Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Comics I Wished I Brought With Me: Batman "Hush"

I had read raves and reviews for Jeph Loeb's writing. His "color" series at Marvel; like, Spider-Man: Blue, Hulk: Grey, Daredevil: Yellow and Captain America: White generated a lot of positive buzz. So did his Superman For All Seasons, Batman: The Long Halloween, Dark Victory and Catwoman: When In Rome. I'd never had the chance to pick up something he had written. I did see episodes he had written for Smallville, Lost and Heroes. Still, had not had a chance to pick up a comic book written by Jeph Loeb.

Until Batman: Hush.

There was a good deal of hype surrounding the "Hush" storyline in Batman comics 608 - 619. It involved artist Jim Lee working a year-long story arc. Famous for his work on X-Men at Marvel, he left to form Image comics and create WildC.A.T.s. He later spun that title off onto his own Homage Studios imprint under Image, then moved it over to DC, eventually selling the imprint to DC. In 2011, under The New 52, his characters Grifter and Voodoo returned for a brief time. After the "Hush" storyline ended in 2003, Lee moved over to Superman comics for the twelve-month "For Tomorrow" storyline.

"Hush" was a BIG deal.

It had been a long time since I had picked up a mainstream Batman comic. I consider myself a Batman fan. Toward the late '80's I was reading Batman and the Outsiders. I followed Batman back, when he returned to the Justice League. In the '90's, both the Batman line and brand expanded and Batman titles featured "events". Like the "Death of Superman" event, Batman titles featured the "Knightfall" storyline, where the criminal Bane broke Batman's back. Bruce Wayne was replaced not by Dick Grayson, but by Jean Paul Valley, who was also known as Azrael. With the success of that, a cycle of "event" stories followed. "Hush" was a brief break in that cycle. A single storyline running, with no crossovers with any other Batman-family titles for twelve issues. Now that was an event! Bear in mind that at any given time, on a monthly basis, DC Comics publishes anywhere from a half dozen or more Batman-related titles: Detective Comics, Batman, Batgirl, Batwing, Batwoman, Catwoman, Legends of the Dark Knight, Nightwing, Robin and Shadow of the Batman. Then, there are the guest appearances that Batman makes in other titles, as well as his role in Justice LeagueWorld's Finest Comics, Superman/Batman and the current Batman/Superman. Right now, DC is celebrating Batman's 75th Anniversary with a weekly Batman Eternal.

So, Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee collaborating on a stand-alone twelve issue storyline in Batman was kind of a big deal. A big enough deal that an eight-page chapter was included in Wizard magazine.

Hush was such a big deal, that following the 2009 release of the Watchmen film adaptation, Batman 608 was re-released for a dollar, under the heading "After Watchmen...What's Next" as incentive to draw in new comic book readers from the film.

I wish I had room in my suitcase to include the entire twelve-issue run of "Hush". I can see why Jim Lee is a fan-favorite artist. I liked his work on WildC.A.T.s. His work here is just as good. I have to confess that I am not a fan of The New 52 costume redesigns. I'm not sure how much of a hand Lee had in those; but his work before the reboot relaunch of The New 52 Justice League and the "Origin" storyline is much better than what I've seen since. This is the same artist that gave us a nearly insane Batman in All-Star Batman and Robin, The Boy Wonder.

The first chapter of Hush in Batman 608 starts out with Batman rescuing a kidnapped boy being held for ransom. The hired thugs guarding the boy work under Killer Croc. Batman is racing the clock to free the boy before Croc returns with the ransom. And, before Gotham's finest intervene. Batman rescues the boy; fights and beats Croc and his gang. Then the ransom is stolen by Catwoman. Batman chases her to recover the ransom, but has his Batline cut and falls from the sky into an alley. Catwoman turns over the ransom to Poison Ivy, who has entranced her. Over the next eleven issues, the storyline becomes a run through the streets of Gotham involving Batman's supporting cast and rogues gallery, bringing back the late Jason Todd as Red Hood, introducing a new villain, called Hush and ultimately (SPOILER ALERT!) revealing The Riddler as the mastermind of the entire plot. The Joker makes an appearance, but it is pretty much a token.

While it got some good buzz, it also got a critical review.

Still, Jim Lee is a fan-favorite artist. I put him up there with George Perez and Alex Ross. There are a number of critically-acclaimed and fan-favorite artists. Lee would probably be voted to head the list. Along with his work on X-Men and WildC.A.T.s - rebooting re-launching Justice League - Hush is probably one of the reasons.

I wish I had room to bring all of the issues instead of just the first chapter. It would be fun to pore over the entire series page by page.

On my first trip to Kiev, to bring my son, Justin, home, the first issue of Justice League had been released. I pored over that first issue for seven weeks.

I did not get to see how that storyline turned out until after I came back home.
I think Hush stands the test of time.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Comics I Wish I Had Room To Bring With Me...

Along with the Bible, I brought a stack of comics along with me on my trip with my wife, Cathy, to Kiev, Ukraine to bring our daughter, Bella (nee Masha) home.

It is a lazy Sunday afternoon here in Kiev. Today started out sunny. Just a little while ago we had a thunderstorm blow over. Heavy downpour. It's good to be inside and listen to the sound of the rain on the windows. We were able to sign our daughter out of the orphanage on our court day, before we get our final court decree from the judge. She is here with us at the apartment while we wait. We will head back to re-sign her out on Tuesday. We get our court decree on Monday, May 12th; and then we will get her new birth certificate, tax ID number, Ukrainian passport, final physical and visa from the US Embassy so that we can return to the US.
While we wait, we are working on her English, playing Uno, watching movies (with English captioning) and reading. While she plays video games on a tablet or one of our phones, I read. I am making my way through a stack of comics that I packed along with some books and the movies. It was a small suitcase. So, I had to pack what would fit. There were things that I didn't have room for that I wish I had.
I have a long box devoted to The World's Finest comics. Over the years, I've had a handful of the original World's Finest Comics. I think I started reading the book in the late '70's or early '80, when it was a $1.00 anthology. World's Finest Comics was a comic book that started in 1941 that was devoted to Superman and Batman. Somewhere along the way, the two heroes actually started to team-up in World's Finest, and continued to until the book ended in 1986. Around the early to mid 1980's books like The Brave and the Bold (featuring Batman team-ups) and DC Comics Presents (featuring Superman team-ups) ended, too. Superman and Batman came back as a team just a few years ago, in 2003 with Superman/Batman. The book was re-launched just last year as Batman/Superman. In 2012, World's Finest was re-launched with Power Girl and The Huntress.
I did bring along the trade paperback collection, from this long box, of the first six-issue story from Superman/Batman, "Public Enemies".
I wish I had room to bring along John Byrne's Superman & Batman: Generations, too. It was set as an imaginary story, under the Elsewords imprint. What if Superman and Batman had actually started their careers in 1938 and 1939 respectively. Each issue of the first two mini-series were divided in half. for instance, the first story in the first issue was set in 1939, with the two meeting for the first time at The World's Fair in Metropolis. The second story in the first issue was set a decade later in 1949. Each of the four issues in the first series was set ten years apart. It was brilliant to see the changes over each decade.
The time jump in the second series was eleven years, starting in 1942. The second series was as enjoyable as the first, because it included other heroes like the Justice Society and Justice League and an alternate version of the Teen Titans. 
There was a third, twelve-issue limited series that was similar to the finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation, where an event happened in the past that was not understood or unraveled until years later. Superman and Batman had to go back and undo what had been done.
I can only guess that by the third series the concept had run it's course.
I would have loved to see John Byrne working on a Superman & Batman: Generations book that covered the Golden and Silver Ages. I enjoyed Byrne's work on X-Men: The Hidden Years, and his creator-owned The Next Men. I'm nostalgic; so, when Byrne brought Superman and Batman near the present, like in the '80's, '90's and '00's, he lost me. It made sense that Superman would age more slowly than mortal men and that through The Lazarus Pit, Batman would become immortal. It was just a shame to see them come back and outlive either protégés or children. Still, Generations was an enjoyable series.
When the third series started, I had hoped that it would become a monthly book and focus more on the Golden and Silver Ages. A fanboy can dream.
What I had done with Generations is that I had taken the first two series and put them together in chronological order. It was fun to see the story unfold over the years.
Really, the only thing missing from Generations was Captain (Shazam!) Marvel. It would have been nice to see a cameo. Still, it was a Superman and Batman series. And in the Elseworlds of John Byrne, there will always be one Superman and one Batman. The same Superman and Batman over the years.
Some years were kinder than others to The World's Finest.
Superman & Batman Generations is a book I wish I had brought with me on my trip to Kiev, that I am very much looking forward to re-reading when I have some personal quiet time when I get back home. Which, with three kids will probably be a few years after I retire...
A fanboy can dream.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Creature Comforts From Home IX: Justice

The Magnificent Seven, by Alex Ross

So, Zach Snyder has been announced as director of a Justice League movie following the upcoming Superman sequel featuring Batman, Wonder Woman and now Cyborg. Henry Cavill will be back as The Man of Steel; Ben Affleck was cast as Batman; Gal Gadot, from the Fast & Furious franchise, has been cast as Wonder Woman and Ray Fisher just signed on as Cyborg. Jesse Eisenberg will portray Lex Luthor with Jeremy Irons as Alfred Pennyworth. The currently untitled Superman sequel was originally due July 17th, 2015, but will be released May 6th, 2016. The Justice League film will follow, sometime after 2018.

I'm a DC fan. I'm a Batman fan. I like a lot of the other DC characters. I grew up with Adam West as Batman. Michael Keaton and Christian Bale have done a pretty decent job as The Dark Knight. Kevin Conroy is probably THE best Batman - ever. With Diedrich Bader a close second. Growing up with Adam West as the live action "Caped Crusader", there was also the late Olan (Alan) Soule who voiced Batman in cartoons from 1968 to 1984. I think he and Conroy may be tied for how long each has voiced Batman in cartoons. Conroy started in 1992 with Batman: The Animated Series, and with a few exceptions has continued to voice the character to the present. Conroy voiced Batman throughout the Justice League animated series.

Although it was not the Classic, original line-up, it was pretty cool, because it was character and story driven. I could live with John Stewart instead of Hal Jordan as Green Lantern; because John was presented as a strong character. It just happened that he was black. The original team was very white-male dominated. That was because ALL of comics were white-male dominated. In a time in America when culture was completely white-male dominated. The comic books just reflected the way the entire country and the entire world was at that time. There was only ONE woman on the team. The animated series swapped out Aquaman with Hawkgirl. Personally, I would have gone with Black Canary instead, as a nod and homage to DC's Golden Age and the previous, legendary Justice Society of America. The animated League was a little alien-heavy for my tastes. A Green Lantern powered by Oa, a Hawkgirl from Thanagar, a Martian Manhunter, a Kryptonian Superman and a Wonder Woman from Themyscira. The only native humans were Bruce Wayne and The Flash, Wally West. The stories were engaging.

Justice League: The New Frontier and Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths were great follow-ups to the animated series.

In the fall of 2011, DC rebooted re-launched it's entire line. At that time, Justice League was rebooted re-launched. Instead of J'onn J'onzz, the Martian Manhunter, former New Teen Titan Victor Stone, Cyborg, was a part of "The Magnificent Seven". The reason was something along the lines that technology has replaced science fiction. With Green Lantern and SupermanJ'onn pretty much got crowded out. J'onn's power set, compared to Superman, kinda made him redundant. Still, he was a founding member. It's a real shame that he was swapped out for Cyborg. I have not seen the animated adaptation of that first Justice League origin storyline, Justice League: War. I don't know how soon I will, either. The animated movie further swaps out Captain (Shazam!) Marvel for Aquaman. Which makes no sense, on the surface, because Captain (Shazam!) Marvel is a one off Superman and a male counterpart of Wonder Woman.

Probably the least complicated is the Paul Dini-Alex Ross JLA: Secret Origins and JLA: Liberty and Justice oversized trade paperbacks. Both were based in The Bronze Age of comics, which was around the time the League moved from the cave headquarters in Happy Harbor to the satellite that was set in geo-synchronous orbit around the Earth at 23,000 miles.

If there was going to be a live action Justice League film by Warner Bros., I would suggest instead of trying to directly compete with The Avengers versus Thanos with the Justice League facing Darksied, that Warner Bros. adapt Liberty and Justice. It has a The Andromeda Strain angle to it. A small African village is immobilized by an alien virus and the League must find a cure. What is so cool is that each one of the original Magnificent Seven has their "moment" in the story, but probably the character that carries the whole story is J'onn.

A great follow-up to Liberty and Justice, is the twelve-issue Justice by Ross, with Jim Krueger and Doug Braithwaite.

I've re-read the three trade paperback collections a number of times. This is the third time I've brought them with me to Kiev. The story never gets old. It feels like a Justice League story, but it is actually an homage to the '70's Super Friends cartoon! There was a Super Friends tie-in comic book to the series that lasted 47 issues, from 1978 to 1981. Some issues have been collected in two trade paperbacks, and a Showcase "phone book" series collection is due in May.

Justice is such an enjoyable read. It's a little more mature than a Saturday morning cartoon. The references to the Super Friends cartoon are subtle. Ross, Krueger and Braithwaite don't club the reader over the head with the obvious. It is an enjoyable story. Lex Luthor leads the "Legion of Doom" to the betterment of mankind. Part of the plan is to eliminate the Justice League. One by one the League are taken down. The most powerful elements is that Brainiac kidnaps Aquaman and his infant son, Arthur, Jr.; and Sinestro uses a Boom Tube to send Green Lantern into the unknown.

From Absolute Justice by Alex Ross
The final act brings in the entire supporting cast of each of the Justice League. It's nice to see the Teen Titans; although it is a little much to see both the Doom Patrol and Metal Men, their roles in the story make sense.

The reveal is amazing. The inclusion of The Joker is a bit of a shoe-horn, but it all comes together. There's even a cameo by The Legion of Super-Heroes!

Because I enjoy re-reading it again and again, I've brought the three Justice trade paperback collections with me on our third and final trip to Kiev, as creature comforts from home.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Secret Origins

Secret Origins #1, 1986
Wow, has it really been 28 years since the last DC Comics Secret Origins series? The New 52 Secret Origins series debuted this week. I would have picked up a copy at my Local Comic Book Store, Book Review - in the Hillcrest Shopping Center, the 19th Street exit off Highway 52 - but I am in Kiev on an extended stay bringing my daughter Masha home through international adoption. I'm not sure I would pick it up even if I weren't out of town. Not that I have anything against my Local Comic Book Store, Book Review - online at - it's just that I have most of the issues from the previous series; and, well, except for a few, minor details, not much has really changed.

Superman "Secret Origin" by Alex Ross and Paul Dini
I'm a DC Comics fan. I am a Batman fan. I like a lot of the DC Comics characters. Having read a good deal of comic books over nearly a half century, I've seen my share of "Secret Origins". Originally, Batman was just a guy that dressed up as a bat to fight crime. In his first story, "The Case of the Chemical Syndicate" Bat-Man as he was called then, was just a guy who fought crime in a bat-themed costume. He was a bored millionaire, Bruce Wayne. Bruce was close friends with Gotham City Commissioner James Gordon. They were enjoying their pipes when word came of a murder that led Batman to uncovering the mystery. Later, it was revealed that Bruce Wayne's parent were murdered in a robbery, leaving young Bruce orphaned. As Bruce grew up he developed his mind and body to physical perfection, looking for the opportunity to channel his grief and loss productively. He was looking for an answer when a bat flew in through his study window. He took the bat as a sign. Realizing that criminals are "superstitious, cowardly lot", Bruce decided to turn the tables and inspire fear in criminals by dressing as a bat to wage a never-ending "war on crime".

Bruce Wayne was the victim of a faceless crime. That is, his parents were murdered by a faceless criminal. That was the story for many years. Until, the robber was given a name. Joe Chill. Bruce was given an opportunity to hunt down the man who murdered his parents and bring him to justice. Batman confronts Chill with the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne. Chill calls Batman's bluff. Batman pulls off his mask and reveals that Chill's murdering the Waynes led to his becoming The Batman. Chill runs from The Batman for back-up from his gang. He tells his gang that he is being chased by The Batman, because he is the one who created the vigilante hero. In a true Twilight Zone twist, Chill's gang turns on him and kills him for creating crimes worst nightmare. Batman catches up and watches Chill die. He also brings Chill's gang to justice as well.

Batman #47, 1948
Since that classic 1948 story, Batman's origin has been re-told many times over the years, with new details added. He's not the only one. Nearly all of DC's characters have had their origins told and embellished time after time. We know so much more about Superman's home planet of Krypton; his youth in Smallville; how Supergirl's family and Argo City was launched into space when Krypton exploded; and how capitol city Kandor was shrunk by the villain Brainiac and preserved from the planet's destruction.

Untold Legends of The Batman
Re-telling Secret Origins is not limited to the comics. In the 1989 Batman film, it's hinted that a young Jack Napier, before he became The Joker was responsible for the Waynes' murder. Later, in Batman Begins, it is back to Joe Chill, but with the 1956 twist, that it was a murder-for-hire by the Gotham Underworld.

Secret Origins #1, 2014
Meanwhile, nearly the whole first third of The Man of Steel is set on Krypton setting up not only the planet's destruction, but General Zod as the villain of the story.

JLA: Secret Origins by Alex Ross and Paul Dini
My favorite Secret Origins has to be the over-sized JLA: Secret Origins, written by Paul Dini with art by Chicagoan Alex Ross. Dini and Ross had done four individual Secret Origins to open Superman: Peace on Earth, Batman: War on Crime, Shazam! Power of Hope and Wonder Woman: Spirit of Truth. Those four and the rest of the Justice League, not including Firestorm - who joined the team in 1979 - are included in over-sized trade paperback. The origins were a primer to the over-sized graphic novel JLA: Liberty and Justice. These are the most basic of origins, each one a two-page spread. Told either in first-person, or by someone close to each hero. They are pretty much personality driven, conveying the character and how each hero was molded and developed. These origins focus on the core values of each hero.

To me, JLA: Secret Origins by Dini and Ross are the essential origins. There really isn't much that this new Secret Origins series can do to top what they've done. Maybe someone can come along and clean up Supergirl's origin. That is one hot mess! But overall, I'd rather see the characters in good stories than celebrating their "birthday" over and over again.

I would have liked to bring JLA: Secret Origins or JLA: Liberty and Justice on my trip to Kiev. There just was no way to pack them. I did bring along all three trade paperbacks that make up the Alex Ross-Jim Krueger-Doug Braithwaite series Justice.

Justice by Alex Ross, Jim Krueger and Doug Braithwaite
This is the third trip that I've brought Justice along as a creature comfort from home.     

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Creature Comforts From Home VIII: Batman & Superman

So, I guess this is a thing. I'm a Batman fan. I'm a DC fan. I like Superman. But I am not looking forward to this new movie next year. I did not enjoy The Dark Knight Rises or The Man of Steel. What I like about comic books, and comic book movies, is that they're fun - at least they're supposed to be.

Now, I enjoyed the original Star Wars trilogy because it was both fun and thrilling. The prequel trilogy was not fun to watch. It was painful. My two boys, Ethan and Justin, actually enjoyed watching Anakin's frequent temper tantrums on his descent into villainy. They thought Jar Jar was silly. Justin tried to understand Anakin. They both enjoyed the new Star Trek films. I have to admit that the action was amped up 1,000 percent from the original film series. We watched Star Trek Into Darkness and the I popped in The Wrath of Khan. Talk about your room clearing fart! I expected my wife to leave the room, but the boys checked out with her. Something about it being late and they were tired and ready for bed. These guys would stay up all night if they could!

They love The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings films, too.

Both boys love Superman: The Movie and Smallville. Smallville kinda jumps the shark from time to time over the course of ten seasons; but Superman: The Movie and Superman II hold up pretty well. For the purpose of this conversation, there have only been the first two Christopher Reeve Superman films. Supermans III and IV are like the Prequel Trilogy.

The boys and I love films that are fun and enjoyable. The Dark Knight Returns and The Man of Steel were not enjoyable, fun films. They were both dark and gritty. I liked Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, but neither film was aimed at kids. Those films, like all the Batman live action films before it were aimed at guys like me that had grown up with Batman and wanted to see The Batman. The kind of Batman that came along after the 1966 Batman television series starring Adam West and Burt Ward was cancelled. A dark, brooding, gothic Batman. A Batman for big kids.   

Honestly? The best Batman and Superman films have not been live-action. Batman: The Animated Series is probably the finest interpretation of Batman yet. It has stuff for long-time, older fans like me, and it might have some appeal for newer, younger fans. The Batman, and later, Batman: The Brave and the Bold aim right at the newer, younger fans. I can say the same for Superman: The Animated Series and Justice League. They were fun shows.
Superman and Batman have been partners since the 1940's, featured in World's Finest Comics, and later Superman/Batman. The finest team-up between the two, outside of comics, has to be The Batman Superman Movie: World's Finest. It combines Batman and Superman from their individual series; Kevin Conroy, the voice of Batman, with Tim Daly, the voice of Superman. It also features Mark Hamill as The Joker and Clancy Brown as Lex Luthor. The Joker cons Luthor into paying him to eliminate Superman. Batman follows The Joker to Metropolis. The story unfolds from there. It's a brilliant, fun, thrilling story.
Superman/Batman: Public Enemies
A few years later, Jeph Loeb - who worked on Smallville for a time - and Ed McGuinness re-launched The World's Finest team in the comic Superman/Batman. The first storyline, Public Enemies was turned into an animated feature. The comic book storyline is that there is a chunk of Kryptonite either the size of Brazil or Australia headed for Earth. President Luthor blames the meteor's approach on Superman and puts a bounty on his head. While The World's Finest duo try to figure out how to destroy the meteor, they are met with nearly every super-villain on the planet, along with a team of heroes including Captain Atom, Major Force, Black Lightning, Green Lantern John Stewart, Katanna, Power Girl and Starfire. At one point, the Justice Society dispatches Captain (Shazam!)Marvel and Hawkman. Both the Superman and Batman "families" of heroes join in to confront President Luthor in the Oval Office. Very 24.
It has it's weaknesses, but it is action packed.
The All-New Batman: The Brave and the Bold #1 guest-starring Superman
Sholly Fisch has got to be one of the best all-ages writers. I'm sure there are others that are equally talented. Fisch has written some fun stories for DC's Johnny DC and all-ages line. One of my favorite stories is the first issue of The All-New Batman: The Brave and the Bold comic series. Batman and Black Canary are fighting The Joker and his army of robot soldiers. Superman comes along and disables The Joker. He takes The Joker out of action quickly because he needs Batman's help. They leave Black Canary to handle clean-up and head to Superman's Fortress of Solitude and the Bottle City of Kandor. Superman needs Batman's detective skills to solve a mysterious crime. It's all very Silver Age and a fun, light-hearted read.
Batman: The Brave and the Bold featured Diedrich Bader, Oswald on The Drew Carey Show as the voice of Batman. The narration from the cartoon is maintained in the comic book tie-in series.
I brought the Superman/Batman: Public Enemies trade paperback and The All New! Batman: The Brave and the Bold #1 with Batman and Superman on my trip to Kiev to bring my daughter home, because when you face an adventure, it's best to do it with a good partner. Batman and Superman make a great team. Families are a lot like teams.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Creature Comforts From Home VII: Fantastic Four

After wrapping up Starman, James Robinson moved on to other things. He wrote JSA (Justice Society of America) and Hawkman; he wrote Justice League: Cry For Justice; He wrote Batman and Detective Comics; he wrote the War of the Supermen and New Krypton storylines in Superman. He had a brief run on Justice League before The New 52 reboot relaunch in 2011. His League could be described as Justice Titans; it featured Dick (Robin) Grayson as The Batman, Donna (Wonder Girl) Troy as Wonder Woman, Mon-El as Superman, and Supergirl, just to name a few. I picked up a few issues of that, and I enjoyed it. What I would have enjoyed more, is Robinson's take on the original Magnificent Seven. With The New 52 reboot relaunch in 2011, Robinson re-imagined the Golden Age heroes of the Justice Society of America in Earth-2. You may have seen the news that his new Alan Scott was gay.

Robinson left Earth-2 and DC abruptly. He went across the street to the competition, Marvel, where he is now writing and updated The Invaders and Fantastic Four. I still believe that James Robinson has something in common with Roy Thomas. A Golden Age spirit. The Invaders was a World War II team book that Roy Thomas wrote when he was at Marvel in the mid-1970's. Captain America and Bucky, The Human Torch and Toro with Namor, the Sub-Mariner.

I'm sure that it is no co-incidence that Robinson was attracted to The Invaders, having worked on The Golden Age four-issue mini-series for DC; then Starman, which spent a great deal of time in the Golden Age; and finally writing both Justice Society and Earth-2. It is probably no co-incidence either that he is working with two teams that have a Human Torch; Jim Hammond, the original, Golden Age Human Torch, and Johnny Storm, Human Torch with the Fantastic Four.
Robinson's The Invaders is a little different from what I might have anticipated. It is hard to see these characters updated and contemporary from their wartime adventures. The same was true with the re-imagined Earth-2 heroes. The first story-arc puts these veteran heroes in a cosmic setting; which I would see as more suitable to the Fantastic Four. The Fantastic Four is a more cosmic team. They got their powers from a cosmic event. Reed Richards, Mister Fantastic is a cosmic scientist. He discovered the Negative Zone, which is cosmic. I see The Invaders as more of a Batman and The Outsiders team. Somewhat more political in nature. That might not work these days, it being such a small world. I see The Invaders as the original The A-Team. Only super-heroes.
I'm leaning more toward really enjoying his run on Fantastic Four. His Starman was about relationships; father-and-son, brothers, family. I believe that makes him a perfect fit for Marvel's First Family. I enjoyed Mark Waid and Mark Weringo's run on the book and their approach to the team as "Imaginauts". So far, Robinson is a few issues into his run and is deconstructing the team to define and rebuild them. As always, I'm interested to see where he is going with things.
To get ready for his relaunch, I went to the library and I picked up a copy of Essential Fantastic Four, Volume 1. It is a soft cover trade paperback collecting the first twenty issues, plus the first annual. One of the stories is the often reprinted Fantastic Four #5, featuring the first appearance of Doctor Doom.
This was re-imagined by Marc Sumerak and Dax Gordine in the All-Ages, Marvel Age Fantastic Four #5. Doom traps the Fantastic Four in the Baxter Building and takes them captive. He then enlists them to go back in time through his Time Platform to bring back Blackbeard's Treasure Chest. And, wackiness ensues. He holds Sue hostage while Reed, Johnny and Ben make the journey into the past. It is one of the greatest Fantastic Four stories by the original creators Jack Kirby and Stan Lee.
In 1996, around the time Doctor Doom and Reed Richards seemingly died like Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty, Marvel launched a ninety-nine cent comic book line. One of the many titles was Fantastic Four Unplugged. It lasted all of six issues before it was cancelled ended. One of the issues featured Johnny Storm on a date. While on this date he encounters a group of Moloids carrying out an operation for The Mole Man. He is the Fantastic Four's first villain. It is very much a companion piece to the main Fantastic Four book; and, it is also interconnected to other Marvel books. You can't just pick up an issue and jump right into the story without knowing what else is going on in the Marvel Universe. Still, it is a pretty fun story. Except for the stuff that might not make sense unless you already know what's going on.
Marvel and DC have had a long love-hate relationship. Over the years they have produced some great cross-company team-ups; Superman and Spider-Man and Batman and The Incredible Hulk. In 1996, the two companies came up with DC Versus Marvel. It was a contest with fan involvement to see which characters would best each other. During the course of this and future encounters, the DC and Marvel characters were amalgamated, producing new characters from each publisher. Batman and Wolverine became Dark Claw; Iron Man and Green Lantern became Iron Lantern. The Fantastic Four were combined with the Challengers of the Unknown to become the Challengers of the Fantastic. Doctor Doom was combined with the Superman villain Doomsday to become Doctor Doomsday. The Watcher was melded with the Guardians of the Universe to become Uatu, the Guardian. Galactus and Brainiac became Galactiac. The Silver Surfer and The Back Racer became - you guessed it - The Silver Racer. It was all very '60's Silver Age and fun, in an Elseworlds/What If? alternate reality sort of way.
Robinson's Fantastic Four feels grand, epic and serious. At the end of issue #2, Johnny loses his Human Torch powers. The storyline is called "The Fall of the Fantastic Four". It should be interesting to see where Robinson takes the team. The most interesting development is that they are now wearing red uniforms.
Kinda like this...
Since my wife, Cathy, and I are building our family through adoption - we are on our third trip to Kiev, bringing home our daughter, Masha - and Marvel's First Family is the Fantastic Four, I brought along the first two issues of James Robinson's Fantastic Four and a couple of other FF comics as creature comforts from home.
I can wait to get back home to my favorite run of FF comics -

I have the entire 49 issues of Marvel Adventures Fantastic Four. A number of issues were written by Batman '66 writer Jeff Parker. They are all done-in-one stories. They are a lot of fun to re-read! I hope the same is true of Robinson's FF.  

Monday, April 21, 2014

Creature Comforts From Home VI: Talking With David

Starman Legacy poster
Let me tell you what happened in 1994. The third time is the charm.

Jack Knight made an appearance in DC Comics' Zero Hour #1. Zero Hour counted backwards from issue four to issue zero. Following Zero Hour #0, was the DC line-wide event Zero Month. It was a chance for new readers to jump on-board each of the comics published in October 1994 with that individual book's Zero Issue. There were four DC titles that ended - or were cancelled - with Zero Hour; Team Titans, a spin-off of Teen Titans; L.E.G.I.O.N. '94; Valor (He used to go by the name Mon-El); and Justice League International. DC's Legion of Super-Heroes was re-launched with a Zero Issue and new #1, as well as a companion title Legionnaires. Seven titles were launched following Zero Hour; Extreme Justice; Fate; R.E.B.E.L.S. '94 (replacing L.E.G.I.O.N.); Manhunter; Primal Force; Starman and Xenobrood (which was a limited series). Wanna know which one of those seven titles became the most enduring?

Starman was re-launched a couple of times before 1994. In the '80's Paul Levitz and Steve Ditko created a Starman named Prince Gavyn. Prince Gavyn, Aquaman and Plastic Man were features of a Adventure Comics Dollar Comic. The feature didn't last very long and Price Gavyn was all but quickly forgotten.

A few years later in 1988, Superman writer Roger Stern and Tom Lyle created another cosmic Starman, Will Payton. This Starman lasted awhile longer. He anchored his own title for 45 issues and was often in the company of Firestorm, Firehawk and Power Girl, Superman and Batman. He was courted unsuccessfully by Lady Quark, one of the characters from 1985's Crisis on Infinite Earths. He even fought David Knight, son of the original, Golden-Age Starman, Ted Knight. They fought for the Starman "birthright". When his title ended, Payton faded from the scene.

In 1994, James RobinsonTony Harris and Wade Von Grawbadger launched a new Starman. In the first issue, the Zero Issue, David Knight is patrolling Opal City. In his bright red and green costume he is standing perched on a rooftop. He is shot in the chest by The Mist's son Kyle. David falls to the pavement to his death. If the bullet to the heart didn't get him, the fall did. The Mist is Ted Knight's - the original, Golden-Age Starman's - mortal enemy. His Lex Luthor; his Joker. The Mist has returned to Opal to take his revenge on Ted. His son Kyle murders David; and tries to kill Ted's other son, Jack. Ted is injured when his observatory blows up and ends up in the hospital. Ted tells Jack to run away from Opal as far as he can get. Jack considers it, but then something happens. Even though he doesn't want to be a hero, he wants to run. He stays. He fights. He defends Opal, he avenges his brothers death and fights Kyle to the death and wins. Nash becomes his mortal enemy.

Jack was the third time re-launching Starman in as many years. The third time was the charm.

Why? Was it James Robinson? I have posted before and I will post again that I believe James Robinson and Roy Thomas are kindred spirits. Leaving Marvel for DC, Thomas left The Invaders and launched the All-Star Squadron grouping all of DC's wartime heroes in one book. Robinson wrote the four issue The Golden Age, a 1993 Elseworlds - alternate reality - four-issue mini-series covering much the same ground as Thomas. Robinson covered a lot of Golden Age  ground with Starman, and during his run on Justice Society.

I believe that Robinson, Harris, Von Grawbadger and editor, the late Archie Goodwin, had a lot to do with the success of Jack Knight as Starman. What I think they hit on, though, was the only way to do it right.

Since the original Starman, Ted Knight, there were three attempts to make the character cosmic. There was even a Star Boy on the Legion of Super-Heroes. Ted Knight used his star rod technology and shared it with fellow hero Sylvester Pemberton, the Star Spangled Kid. The Kid later became Skyman, part of the next generation, Infinity, Inc. which featured the children and heirs of the Justice Society. Pemberton was killed in action toward the end of Infinity, Inc. before the title was cancelled ended. David Knight was portrayed as eager and zealous to take on his father's mantle. So much so that he died in action.

The only way to make Starman work the way it did for Jack was to tie it back to Ted and Opal City. Everything that Robinson did was common sense. He brought the Golden Age back in Tales of Times Past stories that tied to storylines that he was setting up to a grand finale. Robinson made Starman about family. Jack's relationship with his father Ted. Robinson tied together all the Starmen into a legacy.

Along with the Tales of Times Past stories, Robinson paused for annual Talking With David stories. Jack meets his late brother David annually, in different places. Jack and the surroundings are in black and white, while David, wearing the Starman uniform he died in is in vivid color. They first meet in a cemetery and do little more than make a mess they have to clean up after fighting. The following year, they meet onboard a pirate ship. Together they scuttle another ship before docking in Opal for a very special appointment. The next year, it's dinner with other dead heroes for advice on "the life". Later still, while searching for Will Payton with Mikaal Tomas - a one-time Starman from the '70's - it's Mikaal that talks with David, while Jack fights Solomon Grundy. Jack and David meet one final time, where all the pieces are finally fit into place. It is with this meeting that Jack and David travel back in time to 1951 for a very important job.

I put the three-issue story arc about the Starman of 1951 in with the Talking With David issues because Jack and David are together through the entire adventure until it's conclusion. At the end of the adventure, David starts to feel cold, hear music and then, simply disappears - leaving Jack in 1951. He is returned to the present in a Legion Time Bubble by his successor Star Boy.

And then Starman ends with #80. Jack Knight was Starman from October 1994 to August 2001.

The issue that Jack's father Ted fights his ultimate, final battle against The Mist and ends like Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty over Reichenbach Falls was released right around the time I lost my dad to prostate cancer. I held my dad's hand and told him it was okay. He'd fought the good fight. He could rest. My dad passed away on Mother's Day, 2000. I like to think it was a gift to my mom, since she had taken care of him the last few years of his life while he was fighting the cancer. I don't know if I would have felt any connection to any work other than Starman. The book had an interesting way of handling the death of characters.

In 2010, when Geoff Johns brought the Green Lantern event Blackest Night across the DC line, a Black Lantern ring found David Knight and he rose again. Blackest Knight may have been DC's version of The Walking Dead, the Black Lantern Corps being corpses. Risen from the dead by their Black Rings and killing anyone in their path.

Jack did not return to Talk With David this time around. James Robinson did return, though, and had The Shade defeat David's Blackened soul and write one final "The End" to Starman with #81.

Because Starman's Talking With David was about brothers, and Starman itself was about family - fathers and sons - and community, it's one of the books I've brought along with on my trip to Kiev as I bring home my daughter with my wife. Creature comforts from home. Starman issues #5, #19, #37, #49, #76 and #81.

Good stuff.      

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Creature Comforts From Home V: Batman '66 #6

Nostalgia isn't for every one. My wife, Cathy, isn't very nostalgic. She doesn't like to dwell too much on the past. Dwelling and obsessing on the past is not a very healthy thing. But there are some things about the past that were pretty cool, and worth reliving.
Like the live action Batman television series that ran on ABC from 1966 to 1968.
It is hard to believe that 120 episodes, across three seasons and a feature length film were crammed in between '66 and '68. Even harder to believe that by the third season, the twice weekly cliffhanger concept had pretty much burnt out and Batgirl was introduced to bump up flagging ratings. Even harder to imagine that 48 years later, the live action series starring Adam West and Burt Ward against a Hollywood Who's Who of guest villains would still be popular! Fans are still debating the pros and cons of the series.    

Last July, DC Comics launched Batman '66 as a webcomic. Stories would appear as a webcomic through DC and Comixology. (It was just announced last week that Amazon would purchase Comixology.) The webcomics would be available for a mere $ .99. The stories would later be collected in print, and each issue would be available for $4.99. Now, the downside to webcomics, is the same downside to iTunes. The buyer doesn't actually own a physical copy of either the song, the album or the comic book. For ninety-nine cents you are actually buying access to either listen to the song or album; or read the comic book. There is currently a debate going on over what happens to a buyer's iTunes playlist when that buyer dies. Now this access may appeal to some people. It appeals to me on a level where my space isn't cluttered with long boxes full of printed comics. But at the same time, I enjoy reading a comic book the same way I enjoy reading a hardback or paperback novel. There is something about the feel of paper and the smell of old comic book newsprint that is enjoyable.
The Penguin Burgess Meredith in The Twilight Zone
So, as much as I would love to have a tablet filled with my favorite comic books - as if that were possible! - I have resigned myself that I need a space for my long boxes of comic books.
There are a few that are my go-to books to re-read. Starman, by James Robinson, Tony Harris and Wade Von Grawbadger; Ultimate Spider-Man by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley; and, my Batman collection. Now, you would think that as a Batman fan I would have boxes and boxes of Detective  and Batman ComicsLegends of The Dark Knight. The Shadow of the Bat. The Brave and the Bold. The World's Finest. Whatever "mainstream" title Batman has appeared in. I have a few of those. The collection of Batman comics I enjoy the most is the animated series tie-in. After Batman Returns, Fox Kids launched Batman: The Animated Series, in 1992. DC launched The Batman Adventures not long after. They kept the series going through a number of re-launches. When The WB launched The Batman, DC followed with The Batman Strikes. Then came Batman: The Brave and the Bold, both on Cartoon Network and from DC.
Batman '66 #6 featuring The Bookworm!
The latest gem in my Batman collection is Batman '66 written by Jeff Parker. There are stories written by Tom Peyer with a rotating art crew that involves Jonathan Case, Mike and Laura Allred, Ty Templeton, Craig Rousseau, Chris Sprouse, Reuben Procopio, Christopher Jones, Colleen Coover, Dave Johnson, Sandy Jarrell and Joe Quinones.
It is as if the television series had not been cancelled. Along with appearances by The Joker, The Penguin, The Riddler, and Catwoman - all staples of the series - there's the unique guest villains designed for the stars that played them. Egghead, King Tut, Zelda The Great and Olga Queen of the Cossacks. What is brilliant is that Batman '66 and Parker are doing some really creative things with the series; like, [spoiler alert] revealing the link between Jervis Tetch's The Mad Hatter and The Clock King. Batman '66 #8 is a unique time travel story involving King Tut, his goons and The Dynamic Duo all heading back to ancient Egypt. One of his goons is Waylon Jones. I'm sure we'll be seeing him again in another form very soon!
The issue that I brought along with on my trip to Kiev to bring home my daughter, Masha, is Batman '66 #6 featuring Roddy McDowell's The Bookworm. I like Roddy McDowell. He was awesome in his only appearance on the series in the role, and later in The Planet of the Apes series. He later returned to Batman, reading the novelization of the first Batman film in 1989; and later, on The Animated Series as The Mad Hatter.
The Bookworm, as described by Batman on the original series, is a frustrated writer. He is the ultimate fanboy. In the Batman '66 appearance, Bookworm is composing a scrapbook on Batman, in an effort to stay one step ahead of the Caped Crusader. Rather than stealing an over-sized check from the Gotham Chamber of Currency, he steals the over-sized checkbook! He also tries to steal a set of 19th Century matchbooks! He does manage to steal the Gotham City Police department manuals, so they are left unable to operate - (wait for it) by the book!
Batman '66 is written as a fun comedy, pretty much how the original series was played. The art is spot on. Although the likenesses are only through the feature film, with only Adam West, Burt Ward, Julie Newmar, Ceasar Romero, Frank Gorshin and Burgess Meredith licensing their likenesses. Yvonne Craig recently licensed her likeness for Batman '66 merchandise.
It is an enjoyable, fun read. Like the original series there's a gag on every page. Which makes Batman '66 a definite creature comfort from home.
But wait! There's more! This summer Batman meets an old associate. Kevin Smith of Clerks fame will be writing a Batman-Green Hornet crossover! Green Hornet was from the same production company as Batman, but only lasted on television one season.

Creature Comforts From Home IV: Teen Titans

@ Copyright 2014 DC Comics' New Teen Titans by George Perez
I was reading on Comic Book Resources the other day, a cover critique by Janelle Asselin, of the new Teen Titans #1 cover by Kenneth Rocafort. The critique exploded all over the internet and social media and broke down along gender lines. Threats were hurled at Janelle over the critique, and even incoming Teen Titans writer Will Pfeifer has shown support for both Asselin and Rocafort, while agreeing to disagree over the critique. What I found interesting in the critique is this-
Janelle Asselin, "Anatomy of a Bad Cover: Teen Titans #1" CBR
There is a growing number of females that either already are or are becoming comic book fans. This seems to be scaring guys that are comic book fans. Because instead of embracing it, guys that are comic book fans are saying, "Awww, no!" I would love it if my wife were as much of a comic book fan as I am. I am very thankful and appreciative though that she at least tolerates it.

It is interesting that there is a statistic to support that females are comic book fans; and, Teen Titans fans!

I am a comic book and science fiction fan. When I say science fiction, I don't necessarily mean Isaac Asimov, Tolkien, or CS Lewis. I grew up on Star Trek reruns. I'm a huge fan of the original Star Wars trilogy. I am not a real big fan of the prequel trilogy. The new J. J. Abrams Star Trek reboot, while thrilling and action packed, still owes a huge debt to the original series. I like Quantum Leap. There are a lot of time travel series; like, The Time Tunnel, Early Edition, Time Trax and Seven Days, but it was Quantum Leap that caught my attention. So much so that I followed the Innovation Comics comic book series and I tracked down all the paperback novels. It's the same for Doctor Who. My wife, Cathy stumbled across Christopher Eccleston's Ninth Doctor reboot on Netflix and suggested I give it a try. She has no interest in watching it, she just thought I would like it. I was hooked... But I really have no interest in going back and watching the previous generations of The Doctor. I imagine that there are Star Trek fans that are like that. Fans of Next Generation, or DS9, or Voyager, or Enterprise, or this new Star Trek that have no desire to watch the original series.

It is interesting to find that Doctor Who, The Hobbit, and Lord of the Rings, Star Wars and Star Trek, Quantum Leap and Teen Titans have fans that are both male and female.

The Silver Age: Teen Titans #1
Because I am a Batman fan, and that Robin was leading The Titans, and all the Titans were sidekicks, that's probably what caught my attention. I think I may heave heard or read about The X-Men, but there wasn't any thing about the X-Men that caught my attention until after I'd started reading The New Teen Titans by Marv Wolfman and George Perez. Reading their run, I started to get interested in seeing what had come before. The Bob Haney and Nick Cardy Teen Titans were kind of hokey and corny, but then, most Silver Age comics were. I started reading comics around the mid- to late-'70's. Comics were starting to change in the '70's. So much so that by 1980, when the Teen Titans were re-launched, it was a much different team. The New Teen Titans was a blockbuster book. It was as hot for DC as the X-Men were for Marvel.
Untold Tales of Spider-Man #21 guest-starring The Classic X-Men
I stuck with The Titans through the first five years of the book. Around 1985, Wolfman and Perez were doing double duty, producing the monthly Titans book and the landmark, sweeping, line-wide twelve-issue Crisis on Infinite Earths maxi-series. Wolfman stayed with the book for a good long while, but Perez moved on - to re-launch Wonder Woman, following Crisis, I think - and was followed by Tom Grummet and later Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez.
The New Teen Titans teamed-up with The Uncanny X-Men to fight the Dark Phoenix and Darksied.
If there was one thing I would fault Wolfman and Perez for, it is allowing the Titans to age and mature. Dick Grayson matured beyond being a Boy or even a Teen Wonder. He became Nightwing, in homage to Superman's take on The Dark Knight. Wally West gave up being Kid Flash for a while; and later after his mentor Barry Allen's death during the Crisis, Wally replaced him as The Flash. Donna Troy, Wonder Girl, got married. She later became Troia; then a Darkstar. She and Wally both had complete stories and reached a point that was for them "The End". Aqualad became Tempest. Speedy became Arsenal; and later, Red Arrow.
Not too long ago, Amy Wolfram took them all back to a simpler time. When they were kid sidekicks, adventure was fun and grown-ups were a drag.
Teen Titans: Year One trade paperback
Teen Titans: Year One was such a fun read. Comic books should be fun. The art is amazing because each one of The Titans looks like a kid. Like they really are twelve of thirteen. They aren't buxom or ripped with muscle. That comes later. As an older teen or young adult. The Teen Titans here are awkward and gawky. Which is fun. I remember being awkward and gawky and totally inappropriate in middle school and early high school.

What I would like to see is a retro-Teen Titans. Instead of a new group of Titans, or a team made up of original Titans and Young Justice members, I'd like to see a group made up of classic sidekicks. This has been tried from time to time, but it never seems to catch on. I'd like to see Sandy, the Golden BoyCaptain Marvel, Jr., Kid Eternity and Merry, The Girl of 1,000 Gimmicks along with Robby Reed as Dial "H" For "Hero" and the updated version of Airwave. That would be cool to see.

I brought The Silver Age: Teen Titans #1 written by Marv Wolfman and penciled by Pat Oliffe; along with Untold Tales of Spider-Man #21 guest-starring The Uncanny X-Men written by Kurt Busiek and also penciled by Pat Oliffe; and Amy Wolfram's Teen Titans: Year One trade paperback collection, penciled by Karl Kerschl. (Kerschl also does The Abominable Charles Christopher webcomic. It's quite trippy. Give it a look.) These three books combine for a simpler time. When comics were fun.

On my trip to Kiev to bring my daughter home, these comics are some creature comforts from home.