Comics Comics Comics Comics: Starman #43

Not a lot goes on in my mind when I’m going through cheap comics at shows. If something looks even remotely interesting and has a low low price, it’s pretty much a sure thing I’ll buy it. This issue of Starman struck my fancy for three reasons: it’s a Mike Mignola cover, Lobo’s in it and I’ve wanted to check this series out ever since I read James Robinson’s Starman series. This issue–which was written by Len Strazewski and drawn by Vince Giarrano in 1992–is actually the second part of the four part story “Star Shadows.” As if needs saying, I haven’t read the previous or following issues, but I didn’t have any trouble following the story.

We start off with Lobo drunk in a space bar (what better way to start the story?). A text box tells us that this action takes place earlier in time from whatever happened at the end of the previous issue. Lobo’s drunk and board, so when a space turtle offers him a bunch of money to killed Eclipso on Earth, he very quickly accepts the job and bails.

But, this is no ordinary space turtle, it’s actually a Lord of Chaos masquerading as a space turtle. See, the Lords of Chaos are angry at Eclipso because he failed to destroy Earth, which should have been a small task. We get a little recap about a Phantom Stranger mini that these events take place in, a mini I didn’t even know existed. Soon enough, things are picking up where the previous issue apparently left off with Starman trying to get to Bruce Gordon in what looks like a fighter jet in space. Lobo’s peeved because Starman wrecked his space motorcycle, so they start fighting.

As it turns out–and it came as no surprise even though I’m not very familiar with this version of Starman or his powers–Starman isn’t much of a match for Lobo, even when he’s really pouring on his light power. While they tussle, Bruce Gordon digs out the ol’ purple gloves, black gem and becomes Eclipso once more. According to Eclipso’s thought boxes, this Starman was created as a way to feed Eclipso. I’ve never heard that before, but it makes a strange kind of comic book sense. Just as Lobo’s about to beat the living tar out of Starmna, Eclipso blasts them with some dark light and the issue ends.

Overall this was a pretty interesting issue and, for the most part, I wasn’t too lost even though I’m not super familiar with Eclipso or Lobo and I’m hardly at all familiar with this version of Starman. When I got to the page revealing that Lobo was going after Eclipso, I actually thought this was going to tie into Superman Annual I read a few weeks ago, but it’s a few years too early for that. I wonder if Lobo’s past with Eclipso (presumably shown in this story) was referenced at all during The Darkness Within. I’m still very curious about this Starman series as a whole and hope to pick up some more issues on the cheap in the coming shows.

World’s Finest Trade Post: Batman Gothic & Superman The World Of New Krypton

BATMAN: GOTHIC (DC)
Written by Grant Morrison, drawn by Klaus Janson
Collects Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #6-10.
Legends of the Dark Knight was one of the two Batman books I didn’t read regularly (the other being Shadow of the Bat) unless it was giant Bat-crossover time, but there are some really interesting stories from the lengthy LOTDK run that are slowly being mined for trade consumption, like this Grant Morrison/Klaus Janson jam called “Gothic.”

I’m a pretty big fan of Morrison and dig a good chunk of his work, though definitely not everything (Invisbles befuddles me every time I try to read it), but this book doesn’t really read like what you might expect from the guy who was doing Animal Man and Doom Patrol at the same time in the late 80s/early 90s. Sure, there’s some weirdness with Batman facing off against a seeming immortal who feeds on misery, soul-catching buildings and ghost nuns, but it still feels like a solid Batman book.

I can’t completely speak to that time in comics because I hadn’t gotten into them yet, but I would imagine Batman dealing with these kinds of supernatural elements wasn’t a regular thing, so it might have seemed unique at the time, especially with some flashbacks to Bruce Wayne’s childhood, but to a reader now, the book feels a little been-there done-that. For those who like to trace the Morrison-verse that he’s been creating for years, I didn’t notice any connections here to any of his more current work, but I could be completely wrong on that.

In the end, it’s a nice little story that’s pretty interesting and was probably a big deal at the time, but we’ve seen this kind of a thing a lot since then, both on the “Batman vs. monsters” and “background revealed” ideas. It’s fun to see a younger Morrison playing with the character he would go on to spend years playing with, but I’m not a big fan of Janson’s art, so that’s not a huge draw for me at least.

SUPERMAN: THE WORLD OF KRYPTON (DC)
Written by John Byrne and a bunch of others, drawn by Mike Mignola and more!
Collects Superman: The World of Krypton #1-4, Man of Steel #1 and Superman #233, 236, 238, 240, 248, 257, 266, 367, 375 and Superman Family #182.
With the whole “World of New Krypton” story going on through the different Superman books for a year and the temporary return of thousands of Kryptonians, DC released this collection of books looking at the planet through the eyes of several creators over the years, but focusing on John Byrne and Mike Mignola’s post-Man of Steel miniseries along with a series of back-ups from the silver age about Krypton. Makes sense right? Well, kind of.

As anyone reading “WONK” will know, the writers used a hodge podge of all the versions of Krypton instead of focusing on one particular past version. And, hey, that’s not so bad. I liked seeing how the different guilds represented the various takes on the people. This trade sets up the version of Krypton I became familiar with while reading Superman comics in the post-Man of Steel era, but it doesn’t really matter anymore as far as continuity goes. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad story by any means. In fact, it’s  an engaging, century-spanning sci-fi story about how Krypton went from a people whose lives were prolonged by using clone parts to one where exoskeletons did the same thing to the final Krypton-shattering conclusion. I was surprised at how deep the story went and how they explained the destruction of the planet.

I’m going to take a moment here to go off on a bit of a tangent. I’ve been reading Superman comics since 1992. Over those nearly 20 years a lot has changed and even when new stories would come out to contradict the history I knew, I’d be able to easily reconcile or ignore it, but lately I’ve been having a harder time doing that, especially post-Infinite Crisis which now says that Superman got his powers as a boy and went off to hang out with the Legion of Super-Heroes. The change didn’t really seem to mean anything for a while, but now we find ourselves knee deep in Legion comics many of which feature Superman. It was starting to bother me. I like the MOS mindset that says that Superman is the only Kryptonian so any other Super-folks have to have another explanation as to why they’re wearing the S shield. Sure, the Matrix Supergirl might have been confusing, but I liked that there was a certain level of creativity that went into those characters. Anyway, I do like most of Geoff Johns’ run on Action Comics even though the first arc really bugged me when it first kicked off. I’ve kind of come to a mental place where I’m comfortable with it all now because I’ve told myself that MY Superman is over. I’m not quite sure when it ended, maybe Infinite Crisis, but that realization has really helped me enjoy some of the more recent Superman comics, though I still don’t care about Superboy hanging out with the Legion in Adventure Comics. I know it’s the epitome of geekiness, but by not worrying about how “WONK” fits in with MOS, I’m having a much better time with comics.

That’s the mentality I went into World of Krypton with, which really helped me enjoy it, though it helps that this story does explain MY Krypton better. That same outlook might help you too if you’re a fan of another Superman era as it’s a good story (as are the older Superman back-ups reprinted which also don’t hold much sway on current continuity) and how can you go wrong seeing Mike Mignola break downs on a superhero comics?

Trade Post: Death Of Captain America Vol. 3, Walking Dead Vol. 10 & B.P.R.D. The Warning

THE DEATH OF CAPTAIN AMERICA VOL. 3: THE MAN WHO BOUGHT AMERICA (Marvel)
Written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Steve Epting, Luke Ross & Roberto De La Torre
Collects Captain America (current volume) #37-42
I’ve mentioned here and there how much I like Captain America, but I don’t think I’ve ever done a review on one of the trades before. Let me say this right off the bat, I think that Ed Brubaker’s Captain America is one of the best ongoing comic books ever written. I haven’t read a lot of Cap comics to compare it to, but I put it up there with some of my favorite runs of all time like Starman, Sandman and Preacher. That he’s been able to keep up such a high quality of story over so many issues, not to mention through several major events that lesser writers let screw up their flow, is ultra impressive. Brubaker’s Civil War tie-in issues are, in my opinion, better written and more logical than anything else wearing that banner. You can trust me on that one, I had to read it all while working at Wizard for an online column called Civil War Room (I’d link to it, but I think all that stuff is gone now).

I guess I should actually talk about this volume now, which I got for Christmas along with the second and third Immortal Iron Fist trades. What you have here is the second trade featuring Bucky as Captain America. We’re knee deep in the Red Skull’s plan to get his very own president and birth a new Steve Rogers thanks to his captive’s pregnancy (that would be Cap’s girl Sharon Carter). Bucky and Falcon team up and Bucky takes on the Cap from the 50s who thinks he’s Cap and is being manipulated by the Skull and Dr. Faustus. It’s kind of a hard volume to explain without spoiling everything that’s come before and after, but this book is integral for understanding the Skull’s plan and features Bucky Cap’s first real dent in those plans. Don’t bother starting with this trade (that should seem pretty obvious as it’s the eighth in the series), just do yourself a favor and get the first trade or catch up since whenever you left off because, next to Green Lantern, this is the best ongoing comic coming out right now.

I also want to mention the art, specifically that of Steve Epting. I love his simple, but elegant style. All the figures have this amazing presence on the page that is only added to thanks to the inking and coloring. I really wish they would have gone to him for Captain America: Reborn instead of Bryan Hitch. I have never understood Hitch’s appeal and really dislike his art. Plus, I feel like Epting is just a better artist all around and should have gotten the chance to draw Steve’s return. Not that it really matters because the ending has been spoiled already. Ah well, moving on.

THE WALKING DEAD VOL. 10: WHAT WE BECOME (Image)
Written by Robert Kirkman, drawn by Charlie Adlard
Collects Walking Dead #55-60
I’ve had a lot to say about Walking Dead to pretty much anyone who will listen. I have problems with some of Kirkman’s writing ticks, like how he always tells instead of shows, but this 10th volume didn’t fall into a lot of those traps, thankfully. In fact, I think this is one of the better Walking Dead trades all around. Again, the tenth volume of any comic isn’t a good place to start, but as someone who’s read most of the issues, I think it’s one of the better ones. I don’t want to spoil too much, but this one picks up right after a pretty huge tragedy in Rick’s life and he’s going a little crazy. By this point, Rick and his fellow followers have teamed up with a trio of people trying to head to Washington, D.C. in order to get in with what’s left of the government. There’s a scientist, a crazy military guy and a girl who’s in love with him. We learn more about the military guy in this issue while he, Rick and Rick’s son Carl head back to a house that Rick stopped off at on his way to find his family early in the series. It’s a pretty cool callback to a character I’m sure most people figured would never be seen again. There’s also a ton of action as this trio-turned-quartet try to outrun a horde of zombies who are all after them (we’re talking hundreds of biters). All that mixed with a fair dose of drama from some of Rick’s people (including an attempted suicide and a faction wanting to break off on their own) make for one of the more fulfilling arcs in the book’s impressive run. Oh, and, to be fair, there’s a story that the military dude tells that I’m glad didn’t have a visual flashback, it would have been ultra creepy, sad and depressing.

B.P.R.D. VOL. 10: THE WARNING (Dark Horse)
Written by Mike Mignola & John Arcudi, drawn by Guy Davis
Collects B.P.R.D.: The Warning #1-5, “Out Of Reach” from Hellboy Free Comic Book Day 2008
Haha, I just realized that all three books I’m reviewing are pretty terrible jumping-on points for potential new readers. The best I can tell you is that, these series’ are all so good, that I’ve followed them this long, going so far as to buy the trades (or finagle them whenever possible). I remember reading issues of The Warning while still at Wizard and having no freaking clue how one issue tied into the last. Part of that comes from reading upwards of 20 comics a week and part of it comes from the fast and furious approach that Mignola and Arcudi took with this trade. A lot goes on that has to do with the ever-growing war on frogs and other evil things growing in both B.P.R.D. and Hellboy miniseries’. We find out more about the mysterious Panya and Gilfryd, witness a full-on destruction of Johann Kraus’s hometown thanks to giant monster robot things built by trolls or some such and a fight between one big monster and another one being manipulated by Kraus. This trade really has everything that makes B.P.R.D. awesome, big crazy monster stuff, interpersonal character development, the progression of a gigantic storyline and great action scenes. And, you could actually do a lot worse than starting with this or any other random B.P.R.D. book. If B.P.R.D. was an ongoing, it would also be on my list of the greatest ongoing comics. Actually, I wish more companies would take this route for books that might not do as well as ongoings. I also wish they’d take a cue from Dark Horse and include the level of extras that Dark Horse does. Almost every volume has an intro by Mignola or Arcudi as well as a sketchbook in the back with designs from Mignola and whatever artist is working on it. All the Cap trade has is a “Previously In…” paragraph on the inside front cover and Walking Dead doesn’t even have the covers. And don’t worry, the next Trade Post will have more books that anyone can just pick up.

Comic Cartoon Double Feature: Hellboy Sword Of Storms & Batman Mysetry Of The Batwoman

I’ve been watching a lot of animated comic-based movies lately for a top secret project (not really, it’s a list of good and bad straight-to-DVD superhero cartoons). With the holidays and Netflix not being able to ship me the Christmas movies I wanted to check out like Santa Claus: The Movie, I ended up with a stack of these things and figured today would be a good day to go through some of them. Hey, the sooner I turn the article in the sooner I get paid.

I actually used to have a copy of Hellboy Animated: Sword Of Storms (2006) in my possession from my Wizard days. I thought I still had it, but must have passed it to someone else or put it on the free table. Anyway, after not really liking Hellboy 2, I wasn’t too interested in delving into that world anymore (yeah, I know this DVD came out before the sequel, but I hadn’t watched it yet), but I want to be complete any time I work on one of these lists, so I gave it a shot. And, as it turns out, I like this animated feature more than either movie.

Sword Of Storms captured the character of Hellboy who I love from the comics much better than the films, even though the voice cast carries over from the movies with Ron Perlman, Doug Jones and Selma Blair coming back to voice Hellboy, Abe Sapien and Liz Sherman respectively. Oh, plus, you get a nearly panel-for-panel interpretation of the “Heads” story from the Chained Coffin And Other Stories TPB, which was a nice surprise.

The animators also did a pretty good job of nailing Hellboy creator Mike Mignola’s style when it came to a few of the background and attacking characters like corpses and mummies. Aside from that, though, the animated versions of our well known heroes all looked pretty different from the comics. There’s a lot of good, weird Hellboy moments like a woman playing a stringed instrument until her fingers bleed and a talking fox that remind me more of the comics than the movies, which is nice.

Plus, Kate Spencer is actually in this one and she’s voiced by Roz from Frasier, also known as Peri Gilpin. I will say that the movie felt a little long and somewhat aimless at times, though that might be more a product of the comic-like story and Hellboy’s wandering journey through some kind of ghost dimension. Oh, and there’s a psychic B.P.R.D. agent who I wanted to punch in the face because he was too cartoony and over-the-top. Had they toned him down a bit, I think the overall film would have been much better.

Up next on the double feature was Batman: Mystery Of The Batwoman from 2003, which I didn’t find nearly as fun or entertaining as Sword Of Storms. See, the plot almost exactly follows that other Batman animated movie Mask Of The Phantasm, which I didn’t like much either.

See, Batwoman’s out there causing trouble and it just has to be one of the three new female characters introduced in the first 15 or so minutes of the movie. Batman also seems to fall for the most obvious person potentially responsible without really questioning it or looking into it too much. And guess what, he’s right because SPOILER WARNING it’s all three of the new female characters wearing the costume. I didn’t see that coming by any stretch, but it also wasn’t that surprising because you KNOW it’s got to be one of the three female characters.

There were some fun fight scenes and action sequences, but overall it just wasn’t all that fun to watch. Plus, they decided to cast David Ogden Stiers as the Penguin and redesign him while all the other characters retained their voice actors and the appearance they had in the Animated Series’ later relaunch. I will say that the design on the Batwoman costume was fun, even though it’s really really similar to the on from Batman Beyond. It should be noted that TAS masterminds Paul Dini and Bruce Timm had nothing to do with this movie, at least as far as the credits on IMDb go, so that might explain why the quality isn’t as high as those cartoons. Ah well, it wasn’t a complete waste of time and definitely isn’t the worst of the animated bunch I’ve ever seen. Hopefully everything from here will at least be a little better though.

Trade Post: Abe Sapien The Drowning & Nightwing Freefall

2008-12-19
8:02:27 pm

A few more trade reviews for your reading pleasure, BAM:

ABE SAPIEN: THE DROWNING VOL. 1 (Dark Horse)

Written by Mike Mignola

Drawn by Jason Shawn Alexander

Like I said the other day, I love the Hellboy-verse and a big part of the world is Abe Sapien. This trade collects the very first Abe mini which also recounts his first Hellboy-less mission back in 1981. Remember how I said that even stories like this that take place in the past refer back to other stories? Well, there’s a quick look at Abe’s origin, but again, you don’t need to know anything about that to enjoy this story. It’s really fun trying to work everything out because, while this story came out after the B.P.R.D. trade which explained Abe’s past, The Drowning, chronologically speaking, comes before that. I’d like to see a huge Hellboy timeline laying everything out (maybe even with the order you’re supposed to read them in).

I’ve got the same complaint about this trade as the B.P.R.D. Vol. 9, though, in that we don’t get treated to a Mignola intro (though there still is the requisite sketchbook). And speaking of the art, Jason Shawn Alexander is awesome. I have no idea what else he’s done, but the way he draws the creepy little ghost things with the writing all over them is pretty damn creepy. Well done Jason, someday I’d like to have you contribute to my Green Lantern or eventual horror movie themed sketchbook.

I guess I haven’t really talked about the story, so here goes. Abe’s on an island looking for a magic spike in a demon, but soon enough these short demon dudes show up and everyone on the island dies! So, it’s up to Abe to save the day. I don’t want to get too much more into it without giving stuff away, but it’s another great Hellboy-verse story that any fan or novice can pick up and love.

NIGHTWING: FREEFALL (DC)

Written by Peter J. Tomasi

Drawn by Rags Morales & Don Kramer

I’m not the biggest Nightwing fan in the world, though I did enjoy most of the Devin Grayson and Chuck Dixon issues I read back in the day. Of course, things haven’t been so great in recent memory. But no more! I’ve been loving former editor Tomasi’s run on the book. Tomasi has boiled the character down to his essence, added his own spin and really cemented him in his post-One Year Later setting of New York City. In this book we get to see Dick taking up skydiving, getting a new job and home and trying to track down a villain who’s stealing super-corpses. What Tomasi does that I love is, he shows how much a part of the DCU Nightwing really is (remember, he lead the JLA at one point when they were stuck in the past). Not only does Flash (Wally) stop by for a beer, interact with Batman and Robin and confab with Superman on a case, but he also ha the JSA help set up his new pad (they’re not too far away, also being located in NYC).

I also have to admit I’m fond of Peter’s use of the New York area. I’m not as familiar with the city itself, but I totally geeked out when Nightwing flew under the Bear Mountain Bridge, which I pass every day on my way to work. There’s also a few other locations that I think I recognized (hey, I’m still learning). Aside from the locations, I appreciate the writer’s creativity and logic when dealing with the superhero world. Nightwing flies around on a ‘Wing wing (a kind of jetpack with wings), but he also asked Bruce Wayne to purchase various buildings placed strategically throughout NYC to give him plenty of places to get to if he needs to hid out. Brilliant! Does Batman even do that?

There are a few downsides though. There’s a bit of wordiness int he first few pages of the trade explaining how much Dick loves skydiving. It’s not poorly written by any means, but it’s a little bit dense and I know it turned a few guys at the lunch table off from reading the book (though I convinced them too soon enough). I’m also not sure what’s up with Rags’ art. I much prefer Don Kramer’s work in the book. It’s a lot cleaner and crisper and I kind of hope he becomes the regular artist.

So, if you’re even a cursory fan of Nightwing or Batman, you should definitely check this trade out as it, in my opinion, greatly represents the character as well as the logical standing he has in the DCU as one of the very first sidekicks who has literally grown up in the superhero world.

Trade Post: B.P.R.D. 1946 & Catwoman Crime Pays

2008-12-17
1:37:54 am

Okay, time for another installment of trade post:

B.P.R.D. 1946 Volume 9 (Dark Horse)

Written by Mike Mignola & Joshua Dysart

Drawn by Paul Azaceta

I love me some Hellboy, you guys and, of course, that includes B.P.R.D. I didn’t get into the Hellboy-verse until a few years ago, which was pretty good timing because I was able to read all the trades at Wizard and I was able to hop over the long gap when there weren’t any new books and Hellboy was spending a few years under the ocean. I’m a big fan of how intricate the history is. There’s elements in 1946 that resonate later on, though I can’t point all of them out, because it’s really hard to keep everything straight in my head. I do like to re-read the books every year or so, but I haven’t done that in a while and even right after I do it’s hard to remember.

This story follows Hellboy’s adoptive pops Trevor Bruttenholm in one of his post-WWII adventures with a group of soldiers in a bombed out Germany. This one’s got everything from vampires and werewolves to little girls in white dresses leading the Russian version of the B.P.R.D.

One of the great things about Dark Horse’s Hellboy and B.P.R.D. trades is that you can pretty much pick any of them up, understand what’s going on and enjoy a great story with a beginning, middle and end. Sure there are smaller elements that you might not pick up on, but might also drive you to check out other books. The other thing I love about these books is that they almost always have extras. Usually that includes an intro by Mignola along with a sketchbook with commentary in the back by Mike and whoever else is drawing the book. Unfortunately, this volume lacks the intro, which usually has Mignola explaining the genesis of the idea (where the mythology came from, that kind of thing). I really like those and was bummed to see there wasn’t one. There was, however an Afterward by Dysart explaining his first 1946 meeting with Mignola and the sketchbook.

Oh, one more thing, I really dug Paul Azaceta’s art. Like a lot of the non-Mignola or Dan Davis Hellboy/B.P.R.D. it took me a while to get used to his style (what can I say? I’m used to my superhero artists), but Azaceta seems like the perfect artist for this project. I look forward to seeing him on future B.P.R.D. projects almost as much as I’m looking forward to all the other Hellboy-verse books.

CATWOMAN: CRIME PAYS (DC)

Written by Will Pfeifer

Drawn by David Lopez

Catwoman’s one of those characters that I have an on-again off-again relationship with. I actually had a subscription to the Jim Balent-drawn version for a year which I dug. I’d also grab whatever crossover issues came out. I completely missed out on Brubaker’s relaunch and still want to go back and read it, but I have read a few of Pfeifer’s trades, this being, I believe, the second to last of the current run (it’s getting canceled right? I’m super behind).

Anyway, this story follows Selina’s attempt to start a new life with her baby, then get rid of the baby and finally waking up in her empty apartment which then explodes, leaving Cats on the run in Gotham without her mask or whip. There’s a character called The Thief who disappears due to Catwoman’s involvement in the Salvation Run storyline which feature supervillains being sent to a crazy planet far far away.

I was actually pretty interested in the Thief storyline and seeing Catwoman stripped of everything and on her own, but it got cut off by the Suicide Squad getting the jump on her and sending her to the prison planet. I wasn’t a big fan of the whole Salvation Run storyline, partly because it seemed a bit too close the Marvel’s Negative Zone prison (did they even really flesh that out? All things Civil War are a blur thanks to the Civil War Room column), even though it’s a pretty sound idea in theory. I don’t even know how that mini-series ended and this trade doesn’t offer up much insight. You get an issue of Cats wandering around from faction to faction only to end up with Luthor’s crew, but then she ends up in this weird world where’s practically SuperCat and runs everything. Once she’s out, she presumably rejoins the Salvation Run storyline. I feel bad for Pfeifer because it doesn’t feel like the Salvation Run stuff was very organic, probably more dropped on his plate. But he handled it well, though the story itself doesn’t hold much consequence (even though it’s pretty cool).

I’ve liked Pfeifer’s writing in the past, his Aquaman Sub Diego stuff was rad and HERO is one of the coolest books from the past five or six years not yet collected (seriously, what’s the deal with that? come on DC, where’s my omnibus?!), but for whatever reason Catwoman hasn’t really absorbed me yet, though I’ll probably grab the next trade when it makes its way into the Wizard office. I also like David Lopez, he’s a solid artist with a distinct style that makes him stand out. He seems equally adept at drawing grim and gritty street-level stuff as huge superhero group shots, which he also gets to do in this book.

I can’t really recommend Crime Pays to non Catwoman readers. There’s a lot going on in this book that’s not only connected to past Catwoman continuity, but also a part of DC’s last year that seems generally ignored (seriously, I read a ton of DC books, how did the villains get back?). Hopefully the next volume will wrap things up with The Thief (I’m seriously interested in that storyline, as well as what the heck Catwoman’s supposed to do with all her stuff gone).