Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Superman #1

Well, the December doldrums appear to have hit rather hard this year Despite my best efforts to keep to a schedule, I am almost a month behind schedule with these posts. I can only apologise and ask you to bear with me whilst the Christmas trading season runs its course and I can get back to normality in the new year.

Just a few notes on Superman-related projects that are in progress right now. From Crisis to Crisis is just about to enter the true Neverending Battle era with the launch of Superman: The Man Of Steel #1. Charlie Niemeyer has launched a podcast covering the Bronze Age of Superman, appropriately titled Superman in the Bronze Age. It's up to its third episode, and is doing a great job of presenting the final days of the Silver Age Superman, from the first issue that Julius Schwarz edited onwards. Also, the Superman Forever podcast has altered its format to include coverage of the post-Infinite Crisis Superman, starting with Up, Up and Away. They've just started this, and it makes a great jumping on point for a great podcast.

With all of this Superman attention, I can hear you asking, 'Shouldn't there be a podcast covering the Golden Age of Superman?' Well, I've heard about some plans for this that should be arriving in 2011. I know the people behind this podcast, and I've heard an excerpt from the first episode, and I'm really excited about this project.

But that's enough teasing and promoting. We have a comic to look at.

Heart of Stone

Story and Pencils: John Byrne
Guest Inker: Terry Austin
Letterer: John Costanza
Colorist: Tom Ziuko
Editor: Andrew Helfer
Cover Date: January 1987
Release Date: 09/10/1986

Superman bursts in on an abandoned, lead-lined laboratory. He has spent three months searching for the missing birthing matrix. Working his way through the lab he discovers a sealed room, and on entering he finds that it is full of images and data concerning himself. Realising that his suspicions of being photographed (in Man of Steel #4) were accurate, he is then surprised to discover the six-week-old body of a scientist laid on a table, along with an acid bath containing fragments of human bone. To protect the data and to preserve the crime scene, Superman burrows around the laboratory, using his heat vision to fuse the silicates in the soil into steel, before lifting the entire complex into orbit.

Superman returns to Earth and changes to Clark Kent, to allow him to keep a jogging date with Lois Lane. As the two run, they hear an alarm from a nearby bank. Moving to investigate, they discover that the metal doors have been bent out of shape. Suddenly, Lois is grabbed by the bank robber. Clark attacks him, and rolls with a punch to get out of sight so that he can change back to Superman. The robber ignores him, bragging to Lois Lane that he is Metallo, and that he is as powerful as Superman. Superman arrives to contest this, but is surprised when he is hurled clean through a wall and across the street. He shakes off a moment of dizziness and returns to Metallo.

As the two fight, Lois climbs behind the teller's desk to find a tunnel in the floor. She rationalises that Superman tunelled Clark out of the bank to get him to safety. Turning around, she sees that Superman is losing the fight. Superman feels like his powers are draining away. He asks Metallo why he is doing this, but Metallo doesn't feel like answering his questions. He is interrupted by shotgun blasts from the MCU that knock Metallo back. Superman's strength starts to return, and he deduces that Metallo is dead, as he cannot hear a heartbeat. However, Metallo is not dead, and he gets the jump on Superman, telling him that he is going to kill him. The fight continues, with Metallo the stronger fighter.

In flashback, we see the origin of Metallo. He awakes in the laboratory from the start of the issue, and sees his metallic hands. A scientist explains that he has the power to kill Superman. The scientist had witnessed Superman's arrival on Earth in the birthing matrix, and had retrieved the matrix. There he witnessed a part of Jor-El's message, and became convinced that Superman was the vanguard of an alien invasion. He reveals a chunk of kryptonite, a material deadly to Superman, and implants it in Metallo's chest cavity. Realising that the kryptonite will power him forever, Metallo decides that he doesn't need the scientist and strangles him.

Lex Luthor is alerted to the fight between Metallo and Superman. He is angered when he discovers that Metallo could kill Superman, as he had promised to kill Superman himself.

The fight continues, causing the bank to collapse. Metallo emerges from the rubble, his synthetic skin destroyed revealing his robotic body, and grasping Superman's tattered cape. Superman surfaces as well, barely able to stand, but still determined to stop Metallo. Metallo responds by opening his chest cavity, fully exposing Superman to the kryptonite within. Superman collapses in agony, and is only saved when Metallo is inexplicably taken from the scene. Quickly recovering, he asks Lois what happened, but all she can say is that a black shadow fell over Metallo and he disappeared. Superman is concerned that his weakness to kryptonite has quickly become public knowledge, and he knows that someone kidnapped Metallo to get access to kryptonite.

There's a lot to like about this issue. Metallo becomes the first member of Superman's super-powered villains to be updated for the post-Crisis era (discounting the Bizarro from Man of Steel #5, which wasn't even called Bizarro). He bursts onto the scene, posing a credible and lethal threat, bringing Superman to his knees. He is unstoppable, and the city of Metropolis reacts to his attack on Superman in a way that reminds me of when Superman fought Doomsday for the first time. The moment where the bank has collapsed on top of Metallo and Superman, with neither surfacing, is a real heart-stopper. Before the relaunch, every reader would have known that Superman would be victorious, but this early in the post-Crisis era. there is a real feeling that anything could happen. When Superman does reappear, victorious is the last thing that he is. Wracked with pain, barely able to stand, the strength of his character is that he still does not submit, even when exposed to a large chunk of kryptonite for the first time. Even at the end of the issue, all is not well with Superman, and the final panel clearly shows a beaten and bruised Superman who has not fully weathered the fight.

There is a deus ex machina element to the climax of the issue, where an unknown force abducts Metallo, inadvertently saving Superman's life. The next issue reveals this force to have been Luthor (sorry for the spoilers guys, but this comic is twenty-three years old!), and the fact that he has succeeded where Superman failed only serves to strengthen his position and power in this new continuity.

The art here is fantastic. Byrne is no longer providing his own inks, with Terry Austin coming aboard as 'Guest Inker', but in reality staying around for the next three issues until Karl Kesel arrives. The art seems a little crisper than that of The Man of Steel. There's a lovely touch where Metallo's flashbacks to his creation are tinged with green, as if filtered through his kryptonite-powered body (although, considering that the kryptonite gets implanted in his chest just before the flashbacks end, there technically isn't any reason to do so.). Metallo is an imposing presence, especially when his full robot form is revealed (deliciously, with scraps of his fake skin still in place), and the decision to show him in silhouette when he opens up his chest to unleash the kryptonite really heightens his inhumanity.

If there is a disappointment with the issue it's that the minor plot threat that has run throughout The Man of Steel is underwhelmingly resolved here. The shadowy figure, Dr Emmet Vale, dies before he gets the chance to meet Superman, and the menace his unknown presence provided throughout the miniseries is revealed to be psychotic paranoia. His work to uncover as much about Superman as possible is lost when Metallo kills him, and Metallo never shows any sign of having absorbed that information in the future. My memory is being a little faulty, but I cannot remember the laboratory, so carefully placed into orbit, ever becoming a concern again. (As an aside, considering that Vale is willing to handle kryptonite and uranium with no more protection than rubber gloves, his body is probably so wracked with radiation that he is effectively a dead man walking.).

We also have an example in this issue of a Byrne-specific element of the rebooted Superman, that would fade away once Byrne left the book. When Superman is raising the lab into orbit, he notices that the mass has lost its weight once he starts flying, as opposed to being heavy when he was lifting it out of the ground. He then notes that it is as if he is moving the mass with the force of his mind. One of the trademarks of Byrne's reinvention of Superman was to look at how Superman's powers worked, and this is an example of one of those reworkings. Basically, the idea is that if Superman is standing on the ground lifting something, then it is really heavy and he is using his strength to lift it. However, Superman can fly, and when he does so, he uses his mind to make himself fly, at the same time, reducing his weight. Thus, if he is flying something heavy, such as a stolen laboratory containing illicitly-gained research about himself, then like his body it loses its weight. This re-evaluation of Superman's powers also includes the idea that Superman emits a bio-electrical field which prevents fabric sitting close to his skin from coming to harm, although this idea would outlast the pseudo-telepathic-flight one.

The Geeky Bits: As part of the relaunch, the decision was taken to cancel the first volume of Superman, transfer its numbering to the new title Adventures of Superman, and relaunch Superman as volume 2, issue 1. The decision was a fairly simple one - a hard reboot of the Superman numbering would be a strong message to readers, and allow the new ongoings to launch with a bang, as opposed to issue 424 of a 45 year-old comic. As Dick Giordano is quoted in John Byrne's column at the end of the issue, it was "History on the drawing board."

Dr Emmet Vale is pretty much a non-figure in the Superman universe. Other than a brief flashback in 1992s Adventures of Superman #491, his only other appearance is in an alternate universe in the Zero Hour tie-in issue of Action Comics (#703) where, in the other universe, he is the owner of the farm next door to the Kents. In the 2009 Secret Origin miniseries he briefly appears as the chief scientist on the METALLO armour project that leads into the first public appearance of Superman.

Clark here acts on his statement from The Man of Steel #6, where he vows to go after Lois Lane. Here, the two share a jogging date and the animosity from the Superman article of six years previously appears to be a thing of the past.

Metallo and the kryptonite next appear in Superman #2.

Want to know more? This issue of Superman was covered on the third episode of From Crisis to Crisis. It is collected in the second volume of the Man of Steel reprint series.

Next on World of Superman: The great Marv Wolfman and the great Jerry Ordway arrive to kick off their year together on Adventures of Superman with issues #424.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

The Man Of Steel #6

If it's Sunday night, then it must be time for a posting. Hey, I kept to my schedule for an entire week!

I've been having a bit of a Superman-heavy week this week. I've been re-reading the entirety of Time and Time Again to allow me catch up with 3 weeks worth of From Crisis To Crisis, approximately 7.5 hours of podcasting. I had suffered one of my periodic itunes library crashes, and in the course of attempting to restore all my user-created data, especially my playlists, I accidentally deleted my podcast folder, along with all of my active subscriptions. I've got them back, but I had a wonderful bug with FCTC that resulted in every episode attempting to download at once, even though I only clicked the 'subscribe' button. So, Michael, Jeffrey, that huge volume of downloading that made your stats look good last week? That was me. Sorry!

Anyway, I got caught up, just in time for them to release another episode, so I had to do the reading and more listening. The blog got another brief shoutout, although I am a little concerned that my last two podcast shout-outs have resulted in the hosts forgetting the name of the site! This little mishap aside, the episode was great, and a rarity for FCTC as they got to spend the entire episode working with comics that they didn't like so much, which was a nice change of pace.

All this rambling aside, I've also been looking at the final issue of The Man of Steel, also the final issue before we hit the relaunched titles from January 1987. Come and take a look with me!

The Haunting

Written and Pencilled by John Byrne
Inked by Dick Giordano
Colored by Tom Ziuko
Lettered by John Costanza
Edited by Andrew Helfer
Cover Art: John Byrne
Cover Date: December 1986
Release Date: 25/09/1986

Superman returns home to Smallville, changing to Clark Kent at super-speed to give the appearance of him arriving at the bus station. As he and his parents make small talk on the way to the farm, Jonathan is quickly silenced before he can give something away. Over dinner, Clark lays out his problems with Lois, the fact that she both resents Clark for scooping her on the Superman story, and her gentle infatuation with Superman.

That night, unable to sleep, Clark sneaks downstairs for some pie. He is surprised to see a ghostly apparition in the kitchen that speaks to him in an alien language. The apparition reaches out for Clark, and as soon as it touches him, Clark finds himself on another planet, dressed in his Superman costume, and able to speak the alien language. A figure approaches him and mistakes him for Jor-El. Realising her mistake, the figure realises that Clark is her son. As Clark tries to process this, he suddenly snaps back to Earth and sees Lana Lang in front of him.

Clark has been sleepwalking during his experience and has ended up at Lana's house. As he gets his head together, he asks Lana what she is doing back in Smallville, as she had left years ago. Lana reminds him of the last time they met, years ago. On the night he discovered that he was adopted and an alien, Clark turned up at her house late at night. They went for a walk, and Lana started to wonder if he was going to propose to her. Instead, Clark took her in his arms and flew into the sky with her. Landing, he gently kissed her goodbye, and left Smallville. Unsure of anything, Lana felt lost and confused, and it took many years for her to come to terms with what had happened.

Parting on good terms, Clark changes to Superman and returns to the field where the birthing matrix crashed. He is surprised to discover that the matrix has disappeared. As he starts to investigate vehicle tracks, the apparition appears again. He touches Superman, causing him to collapse in pain as images and information streams into his mind. Jonathan and Martha arrive, having spent the day searching for Clark in the truck. Seeing the apparition apparently attacking Superman, Jonathan grabs a shovel and whacks the apparition, causing it to disappear in a flash. Superman reveals that the apparition called him 'his son', and flies away to think about what just happened.

As he flies, Superman realises that the apparition and the woman were his real mother and father, Lara and Jor-El. He discovers the story of Krypton, its tragic end, and the fact that he is the last survivor of his world. He can now speak Kryptonian, and has knowledge of Krypton's culture. He lands on a mountain and decides that although his true parents are Kryptonian, and it is his heritage that grants him his powers, it is his upbringing that makes him who he is.

And so it ends as it began, in the fields of Kansas. There's a lovely circular feeling to this issue. After spending most of the series in Metropolis cementing Superman's role in the city and the wider DCU, it's a strong choice to bring him back to Smallville and participate in what is ultimately a very small-scale story that completely defines Superman for years to come.

This issue has three objectives: Introduce and define Lana's place in the new Superman mythos, grant knowledge of Krypton to Superman, and redefine Superman in light of this new knowledge. The Lana scenes work very well. It is revealed that Lana is the person Clark goes to visit back in The Man of Steel #1, and we see what happened that night. Lana's conflict is well-portrayed. Her confusion comes across, even as she rationalises it with the benefit of hindsight. Hers is only a small scene, but it is one of the most important in the whole mini-series. Their discussion concerning Clark's dual responsibilities define his approach towards Lois Lane for the next few years, as he balances both sides of his life. It also helps give Lana definition beyond 'Superboy's Girlfriend', allowing her to move beyond her teenage attraction to Clark and be a strong supporting character in her own right.

The second objective is rather clever, and leads directly into the third. By this point in the series, the reader knew everything that there was to know at the time about Krypton, but Superman hadn't really confirmed that was extra-terrestial. The way that Byrne introduces this knowledge to Superman is deliberately non-specific, allowing for future revelations about Krypton's past, such as the contents of the World of Krypton series, to be available to Superman. It is this info-dump that most likely provides the information for Superman to relay to Lois Lane in that series. But this is more than just dropping the knowledge of a dead people into Superman's mind. The moment where he glimpses Lara and realises her identity is beautiful but brief, whilst the appearances of Jor-El plays into the fears we have seen across this project that Superman's presence on Earth is part of a larger plan (such as J'onn's fears in Martian Manhunter #20, and the drive Superman has exhibited at times to define his origins). Although we have seen that Jor-El's intentions are benevolent, Superman walks away from this issue unsure about his biological father.

The key scene of this issue is the climax where Superman flies around whilst debating the information he has just discovered. The final panel, where Superman declares that although Krypton made him Superman, it is the Earth that makes him human is the single most defining moment for the post-Crisis Superman. In effect, Superman is stating the key principle for Byrne's rebooting of Superman, that the human side, Clark Kent, is the primary definition of character; the hero, Superman, is one part of this character. For many fans, a story that deviates from this simple statement of principle is one that they would prefer not to read, and quite often I am one of them.

The art in this issue is fantastic. Byrne is at the top of his game. The contrasts between the futuristic Krypton and the urban Smallville are strong, and the faces of the characters, especially Lana, sell the words with utter conviction. But it is the final pages again that are the real highlight of the book. Byrne has given himself the opportunity to draw Superman in his element, flying across the globe. The panel at the bottom of page 20 where Superman briefly enters orbit is beautiful to look at, but even this pales in comparison to the final image of Superman standing tall on a mountain top, having reconciled his alien and human origins. Iconic is a word that is used far too frequently, but it applies to this image absolutely. Superman has rarely looked better.

The Geeky Bits: One plotline bubbling throughout The Man of Steel, the mysterious figure who observed Clark encountering the matrix for the first time, who took photographs of Superman in Metropolis, and who stole the birthing matrix, would be resolved in Superman #1.

The placing of this issue in context of the rest of The Man of Steel is hard to do, as no dating information is given within. However, Superman: The Man of Steel Annual #4, published in 1995, recaps this issue, and suggests that these events take place seven years after the events of The Man of Steel #3. Some people have taken this to mean that the span of the entire Man of Steel mini-series is 7 years from the first appearance of Superman at the end of The Man of Steel #1, but this actually suggests that the series lasts for the best part of 8 years, as Superman's encounter with Batman in The Man of Steel #3 takes place 8 months after Superman's first appearance. Ah, dating, ya gots ta luv it! However, I subscribe to the idea that no more than 7 years occurs between Superman's first appearance and the events of this issue, mainly because the idea that Superman was active for 7 years without encountering any major super-villains with the exception of the pseudo-Bizarro feels like stretching credibility enough without adding the best part of another year on!

As a side-note, one of the more interesting comparisons between Superman and Batman is that within months of Batman's first appearance, his major villains were starting to appear, both the psychos and the metas. In contrast, Metallo, Superman's first recurring super-powered villain, took seven (or eight, see above) years to appear. I find that an interesting statement on the nature of both Superman and Batman, and their respective cities.

This issue, along with issues 3-5 were covered on the second episode of From Crisis to Crisis, which can be found here.

The most recent printing of The Man of Steel in TPB form was the first volume in the six-volume series collecting the early issues of the post-Crisis Superman. (Yes, that's not the cover, but Amazon was being a pain and kept linking this, and I rather like its simple iconography).

Next on World of Superman: Phase one of the blog is over. Phase two begins. Superman #1. And at some point over the next few weeks, a special post for continuity nuts that will re-order some of the issues that slot in between individual issues of The Man of Steel. I've been busy!

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Booster Gold #7

Well, I'm back. I hope you enjoyed my random mutterings on the MCM Expo. I also hope you found the time to listen to the latest episode of Awesomed By Comics. I sent Aaron and Evie an e-mail about my encounter with Kieron Gillen (Have you read Generation Hope yet? Oh, go on, it's great!) which they then read out on the show whilst also giving the blog a gentle plug. Well, once they worked out what the site address was! There was a slight miscommunication that made it sound like I had asked Kieron to sign my copy of Phonogram with a reference to their podcast, whereas the dedication was all Kieron's idea, based on our chat. Let's face it, if I'm going to claim credit for someone else's ideas, I'll probably choose someone less  well-known than Kieron Gillen!

I also got the chance to read Superman: Earth One. I'll not go into too much detail, save to say that I really enjoyed the first half of the issue, especially the bits where Clark slowly found his feet in Metropolis, but once the aliens turned up to invade, my interest started to wane. The art was wonderful, although the final reveal of Superman made him seem just a little on the weedy side. What did take me by surprise this week was Superman #704, which was one of the best fill-in issues I've read in a long time. It served the wider story, but put a long-overdue focus on the Clark and Lois relationship. For the first time in years, I found myself really believing in their relationship.

And now, an apology. As I've mentioned before, I work in retail, and the next eight weeks are the busiest weeks of the year for me. I'm also angling for a promotion, and with this on top of the pre-Christmas trading, I'm working an insane amount of hours. Therefore, in order to alleviate my guilt at not keeping to the regular, twice-weekly schedule that I would like to, I'm going to scale back my blogging activities over the next few weeks. I won't be giving up the blog, as I really enjoy both writing these posts and my behind-the-scenes oh-so-secret project that only two people out there know about, but I'll need to reduce my schedule to a weekly basis in order to be able to get through the next two months. Still, this should see us through to Legends quite nicely.

And finally, my scanner is playing up again, so no scans today. Go and grab the Showcase Presents: Booster Gold collected edition if you want to see what this issue looks like.

The Lesson

Creator-Writer-Artist: Dan Jurgens
Inker: Mike DeCarlo
Letterer: Augustin Más
Colorist: Gene D'Angelo
Editor: Alan Gold
Cover Art: Dan Jurgens, Mike DeCarlo
Cover Date: August 1986
Release Date: 15/05/1986

Booster Gold, Skeets, Fern and Zee have been taken to the planet Vellar, in a remote part of the galaxy, where they are interrogated by Lord Galeb. They discover that powerful magic has given them the ability to understand the alien language, as well as reducing them in size so that they are the same height as Zee. Lord Galeb, leader of the planet, accuses the heroes of treason, having aided and abetted Zee, who is a traitor, a charge he admits. Booster and Superman attempt to break free, but Galeb's consort, the wielder of magic, brings them down with a magical blast.

In a prison cell, Zee tells of how he attempted to overthrow Galeb's monarchy to free his people from tyrrany. When the revolution failed, Galeb executed Zee's wife and children. Booster wants to head back into action and overthrow Galeb, but Superman counsels holding tight and not interfering in the internal power struggle of the world. The two argue until Galeb arrives to free them, having had his consort telepathically probe them whilst they were unconscious and having discovered their innocence. Booster Gold wants to stay behind and work to overthrow Galeb, but Superman's morals lead him to step in and restrain Booster. The two fight, with Booster throwing everything at Superman, determined to replace the government on Vellar. Skeets speaks to Galeb, before interveneing in the fight by disabling Booster's technology. Booster is angered at his friend's 'betrayal', but when Skeets reveals that Zee never had a family and had been lying to him all the time, Booster hangs his head in shame before apologising to Galeb.

Back on Earth, Lois Lane arrives for a pre-arranged interview as Superman and Booster return from Vallar with Fern. She comments to Superman that he is yesterday's news compared to Booster, but that Booster might not have the staying power of Superman. As she and Booster head off for the interview, Superman confirms with Skeets that Booster's presence in the 20th century is part of historical record and not an paradox. As he leaves, he warns that if Booster uses his knowledge of the future for destruction, he'll have to reckon with Superman.

It's taken a while to get this entry done and dusted. There have been some real life issues, details of which have been given in previous posts, but there has also been one significant factor at play: I don't particularly enjoy this book and find myself fairly uninterested in it. That's not to say that there isn't interesting stuff in here, but the main focus of the plot, the runaround on Vallar, is so generic it hurts.

Part of my problem of this issue is the way that the strongest elements of the previous issue are jettisoned here. The character of Fern, our introduction to this story, plays almost no part in this issue beyond reminding the reader of how he is able to survive in an alien atmosphere. There is no reaction from Fern when Zee is revealed to be a liar and the antagonistic force on Vallar, and he pretty much disappears off-panel on the return to Earth. Also gone is the rich characterisation of Booster that was introduced last issue when his origin was revealed for the first time. Here we are given a hot-headed and arrogant Booster, although he has the grace to show humility when Zee's true colours are revealed. It is hard to disagree with Superman's assesment of Booster Gold throughout, which is suprising considering that this is Booster's book. It's a shame that what was such an important story for Booster Gold in issue #6 should finish with such a weak second part.

The Geeky Bits: The cover to this issue would be neatly reversed by John Byrne when Booster and Superman meet again in Action Comics #594.

Next on World of Superman: It's finally over. The first chapter in World of Superman draws to a close as Superman learns what have known for over a year now when he encounters the image of his father in The Man of Steel #6.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

MCM Expo Days 2 and 3

Wow, what a fantastic couple of days!

First of all, let's check out the loot. I had a great range of purchases and signings at the convention, from personal mementos to some titles that I always knew I should have been reading but never found the budget or time to do so. I even got a piece of artwork from a creator I have respected and adored for some time, but I have to keep quiet about that for the next couple of months!

First of all, the Doctor Who stuff.

 All of which are written by Tony Lee, seen below on the left with his artistic partner Dan Boultwood on the right. Both Tony and Dan were incredibly warm and welcoming to a new person at the convention, and they didn't steal my camera when they had the opportunity to do so (always a plus in my book!). If you ever get the chance to meet Tony and Dan, I strongly urge you to do so. The next year looks to be very promising for the two of them, and I can't wait for their upcoming projects The Gloom and The Baker Street Irregulars. The second signature on the trade and the annual is Al Davison, who I talked about on the last blog post.

It wasn't just Tony at the convention with a Doctor Who pedigree. Paul Cornell, the current writer of Action Comics, was a roaming guest, participating in a couple of panels and doing a couple of signing sessions. Now, Paul has just had his fifth issue of Action released, but I've been reading him for about 15 years longer than he's been writing Superman Lex Luthor. And as I still associate him more with Doctor Who than I do with comics, there was only one item from my library that I wanted signed - my first ever (and his first ever) Doctor Who novel, Timewyrm: Revelation.

Oops, I appear to have got my ugly mug a little too close to a Superman writer...

I had a great time meeting and talking to Kieron Gillen and Sean McKeevie on Saturday, fresh from their success at the Eagles with Phonogram: The Singles Club. I had wanted to meet Kieron both because of this series, but also in the hope that he might have some of his recent Thor run on him. I'm a listener to the Awesomed By Comics podcast, which has ranted and raved over the greatness of his longer-and-better-than-a-fill-in-run Thor writings. We had a chat about the podcast (he's a listener as well), which is why he dedicated in the way that he did. Kieron was absolutely wonderful, very down to earth and modest despite his successes both with Phonogram and the rocketing of his Marvel career. I also got to meet Sean Phillips, and sample Criminal for the first time. Criminal is an astonishing read, a great script from Ed Brubaker and fantastic art from Sean Phillips. Having read the first volume, I'm pretty sure that if this had been handed to me as a short story in just prose, I probably would have had very little interest, but told through the medium of comics it really grabbed me. I look forward to getting hold of the other trades in the future.

The most famous comics creator at the convention was arguably Chris Claremont. Opinion is widely varied of his work, especially anything he's written in the last 10-15 years (and when we finally get to his brief run on JLA, we're not going to be happy with it), but his X-Men run is unparalleled. I have this on DVD, having imported the Uncanny X-Men DVD a few years ago, but before I got this I bought myself a copy of the Days of Future Past TPB, which covers #138-#143 (the immediate aftermath of the Dark Phoenix saga, the introduction of Kitty Pryde, DoFP and the N'Grai, along with the Dante's Inferno annual). I feel very proud of having his signature on the title page.

Other creators I met, but gained no loot from, included Antony Johnston, David Hine, with whom I discussed his first ever Marvel work, the underrated Daredevil: Redemption mini-series, and Bernard Chang, who I told that my favourite panel of his was his recent Bizarro JLA from Supergirl, which included Bizarro Red Arrow (Arsenal) with a quiver full of dead cats.

As well as all of this, I got to see an extended trailer for Paul, sat in on panels on Warehouse 13 and A Town Called Eureka, got freaked out when I realised just how bloody tall Tony Todd is, got my arse handed to me at both Magic: The Gathering and World of Warcraft: The Collectible Card Game, wondered just why the meme of the con was 'Free Hugs', was distinctly unimpressed by Pocky, drank ridiculously overpriced Mountain Dew and wanted to be gently sick, had an awesome sausage sandwich, marvelled at the ability of 4 Subway employees to royally fuck up an Italian BMT (if the answer to the question 'do you want it toasted' is 'no', then don't put it in the fucking oven!), and walked miles and miles and miles.

As with any con, cosplay was a huge element. In fact, the only time the main theatre was full was when the cosplay championships were on. As most of the cosplayers were characters from manga and videogames, I didn't recognise the majority of people in costume. However, there were a few good comics characters (including the Power Girl in the picture below, whose costume was really rather accurate, if several sizes too big) and a few duff ones, such as the dayglo orange DeathstrokeZatanna and Harley Quinn.

Finally, one of the funniest inadvertent moments of the convention came when I was looking at one of the adverts in the convention center for another event. See if you can spot what I enjoyed so much...

Next on World of Superman: Superman comics! Honestly!

Saturday, 30 October 2010

MCM Expo: Preview Night

So, I have lost my convention virginity.

Yesterday was the preview day for the London MCM Expo. As I live ten minutes walk away from the convention center (The ExCel Centre in East London), an appearance was always a given, especially as I had booked the afternoon (and the rest of the weekend) off work.

It was an interesting experience for the first-time convention-goer. I kept hopping from overjoyed to confused to (occasionally) intimidated by the scale of the event coupled with the sheer volume of content focused on areas which I have little to no knowledge. I was very surprised at the high manga and Japanese culture content of the convention. I know manga has been gaining popularity around the world, but I had no idea of the scale of this, or fanatacism of its fans and cosplayers. Yes, I know, my naivety in my expectations of the fans is readily apparent.

Being a comic fan, the first place I went to check out was the artist's alley. There were a lot of empty tables, but more than enough of the big names were present. I got the chance to say hello to Rich Johnson, formerly of Lying in the Gutters and now the founder and head of As a semi-regular poster there (and, if all goes well, a front page article penned by myself has been submitted, and I'm looking forward to seeing what happens with that), this felt like an important meeting for me. But not as important as the next person I went to see - Tony Lee.

Tony is one of my favourite creators in comics. He is the current writer of the ongoing Doctor Who title(s) from IDW, which have been a great read. He topped the New York Times bestseller list with his graphic novel adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. He was nominated for eight Eagle awards this year for his various projects, and his twitter feed - @mrtonylee - is one of the most interesting ones I read. As I was the first person to approach and buy from him, he cut me a great deal on the latest issues of the Doctor Who comic, and between sucking on his absinthe lolly, he pointed out that one of his Doctor Who co-creators - Al Davison - was present.

I didn't know Al Davison as anyone other than an occasional Doctor Who artist, although his career has been long and varied. His graphic novel autobiography - a work in progress - is a beautiful piece of work, chronicling a difficult and tragic childhood. Check it out at Muscle Memory, but be warned, it's not an easy read.

Finally, I was pulled over by Claude Trollope-Curson of Gronk Comics, who showed me some of his weird and wonderful creations. He did the best thing of making me laugh at his work in seconds, and I was happy to buy a couple of his publications. We ended up reading them on the Underground at 10.30pm on our way to a free showing of Due Date, and even my non-comic-reading girlfriend found his parodies of super-hero culture amusing.

I did some other stuff as well, including trying Magic: The Gathering for the first time in about a decade, and marvelling at all the cosplayers. One guy was dressed as Where's Wally (Where's Waldo for the Americans out there), and he cut a sad and lonely figure winding his way through the long, empty queueing system. I thought that he might have been playing the longer game, and that if the massive queue system was full then he would have been in his element. As the queue started moving as people were let in, I passed him once, then prepared to pass him again. But he had gone. Where was Wally? Suddenly, I understood the genius of his costume choice, and I berated myself for ever doubting him.

I'm really looking forward to today. I'm excited about meeting the Kieron Gillen, who recently wrote an amazing four-issue post-Siege fill-in run on Thor, and who just won an Eagle award for his series Phonogram. I'm hoping to meet Criminal artist Sean Phillips, and I'll be stopping by Bernard Chang's table to pick up the latest issue of Supergirl and hopefully get the panel with Arsenal and his quiver of dead cats signed. But most importantly, I'm really looking forward to meeting Chris Claremont, and Paul Cornell, who will be signing my first ever Doctor Who book, Timewyrm: Revelation, as my love of Who trumps my love of his current Action Comics run.

Right, enough buggering about. The con is open and I need to put trousers on and go there. Follow me on twitter at @quizlacey to keep up with me throughout the day.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

A brief update

Shock! Horror! This is not an imaginary post!

So, I've not been around for a couple of weeks. I've been feeling a lot of stress and pressure at work, which has made my non-work life, such as it is, feel very awkward. I've not been getting pleasure from the things that normally help me relax and unwind, and I've spent the last couple of weeks in a state of near perma-tension. All of which has made sitting down to read comics, analyse them, and write about them on this blog a task that has felt like an unnecessary chore, rather than a welcome pleasure.

The good news is that things have quietened down , and I can feel my life returning to normal. I've got a long weekend off ahead of me that I intend to spend geeking out in the most fantastic way. I'll be attending my first ever comics convention, the London MCMExpo, which takes place in a building about 10 minutes walk away from my front door. I'm looking forward to meeting the cream of British comic creators, including the wonderful Mr Tony Lee, Kieron Gillen, current Action Comics writer Paul Cornell, and the legendary Chris Claremont. I'm hoping to get in on the Paul exclusive footage (I'm a big Simon Pegg fan), attend the Eagles awards, and hunt down Lying In The Gutters and writer Rich Johnston.

In short, I'm looking to have a great weekend re-connecting with my inner (and outer) geek. And when it's all over, I'm gonna open up my longboxes, pull out my copy of Booster Gold #7 and get some thoughts posted here.

Next on World of Superman: Comics'n'stuff. Honest.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

I'm Proud Of The BBC

No posts for a few more days, as I'm pretty horribly ill and can't really focus on much at the moment. But to tide you over, a ratehr wonderful song and video from a comedian I've been following for years. I'm proud of the BBC, and here are a few reasons why...

See you in a few days!

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Booster Gold #6

This blog post has had a pretty tortured history. I had a chunk of it written, and then blogger had a fit and deleted a bunch of it. I then tried to get it written again, but blogger wouldn't let me edit or create new posts. After quite some time, I discovered that my browser was at fault, having crashed whilst attempting to update. This happened whilst I was away from my desk, so I had no idea about the update, until tonight when a little popup informed me. So, we're back, but a little behind schedule.

One of the things I got the chance to do whilst not blogging was to take a look at the latest episode of Smallville. As normal, there were things I liked and things I disliked, and as normal, the big money-shot moments just seemed to come across as a bit flat. I really dislike this new version of Cat Grant. The super-bubbly-perky character, the relentless parroting of 'Godfrey' (if she's such a hotshot young reporter, shouldn't she have her own opinions?), the forced pairing with Clark. I would be happier if they wrote the character as a normal person with the views that she has, and let the performance lead the irritating side of the character. I also found the 'lifestyle' comments regarding vigilantes to be incredibly heavy-handed. It's been covered elsewhere in more detail, but I also need to point out that Deadshot and Jonah Hex are two different characters, and nothing is gained by combining the two. And the revelation of the new costume for Clark was spoiled by some really bad CGI, especially on the flags waving limply in the background.

What I absolutely loved about the episode was the Carter Hall/Lois Lane subplot. Michael Shanks was great in Absolute Justice, but playing the identity rather than the hero really gave him the chance to shine. I loved his annoyance at Lois in the first scene, but what really sold me was the closing scene where he wonderfully conveyed centuries of love and loss. Erica Durance as Lois Lane has come on by leaps and bounds since I last really saw her in the role, back when she was first introduced. For probably the first time since the early days of Lois and Clark (or The New Adventures of Superman, if you're British), I was watching the Lois Lane that I have read for years in the comics. I wasn't expecting to be this impressed by her, but she is something I will enjoy watching in future episodes.

I also read the recent JLA/JSA crossover, but if you want to know about that, check out this episode of The LanternCast. The poor guys did the episode once, then lost the episode before it could be released, so they had to do it all over again. And the only way one of them could cope was... well... let's just say he wouldn't have been driving that day!*

To Cross The Rubicon

Creator/Writer/Artist: Dan Jurgens
Inker: Mike DeCarlo
Letterer: Augustin Más
Colorist: Nansi Hoolihan
Editor: Al Gold
Cover Art: Dan Jurgens and Mike DeCarlo
Cover Date: July 1986
Release Date: 14/04/1986

Jason Redfern (Fern), a teenage boy, discovers a miniature spaceship in Centennial Park, long with a miniature alien. The alien’s language cannot be understood, so Fern calls him ‘Zee’. When Zee pushes him out of the way of the exploding space-ship, Fern is convinced of his good intentions, and takes him home. At home, Zee projects an image of Superman’s ‘S’ shield, which Fern interprets as Zee’s desire to locate Superman. Catching an advert featuring Booster Gold on the television, Fern realises how to get hold of Superman. He travels to Reilleau Towers, where he is able to see Booster and tell him his story. Booster then publicly calls Superman out through the media to meet him the next day.

The next day, the media is buzzing with Booster’s decree. Clark Kent hears about it at the Daily Planet, and sneaks away to become Superman. Booster Gold arrives at the rendezvous point, having stopped off at STAR Labs to grab a life-support suit for Fern. Although Skeets is sceptical about whether Superman will show, the Man of Steel arrives. Superman is disdainful of Booster, his publicity seeking ways, and the fact that his powers are artificial. Disappointed in the reactions of his hero, Booster walks away. Skeets speaks to Superman, and reveals the secret origin of Booster Gold.

Michael Carter was a prodigious football player, the biggest name in college football in the 25th century. As he was on the verge of being signed up professionally, he was caught betting on his own games, and expelled from college. With no further hope as an athlete, and needing to make a living, he took a security job at the space museum, as well as enrolling as a student of 20th century super-heroes. Whilst participating in the studies and his duties at the museum, Michael formulated a plan, cemented when he discovered Rip Hunter's time machine in the museum. Disabling the security robot Skeets, Michael steals various exhibits to create a power suit, then travels back to the twentieth century in the time machine, taking Skeets along with him.

Superman is shocked to hear this, and accuses Booster of theft, and using the stolen equipment to make himself rich. As the two argue, Zee starts speaking. Superman recognises snatches of the language, and is able to discover that a warship is chasing Zee. Suddenly, an energy burst renders Superman, Booster and Fern unconscious. Another miniature alien appears, abducting the heroes, Fern, Zee and Skeets onto his ship, which departs for space.

pre-dates The Man Of Steel #1 by three months, meaning that we have here the very first appearance of the post-Crisis Superman. Booster does it again! This also means that Dan Jurgens debuted his art for Superman before John Byrne, and it's great art. His first panel, featuring Clark changing to Superman in an interpretation of an iconic pose, is wonderful to look at, and as fans of this era know, Jurgens' Superman art is a real keystone of the next fifteen or so years of the character.

This is a great Superman issue, and fits neatly into the timeline between The Man Of Steel #5 and #6. Superman here is confident in his position in the world, having already met and worked with one wave of heroes. Now, with the appearance of Booster Gold several years into his own career, Superman is starting to encounter the next wave of heroes, people whose motivations lie in places other than benevolence. His outrage at Booster's self-centered money-making activities, all of which stem from theft, is entirely justified, and comes from a place of confidence in not only himself but his position in relation to other heroes. The first panel in which Superman appears, a one-page splash where he stands above Booster, looking down with an expression of derision, neatly sets up how he feels, and completely wrong-foots Booster, for who Superman is a personal hero.

Of the two parts of this story, I feel that this is the stronger of the two. We get the first revelation of Booster's origin, devoid of the later embellishments and cliches that Booster would add, and the force of Superman's anger towards Booster has a powerful effect on the reader.

The Geeky Bits: Booster Gold is pretty much the first post-Crisis superhero, despite his first issue being released before the Crisis had finished publication. He has been a mainstay of the DCU, thanks to his high-profile membership of various incarnations of the Justice Leagues from the JLI onwards. He was also the first solo creation of Dan Jurgens for DC, but as before, I'm going to hold off on a full bio of Dan for a bit longer.

The title refers to the Rubicon river, which was crossed by Julius Caesar in 49BC, initiating a civil war. In general, the phrase 'To cross the Rubicon' refers to the point of no return, in this case the moment where Booster travelled in time to the twentieth century.

Next on World of Superman Booster Gold: The second half of this tale where Booster smacks down with Superman. Unless you've seen the cover, in which case you'll see that it's more a case of Superman smacking Booster down. Ouch.

* does not condone excessive alcohol consumption for the production of podcasts, blog posts, tweets, or any other type of new media (unless it's Lit Beer: My beer).

Monday, 4 October 2010

The Man Of Steel #5

Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday dear,
Happy birthday to you.

Yes, believe it or not, it's been a year since the World of Superman snuck onto the blogging scene. In that time, we've covered the death of Krypton, affairs with Lex, the birth of the Heroic Age Silver Age, Superman joining - and leaving - the Justice League of America, some very bad comics, and most of all, the introduction of Superman to the DC Universe. We've also suffered some dramatic delays to posting, which I very much hope will be a thing of the past. Sadly, I missed my self-imposed target of completing The Man of Steel by the time the first anniversary came around, but that was as much down to me having my dates all wrong as anything else.

So, we're back with The Man of Steel, and we're going to finish it in the next few posts before moving onto the regular series. Well, apart from a couple of diversions. But it wouldn't be the World of Superman if we didn't detour along the way...

The Mirror, Crack'd...

Script and Pencils: John Byrne
Inking: Dick Giordano
Lettering: John Costanza
Coloring: Tom Ziuko
Editing: Andrew Helfer
With special acknowledgement to the work of Otto Binder
Cover Artist: John Byrne
Cover Date: December 1986
Release Date: 11/09/1986

Superman returns a LexCorp-built battle armour suit to Lex's penthouse. Luthor claims that the suit was registered as stolen, and that the pilot was fired from LexCorp weeks ago. Sadly, the pilot cannot corroborate Lex's story as prolonged exposure to the suit has left him brain-dead. As Superman flies away, Lex heads into his laboratory and talks to Doctor Teng, who tells him that his scans have revealed that Superman is not a mutated human, but an alien. Lex asks how this will affect the duplication process, and Teng replies that they will see. A chamber opens, and an exact replica of Superman steps out. After a few seconds, the replica collapses, its body crystallising. Luthor is disappointed and orders that the duplicate be destroyed.

In Metropolis, Lois Lane prepares to leave for work. She argues with her sister Lucy, who is bitter about her blindness. Outside, an ambulance gets stuck in traffic. Suddenly, it is lifted above the streets and dropped off at the hospital. The EMTs prepare to thank Superman, but are shocked to see that a monster has saved them. As 'Superman' flies away, he saves the life of Lucy Lane, who has thrown herself off of Lois' balcony. 'Superman' flies away, as Lucy wonders why he was so dusty.

At the Daily Planet, a disturbance in the lobby causes Clark to run out of the newsroom. He confronts the source of the disturbance, the distorted Superman who has partially disguised himself as Clark Kent. 'Clark Kent' wallops Superman, sending him flying out of the Daily Planet building. As the two fight, 'Superman' uses his heat vision on Superman, causing him intense pain. As they fight, Superman notices Lois watching, and uses his heat vision to destroy 'Clark Kent's clothing to protect his identity.

'Superman' grabs Lois Lane and flies away with her. In the air, he gives her a kiss, before taking her to her sister. As Superman arrives, Lucy explains that since 'Superman' saved her, she has been able to see shapes and shadows. The two Superman fight some more. Superman analyses the dust that falls off 'Superman', and discovers that his foe is not an organic creature. Deciding that he is not truly alive, Superman charges him with all of his might. The impact causes 'Superman' to explode, showering the neighbourhood with dust. Exposure to the dust restores Lucy's sight. Superman wonders if 'Superman' knew of the healing powers of his dust when he died.

For an issue of one of the most notable Superman mini-series ever published, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot to say about it. Of all the issues, this is the most 'business-as-usual', with its notable first occurrences being rather understated.

I think the problem with this issue is how little has carried over into the continuity of the comics. Lucy Lane has her blindness cured and stops being suicidal in this issue, and her blind period is rarely referred to again. Of course, in terms of things about Lucy Lane that are never mentioned again, her blindness comes in a distant third to her marriage to Ron Troupe and her child. We also have the revelation to Lex Luthor that Superman is not human in any way, that he is an alien. Having Luthor in a position where he knows more about Superman's origins than Superman does is potentially an interesting status quo, but this doesn't last beyond the next issue.

Superman faces a being whose powers match his own for the first time here. Although he has fought aliens and encountered New Gods, this is the first time that he feels his own powers being used against him. He is concerned for his well-being, and feels pain, possibly for the first time, when 'Superman' unleashes his heat-vision on him. However, this encounter is soon forgotten. When Metallo attacks in Superman #1, he wonders when the last time he was hit so hard was.

Perhaps the biggest event in the issue which fails to carry over into the ongoing series that followed The Man of Steel is the bogus 'Superman', or as fans know him better, Bizarro. He is never named in this issue, and it's another eight years until the character returns. The character is also played down in a more muted fashion. Most of the bizarre elements associated with the character, from the reverse-speak to the literal Bizarro-world, are missing. Instead, this version of Bizarro is very much a Frankenstein's monster, misunderstood and unable to comprehend the results of its actions, except possibly in one moment of realisation and sacrifice. However, the encounter doesn't seem to phase Superman at all. Having deduced that 'Superman' is an artificial being, Superman shows no signs of following up his appearance. He seems to accept that such warped doppelgangers exist, and that having got rid of one, he has faith that there will be no more.

There is an interesting moral dilemma for Superman that occurs during his fight with 'Superman'. Realising that only one of them will walk away from the fight, Superman examines the dust that 'Superman' sheds wherever he goes and theorises that he is an artificial being, and thus, not being alive, can be killed. Once Superman has made this distinction, he is able to use levels of force that he would otherwise be unable to use against a living being, no matter how dangerous that being may be. In short, Superman is able to terminate 'Superman' for the greater good without any of the guilt that would follow the next time he decided to kill.

These issues aside, there are some strong moments in the issue. We get a good look at how Lois and Clark function in the Daily Planet newsroom, and we also get the first instance of Clark abandoning the newsroom to address a problem as Superman. Lucy's suicidal tendencies, whilst melodramatic, are a hint to a darker type of storytelling to that normally associated with Superman. The same goes for the implication that Luthor deliberately caused one of his henchmen to suffer brain damage in one of his schemes to better Superman. And whilst Superman's fears for his mortality in his fight with 'Superman' aren't as pronounced as the ones he felt whilst stranded in space in Action Comics Annual #7, the art and writing effectively communicates the feeling that Superman is out of his comfort zone.

The Geeky Bits: The Special Thanks credit for Otto Binder refers to the fact that this issue's plot owes a lot to the original appearance of Bizarro in Superboy #68 from October 1958. There, as here, Bizarro is very much cast in the Frankenstein's Monster role, and the subplot involving a blind girl is shared between the two stories. The more familiar version of Bizarro wouldn't appear until Action Comics #254 in July 1959.

This is the first of three post-Crisis version of Bizarro. 1994 saw the publication of the Bizarro's World story, in which Lex Luthor II recreates the duplication experiment, but with similar failure. The current version of Bizarro debuted in the Emperor Joker storyline from 2000, where he was a creation of The Joker, who had been infused with Mr Mxyzptlk's powers, and this incarnation has regularly appeared in the Superman books since then.

Next on World of Superman: A mere six months after reviewing The Man of Steel #1, we finally reach the conclusion veer off one more time to examine the first post-Crisis appearance of Superman.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

JLA Classified #49

I really dislike leaving a full week between posts, but unfortunately, every now and again, work rears its ugly head and monopolizes my life to the point where I barely have the energy to to anything other than eat between walking through the door and going to bed. I did, however, find the time to squeeze in the season premiere of Smallville last night, and despite missing out on the best part of five years' worth of plot, I was not surprised to see that a lot of what drove me away from the series is still there.

We had moments of insanely bad acting (especially the scene where Clark returns to the Watchtower, and Tom Welling cannot find a sensible way to deliver the line 'But I'm here now. what about the others, did they make it?'), comedy that wasn't funny or made any sense (I had no understanding of the 'dropping the pen' scene), and, of course, at least one moment where the ambition of the show went far beyond its ability to deliver. The moment where The Blur (euch) raises the Daily Planet globe appears to have been witnessed by about 12 people, which isn't bad for a major metropolitan city.

I was watching for the money-shot. I had heard that Darkseid was to appear in the episode, and as he is one of my favourite villains of all time, I was eager to see how he would be handled in live-action. Well, as it turns out, he was being presented as a non-sequitorial puff of smoke that bore a fleeting resemblance to the villain we know and love. Remember how for about half a second you could see the outline of the true Galactus in Fantastic Four 2: Rise of the Silver Surfer? That's how it felt to me.

It wasn't all bad. The John Schneider scene looked for a moment like it was going to a terrible waste of potential, but turned into something quite beautiful and moving. The shadow of Michael Rosenbaum enhanced the episode rather than making him noticeable by his absence (although the fake clone Lex needed far fewer cliches to go along with the effectiveness of his corrupted Lex visual). And the introduction of the Superman, suit, something I wasn't expecting, was very nicely handled, and I like the way that the final shot set the concept of Superman as a prize for Clark at the end of the season, as well as a reward to viewers for ten years of support.

I think I'll do my best to keep up for this series. I'm going to be interested in how Apokolips is handled in live-action, and the return of the Justice Society is going to be more than enough to keep my inner geek satisfied.


Talking of my inner geek, on thing he has not been satisfied with is today's review issue for the World of Superman, JLA Classified #49.

To Live In Hearts We Leave Behind

Writer: Andrew Kreisberg
Pencils: Paulo Siqueira
Inks: Amilton Santos
Colors: Allen Passalaqua
Letters: Jared K Fletcher
Cover: Siqueira with Passalaqua
Associate Editor: Tom Palmer Jr
Editor: Mike Carlin
Cover Date: Late February 2008
Release Date: 26/12/2007

An insectoid alien race called the Locusta has laid claim to Earth's solar system. The JLA convene on Mars to mount a defence against the invaders. As the JLA engage the Locusta, the Earth waits with baited breath. Linda Park presents news coverage, whilst other people close to the various members of the JLA anxiously await news. Eventually, the Locusta are defeated, the League reunites with their loved ones, and the Earth celebrates.

Whilst this occurs, Lois Lane arrives at Wayne Manor for a pre-arranged interview with Bruce Wayne. Finding that Bruce as been unexpectedly called away on business, she takes tea with Alfred whilst the two wait for news of the invasion.

Yes, it's a short synopsis. Not a lot actually happens in this issue. The JLA beat up some armored crab-aliens on Mars whilst everyone gets nervous on Earth. Lois and Alfred have a not-very-revealing talk. If you're after dense plotting, then you're better off looking at another comic. What there is in this issue is atmosphere, oodles of it. There's a real sense that the people of Earth are genuinely worried about the impending Locusta invasion. Linda West's broadcasts are suggested to be the kind of broadcast to bring the nation together, whilst Jimmy and Lois exchange terse, personal admittances of fear on their Blackberries. Compounding this is the fact that none of the combat on Mars has any dialogue, narration or sound-effects. Although the reader is privy to the action, they are not a part of the League's actions. We are as much in the dark as to how the battle is progressing as Earth is. I'd like to think that the League's triumph here is what gives the public the strength to support future moves against alien attackers, such as the 'Earth To Invaders: Drop Dead' response in Invasion #1.

Lois and Alfred's conversation is both interesting and unrevealing. There's a nice underlying element of dramatic irony in that the reader knows that both parties are concerned for heroes on Mars, but that neither is aware of the other's connections. Unfortunately, this is as far as it goes, and what we get on the page is several pages of small talk that doesn't really make for an interesting read.

I would normally be finishing my review here, summing up the issue as a fairly inoffensive but inconsequential fill-in issue of a title heading towards its cancellation 6 issues later. But unfortunately, I have to address one piffling little concern, namely the fact that the continuityJLA seen fighting on Mars is clearly, thanks to the presence of John Stewart and the predilection of JLA: Classified to use this version of the team, the post-Obsidian Age incarnation of the Big 7 League. The second is the relationship of Wally West and Linda Park, who first appeared in 1989. The third is the awkwardness between Lois and Superman, and the fact that Lois is not romantically involved with Clark, and doesn't know his secret identity. The three elements cannot co-exist. Most notably, John Stewart is only a true member of the JLA following the Obsidian Age, many years after the League's founding, and long after Lois and Clark/Superman are an item and open about Clark's identity.

Putting this issue in this position in the blog is a difficult choice, and doing so requires a pinch of salt. From the Lois point of view, her relationship is entirely with Superman. There is no mention of Clark at all in the issue, and the conclusion is her hugging Superman. Therefore, it can be assumed that Clark is only 'the guy that scooped her' at this point in time. This issue cannot be concurrent with the post-Man of Steel issues, as that version of the League was the infamous International version. Therefore, this League is more than likely a one-off permutation of the Satellite era that just so happens to resemble the later version. Of course, you have to ignore the fact that John Stewart is an icon on Earth when he is far more likely a very green, rookie Lantern, and the fact that Wally West isn't even the Flash yet, nor has he met Linda Park. But in the context of Superman, these elements can be brushed over. Well, I have.

Have you read this issue? What are your theories concerning the placing of this issue? Do you even care? Please let me know in the comments below.

The Geeky Bits: The title is a quote from Hallowed Ground by Thomas Campbell.

Andrew Kreisberg is a writer whose main claim to fame outside of comics was an episode of The Simpsons called Barting Over. His most noteable run on comics was replacing Judd Winick on Green Arrow/Black Canary, which he wrote for 15 issues, and a series called Hellen Killer, which saw Helen Keller become bodyguard to the President of the USA.

Paulo Siqueira is an artist whose work includes runs on Birds of Prey, Anti-Venom: New Ways To Live, and the 2007 Black Canary mini-series.

Next on World of Superman: We get back to the core series of this era, as we examine Man of Steel #5. Hopefully just in time for the first birthday of this blog.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

JLA Incarnations #3

So, we'll pass right by my last post, which inflated a minor mistake into an entire blog entry, before making a huge error at the end of the article. Thanks to Michael Bradley for catching that one for me in the comments!

I'd also like to return a shout-out to Kevin Cushing of the Geoff Johns Podcast, who read out an e-mail of mine on his second episode and plugged the blog a little. The Geoff Johns Podcast is a new podcast looking at the work of Geoff Johns. In a few episodes time, the podcast will alternate between the current month's worth of Geoff Johns work, and the same month 11 years ago (starting at the beginning of Johns' writing career), but for now the podcast is playing catchup with current titles and storylines to provide context for future episodes. I've really enjoyed the first two episodes, even with the second episode being a Brightest Day catchup (not a fan of Brightest Day, which seems to be heading towards Countdown standards as opposed to 52 standards). I hope you'll be able to find some time to catch this podcast, as once the 'historical' episodes get underway I think Kevin will be covering some really interesting titles.

Anyway, it'll be a very long time before we cover any Geoff Johns work here at the World of Superman. Today, we'll be looking at John Ostrander. Please open your issues to page 1.

Like A Tombstone In The Sky

Writer: John Ostrander
Penciller: Val Semeiks
Inker: Prentis Rollins
Colorist: John Kalisz
Separations: Heroic Age
Letterer: Ken Lopez
Assistant Editor: Steve Wacker
Editor: Dan Raspler
Cover Artist: Val Semeiks, Prentis Rollins, John Kalisz
Cover Date: September 2001
Release Date: 11/07/2001

Having been established for some time, the Justice League outgrows its original headquarters and builds itself a satellite headquarters in orbit around the Earth. Green Arrow resents the symbolism of the League looking down upon the Earth, and concerns over the 'sitting duck' nature of the satellite. Superman tries to address his concerns, telling him that only the League know that the satellite is there. However, Superman is wrong, as Lex Luthor gains positive confirmation that the satellite exists. He draws his plans against the League.

In the next few weeks, a new terrorist organisation known as Kobra makes itself known when an all-out attack on Cheyenne Mountain is routed by the Justice League. WLEX reporter Tully Reed presents footage of the attack, which is seen by Lex, who makes contact with the head of Kobra and reveals the existence and location of the League's satellite. Kobra plans to attack and destroy the satellite in retribution for the League destroying his mobile base of operations during the Cheyenne Mountain attack.

Green Arrow gives an inflammatory performance during an interview with Tully Reed, criticising the League for getting above its station and not doing enough for social issues. Hawkman takes offence at Arrow's comments, saying that the interview has jeopardised the League's UN backing and funding. He calls for the League to censure Green Arrow, but before they can do so, Arrow quits. Green Lantern follows his friend, and two talk. Green Arrow is having a mid-life crisis, and wonders if he needs the League as much as it needs him. Their conversation is interrupted by an emergency call from Black Canary, who is alone on the satellite and has detected a horde of Kobra spaceships heading towards her. The satellite is boarded and although Canary fights hard, she is overwhelmed by sheer force of numbers, and is captured by Kobra. As the the heroes prepare to rescue Canary, Atom tells the League to rendezvous at LexCorp.

The League confronts Luthor, who protests his innocence, claiming that Kobra stole LexCorp equipment to mount his raid on the satellite. He then turns on a screen broadcasting Kobra's message to the world -  a trussed up Black Canary and an ultimatum for the League to surrender to him. Although they doubt Luthor's innocence, the League realises that Kobra has laid a trap for them. They decide to distract Kobra, and Green Arrow teleports to the satellite to be that distraction. Taking out the first few guards, he fires an arrow into a control panel before announcing his presence to Kobra and drawing his troops. Alone in the control room, the arrow starts to shape-shift - it was really a disguised Martian Manhunter.

Green Arrow is quickly captured, and is beaten and brought to Kobra. Green Arrow taunts his captor, telling him that Martian Manhunter has already disabled his traps and bombs. The League then burst in to confront Kobra, whilst out in space, Superman, Green Lantern and Firestorm take care of the spaceships. With the Kobra troops defeated, the League search for Kobra himself, but find that he has managed to escape. However, they find the badly beaten body of Green Arrow, and transport him to a government hospital for him to receive treatment. Recovering in bed, Arrow decides not to rejoin the League, although Atom tells him that he is family and will always be welcome.

There's not a huge amount to say about this issue from a Superman point of view. He is listed on the opening splash page as a reserve member, a status he holds with League pretty much until the Watchtower era starts in JLA #1. There's a good moment where Green Arrow is freaking out with the League's self-appointed protectorshipbenevolance and humanity shines through. Green Arrow's response, a semi-mocking 'You're not the same as other people', speaks volumes about how he views Superman.

Although Superman doesn't really contribute to the rest of the plot, he does get to use his powers against Kobra a couple of times. These are nicely rendered by Val Semeiks, who really gives some panache to the battle scenes in the book. I particularly like the splash page where Superman, Green Lantern and Firestorm take apart the Kobra spaceships, especially the bits where Firestorm turns the ships into stone. Semeiks does a great job with the issue, bringing a real sense of unease to Kobra, especially his temple.

The issue opens with the construction of the iconic Justice League satellite, then jumps forward in time with the caption 'Some time later...' on page 8. This leap in time covers the most notable incident to occur on the JL satellite, the rape of Sue Dibney by Doctor Light and the mind-wiping of both Light and Batman. Although not specifically stated in this issue, the League's actions in the aftermath of the assault is the trigger for Green Arrow's feelings towards the League and his actions in this issue.

There are a few continuity errors in this issue. Luthor is shown with his kryptonite ring, an item he wouldn't acquire until Superman #2, a year or so down the line. He's also pictured in his post-Underworld Unleashed body, taller, slimmer and more well-built than his original Man Of Steel body, which was shorter and stockier. Luthor should also have some red, receding hair, and I do get a little irritated when the Luthor from the Man of Steel era is rendered as fully bald, as one of the nice touches throughout the original miniseries was how Luthor gradually lost his hair across his appearances. In a wider DC sense, Ollie and Diana were residents of Star City at this time, not Seattle.

The Geeky Bits: On the topic of Superman and the JLA, around the time of this issue, three Justice League of America story-arcs from the Silver Age featuring Superman as a member/reserve member can be definitively said to have occurred in the Post-Crisis history. The first, issues 96-98 from 1972, contains the original appearance of Starbreaker, who would return in Justice League America #62-65 (1992), Adam Strange: Planet Heist (2005) and Justice League of America #29-34 (2005). The second is issues 120 and 121 from 1975, which featured the marriage of Adam Strange and Alanna. The last, issues 185-187 (1981) show Superman's first time on Apokolips and his first encounter with Darkseid. This story is important, as during the Legends crossover, Superman exhibits knowledge of Darkseid that he would otherwise not have had the opportunity to gain.

Next on World of Superman: I really don't want to do this, but I'm going to have to unleash the continuity-challenged JLA: Classified #49 upon you all. Put on your finest continuity cop uniforms, and meet me back here in a few days time.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

World's Finest #6. Or not, as the case may be.

A few hours before getting home and sitting down to write this, a tweet from bleedingcool caught my eye. It was announcing a new article, entitled Why Do People Hate Azazal Anyway - Blast From The Past By Paul O'Brien. Now, the article was basically an excuse to reprint one of Paul's best ever review from the sadly offline (now incorporated into, blasting Chuck Austen's The Draco storyline from a few years back, but it did get my brain's nostalgia centre a-buzzin'.

The X-Axis was a review site that ran from 1999 to 2006 before the regular updates shifted to a blog format, before its current incarnation. Written by British X-Men fan Paul O'Brien, it set itself the not-so-modest task of reviewing, in full, every X-Book that was released on a weekly basis, as well as dives into the history of the X-Men. It was a tremendously fun site. I don't remember how I discovered it, but once I did I was hooked, looking forward to its weekly updates with glee. One of its many strengths was Paul's ability to puncture pomposity and pretension whilst making you laugh and despair at the state of Marvel comics (but only a little bit), which considering he was looking at the X-Men books, he was able to do on a regular basis. To this day, I can only look at a week when Marvel backends an entire line of books or a ridiculous amount of crossover titles into one release and think of Paul's many tirades against such practices.

I miss the X-Axis. Reading Paul's brilliant one-line decimation of the entire Draco storyline makes me want to go back and randomly dip into his previous reviews. But I can't, as the site has long-since expired. Thankfully this Saturday is a podcast Saturday for the House to Astonish team, and when I get home from work there will be another episode of House to Astonish waiting for me in my itunes. If you haven't already listened to this great podcast, go on and give it a try. I think you'll like it.

And here's what you won't like. I made a mistake and was trying to force World's Finest #6 into the Man of Steel timeline like a round peg into a four-dimensional hole.

Confused? Not as much as I am!

Here's the rundown of the situation. World's Finest takes as its conceit the fact that each issue takes place a year apart, on the anniversary of Harrison Grey's death, with the time just after the first meeting of Superman and Batman in Man of Steel #3 as its starting point. Man of Steel covers six years in Superman's life, from his public debut to the discovery of his origins, and my eagerness to chronicle this era of Superman's history led me to... well... be lazy. As with each issue of World's Finest, #6 is subtitled 'Year Six', and knowing that Man of Steel #6 effectively concluded the sixth year of Superman's career, I quickly filed this issue away under pre Man of Steel #5-6 (I have reason to conclude that a sizeable gap exists between Man of Steel #4 and 5 - just take a look at Luthor's hairline! - and tend to view the final two parts of the series as being almost continuous.).

Of course, several months after my poor piece of filing, I come to read the issue for the first time in a few years. And stuff just doesn't add up. How can Batman and Superman know each other's civilian identities and openly display this knowledge before Adventures of Superman #440? What about Mr Mxyptlk? Superman seems awfully familiar with his modus operandi, despite the fact that they have yet to meet. The Daily Planet newsroom seems awfully familiar if you were reading comics in 1988 (look, there's Allie), but seems like  avery different place to the newsroom we see in Man of Steel #5.

I could have attempted to write a lovely snarky review pointing out the cockups in continuity, but the error is mine. Six years on from the first meeting of Superman and Batman (there is no hard evidence to suggest how much time has passed between Man of Steel #3 and World's Finest #1) puts us at least several months after Man of Steel #6, and with the vagiaries of comic book dating, this issue fits in very nicely post Adventures #440, more than likely between Action Comics #600 and the start of the Return to Krypton storyline that started in Action #601 Superman #18.

So, my apologies for my mistake and for the wall of text that comprised this post.

Next of World of Superman: We get back on track and check up with Lex Luthor's first attack against the Justice League in Justice League: Incarnations #3