The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 20: DC Comics – Legion Of Super-Heroes, Lex Luthor, and Manhunter

Legion Of Super-HeroesAn Eye For An Eye

A quick synopsis of the Legion: It’s a group of super powered teenagers from a thousand

The future is so bright, you've got to dress up in a stupid costume and fight evil aliens.

years in the future, which I’m sure you’ll agree is a nice place to be from if you are a super powered teenager. They are so influenced by the stories of Superman that they decided to dress up, call themselves by silly names that end with “kid” and “lad” and “boy”. They also fight crime. They’re fun, and well-loved by DC fans.

Paul Levitz’ run on the title in the ’80’s is still held up as a highlight for the Legion, and I remember loving this run when I was a kid. But like his run on Justice Society, when I gave this a second glance I couldn’t help but think it was written by a man who struggles with his source material. On  one hand, he’s trying to put together a fun, harmless adventure. On the other, he’s trying to write a grim and gritty drama of death and betrayal. In his effort to tame both genres, he fails at both. Unfortunately, this really doesn’t hold up that well, despite it being a story about the death of one of my all-time DC favourites, the non-ironically named Karate Kid.

CULL

Legion Of Super-Heroes - The Mark Waid trades (Teenage Revolution/Death Of A Dream)

Although I’ve never been a huge fan of the Legion, I am a fan of Mark Waid’s, and since this followed his unappreciated run on Fantastic Four, I felt it was only fair that I give this a chance. I’m glad that I did, and although more serious Legion fans may

Adults are EVIL!!!!

disagree, I think it holds up quite well. The approach he takes here (Legion as anarchy-happy teen rebels) is a fresh one, and Barry Kitson’s iconic art is perfect for this type of story. I can’t say as much for its sequel, which featured Supergirl, but I’ll leave that for a later post.

KEEP

Lex LuthorMan Of Steel

Your enjoyment of this is probably dependent on how much you enjoy the John Byrne reinterpretation of Lex Luthor as an evil businessman. It’s a story of his early years, and while I can’t say it’s essential, it’s still worth a reread.

KEEP

ManhunterStreet Justice, Trial By Fire, Origins, Unleashed, Forgotten

I struggled with this title more than any other on this project. When this title came out a few years ago, it got more praise and adulation than a hundred Neil Gaiman novels. For a while, it was the most critically acclaimed superhero book on the stands.

So what’s my problem with it?

My problem is that it’s not very good.

Actually, what I mean to say is that it’s not very great. There is some good here. What I think people responded to was the character, rather than the actual comics that character was in. Kate Spencer was and is, very different from most of the lead characters that are found in DC comics these days: She smokes, she occasionally kills criminals, and she has a vagina that children have exited from. Common qualities to have if you’re the governor of Alaska, but not if you’re a superhero. I’ll give Marc Andreyko a lot of credit. He came up with one of the most original characters DC has seen in years in Kate Spencer.

Unfortunately, I just don’t think he had the writing skills to really do his creation justice. From a plotting perspective, this thing is an absolute mess. Plot points simply happen one after another, with no build up whatsoever: Woman is DA. Criminal gets off. She steals weapons. She kills criminal. Ta Da, now she’s a superhero! Yay! Now she has superpowers. Now her grandmother was a superhero. So now her son has superpowers. Yay! The entire run of the book is like this, with different crazy weirdness just dropping out of the sky, with no rhyme or reason.

That being said, Andreyko does have a great knack for characters. It’s obviously his strength, and he’s great at creating interesting, 3 dimensional characters that the audience can responds to. That, and an absolutely amazing costume design for Kate Spencer’s Manhunter is what puts this is the keep pile for me, although just barely.

KEEP

Next up: Nightwing, the Outsiders, and Power Girl!

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 18: DC Comics – The Justice Society!

Before we begin, a brief history of the Justice Society. Well, maybe not brief. In fact, it’s actually going to be overly long and complicated, and it’s going to be so full of useless information that even my wife won’t be able to finish it. It might even cause bodily harm.  If you clicked on this link, you have no one but yourself to blame.

A ghost, a midget, and a reincarnated Egyptian pharoah walk into a bar...

The JSA was the very first super team, and were created in the 1940’s. They were originally a group of characters that National (now known as DC) owned the rights to, and they would team up occasionally to fight crime, Nazis, communists, the Japanese, Nancy Pelosi, and pretty much anybody that Eisenhower pointed them at. Originally the book was created to focus on National’s less popular characters (Hawkman, Spectre, Dr. Fate, etc.) and so bigger names like Superman, Batman, Flash, and Green Lantern were honorary members. Wonder Woman, despite her ability to bench-press a tank, was made the “secretary”, even though a super team needs a secretary about as much as a Chilean miner does.

This worked for about a decade, but when the public lost interest in super-heroes in the early 1950’s, the JSA went away. When the Justice League was formed a decade later, a lot of long-time fans wanted to know what happened to the JSA, and how the new versions of the Flash, Green Lantern, etc. related to the originals. And DC made the single greatest, and single worst decision that anybody involved in superhero comics ever made.

Retcon 1:

Batman and Superman finally admit their true feelings to each other. And there's some stuff with an alternate universe.

DC decided that the best way to deal with the different versions of their characters was to say that all of the JSA’s original adventures now took place on an alternate earth called “Earth 2″, and the reality that the 1960’s stories took place in happened on “Earth 1″. So now you had two Batmans, two Supermans, two Green Lanterns, etc. But if you’re going to come up with a great idea like that you must have everyone meet up right? So in 1964 DC published the first of many cross-over stories. For the next 20 years, DC would create endless amounts of alternate earths, with numerous versions of many of its characters. Great for long-term fans, not so great for newbies looking to read a DC comic for the first time and wondering why there were two Batman and one of them had a really hot daughter. During this time, the JSA proved quite popular, and so they were made the stars of their own book again, and a bunch of JSA side projects and spin-offs took place (Huntress, Power Girl, All-Star Sqaudron, Infinity Inc.). All of these took place on Earth 2.

Retcon 2:

Black Canary. AKA Earth Two Black Canary. AKA Earth One formerly of Earth Two Black Camary.

This one is pretty small, as it really only relates to one character. The Black Canary was part of the JSA in the 1940’s, but there wasn’t a version of her in the modern (1960’s) era. So eventually her Earth 2 character was brought over to Earth 1, where she would join the JLA and fuck Green Arrow silly. However, since it didn’t make sense that a character who was in her 30’s in WW2 was still in her 30’s in 1975, a slight retcon was created that would make her the daughter of the original Earth 2 Black Canary.

Retcon 3:

In 1985, DC decided to merge all of the different realities into one big uber-reality with an event called “Crisis On Infinite Earths”. In this new reality, there was a JSA in the 1940’s, and then many decades later, the JLA was formed. This was actually a great idea, except that DC didn’t take it far enough. What they should have done was literally start every title’s continuity over from scratch, and rebuild it from the bottom up. But they decided that

Crisis: This fixed/screwed up everything!

they would only do that with big characters like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, and figure out the rest later. The problem with this was that those 3 characters are connected to pretty much every other character in the DCU, especially the JLA and JSA. According to the new reality, characters like Wonder Woman and Superman were just arriving on the scene for the very first time, so how could they have been part of the JSA in the 1940’s? Simple: According to the new retcon, they weren’t, although according to my comic book collection, they were.

Retcon 4 and up: Much of the next 10-15 years was spent trying to figure out how each member of the JSA fit into the new continuity, since so much of their histories conflicted with each other. Although a lot of it has been explained, some things still change regularly (Originally after Crisis Wonder Woman was NOT part of the JSA, but then it was stated that her MOTHER time-travelled to the 1940’s and became a member, and now they say that never happened. Gimme strength)

So now the JSA has a unique place within the DC character ranks, and has a healthy mix of original members, as well as the children and grandchildren of original members. It also has enough confusing continuity to choke a dead horse. I should also tell you that I’m more than a little surprised that you made it this far. Seriously. What were you thinking? Don’t you have stuff to do?

Justice Society – Justice Society Vol. 1 & 2

Power Girl's cleavage, and some old guys who fought Nazis or something.

Since the Justice Society’s appearances in Justice League of America were popular, DC gave them their own book within the pages of All-Star Comics in the mid 1970’s. This was written by Paul Levitz, who seemed to struggle with keeping the WW2 era charm and goofiness relevant among an increasingly modern era.

Although I enjoyed reading these stories again, I can’t say that there was enough to keep my interest and justify keeping them. Even some wonderful art by the likes of Joe Staton and others art wasn’t enough to keep these in my collection.

CULL.

Next up: More Justice Society!

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 – DC Comics: Green Lantern Corps, Hawkman, and Huntress

Green Lantern Corps - Recharge, To Be A Lantern, Dark Side Of Green, Sinestro Corps War, The Sinestro CorpsWar V. 1/2, Ring Quest, Sins Of The Star Sapphire, Emerald Eclipse, Blackest Night

No other industry screams “Blind Corporate Opportunism” like the comic book business, and DC has always proven itself to be a mighty bastion of greed.  So it should have come as a surprise to no one that DC would attempt to capitalize on Geoff Johns’ successful Green Lantern reboot by ordering up a new Green Lantern Corps mini- series. That was a success, and so DC then did a regular series, which continues to this day. None of this should have been a surprise. What was a surprise, was that it was good.

This is essentially a military soap opera, but instead of guns, the soldiers have little magic rings that help then fly in space. And they’re all aliens. Thankfully most of them aren’t the slimy kind of alien, but more the kind of alien you would see on Star Trek: The Next Generation, where they look pretty much human, but they have a ridge above their eyes, or a 3rd ear, or they have squid-like genitals that you never see (I’m looking at you Deanna Troi!). Although there are aliens that actually look like aliens (Robot aliens, planet shaped aliens, Bieber shaped aliens), you are not expected to care about most of them, therefore allowing you to keep your narrow view of the inherent specialness of humanity intact. Whew.

This series is a lot of fun., with a nice mixture of epic space battles and small human interest stories. While there are a LOT of characters to keep track of, the writers (initially Geoff Johns & Dave Gibbons, then Dave Gibbons by himself, and then Peter Tomasi) do a good job of focusing on small groups of Lanterns at a time. It’s pretty easy to understand what’s going on, and while the scope of the stories might be huge, the series never loses sight of its priority: Compelling characters first, crazy epic space wars second.

KEEP.

Hawkman

Hawkman. He looks angry because he's trying to figure out how to promounce "Nth".

A really long and boring history of Hawkman is in order: In the 1940’s, DC had a Hawkman character that was chairman of the Justice Society. He and his wife Hawkgirl, were reincarnations of old Egyptian pharaohs, and used “Nth” metal to fly. So far so good. Then in the 1960’s, DC brought back the characters, but now they were police officers from the planet Thanagar, who used “Nth” metal to fly. Ooookay. DC eventually “fixed” the problem by saying that one group of characters (the ones they created in the 1940’2) lived on Earth 2, and the new modern (well, modern for the early 1960’s), lived on Earth 1. Occasionally they would meet and braid each other’s hair.

This worked well until 1985, and the Crisis on Infinite Earths. Now there was only one earth, with one history. They figured out where most of the major characters fit into this, but they forgot about Hawkman. Big time.

They “relaunched” Hawkman with the Hawkworld series, essentially reinventing the origin of the Thanagar Hawkman. That’s fine, but the mistake they made was saying that this was a brand new story, and that this Hawkman didn’t arrive on Earth until after Crisis. But if they had him coming to Earth AFTER Crisis, then who was in the Justice Society in the 1940’s? Or later on in the Justice League? Who, I ask you? WHO?????

This is the kind of stuff that keeps geeks up at night.

Oh, and then he became a Hawk God. And then it got weird. The next few years suffered reboot after reboot, and eventually DC just pulled the plug until they could finally find someone who could fix this mess.

Enter Geoff Johns. Yes, the same Geoff Johns that fixed Green Lantern. In the pages of his much liked JSA run, Johns finally got all of the various reboots of Hawkman to jibe with each other, and while it may still have been a little messy, it was the best anyone could have expected, and now DC could finally go ahead with new Hawkman stories.

Hawkman - Hawkworld

Hawkworld helped make a royal mess out of Hawkman’s continuity, and it makes absolutely no sense if you try to figure out exactly when/where it fits into the regular DCU. However, as a stand alone series the first mini series is a pretty great science fiction drama. It’s the story of Katar Hol, a privileged young man who discovers just how corrupt and evil the society that he thinks of as a utopia really is. There’s no superhero stuff, and not that much action. What it is, is a great character piece. It’s the story of one man’s redemption, and in fact, a case could be made that writer Tim Truman shouldn’t have even bothered with making it a Hawkman story.

KEEP

HawkmanThe Geoff Johns trades (Endless Flight, Allies & Enemies, Rise Of The Golden Eagle, Wings Of Fury)

You might have guessed by now that I like Geoff Johns’ writing. I do, but it’s a qualified like. I can’t say that I think he’s the character master that Mark Waid is, or a builder of tension like Ed Brubaker is. What he is, though, is a storyteller in the best sense of the word, and probably the best plotter that DC has. Then why don’t I like this more?

It’s because Hawkman sucks. He looks cool, and has a badass mace. But as a character (or at least the new angry Hawkman that Geoff Johns brings us), he has no depth. About the only character trait that he is given is that he’s mad. At everything. That’s something, but unfortunately he lives on the same planet as Batman, and we all know that Batman will always be DC’s top asshole. It’s like being the second best basketball player on the same block that Michael Jordan lives in.

Johns seemed to be completely lost in regards to this character right from the beginning, and I think the problem is that the character probably requires a subtler touch than Johns usually demonstrates. He puts him in a great new city, but then never really explores it. Johns gives him a great new job, but then never really shows him doing it. Not to mention his horrible supporting cast, who seem to come and go at a moment’s notice with no real back story or character development. The only other character you see regularly in this book is the Kendra Saunders Hawkgirl, who is so unlikable she makes Lex Luthor look like a Chilean miner. There are some nice character moments later on the series in the Shayera Hol arc, but that’s about it.

The only saving grace here is some really nice pencils from Rags Morales, but even that wasn’t enough to save this one.

CULL.

Huntresss – Dark Knight’s Daughter

As originally conceived, Huntress was the daughter of Batman and Catwoman. Specifically the Batman and Catwoman of Earth 2 (I touched on the whole Earth 1/Earth 2 thing earlier, but I’m going to explain all of THAT mess in detail in a future post). She was created in the late ’70’s to add some much-needed youth to the recently revived Justice Society. I thought for sure that I’d be getting rid of this one, but I was surprised to find that I actually liked this better than I do the actual JSA book from this time period.

I get the impression that Paul Levitz was really stretching his wings with this one. Up till not long before this series came out, female characters in superhero books didn’t do much other than get tied up fairly regularly while they waited for the BIG STRONG MAN to save them. They also seemed to spend a lot of time doing something called “swooning” at any hint of danger. Until the Huntress came along. Levitz’ Huntress is beautiful, smart, successful, rich, and dresses up in a skin-tight purple leotard while she fights crime. So in short, the perfect ’70’s woman.

This trade holds up remarkably well, and is a lot better than most of the other DC stories that came out of this era. Special care must be made to mention the art of Joe Staton, that is a big part of the reason I’m keeping this trade.

KEEP

Next up: One more blog post filled with characters you don’t like – Hitman, Joker, and Jonah Hex! But coming up soon – THE JUSTICE LEAGUE!!!!! And the culling begins in earnest.