Saturday, September 15, 2007

Suicide Notes, Kingdom Comes To The JSA & Sinestro’s Biggest Fan—Booster Gold

Quote of the Week: “I’m fat, black, cranky and menopausal. You do not want to mess with me!”—Amanda “The Wall” Waller as she stares down inmates during a would-be prison riot.
With that in mind, here is part 2 of our reviews of the books for the week of September 12.

Suicide Squad #1 (of 8)

The Upshot from DC Comics: When original Suicide Squad member Rick Flag Jr. returned from the dead in the pages of CHECKMATE, it blew open a brand-new espionage mystery for the DC Universe! In this eagerly awaited miniseries by legendary Squad writer John Ostrander, it's revealed how Flag survived a nuclear blast while battling terrorism in Qurac — as his hard path home takes him from Skartaris to Dubai and into the hands of dueling commanders Amanda Waller and General Wade Eiling. Their power struggle reveals surprising secrets from their pasts — even as a new Suicide Squad is created to play a key role in the DCU's ever-evolving future!

Ok…we’re only the first issue into this eight-issue mini-series but we can say without a doubt that Suicide Squad is hands down the best book that we will read this year. If it wasn’t on your pull list this week—run, do not walk, back to your comics store and hope there is an issue left on the shelves. You’ll thank us.

The issue opens up with one-time Squad leader Col. Rick Flag on his own personal suicide mission at the headquarters of The Jihad in Qurac—the time “two years ago.” You just have to love comic book time, lop off a zero and two decades becomes two years—we should all be able to compress time so well—but we digress.

Having set the timer which will ignite the nuke, Flag finds himself in pitched battle with Rustam, leader of the Jihad until the timer countdown to zero and mushroom cloud time. Pretty much like how we remember the first time around 20 years ago but yet we see at the end of the issue Flag alive but unconscious in a savage jungle.

Readers of Checkmate know that Rick Flag is alive and well and freed by the Squad from a Qurac prison. Flag’s “death” was so good 20 years ago that we were almost disappointed that he was “discovered” (i.e. re-coned) to be alive.

Yet we’re glad that Squad writer John Ostrander is revisiting this. Flag was “killed” during issue 26 or the second year of the Squad’s 66 issue, five-and-a-half year run yet from the first issue, the readers saw a character right on the edge until his explosive end. This way, we hope we get to see the redemption of Rick Flag.

Flash forward six months later to Belle Reve prison—the prison for meta-human prisoners—and we see Amanda Waller staring down a would-be prison riot. With a simple scene and a hilarious bit of deadpan dialogue (and we mean DEADpan), Ostrander shows how Amanda Waller is one of the all time best characters in the DC Universe (are you taking notes Greg Rucka? Perhaps you should.)

Normally, we are not so crazy about flashback stories featuring “lost” tales of a character or group, but Ostrander takes us back to the Suicide Squad’s salad days.

Thanks to the wonders of the flashback tale, we get to see again Captain Boomerang/“Boomerbutt” before he killed Robin/Tim Drake’s dad and he himself was killed in Identity Crisis, as well as Nightshade (is this the same Nightshade that’s currently in Shadowpact??) Deadshot and Bronze Tiger.

The blasts from the past continue with General Wade Eiling, Waller’s counterpart as head of the Captain Atom project and Waller’s inter-agency rival.

Before writer Grant Morrison hijacked and threw him away as the “new” Shaggy Man in JLA during—a one-note, paint-by numbers strongman villain—Wade Eiling was hands down one of the best antagonists in the DC Universe.

Constantly running circles around Captain Atom, neither Atom nor the reader ever knew exactly where Eiling stood. You KNEW that Lex Luthor was pure evil and the Joker was full blown crazy but with Eiling, he always kept everyone guessing—that’s a great villain.

Ostrander brings him back too. He was and for purposes of this story is the perfect counterweight for “The Wall.” The problem with Waller’s portrayal in Checkmate is that there is no Eiling—she effortlessly runs circles around everyone.

In the issue, Eiling gives Wall bogus Intel that Flag may be alive in a Russian prison—prompting Waller to send the Squad there to check it out. It’s a trap of course and they are greeted by the People’s Heroes, along with KGB spook Zastrow and Staloivolk. (Have we mentioned how much we miss the Cold War sometimes?)

Well the Squad fights their way out of the trap and escapes, leaving the Wall plotting her “payback” against Eiling.

A word about the art by Javier Pina and Robin Riggs. In a word, “flawless.” Visually, this is just how we remember the Squad from the old days, but better. It’s like watching an old episode of a long-ago favorite TV show, but on HD.

As for the story, we were a tad concerned that Ostrander may not have been up to 100 percent without his late wife Kim Yale who co-penned issues of the original Squad back in the day. But John, you not only haven’t lost your touch, but this is better than ever. Welcome back and keep ‘em coming.

Justice Society of America #9

The Upshot From DC Comics: Don't miss this important prologue to an event that will rock the world's first and best super-team! In this issue, a fight between Wildcat and Wildcat; a firehouse pancake breakfast; Power Girl's quest to unlock the secrets behind her cousin's death; Citizen Steel's new family and the fate of Starman! And that's just the beginning as we prepare the Justice Society for their newest and most surprising member to date...

We’ll refrain from commenting on the overdose of cuteness that had the JSA hosting a New York firehouse pancake breakfast but just to say that we were glad when there was action to get to.

But before this, the first few pages spotlighted Power Girl and her continued grieving for her cousin Kal-L, the original/“Earth-2” Superman.

One of the most positive, if under-developed results of Infinite Crisis was the revelation that Power Girl isn’t just the sole survivor of Krypton, her Krypton, but of her entire universe. As “Last Daughter of the Multiverse,” PG is literally a woman without a past on “New Earth.”

And frankly it’s about damn time that Kal-L got some kind of acknowledgement following his death at the end of Infinite Crisis. We’re on record that Kal-L was killed off for no good reason. He survived the original Crisis only to be bumped off so cheaply?

DC’s rationale that the DCU can’t exist with two Supermen doesn’t wash in the wake of news of Countdown Arena pitting different multiverse versions of the same character against each other.

Well we get our wish, sort of, with the appearance at the end of this issue by the Superman of Kingdom Come. Next to Kal-L, KC Superman is our favorite “alternate” Superman.

Speaking of Power Girl, we’re glad to see that the JSA’s Chairwoman is actually being allowed to lead her team. Someone else in another blog (we can’t remember who or else we would credit them) made the very good point that JLA chairman Black Canary seems to be leader in name only given that in every JLA appearance, Canary is pushed to the background in favor of “The Trinity.”

We are looking forward to some serious spotlight on Power Girl in the coming issues—as she interacts with her late cousin’s doppelganger and as she finds her place in “New Earth.”

All New Booster Gold #2

The Upshot From DC Comics: Booster Gold's bizarre timequest to prevent an evil force from unraveling the origins of the world's greatest heroes continues in Part 2 of "52 Pickup!" Journeying years back in the past, Booster is forced to team up with an egomaniac that rivals even himself — the world's greatest Green Lantern – Sinestro! Plus, what does Dan Garret have to do with any of this?

Gotta be honest, we’re not 100 percent in love with the whole “Quantum Leap” aspect of the book’s premise—putting right what could go wrong in the time stream throughout the multiverse, but it does give Booster Gold a much needed purpose—even as we DO enjoy the irony that in order to accomplish this vital task to keep all of the worlds safe, our reformed glory hound protagonist has to allow the world to think that he’s a total dolt.

Given that we’ve been given a high octane does of Sinestro in the pages of the Green Lantern books thanks to the Sinestro Corps mega storyline, we’re not sure how we needed to see Booster travel back to straighten out Sinestro “The Greatest Green Lantern.

Yet we did enjoy Booster’s interaction with a pre-GL Guy Gardner. Their bar room meeting allowed character development of both characters.

The jury is still out for us on Rip Hunter. Yeah we get he’s the “time master” guiding Booster to ripples and various and sundry glitches in the space-time continuum (Dean Stockwell to Booster’s Scott Bakula) but right now Rip is barely a one-dimensional character.

This wouldn’t be such a bother if we haven’t seen him more fully fleshed out in other prior incarnations of his character.

But the bit we like the most is Booster’s demand of Rip—for his help he wants Rip’s help to prevent the murder of Ted Kord/Blue Beetle. Makes perfect sense. Most anybody who was put in a spot time traveling would want to undo some tragic and unnecessary event from their lives.

We wouldn’t mind Geoff Johns finding a way to bring back Ted—he did such a brilliant job brining back Rex Tyler, the original Hourman following his Zero Hour death.

Black Adam: The Dark Age #2

The Upshot From DC Comics: As Teth-Adam's epic journey to resurrect the love of his life and find the magic word that will transform him back to Black Adam continues, the Justice Society of America, along with Batman and Superman, are hot on Adam's trail as the world's most wanted villain is pursued at all costs!

The jury is still out for us on this series. It’s not that writer Peter Tomasi’s hasn’t done a good job. He has. Ditto for the art team of Doug Mahnke and Christian Almay.

It’s just that this series and this character may have benefited from the passage of more time since 52 and the so-called World War III. This is supposed to fill in the gap between 52 and the events in Countdown where Black Adam gives away his powers to Mary Batson.

But how can we miss Black Adam when he just went away? Before it went off the rails into WWIII, the Black Adam/Isis story was one our favorite arcs of 52.

Tomasi could do a little better in reminding us who Isis was and less on the cannibalism. But now Teth Adam has his powers back so we can expect some ass-kicking.

This sounds like a negative review and we don’t mean it to be but we’re afraid that a good story may fall victim to bad timing.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Emerald Action/Yellow Banter, Cashing Out of Countdown & Atlas Shrugs SHAZAM

Ok you can relax we’re back now. We’ve sharpened our poison pen and we’re ready to get back on the saddle and re-commence with our weekly comic book reviews. Of course, we start during a very busy week—all-in-all we picked up eight (8) titles from our friends at Brainstorm Comics.

In order to best achieve maximum bloviation, we’ll break up our reviews into two parts.

And away we go with Part 1.

Green Lantern #23

The Upshot from DC Comics: Fear spreads across the universe as "The Sinestro Corps War" continues! Hal Jordan! John Stewart! Guy Gardner! Kyle Rayner! Trapped in the depths of the Sinestro Corps' Citadel and face-to-face with the Guardian of Sinestro's army of fear! What it means will change the entire tide of the war. And as Oa prepares for the ultimate attack, the Guardians come to a terrifying conclusion.

The Sinestro Corps storyline has been a much needed shot in the arm, both to the Green Lantern titles and to DC Comics as a whole. Given DC’s various and sundry screw-ups of late, we were beginning to wonder if they were simply no longer capable of putting out a decent comic book event.

We have to admit we liked this month’s cover and the homage to the original mad Hal Jordan Emerald Twilight cover (GL, 2nd series #49). The last seduction of Hal Jordan through fear by Parallax has come full circle.

Writer Geoff Johns is walking a fine line during his half of the Sinestro Corps story line—he doesn’t want to rush the confrontation with the biggie bad guys—Sinestro, the Anti-Monitor, Superboy-Prime and the Cyborg-Superman but he doesn’t want to reader to get bored from lack of action either (Lightning Saga anyone?).

It’s good to finally see GLs Guy Gardner and John Stewart back in action and coming to Hal Jordan’s rescue. We enjoyed the banter between the three.

In his other books, such as Justice Society of America, Johns has been letting a little too much “ah shucks” sentimentally seep in to his characters but his banter here actually serves to further plot and character development.

First, Johns has been working since Hal Jordan’s return from the dead to infuse Hal with a maverick, fighter-jock persona and overwrite the woe-is-me, “find myself” loser crybaby that Jordan had become dating back his Hard Traveling Heroes days.

Second, Johns deftly provides an explanation as to how Hal Jordan (with effort) can use the yellow rings, as well as to explain how Guy Gardner used Sinestro’s ring back in the day and how doing so made Guy “more aggressive”—like any hero in his right mind would wear cowboy boots and a leather jacket with a “G” on the front…ha ha.

The retro-explanation doesn’t totally hold water, but we give Johns credit for attempting to work within continuity.

We also see that Parallax Kyle is ready to lead the charge against Earth, but given events in this week’s Countdown, the impact of this part of the story is blunted. (See our review of Countdown).

We are intrigued by the dissent among the Guardians of the Universe and their removal of the power ring fail-safes to allow GLs to use lethal force. This promises to have significant story-telling consequences down the road.

So far so good but enough with the warm up, we’re ready for the main event now. Will the primary villains of this story-arc please step forward?

Countdown #33

The Upshot from DC Comics: The Countdown to the end is on! Karate Kid battles Equus! Jimmy Olsen visits Infinity Inc. for answers! Mary Marvel falls under the spell of Eclipso! Kyle Rayner joins the Challengers in the Multiverse! Piper and Trickster encounter the villainy of Poison Ivy and Deathstroke! Plus, Black Canary's bachelorette party! Guest-starring Steel, Starlight, the Flash, Zatanna, the Atom, Buddy Blank and more!

Okay check please. We’re so out of here. We are by no means alone in our dissatisfaction with this money-sucking ploy disguises as a comic book series but this non-story combined with marginal at best and s**ty art such as this week is the last straw.

We’ve been hanging in for this long because of Mary Marvel but we don’t know what’s worse—Bad Mary or Stupid Mary. Both seem to be on display here.

But the kicker is this week’s appearance of Green Lantern Kyle Rayner into the “Palmerverse” to join Jason Todd, Donna Troy and Monitor “Bob.” Not Parallax Kyle or even Ion Kyle but just a regular emerald ring slinger.

Well we knew something was up weeks ago when DC was soliciting Kyle with Donna and Jason in the spin-off Countdown series but DC has spoiled part of the best story even they’ve got going right now—Sinestro Corps.

At first we thought that at least they didn’t kill off Kyle but we realize that they’ve done far worse by banishing him into this clusterf**k of a story.

Given that DC management has announced yet another year-long weekly series after Final Crisis next year, we’ve reasoned that this beast must be stopped.

So we’re done. If others want to join us in no longer purchasing Countdown, perhaps we can render a third series stillborn. Maybe or maybe not but at least we’ll no longer be swindled out of $2.99. Buh-Bye.

The Trials of SHAZAM #8

The Upshot From DC Comics: The trials continue as Freddy finds Atlas, his next godly benefactor. But the Council of Merlin has other plans for the two!

First of all, let us welcome back writer Judd Winick and Artist Howard Porter following their previous issue WAY back in June. Hello fellas. Did you enjoy your summer off?

Normally a three month hiatus on a 12-issue “monthly” limited series would be a major, perhaps even fatal momentum killer—but lucky for said creators and for the reader that this issue did not suck. Actually we liked it quite a lot.

We’ve made no secret about our lack of respect for most of Judd Winick’s body of work but to give the devil his due, his take on Captain Marvel/Shazam is truly out of the box.

Here we see Freddy Freeman’s trial take an unexpected turn south as the God Atlas is killed. We liked Winick’s modern concept of Atlas as not physically holding up the world but being plugged into everything preventing potential disasters during every second of everyday by sheer willpower.

Better yet was Freddy’s reaction to having to assume the dead Atlas’ burden. He’s exhausted after little more than three minutes before Wizard Marvel/Billy comes in to take over—but he can only leave the Rock of Eternity for 24 hours.

Freddy and his magic guide seek out Apollo—now a mortal ER doctor having renounced his godhood. Atlas is gone and it falls to Apollo to become one of the powers of SHAZAM and to take the place of Atlas holding up the world.

Sure he’ll do it, if Freddy defeats Apollo in combat. Hence Freddie’s trial next issue.

With Apollo instead of Atlas, it appears that Freddy Freeman will inherit somewhat different SHAZAM powers. And then we see it. A way for DC to have its cake and eat it too.

Freddie can have his trial and inherit different SHAZAM powers and become more than just Captain Marvel Jr. but a unique hero in his own right, while Billy somehow reverts back from Wizard Marvel to his traditional Captain Marvel roll.

We’d like to think that this is why the trials team took a three month powder—to reconfigure this series’ end result. But perhaps we’re overestimating the creators’ and/or management’s intelligence and/or boldness.

Nonetheless, Winick has so far managed not to screw up this story. So far so good. Helping the story not a little bit is the art by Howard Porter. So far, this looks to be the best art of his career.

The Amazing Spider-Girl #12

The Upshot From Marvel Comics: It's crisis time as Spider-Girl realizes that Carnage will only be stopped if she destroys someone she truly loves!

Poor May Parker. She finally knows what it’s like to be her father’s daughter. Typical as per “the old Parker luck,” Spider-Girl was put in an impossible situation. She is called upon to save the day, her friends and her loved ones and she does but there’s collateral damage, hard feelings and Miss Spidey on the receiving end of a whole lot of guilt.

We were never a big fan of Carnage back in the day so we were just sleepwalking through this story arc but writer Tom DeFalco made it interesting when Carnage infects Baby Ben Parker with a symbiote, turning the Puny Parker into a terrorizing toddler.

We have to admit we did enjoy Peter Parker’s bemusement at realizing that he, the retired Spider-Man and one-time hero of the story has been relegated to side-kick/go-to guy status by his own daughter as he delivers a sound-wave weapon, the only thing capable of destroying the Carnage symbiote without harming the host.

We fully understand Peter’s hesitation to fire when he sees his own son infected. Thus Spider-Girl is left to do the deed but the cost of freeing her baby brother from the monster may have been permanent hearing loss.

Peter of all people should understand the untenable position his daughter was placed in as well as the guilt she is feeling for not being able to accomplish the impossible but we shall see how this pays out in coming issues.

As always, the art of Ron Frenz and Sal Buscema is solid as a rock and regular as clockwork. You gotta love “Old School” comics pros.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

FanBoyWonder Remembers 9/11

FanBoyWonder takes a moment today to remember those who perished on this day six years ago.

On September 11, 2001, we all watched the world change before our eyes—and not for the better. Nineteen terrorists with four hijacked airplanes managed to inflict damage that just the day before would have been considered unimaginable—the end result was 2,948 confirmed dead, 24 reported dead, 24 reported missing—total Sept. 11 casualties—2,996.

That list may grow as the number of Ground Zero first responders grapple with their rescue related illnesses. If fact we may never know the true casualty count as the government they so heroically served has sought, at least in some cases, to plausibly deny their claims of rescue-related illness.

For a complete list of September 11 victims and/or to pay your respects more directly, click here

Enough time has passed now that we can recall the facts of that day but the feelings are more difficult to call to mind.

In the days following the attacks, Marvel Comics really stepped up to the plate by banging out a very special memorial issue in just a matter of weeks after the Twin Towers fell.

The result was Amazing Spider Man—issue 36 (vol. 2) by J. Michael Straczynski, John Romita Jr. and Scott Hanna. It may have been a rush job by comic book publishing standards, but all of these years later it stands the test of time by capturing the feeling and emotion of those dark days after the attacks.

But it also gave us hope….hope that we would get past those dark days and move on.

Spider-Man’s words, as penned by Straczynski, say it all:

“We could not see it coming. No one could. We could not stop it. No one could.
But we are still here. With you.
Today. Tomorrow. And the day after.

“We live in each blow you strike for infinite justice, but always in the hope of
infinite wisdom.

“Because we live as well in the quiet turning of your considered conscience.
The voice that says all wars have innocents.
“The voice that says you are a kind and a merciful people.
The voice that says do not do as they do, or the war is lost before it is even

“Do not let that knowledge be washed away in blood.

“When you move, we will move with you. Where you go, we will go with you.
Where you are, we are in you.

“Because the future belongs to ordinary men and ordinary women, and that future
must be built free of such acts as these, must be fought for and renewed like
fresh water.

“Because a message must be sent to those who mistake compassion for weakness. A
message sent across six thousand years of recorded blood and struggle.

“And the message is this:

“Whatever our history, whatever the root of our surnames, we remain a good and
decent people, and we do not bow down and we do not give up.

“The fire of the human spirit cannot be quenched by bomb blasts or body counts.

“Cannot be intimidated forever into silence or drowned by tears.

We have endured worse before; we will bear this burden and all that come after, because that's what ordinary men and women do. We persevere.

“No matter what.
This has not weakened us.
It has only made us stronger.

“In recent years we as a people have been tribalized and factionalized by a thousand casual unkindnesses.

“But in this we are one.

“Flags sprout in uncommon places, the ground made fertile by tears and shared resolve.

“We have become one in our grief.
We are now one in our determination.
One as we recover.
One as we rebuild.

“You wanted to send a message, and in so doing you awakened us from our self involvement.

“Message received.

“Look for your reply in the thunder.

In such days as these are heroes born. The true heroes of the twenty-first century.
You, the human being singular.
You, who are nobler than you know and stronger than you think.
You, the heroes of this moment chosen out of history.

“We stand blinded by the light of your unbroken will. Before that light, no darkness can prevail.

“They knocked down two tall towers. In their memory, draft a covenant with your conscience, that we will create a world in which such things need not occur.

“A world which will not require apologies to children, but also a world whose roads are not paved with the husks of their inalienable rights.

“They knocked down two tall towers. Graft now their echo onto your spine.
Become girders and glass, stone and steel, so that when the world sees you, it sees them.

“And stand tall.

“Stand tall.

Stand tall.”

God Bless America!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Kemosabe’s Dispatch From Baltimore Comic-Con—DC Universe Panel

(Pictured is the assembled DC Universe Panel at Baltimore Comic-Con. Center is Former Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief and newly announced Legion writer Jim Shooter—to his left is Mark Waid and DC Editorial Coordinator Jann Jones. Other panelists included DC Editor-in-Chief Dan Didio, comic writer Sergio Aragones and artists Jim Calafiore and Willie Tucci.)

Scheduling conflicts and a malnourished wallet prevented FanBoyWonder from attending the Baltimore Comic-Con this past weekend. Fortunately, FBW’s best pal and all around Kemosabe John Micek had no such restrictions and he made it out to Charm City.

Newspaperman that he is (we current and former newspapermen stick together you know), Kemosabe filed this dispatch from the show.

BALTIMORE—DC Comics will launch a third, weekly series at the conclusion of the upcoming Final Crisis series, DC Editor-in-Chief Dan Didio told a crowd of about 100 comic fans who gathered for an annual convention here Sunday.

Didio did not reveal the name of the new series, nor did he name a creative team, saying it would only be a "different frame-set" from the current Countdown to Final Crisis, a weekly series that launched earlier this year.

"We'll be changing the way it's written," the shaven-headed editor said. "We've completely reinvented the way we do it."

The one-hour-and-forty-five-minute discussion with Didio and other comic creators came on the final day of this year's Baltimore Comic-Con at the Baltimore Convention Center.

The massive convention attracted comic creators, comics dealers and fans from across the country. Fans spent hours combing through bins of back issues, searching for that one comic to make their collections complete. The trade show was complimented by seminars with artists, writers and other industry professionals. Sunday's "DCU Session," was held in a third-floor conference room.

DC broke new creative ground in 2006 with the launch of its weekly series 52, which imagined what life might be like in DC's fictional universe without such iconic figures as Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. Lesser-known characters such as the armored hero Steel, the rubbery Elongated Man, and the mysterious Question, stepped into the breach. The series also made national headlines with the introduction of a new (and lesbian) Batwoman.

This spring, DC launched its second, weekly series Countdown, which is apparently intended to serve as a place-setter to the epic Final Crisis in 2008. The series has been less well-received among fans and has prompted criticism of Didio's stewardship of the storied comic book company, which is a division of entertainment behemoth Time-Warner.

Didio was joined at the question-and-answer session by comic writers Mark Waid, Sergio Aragones and Former Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief and new Legion writer Jim Shooter, artists Jim Calafiore and Willie Tucci, DC Editorial Coordinator Jan Jones and the company's Vice-President for Sales, Bob Wayne.

Details may have been scarce on the new weekly series, but that didn't mean the session was short on news.

Spanish artist/writer Aragones, best-known for his satirical drawings for Mad Magazine, will take the helm of The Spirit monthly now penned by writer Darwyn Cooke and drawn by the artist J.Bone. Didio did not a name a new artist.

"I grew up with Eisner," Aragones said, referring to legendary comic writer Will Eisner, who created the masked vigilante in the 1940s. "He was translated into Spanish. Every time The Spirit came out ... I would skip school to get the magazine. I was fascinated by his writing."

Waid, who now writes the team-up book The Brave & the Bold with artist George Perez, confirmed that the current creative team will stay together through the book's twelfth issue.

"He's working away on issue nine," Waid said. "He still wants to do stories set in the past and stories set in the future. Brave & the Bold [issues] 9 and 10 have a couple of short stories in them, which gives George the opportunity to do one of his favorite things, which is to draw every character you've never heard of."

Also revealed Sunday was that Waid, who also writes Supergirl and the Legion of Superheroes, will pass the writing chores of the science fiction-themed monthly to Shooter, an industry legend, who created The Legion in the 1960s, while still in his teens.

Shooter drew cheers and laughter when he revealed that the book will simply be titled The Legion of Superheroes with the removal of the teen-aged Supergirl from the cast.

"Can I tell them Supergirl is gone?" Shooter asked Didio.
"You just did," Didio quipped back.

Shooter told fans that he'll be reintroducing old characters, even as he preserves the continuity set up by his predecessor. He also hinted at a new creative direction.

"The Legionnaires are all about preserving life," he said. "I like the idea of them going out and doing that. Because, in comics, there's a tendency to hang out at headquarters until someone attacks you. I want them to go out and be real proactive."

Didio, who has drawn fan criticism for the current Countdown series, behind-schedule books and other perceived fan slights defended his vision for the company.

"It doesn't affect me at all," Didio said of the fan criticism that has prompted some die-hard comic followers to print up "Dan Didio Must Die" t-shirts. The shirts are a play on storyline in the Countdown series involving newspaper photographer (and Superman's pal) Jimmy Olson. "Everything we do is a learning process ... we keep selling comics and we do what we can," Didio added.

As to the company's past publication problems, he said, "We've gotten the schedule back on track again, and we're getting some good momentum going."

In other developments from Sunday's DC Universe session:

--Artist Tucci shared sketches from his upcoming Sgt. Rock series, and said the comic will be based on historical events from the European theater of World War II.

"This will be the most authentic and moving war comic ever," said the artist, who described the book as "a dream project of mine."

--Jones said the company will be launching three new titles for its Johnny DC line for younger readers, including a Super Friends title tied to a new line of toys from Mattel.

"These are books that can by given to any child, and you won't have to worry about angering parents or angering teachers," Jones said.

FanBoyWonder editor’s note: When not playing the part of Kemosabe or when not playing with his band Milkshake Jones, John Micek covers Pennsylvania politics for a major Keystone State newspaper—read his political blog Capitol Ideas Thanks again pal.--FBW.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

FanBoyWonder Flashback—Suicide Squad

Anybody who thinks that the villain can’t be protagonist of a comic book story hasn’t read John Ostrander’s Suicide Squad—but they should.

It was exactly 20 years ago that DC Comics launched Suicide Squad following their introduction the previous year in the mini-series Legends.

Suicide Squad #1, dated May 1987, began a 5 ½ year, 66 issue—not counting two annuals and a spin-off Deadshot 4-issue mini-series—run that would become one of the smartest, most compelling, if under-read, series of the late 1980s to early 1990s.

FanBoyWonder recently spent some quality time in our hobby room (or our “man-cave” as Mrs. FBW teasingly refers to our inner sanctum) not too long ago re-reading the entire Suicide Squad run. We were prompted to do so by news that Mr. Ostrander was penning a Squad reunion mini-series.

Suicide Squad: Raise The Flag—an eight-issue mini-series—goes on sale next week (September 12).

Ostrander’s Suicide Squad of 20 years ago was in many ways ahead of its time. Pound for pound, it’s easily on par with or even surpasses anything in the DC catalogue today—including Greg Rucka’s Checkmate.

As luck would have it, it was in the pages of Checkmate last year that a version of the Squad reformed to rescue the previously believed dead Col. Rick Flag, laying the groundwork for the upcoming reunion series.

The premise of the Suicide Squad was deceptively simple—The Squad, also know as Task Force X, was a government agency tasked with performing certain high priority, high risk, covert operations.

The Squad consisted of incarcerated super-villain volunteers (and sometimes volunteered) who received a full pardon to go and sin some more if they survived the mission—the operative word being “if”.

Because they were villains, their actions could always be officially disavowed if they were captured, killed or their mission otherwise exposed. Think Dirty Dozen meets Mission Impossible with some West Wing-like (though decidedly darker) politics thrown in.

Here’s the best part—Task Force X operated out of a prison (irony anyone?)—Belle Reve outside of New Orleans—a prison strictly for meta-humans.

In his farewell to readers in the letter column the Squad’s final issue (#66) in 1992, Ostrander explained that the Suicide Squad at its core was about the uses and abuses of power—both by government and by individuals.

When I first proposed the Squad, I felt we were being very dangerous, since the premise of the series was that the U.S. government would use people of dubious moral character on missions that were largely to further or protect what it felt to be its vital interests. Then came ‘Irangate’,” explained Ostrander. “Reality has a way of making us look like pikers. The Squad over its run went from fairly cutting-edge notion to almost, ‘Oh, THAT old stuff again?’ History caught up with us.”

Bad Guys, Good Characters

There was nothing dubious about the morals of many of the Squad’s characters. Former Flash (Barry Allen) Rogue Captain Boomerang was a charter member of the Squad—not by choice. He was a favorite of ours through the entire series because he was quite simply, an unrepentant scumbag who would game the system every which way he could.

Batman villain Poison Ivy—introduced into the Squad mid-way through its run—would be the female counterpart to “Boomerbutt.” Completely A-moral, Ivy has never been written as well before and definitely not since.

Another Batman villain, Deadshot, a crack marksman who never seemed to be able to hit the Dark Knight, was given a personality by Ostrander and a fatal flaw— a death wish coupled with an indifference toward murder—he’d shoot anyone friend or foe yet he seemed to live by some kind of code that only he himself understood, maybe.

Count Vertigo had his own death wish due to severe manic depression. Tired of his mental illness, he asked Deadshot to end his life should Vertigo decide to end it all. Deadshot readily, if apathetically, agrees. The final panel of the series shows Deadshot, gun at the ready and Vertigo making his choice—“No.” End of story and series.

Duchess” was the Female Fury known as Lashina who joined the team after faking amnesia and thinly veiling her identity after a failed raid by the Furies resulted in her being trapped on Earth. After going on numerous missions, including performing some heroic acts, the reader almost thinks she may reform until she finds a way back to Apokolips and brings the entire Squad with her as a “present” for Granny Goodness and Darkseid.

The villains of the Squad were complicated characters with feelings and history…but they were still very, very bad—when the team (and readers) forgot that, it usually resulted in lives being lost.

“One of our desired objectives in this book [was] to show that the villains in the DC Universe left to their own devices, were capable and real threats,” explained Ostrander. “If they aren’t if they’re just a bunch of putzes in costumes, then either the heroes are also putzes or they’re just bullies, beating up on the poor hapless schmoes.”

Overseeing this Scum of the Earth strike force was the aforementioned Col. Rick Flag, the squad’s leader in the field. Other non-villain members included the Bronze Tiger, as deputy field leader who would take over for Flag after he was “killed” at the end of the second year, as well as cover-operative Nemesis and former Charlton Comics heroine Nightshade. Vixen was later added to the team and it was here, rather than during Detroit Justice League days that she really shined.

A word for the supporting characters—Dr. Simon LaGrieve, the prison and team shrink—tough as nails and a jaded idealist. He was one of the few who could stand up to Amanda Waller (we’re getting to her) and survive. He served as her moral compass and conscience until he quit…and then bad things happened.

Father Richard Creamer—the prison priest brought in as LaGrieve quit—never quite filled the same role as Simon but his was a calming presence, especially for the troubled Nighshade. After the Squad, Ostrander would use Creamer as a central supporting character in the Spectre. If there had been a priest like Father Richard in our parish as a kid, maybe FBW wouldn’t have let our Catholic membership lapse.

The Wall & The Oracle

During its run, Suicide Squad would create or re-create two of the most influential characters to come down the pike in the last 30 years—Amanda “The Wall” Waller and Oracle, Barbara Gordon the former Batgirl.

As leader of Task Force X, Amanda Waller represented the heart and twisted soul of the Suicide Squad—she was its personification. Doing very bad things for a good (or at least well intentioned) purpose.

“Perhaps the most compelling character has been The Wall. There was no one really like her before in comics; I don’t think there’s been anyone to match her since. She’s a woman, she’s black, she has no super-powers and she is as tough and indomitable as they come. She is also flawed herself,” said Ostrander. “We never claimed she was a hero or a role model or without flaws. Compelling—that she is.”

As we noted, Ostrander penned those words in 1992 but he’s still right. Anyone else who has used The Wall as a character has never quite gotten it right—not the way Ostrander and his wife, the late Kim Yale, created her. Everyone else, including Rucka in Checkmate, seems to miss her sense of honor and vulnerability—Waller is a person who dare not stop being angry or the sadness and losses of her life will overwhelm her.

The best portrayal we’ve seen of the Wall since Ostrander has been in the Justice League Unlimited series on Cartoon Network. While a bit subdued, the animated Wall hit all of the right notes.

Meanwhile, Ostrander and Yale did the DC Universe a great service by taking a huge lemon and making much sweeter lemonade when they created Oracle and saved Barbara Gordon from editorial limbo.

The former Batgirl had been unceremoniously thrown away following her being shot, crippled and (very creepily) sexually assaulted by the Joker who “just wanted to prove a point” in Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke.

A wheelchair bound former Batgirl was reinvented to become Oracle, a mistress of the computer and finder of information. Mind you, these were still the days when cell phones were as big as toasters and the Internet was in its embryonic stage.

From a mysterious information broker, Oracle became more involved with the team until at one point she took over for a wounded Waller and ran the mission during the Dragon Horde storyline—much like she does today in Birds of Prey.

Barbara as Oracle became much more influential in the DC Universe and a much better character than she ever was as Batgirl—you can thank Ostrander and Yale for that.

A quick word about the art. Throughout the 66 issue run, visuals were handled by three main artists—Luke McDonnell, John K. Snyder and Geoff Isherwood. While never flashy, their art was always solid and it provided the reader visual consistency as the storylines demanded much mental concentration and emotional investment by the reader.

We’re getting kind of long here but we wanted to note a few of our favorite Suicide Squad moments:

--Issue #10—The Wall makes The Batman—not too pleased that the Squad is pardoning the crooks he puts in jail—back down by threatening to use the full force of the federal government to expose his identity. The Dark Knight Blinks!

--Issue #26--An over the edge Rick Flag suicide-bombs a nuke at Jihad headquarters in Quarac—killing off the team leader really did mean that ANYONE could get it, so much so that we really thought at the end of the book’s run that The Wall would die. Flag’s death was so good that we were almost disappointed to find him alive again last year in Checkmate.

--Issue #38—Oracle learns from Waller via computer chat that Flo, the Squad’s computer tech (and The Wall’s niece) died during the Apokolips mission. The silent shot of Barbara at her computer, slumped in her wheelchair in inconsolable grief still moves us 17 years later.

Flo and Oracle never met—they were just disembodied electrons to each other. But their “cyber friendship” was real and deep. Just another example of how this book was ahead of its time.

--Issue #58—In a War of the Gods tie in, Black Adam leads the Squad on an assault against Circe. Among the villains and assorted “metas” gathered for the strike force was “The Writer.” In the most clever inside joke in comics’ history, Ostrander took the “character” of Grant Morrison from when he wrote himself into Animal Man.

“….But you see, my problem was this—once I actually wrote myself into the story, technically I became part of the continuity and now someone else is controlling me…as I used to control my characters. It’s horrible.”….the writer explained to Firehawk and Silver Swan.

Alas, The Writer did not survive the Squad’s suicide mission. How did he die? Writer’s block…naturally.

Raise the Flag

There is so much we left out about this landmark series but the bottom line is that in the Ostrander/Yale Suicide Squad, character was king and the only constant of the book was change.

DC recently announced it has canceled its plans to reprint old Squad issues in a Showcase edition. That’s too bad. Even in black and white, it’s a good read. But next time you are at a comic book show, it’s worth your while to dig into the boxes and collect as much of the series as you can.

For the next best thing, buy Suicide Squad: Raise the Flag at a comic book store near you this week.
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