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Grumpy Old Fan | Snow-day comics

by  in Comic News Comment
Grumpy Old Fan | Snow-day comics

Winter finally caught up with the Memphis suburbs over the past couple of weeks, bringing nasty bouts with freezing rain and (currently) a little snow. Digging out from under the ice has been more tedious than anything else, but the persistent cold kept us all housebound for a little while. Of course, compared to folks in other parts of the country, we are very lucky.

Still, the mere idea of days at home with nothing else to do made me want to search the DC archives on comiXology for decent binge-reading material. Everything from the New 52 forward is available there, so the following recommendations are for older series. I’ve tried to stay away from the bigger names, and go instead for stories and series which might make the time indoors a little more tolerable. They’re also organized according to Convergence eras, so even if you’re not coping with the cold, you can still look forward to April and May.

* * *

PRE-FLASHPOINT, 1994-2011

Checkmate (2006-08), written by Greg Rucka, Eric Trautmann and others; and drawn by various artists. One of the best ongoing series to come out of Infinite Crisis, Checkmate concerned a United Nations agency tasked with recruiting super-people for specific geopolitical purposes. With a core cast including ex-members of the Justice Society, Justice League International, and Suicide Squad, and a star who used to be Bruce Wayne’s bodyguard before she was transformed into a cyborg, Checkmate could easily have spent most of each issue on exposition and backstory. Fortunately, Rucka and company kept things moving, emphasizing the internal maneuvers which influenced the global gambits. Some of the best stories starred characters as diverse as Fire and the venerable war-comics character Mademoiselle Marie, but the series’ unofficial finale — it was canceled a few issues later, after a big creative-team change — involved everyone from Superman on down. Often DC has tried to launch series which offered new, fresh takes on its entire shared universe, but with Checkmate it succeeded.

The Brave and the Bold (2007-10), written and drawn by various creative teams.  All of this short-lived series is available on comiXology, but for my money the best issues belong to the first year or so. They were written by Mark Waid and penciled mostly by George Pérez (with the final two from Jerry Ordway), and they cover two six-issue arcs, two (or more) team-ups per issue. Given Waid and Pérez’s familiarity with all corners of DC’s shared universe, it all fits together very well. Waid stayed on for a few issues after that, but didn’t produce anything so ambitious (although the Superman/Catwoman issue was a treat). After that, the title featured rotating creative teams, and the stories varied accordingly.

Zatanna (2010-11), written by Paul Dini and others; drawn by various artists.  Not to be confused with the Seven Soldiers miniseries, this short-lived ongoing series from writer Paul Dini (mostly) and an array of artists (including Stephane Roux, Chad Hardin, and Jamal Igle) was a pleasant look at everyone’s favorite magician. I found Cliff Chiang’s work on the “puppet wants revenge” story (issues 8-10) to be nice and creepy.

“Jimmy Olsen’s Big Week” (2011); written by Nick Spencer and penciled mostly by R.B. Silva. A light, airy comedy starring everyone’s favorite Daily Planet slacker, “Big Week” shows Jimmy dealing with everything from alien invasions and scheming businessmen to girlfriend problems and accidental super-powers. It’s an excellent fusion of Silver Age tropes and modern sensibilities, and considering how the Superman titles often struggled with portraying Jimmy, it was a great blueprint.

Knight & Squire (2010); written by Paul Cornell and drawn by Jimmy Broxton.  Fleshing out a couple of characters dating back to the 1950s’ “Batmen of Many Nations,” and newly reinvigorated by Grant Morrison, this six-issue miniseries follows the British dynamic duo. To these American eyes, their adventures have a very Steed-and-Mrs.-Peel-ish style, but Cornell and Broxton make everything accessible despite the cultural gulf.

Teen Titans: Year One (2008); written by Amy Wolfram and penciled by Karl Kerschl. Speaking of Silver Age fusions, this six-issue miniseries convincingly recast the original Teen Titans as 21st-century teenagers, struggling to establish their own identities in the shadows of their Justice League mentors. Wolfram was a writer on the original Teen Titans animated series, and Kerschl’s gorgeous work (inked by Serge LaPointe and colored by Stephane Peru) may never have looked better. If you didn’t know TT:Y1 was seven years old, you might think it’s part of DC’s current round of makeovers (especially with Kerschl now drawing Gotham Academy).

JLA/Titans (1998), written by Devin Grayson and drawn by Phil Jiminez.  On the other hand, this 1998 miniseries was a different sort of homage, specifically to the formative New Teen Titans of the early ‘80s (about which more later). It reunited the five founding Teen Titans, now adults on at least their second codename each, but it built on at least a decade of Titan history, including the convoluted character developments which closed out New Titans. (Less-knowledgeable readers may want to skim Cyborg and Raven’s Wikipedia entries ahead of time.) Regardless, Grayson and Jiminez’ obvious love for the characters shines through, and the series earns its emotional climax.

The Kingdom (1998); written by Mark Waid and drawn by Ariel Olivetti, Mike Zeck, et al. Framed as a sequel to Kingdom Come, this bookends-and-specials-style miniseries was really a vehicle for introducing Hypertime, the continuity patch I’ve discussed frequently in this space. Waid’s story was about a villain killing KC Superman at various points in the timeline, but at the same time DC One Million revealed that Supes was still alive in the 853rd Century. How in the name of Bob Rozakis was this possible? Enjoy these tales of DC’s next generation and find out.

DC Retroactive (2011), written and drawn by various creative teams.  Coming out right before the New 52 relaunch, these sets of three specials for each of DC’s A-listers revisited storytelling styles from the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s. Each of the new stories is paired with a classic reprint, so they all offer good ways to compare and contrast.

Madame Xanadu (2008-11), written by Matt Wagner and drawn by Amy Reeder and others. This Vertigo interpretation of a well-traveled DC horror character was happy to borrow from its superhero cousins. The star had an on-again, off-again romance with the Phantom Stranger, befriended Zatara the Magician and the Martian Manhunter, and encountered artifacts like the Helmet of Fate and Green Lantern’s magic lamp. However, that’s only part of Madame Xanadu, whose star is driven to act by her sister’s evil deeds, but not exactly pure herself. Wagner’s scripts help make our heroine endearing, and Reeder’s work has a good mix of delicacy and power. It was consistently entertaining, whether Madame X was in the Middle Ages or the mid-1950s.

* * *

FROM CRISIS TO ZERO HOUR, 1985-94

World’s Finest (1990), written by Dave Gibbons and drawn by Steve Rude. Published during a period when Superman/Batman team-ups were a relative rarity, this three-issue miniseries re-established them as significant events. It’s a great story as well, putting together all the expected combinations (Luthor/Joker, Bruce/Lois, Alfred/Clark, etc.) with charm and wit. Gibbons’ breezy script is complemented perfectly by Rude’s expressive art. Rude especially works overtime not just establishing dueling moods, but creating settings and characters which are both fantastic and plausible.

Green Lantern: Mosaic (1992-94), written by Gerard Jones and drawn by Cully Hamner and others.  In the early ‘90s, every big feature got “franchised” to within an inch of its life, and since Green Lantern had started rotating stories about Hal Jordan, John Stewart, and Guy Gardner, it was only natural that the latter got spun off into their own titles. Mosaic took its cue from the (relaunched) parent title’s inaugural storyline, wherein one of the Guardians went crackers — when this was still shocking, mind you — and transported to Oa a bunch of little towns from all over the universe. The (non-crazy) Guardians then assigned John to watch over the resulting “mosaic” community, basically as a sort of social experiment. Needless to say, this was an up-ended take on the Green Lantern concept (a Deep Space Nine version, although the latter hadn’t yet premiered), but it worked pretty well — at least until Hal himself went crackers and destroyed both the GL Corps and Oa itself less than two years later. Those later issues aren’t on Comixology, but most of the good stuff is.

Starman (1994-2001), written by James Robinson and drawn by Tony Harris, Peter Snejbjerg and others.  Perhaps the quintessential post-Zero Hour series (although it had very little to do with Zero Hour itself), Starman is deservedly famous among DC fans for its long-form storytelling, its character studies, and its use of in-universe history. As the reluctant superhero thrust into his family’s business, Jack Knight is an ideal reader-identification character, and Starman follows his story from start to finish. Along the way Jack meets the Justice League, travels in space and time, and helps found a new Justice Society (although we see that more in the early issues of JSA).  If you’ve got the time to binge-read 80-odd issues of any superhero series and you haven’t read Starman, dig in.

Impulse (1995-2003), written and drawn by various creative teams. Bart Allen was created by Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo as a sort-of sidekick to Wally West’s Flash, but he really came into his own in the pages of this series, the first two years of which were drawn by Humberto Ramos. Waid and Ramos emphasized Bart’s unfiltered, pure-id nature, and captured perfectly the do-anything spirit you’d expect from a kid raised on videogames to be the fastest boy alive. Impulse continued for five more years after Waid and Ramos left, written by Todd DeZago and drawn by Craig Rousseau and Ethan Van Sciver, and at its height it was one of DC’s funniest series since the heyday of Justice League International.

Young Justice (1998-2003), written by Peter David and pencilled by Todd Nauck and others.  Without really trying to, I ended up putting a lot of Teen Titans in this list, but Young Justice was one of the best takes DC’s ever done on the team-of-sidekicks concept. Spinning out of a JLA miniseries called World Without Grown-Ups, this title brought together Impulse, Robin (Tim Drake), Superboy (Kon-El) and Wonder Girl (Cassie Sandsmark), along with assorted other teen heroes like Arrowette, Empress, Secret, Lagoon Boy, and Li’l Lobo. Their pun-heavy adventures took them from the depths of Heck to outer space, and from the Olympics to the outlaw nation of Zandia. Along the way they crossed over with the Peter David-written Supergirl and even spawned their own Big Event, Sins Of Youth.

Doom Patrol (1987-95), written by Paul Kupperberg, Grant Morrison and Rachel Pollack and drawn by Steve Lightle, Erik Larsen, Richard Case and others. All of this Doom Patrol volume is on comiXology, but most folks will probably want to read the Morrison/Case run which starts with issue #19. That’s understandable, although longtime fans of the team may be interested in the Kupperberg/Case/Larsen issues which explain what happened to both the original Patrol (martyred in 1969 when their series was canceled) and the “New Doom Patrol” of the 1970s. Don’t get too attached to this series’ first version of the team, though …

* * *

EARTH-ONE, UP TO 1985

DC Special Series #11, aka the 1978 “Flash Spectacular,” written by Cary Bates and penciled by Irv Novick, José Luis Garcia-Lopéz, Kurt Schaffenberger and Alex Saviuk. This 62-page magnum opus brought together not just the Flashes of Earths-One and -Two, but Kid Flash and Johnny Quick as well, all battling a Gorilla Grodd who wanted his own super-speed powers. Bates and Novick were the regular team on the mid-‘70s Flash, so this is a good indication of what they could do with a broader canvas (and a few friends helping out on the art). Besides, the 1970s found The Flash — book and character — settled into a nice, comfortable groove. Enjoy the “Flash Spectacular” in that context, blissfully unaware of what the end of the decade would bring.

New (Teen) Titans (1980-93), written by Marv Wolfman and penciled by George Pérez and others. Three of the biggest influences on DC’s superhero line emerged in the 1980s: Frank Miller, Alan Moore and the team of Marv Wolfman and George Pérez. Just about everyone has read The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen (and we will talk about Swamp Thing soon enough), but if you haven’t checked out Wolfman and Pérez’s Titans, you owe it to yourself. Although it may not have aged as well as Miller or Moore’s seminal works, and it doesn’t quite have the energy of the Claremont/Byrne X-Men (to which it is inevitably compared), it helped point DC in all sorts of productive directions. Besides, it’s just good superhero comics. At least read the first Wolfman/Pérez collaboration (Issues #1-58, plus #1-5 of the second series), but Wolfman’s “solo” work (with artists like José Luis Garcia-Lopéz and Eduardo Barreto) has its charms as well. In fact, starting with issue #13 of the second series, Wolfman and Barreto took the team on an 18-month odyssey, mixing and matching characters and personalities and culminating in a guest-star-heavy final battle with Brother Blood. After another eighteen months or so, Pérez returned with New Titans vol. 2 #50, and stayed on in various capacities for about a year. That took the series pretty much to another extended storyline, the roster-destroying “Titan Hunt,” whose twists and turns set the tone for the series’ final years. I don’t know that I’d read all of that (and comiXology doesn’t have anything past issue 103), but ten years’ worth of Titans should get you through a pretty hardy snowstorm. ComiXology also has the 20 issues of ‘80s spinoff Teen Titans Spotlight, an anthology featuring everyone from Aqualad to the Brotherhood of Evil, plus the four-issue Tales of the New Teen Titans miniseries which takes place between issues 20 and 21 of the original series. You’ll also want to read the Batman and the Outsiders crossover, which resolves the cliffhanger in NTT vol. 1 issue 37.  Still, for my money Titans is actually fairly self-contained, crafting compelling arcs for each of its characters which end up providing decent amounts of closure.

AROUND THE MULTIVERSE

Kamandi (1971-78), by Jack Kirby.  Somewhat surprisingly, these issues of Kamandi are just about the only Jack Kirby DC work (besides OMAC) currently available on comiXology. Nevertheless, easy access to over two dozen issues’ worth of ‘70s Kirby should pretty much sell itself.

Swamp Thing (1982-96), written by Len Wein, Alan Moore, and Rick Veitch; and drawn by Tom Yeates, Steve Bissette, John Totleben, and others.  Comixology appears to have all of Swamp Thing volume 2 — i.e., “the one Alan Moore took over” — and if you are at all interested in the character, you’re probably most interested in the Moore issues. (Comixology also has all of Hellblazer too, but I have no idea where to tell someone to start with that series.) There are elements of Moore’s run which play off the idea of a horror-tinged superhero, most notably in the Jason Woodrue arc, the “attack on Heaven” storyline, and the Batman/Luthor issues, but he also brings in some science fiction and even parody (the latter with the heartbreaking “Pog”). I’ve read all of the Moore issues, so I’d be eager to explore what came before and after, from the likes of Rick Veitch and co-creator Len Wein.

Planetary (1999-2009), written by Warren Ellis and drawn by John Cassaday. This DC/Wildstorm series took over ten years to produce twenty-seven issues, but you can probably read it from start to finish in a long afternoon. For those who might have come in late (no pun intended), imagine a world where Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, Doc Savage, Tarzan and the Shadow were on a team that killed the Justice League; where everything remotely strange or interesting (ghosts, giant monsters, magic lightning) has been all but erased by a villainous Fantastic Four; and where a group of cynical agents seeks to set things straight. You might get through it quickly, but the real rewards are in plumbing its depths.

Seven Soldiers (2005-07), written by Grant Morrison and drawn by various artists.  Morrison’s array of interlocking miniseries, bookended by a pair of specials in which one super-team dies and the other is never really united, was a fascinating “un-crossover” in the middle of DC’s Infinite Crisis era. Featuring Bulleteer, Frankenstein, Klarion, the Manhattan Guardian, Mister Miracle, Shining Knight and Zatanna, each miniseries is both a meditation on a different facet of superheroics and a part (however oblique) of the larger story. Like Planetary it’s short enough (thirty issues) to get through without much trouble, but you may want to slow down to try and catch all that Morrison is attempting.

THUNDER Agents (2010-12), written by Nick Spencer and drawn by various artists. DC was one of many publishers to tackle THUNDER Agents, a feature which blends superheroes and secret agents. Its two offerings, a 10-issue ongoing series and a 6-issue miniseries sequel, explore the transitory nature of the folks in the super-suits. It packed a lot of plot into those sixteen issues, and although it touched on some familiar postmodern spy tropes, it did so with verve and style.

+++++++++++++++++++

And here is the Futures Index for this week’s Issue 43.

  • Story pages: 20
  • Superman/Lois pages: 4 (3+1)
  • Brainiac/steering wheel pages: 3 (2+1)
  • Batman Beyond/Brother Eye pages: 1
  • Mr. Terrific/Batman pages: 2 (1+1)
  • Tim/Plastique et al. pages: 10 (2+8)
  • Longest single sequence in the issue: 8 pages (Tim and Plastique meet Key and Coil and fight Plastique-Bot with Batman Beyond’s help)
  • Other than that, longest sequence before a scene change: 3 pages (Superman and Lois’ initial conversation)
  • Pages mostly concerned with conversation: about 15

NOTES: I enjoyed this issue on its own terms, but honestly, not much happens to advance the main story, and at this point, that’s not exactly good. Specifically, while I liked how fast the issue was paced (and especially Andy MacDonald’s work in that regard), it seemed to be a lot of running in place. When I say “concerned with conversation” I mean that Lois and Superman spend four pages talking about where he’s been; Brainiac and his helper-bot spend most of their time talking technobabble; and Mr. Terrific and Batman talk about what Brother Eye is doing or can do. Even Tim, Plastique, Key, and Pee– I mean, Coil banter back and forth when they’re not fighting for their lives. I realize the past couple of issues have been action-heavy, but this late in the series I’m not sure you can take three-fourths of an issue for exposition.

All that said, the Tim/Plastique/Terry triangle has grown on me, so I was glad that it took up half the issue. (The reappearance of Key and Coil may well have validated the time Futures End invested in them earlier on.) The overarching plot seems to be guiding any or all of them towards some sort of heroic sacrifice, so if that moment comes, I think they will probably have earned a decent emotional payoff.

Another bright spot involves the ongoing possibility that the future has indeed been changed. (Remember, if the Brainiac of Convergence is picking up the remnants of failed realities, the inclusion of Futures End nightmare-bots is actually a good sign for the end of this miniseries.) At least that’s what I’m telling myself the Frankenstein subplot means — that his death means he won’t become the creature with a Black Canary abdomen. In terms of this issue, though, Plastique-Bot is certainly aware of the risk in killing her younger self, and Mr. Terrific’s final-page admission seems to be another hopeful sign. Nevertheless, I have to think we’ll see an omnipotent Brother Eye in the next couple of issues, if only to resolve all the tension about whether it’s completely evil. (Hint: more than likely it is.)

Five weeks to go, folks!

NEXT WEEK IN THE FUTURE: The Air Force! More TVs! And … Superman solves a problem by lifting something heavy!

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