The best blog from the best author you've never heard of. Assorted thoughts ranging from comic books to politics. Sometimes I even talk about writing.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Bags & Boards: 11/11/15

National Novel Writing Month is kicking my backside. Last week’s reviews never materialized. And this week’s are late. But, one must soldier on. As always, thanks to Rich and Cougar at Whatever Store for often very good recommendations. Possible spoilers…

Superman American Alien #1
Book of the Week
“When you break something, you’re not just breaking the thing. You’re like…hurting everyone who made it the way it was.”

It’s been said more than once that this isn’t a Superman story. But If the soul of this book lived in Superman comics, I’d probably read more of them.

There have been a lot of Superman origin stories over the years. I’ve never read any of them.  Perhaps some of the themes Landis touches on here have been touched on before. I don’t have a frame of reference for comparison. This first issue sees a very young Clark Kent growing into his powers—in this instance flight—and his parents looking for ways to cope.

There are a lot of fun moments in the book, but there’s a lot of sadness, too. Clark can’t control when he starts floating up, and he’s terrified every time it happens. He can’t navigate—can’t get himself back down. If that wasn’t bad enough, later we see him watching a movie about aliens, and he momentarily faces existential questions of what he is and what people would do to him if they knew he was different. All of this leads not unsurprisingly to Clark wishing he were normal—a sentiment I’d be willing to bet most readers remember from some point in childhood.

Getting almost as much time in the spotlight as Clark are his parents. Jonathon and Martha spend a lot of the issue looking for answers that can help their son. I’d honestly never considered the idea that the Kents would have had to have told the family doctor about Clark—or that the doctor would use a Geiger counter on him. But these moments feel perfectly natural. Jonathon has the harder time with the situation—at first seeming to long for a normal child, even as he adores Clark, before finally turning into the skid and embracing how different his son is. The scenes of Jonathon trying to help Clark learn to fly might be among the most heartwarming I’ve ever read in a comic book.

So what does a kid want when he finally does learn how to fly? He wants to take his family on vacation of course. The last page is Clark spinning off scenario after scenario of where the family can visit because Clark is sure he can be strong enough and fly fast enough to get them there. It’s a great moment not because this is Clark Kent and the reader somehow expects that Clark Kent was always perfect, but because this is a ten year old boy and this is exactly what someone would expect from a ten year old boy.

Lest it feel like I’m ignoring Dragotta’s art, I have to point out his superior work on Clark. The boy who would be Superman is expressive and alive; the moments of elation and heartbreak work not just because of Landis’ story but also because Dragotta can communicate all of that emotion on Clark’s face and in his posture.

I think at this point I’ve gushed enough. This book’s charm isn’t that Landis has retconned some great origin that’s far and away better than any that came before it. The beauty is that Landis and Dragotta have captured a little piece of childhood and, inserting it into the larger Superman mythos, made a basically god-like character as human as every one of his readers.


Airboy #4
Book of the Week Runner-Up
“Something’s resting on my thigh—I can feel it. And it’s not part of me. And it’s not the soap.”

It was going to be hard for any issue to leap past Superman American Alien and nab the top spot, but in an ordinary week this probably would have run away with the gold.

James and Greg get sent off on a mission to blow up a Nazi bridge. It’s a dangerous mission, but Airboy sends them because he and his friends will be up in the air. And because Airboy’s mad at both James and Greg. All goes well. The bridge is blown up. James and Greg wake up in the bathtub and are left to wonder whether it was real or a dream.

Robinson starts the book off with a great moment of uncomfortable humor where he has James and Greg remark on the fashionable nature of the Nazi SS uniforms. I am betting that a lot of readers chuckled, agreed, and then hoped to never think on the topic again.

The meat of the issue is in resolving James’ personal issues—the one that set him on this rollercoaster in the first place. Throughout the series the contrast of James’ indecision and fogged thinking with Airboy’s clear cut purpose offered him a number of opportunities to take stock. But sure enough, as soon as the wild ride is over, he’s back to the coke and the good time, seemingly forgetting the few moments of clarity he had along the way.

I’m not going to speculate how autobiographical this series is (as it pertains to either Robinson’s behavior or his attitude). If he’s commented on it, I don’t really want to know. Whatever the answer, Robinson’s depiction of a man rudderless at sea rings true. And Greg’s speech to James at the end is applicable not just in this over-the-top drug and sex fueled bit of insanity, but in most ordinary circumstances as well. Ambition requires a lot of work. But it also requires getting out of one’s own way. The last panels, close-ups on an old issue of Airboy depicted in the same full color glory that existed only in Airboy’s world, hints that just maybe there is hope for James after all.

The Goddamned #1
Whatever Store Recommendation
“My parents were born into paradise. A place without want. Without death. A perfect garden they could live in for all eternity. It took them a couple weeks to get themselves kicked out.”

Long story short: Cain (from the Bible) has been wandering the planet for 1600 years because he’s cursed by God for killing his brother.

The rest of the issue is violence and profanity. Possibly it’s all just a part of the issue’s overall theme which seems to be a comment on the ugliness of humanity. I really don’t know. The issue’s centerpiece, a fight between Cain and the Bone Boys—a pre-historic gang that thought they’d killed Cain—goes on for so long and is so graphic that somewhere in the middle of it I metaphorically yawned and fell asleep.

Between the issue’s boring violence and non-existent story, it didn’t seem to me like Goddamned had much of an opening salvo to recommend it.

The Rest
“And Rogers’ team is actually the Unity Squad. It occurs to me, Tony…I don’t think there is an Avengers right now.”
We seem to be on a slow burn with Avengers #1 as Waid doesn’t rush to put the team together. The main story here is Spider-Man (Morales), Iron Man, and Captain America squaring off against an angry Chitauri. A backup story gives us the meet-cute team-up of Nova and Ms. Marvel—awkward teens both. Waid spends a quick moment early on with real world implications of Sam Wilson being Captain America. I remarked on the value in these stories in a previous review so I won’t do so again here. I will say that, for me, the ceaseless examples of how Sam Wilson and Steve Rogers are different is becoming distracting. The issue’s chief concern seems to be to establish both that there is no quote-unquote Avengers team at the moment and that Tony Stark is broke (presumably a reminder for anyone not reading the Iron Man books), except that more time is spent making a fuss over Sam Wilson and some girl scouts than over anything that might be plot related. In truth very little happens, and I hope that doesn’t become a theme.

“Flowers are always appropriate for a funeral.”
Tim Drake (and friends) saves Gotham in Batman Beyond #6. And maybe the world? I missed the beginning of this arc, but they sure made the threat out to be pretty dire. Most of the issue is Tim going toe to toe with Brother Eye. A last minute sacrifice by Inque takes down the bad guy. It’s mostly an action issue, but Tim Drake’s self-doubt does make a brief appearance at the end as he questions whether Gotham will ever be his home. I’m looking forward to a new story and experiencing Jurgens’ take on Tim.

“It’s like I’m staring into my own eyes when I was her age. Am I trying to save her…or me?”
There’s already a story of redemption running through Robin Son of Batman; I’m not sure we need the one that seems to kick off in Red Hood & Arsenal #6. Joker’s Daughter pretends to pursue a bounty on Roy and Jason as an excuse to get noticed and recruited. Now Jason, more or less redeemed, has to set a good example for a very broken young woman. I can buy this turn of events, but I’m curious how it will impact the dynamic between Roy—who doesn’t seem all that thrilled about the new employee—and Jason. Jason already suspects Roy’s going through some rough business that he’s keeping secret. As has been the case since I started reading the series, Lobdell keeps the focus on the friendship between Roy and Jason; it’s like a buddy cop movie in comic book form.

“I am betrayed. Again.”
You’d think at a certain point Doom would get used to it. Secret Wars #7 brings us to that point in a major event when it’s pretty much impossible to evaluate an issue on its own merits. Lots of people fight. Major players like Sinister, Goblin Queen, Maestro, and Apocalypse pop in. I get the feeling that I’ve missed some crucial details in the Secret Wars mini-series that I’ve skipped. I could also do without the zombies as part of actual continuity. Oh well. I would be perfectly happy fast-forwarding the fight and getting to Hickman’s inventive conclusion.

“Greetings, mortals! Bask in the glory of my legendary might!”
I’d rather not bask if it’s all the same to Will Pfeiffer. I think I might have gone as far as I can with the series after Teen Titans #13. The last two issues have been such a sweet friendship fest that I’ve needed insulin after each one. But beyond that, it feels like the story thread has been completely lost here. Several issues ago the Titans were focused on proving Superboy’s innocence (a task made pretty difficult since Superboy was behaving like such an ass). But with the Superboy thread seemingly resolved, attention turns to a prison riot that wasn’t a riot, beating on Manchester Black for his apparent betrayal, and a bizarre last minute entrance by the prison warden, Alpha Centurion. At least I think it’s the warden. In any case, his entrance is so over-dramatized that I found myself chucking by the last page. The art in this issue is also highly distracting. Tim Drake spends the first half of the issue looking downright evil. With three pencilers and three inkers, it’s hard to nail down who was responsible for what, but the styles do not mesh. In short, I had a hard time understanding what this issue was about or who in it I should care for.

“Whatever happened—the Avengers must have been decimated to add Deadpool to the roster.”
Uncanny Avengers #2 is practically a manual for how not to run a super hero team. It is falling apart almost from the word go. And that’s probably for the best because the jeopardy plot isn’t that interesting (no matter what Cable’s presence at the end tries to tell us). What is interesting? Rogue’s seeming inability to command anyone as well as her almost naked bigotry against the team’s inhuman member, Synapse (people often marvel that those who experience intolerance would themselves not practice it, but here Rogue is a reflection of the real life truth that people are seldom so tidy and poetic); Johnny’s continued struggles with whatever happened to Reed and Sue Richards (and Stegman and Isanove hit these panels out of the park); Steve Rogers basically leaving Boston in danger rather than calling for help because he’s worried that his team—his symbol—will collapse if it can’t solve a serious problem on its own. Duggan does a great job infusing what appears to be a routine comic book plot with character beats that tell us a great deal about this new Marvel universe (and the people inhabiting it). Deadpool lingers mercifully in the background which allays my fears that this would be just another Deadpool vehicle.

Credits
Airboy #4
James Robinson: writer
Greg Hinkle: art/lettering
Image Comics

Avengers #1
Mark Waid: writer
Adam Kubert: artist
Sonia Oback: color artist
VC’s Cory Petit: letterer
Alex Ross: cover
Marvel Comics

Batman Beyond #6
Dan Jurgens: writer
Bernard Chang: artist
Marcelo Maiolo: colors
Dave Sharpe: letters
Bernard Chang with Marcelo Maiolo: cover
DC Comics

The Goddamned #1
Jason Aaron: writer
r.m. Guera: artist
Giulia Brusco: colors
Jared K. Fletcher: colors
Image Comics

Red Hood & Arsenal #6
Scott Lobdell: writer
Denis Medri: artist
Blond: colors
Dave Sharpe: letters
Howard Porter and Hifi: cover
DC Comics

Secret Wars #7
Jonathon Hickman: writer
Esad Ribic: artist
Ive Svorcina: color artist
Clayton Cowles: letterer
Alex Ross: cover
Marvel Comics

Superman American Alien #1
Max Landis: writer
Nick Dragotta: illustrator
Alex Guimaraes: colorist
John Workman: letterer
Ryan Sook: cover artist

Teen Titans #13
Will Pfeifer: writer
Ricken, Paolo Pantelena and Noel Rodriguez: pencillers
Trevor Scott, Johnny Desjardins and Paolo Pantalena: inkers
Ricken and Scott McDaniel: breakdowns
Tony Avina: colors
Ethan Van Sciver and Andrew Dalhouse: cover
DC Comics

Uncanny Avengers #2
Gerry Duggan: writer
Ryan Stegman: artist
Richard Isanove: color artist
VC’s Calyton Cowles: letterer
Ryan Stegman & Richard Isanove: cover

Marvel Comics

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