Category Archives: Comics

Wonder Woman, space cadet (#SFWApro)

One of the things that make Wonder Woman’s Bronze Age run so messy is that not only did she suffer multiple soft reboots, but they came so damn fast.

Following the end of her powerless period, we got the start of the UN run with the non-white characters we never saw again. After just three issues, we got a year of Kanigher’s recycled stories, then the Twelve Trials, then WW II. Then new writer Jack Harris took two or three issues to wrap up Wonder Woman’s situation, killing off Steve Trevor again and having Diana quit her UN job. Instead, we got a whole new life for Diana Prince — as an astronaut in training to fly the space shuttle!

And that lasted all of seven issues, #250-6 (cover by Jose Delbo, all rights to current holder). I suspect this may be due to staff musical chairs. Ross Andru takes over from Larry Hama as editor and what looked like a long-running plotline suddenly wraps up. Paul Levitz replaces Harris and WW immediately starts dreaming of going back to the Big Apple.

The new setting, like the use of the shuttle in Moonraker reflects that the shuttle was insanely cool back when it was announced. Imagine, a rocket that can go back and forth into space, just like in movies, instead of launching a one-time-only missile with a capsule on it!  Diana is on a training crew along with Stacy Macklin (The Female Friend), Mike Bailey (The Somewhat Macho Love Interest) and their gruff CO (The Gruff CO). And that’s about all there was to it, or to them, though that may reflect that Harris had little time to develop them. Mike puts moves on Diana, who despite just losing Steve, soon melts (after Stacy complains that Diana turned Mike down too fast). He’s written as much more forward than Steve so presumably Harris thought that would make a better romance for Di. But it felt awfully canned, in the tradition that the lead and the attractive member of the opposite sex must automatically get together.

In the opening arc, the grumpy male Olympians demand that Diana prove herself by competing again to prove she’s worthy of the Wonder Woman role. Diana wins, but gets denied on a technicality; another Amazon takes her place, Orana. Despite which, Diana flies back to Man’s World, not to be a superhero but to live her own private life.

It looked like this was going to be a running plot, like the Amazon Artemis replacing WW many years later, but we got that editorial change and zap, it was done (though that may have been the plan all along—I don’t actually know): Orana keeps screwing up, Diana intervenes to help out, Orana nonetheless dies and Diana reclaims the Wonder Woman mantle (Ares, declaring she’s acting purely from vanity, subsequently tries to punish her, working through her old foe Angle Man). There’s another two parter involving a long-lost sister of Hippolyta, then Paul Levitz takes over with #255. Diana visits the UN for a space conference, comes up against an assassin called Bushmaster, runs into Morgan Tracy again (she’s still PO’d at him for not looking out for Steve better) and triggers some sort of red flag which has the UN contacting NASA about her security clearance. She also spends a lot of time enjoying being back in New York.

The following issue, Diana runs into the second-banana crime team the Royal Flush Gang and discovers Mike is the current Ten of Spades. Frustrated, she quits the astronaut program (in a later story she wonders why a woman who’s traveled to the stars even thought space-shuttle pilot would be a fun gig) and in the very next issue is back at the UN. The security issues appear to have been dropped (we’ll see). It all had the feel of Levitz deciding “Well this reboot sucks, let’s go back to the UN!” (again, don’t know that for a fact).

On the plus side, Levitz is a better writer than Harris. I’ll be back to review his run as soon as we get to the next reboot. Sigh.

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Batman, patriarchy, a princess and Nikola Tesla: graphic novels (#SFWApro)

I wasn’t impressed with Tom King’s I Am Gotham, but his second Bat-collection, BATMAN: I am Suicide, is way worse. The plot involves an implausible mission to rescue the emotion-bending Psycho-Pirate from Bane because his powers do better at healing Gotham Girl’s anguish than drugs (which raises the old question, why not just pay him to treat everyone with major emotional issues?). It wasn’t great, but King then layers on lots of pretentious waffling about Batman and Catwoman and hiding behind masks and knowing each other’s inner selves oh, and it wasn’t the Waynes’ death that created Batman but Bruce’s decision to almost commit suicide. Which actually worked better than I thought, but that’s not the same as saying it worked. For one thing, if Batman’s motive is to save the despairing rather than avenge his parents, King’s version should be radically different from anything we’ve seen in about 30 years (at least). And it isn’t. Overwrought and pretentious.

BITCH PLANET: The Extraordinary Machine by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro hybridizes The Handmaid’s Tale with a women-in-prison picture: in a dystopian patriarchal future, “noncompliant” women (non-submissive, overweight, lesbian, etc.) are shipped to the title prison colony. When some of them are recruited into a sports competition, is it a chance to rebel, or a scheme by the authorities to wipe them out? Very good, particular some of the subtler moments. An official refuses to refer to one prisoner’s mother as anything but Mrs. [husband’s name]. A woman in a restaurant cringes when a man takes offense at what he thinks her expression is. I look forward to more. Cover by De Landro, all rights remain with current holder.

PRINCELESS: Be Yourself by Jeremy Whitley, Emily Martin and Brett Grunig has Adrienne try to rescue her boy-crazy sister Angoisse, only to discover Angoisse has found true love. Unfortunately said lover has an agenda of his own … Meanwhile Adrienne’s companions have to deal with a tribe of goblins threatened by a swamp monster. The usual fun from this series.

RASL: The Fire of St. George by Jeff Smith didn’t work as well for me as the first volume. While the story of Rasl trying to outrun the government agents pursuing him for his multiversal knowledge is god, this devotes way too much space for a reverential biography of Nikola Tesla as the super-genius who figured out radio, electricity and the wireless transmission of electricity — which in Smith’s version accidentally created the Tunguska fireball. While Smith is free in an SF story to make Tesla as amazing as he wants, he seems to believe his super-genius is reasonably plausible, and I’m skeptical. Still looking forward to Vol. 3 though.

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A vigilante, a thief and a man of steel: graphic novels (#SFWApro)

KILL OR BE KILLED by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (cover by Phillips, all rights remain with current holder) is an interesting variation on vigilante characters: after attempting suicide by jumping off a building, Dylan impossibly survives. A demon figure (real? Imaginary?) tells him that to keep his miraculous life the man needs to offer up one life a month. So off he goes to hunt down bad people, people vile enough to deserve execution. It’s to the creators’ credit that it held my interest despite some flaws (would anyone Dylan’s age actually remember the 1970s film Death Wish?).

RASL: The Drift by Jeff Smith was a more promising series start. The eponymous protagonist is an art thief who uses a dimension-jumping device to get away after his heists. Unfortunately this time he lands in an alt.Earth and doesn’t know how to get back, not to mention that a reptilian hit man is tracking him across parallel worlds. A strong beginning.

SECRET IDENTITY by Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonen starts out with a Midwestern kid growing up burdened with the name of Clark Kent — which becomes less of a burden when it turns out he does, in fact, have powers just like the guy in the comics. But how can he use them effectively? What do the sinister government agents want from him? Can he balance his secret identity with his love for an Indian-American woman named Lois? This reflects Busiek’s view that comics and superpowers can make an effective metaphor for life (growing old, having kids, falling in love, etc.) and it works reasonably well, though it didn’t blow me away.

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Women, Celts, girls and the Justice League: Books read (#SFWApro)

PINK THINK: Becoming a Woman in Many Uneasy Lessons by Lynn Peril takes a similar approach to her College Girls, looking back at what news articles, pop culture, romance novels and advice books said about how to train girls to become the feminine creatures they were meant to be (while simultaneously asserting that they were innately feminine and girly). Topics include the dangers of careers or college making women forget they’re female, the importance of submitting to a husband (as all chicks desire to do), and the virtues of makeup, good china, frilly dresses and girlish manners in becoming Real Women. Certainly rings true to stuff from my tween and teen years (like the insistence a woman should never, ever, ever show she was smarter or more skilled at anything than her man). One of the books I’m using as research for Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book, though worth reading in its own right.

PRINCE OF ANNWN (cover by David Johnston, all rights remain with current holder) was the last book in Evangeline Walton’s Mabinogion quadrilogy, though it’s an adaptation of the Mabinogion’s First Branch. In Part One, Pwyll of Dyved journeys into the underworld to help Arawn triumph in a battle against a new god (a twisted take on Jesus). In Part Two, Pwyll wins faerie wife, loses faerie wife, gets faerie wife back again. Like Song of Rhiannon, this is incredibly eerie in its supernatural scenes. It’s heavy on the glories of mother-goddess/earth-mother worship, but I can live with that.

PRINCELESS The Pirate Princess by Jeremy Whitley, Rosy Higgins and Ted Brandt launches a spin off from the Princeless series. When Adrienne rescues yet another princess trapped in a tower, it turns out to be a pirate princess, Raven, whose father turned against her thanks to her conniving brothers. Now she’s free and off to set things right, with Adrienne dragged along in her wake. Solid fun.

LUMBERJANES: Sink or Swim by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis and Brooke A. Allen is several volumes along from the last collection I read, but it doesn’t lose anything from the gap. This time the girls are working on their knot-tying merit badge under the tutelage of sailor Seafarin’ Karen. Too bad that embroils them in a battle between a werewolf and some selkies, not to mention having to close the dimensional gates popping up everywhere. Cute fun, like the first two books.

JUSTICE LEAGUE: The Extinction Agenda and Outbreak by Bryan Hitch and various collaborators has me once again wondering what the parameters are on DC’s Rebirth: this doesn’t bring back the pre-Flashpoint JLA but also doesn’t soft-reboot them to be more like the older version (as Rebirth: Green Arrow did). In its own right, readable, but too flawed to recommend: both the first volume and the first story of Outbreak leave huge chunks of stuff unexplained and not in the sense of intriguing me either — it’s more like “wow, that’s lazy writing.” And while there are good character touches here and there, the awkward ones (like Flash’s romance with one female Green Lantern) cancel them out. I can’t say I cared for Geoff Johns’ run on JLA, but Hitch doesn’t like he’s going to steer them back to greatness.

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New Screen Rants: Superman, Luthor and … Spider-Girl? (#SFWApro)

Or more precisely, 15 Times Superman and Lex Luthor Teamed Up. Including a Bizarro/Bizarro-Luthor team-up (art by John Forte all rights remain with current holder) from Adventure Comics #293.

You’ll see Superman and Luthor as brothers. Superman and Luthor buried alive (twice!). Luthor throwing a fight. Luthor turning good to destroy his archfoe. And more!

By some arcane coincidence my column on Peter’s daughter May and the 15 Things You Don’t Know About Spider-Girl came out today too. Learn how she exists because the Clone Saga ended so badly, how her powers differ from Peter’s, and how Tom DeFalco saw the parent/child conflict as the heart of his series. Below (art by Pat McOliffe, all rights with current holder) a look at her debut in combat against the Green Goblin.

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Graphic novels of all sorts (#SFWApro)

BEST AMERICAN COMICS 2011, edited by Alison Bechdel was disappointing — a lot of the collection is excerpts from larger works, and didn’t really work without the context of the whole thing. Others didn’t work at all. I did love “Pet Cat,” a satire on comics that continue beyond their creator’s retirement, and “The Ultimate Graphic Novel (in Six Panels)” Only the excerpt from Rasl convinced me to check out the source.

LEAVING MEGALOPOLIS was a kickstarter funded project by Gail Simone and Jim Calafiore reads like Irredeemable except instead of Superman it’s an entire team of heroes gone bad. What keeps it from being a knockoff is that the focus is on a handful of residents struggling to get out of the city and away from the heroes gone bad. Good reading.

SUPERMAN: Son of Superman and Trials of the Super-Sons by Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason and Jorge Jiminez return the pre-New 52 Superman, somehow hanging out in the New 52 after the death of his counterpart, drawing attention from the Justice League (just what happened to the real Superman?), and the Kryptonian AI the Eradicator, which is determined to purify the Kents’ half-human son of his “tainted” genes. In the second volume, Damian Wayne and Jonathan Kent try to get along (but not very hard) while Batman and Superman shake their heads about kids today. Surprisingly entertaining, and a welcome change from the mopey New 52 Man of Steel.

SPIDER-GIRL: Too many Spiders by Tom DeFalco, Pat Ollliffe and Ron Frenz has May continuing to fight crime despite having lost her power in the previous volume, Endgame. May’s parents freak out, her love life continues to founder and what exactly is Tony Stark up to with this new mystery hero? Good fun and clearly demonstrating that it’s May’s heart, not her powers, that makes her awesome.

 

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I’m curious to see the reactions to this Screen Rant post (#SFWApro)

It’s on TV comics adaptations that changed everything. Which is a very subjective judgment. The Incredible Hulk TV show for instance, caught the character of Bruce Banner (even if it renamed him David) as a tormented loner, endlessly wandering and seeking freedom from his curse. In that sense, the show is true to its roots. But the Hulk comic books are at least as much about Hulk Will Smash!! followed by massive amounts of property damage, which didn’t translate to the show. I didn’t include it in the list, but it’s on the borderline. I did include The Incredible Hulk Returns for its variant version of Thor (all rights to image remain with current holders).

Read the article. Enjoy!

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