run on Captain America is fairly notable for this. When he and penciler Ron Garney took on the Star-Spangled Avenger in the late '90s, comics magic came out of it. The pair weren't on the title for long, though, before Marvel decided to seduce a bunch of Image artists back to their fold and Heroes Reborn was conceived. After an X-Men event that killed pretty much every Marvel character who wasn't an X-Men (or Spidey), Captain America was one of a number of titles relaunched with a superstar artist behind it, and set in an alternate reality. And while Rob Liefeld may have some claim to this story himself, having returned to the Heroes Reborn Universe recently in a miniseries, it's Waid's return to Captain America when it re-relaunched that really turned some heads. After a fairly brief initial run, he returned to Cap and stayed on for a couple of years, during which he wrote not only Captain America, but a second Cap title as well, marking the only time I can remember (until Ed Brubaker joined the title recently) that Cap's corner of the Marvel U has been able to support more than one ongoing. Waid and frequent collaborator Mike Wieringo had a similar experience on Fantastic Four, another title interrupted by Heroes Reborn, but his return to Cap seemed to be met with more commercial success, thus lasting longer, and so it's the better example.
Probably more appropriate to this conversation, though, is Waid's run on The Flash. During the '90s, Waid brought Wally West, formerly just a kid sidekick, to serious credibility and even prominence in the DC Universe. His almost decade-long run on the title introduced the concept of the Speed Force, reinvented the hero's rogues gallery and told some of the most memorable and beloved stories featuring any character to be called The Flash. After 100 issues, though, Waid said goodbye to Wally West and his supporting cast, moving on to greener pastures and maintaining that he didn't really have anything left to say with Wally. Five years later, though, fumbling for a save after a hideously-botched relaunch post-Infinite Crisis, DC brought Waid back to the title and brought the recently-retired Wally West out of retirement, so that he could take the place of his sidekick, Bart Allen, who was killed almost instantly after taking over from Wally. In another example of "maybe I shoulda stayed gone," his six-part story (The Wild Wests) failed to wow almost anyone, and he lasted only six issues before leaving the title to pursue other interests. Within a year, the creators who took over from him were also off the book, which was canceled to make way for the return of Barry Allen—something that, depending on who you ask, is a signal that either DC really had no damned idea what they were doing with The Flash after Infinite Crisis or sure evidence that they secretly harbored a desire to return the Silver Age Flash to prominence all along.
Another character who got really hosed the last few years was Tim Drake. After supporting his own ongoing monthly as Robin for almost 200 issues, he was jettisoned as part of Grant Morrison's Batman Master Plan and eventually shunted off to an ancillary title, Red Robin, where he lives on in the kind of quiet dignity usually attributed to nursing-home patients. Toward the tail end of his tenure as the Boy Wonder, though, Tim Drake was handed off to Chuck Dixon—a writer who had previously handled him for more than 100 issues before creative changes were made. Returning at #170 and staying until the end of the series five months later, Dixon's second departure from Robin was nothing if not loud—the revered creator was ousted when editorial said that he wasn't toeing the line on the post-Final Crisis Batman status quo (to wit, that his character would no longer be Robin and one of the previous Robins would now be Batman). Dixon responded that he had in fact been quite flexible and that the complaints DC was making public had never been made to him in private. The whole thing seemed pretty shabby on DC's part, honestly, particularly as the Batman books seemed like kind of a catastrophe at the time, with Batman: RIP taking its sweet time in ending after we'd all, already seen Bruce killed during Final Crisis (and both stories were preposterously behind deadline). It had to leave a bitter taste in Dixon's mouth, and it certainly put me off checking out Red Robin anytime soon, making it officially the most depressing (though not by a long shot the worst) comeback on this list.
So I leave it to you: What such stories did I miss? I'm sure a few really good ones that'll make me feel positively stupid when I read the comments below…!
Ben Affleck may have become a cocktail party joke after roles in Daredevil and Paycheck, but his return to the screen in Hollywoodland, combined with two of the most legitimately entertaining thrillers in recent years (those being Gone, Baby, Gone and The Town), have turned him into a filmmaker to be reckoned with. Between the roles in Daredevil and Hollywoodland, his friendship with Kevin Smith and his role as a comic book illustrator in Chasing Amy (reprised in Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back), it’s likely that we’ll all see Affleck coming back into the comics or genre movie fold, so it’s worth taking note when something of his hits the theaters or home video, particularly when it’s something you really can’t help but like.
The Town is a complex and fascinating crime thriller, but one without pretense, making it more like one of the “Ocean’s” trilogy than something by David Lynch. And while many people may feel like the features are pretty bare-bones for a movie that was talked up early in the year as an Oscar candidate, I’m content just to hear Affleck’s thoughts on the film–let alone that he does the very rare thing of having a commentary track on both the theatrical AND director’s cuts of the film. John Hamm and Chris Cooper have great supporting roles in this picture, where almost every minor character is played by an actor who’s extremely talented, extremely famous or both. Check it out on DVD and Blu-Ray Combo Pack.
Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole
The owls are not what they seem, in this strange, fun, interesting and–honestly?–sometimes a little violent kids’ adventure movie from Warner Animation. While the box art on the Blu-Ray Combo Pack tells viewers that it’s “From the Studio that Brought You ‘HAPPY FEET’”, this movie that centers around warring factions of owls is not nearly as kid-friendly as its flightless, arctic cousin. I watched it with my three-year-old niece and she was alternately rapt, bored or repulsed by the animation, the lulls and the violence that make up Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole.
The environmental subtext of almost every animated animal movie these days is something impossible to escape, and while it doesn’t beat you over the head in this movie as much as it did in Hoot a few years ago–the last big owl movie I can remember–it’s there on the extra footage, where one of the mini-documentaries is all about the plight of owls. These things always seem a little out of place in a kids’ film to me, and even though I’m a commie pinko leftist, it still stinks to high heaven of indoctrination.
While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the movie for most viewers, the part that both Gracie and I enjoyed the most was the Looney Tunes cartoon that’s included on the disc as a bonus feature.
So, following the revelation at the end of Booster Gold #27, I decided that Booster Gold: Blue and Gold was something that needed to be read through again. I did pick up on a few things that might be worth mentioning, but not worth an actual story, so...BLOG!
First of all, I noticed that there was a lot of items on Rip's blackboard that are, or seem to be, already explained:
- "The Perfect Peter Platinum isn't so perfect" - That guy appeared in Booster Gold #1,000,000
- "Listen to Libra - The Prince will fall on his sword." - J'Onn? Makes sense, given the time of the issue (I think), but why call him "The Prince"?
- "Why, Captain Atom? Why?" Given his role in Countdown, as Monarch, I'm guessing that's what's being referenced here.
- "Jean-Paul Valley Lives," immediately followed by "That's not him" was likely foreshadowing a new Azrael, which we've seen the fruit of already.
- "Trigon = Red herring" was actually the central plot point at the end of Booster Gold #24 and 25 - the last story written before "Blackest Night".
There still hasn't been a story to follow up on Rip Hunter's claim that he knows better than anyone else that you can't save people who are "supposed" to be dead, however badly you want to. It'd be interesting to know what the intent was there, and whether Jurgens still intends to follow up on Katz and Johns's idea. And there also hasn't been a direct follow-up on Jon Carter/Supernova calling Black Beetle "Joshua." While the throwaway line of his being from wherever he wants to go, whoever he wants to be, can pretty much make that irrelevant, it's the only time he's been referred to by a name, and it's by an ally, not an enemy, so he may have less of a reason to lie to Jon.
It took a while for me to come to it, but I’ve decided that I’m allowed to be bitchy about this whole Superman thing.
When I grew up, Superman had just been revamped by John Byrne. He was the Last Son of Krypton, which was not only a clever nickname but also a somewhat accurate description of who he actually was, most of the time. Kryptonians didn’t just saunter in once a week for a haircut, a copy of “Big Alien Juggs” and a conversation about how great it was back when Kandor was attached to something. Supergirl was a shapeshifter from another dimension and Superboy was a clone of Superman and Cadmus Director Westfield. It was the “norm” for me, and I quite enjoyed it. When I looked back at the Silver Age stories where so many people survived the destruction of Krypton, I remember thinking that not only were they preposterous, but they kind of took a lot of the power away from Superman’s origin story.
Of course, the fans of those books bitched nonstop.
They were unhappy with Superman’s power levels; they were unhappy with the loss of Legion plotlines; they were unhappy with the loss of the “real” Supergirl; they were unhappy with the fact that he had lost some of his wonder when he became more grounded in reality and science. And on principle, I couldn’t disagree with them—except in the sense that the stories I grew up reading were just (to me, at least), better-crafted, more thoughtful and thought-provoking. Ultimately, their Superman is like a circus act while mine is more like a Larry Niven book. Neither is inherently better or worse, but they are quite different animals and the chances of someone being a fan of both isn’t great. Those odds diminish even more when, in order for one to survive, the other must vanish completely.
So now that Superman isn’t the Last Son of Krypton anymore (for those of you following at home, there’s something like 100,000 of them, including Supergirl, her family, her whole hometown and Clark’s goddamn dog), and there’s a major, companywide event (War of the Supermen by James Robinson) coming up based on the notion that the planet of Kryptonians that Superman’s been living on while his comics (Superman and Action Comics) have been populated by also-rans and imitators, has declared war on Earth for some reason…well, I’m allowed to throw up my hands and say “That’s it.” I haven’t read Superman since Infinite Crisis, and haven’t read it consistently since they unceremoniously dumped Dan Jurgens, Louise Simonson and company in favor of the “young, cool guys” in 1999 who managed to drop the ball completely within a couple of years.
But I love Superman; he was the first character I followed for YEARS through thick and thing. I want to love the books; I want to buy the books and read them. I tend to go back, once a year or so, and give them a try. But since the whole New Krypton thing started I’ve just given up and I think this War of the Supermen thing may be the death knell for me. It’s too much—too silly, too over-the-top. I’m not thrilled by the Rainbow Brite Corps, as one creator referred to the multicolored ring-bearers who represent the emotional spectrum in Geoff Johns’s Green Lantern stories, but he’s told so many good stories with them that he’s earned my trust and the sillier elements of the books get a pass. Not so with Johns and Robinson’s Superman, which to me has been so thoroughly unappealing as to be defined by “a bunch of Kryptonians running around in space acting like morons while Superman’s book and position on the Justice League are usurped by some random schmuck.”
And to those of you who say, “Well, this is the new status quo; live with it,” I get that. To those of you older fans who suggest that maybe fans like me are just getting a taste of our own medicine because we dared to enjoy Byrne and Jurgens’s Superman, and maybe even a few issues of the Hal-less Green Lantern books, you may be right.
But you guys bitched the whole damned time, and now it’s my turn.
Just a few quick thoughts on this, as I haven't actually READ the issue yet and only know the outcome because it's up on Newsarama already. It's the expected choice, the safe choice, the predictable choice. It's the illusion of forward motion wrapped up in the nice, soft, comfy blanket of familiarity. That (Flash: Rebirth) seems (Blackest Night) to (Battle for the Cowl) be (Justice League) the leitmotif at DC of late. I never particularly liked Stephanie. As an old-timer (relative to Tim Drake), I was always partial to Ariana. And I've never, ever read Batgirl with any regularity. that said, this choice makes me no less (or more) likely to try the new title than I otherwise would have been.
With today’s release of Booster Gold: Reality Lost in paperback from DC Comics, any casual reader who bailed on the title after Geoff Johns and Jeff Katz left, only to find their way back because of the good buzz Dan Jurgens’ run has had, can catch up on anything of import that they missed while they were away.
Chuck Dixon’s two-issue fill-in arc, along with Jurgens’ initial four part arc “Reality Lost,” come together in this collection to tell a full story beginning with the return of a Dixon-created villain called Wiley Dalbert, a time-traveling thief who had appeared in a singleDetective Comics story almost a decade before, the story follows a relic—a knife, imbued with chronal energy—that turns out to be, unbeknownst to anyone at the start of the tale, extremely important to the history of the DC Universe. If this knife doesn’t go to exactly the right place at exactly the right time, it can cause Batman, Blue Beetle, Maxwell Lord and a number of other characters never to have existed. The problem with this collection is the same as the problem with the monthlies—due to scheduling problems and a variety of outside factors, there is an abrupt cutoff when Dixon’s two issues end…and while the monthlies followed a Rick Remender/Patrick Olliffe story that had no relation to the story of the knife and disrupted the flow of the narrative, it’s not much easier to follow here, where that story is removed but it’s clear that the end of Dixon’s story was never written, with the beginning of Jurgens’ solo chapters picking up on the next page and just hoping that the fans can cope with the understanding that everything had turned out fine, all those years ago in Gotham. It’s nice looking back at everything in one volume, though. Even though they might not clean up every dangling plot thread, it doesn’t take long for Jurgens’ story to take the reader’s mind off of what wasn’t resolved—meanwhile, the communication between the pair is clear as Michelle Carter (Booster’s sister, who disappears in anger at the end of the story) is seen as early as the first Dixon issue asking question after rapid-fire question and being basically ignored by Rip and Booster. Is it any wonder she starts to feel out of the loop? Ultimately this collection may end up overlooked—the first of the Booster Gold collections not to be brought first to hardcover, and featuring the first real growing pains of the series (let’s face it—the book got a running start out of52 and had to kind of rejigger its internal logic after Geoff Johns was gone), but it shouldn’t; it’s a character-driven, fun and sometimes heartfelt story that succeeds in both touching on the editorially-necessary DC touchstones (Faces of Evil, Blackest Night) and remaining focused, never letting those events to feel like editorial mandates or interference. Jurgens’ art has been since the first issue—and continues to be in this volume—some of the best of his long and prestigious career, and his writing is as consistent, focused and smart here as it’s been since his run on Superman in the ‘90s, when he became arguably the biggest name in the comics industry for a few years. If that doesn’t convince you, just think about this: if you’ve got any interest in the overarching narrative of Blue Beetle and Booster Gold, this story is as essential to its eventual resolution as the first two stories were, and as the fourth story is shaping up to be.
Coraline, the goth-girl riff on The Wizard of Oz from Sandman creator Neil Gaiman, recently hit DVD and Blu-Ray from Henry Selick, the director of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. Ultimately, it’s a clever and enjoyable kids’ movie with heart and attitude, but the advent of computers and 3-D photography took Selick’s groundbreaking animation style and turned it into a slick, commercialized and less impressive version of itself.
The story centers around Coraline Jones, unhappy with her inattentive parents, who finds a secret passage in her home to a magical land where everything is the same—except magically wonderful, with parents who dote on and adore her and the chatty neighbor boy is loyal and silent. Ultimately, of course, the central theme of the story is that there’s no place like home. The “perfect” world of Coraline—just like Oz or Narnia—is really much more imperfect than the place Coraline has been trying to escape from. Gaiman’s fascination with retelling and reinterpreting classic mythology—as seen in Sandman and his novels American Gods and Anansi Boys—is evident here, and while it’s stripped to its bones to make it kid-accessible, it’s still cleverer than almost any kids’ movie this side of Shrek.
Ellis' Bad Signal mailing, which he's notoriously finicky about being quoted in total, had this (in part) to say about Bruce Springsteen's performance at the Glastonbury Festival yesterday: "It's just him, right now, the stage is blacked out, and there's one spot behind him. And he's hot, and it's cold night out there, and he's steaming. And he's just blown the authenticity thing and gone into supermystification, because it looks like he's got an electromagnetic halo, curls of glowing, pearly white light rising up from and playing around his head and shoulders while he stands there in near-silhouette....
"He looks like he's The Last Rock Star, the Ascended Master who glows in the dark."
The attached photo comes from Springsteen's performance of "The River," live at Glastonbury. It certainly doesn't do the "steam" justice to see it in a still photo, so feel free to check out the YouTube clip here.
Now that I'm not doing the Hot Shot of the Week feature, I tend to miss having my weekly chance to bang you over the head with my taste. That is, of course, other than by reviewing stuff, or writing columns about books I like, or whatever.
At any rate, the point being that from now on I've decided to take a few minutes within a day or two of comics' release date (in this case, Thursday) and mention some of my favorite books. I'll do capsule reviews of my top however-many books of the week and then a fuller review of the one I thought was best.
Without any more ado...!
Spider-Man: The Short Halloween #1
Written by a couple of Saturday Night Live writers (Seth Meyers and Bill Hader) and drawn by Formerly Known as the Justice League alumnus Kevin Maguire, this is a nice one-shot that gives those of us who walked away from Spidey after One More Day/Brand New Day a chance to reconnect with the character for a while. Marvel makes sure to get some stock BND images into the "Last time on Spider-Man one-page recap, but ultimately this story could happen anywhere inside or outside of continuity. Maguire is a supremely talented artist, of course, but his work is frankly not suited to Marvel's dark and heavily textured style of coloring. While there are a few really nice pages, I feel that overall this book would have been better off if they'd just inked and colored it a little more like a book from ten years ago, giving Maguire's art a chance to succeed on its own terms instead of hamstringing it with a look that doesn't suit him.
This book is fun and interesting, though. It's cool for no reason other than the fact that it could be a logical Saturday Night Live sketch--combine the absurdity of a world where people dress up in tights and fight crime, with the insanity of New York City at Halloween. Hilarity ensues. Think about the fact that in "real" life, all it takes is a well-timed movie to make Spider-Man or Batman the most popular Halloween costume of the year. In the Marvel Universe, you've ACTUALLY had Spider-Man zipping around the City, saving people's lives, for years now.
The flipside of that, of course, are the guys who dress up as Green Goblin and Doc Ock. While it's absolutely hilarious to watch them punching Spider-Man, one on each side and repeatedly, while he stands with his head in his hands exasperated by their stupidity, one does have to wonder what kind of especially jerky person would dress up like a guy who's been damaging property, killing people and generally being a public nuisance in your town for years. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if the mayor of New York would make a law saying, "Sorry folks, these guys are off-limits for Halloween. Do we want Green Goblin walking right up to the Halloween parade and killing a bunch of people because with six other Green Goblins, nobody knew those pumpkin bombs were real?"
...I mean...years being relative...it's not like he's some old married guy or something...
[ahem] Yes. Moving on.
The Last Days of Animal Man #1
Swinging from Marvel to DC, we've got The Last Days of Animal Man #1. Written by comics great Gerry Conway and featuring art by Chris Batista and David Meikis with customarily beautiful covers by Brian Bolland, the series takes place in the not-too-distant future (next Sunday, A.D.) of the DC Universe, where Superman has white temples again and Animal Man's powers seem to be leaving him. This is pretty much a stage-setting issue, letting the reader know where Buddy is in the future and what's going to happen in the story while not really moving the plot itself forward very much at the moment.
Since Grant Morrison isn't writing this book, they had to do something very different with it in order for fans to accept the story, and I think the succeeded. Conway is a traditional kinda guy, whose meat and potatoes are strong characterization and dynamic page layouts. Rather than trying to out-clever Morrison which, let's face it, is a fight that not many writers are going to win, he writes a more or less straightforward story that's impressive in its honesty, its fun and its quiet intelligence. Not entirely unlike what you might expect from an aging superhero in his last days before he realizes that maybe wearing tights and dropping a building on the bad guys isn't the be-all, end-all. After the number of times that Buddy Baker (and, recently, knock-off hero Vixen) has had problems connecting to the morphogenetic field, one wouldn't think that a whole miniseries based on the notion could be enthralling, but Conway succeeds admirably.
A plot point worth noting: Based on future covers we can see that Starfire is playing a big role in Buddy's life in the coming months; it's astounding to see how quickly those characters have taken to one another in the minds of writers and readers.
Batista is one of those artists whose work is, I think, severely undervalued by fans. It's clear that DC appreciates his ability to hit a deadline and turn in consistent, good-looking pages, because he's frequently seen on projects bigger than his name (like 52, for example, where he, Patrick Olliffe and a couple of others were frequently rescuing bigger-named artists from deadline hell). His work here is interesting in that it doesn't look like what I usually expect from him. Frankly, my favorite Batista work has often been dealing with African-American characters; he has a way of drawing decidedly "black" faces without all of them being the same or without using skin color as the only thing that separates Steel from Spider Jerusalem (well, that and the goatee). But here, he's drawing a lot of characters that he clearly has spent some time around (yes, yes, I know I just mentioned 52, and that Buddy and company played a big role there), and has some affection for. The result is some of the best work of an already good, underrated artist's career.
...and my book of the week? The thing I'd write about if I only had one story to write?
The final Hero Squared comic (at least for some time) ends on a decidedly up note, while still giving very little opportunity for Giffen and DeMatteis--or anyone else who might want to--to revisit the story or the universe without first doing a lot of very clever dancing. I talked to J.M. DeMatteis about the end of the series and--while a full interview will be up on the main page soon--I'll share some of his thoughts on the title here.
CR: "It's in the nature of the super-beast to keep going on and on and on with the battle." Is that a little bit of JM DeMatteis' "Savior 28 philosophy" creeping into Stephie's speech patterns here?
JMD: This kind of commentary on the value, or lack of same, of super-heroes has been part of Hero Squared right from the start—but it absolutely comes from the same place that The Life and Times of Savior 28 comes from. (And when you consider all those years that I was developing—and not selling!—The Life and Times of Savior 28, you can imagine how happy I was to have a series where I could work in some of those themes and ideas.) From the very beginning, Keith and I wanted Hero Squared to be a series that, within its comedic context, takes a good hard look at the destructive downside of the super-hero myth.
CR: That's a really interesting point--do you think that part of what makes superhero comics as we know them so melodramatic and monochromatic is that the status quo is God, and ultimately every story has to revert to a comfort zone?
JMD: Well, melodrama is part and parcel of the genre. How can stories about costumed super-beings not be melodramatic? But the monochromatic part? Absolutely. I know I've had several occasions, working on the established icons, where character development was leading me to a place where the character could genuinely, fundamentally, change and become something, some one, very different—but there's just so far you can take. The character was there before you came along and will be there long after you've stopped writing the series and if, say (to concoct an extreme example), you send Bruce Wayne to therapy and have him work through the death of his parents and realize that putting on a bat suit and beating the crap out of people is not the healthiest way to contribute to society...well, that would make a terrific story, but it would be the end of Batman. The upside and downside of these characters is that, in the end, they never really change. They're around for generations, entertaining people in. There are reinventions along the way but the essentials remain the same. That's why stepping outside the box with projects like Hero Squared and The Life and Times of Savior 28 is so liberating: you can do whatever you want to do, let the characters lead you wherever you want to go.
CR: Is there, also, a little bit of freedom from consequence when you're working with a creator-owned title at a smaller publisher? Obviously you wouldn't be allowed to do what you did here at DC or Marvel--but even if, in some Crisis-level event, you were allowed to...the fans would riot. Here? Not so much...!
JMD: I don't think it's about doing these stories at a smaller publisher, I think it's about doing your own original characters. The Life and Times of Savior 28 or Hero Squared could have been done as creator-owned series via Marvel or DC without any fundamental change. That said, I'm delighted that we did it with Boom! We were in on the ground floor, when Ross Richie (if that's not a super-hero secret identity name, I don't know what is!) was pretty much running the company out of his living room. I'm delighted by the incredible success Boom! has had in just a few short years. It's very well-deserved and Keith and I are both proud that Hero Squared was a major launching pad for the company.
CR: Do you think I can use "The Cretinous Milo" for the name of a rock band if I ever start one?
JMD: I spoke to Keith about that and he said you can absolutely use it if you pay us a licensing fee of $10,000 a month. I think that’s incredibly fair.
CR: Fair enough...but I'm taking The Cretinous Russ as a blog title. I’d probably have to spend that much learning an instrument, anyway! Was ending the series this way always the plan, or did it develop once the books started slowing down?
JMD: We didn’t start out that way, in fact we thought this could go on indefinitely. But as the book developed, as the themes of the story solidified, we began to see that ending it would make the most sense. The characters were growing and changing, leading us to a point where we just couldn’t continue the status quo. And I think Hero Squared absolutely benefits from a finite story, with a beginning, middle and end.
CR: Any chance we'll see some follow-up stories? Superheroics notwithstanding, I imagine that an Odd Couple-kinda thing featuring Sloat, Milo and Blaine would be funny!
JMD: Now to totally contradict the previous answer: I think there are still lots of stories to be found in the Hero Squared universe. Keith and I have been talking about a Sloat one-shot for years...and I think an Odd Triple with Sloat, Blaine and Milo would make a great story, with great dynamics. In the final issue of “Love and Death” we get a jump in time and see a huge evolution in Sloat’s character. I’d love to tell some stories that explore how he transformed from subservient little green lizard to Dean Martin. (Apologies to anyone out there who’s too young to know who Dean Martin is.) And, of course, we’ve got the Planetary Brigade and many, many untold tales from that universe and an entire multiverse filled with hundreds, if not thousands, of Captain Valors. So, yes, this story is definitely over, done, dead and buried: there’s no going back. But there are definitely many new stories waiting to be told.
CR: Are there any plans to get into the dirt of actually telling those stories, or is this end point a really good time to take a little while away from Milo & company?
JMD: I don't think you'll be seeing more Hero Squared-related stories anytime soon—of course, if Boom! gives a go-ahead for a Sloat one-shot I am totally there!—but it's something we'd like to return to down the line. That said, fans of the series should know that there are some other Big Plans afoot for Hero Squared (that I'm not at liberty to talk about just yet) that will, I think, make them very happy.
If there's anybody here who knows a good WYSIWYG editor/builder that's freeware or cheap, please let me know. There are THOUSANDS of the damned things, and so it's a little hard to see the forest for the trees...but my HTML isn't what it used to be and I'd really like to have something worth using that will help me get out ahead of some of the bottleneck issues created because there's way, WAY more content than there are people to edit and post it.