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Matt Derman, Author at Comics Should Be Good! @ Comic Book Resources

1987 And All That: Suicide Squad #1-8

A column in which Matt Derman (Comics Matter) reads & reviews comics from 1987, because that’s the year he was born.

Squad_1Suicide Squad #1-8 (DC) by John Ostrander, Luke McDonnell, Karl Kesel (#1-3), Bob Lewis (#4-8), Carl Gafford, Todd Klein, and Robert Greenberger

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.

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1987 And All That: Fallen Angels #1-8

FallenAngels1Fallen 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 »

1987 And All That: The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21

A column in which Matt Derman (Comics Matter) reads & reviews comics from 1987, because that’s the year he was born.

SpiderWed1The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21 (Marvel) by David Michelinie, Paul Ryan, Vince Colletta, Bob Sharen, Rick Parker, Jim Salicrup, and Jim Shooter

Mary Jane Watson and Peter Parker’s marriage is a weirdly divisive subject for some people, but I don’t personally have too strong an opinion on whether or not Spider-Man ought to be married. When it happened in 1987, it was pretty much a gimmick, an editorially mandated special event designed to sell comics based on the novelty, as opposed to being a story that someone felt needed to be told. As such, there’s only the faintest impression of a plot in this comicbook, despite its extra pages and the fact that then editor-in-chief Jim Shooter is credited with the plot and David Michelinie with the actual script. It’s hard to imagine Shooter’s role amounting to very much more than telling Michelinie, “Spider-Man gets married, even though he and Mary Jane both have doubts.” I’d believe he contributed less than that, because that’s about 90% of what the issue contains, and I want to give Michelinie and the artists some credit.

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1987 And All That: Detective Comics #580-581

A column in which Matt Derman (Comics Matter) reads & reviews comics from 1987, because that’s the year he was born.

DetCom1Detective Comics #580-581 (DC) by Mike W. Barr, Jim Baikie, Pablo Marcos (#581), Adrienne Roy, Annie Halfacree (#580), Albert De Guzman (#581), and Denny O’Neil

I’m going to try as hard as I can not to use the word “two” too often in this column. That may be tricky, since it’s about a two-part story where there are two Two-Faces running around, and it features the version of Two-Face who is so obsessed with the number two that all his crimes are themed around it and most of his dialogue is chock full of two-based puns. But I will genuinely try. Because easily the most aggravating part of reading these issues of Detective Comics is how often the word “two” is used, along with “double” and “couple” and anything else that can be turned into a forced bit of not-so-clever wordplay. It’s lightweight comedy at best, and repetitive, uninspired filler at worst. And while this ineffective humor may be a low point, it’s not all that’s wrong with these comics. Continue Reading »

1987 And All That: Gumby’s Summer Fun Special #1

A column in which Matt Derman (Comics Matter) reads & reviews comics from 1987, because that’s the year he was born.

GumbyCoverGumby’s Summer Fun Special #1 (Comico) by Bob Burden, Arthur Adams, Rick Taylor, L. Lois Buhalis, and Diana Schutz

As an adult, the best kids’ entertainment isn’t the wholesome educational stuff, but the trippy, bright-colors-and-hypnotic-images nonsense. I don’t know if that’s the smartest choice of material for the children at whom it is presumably targeted, but the pure, mindless fun and positivity is refreshing as a grown-up. It’s an excuse to access the most childlike parts of your brain, to experience something for its insignificance rather than its importance. That’s the secret to the success of Gumby’s Summer Fun Special #1. It moves the way a child’s imagination does, stopping frequently for non-sequiturs and never staying anywhere for very long. It’s ADD in comicbook form, but controlled enough to have a semblance of narrative, something to hang onto during the wild ride. With a few weirdly dark moments and a ton of great artwork, the 40-page issue has plenty for older readers, enough that I kind of question whether or not it’s even entirely appropriate for kids.

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1987 And All That: The X-Men vs. the Avengers #1-4

A column in which Matt Derman (Comics Matter) reads & reviews comics from 1987, because that’s the year he was born.

XvA1The X-Men vs. the Avengers #1-4 (Marvel) by Roger Stern (#1-3), Tom DeFalco (#4), Marc Silvestri (#1-3), Keith Pollard (#4), Josef Rubinstein, Christie “Max” Scheele, and Joe Rosen

25 years before the Avengers tried to take custody of Hope in order to prevent her from mishandling/abusing the power of a threat falling from space, they tried to take custody of Magneto in order to prevent him from mishandling/abusing the power of a threat that had recently fallen from space.

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1987 And All That: Hawkman #11-17

A column in which Matt Derman (Comics Matter) reads & reviews comics from 1987, because that’s the year he was born.

Hawkman #11-17 (DC) by Dan Mishkin, Richard Howell (#11-16), Ed Hannigan (#17), Carlos Garzon (#11-16), Don Heck (#17), Michelle Wolfman, and Agustin Mas

Hawkman1Despite his old-school style, Hawkman has never been my thing. Whenever I encountered him as a guest star or in the pages of a team book, he seemed overly serious in his personality and approach to crime-fighting, which didn’t quite fit with the way he looked or the little bit I knew about his backstory. A shirtless alien with detachable bird wings ought to have a sense of humor about himself, is what I’m saying, and as far as I could ever determine, Hawkman was missing that. And reading these old issues Hawkman the series hasn’t changed that perception of Hawkman the character in the slightest. But I mind him a great deal less now, mostly because of the awesomeness that is Hawkwoman. Without her presence, I think this run might’ve met my worst fears of being a dreary, heavy superhero melodrama. Instead, it’s a zany superhero adventure, still plenty melodramatic due to Hawkman’s slow and steady nervous breakdown, but with bursts of levity thanks to Hawkwoman’s high spirits and genuinely funny battle quips. They’re a strong duo, and even though only one of their names is on the covers, they share this comic equally, and without either of them it would be a highly imbalanced story. Not only does Hawkwoman provide the laughs, she is the voice of reason when Hawkman goes off the rails. She can play absurd to his straight man or calm to his crazy with equal skill, which is a dynamic that has a lot of room for all kinds of fun stuff to go down.

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1987 And All That: Zatanna Special #1

A column in which Matt Derman (Comics Matter) reads & reviews comics from 1987, because that’s the year he was born.

Zatanna_1Zatanna Special #1 by Gerry Conway (not credited), Gray Morrow, Ben Oda, Carrie Spiegle, John Costanza

I was very excited to dig into this comic, because Zatanna is an awesome and often underused character, and the special is 64 pages, meaning I was in for a triple-sized treat of backwards magic greatness. Unfortunately, 64 pages ended up being far, far too few for the narrative told here, so instead of a dense punch of Zatanna awesome, I got a poorly-aimed slap. That’s not to discredit the book entirely, because there are some juicy ideas and lots of excellent artwork, but there’s also a jumbled rush to the pacing from top to bottom that greatly lessens the effects of any enjoyable bits.

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1987 And All That: Comet Man #1-6

Hello all, and welcome to the first ever CSBG installment of “1987 And All That,” a project which began just over a year ago at The Chemical Box, where I review randomly selected comicbooks published in 1987. Why 1987? Because that’s the year I was born, and it seemed as good a reason as any to choose what to read. Which brings me to the topic at hand…

CometMan1 1

Comet Man #1-6 (Marvel) By Bill Mumy, Miguel Ferrer, Kelley Jones, Gerry Talaoc, Daina Graziunus, Petra Scotese, and Bill Oakley

Fans of superhero comics will find a lot of familiar bits and pieces within the pages of Comet Man, yet as a whole it’s a rather atypical story. It’s bleak without being dark, done in the style of more classic superhero origin stories but with the opposite attitude and end result. This is not the tale of a great new hero rising up and bringing hope, protection, and justice to the world. It is the story of several hubristic men ruining their own lives and those of everyone around them through an increasingly disastrous series of accidents, lies, and evil schemes. The villain comes out better than the hero, but nobody truly gets what they want by a long shot, and everyone is worse off at the end than they were in the beginning. Several people die needless deaths, an innocent child is abused to the point of catatonia, a family is disassembled, and humanity’s violence infects the mind of a peaceful alien observer. It’s not an uplifting series, but it’s a smart, interesting look at the dangers of great power when no responsibility is taken whatsoever.

The main character is Dr. Stephen Beckley, a.k.a. the titular Comet Man, an astronomer and astrophysicist who gets his superpowers through a mash-up of the Fantastic Four and Green Lantern origin stories (if the alien Hal Jordan met weren’t dying, I guess), with a sort of accelerated-timeline Captain Atom thrown in for good measure. While on a mission to track and study Halley’s Comet, Beckley’s vessel is caught in the comet’s tail, causing a massive explosion that kills Beckley and disintegrates his body. Lucky for him, Halley’s Comet is secretly an alien spaceship in disguise, and its pilot, Max, is able to pull Beckley’s molecules out of the inferno and reassemble him. Part of that process is unavoidably enhancing Beckley’s biology via the advanced technology Max has to use, since it’s calibrated to the physical standards of Max’s people and not human beings. So Beckley comes out intact but also overwhelmed by his new capabilities, which are many and varied and hard to control. Max suggests that Beckley return with him to his homeworld of Fortisque, where Beckley can learn all about his new self and adapt gradually in a safe environment. In the first of many blunderous missteps, Beckley assumes he can handle it on his own, and turns Max down in favor of returning to Earth without any understanding of what he can do or how he does it. Even getting back is a happy accident, as he discovers he can teleport by inadvertently transporting himself from deep space into his own office. He never really does get a handle on all of his powers, and seems to stumble into new ones all the time, so it’s not totally clear what all Comet Man can do.

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