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.

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.

Grant Morrison Trade Post: Doom Patrol Vol. 1 Crawling From The Wreckage

Doom Patrol Vol 1 Crawling From The WreckageDoom Patrol Vol. 1: Crawling From The Wreckage (DC/Vertigo)
Written by Grant Morrison, drawn by Richard Case & Doug Braithwaite
Collects Doom Patrol #19-25

While reading Grant Morrison’s three volume run on Animal Man I remembered that I had another book of his from that era and figured it made sense to give it a look. Morrison took over Doom Patrol with #19 in 1989. He’d go on to have a much longer run on this book than Animal Man. And, I think it’s safe to say that this is one of his weirdest books right up there with Invisibles which I need to give another shot, though not in regards to the current mission of reading Morrison’s DCU-set comics.

In fact, I wasn’t even sure if Doom Patrol would count and, frankly, after giving this first collection of his run a read, I’d say it doesn’t. Sure these characters are part of the DCU, but aside from an appearance by Will Magnus, these issues are almost completely self contained. Of course, this does go back to one of the things I liked about Animal Man in that Morrison was able to tell his own story while also using pieces from the larger DC sandbox.

Before getting into the details of this particular comic, I must admit that I have very little experience with Doom Patrol. I’ve never read the original run that people seem to love so much and have only seen a few guest spots here and there and tried reading a few of the relaunches that came later on down the line, but never really had much to latch onto. Much like The Metal Men, they seemed like a team that writers were more interested in being nostalgic for than making great new stories for new readers. The key to the team always just seemed that these characters are WEEEEEEEEEIRD. I’ve since read that part of the appeal to the original run was basically the same as X-Men when it launched: shining the spotlight on people who feel out of synch with society and turning them into heroes.

Some of that comes across in these first issues from Morrison, but I’ve got to admit that, as a Doom Patrol newbie, I went through these issues mostly confused. I don’t even need to know what kind of wreckage these characters crawled through, but a simple run down of who’s who in the beginning of the collection would have been nice. As a longtime comic reader I knew who Robotman and The Chief were. I even have a tenuous handle on what’s up with Negative Man, but who are Joshua and Dorothy Spinner? This book won’t help you find out. In other words, it might be a little too in medias res for its own good. Part of the fault here lies on Morrison’s shoulders, but another part falls on the people who made this collection who should have done a better job of making it readable for anybody.

So, on to the actual story. Something bad happened to the team and now The Chief, their wheelchair-bound leader, is rebuilding the team, kinda. Robotman meets a woman called Crazy Jane who not only has multiple personalities, but a different power to go along with each of them. They wind up getting together with the rest of the group which now includes a Negative Man/Woman combo called Rebis and facing off against the truly terrifying Scissormen as well as Red Jack who both look they came out of the collective unconscious shared by Clive Barker and Tim Burton. They’re super creepy bad guys who help set the tone of this collection of issues if not the whole series.

Were I to judge this entire Doom Patrol run based on just this collection and nothing else, I’d probably say it’s not for me. In addition to the confusing story, the art is in that messy vein that comes to mind when I think of Vertigo books of this era. But, knowing that it’s Morrison and having just read through Animal Man which did a lot of interesting things with high concepts and long-form comic book storytelling I’m in for the rest of the run. I just need to get my hands on the books! In the meantime, I’m going to keep on keeping on with my more DCU-set Morrison comics. Up next we’ve got Aztek which he co-wrote with Mark Millar.

Grant Morrison Trade Post: Animal Man Volumes 1-3

animal man vol 1 morrison Animal Man (DC)
Written by Grant Morrison, drawn by Chas Truog with Tom Grummett
Collects Animal Man #1-9

After reading Sin City: Booze, Broads and Bullets, I figured I’d stick with some my shelf for further reading selections and decided it’s time to give one of my favorite comics of all time another read. Like a lot of the more progressive comics I love, I discovered Grant Morrison’s Animal Man while interning or working at Wizard. I’d read a few Morrison comics before that, specifically JLA, but hadn’t gotten into his crazier stuff. Morrison has a reputation as being weird for weird’s sake, but I don’t think that’s the case. Sure, some of his stuff is just bonkers, but as far as I’m concerned he’s just trying to go to new places in the medium. I totally get it if that’s not for you, especially if you were a big time Animal Man fan before this run which took the character and did a lot of crazy stuff with him, but I dig it.

The run follows the adventures of Buddy Baker, a man who can copy the abilities of any animal in his immediate vicinity after an alien spaceship blew up in his face. At least, that’s how it works in the beginning. Buddy’s married, has two kids and doesn’t bother with a secret identity. He also develops into a vegetarian concerned with animal rights, which makes sense when you consider his power set.

The first four issues of the series mainly focus on Animal Man trying to figure out why B’Wanna Beast is running around making disturbing animal hybrids and wrecking STAR Labs facilities. These four issues really set the stage for the series as a whole in some respects. We see the relationship between Buddy and his wife Ellen which is super realistic and one of the best superhero relationships around. Meanwhile, Morrison puts Animal Man through some standard superhero paces — fighting another hero, meeting Superman, etc. — but he puts a different spin on them. Buddy can and does throw down, but he soon finds out that it’s not the only way to solve a problem which definitely carries throughout the series.

After that initial arc, we’re treated to a series of killer single issues. #5 takes a meta approach to Looney Tunes cartoons, #6 is one of (if not THE) best Invasion tie-in, #7 finds Buddy dealing with an old villain called The Red Mask, #8 has Mirror Master invading Buddy and Ellen’s home and #9 brings in Martian Manhunter and the JLI tech team to secure the house. #5-7 are actually three of my all time favorite single issues stories because of the unique ways they look at the material and superheroes in general.

On a quick note, I don’t know if this was intentional or not, but there’s a crowd-scene skater kid in #2 with an Anthrax T-shirt and then an issue or two later we find out that the scientists were experimenting with the drug of the same name. I don’t know if this was intentional or not, but reading so many Morrison comics with little hints and nods like this have primed me to look for those kinds of connections which makes for a fun reading experience. I also noticed that Ellen’s drawing a spaceship heading towards a planet in #1 that I assume refers to something, but can’t figure out what. I thought it might have been from Invasion, but that doesn’t check out.

animal man origin of sepcies Animal Man: Origin Of Species (DC)
Written by Grant Morrison, drawn by Chas Truog with Tom Grummett
Collects Animal Man #10-17, Secret Origins #39

One of the major aspects of Morrison’s run that a lot of people talk about is the meta nature of the story which ends with Animal Man actually meeting his writer, Morrison. The first volume doesn’t get into those ideas hardly at all, though #5 does prime that pump to an extent. All of that really starts coming to the surface in Origin Of Species which finds Buddy meeting the aliens who actually created him. Meanwhile, Dr. Hightwater and Psycho Pirate first enter the story, two characters who continue to break the fourth wall, revealing that some of these characters know that they are actually comic book characters. We also start seeing scenes that will make a lot more sense at the end of the next volume.

On the superhero side of things, Animal Man keeps meeting more heroesincluding Vixen, who he has a lot more in common with than just powers. A lot of this material was revisited in Dwayne McDuffie’s Justice League Of America volume called Second Coming. There’s also a pretty moving issue featuring future Aquaman co-star Dolphin and a few of the Sea Devils trying to put a stop to a gross dolphin killing ritual in Denmark. The abused animal stuff gets offset by a fun adventure with the Justice League Europe before getting back into some pretty awful things done to apes.

It’s interesting looking back at these comics from the 80s that tackled some of the real world’s horrors, especially as perpetrated on animals. These are the kinds of things you might have seen on Dateline or 20/20, but they weren’t in your comics until Morrison and creators like him went out on a limb with a potentially off-putting social perspective. They might be too in-your-face for some people and I don’t agree with everything presented in the issues, but I appreciate and respect him for going there and DC for allowing him to do these crazy things with their characters. At the same time I get that some readers just want to read about superheroes punching each other, so this probably isn’t the best comic for them.

animal man deus ex machina Animal Man: Deus Ex Machina (DC)
Written by Grant Morrison, drawn by Chas Truog with Paris Cullins
Collects Animal Man #18-26

And then things get really weird. Buddy and Highwater take peyote in the desert. Characters die. Villains help heroes. Costumes change. Revenge is had. Time is traveled. Limbo is visited. And Grant Morrison has a chat with Animal Man. I don’t want to reveal too much about the story, but I will say that this comic is both one of my favorite regular-guy-as-superhero stories as well as the best commentary-on-comics books around. The whole last conversation between Buddy and Grant should be required reading for everyone who gets bent out of shape about their favorite characters getting turned into something they don’t like. In addition to all that it’s a wonderfully plotted, long-form story that has end-of-run elements seeded going way back. Plus, above all else, it actually makes me feel things when I read it, even this second time around.

The beauty of a story like this is that it came at a time when DC Comics was allowing their creators to not only take risks with long-lasting characters, but also tell wild stories that hadn’t been done before (at least in Corporate Comics). Basically, Morrison was allowed to tell the story he wanted to tell while utilizing elements of the larger universe when they made sense. Characters weren’t just showing up to show up or boost sales, but because they made sense. Heck, Morrison got to take this idea to even crazier levels by using The Psycho Pirate and Limbo as ways to play around with pre-Crisis and alternate reality versions of the DC characters.

A lot of people have noticed connections between Morrison’s DC works. There’s quite a few to be found in these pages. First off, Animal Man is the first place he wrote the Justice League specifically characters like Superman and Martian Manhunter who he would go on to pen later on. More obviously, he created this new version of Animal Man and then returned to the character with 52 almost two decades later. Morrison also dealt with multiple realities and whatnot in Final Crisis and Superman Beyond, which also featured Limbo, Merry Man and Ace The Bat Hound all of which appear in these books.

I enjoyed reading Animal Man so much this time around that I decided to do a long-term read/re-read of his other DC Comics work I have in my collection. I don’t have Arkham Asylum, Batman: Gothic or the third and fourth JLA deluxe books but I’ve got just about everything else. I’m not only looking forward to enjoying those stories again, but also getting a better feel for the connections.

Vertigo Trade Post: Global Frequency & Joe The Barbarian

global frequency Global Frequency (Wildstorm/Vertigo/DC)
Written by Warren Ellis, drawn by Garry Leach, Glenn Fabry, Liam Sharp, Roy Allan Martinez, Jon J. Muth, David Lloyd, Simon Bisley, Chris Sprouse, Karl Story, Lee Bermejo, Tomm Coker, Jason Pearson & Gene Ha
Collects Global Frequency #1-12

I don’t often read Warren Ellis comics. Aside from Planetary and his Stormwatch-intoAuthority stuff, I just haven’t been able to plug into his work and enjoyed myself on a regular basis. In my mind he’s similar to a writer like Garth Ennis where he really likes to work within a certain type of story with a group of familiar characters. With Ennis, the broad idea seems to be crazy people overcoming their craziness to defeat far more evil people, most often with copious amounts of violence. Meanwhile, Ellis seems to feature people who might be evil doing good things for reasons we don’t quite know or understand, often (in my experience) because they think they know better than other people. There’s a cynicism and negativity to a lot of his characters that I can’t always get into.

Even so, I’m always interested in proving my pre-conceived notions wrong (well, almost always, there’s a writer or two and a small group of artists who I don’t spend my time on anymore) and decided to give Global Frequency a read. Though the cover of the collection claims this as a Vertigo series, it was originally published by WildStorm. Each of the dozen issues features a story written by Ellis with a different artist focuses on a case handled by Global Frequency, a citizen-run organization that consists of a network of experts who can help out in various kinds of crises. When you’re in the club, you get a special phone (basically a smart phone by today’s standards) and can get called up and expected to serve either in the field or by supplying information at the ring of a cell.

While I like the one-off nature of the series, I was left wanting by most of these stories. Sure, it’s cool to see people who are really good at their jobs solving mysteries and saving people, but it didn’t feel like there was much else to grab onto. Though it was more well-constructed, it had kind of a procedural feeling which is a kind of story I’m growing less and less in like with.

That’s not to say these are bad stories. In fact, there’s some incredibly creative stuff going on in here. I still don’t fully understand the one about the town that seemed to experience the same hallucination all at the same time, but I dug it. There’s definitely enough interesting details, impressive action scenes and varying degrees of artistic genius in here which I enjoyed, but I like a little more personal stuff in there. To be fair, Ellis was working with 22 pages per issue with new characters in each issue. It’s not like the characters are flat, you’re just left with more of what they can do than who they are or why they do what they do.

While reading, I remember thinking that this would make a really great television series. A few days later I was looking up a particular actress for something over on Spinoff only to discover that it had a pilot a few years back. Sounds kinda like it could have been a precursor for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. had it gone to series.

joe the barbarian Joe The Barbarian (Vertigo/DC)
Written by Grant Morrison, drawn by Sean Murphy
Collects Joe The Barbarian #1-6

On the other hand, I was completely able to latch onto Grant Morrison and Sean Murphy’s Joe The Barbarian. As you might expect from a Morrison comic, the concept isn’t super simple to explain. A kid named Joe who has low blood sugar is in his three story house alone when he starts experiencing both this world and another more fantastical one populated with his pet rat, talking versions of his action figures, all kinds of interesting characters and even a few analogs for people in his real life. Joe walks in both worlds, trying to reach his goals simultaneously (getting some soda in the real world and helping defeat King Death in the other). As he goes we learn more about Joe as he learns more about himself as he interacts with the fantasy characters around him and grows as a hero.

Story-wise, this one hits a lot of the same buttons for me as something like The Goonies or The Return Of King Doug. It’s about a young man finding his heroic side when faced with mountains of adversity. I think that’s the type of tale I’ll always be able to get behind, especially when there are so many extra elements wrapped around the basic package.

Speaking of which, a huge aspect of my enjoyment of this book comes thanks to Murphy’s artwork. He’s got a style that seems loose and yet doesn’t lose definition. Everything from the normal house setting to the flying manta rays feel cut from the same cloth even when two different realities are shown within panels or pages of each other. Plus, he and Morrison filled this world with so many familiar faces and characters who show up in the other world looking like action figures, something I absolutely love. You’ve got actual Superman, Batman, Robin and Lobo hanging out with characters that look an awful lot like Transformers, G.I. Joes, U.S.S. Enterprise personnel and plenty of other guys who might remember from your childhood toybox. Mind you, those aren’t the main characters of the book, those are just background folks who show up in huge action scenes, each one of which is wallpaper and poster-worthy in my opinion.

Even though I clearly enjoyed one of these books more than the other and will be keeping one in my collection while passing the other on to someone else, I love that both of these kinds of comics exist. Neither are what you’d expect form corporate superhero comics even though both Ellis and Morrison do plenty of that as well. These are stories these creators had a burning desire to tell and made happen. I give them both a lot of credit for that. Sure, it’s easier when you’re both pretty huge names in the industry, but it would be just as easy to forget about creator owned stuff and keep working within the corporate superhero system. Kudos, gents.