Saturday, October 07, 2006

24 Hour Comics Reviewing Day, Hour Fifteen: Uncanny X-Men #478

Uncanny X-Men #478UNCANNY X-MEN #478: This comic is fun. The Shi'ar Empire keeps a-risin' and a-fallin' as the X-Men's twelve issue space-spanning epic movies into its fourth chapter, wrapped in a spooky and beautiful cover that harkens back to the cover of Uncanny #50. I'm no fan of Deadly Genesis, the storyline that led into this, but "Rise and Fall" itself is a nice mix of drama and mystery and the space-faring high adventure that's been such a vital element of the X-Men since the early Claremont issues. As Vulcan speeds towards revenge against the Shi'ar, he's pursued by Professor X and a ragtag team of X-Men (mostly the non-marquee names, who are tied up in Astonishing X-Men). I wish that the otherwise serviceable recap page that opened the book would have included a list of the X-Men cast here—various members kept popping up and surprising me. I'm not certain if there's enough story here to keep the title occupied for twelve full issues, but this is full of fast-moving, dynamic action and nice characterizations, especially Nightcrawler, Professor X and Havok, and in the end I'm in favor of any storyline that keeps the X-Men off Earth until Civil War's over and done with and Joey Q's seventy-three part "Post-War Reconstruction" followup begins.

24 Hour Comics Reviewing Day, Hour Fourteen: Simpsons Comics #122

Simpsons #122SIMPSONS COMICS #122: This comic is sorta fun. This Archie parody has its moments but doesn't approach the level of the best of this series. Simpsons Comics occupies an unusual level in my appreciation month after month: they're almost always consistently fun and well-done, but the best of them do exactly what the TV series does: they make me laugh out loud at least once or twice in a story. Without voices and timing that's a harder task to pull off in a comic than on the screen, but it can be done. It just isn't done in this issue, which is a fairly standard parody of Archie planted onto a tale of high school-era Homer and Marge. There's some good but mild gags involving sign-toting hitchhikers, a cameo by Mister Weatherbee and Barney in the role (and hat) of Jughead, but when the only honestly laugh-out-loud moment is on the cover then that's a fairly standard Simpsons comic. Don't get me wrong: I'm not one of those who feel The Simpsons has gone downhill or ceased being funny after season (fill in your own grump fanboy blank); week after week it remains the consistently funniest and most inventive show on TV. The same can be said of the comic: I'm seldom disappointed in any issue and I firmly believe that Simpsons Comics are one of the most faithful and consistent adaptations of a TV show to comic book ever. It's just that sometimes the comic hits highs worthy of the TV show and sometime it just doesn't, and this is one of the times it doesn't.

Urp. I think I better lay off the candy beans for a while.

24 Hour Comics Reviewing Day, Hour Thirteen: Krypto the Superdog #1

Krypto #1KRYPTO THE SUPERDOG #1: This comic is fun. My baby sister Marshall wandered out to mooch some candy beans off me and to remind me to review the Krypto comic. Hooves off my beans, sis! The Krypto cartoon series skews a little younger than some of the other DC-based TV series and so does the comic book: this is a good intro comic for young kids (like you, Marshall...hey, stop eating my candy beans!), but there's definitely some gaps here: in adapting two early episodes from the series, a handful of info gets left out, and maybe that's not important to the target audience. Me, I wondered how Krypto understood and could talk to Kevin until I spotted an unexplained two-panel sequence where Krypto pops a device out of his dog tag and Kevin puts it in his ear. I'm assuming it's an animal-human translator. It wasn't mentioned or explained at all in the script, however—it might be an obvious item from the TV series, but it needed to be very briefly explained here. My main quibble was that the first story tried to cram in a huge amount of exposition for half an issue. I'd rather have had a one-page recap at the beginning and then leap right into the adventures. And in the second story, Streaky and Ace appear with no explanation. The gap explaining where they came from obviously is a result of adapting two different TV episodes, but again that's where a recap page would have come in. "Banding together with his friends Streaky the Super-Cat and Ace the Bathound..." But if you ignore some minor quibbles (hey, aren't those hyenas actually Harley Quinn's pets, not the Joker's?), it actually is a pretty sweet and delightful comic. I was especially fond of Superman's cameo appearance and his suggestion that Kevin help him out by letting Krypto stay with him: the best Krypto stories have a strong sense of the love between boy and dog (Eliot S! Maggin's "Starwinds Howl" short story is the ultimate version of that connection). Clean, crisp art, the slightly lower price point, done-in-one stories, the portrayal of Ace as a stoic and right-to-business crimefighter (just like his master), the Superman cameo, and the concept of a spaceship being a secret headquarters all definitely contribute towards making Krypto #1 a fun comic.

24 Hour Comics Reviewing Day, Hour Twelve: 40 Years of The Amazing Spider-Man CD-ROM Collection

40 YEARS OF THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN: This CD-ROM set is fun. A few weeks ago I had a great idea for a blog column or two or three about Spidey (I'm still workin' on it) but as most of my Spider-Man comics are in storage, I needed to get my hooves on replacements. Works okay when it's a comic that's been reprinted in Marvel Tales or is only a buck a back issue or so...doesn't work so well since some of the issues I wanted were Todd McFarlane's first and pricey issues of Amazing. Solution? This relatively affordable CD-ROM collection of every Amazing Spider-Man issue (minus annuals, sadly) from #1 through volume 2 #38. Issues include all the ads and letter columns plus Marvel house ads and Bullpen Bulletins throughout the ages, which aren't reprinted in any other Spidey repackaging project—those pieces of history alone make this a delight! Comics on your screen won't replace the tactile and sensory joys of holding a four-color adventure in your own hooves, but it's an excellent research or fun way to read the whole Spidey saga for less than one slim dime an issue. Now that's my kinda bargain! Now your enjoyment of this sorta thing is going to greatly depend on your tolerance of reading comics on a computer screen, but the issues are reproduced as high-res PDF files and can easily be read especially if you have a wide-screen monitor. (Be sure to install the Adobe Acrobat updates if you don't have 'em to avoid the Marvel watermark across each page.) This 11 CD package is out of print, but I found it at the list price at Jim Hanley's Universe in New York City; you may be able to find it at your local comic shop as well. There's a new version coming out soon too which brings the series up to 2006 and 575 comics on a single DVD-ROM, and there are Avengers and X-Men versions as well. These won't replace the classic floppy comics, but if you want an affordable way to get a large chunk of Spidey at once, fire up that computer!

24 Hour Comics Reviewing Day, Hour Eleven: Spider-Man Collectible Series #7

Spider-Man Collectible Series #7SPIDER-MAN COLLECTIBLE SERIES #7: This comic is fun. If you have a good memory that hasn't been addled by too many candy beans, you might 'member that a few weeks back I picked up one of the free Spider-Man half-a-comic-books inserted weekly into newspapers around the country (mine: The New York Daily News, the only newspaper that smells like Cindy Adams's perfume). This series has been reprinting, half an issue at a time, the first Lee/Ditko Spider-Man comics. Due to non-existent promotion on the covers of the papers, I've missed several issues, but serendipity (and someone leaving their paper on the F train) sent the second half of Amazing #3's Doc Ock debut. Incidentally, one of the questions I had in my original column was answered with this issue: yes, they are creating new covers for the second halves of these split issues. It still preserves that Silver Age bombastic charm, however, since the new cover completely reprints the caption and word balloons from the original cover that was reprinted last week. Golly, deja vu!

Of course if you think I'm gonna say anything other than the Lee/Ditko Spidey being fun, you've got another think comin', oh yes! These stories are simple but not simplistic, emotional but not maudlin. It features one of the first (not the first) crossovers between Marvel magazines, establishing the concept of the shared Marvel Universe (and thus inadvertently eventually giving birth to Civil War) when Johnny Storm makes a speech at Peter Parker's high school:

A panel from ASM #3
Yep, that's right, Johnny...blame a math mistake on former jet pilot and crack navigator Ben Grimm.

A panel from ASM #3
Long before Mister T, the Human Torch enforces the idea to be cool, stay in school.

A panel from ASM #3
In the best Stan Lee comeback tradition, this inspires Spidey to go off after Doc Ock again. (Apparently, The Thing has also been teaching spelling at Midtown High.)

A panel from ASM #3
Remember the days when a flying guy in the Marvel Universe was still beyond the belief of most normal people? Personally, I blame Thor for ruinin' that for everybody.

A panel from ASM #3
A gorgeous dynamic Ditko panel. Blow one of his panels like this up to wall size and it truly puts Lichtenstein to shame.

A panel from ASM #3
Another fantastic panel...seriously, there's no shading better than those early Ditko Spideys.

A panel from ASM #3
Here's something I'd forgotten about those first batch of Spider-Man stories. In this issue, as well the Vulture in #2, Spidey triumphs not by using brute force but by using his brain and his science skills. I kinda miss that quirky unique aspect of Peter Parker: Spider-Man: science hero.

A panel from ASM #3
"Shoot first and ask questions later?" Ah, so they work for Janet Reno.

A panel from ASM #3
Finally, everyone at the end has learned a lesson, except "2 + 2 = 3" Johnny Storm, who flames on in a hotel room next to the curtains.

They don't make 'em like that, anymore? Luckily for all of us, they reprint 'em. Not only is the price right, the comics are sublime.

24 Hour Comics Reviewing Day, Hour Ten: Ultimate Spider-Man #100

Ultimate Spider-Man #100ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #100: This comic is not fun. I'm gonna be blunt: I got more joy and thrills out of the reprint of Amazing Spider-Man #87 in that Stan Lee comic than I did in this ultimate-sized 100th issue of Ultimate Spider-Man, and I genuinely enjoy and like USM. I don't often review the series here in Comics Oughta Be Fun because the swift-to-trade publishing programming means I can save some of my hard-earned dimes by "waiting for the trade." I actually do like the modern teen Spidey and his heroic and romantic problems, and I've peeked in on the last few issues of this storyline enough to know that this is a much better Clone Saga than the original, but this one-hundredth issue was nothing more than a big disappointment and a bit of a sour taste to me. It read so swiftly (to be honest, many decompressed Ultimates do read pretty fast) that I didn't feel I got my money's worth. More important, it didn't wrap up the story. I know I'm spoiled by the classic idea that an anniversary issue finishes off a storyline, but it's seldom I get to the end of a comic and say "that's it?" as I did here. I didn't care for the portrayal of Aunt May as a fed-up, venomous "had enough" personality who would toss out Peter with a scream. And most of all, I didn't like that in his own hundredth issue, Spider-Man is reduced to doing nothing but talking and reacting. Where's the fight? Where's the action? Where's a Spider-Man who battles his problems instead of sniveling about them? Not here, that's for sure. He might show up in the next issue or the one after that, but I don't know if I'll be pickin' that issue up. The issue's padded with sketchbooks, history, and a pointless four page preview of an X-Men book that has already shipped. What I thought was gonna be a fun issue in a generally entertaining series really disappointed me. It'll read a lot better in the trade, sure. But there's nothin' classic about this issue on its own.

24 Hour Comics Reviewing Day, Hour Nine: Stan Lee Meets the Amazing Spider-Man

Stan Lee/Spider-ManSTAN LEE MEETS THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN: This comic is fun. Yeah, yeah, I know it's not considered cool to be a Stan Lee fan anymore, is it? But I still like the guy a lot: he's the bombastic uncle we all wish we had, and while you can scold him for takin' more credit than he might be entitled to, I got no personal quibbles with Smilin' Stan. That's why this first in a series commemorating Stan's sixty-fifth anniversary writing comics is a goofy, boisterous breath of fresh air: a forgivable horn-tooting homage to the former Mister Lieber. This comic's just about as clear a definition of "fun" as this little stuffed bull can make: a quartet of short stories celebrating Stan's place both in and for the Marvel Universe. The first is a lovely little silly vignette of Spidey himself dropping in on a cookie-bakin' Stan to help cope with a crisis of faith—who better to get you over the web-slinging blues than Stan, who (in a rare moment of modern Marvel tweaking itself) points out that Spider-Man isn't just important as a hero but as a marketable character who's "Single-handedly keeping our economy afloat!" The second story's my favorite: at an interdimensional comic-con we learn that there's really only one (or two) true Stan Lees. (The mock-up covers of comics from a Stan-less universe are worth the price of admission alone: from The Normal Four contemplating an empty pothole that doesn't hold a Mole Man monster at all to the Punisher laying down the line about not making your bed.)The third is a two-piece humor piece by Fred Hembeck and the issue wraps up with a reprint of one of Stan's classic Spider-Man tales (Amazing #87). Sure, it's shameless backpatting and the joke might run thin after three or four more issues of Marvel heroes meeting Stan, but it's done with a light and goofy self-deprecating touch that wouldn't have been outta place in the Golden Age of Stan Lee Marvel cameos. Face front, true believers!

24 Hour Comics Reviewing Day, Hour Eight: Heroes for Hire #2

Heroes for Hire #2HEROES FOR HIRE #2: This comic is fun. I must be a little buzzed on candy beans, because here's the second Civil War tie-in in a row that I've actually been enjoying (To be fair, many of the tie-ins have been more logical and less laughable than the main event itself). A thorough mix of serious drama and light comedy distinguishes this issue which guest-stars the stubborn, stubborn figureheads of both sides of the Superhero Registration Debate Head-Butting, Iron Man and Captain America, cementing the importance of level-headed freelance heroes in the middle of the conflict, even if those heroes are a group of loosely-banded "second tiers." There's a lovely Defenders vibe going on here with the oil-and-water mix of the Heroes for Hire, from placidly zen Shang-Chi to Humbug, so properly awed in the presence of Cap that he gives him a salute. There's at least a half dozen beautifully human moments like this in this book, from the genuine concern of Misty over the safety of Luke Cage and Jessica Jones to Misty's disbelief when a conversation turns to the Skrull Kill Krew. It's about as fitting and logical a segment of the Civil War tapestry can be, although it's unfortunate the rather generic-looking CW tie-in cover can't capture the goofy wonder of the seventies inherent in both the line-up and the plot twist at the end of this story: Stan or Marv or Len or Roy would captioned the cover as "Which one of the Heroes for Hire will betray the team?" and make this issue one you just gotta pick up a read. You still should; don't let the pictorial half-n-half cover fool ya—it's about as solid a celebration of the spirits of the original Heroes for Hire and Daughters of the Dragon comics as you're gonna get anywhere in the Marvel Universe.

24 Hour Comics Reviewing Day, Hour Seven: Amazing Spider-Man #535

Amazing Spider-Man #535AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #535: This comic is fun. What's that? Bully giving a fun rating to a Civil War tie-in? What's going on here? What kind of topsy-turvy world is this? Black is white and up is down and butter is margarine! What's going on here? Well, Peter finally is as mad as heck and not takin' it any more is what happened, it is! Somebody at my local comic book store said they were glad that Spider-Man finally "grew a pair" which kinda made me scratch my little stuffed-fulla-beans head an' puzzled me no end. I looked though the entire comic several times and I don't see Spider-Man growing two of anything. He does sprout those creepy mechanical stingers that Iron Man whipped up in the lab for him, but I count three o' those, not two. So that bemuses me. But what delights me is the tipping point of the Parker/Stark relationship in which Peter simply can't stand back and watch Tony and Reed act so out of character even one more issue. There's some delightfully in character work here on Peter as his first thoughts are to ensure the safety of May and M.J. (although maybe he mighta had better timing so as to wait until they actually were safe before he went barreling armor-first into his boss), and it's a wonderful leap to your hooves, cheering out loud moment when Spider-Man stops being a pawn and starts acting according to his conscience and his heart. I still argue that Iron Man and Mister Fantastic (whose flashback seems so non-canon it's suspicious) are presented so OOC that golly, it better be the Space Phantom or Psycho-Man pulling the strings, but thank you, Marvel, for at least and at last giving Webhead a conscience and the impetus to act on it. You go, Spidey! Give him a punch for me.

24 Hour Comics Reviewing Day, Hour Six: 52 Week 21

52 Week 2152 WEEK 21: This comic is fun. I'm a little buzzed on candy beans right now, but you guys might remember better than I do if a few hours ago I mentioned that I enjoy it when comics portray heroes as competent and professional, even if they are former Robins like Dick Grayson. The same holds in this week's 52 when the Teen Titans face off against Luthor's "Infinity, Inc." Hey, the cover of the comic knows that I asked for Infinity, Inc. Get out of my head, Dan Didio! Get out of my head! (You can stay, Grant Morrison). In this case, Beast Boy is portrayed as being a worthy and competent leader of the Titans, speaking with logic and care to Natasha. It's precisely the opposite of the problem I had in the Natasha storyline earlier: the ridiculous avoidance of a logical conversation between Steel and his niece. It's always nice to see characters acting like human beings, even if they are colored green. The additional new members of the Teen Titans are also a highlight, even if the surprise was kinda spoiled a week or so back in the Titans comic itself. I'm wasn't certain how I felt about the Teen Titans consisting of young versions of iconic DCU characters until I saw the care given to and distinctive voices and personalities of the New Titans, especially bubble-blowin' Little Barda and imperious Zatara. Bonus points for some other bits in this issue as well: Ralph's clever if ruthless use of gingold, a poignant and well-written funeral scene, and the quirky twist (ah ha ha) to Red Tornado on the last page. A little less than halfway through its run, 52 has dozens of subplots and juggled balls tossed up in the air; I hope the wrap-ups of each of these will be as clever and neat as the set-up, because I'm digging the mosaic nature of this series as one of the best explorations of a large variety of formerly second-level heroes coming into their iconic own.

24 Hour Comics Reviewing Day, Hour Five: Eternals #4

Eternals #4ETERNALS #4: This comic is sorta fun. It's prob'bly the price you usually pay for a miniseries: at least one of the issues just past the middle slows the pace down in preparation for bringing everyone on stage for the big finishing Cossack number. Eternals #4 suffers a bit from having to serve as a massive infodump for the series: a large majority of this issue consists of Sprite explaining the backstory. It's still beautifully drawn (golly, I really do enjoy John Romita Jr.'s work), and as usual, Neil Gaiman could make a retelling of the phone book lyrical and subtle, but what might read as a natural ebb in a trade paperback's story arc is, in a single pamphlet issue, a kinda screeching halt to one of the more inventve modern twists on Jack Kirby's classic characters. Check back next month to see if the pace picks up again: I have the feeling issue #4 is best read as part of a whole, so I'll give this a cautious look and a "can do better" grade. Certainly the last page seems to suggest more action and less picnic talk for issue #5.

24 Hour Comics Reviewing Day, Hour Four: She-Hulk #12

She-Hulk #12SHE-HULK #12: This comic is fun. She-Hulk continues to be one of my favorite monthly Marvel Universe comics: it not only provides me with my minimum monthly requirement of the pure, undiluted fresh-squeezed "fun" that I'm always talkin' about, but it's one of the best celebrations of the history, diversity, and possibilities inherent in the various characters and eras of the Marvel Universe. Even the covers have vastly improved over the past several months: while I still wince a little when I see Greg Horn's kinda-rubbery-slick She-Hulk, at least the pin-up covers have been replaced by slightly more representative images. And hey, Mister Horn, I'll give you this: the clothing actually looks like it "works" on this cover! That said, this issue picks up on several of the cosmic threads from earlier in this run, which isn't my favorite focus of this book: I prefer the concept of Jen on Earth, interacting with heroes and villains of Marvel-New York wandering through her law offices. The cosmic storylines that rounded off the last several issues of Volume One actually lost me for a while, so while I'm interested to see where Slott is going with the Starfox trial storyline, I'm hoping it wraps up in an issue or two so we can get back to Earth. And since I always appreciate a nice book-ending twist, there's a dandy of a revelation about the origin of Thanos that plunks down in front of us on the very last page: the kind of aspect of a fun comic that makes me say "I gotta read the next issue!" But I sure do hope we're not in for six months of Jen in Space.

24 Hour Comics Reviewing Day, Hour Three: Bart Simpson's Treehouse of Horror #12

Bart Simpson's Treehouse #12BART SIMPSON'S TREEHOUSE OF HORROR #12: This comic is sorta fun. Bongo's annual Halloween Simpsons comic, like the Simpsons Halloween TV episode itself, stretches the definition of a regular story by presenting a trilogy of terror: fantastic and out-of-this-world twisted versions of our favorite yellowbellies. The comic goes one better by turning over the creative reigns to famous comics creators: this year's annual contains stories by Kyle Baker (Plastic Man, The Bakers, Nat Turner), Terry Moore (Strangers in Paradise) and Eric Powell (The Goon). The artwork in a Treehouse annual is therefore purposefully off-model, leading to purposefully nightmarish-looking Simpsons characters. The twisted and distinctively different art is a clever touch: Moore's Homer is a wonderful cross between the usual cartoon Homer but with a vaguely flabby heftyness that actually looks more realistic despite its frantic design. Powell's visual shadows and dramatic cues are perfect for a tale of Willie's obsession with his mail-order emu, and Baker's Simpsons are rubbery and antic in a way that takes the normal design and cranks them up on caffeine. (I especially loved the Keane-eyed Maggie begging for a bedtime tale of fairies.) Where the trio of tales doesn't quite deliver for me is the lack of humor: the stories more often go for the weird, macabre, or moody rather than actual gags. I usually laugh out loud at least a few times during a Simpsons comic; Treehouse #12 had a few chuckles mainly because of character design or beat timing rather than actually funny line. Comedy's always hard, even on Halloween: this Simpsons special has a dynamically different and creepy look to it, but it doesn't deliver the caramel apple goodness of a few bellylaughs I was hoping for.

Speaking of sweet, sweet treats, it's time for another thing of candy beans!

24 Hour Comics Reviewing Day, Hour Two: Batman #657

Batman #657BATMAN #657: This comic is fun. Fun yeah, but boy oh boy, does the aptly named Damien ever need a good spankin'. "Batman and Son" continues with a new guest at Wayne Manor and in the Batcave, and I can tell you, Batman, that I'd definitely be a better and more polite little guest to you and Alfred and Robin than bratty Damien is. (Say, you don't think that name is symbolic or anything, do ya?) Grant Morrison continues to impress me with this back-to-basics Batman saga with a new twist, spiked with solid, dynamic art by Andy Kubert, tongue-in-cheek black humored dialogue and a genuinely chilling cliffhanger ending. Plus, the giant penny makes a splash page appearance...any Batman story that remembers the giant penny is tops in my book! My favorite part, however, is the time and attention Bruce gives in informing Tim Drake what's going on and even his misgivings at the situation. That's about as back to basics Batman as you can get: Batman and Robin as partners, as friends, as trusted allies, and that's an element that's been missing from Batman comics until recently. I'm a very pleased little stuffed bull to see it come back. But seriously, Bruce...spare the bat-paddle, spoil the bat-child, huh?

24 Hour Comics Reviewing Day, Hour One: Action Comics #843

24 Hour Comics DayI'm back home in Brooklyn from my Seattle trip (among the highlights: deep-fried olive poppers! Taking advantage of the autumn sale at the REI Flagship Store! Getting an advance glimpse of Fantagraphics's so-gorgeous it'll make you plotz Popeye Vol. 1!) just in time for 24 Hour Comics Day, where hundreds of talented and swift comics creators work to turn out a complete comics piece in the same amount of time it takes Jack Bauer to save the world.

I'm not gonna create a 24-hour comic. A) Marshall took some of my crayons (give me back my burnt sienna now!) and B) I have no art talent whatsoever. But what I am is behind on my comics reviewing, so let's take advantage of the fact that I've got a big stack o' comics, an open keyboard, and big steaming-hot cup of Starbucks coffee beside me. I will review one comic each hour, until this stack is finished or I am issued a cease-and-desist by Scott McCloud for twisting the original intent of 24 Hour Comics Day. Also, after I finish each review, I will eat an entire thing of candy beans.

So, as Miss Fergie told me before she headed off to London, let's get it started in here!

Action #843ACTION COMICS #843: This comic is fun. The conclusion to Kurt Busiek’s Auctioneer trilogy is a little less adrenaline-packed than the very fun #842, but this is still one of the more entertaining Superman stories I’ve read in a while: Superman leads an ersatz Justice League in escaping the electronic captivity of the Auctioneer’s ship, throwing some dandy highlights on guest stars like Live Wire, Nightwing and the new Aquaman and Firestorm. What I like best about this issue is the solid mix of action (that’s apt for this comic!) and characterization: Nightwing, for example, comes off more competent and distinctive than he’s been written in his own book for quite some time (proving there’s nothing wrong with the character, so put down that guillotine with Dick Greyson’s name on it, huh, Dan Didio?) Supes proves he’s not only the Real Deal of Steel but also a natural, inspirational leader in this storyline, which is exactly where I like seeing DC’s leading hero: at the forefront of his peers but fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with them. Kurt Busiek has a solid handle on Superman’s humanity and smarts, and the dangling plotlines (who’s the third Kryptonian? What’s that approaching ship after?) show an almost Stan Lee-level skill in keeping me interested in what’s happening in the next issue. So not only is this a Superman I can look up to, it’s a Superman I wanna look back in on. Hooray! And now, a thing of candy beans! Mmmmm, candy beans.

What the Sam Scratch is goin' on here?!? #12

Fun and Games magazine #5
Fun and Games Magazine #5, January 1980

Monday, October 02, 2006

Can of Cream of Mushroom Soup.

We'll Bull Right Back!

Off to Seattle for a few days to help out John sell fabulous Norton books to the good folks at Back by the weekend, Bully fans—be good to yourselves and each other.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Seven and a half things Very Good Things about the new Legion cartoon.

LSH Animated

The animated Legion of Super Heroes show premiered last Saturday on the Kid's WB (hey! how can you have a Kid's WB when there isn't a WB anymore?) and already you can count this little flight-ring wearin' bull among its fans for several reasons:

1. The potential for rotating team members. The producers and writers of the show keep the concept smart but flexible: the opening credits feature eight team members (ten if you count Triplicate Girl three times) which is an easy-to-follow and distinctive group, each of which adds a uniqueness to the team both in powers and visuals. Much like the original Legion charter that prohibited members from having identical powers, it's smart in TV terms to restrict the main Legion team to these core members—it makes it easier to follow and keep track of the team members for new viewers who know nothing of the Legion. But the LSH isn't just eight members, it's a legion, and the show doesn't ignore that, it celebrates it: the Levitz-era Legion tracking board symbols for many different members (including Chemical King, Shadow Lass, Ferro Lad, Karate Kid, Ultra Boy, Chameleon Boy, and Matter-Eater Lad) are included in the opening credits...
LSH Animated

...Vi, Cos, and Colossal Boy are namechecked as being "on assignment" in the first episode, Timber Wolf joins in the second episode, and during his swearing-in Cosmic Boy, Blok, Element Lad, Colossal Boy, Dream Girl, Sun Boy, Shrinking Violet...and is that Mon-El?...are seen on monitors. So, like Justice League Unlimited, if your favorite hero isn't included, there's always the chance he or she or even it might pop up in a future episode. I've got high hopes for an episode featuring my fave, Matter-Eater Lad, but for the moment I'm pretty chuffed that this LSH features...

2. Bouncing Boy! Although Chuck Taine was a supporting cast member in the mid-1990s reboot of the LSH, Bouncing Boy hasn't been an active Legion member or character since his wedding in 1974's Superboy #200. That's a long, long time to wait for the dynamic return of one of the most unique and fun characters in Legion lore, and TV is the perfect medium to re-introduce him: his power is fun and dynamic on the screen, and sets him apart from the other Legionnaires both in visual appearance and cheerful optimistic attitude. I know he's not the most popular of Legionnaires, but he has his fans, so I knew he come...ah ha ha...bouncing back someday. Never thought it would take a cartoon series to give him the prominence and respect he deserves, even in the powerhouse Legion that includes Kal-El. Which brings me to...

3. Superboy back in the Legion again. Sure, they call him "Superman" in the show, but you ain't fooling me: that's Superboy. No doubt the rights battle over Superboy determined this decision, but it seems a cheap legal trick and distinction: can you actually legally claim that a teenaged Clark Kent, surrounded by Boys, Lads, and Kids, and who starred in a Legion comic book series for years as Superboy, actually be Superman? But heck, I've leave that up to the lawyers as long as it gives us the familiar red-yellow-and-blue flying alongside the Legion again, for the first time (Kon-El not withstanding) since the late 1980s. It's not only a lovely callback to the origins of the Legion series, but it makes perfect dramatic sense: Clark is our everyman character from our own time, our surrogate in the 31st century. We can see this brave new world through his own X-Ray eyes at the same time he teaches these future teens about the joys of 21st century slang. And the lovely subtle idea of Clark not donning the S-shield until he steps into the future preserves the "no tights, no flights" concept behind Smallville and the Superboy-less post-Crisis continuity. And speaking of timelost characters returning to their roots...

4. Booster Gold? Who's that oh-so-familiar 31st century janitor (and his robot sidekick?) working in the background of the Superman Museum?:
LSH Animated

It's just a quick glance, but it's enough to let us know the creators of the show are aware of and reverent of DC Universe history. It might not lead into a story or any other appearance by Michael and Skeets, but it's a "hey, look!" moment that rewards the fans and shows the care and attention the design of this series is getting. Which brings up the subject of...

5. The look of the series. In addition to that familiar janitor, the main room of the Superman Museum is ringed with oversized displays of Superman in action. Action Comics, to be precise: many of the pictures and displays reference famous comic book covers.
LSH Animated

It's a fast, swift visual reference that sweeps past and won't be caught by new viewers, but for us LSH fans, it's a delightful little Easter Egg. The care and attention to the look and design of the show carries over in elements that reference classic continuity but are updated with a visual wink to the originals: the Legion cruiser, the spaceship-lookin' Legion Headquarters, the monitor boards featuring the classic "roll call" symbols of the 1980s LSH. The characters are sharp and distinct and designed to actually look like teenagers: muscular but angular, with bodies that haven't quite stopped growing: an immediate visual shorthand for "yes, these are kids!" I like the look and design of the characters a lot: there's a homage to the reboot Legion with the flavor of the original Legion and even a few elements from different eras (the look of Timber Wolf especially owes a good deal to his Five Years Later character, even including the Furball design). I like the look of Legion of Super Heroes a lot more than that of The Batman, which redesigned characters with little regard for previous continuity. Which brings me to...

½: Brainiac 5's redesign. This is the "and a half," because I'm still not 100% convinced of it, but seeing the series changed my mind from "that's wrong!" to "hmmm, that kinda works." A first glance at the advance art for the series had me (and prob'bly more obsessive LSH fans) blinking in surprise and not-quite approval at the redesign of Brainy as a cyborg (or robot?) with extendable, Machine Man-esque limbs. But seeing the character in action goes a long way towards reassuring me it's a workable concept: they haven't turned Brainy into Plastic Man, and more important, it's a change that actually has some basis in the mythology of the DC Animated Universe: since Brainy's ancestor Brainiac was a Kryptonian electronic construct, why shouldn't Brainy be one as well, even if he's a good one? It's an interesting progression that gives B5 more of an action-orientation: instead of cowering behind the force field of the comics, this Brainy is out slugging villains with the rest of the Legion. Plus, his famed twelfth-level intellect isn't ignored, and I like that he's designed to be smaller and slighter than the other Legionnaires. After all...don't computers tend to get smaller in the future? And if he is an electronic being, that's a lovely and optimistic view of the 31st century that even an artificial being has rights and is worthy of being in the Legion. Which brings me to...

6. Being in the Legion is a revered honor. Both episodes have featured dramatic scenes where new members are sworn in and given their Legion flight ring and belt, moments justly focused with importance, respect, and tradition: lovely dramatic moments that clearly display the respect and honor these future teens have for their calling. It's not just fun (though it is that), it's not just an adventure (although it definitely is)'s an honor. Or, as the Legion oath recited by Timber Wolf puts it:
To the Legion of Super Heroes, I make this solemn pledge: to use my powers for good, to fight for justice, and protect the innocent, to aid my fellow Legionnaires in times of peril, and to keep their secrets safe.
Well, it's no "In brightest day, in blackest night..."...but that's a stirring oath, isn't it? And finally...

7. The chance that we'll see a Legion Adventures animated-style comic book. Let's face it: Batman Adventures and its sequels were among the best Batman comic books put out in recent years. Superman Adventures preserved the fun and continuity of the Superman mythos while the regular books were tearing it down for stunt sales, and the Justice League Unlimited comic is frequently more fun and accessible than the regular JLA book. I know the current Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes book has its fans, but it hasn't really caught my interest. I'm excited, however, about the possibility that if this show is a hit, DC will produce an animated-style tie-in comic. Maybe it'll bring fans of the TV series into comic book stores as a first jump to the long-historied and wonderfully rich world of the Legion. Maybe it'll make a few new comic book fans out of viewers. And that, everybody, is a Very Good Thing indeed. Long Live the Legion!

Ten of a Kind: In your eyes, I see the doorway to a thousand heroes

Hey, if that's a reflection, why isn't Robin's insignia reversed?

Hey, if that's a reflection, why isn't Superman's insignia reversed?

Hey, if that's a reflection, why isn't Daredevil's, never mind.

(More Ten of a Kind here.)