Recent Dorkiness

Passing Strange: FunnybooksInReviewAreGo!!!

So here we are, almost a month since new funnybooks returned, and I’m sticking to my guns on not over-buying in print. I had no missteps on that front this week, but I did belatedly discover a second misstep from last week that I regret far more than the one comic I bought but didn’t enjoy. But we’ll get to that a bit later. First, I wanted to talk about the most interesting corporate spandex book on the shelves today…

Strange Adventures 2
by Tom King, Mitch Gerads, and Evan Shaner

You’d think that a three-month gap would make it difficult to follow a book like this one, but I had surprisingly little trouble getting back into the story with this issue.

**Cue realization, six months from now, that I forgot three incredibly important minor details that change my reading of the book entirely.**

But, yeah. I remember the core premise: Adam Strange and his wife Alanna have, in the wake of personal tragedy, left the planet Rann for Earth, where Strange has written a best-selling memoir of his life as the hero of Rann. But accusations of something ugly in that life (like, war crimes ugly) prompt him to ask for help from Batman in clearing his name. Batman (who’s too close to Strange to feel entirely objective) hands it off to Mister Terrific, who he considers the best man for the job.

And this issue, we see why and how Mister Terrific accepts. Tom King’s take on the character is fascinating. He spends his every waking moment…

(Literally!)

…being quizzed by one of his drones on a wide variety of facts and figures, like a never-ending game of Trivial Pursuit. It’s relentless, and it made me question, at first, his ability to focus on the task at hand. But then I realized that’s the point of it: he’s training himself to not only remember things and think fast about them, but to do that while he’s conducting his day-to-day life. Which is one hell of a good trick for a super hero, whose life may depend on the ability to draw upon that knowledge while being distracted by, say, a death trap or being punched in the face.

It’s the sort of thing that bothered me about King’s take on Batman early on in his run with that character. Being Batman is more an art than a science to me, something he just does naturally, instinctively, without giving it much conscious thought. So the constant measuring of timing and odds King had him doing didn’t jibe with how I see the character in my head. I have no such preconceptions about Mr. Terrific, however, so with him, it works.

The other interesting thing about Mr. Terrific, of course, is his dedication to the concept of “Fair Play.” Fairness is in short supply in the real world, something King’s previous works have seemed all too aware of. And considering that this is a story that seems (at this point, at least) to be largely about the horrors of colonialism…

…fairness would seem a very appropriate concept to explore.

It’s also the reason Mr. Terrific takes the case. He looks at Adam Strange and sees a man who’s gone out, had adventures, and saved the world, and who has been lauded for it. While he himself has done many of the same things, and never gotten the same respect.

So it looks like we may be heading into a look at race relations here, as well. It’s a subject that goes hand in hand with colonialism, of course, but considering everything that’s been happening since this comic was written, it also makes for pretty timely reading. I may be wrong there (I often am), but I hope it does go there. I can see some interesting places King could take it. Like… It would be rather easy to muddy the racial waters by asking how much of the two men’s difference in popularity is based on how generally likable Adam Strange is, and how much of a prick Mr. Terrific can be? Of course, you could also ask how much of Strange’s likability can be attributed to how accepted he is as a white dude, while Mr. Terrific’s prickly nature is caused by the fact that he’s had to work for acceptance simply because he’s black? Complicated issues. And I hope King wrestles with them.

Whether he does or not, though, this is good comics. Complicated characters in interesting situations, a mystery I can’t wait to unravel, and gorgeous art from the tag-team combo of Mitch Gerads and Evan Shaner. I can think of far worse ways to spend five bucks and 30 minutes.

Hellblazer 6
by Simon Spurrier and Aaron Campbell

But speaking of really good comics, here’s the one that got away.

In my efforts to cut back on the physical comics I’m buying, I decided last week (or maybe it was longer; I lose track) to give this issue a miss. Though Si Spurrier’s Hellblazer relaunch came out of the gate with some gritty, politically-charged horror worthy of the series’ earliest days, the last couple of issues were just bloody silly. Not awful, but also not great. So I decided to go digital with it.

More the fool, me. Because this issue is pretty freaking great. Set in the terminal ward of a London hospital, it’s the story of a ghost so consumed with hate that she starts taking the lives of the patients before their time. I won’t spoil it by going into the whys and wherefores of the thing. But this is the good stuff. The kind of ugly, sad, horrifying, human story that made me fall in love with this book over 30 years ago, and that it’s seen too few of since. Plus, parts of it look like this:

(click to embiggen)

So you can’t go too far wrong. I’m hoping I can still scrounge up a physical copy down at my local funnybook store this week. And then I’m putting Hellblazer back on my pull list…

Gideon Falls 22
by Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino

The pandemic hit this book at as good a time as it probably could: in-between story arcs, during a planned break in production. Of course, considering that the last arc ended on a bit of a cliffhanger, I suppose the extra two months really didn’t do them any favors, either.

Because we start this issue with the cast spread wide across a variety of alternate realities, and I had largely forgotten that had happened. That’s okay, though, because Lemire wisely gives us a quick reintroduction to those places. So I caught up fast, and the damage was limited.

(At least in terms of following the story.)

Of course… I’ve long held that I like this book better when it’s more of a focused small-town horror story. So this widening out into multiple alternate versions of Gideon Falls isn’t really to my taste so much. A couple of the big-city versions of the town, in fact, feel like cliched sci-fi dystopias, and they kinda bore me. I’ve seen enough cyberpunk whores and totalitarian thugs to last me a lifetime.

The book’s central mysteries still drag me along, though, so I can’t complain too bitterly. And the way that falling chunk of obelisk up above seems to be falling across dimensions is a pretty snazzy twist, as well. So I’m nowhere near dropping this book. I just hope it gets back to its grounded roots sooner rather than later.

The Green Lantern Season Two 4
by Grant Morrison and Liam Sharp

I know that, by the time we reach the end of this second season of Grant Morrison’s Green Lantern run, I’ll be going back to these earlier issues and digging out all the seeds planted along the way that make the run a satisfying whole. But the individual issues, so far, have been a bit of a chore.

I mean, I get what Morrison’s doing. He’s revisiting forgotten Silver and Bronze Age stories and doing modern takes on them. And that’s cool. He did much the same in Season One to good effect. But as stand-alone stories, the Season Two stuff has only been okay.

This issue, we revisit some gold giants the Flash dealt with once upon a time, and that swiftly transitions into a story about a race of alien toys that decide if they want to invade a planet by stress-testing its inhabitants, playing with them til they break. It’s kind of a neat idea, really. The sort of thing you might have gotten in a Golden Age Captain Marvel story, but that’s also very easy to twist into something that’s equal parts ridiculous and terrifying. Morrison even brings back a supporting character from Hal Jordan’s brief and inexplicable career as a traveling toy salesman.

And I’m down with all of that. Ridiculousness piles atop ridiculousness! All is chaos! The Flash gets his molecules dispersed, and reassembles himself through sheer force of will in the most hysterical single drawing I’ve seen in ages:

But the storytelling is disjointed, and not in a way that I find very interesting. And the aliens speak in this sort of garbled pidgen-English that I never quite got an ear for. They’re saying things, and I’m not parsing it, and after a few word balloons, I just start bleeping over them. But the human characters are clearly understanding it, which I assume means that I’m supposed to, as well. So I go back and try, and kind of figure it out, but the story’s not so great that I care enough to spend that much time on each and every utterance of these one-dimensional whack-jobs.

So, yeah. I got frustrated with this one real fast.

But, hey. The story’s fun, and Liam Sharp not only does his usual channeling of Brian Bolland and Kevin O’Neill, but also throws in a panel or three of Bill Sienkiewicz, just for fun.

(click to embiggen)

So it’s by far not a complete loss. But, man. So far, I liked Season One a lot better.

But so as not to end on an even partially down note…

Wonder Woman: Dead Earth 3
by Daniel Warren Johnson

So in-between issues, this book evidently picked up a bit of a following. I don’t remember hearing that many people talking about it when it started (Hell, even I never got around to reviewing the first two issues). But I saw a bunch of people talking about how much they were anticipating this issue before it hit. Good word of mouth, I suppose.

I mean… There’s also a completely insane Wonder Woman / Superman fight in this issue, so that may be it, too. But I prefer to think it’s just good word of mouth. Because that has been well-earned. It’s a crazy, rip-snorter post-apocalyptic Wonder Woman story that doesn’t skimp on the character moments. I’m not going to SPOIL anything here, but the moment of realization Our Heroine has this issue is pretty gripping stuff. It’s an ugly world she’s awakened to, but the book still speaks to that essential message of hope Wonder Woman was created to send.

Johnson also makes great use of the over-sized printing with some breath-taking visuals.

(click to embiggen)

His messy, meaty, kinetic style serves the story well, and is often a joy to look at. Even when what he’s drawing isn’t very pretty at all.

About Mark Brett (570 Articles)
Shaved Yeti. Alien. Writer of stuff. Read my fiction at http://reportsfromthefieldblog.wordpress.com/. Read my thoughts on comic books and other dork culture ephemera at https://dorkforty.wordpress.com/.

4 Comments on Passing Strange: FunnybooksInReviewAreGo!!!

  1. Dale Bagwell // June 24, 2020 at 5:29 pm // Reply

    I read the Strange Adventures#2 myself and it seemed pretty good. I was glad Mr. Terrific took the case, even if he himself has ulterior motives besides attempting to prove Strange’s innocence or guilt, for the reasons you mentioned. Calling out Batman on being manipulative was also a nice plus, but it also made me kinda sad, because Batman wasn’t always portrayed that way. That’s a more modern take on him, if you can call almost over 20-25 year take modern.
    Tackling race huh? I mean yes it is current and topical, but jesus man, that’s shits’ everywhere though. I have to wonder, besides the good intentions of spotlighting a problem that’s existed in this country alone for over 400 years, is it for those reasons or because its the current popular topic to write about?
    I myself hope Strange is indeed found NOT guilty of war crimes. I’m not a big fan of “modernizing” popular characters by tarnishing them and making them turn out to pieces of shit this whole time. They tried “modernizing” certain characters before, and with King’s current track record, most clearly being the obvious character assassination of poor Wally, I’m hoping we don’t get a repeat of that at the end of all this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Considering that King started writing this book last year, I doubt he’s trying to ride on the coattails of Black Lives Matter.

      Also… From my experience with his work… I think we’ll ultimately get a nuanced take on Adam Strange. Men often do things in war that they later regret (King himself included), and I’m sure we’ll see that Strange has done some things he’s not proud of. Either that, or some things that he didn’t understand the full implications of when he did them. I don’t think King will completely tarnish the character, either, though. There’s clearly heroism in him. I’m just starting to think that it may have been put to the service of a cause that wasn’t as noble as he thought.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Dale Bagwell // June 30, 2020 at 10:57 pm //

        Yeah, I can see that, where Rann’s not always the default good guy/sympathetic side in every conflict they’re in, much like in the real world. I’m just wary of King, and wary of how he’ll redefine Strange going forward. Sure, making him more nuanced and complex is fine as far as fleshing him out and making him more 3-dimensional, but at the same time, these are comic book characters. The very definition of escapism. Why must we always seek to dirty or muddy these characters to make them more relatable?

        Like

      • King certainly likes to put his characters in morally difficult situations, and I wouldn’t call his better work escapist at all. But I’m fine with that, for the most part. Not every super hero comic needs to be that way, certainly, but I’m glad there’s somebody with some talent out there doing it.

        Like

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