Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Timeless And Ageless

In June 1938, Superman, created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster made his debut in Action Comics #1. What followed was an explosion of colorful, costumed "Mystery Men".

In October 1939, Jim Hammond, The Human Torch - the original, "Golden-Age" Human Torch - not to be confused with the Fantastic Four's Johnny Storm, created by Carl Burgos, made his debut in Marvel Comics #1. The same issue that featured the debut of Bill Everett's Namor, the Sub-Mariner. In March of 1941, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby's Captain America debuted in Captain America Comics #1. The legendary Bill Finger, who worked with artist Bob Kane and Jerry Robinson on Batman, brought these three heroes together to fight the Axis during World War II as part of The All-Winners Squad in 1946.

Roy Thomas later brought The Invaders together in the pages of The Avengers in 1969. They later graduated to their own title in August 1975 and ran for 41 issues until September of 1979. Afterward, Thomas moved from Marvel to DC to write the World War II exploits of DC's Golden-Age pantheon of heroes dubbed the All-Star Squadron, or Super Squad.

The Invaders have had a number of revivals. Most notably a 2008 twelve-issue crossover with The Avengers that brought the war-time heroes forward in time, and a 2010 Invaders Now! reunion.

The Invaders return again in a new ongoing series by Eisner Award winning writer James Robinson. Robinson is known for his Golden Age inclination. He wrote the four issue mini-series, The Golden Age, focusing on the wartime period through the 1950's for DC; followed by Starman, which featured several Tales of Times Past stories, as well as fleshing out a rich and full history for his Jack Knight Starman. Starman led to a run on Justice Society of America and finally Earth-2.

There will probably be a lot of comparisons between Robinson's Earth-2 and All-New Invaders. Both feature updates of Classic, Golden-Age concepts and characters for a new generation. Notably, Robinson was part of re-imagining Green Lantern Alan Scott as homosexual.

At rival Marvel Comics, Robinson brings Jim Hammond, Namor, Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes into a new century. Time has not been kind to The Invaders. Namor, The Sub-Mariner, has been more or less the original anti-hero, in the sense that he has been antagonistic toward "surface-dwellers". For a time, he was actively a super-villain; adversary to the Fantastic Four and The Avengers. More at home with Magneto and Doctor Doom than Captain America and The Human Torch. Jim Hammond suffered pretty much the same fate. As a synthetic android, he was reanimated to fight the Fantastic Four by the villain the Mad Thinker; and later by Ultron as The Vision to fight The Avengers.

Captain America's sidekick, Bucky was one of the three Classic Marvel deaths. "With great power comes great responsibility", Ben Parker told his nephew Peter, before he was fatally shot by a robber Peter had encountered earlier as Spider-Man. Thinking a single, loner Spider-Man was better than one with a girlfriend, Gwen Stacy was murdered by the Green Goblin. Bucky died in an explosion toward the end of World War II. It was the same explosion that caused Captain America to be frozen in ice. Steve Rogers was later found by The Avengers. He mourned Bucky for many years. Until, it was revealed that Bucky was found by the Russians and trained to become the Winter Soldier.

Robinson and artist Steve Pugh bring The Invaders back together to face larger, more intergalactic threat in the first chapter, "Gods And Soldiers".


The Kree race are looking for something The Invaders came across during World War II. A villain called Tanalth tracks down Jim Hammond to probe his memory for information on finding it.

The story opens with the prologue of three Kree warriors finding a part hidden in the African desert by Namor.

Next, we see Jim Hammond working as a mechanic at a gas station in Blaketon, Illinois. His boss, Roger, tells him to take a lunch break and get something to eat at the diner. Roger tells him to have a burger, but all Jim has is a few bites off a slice of pie and a few sips of a cup of coffee. He is away from the gas station long enough to establish that he's been in Blaketon about six months and that he is well-liked in town. He gets back to the gas station in time to find his boss murdered by Tanalth. This is when the town of Blaketon discovers that Jim Hammond is really The Human Torch.

Tanalth opens up a forgotten memory for Hammond of The War. It's a vivid memory that he relives, where he, Namor, Bucky and Major Liberty encounter Hela. Captain America and Hammond's sidekick Toro are noticeably absent from the encounter. It is this memory that helps Tanalth learn where to find what she is looking for. Just as she is about to deliver a death blow to Hammond, Captain America and Winter Solider intervene.

Hammond, Rogers and Barnes will soon discover that Namor is a prisoner on the Kree home-world.

Robinson is an incredibly talented story-teller as evidenced in his work on WildC.A.T.s,e Leave It To Chance and Starman. He's only had a few misfires, such as the controversial Justice League: Cry For Justice storyline; his short run on Justice League, which featured a number of former Teen Titans; and his equally short run on Earth-2. His New Krypton Superman storyline may just have been ill-timed. The Superman Grounded storyline by J. Michael Straczynski that followed was widely derided. It seems nearly impossible to make Superman relevant and cool in this modern age.

Readers don't need any history or background to read All-New Invaders #1, although it is great to catch up again with old friends. Some comics rely heavily on a comics knowledge. Picking up The Invaders for the first time, Jim Hammond is revealed as The Human Torch and part of a World War II era super-hero team. There is a front-page breakdown of just who The Invaders are and where they've been. It is interesting that they are described as a "band of brothers".

James Robinson and Marvel certainly are striking while the iron is hot: Captain America: The First Avenger was part of the excitement leading up to the blockbuster The Avengers film. Captain America: The Winter Soldier featuring the legendary Robert Redford, as well as Black Widow an The Falcon looks to be another smash ahead of The Avengers 2: Age of Ultron.

All-New Invaders looks like a re-purposing of a classic concept. This could be what he intended for DC's The New 52 Earth-2.   

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Team Works!

Growing up with Scooby Doo, it caught my attention that on top of a monthly Scooby Doo, Where Are You? all-ages comic book, DC was launching Scooby Doo Team-Up. Originally it was conceived as a mini-series. Scooby Doo Team-Up would be all about the Mystery, Inc. gang working with The Dynamic Duo, Batman and Robin. I have fondest memories of Scooby Doo Meets Batman, as well as the episodes where they met celebrities of the time like Dick Van Dyke, Sandy Duncan, Don Adams and The Harlem Globetrotters. Something like that would be almost impossible to pull of today. Celebrities have a different public image today. I couldn't see Scooby teaming up with say Paris Hilton, The Kardashians, Brittany Spears or Jessica Simpson. The Pamela Anderson cameo in the first Scooby Doo live action movie was hilarious, though.

Scooby Doo Team-Up is a nice melting pot of styles. It brings the old school '70's Hanna-Barbera look together with the '90's Bruce Timm-Paul Dini approach to Tiny Toon Adventures, The Animaniacs and the Batman, Superman and Justice League animated series. That's a credit to artist Dario Brizuela.

After the 1966 live-action Batman television series starring Adam West was cancelled, the character returned to his dark, Gothic roots with a vengeance. Writer Dennis O'Neil was teamed with artist Neal Adams and the "New Look" Batman took on a darker tone. Stories were more suspenseful and almost horror-style. Dick Grayson was sent off to upstate Hudson University and full time duty with the Teen Titans. Bruce Wayne shuttered Wayne Mansion, and he and butler Alfred Pennyworth relocated to downtown Gotham in the Wayne Enterprises Building.

But, in cartoons like The New Adventures of Batman and Super Friends, Batman was still somewhat kid-friendly. That's what Scooby Doo Meets Batman and Scooby Doo Team-Up captures.

Writer Sholly Fisch, former Vice President for Program Research at Sesame Workshop and the President and Founder of MediaKidz Research & Consulting, pairs the Mystery Inc. gang with the Dynamic Duo against one of the finest characters from that 1969 era of Batman: Man-Bat! Kirk Langstrom is a chemist working with bats to find a cure for deafness. He develops a formula for bat-sonar. He tests it on himself and transforms like Jeckyll into Hyde into Man-Bat. In early appearances he is more a tragic, tormented figure, like Bill Bixby's David Banner; or, The Avengers' Hank Pym. In the '70's he was part of The Batman Family comic book. From the 1992 Batman: The Animated Series on, he was transformed more into a full rogue.

Here he's back to his roots. Writer Fisch is brilliant in how he doesn't demonize or "over-villainize" anyone. Heroes are heroic and good people can do bad things. Hate the sin, love the sinner. That's a lesson that needs to be taught and passed on more. The old Scooby Doo cartoons really made bad people evil, rotten and nasty. Mostly unrepentant and irredeemable.

Scooby Doo Team-Up #1 is a fun romp for the Mystery, Inc. gang.

The second issue of Scooby Doo Team-Up features another Gothic great, The Scarecrow. The Man-Bat origin from Detective Comics #400, June 1970 was part of the whole era of returning Batman to his dark roots. Fans decry the "grim 'n' gritty" tone of comics from 1985 forward, but dark comics have always been around. One of Batman's many great Gothic stories was "The Mystery of the Waiting Graves".

There's some really nice touches in Scooby Doo Team-Up #2. A nice homage to Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, a nod to the 1966 live action Batman film, and a tip of the cowl to Carmine Infantino's classic rendering of the Dynamic Duo.

Scooby Doo Team-Up #2 teams Scooby and Ace, the Bat-Hound. You may have seen Ace on the Krypto animated series awhile back. For a loner like Batman, it is interesting to see how many people he ends up working with. A Boy Wonder, Robin; Batwoman; Bat-Girl; Batgirl; Man-Bat; and Huntress just to name-drop a few. He's even been known to work with Catwoman, who is more of an opportunist, now, than a villain. Ace was a lost dog that Dick Grayson took in, that developed a nose for crime-stopping.

The Scarecrow attacks the members of the Mystery Analysts of Gotham, which brings together in one room more detectives than you can shake a Scooby snack at. It's almost hard to keep track of all the cameos of great DC detectives, but Fisch does a fine job. He doesn't lessen the heroes to make Scooby and Ace look good and he doesn't over-criminalize The Scarecrow.

It's another fine romp.

Scooby Doo Team-Up promises more characters beyond Batman team-up with the Mystery, Inc. gang. Currently there is a void in team-up books. It has been a long while since there was a The Brave and the Bold for Batman team-ups; and books like DC Comics Presents with Superman team-ups, Marvel Team-Up for Spider-Man match-ups and Marvel Two-In-One that featured The Thing from the Fantastic Four alongside other super-heroes are just distant memories.

Memories that have been kept alive online by The Lost Issues web-blog. The Lost Issues started as a daily blog featuring "lost" covers to The Brave and the Bold. Unlimited team-ups that never happened, but should have. It segued to Marvel Two-In-One match-ups; and currently features untold cover tales from Super-Team Family. If you haven't book-marked it yet, you should. It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words. The Lost Issues manages that and then some on a daily basis.

Comics should be fun. Team-up books usually are. I enjoy re-reading the scant Batman: The Brave and the Bold issues that were produced to tie-in to the animated series. The best part of those issues and the issues of Scooby Doo Team-Up is that there is a lesson and moral to them. It's a shame that more comics can't pass on a value or moral lesson.

Scooby Doo Team-Up is one of my must-read comics. It's "fun-demental."          

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

A Long Time Ago...

Surprising no one really, Disney announced that it would be reacquiring the license to produce Star Wars comic books under the Marvel imprint. Like Jim Henson's Muppets, The House of Mouse owns both Marvel Comics and George Lucas' Star Wars brands. it wasn't so much a question of if, but of when. After two decades of Star Wars comics published by Dark Horse, Star Wars will be back at Marvel starting in 2015, the year that Star Wars: Episode VII is due in theaters. Dark Horse released a statement on the loss of the license; and Star Wars editor Randy Stradley pointed out that there was a bright side for Dark Horse in losing the license to Disney/Marvel after two decades of producing Star Wars comics.

Fan-favorite comic book writer Peter David, creator of the Star Trek: New Frontier series, has been very open about the challenges he faced dealing with Paramount while writing an ongoing monthly Star Trek comic book for DC Comics - in between films. How the process works is pretty simple, a writer is basically bound by the rules and parameters set up by the storyline of the film. David found this quite challenging in coming  up with fresh, new storylines, plots and characters. Dark Horse Star Wars editor Stradley acknowledges that along with the much anticipated Episode VII, Disney will also have a new television  series. Stradley says that, "it is likely that there will be a lot of comics pages devoted to adaptations and direct spin-off stories in support of the films and TV shows." He admits that he is not interested in that.

Star Wars, like Superman, launch an entire genre. In 1938, Superman ushered in an age of super-hero comic books. In 1976, Star Wars not only revitalized the science fiction film genre, but rebooted the sci-fi comic book. Flash Gordon may have been a fine film series for Buster Crabbe; but Buck Rogers started out as a newspaper strip, and John Carter of Mars came from the same author as Tarzan, the Ape Man. The sci-fi genre was propped up by films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Forbidden Planet, Logan's Run; and television series like Star Trek, The Outer Limits, The Twilight Zone, Lost In Space and Logan's Run. Authors like Isaac Asmov, Arthur C. Clarke and Robert Heinlein had given us stars to aspire to.

And then, along came George Lucas with his Space Western, Star Wars.

This is what Marvel Star Wars Comics looked like in the late '70's. This, and this.

Star Wars was a boom. Marvel's adaptation of Logan's Run only ran for seven issues. Marvel's Star Trek lasted only eighteen issues. Marvel's adaptation of Battlestar Galactica only ran for twenty-three issues. Marvel did a single giant issue tie-in to the Buck Rogers television series, itself a small screen adaptation of the film. Star Wars, at Marvel, last for 107 issues and two years beyond the 1983 release of Return of the Jedi. The comic book lasted longer than any other contemporary science fiction comic book. It lasted two years past "The End" of the first trilogy. Originally adapting the first film to launch the title, Marvel opted to adapt The Empire Strikes Back in the pages of Star Wars, but spun off Return of the Jedi as a four-issue mini-series apart from the main book.

The challenges that face any writer involved with a property like Star Wars, or any film adaptation, is that primarily the writer is playing with someone else's toys. Second a writer's boundaries and parameters are very narrow. With Star Wars the only film out, at a time before the internet, or home video for that matter, the question of Where to go from here? is not as big and wide open as one might think. Considering that a writer is working almost parallel and at cross-purposes to a screenwriter and franchise development. Peter David has shared a number of horror stories of his dealings with Paramount of what ground he could cover as a Star Trek writer.

Stradley admits that 2015 is going to be a great year to be a fan - a new fan - of Star Wars; with a new film franchise launching, a new television series starting, and new tie-in comics coming from Marvel comics. 2015 is going to be a great "jumping on point" for new fans.

This was my Star Wars. By Carmine Infantino. He was involved in creating one of the most popular characters in comics. Police Scientist Barry Allen, who became The Flash.

In the late '70's. From Marvel.

This is my Star Wars re-imagined years later at Dark Horse Comics by Dave Dorman.

Hopefully, the writing and art of new Star Wars comics at Marvel will reflect the high production values that fans will enjoy in the new Disney films and television series.

Meanwhile, I will sit back and enjoy my trade paperback and omnibus collections from a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...     

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Who's Laughing Now?

In September of 2011, DC Comics relaunched its entire super-hero comic book line with all-new #1 issues.

Including Aquaman #1, by Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis. Despite criticism, Johns has a pretty good grasp of super-hero comics. He was an assistant to Richard Donner, director of the 1978 Superman film. He first created Stargirl for DC Comics an homage to his late sister. He took over JSA with fellow screenwriter he David Goyer from James Robinson. He wrote Teen Titans and the event comics Infinite Crisis and 52. He rebooted Green Lantern, bringing fan-favorite, Hal Jordan back from the dead. Jordan had gone rogue, becoming the villain Parallax, and sacrificed himself in the Final Night event. On the heels of Green Lantern: Rebirth, Johns brought fan-favorite Barry Allen back from the dead in The Flash: Rebirth. Allen's return came after a quarter century of being "away" from comics, having sacrificed himself to save the universe in the landmark 1985 Crisis on Infinite Earths event. Both Jordan and Allen enjoyed a reunion in the spotlight in the Green Lantern comic event Blackest Night. Fellow Justice Leaguer, Aquaman was one of the many "zombie" super-heroes brought back to life as Black Lanterns during Blackest Night; and later given new lease on life in the sequel, Brightest Day. Johns and Reis rebooted sea king Arthur Curry with the September 2011 Aquaman #1.

Aquaman has been a comic book punchline for awhile. He was pretty much defined by his weakness rather than his strengths. For the longest time he was considered a fish out of water. His one main strength was that he could communicate with sea life. Johns made some jokes about him being a cannibal by eating in a seafood restaurant; and poked fun about basic perceptions and misconceptions about Aquaman. Johns even had a hand in poking fun at Aquaman with Seth Green in a DC Comics Robot Chicken Special. After twenty-five issues, plus a zero issue an annual and two Forever Evil event tie-in issues, relaunch mastermind Geoff Johns hands over Aquaman to Jeff Parker. Parker comes to Aquaman from Marvel Adventures The Avengers and Fantastic Four; X-Men: First Class; and is currently writing DC's Batman 66 web-to-print comic.

The question is, Who's laughing now?

Jeff Parker and penciller Paul Pelletier take over from Geoff Johns and artist Ivan Reis with Aquaman #26. Arthur Curry's powers have been amped up. He's not handicapped by dehydration. More than just an ability to communicate with sea life, he is telepathic. Because he's an undersea hero, he's super-strong, durable and nigh-invulnerable.

Here, Parker and Pelletier actually launch Aquaman into action from the start. He and Mera rescue Atlantean engineers at an undersea volcanic eruption. While in the Northern Atlantic, something mysterious is discovered. An alert is sent out, and Mera rockets Aquaman from Atlantis into an encounter with a creature inspired by a either Pacific Rim or Power Rangers. Meanwhile, a mysterious figure arrives in Amnesty Bay, where Aquaman maintains a home, asking about him. What's unusual is not that people are tight lipped or defensive, but that no one seems to be aware of Aquaman there. There's some friction going on among the Atlantis Council over Aquaman's reign. Mera acknowledges that she's "as welcome as an oil slick".

The change from Reis to Pelletier is going to take some getting used to.

Parker has been enjoyable on Marvel Adventures, X-Men: First Class and Batman '66. This first issue feels a bit disjointed. As if there are too many disconnected things going on that won't connect until the next issue or maybe the one after that. Parker's strength seems to be the done-in-one, self-contained stories. Here, he's stretching, reaching out with a sprawling storyline and it may be just a little too thin to start. Johns started out strong and built up to the sprawling Throne of Atlantis storyline that spread out from Aquaman to Justice League.

Aquaman is still a strong character. Parker may just need to get his footing and stride down. This is a less than A+ debut from a solid writer. Disappointing, but by no means a deal-breaker. Right now, Aquaman is uncharted waters. Aquaman is one of the characters that has benefited from The New 52 reset. Johns' - and now Parker's - approach to Aquaman is reminiscent of Alex Ross' and Jim Krueger's Justice Aquaman. That's good company to be in.