Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Aquaman Flops Around, Gasps, Dies

Booze ‘n’ Comics
Volume 1, Issue 2
!Dia de los Muertos Edicion! (early November)
This issue brought to Gordon’s Dry Gin. Gin: Keeping the poor too drunk to organize and the rich too drunk to care since 1640!

Ratings System:

Single Malt Scotch: A perfect recipe. A generations-old process. Makes me feel warm inside.

Four Whiskey Sours: Oh yes. Just enough. This is a classic. I feel good.

Three Vodka Collins: Tasty! I’d like to have some more of that.

Two Cups Gin & Juice: Inoffensive, yet afterwards I only feel sleepy.

One Shot of Bacardi 151: Pffft! What are you trying to do, kill me?!

Aristocrat Tequila: I have nothing left to live for. Self-destruction is my only remaining goal.

Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis #50-57
Written by Tad Williams
Drawn by Shawn McManus

No… NO! They blew it up! Damn you all to hell… it was Aquaman!
Charlton Heston aside, I do kind of feel like I’ve been stuck in the middle of a society of apes whenever I read an Aquaman comic. No one believes what I say, I have to walk around in someone else’s furry underwear, I get beat up a lot, and usually I end up crying and beating my hands against the ground, or else someone’s telling me they’d kiss me if I weren’t so damned ugly.
In March of 1960, legendary Silver Age writer Gardner Fox introduced the Justice League of America in The Brave and the Bold #28. And sometimes even I, diehard Aquafan that I am, start to wonder if Fox wasn’t overselling the King of the Seven Seas by lumping him in with Superman and Wonder Woman. I’ve loved him since the Zero Hour reboot in the mid-‘90s, and as my tastes matured and I got past the gimmicky cybernetic arm, I realized he was one hell of an interesting character. Here’s this guy with no huge emblem splayed across his chest, one arm and a crappy haircut, yelling at everyone else in the JLA and what’re his powers? He can breathe underwater and talk to fish. Oh yeah, and his other, lesser known power, which is why he yells at everyone else in the JLA: Tremendous, Death-Star-sized balls. I used to wonder, why does he always have to deal with all the trouble going on in Atlantis practically by himself? Can’t Superman hear what’s going on under the ocean? Then I realized: he tells all the other heroes to get bent and stay off of his turf. Because his balls are the definition of enormous. In all honesty, I wrote a sixteen-page paper for my Advanced Non-Fiction class called “The Case for Aquaman” that revolves around this very claim. If you want to read it, email me at king dot aquaman at gmail dot com. Yeah. That’s how big of a fan I’ve been.
So anyway. The new series is technically Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis. Basically, a bunch of crazy idiotic crossover stuff happened, and now the old Aquaman is this amnesiac prophet guy with tentacles for a face called The Dweller in the Depths, and the new Aquaman is a mutant kid, born of surface-dweller stock, named Arthur Joseph Curry. (Arthur Curry was the first Aquaman’s landlubber handle. Kurt Busiek is known for his style, not necessarily his originality.) The two are joined by the King Shark, a big, humanoid… shark, who’s the son of the god of… sharks. You don’t really need to know much more than that. Anyway, Kurt Busiek was off to a good start for his post-Infinite Crisis Aquaman reboot. Atlantis in ruins, new hero righting wrongs, Cthulhu-esque powers of the Deep threaten us all, blah blah blah. Not Of Mice and Men, but not bad.
Enter Tad Williams, writer of such sci-fi/fantasy series as “Otherland” and “Memory, Sorrow and Thorn” …yeah, I’d never heard of him, either. That doesn’t mean he sucks! Far from it, actually. He has a very DeMatteis, X-Factor/Booster Gold type sense of humor that permeates his run—a sort of self-awareness that, yes, he’s being an even bigger dork by writing comics, but he’s having fun. He never quite overwhelms the (rather serious) plot with humor, but he definitely dabbles very close to the line. But you can tell he’s used to writing prose—the whole run is about as verbose as, well, me, for starters. And the minute Williams starts, the supporting cast is expanded so that he’d have needed three times the length of his eight-month run to flesh everyone out as well as I’d have liked. Clearly he was building towards something big, but DC didn’t want Aquaman cluttering up the monthly checklist when they could bring in some more guaranteed winners like Countdown to Mystery, Amazons Attack and Metamorpho: Year One. There was this big bad group called the Deep Church who worshipped a (yet again) Cthulhu-esque “sleeping god” called Urlok the Awaited, who could apparently only be stopped by Orin, the original Aquaman. Whom Williams conveniently “killed” in issue 50. Yeah, like I believe that for an instant. After he died, the Justice League basically showed up to go, “huh. I guess he’s dead.” This is how seriously the writer himself took it. I suffer no delusion that my favorite superhero may be dead forever, like Jean Grey or Captain America (please God). It’s just a stupid ploy to motivate the new Aquaman to greater heights. Or would it be depths? Whatever. You know.
The aforementioned supporting cast isn’t bad, it’s just big. Arthur befriends a humanoid octopus kid named Topo; he fights Krusivax, the son of the legendary Kordax (basically evil cousin of the royal family that Orin came from); old Orin is killed by Narwhal, the new identity of the brainwashed Koryak, Orin’s own son; and after the big battle with Krusivax and Vandal Savage and their plan to sink every city on the Pacific Rim, Arthur and his friends are menaced by Clownfish, a water-breathing man who was dosed with Jokerfish-toxin underwater, making him as crazy and dangerous as the real Joker. The series was running up to a confrontation with Urlok’s Deep Church in the city of Dyss, which apparently was at war with the other-dimensional city of Viatha, which was where Tempest, Orin’s old sidekick, journeyed at the end of issue 55 and… are you pissed off yet at having to keep so much in your head just to read one freakin’ issue of Aquaman? Now you get the picture. I appreciate Williams’ gusto, but his eyes were apparently bigger than DC’s mouth, and they spat him back out. (That’s a crappy metaphor, but I’m drunk and this rag is free. Sue me.) Speaking of gusto, the artist, Shawn McManus, didn’t seem to have much for this comic. I hope this isn’t the best he could do. Butch Guice’s sketchy, heavily-shaded drawings were replaced by McManus’s cartoony style, which, the writer’s sense of humor aside, just feels kind of out of place in what’s supposed to be an epic, if an underrated one. (Not to say that cartoony can’t be epic: see, uhm, anything drawn by Michael Avon Oeming.) That said, for such a wordy comic, McManus does a great job of depicting the fight between Arthur and Vandal Savage in issue 55. Fast-paced with lots of small panels, each one like half a second of film in an action movie. Well-done there.
When read all in one go, the last eight issues of volume four of Aquaman (yes, this is the fourth time since 1986 they’ve given him a monthly only to take it away again) make a compelling, if confusing, drama which ultimately falls short not due to the writer, but the editors. Read month by month, it’s just not worth it. C’est la vie. How can I be so nonchalant about the death and cancellation of my favorite character? Welcome to comics, kid. It’s a tough old world.
Dang it… now I’ve gotta subscribe to Outsiders.

Rating: Two Cups Gin & Juice.

By Crom—Er, Odin! Thor Says Don’t Mess With A Classic

from volume 1, issue 2, early November 2007

Thor #1-3
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Drawn by Olivier Coipel

It all comes back to Bendis.
He’s the genius who decided in 2004 it was time to Disassemble the Avengers. Which, in turn, apparently meant it was time to bring Ragnarok and end Thor for good. Of the Big Three, that just left Cap and Iron Man. Sigh again. The Big Three: Godlike power, Human ingenuity and the wisdom that could guide them both. Without Thor, the balance tipped. And the list of travesties against superhero comics that was Civil War was allowed to happen, including not least of which the cloning of a cyborg Thor.
(You’re free to disagree with me all you want, and I’ve argued it to death with some of my friends; I simply can’t abide Marvel’s editorial decisions these past few years: killing Thor and Hawkeye, turning the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver evil again, wiping out almost all the mutants in the world, assassinating Captain America and killing Aunt May and maybe even Mary Jane [God knows where the pointlessness of “One More Three-Month-Long, Crappy Day” story will lead poor Spidey next]. Is this loving and honoring our characters? I submit that it is not. One day, not too far off, Steve Rogers and Tony Stark will stand side by side with Wanda, Hawkeye, Thor and the newly-booming mutant population, and I’ll be there, laughing. Nature abhors a vacuum, Brian Michael Bendis, and comics fans abhor actual, lasting change. You’ll see. Sorry. End of rant.)
ANYWAY. Strazycnskrski says Thor’s back, so Thor’s back. Basically, Thor was floating in the Void after the end of the Norse Gods called Ragnarok, but his former alter ego Donald Blake calls him out of slumber to do battle with evil once again. Okay. You can say the Void. Okay? You can’t say non-existence. IT CAN’T BE A VOID IF SOMETHING IS THERE! YOU CANNOT JUST WALK AROUND, IN SPACE OR ANYWHERE, AND TALK, WITH ANYONE, AND SIMULTANEOUSLY NOT EXIST! THAT’S THE WHOLE POINT OF NON-EXISTENCE! NOTHING IS THERE! TRY TO PAY ATTENTION TO THE LANGUAGE WE’VE ALL AGREED UPON!

Ahem. Philosophical and linguistic issues aside… these are still three pretty good issues. Thor fights his way back to life from… uhm…non-life, and appears in small-town Oklahoma as Donald Blake. Thunderstorms appear out of nowhere first, followed by Asgard itself. The commentary on New Orleans feels a little forced, but I guess somebody had to say something, and Strazcnikowicz is as good a writer as any to do it. But Heimdall as the first god to be “resurrected” was a nice choice, and he looks badass. But then, that’s part of his job (read up on Norse mythology if you haven’t already in life. It’s fun). Oh, yeah, there’s that. Thor is bringing back all the other gods, too. Where are they? “In the minds and souls of Man,” according to Donald Blake. Well, thank you, Joseph Campbell, I guess that’s something new to the typical comics fan, but what about those of us who’ve cracked open an actual book twice in our lives? Or for that matter, those of us who’ve ever read Neil Gaiman? And I do mean ever. Come on, Strazzleberry. The Eternals miniseries just came out a year ago. Gods are living among us, inside us? …Argh, fine. I’ll take it, just to get Thor back. It’s not like there’s anything new under the Sun, but come on. You could try. As it stands, the new Thor comic is much like the Marvel character himself: Simplistic, and not always terribly original, but good for a darned entertaining story. Honestly, as much as I piss and moan over the specifics of the whole thing, I wish we could go back and re-do everything from the past four years as easily as Stradiffendoofer and Thor have.

Rating: Three Vodka Collins.

Cheaper Than A Month’s Worth of ‘Shrooms

from volume 1, issue 2, early November 2007

Ultimate Fantastic Four #33-38, 42-46
Written by Mike Carey
Drawn by Pasqual Ferry

Oh, wow, dude… it’s definitely kicking in. I’m seeing, like, space gods and stuff!
But really—if Jack Kirby had had access to drugs like Mike Carey’s, the New Gods might not be such a dead-end of story opportunities. It’s kind of amazing. Mind-expanding, even. And for once (because every other Ultimate FF story up to this point had started like this), the “God War” storyline isn’t directly Reed Richards’ fault as a young scientist with no understanding of the word “consequence”. In “God War,” creatures from a higher dimension come “down” here to escape the clutches of the immortal, all-powerful Thanos, who rules their world of Halcyon (already cooler than regular Thanos and regular Darkseid combined). I don’t know if you’ve ever seen Kirby’s Forever People, but basically it adds up to he spent a couple days toked up watching The Partridge Family: a bunch of “teen gods” ride around the Fourth World (New Genesis/Apokolips, oh my, whatever could those names refer to?) in their futuristic “Whiz Wagon” righting wrongs and then they meet Superman and then no one cares and then Roy Harper goes back inside and cooks up some more junk to shoot. Lame, lame squared, lame cubed. These crazy-ass heroes ride around on a living Fantasticar/super-motorcycle/thing, which is sentient (living vehicles that aren’t horses always kind of freak me out in fantasy stories, not sure why), they’re called Seed Thirteen because they answer to a (again) living computer (totally not Mother Box) which is the thirteenth seed to fall from the world-tree that grows them and houses the space race in rebellion against Thanos’ tyrannical rule. One of them, Beautiful Dreamer, has the power to—what is it?—“convert my body into non-physical modalities.” She can become the launch code to a missile. She can become your favorite memory of your first love, or the taste of strawberries in your mouth. Anything abstract.
Seriously. Mike Carey. If you are reading this: Time to share. I don’t even want to use your drugs to write better. I just want to sit on the couch and giggle for six hours. I have this feeling that you probably get to do that a lot. Jeez.
Anyway, injecting a young Fantastic Four into an age-old struggle like that is about as successful as you’d think. Ben Grimm fights Thanos three times, each time in a different body—Thanos reincarnates in the body of one of his followers every time he dies, by the way, kind of like Agent Smith if the second and third Matrix movies didn’t make you want to crawl in a hole and cry forever—and Johnny blows a bunch of crap up. Reed comes up with a plan that saves the day yadda yadda. The plot itself isn’t exactly atypical, but the ideas, and the presentation—jeez, do they ever make me want to be high instead of drunk right now. Speaking of presentation, Pasqual Ferry’s art style—which is too cool for me to have a word for since I don’t know the first thing about art—is simply put, astonishing when paired with Mike Carey’s big Kirbyesque ideas.
Uhm, I kind of ran out of room here, but the Silver Surfer arc is very much more of the same great stuff. I’ll sum it up as follows: Mike Carey made the Psycho-Man into a cool villain.
I’ll let that sink in. Catch you later.

Rating: Four Whiskey Sours.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Two Words: Ninja Man-Bats.

from volume 1, issue 2, early November 2007

#666-669; Annual #26
Written by Grant Morrison (Peter Milligan for the Annual)
Drawn by Andy Kubert, J.H. Williams and David Lopez

I want to preface this review by saying I don’t believe that Grant Morrison can do no wrong: the Seven Soldiers maxi-series was a confusing fever dream when read all together as one story, and I nearly had a seizure after reading the first volume of Invisibles. That said, when you tame that bucking bronco of a mind and get it to write continuity-bound superhero comics, the results are pretty astounding. So far in Morrison’s run, Batman has fought an army of ninja Man-Bats in London, discovered that Talia al Ghul bore him a son named Damian, and crossed paths with two other “Batmen” who seemed to be evil funhouse-mirror fragments of Batman himself.
Now, speaking of fever dreams—Batman #666 is the queen mother of ‘em all. Set ten years in a dystopian future Gotham where the world is really going to hell, Damian al Ghul, the new Batman, is fighting the third “ghost Batman”, who claims to have sold his soul to the Devil for the power to destroy Gotham. Unfortunately for him, Damian sold his soul to the Devil, too—in return for Gotham staying relatively safe in the midst of Hell on Earth. Violence ensues. It’s simple, fun, and kind of messed-up—I wouldn’t give this to a kid under thirteen, let’s say. But I kind of miss the days when one-shot stories were the norm, so this was a nice change.

Not to say the “Club of Heroes” three-parter was anything except completely beautiful. Morrison takes the old, insanely corny “Batmen of Many Nations” stories from the ‘60s—England’s “The Knight,” Italy’s “Centurion,” Argentina’s “el Gaucho,” and so on—and gives us a kind of “Where Are They Now?” reunion encased in a murder mystery.
I’ll say it again, I don’t know the first thing about art, but J.H. Williams’s work in these three issues is absolutely gorgeous. The panels that form bat-shapes and spirals, the shadows and reflections and flashbacks… I wish every story could be told this artfully. Since the Batmen are tracking the one who’s murdering their former financer and their fellow heroes, Williams’s work has a very Hitchcock feel, from what little I know of old Hitchcock films. I’d go so far as to say Williams takes a pretty-good script from Morrison and makes the mood and the tone so inescapable that it becomes a great script. I enjoyed every second of this story and the art, for once with me, made a huge difference.

And then there’s the Batman Annual. I kind of dislike annuals as a rule, because if they were truly necessary for a story, they’d be regular-numbered issues. Sometimes they introduce characters who’ll be important in the future, but by and large they’re fairly irrelevant. In this one, Peter Milligan (who wrote the wonderful X-Force/X-Statix series) tells the story of Ra’s al Ghul’s origin as a young Arabic doctor who sacrificed his true love for immortality. Milligan does an okay job of not making this a completely lame story, and there’s this whole plot to use Damian’s body to reincarnate Ra’s, but of course, nothing of any note really happens, except that Batman finds another Lazarus Pit in Australia which leads to an amusing side story where the Lazarus… er, substance, that green stuff, whatever it is, leeched into the ground and the fruits in that area allowed an old Australian hobo to live past two hundred. I regret buying this issue, but I guess it’s better that it got shoved into an annual and wasn’t made part of the main story. It would’ve just dragged the series down. So, annual aside, Morrison’s Batman is one of the surest bets out there right now.

Rating: Four Whiskey Sours.

My Big, Fat, Dumb, Annoying, Expensive, Ironically Actually Greek in a Way, Wedding

from volume 1, issue 2, early November 2007

(Deep breath…) Black Canary Wedding Planner #1, JLA Wedding Special #1, Green Arrow/Black Canary Wedding Special #1, and Green Arrow/Black Canary #1 (Phew!). That’s right; four number ones. Sigh.

Written by J. Torres, Dwayne McDuffie, Judd Winick
Drawn by Lee Ferguson, Mike McKone, Amanda Conner

Let me go ahead and “ruin” it for you, if such a dumb story could be said to be ruined: Oliver Queen is not dead again. He is being held captive by the Amazons. I’d say this is a result of something from the miniseries Amazons Attack, but I wouldn’t know, because the Wonder Woman title right now is such a beyond-Hawkworld radioactive mess that I wouldn’t touch that retarded six-issue special with five ten-foot poles tied together. Seriously. Since Infinite Crisis, two good writers have screwed fans over already with horrendously late issues and inconsistent stories, without so much as fixing us breakfast the morning after. Gods help Gail Simone, who knocked two out of the park with the Villains United and Secret Six minis, to not screw Diana up more. Anyway. Yeah. Amazons. Basically the story is this. Ollie (Green Arrow) and Dinah (Black Canary) decide to get married. They invite all their hero friends. Some villains find out that this is going on. They plan an assault with Lex Luthor’s new Injustice League. There are some laughs with strippers and drunk heroes and whatnot (why would Red Arrow be drinking? He’s a recovering heroin addict, isn’t that a little… not good for him?), and then a big fight when the villains attack. Then, on the wedding night, Ollie gets this blank look on his face and tries to attack Dinah. She stabs him through the neck with an arrow, killing him. Fast-forward a month. Dinah and Batman figure out that “Ollie” was actually a shapeshifter who must have replaced the real Ollie during the fight in the middle of the wedding. Oh, and apparently Black Canary’s long-lost daughter Sin who was introduced in the Black Canary four-parter that preceded all this madness, has something to do with this. Also, yeah, Amazons.
If you grew up reading comics in the ‘90s, there’s a slight chance you’ll remember X-Men #30. Scott Lobdell, Andy Kubert. The wedding of Cyclops and Jean Grey. And you know what happened? Nothing at all. No one attacked. No one died. There was a ceremony, a reception and a dance, and then they left for the honeymoon. Twenty-eight pages of nothing but good-hearted fun and character development, and the vindication of a decades-old love story. Now just what the hell was wrong with that? Also, you’ll notice that Scott and Jean’s wedding didn’t take five issues. There was a reference to the bachelor party and then they went ahead to the main event. Bam. Done.
DC, by contrast, hired the new writer for Justice League (McDuffie), the most hit-or-miss writer on Earth (Winick [perhaps a bit of an overstatement but c’mon]), and some guy I’ve never heard of (Torres? whatever), to write one-hundred and twenty-four pages, one hundred of which seem to be telling three stories all taking place at the same time, and cramming in a big subplot about Luthor’s newest Evil Team that takes up a third of the page count. And apparently, Luthor’s not even responsible for Ollie getting captured and replaced! So what the heck was the point of all that fighting? Just ‘cause? (That was not intended as a pun based on the wedding vows thing—you know, “if any man or woman has just cause why these two should not be married…” yeah. Just realized that after I wrote it.)
It’s a big mess is what it is, ultimately, which is ultimately symptomatic of DC itself these days. Everything’s up in the air right now about who belongs in which of the 52 universes and who’s supposed to be dead and what everyone’s origin actually is—the individual stories are fun, but when you step back and look at the whole thing, you’re liable to get vertigo (again, no pun intended) and throw up. Back to the story though. Some of it’s pretty amusing—the banter between Arrow and Canary especially (“Maybe we should go rustle up one of your old dance partners?! Hawkman? Ra’s al Ghul? The U.S. Navy?!”), and the bachelor/ette parties are somewhat funny, if mostly unnecessary. Speaking of unnecessary… the Wedding Planner issue is just that. I’m begging you not to buy this comic. It is nothing but arguing over bridesmaids’ dresses and china patterns. I’m not joking. Chances are you’ll get duped into marrying someone at some point, so you can suffer through that then. Don’t waste your time reading about fictional people doing that. Winick, if nothing else, is good for quite a few laughs in the actual wedding special and even the first issue of the new series (If you really want to like Judd Winick, and a lot of people do, read The Adventures of Barry Ween, Boy Genius and Pedro and Me for some excellent non-hero work. His hero work is hit-or-miss. Exiles was great, Green Lantern was so-so, Batman wasn’t worth his time and Trials of Shazam is just deplorable.). Amanda Conner’s art is as sexy as ever, so there’s that. McDuffie and McKone in the JLA special are at about their usual levels of talent: decent but utterly forgettable. And speaking of forgettable, as I said, there’s the wedding planner. If you’re a die-hard GA/BC fan from back in The Day, you might enjoy these comics at least somewhat, and you should probably stick around for the new series. If you just picked these issues up at random, I feel as sorry for you as I do for myself.

Rating: One Shot of Bacardi.

The heading from Booze 'n' Comics, volume 1, issue 1, mid-October 2007

This issue brought to you by Jim Beam, the Azrael to Jack Daniel’s Batman.

I am a disenfranchised holder of a Bachelor’s Degree in English who loves mainstream superhero comics, not to mention whiskey, a little too much. I will try really, really hard not to cuss too much and be a terrible person and make this a thing that your ten-year-old could get in trouble for reading, because I believe that comic books should be a thing for kids to enjoy at least as much, if not more than, teens and adults. My bias is as follows: The only thing I hate more than post-Civil War Marvel is DC’s floundering attempts to stay true to their core ideals while updating themselves for a new generation. In that way they kind of remind me of the Democratic Party. Zing! Anyway, I hope you enjoy. This ‘zine is rated PG-13 for misanthropy and at least one sex joke that goes too far. Every issue. Guaranteed.

Ratings System:

Single Malt Scotch: A perfect recipe. A generations-old process. Makes me feel warm inside.

Four Whiskey Sours: Oh yes. Just enough. This is a classic. I feel good.

Three Vodka Collins
: Tasty! I’d like to have some more of that.

Two Cups Gin & Juice
: Inoffensive, yet afterwards I only feel sleepy.

One Shot of Bacardi 151
: Pffft! What are you trying to do, kill me?!

Aristocrat Tequila
: I have nothing left to live for. Self-destruction is my only remaining goal.

Fools! I'll Destroy Them All!

from volume 1, issue 1, mid-October 2007

Soon I Will Be Invincible
Written by Austin Grossman

I doubt that normal, non-picture book reviews will be a regular feature ‘round these parts, but this one warrants some discussion.
If this were a comic book, it might be a fairly interesting, almost Astro City-ish homage to (or, depending on your point of view, parody of) mainstream superhero mythology. But as a novel, as far as I know, this is unique. I mean, of course there’s a myriad of crappy licensed novels starring DC and Marvel characters hiding in the Science Fiction aisle of every Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million—heck, I think I’ve still got a Generation X novel from middle school still kicking around my parents’ house—but there aren’t many… actually there aren’t any, at least as far as I know, other completely original superhero novels out there. Well, I might be overstating it by saying “completely original”, but judge for yourself:

The book claims to have two protagonists, but I think I’d have to disagree. It has a protagonist and a distraction from the protagonist. First we meet Doctor Impossible— the definition of the evil genius, a more pure distillation of the stereotype than if you put Doctor Doom, Lex Luthor and Brainiac in a blender (but in a good way). He’s in jail, naturally, after another failed attempt to take over the world—putting him at an even dozen, I believe. But if you read comics, you know that jail for a supervillain is just like calling for a five-minute breather in the middle of an intense kickball game. He’s soon out and up to no good. But it’s a sympathetic kind of no good. He’s the quiet kid who got picked last for every game at recess (I had to be real careful there not to just make a reference to kickball twice in a row). He’s the kid who raised his hand every time the teacher asked for the solution to the math problem on the chalkboard. Only, due to years of being shunned by his classmates and a couple of highly improbable accidents with experimental technology, he didn’t go on to be another web page designer. Around the age of twenty-six, he decided that world domination was more his thing. Haven’t you ever wished you could major in that?

Enter Fatale, a cyborg superheroine who’s a—wait, Microsoft Word doesn’t recognize “cyborg” as a word? Jeez… anyway, Fatale is new to the superhero world after finishing a three-year stint as a 1990s Image character (for those of you who were mercifully spared the pathetic abortions that were Wetworks, Youngblood and WildCats, that means a sexy, cybernetic anti-hero with a mysterious past who works for a Black Ops faction of some government body or another). She’s actually a fairly likeable character in her own right—after a near-fatal accident, she was rebuilt to be a super-soldier; she has no memory of her old life, she has a computer lodged in her head and half of her organs are made of high-tech polymers, but at the end of the day she really just wishes she could still lay out on her couch in pajamas, watch some old movies and eat a pint of Ben & Jerry’s without having to go out and kill some gangsters because her right ear is tuned to the police band.
As Fatale is inducted into the newest incarnation of the Champions (totally not the Justice League or Avengers), Doc Impossible is hunting for the components he needs to build his newest Doomsday Device. The Champions are an interesting bunch—Blackwolf (not-Batman) and Damsel (not-Wonder Woman) used to be married and have a very on-again-off-again relationship, not to mention power dynamic, now that CoreFire (not-Superman), former frontman for the Champions is missing and there’s a leadership void to be filled. In flashbacks, CoreFire is depicted by Impossible as an indestructible football player with no imagination, no personality and no weaknesses—if you hate Superman for being a “Boy Scout”, CoreFire will be a gratifying addition to Impossible’s past. Rainbow Triumph is a super-strong teenybopper with a wealthy family and a good agent who “isn’t used to fighting without cameras around”—I’d like to have seen more of her; imagine Lindsey Lohan with superpowers (actually, don’t—these days that’d be a rather horrifying concept). There are a few others, the most notable of which is Lily. No code name. She used to “play for the other team”—not as a lesbian, as a villainess—and was the closest thing Doctor Impossible ever had to a partner. She claims to be from the future, changed by time travel into a near-invisible living diamond (think Emma Frost mixed with Invisible Woman and Black Widow and you’ve about got it). She’s kind of a major player; I probably should have mentioned her earlier but, as you might’ve noticed, I’m drunk.

Anyway, the Doc is more of a loner, so besides a brief meeting at a makeshift villains’ bar in an abandoned mall in rural Pennsylvania, we don’t see many of his colleagues in evil. Now that I mention it, Grossman makes a great, noble, and mostly successful effort to make superheroes and their requisite dark halves not just a phenomenon of New York and California, but a nationwide, ubiquitous aspect of life. Impossible spends a handful of weeks after breaking out of prison staying in various ignominious motels across America, paying in cash, too afraid of being found out to venture out to his secret lair yet. Besides the Doctor himself, the most interesting villain by far (unless you count Lily) is Baron Ether—the original Bad Guy. “He started out robbing railroads,” as Impossible says at one point. He’s the mustache-twirling, cane-brandishing Mephistophelian writ large, who terrorized every hero on the planet from the days of Queen Victoria to those of Jimmy Carter. I wish we had someone like him in Marvel or DC. Instead we’ve got Vandal Savage and… who? Did the Golden-Age Marvel characters fight anyone besides Hitler? (By the way, did you ever notice how if you only looked at the covers of every Captain America comic from 1943 to 1946 it’d just like he’d been fighting Hitler one-on-one for the entire length of the war? What the heck? Did Hitler keep throwing down smoke-bombs and running away?)
Anyway, Doctor Impossible is all the villain you need. Really, he’s all the hero you need, too. My hypothesis is that Grossman included Fatale because a) he really wanted to make a Rob Liefeld character sympathetic, and b) if the only character whose point of view we read from was Doctor Impossible, we’d be let down way too much if he lost (I’m not saying whether he does or not… I’m just saying). Fatale’s not bad, it’s just… I think most of us remember pulling for the villain at least once in our lives. For Magneto or Doctor Doom. For Darth Vader (before the Attack of the Prequels). You’re going to end up pulling for Doctor Impossible, but Fatale is there to ground you back in the world where the Good Guys win. Actually, I just had an interesting thought—a big part of Impossible’s story are all of his flashbacks and reminiscences of the days before he knew he was destined to take over the world, when he was just the nerd that even all the other nerds ignored. Fatale doesn’t remember her past, making Impossible that much more likeable. For all of us who always wondered, why is Magneto threatening to destroy the world? Y’know, where he lives? Impossible answers—every other world domination scenario is too fraught with details and administrative problems and other annoyances. The best thing to do is just let them know that you have an army of mutant bees, or a portable black hole, and demand the world’s leaders pay tribute to you in exchange for you not killing them all. Let them do all the hard stuff. As Impossible says about his newest scheme, “…things won’t have to be all that different. A few parades, maybe. New York will be Impossible City. Or Impossibleopolis. Maybe a few Ethergrads here and there. And I can always swing the Earth’s orbit in for the occasional sunny day. It’s not like I’m going to be a jerk about it.”
I’ve given away too much already. But if a certain part of you has always pulled for Vader and Von Doom, you’ll enjoy Austin Grossman’s paean to villainy.

Rating: Four Whiskey Sours.

Or, Wally West as Played By Eddie Murphy

from volume 1, issue 1, mid-October 2007

The Flash #231-232 & All-Flash Special #1
Written by Mark Waid (who can do much better)
Drawn by Daniel Acuna (who… can’t.)

Hey. Hey. Hey. Mark Waid. Yeah, you, that Mark Waid. Hey. Hey.
I’ll tell you.
You flew to close to Continuity’s Red Sun, and you lost your powers. Okay, it’s not your fault that Linda and Wally had kids. That, we can place on the Atlas-like shoulders of Geoff Johns. It’s not even your fault that DC made the grave mistake of letting the two-year gap in DC continuity with no Flash be filled by a mysteriously super-aged Bart Allen (by the way, we’re still waiting for that explanation).
But giving Flash two sidekicks who aren’t even old enough to have the sex talk with yet? Giving them unnecessarily bizarre powers? Suddenly deciding that Linda nearly became a doctor, but decided to go with TV journalism instead?
Flash Fact: This is not The Nutty Professor 3.
Let’s start at the beginning. The Flash and his family disappeared as part of all the turmoil and craziness surrounding the Infinite Crisis hoopla of late 2005/early 2006. Bart Allen, formerly Impulse and Kid Flash, showed up a little afterward, having gone from age 16 to his early 20s in a matter of months. Don’t bother trying to apply anything remotely resembling the theory of relativity to this, you’ll just end up shirtless and crying on your bathroom floor. He ends up getting killed by his nemesis Inertia and a bunch of the old Flash’s Rogues Gallery, and something about the transfer of that energy, or whatever, brought Wally West and his family back into the present, to Earth.
I’m telling you, scientists: Young-Earth Creationists aren’t the ones to be afraid of. It’s English majors with a poor grasp of Newtonian Physics that are the real danger to society.
Okay, so Wally and Linda and their two kids are back on Earth. What’s wrong with that?
Well, first of all, they named their son Jai. Predictably, they named their female child Iris, after Wally’s aunt and Barry Allen (the Silver Age Flash)’s wife, Iris West-Allen. But instead of doing the boring thing and naming their son Barry, they call him Jai in a twisted “tribute” to Jay Garrick, the Flash of World War II. I can’t help but imagine Jay’s response being “What kind of frou-frou name is Jai? Are you trying to say you hate me, boy?” Seriously. You could have named him Ted, or Thom, even Carson—those are all names of both former DC heroes, and guys from Queer Eye. Even Kyan would have been okay, if not strictly canon. But Jai? You chose to name him after the most worthless Queer Eye guy? Did the Speed Force give you brain damage?
But enough about the name. There are plenty more veins of stupid left to tap in the mine.
Like the kids’ powers? Is it just me being drunk and jumping to conclusions, or does it seem sexist that the boy got superstrength and the girl got intangibility?
Or how about just letting them put on tights and fight aliens at the tender age of ten? I’m pretty sure Wally at least had a little peach fuzz going on in his boxers before he got struck by lightning and became Barry Allen’s favorite decoy. Don’t you think he’d be a little bit protective?
And speaking of aliens, how come Daniel Acuna can’t draw an alien that doesn’t look like a Pokemon with an engorged vagina where its face should be?
And finally, Linda West is suddenly a doctor qualified to treat the unique medical conditions that go along with being a small child with superpowers, when a few years ago she was a TV reporter? At least when the Broken Lizard guys replaced Landfill with his brother in Beerfest, they made fun of themselves for having a retarded plot twist. That’s what I’m afraid of: that I’ll get a job writing comics, and after twenty years I won’t be able to distinguish between stupid plot devices and jokes.
Which is what makes the new Flash series kind of like any Eddie Murphy movie in the past ten years: at this point, who’s to say what’s sincere and what’s farce? It’s all kind of above and beyond the call of ridiculous duty. Wally’s aunt might as well put in a guest appearance at the dinner table, clapping and chanting “Hercules! Hercules! Hercules!”

Rating: 2 Cups Gin & Juice.

Earth's Mightiest People Who Mostly Just Talk a Lot

from volume 1, issue 1, mid-October 2007

New Avengers #32-35

Written by Brian M. "Anyone Remember Jinx or Goldfish?" Bendis
Drawn by Leinil Francis “King of All Wolverine Artists, Forever” Yu

So. The Elektra who was running the Hand, the elite ninja clan of Marvel Japan, was actually a Skrull. For those of you who just fell off a truck full of turnips straight from Super Mario 2, a Skrull is a skuzzy green alien who can shapeshift. So Elektra was a Skrull. What does that matter? It means anyone could be a Skrull. It means the New, non-Initiative Avengers can’t even trust each other now. Hawkeye—really back from the dead, or is he a Skrull? Doc Strange—has he really had a change of heart about how involved he should be in the world—or is he a Skrull? Luke Cage—is he really black or is he a SKRULL?! Okay, obviously if I were one of these heroes I guess it’d seem a bit more ridiculous than it does to them right now. But still, they’re a good group and I hate to see them distrust each other. But I do have my doubts. I love Hawkeye. Alongside Cyclops he’s my favorite Marvel hero. But his method of returning from the dead is questionable at best. And Dr. Strange—if you’ll notice, he manages to beg off of having to use his talents as Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme to save the heroes’ asses a few times, when you’d think that keeping an airplane from crashing wouldn’t be beyond him… then again, it could be Bendis just doing a lame job of humanizing uber-powerful characters. You never know with that rascal. So yeah, in issues 32 and 34 we’re faced with that menacing question, leading to the “Secret Invasion” event they’re touting on Marvel.com for next year. Meanwhile, in issue 33 and 35, street-level villain The Hood starts gathering other second-rate supervillains like the Wizard and Madam Masque to form a new supervillain syndicate (NOT AT ALL what Luthor did in DC during Infinite Crisis, not one bit). So I’m subjected to a bunch of Mamet-esque bickering about “the take” and “you gotta problem, you come ta me” et cetera. I’m not totally against it, I’m just saying it’s amusing that Bendis has written himself into this corner with five or seven years of superhero comics, and now he realizes he misses his old noir stuff.
I love the team itself. Even Wolverine, whose secondary mutation seems to be appearing in every Marvel book at the same time. Seeing Luke Cage and Iron Fist together is great. Hell, seeing Luke Cage at all just warms the cockles of my heart. Yeah, I said cockles. Deal with it. I still like Spidey being on the team, despite whatever bullcrap the “One More Day” story is slinging his way. And I’m praying like hell that Hawkeye isn’t a Skrull. Which I guess is what Bendis wants me to do, and in that, he succeeds. All in all, I enjoy this book. I hate this whole post-Civil War Marvel world; heck, I’ve hated Marvel since the Scarlet Witch said “No more mutants,” which really meant “no more Grant Morrison playing in Bendis’s sandbox,” but this one book, along with the mysterious urban legend known only as Astonishing X-Men, keeps me from saying “screw it all, let the Ultimate line take over for good”. And I guess that’s an accomplishment.
That said, get to the effing Skrulls!!!

Rating: Three Vodka Collins.

3... 2... 1... Kill Me

from volume 1, issue 1, mid-October 2007

Countdown #34-30(yes it’s in backwards order)
Written by Paul Dini (and other occasional co-scripters with barely any merit)
Drawn by various artists (of varying talent who’ll wish they’d spent their week drawing new costumes for Dawn instead)

I tried. I swear to all the gods that are and ever were, I tried to accept this as the worthy successor to the admirable, almost-completely-wonderful 52. However, 52 was written by four of the best writers on the DC beat today—Geoff Johns, Grant “Mother-Effing” Morrison, Greg Rucka and Mark Waid, with Keith Giffen as the mainstay artist who contributed a lot to the actual story. Countdown is written by Paul Dini, who was a major creative contributor the Batman Animated Series from the ‘90s. I don’t know what’s happened since then, maybe I’m looking through rose-colored glasses, but I thought that Batman: The Animated Series was good.
Admittedly, Dini has a tougher job than the Big Four who did 52. That series was made to cover the “missing year” in DC where Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman all went AWOL for various reasons after Infinite Crisis. They had free reign to do whatever they wanted as long as it would feed into the way things were going One Year Later in DC continuity. Countdown has to serve as a “companion” (or as we in the business like to refer to it, “filler”) to what’s going on in today’s DCU. That means connecting Jimmy Olsen, Holly Robinson (Catwoman’s best friend, who actually was Catwoman for a little while), the Trickster and the Pied Piper (two second-rate Flash villains) and Mary Marvel to godawful crossovers like the Lightning Saga (which I’ll get to later) and “Amazons Attack” (which I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole even if it was the first comic to be printed entirely using ketchup).
This is to say nothing of the “Challengers of the Beyond” story, featuring Donna Troy, Jason Todd, Bob the Monitor (not kidding, Jason named him Bob), Kyle Rayner, and the Jokester (the Joker in an alternate world where the good guys are bad and the bad guys are good; Earth-3 to those of you “in the know”—“in the know” here meaning “one who has way too much time on his/her hands”). That story, I have to admit, I actually like—hopping across worlds, searching for Ray Palmer, the original Atom, who’s apparently the key to stopping the “Great Disaster” scheduled for next May once Countdown’s over—like Exiles in Marvel, or Sliders, if you want to get a bit more old-school (the fact that I can refer to something from the ‘90s as “old school” now makes me want to hang myself, but anway…). I might pay to read just that part—and although they do publish “Countdown to Adventure” specials each time the Challengers journey to a new yet familiar world (like the evil Earth-3 or the, uh, more-evil Earth-7?), I don’t feel like shelling out four extra big ones just for that. I might even keep just picking up Countdown if it wasn’t the full $2.99 of a regular comic, whereas the superior 52 was only $2.50. The Pied Piper/Trickster story is mildly amusing, as the two are chained together by high-tech handcuffs that shock them if they stray too far apart and they’re on the run since everyone thinks they killed Bart Allen; likewise, the transformation of Mary Marvel into an evil minion of Eclipso could be awesome if handled by a more capable writer. As it is, we’re just going through the motions, waiting for DC’s next event to rear its questionable head and set up a brand-new status quo for the third time in five years. DC wanted to cash in on 52, so they slammed out Countdown and wondered if we’d bite. I did. And I regret every second of it.

Rating: One Shot of Bacardi 151.

Someone Should Tell Them It's a Superhero Team, Not a Clown Car!

Justice League of America #0-12

Written by Brad Meltzer (who apparently has to write another novel so it can place forty-first on the NY Times List before disappearing into obscurity forever.)
Drawn by Ed Benes (except issue 11 drawn by Gene Ha, whose talents for detail were completely ignored.)
Covers by Michael Turner (when he felt like it.)

I am an acolyte of the church of Grant Morrison, He Who is Both Totally Man and Totally God; therefore, I had serious doubts about anyone trying to take over a book that had, until then, been living in his shadow (apologies to Joe Kelly, who did okay). But the guy who got this whole “DC is all edgy now” thing going with Identity Crisis sunk his teeth into the JLA and damn if he didn’t feed it to us like a caring mama-bird over the past year.
Now, having grown up with the post-Crisis (the original Crisis) continuity in which there were five founding members of the JLA—Flash (Barry Allen), Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), Martian Manhunter, Black Canary and Aquaman—(with Triumph if you want to be a real dick about it) I was a bit unsettled by this new/old continuity where the Big Three of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman were the guiding force behind the League, but I took that pill and I swallowed it without asking questions, like a good American. And for once, I was rewarded.
Issues one through six were about exploring what Red Tornado is and why he always comes back—and in addition, about what the JLA is, and why it always comes back. Issue seven is about how the new League comes together the way it always does, with a new headquarters and new gimmicks. Issues eight through ten were the Lightning Saga, which I’ll get to presently. Issues eleven and twelve were two amazing standalones that left me begging for more like an amateur BDSM porn star.
Quickly, here’s what I didn’t like: that Starro and Parasite were treated as if nothing had been done to them in-continuity since the ‘70s; that Wonder Woman is still occasionally nothing more than a halfway point between Bats’ and Supes’ philosophies with breasts; that Black Canary didn’t get more time in the spotlight; that Vixen’s and Geo-Force’s problems with their powers weren’t resolved; also that Red Tornado’s ongoing disconnection from his own human side were barely mentioned.
Now: I did, I have to admit, enjoy Hal Jordan and the Canary teaming up with Roy “Arsenal” Harper and telling Ollie to stay at home and watch the baby. Even though it’s leading to some weird synch-up with Kingdom Come, I enjoyed watching Roy come of age as Red Arrow. I love Black Lightning as the team’s stealth informant and Hawkgirl as the team’s number one “tank”. And I love the idea of her getting it on with Red Arrow.
The Lightning Saga is where it gets tricky.
I plan on reviewing the new/old Flash series soon, but until then here’s what I’ll say: never before have I seen a project where the editor says to the writers, “Hey, I gave this shitty writer a year’s worth of leash and this is how we told him to finish it up. Now you two really good writers have to cover his ass with this story to keep the status quo from falling apart before our eyes. KTHNX BYE”
In a nutshell: the new JLA and JSA team up with members of some version of the Legion of Super-Heroes (alien heroes from the 31st century, for those of you not familiar with the Gospel of Jim Shooter). The Legionnaires won’t talk as to why they’re a thousand years from home, but they’re on a mission to save a life. Lightning strikes. The Legion disappears. Wally West, the Flash from 1986’s Crisis on Infinite Earths until 2006’s Infinite Crisis (confused yet?), reappears, apparently at the same moment that Bart Allen, the “new” Flash, was killed by his enemies. So the Legion caught his soul and returned him to the 31st century where he belongs (yes, the most recent Flash was raised a thousand years in the future. Welcome to comic books.). There. Now there’s no need to buy those unless you really like reading it for the character development (which, for the purposes of this argument, I’ll say that I do).
Issue 11 is something we don’t see nearly often enough—a team book focusing on two secondary characters, completely isolated. No villains. In this circumstance they’re not even really heroes themselves, so much as people caught in a desperate situation. And it was still the most riveting thirty-two pages I’d read that month.
Issue 12 suffers from one thing only—a lack of understanding of what’s going on in Aquaman. Unless Meltzer is admitting what I know in my heart is true—that Orin of Atlantis is not dead—then J’onn J’onzz is speaking to the new Aquaman rather than his best friend and former teammate in the JLA—and speaking to him as if he is, in fact, Arthur Curry as opposed to, uhm, Arthur Joseph Curry (I know, it’s dumb, but there’s dumber stuff out there, I’m sorry to say). Aside from that, it’s a great issue. A little more insight (but not enough) into what’s going on with Vixen’s and Geo-Force’s powers. More development of the Hawkgirl/Red Arrow romance that’s doomed to get busted up by a Thanagarian Mace coming soon to a face near you. More evidence that Reddy (Red Tornado) is losing his grip on humanity. Also more evidence that Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman could run the UN Security Council by themselves and probably be more effective than what’s going on now.
I’m doing this series an… ahem… injustice with this review. It’s way better than even I make it out to be. And I make it out to be effing fantastic. Pick up each trade as it comes out. It’s worth it. My only real, true disappointment is that it didn’t go on for another year. For God’s sake, what was so important that Meltzer had to leave? I know it’s best to go out on top, before your fans start saying you’ve lost your touch, but Meltzer hadn’t even peaked yet, as far as I’m concerned… I was left wanting more, and like I said, as a Morrison devotee from the days of the Big Seven plus the little seven, that’s saying something. Character development like this comes along once in a blue moon. All the action and fighting is mere scene-dressing. Buy these issues. Cherish them.

Rating: Four Whiskey Sours.