Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
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 »
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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Groo 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 »
The 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 »
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 »
Captain 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 (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 »
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 »
Peter 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 »
A good villain should do two things: 1. Work as a compelling character in their own right, someone the audience is interested in regardless of circumstance, and 2. Jive with the hero within the specific context of their shared story. Judged by these two metrics, Iron Man #219-221 is a tremendous triumph, introducing readers to the Ghost, a supervillain whose concept is simultaneously so strong and so simple that he works as a character despite (or because of) a total lack of background details or origin story. We don’t need to know exactly where he comes from to understand his motivations and the danger he represents, and he’s a perfect foe for Iron Man because of both his power set and his ultimate goals. It’s always nice to come to the end of a story and feel fully gratified by it while still somehow wanting more, and that’s exactly what this Iron Man arc delivers. There are no glaring loose ends when the narrative concludes, but there are plenty of open doors and unanswered questions, so that it feels complete but also like it’s the start of something bigger (which, of course, it is, insofar as the Ghost has made numerous appearances throughout the Marvel Universe in the decades since this initial storyline was published). Continue Reading »
Booster Gold #13-22 (DC) by Dan Jurgens, Gary Martin (#13), Mike DeCarlo (#14, 18), Bruce D. Patterson (#15), Bob Lewis (#16), Arne Starr (#17, 20), Al Vey (#19), Ty Templeton (#21-22), Gene D’Angelo (#13-15, 17-22), Bob Lappan (#13, 17), John Costanza (#14, 18), Agustin Mas (#15), Albert de Guzman (#16), Duncan Andrews (#19), Steve Haynie (#20-22), Barbara Randall
Booster Gold is kind of a jackass. My previous exposure to the character had always been in the context of the Justice League, so I knew he was cocky, but the true depths of his self-importance surprised me when reading his solo title. Yes, I was aware of his origins as a former star athlete from the future who stole technology from his own time, brought it to our own, and used it to make himself into a superhero. None of that screams altruism, so I suppose I could’ve expected the brash, reckless, in-love-with-himself hero I got, but for whatever reason it caught me off-guard at first. I guess I had always assumed that since he was a professional superhero, he must have a strong core goodness that would trump his immaturity and arrogance when it mattered. In reality, his self-interest is his core, and any genuine goodness that results does so almost in spite of his personality. He likes the superhero lifestyle, but his enjoyment comes first from the thrill and then from the fame, with any satisfaction he gets from actually helping someone or fighting evil being largely incidental. He’s not a bad person; he has loose morals that guide him and the hint of a sincere desire to be better and do more. Yet all of that keeps getting overshadowed by his continued focus on maintaining his public image, getting rich, womanizing, and having fun. Continue Reading »
1987 And All That: Star Brand #4-10 (Marvel) by Jim Shooter (#4-7), Roy Thomas (#7), Cary Bates (#8-9), George Caragonne (#10), John Romita, Jr. (#4-7), Arvell Jones (#8), Keith Giffen (#9), Mark Bagley (#10), Al Williamson (#4-6), Rick Bryant (#6), Al Milgrom (#6), Art Nichols (#7), Danny Bulanadi (#8), Bob Wiacek (#9), Pablo Marcos (#10), Christie Scheele (#4), Janet Jackson (#5-7), Petra Scotese (#8), Andy Yanchus (#9-10), Joe Rosen (#4-5, 7-8), Rick Parker (#6, 10), Ken Lopez (#9), Jack Morelli (#10), Michael Higgins (#4-9), Howard Mackie (#10)
There is no single, unifying narrative or theme that bonds all of these issues together, and often when that happens, I will review only one arc of the title rather than the entire year’s worth of material. In the case of Star Brand, though, the most interesting element of this particular run of issues is just how different they are from each other, and in particular the stark change that occurs when Jim Shooter and John Romita, Jr. leave the book. Continue Reading »
It’s unfortunately rare to find a comicbook—or any piece of entertainment, really—with a voice that is both unique and fully realized from the start. Concrete knows exactly what it wants to be right away, and it succeeds even though what it’s doing is off-beat and brave. It’s not an earth-shattering series, or even necessarily all that innovative in it’s look or storytelling techniques, but it still manages to stand out as a singular effort, the clear and well-executed vision of a creator who’s allowed to tell the stories that interest him in precisely the ways he wants. Paul Chadwick writes and draws the book, and it’s immediately clear how much thought, care, and time he’s devoted to it. Chadwick loves the world of Concrete and all the people in it, and his love is contagious, jumping off the page and infecting the reader before anyone knows what’s happening. Continue Reading »
Mister Miracle Special #1 (DC) by Mark Evanier, Steve Rude, Mike Royer, Anthony Tollin, Todd Klein, Richard Bruning, Robert Greenberger
There’s something very comforting about Mister Miracle Special #1. It’s fun yet unremarkable, and takes itself exactly as seriously as it deserves. A lot of story gets packed in, but so much of it is so goofy and/or low-stakes, it ends up being airy overall. While some sections fall flat, most of the book is successfully zany, and there are even some legitimate superheroics in a couple of scenes. It’s hard to do something this feel-good without it becoming saccharine, but this is just sweet enough not to be off-putting, a nice, simple story about two super-people in love working on their relationship.
At the beginning of the comic, Mister Miracle/Scott Free is getting back into death-defying escapes, like being locked in a safe that is dropped from a plane, which his wife Big Barda is not happy about. She understandably doesn’t like to watch her husband willingly put his life on the line, but Scott loves escaping and is having a hard time giving it up. Continue Reading »
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 »
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