Showing posts with label DC Comics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label DC Comics. Show all posts

Thursday, October 10, 2019

The Sound Of Breaking Glass

I think that it is time to jump back into the reviewing game, because I have missed doing it. Let's talk about one of the new young adult original graphic novels that are being put out by DC Comics, in this case Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass. This is a poignant story that redefines the character of Harley Quinn in ways that make her interesting again. In this review I will look at the new original graphic novel (OGN) that I picked up the other day.

This is probably not something that I would have picked up, if I hadn't seen some of the previews for the book. I am not a fan of the current interpretation of the character that is rooted in her dysfunctional and harmful "relationship" with the Joker. I don't consider those sorts of relationships to be healthy, or the kinds of relationship goals that anyone should be shooting for. I do like the power of the Harley Quinn character, but I hope that when we get to the next phase of young creators in comics that someone will recast the character in way that doesn't make it an extension of something harmful.

Mariko Tamaki's involvement as the writer went a long way towards my interest in this book. Previously I read her Supergirl: Being Super and loved how she updated and modernized the character in a way that caused her to be her own character and not just the extension of a male character. If you haven't read Being Super you really should, particularly if you are a fan of the Supergirl television show. Along with Steve Orlando's Rebirth run on the DCU Supergirl comic, Being Super is a favorite contemporary interpretation of the character of Supergirl. Tamaki brings a similar approach to Harley Quinn in this story as well. All of the familiar elements of the Harley Quinn story are there: madness, destruction and The Joker, but Tamaki puts the elements together in a way that makes them feel like they are new again.

Harley is her own character in this story. Her origin is not dependent upon someone else being the agent of change, nor is it the outgrowth of a dysfunctional take on romance or a relationship. The Harleen Quinzel that comes to Gotham City in this story obviously has issues with mental illness, which cause her tendencies towards violence. Harleen is raised by a single mother, the assumption is that her father has died, but she is telling her own story and it is obvious that she is an unreliable narrator. Harleen is sent to Gotham by her mother to live with her grandmother in the city, but that goes wrong, too, because when she arrives in the city she finds that her grandmother has recently died. The assumption is that Harleen is sent off because her mother cannot handle the escalating violence of Harleen, but the story doesn't put a lot of emphasis on that because Harley doesn't put a lot of emphasis on that part of the story. Her violence is her's to own.

Breaking Glass is an origin story for Harley Quinn, and one that I would easily accept as canon. This story is the sort of thing that I look forward to as the future of this character. The teller of the story of the transition from Harleen to Harley is Harley herself, and even as an unreliable narrator we get the parts of this story that are important to her.

When Harleen comes to Gotham, and discovers that her grandmother is dead, she is taken in by Mama, an older gay drag performer. Mama's performance space is the ground floor of the building, and Harleen is quickly introduced to Mama's fellow drag performers, who become Harleen's first friends in Gotham (and it seems, her first friends ever). The costumes, makeup and pageantry of the drag performances are the vessel that allows the introduction of the largeness of the worlds of super-hero comics entry into this story. Super-heroes, and villains, are another form of drag that allows people to project the reality of their personalities onto the world around them, but writ larger than life. It is the performers who make up a persona for Harleen, based on her love of harlequins and clowns, and give her the drag name of Harley Quinn.

Steve Pugh's art throughout the book is phenomenal and is integral to relaying the story. Harley's narration often falls back onto fairy tales, and Pugh's art responds with a whimsical quality that reflects when her mental state is less grounded in reality. However, when reality comes crashing into Harley's fairy tale like a brick through a glass window, Pugh's art becomes more gritty and realistic, and drives home the dichotomy of the world as Harley views it, and the world within which she resides. The use of color in the book is a storytelling tool as well. Much of the time the color in a scene is monochromatic, mostly shades of blue but scenes with Ivy are often rendered in green as foreshadowing. When Harley is angry, or in a more extreme mental state, scenes are more colorful and explosions of red enter into the color palette.

There is no colorist credited in the book, so the assumption is that Pugh colored his own art.

In the mainstream comics Poison Ivy has become an important part of the Harley Quinn story. In many ways, her relationship with Ivy is the closest to a healthy romantic, or sexual, relationship that the character has had since becoming Harley. In Breaking Glass, Harleen and Ivy are classmates, and Ivy is one of the only people that she is able to connect, and become friends, with. There isn't a romance, but the relationship with Ivy is the only one that Harleen develops outside of the drag performers. In an echo of her mainstream characterization, Ivy is an activist who wants to save their neighborhood, and her moral compass does help to balance out Harleen in places. Harleen brings the influence of her friends' drag performance into Ivy's political activism, bringing along a super-hero coding in the masks and costumes.

Outside of some of Harley's drag performer friends, Ivy is also one of the few people of color in the story. Her political activism is her reaction to the outsiderness of how she is treated by society. When the principal brings both of them into his office at one point, he refers to Harleen as Ms. Quinzel, while he refers to her as Ms. Ivy. If this story gets a sequel that leads to Ivy's villainy, I think that this treatment is what will lead her away from humanity, and towards plants.

Breaking Glass is a solid comic, well written and with art that both grounds the story and allows it to soar with the flights of Harley's mind. Everything that should be in a Harley Quinn story is there, and the character does it without being the extension of another, male, character. Her relation to the Joker is antagonistic, rather than romantic, and it gets to where the relationship between the two characters tends to be in contemporary stories, but without the middle steps of a romantic relationship between her and the Joker. This makes Harley's story a stronger one, because it stands upon its own feet. Hopefully, one day soon, we'll see a similar take on Harley Quinn in the mainstream comics that gets away from the dysfunctional and harmful romantic relationships, but until that happens we will have Breaking Glass to use as a model for how Harleen Quinzel became Harley Quinn.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Law v Chaos (2)

Darkseid by J.G. Jones, from Final Crisis published by DC Comics

Over in Gallant Knight Games' first Tiny Zine Compendium there is an essay by me about the forces of Law and Chaos in fantasy role-playing games. It serves as an early promo for my Demon Codex fantasy role-playing game (still in development/writing).

I am going to go back over some of the basics from that essay here, but I'm going to also talk about the inspirations that have helped develop my take on Law and Chaos in my gaming. Click on the link above and get a copy of the Compendium, there's plenty of cool stuff in it to balance out what I wrote. Yes, that is an affiliate link.

I am a fan of Michael Moorcock. He is one of the few writers whose works I have carried over from having read when I was a kid. The influence of his writing and universes upon tabletop gaming is a fundamental one, although you tend to see the more overt representations of it in games like Runequest (not surprising that Chaosium would go on to produce a line of licensed RPGs based in Moorcock's worlds) and Warhammer. While you still see Moorcock's influences on creatures and the approach to how a multiverse works in the D&D game, the greatest vestige of his influence upon the D&D game is in the alignment system. Alignment is also the thing that D&D broke as it tried to change it over the years.

At first, alignment was not a system to gauge the morality of your character. There was no good, nor evil, just the conflict between Law and Chaos (and the buffer of Neutrality between them). It was more of an allegiance system, but in the earliest editions of D&D there wasn't much mechanical bite to alignment. Of course, there wasn't a lot of mechanical bite to a lot of things in the earliest D&D editions either.

Over time, and across editions, the alignment system developed into what we see now, an attempt to give some mechanical power to morality within the game. This ends up causing a different set of problems in a game that stakes advancement upon killing things and taking their stuff. The designers of recent editions have tried moving the mechanics around this, which is why you see things like milestone advancement.

The trouble is that the original approach gave you a richer tapestry to play your games against. War is hell, and it can be used as an easy way for a GM to kickstart conflict in a campaign. You have to balance things carefully, because you don't want the big story of this cosmic conflict to overwhelm what the players are doing with their characters, either.

This likely won't be my last essay on this topic, and that means that we can talk at length about more gaming specific topics over the course of them. Right now, I've thrown a lot of words at the internet and haven't gotten to that picture of Darkseid at the top of this post.

In case you don't know, Darkseid is a great cosmic villain, a New God created by Jack Kirby to serve as the primary antagonist for his "Fourth World Saga" at DC Comics in the Seventies. Unfortunately, the Fourth World books didn't last as long as other of Kirby's works at the time but other creators since then have taken the threads of Kirby's story and woven them deeply into the fabric of the DC Universe. And, while he didn't explicitly name it as such, the conflict between Law and Chaos was an important part of Kirby's mythos.

Characters like the Hairies in Kirby's run on Superman's Pal Jimmy Olson, and the Forever People in their own eponymous book, showed Kirby's ideas about Chaos. These characters were young, rebellious against authority figures and creative. The Hairies came up with incredible scientific leaps and created technologies far beyond anything available on Earth at the time of the stories. The faction of New Gods that populated the world of New Genesis were the good guys of the Fourth World, and they were the exemplars for Chaos. They fought against oppression and worked to evolve humanity into godlike figures such as themselves.

Representing Law in Kirby's mythos was Darkseid and his elite warriors of Apocalypse. Darkseid sought the Anti-Life Equation that would unite the universe under his will. All sentient beings would serve one mind: Darkseid's. I don't think that there are many characters that encapsulate the concepts of Law outside of Moorcock's works themselves as well as Darkseid did.

The one "problem" is that they still show a morality to Law and Chaos, something which is absent in Moorcock's works. The interesting thing about Kirby's works, when viewed through the Law v Chaos filter, is that they flip the script on how Law and Chaos as morality are typically viewed. Law is usually the "good guy," because of the whole "law and order" thing being good. It was probably because of how Kirby viewed the youth movement of the 60s that he flipped the script and made Chaos, the change agent, into the force for good in his mythos. Of course, you can trace these ideas back to his work on books like Thor for Marvel Comics.

For Moorcock, the principals of Law and Chaos are more akin to cosmic horror. The two principals are eternally at conflict with one another, not really knowing (or caring) why they fight each other. More importantly, neither Law nor Chaos really cares about the impact that their battles have on lesser beings. They only care about the conflict, and being the side that wins. This is more along the lines of my handing of Law and Chaos in Demon Codex. Alignment is a part of the game, but it shows a character's allegiance to one side or the other, rather than the ideas of good or evil. Picking an allegiance, which isn't a requirement, means choosing a side in a conflict that, if it comes to the world of your characters, will most likely ultimately destroy the world. Law and Chaos are like Godzilla and Mothra. They are much more focused on fighting each other than they are worrying about the people from Tokyo that they trod upon during their fight.

Going back to Kirby's Fourth World before I finish up, there was an interesting change that happened to the concepts of the New Gods when DC Comics rebooted their universe for the New 52. In this interpretation, the New Gods of New Genesis became less aligned with the principal of Chaos, as their own eternal war against Darkseid and Apocalypse made them more regimented and governed by rules and law. If you haven't read the Godhead mini-event that ran through the Green Lantern related books from a couple of years ago, it makes for an interesting read. Eternal conflicts can change those with even the best of intentions, grind them up and spit them out on the other side. Sometimes this comes with the realization that you're better off without that conflict guiding your life, while other times you double down on it and let it consume you.

Either way it becomes less about morality and more about survival almost. But, they call it dark fantasy for a reason.

Monday, August 07, 2017

What COULD Happen If Disney Stopped Publishing Marvel Comics?

There is an interesting article on (of all places) a site focused on Disney and Disney-related theme parks that asks the question Will Disney Stop Publishing Marvel Comic Books? We all know that one of the basic rules of journalism is that if your headline asks a yes/no question, the answer is typically no.

The thing is that this headline asks a pretty valid question that once would have been a resounding "no," but with the state of the comics market, and the fact that Marvel Comics has been bleeding readers for a while now, I don't know that it is that simple of a question any more. Neither Marvel Comics nor DC Comics are the powerhouses of the comics market that they were 30 or 40 years ago. In fact, the comics market itself has never really recovered from the market's speculator-lead bust of the 90s. Sales of DC Comics are up from what they were a few years ago (thanks mostly to the bump in sales that came about due to the Rebirth initiative that the company started about a year ago), but across the industry the sales numbers are no where near sustainable in the long term.

People have a number of reasons why they aren't buying comics like they used to. The quality isn't what it was. The stories are rehashes. Long-term readers don't recognize the characters in the comics anymore. There is a cycle of events that interrupt the various ongoing books, stalling out their stories. Buying comics on a monthly basis is expensive.

Some of these reasons are probably more valid than others, but regardless of the underlying reasons, people don't read comics like they used to read them. The direct comics market is also increasingly fragile for a number of reasons: many comics retailers aren't the best of business people (having gotten into the business because of their love of comics), declining sales means declining capital, and declining capital means that it is more difficult for retailers to diversify their product base or weather the storm of declining sales. Many comics stores are only just now recovering from the industry implosion of the 90s, and it wouldn't take a lot to cause them to teeter over the brink. Would they be able to bounce back again?

Regardless of the comic buying patterns of many of us comic fans, the comic market lives and dies by the selling power of the Big Two: Marvel Comics and DC Comics. If Disney were to decide that Marvel is a more profitable brand if it focuses on movies and merchandising, there would be an immense and sudden vacuum that would lead to another bust within the comics market. I don't think that another company would fill the vacuum left by Marvel. Image Comics, IDW Publishing and Boom! all publish some good books, but they don't scratch that super-hero itch that the Big Two does.

It is this lack of genre diversity that would be one of the factors that would lead to this bust. By putting so much of a market reliance onto just one genre of storytelling, the industry makes it more difficult to course correct by having other publishers step into the void left by a publisher leaving it. By relying heavily upon one genre, they create their own long term troubles. The collapse of the comics market would hurt the livelihood of a lot of people -- from creatives to distributors to retailers. It isn't an outcome that I would want to see.

If it came to pass that Disney decided to pull the plug on Marvel Comics publishing comics on a monthly basis it would decimate the industry. Even companies like DC Comics, with the deep pockets of Warner backing them, would have problems, because of the impact that it would have on the direct market. Too many eggs have been put into one basket of distribution and sales, just like they have been put into the one basket of genre. This isn't something that I would want to see happen, but I think that it is more becoming a possibility with each passing month.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

A Peek At Warren Ellis' The Wild Storm

From Ellis' newsletter Orbital Operations again:
Hey, Jon Davis-Hunt did a promo piece for our forthcoming project THE WILD STORM and DC forgot to use it during the announcements, so I'm going to run it here because I feel like it deserves to be seen.  Copyright DC Entertainment of course, and please link to if you use it on your website.
I probably shouldn't be doing this. But I really wanted Jon's work to be seen.
It looks intriguing. I'm guessing that is Zealot in the bottom panel, and Sentinel in the second from the bottom?

Edit: Apparently that is the revamped version of Warren Ellis creation Jenny Sparks. It looks like she is getting upgraded to being the Spirit of the 21st Century now. That's a bit of a disappointment. I would have liked to have seen Sparks kept as the Spirit of the 20th Century, and have them keep the character of Jenny Quantum as the Spirit of the 21st. I liked that the Spirit of the 21st Century wasn't a white person.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

The Strange Approach For Fate Accelerated

This is another rough sketch of a Fate Accelerated rule addition, this time a new Strange approach. Most people who know me know that I am a huge fan of early/pre DC/Vertigo comics like Peter Milligan's Shade The Changing Man and Grant Morrison's  Doom Patrol. I like them for their unadulterated strangeness and how they challenged the preconceived notions of what comic book stories could do. As a gamer they could be frustrating to try to bring over into a tabletop RPG because of their very openendedness. (Yes, probably not a word.) This post is basically a slight polish on some notes that I made recently.

After reading the second volume of the COPRA trades over the weekend, getting at characters with this openness starting running through my head again. I've been in a Fate Accelerated headspace lately, because of some professional projects, and that it is my favored version of the rules. What I came up with is a new approach to handle strange and surreal instances.

A big part of the reason why I like Fate Accelerated so much is because of the approaches. Because Fate gets away from the standardized idea of using attributes in role-playing games, and Fate Accelerated takes that a step further with approaches getting rid of skills, it frees you up as a player and GM to focus on the end result of what you what characters to do, rather than the mechanics of how that happens. For me, that is a great thing, and why I lean so heavily on the Accelerated rules.

This isn't freeform, because you still have a mechanical justification to hang things on within the game, the parameters of those mechanics are just loose. That looseness allows some of the more surreal bits to leak into your games. This can lead to a bit more work on the part of both the player and the GM. The player has to be more descriptive in what they are doing. Where "I forcefully overcome the steel door and break it down" is fine in a "mundane" occurrence during a game, it doesn't fit as well for the types of games that we're talking about here. For example: "I strangely overcome the steel door by bypassing its reality through sidestepping it by passing into Grey Plane of Despair and reimagining myself on the other side of it."

Easy, yes? Well, with some practice it can be.

So, let's outline the new approach:
Strange: A strange action is something out of the ordinary, even in worlds with magic and people with super-powers. It is about doing something that side-steps reality, or the basic laws of nature. Tears of blood from statues, rains of fish and other inexplicable happenings can be the result of strange actions.
Not every game will allow strange actions, and those that do should use them in dramatically important ways. A strange action is something that provokes hindbrain reactions in those who witness them, because it is rewriting primal and fundamental rules of the universe. A strange action is causing something that should not happen to happen.

Whenever you take a strange action, the outcome should never be mundane. When you attempt to strangely overcome a reinforced metal door you don't just "phase" through it, you open a portal into the Realm of Metal Hungry Spirits, allowing a stream of starving Necrosprites through to devour the metals of the door. When you strangely attack, you shunt opponents through a tear in your sleeve that transports them to a demiplane of Misery that erodes their will and destroys their mind.

Strange actions aren't going to be for all players, so don't require that a rank be put in that approach. Do not let a player get away with using a strange action mundanely. Put a situational modifier of -2 on attempts to take a strange action without doing something strange (and do not allow a Fate point to offset that modifier). There should be consequences of failure to try to take a strange action without doing something strange. Trying to create a "normal" energy blast as a strange attack would instead manifest as a stream of fiery dolls hitting the target. Part of the challenge of this approach is that, regardless of what the character intends to do, the outcome is something weird.

There should be an aspect, preferably the character's high concept, that gives the permission for strange actions. Otherwise a character's strange approach can never be more than +0. Your character can attempt strange actions, but they have no innate ability to do so.

This post is just a starting point on suggesting how you can bring strange actions into your Fate Accelerated games. The destination is up to you.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

DC Comics Rebirth?

It will start with a voice, "I love this world,  but something is missing."

"It" being the next "event" (my words, not theirs) from DC Comics: DC Universe Rebirth. According to CCO Geoff Johns, DC Universe Rebirth follows in the steps of Green Lantern Rebirth and Flash Rebirth. A next chapter in the DC Universe.

Each of the previous Rebirth minis were about returning something to the DC Universe. Green Lantern Rebirth brought back Hal Jordan, Sinestro and the Green Lantern Corps to the DC Universe. Flash Rebirth returned Barry Allen as the Flash. So, it stands to reason that DC Universe Rebirth will be about returning something to the DC Universe. But what?

What they seem to be saying is that DC Universe Rebirth will bring back the aspect of Legacy to the DCU. 

The more important question it too late?

To be completely honest, neither of the so-called Big Two comic publishers have ever completely bounced back from the crash of comics in the 90s that nearly ended comics. These days, standard operating procedure is to bounce from one big Earth-shattering, status quo changing event to another, dragging readers along on a ride of change and "rebirth" where everything is "All-New" and "All-Different," and of course everything gets a shiny new coat of paint and a fresh set of new #1s to prop up sales.

Until the steam runs out on that, and everyone realizes that things have to change again because they need the sales.

According to an interview with DC Comics CCO Geoff Johns at the Comic Book Resources website some of the basics are:
With "Rebirth," the mainline DC Universe titles will be renumbered with new #1s -- except for "Action Comics" and "Detective Comics," the two longest-running series in DC's lineup, which will return to their original numbering at #957 and #934, respectively. All DCU books will return to a $2.99 price point (currently their lineup is split between $3.99 and $2.99 single issues), and select core titles (details to come on exactly which) will shift to a twice-monthly schedule.
Yes, because nothing will set readers straight quite like 30-some comics with shiny new #1s, and two books that are numbered in the 900s.
It started when [DC Co-Publishers] Dan [DiDio] and Jim [Lee] came to me and said that they wanted to end things at #52, and work build back to a shared universe and big stories. They wanted to take another look at everything.
I think that a lot of this goes back to the last "event" at DC, the less than spectacularly selling Convergence. There were some really good stories in that event, and some old time readers were happy to see the return of "their" heroes, even if for just a short time. The problem was that those readers wanted everything turned back to what they were used to. Personally, I think that would have been a bad idea.

I liked what I have read of DC Comics' "New52" line. They brought a lot of freshness and showed a willingness to do comics that weren't "just" super-hero books. We saw the return of horror and war comics, westerns and science fiction, as the powers that be at DC tried to regain the interest of lost readers, and gain new readers. Some of it worked, some didn't. A lot of books ended up getting cancelled because they couldn't find an audience, and the realities of post-Crash comics (even with deep corporate pockets backing the Big Two) mean that comics that once could have been given time and attention to find an audience no longer were given the chance.

This ended up creating a further disconnect between publisher and readers, as books fell to the wayside. It wasn't just DC doing this either, Marvel has had spates of cancellations of low selling books as well (particularly recently). This is just supposition on my part, based with talking to a lot of comic fans of all different walks of life over social media, but it seems to me that this is one of the lowest points for reader faith in the big comic publishers.

Over at Comic Book Resources, Johns says:
I've been a fan for years -- I have over 60,000 comics and 99 percent of them are DC Comics. I really see this as an opportunity, and like I've said before, take all the characters and thematics that we love -- from the past and the present -- and build a story that brought them all together, revealed new secrets and truths and mysteries, and moved it all ahead. Again, as someone who absolutely loves the DC Universe, to me it's maybe lost some things. Not only characters, but more intangibles. Some essence to what makes the "DC Universe" unique and brilliant and unpredictable. And every single character matters -- from Batman to Cassandra Cain to John Stewart to Saturn Girl to Blue Beetle to Lois Lane-- everyone is someone's favorite. And in comics, anything's possible.
"Everyone is someone's favorite." That right there is the bedrock of fandom, and why waves of cancellations brought dissatisfaction to readers. "Everyone is someone's favorite." This is something that I see often come up in comics conversations online, people don't feel that they should invest themselves in comics because they will probably end up being cancelled. With DC we've seen Blue Beetle, Static Shock and Jonah Hex books get caneled. Soon we will see books like Black Canary go away. Why? Because they want to bring back Birds of Prey (apparently).

I am not alone in feeling that the current (at the time of this writing) Black Canary book is pretty great. It is quirky and original, taking a character who was fairly generic in the New52 relaunch and making her interesting. The creative team found a way to make the character engaging, and something more than what she had been previously. I had always enjoyed this character, but in its 50+ years of history and stories it was typically little more than a face in a group, or part of the side story of some other character. For the first times in my decades of comic reading, I wanted to know what was going to be happening next month with Black Canary. The character became the lead in its adventures, rather than just an adjunct to another character's story.

Having Birds of Prey come back is great, particularly if it means that we will get to see a return of Lady Blackhawk to comics. But, part of my problem, part of where this disconnect between publishers and readers is that for those of us for whom Black Canary has found engagement cancelling her book so that the character can go back to being a team player is nonsensical. Women-lead comics shouldn't be a zero sum game.
It's in the same vein as "Green Lantern: Rebirth" and "The Flash: Rebirth." Some things alter and change, but it's more character-driven, and it's also more about revealing secrets and mysteries within the DC Universe about "Flashpoint" and The New 52 that are part of a bigger tapestry. A hidden and forbidden secret.
So, DC Universe Rebirth is going to be about restoring a legacy to DC Comics. We're going to get a new Justice Society book. The currently ongoing Titans Hunt mini is going to restore the classic Teen Titans to the DC Universe (I'm still not entirely sure how they're going to get around some of the changes like Cyborg being in the Justice League, but I'm guessing that he isn't going to have been a Titan now period). But, still, is it too little, too late?

A big part of the problem that DC Comics has had with issues of its own continuity have always been because the "fresh starts" have always been half steps. Whether it was Crisis On Infinite Earths, Zero Hour, Infinite Crisis or even the New52, each time there has been a reboot they have tried to make everything new and not change anything that they didn't have to change. For the New52, DC had Grant Morrison rationalize a way for a new character...who could still access the old stories (like Doomsday). In the Batman books Batman had three Robins over the course of five years, one of them dying and coming back to life. So much could have gone so simpler with a clean sweep each of these times.

But they didn't, and that is partially what brought DC to this point today.

Comics have been an important part of my life since before I could read. They've inspired many other of my hobbies throughout my life. Now I am wondering if this might now just be the jumping off point for the Big Two.

Update: DC Comics has announced the schedule for the next few months, so we know what titles are surviving and some of the new launches. None of these have announced creative teams.

Rebirth Specials:

New #1 Issues (Shipping twice monthly):

New Issues (Shipping twice monthly):

Rebirth Specials:

New #1 Issues (Shipping twice monthly):

New #1 Issues (Shipping monthly):

Rebirth Specials:

New #1 Issues (Shipping twice monthly):

New #1 Issues (Shipping monthly):
• EARTH 2 #1


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

One Million Moms Goes After Olive Garden Over Fox's Lucifer Show

This has been all over much of the comics-related geek media, but the organization known as One Million Moms has targeted restaurant chain The Olive Garden over its sponsorship of the new Fox TV show Lucifer. Lucifer the TV show is in turn based upon the successful Vertigo Comics comic that itself spun out of the even more successful Sandman comic by Neil Gaiman and a variety of artists.

This organization has previously attempted boycotts against the 21st century when they fought against a gay male character in Archie Comics, railed against both Marvel and DC Comics for including gay characters in their children's entertainment and an "adult" version of The Muppets.

One thing that you will note that is in common with all of this organization's "campaigns" would be a lack of success. I think that is is interesting that they target The Olive Garden, while leaving both Fox and DC Comics (parent company of publisher Vertigo Comics alone). Part of this is because Fox was targeted when the show was a resounding lack of success...and DC Comics have been target any number of times by anti-diversity groups (also to a resounding lack of success).

The thing is that inside of the geek communities, we have similar regressive elements to deal with. We have to deal with misogyny from within our communities, most particularly those people who think that they are being helpful to "lady gamers." Every community has its share of stupid, but perhaps because of social fallacies, they get a gimme because "he's a nice guy" or "you just don't know him" or any other number of reasons. As a middle-aged white guy, it is particularly dismaying to see so much of this coming from my particular demographic. I will admit that I have not always been the most enlightened of people, and that I have made mistakes, but it would scare me if I still held beliefs now that I held in my childhood, or even 20 or 30 years ago.

The slurs against gays that were once considered okay, are not okay. Treating woman as if they need guidance from men is not okay. Being an ass to someone because of the color of their skin, or because of their belief system is not okay. More and more anymore, I wonder why it seems that so many people are still struggling with the idea that people are just people. Yes, it is easier to hold onto old views, old ideas, but fighting against the changes in the world, or better saying that people who are against your archaic views are the actual problems, isn't going to magically roll things back and make it 1972 again.

Fanaticism, regardless of the group that it comes from, is not pleasant. We need to do better, we need to treat people better than this.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Sometimes Super-Hero RPGs Don't Have To Be About The Superpowers

Two of my favorite comic runs are John Ostrander's Suicide Squad and Kieth Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis' Justice League books from the late 80s/early 90s. Both of these spun out of one of DC Comics' post-Crisis on Infinite Earths events called Legends. Legends was a pretty cool mini-series written by Ostrander and with art by John Byrne that dealt with one of Darkseid's many plots to conquer the Earth (this time by attacking the "legends" of Earth's super-heroic guardians in order to soften them up for his attack).

One of the things that made these comics interesting to me was the fact that they focused as much on the characters of the books as they did super-powers, sometimes the focus was even more on the characters.

This is good because on of the things that tabletop RPGs do well is to focus on the player characters and their interactions. For many gamers, whether with new or old school approaches to gaming, this is why they tell stories around their characters. For fans of these kinds of games, it makes comics like these excellent models for their games/campaigns.

One of my longest running Classic Marvel Super-Heroes RPG campaigns was influenced by these two books, mostly because they were what I was reading each month as I GMed the campaign. Roleplaying was important to these campaigns, and while we would have elaborate knock-down, drag out fights in the games the players also spent a lot of time talking and developing their characters. Relationships happened. Characters married NPCs. Characters died as players left the group, or decided they wanted new characters. It was interesting because, when we started the campaign, most of the people had never played the game, so I asked them what they wanted for a character and modeled it for them in the rules, or game them a character from my notebooks and they ran with it. One of the cornerstone characters of our campaign, a stereotypical conservative super-hero named Real American, was based off of the character of Golden Boy from the Wildcards novels. The player (who was not all that conservative in real life came up with someone who was a play on conservative super-heroes like Guy Gardener) took the bones of the character and molded a new personality and motivations for the character and made it his own.

One of the ongoing protagonists in our campaign was the super-terrorist group The Jihad from the Suicide Squad comic. After one of the players spent a Christmas missionary trip to Haiti (weirdly during the Haitian Revolution in the 90s), I added a Haitian character to the group patterned after the New Warrior named Night Thrasher. In fact, that player's character was a semi-generic "ninja" who split from the Kali Cult that the Jihad member Ravan belonged to.  Grey Mist tried to turn his training into something for good.

However, this post isn't about how to appropriate characters and tropes from comic books and to use them in your super-hero games. That could probably be a post all on its own.

Honestly, you have to have the "right group" of players if you want a game that is going to focus on characterization and interpersonal relationships. Not wanting to do this isn't a bad thing, but it isn't going to be what ever group is interested in doing (or even capable of doing). You have to be upfont about wanting to run this sort of game, so that players do not have the expectations that this campaign will be more "standard." There is a certain type of player who wants to fight everything all the time, and while they may have a place in some others they can be a detriment.

Now, obviously, you can play this sort of game with any type of roleplaying game, if that is what you want to do. We did it for years with the Marvel Super-Heroes game, so it can be done. Again, though, not everyone is going to want to use a game and "never touch the dice for sessions." They are going to want some sort of mechanical basis for these sorts of interactions. For that, I suggest going with their preferred game to handle these sorts of things mechanically.

For me, running this sort of game could easily be handled by the Fate Accelerated rules without any sort of alteration to the rules. Remember, we're talking about super-heroes "without the super-powers," so a game with a laundry list of powers and abilities could be detrimental to what we want to do. Plus, Fate Accelerated has a number of free options available for grabbing the rules to the game.

One of the first things that you have to come up with, for this kind of game, is a strong theme. For the Teen Titans you could say that the theme is "Teens coping with their powers and difficulties by joining together and helping each other." For the Suicide Squad it could be "Misfits and criminals looking for redemption." The theme for the Justice League of the time could be "B-List Heroes Looking For Recognition." You could probably come up with a couple of variants on these themes, or different ones all together, from each of these comic's stories. The idea is to figure out which sort of story that you want to tell.

Next, once the theme is decided, the players need to decide how they want their characters to fit into this theme, and what sorts of personalities that they want for their characters. Using Fate Accelerated was our guide, we can come up with aspects for Suicide Squad stalwart character Deadshot like this:

High Concept: He Never Misses His Shot...
Trouble: ...Except When He Loves A Woman

I don't think you're often going to see two interrelated aspects like this very often in a Fate character. It fits for the characters, at least as how it was interpreted back in the 80s, and they both work. I like how they sound like a tagline from a movie poster. Some GMs might want you to make these into one aspect, but I think that would be too specific of an aspect, personally. You could change the trouble aspect into something more social like "...Except When He Wants To Fit In" instead. I like the idea of the tough as nails character who knows that he has that flaw when it comes to women/relationships. It makes for a very noirish type of character. Can that trouble be flipped to "...Except When He Loves A Man"? Of course! Play your game how you want to play it.

Use one or two of the aspects remaining to talk about the character's powers, and then fill out the rest of the character's personality. With our de-emphasis on powers, we don't need to sweat a detailed writeup of what Deadshot can do. We already know that he "Never Misses His Shot.." I would use an aspect like "His Battle Armor Is His Weapon To Kill And To Keep People At A Distance." This should be easy to invoke when a combat situation does come up, and it can easily be compelled during other times. While cliched, Deadshot is certainly an archetype for the "Checkered Past" aspect, and "Can't Take The Shot Against Batman" could round out his aspects.

I enjoy this sort of a game, but it isn't going to be for everyone. The important thing to remember when adapting your favorite comic stories to gaming is to look deeper than the surface of the stories that you are enjoying. While the flashy powers are there, and available, in the games, they don't always have to be the focus of your game. There are some really good games that are all about building and using powers. However, this is why variety in available games and playstyles is important to gaming. Ultimately what is important is that each and every group find the system and approach to gaming that works best for them and gets their game on.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Why I Love Superhero RPGs

Comic books have always been my thing. I got into them before I could even read. When I was still a toddler, my parents owned a couple of convenience stores, and they had those wonderful, mythical spinner racks in them. The draw of the brightly colored comics was too much for my young mind, and I was hooked. Even before I could read them.

I really don't know what the first comics that I "read" were, but from vague childish memories I am pretty sure that The Avengers was on that list, most likely (due to my age) something during the Roy Thomas years.

Within a few years, I was going full tilt into comics. The 70s were a great time to get into comics. Marvel was doing some of the best work of their history with creators like Roy Thomas, Steve Englehart, Gerry Conway, Steve Gerber, Neal Adams and Jim Starlin among so many others. I do think that DC Comics came along and stole a lot of the thunder of Marvel in the 80s and 90s, with more cutting edge storytelling, but that is a matter of opinion.

I love comics. I love all sorts of comics. I love mainstream super-hero stuff. I love alt comix. I love the indie books (stuff from the I love the foreign stuff. France has had some great SF comics over the years. 2000 AD and/or Pat Mills have revolutionized the British comics scene. If you have an interest in a genre or type of storytelling, there is probably a comic for it. And that is an awesome thing.

This is where I have always fallen a little out of step with other gamers, I'm just not as big of a fan of fantasy or SF stuff as I have been of comics. Luckily there's always been a strong fantasy tradition in comics (whether any number of Conan comics or quirkier fare like Stalker from Paul Levitz and Steve Ditko), so I've had that to keep me afloat, but I have never really had much of an interest in fantasy literature outside of a couple of authors. I tried some of the "Appendix N" writers with mixed success.

Then in 1985, I stopped playing D&D. It has just never really engaged me in the way that other games have since. Although at the time, if it hadn't been for the original Marvel Super-Heroes game and Call of Cthulhu, I may have stopped gaming altogether.

The Marvel game not only appealed to my being a fan of comics (even though by the time the game came out I had switched my allegiance to DC Comics), but it had that breathtaking simplicity that people talk about when they wax nostalgic over the early editions of D&D. Yes, there were other super-hero RPGs, but the only other that was as fun for me would have been the British Golden Heroes, put out by Games Workshop in the later 80s. The sensibility of that game was so in sync with the British comics of the time, and the American comics that they would later inspire, that the game was really ahead of its time.

There was also the college fling with Palladium's Heroes Unlimited, a game that I also have enjoyed over the years, but only when I need that "class and level" scratch itched.

Why is it that I keep coming back to the Marvel RPG? I think that it hits that personal sweet spot of simplicity and robustness. The game's underlying mechanics look back to an earlier era where a more freeform and imaginative route was encouraged, in that time before people thought that something not addressed directly by the rules of a game meant that the game couldn't do that thing. But mostly, I like the fact that comics, and super-hero comics more specifically, are about just about anything: science fiction, romance, adventure fiction, mythology, horror, magic, intrigue, espionage. All of these things are in super-hero comics, and all of those things can and should be in super-hero RPGs. A good super-hero RPG can be about anything, and for me that is what the Classic Marvel Super-Heroes RPG is. A good super-hero RPG that can do anything.

I'm not going to lie and say that it is a perfect RPG. There's no such animal. What it is, however, is something that is nearly perfect for me. It has flexibility and variety. It holds up fairly well at the high and low ends of the power spectrum for super-heroes. Most super-hero RPGs, I think, hold up better at the higher end of things than the "street level," but there are work arounds for a game like this, and that is why I like it. It has a good framework that I can hack into the game that I want at the table. That is really all that I can ask out of an RPG.

It is true that this game gave my friends and I hours and hours of enjoyment back in college. Everything from random, stupid fights to intricate intercharacter interactions. The rules didn't always support what we wanted to do, but they didn't get in the way of them either. And that, for me, is the point behind an RPG.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Mapping The Multiverse

Maybe it is because I received a copy of the newly revised edition of the Supers! role-playing game in the mail today. Maybe it is because of the fact that Comic Con International: San Diego is going on and I am jealous of all of the comic-related news coming out of there.

I don't make a secret that I am a fan of Grant Morrison's work. I loved his Doom Patrol and Justice League runs more than is probably legal in a number of states. Moreso even than Warren Ellis and his Stormwatch/Authority run, I think that Morrison redefined the super-hero team book during his JLA run. So, today, at Comic Con, on the Multiversity panel (for Morrison's upcoming mini-series redefining the DC Comics Multiverse) they revealed maps of the Multiverse, according to Morrison's story.

What do these maps make me want to do? They make me want to run a super-hero game that runs across worlds and planes of existence. Something that kicks some major ass. On the panel Morrison said:
"It has a concordance of every earth, with who lives there and which superhero teams are there.  There is a big story there too with Kamandi and Batman,” Morrison added.  It will literally define each of the 52 universes explicitly while showing what is going on in each one.  It was inspired by an old issue of Jack Kirby‘s Kamandi where Kirby drew a map of the western hemisphere to show what has been happening in different places. 
 How can this be bad?

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Constantine And Flash Pilots Leaked To The Internet

So, this week the pilot episodes for the upcoming The Flash and Constantine series were leaked to the internet. They are easy enough to find, if you are so inclined. This post is going to talk about these pilots, so if you don't want to know anything until they away now.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Invisibles Friday: Poor People Gonna Rise Up...

So, every Friday now I am going to post about an issue of the Grant Morrison comic The Invisibles. Part of me wants to just pick issues at random and talk about them, but I'll be good and stick to talking about the run in order. I'm going to be honest, despite having loved comics like The Doom Patrol and Sebastian O, I was not a huge fan of this comic at first. The first story arc  just didn't connect with me like some of Morrison's previous work had done.

I read the first story arc and decided that the book wasn't for me.

Then months later I read about the controversy surrounding the book in the comic press (back in the days when we read magazines to find out about what was going on in comics). DC Comics had some dialog changed in the book, in one case a line spoken by the Marquis de Sade was changed so that it would not sound as if children were being "used" in the story, and in another case a reference to Walt Disney was blacked out. What is interesting is the fact that both bits were restored to what Morrison intended in the collected editions.

However, the article that talked about the censoring also talked about the second story arc Arcadia, and the article intrigued me enough to pick the book back up and start reading it again. I didn't stop until the book ended its run.

The Invisibles has received a lot of press and critical thought over the years. I am not sure what this series is going to contribute to that body of work, but we will see. My intention isn't to be scholarly or to compile annotations. I am just going to go through each issue, give my thoughts and impressions and talk about what I saw in that book. Breaking down all of the magical symbolism will probably take a stronger mind than mine.

Beetles and Beatles play an important role in this first issue. Beetles play an important part in the symbolism of birth and rebirth, and that is the running theme of this first story arc (and most of the run of The Invisibles as well). Dane McGowan must be reborn into his role of Jack Frost in order to save the world from Armageddon. This is a theme that Morrison uses often. His JLA run dealt with the Earth's super-heroes running up against the ultimate Armageddon in the form of the sleeping God Weapon Mageddon. This wasn't an unusual theme around the millennium.

John Lennon is the other Beatle toplay a part in the story. Dane see him talking with Stuart Sutcliffe on the banks of a Liverpool river, a moment of soft time when the past and the future were able to touch. Later in the issue Lennon is adapted in Chaos Magick style into a psychedelic Godshead and summoned by King Mob as an augury of the future.
Is Lennon actually being summoned, or it is just a metafictional trick of King Mob's unconscious mind, telling him what he already knows to be true? In a book like The Invisibles the answer can go either way.

For a lot of people, Grant Morrison is a fairly incomprehensible writer. He certainly doesn't write the typical comic book stories, whether he's working on a book like The Invisibles or comics like New X-Men or JLA. He has a certain psychedelic style (of which the above page is fairly representative) and an enthusiasm for the medium that I find contagious. I may not like everything that he does, but when he is on I think he is one of the best writers in comics.

The antagonists introduced in this issue show two of Morrison's influences writ large: Williams S. Burroughs and H.P. Lovecraft. The reason that I use the more generic term of "antagonist," because I am not always convinced that King Mob and his Invisibles cell are always the hero of this story. Even as the "good guys," they do a lot of things that don't set them that far from the antagonists.

Control is bad. Freedom is awesome. It is Michael Moorcock's Law versus Chaos, D&D great, eternal conflict, done up in comic book form. This isn't anything new, really. DC Comics has used a version of Moorcock's Law vs. Chaos for decades in their book. This won't be the only time that Moorcock's influence will show up in this book.

I think that for me, a big part of the appeal of this book (once it really had my attention) was the fact that it took a lot of the things that I was interested in: Moorcock, Lovecraft, Burroughs; and wrote about them in a new context. Throughout the run we will see visits from the Divine Marquis, Borges and P.K. Dick on the evolving story as well.

One thing that I will likely get to in one of these posts was the Grant Morrison Versus Warner Brothers story that happened, as Morrison claimed that the movie The Matrix took some of the concepts of The Invisibles without crediting him for them. As we will see, the theme of initiation (so important to occult thinking) will be important to this first story arc, and as initiation is a fairly universal literary/mystic theme it is not unusual that stories that deal with the theme will have some points of commonality.

Corridors are an important theme as well, as they are symbolic of journeys and traveling. This is something that will pop up more than once as we go through these comics.

Let's get down to the nitty gritty. How did this comic hold up? I almost wish that I hadn't read these comics in a long while, so that I could come at them with a fresher perspective. That said, I do still think that they hold up fairly well. Grant Morrison's The Invisibles is part of a British cultural "invasion," not all that different from the invasion lead by The Beatles in the 60s. Morrison's work represents a comic/literary aspect, falling in step with musicians like Blur and Oasis, of a movement that took the popular culture of the past and synthesized it into something that was representative of the (then) current times. A lot of the fears and insecurities that The Invisibles comments upon are still plaguing the world as well.

With The Invisibles, Morrison gives us a millennial view of Britian in comic book form, not dis-similar to what Jamie Delano gave us in the 80s with Hellblazer, the first John Constantine solo comic. Both of these comics are an attempt to look into the psyche of the nation of their respective times. In a way, it builds upon the British comics culture started by magazines like 2000AD and creators like Pat Mills.

As we will see, more even than mainstream books like JLA or even Aztek, The Invisibles will show us the heights and depths of Morrison's powers as a creator. Some of his greatest storytelling is going to happen in these pages, and we are going to go along for the ride.

Why should you read The Invisibles if you haven't already? Well, if you like any of the authors that I have listed as being influential on this comic then you might like this comic as well. If you are looking for a comic that makes you think, is more than just a passive form of storytelling, and that deals with more than just comic book super-heroes, you should check out The Invisibles. Sometimes horror, sometimes fantasy and sometimes science fiction, this comic is most likely the story that Morrison was meant to tell in comics. So, even if you have only read his work on Batman, or Action Comics, check out a couple of the early issues of this on Comixology or pick up the first trade from your local comic store (or your preferred internet seller) and give it a try. There's a lot in here for gamers to find as well. If you're looking for something new for your modern horror or adventure campaigns, you could do much worse than to tap into the energies of Grant Morrison's The Invisibles.

Next week we will be back with a look at the second issue.

Now, since music was an important influence on Morrison's writing I am going to close with an unrelated music video. I think that it ties in well enough with the story of Dane that I named this post after a quote from it.

We're talking about a revolution...

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Killing Joke Original Art Raises Questions of Story's Intent (NSFW)

This appeared up on Twitter today, and it is interesting because it adds an overtly sexual angle to the story, and The Joker's tortures of both Barbara and James Gordon. What was it that Alan Moore intended with this piece of art?

On the off chance that the art goes away from Twitter, here's another copy:

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

DC Nation: Wonder Woman Short

DC Comics has put the first three parts of a Wonder Woman short that is going to be part of their DC Nation block on the Cartoon Network. It is sort of Wonder Woman meets Aeon Flux meets The Prisoner set in the 1970s. Check these out.

I hope you enjoy them. I know that I did.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

IDW Publishing's Star Trek/Legion of Super-Heroes Crossover In Review

IDW Publishing and DC Comics crossed over two of the venerable properties of science fiction: Star Trek and the Legion of Super-Heroes. The Legion has almost a decade on Star Trek, but they are both the product of the hopefully optimistic sub-genre of science fiction that was prevalent in the 50s and 60s. Thankfully, this mini-series (written by the ever prolific Chris Roberson) did not take the route of all too many contemporary comics by adding a veneer of "reality" to this hopefulness by making the characters suddenly grim and gritty.

The story is steeped in the mythology of both universes, and the characters are true to their origins. Roberson has done a much better job than a lot of crossover writers in this regard. I think that I would have liked it better if the motivation behind the crossover was from the original Star Trek series instead of something from The Next Generation, but overall that is probably a minor quibble.

I did like the little touches of characterizations, like Kirk flirting with Shadow Lass or Cosmic Boy talking about history. I do think that the bits between Spock and Brainiac Five probably should have been a bit more contentious, but I think that Brainiac Five's exasperation with Spock, at times, was a good handling of how the character would react to having to deal with another intelligent scientist being in the room. There were a lot of characters to deal with in this crossover, but I think that McCoy and Uhura were a bit shortchanged.

I did like melding the alternate timeline with classic DC Comics science fiction characters, and the Star Trek characters being convinced that they were in the Mirror Universe was funny at times.

Overall, this was a well done comic. Roberson's writing was better in this book than in other recent crossovers that I have read by him, but I think that is probably due to having a freer hand from editorial edicts. The writing is sharp, the characterizations are spot on and the overall plot is engaging. Roberson does just to the characters and tries his best to give everyone as much screen time as possible, within constraints of the story. Not only do I recommend picking this up, but I hope that this did well enough to warrant future crossovers. I would love to see a story that allows the characters to deal with each other's universes, rather than the "crossover world" created for this. I think that we need to see a scene where Scotty tries to correct Brainiac Five's repairs of the Enterprise.

The trade edition of this comic is out and available in comic stores now. Rush to your local comic store and pick up your copy today.

Friday, June 14, 2013

A Preview of IDW Publishing's Star Trek / Legion of Super-Heroes Trade

The trade collection of IDW Publishing's cross-over between the Star Trek and Legion of Super-Heroes universes has come out in the collected edition, while you wait for my review of it, check out this 11 page preview from IDW Pubishing that gives a hint at how writer Chris Roberson managed to merge the two settings.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Justice League of America and Vibe First Issues

When I read the new first issues of Justice League of America and Justice League of America's Vibe from DC Comics, I have to say that I had low expectations. I have much of the run of the Justice League Detroit from the months in between J'onn J'onzz making his triumphant return to the Justice League to the lead-up to the Crisis on Infinite Earths that lead to the deaths of a good chunk of the Detroit-era League.

I will say right now that I thought that the Detroit-era of the Justice League was a great idea. On paper. Unfortunately, that idea hit some speedbumps on the way to getting to the final stories. One of those major speedbumps was Vibe. To be honest, the portrayal of the character had all of the subtlety of being hit in the head with a bowling ball. One thing that DC Comics had a hard time recovering from, after Marvel Comic's surge of popularity in the 60s and 70s, was that all of their characters were pretty much white middle class guys (except of course for the billionaire white guys), and there wasn't much for readers of color to grab on to with DC's books. I'm sure that was part of the reason for a multicultural approach to this run of the Justice League. It just wasn't very good and to prove that it wasn't very good, the final story arc lead to the death of a couple of the new characters and the ending of this version of the Justice League.

So, let's fast forward to 2013 (and ignore the "return" of the Detroit-era  Justice League in Darkest Night) and we see a return of some of the ideas of that team to the New 52. There's a new multicultural Justice League in town, and it is set in Detroit again. Michigan native Geoff Johns launches this new Justice League of America book (although he will be replaced by a permanent writer), probably in order to tie it more tightly into the next "Aquaman" of the New 52, the comic with the awkwardly long name of The Justice League of America's Vibe (hereafter known as Vibe). I'm sure that's to avoid "confusion" with the magazine of the same name, but who really knows.

The set-up of Justice League of America #1 and Vibe #1 are both the same: Darkseid's attempted invasion of Earth from the initial story arc of John's and Jim Lee's Justice League comic. Detroit was the first beachhead of Darkseid's invasion, and also the place where the first person died: the brother of Francisco "Cisco" Ramon, the man who will become the super-hero Vibe. Cisco was caught in the first Boom Tube opened onto Earth, and was saved by his brothers Armando and Dante. Armando was killed by a Parademon in the attempt, but did save his brother.Being caught in this Boom Tube is what has given Cisco his powers: the ability to sense beings from other dimensions (due to their differing vibrational rates) and a powerset of vibrational-oriented abilities.

Both of these comics set up the background of the formation of this new Justice League, and Vibe becoming a super-hero. I think the whole "the unlikeliest hero" is a bit too cute and self-aware on the part of Johns and DC Comics. Yes, we get that no one liked Vibe from the first time around but there were reasons for that. These comics do a much better job this time around, and I'm not the only one who thinks that. Vibe is a much less stereotypical character this time around, and I think that is what will potentially keep this book going, not any marketing ploys.

Another Detroit-era character, former mentor and support staff member James Gunn returns as a member of the secret government organization A.R.G.U.S. (no where near as cool or fun as S.H.A.D.E. but an attempt by the powers that be at DC Comics to make something like Marvel's S.H.I.E.L.D.) and mentor and support staff to the new Justice League of America. I'm not 100% sold on A.R.G.U.S. within the setting yet, it just seems too derivative even after a year. Throw in Steve Trevor as a super-spy and Suicide Squad/Team 7 member/leader Amanda Waller running the whole shebang and I'm still not entirely sold on the concept. Another thing that I didn't think that I would be saying, but Vibe definitely came out of the gate a lot stronger than Justice League of America, which makes sense since Vibe does have a much smaller cast to deal with.

However, these are both good comics. I'm not the biggest fan of Geoff Johns. He is a good writer, don't get me wrong, but he can be very uneven in his storytelling. His work on Green Lantern tended towards being overly long, and sometimes convoluted, and his work on Justice League is no where near as strong as what he had done with the Justice Society in the past. That said, Johns brings an incredible amount of enthusiasm to any book that he writes. Love or hate his work, but this is a man who is motivated by love for characters. Unfortunately, as I said, that doesn't always promise quality but it can bring good things to any book that the man works on.

Are these books worth buying? Yes. I would say that Vibe is definitely the "must have" book of the two. Johns has tied this new character deeply into the story of the New 52, and that means that there are going to be some big things happening in this book (as demonstrated by the reveal on the last page that I am not going to spoil), and they are going to be important to the advancement of the setting. Justice League of America is still a wildcard for me. I know that this is also supposed to be important to the advancement of the overall setting, but I'm just not feeling it as much as I did with Vibe. Probably because there is so much going on, and so many characters to introduce that there wasn't as much of a chance for storytelling.

The opinion in the comics blogosphere seems to be that Vibe will be the book that won't last, but comparing these two first issues I am going to say that it has much longer legs (so far) than Justice League of America. I'm not saying that I expect the book to be cancelled, I am just saying that of the two, Vibe was the stronger comic. You should buy both Justice League of America and Vibe, but you should buy the hell out of Vibe.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Howard Chaykin and Shadowmania

1986 was a heady year for comics. Two stories that have since come to be regarded as modern classics were released by DC Comics: Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons Watchmen and Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns. Both of these books have left their marks on comic books. Moore and Gibbons' Watchmen has become for many the highwater mark for comic book storytelling, while Miller's Dark Knight single-handedly altered the course of The Batman forever. Somewhere in the middle of all of this was released a four-issue miniseries that has every bit of the same right to be considered a masterpiece of comics as those other two series: Howard Chaykin's The Shadow.

Since Dynamite Comics is publishing a new trade edition of this mini-series, I will try to avoid spoilers in the story itself for those who have not yet experienced this masterful comic.

Howard Chaykin is a comic artist and writer, sometimes doing on or the other on a book and sometimes doing both. With The Shadow Chaykin wrote and drew the book, infusing it with his characteristic fusion of 1940s period dress with a modern sensibility. Previous to doing The Shadow, Chaykin was known most for having done some well-regarded fantasy series for DC Comics and the early run of the blockbuster Star Wars comic from Marvel Comics. Chaykin has the rare distinction of being one of the first people outside of Lucas' production company to create original material for the Star Wars Universe, helping to usher in what we now know as the Expanded Universe. Chaykin also adapted Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination and worked with British fantasist Michael Moorcock for Heavy Metal magazine. He also found the time to create one of the earliest independent comics in 1976 with Star Reach, and his seminal character Cody Starbuck.

Each of Chaykin's works informs the next, and it was with characters like Cody Starbuck, Dominic Fortune, and of course Han Solo that he became known for his roguish male lead characters. In The Shadow, this disposition towards the roguish lead was married to an old school social conservative to make his interpretation of Kent Allard/Lamont Cranston/The Shadow. Chaykin's Shadow is probably one of the more fleshed out interpretations of the character too, leagues away from the cipher of a character that plagued the radio shows and some of the more poorly-written instances of the pulp magazines.

In this mini-series Chaykin made a ballsy move that upset a lot of pulp purists...he moved The Shadow into the modern day of 1986. Before this pulp characters adapted to comics either existed still in their original eras or were "updated" to a hazy setting that could be the contemporary world, or it could still be the past. A lot of people did not like that Chaykin moved the story to a contemporary setting. However, the strength of this idea is that it pitted the character of The Shadow, who was still very much rooted in a pre-World War II social and psychological mindset, against the contemporary world of 1986. As with any Chaykin work, this play of the vintage against the contemporary is a method of showing that change is both good and bad, and the past should not always be viewed through rose-colored glasses. The Shadow's attitude towards women is compared to that of his contemporaries, like Harry Vincent (an important supporting character from the original pulp stories), who have been exposed to the changes for forty years and have been able to adapt to those changes. The Shadow is still very much the force of nature that he was in the pre-War days, and still he has to come to grips with the societal changes around him as well as the physical changes to New York City.

The plot of this mini-series is launched by having a number of The Shadow's operatives from his early exploits, now old, being targeted and killed by an unknown villain. This serves to bring The Shadow out of his lengthy retirement in the Himalayas. The Shadow himself is unchanged and unaged in the near forty years since he was last in New York City, and now establishes himself as the son of his original cover identity of Lamont Cranston. Assembling a team of his remaining operatives from the 1940s and new contemporary operatives (including two sons that he had while retired), The Shadow moves against this new villain. The balance of these issues deals with The Shadow and his operatives uncovering the villains of the piece and finally moving against him.

Despite the opinions of those who felt (and those who probably still feel this way) that the adventures of The Shadow should have remained in their original historical period, I think that a great deal of the success of this story came because Chaykin decided to update the time period to the contemporary. Much of the tension of the story comes from the interplay between The Shadow and his "unenlightened" (according to other characters in the story) attitudes. The Shadow as a man out of time is as much of a driving factor to the story as the actions of the villain of the piece. The story is an engaging one, although ironic because now the setting of 1986 is a historical one as well. For some current readers, the 1980s can be just as foreign as the 1930s of the original pulp stories.

I do think that the story holds up well, regardless. The characters (new and old) hold up well and Chaykin demonstrates that he can write a Shadow story in the vein of the original pulps and update it at the same time. This mini-series was the launching point for a long-running on-going series featuring the characters which would lead to some of The Shadow's strangest adventures. Fans of the pulps should enjoy this story because of the loyalty to the characters and concepts of the original pulp stories (despite the time period updating). Fans of Chaykin's current work should enjoy this story because of how it shows the development of some of his now standard storytelling tropes. If you would be bothered by a lot of people in 1930s-era clothing in the 1980s, this might not be the comic for you.

I am glad to see that this story is getting a new lease on life, and a printing up to modern standards. I never picked up the first trade collection of these comics and have had to rely on my original comics over the years. At least now I can get a good trade collection and I can put away the comics.