Monday, 28 June 2010

Legends of the DC Universe #1

It's been a quiet couple of weeks here at the World of Superman, caused in part by a period of nasty but not serious illness and the recovery which had left me unwilling to sit down and complete my posts. But the illness is gone, and the recovery is complete, and it's time to get back on track and take a look at the first direct Superman work from James Robinson. We'd make the most of it, because it will be a very long time before we return to Robinson's Superman work.

U.L.T.R.A. Humanite Part 1: Madness and Science

Writer: James Robinson
Penciller: Val Semeiks
Inker: Paul Neary
Letterer: Janice Chiang
Colorist: Kevin Somers
Assistant: Maureen McTigue
Editor: Joey Calvieri
Cover Painting: Glen Orbik
Cover Date: Febuary 1998

Lois Lane sits at her computer, writing an article about the current new age of super-heroes, each protecting their city from multiple super-powered attacks. She notes that until recently, Metropolis had become unique in that it did not suffer from a pantheon of super-villains. However, this has now changed, and Metropolis' guardian, Superman, has stepped up to defend the city.

Superman is battling Professor Killgrave, who is once again attacking Metropolis in a flying ship. Superman gains the upper hand, but is interrupted by the arrival of LexCorp City Security, an armored, flying private security force paid for by LexCorp. As Superman debates the legality of their actions with the team's commander, Killgrave activates his boosters and makes a speedy escape. Pausing only to ask if their suits have the speed to keep up with the escaping Killgrave, Superman gives chase, leaving LexCorp City Security in his wake.

TV news reports on an unexpected delay in the arrest of Killgrave, before going on to report about Lex Luthor's relationship with famous model Delores Winters. Luthor, angered by the TV reports, throws a statue at the screen, before dismissing Delores from his office so that he can talk business. He demands that Luthor Towers should finish construction by the end of the year, before ordering a buyout of Morgan Wilde, a research scientist whose work could lead to a cure for cancer and Parkinson's Disease, amongst others.

Lois is interviewing Professor Wilde at his laboratory. His work involves manipulation of the human body's electrical field, considered by some to be part of the soul. Their interview is interrupted by the arrival of Luthor's men. Wilde refuses to sell his research, even in the face of some obvious threats to his safety. Wilde then finishes his interview, giving Lois a copy of a picture of him and his wife. Lois is concerned as she leaves.

Later that day, Superman attempts to apprehend Madness, a new villain who uses his powers to cause temporary insanity in anyone nearby. Superman is confronted by an insane crowd who try to overpower him. LexCorp City Security arrive, but are also sent mad, firing blindly at each other. An insane cop draws his gun, and Superman is only just able to break free of the crowd to catch the bullets. He uses a show awning to subdue the crowd, who quickly recover from their madness.

Luthor's men have returned to Wilde's laboratory, where they violently beat him. Wilde is unbowed, and he activates a self-destruct mechanism he installed. The lab explodes.

Ah, part one of a multi-part, completely continous story. Believe it or not, this is the first one we've had to date on the World of Superman (I'm excusing The Kents, as that is a currently incomplete project as far as I'm concerned, although I'm so keen to get back to it...). Sure, we've had complete mini-series to date, but each of those have had definite jumps in time between issues. With Legends of the DC Universe #1, we get our first true Part One, and what a celebration we will have!

Oh, OK, I'm filling for time. Could you tell? I'm struggling a little with focusing on just the opening part of a three part story, without reading ahead or referring to events that haven't happened. This is going to make things a little patchy in the review, and there'll be a bit more filler than usual. Like here... Oh dear, I really haven't got the hang of this!

Despite my stalling, I rather like this issue. It feels like it slots in naturally into the latter half of Man of Steel. We are very much in the new age of the super-hero, as nicely illustrated by Lois' article at the start of the issue. The use of Dr Thaddeus Killgrave works well, as he is mainly used as a recurring nemesis for Superman, before he had recurring villains. We have, for instance, never been given an origin for Killgrave, and his first canonical appearance in Superman #19 is bursting out of jail, already a villain that Superman has fought. Perhaps in a nod to the general usage of Killgrave, this is not his first battle with Superman.

As with Adventures of Superman Annual #7, some retroactive groundwork is laid for the 1990s status quo in Superman. Most notable here is the appearance of the LexCorp City Security, Luthor's first attempt at a private police force for the city. These are obviously the forerunners of Team Lex, who would flourish under Alexander Luthor II around the time of the Death of Superman. We also get Luthor's first attempt to build his own skyline-owning tower, a very literal way for him to express his power over the city, which will eventually give rise to the distinctive 'LL'-shaped towers that would stand above Metropolis for nearly twenty year's worth of comics.

This first part of ULTRA Humanite has very little to do with the traditional Ultra-Humanite setup. Although Dolores Winters is present, her role is little more than a cameo. The villain isn't even mentioned by name in this issue, and it's only the title of the story that suggests where this arc is leading. Whilst I understand the need to launch a new anthology series with a strong statement, I do wonder if the overall story would have been more effective if the reveal of the villain could have been saved for the end of issue 2, rather than being spoiled in the story title. I do like the concept of Madness, but I'll touch on him more in the next two parts as he takes a more central part in the plot.

The Geeky Bits: The Ultra-Humanite was one of the DC Universe's earliest villains, pre-dating Lex Luthor and first appearing in Action Comics #13. He is most commonly viewed as an opponent of the JSA, particularly in the wake of the Crisis that removed Superman from pre-1980s continuity, but his status as the first DCU villain is occcasionally called upon, such as in this story, and in John Byrne's Generations series.

This was Robinson's first Superman gig, and also his last for some time (a tangent into the World of Krypton notwithstanding). Robinson would return to Superman in 2008 to lead the World of New Krypton themed stories across 2009 and the first half of 2010.

Next of World of Superman: Part two of ULTRA Humanite, and things aren't going so well for Lexy. I hope the stress doesn't cause his hair to fall out or anything...

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

World's Finest #2

A Tale Of Two Cities

Script: Karl Kesel
Pencils: Dave Taylor
Inks: Robert Campanella
Colorist/Separator: Alex Sinclair
Letters: Bill Oakley
Associate Editor: Joseph Illidge
Editor: Darren Vincenzo
Cover Artist: Dave Taylor and Robert Campanella
Cover Date: May 1999

Nine Years Ago...

Batman is mourning at Harrison Grey's grave, a year after his death. Sensing that Superman is approaching, he hides. Superman pays his respects, then calls Batman out of hiding. The two talk about what happened, how Grey ran out of fear of both of them. With tensions high, they prepare to depart, but instead get into an argument about each other's cities. Realising that their lack of trust and understanding of each other contributed to Grey's death, Superman makes a suggestion - they spend half the night in each other's cities to try and understand a little bit more about the worlds they come from.

First up is Gotham City, and Superman expresses his dislike of the gothic architecture that epitomises the city. Suddenly, Batman vanishes. In an exclusive club, the patrons are being robbed by a gang compirising of henchmen from various Gotham villains. Batman bursts in, fighting the henchmen. Superman arrives a few minutes later, using his super-powers to catch a spray of bullets fired at the victims. In the aftermath of the encounter, Superman realises that his presence has only heightened the unease of the victims.  He  gracefully makes an exit.

Outside, Superman suggests that Gotham might have an easier time with its crime if Batman became a public figure, someone that the inhabitants of the city would feel more comfortable with. Batman explains that without any super-powers, it is the fear he instils in the criminals that keeps him alive and fighting. They turn to discussing why each other turned down JLA membership. Batman was too busy, as was Superman, although Superman wishes that he was able to talk about aspects of his life with people who understand. As Superman attempts to hold out a hand of friendship, Batman tells him that it's time they visited Metropolis.

Before long, Superman and Batman come across a crook named Khodar, who claims to be from the future. Khodar has a device that allows him to control metal, and he uses it to trap a lady in railway tracks. With a train approaching, Batman tackles Khodar, whilst Superman brings the train to a halt before it can kill the lady. Despite being saved, the lady is petrified.

As dawn breaks, the heroes discuss the night's events. Superman has realised that his raw power and abilities have the power to instil fear in others. He tells Batman that his real reason for not joining the JLA was that he was concerned that he was too powerful, that people would have trouble trusting someone with so much power and that could have hurt the newly-formed League. Superman works as hard to make sure that he can be trusted as Batman does to make himself feared. Despite their differences, they agree that they made a good team that night, and agree to meet up once a year on the anniversaru of Harrison Grey's death. 

This second issue of the World's Finest mini-series sets up the format for the rest of the run, namely that Superman and Batman shall meet up once a year on the anniversary of the death of Harrison Grey, and we as the reader shall watch their relationship grow and develop as time passes and events in their lives shape how they view each other. In this first year, both Batman and Superman have been offered places in the JLA and have both declined. In Superman's eyes, this, combined with their failure to prevent Grey's death, gives the two common ground to start building a relationship, even a friendship, although Batman is far more closed off and unwilling to participate in this.

Kesel draws the comparisons between Superman and Batman in more obvious terms in this issue. Whereas the first issue delighted in the subtleties of this, especially in the opening sequence, here Superman and Batman tackle their differences head-on in downtime between their activities. It's interesting that the person with the most room to learn about himself is Superman, who is faced with the distrust that people can have in him as a result of his powers head-on. Batman is more assured with his place in the world, although he is sufficiently affected by the death of Grey to agree to the team-up.

The two menaces faced in Gotham and Metropolis are wonderfully goofy and lightweight. I really like the idea of a bunch of henchmen teaming up to pull a crime and to try and control their own place in the world, and the visuals of Batman taking down these brightly costumed goons work well. On the other side, the criminal from the future with a fantastic piece of technology kind of riffs on the recent (in the life of Superman) Xotar encounter from The Man of Steel Annual #4. There is an interesting moment where Superman decides that he doesn't have the time to save both the girl and the train, and he confronts the train with his super-strength and super-confidence. He seems to have gone in the complete opposite direction from his being unsure of his powers in Superman Annual #7 and Action Comics Annual #7, having a total and uneasing confidence in his abilties and what he can achieve. My reading of this has it that this, combined with his inherent otherworldliness, is what terrifies the girl so much. Well, that and her brush with a squishy crushed-by-a-train death...

The art here has tightened up from the first issue. Dave Taylor has a better control over Superman face, although the odd panel still seems unusual, such as Superman's first full appearance against the gang of henchmen on page 10. I particularly like the quiet moments at the start of the issue, where Superman's face is imbued with a great sense of expression. The colouring is also particularly effective, with (again) the opening graveyard scene flooded with gorgeous sunset oranges.

The Geeky Bits: As has already been covered, Superman was offered membership in the JLA in both The Man of Steel Annual #4, and JLA Year One . As Batman's continuity didn't receive a 'hard reset' after Crisis on Infinite Earths, I'm not so sure as to when he was first invited to the JLA.

Next on World of Superman:  Superman is pretty legendary, so it's about time we got into a story from the legendary series, Legends of the DC Universe. Crappy hyping aside, this is the first time we get James Robinson writing Superman himself, and having just finished with the whole War of the Superman/World of New Krypton era of Superman, I'm interested to see how his tales from 12 years ago stand up today.

Friday, 11 June 2010

The World of Podcasts

It's been a very long week at work, a week which has seen me working for over 12 hours each day for the best part of two weeks. Just about everything in my life has ground to a halt, whilst this happens. I've got a massive stack of new comics just waiting to be read (including the finale to War of the Supermen), and unofrtunately, work on World of Superman also got placed onto the back burner. I'm finally getting back on track, working on my review of World's Finest #2, which should be up sometime over the weekend, but for now, in the spirit of whichever Kubert brother worked on the Richard Donner co-written run on Action Comics, here comes a fill-in post.

Today, I'm gonna trawl through my iTunes feed and have a look at the podcasts I listen to on a regular basis, some comics-based, others not, and share them with the wider world.

From Crisis To Crisis: A Superman Podcast

My first, and favourite, podcast. Michael Bailey and Jeffrey O'Brien tackle every issue of Superman published between The Man of Steel #1 in 1986 and Adventure of Superman #649 in 2006. They're currently sitting in early 1990, Day of the Krypton Man, and it's been a blast going through nearly five years worth of comics with them in just over a year's worth of podcasts. Along the way, they've stopped off for interviews with Marv Wolfman and Jerry Ordway, and my personal hope is that they will be able to sit down with other creators from this era before the podcast runs its course. As I wrote back here, this podcast is the inspiration for this project, although we have attacked the same material from two very different approaches.

Amazing Spider-Man Classics

A great podcast, only in its third month of operation. Takes a look at all Spider-Man appearances, starring, guest-starring and cameoing, from Amazing Fantasy #15 onwards. The regular presenting team (including Jon M. Wilson, who will pop up again before we're done with this list) have a great chemistry, and are joined for each batch of episodes by a special guest from the world of comics podcasting, including most recently by Jeffrey "Pants" O'Brien.

Teenage Wasteland: An Ultimate Spider-Man Podcast

Oh, we've already hit Jon M. Wilson again! Teenage Wasteland takes a look at the decade-long Ultimate Spider-Man series, examining the Ultimate mythology and its connections, homages and deviations from mainstream Marvel continuity. There have extensive side-trips into Ultimate Marvel Team-Up, Ultimate Six, and guest-starring spots for the Ultimate Spider-Man in other Ultimate books, meaning that nearly 30 podcasts later the hosts are approximately one third of the way through the run. Definately a podcast with legs, and one which has grown stronger by standing apart from the From Crisis To Crisis formula.

House to Astonish

No image, as they don't have one. Paul O'Brien, formerly of thexaxis, and Al Kennedy, of various internet comics journalism, team up to record their news, views and reviews every two weeks. A great podcast, and one that I suspect is not listened to by nearly as many people as it should be. They have a wonderful feature at the end of each episode called The Official Handbook Of The Official Handbook Of The Marvel Universe, where they dig into Marvel's list of disused characters and try and update one for the present day, with always interesting results.
Views From The Longbox

A great podcast, even though it is irregularly updated. Michael Bailey (of From Crisis To Crisis) is a great host, and his topics for each episode are always interesting. I'm kind of grateful about the irregular nature of this podcast, as episodes have been known to approach the three-hour mark, which can be a strain on the ears, even though Michael keeps things on topic and interesting. However, it's been a few weeks since the last one, and I'm starting to get hungry for the next.

Outside of comics, my other passion is for Doctor Who, a show I have loved since the early 1990s, when I chances upon the first published novel by Paul Cornell (soon to be of Action Comics fame), Timewyrm: Revelation. I have a few Doctor Who podcasts in my feed, all of which are working overtime at the moment as the 5th series heads into its final weeks.

The Doctor Who Podcast

Trev, James and Tom, formerly of the WhoCast (see below) produce their own podcast which is very much in the vein of their era on the WhoCast. A great listen, with 2-3 episodes a week at the moment. No image as I can't get it easily from their homepage!

The Oodcast

One of the best new Doctor Who podcasts going. The Oodcast is a wekly review of Doctor Who, supplemented by songs, sketches, and general mirth and merriment. The team have a great chemistry, very high production values, and talent by the bucketload. They even made Chip of the wonderful Two Minute Time Lord (see below) jealous of their talent!

Two Minute Time Lord

One of my favourite podcasts. Chip cuts the waffle out of everything he says, presenting great capsule reviews and commentary on Doctor Who. Love everything about this podcast, and it's a delight to listen to each episode.

The Doctor Who WhoCast

Original hosts Paul and Seb have returned to the Whocast to take it into the Steven Moffat era and beyond. Being produced by DWO Online, they get advance copies of the episodes, resulting in a rapid reaction to the week's episode, often up within hours of broadcast.

The final thing I like to do with my podcasts is to laugh, something I do regularly with the three below. The humour is very British, and reliant on events in the British media, so a warning to anyone outside the UK who wants to give these a go.

As It Occurs To Me

The groundbreaking free to listen live sketch and standup show, nominated for a Sony award, absolutely brilliant. Created, written, and performed by one of my favourite stand-ups, Richard Herring. A shaky first few episodes of the first season gave way to some inspired comedy later on in that season, and the second season is striding forward with confidence and support. You should be listening to this, or paying to see it live. I will be, this coming Monday, to celebrate my 27th birthday.

The Collings and Herrin Podcast

I've been a fan of Richard Herring since the days of This Morning With Richard, Not Judy way back in the late 1990s. Although he doesn't appear on TV so much anymore, he is forging a career not only as a pretty impressive standup comedian, but also at the forefront of the podcast as a means of releasing new material. This one is his regular team-up with broadcaster Andrew Collins, where they simply get together and riff off of each other for just over an hour. Sometimes the standard episodes can be a bit 'meh' (sorry Richard!), but the occasional live podcasts in front of an audience are fantastic.

The Friday Night Comedy Podcast

Depending on what's broadcasting on Radio 4, either the latest episode of The Now Show or The News Quiz, both of which are longtime favourites of mine. In fact, it is this podcast that has given me a backlog of podcasts to listen to, as during the recent UK elections, as well as an episode of The News Quiz, I was getting 3 episodes of The Vote Now Show every week, thanks to The Now Show's creative team going overboard in their election coverage.

Anyway, that's what's on my feed right about now. If you have any suggestions as to any other podcasts I might like to add, please let me know. Otherwise, I'll be back from this unscheduled interruption in my posting with a look at World's Finest #2 at some point this weekend.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

The Man Of Steel #4

Enemy Mine...

Story & Pencils: John Byrne
Inks: Dick Giordano
Colors: Tom Ziuko
Letters: John Costanza
Editor: Andrew Helfer
Special Thanks to Marv Wolfman
Cover Artist: John Byrne
Cover Date: November 1986

Lois Lane unexpectedly arrives early at Clark Kent's apartment, taking him by surprise as he hasn't finished getting ready yet. He invites her in, and she takes a good look around, taking in the neatness, and the mementoes of Clark's High School football days. The two have another argument about Clark's scooping of Lois, even though it was eighteen months ago, and in frustration Lois gives up, allowing Clark to finish getting ready. Clark shaves using his heat vision and a fragment of metal from the ship he arrived on Earth in, and in no time at all is dressed up in his finest evening wear. Lois leads Clark to the roof, where a private helicopter from Lex Luthor is waiting to escort them. The chopper flies out over the bay and lands on a giant yacht, where Lex Luthor is holding a fundraiser.

A steward leads Clark and Lois to Lex, as the two reporters discuss Lois' relationship with Luthor. They enter Lex's suite, and meet Lex, the first time for Clark. Luthor congratulates Clark on the Superman story, but when news of Mayor Bewkowitz's arrival on the yacht reaches him, he asks Clark to leave so that he might have a private word with Lois. After Clark has left, Lex complements Lois on her dress, which he has gifted to her. Lois is surprised, as she thought it was just a loaner. The two argue, and Lois storms out, pausing only to step out of the dress and to grab Clark's jacket for decency, and to take a cheap shot at Lex's balding head.

As Lois charges down a corridor, she comes face to face with an UZI. A bunch of hijackers have taken control of the ship. Clark gets between them and Lois, but is pistol-whipped unconscious, and is dumped over the side. Panicking about Clark, Lois is manhandled up onto the deck and is placed with the other passengers. Luthor is nowhere to be seen. Suddenly, the deck tilts, and the ship rises out of the water. Lois takes advantage of the situation to overpower one of the hijackers, grabbing his gun and using it to keep the hijackers at bay. Superman is underneath the ship, carrying it to the harbor of Luthor's private island, the ship's original destination. Setting the yacht down in the water, Superman races to the deck, just in time to save Lois from one of the gunmen that she had overlooked.

Lex Luthor appears on deck, ecstatic at Superman's intervention, and brandishing a cheque for $25,000. Superman refuses, as he is not for hire. Lex continues to press his offer, pointing out that Superman won't be a private security guard, as Lex has his own security force. Lois wonders where they were during the attack, and Lex reveals that he not only knew that an attempt might be made on the yacht, but that he ordered his own security to hold back to allow Superman to show what he could do. Superman, Lois, and the Mayor are outraged at Lex's casual attitude to the life-threatening situation they were all in, but Luthor is uninterested - after all, he is the most powerful man in Metropolis. 'Not any more', says the Mayor, who authorises Superman to arrest Lex. Luthor is taken to Metropolis, photographed, and thrown in a cell.

Three days later, Superman flies into the subway to locate and help a pregnant woman who had gone into labour on a train. After getting her to hospital and making sure that she is OK, he walks out onto the street, where suspects that he is photographed, even though he cannot locate the photographer. He is accosted by Lex, who warns him that he has made a mistake. The people of Metropolis have forgotten who their master is, and he intends to remind them. From this moment on, Superman is a dead man.

Ah, this is more like it. Of all the issues of Man of Steel, I feel that this is possibly the most important of all. Without this issue, nothing that follows over the next decade makes as much sense. It is here that the seeds of Luthor's hatred of Superman are sown (and, indeed, said seeds take root, put forth shoots, and blossom, even though the harvest would be long and fruitful... enough with the seedy metaphors!) in a logical and compelling fashion. Prior to the Crisis, the only lasting explanation for Luthor's hatred of Superman was that Superboy was involved in a lab accident that caused Lex to lose his hair. Here, Lex is already not a nice person, but his mis-judgement of Superman's character and morals leads to a very public and embarassing downfall, one he blames entirely on Superman, and which fuels his decades-long obsession with the Man of Steel. Of all the changes made in Man of Steel to established continuity, this one was possibly the greatest and most impactful. In all major Superman media produced since 1986 (Like Bryan Singer, I'm discounting Superman IV), Lex Luthor is a man of business who has made his fortune legitmately (well, mostly legitimately...), who develops an obsession with Superman when he realises that he is no longer the top dog in town. As someone who came into Superman through the Death, going back and watching the original Superman film is tough, not because the effects and style of storytelling is from a different era, but because Lex Luthor just doesn't match up with my knowledge and expectations of the character.

This is completely Lex Luthor's issue, his introduction to modern continuity, and his first very public fall from grace. He's on sparkling form here, exalting in his power and his perceived untouchable status. His threat is very much that of a shark - graceful and powerful but with a distinct feeling that he could turn on your in a second and destroy your life. He is callous and manipulative, toying with Lois Lane more for the sport of toying with her than for any other reason. Although he appears shocked by Lois' baldness quip, he seems to relish in his destruction of her assumptions as to the intentions of the dress. And just watch how his face drops into a deep, menacing scowl when he is placed under arrest, and how that scowl stays in place right through to the end of the issue.

Lois is also on top of her game in this issue. We see just about every facet to her character, from the feisty reporter standing her ground in an argument with Clark, to the righteous fury when she realises that she has been played, culminating a superb moment where she strips off in front of Lex, leaves the five thousand dollar dress on the floor, grabs Clark's coat, and storms out dropping insults in Lex's path. We also see her army brat upbringing coming to the fore when she proves more effective at reacting to the hijacking than anyone else on the boat.

Although Lex steals the show, and Superman himself is relegated to only a few pages, there is a lovely moment when Superman confronts a gunman. Instead of heating up his gun, or disarming him at super-speed, Superman slowly crumples the machine gun from the barrel right down to the grip, where it is suggested that the stunned gunman lets go. It's a great, subtle moment, where Superman is completely in control, and doesn't need to make a big show to resolve the situation. We also get some insight into the difficulties of maintaing a dual-identity for Clark, as he realises that his weight really were just for show, and vows to replace them with heavier versions to help support his Kryptonian physique. Nice to see more nuance and subtlety beyond the 'I'd better be afraid of this bee so everyone thinks that Clark Kent is a real wimp and no-one will suspect that he is Superboy' approach of the Superboy comics of the 1960s!

I just love this issue. I have a memory of reading it and being aware of the plot long before I actually read The Man of Steel as a trade; it possibly may have been printed in the same treasury that contained The Man of Steel #2. This version of Lex, and the confrontations between Lex and Superman in this issue, are so much more interesting to me than any amount of Lex being dolled up in his battle-armour with kryptonite gloves beating up on Superman could ever be.

The Geeky Bits

Although the businessman Lex is a key part of the Byrne reboot, Marv Wolfman, depending on which source you read, had either significant input or was completely responsible for the reinvention of Luthor, hence his Special Thanks credit on this issue.

Next on World of Superman: It's been a year since the death of Harrison Grey, and for one night only, Superman goes to Gotham.