Category Archives: Comics

Spider-Girl, vampire hunters, a musical and a fantasy gone dark

Fair warning, my review of Kingdom the Wicked below gives away a major spoiler.

SPIDER-GIRL: Duty Calls and Secret Lives by Tom DeFalco and Pat Oliffe are the eighth and ninth paperback collections of May Parker, fighting crime in an alt.world where Marvel heroes are about 20 years older (I read Duty Calls a while back but forgot to list it). In the first volume, a looming gang war leads “Mayday” to bring together a new version of Marvel’s New Warriors, Peter decides to get back into action and May makes a catastrophic mistake due to her determination to save everyone, even the bad guys. Secret Lives has the clone Kaine return, Normy find romance, May angst even more, and we learn how this timeline branched off from the regular MU (Earth-616) when Kaine returned the Parkers’ kidnapped baby to them. Great stuff; there’s a reason May and the “M2” setting remain much beloved by fans.

SAVAGE by R.A. Jones and Ted Slampyak is a by-the numbers vampire-hunter graphic novel in which the eponymous protagonist recounts how he came by his profession and battled a vampire king who was tied to him more closely than he thought. A couple of good ideas don’t redeem this formulaic stuff.

SHE LOVES ME was the latest production from Playmakers, a musical adaptation of the film The Shop Around the Corner (making it one of the first screen-to-stage adaptations). Georg and Amalia work at a parfumerie in Budapest and they cannot stand each other; every night, they relieve their feelings by going home and pouring out their hearts to “dear friend,” a stranger they met through a lonely hearts club (the snail mail equivalent of Match.com) and have yet to connect with in person. Why that’s right, Georg and Amalia are each other’s dear friend — so what will Georg do when he finds out and Amalia doesn’t? I’ve seen this before, but not done as well; a real charmer. “I’m nervous and upset /because this girl I’ve never met/I get to meet, tonight at eight/I know I’ll drop the silverware/but will I spill my drink/upon her plate, tonight at eight?”

The first chapter of the graphic novel KINGDOM OF THE WICKED by Ian Edgington and D’Israeli has children’s author Christopher Grahame discover his beloved fantasy world, Castrovalva, is doomed, as a mysterious evil boy leads the monsters from The Land Under The Bed to conquer it. I was intrigued, but commented to a friend that “I just hope it doesn’t turn out this is all taking place in his head.”

Oops. It was. And that’s a stupid twist, and it’s handled poorly to boot: we get a long scene of Chris and the evil one talking in Chris’s mindscape supposedly made scary because in the real world Chris is undergoing a life or death brain operation … Mr. Edgington, it’s been done, and better (the Canadian TV series The Odyssey did the same thing with more flair). I’m baffled why this got good reviews from people whose judgment I respect.

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Giving us the bush leaguers: Gerry Conway’s Detroit Justice League

Gerry Conway’s creation of the “Detroit League” after seven years as writer of Justice League of America is often treated as one of the worst creative calls in comics. Rereading it over the past year, I don’t disagree, but what struck me is how Conway writes his new team as if even he didn’t think they were worthy heirs to Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman.

Conway wanted to shake up the series by changing out the membership. He’d have more control as the characters wouldn’t be obligated to other series. And they wouldn’t come with the baggage and expectations that established DC characters did. While most of the League is fighting a menace off-world, J’Onn J’Onzz’ people arrive on a mission of conquest. The JLA wins but without the big guns. A furious Aquaman decides that if the other members can’t commit to a full-time life in the JLA, they should quit, so he invokes a convenient clause in the League charter that empowers him to dissolve and rebuild the team. Superman, Batman and most of the others are out; Zatanna, J’Onn, Aquaman and Elongated Man stay; and newbies Vibe, Gypsy, Steel and Vixen sign up (all put to much better use in the CWverse later). Steel’s family offers them a fortified HQ in Detroit and their new adventures begin.

Conway says his template was the Silver Age Avengers story where Stan wrote out Thor, Giant Man, the Wasp and Iron Man and brought in Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver under Captain America. Teen Titans also did it successfully when Marv Wolfman and George Perez rebooted them with a mostly new membership in the 1980s. The Detroit League didn’t do so well.

Part of the problem was relocating them to Detroit. I like the idea of local, neighborhood-protecting heroes, like Wonder Woman during her depowered period. And the scenes of the League interacting with the locals are fun bits. But a local feel doesn’t really work for a team that has a history of protecting the entire US, not to mention the world.

A bigger problem is that even Conway didn’t seem to feel his creations were up to the task. In the first few issues, Stan Lee’s “Kooky Quartet” of Avengers took on established foes (Attuma, the Enchantress, the Mole Man) and new ones (the Commissar, Power Man, the Swordsman). Lee constantly emphasized that the foursome didn’t have the raw power of the earlier team, but he showed they had the skill and guts to triumph nonetheless.

The Detroit League? They defeat their first foe, the alien Overmaster, when J’Onn figures out it’s just an imposter and wakes up the real Overmaster. The League faces the team’s old foe, Amazo, but even though his mind has been switched for a drunken bum’s, it takes J’Onn to stop him.

In #238, the villain defeats the classic League, which would seem a perfect opportunity for the new kids to prove themselves. But no, they go down too; it takes the villain’s brother to save the day by shooting him.

The Detroit League doesn’t get into serious heroic mode until it takes on Despero (an old JLA foe, heavily buffed up) in a multi-issue arc. There, they prove themselves, but it was too late. As Conway says in the interview link above, sales had dropped, so he concluded the experiment hadn’t worked. The higher-ups thought he was the problem, not the cast (and even before Detroit his stories hadn’t been up to his best work); he got to wrap up this incarnation of the League (Steel and Vibe die, Gypsy and Vixen quit, the JLA dissolves) and left the book.

While a few writers since have looked back at the era and tried to show that it was cool (Gypsy, for some unfathomable reason, keeps cropping up), it never really was.

#SFWApro. Covers by Chuck Patton and Paris Cullens (top to bottom), all rights remain with current holder.

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Super heroes, maps, design issues and squabbling soldiers: my week in books

BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD: Emerald Knight by various writers and artists shows this is still the funnest 21st century Batman, as far as I’m concerned. This is a Batman who actually enjoys squaring off against the Dinosaur Head Gang, helping Huntress against the stalking super-villain Mr. Camera (the twist on why Huntress came to him for help was really neat) or discovering Egghead has allied with the cosmic horror Ygg FuSothoth (a takeoff on Wonder Woman’s Egg Fu). Certainly this was more fun for me than anything in continuity since the New 52.

The first volume of STRONG FEMALE PROTAGONIST by Brennan Lee Mulligan and Mollie Ostertag collects the webcomic about Alison Green, the former superhero Mega-Girl. Alison quit when her anti-hero archfoe Menace made her see that all their clashes of titans weren’t actually changing the world — and the people who’s powers could have, have been eliminated over the years. But she does want to make the world better so how does she do it? I like the concept and the character interactions and Alison’s decent heart, but sometimes she’s so idealistic she’s an idiot. I think that’s intentional — like a lot of idealistic college students she doesn’t always see the forest for the trees — so it didn’t bother me too much. The art’s kind of “meh” though.

ATLAS MAJOR is a reproduction, with notes, of Joan Blau’s 1600s atlas of the world (his plans to further map the heavens and the oceans never came to pass). I flipped through this mostly in relation to something I’m working on, but this was unquestionably an impressive achievement. It also shows me I didn’t know the world of old atlases as well as I thought. My mental image is of beautifully illustrated global maps like the one above, but a lot of Blau’s atlas shows far more detail about major cities or regions than I expect. For me it’s more something to page through and go “oooh” than read closely, but there’s a lot of “oooh” here.

SMALL THINGS CONSIDERED: Why There Is No Perfect Design by Henry Petroski looks at efforts to design better chairs, better toothbrushes, better potato peelers and better car cup-holders to show how any design is guaranteed imperfect due to cost constraints, consumer interest or lack of interest and the pros and cons (better toothbrush handles are too large to fit into toothbrush holders). Even in the best circumstances, Petroski points out, there’s not going to be a perfect design because we always have to admit that there might be something better that hasn’t been discovered yet. As usual with Petroski, extremely interesting. However his efforts to expand his theme and discuss how everything is design (how we plan our weekend, how we decide what we’re going to eat) were forced.

Two decades before John Ostrander introduced his super-villain version of the Suicide Squad, Robert Kanigher tried repeatedly to make the concept work. SUICIDE SQUAD: The Silver Age collects the stories of Task Force X (seen above) an elite team known as the Suicide Squad because of the deadly nature of their missions. The stories are the weird kind of monsters and SF menaces Kanigher used in his Wonder Woman and Metal Men runs, but like the Blackhawks, it suffers from having too many colorless protagonists.

When this series failed to sell, Kanigher switched to “The War That Time Forgot,” which ran for eight years in Star Spangled War Stories. The series premise was WW II soldiers battling dinosaurs, sometimes thawing out of suspended animation, sometimes living on isolated islands, always absurdly powerful (as one fan site noted, real dinosaurs can’t bite through tanks, but it’s certainly cooler when they can). It included one shot characters but also several recurring protagonists. One was a PT boat skipper in a “Suicide Squadron” so nicknamed for its dangerous missions.

Then came a new version of the Suicide Squad, once again an elite team trained for impossible two-man missions. Kanigher tried to jazz up the drama (as John Seavey says, he didn’t seem to think dinosaurs were enough) by having the mission teams hate each other. Morgan, for example, hates his partner Mace for getting Morgan’s brother killed through (as Morgan sees it) cowardice. Every issue they’re in we get Morgan explaining how Mace’s every heroic action just proves he’s a coward … somehow. It gets old. It doesn’t help that Mace just grits his teeth and takes it; if he hated Morgan back, it would be better.

While I’m not a huge fan of John Ostrander’s Suicide Squad, it’s definitely the best version of the concept to date.

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The adventures of Wonder Woman’s much less interesting brother (with spoilers)

James Robinson will always have a spot in the comics hall of fame for his work on Starman in the 1990s. His recent run on Wonder Woman (with various artists; Jenna Frison does the TPB cover) does not burnish his reputation. Admittedly I’d already read Tim Hanley at Straitened Circumstancesnegative reviews of this arc when I picked this up at the library, but even without that influence, the best this book would get was “meh.”

Following Darkseid’s defeat in The Darkseid War,  his part-Amazon daughter Grail has been killing Zeus’s children to restore him to full power. She opens with Hercules, now living quietly as a lumberjack in the northwest, then goes on to other progeny, mostly made up for this story, all butchered in one panel or off-panel. That puts not only Diana in her sights, but Diana’s twin brother Jason, given up by Hippolyta years ago. Hercules tells Diana about her brother and asks her to find him. They instantly connect but oh no, he’s secretly pissed about having been given up and he’s working with Grail! The two women battle, Jason decides he can’t let his sister die after all, Darkseid and Zeus show up and Darkseid kicks Zeus’s butt. But the JLA shows up and having lost to them before, he takes a powder.

As Hanley points out, Greg Rucka retconned out Diana’s early New 52 adventures, including the reveal about Zeus as her daddy, so why is she still a demigod? My guess would be because this arc came out after the movie, which made Diana Zeus’s daughter, but I don’t know for a fact. I also wonder if the reason we got this plotline (which runs up through #50 I believe) is because Jason was the brainchild of DC big dog Geoff Johns so it just had to be worked into WW’s story (I’d have sooner see them use Nubia or make up a new twin sister)

As Hanley also points out, this arc has remarkably little of Wonder Woman herself. One issue is devoted to Grail’s backstory. Another does the same to Jason. Although Starman did a lot of flashback issues and did them well, they focused primarily on Starman (several different bearers of the name) and the Shade (one of the more memorable supporting characters). Here we’re focused on two guest stars, and not terribly interesting ones. I don’t find Jason as awful as some people do, but he’s not a memorable character and neither is Grail.

Robinson does show us a dynamic, formidable Wonder Woman, but he doesn’t show us her enough. The character bits among the supporting cast are good, but they’re just supporting cast. And the story’s just dull. It might have been fun to see Zeus’s diverse kids, but killing dozens of people off camera is par for the course for a villain these days. There’s no real drama between Jason and Diana. And Darkseid might as well be Mongul or Thanos or any other space conqueror; there’s nothing to make me care that he’s the adversary.

Thank you Durham Library for saving me from having to buy this.

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Terror, music, superheroes and libraries: this week in books

EF Benson’s “The Room in the Tower” is a classic creepy short story, so I figured THE NIGHT TERRORS: The Ghost Stories of EF Benson would be a good read. Alas, despite some true chillers, Benson’s way too wordy and detailed in his descriptions which drowns out the creepiness in most of the yarns. I can see why he’s better known for the social comedy of Mapp and Lucia as that element is where he’s at his best here, from the emotionally manipulative husband of “The Dance” to the culture-snob ghost of “Thursday Evenings” to the social embarrassment caused when a young boy turns out to be one of “The Psychical Mallards.” A mixed bag, overall.

 

1000 RECORD COVERS is a collection that spans the 1950s with its relatively simple Here’s My Face images through the increasingly arty and wild 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s. While not well organized, it does clump them together with themes (semi-naked women, mean machines, views from airplanes) and does show how many musicians were out there I never heard of (my favorites being the Manchesters and the Liverpools, two groups obviously hoping people would pick them up thinking they were the Beatles. Light, but entertaining on the eyes.

Superman and Lois’s son Jon is the best thing the New 52 has done with Superman and Jon’s scenes in SUPERMAN: Imperious Lex (by multiple artists and writers) are a real treat, particularly the two part story in which he and his dad try to stop another world from going Krypton. However the main arc involves the power struggles on Apokolips after the fall of Darkseid, showing once again that nobody in the New 52 gets Kirby’s New Gods — this might as well have been Mongo or Tattooine or any other colorful planet in fiction for all the difference it makes.

WORLD OF WAKANDA by Roxane Gay and Alitha E. Martinez is the backstory of Ayo and Aneka, the Dora Miljae turned Wakandan vigilantes who first appeared in Ta-Nehisi Coates’ run on Black Panther. While the core love story is good, it’s hamstrung by having to retcon it around crossover events such as AvX and to lead in to Coates’ own work; like Jodi Picoult’s Wonder Woman it would have worked better if it stood on its own, say focusing on their vigilante activities dealing with local issues T’Challa’s apparently ignoring. And I wouldn’t have minded seeing more about how this relationship plays in the Dora Miljae — is hooking up with each other as common as I assume, given they’re cut off from relationships with men? Does the commander/subordinate part of their relationship raise the same issues in Wakanda it does here? As is, a bit disappointing.

MASK OF THE RED PANDA by Gregg Taylor and Dean Kotz adapts what I gather is a radio neo-pulp series about the title protagonist and his female chauffeur/sidekick Flying Squirrel as the tackle various supernatural threats. This was fun, but the ease with which they take out magical threats undercuts the tension and I’d have liked Kit to be a little more competent.

LIBRARIES: An Unquiet History by Matthew Battles looks at the history of libraries both public and private (pointing out that in many eras a library was an accessory demonstrating Great Man status) and the perennial problems such as how to find the books you want (the prototype of the current indexing systems triggering angry protests that it put too much work on readers), whether a library should collect Everything or The Best Stuff and the risk that concentrating books in one place as Alexandria did makes losses inevitable. Interesting but a bit too eclectic for a first look at this topic.

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Stretching Characters Until They Break: Exit Stage Left

When I heard that EXIT STAGE LEFT: The Snagglepuss Chronicles (by Mark Russell and Mike Feehan) would reinvent Snagglepuss as a gay playwright in the 1950s, I thought that sounded doable. Hanna-Barbera’s Snagglepuss was a flamboyant, eccentric, theatrical character; being gay wasn’t that big a stretch. Russell already stretched the premise of The Flintstones for their comic book, and I liked that one, so why wouldn’t this one work.

It didn’t, at least not for me. Russell’s Flintstones, while not as sitcommy as the original, still played for satirical laughs. Exit Stage Left is serious, and rather glum.

Snagglepuss was a Hanna-Barbera character from their 1960s TV wave, noted most for his phraseology, such as “Exit, stage left!” (or right, or center) when it came time to amscray. Here he’s a celebrated Southern playwright facing pressure from the government for writing dramas that cast a critical eye on American society — why is he playing into Communist hands by saying America isn’t perfect? In his first encounter with the Unamerican Activities Committee, he stares them down and makes them look like idiots, but the heat is still on. Which is not a good thing, as despite marriage, he’s a closeted gay anthropomorphic big cat. So is his former lover Huckleberry Hound, a rising author who visits New York and discovers what it’s like to be openly out in a place like Stonewall. In between Snagglepuss coping with crises in his latest production, and a Cuban boyfriend who wants to go home and participate in Castro’s revolution, Huck falls in love with Quick Draw McGraw, a closeted cop. Yes, no way sleeping with a cop back when gay was still illegal could turn out bad? Spoiler: it turns out bad.

As a story, it’s well-executed (Russell shares his thoughts on the book at Vox). But it’s so damn serious (what else could it be given the premise) that seeing a bunch of comical cartoon characters cast in downbeat drama felt very off. Nor were any of them particularly like their characters in the ‘toons. Snagglepuss is thoughtful, brooding, literate. Huck is just kind of there. Dimwitted, loudmouthed Quickdraw is insecure and shy. Peter Pottamus, a globetrotting, time-traveling explorer, is the stage manager on Snagglepuss’s latest project. It’s that last one that particularly bugged me; there’s a point to reinventing Snagglepuss and Huck, but putting Peter backstage is just name dropping (that might have worked if I liked the story better though). Ditto Augie Doggie in a supporting role.

As someone who uses a fair number of old characters in various stories, from Conan (by another name) to John Galt (ditto) to Sherlock Holmes, it’s a useful reminded that there are limits to what can be done before the names become basically meaningless; they’re not the characters they’re supposed to be (as I observed with A Study in Honor) which makes using them counter-productive. Of course that point is going to be subjective. Millennials who’ve never seen the old Hanna-Barbera stuff might have a higher tolerance for Exit Stage Left than me, who remembers them well. But it’s still worth keeping in mind.

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Another disappointing week of reading. Hmm, could it be me?

Actually I don’t think it is. Certainly not in the case of DARK NIGHTS METAL: Dark Knights Rising, a TPB tying into the Metal crossover event. The premise isn’t bad, that several Batman from dystopian parallel worlds have gained the powers of another Justice Leaguer: Red Death stole Flash’s speed force, Dawnbreaker received the power ring that went to Hal Jordan (“With darkest black/I choke the light/No brightest day/Escapes my sight!”) and so on. If they’d summed up their origins in a couple of panels that would have worked; instead, they get one origin issue each. As there’s really no difference other than which hero Psycho Batman is taking power from, it gets tedious fast.

CHEW: Flambe by Jon Layman and Rob Guillory is a good deal better but it’s a disappointment compared to previous volumes (Taster’s Choice, International Flavor and Just Desserts). As everyone freaks out about mysterious flaming letters in the sky, Tony and is cyborg partner go about their usual FDA work, though it sure is funny how dangerous it’s getting — it’s like their boss wants to get them killed or something (spoiler: he does)! The execution feels like Layman’s just tossing off shticks and comic bits rather than telling a story, and using Poyo the Wonder Chicken to resolve one crisis felt more like a cheat than they probably meant it to.

As my friend Ross has often observed you could probably pick any year in the 20th century and declare it The Year Everything Changed. Elisabeth Asbrink’s 1947: Where Now Begins shows this year did have several turning points include India becoming independent and promptly splitting into two nations, the beginning of the Cold War and the struggle to brand the Nazi mass murder of the Jews as some new word “genocide.” Then again, Asbrink feels the need to pad things out with past and future events in several places, and a long memoir of her family history (which does not hinge on 1947) mid-book. Plus her very literary style isn’t the sort of thing I want in a history book.

The best of the week was undoubtedly SEX, MURDER AND THE UNWRITTEN LAW: Courting Judicial Mayhem Texas Style by Bill Neal. The author looks at a half-dozen Texas murder cases where the killer invoked the “unwritten law” that a man’s honor entitled him to execute his wife’s rapist or lover (though Texas written law allowed for this until late in the 20th century). Neal covers several cases, including one where a woman whacked the man who seduced and abandoned her, showing that juries were perfectly willing to overlook the finer points of the law (shooting was only acceptable if you caught the guy actually in bed with your wife (which is why Harry Thaw claiming unwritten law when he shot a man over a five-year-old rape was a real stretch, legally) to ensure the husband’s right to defend his property — er, the sanctity of marriage. The biggest single case, however, really doesn’t fit the subject: while Cullen Davis’ attempt to murder his wife (he got their daughter instead) is a wildly colorful legal story, Neal really strains to class it with the rest of the incident.

As I felt disappointed in this week’s books, rather than any of the covers I’ll use this Jack Kirby cover for illustration. Details like the tossed-off cars and the rooftops make me appreciate what a good craftsman Kirby was (though in my experience the insides never lived up to the covers [here’s a synopsis if you’re curious]).

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A mostly uninspiring week of reading

As witness I gave up on the first three books without finishing.

RED CLOCKS by Leni Zumas is set in a near future where the federal government has banned abortion, and the effect this has on several women in Oregon. While this was billed as dystopian SF, being unable to get an abortion is such a reality for women in parts of the country, I don’t know why Zumas bothered with the near-future angle. A bigger problem is that while her writing style is good, she places much more emphasis on style than substance: there’s a real sense of distance about the characters (as I said about Escape to Loki, her characters don’t feel things as much as think about what they’re feeling). At least that held true for the part I finished.

In THE DISCOVERY OF MIDDLE EARTH: Mapping the Lost World of the Celts Graham Robb joins a long tradition of people who think they’ve discovered the hidden truth behind written history. In Robb’s case, that the Celts were vastly more sophisticated a culture than Roman accounts credit; Caesar says Celts shared news by shouting from village to village but “obviously” that simplifies a complex, sophisticated network of messengers stationed across Celtic territory to transmit information not by shouting words but by a complex code allowing them to share information with telegraphic swiftness. This might have intrigued me when I was a teen (and the idea of the network would certainly be a good touch for some fantasy story), but now? Not at all convincing.

COME AGAIN by Nate Powell is a well-drawn but aimless work involving a hippie commune, the secrets its residents keep from each other and some sort of Thing in the nearby cave. But I didn’t find it compelling enough to keep reading.

Now, the good stuff: BATMAN: Li’l Gotham by Derek Fridolfs and Dustin Nguyen (cover by Nguyen) is a fun all-ages book that started as a webcomic, shifted to single issues, then to TPB. See Batman treat his Rogue’s Gallery to Halloween dinner! Watch Poison Ivy, Harley and Catwoman spend Christmas together! Cringe at the embarrassment when Barbara Gordon and Talia al Ghul take their fathers to the same restaurant for Father’s Day (ssurprisingly I never caught any Long Halloween jokes despite the holiday theme). Charming.

LOBSTER JOHNSON: A Chain Forged in Life by Mike Mignola and various collaborators has the Lobster dealing with a kidnapped sidewalk Santa, a resurrected gangster, the Crimson Men and a cannibal cult formed among the hobos in a local shantytown. Pretty good, and like the volume below, already added to the Hellboy Chronology.

HELLBOY AND THE BPRD: 1955 (again by Mignola and others) has one big, and obviously mythos-building story, Occult Intelligence, in which Hellboy and pretty much every established BPRD agent investigates strange goings on in the Pacific; Professor Bruttenholm meanwhile discovers that Britain is actively engaged in occult espionage. The other two stories are good, but not as significant (or so I assume). I am curious how they’ll handle 1956 given we already know Hellboy spent most of it in a drunken fugue in Mexico.

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Neal Adams celebrates Halloween!

A few Adams covers from DC’s Bronze Age spooky anthologies:

As a bonus, here’s one by Joe Orlando.

And one I’ve posted before by Nicholas Cardy

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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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