Sunday, 13 February 2011

Legends #1 and #2

OK, a bit of a long one today. I'm going to try and hit up the first four parts of the Legends crossover in two posts, bringing us up to the point where the Superman titles segue into the story. Before we begin, I'd just like to drop a quick reminder to e-mail Ian Sattler at DC comics in support of a trade paperback of Dark Knight Over Metropolis. See this post on the Superman Homepage for more details.

And now, the first of a two-part special bringing us up to speed on the 1986/7 Legends crossover.

Legends #1

Once Upon A Time...!
Plotter: John Ostrander
Scripter: Len Wein
Penciller: John Byrne
Inker: Karl Kesel
Letterer: Steve Haynie
Colorist: Tom Ziuko
Editor: Mike Gold
Cover Artist: John Byrne
Cover Date: November 1986
Release Date: 28/08/1986

On Apokolips, Darkseid is content with his domination. Desaad reminds him of Earth and its heroes. Darkseid notes that not only do Earth’s heroes perform heroic deeds, but they act as legends, inspiring others. Deciding to strike at the concept of legends, Darkseid summons Glorious Godfrey and Doctor Bedlam, and orders Desaad to prepare the Techno-Seed.

On Earth, Professor Stein oversees a nuclear experiment when the Techno-Seed materialises in the core, spawning the inhuman monster, Brimstone. Stein summons Firestorm, who assaults Brimstone, but quickly discovers that the monster is far superior to him. Thinking quickly, Firestorm protects himself by turning the air to asbestos, and goes to summon help.

Elsewhere, the Flash faces off against Deadshot. He quickly defeats the assassin, delivers him to the police, and returns to Titans Tower, where Changeling is watching the latest broadcast from G. Gordon Godfrey, interviewed by Billy Batson, who rails against all super-heroes, calling them threats to society. As the two Titans talk, a power outage strikes both the Tower and the studio where the interview is taking place. The outage is caused by an armoured giant rampaging in the neighbourhood. Under the cover of darkness, Billy slips away and transforms to Captain Marvel.

Captain Marvel and the giant, Macro-Man, fight, but when Marvel is caught in Macro-Man’s vice-like grip, he decides that the only way for him to escape is to change back into Billy Batson briefly. Calling down his magical lightning, Billy is shocked to see that the bolt also struck Macro-Man, causing him to fall from the rooftop to a fiery death.

In the Pentagon, Colonel Rick Flag reports to Amanda Waller, and is ordered to reform Task Force X. He is shocked by the list of candidates for the Task Force, but puts his surprise aside to do his job.

In a diner, Cosmic Boy’s breakfast is interrupted by the onslaught of Brimstone. The Legionnaire attacks, attempting to construct a metallic prison to contain Brimstone, but his attack is soon repelled. The Justice League of America arrive to lend their help.

Viewing the melted corpse of the Macro-Man, Billy Batson vows never to become Captain Marvel again.

Legends #2

Breach of Faith

Plotter: John Ostrander
Scripter: Len Wein
Penciller: John Byrne
Inker: Karl Kesel
Letterer: Steve Haynie
Colorist: Tom Ziuko
Editor: Mike Gold
Cover Artist: John Byrne
Cover Date: December 1986
Release Date: 25/09/1986

G. Gordon Godfrey arrives at the site of Macro Man’s death, using it as an opportunity to decry not only heroes but the concept of being a hero. His words whip the onlooking crowd into a frenzy, scaring the confused Billy Batson into hiding. Darkseid watches Batson’s despair with glee, before turning to the Phantom Stranger, promising to remove free will from the people of Earth.

On Earth, Brimstone faces off against the Justice League of America. Although Vibe is able to topple the giant, Brimstone fights back, burying the League underneath a collapsing building. Meanwhile, Rick Flag visits Deadshot in prison, enlisting him into Task Force X. At the same time, in Gotham, Batman and Robin break a hostage situation. The commander of the arriving SWAT team clashes with Commissioner Gordon when he prevents him from taking down the heroes. Suddenly, the onlooking crowd turns, attacking and carrying Robin away whilst Batman is unable to help when a bottle of perfume is smashed in his face.

In Chicago, Blue Beetle carries out a drug bust, but unwittingly exposes a deep cover police officer. The attending policemen open fire on Beetle, who escapes in his bug ship. Meanwhile, Guy Gardner rescues an aeroplane whose engine has exploded mid-flight, guiding it to a makeshift landing on the freeway. However, the commuters on the road turn aggressive at the disruption caused to them. Gardner uses his ring to repel them before flying away.

At Titans Tower, Cosmic Boy recovers from his combat with Brimstone, revealing to Flash and Changeling that the Justice League had disappeared by the time he came round. He flies off to rescue ‘the love of his life’. Watching news reports of the League’s defeat, Professor Ivo prepares to make his move.

Superman meets with President Reagan in the White House, where Reagan informs him that he is about to issue an executive order, banning all super-hero activities until the public disorder has passed. Later in Gotham, two policeman discover the battered and beaten body of Robin.

These first two parts of the Legends crossover take a very wide-angled view of the state of the DC Universe. reading with hindsight reveals some strong comparisons, especially the way that the then-current Justice League (Detroit) fares against the yet-to-be-formed Justice League International. The defeats of the heroes hurt. The entire League is beaten and missing in battle, whilst Billy Batson's pain at believing that he has killed the Macro-Man is very tangible. Other heroes find themselves lost and without a cause when faced with the negative reactions of the public. By the end of the second issue, where Superman bows his head in acceptance of President Reagen's executive order and Jason Todd lies unconscious in the street, there is a very real sense that the tide has turned against the heroes.

John Byrne draws the heck out of these issues. I do marvel at his ability to turn out great-looking comics. At the time of this issue's production, Byrne was likely working on the first few issues of Superman and Action Comics, yet he still found the time to produce six issues showcasing almost every major hero in the DC universe. In particular, Byrne's renditions of Darkseid are masterful. In fact, I'd be happy to list Byrne as one of my top three Darkseid pencillers, along with JG Jones (Final Crisis) and Jack Kirby. Byrne gives us an intricately detailed Darkseid, with maliciousness oozing from every frame. When Darkseid grins, it's a grin that should terrify any onlooker. The final panel of issue #1, with Darkseid looming in the background revelling in the success of his plans, could easily have looked goofy in the hands of a lesser artist, but a rarely-seen laugh from Darkseid here chills the reader. And the opening shot of Apokolips, from the first page of issue #1, is glorious.

Inevitably, there are things that don't work so well for me. I wasn't reading the DCU when the series first arrived - it would have been quite an achievement considering I was 3 1/2 at the time - and a lot of the wider picture of the DCU is lost on me. As always, some of the Fourth World designs look incongruous and a product of their time, although Glorious Godfrey is far more sinster and insidious as G. Gordon Godfrey than as his cloak-wearing, grinning Apokoliptian incarnation. And most annoyingly of all, the Phantom Stranger pops up in issue #2 for no adequately explained reason, giving Darkseid someone to boast to and turning his campaign against Earth's heroes into something more akin to efforts to impress an unimpressed colleague.

These complaints aside, these are strong issues, featuring super-hero action and a strong, logical drive to the plot and threat. What is really enjoyable is watching Ostrander pull task Force X together, and next time, we'll see how well they do on their first mission.

The Geeky Bits:

Legends was the first event for DC, following Crisis on Infinite Earths. Originally planned as more of a direct sequel, Legends eventually grew to be its own unique story. John Byrne was picked for the art, although his workload with Superman meant that he only had time for 6 issues, not the planned 8. This reduction in length may account for the confusing nature of the Phantom Stranger's appearance in the story, with his introduction a casualty of editing the story down.

A large number of DC titles crossed over into Legends, with 22 official tie-ins alongside the six issue miniseries. A full list can be found at the DC Crossover Checklist over at the Fortress of Baileytude.

Next on World of Superman: See how Earth's heroes react to an executive order banning their actions, how Task Force X fare on their first mission, and what leads Darkseid up to focusing his attention on Superman.

Friday, 11 February 2011

The Most Important Post You'll Read This Year

Readers of this blog will know that I am a big fan and supporter of From Crisis To Crisis: A Superman Podcast. After nearly 100 episodes, it's still a must-listen on my podcast feed, and the only thing that stops me from listening as soon as it's downloading is the need to sit down and enjoy the relevant issues first. If you listened to the recent episode #82 (and let's face it, you probably did), you would have heard Michael and Jeffrey launch a campaign to get the classic Superman and Batman tale "Dark Knight Over Metropolis" reprinted, possibly as Superman/Batman vol. 0.

Of all the uncollected stories from this era - and let's face it, there are a lot that have never been collected - this is possibly the most notable. It's a great, tight, 3-parter that (serendipitously for this blog, considering this recent post) wraps up the story of Amanda Conner, as well as redefining the relationship between Superman and Batman, allowing the two to grow beyond their frosty and untrusting relationship that was characteristic of the early years of the post-Crisis reboot. Suggestions have been made that the trade could contain Man of Steel #3, as well as the Superman/Detective Comics crossover set during Luthor's presidency that concerned the kryptonite ring (on a personal note, when this story first came out I was keeping up with events in the comics through the Superman Homepage reviews, and when they didn't cover the Detective Comics issue I was pretty annoyed, and it took me several years to get hold of a copy and read it for myself). However they choose to do it, it's undeniable that a reprint of Superman stories from this era would be a bold move DC, considering that since they wrapped up their Superman: The Man Of Steel series of trades we haven't seen any of material from this era reprinted, and may bode well for future reprints or re-releases of out-of-print titles (Exile, I'm looking at you!).

Well, the details are in and the campaign has begun. Check out this post at the Superman Homepage for the full details and get writing your e-mails. Remember the plea to be polite and to the point, and don't forget to pre-order the book if and when it gets announced. And don't forget to mention From Crisis To Crisis in your e-mail!

Monday, 7 February 2011

Action Comics #585

Hmm, maybe if I sneak in quietly, nobody will notice that I've been gone...

Oh, hi there! You caught me firing up the old blog here.

So, where have I been? Oh, here and there, just not... y'know... here...

Before we get into the issue today, just a few notes about my recent catchup with Smallville. I stopped watching about halfway through the Supergirl episode, specifically the appallingly composited scene atop the weather tower where Kara tries to teach Clark to fly. But I put my 1970s Doctor Who hat on (the one that makes you immune to poor quality special effects and really bad CSO [except Underworld]) and dived back in. And I enjoyed myself, far more than I expected to do so.

I had a lovely surprise when one of my favourite screen actors, Michael Ironside (Darkseid from Superman: The Animated Series and Roy Schneider's replacement on Seaquest DSV) turned up as a near-perfect Sam Lane. I was pleasantly surprised at the appearance of Granny Goodness, and her orphanage and Female Furies were scary, fascinating, and a great watch. I enjoyed the heck out of Lionel Luthor's return to the series, and THAT last scene was such a doozy that for the first time in years I'm actively anticipating the series. And Erica Durance is bloody fantastic as the most enjoyable screen Lois Lane I can remember watching. Of course, this is Smallville, and all my goodwill was dissipated when the mid-season cliffhanger was a MacGuffin making everyone fall over. I can't wait to pick up the next series, and to see Darkseid's plans really ramp up.

But that's the screen, and we like comics here. Shall we look at some?

And The Graves Give Up Their Dead...
(Writer and Penciller: John) Byrne
(Inker: Dick) Giordano
(Letterer: John) Costanza
(Editor: Andy) Helfer*
Cover Art: John Byrne
Cover Date: February 1987
Release Date: 27/11/1986
*The credits page for this issue only gave these four surnames engraved onto tombstones.

High above the streets of Metropolis, an aged Superman confronts the sorceress Arathaza in her floating citadel. Arathaza has possessed the body of a librarian. Superman is unable to stand, but is able to crawl towards her and grab her staff, striking it on the ground and shattering the citadel. Arathaza’s power is dispersed, freeing the librarian and restoring Superman. As he flies the librarian to safety, a diamond fragment of the citadel falls to earth, landing in a graveyard where it sinks into the ground.

Returning to his apartment, Superman is surprised to find the Phantom Stranger waiting for him within. The Stranger wants Superman’s help, but Superman is reluctant, aware of his vulnerability to magic. Refusing to take ‘no’ for an answer, the Stranger transports Superman to the graveyard, where the citadel fragment has animated the ground into a giant elemental being. Superman launches into battle, fighting the mass, but is surprised when the creature reacts to him and speaks to him. The Stranger warns that the mass is not alive, but has the memory of being alive. He then opens a portal to another dimension, the Kingdom of the Damned, where he intends to fight the force behind the elemental.

Whilst the Stranger participates in a mock trial headed by the remnant of Arathaza, Superman tried to prevent the elemental mass, which is continually growing, from attacking Metropolis. Noticing that the creature gains its mass from soil and earth, Superman burrows down to bedrock, which cannot be absorbed, delaying the creature. Inside the ‘soul’ of the mass, the Stranger shatters the diamond. Contacting Superman, the Stranger tells him to break the creature’s contact with the earth. Superman achieves this by burrowing into the earth and raising the ground the creature is standing on into orbit. The creature collapses into itself, and Superman hurls the dormant mass into the sun. The Stranger reappears, but refuses to tell Superman what happened on the inside.

Although we have already seen an establishment of Superman’s vulnerability to magic with Superman Annual #7, this was the first time readers really got to grips with this in 1987. Prior to this issue, Superman hadn’t really got involved with any mystical or magical forces, and for this first encounter, John Byrne teams Superman up with probably the most prominent magical user in the DC Universe, the Phantom Stranger.

The first page of the issue features the Stranger in a narrator role, giving an introduction not unlike the Watcher in the Tales Of The Watcher or the opening narration from The Twilight Zone. It’s a neat stylistic touch that has a little fun with the reader, although the narration that continues through the issue suffers from being a little too stylised, with phrases like 'And even Superman feels the touch of fear.' Another moment of fun comes when Arathaza leaves her host, revealing that the mighty and powerful sorcerer was actually a meek secretary named Barbara Kowaleski.

The thing is, the Arathaza plot is pretty generic and inconsequential. Superman fights the body whilst the Stranger fights the mind. I’ve written previously how magic in Superman stories doesn’t really interest me, and this issue is no exception to that rule. Although the Stranger’s battle helps resolve Superman’s, nothing Superman does seems to influence the Stranger’s conflict. As neat as the mock trial is, it does overpower Superman’s physical battle, and it’s not clear how Superman’s efforts contribute to the defeat of the remnant.

This issue is light and frothy. The action is present but has no real consequence, although the lump of Earth thrown into orbit would be revisited several months later in Action Comics. In the same month that teased a whole new dynamic between Superman and Lex Luthor and saw widespread destruction in Metropolis, this issue’s fight between Superman and a big pile of mud just doesn’t stand up as well.

The Geeky Bits:

Towards the end of the book, Superman discovers that he can breathe in space. Except that he already knows this from his encounter with the H’tross. He also appears to have forgotten his experience with Thahn and Doctor Occult, where he first realised his vulnerability to magic.

The Phantom Stranger, created in 1952 by John Broome and Carmine Infantino, is one of the more mysterious and powerful mystical beings in the DC Universe. He has had a sporadic publishing history, with several ongoings and miniseries, as well as being one of the few characters to move between the DC and Vertigo publishing lines, where he was a key character in The Books of Magic.

Next on World of Superman:

We play catch-up on the first two parts of the Legends crossover.