Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Comically Speaking With Kemosabe

FanBoyWonder is once again glad to share some blog space with our best pal and all around Kemosabe John Micek as he shares his thoughts on the recently released Teen Titans: The Lost Annual, as well as on other significant happenings throughout the DC Universe.

By way of background regarding the Teen Titans: The Lost Annual—here’s the upshot from DC Comics: Don't miss the Teen Titans Lost Annual, featuring the original Teen Titans: Robin, Kid Flash, Wonder Girl, Speedy and Aqualad! Classic Teen Titans writer Bob Haney sends the Titans into space to rescue President John F. Kennedy in this story illustrated by Jay Stephens & Mike Allred! Meet new alien races, witness a startling betrayal, and more! It's a secret space adventure that couldn't be told...'til now!

Take it away Kemosabe.


Have you read Teen Titans: The Lost Annual yet? If you haven't you should.

It's a retro-kitsch throwback that finds that original Titans squad saving John F. Kennedy from alien abductors. It was one of the best reads I've had in ages.

Why? Because it didn't take itself too seriously. The characters were treated with respect, and that infectious Silver Age sense of fun prevailed. You could have easily pictured this book coming out of [former long time DC Comics Editor http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julius_Schwartz] Julie Schwartz's idea factory.

There's a great twist of a surprise ending, and I won't ruin it for you if you haven't read it yet. Suffice to say, I was a little misty-eyed when I got to the last page as I remembered how much I used to care about comics and why I cared about them so much.

Meanwhile, Darwyn Cooke and J. Bone wrapped up their 12-issue run on The Spirit by reinterpreting one of Will Eisner's classic tales form the 1940s. Their run on the Spirit had the feeling and look of an old pulp adventure, and they breathed new life into a character that could have easily been moribund.

Bone's art struck the right balance between cartoony and realistic, making Denny Blake into a believable hero and his Midway City into a believable place. He drew women with the curves of Varga girls, but never allowed them to become the pin-up cheesecake offered up by the rest of the DCU.

Outside of Justice Society of America (JSA), this is one of the best books DC has going right now. And I'm confident that it's in good hands when Sergio Aragones takes over with #13.

In the meantime, Batman is fighting a newly, newly, newly, newly resurrected Ra's-al'-Ghul in the pages of the flagship Bat-book and the pages of Detective Comics, and I. Just. Don't. Care.

The art is substandard. The plot makes absolutely no sense. Why do I care that Ra's is alive again? What role did he play in Batman's life other than to harass and harangue him with those cheesy, "Detective ..." taunts again?
[Ra’s daughter and the Dark Knight’s on-again/off-again love interest] Talia's an interesting character, but they had their moment and their time has passed.

Yep ... Batman has a kid and maybe there's an heir-apparent to the cowl running around the DCU. But he'll have to fight Nightwing and Robin to get it. Why do I care? I have no idea.

Paul Dini wrapped things up nicely in Detective, as Ra's was sent packing off to Arkham Asylum. But, c'mon ... do any of us expect him to stay there?

And there's the difference between the mainline DCU books and the fringy ones like the Spirit. Cooke gets the time to write stories that can stand by themselves as rip-roaring yarns even as they establish a new continuity for the character.

Meanwhile, DC's flagship heroes are slaves to the editorial direction being handed down by [DC Comic’s Executive Editor] Dan DiDio and the rest of the braintrust.

It's all in service to Ultimate/Final/No Effing Kidding/We're Serious This Time/Or We Are Until the Next Time We Need to Do a Reboot/Crisis. And I'm left not caring about characters I once felt passionately about.

Meanwhile, I have no idea how I'm going to break my 2-year-old daughter into the comics trade. She can recognize the Neal Adams-vintage Batman on the side of the 35-year-old drinking mug that I've handed down to her. But there's no way I'm reading her the next issue of Detective Comics. It'd scare her to death, assuming she could ever understand it.

I guess I'll have to start with something from the Johnny DC line, but I'm not sure I like it. The overly cartoony art annoys me. I still treasure the memories of reading 1970s vintage Batman comics with my Dad. But I could never do that with my daughter now. The books and the stories just aren't the same anymore.

That brings me back to the new Teen Titans Lost Annual. We need more stories like that. We need that seemingly vanished enthusiasm and innocence in our comic books. They're the kind of stories that lured me into comics, and they're the kind of stories that DC needs to tell more often if they want to lure in younger readers.

Remember, there's a reason they call them "heroes." It's something we're supposed to want to aspire to on our own. I keep waiting for the comics I read now to inspire that same kind of longing in me—JLM.


FBW editor’s note: When not playing the part of FanBoyWonder’s Kemosabe or when not playing with his band Milkshake Jones www.myspace.com/milkshakejones, John L. Micek covers Pennsylvania politics for a major Keystone State newspaper—read his political blog Capitol Ideas http://blogs.mcall.com/capitol_ideas.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Suicide Squad Up & Running, A Brand New Nightwing and the Mongul Corps?

FanBoyWonder has finally endeavored to catch up on our delinquent comic book reviews and the weight has been lifted. Lucky for us it light week for our pull list but the three books we did pick up were replete with heavy duty storytelling. Without further ado, let’s get it on.

Suicide Squad # 5

The Upshot From DC Comics: Even as the team heads to the Mideast to take out the breathtakingly deadly weapon codenamed Scarlet Tears, bloodshed threatens to break out within their ranks!

Writer John Ostrander has finally gotten the band back together. The new Suicide Squad is up and running. Although we’re five issues into an 8 issue mini-series, the previous issues were by no means a waste of time.

While events had to unfold in Checkmate to allow Amanda Waller back in this book full-time, we got to see some much delinquent character development of Col. Rick Flag, a setting up of the new status quo and introductions or re-introductions to new and old Squad characters alike.

Ostrander makes lemonade out of the lemon that was General Wade Eiling in the body of the Shaggy Man by showing us a glimpse of just how clever and ruthless he is. As it turns out Rick Flag is not in fact Rick Flag at all—Eiling created the identity for him as well as brainwashed the Colonel complete with post-hypnotic “safe words” that puts “Flag” immediately at Eiling’s command—trapped in his own body.

This is just one of the surprises Eiling has as he works to sow rebellion under Amanda Waller’s nose and secure his freedom. The question is for the reader if The Wall knows about this and is biding her time waiting to shut down the General or if she has allowed her arrogance to allow her to believe that she’s untouchable.

Ostrander continues his ability to take the most obscure characters in the DCU and drop them into the Squad. They may or may not be cannon fodder but he gives us glimpse into their back story and a reason to care about them.

Case in point: Windfall—a Former Master of Disaster (bad guys) and a former member of the Outsiders (good guys). In a two page scene chatting with the Squad’s new shrink, Windfall reveals how she tried to go straight, go to college and walk the line.

But she found herself at the wrong end of a date rape drug and “passed” around at a frat party. The father of one of the frat boys was the local D.A. who said he couldn’t make the rape case given she was a former “supervillianness” and the college promptly threw her out of school—the fix was in.

Sad to say, aside from the supervillianess aspect, this is not an outlandish or even totally unheard of story of abuse. Except this victim is a metahuman so she used her powers to pull the air out of their frat house suffocating ever last one of them.

So now she is on the Squad ready to go on a suicide mission and perhaps win her freedom—if she lives.

This is where Ostrander shows just how much of a pro he is and why the Suicide Squad runs circles around Greg Rucka’s checkmateit’s the characters stupid! In two pages, we are both appalled by the actions of a character we haven’t thought about in 20 years while at the same time we are in total sympathy as to WHY she did it. Sympathy for a mass-murderer.

To the powers that be at DC—please keep this book going after it’s initial eight issue run.
If you ask him very nicely, hopefully John Ostrander will want to keep scripting the Squad. Bar none—Suicide Squad is pound for pound the best book in the DC line right now.

Nightwing #140
The Upshot From DC Comics: Guest-starring Batman & Robin! A new era of Nightwing begins from writer Peter Tomasi and the incredible art team of Rags Morales and Michael Bair! When the bodies of nefarious villains and fallen heroes begin to disappear from their final resting places, Dick Grayson is drawn into a mysterious, life-altering adventure!

This was a quite impressive although not entirely flawless debut issue by new Nightwing scribe Peter Tomasi. There is energy here that makes it feel fresh like a number one issue of a new series.

Tomasi has wisely opted to keep “Richard” Grayson in New York City as his base of operations instead of Gotham while giving him brand new surroundings—including a new job—museum curator, “just like Carter Hall” and a new secret lair, the aforementioned museum.

Tomasi neither acknowledges nor disavows the two previous status quos and cast of supporting characters as set up by Marv Wolfman (a disappointment after such promise) and by (the god-awful) Bruce Jones.

Tomasi gives us Nightwing that we haven’t seen in long time—someone who is an independent operator but who is a key component of a the Batman family and someone who is plugged in most of the DC Universe. He can effortlessly stride between the worlds of street-level crime fighting and cosmic Crisis-management.

To be honest, we’re not crazy about Tomasi’s choice of Richard as a curator—it seems like just cover while he does his real work as Nightwing instead of him having a real life as Dick Grayson, such as under Chuck Dixon when Dick was a Bludhaven cop.

However, we do like that Nightwing is in New York City establishing his own turf rather than in Gotham.

We especially liked the brief scene between Dick and Talia—as we noted last issue we have longed to see these two characters—they have a history with each other in competing for the attention and affection of Batman that hasn’t really been explored in many many years. We hope we can see their uneasy relationship explored further.

Most of all, we like the new art team of Rags Morales & Michael Bair. A writer that understands and respects the title character and a top-shelf art team, we think that finally DC might, just might be giving Nightwing the attention he deserves.

Green Lantern Corps # 20

The Upshot From DC Comics: Mongul is back! Destroying the JLA Watchtower wasn't enough - now he's more powerful than ever and ready to instill great fear!

This was a decent issue following up on the continued aftermath of the Sinestro Corps War. Writer Peter Tomasi split it up with between Mongul’s acquisition and acquaintance with his new yellow power ring and the “buddy” team of Green Lanterns Guy Gardner and Kyle Rayner.

As the buddies decide they want to leave Earth and relocate to Oa—so Guy can re-open his bar Warriors and Kyle for a new change of pace, this part of the story is lighthearted enough for us to enjoy a respite from the unrelenting heaviness of these past few issues, yet it wasn’t nearly as clever as Tomasi seems to think it was.

The real meat of this story was watching Mongul patiently explore his new found power ring and see him devising his plan to fill the leadership vacuum of the Sinestro Corps by Sinestro’s capture by the Green Lantern Corps.

Like anything Mongul does it’s poised to be a hostile takeover. The thought of Mongul—a guy who is physically powerful enough to go 10 rounds with Superman and ruthless enough to kill an entire planet one at a time—with a power ring does raise the stakes.

The Green Lantern Corps has Ion—think Mon-El with a power ring. The Sinestro Corps has Mongul—think Doomsday with a power ring.

One thing we didn’t like was the total absence of any other Green Lanterns besides Guy and Kyle. Dave Gibbons created some very compelling alien GL characters that we hope aren’t pushed aside to make this book a Kyle and Guy showcase.

A quick word about the art. These past 3 or 4 issues, GLC has been employing a committee of artists approach to keep things up and running and on deadline—something most important during the Sinestro Corps storyline.

However, we do look forward to some visual normalcy returning sometime soon. Adding Carlos Magno into the mix does not help in our opinion. While his art was better than is run on Countdown (before we dropped the title from our pull list and never looked back), Magno is not exactly a favorite of ours.

We hope that the regular art team of Patrick Gleason and Prentis Rollins can catch their breath soon and get back up to speed. We miss them.
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