Monday, July 31, 2006

KINGDOM COME DC Comics, 1996

Kingdom Come was the comic book event of the mid-Nineties, a painted four-issue mini-series that proved that darn it, DC is just as good at killing everybody in an alternate reality as Marvel is.
Written by Mark Waid and painted by Alex Ross, Kingdom Come is a beautifully illustrated epic that occasionally veers off course into self-importance or becomes buried under obsessive detail and nostalgia, but for the most part, delivers the goods. The whole series builds up to an apocalyptic battle between two armies of superhumans, a radioactive Ragnarok that earns Kingdom Come a post during Alternate Reality Where Everybody Dies Week.

Here’s the story: several decades in the future a new generation of superhumans rampages across the planet, battling each other in petty disputes without heed to loss of life or property. They’re like damn punk kids who mess up your lawn, only in this case the lawn is Earth. Several members of The Old Order like Wonder Woman get pissed off at the lawless behavior of their descendents. Things come to a head when Kansas gets wiped off the map during a superhero battle. So that’s what happens if you crack open Captain Atom’s shell. That’s something to avoid - good safety tip.
The entire story is seen through the eyes of Norman McCray, a preacher who is having a crisis of faith. While he’s praying for guidance, the supernatural spirit of vengeance known as The Spectre appears to him, wearing nothing but a green cloak over his pearly skin. The Spectre plays Virgil to Norman's Dante, guiding him through the events leading up to a global crisis. In the end, Norman appears before Superman and urges him to stay his hand and not drop a ceiling on the United Nations. Man, good thing The Spectre didn’t pick a right-wing radio host to take along with him; those UN delegates would be dead.

Norman has to go through the entire series not looking at The Spectre's glowing crotch, which is particularly difficult given The Spectre's fondness of floating about two feet off the ground. I don't care if he is the Spirit of Vengeance, dude needs to put some shorts on.

This new breed of “hero” can be equated with the upstart Olympian gods who revolted against Cronus and the Titans, or compared with the violent and kewl comic book characters of the Nineties such as Cable, Ghost Rider, or many Image Comics characters. Ross went crazy with the character designs for the new heroes, many of whom are descendents of current heroes and villains. It’s fun in a geeky way to try to identify all the characters packed into Kingdom Come.

Sometimes Ross just went off into left field for some of the characters. I love the Human Cathedral guy pictured below, he’s fantastic:

After Kansas gets wiped out, Superman comes back from a self-imposed retirement. He leads a Neo Justice League, an army of recruits that includes Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Power Woman, and Your Mom. It’s true; Your Mom is on page 16 of the second issue, behind Captain Marvel, Jr. They start cleaning up town, only in this case town is Earth.

But once they have laid the global smack down, what do they do with hundreds of super powered prisoners? The League creates The Gulag, a supermax prison of the highest order. Who named it Gulag, though? They need to get a friendlier name, something like “Fiddler’s Green” or “The Smile Factory.” Maybe they should hire The Grandmaster, creator of the “life bombs” as a brand image consultant.

Of course, the shit hits the fan, only in this case the fan is Earth and we’re all going to get sprayed. (I’m going to stop doing that.) Somebody cranks up the Thin Lizzy and the super-prisoners break out of The Gulag. Wonder Woman leads a force of heroes to stop them, and things go from bad to oh, hell no!

Each member of DC’s “trinity” has a different reaction to the socio-political situation created by the new breed and the Gulag. Although Superman is arguably the focus of the book, he’s portrayed as sort of ineffectual and reactive, whereas Wonder Woman comes across as authoritarian and bloodthirsty. Batman holds himself aloof from such matters but is secretly working behind the scenes as a sort of third political party that Superman wants on his side.

At the climax of the book, Superman fights a creepy mind-controlled Captain Marvel, set against a tableau of super carnage. The government decides to cut their losses and drops a mega-nuke on the battlefield and… you guessed it, EVERYBODY DIES.

Well, not everybody. A few heroes make it. You didn’t think a mega-nuclear blast could take out Green Lantern, did you?

Superman survives, of course, and he is not happy. Here’s a great sequence (below) of The Man of Steel emerging from the radioactive gloom, hella-pissed off.

Now isn’t that cooler than him sinking to his knees and throwing his head back and screaming “WHYYYY??!!” or “FAAATHERRR!!!”
When Superman’s eyes glow like that, it means he’s pissed and you shouldn’t talk to him and you should go in the other room and read and let Superman have some frickin’ peace and quiet, damn it!
Kingdom Come is a perfect example of the Alternate Reality Where Everybody Dies sub-genre, infused with enough gravitas that it feels like something important is happening, that these events actually matter. Sometimes it gets weighed down with portents and allegory, and often the art has a cluttered quality that comes from packing too many characters into a panel. Flaws aside, Kingdom Come deserves its status as one of the major comic publishing events of the Nineties.

Friday, July 28, 2006


I did not like this comic book.

Normally I dig Garth Ennis’s writing. I enjoy his war stories, particularly the Enemy Ace limited series he wrote a few years back. Ennis breathed a murderous new vitality into Marvel’s The Punisher, rescuing a property that had fallen out of favor with fans. And his brutal limited series Thor: Vikings had an honest-to-God F*$% Yeah moment that I will have to write about some day (Thor: “’Tis on.”)

But this comic, The Punisher Kills The Marvel Universe? It’s pointless and ugly and gratuitous and pandering and amoral and I felt like showering after I read it. So of course, it’s a perfect book for Alternate Reality Where Everybody Dies Week!

As is our custom here at Dave’s Long Box, the theme week will stretch beyond seven days. Perhaps I should have called it Alternate Reality Where Everybody Dies Fortnight. I realized that I have been focusing exclusively focusing on Marvel comics where everybody dies and have been neglecting all the fine DC comics where everybody dies, so I must continue on into a second week of carnage.

Back to The Punisher Kills The Marvel Universe. The premise is simple, but stupid: What if Frank “The Punisher” Castle’s family were killed in the crossfire of a superhero battle in Central Park instead of getting killed in the crossfire of a mob hit like they were in the “616” universe. Instead of dedicating his life to eradicating crime and punishing criminals, Castle dedicates his life to wiping out superheroes…

…which makes no damn sense whatsoever.

Ennis wastes no time putting The Punisher in full-on killer mode. A police detective, Frank Castle shows up at Central Park where The X-Men and Avengers have just finished repelling an invasion of Brood and Skrull aliens. A stray optic blast or flying tree or something takes out Castle’s family, which pisses him off to no end.

Cyclops feels bad and tries to apologize to Castle, who responds by shooting the X-Man in the face. Twice.

After that Frank shoots Jubilee (I'm OK with that) and a New Warrior or two, and gets arrested, tried, and sentenced to life in prison. He’s sprung from jail by a coalition of wealthy, revenge-crazed victims of superhero violence who want to use Frank as their instrument of vengeance. He agrees, and begins systematically murdering every superhuman in the Marvel universe, starting with Spider-Man.

I can understand that the guy would be pissed. Heck, I’d be sore if my family were killed in a superhero fight, too. It seems like pretty thin motivation for killing EVERY SINGLE SUPERHERO EVER. Ennis doesn’t portray Frank as a barking mad lunatic – he pretty much acts like your standard-model Punisher – so the reader is asked to make this huge leap of faith and just accept that Frank must act irrationally and kill all superhumans, even if it doesn’t make sense.

I mean, it’s not like The Avengers and X-Men were playing a game of touch football in Central Park that got out of hand and people were killed. They were stopping an interstellar invasion, for Chrissake. If there were no superheroes to repel the attack and Frank’s family was accidentally killed in a battle between the aliens and the National Guard, would Frank systematically wipe out all Guardsmen? And why isn’t he pissed off at the Brood and the Skrulls? They started the whole thing.

The other thing that bugs me about this comic is its inconsistent stance on violence and retribution. After providing Frank with thin motivation to hate all superhumans, we follow him along on a series of vignettes in which he murders heroes and villains in clever and sadistic ways. Are we supposed to be rooting for him? Some of the execution scenes are played for black laughs, like this scene where The Punisher takes out Dr. Doom with a hammer:

I don’t know, is that supposed to be funny? Maybe you have to be a hormonal, socially retarded, glue-sniffing 13 year old boy in a trench coat to truly appreciate the nuanced humor. Or maybe it’s just kewl, in the same way it is kewl when a cheerleader gets stabbed in the throat in a slasher movie. I can’t tell what reaction Ennis is going for.

Here’s another example: Frank tracks down Spider-Man and kills him and Venom in a New York sewer. Just before The Punisher shoots Your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man in the head, the hero asks him, “Why me?” Ka-BLOW!

We get a full-page shot of The Punisher looking all tough, striding through the sewer. He tells the (dead) Spider-Man, “Because somebody had to be first.” Oh, snap! Again, what is the desired effect? Is it supposed to be cool? Dramatic? As a reader am I supposed to be cheering The Punisher on because, really, fuck those superheroes and all the saving-the-world shit?

I could go on – he kills all the mutants by luring them to The Moon and setting off one of Dr. Doom’s nuclear bombs. He shoots Captain America in the head. Wolverine goes out like a sucker. Mr. Fantastic is found dead in a dumpster. Let that one sink in: the guy who saved the planet from being chowed on by Galactus gets shot because he has superpowers. That’s fucking stupid. Finally, The Punisher stabs Daredevil in the chest, feels bad, and kills himself. The end.

Man, I knew I should have reviewed the Fred Hembeck book instead. You can't go wrong with Hembeck.

Not only does The Punisher Kills The Marvel Universe suck, but it’s no fun and it makes me feel icky after having read it again. Don’t get me wrong, I love gratuitous superhero extermination as much as the next guy, hence Alternate Reality Where Everybody Dies Week, but do I have to switch off my critical faculties and sense of morality in order to enjoy comic books with a high body count? I would have to be stupid and sociopathic to enjoy a book like this. Am I saying that you, Dave’s Long Box reader, are dumb and amoral if you enjoyed this book?

Yes. Yes, I am.*

Gaaah, I’ve got this crappy taste in my mouth now. I need to counteract the effect of this comic book by exposing my mind to something diametrically opposed to The Punisher, something like this:

Thank you, baby harp seal. Thank you.

Next, let’s see how DC heroes fare when they’re put in an Alternate Reality.

Hint: everybody dies.

*Sigh... OK, to be fair I have to say that it is possible for moral and intelligent people to enjoy this book, even if I didn't. I'm not a big meany like The Punisher.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


Regarding yesterday's post:
OK, I have to admit that technically Avengers Annual #16 does not take place in an alternate universe at all -- it happens in the regular Marvel Universe and everybody really does die, but they get made better by Death, The Person. If everybody had goatees and wore daggers and sashes, then it would be an alternate universe. I was thinking of renaming Alternate Reality Where Everybody Dies Week and just calling it Everybody Dies Week. Or maybe Everybody Hurts Week. But no, there's no point changing horses midstream in the war against the bats.*
Anyway, in Avengers Annual #16 everybody dies and that's what counts.
Today's comic is The Incredible Hulk: Future Imperfect, and I suppose it technically takes place in the regular "616" universe as well. In this two-part series by writer Peter David and artist George Perez, the Hulk of the year 1993 is visited by rebels from Dystopia, a hellish possible future in which The Hulk has exterminated all the superheroes and set up shop as planetary ruler. The mid-90's Hulk was no mindless caveman; he was smart and mean and fond of puns and he had a ridiculous hair cut. This Hulk goes up against The Maestro, a bearded and warty and super-evil future version of himself, and shit gets destroyed big time. It's a pretty good read. This book is chock full of lovingly rendered rubble and debris, courtesy of George Perez, who delivers yet another insanely detailed comic book.
The rebels of Dystopia are led by an cadaverously ancient Rick Jones, The Hulk's former teen sidekick back in the day. The decrepit Jones has a secret underground base that is full of morbid superhero tchotchkes that Jones has collected over time. Check out this great two-page spread of Rick's museum of slain heroes:

I love that spread, it's just chock-a-block with Marvel zombie goodness. They threw in eveything from Nova's helmet to the Eye of Agomotto. The blue pelt of the X-Men's Beast hangs on a back wall. The Red Skull's red skull adorns a bookshelf. I think those are Quasar's quantum bands being used as planters. Notice how Captain America's shield is perfectly intact and mounted with care, while USAgent's shield is all busted up on the floor. Rick Jones himself gets around in Professor X's old hoverchair.
But wait a minute. How did Rick Jones get Thor's hammer mjolnir into that display case? Only Thor and a select worthy few beings in the universe can pick it up. I call bullshit on that.
Okay, that's it. Just wanted to drop some George Perez kung fu on you during Alternate Reality Where Everybody Dies Week.
*Painfully obscure pop cultural reference. There was a Saturday Night Live a few years back that Ben Stiller hosted. They had this wacky bit where Stiller and Tim Meadows were small-town politicians in a series of dueling campaign ads. They're running for mayor of a town that is under siege by giant bats. The commercials become progressively more extreme, with the candidates advocating solutions to the bat problem such as soldier monkeys, erupting a volcano under the bat cave, and getting larger and more agressive bats to eat the giant bats. One of the candidates' slogans is "Don't change horses midstream in the war against the bats." So that's the reference.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

AVENGERS ANNUAL #16 Marvel Comics, 1987

Alternate Reality Where Everybody Dies Week
continues with this classic Avengers annual where yes, all the Avengers die horrible deaths but at the end everybody gets better and plays baseball together and ha ha ha, isn’t life grand?

Actually, nobody says, “Ha ha ha! Isn’t life grand?” in Avengers Annual #16, but they do play baseball. But before we get to that upbeat ending – everybody dies. Except Cap and Hawkeye, naturally.

For a brief spell in the Eighties, The Avengers annuals were actually really good. This flies in the face of a long tradition of suck-ass Marvel annuals full of second-rate filler material. In this case, a little iconoclasm is a good thing. (Look, I used the word “iconoclasm” in order to appear smart!) For a few years The Avengers annuals were all killer, no filler.

This book was published during the era of the West Coast Avengers, when all that superhero radness could not be contained in one Avengers team and had to be divided between two groups. Once a year, the East Coast playas and the West Coast killas met in the Astrodome for a friendly game of super-baseball.

Are you laughing? Stop! I loved those books! Oh, I see, it’s okay if Cyclops and Wolverine play a game of half-court at Xavier’s, but it’s stupid when Iron Man and Captain America play baseball? In full costume?

Okay, maybe that does sound a little dumb.

Suiting up in state-of-the-art powered armor just to play center field is overkill. Maybe Iron Man is just being prudent, because every single time the two teams play baseball they get attacked by somebody. Come to think of it, the JLA and JSA can’t make it through a Thanksgiving meal, either. You would think superteams would learn and just not socialize in big groups. “Gosh Jan, I’d love to come to your Oscar party, but last time the U-Foes trashed your condo and we never did find out who won Best Picture.”

Picking up from the West Coast Avengers Annual, this book pits a small army of Avengers against The Grandmaster (no relation to Grandmaster Flash or his Furious Five), a nigh-omnipotent cosmic being who is obsessed with, as Hawkeye describes it, “crazy cosmic games.”

The Grandmaster has captured the personification of Death and uses her powers to resurrect a team of dead heroes and villains to pit against The Avengers. The opposing teams are split up into squads and cast across the universe, where they battle one another for possession of five inappropriately named “life bombs.” If the Avengers lose the universe blows up or something, and if The Avengers win… well, the universe still blows up, because The Grandmaster is a total asshole.

Legendary Marvel writer/editor Tom DeFalco handles the writing chores, but each battle is drawn by a different art team. My favorite chapter is the fight in Hades featuring Hawkeye, Hank Pym, and Thor, which has breakdowns by John Romita Jr with finishes by Bill Sienkiewicz. It is beautiful.

That brings us to our first death! During this period, Avenger Hank (aka Yellowjacket, Giant Man, Ant-Man, Crotch Spelunker, Wife Beater) Pym didn’t have an alter-ego or a costume, he was rockin’ an off-the-rack jumpsuit from JC Penney with lots of pockets. Believe me, it was better than the Members Only jacket and parachute pants Pym wore in 1986. Anyway, Pym used his incredible powers to shrink tools and weapons so he could stash them in his jumpsuit. When he needed, say, a grenade launcher he would just pull the tiny weapon out, hit it with Pym particles to make it grow, and within seconds he is armed and dangerous. If you ask me, this is a far more practical application of shrinking powers than making yourself two inches tall.

Anyway, Hank Pym battles the deceased Nighthawk while Thor tussles with Skurge and Hawkeye takes on The Swordsman. Pym holds his own, until her gets distracted by a collapsing roof. Watch your six, Pym! Behind you!!!

Never mind. Hank gets stalagmited from behind, which reminds me of one drunken summer night in Bangkok. That’s a story for another time.

Thor whisks away The Grandmaster’s life-bomb but gets blowed up real good. Only Hawkeye survives this round.

The next chapter pits Tigra, She Hulk, Moon Knight, and Captain Marvel against Drax, the dead dude Captain Marvel, The Green Goblin, and Death Adder in sunny Maui. In reality, the living female Captain Marvel would make short work of the dead bad guys, but this is an Alternate Universe story, so she has to die in an undignified and nonsensical way.

She-Hulk gets taken out by Drax, who blindsides her and breaks her back, despite the fact that she routinely fights guys like him with no injury whatsoever. But here she is fighting both Drax and Tom DeFalco, who both want her dead, so die she must.

Next, Moon Knight gets taken out by The Green Goblin, who doses the all-white avenger of the night with hallucinogen gas and then zaps him. I can handle that – if The Green Goblin can fight Spider-Man to a standstill then he could certainly take out Moon Knight. I’d be embarrassed for The Green Goblin if he couldn’t.

Speaking of embarrassing, Tigra gets poisoned by Death Adder, a third-rate villain who was murdered by Scourge, if memory serves. Then dead dude Captain Marvel, Drax, and The Green Goblin all team up on the living female Captain Marvel and they kill her. Seriously, what is the frickin’ Green Goblin going to do against a woman who can turn herself into light? I call bullshit.

After that, The Silver Surfer goes up against all-powerful jock Korvac, and they both kill each other. I have no idea why The Silver Surfer is in this comic. Does he even play baseball?

The next chapter has fantastic art, with breakdowns by Jackson Guice and finishes by Kevin Nowlan. Iron Man, Mockingbird, Dr. Druid, and The Black Knight battle Terrax, Red Guardian, Dracula, and an earlier and deader version of The Black Knight in the ruins of some alien civilization which looks strangely like a bombed-out city on Earth. I don’t know, maybe the aliens were really into building with brick.

The thing I love about this chapter is that Dracula basically kills them all.

While Mockingbird and Black Knight kick ass on their respective foes, Iron Man defeats Terrax but burns out his red and white Yuletide armor in the process. The unarmored Tony Stark begins working on defusing Grandmaster’s life-bomb while nearby, Dr. Druid takes on Dracula in a hypno-battle.

Pwned! Dr. Druid goes out like a chump, with a Mark V Backhand from Dracula! Looks like Tom DeFalco hated Dr. Druid as much as everybody else.

Iron Man is almost done defusing the bomb when Dracula appears and fucks everything up. Whatcha gonna do when the Lord of Vampires comes for you? Get distracted at a critical moment and blow up one fifth of the universe, that’s what!

Finally, Captain America, The Wasp, and Wonder Man take on Baron Blood, Hyperion, and – God, no! – Bucky, Cap’s dead partner from World War II!

I know what you’re thinking – but Bucky isn’t dead, he’s The Winter Soldier in Captain America! WTF? I have no explanation. Since Avengers Annual #16 precedes writer Ed Brubaker’s Captain America run by nearly two decades, I’m going to say that this book is canon and the current Cap storyline doesn’t count and Ed Brubaker is a big fat liar.

Death has turned Bucky mean, and he kills The Wasp by punching her. You see what I mean about shrinking powers? If you could choose between carrying a shrunken arsenal in your pocket or the ability to shrink to wasp-size, which would you choose? If a 12-year old boy can kill you with one punch, it’s official: your superpower sucks.

Cap is the only person who survives this round, and he joins Hawkeye back in front of The Grandmaster, who announces a change in the rules: now Cap and Hawkeye have to fight all the dead bad guys and all their dead friends, too! See? Asshole!

Hawkeye hasn’t stayed in one piece on The Avengers by being stupid; with the fate of reality at stake, the archer comes up with one last desperate gamble, a game of chance that The Grandmaster can’t resist:

If Grandmaster picks the arrow with the head, everybody dies! If he picks the wrong one, everybody lives! Which one should he pick? Which one?!!

Sucker! Hawkeye cheated! Grandmaster picks the wrong arrow and is so distracted that Death frees herself and casts Grandmaster into The Negative Zone or something.

I have to give that scene a hearty F*&% Yeah! I loved that when I was a kid, that is a straight-up James T. Kirk move right there. Take that, godlike cosmic being! That's what you get for underestimating us humans, punk!

Out of gratitude, Death resurrects the entire team so they can finish their baseball game and ha ha ha, isn't life grand?

Lessons learned: Death can be a kind mistress, never turn your back on a bad guy, keep your mind on your business when defusing life-bombs, and don’t shrink down to punchable wasp-size during a super-battle.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Alternate Reality Where Everybody Dies Week begins!

Welcome to Alternate Reality Where Everybody Dies Week here at Dave’s Long Box, where we will explore parallel earths and gaze into the possible futures of our favorite comic book characters – and then watch them all die!

Alternate universe stories are time-honored conventions in genre fiction across different media, not just comic books. Just think of all the Star Trek episodes that take place in parallel realities. It’s such a popular convention that it has become a tired, overworked cliché. Sure, it was a cool idea in “Mirror, Mirror” or “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” but when you start talking about Sliders or The One, you’ve lost me.

Let’s face it – alternate universe stories are an easy crutch for lazy-ass writers. They no longer require any imagination or wit to execute. Just stick character A and B into a totalitarian/apocalyptic future or parallel earth, throw in character C who is normally a hero but is now a villain, and kill off characters D and E in a shocking way and mister, you have got yourself an alt.universe story!

This week is dedicated to those parallel reality stories in comic books where everybody (or nearly everybody) dies. This micro-genre is best exemplified in the now classic Claremont/Byrne X-Men saga, “Days of Future Past” in which the reader glimpses a nightmarish world patrolled by mutant-hunting robots who kill, spindle, and mutilate all your favorite characters. This classic story spawned a seemingly endless cavalcade of similar comics wherein everybody dies.

And why not? Mass killings are a cheap-ass way to inject some drama in your story, and since the reality where the deaths take place isn’t “real,” there are no restraints on how or why characters get killed. Alternate reality stories aren’t just handy ways to examine the road less traveled or answer those burning “what if?” questions; they’re also a great way to slaughter beloved characters, in a non-permanent way of course. But hey! It doesn’t count because it’s all a dream/ alternate reality/ possible future/ psionic hallucination/ virtual reality program/ fever dream, et cetera.

So come with me, my friends! Let’s take a magical mystery tour through the twin lands of What Might Have Been and What Could Be, where all your favorite characters go out like suckers! And remember, if Robin gets flayed alive or Storm gets impaled with a Jumbo Javelin, it’s all pretend and they’ll be better next issue. Trust me.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

SOLO #5 DC Comics, 2006

I am having issues.
Normally I post scans to Dave’s Long Box using software that I like to call The Thing That Puts My Pictures On The Internet. On occasion, The Thing That Puts My Pictures On The Internet does not put my pictures on the Internet, and that can be frustrating. I mean, the main – no, the only – job that The Thing That Puts My Pictures On The Internet has is putting things on the Internet, so if it’s not doing that, then WTF? Fortunately, when The Thing That Puts My Pictures On The Internet is busted, I have a back-up method of posting scans that I like to call The Other Thing That Puts My Pictures On The Internet. Sometimes that doesn’t work, too, and then I just don’t post at all and I sulk instead. Because really, fuck you Thing That Puts My Pictures On The Internet and fuck you too Other Thing That Puts My Pictures On The Internet!

Thanks, I had to get that out of my system.

Let’s talk about Solo, the bi-monthly anthology series from DC Comics that showcases the talents of one selected artist, who produces all-new material using pretty much any character in the vast DC Universe. The DC editors made really interesting choices for the series, with issues done by Mike Allred, Sergio Aragones, and Howard Chaykin, among others. Apparently, any character or technique is fair game for Solo creators. Why, you could do a series of three-paneled haiku interpretations starring Solomon Grundy, all in soft pastels if you wanted to.

Grundy, hungry now
Squirrel in a tree, so close
But Grundy’s too slow

This particular issue, Solo #5 is the Darwyn Cooke issue, which means Pow! It’s gonna knock you on yer keister with it’s radness!

Cooke is the writer/artist of the Eisner-winning New Frontier and a swingin’ run on the Catwoman series. He also may be a time traveler from the year 1958, I’m not entirely sure. Cooke certainly has an affinity for the go-go 50’s and hep early 60’s, and it shows in his vibrant work and his use of characters like private eye Slam Bradley and The Question.

Solo #5 has a Slam Bradley framing device that sets up the stories and bits in the comic. Slam is killing time in a bar downtown, waiting for a certain dame to come through the door, regaling the bartender with different tales.

The book is packed full of goodness. There are pin-ups, short gags, a noir story of betrayal, a luminous remembrance of Cooke’s own childhood discovery of art, and a brilliant “cover” of a classic Batman story. There’s even a variety page full of short strips, jokes, and puzzles, such as the Amazo Maze here:

Cooke’s art has a distinctive, recognizable style, yet he has a broad enough range that he can change the art to match the subject matter or mood at hand. Cooke’s work is suffused with a childlike sense of joy and wonder – and I mean that in a good way. His coloring is pretty, too.

Solo #5 – further proof that Darwyn Cooke is The Cat’s Ass.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

THE CHROMA-TICK #1 New England Comics Press, 1992

I have raved about Ben Edlund's The Tick before, and since this is my blog and I can start posting nothing but pictures of cats if I want to, I am going to rave about Ben Edlund's The Tick again.

From its humble beginnings as a small press black and white book published by New England Comics Press, The Tick grew into a pop cultural juggernaut, with a really well done cartoon and a short-lived but kick-ass live series starring Patrick Warburton. Perhaps "pop cultural juggernaut" is overstating things a bit, but The Tick was enough of a hit to boost creator Ben Edlund's career; he worked on Joss Whedon's lamented, beloved TV series Firefly and wrote some of the funnier episodes of the series ("Jaynestown" and "Trash" I believe). In my book, Ben Edlund has built up some cred as Bringer of Goodness.

This particular issue, The Chroma-Tick Special Edition #1, is a colorized re-print of the first Tick issue. I'm not all that convinced that The Tick needed to be in color, but whatever.

I'm not going to give a detailed analysis of the story or artwork or offer an insightful exploration of the themes or socio-cultural context of this comic book, primarily because I never do that. I'm all about summarizing comics and throwing in a couple of cheap gags - but why do all that typing if the comic can do it for me?

Here's a sequence that made me laugh when I first bought this comic back in The Day and made me laugh last night when I was flipping through it. The Tick gets knocked out and wakes up someplace dark (a train tunnel):

A thinly disguised Clark Kent analog is on the subway platform and he notices somebody in the tunnel. There's no time to change into his super alter ego, so he runs down the tunnel to rescue The Tick, who is convinced he is inside a whale.

The Tick's brain works in strange ways. Once he has locked into a conclusion - I am in a whale - he has a hard time switching gears when presented with new information that might contradict his initial conclusion. Observe:

He struggles with the Clark Kent clone, with predictable results:

My standards are low, but I think that is funny. Thanks, Chroma-Tick #1, for making me laugh twice at the same joke - once in 1992, once in 2006. That is comic book value, right there.

Monday, July 17, 2006

THE NEW TEEN TITANS #19 DC Comics, 1982

I came late to Marv Wolfman and George Perez’s New Teen Titans, which was a certified 80’s comic book phenomenon on par with The Uncanny X-Men – or so they tell me. On a whim I picked up a back issue of their run, and I was hooked.

The New Teen Titans seemed as representative of DC Comics as The X-Men was of Marvel Comics. They were a shiny, colorful crazy quilt of characters that could only exist in the DC universe. Right, I know, because you couldn’t have Robin in the Marvel universe because that wouldn’t make sense and Marvel doesn’t own Robin, etc. Smart ass. I’m being hypothetical here. My point is that New Teen Titans feels uniquely like a DC comic book.

As was the norm for the series, New Teen Titans #19 was a dense read. Perez drew twice as many panels per page as most artists, and Wolfman managed to squeeze in like, twenty soap opera subplots as well as an epic battle against Hindu monsters. Plus: special guest Hawkman! You really got your money’s worth with New Teen Titans. This book is literally packed full of super hero goodness.

The story: The bumbling, non-rapist version of Dr. Light escapes from prison and decides to jack an artifact called the Ten Avatars of Vishnu. You see, Vishnu was the god of light, and back in the day DC villains were bound by a code that required them to only commit thematically appropriately crimes, i.e., Catwoman stole Egyptian cat statues, The Penguin robbed priceless songbirds, Shitface hijacked septic tank trucks, etc.

Wait a second, there was no Shitface. I’m thinking Clayface, or maybe my Uncle Jerry.

Anyway, Dr. Light attempts to steal the artifacts at the New York Museum, but is confronted by the winged wonder himself, Hawkman! Of the thousand different versions of Hawkman, this is the version I like to think of as Stupid Helmet Hawkman. More on that later. During the fight with Hawkman, Dr. Light accidentally blasts the Vishnu statue with a light ray. Dumbshit.

Of course, the Ten Avatars of Vishnu statue transforms into four giant Vishnu avatars which try to kill Dr. Light. I have no idea why they don’t transform into ten giant Vishnu avatars – presumably that would have been too much to draw, even for Perez. He’d be like, “Woah, time out, Marv. Too many avatars. Let’s dial the Vishnu thing back a little.” George Perez talks like Jeff Spicoli, I guess.

The cowardly villain ditches Hawkman and hauls ass towards Titans Tower, the giant T-shaped headquarters of the Teen Titans, in the hopes that he will save his ass. He busts into the tower, triggering the alarms and alerting the youthful superhero squad. We get a great sequence where the Titans leisure time is interrupted by the call of duty. I love these little vignettes – they’re so new reader friendly and corny-in-a-good-way.

Of course, the avatars follow Dr. Light, and thus begins a wicked cool super brawl on snowy Titans Island. Instead of the unsatisfying “wide screen” splash page of our heroes that one might find in a contemporary team comic, we get a detailed and protracted account of the fight, complete with daring rescues, reversals of fortune, and clever uses of super powers. Again, you’re getting a lot of comic for your money here.

The Titans get hip to Dr. Light’s involvement in this crazy Vishnu mess, and Robin punches him in the groin. Hard.

Check it out:

That would smart: getting punched in the cock by Robin. Hell, getting punched in the cock by The Golden Girls' Betty White would hurt.

After smacking Dr. Light in the bathing suit area, they figure out that Dr. Light used solar power – sun rays – to create the giant Vishnu monsters. Does that mean if you took the Vishnu statue outside on a sunny day it would hatch giant monsters? You think that might have happened once or twice before. The curvy alien princess Starfire blasts the avatars with her solar-powered “starbolts” and they melt.

The crisis is over, but Hawkman is mega-pissed at Dr. Light. Here’s Hawkman reading Dr. Light the riot act:

Dr. Light is so scared of Hawkman in the panel above because he thinks he’s going to get another cock-punch. Or maybe he’s just scared of Hawkman’s strange and impractical helmet. What the hell is with that thing, anyway?

Don’t get me wrong, I grew up with this version of the character - Stupid Helmet Hawkman. To me, he is the classic version of the character. But for the life of me I can’t figure out how he could see a thing wearing that goofy helmet. Look at it. The bird eyes are way up on his forehead, and he’s got this big beak right in his line of sight.

My theory is that Hawkman got really drunk on Thanagarian ale one night while he was waxing his chest and he decided to try to shape his eyebrows. He fucked up and ended up giving himself creepy thin Joan Crawford eyebrows, and had to wear this helmet to cover them up. Can you imagine all the crap Green Arrow would give Hawkman if he had girly eyebrows?

It’s just a theory.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Off-Topic: Aquapocalypse Now!

This past weekend my pal Bob and I went on an epic 300+ mile journey from one end of the vast Lake Roosevelt to the other in an old school motor boat, a journey that I will now think of as “That One Time When That Bear Almost Ate Me.”

A little background: Lake Roosevelt is a 150 mile long reservoir in Washington State that was created when Grand Coulee Dam plugged up the mighty Columbia River. This flooded valley extends from the scenic desert canyons around the dam all the way up into the dry pine hills near the Canadian border, where the line between lake and river blur. It winds through national forest land and Indian reservations, so there is relatively little human development on the lake itself.

Our goal was to travel from one extreme of the lake to the other in our little motorboat the Red Sled while camping on the lakeshore and avoiding dangerous wildlife. We had beer, some food, some fuel, sunglasses, baby wipes, and Cybershark.

Thank God we had Cybershark. As the box copy informs us, Cybershark is “the most terrifying cyborg of the future” – as opposed to the most terrifying cyborg of the Renaissance, I guess. It is a remote control shark that looks and moves like a real shark – but with glowing red eyes. It dives, it surfaces, it thrashes its tail around, and it fixes you with those red, burning eyes. We enjoyed making Cybershark swim under the boat and surface from the depths. Plus – the remote control is water proof! It’s fantastic – order your Cybershark today!

Anyway, we had the usual mishaps and misadventures and near disasters that usually occur when Bob and I go on an adventure together, and this time was no different.

We were investigating these winding stream-fed inlets along the shores of the lake one evening. The sun was low in the sky, and as we slowly maneuvered the boat up through these side canyons the filtered light made everything mysterious and primeval, just like the Jungle Boat ride at Disneyland. We would get back as far as we could in these twisting canyons, slowly turn the Sled around… and then haul ass full throttle out of the inlet, just like James Bond in Moonraker.

We were looking for inlets that were suitable for Moonraker action when we saw the bear at the head of the inlet. Bob shouted “BEAR!” and we gunned the engine, scaring it off – go figure. Thinking that we had disturbed its meal, we decided to wait and see if it came back.

We backed the boat into this very narrow inlet and cut the engine. The water was only three or four feet deep, and we had about ten feet of room on each side. Tight fit. We sat quietly, cameras ready.

The bear did return, and it wasn’t happy to see us. It was a black bear, maybe a couple hundred pounds – not huge, but big enough to fuck you up real bad. For the next hour or so, as it got darker, the bear stalked us through the underbrush on each side of the inlet, glaring at us and making intimidating guttural noises. We were psyched.

The bear, which Bob called The Old Man and I called Mr. Chocolate, became progressively more agitated, and worked his way closer and closer to the boat, which offered illusionary protection from the beast. I figure it could have gotten from the shore and into our boat in all of two seconds.

Mr. Chocolate worked himself up, snorting and growling, until he got so pissed that he bluff charged our boat twice.

That picture over there is Mr. Chocolate beginning the second of his two fake charges, which were more than a little terrifying. I have one of the charges on video, and you can hear me uttering a deeply heartfelt “oh shit” when Mr. Chocolate gets frisky. At least I didn’t scream like a little girl. Like Bob.

After a while, Bob and I left Mr. Chocolate to his meal and went off in search for a campsite – on the other side of the lake.

Anyway we had a great time, and it inspired me to plan even greater and more stupid expeditions in the future. More than once this weekend I felt like a combination of Lewis & Clark and Miami Vice’s Sonny Crockett.

Next time I’m bringing my Best of Jan Hammer CD.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

SILVER SURFER #60 Marvel Comics, 1991

I kinda liked the era of Silver Surfer when Ron Marz was writing and Ron Lim was drawing the adventures of everybody’s favorite celestial surfer dude. The Two Rons era was marked by a run of solid, middle-of-the-road stories. That’s damning with faint praise, isn’t it? I enjoyed reading Ron & Ron’s Silver Surfer books, even if they did feel a little episodic and lightweight. I would imagine these stories would read better if they were collected in trade format – as monthly floppies they seemed a little unsatisfying.

I really loved artist Ron Lim’s work on this book. In the past I have occasionally found Lim’s work to be a little flat, particularly the way he draws faces, but his version of Silver Surfer is The Shit. He just looks so shiny and sparkly! Plus, Lim went crazy with the outer space backgrounds on this book, adding all kinds of colors and zipatone effects. It’s good stuff.

One of the necessary conventions of any superhero space comic (Silver Surfer, Green Lantern, Quasar) is that outer space is actually a very cozy neighborhood where you bump into people you know all the time – so much for the endless void.

Case in point: in this issue, after chatting with Dr. Strange, Thor, and Adam Warlock in New York City, the Surfer takes off for space on his cosmic surf board. A mute martial artist named Midnight Sun happens to be waiting in the exact right spot in the billions and billions of miles of space that the Surfer will soar past, and he bushwhacks him.

The Surfer has the Frickin' Power Cosmic. How could he not see this guy floating in your way? Maybe he was screwing around with his iPod and got distracted for a moment. Anyway, it’s not a very dignified encounter.

“Whaaaat?” Marz does a pretty good job writing the Surfer for the most part, but I refuse to believe that he would ever say “Whaaa--?” or “Huhhh?” or “What the --?” when surprised. He’d probably say something like, “By the rings of Saturn!” or “Shalla’s Balls!”

But who is this guy that’s stupid enough to ambush The Silver Surfer? Midnight Sun, I learned, is a souped-up cosmic version of a character named Midnight who originally appeared in the Master of Kung Fu comics. He’s evolved from earthbound ass-kicker into a mute, star faring ninja with energy discs on his hands and feet, a cape, and – weirdly – a fedora hat.

I like Midnight Sun’s hat, but I don’t understand it. The fedora seems a little incongruous and doesn’t fit in with the character concept. I like to think that Midnight Sun just decided that he looks damn cool in a fedora and that’s why he wears it. I think he should really go nuts and accessorize with a piano-key scarf or rainbow Mork suspenders.

Midnight Sun may be mute, but Marz provides us with some internal dialogue so we can empathize with the guy, who knows he is outclassed but keeps attacking the Surfer anyways. Why? Umm… I’m not entirely clear on that. Something to do with his amnesia. I forget.

Dude keeps talking (in his mind) about how he needs to make the Surfer understand, to figure out a way to communicate with him. And what better way than by kicking him in the face?

This is a great example of a comic book character whose default mode is violence.

If you couldn’t speak and you really needed to get your point across to somebody, what would you do? Would you kick, punch, and choke the person? Well, if you were trying to communicate “I want to hurt you,” that would be appropriate. But Midnight Sun clearly wants something from Silver Surfer aside from combat. They end up fighting on the moon – perhaps Midnight Sun could write “AMIGO” in the lunar surface? Or maybe he could carry around a dry erase board and pen. Or he could learn sign language. But if Midnight Sun did any of these things, we would have no fight, and thus no Silver Surfer #60.

In the end, the Surfer is so annoyed by Midnight Sun that he picks up an old American lunar lander and chucks it at his mute foe, injuring him. Lunar landers are heavy.* The super powered Inhumans (who live on the moon) show up and decide to take the fucked-up Midnight Sun under their protection.

Surfer and Midnight part as friends, I guess, and then Surfer scoots off to his next totally coincidental encounter in the vastness of space. The end.

The best panel comes early in the comic, after the Surfer has left Dr. Strange’s brownstone in Greenwich Village. Strange’s pad gets trashed by villains or evil beings once every six months or so, and his poor man-servant Wong has to pick up the mess. Again.

The guy can rip apart the fabric of reality but he makes Wong clean his shit up? That's cold. Doesn't he have any magic broom spells?

*UPDATE: As Dave's Long Box reader Jonni rightly pointed out, lunar landers are not all that heavy on The Moon. I think I should have described them as "solidly built."