Matt Derman, Author at Comics Should Be Good! @ Comic Book Resources
At the level of the most basic concept and plot, the opening few issues of 1987’s The Question seem almost too simple to work. A guy who wants to improve his hometown accomplishes it by creating a superhero persona for himself, not based on any special powers or skills he has, nor even really because of any personal vendetta, but simply because with a mask and a codename he can get away with stuff that would be harder to pull off otherwise. His opponents are agents of the corrupt local government, which is officially run by a drunk and inept mayor, though in reality the mayor himself is controlled from the shadows by an insane reverend. None of this is inherently bad, but it doesn’t scream originality, either, at least not on the surface. The creative team behind The Question uses the series’ core simplicity to their advantage, though, producing something rich and nuanced despite the relatively straightforward foundation. Every villain, including several of the smalltime minions, has a full and distinct personality. The titular hero has a fascinating, somewhat tormented, and often contradictory internal life, so following his thought processes is always an interesting experience. The action sequences are gorgeous and well-choreographed, easy to follow but still visually gripping and unique. And all of this is made possible by the clean, clear narrative—because the larger story isn’t all that complex, all of the players and individual scenes can be. It makes for some mighty fine reading, the sort of comic where every line of text and every new image pulls you in all over again. The ultimate destination of the narrative might be obvious up front, but the route it takes to get there, and the stops made along the way, are as surprising and exciting as anything I’ve read, from 1987 or any year. Continue Reading »
Though not a great story by any stretch, there were two dominant themes in this pair of Daredevil issues that I always like to see explored, even if they’re not handled especially well. The first is the notion of superheroes being as bad for the world (or worse) as the villains they fight. This was not a new idea in 1987, and it’s been discussed many times since, but for any consistent fan of superhero stories (not just in comics but across all media) it’s a point that bears repeated examination, because there is no wholly satisfying answer. Are the protagonists of these narratives really deserving of the title of “hero,” or are they merely super-people fighting against other super-people in a self-fulfilling and never-ending cycle of violence begetting violence? The truth likely falls somewhere in between, and attempting to uncover it is a worthwhile activity. Continue Reading »
When examining an adaptation, in any medium, there are two obvious metrics to determine how good it is: 1. How true is it to the source material? and 2. How well does it justify its own existence, i.e. does it work as a standalone piece of entertainment, or is it merely a pale rehash of a story that was done better in its original form? Unfortunately for the Little Shop of Horrors comic, it doesn’t stack up in either area, failing to capture much of what makes the movie so good, and also ending up a subpar comicbook in its own right. It’s not unreadable, and there are a few things it does well, a handful of smart choices that pay off. On the whole, though, it’s boring, thin, and poorly paced, plus it fluctuates between remaining so true to the film that it reads awkwardly and straying so far from the film that it loses some of its core appeal.
Captain America #325-336 (Marvel) by Mark Gruenwald, Paul Neary (#325-329, 331), Tom Morgan (#330, 332-336), John Beatty (#325-327), Kent Williams (#326), Vince Colletta (#328-329, 331), Sam de la Rosa (#330), Bob McLeod (#332), Dave Hunt (#333-336), Ken Feduniewicz (#325-330, 332-334), Bob Sharen (#331, 335-336), Diana Albers (#325-332), Bill Oakley (#333), Ken Lopez (#333-334), Jack Morelli (#335-336), Don Daley (#325-334), Ralph Macchio (#335-336)
In some respects, this is a tricky run of issues to review, because they include the beginning but not the ending of the “Captain America No More” saga in which Steve Rogers turned in his shield, his costume, and the moniker that comes with them, and John Walker was appointed to replace him. Rogers’ retirement occurs in issue #332, and Walker becomes Captain America in #333, so while there are a few issues from 1987 exploring that new status quo, the resolution wouldn’t come until February 1989’s Captain America #350. In that sense, then, the issues I’m covering here represent something incomplete, the start of an epic storyline that doesn’t yet finish. But there is still plenty to discuss in terms of what these issues have in common, and how they lead up to and deliver the rather bold, shocking, and powerful moment of Rogers’ decision to give up his Captain America persona. This is a comicbook about the downside of idealism, the strain that any rigid belief system puts on those who follow it, as well as the dangers and evils which that kind of extreme thinking can engender. It’s not necessarily a cautionary tale, but it does warn against believing in anything too intensely or blindly, and shows the readers and characters alike how impractical and unpleasant it can be to try and live life according to a strict set of rules. The world is not rigid or simple enough for any idealism to be a perfect fit, and that’s a lesson learned many times in many ways over the course of these issues. Continue Reading »
I’ve made seven or eight attempts at writing an opening sentence for this review, and none of them have quite clicked for me, so now I’m doing this. The trouble is that it’s hard to know where to start with Aristocratic Xtraterrestrial Time-Traveling Thieves. Every issue is a full, self-contained story, and each of those stories has its own themes and narrative focus, so on the one hand the series is a little all over the place. On the other hand, it always maintains a very particular comedic tone, even if it uses that tone to tell a wide variety of tales. The main characters, Fred (full name Pansafredicopacog) and Bianca, have a natural, fun relationship with one another, and their shared spirit of adventure and self-interest is at the heart of every story. They’re up for anything, and always aiming to come out on top, which allows writer Henry Vogel and artist Mark Propst to throw their protagonists into all kinds of crazy situations with equally entertaining results. The comic can sometimes be brazenly meta; Bianca and Fred are aware of their existence as comicbook characters, occasionally talking directly to Vogel and Propst and even, in one instance, escaping the book itself. At other times, it’s a much more direct, simple, even familiar series about a pair of lovable criminals getting into and out of trouble with the law, pulling off heists, and other such low-stakes antics. No matter what is going on plot-wise, AXTTT is never just one thing, because its stars and creators are too energetically playful to let the book sit still or even settle into any single idea for very long. Yet it manages never to stray too far from the central concept of any given issue, consistently telling complete, clear stories even as it refuses to entirely define itself. Continue Reading »
I’ve never been crazy about the Punisher. It’s not his morality (or lack thereof) I object to, though admittedly I do prefer it if my superheroes try to avoid using fatal tactics. Although…I guess he’s not a superhero in the strictest sense because he has no powers, but he wears a costume and has a codename and hangs out with lots of other Marvel super-folks, so I think the label still applies. At any rate, what has historically turned me off about the Punisher is that he’s seemed too simple to me, too one-note. Even the Hulk, a literal embodiment of instinctual rage, turns back into Bruce Banner sometimes, and thus has multiple facets to his personality. Frank Castle is always the Punisher and vice versa, his violent hatred for crime never subsiding or even being hidden under the mask of a secret identity. He’s so narrowly and determinedly focused on his personal war, it has never felt to me like he allows for much room for any storytelling beyond locating the next battle, the next villain to slay. I’m sure every creative team finds (or tries to find) their own angle, a way to freshen or expand Castle’s character and world so that he isn’t just the pissed off guy with huge guns all the time. Nonetheless, that’s the way he’s come across whenever I’ve encountered him in the past, and it has consistently failed to capture my interest.
Mike Baron and Klaus Janson’s The Punisher, which marks the first time the character ever had his own ongoing series, somehow manages to play up the single-mindedness I thought I disliked in Castle, yet still be a comicbook I enjoy. A lot of that is Janson, who does all the art from pencils to colors, producing strong work with several breakout panels over the course of these first four issues. Credit where it’s due, though, Baron writes Punisher as a man who’s not necessarily pleased with the life he’s chosen for himself, but commits to it 100% anyway, and that’s an approach I can get into. In his rare moments of self-reflection, Castle points out the same problems I just did above, namely that his life has no room for anything other than fight after fight after fight. He doesn’t exactly struggle with that, but he is at least aware of it, and somehow that tiny bit of acknowledgement, combined with Janson’s visuals, sold me on a hero I’d always avoided before. Continue Reading »
Blue Beetle #8-19 (DC) by Len Wein, Joey Cavalieri (#12), R.J.M. Lofficer (#14-15, 17-19), Paris Cullins (#8-9, 11-14, 17-18), Chuck Patton (#10), Ross Andru (#15-16, 19), Dell Barras (#8-15), Danny Bulanadi (#16-17, 19), Carl Gafford (#8), Gene D’Angelo (#9-19), John Costanza, Karen Berger (#8-13), Denny O’Neil (#14-19)
To be a superhero requires a certain amount of optimism. It’s not just about having power, but also about believing that you can use that power to make an actual difference. It’s about picking the good side in the never-ending good-vs.-evil conflict that rages within and around us all, and convincing yourself and the world that you’re contributing something, that you’re genuinely helping your side win in the short- and/or long-term. I suppose this requires some level of ego/arrogance, too, and probably more than a little delusion. The titular star of Blue Beetle certainly possesses both of those traits, but it is the aforementioned optimism that shines through most brightly with that character and the series as a whole. Ted Kord earnestly, enthusiastically does good for it’s own sake, and seems to find that it is it’s own reward, too. His life is full of other rewards— money, status, romance, an entire corporation to run—but his superheroics are what take precedence and usurp most of his time, because that’s what most interests and satisfies him. It even, at times, gets in the way of his other obligations, but ultimately Kord chooses over and over to put his Blue Beetle activities first since he thinks of them as the most important, valuable work he does. Continue Reading »
First of all, I do I realize that I’m reviewing only the first third of a 12-issue series, and that as such, my impressions of the book may be incomplete or skewed. For anyone who may think this is dumb/pointless, I don’t necessarily disagree, but the arbitrary rules I set for myself when I began this project were to read only comics with a 1987 cover date, and to select what I read largely at random, based on whatever I happen to come across or already own from that year. I’ve managed to stick to those rules so far, and I will continue even if it means reading only part of a whole. In the case of Silverblade, I picked it because I saw an ad for it in some other DC comic that I reviewed for this site before (I don’t remember which one…it may even have been more than one) and it looked interesting and weird so I figured I’d give it a go. I did no in-depth research, just went online and quickly figured out which issues were dated 1987, then ordered them right away. I legitimately have not read beyond issue #4 yet, because I don’t own anything past that point, since I only bought the ’87 issues to start. I will most likely end up getting the rest of the series eventually, partly because of being a completist, but mostly because this comic was every bit as bizarre and baffling as I’d hoped, and now I need to see where it all ends up. Before I do that for myself, though, let’s talk about these opening four chapters and how, despite a few big missteps, they manage to be a charmingly insane and delightfully horrifying start to this story.
X-Factor #12-23 (Marvel) by Louise Simonson, Marc Silvestri (#12), Walter Simonson (#13-15, 17-19, 21, 23), David Mazzucchelli (#16), June Brigman (#20), Sal Buscema (#22), Bob Wiacek (#12, 14-15, 17-19, 21-23), Dan Green (#13), Joe Rubinstein (#16), Randy Emberlin (#20), Petra Scotese, Joe Rosen, Bob Harras
I tend to enjoy any comicbook that looks at the inescapable personal torments, damaged relationships, and psychological strains of the superhero lifestyle. Secret identities, an endless and self-feeding cycle of violence, taking on the impossible responsibility of keeping the rest of the world safe—it’s bound to take its toll on anyone, and it’s nice when a narrative acknowledges that. X-Factor #12-23 digs deep into these superhero problems and their consequences, then piles on several other whole sets of problems, too. There is, of course, the classic conundrum of humans fearing/hating mutants no matter what they do, which is amped up more than usual in this particular series because of its foundational concept of X-Factor pretending to be mutant hunters. Though less explicitly discussed, there’s also an argument embedded in these issues that the whole idea of gathering mutants together and training them to use their powers and fight evil mutants might be flawed, that Xavier did both harm and good with the original X-Men and now, as X-Factor, those same characters are repeating his mistakes with a new generation. Then again, there’s no better alternative offered here, because if not protected, nurtured, and taught control, the young mutants of the world could potentially do massive damage without even meaning to. So X-Factor presents a pretty dreary interpretation of the mutant-heavy reality of the 1980’s Marvel Universe, one where there may not be any truly good choices for mutantkind to make, especially because, in that world, superpowers almost always lead to superheroics (or supervillainy), which in turn lead to their own significant stresses, injuries, etc. Continue Reading »
Countless works of fiction—and non-fiction, too, while I mention it—have been built around the protagonist’s journey of self-discovery. One might even argue that every story, to one degree or another, is about the hero’s path toward self-actualization, just as some would say that self-actualization is the driving force behind everything we do. Whether or not it’s truly such a universal phenomenon, the search for self is certainly common, in our real lives and our entertainment. Blood: A Tale is, above all, another example of such a story, its main character constantly striving to define himself and his world. But the book steadfastly refuses to settle on a consistent narrative identity, moving through its beats with a manic, chaotic energy and pulling from as many genres as it can think of along the way. It’s a fairy-tale horror, a fantasy adventure romance, a metatextual story about stories, and a spiritual time travel narrative all in one. It is also none of those things entirely, and the lush but often blurred and/or vague artwork only adds to the schizophrenic atmosphere. I don’t mean to indicate that Blood or its creators are confused about what the comic should be. On the contrary, the ever-fluctuating tone and rhythm are deliberate elements, there to underline the difficulty and, perhaps, the futility of the hero’s efforts to understand himself and find his place. Each of us is a million people in one, behaving differently and wanting different things depending on where we are (physically and emotionally), who we’re with, and any number of other unpredictable external and internal factors. Blood celebrates that fact by letting its title character play numerous roles, all while trying to uncover what his role is really supposed to be. Continue Reading »
Infinity Inc. #34-44 (DC) by Roy Thomas, Dann Thomas, Todd McFarlane (#34-37), Martin King (#38), Michael Bair (#39), Vince Argondezzi (#40-44), Tony DeZuniga (#34-42, 44), Pablo Marcos (#39), Danny Bulanadi (#40), Al Vey (#42), Rodin Rodriguez (#43), Alfredo Alcala (#43) Liz Bérubé (#34, 38, 41, 43-44), Carl Gafford (#35-37, 40), Anthony Tollin (#39), Shelley Eiber (#42), David C. Weiss (#34-39), Agustin Mas (#39-40), Jean Simek (#41-44)
It’s a little hard to sum up my opinion on the 1987 issues of Infinity Inc., because it was an unsteady series at that time, varying in quality not only from issue to issue but often from scene to scene. It was more interested in the personal dramas of its cast than the flash and flair of superpowered action, yet the action sequences were more reliably entertaining than the more grounded character work. Then again, all the strongest moments center on the characters’ emotional lives, but so do the weakest ones, with the fight scenes falling somewhere in between. This gives the comic a strange lack of identity; is it compelling teenage drama or lame teenage melodrama, a fun superhero adventure or a dull superhero business meeting? With 27 story pages per issue (on average…sometimes 26 or 28) Infinity Inc. has room to be all of those things and more, but it’s never any one thing for long enough to get the reader fully, unwaveringly invested. This is frustrating to a degree, but also appropriate, because as a team Infinity, Inc. is a fairly disjointed, non-unified group. They have wildly different priorities and opinions on how to operate, and they pretty much never do anything as a full team, splintering instead into smaller units for each new mission/threat. So the book’s somewhat chaotic voice fits nicely with the team’s mismatched energy, and may even be an intentional aspect of the storytelling for that reason. Which is all well and good, but doesn’t make it any easier to know precisely how I feel about these issues as a group. Continue Reading »
A column in which Matt Derman (Comics Matter) reads & reviews comics from 1987, because that’s the year he was born.
Strange Tales #1-7 (Marvel) by Bill Mantlo (#1-6), Peter Gillis, Bret Blevins (#1-6), Chris Warner (#1-4), Larry Alexander (#5, 7), Terry Shoemaker (#6-7), Al Williamson (#3), Bob Wiacek (#6), Gerry Talaoc (#7), Randy Emberlin, Christie Scheele (#1, 3), Glynis Oliver (#2, 4-6), Paul Becton (#7), Bob Sharen, Ken Bruzenak, Jim Novak (#1-3), Janice Chiang (#4-5, 7), Ken Lopez (#6), Carl Potts
With a book like Strange Tales, where every issue is divided between two different narratives (or any number of narratives, but in this case it’s just the two), you always want some sort of connection to tie the stories together, something to bring unity to the title. Obviously the stories should work individually as well, but it’s nicer when there’s a bond between them, an identity to the series as a whole that fits with each section’s own goals and attitudes. Strange Tales is split evenly every issue between Cloak and Dagger and Dr. Strange, the two titles which it replaced. Because they’re both continuations of previously existing comics, it would be understandable if there wasn’t a ton of cohesion between their respective outlooks or aims. Whether through editorial design, creator collaboration, or sheer dumb luck, though, the two halves of Strange Tales find common ground almost immediately, and continue to examine the same core concept, though still in their own ways, right up through issue #7 where their narratives actually collide and briefly become the same. Both Cloak and Strange wrestle with remaining heroic while sometimes needing to act unheroically, and this struggle quickly becomes the center of Strange Tales. But the two men deal with their shared problem differently and end up in different places because of it, so their stories stand apart even as they come together, thematically and literally. Continue Reading »
A column in which Matt Derman (Comics Matter) reads & reviews comics from 1987, because that’s the year he was born.
The concept of Suicide Squad is elegantly simple, and maybe inevitable in the world of superheroes and villains. The difficulty of effectively imprisoning superpowered baddies has been explored in many ways in all kinds of comicbooks, and this series offers one more approach: a work release program for supervillains. And why not? There are all different levels of supervillainy, and as many different motivations for it as people participating in it, so anyone who wants to prove themselves less insane or untrustworthy than their peers might as well get a chance. Besides, giving them another venue/outlet for their abilities could potentially place them on a better path, even make them better people. Right?
Wrong, says Suicide Squad, which seems to believe that people, good or bad, pretty much are who they are no matter what. The book hinges on this philosophy, its drama fueled by the clashing and immovable personalities of its cast. In the world of Suicide Squad, the whole Suicide Squad project is a futile endeavor, an attempt to convince villains to act against their natures through an odd combination of bargains, threats, and field assignments. Trouble is, nobody can ever act against their nature in this book, so the Squad fails or at least half-fails on every outing, refusing to gel as a group and generally causing more harm than good to its members and the rest of the world.
Fallen Angels #1-8 (Marvel) by Jo Duffy, Kerry Gammill (#1-2, 4, 7), Marie Severin (#3), Joe Staton (#5-6, 8), Tom Palmer (#1-3, 7), Val Mayerik (#4-6), Tony DeZuniga (#8), Petra Scotese, Jim Novak (#1-2), Bill Oakley (#3, 5-8), L.P. Gregory (#4), and Ann Nocenti
As a story about a group of misfit superpowered kids, it’s appropriate that Fallen Angels would be something of a misfit superhero series, too. It’s not at all a bad comic, but it doesn’t look, feel, or move like your typical cape-and-cowl adventure. Its cast is cobbled together from characters old and new, popular (at the time, at least) and obscure, and the characters are constantly butting heads with one another. This internal conflict leaves little room for external enemies, so there aren’t really any villains for the stars to face until the last couple issues. There also aren’t a lot of codenames or costumes used; even Sunspot, the protagonist and narrator, is referred to by his real name, Roberto “Bobby” da Costa, more often than not. It’s a non-traditional team with mixed morals and motives, not fighting for good or evil but merely sticking together for the sake of survival and some semblance of friendship/family. Fallen Angels is a coming-of-age story for the entire titular team, and it is more interested in studying human behavior than the high-powered violence of the average superhero tale. In this story, being a teenager comes first, and having powers comes second, an interesting and unusual prioritization that makes for an entertaining if not astonishing read. Continue Reading »