Thursday, October 28, 2010

Superman: Earth One by J. Michael Straczynski and Shane Davis

Review by Chris Clow

For about a straight decade, Marvel Comics' Ultimate line has been one of varied success. The first series coming out of it, Ultimate Spider-Man by Brian Michael Bendis, presented the idea of a new, concurrently running continuity free from constraints of the mainline continuity, and allowed old, familiar characters to be reintroduced to new generations as if they had just begun. Over the years, the premise has allowed for great stories (The first 50 issues of USM, the first two volumes of The Ultimates) and for some badly delayed and lackluster ones (Wolverine vs. Hulk, Ultimatum). One of the questions on peoples' minds over the years has been whether or not DC would follow suit in some capacity.

Here's your answer: Earth One. After Geoff Johns' Infinite Crisis, the previous layout of the DC Universe was changed. What was Earth One (the mainline DC Universe) was moved to a "New" Earth. Over the last four years, we've seen other worlds presented across the new 52-world multiverse, but the one missing link was the current status of Earth One. Now we know: it's a new, modern DC Universe. Characters that are timeless in the DCU haven't even been seen yet, and appropriately, mimicking the real world to an extent, Superman is the first hero to present himself in this new Earth One.

Now, keep in mind, it pisses me off a bit that people rag on Superman for being "outdated," because I personally feel that who he is and what he represents are timeless ideals. It's only in the hands of an incapable writer, that doesn't know how to properly characterize him, that he comes across as a "boy scout." If people say he's a boy scout because he doesn't cheat on his wife with some super hero groupie, then they'd also probably see someone that points a gun at someone without killing them as a boy scout.

People don't even really know what that means. He's a moral leader, yes, but he sees a greater good beyond what, in his eyes and ours, can be seen as trivialities. If they got a writer for this project that would try and turn Superman into Edward Cullen or Justin Bieber, pop for the sake of pop, this would've been an absolute disaster. Fortunately, they got someone to do this job who cares about the Man of Steel.

Writer J. Michael Straczynski, who has a large reverence for the character of Superman, is the writer tasked with reintroducing him to this modern audience. Straczynski has proven himself on some of the biggest of characters in the super hero pantheon, particularly Thor and Spider-Man. When Straczynski made the jump to DC about 18 months back, this was a project that they announced relatively quickly. Straczynski is great at analyzing the motivations behind characters. He made the title of the God of Thunder and that place in Asgard Thor's motivation. He continued the tradition of Stan Lee and made responsibility Spidey's motivation throughout his run. In Earth One, Straczynski has an opportunity to change Superman's motivations into something else entirely. I'm relieved that he didn't, but he definitely revised the reasons those motivations are there.

Earth One's Clark Kent still has the farmland grounding everyone knows about, but this Clark seems to be more aware of his differences from everyone than justifying his similarities to everyone. This is a Clark Kent that actually toys with the idea of cashing in on his superior physical and mental attributes moreso than he's ever been shown pursuing that path. The world around Clark is decidedly more muted than his main world in the DC Universe. If you walk down any modern American city street today, it looks very much like this Metropolis. Not exactly a "City of Tomorrow," but also inclusive of reality moreso than the Metropolis we're familiar with.

This Clark also has a decidedly different aesthetic than the one we know about. He seems to be a fair amount shorter and stockier than the mainline version, he dresses a bit more "hipster," and he's not really trying to create much of a difference between himself and Superman other than his way of conducting himself in public.

The villain of the story I won't say too much about, but he's a new character that is an inspired choice. Straczynski has talked openly about the new villain's connection to the destruction of this universe's Krypton, and that was the most innovative idea to the villain's motivation. There are portions of this story that feel a little convenient, especially around the villain's unleashing of his campaign toward Earth, but the villain and his intentions are relatively fresh considering the climate of Superman stories we've been getting for the last few years.

As far as other familiar characters, Martha Kent is mostly unaltered. She's a bit more proactive in the formation of the Superman identity, but she's mostly the Ma we know. Perry White is largely unaltered except for the addition of more editorial language, but his verbosity and anger remains intact. Lois Lane may be the most unaltered character, I'm not seeing anything new from her here. The best alteration? Jimmy Olsen. He's a batsh*t crazy photojournalist that's ready to do whatever he needs to do in order to get a great picture, and would even die if it means seeking the truth. There's a fantastic moment in here where Jimmy stares down the villain in this story, ready to die.

Shane Davis' artwork is, in a word, stellar. His style gives the story a gritty reality that hasn't really been seen in a Superman story since maybe Gary Frank, but even Frank's work isn't as hyper-realistic/gritty as this. There's a distinct style, but he's able to render different faces for different characters very clearly and his cityscape looks fantastic. The Kryptonian structures and ship that appears here looks truly alien, and the villains, while humanoid to a degree, carry harsh spikes and alien-like colors that are very distinctive. The way he uses sunlight in the layouts of the images is also very strong, the entire work has a slightly sepia tone that is unique but also strangely evocative of realism.

Overall, this isn't as basic a reinvention as DC might have you think, but that's not a bad thing at all. The story does it's job of introducing Superman as a basically new component of our world, and allows a new story free of continuity to take flight. There are times when it dives, but for the most part, Superman: Earth One flies as gracefully as the Man of Steel himself.


Friday, October 22, 2010

Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #5 by Grant Morrison, Ryan Sook, and Pere Perez

We've reached the penultimate chapter of the return of the one, true Dark Knight. And although this issue takes place just after the death of Bruce's parents, it has several ramifications in the "present day" battle with The Black Glove.

The issue is book-ended by a meeting of several DC heroes with Tim Drake, who is presenting his findings proving that Bruce Wayne is alive. Although they want their friend back, the heroes understand that Bruce Wayne's return to the 21st century. The story goes on to explain several components about Dr. Hurt's identity (is he really Thomas Wayne?), the Wayne’s new familial history thanks to Bruce's time jump, and the tone is extraordinarily reflective of old noir detective stories. There's a femme fatale, a rugged hero, all the way down to Venetian blinds in a detective office. From the Paleolithic era all the way through to the Wild West, Grant Morrison shows that he's very efficient at making you feel like you're actually in that particular period of time. Beyond all of the period components, Morrison manages to throw in some genuine Batman moments with him being the World's Greatest Detective down to some good ol' fashioned ass-kickery. As each issue goes along, regardless of the self-reflexive Morrisonian philosophy and mind trips, this has the undertone of a Bruce Wayne/Batman story more so than anything else out right now.

Ryan Sook provides 21 pages of artwork, and the rest are done by Pere Perez. Sook's work is great with detail, his faces are all different, the wrinkles in the clothing are realistic, and his shadow work is fantastic, not only for the images rendered here, but for playing into the tone of film noir. While this isn't truly noir (it's not black and white), Sook's style has the predominant feel necessary to pull it off. Perez's finishes are rather close to Sook's, it seems like he went out of his way to make the art style changes as low-impact as possible, and he does a good job of it. Jose Villarrubia's colors in this issue are appropriately washed out, evoking the colorless world of noir while still keeping the foot in the door of four color comic book action. This entire series has been a lesson in how to make an environment feel different through each time period. Seeing the collected edition will no doubt increase my respect for it.

We have one more issue until the full-on return of Bruce Wayne, and it looks like he's bringing the full-blown apocalypse (Apokolips?) with him. I wonder, how will he kick its ass?

Won't be long until we find out


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Brightest Day #0 by Geoff Johns, Peter Tomasi, and Fernando Passarin - A Review/Primer

Review by Chris Clow

“Once dead, twelve heroes and villains were resurrected by a white light expelled deep from within the center of the Earth. Deemed a miracle by many and a sign of the apocalypse by others, the reasons behind their rebirths remain a mystery. But it will not be a mystery for long. This is the BRIGHTEST DAY.”

A common criticism I hear from people who see the posters for this series go along the lines of, “Oh great! Now DC’s stories are going to be happy, bright, and shiny! BOOO!” However, after reading this introductory issue to Brightest Day, #0, it appears that the stories within the pages for the next year will be far from light-hearted. This issue was full of a despair wrapped in a blindingly bright white light. Not the warm, reassuring kind of light. This bright light felt more as if it could be on the front of a train that you can’t see barreling toward you, and it seems that the heroes and villains that have returned, except for maybe Deadman, might not get out of that train’s way fast enough.

Osiris finds himself without a family after his return. Captain Boomerang is stuck in Iron Heights, and is bold enough to threaten the Fastest Man Alive. Aquaman’s return is rejoiced by his wife Mera, but the King of the Seven Seas looks in the water and sees himself as a Black Lantern staring back at him. Ronnie Raymond and Jason Rusch are the new Firestorm, but Jason’s hatred toward Ronnie for what his corpse did as a Black Lantern could fracture their partnership before it even begins.

And Deadman isn’t dead anymore, and is adjusting to life, and his larger role in the DCU. All the heroes that were resurrected by the White Entity no longer need to wear their White Lantern Rings. So, why can’t Deadman take his off? What does a man so defined by death do when the death that he touches gains new life? Is this a good second chance, or does his new life spell doom for our heroes?

A lot of questions, I know. But after reading Brightest Day #0, it seems that questions are exactly what you’re supposed to have. Issue #1 is on sale next week, and if you’re at all curious about what’s in store for the twelve resurectees of the DCU, Brightest Day is the book to read.


Sunday, April 18, 2010

Ultimate Comics: Enemy #3 by Brian Michael Bendis and Rafa Sandoval

Review by Art Delgadillo

The cover for this issue was a great takeoff of “The Three Stooges” looking around the corner of a building. The story features a nameless attacker that has murdered Reed Richards and has tried to do the same to others. With more unanswered questions than answered ones, the attacker is trapped. Is it the same one, or someone different? Notice that I didn’t say who. Again, cover art was great, interior art was adequate; with Nick Fury’s eye patch shifting on page nine to the wrong eye. However, this issue had a good bathroom brawl. Issue #3 gets you set up for the ending of this four-part story. Will the Thing survive and can Reed really be dead? Hopefully, all will be answered next month.

I like a story that wraps things up fairly quickly in comic book time. One month between issues in a good story with strong characters can seem like forever. I won’t say it’s a must-read, but it is a good one.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Kickin' Nazzy as . . tail. (In case any youngsters're readin' this)

The new Captain America/Black Panther: Flags of Our Fathers is set early in Cap's career, telling the pulse-pounding tale of his first mission with Sgt. Fury & His Howling Commandos! The Howlers & Cap are off to Wakanda to head off Hitler's attempt, led by Baron Strucker, to steal the African nation's Vibranium for use in their missile technology. Cap quickly runs afoul of T'chaka, the WWII-era Black Panther, and that leads into the next issue.

There's plenty of nasty Nazi business, a great battle scene right in the first few pages of the book, amusing dialog from the Howlers about this new star-spangled joker that never removes his mask (Nick Fury, particularly, is suspicious of him), but what really grabbed me with this first issue was Gabriel Jones' narration during the Howlers scenes. I'd never thought about how it might've been, being a black soldier, hand-picked by Fury himself, in an elite WWII commando squad. The Army's not desegregated yet, he's on this elite force with guys from Brooklyn & Kentucky, and they're heading into Africa for the first time (well, I think Fury had been there before). There's thoughtless comments and jokes about Africa from his teammates, and an impressive scene in the mess hall when Cap sits down right next to Gabe, doesn't have any silverware, and asks to uses Gabes, who is done eating. That's something you just didn't do back then (heck, I wouldn't do it now; not outa racism-that's just plain unsanitary w/anybody)! Actions like this, and Cap's fighting skills, yet ridiculous (to them, at that time) costume, have all the Howlers asking "who IS this guy?" When Cap first shows up, Dum Dum Dugan asks "who is this clown?" to which Fury replies "America's secret weapon." "I thought WE were America's secret weapon" is his response, shown in a tight close up of Dugan's shadowed eyes and hard-set jaw. Tension's a-brewing, right away!

These tensions of preconceived judgments and prejudices, roles, and battle action will make for a great Cap, Year One-style story with a little more than just Nazi-bashing (not that that ain't enough any day o' the week), if writer Reginald Hudlin (Black Panther) can keep it up. The art, by Denys Cowan (The Question) and Klaus Janson (tons o' stuff) is nice, too, lots of good character perspectives and cinematic transitions.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Hey, this here is a blog, so I can write any ol' cr . . pearls o' wisdom, or goofy ramblin', even when I don't have a rollickin' review (I just realized this; kinda slow on the uptake with this here technology). So here goes . . .

My guess for the Red Hulk (sorry, I ain't calling him "Rulk." That's just stupid. And not even awesomely stupid) . . ? Colonel John D. Armbruster!

Ah, the collective gasp of recognition is deafening. "Who?" you're all asking. He died (or did he . . ?) in Incredible Hulk #185 (1975) stopping an exploding Glenn Talbot (he was an "organic bomb," y'see) from killing the president. BUT! Talbot is now back, as is Betty (maybe the ones that died were actually Skrulls! Yeesh, I hope not), so why not this guy?

Armbruster was another career military man, who had a mad-on for the Hulk. He even took over Project: Greenskin from General Ross, and was instrumental in stopping the Russian terrorist attack by a mind-controlled Major Talbot. The Red Hulk is a military man, a strategist, familiar with weapons, had a rivalry with "Thunderbolt" Ross, and I think he may've once been involved with turning people into gamma-powered monsters. And he died, supposedly with Talbot, in heat energy pit thingie (it may've even been a volcano; I can't remember), which combined with Talbot's "organic bomb" explosion, could, in fine comic book logic, explain how they survived, and Red can absorb energy. That ability, and his military & anti-Hulk background , could've made him a great candidate for the Intelligentsia's "create-a-Hulk" experiments.

Either that, or Red is really Uncle Ben.

We're supposed to find out in June, if any of still care by then. Meanwhile, it's already slipped who the Red She-Hulk is, but I won't spoil it here, in case you haven't heard. (. . . Maybe it's an alternate timeline Aunt May!)