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Matt Derman, Author at Comics Should Be Good @ CBR

1987 And All That: Star Trek #43-45

A column in which Matt Derman (Comics Matter) reads & reviews comics from 1987, because that’s the year he was born. Click here for an archive of all the previous posts in the series.

CoverStar Trek #43-45 (DC) by Mike Carlin, Tom Sutton, Ricardo Villagrán, Michele Wolfman, Helen Vesik

Not every story has a hero, and not every moral is a good one. One side of a conflict can be wrong without their opponents being right. In situations like that, even if all of the parties come to an agreement, the results are bound to be bittersweet at best. I don’t know for sure that Mike Carlin set out to write a story in which everyone (and I do mean everyone) came across as one shade of villain or another, but that’s certainly what he accomplished in this three-issue arc. By the end of the story, a solution has been reached that is probably the best possible option for the problem at hand, but it’s still a resolution that makes me uneasy. It’s very much a lesser of two evils situation, a compelling and difficult philosophical question with no good answers. Continue Reading »

1987 And All That: Power Pack #28-33

A column in which Matt Derman (Comics Matter) reads & reviews comics from 1987, because that’s the year he was born. Click here for an archive of all the previous posts in the series.

CoverPower Pack #28-33 (Marvel) by Louise Simonson, Terry Shoemaker, Jon Bogdanove, Val Mayerik, Hilary Barta, Dan Green, Glynis Oliver, Christie Scheele, John Wellington, Petra Scotese, Joe Rosen, Ken Lopez

Kids want to be adults. And there is a tendency among adults to respond to this desire hand-wavingly, because kids aren’t given the credit they deserve. At the same time, there are absolutely aspects of life that children are not ready for and should not have to deal with. The massive, unsolvable problems of the world, the unfairness and bottomless cruelty, can’t even be handled by many grown-ups. I’m not one to advocate over-protection or needles sheltering, but it’d be nice if people’s childhoods could be unsullied by such despicable things. Of course, that’s not always going to be the case, which is at the center of Louise Simonson’s Power Pack. Dealing with extremely adult problems in believably childlike ways, the kids of the titular team prove themselves to be more mature than the adults of their world may think, but not yet as grown as they’d like to believe. Continue Reading »

1987 And All That: The ‘Nam #8

A column in which Matt Derman (Comics Matter) reads & reviews comics from 1987, because that’s the year he was born. Click here for an archive of all the previous posts in the series.

Nam1The ‘Nam  #8 (Marvel) by Doug Murray, Michael Golden, John Beatty, Phil Felix

Marvel’s The ‘Nam was not a great series in 1987. The structural concept behind it is sound: each issue takes place one month after the last and focuses on either a specific real event or some broader aspect of life as an American solider in the Vietnam War. That’s actually a pretty cool approach to historical fiction, having a serialized story that moves forward in time at the same rate as its publication, telling standalone tales that come together to paint a larger and chronologically accurate picture of an entire conflict. Problem is, most of the stories told in this specific title—particularly in the way they’re told—just aren’t hard-hitting enough to leave a mark. Continue Reading »

1987 And All That: Grendel #4-15

A column in which Matt Derman (Comics Matter) reads & reviews comics from 1987, because that’s the year he was born. Click here for an archive of all the previous posts in the series.

Grendel1Grendel #4-15 (Comico) by Matt Wagner, Arnold Pander, Jacob Pander, Bernie Mireault, Jay Geldof, Tom Vincent, Joe Matt, Steve Haynie, Bob Pinaha

Everyone is the hero of their own story. Evil rarely believes itself to be evil, because any action or attitude can be justified if you skew your point of view in the right way. And sometimes, something that begins as legitimately noble or righteous can become tainted over time, soured through cross-mingling with lesser impulses and human weaknesses. Matt Wagner’s Grendel is, among many other things, a pointed examination of this process of transforming a good person into a wicked one. The characters who star in this year of issues begin as normal and well-intentioned, but their inability to cope with external evils and personal loss changes them into delusional crazies just looking for an excuse to murder somebody. Within the comic, the Grendel persona is seen by the public as a menace, a seemingly unstoppable force of terror and chaos that can’t be explained or understood. For the reader, understanding Grendel is actually rather easy, but deciding whether or not to root for the people under the mask is more difficult.

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1987 And All That: D.P. 7 #3-14

A column in which Matt Derman (Comics Matter) reads & reviews comics from 1987, because that’s the year he was born. Click here for an archive of all the previous posts in the series.

CoverD.P. 7 #3-14 (Marvel) by Mark Greunwald, Paul Ryan, Romeo Tanghal, Al Williamson, Danny Bulanadi, Paul Becton, Phil Felix

Realism in superhero comics is an interesting struggle. Because there is an inherently fantastical element to any story involving people with impossible powers, finding a way to keep them grounded is not always an easy or obvious task. Typically, these are narratives about grown men and women who make up secret names for themselves and throw on outlandish, bright, skintight costumes every time there’s someone evil to punch. This is not exactly a genre that lends itself to a believable narrative.  And it’s not that every superhero story needs realism, but those that do strive for it often go the “grim and gritty” route, seeing brutality and depression as the only means of bringing their demigod-like characters back down to Earth. To keep things exciting and intense without always relying on larger-than-life, city-block-devastating action, creators will turn to the ugliest, darkest aspects of human nature and heighten them to superheroic levels. And certainly many great things have come from this strategy, but more and more often it feels like current creators are piling on the darkness without any rhyme or reason, and the results are just as unrealistic as anything, only bleaker and more violent. D.P. 7 offers a different approach, realistic not because of any darkness in tone but because of its pacing, telling its story in as close to real time as it can. At its best, this tactic makes the series better and smarter than your average comic book by far. But at its worst, it’s incredibly boring. As boring as real life. Continue Reading »

1987 And All That: Wasteland #1

A column in which Matt Derman (Comics Matter) reads & reviews comics from 1987, because that’s the year he was born. Click here for an archive of all the previous posts in the series.

wasteland1Wasteland #1 (DC) by Del Close, John Ostrander, David Lloyd, William Messner-Loebs, Donald Simpson, Lovern Kindzierski

Horror in fiction tends to involve the jumpy, the gory, the hideous, and/or the monstrous. As a genre, horror often aims to shock its audience, to have us screaming and leaping out of our seats and staying up at night to avoid the inevitable nightmares. That said, being scared is not necessarily the same thing as being horrified, is it? The sudden thrill of a masked psycho killer lunging out from the shadows might startle me and get my heart racing, but I don’t feel any deep-seated disgust, displeasure, or discomfort because of it. There is no true horror there, only cheap fear, and though some may argue that this is a subtle, even needless distinction, it is nevertheless a significant one when it comes to talking about Wasteland #1.

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1987 And All That: Batman #408-412

A column in which Matt Derman (Comics Matter) reads & reviews comics from 1987, because that’s the year he was born. Click here for an archive of all the previous posts in the series.

jasontodd1Batman #408-412 (DC) By Max Allan Collins, Chris Warner, Ross Andru, Dave Cockrum, Mike DeCarlo, Dick Giordano, Don Heck, Adrienne Roy, Todd Klein, John Costanza, Agustin Mas

I don’t know if Jason Todd ever stood a chance. At first, he was just a near-identical replacement for Dick Grayson when Grayson left the Robin game to become Nightwing. He was sort of a watered-down version of the young man for whom he was meant to stand in; the first Jason got the job done as Robin but offered nothing new, no reason for readers to warm to him or see him as anything other than a cut-rate attempt at recapturing the magic of the original Boy Wonder. So it makes total sense that in 1987 DC would take a stab at rewriting his background and personality in a post-Crisis world, providing an opportunity for Jason to carve out a more unique and possibly interesting space for himself in the Batman mythos. Sadly, though, I think they gave the task to the wrong guy, because Max Allan Collins wrote Batman as a lighthearted, almost goofy title, which did not really line up with the angry street youth persona of his revamped Jason Todd. Continue Reading »

1987 And All That: Silver Surfer #1-6

A column in which Matt Derman (Comics Matter) reads & reviews comics from 1987, because that’s the year he was born. Click here for an archive of all the previous posts in the series.

37379_20060912133556_largeSilver Surfer #1-6 (Marvel) by Steve Englehart, Marshall Rogers, Joe Rubinstein, John Workman

I love Silver Surfer, but I haven’t read all that many stories in which he was the star. I never followed his title when it was current, and only obtained the 1987 issues a few years ago at a Black Friday sale. I did read his origin story as a kid though, and ever since I have been drawn to the idea of a man riding through the universe, out in the open, tapping into untold cosmic power. It’s a nice raw superhero concept that won me over immediately and stuck around even without a big library of Surfer-centric comicbooks.

What luck then, that Steve Englehart and company seem to have targeted the beginning of their run at just such a reader as me. The series plays up Silver Surfer’s space-traveling, ultra-powerful aspects, but is also a deliberate exploration of who he is as a man, a hero, and a character. I suppose my view of the Surfer will now be forever shaded by Englehart & co’s version, but so much of it was in line with what I’d imagined and hoped for already that I doubt anything significant has shifted.
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1987 And All That: Groo the Wanderer #23-34

A column in which Matt Derman (Comics Matter) reads & reviews comics from 1987, because that’s the year he was born. Click here for an archive of all the previous posts in the series.

Groo1Groo the Wanderer #23-34 (Marvel/Epic) by Sergio Aragonés, Mark Evanier, Tom Luth (#23-32), Janice Cohen (#32-33), Phil DeWalt (#34), Stan Sakai, Jo Duffy (#23-27), Daniel Chichester (#28-34), Steve Buccellato (#32-34)

I’m always interested in the likability of characters in any fiction I consume. I don’t necessarily need to like the hero(es), nor do I need to hate the villain(s). In fact, a story with an unsympathetic protagonist that still gets me invested is often that much more enjoyable and engaging, ditto one that has a bad guy with whom I can empathize. For a goofy, lighthearted, action-comedy comicbook, Groo the Wanderer is surprisingly complicated when it comes to the likability of its cast. Just about every character, be they good or bad, major or minor, has an interesting mix of enjoyable and off-putting qualities. There’s a general silliness to everyone that makes them all fun to spend time with, but most of them are also selfish, judgmental, dishonest, and/or violent. It’s a collection of largely terrible people, behaving in wonderfully entertaining ways, and most of the time they get what’s coming to them in the end, so that there’s a nice narrative satisfaction when each issue resolves. On top of all that, everything is done in an art style that’s equal parts ridiculous and dense, so that what feel like simple stories are often deceptively more involved than they appear at first glance. Continue Reading »

1987 And All That: The Spectre #1-9

A column in which Matt Derman (Comics Matter) reads & reviews comics from 1987, because that’s the year he was born. Click here for an archive of all the previous posts in the series.

Spectre1The Spectre #1-9 (DC) by Doug Moench, Gene Colan (#1-6), Cam Kennedy (#7-8), Gray Morrow (#9), Steve Mitchell (#1-6), Adrienne Roy (#1-6, 9), Michele Wolfman (#7-8), John Costanza (1-5), Agustin Mas (#6-9), Robert Greenberger

The Spectre is kind of a jerk, but that’s ok, because so is Jim Corrigan, the man who serves as the his human host. They’re jerky in different ways, which causes a lot of friction between them, and also makes them quite the entertaining pair to follow as a reader. Their relationship is kind of a mixed-up buddy cop thing; the Spectre is in some ways the loose cannon character, because Corrigan never knows what he’ll do next and can’t really trust him not to overreact to any given situation. Yet the Spectre is also the more serious of the pair, and all of his actions are motivated by the demands of a higher authority. Meanwhile, Corrigan is a wise-cracking rogue and anti-authority in general, yet wants to reign in the Spectre and stop him from always being so severe in his treatment of the various villains they face. So neither one of them fits neatly into a recognizable character mold, yet as a duo, they have a very familiar dynamic, one partner trying to keep the other in check as they work toward common goals with very different methods. And all the while, they are both largely unlikable as people, yet interesting as characters, and because they’re always fighting against much worse people than themselves, I’m on their side even when they’re being aggressively pigheaded and annoying. The Spectre does a fantastic job of making compelling figures out of its two miserable leads by pitting them against each other morally despite the fact that they are ostensibly on the same side. They’re both good guys, technically, but neither of them are necessarily all that good at being good. Instead, they make each other better, while simultaneously making one another feel worse, a conflicted team bound together against their wills who only barely make their partnership work. Continue Reading »

1987 And All That: 3-D Three Stooges #3

A column in which Matt Derman (Comics Matter) reads & reviews comics from 1987, because that’s the year he was born. Click here for an archive of all the previous posts in the series.

StoogesCover3-D Three Stooges #3 (Eclipse) by Norman Maurer (and possibly others, see below)

I was pretty excited going into 3-D Stooges #3 to see what kind of fun Three Stooges gags might be pulled in a 3-D comicbook. It feels like an opportunity to really go nuts with the medium, because the Stooges’ comedy is so physical, and the 3-D gimmick potentially allows for enhanced physicality within the comic. The illusion of depth and motion should be able to add a lot, and I was hoping for things like pies that seem like they’re flying right at my face, or fingers threatening to poke me in the eyes, or even just the joy of seeing one Stooge hurt another from a weird, funny angle or perspective. Instead, this is a comic that’s 3-D for no reason, that takes basically no advantage of the one thing that could set it apart. Every panel has 3-D elements, but none of them do anything with that except to have some characters seem like they’re standing behind others, and to just generally mess with the reader’s eyes and make it hard to focus or follow the story. There’s some solid humor in here, but none of it comes from the 3-D or is even heightened because of it. Between that disappointment and a certain amount of editorial sloppiness, reading this comic is a more difficult, slow-going task than it ought to be based on the story content. It’s a collection of extra-lightweight comedic narratives held down by the weight of many creative missteps. Continue Reading »

1987 And All That: Captain Atom #1-10

A column in which Matt Derman (Comics Matter) reads & reviews comics from 1987, because that’s the year he was born. Click here for an archive of all the previous posts in the series.

CaptainAtom1Captain Atom #1-10 (DC) by Cary Bates, Greg Weisman (#10), Pat Broderick, Bob Smith, Carl Gafford (#1-4, 6-10), Bob LeRose (#5), John Costanza (#1-3), Agustin Mas (#4-5), Duncan Andrews (#6-10), Denny O’Neil

It’s not always an easy distinction to make, but there’s a difference between doing good and being good, and Captain Atom is all about skirting that line. The title character is a good man who does bad things for good reasons, and then uses those bad things to allow himself to do good things, too. After gaining his powers, he is coerced by the U.S. military into being a superhero, but I believe that he probably would’ve chosen that life (or something close to it) for himself anyway because of his core decency and sense of responsibility. He’s a good person doing good deeds, but doing them in an arguably bad way, lying to the world about his past and present in the name of protecting the less-good men who control his life. And there are consequences for his deceptions, sometimes serious ones, meaning that for all the positive work he does, there’s always a certain taint around him, a hidden shame he can never entirely shake. It makes him an extremely interesting character to follow, because even when he’s saving the day as a superhero, the reader understands that he’s still trapped as a soldier, following orders and keeping secrets he doesn’t always like. Captain Atom is a sad but also hopeful figure, improving his life and earning his freedom inch by difficult inch. Continue Reading »

1987 And All That: Fantastic Four #304-307

A column in which Matt Derman (Comics Matter) reads & reviews comics from 1987, because that’s the year he was born. Click here for an archive of all the previous posts in the series.

FF11987 And All That: Fantastic Four #304-307  (Marvel) by Steve Englehart, John Buscema, Joe Sinnott, Glynis Oliver (#304-306), George Roussos (#307), Phil Felix (#304), Janice Chiang (#305), John Workman (#306-307), Don Daley (#304), Ralph Macchio (#305-307)

There are two core components to the Fantastic Four: 1. awesome sci-fi superhero excitement, and 2. familial relationships and the drama that comes with them. Every creative team strikes their own balance between these elements, and I’m not here to say one blend is better than any other. I will say that these four issues, the first in a long run written by Steve Englehart, definitely focus hard on the interpersonal stuff (though there’s a healthy dose of action in each issue, too), and the results are great. Almost every character we see, whether they’re part of the titular team or not, has a lot on their respective plates, everyone carrying heavy personal baggage that informs what they do and how they act in interesting ways. There are villains with pathos, heroes who sometimes act like childish jerks, and many characters who seem as though they might break down completely at any second, adding a nice underlying tension to everything else that goes on. All of this is heightened by John Buscema’s expressive artwork, which delivers moments of quiet, brooding reflection with just as much oomph as the most hard-hitting action, and nails everything in between as well. Though these issues are not at all flawless, they’re consistently entertaining, they’re not afraid to make big, bold moves, and they shake up this title effectively and efficiently, which seems to be their primary goal. And they’re a nice reminder that we are all many different thing, that each and every one of us has our own inner turmoils and conflicts to wrestle with, and that these kinds of things don’t necessarily ever resolve for good so much as they grow and change and become more complicated over time. Continue Reading »

1987 And All That: Wild Dog #1-4

A column in which Matt Derman (Comics Matter) reads & reviews comics from 1987, because that’s the year he was born. Click here for an archive of all the previous posts in the series.

WildDog1Wild Dog #1-4 (DC) by Max Collins, Terry Beatty, Dick Giordano, Michele Wolfman, John Workman, Mike Gold

I have sort of a weird relationship with Wild Dog. Unlike most of the comics I review for this column, this is one I’ve read before. Multiple times, in fact. But I don’t revisit this series because it’s one of my favorites; on the contrary, I find it mostly disappointing, with too much wasted potential, mostly flimsy characters, and a glorification of violence that’s extreme even for a superhero comicbook. Wild Dog is arguably not a superhero title since the main character has no powers, but if you put on a mask and have a fake name, you’re a superhero in my mind. If Batman and Green Arrow count, Wild Dog certainly does. Anyway, my original point is that I’m not a very big fan of this comic, but even after all this time, I want to be a fan. I wish this book was better, meatier, more worthwhile. It seems like it wants to do a lot of things that I would really enjoy, but it never quite gets there, too trapped in its own weird structure and mixed-up priorities. Continue Reading »

1987 And All That: Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #122-130

A column in which Matt Derman (Comics Matter) reads & reviews comics from 1987, because that’s the year he was born. Click here for an archive of all the previous posts in the series.

PPSSM1Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #122-130 (Marvel) by Peter David (#122-123, 128-129), Roger McKenzie (#124), Danny Fingeroth (#125-126), Len Kaminski (#127), Bob Layton (#130), Rich Buckler (#122), Malcolm Davis (#122), Dwayne Turner (#123), Greg Larocque (#124), Jim Mooney (#125), Alan Kupperberg (#126-129), Jim Fern (#130), Mike Esposito (#122), Bob McLeod (#122), Art Nichols (#122-126), Vince Colletta (#125, 130), Nel Yomtov (#122-123, 127), Bob Sharen (#124-125, 128, 130), George Roussos (#126), Julianna Ferriter (#129), Rick Parker, Jim Salicrup

I went back and forth a few times while reading these issues, debating with myself about whether or not it would be better to look at this entire run (meaning every issue of this title from 1987 before the “Kraven’s Last Hunt” crossover*) or if I should simply choose a single issue/storyline and zero in on that. Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man (henceforth referred to as PPSSM) is effectively a collection of Spider-Man short stories, with most of the issues being self-contained one-shots. There is a throughline that connects several of them, but it comes and goes from month to month fairly arbitrarily, separated from itself by stories that have absolutely nothing to do with it and don’t even all take place at the same time. That lack of connective tissue is a big part of why this series leaves me feeling fairly cold, so ultimately I decided it made more sense to look at these nine issues as a whole, because when viewed together they leave a slightly different impression than taken individually. Continue Reading »

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