So we’ve managed to get behind a bit on the funnybook reviews of late, what with Halloween and Stan Lee’s passing and all that. And though this breaks with my usual response to that sort of thing, I think I’m just gonna hit the highlights of the last few weeks, starting with two big corporate spandex books that have caught my fancy…
Mister Miracle 12
by Tom King and Mitch Gerads
The biggest miracle of this book is that it has, more or less, a happy ending. Scott Free finds peace within himself, at least. He makes a heaven of hell, and just… Keeps going. His life’s not perfect, but it’s his. It’s… very much his, in fact, because…
This is gonna take some ‘splainin’…
King and Gerads’ Mister Miracle is ultimately about a funnybook character rejecting the super hero cycle of endless conflict (the proverbial never-ending battle) in favor of moving forward with his life. The details of it all are kind of fuzzy. Did Scott Free really kill himself back in the first issue? He might have, and the events of this comic might be his afterlife. Or a death-throe hallucination. Or he might have been reborn into a different reality that’s very similar to his own.
But, what with him being a god and all, that death/afterlife/rebirth thing might also be entirely symbolic. Scott is traditionally depicted (again, symbolically) as the god of Freedom, standing in contrast to Darkseid, who is the god of Oppression. But King takes that a step further, focusing on Darkseid’s obsession with Anti-Life to present him as a god of Negation, while Scott emerges (after 12 issues of struggle) as the god of… whatever the opposite of that is. Progression? Continuance? Life Itself, maybe?
I kind of like that last one, all things considered. Because life is hard, and it’s far from perfect, and you lose the people you love. But if you’re lucky, you also gain other people who will survive you, and through them you get to watch life continue, ever onward, ever changing, ad infinitum. And that’s a beautiful thing. Regardless of the problems you face along the way.
And that’s the life Scott chooses for himself here. A life in which (as Highfather) he’s become the god of his own reality. A reality that’s not perfect, not without struggle, but a reality that reflects the world as he understands it. You can’t escape, after all, without something to escape from, without obstacles to overcome. And life… real life… life as we know it… offers that in abundance.
But because he’s had his epiphany, because he’s faced down anti-life and conquered it, it’s also a life where “Darkseid Is” has about as much weight as Murphy’s Law.
Which is not, for my money, a very good reading of Kirby. “Darkseid Is,” and what that statement represents, is not something you can overcome. It is the death of free will in the universe, the end of everything that makes life worth living.
But that doesn’t make this a bad comic. Quite the opposite, in fact. If this is Scott Free’s personal afterlife, or if he’s become the God of his own personal reality, “Darkseid Is” can mean whatever he wants it to mean. He’s not only escaped the endless cycle of super hero existence, he’s even escaped the intentions of his own creator. And that makes this a rather brilliant comic about growth, maturity, and becoming your own person. It mythologizes those universal human concepts, in fact, which is exactly what Kirby wanted the Fourth World to be about in the first place. So I think it’s a book he would be proud of.
I also think that it, much like Watchmen, is a comic that should be left to stand on its own as a super hero novel of literary quality, as separate from the on-going saga of the DC Universe as King took the pains to make it. That’s not how I was reading it until this final issue, mind you (which explains many of my earlier potential problems with it), and I’m already cringing in anticipation of how badly this story’s going to get mangled when (also like Watchmen) somebody inevitably tries to shoehorn it into continuity.
But that’s the future. For now, we’ve just witnessed the best super hero comic to be published in a very long time. I only wish I’d seen it as such from outset. Of course, on the bright side, that affords me the opportunity to go back and re-read the whole thing from that perspective.
But speaking of in-continuity corporate spandex…
The Green Lantern 1
by Grant Morrison and Liam Sharp
We’ve seen a lot of different approaches to Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps over the years. Straight-up super hero, spandex sci-fi, heavy-handed social commentary, rainbows… And now, as Grant Morrison returns from one of his periodic sabbaticals from monthly comics, we’re getting Green Lantern as a cop show. A cop show… IN SPACE.
This isn’t a radical reinvention of the concept, mind you. Green Lantern has always been a space cop. Morrison’s just focusing on that aspect of the character more than most. That’s why it’s THE Green Lantern. Like The Shield, the story is about both the characters and the office they hold, so it’s named after the emblem of that office: the lantern itself. It’s a subtle shift, I suppose, but it changes the tone of the book more than you might think. Not that I’ve read Green Lantern regularly since… God, I don’t know. Since they turned Hal Jordan into a mass murdering maniac, I suppose. Which is, what, a quarter-century ago now? But I read a lot of it before all that bullshit (and the bullshit that followed it), and this first Morrison issue feels simultaneously like a departure and a return to form.
I wouldn’t call it a procedural, exactly, but it owes more to that cop sub-genre than it does the things the book’s gone in for in the past. When I was a kid, Green Lanterns seemed sort of like Old West US Marshals: they were autonomous agents for a far-away power, keeping the peace largely as they saw fit in their own separate communities. The trappings were very much super-heroic, though, with occasional upticks to the operatic end of that spectrum when the action moved to Oa and dealt with some larger universal threat. More recent takes have seemed more quasi-military to me, and far more about internecine Lantern conflicts than they’ve been about the Green Lanterns going out there and doing their jobs.
But that’s what this issue is very much about. It opens with a group of four alien Green Lanterns arresting some pirates who try to rob Space Las Vegas (my name, not Morrison’s). They’re not super villains or megalomaniacs bent on universal domination. They’re just crooks. I mean, they’re space crooks, so one of them can change size, and another one is a giant intelligent spider…
…but they’re still just crooks, and the Green Lanterns are still just doing their job. And, yes, the crooks are working for someone with a larger motivation that we’ll see unfold over time. But the feel of this issue is a fun mix of the day-to-day with the utterly alien. So we’ve got Maxim Tox (seen above), a humanoid Green Lantern who’s kind of an amusing dilettante, and his partner, a sentient virus named Floozle Flem. Working with them is Trilla-Tru, apparently a female of the same species as my favorite old-school Green Lantern Tomar-Re. And finally, running a prisoner transport, we get another old-school staple alien Green Lantern: Chriselon, a crystaline entity with a very regimented manner of thought and speech. While they’re all just cops on the beat, they run the gamut from recognizably human personalities to strange alien lifeforms we can barely comprehend. And I dig that.
I also dig the rough-and-tumble space-sleaze feel of the world around them. The whole opening sequence feels like something out of 2000 AD moreso than it does any Green Lantern comics I’ve read before, but it also feels like a place that’s alive, a place with its own culture that’s a few steps removed from our own, but still comprehensible to us.
That extends to Morrison’s take on the Guardians, too. Instead of the staid old authority figures they’re usually presented as, Morrison writes them a bit like cosmic space Buddhas. Still authoritarian, but WAY OUT THERE, MAN.
In the space of a page and a half, Morrison’s made them feel both bigger and weirder than they’ve ever seemed before, and also more interesting. I mean, none of that’s entirely new. It’s just a matter of how it’s presented. I’ve always liked the Guardians as a concept, but there’s never really been much to them. They’re good guy mega-boss god types, reliable and wise. And they still are, but I feel like they also have a philosophy now. They’re seekers after the good who’ve embraced life in all its many forms, and sought to understand it all. They feel more legitimately COSMIC now, where before they were just… space dads.
So that’s what I like about this new take on Green Lantern. But it’s not perfect. The storytelling’s a bit disjointed, and not in a good way. Morrison’s doing his “super-compressed” storytelling thing here again, which often feels like he’s taken all the connective tissue out of his narrative. So parts of this issue just feel like something’s missing. I mean, I like to work as a reader, but only if I feel like that work is paying off. If I feel like I’ve been given 2 and 2, and trusted to add that up to four, I’m happy. But here, I sometimes have to pause just to figure out how the action flows from one scene to the next, and that’s not fun for me.
I’m also not sure about his take on Hal Jordan, who he’s writing as a man who’s the best space cop in the universe, but who feels completely adrift when he’s not out space-copping. I think I’m going to like that in the long term, but right now it feels a bit jarring to me. My best memory of Hal’s personality is as the more conservative, uptight half of the Green Lantern / Green Arrow team. Which comes from stories written more than 40 years ago now, I realize. But nobody’s really done a whole lot with him since to establish much of a personality, so that’s the one I tend to think of. Which means that Morrison’s Hal Jordan: Drifter version is going to take some getting used to.
The jury’s also still out for me on Liam Sharp’s art for the series. Sharp is really great at the cosmic vistas and the weird alien stuff. And he has a nice meaty style that I like overall. But his basic anatomy leaves a lot to be desired, even for super hero art. The heads are too small and the arms are too big, which sometimes makes his figures look less stylized than deformed.
So, yeah. I don’t love this comic. But I really kinda want to.
by David and Maria Lapham
Stray Bullets: Sunshine and Roses 39
by David Lapham
It’s been a busy month for the Lapham family, as they simultaneously continue the Stray Bullets crime saga and start up a new series with Lodger…
…a book about a serial killer who’s also a travel blogger, and the young woman who’s pursuing him across the country. Or at least, I think that’s what it’s about. This being a Lapham book, you can’t always trust that things are as they seem. There’s already some playing around with identity, for instance, and the issue’s final panel leaves me just a little bit in doubt as to what, exactly, is really going on.
The latest Stray Bullets, meanwhile, continues to bring the massive cast together, as the Baltimore plotlines pull ever closer to the “somewhere out west” plotlines, and at the same time putting the pieces in place to create the situation we already saw in the Killers storyline (published a few years ago, but set a few years after the current Sunshine and Roses).
Taken together, these two books represent a Lapham story both at the beginning of the wild ride, and deep, deep into it. Both are complex and thrilling, feature fascinating characters, and carry the promise of great things to come. That’s right: even this deep into the run, Stray Bullets still has fresh life in it. But long-time readers already know how much I love Lapham, so I’ll just stop there. Miss this stuff at your own loss.
Whoosh. Spent a little more time on those books than I’d initially planned. So maybe that list of highlights will have to be a bit shorter than I’d imagined. Time, then, for some CAPSULE REVIEWS!
Let’s see… What first?
I picked up a fun little over-sized one-shot last week called The Terrible Elizabeth Dumn Against the Devils in Suits. The striking hot pink cover caught my eye…
…and what’s inside drew me in. It’s from Brazillian artist Arabson, with English-language assist from James Robinson (of Starman fame). It’s about a teenage girl whose father sold her to the Devil, and how she gets around his initial attempt to collect on the deal. It’s more a fun romp than anything else, driven largely by Arabson’s art, which seems heavily influenced by guys like Geoff Darrow and Rafael Grampa. It reminds me a bit, in fact, of Grampa’s Mesmo Delivery. It’s not as good, or as crazy, as that masterpiece, but it’s in that ballpark, so you know it’s good stuff.
In James Bond: Origin 3, Jeff Parker and artist Bob Q continue their entertaining tale of the young James Bond, just out of high school and training for his super-spy future in the middle of World War II. This issue, we get James Bond: Naval Officer, as he serves aboard a British submarine out hunting Nazi supply ships before falling into a devious trap. This book’s not exactly high art, but it is fun adventure stuff, filling in gaps in the Bond legend. It’s good pulp, in other words, and there’s nothing in the world wrong with that.
In Immortal Hulk 8, Al Ewing continues his horror-tinged take on the Hulk with an issue in which the Jade Giant spends most of his time… cut into pieces.
It’s an outrageous issue in a series that’s becoming more and more fun as it goes along. I’m not real keen on the over-arcing plot of the Hulk being connected to some kind of demonic force represented by the ghost of Bruce Banner’s dad, mind you. But it’s a great ride.
The third issue of United States vs Murder Inc Volume Two sees Bendis and Oeming finally get the big picture plot going: with tensions mounting between the two governing bodies of the title, the US conducts a drone strike on a meeting of the Five Families, and in response the Don puts out a hit on the President of the United States! This is the sort of thing this series seems made to do, so I’m a little surprised it’s taken them this long to get here. It’s good stuff now that they have, though. I’m especially taken with the bombing and its aftermath, where they do a great job conveying the carnage and confusion of the situation, and give Our Heroes a personal stake against someone other than their own mob families.
Bendis’ Superman had its fifth issue last week, as well, and I continue to not like it as much as I do his Action Comics. At this point, I think I’m reading it just because I feel like I’ll miss something that might be important in Action if I don’t, and that’s no way to feel about a funnybook you’re spending four bucks an issue on. All that said, issue five was less bad than the earlier issues. There were a couple of nice Superman character moments, at least, and I think I like how Bendis is handling General Zod, as well. I very nearly enjoyed it. So we’ll see where this goes, I guess.
I’ve also read the first two issues of Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba’s Umbrella Academy: Hotel Oblivion, and so far… I’m not quite sure what I think of it. There’s a lot of cool individual pieces here, but it’s not cohering as a story for me just yet. I had a hard time remembering issue one as I was reading issue two, for instance, and that’s a bad sign that something’s not coming together right. It’s fun while I’m reading it, though, so maybe I’ll sit down with the two of them together, and see if it comes together better that way.
More satisfyingly, Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino’s Gideon Falls has returned with issue 8, and it continues to deliver the creepy.
Lemire’s Black Hammer spin-off The Quantum Age also released its fourth issue recently. This is Lemire’s take on the Legion of Super Heroes (I feel like it specifically owes a lot to the “Five Year Gap” era Legion), and though it’s meandered a bit in previous issues, this time out it finally seems to have found its focus. Or, you know, maybe just the plot. Either way, I liked this outing better than the previous three, so maybe the second half of this thing will reward my faith in it. Time will tell.
Aaaanndd… I think that’s all we’ve got time for this week. I’ve gotta pack and travel and maybe cook a turkey or somethin’.
(For my non-American readers: It’s Thanksgiving time here in the States, which we celebrate by gathering with family and friends and eating way too damn much food. Even by American standards.)
So Happy Thanksgiving, everybody! And we’ll see you next week!