Trade Post: Hellblazer & The Goon

I really can’t understate how influential Wizard was to me as a budding comics fan. I’d been going to the comic shop for a few years by the time I discovered the mag at a mall book store. I started out reading Superman and Batman comics and added other DC comics because I knew about them from the house ads, but it wasn’t until Wizard that I really began to learn more about comics as a whole. I’ve always been pretty risk-averse and budget conscious, so it took an extra push to spend my limited funds on something new. With Wizard, I found a group of writers who opened up my world to all sorts of new books I’d never heard of including, but not limited to Hellblazer and The Goon, both of which I’m writing about here today!

Read on!

Rejuvenation Trade Post: Eternals & Flash Rebirth

I was looking through unpublished blog posts and realized I had a nearly complete review of Neil Gaiman’s Eternals book and Geoff Johns’ Flash: Rebirth. I cleaned some things up and updated a few references, but otherwise this review from January 2012 was in pretty good shape.

Eternals (Marvel)
Written by Neil Gaiman, drawn by John Romita Jr.
Collects Eternals #1-7

Man, expectations can be a real bummer. If you had handed me this Eternals book and not told me who wrote it, I think I might have maybe walked away liking it a bit more than I did, but knowing that one of my all time, all around favorite writers wrote this story leaves me with a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. On the other hand, the artist, John Romita Jr. is not one that I tend to like and yet I thought he killed it in these issues.

Okay, to get into a little more detail, these seven issues tell the story of a group of god-like beings called the Eternals who were planted on Earth by even more godlike beings the Celestials to make sure Earth was still cool when they come back later. They’re basically super powered house sitters, but ones that were originally created by Jack Kirby  five years after his New Gods books had been cancelled by DC, hence the HUGE similarities). Anyway, for some reason, the Eternals don’t remember they’re Eternals and are just living regular human lives. And…that’s about it. Yes, there’s also some stuff about trying to stop a sleeping Celestial from waking up, but the majority of these issues involves the speedster of the group, Mercury, living life as–I shit you not–Mark Curry. I guess that’s not as bad as Ike Harris, better known as Ikaris. Yeah, that happened.

The problem with this story is that I just don’t care about anyone in it. Am I supposed to care about Curry? If so, why? Because he’s a med student? Yeah, that sucks I guess, but do I need to watch him bumble around with his identity for five out of seven issues? No, not really. It’s funny, I just read somewhere that this series was originally planned as six issues, but was bumped up to seven to fit the action. I do not see that in the finished product. It seems to me like things could have been sped up to make them more interesting. Part of the reason I wound up not being invested is because I knew that these people living normal lives really were big time super powered beings. There’s nothing to lose. You’re going to regain your memories and go live your awesome life where you don’t really have to worry about anything and get to fight monsters or whatever. That’s WAY better than slaving away in a hospital or BSing your way through a party planning business you don’t really know anything about, right?

But, like I said, this is my favorite JRJR art. That boxy, Frank Miller-esque style he seems to like so much just doesn’t work for me. I remember pages of World War Hulk with Iron Man in the Hulkbuster armor where it looked like his armor was made out of one of those ugly metal desks. I also couldn’t get into the boxy Iron Man he drew in his issue of Captain America: Fallen Son. But, for whatever reason, his Iron Man looks rad to me in this book as do the rest of the characters. Maybe the fact that these guys were created by the king of boxy characters–and the King of comics all around, really–put me in a different mindset, or maybe he was doing something else with his character design and placement at the time, but I really liked what he was laying down on the pages. I just wish I cared more about what was going on.

Flash Rebirth (DC Comics)
Written by Geoff Johns, drawn by Ethan Van Sciver
Collects Flash Rebirth #1-6

This was another reading experience where my expectations came into play heavily but from a different angle. I had read most or all of Flash: Rebirth in single issue form, but that was over a pretty large expanse of time either because of my lackadaisical reading patterns or the book’s lateness (I’m fairly certain these six issues didn’t all come out consecutively, but honestly don’t remember for sure). I remembered a few plot points from the first reading but was left with memories of confusion for the most part. Though a lot of that got cleared up this time around, it does feel like the life of Barry Allen was made a lot more confusing than it needed to be.

Allow me to explain. This book–much like Green Lantern: Rebirth–is intended to explain the return of a Silver Age Justice Leaguer, this time Barry Allen, the Flash who gave his life to save the lives of everyone in the universe back in Crisis On Infinite Earths. Considering my age — Barry died in the real world when I was two — I have never cared about Barry Allen. Wally West was my Flash and I’ve been around long enough to remember his more hound-dog ways in Justice League Europe and then the awesome runs by Mark Waid and Geoff Johns that really fleshed him and his supporting cast out as characters. So, when Barry came back in Final Crisis, I really didn’t care that much. What’s so special about this character who was only ever interesting when he died? Well, not much, but one of the cool things about this book is that it actually asks that very question through the voice of the villain Professor Zoom. Even with all the continuity tampering that goes on (Zoom killed Barry’s mom when he was a kid which is now part of his childhood) and power explanation (Barry actually creates the Speed Force by running), the real point of the story is for Barry to prove his worth to the reader. Whether that succeeds or fails depends on the reader and whether they can make it through the aforementioned confusion zones (which definitely distracted me from the point the first time I read the story).

I think it does a good job of showing the specific way in which Barry Allen can and should work in the DCU: while Wally is the more freewheeling guy (even as a dad), Barry is the straight-laced cop who spends his non-tights days trying to solve cold cases. Was that actually followed through on with the comics that followed? No idea. Was Wally given equal footing? I don’t believe so. Does any of this matter anymore considering the New 52? No, probably not.

The basic question every time I finish a trade is whether I’ll keep it or put it up for trade on my Sequential Swap page. I’ll be keeping this one, at least for now. I have an idea to get my hands on Geoff Johns’ run of Flash which I only read bits and pieces of and I think this might make for an interesting end cap to that collection if I do decide to keep it. I also love the art. Van Sciver’s level detail is amazing and gets me excited to read comics, even ones with big text blocks or huge dialog balloons explaining things like the Speed Force. Finally, this story reminds me of the ones that I occasionally read and loved from the Waid’s run like Terminal Velocity that brought a bunch of different speedsters together. I always liked the legacy/family aspect of the Flash with Wally, Jay, Impulse, Jesse Quick, Max Mercury and even Barry’s ghost coming together to pitch in when necessary. This story not only did that but also brought Max back from the Speed Force, so I dig it.

Just Finished Doctor Who Series 6.0 (2011)

Well, that was quite the half season, wasn’t it? My initial reaction to hearing that the sixth season of Doctor Who was split in two halves was negative, but the positive aspect that I wasn’t taking into account was that it would mean I would get the episodes in my hands a lot faster (we don’t get BBC America or torrent, so we wait for them to pop up on Netflix). I also discovered that seven episodes are a lot easier to take in and absorb than twice that which is good when doing so in a fairly short period of time. Something I’ve talked about before when watching seasons like this is that, in our zeal to finish them, we miss some of the details. And even if we don’t miss the details, it becomes information overload at times. We watched the fifth season–and all the seasons of Doctor Who post-relaunch, really–that way and I’ll be honest, I wasn’t exactly sure who some of the callback characters were by the end of this half of this season.

My other concern with watch a half season of a series was that it would end on a cliffhanger and we’d be waiting however long to see the next one. Halfway through the last episode of the second disc, I asked a buddy about torrents, but I wound up not downloading them. I can’t stand watching shows on my computer when I’ve got a perfectly good TV sitting right there. Anyway, this fear of getting something less-than what I’m used to proved to not be an issue.

I think these might be the seven best consecutive episodes that I can remember. Some basic plot spoilers follow. “The Impossible Astronaut” was a pretty gigantic mindbonk that set up the rest of the season. That carried directly over into “Day Of The Moon” which not only went back to the 60s, but also utilized the brilliantly designed Silence who can only be remembered when they’re seen. As soon as you turn away, they disappear from your memory. Awesome idea. “The Curse Of The Black Spot” combined pirates and aliens in such a way that I want to see a spin-off of those dudes flying through space. “The Doctor’s Wife” was a brilliant episode written by one of my all time favorite writers Neil Gaiman that took the TARDIS’ consciousness and placed it inside a human being. It was great hearing their shared history from the point of view of the TARDIS. I think this might be one of my favorite episodes of the show as a whole and I thought that even before I remembered Gaiman’s involvement.

The fifth and sixth episodes comprised a two-parter called “The Rebel Flesh” and “The Almost People.” This pair featured a group of scientists who used doppelgangers to physically do the things that they couldn’t do. As it turned out the ‘gangers were actually gaining sentience which lead to a pretty awesome series of moments reminiscent of those in The Thing where you don’t know who you’re talking to or who to trust (at least as a viewer). And that ending! Gah! Crazytown!

All of which brings us to the “A Good Man Goes To War.” Wow. Usually episodes this good and packed with awesome are two or even three parters and come at the end of a long season. This one comes right in the middle and stands out as quite the tentpole. By bringing back those characters from previous seasons (or were they all just from 5, my memory sucks) and pitting them all against an actual army of enemies with such high stakes (double high stakes, really), the writers really upped the ante and presented a quality hour of television that is also pretty high up on my “faves” list. Even better? It presumably leads into something bigger and hopefully better by the end of the actual season. Oh and they didn’t even rely on the Cybermen or Daleks too much. Bonus points there. Plus those final two reveals are just bonkers. Even with so much goodness, my favorite part of the season has to be the awesomification of Rory Pond. I don’t remember a whole lot about him from the previous season other than he was jealous of the Doctor (who wouldn’t be) and seemed like kind of a wimp. But then he did that whole Last Centurion thing, so that’s pretty great, right? They really built off that this season, developing him as a husband and potential father, leading him on a Taken-esque streak of badassness that was written and performed perfectly. I’d face those stupid Cybermen too if anyone tried to get between me and my family. Maybe that’s why I liked Rory a lot more this season, he went from being just a boyfriend to a husband. I can relate to that and I can’t wait to see what Rory does to those who get in his way with the second half of the season. Oh, and the Doctor too, I guess.

Animated Double Feature: Coraline (2009) & Justice League Crisis On Two Earths (2010)

I really dug Coraline even though I fell asleep for a few minutes towards the end which was a bummer because I missed part of the ending, but I got the gist of it, so didn’t go back and rewatch it. The movie is based on a Neil Gaiman novel that I haven’t read yet, but I’m a huge fan of his work on Sandman and his other novels like American Gods, Good Omens, Neverwhere and his short story collection Smoke And Mirrors. The movie version is a stop-motion animated flick directed by Henry Selick who also did The Nightmare Before Christmas, a movie that I seem to be the only one in the world who isn’t absolutely in love with.

The story revolves around the titular character who just moved into a new house that is broken up into four apartments. Her parents are jerks wrapped up in their work (kind of a terrifying look at a potential future for someone who spends all day working at home on a computer), so wanders around exploring the house and talking to the other tenants. Eventually she finds a door that was wallpapered over that leads to a mirror universe where everything’s pretty much the same, except better and the people have creepy button eyes. As you might expect, things aren’t as great as they look and the fantastic world turns quickly into a crap hole.

Well, quickly’s not the best word. The movie’s about an hour and forty minutes which according to the IMDb Trivia page makes it the longest stop motion movie of all time. I’d say it could probably use to lose about 10 minutes to make things a little snappier and more taut. As it is, it crawls along at times which probably is what put me to sleep. A lot comes out towards the end that could have been seeded earlier throughout the movie (like the ghost kids), but overall it was a pretty good view. Maybe I’ll give it another view when I’m feeling less sleepy.

The DC Universe Animated movies are amazing. I’ve seen Green Lantern: First Flight and Wonder Woman which I really dug, Superman/Batman: Public Enemies and New Frontier which was okay and then Superman: Doomsday and Batman: Gotham Knight which sucked. I’d firmly place Justice League Crisis On Two Earths in the higher echelon of the the flicks. IMDb’s Trivia page for the movie tells me that this was originally written as a bridge movie between the Justice League and JLU series, which explains why it’s the core seven Leaguers (though Hal takes John Stewart’s spot and Martian Manhunter has his old new look) and why they’re repairing the satellite and seem short handed for no apparent reason. This JLA gets put in direct conflict with Earth-2’s Crime Society which gave us pretty cool bad guy versions of random heroes like Vibe and Halo.

The story’s pretty solid, but like with JL and JLU, the fights really take center stage and there are some real doozies that made me actually set my computer down and pay attention which is no small feat. My only problem with this movie, which was also one of my problems with Superman: Doomsday is that when the characters look so much like the cartoon versions I want them to sound like the cartoon versions. Frankly I thought Superman and Batman sounded pretty lame in this one played by Billy Bladwin and Mark Harmon. James Woods as Owlman was solid though.

Unfortunately, I saw this on Netflix which means I didn’t get to see the Spectre short which is a bummer because I’m excited they started doing that. Maybe I’ll put it on the actual queue just to watch that. Next up is Red Hood which came out today so I’m jazzed about that to see if the good streak will continue.

Halloween Scene: Smoke and Mirrors (1997)

One of my personal reasons for analog books as opposed to digital ones is that analog ones can go on a journey with me. Sure you can take your Kindle with you, but are you really going to remember where you left off on that digital book you started reading a couples years ago? Will you even have the same Kindle in four years so you can pick it back up and finish where you left off? For me the answer is no, even though it would be better on the Earth as far as the paper use goes. Anyway, the point I’m getting at is that Neil Gaiman’s short story collection Smoke And Mirrors and I have been on our fair share of journeys. I originally bought this book back in September of 2005 when I was waiting in the Detroit airport for my flight to JFK to go in and interview for Wizard. I had been out of college for about four or five months and was wondering what the hell I was going to do with an English degree aside from heading back to the place I interned at (Wizard). I had been working days at Barry’s Bagel Place as a deli worker and spending my nights playing Halo 3 and drinking Sweet Tart Whiskey at the Chad Chad Toth house. Good times, but I felt kind of like a failure. So, when I got word that Wizard was hiring, I jumped at the chance to interview.

It wasn’t the first time I flew on my own, but it was the first time I flew on my own into JFK and then drove myself in a rental car to Nyack where I stayed in a hotel by myself and went in the next day for a job interview. It was also the first time I made a real effort to read a short story book. At this point I had read two books by Gaiman (Good Omens and Neverwhere) and none of his comics. It was a new edition of the stands as the original came out in 1997 and this one in September 2005 because it had a preview of Anansi Boys (a book sitting in my giant pile of books to read along with his next short story collection Fragile Things and a couple of his kids story books).

My interview process went really well and I felt pretty good about it. I also happened to be there for staff writer Rich Ho’s last day and I got to go out for his last day lunch and then met everyone down in Nyack for his last day. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t incredibly nervous the night before. Aside from meeting Rickey and the gang down at Olive’s the night before, I also picked up a small bottle of Jack and a 2 liter of Dr. Pepper to take the edge off. I felt like a total weirdo reading Neil Gaiman and drinking Jack and DP in a shoddy motel room, but it also kind of made me feel like a legit writer. Like, I bet Hemingway did the same thing. He loved DP, right?

Anyway, I got the job and was there for about 4 or 5 years. And, oddly enough, it took me about that long to finally finish this book. I was reading The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon for a few days when I realized it was October and decided to try and finish a horror-ish book for Halloween Scene. I can’t honestly say I remember the short stories I read four years ago or even a year ago, but I read from “We Can Get Them For You Wholesale” to “Snow, Glass, Apple” in the last month or so and I really enjoyed them. I’ll be honest, I didn’t necessarily get the poems (they’re not really my thing), but I did force myself to read through them.

It’s fascinating reading these short stories and what interested Gaiman and how he turned them into stories. “We Can Get Them For You Wholesale” takes assassination and turns it into a business like any other, “Murder Mysteries” takes a look at the very first murder in the city of Angels and “Snow, Glass, Apple” flips the script on the Snow White story, plus it has vampires! If you’ve never read any Gaiman but are interested in what the hype is about, this is a good place to start. Like I mentioned above, I only read Gaiman’s books for a long time. I think I even read American Gods before getting all the way through Sandman (both of which I highly recommend). I can’t remember all of the other comic projects of Gaiman’s I’ve read, but I haven’t been all that into them. Luckily, I started off with his books which have always been of a high quality. I think, next to Elmore Leonard, Roald Dahl, RL Stine, Christopher Pike, Dr. Suess and whoever wrote the Arthur the Aardvark books, he’s one of my most-read authors and I’ve been happy with everything I’ve read (book-wise, I couldn’t get into 1602).

So, this book definitely has sentimental value and will probably never leave my shelf. It’s been from wherever it was made, shipped to Detroit, flew to New York, flew back to Detroit, then drove to Ohio and then drove back from Ohio through Pennsylvania into New York again. It might have even made a few more road trips that I’m not thinking about (I think I took it to Ryan’s wedding in Connecticut last weekend). Anyway, it’s a fun story to tell and, even better, it’s a good book. Wouldn’t it suck if I had all these memories tied up in a book I ended up hating? Whew. Seriously though, Gaiman’s books are amazing and they’re not all “Goth craziness” like people might think thanks to the more vocal Sandman fans (ankhs for everyone!). Check it out!