John Buys Comics, Fights His Way Back From Alternate Timeline, Defeats Evil Self

I’m… I’m going to put my Blackest Night review at the end, okay? Just read the first part if you got enough of that last week.

Mysterius the Unfathomable 

Yep, this trade totally came out last week, but I got it yesterday. I don't know if I missed it or it was on a slow comic delivery boat or what. Maybe I'm just a terrible person.

Mysterius the Unfathomable is simply a delightful comic. It's full of fun characters and crazy monsters, big-bellied men and hippy women (and women who are hippies), and a plot that worked well when it was told in individual issues and even better as a unified whole. Every event in the story ties back into the main plot, but not obviously, not insultingly, and even better: in a way that is explained early on in issue 1. 

So, yeah, this is an amazing comic. It looks incredible, rewards careful rereading, features a main character who is a Bastard With a Deeply-Buried Heart of Gold (one of my favourite archetypes) and has a sidekick/conscience who isn't just a horrible whining guilt-tripper (also good). Plus, Seuss-analogue-as-demonologist Dr Gaust and his cadre of Hellmoggin are the most entertaining antagonists that I've encountered in a very long time.

It's just pure good times, is what it is. 

Astro City: The Dark Age Book 4 No. 3 – Holy moley. The Dark Age is over as of next month. While I am completely sure that the world is divided up into people who have read the whole thing and people who couldn’t give a dang, I’ll probably write a lot about the whole thing next issue. For now I just have to say that the payoff on being an Astro City fan is enormous. The Pale Horseman was mentioned in “Confession", what? Twelve years ago? Just one line from one angry old hippy way back when and now he’s on a cover, and I’m dang certain that Busiek had at least part of this planned out when he was writing that hippy’s dialogue. If you’re a continuity junkie but are disenchanted with Marvel and DC: here’s the book for you.

Adventure Comics No. 9 – Man, the retro cover design that this book has been rocking doesn’t really work with every art style, does it? Especially with that child-frighteningly hideous Superman in the middle of things. Bright and clean folks, bright and clean. As for the inside of the book: meh. It looks okay and reads okay, but it’s partially the Legion in the 31st Century, partially Superboy and the Legion Espionage Squad on New Krypton in the 21st Century and partially Project 7734 bullplop. I’ll be interested to see what’s done with this comic once the Superman Family books calm down, but until then it’s necessarily going to be tepid, as only a book that has been shoehorned into an event but has no actual stake in the event can be.

Blackest Night No. 8

Look, I’m going to spoil this, okay? I’m already breaking last week’s promise not to do this any more, so why not go whole hog?

So, Blackest Night happened. A big ol’ crossover, yup. And man, was it terrible.

Not that the ideas behind it didn’t have merit: why do people keep coming back to life? (wasn’t it because Kid Eternity was jammed in the door to the afterlife?) What are the consequences of all of those people coming back to life, other than Kid Eternity being uncomfortable? Why can’t we set up a page where we make a huge unintentional joke about how most of the DCU super-heroes are Caucasian?

Heck, a lot of the thing looked really pretty, and the weird aliens were suitably weird (although there was no panel that featured the just-a-big-head guys from the Red and Green Lantern Corps standing next to each other, and that made me sad) and I like the possibilities inherent in the various Lantern Corps. 

But this was interminable and about two-thirds of it was full of gut-wrenchingly, melodramatically awful writing - Green Lantern Corps was fun throughout. It may have been due to the fact that whatever Johns had worked out ahead of time and meticulously set up was smeared across the entire DCU instead of being confined to three series, but looking back on the whole sad shebang the overwhelming impression is of forced improvisation, like he had a starting point and an endpoint and was just filling pages until the requisite number of issues were scripted: an issue of characters figuring things out, one of gathering up Deputy Lanterns (and how supremely helpful they were!), tiny victory, huge setback, tiny victory, huge setback etcetera etcetera etcetera ad nauseam barf.

Actually, I was going to say something about how it was like the end of Crisis on Infinite Earths in that regard, but on further reflection I realized that this series was actually opposite of that one: the universe is now much more complicated, some super-heroes have come back to life and the Anti-Monitor is on the loose. Sadly, it lacked the two elements that made Crisis worth reading: Perez art and novelty. Oh, and necessity, or at least perceived necessity. Even the caveat at the end about how people won’t be coming back to life any more essentially means nothing, because the very fact that people were brought back provides a reason for every dead character ever to no longer be so: they were White Lanterned. Ralph and Sue Dibny won’t be coming back and that’s it.

And there were just too many stupid moments: the Black Lanterns’ dialogue. The Deputy Lanterns, (except for Scarecrow, but exactly how necessary was he?). Having most of the event happen on Earth. Bringing back characters (Martian Manhunter, Captain Boomerang) in idealized, not-at-all-what-they-looked-like-when-they-died form. Bringing back Reverse-Flash at all, since that a) undoes the end of just-finished, written-by-the-same-guy Flash: Rebirth and b) Implies that Flash actually killed him at the end. Or maybe c) this takes place before that series and Barry Allen is going straight from this incredibly life-affirming moment to a period of awful, whiny angst.

But of course the stupidest thing is the entire concept of the White Light of Life and the White Lantern Corps. People have been making jokes about White Lanterns for about two years because it’s the most dumb, obvious end to this story imaginable. Especially because the second most obvious end, which is Hal Jordan putting on all seven rings and using them to generate white light and smash Nekron, would actually be kind of cool. Heck, it would at least justify the Hal Jordan lust amongst the various Corps.

*looks at cover* Oh, hey, Sinestro wears his ring on his left hand. Clever!

Johnathan and Blackest Night No. 8: BEST FRIENDS

I'm shelving the rest of my reviews this week and retracting all of my earlier bitching, because Blackest Night No. 8 is a perfect comic.

We are now BEST FRIENDS. (sorry Jimmy Olsen No. 72)

We're also forming a crime-fighting duo!

Our CLOSE FRIENDSHIP will see us through the ups and downs of investigating the seedy comic book underbelly of my house.

Yes, we truly are BFF.

Blackest Night Cheeses Me Off Again

 I've calmed down since, but I got kind of irritated by a certain aspect of Green Lantern No. 52 earlier today. Let's watch!

Spoilers! Spoilers aplenty! Read no further if you care about such things!

So this is a mostly-talking issue and I’m not too upset about it. There had to be an origin of that white light thing that Sinestro ate in Blackest Night and if it was a bit long, well, that’s kind of what happens when a story is blown up to somewhere between four and ten times the size that it needs to be. Gah, and there’s probably going to be another one of these for Nekron, isn’t there.

So Sinestro stops in the middle of a fight with about a million dudes and narrates the history of the White Light Entity. It goes something like this: the Entity appeared in our universe and created all of the stars and planets and stuff. It then created the Earth at the point in space where it first entered our universe and hid inside (deep within the planets gooey centre in the narration but about a foot below the surface in the actual comic). The Entity’s presence caused life to evolve, and then as creatures start displaying emotions (emotions like willpower!) they are transformed into Ion and Parallax and Predator and so forth, seven in all. I think that this is the origin of the emotional spectrum. Like, Ion is the first anything anywhere to exhibit willpower and afterward there is green light power for all - it's not explicitly stated but it's strongly implied and so I'm going with it.

This whole thing has been bugging me for a while now and I think I’ve figured out why: it’s the Earth-centric aspect of the whole thing, straight out of terrible 50s sci-fi. Where Our Heroes Are is the Most Important Place in All Creation. It’s a perennial problem in comics, especially DC comics, wherein writers feel a perpetual need to explain the remarkably high instance of alien invasion and such. I kind of thought that they settled that problem fine way back in Invasion: humans have a crazy genetic code and so there are lots of superhumans and so alien races want to exploit/conquer/destroy our planet. Simple, and yet every new event seems to layer on another heaping spoonful of importance, until the fictional history of the DCU Earth resembles some ungodly narrative casserole. I swear, if this exact same origin was set on a random alien planet I would have no problem with it, but it isn't and now I have to tear it apart.

Okay, so the timeline goes: Entity arrives - creates universe - creates Earth, hides inside - life starts - unicellular/whale-looking thing feels first will - flying bug thing generates first fear - some other bug (?) feels first love - snake feels first avarice - bull (?) feels first rage - bird feels first hope - octopus feels first compassion.

I guess that this is a comic book and that the Earth could be 10+ billion years old instead of the 4 or 5 we currently reckon it to be, and maybe the universe revolves around a stationary Earth that is certainly not quintillions of kilometers away from where it might have been 10 billion years ago. Maybe the DCU is that radically different than ours.

And maybe the entire Age of Reptiles happened without any creature feeling anything like rage. Maybe dinosaurs went about their business in a dignified manner and didn’t take anything personally. It took the Rise of the Cows to mess things up for everyone. And maybe no living creature in the entire universe felt hope or compassion any time until the last, say, million years or so - remember, that octopus didn’t get around to it until after the cow-murder.

But even if every Green Lantern story told before this whole rainbow brouhaha is now said to be completely apocryphal, there are some holes in this story. Geoff Johns creation Larfleeze the Orange Lantern got his start billions of years ago, all fighting the Guardians and betraying his homies and such. And then billions of years went by and snakes and apples evolved and a snake in an apple tree felt avarice for the first time. Bah.

I suppose that I should be as willing to discard what I know about evolution and such as I was to abandon cosmology and common sense and the prior established history of the Green Lanterns and by extension the DCU, but this last detail pushes things just a bit too far. An earth that is the centre of the universe, that evolved the very first life anywhere and that reached the Age of Mammals something like 10 billion years ago (necessary for anyone to have gotten angry for most of the history of the universe, remember) only to remain in a sort of evolutionary stasis since then is just a bit too much for my suspension of disbelief glands to process. Especially since I just described the planet Malthus, a central element in Green Lantern’s history. There’s already a place that this could have been set that would have made all of this make sense! I mean, it wouldn’t be the greatest story ever told, but by GOD would it be about a billion times more palatable without ERTH ISS COOL AND IMPURTENT scrawled across it in foot-high letters.

Okay, I had to go and do something and I’ve calmed sown a bit. All I’ve got left is that it’s weird that that one robot would know the term “Western Seaboard” and not “Tootsie Pop”. They’re both pretty Earth-colloquial, right?

Okay… nerd rage spent. Go read the rest of the reviews in the next post for me being happy about comics. I'll try not to do this any more.

One Step Away From a Strongly-Worded Email

Okay, it’s time for me to lay down some thoughts now that this thing has been going on for a while. Why isn’t Blackest Night kicking my ass like it should be? I am enjoying it enough to keep buying it, but it’s definitely not my most anticipated comic of the week. Some theories:

1. The Anticipation Factor: I call this “The Matrix 2 Effect” because that’s when I first noticed it. Remember how hard The Matrix rocked us? And how long we waited, our little faces scrunched up, for the next episode? And how it was then decried as THE WORST MOVIE OF ALL TIME? Bushwah. It was an okay movie. The problem was that it wasn’t as good as the original, while in our head it was going to be exponentially better. Similarly, we’ve been waiting for Blackest Night for, what, a year? Year and a half? Coupled with the fact that the Green Lantern stories leading into the whole thing were pretty solid fun, Blackest Night is almost guaranteed to have a hard time being  as awesome as I, personally, was hoping for.

FIRST CONCLUSION: One Year Of Hype Is Too Much Hype.

2. The Trouble With Black Lanterns, Part 1: I started thinking about Blackest Night earlier this week after reading Chris Bird's thoughts on the current state of comics (here they are), among which was the fact that the Black Lanterns are very poorly written (edit: oh dang, he's quoting someone else, isn't he. Well, I still read the quote there). Far from being cunning emotional manipulators who wring every last drop of succulent emotion from their prey, the Black Lanterns (and here I’m going to lift the Mighty God King’s Jim Smith's analogy, because it’s the very best one to use here) sound like fourteen year olds on a message board complaining about a character that they don’t like. It’s just cheap, easy shot after cheap, easy shot. Really, the most effective Black Lanterns so far have been the resurrected villains, because they have the option of a personality and some of them actually have legitimate beefs with the heroes that they are fighting. You know what would be cool? Basically any other villainous archetype, that's what. Like, what if the Black Lanterns retained their old personalities but were compelled to attack their friends - that would be a potentially compelling roller coaster of emotion. Or hell: monosyllabic or completely silent engines of undead destruction. Just shut up Zombie Elongated Man.

Thank you.

SECOND CONCLUSION: Fourteen Year Olds On Message Boards Aren’t Evil, Just Annoying.

3. Let’s Make it a Company-Wide Event!: Remember Sinestro Corps War? Green Lantern event, lasted maybe three months, took place in two regular series and a handful of specials? What a nice little event, yes? Wouldn’t it be nice if Blackest Night had gotten the same treatment instead of sprawling all over space and time? I mean, I'm grateful that DC has stopped the old policy of having events intrude on every single ongoing series, but we don't need to see how every single super-hero deals with the return of his or her dead in excruciating detail.

THIRD CONCLUSION: If You Beat The Horse Before It’s Dead, You Might Just Kill It.

4. The Trouble With Black Lanterns, Part 2: Zombies with power rings should be cooler than these guys are. I mean, I can understand undead super-humans using their old powers, but why the hell is Sue Dibny just slouching around in the background rather than flying around and slinging death beams? Basically the only Black Lantern to do anything remotely interesting is The Ventriloquist, who has been floating along surrounded by a cloud of heavily-armed Scarfaces. GAH!

FOURTH CONCLUSION: Power Rings Ain’t Just Jewelry, Dammit.

5. That Damned Black Lantern Costume: The costume design for the Black Lanterns looks pretty good on paper (uh, I mean writing paper, not comic book paper): the character’s regular costume done up in black, grey and silver with elements of Black Hand’s costume superimposed over top. And sometimes it works, as in Sue Dibny’s simple dress-with-a-logo. Most of the time, though, it’s a recipe for extraordinarily dull and confusing fight scenes. And did you know that Batman has about three hundred dead villains who are basically generic dudes with long hair and knives? I didn’t, until I spent half an hour trying to figure out who the hell they all were.

FIFTH CONCLUSION: Maybe The Black Lantern Corps Needs Nametags, I’m Just Sayin’.

6. What, no Avarice? In Blackest Night: Batman No. 2, up on the roof of the Gotham City Police Department, one of the Generic Long-Haired Undead Batman Villains (dramatically silhouetted for extra identification challenge!) says that they will eat Gotham’s inhabitants, “… savoring the distinct subtleties of the fear, rage, love, compassion and willpower coursing through their souls!” and I’m all like “What, no love for the orange light of avarice?” but then I realized that no, inciting avarice would require some subtlety on the zombies’ part, and they don’t have time for that. All the other emotions could probably be evoked through beating people up and trolling them, after all. But when Black Lantern Jade tried to sex Kyle Raynor up, that worked! That was much more interesting than if she’d moaned at him about how she died instead of him and told him that he was a sucky replacement for Hal! Nuanced behavior on the Black Lanterns’ part might actually make them interesting opponents for a company-wide event! And they have power rings! They have the capacity to create energy constructs! THEY COULD BE FANTASTICALLY EFFECTIVE TEMPTERS AND MANIPULATORS! I think that this might have just become a mashup of points 2 and 4. I don't care, though, because i just pictured a comic in which every beloved dead character in the DCU came back to life at once and everyone was really happy but peril lurked behind their eyes. Oh imagination, thanks for all your help.


SIXTH CONCLUSION: Oh hell, I don't know. Something about not living up to potential or the like. More Larfleeze needed.

Ah well. I'm still enjoying myself, though I can't be sure how much of that is just my enduring love for Where's Waldo attaching itself to my little games of Spot the Zombie. But my joy should be from more than just going "Heh heh, undead Ch'p."

Of course, Geoff Johns has showed a facility for turning a weak story around with a very satisfying ending - see Flash: Rebirth, which hasn't quite ended yet, I guess, but still counts because I want it to - but, well... that doesn't make the story as a whole good. Even if the 80-90% likely victory by Hal Jordan wearing all the different Corps rings is coupled with Sodam Yat returning from the Daxamite sun all supercharged and a possible appearance by benign "at peace" undead like Dove and it's a completely fun, nail-biting, fist-pumping, senses-shattering phantasmagoric thrill-ride, well, that's not going to make the issues that preceded it any better.

So what's the solution? I guess that the only thing that I can do is to stop anticipating anything ever, which might require me to pay even less attention to comics news  than I already do. And we could petition Geoff Johns to retire his "irritating fanboy" character now that Superboy Prime has been locked away. That would be nice.

Anyway, thanks for hanging out with me while I vented my spleen. Go read something that will bring you joy - that's what I'm going to do (if I can find my damn copy of Tales Designed to Thrizzle, that is)

Good afternoon!

In Brightest Day, In Blackest Night, No Comics Shall Escape John's Sight

Hey, I just had a great idea! Next Summer DC could have a big event called Brightest Day, in which everything goes just swell!

Blackest Night: Superman No. 1 (of 3)

Urgh. There’s technical about this comic that renders it any worse than the Batman version last week, but somehow big cosmic-style event stuff happening to Smallville just skeezes me out. Like, Millennium was not by any means a masterpiece but it definitely hit its lowest point when they did the Superman tie-in and were all like “and by the way, there’s a giant Manhunter spaceship right over there and everyone under thirty is a Manhunter and hey, here’s Manhunter Lana Lang!” It just doesn’t work for me - Smallville is a perfect for smaller adventures (alien invasions by five or fewer aliens, theft-based crime, etc) or as a jumping-off point to more exciting places (the future, the past, space, everywhere else) but giganto world-shaking things just don't work as well there. Hell, set two or three modern-style events there and there won’t be a Smallville anymore, just a series of craters and bits of wood.

I’m also having a hard time reconciling this series with the start of Adventure last week. Does this take place beforehand? Is Smallville an idyllic small-town wonderland even after wholesale zombie-slaughter? Or does it take place at the same time and the rest of the Adventure run will mostly feature Superboy rescuing traumatized people who wander out into traffic whilst having flashbacks? Maybe Blackest Night will end up only kind of happening, like Countdown.

Ah well. As I said, it ain’t a bad comic on its technical merits. Of particular note is the effective use of the “Black Lanterns can see your emotions, well, seven of them” convention. Superman’s arm is afraid!

ZOMBIE WATCH: Earth-2 Superman, Earth-2 Lois Lane.

Superman Annual No. 14

Hey, uh, wasn’t the secret origin of Mon-El the top story in the last year's Action Comics annual? I will be highly amused if this is just a reprint of that story. (reads comic)

Okay, it’s okay. This issue was concerned with his secret origin before he touched down in Smallville and is largely focused on reconciling the happy-go-lucky good-time exploratoring Daxamites of Mon-El’s origin story with the xenophobic jerkwads of Sodam Yat’s. And, much like in the old “Hey, why are the Klingons all lumpy-headed in Next Generation when they just had severely receding hairlines before?” question of yore, the answer is basically “Uh, there are two different types. But only one type that we’re going to use from now on.”

Eh, it’s a decent story and a valiant attempt to retcon things so that all of the divergent bits of DC history match up (hey, does this finally remove the Daxamites from the Invasion! equation? Aren’t they the reason that Earth won?), though wouldn’t it have been easier to say that Lar Gand’s spaceship was slower-than-light and that he came from an earlier, more tolerant age on Daxam? Coulda cleared everything up in a couple of panels and devoted the rest of the Annual to him beating up Captain Nazi or someone. I’m just saying, is all.

Batgirl No. 1

I think that the fact that there would be a new Batgirl in this series was pretty broadly telegraphed, right? I'm not going to be surprising anyone by talking about it here? Okay (or SURPRISE!). I was kind of hoping that it would end up being Misfit from Birds of Prey (and will we ever get to find out what her DARK SECRET was?) but bad news: it’s not Misfit.

I guess that my personal code of ethics dictates that I not spill the beans until Issue 2 is already out, but it’s not like it’s hard to figure out - the potential Batgirl pool isn’t terrifically huge. I can’t even think of enough teenage girl martial artists to make an effective joke about someone really unlikely being considered for the job. How old is Judomaster? Or, uh...  Ah well. If it really matters to you, bring it up in the comments section (linkcmeo)

I know that it’s basically a cliché by this point, but the Bat-family is just super reluctant to admit that anybody else is at all capable of being a vigilante in Gotham, based on… the fact that they were there first? (so in a perfect world Alan Scott should be showing up and giving Batman a hard time?) It feels like I’ve read the scene where someone gets home from fighting crime only to have Batman or Robin or whoever show up to give them a a stern talking-to about a million times. They really need to just start assuming that new guys are going to show up every once in a while and have some gift baskets made up. It’s not like trying to dissuade them has ever worked, not even on Nite-wing.

The Red Circle: The Web (One-Shot)

I suspected that this would be the Red Circle comic that I enjoyed the most. So far I’m right, and I don’t think that the Shield is going to knock this one out of the top spot.

Let’s see… the Archie Comics Web was a Batman-style vigilante with a web-gun and (eventually) a disapproving wife. The Impact Web was a SHIELD-style spy organization who kept a beady eyeball on the super-types. This Web is a billionaire industrialist who is driven by dissatisfaction with his life and a desire to do something meaningful to start a website offering up his services as a super-hero. So... Iron Man plus Iron Fist?

I like the idea of a hero who, as the Web does, focuses on helping folks with day-to-day stuff rather than haring off after alien invasions and so forth, as DC heroes so frequently end up doing (heck, Mr Grim n' Gritty Street Crime himself got killed by the eye-beams of a semi-dead alien god). There should really be half a dozen of these guys per city, just busting muggers 24/7. Just like, some big guy with a wrench who you get in touch with through a number you find written on a phone booth wall and you have to buy him a sandwich to help you.

Power Girl No. 4 - Man, how’d I miss that Terra miniseries last year? I have to assume that she was just as fun there as she is here and kick myself a little for having missed it (I don’t think that there’s a non-creepy-sounding way to say this, but the fact that she takes her pants off as a substitute for having her costume with her is pretty adorable. But not creepy-adorable, I swear. Look, just read it and see what I mean). Guess I know where some of my nickels are going next week. As for the issue: yeah! More one-off (kinda) issues where PG’s life and supporting cast get built up! More of that cat! This is a good time!

The Brave and the Bold No. 26 - Man, I don’t know anything about Xombi. I gather that he’s some sort of techno-immortal and that he spends a lot of time getting involved with the supernatural, but that’s about it. Anyway, yeah. Xombi and the Spectre team up to fight a ghostly serial killer. Also, the Spectre was the one who made him a ghost, oops. I liked this one - decent story, nice art and colours, lotsa ghosts. I was, however, left with one important question: is the Spectre allowed to shave? Because man, that goatee looked pretty dapper on Crispus Allen but is not doing a thing for everyone’s favourite spirit of vengeance.

Atomic Robo: The Shadow From Beyond Time No. 4 (of 5) - Weep with me, for this latest Atomic Robo miniseries is almost over. Cheer with me, as Robo and Carl Sagan team up to capture and study the latest iteration of the creature that ate HP Lovecraft’s head. Laugh with me, because this is a damn funny comic, with some very good tough-guy lines from Sagan in particular. Fret with me, because another month must pass before we can find out how this whole thing ends.

North 40 No. 2 - I know, I know, it came out a couple of weeks ago. I missed it then, though, which is a shame because this is still a damn fine comic. I get the feeling that it’s going to be really satisfying to read a whole lot of this story at a time, so everybody be sure to buy lots of ‘em, if not for me and my need for this series to continue then for the entertainment value of watching a guy with a whole lot of extra eyes drink lots of coffee.

Superman/Batman No. 63 - Yeah, Dave really did a number on me. I can’t resist this damn comic. Now I’ve got like sixty back issues to check out. The man is a master salesman!

Viking No. 3 - Vikings. Gratuitous sex and violence. Adorable kittens. Is this something that you can afford to miss?

Invincible No. 65 - And we're back to lots of interesting stuff happening in Invincible! Hope it keeps up for a little while, as constant bloody fighting was fun but not as fun as constant bloody world-building. Also, lots of hate mail about the "death" of Atom Eve. Also also, Atom Eve all but explicitly states that she made her boobs bigger when she put herself back together, and that's creepy.

I also picked up The Complete K Chronicles this week, though the indicia says that it was released in 2008, so that’s not exactly a new release. Still: a super fun comic and a steal at 25 bucks for, like, 500 pages. Now I must wait for more.