Comic book adventures from Astro City to Atlantis

ASTRO CITY: Broken Melody by Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson collects several stories exploring the origin of the babbling Broken Man and his ties to the spirits of music and counterculture that have manifested in Astro City for decades (Mr. Cakewalk, Jazzbaby, Zootsuit, the Bouncing Beatnik, Halcyon Hippie and Glamorax). Mixed in we get the story of Roy Virgil, the “Astro-Naut” the city is named for (I thought the 1930s would be too early for “astronaut” but it goes back to the late 1920s) and the Gentleman — I suspect we’re getting so many origins of longstanding characters because this is the penultimate TPB. Flawed (the adversary being Darkness That Wants  To Crush Light is too cliched for me), but overall very good. Though I do wonder if this was the original concept for the Bouncing Beatnik — I’d think some sort of Elvis type would better represent music/rebellion in the 1950w.

THE ALL-STAR COMICS Vol. 2 by Gardner Fox and various artists collects All-Star Comics #7-10, which is a very mixed bag. The first story, in which they try to earn money for war orphans, is fun (as Jerry Bails notes in the introduction, heroes struggling for money isn’t the sort of plot you expect in the Golden Age) but the next story is a crime drama (villainous Dr. Elba uses a drug to wipe witnesses’ memories) that pits the JSA against too many ordinary hoods for their power level (this would have worked better as a Batman story). The next story has them fighting Nazis in Central and South America and doesn’t age well given our history of setting up puppet dictatorships in the continent. The last story, though, has the JSA visiting the future to bring force field technology back to WW II and it’s very good — though even the original kid readers must have been bemused by the ending assurances that the Axis will no longer be able to bomb the Allies (Roy Thomas retconned what happened to the bomb-defense tech in a 1980s story).

In SUICIDE SQUAD: The Secret History of Task Force X Rob Williams and multiple artists do a good job integrating the current supervillain team with the Silver Age spy team of the same name (reworking some of what John Ostrander did when he created the crooks-working-as-covert-agents version). While I like that and Williams definitely has a feel for the 1960s stories, it just falls apart by the end, which somehow works in the Phantom Zone almost swallowing the Solar System on top of everything else. And Williams’ Amanda Waller is a nastier piece of work than Ostrander’s (which is true of most writers who use her), who at least had some decency.

LUMBERJANES/GOTHAM ACADEMY by Chynna Clugston Flores and various artists has the casts of Lumberjanes and Gotham Academy team up when their respective grown-up leaders are missing. Can they work together? What’s the secret of the spooky haunted lodge in the woods? Why is everyone being decked out in 1980s fashions? The story was good, but the crowded cast wasn’t — this badly needed a page of headshots identifying who was who.

THE MIDDLEMAN: The Pan-Universal Parental Reconciliation by Javier Grillo-Marxuach, Hans Beimler and Armando M. Zinker follows up The Doomsday Armageddon Apocalypse by bringing the TV and comic-book versions of the characters across the dimensions to join forces. Someone’s ripping a hole between worlds, but what does it have to do with the world’s most efficient vacuum cleaner? And where has Wendy’s father been for the past ten years? I could have done without the reveal that Wendy was always destined to be a Middleman, but overall this was a very fun finish.

AQUAMAN: The Crown Comes Down by Dan Abnett, Phillip Kennedy Johnson, Max Fiumara and Riccardo Federici finishes the struggle for Atlantis that began in Abnett’s first TPB, as Aquaman recruits Atlantis’ mutant under-caste to help take down tyrant magus Corum Rath. This wasn’t bad, but it could have used more space; instead we get a story from the Aquaman Annual which is just a remake of Superman’s decades old encounter with the Black Mercy (so it’s Aquaman trapped in a fantasy world which will break his heart to escape). I was surprised this put Mera on the throne instead of Arthur, but that’s to spin off a Mera Queen of Atlantis book; while that’s obviously to get out in front of the upcoming movie, I like Mera so I’m happy she’s got more of a spotlight.

#SFWApro. Cover by Everett E. Hibbard, all rights to image remain with current holder.

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