Thursday, April 19, 2018

ACTION COMICS: 80 YEARS OF SUPERMAN - THE DELUXE EDITION HC -- A Review

Happy 80th Birthday to Superman (and 18th birthday to my beautiful daughter, Helen [who likely will never read this]!!!  In celebration I plan on doing two review posts this week on recent publications honoring this historic event.  First up, is the ACTION COMICS: 80 YEARS OF SUPERMAN - THE DELUXE EDITION HC.

Is it wrong to judge a book by MY expectations?  How about judging it by its solicitation?  Read it for yourself below:

(CA) Jim Lee Join us for the 80th anniversary celebration of the most important comic book in American history: ACTION COMICS #1, featuring the first appearance of Superman! It's an extraordinary party as we revisit stories from across the decades, featuring the debuts of not just the Man of Tomorrow, but also Supergirl, Brainiac, the Fortress of Solitude and more! See the work of generations of top writers and artists on the original superhero! Enjoy sparkling essays from literary wizards who have won Pulitzer Prizes and hit the bestseller lists, including Jules Feiffer, who relives his memories of when ACTION COMICS #1 first hit newsstands. Plus, a historical essay by guest editor Paul Levitz, and all one thousand ACTION COMICS covers presented on a special 30' x by 39.75' poster! And as a bonus, don't miss a previously unpublished 1940s Superman tale believed to be written by Jerry Siegel with art by the Joe Shuster studio, salvaged fifty years ago and hidden away until now! This new hardcover serves as a companion to the ACTION COMICS #1000 comic book coming in March!

My first complaint: no poster.  I mean, that was one of the things I really wanted to get this book for in the first place.  Although, I should have been suspicious when the dimensions were listed in feet, not inches!

Now, I don't blame my go-to hardcover online store, InStockTrades.  Every week the new Marvel and DC books are 50% off and if you spend at least $50, shipping is free and there is an additional 2% loyalty discount when buying consecutive weeks.  Since I was already getting the latest Avengers Marvel Masterworks (MMW), volume 18, featuring the awesome John Byrne issues with the secret origin of Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver (#185-187), I was going to pay the normal $4 shipping.  So, I bought this for $10.99 ($14.99-$4), instead of the listed $29.99.  At that price, I got my money's worth (and something else to write about), but there are still issues, including issues with the issues included.  More after the break.


Sunday, April 15, 2018

Netflix's Lost in Space TV Series Season One (2018) -- A Review


The new Lost in Space series that premiered on Netflix 48 hours ago is PHENOMENAL!!!  I absolutely loved it and would venture to say that it is easily one of the Top 10 Sci-Fi (SyFy) TV shows of all time.  Yes, it is THAT good, especially if you like a lot of science in your science fiction.  I watched the first 9 episodes on Friday, which included viewing the first episode twice.  Saturday, I watched episode 10 and after a harrowing hour of rookie driver instruction, sat down for the 11th.  But it was already over! "Oh, the pain.  The pain!"

Speaking of pain, my wife figured out what we owe in taxes this year.  You've got until the 17th to file in case you thought it might be due today.  Thus, ends the public service announcement portion of this post.

Everything about the look of Netflix's Lost in Space is incredible.  The sets and equipment are wonderful, modern "realistic" updates of the classic series.  The Jupiter 2 is round enough to evoke the iconic saucer appearance that I love so much with the addition of vital functional features (like rocket engines).  And the chariot is still the best looking mini-van on any planet!  The costuming is top-notch from the spacesuits to the fuzzy-hoodie jackets, both of which use some of the coloring from the original show.  The special effects are on par with any blockbuster movie.  The Robot is the most different looking "machine" (Sorry, Robot), but it's super cool too.

Kazu Kibuishi's (Harry Potter cover artist) first ever drawing
of the Lost in Space Robot from the 2017 Baltimore Comic-Con)
If you've ever had to suffer through the 1998 movie version, "Have no fear", this version encompasses all the best concepts and stories from Irwin Allen's most famous creation, meaning nobody is dressed up like a carrot.  My thoughts on the first season's story and the characters continue after the break, but "WARNING! WARNING! SPOILERS, WILL ROBINSON!!!"  Seriously, if you want to be surprised, watch the show first and then see if you agree with my assessment afterwards.






Sunday, April 08, 2018

Invincible, From Beginning to End


I did it. As promised I re-read the entire Invincible series from issues 1-144. None of the ancillary series that spun out of it. Just the motherland. So here’s what I think. And SPOILERS. You’ve been warned.

 

This epic is the work of Robert Kirkman, Ryan Ottley, and Cliff Rathburn, for those who don’t know. Corey Walker was the co-creator with Kirkman and preceded Ottley, but Ottley did most of the work. Published by Image, of course.Image result for image invincible covers

 

Invincible the book is a good look at the development of Image as a publisher. The book started as superhero derivative, attempted to ape the Big Two, and grew past that to be an independent story that broke ground and told an excellent story.

 

The launching conceit was that a Superman like hero called Omni-man (Nolan Grayson) has a son (Mark) with a human woman (Debbie). Mark develops the same powers by his senior year in high school and adopts the name Invincible. The series follows the growing pains of a new young hero, right down to a Teen Titans aping group called the Teen Team, juniors to the JLA knock off Guardians of the Globe.

 

By the end of the opening twelve issues the story takes an Alan Moore turn when it’s revealed that Nolan’s Viltrumite people aren’t benevolently protecting Earth to aid in human develop but are preparing it for conquest and incorporation into the Viltrumite Empire. The reveal is Nolan killing all his Guardians teammates and nearly killing Mark when the latter refuses to go along.

 

Image result for image invincible coversThe series rolls into the better forgotten time of an Image wide crossover event that centers on somewhere under 20 versions of Mark from other dimensions trying to take over the world. There are a lot of versions of Mark that are ok with world dictatorship and mass killing.  It would have been a great story if limited to Invincible and the many superhero teams Kirkman had already created in that world, but it involved all the remotely superhero characters Image published. Fortunately it didn’t involve The Walking Dead, but it was unwieldy and unsatisfying as you'd expect from a crossover event.

 

This is when readers learned that Atomic Eve (Samantha Eve Wilkins), love interest to Mark, is effectively immortal. With the dangers she and Mark frequently faced, it was handy that both she and Mark are near immortal. Nolan was over 1000 years old and still in his prime at this point. Mark was likely to follow.

 

The series runs through more alternate dimension stories and a lot of forays off Earth. Nolan is redeemed as a goodish guy. Mark winds up with a half brother, Oliver (Kid Omni-man) from Nolan’s time hiding after the big fight with Mark. Mark and Eve have a daughter, Terra.

 

The series is best when it’s about the characters. Mark and Eve can be a little trying with their various arguments, but they are the core and are realistic in their fears as young lovers and young parents.

 

Perhaps the two biggest social issues addressed during the series are abortion and rape. The former does the most benefit by considering abortion a medical decision between a woman and her physician. There’s not even a hint of a specious argument that anyone else is or should be involved.Image result for image invincible covers

 

The rape story is a bit more problematic. Mark is raped by another Viltrumite when she refuses to follow orders to mate with a human and thinks Mark is a better choice as a half Viltrumite. Mark’s reaction and feelings of guilt and shame are a great exploration of what it means to survive rape. The problematic is the reformation of the rapist by her eventual development of feelings of affection for a human. She’s never punished in any way for the rape. It’s quite like church sexual assault cases that get a round of applause for confession. Interestingly, this story occurred before that incident.

 

But forgiveness is one of the two major themes of the book. Nolan is forgiven for killing the Guardians and thousands of civillians. Mark forgives Dinosaurus. Amanda (Monster Girl) forgives Rex/Rudy (Robot). Eve forgives Rex (Rexsplode). Everyone forgives Immortal. Mark forgives Allen the Alien. Nolan forgives Thragg. Some of the forgiveness works out better than others. It’s a mixed bag on forgiveness.

 

The other theme is ironic with an atheist writer. There’s a real argument that the conclusion of the book is that benevolent deism is a good thing. Throughout the story characters try to rule Earth, the known universe, or both. Some are purely in it for personal gain or revenge. Others are claiming to act for the benefit of all

 

Image result for image invincible coversThe most significant is Robot who implements a dictatorship of his unparalleled intelligence. Mark opposes him, in fits and starts, but the end result is not only that there remains a behind the scenes dictatorship over all of Earth headed by an immortal duopoly but also Viltrumites become a similar universal force to such an extent that a federal system of planets is dissolved. Very curious conclusion.

 

I would have like more time to develop that but the series felt like it rushed to the end, especially in the last issue. Up to that point the story felt like it moved as originally intended. Terra was a great six year old character with a lot of future. The last issue rushed through her future and that of many others, yet still left the stories of Debbie and Zandale (Bulletproof) unresolved.

 

Which brings up another point. It’s an overwhelmingly white story. Characters who aren’t white include Bulletproof, Black Samson, Dupli-Kate, Multi-Paul, Darkwing, Elephant, Scott, an unnamed but oft seen Viltrumite, and Best Tiger. Only Bulletproof is at all developed as a character, and his development abruptly halts and is never pursued or resolved. Then again, there’s exactly one not straight couple, half of which is often a petty, self-absorbed tool before suddenly being much better after finding the partner who works. Considering how much more Kirkman has developed a wide variety and wide number of characters in The Walking Dead, the same would have been nice in Invincible.  The two books have been around a similar amount of time, though fewer issues for Invincible.

 

Image result for image invincible coversSimilarly, in a book that doesn’t shy away from graphic violence or “language” the prurience about depictions of sex is disappointing. People fuck a lot in this book, but there’s never a realistic depiction of how that looks. It’s network TV cover and angle. Again, The Walking Dead has had realistic nudity in the appropriate situations. It’s been years seen I’ve seen any, but it has. I know Kirkman has addressed it as a ratings/availability thing that a superhero book audience has, but given the massive popularity of The Walking Dead that far exceeds Invincible, I don’t find the argument compelling.  Less so with the spot on depictions of sex in Image hit Saga.

 

Overall Invincible is well worth the read. Image found its footing as a great place for creator owned stories during this run and the book benefited from the company’s and its writer’s growth during that time. There are a lot of great areas for discussion amidst a story that was well told. I suspect the rushed feeling of the final issue is a window for the creators to return to it sone years on if the urge arises, but the final as it stands left quite a bit unresolved if it is a final.

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Raising Kids with Comic Books


It’s no secret that I was raised in a comic book store. I attribute my strong early verbal skills to comic books as well as some of my sense of right versus wrong. All things considered, I think I turned out okay, and as a result I decided early on to share my love of comic book stories with my son. I thought I’d share some of the things that I’ve observed in regards to raising a child with comic books.

First – some kid appropriate superhero stuff:

Anything Lego Superheroes – awesome! Phonics books, movies, graphic novels, step books, and actual Lego kits, video games…

Image result for lego dc superheroes


Batman and Superman Phonics books – good for after you’ve gone through a slightly more basic phonics program

Justice League animated series (Batman and Superman as well) – these are some amazing comic book stories appropriate for ALL ages. These are some of the best superhero stories I’ve experienced AND they have the best animated version of the Legion in JLU. The Supergirl/Brainiac 5 romance alone is worth it.

Image result for animate Legion of superheroes justice league unlimited
What should have been the LSH animated characters...

Legion of Superheroes Animated Series – I dislike this series. They took my favorite character (Brainiac 5) and made him a lame robot. Ugh. I just couldn’t watch it. However, my husband showed our son the series and they enjoyed it. I actually love the idea of kid appropriate LSH material, but there is not a lot out there that isn’t older material. I expect my son will read my Archives one day, but we are going to finish reading A Wrinkle in Time first. As a side note the Legion does show up in the animated shows and the Lego material here and there – we do have a cool Cosmic Boy minifigure!

DC Superhero Girls (I both like this idea and am annoyed by it, I wish the boys in the show were less lame. I’d like my son to see everyone working together equally)

The new JL movie – my son loved this. As a bonus they were fighting parademons, pretty straight up bad guys. I’ve never let him watch Dawn of Justice because I didn’t want to explain why two good guys were beating the crap out of each other (same for Civil War).

Superhero novels (mostly Step into reading books) – these bore me to tears, but my son likes them

Batmobiles and assorted superhero cars – these never get old and my son acts out pretty elaborate dramas. He actually mimics the ethical dilemmas from his other stories sometimes.


There’s more out there, but that’s a decent starting list. Here’s some of what I’ve actually tried to teach him using superheroes and comic books:


Image result for superman fighting someone
It's always okay to punch Lex Luthor in the face kids!
Teaching Right from Wrong

This has been a difficult area to work with in regards to my son only being 5. He understands the basics of good versus bad behavior but a lot of the more complex dilemmas are hard for him to grapple with at the moment. I’ve found that I run into some gray areas with stuff like Batman. We’ve had to talk about the differences between when it’s okay to fight and when it is not. We, like many other parents, started off with the blanket rule that hitting is bad. However, obviously, Batman and a majority of the other heroes hit. So, then you have to explain that they are hitting bad guys but that doesn’t really work that well. Eventually we explained that they are hitting bad guys to protect other people. The rule had been that hitting is bad unless you are protecting yourself or other people – and that we should ALWAYS try to get help first.

The one thing I found to be extremely helpful was using a lot of the Lego superhero material. Since it is geared towards kids (mostly) the messages are a bit clearer for a younger age group. Flash has to learn how to slow down and make a plan, Batman has to learn how to work well with others, the first rule of being a ninja (Ninjago) is a ninja never quits… good, easy to understand lessons for kids.
Beyond the Lego material it’s surprisingly difficult to find kid appropriate comic book material these days. The more adult-oriented material has a lot of mixed messages that are harder for a 5-year-old to understand. The older JLA and JLU animated series is great, but some of the newer animated series can get a bit dark. As far as actual comic books it’s nearly impossible to find anything that works. There’s Mouse Guard, Tellos, and other non-superhero stuff but as far as mainstream comics they all cater to adults only it seems. Which leads me to teaching reading using comic books – and also back to Lego again.


Teaching Reading with Comic Books

Given the sparseness of kid appropriate (and non-crappy) superhero comics I had to find an alternative. Luckily Lego Ninjago comes in graphic novel form! I started picking these up for my son and he fell in love with them. The reason I use these rather than a multitude of other kid appropriate graphic novels is because my son already recognizes the characters. He enjoyed Tellos, but he couldn’t figure the stories out on his own as well. The Ninjago graphic novels are side stories based off of the TV series (except the Dark Island Trilogy, which is a stand-alone storyline). My son can interpret most of the story from the pictures and it has motivated him to learn how to read. I didn’t realize how much this had improved his skills until we started a 100-day reading program.

Image result for tomb of the fangpyre

We have been using the Distar 100-day reading program and are currently on day 46. Part of the program includes picture comprehension that is based on the readings. My son caught on to this part of the program faster than I expected, and I realized it was due to reading graphic novels. He had gotten used to merging picture and word comprehension.

Image result for lego superhero phonics booksWe’ve also been using Superhero phonics books to supplement the program and give him more practice. The Batman phonics books are decent, although a little advanced for a starting reader (they’ll be fine once he’s finished the reading program). The Lego DC phonics books are just about perfect for his level, and I plan of getting the Superman phonics books somewhere down the line.


Again, he is more motivated to read when he recognizes the characters, he is able to use the pictures as context when he’s struggling to read a word, and he has picked up some of the more advanced words just because they are used fairly frequently in line with comic book lingo.


Teaching Emotions with Comic Books

This is a surprisingly easy area to build on, if nothing else to teach someone how not to handle their emotional issues. Due to the nature of superhero-ing the characters often struggle to deal with powerful emotions so when we read comic books I often ask my son to explain why someone is acting a certain way. He can tell me that Batman is sad and misses his parents, and he can tell me that Wonder Woman doesn’t like to see people get hurt so she wants to help them. It’s been a pretty good tool for early explorations of human emotion and reactions to emotional states.


And lastly, Discipline with Comic Books

Bad guys go to Arkham Asylum. Knowing this is usually enough to convince my son he doesn’t want to misbehave, haha. If things get really bad we can always introduce the Phantom Zone!


Related image
Your kids won't enjoy this time out location!


If you've made it this far, thanks!


I will now shameless plug my archaeological research in Pompeii - please share, and (if you can) donate :) Archaeologists help prevent powerful artifacts from falling into the hands of evildoers, support Archaeology!


gofundme.com/archaeology-fieldwork-pompeii


Oh, and just in case you were wondering, here is Cosmic Boy with Lego Gwen (archaeologist) and Lego Jen (chemist) exploring the Ninjago lighthouse. Because it's awesome.


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Sunday, March 25, 2018

The Legion of Super Heroes are Jerks


What, The Legion of Super Heroes are jerks? Kitty Pryde why are you saying that? I love the Legion of Super Heroes. The Jim Shooter era to the Paul Levitz/Keith Giffen era and even loved parts of almost every other incarnation of the group. They were leaders, heroes and willing to sacrifice life and limb to protect the Universe. But jerks?

Wait I think I know what happened she must have started reading the Silver Age Omnibus Volume 1 of The Legion of Super Heroes. Now that I think about it she is right, not only are they jerks, they are misogynist pigs and pretty darn mean spirited at times.

A little background before I validate my point. I have loved the Legion forever but it has been a long time since I have re-read their adventures. In fact, I have passed on my Legion archives to my daughter. One day I expect her son to maybe read some of those stories. On a whim, I picked up the Omnibus edition. It’s not my favorite format for collected editions. They are too damn thick and the binding and spine take a beating as you read them. I’m not planning on selling it later, so I guess it doesn’t matter.

I still read plenty of current stuff from Black Hammer, Grass Kings to Tom King’s Batman and more. The current stuff can be awesome. Still, I fell in love with comics as a child and still love rereading the old books. Often it is stuff I barely remember (if at all) which leads me to the Legion being jerks - and worse.

I remember much of the early Legion stuff as I have read it both as a kid and in the Archives. All of those readings were years ago. Reading through the Omnibus, I found I did not recall many of the early appearances of the Legion in Superboy and elsewhere. It was a time that DC was playing with the concept. Continuity from appearance to appearance was weak, to say the least. Heck, often the Legion was referred to as being from as far in the future as the (gasp) the 21st Century. The stories I will refer to started in 1958 and go up to about 1963. It was a far different world and comics were being written for adolescent boys. As time has progressed the attitudes and feelings we have as a society have changed. Often older books (my favorite being some of the Romance comics) are unintentionally funny or dated as hell. However, what struck me with the Legion is that they truly were jerks and often misogynistic. I’m laughing as I type this as the Silver Age Legion is almost a history lesson for how the prevailing patriarchal society thought. Hopefully, having raised 2 brilliant wonderful daughters, my views are a little more progressive.

My first example of how the Legion were jerks and a tad misogynistic comes from Adventure Comics #247 in 1958, also the first appearance of the Legion. During Superboy’s initiation test he has to beat Saturn Girl in a task. Not only does Superboy lose to Saturn Girl, but he is beaten by a girl. Not too condescending Cosmic Boy.



In that same issue Cosmic Boy tells Superboy he is being rejected from the Legion. No patting Superboy on the back or offering encouragement. Instead, there is just laughter and derision. Cosmic Boy is quite the charmer.


Next, we move onto Adventure Comics #267 from 1959 and the second appearance of the Legion. Here we see Superboy complementing Saturn Girl on a job well done. Is Saturn Girl gracious and appreciative of Superboy’s polite remarks? No, no, no -Saturn Girl basically kicks his teeth in with her snide remark.



The Legion is so mean to Superboy in this issue that he starts to cry. Damn, these guys are just harsh.


Let’s jump ahead to Adventure Comics #303 from 1962. The Legion is now a series and often gets the cover. Now, these two panels are just plain disturbing on many levels. Why is Chameleon Boy acting as Cosmic Boy’s wife when the Legion at least had established multiple female members, including Triplicate Girl? It is Chameleon Boy’s request and warning to Cosmic Boy and Cosmic Boy’s huge over reaction which just lends all kinds of creepy to this scene. I can imagine this scene being written in many different ways, but points to Chameleon Boy for transforming with a purse and pearls. It may be the future but the writer’s and artist were not futuristic.



Adventure Comics #306, published in 1963, introduced The Legion of Substitute Super Heroes. Theabsurdity of this group is only outdone by the Legion of Super Pets. At this point the Legion has notreally racked up any sort of impressive list of accomplishments, so the need for a group of rejects secretly backing them up was pathetic. This scene shows poor Polar Boy being rejected because asshat Sun Boy thinks he may accidently freeze someone at a critical moment. Like Sun Boy can’t burn someone at a critical moment? Plus Bouncing Boy, Matter Eating Lad, and Triplicate Girl made the cut and ability to broadcast super cold is a loser? 



The Legion of Substitute Heroes was truly the target of epic jerk moves in Adventure Comics #311, also from 1963. In this span of 4 panels they are called blunders, stupid, and failures. No wonder they subs look a little depressed going back to their headquarters



In the same issue Sun Boy certainly shines as a class A dick, telling them to disband or the LOSH will force them to. Of course, I know that was a group of aliens pretending to be the Legion, but the fact that the subs had no clue tells you these guys could be total jerks.


Last but not least, this panel shows the Legion was pretty fatalistic and willing to write off members quickly. In Adventure Comics #313 (again from 1963), the guys were taking it pretty calmly that the girls were dying. Since they are doomed they might us well send them off world and let’s hope for a cure.


There is plenty more where that came from in these early stories, but I love the Legion and I am just having fun with stuff that hasn’t aged very well. The Shooter Era changed all of that, but he built on the foundation that was created by the writers who came before him. The Legion would struggle as a series over the course of many years and right now we have been without a series for way too long. I hope DC finds a way to do the Legion again with the right creative team. Long Live the Legion.


Saturday, March 24, 2018

Comic News that Excites Me: Part Three (Sandman)



I’ve read more comics than I probably even remember reading. (Especially if they were bad.) If asked what their favorite comic book of all time was, fans will give all kinds of answers, usually based on their tastes. Books like Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, All-Star Superman, Uncanny X-Men, The Amazing Spider-Man, Planetary, Bone, Strangers In Paradise, Saga, Preacher, The Walking Dead, Maus, Hellboy, Locke & Key, or a myriad of others might be mentioned. Although I’ve loved all of the mentioned titles and still do, if I had to select a favorite, it would always be Sandman.

Sandman was a long running comic and one of the first to tell a complete story. The book ran 75 issues (not including spinoffs and anniversary continuations) telling its complete narrative. The world of the Sandman is mystical and magical, spanning the world of the Dreaming, the fairy realm, Earth, Hell, and many worlds in-between. The main character, if there could be considered a main character, was the Dream King himself: Morpheus. As a comic, the Sandman told many different types of stories from a variety of different point of view characters. Morpheus would be there somewhere, sometimes taking point in the story, sometimes hiding in the peripheral. Morpheus, or Dream as he was sometimes called (he had many names), was one of the Endless. The Endless were Destiny, Dream, Death, Delirium, Desire, Despair, and Destruction, and they were older than gods.

During the run of the Sandman, I read stories that were horrific, fantastical, and very human, despite some of the characters involved, all mixed with a wonderful dark humor at times. There were stories about the land of the Dreaming falling into ruin, the imprisonment of Dream, the keys to Hell, a serial killer convention, Shakespeare’s contract with Dream, an immortal man, a nightmare on the loose, old debts, failed loves, sibling rivalry, the tragedies of life, and of course, the nature of stories themselves.

Comic News that Excites Me: Part Two (Image and Marvel)


There simply isn’t enough Marvel Comics news/announcements that excited me to have a separate column dedicated just for Marvel. Therefore, I’ve just included them into my second column here. These are a handful of recent announcements/news/solicitations that caught my eye. Image leads the pack because of course it does.

The first is The Magic Order, a mini-series from writer Mark Millar and artist Olivier Coipel. The premise is that five magician families come together to protect the world from magical monsters and the like. I expect there will be some interesting characterization (there always is in Millar’s work), and I expect this book to be fun. Millar’s work in recent years tends to be geared to the high concept/probable adaptation into other media. I don’t have a problem with this, and when he’s on, Millar is on. With Coipel on the art, this one might be a winner.

Stellar is a comic I am very interested in. Joseph Keatinge writes the series with art by Bret Blevins. The title character was taken as a child, transformed into an ultimate weapon, and now she travels the cosmos as a bounty hunter, looking for peace or redemption. I like the premise and the cover is gorgeous. I also think Keatinge has a unique voice as a writer. I'm curious how Blevins style has evolved. It is definite something I will check out.