The Midnight Comic Club Episode 8 – Frankenstein at Marvel & DC

As we come together for the eighth meeting of the Midnight Comic Club, we celebrate the November 32, 1931 release of James Whale’s Frankenstein starring Boris Karloff by looking at how Marvel and DC have integrated the character into their universes!

Starting with Marvel, check out Menace #7, X-Men #40 and the fantastic Monster Of Frankenstein trade paperback if you’d like to learn more.  Scroll on down for some images of those books as well as plenty of others mentioned in the episode. I also mentioned the Avengers: Legion Of The Unliving trade which you can check out here.

I should probably link to the episode, so here it is!

Here’s a few more of the Marvel books I mentioned: Nick Fury’s Howling Commandos, Howling Commandos Of S.H.I.E.L.D., Fear Itself: Deadpool/Fearsome Four and Punisher: Frankencastle.

Moving on to DC, these are some of the books I mentioned: Showcase Presents Superman Volume 2, The Demon By Jack Kirby, Showcase Presents The Phantom Stranger Volume 2, The Creature Commandos, Seven Soldiers Of Victory Volume 2 (though you should also check out Volume 1 as well), Frankenstein Agent Of S.H.A.D.E. Volume 1 and 2 and Elseworlds: Batman Volume 1.

Advertisements

The Midnight Comic Club Episode 4 – Alex Kropinak & Arkham Asylum

In this fourth meeting of The Midnight Comic Club, I talk with my buddy Alex Kropinak, one of the best toy animators in the business. He chose to read Batman: Arkham Asylum by Grant Morrison and Dave McKean. It’s an absolute, must-read classic for any comic AND horror fan.

Do yourself a favor and check out Alex’s fantastic animation work on YouTube and Vimeo and also give his blog a look. See the bottom of this very post for one of the Twisted ToyFare Theater strips he animated that I helped voice!

So, enjoy the episode and read on for a few more notes. In the following gallery you can see the covers to Arkham Asylum and The Cult, plus an image of the lettering by Gaspar Saladino and the big spread towards the beginning we both talk about.

The Arkham Asylum inspired story of is was called “Trial” from Season 2. Paul Dini and Bruce Timm came up with the story and Dini scripted.

Batman Gothic was drawn by Klaus Janson and originally appeared in Legends Of The Dark Knight #6-10.

I happened to talk with artists Brent Schoonover and Mark Laming at New York Comic Con after recording this episode and Laming told me that McKean’s artwork was actually mixed media and photographed!

We also talk about Batman: The Cult by Jim Starlin and Bernie Wrightson, which I haven’t read yet!

I’m helping! You can help by rating the show on iTunes and leaving comments or questions here!

Trade Post Quick Hits: Flex Mentallo, Severed, Justice Society Returns & Grayson

trade pile 8-26-15As you can see from the photo above, I’ve read a lot of random trades lately. Here are a few of them and my thoughts! Continue reading Trade Post Quick Hits: Flex Mentallo, Severed, Justice Society Returns & Grayson

Ad It Up: Animal Man (1988)

animal man ad cops 1 1988

Alright, let’s kick off this week celebrating 1988 with an ad for one of the all-time best comic books around: Animal Man! Shot from the first issue of DC Comics’ C.O.P.S. comic, this ad drawn by the amazing Brian Bolland let the world know that Buddy Baker was back in business under the watchful eye of some guy named Grant Morrison. As you can see, this is a differently colored version of the cover for the first issue that also features a few animal changes and a different background, but the same tag line and title treatment.

Now, I was five years old in 1988 so I didn’t experience this book at the time, but as I mentioned when I reviewed all three volumes of Morrison’s run, this is the kind of comic that every comic fan should read because it shows you exactly how to do a mind-bending story with an established hero that both celebrates the good and pokes a bit of fun at the bad. When I went into this week thinking of cool things from 1988 to write and post about, I didn’t actually realize that Animal Man debuted then, but quickly found the ad and knew it was a theme that would work well!

Grant Morrison Trade Post: JLA One Million & JLA Earth 2

jla one millionI’ve been slowly making my way through Grant Morrison’s mainstream DC Comics work starting with Animal Man and working up through The Flash and JLA. I’ve reabsorbed the first two JLA Deluxe volumes, but already reviewed those here and here, so it seemed like a good time to jump over and do JLA: One Million and JLA Earth 2.

DC One Million was an event that took place in November of 1998. The idea was that these characters from the far future — the 853rd century to be exact — would be around when the one millionth issue of Action Comics was published in “real time.” The heroes from the future came to the past to tell the originators that they were celebrating Superman Prime coming out of the sun after a long time. So, many of the JLA members went to the future where they were accused of being imposters while a plague ran through the present day. It was all pretty crazy and a tip off of the kind of event Morrison would create when he did Final Crisis a decade or so later.

I was a huge fan of this crossover drawn by Val Semeiks when it happened and have collected even more of the tie-ins in the ensuing years, though there is an omnibus that looks pretty rad. Anyway, I read the late 90s/early 00s trade that’s part of the JLA line and it’s a pretty weird reading experience thanks to the lack of covers between issues, slap dash creative credits and bouncing around between the main series and the tie-ins. The story itself is basically perfect for an event because much of the future stuff takes place in the tie-ins while the main series deals with the future heroes trying to save the present. The downside of that is that it feels like you’re reading about half a story when going through this particular trade.

As far as signature Morrison moments and ideas go, this book is jam-packed with them. You’ve got the idea that the superheroes we know and love essentially turn into gods who can not be forgotten, no matter how hard some try. That legacy idea is huge throughout his DC work. There’s also a quick appearance by General Eiling and his Ultra Marines who appear in JLA Deluxe Volume 3, but more than that Morrison takes equal time to shine the spotlight on the big guns as well as a ragtag group that includes Steel, Huntress, Plastic Man, Barda and Zauriel who are trying to save humanity. But more than anything — and the moment that stuck with me for decades after the fact — is the idea that he gives Superman a happy ending in regards to Lois. As a die-hard and longtime Superman fan, this meant — and continues to mean — a lot to me.

JLA_Earth_2I was less enthusiastic about JLA: Earth 2 by Morrison and Frank Quitely, the team that worked on New X-Men and All-Star Superman together later on down the line. This 2000 graphic novel came out towards the end of Morrison’s run on JLA which ended that same year and reintroduced the idea of the Crime Syndicate — evil versions of the Justice Leaguers — to the post-Crisis continuity.

See, back in the day when there were multiple Earths, the Crime Syndicate came from Earth 3 where good and evil were backwards. Instead of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman being heroes, Ultraman, Owl Man and Superwoman were big time baddies. In Morrison’s version, instead of coming from Earth 3, this gang was part of the Anti-Matter Universe. They referred to the regular DCU as Earth 2, hence the title.

The story itself follows Anti-Matter Lex Luthor (a hero) as he travels to the regular DCU reality to recruit the JLA into going back home with him to help out. They do so, but in an act of cosmic balance, the Crime Syndicate — which also includes Johnny Quick and Power Ring — gets transported to the regular DCU where they cause havoc. However, both soon realize that good and evil naturally triumph in each reality and return home.

Of all of the Morrison DC comics I’ve read so far, this one feels the most straightforward and “normal.” There aren’t any huge twists or mind-bending elements aside from the fact that certain universes only allow for certain elements to win out. It’s well-told and brisk, but not exactly what you’d expect from the man who had Superman fight an angel to a standstill. It also looks perfectly Quitely. It’s big and bold and mean at times (he draws the best sneers in the game). His is a style I wasn’t big on at first, but once I started seeing the incredible detail included, I completely switched around to uber-fandom.

I think part of the reason I didn’t really latch onto this story is that I just can’t get into stories where characters are just super, duper, completely and totally evil. And that’s exactly what the CSA members are. They murder and oppress citizens with impunity for no other reason than they can. In other words, they’re as far from a sympathetic villain as you can get. I’m guessing this was done as a way to shine a light on how good and amazing our heroes are, but I just wasn’t feeling it at the time. Still, it’s a fun, quick and oh-so-pretty adventure.

Grant Morrison Trade Post: Flash – Emergency Stop & The Human Race

Flash Emergency StopMuch like my tour through the works of John Carpenter, my look at Grant Morrison’s DC Comics work came to a screeching halt last year. After writing about Animal Man, the first Doom Patrol collection (which doesn’t really count) and Aztek I intended to move on to the run on Flash he did with Mark Millar, but just didn’t get to it. I want to get back in action, so here we go!

The Flash: Emergency Stop (DC)
Written by Grant Morrison & Mark Millar, drawn by Paul Ryan
Collects Flash #130-135

Okay, so TECHNICALLY, Morrison launched JLA before he and Millar started working on Flash, but since this is a smaller run, I’m tackling it first. To be even more accurate, he had already finished up Aztek and done a year of JLA issues when Flash finally hit. This is actually pretty clear in the story because Wally west specifically mentions the time he and the gang fought the Key in JLA #7-9. I only mention that because part of doing these posts is to look at how connected all of Morrison’s DC books are.

Before getting into the actual stories, I just have to say how much I love this era of Flash. I came to know him as a horn dog jokester in Justice League Europe and saw him grow and mature into a family man over the years. I know he’s a fictional character, but seeing that kind of growth and depth doesn’t come often. At one point I had a subscription to Flash and tried to keep up on his adventures. These Morrison and Millar issues come right in the middle of Mark Waid’s epic run on the book (which he would pick up after they were done). It was a fun time to watch a good hero, do amazing things.

Going back to the story itself, this one starts off with a story about a killer supervillain suit, moves into the return of Mirror Master (who Grant introduced in Animal Man), a Jay Garrick solo story and the third part of a crossover with Green Lantern and Green Arrow. The first two are a lot of fun that take Silver Age-like stories and tell them in a more modern manner. They both also introduce countdown elements that quicken your pace as you read through the book, a nice trick if you can get it to work. The Jay one is a pure love letter not just to Golden Age heroes, but to amazing parent/grandparent figures (if you don’t want Jay Garrick as a mentor after reading this issue, you’re just not well) and the last gets into that very Grant headspace that looks at how a world filled with superheroes would actually work. In this case, we’re talking about law and the court system. I can’t be 100% sure because it’s been so long, but it felt like he hit on some of these themes later in the Seven Soldiers Bulletwoman story, but I’ll let you know when I get there.

The first time I read the Suit story — actually back when these issues came out circa 1997 — I thought it was a little corny. But, looking back now, I realize I was missing the context. Morrison and Millar were clearly going for a horror movie theme put on top of a superhero story. Once I latched onto that idea, I had a lot more fun with it. This story also breaks the Flash’s legs which means he wraps himself in Speed Force to create a new sort that he eventually makes look like his usual suit (though I liked the yellow one myself).

flash human raceFlash: The Human Race (DC)
Written by Grant Morrison & Mark Millar, drawn by Paul Ryan, Ron Wagner, Pop Mahn, Joshua Hood & Mike Parobeck
Collects Flash #136-141, Secret Origins #50

This second book was only half co-written by Morrison, but it continues many of the themes and ideas established in the first and is generally a solid read. The first story, “The Human Race,” finds Wally racing his imaginary friend from childhood to keep the Earth from being destroyed. After playing along for a trip through time that shows us the destruction of Kyrpton and caveman Guardians of the Galaxy, Flash uses his brains instead of his feet to figure out a way to save the day. The second features the first appearance of The Black Flash (the Grim Reaper for Speedsters) who takes someone important to Wally, but comes back for more later on. Both stories continue that Silver Age-but-updated feel that takes seemingly bonkers ideas and puts weight behind them because we’ve come to care about these characters so much.

Alright, let’s get into themes. Morrison loves legacy heroes and that shows on just about every page of these books. Back in the 90s, Wally West was always hanging out with a group of younger and older heroes making him the center of a super cool, super family that also included his awesome girlfriend/fiance/wife Linda Park (I actually squealed when she appeared on The Flash this season). I loved this element and it’s clear that the writers did as well. But the legacy aspect also carries through with the villains as well with new guys picking up the old weapons and making themselves Rogues. These new relationships also showcase how different things are from when Barry was alive and the bad guys didn’t seem so bad. The idea of what makes heroes and villains chose their paths is also a constant. Why is Flash a hero? Why does Mirror Master do what he does? Why can’t Jay let the Thinker pass away? We don’t get the answers laid out for us, but through actions we get an idea of why.

Morrison is also known for putting himself in his stories. He actually appears in Animal Man and has said he modeled Invisibles‘ King Mob after himself, but he’s a little less obvious this time around. I posit that the very Scottish Mirror Master is a stand in for the writer (or possibly both writers). Why? Well, first off, no one understands Scots like Scots. But also because this villain appears to put the hero through his paces without really saying why and isn’t that the whole point of writing corporately owned superhero comics?

I mentioned above that I read this book before JLA because it’s shorter, but after finishing, I’m glad I did it this way for another reason. First off, I’ll be able to keep an eye out for any ideas that cross pollinate (like the costume I also mentioned above). It’s also nice to see how he handles two very different kinds of teams. The Flash group is a family, while the JLA is a professional group of heroes. He got to play in both of those sandboxes at the same time which must have been gratifying. It’s also nice to see him be able to take one of the characters he played with in the widesweeping super-opera that was JLA and drill down more into the character. He’d go on to do this to great effect with Superman and Batman so it’s cool to see this earlier experiment in action. Now? On to JLA!

Grant Morrison Trade Post: Aztek The Ultimate Man

aztek JLA Presents: Aztek The Ultimate Man (DC)
Written by Grant Morrison & Mark Millar, drawn by N. Steven Harris
Collects Aztek #1-10

After reading Grant Morrison’s full run on Animal Man and the first Doom Patrol volume, I should have moved on to Arkham Asylum and then Batman: Gothic, but I don’t have the former or the latter (anymore). But, looking at his DC work, Aztek: The Ultimate Man, his 1996-1997 comic with Mark Millar, marks the next books he did. Since I had it on hand, it was easy to pull off and read through. I will say that, while I read this book fairly quickly, it was a while ago and quite a bit has happened in the meantime, but I did want to get this review up to keep the flowing going a bit.

Aztek was a completely new hero with no connections to the rest of the DCU and even a new city to protect, Vanity. Powered by a mix of sci-fi tech and fantasy elements, Aztek has been training forever to become a protector and journeyed to Vanity because that’s where something big and bad is supposed to happen. While there, he foils a crime and eventually gets the name Aztek from the local newsfolks. He also takes the identity of a doctor named Curt Falconer and is somehow able to do his job at the hospital, Pretender-style.

In addition to going through some traditional secret identity stuff (juggling the job and being a hero, romance, etc.) Aztek runs into some familiar and brand new villains as well as a few heroes like Green Lantern, Batman and Superman. We also eventually find out a bit more about the organization that trained him and the shadowy folks behind it all.

But, the whole thing felt a bit rushed and maybe even a little sloppy to me. I never felt like it was properly explained how this guy could just become a doctor with no medical training. Crazier yet, he turns out to be the best doctor in the hospital! This also wound up feeling like a 24 issues series crammed into 10 issues and then shifted over into Morrison’s run on JLA which doesn’t do it too many favors. I also don’t dig Harris’ artwork that much. It’s very angular and everything felt too extended, like the whole book was a David Lynch dream sequence. That matches the off-kilter tone of the book, but it’s not my bag.

I just realized that one of the big problems with the book is that the lead is just so bland and boring when not fighting bad guys or finding out about his past. What is there to this guy aside from what he’s done? Not much. He’s your basic good guy hero, one who happens to fall into a pretty great job and a seemingly even better situation towards the end of the run when his mysterious benefactor comes along. He lacks the swagger or charisma of a Tony Stark or Bruce Wayne and seems to out-Clark Kent Clark Kent when it comes to just being a good person trying to stop bad guys.

I also think it’s crazy that, for a few years there, Morrison and Mark Millar were writing comics together. To me it’s like finding out that Neill Blomkamp and Michael Bay had a series of films together. One creator is pretty cerebral, but still does great things in the big-time superhero space while the other goes for popcorn spectacle or “shock” tactics. Anyway, it’s always hard to figure out who wrote what in team-ups like this, but there were definitely moments in this book where I found myself guessing at who added which bit of the tale.

Anyway, I think Aztek is probably the least Morrison-y book of his I’ve ever read. There are some of his signature wild ideas, but overall, it’s a fairly standard superhero story with the problems I already mentioned above. In fact, aside from a few appearances, the book even feels like an independent comic. And, aside from the eventual JLA inclusion that was actually pretty great, Aztek might have been better suited as an Image book if it was, in fact, planned as a much larger story than presented in this trade.

Even with the complaints levied against Aztek, I will be keeping this book in my collection. I’ve still got a bit of that completist vibe, so it feels pretty necessary for my JLA collection. Plus, like most of Morrison’s comics, I think that fairly regular re-readings help fully absorb the material. I’ve since interrupted my chronological Morrison read-through, but I should be getting to the Morrison/Millar Flash run fairly soon. In the meantime, you can check out my older reviews of JLA Volume 1, JLA Volume 2 and Flash: The Human Race.