The Midnight Comic Club Episode 1 – Super Scares!

Welcome to the first meeting of The Midnight Comic Club! A few months ago, I got an idea that just would not leave me alone: a podcast about horror comics. There are plenty of shows about horror and many about comics, but this cross-section seamed relatively uncovered. It’s time to fire up those flashlights and read some creepy comics!

This first episode focuses on some of my favorite Superman-related horror stories that I read not long after getting into comics in 1992. I cover everything from hugely popular stories like the Death of Superman to smaller, but still-hard-hitting tales like the sad story of Adam Grant.

Here’s  a series of Comixology links to some of the issues featured in the episode including The Death Of Superman and Adventures Of Superman #500, Superman #84, 85 and Action Comics #865. Superman Annual #7 doesn’t seem to be on there, but Action #692 is. You can check out DC Comics Presents #85 as a single issue or just go for the DC Universe By Alan Moore. I’m not seeing Adventures Of Superman Annual #6, Superboy Annual #1 or Action Annual #1 as digital issues, but the last one can be found in the Dark Knight Over Metropolis and Man Of Steel Volume 6 collections.  Finally, if you’re interested in Emperor Joker, here’s the trade. If you REALLY want to get your hands on the unlinked-to issues, MyComicShop.com has them: Superman Annual #7, Adventures of Superman Annual #6 and Superboy Annual #1 (scroll on down til you see them, they’re only $1.70 each!).

If you have any questions or want to suggest topics for future shows, hit me up in the comments! Also, if you like the show, tell your friends and head on over to Apple and rate the podcast!

Superman Rebirth Trade Post: Action Comics & Superman

When it comes to DC Rebirth books, the Superman group, the Superman group stands apart. I’m not saying that as a longtime and devoted Man of Steel fan (though I am), but because the headline character is actually the version from the previous universe, as explained in Superman: Lois & Clark. Some time after that book, the New 52’s version of Superman seemingly died before DC launched their Rebirth initiative. In Superman Volume One: Son Of Superman and Superman: Action Comics Volume One: Path Of Doom, the previous incarnation of Superman leaves the black-and-silver suit behind, takes up the more familiar colors and makes his presence known to a world still reeling from his predecessor’s death. Continue reading Superman Rebirth Trade Post: Action Comics & Superman

Lex Luthor Trade Post: The Black Ring Volumes 1 & 2

superman the black ring vol 1 Superman: The Black Ring Volume One
Written by Paul Cornell, drawn by Pete Woods
Collects Action Comics #890-895

When the New 52 was announced a few years back, there was a part of me that was glad because it offered such a clear and obvious place for me to cut off my relationship with monthly comics. For years I’d worked at Wizard where it was part of my job to stay on top of what was going on which was easy because we used to get a couple copies of every book each week. I got laid off a few years before the big switch over and kept up as well as I could, but fell way behind. Once the continuities shifted, I didn’t feel like there was a limitless number of future comics that I’d have to check out just to stay up to date. Sure there would be New 52 books I’d check out and probably love, but that could all be absorbed in trade form.

In that time between Wizard and the New 52, though, there still were some really great stories that I missed, including Paul Cornell’s run on Action Comics that showcased Lex Luthor as he tried to discover the truth behind the Black Lantern rings he discovered during Blackest Night.

In this first volume Luthor finds himself dealing with a new brand of obsession thanks to his exposure to the Orange Lantern and Ring in the aforementioned crossover. That urging makes him want to find out what’s up with the Black Lantern rings even more than he would have otherwise. This quest puts him on a path that leads to opposition and interference from Mr. Mind (or a clone/copy of the one from 52), Deathstroke, Gorilla Grodd, Vandal Savage and even Death from Sandman, marking her first appearance in the DCU (or at least the first time in a long time). To help balance himself out, Lex has created a robot version of his one true love, Lois Lane, who also happens to break out the big guns whenever necessary.

I had more fun reading these six issues than I expected to and I thought I’d enjoy it. I’ve been reading Superman comics since 1992, so I’ve seen plenty of takes on Lex Luthor, some more successful than others. I thought Cornell did a fantastic job of setting this version up and carrying that out through a series of adventures that not only make sense in the general concept of the character (who always craves power in every version) while also having fun and presenting a somewhat roguish character that you kind of hate to love. Luthor’s as smarmy and conceited as you might expect, but he also earns it by being the smartest, most prepared guy in the room, even when said room includes interdimensional telepathic worms and ancient immortal barbarians. He’s basically jerky Batman with no costume and a mad-on for the world’s most beloved superhero. With Superman not actually appearing in this book — he was walking around the country in the yawn-inducing “Grounded” story over in Superman at the time — I personally found it easier to get on Luthor’s side.

And boy does Pete Woods draw the heck out of these issues. Every time I look at his pages I wonder how he can achieve such a smooth, shiny, detailed look. He’s Terry Dodson or Frank Cho-esque while keeping female proportions in a more realistic zone. And his facial expressions are up there with Kevin Maguire’s which is super important when working with a smarmy character like Luthor. This first volume really impressed me to the point where I was really glad I already had the second one on hand so I could jump right in and keep reading.

superman the black ring vol 2Superman: The Black Ring Volume Two
Written by Paul Cornell with Gail Simone, drawn by Pete Woods with Jesus Merino, Marco Rudy, Ed Benes, Marcos Marz, Luciana Delnegro, Dan Jurgens, Rags Morales, Ardian Syaf, Jamal Igle & Gary Frank
Collects Action Comics #896-900, Secret Six #29

I’m not usually a fan of one trade ending on a cliffhanger and leading into the next one, but since I had both volumes on hand, it didn’t bother me too much. Being the incredibly well prepared evil genius that he is, Luthor already had a plan at the ready in case Vandal Savage came at him, one that included the Secret Six, which is lead by his daughter Scandal. Secret Six is one of those books that people seem to either love or hate. I’m somewhere in the middle, loving much of it, but hating Ragdoll, so the inclusion of that issue, while appropriate for the story, did get on my nerves a little.

From there, we get a pair of flashback issues that find young Lex hanging out with Darkseid and Ra’s al Ghul before returning to the present where he gets back to his main mission which brings him into contact with Joker and Larfleze before reaching its epic conclusion which includes Luthor gaining the power of a god, but losing it because SPOILER he doesn’t like being told what to do or having rules.

One of the really interesting things about this book is that, by bringing Luthor into contact with some of the DCU’s most prominent villains, you not only get a better idea of what makes him tick, but why some of these people strive for their goals even after getting their butts handed to them time after time by the superhero community. Each of them has something that pushes them forward. And while those motivations aren’t the main focus of the book, they are there for the reader to mull over to their degree of interest.

Another great aspect of Cornell’s story as a whole is that, by defining Lex Luthor so damn well, it also helps to define Superman. We see how complex Lex Luthor is and why he hates Superman, but at the very end we see why Lex is the bad guy and Superman is the good guy which makes for an incredibly appropriate 900th issue celebration. For all his claims of wanting humanity to thrive without aliens lording power over humanity, this is just a guy who doesn’t like being told what to do sacrificing the potential to do great good for his own ego. He doesn’t care if the aliens are above humanity, he hates having an alien over HIM.

It all harkens back to a great scene in the post-One Year Later Superman story collected in Up, Up And Away. Superman lost his powers for a year which left Lex free to supposedly pursue all those altruistic motives he supposedly had for killing Superman, but instead he wasted it to which Superman responds with a line like “You could have been curing cancer while I was gone!” That all sums this character up perfectly. If you believe he wants to help humanity, you’re buying into one of his many lies, but then again, I can’t really fault you for that because he’s pretty damn good at it.

It’s probably pretty obvious by this point, but I love this run. I read these volumes thanks to copies acquired from my local library system, but I think I’ll keep an eye out to add them to my collection. It’s rare to find such a well plotted out story that moves along surprisingly well for so many issues and also does such a great job of defining a character.

Superman Trade Post: Action Comics Volume 1 (New 52) & Man Of Steel Volume 7

action comics new 52 volume 1 Action Comics Volume 1: Superman And The Men Of Steel (DC)
Written by Grant Morrison, drawn by Rags Morales, Andy Kubert, Gene Ha, Brent Anderson & Brad Walker
Collects Action Comics (New 52) #1-8

After enjoying Man of Steel so much, I figured it made sense to read a few Superman comics. As it turned out, I had an interesting sampling in my to-read box including the first volume of Grant Morrison’s New 52 Action Comics as well as the latest collection of post-Crisis Superman comics, Man of Steel Vol. 7.

I actually tried reading the first volume of the New 52 version of Superman and could not get through the book. I actually counted the number of panels that Superman appeared in in the first issue compared to ones he didn’t and the ratio was ridiculous. It’s supposed to introduce the character to the world in a whole new universe and you barely use him? Seemed silly to me. From there things went downhill and I didn’t bother finishing. Still, I had high hopes for Grant Morrison’s Action Comics because I consider him to be a really smart writer who loves this character and, even though he’s written Supes in JLA, All-Star Superman and Final Crisis, he still seems to have a lot to say about one of the world’s most famous fictional characters.

The volume finds a T-shirt and cape wearing Superman who hasn’t been around too long doing his best to mess with the kinds of people who tend to get away with all kinds of crimes thanks to their piles of cash and influence. Meanwhile, Clark Kent works for The Daily Star doing similar work but with his words instead of his fists. Since he’s still pretty new on the scene, the government doesn’t trust Superman and has General Lane working with Lex Luthor to try and figure out a way to stop him. While all this is going on new versions of Brainiac and Metallo get involved. Superman learns about himself, his home planet and even gets the suit he wears in the modern day New 52 U. There’s also a pretty fun story featuring the Legion of Super-Heroes and current Superman traveling to the Action Comics time period to fight the Anti-Superman Army.

Like I said, I like Morrison’s work and have come to expect a kind of slow-burn when it comes to his stories. There’s another 10 issues of this run, so I’m definitely curious to see how he wrapped the story up. But, there were a few things about this volume that got under my skin. First of all, Rags Morales’ art is not so great in the earlier issues. His pencils look too loose and many of his figures look generally un-dynamic, but the weakest part is his eyes. They look googley half the time with one pupil pointing one direction and the other elsewhere. It’s incredibly distracting and really draws you out of the story. Oh, plus, there’s no possible way that Clark Kent and Superman could be the same person the way they’re drawn in this book which is unfortunate.

The other aspect of the book — actually the first story, specifically — is the fact that it feels like many of the plot points feel more akin to another character: the Hulk. You not only have the dynamic of Lois’ dad trying to get rid of our hero (no, they’re not together, but it’s Lois and Superman, we know the potential is there), but also her rebuked lover becoming a villain in his own right. I know these are fairly general plot points, but they came off as a little tired to me. Luckily the story doesn’t dwell on those elements too much, so that’s more of a minor complaint.

As a longtime Superman fan, it was interesting to see how Morrison reshaped concepts and characters like Steel, Brainiac and Metallo. I hate Jimmy Olsen’s haircut, but the portrayal of him and Lois seemed right on. I like seeing a younger, more brash Superman and the same qualities in Clark. Overall, this seemed like a solid Superman comic. I almost wrote that it’s probably not the best comic to give someone who wants to learn about Superman, but then again, this book shares a lot of themes with Zack Snyder’s movie, so maybe it would be a good idea. Someone test the theory!

superman man of steel vol 7 Superman The Man Of Steel Volume 7 (DC)
Written by John Byrne and Jerry Ordway, drawn by Byrne & Ordway
Collects Action Comics #596-597, Adventures Of Superman #436-438 and Superman #13-15

DC’s Jack Kirby and Man Of Steel books are probably my favorite collection projects around. The former introduced me to The King’s wild DC projects while the latter brings together all of the post-Crisis Superman comics into one place. That’s important to me because these books are filling in all kinds of gaps I had in my Superman reading which started in 1992. My hope is they get up to the Death of Superman story and then I’ve got it from there with the books from my collection.

This particular volume of Man Of Steel is an interesting one. I flipped through it and was surprised to see several issues tied into the mega crossover Millennium. While I don’t remember the details of that story too well aside from the basics — the Manhunters have replaced key people in the lives of superheroes — but I don’t remember Superman playing a huge role which fits with these issues in which Supes deals with the fact that a small army of Smallvillians were actually Manhunters, including Lana Lang. There’s an explanation for everything that works within the story, but it’s a pretty crazy revelation when you think about it. While they were explaining how they kept an eye on the Kryptonian infant, the Manhunters also revealed that they created the huge blizzard that allowed the Kents to tell the townspeople that Martha gave birth to Clark but wasn’t able to get to the hospital. This seemed like a strange piece of information to tack on to an origin story — storms can just happen, they don’t need a reason to happen — but at the time John Byrne was steering the Superman ship and that’s that. By the way co-wrote and drew every issue in this collection!

The weirdest part of this whole thing, though, is a lie that Pa and Ma Kent decide to tell Lois: that they raised Superman alongside Clark. Not only did this lie seem completely unnecessary — sure, Lois asks Superman point blank if he’s really Superman after all the craziness that went down in Smallville, but he’s Superman, he could have come up with a better answer — but I also don’t remember hearing this repeated in any other comic down the line. He doesn’t reveal that he’s Superman to Lois until Action Comics #662, so did she believe Clark and Supes grew up  like brothers that whole time? Does she forget? Do they tell her another lie? I’m very curious about this because the whole thing understandably makes Lois furious. She’s mad that they lied to her, but more so, she feels like she was fed stories and pitied by the two of them anytime she got a story. It’ll be interesting to see how that storyline plays out.

The book ends with a pair of standalone issues. The first gives a little bit more background about Maggie Sawyer and introduces us to her daughter who has fallen under the spell of Skyhook, a bat-like creature who can somehow turn others into winged beings like himself. Byrne really gets to have fun in this issue stretching into some horror elements that weren’t overly common in these books at the time. The final issues introduces us to a circus mentalist who calls himself Brainiac and seems to have L.E.G.I.O.N. creator Vril Dox banging around in his head. I think this might be the first mention of Dox in post-Crisis continuity, but he seems different than the one seen in Invasion and then L.E.G.I.O.N. This is a more villainous incarnation along the lines of his pre-Crisis counterpart. For what it’s worth, the character’s Wiki page makes no mention of this appearance, noting that Dox’s first appearance is in Invasion #1. Interesting stuff.

While this collection series if firmly aimed at Superman fans of my ilk, I’m very thankful that they exist. This is the Superman that lead into the version of the character I’m most familiar with. Yes he’s powerful and inspiring, but he’s neither all-powerful nor perfect. Sure, I get a kick out of him moving planets and whatnot, but this is the version of the character I’m most familiar with and have the most affection for. Please keep these books coming DC!

Superman Trade Post: Up, Up & Away, Last Son & Escape From Bizarro World

superman up up and away Superman: Up, Up & Away (DC)
Written by Kurt Busiek & Geoff Johns, drawn by Pete Woods & Renato Guedes
Collects Action Comics #837-840, Superman #650-653

I’ve said time and time again here on the blog when talking about comics, especially DC Comics, that I was a hardcore continuity guy, especially when it came to Superman. Those are the books that got me into comics and taught me the most about the Man of Steel and the greater DC Universe. So, when Infinite Crisis went down and did some vague continuity edits that didn’t seem that well conveyed and I started reading Geoff Johns’ run on Action Comics, I was confused and angrier than I should have been. I was being over-reactionary and not really fair partly because of my bias, but also because I was so dedicated to the version of that character that I was so familiar with.

Since then, I’ve done more thinking about all this than I probably should have, but I go back to what I call the Puzzle Theory Of Corporate Comic Characters. The way I see it, every single existing Superman story is a puzzle piece that a new writer can come in and use. Take Batman for example. That character can work as the ultra-dark version seen in the Christopher Nolan movies or as the fun, upbeat version seen in the Brave and the Bold cartoon. It’s the same character with different past aspects highlighted by the creators. That’s the lens through which I checked out Johns run on Action Comics when I went back and re-read it recently. He’s more a fan of the Silver Age stuff than the books I read, so that’s what he highlighted. I’m doing the first three books here and will do the final two next week, then maybe get into the New Krypton stuff which he set up and then handed off to James Robinson, Greg Rucka and Sterling Gates.

So, Infinite Crisis changed the DCU a bit by making Clark Kent Superboy when he was a kid. That was the major difference for Supes, but they also took away his powers for a year leading into One Year Later and 52. Up, Up & Away is a crossover between Action Comics and Superman with Johns and Kurt Busiek trading off issues in an effort to set up the new world without a Superman and, of course, gradually bring him back. In the year since he lost his powers helping bring down Superboy Prime, Clark has been able to enjoy the finer aspects of being a regular person: getting really good at his job, being more present with his wife and savoring his more limited senses. But of course, it’s not meant to last. While Clark had most of his bases covered with Supergirl and other heroes watching over Metropolis, he didn’t account for Lex Luthor getting out of jail and going back to his mad scientist roots, gathering villains and wielding them as weapons against Metropolis and Superman once he does return.

I can’t say for sure, but I think I really liked these books when they came out and I liked it a lot on this read through. It seemed like both writers really got a good grasp of the character and did a few things that I really enjoyed, most of which had to do with Lex Luthor. When I started reading Superman books, he was the quintessential industrial bad guy, but I’m also a big fan of mad scientist Lex. Better than that, though, the book asked a question that I had never thought of until these issues: Why didn’t Lex put his genius to use curing cancer instead of going after Superman? I tended to think of Luthor in the sense that he was portrayed in the Lex Luthor: Man of Steel series as a good man trying to defend his people from what he saw as a threat, but that ignores the irresponsible and crazy aspects of the character that are also there. Why DIDN’T he cure cancer?! Cause he’s nuts. There are also stellar moments between Lois and Clark where she explains that, while she enjoyed her time with powerless Clark Kent, she knows he needs to be Superman for the world’s sake. This is my favorite relationship in comics.

The book ends and Superman’s back in the suit with the bad guys are vanquished. He’s even helping rebuild parts of the city and handing over the signal watch to Jimmy Olsen. It’s a cool ending that doesn’t really establish the new status quo of Superman or Clark Kent, but did give a cool feel for both before moving into the separate books.

SUPERMAN LAST SON Superman: The Last Son (DC)
Written by Geoff Johns & Richard Donner, drawn by Adam Kubert
Collects Action Comics #844-846, 851 & Action Comics Annual #11

I hope there’s a point in my comic reading career when I can completely separate my reading of a trade from the knowledge I have about how that series came out in a monthly format. It’s not much of a problem anymore because I don’t read many single issues anymore so lateness has very little meaning to me. If you don’t remember or weren’t around, the books in this collection were widely spread out, had fill-ins by completely different creative teams and didn’t actually get finalized until much later when the annual came out, allowing DC’s flagship title to continue on without as much interference. It was frustrating.

There was actually a lot that frustrated me about this book the first time around. It was assumed that the lateness came from then-new DC acquisition Adam Kubert. I don’t have much tolerance artist lateness, especially if it’s an artist I’m not into. I didn’t see what all the fuss was about and therefore wasn’t very forgiving when month after month passed and the story still hadn’t wrapped up. There were also a pair of story elements that bothered me. First, the book features Superman meeting the Phantom Zone villains for presumably the first time which I thought had already happened in the previous continuity. Second, I didn’t want Superman to have a kid.

However, this time, I was able to just take it all in at once. And you know what? I liked most of the story. I did my best to ignore the lateness and my continuity bias, instead just letting myself focus on this new story and it’s pretty good, though I’m still not a great big fan of Adam Kubert’s. Aside from some poorly constructed figures when zoomed out, my main problem with the art was that it looked like the figures were being photoshopped onto painted backgrounds. When artists do that kind of thing, it looks inorganic and distracts from the implication that you’re looking at a whole broken up into many panels.

As usual, I’m getting ahead of myself. This story kicks off with a young Kryptonian landing on Earth. He’s soon followed by Zod, Ursa and Non (better known as the bad guys from Superman II) who are actually using their son as a tether allowing them to escape the Negative Zone. Now Superman has to fight for the very survival of his adoptive planet and his new foster son in the face of overwhelming odds.

I dug the ins and outs of this story from the explanation of how Lor-Zod was conceived to Mon-El’s appearance and the Bizarro fight to the people Superman turns to for help in defeating his enemies. My only real problems this time around were still related to other comics, but not the ones I read as a kid, but instead Up, Up & Away. Somehow Clark Kent went from a confident guy wearing a Smallville jacket to a suit and tie-wearing doofus who felt the need to act as such to hide his secret identity. Doesn’t that seem weird? Wouldn’t that kind of big character change cause a lot of people to wonder what’s going on? However, as its own thing and the beginning of Johns’ solo run (he recently said on Kevin Smith’s Fat Man On Batman podcast that he basically hammered out the beats with his one-time boss Richard Donner and then scripted it himself), it works a lot better than it did as a monthly comic. One of the major negatives at the time was that Lor-Zod wound up spending months and months with Clark and Lois, basically spinning his wheels until everyone got their stuff together and gave him the proper send off which wound up being really emotional and well done.

superman escape from bizarro world Superman: Escape From Bizarro World (DC)
Written by Geoff Johns & Richard Donner, drawn by Eric Powell
Collects Action Comics #855-857, Superman #140, DC Comics Presents #71 & The Man of Steel #5

While I might want to forget some elements of the previous books, I have only good memories and experiences with Escape From Bizarro World, which is a three issue story drawn by The Goon‘s Eric Powell. While working at Wizard, I was given the assignment of interviewing Powell for a sketchbook feature. You can actually see the sketches in the intro written by Brian K. Vaughan, but the amazing Darkseid one he did wasn’t included because he has nothing to do with the story. That image of Darkseid has become second only to Jack Kirby’s in my mind for iconic interpretations of the character. Powell was also a super nice guy to interview. He had a death in the family at the time and still took the time to help me with the article, something I don’t know if I could have focused on in his shoes. Good guy that Powell.

This story completely plays to Powell’s strengths as it takes place mostly on a planet that Bizarro smashed together and happens to be under a blue sun which has given him “Bizarro Vision,” the ability to create Bizarro clones. The downside? They hate him. Bizarro needs advice so he kidnaps Jonathan Kent which eventually brings Supes to the planet. Superman actually wants to just get out of there and leave Biz to his problems, but his dad is there to play moral compass and help the two figure out a way to change the status quo. It’s a great series of moments, but doesn’t hold a candle to the few scenes of Superman’s dad getting his son’s powers and understanding for a little while what that’s like. Better yet? The gift Bizarro gave him at the end. Man, that gave me a little lump in my throat!

It’s a quick story with all kinds of goodness on both ends of the comic spectrum. Johns and Donner weaved a wonderful story that ranks up there with some of my favorites. At the same time, Powell not only gets to draw backwards zombie-ish versions of the Justice League and Superman’s supporting cast, but also does a Superman so iconic I almost can’t stand that there’s only three issues.

To beef up the trade, DC did something pretty fun by including three different Bizarro issues from years’ past. Better than just including some basic stuff, though, they actually got Johns to pick issues that inspired him when writing the character. The writer even writes mini essays about why he included each issue which is pretty great.  So, instead of reprinting Bizarro’s first appearance, he went with the one where Bizarro and Bizarro Lois Lane have a kid who’s normal and therefore a weirdo on their planet. This plays up on the themes of alienation that Johns used throughout all of his Superman stories.

Alright, I want to say one more thing while on the subject of how these books are collected. I understand it makes sense to collect the books by artist, but there are a few issues here and there from Johns’ run that weren’t collected in these books. I don’t have the exact issue numbers on hand, but I know there was a Toyman issue that got passed over for collection. I’m sure I’m not the only one to suggest this, but it would be nice to have a Geoff Johns Action Comics Omnibus. They’ve done that with his Teen Titans and Flash runs, so maybe we’re not far off from that with Superman.

Picking Up The 52 – Everything Else

As I said over in my more in-depth reviews of DC’s relaunch titles Huntress, Batwing, Hawk & Dove and Deathstroke #1s, I came upon a stack of books from the relaunch and read them in the order they were piled in. I was going to spread these reviews out a bit longer, but first I got a little behind in posting and then I got my hands on even more comics I want to talk about, so let’s get these out of the way, shall we. Overall, I’m still not sure how successful the issues I read were at either roping in new readers with familiar stories or  giving existing fans interesting things to sink their teeth into. I found myself really enjoying the weirder books, things like Deathstroke or Frankenstein or Justice League Dark, basically books that could be taken out of DC, tweaked here and there and feel like new, original creator owned concepts. There are a few revisions of existing franchises that I liked and one particular one that failed. If you’re curious to see what I thought in a few sentences for each issue, read on! Continue reading Picking Up The 52 – Everything Else