Wednesday Comics Woundup: Talking Dogs, Plague-Ridden Vikings, and Emo Superman

NorthlandersThe Plague Widow by Brian Wood & Leandro Fernandez

I’m going to step out on a limb here and say that Brian Wood might be the most consistently excellent writer in comic books today. And although Northlanders has gotten no small amount of critical acclaim and positive reviews, it’s definitely not enough. In a world where great comics get cancelled left and right, it’s a good thing to have such a well-done book be out there getting better with every arc.

For those of you not in the loop, Northlanders is a comic book about vikings. Each arc tells a different story featuring different characters, but the gist is always about vikings. Actually, it’s not. The gist is stories. Compelling, tense, drama-filled, stories. That happen to be about vikings. This arc is about Hilda, a woman trying to get her daughter through a plague ridden winter in 11th Century Norway.

This story is about as good as dramatic comic books get these days. Not only that, but in a series blessed by great artists, Leandro Fernandez stands out, with significant emotive skills. This is one to get, and it’s definitely on my short list for best unlimited series of the year.

Rating: A

Hellboy/Beasts Of Burden – One Shot by Jill Thompson and Evan Dorkin.

For those of you who are new: Hellboy is a demon that investigates and battles with creatures of supernatural evil. He was created by Mike Mignola. The Beasts Of Burden are a group of talking dogs and cats that investigates and battles with creatures of supernatural evil. They were created by Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson. In this issue, they team up to investigate and battle with creatures of supernatural evil.

This was a little goofy, but still fun. I liked how easily Hellboy accepted the dogs, since in a world where Rasputin’s ghost is your arch-nemesis, talking dogs is probably not even close to the weirdest thing Hellboy sees in an average day. This was definitely more of a Beasts story than a Hellboy story, but  I wouldn’t recommend it as a jumping point to either character. Great for fans, but if you’re new to either mythology and want to know where to start with these characters, check out the fantastic Beasts hardcover that came out earlier this year, or one of the many top-notch Hellboy collections on the market.   Still, Dorkin and Thompson have delivered a charming little story, and I recommend this to fans of either character.

Rating: B-

SupermanEarth One by J. Michael Straczyinski and Shane Davis.


His parents wrapped him in this hoodie for the voyage to Earth.

Where to start?


This project has been in the making for over a year. It’s essentially a reimagining of the Superman origin by superstar writer J. Michael Strazyinski, and up and comer Shane Davis. However, this origin isn’t a new one, it’s an “alternate” one, which means that it doesn’t really “matter” in the great continuity shitpile that is DC comics.  So why should you read this?

Well, I’m not convinced that you should. I have no problem with someone messing with one of the most iconic origins in comics IF they have a new and interesting approach to the character. And while JMS’ approach is new, I can’t necessarily say it’s interesting.

This is JMS’ story of how Clark Kent became Superman, and I’m really not sure what the point of this was. Although there are a few interesting choices (JMS’ Jimmy Olsen might be the most interesting version of that character I’ve ever seen, and an alien invasion being the trigger that turns Clark into Superman is an idea so brilliantly simple that I can’t believe no one has thought of it before), I can’t say that there’s enough of a new approach to convince me that this “new” Superman is worth investing in.

To top it all off, this Superman isn’t the strong, confident leader of men that we’ve come to know, love, and possibly snicker at from behind his cape. This Superman is conflicted, a little greedy, and wouldn’t be out-of-place playing drums for My Chemical Romance. Those are all interesting character traits to have, and definitely worth reading about. But not in Superman. That’s the whole point of him. If I want to read about heroes that doubt themselves at every turn, I’ll pick up a Marvel book.

I’m aware that sounds like this is awful. It’s not. It’s an entertaining Superman story. But a $20 Hardcover standalone graphic novel written by one of the biggest stars in comics should be absolutely amazing, not just a decent read.

Rating: C+

END OF LINE, PROGRAM! I review 23 Minutes of Tron: Legacy!

Ok, here’s how this is supposed to work. Disney lets a bunch of people watch 23 minutes of their upcoming megablockbuster Tron: Legacy two months before it comes out, and we’re supposed to rush to our computers and gush about it like a 10 year old at a Justin Bieber concert.

Except that reviewing a movie based on 20 minutes of footage is like trying to tell how hot someone is by looking at the back of their knee.

Don’t get me wrong. The footage looks amazing. But you knew that it would. There’s no way that Disney would allow so much of a finished product so important to their bottom line to be released so early if that footage wasn’t truly fantastic. And it is. The footage I saw was everything you would want in an epic adventure movie, and the special effects really defy honest description. But again, this wasn’t a surprise. What was a surprise was how important story and character seemed to be to the footage I saw. Director Joseph Kosinski seems to understands that at the end of the day, what matters is engaging character arcs, and the footage I saw definitely reflected that.

I can’t really review this footage the way I would review a finished movie, but what I can tell you is that I want to see more. Badly. Dec. 17 can’t come soon enough.

Originally posted at

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.



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.


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.


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.


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.

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 11: DC Comics – Green Lantern

For those of you who aren’t familiar with DC, and their approach to storytelling, and how it differs from Marvel’s approach, let me explain: DC’s priority is always plot – i.e. Event X happens to Character B. Marvel’s priority is always characters – i.e. Character B copes with the events of Event X, and also how to pay the rent that month. There are positives and negatives to each approach. One of the big negatives to the DC approach is that you need a constant stream of MAJOR events in order to keep the wheels of the DCU turning. And since death is a fairly major event in someone’s life (right behind getting your first pony), it’s a well we see DC going to fairly often.

Enter Green Lantern, specifically Hal Jordan.

Green Lantern of Earth One vs. Green Lantern of Earth Two.

Now Hal wasn’t the first Green Lantern. That was Alan Scott, back in the 1940’s. But when DC started to focus on superhero comics again in the late 1950’s/early 1960’s, they realized that the Green Lantern concept was cool enough that it was worth bringing back. Although the Hal Jordan Green Lantern has always been well-known, and is identifiable as one of the DCU’s top heroes, he was never that important in regards to sales, and never really had what could be considered a successful book.

So in the mid ’90’s, DC decided to kill him.

Now that’s pretty bad in the great scheme of things, but DC went one step further. They made him evil. Like, planet killing evil.  He killed other Green Lanterns, some of the Guardians of OA, and he started the Zero Crisis, which is one of those universe-destroying events that DC has every 6 months or so. And I think he kicked a puppy somewhere in there too.

Evil Hal Jordan. It's ok though since he has a yellow parasite in his head telling him what to do. We don't know that yet.

A few things happened next: DC created a new Green Lantern, named Kyle Rayner. The problem is, EVERYONE hated Kyle Rayner. Everyone. Including his fictional mom  Also, DC was surprised to learn than not only did DC fans hate Kyle Rayner, but they actually liked Hal Jordan quite a bit, and while it was one thing to kill him, it’s quite another to actually turn him evil, flying in the face of 40 years of character continuity. And so the great DC back pedal began. We’ve seen the back pedal often. It’s when DC does something really dumb to one of their characters, and then spends years trying to fix the damage, eventually putting the character right back where they were at the beginning (for further info, see Superman, Death Of; Batman, Breaking of Back of, or anything to do with Hawkman, Aquaman, the Silver Age Wonder Woman, the Golden Age Wonder Woman, The Silver Age Flash, the Modern Age Flash, Stephanie Brown, Jason Todd, and pretty much every person that has ever appeared in a DC comic book. Ever. ) often with alternate realities, time travel, or usually some sort of cosmic reboot that is just lazy writing, goddamnit!

And so 2 years later, they brought Hal back from the dead, but he was really sorry. And so

Hal Jordan as the Spirit of Vengeance. He's a ghost that wears a mask. On purpose.

he died AGAIN, but actually saved the planet this time. And then they brought him back from the dead AGAIN, but now he was the Spectre, a character that is essentially the DC’s Spirit Of Vengeance. He’s an undead corpse that has unlimited magical power and goes around killing evil people for the Lord. So he’s essentially the DC version of Stephen Harper. 

Now you would think this would be enough for DC fans. But noooooo, they didn’t just want Hal back, they wanted him back as GL. And so 10 years after DC got rid of him the first time, they hired Geoff Johns (also known at DC by his other name, God) to fix the mess they created, and bring back Hal Jordan. And he did. In style.

Green Lantern The Geoff Johns Trades (Rebirth, No Fear, Revenge of the Green Lanterns, Wanted – Hal Jordan, Sinestro Corps War, Secret Origin, Agent Orange, Rage Of The Red Lantern, Blackest Night)

First of all, let me tell you that I HATE Green Lantern. Hate the concept, hate the character, hate the T-Shirt, etc.. The character never did anything for me, and the mythology did even less. So as you can imagine, it was going to take a hell of a great comic book to make me care about the return of Hal Jordan. I’m here to tell you that Geoff John’s Green Lantern is quite often a hell of a great mainstream superhero comic book.

Geoff Johns has a knack. It’s a particular talent, and it has served him very well at DC. He fixes problems. Specifically, continuity problems. He has the gift of being able to fix whatever tangled mess of continuity damage a decade of DC hacks has done to a character. Not only does he fix it, but he even makes you think that the dumb stuff was actually good, and he makes it an integral part of the story he’s telling. And so he turned his magic scalpel to Hal Jordan. He brought him back, but he didn’t just bring him back, he brought back the entire Green Lantern mythology. Over the past 60 plus issues, he’s taken this utterly devalued D list character, and rebuilt him into the lynchpin of an incredibly complex, action packed space opera, that is arguably the only real interesting part of the DCU anymore.

The successes he has here are many: Explain the reason why the green rings are useless against yellow in a believable way? Check. Explain why a great hero would actually kill his former colleagues? Check. Have him punch out Batman? Check. Somehow turn a purple skinned alien with a receding hairline into one of the greatest villains in the DCU? Check. Bring back the Corps, the Guardians, the Zamorans, Nekron, and a host of other old GL concepts that just seemed really lame when you read about them as a kid and actually make them cool for once? Check.

That being said, this isn’t a perfect book, though it often comes close by mainstream superhero standards. Although a LOT happens to Hal Jordan every month, much of it just bounces off his back as he goes from adventure to adventure. I’d like to see the book slow down occasionally. Although a lot has happened to the character from an event standpoint, I can’t say that Johns has actually done much with the character emotionally. Any person that would have as much shit thrown at him as Jordan does would need some time to figure stuff out, to adapt, to change, etc.  

My other quibble is that the book is often a little too smart for its own good, and the overly complicated, continuity heavy scripts pretty much guarantee that any new reader would be lost immediately. Pretty much everything in this book is a huge, universe-killing epic crossover, and occasionally you wish that the series would take a bit of a break and a just have a story where GL rescues a kitten out of a tree.


Green Lantern & Green Arrow – Vol. 1 & 2.

This is one of DC’s most famous storylines from the 1970’s, and it’s aged about as well as that purple couch that keeps showing up in all of your mom’s photo albums has. It’s 1972, and Green Lantern’s book is struggling. DC puts two of their hottest young talents on the case (Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams), they change the name of the book to Green Lantern and Green Arrow, and so a legend is born.

The premise of the arc is that conservative galactic cop Hal Jordan, and liberal hippie Ollie Queen, are both disillusioned with the state of America. They decide to get in a pick-up truck, and take a millenia-old asexual blue alien with them on a road trip where they encounter racism, overpopulation, slavery, drug addiction, sexism, cults, and even excessive jaywalking and littering. At the end of the story they discover that a 9-year-old socialist muslim nazi from Kenya/Hawaii is to blame for everything bad that ever happened to anyone ever, and so they travel to 1984 to enlist Ronald Reagan to come back in time with them to kill the socialist vampire with freedom bullets.

The reason that people still talk about this story today isn’t that it’s that good, it’s that it was the first adult-issues story that DC ever had it’s characters take part in.  The problem here is that while these stories were absolutely cutting edge for the era they were created in, they just seem dated and preachy now. Although the issues they are trying to deal with are very much of the real world circa 1970, O’Neil still uses early 1960’s comic book language and narrative devices to deal with them, and the results are often clumsy and heavy-handed. That being said, this is still an incredible important storyline for numerous reason, one of them being the art by grandmaster Neal Adams. 

I’d love to see DC try to do a sequel to this, using modern-day issues and narrative devices, possibly with some new characters.


Next Up: The Green Lantern Corps!

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 10: DC Comics – Green Arrow

Green Arrow is a character I’ve always liked, because for a long time he was of of the fewDC heros that I would say had any real character depth. He’s abrasive, passionate, and has numerous flaws. In short, he should have been published by Marvel. He’s never taken off from a sales perspective, and DC finally decided to smother their grandma with a pillow and killed him off in 1995.

5 years later, they brought him back . They enlisted Kevin Smith, who had a bit of a rep as a character saver due to his work on Daredevil, to do the deed. He concocted an extremely convoluted, yet entertaining epic that brought Oliver Queen back from the grave. It was a huge hit, and since then GA has been a prominent part of the DCU.

Green Arrow The Longbow Hunters

This is often considered one of the great DC stories of the 1980’s. Keep in mind the context of the time. Year One, Watchmen, and Dark Knight had been huge successes, and so DC did numerous reboots that brought some of their characters back to their grim and gritty roots, even those that had never had grim and gritty roots. This brings us to Green Arrow, and The Longbow Hunters. GA and Black Canary move to Seattle, and even though she used to be a member of a group that saves planets on a regular basis, Canary gets kidnapped by drug dealers and GA has to save her, which isn’t so good for Black Canary, but did turn out to be pretty good for Gail Simone, who ended up making her career on fixing the damage done to Canary in this story. Arrow goes a little nuts, and there’s a lot of complicated spy stuff that isn’t very interesting, and this sets the tone for Green Arrow stories for the next 7 or 8 years.

When I compare this to some of the more recent Arrow stories, I can’t say that this is a very good book, though Mike Grell’s artwork here is stunning. For me, I prefer fun and cocky Green Arrow to angry and brooding Green Arrow. Not that I don’t want emotional conflict in my superhero books, but the GA stories around this time seemed to fit Batman much better than they did the Emerald Archer. Again, this might be more of a personal taste thing than anything else, but this incarnation of Green Arrow just leaves me cold.

KEEP, just barely due to the great art and the importance of the series.

Green Arrow –  The Kevin Smith Trades (Quiver/Sounds Of Violence)

So now GA has been dead for 5 years, and his son has been wearing the mantle of GA in his absence. Only problem is, he’s extremely boring. So DC decided to bring back the original, and got Kevin Smith and Phil Hester to do it.

To my surprise, there’s still a LOT to love about these trades. They require a pretty serious love of obscure DC continuity, and Kevin Smith uses every single DC character he’s ever heard of in an attempt to really bring Ollie back in style. Smith really had a knack for this character, and this arc would be the basis for Ollie Queen’s characterization for most of the next decade. There’s also plenty to hate here. Kevin Smith never met a word balloon he didn’t love to fill, and his inexperience with the medium is apparent time and time again. Every page is crammed with text and art, and the story is so busy that sometimes you forget to breathe. That being said it’s still a good “back from the dead” story, and Phil Hester’s art is what I’ll always think of when I think of Green Arrow, mostly due to his stellar work here.


Green Arrow –  The Archer’s Quest

For the follow-up to Quiver, DC enlisted well-known novelist Brad Meltzer, to write his very first DC story. Since then he’s written numerous arcs for DC, but this may still be his best. It’s essentially a love letter to Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams famous “Hard Travelin’ Heroes” Green Arrow/Green Lantern stories of the 1970’s, and remains one of my all time favourite Green Arrow arcs. It’s a story that really shows off how many shades of grey that the character has, and is must reading for any DC fan. Phil Hester is still doing the pencils here, and still knocking it out of the park.



Green ArrowThe Judd Winick trades (Straight Shooter, City Walls, Moving Targets, Heading Into The Light, Crawling From The Wreckage, Road To Jericho)

So having guys like Kevin Smith and Brad Meltzer write your books is great when you’re trying to create interest in a character relaunch, but when it came time to finally get a permanent writer for Green Arrow, DC went to Judd Winick. Winick seems to be one of the most hated writers in comics. Now, you should take that with a grain of salt, as the same people who call for a writer’s death are also the same people who are buying every book that writer is involved with. It makes no sense, but that zombie-like habitual buyer is part of the reason why comics is in such a state of flux right now.

Now, I happen to like Winick’s writing for the most part. I find him to be an extremely character focused writer, and as such he comes up with occasionally unconventional scenarios for his characters, and his story arcs tend to focus on the emotional after effects of superheroics, rather than the actual superheroics themselves. To that end, Winick created a rich supporting cast for Ollie here (His son Connor, the new Speedy, a great new villain in Brick), and spent several years building up the notion that Ollie Queen had an extended family in the truest sense of the word.

Now, if you went to an average comic book message forum, you’d probably get a lot of people who disagree with me. Why? Because Winick puts his grown up characters in grown up situations. That’s it. It’s that simple, and the fact is that many superhero comics fans are only fans of a certain type of comic, which means that anything that challenges their narrow definition of what comic books are must be hated and feared. Probably the biggest controversy of his arc was that he gave Green Arrow’s young sidekick the HIV virus. This was an extremely gutsy move on Winick’s part, and to this day it’s stands out for me as a great example of character development. It added a lot of layers to both that character and to Green Arrow proper,

Now, that’s not to say the run is perfect. It loses steam near the end of the series, and the art is very inconsistent in places (though seemed to get better when Scott McDaniel took over the penciling duties. But all in all this was a good run for a mainstream superhero book.


Green ArrowYear One.

Although GA is one of the most interesting characters in the DCU, he also has one of the least interesting origins in the DCU: He was rich, got stranded on an island, and then when he got off the island he became a superhero. So by that logic the cast of survivor could apply to be in the Justice League. Andy Diggle and Jock attempt to salvage something interesting out of it, but to no avail.




Green Arrow & Black CanaryRoad To The Altar, The Wedding Album, Family Business, A League Of Their Own, Enemies List

So imagine you are an editor at DC comics. You have lots of popular characters, but lots of those characters can’t actually sustain their own books. Two of your writers have spent the last several years rebuilding two of these characters from scratch, and brought them to the point where they both have successful books that are also critically acclaimed. So what do you do? If your answer is “Cancel both books and completely fly in the face of the last 5 years of characterization and have those characters marry each other and then start a new book with the two of them that isn’t remotely as interesting as the books you cancelled?” then you should be in charge of DC Comics. Yep, they married Green Arrow and Black Canary (yes, technically they didn’t cancel Birds of Prey until later, but the removal of that character from the series was the first real nail in the coffin of that book), the two characters least likely to actually settle down in a monogamous relationship in the DCU. Batman and Superman would make a better couple. But they did it, and so it was Judd Winick’s job to salvage the baby from the bath water. While I’ve read MUCH worse, and this wasn’t a horrible series by any means, it also wasn’t great, and from the beginning of the arc the whole thing screamed “EDITORIAL MANDATE”.  I’m keeping the first arc that features the wedding, but getting rid of the rest.

The Wedding Album: KEEP. All others. CULL

Next up: Green Lantern!

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 9: DC Comics – Doctor 13 to Gotham Central

Doctor 13 Architecture & Mortality

Doctor 13 is an old DC character from the 60’s that doesn’t make a lot of sense in a world full of superhumans, magicians, and god-like entities: He’s a skeptic. Now, I consider myself to be an amateur skeptic of sorts; in that the only way I would believe in people with super-powers, is if one of them flew down to my house and crapped on my new carpet. So you can see why I would identify with him. But how can you be a skeptic in a world full of magic? When the evidence of the existence of the paranormal slaps you in the face every single day? That’s what Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang try to answer here. This is honestly one of the weirdest things DC has published in recent memory, and I love it.

Brian Azzarello is usually known for his hardboiled crime fiction, but he turns in a fun, completely absurdist piece here that isn’t like anything he’s ever done. Cliff Chiang is one of the very few modern day pencillers whose work is strong enough to get me to buy a book just for the art, and he outdoes himself here. I will definitely say that this isn’t for everybody (a good friend of mine looked at a few pages of this book and said that it was the most ridiculous piece of comic book art he’s ever seen. And he likes Frank Miller), but if the idea of talking Nazi Gorillas teaming up with gay vampires and 30th Century plague carriers to convince Geoff Johns and Grant Morrison not to write them out of continuity sounds like your bag, give this a shot. It’s pure, absurdist comic book fun. Also should mention that this has one of the best last pages to a comic story that I can remember.


Flash And Green Lantern Brave And Bold.

Whew! Finally some characters you’ve heard of. These two are familiar to pretty much everybody, and for good reason. They’re 2 of DC’s ‘Big 5″ characters, although you wouldn’t know it by the way DC treats them sometimes. This is a flashback story, delving into the early friendship between Barry (the original Silver Age Flash, then was killed by the Anti-Monitor. Then Wally West who used to be Kid-Flash became Flash, and at first everyone hated him but then Mark Waid wrote him and people started to like him, but then for some reason they made Impulse  the new Flash. He’s actually Barry Allen’s grandson from the far future, but then he died, and now for some reason Barry Allen is back even though Wally West is a more interesting character but for some reason DC seems to think that the best way to deal with poor sales is just by rebooting everything back to 1975) Allen and Hal (was the original Silver Age Green Lantern, but then went evil and killed a lot of people and then he died, but then came back to life, and then died again. And then he became God’s Spirit Of Vengeance, which is an ok gig if you’re retired I guess, but then he came back to life yet again, and now he’s back to being Green Lantern again) Jordan. Yes.

This was nicely written. Mark Waid goes back into the Silver Age era he knows so well, but adds nuance and breadth to these characters that never really existed before now. In fact, a lot of what Waid did here set the groundwork for the inevitable resurrections of each character, and some of the characterization here can be found in both the current Flash & Green Lantern titles. Tom Peyer’s pencils work well with the story, and it’s overall a good read, though not essential. Please also note that despite my sizable DC collection, this is the ONLY trade I own with the Flash’s name in the title. I’ve never been a big fan of the character, though I will most likely give the rumoured omnibus of Geoff Johns run on the book a try when it comes out next year.


Gotham Central  – 5 Trades (Half A Life, In The Line Of Duty, Dead Robin, Unresolved Targets, Quick and the Dead)

The commercial reaction to Gotham Central when it was on the stands sums up everything that I think is wrong with modern comic book fans: It’s extremely well-written, with complex characters and exciting action-packed scenarios. When it was being produced, it was regularly one of the most critically acclaimed series on the stands, and I can say without exaggeration that this is one of my favourite DC titles of the past decade. And nobody read it.

It’s an idea so simple you can’t believe it hasn’t been done before: What would it like to be a police officer in a world full of superheroes? I should also mention that it HAS been done before, notably with Brian Bendis and Mike Oeming’s brilliant Powers series. But this was the first time it had been done with heroes we know. What would it be like to work 6 months on a case and then have a 14-year-old in tight shorts come in and beat all of your suspects up in one night? Or to have a sociopath in a bat costume have more credibility with the citizens you’ve sworn to protect than you do? 

That’s what Gotham Central is about. It’s the story of Gotham City’s Major Crime Unit: A group of detectives hand-picked by Commissioner Gordon to take on the city’s worst problems. It was originally co-written by two of my favourite contemporary writers: Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker. There were different artists, though Michael Lark was the initial and primary penciller on the book.

I consider this book to be a gateway drug. If you only read superhero comics, but want to get an accessible look at what else is out there, try this book. If you’ve never read superhero comics, but want to see what it’s all about without having your intelligence insulted, try this book. It’s like Law And Order, if L&O had occasional cameos by Batman, but was also not boring.. I’ll also say that I would consider Half A Life (the second major arc of the comic) to be one of the finest story arcs to ever be found in a DC comic book.  


 Next up: Some characters YOU ACTUALLY HAVE HEARD OF!!!! GREEN ARROW! GREEN LANTERN! HAWKMAN! Well, 2 out of 3 ain’t bad. Oh, and the culling starts in earnest….

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part Eight: DC Comics – Checkmate To Deadman

I know, I know. You haven’t heard of any of these people. Where’s Superman? Where’s Green Lantern? Where’s Ambush Bug? Don’t blame me, blame whomever invented the alphabet.  So I guess Al Gore. I’ve always known that I gravitate towards lesser known characters, but doing this cull has confirmed it. For example, I have exactly one trade featuring the Flash, but I have 7 trades featuring the Question. And I wonder why no no one wants to borrow my comics. The question here is why? Why do I prefer characters like Checkmate or the Question to characters like Superman or Hawkman? I’m pretty sure the answer is flexibility. If you have a character that doesn’t have millions of dollars in licenseing fees attached to it, or isn’t the hero to millions of kids, you can do more with that character. For example, you can show Kate Spencer’s Manhunter smoke cigarettes, be divorced and kill people, but still can’t show Wonder Woman kissing a boy. Or a girl. Unfortunately.  

Checkmate 3 trades (A King’s Games, Pawn Breaks, Fall Of The Wall)

Checkmate was created as DC’s answer to SHIELD in the late 80’s, essentially a spy agency dealing specifically with superhuman problems. It never really caught on, and was used sporadically until the 2000’s, when DC started to use it heavily as part of it’s Infinite Crisis storyline. Greg Rucka, the writer of the best spy comic ever in Queen & Country, took up the reigns, and gave us a short lived, but unique and interesting take on the superhero spy genre.  I really like this book, and I’m definitely keeping it. But sometimes it tries too hard to shoehorn well known DC characters into it’s storyline, and you suspect that maybe Rucka would have been better served by removing it from DC continuity even more than he already did.

Connor Hawke Dragon’s Blood.

This was a mini series that Chuck Dixon wrote a few years ago starring Green Arrow’s son, and unfortunately like a lot of Chuck Dixon’s stuff I forgot what it was about 5 minutes after I read it. Not a bad story, but Connor isn’t anywhere near as interesting a character as his father, and can’t really hold his own book as a lead.


Deadman The Deadman Collection

One of my all time DC favourite characters, with pencils by one of my all time favourite DC artists. Life is good. Deadman was created by Arnold Drake and Carmine Infantino for the Strange Adventure comic, but his strip was taken over soon after by Jack Miller and Neal Adams, and it’s Adam’s run on Strange Adventures that is still remembered today, and it’s what is collected here, in addition to some odds and ends by other writers and artists.

The character is still used by DC regularly, but it’s never quite gotten back to the brilliance of the original Adams stories. The premise is this: A trapeze artist becomes a sentient ghost after being killed during a performance. He’s given the opportunity to move on to Heaven, but only if he finds his killer. It’s like The Fugitive, but with more ghosts and less Tommy Lee Jones. He has the ability to temporarily posses living humans, and uses them as he tries to find his killer.

I love this book. I love it because the motivation for the character is so easily defined and explained. In fact, I’ve always thought Deadman would make a great episodic TV show for those reasons. The stories are tight, and self-contained, but usually have to do with Deadman trying to find the man who killed him. The art here defies description. Neal Adam’s Deadman is both terrifying and heartbreaking, and his art work here is a high mark of the bronze age of comics.


Next up: Doctor 13, Flash, and maybe even some Green Arrow!

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part Seven: DC Comics – Catwoman to The Challengers Of The Unknown

CatwomanThe Ed Brubaker Trades (Dark End Of The Street, Relentless, Crooked Little Town, Wild Ride)

To say that I’ve never been a Catwoman fan is an understatement. The character has always represented the worst of DC’s silly excesses to me. So why the hell do I own 9 Catwoman trade paperbacks? Two words: Ed Brubaker. The man has a gift for great crime stories, and since Catwoman is supposed to be a great criminal, it makes perfect sense that him writing the book would be a perfect fit. And it is.

Brubaker’s Catwoman is a “small c” crimefighter. It’s mostly gangs and mob bosses for her. But Brubaker builds a great supporting cast for Selena Kyle, and between them and the choice of Black Mask as lead villain, it’s a pretty great little series. Extra points go to Darwyn Cooke, Javier Pulido, and Cameron Stewart for some great pencil work.


Catwoman The Will Pfeiffer trades (Replacements, It’s Only a Movie, Crime Pays, Catwoman Dies)

One thing that I HATE about superhero comics is the constantly changing creative teams. You love a book, get used to the look and feel, and bang! They’re gone, and some no-name rookie is in there making your much loved book a dark and gritty deconstruction of the superhero genre that nobody asked for. So as you can imagine I wasn’t too inclined to give Will Pfeiffer a shot when he took over Catwoman for the much vaunted Ed Brubaker. But I did, and I’m glad. Sort of.

Although Pfeiffer injected a bunch of nasty into the book with some great new villains, specifically the Film Freak, he also delved into serious melodrama, with a “who’s the baby daddy” storyline that wouldn’t have been out of place on Guiding Light. Worse than that, the actual pay off to that storyline satisfied NO ONE, and only alienated fans that had been patient enough to give it a shot. Although Pfeiffer’s run started strong, it eventually got roped into the regular DCU shenanigans (And by shenanigans, I mean she went to outer space. Seriously.), and pretty soon any of the charm that the book had had was gone.

First two trades: KEEP. Last two trades: CULL.

CatwomanWhen In Rome.

This was essentially the epilogue to Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s much loved Batman Long Halloween/Dark Victory mini series. It takes place between the two series, and it shows a young Catwoman traveling to Italy to find out if a big time Gotham gangster was actually her father.

Jeph Loeb is many things, and some of those things are good. But subtle ain’t one of them, and he pretty much mucks this one up right from the beginning. Loeb’s Catwoman is nothing but a cheap vamp, and while that may make sense if she’s flirting with Batman, it loses it’s charm when she’s on a personal mission. Not to mention the lack of anything much like a real plot. The only thing that saves this is Tim Sale’s art. Even though the story is utterly dispensable, Sale produces some of the best artwork of his career. Absolutely stunning work on this one.

KEEP. Just barely.

Challengers Of The UnknownChallengers Of The Unknown Must Die!

Yep, it’s another Loeb/Sale collaboration. In fact, it’s their first, from 1991. As such, it’s extremely unpolished in places, and it’s obvious that the two future superstars are still feeling their way around the medium. The Challengers are a fairly obscure DC group that is most famous for being the characters that Jack Kirby ripped off when he created the Fantastic Four. I suppose it’s ok since he created the Challengers too. Talented bastard. The Challs are one of those groups that most long term DC fans know, but don’t really care about, and they are rarely used in continuity today. So Loeb and Sale had free reign to do pretty much anything they wanted. It’s an interesting, though uneven attempt, and a decent story about some of DC’s more obscure heroes. There’s quite a bit to like here, though I think ultimately it’s about two issues too long.


Next up: Checkmate to Deadman. Yes, he’s dead, and yes, DC is often a little too “on- the- nose” when naming their characters.

Vancouver International Film Festival – Final Round: Mute magicians and the women that love them

The Illusionist. Directed by Sylvain Chomet.

I thought I’d end my VIFF experience with something of a more populist bent, rather than the indie doom and gloom that I’d been subjected to throughout most of the festival. Sylvain Chomet is one of the most talented film makers working in animation today. He’s probably best known among North American audiences for directing the Triplets Of Belleville, but he’s also a well respected comic book artist.

The Illusionist is an extremely simple story: A down on his luck magician travels to Scotland to resurrect his career. While there, he meets a young girl, and she sees in him an opportunity to get out of her small town life.

It’s one of those rare animated films that doesn’t pander or talk down to it’s audience. It’s also one of the most visually dramatic and beautiful movies I’ve seen this year. Everything is hand drawn. By real people. The attention to detail is stunning, and while it’s not going to provide the chills and spills a western animated blockbuster would, is a must-watch for true fans of the medium.

Rating: A-

(Originally posted at

Wednesday Comics Woundup – Mark Millar’s Superior, plus Walking Dead, Hellboy, and a barrelful of monkeys.

Superior #1 by Mark Millar & Lenil Yu

Now that’s more like it.

Anybody who knows me (well not  just anybody. The people who know me who are nice enough to let me vent about comics. So basically my wife) has heard me complain ad nauseum about Mark Millar’s writing, so this was a pleasant surprise.

I’ve never thought that Millar is a bad writer. Quite the opposite. I think he’s got so much potential that it makes me crazy when I see him just pandering to the lowest common denominator in his books. He’s spent so much time in the last few years trying to one up himself in the “HOLYCRAPICANTBELIEVEHEJUSTDIDTHAT” department that he forgets that he’s actually a great character writer and has a real knack for emotional drama.

Enter: Superior. It’s the story of Simon Pooni, a popular high school athlete who had the talent and potential to make it to the NBA. Everything looked great for Pooni, until  the day that he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.  Now he’s stuck in a wheelchair, most of his friends have deserted him, and his sole pleasure in life are the cinematic adventures of his favourite comic book hero, Superior. Pooni seems to be resigned to a short life full of crushing despair, until the talking monkey shows up.

God, I love comic books.

The monkey tells Simon that out of all of the 6 billion people on the planet, only Simon has been chosen to get a magic wish. The monkey gives Simon a week to “Show me what you can do”, and leaves. Simon is transformed into Superior, the hero of his dreams.

Original? Nope. But that’s not what Millar is about. What he’s about is taking good ideas and making them better. He’s about taking great ideas and distilling them to their simplest, most effective forms. And that’s what he’s done here with the Shazam Mythology. Kick-Ass showed us what being a superhero would be like from the bottom up, but Superior is what it would be like from the top down.  In short, there’s a sense of wonder prevalent here that is missing from Millar’s recent work.

That being said, all that glitters is not gold. It wouldn’t be a Mark Millar comic without some implied homophobia, and although he had a great opportunity here to make a fantastic “all ages” comic, he of course had to throw in a few f bombs where he could. I have no problem with swearing in comics, and I don’t believe in censorship in ANY form, but Millar may be losing some audience here for no real artistic reason.

I’ve said a lot without mentioning Lenil Yu’s incredible art here. His work has really grown on me over the years, and it’s nice to see him finally strike out on his own and do something outside of the regular Marvel U.

Now, this is just a first issue, from a guy that writes better first issues than anyone else on the planet, only to have it all go to shit once it’s time for the story to actually pay off. So it still may all go to hell in a handbasket. But for now, I’m hooked.

Rating: A

Walking Dead Hardcover Volume 6 by Robert Kirkman & Charlie Adlard

How can this be this good after this long? Talented bastard.

Rating: A

DC Comics Presents Jack Cross by Warren Ellis and Gary Erskine.

I own the original mini, but DC just reprinted all 4 issues in a cheap trade edition so I picked this up again. If David Suzuki and Jack Bauer ever had a baby (I’m sorry, I meant WHEN David Suzkuki and Jack Bauer have a baby) that baby would be Jack Cross. Not Ellis’ best, but still fun. I could see this being a great TV series.

Rating: B

Seven Psychopaths by Fabien Vehlman and Sean Phillips.

7 absolutely batshit crazy people team up to kill Adolph Hitler in 1944, only to find out that he’s been dead for 3 years. It’s like Valkrie, but without a gay dwarf in the lead.  Translation from French isn’t great, and the story starts to unravel from almost the minute the mission starts, but it’s still a fun ride.Sean Phillips is on pencils, but I don’t think they take advantage of his talent here.

Rating: C+

I am Legion by Fabien Nury & John Cassady

Basically the Nazis discover a demon that can control others with it’s blood and they attempt to use it in the war. It’s interesting, but the translation here is particularly poor. Fantastic art by John Cassady and a cool concept saves it.

Rating: C+

De: Tales by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba

This is a collection of some early work by two talented rising stars. I like Moon and Ba a lot, but there isn’t much to really sink your teeth in here. Art’s pretty, stories are disposable. There’s definitely some translation issues here as well. Someone needs to make a career out of doing this so that we can start getting more South American and European comics here.

Rating: C

Conan Vol. 9 by Tim Truman and Tomas Giorello

I think I might be done here. I like Tim Truman’s writing, but he seems to be just spinning his wheels here.

Rating: C

Hellboy: Masks & Monsters by Mike Mignola, James Robinson, and Scott Benefiel. This is a collection of  2 early Hellboy cross over stories. First one is Hellboy teaming up with Batman and Starman to fight Nazis, and the other is him teaming up with Ghost, to fight another ghost. This one’s ok, though really only for Hellboy completists.

Rating: C+

Guerillas Vol. 1 by Brahm Revel

The first issue is a great Vietnam war story as seen through the eyes of a new US army recruit trying to follow in the footsteps of his father. It’s funny, and terrible, and sad, with lots of action. And then the monkeys show up. Again. Yes, two monkey books in the same blog posting. This time it’s “squad of genetically modified and highly trained soldiers that smoke cigarettes” monkeys. There is definitely a “WE3” feel about this, though the vibe is a little more over the top. Still, I really liked this, and I’m hoping that Revel does more soon.

Rating: B+