Another week has gone by and I’ve knocked out another pile of comics, most of which came from my local library system. As you can see, we’ve got a mix of amazing indie artists, classic comic visionaries, crossovers and newer books. Hit the jump to see what I had to say on this batch! Continue reading Trade Post: Frank, Midnighter, Constantine, Spirit & Batman/TMNT
Superman Beyond: Man of Tomorrow (DC)
Written by Paul Levitz, Ron Frenz, Tom Defalco & J.T. Krull, drawn by Howard Porter, John Livesay, Renato Guedes, Jose Wilson, Tom Defalco, Ron Frenz & Sal Buscema
Collects Superman/Batman Annual #4, Superman Beyond #0 & Superman Beyond Digital Chapters #1-10
After enjoying Adam Beechen’s first two volumes of Batman Beyond, I got right on my library’s website and placed the other available volumes on hold. They don’t have Justice League Beyond and I’m still waiting on the last BB volume, but quickly moved on to Superman Beyond: Man Of Tomorrow and Batman Beyond: 10,000 Clowns. These stories were originally presented in a digital-first format and then put out in hard copy for the most part.
Of all the Beyond comics I’ve read, the ones in Superman Beyond feel the most disjoined, but I think that’s because it’s got three different writers involved. The Superman/Batman Annual by Levitz and Guedes was an interesting story about Superman finally defeated Lex Luthor, but it ends with him leaving Earth to explore the cosmos. This got picked up in Superman Beyond #0 by Frenz, Defalco and Buscema which finds Superman returning to Earth and discovering his place in a world that’s evolved to a new place. And then in the J.T. Krull stuff, you find Superman wondering if he should stay on Earth or not without mentioning the fact that he spent a year off planet. In the end, it feels like the first two issues are one thing and the other pieces are connected, but not all the way.
The thrust of the main adventure finds Superman dealing with Lex Luthor’s daughter, Lucy, whose true identity was revealed to her by a projection of her father. Lucy uses a combination of her own smarts and her dad’s plan to get pretty darn close to killing Superman. Luckily, Metropolis has armored cops now and Batman swings by to help out, so the day winds up getting saved and a new status quo is set up for Superman including a new secret identity as a fireman.
At the end of the day, this book didn’t really do it for me. I was never convinced of Lucy’s turn from disillusioned youth to A level maniacal supervillain in like one day. I get that she was bummed for feeling like an outsider, but to go from that to piloting massive robots around Metropolis and surrounding the planet with Kryptonite meteorites is another thing.
There were cool moments though. Luthor’s plans were pretty spectacular and I really enjoyed the moment when Bruce Wayne popped over from Gotham in his Dark Knight Returns armor to help Superman fight Solomon Grundy. But, at the end of the day, this is another sad Superman story and that’s not the kind of Superman story I want to read. For me, the heart of Superman is that he’s got hope in his heart even when things are going terribly. There is some of that at the end, but you spend all this time hanging out with a sad sack that it’s not very fun. You could argue that they went this route as a way to flip the Superman/Batman dynamic in the future because Terry McGinnis is a young guy who seems to enjoy what he does, but it just doesn’t work for me. I’m also not a fan of seeing Supes in that black and white costume, but that’s not to say that the artists in this book didn’t do a rad job of bringing it to life.
Batman Beyond: 10,000 Clowns (DC)
Written by Adam Beechen, drawn by Norm Breyfogle
Collects Batman Beyond Unlimited #1-13
Thankfully, I had a much better experience with Beechen’s next Batman Beyond offering 10,000 Clowns. This one felt like a nice synthesis of the previous two volumes in that it had the overarching storyline as seen in Hush Beyond, but also handled a lot of evolving story elements like Dana’s brother Doug, her relationship with Terry, the appearance and origin of a new Vigilante and the reappearance of Dick Grayson, Tim Drake and the new Catwoman in service of the greater good. Oh, and Bruce Wayne almost died.
In a move that feels like a great mix of The Warriors and a smaller version of the “Grand Guignol” story from James Robinson’s Starman, Gotham City is under siege by an army of Jokerz from all over the world. As it turns out, a fairly new character to the series has crowned himself The Joker King and has a new take on the Joker’s chaos theory: none of it matters, so let’s cause as much destruction as possible. To that end, he drugs all the thugs and sends them out into the city with explosives, a plan that decimates huge chunks of the city, even though Batman, Catwoman, the new Vigilante and Dick Grayson are out in the field trying to save the day. Even Bruce gets in on the action trying to protect people in the hospital while he’s seemingly dying from cancer.
I didn’t know much about this series going in, so I was surprised to see Norm Breyfogle’s name on the cover. He was a Batman artist in the 80s and 90s when I first started reading comics and actually gave me my very first comic sketch when he visited my hometown shop 20 years ago. I was surprised when I opened this book and saw him doing a very different style that was much more reminiscent of the Bruce Timm look of the original cartoon. Ryan Benjamin did more of a stylistic take in the previous two books, but this felt a lot more similar to the existing cartoon material, which was probably a conscious effort to make these digital comics as easy to digest for new, non-traditional comic book readers as possible. While I enjoy the look of Breyfogle’s usual pencils, I found myself really digging these books as well. It’s not easy looking classic and futuristic at the same time, but that’s what the cartoon did and that’s what Breyfogle did as well.
So far, I’m giving Beechen’s run on Batman Beyond a big ol’ thumb’s up, but I must admit that I’m a little worried about how it’s all going to end. I know Batman Beyond is a big deal in DC’s current weekly series/event called Future’s End and that there’s a Batman Beyond 2.0 book right now, but it’s by a different writer and also takes place in an alternate universe. Basically, I’m worried that Beechen’s run will just end and then this other things jumps in to take its place. It always bums me out when one creator does all this hard work bringing a character to a cool new place and then, after said character gets popular, someone else is brought in and changes things around to go in a different direction. I’m not saying I won’t like or try the new version of Batman Beyond, but I don’t want its existence to negate this other book that I’ve enjoyed so much. I also want to see what happens to Gotham in the wake of this insane attack by the Jokerz, so I hope to get a little bit of that, plus a well deserved ending in the last collection called Batman Beyond: Batgirl Beyond.
I’ve said time and time again here on the blog when talking about comics, especially DC Comics, that I was a hardcore continuity guy, especially when it came to Superman. Those are the books that got me into comics and taught me the most about the Man of Steel and the greater DC Universe. So, when Infinite Crisis went down and did some vague continuity edits that didn’t seem that well conveyed and I started reading Geoff Johns’ run on Action Comics, I was confused and angrier than I should have been. I was being over-reactionary and not really fair partly because of my bias, but also because I was so dedicated to the version of that character that I was so familiar with.
Since then, I’ve done more thinking about all this than I probably should have, but I go back to what I call the Puzzle Theory Of Corporate Comic Characters. The way I see it, every single existing Superman story is a puzzle piece that a new writer can come in and use. Take Batman for example. That character can work as the ultra-dark version seen in the Christopher Nolan movies or as the fun, upbeat version seen in the Brave and the Bold cartoon. It’s the same character with different past aspects highlighted by the creators. That’s the lens through which I checked out Johns run on Action Comics when I went back and re-read it recently. He’s more a fan of the Silver Age stuff than the books I read, so that’s what he highlighted. I’m doing the first three books here and will do the final two next week, then maybe get into the New Krypton stuff which he set up and then handed off to James Robinson, Greg Rucka and Sterling Gates.
So, Infinite Crisis changed the DCU a bit by making Clark Kent Superboy when he was a kid. That was the major difference for Supes, but they also took away his powers for a year leading into One Year Later and 52. Up, Up & Away is a crossover between Action Comics and Superman with Johns and Kurt Busiek trading off issues in an effort to set up the new world without a Superman and, of course, gradually bring him back. In the year since he lost his powers helping bring down Superboy Prime, Clark has been able to enjoy the finer aspects of being a regular person: getting really good at his job, being more present with his wife and savoring his more limited senses. But of course, it’s not meant to last. While Clark had most of his bases covered with Supergirl and other heroes watching over Metropolis, he didn’t account for Lex Luthor getting out of jail and going back to his mad scientist roots, gathering villains and wielding them as weapons against Metropolis and Superman once he does return.
I can’t say for sure, but I think I really liked these books when they came out and I liked it a lot on this read through. It seemed like both writers really got a good grasp of the character and did a few things that I really enjoyed, most of which had to do with Lex Luthor. When I started reading Superman books, he was the quintessential industrial bad guy, but I’m also a big fan of mad scientist Lex. Better than that, though, the book asked a question that I had never thought of until these issues: Why didn’t Lex put his genius to use curing cancer instead of going after Superman? I tended to think of Luthor in the sense that he was portrayed in the Lex Luthor: Man of Steel series as a good man trying to defend his people from what he saw as a threat, but that ignores the irresponsible and crazy aspects of the character that are also there. Why DIDN’T he cure cancer?! Cause he’s nuts. There are also stellar moments between Lois and Clark where she explains that, while she enjoyed her time with powerless Clark Kent, she knows he needs to be Superman for the world’s sake. This is my favorite relationship in comics.
The book ends and Superman’s back in the suit with the bad guys are vanquished. He’s even helping rebuild parts of the city and handing over the signal watch to Jimmy Olsen. It’s a cool ending that doesn’t really establish the new status quo of Superman or Clark Kent, but did give a cool feel for both before moving into the separate books.
I hope there’s a point in my comic reading career when I can completely separate my reading of a trade from the knowledge I have about how that series came out in a monthly format. It’s not much of a problem anymore because I don’t read many single issues anymore so lateness has very little meaning to me. If you don’t remember or weren’t around, the books in this collection were widely spread out, had fill-ins by completely different creative teams and didn’t actually get finalized until much later when the annual came out, allowing DC’s flagship title to continue on without as much interference. It was frustrating.
There was actually a lot that frustrated me about this book the first time around. It was assumed that the lateness came from then-new DC acquisition Adam Kubert. I don’t have much tolerance artist lateness, especially if it’s an artist I’m not into. I didn’t see what all the fuss was about and therefore wasn’t very forgiving when month after month passed and the story still hadn’t wrapped up. There were also a pair of story elements that bothered me. First, the book features Superman meeting the Phantom Zone villains for presumably the first time which I thought had already happened in the previous continuity. Second, I didn’t want Superman to have a kid.
However, this time, I was able to just take it all in at once. And you know what? I liked most of the story. I did my best to ignore the lateness and my continuity bias, instead just letting myself focus on this new story and it’s pretty good, though I’m still not a great big fan of Adam Kubert’s. Aside from some poorly constructed figures when zoomed out, my main problem with the art was that it looked like the figures were being photoshopped onto painted backgrounds. When artists do that kind of thing, it looks inorganic and distracts from the implication that you’re looking at a whole broken up into many panels.
As usual, I’m getting ahead of myself. This story kicks off with a young Kryptonian landing on Earth. He’s soon followed by Zod, Ursa and Non (better known as the bad guys from Superman II) who are actually using their son as a tether allowing them to escape the Negative Zone. Now Superman has to fight for the very survival of his adoptive planet and his new foster son in the face of overwhelming odds.
I dug the ins and outs of this story from the explanation of how Lor-Zod was conceived to Mon-El’s appearance and the Bizarro fight to the people Superman turns to for help in defeating his enemies. My only real problems this time around were still related to other comics, but not the ones I read as a kid, but instead Up, Up & Away. Somehow Clark Kent went from a confident guy wearing a Smallville jacket to a suit and tie-wearing doofus who felt the need to act as such to hide his secret identity. Doesn’t that seem weird? Wouldn’t that kind of big character change cause a lot of people to wonder what’s going on? However, as its own thing and the beginning of Johns’ solo run (he recently said on Kevin Smith’s Fat Man On Batman podcast that he basically hammered out the beats with his one-time boss Richard Donner and then scripted it himself), it works a lot better than it did as a monthly comic. One of the major negatives at the time was that Lor-Zod wound up spending months and months with Clark and Lois, basically spinning his wheels until everyone got their stuff together and gave him the proper send off which wound up being really emotional and well done.
While I might want to forget some elements of the previous books, I have only good memories and experiences with Escape From Bizarro World, which is a three issue story drawn by The Goon‘s Eric Powell. While working at Wizard, I was given the assignment of interviewing Powell for a sketchbook feature. You can actually see the sketches in the intro written by Brian K. Vaughan, but the amazing Darkseid one he did wasn’t included because he has nothing to do with the story. That image of Darkseid has become second only to Jack Kirby’s in my mind for iconic interpretations of the character. Powell was also a super nice guy to interview. He had a death in the family at the time and still took the time to help me with the article, something I don’t know if I could have focused on in his shoes. Good guy that Powell.
This story completely plays to Powell’s strengths as it takes place mostly on a planet that Bizarro smashed together and happens to be under a blue sun which has given him “Bizarro Vision,” the ability to create Bizarro clones. The downside? They hate him. Bizarro needs advice so he kidnaps Jonathan Kent which eventually brings Supes to the planet. Superman actually wants to just get out of there and leave Biz to his problems, but his dad is there to play moral compass and help the two figure out a way to change the status quo. It’s a great series of moments, but doesn’t hold a candle to the few scenes of Superman’s dad getting his son’s powers and understanding for a little while what that’s like. Better yet? The gift Bizarro gave him at the end. Man, that gave me a little lump in my throat!
It’s a quick story with all kinds of goodness on both ends of the comic spectrum. Johns and Donner weaved a wonderful story that ranks up there with some of my favorites. At the same time, Powell not only gets to draw backwards zombie-ish versions of the Justice League and Superman’s supporting cast, but also does a Superman so iconic I almost can’t stand that there’s only three issues.
To beef up the trade, DC did something pretty fun by including three different Bizarro issues from years’ past. Better than just including some basic stuff, though, they actually got Johns to pick issues that inspired him when writing the character. The writer even writes mini essays about why he included each issue which is pretty great. So, instead of reprinting Bizarro’s first appearance, he went with the one where Bizarro and Bizarro Lois Lane have a kid who’s normal and therefore a weirdo on their planet. This plays up on the themes of alienation that Johns used throughout all of his Superman stories.
Alright, I want to say one more thing while on the subject of how these books are collected. I understand it makes sense to collect the books by artist, but there are a few issues here and there from Johns’ run that weren’t collected in these books. I don’t have the exact issue numbers on hand, but I know there was a Toyman issue that got passed over for collection. I’m sure I’m not the only one to suggest this, but it would be nice to have a Geoff Johns Action Comics Omnibus. They’ve done that with his Teen Titans and Flash runs, so maybe we’re not far off from that with Superman.