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

1987 And All That: Blue Beetle #8-19

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.

BlueBeetle1Blue 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 »

1987 And All That: Silverblade #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.

Silverblade1Silverblade #1-4 (DC) by Cary Bates, Gene Colan, Klaus Johnson (#1), Steve Mitchell (#2-4), Joe Orlando, Gaspar, and Denny O’Neil

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.

Continue Reading »

1987 And All That: X-Factor #12-23

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.

XFactor1X-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 »

1987 And All That: Blood: A Tale #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.

Blood1Blood: A Tale #1-4 (Epic) by J.M. DeMatteis, Kent Williams, Gaspar Saladino, Robbin Brosterman, Daniel Chichester, and Steve Buccellato

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 »

1987 And All That: Infinity Inc. #34-44

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.

InfInc1Infinity 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 »

1987 And All That Archive

Below is a list of all the 1987 And All That posts, a column in which Matt Derman (Comics Matter) reads & reviews comics from 1987, because that’s the year he was born.

1. Comet Man #1-6

2. Zatanna Special #1

3. Hawkman #11-17

4. The X-Men vs. the Avengers #1-4

5. Gumby’s Summer Fun Special #1

6. Detective Comics #580-581

7. The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21

8. Fallen Angels #1-8

9. Suicide Squad #1-8

10. Strange Tales #1-7

11. Infinity Inc. #34-44

12. Blood: A Tale #1-4

13. X-Factor #12-23

14. Silverblade #1-4

15. Blue Beetle #8-19

1987 And All That: Strange Tales #1-7

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

StrangeTales_1Strange 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 »

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.

Continue Reading »

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.

Continue Reading »

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.

Continue Reading »

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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